Comrade Picasso

This is an extremely interesting article from the New Statesman by Jonathan Vernon:

Picasso's 'Guernica' on view at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid. Photo: Getty
Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ on view at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid. Photo: Getty

One would expect a game of word association on a busy street to match many a ‘Picasso’ with ‘Guernica’. Commissioned for the Spanish Republican Pavilion at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair, Guernica took as its subject the aerial bombardment of the eponymous Basque town. Heinkel bombers flying for General Franco had razed it to the ground across three days earlier that year. The visual language Picasso wrought from that event gave form to human suffering with unparalleled potency.

But it also gave birth to a reputation. It is with Guernica that we are introduced to the defiant pacifist, the Picasso that would stand firm during the Occupation of Paris, and join the French Communist Party (PCF) upon its Liberation. The story goes something like this: exiled from Spain, and fully aware of the threat its Falangist occupiers posed to civilisation, Picasso joined ‘le famille communiste’ and became its most distinguished voice in the struggle against fascist and capitalist tyranny alike.

The breast, at this point, is prompted to swell uncontrollably. After all, this tale boasts every trope of our most loved and recyclable yarns: the rustic warrior exiled from his homeland, the surging rebellion yearning a voice, and the depraved autocrat condemning it to silence. It telescopes Homer and Hemingway in equal measure. It is almost enough to make us forget that we are talking about a painter.

And yet the demands of history have a way of reasserting themselves. Such is the nature of research conducted by Genoveva Tusell Garcia, published earlier this year in The Burlington Magazine. Citing correspondence within the Franco government, Garcia makes an extraordinary claim. Although the regime’s prevailing attitude toward Picasso was one of hostility, certain of its members came to see an advantage in taming his reputation and sharing in his achievements. In 1957, they approached the painter to discuss the possibility of his work returning to Spanish collections, and even a retrospective.

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From the archive of struggle: The Newsletter

Just saw this on the great Hatful of History blog:

After last week’s post about new avenues of research for British leftist history, I just thought I’d mentioned that another resource has appeared online. The Newsletter was edited by Peter Fryer, the Daily Worker reporter who had left the Communist Party of Great Britain after the invasion of Hungary in late 1956, after his departure from the CPGB and during his brief membership in The Club. The Club was an orthodox Trotskyist entrist group run by Gerry Healy, who later formed the Socialist Labour League (which transformed in the 1970s into the Workers Revolutionary Party). The Newsletter was edited by Fryer while he was involved in The Club, but after 1958, the publication was taken over by Healy and it became an SLL publication shortly afterwards, alongside Healy’s Labour Review (which also attracted former CPGB members, such as Brian Pearce). The ‘independent’ version of The Newsletter, under Fryer’s editorship from May 1957 to December 1958, has now been digitised by Steve Drury and is available on Norman Harding’s blog Staying Red (Harding was a long-term member of the SLL/WRP), as well as on the Marxist Internet Archive’s ETOL site.

The original flyer announcing the publication of The Newsletter (April 1957). Pic from Staying Red blog.

The original flyer announcing the publication of The Newsletter (April 1957). Pic from Staying Red blog.

Ted Grant, best or worst of a bad bunch?

Phil writes:

What can you say about the three key figures of British post-war Trotskyism? Gerry Healy was a hyperactive pseud with a penchant for thuggery, rape and doing dodgy deals with unsavoury Arab regimes. Tony Cliff was flighty, excitable and an inveterate bandwagon chaser – qualities he imparted to the Socialist Workers Party. And there is Ted Grant. Founder of the Militant Tendency and with a reputation for super seriousness, of all of Trotsky’s British progeny it was he who came closest to disturbing the sleep of the great and the good. But for all that, it’s the repulsive Healy and the Mercurial Cliff who are most often recalled and discussed among the tiny circles of people who care about such things. Poor old Ted, the longest lived and most successful of them all merits nary a mention. Perhaps not recruiting enough celebrities or future Guardian journalists has something to do with it.

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Franco’s Spain – how many dead?

In a recent post, I quoted Dorian Cope claiming that two million people were killed in Franco’s Spain. TNC made the comment  below. I’m pretty innumerate myself, but I think TNC is most likely right and Cope wrong: the death toll was more like a million, it slowed down after Franco’s reign consolidated, and it should be seen alongside the (much smaller) “red terror” in which rightists were killed too, i.e. in a Civil War context and not just that of a dictatorship. I have started reading Giles Tremlett’s Ghosts of Spain, which addresses the legacy of these deaths, which I hope to post on when I’ve finished.

Where does the two million number come from? The reason I ask is the number I have read from a few secondary sources including Paul Preston and Stanley Payne that put it closer to one million killed by both sides in the conflict. Also, most of the mass killings stopped by the end of the 1940s. I know people were tortured and murdered in horrible ways, including the garrot, but the evidence suggests a slowing of the mass murder certainly by the early 1950s.

Paul Preston writes:

“The numbers of right-wingers killed in Republican Spain (after the military coup destroyed the structures of law and order and before the Republican government could rebuild them) is 37000. The number of people murdered in the Francoist zone is likely to be 150,000. The reason for doubt is that finding out is a painstaking business, village by village, and only 36 of Spain’s 50 provinces have been reasonably thoroughly investigated. Those thirty-six provinces have currently produced 98,000 known victims. However, even there it is very difficult to be sure that all the dead have been counted… (more…)