Songs of the Contemporary Social War is the title of a pamphlet made by Guy Debord, signed anonymously under the pseudonym “Some iconoclasts” and dated May 1981. The project, which began to take root before 1968, involved editing a popular Iberian song book, in a similar fashion to the one made by Federico García Lorca with La Argentinita in 1931, which would bear witness to contemporary political transformations in Spain. In this concert, the song book is performed live by three choirs and an ensemble of contemporary artists on video.
The twelve songs published in the pamphlet are devoted to the struggles of the Autonomous Movement, a splintered political movement from communism in the 1970s and 1980s and one that took up the tenets of May ’68 during the Transition to democracy in Spain. The songs were conceived as a recording that was supposed to be made by Mara — also known as Mara Jerez and her flamenco youths — who had been the first soloist to accompany Paco Ibáñez. The singer turned down the project, just as the different groups of Autonomía Obrera (Workers’ Autonomy) did after questioning its relevance. The recording and circulation of the book sought to raise money for a common fund to help prisoners from the Autonomous Movement in Spain who were being held in Segovia Prison for participating in actions undertaken by different Anti-Franco groups, for instance Movimiento Ibérico de Liberación-Grupos Autónomos de Combate (the Iberian Movement of Liberation-Autonomous Combat Groups, MIL-GAC), Ejército Revolucionario de Ayuda a los Trabajadores (the Revolutionary Army to Aid Workers, ERAT) and the Comandos Autónomos Anticapitalistas (Autonomous Anti-Capitalist Cells), among others.
In a letter to Guillermo González García, to whom a version of Ya se van los pastores para Extremadura (The Shepherds Are Heading to Extremadura) is devoted here, Guy Debord addressed the issue that arose between disseminating the cause and its ideas and the possibility of it simply involving another “leftist artistic spectacle” – a debate that remains open. In fact, Miguel Amorós and Jaime Semprún, spokespeople of the French theorist in this pamphlet, have voiced their scepticism on numerous occasions after seeing how the fetishism of Situationist commodities took their different productions of agitation — pamphlets, publications, films — to art spaces or museum display cases. In fact, it is that political nature that brings about its circulation in cultural spaces which, in no way a separate sphere, are also political; places which can become conductors of dissidence and with the capacity to mutate into “temporarily autonomous spaces” in which clear gestures of politicisation operate.
Yet Debord’s project would also take its own path: first, running the La Méthode café with Michèle Bernstein in 1958, where these forms of popular détournement (a Situationist technique translated as ‘drift’ or ‘derailment’) were carried out by figures such as Federico García Lorca. The different factions also continued during the Spanish Civil War and after, when Debord discovered the Cádiz Carnival during one of his spells in Spain. Second, with the publication of the album Pour en finir avec le travail. Chansons du prolétariat révolutionnaire – Vol. 1 (To Finish with Work. Songs of the Revolutionary Proletariat, 1974), a collaboration between Guy Debord, Alice Becker-Ho, Raoul Vaneigem and Jacques Le Glou. And, finally, with the collection of unreleased songs, many composed alongside the film project De l’Espagne, which in the end Debord would never undertake.
In this edition Songs of the Contemporary Social War is accompanied by the performances of three choirs committed to feminism, anti-racism and anti-capitalism, in addition to video versions by different artists. The concert, a coda to the series Guy Debord and René Viénet, from Lettrism to Situationism. Film Is Dead: If You Want, Let’s Proceed to the Debate, seeks to recover recollections of this little-known project and revitalise the work of the Situationists of the past and the different groups pertaining to Autonomía Obrera, genuinely forgotten in the “Spanish reality of the neo-democratic period”, as Debord put it.
With the sponsorship of: