The year 1917 revealed that Spain’s ruling order was plunged into a deep crisis of authority and legitimacy. This had begun at the turn of the century, gathering momentum during the war years as a near-feudal political structure was faced with the challenge of new economic and political realities. Still the old discredited governing classes were strong enough to prevent the triumph of the forces seeking thorough change. Antonio Gramsci, the leading Italian political thinker, has defined that situation as an ‘organic crisis of the state’. 1
From late 1917 onwards the social situation worsened. Both cities and countryside were seething with discontent produced by food and fuel shortages. The crisis de subsistencias was causing widespread desperation. An index based on a figure of 100 for overall prices in 1914 had shot up in September 1918 to 161.8 in the cities and 172.8 in the countryside. The price of a kilo of bread had increased 62.1 per cent; of meat, 78.2 per cent; potatoes, 80 per cent; rice, 50 per cent; sugar, 56.7 per cent; a litre of milk, 40 per cent and a dozen eggs, 85.3 per cent. Salaries were lagging far behind. Over the same period they had increased by a mere 25.6 per cent and 35.1 per cent for the average male and female worker respectively. 2 In December 1917 the govern ment established a new organization called the Comisaría de Subsistencias with the task of setting quotas for the export of basic products and combating profiteers and speculators. Like similar bodies in the past, it failed utterly to accomplish anything positive.
Famine, unemployment and misery forced the distressed population to acts of violence and disorder. Throughout 1918 disturbances became a common feature all over the country. They took the form of food riots, demonstrations for cheaper goods and assaults on shops and bakeries, these often involving women and children. There were clashes and sporadic rioting in Valencia, Salamanca, Madrid, Santander, Corunna and Cadiz. In early January a general strike broke out in Malaga and Alicante and in both places several women were shot dead while demanding cheaper food. Women broke into several bakeries in Barcelona, where a state of war was subsequently