Monday, February 6

OPINION | Science and culture: republican nerve

The Republic has been made possible by intellectuals. You who hold power have been the midwives of the Republic; but allow us to tell you that we have been the ones who generated it. We, some humble and others illustrious, who throughout thirty years have made little by little, with work, with perseverance, that the change of national sensibility takes place ”. This is how Azorín greeted the Republic in a well-known article published in the Ortega newspaper ‘Crisol’ in June 1931. And he was right.

The Republic was, first and foremost, a scientific and cultural state, as JP Fusi warned long ago. Despite the fact that historians have been obsessed with how the transition from “the popular festival to the class struggle” was possible –to say it with Santos Juliá– and for unraveling the motivations that led to the coup d’état in the summer of 1936 that, failed and not subdued, led the country down the precipice of hatred, resentment and misunderstanding in the most uncivil of our wars, the truth is that the Republic witnessed the moment of greatest modernization and scientific and cultural splendor of our country until then; only surpassed by the current democratic period.

That Republic, in whose Cortes there were more than a hundred professors, journalists and writers, was the result of the conjunction of multiple circumstances, social, economic or political. However, the remote origin of the April 1931 regime can be found in the liberal educational project of Francisco Giner de los Ríos and his Institución Libre de Enseñanza. On the shoulders of the same and the regenerationist postulates that Joaquín Costa sanctioned with the crisis of 1898 – “school and pantry” -, Ortega y Gasset spoke in 1910 of the need to ‘Europeanize Spain’, understanding as such the need to show the country to the modernity. Science, culture, research and university were the way. Incorporate women into the project, the imperative. The Residencia de Señoritas, run by María de Maeztu since 1915, and other cultural and scientific venues of similar ideological origin –such as, for example, the International Institute, of North American origin, or the avant-garde and modern Lyceum Club, among others–, gave instruction and shelter for the pioneers who conquered areas for women that until then had been forbidden to them because of their gender. Azaña went a step further: the ‘problem of Spain’ was in his eyes, above all, a political problem. The solution: the full implementation of democracy –universal male and female suffrage- and of a modern, strong and articulated State.

Thus, with the arrival of the Republic, scientists and intellectuals established themselves on the nerve of the new regime. After having had much to do with the inclined plane that led to the end of the Alfonsine monarchy in a civic and peaceful way –Santos Juliá spoke of the year 1930 as a “year of intellectuals” – many were appointed ambassadors of the new Republic: Sánchez Albornoz, Américo Castro, Pérez de Ayala, Fernando de los Ríos, Madariaga, Gabriel Alomar or Luis de Zulueta. Others, such as Fernando de los Ríos himself who was responsible for Public Instruction, Valle-Inclán who served as director of the School of Fine Arts in Rome, or Victoria Kent who served as general director of prisons, held strategic institutional positions or ministries.

With these wickers, during the first biennium –the one known as’ social-azañista’–, the legislation addressed issues such as the care of the artistic and library heritage –with the implementation of a network of national archives– or the construction of thousands of schools and the call for vacancies for new teachers, with a 50% increase in the education budget. Along with this, numerous well-known examples show the educational, cultural or scientific impulse of the republican regime of 1931: the summer colonies that showed the sea to the most disadvantaged children for the first time, the first book fair in Retiro, the Barraca Lorca or the Pedagogical Missions –which brought the classical Spanish theater and created thousands of popular libraries throughout the national geography, respectively–, or, of course, outstanding university institutions such as the International University of Santander or the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of Madrid, in whose classrooms Ortega, Menéndez Pidal, García Morente, Américo Castro, Sánchez Albornoz and José Gaos, among others, taught in the 1930s.

Thus, as Azorín warned, in that period that we would know as the Silver Age we found the foundations of that Republic that wanted to immediately solve the structural problems of the country: caciquismo and electoral corruption, economic underdevelopment of large rural areas, interventionism and structure archaic military and clerical interference in public and citizen life. Institutions such as the Board for the Expansion of Studies –which offered pensions to nearly two thousand graduates to complete knowledge in the most avant-garde centers abroad–, research institutes and laboratories such as those of Blas Cabrera (physics and chemistry), Julio Rey Pastor (mathematics) or Juan Negrín (physiology) –to mention only, among the many that dotted the national geography, some of those linked to the Junta itself–, cultural magazines –such as the almost centennial Revista de Occidente–, the visit to Spain of world-renowned figures – such as Einstein, Schrödinger, Marie Curie, Marinetti or Le Corbusier – or the celebration in our country of international scientific congresses and meetings, were the magma in which those men and women carried out their work in the first decades of the century. Thus, after shining with their own light in their respective disciplines and amassing great academic and professional prestige, many of them assumed political responsibilities in the republican situation.

Beyond the now classic debate about how so much intelligence on the country’s command bridge failed to abort the coup and prevent the catastrophe, the warning that Azorín made in June 1931 about the ultimate foundation that inspired this change in ‘national sensitivity’ would continue absent from scholarly analysis for decades. The horror experienced during the Civil War, when the two Spains “froze their hearts” on the battlefield –to say it with Machado–, and the prolonged dictatorship of Franco, made our historiography focus on trying to understand the enormous resistance that alienated important sectors of the population of the Republic and fueled the coup of 1936. Studies on political polarization, aristocratic opposition, the conspiracy of a good part of the military leadership and the combat that, from the pulpit, the Church raised Catholic against the Republic postponed, along with other analyzes, studies on the scientific and cultural arcade that was lived then.

Fortunately, in the last three decades, our historiography has been filling this void in a more than solvent way with studies of sectoral aspects, biographies or comparative analyzes that show how, in a context characterized by the destruction of the international cooperation system and the Ascent of nationalist and totalitarian options, the Second Republic was the laboratory of a series of reforms and structural changes that would only reach Spain almost half a century after our most painful journey through the desert.