Interview: A Life And Death Matter
Unions: Fighting Back
Industrial: What Cowra Means
Environment: Scrambling for Energy Security
Politics: Page Turner
Economics: The State of Labour
International: Workers Blood For Oil
History: Liberty in Spain
Review: Go Roys, Make A Noise
The Locker Room
Liberty in Spain
The spontaneous development and successful operation of anarcho-syndicalist collectives in the rural and urban areas of Spain was an example of how when the shackles are tossed aside cooperative societies can thrive.
For trade unions in Australia, the role of the CNT the anarcho-syndicalist union, provides a few tips on how to be a real workers organisation and be one that is not just accepting of prevailing economic conditions, but is willing to make the conditions suit workers.
The Spanish Civil War was one of the most tragic and iconic events of the 20th century. It marked the real rise of fascism and Nazism and the limits of liberal democratic objections to fascism. The clear message for the working people of Spain was that fascism was preferred by western democracies than worker control. It also showed the Spanish that fascism was preferred by Soviet communism to worker control.
Worker control - worker self-management as the syndicalists would prefer to term it - was operating amongst up to 8 million Spaniards from 19th July 1936, until it was suppressed by the republican government, backed by the communist party who in turn were operating under instruction from the Soviet Union. This is not to deny the heroic and fantastic support given to the Spanish people by members of western communist parties serving in the International Brigade and with groups such as the POUM. The actions of the Soviet Union I think was an example of why the rise of bureaucratic communism has turned out to be a long cul de sac for progressive people in the world, and provides part of the ammunition for the powerful corporate and political propaganda that keeps "the left" on the defensive.
The good, or extraordinary stories of the Spanish people and their collectivisations in 1936 are not well known, and western liberal scholarship has largely ignored these successes, or when it hasn't has called them illegal seizures of property. The web has allowed wider expression of the stories in recent years, but Noam Chomsky's Objective and Liberal Scholarship (first published in 1968) dissected a prize winning book on exactly this issue and also pointed out the failure of traditional Marxist thought to come to grips with the libertarian socialist position.
Sam Dolgoff put together a terrific little book on the collectives of Spain a few years after Chomsky published his essay, and included some first hand accounts of the collectivization of farms, shops and factories and the way the anarcho-syndicalists ran them in a truly democratic manner. Dolgoff laments the failure of the Communists and the republicans to support the movement, and their ultimate betrayal of the CNT, even when the CNT, after much dispute, agreed to become a part of the government. The destruction of the Barcelona stronghold of the CNT by the government and the Communist Party, not Franco, marked the true defeat of the revolution and the victory of fascism.
However we should look at the successes. Augustin Souchy writes that the "collectivisation in Barcelona embraced construction, the metal industry, bakeries, slaughter houses, public utilities (gas, water, electricity) transportation, health services, theatres and cinemas, beauty parlours, hotels and boarding houses.... Wages were equalized."
The tram system was the first thing to be collectively run and the first action was to discharge the excessively paid directors and company stooges. Conductors were paid between 250 and 300 pesetas a month while the director was paid 5000 and his assistants between 4,440 and 2000. The amount saved by getting rid of the top allowed the wages of those on the lower bracket to be raised by between 40 and 60%. Working hours were reduced to 40 per week (it would have been 36 but for the war). Management of all the transport systems was much improved because before the collectivisation the buses, trams and subways were owned by separate private companies. Integration of services was achieved by collective ownership of all. Fares were reduced, the workshops and maintenance depots were also collectivised and the standards improved dramatically.
The Telephone Service.
The exchange in Barcelona was the site of betrayal by the CP (and its union the UGT) of the CNT and the anarchists. However previously it had been jointly collectivised by the CNT and the UGT (even though the UGT had few members in the area). Subscribers said that the service was much better under the new system.
The racketeers controlled the waterfront at the expense of the wages and conditions of the longshoremen. Graft, corruption and waste were the order of the day. After the 19th July the port and maritime unions got rid of the racketeers and their agents. They dealt directly with ship owners, with captains and the companies. The port workers collective thus took over the harbour and higher wages and better conditions flowed to these workers. A certain sum for each ton of cargo handled was set aside for unemployment, health and accident protection.
By consolidating efforts and pooling resources many smaller service industries and factories were able to operated much more for the people and the workers. The hairdressers of Barcelona, Madrid and other Spanish cities voluntarily reorganised their own industry. The purpose was to obliterate the difference between shopkeepers and their assistants. Hairdressing was not a big corporate business but this action showed that the anarchists saw that the reorganisation of society at all levels was essential for a truly free and cooperative society.
Before the 19th July there were 1100 hairdressing parlours in Barcelona most owned by poor wretches living from hand to mouth and thus paying their assistants badly. The 5000 assistants were amongst the most poorly paid workers earning half a construction workers wage. After 19th July wages increased by 15% and hours were reduced to 40 per week. This was achieved by all the shops (owners and assistants) joining the union. They then reduced the number of shops to 235, a saving of 135,000 pesatas per month in rent, lighting and taxes. The remaining shops were modernised and refitted and from the saved money wages were increased. The former owners were employed at a steady income and all had equal pay and conditions.
Collectivising over 250,000 textile workers is a tricky business. However the Barcelona workers achieved this in a short time. The bosses were tossed out and wages, conditions and production were determined by the workers and their elected delegates. All functionaries had to carry out instructions from the membership, not the other way round as Stalinism would have it.
