FRANCO AND AZANA: Victor and Vanquished
Preston, Paul, History Today
The rival leaders in Spain's Civil War were as different as the causes they embodied, Paul Preston compares their contrasting characters
Late in the evening of August 15th, 1936, General Emilio Mola, made a broadcast from Radio Castilla in Burgos. He declared that the military uprising which he had directed less than one month earlier was intended to free Spain `from the chaos of anarchy'. The instruments of this anarchy were `the clenched fists of the Marxist hordes' and, for Mola, the blame for unleashing them lay squarely with one man - the President of the Republic, Manuel Azana:
Only a monster of the complex psychological constitution of Azana could foment such a catastrophe; a monster who seems rather the absurd brainchild of a new and fantastic Dr Frankenstein than the fruit of the love of a woman. When I hear people demand his head, I think they are being unjust. Azana should be locked away so that selected brain specialists might study him as a case of mental degeneration, perhaps the most interesting to have occurred from the times of primitive man to the present day.
Nothing more directly indicates the importance of the service rendered to the Second Spanish Republic by Manuel Azana than the hatred directed against him by the ideologues and publicists of the Francoist cause. The poisonous slanders to which he was subjected during the Civil War and long after his death are indications that the enemies of the Republic recognised in him one of its greatest champions. As prime minister from 1931 to 1933, as architect of the Popular Front in 1935 and President of the Republic from 1936 to 1939, he was essentially the personification of the Second Republic. The reforming achievements of the regime's first two years -- the new constitution, the vote for women, divorce, military reforms, the disestablishment of the church, the Catalan autonomy statute, labour legislation and agrarian reform -- were considerable. All successfully ran the parliamentary gauntlet and passed into law thanks to the oratorical skills of Azana. These reforms were all in their various ways substantial challenges to the privileges of the Right. At the time, the conservative press chains vented their spleen against Azana by means of outrageous political smears and cruel caricatures.
Subsequently, even greater venom was provoked by the great personal sacrifices and tireless efforts he made for the survival of the democratic regime during the repression which followed the Asturian miners' insurrection of October 1934. A Francoist journalist, Francisco Casares, referred to him as:
... a monster, a congregation of moral vacuums and of formative elements which sum up, concentrate and symbolise all blame and all sins. This amalgam has a personality, that of the person who provided the tone and the sense, the outline and the essence of the Spanish Republic.
The reason for such hatred is obvious. In 1935, the Right thought that the Republic was on its knees, Azana bounced back from his electoral defeat of November 1933 to recreate the regime's principle bulwark, the Republican-Socialist electoral coalition, the so-called Popular Front. He overcame his repugnance for mass politics to provide the inspiration and energy which made possible the creation of the victorious left-wing electoral coalition of 1936. This is what is Casares meant when he wrote of Azana,
... when the collective impulse knocked him off his pedestal, he, without pity or remorse, without anxieties or doubts, prepared, in the murky waters of his sewer, the new assault.
Finally, Azana's courageous determination to remain with the Republic to the bitter end during the Spanish Civil War was a much under-estimated contribution to its struggle against the military rebels. Had he chosen, as many of his onetime Republican collaborators did, to seek safety …
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Publication information: Article title: FRANCO AND AZANA: Victor and Vanquished. Contributors: Preston, Paul - Author. Magazine title: History Today. Volume: 49. Issue: 5 Publication date: May 1999. Page number: 17. © 2009 History Today Ltd. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.
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