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Spanish Democratisation in the 1930s

The fall of a dictatorship and the path to democracy is an eventful time, but Spain in the

1930s faced not only this, but the full restoration of their monarchy; the move to becoming a

republic; a civil war; a revolution and the installation of a fascist dictatorship. It is no wonder

that such changes together in a mere span of ten years is quite unique, only somewhat similar to

the eventfulness in China during and prior to World War Two (Lapuente and Rothstein 2013:

15). Democracy, according to Therborn, first needs a “representative government”; which is

elected on mass by the adult population; where their “votes carry equal weight” and that the state

allows them to vote as they desire without “intimidation by the state apparatus” (1997: 138).

However Therborn admits that this describes a bourgeois democracy, which although found in

Spain in the 1930s, it was also joint by the direct democracy of the Anarcho-syndicalists

(Therborn 1997: 138; Casanova 2000: 533). The Anarcho-syndicalists believed in a classless

society where the workers had seized the means of economic production from the aristocats and

the bourgeoisie and controlled it through federation of trade unions, hence syndicalism, but

where the state has also been removed in favour of direct democracy through the trade union

collectives, thus anarchy (Casanova 2000: 533; McKay 2007: 22; Dolgoff 2000: 41). The

Anarcho-syndicalists played a role in the downfall of the traditional dictatorship of the 1920s; the

1930 caretaker government of the monarchy; the creation of the republican bourgeois democracy

of the 1930s through effect and the downfall of the bourgeois democracy to a fascist dictatorship

(Casanova 2000: 520). Therefore one might question the best way to holistically conceptualise

the process of democratisation in relation to the events in Spain in the 1930s, of which both

Bartington Moore and Gregory Luebbert claimed to explain these events (Schatz 2001: 149).

Therefore this article will investigate the conceptualisations of democratisation of Moore and

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Spanish Democratisation in the 1930s

Luebbert, summarise the events in question and will argue that Luebbert’s interpretation has the

most credence.

Democratisation according to Moore is developed through the culture of a social cleavage

which supports the foundation of democracy. Moore’s conceptualisation in his work, ​Origins of

Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant​, used an historical model to explain

democratisation through class relations between different economic cleavages of society (Baud

1998: 113; Ziblatt 2008: 614). This is caused by “holdovers” from the pre-industrial age which

then shapes and guides the process of democratisation (Ziblatt 2008: 614).Moore argued that

there were three paths of development that led to the modern world, the “bourgeois revolution”;

the “revolution from above” and the “peasant revolution” (Baud 1998: 113; Skocpol 1973: 4).

The first is where the traditional landed class is removed from power and replaced through

violent revolution by the bourgeoisie who induce capitalistic economic and democratic reform

and is epitomised by the United States, England and France (Wiener 1975: 301; Skocpol 1973:

6). The second route is where the traditional landed class manages to stay in power and defeat

the revolution of the bourgeoisie, who thus are the ones who guide the process of

industrialisation of society which results in fascism (Skocpol 1973: 8;Wiener 1975: 301). Such

societies that fall to fascism are ones which have a labour repressive values that does not allow

the seeds of democracy to grow or where the burgeoning democracy is snuffed out by

bourgeoisie allying with the elite landed class, which is epitomised by Germany, Italy and Japan

(Skocpol 1973: 8; Wiener 1975: 301). The last route is where both the traditional landed class

and the bourgeoisie are overthrown by the peasants due to their weaknesses; their inability to

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Spanish Democratisation in the 1930s

modernise society and solidarity and community of the peasants in which is epitomised by

communist countries like Russia and China (Skocpol 1973: 8; Wiener 1975: 301). Because of

his class based analysis and his focus on the dialectic class conflict between economic eras,

Moore has been alleged to be a “Marxist”, however Moore does believe that proletariat (paid

industrial worker) played a revolutionary role in the revolutions that resulted in communism,

which then puts him at odds with at least Marxist-Leninist thought (Skocpol 1973: 1; Wiener

1975: 308). Modernisation is brought about by three possible social classes which results in

either bourgeois democracy; fascism or communism.

There are four important social classes that form different class alliances which guides

the path of the country’s democratisation process. Luebbert’s conceptualisations also makes use

of class relations to explain democratisation and its success or failure, through different class

alliances found in countries, which determines the direction that the society follows (Roemer

2006: 10). Luebbert considered the interwar politics as more pure class politics compared to

other eras which lead to stronger policies being promoted by political parties (Roemer 1999: 8).

