The Rise and Fall of the Second Spanish Republic: From Reform to Civil War


The Fall of the Tsarist Regime and the Creation of the USSR

The Russian Revolution was a series of events which led to:

  • Fall of the Tsarist Regime.
  • Creation of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Background (Context)

Political System

At the start of the 20th century, Russia was an AUTOCRATIC EMPIRE ruled by a TSAR. He was supported by the:

  • Army, police, and bureaucracy. Parliament had no power, and political parties were persecuted.


There was a semi-feudal system: the royal family, rich landowners, and the church had privileges. The rest of the population was poor and heavily taxed. Conditions at work were very bad.


Primarily agricultural, with some people beginning to move to cities looking for work.

The Rise of Political Parties

In this context, UNDERGROUND political parties emerged:

  • CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Liberal. They represented landowners and the bourgeoisie.
  • SOCIAL REVOLUTIONARY PARTY: They wanted reforms and an end to Tsarism.
  • SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC WORKERS’ PARTY: Marxist ideology. The proletariat was the true revolutionary class. In 1903, they split:
    • MENSHEVIKS: Minority. They preferred a liberal system.
    • BOLSHEVIKS: Majority. They wanted to give power to the proletarian class.

Bloody Sunday and the Road to Revolution

In 1905, workers protested in St. Petersburg but were brutally repressed by soldiers in a massacre called BLOODY SUNDAY.


Russia’s participation in World War I impoverished the country. Workers’ and peasants’ protests were supported by the army, forcing the Tsar to abdicate. A liberal provisional government was installed but couldn’t do much. The Bolsheviks, with Lenin and Soviets (peasants and workers), demanded the provisional government’s resignation and an end to the war.


The Bolsheviks, with Lenin’s April Theses, gained the support of most Soviets. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ended Russia’s involvement in the war but resulted in significant territorial losses. Agricultural reforms were implemented, land was expropriated, and factories and businesses were nationalized.


The Russian Civil War (1918-1921)

Privileged classes opposed the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary changes. The Russian Civil War erupted between:

  • THE WHITE ARMY: Opposed to Bolsheviks and supported by France, the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
  • THE RED ARMY: Composed of Bolsheviks and led by Leon Trotsky.

The CHEKA, the first of many Soviet Secret Police organizations, carried out bloody repression during the civil war. Communism, with its focus on military needs, the abolition of money, the prohibition of private enterprise, and the redistribution of agricultural products, was established but proved disastrous. The Red Army won the war.

The Formation of the USSR

  • The Russian SFSR (Russian Soviet Federalist Socialist Republic) was created with the Bolshevik victory, gaining recognition from only a few countries in 1920.
  • The SFSR later became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
  • The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) became the only political party. The 1924 Constitution was approved, and Britain recognized the USSR.
  • Lenin introduced his New Economic Policy (NEP) to mitigate the crisis, allowing for the coexistence of public and private sectors until his death in 1924.


This movement started during the early years of the 20th century.


  1. Art Manifesto: outlining the main principles and characteristics of its style.
  2. Rejection of academic art: artists sought to break from classical styles, embracing innovation and provocation.
  3. Contempt towards bourgeois conservatism: art as a style for the masses, not the church or the bourgeoisie.
  4. Unrestricted creative expression: no limits for expression.
  5. Art must express real life: breaking with the idea that art should solely represent beauty.

Art Styles of the Avant-Garde Movement

  • Fauvism
  • Expressionism
  • Cubism
  • Futurism



European Crisis and the Rise of the United States

World War I caused a recession in Europe while bringing prosperity to the United States. Europe suffered widespread destruction of its industrial infrastructure, transportation, and networks.

European Crisis

Germany experienced HYPERINFLATION due to excessive money printing to pay off war debts, leading to economic turmoil. The United Kingdom and France aimed to repay their debts to the United States using Germany’s war reparations.

The Rise of the United States

The United States emerged as the world’s leading industrial power, relatively unscathed by the war. Exporting heavily to Europe during the war and experiencing a Second Industrial Revolution, the US economy flourished, leading to the emergence of the”AMERICAN WAY”

The American Way

This model led to:

  • Consumerism: A cultural model promoting the acquisition and use of goods.
  • Installment plans: Allowing payments over extended periods.
  • Consumer credit: Lending money to consumers for purchases.

The Other Side of the American Way

  • Increased immigration, fueled by the perception of the United States as a land of opportunity, often resulted in poverty and discrimination for immigrants.
  • Alcohol prohibition in the 1920s led to illegal production and consumption, fueling organized crime and violence (e.g., Al Capone).
  • The Ku Klux Klan, a large group fighting against Black people, gained prominence.


