Monday music: 11 September

…not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious. (Walter Benjamin, died Catulunya, September 1940)

So we set out, with cameras at the ready, for New York, another city of my dreams assaulted on another September 11, again a Tuesday morning when fire fell from the sky. Though by 2001 very few people in the world recalled the existence of that remote Chilean date, I was besieged by the need to extract some hidden meaning behind the juxtaposition and coincidence of those twinned episodes bequeathed to me by the malignant gods of random history. There was something horribly familiar in that experience of disaster, confirmed during my visit to the ruins where the twin towers had once reached for the sky… every citizen of the United States forced to look into the chasm of what it means to be desaparecido, with no certainty or funeral possible for those who are missing. The photographs were still there in 2006, pinned on the wires separating the ogling spectators from the abyss… (Ariel Dorfman, 2 September, 2011)

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the horrific attacks on New York and Washington, carried out by far right Islamists. Below, Bruce Springsteen’s “My city of ruins fanfare for the common men and women killed that day, and his hope for a new, better tomorrow. 9/11 is of course also the anniversary of the 1973 military coup in Chile, which replaced Allende’s elected government with one of the most brutal dictatorships of our time, a dictatorship supported by the American and British governments.

In the first months after the coup d’état, the military killed thousands of Chilean Leftists, both real and suspected, or forced their “disappearance“. The military imprisoned 40,000 political enemies in the National Stadium of Chile… In October 1973, the Chilean song-writerVíctor Jara, and 70 other political killings were perpetrated by the death squad, Caravan of Death (Caravana de la Muerte). The government arrested some 130,000 people in a three-year period; the dead and disappeared numbered thousands in the first months of the military government.

Below, for all the victims of Pinochet’s regime, Victor Jara‘s “Preguntitas sobre Dios” (Little Questions About God), written by Atahualpa Yupanqui.

One day I asked grandfather ¿where is God? My grandfather was sad and gave me no answer. My grandfather died in the field without prayers or confessions, and was buried with the Indian bamboo flute and drum. When I asked ¿father where is God?  my father got serious and gave me no answer. My father died in the mine without doctor or confession, sweating the miner’s blood for the boss’s gold, and was buried with the Indian bamboo flute and drum… I sing when I am free and when I’m in prison I feel the voices of the people who sing better than me… God watches over the poor, maybe yes or maybe not but he surely lunches at the table of the boss.

September 11 is also the Catalan national day. Being an anti-nationalist, I will not play the turgid Catalan national anthem, “Els Segadors“, but rather “El Cant dels Ocell” (The Song of the Birds), a Catalan folk song which Pau Casals always played at the end of his concerts, looking forward to the moment when Catalonia would be free of fascism, and when humanity as a whole would be free.

From Ariel Dorfman’s Open Letter to America:

How could I not wish you well? You gave me, an americano from the Latino South, this language of love that I return to you. You gave me the hot summer afternoons of my childhood in Queens when my starkest choice was whether to buy a Popsicle from the Good Humor Man or the fat driver of the Bungalow Bar truck. And then back to calculating Jackie Robinson’s batting average. How could I not wish you well? You gave me refuge when I was barely a toddler, my family fleeing the fascist thugs in Argentina in the mid-Forties. One of you then. Still one of you now. How could I not wish you well? Years later, again it was to America I came with my own family, an exile from the Chile of Pinochet you helped to spawn into existence on precisely an 11 September, another Tuesday of doom. And yet, still wishing you well, America: you offered me the freedom to speak out that I did not have in Santiago, you gave me the opportunity to write and teach, you gave me a gringa grand-daughter, how could I not love the house she lives in?

Where is that America of mine? Where is that other America? Where is the America of ‘as I would not be a slave so would I not be a master’, the America of this ‘land is our land this land was meant for you and me’, the America of all men, and all women, everyone of us on this ravaged, glorious earth of ours, all of us, created equal? Created equal: one baby in Afghanistan or Iraq as sacred as one baby in Minneapolis. Where is my America? The America that taught me tolerance of every race and every religion, that filled me with pioneer energy, that is generous to a fault when catastrophes strike?

