María Lois
María Lois is a faculty member at the Complutense University of Madrid, teaching and researching in the field of Political Geography and Geopolitics since 2001. She is currently the Chair of the Research Committee 15 (Political and Cultural Geography) of the International Political Science Association (IPSA-AISP). She is also member of the Research Group Space and Power and deputy director of its journal Geopolítica (s). She has been Visiting Scholar in the University of Otago (Dunedin, New Zealand), Oulu (Finland), Radboud (Nijmegen, Netherlands), or Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA, La Paz, Bolivia). María Lois received her Doctorate (PhD) from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in 2007, and her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Sociology in 1993.
Russia and "the Spanish civil war": geopolitical competition to dispute the hegemony of capitalism
Spain, June 17th, 1936. A group of several generals, members of the military leadership, proclaimed themselves Junta of National Defense and led a coup d'état to topple the government of the Popular Front and to overthrow the Second Spanish Republic which ruled the country since 1931. The Popular Front was a coalition of leftist parties and had won the elections in February of that year.

The uprising that started in Melilla, in Spain’s possessions in North Africa, found it difficult to gain success in the Iberian Peninsula, and it meant the beginning of a civil war that would last three long years, until April 1st, 1939. One of Junta’s generals, Francisco Franco, was proclaimed the Head of State and the Generalissimo of the Armies on October 1st, 1936.
Franco became the leader of the Nationalist faction which won the war, but also the leader of a dictatorial regime which would last even after his death, in 1975, at least until the promulgation of the 1978 Constitution
This text presents a brief analysis of the Spanish Civil War not as an internal conflict provoked by the coup, but as a window from which we can observe geopolitical strategies in the competition of the interwar period. In this article, geopolitics refers to an academic field focusing on how space and power shape our understanding of what the world is. It is quite different from the notion that Karl Haushofer, one of the Third Reich ideologists, had constructed based on race, soil and mysticism, as justification of conquest. In fact, "the Spanish civil war" as it was called by the international press became a setting for different visions, alliances and also for differences in the international community which are key points that are necessary to understand the early fight against fascism which itself led to the World War II.

One of the issues that needs to be highlighted is precisely the importance of the pronouncements, presence, absence and interventions of different countries in that struggle. One month after the beginning of the war, 27 European countries, including Germany, Italy and the USSR, signed a Non-Intervention Agreement which was supposed to maintain the neutrality and isolate the conflict in order to further extinguish it. Nevertheless, the help from the Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy to the fascist insurgents was present right from the beginning of the coup. It consisted in providing planes for the transfer of Army’s troops and military equipment from Africa to the continental Spain which helped their offensive. In addition, the military aid from the Armies of both countries, German Condor Legion and Italian Corps of Volunteer Troops, and the advisers deepened the internationalization of the conflict.

Precisely for being one of Hitler’s first military actions abroad, this internationalization made the civil war a European proving ground where alliances strengthened, enemies were made, and eventually future confrontations projected.

In that regard, the Soviet Union’s participation in support to the Republican faction confirmed that the "war in Spain" was a space needed to commence the fight against fascism.
The Soviet Union launched the first attempt to fight fascism as global domination scenario. It was also a geopolitical intervention to dispute the hegemony of capitalism and change that material order
The League of Nations did not pay much attention to the complaints of the legitimate Republican government that Germany and Italy did not comply with the pact. Thus, considering the difficulty for the Republicans to procure military equipment, the Soviet Union began sending military supplies. Also, the Red Army had a fundamental role in the training, advice and organization of the Spanish Republican Army in the key moments of the war as, for example, during the battle of Jarama or the Defense of Madrid. In parallel, the training of the Spanish military personnel was conducted in Soviet aviation schools.

