Spain entered the depression with bitter divisions. There was an independence movement in Catalonia and another among the Basques. There were divisions between those who believed in religion being separate from the state and those who defended the state-provided privileges for the Catholic Church. There were anarchists who saw the Church as the leading exploiter of the poor. And working people were split between socialists and syndicalists.
Syndicalists were laborers on large estates who believed in "direct action" action rather than voting for representation in a parliament. They were aiming at a federation of "syndicates" rather than power in a centralized government.
In power in Spain was a dictator – Miguel Primo de Rivera. Spain's king, Alphonso XIII, supported the dictatorship. And many were opposed to the dictatorship and wanted to replace the king with a republic.
During the depression unrest intensified. Students protested. The army announced that it no longer supported Primo de Rivera, who was sixty and in poor health. Primo de Rivera fled the country and died in Paris in March 1930. A provisional government was established and elections were scheduled for the creation of parliamentary rule, while strikes appeared across Spain and the economy continued to decline.
The elections of April 1931 gave republicans a majority in parliament, and a republican government was formed. King Alphonso fled to France. The new republican government was unable to prevent continued economic decline. Unemployment reached a new high, and land went out of cultivation. The government established the eight-hour work day. It gave tenant farmers the right to appeal against increases in rent. It gave the tenant farmers protection against eviction and prevented landowners from employing cheap immigrant labor.
Many poor parish priests supported the republicans, while Church journals attacked the republicans as having been bought by Moscow gold. Spain's army, its landed aristocracy and the Church had been prepared to tolerate the republican government so long as it respected their rights and privileges. And, feeling that the government had failed at this, they turned hostile.
The Church was offended also by assaults on priests and by mobs setting fire to churches, and monarchists were offended by the suspension of their newspaper.
Syndicalists were expanding their influence and quarreling with parliament's socialists. The socialists were demanding collectivization of farming while other republicans were advocating the continuation of private farming. The government established voting for women. It legalized divorce, abolished titles of nobility, made legal the expropriation of land and wealth, and it made primary education free, compulsory and completely secularized – which increased the displeasure of conservatives.
With all of the reforms, Spain's Communists thought it was time to grab power – to go all the way and crush the ruling classes with social revolution. But, in January 1932, the government crushed their uprising.
Later in 1932 the government banned the Jesuit Order. It began confiscating some Church property, and the government began redistributing land belonging to large estates. In August 1932 a rightist general, José Sanjurjo, led a coup attempt, which went the way of the Communist coup.
In 1933 wages were still falling and workers were still losing their jobs. Landlords were cultivating as little of their lands as possible, partly as a strike against the government. New elections were held in 1933, and having failed to end the economic crisis the incumbents lost. Acceptance of democracy as a principle was a bridge across Spain's many divisions, but there was the question of whether stability would allow democracy to hold. In 1934 a coalition of moderates, rightists and monarchists formed a new government in Madrid. In Catalonia, moderate leftists remained in power. Unhappy with the government in Madrid, workers in central and northern Spain started a general strike. Catalonia declared itself independent of Madrid. Then Spain's military crushed the general strike and Catalonia's independence, with the loss of thousands of lives.
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