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With accelerating polarisation in the US and other Western nations, and last year's Catalonia issue, it is certainly relevant to examine the history of Spain in the Republican period (since it pertains to monarchism, it very much belongs here) and the lessons to be learned - namely the facts of what happened during the various phases of the Republic.

In April 1931, King Alfonso XIII left Spain without actually abdicating. The Spanish Republic was proclaimed and elections for a Constituent Assembly were held. Leftist and Republican parties dominated the vote, and the Left's influence was evident in the Constitution of the Republic with its virulently anti-Catholic, Jacobin spirit. Many establishment politicians still assented to its establishment, as was evident with the election of the moderate liberal Niceta Alcala-Zamora as President of the Republic. The monarchist Right was initially pragmatic about participation in the politics of the Republic.

However, with the new government's radical policies provoking a backlash, it was clear that a rhetorical commitment to parliamentary democracy by both sides did not preclude the use of violence. The Left and anarchists were enthusiastic practitioners of violence, while the army still had a hard core of monarchist officers. It didn't take long for even moderates and liberals who initially supported the Republic, including centrist leaders like Alejandro Lerroux and Melquiades Alvarez, to become disillusioned with the republican project. In 1932, there was a rebellion by monarchist General José Sanjurjo, which appeared to have tacit backing by politicians, or at least knowledge of it.

This set the tone for the next phase. The right-wing and monarchist forces were now well-organised in opposition to the Left and Republicans. The alienation of the liberal and centrist parties by leftist extremism was to prove beneficial ahead of the 1933 election, where a fragmented electoral landscape benefited the right-wing and centrist parties. The right bloc led by CEDA of Jose Maria Gil Robles, Renovacion Española (Spanish Renewal) of José Calvo Sotelo, Carlists and others, overall won the election, followed by the centrist bloc led by the Radicals of Alejandro Lerroux. Combined, the Right and Centre had a comfortable majority of both votes and seats.

For the next two years and a bit (November 1933 to February 1936), there was more or less a coalition government between the Right and Centre, with Lerroux heading the government and conservatives often holding ministerial posts. The new government, in typically conservative fashion, tempered or reversed many of the reforms of the radical government of Manual Azaña which preceded it. The Left and anarchists resisted the new government, which they considered "fascist". After all, the Right's victory and participation in the government meant a restoration of the monarchy could never be far away.

In the February 1936 election, polarisation deepened as the centrist parties' vote collapsed. The Left and Republican parties formed the Popular Front, and scored a narrow plurality over the right-wing alliance. In reality, the right-wing and centrist parties still won a combined majority of the popular vote but the electoral system this time favoured the Left, due to the splitting of votes among the electoral coalitions.

By no means an overwhelming mandate, the new Leftist government was more radical than ever, provoking fierce opposition from the Right. Violence including attacks on politicians, journalists, intellectuals and the Catholic Church continued unabated and reached gruesome levels. The removal of Alcala-Zamora as President of the Republic and his replacement by Azaña was regarded as provocation.

The murder of Calvo Sotelo in July 1936 was just one incident that sparked rebellion and thus the Civil War. Much has been made about what the Nationalist side did, but little about what the Republican side did. Consider this: during August and September 1936, six leading liberal politicians were murdered by anarchist thugs in Madrid. The fact that centrist and liberal figures were targeted should demonstrate clearly that the Spanish Republic was, despite democratic elections, not at all a normal liberal democracy. It was unbridled thuggery and barbarism.

The Nationalist side under Franco was unified and disciplined - to be fair many of the Right and Centre's civilian political figures, if they hadn't been killed by leftist or anarchist thugs, were either out of the country or otherwise sidelined. On the other hand, the Republican side was a mess. The Stalinist PCE opposed the POUM and anarchists, a story in itself. The socialist PSOE was by no means harmonious - Francisco Largo Caballero was the "Spanish Lenin" and Juan Negrin likewise was also toeing the Soviet line, even as Stalin's interest in the war was waning by 1938. Moderate socialist figures like Indalecio Prieto and Julian Besteiro had been marginalised.

It is to be noted that in the last days of the Civil War, with the rump Republican state mainly centred on Madrid, a military coup took place which placed moderate officers led by Segismundo Casado in charge of what was left of the Republic in the hope of negotiating with Franco. On both sides, the military leaders were often more moderate than the civilian leaders - after all, the civilian leaders of the Left were the ones responsible for inciting much of the violence. The fact is that Casado and Vicento Rojo Lluch, two leading Republican officers, were able to return to Spain under Franco and were either pardoned or acquitted, thus being allowed to live out their lives peacefully. This could not happen in the Soviet Union or today's Iran, but it happened in Franco's Spain. Which is something to ponder.

So what lessons are there to be learned from this sorry chapter of history? Firstly, getting rid of a monarchy is a pretty damned stupid thing to do. After all, it didn't take long for many people to become disillusioned with the Republic, even and perhaps especially among those who had assented to its creation in the first place. Secondly, the polarisation became so extreme that violence was inevitable despite the rhetorical commitment to the norms of parliamentary democracy. There was no way the Spanish Republic was going to last, even if did not descend into civil war. Lastly, the murder of politicians, intellectuals and journalists by leftist and anarchist thugs is a grim portent of the dangers of polarisation breeding extremism.
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