Collectives in the Spanish Revolution




Hijos del Pueblo


July 19th marks the anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). During the early hours of 19 July 1936, rebel elements of the Spanish military (not yet led by General Franco) staged a pronunciamiento against the democratically-elected Popular Front Republican government.  This soon led to division of Spain into two zones – rebel, Nationalist territory to the north and west, and Republican Loyalist Spain to the south and east.  Rebel forces then advanced north and east: one of the first cities captured was Badajoz, SW Spain, where 4,000 people, mostly ordinary trade-unionists of the kind we have just met at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival, were rounded up in the local bullring and machine-gunned to death, as an example to other cities which might resist. A Nazi officer and WWI veteran who was present at the massacre, cabled Hitler to advise him not to send German troops to Spain, as he had “never seen such brutality and ferocity”.
In much of the Republican Zone, a power vacuum resulting from the Nationalist coup provided an opportunity for various organisations to implement their revolutionary ideals.  Members of the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional de Trabajo (CNT), often with cooperation from the socialist Unión General do Trabajadores (UGT), implemented widespread collectivisation – both of agriculture in the countryside, and, in some cities, of industry. For two years, the collectives ran food production, industry, transport, health and education in the Republican zone, including in Barcelona, then a city of two million people, and despite widespread privation, contributed much in the way of food and supplies to Republican armies. They also set up free health services where previously there had been none, and free schools and adult education, especially in the countryside, where illiteracy stood at 30%.
However, the Collectives were hated by Stalin and his stooges in the Spanish Communist Party, as they represented a true example of socialism created by the people themselves, and not by a Bolshevik “revolutionary vanguard”. And eventually, in 1937-8, they were forcibly put down, not by Franco, but, on Stalin’s orders, by a Republican army led by the Communist general Enrique Lister.
Although the collectives of the Spanish Republic survived only for a brief “moment in the sun”, they serve as a shining practical example of the way in which ordinary people can spontaneously organise a just and sustainable society at short notice, and in the absence of anything much in the way of a central authority. In that sense, they are a model of the kind of society we will all one day need to live in, operating the only true definition of ‘sustainability’ – ‘local production for local need’. In the meantime, if anyone ever tells you that ‘socialism is a good idea, but it’s against human nature/never been tried/or “wouldn’t work”’, please refer them to the Collectives of the Spanish Civil War.
Eddie Farrell