Democratic Promises in 1917
The history of Barcelona in the first decades of the twentieth century tells two competing stories. One is the story of rich versus poor; the other is the story of all against all, or of Barcelona against the government of Madrid. Both conflicts raised questions about the political system that governed Spain. And they intensified during World War I, when Spain remained neutral but sold food and uniforms to both sides in the European conflict.
The war brought the entire political system of Spain into question. According to the constitution of 1875, which had restored the Bourbon monarchy to the throne of Spain, the king was supposed to govern alongside an elected, if relatively weak, Cortes. King Alfonso XIII, who gained the throne in 1902, increasingly ruled alone with the support of the army. As one observer wrote, "All public power is in the hands of the monarch, [and] although there is a parliament, in reality it is nothing more than a fiction or the mask on an autocratic regime."
Two movements for democracy centered in Barcelona reached fever pitch in the summer of 1917. Parliamentary delegates from throughout Spain met secretly in the city in July 1917 to draft a constitution making Spain into a true constitutional monarchy. At the same time, anarcho-syndicalists and Socialists from all over the nation made common cause in an effort to win both reduced hours and wages that could keep pace with inflation.
The movement for popular democracy was already well under way when the crisis reached a head that summer. The CNT, the anarcho-
syndicalist National Confederation of Labor founded in 1910, had increasingly assumed the leadership of an effort to overcome capitalism and to transform the state. As we have seen, anarcho-syndicalists, who opposed parliamentary government, favoring instead a system of local democracy in which syndicates organized around trades and professions would administer society, depended on the general strike to win power and substitute the rule of the unions for the rule of state and local officials. But not all general strikes are revolutionary attempts to overthrow capitalism and the state. In fact, frequently a general strike means merely that a variety of unions are striking at the same time. Nevertheless, for anarcho-syndicalists, the strike was an expression of the democratic control of workers over their own labor as much as it was a withholding of labor to achieve certain specific ends. Direct democracy by which people controlled their own affairs without delegating authority was a linchpin of CNT political doctrine, and the general strike was one way to express it.
It is hardly surprising, then, that a main instigator of democratic struggles in Barcelona that summer were the anarcho-syndicalists. Their early leaders, Salvador Seguí and Ángel Pestaña, came of age in the 1917 movement. Pestaña was the intellectual, though he would never have accepted that designation. Born in León to a railroad construction worker and his wife, Pestaña had worked in the Basque mines, in factories, and as a set painter in the theater before traveling to Algeria and to France, where he learned to be a watchmaker. In 1914, he settled down in Barcelona with María Expres, a twenty-eight-year-old woman from Zaragoza, who became his lifelong companion. With his Mephistophelian air, he was the pragmatist among the anarcho-syndicalists, and from 1916 on, he edited Workers' Solidarity (Solidaridad obrera ), the organization's newspaper.
Despite initial antagonism, Seguí and Pestaña became inseparable friends. Seguí, a painter by trade, went on in 1919 to direct the Construction, Woodworking, and Metallurgical Workers Union. He was the great orator, the moral conscience, the tribune of the people, and the greatest leader of the anarcho-syndicalists in Catalunya. Widely known as "Sugar Boy" because of his legendary sweet tooth, he was a popular local figure.
As a child in the early 1900s, Seguí had worked alongside his mother selling candy as she sold flowers in the lobbies of local theaters. An immigrant to Barcelona from the Catalan-speaking section of Aragon, he had initially been attracted to the Radical party youth group known as
the Young Barbarians. He participated avidly in the Radical party's Workers Center on Mercader Street, for which he wrote a play entitled Social Astronomy, or an Inhabitant of the Moon to help raise money for imprisoned workers. But his real avocation was studying the history of the French Revolution and the social transformations that followed it.
An energetic participant in the general strike during Tragic Week, afterward Seguí increasingly turned to cultural and political activities among the anarcho-syndicalists. In the period 1909–1918, Catalan nationalism of a republican and federalist stripe had become a frequent topic of debate for Seguí and other members of Barcelona's popular intelligentsia. Although neither Seguí nor other workers were drawn to the movement for Catalan regionalism, which was dominated by their employers, as cenetistas they were generally in favor of decentralizing political authority; specifically, they advocated placing it in the hands of local labor unions, which could be confederated to allow coordination.
