Libertarian Socialism: A Practical Outline : Chapter 8: The Immediate Future

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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 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.)
• "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,....)


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Chapter 8: The Immediate Future


What we have presented in this book may seem, in part, utopian, because these conceptions of practical implementation refer, or seem to refer, to an indistinct future. But this future will never be realized if we do not prepare for it right now, since problems of such importance cannot be solved with improvised methods. The occupation of the factories in Italy, in 1922, and the occupation of the factories throughout much of France in June 1936, show us that we might, regardless of the exact date, once again encounter a revolutionary situation in which it will be necessary to understand what must be done quickly to achieve a positive result.

However, even while we are waiting for such a situation—which we must help to prepare for by means of incessant study—to arise once again, why not immediately engage in some kind of initiative that could serve as a milestone along the road to the future? Why do the small-scale farmers not organize, in one or another part of France, into labor collectives, even on a limited scale? What prevents the formation of production cooperatives, utilizing all the raw materials of local origin, employed for the production of certain industrial products? Why should agricultural improvements, whose benefits would be shared, not be undertaken?

Let us assume that one hundred farmers unite in order to pursue their specialty in common. As the Spanish experience has shown, it would be easy to guarantee to the twenty-five or thirty farmers who can or preserve their vegetables or fruits that the supply cooperatives have to buy their products. The peasant cooperative community thus spreads to another domain, and by this means acquires access to much more abundant resources. And it is the life of each person, of each household, which will be improved and embellished.

Is it not possible, as well, to immediately proceed to implement projects involving aviculture and animal husbandry? And while we are waiting for this stage, is it not possible, even though each small dairy farmer or peasant preserves the ownership of his cattle, to concentrate the animals in common stables, to graze them in commonly owned pastures (just as they graze sheep and goats in common in certain mountainous regions), and to milk them all together using milking machines? This, naturally, would only apply to those situations where the cows can be concentrated in this manner, as in certain regions of France. Why not extend, as far as possible, the practices of the “fruteries” of the Jura and part of the Northern Alps?

The possibilities for immediate extension into the field of action of the cooperatives are demonstrated by the Swedish experience, where this mode of organization, which began with very sparse resources, but often characterized by great devotion, underwent prodigious development. In 1954, in a nation of seven million inhabitants, the general center of cooperatives had one million eight hundred thousand seven hundred and three members.[14] Gross receipts have risen to two billion four hundred forty-four million kronas. Sales have risen to one billion five hundred and six million kronas, of which, eight hundred million kronas were paid for commodities produced by the cooperatives that are members of the General Center. The workshops and factories of the cooperatives supply twenty-eight percent of the margarine produced in Sweden; ninety percent of the edible oils; twenty-two percent of the wheat flour; twenty-six percent of the oatmeal; thirty percent of the pasta; fifty percent of the electric light bulbs; and eight percent of the plywood.

And these are only a few aspects of the activities of the Swedish cooperatives which, just like the French agricultural cooperatives, have made a powerful contribution to the task of cleaning up commercial practices and improving the quality of merchandise. It is therefore evident that immense opportunities are available, but only on the condition that the members behave like real cooperators, and that they actively participate in the management of their organizations, that they do not, from negligence or indolence, leave all the administrative work that has to be done in the hands of the same people. Otherwise the organizers and administrators are transformed into rulers who cannot be replaced, and the cooperative strays from the path of the purposes for which it was created; and this is the fault of all. In the final accounting, it is always a matter of the qualities—or the defects—of men.

It cannot be denied that such distortions are quite likely to occur in capitalist society. After the social transformation, for which the cooperative movement must prepare, they will be less formidable. We say “less formidable”, rather than “harmless”. In order to avoid them, local, and even more importantly, small cooperatives, will always be preferable, since such a scale would be appropriate for the cooperative environment. It is in the large institutions that bureaucratic centralization is most likely to emerge. In this case, as well, the federalism that entails the best context for self-management and self-administration is the most appropriate—libertarian—rule.

Are these goals that we are trying to impress upon the cooperatives and the cooperators the expression of an extremism that contradicts true cooperation? Not at all. We need only refer to the first paragraphs of the declaration of the Rochdale Community, whose members were the pioneers and true founders of the cooperative movement, concerning whom there is much talk but whose words are all-too-often forgotten, to prove this.

What did those twenty-eight weavers proclaim, who have always been viewed as the founding fathers of modern cooperation? [15]

“The objects and plans of this Society are to form arrangements for the pecuniary benefit and the improvement of the social and domestic conditions of its members, by raising a sufficient amount of capital in shares of one pound each, to bring into operation the following plans and arrangements.

