Transgressions #5 (2001)

Hundertwasser House built by Freidrich Hundertwasser 1986

Partial contents of the final issue of this post-situationist/psychogeographical journal.

Submitted by Fozzie on March 31, 2024

Contents available on Libcom

Reports:

  • Capitalist Utopias: Forever Out of Reach, Always in Your Face - Alastair Bonnett
  • The Switch - Jakob Jakobsen

Review Articles:

  • Radical Philosophy, the declining utility of an oxymoron - Frank Zara
  • Three Psychogeographical groups: Activities, websites, publications - Dusty Bin

Reviews:

Guy Debord by Anselm Jappe, Come Before Christ and Murder Love by Nick Abrahams and Mikey Tompkins, The Situationist City by Simon Sadler, Comes in Your Face + Dolphins Live & Cyber Sadism Live by Stewart Home, Psychogeography.co.uk, Comparative Vandalism: Asger Jorn and the artistic attitude to life by Peter Shield.

If you can assist with scans or texts of other content from this issue, please leave a comment.

*The translations on Libcom are different from those published in this issue of Transgressions by Peter Shield.

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The Anti-Situation of Amsterdam - Asger Jorn

Asger Jorn 'Those Left Behind' painting 1950

A previously unpublished text by Asger Jorn, introduced by Peter Shield. From Transgressions #5 (2001).

Author
Submitted by Fozzie on April 2, 2024

Introduction by Peter Shield

In 1960-61 Asger Jorn was moving away from his involvement with the Situationist International into a number of other projects. This was in line with his usual practice of a passionate involvement in the groups he joined or founded for about three years', followed by a disillusionment which led to his departure for fresh fields. Both in the case of Cobra, when he sent out a round-robin to the other members (reproduced in Asger Jorn, Lettres a plus jeune, 1998) and of the Situationist International, when he composed. a text intended for the Internationale Situationniste (I.S.) magazine, committed his dissatisfactions to paper.

The latter document, written in Jorn's "picaresque rather than picturesque" French (as one of his Cobra collaborators had put it), was probably never sent to Debord for publication, At any rate, with its repetitive text, spelling and grammatical errors, erratic capitalisation and occasional Danish-isms, it lacks the polish given to his published texts in French by the copy-editing of Dotremont (in his Cobra days) and Debord. Nevertheless, it is of great interest, exposing the many antinomies of his position at the time. The support given to him and his colleagues by museum directors like Sandberg is weighed against the clean sweep creation of new situations, as is the eternal problem of professionalism versus amateurism, current in Cobra as well as the S.I., and the idealism of the individual's commitment to the group. Jorn was on the point of developing "a complete revision of the existing philosophy" (which is described in my recent book Comparative Vandalism, reviewed elsewhere in this issue of Transgressions), which took into account national differences and the role of history and the future. All these points are emerging here in a text obviously written at speed and with great urgency. Published here for the first time, I have not attempted to reproduce the various textual anomalies in my translation, but instead have gone for as readable a text as possible.

For those unfamiliar with the events of the time, Troels Andersen admirably summarises them in his recent biography of Jorn, which draws heavily upon the extensive archive material at Silkeborg Art Museum.

[Jorn] met frequently with Debord. Together they attempted to realise the decisions of the Munich meeting. Sandberg [director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam] had promised to put exhibition space at the group's disposal in May 1960. The Dutch 'bureau', which consisted of Constant, supplemented by two architects [Oudejans and Alberts], were to negotiate the details.

During February, when Jorn and Debord became aware that nothing had happened, they travelled to Holland to talk with the Dutchmen. They met at the museum on 4th March. Jorn wished to speak with Sandberg alone and stated afterwards that neither the finance nor anything else were in place. The idea had been, as in Debord's suggestion from 1956, to construct a labyrinth that began inside the museum and led the visitors out into the street, where the whole city would become a 'psychogeographic' extension of the exhibition. A description and a schematic plan of the labyrinth was published in the June number of Internationale Situationniste (also included in this issue of Transgressions).

There Sandberg was portrayed as the representative of a cultural-political reaction. Jorn defended him in an unpublished text as the museum leader who had had the courage not only to carry out Constant's first New Babylon exhibition, but also to have earlier supported Constant, Gallizio and Jorn himself with purchases. He compared the attack on Sandberg with the scandal around the Cobra Exhibition of 1949 and called the new attack coarse and vulgar. Debord resorted to his usual means, the exclusion of the two architects. In true totalitarian fashion, Constant was made to transmit the news. In the magazine the motive for their exclusion was that they had designed a church. Jorn wished, as in his time with Cobra, to preserve the tension and dynamic that the opposition between himself, Constant and Debord could create. However, Constant had had enough and in June announced his departure from the collaboration.

...The 'central committee' [of the I.S.] met on 11th - 13th April [1961] in Munich. The Spur Group, which took the Situationist rhetoric very seriously, had come into conflict with Otto van de Loo [Spur's and Jorn's art dealer], who had made it known that he did not wish any connection with the Situationists. Maurice Wyckaert had taken van de Loo's side and had been excluded. With his strange logic, Debord maintained that "it was completely unacceptable that the art dealer could or could not freely 'break with the I.S.', which had absolutely nothing to do with him. It was simply an obvious attempt to interfere in the affairs of the I.S. by an art dealer who had personal connections with several Situationists...". Jom visited van de Loo in Munich to attempt clarification, but then took the consequences of both this discord and the previous conflicts. He had been on the point of breaking with the group after the magazine's complaints against Sandberg. He now announced his resignation and thereby robbed Debord of the opportunity of excluding him. At the same time, he continued to finance the magazine and maintained personal contact with Debord.

