Sunday, June 21, 2020

Montse Feu's "Fighting Fascist Spain"

Montse Feu is an associate professor at Sam Houston State University. She recovers the literary history of the Spanish Civil War exile in the United States, US Hispanic periodicals, and migration and exile literature at large. Feu is the author of Fighting Fascist Spain. Worker Protest from the Printing Press and Correspondencia personal y política de un anarcosindicalista exiliado: Jesús González Malo (1943-1965). She is co-editor of Writing Revolution: Hispanic Anarchism in the United States.

Feu applied the “Page 99 Test” to Fighting Fascist Spain and reported the following:
Page 99 of Fighting Fascist Spain is four pages into chapter 5 entitled “Solidarity for Political Prisoners.” About two-hundred US Hispanic societies organized as the Sociedades Hispanas Confederadas (SHC), denounced fascist Spain, and politically and financially supported its victims. The SHC included mutual aid and cultural societies created by earlier Spanish migrants, who arrived in the United States around the turn of the twentieth century. Many of them brought radical traditions rooted in their homeland fueling anti-authoritarian and emancipatory practices that promoted the creation of culture and participation in politics from below. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the Francisco Franco’s dictatorship (1939-1975), the SHC published periodicals to denounce Franco’s rule, raised funds for political prisoners and refugees, and preserved, disseminated, and adapted Spanish labor culture and politics in the United States exile while Franco prosecuted it in Spain.

A photograph takes up half of page 99. In the photograph, SHC’s members are protesting in front of a shop in New York. The SHC picketed businesses that sold products from Germany, Italy, Japan, Portugal, or Spain. Jesús González Malo, editor of the SHC’s antifascist periodical, España Libre (1939-1977), is holding a sign that reads, “We are against dictatorships anywhere.” Another SHC member, José Nieto Ruiz, is holding the sign that says, “Franco No, Khrushchev No, Liberty Yes.” Dorothy Day is holding another sign that proclaims, “The Catholic Worker supports this picketing.” The photograph allows readers to capture a glimpse of the SHC’s protests.

A paragraph continues from the previous page. It describes the protests and the coverage in the antifascist periodical that preceded España Libre, Frente Popular (1936-1939), both published in New York:
To show that members were not afraid of intimidations, Frente Popular printed the names of about 150 picketers. Nonetheless, the Judge Philip McCook prohibited the continuous protests in front of the shops. Theaters who supported Francoist artists were affected by the picketers as well. More than three thousand banners were made to demonstrate in front of the Fleisher Auditorium in Philadelphia and the Lewisohn Stadium in New York on the occasion of concerts of composer and pianist José Iturbi.
Another section describes the SHC’s cultural festivals, which raised funds for political prisoners and and refugees while disseminating antifascist culture:
Soon after its foundation, the SHC held cultural fundraisers on the streets as well. Funds were raised by and for workers. For this reason, fundraisers were held outside of working hours, after 8 p.m. on Saturdays. As one of España Libre’s reviews reminded readers, most attendees worked on Saturday mornings. In other words, the show times, the themes, the venues – kept both accessible and affordable – were all decided while considering the needs and interests of the working-class audience.
This paragraph continues on the next page examining other working-class characteristics of the SHC’s fundraisers, which included the writing and performing of antifascist plays with working class protagonists.

Page 99 is fairly representative of Fighting Fascist Spain as a whole in that it uncovers an untold story of US antifascism and explores its multifaceted characteristics. The Spanish Civil War exile print culture cannot be understood on political terms alone but rather in the transformative role that culture had—in the forms of cartoons, essays, literature, satirical chronicles, and theater—for antifascist engagement for four decades. España Libre’s editors, contributors, and readers created an identity linked not only to legacies of the Spanish Revolution but also to new influences in the United States. They did so through a diverse body of cultural work. Creative expression was one of the most revolutionary means of fighting fascism because it enlarged members’ comprehension of their reality and encouraged activism by reiterating the significance of resistance. Print culture also allowed this grassroots community to ask one of the most crucial questions after fascism: How do we care for others? Some of the later cultural and intellectual trajectories of SHC members provided answers to this question. Their intellectual development moved toward a postwar approach that understood social revolution as a practice of transnational inclusion in the body politic rather than through a violent contest of a national political power.​
Visit Montse Feu's website.

--Marshal Zeringue