I.8 Does revolutionary Spain show that libertarian socialism can work in practice?

Yes. As Murray Bookchin puts it, "[i]n Spain, millions of people took large segments of the economy into their own hands, collectivized them, administered them, even abolished money and lived by communistic principles of work and distribution -- all of this in the midst of a terrible civil war, yet without producing the chaos or even the serious dislocations that were and still are predicted by authoritarian 'radicals.' Indeed, in many collectivized areas, the efficiency with which an enterprise worked by far exceeded that of a comparable one in nationalized or private sectors. This 'green shoot' of revolutionary reality has more meaning for us than the most persuasive theoretical arguments to the contrary. On this score it is not the anarchists who are the 'unrealistic day-dreamers,' but their opponents who have turned their backs to the facts or have shamelessly concealed them" ["Introductory," in The Anarchist Collectives, ed. Sam Dolgoff, Free Life Editions, 1974]

Sam Dolgoff's book is by far the best English source on the Spanish collectives and deserves to be quoted at length (as we do below). He points out that more than 60% of the land was very quickly collectivized and cultivated by the peasants themselves, "without landlords, without bosses, and without instituting capitalist competition to spur production. In almost all the industries, factories, mills, workshops, transportation services, public services, and utilities, the rank and file workers, their revolutionary committees, and their syndicates reorganized and administered production, distribution, and public services without capitalists, high-salaried managers, or the authority of the state.

"Even more: the various agrarian and industrial collectives immediately instituted economic equality in accordance with the essential principle of communism,

'From each according to his ability and to each according to his needs.'

They coordinated their efforts through free association in whole regions, created new wealth, increased production (especially in agriculture), built more schools, and bettered public services. They instituted not bourgeois formal democracy but genuine grass roots functional libertarian democracy, where each individual participated directly in the revolutionary reorganization of social life. They replaced the war between men, 'survival of the fittest,' by the universal practice of mutual aid, and replaced rivalry by the principle of solidarity" [Ibid.]

According to Gaston Leval in Espagne Libertaire, about eight million people directly or indirectly participated in the new economy during the short time it was able to survive the military assaults and of the fascists and the sabotage of the Communists.

Lest the reader think that Dolgoff and Bookchin are exaggerating the accomplishments and ignoring the failures of the Spanish collectives, in the following subsections we will present specific details and answer some objections often raised by misinformed critics. We will try to present an objective analysis of the revolution, both its strong points and weak points, the mistakes made and possible lessons to be drawn from those mistakes.

I.8.1 Wasn't the Spanish Revolution primarily a rural phenomenon and therefore inapplicable as a model for modern industrialized states?

It's true that collectivization was more extensive and lasted longer in the rural areas. However, about 75% of Spanish industry was concentrated in Catalonia, the stronghold of the anarchist labor movement, and widespread collectivization of factories took place there.

As Dolgoff rightly observes, "[t]his refutes decisively the allegation that anarchist organizational principles are not applicable to industrial areas, and if at all, only in primitive agrarian societies or in isolated experimental communities" [Ibid., pp. 7-8].

There had been a long tradition of peasant collectivism in the Iberian Peninsula, as there was among the Berbers and in the ancient Russian mir. The historians Costa and Reparaz maintain that a great many Iberian collectives can be traced to "a form of rural libertarian-communism [which] existed in the Iberian Peninsula before the Roman invasion. Not even five centuries of oppression by Catholic kings, the State and the Church have been able to eradicate the spontaneous tendency to establish libertarian communistic communities" [cited Ibid., p. 20]. So it's not surprising that there were more collectives in the countryside.

According to Augustin Souchy, "[i]t is no simple matter to collectivize and place on firm foundations an industry employing almost a quarter of a million textile workers in scores of factories scattered in numerous cities. But the Barcelona syndicalist textile union accomplished this feat in a short time. It was a tremendously significant experiment. The dictatorship of the bosses was toppled, and wages, working conditions and production were determined by the workers and their elected delegates. All functionaries had to carry out the instructions of the membership and report back directly to the men on the job and union meetings. The collectivization of the textile industry shatters once and for all the legend that the workers are incapable of administrating a great and complex corporation" [cited Ibid., p. 94].

Therefore the Spanish Revolution cannot be dismissed as a product a of pre-industrial society. The urban collectivisations occurred in the most heavily industrialised part of Spain and indicate that anarchist ideas are applicable to modern societies. In addition, by 1936 agriculture itself was predominately capitalist (with 2% of the population owning 67% of the land). The revolution in Spain was the work (mostly) of rural and urban wage labourers (joined with poor peasants) fighting a well developed capitalist system.

I.8.2 How were the anarchists able to obtain mass popular support in Spain?

Anarchism was introduced in Spain in 1868 by Giuseppi Fanelli, an associate of Michael Bakunin, and found fertile soil among both the workers and the peasants of Spain.

The peasants supported anarchism because of the rural tradition of Iberian collectivism mentioned in the last section. The urban workers supported it because its ideas of direct action, solidarity and free federation of unions corresponded to their needs in their struggle against capitalism and the state.

In addition, many Spanish workers were well aware of the dangers of centralisation and the republican tradition in Spain was very much influenced by federalist ideas (coming, in part, from Proudhon's work). The movement later spread back and forth between countryside and cities as union organisers and anarchist militants visited villages and as peasants came to industrial cities like Barcelona, looking for work.

Therefore, from the start anarchism in Spain was associated with the labour movement (as Bakunin desired) and so anarchists had a practical area to apply their ideas and spread the anarchist message. By applying their principles in everyday life, the anarchists in Spain ensured that anarchist ideas became commonplace and accepted in a large section of the population.

The Spanish Revolution also shows the importance of anarchist education and media. In a country with a very high illiteracy rate, huge quantities of literature on social revolution were disseminated and read out loud at meetings by those who could read to those who couldn't. Anarchist ideas were widely discussed. "There were tens of thousands of books, pamphlets and tracts, vast and daring cultural and popular educational experiments (the Ferrer schools) that reached into almost every village and hamlet throughout Spain" [Ibid., p. 28].

Newspapers and periodicals were extremely important. By 1919, more than 50 towns in Andalusia had their own libertarian newspapers. By 1934 the C.N.T. [the anarcho-syndicalist labor union] had a membership of 1,500,000 and the anarchist press covered all of Spain. In Barcelona the C.N.T. published a daily, Solidaridad Obrera, with a circulation of 30,000. The magazine Tierra y Libertad [Land and Liberty] in Barcelona had a circulation of 20,000. In Gijon there was Vida Obrera [Working Life], in Seville El Productor [The Producer], and in Saragossa Accion y Cultura [Action and Culture], all with large circulations. There were many more.

As well as leading struggles, organising unions, and producing books, papers and periodicals, the anarchists also organised libertarian schools, cultural centres, cooperatives, anarchist groups (the F.A.I.), youth groups (the Libertarian Youth) and women's organisations (the Free Women movement). They applied their ideas in all walks of life and so ensured that ordinary people saw that anarchism was practical and relevant to them.

This was the great strength of the Spanish Anarchist movement. It was a movement "that, in addition to possessing a revolutionary ideology [sic], was also capable of mobilising action around objectives firmly rooted in the life and conditions of the working class.... It was this ability periodically to identify and express widely felt needs and feelings that, together with its presence at community level, formed the basis of the strength of radical anarchism, and enabled it to build a mass base of support." [Nick Rider, "The practice of direct action: the Barcelona rent strike of 1931", p. 99, from For Anarchism, pp. 79-105]

The Spanish anarchists, before and after the C.N.T. was formed, fought in and out of the factory for economic, social and political issues. This refusal of the anarchists to ignore any aspect of life ensured that they found many willing to hear their message, a message based around the ideas of individual liberty. Such a message could do nothing but radicalise workers for "the demands of the C.N.T. went much further than those of any social democrat: with its emphasis on true equality, autogestion [self-management] and working class dignity, anarchosyndicalism made demands the capitalist system could not possibly grant to the workers." [J. Romero Maura, "The Spanish case", p. 79, from Anarchism Today, edited by J. Joll and D. Apter]

The structure and tactics of the C.N.T. encouraged the politicisation, initiative and organisational skills of its members. It was a federal, decentralised body, based on direct discussion and decision making from the bottom up. "The CNT tradition was to discuss and examine everything", as one militant put it. In addition, the C.N.T. created a viable and practical example of an alternative method by which society could be organised. A method which was based on the ability of ordinary people to direct society themselves and which showed in practice that special ruling authorities are undesirable and unnecessary.

