Michael Seidman – Workers Against Work. Labor in Paris and Barcelona During the Popular Fronts, University of California Press, Berkeley u.a., 1990.
At the outbreak of the Spanish Revolution in Barcelona in 1936, anarchosyndicalist militants and other revolutionaries quickly expropriated the cars and trucks in the city, painted the initials of their organizations on them, and drove around Barcelona at dangerously high speeds. Inexperienced drivers who disregarded traffic laws, these militants caused numerous accidents; their daily newspaper, Solidaridad Obrera, called them to order and asked them to drive safely and return the vehicles to the proper authorities. Their actions foreshadowed the era of the automobile in Spain.
During the Popular Front in France at almost the same time, on the occasion of their first annual paid vacations, masses of workers abandoned Paris for the overcrowded Riviera and other specialized areas for leisure. The compulsive exit of summer vacationers in 1936 inaugurated the era of mass tourism and the weekend in France.
At first glance, it may seem odd to treat disparate events from such different countries within a single work. After all, one does not have to agree with Napoleon (“Africa starts beyond the Pyrenees”) to appreciate the vast differences between France and Spain. Even during the ancien régime, political, economic, religious, and social developments separated those north of the Pyrenees from the peoples of the Iberian Peninsula. The great movements of early modern European history—the Reformation and absolutism—had a much greater impact in France than in its Iberian neighbor. For centuries before the Revolution, France possessed relatively dynamic urban and rural sectors and a modernizing state, while Spain lagged economically, politically, and culturally. In the eighteenth century, French philosophes authored an original and powerful critique of the Church, nobility, and traditional economy. In Spain, the Enlightenment was derivative and less potent.
The advent and effects of the French Revolution further accentuated the differences between the two nations. Proclaiming a program for the future, the new nation opened its ranks to the talented, including Protestants and Jews, and subordinated the clergy to the state. In the Enlightenment tradition the Revolution valued the producer more than the “parasitic” noble or priest. Having developed a much healthier agrarian economy than Spain, France in the twentieth century, unlike its neighbor, possessed no great mass of peasants thirsting for land or jobs. Growing French industry was able to employ not only French laborers from the countryside but also foreigners, including thousands of Spaniards. At the beginning of this century, France separated Church from state and subordinated military to civilian government. Furthermore, the relatively stable Third Republic (1870–1940) forged a new national unity that gradually weakened regionalist and centrifugal forces and largely disarmed violent revolutionary and counterrevolutionary movements.
Spain never experienced a comparable bourgeois revolution. Indeed, in the Napoleonic period large numbers of Spaniards fought a bloody guerrilla against the French invaders and their revolutionary principles. This reaction to French rule in 1808 has been seen as the starting point for modern Spanish history just as the Revolution of 1789 has been viewed as the beginning of modern France. Even after the revolutionary era, traditionalist Spanish landowners, backed by the clergy, maintained their economic and social dominance in large regions of the peninsula well into the twentieth century. Unlike France, the Spanish nation never integrated Protestants and Jews, and large numbers of Spain’s most dynamic people emigrated. Except perhaps in the Basque country and Catalonia, no class of energetic industrialists ever emerged. Yet even in the latter region, as shall be seen, entrepreneurial dynamism was ephemeral. National unity was never fully consolidated, and regionalist movements grew during the Restoration monarchy (1874–1931) in the wealthiest areas of the peninsula. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, armed confrontation between revolutionary and counterrevolutionary forces encouraged the pronunciamiento—direct military intervention in politics. The Second Republic (1931–1939) proved unable to secure the separation of military from civilian government and Church from state.
Precisely because of these dissimilar developments, a comparative approach can aid our understanding of the history of both nations and deepen our comprehension of two concurrent events in twentieth-century European history: the Spanish Revolution and the French Popular Front. The historiography of both events has been dominated by a political or diplomatic perspective within each country’s national history. Historians have not yet attempted a socially oriented comparative approach but have for the most part concentrated on party platforms, conflicting ideologies, governmental changes, and—in the case of the Spanish Revolution—military battles. Yet a comparative social history of the developments leading up to the Spanish Revolution and the French Popular Front and a social history of the events themselves can profoundly enhance our comprehension of the political, diplomatic, and even military histories of both phenomena. The comparative social approach has its limits and cannot entirely resolve the problems of causality. One cannot prove that a Spanish “working-class” revolution was inevitable since Spain did not follow the French model. Nonetheless, a review of some of the major social, economic, and political differences between the two nations can illuminate why revolutionaries were more influential south of the Pyrenees.
