A peasant experiment [libertarian communism in revolutionary Spain]

The village of Alcora has established “libertarian communism”. One must not think that this system corresponds to scientific theories. Libertarian communism in Alcora is the work of the peasants who completely ignore all economic laws. The form which they have given to their community corresponds more in reality to the ideas of the early Christians than to those of our industrial epoch. The peasants want to have “everything in common” and they think that the best way to achieve equality for all is to abolish money. In fact money does not circulate amongst them any longer. Everybody receives what he needs. From whom? From the Committee, of course.

It is however impossible to provide for five thousand people through a single centre of distribution. Shops still exist in Alcora where it is possible to get what is necessary as before. But those shops are only distribution centres. They are the property of the whole village and the ex-owners do not make profits instead. The barber himself shaves only in exchange for a coupon. The coupons are distributed by the Committee. The principle according to which the needs of all the inhabitants will be satisfied is not perfectly put in practice as the coupons are distributed according to the idea that every body has the same needs. There is no individual discrimination; the family alone is recognised as a unit. Only unmarried people are considered as individuals.

Each family and person living alone has received a card. It is punched each day at the place of work, which nobody can therefore leave. The coupons are distributed according to the card. And here lies the great weakness of the system: for the lack hitherto of any other standard they have had to resort to money to measure the work done. Everybody, workers, shopkeepers, doctors, receive for each day’s work coupons to the value of five pesetas. On one side of the coupon the word bread is written; each coupon is worth one kilogram. But the other side of the coupon represents explicitly a counter-value in money. Nevertheless these coupons cannot be considered as bank-notes. They can only be exchanged against goods for consumption and in only a limited quantity. Even if the amount of coupons was greater it would be impossible to buy means of production and so become a capitalist, even on a small scale, for only consumer goods are on sale. The means of production are owned by the community. The community is represented by the Committee, here called the Regional Committee. It has in its hands all the money of Alcora, about a hundred thousand pesetas. The Committee exchanges the village products against products which it does not possess, and when it cannot obtain them by exchange it buys them. But money is considered as an unavoidable evil, only to be used as long as the rest of the world will not follow the example of Alcora.

The Committee is the pater families. It possesses everything, it directs everything, it deals with everything. Each special desire should be submitted to it. It is, in the last resort, the only judge. One may object that the members of the Committee run the risk of becoming bureaucrats or even dictators. The peasants have thought about that too. They have decided that the Committee should be changed at frequent intervals so that every member of the village should be a member for a certain period.

There is something moving about the ingenuity of all this organisation. It would be a mistake to see in it anything more than a peasant attempt to establish libertarian communism and unfair to criticise it too seriously. One must not forget that the agricultural workers and even the shopkeepers of the village have lived very poorly up till now. Their needs are hardly differentiated. Before the revolution a piece of meat was a luxury for them; only a few intellectuals living among them wish for things beyond immediate necessities. The anarchist-communism of Alcora has taken it nature from the actual state of things. As a proof, one must observe that the family card puts the most oppressed human beings in Spain, the women, under the complete dependence of men.

What happens”, I ask, “if somebody wants to go to the city for example?”

It is very simple”, someone replies, “He goes to the Committee and exchanges his coupons for money.”

Then one can exchange as many coupons as one wants for money?”

Of course not.”

These good people are rather surprised that I understand so slowly.

But when can one have money then?”

As often as you need. You have only to tell the Committee.”

The Committee examines the reasons then?”

Of course”.

I am a little terrified. This organisation seems to me to leave very little liberty in a “libertarian communist” regime. I try to find reasons for travelling that the Alcora Committee would accept. I do not find very much but I continue my questioning.

If somebody has a fiancee outside the village will he get the money to go and see her?”

The peasant reassures me: he will get it.

As often as he wants?”

Thank God, he can still go from Alcora to see his fiancee every evening if he wants to.”

But if somebody wants to go to the city to go to the cinema. Is he given money?”

Yes.”

As often as he wants to?”

The peasant begins to have doubts about my reason. “On holidays, of course. There is no money for vice.”

I talked to a young, intelligent-looking peasant, and having made friends with him, I took him to one side and said to him :

If I proposed to give you some bread coupons would you exchange them for money?”

My new friend thinks for a few moments and then says: “But you need bread too?”

I don’t like bread, I only like sweets. I would like to exchange all I earn for sweets.”

The peasant understands the hypothesis very well, but he does not need to think very long; he starts laughing.

It is quite simple! If you want sweets you should tell the Committee. We have enough sweets here. The Committee will give you a permit and you will go to the chemist and get them. In our village everybody receives what he needs.”

After this answer I had to give up. This peasants no longer live in the capitalist system, neither from a moral nor a sentimental point of view. But did they ever live in it?

H. E. Kaminski

H. E. Kaminski’s article first appeared in his book Ceux de Barcelone (Paris 1937). Born in Germany, he died in France last year at the age of 75.

From: Anarchy: a journal of anarchist ideas #5 (July 1961).