The Ambassador in Spain (Bowers) to the Secretary of State

No. 1193

Sir: I have the honor to report that sensational developments during the past forty-eight hours have tended to aggravate the serious political situation already existing as the result of continued social and political unrest, and that unless the Government acts energetically to enforce respect for law and order its position may become untenable.

For some time the Government has been combating without marked success the methods of personal violence to which extremist elements of both the Eight and Left have appealed. These methods have been particularly noticeable in connection with labor disputes, in which irresponsible elements have endeavored by terrorism and intimidation to foment disorder and prevent the settlement of strikes; and from time to time in personal acts of violence directed against persons of prominence of both Eight and Left political affiliation. As long ago as June 12 the Government took official cognizance of this situation in a declaration in which it condemned the “systematic opposition” on the part of employers “to the fulfillment of the decisions handed down by the legal authorities” for the settlement of labor disputes and at the same time announced its intention to “punish with all the means which the state of alarm permits those strikes begun without fulfilling legal requirements.” The Government’s declaration concluded with the assertion that it “will make full use of the powers which the law gives it to suppress and punish any provocative or illegal action”. (Cf. despatch No. 1164 of June 15, 1936, p. 3.)2 The labor situation, which is particularly serious at Madrid, is discussed in a separate despatch going forward in this pouch.2

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The conditions of political and social unrest prevalent in the country for many weeks past have been aggravated from time to time by assassinations or attempted assassinations of prominent political leaders. Thus, the attempted assassination of the Socialist leader Jiménez Asúa several months ago led directly to acts of mob violence on the part of the Socialist and Communist masses. Early yesterday morning the Monarchist leader, Calvo Sotelo, was taken from his home by a number of men wearing Assault Guard uniforms, under the pretext of arresting him, and was brutally murdered. The repercussions from this act of violence, in the form of reprisals by Fascist gunmen on prominent Socialist and Communist leaders, are feared at any moment. The murder of Calvo Sotelo was itself, in the opinion of many people, the form of reprisal chosen for the murder on the previous day, by four Fascist gunmen, of Lt. Castillo of the Assault Guard. Lt. Castillo is said to have been a marked man since the bloody incidents that occurred in Madrid last April during the funeral of a Civil Guard official, (Cf. despatch No. 1111 of April 20, 1936, p. 23), in which he is said to have taken a prominent part and to have shot and killed a young Fascist, relative of Primo de Rivera.4 Thus the chain of assassinations by extremists of the Left and Right continues, leading in each instance to reprisals and counter-reprisals and frequently to acts of mob violence.

The seriousness of the present situation is fully recognized by the Government, which was in almost constant session yesterday. At the same time a series of important conferences have taken place between the Government and the leaders of the Popular Front parties. Particular importance is attached to a conference between the Prime Minister and representatives of the Socialist Executive Committee headed by Indalecio Prieto. At this conference the whole political and social situation are said to have been discussed and Sr. Prieto is said to have given the Government assurances that the Socialist Party is prepared to support it wholeheartedly in any measures that it may find it necessary to take for the defense of the regime. After a conference yesterday of leaders of all of the proletarian parties and organizations included in the Popular Front the following statement was made public:

“The objectives of the reactionary elements, enemies of the Republic and of the proletariat being known, the political and labor organizations represented by the signatories have held a meeting and have reached absolute and unanimous agreement in offering to the Government the assistance and support of the masses affiliated with [Page 439] them in everything that may signify defense of the regime and resistance to the attempts that may be made against it.

“This agreement is not merely circumstantial; on the contrary, it is intended to be maintained with a permanent character while circumstances so advise, in order to strengthen the Popular Front and to fulfill the objectives of the laboring class placed in danger by the enemies of it and of the Republic.”

The statement is signed by the representatives of the General Labor Union (Socialist), the Socialist Youth organization, the Casa del Pueblo (Socialist headquarters in Madrid), the Socialist party and the Communist party.

After an extraordinary session of the Council of Ministers last evening the Government issued a declaration deploring the acts of violence which resulted in the death of Lt. Castillo and Sr. Calvo Sotelo and asserting that in view thereof it feels obligated to declare publicly that “it will proceed immediately, with the greatest energy and the most rigorous severity, under the provisions of the Law of Public Order, to take all the measures that may be required by the necessity of maintaining a spirit of tolerance among Spaniards and the elemental respect for the rights of human life”.

The political situation is made particularly serious, aside from the fear of reprisals for the death of Sr. Calvo Sotelo and the increasing social unrest, by the fear of an attempt on the part of Fascists and other reactionary elements to overthrow the Government itself. The present state of unrest is manifestly propitious for such an undertaking. Repeated rumors have been circulating for some time (See my despatch No. 1095 of April 1, 1936; No. 1113 of April 21, 1936, and No. 1186 of July 6, 1936.)5 regarding the possibility of a military coup d’état engineered by Right extremists and the tone of the statement issued by the proletarian organizations above quoted clearly shows the fear of such an attempt. Under these conditions the position of the Government is threatened and, as reported in recent weeks, the report persists that it may be forced to resign. In that event it is generally believed that a coalition Government of Socialists and Left Republicans, headed by the Socialist leader, Indalecio Prieto, will be formed. Such a Government would be in a better position to defend the democratic regime and to put into effect the program of legislation agreed upon by the Popular Front parties than the present Government composed exclusively of Left Republicans.

Because of the state of alarm and agitation the Government this morning obtained the signature of the President of the Republic to a decree suspending the sessions of the Cortes for eight days.

Respectfully yours,

Claude G. Bowers
  1. The Ambassador and his staff had moved to San Sebastián, the summer capital of the Spanish Government, on July 10, 1936, leaving the Embassy at Madrid in the charge of Eric C. Wendelin, Third Secretary of Embassy.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Military dictator of Spain, 1923–30.
  6. None printed.