Article 1: Italy and Germany: from Democracy to Totalitarianism

Article 2: The Spanish Civil War 1936 - 39

Hitler & Mussolini

Italy and Germany: from Democracy to Totalitarianism

After the first World War many of the old-established Powers of Europe were never again to attain the full extent of their former power. Germany had been humbled, Austria-Hungary had disintegrated, Russia had suffered revolution, the Ottoman Empire was on the verge of collapse, France had suffered relentless warfare within her own eastern territories for four years, and within Britain a social revolution of profound importance had taken place. Such ideas as democracy, self-determination, and a general liberation from earlier restrictions were now in the ascendant in the new Europe, but the events of the inter-war period were to show that these new ideas came too soon, and came to a Europe that was unprepared for them; the change from the authoritarian pre-1914 Governments to the more liberal forms after the War was too sudden, and this change resulted in the emergence of totalitarianism in Europe. This appeared to be the answer for the masses of Europeans previously used to accepting authority, and who blindly sought for an authority to which to subject themselves.

Of the countries that fell to totalitarian Governments in the inter-war period, two had more influence than any others: Italy and Germany.


Post-war Discontent in Italy

Italy was conscious that in many ways she had lagged behind other European countries, and in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century she made strenuous efforts to increase the extent of her overseas possessions and to improve her economy. She was also conscious that the unity of the country was still incomplete, that there still existed areas of 'Italia Irredenta' in the possession of neighbouring countries. The Italian desire to secure for Italy the 'unredeemed' lands caused the Italian entry on the Allied side against her traditional enemy, Austria, in 1915. In April of that year a secret treaty was signed in London by which Italy was promised areas which she coveted. At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 Italy was so disappointed with the territory allocated to her that the Italian representative, Orlando, temporarily left the Conference. In fact the areas that Italy did receive were fairly extensive: the Southern Tyrol and the Trentino area in the north and the Istrian Peninsula in the east. Other territories, promised in 1915, were in 1919 denied - for instance there was to be no Italian share in the German Empire, and no Italian acquisitions along the Dalmatian coast. Italy suffered a sense of shock and grievance at these denials.

Benito Mussolini was able to take advantage of the Italian dissatisfaction over the terms of the peace treaty, and posed as the man who would rid Italy of the shame that the other victors of 1919 had imposed on her. He was able in other ways also to take advantage of dissatisfaction with Italian life. The politics of the country after 1918 were in a state of confusion, Governments were short-lived, and the country, urgently needing thorough and continuous governments, suffered as a consequence. The industry of the north was subject to some extreme militant action by trade unionists; Communist ideas spread, and in the summer of 1920 some Soviets were formed, and temporarily took over the organisation of some northern industrial enterprises. In the more backward south of the Italian peninsula, where industry had made little advance, banditry and gangsterism went unchecked.

One single incident which more than any other drew attention to the widespread dissatisfaction within Italy, and the possible means of its solution, was the right-wing militarist attempt to seize Fiume. This port in the Peninsula had not been allocated to Italy in 1919 but was predominantly Italian in population, and in September the Italian airman and romantic writer, Gabriele D'Annunzio, led a force of ex-soldiers in a successful attempt to secure the town. He was able to hold out there for more than a year, and he established his own Government within the city. It was not until January 1921 that he was expelled from Fiume, which then passed under League of Nations control as an international city. Many of the disbanded soldiers of D'Annunzio's irregular forces found a ready home in Mussolini's increasingly popular and increasingly successful Blackshirt movement.

Benito Mussolini (1883-1945)

Mussolini was born in 1883 in the Romagna, an area of Eastern Italy renowned in the nineteenth century for its rebellious spirit; in his youth he had a reputation as a forceful man intent on securing his ambitions, and as rather a bully. His parents were not wealthy, but Mussolini in childhood received a fair education. He undertook a variety of jobs: he was at different times a teacher, a farm labourer, and a mason; throughout this period he was dedicated to the ideal of Socialism, an ideal he was able to express later in his position as a journalist. Towards the end of the First World War he gradually abandoned his Socialist ideals and embraced the more aggressive creed of Fascism, the ideas of which he expressed in a new newspaper, Avanti, which took as its symbol the fasces, the bundle of rods, of Ancient Rome. In 1919 he founded the Fascist Fighting Corps (Fasci di Combattimento), and from then onwards was able to attract considerable support by posing as the man of action who would redeem Italy from her troubles and humiliation. He stood firmly opposed to Communism and thus secured valuable financial support from many wealthy industrialists and landowners, who considered Communism to be a direct threat to their power and wealth. Furthermore, he gradually toned down his originally outspoken attacks on the influential Roman Catholic Church and the established monarchy in Italy, thereby securing at least the neutrality of these institutions towards his movement.

The March on Rome (October 1922)

The opportunity for the seizure of power came in October 1922 with the resignation of one of the typically short-lived Administrations. A 'March on Rome' by the Fascists was organised, in which 30,000 Fascists marched from Milan to Rome, joined on the way by many others, while simultaneously Fascist risings took place in key towns throughout Italy. The Army sided with the Fascist forces, and the country fell quietly under the control of Fascism. King Victor Emmanuel invited Mussolini to form a Government, and the new Parliament voted him dictatorial powers.

Though he had secured power in Italy by means that were basically those of force, and that represented elements of lawlessness, once in power Mussolini imposed a rigid discipline on Italian life, that was to be the most characteristic feature of the Fascist period. The discipline extended widely, and was coupled with the Fascist idea of the 'Corporate State', involving a keener realisation of common action within Italy for the benefit of the country. It brought many economic benefits. 

The Economy

The economic progress of Italy in the Fascist period is the most successful aspect of Italian Fascism. Many expensive and successful public-works schemes were undertaken: hydro-electricity was utilised more fully in the North as a basis for industry, throughout the country attention was given to the improvement of means of transport both by road and rail, the malarial Pontine Marshes in the neighbourhood of Rome were drained, and new towns were built on them. One of Mussolini's most important ventures was the attention he gave to the problem of the poverty-stricken south of Italy and Sicily, and more assistance was given to the South during the Fascist period than had been given earlier. The 'battle of the wheat' was a whole-hearted attempt to make Italy self-sufficient in agriculture. Much evidence of the Fascist period survives throughout Italy today in the architecture of the period, especially notable in public buildings of a solidly heavy and rather ponderous style, while in some places the fascist symbol is still to be seen.