Troels Andersen, Asger Jorn: En biografi: Arene 1953-73, (1997, pp.102-3, 112)

The Anti-Situation of Amsterdam - Asger Jorn

In 'Die Welt als Labyrinth', I.S. [Internationale Situationniste] (number 4)1 explains the accident of Amsterdam in an extremely traditional and classical manner from the perspective of absolute and idealised progress, or a perspective of history necessarily and absolutely surpassing the old, but without recognising that the old in our epoch could have been either revolutionary or reactionary. Thus in the eyes of Constant, Sandberg just becomes the worse k kind of reactionary. What astonishes me is that this attitude is addressed unilaterally at me.

The great value of situationism is, on the one hand, of having opened out new creative perspectives towards the future and, on the other, of having highlighted the immediate, the present, as the crux of each situation. This opening towards the future is made by the fixation of a new conversion point, a zero point, which is the realisation of unitary urbanism. All the activities of the international situationist movement thus become preparations for the realisation of this goal, this zero point, from which the true radiation of situationist creation is able to start, thus transforming idealistic utopianism into an experimental and conscious utopianism.

If the realisation of unitary urbanism becomes the unique goal of situationism, as it has in Constant's programme, then at that moment unitary urbanism becomes anti-situationist, and the step in that direction will only be that of the precursors condemned by later true situationists as dirty reactionaries, as it has been possible to do in the case of Sandberg. With time our efforts thus take on a character which perfectly reflects a cultural reformism. This is uniquely a question of distance. Seen from a distance, each revolution takes on the perspective of simple reform. The difference between revolution and reform and even stasis is not a simple question of presence or distance, or even absence, it is what is called reification or Entfremdung, and situationism is above all the revolt against reification or situationism is nothing. It is possible that the post-war cultural reformists have not been able to do anything for the true innovators. This will always be so. [...] Knowing and deeply detesting these post-war cultural reformists as I do, I am unable to accept that Sandberg should be considered as their norm or perfect model. I continue to regard him as the exception that confirms the rule and gives him a merited glory. However, at the same time this exception remains above all an exception. There are those who constantly balance at the limit of what is not possible and, contrariwise, those who see an ethical position in being able to say say 'they could have done better'. Closely following developments in my own domain, Sandberg seems to me the only representative of cultural ability after the war that cannot placed in the latter category. The attacks against Sandberg on the 4th March. were violent only in the vulgar meanness of the insensitive insults, in the manner of current Catholic propaganda. The immediate resignation demanded with much fuss after the COBRA exhibition in 1949 was a much more serious attack. These two incidents have been far from isolated. To explain his invitation of a situationist exhibition as a last moment revolutionary detournement to save his reputation seems to me even more absurd seeing that, since 1949, he has exhibited and purchased works by Constant, declared Gallizio and by me, as well as his invitation for the situationist exhibition being in declared opposition to all the other cultural reformists. Sandberg has had the skill to remain in his place whilst we others have been considered lepers by the reformists. That is all.

This is a critique, a purely spatial critique, not of the attitude of Sandberg, but of the extreme extents of his capacity and an efficacy always pushed to the limits, and thus, with due consideration, in Sandberg, I am obliged to recognise that what I call true revoltionary. However, those, who, for one reason or another, delay the course of events and the blossoming of human action, those I call reactionaries. It is for this reason that I do not hesistate to call the Amsterdam Bureau of Unitary Urbanism reactionary. The plan for the realisation of the labyrinth by May 1960 was entrusted to the Bureau in Munich in Autumn 1959. The Bureau made no contact with the museum where the manifestation was to take place, nor with Sandberg who had to realise it, before 5th March, and then only provoked by the presence of Debord and myself, and with a demonstrative contrariness on the part of Constant.

The plans should have been prepared months in advance and discussed by members of the movement and by practical authorities. The required money should also have been requested in time from the Prince Bernhard Foundation, as had been meticulously arranged for the monograph on Constant on the occasion of his personal exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum.

The Munich Congress gave full powers to the Amsterdam Bureau to realise the exhibition and the publication of the Potlatch review, because the latter confirmed its revolutionary intent. A reactionary activity which comes into effect in a revolutionary movement is called sabotage. The lack of activity on the part of the Bureau in these two domains can only be characterised as sabotage against situationist activity. The unwarranted or even casual insult is a situationist method able to cut across useless arguments in order to reinstate the truth in all its purity. We used this method successfully in 1956 against the Milan triennial which wished to conceal its refusal to realise the labyrinth we had proposed, and this was effective in prompting a distinction between the activity of Cobra and that of Situationism when Sandberg proposed a mixed exhibition to us, and if our aim had been to distance ourselves from the museum of Amsterdam and from Sandberg, I would have supported an even more spectacular provocation. But a provocation can have two contradictory aspects according to whether it serves a revolutionary movement in the struggle for its interests, or, on the other hand, if it is to serve to camouflage a sabotage organised from within a movement at the moment it risks being unmasked. The situationist movement can insult whosoever it likes in my name, providing that the general direction is pure, but if I now complain, it is to demonstrate that neither insults nor provocations directed outwards can hide the fact that the Amsterdam affair can in its principal aspect be described as a disadvantageous provocation against the movement itself. The publication of Oudejans's sketches of churches in Constant's article in Forum is thus not at all surprising, nor the undertakings for ecclesiastical ambiences by Alberts and Oudejans. On the contrary they explain everything, and the former discourses, already denounced at the Munich congress as a shabby Americanised pragmatism, had already indicated what was to come.

