The Spanish Civil War, Cartooning, and the Cultural Imagination: No Pasaran!, The Black Order Brigade, and Wolverine Part 4 of 4

Posted by on December 22nd, 2009 at 12:01 AM

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Part Four: “Perhaps we won.”


The epigram for Volume Three of No Pasaran! is a quote from the poet Antonia Machado: “To strategists, politicians, and historians, it will all be clear: we lost the war. Speaking personally, I am not so sure. Perhaps we won.”

And perhaps they did. Not the shooting-war, and not the revolution. But surely it is better to have fought. The generals and statesman may scoff at the idealist’s purely moral victory; but in the end, it is the dream of the Republic, not the violence of the dictatorship, that endures.

History did not stop in 1939. Franco marched into Madrid. He imprisoned, tortured and killed the best elements of Spanish society. He ruled Spain almost by decree for an entire generation, and fascism survived on the Iberian peninsula for a quarter-century after the end of World War II. But even dictators die. Franco died an unjustly peaceful death in 1975, and his successor, King Jaun Carlos, immediately began the transition back to parliamentary democracy. He legalized the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), and later, the Communist Party. He called for elections, and instituted a new constitution, under which he relinquished his absolute power. And, in 1981, the king — backed by parliament and popular sentiment — successfully faced down an attempted military coup.

Two decades later, in 2004, electoral victories brought a new Socialist government to power under the PSOE. At once Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced the withdrawal of Spanish troops from American-occupied Iraq. A year later his government legalized same-sex marriage and liberalized divorce laws. Less dramatically, it has raised the minimum wage, loosed restrictions on immigration, and taken steps toward the secularization of education; slowly it is offering limited autonomy to the minority regions.

Spain is also starting to face its past. In 2004 the government created a Memorial Commission to absolve the memories of those suppressed by the fascist regime. In 2007, the government took the further step of de-memorializing Franco, ordering the removal of all street names, statues, monuments, and public symbols associated with his rule. It’s a truism that the victors write the history; but people don’t usually expect it to take 65 years to determine who the victors are.

To be sure, Spain today falls far short of the society the Iberian Federation of Anarchists envisioned. Still, the country has rebounded from fascism with real alacrity, and in that there is hope. I don’t mean to suggest that electoral victories and modest reforms provide the happy ending to a disastrous war, a failed revolution, and a bloody dictatorship. But these later events do show how tentative and precarious historical “endings “ necessary are — and how little can be guaranteed by violence.

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2 Responses to “The Spanish Civil War, Cartooning, and the Cultural Imagination: No Pasaran!, The Black Order Brigade, and Wolverine Part 4 of 4”

  1. DerikB says:

    Great article, Kristian.