The Collectives in Aragon

by Gaston Leval & others

Gaston Leval:
Social Reconstruction in Spain (London 1938);
quoted in Vernon Richards: Lessons of the Spanish Revolution (London 1983)

The mechanism of the formation of the Aragonese collectives has been generally the same. After having overcome the local authorities when they were fascist, or having replaced them by Anti-fascist or Revolutionary committees when they were not, an assembly was summoned of all the inhabitants of the locality to decide on their line of action.

One of the first steps was to gather in the crop not only in the fields of the small landowners who still remained, but, what was even more important, also on the estates of the large landowners all of whom were conservatives and rural `caciques' or chiefs. Groups were organized to reap and thresh the wheat which belonged to these large landowners. Collective work began spontaneously. Then, as this wheat could not be given to anyone in particular without being unfair to all, it was put under the control of a local committee, for the use of all the inhabitants, either for consumption or for the purpose of exchange for manufactured goods, such as clothes, boots, etc., {\it for those who were most in need.}

It was necessary, afterwards, to work the lands of the large landowners. They were generally the most extensive and fertile in the region. The question was again raised before the village assembly. It was then that the `collectivity' if not already definitely constituted---often this had been done at the first meeting---was definitely established.

A delegate for agriculture and stock breeding was nominated (or one for each of these activities when breeding was extensively carried on), one delegate each for local distribution, exchanges, public works, hygiene and education and revolutionary defense. Sometimes there were more; on other occasions less.

Workers' groups were then formed. These groups generally were divided into the number of zones into which the municipal territory had been divided, so as more easily to include all kinds of work. Each group of workers names its delegates. The delegates meet every two days or every week with the councillor of agriculture and stock breeding, so as to co-ordinate all the different activities.

In this new organization, small property has almost completely disappeared. In Aragon 75 per cent of small proprietors have voluntarily adhered to the new order of things. {\it Those who refused have been respected.} It is untrue to say that those who took part in the collectives were forced to do so. One cannot stress this point too strongly in face of the calumnies which have been directed against the collectives on this point. It is so far from the truth that the agrarian collectivity has brought into force, everywhere, a special account for small proprietors and has printed consumers tickets especially for them, so as to ensure for them the industrial products they require, in the same way as they do for the `collectivists.'

In this transformation of property, one must put special stress on the practical sense and psychological finesse of the organizers who in almost all the villages have conceded or given to each family a bit of ground on which each peasant cultivates for his own use, the vegetables which he prefers in the way he prefers. Their individual initiative can thereby be developed and satisfied.

Collective work has made it possible to achieve in agriculture as well as in industry, a rationalization which was impossible under the regime of small land ownership and even under that of big landed properties....

On the other hand, better quality seeds are used. This was rendered possible by being able to buy up large stocks, which the small peasant could not afford to do in the past. Potato seeds come from Ireland and selected wheat seeds only are used. Chemical fertilizers have also been used. As modern machinery properly used---tractors and modern plows were obtained by exchange or bought directly from abroad---permits the soil to be more deeply worked, these seeds have produced a yield per acre far superior to that which would have been obtained under the conditions which existed during previous years. These new methods have also made it possible to increase the acreage sown. In Aragon my research on the spot permits me to affirm that generally speaking {\it the increase in wheat crop has reached an average of 30 per cent.} An increase in yield, though in a smaller proportion, has been obtained for other cereals, potatoes, sugar beet, lucerne, etc.

In these agricultural regions the economic condition of the peasants has generally improved. It has only suffered a setback in those localities which had specialized in production for export, and which were consequently unable to place their products and obtain foodstuffs in exchange. This happened in certain regions in Levante whose produce consisted almost entirely of oranges. But this state of affairs lasted only a few months.

This latter fact is of utmost importance. It is the first time in modern society that the anarchist principle `to each according to his needs' has been practiced. It has been applied in two ways; without money in many villages in Aragon and by a local money in others, and in the greater part of collectives established in other regions. The {\it family wage} is paid with this money and it varies according to the number of members in each family. A household in which the man and his wife both work because they have no children receives, for the sake of argument, say 5 pesetas a day. Another household in which only the man works, as his wife has to care for two, three or four children, receives six, seven or eight pesetas respectively. It is the `needs' and not only the `production' taken in the strictly economic sense which controls the wage scale or that of the distribution of products where wages do not exist.

This principle of justice is continually extended. It does away with charity and begging and the special budgets for the indigent. There are no more destitutes. Those who work do so for others in the same way as others will work to help them and their children later on.