An incidental witness to the changes that took place in Barcelona during the 1910s was Pablo Picasso. Like many bystanders, he was not overtly concerned with struggles for democracy. Lonely and depressed in Paris because his friends Georges Braque and Guillaume Apollinaire had left to serve in the French army, in 1916 and 1917 he visited Barcelona in search of solace. Since moving to Paris in 1904, Picasso had returned to Catalunya only during summers. During Tragic Week in 1909, he was vacationing in the Catalan village of Horta del Ebro, where a church was burned. He returned to Barcelona in the late spring of 1913 upon his father's death. Then he did not visit again until the Christmas–New Year season of 1916–1917, a time when the celebration of carnival was revived after many years of neglect. By the time he next returned, in June 1917, competing democratic movements in Barcelona had assumed new importance. Even though Picasso was not outwardly political, as a citizen of Barcelona he had learned the symbols and rituals of local politics, some of which may have found their way into his art then and later.
The Impact of the First World War
Class and regionalist struggles intensified with the dislocations of World War I, which turned Barcelona into a boomtown for
speculators, merchants, and industrialists even as it impoverished many workers. The city also became a center of espionage, much as Casablanca would in World War II. To monitor shipping, German and French spies spread over the town. Factories expanded and drew workers from throughout the country to meet the belligerents' demand for everything Spain and Barcelona could produce. This growth in production led to high wages, but, as we have seen, the cost of living climbed even more rapidly. Between 1914 and 1920, the buying power of a working family in Barcelona diminished by 17 percent.
Local forces regrouped, each trying to gain some control over social conditions. With war-related social problems so pressing, political questions about the impact of international issues on local concerns came to the fore. Ángel Pestaña, as editor of Worker's Solidarity , revealed the graft and espionage that characterized the behavior of police and industrialists in Barcelona during the war: for instance, he broke the news that Barcelona's repressive chief of police, Bravo Portillo, was making a fortune informing the Germans about Spanish ships bound for Allied ports. In an unrelated case, the CNT reported that although a German submarine found in Barcelona's harbor had been seized and disabled (its navigation equipment was supposedly removed) according to international laws governing neutrality, it simply disappeared one night. Pestaña did not have to stretch popular imagination to show that local politicians and authorities were on the take; no tradition of liberal politics existed in Barcelona to be discredited.
A constant irritant to local authorities, the CNT was outlawed for most of the period 1910–1914. But legal or illegal, it flourished, for its main centers were cafés, which were the living rooms of the poor. Café life absorbed immigrants and longtime city residents, police and syndicalists, men and women. Foreign observers even disparaged cafés because so many women sat around gossiping with friends. Women's visibility (albeit at separate tables) in fact provided yet another instance of how well cafés served as microcosms of social life broadly construed. Given the frequency with which states of war were imposed and union halls closed down in Barcelona during this period, cafés assumed added importance as political clearinghouses and hotbeds of social thought.
A place like the Spanish Café, part terrace, part cavernous interior, was really an extension of the street. One of the first such establishments in the Parallel, it burned down and was rebuilt in 1909. It served as a meeting place for political groups and immigrant clubs. People from Aragon, for example, gathered there to sing the music for their regional
dance the jota . Such topics as workers' emancipation and how to win it were vociferously discussed in cafés and cabarets by the city's popular intelligentsia. Describing the Spanish Café in 1917, the anarchist novelist Victor Serge claimed: "The café—crowded at every hour of the day, has tables which are—in a manner of speaking—reserved. The [syndicalists] occupy one section of the terrace, a double row of tables inside, under the dazzling mirrors. The police informers . . . with straining ears and prying eyes, form a familiar circle—not far off—at a round table." The authorities obviously knew that CNT members met frequently, but they could not close down all of Barcelona's cafés. Thus, whenever the authorities softened their perennial repression, the CNT was ready to emerge with a vast following. In 1917, for example, when they had been legalized for about three years, they incorporated roughly 25 percent of the working people.
Picasso in Barcelona
During his brief return to Barcelona's cafés, streets, and theaters in late March and early April 1913 and during his longer stays in 1916 and 1917, Picasso may have absorbed some of the flavor of what was going on around him. He remained in close contact with his parents and his married sister, Lola Vilató. He had also started spending vacations in nearby Céret, in French Catalunya on the other side of the Pyrenees, where he shared a house with his old friend, the Catalan sculptor and former puppeteer Manolo Martínez Hugué. In late March 1913, he had already taken up his summer residence in Céret when he was called to Barcelona for his father's funeral.
