Collectives in the Spanish Revolution
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263 pages

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Revolutionary Spain came about with an explosion of social change so advanced and sweeping that it remains widely studied as one of the foremost experiments in worker self-management in history. At the heart of this vast foray into toppling entrenched forms of domination and centralised control was the flourishing of an array of worker-run collectives in industry, agriculture, public services, and beyond.

Collectives in the Spanish Revolution is a unique account of this transformative process—a work combining impeccable research and analysis with lucid reportage. Its author, Gaston Leval, was not only a participant in the Revolution and a dedicated anarcho-syndicalist but an especially knowledgeable eyewitness to the many industrial and agrarian collectives. In documenting the collectives’ organisation and how they improved working conditions and increased output, Leval also gave voice to the workers who made them, recording their stories and experiences. At the same time, Leval did not shy away from exploring some of the collectives’ failings, often ignored in other accounts of the period, opening space for readers today to critically draw lessons from the Spanish experience with self-managed collectives.

The book opens with an insightful examination of pre-revolutionary economic conditions in Spain that gave rise to the worker and peasant initiatives Leval documents and analyses in the bulk of his study. He begins by surveying agrarian collectives in Aragón, Levante, and Castile. Leval then guides the reader through an incredible variety of urban examples of self-organisation, from factories and workshops to medicine, social services, Barcelona’s tramway system, and beyond. He concludes with a brief but perceptive consideration of the broader political context in which workers carried out such a far-reaching revolution in social organisation—and a rumination on who and what was responsible for its defeat.

This classic translation of the French original by Vernon Richards is presented in this edition for the first time with an index. A new introduction by Pedro García-Guirao and a preface by Stuart Christie offer a précis of Leval’s life and methods, placing his landmark study in the context of more recent writing on the Spanish collectives—eloquently positing that Leval’s account of collectivism and his assessments of their achievements and failings still have a great deal to teach us today.



Publié par
Date de parution 01 août 2018
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781629634678
Langue English

