The Anarchist Collectives : Part 2: The Social Revolution, Chapter 6: Workers' Self-Management in Industry

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(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 :
• "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....)
• "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....)
• "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....)

(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.)
• "Broader movements and issues are now on the horizon of modern society that, while they must necessarily involve workers, require a perspective that is larger than the factory, trade union, and a proletarian orientation." (From : "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
• "...anarchism is above all antihierarchical rather than simply individualistic; it seeks to remove the domination of human by human, not only the abolition of the state and exploitation by ruling economic classes." (From : "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
• "...the extraordinary achievements of the Spanish workers and peasants in the revolution of 1936, many of which were unmatched by any previous revolution." (From : "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)


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Part 2: The Social Revolution, Chapter 6: Workers' Self-Management in Industry

Chapter 6: Workers’ Self-Management in Industry


Collectivization was a spontaneous outgrowth of the revolutionary situation. The industrial system had broken down and it became absolutely necessary to resume production. But the workers refused to go back to the old system of exploitation. They demanded the expropriation of the capitalists and full collective self-management by themselves.

Souchy points out that in many enterprises there was immediate and full collectivization. In many privately owned enterprises, as a prelude to full collectivization, workers’ control committees assumed partial control and closely watched the operations of the enterprises. Under full collectivization genuine workers’ self-management was instituted. From their own ranks the workers’ elected technical/administrative committees to run the enterprise. The committees were responsible to the workers and carried out their instructions. Those failing to do so were immediately replaced.

Organizationally, too, the principles of anarchism which guided the coordination of the 2 1/2 million workers of the CNT in the inner federalist structure of the organization, were applied to the structure of the collectivized enterprises. The principles of workers’ self-management and federalism were tested successfully in undertaking the task of the immediate and efficient restoration of the everyday necessities of life--food, clothing, shelter and public services.

Workers’ Self-Management in Industry[42]
by Augustin Souchy

With the repulse of the fascist assault on the 19th of July and the days following, the big commercial and industrial properties were abandoned by their owners. The big executives of the railroads, urban transport, the big metal and machinery plants, the textile industry, etc., disappeared. The revolutionary General Strike called by the workers as a measure against the fascist military putsch paralyzed the economic life of Barcelona and suburbs. With the victory over the fascists, the workers decided to go back to work. But the General Strike was not merely a strike for better working conditions. The bosses were gone. The bourgeois republicans did not know how to restore production...

From being mere employes taking orders from their former bosses, it became incumbent on the workers to take over the control and management of the whole economy. In short, the workers had to henceforth be responsible for the efficient administration of the economic life of the country.

One cannot, however, conceive of socialization or collectivization in accordance with a detailed preconceived plan. In fact, practically nothing was prepared in advance, and in this emergency situation everything had to be improvised. As in all revolutions, practice takes precedence over theory. Theories were, in effect, altered and modified in accordance with the ever pressing realities. The partizans of the idea that it is possible to establish a new social organization gradually, by peaceful evolutionary means, are just as mistaken as those who believe that a new social order can be established easily if only the political power fell into the hands of the working class...

Both of these views are erroneous and it would be more correct to formulate them thus : the military, police, and public power of the capitalist state must be broken to leave the way free for the emergence and establishment of new social forms. And it must also be stressed that the creators of the new economic life must be theoretically and practically prepared with a clear conception of their organizational tasks, objectives, and tactics. In every social theory there is a good measure of utopia. And it is good that this is so, for without the element of utopia nothing new can be created. Precise ideas, notions, and interpretations on how to realize our aims must spring from our vision of the future...

