The Anarchist Collectives : Part 1: Background, Chapter 2: The Libertarian Tradition

Revolt Library >> Anarchism >> The Anarchist Collectives >> Part 1: Background, Chapter 2: Libertarian Tradition, The

Not Logged In: Login?



(1902 - 1990) ~ Russian Emigre and American Anarchist Activist : He rode the rails for the Wobblies, sometimes as a gandy dancer (or maintenance man), or else hopping boxcars, and he always looked for the chance to stand in front of a crowd and, in that broken cello of a voice. (From :
• "The very fact that autonomy, decentralization and federalism are more practical alternatives to centralism and statism already presupposes that these vast organizational networks now performing the functions of society are prepared to replace the old bankrupt hyper-centralized administrations." (From : "The Relevance of Anarchy to Modern Society," by S....)
• "The increasing complexity of society is making anarchism MORE and NOT LESS relevant to modern life. It is precisely this complexity and diversity, above all their overriding concern for freedom and human values that led the anarchist thinkers to base their ideas on the principles of diffusion of power, self-management and federalism." (From : "The Relevance of Anarchy to Modern Society," by S....)
• "Society without order (as the word 'society' implies) is inconceivable. But the organization of order is not the exclusive monopoly of the State. For, if the State authority is the sole guarantee of order, who will watch the watchmen?" (From : "The Relevance of Anarchy to Modern Society," by S....)

(1921 - 2006) ~ Father of Social Ecology and Anarcho-Communalism : Growing up in the era of traditional proletarian socialism, with its working-class insurrections and struggles against classical fascism, as an adult he helped start the ecology movement, embraced the feminist movement as antihierarchical, and developed his own democratic, communalist politics. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "The historic opposition of anarchists to oppression of all kinds, be it that of serfs, peasants, craftspeople, or workers, inevitably led them to oppose exploitation in the newly emerging factory system as well. Much earlier than we are often led to imagine, syndicalism- - essentially a rather inchoate but radical form of trade unionism- - became a vehicle by which many anarchists reached out to the industrial working class of the 1830s and 1840s." (From : "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
• "We are direly in need not only of 're-enchanting the world' and 'nature' but also of re-enchanting humanity -- of giving itself a sense of wonder over its own capacity as natural beings and a caring product of natural evolution" (From : "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)
• "...real growth occurs exactly when people have different views and confront each other in order to creatively arrive at more advanced levels of truth -- not adopt a low common denominator of ideas that is 'acceptable' to everyone but actually satisfies no one in the long run. Truth is achieved through dialogue and, yes, harsh disputes -- not by a deadening homogeneity and a bleak silence that ultimately turns bland 'ideas' into rigid dogmas." (From : "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)


On : of 0 Words (Requires Chrome)

Part 1: Background, Chapter 2: The Libertarian Tradition

Chapter 2: The Libertarian Tradition


A social revolution is neither an accidental happening nor a coup d’etat artificially engineered from above.

It is the culmination of a long period of gestation. Nurtured on the one hand by negative forces, there is rebellion against oppression springing from the inability of the old order to cope with acute economic and social problems. On the other hand there are the positive, contructive forces. The long submerged elements of the new society, freed by the Revolution, emerge as the old society decays and collapses. We are here primarily concerned with these positive constructive tendencies and traditions which will shape the character of the free society.

Spanish anarchism springs from two sources: the inherent libertarian tradition of rural collectives, and the deeply rooted and militantly federalist tendencies which found expression in Bakunin’s anarcho-syndicalist organizational principles. We briefly trace these two sources below.

We conclude this chapter with the summation of an article by the anarchist theoretician Isaac Puente.[18] It is an example of how these two foundations of Spanish anarchism intermesh. He contrasts the state and authoritarian organization with the free association of individuals through libertarian urban industrial and agrarian organization. As he wrote in CNT (October 24, 1933), “We are not interested in changing governments. What we want is to suppress them...” Here, Puente outlines alternatives to the authoritarian organization of society.

The Rural Collectivist Tradition
by Sam Dolgoff

Gerald Brenan has written that “in its roots Spanish Anarchism is rural.” (p. 199) There is indeed a strong agricultural and pastoral tradition in Spain that is anarchistic. This is not, however, all there is to Spanish anarchism, as we shall see in the next section of this chapter. But it is from rural roots that the first libertarian collectives sprang. They were not invented by the anarchists but date back to medieval times.