The Constitution

The Fascist period witnessed a considerable decline in the basic freedom of expression of the Italian people, and a decline in democratic practices. Although the monarchy, in the person of King Victor Emmanuel III, remained throughout the period, real power was concentrated in Mussolini's hands as 'leader' or, in Italian, duce of Italy, who held the position of Prime Minister. After Mussolini the most powerful instrument within Italy was the Fascist Grand Council, a body of senior Fascist Ministers on whom Mussolini relied. In building up power within Italy Mussolini had given much attention to Parliament and had preferred to consolidate his power locally within Italy. Once in power he discovered that he was unlikely to receive support within Parliament unless he altered its structure. Consequently in 1923 and 1928 the electoral system was altered in such a manner that Fascist majorities were obtained. An outspoken Socialist critic of these changes, Matteotti, was found murdered in 1923 in circumstances which suggested Fascist complicity, and the name of Matteotti became a rallying cry for those who were opposed to the regime. Local government also came under Fascist control, and was dominated by a State-appointed Podesta in place of the elected mayor.


Methods of censorship and propaganda were freely employed. The Press was subject to severe censorship, and unco-operative newspaper editors were replaced by loyal Fascists. Propaganda was evident in all aspects of life, ranging from slogans painted on buildings to systematic Fascist indoctrination in schools and among young people, who in their spare time were encouraged to join Fascist youth organisations in which the dominant slogan was 'Mussolini is always right!' Italians who would not conform to the Fascist way of life and who actively opposed the regime were often sent into exile in remote southern villages. Such a man was the Italian writer Carlo Levi, who has left an account of his period in exile and also a vivid picture of the poverty and aridity of the Italian south in his book 'Christ Stopped at Eboli'.

The Lateran Treaty (1929)

An outstanding problem that remained in Fascist Italy from the nineteenth-century unity movement was the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the Italian State. The final movements for unity in 1870 had been at the expense of the Papacy, which had lost large tracts of Central Italy previously under its direct rule. The Popes since 1870 had retired into the Vatican City, the area immediately around St Peter's in Rome, and the relationship between Church and State in subsequent years was strained. Mussolini, conscious of the Church's influence in Italy, was eager to improve this relationship, and in 1929 by the Lateran Treaty and Concordat, he succeeded in doing so. For the first time the Pope, Pius XI, recognised the Kingdom of Italy, and in return the State gave the Church financial compensation for the territories that had been lost by the latter in 1870 and recognised the pope as sovereign ruler of the Vatican City, itself a separate state. Furthermore, the position of the Roman Catholic Church within Italy was enhanced: the Mass was frequently celebrated during State occasions, Roman Catholic laws concerning marriage and morals were to be enforced by the State.

Foreign Affairs

Mussolini's relations with other European countries were generally friendly, except where these relations touched the question of Italian expansion in certain areas that Mussolini felt would be suitable acquisitions for Italy. Italy needed more territories, and the need was especially apparent after the U.S.A. had introduced the 1921 Emergency Immigration Act which prohibited unrestricted entry of immigrants from European countries (of which Italy was the principal) into the U.S.A. It was therefore necessary for Italy to look elsewhere for territories to which her surplus, poverty-stricken population could go. The search for territories brought her into sharp conflict with other countries, and with the League of Nations.

Albania was regarded by Italy as an area over which she possessed 'rights', though these had never been precisely defined. She had been disappointed at not receiving more specific authority over Albania in the peace treaties of 1919. In 1921 the Allies upheld certain rights of Italy there, while in 1923 a major international crisis occurred because of the insistence with which Italy advanced her claims in Albania. Some Italian officers were murdered while working on delimitation of the frontier between Albania and Greece, and the Italian Government presented the Greeks with various demands, many of which were unreasonable, and which included a demand for a heavy financial indemnity. When the Greek Government declined to meet all these demands the Italians bombarded the Greek island of Corfu, which they then occupied, and which they left only when they were assured of the indemnity they had originally demanded. After 1926 Italian influence in Albania increased even more, and was encouraged by the policy of President (later King) Zog of Albania: Italian merchants were quick to exploit the oil deposits discovered in the twenties, and Italian officers helped in the organisation of the Albanian Army. The climax of all these moves came on Good Friday (7 April) 1939 when Italian forces invaded Albania, but the events of 1939 must be seen against the setting of the imminent World War.

Another neighbouring country in which Italy felt that her interests were concerned was Yugoslavia. The difficulties connected with the exploits of D'Annunzio were settled in 1924, when a treaty between the two countries allowing for the division of Fiume was agreed.

The Problems which dominated foreign affairs were those connected with Italian ambitions in East Africa, Abyssinia in particular. Italy felt she had a claim to this area as she already possessed parts of East Africa, such as Italian Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, and she attempted at the end of the nineteenth century to secure possession of Abyssinia. In this last process the Italians had suffered a severe defeat at Adowa (1896) which the Fascist regime was keen to avenge. In 1934 and 1935 there was a concentration of Italian forces in the neighbouring Italian-held territories, and in October 1935 the invasion of Abyssinia began, and was continued into 1936. Appeals by the Abyssinians, led by their emperor Hail Selassie, to the League of Nations resulted in the imposition of economic sanctions on Italy, but these were ineffective, as oil was excluded from the list of prohibited items. Meanwhile, towards the end of 1935 the Foreign Ministers of France and Britain, Pierre Laval and Samuel Hoare, had worked out a scheme by which Italian ambitions in the area would be satisfied, largely at the expense of the Abyssinians. By the Hoare-Laval proposals Italy was to obtain outright parts of Abyssinia, in the north and south, that bordered respectively on the Italian Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, and an extensive area of Southern Abyssinia was to become an area for Italian trade. In order to make some concession to the Abyssinians, a small strip of land was to be given to Abyssinia to form a connection with the sea; Abyssinia was to be no longer a land-locked Power. These proposals are characteristic of the appeasement policy of many Western countries, a policy that will be considered in more detail later.

Britain and France reacted with indignation when these terms became known, and they were never put into effect. Knowledge of them encouraged Mussolini to press further with his claims in the area, and in May 1936 he annexed the whole of Abyssinia. Resistance continued long after this date, but in June 1936 Abyssinia, together with Eritrea and Somaliland, was formed into one colony, Italian East Africa, under the viceroyalty of first Marshal Badoglio, then Marshal Graziani, and later the Duke of Aosta. The whole incident had implications far outside Italy: it had revealed the ineffectiveness of the League of Nations and the timidity of two major Western Powers in the face of blatant aggression; and made the totalitarian countries expect a similar lack of positive reaction to further aggression.

