The Anarchist Collectives : Part 2: The Social Revolution, Chapter 10: The Rural Collectives
(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 : IWW.org.)
• "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.)
• "...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....)
• "Or will ecology groups and the Greens turn the entire ecology movement into a starry-eyed religion decorated by gods, goddesses, woodsprites, and organized around sedating rituals that reduce militant activist groups to self-indulgent encounter groups?" (From : "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)
• "...Proudhon here appears as a supporter of direct democracy and assembly self- management on a clearly civic level, a form of social organization well worth fighting for in an era of centralization and oligarchy." (From : "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
Part 2: The Social Revolution, Chapter 10: The Rural Collectives
All participants and observers agree that the extent and nature of the agrarian collectives were more widespread and thorough than were the industrial collectives. Often separated from the seats of State power and with their long tradition of rural communism and militant agitation, the rural collectives were able to thrive for a period of time.
The extent to which theories are valid can be determined only by the extent to which they are practical. Theories that do not correspond to the acid test of real life are worse than useless as a guide to action. For this reason this chapter consists of eyewitness reports from a number of typical rural collectives, from direct contact with the landworkers who made the agrarian revolution a success. These experiences renew faith in the constructive, creative capacities of “ordinary” people, to make and sustain the social revolution and successfully tackle their everyday problems. Spontaneity, solidarity and mutual aid enriched and broadened their lives (if only for a few years and under the constant threat of attack). Nor must we forget that collectivization led to modernization of facilities and methods, and cultural opportunities for all. All this, and more, achieved by the workers themselves!
The libertarian youth is the moving spirit of the Revolution in Calanda. The Revolution radically altered the lifestyle of this village, and to the libertarian youth belongs all the credit for the innovations introduced after July 19th.
As we approach the village square, we hear the refrain from the theme song of the Revolution: “To the Barricades! To the Barricades! All for the victory of the Confederation!” (CNT-FAI is sometimes referred to as “our Confederation.”) The youth play recordings of the old anarchist hymn, “Hijos del Pueblo” (“Sons of the People”), recalling the heroic struggles of past centuries.
On the village square, facing the church, stands a new granite fountain. On its base, engraved in bold letters, is the inscription: “CNT-FAI-JJLL” (JJLL is the libertarian youth organization). The fountain is the pride of the village, erected on their own initiative by the construction workers as sketched out by the young anarchists.
Of the 4,500 inhabitants, 3,500 belong to the CNT. Production and distribution are organized on libertarian principles. Although there were no such organizations in Calanda before July 19th, 1936, the anarchists practiced tolerance and welcomed the republican and socialist groups.
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 cafe 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.
The Municipal Council consists of 6 members, 3 from the CNT and 3 from the Libertarian Youth. The youth are very active. They have built public baths, a library, conducted cultural events, etc. Cinema is collectivized. Except for some small shops that prefer to remain independent, everything is collectivized. The land is worked by teams of ten, each team cultivating a zone. Every team chooses its own delegates. The work teams are freely formed by “affinity.” The bank was closed down, and the assets of 70,000 pesetas confiscated by the municipality to purchase supplies.
The showplace of the collective is the newly organized Ferrer (libertarian progressive) School, housed in an old convent. The collective requested the services of 10 more teachers from Barcelona. School supplies, desks, stools, and other equipment are donated by the collective. The school is equipped with a hatchery and greenhouses. From a comparative handful of privileged children, the school now accommodates 1,233 pupils. Gifted children are sent at the expense of the collective to the high school in Caspé. The Calanda militiamen voluntarily send their savings not to relatives but to their communal family, the collective.
The 1,700 inhabitants of Muniesa felt no great urge to collectivize before July 19th. There were no Fascist threats in the area and there had been no fighting. There had been no big landlords (and consequently no expropriations). There were only poor peasants struggling hard to eke out a living from their small properties.
