Chapter Two (8/8)


A Basque socialist must be an exemplary worker and do his job well. Why? In order to win out over the Bible and return to work its category of force majeure [superior force]1 The cooperative worker must be an exemplary worker and do his job well, Arizmendiarrieta will answer in contrast. Why? In order to demonstrate his maturity as a man and as a citizen (FC, III.232).

In addition, in his moral, even mystical view of work, Arizmendiarrieta is indebted to earlier Basque socialists. With them he shares pride in work, the pride of the worker who knows he is doing his job well, quietly looking down on poor or mediocre workers. And with the socialists he shares the desire to—in the words of Zugazagoitia—"embellish the idea of work, to make it agreeable and sweet, as sweet smelling and beautiful as May Day." 112

Still, he will face head on the challenge to "triumph over the Bible," developing his own concept of the dignity of work, by insisting that ‘work is not a punishment from God, but rather proof of the confidence that God has in man, turning him into a partner" (EP, I, 298). And paradoxically, he finds support for this in Marx.

We find the oldest text of Arizmendiarrieta on the dignity of work in some manuscript fragments, probably class notes from his time as a student. No one has lifted higher the dignity of work—we read in the notes—than Christians. The proof is that Jesus, before he devoted himself to preaching, had a thirty-year working career.2 This strange argument never appears again in his writing. But it is an indication of his interest early on in a philosophy of work. In fact, in statements made to J. Larranaga, he referred in the following terms to his studies in the Vitoria Seminary: "At that time, among many ideas, those of Mounier were circulating. We had a teacher who was his student and, among other things, I recall and have fixed in my mind the idea that work ennobles man but society brutalizes him. According to the theory, we were to shoulder brutish and ignoble work as a service. We opened our minds to this new vision of the theological concept of work, not as punishment but rather as an opportunity for fulfillment. These were, then, key ideas which launched us toward other reflections."3

Without strictly limiting ourselves to Personalist authors, we need to recognize that Arizmendiarrieta’s concept of work is essentially the same as Christian social doctrine.4 That said, to state that capital is an "instrumental factor of production," that is, of work, of which capital is said to be a product, and to deny on the other hand that work can ever be considered an instrument, as buyable and sellable merchandise5, draws Christian social doctrine and socialism closer together. Personalist writers have been very aware of this convergence.6 "The abolition of the capitalist form of servitude as obligatory labor [?] is a necessity recognized by both Personalism and socialism," states Maritain.7 Both he and Mounier recognized outright the powerful contribution of Marxism to the modern awareness of the dignity of work. At this point—in our opinion— we find Arizmendiarrieta at his closest to the ideas of Marx.

"The importance of Phenomenology and its final result," Marx noted in his Paris manuscripts," consists of the fact that Hegel conceives of the self-creation of man as a process of "reification" and "de-reification," of alienation and overcoming alienation, and of the fact that he thinks of the essence of work, and of the individual flesh-and-blood man, as the result of his own work."8 Hegel, in effect, sees consciousness developing in the double confrontation of man with nature and of men among themselves, with both confrontations taking place in the distinctive activity of mankind, in rational work. (Contemplation, being passive, yields no consciousness of itself; rather it is a submission to the object being contemplated). Work raises up man as an entity. It is in work where we find the essence of man, where man finds his uniqueness and develops himself, becoming fully a man.9

In addition, for Marx, work is the creator of consciousness and of freedom, the creator of man. In transforming nature, man transforms himself. In conquering nature, he conquers himself. In nature, man is incomplete and, torn apart from it, ripped from his original union with it. Only by humanizing nature will he be able to rebuild this primordial union. "It is through work that, little by little, throughout history man asserts his dominion over nature and realizes his true self. The activity of man slowly disentangles itself from nature and asserts its primacy over it. Thus, through work, man creates a humanized nature while at the same time defining himself, becoming progressively more spiritual as his dominance increases."10