Although as an adolescent Picasso had rejected his ineffectual father, the art professor who hung up his own brushes when faced with his young son's conspicuous talent, on his return to Barcelona for the funeral the thirty-two-year-old artist could not have helped being catapulted back to thoughts of his earlier life there and the political turbulence he had witnessed at the time. Such turbulence was of course very much a feature of the city's present as well, as Picasso surely realized.
Picasso's father, José Ruiz, had had a number of republican friends, although he was not politically active himself. When he died in early spring 1913, the Constancy textile union had just been founded, and it
was clear that a massive textile strike would follow—which, of course, it did. While in Barcelona, Picasso probably read the Diluvio , the republican, Castilian-language newspaper, clippings of which he would later use in a collage. Accused of focusing on details of the ordinary life of common people rather than pursuing the so-called larger issues, the Diluvio provided information about everyday life and grass-roots movements in Barcelona. Widely popular, it could be purchased at restaurants and cafés, and from vendors at factory gates.
No overt social concerns are evident in Guitar , a cubist work that Picasso created immediately upon his return to France from the funeral, but it resonates with influences from his recent stay in Barcelona. Against a blue background (paler than the blues of the blue period, but nevertheless blue), the artist sketched a set of musical notes in the lower right hand corner of the drawing (plate 9). The guitar itself, held vertically just as the true flamenco guitarists from Ruiz's native Málaga would do, dominates the left side of the drawing. The center of the guitar's bowl is a round newspaper cutout, and half the bowl consists of a simulated pattern of Jacquard silk—the kind of cloth that some of the striking female workers of Barcelona made in their factories in 1913. To the right of the sketched-in bowl is another sheet of Jacquard, behind which is a black vertical band. This motif, which Picasso used in later works to commemorate the death of close friends, commonly appeared in newspaper obituaries.
Picasso seems to have stayed away from Barcelona from 1913 to 1916, but he did return twice during the long insurrectionary year of 1917. Although Christmas and New Year 1916–1917 were not propitious times to be in the city (the working classes carried out a one-day general strike on December 16), Barcelona was far less depressing for Picasso than Paris. So he came home to neutral Barcelona for the holidays, possibly remaining there until mid-February. Under the eye of his mother and his old friends, Picasso champed at the bit. On January 16, 1917, he wrote to Apollinaire: "I feel too sick of everything. Of finding myself still here. I don't know when I will be returning, but I am working. Don't be angry if I don't write to you, but you are always in my thoughts. Write to me if you want to make me happy. I met Picabia at the bullfight on Sunday."
Bullfights had played a special role in Picasso's life; indeed, his earliest extant drawing, done when he was nine, is of a picador . He had frequently attended bullfights with his father as a child, and he often went
with his friends as a youth. But unlike the population of Picasso's native Málaga, the working people of Barcelona had shown relatively little interest in the spectacle until the period after Tragic Week.
Enthusiasm for bullfighting came with new immigrants, who between 1911 and 1920 filed into Catalunya at the rate of 22,500 a year. They so reconstituted the population that by 1920, 40 percent of Barcelona's inhabitants were from outside the city, and 21 percent were from outside Catalunya. The city grew to eight hundred thousand by 1920, and to one million by 1930. The vast majority of those migrating to Barcelona from outside the Catalan provinces of Barcelona, Girona, Tarragona, and Lleída were from nearby Aragon and Valencia.
By March 1913, when Picasso clipped the Diluvio for his collage, the republican newspaper was running periodic histories of the greatest bullfights back to 1886. Such a series would have been unheard of a decade before, when republicans and anarchists denounced bullfighting as the violent and decadent sport of conservative southern landowners. In 1917, however, militants, including cenetistas , were increasingly interested in attending the corrida . Bullfighting fans, who memorized statistics and competed over who perceived the finer points of the spectacle, had begun to sweep the city, where the toros were always discussed in Castilian, even among Catalans.
The French writer Paul Morand remarked on the importance of the bullfight in Barcelona, as did the Russian anarchist novelist Victor Serge, whose fictional syndicalists indulge in the spectator sport even during revolutionary periods. For instance: "A precious Sunday was lost because Benito had to kill his bull that day. The thin sword in the hand of this ex-cowherd from Andalusia seemed to be parrying the death blow aimed at the monarchy. . . . 'He kills like an angel,' wrote the newspapers. 'Let's go watch Benito!' cried Eusebio, 'we'll fight better afterwards!'"
