Anarchy #005

Issue of Anarchy magazine from July 1961 primarily about the Spanish Civil War.


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Brennan's Spanish Labyrinth

MARIE LOUISE BERNERl was an editor of War Commentary and
later Freedom, until her death at the age of 31 in 1949. She was the
author of Journey Through Utopia (Routledge) and Neither East Nor
West (Freedom Press). Her article was originally written for Now in
1944 as a review of the original edition of Brenan's book.

Books about Spain have been written either by learned professors who
write history ignoring completely working class movements and the
existence of the class struggle and who therefore put fanciful interpreta-
tions on events they are unable to understand, or by journalists who
feel qualified to write about Spain after spending only a few days or a
few weeks in the country and without having acquired any previous
knowledge of the historical background of the people. Such books
sometimes contain brilliant passages, like Borkenau's Spanish Cockpit
or George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, but are also full of inexacti-
tudes and hasty generalisations. They are also often written with a
bias to suit the political fashion of the moment Several books were
written about the Spanish revolution which did not mention the work
of the Anarchist movement or even its existence. On the other hand,
because it is popular to boost the Communists, most of the work done
during the revolution was attributed to them.

The Spanish Labyrinth* stands apart from all these books, both
for the erudition which the author displays and for his objective approach
to the subject. Gerald Brenan did not use any expedient method to
write this book. He has taken great pains to find the truth and to be
fair to all the parties he deals with, and if sometimes the book contains
inaccuracies one feels that they are due to misinformation rather than
to political prejudice.

Brenan's book is made interesting and penetrating by his sympathy
for the subject he has treated. He loves Spain and the Spaniards and
has a particular understanding of the Spanish peasants among whom
he lived so long, not as a tourist but as one of them, sharing their houses*
their food, their talk, their songs and dances. An historian should
attempt to experience in imagination the feelings and reactions of the
people he describes, and he is able to do this only if he can, so to speak,
put himself in their place. Brenan is extremely gifted in that respect.
He has dealt with his subject not only as a scholar but also as an artist
and a psychologist. This has enabled him to understand actions which*
not being a revolutionary himself, he cannot approve, such as the
burning of churches, the throwing of bombs, the killing of priests, the
expropriation of landlords and many other acts of revolt of the Spanish
workers. He sees these facts in their right perspective and makes fun

♦The Spanish Labyrinth by Gerald Brenan, (Cambridge Paperbacks, 13s. 6d.).

of the reactionaries who, at the slightest movement of revolt among
the masses, are prepared to see the whole working class as a mob of
criminals. He effectively debunks atrocity stories, a task which, unfor-
tunately, historians are not often willing to undertake, particularly
when these stories are used to discredit national or class enemies.
Brenan says that already in 1873 the most infamous stories were circu-
lated against the Anarchists. The Carlists, who were the equivalent of
the Fascists of to-day, issued two pseudo-anarchist papers to give more
weight to their atrocity stories. The front page of one of them, Los
Descamisados (The Shirtless), bore the following battle cry :

900,000 heads! Let us tear the vault of heaven as though it were a
paper roof! Property is theft! Complete, utter social equality! Free Love!

After the Asturian rising of October 1934 accusations of atrocities
were again circulated on a big scale against the revolutionary workers.
Brenan says :

The most incredible tales were solemnly told and vouched for. The
nuns at Oyiedo were said to have been raped: the eyes of twenty children
of the police at Trubia were said to have been put out: priests, monks and
children had been burnt alive: whilst the priest of Suma de Lagreo was
declared to have been murdered and his body hung on a hook with the
notice "Pig's meat sold here" suspended over it. Although the mose careful
search by independent journalists and Radical deputies — members that is,
of the party then in power — revealed no trace of any of these horrors, and
although the considerable sums raised for the twenty blinded children had
to be devoted to other purposes because none of these children could be
found, these and other stories continued to be repeated in the Right-wing
press for months afterwards.

Of the terrorist methods used by the Anarchists at the end of the
last century Brenan gives a very penetrating explanation particularly
important as these acts are almost universally condemned and are still
held against Anarchism :

The nineties were everywhere the period of anarchist terrorism. We
have seen how the loss of its working-class adherents and the stupidity of
the police repression led to this. But there were other causes as well. The
reign of the bourgeoisie was now at its height. The meanness, their Philis-
tinism, their insufferable self-righteousness weighed upon everything. They
had created a world that was both dull and ugly and they were so firmly
established in it that it seemed hopeless even to dream of revolution. The
desire to shake by some violent action the complacency of this huge, inert
and stagnant mass of middle-class opinion became irresistible. Artists and
writers shared this feeling. Onei must put such books as Flaubert's Bouvard
et Pecuchet and Huysman's A Rebours, Butler's and Wilde's epigrams and
Nietzsche's savage outbursts in the same category as the bombs of the
Anarchists. To shock, to infuriate, to register one's protest became the
only thing that any decent or sensitive man could do.

One could make many more quotations to show that Brenan's
attitude is not hampered by prejudices and that his judgments are not
delivered according to a fixed code of bourgeois morality.

* * *

The Spanish Labyrinth is divided into three parts. The first part
describes the history of the old regime, and that is to say the political
regimes in Spain from 1874 to 1931. This part is mostly a chronicle
of events.

The second part which, from a social point of view, is the most
interesting, deals in detail with the conditions of the working classes
and contains a careful analysis of : the agrarian question, the Anarchists,
the Anarcho-syndicalists, the Carlists, the Socialists.

The third part deals with the events in Spain after 1931, after
the fall of the monarchy and the institution of the Republic. It contains
a chapter on the history of the Popular Front and a short sketch on the
history of the Civil War from 1936-39.

It will be seen that the number of subjects treated justifies the sub-
title of the book: "An account of the social and political background
of the Civil War." All the forces which came to clash during the
revolution are analysed here from their birth and the study of this book
is indispensable if one is to understand properly the Civil War itself.

Parts of the Spanish Labyrinth are of particular interest to Anar-
chists and I should like to deal with them at length at the risk of giving
them a prominence which they do not attain in the book itself.

