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SPAIN: Everybody’s War

10 minute read

That no simple civil war of two Spains, Leftists and Rightists, is being fought, made itself clear again last week as some other Spains became active afresh, notably the Basques and the Catalonians. These regions are violently separatist, even when Spain is at peace. The fact that today Catalonians and Basques are both classed as being with the Leftists of Valencia and Madrid makes them no less rugged individualists.

In Barcelona, the capital of more or less autonomous Catalonia (through which supplies for Madrid enter Spain in a steady stream), local President Luis Companys umpired a heroic political dogfight in which the Cabinet of this one of the Spains fell. At last Barcelona’s quarreling hot anarchists & communists and warmed-over socialists & republicans grew so helplessly embroiled that most of them seemed relieved when President Companys agreed last week to add the Premiership of Catalonia temporarily to his other offices and worries. Dispatches reaching Valencia said that what had chiefly been accomplished at Barcelona was to “oust the anarchists from their previous control of the police.”

Barcelona is the proletarian Pittsburgh of Spain, but violently Catholic Bilbao, capital of the Basques, is a sweating, sulphurous Spanish Youngstown, its skies red every night with the belch of blast furnaces. Up to last week the bouncing, battling Basques had been almost left to their own quarrels by the Rightist Spain of Generalissimo Francisco Franco this year, but suddenly he sent General Emilio Mola with a mixed force of Spaniards, Germans, Italians and Moors swarming north over the Cantabrian Mountains to get Bilbao or bust.

This woke up that lion-hearted lawyer, President Jose Antonio de Aguirre y Lecube of the Basques. If a devout Catholic and a communist fanatic could be rolled into one, the result might approximate President de Aguirre. He keeps a tall ebony-&-gold crucifix on his desk but pounds this piece of furniture with voluble class-conscious vim remindful at times of Father Coughlin. As the offensive of General Mola was just getting under way, Basque de Aguirre went on the air with an impassioned broadcast;

“Two conceptions are now struggling in the world: first, the old capitalist conception, clinging to abuse of privilege; and second, a deep feeling for social justice latent in the masses. Branding this deeply just social commotion as communism is wrong!”

The President of the Basques is thus not a communist but a Social Commotionist, and so are many Spanish Leftists. “Our social advancement policy is a daring one!” went on Radiorator de Aguirre. “We will promote access of workers to capital profits and the coadministration of business enterprise. We are empowered to socialize all elements of production!”

No coward is this Coughlin of beleaguered Bilbao. When he heard that General Mola’s forces were advancing down the mountains, President de Aguirre hopped out of the luxurious hotel in which he has been living, ordered to the front every male in Bilbao capable of bearing arms, seized a rifle himself and rushed off to a brilliant, impromptu Basque counter-offensive which in latest dispatches was blocking Mola some 16 miles outside the city.

Roles Reversed. A glance last week at Spain (see map, p. 25) showed that after eight and one-half months of civil war, the offensive has passed for the first time to the Leftists. Rightist Spain, which proclaimed its Government at Burgos on the sixth day of the war and is recognized as a nation by Germany and Italy, had never lost territory it had once conquered until the recent rout of Italians in the Guadalajara sector in “un piccolo Caporetto” (TIME, April 5). By last week the Rightists had lost strips and snippets of territory here & there along most of their fronts as the Leftists proved able for the first time to get out in the open and launch sustained attacks. They pressed their offensive northeast of Madrid for a gain of twelve miles, hurtled through in the Cordoba sector 13 miles, and delivered their first major blows outside of Spain proper by sending a fleet of bombers and the battleship Jaime Primero across the Straits of Gibraltar to shell and strafe Ceuta, important supply base in Spanish Morocco which, ever since the war began, has been Rightist. Snug in Gibraltar last week Britons saw dense clouds of smoke erupt from Ceuta, suggesting Leftist success in setting fire to Rightist docks and warehouses crammed with food and munitions.

Rightist troop morale in southern Spain, according to the Leftists, was ebbing, partly because of military factors but even more because Rightists were being tempted by every means of expert Leftist propaganda to drop their rifles, come on over and share Spain. Leaflets dropped from airplanes and shot over no-man’s land in Leftist skyrockets read: “Brothers, among us everyone owns everything in Spain collectively! The proof is that every man behind our lines gets all the land he can till free. Is that true behind your lines? We promise ‘Bread, Land and Liberty for All!’ and we keep our promises!”

Similar slogans were used in the Russia of 1917 to sow disaffection among soldiers opposing the Red Army, and daily last week Spain supplied a dossier of facts to show that it was Soviet assistance, ably coordinated by Moscow’s General Emilio Kleber and the fleets of Russian bombing planes and tanks at the disposal of Madrid which were enabling the Leftists to succeed last week, just as previous sweeping Rightist drives relied enormously on Italian and German bombers and tanks. Nearly every night last week Madrid put on wild celebrations. Its Defense Junta voted to decorate its chairman General José Miaja “for valor.” This wise, owl-bald Spanish professional soldier had to exert himself afresh to check the “overoptimism” against which he is so tart.