Bullfighting was not the only public pastime that Picasso enjoyed during his visits to Barcelona. He also went back to the music halls that had been among his early haunts. In 1917, a flamenco dancer and cabaret singer, Blanquita Suárez, was a sensation in the city—much to her own regret. Suárez had agreed to do a full performance in Barcelona's Tívoli Theater, but when she was offered a job as an opening act in Madrid—the fulfillment of her life's ambition—she tried to cut short her stay in Barcelona; the management, however, held her to her contract. This, of course, enabled Picasso to see and immortalize her in a painting (figure 14).
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The preparations for Barcelona's carnival in late January and precarnival festivities in early February undoubtedly pleased Picasso during his 1916–1917 visit. An opportunity for excess available to people of all classes, the week-long celebration included the parades and floats and charity balls for which the city was famous. Masked balls, held at different theaters, allowed amateur and professional entertainers to appear in fancy dress. The Novelty Theater, decked out as an eighteenth-century garden complete with allegorical figures, offered a contest for the best costume. Santiago Russinyol, a judge, awarded fourth prize to Blanquita Suárez, arrayed in a flamenco dancer's costume complete with mantilla and fan—as Picasso would paint her. Professionals and amateurs created new costumes, but perennial themes appeared year after year. Bullfighters and Spanish señoritas (typical of Andalusia rather than Barcelona) dominated the masquerades, along with such stock characters as an American girl, a Chinese conjurer, satyrs, and Harlequins, who had figured in Barcelona's carnival festivities as far back as the 1860s.
On his return to Paris in February 1917, Picasso focused his energies on what was for him a rather unusual project. The preceding August he had accepted the poet Jean Cocteau's invitation to work on the sets and costumes for a ballet called Parade for Serge Diaghilev's famous Ballets Russes. This new extravaganza, based on a story by Cocteau with music by Erik Satie and choreography by Leonide Massine, would premiere in Paris in May and be performed in Barcelona in November. After Picasso's stay in Barcelona that winter, where he had worked on the decor, he met Cocteau in Paris. The two men left to join the ballet troupe in Rome, departing Paris by train on February 17, 1917, and probably arriving in Rome just as carnival was ending, on Ash Wednesday, February 21. Having been in Barcelona during that city's preparations for carnival and arriving in Rome just after the festivities there, Picasso likely had carnival and folk figures on his mind as he designed the theater curtain and the costumes.
Several of the costumes Picasso incorporated into Parade were certainly reminiscent of figures from carnival, as one Barcelona critic noticed when the ballet was performed there in November: for example, a Chinese conjurer, a mannequinlike young American girl, and two acrobats. A horse costume (an object of derision when the ballet was performed in Paris) evoked Corpus Christi animals, which, like Picasso's horse, consisted of people whose feet showed beneath their costumes (figure 15). Moreover, a bullfighter, two Harlequins, a female acro-
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bat, and two horses all appear on the drop curtain—which some described as flat and colorless. In any event, the American girl (and the cacophonous music Satie composed for her, which was interspersed with typewriter sounds) and the two figures of an American and a French theater manager—presented as cubist monstrosities, though they bear a certain resemblance to the nans or big heads of Corpus Christi—were simply more than good French taste could bear in May 1917. In the midst of war, French nationalism had reached a crescendo. The presentation of the Russian Ballet with costumes and sets by a Spaniard reeked of foreignness, and the xenophobic Parisian audience hated it. According to legend, the opening performance of Parade led to a riot in which the Parisian audience literally began tearing up the seats. The war hero Apollinaire, his head wrapped in bandages, allegedly jumped onto the stage to quiet the mob. When the ballet received its one performance in Barcelona the following November, the crowds were dubious, but polite.
After Parade failed in Paris, the Ballets Russes left for Spain. The troupe's appearance at Barcelona's Lyceum Theater during the last week of June was a big event that attracted people of all kinds. An anarcho-syndicalist character in Victor Serge's novel The Birth of Our Power , set
in Barcelona in the summer of 1917, attended a performance and was transfixed: "We left the Liceo together: the enchantment of the Russian ballets was totally in keeping with the magic of nights in this city." If only citizens of Barcelona could share power the way they shared leisure activities.