Monday music: Jordi Barre

Rcan featuring Jordi Barre: Décloisonnement intergénérationnel

It’s a long while since I did a Monday music post. This one follows on from my earlier series on Catalan music, but also kicks off a new (non-musical) series I’m going to start soon about the Catalan lands that are now part of France. Barre died earlier this year. He is very little known in the English-speaking world and consequently has no English wikipedia page. Below is my loose translation of the French page.

Jordi Barre (born Georges Bar on 7 April 1920 in Argeles-sur-Mer and died on 16 February 2011 in Ponteilla) was a Catalan-speaking singer-songwriter. Taking to the stage very young, he sang in the village dances of the plain of Roussillon and then turned sailor, typographer, foreman. In the mid-1960s he met the poet Albert Esteve, who encouraged him to devote himself exclusively to the song.

In 1974 he moved to Barcelona where he met the great figures of Nova Cançó, moving close to the autonomous musical community of the end of the Franco era. Still standing away from political movements, Jordi Barre advocated through song for a recognition of culture and especially of the Catalan language and quickly became an institution for the people of Northern Catalonia.

His voice was gravelly and profound, its deep timbre through “which run cool water streams, the rocky hills, the blue of the sea and the madness of the north wind” (Jean-Michel Collet); his impressive concerts are great moments of emotion and intensity on a par with a Paco Ibanez or a Silvio Rodriguez.

Music Mondays: Pablo Casals

So it was that in the spring of 1939 I came to Prades. I could not have imagined at the time that I would spend the next seventeen years of my life in this little town in the Pyrenees. And in spite of the sorrow in me, I found respite in my surroundings. With its winding cobbled strees and whitewashed houses with red tiled roofs – and the acacia trees that were then in bloom – Prades might have been one of the Catalan villages I had known since childhood. The countryside seemed no less familiar to me. The lovely patterns of orchards an vineyards, the wild and craggy mountains with ancient Roman fortresses and monasteries clinging to their sides – these too were a replica of parts of my homeland. Indeed, centuries before, this very region had been part of the nation of Catalonia – from Joys and Sorrows by Pablo Casals, via On An Overgrown Path

Granados: Spanish Dance (played by Pablo Casals, c.1916-20)
For Granados, a Catalan composer of the late 19th century, see here.

Max Bruch: Kol Nidrei (played by Pablo Casals, 1923)

Pablo Casals: El Cant dels Ocell
This version of his classic Catalan melody was recorded in Puerto Rico in 1956.

Pablo Casals: El Cant dels Ocell
This version is from 1958’s Windjammer.

Victoria de los Ángeles: El Cant dels Ocell
A singer from Barcelona, who died in 2005.

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Music Mondays: Granados’ Goyescas

Enrique Granados: Goyescas – 4. Quejas, ó la maja y el ruiseñor

Wikipedia:

Goyescas, subtitled Los majos enamorados (The Gallants in Love), is a piano suite written in 1911 by Spanish composer Enrique Granados. This piano suite is usually considered Granados’s crowning creation and was inspired by the paintings of Francisco Goya, although the piano pieces have not been authoritatively associated with any particular paintings.

[...]The fourth piece in the series (Quejas, ó la maja y el ruiseñorThe Maiden and the Nightingale) is the best known piece from the suite. It resembles a nocturne, but is filled with intricate figuration, inner voices and, near the end, glittering bird-like trills and quicksilver arpeggios. Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velázquez based her 1940 song Bésame Mucho on this melody.

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History is made at night in Catalunya

Read this great post: Homage (from a beach) in Catalonia. Illustrations extracted below.

