Spain and World War I


Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Oh, Jinseok
Term Paper, AP European History Class, April 2007

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Declaring Neutrality
III. Politics before and during the War - Domestic and Foreign
IV. The Economy, and Related Social Movements
V. Politics and the End of the War
VI. Conclusion
VII. Notes
VIII. Bibliography

I. Introduction

            World War I or the First World War was a terrible event which was initiated by the Central Powers, consisting of Austria-Hungary, Germany and the Ottoman Empire. As a response, France, Russia, the British Empire, and later, Italy and the United States organized the Allied Powers and fought against the Central Powers. Yet, not entire of those countries which stayed out of it Europe participated in the war, and Spain is one example. Situated on the Iberian Peninsula, it was a neutral state, but it does not say that Spain was not affected by the war. Rather, toward Spain's politics and economy, war attributed a large amount. Rather than diverging to numerous domestic events, this paper will focus on how Spain society's policies and economy were influenced by the serious war.

II. Declaring Neutrality

            In a rapid response, Prime Minister Dato stated that Spain would maintain neutral. In the summer of 1914, almost all political factions readily accepted for Spain to remain neutral. Several reasons made Spanish government to declare neutrality. First of all, the government was well aware of the country's economic and military inability to wage a modern war. There also existed the belief that the conflict would be over before Christmas. Moreover, by maintaining an impartial position, Spain could play a leading role in the peace negotiations. Maintaining neutrality, virtually at any price, was supported by most dynastic politicians who agreed that only harmful consequences could result from the continental conflict. However, as the war went on, the initial consensus was broken. Spain did not enter the war, but the war entered Spain and its political and socio-economic impact undermined the foundations of a regime which until then had been based on the apathy and political demobilization of the population (1).
Elites in Spain understood the war as the conflict between different ideologies, and consequently, a heated debate between supporters of the Allies and the Central Powers was generated.

III. Politics before and during the War - Domestic and Foreign

            Unlike many politicians, who tried to ignore the scuffle of other nations, public opinion was divided into Francophiles and Germanophiles. Germanophiles were predominant among the privileged social groups (the clergy, the aristocracy, the court, the upper bourgeoisie, the army, the landowning oligarchy) and right-wing parties such as the Carlists and the Mauristas.
For them, a German victory constituted the best guarantee for the consolidation of values such as monarchism, religion and conservatism. In contrast, Francophiles were those social and political groups hostile to the status quo: the intellectuals, the professional middle classes, Republicans, Socialists and Regionalists. They expected the triumph of the Entente to produce democracy and political freedom throughout Europe (2).

By 1916, the meaning of the term 'neutrality' was degenerated and ideological polarization became sharp. As Italy (May, 1915) and Portugal (Feb, 1916) joined the war as the Allied Powers, even those extreme Germanophiles realized that asserting support toward the Central Powers while surrounded by the Allies would be dangerous. Hence, they became champions of strict neutrality. That was at best they could do for the German cause. In contrast, the Francophiles declared strict neutrality a sham and switched to positions ranging from benevolent neutrality towards the Allies to diplomatic rupture with the Central Empires and even open intervention.
Problems erupted also from diplomacy. Owing to her geographical position it was above all important that she should be on good terms with Britain and France. The King (Alfonso XIII) at an early stage removed all French anxiety in regard to the Pyrenees and Morocco by the assurance that Spain would take no action there, and at the same time he assured Great Britain on the score of Portugal, withdrawing some of the garrisons in the valley of the Tagos.
"Early in April it was announced that the British had acquired a Spanish railway, tapping one of the largest mineral regions in Spain. The relations with France and England were, from the first, friendly, and this policy was supported by all parties in Parliament. Outside Parliament, however, it occasioned hostility on the ground that it was unfair to the Central Powers. The Entente Allies derived much advantage from Spain as a source of supply, for while neutrality opened a way to any power that could receive her supplies, England and France were the only ones that could profit from it. Senor Maura revived the discussion of the question and revealed the division of public opinion by declaring squarely on Sept 10th that Spain should definitely ally herself with the Entente Powers. Many agreed on him, but there was no sign that a large body of public opinion favored actual intervention." (3)

Pro-German elements criticized the government as favoring the Allied Powers and not keeping neutral. Nevertheless, their claim became void in 1918. The destruction by German submarines of Spanish vessels continued to cause friction between the two countries throughout the year. The torpedoing of the Spanish steamer, Giralda, by the Germans was denounced in general by the Spanish press, as showing the German design of destroying Spain by starvation, despite the fact that the Spanish authorities had saved thousands of German soldiers from being captured by the English, had supplied food to these soldiers, and were sheltering German ships in Spanish ports. It could be interpreted that this event occurred due to favoring attitude of Spain toward the Allies, but in any case, attacking a neutral state was violating a promise. This surely empowered FrancophilesĄŻ claims and narrowed Germanophiles' positions