King Alfonso XIII supported Diaghilev, who, always desperate for money and virtually stateless after the overthrow of the tsar in February 1917, appreciated Spanish support and grew to love Spanish culture. Picasso followed Diaghilev to Barcelona in June 1917—though in fact the ballet master may have had very little to do with Picasso's renewed interest in the city. Olga Koklova, a minor ballerina with the troupe, had attracted Picasso's attention during rehearsals in Rome. When the company left for the July and August season in Argentina (to return to Barcelona in the autumn), she and Picasso stayed behind.
It was widely known by this time that Picasso was an important painter, but just what kind of a painter was unclear, even to local artists like Miquel Utrillo, whom he counted among his friends. Picasso's old acquaintance Jaume Brossa, publisher of the Diluvio , wrote about Picasso's cubist work in patronizing terms in June 1917. He claimed that Picasso, who was capable of "inspired realism," had succumbed to "the religion of cubism" with its "evangelical message." Rumblings that summer may also have recalled to the artist images antedating cubism. No one in Barcelona could escape the sense that the city was a powderkeg and that revolution could easily explode. After three years of being like World War II Casablanca, Barcelona began to resemble modern Belfast.
As we saw in Chapter 5, desperation had been mounting throughout Spain because of the rapid price increases caused by the war. And while inflation alone would not trigger popular political action, inflation combined with government repression and profiteering could and did fuel an urban social movement of massive proportions. Failing to confront the political reality, the authorities in Madrid had refused since February to summon the Cortes. Provocation and repression had replaced government.
When officials in Barcelona, fearing outbreaks of social disorder, pro-
hibited public celebrations after carnival in the spring of 1917, certain groups fought back. On April 23, traditional ceremonies for the festival of Saint George (Sant Jordi) had been suppressed. It was customary on that day for city dwellers to attend mass at the Saint George Chapel of the provincial government building in the Plaza of Saint James. Usually women sold roses and men sold books all around City Hall, helping to make Sant Jordi one of Barcelona's most elegant holidays. At midday on this particular Saint George's Day, amid the unnatural silence, some youths began singing "Els segadors," the seventeenth-century revolutionary anthem traditionally sung when the Catalans rose up against the Madrid government. Antigovernment demonstrations followed. Police stepped in and attacked the protesters, fearing that Catalanist sentiments could spark more violent insurgency. By the time Corpus Christi arrived on June 6, there was a massive show of troops all along the procession route, making the popular festivities seem like a military parade. Even the democracy of street festivals had disappeared.
Fear of the popular classes hardest hit by inflation led the government and the conservative Catalan nationalists of the Regionalist League to pursue other repressive policies as well. In early 1917, strikers and their organizers were attacked; amnesty struggles ensued, which helped the workers to overcome their isolation and win middle-class supporters. Springtime saw constant benefit performances, sponsored by groups like the Cultural and Artistic Union, to raise money for imprisoned strike leaders. One evening consisted of a performance of Santiago Russinyol's pacifist play The Hero , plus readings of original dramas and poetry by workers. But even despite already harsh social conditions, the central government in Madrid chose to resort to further repression.
Three Possible Revolutions That Failed
Three near-revolutions occurred during the summer of 1917. The most threatening to the state was a potential army rebellion. Ever since the nineteenth century, the Spanish army had been top-heavy with officers. In the face of inflation—from which they suffered just like the rest of the population—the younger officers had begun organizing what they called defense committees (really army unions), and Barcelona was the center of their activities. In 1909, when demonstrators had
tried to win conscripts—largely working men—over to their cause, they had failed. Nevertheless, the Spanish government still worried that officers would lead an army insurrection against the monarchy; it therefore folded in June 1917 and effectively bribed officers to remain loyal by agreeing to grant them wage increases.
The next challenge came from the conservative Catalan nationalist party, the Regionalist League, whose members were furious about the king's failure to call the Cortes, participation in which provided one of the few opportunities Catalan nationalists had to influence the state. The longtime party leader Enric Prat de la Riba, as he lay dying in the summer of 1917, outlined proposals for a federal Spain, in which regions like Catalunya would be granted rights similar to those held by an American state. The conservative Catalan banker Francesc Cambó went even further, attempting to formulate a national program, not just one relevant to Catalunya. He traveled to Madrid in June 1917 to convince the prime minister to summon the Cortes or face a constituent congress. The government refused and, at the end of June, imposed martial law in Barcelona, warning that the calling of a congress would be considered a "truly seditious act."