My comparative approach examines the relation between industrial capitalist bourgeoisies (the owners of the means of production) and working classes in Paris and Barcelona. One class treated separately or in isolation from the other reveals only a fragmented understanding of the dynamic between the two classes and of the society concerned. Again, it is their relation and their interaction that permit a more profound comprehension of histoire événementielle. The diverse strengths of the French and Spanish bourgeoisies greatly affected the character of their respective working-class organizations. Facing a more dynamic capitalist elite, the French working-class movement developed differently from its Spanish counterpart. These differences, which must be understood in order to evaluate the Spanish Revolution and the French Popular Front, have been masked by the largely political perspective of many historians and by the similarity of political labels in both countries: Communist, Socialist, anarchosyndicalist, fascist, and so forth. Yet the same political parties or currents had to confront different Spanish and French social realities and therefore acquired divergent roles and meanings.
This study attempts to go beyond the similarity of political names and catchwords to illuminate several issues. First, it investigates two different capitalist elites and industrial structures. Second, it suggests that the differences between these elites and their industries created distinct social and political environments for French and Spanish labor movements, encouraging reformism in Paris and promoting revolution in Barcelona. Finally, it demonstrates how workers, mainly blue- but also white-collar, responded to the revolutionary situation in Barcelona and the Popular Front government in France. I have concentrated on developments in Paris and Barcelona because Paris and its suburbs undoubtedly constituted the most important urban center in France in the 1930s, and Barcelona was the center of the Spanish Revolution and the capital of Catalonia, Spain’s most economically advanced region. Each city was the capital of its nation’s industrial working-class movement.
The first half of the book highlights the political, religious, and economic attitudes and actions that may have encouraged the growth and persistence of revolutionary movements in Spain in general and Barcelona in particular. Barcelona was one of the most vital cities in the Iberian Peninsula. Under adverse conditions of a poor domestic market and few natural resources, its bourgeoisie had managed to build the largest industrial concentration in the nation. Yet the achievement had definite limits. In the second half of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, foreigners—not Catalans—were responsible for creating many of the most modern industries. Health and living standards were often well below Western European norms. As in other regions of Spain, Barcelona’s upper classes remained attached to the traditional faith of Roman Catholicism. In a social climate characterized by terrorism, counterterrorism, and sabotage, many owners were tempted to rely on military force to maintain order.
Leading militants of the Barcelonan working class reacted to the climate of repression, lack of advanced native industries, and to what they considered their low standard of living by adhering to revolutionary and largely anarchosyndicalist organizations. Anarchists and anarchosyndicalists were hardly millenarian or primitive, as some historians have claimed; they remained influential precisely because they offered—in ways similar to revolutionary Marxists—a critique of what they believed to be a parasitic and relatively unproductive bourgeoisie. Anarchosyndicalism was an ideology of work and economic development well suited to an economically impoverished society that had accepted neither the Reformation nor the Western revolutions of the eighteenth century.
When revolution erupted in Barcelona in 1936, union militants of the anarchosyndicalist CNT (Confederación nacional de trabajo) and the Marxist UGT (Unión general de trabajadores) inherited a backward industrial structure that they were compelled to modernize under difficult conditions of civil war in Spain. These militants—whether anarchosyndicalist, Communist, or Socialist—copied elements from the Western and Soviet models of economic development and accumulation. While attempting to build the productive forces, they quickly encountered what I shall call workers’ resistance to work. The anarchosyndicalists of the CNT, the most important working-class organization in Barcelona, were forced to jettison their theories of workers’ democracy and participation to make the rank and file work harder and produce more. The anarchosyndicalists and Communists in the newly collectivized firms reestablished piecework, initiated severe controls on the shop floor, and embarked on an intensive campaign that included both odes to Stakhanovism and socialist realist art.
The second half of the book suggests why France and specifically Paris, in contrast to Barcelona, offered fewer opportunities for revolutionary workers’ control. Placed at the center of a much richer national market, the Parisian capitalist elite had created competitive industries in automobiles, aviation, and other modern sectors. After the Dreyfus affair, anticlericalism and antimilitarism were no longer the burning issues that they remained south of the Pyrenees. Hatred of the Church and the army, which motivated many Spanish revolutionaries, no longer provided a platform for an important revolutionary movement in France. The Parisian factory owners themselves may have been less tied to a traditional faith. At any rate, the Jews and Protestants among them were instrumental in developing some of the most advanced industrial sectors. Regional economic disequilibriums, unlike those in Spain, produced no separatist movements perceived as threats to the unity of the nation. In France, relative détente between Church and state, the resolution of the military-civilian conflict, and gradual but steady economic growth induced a decline of revolutionary movements and ideologies, such as anarchosyndicalism, which had lost considerable influence by the 1930s. Instead of producing revolution and civil war, the victory of the French Popular Front culminated in the Third Republic’s most significant social legislation, including the forty-hour week and paid vacations. Despite these gains in rationalized and modernized industries (automobiles and aviation) and in more traditional sectors (construction) of the Paris region, blue-collar workers carried on a kind of guerrilla against work. In contrast to Barcelona, where union militants took over factories literally abandoned by a weak and frightened bourgeoisie, in Paris union militants often acquiesced in or even supported the absenteeism, lateness, sabotage, and indiscipline of the rank and file. The Popular Front brought forth the weekend, and Communists and Socialists acted as agents of tourism, not of revolution. Other wants and new needs superseded the desire for revolution among working-class organizations (or, more precisely, those claiming to represent the working class).
This study examines the lived experience of workers in both Paris and Barcelona. Its goals are to investigate wage earners’ acceptance of and resistance to work. Acceptance of labor meant a demand for job security and overtime, high productivity, and moonlighting. In both cities, some labored hard to satisfy consumerist, familial, and gender-based desires; all required income to meet their needs. Neither basic nor eternal, these needs were socially determined in ways that remain for historians and social scientists to explore. Workers went into the factories not only because they had to eat and survive but also, to an unknown extent, because they chose to work. If the workplaces of the 1930s were often areas of constraint, they cannot be entirely identified with prisons. The seductive forces that induced workers to labor were varied and changing, but they all encouraged workers to collaborate in the process of production, to bend to workspace and worktime. They included the inculcation of values of consuming, of being a reliable breadwinner, of believing in the revolutionary or reformist project of parties and unions, and of manifesting patriotic conviction.
Desires to consume were more developed in France than in Spain, corresponding to the greater power of both the productive and the seductive forces. In Paris, advertising propagated the virtues of consumption and, prefiguring consumers in postwar Europe, Parisian workers labored for a wide array of new goods and services. An expanding range of leisure possibilities induced some to work hard for future vacations. In Barcelona, where war conditions further reduced the meager purchasing possibilities, socialist realism—that is, the glorification of production and the producer—directly substituted for advertising’s odes to consumption. The difficulties of survival in a period of civil war and scarcity forced Barcelonans to struggle literally for their daily bread. They demanded higher wages in a context much more economically harsh and inflationary than in Paris. Yet even in the wartime city, many laborers consumed more than the caloric minimum. Workers continued to drink, smoke, and look for amusement. These urges may have bolstered workers’ output in certain instances. After all, except for theft, only hard work provided money to engage in diverse pleasures.
The familial position of workers also seems to have influenced their acceptance or rejection of labor. Couples with many children were compelled to labor more than single men or women. Undoubtedly numerous exceptions existed, especially in France in the 1930s when the system of welfare benefits rewarded large families and sometimes discouraged potential breadwinners from taking a salaried position. Men’s and women’s responsibilities as breadwinners—both primary and secondary—led them to work to support their families. During the Popular Fronts, family heads sacrificed and labored so that their children could avoid the kind of work that they themselves had to perform.