Italy and Germany appeared to realise more fully their need for mutual friendship at the time of the Abyssinian campaign, and in October 1936 the first of a series of agreements (popularly known as the Axis agreements) was signed between the two countries. In Mussolini's early days of power it could be said that Hitler looked up to him as a model dictator; increasingly after 1936 it was Hitler who was the dominant partner, with Mussolini following disastrously after him. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) Mussolini and Hitler both gave support to the Nationalists, or Falange Party, Italy being particularly generous with aeroplanes and submarines. The events of the later thirties are dominated by the coming of the War, and the link between the two countries was firm, though the fact that Mussolini brought Italy into the War in June 1940, some nine months after Germany, and at a time when he considered the latter's success to be assured, shows that he retained some measure of independence of action, and some considerable measure of self-interest.


The Weimar Republic and the Third Reich

Germany affords the most outstanding example of the downfall of the newly attempted post-war democracy and the subsequent emergence of totalitarianism. In November 1918 Germany was not only a defeated country but was also one without any form of government. Restoration of the economy of the country and the creation of an adequate form of government were the immediate problems which she had to solve.

post-war Political Confusion

At the end of 1918 Germany was a scene of widespread and tragic political confusion. In October and November 1918 numerous Socialist and Communist risings against the Kaiser and his Government had taken place, encouraged by the news that they were at that time attempting to secure a peace settlement. The most notable of these was a Communist-inspiried rising at Kiel where Soviets were established. Numerous other Baltic ports followed the example of Kiel, and in the south Kurt Eisner, a Socialist, led a movement which proclaimed an independent Socialist republic of Bravaria, though it lasted very briefly. These risings culminated in the events of November 9th, 1918, at Berlin, when the Kaiser abdicated and Friedrich Ebert, a moderate Socialist, became President. After his coming to power a Communist-inspired rising took place in Berlin, known as the Spartacist rising, from the German Spartakusbund (after the gladiator who led a serious revolt in ancient Rome). This rising was led by two Communists, Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht. Beginning at the end of 1918, it reached its climax in January 1919, when it was suppressed, and the two leaders were killed. 1919 witnessed further risings of a left-wing kind, but on a less intense scale.

Right-wing risings were also in evidence in this early period of the new Germany. Many of the soldiers who had fought in the War were bitter against their own Government for signing the armistice in November 1918; one such soldier was an insignificant corporal, Adolf Hitler, who to the end of his life denounced the 'November Criminals' for their 'betrayal'. These soldiers had wanted to continue the fighting, and were eager for the establishment of a right-wing regime inside Germany: many of them joined the Frei Korps of returned ex-soldiers, prominent in the internal struggles against Communism and in raids across the border into the new Poland, resurrected partly from former German territory. A more precisely located rising, and individually the most significant, was the Kapp rising of March 1920 at Berlin, a protest both at the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and at the comparative ease with which the new Government had accepted them. The rising was defeated by a general strike organised among the workers of the city.

The Weimar Constitution

Amid this turmoil of political confusion from Right and Left the new republic was born, and throughout most of 1919 a national assembly met at Weimar in order to devise an acceptable Constitution. The result of their meeting was the Weimar Constitution, and the republic which adopted this Constitution is known as the Weimar Republic.

The Constitution provided for a Parliament that was to consist of two houses: the Reichstag, the more important of the two, the one to which Ministers were responsible and which was elected by universal suffrage on a system of proportional representation, and the Reichsrat, a body which represented the states within Germany but whose powers were limited to delaying legislation which had already passed the Reichstag. There was to be a President, elected by universal suffrage for a period of seven years, and who occupied the position of head of state. He had the power to choose the Chancellor, to dissolve the Reichstag, and rule by decree in times of emergency. The Chancellor was in practice rather more powerful than the President, and was a member of the Reichstag, where it was expected that he would be able to command a majority of the votes. He chose the Cabinet. Provision was made for a plebiscite (referendum) on matters of acute controversy within the country, a Supreme Court was established, and basic rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and movement were guaranteed.

The framers of the Constitution were over-optimistic. To consider that a country could change from the rigid autocracy of the Kaiser's Germany, with its Prussian militarist traditions, to a fully fledged republic with universal suffrage was to expect too much in too short a time. 1919, the year in which the new Constitution was accepted, was also the year in which Germany was compelled to accept the humiliating Treaty of Versailles. Talk of rejection of the treaty came to nothing. Its full impact was apparent in 1921, when the Reparations Commission reported that Germany was to pay the equivalent of œ6,600,000,000 in reparations to the Allied countries.

The Ruhr Occupation and the Reparations Problem

Throughout the twenties, and until their virtual abolition by the Hoover Moratorium in June 1931, reparations were to present Germany with her most formidable problems and were to be responsible for much internal political strife. In the early twenties Germany tried hard to fulfil the exacting requirements of the Reparations Commission, and was only able to do so with the aid of foreign loans. At the beginning of 1923 Germany was unable to continue her payments to France, which as a consequence sent a French military force into Germany to occupy the Ruhr Valley, the industrial heart of Germany. The army occupied the Ruhr from January 1923 to July 1925, and its purpose was eventually defeated by the workers within the Ruhr Valley, who refused to work for the French occupation forces. In the meantime the incident had bot adverse and useful results for Germany. Extremist political organisations, such as the new Nazi Party and the Communist Party, flourished in 1923, also the year of the Munich Putsch; all threatened the stability of the new political system within Germany. A more immediate difficulty for the German people was inflation. German money lost its value as the Government proceeded in its policy of printing money in order to pay the strikers in the Ruhr; many Germans found that life savings were virtually useless, and the cost of the smallest item was rendered astronomical.

The useful result that the crisis had was that the U.S.A. decided to lend large sums of money to Germany in order to help her out of the economic crisis, and in 1924 the Dawes Plan and in 1929 the Young Plan were accepted by the German Foreign Minister, Stresemann. By these plans German received valuable economic aid from the U.S.A., reparations were reduced to a level that made their fulfilment more likely and a system of phased instalments was agreed. The fulfilment of Germany's obligations was the keynote to the policies of Stresemann in these years; he wanted to demonstrate to the world that Germany could be a responsible member in the society of nations, and the discharge of her obligations seemed to him to be the best way in which to prove this. The years after 1924 saw an economic recovery inside Germany, typical of the middle years of the twenties throughout the world, but in Germany very much the result of the new financial arrangements of Germany by the other Western nations, and in 1926 Germany joined the League of Nations.

This happy situation ended after October 1929, the month of the Wall Street Crash. The effects within the Weimar Republic were twofold. One was the effect on the economy: as the German economy had virtually existed on American loans (which were terminated after October 1929) the economy declined disastrously; production fell, and unemployment rose to a figure of six millions in 1932. The other effect was on the political situation in Germany: after 1930 the coalition that had previously existed between the less extremist right-wing and left-wing parties came to an end, and no one party or group of parties could command a majority within the Reichstag. The system of proportional representation tended to encourage the formation of an excessive number of parties. The President, von Hindenburg, was compelled to govern Germany by decree. Such power was allowed to him under the terms of the Constitution, but it was not in the best interests of Germany: between 1930 and 1932 Bruning was Chancellor, and employed the Presidential power of decree very frequently in order to secure the passage of legislation. It seemed that the German people were becoming acclimatised once more to autocratic rule. Against the background of economic and political disasters after 1929 must be viewed the growing power of a new party in Germany, the Nazi Party.

Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945) and the Origins of the Nazi Party

Adolf Hitler was an Austrian by birth, coming from the family of a minor customs official at Braunau. For many years his father had been known as Schicklgruber, and it was only later in his life that he took the name Hitler. Later in life Adolf Hitler revealed his satisfaction at this change of name: 'Schicklgruber' has a somewhat comic sound, and contrasts very much with 'Hitler'. (Sir Winston Churchill and others exploited this in their wartime speeches.) At school Hitler was generally an undistinguished boy, though he had a particular liking for history, largely on account of the extremely nationalistic type of history that he was taught. Having left school, he embarked on a number of casual occupations and seemed unable to settle into anything definite; he was at Vienna for many of these years before the outbreak of the First World War, and among other occupations he was at various times a roadsweeper, an artist, a labourer, and a house-painter. It was at this time that he began to develop the ideas that were later to become basic to the Nazi Movement, particularly those about racial inequalities and the inferiority of Jews. Before the First World War he moved into Germany, to Munich, a city to which he was to be much attached for the rest of his life.

Hitler served in the German Army as a corporal throughout the First World War, and with unswerving loyalty and bravery. His fellow-soldiers testified later to his extreme disappointment in November 1918 at the decision of the Kaiser to seek an armistice. He remained in the Army immediately after the War, and was employed by the military authorities as a spy within Germany to discover the opinions of the Germany. While thus employed he attended a meeting of the German Workers' Party, a new right-wing party with strong views on race and nationalism, founded by a certain Anton Drexler, into which Hitler was admitted as seventh member. This party soon developed into a nation-wide organisation with Hitler as its leader. It changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazional Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, N.S.D.A.P.), known as Nazi from the first four letters Nazional, or as National Socialism. It adopted the ancient symbol of the swastika as its own symbol. Many Germans discontented with the humiliation of their country in 1919 were attracted to the movement, among them Hess, Goering, and Goebbels. These last were destined for great power later, but were then struggling with varying success to create a virile Nazi Party. A sinister portent of things to come was the creation of the S.A. (Sturmabteilug), or the Brownshirts, who were present at Nazi meetings to lend a military appearance to the proceedings, and to eject with violence any who presumed to object. They were organised by Ernst Rohm.

The Munich Putsch (November 1923) and Mein Kampf

In November 1923 the new Nazi Party attempted to take over the government of Germany by force. The attempt was made at Munich at a time when the Nazis expected to receive more support than they actually obtained: it was the period of the occupation of the Ruhr, when German self-confidence needed a stimulus, and the intervention at Munich was indented to forestall a move by some Munich politicians to separate the southern area of Bavaria from German control. Some dramatic action occurred: Hitler began the putsch in a Munich beer hall where the separatists were meeting and adopted a violent but deceptive attitude. He failed to secure their support or the support of others within Munich, and a show of force by the Weimar Government suppressed the endeavour completely.

The Munich putsch had important consequences. The leaders were brought to trial, and were able at the trial to put forward the cause of National Socialism. In April 1924 Hitler was sentenced to five years imprisonment, but in fact he served only nine months: both the original sentence and the considerable remission were typical of justice under the Weimar Republic, which tended to favour right-wing movements. While in prison Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle), part an autobiography and part a pronouncement of Nazi ideas. Under the Third Reich this book was to be found in almost every German household, but it was probably not read by most Germans as its style is poor and its content depressing. The main idea that it advanced was the superiority of people of Aryan race over inferior races such as Jews and, to a lesser extent, Slaves; the extermination of these 'inferior' races was suggested. Germany must expand in both area and population -- an ominous warning of future war if Hitler were allowed to secure power. So far as the mass of the German people were concerned, they should not be given democratic rights, as they were incapable of using them: they must accept authority from above. The whole was a forbidding programme of future persecution, war, and autocracy, and the basic tenets of Mein Kampf were never changed. It became the Bible of Nazism.

The Road to Nazi Dominance (1929-33)

The years 1924-29 saw little advance by National Socialism, as Germany returned to some measure of prosperity. In fact the Nazi representation in the Reichstag fell, so that by 1928 there were only 12 Nazi members. Nevertheless it was in these years that influential and wealthy Germans gave support to the Nazis as a bulwark against Communism. But the economic and political chaos after 1929, coupled with the increasing autocracy of Chancellor Bruning between 1930 and 1932, were events from which the Nazi Party would certainly profit. By posing as the party that would restore prosperity and discipline to Germany, Nazism made advances. The Party increased its membership of the Reichstag, so that by 1930 it had 107 members, and by July 1932 it had 230 members (out of 608). Nevertheless, it did not possess an overriding majority. The Communist Party also increased its membership of the Reichstag in these years. In May 1932 von Papen had become Chancellor after the President, von Hindenburg, had dismissed Bruning. Papen was a man of right-wing sympathies, though not a Nazi, but he too failed to acquire a majority in the Reichstag, or to control the growing disorder in the country, where fighting between Nazis and Communists was frequent. In November 1932 further elections to the Reichstag showed that the Nazi Party had declined slightly in popularity, returning 196 members instead of the 230 of earlier in the year. In December von Hindenburg again used his Presidential powers to change the Chancellor, and he appointed von Schleicher, who had some influence over the trade unions, and whom he thought might restore order to Germany's affairs. Von Schleicher was unable to effect any change, and von Hindenburg was compelled to appoint Hitler as Chancellor in January 1933. This was a Coalition Government: Hitler at first had by no means supreme power, since there were only two other Nazis (Goering and Frick) in the Cabinet.

For some time it had been clear to Hindenburg that only Hitler would be able to restore order in Germany, but he was loath to appoint him, as he despised a man who had been a mere corporal in the War, and he did not like the Nazi movement. One of the factors that made him conscious of Hitler's possible value as a Chancellor was the success that Hitler had achieved in April 1932, when he had contested the elections to the Presidency with von Hindenburg himself. Von Hindenburg had won by 19 million votes against 13 million votes for Hitler, but the number of votes gained by Hitler showed the measure of his support. In the latter part of 1932 Hitler went on practically ceaseless tours in Germany to consolidate and enlarge his support. But von Hindenburg's action in appointing him Chancellor in January 1933 was the crucial step in the destruction of the Weimar Republic and the coming of the Third Reich.