“The establishment of a store for the sale of provisions and clothing etc.

“The building, purchasing, or erecting of a number of houses, in which those members desiring to assist each other in improving their domestic and social condition may reside.

“To commence, the manufacture of such articles as the society may determine upon, for the employment of such members as may be without employment, or who may be badly remunerated.

“That as soon as practicable, this society shall proceed to arrange the powers of production, distribution, education, and government, or in other words to establish a selfsupporting home-colony of united interests, or assist other societies in establishing such colonies.”

(Excerpt from the “Laws and Objectives of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers”, Rochdale, 1844; see, online: — English translator’s note.)

We could discuss at length the Danish cooperatives, or those of Germany and the United States (four million members out of seven million farmers, in 1947), or of England (eleven million seven hundred fifty thousand members in the consumers cooperatives, in 1956), or other countries. None of them have taken the decisive step that was taken in Spain between 1936 and 1939, in Palestine, and in certain Mexican agrarian cooperatives. In our time, the cooperatives of the French farmers have not made so much progress. With a little more boldness, they could accomplish much to improve their standard of living. The experience of the “Comunitá” Movement, at Ivrea, in northern Italy, shows, once again, that it is possible to do much more, within the current form of society, than is attempted by those who only love their ideal in a theoretical way, or are afraid of the responsibility that they might have to assume. This movement was created at the initiative of a capitalist reformer, Olivetti, whose office machines are famous throughout the world. This reformer, similar in some respects to Robert Owen, has partially socialized his factory, and is in the process of carrying out experiments oriented to a more extensive implementation of socialization.

This initiative, which has obtained the support of technicians who also seek to bring about social reforms, has attracted the participation of seventy-three towns, which are now engaged in the reorganization of urban and social life, and are implementing structural and social reforms, including the improvement of the natural environment and the sponsorship of culture and art, and projects that involve farming the land in common, depending on the degree of development of the inhabitants of the various towns, or of part of them. Social welfare, cultural centers, industrial workshops, cooperatives….

The range of activities is immense and the possibilities for their extension are endless. We are witnessing a distinctly libertarian phenomenon, even if it does not explicitly assume the name, since its organizers have acted, up until the present time, outside the framework of the nation state and the official world and have thus demonstrated, by means of facts, that social reforms that can serve as the foundations or points of departure for the future are immediately possible.

It is a question of initiative and will, concerning which the “communities of labor” set an example in France. The communitarian movement that is being so painstakingly constructed, in the face of the indifference of the working class masses, the trade unions and the vanguard groups, is nonetheless another example of what can be done. It is composed of twenty-seven groups of producers and has nine hundred members, who are employed in various industries. Nothing but this indifference prevents this movement from enjoying a magnificent development. In general, and this is also true of the “Comunitá” Movement, the results have been positive. They would be even more positive if those who say they want to transform society would lend their support to these immediate attempts at social transformation. On the other hand, it is essential to understand that libertarian socialism is not limited to the problems of production and distribution. It is certainly true that economic justice is its primary characteristic, and we have devoted the corresponding amount of space in this pamphlet to that problem; for it also implies a moral character of the highest value. But in order to be in a position to bring about economic justice, it is necessary for a certain degree of ethics, intellectual culture, and sociability—which the institutions of mutual aid, such as the cooperatives, enhance—to be attained.

All of these factors are linked. No person is capable of going beyond patronage and wage labor, whose mentality is not higher and more advanced than the regime embodied by those principles; nor can this be attained by anyone who has no idea of his duties, no willingness to perform them without being forced to do so, and who therefore has not reached that level of consciousness that would make him worthy of living in a better society.

Libertarian socialism is the material reorganization of society, but it is at the same time the creation of a more advanced state of personal happiness, and a living harmony of all individuals whose thoughts, hearts, and conduct rise to the level of the great goals we pursue.

Libertarian socialism is about making man happier, not only because he will possess more material goods, but because he will be more dignified, more free, and more supportive to his kind. This entails the replacement of the written law, which is so often asocial and anti-social, with the moral law that derives its substance and its inspiration from our hearts and our consciousness. It also implies the replacement of authoritarian institutions by fraternal practices that will create among us the necessary cohesion to organize islands within contemporary society, islands that would gradually form a new world that will expand by way of tireless efforts on behalf of the great goals that we set for ourselves.