With Barcelona still under martial law on July 5, the Regionalist League nevertheless convened a meeting of all Catalan Cortes delegates; forty-six of the total forty-nine delegates attended. Their goal was to form a constitution to transform the political structure of Spain, giving regions such as Catalunya more power over their local affairs. Rumors circulated that the prime minister planned to send the army to rout an expanded meeting, this one of delegates from all over Spain scheduled to occur in Barcelona on July 19. Representatives, including the philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, did indeed gather on that date in Barcelona for a parliamentary assembly, following circuitous routes to reach the secret meeting place. According to the carefully planned itineraries, the delegates left their hotels, meandered through Barcelona's traffic under the direction of deputies who knew their destination, arrived at a restaurant in Citadel Park, and finally walked the short distance to the meeting place, the auditorium of the Electric Company. All the secrecy was for nought. On the very first day, the civil governor of the province entered the hall and personally ordered the delegates to leave, comically laying hands on several of them but taking care to avoid causing injury. With the convention broken up, the delegates went home. Even so, there had always been limits on how far the sixty-eight national representatives would have gone, since most likely they never did think they would succeed.
The Catalan delegates of the Regionalist League and the party leaders outside the Cortes had supported constitutional reforms as a means of achieving change while preserving social order, as Cambó had tried to convince the king. When reform proved impossible, the league was reluctant to assume leadership of an army putsch, perhaps fearful that it would be unsuccessful. It was certainly unwilling to make common cause with the workers, whose potential power they feared more than the might of the government in Madrid. Those who believed in omens may have taken the death of the Catalan nationalist leader Prat de la Riba on August 1 as a signal that this phase of the political drama was over.
Just what Picasso or any of the local artists knew about the events of the summer we do not know, but the newspapers were filled with accounts. In the midst of the crisis of the parliamentary assembly, on July 12, Miquel Utrillo organized a gathering of local artists to honor Picasso at the Laietana Gallery. Other days, Picasso lunched at the Garriga Canary Restaurant (where he dated some drawings on July 21), attended bullfights, and visited his fiancée at the Ranzini Pension.
All around, a popular social revolution did seem to be developing. First, the anarcho-syndicalist leader José Climent died under mysterious circumstances on July 13. Then the barricades went up in the Parallel at 1:30 A.M. on July 19, the night before Cortes delegates met. One person was killed, and the government dispatched the cavalry to put down a possible insurrection. This could have been the moment of truth for the CNT and their Socialist allies throughout Spain had they been strong enough to supplant the politically bankrupt Spanish monarchy with a popular democracy. Ultimately, however, it became plain that they were not.
Some cenetistas in Barcelona were eager to take action at once in hopes of provoking revolutionary changes. As Dario, the Seguí character, says in The Birth of Our Power :
The main thing is to begin. Action has its own laws. Once things get started, when it's no longer possible to turn back, they'll do—we'll all do—what must be done. . . . What will it be? I haven't any idea, Comrade. But certainly a whole lot of things we don't even suspect. . . . In 1902 we held the city for seven days. In 1909 we held out for three days, without, moreover, finding anything better to do than burn a few churches. There were no leaders, no plans, no guiding ideas. Now, all we need are a couple of weeks to make us practically invincible.
Since the previous December, local anarcho-syndicalists and Socialist party leaders in Madrid had been considering launching a nationwide general strike in 1917; the one that occurred that August, however,
seems to have been rather spontaneous. A national railroad strike that began in Valencia in July was the catalyst. Even though the grievance was quickly settled, the Northern Railroad Company, angry because it had been forced to recognize the Socialist-backed union, laid off a dozen workers. This provocation lent credence to the view that employers and the government, who could have controlled them, were eager to promote a general strike, which the workers would certainly lose: they lacked arms, had not mobilized support in the army, and were insufficiently coordinated with workers outside Madrid, Valencia, and Barcelona. Nonetheless, once the Valencian workers were dismissed, railroad workers throughout the northern corridor did go on strike. This action sparked a general strike in Barcelona, as the government knew it would, since food and fuel could not come into the province without the trains. Although neither the CNT nor the Socialist party had called the strike, the government declared a state of war throughout Spain, giving free rein to the military.