But after July 19th, a new spirit shook Muniesa out of its lethargy. The moving spirit of the new order was Joaquin Valiente. He had lived in Barcelona for 17 years and there came to know libertarian ideas. He returned to Muniesa a convinced anarchist and fiery exponent of the “new” ideology. His proposal to collectivize fell on fruitful ground. Things had not been going well for the peasants and they had become receptive to change--they decided to collectivize. Joaquin Valiente ... was elected mayor.
The libertarian communist commune was organized at a general meeting of the villagers. Valiente presided. On the table lay an open copy of Kropotkin’s classic, The Conquest of Bread. One of the members read aloud extracts from the book. “Here is the new gospel! Here, in black and white, is written how to institute well-being for all!”
Bread, meat, oil, wine, and certain other products were distributed gratis from the community center where the peasants deposited their products. But many commodities had to be purchased elsewhere. The Communal Council did the shopping for everyone, buying in quantity. It was decided that these supplementary supplies (aside from goods it was decided should be free) should be paid for by the individual consumers. For this purpose, the Council printed 100,000 pesetas in local currency (not negotiable anywhere else). To buy whatever supplementary commodities they wanted from the commune, every adult man and woman was allotted one peseta, and children 50 centimes, per day.
“Are you not afraid,” I asked, “that unlimited quantities of free wine will lead to excessive drinking?”
“By no means. No one gets drunk here. We have been living under this system for a year, and everyone is satisfied...”
Of the 100,000 pesetas in local money, only 11,000 are circulated. The remaining 89,000 pesetas are held in reserve by the Communal Council. This local currency is only a token of exchange and carries no interest. Everyone is (as noted above) alloted an equal sum. No one dreams of hoarding because no one can accumulate capital.
The greatest problem of the village elders is the education of the children. There are no teachers nor sufficient educational supplies. The commune is willing to do anything to attract teachers. The teachers’ union in Barcelona promised to send teachers. In the meantime, two villagers are, at least, teaching the older children to read and write.
Early in the evening, as I and my traveling companion reclined in our improvised lodging (we left next morning), I remarked:
Early in this century, some sociologists and economists thought that socialism was realizable; others that it was only a utopian dream. When we see with what confidence, dedication, and practical common sense the peasants of this village, through their cooperative labor, are, without compulsion, creating a new and better life in a free commune these academic discussions seem singularly abstract and unrealistic: The peasants know nothing about theory. Nevertheless, their healthy common sense, confirmed by their own experience, tells that more can be achieved by working together than alone. And this same thing is taking place in hundreds of villages all over Republican Spain...
Albalate de Cinca
The Aragon village of Albalate de Cinca is located not far from the Catalonian border. Here, as in Muniesa, the peasants know very little about politics or socialist theories. But, as in so many other places, the landless agricultural laborers and the small peasant proprietors routed the local fascists and organized their collective. Things were arranged too hastily and mistakes were made, but after a year under the new system conditions improved greatly. “Things are better now,” said an old peasant. “Before we were always on the brink of starvation; now we have plenty to eat and other things gratis...”
By 7 a.m., the village is at work. A woman suffering from rheumatism comes to the community center. She wants travel expenses to Lerida to consult a specialist. Although money was abolished within the village, the commune reserves cash for necessary outside services. The village clerk asks her, “Have you a doctor’s certificate?” “No.” “Then I cannot give you money for transportation. The general meeting ruled that travel funds will be provided only when authorized by the village physician.” The woman leaves to get authorization from the village doctor. The clerk explains “Before, hardly anyone went to the city (Lerida), but now that it costs’ them nothing, everybody suddenly finds reasons to go.” Perhaps the clerk is too strict. Anyhow, the doctor will decide.
Doctor José Maria Pueyo, a middle-aged man from Saragossa now lives in Albalate 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 Albalate de Cinca, as in many other Spanish villages, health care was customarily provided by paying the doctor a stipulated yearly 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 doctor with all supplies and services...”
Dr. Pueyo shows us some new medical books. He had spent a few days in Barcelona where he 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.
“What do you think of collectivization, doctor?”
