Part 4 - Libertarian Communism

Part 4

Libertarian Communism

1. Lécera, an Aragonese town where libertarian communism is a reality

2. Fraga

3. Membrilla

1. LÉCERA, AN ARAGONESE TOWN WHERE LIBERTARIAN COMMUNISM IS A REALITY

Lécera is a model town—Its characteristics—The understanding of the Revolutionary Committee—The administration and remuneration of labor—Distribution of products—The outpost of Monte Lobo—Belchite, two thousand five hundred meters from us—A talk with Captain Luis Jubert1

A MODEL TOWN FOR THE NOBILITY OF ITS SENTIMENTS

Lécera is the largest town in the province of Zaragoza and belongs to the judicial district of Belchite. The latter town is twelve kilometers distant.

Lécera has 2,400 inhabitants and possesses some industry, including a plaster factory. The rest of its economy is based on agriculture, its most important crops being wheat, grapes, saffron and a smaller quantity of miscellaneous grain crops.

Lécera, which prior to the Revolution was untouched by the confederal movement of the CNT, is a hard-working and sentimental town. Due to its virtues and its understanding, it is certain that it will be the model for many other towns in Aragon.

A CONVERSATION WITH THE TOWN COMMITTEE

Upon arriving in the town, which has now been transformed into a supply base for the Militias, the first thing we did was to look for the offices of the Committee.

We found it in the former Town Hall.

Comrade Pedro Navarro Jarque, a schoolteacher from Lécera, answered our questions.

“The Committee is called the Antifascist Revolutionary Committee, and is composed of seven members, all of whom are also members of the CNT-affiliated Trade Union of Miscellaneous Trades.”

“It has complete freedom of action, and is not under the influence of any political party. We were elected at an assembly and we represent the unanimous sentiment of the town. We have the same powers as a Municipal Council with respect to the administrative and internal order of the town.”

“There is a local Council of Administration, composed of five comrades who also belong to the CNT-affiliated Trade Union, which is responsible for organizing work in the countryside and in the industries of Lécera.”

“We also elected a Labor delegate who, together with twelve other sub-delegates, is responsible for organizing the collective labor and attending to the needs of the militia column fighting on this front. All of these delegates work, of course, in cooperation with the Revolutionary Committee.”

“Have you collectivized the land?”

“This was a hard and complicated problem. Or more accurately, it still is. We want the men to be convinced of the goodness and benefit of our ideas.”

“We have collectivized the large estates and we have, so far, respected the property of the small landowners. If the circumstances were not so adverse, we are convinced that the small landowners would voluntarily join the collective because the people of Lécera are good and understanding, as they have demonstrated by voluntarily delivering a large part of their harvest to the common warehouse.”

“At the present time the saffron harvested on all the small privately owned parcels is picked collectively and then stored for consumption and exchange.”

“The small landowners, who previously were hardly capable of earning enough money to buy food, since almost the entire crop they harvested had to be delivered to the big landlords in payment of debts, wanted to hold onto their small plots, but, in a general assembly, the need to combine all the harvests was proposed and this proposal was unanimously approved.”

“We have to respect the views of the people and, without coercion, attract them by means of setting an example.”

The members of the Revolutionary Committee thought we should be acquainted with the work of comrade Manuel Martínez, the sub-delegate for social affairs from the front of Lécera. The town as a whole has much to be grateful for due to his efforts.

“How long has the Committee existed?”

“About three months. On August 25 it was inaugurated, and established as of that date the regime of libertarian communism, and abolished money in the town.”2

“Various products have been exchanged with Tortosa and Reus. Five thousand sheep have been butchered for the militias on this front and the militias have consumed two hundred eighty thousand kilos of wheat. In exchange for these provisions the Supply Committee provides the civilian population with all that it needs.”

“Without the circulation of money, how do the small landowners arrange to meet their needs?”

“We already said that we preach by example. There are neither classes nor categories. For us, the small landowner, who will undoubtedly cease to be one in the near future, is a producer.”

“By means of the sub-delegates of labor, who are also neighborhood delegates, there is full knowledge of all the workers’ needs, and the delegate for Supply that the Revolutionary Committee has posted in the food warehouse, with the help of a ledger, delivers to each family just what it needs. The distribution is carried out in the most equitable manner,” Navarro concluded, “and we still think we can do better in every respect.”

LÉCERA WAS ALWAYS A PROFOUNDLY LIBERAL TOWN

In this little town that is so ideal, for its way of life and self-administration, men of liberal ideas have always lived.

