The Spanish Civil war is seen as a dark period in Spanish history by both sides of the conflict. The Republicans vs. the Fascists. The picture of war, however, is not as simple as Republican Spain fighting for its survival against a coup but it is part of the violent and unstable Spain that existed in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Spain was rife with conflict ever the gradual loss of the colonies that made Spain one of the most powerful nation on earth, which finally ended with the loss of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in the 1898 war with the United States.
Coup after coup made governance hard, especially the 1913 rising in Barcelona, which also brought the monarchy into question, so identified with the empire. What was Spain to do now without its colonies? Was the monarchy necessary? Should there be a republic instead? These were some of the questions that were raised at the time. There were even suggestions of an independent Catalan and Basque states, not so dissimilar to modern Spanish politics. After trying to make a constitionual monarchy work with elections in 1931, and with the growth of republican parties, King Alfonso XIII fled into exile on the 14th April 1931, and with the end of Bourbon rule of more than 200 years that began in 1715 in the wars of Spanish succession, laid down the path for the second Spanish Republic.
On establishment, the Republic which tried to please all sides in Spanish society, in the end failed to please anybody. It also offended the left by being too bourgeois. During the war itself, the Republic was also for many left-wingers too close to Stalinist Russia, as shown in the film by Ken Roche, Land and Freedom, about a Liverpudlian going to Spain by joining an anarchist militia. Elements of the right attacked the Republic for taking Spain in too progressive a way, one faction of complaint was the army. It also failed to please Catalan nationalism in particular too. It also introduced laws and bills that alienated one of the most powerful Spanish institutions, namely the Catholic Church, by forbidding any influence over education for example. This gave the anti-republican forces ammunition against the state. This environment, combined with an failing economy led to the coup led by the army that started the civil war and divided Spain between Republican and Nationalist.
I will not analysis the war in great detail, that is for another post. But the war in effect created two Spain’s, in which the monarchist and nationalist cause won and rule Spain in the person of General Francisco Franco until his death in 1975. The war is not clear cut as some would have it, but it is a period of Spanish History that affects the way politics run today, this is the civil war’s legacy.