Hitler Consolidates Power (1933-1934)

It took Hitler only a little more than eighteen months to concentrate all power into his own hands, and this he did by four moves. In February 1933 the Reichstag building was set on fire, and Hitler accused the Communists of being responsible for this act of anarchy; the accusation served as a suitable excuse for the wholesale persecution of Communists that followed, their internment in concentration camps, and their exclusion from offices of any importance. The incident also afforded an opportunity to impose censorship of the Press and to prohibit the meeting of opposition political parties. Later in 1933 a half-witted Dutchman was found guilty of starting the fire, though it was widely believed that Goering, the new chief of police, was the man responsible, and later in life he admitted it.

In March 1933 Hitler was able by skilful political management to ensure the necessary two-thirds majority in the Reichstag for an Enabling Law, which gave him supreme power, transferring all legislative power to the Cabinet for four years, and which reduced the position of the Reichstag to little more than an agency giving automatic approval to the decisions of Hitler. Elections to the Reichstag after March 1933 were therefore of little importance, and all other political parties were soon proscribed.

Hitler was concerned at the growing power of Rohm's S.A., and the insistence with which the S.A. was pressing for a more Socialist policy to be adopted by Hitler. The S.A. tended to include large numbers of people of working-class background, and it contrasted with the S.S. (Schutzstaffel) or Blackshirts dominated by Himmler, who were extremely loyal to Hitler and complied with his wishes. It had been the S.A. that had in the early days helped Hitler to supreme power, but in 1934 he was to forget any gratitude he might have owed them: they were then a danger to his regime, and they must be destroyed. On the night of June 30th, 1934, the 'Night of the Long Knives', many prominent members of the S.A, including Rohm himself, and other personalities such as von Schleicher, were arrested; many were summarily shot, while others underwent the same fate a little later. A threat from within the Nazi Party had been answered by violence and suppression of an extreme kind.

The final step by which Hitler consolidated his power came in August 1934, when President von Hindenburg died. Hitler proposed to unite the two offices of Chancellor and President in his own person, so that there could be no doubt that he was Fuehrer, or leader, of Germany. A plebiscite was held, and some 90 per cent voted in favour of such action.

The Third Reich was intended by Hitler to last for a thousand years; in fact it lasted for twelve, and it collapsed in 1945 only after the worst war that the world had ever seen. Within Germany itself the years from 1933 to the outbreak of war in 1939 did improve the lot of the German people, thus encouraging their continued support of the autocratic rule of Hitler.

The Economy Under Hitler

Probably the most important factor in Hitler's increasing popularity was the improvement that he brought to the German economy. The virtual abolition of reparations by the Allies in 1931 certainly contributed to this improvement, but within Germany various endeavours by the Nazis were of great importance, and resulted in a gradual decline in the number of unemployed throughout the thirties. German rearmament certainly contributed a great deal, and Hitler gave attention to the Army as soon as he came to power. He inaugurated large public works schemes that further absorbed many unemployed; the most spectacular of these schemes were the autobahns, the splendid new roads of Germany. Big industrial concerns such as the firms of Krupp and Thyssen had given support to Hitler in his early career and he in return gave them encouragement to expand, though the smaller firms tended to suffer. Hitler wished to make Germany economically self-sufficient, and in order to do so the expansion of German lands would eventually be necessary; thus the improvement of the German economy continued the seeds of war. Another danger inherent in these improvements was the complete suppression of trade union activities and strikes. In place of trade unions a 'Labour Front' was established in 1934, dominated by the Nazi Dr Ley, and on this both employers and employees were represented. The Labour Front failed to fulfil the functions of a trade union, and it has been estimated that even though more jobs were available under the Third Reich, the average amount of pay declined. There was nothing the workers could do about it.

Nazi Propaganda

Nazi ideas about race and nationalism were taught in the schools; at a higher level, the intellectual life of the country was stifled by the lack of free expression and universities were unable to play any significant role, as they were under constant fear of being suppressed. A young person who did not belong to the Hitler Youth Movement was unlikely to make much progress in life, and so nearly all young people did belong to the Movement. In the Hitler Youth younger people were subjected to constant Nazi propaganda, and this secured the effect it desired: the development of keen young Nazis. The Movement certainly had good results, especially in providing physical recreation and outdoor activities for young Germans, while young people in other Western countries had fewer prospects of this kind. A war correspondent who saw troops on both sides in 1939 remarked on the health and vigour of the young German troops and contrasted them with the pale, undernourished troops from Britain, brought up in the industrial towns of the depression.

The Churches and Nazism

There are tow major branches of Christianity in Germany: the German Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Hitler was able to dominated most of the Lutheran Church through Pastor Ludwig Muller, but a section of that Church led by Pastor Niemoller was opposed to Muller and to Hitler. Niemoller and many other pastors were sent to concentration camps. The Roman Catholic Church signed a Concordat with the Nazi regime in July 1933 by which the liberty of the Church was guaranteed, but the later inroads made on this liberty caused Pope Pius XI in March 1937 to issue the Encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge ("With Burning Sorrow"), in which he accused the Nazi regime of breaking the Concordat, and in which he forecast the dangers emanating from Germany.

Persecution of the Jews

Persecution of the Jews began in these years, though it was to reach its terrible culmination later, during the War. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 deprived Germany's 600,000 Jews of citizenship and subjected them to various indignities, such as travelling in separate parts of buses and trains and the need to display a distinctive badge or sign to show that they were Jews. Much justification for these cruel actions were advanced. The Jews were held to have been responsible for the events of 1918 in Germany, and for the economic disasters after 1929, and were said to be in possession of large business interests in Germany. The Nuremberg Laws heralded further sufferings, and Jew-baiting became a widespread activity, led by the sadistic Julius Streicher, who published propaganda magazines on the subject, and was assisted by members of the S.S. and the Gestapo, the all-powerful German secret police.

As the thirties advanced, and as Germany's economy under the Third Reich gradually improved, increasing attention was given to the achievement of Germany's aims in foreign affairs. This course led directly to the Second World War.

The Spanish Civil War


Spanish Problems

During the nineteenth century, the once proud Spain lost most of her overseas empire. Her Latin American possessions were broken into eighteen independent states, and in 1898 she lost Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. The country did not experience an industrial revolution, which meant that no strong middle class emerged. When Europe was convulsed in World War I, Spain remained aloof and cut off from the rest of Europe. But this is not to say that she was a peaceful country. On the contrary, Spanish problems ran so deep, and their attempted solutions were so intractable, that one of the most horrific of all civil wars erupted in that country in 1936.

