Both the strength of ideological commitment and the problems it created were apparent in one of the most notable artistic features of the war - Republican poster art. The Nationalists produced some posters too, but not on a comparable scale, nor of such variety and power. They did not need to. Military victory was their greatest propaganda tool. Moreover, the swift concentration of military and governmental powers in Franco's hands at the end of September 1936 enabled them to set up a central propaganda office.
On the other side, however, political parties and unions vied with one another to get their particular message across. They commissioned artists, especially in Barcelona, to produce strong, vividly coloured posters that could be printed in large numbers and posted up on walls. They frequently featured the initials, flags and other emblems of the commissioning organisation in prominent positions, while the artists' names were often printed at the bottom or along the side. Some posters displayed the hoped-for unity of the Republic by depicting crowds bearing the various flags of the Republican movements - the red and yellow stripes of Catalonia, the red and black of the Anarchists, the red of the Communist Party. The slogan of the 1934 revolution in Asturias, 'Unite, Proletarian Brothers', reappeared. Many posters pointed to the shared hopes of freedom and victory, while others brilliantly lampooned the combined forces of money, fascism, armed might and religion arrayed against the Republic.
A recurrent theme was that of foreign invaders, German Nazis, Italian Fascists and Moroccan soldiers, aiding the Republic's enemies, especially before November 1936, when the Republic itself still had no major foreign assistance. But issues dear to the particular commissioning organisation also appeared. A powerful Anarchist poster, for instance, depicted a rifle placed beside a book, and claimed that the war against fascism was also a war for literacy. Communist posters emphasised the importance of the popular front of all Republican groups against the international as well as national fascist enemy. There were posters aimed at youth groups, at women, at Basques, at peasants and at workers.
The Republic certainly needed to rally the civilian population, and the quality and artistic exuberance of many of the designs was impressive. They belonged to, and extended, a tradition of propagandist poster art going back to the Russian revolution, and often echoing the earlier iconography of the French revolution. They lauded democracy, equality and liberty. But the fact that they were produced by so many different groups, and expressed separate political priorities as well as common aims, itself exemplified one of the Republic's abiding problems. Passion and diversity created dynamic visual art, but they were hard to harness into a unified war effort.
'Until the end'. A poster issued by the POUM. the small, revolutionary, non-Stalinist Marxist party, urging Spaniards to persevere in the fight against Nazism. The POUM and their fellow-revolutionaries, the Anarchists, were overwhelmed by the Soviet-backed Spanish Communist Party, the PCE, during the war (Author's collection)
Poster depicting the Republic, in the tradition of iconography made famous in the French Revolution. The plethora offlags surrounding the Republic showed its strength, representing Spain itself, Catalonia, and the working-class parties and trade unions. But this diversity was also an enormous problem for the Republic. (Author's collection)
'The cultural militias fight against fascism by combatting ignorance. Poster issued by the Education Ministry of the Republic, juxtaposing a rifle with a school exercise-book.
and arguing that the defence of the Republic would also promote popular education for the masses. (Author's collection)
Portrait of a civilian
Was this article helpful?