The Anarchist Collectives : Part 2: The Social Revolution, Chapter 7: Urban Collectivization
(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 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....)
• "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 social view of humanity, namely that of social ecology, focuses primarily on the historic emergence of hierarchy and the need to eliminate hierarchical relationships." (From : "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)
• "...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....)
• "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....)
Part 2: The Social Revolution, Chapter 7: Urban Collectivization
Industrial collectivization was limited primarily to Barcelona and the province of Catalonia, where the anarcho-syndicalist influence was greatest. Soon after July 19th, the control of the industries of Catalonia passed into the hands of the workers of the CNT.
Rural collectivization of land was far more widespread and far more thorough than urban collectivization. The CNT-FAI was not able to carry out urban collectivization to the extent it desired or was possible because opposition was much greater in the industrialized areas than in the countryside. The UGT, republicans, liberals, socialists, communists, the former property owners and their allies, the Government of Catalonia and the Central Government in Valencia bitterly opposed and sabotaged not only full, but even partial collectivization.
However, as these selections show, to the limited extent that urban collectivization did prevail, it was successful. Collectivization was advanced not only in Catalonia, but in Alcoy (in Alicante province), where all industry was completely collectivized, and in the Bay of Biscay area where the fishing industry was partially collectivized.
The selections also show, the structure and the functioning of the urban collectives varied greatly. Collectivized enterprises embraced industries employing many thousands of workers as well as workshops employing less than a hundred workers. The extent of collectivization ranged from the consolidation of numerous small factories and workshops to the vast federative coordination of railway networks.
Finally, these selections again demonstrate the non-authoritarian rank and file democratic character of the collective. The technical-administrative committees were composed of workers elected by and at all times responsible to their fellow workers. They served without pay, and generally transacted their affairs after working hours. They were elected for no fixed term, subject to recall at any time by the membership. One of the innovations was rotation of rank and file workers to these committees. There is of course, no form of organization which will unfailingly prevent abuse of power. But everything humanly possible was done to insure the maximum degree of grass roots democracy in industry.
The collectivization in Barcelona embraced construction the metal industry, bakeries, slaughter houses, public utilities (gas, water, electricity, etc.), transportation, health services, theaters and cinemas, beauty parlors, hotels and boarding houses, etc... Wages were equalized. The wages of lower paid workers were increased and high salaries in the upper income brackets reduced.
The takeover of industry was surprisingly quick. And the takeover proved beyond the slightest doubt that modern industry can be efficiently conducted without stock and bond holders and very highly placed executives. Wageworkers and salaried employes (engineers, technicians, etc.) can themselves operate the complicated machinery of modern industry. Examples are endless. Here are a few:
The Collectivization of Municipal Transportation
The first measure in the collectivization of the Barcelona street railways was to discharge the excessively paid directors and company stooges. The saving was considerable. A conductor averaged 250 to 300 pesetas a month, while the general director (manager) was paid 5,000 and his three assistants 4,441, 2,384, and 2,000 pesetas respectively. The amount saved through the abolition of these posts went to increase the wages of the lowest paid workers 40% to 60%, and intermediate and higher brackets 10% to 20%. The next step was the reduction of working time to 40 hours per week (but for the war situation, it would have been cut to 36 hours weekly).
Another improvement was in the area of management. Before the Revolution, streetcars, busses, and subways were each privately owned by separate companies. The union decided to integrate and consolidate all transportation into an efficient system without waste. This improvement meant better facilities, rights of way, and incomparably better service for the riding public. Fares were reduced from 15 to 10 centimes, with free transportation for school children, wounded militiamen, those injured at work, other invalids, and the aged.