The fact that Constant could censor a text by Debord to use it under the latter's signature in a catalogue for an exhibition exhibition in a text in Germany, has incited the latter to write in I.S. (number 4) that "it is completely unacceptable that our publications should be revised - if this is not done by the S.I. in concert - and that they should appear to continue to honour the responsbility of the authors. It must be made evident that one's signature will be withdrawn after the least censorship."2

What I have written here is a clarification of the censored part of my consideration upon of the Amsterdam affair. The rest can be read in [I.S.] number 4. I am not against the modification of texts which have to appear to represent a movement, even with a signature, provided that this allows a homogeneity in the communal processes. Theoretical detournement can also be as fertile as practical detournement. But since I have not read this account about me and I feel obliged to add these commentaries, I ask myself, since this account is made by the IS in concert, if I am still part of this ensemble on whose behalf I take editorial responsibilities. An equivocal situation on this question would be inadmissible to me.

A reification necessary for the absolute originality of the individual creation is imposed in every organised collaboration. This is done in accordance with a communal discipline, in itself anti-artistic and anti-situationist, but which takes on a creative scope under the creative direction of someone who makes the others, so to speak, creative instruments for the multiplication of creative ideas. This direction could pass constantly from one person to another following the development of inspiration, as in the improvisations of jazz, or be definitively established, as in the classical orchestra, where a hierarchy of degree of inferior importance to the conductor becomes impossible. It is evident that the system of classical hierarchy is inconsistent with the situationist method. On each occasion the individual situationist is at the same time occupied with maintaining the directed development and with preparing himself to follow the temporary direction of the movement at the most favourable moment to realise an effort, in creating an immediate situation which is linked with or interprets a liaison with the determinant perspective of the movement. A deviation from this perspective cannot be made by the detournement and exploitation of our efforts in a utilitarian propaganda, be it commercial, political, confessional, etc. which thus breaks the autonomy of the movement. This deviation becomes evidently more and more easy and dangerous the more one approaches the tentative neighbours of situationism, which because of their decrepitude are incapable of renewing themselves but can, perhaps, put off their death a little by purchasing an external novelty. All this is, however, of less importance in connection with the internal problems of the movement. The danger for each situationist is of becoming a specialist whether of a determinant goal or in the perpetual creation of situations in the [immediate moment].

It is here that an unresolved conflict can be found in the movement and which is the very essence of the Amsterdam affair, and which shows that the accord which was the result of the Munich conferences has been a manoeuvre, a compromise and not the result of a superior comprehension.

If Sandberg, as I am supposed to have said, was truly the normative or complete representative of cultural reformism after 1945, he would be a symbol of this attitude like Chaplin, and one would be able to place him there and one would then be able to discuss, under the name of Sandberg, whether this cultural semi-modernism after 1945, in all its neutrality, is preferable to open reaction at its worst. But one cannot ignore that the attitude and the brilliant career of, for example, Oudejans, had been perfectly known to Sandberg during the discussions of the exhibition, even though neither Debord nor I had been in the picture about all this. If we were at this moment to accept the proposition of Constant to make a demonstration against Sandberg, with Oudejans as a collaborator, our role would be that of rotten apples, and situationism would reduced to a joke.

At the time of M.I.B.I., we had to pit ourselves against the perfect type of neutral reformism in our conflict with the founder of the Hochschule fur Gestaltung in Ulm, the architect Max Bill. Our critique only served to assist the reaction by replacing him wimth, that sinister imbecile Maldonado. At any rate, this development allowed the Spur Group to put the futility of the theoretical knitting of Max Bense in its place in 1958. The situation in Germany would be much less brilliant if the same Maldonado had been a member of the situationist movement or supported by one of the members. At that time Constant was very clear about refusing the offer to become a professor at Ulm. This time he does not seem to have evaluated the various damages according to their exact proportions.

Sandberg, being about to retire, is a finished man as far as being a cultural politician. No exists to continue his line in his environment, where he was placed by hazardous circumstances, the war, a possibility that cannot be repeated in the circumstances of a new social disruption. And so? I only know of one problem here, the problem of the dignity with which the revolutionary movement treats its past. One could ignore it. But history is self-made, even that of Danton and Robespierre. If we are for a future without history, we are for a future without situations because these are the events of history. It is here that I have to ask if I am of the situationist movement.

In the manifesto of I.S. (4), it is written that situationism is "against preserved art, being an organisation directly of the actual moment."3 This notion of the non-future, also formulated by Andre Frankin in his "Programmatic Sketches"4 , is to me rather enigmatic and I fear that Sandberg would really be much closer to signing up to it without asking for explanations than I would.

I am against the fabrication of preserved art, art eternal, art the goal of which is to preserve or be preserved, and for an art which is directly the expression of the actual moment and the goal of which is the intensification of this instant. I am for the organisation of this initiative because it is the unique means of realising it today, when organisations are becoming more and more efficacious in preventing precisely that. But I have behind me the disappointing experience of the poet Jeppe Aakjaer, who, when he was 50 years old, criticised exactly the over-simplified way in which this goal of the living word had been implemented, by saying after a stay at Folk High School, "I learn nothing from the dead words of living men. I learn everything from living words of dead men - long live the dead." The words of this combative socialist were certainly paradoxical, but I am persuaded that the theoretical and artistic work of the situationist movement is not comprehensible overnight and that this is not a question of a temporary state. That time possesses different speeds will always be so, and for me this is exactly the situationist's domain to profit from. For me urbanism can never be a spatial construction. Only spatial constructions with durations that stretch from a minute to thousands of years can be situationist instruments for me, no other.

I have never properly deliberated upon the criterion of a collaboration. For me the essential thing is the instinct for extraordinary momentum which exists in the situationist movement and my pleasure is in discovering each day new aspects of this endeavour. I am of the opinion that the revolutionary movement possesses a development and, by this fact, a history of progress and visible stages. I am of the opinion that the situationist movement itself possesses its own history already. I do not wish to indicate the stages marked by the members of the situationist movement through the creation of new and precise situations in the various domains already, established in the history of art and culture.

