Judith's Review of Reviews: Germinal

The Spanish Left of 1898 were angry young men, and the newspaper Germinal lays bare that anger. Stemming from the economic and social inequalities which pervaded Spanish society, the contributors to Germinal did not hold back when it came to speaking their minds, and did not hesitate to reproduce controversial writings from other countries. The newspaper can be characterised by a spirit of rebellion against established values, with anarchists lauded, feminists praised, and the monarchy criticised. But by far the greatest vitriol was reserved for the forces of capital and the capitalist system. The political tone of the newspaper did not, however, prevent it from appropriating gems from the artistic and literary world, which were then seeded among the political commentaries like shiny baubles in a magpie’s nest. In this brief review of the 34 extant digitised copies, found online at the Biblioteca Virtual de la Prensa Historica, Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, I will analyse the elements of the newspaper which caught my eye, by way of indicating the potential rich pickings for historians or literary researchers who may be considering whether an in-depth study this periodical is worthy of their time.

The 34 copies which are reviewed here date from 30th of April 1897, when the periodical was launched, until the final issue of the 14th of April 1899. In exactly two years the magazine managed to feature most of the prominent writers of the ‘98 generation. Without wishing to turn this article into a tediously long list, which would be easy to do when there are over 200 named authors and artists in the newspaper, it would be remiss of me not to mention its most prominent contributors: Joaquin Dicenta (also the editor up until the 15th October 1897), Nicolás Salmerón y García (the subsequent editor), Ernesto Bark, Francisco Maceín, Rafael Delorme, Ramón de Maeztu, Jacinto Benavente, Juan Jurado de la Parra, Ricardo Fuente, Eduardo Zamacois, Salvador Rueda, Julio Poveda, Arturo Reyes, Julio Thermidor, Urbano González Serrano, Eusebio Blasco, Joaquín Segura, Antonio Palomero and José Verdes Montenegro. Several well-known Spanish names, although only appearing occasionally, are worthy of mention for their cultural weight. These include Ramón del Valle-Inclán, Santiago Rusiñol, Manuel José Quintana, Francisco Pí y Margall, Pío Baroja and José Echegaray. In addition, unsurprisingly for this explicitly feminist newspaper, women’s contributions are occasionally reproduced, with a report each from Bertha Wilhelmi and Louise Michel, a transcribed speech from Maud Gonne, four poems from Elisa Casas, and a painting from Maude Goodman. Not only is this a rich literary source for the writings of the Gente Nueva, but also through the regular news sections (Rasgos, Cosas) and profiles, there is plenty of historical and biographical material, with clues to the relationship dynamics of the community also lying within the text. 

While there is a predominance of Spanish authors, the newspaper is firmly international in outlook and publishes reports from correspondents in Paris, Berlin and New York. In addition, translated work from foreign authors is liberally reproduced, especially when these writers, poets and dramatists are social critics. These countries include France (Émile Zola, Victor Hugo, Catulle Mendès, Alfred de Musset, Guy de Maupassant, Octave Mirbeau, Alfonse Daudet, Théophile Gautier, Jean Rameau, Jean Richepin, Edmond Demolins, Émile Faguet, Maurice Rollinat, Sully Prudhomme, Jean-Marie Guyau, Leconte de Lisle, Louise Michel), Russia (Leo Tolstoy, A. F. Pisemsky, Ivan Turgenev, Mikhail Bakunin), England (Thomas Hood, Thomas Carlyle, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Shakespeare, Thorold Rogers, Lord Byron), the Philippines (José Rizal – interestingly, these are verses which the editors states were written on his last night on earth and were previously unpublished), Germany and Austria Hungary (Friedrich Schiller, Heinrich Heine, Fritz Mauthner, Max Nordau, Eduard von Grützner), Italy (Olindo Guerrini, Giacomo Leopardi, Errico Ferri, Emilio Ferrari, Errico Malatesta, Pablo Mantegazza), and Ireland (Maud Gonne).

The newspaper also evidences an international circulation – a study of the Correspondencia Administrativa section shows that as well as subscribers in at least 170 Spanish localities, there are also subscribers in London, New York, Evora (Portugal) and Guadalajara (Mexico).

In addition to the variety of written genres within the magazine, there is also space given to the visual, with paintings often being used to provide the pictorial accompaniment to scathing social commentary. Examples of what might be deemed ‘protest art’ include the unsigned and untitled painting of the 24/4/1897 issue which portrays Christ crucified against steel girders, José Jiménez Aranda’s ‘Una desgracia’ (6/8/1897) of a builder falling from scaffolding (‘una de esas víctimas del orden social presente, que los anales contemporáneos cuentan ya por millones’), ‘Una huelga’ (F. Esser, 20/8/97) of starving workers being stabbed and shot by police at the Río Tinto mines, ‘Rendida’ (Luis Huidobro, same issue) of an impoverished seamstress collapsed over her work, and the self-explanatory painting by Joaquín Sorolla, ‘Trata de blancas’ (8/10/1897, pictured in its colourful original).