“Collectivization, in my opinion, is morally superior to capitalism. It assures the greatest possible amount of social justice. The new system is not yet perfected... The principal shortcomings spring from the uneven rate of development... While the cities retained the money system, most of the rural collectives abolished money. Many villages issued their own currency: This is very impractical. If money is to be abolished, it should be abolished everywhere, all over Spain. If money is retained there must be a fixed, uniform currency, negotiable everywhere. Issuing local money for different localities is not practical. I repeat: from the standpoint of social justice, money should be abolished, and libertarian communism is infinitely superior to capitalism...”
A few days later, while on our way to visit the Federation of Workers’ Collectives in Barbastro, we talked about a collectivized economy and I referred to our conversation with Dr. Pueyo:
“Dr. Pueyo’s criticism of collectivism is well grounded only insofar as it concerns the need for a uniform currency throughout Spain. But the establishment of a uniform economic system, on the contrary, destroys freedom and leads inevitably to economic totalitarianism... Economic variety, for example coexistence of collective and privately conducted enterprises, will not adversely affect the economy, but is, on the contrary, the true manifestation and the indispensable prerequisite for a free society. But regimentation, the imposition of a uniform economic system by and for the benefit of the state, leads inevitably to economic and political slavery...”
Graus is a district situated in the mountainous northern part of the province of Huesca, a region less suitable for socialized agriculture than are the villages of southern Aragon that I have seen. In this isolated northern region, progress is slow in coming. New ideas have hardly penetrated these lonely hills, mountains, and valleys of Aragon... The district consists of fourty-three villages and yet very few are disposed to accept large-scale collectivization. Only one, Secastiglia, is fully collectivized... Ten others are only half socialized.
The place that I had time to study best is the village of Graus, the capital of the district, which I visited in June, 1937. Although its population is only 2,600, Graus is more like a city than a village: It is situated at the intersection of many roads and is a relatively important commercial center, with many small establishments serving the countryside. For lack of good land, agriculture is of relatively little importance. As of July, 1936, 40% of the working population was engaged in commerce. The rest were in industry and agriculture. Twenty percent of the land is irrigated. The main crops are cereals, grapes for wine, olives and olive oil, almonds, and vegetables. About one-fourth of the young workers left to work in Catalonia or in France and almost as many young girls worked as domestics in the cities or abroad. The living standards of various working layers of the population varied greatly. For example, a mechanic was paid more than twice as much as an agricultural laborer.
Guided by our comrades, the anti-fascists boldly introduced radical social reforms. The family wage was instituted immediately, assuring equal pay and equal rights for all. A married couple received 2 pesetas per day, plus one peseta per day for each additional family member. A month later, coupons divided into units of various denominations became the prevailing medium of exchange. Much later, the relative commercial importance of Graus as a trading center made necessary the restoration of the peseta, the official currency of Spain, as the measurement of all outside transactions. But the collective continued to issue its own currency valid in strictly local transactions.
Partially controlled establishments were soon fully socialized. Cooperative communal markets replaced privately owned retail shops. A textile, haberdashery, and clothing center replaced 23 out of the 25 small shops. Twenty-five or 30 privately owned retail food shops were consolidated into one food market. Two of the 3 shoe shops were collectivized. Two hardware stores were consolidated into one. Four bakeries and bread depots were merged into 2, and instead of 3 bakery ovens, 1 was sufficient for all needs.
As in the collectivization of industry, similar procedures were applied to agriculture. In Graus, as in many other places in Aragon, the first step toward socialization was organization of the agricultural collective. The Revolutionary Committee first tackled the most urgent problems: harvesting, planting, overcoming the shortage of young workers (many were away fighting on the Aragon front), and still getting maximum yields from the land. Thanks to the strenuous effort and initiative of the comrades of the CNT and UGT, better plows and stronger horses were procured, and other improvements were made. The land was cleared and fields sown with corn. The agricultural collective was established on October 16th, 1936, 3 months after the fascist assault was repulsed. On the same day, transportation was collectivized and other new collectivizations were scheduled by the two unions, the CNT (libertarian) and UGT (socialist). Printshops were socialized on Nov. 24th, followed 2 days later by shoe stores and bakeries. Commerce, medicine, pharmacies, horseshoers’ and blacksmiths’ establishments, were all collectivized December 1st, and cabinet makers and carpenters on December 11th. Thus all social economic activities were gradually integrated into the new social order...
