(wsm.ie) Many people, upon hearing about Anarchism, consider a society based on anarchist principles as unrealistic, idealistic and naive – the vision of dreamers. Given the homogenous view of the world represented in the media, it is often difficult for people to imagine a society where such universally accepted institutions as the state, the judiciary system, the police, armies, and nations no longer exist.
For a glimpse of how such a society would function it is useful to look to the social revolution that took place in Spain in 1936, when, over a period of two years, people took power into their own hands and started to construct a completely different society based on anarchist principles.
Anarchist ideas had been gaining strength in Spain since the second half of the 19th century. The CNT, an anarcho-syndicalist trade union, was formed in 1910, and by 1936 was very powerful, having a membership of 1.5 million. By that time anarchist ideas were strong in the minds of the peasants. In fact, collectivisation had actually started in some areas of the countryside before the revolution.
On July 17th a military coup took place in Spanish Morocco which spread the next day to the peninsula. In the cities and villages the workers organised themselves to defeat the military uprising and thanks to their courage and initiative the fascist revolt was stopped in three-quarters of Spain. These people however were fighting not only to crush the fascist attempt to seize power, they were also fighting for a new social order in Spain.
As soon as the fascists were defeated, workers’ militias were set up independent of the state. The factories in the cities were taken over by the workers, and in the rural areas the lands of the fleeing fascists and fascist sympathisers were taken over. In the rural parts of the Republican zone, under the influence of CNT and FAI (Federation of Iberian Anarchists) members, collectivisation was the most far reaching. Usually it was the members of the CNT or the FAI who called general meetings in the villages and pushed for collectivisation.
At these meetings people voluntarily pooled whatever land, tools and cattle they possessed. To this was added whatever land had been expropriated from the large land owners. “People who had nothing to bring to the collective were admitted with the same rights and duties as the rest”. (1) Soon almost two-thirds of all the land in the area controlled by anti-fascist forces was taken over and collectivised. In all between five and seven million people were involved.
The organisational structure and power structure of the collectives
The smallest unit of each collective was the work group, usually numbering five to ten members, but sometimes more. Everyone in a collective, where possible, was obliged to work.
“The collective was the free community of labour of the villagers…..The group might consist of friends, or the neighbours on a certain street, or a group of small farmers, tenant farmers, or day labourers.” (2)
Each group was assigned land by the collective and they were then responsible for the cultivation of this land. Within each work group a delegate was elected who, while working alongside her comrades most of the time, also represented the views of her group at the meetings of the collective. In some collectives there was an Administrative Commission which met with the delegates from each work group and drew up the work plan for the next day.
The Administrative Commission or management committee was responsible for the day to day running of the collective. “They would look after the buying of materials, exchanges with other areas, distributing the produce and necessary public works such as the building of schools”.(3) Members of the management committee were elected at general assemblies of all participants of the collective. The general assembly of collectivists was sovereign when important decisions were made.
Federations of collectives were also created. In Aragon, where there were 450 collectives involving half a million people, the most successful federation was set up. Here, district federations and regional federations were established. Collectives in the same local area joined to form a district federation which was made up of delegates elected in each of the collectives. The district federation maintained warehouses to store agricultural produce from the collectives. It was also responsible for communication and transport between affiliated villages, and supported cultural progress in the area.
Regional federations, such as the Regional Federation of Aragonese Collectives and the Regional Federation of Peasants, were also founded which were made up of delegates from the collectives. These federations were set up for various purposes. Among others to set up technical teams to improve agricultural and livestock production; to offer training for young people; to collect production statistics; to create regional reserves; and to offer credits and aid, without interest, to the collectives.
All this took place through the initiative of the peasants. Although the government existed it had no power. “It was shorn of the repressive organs of the state. Power was split into countless fragments and scattered in a thousand towns and villages among the revolutionary committees that had taken control of the land and factories, means of transport and communication, the police and the army. The military, economic and political struggle was proceeding independently of the government, and, indeed, in spite of it.”(4)
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