The repair shops worked extra shifts to repair damaged, and remodel old, conveyances. This proved better for all concerned: better service for the public, lower fares, and better wages and working conditions. Naturally the only ones who complained were the investors and high salaried bureaucrats. The Transportation and Communication Workers’ Union became a collectivized transportation association. This report of the Expropriation Committee is an example of how this change was effected:
On the morning of July 24th, while the people in arms were still fighting the fascists in the streets of Barcelona, ... a number of armed comrades from the CNT, at the request of the Transportation Union, left the barricades and in armored cars drove to the head offices of the street railway transportation company to enforce and expedite the expropriation and collectivization of the street car system. The place was patrolled inside and out by Civil Guards. After a short consultation, the guards left and the CNT took possession. There was neither ready cash in the safe nor funds in the bank. The owners had absconded with the funds, and the workers had to resume operations without capital...
The Socialization of Telephone Service
More than half the telephone lines were destroyed by grenades during the fighting. The restoration and repair of telephone connections was imperative. Without waiting for orders from anyone, the workers restored normal telephone service within three days. Thousands of new lines were installed in union locals, militia centers, and committee districts. Once this crucial emergency work was finished a general membership meeting of telephone workers decided to collectivize the telephone system. From within their own ranks the workers chose a management committee. Each district elected its own responsible director. Although very few telephone workers belonged to the UGT (most belonged to the CNT), the collectivization was conducted under the joint auspices of the UGT and CNT.
The subscribers declared that telephone service was better under collectivization than under private ownership. As in collectivized transportation, the wages of the lowest paid workers was significantly increased.
The Collectivization of the Railroads
Spanish railroads were privately owned. During the fascist military uprising and the general strike, rail service was halted. Pitched battles were fought near Barcelona’s main terminal. On the third day of fighting the anarcho-syndicalist unions, certain of victory (though the fighting was still going on), organized a revolutionary railroad committee. This led to the occupation and expropriation of railroad stations, railroad rights of way, and the administrative headquarters. All important railroad junctions were guarded by workers’ patrols. The executives fled abroad. The workers installed new administrative committees. Although the syndicalists constituted the overwhelming majority, they nevertheless accorded the social-democratic unions equal representation on the management committees: three members from each organization. The Spanish anarcho-syndicalists did not want to institute a Bolshevik-type dictatorship.
In a few days all the Catalonian railroads were socialized. For lack of supplies, technical improvements could not be made. With the end of the fighting, railroad operations were resumed under the new union management. The railroads functioned normally without interruption. Fares and rates remained the same. The wages of the lowest paid workers were substantially increased. The sinecures of high salaried executives and useless bureaucrats were abolished. Obviously collectivization meant the end of private capitalist corporations. Stocks, bonds, and debts contracted by the old administration were repudiated.
The railway repair yards in Barcelona manufactured armored vehicles. Only a week after returning to work the first ambulances were built. The equipment elicited the praise of the medical profession. And the medical department of the Catalonian government officially congratulated the railroad metal workers for their excellent workmanship. The credit for these achievements belongs solely to the syndicalist workers. There were no high placed functionaries to give orders. The workers themselves designated their technicians and administrators from within their own ranks. And these achievements must to a very great extent be ascribed not to Stakhanovite competition between fellow workers, but to the spirit of good will and mutual aid that inspired the workers.
The Collectivization of the Longshoremen
At the expense of the low wages and poor working conditions for longshoremen, the racketeers dominated the waterfront. The waterfront reeked with graft, waste, and stealing. The racketeers and the ship agents, ship captains, and the longshore bosses were all in collusion. These abuses provoked endless strikes, often accompanied by violence, not only against the employers but against the whole system.
After July 19th, the port and maritime unions got rid of the racketeers and their agents. They decided to deal directly, without go-betweens, with the ship captains and the ship companies. This led to the takeover of harbor operations by the newly formed port workers’ collective. While contracts already made between foreign ship companies and their agents could not be canceled, the unions closely supervised the financial operations of the Spanish agents of foreign ship companies.
These changes brought much higher wages and better working conditions for the longshoremen. By setting aside a certain sum for each ton of cargo handled, unemployment, health and accident protection, and other benefits were provided. The port of Barcelona was socialized.
The Collectivization of Gas, Water, and Electricity
Water, gas, and electric utilities in almost all Spanish cities were privately owned. The Barcelona Waterworks Company and its subsidiary, Llobregat Waterworks, owned gas and water utilities in many Spanish cities. It was a mammoth corporation capitalized at 275 million pesetas, with an average yearly profit of over 11 million pesetas.
