Asturian miners' strike of 1934

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Asturian miners' strike of 1934
Part of the Revolution of 1934
Arrested workers during the Asturian Revolution, 1934.jpg
Arrested workers with Civil and Assault Guard forces during the Asturian Revolution
Date4 – 19 October 1934
Location
Caused byAsturian miners strike
Resulted inStrike suppressed
Parties to the civil conflict
Asturian Workers Alliance
 • PSOE
 • UGT
 • CNT
Lead figures
Belarmino Tomás
Ramón González Peña
Alejandro Lerroux
Eduardo López Ochoa
Francisco Franco
Casualties and losses
1,700 dead
15,000 – 30,000 captured
260 dead

The Asturian miners' strike of 1934 was a major strike action, against the entry of the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (CEDA) into the Spanish government on October 6,[1] which took place in Asturias in northern Spain, that developed into a revolutionary uprising. It was crushed by the Spanish Navy and the Spanish Republican Army, the latter using mainly Moorish colonial troops from Spanish Morocco.[2]

Francisco Franco controlled the movement of the troops, aircraft, warships and armoured trains used in the crushing of the revolution.[3] While the insurrection was brief, historian Gabriel Jackson observed “In point of fact, every form of fanaticism and cruelty which was to characterise the Civil War occurred during the October revolution and its aftermath: utopian revolution marred by sporadic red terror; systematically bloody repression by the ‘forces of order’; confusion and demoralisation of the moderate left; fanatical vengefulness on the part of the right.”[4] The revolt has been regarded as "the first battle of" or "the prelude to" the Spanish Civil War.[5]

Background[edit]

Following the victory of the right parties' coalition in the general election of 1933, the new government, led by Alejandro Lerroux, met stiff resistance from the leftist parties. In October 1934, plans to invite members of the right-wing CEDA into government were leaked and the political left was distraught.[6] The left Republicans tried to reach a common formula of protest but were hampered because the formation of a new government was the result of a normal parliamentary process and that the parties coming to government had won the previous year's free elections. The issue was that the Left Republicans identified the Republic not with democracy or constitutional law but a specific set of policies and politicians, and any deviation was seen as treasonous.[7] That triggered revolutionary strikes and uprisings occurred in Austria and in Catalonia as well as small incidents in other places in Spain, all known under the collective name of the Revolution of 1934.

The rebels had a considerable stock of rifles and pistols on them, leading to General Emilio Mola calling it the "best armed" of all the leftist insurrections of interwar Europe. Most of the rifles came from a shipment of arms supplied by Indalecio Prieto, a socialist party moderate. The rifles had been landed by the yacht Turquesa at Pravia, north-east of Oviedo; Prieto swiftly fled to France to avoid arrest. Other weapons came from captured arms factories in the region and the miners also had their dynamite blasting charges, which were known as "la artillería de la revolución."[8] Plans to subvert police and army units failed as these groups, even those with leftist sympathies, refused to join the rebels. Most planned armed revolts involving militiamen did not go ahead and the others were easily crushed by the authorities.[9] A "Catalan State", proclaimed by Catalan nationalist leader Lluis Companys, lasted just ten hours, and despite an attempt at a general stoppage in Madrid, other strikes did not endure. In Madrid, strikers occupied the ministry of the interior and a few military centres, a few of them firing pistols, yet they were soon rounded up by security forces. In the north there were revolutionary strikes in mining areas and clashes with the security forces that left 40 people dead, but the revolt was ended with the arrival of troops and the Spanish air force launching bomb attacks.[8] This left Asturian strikers to fight alone.[10] Anarchist and communist factions in Spain had called general strikes. However, the strikes immediately exposed differences on the left between the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE)-linked Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), which organised the strike, and the anarcho-syndicalist trade union, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), which was sceptical of the value of strike action as a political tactic.[citation needed] As a result, the strikes failed in much of the country.

Strike[edit]

Location of Asturias in Spain

In several mining towns in Asturias, local unions gathered small arms and were determined to see the strike through. It began on the evening of October 4, with the miners occupying several towns, attacking and seizing local Civil and Assault Guard barracks.[11] The following day saw columns of miners advancing along the road to Oviedo, the provincial capital. With the exception of two barracks in which fighting with the garrison of 1,500 government troops continued, the city was taken by October 6. The miners proceeded to occupy several other towns, most notably the large industrial centre of La Felguera, and set up town assemblies, or "revolutionary committees", to govern the towns that they controlled.[12]

The revolutionary soviets set up by the miners attempted to impose order on the areas under their control, and the moderate socialist leadership of Ramón González Peña and Belarmino Tomás took measures to restrain violence. However, a number of captured priests, businessmen and civil guards were summarily executed by the revolutionaries in Mieres and Sama, and churches, convents and part of the university at Oviedo were destroyed.[13]