The very structure of the C.N.T. and the practical experience it provided its members in self-management produced a revolutionary working class the likes of which the world has rarely seen. As Jose Peirats points out, "above the union level, the C.N.T. was an eminently political organisation . . ., a social and revolutionary organisation for agitation and insurrection." [Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, p. 239] It was the revoluntary nature of the C.N.T. that created a militant membership who were willing and able to use direct action to defend their liberty. Unlike the German workers who did nothing to stop Hilter, the Spanish working class (like their comrades in anarchist unions in Italy) took to the streets to stop fascism.

The revolution in Spain did not just happen; it was the result of nearly seventy years of persistent anarchist agitation and revolutionary struggle, including a long series of peasant uprisings, insurrections, industrial strikes, protests, sabotage and other forms of direct action that prepared the peasants and workers organise popular resistance to the attempted fascist coup in JUly 1937 and to take control of the economy when they had defeated it in the streets.

I.8.3 How were Spanish industrial collectives organized?

The collectives were based on workers' democratic self-management of their workplaces, using productive assets that were under the custodianship of the entire working community and administered through federations of workers' associations. Augustin Souchy writes:

"The collectives organized during the Spanish Civil War were workers' economic associations without private property. The fact that collective plants were managed by those who worked in them did not mean that these establishments became their private property. The collective had no right to sell or rent all or any part of the collectivised factory or workshop, The rightful custodian was the C.N.T., the National Confederation of Workers Associations. But not even the C.N.T. had the right to do as it pleased. Everything had to be decided and ratified by the workers themselves through conferences and congresses." [cited The Anarchist Collectives, p. 67]

According to Souchy, in Catalonia "every factory elected its administrative committee composed of its most capable workers. Depending on the size of the factory, the function of these committees included inner plant organization, statistics, finance, correspondence, and relations with other factories and with the community. . . . Several months after collectivization the textile industry of Barcelona was in far better shape than under capitalist management. Here was yet another example to show that grass roots socialism from below does not destroy initiative. Greed is not the only motivation in human relations." [Ibid., p 95].

A plenum of syndicates met in December of 1936 and formulated norms for socialization in which the inefficiency of the capitalist industrial system was analyzed. The report of the plenum stated:

"The major defect of most small manufacturing shops is fragmentation and lack of technical/commercial preparation. This prevents their modernization and consolidation into better and more efficient units of production, with better facilities and coordination. . . . [F]or us, socialization must correct these deficiencies and systems of organization in every industry. . . . To socialize an industry, we must consolidate the different units of each branch of industry in accordance with a general and organic plan which will avoid competition and other difficulties impeding the good and efficient organization of production and distribution."

As Souchy points out, this document is very important in the evolution of collectivization, because it indicates a realization that "workers must take into account that partial collectivization will in time degenerate into a kind of bourgeois cooperativism," as discussed earlier (see H.4). Thus many collectives did not compete with each other for profits, as surpluses were pooled and distributed on a wider basis than the individual collective -- in most cases industry-wide.

We have already noted some examples of the improvements in efficiency realized by collectivization during the Spanish Revolution (I.4.10). Another example was the baking industry. Souchy reports that, "[a]s in the rest of Spain, Barcelona's bread and cakes were baked mostly at night in hundreds of small bakeries. Most of them were in damp, gloomy cellars infested with roaches and rodents. All these bakeries were shut down. More and better bread and cake were baked in new bakeries equipped with new modern ovens and other equipment" [Ibid., p. 82].

Therefore, the collectives in Spain were marked by workplace democracy and a desire to cooperate within and across industries. This attempt at libertarian socialism, like all experiments, had its drawbacks as well as successes and these will be discussed in the next section and some conclusions draw from the experience.

I.8.4 How were the Spanish industrial collectives coordinated?

The methods of cooperation tried by the collectives varied considerably. Initially, there were very few attempts to coordinate economic activities beyond the workplace. This is hardly surprising, given that the overwhelming need was to restart production, convert a civilian economy to a wartime one and to ensure that the civilian population and militias were supplied with necessary goods. This, unsurprisingly enough, lead to a situation of anarchist mutualism developing, with many collectives selling the product of their own labour on the market (in other words, a form of simple commodity production).

This lead to some economic problems as there existed no framework of institutions between collectives to ensure efficient coordination of activity and so lead to pointless competition between collectives (which lead to even more problems). As there were initially no confederations of collectives nor mutual/communal banks this lead to the inequalities that initially existed between collectives (due to the fact that the collectives took over rich and poor capitalist firms) and it made the many ad hoc attempts at mutual aid between collectives.

Therefore, the collectives were (initially) a form of "self-management straddling capitalism and socialism, which we maintain would not have occurred had the Revolution been able to extend itself fully under the direction of our syndicates." [Gaston Leval, Collectives in the Spanish Revolution, p. 227-8] As economic and political development are closely related, the fact that the C.N.T. did not carry out the political aspect of the revolution meant that the revolution in the economy was doomed to failure.

Given that the C.N.T. program of libertarian communism recognized that a fully cooperative society must be based upon production for use, many C.N.T. militants fought against this system of mutualism and for inter-workplace coordination. They managed to convince their fellow workers of the difficulties of mutualism by free debate and discussion within their unions and collectives.

For example, the woodworkers' union had a massive debate on socialisation and decided to do so (the shopworkers' union had a similar debate, but the majority of workers rejected socialisation). According to Ronald Frazer a "union delegate would go round the small shops, point out to the workers that the conditions were unhealthy and dangerous, that the revolution was changing all this, and secure their agreement to close down and move to the union-built Double-X and the 33 EU." [Ronald Frazer, Blood of Spain, p. 222]

This process went on in many different unions and collectives and, unsurprisingly, the forms of coordination agreed to lead to different forms of organisation in different areas and industries, as would be expected in a free society. However, the two most important forms can be termed syndicalisation and confederationalism (we will ignore the forms created by the collectivisation decree as these were not created by the workers themselves).

"Syndicalisation" (our term) meant that the C.N.T.'s industrial union ran the whole industry. This solution was tried by the woodworkers' union after extensive debate. One section of the union, "dominated by the F.A.I. [the anarchist federation], maintained that anarchist self-management meant that the workers should set up and operate autonomous centres of production so as to avoid the threat of bureaucratization." [Ronald Frazer, Blood of Spain, p. 222] However, those in favour of syndicalisation won the day and production was organised in the hands of the union, with administration posts and delegate meetings elected by the rank and file.

However, the "major failure . . . (and which supported the original anarchist objection) was that the union became like a large firm . . . [and its] structure grew increasingly rigid." According to one militant, "From the outside it began to look like an American or German trust" and the workers found it difficult to secure any changes and "felt they weren't particularly involved in decision making."

In the end, the major difference between the union-run industry and a capitalist firm organisationally appeared to be that workers could vote for (and recall) the industry management at relatively regular General Assembly meetings. While a vast improvement on capitalism, it is hardly the best example of participatory self-management in action although the economic problems caused by the Civil War and Stalinist led counter-revolution obviously would have had an effect on the internal structure of any industry and so we cannot say that the form of organisation created was totally responsible for any marginalisation that took place.

The other important form of cooperation was what we will term "confederalisation." This form of cooperation was practiced by the Badalona textile industry (and had been defeated in the woodworkers' union). It was based upon each workplace being run by its elected management, sold its own production, got its own orders and received the proceeds. However, everything each mill did was reported to the union which charted progress and kept statistics. If the union felt that a particular factory was not acting in the best interests of the industry as a whole, it was informed and asked to change course. According to one militant, "The union acted more as a socialist control of collectivised industry than as a direct hierarchized executive" [Op. Cit., p. 229]

This system ensured that the "dangers of the big 'union trust' as of the atomised collective were avoided" [Frazer, Op. Cit., p. 229] as well as maximising decentralisation of power. Unlike the syndicalisation experiment in the woodworkers' industry, this scheme was based on horizontal links between workplaces (via the C.N.T. union) and allowed a maximum of self-management and mutual aid. The ideas of an anarchist economy sketched in section I.3 reflects the actual experiments in self-management which occurred during the Spanish Revolution.

Therefore, the industrial collectives coordinated their activity in many ways, with varying degrees of direct democracy and success. As would be expected, mistakes were made and different solutions found. When reading this section of the FAQ its important to remember that an anarchist society can hardly be produced "overnight" and so it is hardly surprising that the workers of the C.N.T. faced numerous problems and had to develop their self-management experiment as objective conditions allowed them to.

Unfortunately, thanks to fascist aggression and Communist Party backstabbing, the experiment did not last long enough to fully answer all the questions we have about the viability of the solutions they tried. Given the time, however, we are sure they would have solved the problems they faced.