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Collectives in the Spanish Revolution
Gaston Leval
Translated from the French by Vernon Richards
This edition 2018 PM Press
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be transmitted by any means without permission in writing from the publisher.
ISBN: 978-1-62963-447-0
Library of Congress Control Number: 2017942919
Cover by John Yates /
Interior design by briandesign
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
PM Press
PO Box 23912
Oakland, CA 94623
Printed in the USA by the Employee Owners of Thomson-Shore in Dexter, Michigan.
I The Ideal
II The Men and the Struggles
III Material for a Revolution
IV A Revolutionary Situation
V The Aragon Federation of Collectives
1. Graus
2. Fraga
3. Binefar
4. Andorra (Teruel)
5. Alcorisa
6. Mas de las Matas
7. Esplus
VI Collectives in the Levante
General Characteristics
1. Carcagente
2. Jativa
3. Other Methods of Operation
VII The Collectives of Castile
VIII Collectivist Book-Keeping
IX Libertarian Democracy
X The Charters
XI Industrial Achievements
1. Syndicalisations in Alcoy
XII Achievements in the Public Sector
1. Water, Gas and Electricity in Catalonia
2. The Barcelona Tramways
3. The Means of Transport
4. The Socialisation of Medicine
XIII Town Collectivisations
1. Elda and the S.I.C.E.P.
2. Granollers
3. Hospitalet de Llobregat
4. Rubi
5. Castellon de la Plana
6. Socialisation in Alicante
XIV Isolated Achievements
1. The Boot and Shoemakers of Lerida
2. The Valencia Flour Mills
3. The Chocolate Cooperative of Torrente
4. The Agrarian Groups in Tarrasa
XV Political Collaboration
XVI Libertarians and Republicans
XVII The Internal Counter-Revolution
XVIII Final Reflections
Collectives in the Spanish Revolution can only deal in any detail with some of the self-managed collectives that were established in Republican Spain during the struggle against Franco, for, as the author points out, there were 400 agricultural collectives in Arag n, 900 in Levante, and 300 in Castile. In addition, the whole of industry in Catalonia and 70 per cent in Levante was collectivised.
Leval s study brings together two aspects that are generally difficult to unite-analysis and testimony-but, and in part owing to this method of presentation, the reader s interest is held throughout the book. He visited the towns and villages of revolutionary Spain where, soon after July 19, 1936, people had opted to live a libertarian communist lifestyle almost without precedent in all history, collectivising the land, factories and workshops, and the social services.
He paints a serene but not uncritical picture of the role of the countless rank-and-file activists of the idea who had long discussed the possibilities of a self-managed economic and social system that was truly communal and anti-authoritarian:
It is clear, the social revolution which took place then did not stem from a decision by the leading organisms of the C.N.T. or from the slogans launched by the militants and agitators who were in the public limelight . It occurred spontaneously, naturally, not (and let us avoid demagogy) because the people in general had suddenly become capable of performing miracles but because, and it is worth repeating, among those people there was a large minority who were active, strong, guided by an ideal which has been continuing through the years a struggle started [more than half a century earlier] in Bakunin s time ( p. 80 ).
This raises the question: were the collectivisations enforced at the point of a gun, as argued by a number of bourgeois historians?
In fact, in most villages collectivisations occurred after the major landowners had fled to the Francoist zone: usually, assemblies were held at which it was decided to expropriate the landowners land and machinery and share their own for the common good; teams were formed to carry out the necessary tasks, each electing recallable delegates to a village assembly. Leval writes that in Aragon, where the libertarian militias were numerous, their role was minimal if not negative inasmuch as they lived, in part, at the expense of the collectives. As he describes it, they lived on the fringes of the task of social transformation being carried out, although Durruti, realising their importance, did send some of his men, skilled organisers not armed troops, to help the collectives. All the energy, however, came from the local militants who took initiatives with a tactical skill often quite outstanding ( p. 91 ).
Other chapters make fascinating reading: The Socialisation of Medicine, The Charters, Rubi, Lerida, etc. The agricultural, industrial and social service industries are all explained with their own peculiar aspects, and their development traced within the overall scheme of self-management.
A number of points deserve separate study, such as the problem of the relationship of individuals to their work in a new society: Obviously some would have preferred to stay in bed, but it was impossible for them to cheat ( p. 117 ); there was no place in the rules for the demand for personal freedom or for the autonomy of the individual ( p. 125 ); Building operatives were working with enthusiasm. They had started off by applying the eight-hour day, but the peasants pointed out they worked a twelve-hour day ( p. 146 and also pp. 211, 212, 304).
Some of the author s comments are well off track: his Slavonic psychology, his generous Russian nature ( p. 18 on Bakunin, but Lenin too was a Russian), preaching the libertarian gospel ( p. 47 ), the Good News ( p. 56 ), but fortunately they are few and make no difference to the essence of Leval s story.
More curious, however, is Leval s position: convinced very soon that the anti-fascists would end by losing the war ( p. 68 ), he dedicated himself to collecting together the results of this unique experiment for posterity. There are contemporary articles written by Leval: I had to make an effort to give them confidence and offered them words of hope ( p. 112 ). We cannot but underline Leval s patronising hypocrisy in this matter-a sort of tourist s eye view of the attempts to live of the condemned. What was there to do? Leval seems to be trying to be a historian first and anarchist second, overlooking that it is always one and the same struggle: Posterity is us, just later on.
There are, in fact, two faces to Leval. In one chapter entitled Political Collaboration he writes, This excursion in the corridors of power was negative ( p. 324 ). But while he was in Spain, during the Civil War, that was not Leval s opinion at all. On arrival he published an article in Solidaridad Obrera (November 27, 1936, p. 8 ) entitled Discipline: A Condition of Victory ; in February 1937 he took part in a meeting with Mariano R. Vazquez (a strong supporter of CNT participation in the government) and again in France in November 1937, in Le Libertaire, he pleaded for a moratorium on the anarchist programme for the duration of the war.
Leval also published articles of a practical nature, such as: The Small Proprietor and the Small Business, Our Programme for Reconstruction, Let Us Establish Co-operatives, ( Solidaridad Obrera, December 12, 1936, p. 4; December 27, 1936, p. 10 ; March 2, 1937, p. 6). His stand in support of the pro-governmental section of the CNT is important. Before the war Leval was better known for his books on social reconstruction, written in the spirit of Peter Kropotkin s The Conquest of Bread but adapted to the epoch. Many of the collectivists knew Leval from these writings and had he defended at the time the position he takes in Collectives then the opposition to the political sidetracking that was going on could well have been far greater.
Interesting too is that the translator and publisher of the original 1975 English-language edition, Vernon Richards, fails to point out this evolution in Leval s thinking. It would also have been useful to know that Sam Dolgoff, author of The Anarchist Collectives: Workers Self-Management in the Spanish Revolution, 1936-1939, took his texts from the 1952 Italian edition of Leval s book, with variations. (The figures, for example, given in the chapter on the socialisation of medicine are different from Richards translation. Are they typographical errors by Dolgoff or forgetfulness on the part of Richards?) Other texts, in particular The Characteristics of the Libertarian Collectives, an excellent r sum of the nineteen points of the main aspects of self-management, as well as the section of the 1948 Italian pamphlet L attivita sindicale nella transformazione sociale that deals with industry, should have been included in the 1975 edition but for some reason Leval and Richards chose not to do so.
Collectives in the Spanish Revolution demonstrates clearly that the working class are perfectly capable of running farms, factories, workshops, and health and public services without bosses or managers dictating to them. It proves that anarchist methods of organising, with decisions made from the bottom up, can work effectively in large-scale industry involving the coordination of many thousan

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