On April 14, 1931, the Second Spanish Republic began when local elections were held across the country for only the second time in Spanish history. Niceto Alcala Zamora was elected the first president of the Second Republic. The date essentially marked the end of centuries of monarchy and the beginning of the Spanish Republic, with a constitution form of government. Within a year, a Constituent Assembly had drafted and approved a new Constitution, protecting far greater rights for Spanish citizens.
The Second Republic would last from 1931 through 1939, when the right-wing forces of General Francisco Franco declared victory in the Spanish civil war.
A central policy of the Second Republic was the Agrarian Reform Law, designed to fix Spain's Christian nobility land grab in the 15th century. Under the feudal system that followed, tens of thousands of people were subjugated to lives of semi-slavery. The Spanish elite kept this system firmly in place until the Second Republic.
A coup, and the following insurgency led by General Francisco Franco in 1936, embroiled the country in a bloody civil war for three years.
Many historians now point to the Second Republic's land reform, rather than the destruction of the monarchy, as the provocation for Franco's coup.
The Right had introduced the rumor that the Popular Front government wanted to give land to the Soviets, negating the idea that it was a genuine revolution for the needy and dispossessed.
On April 14, 1936, months before the coup, Manuel Azaña was in the presidential box celebrating the national holiday of the Republic when firecrackers planted behind him scared the guards, leading to a shooting that killed several people. This attack is reminiscent of techniques used in Venezuela, conducted by the old regime in order to destabilize the new. Hoarding basic food, leaving land uncultivated, blocking justice and murdering workers and peasants with impunity have been seen as dirty political tactics the world over when the old order is threatened.
Despite an attempt at a social revolution, led by anarchists and worker organizations, after Franco’s bid for power, the fascists eventually prevailed and Franco ruled Spain as a brutal dictatorship until his death in 1975.
Spain's 21st century real estate boom and ensuing subprime crisis saw a loss of housing that showed that the Spanish elite had not learned from the Republic, even after the demise of the dictatorship. Thousands of empty houses stand like the rural wastelands left after the destruction of the Second Republic, residential land developments evoke ghosts of Andalusian gentlemen, new airports lie unused, like aristocratic palaces that sit empty while people sleep on the streets.
Click on the image below to view our photo gallery on the Spanish Second Republic.