The Living History of Spain
In 1933 Spain chose socialism; 1936 military uprising. Fascist Italy and Germany helped the insurgents. Britain, France and other democratic countries imposed non-intervention. They are now for interference to help rebels against independent states.
The Living History of Spain,
(as from 1931)
Fernando García Izquierdo
It was Marx who first discovered the great law of the motion of history. All historical struggles, whether in the political, religious, philosophical or in some other ideological domain are in fact only the more or less clear expression of struggles between social classes. These class-struggles, and the resulting collisions between classes, are in turn conditioned by the degree of development of the country in question: social, cultural, economic, etc., and the actual mode of production and of exchange, which will show the degree of development.
Spain has never been a great industrial country. When I returned to Madrid, in the late seventies, after a quarter of a century’s absence, my friends and former colleagues were proudly talking of “our great leap forward”, Spain having become (they said) one of the ten most industrialised countries in the world. Yet, I never got the impression, when I travelled then around the country of my birth, that I was seeing a different place (substantially) from the one I had left: I mean real changes; first and foremost, the political situation. social structures, and the state of the economy (all that was a “copie conforme”, as the French say, of what I knew); but also culturally, the arts…. the country had not changed much at all; and as for the conservation of nature, things were, now, much worse.
There was a lot of money, those days; that yes. Spaniards were richer on the whole; but, at the same time, as the same social structure had been kept, the newly created wealth went to a certain class of people, as before: the traditional one hundred families, the new rich, now engaged in business, dubious affairs, for the most part. And that was all, really, whether they called it “el milagro español” or not.
And then, the same overpowering church, the oligarchy, the big landowners, some of them now transformed into industrialists of sorts, great entrepreneurial people. In other words, and more importantly, the same division of society existed now, in the seventies, as I had seen in the early fifties. Antagonistic classes, even if the antagonism was, for the time being, dormant. Fascism, in a word, was still rampant. General Franco had died (in 1975); but the men in Power and in Society, who before called themselves Falangistas, and now belonged to the Opus Dei, were substantially the same. Little had changed in this respect.
The mode of production, the relation between the workers and the capitalists, the distribution of the product of work (miserly wages and very big profits), the existence of two irreconciliable classes, which I now observed in what had been my fatherland, all that and much more, continued as before. The existence, now, in the seventies, of “golden boys” in Barcelona and in Madrid, similar to those I had seen in New York, London and Paris, added a little colour to what had been very bleak during what the Spaniards had called “los años del hambre” – the famine years.
All the slight “changes” one could perceive (golden boys, lots of banknotes, the building of skyscrapers, etc) did not mislead me. Pure show! Supposing that this curious kind of personage, “l’homme d’affaires”, and the buildings, nice villas, skyscrapers meant “progress” for the nation, which I doubted, the beneficiaries from that progress merely represented one portion of Spanish society. Again, as I have said above, Spain was essentially the same poverty-stricken country (physically and morally) which a specialised agency of the United Nations had classified as “underdeveloped” in 1946, even if the poor, now, were not “les misérables” of thirty years previously.
I have said thirty years earlier; but I could have said forty. The country advanced so very little during the first half, roughly, of the twentieth century! Some date the decadence of Spain from the year 1898, when the young United States federal republic defeated our imperial ancestors in Cuba. But the ruin had started earlier, with the Bourbon Monarchy. Why had Spain, the greatest imperialistic power during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and even part of the eighteenth, progressed so little? say, after 1750? Well, there had been savage civil wars, constantly, in the country during the nineteenth century. Due to what? The Church? The Nobility?
I will try to answer these questions, now, by means of an example; relating some historical events in the nineteen thirties, as I saw (perceived) them, if not at the very moment when they occurred (I was born in 1929), certainly within some years of their occurrence. The events caused great personal upheaval in most families and some details were related many times, at table, and I could visualise them, listening to my father, who was the main talker. Such visions often leave in a young mind impressions which will last a lifetime.
Actually, I was a school boy of six when a most important event (and not only for Spaniards) took place in the city of Melilla, the northern tip of Africa, that forever shattered the life of the Spanish nation and shocked the entire world as probably no other political event had ever done. There, on July 17, 1936, the Spanish colonial army rose up in arms against the republican government freely elected by the people; and probably the only democracy Spain had known.
All through the twenties, Spain had a dictatorial government with the king, Alfonso XIII, at its Head, and a Cabinet constituted by the military. The country’s landowners and the oligarchy had from time immemorial imposed on the people what I shall not hesitate to call a fascistic regime (Spain then being a most primitive agricultural society, with some industry and mining on the periphery: Catalunyia, Asturias, the Basque Country.) Rather than introducing the measures that were necessary (land reform, among them), the power-elite appeared to be ready to cause a blood-bath in the country, if their privileges and the state of their wealth were challenged. The land was owned by a small number of families, in any case, specially in the poorest parts of the kingdom, Andalucia, Estremadura, la Mancha, old Castile. And wherever there was an incipient industry in the north, the industrialists were just as retrograde as the landowners in the rest of the kingdom.