There was no forced collectivization. Membership in the collectives was entirely voluntary, and groups could secede from the collective if they so desired. But even if isolation were possible, the obvious benefits of the collective were so great that the right to secede was seldom, if ever, invoked. The Revolutionary Committee which initiated collectivization became the coordinating committee after the collective was established. With the reestablishment of the Municipal Council, as required by the government, the Committee was dissolved in January, 1937.
The Municipal Council was composed of 4 councilmen from the CNT and 4 from the UGT. A republican worker who acted as mayor was elected by the general assembly of all the inhabitants. Relations between the CNT and the UGT were cordial with no friction. Thus favoritism was avoided and harmony assured. The mayor’s post was mostly ceremonial. He had no real power and could only carry out the instructions of the two unions that composed the Council. The Municipal Council represented the Central Government; it mobilized soldiers for the war, furnished identification papers for all the inhabitants, etc. The Collective was entirely independent and the Municipal Council did not interfere with any of its functions. This was true in almost all collectives.
Ninety percent of all production, including exchange and distribution, was collectively owned. (The remaining 10% was produced by petty peasant land holders.) The collective’s coordinating functions were conducted by an 8 member administrative commission. This was divided into 8 departments, each headed by a highly qualified secretary, delegated for no set term of office by the rank and file membership of the two unions. Both the CNT and the UGT were equally represented on the Commission--4 for each union. All delegates were subject to instant recall by the General Assembly. The departments were: Culture and Public Health, Statistics and Labor, Industry, Transportation and Communications...
In industrial organization, each factory and workshop selected a delegate who maintained permanent relations with the Labor secretariat, reporting back to and acting on the instructions of his constituents.
Accounts and statistics for each trade and enterprise were compiled by the statistical and general accounting department, thus giving an accurate picture of the operations of each organization and the operations of the economy as a whole. The list that I saw included: drinking water, bottle making, carpentry, mattress making, wheelwrights, photography, silk mills, candy, pork butchershops, distilleries, electricity, oil, bakeries, hairdressers and beauty parlors, soap makers, house painting, tinware, sewing machines, shops and repairs, printing, building supplies, hardware, tile shops, dairies, bicycle repairs, etc.
Everything was coordinated both in production and in distribution. For example, the tiny privately owned liquor and soft drink bottling enterprises had been collectivized and installed in a single up-to-date building. There they bottled wine, lemonade, soda water, beer, and liquors under the most sanitary conditions, at less cost and better quality than before collectivization.
One may have the impression that the kind of idyllic regime developed in Graus was too impractical and was bound to collapse. But this way of life was based not upon fantasy but on a solid organization, perfectly balanced coordinated and in harmony with practical needs, resources, and potentialities... Everything was systematically organized. Exact statistic were compiled on the hourly, daily, and yearly condition and possibilities of each branch of industry, thus insuring the highest degree of coordination.
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, by 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.
I saw many other revolutionary changes. In the converted corset factory girls sowed shirts and underwear for the militiamen while singing revolutionary hymns in honor of Durruti, killed on the Madrid front... These girls were not obliged to work--they were covered by the family wage--but nevertheless donated their labor for the common cause...With increased output the family wage had also been increased by 15%. The increase was all the more meaningful when we consider that housing was free, gas and electric rates had been cut 50%, and medical treatment and medicines had been free since these services had been socialized. Men over 60 were exempt from work with full pay but they refused to stay put and insisted on donating their labor where most needed. Full wages were paid to the unemployed, 52 weeks a year. As one organizer in Graus told me, “Work or no work, people must eat...”
Before the July, 1936, fascist attack, animal husbandry in Graus was neglected in favor of commerce. But with the lessening of traffic because of interrupted communications with the rest of Aragon, the collective turned to the intensive raising of livestock.