I.8.5 How were the Spanish agricultural cooperatives organized and coordinated?

Jose Peirats describes collectivization among the peasantry as follows:

"The expropriated lands were turned over to the peasant syndicates, and it was these syndicates that organized the first collectives. Generally the holdings of small property owners were respected, always on the condition that only they or their families would work the land, without employing wage labor. In areas like Catalonia, where the tradition of petty peasant ownership prevailed, the land holdings were scattered. There were no great estates. Many of these peasants, together with the C.N.T., organized collectives, pooling their land, animals, tools, chickens, grain, fertilizer, and even their harvested crops.

"Privately owned farms located in the midst of collectives interfered with efficient cultivation by splitting up the collectives into disconnected parcels. To induce owners to move, they were given more or even better land located on the perimeter of the collective.

"The collectivist who had nothing to contribute to the collective was admitted with the same rights and the same duties as the others. In some collectives, those joining had to contribute their money (Girondella in Catalonia, Lagunarrotta in Aragon, and Cervera del Maestra in Valencia)." [cited The Anarchist Collectives, p. 112].

Peirats also notes that in conducting their internal affairs, all the collectives scrupulously and zealously observed democratic procedures. For example, "Hospitalet de Llobregat held regular general membership meetings every three months to review production and attend to new business. The administrative council, and all other committees, submitted full reports on all matters. The meeting approved, disapproved, made corrections, issued instructions, etc." [Ibid., p. 119]

Dolgoff observes that "[S]upreme power was vested in, and actually exercised by, the membership in general assemblies, and all power derived from, and flowed back to, the grass roots organizations of the people" [Ibid., p 119]. This is confirmed by Gaston Leval [in Espagne Liberataire, p. 219]: "Regular general membership meetings were convoked weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. . . and these meetings were completely free of the tensions and recriminations which inevitably emerge when the power of decisions is vested in a few individuals -- even if democratically elected. The Assemblies were open for everyone to participate in the proceedings. Democracy embraced all social life. In most cases, even the 'individualists' who were not members of the collective could participate in the discussions, and they were listened to by the collectivists."

It was in these face-to-face assemblies that decisions upon the distribution of resources were decided both within and without the collective. Here, when considering the importance of mutual aid, appeals were made to an individual's sense of empathy. As one activist remembers:

"There were, of course, those who didn't want to share and who said that each collective should take care of itself. But they were usually convinced in the assemblies. We would try to speak to them in terms they understood. We'd ask, 'Did you think it was fair when the cacique [local boss] let people starve if there wasn't enough work?' and they said, 'Of course not.' They would eventually come around. Don't forget, there were three hundred thousand collectivists [in Aragon], but only ten thousand of us had been members of the C.N.T.. We had a lot of educating to do." [Felix Carrasquer, quoted in Free Women of Spain, p. 79]

In addition, regional federations of collectives were formed in many areas of Spain (for example, in Aragon and the Levant). The federations were created at congresses to which the collectives in an area sent delegates. These congresses agreed a series of general rules about how the federation would operate and what commitments the affiliated collectives would have to each other. The congress elected an administration council, which took responsibility for implementing agreed policy.

These federations had many tasks. They ensured the distribution of surplus produce to the front line and to the cities, cutting out middlemen and ensuring the end of exploitation. They also arranged for exchanges between collectives to take place. In addition, the federations allowed the individual collectives to pool resources together in order to improve the infrastructure of the area (building roads, canals, hospitals and so on) and invest in means of production which no one collective could afford.

In this way individual collectives pooled their resources, increased and improved the means of production they had access to as well as improving the social infrastructure of their regions. All this, combined with an increase of consumption at the point of production and the feeding of militia men and women fighting the fascists at the front.

Rural collectivisations allowed the potential creative energy that existed among the rural workers and peasants to be unleashed, an energy that had been wasted under private property. The popular assemblies allowed community problems and improvements to be identified and solved directly, drawing upon the ideas and experiences of everyone and enriched by discussion and debate. This enabled rural Spain to be transformed from one marked by poverty and fear, into one of hope and experimentation (see the next section for a few examples of this experimentation).

Therefore self-management in collectives combined with cooperation in rural federations allowed an improvement in quality of rural life. From a purely economic viewpoint, production increased and as Benjamin Martin summarises, "[t]hough it is impossible to generalize about the rural land takeovers, there is little doubt that the quality of life for most peasants who participated in cooperatives and collectives notably improved." [The Agony of Modernization, p. 394]

More importantly, however, this improvement in the quality of life included an increase in freedom as well as in consumption. To requote the member of the Beceite collective in Aragon we cited in section A.5.6, "it was marvellous. . . to live in a collective, a free society where one could say what one thought, where if the village committee seemed unsatisfactory one could say. The committee took no big decisions without calling the whole village together in a general assembly. All this was wonderful." [Ronald Frazer, Blood of Spain, p. 288]

I.8.6 What did the agricultural collectives accomplish?

Here are a few examples cited by Jose Peirats: "In Montblanc the collective dug up the old useless vines and planted new vineyards. The land, improved by modern cultivation with tractors, yielded much bigger and better crops. . . . Many Aragon collectives built new roads and repaired old ones, installed modern flour mills, and processed agricultural and animal waste into useful industrial products. Many of these improvements were first initiated by the collectives. Some villages, like Calanda, built parks and baths. Almost all collectives established libraries, schools, and cultural centers." [cited The Anarchist Collectives, p. 116].

Gaston Leval points out that "the Peasant Federation of Levant . . . produced more than half of the total orange crop in Spain: almost four million kilos (1 kilo equals about 2 and one-fourth pounds). It then transported and sold through its own commercial organization (no middlemen) more than 70% of the crop. (The Federations's commercial organization included its own warehouses, trucks, and boats. Early in 1938 the export section established its own agencies in France: Marseilles, Perpignan, bordeaux, Cherbourg, and Paris.) Out of a total of 47,000 hectares in all Spain devoted to rice production, the collective in the Province of Valencia cultivated 30,000 hectares." [cited Ibid., p. 124]

To quote Peirats again: "Preoccupation with cultural and pedagogical innovations was an event without precedent in rural Spain. The Amposta collectivists organized classes for semi-literates, kindergartens, and even a school of arts and professions. The Seros schools were free to all neighbors, collectivists or not. Grau installed a school named after its most illustrious citizen, Joaquin Costa. The Calanda collective (pop. only 4,500) schooled 1,233 children. The best students were sent to the Lyceum in Caspe, with all expenses paid by the collective. The Alcoriza (pop. 4,000) school was attended by 600 children. Many of the schools were installed in abandoned convents. In Granadella (pop. 2,000), classes were conducted in the abandoned barracks of the Civil Guards. Graus organized a print library and a school of arts and professions, attended by 60 pupils. The same building housed a school of fine arts and high grade museum. In some villages a cinema was installed for the first time. The Penalba cinema was installed in a church. Viladecana built an experimental agricultural laboratory.

"The collectives voluntarily contributed enormous stocks of provisions and other supplies to the fighting troops. Utiel sent 1,490 litres of oil and 300 bushels of potatoes to the Madrid front (in addition to huge stocks of beans, rice, buckwheat, etc.). Porales de Tujana sent great quantities of bread, oil, flour, and potatoes to the front, and eggs, meat, and milk to the military hospital.

"The efforts of the collectives take on added significance when we take into account that their youngest and most vigorous workers were fighting in the trenches. 200 members of the little collective of Vilaboi were at the front; from Viledecans, 60; Amposta, 300; and Calande, 500." [Ibid., pp. 116-120].

Peirats sums up the accomplishments of the agricultural collectives as follows: "In distribution the collectives' cooperatives eliminated middlemen, small merchants, wholesalers, and profiteers, thus greatly reducing consumer prices. The collectives eliminated most of the parasitic elements from rural life, and would have wiped them out altogether if they were not protected by corrupt officials and by the political parties. Non-collectivized areas benefited indirectly from the lower prices as well as from free services often rendered by the collectives (laundries, cinemas, schools, barber and beauty parlors, etc.)." [Ibid., p114].

Leval emphasizes the following achievements (among others): "In the agrarian collectives solidarity was practiced to the greatest degree. Not only was every person assured of the necessities, but the district federations increasingly adopted the principle of mutual aid on an inter-collective scale. For this purpose they created common reserves to help out villages less favored by nature. In Castile special institutions for this purpose were created. In industry this practice seems to have begun in Hospitalet, on the Catalan railways, and was applied later in Alcoy.

"Had the political compromise not impeded open socialization, the practices of mutual aid would have been much more generalized.

