Collectives in Aragon

By Gaston Leval

Entry 1357


From: holdoffhunger [id: 1]


Untitled Anarchism Collectives in Aragon

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(1895 - 1978)

CNT Radical, Anarcho-Syndicalist, and Spanish Civil War Historian

: He was a French anarchist during the Spanish Civil War and was the son of a French Communard. Leval, himself was a French anarcho-syndicalist militant and a participant in the foundation congress of the Red International of Labor Unions from June-August 1921. (From: Anarchy Archives.)
• "The methodical police terror, the [Bolshevik] Party's tightening grip upon the whole of social life, the systematic annihilation of all non-Bolshevik currents, the no less systematic extermination of all revolutionaries who thought along lines different from those of the new masters, and indeed the eradication of every hint of dissent within the Party all proved that we were on the road to a new despotism that was not merely political but also intellectual, mental and moral, reminiscent of the darkest days of the Middle Ages." (From: "Anarchists Behind Bars," by Gaston Leval, Summer,....)
• "...the Spanish Libertarian workers co-ordinate and rationalize production in a much more satisfactory way than Capitalism had done. And I lay special stress on the disappearance of small unhealthy and costly workshops and factories, besides the correct use of machinery for the work most suited to it." (From: "Collectives in Spain," by Gaston Leval, 1945.)
• "...the means of production remained unused in the barns of the rich, whilst the poor peasants worked the land with roman plows drawn by worn out donkeys and mules!" (From: "Collectives in Spain," by Gaston Leval, 1945.)

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Collectives in Aragon

Gaston Leval: Social Reconstruction in Spain (London 1938);
quoted in Vernon Richards: Lessons of the Spanish Revolution (London 1983)

 Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões, CC BY License

Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões,
CC BY License

The mechanism of the formation of the Aragonese collectives has been generally the same. After having overcome the local authorities when they were fascist, or having replaced them by Anti-fascist or Revolutionary committees when they were not, an assembly was summoned of all the inhabitants of the locality to decide on their line of action.

One of the first steps was to gather in the crop not only in the fields of the small landowners who still remained, but, what was even more important, also on the estates of the large landowners all of whom were conservatives and rural `caciques' or chiefs. Groups were organized to reap and thresh the wheat which belonged to these large landowners. Collective work began spontaneously. Then, as this wheat could not be given to anyone in particular without being unfair to all, it was put under the control of a local committee, for the use of all the inhabitants, either for consumption or for the purpose of exchange for manufactured goods, such as clothes, boots, etc., (it's for those who were most in need.)

It was necessary, afterwards, to work the lands of the large landowners. They were generally the most extensive and fertile in the region. The question was again raised before the village assembly. It was then that the `collectivity' if not already definitely constituted---often this had been done at the first meeting---was definitely established.

A delegate for agriculture and stock breeding was nominated (or one for each of these activities when breeding was extensively carried on), one delegate each for local distribution, exchanges, public works, hygiene and education and revolutionary defense. Sometimes there were more; on other occasions less. Workers' groups were then formed. These groups generally were divided into the number of zones into which the municipal territory had been divided, so as more easily to include all kinds of work. Each group of workers names its delegates. The delegates meet every two days or every week with the councilor of agriculture and stock breeding, so as to coordinate all the different activities.

In this new organization, small property has almost completely disappeared. In Aragon 75 per cent of small proprietors have voluntarily adhered to the new order of things. {\it Those who refused have been respected.} It is untrue to say that those who took part in the collectives were forced to do so. One cannot stress this point too strongly in face of the calumnies which have been directed against the collectives on this point. It is so far from the truth that the agrarian collectivity has brought into force, everywhere, a special account for small proprietors and has printed consumers tickets especially for them, so as to ensure for them the industrial products they require, in the same way as they do for the `collectivists.'

In this transformation of property, one must put special stress on the practical sense and psychological finesse of the organizers who in almost all the villages have conceded or given to each family a bit of ground on which each peasant cultivates for his own use, the vegetables which he prefers in the way he prefers. Their individual initiative can thereby be developed and satisfied.

Collective work has made it possible to achieve in agriculture as well as in industry, a rationalization which was impossible under the regime of small land ownership and even under that of big landed properties....

On the other hand, better quality seeds are used. This was rendered possible by being able to buy up large stocks, which the small peasant could not afford to do in the past. Potato seeds come from Ireland and selected wheat seeds only are used. Chemical fertilizers have also been used. As modern machinery properly used---tractors and modern plows were obtained by exchange or bought directly from abroad---permits the soil to be more deeply worked, these seeds have produced a yield per acre far superior to that which would have been obtained under the conditions which existed during previous years. These new methods have also made it possible to increase the acreage sown. In Aragon my research on the spot permits me to affirm that generally speaking {\it the increase in wheat crop has reached an average of 30 per cent.} An increase in yield, though in a smaller proportion, has been obtained for other cereals, potatoes, sugar beet, lucerne, etc.

In these agricultural regions the economic condition of the peasants has generally improved. It has only suffered a setback in those localities which had specialized in production for export, and which were consequently unable to place their products and obtain foodstuffs in exchange. This happened in certain regions in Levante whose produce consisted almost entirely of oranges. But this state of affairs lasted only a few months.

This latter fact is of utmost importance. It is the first time in modern society that the anarchist principle `to each according to his needs' has been practiced. It has been applied in two ways; without money in many villages in Aragon and by a local money in others, and in the greater part of collectives established in other regions. The {\it family wage} is paid with this money and it varies according to the number of members in each family. A household in which the man and his wife both work because they have no children receives, for the sake of argument, say 5 pesetas a day. Another household in which only the man works, as his wife has to care for two, three or four children, receives six, seven or eight pesetas respectively. It is the `needs' and not only the `production' taken in the strictly economic sense which controls the wage scale or that of the distribution of products where wages do not exist.

This principle of justice is continually extended. It does away with charity and begging and the special budgets for the indigent. There are no more destitutes. Those who work do so for others in the same way as others will work to help them and their children later on.

But this mutual aid extends beyond the village. Before the fascist invaders destroyed the Aragon collectives, the cantonal federations did all in their power to counteract the injustices of nature by obtaining for the less favored villages the machinery, mules, seed, etc....which were to help them increase the yield of their land. These implements were obtained through the intermediary of the Federation, which undertook the delivery of the produce of twenty, thirty, forty or even fifty localities and asked in their name, from the industrial and stock-breeding centers, for the products which they required.

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