To completely dispossess the modern reader of any nostalgic, rose-tinted vision of the ‘good old days’, the newspaper offers the modern reader unflinching portraits of the realities of life for the working poor, whether that be of the starving Andalucian peasant, the builder, the conscript, or the equally hungry white-collar workers of the cities (‘los proletarios de levita’). Equally, the newspaper does not fail to point the finger at the culprits for this misery. In ‘El enemigo’ (18/6/1897) Ricardo Fuentes writes about how capitalism and capital is the enemy of the people, and by way of solution to the problem Rafael Delorme writes about how worker’s cooperatives can take banking into their own hands (‘Las cajas de resistencia’, 11/6/1897). The writing continues to sail close to the edge of social acceptability with Pablo Adam’s 9/7/1897 ‘Elogio de Ravachol’, which lionises and makes a martyr of the executed French anarchist, and continues to build in intensity with ‘¡Loor a los héroes de 1789!’ in the following week’s issue. The dissident voices grow to a crescendo with the publication in the 30/7/97 edition of the anonymous ‘Proceder salvaje. La Inquisición en España durante el siglo XIX’ which strongly criticises the Cánovas government and its treatment of the Montjuich prisoners, and ‘Disolución’ (Ramiro de Maeztu, writing under the pseudonym of Rotuney) which calls, as the title suggests, for the bourgeoisie to be dissolved so that the socialist agenda can proceed. Interestingly, it is precisely the last paragraphs of ‘Disolución’, which explain why ‘(esa) Bastilla del burguesismo deberá ser destruída’, which have been highlighted in the margins by a reader at some point with a pencil, although we will never know if this was a researcher, a sympathiser or a government censor.

Just over a week after Rotuney’s article, Spanish society is rocked to its foundations as, on the 8th of August 1897, prime minister Antonio Cánovas del Castillo is shot dead by the Italian anarchist Angiolillo Galli. As one might expect, this has implications for Germinal.

In the issue immediately after the assassination, we read the following in the ‘quick news’ section:

Despite the writers’ mocking defiance in the face of state oppression, it is all too much for one of the writers, Enrique Alonso y Orera, as can be seen in the following sardonic news snippet of the following week (20/8/1897):

One can hardly blame Alonso y Orera for his pusillanimity when his contributions to the newspaper had primarily centred on Spanish theatre. It also appears to be too much for the advertisers - after the 27/8/1897 issue (we can assume that payment is made weeks in advance), the advertisements reduce to a trickle, and in some issues disappear completely (compare the earliest issues, where up to eighteen advertisements featured).

For the remaining writers, their views remain unchanged, as seen by the anonymously written lead article of the same issue (‘El problema en pie’, 20/8/1897) which calls out the hypocrisy of Spanish society and the fact that executing the assassin treats the symptom of the problem of social injustice without treating the underlying cause of capitalism and corruption. Indeed, they place the murderer and the murdered on the same moral plane, as if enemy combatants at war.


Quédense las lágrimas para la familia del finado, ante cuyo cadáver nos inclinamos respectuosamente, como nos inclinaremos compasivamente mañana ante el cadáver de Angiolillo Galli. La memoria del hombre muerto, del hermano muerto, será siempre respetable para nosotros, tan respetable como odiosa la memoria del político reaccionario y del crimen que le arrojó del mundo…


Dos hombres caídos y el problema en pie.


It is clear that the combination of state repression with bohemian lifestyles is beginning to take its toll on the freethinkers, as we read a few weeks later, in the 10/9/1897 issue:



No sabemos á punto fijo qué número tiene en el hospital de la Princesa la cama donde ha arrojado una enfermedad á nuestro querido compañero de redacción, á nuestro hermano Rafael Delorme.

Ese hombre, delatado por algún miserable á los centros gubernativos como un malvado, como un hombre peligroso, como anarquista de acción, se ha visto falto de salud y ha tenido que buscar remedio á sus males en la sala de pago de un hospital.

Inteligente, joven, instruído, valeroso, Rafael Delorme podía tener á la hora presente, si hubiese seguido otros derroteros periodísticos y otros caminos políticos, más rastreros pero más seguros, un buen pasar; no le hubiera sorprendido la enfermedad sin recursos, con el cerebro lleno de ideas y los bolsillos vacíos de dinero.

Tendría un sueldecito, dos ó tres subvenciones de cualquier Ministerio en pago de Memorias que nunca se escriben y de libros que nadie lee; ropa, casa, lo que tienen muchos que no valen, ¡qué tontería iba á decir! que no permiten insultar á Delorme comparándole con ellos.

¿Qué necesitaba para esto? Haber hecho de sus ideas un comodín, de su talento un coche de alquiler, de su dignidad una prostituta carrerista y de su valor un estilete de condotieri… Con eso le bastaba… Hubiéralo hecho y se puede apostar á que ni estaría en la cama núm….. del hospital de la Princesa, ni en el libro de sospechosos del Gobierno civil.

Pero ese malvado, ese hombre sobre quien recaen los recelos del decapitado partido conservador; no ha querido vender su inteligencia, ni su dignidad, ni su bravura; ha querido luchar por ideales puros, nobles, de esos que no necesitan el fiel contraste de la Subsecretaría de Gobernación. Socialista convencido, tan adversario de las hecatombes sangrientas como entusiasta partidario del progreso y de la redención humanos, ha preferido morirse de hambre á morirse de vergüenza.

