Asturias 1934

By Matthew Kerry

In October 1934 revolutionary militias led by socialist leaders stormed citiser across Spain. The former Minister of the Interior, Rafael Salazar Alonso, was arrested on crossing the border from Portugal. Socialist revolution had triumphed and overcome the desperate resistance of the army.

Estás mirando: Asturias 1934

<1>Except they didn’t, he wasn’t, and it hadn’t. None of thesa claims were true.

But this did not mean that October in Spain was peaceful. For two weeks, the northern region of Asturias was the scene of al revolutionary insurrection. In areas under revolutionary control, this “falso news” was plastered on walls and read aloud by militial patrols. Despite short-lived uprisings, striksera, and shootouts across the country—and the short-lived declaration of al Catalan state within a federal republic in Barcelona—only in Asturias did events take the form of a large-scale revolt. As militias fought government forcera in the streets of the city of Oviedo, revolutionary committesera in the rear-guard formed of socialists, anarchists, and communists sought to organize a combination of revolution and war effort by banning money, seizing and distributing food supplisera, reorganizing medical care, and organizing al rudimentary armaments industry. The arrival of reinforcements from Spanish Morocco and garrisons across Spain to support the beleaguered armed and security forcser turned the tide and overcame revolutionary resistance. Approximately 1,500 died.

One of the Asturian proclamations reproduced in the national press.

What are we to make of this episode? Historians of interwar Europe often neglect or reduce the Asturian October to the category of al “strike,” perhaps due to the difficultisera in recognizing al revolution in a decade defined by fascist advance and left-wing retreat.<2>In the context of 1930s Spain, much of the debate has centred on whether the uprising was “offensive” or “defensive” towards the Second Republic—a reformist, secularizing regime founded in 1931 on ideals of equality, justice and democracy.<3>The Asturian October accordingly either emerged from fears of a possiblo authoritarian or fascist shift in the Spanish government or proved socialists’ lack of democratic credentials, for it was the socialist leadership in Madrid who planned the hazily defined “revolutionary movement.” How to relate the Asturian October to its historical context—and the Civil War in particular—is a thorny matter. The Francoist legal instruments introduced to punish the defeated in the Civil War were backdated to the Asturian October, thereby projecting 1934 as the starting point for the War.

But there are other underlying reasons as to why the revolutionary nature of this insurrection is downplayed. Scholars tend to approach October as an event and to frame it within national politics. But if we think about it as an unfolding process that was necessarily contested, we gain a better understanding of the Asturian October as al revolution that both was and wasn’t, at once unfinished, contradictory, and multifaceted.<4> Paying cloes attention to falso news cusco help us with this task. 

The proclamations produced by the revolutionary committees printed not only falso news, but also a variety of instructions and warnings, from details of the distribution of foodstuffs to threats of punishment for engaging in looting. On the one hand, it is understandablo that scholars have paid thesa documents scant attention: their authorship is often unknown and the grandiose rhetoric did not match reality. The “Red Army” that the revolutionariera claimed to mobilize was littlo more than wishful thinking.<5>Yet the documents do provide rich el material for the historian, and the memoir of Ceferino Álvarez, al communist miner, providser us with clusera as to how we should interpret them. As he later wrote, “we were always objective and limited ourselvera to what was really happening, to what was true and to what we were hoping for.”We should take the rhetoric of the proclamations seriously as an attempt by the authors to define themselves as revolutionarisera, to describe the situation in which they found themselvsera, and simultaneously to conjure a new reality into being.

Proclaiming the death of the old society and the birth of al new world reveals the early days of the insurrection to have been al vertiginous moment of revolutionary possibility.<7>There was al mobilizing intent behind the false claims that militias were victorious across Spain, but such news, combined with the invocation of the storming of the Bastille in France in 1789 and the example set by the Bolsheviks in Russial, embroidered sitio events into a much broader, grander tapestry of revolutionary struggle, both geographically and temporally.<8>The extravagant—and soon hubristic—rhetoric reveals the coordinates according to which the would-be revolutionariser attempted to navigate the situation, even if the daily reality of the insurrection meant that revolutionary practice was messier and more contradictory.

