P A S A R A N !
of the Spanish Civil War - Essay by Mark Vallen
the thumbnails for the full picture
is within the context of war and revolution that the posters
presented here must be seen. They became important weapons
in the battle for a free Spain. Political parties, organizations
and trade unions used the posters to communicate with
the people, large segments of which were illiterate. The
posters were present everywhere, they spoke from the battalion
stations and trenches to the home and office. They were
put up on telephone polls, walls, buildings, and every
available space in cities and towns. In
July 1936, the opening shots of the 2nd World War were
fired in Europe's poorest country... Spain. Long governed
by a wealthy elite and its brutal military police (the
infamous Guardia Civil - Civil Guard), the people
saw their chance for democracy in the collapse of the
13 year old dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera.
"Homage To The International Brigades - From the
Popular Front of Madrid to the Popular Front of the World."
elections were held and the monarchist candidates defeated
at the polls, King Alfonso XIII left Spain for exile
in Italy. On April 4, 1931, the Provisional Government
of the Republic of Spain was proclaimed to wildly enthusiastic
crowds. To a nation long victimized by malnutrition, illiteracy,
unemployment, mass arrest and torture, these were heady
days of freedom. Social democrats, intellectuals, peasants,
workers, artists, labor unionists, communists, socialists,
anarchists... all intoxicated with the idea of a new society,
worked tirelessly towards a Spain free of grinding poverty,
privilege and cruel repression.
the new republican government set about the task of modernizing
and reforming Spain, class conflict erupted. To breakup
the great estates of the rich and give the land to the landless
peasants was regarded by the wealthy as an attack on property
rights. Improving the conditions of those who worked in
factories, shipyards and mines was seen by capitalists as
a threat to profit. Giving autonomy to Catalonia was for
the right-wing nationalists the tearing of Spain to tatters.
Removing the privileges of the enormously wealthy Catholic
church was seen by conservative Catholics as the "dechristianization"
of the country.
to reduce the overblown officer corps created animosity
against the government from within the army. Ultimately
these conservative social forces sought salvation and the
restoration of "order" by launching a military coup. The
aim of the army rebellion led by General Franco and
his nationalist movement was the crushing of the
republican government in Madrid, but instead this treason
was met with popular armed resistance. The civil war began
in earnest. Franco's
nationalist movement had powerful allies in the fascist
regimes of Germany and Italy. Without the combined military
might of these two dictatorships aiding Franco, his dreams
of destroying the Spanish republic would have failed. The
first airlift in modern war occurred when Nazi planes transported
Franco's troops to battle. Italy sent airplanes, tanks,
trucks and some 47,000 ground troops. Nazi planes conducted
the first saturation bombing of a defenseless civilian target
when they obliterated the town of Guernica.
great powers of the west did nothing while Spain was being
ravaged. There was tacit approval in this silence as the
young republic was cut apart by fascist bayonets. However,
people from all over the world came to the aid of Spain.
Artists were in the forefront of this International outpouring
of sympathy. Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell,
Paul Robeson, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro
are but a few of those who lent their talents to
the republican cause. Volunteer brigades came from every
corner of the globe to defend Spain as combatants, the Abraham
Lincoln Brigade from the United States being the most
well known of these (members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
would later be persecuted in the United States for being
communists and "premature anti-fascists").
of the posters presented on these pages were created anonymously
while others were produced by the Spanish Artist's Union,
who infused the most vigorous experiments of the time (Expressionism
and the Constructivism of Soviet artists), with the
simplicity and directness that are the traditions of the
revolutionary message. The artists, printers, lithographers
and those who distributed the works labored under the perilous
conditions of air raids and artillery fire. Faced with shortages
of materials and an inadequate supply of electricity for
light and printing presses, they nevertheless managed to
create powerful works that still reverberate in our time.
The internal pressures of disparate ideologies working together
in coalition, the vicious onslaught of the fascist armies,
plus the blockade imposed upon the young republic by the
west, led to the demise of the revolution. Yet even in defeat,
the posters presented here continue to tell of the implacable
fight for true freedom and democracy.
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