Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Simple History Series: the Spanish Civil War


Microcosm has taken over the publishing of John Gerlach's Simple History Series, with the volume covering the Spanish Civil War being the second they've printed. I picked up a copy on Sunday, and read through it that afternoon.

One of the first questions that came to mind, while reading this zine, was: how simple is too simple? Gerlach has stripped the topic down to the point where it offers less information than you'd find in the Wikipedia article on the same subject (I'm obliged to mention here that I found Gerlach's work easier to read than the Wikipedia article, and simplification might be part of why). At what point do the benefits of simplification founder under the weight of its drawbacks?

Another question: can the potential benefit of covering this topic in Gerlach's series be quantified? I've got the feeling that a fair amount of the people who pick up this zine might have never read anything about the Spanish Civil War otherwise. Sure, the topic has a special place in the hearts of a lot of revolutionary-minded people because of the radical political forces involved (conservatives/fascists vs. communists/anarchists/progressives), but for all of those 'revolutionaries' who identify as intellectual and love diving into books and articles, you've got plenty more who wouldn't touch a thick tome with a ten-foot pole, but might actually read a zine (especially if that zine is promoted by Microcosm, which has a pretty large audience).

A third question, less about this title itself and more about the topic covered: what would it take for a similar war to take place here in the United States? The Spanish Civil War came about because of the failure of Spain's political system to satisfy the demands of a people that had been dramatically polarized into the haves and the have-nots (to boil things down to even simpler terms than those found in Gerlach's zine). With the outrageous disparity of wealth in this country (1, 2), and with the dissatisfaction felt by so many people here (as evidenced by the Occupy movement, amongst other things), today's USA has a lot in common with Spain in the 1930s. And yet, it's pretty hard for me to imagine our populace actually taking up arms.

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