Agrarian collectivism is traditional in the Iberian Peninsula, as it is among the Berbers and in the ancient Russian mir. The historians Costa and Reparez trace the origins of a great many Iberian collectives... A form of rural libertarian-communism 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... (Compo Libre, anarchist magazine, 1936, quoted in Mintz, pp. 34, 35)

The beginnings of collective land tenure are obscure but probably come from many sources--such as the working of land that would only yield to collective efforts, and grants of land to communities of liberated serfs designed to populate certain areas. By the 18th century there were a great many villages in northern Spain that owned the surrounding land and the villagers would periodically divide it up among themselves. In the Pyrenees there were shepherd communities that had communal pastures.

Rural collectivism was not limited to land tenure alone, as in many other parts of the world. In fact an amazing strength of Spanish collectivism was the tendency of the people to introduce collectivist or cooperative ways of doing things into other aspects of their daily life.

What is, however, remarkable is that in Spain the village communities spontaneously developed on this basis an extensive system of municipal services, to the point of their sometimes reaching an advanced stage of communism. (Brenan, p. 339)

Municipal cooperatives often provided for the needs of village inhabitants: anything from the surgeon to papal indulgences. Guilds provided sickness and old age insurance for their members. Some fishing communities became collectivized as early as the 16th century. Even early industrial undertakings, like net-making, were collectivized.

Brenan gives impressive examples of these collectives from the investigations of J. Langdon Davies and Joaquin Costa, the greatest historian of agrarian collectivism in Spain. We can do no better than to quote from his example of the village of Port de la Selva in Catalonia. Brenan draws on Davies’ description made shortly before the Civil War and then adds his own historical context:

The village was run by a fishermen’s cooperative. They owned the nets, the boats, the curing factory, the store house, the refrigerating plant, all the shops, the transport lorries, the olive groves and the oil refinery, the café, the theater, and the assembly rooms. They had developed the pósito, or municipal credit fund possessed by every village in Spain, into an insurance against death, accident, and loss of boats. They coined their own money... Port de la Selva was in short a libertarian republic and had achieved the ideal of all those villages of Catalonia, Andalusia and even Castile which at different times during the past century have declared themselves independent and have proceeded to divide up lands and issue their own coinage...[19]

What is interesting is to see how naturally these cooperatives have fitted into the Spanish scene. For Port de la Selva is one of the old fishermen’s communes of Catalonia which have existed from time immemorial... Here then we have a modern productive cooperative grafted on to an ancient communal organization and functioning perfectly. (pp. 337, 338)

There were, of course, other forces at work. Through the years many municipalities lost their ‘democratic qualities as the king, nobles, and rich merchants intervened. The municipality often became an instrument of coercion and state power.

After 1868, anarchist thought began to influence popular dissent. (See “The Anarchist Influence” below) The workers organized themselves into local federations or syndicates. These syndicates provided the organizational basis for revolutionary pressure, and they portended the organizational form of the collectives during the social revolution. They were also identical in every way to the village assembly in many early municipalities.

An important period of revolutionary action in 1918 gives a flavor of the role (as a new form and an old form) that the syndicate played:

That autumn saw therefore the immense majority of agricultural workers of the south and east of Spain, together with the tradesmen and the workers in small local industries, organized in one vast though loose syndicate. The beginning of a peasants’ confederation that would cover the whole of Spain seemed to be in sight. During these years the local syndicates everywhere acquired immense prestige and authority. Their leading men, who sat on the committees, were the real rulers of the districts. The municipality kept only a nominal power. Every Sunday the syndicate would meet in full assembly to discuss local affairs. The whole village attended and anyone who wished to had the right to speak. Resolutions were passed and voting took place by a show of hands. During the rest of the week the committee enforced its will by a system of fines against which an appeal could always be made to the village assembly. What one was witnessing was really the rebirth of the municipality of the early Middle Ages. (Brenan, pp. 180, 181)

Peasant movements on as great or greater a scale launched in the years immediately preceding the Spanish Civil War of 1936 are better known. Franz Mintz cites frustrated peasant rebellions to institute Comunismo Libertario in 43 villages in Granada, Malaga, Almeria, and Jaen.

In January, 1932, the FAI launched an insurrectional movement in the mining region of Upper Llobregat and Cordona... In the Levant at the end of 1932, Bétera, Bugarra, Pedralba, and Ribaroja proclaimed libertarian communism, hoisted the red and black flag, burnt records, and announced the abolition of money, private property, and the ‘exploitation of man by man.’ (Mintz, pp. 11–12, 40–41, 45. He also cites other examples.)

The nature of the Spanish rural collectivist tradition goes well beyond peculiar agrarian conditions, as we have suggested. It was all encompassing, tenacious, and clear about its goals:

There has not been a peasant rising in Andalusia in the last hundred years when the villages did not form communes, divide up the land, abolish money, and declare themselves independent--free, that is, from the interference of “foreign” landlords and police. (Brenan, p. 196)

Similarly, as peasants came to the cities to work in factories, etc., they brought this collectivist tradition with them.