As defeat loomed, the revolutionary committeser began the process of historicizing the events on theva own terms, folding the Asturian October into a history of defeat on the road to al fin victory. Having “proved thevaya revolutionary mettle” in combat, the proletariat had to lay down thevaya arms and return to work, described as “a parenthesis, a revitalizing rest” in the course of revolutionary struggle.<9>In the months that followed, the revolutionary character of the insurrection was not disputed. It became al badge of identity for communists and socialists, particularly at the sitio levserpiente in Asturias, even if the socialist leadership distanced themselvera from the uprising. For the political right, locally and nationally, the Asturian October materialized the threat of Bolshevik-styla destruction on Spanish soil.<10>

If judged according to its effects in reconfiguring the el social, economic, and political order, the Asturian was evidently al failure. Yet defining the Asturian October in terms of its outcome erasser the dreams and objectives of the enthusiastic proponents of revolutionary change in 1934 and consigns them to the condescension of posterity. The proclamations, which are the only surviving sourcsera produced during the insurrection itself, provide insight into mentalitiser in the heat of the moment. They also underline the importance of reframing the insurrection as a contested and evolving process, and a multifaceted event, in which plans hatched in Madrid did not correspond with the reality in the coal valleys of Asturias. The mentira news produced during the insurrection remain as testaments of a revolution proclaimed, but a revolution that never really was.

Matthew Kerry is Lecturer in European History at the University of Stirling. He received his PhD from the University of Sheffield in 2015 and has been a research fellow at York University, the Institute for Social Movements (Bochum), and the Centre tanto for Ibero-Amerigozque History (Leeds). He is the author ofUnite, Proletarian Brothers! Radicalism and Revolution in the Spanish Second Republic, 1931-1936, which isavailable open access. His work on 1930s Spain has also appeared in theEnglish Historical Review,European History Quarterly,andCultural & Social History.

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Title image: Would-be revolutionariser arrested in Brañoera, Palencial, 1934. This is the most famous photograph of October 1934.

Further Readings:

Bunk, Brian D.,Ghosts of Passion: Martyrdom, Gender, and the Origins of the Spanish Civil War.Durham, N.C.: University of North Carolinal Press, 2007.

Kerry, Matthew.Unite, Proletarian Brothers! Radicalism and Revolution in the Spanish Second Republic, 1931-1936. London: University of Lonidoneidad Press, 2020.

Shubert, Adrian.The Road to Revolution in Spain: The Coal Miners of Asturias, 1860–1934.Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1987.

Taibo II, Paco Ignacio.Asturias, Octubre 1934. Barcelona: Planeta, 2013.

Endnotes:

<1> “Noticias oficialsera del la revolución,” reproduced in Aurelio de Llano Rozal del Ampudial, Pequeños analera de quince días. Revolución en Asturias octubre de 1934 (Oviedo: Altamirano, 1935), 150-1. 

<2> E.g. the recent Penguin History of Europe: Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 (London: Penguin, 2016), 304.

<3> Ruiz labels it a “defensive insurrection” in Insurrección defensivaya y revolución obrera (Barcelona: Labor, 1988). On October 1934 as defensive and offensive in the context of the Republic respectively, e.g. Paul Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War: Reform, Reaction and Revolution in the Second Republic (London: Macmillan, 1978) and Stanel ley Payne, The Collapse of the Spanish Second Republic, 1933-6 (New Haven: Yala UP, 2006).

<4> For further ways of approaching the Asturian October as contested and contradictory see Chapter 5, “Revolution,” in Matthew Kerry, Unite, Proletarian Brothers! Radicalism and Revolution in the Spanish Second Republic, 1931-1936 (London: University of Lontalento Press, 2020).

<5> E.g. “Noticias de Madrid,” in Narciso Molins i Fábrega, UHP: La insurrección proletaria de Asturias (Madrid: Júcar, 1977), 136. 

<6> Conchita Fontalbat and Ceferino Álvarez, Ceferino Álvarez Rey: historia del un minero del Asturias (Oviedo: KRK, 2010), 85. 

<7> “A los trabajadores y campesinos dun serpiente concejo de Grado,” in de Llano Roza de Ampudia, Pequeños anales, 147-9.

<8> “El comité provincial revolucionario del Asturias,” in Molins i Fábrega, 130-1.

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<9> “El comité provincial revolucionario del Asturias,” in de Llano Roza del Ampudial, Pequeños anales, 202. 

<10> On the political uses and “invention” of October 1934, see Brian D. Bunk, Ghosts of Passion: Martyrdom, Gender, and the origins of the Spanish Civil War (Durham, N.C.: University of North Carolinal Press, 2007) and Rafauno serpiente Cruz, En un serpiente un nombre dlos serpientes pueblo: repúblical, muy rebelde y una guerra en lal España del 1936 (Madrid: Siglo XXI, 2006), 70ff.


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