The financiers left the country before July 19th to await the outcome of the fascist military offensive. The syndicates decided to take over and collectivize the properties. The managerial staff was selected from their own ranks by the workers. Under private ownership the workers were refused wage increases and other demands. Under collectivization, a minimum daily wage of 14 pesetas and the 36 hour week were instituted. Later, because of the war crisis and shortage of manpower, the work week was increased to 40 and still later to 48 hours, with equal wages for women, sick benefits, and old age pensions. The savings accruing from good management, and abolition of dividends, profits, interest on loans, etc., were diverted to lowering water rates by 50%. Above all, contributions to the anti-fascist military committee totaling over 100,000 pesetas were made during the first few months after the 19th of July.
Foreign observers were amazed to see how quickly and smoothly the changeover from private to collective management was achieved. The reason is not hard to find. The marvelous success of collectivization was to a very great extent due to the systematic preparation of the syndicalists to tackle just such problems of the Social Revolution. The Bulletin of the Water, Gas, and Electric Collective explains:
During the revolutionary period we organized, within the unions, management commissions. These commissions prepared themselves for management by making themselves familiar with the particular problems in each district. The commission supervised production, calculated water needs--for summer and for winter, studied how to find the right personnel for the right jobs, observe safety measures, adequate dining facilities, etc.
Through these and other preparations, the workers were able to surmount difficult problems. The management procedures worked out by the workers themselves bear witness to the heightened feeling of responsibility of the workers fostered by the syndicalist organizations.
Plant councils, managers, and administrative boards at every level functioned according to instructions openly discussed and enacted by all the workers assembled in their general plant meetings. All persons in responsible posts were held strictly accountable by union control commissions. Only fully capable and qualified workers of proven personal integrity were deemed fit for responsible posts. It was considered a privilege and an honor to be entrusted with responsibilities by their fellow union members...
The Collectivization of Hairdressing Establishments
Collectivization also embraced smaller establishments: small factories, artisan workshops, service and repair shops, etc. The artisans and small workshop owners, together with their employes and apprentices, often joined the union of their trade. By consolidating their efforts and pooling their resources on a fraternal basis, the shops were able to undertake very big projects and provide services on a much wider scale. Independent artisans with their tools and workshops also joined the trade collectives. The collectivization of hairdressing shops provides an excellent example of how the transition of a small scale manufacturing and service industry from capitalism to socialism was achieved.
The hairdressers of Barcelona, Madrid, and other Spanish cities voluntarily and on their own initiative reorganized their industry. In Madrid the shops were collectivized even before July 19th. The purpose of the collectivization was to obliterate the difference between shopkeepers and their assistants. Hairdressing was not big business. For the Spanish syndicalists, however, socialism and collectivism could not be confined only to the abolition of large scale capitalism. In the reorganization of labor according to the principles of freedom and cooperation there was room for everyone. Even the smallest enterprises employing one or several individuals were entitled to participate in the reorganization of society.
Before July 19th, 1936, there were 1,100 hairdressing parlors in Barcelona, most of them owned by poor wretches living from hand to mouth. The shops were often dirty and ill-maintained. The 5,000 hairdressing assistants were among the most poorly paid workers, earning about 40 pesetas per week while construction workers were paid 60 to 80 pesetas weekly. The 40 hour week and 15% wage increase instituted after July 19th spelled ruin for most hairdressing shops. Both owners and assistants therefore voluntarily decided to socialize all their shops.
How was this done? All the shops simply joined the union. At a general meeting they decided to shut down all the unprofitable shops. The 1,100 shops were reduced to 235 establishments, a saving of 135,000 pesetas per month in rent, lighting, and taxes. The remaining 235 shops were modernized and elegantly outfitted. From the money saved wages were increased by 40%. Everybody had the right to work and everybody received the same wages. The former owners were not adversely affected by socialization. They were employed at a steady income. All worked together under equal conditions and equal pay. The distinction between employers and employes was obliterated and they were tranformed into a working community of equals--socialism from the bottom up.
