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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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…)

Fifty years ago: the execution of Francisco Granados and Joaquin Data Martinez Delgado

From on this deity (1910): 

Forty-seven years ago today, in 1963, two young Spanish anarchists were executed by General Franco’s obscene regime for a Passport Office bombing of which they had no knowledge, while the real perpetrators slipped quietly away. Despite the absence of any evidence of their involvement, Francisco Granados (27) and Joaquin Data Martinez Delgado (29) – both members of the anti-Franco movement called the Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth – were interrogated, brutally tortured, tried behind closed doors and executed by garotte at Franco’s notorious Carabanchel Prison, and all of this in just eighteen days after having been arrested.

For many, these unfortunates were but two more victims of an unrestrained and merciless tyrant estimated to have executed almost two million non-combatants between 1939-75, during his arduous near four-decade-long reign of terror. But what separated this grotesque event from the rest of Franco’s merciless pogroms against his own people was that it took place not at the chaotic post-Civil War beginning of his ‘reign’, but twenty-four grueling years into his rule, and during this cynical tyrant’s attempt to pass off his regime as ‘respectable’ to the rest of the Western World. For, as a resurgent wave of underground resistance began –throughout 1963 – to rise up from the ashes of violent repression, General Franco openly recommenced his policy of institutionalised revenge and intent to eradicate from Spain all democrats, liberals, socialists and – above all others – his most-despised enemies from the war, the communists and anarchists. (more…)

Homage to Latakia: Spain 1936/Syria 2013?

Gene at Harry’s Place:

Michael Petrou, author of a book about the working-class Canadians who went to Spain to fight against Franco’s fascist uprising in the 1930s, makes a telling point about the parallels between that war and the current civil war in Syria. It has to do with what Petrou calls “the fallacy of non-intervention.”

That was the policy adopted by the democracies — including Canada — in 1936, when the Spanish general Francisco Franco, backed by his allies Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, launched a rebellion against Spain’s democratically elected government that eventually toppled it and enslaved the country.

We said it was a Spanish conflict, a civil war, and should be decided by the Spaniards. It wasn’t. The democracies might not have intervened, but other powers did. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany picked one side; Stalinist Soviet Union picked the other.

When the war began, the Communists were a minor force within Spain’s republican coalition. Then Spain’s presumed democratic friends deserted it, while the Soviet Union sent weapons and men. Soviet and Spanish Communist power consequently grew. By 1937, the Soviet NKVD and its Spanish allies ran secret jails in Madrid where they murdered political opponents from amongst their supposed anti-fascist comrades.

And in Barcelona too. Those who have read George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” (and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?) will be familiar with that ugly chapter of the Spanish civil war.

Which brings us to Syria. It’s been two years, some 80,000 deaths, and hundreds of thousands of displaced. What began as a democratic uprising has become a civil war. Those against doing anything about it have cycled through various arguments, all of which miss a basic point. Non-intervention isn’t an option, because intervention is already happening. Saying you’re against intervention in Syria is like standing in the middle of a blizzard and saying you’re against snow.

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Stephen Schwartz remembers Jorge Semprun

Jorge Semprún Maura, political activist and writer, born 10 December 1923; died 7 June 2011)

How shall we remember Jorge Semprún, the writer and political figure who died on June 7, just before the seventy-fifth anniversary of the event that, more than any other, including his imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp, would define his life? I refer to the approach of July 17, 2011, which will mark the date in 1936 when Francisco Franco and his cohort of military officers rose against the second Spanish Republic. The ensuing three-year “Spanish civil war,” as most refer to it, and the distinct but coterminous “Spanish Revolution,” in the idiom of others, affected numerous prominent intellectuals, as well as millions of ordinary people in the twentieth century, many of who were much younger than Semprún and shared few of his direct experiences. [READ THE REST]

Image: Jorge Semprún (2010) Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

More from Ron Radosh.

Poumiduous

Animal FarmOrwellia: In the news today, a rare first edition of Animal Farm, valued at close to a grand, was donated to an Oxfam bookshop, which is nice. The Orwell prize website has a very good Animal Farm page, with the proposed preface and some interesting video links relating to the animation.

Spain: Remembering Franco And José Antonio – Eamonn McD on the politics of memory and free speech in Spain.

Chomsky and left Zionism: There is an  interview with Noam Chomskyin the Tablet. Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic extracts an interesting bit, about when he was a Zionist youth:

what motivated you to live in Israel?

My wife and I were there in ’53. We lived in a kibbutz for a while and planned to stay, actually. I came back and had to finish my Ph.D. We thought we’d go back.

Was it the idea of the kibbutz, or was it the fact of speaking Hebrew, or what was it?

It was political. I was interested in Hebrew, but that wasn’t the driving force. I liked the kibbutz life and the kibbutz ideals. It has pretty much disappeared now, I should say. But that time was incredible in spirit. For one thing it was a poor country. The kibbutz I went to, and I picked it for this reason, was actually originally Buberite. It came from German refugees in the 1930s and had a kind of Buberite style. It was the center for Arab outreach activities in Mapam (a left-wing party, now deceased, affiliated with the kibbutz movement). There was plenty of racism, I should say. I lived with it. But mostly against Mizrahim (Jews from Arab countries).

When you think of the motivations of people like your parents or the people who founded those Mapam kibbutzim, you don’t think of those motivations as being inherently linked to some desire to oppress others?

By then I was old enough to separate from my parents. I’d been on my own intellectually since I was a teenager. I gravitated toward Zionist groups that were not in their milieu, like Hashomer Hatzair.

My father grew up in Hashomer.

I could never join Hashomer because in those days they were split between Stalinist and Trotskyite, and I was anti-Leninist. But I was in the neighborhood. It was a Hashomer kibbutz that we went to, Kibbutz Hazorea. It’s changed a lot. We would never have lasted. It was sort of a mixed story. They were binationalists. So up until 1948 they were anti-state. There were those who gravitated toward or who were involved in efforts of Arab-Jewish working-class cooperation and who were for socialist binationalist Palestine. Those ideas sound exotic today, but they didn’t at the time. It’s because the world has changed.

But there was an element of oppression I couldn’t get around. If you know the history, you know that most idealistic anti-nationalist settlers insisted on a closed Hebrew society, you can’t hire outside labor, that sort of thing. You could see the motivation. They didn’t want to become what the first settlers were: landowners who had cheap Arab labor. They wanted to work the land. Nevertheless, there’s an exclusionary character to it. Which then led into the policy of the state and became quite ugly later. So it was kind of an internal conflict that was never resolved.

More on the interview here.