But this mutual aid extends beyond the village. Before the fascist invaders destroyed the Aragon collectives, the cantonal federations did all in their power to counteract the injustices of nature by obtaining for the less favored villages the machinery, mules, seed, etc....which were to help them increase the yield of their land. These implements were obtained through the intermediary of the Federation, which undertook the delivery of the produce of twenty, thirty, forty or even fifty localities and asked in their name, from the industrial and stock-breeding centers, for the products which they required.

Here are a few excerpts from essays by eyewitness participants in the revolution, collected in _The Anarchist Collectives_ edited by Sam Dolgoff. There are many more examples in the book.

from A JOURNEY THROUGH ARAGON by Augustin Souchy


. . . Everything [in the Calanda collective] was systematically organized. Exact statistics were compiled on the hourly, daily, and yearly condition and possibilities of each branch of industry, thus insuring the highest degree of coordination. The collective modernized industry, increased production, turned out better products, and improved public services. For example, the collective installed up-to-date machinery for the extraction of olive oil and conversion of the residue into soap. It purchased two big electric washing machines, one for the hospital and the other for the collectivized hotel. . . .Through more efficient cultivation and the use of better fertilizers, production of potatoes increased 50% (three-quarters of the crop was sold to Catalonia in exchange for other commodities. . . ) and the production of sugar beets and feed for livestock doubled. Previously uncultivated smaller plots of gound were used to plant 400 fruit trees, . . . and there were a host of other interesting innovations. Through this use of better machinery and chemical fertilizers and, but no means least, through the introduction of voluntary collective labor, the yield per hectare was 50% greater on collective property than on individually worked land. These examples finally induced many more "individualists" to join the collective. (p. 138)

Every family is allotted a piece of land for its own use, be it to raise some chickens, rabbits, or whatever. Seed and fertilizer are also provided to grow vegetables. There is no longer any need to employ hired labor nor is it any longer necessary for young girls to seek employment as servants in Catalonia or in France. The collective has made truly remarkable progress in raising the standard of living by 50% to 100% in a few months. And this is all the more remarkable in that this was achieved under the stress of war and in the absence of the youngest and most active workers, now in the armed forces. (p. 140)

from MIRALCAMPO AND AZUQUECA from Cahiers de l'Humanisme Libertaire

The collectivization of the land properties of Count Romanones in Miracampo and Azuqueca by the Castillian Regional Peasant Federation merits special attention. The peasants altered the topography of the district by diverting the course of the river to irrigate new land, thus tremendously increasing cultivated areas. They constructed a mill, schools, collective dining halls, and new housing for the collectivists. A few days afte the close of the Civil War, Count Romanones reclaimed his domains, expecting the worst, certain that the revolutionary vandals had totally ruined his property. He was amazed to behold the wonderful improvements made by the departed peasant collectivists. When asked their names, the Count was told that the work was perfomed by the peasants in line with plants drawn up by a member of the CNT Building Workers' Union, Gomez Abril, an excellent organizer chosen by the Regional Peasant Federation. As soon as Abril finished his work he left and the peasants continued to manage the collective. Leaning that Gomez Abril was jailed in Guadalajara and that he was in a very precarious situation, the Count succeeded in securing his release from jail and offered to appoint him manager of all his properties. Gomez declined, explaining that a page of history had been written and his work finished. (pp. 150-151)


Carcagente is situated in the southern part of the province of Valencia. The climate of the region is particularly suited for the cultivation of oranges. Carcagente is completely suppronded by orange groves. The orange trees, with their abundance of golden fruit, present a truly magnificent picture. . . .

All of the socialized land, without exception, is cultivated with infinite care. The orchards are thoroughly weeded. To assure that the trees will get all the nourishment needed, the peasants are incessantly cleaning the soil. "Before," they told me with pride, "all this belonged to the rich and was worked by miserably paid laborers. The land was neglected and the owners had to buy immense quantities of chemical fertilizers, although they could have gotten much better yields by cleaning the soil. . . ." With pride, they showed me trees that had been grafted to produce better fruit. In many places I observed plants growing in the shade of the orange trees. "What is this?," I asked. I learned that the Levant peasants (famous for thier ingenuity) have abundantly planted potatoes among the orange groves. The peasants demonstrate more intelligence than all the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Agriculture combined. They do nore than just plant potatoes. Throughout the whole region of the Levant, wherever the soil is suitable, they grow crops. They take advantage of the four month in the rice fields. Had the Minister of Agriculture followed the example of these peasants throughout the Republican zone, the bread shortage problem would have been overcome in a few months. (p. 153)


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