In the vicinity of the town, first class piggeries have been constructed containing about 2,000 animals. In Aragon as well as in other parts of Spain the pig is one of the basic family staples. Pig killing is an institution of some standing. In the winter each family is given a pig. Feeding of the animals is conducted on strict scientific lines. I asked the comrades in charge of pig and cattle raising what methods they used and they told me that after various experiments they decided to adopt the system used in Chicago.
In other districts outside the city other breeding establishments have set up chicken farms with research laboratories. The main center occupies the site of an old camp. The most varied kind of fowl are to be found in this establishment. About 10,000 animals will be bred by next fall.
All systems are completely new. The head of this establishment invented a new type of incubator with enormous yielding powers. Thousands of baby chicks jump around in specially heated rooms, as well as ducklings and geese. Observers from all parts of Aragon visit this unique laboratory to learn the new methods.
When a collectivist wants to marry, he is given a week’s holiday with full pay. The collective’s cooperative provides a house completely equipped and furnished. All the services of the collective are available to the collectivist. From birth to death he is protected. His rights are respected and his obligations are voluntarily assumed. All decisions affecting him and his fellow workers are democratically made in the full and open assembly of all the collectivists... Children are given special attention. They are not allowed to work until they reach the minimum age of 14... Pregnant women are accorded the most tender pre-natal care...
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. This miracle is due not only to collective enthusiasm but also to a better and more economical use of productive labor and resources... Bear in mind that 40% of the work force, formerly engaged in socially useless activity, is now directed to useful projects for the benefit of all...
And the spirit of mutual aid and solidarity is not confined to each little section of the collective, but embraces all the different branches of the economy so that the unavoidable deficit of one branch is balanced by the surplus of another branch. For example: deficits of hairdresser and beauty shops are made good by the more profitable trucking industry or the enterprises distilling alcohol for medicinal and industrial purposes.
Yet other examples of mutual aid: harboring 224 refugees from villages seized by the fascists (only 20 are able to work and 145 are at the fighting front). Twenty-five families whose breadwinners are sick or permanently disabled receive the regular family wage. Despite these extra expenses, the collective has been able to carry through considerable public improvements (paving roads, enlarging and deepening irrigating canals, providing water power, etc.)...
One of the most popular measures of the collective was the expropriation of the holdings of a landlord who sealed off, even to his own laborers, all access to a magnificent stream of clear water running through his property. For the enjoyment of the public it was decided to construct a beautiful scenic roadway sloping gently toward the waterway (even the deposed landlord and his former employes helped!). When the project was completed with that love for water so characteristic of semi-arid Spain (and in so many other lands!), I read, etched in gold on the marble base of a graceful fountain spurting crystal clear water, this tribute to the Revolution: Fountain of Liberty, July 19, 1936.
As in the other collectives, Graus paid special attention to education. The School of Fine Arts was attended in the afternoon by elementary school pupils and in the evenings by young people who worked during the day. It was primarily the striking creation of a dedicated man, an apostle of culture. The evening session taught choral singing (always popular in Spain), design, painting, sculpture, etc.
When I visited the school, 80 little refugees from the Franco zone were housed in a beautiful estate expropriated by the collective situated some kilometers from the village. Two male teachers and one female teacher conducted classes, shaded by the great trees. In the main dormitory the children slept on plain but clean and comfortable beds donated by the villagers. Two women prepared delicious meals in the vast kitchens which the wealthy former owners used only a few weeks a year. Food, furnishings, linen, wages of personnel, everything was supplied gratis. The children were visibly delighted with this place, with its splendid woods fronting the river, its park, its swimming pool, its farmyard, and its buildings. Doubtlessly they had never known so beautiful a life. If the circumstances had been favorable, our comrades of the UGT and the CNT would have converted this vast estate (till now so ostentatious, garish, and humanly sterile) into a permanent colony in which all the children of Graus would take turns living, learning, and enjoying the wholesome air and the sunshine...