Meanwhile 500,000 Rightist propaganda leaflets were fluttering down among the Basques against whom General Mola was driving. They urged everyone who disapproved of “sharing everything in Spain collectively” to hustle over to the Rightists and, according to dispatches from Rightist territory, these leaflets had considerable effect, numbers of devout Basques deserting their Radiorator. Advices from Bilbao reaching France were that many middle-class citizens favored joining the Rightist cause as the only alternative to “sharing everything” with Bilbao mobsters and blast furnace stalwarts.

Morocco in Revolt? Turbulent was many a Moroccan town last Week as news of Leftist successes seeped in from Spain, set natives wondering if now was the time to rise against the Rightists who to them are “just Spaniards”—that is, vile Christians hateful in the sight of Allah. Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s life-long specialty has been understanding the Moroccans. He long commanded the Spanish Foreign Legion in this sphere of influence. Last year he made friendly gestures to Allah’s people as soon as he set up his Government. One of these gestures was to invite several hundred prominent Moroccans to make the holy pilgrimage to Mecca free on a Spanish Rightist steamer, and this most conveniently came steaming home last week. Up to thank the Generalissimo in Seville rushed the whole Mecca contingent of Moroccan dignitaries, overflowing with the grace of Allah and headed by their native Sultan’s Grand Vizier.

Every tourist who has roamed Seville’s romantic Moorish palace or Alcazar can picture vividly the scene of last week as swarthy, cloaked Moroccans entered to hail the Generalissimo with flowery thanks and extravagant Mohammedan promises which he returned in kind.

“When the springtime of victory comes,” promised Franco, “you shall have the choicest blossoms.”

The tribal dignitaries, to show they were doing the Generalissimo the same honor they would do a Sultan, walked past him expressionless and with “glazed eyes”— thus symbolizing that the person so honored is too great to be looked in the face by persons less exalted.

Meanwhile, were Italian and German troops in Morocco on the point of mutiny in some places, and at others, were Spanish troops so incensed by the “superior airs” of these foreigners that affrays were of frequent occurrence, Rightist discipline not up to scratch? Iron censorship hid the facts, but advices reaching Denmark from Morocco supported Leftist rumors to this effect. Rightists countered with rumors of mutiny among the dinamiteros or dynamite-throwing Leftist miners who ever since the start of the war have been trying to capture Rightists whom they continued last week to besiege in Oviedo.

On balance this week, reliable facts favored the Leftists throughout Spain and Morocco, but the Rightists were said at latest reports to have been joined via Cadiz by another 10,000 Italian troops and Spain’s tragedy was still anybody’s war, or rather everybody’s. Last week in France batches of U. S. citizens attempting sneaks into Spain were being arrested, jailed, faced prison terms up to six months, fines up to $500.

Cordon Sanitaire? Not since the late great Georges (“Tiger”) Clemenceau moved the Allies to draw a “sanitary cordon” around Germany and attempt the same with Bolshevik Russia, have such plans been made as are to go into effect this week to put a watchful ring around Spain on April 10.

By agreement of the London Nonintervention Committee of 27 States, these will supply a total of 900 “agents” or observers to be stationed around the land and sea coasts of Spain, together with such equipment as warships for the agents to peer from, guards to ensure their reasonable safety. Although the international patrol was supposed to be all set to come into effect, little more had been made public this week than the fact that 260 agents will observe on the land frontiers, the rest on warships whose nationality has been fixed (see map). Undisclosed, apparently undecided, was exactly what the goo agents are to do except observe. Strong was an impression that at first they will merely report what look to them like cases of the entry into Spain of men or munitions, recording these violations of the London Non-intervention Agreement, leaving to statesmen any action.

Inside this ring of observers everybody will continue to fight “everybody’s Spanish Civil War” and this week nationality and numbers were, according to best sources: Leftists, 40,000, comprising 5,500 Italians, 18,000 French, 7,000 Russians, 5,000 Poles, 2,500 Americans, 2,000 British; Rightists, 79,000 comprising 30,000 Italians, 20,000 Moors, 14,000 Germans, 9,000 Irish, 6,000 Portuguese. This counts Moors as foreigners, as that is how Spaniards count them, although they are citizens of Spanish Morocco. Spaniards added to each of the above forces brought the Rightists under arms up to a grand total of some 349,000, Leftists to a grand total of 240,000.

Whole Hog, Abruptly from Rome this week came official press outbursts which many Fascists thought presaged whole-hog intervention in Spain by Italy to wipe out the stain of the “Little Caporetto.” Il Duce’s newsorgans smeared Russia, France and Mexico with charges that those Governments have run arms to the Spanish Leftists in a whole list of instances which the Rome press hotly particularized, roasting especially “France’s flagrant violations of the neutral Non-intervention accord signed at London.”

These charges, Rome thought, laid the “juridical basis” for an Italian walkout from the 27-nation phalanx of Nonintervention, raised the risk of Italian action as heedless of Geneva as the Ethiopian war. Meanwhile in Spain, the big Russian air fleet of the Leftists machine-gunned Rightist trenches in one fell swoop along 330 miles of the fighting front.

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