"A conquest of enormous importance was the right of women to livelihood, regardless of occupation or function. In about half of the agrarian collectives, the women received the same wages as men; in the rest the women received less, apparently on the principle that they rarely live alone.

"In all the agrarian collectives of Aragon, Catalonia, Levant, Castile, Andalusia, and Estremadura, the workers formed groups to divide the labor or the land; usually they were assigned to definite areas. Delegates elected by the work groups met with the collective's delegate for agriculture to plan out the work. This typical organization arose quite spontaneously, by local initiative.

"In land cultivation the most significant advances were: the rapidly increased use of machinery and irrigation; greater diversification; and forestation. In stock raising: the selection and multiplication of breeds; the adaptation of breeds to local conditions; and large-scale construction of collective stock barns." [Ibid., pp. 166-167].

I.8.7 I've heard that the rural collectives were created by force. Is this true?

No, it is not. The myth that the rural collectives were created by "terror," organised and carried out by the anarchist militia, was started by the Stalinists of the Spanish Communist Party. More recently, some right-wing Libertarians have warmed up and repeated these Stalinist fabrications. Anarchists have been disproving these allegations since 1936 and it is worthwhile to do so again here.

As Vernon Richards notes, "[h]owever discredited Stalinism may appear to be today the fact remains that the Stalinist lies and interpretation of the Spanish Civil War still prevail, presumably because it suits the political prejudices of those historians who are currently interpreting it." [Introduction to Gaston Leval's Collectives in the Spanish Revolution, p. 11] Here we shall present evidence to refute claims that the rural collectives were created by force.

Firstly, we should point out that rural collectives were created in many different areas of Spain, such as the Levant (900 collectives), Castile (300) and Estremadera (30), where the anarchist militia did not exist. In Catalonia, for example, the C.N.T. militia passed through many villages on its way to Aragon and only around 40 collectives were created unlike the 450 in Aragon. In other words, the rural collectivisation process occurred independently of the existence of anarchist troops, with the majority of the 1,700 rural collectives created in areas without a predominance of anarchist troops.

One historian, Ronald Frazer, seems to imply that the Aragon Collectives were imposed upon the Aragon population. As he puts it the "collectivization, carried out under the general cover, if not necessarily the direct agency, of C.N.T. militia columns, represented a revolutionary minority's attempt to control not only production but consumption for egalitarian purposes and the needs of the war." [Blood of Spain, p. 370] Notice that he does not suggest that the anarchist militia actually imposed the collectives, a claim for which there is little or no evidence. Earlier he states that "There was no need to dragoon them [peasants] at pistol point [into collectives]: the coercive climate, in which 'fascists' were being shot, was sufficient. 'Spontaneous' and 'forced' collectives existed, as did willing and unwilling collectivists within them." [Op. Cit., p.349]

Therefore, his suggestion that the Aragon collectives were imposed upon the rural population is based upon the insight that there was a "coercive climate" in Aragon at the time. Of course a civil war against fascism would produce a "coercive climate," particularly at the front line, and so the C.N.T. can hardly be blamed for that. In addition, in a life and death struggle against fascism, in which the fascists were systematically murdering vast numbers of anarchists, socialists and republicans in the areas under their control, it is hardly surprising that some anarchist troops took the law into their own hands and murdered some of those who supported and would help the fascists. Given what was going on in fascist Spain, and the experience of fascism in Germany and Italy, the C.N.T. militia knew exactly what would happen to them and their friends and family if they lost.

The question does arise, however, of whether the climate was made so coercive by the war and the nearness of the anarchist militia that individual choice was impossible?

The facts speak for themselves -- rural collectivization in Aragon embraced more than 70% of the population in the area saved from fascism. Around 30% of the population felt safe enough not to join a collective, a sizable percentage.

If the collectives had been created by anarchist terror or force, we would expect a figure of 100% membership in the collectives. This was not the case, indicating the basically voluntary nature of the experiment (we should point out that other figures suggest a lower number of collectivists which makes the forced collectivisation argument even less likely). In addition, if the C.N.T. militia had forced peasants into collectives we would expect the membership of the collectives to peak in size almost overnight, not grow slowly over time. However, this is what happened:

"At the regional congress of collectives, held at Caspe in mid-February 1937, nearly 80 000 collectivists were represented from 'almost all the villages of the region.' This, however, was but a beginning. By the end of April the number of collectivists had risen to 140 000; by the end of the first week of May to 180 000; and by the end of June to 300 000." [Graham Kelsey, "Anarchism in Aragon," pp. 60-82, Spain in Conflict 1931-1939, Martin Blinkhorn (ed), p. 61]

If the collectives has been created by force, then their membership would have been 300 000 in February, 1937, not increasing steadily to reach that number four months later. Neither can it be claimed that the increase was due to new villages being collectivised, as almost all villages had sent delegates in February. This indicates that many peasants joined the collectives because of the advantages associated with common labour, the increased resources it placed at their hands and the fact that the surplus wealth which had in the previous system been monopolised by the few was used instead to raise the standard of living of the entire community.

The voluntary nature of the collectives is again emphasized by the number of collectives which allowed smallholders to remain outside. According to evidence Frazer presents (on page 366), an FAI schoolteacher is quoted as saying that the forcing smallholders into the collective "wasn't a widespread problem, because there weren't more than twenty or so villages where collectivisation was total and no one was allowed to remain outside..." Instead of forcing the minority in a village to agree with the wishes of the majority, the vast majority (95%) of Aragon collectives stuck to their libertarian principles and allowed those who did not wish to join to remain outside.

So, only around 20 were "total" collectives (out of 450) and around 30% of the population felt safe enough not to join. In other words, in the vast majority of collectives those joining could see that those who did not were safe. These figures should not be discounted, as they give an indication of the basically spontaneous and voluntary nature of the movement.

As was the composition of the new municipal councils created after July 19th. As Graham Kesley notes, "[w]hat is immediately noticeable from the results is that although the region has often been branded as one controlled by anarchists to the total exclusion of all other forces, the C.N.T. was far from enjoying the degree of absolute domination often implied and inferred." [Anarchosyndicalism, Libertarian Communism and the State, p. 198]

In his account of the rural revolution, Burnett Bolloton notes that "many of the 450 collectives of the region were largely voluntary" although "it must be emphasized that this singular development was in some measure due to the presence of militiamen from the neighboring region of Catalonia, the immense majority of whom were members of the C.N.T. and FAI."

As Gaston Leval points out, "it is true that the presence of these forces . . . favoured indirectly these constructive achievements by preventing active resistance by the supporters of the bourgeois republic and of fascism." [Collectives in the Spanish Revolution, p. 90]

In other words, the presence of the militia changed the balance of class forces in Aragon by destroying the capitalist state (i.e. the local bosses - caciques - could not get state aid to protect their property) and many landless workers took over the land. The presence of the militia ensured that land could be taken over by destroying the capitalist "monopoly of force" that existed before the revolution (the power of which will be highlighted below) and so the C.N.T. militia allowed the possibility of experimentation by the Aragonese population.

This class war in the countryside is reflected by Bolloten's statement that "[if] the individual farmer viewed with dismay the swift and widespread collectivisation of agriculture, the farm workers of the Anarchosyndicalist C.N.T. and the Socialist UGT saw it as the commencement of a new era." [The Spanish Civil War, p. 63] Both were mass organisations and supported collectivisation.

Therefore, anarchist militia allowed the rural working class to abolish the artificial scarcity of land created by private property (and enforced by the state). The rural bosses obviously viewed with horror the possibility that they could not exploit day workers' labour. As Bolloten points out "the collective system of agriculture threaten[ed] to drain the rural labour market of wage workers." [Op. Cit., p. 62] Little wonder the richer peasants and landowners hated the collectives.

