Spanish Civil War Posters

  • In July 1936 a group of Generals within the Spanish army staged a coup against the democratically-elected left-wing Republican government. The coup divided the army and the police, including the civil guards and the carabinieri. Many monarchists, conservatives and falangists (or Fascists) supported the rebels and formed a Nationalist movement. Socialists, communists, anarchists and also liberal democrats and others from the political centre who supported democracy formed a loose coalition of Republicans to oppose the rebellion. For the republicans this was perceived as a struggle between democracy and dictatorship. For the Nationalists it was perceived as a struggle between Christianity and Communism. By October 1936 the Nationalist forces were besieging the capital city of Madrid forcing the Republican government to re-establish itself on the coast in Valencia. A full-scale civil war had now broken out with each side receiving international support.

  • A propaganda war also broke out. It was by no means the first example of its kind. Some historians argue that the first propaganda war emerged during the American Civil War; all sides employed propaganda posters during the First World War to manipulate people’s emotions in support of the cause, to encourage men to enlist in the armed forces, to warn civilians about spies and to demonise the enemy. The Bolsheviks took poster propaganda to a new level during the Civil War between the ‘reds’ and the ‘whites’. They were seen as a valuable weapon, almost as important as guns and artillery shells, and new design techniques were developed to maximise their impact. However, the posters which emerged during the Spanish Civil War were, in many ways, unlike anything seen before.

  • This was partly because of the diversity of political positions which they represented but mainly it was because of the scale of their use, the vivid colours, the symbols and imagery that were used and the variety of artistic styles that were employed. To understand their significance in a civil war it is necessary to know that literacy levels in Spain in the 1930s were much lower than in northern and north-western Europe and in central Europe. Where over 80 percent of the population of most northern Europe countries were literate at that time the figure in Spain was nearer 50 percent. Illiteracy was particularly high amongst women, unskilled manual workers and peasants. Posters with very little text and striking images designed to emotionally engage the viewer were crucially important in a viciously-fought and uncompromising civil war.