Commitment to the revolutionary and reformist visions of the parties and unions motivated their activists. Those who wanted to build a prosperous and more dynamic Spain attempted to convince their colleagues through persuasion and propaganda to labor for a greater nation. In France, working-class patriots who feared for their country in a period of increasing international tensions and German rearmament were willing to extend working hours and increase productivity.
During the Popular Fronts these seductive forces—whether patriotic, revolutionary, familial, or consumerist—were not powerful enough to overcome workers’ resistance to work, a major focus of this book. By resistance to work I mean both individual and collective actions that enabled workers to avoid wage labor in factories. Absenteeism, fake illnesses, lateness, and strikes constituted direct resistance, which meant an immediate escape from the workplace, and thus a reduction in worktime. Indirect resistance consisted of theft, sabotage, slowdowns, indiscipline, and indifference, activities and attitudes that generally harmed output and decreased productivity. Stealing, for example, might eliminate tools and machinery needed for production and increase the costs of controlling the work force. Slowdowns—workers’ control of workspeed—limited output. Indiscipline that challenged industrial hierarchy was hardly compatible with efficiency.
Resistance to work in the twentieth century has been largely ignored or underestimated by many Marxist labor historians and modernization theorists—two important, if not dominant, schools of labor historiography. Although at odds on many issues, both groups have not adopted a sufficiently critical attitude toward work. They view labor primarily as creation, not coercion, and regard the worker as producer, not as resister. Modernization theorists postulate workers as adapting to the pace, structure, and demands of work and the workplace. Marxists, anarchists, and anarchosyndicalists view the working class as eventually desiring to expropriate the means of production. The main currents of Marxism and anarchism take the acceptance of labor to an extreme, if logical, conclusion and propose the construction of a utopia in the workplace. Despite their differences, modernization theory and Marxism (including its anarchist variants) have a similar vision of the workers’ acceptance of work. Indeed, it can be argued that modernization theory has merely continued the largely uncritical consensus on labor that Marxists and anarchists articulated in the nineteenth century.
Both theories also postulate a progressive view of history. Modernization theorists see workers’ gradual adaptation to an advanced division of labor as inevitable, if not desirable. Marxists view the working class as acquiring class consciousness and moving from an sich to für sich or, in English terms, “making itself.” Despite a Blanquist or a putschist current that also existed in Marxism, anarchists and anarchosyndicalists agreed with their rivals that “the Revolution must be the work of the workers themselves.” The ideologies of the Left affirmed that one day in the future the working class would acquire sufficient knowledge or consciousness to make a successful revolution.
The progressive view of history and the acceptance, if not glorification, of work have encouraged the study of certain aspects of working-class existence and discouraged an exploration of others. Until recently, interest in ideologies and in the development of working-class organizations took priority over studies of everyday life of workers. Intellectual and political histories of parties, unions, and their militants dominated labor historiography. Examinations of ideologies, whether variants of Marxism or anarchism, permitted the productivist vision of the class to remain unquestioned. Studies of the growing organizations—which, like the ideologies, claimed to represent the class—strengthened the progressivist current. Consciousness, or at least membership in parties and unions, seemed to expand throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Legal history also created the impression that the workers’ movement was progressing, as organizational elites gained recognition or even integration into the state apparatus. Certain studies disclosed however that working-class organizations such as the PCF (Parti communiste français) were partis passoires or sieves; through them workers and others passed with little active involvement, as they did in major political parties and unions during the Popular Fronts. Historians began to question the closeness of the relation between workers and their organizations or between workers and their ideologies even if they did so within the framework of modernization theory, which was equally progressivist and productivist.
Labor historians have continued to dissolve the identification between the class and its institutions and organizations. Popular and, more specifically, working-class culture have become objects of research. This approach also began with an examination of ideologies, organizations, and militants but expanded to include large areas of unexplored terrain, including what I call the seductive forces. The cultural approach has made genuine contributions to labor historiography, and this book is indebted to the questions and problems it has raised. Yet the cultural approach has been insufficiently critical and has too often sought meanings in work. Like the Marxists and modernization theorists, it has viewed labor as literally meaningful. The workers described in the following pages often regarded their work as meaningless or, less radically, earned wages to support their families and buy consumer goods. The meanings of their work, if articulated, were frequently instrumental or external to it. Wage earners maintained this attitude despite intense propaganda in both cities to convince them that their work was meaningful for the revolution, the nation, and the Popular Fronts. The culturalists’ unrelenting search for meaning and their conception of work has led them—like the Marxists and modernization theorists—to neglect resistance and the consequent coercion needed to overcome it.
