Spain, 1936, at the moment just as the warmth of August goldens and crisps the land of the Iberian Peninsula. Mateo Vilas, along with many of the inhabitants of Zaragoza, have made a long push eastward. The city was captured by Franco's Fascist forces, and persecutions began almost immediately. Zaragoza's residents followed the river Ebro, crossing whatever tributaries cut their path. Many kept going until they reached the Mediterranean coast, and others pushed even further, to Valencia, Barcelona, or even northward, to France.
Mateo stayed in Aragon, though, the region that homed Zaragoza. A small piece of the territory was not been taken by the Fascist forces. The local militia of the Republican front, however, was going to prove itself determined to keep out the Nationalist army. This is where Mateo settled for the years known as the Spanish Civil War. But Mateo was a Liberal -- and he was now in an Anarchist land. He was put there by no will of his own, driven solely by the circumstances. And now he was living in a society based on principles he was very skeptical about.
Barcelona was saturated with Anarcho-Syndicalism, and the Aragonese people were influenced by it, too, to a certain extent. There was a greater touch of other Anarchist ideas, as well, such as Spiritual Anarchism, Individualist Anarchism, and even Anarcha-Feminism. Some chose to describe the mix of thoughts as "pure Anarchism." None of this impressed Mateo, though. If the Republican side was going to win the war, it needed to organize a strong, powerful government -- at least, this was the cause of his suspicion.
However, driven by necessity, and facing execution on the other side, he was able to adapt to the new environment. In a short time, Mateo obtained work through an Anarcho-Syndicalist labor committee, helping farmers in the field. There was a self-regulation within the markets and shops, but they were bound by certain behavior from larger, collective organizations.
Mateo listened, because he needed to survive in this new world. But if he was not skeptical of all parts of this system, then at most he felt like he couldn't understand them. There was a mutual sympathy, though. Just as the Fascist armies were executing Anarchists and Communists, they were also executing Liberals and Socialists.
In late December of 1936, a general meeting was called asking for the participation of all members of the village. Mateo had attended his union and labor council meetings, as well as some local, community groups; he played the role of listener, though, rarely participating in the discussion, or only minimally in the cooperative efforts. He decided to attend tonight's meeting, though, because it was urgent: there was going to be a talk about a build-up of Nationalist and Fascist infantry on the border. The village was threatened.
There were several, decentralized group discussions, before a greater assembly would be called for the cohesion of different ideas. Mateo was within the section of Anarcho-Syndicalist, union workers. Five elected delegates led the discussion, coordinating different points of view within a total framework. Among these, there was Armando Ramon, an assembly worker at an arms plant. Between a hundred or two listeners, Armando gave his explanation, and Mateo, carefully planning himself, posed his counter-arguments.
Armando: There are reports from several militias, those on the front and those on patrol, that infantry and tanks are building up on the Fascist side of the border. We need to organize more militia men and more supplies. This is not an option, because we are all threatened by this enemy.
Mateo: If there is no law, what is to make a person contribute? If our lives really are threatened, then maybe we need to consider a strong government.
Armando: What is it that you expect this 'strong government' to do?
Mateo: What we won't be able to do as a decentralized organization. If there are no laws and no law enforcement, how can we really muster up a resistance? According to these Anarchist principles, every organization is voluntary, and anyone has the right to non-participation.
Armando: If we had a government, what would it do specifically?
Mateo: We would have more power, more strength, more ability.
Armando: Those are all synonyms for the world "government." Yes, if we had a government, we would have more government. But, what do you really expect those things to accomplish?
Mateo: We could change the cost of products or goods to increase the hours required for someone to sustain themselves, so that we would produce more ammunition and weapons. We could give orders of attack and defense, in a direct and calculated way, instead of relying on every militia unit to vote on whether to participate in a battle or not.
Armando: So, what you are saying is... that we will go further if someone pushes us, than if we push ourselves?
Mateo: It should be obvious that people work harder if they have to out of necessity. If we don't labor hard enough, if we don't have enough supplies and enough for the soldiers on the line, then we'll be overswamped by the Nationalist army. It is in everyone's interest to work, so, we ought to enforce policies that make that happen.
Armando: If it is in everyone's interest to work, why do they need to be forced to do it?
Mateo: Because people are not always capable of taking action necessary capable of satisfying their personal interests.
Armando: People are smart enough, that when they are hungry, they eat. When not in possession of food, they purchase it. And when they're running out of money, they are driven by self-interest to work. In their cooperation with the stores and shops that supply food, and the factories and mines that accept labor, are they not good enough in following their self-interest?
Mateo: Well, possibly.
Armando: In fact, who is it that is best to look out for an individual's own need for food? Is it not that individual themselves, who must bear the labor to earn wages and who must also bear the pangs of starvation?
Mateo: Yes, that is true.
Armando: Why, then, can the individual look out for their self-interest, without government, in one case and not the other? It is the people who have built up their homes and educated the future generations; if they are so honestly dedicated to this, why would self-interest lead them astray in the self-defense of their homelands?
Mateo: Because a group of soldiers will more likely advance if they are ordered to than out of any principle of "self-interest."
Armando: What do you consider to be a better soldier? Someone who is conscripted into the army, forced to learn combat, and is ordered to kill? Or, someone who is organized with others for the mutual defense of their own people?
Mateo: They both have proven themselves capable in armed conflict.
Armando: Who is more capable of defense, though?
Mateo: Certainly the indigenous and native peoples who must fear slavery if they lose. A mercenary, however, can only fear defeat if they lose.