In reality, we must refer to the wide tradition, only within which Marx can be understood, which, beginning in the Renaissance, replaces contemplative man with active man. And within this tradition, we must highlight, with regard to the philosophy of work, Hegel and Marx.11 Neither classical antiquity nor the Middle Ages, the latter despite its concept of ars divina, a reflection of the creative ars creadora12, was able to develop a truly positive attitude towards work. The Spanish word trabajo [work] itself, as well as its synonyms in Indo-Germanic languages, alludes invariably to its root meaning of poverty, orphanhood, servitude, low social standing, neediness, and poverty. Specifically, the word derives from tripalium, an instrument of torture.13 This original meaning—which is not exactly Biblical—of punishment and suffering, is maintained down through the centuries. The Renaissance, with its elevation of manufacturing activity, and the Reformation, with its new work ethic[^ch-127], laid the groundwork for the eighteenth-century glorification of work and entrepreneurship in which "a moral and mystical view of work arose, whose slogans were: Ex labore honor, In labore robur, Labor improbus omnia vincit, etc."[^ch-128] Active man has replaced contemplative man, and the inversion will be complete when Marx declares the suppression of Philosophy itself in favor of Praxis.

The famous quote from the Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach, "philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways, but the trick is to transform it,"14, will echo in Arizmendiarrieta’s incessantly repeated phrase "the world was not given to us simply to observe it, but rather to transform it" (EP, I, 167).

It was important to engage in this brief discussion because it contrasts strikingly with the view of the crisis presented earlier. Then, we were witnessing, starting with the Renaissance, a general collapse of the most human of values. Now, beginning with the Renaissance, we observe the exaltation of the most human of values. But the contradiction is only apparent, not real, and understanding it will shed new light on the very concept of the crisis. H. Arvon has observed that it is precisely the greatness and eminent dignity of work which makes the bourgeois social order appear all the more scandalous and inhumane, and which reduces work to a simple commodity.15

Thus, the order advocated by the Personalists will be a "civilization of work," in which work will be freedom. "Work itself has become a myth, outside of man, and his servitude has been reinforced by it. Let us consider work, then, not by the strict definition that money has given it, but in the widest sense, on three levels: manufacturing, education, and creation. When we say "civilization of work," we are not contrasting one myth to another, but primarily indicating our repulsion to a system which weighs most heavily on the workers, and secondarily, pointing out the path toward a society in which work, by finding its meaning and its unity, would tend, both collectively and personally, toward creation. This is a long path which, in certain contexts, passes through industrialization, but which is not to be confused with it."16

Just as was the case with Arizmendiarrieta’s educational program, we see that his concept of work also arises from a strong synthesizing effort. We find within it Basque social tradition, an appreciation of the intrinsic value of work, the Christian theology of work, Marx/Hegelian inspiration, and Personalist philosophy. Arrizmendiarrieta took the elements that suited his thought without hesitation and from wherever he found them. He was always open to suggestions and convinced that all currents of thought have something positive to contribute to the development of man.

By way of conclusion, let us highlight that dignity, education, and work do not constitute units or constructs in isolation, linked for better or worse by mere chance. These three fundamentals of any human order are not only essential, but are intertwined and manifest themselves together. The dignity of man is made. It is constructed. Which is to say—as Arizmendiarrieta repeats—human nature is the artefact, preferably understanding "artefact" as education. Significantly, the same expression in Mounier generally refers to work.

Let us see, then, in detail, how Arizmendiarrieta develops these three fundamentals.

Professional training: a necessary step to deal with the business world.

  1. Zugazagoitia, quoted in Olabarri, I., op.cit., 98.

  2. Hand-written notes (Arizmendiarrieta Archive).

  3. Larranaga, J., op. cit., 28. Since he was most likely a reader, rather than a devoted disciple of Mounier, we might conjecture that the philosophy of work communicated by the professor from Gasteiz/Victoria whom we quote was based largely on Le travaile e l’homme, … Nor can we exclude the work of Borne, E., Travail humain…., an author much praised by Arizmendiarrieta.

  4. See a thorough exposition on the subject in Guix, J.M., , El trabajo, en: Profesores del Instituto León XIII, Curso de doctrina social católica, B.A.C., Madrid 1967, 395-583. Código Social de Malinas, cap. IV, nn. 94-100, Códigos de Malinas, Sal Terrae, Santander 1962, 93-97.