We heard anecdotes and episodes from the last century. Neither the CNT nor the FAI, however, due to the repression directed against them, were able to make the voice of their supporters heard here.

The ideas embodied by our confederal organism were unknown in Lécera up until now.

“Before the criminal fascist revolt,” the comrades told us, “there was one group of the Republican Left and a Socialist group. The CNT was unknown.”

“Today all the other groups have disappeared and all the workers are members of the CNT.”

“We have 512 members, almost all the workers, so it is impossible to form any other Trade Union. There is a great deal of affinity among us and there are no divergences of opinion of any kind.”

With regard to culture the comrades intend to create good schools and libraries.

“Was there a fascist attack in the town?”

“Not in the town, but in the mountains the fighting was intense, especially at Monte Lobo, where the rebels suffered many casualties.”

“During the first few days, all the fascists in the area, faced with the offensive of the forces coming from Albacete, withdrew, with elements of the Municipal Government, for Belchite. The other members of the Municipal Government remained in Lécera and … the inevitable took place. The people executed their justice. This was not a popularly elected Municipal Government, of course; the old Municipal Government had been deposed on July 19 by the fascists, who replaced its members with the supporters of the rebels.”

AT THE SUPPLY WAREHOUSE

A short distance from the offices of the Revolutionary Committee we found the general Warehouse of Lécera.

This Warehouse occupies a large hall and the interior rooms of a building called the Salón Pompeya, which was formerly a dance hall. The storerooms are full of food, crates of cans of milk, sacks of beans, drums of oil, large piles of boxes of cured meats, etc., and on the upper floor, a large supply of clothing and other military gear. The provisions are abundant.

At the Warehouse office we see comrade Antonio González, from Santa Coloma de Gramanet, who is the general delegate for Supply in Lécera.

He does everything that is necessary to prevent shortages of any products for the civilian population.

The local towns are not sending anything to the Supply Committee because they had already delivered everything before it was formed. However, they delivered a large quantity of oil, which was placed in storage.

“The Supply Committee,” said comrade González, “is composed of fifteen members, in addition to the general delegate and representative of the Quartermaster’s Corps. All of them are delegates of the Militia centuries, except one who is a delegate from the local Committee.”

“Food,” he added, “as you can see, we have in abundance.”

Besides the issue of basic foodstuffs and clothing, the Committee is not responsible for anything else. It is not at all involved in sanitation or military questions.

2. FRAGA

Another small town, without wealth or comfort. At the junction of the Barcelona-Saragossa-Madrid highway, in the region of Aragon, on the slope of one of those hills that one finds throughout the region, Fraga, a little town with 9,000 inhabitants, the leading town in one of the provinces of Aragon, gives the impression of a large city of badly cobbled streets and dilapidated old hovels. From these hovels, simple and friendly workers emerge; the streets are full of life, and the town, which is usually so quiet, is today bustling with activity.

Here, too, those who were always exploited, and who used to work incessantly only to die of hunger, these workers of the farms and the workshops, have taken their own destinies into their hands. This was not difficult, for as soon as the first news of the military uprising and the people’s reaction reached the town, the few active fascist sympathizers here rapidly disappeared. Others, however, old exploiters linked to the regime, owners of houses and stores, or sympathizers with capitalist exploitation, preferred to remain and accept the new life introduced by the workers of the town.

All the farm workers support the CNT and the FAI. There is no other group in the town, neither political parties nor the UGT, except for a small office of the Esquerra Catalana, which represents the petty bourgeoisie, who number no more than a few dozen. A thousand workers support the CNT, all the workers who take an interest social questions. One single federation includes all the trade unions. This is the case for one very simple reason. Almost all the inhabitants of Fraga are employed in agricultural work. The rest work in the few workshops that are indispensable for the needs of 9,000 people: a blacksmith’s shop, a rope-making shop, a carpentry shop, etc. The few workers employed in these workshops, whose needs and working conditions are so closely bound to the region’s agriculture, have now joined the Trade Union of the agricultural workers.

This Trade Union, however, is far from being a mere trade union such as one finds in any capitalist country. It is not just a trade union in the narrow meaning of the word; it is also a collectivized enterprise. All the members of the Trade Union are members of a work collective. The product of their labor is delivered to the Trade Union, which distributes the basic necessities to everyone. Forty percent of all the cultivated land in the district is exploited by this collective. Membership is voluntary, but for those who wish to cultivate their land individually, regardless of the size of their property, they are allowed to exploit the labor of their immediate family members, without the assistance of any other wage workers. An ingenious table sets forth the number of animals that are allowed to these individualist families: the numbers vary depending on whether the farms in question are located in fertile valleys or stony hillsides. If the parcels in question are wheat fields or fruit orchards and vegetable gardens (the cultivation of figs is particularly important in the region), everything has been arranged in advance so that the distribution should be fair and that everyone should have the same agricultural opportunities.

