The Anarchist Collectives: Workers’ Self-Management in the Spanish Revolution 1936-1939
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“Sam Dolgoff, editor of the best anthology of Bakunin's writings, has now produced an excellent documentary history of the Anarchist collectives in Spain. Although there is a vast literature on the Spanish Civil War, this is the first book in English that is devoted to the experiments in workers' self-management, both urban and rural, which constituted one of the most remarkable social revolutions in modern history.” —Paul Avrich
“Lenin once identified ‘the sum total of the conditions necessary for socialism’ as large-scale capitalist engineering and planned organization subordinated to a Soviet state, that is, a ‘proletarian dictatorship’ ruled by a vanguard party. The eyewitness reports and commentary presented in this highly important study reveal a very different understanding of the nature of socialism and the means for achieving it.
Libertarian communism, as it was realized during the Spanish revolution, was truly the creation of workers and peasants. It was a ‘spontaneous’ creation—for which, in fact, the groundwork had been laid by decades of struggle and education, experiment and thought.
Varied, complex, often inspiring, the achievement of the people of Spain is unique in the history of 20th century revolution. It should be carefully studied, not merely as the record of a remarkable human accomplishment, but also for the insight it provides into the problems of constructing a social order that is just and humane, committed to freedom from exploitation and oppression, whether by a capitalist autocracy or an authoritarian state apparatus.
For a brief period, the Spanish people offered the world a glimpse of a future that differs by orders of magnitude from the tendencies inherent in the state capitalist and state socialist societies that exist today.” —Noam Chomsky
Spanish Revolution still provides the most valuable lessons in the problem of self-management that we can cull from the past. To deal with these problems, perhaps I can best begin by saying that there is little, in fact, to criticize in the structural forms that the CNT and the FAI tried to establish. The CNT, almost from the outset, organized its locals as factory rather than craft unions, and the nation-wide occupational federations (the Uniones de oficio or “internationals” as we would call
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
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
before a regular congress so that they could “prepare the themes for discussion.” Within a month before the congress, the Regional Committee was required to publish the submitted “themes” in the union newspaper, leaving sufficient time for the workers to define their attitudes toward the topics to be discussed and instruct their delegates accordingly. The delegations to the congress, whose voting power was determined by the number of members they represented, were elected by general assemblies of
National Economic Federations.... (Por Que Perdimos la Guerra, Buenos Aires, 1940, p. 82)—Ed. 35 From Diego Abad de Santillan, Por Que Perdimos la Guerra, p.81 36 Santillan refers to the period before the fascists took over the region.—Ed. 37 Incidentally, this opinion is in harmony with Malatesta’s statement that after the abolition of the state and capitalism, with the coming of abundance, and pending the full realization of an anarchist society, money will still remain “the only means