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Study Notes

Life in the Republican Zones during the Civil War


Last updated 30 Jul 2018

Civilian life in Republican zones varied depending on which city you were living in. For certain, life in Republican zones was completely different to the experience in the Nationalist areas. Republican civilians were free from the social restrictions imposed by the Catholic Church in the Nationalist zones and women in the Republican zones enjoyed much greater freedom and status than women in Nationalist territory.

Life In Catalonia

At the beginning of the Civil War, Catalonia experienced an anarchist revolution which completely transformed civilian life and the way that the society and the economy functioned:

  • The CNT (Spain's main anarchist trade union) abolished central government after taking control of Barcelona in 1936
  • Barcelona was run by workers and trade unions - 70% of Barcelona's industry and 2,000 businesses were collectivised. Democratically elected management committees were responsible for setting wage rates and working hours. Public transport systems were also brought into the public's hands - private cars, for example, became taxis that could be used by the whole community
  • Only one of Barcelona's 58 churches remained after the Civil War; statues of Jesus were destroyed and people were encouraged to refer to each other as 'comrade' and dress in blue overalls to emphasise equality.

George Orwell went to Catalonia towards the beginning of the Civil War after joining the International Brigades. He records his experience in the anarchist-dominated region in his book 'Homage to Catalonia':

"There was no boss-class, no menial-class, no beggars, no prostitutes, no lawyers, no priests, no boot-licking, no cap-touching"

"Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and draped in red flags or the black flag of the anarchists."

The anarchist revolution in Catalonia was only short-lived, however. The Spanish Communist Party (PCE) a growing influence within the Popular Front government, wanted to impose central control on all Republican areas. This led to conflict between the CNT, POUM and PCE factions. Fighting began in Catalonia in May 1937 - the resulting victory for the PCE resulted in the suppression of the anarchist society created by the CNT at the beginning of the war. Central control was established in Barcelona by June 1937.

Life in Madrid

Madrid remained under the control of central government. Only 30% of industry was collectivised and therefore the structure of the economy was far less radical than in Catalonia. From October 1936 until the end of the war, Madrid was under Nationalist seize and bombing raids on the city became more frequent as the war progressed. As a consequence, morale in the city was generally low.

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