There are four important social classes that are listed by Luebbert: the urban middle class

(bourgeois); the urban workers (proletariat); landed peasants (rural middle class) and landless

agricultural labours (rural lower class). Luebbert also mentions the urban upper class and the

rural upper class, although they do not take the import roles that the other four classes have

(Roemer 2006: 10). Therefore the character of the class politics and power of the political

alliances determine whether the society will enter bourgeois democracy, fascism or communism

(Cox 1992: 632). The key social class which determined the outcome of the success or failure of

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the democratisation process was the landed peasants, where the other social classes only matter

when in alliances (Roemer 1999: 2; Luebert 1987: 460, 471). When the bourgeoisie and the

urban workers held an alliance but with the bourgeoisie holding the upper hand due to low union

support, then this tended to create the basis of a right leaning liberal democracy, while when the

urban workers had the upper hand with support from the landed peasants then this tended to

create a left leaning social democracy (Thelen 1999: 372; Levy 1999: 111). However where

there was a rural class struggle the urban workers tended to side with the agricultural labours,

which meant the landed peasants might align with the weakened bourgeoisie in support of

fascism (Brachet-Márquez 2003: 466; Roemer 2006: 10; Cox 1992: 632). The urban workers and

the agricultural labourers alliance tended to support drastic economic and land reforms, without

thought of democratic stability (Domenech 2010: 2). The bourgeois; proletariat; rural middle

class and rural lower class form class alliances which determine if the county will end up a

liberal democracy; social democracy or a fascist regime.

A coup saw the quasi-democratic government in Spain replaced with a dictatorship that

aimed to end labour disputes and end the economic downturn in the country. Spain in 1920s and

30s was still very rural in stature but had a rapid increase in industrialisation in the metropolitan

areas that was starting to change the demographics of the country, with the urban working class

increasing by 200% between 1910 and 1930 (Casanova 2000: 520; Fraser 1981: 37). The rural

areas were divided up into three types of agricultural structure, in the North there were the small

farms of the rural middle class. In the centre of the country there were medium sized farms of

both the rural middle class and the rural upper class and in the South and on the Eastern coast

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there were large farms of the rural upper class, which were worked by the rural lower class

(Brachet-Márquez 2003: 465; Luebbert 1987: 471). The rapid increase in industrialisation also

brought about an increase in trade unionism and socialist thought in Spain which resulted in an

expansion of trade unions and the merger and consolidation of them into a more powerful force

(Casanova 2000: 521). However the lower classes were still not properly represented by the

quasi-democratic government of constitutional monarchy, which sparked political violence that

in turn lead to the upper and middle classes fearing for their interests. This was temporarily

relieved by the overthrow of the government by General Miguel Primo de Rivera in 1923 to end

the labour disputes and end the economic downturn that the country was facing (Mikkelsen

1996: 36; Solsten and Meditz 1988a; Fraser 1981: 40; Garcia 2013: 447; Ben-Ami 1977: 65).

Rivera’s Coup was support by both King Alfonso XIII, the Spanish military and the upper

classes (Solsten and Meditz 1988a; Sfikas 1999: 230; Boyd 1984: 153). Although Rivera was an

admirer of Mussolini who had seized control of Italy the year before hand and had expressed

how Mussolini’s fascist coup had showed him what he needed to do in order “to save” Spain

although he was not a fascist as his policies were otherwise of a liberal nature (Weyland 2008:

309; Payne 1973: 625; Sfikas 1999: 230). Rivera also worked with the democratic socialist party

(​PSOE)​ to create a compromise to end the labour disputes, which co-aligned with a major

increase of support for the party during these years (Lapuente and Rothstein 2013: 12; Mikkelsen

1996: 36). However Rivera never worked with the Libertarian-communist and

Anarcho-syndicalist alliance (​CNT-FAI​), which remained outlawed as their ideology would not

allow them to work with the state, although this meant that the landless agricultural labours who

were their biggest supporters and who were members of their unions, were sidelined by the

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Rivera dictatorship (Lapuente and Rothstein 2013: 12; Luebbert 1987: 471;Sfikas 1999: 230-1).