Causes of the Great Depression

  • Agricultural overproduction: During World War I, the US exported large quantities of agricultural products to Europe. After the war, demand and prices plummeted, leading to job losses and migration to cities.
  • Industrial overproduction: Similar to agricultural overproduction, industrial output exceeded demand after the war.
  • Speculation: Rampant buying of shares (stocks) inflated prices, leading to a stock market bubble.

The Wall Street Crash of 1929

The stock market crashed in October 1929, marking the start of the Great Depression, a period of global economic hardship characterized by unemployment, poverty, and misery.

The Great Depression and Roosevelt’s New Deal

President Roosevelt introduced the New Deal in 1933 to combat the Depression’s effects. The program focused on:

  • Relief for the poor
  • Recovery of the economy
  • Reform of the banking system


Governments sought greater control to address societal problems, restricting freedoms and intervening in economies. Anti-democratic totalitarian regimes emerged.

Characteristics of Totalitarian Regimes

  • Charismatic leader: Other parties are prohibited.
  • Limited individual rights and freedoms
  • Extreme nationalism: Seeking racial purity
  • Territorial expansion and economic interventionism through nationalization
  • Indoctrination and physical coercion: Control of the population
  • Propaganda: Glorifying the leader

Totalitarianism and Propaganda (11 Point Plan of the Nazi Party/Joseph Goebbels)

  1. Adopt a single idea, a single symbol, and a single enemy.
  2. Contagion: All enemies share the same characteristics.
  3. Transposition: Cover your mistakes by highlighting the enemy’s.
  4. Exaggeration: Inflate small problems.
  5. Vulgarization: Use easy-to-understand language.
  6. Orchestration: Repeat the same ideas in different contexts.
  7. Renovation
  8. Verisimilitude: Camouflage lies within the truth.
  9. Silencing: Never report positive news about the enemy.
  10. Transfusion: Use myths.
  11. Unanimity: The group is strong.

Support for Totalitarianism in Europe

Right-wing totalitarian regimes in Europe found support among:

  • Upper and middle classes
  • Individuals disillusioned with community
  • Former soldiers comfortable with war
  • Young people attracted to uniforms and military displays


Italy, facing a crisis, became the first European democracy to embrace totalitarianism under Benito Mussolini. Mussolini’s Blackshirts, a violent fascist militia, attacked opponents. He later founded the National Fascist Party, adopting Roman symbols like the fasces (a bundle of sticks with an axe) to symbolize power.

Mussolini’s Rise to Power

  • Banned other political parties
  • Embarked on colonial expansion
  • Intervened in the economy by nationalizing mines and industries
  • Launched propaganda campaigns
  • Controlled education to indoctrinate youth
  • Promoted the image of women as mothers and housewives


After Lenin’s death, Joseph Stalin became the leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), establishing a regime characterized by:

  • Planned economy
  • Suppression of individual rights and freedoms
  • Use of terror

Stalin’s Planned Economy

In 1928, Stalin launched his first Five-Year Plan to transform the Soviet Union into an industrial power. He expropriated land from kulaks (wealthier peasants) and focused on heavy industry, forcing workers to endure harsh conditions and long hours. While successful in industrializing Russia, the human cost was immense.

Stalin’s Political Policies

Stalin maintained free healthcare, education, and housing but created a significant gap between the elite and the general population. He introduced a constitution granting citizens more rights on paper but ruthlessly persecuted dissenters, sending them to the GULAG (a system of labor camps).


The Rise of the Nazi Party

Germany’s brief post-World War I recovery ended with the Great Depression in 1930, leading to the rise of extreme left-wing and right-wing parties. The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), known as the Nazi Party, gained traction under the leadership of Adolf Hitler.

Nazi Ideology

  • Pan-Germanism: Unification of all German-speaking people
  • Opposition to Marxism, liberal democracies, and the parliamentary system
  • Anti-Semitism and scientific racism

Hitler created the SS, a paramilitary organization that would become instrumental in his reign of terror.

Hitler’s Rise to Power

Exploiting the political and economic turmoil of the 1930s, Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to prominence. He became Chancellor in 1933 and quickly consolidated power, limiting civil liberties and establishing the GESTAPO, the Nazi secret police. During the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, Hitler eliminated political opponents within the Nazi Party, solidifying his control.

The Third Reich

  • Hitler aimed to revive the German economy and reduce unemployment by investing heavily in the military and arms industry.
  • Expansionism: He sought to reclaim lost territories and create a vast German empire in Europe.
  • Anti-Semitism: Hitler implemented discriminatory laws against Jews, culminating in the Holocaust, a systematic genocide that killed millions.
  • Indoctrination: Children were subjected to Nazi propaganda and ideology from a young age.
  • Women’s roles: Women were expected to conform to the Nazi ideal of”Kinder, Küche, Kirch” (children, kitchen, church).
  • Racial hygiene: The Nazis promoted the idea of a”pur” Aryan race, leading to the persecution and murder of those deemed racially inferior.