A history of resistance to work can contribute to a new vision of the working class. The everyday struggles of workers against labor show that the productivist, progressivist, and culturalist vision cannot adequately encompass essential aspects of working-class behavior. An examination of workers’ actions in Barcelona and Paris from 1936 to 1938 in both revolutionary and reformist situations will reveal a persistence of direct and indirect refusals to labor. Wage earners in both cities tried to escape from workspace and worktime by taking unauthorized holidays, arriving late, and leaving early. Another form of direct resistance, strikes, was more common in Paris for several reasons. Walkouts usually needed some form of collective organization, and in Barcelona the ranks of labor militants were depleted because many were managing factories or fighting at the front. Of course, the unions themselves, both CNT and UGT, were largely integrated into the state and committed to the development of the productive forces. Perhaps the very real threat of jail or a stay in a labor camp was effective in convincing the rank and file to avoid strikes. Barcelonan workers may have felt that it was less risky to use other strategies of resistance, particularly faking illness, to escape the workplace. Their refusals took more individual than collective forms.
In contrast to these direct strategies, slowdowns and other varieties of indirect resistance occurred while workers were present in the factory and on the shop floor. Slowdowns did not permit workers to escape from workspace but rather were a means to exert control over worktime. Thus they were manifestations of the familiar struggles between workers and their managers—whether capitalist, anarchist, or Communist—over a “just” or “fair” pace of work. As will be seen, those responsible for the collectives in Barcelona and for the nationalized and private firms of Paris complained often of lethargic output and low productivity. In both cities managers wanted to increase productivity by tying pay to individual output.
Other forms of indirect resistance, such as indiscipline and disobedience, challenged the industrial chain of command that was and remains indispensable for economic efficiency in situations where workers have not completely internalized the work ethic. Even though disobedience indicated the individual worker’s hostility to a superior, indiscipline usually had the larger effect of hindering the collective productive process. In Barcelona, persistent disobedience entailed an implicit disavowal of the economic leadership of the unions; in Paris, workers disobeyed both capitalist managers and union militants but were more likely to support the latter than the former. Stealing, another variety of indirect resistance, was a special form of disobedience. Theft and pilfering revealed hostility or indifference to the goals of the Popular Fronts, which needed honest, if not committed, workers in order to prosper.
Spanish working-class militants equated theft with sabotage, another strategy of indirect resistance. Barcelonan revolutionaries defined sabotage broadly to include both intentional and unintentional acts that hurt production, an understandable definition during their struggle. Saboteurs became identified with the “lazy” who became, in turn, “fascist.” Militants politicized idleness, which existed in working-class culture long before fascism was born. In Paris sabotage was not as politically charged, but it increased dramatically during major strikes.
Reluctance to labor anteceded the victory of the Popular Front in France and the outbreak of war and revolution in Spain but has particular significance in that it persisted in Paris and Barcelona even after the parties and unions claiming to represent the working class took political and varying degrees of economic power. These continuities of working-class culture pose questions concerning the relations between workers and “their” organizations. Workers, it will be argued, were often more interested in pleasure than in labor. Devotion to pleasure meant that workers’ desires sometimes conflicted with those of the organizations that claimed to represent them. The Catalan anarchosyndicalist union and Communist party found truly committed followers among only a distinct minority of the Barcelonan working class; the majority of blue-collar workers maintained a certain distance from the revolutionary unions and political parties. Likewise in Paris, even though workers flocked into the union, they sometimes refused to obey high-ranking union, Socialist, or Communist leaders when urged to work harder. During the Popular Front, blue-collar wage earners continued and in some cases increased their refusals to work. Their actions and inaction undercut the claims of unions and political parties to represent the working class.
