“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.”
—Karl Marx, Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852
Recent releases discussed in this article:
Basura “No Seas Lesbiana Mi Amor” 7" (Munster 7210)
La Banda Trapera Del Río “Comics Y Cigarillos” 7" (Munster 7211)
La Banda Trapera Del Río “Grabaciones Completas 1978/1982” 2xLP (Munster 276 2006)
La Banda Trapera Del Río “La Regla” 7" (Munster 7195)
Mortimer “Idi Amin Dada” 7" (Munster 7209)
Zarpa Rock “Los 4 Jinetes Del Apocalípsis” CD (Iberian Rocks IR-1001)
v/a “Andergraun Vibrations” Vol. 2 LP (Hundergrum H-2002)
In November 1975, when General Francisco Franco died, four decades of dictatorship that melded state repression with fundamentalist Catholic moralism were not easily jettisoned. Although the last half of Franco’s rule did open new spaces for cultural expression, ossified habits remained—most notably silence, an absence of discourse about the present political situation. The old’s shuddering at the shock of the new was a theme of Spain’s (or the world’s) modernity, but the old, as embodied by conservatism, also produced the new, as embodied by socialism. In Spain, the radical desire for socialist revolution was catalyzed by the backwardness thrust upon that society by the pseudo-progress of the military dictatorship of the period before the civil war. Fascism, in its essence, was an attempt to insinuate an imagined “old,” a valorized set of national traditions, into modernity as a bulwark against the shock of newness, even as doing so was a constitutively “new,” modern project. The desire, writ large, to “go back,” along with, for example, Modernism’s fetishism of the “primitive,” was not possible until the entry into a decisively new historical epoch put (primitive) traditions at a distance. This contestation of values, of visions for human relations, most violently manifest during the civil war, placed millions on specific, countervailing sides of history.
When punk rock emerged in Spain, its nihilism was a rejection of this struggle. Although left-wing and anarchist punks were common in the 1980s, the original explosion, documented on vinyl in 1978, was not directly partisan. And yet in trying to reject their parents’ and grandparents’ struggles, the punks were also showing that they not could break free from history’s manacles even as their outward appearance indicated efforts to do so. Punk emerged around the world at the very moment that Spanish society at large was facing the post-dictatorship dawn. In Spain, I believe, this concomitance meant that punk rockers’ expression was colored by the experience of having come of age in the somnambulent final years of Franco’s life. The attenuated availability of cultural forms that could inspire punks, even as reagents, meant that the music itself took shape in less recognizably “punk” ways compared to punk rock in other countries. And, most of all, the societal norms against which the first Spanish punks arrayed themselves were more constrictive, duplicitous, and generally pernicious than those of other countries—but at the same time, the rest of Spanish society was also teaching itself to begin imagining life not wholly circumscribed by a narrow, enervating, state-enforced set of values and everyday practices. The punks, as well as everyone else, therefore, as much as they were not interested in the traditional set-piece battles of their ancestors, were not starting with a tabula rasa. By noting humanity’s collective tethers to the horrors of its past, I am not criticizing Spain’s punks nor devaluing their achievements. Rather, I hope to show how Spanish punks in 1978 negotiated the volatile political period of the first years after Franco’s death and explain how the contingency between the dictatorship and punk rock made this moment unique. Furthermore, although 1978 was the year punk exploded in Spain, it was also the year the country’s constitution was ratified, cementing the transition to parliamentary democracy, which so changed the country’s political stakes that punks and other radicals needed another couple years to regroup, which begins to explain why more Spanish punk records were produced in 1978 than in 1979, 1980, and 1981 combined.
The punk explosion had its local contexts. Madrid, traditionally a stronghold of the Falange (Franco’s party), developed a punk scene characterized much more as a release valve, a safety mechanism that allowed the children of the bourgeoisie to experiment with new-found freedom prior to reintegrating with their parents’ society, even as that society was evolving to accommodate greater liberalism—due, in very small part, to the example punk offered. In Barcelona, an economic center that Franco needed but nevertheless despised for its independent streak (attributable both to a history of leftism and Catalan nationalism), punk flourished in a less superficial way. However, the health of the punk scene was not due to Barcelona’s liberalism giving it space so much as the opposite: La Banda Trapera Del Río hailed from one of Modernism’s experiments in exclusion, a suburban housing project designed for factory workers but filled by the late 1970s largely with poor and unemployed immigrants. Rather than inclusiveness based on an affinity between punk rock and Barcelona’s liberalism or the city’s own marginalized status under Franco (when Catalan language and culture were suppressed), it was the punks’ exclusion from mainstream society that enabled—nay, forced—these miscreants to create a subculture that made sense to them, or that made no sense to their elders.