I just want to attempt to explain the reason for the basis of the anti-event of Asterdam. Up to now all the situations which mark the situationist movement have been internal realisations by individuals or fractions of the movement. The manifestation of Amsterdam was the first essay in orchestrating the whole movement and the entire responsibility was given to the Amsterdam Bureau, after violent discussions on the subject of individual creation in Munich. In recognition that the orchestration of play required knowledge of the principles of orchestration and accepting the superiority of an architectural education over that of the free and spontaneous artists' knowledge of materials, we yielded everything. The mistrust which reigned in Munich can, perhaps, excuse or explain why the Bureau has not since made contact with the various national sections for the realisation of this orchestration, even though they had the Potlatch publication to hand for this purpose. The silence on the subject of the theoretical realisation itself only served to enlarge this mistrust, which found its complete justification after total failure had created a complete hostility and irreparable fissures within the group by definitively separating the elements out which were only interested in the creation of immediate situations at any price and, on the other hand, those who could only agree with pure initiatives for the definitive goal, both extremes abandoning the situationist idea.

The failure of Amsterdam could be excused and tolerated if the labyrinth as a project had been capable of stating in the new and original situation the principle of the construction of labyrinths themselves, if the project could have turned the concept of the labyrinth itself upside down in putting it in rapport with the problem of the network of Galton's apparatus, where the essential problem of situationism is a game. It is regrettable that the project itself shows us that the reason for the labyrinth itself as an elementary phenomenon of situationism has eluded them, and that they do not even know of the geometria situs or situ analysis which has marked the last 100 years. If the Bureau had taken the trouble to study the principle of labyrinths in Chr. Weiner's Ober eine aufgabe aus der Geometria situs, which appeared in 1873 in Mathem, Annalen, their construction would at least have had interesting aspects, as they would have included all the extraordinary evolution that situlogy under the name of topology had made since the end of the last war.

[...] If situlogical investigations are not capable of surpassing or at least taking account of general topology, as one can see on the evidence of the project of the labyrinth of Amsterdam, the practical realisation of which would only ridicule our pretensions [sic]. That this criticism has to come from a free artist is rather troubling.

It is, nevertheless, important for the movement that such a criticism does not only come from outside, especially because we cannot be satisfied with a topology, i.e., that which is present in its actual formula. In the immediate future, we will be obliged to absorb topology in a general situlogy and, at the same time, to establish a general situgraphy which embraces, amongst other things, the geometries and the topologies. We are also capable of this.

As we have surpassed technical methodology by, on the one hand, the establishment of a scientific methodography and, on the other, by the anti-methodical method of play and of derives, we will go on to utilise the scientific aspects for our purposes, in contrast to the socialist perspectives which allow themselves to be used for scientific and technical purposes. Amateurism is an essential force of situationism, but the anti-situation created by the dilettantism of the Amsterdam Bureau has only diverted the external situation towards the movement internally. The situation is there. To be sorted out.

Translated by Peter Shield.

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Individual, class and nation in Spain, 1936–1939 - Juan McIver

Juan McIver looks at the Spanish Civil War and the work of poet and playwright Federico García Lorca

Submitted by Spassmaschine on October 25, 2016

The individual in Lorca

The play El public (The Public) was written by Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) in 1930. It was never performed during his lifetime. On 16 July 1936 Lorca left the manuscript in Madrid. Five weeks later, he was murdered by Franco’s troops in Granada.

Franco’s military alzamiento of 17 July 1936 started ostensibly against the Popular Front Government but in reality it was aimed at crushing the insurgent working population of Spain. The Italian and German Fascist regimes had defeated similar social unrest, and in neighbouring Portugal, Salazar’s state was also a bulwork of reaction. Léon Blum’s Popular Front government in France showed a different way of deflecting social unrest. In the USSR, Stalin was preparing further purges — the Moscow Trials that shocked the world in August. Claiming to represent the traditions of the Russian revolution, Stalinism was as totalitarian as the Nazi régime. As Stalin’s Great Terror unfolded in 1936-38, the world rushed to the abyss of WW2.

Lorca shunned political involvement in a society being ruthlessly polarised by the Army and the Popular Front parties. However, he had humanist and utopian opinions about the individual and society. In April of ‘36, he said in a long interview: "I see it clearly. Two men are walking along a riverbank. One is rich, the other poor. One has a full belly, the other pollutes the air with his yawns. The rich man says, ‘Oh, what a pretty boat I see on the water! Look sir, at the iris flowering on the shore.’ And the poor man grumbles, ‘I’m hungry; I don’t see anything. I’m hungry, very hungry.’ The day hunger disappears the world will see the greatest spiritual explosion humanity has ever known. Men will never be able to imagine the happiness that will erupt on the day of the Great Revolution."1

For holding such opinions, and for his sexual ambivalence, Lorca was a marked man. Franco’s military-clerical crusade was not only anti-working class but deeply homophobic and misogynistic.

In El public, Lorca’s views about individuality are profoundly subversive. They address the difficulty, if not impossibility, of love in a repressive society. His first play, El maleficio de la mariposa (The Butterfly’s Evil Spell), was a scandal in 1920. The plot has been called ‘preposterous’.2 Perhaps: after all, it dealt with the rather unpredictable love between a cockroach, Curianito, and his Butterfly paramour. Other creatures in the play were glow-worms and a scorpion. By the end of the drama Curianito and his beloved Butterfly die, proving that love brings only suffering, never joy.3 But the play also asserted that "…love springs forth with equal intensity on all planes of love".4 To assert that insects (and, later, gays) were capable of the most intense and sublime expressions of love was indeed subversive in the 30s.

