Pick of the Political Pops: Pete Seeger “Freiheit”

This week we have been pondering the Spanish Civil War which broke out in July 1936. It was and, for political historians, remains a fascinating conflict the complexities of which present a head-scratching challenge to the best of us. Essentially at its core it’s a good old story of the fight between right and left (we say ‘good’ but somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 souls perished so not that good). On the one hand you had the elected left leaning Republicans in government and on the other a disgruntled coalition of the military, the Catholic church and business-folk – The Nationalists. So far so familiar.

How did this come about? Like we say – it’s complicated. Spain had been a monarchy for much of its history although not everybody was OK with this for obvious reasons and there were many, many attempts to overturn the status quo. Indeed the First Republic was declared in 1873 although it was subsequently superseded by a restoration. The rocky road continued. Although Spain remained neutral in World War I, it wasn’t immune from the consequences of that conflict. Being an agricultural country the Great Depression had a profound effect on its fortunes and the first military coup against a once again republican government occurred in 1923. The Spanish decided that they didn’t like that despite a few military commanders coming and going, and by 1931 a Republican government formed of a broad left alliance was in charge. Despite the fact that they did lots of good stuff – secularisation, land reform and women’s rights amongst them – their fear of the rise of Fascism led them to ignore calls for further elections. When elections did happen a right-wing coalition of parties won in 1933. However the president declined to invite them to take office and instead offered the job to The Radical Republican Party. Thereafter, in 1936, The Popular Front (a leftist alliance) won a further election. It all got very messy. Very messy. So messy in fact that a civil war became almost inevitable. The right-wing, being fond of a coup, decided that July 1936 was the right time and so it began.

So it was that The Nationalists (supported by Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and authoritarian Portugal) went to war against the Republicans (The Popular Front supported by the USSR and Mexico). Countries such as the US, the UK and France were officially neutral but that didn’t stop many from those states going to support the Republicans in the International Brigades (here’s a homage to you George Orwell). Eventually, of course, The Nationalists won mainly due to the support from the fascist regimes in Germany and Italy (who to all intents and purposes used the conflict as a dress rehearsal for World War II) and lack of interest from France, Britain and America. The upshot was that a country in Western Europe suffered under a military dictatorship under General Francisco Franco until 1975. Which was a pity. Interestingly the International Brigade included folk from all over the place including Germany and our tune this week was written by husband and wife songwriters Paul Dessau and Gudrun Kabisch who penned this ditty in support of the fight against fascism.

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