LaCoss, Don. "Anti-Anarchist Propaganda Reported as Historical Fact"

RépressionTortureLA COSS, Donald (1964-2011)

An art historian announced recently that he had uncovered proof that anarchist artists had constructed secret psychological torture chambers in Barcelona for prisoners of war and political enemies during Spain’s civil war. According to him, a team of anarchists led by Alphonse Laurencic had designed a warren of jail cells that utilized advanced principles of color, abstraction, and perception developed by Bauhaus artists and the surrealists. These rooms were meant to mentally destabilize and emotionally grind down inmates who fought on the side of the clerico-fascists or who were the left-wing rivals of the CNT anarchist labor federation.

A major Spanish newspaper originally carried the story of this discovery ; before long, it was translated and reported in a variety of British, French and German dailies, and was featured in the U.S. during an evening news broadcast of National Public Radio (or, as it should be clear to regular listeners nowadays, “Nationalistic Pentagon Radio”). It’s odd that an academic footnote would garner so much international attention when there are one or two other issues on the world stage that might warrant a little more coverage. Doubly strange is the fact that the evidence used by the art historian in his research came from a notoriously unreliable source that would be immediately apparent to the majority of pressroom fact-checkers, yet still the story has been dutifully re-told by professional journalists without a trace of skepticism.

From what I have seen so far, the art historian’s research relies solely upon the transcript of Laurencic’s confession before a Francoist military court— to be more accurate, the source is a pamphlet published in 1939 by the fascist Solidaridad Nacional press that draws from these trial records. Written by one “R.L. Chácon,” the pamphlet Porqué hice las ‘Chekas’ de Barcelona (“chekas” being term for extra-judicial political police) is regarded by researchers today as an excellent example of the show trials that had been staged by the Franco regime after the Civil War. Franco’s political theater had been inspired by a similar tactic used a few years earlier by another murderous autocrat : Stalin had rigged similar kangaroo courts in 1936 and in 1938 as a means for purging real and imagined opponents among the old-school Bolshevik elite. In the Soviet example, the accused were tortured until they “confessed” to espionage, sabotage or to some other ridiculous crime against Stalin and the people of the U.S.S.R. ; in Franco’s Spain, captured anarchists, communists, and Republicans admitted before military tribunals that they had raped nuns, encouraged homosexuality, and published hardcore pornography —and, in the case of Alphonse Laurencic, psychologically tortured political prisoners with repeated screenings of Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou— as part of a fictitious Judeo-Masonic conspiracy that sprawled its way across Europe from Moscow.

The repression in Spain after the Civil War was brutal— Heinrich Himmler once visited Franco and advised him to cut back on sheer number of firing-squad executions, which eventually topped 50,000 deaths. Countless thousands of communist, anarchist, and social democrats were forced into slave labor gangs to construct memorials to fallen Francoist soldiers. At a concentration camp built at a monastery near Burgos, a preeminent Spanish military psychiatrist and Catholic eugenicist forcefully interrogated captured International Brigades volunteers for a Gestapo-advised study on “the biopsyche of Marxist fanaticism” and found data to support his claim that those who struggled against fascism were “psychopaths,” “schizophrenics,” “mental retards,” and “social imbeciles.” In such a nightmarish context as this, bizarre atrocity propaganda about anarchist torturers’ use of “degenerate art” is not at all surprising.

But what is weird is the enthusiastic way in which this story has been so uncritically circulated by large corporate news organizations in 2003. Even given the fact that mass media organs have a long, inglorious history of pimping anti-anarchist and anti-surrealist slander, it’s surprising how an unsubstantiated claim of modern art torture centers allegedly built by libertarian socialists sixty- five years ago could push other reports out of the spotlight, such as, let’s say, the torture of prisoners at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay. If news editors were looking for a compelling incident of Europeans orchestrating violence against political opponents, then the in-court admissions in January by Italian police about their fabrication of evidence against anti-globalization activists at the July 2001 Gang of Eight summit in Genoa might be more pertinent. In fact, the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has been unable to find a single mention of how anti-terrorism police used this frame-up to justify the savage beating of more than 200 sleeping activists in any major U.S. newspaper, magazine, national television news show, or wire service story, including outlets that had featured stories on the police raid when it first happened (like NPR). Yet this highly dubious piece of fascist propaganda about anarchist methods of psychological torture has been given a place of prominence by many major news organizations.

Surrealist André Breton was among the first in France to expose the Soviet show trials of 1936 as the most tawdry sort of fraud and an undeniable symptom of the “terrorist-imperialist” character of Stalin’s ruling bureaucracy (including, incidentally, the machinations of its commissars in the Spanish war). “Let us not be hypnotized by mysteries of the ‘confessions’,” he wrote in a denunciation of the Pyatakov-Radek witch trials. Without a doubt, he cried, the “very preposterousness” and the “fantastic enormity” of the accusations should be enough “to exonerate the accused and condemn the accusers.” More recently, the author of an intriguing examination of the Stalinist show trials in Budapest in 1956 concluded in the same vein that the dramaturgy of these political spectacles says far more revealing things about the inquisitors’ motives and fears than the “confessions” say about those being held in the dock.

What should be inferred, then, about those opinion makers today who re-run sixty-five year-old anti-anarchist propaganda derived from trials staged by murderous fascists in the service of a corporate State ?

— February 2003, La Crosse, WI [An edited version ran in Fifth Estate Vol. 38 #1 (360), Spring 2003]