Labor Incentives in Catalonia

Labor Incentives in Catalonia

Here we see James Donald trying to prove that the self-managed collectives created in Catalonia were "really" like "actually existing socialism."

Of course, this may prove to be difficult for James. After all, there are plenty of examples of how democratic the collectives were, but we will say this for him, he tries.

He claims that "the basic difference between socialism and capitalism" is that "under capitalism people are free to pursue their own individual good, whereas under socialism some wise and good folk must compel them to serve the greater good." While these may be James Donald's ideas on the subject, it most definitely is not those of anarchists.

Simply put, for anarchists capitalism is marked by the crushing of the individual in order to serve some "greater good." In particular, this greater good is the company for which one works, and in general, the economy. In other words, instead of managing your own work directly for your own benefit, under capitalism you work for a boss and follow the boss's orders. The idea that capitalism is based on all "individuals pursuing their own individual good" is not true in practice -- it actually results in the few living off the labour of others. As the example of Catalonia shows, the workers there jumped at the chance to manage their own labour and to stop working for capitalists. Free people will not work for capitalists.

Theory aside, James Donald attempts to "prove" his case empirically by citing Ronald Fraser's Blood of Spain, page 218. Here Fraser refers to Luis Santacana and says that Santacana "boasts of achieving a wage cut of privileged workers", quoting him as saying:

"That was magnificent. Achieved without any violence on our part."

However, looking at the page in question we discover the following information directly before this quote:

"Because of economic difficulties, it was impossible to raise wages; instead, the technicians and staff were asked to lower theirs. They replied by proposing a 20 per cent cut."

This puts the quote in a slightly different light. As can be seen, the "privileged workers" were asked to lower their wages and proposed the cut themselves. However, ignoring this, Donald goes on to make the following comment:

"One does not hear capitalists boasting that violence was unnecessary in order persuade workers to work for a lower wage."

But one does hear of capitalists using violence in order to break strikes which result from lowering of wages or the sacking of workers. To take a classic example from the days of "free market" capitalism, many miners in the USA were murdered by private cops employed by the coal companies to break strikes. Or, using an example closer to Spain, in the 1920s capitalists hired gunmen to assassinate CNT union militants who were fighting for workers' interests and against pay cuts and sackings (these assassinations in part explains the popular violence against many capitalists after July 19th, 1936).

Therefore, James Donald's attempts to indicate that capitalism does not display a "violent" nature in connection with enforcing the power of the wealthy has a few problems.

He then states that the "above remark implies that during the 'negotiations' the workers knew or suspected that if they refused to work at a lower rate, violence by Luis Santacana's men was a real possibility." The remark, however, implies nothing of the kind. Firstly, Santacana was, like the others on the factory committe, directly elected by the workers in the workplace and he was subject to recall by that workforce. Both techicians and staff each had two representatives on the council. And this elected workers' council was held accountable to a general assembly of the workforce. We doubt that the workforce would have allowed Santacana to have become such a tyrant.

In addition, looking at the context of the quote James Donald provides, it's clear that the "privileged workers" themselves proposed the amount of their own pay cut. If Santacana was the tyrant Donald claims he was, the pay cut would have been imposed by him without discussion. Therefore, the above remark does not refer to a possible threat of violence, but instead suggests that Santacana wanted to emphasise that, unlike capitalism, violence or coercion was not used to get the pay cut. He was proud of the cooperative spirit which motivated the "privileged workers" and wanted to make sure that no-one thought the CNT had coerced them.

Looking over the rest of Santacana's account, we see even more evidence to put Donald's case into doubt. Firstly, Santacana supported the idea of a "single wage," but it was not "introduced into his plant because it was not made general through the industry." If Santacana was running the collective by "force," why was the single wage not introduced? Moreover, he notes that "the technical section was asked to put forward a new candiate" to run the plant on a day-to-day basis [p. 219]. And they suggested a weaving technician who was duly accepted. One hardly asks those who one is coercing by the threat of force to suggest one's "managing director"!

Santacana actually does discuss how discipline in the factory was maintained. As he points out, "there were people who lacked self-discipline, a consciousness of what was demanded of them" and gives the example of a mechanic who stole a spanner. Was this mechanic subjected to violence? No, Santacana threatened to write his full name on a blackboard and inform the whole workplace why the mechanic was being moved to a new section. This threat of public notification of his fellow workers was enough. Hardly "the threat of force" which James Donald suggests was the means used to run the collective.

As is clear from Santacana's account of the collective in which he worked, it was a democratically managed workplace based on general assemblies of the workforce and an elected management committee and foremen -- a somewhat different picture than the one James Donald suggests by the two sentences he quotes from this account. It's funny that he does not mention these minor facts.

Moreover, Santacana's is one viewpoint. It could be that James Donald is correct that he was a petty tyrant. The evidence for this, as can be seen, is very slim. But even if it were true, what does it prove about the revolution? Nothing. Santacana's was one collective out of thousands, and neither Fraser nor Bolloten suggest that workplace tyranny was commonplace. One event (which did not involve violence!) out of a 600-page book is hardly strong evidence on which to build an argument.