Sí, ¿por qué no decirlo? Delorme, ¿por qué hoy que se arroja sobre ti la tacha de malvado no hemos de volver por ti nosotros? Por ti, que has ocultado con sublime heroísmo tu miseria á tus amigos, á tus hermanos; por ti, que sin casa, sin hogar, sin abrigo, nos negabas á nosotros esa horrible situación de tu existencia. ¿Por orgullo?... No…, quizás porque no te acordabas de ellos, porque los retorcimientos de tu estómago, y las intermitencias del sueño al aire libre, y las torturas de la miseria pasaban por delante de ti sin que las notases. Tú no podías sentirlas, verlas. Tenías los nervios puestos en la conquista del porvenir y los ojos clavados estáticamente en el ideal… ¿Qué era lo demás? Pequeñeces, molestias insignificantes; el escremento de un insectillo en el cristal de un telescopio.

Preciso fue que nosotros te avisásemos, preciso que te condujésemos por la fuerza á la cama núm…. del hospital de la Princesa para que despertaras. Si no, hubieras agonizado en pie hasta caer muerto de golpe, sin prolegómenos.

Afortunadamente, no diré para ti, para nosotros, para la causa que defiendes y defendemos, no ha ocurrido eso.

Pronto saldrás de ahí. Pronto vendrás á compartir con nosotros tareas y esperanzas; y mientras sales ríete desde ese hospital de los que te ofenden al suponerte capaz de un crimen; desprecia á los que te califiquen de malvado.

La cama núm…., esa casa que tú, trabajador infatigable, obrero fuerte, hombre inteligente, no hubieras podido pagar, con valer tan poco ella… contesta por ti.

Esa cama es el pedestal de tu honradez.


Unfortunately, his friends were wrong about his prospects for recovery. Delorme never did leave hospital. He died two months later, on the 29th November 1897, at the age of thirty.

As if to highlight the atmosphere of state repression, in the same issue (10/9/1897), ‘Otro Atentado’ details how the Government of Vizcaya has illegally suspended publication of another socialist newspaper, La Lucha de Clases, alleging that as its editor is on remand in prison, he is incapable of editing the newspaper.

Despite all of this, these events do not deter the writers of Germinal from continuing to speak their truth. One of the most outspoken critics of the capitalist regime is the gifted polyglot Ernesto Bark who, in a series of long expository essays (‘La internacional de oro’, 17/9/1897, ‘La international negra’, 1/10/1897, ‘La dinastía de oro’ 10/12/1897) does not hesitate to point fingers at the shadowy international financial cabal pulling the strings of Spain’s government and economy. He names specific institutions, families and even individuals, and his last piece, ‘La Dinastía de Oro’, is specifically about the Rothschilds’ rise to financial hegemony in Europe. He accuses the recently deceased Cánovas of being involved in their machinations, in exchange for the ascension to power:


Interés especial hay en España de estudiar de qué medios se vale esta funestísima dinastía para enredar á las naciones en sus redes; porque sabido es que la Restauración se efectuó, gracias al dinero que los Rothschild prestaron á Cánovas, á cambio de ventajas financieras leoninas, que entregaron al país á la explotación más vergonzosa.

Así resultó el hombre funesto de la reacción alfonsina el agente de negocios del rey del oro, vendiéndole los sagrados intereses de su patria. ¡Y aún hay españoles que festajan su «patriotismo»!


Rather amusingly for such a great intellect, after listing a series of contemporaneous English, French and German books in Spanish about the banking plutocracy, he appears to ask in all seriousness: ‘¿Por qué no tratan Pérez Galdós, la Pardo Bazán, Picón, Valera, y otros novelistas españoles, asuntos de tan vital interés?’

Perhaps it is the fact that Ernesto [Ernst] Bark is not himself Spanish (he was born in Tartu, then of the Russian Empire, and had ethnic German and Eastern European roots), that he feels freer to talk of these matters than the Spanish intellectuals he cites. Perhaps his being an outsider made him less sensitive to the anxiety for social status and approval that was so central to the class-bound Spain of the time. Or it was simply because the Spanish intellectuals he cites knew instinctively that to critique their society to its core would risk their losing everything, including their health, even to the point of dying prematurely in poverty and persecution, as Delorme had.

At a time when national governments are once again persecuting its freethinkers (one may suggest that they never did stop), in this case of this magazine I must disagree with Beatriz Sarlo when she says ‘nada es más viejo que una revista vieja’.[1] For those of us who belief that history is to a certain extent cyclical, and who can see the parallels in the stage in the long economic cycle between then and now, these magazines not only provide an interesting window onto the past, but also provide a fresh perspective on the present. Because the huge social questions that these young men discussed still remain unresolved, and just as in 1898, the sense of desperation for their definitive solution is becoming ever more acute.

Judith Rideout

[1] Beatriz Sarlo. ‘Intelectuales y revistas : razones de una práctica’, América : Cahiers du CRICCAL, n° 9 -10, 1992 (p. 9).