Asturian miners' strike of 1934
The Asturian miners' strike of 1934 was a major strike action, against the entry of the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (CEDA) into the Spanish government on October 6, which took place in Asturias in northern Spain, that developed into a bloody revolutionary uprising, trying to overthrow the legitimate democratic regime. Fairly well armed revolutionaries managed to take the whole province of Asturias committing numerous murders of policemen, clerigman and civilians and destroying religious buildings including churches, convents and part of the university at Oviedo. The rebellion was crushed by the Spanish Navy and the Spanish Republican Army, the latter using mainly Moorish colonial troops from Spanish Morocco.
|Asturian miners' strike of 1934|
|Part of the Revolution of 1934|
|Date||4 – 19 October 1934|
|Caused by||Asturian miners strike|
|Resulted in||Strike suppressed|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
|Casualties and losses|
The war minister, Diego Hidalgo wanted General Franco to lead the troops. However President Alcalá Zamora, aware of Franco's monarchist sympathies, opted to send General López Ochoa to Asturias to lead the government forces; hoping that his reputation as a loyal Republican would minimize the bloodshed. Columns of Civil Guards, Moroccan Regulares and the Spanish Legion were accordingly organized under General Eduardo López Ochoa and Colonel Juan de Yague to relieve the besieged government garrisons and to retake the towns from the miners. While the insurrection was brief, historian Gabriel Jackson observed “In point of fact, every form of fanaticism and cruelty which was to characterise the Civil War occurred during the October revolution and its aftermath: utopian revolution marred by sporadic red terror; systematically bloody repression by the ‘forces of order’; confusion and demoralisation of the moderate left; fanatical vengefulness on the part of the right.” The revolt has been regarded as "the first battle of" or "the prelude to" the Spanish Civil War.
With this rebellion against established political legitimate authority, the Socialists showed identical repudiation of representative institutional system that anarchists had practiced. The Spanish historian Salvador de Madariaga, an Azaña's supporter, and an exhiled vocal opponent of Francisco Franco is the author of a sharp critical reflection against the participation of the left in the revolt: “The uprising of 1934 is unforgivable. The argument that Mr Gil Robles tried to destroy the Constitution to establish fascism was, at once, hypocritical and false. With the rebellion of 1934, the Spanish left lost even the shadow of moral authority to condemn the rebellion of 1936” 
The majority vote in the 1933 elections was won by the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (CEDA). However in face of CEDA's electoral victory, president Alcalá-Zamora declined to invite its leader, Gil Robles, to form a government. Instead he invited the Radical Republican Party's Alejandro Lerroux to do so. Despite receiving the most votes, CEDA was denied cabinet positions for nearly a year. After a year of intense pressure, CEDA, the largest party in the congress, was finally successful in forcing the acceptance of three ministries. However the entrance of CEDA in the government, although being normal in a parliamentary democracy, was not well accepted by the left. When the plans to invite members of the right-wing CEDA into government were leaked and the political left was distraught. The left Republicans tried to reach a common formula of protest but were hampered because the formation of a new government was the result of a normal parliamentary process and that the parties coming to government had won the previous year's free elections. The issue was that the Left Republicans identified the Republic not with democracy or constitutional law but a specific set of policies and politicians, and any deviation was seen as treasonous. That triggered revolutionary strikes and uprisings occurred in Austria and in Catalonia as well as small incidents in other places in Spain, all known under the collective name of the Revolution of 1934.
The rebels had a considerable stock of rifles and pistols on them, leading to General Emilio Mola calling it the "best armed" of all the leftist insurrections of interwar Europe. Most of the rifles came from a shipment of arms supplied by Indalecio Prieto, a socialist party moderate. The rifles had been landed by the yacht Turquesa at Pravia, north-east of Oviedo; Prieto swiftly fled to France to avoid arrest. Other weapons came from captured arms factories in the region and the miners also had their dynamite blasting charges, which were known as "la artillería de la revolución." Plans to subvert police and army units failed as these groups, even those with leftist sympathies, refused to join the rebels. Most planned armed revolts involving militiamen did not go ahead and the others were easily crushed by the authorities. A "Catalan State", proclaimed by Catalan nationalist leader Lluis Companys, lasted just ten hours, and despite an attempt at a general stoppage in Madrid, other strikes did not endure. In Madrid, strikers occupied the ministry of the interior and a few military centres, a few of them firing pistols, yet they were soon rounded up by security forces. In the north there were revolutionary strikes in mining areas and clashes with the security forces that left 40 people dead, but the revolt was ended with the arrival of troops and the Spanish air force launching bomb attacks. This left Asturian strikers to fight alone. Anarchist and communist factions in Spain had called general strikes. However, the strikes immediately exposed differences on the left between the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE)-linked Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), which organised the strike, and the anarcho-syndicalist trade union, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT). As a result, the strikes failed in much of the country.
