Spain 1936/1939, the anarchist poster? A shout posted on the wall!

With a quick glimpse of the eye we are able to date a poster edited: in 1968 by the Atelier des Beaux-Arts; during the Chinese cultural revolution, or during the Hippie era on the West Coast of the United-States. As opposed to these examples (and to the myth), in Spain between 1936 and 1939, there was neither graphic unity nor the creation of a particular style despite being tied to a major cultural event of the 20th century. This is perhaps unfortunate, but the Spanish posters produced were deeply rooted in styles which were already predominant in the mid-1930s: advertising posters and Stalinist and fascist propaganda posters (1).

For some sociologists, “we” learn much about the social context of a neighbourhood or city by paying close attention to what its walls have to say. What do the walls of red and black Spain have to tell?

Even a superficial analysis of the anarchist posters edited in Spain between 1936 and 1939 reveal much more than the simple compilation of these “works” in a catalogue:

  • they reveal the human values of the artists and the social aspirations of the commissioning organization ;
  • they suggest the way in which the producers saw the audience and the degree of social and political awareness of the individuals (of the society) that they addressed. In this respect it is interesting to compare the posters produced by our comrades and those we see today in the form of advertisements and for candidates in the 2007 french presidential elections.

“The revolutionary posters were everywhere, flaming from these in clean reds and blues that made the few remaining advertisements look like daubs of mud.” Georges Orwell in Homage to Catalonia.

These posters bring with them a new element to understand this period: colour. It brings life and humanity to characters which up until then had been represented only in sepia.

Conversely, their dates are very imprecise. The main sources provide us only with the year in which they were printed (except those tied to a particular event: congresses, specific festivities, demonstrations, etc.). But as Carles Fontseré (2) has pointed out, the graphic design and texts cannot be removed from the political, social, and military contexts of the period in which each poster was created.

The anarchist posters cannot be distinguished by a particular graphic design or signature. Above all, it is the themes addressed and the total autonomy of the commissioning bodies which differentiated them.

 The idealized image of the anarhism in Spain,

Who commissions? Who signs the anarchist posters?

July 18th or July 19th 1936 ?

Representation of the enemy on antifascist posters,

The image of the woman in the iconography of the Spanish Civil War.

Conclusion?

Collective work in unions or Fine Arts schools and identical production techniques did not make design uniform, nor did they make uniform the message of the libertarian posters in revolutionary Spain. The production of libertarian posters (republican until mid-1937) in the period from 1936 to 1939 did not come down to a “confrontation” of war-like and nationalist drawings, as was the case for other conflicts in the 20th century. They were also intended to :

- raise the conscience level of the people,

- provoke emotion leading to reflection and adherence,

- “think” with the eyes.

The posters (and their derivatives) addressed all human activity in this period…except for TWO topics !   Despite the scope of themes addressed, two subjects were left out : religion and a critique of the presence of anarchist ministers.

Indeed, we did not find any libertarian posters condemning the essential role played by the church at Franco's side. Nor did we find any posters critical of the comrade ministers or taking a frontal attack at the government (3).

With defeat, clandestinity, and exile, the production of posters abruptly regressed, both quantitatively and qualitatively. It was not before the death of Franco that period posters reappeared and that the culture of social posters in Spain was reborn. This is still not the case in France.

Wally Rosell / Ramon Pino

Espagne 36, les affiches des combattant-e-s de la liberté . 400 posters in 320 pages (Vol 1 & 2) - Editions Libertaires (2006 & 2007).

1- A lot of the designers worked before july 1936 for advertasing agency

2- Article by C. Fontserè: Considérations sur les affiches de la Guerre civile

3- We founded a poster edited by the National Committee of CNT which claim for « national responsibilities in the upper level.