One serious problem - regionalism - stemmed from her physical features. Since her mountains ran from east to west, trade and communications had not evolved in a north-south direction. Consequently, over the centuries, each developed its own dialect, dress and customs. A strong sense of regionalism came to dominate the country's peoples, who tended to give their allegiance to their own particular region rather than to Spain as a whole. This separatism was particularly strong in Catalonia and in the Basque region of north-eastern Spain, where strong independence movements arose.

Another problem was economic and social inequality. Since the industrial revolution had almost passed her by, only the iron of Bilbao and the textiles of Barcelona were developed as major industries. Without a strong working class, and having few middle-class liberals, fundamental change could not take place.

But the greatest problem facing Spanish society was created by the land system. In some regions there were enormous estates, 'latifundia', owned by wealthy landlords, while the mass of the peasantry were landless labourers, called 'braceros'. Other regions suffered from the opposite problem - 'minifundia' - farms too small to support a family.


In the late nineteenth century, Spanish rule alternated between constitutional government and dictatorship. In 1868 the revolution that deposed Queen Isabella II, and the subsequent invitations to Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern, created the misunderstanding between France and Prussia that led directly to the Franco-Prussian war.

In 1873 Spain became a republic but three years later the monarchy was restored by Isabella's son, Alfonso XII. Then in 1886 a baby, Alfonso XIII, inherited the throne. He was destined to be the last king of Spain, for in 1931 he abdicated and went into exile.

Between 1873 and 1918 Spain theoretically was a democracy, but the country was dominated by the land-owning and other conservative classes who had no desire to institute economic and social change. Elections results were usually falsified by 'caciques', or local political bosses. In this cynical manner Spanish democracy was manipulated by the land-owning class for their own benefit, while army officers enjoyed tax concessions and low-cost travel privileges.

The Dictatorship of Primo de Rivera 1923-30

Between 1918 and 1923 serious social and industrial unrest disrupted Spanish life. In these five years Spain had twelve governments, but all were too weak, or too unwilling, to reform the system. Finally, in September 1923, General Miguel Primo de Rivera seized power with the army's help and proclaimed a military dictatorship. For a time Primo de Rivera's rule looked successful and coal, iron and steel production rose markedly. But Spain's economic improvements was essentially part of the general European recovery after 1923 and was not the result of Primo de Rivera's rule. While he did initiate some reform and started public works programmes, he failed to rectify the real inequalities in Spanish society, fearing that this would displease the great landowners.

In 1928 serious rioting took place. A radical socialist party emerged, determined to end Primo de Rivera's rule and the Spanish monarchy with which it was associated. In 1930, as Spain's problems deepened due to the world depression, Primo de Rivera took the unusual step of asking all army officers to declare their opinion of his military rule. To his amazement they voted for his retirement. Primo de Rivera left immediately for France where he died soon afterwards. 

King Alfonso XIII now assumed dictatorial power, but few supported him. In December 1930 a group of republicans attempted a coup d'etat, claiming that 'a passionate demand for justice surges upwards from the bowels of the Nation...' The coup was suppressed, but in the 1931 municipal elections, a substantial majority voted for a republic. To avoid bloodshed, the king left Spain for Rome, and exile.

The Republic

The new government was a coalition dominated by republicans and socialists. The first problem it faced was the wave of anticlericalism, in which churches and convents in Madrid and other cities were burned and vandalised. Having restored some semblance of order, the government set about tackling what he saw as the four major problems of Spain: the land, the church, regionalism, and the army.

The Land

The new government suffered by coming to power in a period of world depression. Agriculture prices fell and unemployment rose as land remained uncultivated. A quick solution to the land problem became more urgent than ever. In 1932 an agrarian law laid down that unworked farms of over 56 acres were to be taken over by the Institute of Agrarian Reform, which then would distribute the land to individuals or co-operatives. But the scheme failed because of regional differences and a lack of skilled technicians. Progress was minimal: by 1934 only 12,500 people had been settled.

To make matters worse, the cabinet was so divided that no effective policy could be implemented. The government was essentially urban in outlook and did not fully understand rural problems. The republican wing wished to create peasant ownership of land as in France; the socialists wished to collectivise the land as in the Soviet Union. The problem of Spanish agriculture remained unsolved and the landless labourers of Andalusia turned towards the radical, anarchist-dominated trade union, the 'Confederacion Nacional de Trabajo' (CNT).

The Church

The catholic church's influence had grown in the late nineteenth century, and it owned railways, banks and huge tracts of land. The republicans disliked the church because it had openly sided with the monarchy. Many members of the government were atheist, and all were anti-clerical, with the exception of Niceto Zamora, the prime minister, and Maura, the minister of the interior.

In its attempt to curb the church's power, the government brought in a new constitution. it provided for the separation of church and state; the ending of payment to priests after two years; the dissolution of religious orders when this was considered necessary; the ending of religious education in schools; the confiscation of church property; and the liberalisation of divorce laws. These terms were a clear challenge to the church and lost the republican government many who otherwise might have supported it. The cabinet split on the issue, Zamora resigned and the Basque deputies withdrew from the Cortes (parliament).


The problem of regionalism ran deep. In 1931 the Catalan party demanded independence and the government was obliged to grant home rule to Catalonia. This infuriated the nationalists and the army. The Basques, too, were agitating for independence and it seemed as if the government might be forced to accept their demands.

The government knew that it would not be secure unless it curbed the army's power. Press criticism of the army was now permitted and soldiers were no longer immune from the civil law. Since the proportion of officers to ordinary ranks was one-to-ten, a number of officers were compulsorily retired. These were now in a position to plot against the government, and in 1932 General Sanjurjo staged an army revolt at Seville, which ended in failure.

Thus, government action created the worst of both worlds for the Republic. It did not go far enough to satisfy its radical followers and yet it went too far in that it mobilised the conservative forces against the Republic. Divisions within the government also played a part. The radicals attacked government policy, and in September 1934 the socialists deserted, thereby precipitating an election in November.

An unpopular government made it swing to the right. A new party emerged, the 'Confederacion Espanola de Derechas Autonomas' (CEDA), which claimed to be a mass catholic party set up to resist anti-clerical legislation. It depended for its finance on the great landlords and was therefore no more than a front for the extreme right.

Since the CEDA did not have an overall majority, the radicals formed a centre government with CEDA support. But in October 1934 three CEDA members joined the cabinet. This was the signal for immediate action on the left. under Largo Caballero, the socialists, afraid of Spain 'going fascist', joined the anarchists in an armed revolt. The uprising was easily crushed, although over 3,000 were killed in Asturias. 

The 'October Revolution' marked a turning point in the history of the Spanish Republic. Thereafter middle-ground opinion gave way and polarisation began, reflected in the growing influence of the two extremist groups, the fascists and the communists.