In several mining towns in Asturias, local unions gathered small arms and were determined to see the strike through. It began on the evening of October 4, with the miners occupying several towns, attacking and seizing local Civil and Assault Guard barracks.
At dawn on October 5, 1934 the rebels attacked the Brothers' school in Turón. The Brothers and the Passionist Father were captured and imprisoned in the "House of the People" while waiting for a decision from the revolutionary Committee. Under pressure from extremists, the Committee decided to condemn them to death. Thirty four priests, six young seminarists with ages between 18 and 21, and several businessmen and civil guards were summarily executed by the revolutionaries in Mieres and Sama, 58 religious buildings including churches, convents and part of the university at Oviedo were burned and destroyed.
The same day saw columns of miners advancing along the road to Oviedo, the provincial capital. With the exception of two barracks in which fighting with the garrison of 1,500 government troops continued, the city was taken by October 6. Fifty eight religious buildings including churches, convents and part of the university at Oviedo were burned and destroyed. The miners proceeded to occupy several other towns, most notably the large industrial centre of La Felguera, and set up town assemblies, or "revolutionary committees", to govern the towns that they controlled.
Taking Oviedo the rebels were able to seize the city' arsenal gaining 24,000 rifles, carbines and light and heavy machine guns.Recruitment offices demanded the services of all workers between the ages of eighteen and forty for the 'Red Army'. Thirty thousand workers had been mobilized for battle within ten days. In the occupied areas the rebels officially declared the proletarian revolution and abolished regular money. The revolutionary soviets set up by the miners attempted to impose order on the areas under their control, and the moderate socialist leadership of Ramón González Peña and Belarmino Tomás took measures to restrain violence. However, a number of captured priests, businessmen and civil guards were summarily executed by the revolutionaries in Mieres and Sama.
The government in Madrid was now facing a civil war and called on two of its senior generals, Manuel Goded and Francisco Franco, to co-ordinate the suppression of what had become a major rebellion. Goded and Franco recommended the use of regular units of colonial troops from Spanish Morocco, instead of the inexperienced conscripts of the Peninsular Army. War Minister Diego Hidalgo agreed that the latter would be at a disadvantage in combat against the well-organised miners, who were skilled in the use of dynamite. Historian Hugh Thomas asserts that Hidalgo said that he did not want young inexperienced recruits fighting their own people and he was wary of moving troops to Asturias leaving the rest of Spain unprotected. Bringin in the army of Africa was not a novelty, in 1932 Manuel Azaña had also called the Tercio and the regulares from North Africa.
The war minister, Diego Hidalgo wanted Franco to lead the troops. However President Alcalá Zamora, aware of Franco's monarchist sympathies, opted to send General López Ochoa to Asturias to lead the government forces; hoping that his reputation as a loyal Republican would minimize the bloodshed. Columns of Civil Guards, Moroccan Regulares and the Spanish Legion were accordingly organized under General Eduardo López Ochoa and Colonel Juan de Yague to relieve the besieged government garrisons and to retake the towns from the miners. The troops were carried on the CNT-controlled railways to Asturias without resistance by the anarchists. During the operations, an autogyro made a reconnaissance flight for the government troops in what was the first military employment of a rotorcraft.
On October 7, delegates from the anarchist-controlled seaport towns of Gijón and Avilés arrived in Oviedo to request weapons to defend against a landing of government troops. Ignored by the socialist UGT-controlled committee, the delegates returned to their town empty-handed, and government troops met little resistance as they recaptured Gijón and Avilés the following day. On the same day, the cruiser Libertad and two gunboats reached Gijón, where they fired on the workers at the shore. Bombers also attacked coalfields and Oviedo. The capture of the two key ports effectively spelled the end of the strike. After two weeks of heavy fighting (and a death toll estimated between 1,200 and 2,000), the rebellion was suppressed.
As a deterrent to further atrocities committed by the regular army, López Ochoa had summarily executed a number of legionnaires and Moroccan colonial troops for torturing prisoners and hacking them to death. Historian Javier Tussel argues that although Franco had a leading role, giving instructions from Madrid, that does not mean he took part in the illegal repressive activities. According to Tussel it was the Republican General, López de Óchoa, a republican freemason who had been appointed by President Alcalá Zamora to lead the repression in the field, that was unable to prevent innumerous atrocities.
In the following days there was a popular acclaim of the moderate prime minister Lerroux as Spain's "savior". Before long a quite different result emmerged. The leftist elements of socialists, anarchists and communists put forth a flood of propaganda justifying the rebellion and representing the supressing as a martyridom.