The first point of interest to Anarchists is the relation between
Anarchism and the communalist movement in Spain. Spain resembles
Europe of the Middle Ages, when communes had a great deal of auto-
nomy and when each member played an active role in the running of
the communities. Unlike the communes in Mediaeval Germany, France
and Italy, which flourished mostly in the towns and were composed of
artisans and merchants, the communes in Spain existed mostly in the
countryside and were composed of peasants, herdsmen, shepherds.
There were also communes of fishermen on the coast. Provincial and
municipal feeling was therefore very strong and every town was the
centre of an intense social life. This autonomy of the towns and
villages allowed the full development of the people's initiative and
rendered them for more individualistic than other nations, though at
the same time developing the instinct of mutual aid which has elsewhere
been atrophied by the growth of the state.

It is difficult to understand Spain if one has not read Mutual Aid,
and, indeed, some of the pages of the Spanish Labyrinth would form a
valuable supplement to Kropotkin's work. Spanish communalist insti-
tutions would have offered Kropotkin a tremendous amount of material
to illustrate his theory of Mutual Aid, but it is probable that the material
was not available to him at the time. Brenan's book has filled the
gap to a great extent by giving examples of agricultural and fisherman's
communities which have survived through centuries, independent of
the central authority of the government. While communes in the rest
of Europe were gradually absorbed by the state and had lost most of
their liberties and privileges by the middle of the XHIth century they
survived much longer in Spain.

There is of course nothing very remarkable about this communal system
of cultivating the land. It was once general— in Rusfeia (the mir\ in
Germany (the flurzwang), in England (the open-field system). What is,
remarkable is that in Spain the villiage communities spontaneously developed
on this basis an extensive system of municipal services, to the point of
their sometimes reaching an advanced stage of communism . . . One
may ask what there is in the Spanish character or in the economic circum-
stances of the country that has led to this surprising development. It is
clear that the peculiar agrarian conditions of the Peninsula, the great
isolation of the many villages and the delay in the growth of even an
elementary capitalist system have all played their part. But they have not
been the only factors at work. When one considers the number of guilds
or confraternities that till recently owned land and worked it in common
to provide old age and sickness insurance for their members: or such
popular institutions as the Cort de la Seo at Valencia which regulated on
a purely voluntary basis a complicated system of irrigation: or else the
surprising development in recent years of productive co-operative societies
in which peasants and fishermen acquired the instruments of their labour,
the land they needed, the necessary installations and began to produce and
sell in common: one has to recognise that the Spanish working-classes show
a spontaneous talent for co-operation that exceeds anything that can be
found to-day in other European countries.

When one takes into account the fertile growth of communistic
institutions, the mutual aid displayed among peasants, fishermen and
artisans, the spirit of independence in the towns and villages, it is not
difficult to understand why anarchist ideas found such a propitious soil
in Spain.

The theories of the Anarchists, and of Bakunin and Kropotkin in
particular, are based on the belief that men are bound together by the
instinct of mutual aid, that they can live happily and peacefully in a free
society. Bakunin through his natural sympathy for the peasants,
Kropotkin through his study of the life of animals, of the primitive
societies and the Middle-Ages, had both reached the conclusion that
men are able to live happily and show their social and creative abilities
in a society free from any central and authaoritarian government.

These anarchist theories correspond to the experiences of the
Spanish people. Wherever they were free to organise themselves inde-
pendntly they had improved their lot, but when the central government
of Madrid through the landlords, the petty bureaucrats, the police and
the army, interfered with their lives, it always brought them oppression
and poverty. The Socialist party with its distrust of the social instincts
of men, with its belief in a central, all-wise authority, went against the
age-long experience of the Spanish workers and peasants. It demanded
from them the surrender of the liberties they had fought hard to preserve
through centuries and for that reason never acquired the influence
which the Anarchist Movement attained.

Another cause for the rapid and extensive growth of the Anarchist
Movement in Spain was, according to Brenan, the intense religious
feelings of the people, particularly the peasants.
This may at first seem paradoxical. The Anarchists in Spain,
perhaps more than in any other country, bitterly attacked religion and
the Church. They issued hundreds of books and pamphlets denouncing
the fallacy of religion and the corruption of the Church; they even
went as far as burning churches and killing priests.

Brenan does not ignore this, but he distinguishes between the
Christian beliefs of the Spanish masses and their intense dislike of the
Church, and one must admit that his interpretation of the relation
between religion and Anarchism is very convincing.

He describes the Spaniards, and in particular the peasants, as a
very religious people. By religion he does not mean, of course, belief
in and submission to the Church but a faith in spiritual values, in the
need for men to reform themselves, in the fraternity which should exist
among all men.

At the beginning of the XIXth century a general decay of religious
faith took place, but religion had meant so much to the poor that they
were left with the hunger for something to replace it and this could only
be one of the political doctrines, Anarchism or Socialism. Anarchism
by its insistence on brotherhood between men, on the necessity for a
moral regeneration of mankind, on the need for faith, came nearer to
the Christian ideas of the .Spanish peasant than the dry, soulless, mater-
ialistic theories of the Marxists. The Spanish peasants took literally
the frequent allusions in the Scriptures to the wickedness of the rich;
the Church of course could not admit this. The Spanish people in
their turn could not forgive the Church for having abandoned the teach-
ings of Christ nor could the Church forgive them for interpreting to
the letter the teachings of the gospels. Brenan suggests that the anger
of the Spanish Anarchists against the Church is the anger of an intensely
religious people who feel that they have been deserted and deceived.

Brenan forsaw that his interpretation would give rise to many
criticisms (from the Anarchists and even more from religious people),
and he says :

It may be thought that I have stressed too much the religious element
because Spanish Anarchism is after all a political doctrine. But the aims
of the Anarchists were always much wider and their teachings more personal
than anything which can be included under the word politics. To individuals
they offered a way of life: Anarchism had to be lived as well as worked

This is a very important point. The Anarchists do not aim only
at changing the government or the system; they aim also at changing
the people's mode of thinking and living, which has been warped by
years of oppression.

Whatever the cause of this attitude, whether religious or otherwise,
it is important to stress it. Anarchists are always accused of having
a negative creed, but critics overlook that Anarchism through its attempts
to render men better even under the present system is in fact doing
some positive and very useful work.

Brenan has seen this very clearly and he refuses to judge the Anar-
chists through their material achievements alone. He does not consider
merely the number of strikes they have carried out, the rises in wages
they have obtained or the part they have played in the administration
of the country. Their role, he says, should be judged not in political
terms but in moral ones, a fact which is almost universally ignored.