Bolloten also quotes a report on the district of Valderrobes which indicates popular support for the collectives:

"Collectivisation was nevertheless opposed by opponents on the right and adversaries on the left. If the eternally idle who have been expropriated had been asked what they thought of collectivisation, some would have replied that it was robbery and others a dictatorship. But, for the elderly, the day workers, the tenant farmers and small proprietors who had always been under the thumb of the big landowners and heartless usurers, it appeared as salvation" [Op. Cit., p. 71]

However, most historians ignore the differences in class that existed in the countryside. They ignore it and explain the rise in collectives in Aragon (and ignore those elsewhere) as the result of the C.N.T. militia. Frazer, for example, states that "[v]ery rapidly collectives. . . began to spring up. It did not happen on instructions from the C.N.T. leadership - no more than had the [industrial] collectives in Barcelona. Here, as there, the initiative came from C.N.T. militants; here, as there, the 'climate' for social revolution in the rearguard was created by C.N.T. armed strength: the anarcho-syndicalists' domination of the streets of Barcelona was re-enacted in Aragon as the C.N.T. militia columns, manned mainly by Catalan anarcho-syndicalist workers, poured in. Where a nucleus of anarcho-syndicalists existed in a village, it seized the moment to carry out the long-awaited revolution and collectivized spontaneously. Where there was none, villagers could find themselves under considerable pressure from the militias to collectivize. . ." [Op. Cit., p. 347]

In other words, he implies that the revolution was mostly imported into Aragon from Catalonia. However, the majority of C.N.T. column leaders were opposed to the setting up of the Council of Aragon (a confederation for the collectives) [Frazer, Op. Cit., p. 350]. Hardly an example of Catalan C.N.T. imposed social revolution. The evidence we have suggests that the Aragon C.N.T. was a widespread and popular organisation, suggesting that the idea that the collectives were imported into Aragon by the Catalan C.N.T. is simply false.

Frazer states that in "some [of the Aragonese villages] there was a flourishing C.N.T., in others the UGT was strongest, and in only too many there was no unionisation at all." [Blood of Spain, p. 348] The question arises of how extensive was that strength. The evidence we have suggests that it was extensive, strong and growing, so indicating that rural Aragon was not without a C.N.T. base, a base that makes the suggestion of imposed collectives a false one.

Murray Bookchin summarises the strength of the C.N.T. in rural Aragon as follows:

"The authentic peasant base of the C.N.T. [by the 1930s] now lay in Aragon . . .[C.N.T. growth in Zaragoza] provided a springboard for a highly effective libertarian agitation in lower Aragon, particularly among the impoverished laborers and debt-ridden peasantry of the dry steppes region." [The Spanish Anarchists, p. 220]

Graham Kelsey, in his social history of the C.N.T. in Aragon between 1930 and 1937, provides the necessary evidence to more than back Bookchin's claim of C.N.T. growth. Kesley points out that as well as the "spread of libertarian groups and the increasing consciousness among C.N.T. members of libertarian theories . . .contribu[ting] to the growth of the anarchosyndicalist movement in Aragon" the existence of "agrarian unrest" also played an important role in that growth [Anarchosyndicalism, Libertarian Communism and the State, pp.80-81]. This all lead to the "revitalisation of the C.N.T. network in Aragon" [p. 82] and so by 1936, the C.N.T. had built upon the "foundations laid in 1933. . . [and] had finally succeeded in translating the very great strength of the urban trade-union organisation in Zaragoza into a regional network of considerable extent." [Op. Cit., p. 134]

Kelsey and other historians note the long history of anarchism in Aragon, dating back to the late 1860s. However, before the 1910s there had been little gains in rural Aragon by the C.N.T. due to the power of local bosses (called caciques):

"Local landowners and small industrialists, the caciques of provincial Aragon, made every effort to enforce the closure of these first rural anarchosyndicalist cells [created after 1915]. By the time of the first rural congress of the Aragonese CNT confederation in the summer of 1923, much of the progress achieved through the organization's considerable propaganda efforts had been countered by repression elsewhere." [Graham Kelsey, "Anarchism in Aragon," p. 62]

A C.N.T. activist indicates the power of these bosses and how difficult it was to be a union member in Aragon:

"Repression is not the same in the large cities as it is in the villages where everyone knows everybody else and where the Civil Guards are immediately notified of a comrade's slightest movement. Neither friends nor relatives are spared. All those who do not serve the state's repressive forces unconditionally are pursued, persecuted and on occassions beaten up." [cited by Kelsey, Op. Cit., p. 74]

However, while there were some successes in organising rural unions, even in 1931 "propaganda campaigns which led to the establishment of scores of village trade-union cells, were followed by a counter-offensive from village caciques which forced them to close." [Ibib., p. 67] But even in the face of this repression the C.N.T. grew and "from the end of 1932. . . [there was] a successful expansion of the anarchosyndicalist movement into several parts of the region where previously it had never penetrated." [Kesley, Anarchosyndicalism, Libertarian Communism and the State, p. 185]

This growth was built upon in 1936, with increased rural activism which had slowly eroded the power of the caciques (which in part explains their support for the fascist coup). After the election of the Popular Front, years of anarchist propaganda and organisation paid off with a massive increase in rural membership in the C.N.T.:

"The dramatic growth in rural anarch-syndicalist support in the six weeks since the general election was emphasized in the [Aragon CNT's April] congress's agenda. . . the congress directed its attention to rural problems . . . [and agreed a programme which was] exactly what was to happen four months later in liberated Aragon." [Kesley, "Anarchism in Aragon", p. 76]

In the aftermath of a regional congress, held in Zaragoza at the start of April, a series of of intensive propaganda compaigns was organized through each of the provinces of the regional confederation. Many meetings were held in villages which had never before heard anarcho- syndicalist propaganda. This was very successful and by the beginning of June, 1936, the number of Aragon unions had topped 400, compared to only 278 one month earlier (an increase of over 40% in 4 weeks). [Ibib. , pp. 75-76]

This increase in union membership reflects increased social struggle by the Aragonese working population and their attempts to improve their standard of living, which was very low for most of the population. A journalist from the conservative-Catholic Heraldo de Aragon visited lower Aragon in the summer of 1935 and noted "The hunger in many homes, where the men are not working, is beginning to encourage the youth to subscribe to misleading teachings." [cited by Kesley, Ibib., p. 74]

Little wonder, then, the growth in CNT membership and social struggle Kesley indicates:

"Evidence of a different kind was also available that militant trade unionism in Aragon was on the increase. In the five months between mid-February and mid-July 1936 the province of Zaragoza experienced over seventy strikes, more than had previously been recorded in any entire year, and things were clearly no different in the other two provinces . . . the great majority of these strikes were occuring in provincial towns and villages. Strikes racked the provinces and in at least three instances were actually transformed into general strikes." [Ibib., p. 76]

Therefore, in the spring and summer of 1936, we see a massive growth in C.N.T. membership which reflects growing militant struggle by the urban and rural population of Aragon. Years of C.N.T. propaganda and organising had ensured this growth in C.N.T. influence, a growth which is also reflected in the creation of collectives in liberated Aragon during the revolution. Therefore, the construction of a collectivized society was founded directly upon the emergence, during the five years of the Second Republic, of a mass trade-union movement infused by libertarian, anarchist principles. These collectives were constructed in accordance with the programme agreed at the Aragon C.N.T. conference of April 1936 which reflected the wishes of the rural membership of the unions within Aragon (and due to the rapid growth of the C.N.T. afterwards obviously reflected popular feelings in the area).

In the words of Graham Kesley, "libertarian dominance in post-insurrection Aragon itself reflected the predominance that anarchists had secured before the war; by the summer of 1936 the CNT had succeeded in establishing throughout Aragon a mass trade-union movement of strictly libertarian orientation, upon which widespread and well-supported network the extensive collective experiment was to be founded." [Ibib., p. 61]

Additional evidence that supports a high level of C.N.T. support in rural Aragon can be provided by the fact that it was Aragon that was the center of the December 1933 insurrection organised by the C.N.T. As Bookchin notes, "only Aragon rose on any significant scale, particularly Saragossa . . .many of the villages declared libertarian communism and perhaps the heaviest fighting took place between the vineyard workers in Rioja and the authorities." [M. Bookchin, Op. Cit., p. 256]

It is unlikely for the C.N.T. to organise an insurrection in an area within which it had little support or influence. According to Kesley's in-depth social history of Aragon, "it was precisely those areas which had most important in December 1933 . . . which were now [in 1936], in seeking to create a new pattern of economic and social organisation, to form the basis of libertarian Aragon" [G. Kesley, Anarchosyndicalism, Libertarian Communism and the State, p. 161] After the revolt, thousands of workers were jailed, with the authorities having to re-open closed prisons and turn at least one disused monastrey into a jail due to the numbers arrested.

Therefore, it can be seen that the majority of collectives in Aragon were the product of C.N.T. (and U.G.T) influenced workers taking the opportunity to create a new form of social life, a form marked by its voluntary and directly democratic nature. For from being unknown in rural Aragon, the C.N.T. was well established and growing at a fast rate - "Spreading out from its urban base... the C.N.T., first in 1933 and then more extensively in 1936, succeeded in converting an essentially urban organisation into a truly regional confederation." [Ibib., p. 184]

Therefore the evidence suggests that historians like Frazer are wrong to imply that the Aragon collectives were created by the C.N.T. militia and enforced upon a unwilling population. The Aragon collectives were the natural result of years of anarchist activity within rural Aragon and directly related to the massive growth in the C.N.T. between 1930 and 1936. Thus Kesley is correct to state that:

"Libertarian communism and agrarian collectivisation were not economic terms or social principles enforced upon a hostile population by special teams of urban anarchosyndicalists . . ." [G. Kesley, Op. Cit., p. 161]

This is not to suggest that there were no examples of people joining collectives involuntarily because of the "coercive climate" of the front line. And, of course, there were villages which did not have a C.N.T. union within them before the war and so created a collective because of the existence of the C.N.T. militia. But these can be considered as exceptions to the rule.