Libertarian socialism implies a new mode of conduct for each of us, the realization of all the possibilities of beauty, kindness, rectitude and higher feelings of which man is capable.

It is a conception of a new civilization in the strictest sense of the word, and civilization is, above all, a practical humanism, a form of civility, a sum of behaviors, and one must fully recognize in the intellectual creations of art and thought, the superior character that is truly the hallmark of civilized peoples.

Anyone who agrees with this idea and who wants to put it into practice places himself outside the pale of contemporary society, just as the Christians placed themselves outside the Roman society of the time of Nero. And anyone whose conduct does not rise to the level of this challenge will remain in this society, even if he endorses the most subversive slogans. Numerous revolutionaries have occupied themselves with practical problems of both the present and the future, but not having given form to the new man within themselves, they are incapable of leaving this society. In such a case, even under the most favorable circumstances: socialism will never be realized.

Yes, one can and must create, starting now, a higher community that, in the domain of culture, and that of morality applied to material relations, will constitute an example of libertarian socialism, and this will necessarily comprise the basis for practical projects, as nothing more can be expected from the current circumstances. But we cannot be entirely certain that the opposite will not take place: we cannot be certain that the economic transformation will automatically engender the moral transformation, the capability to overcome the society of classes and the state.

Here we touch upon one of the problems that socialism, revolutionary syndicalism, communism, revolutionary anarchism and the school of abundance have avoided posing, because they are not of any advantage to demagogues nor do they serve the interests of the dictatorial bureaucracy and politics. But anyone who has some experience with people and has been able to learn lessons from this experience, anyone who is familiar with the history of the workers movement, the socialist and communist parties or other vanguardist currents, knows that this question is a major factor, of the greatest importance, conducive to failure.

We therefore face an immense task, and one that must begin now. It is absolutely necessary to bring our ideas and our methods to the trade unions, the cooperatives, and the various mutual aid institutions. It would be most useful, even indispensable, to become as closely acquainted as possible with the organization and functioning of contemporary society, so as to have a better idea of how to organize and operate a new one. It is also necessary, and indispensable, however, to devote serious attention to the elaboration of the significance of libertarian socialism for the other spheres of life, that aspect of the new civilization thanks to which we will be able to show people the paths towards a new life. This task must, by way of manifold expressions, saturate and penetrate all of society, profoundly and lastingly instilling the new ideas into its core.

It is therefore essential to acquire a good understanding of the overall importance of this aspect of our movement and of our life, which must awaken within us the higher consciousness of our mission. For it is often the case that those who devote their disinterested efforts to human progress are too impatient for success in their overall view of the world. This impels them to participate in political activities or activities with short term goals, in contradiction with the fundamental postulates that they invoke. What has happened to the socialist party, revolutionary syndicalism and Marxist communism shows that such impatience has done nothing but increase the distance between these tendencies and their original goals. Once one is enmeshed in the cogs of moral and material concessions, one is dragged along by all the new situations that arise one after another, and it does not take long to be absorbed. In this manner, noble forces and great values, which could have played an immense role in the development of the peoples, have been lost to humanity.

We do not disdain any short-term gains, as long as they are not disconnected from our proclaimed goals or from the roads that lead to those goals. Life is such that, on an individual level, we may be forced to make concessions, but it is one thing to be forced to compromise, and another to willingly abandon one’s principles by deliberately departing from what we believe to be noble, just and true.

There is something much more important than the minor reformist detours, which have, one after another, gradually nullified great movements: this is the creation of a new, autonomous force that is cleansed of all compromise, which represents a higher concept of civilization and which does not compromise with regard to its ideal; and that each individual will feel that he is an integral part of this force, that each feels the mutual support of his brothers and understands the greatness of our common mission. We are contributing a reality that is new to history, and this reality, which must undergo constant development, must not be dishonored and destroyed by compromises that erode, sterilize, corrode and annihilate it.

It might take a long time to accomplish so much. Those who do not want to wait will fall into the old ways of traditional parties and movements.

Without losing sight of the problems addressed in this pamphlet, while we prepare ourselves for their solution, and establish fraternal contacts with all the libertarian socialist elements that remain faithful to their principles, and helping them, wherever they engage in struggle, as much as our resources allow, this other aspect of our mission must also nourish our enthusiasm. And this other aspect is itself sufficient to justify the constitution of our Movement, in the expectation of great practical achievements.

