Julián Besteiro Fernández (September 21, 1870 – September 27, 1940) was a Spanish socialist politician, elected to the Cortes Generales and in 1931 as Speaker of the Constituent Cortes. He also was elected several times to the town council of Madrid. During the same period, he was a university professor of philosophy and logic, and dean of the department at the University of Madrid.
Born in Madrid, he was educated in the Institución Libre de Enseñanza, and studied in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters at the University of Madrid, as well as at the Sorbonne in 1896, the Universities of Munich, Berlin and Leipzig in 1909-1910. In 1908, he joined the Partido Radical (Radical Party) established by Alejandro Lerroux.
He became a member of the Agrupación Socialista Madrileña (the socialist circle in Madrid) in 1912. That year he was offered the Chair of Fundamental Logic in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters at the University of Madrid. Soon after, Besteiro became a member of Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT) trade union, and of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE). In 1913 he married Dolores Cebrián, a professor of physics and natural science at the teachers' training college in Toledo.
In 1917, after the general strike, Besteiro was among many members of the strike committee tried in Madrid; he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Following his release under the amnesty campaign, he was elected as a member of the town council of Madrid.
Entry into electoral politics
During the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, Besteiro favored collaboration by the socialists with the leader. De Rivera offered UGT participation in governing the country. To a certain extent, the arrangement in the mid-1920s appeared to be a success. Opinion within the PSOE turned against Besteiro as the Primo de Rivera regime became more unpopular during the economic downturn as part of the Great Depression.
By the mid-1930s, Besteiro became politically isolated in his opinions on collaboration. This was opposed by the republican front established by the Pact of San Sebastián. Bestiero had also opposed the participation of UGT in the December 15, 1930 general strike. At a joint meeting of the PSOE and UGT in February 1931, Besteiro resigned as President of both the party and the union. (Note: Paul Preston writes that Besteiro resigned as president of the union in 1934.)
In 1931 he was elected a councillor of the Madrid town council.
Second Spanish Republic and the Civil War
Still serving in the Cortes Generales after the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic in 1931, Besteiro was elected Speaker of the Constituent Cortes, empowered to draft a new constitution. During his period as President of the Cortes, he seemed to become more conservative in his political views. In January 1934, he resigned as President of the UGT.
Opposing the radicalization of the Socialist movement, he disapproved the socialists' taking part in the armed uprising of October 1934. In February 1936, Besteiros won the highest number of votes of any candidate in Madrid in the Popular Front elections.
Throughout this period, Besteiro had continued to work in the University of Madrid as a Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, as well as to carry out his duties as a parliamentary deputy and councillor of the town council in Madrid. After the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, and against the urgings of friends, he refused to leave Madrid and seek exile.
Manuel Azaña, the Spanish Republican President, chose Besteiro as the representative to the coronation of the new British King George VI in London on May 12, 1937. Besteiro believed it was to be a peace mission. There he met with Sir Anthony Eden to seek British aid in ending the war, which had attracted German and Russian support of the opposing sides, but no significant results followed. After the failure of his mission in London, Besteiros returned to work on the town council of Madrid but withdrew from other official public life. He stopped attending the Agrupación Socialista Madrileña and the parliamentary group meetings.
With the news of the fall of Barcelona on January 26, 1939, and Azaña's resignation as President of the Republic, Besteiro decided to work to achieve peace and stop the resistance. He contacted Colonel Segismundo Casado. On March 5, Besteiros announced the creation a Consejo Nacional de Defensa. The uprising against the government of Juan Negrín and its Communist Party of Spain allies succeeded, at the cost of nearly 2,000 lives. (See Beevor (2006), Chapter 34, passim, The Battle for Spain.)
After the fall of Madrid to the Nationalists on March 28, 1939, Besteiro was arrested by Francoist forces. On July 8, he faced a court martial and was sentenced to thirty years. He was imprisoned first in the Trappist monastery in Dueñas, Palencia, until the end of August 1939. He was transferred to the prison of Carmona. He died in prison the following year.
Besteiro was buried in the Cementerio Civil of Madrid.
- Jackson, Gabriel. The Spanish Republic and The Civil War, 1931-1939. Princeton University Press. Princeton. 1967. p. 470
- Jackson (1967), The Spanish Republic and The Civil War, 1931-1939., p. 28
- Preston, Paul. The Spanish Civil War. Reaction, Revolution & Revenge, Harper Perennial, 2006, p. 71
- Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War. 1936-1939. Penguin books. London. 2006. p. 24
- Jackson (1967), The Spanish Republic and The Civil War, p. 182
- Beevor (2006), The Battle for Spain, p. 333
- Jackson (1967), The Spanish Republic and The Civil War, pp. 441-442
- Beevor (2006), The Battle for Spain, pp. 391-392
- Beevor (2006), The Battle for Spain, p. 394
- Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. London. 2001. p. 888
- Preston (2006), The Spanish Civil War, p. 319
- Comrades! Portraits from the Spanish Civil War by Paul Preston, HarperCollins Publishers ISBN 0-00-255635-9
- Spain's First Democracy: The Second Republic, 1931-1936, by Stanley G. Payne, University of Wisconsin Press ISBN 0-299-13674-4
- Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939. Penguin Books. London. 2006. ISBN 0-14-303765-X
- Jackson, Gabriel. The Spanish Republic and The Civil War, 1931-1939. Princeton University Press. Princeton. 1967. ISBN 0-691-00757-8
- Preston, Paul. The Spanish Civil War. Reaction, Revolution & Revenge. Harper Perennial. 2006. ISBN 978-0-00-723207-9 ISBN 0-00-723207-1
- Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. London. 2003. ISBN 978-0-14-101161-5
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