The Second Spanish Republic (in Spanish: Segunda República Española) was the republican regime that existed in Spain from 1931 to 1939 (preceded by the Restoration and followed by Francoist Spain after the Spanish Civil War).
Following the Provisional Government between April and December 1931, the 1931 Constitution established the Republic. The Spanish Republic can be divided in three eras: the First Biennium, the Dark Biennium, and the Popular Front government.
The Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed when King Alfonso XIII left the country following municipal elections where anti-monarchist candidates won the majority of votes. Its government went into exile on 1 April 1939, when the last of the Republican forces surrendered to the rebel nacionales (led in part by Generalísimo Francisco Franco), ending the Spanish Civil War.
The government in exile of the Second Spanish Republic had an embassy in Mexico City until 1976. After the restoration of democracy in Spain, the government formally dissolved the following year.
On 28 January 1930 the military dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera (who had been in power since September 1923) was overthrown. This led various republican factions from a wide variety of backgrounds (including old conservatives and socialists) to join forces. The Pact of San Sebastián was the key to the transition from monarchy to republic. Republicans of all tendencies were committed to the Pact of San Sebastian in overthrowing the monarchy and establishing a republic. The restoration of the royal Bourbons was rejected by large sectors of the populace who vehemently opposed the King. The pact, signed by representatives of the main Republican forces, allowed a joint anti-monarchy political campaign. The 12 April 1931 municipal elections led to a landslide victory for republicans. Two days later, the Second Republic was proclaimed, and King Alfonso XIII went into exile. The king's departure led to a provisional government of the young republic under Niceto Alcalá-Zamora. Catholic churches and establishments in cities like Madrid and Sevilla were set ablaze on 11 May. In June 1931 a Constituent Cortes was elected to draft a new constitution, which came into force in December.
The new constitution established freedom of speech and freedom of association, extended suffrage to women in 1933, allowed divorce, and stripped the Spanish nobility of any special legal status. It also effectively disestablished the Roman Catholic Church, but the disestablishment was somewhat reversed by the Cortes that same year. Its controversial articles 26 and 27 imposed stringent controls on Church property and barred religious orders from the ranks of educators. Scholars have described the constitution as hostile to religion, with one scholar characterising it as one of the most hostile of the 20th century. José Ortega y Gasset stated, "the article in which the Constitution legislates the actions of the Church seems highly improper to me." Pope Pius XI condemned the Spanish government's deprivation of the civil liberties of Catholics in the encyclical Dilectissima Nobis.
The legislative branch was changed to a single chamber called the Congress of Deputies. The constitution established legal procedures for the nationalisation of public services and land, banks, and railways. The constitution provided generally accorded civil liberties and representation.
Catholic churches in major cities were again subject to arson in 1932, and a revolutionary strike action was seen in Málaga the same year. A Catholic church in Zaragoza saw arson in 1933, and the cathedral in Oviedo was destroyed by flames in 1934. The church of San Lorenzo in Gijon was set ablaze in this year as well. The church of San Juan in Albacete was torched three months prior to the onset of the civil war, in March 1936.
The 1931 Constitution was formally effective from 1931 until 1939. In the summer of 1936, after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, it became largely irrelevant after the authority of the Republic was superseded in many places by revolutionary socialists and anarchists on one side and fascists on the other.
The Republican Constitution also changed the country's national symbols. The Himno de Riego was established as the national anthem, and the Tricolor, with three horizontal red-yellow-purple fields, became the new flag of Spain. Under the new Constitution, all of Spain's regions had the right to autonomy. Catalonia (1932), the Basque Country (1936) and Galicia exercised this right, with Andalucía and Valencia, engaged in negotiations with the government before the outbreak of the Civil War. The Constitution guaranteed a wide range of civil liberties, but it failed to agree on key points with the convictions of the conservative right, which was very rooted in rural areas, and with the desires of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, which was stripped of schools and public subsidies.
The majority vote in the 1933 elections was won by the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (CEDA). This was led by José María Gil Robles, a coalition of centre-right and far-right parties. CEDA set up a coalition with the Radical Republican Party led by Alejandro Lerroux, which had come second in the elections. The Socialists came third. With Lerroux as head of Government, the new coalition Executive suspended most of the reforms of the previous government.
The inclusion of three CEDA ministers in the government that took office on October 1, 1934 led to a general strike and a rebellion by socialists and anarchists in Asturias on October 6. Miners in Asturias occupied the capital, Oviedo, killing officials and clergymen and burning theatres and the university. This rebellion lasted for two weeks until it was crushed by the army, led by General Francisco Franco, who in the process destroyed large parts of the city. This operation earned Franco the nickname "Butcher of Asturias". Another rebellion by autonomists in Catalonia was also suppressed, and was followed by mass arrests and trials.
The suspension of the land reforms that had been attempted by the previous government, and the failure of the Asturias miners' uprising, led to a more radical turn by the parties of the left, especially in the PSOE (Socialist Party), where the moderate Indalecio Prieto lost ground to Francisco Largo Caballero, who advocated a socialist revolution. At the same time the involvement of the Centrist government party in the Straperlo scandal deeply weakened it, further polarising political differences between right and left. These differences became evident in the 1936 elections.