The government in Madrid now called on two of its senior generals, Manuel Goded and Francisco Franco, to co-ordinate the suppression of what had become a major rebellion. Goded and Franco recommended the use of regular units of colonial troops from Spanish Morocco, instead of the inexperienced conscripts of the Peninsular Army. War Minister Diego Hidalgo agreed that the latter would be at a disadvantage in combat against the well-organised miners, who were skilled in the use of dynamite. Columns of Civil Guards, Moroccan Regulares and the Spanish Legion were accordingly organized under General Eduardo López Ochoa and Colonel Juan de Yague to relieve the besieged government garrisons and to retake the towns from the miners. The troops were carried on the CNT-controlled railways to Asturias without resistance by the anarchists. During the operations, an autogyro made a reconnaissance flight for the government troops in what was the first military employment of a rotorcraft.[14]

On October 7, delegates from the anarchist-controlled seaport towns of Gijón and Avilés arrived in Oviedo to request weapons to defend against a landing of government troops. Ignored by the socialist UGT-controlled committee, the delegates returned to their town empty-handed, and government troops met little resistance as they recaptured Gijón and Avilés the following day.[15] On the same day, the cruiser Libertad and two gunboats reached Gijón, where they fired on the workers at the shore. Bombers also attacked coalfields and Oviedo.[8] The capture of the two key ports effectively spelled the end of the strike.[citation needed]

Aftermath[edit]

In the armed action taken against the uprising, some 3,000 miners were killed in the fighting, with another 30,000[16] to 40,000 taken prisoner[17] and thousands more sacked from their jobs.[18] The repression of the uprising carried out by the colonial troops was very harsh, including looting, rape and summary executions.[19][20] The man most notorious for his cruelty was the Civil Guard commander, Major Lisardo Doval.[8] According to Hugh Thomas, 2,000 persons died in the uprising: 230-260 military and police, 33 priests, 1,500 miners in combat and 200 individuals killed in the repression (among them the journalist Luis de Sirval, who pointed out tortures and executions and was arrested and killed by three officers of the Legion).[16] Stanley Payne estimates that the rebel's atrocities killed between 50 and 100 people and that the government conducted up to 100 summary executions, while 15 million pesetas were stolen from banks, most which was never recovered and would go on to fund further revolutionary activity.[5]

The political right demanded severe punishment for the insurrection, while the political left insisted on amnesty for what they tried to pass off as a labour strike and political protest that got out control.[21] The government response in the aftermath of the rebellion varied from extremely harsh to surprisingly light.[22] On the one hand the government suspended constitutional guarantees and almost all of the left's newspapers were closed, as they were owned by the parties that had promoted the uprising. Hundreds of town councils[23] and mixed juries were suspended. Torture in prisons was widespread, as it was during all the Republic's lifetime.[24] On the other hand, there were no mass killing after the fighting was over as was in the case of the suppression of the Paris Commune or the Russian 1905 revolution; all death sentences were commuted aside from two, army sergeant and deserter Diego Vásquez, who fought alongside the miners, and a worker known as "El Pichilatu" who had committed serial killings. Little effort was actually made to suppress the organisations that had carried out the insurrection, resulting in most being functional again by 1935. Support for fascism was minimal and did not increase, while civil liberties were restored in full by 1935, after which the revolutionaries had a generous opportunity to pursue power through electoral means.[22]

Franco was convinced that the workers uprising had been "carefully prepared by the agents of Moscow". Fed by material he gathered from the Entente Anticommuniste of Geneva, Franco believed that he was justified in the brutal use of troops against Spanish civilians. Historian Paul Preston wrote: "Unmoved by the fact that the central symbol of rightist values was the reconquest of Spain from the Moors, Franco did not hesitate to ship Moorish mercenaries to fight in Asturias, the only part of Spain where the crescent had never flown. He saw no contradiction about using the Moors, because he regarded left-wing workers with the same racialist contempt he possessed towards the tribesmen of the Rif."[25] Visiting Oviedo after the rebellion had been put down he said; "this war is a frontier war and its fronts are socialism, communism and whatever attacks civilization in order to replace it with barbarism."[3] Though the forces sent to the north by Franco consisted of the Spanish Foreign Legion and the Moroccan colonial troops known as Regulares, the right-wing press portrayed the Asturian rebels in xenophobic and anti-Semitic terms as the lackeys of a foreign Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy.[26] Franco believed the government needed to firmly punish the rebels, otherwise it would only encourage further revolutionary activity.[27]

