The Issues Facing Spain 1868-1923

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There were many issues facing Spain between the years 1868-1923. Spanish politics were rarely stable in this period. This was mainly a result of economic and social problems; there were regional issues and lots of groups emerging who were keen for change. In 1868 there was a ‘glorious revolution. ‘ A pronunciamento took place and Isabella was removed and a provisional government was established. Several reforms were introduced like universal male suffrage and the protection of civil rights and liberties, and more importantly freedom of religion.

From this point on Spanish society and in particular Spanish politics were changes forever. There was still political unrest which was never settled. Largely because the government could not satisfy both the left, and the right. The first republic was set up in 1873, but by 1874, just a year later a group of Spanish generals had decided that the monarchy should be restored. It was not unusual for the army to interfere in this way. In fact the army could be considered a separate issue which faced Spain in this period. It had too much control; it could make or break governments, making them very difficult to deal with.

The Army became more of a hindrance later on in the period we are looking at as it became too expensive to continue to run, as it did not have as much use anymore. Also it was unbalanced with far too many officers. After the army restored the monarchy in the form of Alfonso XII a period of ‘Turno Pacifico’ took place, this was mainly between the years of 1875-1898. This was a sham democracy. It was in fact ruled by the elites, and the voting was manipulated. Not that it mattered as there was little difference between the two parties.

These governments were seen as weak, and made some fundamental mistakes which hindered Spain. One example of this is the introduction of protectionism, this retarded the Spanish economy. Turno Pacifico illustrated how the oligarchy of Spain still ruled; unlike in other countries where ancient regimes like this had been removed, or had little power. Turno Pacifico meant that there was little political expression. This led to the emergence of other political parties, some quite radical, which I will discuss further on. In 1898 disaster struck. Spain lost her most important colonies, including Cuba, in the Spanish American war.

Not only did this have a knock on affect on the Spanish economy, it was also seen as an embarrassment. Barcelona was the scene of sporadic strikes and acts of terrorism from anarchists and other groups. This unsurprisingly rocked the system and seriously affected Spanish morale and people had lost what faith they had in the government. Another one of the main problems facing Spain in this period was regionalism. Each province seemed to have its own identity, particularly Catalonia and The Basque region of Spain. These and other areas tended to have their own language, and ideas on how Spain should be run.

These conflicting ideas and cultures created a feeling of nationalism in the different areas. Catalonia was constantly pushing for Spain to be modernised, and for the backwardness of other parts of Spain to be eliminated. One way of modernisation was through autonomy; this would have helped its thriving industries, and helped Spain’s development. From Catalonia emerged one of the radical parties, another major issue facing Spain; the CNT. This was an anarchist trade union which had a wide array of beliefs, and a large amount of support, Anarchism was very successful in Spain, in comparison with the rest of the world.

The Anarchist movement was revolutionary, and not afraid to use violence, it also used political strikes to gain attention, which have had an affect on Spanish politics at the time. The Basque Country also had a fierce sense of nationalism. However unlike Catalonia, they were strong Catholics and also quite conservative. This was also a region from where a political party had a strong base; the UGT was a socialist party and was supported by a majority of the Basque workers, and this support grew rapidly during the First World War. Other left wing parties seemed to be popular in this region too, like the PSOE.

These sharp contrasts in opinion made it difficult for Spain to work together in a coherent fashion, especially with radical parties having so much support. Many believed that democracy was not working, there was violence and unrest in Spain and a different approach was needed. This could explain why Primo de Rivera came to power so easily in 1923. The Spanish economy was also an issue in this period. Agriculture was a significant problem, especially as more than 50% of the population worked in agriculture. The main problem was a lack of consistency, each area was different.

Some were very efficient, some were not. There were regions where the quality of land was excellent; however some regions had to make do with very poor land, creating a rift in the productivity of different areas. The land was also poorly managed. The landed oligarchy owned latfundia’s which were either too large, which meant that they could not be farmed efficiently, or broken down into minifundias and rented out to peasant proprietors. However the land would be so small it was barely possible to make a reasonable living. Industry or the lack of it was an issue in Spain.

Industry only had a foothold in the north, around Barcelona, Catalonia, Asturias and the Basque country. However Spanish industry faced several problems. There was an emasculated industrial class; also the depression of the 1890’s meant a loss of foreign markets. Trade was affected by the loss of colonial territories like Cuba and the Philippines who Spain relied on to trade with. Protectionism also hindered the development of industrial production, as it limited the trade markets even further. There was an imbalance in the class divisions of Spain in comparison with most of Europe.

This was mainly due to the Spain’s late development and its lack of a classic bourgeois revolution meant that the middle class and the urban working class remained small. They were also confined to particular regions and the diversity was not evenly spread. The working clad which was present usually held very radical views as I discussed earlier. Another factor effecting economic development was the poor infrastructure of Spain, in particular the rail networks, which were crucial to the continual development of Spanish industry. So why was Primo de Rivera able to seize power in 1923?

As I have already discussed, there were problems right across Spain. People had grown tired, and frustrated with an incompetent and unfair government. There had not been stability for years. This is shown on the 17 July 1917, when the Liega called for an assembly of parliamentarians. In August the socialist, urged on by the CNT called a general strike. They felt that in these turbulent times, when even the army had deserted and formed separate juntas, that there would opposition to a revolutionary attempt to overthrow the government.

The movement was crushed, however this did illustrate the fact that people wanted change, and that Spain might be ready for it. Most groups like the separatist, anarchists, republicans, radicals and also the Army and Socialist who I have already mentioned, were all in favour of change, even in the form of Primo de Rivera. And those who did not support him were unlikely to resist him. All of the problems and attitudes I have mentioned were aggravated by World War I, it made it difficult for Spain to import goods, and inflation soon took hold over the economy.

This economic crisis was made worse by the Moroccan war which was extremely unpopular with Spanish forces after their defeat at the Battle of Anoual. This was the final straw, in the years that followed a succession of Spanish governments collapsed and there was unrest across Spain, particularly Barcelona. It was thought that the King would be blamed for this defeat, before the investigation was finished General Miguel Primo de Rivera declared a pronunciamento in September 1923. This was excellent timing, Spain was desperate for change, and many, including the King, believed that Rivera could be ‘The Iron Surgeon’ that Spain was looking for.

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