  5. Códigos de Malinas, 96 and 99.

  6. Lacroix, J., Marxisme, existentialisme, personnalisme, P.U.F., París 1971. Véanse, en especial sobre el concepto del trabajo, pp. 27-41.

  7. Maritain, J., Humanisme intégral, 92.

  8. Marx, K., Manuscrits de 1844, Ed. Sociales, París 1962, 132.

  9. Marcuse, H., Ontología de Hegel, Martínez Roca, Barcelona 1968, 252-258. ID., Razón y Revolución, Alianza, Madrid 1971, 117 ss., 282 ss. T AYLOR , Ch., Hegel, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 1978, 203 ss. VALLS PLANA , R., Del yo al nosotros, Laia, Barcelona 1979, 135 ss. R. DE YURRE , G., El marxismo, B.A.C., Madrid 1976, 25-28.

  10. Lacroix, J., op. cit., 30. Cfr. C ALVEZ , J. Y., El pensamiento de Carlos Marx, Taurus, Madrid 1966. GUICHARD , J., El marxismo. Teoría y práctica de la revolución, Desclée de Brouwer, Bilbao 1975. K ERNIG , C. D. F RENZEL , G., Marxismo y Democracia. Enciclopedia de conceptos básicos, Rioduero, Madrid 1975, 142-155. R. de Y URRE , G., op. cit., vol. I, 28 ss.

  11. Arvon, H., La Philosophie du Travail, P.U.F., París, 1979, 13-40. L Oewith, K., Von Hegel zu Nietzsche, F. Meiner, Hamburg, 1982, 284-311

  12. The idea of mankind cooperating with God through work, which we also find strongly emphasized in Arizmendiarrieta, seems to come from Pseudo Dionysus, cf. Vignaux, P., … Nonetheless, in the Middle Ages, the aesthetic and penitential value of work predominates, cf. Guix, J. M. … But, on the other hand, recall Bacon’s aphorism, indicative of an incipient new and positive attitude: "Discoveries are like new creations which imitate divine works," Novum Organum, Nr. 129, Fontanella, Barcelona 1979, 116.

  13. Guix, J.M., op. cit., 396-402. K ERNIG , C.D.-F RENZEL , G., op. cit., 130-132.

  14. Marx-Engels, Obras Escogidas, Ed. Progreso, Moscú 1966, vol. II, 406.

  15. Arvon, H., op. cit., 32.

  16. Domenach, J.M., Dimensiones del personalismo, Nova Terra, Barcelona 1969, 13.

Chapter Two (7/8)


We begin by insisting that Arizmendiarrieta, once again, ties in completely with Basque social tradition. From Meabe and Madiabeitia, at the beginning of the century the Basque UGT has recognized the transcendental importance of education, aiming its efforts since then more toward the education of workers than toward agitation.1 Meabe favored the creation of socialist youth groups "whose primary objective was this training."2 The Casas del Pueblo became the "school of moral, intellectual, and political education,"3 with the objective of turning workers into "conscientious workers" and creating a culture friendly to worker groups.[^ch2- 88] In the extraordinary educational work which they undertook, the socialists were able to count on the help of eminent intellectuals from Bilbao.4

From the most external considerations (workers’ training centers should have dignified architecture and respectable premises) to the most profound requirements, whether theoretical (training of the whole person, not just professional; the importance of moral education; the creation of a worker culture, etc.), or practical (doing a job well, taking advantage of free time for cultural activities), it will be the same language of the Basque UGT members that we find repeated in Arizmendiarrieta at surprising lengths of coincidence.5

For its part, the Christian workers movement also undertook great educational efforts. To this end the Basque Collective of Social Action, AVASC,6 was founded (1932). The purpose of AVASC was, as we read in its literature, to orient and serve Christian labor organizations.

