History

Spain in the 1930’s Part VI

On the side of the Reds, the military situation is less rich in initiatives and less dense in developments. After the two valid resistances of Madrid (autumn 1936, Guadalajara) nothing new until the spring of 1937, when the revolutionary mystic of Caballero ordered the reds to implement the project of the action on the salient of Mérida to break the army in two and Franco’s Spain. But the fall of Caballero wrecked his aggressive policy with the ambitious project, which was replaced by another more collected and meditated one, more suited to the possibilities of the reds. This policy was supported by the new Minister of Defense, the Basque Indalecio Prieto, who outlined a more solid program: to give a fundamentally defensive character to the conflict to make it degenerate into a war of position, with the usury of which to force opponents to compromise peace, longed for by so much of the Anglo-Saxon world. Thus we arrive at the beginning of July, when, as we have seen, to delay the collapse of the Cantabrian front, the first of the limited offensives was launched: that of Brunete. The surprise was complete, the tenuous defensive curtain was torn at the impact of the international brigade Lister, behind which imposing red units overflowed beyond Brunete to reach the Guadarrama and settle on July 18 on the right of the river. The situation was dangerous: further penetration would have resulted in a vertical collapse with an effect equivalent to that achieved by the Germans at Gorlice in 1915. A vast space would have opened up around Madrid, suddenly frustrating almost the entire campaign of 1936. But the influx of local reserves and the northern armies restored the balance after 22 days of bitter and alternating struggle. The poor efficiency of so many of the red troops not trained in combat, nor ignited by revolutionary ardor, helps to explain Brunete’s failure. On 23 August the Reds, in order to slow down the Asturian march of the legionaries, to eliminate the wedge of Teruel, threateningly hovering over Valenza, and to neutralize the moral effect of the fall of Santander with the conquest of Zaragoza, went on the offensive. The symmetry of development with Brunete’s action is surprising: here too the favor of surprise, weakness of the defensive preparations, effective rupture mass (international brigades), development of the initial success, intervention of Franco’s reserves, insufficiency of the red troops, return to equilibrium. The substantial difference between the two offensives lies in the fact that the second has not appreciably interfered with the northern campaign. The examination of things leads to regard Brunete and Saragozza in Prieto’s politics not as autonomous military actions carried out with a view to a decisive success, but as initiatives undertaken for the purpose of interference.

According to sportsqna, the disappearance of the Cantabrian front put Franco in conditions of strength incomparable with the past, leaving him at his disposal an imposing breaking mass for strong means and troops with which to seek a decision on the Madrid-Aragonese front.

In the political order, in red Spain, the phase of revolutionary mysticism dominated the life of the second republic from February 1936 to April 1937, without however achieving stability of government either with the Quiroga cabinet or with the successor Giral. A certain balance, albeit on a revolutionary basis, seemed to be achieved in September with Largo Caballero. In fact, in 8 months of dictatorship, the “Spanish Stalin” managed to oppose Red Spain as a whole against the national teams, whose action he frustrated, which in the same September 1936 seemed to end with total victory. But offended religious traditions and sentiments, the bloody practice of government, the yearning of crushed minorities, the economy and finance disrupted by improvised programs, growing pressure from the Anglo-French to have a moderate government and, more importantly, a distrust, despite everything, of the Reds in their military action, all these circumstances precipitated Caballero’s downfall. The government of Negrín-Giral-Prieto marks a return to the positions of the center: a situation similar to that of December 1933 with its attempt of bourgeois restoration. In fact, the new government is the exponent of the old French-style democracy with a radical-Masonic character, modified by the post-war experience, which among other things recommended that anti-clericalism be greatly attenuated. The most difficult task of the current government is to sever the tangled anarcho-Catalanist knot. For the well-known reasons of atavistic and moral individualism of the Catalans, at Esquerra and the political and trade union organizations of anarchism found it easy to keep Catalonia separate from the rest of the Red Spagria throughout the civil war. Determined to be part for themselves, the Anarcho-Catalans took refuge in their region, they organized their defenses there, they refused to send their troops out of the local defensive preparations, exercising, especially from July 1936 to May 1937, an effective dictatorship over the region. Red Spain, with the help of the Soviets, managed this dangerous particularism all the more energetically the less the course of the war was favorable to it. A trade union-based communist party (PSUC; MGT) has become the focus of the struggle against anarchism and Trotskyism in Barcelona. In May 1937 the violent repression of heterodox extremism began; since then the struggle has been worsening ever closer, multiplying the murders and exacerbating the hatred. Negrín and Prieto, the men who proved to have the strongest political qualities in Valencian Spain, joined Soviet action to achieve a more rigorous merger of forces. In fact, once the Anarcho-Trotskyist leaders were eliminated (Durruti was killed and García Oliver arrested in early November), the flourishing revolutionary organizations passed with not too much difficulty in the employ of Valencia. Sovietism, for reasons of international expediency, accepted at the moment to collaborate in subordinate with Negrín-Prieto, only to throw them out of the saddle after the success.

On the national side there is a greater spirit of discipline, a higher sense of solidarity and therefore a more reassuring situation and a less absolute government than that of Valenza. Burgos has only one enemy, and that is that of the front; Valenza has more enemies, and the exterior is not always the most dangerous.

Spain in the 1930's 6