Songs of the Contemporary Social War II is a project carried out inside the framework of the exhibition Pedro G. Romero. Verse-Composing Machines and comprises a large-scale installation and stage design conceived by Pedro G. Romero as a form of improvised square where live musical performances unfold. Inside these musical pieces, songs that Guy Debord, Alice Becker-Ho and other situationists wrote about Spain in the transition to democracy are performed and have been recovered by this artist and researcher.
In his work, Romero analyses historical events, life and the circulation of images that have represented and narrated key events in Spain’s history across the twentieth century. For such purposes, he draws on a vast archive of knowledge, disciplines and situations which bring together, schizoanalytically, sacramental iconography, the iconoclastic expression of early twentieth-century artistic avant-garde movements, flamenco, popular culture concepts and imagery, the economy, culture policies and forms of urban speculation, among others. This extensive repertory is resignified in an artwork that bursts forth indistinctly into installation, research, writing, curatorship and the connection with film and live arts.
Songs of the Contemporary Social War alludes to the title of a project created by Guy Debord, signed anonymously with the pseudonym “Some iconoclasts” and dated 1981. The initiative entailed editing a popular Spanish songbook, in a similar fashion to the one made by Federico García Lorca with flamenco dancer La Argentinita in 1931, which would form a kind of chronicle of the Spanish transition from the perspective of workers’ struggles for autonomy. This new mise en scène gives continuity to the activity Guy Debord. Songs of the Contemporary War, organised by the Museo Reina Sofía, whereby three choirs performed a selection of these songs live as a coda to the programme Guy Debord and René Viénet, from Lettrism to Situationism. Film Is Dead: If You Want, Let’s Proceed to the Debate.
This second manifestation features performers Rodrigo Cuevas, Gabriel de la Tomasa, Niño de Elche, Pollito de Graná, Oier Etxeberria, Julio Jara, Le Parody, Soleá Morente and Christina Rosenvinge. A pre-eminent selection of artists who, in the fields of flamenco, avant-garde art and independent music, continue Guy Debord’s objective to use this songbook to bring together classical, experimental and popular music.
The following synopses and clarifications on the authorship of songs that are part of this programme have been crafted from different sources, such as the Songs of the Contemporary Social War manifesto from 1981, lyrics from the compositions and the research of Pedro G. Romero.
From 2 to 7 November 2021
Gabriel de la Tomasa. Coplas of the Cádiz Roadblocks
Anonymous, Cádiz, 1977
The Moncloa Pacts (1977) were the first unspoken official manifestation of the agreement between Adolfo Suárez’s Government and the political-trade union opposition. The song interprets how these pacts led to the workers’ assembly movement being rendered irrelevant and thus avoiding any revolutionary intent between workers. At the same time, inspired by the strikes at the Roca factory in Gavà and the workers’ movement in Vitoria in 1976, on 2 November 1977 a mass strike was held by workers from Astilleros S.A. in Cádiz, whereby the city was filled with roadblocks. The protest lasted for two days, before the city was occupied by police — the events recounted in this song.
From 8 to 14 November 2021
El Corofón. The Romance of Capture and the Death of Oriol Solé Sugranyes
Anonymous, Barcelona, 1976
— With the music of Georges Moustaki. Le métèque, 1968
This song is performed by a choir with musical foundations. The importance of Oriol Solé Sugranyes (1948–1976) in the Barcelona workers’ movement during the final years of Francoism cannot be overstated given that he was part of its decisive moments and organisation and crucially continued the proletarian traditions of Francisco Ascaso, Buenaventura Durruti and Francisco Sabater, its greatest exponents. In Francoism’s latter years, Solé was in prison, but escaped in the historic Segovia jailbreak in 1976 along with 28 other prisoners. The Carlos Arias Navarro Government turned this escape into a State matter, and bad luck meant that the fugitives were spotted by one of the countless Guardia Civil patrols searching for them. The ballad becomes laconic at the end, without grandiose words or concessions: one falls, the battle goes on.
From 15 to 21 November 2021
Julio Jara. In Memory of Gladys del Estal
Anonymous, of Gypsy Origin, 1979
Gladys del Estal was an environmental activist killed by a guardia civil officer during a crackdown of the protest organised by Basque anti-nuclear committees in Tudela. Her death moved the population to the extent that in the cities of Pamplona and San Sebastián barricades were erected and a general strike was declared, the most violent in the Basque Country since the Vitoria and Basauri protests in 1976, which left a trail of deaths and casualties at a time when the right to assemble, protest and strike was still prohibited. The song, a rumba, evinces how nobody expresses feelings of retribution through a long history of repression, linked to the Guardia Civil, quite like the gypsies. Equally, it attempts to upend the image of gypsies as marginal figures with little concern for social issues.
