As the carnage and devastation continued unabated on the battlefields, living standards and shortages worsened everywhere in Europe. America’s decision to enter the war opened up the prospect of a clear swing in the Allies’ favour. But on the Eastern Front, the Russian army disintegrated after its last ill-fated offensive. The popularity of the Provisional Government there was waning as the Bolshevik slogan of ‘Peace, Bread and Land’ seemed to be in tune with the wishes of the masses. In July, widespread riots erupted in the capital Petrograd and were only suppressed by rushing troops from the front. Soldiers’ mutinies and desertions, food riots and workers’ militancy multiplied across Europe. It seemed that the end of the old order of 1914 was in sight.
In Spain revolution also appeared imminent by the summer of 1917. The ruling classes were gripped by panic. Many believed that the liberal monarchy would be swept away, like Tsarism in Russia earlier in the year. Nevertheless, the parliamentarians’ leadership conferred upon the revolutionary movement a nature closer to Paris in July 1789 than to the spontaneous and popular mass uprising of Petrograd in March 1917. The government had its back to the wall. Running out of time and losing authority by the day, it could not permit a second meeting of the parliamentarians to be held in Oviedo on 16 August. The prospect of a political gathering in which the bourgeoisie, middle classes and proletariat could offer a political settlement which basically satisfied the desires of Mauristas and officers was a nightmare. Realizing the contradictory interests and objectives of the opposition, the Dato administration took a risky gamble. The plan was to provoke the labour movement into an ill-timed strike so as to scare the bourgeoisie and use the army to quell the disturbances. Thus the government could claim to be the saviour of Spain and the guarantor of law and order. 1
A transport strike, beginning on 19 July in Valencia and coinciding with the Assembly in Barcelona, provided the administration with the tool to crack the formidable alliance organized against it. The struggle between railway workers and the Compañía del Norte had been going on since the summer of 1916. In July of that year the former had obtained an important victory, but all indications were that the company was biding its time and