Somehow, as often happens, a semblance of democracy was introduced, already in the twenties of last century, and the people were allowed to vote, i.e., “free” elections were organised from time to time. In one of these elections (April 1931), the king, suddenly and unexpectedly, was kicked out by the people, he left and went to Italy, and a revolutionary government was installed in power, without a shot, without the slightest fight or other violence: the people in all the towns and cities of the country actually came out into the streets to celebrate. There were demonstrations, in favour of the Republic, which lasted that day (the 14th) until the early hours of the following day.
The bourgeoisie, not only in Spain, but in the whole of western Europe as well, trembled. It became evident that the republican government formed after the elections (and confirmed by other elections that followed) was embarking upon the building of a new form of society.
The day after the events in Melilla referred to above, that is to say, on July 18, 1936, the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, ordered his country’s aviation to enter the war in support of the rebels and to transport the Spanish colonial army to the Peninsula. Simultaneously, most of the military garrisons in the country, joining the insurgents, began executing all or most of the officers who showed reluctance to break their oath of allegiance to the republic. Such cruelty had seldom been seen before. For the rebels knew that the slightest show of weakness, on their part, would put the pronunciamento in peril. Therefore, after murdering the officers loyal to the republic, and in order to put at once fear into the soldiers’ hearts, they subjected them, everywhere where the plot had succeeded, to the horrendous experience (method, crime, murder, I do not know what word to utilise) of cold-bloodedly decimating the troops at the slightest murmur or other sign of protest. The same as the colonial army, by the way, had done in northern Africa some days previously.
Shortly afterwards, Adolf Hitler also entered the war in favour of the Spanish insurgents, sending in his Condor Legion, as well as German warplanes, which bombed those towns and cities that had not joined the rebellion.
All these nearly-simultaneous deeds had been secretly and very carefully prepared during the preceding months in some of the main Spanish cities, as well as in Rome and Berlin. The members of the ancient regime were the main instigators of the treacherous movement, to which almost all the army generals adhered, as well as the hierarchy of the catholic church, the financial and industrial oligarchies and, last but not least, the ever-powerful class of landowners.
How the conspirators were able to keep their diabolical plans secret from the authorities and the people is difficult to conceive. For the conspiration must have been known to many people and even to some members of the government. There had been a failed putsch (by the same reactionary military caste) some months before, and two generals, Sanjurjo and Franco, had been banished from the Peninsula: the one to Lisbon, the other to the Canary Islands. This attempted coup d’état should have alerted the authorities. Paradoxically, the banishments gave these two officers a greater opportunity of conspiring with others of the same ilk (including some foreigners) in their “retirement” residences, against the lawful government of Spain.
A day or two before the coup, banished Francisco Franco had passed on to Spanish Morocco, where, as we have said, the uprising took place. It was an English pilot (in a British plane) who took him to Melilla from the Canary Islands.
When I said above that, immediately after the Melilla uprising, Germany and Italy joined in the fray, I might have set the reader awondering. What? Did these two countries declare war on the Spanish Republic. Well, even if there was no formal declaration of war on Spain (a country which had not committed any act of aggression against them or anyone else), the fact remains that they made war on Spain during the following three years. Without these two fascist countries, the Spanish rebels would not have succeded, the rebelion would have been put down in a few days. The armies, navies and air forces of Italy aand Germany fought in Spain.
There is another thing we must consider at this stage. At international law, the band of insurgents who first committed the crime referred to, on July 17, 1936, should have never been given the quality of “belligerent power”. They were just bandits! Instead, “the concert of the civilised nations” rushed to give the rebels that quality, thus turning the rebellion into a “civil war”, with equal rights for “the two contending parties.” Moreover, even though they (the civilised nations) saw that Germany and Italy had invaded the Peninsula, they discriminated against the lawful government, denying it access to legitimate international commerce when the Republic, quite legitimately, tried to buy and bring defensive weapons from abroad.
One other very important thing happened on the day of the generals’ uprising in Melilla (July 17, 1936). The Spanish people at once, valiantly and decidedly, reacted against the putsch. And these loyalists, almost the whole country, with the few weapons they could muster (mostly by assaulting municipal and civil-guard depots), not only managed to contain the rebellion, but also caused a turn in the war, at least for the time being. The workers and progressive parties in all regions not totally influenced by the church and, therefore, not controlled by the reaction, won the day. Whereas the rebels had expected to win in forty-eight hours!
In all the main cities, I have said, except Zaragoza and Valladolid, the insurgents were utterly defeated by the militia and those soldiers that had remained faithful to the government.
But, sadly enough, in London, Paris, Washington and other capitals, the governments decided to turn their backs on the victim of aggression, and moreover they fabricated the theory of “non-intervention”, in order to isolate and forever ruin democracy in Spain. They imposed a boycott on the country. The legitimate government was declared a pariah!!
