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I have been reading the Battle for Spain by Antony Beevor. One of the arguments the author makes is that the first 48 hours of the July 17th military uprising was the most vital period in which a strong government response could have crushed the nationalist rebellion. However, despite knowledge of the uprising the government Quiroga seemed completely unwilling to take the necessary action of arming the workers. In a message released the next day from Madrid notes the lack of urgency felt by the Republican government, "The government states that the movement is confined to certain areas in the Protectorate [Morocco] and that no one, absolutely no one, on the mainland has joined this absurd venture".[Beevor, 2006]

Despite this, there appears to have been numerous Republican generals and members of the CNT and UGT trade unions who warned the government to the intentions of the nationalists plotters of Sanjurjo, Mola, and Franco. It seems implausible that the government of Spain could be so blind to what was going on in Morocco. Granted I doubt that the more moderate socialists and liberals in the Republican government wanted to arm the workers and there seems to have been attempts to negotiate peace, but there seems to be more at play here. Why didn't the Republican government attempt some sort of possible military response to the right wing rebellion?

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2 Answers 2

The Spanish Civil War started as a combination of an officers' revolt, plus a coup.

The coup "failed," as such (few government leaders were captured by the Nationalists). That may have led to a false sense of security by the government.

They probably thought that it was just a rising of a few disaffected officers, and not a full-scale rebellion that would require heroic measures to suppress. Nor could they see the Franco forces winning over about half of the population for a civil war, which the Nationalists could then win, given help from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Of course the government soon changed its mind, but its "reaction time" was greater than 48 hours.

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I like the ideas of false sense of security. It certainly sounds plausible. Can you perhaps beef the answer up with sources and more detail? – Felix Goldberg Dec 8 '12 at 14:20
@FelixGoldberg: I believe that this was the source I Not the greatest, but my answer was mostly interpretation "probably thought it was just a rising," "nor could they see," "reaction time was greater than 48 hours," etc. – Tom Au Feb 25 '13 at 17:55

Points to be taken into account:

  • In the months leading to the coup, there had been lots of political violence and terrorism.

  • the workers that would be receiving weapons would not be under the government control, they would be managed by the trade unions/political parties they belonged to.

With the enemy (as far as the government knew) isolated in Africa (without German help it is dubious that they could have moved the army to mainlaind Spain with the required speed), it did not make a lot of sense to give weapons to workers in Sevilla or A Coruña. In fact, it could present more problems than advantages:

  • If the trade unions / political parties refused to return the weapons after the crisis. And even if they agreed, given the confussion, it would be most likely that many weapons would not be recovered and in the hands of the more radical grups or regular criminals.

  • It could convince military leaders that the Government was in the hands (or at least could not stop) the trade unions/political parties militias and that their only chance of keeping an stable government (or even their personal survival) was joining the rebels.

Even after a few months of war, the situation in the Republican zone remained chaotic so, while a posteriori it could be said that the best course of action was arming the militias, it is understandable that the Government hesitated to do so.

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