In 1932 a Spanish fascist party, the 'Falange Espanola' (Spanish Phalanx), was founded by Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the son of the former dictator. Another group known as Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalistas (JONS) had already been founded by Jimenez Caballero and Omesimo Redona. in 1934 both groups merged under the name 'Falange Espanola'.

During the 1920s the communists had been an insignificant fringe element, but after the Comintern change of policy in 1934 they began to co-operate with other left-wing groups. Their participation in the Asturian uprising increased their prestige because one of the heroines of the rising, Dolores ibarruri, known as 'La Passionaria', was a communist.

In the February 1936 election a coalition of left-wing parties known as the popular front won a majority of votes in the Cortes. But in practice a purely republican government ruled because the socialists under Caballero were merely waiting to seize power once the republicans had failed. Since Caballero was afraid of losing support to the anarchists and the communists, his speeches became more extreme, terrifying the middle-classes and driving them to the right. Law and order began to break down. Revolutionaries convicted of crimes were given amnesty, and there was clamour for revenge upon the conservative classes. In May the government made one of its most disastrous decisions when it dismissed President Zamora and had him replaced by Manuel Azana. This removed the last guarantee of impartial government and made the exercise of power the monopoly of the left.

The government aware of hostility among the army officers, transferred important generals to posts outside Spain. Goded was sent to the Balearic Isles, Franco to the Canaries, and Mola to Navarre. However, this defensive action was to prove fatal because these generals became conspirators in a plan of action to save 'traditional Spain' from disorder and left-wing domination.

The incident that eventually sparked off civil war was the assassination of Calvo Sotelo, the leader of the CEDA. On 13 July he was murdered in cold blood by the state police in reprisal for the killing of a young republican by the Falange. The right were convinced that order could be restored only by overthrowing the Republic.

Generalissimo Francisco Franco

The army generals now decided to take action. It was intended that General Sanjurjo would head the army revolt, but when he was killed in a plane crash, leadership passed to General Franco, who later became recognised as 'Generalissimo of all the Armed Forces and Head of the Spanish State'.

Franco was born in El Ferrol in Galicia in 1892. he spent most of his army career fighting the Rifs in Spanish North Africa, where he rose rapidly to the rank of general. Franco's military training and experience made him abhor the destructiveness of the anarchists, his love of Spain made him oppose the Separatists, his middle-class birth and way of life made him detest the ideology of the socialists and communists, while his analysis of Spanish problems made him lose faith in parliamentary democracy.

The Civil War

On 19 July Franco flew from the Canaries to Morocco, from where he intended to start the army. However, he was unable to ferry his troops to southern Spain because the Spanish navy remained loyal to the government. Franco sent an urgent message to Italy for help, but as Mussolini was slow to reply, he sent another request to Berlin. Hitler saw Franco not so much as a fellow fascist but as an anti-Communist, and on 28 July he sent twenty transport planes to airlift the African forces to Spain.

Meanwhile General Mola had taken Pamplona, General Davila had captured Burgos, and soon Salamanca, Valladolid, Seville, Granada and Cordoba were in rebel hands.

In this early period of the war neither side acted decisively and each lost the opportunity of a quick victory. The republican government, underestimating the seriousness of its plight, refused to arm the workers because that would mean street warfare. On the other side, the army failed to move speedily into position and failed to capture such major cities as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Toledo and Bilbao.

On 6 August Franco arrived in Seville with 10,000 African troops, hoping to end the war quickly by capturing Madrid. But republican forces slowed down his advance and when news reached him that the nationalist garrison at Toledo was on the verge of collapse from a republican siege, he was obliged to change direction and go to the relief of the city.

The Siege at Toledo, September 1936

From the beginning of the war nationalists and republicans had been fighting for control of the medieval city of Toledo on the banks of the river Tagus. The nationalists, under immense pressure retreated within the great stone fortress of the Alcazar. Here General Moscardo, 1,000 army officers and Falangists, together with about 600 women and children and 100 hostages, hoped to hold out. They had a good supply of water, arms and ammunition, but food was scarce and communication with the outside world was cut off. The new republican prime minister, Largo Caballero, came from Madrid to supervise the siege. Despite repeated requests to surrender or at least release the women and children, Moscardo refused.

Eventually the republicans decided to tunnel under the fortress with the intention of planting mines and blowing up the Alcazar. Mining began on 21 September and even though some mines did go off, Moscardo decided to hold out. On 27 September, one of Franco's relief armies under General Varela arrived with artillery, defeated the republicans and lifted the siege. The defence of Toledo passed into nationalist folklore and General Moscardo became a hero.

Reaction in Europe

The Spanish Civil War aroused diverse reaction throughout Europe. In Italy and Germany, where fascism had triumphed, sympathies were naturally on the Franco's side and he was seen as the champion of Spain against the scourge of communism. Mussolini sent 50,000 men, over 700 aircraft and 750 tanks. Hitler sent 16,000 men, eleven aircraft squadrons and one tank battalion.

In France, Blum's radical socialist government favoured the republican whose government was roughly similar to his own. The French premier certainly did not wish to see fascist Spain on his southern border, but he was afraid that intervention would clearly split further an already divided France.

In Britain, Baldwin's Conservative government disliked both sides and regretted the end of another democracy. Essentially the government's policy was to restrain others from getting involved lest the conflict should burgeon into a general European war. To this end, Britain proposed a policy of non-involvement and was instrumental in setting up a non-intervention committee to which most states sent representatives. But this committee had little practical effect because the totalitarian regimes in Italy, Germany and the Soviet Union ignored its recommendations.

The Soviet Union pursued an enigmatic policy towards the Spanish civil war. Stalin, realising that the real enemy was not Franco but Hitler and Mussolini, could not afford to side openly with communism in Spain because this would have antagonised Britain and France, with whom he wished to remain on friendly terms in the event of a fascist war against the Soviet Union. Yet Stalin did not send aid to the republican side -- advisers, raw materials and tanks -- while the number of Soviet personnel sent to Spain did not exceed 2,000. Important as such aid was, it was sufficient to keep the republicans in the war, but never enough to give them any possibility of winning. Stalin was devious. Much as he would have liked to see communism triumph in Spain, he was realistic enough to appreciate that an isolated communist Spain would not be tolerated by the western powers, whether fascist or democratic. But he also knew that as long as the war continued in Spain and would not turn upon the Soviets. Accordingly, Stalin continued to send enough aid to the republican side to keep the war going, while at home he increased the tempo of industrialisation in order to meet the inevitable conflict with fascism.