El public contains many of Lorca’s intimate views of the individual’s tragic fate in society. Because the manuscript included themes of homosexual ‘mad love’ (amour fou), he knew the play would face scandal and fierce opposition. This was true in spite of the victory of the Second Republic in 1931."This is for the theatre years from now" he remarked at the time, "Until then, let’s say no more about it."5

The play’s symbolism ruthlessly exposes the violence endemic in society. The main character is a Theatre Director who perishes attempting to renew himself through a ‘Theatre of Beneath the Sand’. This is a theatre of authenticity; a living project where the lies and pretenses of the repressed and repressive public are exposed. For his own play, the Director uses the Romeo and Juliet characters from Shakespeare’s play. However, Juliet is a youth in disguise. The real and moaning Juliet has been left gagged and trussed under the seats. To the Director, it didn’t matter if the sexes were swapped. But the public didn’t tolerate this transgression and ‘the revolution’ broke out. They disembowelled the Director, Romeo and both Juliets. A lady witness remarks ‘…the revolution had no right to desecrate a tomb.’

El public shows the influence of Pirandello, the (mainly French) avant-garde (Cocteau) and surrealism.

In Lorca these influences and techniques are woven into a new, magical and delirious tapestry. Here we have a stroppy Juliet arguing with one of the White Horses (who trumpet and talk back):

"People, and yet more people; they’ll be in my tomb next, taking over my very cot. I’m not interested in discussing love, and theatre; what I want is … to LOVE.
White Horse. TO LOVE!
Juliet. Yes, a love that lasts no more than a moment."6

In Lorca’s plays love is elusive and violence is always near the surface. Witness this surreal dialogue between two figures, one covered in little golden bells and the other with red vine leaves:

"Bells. If I changed myself into a cloud?
Vine leaves. I’d change myself into an eye.
Bells. If I changed myself into a turd?
Vine leaves. I’d change myself into a fly.
Bells. If I change myself into an apple?
Vine leaves. I’d change myself into a kiss.
Bells. If I changed myself into a breast?
Vine leaves. I’d change myself into a white bedsheet.
Voice (sarcastic). Oh well done!
Bells. And if I were to change myself into a moonfish?
Vine leaves. I should change myself into a knife."7

Lorca’s vision of the individual, and of his tragic quest for love, has the resonance of the social conflict devouring Spain in the mid-30s. His love, disguised by endless masks that crushed, is not the marvellous of Breton’s amour fou (1937), but he would have shared Fourier’s criticism of the society that killed that divine passion: "…what is the aim of this political system which represses love so violently? Is it to reduce society to poverty, deceit, oppression, carnage, etc? Of course not. But this has been the result of the civilised system which represses love and grants it only a minimum of legitimacy."8

The individual is defined by Lorca as a being passionately in need of love. "He alone loves who has the strength to hold fast to love", wrote Adorno in 1946.9 The fact that individuals, generally, cannot fulfil this species need in communal life is a fundamental critique of an alienated society. Lorca’s art, and specifically El public, is therefore a testimony of rebellion, of refusal to adapt to inhumanity. His art is also a tribute to his strength to hold on to love. All humans have this capacity, in greater or lesser degree, but unfortunately few of us leave records of this quest in art-forms.

The individual and class in the Spanish Civil War

Was there a ‘social revolution’ in Spain in 1936-39? In key industrial regions, and in Madrid, there was a resolute workers’ and popular resistance to Franco’s alzamiento during and immediately after 19 July 1936. Suddenly a mass movement was unleashed, of factory takeovers by workers and land collectivizations by agricultural workers and poor peasants. However, this elemental class movement coexisted with the hulk of the Republican Government, and supported it. Anarchists of the CNT-FAI, UGT trade unionists and the Marxists of the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista) rushed to support (albeit critically) and even join the Popular Front coalition and the Generalitat in Catalonia. The Spanish Communist Party, until then relatively small, was extremely active in reviving the moribund Republic. The autonomous interests of the workers were subordinated to the needs of the democratic state. These needs momentarily coincided with the USSR’s strategic needs. Just like the Italian and German Fascists supported Franco’s crusade, Stalin supported the Republic’s. From the late summer of 1936 the workers’ militias were gradually militarised into a National, centralised Army. The process of militarisation was criticised and resisted, but it became irresistible when the Army’s modern weapons were supplied by the USSR. A minority tried to resist the totalitarian drift by insurrection in Barcelona in May 1937, but it was too late by then. The revolutionary wave had receded and suffered a defeat in Spain, as it had already in Russia, Germany and Austria. The workers’ resistance in Spain waned and had to be propped up with intense propaganda and coercion. The interests of the Republic, as upholder of the Nation, became paramount, not social emancipation. Anti-fascism thus replaced the vision of a classless society. Anti-fascism too was crucial for Stalinism to justify the Great Terror, and to deflect attention from Stalin’s underlying strategy of forging a pact with Hitler.

In Stalin, Willi Münzenberg and the seduction of the Intellectuals — part of the recent literature on the period — the American writer Stephen Koch explains the international dimension of the Spanish Civil War. Stalin wanted to reach an agreement with Hitler, whose military might he feared. In order to do that, he wanted to use Spain as a bargaining chip. In fact, to appease Hitler, he sacrificed his own supporters in Spain. Inside the USSR itself, he was decapitating his General Staff (who were anti-German) during the purges of the Great Terror. This was to show Hitler that the USSR wasn’t a threat and might even be an ally. The Great Terror also allowed Stalin to exterminate any possible threat to his total power. The gamble in Spain seemed to work. In 1939, Hitler and Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which allowed Germany and Russia to invade Poland without mutual fears.10 That started WW2 in September but it didn’t stop Hitler from invading Russia in 1941! The Spanish Civil War ended in April 1939, with Franco’s total and unconditional victory.

