- “Official history is the bourgeoisie’s history, and its mission today is to wreath nationalism, liberal democracy and the market economy in myth, so as to have us believe that these are eternal, immutable and immovable.”
The Age has published a review (‘Anarchist versus a forgotten foe’, February 23, 2007) by Stephanie Bunbury of the recent biopic on the murdered Spanish anarchist Salvador Puig Antich (1948–1974). In a similar manner to which the release of previous films on the subject of Spanish fascism have been greeted, Salvador has inspired a number of scribblers to offer their own reflections on Spanish history and politics. Typically, the story goes something like this:
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was an awful Civil War, fought between the followers of a Spanish General called Franco, on the one hand, and the supporters of a Republican Government, on the other. Franco won, and ruled Spain for many years. Then Franco died, and Spain emerged into the modern world. Since then — according to Bunbury anyway — “By general consensus, Spain has concentrated on looking forward. Clearly, this has paid off. In the three decades since the dictator General Franco died, Spain has been transformed from a poor backwater into a sophisticated match for any of its European neighbours, the smart Spain of Almodovar movies, Zara clothes and 24-hour clubbing.” Apparently, smart film, smart clothing, and endless clubbing are considered to be the hallmarks of a modern, free society; and their existence evidence of a successful transition by Spanish society as a whole from dictatorship to ‘democracy’.
The transition to democracy and the first Spanish astronaut
Aside from being palatable nonsense, such an account continues to obscure the much starker realities of twentieth-century Spanish history, including the period following Franco’s long-overdue death, and, of course, the history of the Iberian anarchist movement’s resistance during his lifetime, both underground, and in exile (including the town in which Bunbury’s paper is published).
Also unmentioned in Bunbury’s account is the assassination of Franco’s annointed successor, Luis Carrero Blanco, considered by many to be the point at which Spanish and international authorities concluded that forty years of dictatorship was enough. Operación Ogro (Operation Ogre) was a plot hatched by members of the Basque separatist group ETA. The BBC reported (December 20, 1973):
The Spanish Prime Minister, Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, has been killed in a car bomb attack in Madrid. The 70-year-old, his bodyguard and a driver died instantly and four other people were injured after a remote-controlled bomb was detonated as he passed. A massive explosion sent the car hurtling into the air and over the roof of the San Francisco de Borga Church where Mr Blanco had just been attending mass…
A fitting end, perhaps, but merely one indication of the long-standing and, in the late 60s and early 70s, increasing resistance to the Francoist regime in Spain. Such acts also provide some of the political context to Antich’s life and death, and a glimpse into the more general context of violent resistance to dictatorship in Spain.
On the response to his execution, Bunbury writes that: “…There was widespread rioting at the news of [Antich’s] death, and thousands of people who would never have dreamt of throwing a petrol bomb attended funeral services. The tide had turned…” Yeah. Right. A tale of innocent workers — who, bereft of imagination, never dream of resisting their oppressors — suddenly shocked into taking to the streets by news of Salvador’s death. As others have written:
We are served up a slick, commercial soap opera — a real tear-jerker of a movie. A laughable fictional melodrama, run-of-the-mill stuff. A slick action movie that blinds us to the real history of Salvador and so many others, and above all to the whys and wherefores and targets of their struggles. We are shielded from the circumstances, political activity and purposes behind the expropriations and the political and revolutionary awakening that stretches over a lengthy career of struggle. How was the MIL [Moviemiento Iberico de Liberacion / Iberian Liberation Movement] born and for what purpose? Its connections with the workers’ movement’s most radical struggles[?]. There is no reference to those struggles, not even to the final one, in the wake of the execution, when the biggest factories in Barcelona and district shut down and thousands of workers demonstrated, with hundreds arrested on the Ramblas. We are shown Salvador as some sort of a playboy and his comrades as a gang of ne’er-do-wells with political overtones…
In response to Salvador’s execution, the FAI and the Local Federation of Anarchist Groups (Barcelona) produced and distributed a text, which “hints at a history of Anarchist militancy in the ’60s still to be heard”:
In the 1970s, the repression against Iberian anarchism has reached figures that bear comparison with those of the 1940s. Thus, dozens of comrades have been rounded up at demonstrations and in clashes with police: we have the arrests and harassment visited upon Terra Libre (Valencia); on three occasions upon… Autogestión Obrera (Madrid), after Andrés Ruiz (Barcelona) and Navarro (L’Hospitalet del Llobregat); David Urbano again (Barcelona); …ex-members of MIL; some thirty youths from Zaragoza (the pursuit of the Acción Directa groups); and in recent weeks, the wave of tough repression unleashed against various libertarian organisations in Catalonia even among individualists and sympathisers of a thousand different outlooks…
At the end of Bunbury’s article, the director, Manuel Huerga, is quoted as stating that:
“Things have not changed too much from that time… We are very happy with our democracy — and not just in Spain; that we live in a world with democracies, that we have many types of freedom from authority… Probably we live in an artificial, silly happiness. But, at the same time, there are people like Bush and Berlusconi who make this world very dangerous. And those guys, the people at that time I think were very courageous to fight against the regime. At that time, the enemy was very clear. Now it is not so clear; the enemy is around us. And I don’t find too many people fighting now.”
Then Huerga is simply not looking. And neither is The Age. Josh Wolf, an anarchist and a journalist, has recently earnt the distinction of being the person longest held in a US prison for their refusal to submit evidence to a grand jury. His story has been widely-reported in the US and international media, and he has been recognised by a range of different journalistic associations, but the Australian media, including The Age, have completely ignored his case.
- Salvador screens on Saturday, March 3, at the inaugural La Mirada, Jewels of Spanish Cinema festival, which runs from March 1-11 at ACMI.