[Industrial workers] ask, first of all, for self-government for their industrial village or syndicate, and then for a shortening of the hours, a reduction in the quantity of the work. They ask for more liberty and more leisure and above all more respect for human dignity, but not necessarily a higher standard of living. (Brenan, p. 196)

We conclude by quoting Brenan once more: “Again one finds the anarchists hastening to restore the groundwork of local life from which Spain in the days of her greatness had sprung.” (p. 202, note N)

The Anarchist Influence
by Sam Dolgoff

The rural collectivist tradition in Spain laid the groundwork for Spanish anarchism. But it was the fundamental principles of anarchism worked out by Bakunin and the libertarian wing of the First International that decisively determined the orientation of the Spanish anarchist movement. The “Declaration of Principles” written by Bakunin on the founding of the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy on Sept. 25, 1868, provides an intellectual basis similar to this rural tradition we have already talked about:

The Alliance declares itself atheist; it seeks the complete and definitive abolition of classes and the political, economic, and social equality of both sexes. It wants the land and the instruments of labor (production), like all other property [not personal belongings], to be converted into the collective property of the whole society for utilization [not ownership] by the workers: that is, by agricultural and industrial federations. It affirms that all existing political and authoritarian states, which are to be reduced to simple administrative functions dealing with public utilities in their respective countries, must eventually be replaced by the worldwide union of free association, agricultural and industrial. (Dolgoff, p. 35)

Later that year, the Alliance was introduced into Spain by Bakunin’s emissary, the Italian revolutionist Giuseppe Fanelli. Though knowing no Spanish, Fanelli was still able in a matter of weeks to lay a firm foundation for the acceptance of Bakunin’s anarchism.

The founders of the International in Spain--men like Farga y Pellicer, Gaspar Sentiñon, Anselmo Lorenzo, Francisco Mora, Gonzalez Morago, and José Garcia Viñas--were all members of the Bakuninist Alliance. By the middle of 1870 the Spanish Federation of the International had over 20,000 members:

a new organization based solely upon the interests, the needs and the natural preferences of the populations--having no other principle but the free federation of individuals into communes, of communes into provinces, of provinces into nations, and finally of the nations into the United States of Europe first, and of the entire world eventually. (“Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism”, in Dolgoff, pp. 104, 105 )

The resolutions of the libertarian sections of the International constituted the “Magna Carta” of Spanish anarcho-syndicalism. The important “Program of the Alliance,” for instance, differentiated the organization of the masses from the state and emphasized the need for these organizational forms to be consonant with the daily life of the worker. Bakunin summarized this important point:

The organization of the International ... will take on an essentially different character from the organization of the state. Just as the state is authoritarian, artificial, violent, foreign, and hostile to the natural development of the popular instincts, so must the organization of the International conform in all respects to these instincts and these interests. But what is the organization of the masses? It is an organization based on the various functions of daily life and of different kinds of labor. It is the organization by professions and trades. Once all the different industries are represented in the International, including the cultivation of the land, its organization, the organization of the mass of the people, will have been achieved.

The organization of the trade sections and their representation in the Chambers of Labor [federations of unions] creates a great academy in which all the workers can and must study economic science; these sections also bear in themselves the living seeds of the new society which is to replace the old world. They are creating not only the ideas, but also the facts of the future itself. (Dolgoff, p. 255)

In the Spanish case these ‘seeds’ did allow for the intense learning and popular intelligence that actually produced a social revolution.

At the notorious Hague Congress of the International in 1872, these libertarian principles were repudiated by the Marxist faction and Bakunin, Guillaume, and the libertarian Jura Federation were expelled. The “Resolutions of the Congress of Saint-Imier” a few days later reconstituted the libertarian International. The Spanish Federations of the International endorsed these resolutions during Christmas week in Cordova, thereby aligning themselves with the libertarians and re-emphasizing their anti-authoritarian direction. The third resolution reads:

The economic aspiration of the proletariat can have no other aim than the establishment of absolutely free organizations and federations, based on the labor equally of all and absolutely separate and independent from every political state government; and that these organizations and federations can be created only by the spontaneous action of the proletariat itself, that is, by the trade bodies and the autonomous communes...