"We must train the social leaders of the country."7 To this end it organized training workshops and lectures, and published pamphlets and articles on social issues in the press. The Basque Social Workers University, also linked to AVASC, was created. It was similar to the ISO of Herrera Oria: "The principal aim of the USOV will be the solid social and Christian training of workers and employees in the Basque Country, with a goal of raising social culture and training advocates among the same classes of workers and employees."8

As usual, Arizmendiarrieta will find no less a source of inspiration in the personalist authors. "Mankind is not just an animal of nature," Maritain taught, "like the bear or the lark. He is also an animal of culture, and his species can only subsist through the development of society and of civilization. He is an historic animal; thus the multiplicity of cultural or ethical-historic types that make up humanity; thus, also, the importance of education."9

This general human need for education is sharpened in the current moment of crisis. "If humanity manages to overcome the terrible threats of slavery and of dehumanization which it has to confront in our day," Maritain writes during the war," it will surely thirst for a new humanism, and be anxious to rediscover the wholeness of man, as well as to put an end to the internal divisions from which the earlier period suffered so much. In order to match this holistic humanism, a holistic education must be promoted…"10

Mouniere will recall with the same insistence the need for a new kind of education for the building of a new order. And he will show the same interest as Maritain in distinguishing the goals of this personalist education from the objectives supposed to be characteristic of Marxist education. "The fact is that we do not distinguish between the spiritual and the material revolutions. We simply affirm that there can be no fruitful material revolution that is not spiritually rooted and guided. That there are Marxists who want a spiritual renewal of mankind with all their heart, we have no doubt. But we continue to believe that, even if we try, without other values in the mix, only those of comfort and power will emerge from a purely economic stimulus. And to inject such values in the mix is to turn the entire mechanism of methods on its head. Thus, the revolutionarily profound work is not to awaken oppressed mankind to the awareness of his unique oppression, thus inciting him to personal hatred and demands and, as a consequence, to a new avoidance of himself. It is to show him above all, and as the ultimate goal of the struggle, the acceptance of responsibility and the will to overcome, without which all the means available will be nothing more than good tools in the hands of bad workers. It is to lead him toward responsible and free action starting now, rather than diluting his human energy in a fine collective consciousness—even if it seems outwardly active—in the hope of a miracle of "material conditions." Together with doctrinal objections, this "starting now" is the principal tactical divergence which separates us from the best of the Marxists.11

Any order that calls itself human must extend education to the entire population. That is to say, it must give, in the current situation, special attention to the education of the working classes, which, to date, has been delayed. Apathetic or resistant children, observes Maritain, with no desire to learn and no curiosity of spirit (the "laborer souls" as Arizmendiarrieta would say) are no more numerous within the poor classes than within those more favored by fortune. "All those who have had contact with working youth and with the world of work know that nowhere else is one likely to find a similar desire to learn, when sufficient means are at hand. This thirst for knowledge, for a liberal education, is mixed with the thirst to achieve social liberation and a historical coming of age. The education of the future must provide the "common man," the everyday man, the means necessary for his personal perfection, not only in his work, but also in his social and political activities in civil society, and in his free-time activities."12

Arizmendiarrieta has always given the highest importance to education. In 1947 he drafted "The Rights of the Child" (PR, I, 168-194), in which he states: "The child is born in order to become a man, and it is education, more than age, which makes him one. With respect to both the temporal and the eternal ends of the child, education and training are the key" (Ib. 189).

"They [children] have the right to nurture their hopes and live their lives, and the rest [of us] the duty to tend to them," he says elsewhere (Ib. 191). Arizmendiarrieta at times has reflections of extraordinary delicacy and tenderness with regard to children. But in general he moves on a starkly realist level. This is so when attention paid to the child, it is understood (as it frequently is in his writings) as a profitable investment: "No money is better invested than that which is spent on children. Not only is it money saved later on on clinics and hospitals, but it is also capital which becomes productive through the work of strong and healthy men" (Ib. 190).

"War, J. Larranaga tells us, "left an indelible trace on him. He understands the difference in power that comes from knowledge and learning.