Captain General Milans del Bosch had assembled twelve thousand soldiers in Barcelona in expectation of an insurrection. Evidently the government had assuaged the military with its response to the defense committee movement of June. Upon declaration of the state of war, soldiers dutifully set up artillery at key locations and began to patrol the city. Spontaneous fighting between workers and the troops took place at the harbor, the Rambla, the Plaza of Catalunya, the university, and in Gracia. Rebel snipers fired on the soldiers with revolvers from windows above the streets; the governor responded by ordering all blinds to be kept closed.
Wherever such attacks occurred, every man and woman in the house was held responsible and subject to arrest. Adolfo Bueso, a CNT printer, for example, was lunching with his wife and sister-in-law when a sergeant and four soldiers entered, claiming that shots had been fired from their building. The officer searched for shells and said, "If I find even one shell, I'm hauling everyone in the building in." He soon left, mercifully unsuccessful, whereupon the woman who owned the bar downstairs invited everyone in for a brandy.
As a way of capturing power in the city, the populace tried to stop the trolleys from running in Saint Martin, Sans, and the Parallel. Adolfo Bueso recalled being part of a plot to distribute T-shaped pieces of iron, meant to derail the trolleys, to neighborhood committees consisting of large numbers of women. Eluding the soldiers who had set up road blocks throughout the city, Bueso was met with laughter when he told
the neighborhood committees that the T's would be delivered in little trucks; but when the little trucks that served as ambulances made their deliveries before going on to the hospitals, the revolutionaries were satisfied.
Six people were killed and numerous others wounded in the first days of struggle. The army rode shotgun on the trolleys. By Saturday, August 18, the five-day strike was over except for occasional shots still being fired in the wealthy area above the Plaza of Catalunya. In the Parallel, numerous people had been arrested. Thirty-five were dead and sixty-two wounded. During the five days of fighting, shops and factories had closed; only soldiers walked the streets in large numbers. By August 19, however, people were once again filling the movie theaters, and farmers began bringing beans and fruit to the markets. But while the vendors were not above a little speculation, the women were in no mood for price gouging: in one marketplace dispute police intervention was required to settle the matter.
Government forces captured Seguí, but Pestaña escaped, only to return to Barcelona several months later and discover he had been pronounced dead. His comments on his participation reveal a great deal about his views of popular struggle and about the way the 1917 general strike had unfolded: "I am neither a brave man nor a coward and I am unable to attack anyone. . . . But [the strike] was a revolutionary movement of the people, and I, who had proposed and defended the idea that they should make one, was duty bound to go into the streets and honor my words."
By mid-August, all of Spain was under martial law, which entailed newspaper censorship and the suspension of rights of assembly. The government closed ten syndicalist centers in Barcelona alone and even detained the republican deputy Marcel.lí Domingo, despite his parliamentary immunity. Thousands of laborers were also arrested and languished in jail.
Picasso's Response to the 1917 General Strike
Skirmishes between the police and the people centered on the Plaza of Catalunya, the Rambla, and the Parallel, the part of town where Picasso had always lived. All through the tempestuous sum-
mer of 1917, Picasso and Olga Koklova stayed in separate dwellings nearby—he at his mother's house on Mercy Street behind the civil governor's palace, she in the Ranzini Pension close to the Columbus Monument.
Picasso made no verbal comment on the political events of the summer, but he left one hard-to-decipher notebook and a painting of the Columbus Monument against the background of the yellow-and-red Catalan flag (figure 16). The notebook consists of pages about seven inches by nine inches (15.5 cm × 23 cm) bearing lead pencil cartoons or caricatures. The predominant images are twenty renditions of horses and bulls in the bullfight, intermixed with studies of Koklova. Like the streets of the August days, Picasso's bullfight drawings are filled with turmoil.
In one drawing (no. 65), the bull occupies center stage as a general audience looks on. The animal turns from the toreador toward the picador , whose horse rears up, lifting its right foreleg to form a pendant above the bull's head. Drawing no. 67 portrays a moment when the bull, ignoring the toreador , lowers his head and meets the pike of the picador ; simultaneously, the bull's horn penetrates the lower belly of the horse on which the picador rides (figure 17). Paul Morand described a similar occasion:
A mare kicking the palisade attracts [the bull]. He moves toward her. She is a pumice-colored wreck, her belly sewn up like a poor woman's petticoats, her legs waver under the weight of the upholstered picador shaking his lance. The bull pauses an instant, and bellows. Caught by the fat glitter of the menacing steel, he advances, his nose grazing the ground. The picador's calves stiffen. The lance goes into the bull's shoulder. The horns sink into the mare's belly with a squish. She seems to jump, and stays there suspended, while the bull blind with the warm blood rummages about in her belly.