For these reasons, the Congress of Saint-Imier declares:

1) That the destruction of all political power is the first task of the proletariat;

2) That the establishment of a so-called “provisional” (temporary) revolutionary authority to achieve this destruction can be nothing but a new deception and would be just as dangerous for the proletariat as any existing government. (Dolgoff, pp. 390, 391)

The last resolution under the heading “Organization of Labor Statistics” recommends the naming of a commission which would present to the Congress “a plan for the universal resistance of labor against capitalism and the state” and complete statistics on work to “expedite this struggle and guide labor” in social reconstruction. In this connection, the resolution praised the efforts of the “Spanish section as up to now the best ... “

Our purpose here has been to give a feel for the content of anarchist thought, especially Bakunin’s, and a sense of its influence on Spain. These two elements, Bakunin’s anarchist influence and the native Spanish collectivist tradition spoken of before, set the stage for the Spanish anarchists to actually “expedite this struggle and guide labor” in social reconstruction.

A word needs to be said about the intense preoccupation of the Spanish anarchists with libertarian reconstruction of society. It has been called an “obsession” and not altogether without reason. For example, under the following headings the Saragossa Congress in May, 1936 defined in considerable detail the organization and structure of Comunismo Libertario and the necessary initial steps leading toward the full realization of the new society: “Constructive Conception of the Revolution,” “The Establishment of Communes, Their Function and Structure,” “Plan of Economic Organization,” “Coordination and Exchange,” “Economic Conception of the Revolution,” “Federation of Industrial and Agricultural Associations,” “Art, Culture and Education.” In short, practically the whole range of problems likely to affect the Revolution were discussed including relations with non-libertarian individuals and groupings, crime, delinquency, equality of sexes, individual rights, etc.

However, it was this very “obsession” that produced these resolutions and others dealing with the organization of the new society that were worked out by the various congresses of the Spanish sections of the International (in 1870, 1871, 1872, 1882, and up to and including the Saragossa Congress in May, 1936, only two months before the Civil War): resolutions that were, without major modifications put into effect by the agrarian collectives and socialized industries during the Spanish Revolution.

In a largely illiterate country, tremendous quantities of literature on social revolution were disseminated and read many times over. The resolutions mentioned above were more than just show pieces; they 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.

The proclamation of the Spanish Republic in 1931, led to an outburst of “anticipatory” writings: Peirats lists about fifty titles, stressing that there were many more... a proliferation of writings which contributed greatly to preparing the people for a revolutionary road. (Guérin, p. 121)

Newspapers and periodicals were of enormous importance also. “By the end of 1918 more than fifty towns in Andalusia had libertarian newspapers of their own. (Brenan, p. 179) By 1934 the CNT attained a membership of 1,500,000 and the anarchist press blanketed Spain. In Barcelona the CNT published a daily, Solidaridad Obrera, with a circulation of 30,000. Tierra y Libertad of Barcelona (a magazine) reached a circulation of 20,000; Vida Obrera of Gijon, El Productor of Seville, and Acción y Cultura of Saragossa had large circulations. The magazines La Revista Blanca, Tiempos Nuevos, and Estudios reached circulations of 5000, 15,000, and 75,000 respectively. This has not even begun to exhaust the list.[20]

Seventy-five years of such persistent agitation and unflinching revolutionary struggle not only inspired the workers and peasants to repulse the fascists but also prepared them for the great constructive work of the Spanish libertarian revolution.

“Newspapers and magazines had long been important in the work of communicating libertarian ideas in Spain. This is a sample of publications associated with the CNT and FAI from many cities and towns in Spain.”

“Newspapers and magazines had long been important in the work of communicating libertarian ideas in Spain. This is a sample of publications associated with the CNT and FAI from many cities and towns in Spain.”

The Political and Economic Organization of Society[21]
by Isaac Puente

Libertarian communism is based upon the economic organization of society, the economic interests being the only kind of social link upon which the interests of all individuals converge. The social organization has no other goal but to place in common possession whatever constitutes social wealth (the means of production and the distribution of goods and services) and to make the obligation to contribute to production a common obligation from everyone according to his ability. All non-economic affairs and functions will be left to the private initiative and activity of the individuals and their voluntary groupings without outside interference.

Libertarian communism is the organization of society without the State and without capitalist property relations. To establish libertarian communism it will not be necessary to invent artificial forms of social organization. The new society will emerge “from the shell of the old.” The elements of the future society are already planted in the existing order. They are the Syndicate and the Free Commune (sometimes called “Free Municipality”) which are old, deeply rooted non-statist popular institutions spontaneously organized, and embracing all towns and villages in both urban and rural areas. The Free Commune is also ideally suited to cope successfully with the problems of social and economic life in libertarian rural communities. Within the Free Commune there is also room for cooperative associations of artisans, farmers and other groups or individuals who prefer to remain independent or form their own associations to meet their own needs (providing of course that they do not exploit hired labor for wages).