"He sees the distribution of categories, the listing of captains, sergeants, and the other military ranks, as a simple cultural choice. Those who can read and write, those who able to communicate and engage in dialogue, are chosen. And this is when he determines something which, because it is evident, is brutal: an ignorant people is an enslaved people, dependent on the powerful minority."[ch2-98

A new order, such as that conceived by Arizmendiarrieta, in which the working class is to fully assume its responsibilities, doing without outside managers to organize their activities, presupposes a double educational action: moral transformation and technical training. Let us remember that a writer like Lavergne, a "classic" of cooperativism,13, as late as 1971, judged worker self-management to be an unrealizable goal, showing himself in favor of turning over the management of large enterprises to the state. The Marxist idea of "free and equal association of producers" will be considered a utopian dream from the nineteenth century about relatively primitive enterprises. It seemed incomprehensible to him that thinkers of the present century, like Vandervelde and Sorel, could maintain the same proposition. "This is to try to ignore the extent of technical knowledge necessary for engineers, and the economic and financial knowledge indispensable for the decisions which constantly lead these great institutions to their success or their failure. Additionally, this denies the value of all modern science."14 Nevertheless, this will be exactly what Arizmendiarrieta will propose with all his strength.

A close analysis of the roots of Arizmendiarrieta’s thought reveals that they go deep into the nineteenth century and the movement of social emancipation of that turbulent period. "Work and education ("Bildung"), K. Lowith wrote, became in the nineteenth century the substance of life of civil society. No earlier society experienced such a wholesale expansion of general education while at the same time developing a work energy as what Burckhardt ironically called "the century of education," whose work process Marx subjected to criticism.

Work became the means of existence of the day laborer, and gaining instruction the prerogative of the learner. Nevertheless, in this very division of work and learning into two different categories, their essential connection is still evident in as much as the workers aspire to claim ownership of the prerogative of bourgeois education, while the learners have only been able to call themselves "intellectual workers," in order that their prerogative not appear to be an injustice."15 It is precisely overcoming this dichotomy that will become one of the foremost concerns of Arizmendiarrieta.

At times, Arizmendiarrieta gives us the impression that he is a latter-day Enlightenment figure, living outside his century. Because of his grounding in this powerful social movement of work and study, and also because of his Personalist mentors, his educational goals tie in with Kant, to whose Padagogik he owes not a few of his ideas and his favorite expressions concerning education.16

From Kant, Arizmendiarrieta derives his central idea that man is not born, but made; that "only through education can man become man. He is no more than what education makes him."17

From him, he also derives the ideal of humanity being happiest when transformed by education; that the individual person, as well as "the human race must, little by little, awaken through its own effort all the natural dispositions of humanity. One generation educates the next."18 Arizmendiarrieta even finds in Kant the response to possible objections to this utopian ideal of a society transformed by education: "Perhaps education will continue to improve and each successive generation will move one step closer to the perfecting of humanity, since the great secret of perfecting of human nature lies in education […]. It is delightful to imagine that [human] nature, through education, can be continually improved upon, and that it can achieve a state worthy of humanity. This opens up to us the perspective of a happier human race. A tentative theory of education is a splendid ideal, and there is no harm done, because at present, we are still not in a position to make it a reality. We should not judge the idea out of hand to be fanciful and reduce it to a beautiful dream, though obstacles may stand in the way. An idea (ideal) is nothing but the concept of perfection which is yet to be to be found in experience."19 The same criticism can be made of civil authorities who think of their subjects "only as instruments to serve their purposes,"20 unconcerned about their authentic education, which would take them to maturity and liberation. Or the criticism can be made of short-sighted parents, more concerned that education be geared to the immediate success of their children within society, rather than fixing their gaze on the idea of a better humanity in the future.21 Arizmendiarrieta found all of these criticisms in the short work by Kant, as well as the idea that education is nothing more than the careful cultivation of the seeds contained in natural aptitudes and talents, and the idea that the educator of mankind is man. Clearly the importance of moral education, of discipline, of slow and sacrificing maturation, which should begin in childhood, are ideas that Arizmendiarrieta found underlined in the stern philosopher from Königsberg.

