"For a free humanity! For anarchy!"
poster of the Iron Column Fighting Brigade
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The "Spanish Civil War," we were led to believe, was a struggle between a liberal republic that was valiantly and with popular support trying to defend a democratic parliamentary state against authoritarian generals -- an imagery that is conveyed to this very day by most books on the subject and by that shabby cinematic documentary, To Die in Madrid.

What so few of us knew outside of Spain, however, was that the "Spanish Civil War" was in fact a sweeping social revolution by millions of workers and peasants who were concerned not to rescue a treacherous republican regime but to reconstruct Spanish society along revolutionary lines. We would scarcely have learned from the press that these workers and peasants viewed the republic almost with as much animosity as they did the Francistas. Indeed, acting largely on their own initiative against "republican" ministers who were trying to betray them to the generals, they had raided arsenals and sporting-goods stores for weapons and with incredible valor had aborted the military conspiracies in most of the cities and towns of Spain. We were almost totally oblivious to the fact that these workers and peasants had seized and collectivized most of the factories and land in republican-held areas, establishing a new social order based on direct control of the country's productive forces by workers' committees and peasant assemblies. While the republic's institutions lay in debris, abandoned by most of its military and police forces, the workers and peasants had created their own institutions to administer the cities in republican Spain, formed their own armed workers' squads to patrol the streets, and established a remarkable revolutionary militia force to fight the Francista forces -- a voluntaristic militia in which men and women elected their own commanders and in which military rank conferred no social, material, or symbolic distinctions.

Murray Bookchin, To Remember Spain

Self-management is not a new form of mediation between the workers and their capitalist bosses, but instead refers to the very process by which the workers themselves overthrow their managers and take on their own management and the management of production in their own work place. Self-management means the organization of all workers in the work place into a workers' council or factory committee (or agricultural collective), which makes all the decisions formerly made by the owners and managers. Nor does self-management allow the gravitation of power from the workers themselves to a bureaucratic hierarchy. When power is delegated by the workers, it is for a specified purpose and it is delegated to other workers who are always recallable.

In Spain the social revolution did not meet with complete success: the revolution was often stopped short of full workers' self-management. But the ideal, the goal toward which the workers were striving, was clear enough.

Sam Dolgoff, The Anarchist Collectives, "Workers' Control vs. Workers' Self-Management"

More than half the telephone lines were destroyed by grenades during the fighting. The restoration and repair of telephone connections was imperative. Without waiting for orders from anyone, the workers restored normal telephone service within three days. Thousands of new lines were installed in union locals, militia centers, and committee districts.

Augustin Souchy, "Collectivizations in Catalonia," in Sam Dolgoff (ed.), The Anarchist Collectives, ch. 7

If by industry is meant a group of manufacturing establishments making the same type of merchandise in a county, province, or region, then there was no optical industry in Spain before the 19th of July....

.... The greatest innovation was the construction of a new factory for optical apparatuses and instruments. The whole operation was financed by the voluntary contributions of the workers. In a short time the factory turned out opera glasses, telemeters, binoculars, surveying instruments, industrial glassware in different colors, and certain scientific instruments. (The workers presented Buenaventura Durruti with a special set of field glasses.) Another achievement was the opening of a new, up-to-date optical school.... The workers had every reason to be proud of these achievements. What private capitalists failed to do was accomplished by the creative capacity of the members of the Optical Workers' Union of the CNT.

Augustin Souchy and P. Folgare (eds.), "The Collectivization of the Optical Industry," in Sam Dolgoff (ed.), The Anarchist Collectives, ch. 7

Before July 19th, 1936, there were 1,100 hairdressing parlors in Barcelona, most of them owned by poor wretches living from hand to mouth. The shops were often dirty and ill-maintained. The 5,000 hairdressing assistants were among the most poorly paid workers, earning about 40 pesetas per week while construction workers were paid 60 to 80 pesetas weekly. The 40 hour week and 15% wage increase instituted after July 19th spelled ruin for most hairdressing shops. Both owners and assistants therefore voluntarily decided to socialize all their shops.