For example, the role of Anarchists in educating the Spanish
masses is often overlooked. While the Socialists thought that education
was a matter for the state to deal with, the Anarchists believed in
starting work immediately. As early as the middle of the last century
Anarchists formed small circules in towns and villages which started
night schools where many learned to read.

At the beginning of this century Anarchist propaganda spread
rapidly through the country-side and it was always accompanied with
efforts to educate the masses. The Anarchist press not only published
books by Kropotkin, Bakunin and the Spanish Anarchist newspapers
were avidly read. The Anarchist movement had several dailies, but
more important perhaps was the great number of provincial papers.
In a relatively small province like Andalusia by the end of 1918 more
than 50 towns had libertarian newspapers of their own. The work of
editing these newspapers must have provided the members of the
movement with a good deal of education and experience. The work
of F. Ferrer in setting up free schools, the first outside the control of
the Church, is well known.

This education was not limited to book knowledge alone. Anar-
chists were expected to give a good example by their private lives.
Solidaridad Obrera, the Anarchist daily, in an article published in 1922,
says that the Anarchist should set out to have a moral ascendancy over
others. He should obtain prestige in the eyes of the workers by his
conduct in the street, in the workshop, in his home and during strikes.

They were equally anxious to bring honesty in the matter of sex.
Brenan says;

Anarchists, it is true, believe in free love — everything, even love, must
be free — but they do not believe in libertinage. So in Malaga they sent
missions to the prostitutes. In Barcelona they cleaned up the cabarets and
brothels with a thoroughness that the Spanish Church (which frowns on
open vice, such as wearing a bathing dress without a skirt and sleeves, but
shuts its eyes to 'safety valves') would never approve of.

The Anarchists tried to live up to their ideals within the movement
itself. They had no paid bureaucracy like the other parties. In a
country like Spain, where there is the greatest distrust for money and
those who seek it, the attitude of the Anarchists brought them the
sympathy of the masses. Brenan points out several times that the
Anarchist leaders were never paid and that in 1918, when their trade
union, the C.N.T., contained over a million members, it had only one
paid secretary.

Brenan's book carries an encouraging message for the Anarchists.
Though he himself considers Anarchism impracticable, he gives abun-
dant proofs that it is deeply rooted in Spain. Unlike Fascism and Com-
munism, it would not have to rely on foreign influences to come into

The practice of mutual aid which maintained itself in the village
and town communes, the aspiration of the Spanish people towards
liberty, justice and the brotherhood of all men, their love of indepen-
dence which gave rise to federalist aspirations, all point to the conclusion
that only an anarchist system of society will be possible in Spain.

Here I must say, however, a few words of disagreement with
Brenan's conclusions. Though he admits that the arbiters of Spain's
destiny must be the worker and the peasant, he believes that a govern-
ment (of the right kind of course) must control Spain. He does not say
where a good government can be found. He declares that a govern-
ment in Spain should not depend on the church, the army or the land-
lords; as on the other hand he does not seem to believe in the dictator-
ship of the proletariat (which he rightly condemns in Russia) it is diffi-
cult to see why he rejects so firmly the Anarchist solution.

He also advocates strongly the collectivisation of the land, but seems
to expect that a "sensible government" could carry it out, when history
shows that no government in Spain was ever prepared to go against
the interests of the landlords.

I think that Brenan has emphasised too much the agrarian nature
of Anarchism. This is probably due to the fact that he lived in
Andalusia, a completely agricultural region. Incidentally, he was criti-
cised on this point by H. N. Brainsford who reviewed his book in the
New Statesman, and who said :

I witnessed their (the Anarchists') astonishing success during the civil
war in running factories with high principles as their chief equipment,
and I was deeply moved by the schools they established for the sorely tried
children of Madrid.

Brenan also attaches, in my opinion, too much importance to the
rivalry between Madrid and Barcelona. In his opinion all Castilians
are authoritarians and all Catalans are independent and lovers of freedom.
To maintain his thesis he makes certain errors of facts which it is not
worth while to discuss here. He is again far from the truth when he
attributes practically all the burning of churches to Anarchists; in fact
the burning of churches occurred everywhere spontaneously, and took
place sometimes in villages and towns where there were no Anarchists.

However, these are mostly details, and do not prevent the book
from being a very serious contribution to the history of revolutionary
movements. Brenan, who lived so long in Spain, seems to have been
influenced by its communal institutions, and has written his book in
the spirit of the craftsman of the Middle Ages. Like them he has
produced his chef-d'oeuvre which is the test of his love for his art and
his respect for his fellow men for whom the book is written. The
Sapnish Labyrinth has been created with that painstaking and disinter-
ested love which characterises all lasting works.

The Congress of Zaragoza

On May 1st 1936 the CNT held a national congress at Zaragoza, in
an atmosphere of impending crisis. The Spanish general elections in
February had resulted in the replacement of the right-wing government
of the Bieno Negro (the 'two black years') by a parliament in which the
parties of the left held a decisive majority.

The internal position of the CNT was not a happy one. In January
and December 1933 it had been involved in unsuccessful revolutionary
action and in December 1934 the rising of the Asturian miners had been
savagely repressed. The Confederation was split, with one tendency,
represented by the 'Manifesto of the Thirty', the Treintistas, advocating
much closer ties with the socialist trade unions of the UGT, and a less
intransigent approach to the dilemma of reform or revolution. The
special problems facing the Congress were therefore to enquire into the
risings of 1933 and 1934 and evaluate the role of the CNT in them;
to discuss the continuing relevance of anarchist and revolutionary syndi-
calist principles to the critical situation then existing in Spain; to work
out some kind of relationship between syndicalism and socialism and
put it into practice in terms of a pact with the UGT; and to do all this
under the shadow of a split in the organisation which everyone felt had
to be healed as a matter of first importance. Besides these particular
issues there were the usual reviews of activity and publications and the
preparation of general statements on the Confederal attitude to the
agricultural problems of Spain and its ideas for the future liberatrian

It is therefore disappointing, in reading the published minutes of
the Congress,* to observe how much of it seems to have been spent
in personal disputes about the credentials of one comrade, the conduct
of another on a given occasion, whether the Congress should have been
held in Zaragoza or not, and similar matters. The important work
of preparing statements seems to have been referred to committees whose
reports were accepted after very short debates.
*El Congreso Confederal de Zaragoza, Ediciones CNT, 1955.