Moreover, the way the C.N.T. handled such a situation is noteworthy. Frazer indicates such a situation in the village of Alloza. In the autumn of 1936, representatives of the C.N.T. district committee had come to suggest that the villagers collectivise (we would like to stress here that the C.N.T. militia which had passed through the village had made no attempt to create a collective there).

A village assembly was called and the C.N.T. explained their ideas and suggested how to organise the collective. However, who would join and how the villagers would organise the collective was left totally up to them (the C.N.T. representatives "stressed that no one was to be maltreated"). Within the collective, self-management was the rule.

According to one member, "Once the work groups were established on a friendly basis and worked their own lands, everyone got on well enough," he recalled. "There was no need for coercion, no need for discipline and punishment. . . A collective wasn't a bad idea at all." [Op. Cit., p. 360]. This collective, like the vast majority, was voluntary and democratic - "I couldn't oblige him to join; we weren't living under a dictatorship." [Op. Cit., p. 362] In other words, no force was used to create the collective and the collective was organised by local people directly.

Of course, as with any public good (to use economic jargon), all members of the community had to pay for the war effort and feed the militia. As Kesely notes, "The military insurrection had come at a critical moment in the agricultural calendar. Throughout lower Aragon there were fields of grain ready for harvesting. . . At the assembly in Albalate de Cinca the opening clause of the agreed programme had required everyone in the district, independent farmers and collectivists alike, to contribute equally to the war effort, thereby emphasizing one of the most important considerations in the period immediately following the rebellion."

In addition, the collectives controlled the price of crops in order to ensure that speculation and inflation were controlled. However, these policies as with the equal duties of individualists and collectivists in the war effort were enforced upon the collectives by the war.

Lastly, in support of the popular nature of the rural collectives, we will indicate the effects of the suppression of the collectives in August 1937 by the Communists, namely the collapse of the rural economy. This sheds considerable light on the question of popular attitudes to the collectives.

At a meeting of the agrarian commission of the Aragonese Communist Party (October 9th, 1937), Jose Silva emphasized "the little incentive to work of the entire peasant population" and that the situation brought about by the dissolution of the collectives was "grave and critical." [quoted by Bolloten, Op. Cit., p. 530] A few days earlier the Communist-controlled Regional Delegation of Agrarian Reform acknowledged that "in the majority of villages agricultural work was paralyzed causing great harm to our agrarian economy." [Ibid.]

Jose Peirats explains the reasons for this economic collapse as a result of popular boycott: "When it came time to prepare for the next harvest, smallholders could not by themselves work the property on which they had been installed [by the communists]. Dispossessed peasants, intransigent collectivists, refused to work in a system of private property, and were even less willing to rent out their labour." [Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, p. 258]

If the collectives were unpopular, created by anarchist force, then why did the economy collapse after the suppression? If Lister had overturned a totalitarian anarchist regime, why did the peasants not reap the benefit of their toil? Could it be because the collectives were essentially a spontaneous Aragonese development and supported by most of the population there? This analysis is backed up by Yaacov Oved's statement (from a paper submitted to the XII Congress of Sociology, Madrid, July 1990):

"Those who were responsible for this policy [of "freeing" the Aragon Collectivists], were convinced that the farmers would greet it joyfully because they had been coerced into joining the collectives. But they were proven wrong. Except for the rich estate owners who were glad to get their land back, most of the members of the agricultural collectives objected and lacking all motivation they were reluctant to resume the same effort of in the agricultural work. This phenomenon was so widespread that the authorities and the communist minister of agriculture were forced to retreat from their hostile policy." [Yaacov Oved, Communismo Libertario and Communalism in the Spanish Collectivisations (1936-1939)]

Even in the face of Communist repression, most of the collectives kept going. This, if nothing else, proves that the collectives were popular institutions. As Yaacov Oved argues in relation to the breaking up of the collectives:

"Through the widespread reluctance of collectivists to cooperate with the new policy it became evident that most members had voluntarily joined the collectives and as soon as the policy was changed a new wave of collectives was established. However, the wheel could not be turned back. An atmosphere of distrust prevailed between the collectives and the authorities and every initiative was curtailed" [Op. Cit.]

Jose Peirats sums up the situation after the communist attack on the collectives and the legalisation of the collectives as follows:

"It is very possible that this second phase of collectivisation better reflects the sincere convictions of the members. They had undergone a sever test and those who had withstood it were proven collectivists. Yet it would be facile to label as anti-collectivists those who abandoned the collectives in this second phase. Fear, official coercion and insecurcity weighed heavily in the decisions of much of the Aragonese peasantry." [Op. Cit., p. 258]

While the collectives had existed, there was a 20% increase in production (and this is compared to the pre-war harvest which had been "a good crop." [Frazer, p. 370]); after the destruction of the collectives, the economy collapsed. Hardly the result that would be expected if the collectives were forced upon an unwilling peasantry. The forced collectivisation by Stalin in Russia resulted in a famine. Only the victory of fascism made it possible to restore the so-called "natural order" of capitalist property in the Spanish countryside. The same land-owners who welcomed the Communist repression of the collectives also, we are sure, welcomed the fascists who ensured a lasting victory of property over liberty.

So, overall, the evidence suggests that the Aragon collectives, like their counterparts in the Levante, Catalonia and so on, were popular organisations, created by and for the rural population and, essentially, an expression of a spontaneous and popular social revolution. Claims that the anarchist militia created them by force of arms are false. While acts of violence did occur and some acts of coercion did take place (against C.N.T. policy, we may add) these are the exceptions to the rule. Bolloten's summary best fits the facts:

"But in spite of the cleavages between doctrine and practice that plagued the Spanish Anarchists whenever they collided with the realities of power, it cannot be overemphasized that notwithstanding the many instances of coercion and violence, the revolution of July 1936 distinguished itself from all others by the generally spontaneous and far-reaching character of its collectivist movement and by its promise of moral and spiritual renewal. Nothing like this spontaneous movement had ever occurred before" [Op. Cit., p. 78]

I.8.8 But did the Spanish collectives innovate?

Yes. In contradiction to the old capitalist claim that no one will innovate unless private property exists, the workers and peasants exhibited much more incentive and creativity under libertarian socialism than they had under the private enterprise system. This is apparent from Gaston Leval's description of the results of collectivization in Cargagente:

"Carcagente is situated in the southern part of the province of Valencia. The climate of the region is particularly suited for the cultivation of oranges. . . . All of the socialized land, without exception, is cultivated with infinite care. The orchards are thoroughly weeded. To assure that the trees will get all the nourishment needed, the peasants are incessantly cleaning the soil. 'Before,' they told me with pride, 'all this belonged to the rich and was worked by miserably paid laborers. The land was neglected and the owners had to buy immense quantities of chemical fertilizers, although they could have gotten much better yields by cleaning the soil. . . .' With pride, they showed me trees that had been grafted to produce better fruit.

"In many places I observed plants growing in the shade of the orange trees. 'What is this?,' I asked. I learned that the Levant peasants (famous for their ingenuity) have abundantly planted potatoes among the orange groves. The peasants demonstrate more intelligence than all the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Agriculture combined. They do more than just plant potatoes. Throughout the whole region of the Levant, wherever the soil is suitable, they grow crops. They take advantage of the four month [fallow period] in the rice fields. Had the Minister of Agriculture followed the example of these peasants throughout the Republican zone, the bread shortage problem would have been overcome in a few months." [cited in Dolgoff, Anarchist Collectives, p. 153].

This is just one from a multitude of examples presented in the accounts of both the industrial and rural collectives (for more see section C.2.3 in which we present more examples to refute that charge that "workers' control would stifle innovation" and I.8.6). The available evidence proves that the membership of the collectives showed a keen awareness of the importance of investment and innovation in order to increase production and to make work both lighter and more interesting and that the collectives allowed that awareness to be expressed freely. The Spanish collectives indicate that, given the chance, everyone will take an interest in their own affairs and express a desire to use their minds to improve their surroundings. In fact, capitalism distorts what innovation exists under hierarchy by channeling it purely in how to save money and maximise investor profit, ignoring other, more important, issues.