In addition to the strictly military topics, it is interesting to review other forms of relationship between two countries that show the importance of the conflict in the creation of the geopolitical imagination of that time. Two examples. As an important humanitarian action, Soviet Union accepted approximately 5,000 children of the Republican fighters who became known as the "children from Russia", that had been evacuated from Spain in the face on the possible reprisals by the Nationalist faction. In terms of popular geopolitics, Ernest Hemingway in his 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls tells a story of a civil war in which the Soviet presence is a key factor to understand the quarrel. Concurrently, the war was followed closely in Russia through a 10-minute TV news broadcast which was in its entirety dedicated to the Spanish Civil War and broadcasted in 1936 and 1937. The recording and directing of several documentaries about the Defense of Madrid by a Soviet producer was displayed in Western Europe, nations which were standing aside of the conflict, but were considered an important venue in which to screen the global terms of the dispute[1].

Finally, it is important to mention the role of the International Brigades in the war. Those were military units made up of international volunteers from many countries such as, for example, New Zealand, the United States, Mexico, Senegal and France. Despite having limited military experience, their membership in the trade unions or in some leftist parties in their home countries turned the defense of the republican cause and the fight against the fascism into a universal question during the two years that they spent in the front[2].

The role of the International Brigades in the war had an impact on the key factors of the internationalization of the conflict. Nationalists' propaganda conducted constant agitation about an omnipresent Communist military menace and they pointed to the Brigades as a Soviet military structure. At the same time the fascist propaganda was neutral regarding the German and Italian intervention, which was requested by Franco himself and which came to Spain even before the Soviets, and outgunned and outmanned them. This shows us the forms of geopolitical construction of a world enemy.
The policy of neutrality of the European countries proved to be inefficient to fight the fascism and Nazism’s military advances
Consequently, it turned the Spanish theater of war into a future horizon of a geopolitical order that was about to come.

In fact, the involvement of Germany and Italy in Spanish matters was not limited only to the civil war era, but also marked the first steps of the dictatorship. Thus, Franco on two occasions held meetings demonstrating the alignment of the regime. The first one took place in 1940 in the French municipality of Hendaya which borders Spain. The meeting was held between Franco, Hitler and their ministers of Foreign Affairs. The topic of the discussion was the possible admission of Spain to the Axis. The other one, with Mussolini, took place in 1941 on the border between France and Italy.
These discussions with Hitler and Mussolini show that Franco’s geopolitical intentionality was tied to the Axis powers
And despite the devastation of a civil war Franco sent to the Eastern Front opened by Hitler in 1941 a contingent of volunteered soldiers and officers — the Blue Division called so because of the color of their shirts.

The minor nature of this intervention absolutely does not void the fascist principles of the first years of the Francoist dictatorship that were present in all of the spheres of the political life. Thus, in 1937 by one and same decree Franco made illegal political parties and proclaimed the unification of all fascist parties with other political forces that supported the military revolt. It also proclaimed Franco as the National Head of a new party that had the monopoly of power in the country, the Traditionalist Spanish Phalanx and of the Councils of the National Syndicalist Offensive. In a more social dimension, some organizations of the masses, as the Female Section, spread out the gender-based version of the fascist principles and symbols of the new order.

Beginning with 1943, because of internal issues, but especially because of the course of war turning against Hitler, Francoism started to take its distance from Nazism and lean towards the ideology that became known as National-Catholicism, an authoritarian regime that was catholic and corporative. At the same time, it kept the repression that started with the Nationalist revolt until the end of the dictatorship, with ideology focused on a "civilizing" and "evangelizing" mission.

In 2019 a ultra-right political party called Vox established itself as the third most important political power in Spain having won 52 seats in the Parliament and obtained great social visibility. It is another sign of the international scope in general and of the European scale in particular that shows that there is a new authoritarian right wing with different allies.

Let us hope that there would be no need in a new conflict to show again the capacity of our history to defeat authoritarianism and fascism.
[1] For more information on this issue, see Magí Crusells: "La URSS y la guerra civil española", in Santiago de Pablo (coord.) La historia a través del cine: la Unión Soviética, Bilbao, Universidad del País Vasco, 2001, 39-93.

[2] One of the most extensive documentary collections on the participation of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War is in Fond 545 of the Russian State Archive of Political and Social History. See, consulted on 27/03/2020.
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