In Spain, particularly in Catalonia, socialization began with collectivization... While the socialization was spontaneous, the influence of the anarchist doctrine is incontestable... In their assemblies of unions and groups, in their pamphlets and books, the problems of the revolution were ceaselessly and systematically discussed. What must be done on the morrow of the victory of the proletariat? The governmental apparatus must be smashed. The workers must administer industry themselves. The syndicates must control all economic life. The associated branches of industry must manage production. The local federations must administer consumption and and distribution.[43]

The immediate task of the revolutionaries on the day after the revolution is to feed the people... In revolution a hungry people will inevitably be victimized by unscrupulous adventurers and demagogues. (See Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread) While the streets still echoed with gunfire, the distribution of basic food supplies had already been undertaken by the Comites de Asbastos.[44] These committees originated in the neighborhoods and districts (Barrios).[45]

The Committees collected and stored provisions in big warehouses. Markets remained open under union control and the union committee were commissioned to supply them with merchandise. Mobile units of the Committees gathered food from the surrounding farms and villages, arranging for the exchange of products with the cities. The Committees set up a system of distribution and rationing of provisions in short supply. For example, articles like milk, chickens, and eggs were set aside for hospitals and other emergency cases. Wounded militiamen, children, women, and the aged came first. At the beginning a system of free exchange with the suppliers was established: industrial goods in exchange for farm products. In many cases vouchers or receipts in payment for foodstuffs and other necessities, guaranteed and redeemable at a later date by the unions and the Generalidad (government) of Catalonia, were instituted...

On the insistence of the anarchists, the Generalidad expropriated banks and froze the accounts and resources of all those suspected and convicted of collaboration with the fascists. The anarchists, during these euphoric moments of the Revolution, attached no importance to money. Paper money expropriated from the churches, convents, or the mansions of the rich was not even counted, and freely handed over to the Committees or the Generalidad. Sometimes the paper money was burned together with religious images, property titles, industrial stocks and bonds, treasury notes, etc. Gold and silver currency was reserved for foreign exchange. The organizations soon realized that this money, instead of being wasted or destroyed, could and must be used to purchase arms and other supplies from abroad--something which the Central Government carelessly or deliberately ignored.

The collectivization of expropriated property by the workers of the CNT was spontaneous. After risking their lives on the barricades, the workers refused to return to the factories under the same conditions. The Red and Black flag of the CNT waved over the expropriated factories. To assure efficient production and services, the same workers and friendly technicians who previously worked in the same factories themselves took over the administration, control, and management of their respective enterprises.

Since 1931 the workers of the CNT had been organized into National Industrial Federations.[46] This preparation facilitated the necessary revolutionary reorganization and coordination... The production centers of an industry constituted interconnected units. Each expropriated bourgeois establishment was collectively worked and administered by the most capable workers and technicians, freely designated by the general assemblies of the workers at the point of production.

In some industries collectivization went far beyond local limits. It embraced whole regions and whole industries from raw materials to finished products. This type of collectivization was called “socialized industry.” For example, the wood industry of Barcelona, from lumber camps in the forests to the manufacture and sale of finished wood products, constituted a single unbroken coordinated unit.

To get the maximum benefits from machines and efficient handwork, small workshops were consolidated into big, modern factories called talleres confederales. This procedure also insured maximum technical development.

Another example was the baking industry. As in the rest of Spain, Barcelona’s bread and cakes were baked mostly at night in hundreds of small bakeries. Most of them were in damp, gloomy cellars infested with roaches and rodents. All these bakeries were shut down. More and better bread and cake were baked in new bakeries equipped with new modern ovens and other equipment.

Enterprises that could not yet be collectivized were placed under workers’ control. The financial and other operations of the owners were closely watched. The control committees in these factories, were designated to watch over the administrative personnel, checked up on the economic condition of the company, and estimated the true value of its products. They collected information on orders, the cost of materials and all transactions, the conditions of machinery, and wages; and watched out for fiscal frauds (with special attention to counter-revolutionary sabotage by the owners and their stooges).

