The Esquerra Party was a left-wing organization that gained most of its support from Barcelona and other urban areas in Catalonia. Luis Companys and other leaders of the party called for the establishment of a Catalan republic.
On the 14th April 1931, Companys and other members of the party, occupied the city hall where they proclaimed the establishment of a republic.
On 1st January 1934, Companys was elected president of an autonomous Catalonia. The following year he declared Catalonia fully independent within the Spanish Republic. This separatist revolt failed and Companys and the entire Catalan government were arrested. Companys was found guilty and sentenced to thirty years in jail.
On 15th January 1936, Manuel Azaña helped to establish a coalition of parties on the political left to fight the national elections due to take place the following month. This included the Esquerra Party, Socialist Party (PSOE), Communist Party (PCE) and the Republican Union Party.
The Popular Front, as the coalition became known, advocated the restoration of Catalan autonomy, amnesty for political prisoners, agrarian reform, an end to political blacklists and the payment of damages for property owners who suffered during the revolt of 1934. The Anarchists refused to support the coalition and instead urged people not to vote.
Right-wing groups in Spain formed the National Front. This included the CEDA and the Carlists. The Falange Española did not officially join but most of its members supported the aims of the National Front.
The Spanish people voted on Sunday, 16th February, 1936. Out of a possible 13.5 million voters, over 9,870,000 participated in the 1936 General Election. 4,654,116 people (34.3) voted for the Popular Front, whereas the National Front obtained 4,503,505 (33.2) and the centre parties got 526,615 (5.4). The Popular Front, with 263 seats out of the 473 in the Cortes formed the new government. The Esquerra Party won 38 of these seats.
The government also introduced agrarian reforms that penalized the landed aristocracy. Other measures included transferring right-wing military leaders such as Francisco Franco to posts outside Spain, outlawing the Falange Española and granting Catalonia political and administrative autonomy.
During the war Luis Companys attempted to maintain the unity of the coalition of parties in Barcelona. However, after the Soviet cousul, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, threatened the suspension of Russian aid, he agreed to sack Andrés Nin as minister of justice in December 1936.
Companys attempted to protect members of the Worker's Party (POUM) and the National Confederation of Trabajo (CNT) from the Communist dominated Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya (PSUC). This was in vain and although he remained president he was no more than a figurehead
After the victory of General Francisco Franco and the Nationalist Army Companys fled to France but after the German Army occupied the country in 1940 he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent back to Spain. General Francisco Franco ordered that he should be tried for treason. Found guilty on 14th October, 1940 he was executed the following day.