02/16 – The 1936 Spanish Election

An anarchist poster commemorating the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. (Library of Congress)

On this day in 1936, a coalition of left-wing political parties known as the Popular Front won a majority share of votes during Spain’s federal election. The Front was united only in its opposition to fascism – a growing force in international politics at the time – and the coalition quickly began to splinter. Soon, fascist Falangists were clashing with socialists in the streets, and the divided Front was essentially powerless to prevent the bloodshed. The situation deteriorated further until a military coup led by right-wing General José Sanjurjo threatened to topple the Popular Front. The coup failed, but fighting broke out across the country and by July of 1936, the Spanish Civil War was in full swing.

Republican soldiers open fire in Barcelona during the July 1936 coup. (Wikimedia Commons)

The war, which was a contest between the left-leaning Republicans and the right-leaning Nationalists, was one of the most confusing and bloody conflicts in modern history. Known as the “dress rehearsal for WWII“, the war saw a confused mass of Christian fascists and monarchists (with direct support from Nazi Germany) take on an equally confused mass of anarchists, republicans, socialists and leftist foreign volunteers (with support from the Soviet Red Army). As with all civil wars, the fighting was incredibly brutal and multiple atrocities were committed on both sides. War dragged on for nearly three years but, by April of 1939, the Nationalists had won with Francisco Franco as their dictatorial leader. The Spanish Civil War was the bloodiest manifestation of the extreme political polarization that occurred during the interbellum period, a time when moderates lost out and unstable states were incredibly vulnerable to political extremism.

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