Introduction

Visual Index (Entire Poster Collection)

Catalogue

Chronology of the War

Acknowledgements

Lists of References

Afterword: Herbert R. Southworth Collection


 

Campesino, defiende con las armas al gobierno que te dio la tierra.

Artículo Primero: Se acuerda la expropiaciòn sin indemización y a favor del Estado de las fincas rústicas, cualesquiera que sea su extensión y aprovechamiento, pertenecientes en 18 de julio de 1936 a las personas naturales o sus conyuges y a las jurídicas que hayan intervenido de manera directa o indirecta en el movimiento insurreccional contra la República. Artículo Cuarto: El uso y disfrute de las fincas rústicas expropiadas según el artículo lo se dará a los braceros y campesinos del término municipal de su emplazamiento o de los colindantes, según los casos, con sujeción a las siguientes normas. Del decreto 7 de octubre 1936. El Ministro de Agricultura: Vicente Uribe Galdeano

[Peasant, defend with weapons the government that has given you the land... From the decree of October 7, 1936]. Signed: Renau. Ministerio de Agricultura. Gráficas Valencia, Intervenido U.G.T. C.N.T. Lithograph, 4 colors; 153 x 103 cm.

The artist Renau incorporated into his work part of the text of a law by which the land belonging to all those associated with the military rebellion was turned over to local peasants and day-laborers. The gun held by the muscular peasant is inscribed with the word decreto (decree). Curled around it, and run through by the bayonet, is a wounded snake, identified as the propietario faccioso (factious landlord). The use of this animal surely stems from the traditional use of snakes as symbols of evil, most notably in the case of the expulsion of Adam and Eve. The decree confiscating the land is presented in this poster as a weapon with which to defeat one group which had supported the military uprising that led to the Civil War: the land-owners. This decree was one of the most important efforts in the area of land reform during the war. It resulted in the transfer of nearly one-third of Spain's arable soil to about 300,000 peasants. Vicente Uribe Galdeano, the Minister of Agriculture mentioned in the text, occupied the Ministry in the cabinets headed by Francisco Largo Caballero and Juan Negrín, from September 4, 1936 to nearly the end of the war. He was one of the most important Marxist theorists in Spain and a leader of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE). As Minister of Agriculture, Uribe opposed the collectivization advocated by the anarchist and socialist trade-unions, and upheld a policy of more moderate agrarian reform which favored peasant proprietors and tenant farmers.

The issue of agrarian reform was one of the most contentious problems faced by the Spanish Second Republic from its birth in 1931. A symbol of its importance was the renaming of a street in Madrid during the Republican period as "Agrarian Reform Street." It has also been seen as one of the main reasons for the outbreak of the war which began in July 1936. According to one historian, the war "was initiated [by the right-wing military rebellion] for the benefit of the large property owners, and they were the winners." The basic problem was the uneven distribution of land: traditionally in Spain there existed large (more than 100 hectares), unproductive estates and numerous landless laborers, especially in the southern and southwestern regions of the country. This resulted in frequent conflicts and violence, including crop burning and robbery. The agricultural problem remained in the forefront during the years of the conflict, and was used by the government and other organizations in their efforts to secure a popular following, as this and similar posters show.

This poster is signed by Josep Renau, one of the most important artists represented in the Southworth Collection. A member of the Spanish Communist Party, he was active during the war both in art and in politics. On September 7, 1936, when he was only twenty-nine years old, Renau was named Director General of Fine Arts in the central government; in that post, he was in charge of safeguarding the artistic treasures of Spain. He was also one of the figures responsible for organizing the Spanish Pavilion in the International Exhibition held in Paris in 1937 (for which Picasso painted Guernica). In a letter written in 1974, Renau dated this poster to 1936. It was therefore designed and printed between the date of the decree, October 7, 1936, and the end of that year. Since it was printed in Valencia, it was probably issued after the government left Madrid for Valencia on November 6. In the letter mentioned above, Renau says about this poster:

It is one of my worst posters. I made it in a hurry, in less than twelve hours, and the texts were added in the printing house. As can be seen, both the lay-out and the types of letters used are terribly bad. What could we do! It was the war. However, it is a true historical document: the official poster of the only and authentic agrarian reform that our unfortunate history has known. Aside from the extraordinary format, a very large edition was printed (I do not remember the exact numbers). It was posted even in the smallest towns throughout the territory controlled by the government of the Republic. Considering the stage of the mass-media at the time, this poster was the most useful means of informing and mobilizing the poorest peasantry in defense of the Republic. It was also the most efficacious way of increasing agricultural production in order to insure the provision of food to the front of the antifascist armed struggle.

Viewers today should not feel bound by the opinion of the artist about the quality of this poster; it remains an image of striking power. While the layout may be considered awkward, it may also be given a positive reading: the competing images of the larger-than-life laborer, the wounded snake swirling around the gun, and the hand with the sickle imbue the image with an unresolved tension which heightens the impact of each individual element. The strident colors, especially in the lower section, add a suggestion of fire-like heat that contributes to the compelling call made in the poster.

 
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