The family wage is the other aspect of this system of allocation. If everyone performs the same amount of work, the standard of living is likewise the same for all. The products of their own labor: wheat, fruit, olives, etc., are freely available. As for the remainder of their needs, each family receives a weekly quantity that increases in accordance with the number of family members and the number of working adults.

This wage is not received in the form of banknotes from the Bank of Spain, for the simple reason that they would be useless, since they have no value in the monetary circulation of the town. Small cards printed by the Trade Union, representing a nominal value that varies from ten centímos to twenty-five pesetas, serve as consumers vouchers. Only these cards will be accepted by the barber, the rope-maker and the office of distribution of food products, which is of such great importance in the town.

A traveler who wants to spend the night or stay permanently in Fraga, must go to the Committee to exchange his money issued by the Spanish Republic for local vouchers. And a person who wants to leave Fraga must also go to the Committee, submit the reason for his trip and the amount of money he needs; the Committee will then exchange his local vouchers for Spanish banknotes.

Similarly, if the Committee thereby concentrates in its hands the responsibility for trade with other towns and regions, if it sells the products and buys other goods in accordance with the assets and the needs of the town, not all of its exchanges are carried out on the basis of money. For the most important needs, it is testing a system of direct exchange. The Committee takes a few truckloads of local products, especially wheat, corn and fruit, and sends them to the regions that need them. At their destinations, the Committees or Trade Unions give in exchange for them products they have in abundance, products that Fraga needs.

The Fraga Trade Union therefore operates not only as a corporative working class organization in the framework of collective labor, but is also the organizer of all the town’s supply networks and all of its consumption.

But this local Federation of the CNT has yet other responsibilities. It exercises full control over the administration of the town. In collaboration with the Agricultural Land Allocation Commission, whose activities we have summarized above, another commission has the responsibility of equitably fixing the amount of rents. No one is permitted to possess more than one parcel of real estate or, more generally, to occupy more land than he is entitled to by virtue of the size of his family. The Commission engages in a careful inspection of this allocation in order to obtain the most equitable result. The Trade Union is also responsible for cultural life. A cinema, a theatrical company, and several newly formed orchestras, testify to the efforts of the comrades, effectively supported by the passionate members of the Libertarian Youth, to establish and to provide opportunities for the enjoyment of all the culture that was previously denied to the townsfolk, despite the “Social Republic”. An educational group has been formed, that bears the name of the greatest teacher of them all: Francisco Ferrer.

The visitor, welcomed with the comradery and the friendship for which our revolutionary comrades in Spain are so famous, will continue on his journey, but before allowing him to leave the town, the comrades teach him one of their most recent lessons.

First: once the fascist air force finally made an appearance in the region—still a long way from Fraga—the comrades immediately proceeded to take precautionary measures to guarantee the safety of the inhabitants. Modern bomb shelters have been constructed throughout the town; we note in passing that there are no specialists or technicians, either in this field or any other in Fraga; everything is done by the workers themselves.

Second: these workers, these young people who are so avid for new knowledge, have created a public library. Everyone has contributed their own books, the few volumes that they have managed to acquire with such difficulty over a lifetime of illegal struggles; and they have also added everything that was of value in the libraries of the rich people who fled. Through well-illuminated and pleasant reading rooms the visitor is led, amidst the books, with well-justified satisfaction.

Fraga has provided a good example of how the new life is organized by the trade unions of the revolutionary workers.

3. MEMBRILLA

In the rocky countryside of La Mancha, to the southwest of Ciudad Real, one finds Membrilla. In miserable huts, the poor inhabitants of a poor province; 8,000 people, but the streets are not paved; the town has no newspaper, no cinema, no café, no library. It did, however, contain many churches, which have all been burned.

In 1920 some workers founded a branch Trade Union of the National Confederation of Labor. The militants underwent continuous persecution; the organization was even dissolved during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera.

The re-established Republic reintroduced political freedom, but economic conditions did not improve, and the town was just as poor as before. Five years passed in this way, without anything having changed with regard to the social conditions of the town.

When the military uprising began, on July 19, there were seven Civil Guards and several dozen fascists in Membrilla. The peasant middle class, organized in a Catholic mutual aid society, owed three million pesetas to the banks. On July 22, the big landowners were expropriated, small landholdings were dissolved and all the land passed into the hands of the community. The small landowners realized that these measures disencumbered them of all their debts and their worries about money.