CNT sticker in Catalonia last week

Image from the Franco period (I found this on a 1975 Calendar)

Poster in Girona last week promoting musical and other events ‘per la Independencia i el Socialisme’

Poumist ephemera

This blog has been around long enough to now be the number one google hit for the term “Poumista”, and people clearly are coming here to find out about the POUM. However, I realise that I don’t have much actually about the POUM on this site. This post is not an attempt at any kind of comprehensive account of the POUM, but rather a disorganised pointer towards various sources of information, including some pieces of ephemera that I have recently come across.

First, some introductory texts: Poum at Wikipedia, Poum at Spartacus.

Other key wikipedia pages: Anti-Stalinist left, ILP Contingent, International Revolutionary Marxist Centre (aka London Bureau, Three and a Half International).

Recent bloggery: Justice Triumphs at La Bataille Socialiste, Markin on Trotsky on the POUM, Markin on the ortho-Trot International Communist League on the POUM, Markin on Andy Durgan on the POUM, Liam on Pierre Broué and Emile Teminé on the Spanish Civil War. All POUM posts at La Bataille Socialiste.

From the journals: The Spanish Left in its own words, Andy Durgan on the POUM and the Trotskyites, A Brandlerite militant in the POUM militia on the Huesca front, Keith Hassell on Trotsky on the POUM, Don Bateman on Georges Kopp and the Poum militias, Richardson and Rogers on Schwartz and Alba (Revolutionary History); A Danish Trotskyist in the POUM militia (What Next); The Foreign Legion of the Revolution (Libcom); Land and Freedom, Martine Vidal, The Hidden Story of the Revolution, Andy Durgan, The Meaning of a Defeat, Pelai Pagès (New Politics).

From the Marxist Internet Archive: The Manifesto of the POUM; Walter Held on Stalinism and the POUM; Pietro Fancelli Letters from Barcelona; The Weisbord Archive.

Ephemera: A Poum militia uniform. The flag of the Lenin Barracks; The flags of the Poum; The Philosophy Football POUM T-shirt.

My Poum pages: Roma Marquez Santo 2, Vicente Ferrer, Not Just Orwell…, Roma Marquez Santo, May 1, Poumish (a bloggish miscellany), From the archive of struggle, no.26, From the archive of struggle, no.7, Benjamin Péret: songs of the eternal rebels, Ramón J. Sender, Stephen Suleyman Schwartz on POUM historiography.

John Cornford (and Brian Pearce, and Leon Trotsky, and Trotsky’s Mercedes)

From Histomatist:

Browsing George Galloway’s site this morning, as one does, the following news announcement caught my eye:

George Galloway will be with host Matthew Parris on Great Lives – a weekly biographical series where each guest talks about a person in public life who is very special to them. George has chosen the poet John Cornford who was killed, tragically young, in the Spanish Civil War. He would like you to join him for 30 minutes to discover why he finds John’s life so inspirational.
Broadcasting on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday the 18th of August at 4:30pm, then repeated on Friday the 21st at 11pm.
And also available on BBC iPlayer from 19th August.

The Communist poet John Cornford did indeed have a ‘great’ if tragically short, life – and the sacrifice of those like Cornford who gave their lives fighting fascism remains an utterly relevant inspiration for our anti-fascist struggle today. Cornford is clearly a hero for Galloway – see this characteristically short eloquent 2006 article – John Cornford and the Fight for the Spanish Republic – and his choice of a ‘Great Life’ and its timing – has to be applauded. However, one suspects that simply heralding Cornford as a ‘fighter for the Spanish Republic’ may actually miss not only some of the complexity of his politics but also downplay somewhat their revolutionary nature.