Rivera’s rhetoric for his legitimacy as ruler was that he was key to the “technocratic

regeneration” of Spain, which meant that his dictatorship was involved in a considerable amount

of state funded infrastructure building (Solsten and Meditz 1988b; Payne 1973: 622). Although

such ‘think big schemes’ using loaned money were successful in the earlier years of his

dictatorship, the economic depression at the end of the 20s lost him considerable support from

the population (Solsten and Meditz 1988a; Sfikas 1999: 230; Boyd 1984: 154). Rivera gave up

on reverting back to the previous quasi-democratic government under a constitutional monarchy

and created a task force to move towards a proper democratic government under a constitutional

monarchy with full suffrage, however he managed to lose support of both the king who rejected

his attempts at democratisation and of the military who rejected his attempts at military reform

(Payne 1973: 623-4; Ben-Am 1977: 72; Boyd 1984: 154; Sfikas 1999: 230). Therefore in 1930

Rivera resigned and handed power back to the king who subsequently installed a placeholder

government and organised for national and local elections to be held the next year (Casanova

2000: 520; Ben-Am 1977: 72). Rivera was installed through the fears of the rural and urban elite

after labour disputes, this chain of events is more comparable to Moore’s “revolution from

above”, although even if he personally was influenced by Mussolini, Rivera’s dictatorship was

not fascist. However because of the cooperation with the Democratic Socialist party, the

dictatorship could simply be an anomaly.

The early part of the 1930s saw foundation of the Spanish second republic and its first

two national elections which saw the government go from centre left to moderate right. After the

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republican parties overwhelmingly won the 1931 local election and that it was clear that he had

lost favour from helping to install the Rivera dictatorship, the king fled Spain and asked the

military to insure his reign. However the military declined to intervene and Spain’s second

republic was founded after the writing of the new constitution (Payne 1987: 625-7; Sfikas 1999:

230-1; Solsten and Meditz 1988c). The national elections saw the democratic socialist party and

a left of centre republican party in coalition with a considerable lead over the other parties

(Fraser 1981: 37; Sfikas 1999: 237; Solsten and Meditz 1988c). However the republican-socialist

coalition induced land reforms which were promoted by the PSOE and was popular with landless

agricultural labours but very unpopular with the land owning rural middle class and rural upper

class, this resulted in a dramatic shift of support to the right (Luebbert 1987: 472; Casanova

2000: 537; Mikkelsen 1996: 36; Domenech 2010: 2). Further the ​CNT-FAI​ alliance was not in

support of reforms or any other collaborative act with the state, to them they were in an open

class war with the government, which meant they did not support or promote the reforms to their

members (Fraser 1981:38). This led to the reforms being allowed to languish and the PSOE

looking untrustworthy due to the gap between their rhetoric and actual reality (Fraser 1981: 38;

Sfikas 1999: 237). This also led to a coalition between the large landholding rural upper class

and small landholding rural middle class to take on the republican-socialist coalition and a spate

of political violence in response, during the lead up to the 1933 national election (Feliu 2013: 2;

Domenech 2010: 2, 8; Casanova 2000: 520-1). This was described by Malefakis as a “latent civil

war” in the rural areas of the country (1970: 306, in Feliu 2013: 2), and was mostly performed by

the ​CNT-FAI​ who saw a decrease in their support after their campaign of violence and its lack of

effectiveness (Domenech 2010: 4-5; Feliu 2013: 7). The election was won by the right wing

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coalition who subsequently repealed the land reform bill and employed labour repressive

decrees, however this led the left to push in a “counter-offensive” with even greater vigour

(Luebbert 1987: 472; Mikkelsen 1996: 36). In 1935 the left created an even more broad coalition

called the Popular front which supported the urban working and the rural labouring classes,

which saw its passionate supporters being the casual or part time labourers from the south of the

country working on the large farms of the rural upper class (Feliu 2013: 2, 7; Schatz 2001:

146-7). While the right wing coalition lost support and faced schism from the beliefs of some of

its members on antidisestablishmentarianism and other such removals of the separation of church

and state (Schatz 2001: 146-7). The first two national elections of the Spanish second republic in

the early part of the 1930s saw support go from the left to the right. This chain of events are

more comparable to Luebbert’s conceptualisation with the parties supporting the urban and rural

classes and the parties supporting the urban and rural middle classes taking more and more

extreme positions.