The communal fund was empty. In private homes, a total of 30,000 pesetas was found, which was requisitioned. All food, clothing, tools, etc., were distributed equitably to the population. Money was abolished, labor collectivized, goods passed into the hands of the community, and consumption was socialized. This was not a socialization of wealth, however, but a socialization of poverty. The enemies of libertarian communism take heed: everything in abundance was distributed freely, while only scarce products were rationed.

Work continued as before. The workshops worked an eight-hour day; in the countryside, the length of the working day varied depending on the season.

The Community Council is composed of fifteen members, ten of whom are members of the CNT and five are affiliated with the Republican Left. Four committees administer the town: one for provisioning (Supplies); one for defense; a third for agriculture; and the fourth for housing. Food and articles of daily use are distributed at four locations. The Supply Commission is responsible for purchasing raw materials and products that are not manufactured in the district. There are no more retail shops; this is the reign of libertarian communism. The pharmacy is managed by its former owner, whose profits are controlled by the community.

The members of the Commune have unrestricted access to local products; they are distributed as if the Commune was one big family. Many goods have been sent to Madrid, but at the present time the community must ration many products. Three liters of wine are distributed to each person every week. Rent, electricity, water, medical care and medicine are free. Consultations with medical specialists outside the community are paid for by the Committee if they are deemed to be necessary. We were in the offices of the Committee when a women arrived there who wanted to go to Ciudad Real and see a specialist for her stomach ailment. Without bureaucratic red tape, she immediately received the money for her trip.

Local grain production is only sufficient for nine months of the local consumption needs. Today this proportion is even lower, since a large number of refugees from Andalusia must also be fed. There are three doctors in Membrilla, one of whom is a member of the CNT.

A few weeks after the outbreak of the fascist revolt, the church was requisitioned for billeting soldiers. As a result, the children cannot go to class. In order to remedy this defect to some extent, a school for drafting has been created, thanks to the initiative of one of the comrades; the results, after four months, are impressive.

Consumption vouchers of five and twenty-five centímos permit everyone to buy whatever they want, apart from basic needs, which are distributed for free. Everyone receives fifty centímos per day. A kilo of rice costs one peseta, a kilo of sugar, 2.50 pesetas; a liter of oil, 1.50. Each family has a coupon upon which is annotated the products and articles it has received each month.

The president of the Supply Committee, an old left republican, adjusted quite well to this state of affairs, and contributes all his efforts to the construction of libertarian communism.

A shoemaking workshop employs seven men, twelve women and three children, of the ages of 11, 13 and 14 years respectively. No one is paid a wage and all give the impression of profound wellbeing. The father of the 13-year old child is proud to see his son learning a trade.

The community possesses 3,200,000 liters of wine, with a value of one million pesetas, but it lacks fabric to make clothing. If it manages to sell the wine, it will buy fabric or equipment to make clothing.

In October 1926, some small landowners formed an organization affiliated with the UGT; it has about 100 members today. The enemies of the new regime join the UGT, especially the former landowners, who want to recover their former private properties.

The Trade Union affiliated with the CNT has 900 members. They do not pay dues, since there is no money.

There was no library in Membrilla. Now, however, the Trade Union has purchased 1,000 pesetas worth of books and is building a public library.

The whole town lives, then, as if it was one big family; the functionaries, delegates, secretaries of the Trade Unions, the elected members of the Municipal Council, all work as fathers of the family. But fathers who are controlled, since neither patronage nor corruption will be tolerated.

Membrilla might be the poorest town in Spain, but it is the most just.

Translated in January-July 2013 from the Spanish edition of 1977:

Agustin Souchy and Paul Folgare, Colectivizaciones: La obra constructiva de la revolución española. Ensayos, documentos, reportajes, Editorial Fontamara, Barcelona, 1977. Available online (July 2013) at: http://www.bsolot.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Souchy_Agust%C3%ADn-Colectivizaciones_La_obra_constructiva_de_la_revoluci%C3%B3n_espa%C3%B1ola.pdf

Original Spanish edition first published in 1937 in Barcelona by Tierra y Libertad.

  • 1. The text of the chapter that follows corresponds with the topics listed in this caption up to “The outpost of Monte Lobo”. We do not know why the other topics are listed, or why the corresponding text is missing from the original edition. [Note of the Spanish edition of 1977]
  • 2. The authors clarify the concept of “the abolition of money” in the next chapter, dedicated to the town of Fraga. [Note of the Spanish Edition of 1977]