How was this done? All the shops simply joined the union. At a general meeting they decided to shut down all the unprofitable shops. The 1,100 shops were reduced to 235 establishments, a saving of 135,000 pesetas per month in rent, lighting, and taxes. The remaining 235 shops were modernized and elegantly outfitted. From the money saved, wages were increased by 40%. Everybody had the right to work and everybody received the same wages. The former owners were not adversely affected by socialization. They were employed at a steady income. All worked together under equal conditions and equal pay. The distinction between employers and employees was obliterated and they were transformed into a working community of equals -- socialism from the bottom up.

Augustin Souchy, "Collectivizations in Catalonia," in Sam Dolgoff (ed.), The Anarchist Collectives, ch. 7

The collective modernized industry, increased production, turned out better products, and improved public services. For example, the collective installed up-to-date machinery for the extraction of olive oil and conversion of the residue into soap. It purchased two big electric washing machines, one for the hospital and the other for the collectivized hotel.... Through more efficient cultivation and the use of better fertilizers, production of potatoes increased 50% (three-quarters of the crop was sold to Catalonia in exchange for other commodities ...) and the production of sugar beets and feed for livestock doubled. Previously uncultivated smaller plots of ground were used to plant 400 fruit trees, ... and there were a host of other interesting innovations. Through this use of better machinery and chemical fertilizers and, but no means least, through the introduction of voluntary collective labor, the yield per hectare was 50% greater on collective property than on individually worked land. These examples finally induced many more "individualists" to join the collective.

Gaston Leval and Alardo Prats, "The Collectivization in Graus," in Sam Dolgoff (ed.), The Anarchist Collectives, ch. 10

Every family is allotted a piece of land for its own use, be it to raise some chickens, rabbits, or whatever. Seed and fertilizer are also provided to grow vegetables. There is no longer any need to employ hired labor nor is it any longer necessary for young girls to seek employment as servants in Catalonia or in France. The collective has made truly remarkable progress in raising the standard of living by 50% to 100% in a few months. And this is all the more remarkable in that this was achieved under the stress of war and in the absence of the youngest and most active workers, now in the armed forces.

Gaston Leval and Alardo Prats, "The Collectivization in Graus," in Sam Dolgoff (ed.), The Anarchist Collectives, ch. 10

The collectivization of the land properties of Count Romanonés in Miracampo and Azuqueca by the Castillian Regional Peasant Federation merits special attention. The peasants altered the topography of the district by diverting the course of the river to irrigate new land, thus tremendously increasing cultivated areas. They constructed a mill, schools, collective dining halls, and new housing for the collectivists.

A few days after the close of the Civil War, Count Romanonés reclaimed his domains, expecting the worst, certain that the revolutionary vandals had totally ruined his property. He was amazed to behold the wonderful improvements made by the departed peasant collectivists. When asked their names, the Count was told that the work was perfomed by the peasants in line with plans drawn up by a member of the CNT Building Workers' Union, Gomez Abril, an excellent organizer chosen by the Regional Peasant Federation. As soon as Abril finished his work he left, and the peasants continued to manage the collective.

Learning that Gomez Abril was jailed in Guadalajara and that he was in a very precarious situation, the Count succeeded in securing his release from jail and offered to appoint him manager of all his properties. Gomez declined, explaining that a page of history had been written and his work finished.

Gaston Leval (ed.), "Miralcampo and Azuqueca," in Sam Dolgoff (ed.), The Anarchist Collectives, ch. 10

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. Carcagente is completely surrounded by orange groves. The orange trees, with their abundance of golden fruit, present a truly magnificent picture....

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 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.

Gaston Leval, "Collectivization in Carcagente," in Sam Dolgoff (ed.), The Anarchist Collectives, ch. 10

[In Calanda] The relations between the libertarian collectivists and the "individualists" (small peasant proprietors) are cordial. There are two cafés: the collective's café serves free coffee and in the other café the "individualists" have to pay for their coffee. The collective operates a barber shop, giving free haircuts and (if desired) free shaves twice weekly.

Money is abolished and has been replaced by vouchers. Food, meat, and all other provisions are distributed in quantity when plentiful or equitably rationed when in short supply. The collective allows 5 liters of wine per person weekly. Medical care and medicines are free. Even postage stamps are free. There is no rent. Housing, building repairs, water, gas, electricity -- all are supplied gratis, not only to the collectivists but also to the "individualists." The village generates its own power from a waterfall. There is no scarcity of clothing. By arrangement with a Barcelona textile plant, oil is exchanged for cloth, dresses, etc. Garments are distributed in rotation to 40 persons daily.

Augustin Souchy, "A Journey Through Aragon," in Sam Dolgoff (ed.), The Anarchist Collectives, ch. 10

Doctor José Maria Pueyo, a middle-aged man from Saragossa, now lives in Albate de Cinca. He has been treating the villagers for 12 years, and understands their physical condition and health needs. Dr. Pueyo is a liberal, but belongs to no party. He is well liked. Here in Albate de Cinca, as in many other Spanish villages, health care was customarily provided by paying the doctor a stipulated sum.... After collectivization, the situation was radically altered. Since money was abolished, we asked Dr. Pueyo:

"How are you paid?"

"The collective takes care of me."

"Surely you have other needs than eating, drinking, and being clothed. You need medical instruments, books, and many other things."

"The collective takes care of all this, just as in city hospitals where the management provides the doctors with all supplies and services...."

Dr. Pueyo shows us some new medical books. He had spent a few days in Barcelona where he had bought everything he needed at the collective's expense. Since there is no pharmacy in the village, the doctor fills his own prescriptions and supplies patients with other medical necessities.

Augustin Souchy, "A Journey Through Aragon," in Sam Dolgoff (ed.), The Anarchist Collectives, ch. 10

In June, 1937, I attended a district congress where a grave problem had come up. The harvest was at hand. Sacks, wire, gas, and machinery were needed to be distributed among the villages, and they would have cost hundreds of thousands of pesetas that the Collectives did not have. It seemed that the only way to get money was to sell the foodstuffs normally donated to the soldiers. This seemed to be the choice: either lose a good part of the crop, or else not send the free food. The assembly chose unanimously to try to find another solution. They sent a delegation to the government in Valencia. Their effort was foredoomed: the abandonment of the combatants on the Aragon front was a calculated plan of the cabinet majority (Largo Caballero was in power at the time). They hoped that, in desperation, the militiamen would sack the Collectives.

The machinations of the reactionaries fell through. In Solidaridad Obrera (organ of the CNT) of Barcelona, I published an appeal to the militiamen, advising them of the situation and asking them to send part of their pay to help the peasants. Hundreds of thousands of pesetas were sent to the Collectives, and the harvest was saved.

Gaston Leval, "The Collective in Binefar," in Sam Dolgoff (ed.), The Anarchist Collectives, ch. 10

I had heard much about [anarchist militia leader Buenaventura] Durruti's mastery over the column that went by his name. I was curious to learn by what means other than military drive he had succeeded in welding together 10,000 volunteers without previous military training and experience of any sort. Durruti seemed surprised that I, an old Anarchist, should even ask such a question.

"I have been an Anarchist all my life," he replied, "I hope I have remained one. I should consider it very sad indeed, had I to turn into a general and rule the men with a military rod. They have come to me voluntarily, they are ready to stake their lives in our antifascist fight. I believe, as I always have, in freedom. The freedom which rests on the sense of responsibility. I consider discipline indispensable, but it must be inner discipline, motivated by a common purpose and a strong feeling of comradeship." He had gained the confidence of the men and their affection because he had never played the part of a superior. He was one of them. He ate and slept as simply as they did. Often even denying himself his own portion for one weak or sick, and needing more than he. And he shared their danger in every battle. That was no doubt the secret of Durruti's success with his column. The men adored him. They not only carried out all his instructions, they were ready to follow him in the most perilous venture to repulse the fascist position.

Emma Goldman, "Durruti Is Dead, Yet Living"

[An excellent collection of articles is available at The Spanish Revolution of 1936 page.

To read more about some of the rural Spanish collectives, see Augustin Souchy's With the Peasants of Aragon,.]

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