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6: 1934-1936: “The Black Two Years”

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    When I returned to Madrid the republican euphoria had disappeared. It had really faded soon after the proclamation of the republic, which had not brought instant utopia, in fact conditions had got worse. However, it was the church issue which triggered unrest. Prime Minister Manuel Azaña must have realized that he would offend the mass of Catholics when he proclaimed that “España ha dejado de ser católica”—”Spain has ceased to be Catholic”;  he expressed the fierce anti-clericalism of liberal intellectuals, and especially of the Masons. The leftist workers did the dirty work. Many of the anti-clericals had been educated by religious orders, Azaña himself had been educated in the Escorial, an experience he describes unkindly in El Jardín de los Frailes (The Garden of the Friars). Already in May 1931 many churches and convents had been burned. In December 1931 the Constituent Assembly, led by Azaña, approved an anti-clerical constitution. It separated the Church and the State, withdrew state support for the clergy, even though that had been part of the deal by which in the nineteenth century church properties had been nationalized. It banned church schools even though government schools were totally inadequate. Even private schools were virtually forbidden to teach religion. It banned street religious processions without special authorization. It introduced divorce and civil marriage. It expelled the Jesuits, whom Pérez de Ayala had besmirched in A.M.D.G.

It is hard for us to realize the depth and extent of anti-clericalism. At a dinner at the house of a couple of liberal intellectuals, they introduced me to their son, aged about ten. Proud of his artistic skill, they told him to sketch something for me. He skillfully and without prompting drew some grotesque cartoons of priests, to the delight of the parents, who regaled me with stories of priests’ callous, grasping behavior. At the other end of the life cycle was the funeral of the mother of Don Alberto Jiménez Fraud. We all piled into taxis, following the hearse at a fair speed through the streets of Madrid to the cemetery. There the coffin was carried into the chapel, but all the men stayed outside; they would not soil their reputation by setting foot in a church.

I was and am deeply concerned about religion, but I was aware of the abuses of the Catholic Church, and I went along with the stories I heard without falling into the absolute, intolerant anti-clericalism of those around me. One of the few Western scholars. defending the Spanish church against its persecutors was Allison Peers of the University of Liverpool to whom English Hispanism owes a great debt since he created the Bulletin of Spanish Studies. Already in 1936 he published The Spanish Tragedy. As the war went on and the anti-clerical atrocities became more savage, he recorded them relentlessly, thereby winning the hostility of his liberal colleagues. In retrospect I feel he was slandered. He showed his understanding of the Catalan problem in Catalonia Infelix (1937). He summed up the Civil War tragedy in Spain in Eclipse (1943).

The Spanish right was regaining courage. In October 1933 José Antonio Primo de Rivera founded the Falange. Elections in November 1933 parliamentary elections gave victory to the moderate right. It reversed the anti-clerical policies of the previous government and suspended the closing of religious schools. Black is the color of the Catholic Church (in France the clergy were called corbeaux) and for this reason the period following the elections came to be known as el bienio negro—the black two years. It was then that I returned to Madrid.

The atmosphere was very political, and politics was the major theme of conversation on every level of society. For example, a minor episode which was blown up into a national tragedy was the January 1933 anarchist uprising in the village of Casas Viejas just east of the port city of Cadiz. It is so tiny that it does not appear in the very detailed Michelin map of Andalusia, but its name became a household word in every part of Spain. The local Civil Guard repelled an assault by anarchist outsiders and telephoned for help to nearby Medina Sidonia. It came in the form of a detachment of the Assault Guards, a special corps founded after the May 1931 riots to defend the republic. They drove out the anarchists, and in the process lost several lives. Authorized to use all necessary force, they executed some dozen prisoners. After a siege in which an aircraft dropped bombs, the village surrendered and some more people were shot.

 The right should have been pleased that the anarchists had been vanquished, but they used the episode to accuse the liberal government of murdering the people. If the uprising had not been forcefully suppressed, they would have accused the government of weakness. In the summer of 1933,  Prime Minister Azaña resigned, opening the way for the elections which the moderate right won. He became the hero of the liberals, who idealized him unrealistically, to my bemusement. During the Civil War, as President, he was totally ineffective and the Liberals blamed him for the defeat of the republic. The right hated him more than ever. In Paris, after the outbreak of the Civil War, I was guest at a dinner attended also by a conservative Spanish woman. Her hatred of Azaña was unique in my experience. She declared with unbridled anger that she would like to take Azaña, cut him up into small pieces, make a soup out of them and then spit it out. Perhaps this was a form of the black mass.