Apart from official government reaction, the Spanish Civil War caught the imagination of many idealistic young men and women around the world. For them the war was the good fight for freedom and democracy against the evil of fascism. It particularly attracted writers and poets, fired with the prospect of contributing to the triumph of good over evil. From Britain came young men such as George Orwell, who wrote the novel 'Homage to Catalonia', Philip Toynbee, Stephen Spender and W.H. Auden; from France Andre Malraux, who later wrote a novel L'Espoir (Days of Hope); and from America Ernest Hemingway came to Spain as a war correspondent (he later wrote the famous novel 'For Whom the Bell Tolls'). From his headquarters in Paris, the young communist Josip Broz (later Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia, organised secret routes into Spain. In this way thousands of young people from many lands passed into Spain to fight in the International Brigades.

The Defeat of the Basques 1937

The nationalists now concentrated on the Basque region in north-eastern Spain. On 31 March 1937 General Mola led an attack on Bilbao, but the Basques defeated it stubbornly. Eventually superior strength, aided by Hitler's air power broke their defence and Bilbao fell. On 26 April German bombers destroyed the Basque town of Guernica in one day, leaving 2,500 dead and wounded. (Pablo Picasso recorded for posterity the horror of that day in a celebrated painting, 'Guernica'.) By October the whole of the northern coast was in nationalist hands and Basque dreams of independence were over.

The Battle of Teruel, December 1937 -- February 1938

Madrid was the key to the whole struggle. Despite the fact that 2,000 nationalists stood as its gates, the republicans held them at bay. Caballero inspired his side to greater and greater efforts. The communists were now becoming the dominant group; their commitment against fascism grew daily. Dolores Ibarruri (La Pasionaria), the colourful communist leader, formed a women's battalion to fight alongside the men and with her famous slogan, 'No pasaran' (They shall not pass), inspired the republicans to greater heights.

To relieve the pressure on Madrid, in December 1937 the republicans decided to mount an attack on the nationalist stronghold of Teruel, to the north-east of Madrid. Colonel d'Harcourt with some 18,000 troops held Teruel. The republican offensive was led by the legendary El Compesino, who with 100,000 troops began a surprise attack in a blinding snowstorm on 15 December. After fierce house-to-house fighting, the republicans took Teruel. Some 2,500 soldiers and civilians who had hidden in a cave were allowed to leave the city in a gesture of humanity unique in the history of this bitter civil war.

However, when news of the attack on Teruel reached Franco, who was besieging Madrid, he ordered 80, thousand troops (backed up by German and Italian tanks and planes) to go to the relief of the city. Since that winter was particularly harsh, the counter-attack did not begin until 15 January 1938. During the following month a fierce battle raged until finally on 18 February the nationalists won control. But by then 'El Campesino, and his remaining forces had escaped, leaving behind 14,000 dead and 20,000 wounded.

Teruel showed the decisive influence of the German tanks over the Russian, but, more importantly, the republicans were now in full retreat.

The Battle of the Ebro 1938

in March 1938 Franco decided on a sudden drive towards Valencia. The republicans desperately tried to cut him off at the river Ebro. In the late summer and autumn of 1938 the battle of the Ebro was fiercely contested on both sides. However, Franco's superior air power proved decisive, and republican losses were staggeringly high. The road was now open for the capture of Barcelona, which fell on 29 January 1939.

The Fall of Madrid, March 1939

From the beginning of the war, Franco had set his sights on the capture of Madrid, the capital and the seat of the republican government. But despite his early objective, Madrid had not fallen. There were several reasons for this. Firstly, Franco and his forces were continually diverted from their task by the need to relieve besieged cities, such as Toledo and Teruel. Secondly, despite requests from the German forces for permission to bomb Madrid, Franco would not agree because he did not want to become master of a ruined city. Thirdly, the republicans, especially the communists under La Pasionaria, put up a heroic resistance that ensured that Madrid would fall.

The Battle of Madrid began on 8 November 1936. There was fierce hand-to-hand fighting and heavy casualties on both sides. When the city did not fall, both sides resorted to digging trenches. A stalemate ensued, with neither side able to win.

Franco's strategy for the following two years was to surround Madrid and starve its inhabitants into surrender. Lack of fuel during the winter and lack of water during the summer created much suffering, but the city continued to hold out. However, time was against its defenders, and as the tide of war turned in Franco's favour during 1938, the situation in Madrid gravely worsened.

On 5 March 1939 the republican government was overthrown by a military junta of socialists and anarchists led by Colonel Segismundo Casado, who formed a Council of National Defence. This coup by Casado led to serious division within the anti-Franco forces and over 1,000 were killed in clashes between themselves. Franco had already declared to the republican government that he would accept nothing less than unconditional surrender; as a result, one of the reasons for the coup stemmed from the hope that the junta would obtain better surrender terms. But this was not to be; the only concession the junta got was permission to leave Spain.

On 28 March Madrid fell to the nationalists, who entered the city with over 200,000 men. Within a few days the remaining cities that were still in republican hands surrendered. On 1 April Franco issued a communiqué: 'Today, after capturing and disarming the Red Army, the nationalist troops have attained their last military objective'. The Spanish civil war was over.

The Cost

The Spanish Civil war lasted for two years and 264 days. It resulted in one million deaths from fighting, execution and disease. Some 340,000 republicans decided to go into exile, while a further 250,000 were imprisoned for up to thirty years. About one million were put into penal battalions to clean up the debris. Spain was devastated: her towns and cities were in ruins, much of her land was left uncultivated, and the majority of her roads, railways and bridges were destroyed. To add further to her problems of reconstruction, no outside help was forthcoming because within a few months World War II had begun.

Why Franco Won

Three main factors explain why Franco's nationalists won the civil war. Franco's own contribution was of immense significance. Once the war had started, all groups on the right accepted him as the supreme commander, ensuring a unified front in contrast with their opponents. Franco was a dedicated professional soldier who showed courage, efficiency and patience. For these qualities his troops repaid him with unquestioning loyalty. He also succeeded in gaining valuable aid from Hitler and Mussolini without compromising Spanish sovereignty. Thus, Franco's contribution on the political, military and diplomatic level combined uniquely in an unbeatable formula.

In direct contrast, the republicans were hopelessly divided at every level. When the war started, the CNT and the communists indulged in acts of terrorism which made it impossible for the republican government to organise a war effort. The anarchists refused to accept orders, and saw their current allies as future enemies. The republican forces were little more than the improvised groupings of labour organisations without the training and discipline of Franco's troops.

The third factor, foreign aid, was the most crucial of all. Although both sides obtained help from abroad, Franco received most. Britain and France decided upon a policy of non-intervention, leaving the three totalitarian states, Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union, with a monopoly of external support. Stalin sent aid to the republican side, but in quality and quantity it was vastly inferior to that supplied to the nationalists by Mussolini and Hitler. And in the long run, it was this superior ground and air support that proved decisive.