The Cuban Disaster
Emigration to Cuba from Spain was heavy in the nineteenth century, and the Cuban middle class, which had close ties to the mother country, favored keeping Cuba Spanish. Cuba had experienced periodic uprisings by independence movements since 1868. Successive governments in Madrid were committed to maintaining whatever armed forces were necessary to combat insurgency. Hostilities broke out again in 1895. The United States clandestinely supported these hostilities, which required Spain to send substantial reinforcements under General Valerio Weyler. Reports of Weyler's suppression of the independence movement, and the mysterious explosion of the battleship U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor, stirred public opinion in the United States and led to a declaration of war by the United States in April 1898. The United States destroyed antiquated Spanish naval units at Santiago de Cuba and in Manila Bay. Despite a pledge by Madrid to defend Cuba "to the last peseta," the Spanish army surrendered after a few weeks of hostilities against an American expeditionary force. In Paris that September, Spain gave up Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.
The suddenness and the totality of Spain's defeat as well as the country's realization of its lack of European support during the war with the United States (only Germany had offered diplomatic backing) threw Spain into despair. The disaster called forth an intellectual reevaluation of Spain's position in the world by the so-called "Generation of 1898," who confronted Spaniards with the propositions that Spain had long since ceased to be a country of consequence, that its society was archaic, and that its institutions were outworn and incapable of moving into the twentieth century. These words were painful for the proud nation.
The traumatic events of 1898 and the inability of the government to deal with them prompted political reevaluation. A plethora of new, often short-lived, personalist parties and regional groups on both the left and the right (that broke the hegemony of the two-party system and ultimately left the parliamentary structure in disarray) sought solutions to the country's problems. By 1915 it was virtually impossible to form a coalition government that could command the support of a parliamentary majority.
Some politicians on the right, like the conservative, Antonio Maura, argued for a return to traditional authoritarianism, and they blamed the parliamentary regimes (kept in power by caciques) for corrupting the country. Maura failed in his attempt to form a national Catholic party, but he inspired a number of right-wing groups with his political philosophy.
Regionalist movements were organized to free progressive Catalonia, the Basque areas, and Galicia from the "Castilian corpse." Whether on the left or on the right, residents of these regions stressed their distinct character and history. An electoral coalition of Catalan parties regularly sent strong parliamentary contingents to Madrid to barter their votes for concessions to Catalonian regionalism.
Alejandro Lerroux was an effective, but demagogical, political organizer who took his Liberal splinter group into the antimonarchist camp. He formed the Radical Republicans on a national, middle-class base that frequently allied itself with the Catalans.
The democratic, Marxist-oriented Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol--PSOE), founded in 1879, grew rapidly in the north, especially in Asturias, where a trade union, the General Union of Workers (Union General de Trabajadores--UGT), had most effectively organized the working class.
The Federation of Iberian Anarchists (Federacion Anarquista Iberica) was well organized in Catalonia and Andalusia and had many members, but in keeping with anarchist philosophy, they remained aloof from participation in the electoral process. Their abstention, however, had a telling effect. They practiced terrorism, and the anarchist trade union, the National Confederation of Labor (Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo--CNT), was able on several occasions to shut down Barcelona. The aim of the anarchists was not to take control of the government, but to make government impossible.
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