Professor Scott Boehm has recently published an article that makes the case that it would be to our collective benefit to consider 20th century Spanish history when attempting to understand the political crisis currently facing in the United States in the wake of the insurrection that took place on January 6th, 2021. The article, titled “Spanish Lessons: Reflections on el 23-F and other Spanish Coup Attempts in the Aftermath of the January 6th Insurrection” has been published in the Bulletin for Spanish & Portuguese Historical Studies.
In the article he claims that while comparisons to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, as well as Hitler and Mussolini, are frequently made by historians and the media to comprehend our contemporary situation and the threat that Trump and Trumpism represent, a pair of Spanish coups in the 1930s that foreshadowed and sparked the Spanish Civil War and brought Franco to power offer lessons that are just as valuable, if not more so. He also examines how the 1981 coup that took place on February 23rd (“el 23-F”), a little over five years after Franco’s death continues to serve as a powerful “screen memory” that blocks out cultural trauma associated with the 1936 coup and Francoist repression, making it easy for the Spanish state to mobilize official memories of it in order to shore up claims about Spanish democracy, which is not nearly as strong as the Spanish state would like the world to think.
The inspiration for this article started with the events on January 6th. Much of Boehm’s research, teaching and activism has dealt with the Spanish Civil War and the Francoist dictatorship and the cultural trauma they produced. When he was watching the events of January 6th unfold, he couldn’t help but reflect on that context, which is not well-known outside of Spain. One of the most important aspects Professor Boehm hopes his article helps to highlight is the similarities between the political, social and cultural divisions present in Spain at the time of the 1932 coup—an event that has been largely forgotten to history—and the divisions we’re facing in the U.S. Not unlike the January 6th insurrection, the 1932 coup failed miserably, but four years later the 1936 coup unleashed a civil war that brought a dictator to power. Through this article, Professor Boehm considers that 20th century Spanish history begs us to pay close attention to the moment of danger in which we find ourselves today.