top of page

Ideals & Motivations


Composition of the Republic

Popular Front

In 1936 a politcal coalition by the name of The Popular Front won the election. The coalition was made up of Spain’s leftist political parties, including the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), Communist Party of Spain (PCE), and the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), as well as the Republican Left and Republican Union(Simkin Popular). The Communist International or Comintern also supported the coalition. The coalition was formed in order to ensure that the government would be controlled by the left wing. Soon after the Popular Front came into power the Nationalists revolted starting the Civil war. Spanish anarchists did not support the coalition and actually urged people to abstain from voting. Although many anarchists would fight for the Republic in the war they still remained at odds with the government.

Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT)

The Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), National Confederation of Labor in English, was an anarcho-syndicalist trade union. After the establishment of the Second Republic the CNT was legalized, and reorganized into the largest labor union in Spain. After the start of the civil war the CNT immediately established the Antifascist Militias Committee and sent 3,000 men to Aragon. Around 100,000 men joined the militias organized by the CNT to fight the Nationalist forces in the first few weeks of the war(Simkin CNT). Later on in the war the government attempted to consolidate the anarchist militias into the Popular Army. Initially the militias worked to stay autonomous, but eventually failed when the government stopped supplying and paying militias they did not directly control as a part of the Popular Army.

Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM)

The Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM), or Workers Party of Marxist Unification in English, was a non-Comintern aligned communist political party with the goal of enacting Marxist communism. The POUM was heavily anti-stalinist which, and while they were a member of the Popular Front, was a source of tension due to the Comintern backing of the coalition. After the outbreak of the war the POUM’s “Action Groups” were used to form the basis of their militias. Although the POUM was able to mobilize significant amounts of men they suffered heavily from a shortage of equipment. Although the POUM opposed the Popular Army, they advocated for a unified army using soldier committees (Durgan).


Lack of unity was one of the primary issues faced internally by the Republic. At it’s core the Republic was composed of leftist political parties, but the left has a poor track record of working with other leftist groups. The Republic included Stalinists, Marxists, Anarchists and, Communists; each was in opposition to the other. Propaganda was produced by the Republic to promote unity among their constituent groups. Examples include flags representing each ideology being held together in a bundle or people identified as belonging to opposing groups shown shaking hands in agreement. The issue of internal unity was not only faced by the Republic. Franco’s nationalists were composed of Facists, Conservatives, the religious, the rich, Monarchists, and even Carlists. Unlike the Republic, though, Franco was successful in uniting the quarreling factions that made up the nationalist rebels.


Famous Writers in the Spanish Civil War

A variety of famous writers became involved in the infamous event of the Spanish Civil War. As the nationalist powers began to fight the legitimately elected Republican Government, the Republicans started slowly to lose the battle. Authors from all over the world turned their eyes toward Spain and became involved in the war, generally supporting the Republic.


Spanish authors were also involved in the war effort. One of these famous writers is the poet Federico García Lorca. Lorca had expressed his support for the Republic and his socialist views throughout the war. For these views, the nationalists later imprisoned and executed Lorca without a trial. Although the exact date of his death is disputed, it is believed he was shot by nationalists in mid-August of 1936, leaving the world in shock. Today, Lorca is still remembered for his influential poetry and stance in the war.

Another famous author involved in the Spanish Civil War is Pablo Neruda. Neruda was a Chilean writer who became consul in Madrid in the early 1930s. As the civil war broke out, Neruda wasn’t fully involved but after his friend Lorca was shot, he expressed his total support for the Republic with the publication of his book Spain in Our Hearts in 1938. After the Nationalists won the war, “Neruda conducted a daring evacuation of 2000 refugees, mostly fighters, and their families, saving them from certain retribution by the fascists” (Budanovic 37).

The third famous writer is George Orwell. He also expressed his support for the Republic. He was another of the authors that had first-hand experience of the war. Orwell went to Spain during the Civil War to report the events. During his spell in Spain, he “stayed to join the Republican militia, serving on the Aragon and Teruel fronts and rising to the rank of second lieutenant” (Woodcock 9).

The fourth author involved in the war was Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway decided to go to Spain specifically to write about his experience and the situation in Spain. He arrived in Spain as a correspondent of the North American Newspaper Agency. Hemingway was critiqued by right wing supporters who claimed that he knew nothing about the war and that he was just as the other Americans. Hemingway decided to work with Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens and produce a pro-Republican documentary, The Spanish Earth. His experiences during the Civil War provided the material for what many consider to be Hemingway’s most famous novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls (University of Idaho).