Both the Syndicates and the Free Communes, in accordance with federative and democratic procedures, will, by mutual agreement, be free to conduct their own affairs within their own spheres, without interference from any outside authority. This will not be necessary because the workers will, from sheer necessity, (if for no other reason) be obliged to establish their own Federations of Industries to coordinate their multiform economic activities.

Through their syndicates, their Free Communes and their subsidiary coordinating agencies, the workers will take collective possession of all private (not personal) property and collectively administer production and consumption of goods and public services locally, regionally and nationally.

The terms “Libertarian” and “Communism” denote the fusion of two inseparable concepts, the indispensable prerequisites for the free society: collectivism and individual freedom.

The contrast between statist authoritarian political organization and a free social order based upon anarchist communist economic principles cannot be more complete. In order to clarify and illustrate these diametrically opposed conceptions we make the following comparisons:

The Political State The Industrial Organization
1. It treats the people as minors, altogether incapable of self-government. 1. The workers in each branch of production are fully able to administer their particular functions without the interference of the State or the employing classes.
2. All powers reside in the State: economic life, education, the administration of justice, and the enactment and enforcement of laws involving all individual and social life. 2. Initiative and control passes to the workers’ organizations: the control of education to teachers; health to medical workers; and communications to technicians and workers. The control of production belongs to the workers and their Federation of Unions.
3. Even in a democratic State, not the people but the State is sovereign. The State centralizes all armed forces (army, police, prisons, and courts), while the people are left defenseless to resist the aggression of the State. 3. Power is returned to and exercised by those directly affected. It is not monopolized. Every individual has his corresponding share thereof, leaving to the collective what everyone concedes to it. There is autonomy of individuals and coordination of groups through free agreement.
4. In the State and its authoritarian institutions the people are divided by their necessarily varied and often conflicting political, religious, and social ideas and interests. It is precisely in these areas where people unavoidably differ most and in a free society should differ. 4. Men group into unions according to their needs and occupations, and into free Communes according to locality and common interests. This is the area in which the common interests of all men are greatest.
5. Although the State represents a minority, it still claims to have more knowledge and more ability than the combined collective wisdom and experience of all mankind. “One knows all.” 5. In a free Collectivity each benefits from the accumulated knowledge and specialized experience of all, and vise-versa. There is a reciprocal relationship wherein information is in continuous circulation.
6. The State, in imposing a fixed norm to be followed at all times (a constitution or code), forfeits the future and constricts life, which is always mutable and multifarious. 6. In the industrial organization, the norm of conduct is decided in accordance with the prevailing and changing circumstances.
7. The State monopolizes everything for its own benefit. The people have nothing to do but pay, obey, produce, and conform to the supreme will of those who command: “Give me full power and I will make you happy.” 7. All who would be “redeemers” and meddlers are dispensed with. Everyone conducts his own affairs, and thus frees himself from an imposed political-economic routine and regimentation inculcated by centuries of false political indoctrination.
8. Society is divided into two classes: those who rule and those who must obey. 8. All people are equal partners in a cooperative association of producers.
9. The State perpetuates and legalizes the fiction of liberty, democracy, and autonomy, only to deceive the people and render them obedient. 9. Industrial administration realizes the democratic principle: government (self-administration) by the people. It realizes the principle of federation--the granting of maximum autonomy and communal organization to each and every un it of production.
10. The State evolves in the direction of fascism or state socialism. It camouflages its prerogatives, but is bound to lose its privileges as class-consciousness grows, and as individuals grow in ethical-intellectual stature. 10. Evolution elevates the workers to the greatest possible degree. To defend and promote the economic rights of each individual, the workers eventually establish organizations capable of fulfilling their ethical responsibilities and obligations towards their fellow human beings.
11. In an organization with a political base, power flows upward toward the hierarchical bureaucracy and away from the people. 11. In an industrial organization, power flows downward towards the collective and the individual.
“A mass demonstration of the CNT in 1931. The banner proclaims, ‘The unemployed are starving. Bread for our children!’”

From :


November 30, 1973 :
Part 1: Background, Chapter 2: The Libertarian Tradition -- Publication.

July 11, 2019 16:25:13 :
Part 1: Background, Chapter 2: The Libertarian Tradition -- Added to


Permalink for Sharing :
Share :


Login to Comment

0 Dislikes

No comments so far. You can be the first!


<< Last Work in The Anarchist Collectives
Current Work in The Anarchist Collectives
Part 1: Background, Chapter 2: The Libertarian Tradition
Next Work in The Anarchist Collectives >>
All Nearby Works in The Anarchist Collectives
Home|About|Contact|Search|Privacy Policy