What those western powers did was not only evil and against the rules of international law, but also completely insane. They would pay for it when, three years later, Hitler invaded and conquered France in a few weeks (or perhaps days, I do not remember.) Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg had the same destiny, “occupied” by the Nazis. As well as other countries. Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia had been occupied earlier.) As for the Scandinavian countries, Norway was quickly defeated by the German Wehrmacht which entered the country after crossing Sweden without a shot. And it is said that the Führer conquered Denmark by a simple telephone call to the dignitaries of the country. Let me point out, at this stage, that it cost the same Führer nearly three years to defeat the Spanish people, from July 1936 to April 1939.
Let us now examine all this, in greater detail, from the point of view of international law, a law between nations, where there is not a superior enforcing power (the United Nations Organisation not being of any use in this respect.)
In 1936 and thereafter the countries of Europe plus the United States acted against Spain, and got away with murder. That master of deceipt, Great Britain, was the initiator. To make sure that a socialist Spain would not materialise, the British invented the doctrine of “non-intervention”. The lawful government was not to be allowed even to trade with any third country. The purpose was to make sure that the republicans could not purchase weapons to defend themselves. Furthermore, the servile French at once closed their common border with Spain, the Pyrenees, so as to completely isolate the country; for there were many brave European men and women who flocked into France and tried to cross the frontier, to enter Spain, to fight and die with the Spaniards This was a most perfidious act on the part of the French government, because the two neighbouring countries happened to have socialist governments, and in both the people had voted the Popular Front to power. And all this, while the Royal Navy (of Great Britain) effectively blockaded all the coasts of the Peninsula, to make sure that the Popular-Front government was effectively cut off from the rest of the world.
Only two countries dared to break the non-intervention diktat, Mexico and the Soviet Union. The latter did help Spain, which help, maybe, allowed the Republic to last three years. Mexico, after the war, received all or most of the professors and other Spanish intellectuals lucky enough to escape the fascist repression.
To compound their villainy, the governments of the mentioned “democratic” powers stopped the Republic from presenting before the League of Nations the case of aggression of which Spain had been a victim, refusing access to the Spanish Minister, Alvarez del Vayo, who had gone to Geneva for that purpose.
Why did Britain and her allies act the way they did, against Spain, against a country which had not committed any aggression against anyone and was just embarking upon a new form of development, more democratic, more just and perhaps the best government Spain had ever had? I believe that the answer is contained in the very question, and it is: because Spain showed she could one day become communist. And that could not be allowed. Yesterday as today, The Spectre of Communism is haunting the rich all over.
Again and again the privileged people, the rich and powerful, are ready to destroy the earth rather than cease to dominate. One of the four Evangelists already noticed this, speaking of Jesus of Nazareth: the priests and the military killed him because they feared the people, he said.
Franco suited the British Reaction, and the Reaction of the other “civilised” countries, because he was a fascist and because, as such, he would not allow communism in Spain. The orders given by Franco to the commanders of the colonial army which Mussolini transported to the Peninsula was clear: kill them. During the war, messages were exchanged between the insurgents; a colonel of the Spanish Foreign Legion wrote, in one of these messages: “No se preocupe Su Excelencia por el retraso en acabar la guerra; pues así vamos limpiando del virus marxista la indómita raza española en los pueblos y ciudades que atravesamos.” The legionnaire colonel was telling Franco that the war would be won, but the delay (of which Franco had complained) was necessary, because in that way the (fascist) army was cleansing towns and villages in all Spain of the Marxist virus.
In the history of our world much has been said and written about aggression in international relations. We have often seen powerful countries getting involved in local conflicts and even imposing all kinds of sufferance on the innocent inhabitants of these countries, “los pobres de la tierra”. There is no retribution: nothing had happened to the aggressor, say, the United States which caused so much pain and so much destruction in Vietnam.
The French Doctors or “Médecins sans frontières”, who probably intervened in some international conflicts, helping insurgents who fought communist governments, invented the concept of “interférence humanitaire”, that is, intervention, pure and simple. The same with all the colonialists who intervened to stop freedom-fighting people from constituting their own government.
More recently, we have had Britain and France and other western powers which have intervened in Irak, Libya and other places; and are now itching to intervene in Syria, as well, and perhaps even in Abhazia and South Ossetia to prop up the regime in Tiflis, Georgia. And there are other examples.
How come that seventy-five years ago they made a sanitary barrier around Spain, which they called non-intervention? Why?
The world seems to have forgotten these details of history. The same powers which now are so trigger-happy (in all those devastated countries) and call for “interférence humanitaire” so-called, were, in 1936-1939, sustaining the contrary theory. What was invented to destroy the lawful Spanish government and to help some fascist bandits on to power, “non-intervention”, has now turned into “intervention”. The description has varied, the form; but the aim, the purpose is the same.
Fernando García Izquierdo
9, rue Vernet
78150 Le Chesnay. France