The radicalised political parties competed in the last election of the second Spanish

republic before the country was thrown into civil war. The Popular front coalition was victorious

in the 1936 election with a more radicalised agenda reinstating the recalled policies and inducing

more pro-worker and labour policies (Schatz 2001: 149; Mikkelsen 1996: 36). The urban middle

class was not able to offer a compromise and strike a deal with the proletariat in a liberal-labour

coalition until it was too late, as a compromise was tried on the eve of the civil war when the

Democratic Socialists were fully committed to their policy of redistributing land to labourers

(Schatz 2001: 149; Mikkelsen 1996: 38; Casanova 2000: 530; Domenech 2). A coalition of

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employers’ associations offered via a manifesto to meet nearly all of the demands of the

government, whereby the government replied that they were not interested in the compromise

and that they were staying the course (Payne 2006: 257, in Lapuente and Rothstein 2013: 9).

Only two weeks later the Spanish Colonial army attempted a coup to try and overthrow the

Spanish Republican government, the coup failed, but a civil war developed out of the failed

attempt (Casanova 2000: 530-1). The areas of strongest support for the coup was to the

Northwest where the smaller farms of the rural middle class were, while the urban middle class

was not generally interested in supporting fascism, it still nonetheless sided with the fascist fight

to bring down the government (Lapuente and Rothstein 2013: 11; Valenzuela 1999: 38-9;

Mikkelsen 1996: 36). The war started as a local civil war but soon took on a greater role with

people joining up internationally to fight on both sides depending on their ideological beliefs and

the powers of the time using it as a proxy war with Nazi Germany and fascist Italy with them

sending weapons, vehicles and pilots to fight for General Franco and the Spanish Falangist army.

The republican government saw support from the Soviet Union in armaments and support in

recruiting and transporting its international brigade (Brachet-Márquez 2003: 465; Casanova

2000: 529-30). However the Western democratic powers showed a major lack of support for the

Republican side which led to a reliance on the Soviet Union for support, who abused this power

to increase the standing of the small Communist party to a central role. Such consolidation also

happened on the Nationalist side, so that by the end of the war it was just the Communists

fighting the Falangist/Fascists (Casanova 2000: 529-30). During their revolution at the beginning

of the Spanish civil war, the Anarcho-syndicalist collectives organised and ran department stores,

food production and distribution, railways, tram systems, telephone systems, hospitals, schools,

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cinemas, social housing, militia armies and most other services normally provided by either the

state or by private companies (McKay 2007: 22; Dolgoff 2000: 41).The revolution by the

CNT-FAI​ created a direct democratic social order by taking advantage of the confusion at the

beginning of the war but the Anarcho-syndicalist and the Democratic Socialists had a common

enemy in the fascist dominated Nationalist side, but when the power was given to the

Communists this created a schism between the Anarcho-syndicalist and the newly Communist

controlled republic (Casanova 2000: 529-30). However the militias of the Anarcho-syndicalists

were assimilated into the republican army and their territory that they controlled was either taken

by the state or captured by the Nationalists as their revolution cracked under pressure in the face

of the ever escalating war (Casanova 2000: 533). The war ended in 1939 with the victory of the

fascists and with Frannco as dictator which lasted until 1977, two years after his death (Casanova

2000: 533). The chain of events leading up to the civil war clearly matches Luebbert’s

conceptualisation of the process that results in fascism when the urban workers align with rural

labourers and engage in land reforms.

Modernisation according to Moore is brought about by three possible social classes

which results in either bourgeois democracy when the bourgeoisie defeat the traditional landed

class; fascism when the traditional landed class defeats the bourgeoisie or communism where

both the traditional landed class and the bourgeoisie are overthrown by the peasants due to

weaknesses in their social cleavages. According to Luebbert, the bourgeois; proletariat; land

owning peasants and landless agricultural labourers form class alliances which determine if the

county will end up a liberal democracy; social democracy or a fascist regime. Although the

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Rivera era matches moore’s “revolution from above”, the dictatorship was not fascist. The early

part of the second republic was plagued by labour disputes and where the urban workers sided

with the agricultural labourers, which meant the landed peasants aligned with the bourgeoisie

and other elite classes in support labour repressive policies. The latter part of the second republic

was also plagued by labour disputes and where the left was not willing to compromise on their

labour policies which caused the right to support a fascist coup and led to a civil war. In these

two latter eras Luebbert conceptualisation more closely matches events and is therefore more

useful in interpreting events in Spain in the 1930s.

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