The perseverance of workers’ resistance created tensions between members of the working class and their organized representatives. In both revolutionary and reformist situations, persuasion and propaganda that aimed to convince the workers to labor harder were inadequate and had to be supplemented by force. In revolutionary Barcelona, piecework was reinstituted and strict rules imposed in order to increase productivity. In reformist Paris, only after 30 November 1938, when massive intervention by the police and the army broke the general strike designed to save the forty-hour week, was discipline restored and productivity raised in many enterprises. In both cities coercion supplemented persuasion to make the workers work.
In both Paris and Barcelona the state played a major coercive role. Pro-anarchist historians have argued that increasing state power was responsible for the demoralization of the workers in the Barcelonan collectives. According to these historians, in the early period of the revolution, when workers were able to control their workplaces, they labored with enthusiasm. Following May 1937, the state increased its intervention, and workers lost control in many enterprises. As a result, wage earners’ desires to sacrifice diminished and their enthusiasm declined. This pro-anarchist analysis actually inverts the process. The state—and coercive measures in general—grew in response to workers’ resistance to work. Governments in both Barcelona and Paris intervened with repressive measures to counteract varieties of direct and indirect resistance to labor.
It was thus the actions or indifference of the workers themselves that contributed to the bureaucratization and centralization of the anarchosyndicalist CNT, as well as the pressures of the war. One can speculate that if the workers had sacrificed wholeheartedly and enthusiastically, the unions, political parties, and the state would not have become as oligarchic and undemocratic as they did. Within the CNT, those advocating democratic workers’ control and decentralization might have gained influence; outside it, proponents of a centralized war economy would have had a reduced audience. State power and bureaucracies proved essential in regulating labor. It was over the role of the state—not the nature of labor or the character of the working class—that anarchist and Marxist analyses began to differ significantly. More clearly than their anarchist rivals, Marxists saw the need for a state that could make wage earners work.
An investigation of workers’ resistance to work not only contributes to a theory of the state in modern industrial society but may also link histories of women, unemployed workers, and immigrants. The study of resistance to labor will further integrate women into labor history. Instead of viewing female workers as less militant because they were relatively uninterested in joining parties and unions, an investigation of their struggles over maternity leave, absenteeism, illnesses, and gossip demonstrates that women also participated in the class struggle. Some of their methods, such as absenteeism and low productivity, were similar to those of their male colleagues. Others, such as gossip and biologically based demands for leave, constituted their own particular forms of struggle. Women identified less with the workplace because of the temporary and unskilled character of their jobs, lower salaries, and familial responsibilities. Their relative rejection of organizational or ideological involvement—traditional yardsticks of militancy—did not mean that they were any less conscious than males. If avoidance of the workplace rather than party or union membership is taken as a measure of class consciousness, then many women’s minimal identification with their role as producer might lead to the conclusion that females were among the true vanguard or consciousness of the working class.
The same argument may apply to the unemployed. Like women, the jobless cannot be dismissed as marginal. Given the importance of refusals to labor—including theft and pilfering—ōng some employed members of the class, the deceptions and welfare cheating of a minority of the unemployed are not totally alien to working-class culture. Their indiscipline, indifference, and high rate of turnover may be extreme manifestations of tendencies found among employed wage earners. During the 1930s, the unemployed were not merely victims but actors possessing degrees of choice. Simplistic discourses of both the Left and Right that reduce them to either potentially perfect producers or lazy irresponsibles must be avoided.
Less information exists concerning immigrants’ acceptance or refusal of work. Contrary to the implications of modernization theory, certain immigrants and peasants dispensed with a period of adaptation to industrial society. Immediately on their arrival in Barcelona, they became strikebreakers. Provincial construction workers in Paris similarly ignored union control of the World’s Fair of 1937 and seemed to have labored more diligently than unionized Parisian workers. Veteran industrial workers, such as skilled aircraft workers in Paris, used their strong bargaining position during the Popular Front to reduce their hours of labor by both legal and illegal means. In Barcelona, refusals were quite widespread in the construction industry, which contained a high percentage of trained personnel. The Sorelian “joy in work” cannot adequately explain the actions of these qualified wage earners.