Let us highlight one final aspect concerning pedagogy, and do so by making use of the underlining which Arizmendiarrieta made in his reading of the book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by P. Freire, another book in his library which is full of underlining and marginal notes. He who educates the oppressed person, the worker, is at the same time being educated himself. That is to say, the pedagogy of the oppressed person, as Arizmendiarrieta underlines, "should be developed with him, and not for him."22 It is necessary to live with and sympathize with him, to share feelings, faith, and hopes with him. "If a person is incapable of considering himself as much a man as others, he has a long road to travel to catch up with them. At this meeting point, there is no one who is 100% ignorant and no one who is 100% wise. Rather, there are men who, by communicating, seek to know more."23

Summing up, education must be understood as a process of dialogue, a process through which a transformation occurs that gives rise to a new term. No longer "the teacher of the student," no longer "the student of the teacher," but rather, teacher-student along side student-teacher. In this way, the educator is no longer the only one who is educating. Rather, simultaneously, while he is educating, he himself is being educated by means of dialogue with the one he is teaching. Thus, both are jointly transformed in a process in which they grow together and in which claims of authority no longer are the rule."24

  1. Olabarri, I., Relaciones laborales en Vizcaya (1890-1936), L. Zugaza, Durango 1978, 92.

  2. IB. 93.

  3. IB. 96. By attacking dancing, drinking, bullfighting, gambling, and even sports, Basque socialists seem to have understood morality with a puritan rigor akin to the harshness of Arizmendiarrieta (101).

  4. Ib 93.

  5. It is not necessary to repeat that the most direct and decisive influence on Arizmendiarrieta was that of the "priest advocates" and other theoreticians of ELA. Still, we think that, even through them, the socialist influence is clearly perceptible. For as indisputable as are the differences and the opposition of Basque nationalism and the ELA with respect to Basque socialism, it is no less true that the latter was the great social school from which all later movements in Euskadi have learned with benefit. We also need to remember Arizmendiarrieta’s own confession that he had been a reader of El Liberal, edited by Zugazagoitia, cf. Larranaga, J., D., José María Arizmendi-Arrieta y la experiencia cooperativa de Mondragón, Caja Laboral Popular 1981,28. Undoubtedly, Arizmendiarrieta also drew inspiration from the experience of socialist countries, especially the Soviet Union, where, in the words of J. Trillat, it was clear "how the school becomes the factory workshop, and how the factory and the koljos live in a close union with the school," cited in Ponce, A., Educación y lucha de clases, Akal, Madrid 1981, 179.

  6. The Arizmendiarrieta Archive holds a copy of the program of AVASC. Jose Antonio Aguirre was the President of the collective; F. Horn the vice president. M. Oreja, who would be killed during the uprising of October 1934, in Mondragon, was a voting member. This collective attempted to act independently of political parties. Its goal in good measure was to achieve a union of the Catholic and nationalist labor groups. Later, organized workers and nationalists will keep their distance from AVSAC, cf. Elorza, A., Ideologías del nacionalismo vasco, L. Haranburu, San Sebastián 1978, 294-310.

  7. "Agrupación Vasca de Acción Social," 1932, 5.

  8. Tusell, J., Historia de la Democracia Cristiana en España, Cuadernos para el Diálogo, Madrid 1974, 18-19.

  9. Maritain, J., La educación, 12-13.

  10. Ib. 149. "For the highest interest of the new civilization for which we are fighting, it is more necessary today than ever that education be education for mankind and for liberty, training for free men for a free community. Education is the place where freedom has its deepest human nooks and crannies, and where the reserves of freedom are kept alive" (171). On the subject of a personalist education see, also DAWSON, Ch., La crisis de la educación occidental, Rialp, Madrid 1962. GARCIA HOZ , V., Educación personalizada, Instituto de Pedagogía del C.I.S.C., Madrid 1970. ID., ¿Qué es educación personalizada?, Docencia, Buenos Aires 1979. REBOUL, O., La philosophie de l’éducation, PUF, París 1981. QUILES, I., Filosofía de la educación personalista, Depalma, Buenos Aires 1982. UNESCO, Aprender a ser, Alianza, Madrid 1974.

  11. Mounier, E., Manifiesto, 53-54.

  12. Maritain, J., op. cit., 152. On pedagogy as "a science for transforming society" and education as a lever of history in Ortega y Gasset, cf. Llopis, R., Hacia una escuela más humana, Ed. España, Madrid 1934, 25.