This is part of the ‘macro—history’ that provides the backdrop to the 30s. Without grasping these events, it’s difficult to understand the seemingly isolated ‘personal’ events and tragedies of that period. The films Burnt by the Sun and Ai No Corrida depict fictional private tragedies in the same period of history. One happens in Russia as the terror of the purges engulfs all human relations and the other in a militarised Japan. The subtle overlap of the particular with the general emphasises the poignancy of these symbolic tragedies. Yet, in these films, as in history, the individuals were cruelly subordinated to the barbarism of the macro-level. All great works of narrative art have this dimension — a critical depiction of the mutual interaction between the general and the particular. It applies much less to the visual arts, and even less to music. In the mentioned films, the isolated monad, the particular, is defeated by the macro-level, by the false community that speaks in the name of individuals.

Franco’s victory brought immense suffering to thousands who emigrated to escape his terror. Many opponents, or ‘neutrals’ who couldn’t escape were massacred outright, tortured, imprisoned or couldn’t get jobs for years. But the victory of the other side (the Stalinist side by then) would have meant the same if not worse for many of those same people. By supporting one side of a conflict between gangs, humans become cannon-fodder (or at least dupes) of one of the gangs. That has been the fate of mankind this century. But it doesn’t have to be like this forever. Perhaps the memory of the initial emancipatory movement that existed in Spain in 1936 is part of a history that still has to be reappropriated.

The Spanish Civil War was the most important political event before ‘WW2; in fact, it was its preamble. The hundreds of thousands of workers and other civilians who perished in Spain, on both sides, were sacrificed for the dominant system of blocs, not for ‘socialism’. In this sense, it wasn’t ‘Spaniards’ or ‘Catalans’ or whatever who died, but part of humanity’s living hope.

The 1995 film Land & Freedom seeks to present the POUM, the Anarchists and perhaps the Trotskyists as heroic revolutionaries who defended a revolution ‘betrayed’ by Stalinism. According to this, Stalinism ‘opened the door’ to Franco. In reality the mentioned political groups supported the Catalonian Republican government, the Generalitat. In turn, this regional apparatus supported the Central government in Madrid. It thus supported its Army. This Army (controlled by the Stalinists after Negrín dominated the Popular Front) systematically militarised the workers.11 Trotsky’s perspective in Spain was that workers should defend "the lesser evil". He wrote: "Only cowards, traitors, or agents of fascism can renounce aid to the Spanish republican armies. The elementary duty of every revolutionist is to struggle against the bands of Franco, Mussolini, and Hitler."12 And: "We are ‘defensists’…. We participate in the struggle against Franco as the best soldiers [of the Popular Front Army],…"13 This perspective ignored completely that the Popular Front and its Stalinist supporters, in carrying out a prolongued civil war, had defeated the working class politically and socially, and decimated the most radicalised workers, a policy no different from Franco’s.

After May 1937, the Stalinists tried to openly exterminate the POUM, Anarchists and Trotskyists, who at last rose in Barcelona in a last desperate attempt at self—survival. These parties were seen as potential threats by the Stalinists and Negrín. But these parties had become isolated from the then militarised working class, The state machine they had supported turned against them and massacred them. They no longer had any coherent mass support. Their deaths, like all deaths, are to be deplored, but their own faith in lesser evils doomed them. What’s worse, their calls for support for the Popular Front’s military effort confused thousands of enthusiastic workers, who were then caught and mowed down in what became a merciless gang warfare. This lack of adequate consciousness in the working population is at the root of the tragedy. In the unfavourable world situation of 1936, one isn’t saying that the working population could have done differently. One cannot jump over one’s shadow, and only the benefit of hindsight allows one to be clearer on the events.14

From the above, it is difficult to see how the contradiction between the individual and society — in national form in this case — was resolved in Spain in July 1936. It certainly never was in the period after. The individual in July 1936, insofar as he belonged to a fighting community of labour, did take actions that reduced the chasm. Many accounts exist confirming that a real movement of emancipation took place. The narratives and histories of Mary Low and Juan Breá, Grandizo Munis, Carlos Semprún-Maura, Burnett Bolloten and many anarchist historians, in spite of their differing perspectives, provide persistent confirmation of what the working class in cities and the countryside did on 19 July and thereafter. The destruction of prisons (soon to be rebuilt by the Republic), the agrarian collectives where money was partially abolished, the democratically-run juntas and comités (before the CNT-FAI-UGT committees recaptured and expanded their own influence), the ability of the population to persuade the forces of law and order, and even Franco troops, to join them against the Franco onslaught. The vision of an emancipated life was being posed for real, it was being acted upon, even if the steps were faltering.

Michael Seidman’s various writings on Spain’s Civil War should be mentioned as indispensable studies on the role of ‘individualism’ during the conflict. These essays on working class ‘individualisms’ are provocative in that they suggest that any vision of emancipation that departs from the betrayal of individualism demanded by ‘sacrifice’ to a false, higher, collectivity is bound to provoke demoralisation and then resistance from the ‘atomised’ individuals. The particular and the general can enrich and propel each other toward emancipation only if there are no hidden agendas of domination:

"Thus, an analysis of resistance contributes to an understanding of a key function of the state in industrial societies and to the conclusion that one of the most vital functions of the state is to make workers work. During the 1930s, a weakened or permissive state encouraged resistance, whereas a repressive state — bourgeois or proletarian — reduced refusals to work. The growth and use of state power in Barcelona and Paris during the Popular Fronts cast doubts on the argument of the workplace utopians that in socialism or libertarian communism the state will wither away."15

Seidman’s ‘cybernetic utopia’ also suggests that the overcoming of capital, and thus alienation, and the separation between the individual and the community, can’t be understood in terms of individual (or factory) reappropriation by workers of that which they produced. Today, in contrast to 1936, the amount of social abundance, the alienated social totality, would not require a ‘politics of labour’ but an immediate ‘socialisation’, a transcendence of all separations.

