“A libertarian poster reads, ‘Every person is born with the capacity for dignified work and a human existence.’”
The Revolution on the Land
by Jose Peirats
On the 19th of July, 1936, in the villages and towns, the syndicates affiliated with the CNT and the UGT, together with the political parties, organized a coalition of revolutionary or anti-fascist committees. These committees were the first to expropriate the land and other property of landlords and fascists who fled. At first the committees replaced the municipal governments. Much later the committees transformed themselves into town councils, with proportional representation for all the affiliated units. The majority syndicate or party would designate one of its members as mayor or president of the newly organized council.
The expropriated lands were turned over to the peasant syndicates, and it was these syndicates that organized the first collectives. Generally the holdings of small property owners were respected, always on the condition that only they or their families would work the land, without employing wage labor. In areas like Catalonia, where the tradition of petty peasant ownership prevailed, the land holdings were scattered. There were no great estates. Many of these peasants, together with the CNT, organized collectives, pooling their land, animals, tools, chickens, grain, fertilizer, and even their harvested crops.
Privately owned farms located in the midst of collectives interfered with efficient cultivation by splitting up the collectives into disconnected parcels. To induce owners to move, they were given more or even better land located on the perimeter of the collective.
The collectivist who had nothing to contribute to the collective was admitted with the same rights and the same duties as the others. In some collectives, those joining had to contribute their money (Girondella in Catalonia, Lagunarrotta in Aragon, and Cervera del Maestra in Valencia).
Small landlords more or less opposed to collectivization, who were called “individualists,” found the going tough, especially around harvest time, because they could not hire wage laborers, and because their holdings were too small to use machinery (which they couldn’t afford anyhow). In some towns or villages the “individualists” would cooperate by helping each other with the work, but the crops were small and of poor quality. Most of the collectivists treated the “individualists” well. In Monzon the collective loaned them machinery and certain necessary supplies. Some “individualists” distributed their produce through the collective’s cooperatives. And some finally joined the collective (Mas de las Matas).
In some places the revolutionary committees expropriated the landed estates of the big landlords. At an assembly of farm laborers, in which all the people participated, the land was parceled out to the collectivists and to the “individualists.” The collectivists drew up a general plan to guide the collective. If the CNT and UGT could not agree on how the collective should be organized, two separate collectives were established (often side by side)...
The area of the collective varied according to population and the political orientation of the collectivists... In some areas the size of the collectives was reduced because of the misfortunes of war, the reactionary policies of the government, and the military assaults of communist troops. In Peñalba (Aragon) the collective embraced the whole town... Many of the small proprietors, protected by the communist bayonets, demanded and received land belonging to the collectives. In Brihuega, after the disastrous defeat of the Italian fascists (March, 1937), many small proprietors abandoned their land and fled with the retreating troops. This is how almost all of Alcaria was collectivized.
The work of the collectives was conducted by teams of workers, headed by a delegate chosen by each team. The land was divided into cultivated zones. Team delegates worked like the others. There were no special privileges. After the day’s work, delegates from all the work teams met on the job and made necessary technical arrangements for the next day’s work All the work team delegates as well as the members of the administrative commission of the collective were elected by the general assembly of all the workers. The assembly made final decisions on all important questions and issued instructions to both the team delegates and the administrative commission.
Work age varied between a minimum of 14 years and a maximum of 60 years. Young single men usually worked in the collective’s workshops or in the distribution cooperatives (stores). Housewives were not obliged to work outside the home except when absolutely necessary. Pregnant women were treated with special consideration. Everyone worked according to their physical capacity. Days lost because of illness were counted as days worked. In Cuenca, men 60 years or over could retire, but in Graus they chose to do useful work...
Surplus commodities were sold or exchanged directly or through federated agencies created for that purpose... In some Catalonian towns the old style bourgeois agricultural syndicates supplied needed commodities to peasant landlords and small businesses. The Montblanc syndicate distributed the collective’s surplus wine and oil. Usually the bourgeois-oriented associations organized their own cooperatives. For example: in Barcelona the peasants’ associations opened their own stores in different sections of the city, but the central fruit and vegetable market in the agricultural suburb of Barcelona remained collectivized... In Aragon, commodities were distributed by the Regional Federation of Collectives (organized Feb., 1937).
The collectives were provisioned through their respective cooperatives from great storehouses frequently located in churches that had opposed the revolution. Payment for goods varied. In Lerida, peasant families were supplied with a Consumer Account Booklet in which the quantity of articles withdrawn from the collective’s storehouse was marked. Every week the difference between the amount earned and the amount spent was also recorded. In Montblanc (pop. 6,000), purchases were made in local currency issued by the collectives. In some places during the first months of the Revolution a system of libertarian communism was instituted: “Take what you need!” In other places, non-negotiable vouchers were used. In Llombay (Castellón), distribution was based on a fixed amount for each family. Prices were fixed by an administrative council. In all cases scarce articles were rationed, with priority for children, invalids, the aged, and pregnant women. Non-essential rationed articles were distributed in rotation... On the other hand, when there were abundant quantities of provisions (like fruits and vegetables) these items were distributed free, without restrictions of any kind.