Once the collective process was in place, a management committee of 19 was chosen by the rank and file and this committee had to report back to the membership. Once the initial Franco putsch was stopped, the owners had transferred assets abroad. However the collectives were able to stop dividend transfers and eliminated high director salaries. They were thus able to pay increased prices for raw materials. New equipment for nylon manufacture was purchased. Each factory had an administrative committee that analysed plant organisation, finances and other statistical and administrative matters. Technical commissions were in place to help increase production in ways that were beneficial to workers and the plant. The plants were in far better shape after 2 months of collective ownership and management than they had been before. Wages increased, hours decreased from 60 to 40 per week, overtime was abolished.
Troops were drawn from the industry and factory workers contributed voluntarily 10 to 15% of their wage to finance the war against fascism.
The Health Workers Union was founded in September 1936 and comprised all health workers, not just nurses of doctors. 8000 joined the FNT based union, far more than the rival UGT led union. They did not just enroll member but reorganised the whole health system. The doctors were very much involved.
Spain had a high infant mortality rate due to poverty lack of hygienic facilities and racketeering doctors.
36 health centres over 27 towns in Catalonia were established. There was a central administrative committee that met each week with members of the services from the 9 zones. The syndicate managed all hospitals and opened new ones. Sanitariums were opened in what had been luxury homes. When a locality requested a doctor, the syndicate analysed what would be the best services to offer in that area. Surgery and dentistry was free. All doctors were paid the same rate and there were no private practices. Savings were thus made on wages and costs and these were used to extend services
The Communist Party sold out blatantly to the bourgeoisie in the rural areas. Small landholders were protected from syndicalisation by well armed communist troops. This happened at a time when the rural collectives had achieved stunning successes in overcoming poverty and ensuring fairer production and distribution of rural produce.
Collectivisation in Alcaria was achieved fairly quickly because the smallholders fled when the Italian troops were defeated. The land was then divided into cultivated zones. Team delegates worked the land with all workers and at the end of each day they met and discussed technical arrangements and work patterns for the future. All delegates were elected by a general assembly of rural workers in the area. Everyone worked to their capacity and days off due to illness were counted as days worked. Men over 60 could retire if they chose. Surpluses were sold or exchanged directly or though the federated agencies that were established to coordinate production and distribution across regions. The collectives thus eliminated the middlemen and reduced consumer prices. Transactions between collectives were conducted without money. For example, the Calanda collective traded oil for Barcelona cloth. The collectives were also able to expand the production of the areas of the collectives, which had been smallholding grubbing out a living, into larger enterprises such as bakeries, larger dairies and chicken houses and enabled more research and improvement in production techniques.
The trade union movement through the CNT was at the centre of the collectivisation effort. This effort had tremendous success that may seem irrelevant today. However a later experiment was established in 1943 in the darkest days of Franco's rule in Mondragon in the Basque country with a Catholic priest in a central role. At a time when the fascists prohibited the Basques to use their language or to continue any of their customs as they were not appropriate for the Catholic hierarchy, and after the anarchists had specifically targeted the priests who opposed the workers taking control it was remarkable that this cooperative began and even more remarkable that it continues today and is incredibly successful. The story of Mondragon (as highlighted in Australia by Race Matthews) and its links with the anarcho-syndicalists will be next month's contribution to honouring the Spanish syndicalists.
Dolgoff emphasises self-management and what that really means."It excludes rule over others. It excludes the legally sanctioned authority of the state through its coercive institutions but demands the very extirpation of the state from within the unofficial associations (miniature states) of the people: from within the unions, from the places of work, and from the myriad f groupings that make up society.
By definition "self management" is the idea that all workers engaged in providing goods and services can themselves efficiently administer and coordinate the economic life of society...[It] means that workers are equal partners in a vast network of interlocking cooperative associations...It must be based on the fundamental principle of free communism, that is, the equal access to and sharing of, goods and services according to needs."
See Sam Dolgoff (editor) (!974) The Anarchist Collectives: Worker Self-management in the Spanish Revolution 1936-1939 (Montreal: Black Rose Books)
Franz Borkenau (1986; first published 1937) The Spanish Cockpit: an eyewitness account of the political and social conflicts of the Spanish Civil War (Pluto Press)
Frank Pitcairn (Claud Cockburn) fought with the International Brigade and reported for the Daily Worker. His account of the fighting and the role the reporting played in drawing in some western interest is captured in his Reporter In Spain (first published Lawrence and Wishart 1936 and expanded in 1937)
George Orwell (1966, first published 1938) Homage to Catalonia (Penguin)
Noam Chomsky (1968) Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship; this extract first appeared in American Power and the New Mandarins (Pantheon, 1969) and republished in James Peck (Editor) The Chomsky Reader (Serpents Tail, 1987)
There are some good webpages such as Flag Blackened http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/spaindx.html
Some great graphics here as well.
Trade Unions and Revolutionary Change at http://www.libcom.org/hosted/af/online/trade_unions.html
An Anarchist Perspective on the Spanish Civil War by Eddie Conlon http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/scw/anarchist.htm
For those who read Spanish the CNT page is at http://www.cnt.es/home.php
FlagBlackened also has good information about the CNT
Good recent articles on Counterpunch including an extract from Claud Cockburn at http://www.counterpunch.org/claud08012006.html
Vincente Navarro wrote on the continuing silence in Spain of the massacres and of the Catholic Church's role at http://www.counterpunch.org/navarro07192006.html
|Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue|
© 1999-2002 Workers Online