The Generals Rising

The generals had planned a coup d'etat with a rising of garrisons in Spanish Morocco and in Spain. The military plotters seldom had complete surprise, but doubt and confusion were certainly in their favour. If the workers held back on the advice of a civil governor who was afraid of provoking the local garrison, they were lost. They paid for this hesitation with their lives. But if they demonstrated from the beginning that they were prepared to storm the barracks, then the army would surrender.

The final orders for the uprising provided for the Army of Africa, based in Spanish Morocco, to rise at 5am on the 18th July, with the mainland following 24 hours later. The time difference was to allow the Army of Africa to secure Spanish Morocco and then be transported to the Andalucian coast by the navy.

The rebel generals could count on this force because the rank and file were not conscripts but regulars or, more accurately, mercenaries, whose reliability had been proven in the 1934 rising. Few officers were of liberal sympathies - they despised politicians and had a virulent hatred of 'reds'. The elite force was the Spanish Foreign Legion. Composed of fugitives and criminals, its ranks were indoctrinated with a cult of virility and slaughter. They were taught to be useful suicides with their battlecry of "Viva la Muerte!" (long live death). The Army of Africa also included the Moroccan regulares, Riffian tribesman whose ferocious efficiency had been amply proven in resisting the colonial powers during the first quarter of the century. The rebels could hardly have failed to take Spanish Morocco, and by midnight it had been secured.

That night the CNT and UGT declared a general strike over Union Radio, the closest they could get to ordering mobilisation. The news coming from the government was a mixture of lies, contradiction and complacency, and the unions were not impressed. The workers began to dig up weapons hidden since 1934. The Republican leaders, on the other hand, discounted all warnings. President Azana seemed to have no understanding of the military threat - they scornfully dismissed all warnings, even from the most senior of officers. The final fatal paradox of the Republic was thus exposed, by the government not daring to defend itself against its own army by arming the workers who had elected it. It merely proclaimed itself the 'legally constituted government'. But Spanish history showed how legitimacy tended to be an arbitrary and subjective term, little more than a euphemism for right of conquest and subsequently maintained power.

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