In distribution the collective’s cooperatives eliminated middlemen, small merchants, wholesalers, and profiteers, thus greatly reducing consumer prices. The collectives eliminated most of the parasitic elements from rural life, and would have wiped them out altogether if they were not protected by corrupt officials and by the political parties. Non-collectivized areas benefited indirectly from the lower prices as well as from free services often rendered by the collectives (laundries, cinemas, schools, barber and beauty parlors, etc.).
Transactions between collectives were conducted without money.  The Calanda collective, using the barter system, traded oil for Barcelona cloth. Adamuz (Valencia) used both barter and money exchange. At first the city merchants rejected interchange of goods. But as the prolonged war produced scarcity of necessary goods and even provisions, and inflation set in, they gladly accepted the interchange (barter system).
The agrarian collectives expanded their operations by developing supplementary industries: bakery, carpentry and cabinet making, blacksmith and iron works. Another area of expansion was farm installations and animal husbandry. Thus Vilaboi (pop. 500) installed an immense barn costing 30,000 pesetas which housed 20 milk cows, 200 sows, 27 calves, and a number of chicken houses. Amposta’s installations were valued at 200,000 pesetas, and Graus was famous for its modern facilities (douches for the animals and scientific treatment of animal diseases)...
The collectives were well stocked with farm animals and necessary tools. Few lacked agricultural machinery. Hospitalet de Llobregat acquired machinery worth 180,000 pesetas, including new trucks. Amposta (pop. 10,000) had 14 tractors, 15 threshers, and 70 teams of work horses. Alcaniz had 9 oil presses, three flour mills, and an electric power plant. Calanda made good use of seeders, threshers and tractors. On March 27th, 1938, the Seros collective was occupied by the enemy. At that time the collective had very little money, but possessed 1,200 head of sheep, 100 sows, 30 cows, 36 horses and mules, a well-stocked chicken house, and a threshing machine. Between September, 1936 and August, 1937, Hospitalet de Llobregat took in more than 5 million pesetas. For this same period the expenses were 4,200,000 pesetas. The Sueca collective, in March, 1938, announced assets of 850,559 kilograms of rice, 140,000 pesetas worth of merchandise in its cooperative, and 3,300 25-pound cartons of oranges.
How did the collectives budget their income? Cuenca: 25% for education, 25% for machinery and tools, and the remaining 50% to be expended as the general assembly decides. Hospitalet de Llobregat budgeted 7,000 pesetas weekly to improve the flood control installations of the Llobregat river. Amposta built 14 new schools, a sanatorium, a hospital, and purified the supply of drinking water. In Montblanc the collective dug up the old useless vines and planted new vineyards. The land, improved by modern cultivation with tractors, yielded much bigger and better crops... Many Aragon collectives built new roads and repaired old ones, installed modern flour mills, and processed agricultural and animal waste into useful industrial products. Many of these improvements were first initiated by the collectives. Some villages, like Calanda, built parks and baths. Almost all collectives established libraries, schools, and cultural centers. Some of the centers were housed in luxurious former bourgeois villas, and renamed “Villa Kropotkin,” “Villa Montseny,” “Villa Bakunin,” etc.
Preoccupation with cultural and pedagogical innovations was an event without precedent in rural Spain. The Amposta collectivists organized classes for semi-literates, kindergartens, and even a school of arts and professions. The Seros schools were free to all neighbors, collectivists or not. Graus installed a school named after its most illustrious citizen, Joaquín Costa. The Calanda collective (pop. only 4,500) schooled 1,233 children. The best students were sent to the Lyceum in Caspé, with all expenses paid by the collective. The Alcoriza (pop. 4,000) school was attended by 600 children. Many of the schools were installed in abandoned convents. In Granadella (pop. 2,000), classes were conducted in the abandoned barracks of the Civil Guards. Graus organized a print library and a school of arts and professions, attended by 60 pupils. The same building housed a school of fine arts and a high grade museum. In some villages a cinema was installed for the first time. The Peñalba cinema was installed in a church. Viladecana built an experimental agricultural laboratory...
Some collectives were not solely manned by CNT members or sympathizers. Except for Catalonia, many rank and file UGT members were attracted to the libertarian experiments. The Catalonian UGT was colonized by the communists to contest the hegemony of the CNT. In the rest of Spain, the CNT and the UGT were on good terms, particularly during the first months, before they were brainwashed by the skillful Communist party propaganda machine.
