An international war raging on Spanish soil

Post date: 16/12/2021

Spanish minister Julio Álvarez del Vayo visits the Republican frontline with foreign officials.
(Photo: National Library of Spain)

85 years ago this month, on 11 December 1936, Spain’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Julio Álvarez del Vayo appealed to the League of Nations in Geneva for military aid to preserve the Republic from Franco’s fascist rebellion.

A phoney non-intervention agreement between the major European powers meant that the Spanish Republic was prevented from purchasing the arms and supplies it desperately needed to defend itself. Meanwhile fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, both nominally non-interventionist, were furnishing the Nationalist side with munitions, soldiers, and air support to wage war on the government.

Álvarez pointed out that the war already had an international dimension, arguing that the League of Nations must enforce consistent non-intervention or drop it entirely. He ended with the prediction that all of Europe would be threatened should the Spanish Republic be overthrown by fascism. His appeal fell on deaf ears. Only the governments of Mexico and the Soviet Union provided aid to the Spanish government at an official level at any point in the civil war.

The only other resource the Spanish Republic could call upon was the international solidarity of ordinary people across the world, in defiance of the official policy of their governments. Thus in many countries Spanish aid organisations were founded, thousands of Spanish refugees were welcomed, and medical volunteers and International Brigades were mobilised to go to Spain to fight fascism and defend democracy.

The following is an excerpt from Álvarez’s appeal to the League of Nations: 

Last September, I alluded to the tragic proof supplied by the youth of Spain, who fall in thousands in the trenches of freedom as the victims of fascist aeroplanes and of the foreign war material delivered month after month, despite the non-intervention agreement, by those who base their international policy on the systematic breaking of treaties and of their international undertakings. Today, Madrid has become one more irrefutable proof. No one can doubt the validity of this evidence. Every foreign mission which has visited Spain has brought back fresh accusations against this monstrosity: that the capital of a state member of the League has been reduced to ruins, and that the women and children of this capital have been butchered in hundreds by bombing planes under the orders of rebel generals and supplied by states which have, in fact, begun a war, and which are continuing to make war, while statesmen talk of preserving peace.

The war is there; an international war is raging on Spanish soil. We have seen how, in the last few days, the rebels, after the failure of their Moroccan troops, are now preparing to receive the assistance of fresh forces which they themselves call ‘blond Moors.’ Moreover, we must expect that poison gas, which has already been employed these last days, will continue to be used in the attacks against Madrid, and that the parts of the city in which the workers live will be bombed more and more violently in order to try to obtain by panic what the rebels have failed to obtain by other means. It would be both useless and dangerous to continue to ignore the situation. The worst thing that could happen to the League of Nations would be to contribute by its own silence and inaction, to the spread of this war.

Such a ‘peace’, it is true, would have cost the lives of millions of men, women and children and would have meant that many capitals would have suffered the fate of Madrid, that hundreds of towns would have known the fate of Cartagena and of Alicante. But, from a formal point of view, ‘peace’ would not have been disturbed. When the Spanish government decided that it was its duty to assume the grave responsibility of requesting a meeting of the Council of the League, it did so precisely because it wished, so far as it was concerned, to declare in the most solemn fashion its firm decision to oppose any such paradoxical and murderous ‘peace policy.’


Posted on 16 December 2021.

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