From 22 to 28 November 2021
Soleá Morente. Song for the Parla Uprising
Anonymous, Madrid, 1979
During the 1979 election campaign, the general atmosphere of discontent and social protests sparked a series of altercations in different towns, one of them Parla. In this municipality on the outskirts of Madrid, neighbourhood protests triggered by insufficient water supplies caused three days of intense violence. The present song commemorates — to the same tune with which the defence of the Puente de los Franceses in the Peninsular War was celebrated — the roadblock resistance on carretera N-401, a road used by police convoys from Madrid. During the days of the uprising, Parla was the stage for a key revolutionary weapon: direct communication and the rejection of mediators and officers. The revolt ended with 380 arrested, 40 or so injured and one dead.
From 29 November to 5 December 2021
Rodrigo Cuevas. The Segovia Prison
Prisoners’ Song, 1980
Many libertarians felt it was shameful to be content with the crumbs of liberation from Franco’s dictatorship, an accusation aimed at members of the National Confederation of Labour (CNT), an organisation with an anarcho-syndicalist ideology. Conversely, they would not acquiesce in anything that was not the revolution, and after forty years of counter-revolution they would not settle for less. Following the example of activist Oriol Solé Sugranyes and his comrades, members of anarchist revolutionary groups, the libertarians traced a path that led them to the Segovia prison for political prisoners. The song recalls their will to prevail and an awareness of the risks they ran and accepted.
From 6 to 12 December 2021
Christina Rosenvinge. Ballad of Manuel Nogales Toro
Prisoners’ Song, 1980
A delegate on the Board of the SEAT factory and a member of the Revolutionary Army of Workers’ Assistance (ERAT), Manuel Nogales Toro embodies “the wrath of the whole Spanish proletariat” in Debord’s view. He was arrested in 1978 accused of various theft crimes against banking organisations and companies. The expropriations — “the first tax on the bourgeois”, according to an ERAT communiqué — were part of this settling of scores with the ruling class. In return, certain measures were taken, such as the construction of the Herrera de la Mancha prison, where “the transition ended”, as the song ironically utters, or the use of trade unions to break up strikes. The music belongs to the corrido of Juan sin tierra (Landless Juan), a track written by Mexican composer Juan Saldaña in 1956 with versions by Chilean singer-songwriter Víctor Jara and Spanish group SKA-P.
From 10 to 16 January 2022
Niño de Elche. Song for the SEAT Workers Serving Time in Segovia
Anonymous, Compiled in Barcelona, 1980
This focus of this song is on the five proletarians who formed the so-called Revolutionary Army of Workers’ Assistance (ERAT), dedicated to expropriating from companies and banks to help strikers and workers laid off by the SEAT company. In 1978, its members were arrested, accused of belonging to an armed gang and, two years later, sentenced to seven years in prison, serving their sentence in Segovia Prison. “The nationalist hymn of Els Segadors appears here freed from the reactionary weight of Catalanism, serving a worthier cause. The interest in weapons warrants particular attention and is constantly repeated in the form of a chorus”, the message notes at the end of the video clip to the song.
From 17 to 23 January 2022
Pollito de Graná. The Uprising of 29 January
The relatively unstable politics of President Adolfo Suárez in relation to Spain’s Autonomous Regions, the legalisation of divorce and, primarily, his failure to suppress Basque insurgence, caused the most riotous uprising in Spain’s history, according to the lyrics to this song. It was an uprising with no hearsay or rumours and was broadly discredited, yet it still continued its inexorable course: the Army would discharge its leader from the Government; bishops met and discovered they were enemies of divorce; the Government revealed that a detained member of ETA had just been tortured to death the previous day, sparking a revolt in the Basque Country; police torturers were prosecuted and immediately after police chiefs resigned. “Democracy, democracy can no longer walk. Because it is lacking, because it lacks military consent”, recites this song, compiled by Debord, to the rhythm of La Cucaracha.
From 31 January to 6 February 2022
Oier Etxeberria. Probe into the Deaths of Zapa and Roberto
Anonymous, Basque Country, 1978
The song alludes to the execution of two members of the Autonomous Anti-Capitalist Commandos — the most radical armed Basque organisation of the time — which took place in Mondragón on 16 November 1978. It was perhaps the most notorious case in the application of the Law of Flight, a kind of extrajudicial execution which allowed the murder of a prisoner to be concealed by simulating their escape. The response to the execution was an extremely violent general strike
From 21 to 27 February 2022
Le Parody. El Tejero
The storming of Congress, under the orders of Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero, culminated in an uprising that had been making headway since 17 December 1980, the date on which Tejero laid out his intentions in the pages of the magazine El Alcázar, plans which all leading figures from the political parties chose to ignore. This song relates how the coup led the political parties to cling to the constitutional monarchy. Therefore, as interpreted in the Songs of the Social Contemporary War pamphlet, the generals momentarily sacrificed the hastiest and most extremist elements of their own plot to make the whole political spectrum aware, from UCD to CNT, that they had to choose between calm submission or “the sound of sabres”.