In Spain in 1936, the individual became lost once the class retreated from the social and political stage, once the permanent need to exchange experiences, to discuss and take decisions collectively and individually, was lost. The emancipation of consciousness needed that atmosphere as the most basic precondition: debate and reflection are aspects of self-activity. The false and totalitarian communities of nation and state reasserted themselves once the individuals lost their own general terrain, lost their, own autonomous momentum.

Simone Weil was much more prescient than Trotsky, Nin or any other supporter/participant in the Spanish Republic’s war against Franco. Her insights apply also to the course of WW2. In 1933 she wrote:

"Revolutionary war is the tomb of the revolution and will remain so as long as soldiers themselves, or rather, the armed citizenry, are not given the means of making war without a controlling apparatus, without police pressure, without a special court, without punishment for desertion. Only once in modern history was war conducted in this way, namely, under the Commune; and everyone knows how that ended. It seems that a revolution involved in a war has only the choice of succumbing to the deadly blows of the counterrevolution or transforming itself into a counterrevolution through the very mechanism of military struggle. The prospects of revolution seem therefore very limited, for can a revolution avoid war?"16

And:

"The absurdity of adopting war as a means of antifascist struggle is thus quite apparent. Not only would it mean fighting against a barbarous oppression by crushing the peoples under the weight of an even more barbarous massacre; it would even mean extending under another form the regime we want to abolish. It is childish to suppose that a state apparatus made powerful by a victorious war would alleviate the oppression to which the enemy state apparatus has subjected its own people; it is more childish still to believe that a victorious state would let a proletarian revolution break out in a defeated nation without immediately drowning it in blood."17

This scenario became a grim reality as Nazi Germany was invaded by Allied and Stalinist troops from the West and the East, at the end of WW2.

Analysing the Russian Civil War (1918-20), Weil remarked:

"This war imposed on a revolution that had a program calling for the abolition of the army, the police, and the permanent bureaucracy, a Red army whose officer corps was made up of czarist officers, a police force that lost no time coming down on Communists more harshly than counterrevolutionaries, and a bureaucratic apparatus unequaled in the rest of the world. These apparatuses were all a response to the necessities of the moment; but they were fated to outlast those necessities. Generally speaking, war always reinforces the central power at the expense of the people."18

Weil joined the militias under Durruti in the summer of 1936, fighting in the Aragon front. After suffering an accident, she returned to France in September, quite depressed by what she had seen.

Here are some of her reflections, made in October:

"Alas, there we also see forms of compulsion and instances of inhumanity that are directly contrary to the libertarian and humanitarian ideals of the Anarchists. The necessities and the atmosphere of civil war are sweeping away the aspirations that we are seeking to defend by means of civil war.

Here we loathe military constraint, police constraint, compulsory labor, and the spreading of lies by the press, the radio, and all the means of communication. We loathe social differentiation, arbitrariness, cruelty.

Well, in Spain there is military constraint. In spite of the influx of volunteers, mobilisation has been ordered. The defence council of the Generalitat, in which our FAI comrades hold some of the leading posts, has just decreed that the old military code is to be applied in the militias.

There is compulsory labor. The council of the Generalitat, where our comrades hold the economic ministries, has just decreed that workers must put in as much extra unpaid time as might be judged necessary. Another decree stipulates that workers whose rate of production is too slow will be considered seditious and treated as such. This quite clearly means the introduction of the death penalty in industrial production.

As for police constraint: the police had lost almost all its power before the nineteenth of July. But to make up for that, during the first three months of civil war, committees of investigation, responsible militants, and too often, irresponsible individuals carried out executions without the slightest semblance of a trial, and consequently without any possibility of syndical or other control.

Nor did organized lying disappear after the nineteenth of July."19

As said above, Simone Weil’s insights into the end of the emancipatory dream of 1936 were prophetic. They are still relevant today.

The absence of simultaneous global workers’ emancipatory movements in that period is the ultimate cause for the failure of the revolution in Spain. Isolated in ‘revolutionary zones’ or ‘communes’, emancipated individuals and their communities can’t in the end transcend alienation and all the separations of a commodity society. This is because the conditions of domination are universal, and only a global co-ordinated insurrection could preclude their continuation.

Finally, what should we do with the historical memory of those tens of thousands of individuals in Spain, who in a wild festival of emancipation, confronted the ‘problem of the total human being’s self-realisation under the sign of freedom’? They left an unfulfilled promise of happiness for future generations. Their revolution was inevitable once they refused to sacrifice themselves for anything other than their own individual and communal interests, which were those of mankind. Once they abandoned, or were made to abandon, this universal task, they were devoured by a two-headed Leviathan.

"It is above all necessary to avoid once more establishing ‘society’ as an abstraction over against the individual. The individual is the social being. His vital expression — even when it does not appear in the direct form of a communal expression, conceived in association with other men — is therefore an expression and confirmation of social life. Man’s individual and species-life are not two distinct things,…."20

A note on Lorca’s individual and Marx’s species being

Lorca’s tragic view of the individual’s quest for love fulfilment in modern society can have enriching parallels with Marx’s concept of man as species being. Where Lorca has a tragic view of the quest of love, fusing it at times with death itself, Marx’s views of human activity tend to be openly biophilic. These two views may seem opposite, but who could deny that death accompanies all human endeavour, including the quest for love? This may suggest too that the individual as species being, a child of Enlightenment classicism, can survive in the Romantic individualism of the 19C and even in the 20C avant-garde. The idea and need for happiness, particular as well as general, may still contain a ‘radioactive radical nucleus’, as Vaneigem aptly suggests regarding Surrealism.21 On the need for love, set always in the social context, Marx’s and Lorca’s views probably differ little.

In 1844 Marx advanced a view of death which would have challenged Lorca’s:

"Death appears as the harsh victory of the species over the particular individual, and seemingly contradicts their unity; but the particular individual is only a particular species-being, and as such mortal."22

It is doubtful that Lorca’s dramatic vision of death would accept this austere recognition of necessity. Marx’s views were made from the standpoint of socialised humanity’. In Lorca’s dramatic universe, the world is strewn with traps, the harshness of suffering and of death can only be concealed by love. In El public Lorca conceived his characters as one-sided fragments of humanity, confronted by inhuman and magical forces that never allowed for reconciliation. Love, in masks, sweetened the approaching death. Yet the violence suggests that everything could fall apart at any time, even love.

But would Lorca have objected to:

"Man as an objective sensuous being is therefore a suffering being, and because he feels his suffering, he is a passionate being. Passion is man’s essential power vigorously striving to obtain its object."23

Or to:

"…love can be exchanged only for love, trust for trust and so on. If you wish to enjoy art you must be an artistically educated person; if you wish to exercise influence on other men you must be the sort of person who has a truly stimulating and encouraging effect on others…. If you love unrequitedly, ie, if your love as love does not call forth love in return, if through the vital expression of yourself as a loving person you fail to become a loved person, then your love is impotent, it is a misfortune."?24

Probably not.

Juan McIver, February 2000

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Taken from the Left-wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder? website.

  • 1Leslie Stainton. Lorca, A Dream of a Life. London: Bloomsbury, 1998, 447.
  • 2Ibid., 67.
  • 3Ibid., 69.
  • 4Ibid., 67.
  • 5Gwynne Edwards. Notes for The Public, British première, London: The Royal Stratford East Theatre, 1988.
  • 6Lorca. Plays: Three. Mariana Pineda, The Public, Play Without a Title. London: Methuen Drama, 1995, 78.
  • 7Ibid., 68.
  • 8Jonathan Beecher. The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier, Selected Texts on Work, Love and Passionate Attraction. London: Jonathan Cape, 1972, 335.
  • 9TW Adorno. Minima Moralia. London: Verso, 1978, 172.
  • 10Stephen Koch. Stalin, Willi Münzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals. London: Harper Collins 1995. Chapters 5 (127-145) and 10 (265-297) are particularly relevant. After this work, it will be difficult for surviving Stalinists who were active in Spain to deny that they were dupes or butchers for an imperialist power. Still, from time to time, defenders of the cult repeat the same sinister slanders against the POUM and the Trotskyists as ‘agents of fascism’. The exposed truth about the USSR’S role in the Spanish Civil War is also called a ‘leftover of the Cold War’. Koch is no defender of workers’ autonomy, but his work confirms what Stalinism and ‘anti-fascist fellow-travelling’ meant prior to WW2 (see below, bibliography note on Stalinist pamphlet by a one F. Graham).
  • 11For a very clear and succinct description of the initial events of the revolution in Catalonia, and the subsequent counterrevolution, Carlos Semprún-Maura’s Revolución y contrarrevolución en Cataluña (1936-1937) is an exemplary text. Unfortunately, there is no English translation.
  • 12Leon Trotsky. The Spanish Revolution. New York: The Pathfinder Press, 1973, 242
  • 13Ibid., 289.
  • 14The Italian Fraction around the publications Bilan and Prometeo — the so-called Bordiguists — were able to analyse accurately many of the underlying class contradictions that erupted in the Spanish Civil War even before July 1936. See Agustín Guillamón Iborra’s Los bordiguistas en la guerra civil española. Barcelona: Balance, Cuadernos Monográficos de Historia. 1994.The group that published International Council Correspondence in Chicago in the 30s was also able to grasp the situation, especially the May Days of 1937 in Barcelona, with remarkable clarity. See Paul Mattick, The Barricades Must be Torn Down, Moscow-Fascism in Spain. Chicago: International Council Correspondence, N. 7-8, August 1937.
  • 15Michael Seidman. Workers Against Work, Labor in Paris and Barcelona During the Popular Fronts. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991, 315-316.
  • 16Dorothy Tuck McFarland/Wilhelmina Van Ness. Simone Weil: Formative Writings 1929-1941, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987, 245.
  • 17Ibid., 246-247.
  • 18Ibid., 249.
  • 19Ibid., 256-257.
  • 20Marx. Early Writings. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1975, 350.
  • 21Jules-François Dupuis (Raoul Vaneigem). A Cavalier History of Surrealism. Edinburgh: AK Press, 1999, 127.
  • 22Marx. ibid., 351.
  • 23Ibid., 390.
  • 24Ibid., 379.

Comments

Auld-bod

7 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Auld-bod on October 25, 2016

The other day I was reading this:

The popular success of one of his books, The Gypsy Ballads, seems to have helped him heal the social estrangement he had sometimes felt in childhood and adolescence. In a letter to his parents a year before his death, he tells of a reading of the Ballads in Barcelona:

The way I was received by the workers was extremely moving. It seemed so true, this contact with the real people. I was so moved I had a lump in my throat and I could hardly speak… When I read ‘Ballad of the Spanish Civil Guard,’ the whole theater rose to its feet and shouted, “Long live the poet of the people!” And then I had to undergo more than an hour and a half of people standing in line to shake my hand: artisans, old workers, mechanics, children, students. It was the loveliest act I have experienced in my life.

(Christopher Maurer, Introduction, page xiii, Federico Garcia Lorca, Collected Poems, revised, FSG, 2002)