As in the specific cases of female, unemployed, immigrant, and skilled workers, a broad investigation of refusals to labor questions generalizations concerning unions. Labeling unions an integral part of capitalist society cannot fully explain their actions during the Popular Fronts. Depending on the situation, unions attempted to make workers work or assisted their struggles against constraints of workspace and worktime. In Paris, the unions usually aided the workers in their refusals and therefore created problems for French industrialists and the state. It was in noncapitalist or rather collectivized Barcelona that the unions had some success in motivating workers’ labor.
A variety of sources inform us of the existence of workers’ resistance to work in Barcelona. The minutes from meetings of the collectives and the factory councils provide the largest depository of information. In these meetings, those responsible for the functioning of the enterprises discussed how to combat direct and indirect resistance. Local union officials composed confidential letters that suggested ways to reduce refusals and punish offenders. More publicly, CNT and UGT newspapers and journals complained about “abuses” and produced plentiful propaganda designed to encourage enthusiastic acceptance of labor. Propaganda proved insufficient and was supplemented by strict rules and regulations to discipline wage earners in the workplace. Unfortunately, the wartime situation with its disruptions of markets, supplies, and labor lessens the value of statistical comparisons of productivity before and during the Revolution. We do, however, have the words of disappointed militants who complained that the rank and file continued to resist work in the same ways as previously or even exerted themselves less than before the Revolution.
Many of the sources on Parisian resistance are from managements that accused workers of working poorly. Some of management’s charges seem to have been based on private, relatively unmediated daily reports filed by shop-floor foremen. Third parties, such as the police and insurance companies, confirmed other accusations. Occasionally, but rarely, union militants themselves either complained about the rank and file’s rejection of work or celebrated it. A number of investigative reports from government officials and decisions by arbitrators appointed by the Popular Front government confirmed management’s suspicions of slowdowns and indiscipline. In the construction industry, much evidence for refusal to work comes from court cases that attempted to assign responsibility for cost overruns. Both sides presented their arguments in cases that sometimes were not settled until the 1950s. Available statistics on productivity indicate declines in Parisian automobiles, aviation, and construction. Yet in France as in Spain, rapid changes in industrial organization and retooling lessen the value of figures and make any numerical comparisons between the Popular Front and preceding periods tentative at best.
Ultimately the problem of how workers labored cannot be entirely resolved empirically. No one can approach such a controversial area in working-class history without some bias. Barring the unsatisfactory option of radical skepticism (which obviously cannot answer the question), perhaps the best I can do is make my perspectives clear and be conscious of how I determine them. The historian’s conceptions of work and the workplace will greatly influence his vision of the working class. Those analysts who stress the workers’ identification with their vocation or who view the workplace as a potential arena for emancipation will tend to emphasize the disciplined and productivist aspects of the class. They follow the tradition of the Western utopians (Marxists and anarchists included) who have often regarded the workplace as a possible locus of liberation. Thus, those who adhere to the productivist utopian tradition have often deemphasized resistances. This lack of public articulation does not lessen the significance of refusals. Perhaps the reluctance to acknowledge resistance shows how deeply those who claim to represent the working class are immersed in the productivist tradition. Their silences are easy to understand, since in societies devoted to the development of the productive forces, refusal of work approaches the criminal and possesses a subversive side that invites repression.
There is another tradition, which includes this book. It questions the productivist interpretation and regards the factory and construction labor of the 1930s as trabajo and travail (from the Latin tripalium, or “instrument of torture”), not as an arena of potential liberation. This critical analysis of work affects the historian’s conception of the working class. It views workers not as potentially perfect producers but as resisters who must be constantly disciplined or seduced to accept work. It promotes investigations of both acceptances and resistances. Given these conceptions of work and the worker, management’s accusations—particularly when confirmed by the state and other sources—deserve a hearing. My goal is not to impose some sort of bourgeois morality on a class that suffers but rather to illuminate the reasons behind the gap between workers and working-class ideologies, the character of authority in the workplace, and the repressive role of the state in modern industrial societies.
