Monday, September 20, 2010

Granada and the Spanish Civil War

Although Lorca did not survive to see more than the first few weeks of a civil war that eventually claimed an estimated one million lives, the outbreak of the Spanish Civial War is critical to understanding the political and social context surrounding Lorca’s life and work as well as the cultural significance of this national poet’s tragic death (167). Despite declaring that he would “never be a politician, never!”, Lorca did see himself as a “revolutionary” and it is because of this political spirit behind his work that makes the events surrounding the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and Lorca’s death important to thinking about the implications and impact of performing Lorca today. The information for this post is taken entirely from Ian Gibson, Lorca’s best-known biographer, and his book The Death of Lorca published in 1973 after the author spent many years collecting documents and interviews in Granada about the circumstances surrounding Lorca’s arrest and execution.

Salvador Dalí, Soft Construction with Boiled Beans: Premonition of Civil War, 1936.

Granada before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War:

The political situation in Spain during the early 1930s was one of growing tension between the traditionalist Right and the liberal Left as control of the government oscillated between the two parties. Specifically in Granada, this gulf between the two parties was related to a rigid class divide as well, in which the Right was overwhelmingly supported only by the wealthy ruling class. These Spanish traditionalists were devout Catholics and nationalists, seeing the two identities as inextricably linked, and they considered anyone an enemy of the Faith and the State who supported liberal politics. While the poor, rural majority tended to vote democratic, their opinions were oppressed and controlled by the ruling Right, the “caciques” or provincial landowners that controlled the wealth. As a family member of the propertied elite with a Leftist political attitude, Lorca did not fit into the accepted political system established in Granada. In addition, Granada saw the effects of a “world slump” in the economy, and unemployment was rampant while income was also very low (16, 22). As Civil War approached, social unrest became more apparent in Granada, particularly because of the many strikes that occurred by the Socialist labor union, UGT. As violence grew between the peasants and the landowners who saw the Republic as a threat to their power and way of life, Lorca declared that he himself was on the “side of those who have nothing” (21).

Lorca, Severed Hands.

The Major Players:

The Civil Government: Civil Governor José Valdés, the police, the Falangists, other officials and generally nasty men who brutally tortured those who were interrogated at the civil government.

The Falange: the Falange Española was a violent Right-wing group founded in 1932 by de Rivera’s son, José Antonio, and merged with the fascist group the JONS in 1934. The Falange used the yoke and arrow as their symbols, the personal badges of Isabella and Ferdinand respectively, showing its overtly Catholic sympathies.

CEDA: a Right-wing, middle-class Catholic organization that formed around the Accíon Popular, an older Catholic traditionalist group in Granada.

The Black Squads: a loose organization of men given carte blanche by Valdés to carry out assassinations and to create fear and panic in the town. These brutal men took great pleasure in killing, which they often did by dragging men from their homes and shooting them on the street. They were even known to remove men who were in the hospital from an earlier Black Squad encounter and kill them. In Granada, as many as 26,000 people were executed by the end of the war.

The Military: the local garrison with artillery and infantry

The Requetés: the Carlist militia supporting the Movement.

The Civil Guard: known for its brutality.

The Assault Guards: the “asaltos” were a Republican response to the Civil Guard.

Defensa Armada de Granada: a.k.a. the “mangas verde,” or green sleeves because they wore green arm bands. These were civilians deemed “unfit” for the military and instead signed on to spy on their neighbors and denounce liberals. This position was often abused for the purposes of personal revenge and many innocent deaths were carried out because of these men.

Other groups: Españoles Patriotas (civil militia), The Spanish Foreign Legion (aided with Republican offenses), the Pérez del Pulgar Battalion (convicts and prisoners), and the Police.

Lorca, Danza macabre.

A Brief Timeline Pre-Civil War Granada:

1923-1930: Spain ruled by the authoritarian regime of General Primo de Rivera

12 April 1931: Municipal elections held in Spain end in victory for The Republic. Large cities, such as Granda are majority anti-monarchist and pro-Republican. King Alfonso XIII is expulsed.

1931-1933: Manuel Azaña leads the country with a strong Republican government with a Constituent Cortes, or Spanish parliament. In Granada there are worsening clashes between the rich landowners and the peasants.

1932: Electoral Law passed that divides Spain into six constituencies and makes it necessary to have at least forty-percent of the vote in order to be elected.

33 November 1933: A Right-wing coalition government made up of many conservative parties wins the national election and comes into power because Leftist groups fail to unify themselves and ruling-class supporters are able to bully workers into voting for the Right. Ignites violent reaction from the Left, especially strikes.

1936: The Popular Front wins the national election by a narrow margin, but in Granada the Right is victorious. The outcome provokes an enormous protest from the Left, resulting in a large strike in March by the trade unions who call for all local right-wing organizations to be dissolved. The bloody disturbance ends in shootings and multiple churches set on fire. The National Front calls for new elections to be held in May. Right-wing Catholic and fascist parties ally themselves, but the Popular Front wins again. Clandestine Right-wing discontent leads to preparations for an uprising.

16 July 1936: Lorca arrives back in Granada from Madrid on the same train as the Ruiz Alonso, the man who is later responsible for his arrest.

17 July 1936: Word reaches Granada of an uprising in Spanish Morocco with the support of the Spanish Legion.

18 July 1936: Franco delivers his Manifesto declaring a Nationalist Movement, appealing to the loyalty of all Spaniards. In Granada, the left requests arms to be distributed by the local military to the workers and is refused, leaving the people helpless to resist the Right-wing rebels. The General and his army fall to the conspirators and the Civil Government is overthrown by Valdés. The cheers of the crowds gathered to watch the soldiers station themselves around town turn to screams as gun fire is heard. Hundreds of middle-class men arrive at the Civil Government to declare their loyalty to the Movement.

20 July 1936: A State of War is declared on Radio Granada at 6:30pm. The new military commander proclaims martial law, meaning “criminals” are subject to tribunals and execution for carrying weapons, organizing strikes, sabotaging communications, or even walking through the streets in groups of more than three people. Lorca’s brother-in-law, Manuel Fernándes Montesinos is arrested and taken to the provincial jail, which would soon hold five times its capacity and house horrific abuses and deaths. About that time, Lorca receives the first visit from two unknown men who ransack his family home looking for the groundskeeper, and later for Lorca himself.

21 July 1936: A Nationalist offensive is carried out in the Albacín. Women and children are forced out of the quarter into temporary concentration camps outside of town. The men are bombarded and the quarter destroyed. The Movement now has complete control of the town.

9 August 1936: Lorca leaves the Huerta for his friend Luis Rosales’ home in town.

16 August 1936: Lorca is arrested by Ruiz Alonso and taken to the Civil Government where he is kept until the night of August 18th.

19 August 1936: Lorca is driven that morning to the Barranco mass graves where he is executed.

Works Cited:

Gibson, Ian. The Death of Lorca. Chicago, IL: J. Philip O’Hara, Inc. 1973. Print.


  1. I really enjoyed your answered a lot of questions I had about granada. I have just started reading Virginia hislops 'The return'

    1. What did you think of The Return? I think it worked better as a non-fiction book than a novel. Her research was clearly very thorough and the details of the Civil War were good and interesting. But for me it didn't quite work as a novel.