The scission in the CNT had come into the open shortly after the
advent of the Spanish Republic in 1931. The delegate of the Opposition
{Treintistas) of Catalonia explained that

Our current wanted to make use of the time put at our disposal to build
a powerful CNT. We felt that one of the prime tasks of that period had
to be to reach the young people who, without any ideological preparation,
were coming towards us, and to make them ready for the outbreak of the
revolution. We had to create in them a clear social consciousness which
would greatly assist the CNT in making its revolution.

The other current believed in revolutionary circumstances, believed that
the very conditions necessary for the transformation of society existed, and
they worked in that direction.

However, the very period which gave the CNT a chance to build up,
also gave the State time to put its house in order, a point made by the
delegate of Fabric and Textiles of Barcelona :

In 1931 there were circumstances favourable to the proletariat, to our
libertarian revolution, and to a transformation of society, that have not
been repeated since. The regime was in a state of decomposition; the State
was weak and had not yet consolidated itself in a position of power, the
army weakened by indiscipline; a poorly manned Civil Guard; badly organ-
ised forces of public order and a timid bureaucracy. It was the very
moment for our revolution. Anarchism had the right to bring about an
institute a genuine regime of libertarian comradeship. Socialism had not
attained the revolutionary prestige that it has today: it was a vaccilating
bourgeois party. We interpret this reality by saying, The further we are
from the 14th April, the further we go from our revolution because we give
the State time to reorganise itself and the counter-revolution'.

The real issue in everyone's mind was whether it was possible to
find any unity between these opposing currents which could be expressed
in terms of a declaration of unity, and a single organisation. The
declaration was drawn up and accepted, and the Opposition ceased to
exist on paper, although as later events showed, its spirit lived on.

Discussion on the unsuccessful popular movements of 1933 and
1934 revealed the same kind of cleavage in the movement, between the
comrades who looked on them as useful experiences, and only criticised
the organisation for not having made a more whole-hearted attempt
to exploit the opportunities which occurred, and those who were dubious
about the possibility of a rising bringing about libertarian communism
in such circumstances. Similarly when the subject of the alliance with
the socialist UGT came up, one of the important questions was whether
the CNT was or ever would be strong enough to make its own revolution,
or whether effective participation in day-to-day activities demanded com-
promises and collaboration.

It is almost impossible to sum up this part of the debate from mere
reading, and it could only be dealt with by someone who took part in
the events. The questions that need answering are: To what extent
were the mass of Spanish workers influencd by the CNT, and to what
extent was the card-holding membership of the Confederation inbued
with the libertarian ideology held by at least some of its militants?

When we turn to the actual statements drawn up by the Congress
it is clear that no simple formula can sum up the attitude of the anarcho-
syndicalists during this period. In its declaration on unemployment
the Congress states that this is 'ultimately a product of the multiple con-
tradictions of capitalism' and goes on to 'urge, then, that for the moral
and material health of humanity, that the working masses hasten to
put an end to the capitalist regime and to organise the production and
distribution of social wealth for themselves'. However, they did not
intend to appear as pure idealists and so the declaration ends with
demands for a thirty-six hour week, abolition of overtime, and the
development of municipal works.

The statement on the political-military situation draws attention
to the failure of parliament and the parties, the growing threat of
fascism, and declares that the only solution lies in educating the people
to want libertarian communism. It ends by calling for a revolutionary
general strike in the event of a declaration of war.

The problem of choosing between a revolutionary and a reformist
line also made itself felt in the declaration on agrarian reform. This
recognised that a reform passed by law would not liberate the peasants,
and it also recognised the possibility that its ameliorating effect might
weaken the influence of revolutionary syndicalism among them. With
this in view they proposed a programme of nine specific points demand-
ing radical expropriation of big farmers, abolition of rents, and the
introduction of irrigation schemes, agricultural colleges, and so on.

However, the most interesting of the resolutions of the Congress
was that on The Confederal Conception of Libertarian Communism'.
It is a powerful reply to the authoritarian socialist critics of Spanish
anarchism, whether Spanish or foreign, who claim that the anarchists
were just confused and generous-hearted people who did not know what
they wanted.

The resolution begins nevertheless by drawing attention to the two
currents of emphasis on the individual and social aspects of libertarian-
ism respectively. It also disclaims any desire to present a blueprint
for the future :

We all feel that to predict the structure of the future society would be
absurd, since there is often a great chasm between theory and practice.
We do not therefore fall into the error of the politicians who present well-
defined solutions to all problems, which fail drastically in practice.

It goes on to criticise the prevailing conception of revolution as being
a single violent act, and characterising revolution as beginning.

Firstly, as a psychological phenomenon in opposition to the state of
things which oppresses the aspirations and needs of the individual.

Secondly as a social manifestation, when that feeling takes collective
hold, it clashes with the forces of capitalism.

Thirdly, as organisation, when it feels the need to create a force capable
of bringing about its biological conclusion.

The first tasks of the revolution are defined thus :

The violent aspect of the revolution having been concluded, the following
will be declared abolished: private property, the State, the principle of
authority, and consequently, the class division of men into exploiters and
exploited, oppressors and oppressed.

Happy land!

Next comes a long section devoted to the details of the structure
of the communes and their federations. It is well-known anarcho-
syndicalist theory, but it is worth mentioning some points about which
individualist anarchists are not too happy, concerning the relations of
the persons with the federal structure. The economic plan takes

as base (in the work place, in the Syndicate, in the Commune, in all
the regulating organs of the new society) the producer, the individual as the
cell, as the cornerstone of all social, economic and moral creation.

However, there was no doubt left that all good men would welcome
the commune:

In accordance with the fundamental principles of libertarian communism,
as we have stated above, all men will hasten to fulfil the voluntary duty —
which will be converted into a true right when men work freely — of giving
his assistance to the collective, according to his strength and capabilities,
and the commune will accept the obligation of satisfying his needs.

Although no doubt meant in the best way, the imposition of 'volun-
tary duties' is not so appealing in the light of misplaced revolutions,
besides which:

It is important to make it clear . . . that the early days of the revolution
will not be easy . . . Any constructive period calls for sacrifice and individual
and collective acceptance of efforts necessary for overcoming problems, and
of not creating difficulties for the work of social reconstruction which we
will all be realising in agreement.