Either alone or in cooperation with revolutionary committees, the CNT carried through its expropriations. The land expropriated in this manner was given to the affiliated peasant sections of the CNT. These sections, under the guidance of the CNT, organized collectives. The CNT feared that the collectives, which by virtue of their economic importance exercised considerable political influence, would eventually become totally immersed in petty local politics, lose their revolutionary character, and gradually degenerate into puppets of the state and of the political parties. To prevent this, the CNT safeguarded its control by building a nexus of economic connections, relations, and syndicates, paralleling the federations of collectives at every level--local, regional, and national. Thus the district and regional federations took on a twofold character--economic and syndical.
In some places the expropriated land became public (municipal) property. The municipality allowed both the collectives and the “individualists” to use the land (as in Amposta). In other areas (Alcaniz, Montblanc) only urban property was municipalized...
Wages varied according to the season and other circumstances. After the harvest in Vilaboi ... the collectives increased their weekly wages to 85 pesetas. At the close of 1938, on account of inflation, weekly wages rose to 130 pesetas... Some of the collectives adopted a libertarian communist or mixed system, and, properly speaking, had no wage system. Everyone had only to work according to his ability and physical condition to use as much as was available. The communal dining halls were generally established in the cities. But the desire for more privacy, a more intimate way of life, was met by switching to the “family wage.” This, of course, raised the problem of what is to be done about single people with no homes. In Lerida, a single person was allowed 50 pesetas weekly for himself and the other 25 pesetas for the collective dining hall. A married man without children was allowed 60 pesetas and 70 if he had children. In Plá de Cabra, 5 pesetas per day and 2 pesetas more for each additional family member was allowed. Oriols changed from the “communal bin” (take what you need) to the family wage: husband, 5 pesetas; wife, 3 pesetas; single men over 15 years of age, 3 pesetas. In Monzon, the arrangement was: married men, 9 pesetas plus 3 1/2 pesetas for each additional minor child. In all collectives full wages were paid during periods of unemployment, disability, accidents, etc.
In Seros single men living alone took their meals in the collective’s dining hall, and also used its laundry service. Homes of newly married couples were paid for by the collective... In Peñalba, newly marrieds’ homes were completely outfitted: furniture, linens, cooking utensils--everything free of charge. In San Mateo, cooking and cleaning services for single people living alone were in certain cases provided by the collectives.
Many collectives issued their own currency. Others, for a certain time, used no money. Many substituted certificates and vouchers for official currency. In Peñalba, drastic measures were taken to prevent hoarding of money. A system was worked out which obliged the collectivist to spend his money immediately. In any case, because of inflation, the value of money depreciated to the point where all confidence in the stability of the peseta evaporated.
In conducting their internal affairs, democratic procedures were scrupulously and zealously observed in all the collectives. Hospitalet de Llobregat held regular general membership meetings every three months to review production and attend to new business. The administrative council, and all other committees, submitted full reports on all matters. The meeting approved, disapproved, made corrections, issued instructions, etc.
In all collectives, admission and expulsion of collectivists was decided by the general assembly of all the collectivists. If a member violated the rules of the collective for the first time he was reprimanded. If the offense was repeated his case was referred to the general assembly. Only the assembly, after weighing all the evidence, could expel a member. In Cuenca, delegates of work groups could not apply sanctions for violations of work rules. Such cases were referred to the Administrative Commission, which in turn brought the case before the general assembly for final decision. Work delegates or council members who exceeded their authority or failed to carry out the instructions of the members were suspended or removed by the General Assembly...
The collectives paid special attention to health, medical care, and sanitation--all provided free of charge. The Masroig collective paid the doctor a yearly salary to take care of the collectivists. In Peñalba, the doctor, his unlicensed assistant, and the veterinarian belonged to the collective. All treatment of Aragon collectivists in the General Hospital was paid for by the Aragon Federation of Peasant Collectives. Granadella made the same arrangements with the Barcelona People’s Hospital.
As the war neared its disastrous conclusion, refugees from the fascist occupied areas were evacuated to the Republican zone in the rear. Many thousands of these refugees were welcomed in full solidarity. The agricultural collective of the Barcelona area welcomed 600 refugees; Vilaboi, 100 families; Amposta in Aragon harbored 162 families; Graus, 50 families; and Utiel sheltered 600 families evacuated from the Central (Madrid) front.
The collectives voluntarily contributed enormous stocks of provisions and other supplies to the fighting troops. Utiel sent 1,490 liters of oil and 300 bushels of potatoes to the Madrid front (in addition to huge stocks of beans, rice, buckwheat, etc.). Porales de Tujana sent great quantities of bread, oil, flour, and potatoes to the front, and eggs, meat, and milk to the military hospital.
The efforts of the collectives take on added significance when we take into account that their youngest and most vigorous workers were fighting in the trenches. 200 members of the little collective of Vilaboi were at the front; from Viledecans, 60; Amposta, 300; and Calanda, 500.
“Workers on a collectivized farm bring in the grain harvest.”
From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org