What were the causes and consequence of the 23rd of February rebellion?

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Why was this question important at the time?

At the time, 1981, spain had just come out of the Franco dictartorship, the democratic state of spain was very fragile as it was completely new, the fact that the army rebelled against the government brought fears about the dictatorship returning, in such way that parties such as the communist party, the day of the rebellion, they burnt lists with names of members and their archives.

Why is the question important now?

Even though democracy won, Spain’s political status is still quite weak, there are still the two extreme parties, and no parties seem to reach any agreement. Several regions of spain still want independence, especially the Basque country, as ETA is still active, and is still killing people in Spain.



This was probably the most important cause of the 23rd of February rebellion. The communist party was legalized (fig 1), something that the army could not understand, as we must remember that Spain had just come out of the dictatorship therefore all the highest ranks in the military were extreme right-wing. For them this legalization was unconceivable, however not only the fact that the party was legalized, but that the government had at first reassured the army they wouldn’t legalize it and then legalized it without warning, leaving the army feeling as if the government didn’t count on them. This legalization provoked unease in the army described as “sound of blades”.


Something else which worried the army was the terrorists, every week, some army officer died at the hands of ETA, a terrorist organization which seeked Basque independence. The army was under direct control of the king Juan Carlos. However they decided that, if the unity of Spain was put under any danger, the army would ignore any orders given by the king if they felt it necessary to restore order. Figure 2 is an example of one of their murders in this case, the murder of Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Romero Rotaeche.


The government was in a weak moment, the president had lost the support of his own party and there was even a vote to remove him from his position, this vote however failed to do so but the president resigned anyway due to his incapability to handle the pressure. Without president, the government was to elect its new leader; the 23rd of February was to be the day of the vote.


The army was still stuck in the past, in Franco’s dictatorship, and believed that in the current state the country was, it would decline into the pre-civil war republic, something they were horrified at. Also the fact that Franco died and Spain was now a democracy meant the army had lost a massive amount of power. Therefore the army decided to act before it was too late.


The most obvious consequence of this was democracy, Spain for around 18 hours felt the fear of plunging back into a dictatorship, just when the country was starting to recover. This fear left the streets empty all over Spain, however when the crisis finished, everyone showed their will for democracy. The two extremes, both left and right, lost a large amount of support, and faded into the background but didn’t disappear, as people went more towards the centre, forgetting the extremist views that had caused unease in the history of Spain before.

Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo was elected the new president; he understood clearly the importance of his new role and therefore did as much as he possibly could to help the Spanish people.

" It's time to proclaim our faith in the constitutional order and openly declare today a genuine cry of 'Long live Spain! " does not contain a truth different from that of 'Long live the Constitution! " and "Long live democracy!'".
    • First speech by Calvo Sotelo at the congress after the 23-F, 28 February 1981,


The Triumph of Democracy -Paul Preston

Spain-From Dictatorship to Democracy-Javier Tussel