Read this article to learn about the Spanish civil war between the two world wars!
The first victim of joint German-Italian aggression in Europe was Spain. In the elections held in February 1936 the Popular Front, formed in order to resist the fascist forces in Spain, won convincingly.
The new government started introducing reforms by restoring political liberties, meeting the peasants’ demand for land by breaking up big estates, and improving the lot of miners and other industrial workers. A programme of educational development was taken up.
The Phalange and other right-wing parties and groups, representing interests which had kept Spain a backward country, and their allies— the army generals—now made plans to overthrow the government of the Popular Front and establish a fascist rule.
In July 1936, the fascists organised mutinies, supported by most of the Spanish army, both within the country and in Spanish colonies. The main leader of the mutineers was General Franco, who led his army from Spanish Morocco to join the rebels in Spain.
Three years of brutal war followed. The Nationalists, as the anti-Republican fascist forces and their allies were called, had in the meantime secured the help of Italy and Germany to overthrow the Republican government.
In fact, the civil war in Spain brought the two fascist countries of Europe together and they poured in vast quantities of arms and ammunition and aeroplanes as well as troops to support the Spanish fascists.
The rebels, with foreign support, captured many parts of the country and unleashed a reign of terror against the peasants and all those who were suspected of being supporters of the Republic. At this time, Britain, France and USA adopted a policy of non-intervention.
This policy meant that no aid could reach the Republicans while the German and Italian military support to Franco continued unchecked. The only country that came to the support of the Republicans was the Soviet Union.
The Republicans organised the defence of the Republic with the help of the citizens, who formed their militia and fought many fierce battles. In November 1936, they heroically defended Madrid, the capital city, and prevented its capture by Franco’s troops.
The Spanish Civil War had aroused the conscience of the world. Anti-fascists from over fifty countries enrolled themselves as volunteers to fight in defence of the Spanish Republic.
An International Brigade with over 40,000 volunteers was formed and fought in Spain and thousands of them died on Spanish soil. The volunteers included anti-fascist Italians and Germans. The battalion of the German volunteers was named after Thalmann, the German
Communist leader who had been put in a concentration camp by the Nazis and later murdered. The American battalion was named after Abraham Lincoln, the US President who had abolished slavery in USA. The international solidarity with the Spanish Republic reflected the growing concern all over the world at the rise of fascism.
The civil war in Spain was not viewed as merely a Spanish affair but one in which the entire world, threatened by fascism and aggression, was involved. Jawaharlal Nehru went to Spain to express the solidarity of the Indian freedom movement with the cause of the Republicans.
Many writers, poets and artists from different parts of the world fought in the Spanish Civil War and mobilised world public opinion in support of the Republic. Pablo Picasso, the greatest artist of the twentieth century, painted Guernica, a great work of art. Guernica was a Spanish town which was destroyed by aerial bombing by fascist planes. The painting, named after the town, was a powerful protest against the brute force which fascism represented.
By February 1939, most parts of Spain had fallen to the fascists and Franco’s government was recognised by Britain and France, and, a little later, by USA. The city of Madrid continued to resist till about the end of March and after the fall of that city the fascist take-over of Spain was complete. The Spanish Civil War is often described as the “Dress rehearsal” of the Second World War in which the fascist countries tested their new weapons on the battlefields of Spain.