Armando: When the people already have a common goal, and they pursue it collectively, what is the effect of authority? If a person is already building weapons for the front, authority would send him to the fields for a profession he knows nothing about. If a person is holding a position against soldiers on the front, authority would send him to run across a battlefield facing almost certain death. Bricklayers to scientists, what is the use of a single authority diverting their attention to something else? The people can follow their self-interest in survival; they can certainly follow it in creating mutual and reciprocal relationships with others in society. The effect of authority, among a people already determined to their common goal, is to irritate those people, whether or not it speaks to their passions and ideas.
Mateo: Yes, true.
Armando: If we have authority, would it produce more guns, more ammunition, more training, more foxfoles, more tanks, and more factories?
Armando: Would it be able to organize soldiers in a way that is better than how soldiers choose? Would it be able to organize workers in a way that is more efficient than their self-management?
Mateo: It does not seem so.
Armando: What is the effect, too, of instituting these systems of orders, hierarchies, and militarizations? Someone who is drafted, given a gun, and brutalized in training is more likely to commit a war crime; they are more likely to be drawn towards massacres, lootings, and rape. Compare this with a person who joins a cooperative effort to defend their home against those who make them slaves. It is clear that a person who lives by orders, who sees themselves and others sacrificed, will feel that orders are acceptable -- and they will soon give them to others who they want to abuse. They will see no moral difference between the butchery they are led into and that which they lead others into. Is this not true.
Mateo: It certainly has been a result of militarized aggression versus domestic self-defense.
Armando: And, similarly, once this all happens, how does the public respond? Do the people provide more support? That is, do they provide more labor and more people -- more weapons and more soldiers?
Mateo: No, the result is the opposite.
Armando: Of course it is. The people see that the soldiers, driven by orders, are no longer serving the common cause. And, once this occurs, the only form of organized defense is clearly under the hand of someone who does not care for self-defense of the people. Even if someone wanted to protect their own people, they wouldn't be able to; the could hope to fulfill that role, but ultimately, they submit to orders, even if it means leaving the people undefended. The result is people seeing their government as being almost a collaborator with its foreign invader. And what is this caused by?
Mateo: Authority, I assume.
Armando: Yes. And, once the soldiers are under order and chain, they will see that their interests are different than those who give them orders. They will behave not like volunteers who are impassioned, but like slaves who submit to the whip. You have drained them of the ability to defend themselves, and, in many cases, it is only when your government is destroyed that the people have the strength to rise up for themselves.
Mateo: Yes, that has also been true in many nations.
Armando: What is your difficulty, then, with the practice of Anarchism? What makes you think that is incapable of best satisfying the needs of any given people?
Mateo: What if someone does not want to contribute? You have argued for the right to voluntary organization. Doesn't that mean that anyone who wants to quit can quit, and nobody has to participate?
Armando: Yes, of course, that is most certainly true. But, then why are you participating?
Mateo: So that I can maybe reorganize our resistance to Fascism.
Armando: No, I understand your argument. But, specifically, why are you discussing with us right now in this meeting?
Mateo: Well, I'm a member of the agricultural workers' union, which is affiliated with the village's bureau of syndicates. I was invited to participate.
Armando: Why are you a member of the union?
Mateo: Because it is a closed-shop industry. Every business is owned and operated by the workers who labor there, and by those workers only. By getting employed, I became a co-owner with several thousand others of some large wheat fields.
Armando: So, you were brought here by your own necessity, by your own self-interest, right?
Mateo: That is fair to say.
Armando: And, even though you are free, you didn't suspect that you could just grab the money at the business, and walk out without being stopped, right? You realized that you had to make an agreement with those who labor at the industry, those who own the business? In order to get your wages, you saw that you had to comply with their demands for sweat and blood. Is this correct?
Armando: So, there is a way that you can seek to satisfy your own self-interest that fits within the whole, social organization, right? You got a job, because you needed bread. That is why you gave your labor, which has fueled the entire social organization. You have bread now, because of your labor, but also because of your labor, others are able to work to have their bread, as well. It is mutual and reciprocal. And, by your own self-interest, weren't your induced to a certain type of socially-positive behavior?
Mateo: Yes, of course.
Armando: You are free to do anything, of course, and you are free to withdraw. That is the principle of Anarchism.
Mateo: I would suspect, given its name.
Armando: If you do not participate, the village credit association could have your wages reduced.
Mateo: I don't think the agricultural workers union is affiliated with the --
Armando: Oh, yes, every industrial enterprise works with the credit association. It is the only way we can guarantee that nobody rips anyone else off. So, if you tried to quit your job and go somewhere else, it would most likely be somewhere also affiliated with the village credit association. And more importantly than that, you'd have to be paying higher prices at any business affiliated with it. Sure, you might be able to get away with getting a job somewhere else, but the mass of goods are produced by the workers' cooperatives. And any business enterprise that tries to bypass these "credit restrictions," well, they too are liable to economic sanctions.
Mateo: Sounds like a complicated, interweaved web.
Armando: And there is no center to it. Every association is its own self-governing, autonomous body. There are no laws and no orders. Every group is free to do as it pleases on its own. But, since we are all economically interdependent, like an ecosystem, we must come to certain collective understandings. Like our money, the so-called "one-hour labor note." All collectively agreed upon by organizations, with each organization based on voluntary, cooperative efforts.
Mateo: There is quite of bit that goes into making every function, isn't there?
Armando: Every last piece of it is motivated by self-interest and voluntary organization. Only by cooperative association have people been able to advance their mutual goals, without the masses becoming enslaved to some small minority.
Mateo: You have not convinced me of anarchism, but you have convinced me to do my part without imposing authority.
Armando: My friend, an Anarchist would not ask for more.