Furthermore, I wish to bring out the utopian dimension of resistance, a word which I have chosen because of its positive connotations. The importance of resistance in two major European cities in the fourth decade of the twentieth century indicates that refusals of work should not be dismissed as the behavior of “backward” or “primitive” working classes. Certainly, resisters did not articulate any clear future vision of the workplace or of society. Unlike the Marxists, they did not fight to take state power or, in contrast to the anarchosyndicalists, abolish or minimize the role of the state. I do not wish to ignore the fact that workers’ refusals to work harmed the fight against Franco and weakened French defenses in a period of Nazi rearmament. Yet one might interpret resistance itself as suggesting a working-class utopia in which wage labor would be reduced to a minimum. Resistance was also a conjunctural and cyclical phenomenon, but refusals remained an intrinsic part of working-class culture and manifested themselves in different periods with various divisions of labor. During the Popular Fronts, workers revolted against a variety of disciplines, including that imposed by working-class organizations. Wage earners certainly wished to control their workplaces but generally in order to work less. One may speculate that the way to eliminate resistance is not by workers’ control of the means of production but rather by the abolition of wage labor itself.
The history presented in the following pages is cognizant of its partial character and does not claim to be histoire totale, which may at best be a useful illusion. I make no pretense of dealing with the Spanish Revolution outside Barcelona or with French working-class movements in the provinces despite their significance; other omissions are equally regrettable. I have tried to obtain a basic parallelism between the French and Spanish sections but, depending on the sources and the importance of the topic, treat certain issues more in depth in one part than in the other. Leisure and unemployment receive greater coverage in the Paris section; art, propaganda, and punishment figure more extensively in Barcelona. What in 1936 the French called the Ministry of Leisure had no Spanish equivalent, whereas wartime conditions in Spain led to the immediate creation of a Ministry of Propaganda.
I must also warn those readers who are interested exclusively in political, diplomatic, and military events that they must turn to the many other works on the Spanish Revolution and the French Popular Front where such information is more than abundant. Many issues that have concerned historians of Spain—anarchist participation in the government, Communist influence in the Second Republic, the role of foreign powers—will not be directly treated here. The French part of this book largely ignores the history of the Popular Front before its electoral victories in the spring of 1936, the subsequent ministerial changes, and the exclusively political opposition of the Right. Political events are by no means entirely forgotten in the French section. Indeed, my periodization of the French events corresponds to the political victories of the Popular Front in the spring of 1936 and its division and defeat at the end of November 1938. When the social and the political are entwined, as they were during the Popular Fronts, the social historian who ignores the political does so at the expense of social history itself.
1. For Marxist historiography see Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness (Cambridge, Mass., 1971), pp. 46–82; George Rudé, Ideology and Popular Protest (New York, 1980), pp. 7–26; see also the recent restatement of Lukács’s position in Eric Hobsbawm, Workers: Worlds of Labor (New York, 1984), pp. 15–32. The views of modernization theorists can be found in Peter N. Stearns, Revolutionary Syndicalism and French Labor: A Cause without Rebels (New Brunswick, N.J., 1971), and Stearns, Lives of Labor: Work in a Maturing Industrial Society (New York, 1975). For a critique of Lukács’s approach, see Richard J. Evans, ed., The German Working Class (London, 1982), pp. 26–27. For another interesting critique of Lukács, see John Clarke, Chas Critcher, and Richard Johnson, eds., Working-Class Culture: Studies in History and Theory (London, 1979), pp. 209–11.
2. The term is from Annie Kriegel, “Le parti communiste français sous la Troisième République (1920–1939): Evolution de ses effectifs,” Revue française de science politique 21, no. 1 (February 1966): 10.
3. Stearns, Revolutionary Syndicalism.
4. Evans, German Working Class; John Bodnar, Workers’ World: Kinship, Community, and Protest in an Industrial Society, 1900–1940 (Baltimore, 1982).
5. Clarke et al., eds., Working-Class Culture; Gareth Stedman Jones, Languages of Class: Studies in English Working-Class History, 1832–1982 (New York and London, 1983); Patrick Joyce, ed., The Historical Meanings of Work (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 1–31.