The  new government was dominated by the Cathedral CEDA (Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas) led by José María Gil Robles (father of the present European Parliament, who has the same name as his father), who was connected with the Catholic newspaper El Debate. He was accused of wishing to establish a Catholic corporative state, and the left warned that if the CEDA entered the government there would be civil war. The ant-clerical Alejandro Lerroux became Prime Minister with the support of the CEDA, having promised to rescind anti-clerical measures.

The Army was becoming restless. Already in August 1932 General José Sanjurjo, a veteran of the Spanish-American and Moroccan wars who had taken part in Primo de Rivera’s 1923 coup, had revolted in Seville to overthrow the anti-clerical government of Azaña and to restore the monarchy. There was an attempted coup in Madrid but it failed in a ridiculous way. Sanjurjo was taken prisoner and sent to the penal settlement in Santoña on the north coast. He had been backed by the Carlists of Navarre, with whom he had close family ties and who were later to fight for Franco. He and his fellow plotters were freed by the new conservative government.

The miners of Asturias were plotting a rebellion, but a large shipment of arms for them was discovered and the government of Ricardo Samper proclaimed a state of alarm. Gil Robles staged a big CEDA meeting in the shrine of Covadonga hallowed by the leaders of the reconquest of Spain from the Moors. He told the crowd that he was determined to preserve order, whereupon the CNT and UGT labor unions proclaimed a general strike in Asturias. Gil Robles and the other CEDA members returned to Madrid with difficulty. He announced that CEDA would no longer support the Samper government when it met in October 1934. The UGT feared that he planned to establish a fascist state and warned of the consequences. Lerroux formed a new government which included thee CEDA members, but not Gil Robles himself. Despite his omission, this was the signal for trouble in many regions of Spain. In Catalonia, Luis Companys proclaimed the Catalan state.

 Being in Madrid, I saw the trouble in the capital. Some Socialist militants advanced on the Ministry of the Interior in the Puerta del Sol, shooting as they went. However, they were overcome and their leaders imprisoned. The confusion was enormous. The newly formed Assault Guards, a special police to put down riots, careened around in special open trucks, their sirens piercing the air. On a double row of benches down the middle of the truck sat the guards, each row facing outward their rifles at the ready. Workers sat around in the cafes, the theme of their conversations being: We have our republic, now we want our revolution! From this moment on there would be no peace in Spain.

The worst trouble was in Asturias, about which we heard confused reports The flashpoint was the coal mining area of Mieres, south of Oviedo. The tough miners were armed with dynamite. Some of the historic monuments of Oviedo which I had seen earlier in the year were destroyed or badly damaged. The revolt really triggered the Civil War, since it persuaded General Francisco Franco, who had hitherto been a good republican, that force must be used against the leftists. He and General Manuel Goded were appointed as joint chiefs of staff to suppress the rebellion. They brought the Foreign Legion from Morocco to fight the miners, who were plotting a march on Madrid. The legionnaires were Spanish, but with them came some Moorish regulares, i.e. Moors. The suppression of the revolt was incredibly brutal. Since Covadonga in Asturias was the sacred spot from which the reconquest of Spain from the Moors had been launched, leftist posters appeared later showing Moors squatting around a fire, with the caption below saying simply “Los Moros en Covadonga”—the Moors had taken the one area of Spain which they had not conquered. This lurid simplification was inaccurate since the Spanish legionnaires were as brutal as the Moors, and the action in Covadonga was minor. Among the lucky rebels who were sent to jail rather than shot was Manuel Grossi, who wrote there his account of the rebellion, published later as La Insurrección de Asturias. In Madrid, the tension was serious, and Franco was generally credited with saving Spain and especially Madrid, threatened with an invasion of miners. From this point on Spain would know no peace.

Many leftist leaders, including Manuel Azaña and Francisco Largo Caballero, were jailed, although there were calls for the death.penalty. Prime Minister Lerroux appointed a new cabinet which included five CEDA members, including Gil Robles as Minister of War. However, confusion followed, compounded by a financial scandal, and President Alcalá Zamora decided to call elections. I missed the latter part of 1935, since I had received a grant to study in Italy.

