The Representation of the Enemy on the Antifascist Posters

Concerning poster and side propaganda, it is at the beginning of 1930s when appear, on posters, the first signs of modern recognitions: the sickle and the hammer, the fascist symbols, the red star, the logos, the fascist salute (tense arm) and conversely the closed fist. For the propagandist (and the poster designers) these symbols have a double advantage, they allow at the same time :

A visible memory, recognizable signature (by a partially illiterate population). Easily reproducible, this signature works as a literary or film ellipse, a minimum of graphics (and of text) a maximum of sense for the reader;

A unique representation of the enemy through a drawing so allowing "to mobilize" the masses, on a simplified watchword, even for some, simplistic.

Organizations libertarians have not invented yet “encircled A” (it appears just before May, 68). In 1936 and in Spain, the libertarians have the flag red&black for rallying symbol, but on posters it is very often used by the other republican organizations. For the needs for their propaganda, the libertarians needed a representation of the enemy federating their will to win the war and to transform the society.

In the European revolutionary iconography the capitalist trilogy Church/Army/Big capitalist “THE” representation of the society to be shot down, between 1936 and 1939, it is nevertheless little present on the antifascist posters and absentee of posters libertarians. The enemy is, humanely and physically, almost invisible on the antifascist posters, he is replaced by a more abstract representation.

Paradoxically, the poster designers libertarians and antifascists, known for their anticlerical convictions, draw very widely the iconography and the religious culture through the representations:

- Of The squalid animal: dragons, snakes, octopuses, greenish monsters, gargoyle in the red or forked tongue;

- Of the Devil long hands in the hooked fingers;

- Of martyrs of the fascism with the workers “crucified” on a Swastika;

- A bestiary is also used to represent the famous “Fifth Column”.

Why so many "swastikas" on posters (libertarians and the others) while it is neither the emblem of the Phalanx, nor that of Franco and his generals, nor that of the iberian catholic conservative party?

The simplification of the representation of the opponents through a single "sign" does not explain the frequency of this emblem. Other hypotheses are possible:

The sponsors and the poster designers had, from July 19th, consciousness that this conflict exceeded widely the iberian borders on the political level, military and social. For the republican leaders and the libertarians, it was at least the future of Europe that happened from July 19th, 1936 (1). At first with the hope to see at the same time finally the fascism failing and a social revolution to triumph. Then because a new lost battle of the working class opened definitively the continental space to the fascists and to their exactions. Furthermore, the swastika is the only emblem internationally recognized. From this perspective, it stands out as symbol of the political stakes and thus the enemy at the expense of the emblem of phalanxes and even the representation of the leader of the general dissidents F. Franco.

On the contrary, the emphasis of the swastika also allows “to hide” the dissensions on the internal enemy. Indeed which enemy we denounce? The one who holds the rifle, in this case the swastika (or the Falangist beam) stands out or the one who manipulates the opposite soldier. In this case, the trilogy Church/Army/Big capitalist is “THE” traditional representation of the enemy of class of the anarchists and other revolutionaries. She is little present on the antifascist posters and absentee of posters libertarians because exactly, it is on this social class (owners, industrialists, country priests, servicemen faithful to the Republic) that leans the other part of the republican camp: the communists, the Catalan or Basque nationalists, the conservatives of the socialists. The graphic unity of the republican camp can represent itself only by the “smaller common denominator”: the symbol of the OUTSIDE enemy.

Franco - As the enemy to eliminate appears on posters and massively in the caricatures only in 1944.

Of the unique enemy in the mediatization of the victims.

A double propaganda phenomenon is going to occur after the middle 37.

Slippery of the graphic simplification of the enemy in the use of scapegoats (forerunner of the defeat), the Stalinists divert the fascist representations described above to stigmatize: the POUM, the adventurers, the uncontrolled (understand the anarchists), all those who oppose their social policy (questioned by the revolutionary experiences) and serviceman (forced militarization, is lacking weapon) of the government.

This representation of the enemy flies into pieces during the confrontation between the revolutionaries and the government, the fascism (the swastika) disappears for the benefit of another graphic unity: the fabrication)of the victims with as symbolic figure, the Madonna to the child and the representation of the despair of the only Spanish people against all.

This sanctification of corpses is another peculiarity of the Spanish civil war, it is the only conflict where one of the belligerent parties concentrates a part of its propaganda on victims, refugees, in brief on its defeat. The black silhouettes of planes overflying ruins, refugees replace - on posters the swastika. This rhetoric is very used for the outside propaganda: France, Great Britain; etc.

From this moment, the republican posters lose their originality, they content with copying the graphic propaganda of the World War I: in particular thanks to the association on a single space (the poster) of the fights on the forehead(front) and the women (and children) in the back.

Wally Rosell - Ramon Pino

1. In Spain takes place the future of the world. It is not about a fight between “communists” and “nationalists”, it is the shock of two philosophies of life: that of the Freedom or the Slavery.

Fragua Social, in January 17th, 1937