Historians have often regarded Asturias as the "first battle" or "prelude" of the Spanish Civil War.[28] The Spanish left had rejected the legal process of government and revolted against the elected government, even though they would later use the "legality" argument to condemn the July 1936 coup was against an elected government.[29] The left's leaders would never publicly admit to wrong-doing in the turn to mass violence in Asturias, though they would accept that they could not use such methods to obtain power in the immediate future.[30] For the non-republican right, however, the suppression of the Asturias rebellion showed that they could always rely on the army, described by Calvo Sotelo as "the backbone of the Fatherland."[31] When the Popular Front was formed in 1936, one of its proposals was to free all those who were imprisoned for taking part in the Asturias rebellion; this proposal angered the Spanish right, who regarded freeing those who had violently revolted against the legally elected government as an indicator that the Spanish left would not respect constitutional government and the rule of law.[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Unearthing Franco's Legacy, p.61, University of Notre Dame Press, 2010
  2. ^ The Splintering of Spain, p.54 CUP, 2005
  3. ^ a b Unearthing Franco's Legacy, p.62
  4. ^ Jackson, Gabriel. The Spanish Republic and the Civil War, 1931-1939. Vol. 102. Princeton University Press, 1965, p.167
  5. ^ a b Payne, Stanley G., and Jesús Palacios. Franco: A personal and political biography. University of Wisconsin Pres, 2014, p.90
  6. ^ Payne, Stanley G. The collapse of the Spanish republic, 1933-1936: Origins of the civil war. Yale University Press, 2008, pp.82-83
  7. ^ Payne, Stanley G. The collapse of the Spanish republic, 1933-1936: Origins of the civil war. Yale University Press, 2008, pp.84-85
  8. ^ a b c d e Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939. Hachette UK, 2012.
  9. ^ Payne, Stanley G. The collapse of the Spanish republic, 1933-1936: Origins of the civil war. Yale University Press, 2008, pp.85-86
  10. ^ Spain 1833-2002, p.133, Mary Vincent, Oxford, 2007
  11. ^ Jackson, Gabriel. The Spanish Republic and the Civil War,1931-1939. Princeton University Press. Princeton. 1967. pp.154-155
  12. ^ Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. 2001. London. p.131
  13. ^ Thomas, Hugh, p132 The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. 2001, ISBN 0-141-01161-0
  14. ^ Payne, Stanley G. (1993). Spain's first democracy: the Second Republic, 1931–1936. Univ of Wisconsin Press, p. 219. ISBN 0-299-13674-4
  15. ^ Jackson, Gabriel. The Spanish Republic and the Civil War,1931-1939. Princeton University Press. Princeton. 1967. p.157
  16. ^ a b Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. 2001. London. p.136
  17. ^ Jackson, Gabriel. The Spanish Republic and the Civil War, 1931-1939. Princeton University Press. Princeton. 1967. p.161
  18. ^ Beevor, Antony. The battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939. Penguin Books. 2006. London. p.32
  19. ^ Beevor, Antony. The battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939. Penguin Books. 2006. London. pp.31-32
  20. ^ Jackson, Gabriel. The Spanish Republic and the Civil War, 1931-1939. Princeton University Press. Princeton. 1967. pp.159-160
  21. ^ Payne, Stanley G., and Jesús Palacios. Franco: A personal and political biography. University of Wisconsin Pres, 2014, p.91
  22. ^ a b Payne, Stanley G. The collapse of the Spanish republic, 1933-1936: Origins of the civil war. Yale University Press, 2008, pp.100-103
  23. ^ Graham, Helen. The Spanish Civil War. A very short introduction. Oxford University Press. 2005. p.16
  24. ^ Jackson, Gabriel. The Spanish Republic and the Civil War,1931-1939. Princeton University Press. Princeton. 1967. p.160
  25. ^ Unearthing Franco's Legacy, pp61-62
  26. ^ Sebastian Balfour, Deadly Embrace:Morocco and the Road to the Spanish Civil War, 252-254 OUP 2002
  27. ^ Payne, Stanley G., and Jesús Palacios. Franco: A personal and political biography. University of Wisconsin Pres, 2014, p.92
  28. ^ Payne, Stanley G. The collapse of the Spanish republic, 1933-1936: Origins of the civil war. Yale University Press, 2008. p.93
  29. ^ E. Malefakis, in R. Carr, ed., The Republic and the Civil War in Spain (London, 1971), 34; R. Carr in ibid., 10
  30. ^ Payne, Stanley G. The collapse of the Spanish republic, 1933-1936: Origins of the civil war. Yale University Press, 2008. pp.93-95
  31. ^ Casanova, Julián. The Spanish republic and civil war. Cambridge University Press, 2010, p.112

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