The last author is John Dos Passos. John Dos Passos arrived in Spain in 1937 as a supporter of the Republic. He was one of the few authors who went to rural areas to write about the state of the “obreros” or the working men. During his time in Spain, one of his friends, José Robles, was killed by forces of the Soviet Union which made him change his views on the Soviet Union. He continued supporting the Republic, but his opinion on the Soviet Union changed. Along with Hemingway he produced the film The Spanish Earth but their friendship ended after a disagreement on Robles’ death. “Hemingway broke the news to his friend, but apparently he was impolitic about it—and so began their falling out, with Dos Passos vouching for Robles and Hemingway laughing at his naïveté” (Piepenbring 12).

Pablo Neruda.jpg
George Orwell.jpg
Ernest Hemingway.jpg
Federico Garcia Lorca.jpg
John Dos Passos.jpg

Recruitment Efforts for Volunteers

Throughout the Spanish Civil War, fighters on both sides were recruited on both a domestic scale and an international scale. While it is true to an extent that the Spanish Civil War was an ideological war between politically motivated volunteers, the prime source of manpower for both sides of the war came from conscription, truly mobilizing the masses who perhaps were not as ideologically inclined—although most did not see as intense battle as military officials and foreign fighters. The Republicans mobilized 1.7 million conscripts, while the Nationalists mobilized 1.26 million conscripts. These men were drafted from pre-existing conscription structures and were relied upon because military officials on both sides had studied the same military theory. The Nationalists even drafted members of leftist groups as well as recycled captured Republican conscripts, threatening with retribution if they did not fight loyally for them (Matthews). For non-conscripted domestic volunteers, ideology was the prime motivating factor to join the ranks of either side. Different leftist groups in Spain used propaganda posters portraying the war as a struggle between liberty versus evil, destructive fascism as seen in the topmost picture, in order to recruit leftists and workers; whereas the Nationalists used radio and to a lesser extent propaganda posters with an emphasis on religious zeal, as seen in the image on the right, in order to recruit from the conservative elements of Spanish society (University of California, San Diego).

As is well-documented, there were many foreign fighters in the war. 40,000 of these foreigners fought for the Republic; however, 183,000 foreigners fought for Franco (4.5 times as many as the Republic). Around 95,000 of Franco’s foreigners would be conscripts from Italy and Germany (Othen). On the Republican side, the majority of the foreigners fought for the International Brigades. The earliest form of the International Brigades were athletes in the Workers’ Olympiad- a sports event organized in Barcelona in 1936 to protest Hitler’s flaunting of fascism at the Olympics. The official International Brigades was organized by the Communist International (COMINTERN) with Soviet backing (because the USSR did not want to directly intervene so as to not alienate Britain and France). The COMINTERN would coordinate with national and local communist and leftist organizations all around the world to recruit volunteers, often using recruitment posters such as the image on the left (Encyclopædia Britannica). These groups would provide the necessary funds, passports and documentation to make the trip to Spain, as was the case with Don Henry at KU. In some countries, recruitment would occur in common places such as restaurants and hotels because joining a foreign army was highly illegal (International Brigades- Wikipedia). The recruits would be brought to France and sent on an “excursion” to Paris, where they would meet the Communist Party of France to be organized and be provided uniforms. From there, they would cross the Pyrenees into Spain by foot or by train, and meet in Albacete, the headquarters of the International Brigades, to be separated into battalions by nationality (ALBA).

Foreign volunteers in the nationalist ranks, while often overlooked, were a key presence in the war and greatly outnumbered the foreigners fighting for the Republic (Othen). Mussolini ran recruitment centers for his Corpo Truppe Volontari, and in far-right authoritarian Portugal, the military initially formally organized volunteer troops (Wikipedia). Many countries’ right-wing recruiters appealed to Catholic outrage about the anti-Catholic sentiment of the Republic, as was the case with General Eoin O’Duffy’s organized Irish Brigade as well as French and Polish recruits (Othen). There were also 80,000 “volunteers” from the Spanish protectorate of Morocco, who were recruited unjustly using force and repression (i.e. loyalty documents), out of economic desperation caused by colonial policies, as well as with false promises of independence and better conditions (Bennis). The Moroccan volunteers were recruited to be expendable bodies in place of Spanish nationals, and served as “Los Malignos Moros”—targets to shift blame onto when the Nationalist army committed atrocities (Jerde).

poster 2.jpg
Los internacionales.jpg
BBC Radio 4.jpg
bottom of page