I don’t get all that much traffic on this site, but by far the most popular post I’ve made was a photograph of Marina Ginesta, a member of a youth communist group in Second Spanish Republic-era Barcelona. Much like the Mona Lisa, I feel Ginesta’s expression is complex and changes each time you look on it. More than any other image, I feel Ginesta embodies the leftist spirit before and during the Civil War. It was a time of great progress, great violence, and crushing defeat. But through this picture you’re transported back to 1936. The war isn’t lost. There is still room for optimism.
According to an obituary posted in Spanish, Marina Ginesta has just died at the age of 94. She had lived much of her later life in France. Who knows how many friends and comrades she had that did not live into old age.
R. C. Smith at Heathwood Press has been producing a large amount of writing on critical theory and alternatives to traditional communism and current capitalism. In the first section of this piece published today he talks about the failure of the traditional left to challenge capitalism – which exists in many places because it is viewed as the only viable option. Here’s a particularly important quote:
Moreover, it is the ‘left’ today that exists in delusion, apathetic to the concerns of the ‘average citizen’. It is the left that needs to change its approach and fundamental philosophy. If the communist and socialist movements of old are no longer trusted by a vast majority of people, this is because in history they have left little reason for trust, often historically betraying their own manifesto promises and resulting in unspeakable barbarity. Until the communist movement as a whole moves beyond its many false Idols and the proposing of abstract ideas and starts advocating actual concrete, viable alternatives, it will never gain any ground … in what way and for what reason is there enough actual theoretical and practical substance on a foundational level to consider communism (as presently defined) an actual option in the 21st Century?
I’ve written a couple of similar critiques of the American left (here and here) focusing on how protests are hijacked and groups divided by extremist groups like the Revolutionary Communist Party and the Workers World Party. I think Smith’s point is key- having superior theory doesn’t count for much if you want real-world change. Regular people need concrete reasons to support a system besides modern capitalism.
Last week I read a friend’s history thesis, about anarchist guerrillas in Catalonia after Franco won the civil war. Marina, who was part of a youth communist militia (the Juventudes Comunistas), has that subtle confidence that I read about, that makes the Second Spanish Republic such an interesting and unusual period in history.
As of 2008, Marina was still alive, having lived well into old age. Many young women such as her were killed in the fighting.