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1936 - Spanish Civil War

Spanish Civil War - a military coup escalates the tension in a divided nation, pitting Nationalists against Republicans and plunging Spain into a bitter civil war lasting from July 1936 to April 1939

Spanish politics and society during the early 20th Century was riven with discord and strife, and the country was divided along many lines - socio-economic, urban-rural, religion, tradition-modernity and more.  There were many opposing forces in Spain, and those with different visions for the country were viewed as irrational and ill-equipped to wield power.  Tensions reached boiling point when a new government was voted on in February of 1936. 


The incoming government had promised to introduce a host of land reforms which would alter Spain’s land utilization strategies, a policy which appeared to be beneficial for the public. The military wing, however, was not happy with the planned changes and began planning the best course of action to resist them. As the rest of the country celebrated the concluded elections, the military was deeply worried about the oncoming reforms, and carried out a coup on July 18th.


At the outbreak of the revolt, Spanish Morocco, the Canary Islands, Galicia, Navarra and parts of Castille and Aragón immediately sided with the new military rebels. However, due to either lack of communication or division of thought, not all the garrisons and their officers joined. 


In Madrid the intervention of the public kept the garrison loyal to the left-wing government. General Goded failed equally in Barcelona and was shot, whilethe leader of the coup, General  Sanjurjo, died when his plane crashed on take-off in Portugal. This situation left in the field three very independent leaders, the Generals Franco, Mola and Queipo, who by not winning or losing created a division in Spain's population, forcing it to either support the elected government or the army uprising.


The rebel army now only held five large cities and a quarter of the mainland. The government had the backing of about 75 per cent of the industry and commerce sectors, plus a sizable section from the rest of the army and the important security forces. Fortunately for Franco and his fellow conspirators, the government leaders in Madrid failed to arm its civilian supporters, or maintain a united policy, with each party or Union taking power into their own hands.


Catalonia came under the rule of both the Generalitat and the CNT party; the Basques were as divided as elsewhere, and at the same time considered once again that they were a state independent from Madrid. Confusion led to wild propaganda, with the result that people took to the streets keenly fuelled with horrific stories and half-truths. 500 inhabitants of Ronda in Andalucía were murdered, and hundreds of churches were burnt or ransacked while thousands of clergy were slaughtered. But this was only the beginning of the indiscriminate or mass killings committed by both sides in the Civil War.

The key to advancement from Franco's viewpoint was to transport his Moroccan Legionnaires into Spain. This well-trained force contained soldiers with many years of fighting experience in Africa. Enthusiastic street militia and International Brigades formed of idealistic leftists from across the globe provided the Republicans a counterweight. At first the Nacionalistas, as General Franco's army became known, quickly captured eastern Andalusia and Extremadura. In Madrid the Republican militia stopped their steady advance with a heroic stand. 


Germany, Italy and Portugal sent troops, much-needed arms and planes to assist General Franco. The Italian leader Mussolini claimed his 70,000 troops were just volunteers, and the Germans' 100 planes based in Salamanca had a decided effect on the outcome, infamously eradicating the city of Guernica. Russia was the principal supporter of the Republicans and sent arms and some much-needed other equipment and military advisers. 


Franco's African Army moved successfully north from Andalucía close to the border of Portugal taking Badajoz in a bloody manner that outraged many to the north in Europe. The old city of Toledo was to prove too strong in its defence when some 2,000 inhabitants retreated into the old Alcázar fortress against the besieging Republican army. Franco appreciating the propaganda value of the situation in Toledo marched across and broke the siege.

By the end of 1937 much of the action had moved to the northern coast where the iron and ship building industry fell into the hands of the Nationalists. The death of General Mola in a plane accident that year left the centre stage clear with one leader, General Francisco Franco. 


In spring of 1938 the Nationalists drove through the defensive line in Aragón and ended up on the east coast of Spain. Ignoring the problem of Barcelona, the army marched south to unsuccessfully attack Valencia. Seizing the moment the Republicans attacked Franco's rear with an offensive in the River Ebro valley which cost in total over 50,000 casualties and 20,000 dead. In December Franco marched on a virtually undefended Barcelona.

On 28 March 1939 Francisco Franco's army marched into Madrid, which fell quickly, and on 1 April the war was declared officially over. Franco would maintain an iron grip on Spain - its civil liberties, women's rights, jobs and religious practice - until his death in 1975. Many Republican supporters would flee, and many of those who were captured would be executed.



Timeline of Spanish Civil War


Further Reading


Spartacus Educational - Overview of Spanish Civil War - 7 Things You May Not Know About the Spanish Civil War

Google Arts & CultureWar in Madrid: Images of the Spanish Civil War

All That Is InterestingA Republic Collapsed: Inside The Spanish Civil War

Eyewitness to HistoryThe Bombing of Guernica

BBC - In Our Time: Spanish Civil War

1936 - Arab Revolt

Arab Revolt - strikes, protests and sporadic violence during the first phase of a nationalist uprising by Palestinian Arabs against the British administration and increasing Jewish influence in the region

In 1936, widespread Palestinian dissatisfaction with Britain’s governance erupted into open rebellion. Several key dynamics and events can be seen as setting the stage for this uprising. In Palestine, as elsewhere, the 1930s had been a time of intense economic disruption. Rural Palestinians were hit hard by debt and dispossession, and such pressures were only exacerbated by British policies and Zionist imperatives of land purchases and “Hebrew labor.” 