On the other hand it is pointed out that the National Confederation
of Communes will not be a uniform organisation. The example is given
of a commune of delightfully-named 'naturistas-desnudistas', enemies
of industrialisation, whose delegates attend a 'Congress of the Iberian
Confederation of Autonomous Libertarian Communes', which where
necessary enters into relations with other communes. Even if the
editors' tongues were in their cheeks in presenting the example, it is
important that they could, in all sincerity, include it. Furthermore,
although the network of federation is drawn in pretty closely, the follow-
ing paragraph is revealing :

We consider that in time the new society should assure each commune
of all the agricultural and industrial elements necessary for its autonomy,
in accordance with the biological principle which affirms that the man, and
in this case, the commune, is most free, who has least need of others.

Finally, after having described the ways in which the communes
will take decisions, the declaration states :

All these functions will have no bureaucratic or executive character.
Apart from those who work as technicians or simply statisticians, the rest
will simply be carrying out their job as producers, gathered together at the
end of the working day to discuss questions of detail which do not call
for reference to a general assembly.

Not only economic and social organisation, but the very ideas of
justice, love and education, are reviewed.

Libertarian communism is incompatible with any punitive regime, which
implies the disappearance of the present system of punitive justice and all
its instruments, such as prisons.

The committee considers.

Firstly, that man is not bad by nature, and that delinquency is the
logical result of the state of social injustice in which we live.

Secondly, that when his needs are satisfied, and he is given rational and
humane education, its causes will disappear.

Therefore we consider that when an individual falls down in his duties,
either in the moral realm or as a producer, it will be for the assemblies of
the people to find a just and harmonious solution to the case.

On the family and on sexual relations, the resolution points out
that the family has fulfilled many admirable functions of solidarity and
declares that the revolution will not involve an attack on the family.

Libertarian communism proclaims free love, with no more regulation
than the free will of the men and women concerned, guaranteeing the
children with the security of the community.

Education was discussed in two stages; one designed for the imme-
diate battle against illiteracy, and another the long-term development
of a human system of education.

The resolution ended by declaring that when achieved, the revolu-
tion would be defended by the people in arms.

This declaration on The Confederal Conception of Libertarian
Communism' carried unanimously by delegates speaking for a million
workers represents the height of anarcho-syndicalist expression. To
what extent did the individual members share its aspirations? To what
extent was it the expression of a handful of militant anarchists kidding
themselves that their own ideas were held throughout the CNT? How
representative was the other side of the Congress with its violent personal
and factional disputes? As the events fade into the past, these prob-
lems can only be unravelled by someone who shares a knowledge of
Spain, a feeling for anarchism and the skill of a historian.

However, the fact that the workers of the CNT, in the face of
oppression and persecution, and the imminence of a violent rising,
could present such a clear and humanistic view of what they wanted
society to be like, shows that they were the most socially conscious
people that recent history has seen, and makes it even more tragic that
circumstances conspired to prevent them from realising thir desires.


CNT {Confederation National del Trabajo— National Confederation of
Labour). Revolutionary syndicalist union influenced by the anarchists.
FAI (Federation Anarquista Iberica— Anarchist Federation of Iberia).
UGT (Union General de Trabajadores— General Workers' Union). Re-
formist trade union controlled by the socialists.
PSO (Partido Socialista Obrero— Workers' Socialist Party).
PCE (Partido Communista Espanol — Spanish Communist Party).
PSUC (Partido Socialista Unificat de Catalunya— Catalan United Socialist
Party). The combined Socialist and Communist parties of Catalonia.
POUM (Partido Obrero de Unification Marxista). Dissident revolutionary
Communist party.
Generalitat: the government of the autonomous province of Catalonia.

Some Conclusions on the Spanish Collectives

GASTON LEVAL spent many years in Spain and was the author of
Nuestro Programa de Reconstruction (Barcelona 1937), Social Recon-
struction in Spain (Freedom Press 1938), LTndispensable Revolution
(Paris 1948) and Ne Franco me Stalin (Milan 1952). His article is taken
from the concluding chapter of the last of these books, the most thorough
study yet made of the Spanish collectives.

I want to call attention to a curious fact: the failure of the top, the
directors, the guiding heads. I am referring not only to the socialist
and communist politicians, but also to the better-known anarchist mili-
tants, the 'leaders'. Spanish anarchism had a number of them. The
ablest, Orobon Fernandez, died shortly before the revolution. A real
sociologist, he had a broad and profound grasp of politics and economics.
Others were highly-cultured persons, fine agitators, some of them notable
orators, good journalists and writers; Federica Montseny was one of
the most intelligent women in the intellectual life of the country.

But from the start these militants were absorbed in the official duties
they accepted despite their traditional repugnance to government The
idea of anti-fascist unity had led them to this position : It was necessary
to keep quiet about principles, to make temporary concessions. Hin-
dered thereby from continuing to act as guides, they remained apart
from the great work of reconstruction from which the proletariat will
learn such precious lessons for the future. Without doubt they could
still have given useful advice, they could have offered general principles
for action and co-ordination. They did not. Why? It was because
they were primariliy demolishers. The struggle against State and
capitalism had led them to subordinate all their culture and prestige
to a political orientation. None of the best-known militants—apart
from Noja Ruiz, and latterly Santillan— was competent to meet the
economic problems of revolution. A constructive mentality, that can
grasp the essentials of a chaotic situation and harmonize them in a
comprehensive vision, is not improvised overnight.

Even some of the intellectuals who stayed out of official positions
took no part in the work of transforming the society. How then was
success possible? The reason was nothing else than the positive intelli-
gence of the people. This was our secret strength.

For decades, anarchist papers and reviews and pamphlets had been
forming in militants a habit of acting individually, of taking initiative.
They were not taught to wait for directives from above. They had
always thought and acted for themselves — sometimes well, sometimes
badly. Reading the paper, the review, the pamphlet, the book, each
developed and enlarged his own personality. They were never given
a dogma or a safe, uniform line of action. In the study of concrete
problems, in the critique of economic and political ideas, clear ideas of
revolution had gradually matured.

