The midsummer of 1936 thus saw the culmination of one hundred and fifty years of passionate quarrels in Spain, 1808, 1834, 1868, 1898, 1909, 1917, 1923, 1931, 1932, 1934, and February 1936; these were the critical dates, becoming more and more frequent, in the inflammation of the Spanish tragedy. Recall how in 1808 the old Monarchy collapsed for ever and how from 1834 open war was waged, over the question of a liberal Constitution, for five years. Recollect how in 1868 a corrupt Monarchy was expelled by the Army, and how the country dissolved into a war which was at once religious and regional while working-class organizations were founded by the representatives of Bakunin. Remember how in 1898 the Spanish-American War brought back the over-large army from the last colonies to unemployed frustration in Spain surrounded by innumerable reminders of past glory, and how a valiant group of middle-class young men sought to prepare the intellectual and economic renaissance of the country by "placing a padlock on the Cid's tomb." Note how in 1909 claqss hatreds, exacerbated by Catalan Nationalism, brought a week of bloody rioting in Barcelona which vented itself in particular against the Church. Recall how in 1917 a revolutionary general strike was crushed by an itself insurrectionary army and how the military dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, established in 1923, was the only Spanish government of the century to give the country any rest from the political murders, strikes and sterile political intrigue. Consider how the liberals whose protests brought the expulsion of both the Dictator in 1930 and the King in 1931 had been unable to create a democratic habit powerful enough to satisfy the aspirations of either the working or the old governing classes and how the liberals had themselves mortally angered the latter when not strong enough to secure the implementation of their reforms. See how in 1932 a section of the Right had attempted to overcome their electoral by a pronunciamiento in the old style, and how in 1934 a part of the Left, after their own electoral defeat and impelled by continent-wide fears of Fascism, had also staged a revolt, which in Asturias had temporarily established a working-class dictatorship. Observe how, in February 1936, the two sides which by then had taken shape in Spain and which referred to themselves by the military word "front" put their quarrels finally to the test of the polls and how the narrow victory of the Popular Front had brought in a weak but progressive Ministry, regarded by its own Socialist and Communist supporters as raiser to far-reaching social and regional change. Note finally that most of the leading men of Spain in 1936 had lived through a generation of turbulence, and that many of them . . . had played important roles throughout. Here were ranged the masters of economic power in the country, led by the Army, and supported by the Church, that embodiment of Spain's past glory. All these believed that they were about to be overwhelmed. Opposed to them were "the professors" -- many of the enlightened middle class -- and almost the entire labour force of the country, maddened by years of insult, misery, and neglect, intoxicated by the knowledge of the better conditions enjoyed by their class comrades in France and Britain and by the actual mastery which they supposed that the working class had gained in Russia. Tragedy could not now have been avoided.
The Second Spanish Republic failed because it was from the start not accepted by powerful forces politically both to the Left and to the Right. -- pp. 110 -111.
So now there was to spread over Spain a great cloud of violence, in which all the quarrels and enmities of so many generations would find full outlet. With communications difficult or non-existent, each town would find itself on its own, acting out its own drama apparently in a vacuum. There were now not two Spains but two thousand. The geographical differences within Spain were a prime factor in the social disintegration of the nation. Regional feeling had sown the wind and now reaped the whirlwind. Sovereign power ceased to exist and, in its absence, individuals as well as towns acted without constraint, as if they were outside society and history. Within a month nearly a hundred thousand people perished arbitrarily and without trial. Bishops would be torn to pieces and churches profaned. Educated Christians would spend their evenings murdering illiterate peasants and professional men of sensitivity. The vast majority of these crimes were the work, on both sides, of men convinced that what they were doing was not only right, but noble. Nevertheless these events inevitably caused such hatreds that, when some order was eventually established, it was an order geared solely for the rationalisation known as war. And it would be quite wrong to think that there was much repugnance at this development. Spaniards of all parties leapt into the war like the cheering, bellicose crowds in the capitals of the rest of Europe in 1914 at the start of that war which, perhaps subconsciously even in 1936, the people of Spain felt they should have been a party. -- page 142.
7 August 1936: A Communist firing squad aiming at the colossal Monument of the Sacred Heart on the Cerro de los Angeles, a hill a few miles south of Madrid which is regarded as the exact centre of Spain, as they shoot up the statue of Christ in a "ritual execution."
Who were the killers? In general they can only be understood as the final explosion of a mood of smouldering resentment and hatred which had lain beneath the surface in Spain for generations. In fact, many of the killers . . . were butchers of the sort that all revolutions spawn; many actually enjoyed killing and even gained from it a near-sexual pleasure. But most were not of this kind. The Socialists and Communists who formed part of (Republican) murder gangs seem to have killed members of the bourgeoisie as part of a military operation, thinking that the battle was being fought on all fronts all the time and that he who did not strike first would himself be struck. The Anarchists of the FAI and CNT were different once more. They killed as if they were mystics, resolved to crush forever all the material things of this world, all the outward signs of a corrupt and hypocritical bourgeois past. When they cried "Long live liberty" and "down with Fascism", while some unjust steward was dying, they voiced deep passions of fearful sincerity. Many of those captured in Barcelona were taken thirty miles down the coast to be shot overlooking the superb Bay of Sitges. Those about to die would pass their last moments on earth looking out to sea in the marvelous Mediterranean dawn. "See how beautiful life could have been," their assassins seemed to be saying, "if only you had not been a bourgeois, and had got up early and had seen the dawn more often -- as workers have had to do." -- pp 178-179
Thomas notes: "If the Anarchists had not spent so much petrol driving future victims to beautiful places to die, and trying to burn churches to the ground, the task of their armed forces against the Nationalists in Aragon would have been a good deal easier."
2008: Workers dig in Piedrafita de Babia in northern Spain where human remains, first found in 2002, have been excavated from a mass grave believed to belong to a Republican militia executed by the Fascists during the Spanish civil war.