Rural to urban migration swelled Haifa and Jaffa with poor Palestinians in search of work, and new attendant forms of political organizing emerged that emphasized youth, religion, class, and ideology over older elite-based structures. Meanwhile, rising anti-Semitism—especially its state-supported variant—in Europe led to an increase of Jewish immigration, legal and illegal, in Palestine.

With tensions throughout Palestine running high since the fall of 1935, the revolt was ignited in mid-April 1936 when followers a convoy of trucks between Nablus and Tulkarm was attacked, killing two Jewish drivers. The next day, the Zionist paramilitaries killed two Palestinian workers near Petah Tikva, and in the following days, deadly disturbances ensued in Tel Aviv and Jaffa. In Nablus, an Arab National Committee was formed and a strike was called on 19 April. National Committees in other cities echoed the call to strike.

The strike was widely observed and brought commercial and economic activity in the Palestinian sector to a standstill. Meanwhile, Palestinians throughout the countryside came together in armed groups to attack—at first sporadically, but with increasing organization— British and Zionist targets. 

The British employed various tactics in an attempt to break the strike and to quell the rural insurrection. The ranks of British and Jewish policemen swelled and Palestinians were subjected to house searches, night raids, beatings, imprisonment, torture, and deportation. Large areas of Jaffa’s Old City were demolished and the British called in military reinforcements.

Concurrent with military operations and repressive measures, the British government dispatched a commission of inquiry headed by Lord Peel to investigate the root causes of the revolt. In October 1936, under the combined pressure of British policies, other Arab heads of state, and the effects of a six-month general strike on the Palestinian population, the AHC called off the strike and agreed to appear before the Peel Commission. A period of lower intensity conflict prevailed as the Peel Commission toured the country, but tensions continued to build in anticipation of the commission’s report.



Further Reading


Jewish Virtual Library - Pre-State Israel: The Arab Revolt (1936-39)

Israel Daily PictureThe Start of the "Arab Revolt in Palestine" and the Assault on Jews in Eretz Yisrael

Israel Daily Picture The British Army Responds to the Arab Revolt

Battle for Cable Street - anti-fascist demonstrators clash with police in London while preventing a march of British fascists led by Oswald Mosely

Oswald Mosley was an opportunistic politician who set up the British Union of Fascists in 1932. Closely aligned to the political principles of Hitler, Mosley was supported by members known as Blackshirts because of the black uniforms they wore. He targeted the East End of London because it had a large Jewish population. According to Mosley and his party, England could blame the Jews for all of its problems.  In 1936, he announced that he and his Blackshirts were planning a major march through the East End on October 4th. Despite attempts to ban the march, it went ahead, much to the disgust of local residents and other political parties who decided to take a stand.

Although Mosley may have expected to meet some organised resistance from the local population and even though Jewish leaders had advised their people to stay out of the fight, he might not have anticipated the number of people who turned out to stop the march. It is thought that hundreds of thousands of people led by Phil Piration, the leader of the Communist Party of Great Britain, were in the East End on the morning of the march, ready to defend it against the Blackshirts from various locations around the planned route.

These anti-fascist groups decided to try to stop the march by building roadblocks in key areas. The main barricades were located on Cable Street, near Christian Street. Despite a strong police presence of around 6,000 men, the largest force ever seen in the area, locals made it virtually impossible for them to clear the way for Mosley’s march to continue down the street. The phrase “They Shall Not Pass” became synonymous with the demonstrators efforts to put a stop to the fascists.

The barricade at Cable Street was based around an overturned lorry that effectively blocked access through the narrow street. This was then reinforced with barrels, wood, bricks, paving stones and corrugated iron to make it larger and more secure. The advancing police could not get close enough to the barricade to bring it down as they were pelted with bricks and other objects by the men standing behind it. The police had to eventually send out for reinforcements and it took a full baton charge to eventually clear the street so that the barricade could be dismantled.


Although Mosley’s march did not actually make it this far, demonstrators fought with police who were trying to remove the barricades, using any weapons they could lay their hands on, including sticks, rocks and even chair legs. Some even kidnapped police officers to prevent them from doing their job. Even the local women played a part, pelting police from their houses with eggs, rotten vegetables, rubbish, milk bottles and the contents of their chamber pots. The progress of police horses was disrupted by marbles rolled from local houses and glass scattered into the streets.

Eventually Mosley was ordered to call a halt to the march to avoid any further disruption or bloodshed and his Blackshirts diverted their route to Hyde Park outside of the East End. It is thought that around 170 people were injured in the skirmishes and 150 were arrested.  Some of those arrested said that the police treated them badly; most got away with minor fines, however leaders of the demonstrators who were caught had to serve three months of hard labour.


Further Reading

Wikipedia - The Battle of Cable Street: 80 Years On

Al JazeeraRemembering the Battle of Cable Street

BBC - Witness History: The Battle of Cable Street

1936 - Battle of Cable Street
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