Moving on, Donald quotes Ronald Fraser again, page 216, and Andreu Capdevilla, CNT militant, claiming that Capdevilla was "first promoted as boss of a textile factory, then later promoted to acting president of the economics council." To quickly correct a usual James Donald slander, it should be noted that Capdevilla was elected to his factory's committee by his fellow workers with whom he worked. As Capdevila points out, his collective was created after a general assembly of the workforce decided to do it. He noticed that "the moment the factory was collectivised and there were general assemblies, everyone started to talk."[p. 214] "Everyone wanted to say what he or she thought and felt. They obviously felt themselves in charge now and with the right to speak for themselves. . . ." [pp. 213-214]

So it can hardly be said that he was "promoted as boss" in this case. However, it is true that Capdevilla was appointed to his post on the Economics Council. Who appointed him? The CNT regional committee, an elected committee held accountable to the CNT membership by regular plenums of elected delegates. This, of course, is not perfect, nor is it something which anarchists suggest as normal working practice. However, as we will indicate below, it was the result of the compromises that the CNT had made in the name of anti-fascist unity.

We should point out that Capdevilla was not the "manager of the textile industry" but acting president of the Economics Council. This Council, as can be seen, did not play an extensive role in the management of the collectivised workplaces. The textile industry was run, as indicated, by elected works committees and general assemblies.

As for the Economics Council itself, this body was the product of the compromises the CNT had to make because it refused to carry out the social revolution. As Fraser points out, it "was doubtful that the CNT had seriously envisaged collectivisation of industry. . .before this time." [p. 212] As an eyewitness pointed out, "The CNT's policy was thus not the same as that pursued by the [collectivisation] decree." [p. 213] Indeed, leading anarchists like Abed de Santillan opposed it and urged people to ignore it: "I was an enemy of the decree because I considered it premature. . .when I became councilor, I had no intention of taking into account or carrying out the decree: I intended to allow our great people to carry on the task as they best saw fit, according to their own inspiration." [p. 212] Therefore, as Bolloten points out, "It is no wonder then that the decree was never vigorously enforced [and ]that there were numerous violations" [The Spanish Civil War,p. 224]

So its clear that the Council was not as "powerful" as James Donald implies. As is clear from Blood of Spain, the Council was mostly ignored by the collectives and the CNT itself did not support it.

However, Capdevilla says that:

"The real problem was the possibilities of corruption an official position offered: [...] the women who came in attempts to save their husbands or brothers [and offered to sleep with him] I threw them out."

James Donald then states that "Capdevilla is not a CNT cop, or a CNT prison guard, but a CNT economics guy and manager of the textile industry. Nobody goes to the manager of apple and begs him to save their husbands or brothers, though they may beg for a high promotion and a sinecure."

Well, I'm sure that if, as James Donald wants, Apple could hire their own cops and exercise "absolute" power over their property, this could change. The many examples of companies hiring private cops to enforce management decisions have quite accuratly been described as "feudalism."

This example does, however, point to a problem that existed, though not the one Donald alleges. It does not show that Capdevilla had "absolute" power over life and death in Catalonia, as Donald claims. For consider the context: suspected Fascists are being arrested and given trials. Some are sentenced to death and their wives and sisters attempt to save them by influencing those who they considered influential people -- people like Capdevilla in "offical" posts. This does not mean that Capdevilla had ordered these people arrested or shot. Moreover he refused to compromise his principles with these women and "threw them out his office."

Nevertheless, existence of such "official posts" is one of the unanarchist aspects of the revolution. It was the result of the compromises the CNT made in the name of anti-fascist unity. The CNT did not desire to alienate the other unions and parties which had also took part in the resistance to Fascism. Little wonder the resulting compromises took on forms which reflected the ideas of all those involved, not just the CNT. As Capdevilla points out, these concessions happened "because of our original concession; from the moment Companys offered the CNT power and it was turned down, the CNT's position became tragic." [p. 215]

James Donald finishes by saying that "in addition Capdevilla was not elected to his powerful posts, he was appointed from above." This is only partly true. Firstly, Capdevilla was elected to his position in his factory's management committee by his fellow workers. Hence, at the grass roots level the self-managed workplaces were democratic. He was, nevertheless, appointed to his position in the Economic Council by the regional committee of the CNT. However, as James Donald himself points out, the state still existed in Catalonia -- the CNT had placed their revolution "on hold" until the Civil War finished.

The CNT can and should be blamed for the compromises it made, and so for the "offical posts" that were created by these compromises. But to attempt to suggest anarchist "totalitarianism" because the CNT cooperated with other parties and compromised their principles staggers belief.

Therefore, to summarise, James Donald's argument on the "violent" and "totalitarian" nature of the Catalonian collectives can be seen, on closer inspection, to be false. As indicated, the collectives were democratically run and based on workforce assemblies and elected management committees. As for the alleged powers of Capdevilla, we have shown that they are not what James Donald suggests they are. In addition, we have indicated that whatever "offical posts" were created in Catalonia were the result not of anarchist principles or ideas but, on the contrary, were the result of not applying those ideas.

In other words, James Donald attacks the results of the CNT not applying its ideas. We agree. Where the CNT did apply its ideas (namely in the self-managed collectives), they proved to be quite successful. Unfortunately, its compromises with other forces led to the social revolution being distorted and, ultimately, to defeat. This is discussed in more detail here and here.


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