Antimonarchist parties won a substantial vote in the 1931 municipal elections. Alfonso XIII interpreted the outcome of the elections and the riots that followed as an indication of imminent civil war. He left the country with his family and appealed to the army for support in upholding the monarchy. When General Jose Sanjurjo, army chief of staff, replied that the armed forces would not support the king against the will of the people, Alfonso abdicated.
A multiparty coalition in which regional parties held the balance met at a constitutional convention at San Sebastian, the summer capital, to proclaim the Second Republic. The goals of the new republic, set forth at the convention, included reform of the army, the granting of regional autonomy, social reform and economic redistribution, the separation of church and state, and depriving the church of a role in education. Niceto Alcala Zamora, a nonparty conservative, became president and called elections for June.
The first general election of the Second Republic gave a majority to a coalition of the Republican Left (Izquierda Republicana--IR)--a middle-class radical party led by Manuel Azana, who became prime minister--and labor leader Francisco Largo Caballero's PSOE, backed by the UGT. Azana pledged that his government would gradually introduce socialism through the democratic process. His gradualism alienated the political left; his socialism, the right.
Azana's republicanism, like nineteenth-century liberalism and Bourbon regalism before it, was inevitably associated with anticlericalism. His government proposed to carry out the constitutional convention's recommendations for complete state control of education.
In 1932 the Catalan Generalitat gained recognition as the autonomous regional government for Catalonia. The region remained part of the Spanish republic and was tied more closely to it because of Madrid's grant of autonomy. Representatives from Catalonia to the Madrid parliament played an active role in national affairs. Efforts to reform the army and to eliminate its political power provoked a pronunciamiento against the government by Sanjurjo. The pronunciamiento, though unsuccessful, forced Azana to back down from dealing with the military establishment for the time being.
Azana's greatest difficulties derived from doctrinal differences within the government between his non-Marxist, bourgeois IR and the PSOE, who, after an initial period of cooperation, obstructed Azana at every step. Opposition from the UGT blocked attempts at labor legislation. The PSOE complained that Azana's reforms were inadequate to produce meaningful social change, though there was no parliamentary majority that would have approved Largo Caballero's far-reaching proposals to improve conditions for working people. Azana's legislative program may not have satisfied his ally, but it did rally moderate and conservative opinion against the coalition on the eve of the second general election in November 1932.
Azana's principal parliamentary opposition came from the two largest parties that could claim a national constituency, Lerroux's moderate, middle-class Radical Republicans and a rightwing Catholic organization, the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (Confederacion Espanola de Derechas Autonomas-- CEDA). Lerroux, who had grown more conservative and tolerant since his days as an antimonarchist firebrand, capitalized on the left's failures to reach a compromise with the church and to deal with industrial unrest and with the extragovernmental power of the UGT and the CNT. He appealed for conservative support by showing that Azana was at the mercy of the unions--as he was when in coalition with Largo Caballero.
CEDA was a coalition of groups under the leadership of Jose Maria Gil Robles, a law professor from Salamanca who had headed Popular Action (Accion Popular), an influential Catholic political youth movement. As a broadly based fusion party, CEDA could not afford a doctrinaire political stance, and its flexibility was part of its strength. Some elements in the party, however, favored a Christian social democracy, and they took the encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII as their guide. CEDA never succeeded in establishing a working-class base. Its electoral strength lay in the Catholic middle class and in the rural population. Gil Robles was primarily interested in 1932 in working for a settlement favorable to the church within the constitutional structure of the republic.
In the November election, the IR and the PSOE ran separately rather than placing candidates on a common slate. Combined electoral lists, permitted under the constitution, encouraged coalitions; they were intended to prevent parliamentary fragmentation in the multiparty system.
The government parties lost seats, and CEDA emerged as the largest single party in parliament. CEDA's showing at the polls was taken as a sign of conservative Spain's disenchantment with the Republic and its anticlericalism. But there was no question that the Catholic right was being called on to form a government. President Zamora was hostile to CEDA, and he urged Lerroux to head a minority government. Lerroux agreed, but he entered into a parliamentary alliance with CEDA a little more than a year later. Lerroux did not welcome the center-right coalition; however, he knew the coalition presented the only means by which a parliamentary majority that included his party could be obtained. Gil Robles was appointed minister for war, with a role in maintaining public order, in the new government.
Unions used strikes as political weapons, much as the army had used the pronunciamiento. Industrial disorder climaxed in a miners' strike in Asturias, which Azana openly and actively supported. The police and the army commanded by Franco crushed the miners. The strike confirmed to the right that the left could not be trusted to abide by constitutional processes, and the suppression of the strike proved to the left that the right was "fascist." Azana accused Gil Robles of using republican institutions to destroy the republic.
The Lerroux-Gil Robles government had as its first priority the restoration of order, although the government's existence was the chief cause of the disorder. Action on labor's legitimate grievances was postponed until order was restored. The most controversial of Gil Robles's programs, however, was finding the means to effect a reconciliation with the church. In the context of the coalition with Lerroux, he also attempted to expand his political base by courting the support of antirepublican elements. The government resigned in November 1935 over a minor issue. Zamora refused to sanction the formation of a new government by CEDA, without the cooperation of which no moderate government could be put together. On the advice of the left, Zamora called a new general election for February 1936.
The Asturian miners' strike had polarized public opinion and had led to the consolidation of parties on the left from Azana's IR to the Communist Party of Spain (Partido Comunista de Espana-- PCE). The PSOE had been increasingly "bolshevized," and it was difficult for a social democrat, such as Largo Caballero, to control his party, which drifted leftward. In 1935 Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had sanctioned communist participation in popular front governments with bourgeois and democratic socialist parties. The Left Republicans, the PSOE, the Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya), the communists, a number of smaller regional and left-wing parties, and the anarchists, who had boycotted previous elections as a matter of principle, joined to present a single leftist slate to the electorate.
The Spanish Popular Front was to be only an electoral coalition. Its goal was not to form a government but to defeat the right. Largo Caballero made it clear that the Socialists would not cooperate in any government that did not adopt their program for nationalization, a policy as much guaranteed to break Spain in two and to provoke a civil war as the appointment of the CEDA-dominated government that Zamora had worked to prevent.
The general election produced a number of irregularities that led the left, the right, and the center to claim massive voting fraud. Two subsequent runoff votes, recounts, and an electoral commission controlled by the left provided the Popular Front with an impressive number of parliamentary seats. Azana formed his minority government, but the front's victory was taken as the signal for the start of the left's long-awaited revolution, already anticipated by street riots, church burnings, and strikes. Workers' councils, which undertook to circumvent the slow-grinding wheels of the constitutional process, set up governments parallel to the traditional bodies. Zamora was removed from office on the grounds that he had gone beyond his constitutional authority in calling the general election. Azana was named to replace him, depriving the IR of his strong leadership.
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