We must show humanity a new road that must lead it to a new destiny. To preserve it from decline, its future must be liberated from the authoritarian structures that engender oppression and stagnation, from the economy of exploitation that leads to catastrophe, and from the dominant technocratic mechanisms that would submerge it in new forms of bestiality.

Confident of our convictions and our foresight, we must unite now for the future.

Gaston Leval


Translated in July-August 2013 from the Spanish translation:

Gaston Leval. Práctica del Socialismo Libertario, tr. Antonio Colomer Viadel, Fundación de Estudios Libertarios Anselmo Lorenzo, Madrid, 1994.

Originally published in Switzerland in 1959 under the title, Pratique du Socialisme Libertaire.

[1] See the report published on July 27, 1959, by the newspaper Le Figaro, on the horrible efficacy of just one of the means of extermination that governments wield today: four batteries of the “Caporal” atomic missile, which, however, is the smallest atomic missile in service in the American army; it nonetheless has more explosive power than all the artillery shells used by the American forces during World War Two. Faced with facts of this kind, those who still maintain that the people can win in an armed struggle against the state demonstrate a shocking lack of contact with reality. (All footnotes are the author’s.)

[2] Much has been said of the Russian achievements. Besides the fact that they were only rendered possible by the deaths of millions of slaves, it is a distortion of reality to claim that these achievements would not have been possible without the nationalization of the country. Prior to 1914, the pace of industrial development in Russia was already faster than that of Western Europe. Any serious study will provide an abundance of evidence in support of this view.

[3] It would be easy for us to describe, as so many others have done, a new society in its perfected state of operation. This would then be a work of fiction. We prefer to undertake Sociology, and grapple with difficulties in order to attempt to resolve them in accordance with the economic realities with which the real creators of history must contend.

[4] In any event, it is on the basis of the workplace that the “active and creative” freedom of each worker and each individual can be best exercised. The directives given to the management committees, the technicians, and the necessary labor coordinators, cannot proceed from today’s centralized trade unions, in most cases. This would lead to a new form of bureaucratic “parasitic superstructure”. The revolution must mobilize the will, the initiative, and the sense of responsibility of all. Each individual must in turn adapt to the needs of production in general, that is, to the needs of the population as a whole. But insofar as he is capable of influencing the organization of this production, the methods of labor and the human relations of the production process, he must be a co-participant who expresses his opinion and plays a role in the decision-making process as a whole. Otherwise, there would be no application of libertarian principles, not even simple democracy, of a trade union variety or any other.

[5] Exactly sixty-five percent of France’s steel is produced in Lorraine, twenty-two percent in the North of France, eight percent in the Center and the South, and five percent in the areas of Caen and Bayonne.

[6] The coal crisis that in 1959 wreaked havoc in Belgium and Germany was in part the result of the increasing consumption of petroleum.

[7] Federalism is not atomization. To federate is to unify. The organization from the “bottom up” that was proclaimed by Proudhon and Bakunin for the social economy has nothing to do with political provincialism. Viewed in this light, federalism leads to a voluntary centralization that is controlled by all, a centralization that can be modified in accordance with the will of all.

[8] Out of one million retail businesses, six hundred eighty thousand of them do not have any employes; one hundred ninety thousand have one employee each. In all of France there are only six hundred stores that employ one hundred employes or more. “The apparatus of distribution is too large”, all the commentators are saying. This trend reached its peak during the period of “poujadisme”, which it distorted for political reasons, but whose basic impulse still exists in a latent state.

[9] These enterprises, which are especially known for their Gruyere cheese, were formed in the 12th century.

[10] Most “ejidos” are farmed by the individual owners of the land. But these are not the wealthiest ones and it is in the others that the highest degree of prosperity is attained.

[11] Sixty percent of technical education and fifty-two percent of the technical degrees granted are provided by private enterprises which teach four hundred sixteen trades, of which one hundred twenty-seven are not taught in the public sector. Most civil, electrical and textile engineers are graduates of private technical schools.

[12] In addition to the amount that will have to be saved for seed.

[13] At four hundred francs per hour, this would imply forty-one hours of labor. If each worker were to work only eighty hours less per year, this would have enough of an effect to drive the enterprise into deficit, and we are not even taking the social wage into account.

[14] Assuming that each cooperator is a member of a family, this means that about half the population of Sweden is affected by the cooperative movement.

[15] Actually, they were inspired by the principles expounded by Robert Owen.

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November 30, 1958 :
Chapter 8: The Immediate Future -- Publication.

July 13, 2019 17:59:49 :
Chapter 8: The Immediate Future -- Added to


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