For some time, the problems of social reconstruction had been on
the order of the day. Some of the better-known militants were rather
scornful of the studies published by Puente, Besnard, Santillan, Orobon
Fernandez, Noja Ruiz, Leval. But many of the more serious, and
perhaps basically more intelligent, workers read them avidly. A great
number of the 60,000 readers of the libertarian review Studi followed
with interest the detailed articles on the problems a revolution faces,
in food supply, fuel, or agriculture. Many syndicalist groupings did
likewise. And when at the Saragossa Congress in May 1936, a
renowned militant, who always displayed an olympian indifference
toward such questions — later, he was just as good minister as bad
organiser — presented an exposition of libertarian communism which
revealed the lack of substance in his thought, the workers and peasants
assembled from all the provinces showed their disapproval; for they
knew quite well that social life must be thought of and organized in
a more methodical way. All this study, together with the need for
men of will and action in the social struggle, gave birth to the qualities
that made possible the marvellous achievements of the agrarian collec-
tives and the industrial organization.

The capacity of the people. That is, intelligence plus will. This
is the secret. In this, not even the humblest labourers were lacking. I
knew many syndicalist committee members who understood the prob-
lems of revolution and economic organisation very clearly. They spoke
intelligently about raw materials, imports, the need to improve or
eliminate this or that branch of industry, the armed defence, and other
matters. The prompt reaction against the Control Committees which
threatened, in the big cities, to become a new parasitic bureaucracy;
the rapid decision to resist the attacks of the 18th and 19th of July;
the rise of untrained military leaders (Durruti, Ortiz, Mera, Ascaso and
others) to command over professional military men, are all facts that
support my conclusions.

When I made my first visit to the Aragon front, my attention was
attracted by the countenances of many of the young men in the trenches.
There was clarity, serenity, firmness in their eyes; they had the faces
of thoughtful men. I rode back to Barcelona with a comrade — the
region's councillor for economics — who was going to Valencia to make
a last desperate effort, through the central government, to save his
companion, held by the fascists in Saragossa. He was a simple man,
in externals and in character. But a remarkable man. Although tor-
mented by the fate of his companion, he explained to me about the
new lands that had to be cultivated, about coal and iron and manganese
mines that could be opened, about canals that ought to be dug, about
trade with Catalonia, about the relations between collectivist and indivi-
dualist peasants.

t We spoke of electrification. He expounded to me a plan for a
single network to unify the hydraulic resources and distribute the power
equally among the socialised regions, and avoid the concentration of
industry and the excessive, often unfair, specialisation of agriculture
His deep knowledge of the Spanish economy surprised me. He was a
glass-maker, only 32 years old. Many ministers of economics and agri-
culture of the republic and the monarchy knew less than he about these

One day the secretary of the Peasants' Federation of Levante said
to me:

"I want your advice, Gaston. We've been thinking of starting a
"A bank of your own?" I asked.

"Yes. You see, we need money to keep things moving between
our collectivized villages, and for trade with other towns. With the
export of oranges stopped, it's hard to get. Instead of helping, the
government cuts the ground from under us. We've just about decided
to have a bank of our own. The problem is whether we ought to
start one with our own resources, or take over one that already exists

"How would you take it over?"

"By operations to make it lose money and accept our intervention."
I didn't have time to look into the plan closely. Some months later,

I saw this peasant again— this peasant with the common-man look and

the beret. He'd got his bank.

I was working on economic problems so they consulted me about
everything. But how often nothing remained to be done, so well had
they already planned it !

The revolution developed in extremely complicated circumstances.
Attacks from within and without had to be fought off. It took fantastic
efforts to put the anarchist principles into practice. But in many places
it was done. The organisers found out how to get around everything.
I repeat : it was possible because we had the intelligence of the people
on our side. This is what finds the way, and meets the thousand needs
of life and the revolution. It organised the militia and defeated fascism
in the first phase of the war. It went to work instantly, to make
armoured cars and rifles and guns. The initiative came from the people,
above all from those influenced by the anarchists. For example the
Aragon collectives : among their organisers I found only two lawyers,
in Alconna. They were not, strictly speaking, intellectuals. But if
what they did, together with the peasant and worker comrades, was
well done, it was no better than what could be seen in Esplus, Binefar,
Calanda and other collectives. What was a surprise was to find that a
great many of these peasants were illiterate. But they had faith, practi-
cal common sense, the spirit of sacrifice,, the will to create a new world.

I don't want to make a demagogic apology for ignorance. Those
men had a mentality, a heart, a spirit, of a kind that education cannot
give and official education often smothers. Spiritual culture is not
always bookish, and still less academic. It can arise from the very
conditions of living, and when it does, it is more dynamic. By adapting
themselves to what was being done, by co-ordinating the work, by
suggesting general directions, by warning a certain region of industry
against particular errors, by complementing one activity with another
and harmonising the whole, by stimulating here and correcting there —
in these ways great minds can undoubtedly be of immense service. In
Spain they were lacking. It was not by the work of our intellectuals
—more literary than sociological, more agitators than practical guides
—that the future has been illuminated. And the peasants— libertarian
or not— of Aragon, Levante, Castille, Estramadura, Andalusia, the
workers of Catalonia, understood this and acted alone.

The intellectuals, by their ineptitude in practical work, were inferior
to the peasants who made no political speeches but knew how to
organise the new life. Not even the authors of the syndicalist health
organisation in Catalonia were intellectuals. A Basque doctor with
a will of iron, and a few comrades working in the hospitals, did every-
thing. In other regions, talented professional men aided the movement.
But there, too, the initiative came from below. Alcoy's industries, so
well organised, were all managed by the workers, as were those of
Elda and Castillon. In Carcagente, in Elda, in Granollers, in Binefar,
in Jativa, in land transport, in marine transport, in the collectives of
Castille, or in the semi-socialisation of Ripolls and Puigerda — the mili-
tants at the bottom did everything.

As for the government, they were as inept in organising the economy
as in organising the war.


1. In juridical principles the collectives were something entirely
new. They were not syndicates, nor were they municipalities in any
traditional sense; they did not even very closely resemble the municipali-
ties of the Middle Ages. Of the two, however, they were closer to
the communal than the syndicalist spirit. Often they might just as
well have been called communities, as for example the one in Binefar
was. The collective was an entity; within it, occupational and profes-
sional groups, public services, trade and municipal functions were sub-
ordinate and dependent. In forms of organisation, in internal function-
ing, and in their specialised activities, however, they were autonomous.

2. The agrarian collectives, despite their name, were to all intents
and purposes libertarian communist organisations. They applied the
rule "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his
needs." Where money was abolished, a certain quantity of goods was
assured to each person; where money was retained, each family received
a wage determined by the number of members. Though the technique
varied, the moral principle and the practical results were the same.

