Collectivization and Worker Control in Catalonia
Repository: Memòria Digital de Catalunya
Creator: Conselleria d'Economia, Generalitat de Catalunya
Contributor: Josep Tarradellas
Contributor: Joan Porqueras Fàbregas
Repository: Cartels, Biblioteca de Catalunya
Date Created: 1936-10-24
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Barcelona
This poster contains extracts from the decree on Collectivization and Worker Control issued by the Generalitat, the government of Catalonia, on 24 October 1936 “that will be of most interest to the people”. The decree was part of the Generalitat’s efforts to reassert its authority following the powerful revolutionary wave triggered by the military revolt. In addition to workers taking control of innumerable businesses, that revolution included the disintegration of state structures and the emergence of large numbers of party and union committees, militias and police patrols. Until September 1936, the Generalitat even shared power with the newly created Central Anti-Fascist Militias Committee of Catalonia that was dominated by the CNT-FAI.
With the exception of the Basque Country, all of Republican Spain experienced collectivization. Overall, it affected some 800,000 people in agriculture and more than a million in industry. Collectivization was most extensive where the CNT-FAI was strongest, but it was not limited to areas they dominated. Socialist unions were also actively engaged, especially in Andalucía. In many places, the two organizations managed collectives together.
Not all collectivization was voluntary, especially in the countryside. There were also cases of resistance to forced collectivization like that in La Fatarella (Tarragona) in January 1937 that led to thirty-four local farmers being killed by CNT militants.
The epicentre of the urban revolution was Catalonia where approximately 70 per cent of all industrial and commercial enterprises were affected. As well as the largest companies, small businesses such as barbershops were also collectivized. Most collectivization happened between July and September 1936 and was carried out by workers without any central direction.
The most famous description of these events in English comes from George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia: “Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workmen. Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivized; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters… looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared.”
On the one hand, the decree of 24 October gave collectivization the government’s official seal of approval. On the other, it marked the beginning of a process of increasing government control over collectivized businesses that would become stronger as the war went on. After May 1937, when the power of the CNT was broken, these businesses were effectively run by government-appointed managers.
Collectivization, and the broader revolution of which it was a part, was controversial at the time, when it eventually led to violent conflict among political forces in the Republican zone, and it remains so. The principal debates have centred on the relation between the revolution and the war. Was it an obstacle to fighting the war against Franco or would a revolutionary war have been a more effective one?