As the late great revolutionary historian Brian Pearce once noted, ‘Cornford was killed in action in December 1936, fighting with the International Brigade in Spain. His writings while in Spain suggest that, had he lived, his Marxist approach would have brought him into conflict with Stalinism.’ Pearce referred to John Cornford: A Memoir, edited by Pat Sloan (1938), which ‘consists of selections from the writings of the young man to whom the socialist movement in the universities in that period owed more than to anybody else, together with contributions by people who knew him.’ As Pearce noted,

For Cornford the struggle in Spain was ‘a revolutionary war’. ‘In Catalonia at least the overwhelming majority of the big employers went over to the fascists. Thus the question of socialism was placed on the order of the day.’ The Spanish Communist Party should ‘force recognition from the government of the social gains of the revolution’. Cornford feared that the party was ‘a little too mechanical in its application of People’s Front tactics. It is still concentrating too much on trying to neutralize the petty bourgeoisie – when by far the most urgent task is to win the anarchist workers…’

Though he had no time for anarchism, Cornford saw that the main body of militant workers in the principal industrial region of Spain, around Barcelona, were anarchists, and, being a sincere communist, that meant for him that the party’s task was first and foremost to get among those workers, establish close ties with them, and win them for Marxism. The line actually taken by the Stalinists was first to stick a label on the anarchist workers (‘uncontrollables’, the 1937 equivalent of ‘Left adventurists’), then to work up a pogrom spirit against them among the followers of the Communist Party, and finally to attack and decimate them, using an armed force recruited among former policemen and the middle class.

I do hope George Galloway’s discussion of Cornford will find time to condemn the counter-revolutionary nature of Stalinism in revolutionary Spain, though something tells me I shouldn’t get my hopes up too much on this score.

Speaking of Pearce, those with access to a university library might check out the latest issue of Revolutionary Russia (v. 22, no. 1 (June 2009) which carries a long obituary alongside two tributes from academic historians, and those without might check out the latest issue of Revolutionary History which also has an obituary.

I am indebted to POUMista for drawing my attention to this photo of George Orwell – another witness to the counter-revolutionary nature of Stalinism in Spain of course – which as POUMista notes ‘highlights the fact that Orwell, although thought of by some as a Little Englander, was fundamentally an internationalist and cosmopolitan, and in many senses a postcolonial figure.’

Finally, POUMista also drew my attention to Reading the Maps on the late Leszek Kolakowski whose passing seems to have caused no end of debate and turmoil on the blogosphere.

For a similar, slightly harsher, take on Galloway on Corford, see this old post by Bob. Bob does not like George Galloway. (For non-Scots mystified by the Brigada‘s intervention: sleekit, sook.) On Kolakowski, I think I missed Peter Ryley’s excellent “cool reflection”.

Also from Histomatist:

Sorry, a bit irrelevant I know, but I was digging through some old files and, well, speaking of Trotsky, I came across this snippet on page 28 of With Trotsky in Exile by Jean Van Heijenoort which I thought ought to be shared with Histomat readers. It’s about when Trotsky tried to learn to drive at some point during the 1920s.

Trotsky, when still in Russia, had expressed the desire to have a car and to drive. Joffe, a Soviet diplomat and friend of Trotsky, sent him from abroad a Mercedes, specially equipped with a powerful engine. Trotsky took the wheel and, after five hundred yards, went into a ditch. That was the end of the driving.

July 19: Assault Guards in Diputacio Street, Barcelona

From here:

centelles.jpg

Agusti Centelle (1909-1985) was considered one of the foremost photojournalist during the Spanish Civil War. Called “Spanish Robert Capa”, he was one of the great image-makers of the Republican resistance during the war. Originally working in Barcelona and throughout Catalonia, He exiled himself over the Pyrenees to the Bram refugee camp when his side lost. There in Bram, under extremely difficult conditions, he continued to photograph. When he returned into Spain, he hid several thousand negatives to protect the identities of the revolutionaries from Franco. Only forty years later after Franco died, Centelles returned to France and reclaimed many of his negatives.