IV. The Economy, and Related Social Movements

            The war dramatically altered Spain's economy and society. The country benefited from her neutral status by supplying both camps, and new outlets, which had to be abandoned by the belligerent nations, were taken over. The radical drop in imports together with the rise in the volume and prices of exports meant that a poor nation almost overnight saw a sudden flow of gold across her frontiers and the balance of trade went from a situation of chronic deficit to one registering fabulous profits.
Gold reserves more than tripled, and the government was able to liquidate much of the national debt (4). However, this sudden prosperity only emphasized the weakness of the Spanish economy and widened the gap between rich and poor areas. The difficulty in importing staple commodities, the unregulated export of large quantities of Spain's domestic production and the increasing amount of money in circulation brought about galloping inflation and rocketing prices. The precarious transport system almost collapsed under the new pressures. The industrial regions of northern and eastern Spain entered a phase of feverish activity, while other areas of the peninsula were devastated by shortages and unemployment, forcing thousands of workers to migrate, mainly to Barcelona and Bilbao. The consequence was that whereas industrialists and financiers experienced a previously unknown period of opulence and wealth, for many, especially among the working classes, these were years of worsening living standard and shortage of staple products. The working classes had to bear the burden of the shortage and the rising costs of living. Rocketing inflation pushed the proletariat to fight in order to protect their living standard. Militancy was also boosted by employers' willingness to satisfy workers' demands for fear of losing markets at this extraordinary moment of profits. With their pay failing to keep place with inflation, junior and middle rank army officers formed juntas to demand higher salaries and protest promotion policies which they claimed favored those with friends at court or in government. Voter apathy showed a widespread distrust of politicians and in the elections of 1916, "a third of the seats for the Cortes" were uncontested and less than half the voters voted (5).
At the end of 1916, leaders of the Socialist and the Anarcho-syndicalists came together and concerted a one-day general strike. Also, in July 1916, in order to force the government to implement measures to solve the problem of inflation and shortages, a historical Labour Pact was concluded (6). In 1917, the number of strikes grew, while news of the February Revolution in Russia excited the disaffected.
For the next six months, the always cautious Socialists followed a strategy of popular rallies combined with constant visits to ministers to let them know the distress of the proletariat. Failing to achieve any redress, the labour movement shifted to more radical tactics. On 18 December 1916 a successful twenty-four hour nationwide stoppage took place. Three months later, Julian Besteiro, a leading Socialist and Professor of Logic at the University of Madrid, drew up a manifesto on behalf of the united working class. It was the most radical document ever subscribed by Spanish Socialism.
The regime was accused of being the cause of the widespread distress of the population and warned that, at a convenient movement, the proletariat would overthrow in terms of a social revolution (7).
Yet, it was not ended as a tragedy. In 1918, economic restructuring was implemented. In the autumn the minister of public works published the following program of "economic reconstruction" (8 : 1. Nationalization of the trunk railways and changes in legislation in regard to the secondary railways; 2. regularization of concessions granted for the exploitation of the large watercourses; 3. extensive budgeting for public works and the allocation of the sums which parliament may vote; 4. a modification of the regulations in regard to mining; 5. creation of an agricultural credit organization; 6. organization of an agronomic service and the work of reforestation; 7. the creation of an organization which will forthwith prepare the economic life of Spain both for the period of transition between war and peace and for the lines of policy which will have to be followed after the war. (9)
Neutrality gave sudden prosperity to Spain, but she was not able to manage that wealth very well. Therefore, gap between wealthy and workers deepened and many social movements such as strikes busted out. Nonetheless, government showed effort to transform its economy to a better one.

V. Politics and the End of the War

            The collapse of the General Strike represented the failure to impose democratization from below. Yet the government's victory was not maintained for long. Once the revolutionary tremor of August was over, Catalan bourgeoisie as well as the Juntas continued their offence against the ruling system. In Spain, the ultimatum of the army not only denoted the death warrant for the Dato cabinet but also the end of an era. In November 1917, the political hegemony of the dynastic parties (10) ended. The turno pacifico, the monolithic foundation of the Liberal order since 1875, was destroyed. Yet the potential for democratization was gone with the eruption of the August strike and the collapse of the Assembly movement. The great losers of the 1917 events were the dynastic parties. Although still domination in all the administrations until 1923, they were mere caricatures of their former selves. Increasingly divided into rival factions, they never managed to reconstruct the turno. Moreover, they failed to meet the increasing demands generated by the social mobilization and political consciousness brought about by the war. The real winners were the Catalan industrial bourgeoisie, the Crown and the army.

VI. Conclusion

            Even though a nation exclaims neutrality, it is impossible not to be affected by such a huge event. Spain, by its geographical situation, could benefit from neutrality. As most battles were occur at western front and the Balkan Peninsula, she didn't get any damage militarily. Economically, trading numerous goods on both sides greatly increased national fund and liquidized much of its debt. However, turmoil did not pass the country and caused problems. Politically, society was divided by continuous dispute over whom to support. Foreign policy was also a great issue. Spain was subtly favoring the Allied Powers, and had a trouble with Germany. Engaged to this political instability, economic crisis instigated proletariats and socialists to go on strikes. However, around the end of the First World War, Spain implemented economic restructuring and prepared for political and economic stability during the post war era.

VII. Notes

(1)      Romero pp.29-31
(2)      Romero pp.32-33
(3)      NIYB 1916 pp.652-653
(4)      Pierson p.124
(5)      Pierson p.125
(6)      Romero p.39
(7)      Romero pp.39-40
(8)      NIYB 1918 pp.615-616
(9)      NIYB 1918 pp.615-616, all nine items were cited.
(10)      Fusionist Liberal party and their divisions : Monarchist Democratic Party, Republic Union and Federal Republican party. See Wikipedia, "Liberalism and radicalism in Spain"

VIII. Bibliography

1.      NIYB 1916 : Article : Spain, pp.652-653 in : Frank Colby and others (ed.), New International Year Book 1916, NY : Dodd and Mead 1917.
2.      NIYB 1918 : Article : Spain, pp.615-616 in : Frank Colby and others (ed.), New International Year Book 1918, NY : Dodd and Mead 1919
3.      Peter Pierson, The History of Spain, Westport CT : Greenwood 1999
4.      Romero, Francisco J., Twentierth Century Spain : Politics and Society in Spain, 1898-1998, NY : St. Martin's Press 1999
5.      William P. McEvoy, Feature Articles : Spain during the First World War, posted at First World, posted May 10th 2003
6.      Article Liberalism and Radicalism in Spain from Wikipedia, last revised March 15th 2007
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