3. In the agrarian collectives solidarity was carried to extreme
lengths. Not only was every person assured of the necessities, but
the district federations increasingly adopted the principle of mutual
aid on an inter-collective scale. For this purpose they created common
reserves to help out villages less favoured by nature. In Castille special
institutions for this purpose were created. In industry this practice
seems to have begun in Hospitalet, on the Catalan railways, and was
applied later in Alcoy. Had the political . compromise not impeded
open socialisation, the practices of mutual aid would have been much
more generalised.

4. A conquest of enormous importance was the right of women
to livelihood, regardless of occupation or function. In about half of
the agrarian collectives, women received the same wages as men; in
the rest women received less, apparently on the principle that they
rarely lived alone.

5. The child's right to livelihood was also ungrudgingly recog-
nised : not as a state charity, but as a right no one dreamed of denying.
The schools were open to children to the age of 14 or 15 — the only
guarantee that parents would not send their children to work sooner,
and that education would really be universal.

6. In all the agrarian collectives of Aragon, Catalonia, Levante,
Castille, Andalusia, and Estramadura, the workers formed groups to
divide the labour or the land; usually they were assigned to definite
areas. Delegates elected by the work-groups met with the collective's
delegate for agriculture to plan out the work. This typical organisation
arose quite spontaneously, by local initiative.

7. In addition to these methods— and similar meetings of special-
ised groups — the collective as a whole met in a weekly or bi-weekly
or monthly assembly. This too was a spontaneous innovation. The
assembly reviewed the activities of the councillors it named, and dis-
cussed special cases and unforseen problems. All inhabitants— men and
women, producers and non-producers— -took part in the discussion and
decisions. In many cases the 'individualists' (non-collective members)
had equal rights in the assembly.

8. In land cultivation the most significant advances were: the
rapidly increased use of machinery and irrigation; greater diversification;
and forestation. In stock-raising: the selection and multiplication of
breeds; the adaptation of breeds to local conditions; and large-scale
construction of collective stock barns.

9. Production and trade were brought into increasing harmony
and distribution became more and more unified; first district unification.
then regional unification, and finally the creation of a national federation.
The district (comarca) was the basis of trade. In exceptional cases an
isolated commune managed its own, on authority of the district federa-
tion which kept an eye on the commune and could intervene if its trading
practices were harmful to the general economy. In Aragon the Federa-
tion of Collectives, founded in January 1937, began to co-ordinate trade
among the communes of the region, and to create a system of mutual
aid. The tendency to unity became more distinct with the adoption
of a single "producer's card" and a single "consumer's card" — which
implied suppression of all money, local and national — by a decision of
the February 1937 Congress. Co-ordination of trade with other regions,
and abroad, improved steadily. When disparities in exchange, or
exceptionally high prices, created surpluses, they were used by the
Regional Federation to help the poorer collectives. Solidarity thus
extended beyond the district.

10. Industrial concentration — the elimination of small workshops
and uneconomical factories — was a characteristic feature of collectivi-
sation both in the rural communes and in the cities. Labour was
rationalised on the basis of social need — in Alcoy's industries and in
those of Hospitalet, in Barcelona's municipal transport and in the Aragon


11. The first step toward socialisation was frequently the dividing
up of large estates (as in the Segorbe and Granollers districts and a
number of Aragon villages). In certain other cases the first step was
to force the municipalities to grant immediate reforms (municipalisation
of land-rent and of medicine in Elda, Benicarlo, Castillone, Alcaniz,

Caspe, etc.).

12. Education advanced at an unprecedented pace. Most of the

partly or wholly socialised collectives and municipalities built at least
one school. By 1938, for example, every collective in the Levant©

Federation had its own school.

13. The number of collectives increased steadily. The movement
originated and progressed swiftly in Aragon, conquered part of Catalonia,
then moved on to Levante and later Castille. According to reliable
testimony the accomplishments in Castille may indeed have surpassed
Levante and Aragon. Estramadura and the part of Andalusia not
conquered immediately by the fascists — especially the province of Jaen
— also had their collectives. The character of the collectives varied of
course with local conditions.

14. We lack exact figures on the total number of collectives in
Spain. Based on the incomplete statistics of the Congress in Aragon
in February 1937, and on data gathered during my stay in this region,
there were at least 400. In Levante in 1938 there were 500. To these
must be added those of the other regions. The development and growth
of the movement can be gauged from these figures : by February 1937
the District of Angues had 36 (figures given at the Congress). By June
of the same year it had 57. In my investigation I found only two
collectives which had failed : Boltona and Ainsa, in Northern Aragon.
15. Sometimes the collective was supplemented by other forms of
socialisation. After I left Carcagente, trade was socialised. In Alcoy
consumers co-operatives arose to round out the syndicalist organisation
of production. There were other instances of the same kind.

16. The collectives were not created single-handed by the liber-
tarian movement. Although their juridical principles were strictly
anarchist, a great many collectives were created spontaneously by people
remote from our movement ("libertarians" without being aware of it).
Most of the Castille and Estramadura collectives were organised by
Catholic and Socialist peasants; in some cases of course they may have
been inspired by the propaganda of isolated anarchist militants. Although
their organisation opposed the movement officially, many members of
the UGT entered or organised collectives, as did republicans who
sincerely wanted to achieve liberty and justice.

17. Small land-owners were respected. Their inclusion in the
consumer's card system and in the collective trading, the resolutions
taken in respect to them, all attest to this. There were just two restric-
tions: they could not have more land than they could cultivate, and
they could not carry on private trade. Membership of the collective
was voluntary: the "individualists" joined only if and when they were
persuaded of the advantages of working in common.

1 8. The chief obstacles to the collectives were :

(a) The existence of conservative strata, and parties and organ-
isations representing them. Republicans of all factions,
Socialist of left and right (Largo Caballero and Prieto),
Stalinist Communists, and often the POUMists. (Before
their expulsion from the Catalan government— the
Generalidad— the POUMISTS were not a truly revolution-
ary party. They became so when driven into opposition.
Even in June 1937, a manifesto distributed by the Aragon
section of the POUM attacked the collectives). The UGT
was the principal instrument of the various politicians.

(b) The opposition of certain small landowners (Catalan and
Pyrenean peasants).

(c) The fear, even among some members of collectives, that
the government would destroy the organisations once the
war was over. Many who were not really reactionary, and
many small landowners who would otherwise have joined
the collectives, held back on this account.