The Collectivization of the Textile Industry
It is no simple matter to collectivize and place on firm foundations an industry employing almost a quarter of a million textile workers in scores of factories scattered in numerous cities. But the Barcelona syndicalist textile union accomplished this feat in a short time. It was a tremendously significant experiment. The dictatorship of the bosses was toppled, and wages, working conditions and production were determined by the workers and their elected delegates. All functionaries had to carry out the instructions of the membership and report back directly to the men on the job and union meetings. The collectivization of the textile industry shatters once and for all the legend that the workers are incapable of administrating a great and complex corporation.
Upon building the collective, a management committee of 19 was chosen by the rank and file membership. After three months the management committee reported back to the membership on the condition of the collective and the progress made.
With the crushing of the fascist putsch, the owners transferred themselves and the assets of the industry abroad. But by cutting off dividends and premiums and eliminating high salaried directors and other wasteful expenditures, the collectives were able to pay the increased costs for raw materials. Two new machines for the manufacture of artificial silk were purchased from abroad. The necessary foreign exchange was raised by the sale of finished products abroad.
Every factory elected its administrative committee composed of its most capable workers. Depending on the size of the factory, the function of these committees included inner plant organization, statistics, finance, correspondence, and relations with other factories and with the community. Particularly significant was the organization of a top flight technical commission staffed by the most intelligent technical and administrative experts in the entire industry. This commission of engineers, technicians, and commercial experts drafted plans to increase production, division of labor, installations, etc. Several months after collectivization the textile industry of Barcelona was in far better shape than under capitalist management. Here was yet another example to show that grass roots socialism from below does not destroy initiative. Greed is not the only motivation in human relations.
Collectivization brought better conditions for the workers. The 60 hour work week in some factories was cut to 40. Wages were more equalized. Overtime work was abolished, and weekly wages increased from 68 to 78 pesetas. Wage rates were fixed by the workers themselves at union meetings.
A great many troops from the textile industry manned the fighting fronts. From Barcelona alone more than 20,000 textile workers of the CNT joined the militia. Noncombatant workers contributed voluntarily 10% to 15% of their weekly wages to finance the war against fascism, and in the last three months of 1937 contributed two and a half million pesetas to the anti-fascist militias...
One of the most impressive achievements of the Catalonian metal workers was to rebuild the industry from scratch. Toward the close of the Civil War, 80,000 workers were supplying the anti-fascist troops with war material. At the outbreak of the Civil War the Catalonian metal industry was very poorly developed. The largest installation, Hispano-Suiza Automobile Company, employed only 1,100 workers. A few days after July 19th this plant was already converted to the manufacture of armored cars, hand grenades, machine gun carriages, ambulances, etc., for the fighting front. The first war vehicle carried the CNT-FAI insignia for the two fighting organizations of the metal workers. In Barcelona during the Civil War, four hundred metal factories were built, most of them manufacturing war material.
Eighty percent of the munition workers adhered to the CNT. While the political parties were bickering and conniving to seize power, the syndicalists were working to rebuild the industry and defeat the fascists. The work began in August, 1936, under the direction of the energetic and capable technician Eugenio Vallejo, a dedicated anarcho-syndicalist. Experts were truly astounded at the expertize of the workers in building new machinery for the manufacture of arms and munitions. Very few machines were imported. In a short time, two hundred different hydraulic presses of up to 250 tons pressure, one hundred seventy-eight revolving lathes, and hundreds of milling machines and boring machines were built. A year after the beginning of the Civil War, production of ammunition increased to one million 155-millimeter projectiles, fifty thousand aerial bombs and millions of cartridges. In these last three months of 1937 alone, fifteen million cartridge cases, a million caps for hand grenades, and enormous quantities of other war materials were produced.
With the introduction of state control over the arms and munitions industry, the self-management of this industry by the workers was ended. But the tremendous accomplishments of the Spanish workers in their collectivized, metals industry bear permanent witness to the achievements of the anarcho-syndicalist movement.