His most iconic photo was shown above. Taken in Barcelona on 19 July 1936, it shows the republican forces barricading behind the dead horses. Like Picasso’s anguished horse in Guernica, dead horses and soon-to-be-dead revolutionaries showed the chaos, violence, conflict and suffering unleashed by the civil war. The photo was titled, “Assault Guards in Diputacio Street. Barcelona”. Like Capa’s Loyalist Militiaman, the photo has long be accused of being staged. An exhibition at Centro Cultural Conde Duque in February 2008 confirmed that suspicion by showing the contact strip from which the final work was taken. The image was indeed the best composed and the most convincing of the entire photo-op.

See his other photos here.

From The Kate Sharpley Library: The 19th of July is the anniversary of the Spanish Revolution of 1936. To mark the date, here’s a review of “Durruti in the Spanish Revolution” by Abel Paz, anarchist historian, who has sadly died recently.

Poumerouma

The libertarian socialist tradition

New blog: Big Flame, on the history of this UK radical group of the 1970s.

Why Philosophy? Why Now? On the Revolutionary Legacies of Raya Dunayevskaya, CLR James and Anton Pannekoek, By David Black at The Hobgoblin

Andre Gorz, or the Ecological Demand, by Serge Audier at Principia Dialectica.

Anarchist Studies: Perspective 2009. On the legacy of Murray Bookchin.

Poster art, folk song and historical memory

More from BCNDesign: The everyday comes to Santa Coloma: Local things for local history. Graphic design in 1930s Spain.

History Today: The Mexican suitcase. British volunteers and Republican posters.

Rio Wang: Russian poster design and the war on coca-cola. Carlos Gordel and the zorzal.

George Szirtes: Fado da Tristeza.

Polish gentile, Jan Jagielski, chief archivist at the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, to receive the Irena Sendler Memorial Award from the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture.

The extraordinary anti-Nazi photo-montages of John Heartfield.

Scoop Review of Books: Kiwi Compañeros: NZ’s anti-Franco volunteers. See more in TNC‘s comment here. Which led me to these two great older posts: Fieldtrip to the International Center for Photography (Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, Francesc Torres and poster art). ¿Viva la Insurgencía?: The Spanish Civil War and the Legacy of the Totalitarian International Brigades. There’s plenty more TNC posts on memory and archives and on Communism.

Watch Land and Freedom at A Complex System of Pipes.

From the archive of struggle, no.14 (below the fold) (more…)

Stephen Suleyman Schwartz on POUM historiography

A couple of items at Jewcy:

In furtherance of an ongoing interest in the historiography of the Spanish civil war, I note with delight that the Catalan novelist Joan Marsé, born in Barcelona in 1933, has been awarded Spain’s highest literary honor, the Cervantes Prize. While I am normally no fan of such distinctions, which are typically empty and serve to corrupt literary life (see my numerous polemics on the Nobel sweepstakes), the 2008 Cervantes for Marsé is a welcome event.

Marsé remains best known for his novel Si te dicen que caí, written while Spanish dictator Francisco Franco still lived, and translated poorly into English in 1979 as The Fallen. It deals with the fate of anarchists and militants of the Partit Obrer d’Unificacio Marxista or POUM, in which Orwell served, after the triumph of the Nationalist forces in 1939. It was made into a splendid movie by Vicente Aranda Ezquerra, a leading Catalan director – self-taught in film art – who was born in 1926 and lived through the civil war. Aranda is an unabashed sympathizer of the Spanish anarchosyndicalist movement, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and its active cadre formation, the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI). Paradoxically, however, the first offering in a trilogy of his films about the Spanish war, originally titled, like the novel, Si te dicen que caí, but also released under the title Aventis, was more sympathetic to the POUM. [Read the rest]

The Cheapest Transaction

In a newsstand at Barajas Airport in Madrid, the day before I headed back to Kosovo and its echoes of the Spanish civil war, I saw a title on a table of books. It read Las víctimas de Negrín: Reinvindicación del POUM (The Victims of Negrín: Vindication of the POUM). The author was Antonio Cruz González, a Spanish labor activist and historian. [Read the rest]

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