Anarchist Torture Cells? Reply from S. Schwartz

David Walters dwalters at igc.org
Sun Feb 2 21:58:23 MST 2003


I forward this because it's an interesting reply to the Guardian.

David Walters



ANARCHIST TORTURE CELLS ?

 

The handling of the spurious charge by so-called historians and journalists
of anarchist complicity in the creation of torture cells in Barcelona during
the Spanish civil war represents a model case of intellectual dishonesty.

 

The Guardian (London) article of January 27, 2003 appeared with the
inflammatory headline “Anarchists and the fine art of torture.”  Nowhere in
the article was direct responsibility for the creation of these cells
ascribed to anarchist organizations, with the exception of the insinuating
headline and lead, the latter declaring “mind-bending prison cells were
built by anarchist artists.”

 

This is followed, some paragraphs down, with the outrageous claim, “They may
also have been used to house members of other leftwing factions battling for
power with the anarchist National Confederation of Workers, to which
Laurencic belonged.”

 

The torture cells are described in The Guardian as located in “makeshift
jails on Vallmajor and Saragossa streets.”

 

The entire accusation is a concoction.

 

The document on which the charge is based was published in La Vanguardia
(Barcelona) on December 4, 2002, and states:  “ ‘Garrigó charged me with the
task of distributing throughout the cells different paintings of optical
illusions, such as dice, cubes, spirals, dots or circles, in different
colors, as well as tracing on the wall horizontal lines and other drawings.’
In the famous meeting in which the project was discussed, I was questioned
by Garcés.’ ”

 

[“‘Se me dio por parte de Garrigó el encargo de repartir por las celdas
diferentes figuras de ilusión óptica, como dados, cubos, espirales, puntos o
círculos, de diferente colores, así como trazar en la pared líneas
horizontales y otros dibujos’. En la famosa reunión en la que se habla
discutido el proyecto, fui preguntado por Garcés.’”]

 

Garrigó and Garcés are not unknown names, and had nothing to do with
anarchists or anarchosyndicalists.

 

The authoritative Diccionario de España desde 1931, available on line at
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Crete/2408/abc.html, notes that Santiago
Garcés was director of the Servicio de Inteligencia Militar, a special
repressive body created by Soviet agents in Barcelona.  He was assisted by
Pedro Garrigós, former governor of the Bank of Spain.  These men had control
over secret prisons including that in Saragossa Street, located in a former
convent, and the most notorious such installation, that in Vallmajor Street,
known as “Jail D.”

 

[“En Barcelona las más conocidas fueron las de la calle de Zaragoza (antiguo
convento de religiosas sanjuanistas), la de la Tamarita, la del Seminario y
principalmente la de Vallmayor, conocida como Preventorio D., que estaban a
cargo del jefe del SIM, Santiago Garcés, de Francisco Ordóñez, del
gobernador del Banco de España, Pedro Garrigós y de los miembros del SIM.”]

 

Stephen Schwartz 

 

In a letter sent to the Guardian yesterday, I wrote as follows:

 

The secret prison at calle Vallmajor, 5, is known to have been the place
where Soviet agents interrogated Georges Kopp, who later became the
brother-in-law of George Orwell.  It has also long been known that Orwell’s
description of police torture in 1984 is based on reports to him by former
captives in the calle Vallmajor secret prison.

 

Calle Vallmajor, 5, figures prominently in the account of secret Stalinist
prisons in Barcelona published by Katia Landau, a distinguished Austrian
socialist whose husband, Kurt Landau, was kidnapped and disappeared in
Stalinist custody in Spain.

 

Your reportage furthers refers sloppily to Salvador Dali, as if, being an
avantgarde artist, he might have been a sympathizer of the Spanish Republic.
Dali was quite famous for supporting the Franco forces in the Spanish civil
war.

 

In a consummate display of ignorance, your reportage states that a 1939
document  composed for submission to a Francoist tribunal, ascribing the
construction of the cells to a French anarchist artist, “was written by a
man called R L Chacon who, like anybody allowed to publish by the newly
installed dictatorship, could not have been expected to feel any sympathy
for what Nazi Germany had already denounced as ‘degenerative art.’”

 

Notwithstanding leftist clichés, the Franco regime did not join Nazi Germany
and Stalinist Russia in attacking modernist art as “degenerate.”   Dali was
not the only artistic or literary modernist to side with Franco against the
Republic.  The Francoist intellectual journal Vertice: revista nacional de
Falange, had quite a distinct surrealist orientation, and its editors
included the Galician poet Alvaro Cunqueiro.   Among the founding figures of
the Spanish avantgarde of the 1920s, a certain Ernesto Gimenez Caballero
sided with Franco.  The Catalan ultramodernist poet and critic J.V. Foix
sympathized with Franco but remained in Barcelona, discreetly silent, during
the civil war – as described in memoirs by Stephen Spender and David
Gascoyne.  Gimenez Caballero and Foix both played major roles in launching
the careers of avantgarde masters such as Joan Miro, Dali, and Bunuel.   In
the late 1940s Foix, who never abandoned his conservative and Catholic
politics, was instrumental in launching the Barcelona avantgarde group
identified with the painter Antoni Tapies – under the Franco dictatorship.

 

>From the other side, Miro, who did more to support the Republic than any
other Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso included, returned to Mallorca in 1940,
under the Franco regime.  He was left unmolested and did notable work there
and in Barcelona.

 

Franco was enough of a Spaniard to realize that interfering with poets and
painters ill behooved the leaders of the country that produced Goya.

 

Ideological improvisation in art history is unfortunate enough, but it is
worsened when combined with sloppy journalism.


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