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Study Notes

Economic and Social Problems in Spain (pre-1931)

AS, A-Level

Last updated 6 Jul 2018

The Second Republic was formed at a time of global economic hardship and Spain was no exception. There were also major social problems for the new provisional government to contend with ranging from the quality of education to widespread poverty, particularly in rural areas.

Economic Problems:

  • Spain was much less industrialised than other nations. Spain had not undergone an industrial revolution to the extent that countries such as Britain and Germany had, thus 46% of the Spanish workforce stilled worked in agriculture.
  • Peasants working the land on vast estates known as 'latifundia' were paid starvation wages by landowners. This meant that poverty and malnutrition were widespread. Low pay also meant that there was not enough demand for the emergence of a consumer economy. Consequently, living standards remained very low for the majority of Spaniards.
  • The failed economic policies of Primo de Rivera left the new government with a huge budget deficit. This made it very hard to finance vital state investment to stimulate the economy.
  • Industrial production was hit by the Great Depression, causing a rise in unemployment.

Social Problems:

  • Poverty persisted in rural areas due to low wages and high levels of unemployment due to the fact that much of the work the peasants did was only seasonal. This caused many Spaniards to relocate to urban areas where pay was slightly higher and job security was stronger. 'Shanty towns' thus emerged in Spain's big cities.
  • Huge inequalities of income and wealth both in urban and rural areas led to the radicalisation of the working class. Many joined the anarchist CNT or the socialist UGT unions to demand better pay and conditions. Much of the working class population also became fiercely anti-clerical as they viewed the Catholic Church as a guardian of the interests of the traditional Spanish elite. Such anti-clericalism was displayed in May 1931 when the proclamation of the Second Republic was met with a series of Church burnings.
  • Only 55% of 5-14 year olds were enrolled in schools and literacy rates were just 70%. The new republican government therefore made education a priority, building 7,000 schools in its first year.

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