Drawings 68, 69, and 70 contain foretastes of later Picasso sketches of horses. The horse's head lifts straight up in the air as if in a shrill shriek. Its right legs splay out, but its left legs bend back on themselves; the hind left leg collapses. It is as if the horse had lost any control over its limbs. On the underbelly, a mass that only slowly becomes discernible as the horse's intestines appears as another appendage. It may not be too farfetched to guess that the anguish and violence in these drawings may partly reflect Picasso's response to the political scene in the city where he drew them.
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The monarchy triumphed over the workers in the 1917 general strike. The only chance the prime minister had of preserving the government was to persuade the middle class to support it against the CNT-led ranks. By provoking a general strike through its support of the railroad layoffs, moreover, the government drew the CNT into an insurrection when it was too weak to prevail. According to historian Gerald H. Meaker,
There is reason to believe that if the August Strike had not been attempted and defeated, the unbroken revolutionary confidence and stored-up energy of the Left would almost certainly have burst out in a revolutionary effort during the post-Armistice period, probably early in 1919. . . . It is difficult to believe that an effort like that of August, better prepared and launched in the post-Armistice context, would not have ended the monarchy and brought the Republic eleven years early.
Still, the CNT, which had organized underground, won new adherents all over Spain in the years after 1917. More than seventy thousand people were said to have attended an open CNT meeting in Sans in late
June and early July 1918. Prior to that time, most Catalan unions were organized along craft lines, according to trade; the Sans conference anticipated the CIO in establishing single industrial unions, which democratically organized entire services or sectors of production regardless of skill. Among such vertical groupings was the Construction, Wood-working, and Metallurgical Workers' Union that Salvador Seguí directed, which so dominated the building trades that officials could not persuade any of its members to work on constructing a new jail. To one official it appeared that "not even a leaf falls from the tree in Barcelona without the permission of the industrial union."
With the establishment of single unions it seemed that the popular community had developed a new democratic institution. Many anarcho-syndicalists now expected to move rapidly toward a social revolution, especially after the events of October 1917 in Russia. The image of the Bolshevik revolution beckoned to them as to revolutionaries throughout Europe. Before anarcho-syndicalists became disillusioned with the Soviet Union, they believed that events there might serve as a model for a revolution in Spain.
The Regionalist League emerged from this period less democratic and more conservative. League members evidently decided that if they had to choose between regional autonomy and social order built on repression, the latter would win, even if it meant defense of the army and the monarchy. When the king invited two League Cortes delegates to join the cabinet, they agreed, thus ending the League's separation from the monarchy. Its members then entered into a period of class resistance against the efforts of the workers and the poor to win some economic relief. As with other movements forged in terms of opposition to an enemy, the League derived strength from its portrayal of the CNT as wild and uncontrollable. Those poor people who had once inclined toward Catalanism now and forever turned away in disgust at the movement's new leadership. In Barcelona, the legacy of this 1917 transformation of the broad-based popular community would be virtual civil war between poor and rich.
Picasso, as much as any other apolitical person in Barcelona that year, must have realized that economic conflicts and social strife both threatened and ensured further political transformations. Revolutions had broken out in Mexico in 1910, Portugal in 1913, and Russia in February 1917. Barcelona, too, seemed ripe for its own revolution. Pablo Picasso, who seldom came home to the city between 1904 and 1917, was caught in a whirlwind when he did. In the civic culture of which he had
been a part at the turn of the century, republicans had spoken with the same voice as anarchists and bohemian artists. Subversive holidays like carnival had provided both an escape valve for social strife and a place to rehearse it. Folk figures like those in the Corpus Christi Day processions could serve as emblems of all Barcelona's citizens, who always liked a parade. In 1917, however, the masses spoke with a new voice. Seguí, Pestaña, and the CNT embraced a new vision of society. The general strikes they pursued could far transcend the civic rituals that Picasso had so loved in his youth.
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