Workers’ control was often the prelude to expropriation: a transition period during which the control committees were transformed into technical/administrative committees of the collectivized company. (In all cases both the control committees and the technical/administrative committees were elected by the general assembly of the workers on the job.) These methods of revolutionary organization of production, distribution, and administration were adopted in all liberated regions or spontaneously developed, always under the influence of the anarchist activists...

The fundamental difference between the UGT and CNT conceptions of workers’ control was that the UGT collaborated with the employers in squeezing as much as they could out of the workers while the CNT exercised control to check up on the employer with a view to getting rid of him and taking over full management.

The collectivization of the fishing industry, the second most important industry in Asturias, also embraced the processing plants, fish canneries, and the processing of dried fish. Socialization was introduced on the initiative of the fish workers syndicates. In the cities and villages distribution was undertaken by cooperatives united in an organization called “The Council of Provincial Cooperative Federations.” During the first months of the experiment money was abolished. Family supplies were procured upon showing a producer’s and consumer’s identification card in various denominations. The fishermen brought in their merchandise and received these cards in exchange. A similar system was tried in Santander (province of Laredo) by agreement between the CNT and the UGT.

A plenum of Sindicatos Unicos (Dec., 1936) formulated norms for socialization in which the absurd inefficiency of the petty bourgeois industrial system was analyzed. We quote:

The major defect of most small manufacturing shops is fragmentation and lack of technical/commercial preparation. This prevents their modernization and consolidation into better and more efficient units of production, with better facilities and coordination... For us, socialization must correct these deficiencies and systems of organization in every industry... To socialize an industry, we must consolidate the different units of each branch of industry in accordance with a general and organic plan which will avoid competition and other difficulties impeding the good and efficient organization of production and distribution...

This document is very important in the evolution of collectivization. The workers must take into account that partial collectivization will in time degenerate into a kind of bourgeois cooperativism. Encased in their respective competing collectives, the enterprises will have supplanted the classic compartmentalized monopolies only to degenerate inevitably into a bureaucracy: the first step leading to a new form of social inequality. The collectives will end up waging commercial wars with just as much ferocity as did the old bourgeois companies. It is therefore necessary to widen the base of the collectivist conception, to amplify and implement the organic solidarity of all industry into a harmonious community. This is the concept of socialization which was from the very beginning expounded by the most influential anarchists and syndicalists...

Workers’ Control vs Workers’ Self-Management

Workers’ control is a concept that is currently becoming popular among Western sociologists and industrial managers as well as social democratic union leaders. The concept is referred to by such terms as “participation,” “democratization,” and “co-determination.” For those whose function it is solve the new problems of boredom and alienation in the workplace in advanced industrial capitalism, workers’ control is seen as a hopeful solution... a solution in which workers are given a modicum of influence, a strictly limited area of decision-making power, a voice--at best secondary--in the control of conditions of the work place. Workers’ control, in a limited form sanctioned by the capitalists, is held to be the answer to the growing non-economic demands of the workers.

Workers’ self-management, the exercise of workers’ power through collectivization and federation as in the social revolution in Spain, is very different. Self-management is not a new form of mediation between the workers and their capitalist bosses, but instead refers to the very process by which the workers themselves overthrow their managers and take on their own management and the management of production in their own work place. Self-management means the organization of all workers in the work place into a workers’ council or factory committee (or agricultural collective), which makes all the decisions formerly made by the owners and managers. Nor does self-management allow the gravitation of power from the workers themselves to a bureacratic heirarchy. When power is delegated by the workers, it is for a specific purposed and it is delegated to other workers who are always recallable.

In Spain the social revolution did not meet with complete success: the revolution was often stopped short of full workers’ self-management. But the ideal, the goal toward which the workers were striving, was clear enough.

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November 30, 1973 :
Part 2: The Social Revolution, Chapter 6: Workers' Self-Management in Industry -- Publication.

July 11, 2019 16:30:46 :
Part 2: The Social Revolution, Chapter 6: Workers' Self-Management in Industry -- Added to


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