The Crisis During the Reign of Alfonso XIII

  • Politics: Internal divisions within the parties of the TURNO PACIFICO system led to the formation of new anti-monarchist parties (Socialist, Republican, and nationalist parties).
  • Society: Strikes and protests, met with violent repression, erupted as labor movements demanded workers’ rights.
  • Expansion: Spain’s interest in North Africa led to the division of Morocco with France, sparking a war with Morocco in 1921 (Battle of Annual).

The Dictatorship of Primo de Rivera

General Primo de Rivera, supported by conservatives, the middle class, and King Alfonso XIII, staged a coup in 1923. The parliament and constitution were suspended.

Domestic Policy

  • Established the PATRIOTIC UNION as the official political party, banning all others.
  • Suppressed Catalan and Basque nationalism.
  • Limited freedom of the press.

Foreign Policy

  • Ended the war in Morocco.


  • Modernized road networks, railways, and hydroelectric power.
  • Created monopolies such as Telefónica and CAMPSA.

Primo de Rivera initially enjoyed some support due to economic improvements. However, the Great Depression eroded his popularity.

A Dictatorship with a Monarch

Alfonso XIII’s support for the dictatorship proved unconstitutional. As support for a republic grew, the king distanced himself from the regime, leading to a period of”SOFT DICTATORSHIP” In 1930, opposition parties (Republican and Socialist) signed the Pact of San Sebastián, paving the way for the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic.

The 1931 Elections

The Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed on April 14, 1931, forcing Alfonso XIII into exile. Tensions ran high, with anarchist-organized protests and strikes (CNT) and opposition from conservative Catholics. Churches and convents were set on fire.


Progressive Principles

  • Established Spain as a democratic republic.
  • Introduced universal suffrage.
  • Separation of Powers:
    • Legislative Power: Cortes (Parliament)
    • Executive Power: Council of Ministers and President of the Republic
    • Judicial Power: Independent judiciary
  • Declared Spain a secular state while respecting freedom of religion.
  • Restored civil rights and freedoms (e.g., civil marriage, divorce).


The first two years of the Second Republic, led by a coalition of Republican parties, saw significant reforms.

Key Figures

  • Niceto Alcalá-Zamora: President of the Republic
  • Manuel Azaña: Prime Minister
  • Victoria Kent, Margarita Nelken, and Clara Campoamor: First women elected to the Cortes

Five Main Areas of Reform

  1. Military Reforms
  2. Territorial Reforms
  3. Religious Reforms
  4. Educational Reforms
  5. Agrarian Reforms

Military Reforms

The government aimed to reduce the army’s political influence by reducing the number of generals and officers through the 1931 Retirement Law, allowing them to retire with full pay.

Territorial Reforms

Catalonia became the first autonomous region, followed by the Basque Country and Galicia. These regions gained self-governing powers over their economies, societies, education, and cultural matters.

Religious Reforms

The government sought to separate church and state by removing the Catholic Church’s economic privileges, nationalizing cemeteries and hospitals, and legalizing civil marriage and divorce. Education became more liberal and secular. These measures faced strong opposition from conservative parties and the Church.

Educational Reforms

Education reform was considered crucial for modernizing Spain. With illiteracy affecting a significant portion of the population, the government aimed to create a unified, compulsory, secular, and mixed education system, inspired by the Institución Libre de Enseñanza (ILE).

Key Measures

  • Construction of thousands of schools and libraries
  • Free and compulsory primary education
  • Financial support for students
  • Recruitment and training of more teachers
  • Removal of compulsory religious education
  • Establishment of Misiones Pedagógicas (traveling cultural missions) to educate rural areas
  • La Barraca, a traveling theater group, brought education and entertainment to rural communities.

Agrarian Reforms

Spain’s outdated agricultural system, characterized by large estates (latifundia) in the south, poor mechanization, and exploitative labor practices, was targeted for reform.

Key Objectives

  • Redistribute land to landless peasants, particularly in the south where large estates dominated.
  • Improve agricultural productivity through mechanization and modern techniques.
  • Improve working conditions and wages for peasants.

The 1932 Agrarian Reform Law allowed for the expropriation and redistribution of uncultivated land. The Institute of Agrarian Reform (IRA) was created to oversee these reforms.

Problems During the Reformist Biennium

  • Discontent among conservative groups, particularly religious and military factions, opposed to the reforms.
  • Discontent among communists and anarchists who demanded more radical changes and criticized the government’s handling of unemployment and social issues.