Collectivities and collectivizations during the Spanish Revolution

5 September, 2021

"Estampas de la Revolución Española", Quim's famous notebook and first use of off set color in Spain, was printed in 1936 and 1937 in the collectivized workshops "Grafos", Barcelona.
"Estampas de la Revolución Española", Quim's famous notebook and first use of off set color in Spain, was printed in 1936 and 1937 in the collectivized workshops "Grafos", Barcelona.

We are publishing a new booklet in our School of Marxism on collectivities and collectivizations in the Spanish Revolution.

Table of Contents

Texts included

The booklet includes two texts: chapter VIII, on property during the Spanish Revolution, from “Jalones de derrota, promesa de victoria” (1947) and the letter of protest to the French journal “Autogestion et Socialisme”, which published such a chapter in 1972.

What the collectivities were not: “workers’ self-management”

This second text rebels against the manipulation and reinterpretation -constant after 1968- of workers’ collectivizations and day laborer and peasant collectivities as being instances of “self-management.”

The collectivities of 1936-37 in Spain are not a case of self-management before the name. Some of them organized a sort of local communism with no mercantile relations other than outward ones, precisely like the old societies of primitive communism. Others were trade or village cooperatives, whose members distributed the former benefits of capital. All of them more or less abandoned the retribution of the workers according to the laws of the labor power market, as well as, some more than others, according to necessary work and surplus labor from which capital draws surplus value and all the substance of its social organization. Moreover, the collectivities gave to the combat militias gifts in kind as abundant as they were reiterated.

The collectivities can thus be defined only by their revolutionary characteristics, in short, by the system of production and distribution in rupture with the capitalist notions of value (of exchange value necessarily), the autonomy of management being merely a form in contradiction with its deep content. So much so, that this was not only the cause of their difficulties, but what allowed stalinism -and the government subordinated to it- to fight and finally destroy the collectivites. The autonomy of management was therefore the negation of the collectivities. They themselves became aware of it, but only too late.

G. Munis. Protest letter to the journal “Autogestion et Socialisme” (1972)

What were the collectivities and collectivizations? A moment in the workers’ takeover of the productive apparatus

Comrades of the Spanish Communist Left radio in Llerena instants before being shot by the army on August 8, 1936
Comrades of the Spanish Communist Left section in Llerena instants before being shot by the army on August 8, 1936

The expropriation of capitalism by workers and peasants must necessarily begin, as in Spain, by the workers taking over the economic units as they exist. In the countryside, lacking the cellular agglutination of industry, aggregation occurs spontaneously on the basis of villages and districts possessing a certain pre-existing unity. It is the starting point of socialist property, but not socialist property itself. It is collective property. That was the main defect of the collectivities, which was exploited by the reactionary combination of stalinists, reformists and bourgeois, to expropriate the proletariat.

The collectivities spread throughout the country in the countryside and in the cities, immediately after July. Also against them, the enemies of the revolution did not initiate the attack until they felt protected by enough armed forces. Worker and peasant property was generally recognized as a fait accompli.

G. Munis. Property (chapter VIII of “Jalones de derrota, promesa de victoria», 1947

But be warned: these collectivities are but a moment within a dynamic process. It is the totality – the political and social revolution – which give them meaning. But group ownership – what a collectivity is – is just that, a moment, it is not socialism per se, nor revolutionary per se, not even as a means of attacking the commodification of labor power.

Group ownership can only be a moment in the socialist transformation of production. It is impossible for it to be preserved except for the minimum time necessary for the workers in possession of the former capitalist enterprises to articulate all production and consumption on a national scale.

The intention of the proletariat and the peasants in expropriating the bourgeoisie was in no way to become owners themselves, but to create the socialist economy.

The very experience of the collectivities led them to understand that these should be the starting point of a nationwide organization of production and distribution.

The socialist economy must always have two main goals: to satisfy the needs of the impoverished population and to exploit to the maximum all natural resources and technical possibilities. The latter constitutes the basis for satisfying the needs of the population and, developed on an international scale, must create the conditions for the complete disappearance of classes and the State.

An unrealizable task without planning the economy, without which it is not even possible to take advantage of all the productivity that modern technology allows. The seizure and start-up of the productive centers by the respective workers was an obligatory first step. To linger there was to prove disastrous.

G. Munis. Property (chapter VIII of “Jalones de derrota, promesa de victoria», 1947

Collectivities are not only the spearhead of the day laborers (proletariat), but also of the independent peasantry in subsistence regime or, at least, without wage earners

The defeat does not diminish the value of the example set by the peasants. Until now, the alliance of the latter with the proletariat, particularly in countries with the remains of feudal agrarian organization, was on unequal terrain. On the industrial and urban terrain, expropriation of the bourgeoisie (socialist measures); in the countryside, distribution of land to the peasants (bourgeois-democratic measures). The Spanish revolution has revealed that the alliance of the proletariat and the peasants can be considered, at least in Spain, on a socialist basis. The technical inadequacies of the country can be supplied provisionally by the revolutionary sufficiency of the peasantry.

The socialist lucidity of the Aragonese peasants went so far as to understand the need for economic coordination between their collectives and the industrial collectives of the proletariat. From the countryside came the first initiative in this direction, proposing a single system of production and administration for all the collectives. By its own experience, the idea was also imposed on the industrial collectivities. But it was absolutely unrealizable without the complete possession of political power by the proletariat and the peasants. When the idea became more or less clear, the capitalist State was already expropriating the proletariat and the weaponry, the organs of power and the revolutionary energy of the latter had been destroyed in May.

G. Munis. Property (chapter VIII of “Jalones de derrota, promesa de victoria», 1947
Read the booklet: Collectivities and Collectivizations in the Spanish Revolution (in Spanish) or download it in PDF

And an anecdote: “orthodox Trotskyism.”

G. Munis in Coyoacán after giving the funeral dirge for Trotsky's death next to Natalia Sedova Trotsky (from the back).
G. Munis in Coyoacán after giving the funeral dirge for Trotsky’s death next to Natalia Sedova Trotsky (from the back).

To the second of the documents included in the booklet belongs one of the most used quotations of G. Munis, his vindication of Trotsky and the Fourth International until 1948 (formal break of the Spanish section and the left of the International), renouncing the term Trotskyism… except in the face of slanderers of all kinds, first of all the Stalinists and then the supposed Trotskyists who were in fact profoundly Stalinized by then.

Your magazine presents me as an orthodox Trotskyist, without malicious intention, but contrary to reality. To dialectical thinking, orthodoxy and revolution are mutually exclusive. I will remain a revolutionary, not an orthodox of whatever. I formally broke with the IVth International in 1948 -as Natalia Sedova-Trotsky did later- but that will not prevent me from raising my hand as a Trotskyist against the police slanderers of Moscow or Beijing, or against that third category of subjects, XXth Congress version, who now revel in Trotsky’s errors, as if these could justify somehow their connivance with the Stalinist counterrevolution.

G. Munis. Protest letter to the journal “Autogestion et Socialisme” (1972)