On 7 January 1936, new elections were called. Despite significant rivalries and disagreements the socialists, Communists, and the Catalan and Madrid-based left-wing Republicans decided to work together under the name Popular Front. The Popular Front won the election on 16 February with 263 MPs against 156 right-wing MPs, grouped within a coalition of the National Front with CEDA, Carlists, and Monarchists. The moderate centre parties virtually disappeared; between the elections, Lerroux's group fell from the 104 representatives it had in 1934 to just 9.
In the following months there was increasing violence between left and right. This helped the development of the fascist-inspired Falange Española, a National party led by José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the son of the former dictator, Miguel Primo de Rivera. Although it only received 0.7 percent of the votes in the election, by July 1936 the Falange had 40,000 members.
On 12 July 1936, Lieutenant José Castillo, an important member of the anti-fascist military organisation Unión Militar Republicana Antifascista (UMRA), was shot by Falangist gunmen. In retaliation the following day, 13 July, UMRA members assassinated José Calvo Sotelo, leader of the right-wing opposition and the most prominent Spanish monarchist who, describing the government's actions as Bolshevist and anarchist, had been exhorting the army to intervene, declaring that Spanish soldiers would save the country from communism if "there are no politicians capable of doing so".
The Right blamed the government for Calvo Sotelo's assassination. Although this event is sometimes considered the catalyst for the further political polarisation that ensued, the Falange and other right-wing individuals, including Juan de la Cierva, had already been conspiring to launch a military coup d'état against the government, to be led by senior army officers. When the antifascist Castillo and the anti-socialist Calvo Sotelo were buried on the same day in the same Madrid cemetery, fighting between the Police Assault Guard and fascist militias broke out in the surrounding streets, resulting in four more deaths.
Three days later (17 July), the coup d'état began more or less as it had been planned, with an army uprising in Spanish Morocco, which then spread to several regions of the country. Franco's move was intended to seize power immediately, but his army uprising met with serious resistance, and great swathes of Spain, including most of the main cities, remained loyal to the Republic of Spain. The leaders of the treason (Franco was not commander-in-chief yet) did not lose heart with the stalemate and apparent failure of the coup. Instead, they initiated a slow and determined war of attrition against the Republican government in Madrid. As a result, an estimated total of perhaps half a million people would lose their lives in the war that followed.
The Second Republic was proclaimed during a period of worldwide economic depression. In spite of the high hopes, the Republican authorities had to struggle with rising unemployment and poverty. In the ensuing civil unrest, violence in the form of assassination, revolutionary general strikes, and mob actions increased to dangerous levels in the eyes of the traditional centres of power, such as the landowners, the Church, and the nobility. Thus, it was easy for them to whip up dissatisfaction with the republican government.
The murders of the leftist military leader José Castillo and the rightist politician José Calvo Sotelo opened the way to a rapidly increasing flood of violence between the political left and right.
Rightist elements in Spain justified their military coup against the Republic claiming that it was ungovernable and failed to respond adequately to the threats of communism, anarchism, anti-clericalism, and acts of random violence. As well as this growth in extreme-left violence, the perceived permissive attitude of the Republican elite to secessionist politics in the wealthy industrial regions of Catalonia and Basque Country, was felt by Spanish nationalists to pose a threat to the very existence of Spain as a nation-state.
On July 17, 1936, General Franco led the Spanish Army of Africa from Morocco to attack the mainland, while another force from the north under General Emilio Mola moved south from Navarre. Military units were also mobilised elsewhere to take over government institutions. Before long the professional Army of Africa had much of the south and west under the control of the rebels. Bloody purges followed in each piece of captured "Nationalist" territory in order to consolidate Franco's future regime. Although both sides received foreign military aid, the help that Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany (as part of German involvement in the Spanish Civil War), and neighbouring Portugal gave the rebels was much greater and more effective than the assistance that the Republicans received from the USSR, Mexico, and volunteers of the International Brigades. While the Axis powers wholeheartedly assisted General Franco's military campaign, the governments of France, Britain, and other European powers looked the other way and let the Republican forces die, as the actions of the Non-Intervention Committee would show. Imposed in the name of neutrality, the international isolation of the Spanish Republic ended up favouring the interests of the future Axis Powers.
The Siege of the Alcázar at Toledo early in the war was a turning point, with the rebels winning after a long siege. The Republicans managed to hold out in Madrid, despite a National assault in November 1936, and frustrated subsequent offensives against the capital at Jarama and Guadalajara in 1937. Soon, though, the rebels began to erode their territory, starving Madrid and making inroads into the east. The north, including the Basque country, fell in late 1937, and the Aragon front collapsed shortly afterwards. The bombing of Guernica was probably the most infamous event of the war and inspired Picasso's painting. It was used as a testing ground for the German Luftwaffe's Condor Legion. The Battle of the Ebro in July–November 1938 was the final desperate attempt by the Republicans to turn the tide. When this failed and Barcelona fell to the rebels in early 1939, it was clear the war was over. The remaining Republican fronts collapsed, and Madrid fell in March 1939.