A rejection of the struggles of the civil war, the struggles driven underground and abroad by fascism, could be seen in—parallel with the experience of many post-dictatorship societies—Spain’s collective, silent refusal to address, digest, and come to terms with the past, as well as its haste to enter into a European present of parliamentary democracy and consumer capitalism. These were Spanish society’s inheritance from the past in the late 1970s just after Franco died, characterizing its present. Punk’s rejection of those struggles, however, was different. It was a rejection of the silence that characterized both life under dictatorship and the immediate post-dictatorship period. And thus did punk too inherit a contextual past, which characterized its present. Punk in Spain emerged at the same time as the nascent historical trend toward parliamentary democracy; it would therefore be impossible to disentangle its genesis from this liberalization. But I do not believe that its emergence is synonymous with the liberalization process. Almen TNT’s lone 45, the first independently released Spanish punk record, which came out in 1979, is notable for its Stooges-sounding song “Ya Nadie Cree En La Revolución,” about how no one believes in revolution anymore. The song decries the consumer culture that was emerging (particularly, the well-known department store chain El Corte Inglés). By embracing this version of capitalism with the fall of the dictatorship, Spanish society failed to face exactly what the defeat of the most radical currents in the civil war entailed. All the way back in 1965, the Situationist International presciently diagnosed this problem in its “Address to Revolutionaries of Algeria and All Countries.” They wrote:
The Asturian miners’ strike (virtually continuous since 1962) and all the other signs of opposition that herald the end of Francoism do not indicate an inevitable future for Spain, but a choice: either the holy alliance now being prepared by the Spanish Church, the monarchists, the “left Falangists” and the Stalinists to harmoniously adapt post-Franco Spain to modernized capitalism and to the Common Market; or the resumption and completion of the most radical aspects of the revolution that was defeated by Franco and his accomplices on all sides—the revolution that realized truly socialist human relationships for a few weeks in Barcelona in 1936.
As we know, the truly socialist human relationships of 1936 were not realized with the fall of Franco. Almen TNT knew that too and did not want to keep quiet about it. Spain’s national economic reforms of 1959, which entailed accepting assistance from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, did not lay the groundwork for the end of Francoism so much as for the smooth transition from dictatorship to late capitalism, with socialism far off the map. (“Peacefully” extirpating left alternatives to capitalism is the fundamental goal of the work of these institutions.) Among the early punks were workers, unemployed, leftists, anarchists, lotharios, impresarios, queens, dykes, poseurs, scroungers, fops, hop-heads, sots, borrachos, thugs, delinquents, cut-throats, loafers, finks, slobs, perverts, pugilists, common criminals, hustlers, scammers, skimmers, skeezers, students (gasp!), and perhaps even unreconstructed Falangists: punk in Spain in 1978 was not monolithic. It differed from city to city, band to band. But punks, I believe, shared a collective, perhaps unconscious, desire not simply to allow the (recent) past to fade into the dark, inaccessible reaches of memory. Even as they chose not to rehearse their parents’ and grandparents’ fights, they tried to throw history into relief, to shove polite society’s face into the shit it had dealt in its efforts to move on after Franco’s death.
Generally speaking, the transition from dictatorship to parliamentary democracy was difficult. The first prime minister expressly attempted to continue the Francoist project. There were outbreaks of violence, attempts by the extreme right to prevent the transition. But what punk did was to say that, although bourgeois society wanted to nod in agreement that fascism was execrable, also execrable was the failure to seize the opening up of that society and the transformation of it into the softer bondage of market capitalism and representative democracy. Punk’s implicit accusation was what Spanish society at large has begun to accept only recently: that everyone who lived under the dictatorship, no matter their internal discomfort, was a collaborationist. Spain had once shown the world the feats that could be achieved by radical political imagination, and punk knew it. Punk did not appropriate socialism as its goal. That was the point!—the old goals, which implied the old dyads, were no longer tenable. At the same time, punk argued that acquiescence to the failure of fascism and the failure of socialism was untenable as well—because this acquiescence meant a belief that capitalism should, by rights, prevail. Spanish punk in 1978 did not have a coherent ideology and had no desire to promulgate one. Its unifier was simple: possibility.