The Communist Party of Spain in Great Britain explains the significance of the ‘democratic republic of workers of all classes,’ formed in 1931.
ON April 14 we celebrated the 89th anniversary of the second Spanish republic.
This is a commemoration of the time when the working class of Spain fought for fraternity and justice and opposed the rising fascism with the heroic help of the International Brigades.
It’s 1930 and Spain is torn by a huge inequality gap between wealthy landowners and near-starving labourers. Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship has left a huge budget deficit, rising unemployment and poverty at a time of worldwide economic depression. King Alfonso XIII, who had supported the dictatorship, agrees to hold the first democratic elections in nearly 60 years. To his disgust, however, these are taken as a plebiscite on the legitimacy of his monarchy.
On Thursday April 12 of 1931, the municipal elections give a large victory to the republican parties and the now former king goes into exile. Only two days later the new republic is born and workers fill the streets and squares of Spain in celebration.
Effectively, the new “democratic republic of workers of all classes” and its constitution recognised freedoms of association and expression as well as civil rights such a divorce and women’s suffrage.
Division of state powers was established in the newly secular state and, for the first time in the history of the country, a significant degree of autonomy was agreed with its regions — although only Catalonia (1932) and the Basque Country (1936) would manage to gain such status before the civil war.
The first biennium was led by socialist-influenced republicans who started a number of important and necessary reforms: an attempt to democratise the army, an extensive educational reform with the construction of nearly 7,000 schools, social laws improving working conditions and strengthening worker unions and an attempt on land ownership redistribution, among others.
Although these reforms did not manage to live up to the hopes of the working class, they still sparked the reaction of the economic elites who saw them as a direct attack on their interests. A premonitory military coup led by General Jose Sanjurjo failed to take power of the state in 1932, and in 1933, in a context of dire economic crisis and explosive interclass tensions, the Catholic and conservative parties won the elections, reverting all previous reforms.
The formation of a government with the fascist coalition Ceda (Confederacion Espanola de Derechas Autonomas/Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Rights) intensified tensions which led to a general strike in 1934 against the government.
This initiative failed in most parts of the country, but in Asturias the miners fought strongly, until the government brought in the army under the command of General Francisco Franco to repress the rebellion.
After various corruption scandals, the government called for further elections to be held in February of 1936. This time, left republican parties joined in the Popular Front with a programme summarised in three basic points: provide autonomy statutes for the different regions of Spain, agrarian reforms and amnesty and compensation for all political prisoners.
The Popular Front achieved a narrow victory over the opposing coalition of the right, and while the new government tried to revive the reformist programme, polarisation grew unstoppably. The workers on the left had taken on a more revolutionary slant and the right finally became more concerned with destroying the republic than winning it over electorally.
The Spanish civil war would start on July 17 1936 with a coup d’etat. Although the war ended with the defeat of the republic and strong repression, it remains in our memory as a great example of international solidarity.
Under the banner of the International Brigades, workers from across the globe came in aid of the Spanish republic to defend it from fascism — regardless of the blockade caused by the Non-intervention Agreement, promoted by the governments of Britain and France.
More than 2,300 volunteers came from Britain, Ireland and around the Commonwealth. About 500 of them never made it back home. Most encouragingly, we continue to see acts of solidarity in our world today. We see them when volunteers save the lives of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea, even though facing prison sentences in doing so.
We see it when workers help refugees in camps, even under the threat of organised fascist groups at the Greek and Turkish border. And most recently, we see solidarity from countries like China and Cuba, sending medical aid and doctors to any country that needs it regardless of their previous political relationship in order to battle Covid-19.
Sadly, we cannot say the same about those who now are hypocritically praising the health system. Those that not only have been dismantling and making cuts against it for decades but have allowed corruption to become more widespread and common. The current Spanish state is inherited from the dictatorship and it is embedded with corruption reaching its highest institution.
The monarchy today is under scrutiny after it came to light that former King Juan Carlos I had €100 million (£88m) in an offshore account. Some €65m of this is destined as inheritance to the current king, Felipe VI, who renounced it publicly only recently after knowing about this for over a year.
This represents but a declaration of intent, a window dressing to try to improve the damaged image of the Spanish royal family since he won’t be able to renounce that inheritance until his father passes away. This adds to a long list of “mistakes” that ended with Juan Carlos abdicating in 2014.
People showed their disregard for the monarchy on March 18 when Felipe VI was on national TV; people went out on to their balconies making noise with pots and pans during his speech. There has also been a popular demand for the royal family to donate this money to the health system, but there has been no response so far and, frankly, we didn’t expect one.
For us the monarchy is anachronistic and an inequality-based institution that must be overthrown. We fight for Spain to become a federal republican state, with democratic control of all state institutions, including the judiciary, and legal protection of basic social rights such as housing, employment and public services such as transport, energy or healthcare.
For those purposes it would be necessary to recover the sovereignty of the state, especially the economic one, which means going against the current treaties with Nato, the EU and above all, the euro (the main impediment for taking control over our natural resources, strategic economic sectors and debt restructuring).
The new state should take the form of a federal one, recognising national, historic, cultural and linguistic rights of the different nations that form part of Spain following the steps of second republic.
It is no mystery that the current Spanish state has a problem with its plurinational reality, a problem which so far has only been dealt with through repression, Spanish nationalism and enticing hatred between people, with the monarchy endorsing this way of action.
We wouldn’t want to finish without showing our gratitude once more to those who fought side by side with the Spanish people against fascism, in defence of workers’ rights and justice.
We will never forget them, they will be forever in our memories and like they said, we still say today: No pasaran!
This article was originally published in the Morning Star.