This is a good place to discuss two writers whom I did not know because they were before my time, but whose memory still reverberated. They represented the two opposite poles of the intellectual spectrum: the Catholic conservative Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo (1856-1912) and the leftist Vicente Blasco Ibáñez (1867-1928).

Menéndez y Pelayo, born in Santander, was a scholar’s scholar. He was first a professor at the University of Madrid, and then director of the National Library. His tireless research into Spanish literary history brought about his early death, but he is justly regarded as the founder of. the school of serious literary scholars which was flourishing when I was in Madrid. Whereas it was commonplace to say that Spain had produced no science, he attempted to disprove this and thus to rehabilitate the Spanish tradition. Because of his Catholic conservatism, there was a conspiracy of silence about him among the liberals I frequented. He was rehabilitated during the Franco era, as was evident in the 1944 book by Pedro Laín Entralgo, Menéndez Pelayo, Historia de sus problemas intelectuales.

Vicente Blasco Ibáñez has been mentioned as the author of the anti-clerical novel about Toledo Cathedral, La Catedral.(1903). Born in Valencia, he became a journalist and a the author of regional novels about that area. He moved on to the national scene and wrote scathingly not only about the Catholic Church but also about the whole Spanish tradition, of which bullfighting was a notorious example. In Blood and Sand (1908) he described the fickleness of the spectators. It is the story of a famous bullfighter who retired after being gored by a bull. At once the crowd forgot him, and began roaring its applause for his successor. The villain is not the bull, but the crowd. The novel ends “The beast was roaring, the real one, the only one”—the crowd. Since the liberals of my time idealized the Spanish people, this supercilious attitude was unwelcome. Moreover that Andalusian lover of gypsies and bullfights, Federico García Lorca, wrote a famous elegy on the death of a bullfighter, which is a silly antithesis to Blood and Sand. Curiously, the Franco dictatorship promoted bullfighting for a different reason, namely as part of the glorious Spanish tradition, despite the attacks of foreigners and cosmopolitans like Blasco Ibáñez. The present conservative government of José María Aznar takes the same attitude, but more discreetly.

Blasco Ibáñez became internationally famous and wealthy because of his novel The Four Horsemen of the Apocalpyse (1916), which was made into a popular film; I saw it as a child in England. It described European culture as an apple with a beautiful skin. World War One peeled it off and showed how rotten it was. The novel described harshly the Germans whom traditional Spaniards admired. It showed the author’s sympathy for France, which the conservatives viewed as the source of the subversive ideas undermining the Spanish tradition. He took an active part in politics, but because of their hostility he quit and moved to France, He bought a house in Menton and died there. I visited it after World War II with his son, who was keeping it going as a museum about his father. He was trying to get the Spanish government to provide funds for it, but I believe he was unsuccessful.

When I was in Spain, Blasco Ibáñez was hated by the right, and the leftists, who should have admired him, were pretty silent about him. They probably resented his retreat from the political fight, viewing it almost as a betrayal. They were jealous of his international fame and of his wealth. He had sold out to Hollywood. These things are true, but he will remain a great literary figure when the literary idols of the Spain I knew are forgotten. There is a common but unproven story that García Lorca was killed by the Guardia Civil. An equally trustworthy story alleges that he was killed in a homosexual brawl. Anyhow, he died, and the assassination of President Kennedy shows that martyrdom helps one’s political reputation. Blasco Ibáñez died in comfort on the French Riviera. This was terrible public relations. His son has tried without success to persuade the Spanish government to maintain his house as a museum dedicated to him.

Ortega y Gasset left a school of liberal Catholics, among the most prominent of whom was José Bergamín (born 1897). A Catholic influenced by Jacques Maritain, he founded and edited the review Cruz y Raya until 1936. The Civil War forced him into exile. Another Ortega disciple, the Basque Xavier Zubiri (born 1898), taught the history of philosophy in the University of Madrid, but went to Rome in 1935 where he remained studying theology until the triumph of Franco. He taught in the University of Barcelona from 1940 to 1942, when politics forced him to give up his chair.

The aforementioned Pedro Laín Entralgo (born 1908) was  a follower of his. Trained in medicine, he devoted himself to its history and to general questions of Spanish culture. When I met him in Madrid during the Franco period, he was well-respected, but after the restoration of the monarchy he was hailed as a liberal defender of the Spanish cultural tradition. On this ninetieth  birthday he was honored in an impressive ceremony. The stooped old man  was no longer the vigorous intellectual leader I had known.

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