As Gaston Leval argues, self-management encouraged innovation:

"The theoreticians and partisans of the liberal economy affirm that competition stimulates initiative and, consequently, the creative spirit and invention without which it remains dormant. Numerous observations made by the writer in the Collectives, factories and socialized workshops permit him to take quite the opposite view. For in a Collective, in a grouping where each individual is stimulated by the wish to be of service to his fellow beings research, the desire for technical perfection and so on are also stimulated. But they also have as a consequence that other individuals join those who were first to get together. Furthermore, when, in present society, an individualist inventor discovers something, it is used only by the capitalist or the individual employing him, whereas in the case of an inventor living in a community not only is his discovery taken up and developed by others, but is immediately applied for the common good. I am convinced that this superiority would very soon manifest itself in a socialised society." [Collectives in the Spanish Revolution, p. 247]

Therefore the actual experiences of self-management in Spain supports the points made in section I.4.11. Freed from hierarchy, individuals will creatively interact with the world to improve their circumstances. This is not due to "market forces" but because the human mind is an active agent and unless crushed by authority it can no more stop thinking and acting than the Earth stop revolving round the Sun. In addition, the Collectives indicate that self-management allows ideas to be enriched by discussion, as Bakunin argued:

"The greatest intelligence would not be equal to a comprehension of the whole. Thence results... the necessity of the division and association of labour. I receive and I give - such is human life. Each directs and is directed in his turn. Therefore there is no fixed and constant authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and, above all, voluntary authority and subordination" [God and the State, p. 33]

The experience of self-management proved Bakunin's point that society is more intelligent than even the most intelligent individual simply because of the wealth of viewpoints, experience and thoughts contained there. Capitalism impoverishes individuals and society by its artificial boundaries and authority structures.

I.8.9 Why, if it was so good, did it not survive?

Just because something is good does not mean that it will survive.

For example, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazi's failed but that does not mean that the uprising was a bad cause or that the Nazi regime was correct, far from it. Similarly, while the experiments in workers' self-management and communal living undertaken across Republican Spain is one of the most important social experiments in a free society ever undertaken, this cannot change the fact that Franco's forces and the Communists had access to more and better weapons.

Faced with the aggression and terrorism of Franco, and behind him the military might of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, the treachery of the Communists, and the aloofness of the Western bourgeois "republics" (whose policy of "non-intervention" was strangely ignored when their citizens aided Franco) it is amazing the revolution lasted as long as it did.

This does not excuse the actions of the anarchists themselves. As is well known, the C.N.T. cooperated with the other anti-fascist parties and trade unions on the Republican side (see next section). This cooperation lead to the C.N.T. joining the anti-fascist government and "anarchists" becoming ministers of state. This cooperation, more than anything, helped ensure the defeat of the revolution.

Some anarchists still maintain that the Spanish anarchist movement had no choice and that collaboration (while having unfortunate effects) was the only choice available. This view was defended by Sam Dolgoff and finds some support in the writings of Gaston Leval, August Souchy and many other anarchists.

Most anarchists opposed collaboration at the time and most think it was a terrible mistake. This viewpoint finds its best expression in Vernon Richard's Lessons of the Spanish Revolution and, in part, in such works as Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution by Jose Pierats and Anarchist Organisation: The History of the FAI by Juan Gomaz Casas as well as in a host of pamphlets and articles written by anarchists ever since.

So, regardless of how good a social system is, objective facts will overcome that experiment. Saturnino Carod (a leader of a C.N.T. Militia column at the Aragon Front) sums up the successes of the revolution as well as its objective limitations:

"Always expecting to be stabbed in the back, always knowing that if we created problems, only the enemy across the lines would stand to gain. It was a tragedy for the anarcho-syndicalist movement; but it was a tragedy for something greater - the Spanish people. For it can never be forgotten that it was the working class and peasantry which, by demonstrating their ability to run industry and agriculture collectively, allowed the republic to continue the struggle for thirty-two months. It was they who created a war industry, who kept agricultural production increasing, who formed militias and later joined the army. Without their creative endeavour, the republic could not have fought the war..." [Blood of Spain, p. 394]

I.8.10 What political lessons were learned from the revolution?

The most important political lesson learned from the Spanish Revolution is that a revolution cannot compromise with existing power structures.

The Spanish Revolution is a clear example of the old maxim, "those who only make half a revolution dig their own graves." Essentially, the most important political lesson of the Spanish Revolution is that an anarchist revolution will only succeed if it follows an anarchist path and does not seek to compromise in the name of fighting a "greater evil."

On the 20th of July, after the fascist coup had been defeated in Barcelona, the C.N.T. sent a delegation of its members to meet the leader of the Catalan Government. A plenum of C.N.T. union shop stewards, in the light of the fascist coup, agreed that libertarian communism would be "put off" until Franco had been defeated (the rank and file ignored them and collectivised their workplaces). They organised a delegation to visit the Catalan president to discuss the situation - "The delegation. . . was intransigent . . . [e]ither Companys [the Catalan president] must accept the creation of a Central Committee [of AntiFascist Militias] as the ruling organisation or the C.N.T. would consult the rank and file and expose the real situation to the workers. Companys backed down." [Abel Paz, Durruti - the people armed, p. 216, our emphasis]

The C.N.T. committee members used their new-found influence in the eyes of Spain to unite with the leaders of other organisations/parties but not the rank and file. This process lead to the creation of the "Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias", in which political parties as well as labour unions were represented. This committee was not made up of mandated delegates, but of representatives of existing organisations, nominated by committees. Instead of a genuine confederal body (made up of mandated delegates from workplace, militia and neighbourhood assemblies) the C.N.T. created a body which was not accountable to, nor could reflect the ideas of, ordinary working class people expressed in their assemblies. The state and government was not abolished by self-management, only ignored.

This first betrayal of anarchist principles led to all the rest, and so the defeat of the revolution and the civil war. In the name of "antifascist" unity, the C.N.T. worked with parties and classes which hated both them and the revolution. In the words of Sam Dolgoff "both before and after July 19th, an unwavering determination to crush the revolutionary movement was the leitmotif behind the policies of the Republican government; irrespective of the party in power." [The Anarchist Collectives, p. 40]

To justify their collaboration, the leaders of the C.N.T.-FAI claimed not to collaborate would have lead to a civil war within the civil war. In practice, while paying lip service to the revolution, the Communists and republicans attacked the collectives, murdered anarchists, cut supplies to collectivised industries (even war industries) and disbanded the anarchist militias after refusing to give them weapons and ammunition (preferring to arm the Civil Guard in the rearguard in order to crush the C.N.T. and so the revolution). By collaborating, a civil war was not avoided. One occurred anyway, with the working class as its victims, as soon as the state felt strong enough.

Garcia Oliver (the first ever, and hopefully last, "anarchist" minister of justice) stated that collaboration was necessary and that the C.N.T. had "renounc[ed] revolutionary totalitarianism, which would lead to the strangulation of the revolution by anarchist and Confederal [C.N.T.] dictatorship. We had confidence in the word and in the person of a Catalan democrat" Companys (who had in the past jailed anarchists). Which means that only by working with the state, politicians and capitalists can an anarchist revolution be truly libertarian!

However, as Vernon Richards makes clear:

"[was it] essential, and possible, to collaborate with political parties that is politicians honestly and sincerely, and at a time when power was in the hands of the two workers organisations?. . . All the initiative. . . was in the hands of the workers. The politicians were like generals without armies floundering in a desert of futility. Collaboration with them could not, by any stretch of the imagination, strengthen resistance to Franco. On the contrary, it was clear that collaboration with political parties meant the recreation of governmental institutions and the transferring of initiative from the armed workers to a central body with executive powers." [Vernon Richards, Lessons of the Spanish Revolution, p. 42]

The false dilemma of "anarchist dictatorship" or "collaboration" was fundamentally wrong. It was never a case of banning parties, etc. under an anarchist system, far from it. Full rights of free speech, organisation and so on should have existed for all but the parties would only have as much influence as they exerted in union/workplace/community/militia/etc. assemblies, as should be the case! "Collaboration" yes, but within the rank and file and within organisations organised in an anarchist manner. Anarchism does not respect the "freedom" to be a boss or politician.