(d) The open attack on the collectives : by which is not meant
the obviously destructive acts of the Franco troops wherever
they advanced. In Castile the attack on the Collectives
was conducted, arms in hand, by Communist troops. In
the Valencia region, there were battles in which even
armoured cars took part. In the Huesca province the
Karl Marx brigade persecuted the collectives. The Macia-
Companys brigade did the same in Teruel province. (But
both always fled from combat with the fascists. The Karl
Marx brigade always remained inactive, while our troops
fought for Huesca and other important points; the Marxist
troops reserved themselves for the rearguard. The second
gave up Vivel del Rio and other coal regions of Utrillos
without a fight. These soldiers, who ran in panic before
a small attack that other forces easily contained, were
intrepid warriors against the unarmed peasants) of the

19. In the work of creation, transformation and socialisation, the
peasant demonstrated a social conscience much superior to that of the
city worker.

A Peasant Experiment

H. E. K AM IN SKI'S article first appeared in his book Ceux de Barcelone

{Paris 1937). Born in Germany, he died in France last year at the age
of 75.

The village of Alcora has established "libertarian communism".
One must not think that this system corresponds to scientific theories.
Libertarian communism in Alcora is the work of the peasants who com-
pletely ignore all economic laws. The form which they have given to
their community corresponds more in reality to the ideas of the early
Christians than to those of our industrial epoch. The peasants want to
have "everything in common" and they think that the best way to achieve
equality for all is to abolish money. In fact money does not circulate
amongst them any longer. Everybody receives what he needs. From
whom? From the Committee, of course.

It is however impossible to provide for five thousand people through
a single centre of distribution. Shops still exist in Alcora where it is
possible to get what is necessary as before. But those shops are only
distribution centres. They are the property of the whole village and the
ex-owners do not make profits instead. The barber himself shaves only
in exchange for a coupon. The coupons are distributed by the
Committee. The principle according to which the needs of all the
inhabitants will be satisfied is not perfectly put in practice as the coupons
are distributed according to the idea that every body has the same needs
There is no individual discrimination; the family alone is recognised as
a unit. Only unmarried people are considered as individuals.

Each family and person living alone has received a card It is
punched each day at the place of work, which nobody can therefore leave
The coupons are distributed according to the card. And here lies the
great weakness of the system : for the lack hitherto of any other standard
they have had to resort to money to measure the work done. Everybody
workers, shopkeepers, doctors, receive for each day's work coupons to
the value of five pesetas. On one side of the coupon the word bread is
written; each coupon is worth one kilogram. But the other side of the
coupon represents explicitly a counter-value in money. Nevertheless
these coupons cannot be considered as bank-notes. They can only be
exchanged against goods for consumption and in only a limited quantity.
Even if the amount of coupons was greater it would be impossible to buy
means of production and so become a capitalist, even on a small scale,
for only consumer goods are on sale. The means of production are
owned by the community. The community is represented by the Com-
mittee, here called the Regional Committee. It has in its hands all the
money of Alcora, about a hundred thousand pesetas. The Committee
exchanges the village products against products which it does not possess,
and when it cannot obtain them by exchange it buys them. But money
is considered as an unavoidable evil, only to be used as long as the rest
of the world will not follow the example of Alcora.

The Committee is the pater jamilias. It possesses everything, it
directs everything, it deals with everything. Each special desire should
be submitted to it. It is, in the last resort, the only judge. One may
object that the members of the Committee run the risk of becoming
bureaucrats or even dictators. The peasants have thought about that
too. They have decided that the Committee should be changed at
frequent intervals so that every member of the village should be a
member for a certain period.

There is something moving about the ingenuity of all this
organisation. It would be a mistake to see in it anything more than a
peasant attempt to establish libertarian communism and unfair to criticise
it too seriously. One must not forget that the agricultural workers and
even the shopkeepers of the village have lived very poorly up till now.
Their needs are hardly differentiated. Before the revolution a piece of
meat was a luxury for them; only a few intellectuals living among them
wish for things beyond immediate necessities. The anarchist-communism
of Alcora has taken it nature from the actual state of things. As a
proof, one must observe that the family card puts the most oppressed
human beings in Spain, the women, under the complete dependence
of men.

"What happens", I ask, "if somebody wants to go to the city for

"It is very simple", someone replies, "He goes to the Committee
and exchanges his coupons for money."

"Then one can exchange as many coupons as one wants for

"Of course not."

These good people are rather surprised that I understand so slowly.
"But when can one have money then?"

"As often as you need. You have only to tell the Committee."
"The Committee examines the reasons then?"
"Of course".

I am a little terrified. This organisation seems to me to leave very
little liberty in a "libertarian communist" regime. 1 try to find reasons
for travelling that the Alcora Committee would accept. I do not find
very much but I continue my questioning.

"If somebody has a fiancee outside the village will he get the money
to go and see her?"

The peasant reassures me : he will get it.

"As often as he wants?

"Thank God, he can still go from Alcora to see his fiancee every
evening if he wants to."

"But if somebody wants to go to the city to go to the cinema. Is
he given money?"


"As often as he wants to?"

The peasant begins to have doubts about my reason.

"On holidays, of course. There is no money for vice."

I talked to a young, intelligent-looking peasant, and having made
friends with him, I took him to one side and said to him :

"If I proposed to give you some bread coupons would you exchange
them for money?"

My new friend thinks for a few moments and then says : "But you
need bread too?"

"I don't like bread, I only like sweets. I would like to exchange
all I earn for sweets."

The peasant understands the hypothesis very well, but he does not
need to think very long; he starts laughing.

"It is quite simple! If you want sweets you should tell the
Committee. We have enough sweets here. The Committee will give
you a permit and you will go to the chemist and get them. In our
village everybody receives what he needs."

After this answer I had to give up. This peasants no longer live
in the capitalist system, neither from a moral nor a sentimental point of
view. But did they ever live in it?

The philosophy of the CNT is the anarcho-syndicalist philosophy
. . . I had the good fortune to visit some of these CNT fishing towns,
where the whole population lived in equality and where the catch
was divided equally among them. Except in Israel, I doubt very
much whether there are any communities in the world which
express the spirit of co-operation and of equality in the same
manner as did these villages I saw in Spain.

— Fenner Brockway in the House of Commons 6/3/1958.