In this post I will be examining a variety of pieces of propaganda commissioned by both the Republican and Fascist factions of Spain during the civil war. Propaganda was used to great effect by both sides in the conflict to bolster their own forces and demonize the enemy. As well as this, propaganda was an effective means of spreading the sides cause internationally, drawing external support, whether that be volunteers, food aid or sanctions against the enemy.
Here we have a piece commissioned by the National Committee AIT, Office of Information and Propaganda. Here the Spanish conflict is presented as the struggle of man against beast. The revolutionary, red-hued, naked, and muscular man wields his hammer against the serpent of Fascism, coiled around him, attempting to crush his freedom. The snake is also associated with deviousness and dishonesty as far back as the Bible. This is in contrast to the man’s nakedness reflecting the purity of his cause. The caption announces that the poster was produced by the anarchist trade union in conjunction with the international anarchist organization (AIT).
The artist Manuel Monleón (1904-1976), like his more famous contemporary, Josep Renau, was a graphic designer who specialized in photomontage techniques. I cannot be certain of the technique utilized in the creation of this piece, but its breadth of contrast and crisp delineations give it great appeal and shock value. The potential energy in the coiled snake and the swing of the hammer are palpable.
This piece was created on behalf of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), The National Confederation of Labour. These anarchists were at the forefront of the battle against Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War, and produced a huge number of posters rallying the public to their movement. This poster urges ‘Workers! Joining the Iron Column strengthens the revolution.’ The Iron Column was a battalion of anarchists. The image gives the message of freedom at any cost, depicting a man guarding what he saw as his liberty with a gun in hand and a bandoleer slung across his shoulder.
This poster’s elegance and power comes from its simplicity, it has just three colours, all in stark contrast, the red soldier representing the communistic ideals of the anarchists and the bright light emanating from the sturdy iron pillar symbolizes the possibilities it represents for a free Spain.
This piece is a far more damning and direct than the prior two. It explores the root of the conflict Spain was suffering under at the time. The name ‘ the highest general’ refers to the proxy war Nazi Germany was fighting in the region. The implication of the poster is that the representatives of state in Spain, the general, the banker and the clergyman (catholic church) were acting as mindless, submissive puppets under the overall control of Hitler and the Nazis. They are each depicted as far a rosy cheeked to emphasise that they have all tossed aside their morals and sided with the devil to maintain their hold of power. The devil being skeletal cloaked figure adorned with a large swastika, representing the third reich. This fact was made even clearer in the aftermath of the bombing of Guernica.
This poster is visually unremarkable, it isn’t peppered with exclamations and contorted faces, but therein lies its true impact. It is lampooning the Fascist government of Spain, showing them to be cowardly and weak, submissive to a greater power. As much as immediate visual impact is integral to a propaganda piece, the message it portrays must also be one that compels people.
I have given three examples of anti-fascist works here, but have researched numerous others for my work. They will be my main source material as the efforts of Fifi Roberts were similarly anti fascist and so I feel it would be most fitting to be inkeeping with that theme. But Franco’s faction were equally adept at producing propaganda and they must also be represented for their role.
The artist behind this piece was Juan Cabanas. This Nationalist or fascist poster was made to encourage the Franco followers to keep fighting for food and freedom. The symbol in the background is of that which was adapted by the Fascists and Falange movement. In the foreground there is a picture of a hand clutching a rifle to encourage continued struggle. The message reads “Por las Armas, La Patria, La Pan y Justacia,” translated as “to arms for patrotism,bread and justice.”
This simple yet effective poster packs a lot in while remaining clear. A simple call to action to spur on nationalist forces and remind them what they fight for. The fist clenched around a rifle shows strength and resilience. The background of the poster contains their movement’s symbol, showing the support that will be provided those who fight under their banner. A clean, crisp piece. The message is simple and generic.
Here we have a simple, heart wrenching reminder of the collateral damage so often brought about in war. The image is of a child, killed in the rebel bombing of Madrid in 1936. The message is simple. Inaction on the readers part will lead to it happening again. The child is tagged and this implies it is among many victims of the bombing. The manipulation of the image to include the warplanes in the background paints the perpetrators as cruel, callous and faceless killers. The appeal is to peoples hearts is intended to cause maximal anguish.
The poster is simple and effective, it certainly performs its function although in a highly graphic manor. I cannot begin to imagine the feelings it would inspire in an audience that had this bombing raid fresh in their minds and remained in fear of further raids.
As previous posters have eluded to, the State religion of Spain at the time of the civil war was Catholicism. The Catholic church was, and is, a very wealthy and prosperous one. They feared the ‘godless communists’ and out of self interest, sided with Franco and the nationalists. This poster illustrates this by calling the war a ‘crusade’. This imbues the highly religious people the moral high ground. It suggests that God himself backs their cause as the church represents him.
The image of a cross casting a shadow over the world implies great power within the church and its omnipotent nature. An army with the backing of the church would be righteous and so victorious. The poster’s design is very interesting to me with its red and blue contrast and its focus on religious motivation.
With all these pieces from the period, I feel I have significant inspiration and knowledge to move ahead with creating a work of my own that would be fitting for the time and relevant to the issues at hand.