In his history of the FAI, Juan Gomaz Casas (an active F.A.I. member in 1936) makes this clear:

"How else could libertarian communism be brought about? It would always signify dissolution of the old parties dedicated to the idea of power, or at least make it impossible for them to pursue their politics aimed at seizure of power. There will always be pockets of opposition to new experiences and therefore resistance to joining 'the spontaneity of the unanimous masses.' In addition, the masses would have complete freedom of expression in the unions as well as. . .their political organisations in the district and communities." [Anarchist Organisation: the History of the FAI, p. 188]

Instead of this "collaboration" from the bottom up, the C.N.T. and F.A.I. committees favoured "collaboration" from the top down. The leaders ignored the state and cooperated with other trade unions as well as political parties in the Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias. In other words, they ignored their political ideas in favour of a united front against what they considered the greater evil, namely fascism. This lead the way to counter-revolution, the destruction of the militias and collectives.

In particular, the continued existence of the state ensured that economic confederalism between collectives (i.e. extending the revolution under the direction of the syndicates) could not develop naturally nor be developed far enough in all places. Due to the political compromises of the C.N.T. the tendencies to coordination and mutual aid could not develop freely (see next section).

It is clear that the defeat in Spain was due to a failure not of anarchist theory and tactics but a failure of anarchists to apply their theory and tactics. Instead of destroying the state, the C.N.T.-F.A.I. ignored it. For a revolution to be successful it needs to create organisations which can effectively replace the state and the market; that is, to create a widespread libertarian organisation for social and economic decision-making through which working class people can start to set their own agendas. Only by going this route can the state and capitalism be effectively smashed.

In building the new world we must destroy the old one. Revolutions are authoritarian by their very nature, but only in respect to structures and social relations which promote injustice, hierarchy and inequality. It is not "authoritarian" to destroy authority and not tyrannical to dethrone tyrants!

Revolutions, above all else, must be libertarian in respect to the oppressed. That is, they must develop structures that involve the great majority of the population, who have previously been excluded from decision-making about social and economic issues.

As the Friends of Durruti argued "A revolution requires the absolute domination of the workers' organisations." ["The Friends of Durruti accuse", from Class War on the Home Front, p. 34] Only this, the creation of viable anarchist social organisations, can ensure that the state and capitalism can be destroyed and replaced with a just system based on liberty, equality and solidarity.

The second important lesson is on the nature of anti-fascism. The C.N.T. leaders were totally blinded by the question of anti-fascist unity, leading them to support a "democratic" state against a "fascist" one. While the bases of a new world was being created around them by the working class, inspiring the fight against fascism, the C.N.T. leaders collaborated with the system that spawns fascism, As the Friends of Durruti make clear, "Democracy defeated the Spanish people, not Fascism." [Class War on the Home Front, p. 30]

To be opposed to fascism is not enough, you also have to be anti-capitalist.

In Spain, anti-fascism destroyed the revolution, not fascism. As the Scottish Anarchist Ethal McDonald argued at the time, "Fascism is not something new, some new force of evil opposed to society, but is only the old enemy, Capitalism, under a new and fearful sounding name. . . Anti-Fascism is the new slogan by which the working class is being betrayed." [Workers Free Press, Oct 1937]

I.8.11 What economic lessons were learned from the revolution?

The most important lesson from the revolution is the fact that ordinary people took over the management of industry and did an amazing job of keeping (and improving!) production in the face of the direst circumstances. Not only did workers create a war industry from almost nothing in Catalonia, they also improved working conditions and innovated with new techniques and processes. The Spanish Revolution shows that self-management is possible.

From the point of view of individual freedom, its clear that self-management allowed previously marginalised people to take an active part in the decisions that affected them. Egalitarian organisations provided the framework for a massive increase in participation and individual self-government, which expressed itself in the extensive innovations carried out by the Collectives. The Collectives indicate, in Stirner's words, that "[o]nly in the union can you assert yourself as unique, because the union does not possess you, but you possess it or make it of use to you." [The Ego and Its Own, p. 312]

As predicted in anarchist theory, and borne out by actual experience, there exists large untapped reserves of energy and initiative in the ordinary person which self-management can call forth. The collectives proved Kropotkin's argument that cooperative work is more productive and that if the economists wish to prove "their thesis in favour of private property against all other forms of possession, should not the economists demonstrate that under the form of communal property land never produces such rich harvests as when the possession is private. But this they could not prove; in fact, it is the contrary that has been observed." [The Conquest of Bread, p. 146]

Therefore, five important lessons from the actual experience of a libertarian socialist economy can be derived:

Firstly, that an anarchist society cannot be created overnight, but is a product of many different influences as well as the objective conditions.

The lesson from every revolution is that the mistakes made in the process of liberation by people themselves are always minor compared to the results of creating institutions for people. The Spanish Revolution is a clear example of this, with the "collectivisation decree" causing more harm than good. Luckily, the Spanish anarchists recognized the importance of having the freedom to make mistakes, as can be seen by the many different forms of collectives and federations tried.

Secondly, that self-management allowed a massive increase in innovation and new ideas.

The Spanish Revolution is clear proof of the anarchist case against hierarchy and validates Isaac Puente words that in "a free collective each benefits from accumulated knowledge and specialized experiences of all, and vice versa. There is a reciprocal relationship wherein information is in continuous circulation." [cited in The Anarchist Collectives, p. 32]

Thirdly, the importance of decentralisation of management.

The woodworkers' union experience indicates that when an industry becomes centralised, the administration of industry becomes constantly merged in fewer hands which leads to ordinary workers being marginalised. This can happen even in democratically run industries and soon result in apathy developing within it. This was predicted by Kropotkin and other anarchist theorists (and by many F.A.I. members in Spain at the time). While undoubtedly better than capitalist hierarchy, such democratically run industries are only close approximations to anarchist ideas of self-management. Importantly, however, the collectivisation experiments also indicate that cooperation need not imply centralisation (as can be seen from the Badelona collectives).

Fourthly, the importance of building links of solidarity between workplaces as soon as possible.

While the importance of starting production after the fascist uprising made attempts at coordination seem of secondary importance to the collectives, the competition that initially occurred between workplaces helped the state to undermine self-management. Because there was no People's Bank or other communistic body to coordinate credit and production, state control of credit and the gold reserves made it easier for the Republican state (through its monopoly of credit) to undermine the revolution and control the collectives and (effectively) nationalise them in time (Durruti and a few others planned to seize the gold reserves but were advised not to by De Santillan).

This attack on the revolution started when the Catalan State issued a decree legalising (and so controlling) the collectives in October 1936 (the famous "Collectivisation Decree"). The counter-revolution also withheld funds for collectivised industries, even war industries, until they agreed to come under state control. The industrial organisation created by this decree was a compromise between anarchist ideas and those of other parties (particularly the communists) and in the words of Gaston Leval, "the decree had the baneful effect of preventing the workers' syndicates from extending their gains. It set back the revolution in industry." [The Anarchist Collectives, p. 54]

And lastly, that an economic revolution can only succeed if the existing state is destroyed. As Kropotkin argued, a new economic system requires a new political system - capitalism needs the state, socialism needs anarchy.

Due to the failure to consolidate the revolution politically, it was lost economically. The decree "legalising collectivisation" "distorted everything right from the start" [Collectives in the Spanish Revolution, p. 227] and helped undermine the revolution by ensuring that the mutualism of the collectives did not develop freely into libertaria communism ("The collectives lost the economic freedom they had won at the beginning" due to the decree, as one participant put it. [Ronald Frazer, Blood of Spain, p. 230]).

As Frazer notes, it "was doubtful that the C.N.T. had seriously envisaged collectivisation of industry. . .before this time." [Op. Cit., p. 212] C.N.T. policy was opposed to the collectivisation decree. As an eyewitness pointed out, "The C.N.T.'s policy was thus not the same as that pursued by the decree." [Op. Cit., p. 213] Indeed, leading anarchists like Abad de Santillan opposed it and urged people to ignore it: "I was an enemy of the decree because I considered it premature. . .when I became councilor, I had no intention of taking into account or carrying out the decree: I intended to allow our great people to carry on the task as they best saw fit, according to their own inspiration." [Op. Cit., p. 212]

However, with the revolution lost politically, the C.N.T. was soon forced to compromise and support the decree (it did propose more libertarian forms of coordination between workplaces but these were undermined by the state). A lack of effective mutual aid organisations allowed the state to gain power over the collectives and so undermine and destroy self-management. Working class control over the economy (important as it is) does not automatically destroy the state. In other words, the economic aspects of the revolution cannot be considered in isolation from its political ones.

However, these points do not diminish the successes of the Spanish revolution. Beyond doubt these months of economic liberty in Spain shows that not only that libertarian socialism works but that it can improve the quality of life and increase freedom. Given the time and breathing space, the experiment would undoubtedly have ironed out its problems. Even in the very difficult environment of a civil war (and with resistance of almost all other parties and unions) the workers and peasants of Spain showed that a better society is possible.