In the armed action taken against the uprising, some 1,500 miners were killed in the fighting, with another 30,000 to 40,000 taken prisoner and thousands more sacked from their jobs. The repression of the uprising carried out by the colonial troops was very harsh, including looting, rape and summary executions. The man most notorious for his cruelty was the Civil Guard commander, Major Lisardo Doval. According to Hugh Thomas, 2,000 persons died in the uprising: 230-260 military and police, 33 priests, 1,500 miners in combat and 200 individuals killed in the repression (among them the journalist Luis de Sirval, who pointed out tortures and executions and was arrested and killed by three officers of the Legion). Stanley Payne estimates that the rebel's atrocities killed between 50 and 100 people and that the government conducted up to 100 summary executions, while 15 million pesetas were stolen from banks, most which was never recovered and would go on to fund further revolutionary activity.
Due to martial law and censorship, little or no information was officially made public, a group of Socialist deputies carried a private investigation and published an independent report that discarded most of the publicized atrocities but that confirmed the savage beatings and torture of many.
The political right demanded severe punishment for the insurrection, while the political left insisted on amnesty for what they tried to pass off as a labour strike and political protest that got out control. The government response in the aftermath of the rebellion varied from extremely harsh to surprisingly light. On the one hand the government suspended constitutional guarantees and almost all of the left's newspapers were closed, as they were owned by the parties that had promoted the uprising. Hundreds of town councils and mixed juries were suspended. Torture in prisons was widespread, as it was during all the Republic's lifetime. On the other hand, there were no mass killing after the fighting was over as was in the case of the suppression of the Paris Commune or the Russian 1905 revolution; all death sentences were commuted aside from two, army sergeant and deserter Diego Vásquez, who fought alongside the miners, and a worker known as "El Pichilatu" who had committed serial killings. Little effort was actually made to suppress the organisations that had carried out the insurrection, resulting in most being functional again by 1935. Support for fascism was minimal and did not increase, while civil liberties were restored in full by 1935, after which the revolutionaries had a generous opportunity to pursue power through electoral means.
Ramón Gonzáles Peña, the prominent leader of the Oviedo Revolutionary Committee was sentenced to death. One year later, however, he was reprieved. Gonzáles later served as the president of Unión General de Trabajadores, in which he was in conflict with Largo Caballero. He was also a Member of Parliament and was the Minister of Justice 1938–1939. After the Spanish Civil War González Peña went to exile in Mexico, where he died on 27 July 1952.
Franco was convinced that the workers uprising had been "carefully prepared by the agents of Moscow". Fed by material he gathered from the Entente Anticommuniste of Geneva, Franco believed that he was justified in the brutal use of troops against Spanish civilians. Historian Paul Preston wrote: "Unmoved by the fact that the central symbol of rightist values was the reconquest of Spain from the Moors, Franco did not hesitate to ship Moorish mercenaries to fight in Asturias, the only part of Spain where the crescent had never flown. He saw no contradiction about using the Moors, because he regarded left-wing workers with the same racialist contempt he possessed towards the tribesmen of the Rif." Visiting Oviedo after the rebellion had been put down he said; "this war is a frontier war and its fronts are socialism, communism and whatever attacks civilization in order to replace it with barbarism." Though the forces sent to the north by Franco consisted of the Spanish Foreign Legion and the Moroccan colonial troops known as Regulares, the right-wing press portrayed the Asturian rebels in xenophobic and anti-Semitic terms as the lackeys of a foreign Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy. Franco believed the government needed to firmly punish the rebels, otherwise it would only encourage further revolutionary activity.
Historians have often regarded Asturias as the "first battle" or "prelude" of the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish left had rejected the legal process of government and revolted against the elected government, even though they would later use the "legality" argument to condemn the July 1936 coup was against an elected government. The left's leaders would never publicly admit to wrong-doing in the turn to mass violence in Asturias, though they would accept that they could not use such methods to obtain power in the immediate future. For the non-republican right, however, the suppression of the Asturias rebellion showed that they could always rely on the army, described by Calvo Sotelo as "the backbone of the Fatherland." When the Popular Front was formed in 1936, one of its proposals was to free all those who were imprisoned for taking part in the Asturias rebellion; this proposal angered the Spanish right, who regarded freeing those who had violently revolted against the legally elected government as an indicator that the Spanish left would not respect constitutional government and the rule of law.
At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, López Ochoa was in a military hospital in Carabanchel and was awaiting trial, accused of responsibility for the deaths of 20 civilians at a barracks in Oviedo. Given the violence occurring throughout Madrid, the government attempted to move Ochoa from the hospital to a safer location but was twice prevented from doing so by large hostile crowds. A third attempt was made under the guise that Ochoa was already dead, but the ruse was exposed and the general was taken away. One account states that an anarchist dragged him from the coffin in which he was lying and shot him in the hospital garden. His head was hacked off, stuck on a pole and publicly paraded. His remains were then displayed with a sign reading "This is the butcher of Asturias."
The eight martyrs of Turon were venerated on 7 September 1989, and beatified by Pope John Paul II.
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- Documents on the strike and its aftermath from "Trabajadores: The Spanish Civil War through the eyes of organised labour", a digitised collection of more than 13,000 pages of documents from the archives of the British Trades Union Congress held in the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick