Libertarian Socialism: A Practical Outline : Chapter 3: Decentralization and the Organization of Industry
(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 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.)
• "...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.)
Chapter 3: Decentralization and the Organization of Industry
Before we address the issue of the structures of the federalist organization, we believe it would be useful to provide some figures that will show that, from the practical point of view—and not just from the point of view of theory or principles—industrial decentralization is an absolute necessity.
In 1954, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), the Paris region had six million three hundred thousand inhabitants, that is, 14.3 percent of the population of France. Yet it is home to twenty-three percent of the industrial wage workers. Sixty percent of France’s aeronautics workers, 56.2 percent of the workers in its electrical equipment industry, and sixty-four percent of its aluminum foundry workers are located in the Paris region; fifty percent of France’s copper and copper alloy workers, and fifty percent of its zinc, lead and tin workers, eighty percent of the country’s high-pressure alloy manufacturing workers, sixty-five percent of its machinery production workers, seventy-one percent of its paint and varnish manufacturing workers, sixty-five percent of its plaster manufacturing workers (which nonetheless would appear to be easy to produce throughout the country), ninety-five percent of its gas meter manufacturing workers, eighty percent of those who manufacture water meters, and ninety-two percent of its auto workers.
We must also mention that one third of the personnel employed in France in the “liberal professions”, dominated by parasitism, are in Paris; that twenty-nine percent of the public service employes live in the Paris region, which shows just how under-represented the other parts of France are in this regard; and that twenty-six percent of the employes of the transport sector are also concentrated in the same region.
Having called attention to these facts, we shall try to set forth the outlines of a decentralized organization of industry.
We have seen that between the organization of local production and that of national production, an intermediate regional organization is interposed. This latter organization may assume multiple forms.
Let us assume that in the city of Lyon, furniture is manufactured for the entire Department of the Rhône, and that its furniture industry also assembles furniture whose parts are manufactured in the Rhône Department as well as the Departments of Aix, Savoy, Isere, the Loire and Saone-et-Loire. This manufacturing and assembly cluster will result in the construction of an inter-departmental Federation of Furniture Workers. However, should the woodworkers of Provence lack raw materials, they would be obliged to appeal to the Federation whose headquarters is in Lyon.
Thus, diverse departmental federations will join the National Federation, not as a result of the capricious ruling of a central committee, even one elected by a congress, but as a result of the vital requirements of consumption and the possibilities of the labor process. Thanks to this national institution that will proceed to undertake a census of the raw materials available nationally, and which will be informed concerning the potential of production of each zone, the regions experiencing shortages will systematically direct their requests to the regions possessing surpluses, which will prevent one department from being overwhelmed with requests when these requests should be evenly distributed among the other departments with a surplus.
Here we have the elements of a federalism that will combine autonomy and cohesion, true self-determination and an overall plan. This is only one aspect of what we shall call decentralization, which we must attempt to implement as completely as possible, in order to prevent the formation of rigid and authoritarian apparatuses contrary to life and liberty. There are other possibilities for this terrain. We shall enumerate a few of them.
The federalist and, to a certain extent, centralized management that proceeds from the bottom to the top and from the top to the bottom, one that will allow for rational planning, will be neither necessary nor indispensable for all industries, especially for those which have a local character. In a small city where shoes, household objects, fabrics and the furniture required for local consumption is produced, either by assembly line or by hand, it would seem to be unnecessary for these activities to enter into the organic circuit of production directed by the National Federation. And this would be an excellent measure for helping to prevent, to the greatest extent possible, the general mechanization and standardization of human activities. Even so, for the usefulness of the knowledge itself, cities of every size, and even the small villages that would like to participate, could, simply for information purposes, provide statistics concerning their production and consumption.
Let us consider the construction industry. Building houses and public buildings, and urban planning, are local activities, which should be directly organized by the localities involved. More precisely, they should be organized by the specialists elected by these localities, or by their professional institutions: architects, public health experts, delegates of the residents, and representatives of the construction workers. Contrary to the precepts of syndicalism, these tasks are not entrusted solely to the trade union. In this case, as in all others, the consumer must lead the producer, demand must orient production.
A National Confederation of the Construction Industry will not have to perform the same kind of role performed by the National Confederation of the Textile Industry or the Chemical Industry. Decisions will have to be made instead on the basis of local conditions, including matters relating to regional architectural styles, which cannot be directed by a centralized national directive committee, since it is not only necessary to “conceive” the styles, as would take place in the best cases, but also “feel” them, in the context of the ambiance of each region, the spirit of the countryside, and that of the inhabitants, the love of the land, and even local history. In this way we could in the future avoid a repetition of the monstrosities inflicted on so many cities in France after the last war, where bureaucrat-architects built barracks- and prison-like buildings, which totally spoiled the cities due to the incompatibility of their lines with the characteristics of the countryside.
Thus, the organization of the workers of the construction industry can only be national for a certain kind of planning pertaining to population growth, statistical projects, imbalances or reforms. Its main purpose would be to ensure the distribution of raw materials, of materials whose extraction, manufacture, and preparation are often localized (around the Loire, the manufacture of cement, etc.).
But a Federation of local workers, which it would appear to us to be preferable to call an “industry trade union”, should be formed immediately, and it should unite all the trades that participate in construction: excavators, bricklayers, laborers, plasterers, plumbers, painters, glaziers, architects, engineers, draftsmen, master craftsmen, etc. The various technical sections will be united by the community of labor.
From this perspective, the professional corporative trade unions have long lacked any reason to exist, not even in the contemporary social struggles, and it is surprising to see that this kind of division still exists in many sectors of the working class.
If, from the very first moments of the movement, we do not eliminate these vestiges of the past, it is likely that, due to a lack of solidarity and fraternal spirit, the revolution will not lead to the construction of a new world. If we do not make an effort to unify our forces, on the level of life and in our hearts, our revolution will not have a truly socialist, or syndicalist or libertarian, character, and it will be stillborn.
The trade union of the construction industry, however, will only be one of many trade unions of industry. The national federations represent the vertical aspect of the organization. The trade unions of industry, and the local federations of the various trade unions of the different industries, represent the horizontal, eminently decentralizing, aspect of the organization.
Let us suppose that, in an average-sized city, after the necessary classifications have been made, that all economic activities together comprise thirty basic industries, including urban transport.
The thirty corresponding trade unions would, on the one hand, be constituted by two hundred or three hundred technically-classified trade sections, each of which is conjoined with the category that corresponds with its general activity, in order to prevent the rivalries that caused such harm for the corporations of the Middle Ages. On the other hand, the trade unions of industry will constitute a bond uniting all of them organically. Quite often, the activities of certain industries are directly complementary. Thus, the supply of materials for construction to the workers of the construction sector, of wood to the carpenters, to the furniture workers, of certain kinds of machines to the various workshops, etc. This would facilitate the fullest integration at a local level, true self-determination of a humanist type, and, for each person, an awareness of the activities of the whole.
But if economic decentralization is absolutely necessary in view of the fact that the Paris region is a monstrous conglomeration of factories, workshops, and offices, which since the time of Louis XIV has absorbed a large part of the country’s life and substance, paid for by all of France, industrial reorganization also appears to be a necessity, in a rational and “humanly” organized economy.
In agriculture, more or less quickly depending on regional conditions, the absolute imperative of concentrating the land will be imposed as an unavoidable necessity, instead of dividing the land into separate parcels, which is the offspring of private property, practiced over the course of the centuries. We will have to wait many more years, in the capitalist countries, to attain a more sensible system of organization and distribution for farming.
We must say, however, that some progress has already been made in this regard, thanks to the efforts of the various Ministries of Agriculture whose technicians, following the recommendations that agronomists, economists and specialized engineers have been making for many years, have slowly begun to plan and then implement this trend towards concentration which, in turn, can only acquire the necessary momentum for success by way of the support of the peasants themselves. In this connection, the professional and cooperative mutual aid societies of the peasants have also played an important part.
Yet in France there is also an equally unfortunate trend towards industrial fragmentation, which a social transformation will have to strive to remedy as soon as possible. And this is true of even the most centralized countries, which demonstrates the inherent disorder of a non-socialized economy.
Thus, although at least twenty-three percent of French industry is concentrated in the Paris region, ninety-seven percent of the industrial enterprises of this region (one hundred sixty thousand enterprises!) each employ fewer than fifty persons, and we all know that in modern industry, fifty people is an insufficient number for most industries.
If we take France as a whole, the statistics for the year 1959 show that in the chemical industry, which must be one of the most concentrated industries, 62.5 percent of the enterprises employ between one and six wage workers; 32.6 percent employ between seven and fifty; 4.1 percent, between fifty and two hundred; and 0.8 percent employ more than two hundred wage workers.
The furniture industry has thirty-four thousand “enterprises” which employ one hundred ten thousand people, or approximately three persons per enterprise. Sixty-two percent of the French sawmills employ fewer than five workers each; twenty-three thousand two hundred fifty workshops only employ thirty-seven thousand eight hundred people (as you can see, small business predominates in this industry); twenty-seven percent each employ between six and twenty people, and only eleven percent each employ more than twenty.
It is possible to choose a happy median between the small, all-too-small enterprise, dirty and barely profitable, and the gigantic enterprise. During the Spanish Revolution, our comrades everywhere implemented the changes dictated by economics and good sense, uniting the workers, the artisans and the technical equipment of the small workshops in much larger workplaces, as much for the benefit of the producers who could thus work in more hygienic and comfortable working conditions, as for profitability, thanks to the reduction of overhead costs, energy expenses, etc.
Returning to France, the industry involved in the production of metals is one of those which, for the good of the workers as well as that of the consumers, must be organized in a modern way, and therefore must be sufficiently concentrated, when this is necessary. The statistics for 1959 show that 82.2 percent of the enterprises in this industry employ 17.7 percent of its wage workers; 10.5 percent employ 26.3 percent; 0.9 percent employ 20.8 percent of the workers of the industry; and 0.2 percent employ 35.2 percent. Here we encounter one the characteristic features of capitalism, for, besides the automated enterprises, it is not always true that the large enterprise is more profitable than the average sized one. Beyond a certain level, the general operational expenses, and the costs of bureaucratic personnel, management, etc., are proportionally higher.
Let us consider the food industry. 90.7 percent of the enterprises in this industry employ between one and six people each; 8.6 percent employ between seven and one hundred. These numbers demonstrate that in this category, extremely tiny enterprises predominate. The rest, comprising 1.6 percent of the enterprises, are large enterprises. But one need only enter a sugar refinery, a chocolate or pasta factory, or a vegetable or fish cannery, or even a flour mill, to understand that, from every perspective, the artisanal enterprise, so often defended in the name of freedom, but where man is even more enslaved than in a large enterprise, is obsolete.
We see the same situation in the pulp, printing and paper industry. Eighty-four percent of the enterprises in this industry each employ between one and six persons; 15.1 percent employ between seven and one hundred persons; only 0.8 percent of the enterprises exceed this number of employes. Always extremes, and disequilibrium.
Finally, for the textile industry, concerning which one might assume that it is exclusively composed of large factories, we provide the following figures: 88.4 percent of the enterprises in this industry each employ between one and six persons; 10.5 percent employ between seven and one hundred persons; forty-five percent of all the employes of the industry are concentrated in 1.1 percent of the factories.
The average number of employes per enterprise is four for the food industry, thirty-seven for the chemical industry, six for the leather industry, six for the construction industry, ten for basic metals. Only the mining industry (more than nine hundred persons per enterprise) and the steel industry (approximately five hundred eighty) have the numbers that are appropriate for large enterprises; numbers that are entirely justified, given the kind of activities they pursue. As for the rest, we shall see just how far they are subjected to reorganization, which, we repeat, is only possible in a socialized society.
From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org
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