Saturday, February 28, 2004

Here's an interesting (modern) book titled Workers Against Work: Labor in Barcelona and Paris under the Popular Fronts by Michael Seidman. It was published by the University of California Press in 1991. The first seven chapters are about the history of labor in Spain, culminating in the 1936-39 Revolution set off by the army pronunciamento. Now, Mr. Seidman seems to me to be a Marxist, because his model is one of class struggle and he uses words like proletariat and bourgeoisie. He may have Communist leanings, since he doesn't criticize the Communists much, not nearly as much as he does the anarchists and the unions. But his book is full of facts, his footnotes and sources are legit, and he is iconoclastic. One of the main faults of the leftist supporters of the Second Republic is their tendency to insist that everyone of the left was heroic and noble. Mr. Seidman does not make that mistake. In fact, he pretty much proves the opposite, and he emphazises the totalitarian character of the revolutionary Republic. Go check out the whole thing. I borrowed a few quotes that I liked, though.

This first, longest one is a summary of Mr. Seidman's basic theme, that the workers of Barcelona were interested in their own benefit and not in solidarity with others or anything utopically altruistic.

...An approach that seeks to judge only the economic performance of workers’ control will, like the purely political appraisals of the Spanish Revolution, surely miss the significance of this Revolution, which some have called the most profound of the twentieth century. My concern has been to avoid an exclusively political or economic evaluation and instead to explore the social relations in the collectivized factories and workshops. In this regard, the technicians and union militants who took control of the productive forces confronted the same problems that have affected both the Western bourgeoisies and the Communist parties that have rapidly developed the means of production. The new factory managers often ran into the resistance of the workers themselves, who continued to demand more pay, fake illness, sabotage production, reject the control and discipline of the factory system, and ignore calls to participate in managing the workplace.

In response to workers’ resistance, the union militants disregarded their democratic ideology of workers’ control and opted for coercive techniques to increase production. Many collectives gave technicians the power to set production levels; piecework reappeared, and incentives tied pay to production. The new managers established strict control of the sick, severe surveil lance of the rank and file during worktime, and frequent inspections. Firings and dismissals for poor performance and “immorality,” that is, low productivity, occurred. The CNT realized its plan for the “identity card of the producer” that would catalogue workers’ behavior. Socialist realist posters glorified the means of production and the workers themselves so they would produce more. Labor camps for “parasitic” enemies and “saboteurs” were founded on the modern principle of reform through work.

The reactions of the leaders of the working-class organizations to the rank and file’s actions in the collectives and controlled firms were revealing. Federica Montseny, the CNT Minister of Health and Public Assistance in the republican government, posited a theory of human nature to explain the problems in workers’ control. According to this prominent faísta, who was the daughter of a well-known anarchist theoretician, human beings “are as they are. They always need an incentive and an interior and exterior stimulus to work and to produce the maximum production in quality and quantity.”[7] As for the CNT Metallurgical Union, “the collectives…have underlined the bad side of human nature. This has consequently led to a decrease of production when it is most necessary to produce.”[8] At the end of 1938, Felipe Alaiz—a faísta who was elected editor of Solidaridad Obrera in 1931 and was later named director of Tierra y Libertad—defined the “essential problem of Spain” as “the problem of not working.”[9] “In general,” he complained, “there is low productivity, and low productivity means…irremediable ruin in the future.”

The CNT activist asserted that the “strikes were partially responsible for the decline of the work ethic.” Though strikes were necessary on occasions, workers had abused the right to strike. Political, general, sit-down, slowdown, and other kinds of strikes may have been useful in the past, but now they only hurt the new “consumer-producer.” Likewise, holidays on Sundays, weekends, May Day, and numerous other public holidays as well as vacations injured the cause. Sick leave, work accidents, featherbedding, and job security hurt the “proletarian economy” and food production.

Here's Mr. Seidman's take on the Catalan Nationalists of the time.

In Catalonia, at the time of the Asturias revolt (1934), the “Catalan state within the Federal Spanish Republic” was declared by Lluis Companys, the leader of the Catalan nationalists grouped in the Esquerra. This attempt at Catalan independence failed miserably. It clearly demonstrated the limits of Catalan nationalism, whose social base was too weak and narrow to form an independent nation. As we have seen, the Catalan bourgeoisie had long made its peace with Madrid and the traditionalist elements of central and southern Spain; it lacked the strength to overcome their influence and the dynamism to dominate the entire nation economically and politically. Thus, radical Catalan nationalism could not count on the support of a large part of the upper bourgeoisie that depended for protection and favors on Madrid. Lacking the support of the upper class and the CNT, radical Catalan nationalism in the 1930s was the province of what for lack of a better name we call the petty bourgeoisie—technicians, shopkeepers, funcionarios, clerks, artisans, and sharecroppers. Their nationalism was not only political but cultural and involved as well a renaissance of Catalan as a spoken and written language. The economic possibilities of a nationalism that called for a separate Catalan state were severely restricted, because the feeble Catalan industries depended both on protection granted by Madrid and on the impoverished markets in the rest of the peninsula. Catalan nationalism might mean a desirable political and cultural independence from a bureaucratic and centralized Spanish state, but many Catalans of varying social origins realized that, given the condition of regional industries, a separate nation might well lead to their economic destruction.

Some things never change. This is probably still the standard method of content production at La Vanguardia, and goes a long way toward explaining Baltasar Porcel:

For example, early in the Revolution employees and security guards of the Barcelonan newspaper La Vanguardia met at a tavern to drink and gamble during working hours.

One thing I notice about all the parlor pinkos and self-proclaimed revolutionaries and middle-class squatters who hang out in the bars around here is they smoke tons of cigarettes and drink enormous quantities of alcohol, and don't work very much. They wouldn't have lasted long in the good old days:

Spanish militants sometimes equated excessive drinking and laziness with sabotage and even fascism. One CNT poster, which was made in Barcelona for the Departamento de orden público de Aragon, pictured a corpulent man smoking a cigarette and comfortably resting in what appeared to be the countryside. The colors of this piece were unlike those of most other posters; the figure was not red or black but yellow, reflecting the tones of sunny Spain. At the bottom was printed the caption, "The lazy man is a fascist". Another CNT poster, made again for comrades in Aragon, displayed a man who was also smoking a cigarette, a symbol, one may speculate, of indifference and insolence since committed workers and soldiers were not shown smoking. This individual was surrounded by tall wine bottles, and the poster contained the caption, "A drunk is a parasite. Let’s eliminate him." This was particularly tough talk during a period when threats of elimination did not always remain oral, and work camps for enemies and the apathetic were in operation. Both Marxists and anarchosyndicalists were hostile toward non-producers.

This one ought to disprove the myth of the people's unity and collective virtue:

The most spectacular case of theft occurred in the power industry.[60] The gas and electric committee had a secret—and illegal—bank account in Paris that was supposedly destined for the purchase of coal. In 1936 the managing committee, acting perhaps with the complicity or knowledge of the Generalitat, had authorized a delegation to deposit funds in a Parisian bank. In September 1937 the managing committee ordered a new delegation to return to Paris to change the francs into pesetas. Several colleagues accompanied the two members of the original delegation—one in the CNT, the other in the UGT—who had placed the bank account in their own names. When the spouses of the two men joined them in the French capital, suspicions awoke in other members of the delegation. Tempted by such a large sum, over one million francs, the duo had become embezzlers. They disappeared with the women and the money.

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