  13. This is the opinion of Aranzadi, D., Cooperativismo industrial como sistema, empresa y experiencia, Universidad de Deusto, Bilbao 1976, 258.

  14. Lavergne, B. Le socialisme à visage humain. L’ordre coopératif, P.U.F., París 1971, 24, (translation by the author).

  15. Loewith, K., Von Hegel zu Nietzsche. Der revolutionäre Bruch im Denken des 19. Jahrhunderts, F. Meiner, Hamburg 1981, 284 (translation by the author). A remarkable relationship in the Basque language has been clearly established between "work" (lana) and "culture" or "training" (landau, and even lendua), for example in the nineteenth century work of J. B. Agirre, Eracusaldiac: añ landu gabeac, eta jaquinezac (I, 144), añ landugabeac badira guraso oec (I, 489), nolere bait landugabeac ceuden (I, 610); alaere badira guizon batzuec añ landugabeac, edo zuec esan oi duzuen bezala baso lana ere artu bagueac (II, 98), badira batzuec añ landugabe, eta basatiac, añ aberequiac (II, 348); baña oec ciran guizon jaquinezac, leundugabeac (III, 26). See also: GIRREBALTZATEGI , P., "Gizona kultura bidetan," Jakin Sorta, Nr. 4, 1971, 17-37.

  16. Disregarding the fact that Kant is one of the few authors named in his writings, Arizmendiarrieta on numerous occasions either quotes literally or transcribes with slight variations expressions from Kant, especially from the little book Padagogik, published by F. Th. Rink.

  17. Kant, E., Pädagogik, in: Kants Werke / Akademie Textausgabe, W. de Gruyter, Berlin 1968, vol. IX, 443 (translations by the author).

  18. Ib. 441.

  19. Ib. 444.

  20. Ib. 448.

  21. Ib. 447.

  22. Freire, P. Pedagogía del oprimido, Siglo XXI, Buenos Aires 1974, 40.

  23. Ib 108.

  24. Ib 90.

Chapter Two (6/8)

The Building Blocks of Any Human Order

We now know the starting point of Arizmendiarrieta’s own thought, his awareness of the total crisis of a civilization. An old world is dying; it is necessary to build a new one.

"Bourgeois individualism is dead," said Maritain.1 "Five centuries of history are teetering," Mounier continued. "We are witnessing the collapse of a zone of civilization born at the end of the Middle Ages, both consolidated and undermined by the industrial era, capitalist in its structure, liberal in its ideology, bourgeois in its ethics."2

"A new civilization, a new man," demanded Mouniere.3 A new humanism, Maritain4: "Europe aspires to a new civilization (…) to an order in which each human being can enjoy social as well as political liberty, and the working classes can achieve their greatest historical moment."[^ch2-77

We must begin right now, Arizmendiarrieta will say, the construction of this new order to which we aspire, doing now what is possible now, while continuing to fight for that which can only become reality in the future. The new order, if it wishes to be human, will need to be pluralistic, a wide open field of freedom.5 But whatever form it may take, it must rest upon the foundation of education, work, and the recognition of the dignity of man.

In our view, these have been the central ideas of Arizmendiarrieta, or guiding ideas [ideas fuerzas], as he will take to calling them, in his effort to train young workers. In the development of these three building blocks of any human order—in our case that of the cooperative movement—Arizmendiarrieta shows himself to be deeply personalist. Mouniere recognized that in his own conception of the personalist order he had taken French reality as a foundation. "Let other national temperaments," he declared, "find the same inspiration in forms more appropriate to their own temperament, on different human and institutional material."6 Arizmendiarrieta will build on Basque reality, and more concretely, on the reality of Mondragon in the ’40s and ’50s.

Dignity of the Person

Mounier, in his critique of naturalism, will in fact make use of a quote from Marx: "Man is a natural being, but he is a human natural being."7 A long tradition in Western culture has considered man to be on the highest rung of the ladder of creatures in nature, on the very tip of it, even rising above it. Beyond him, the infinite space of the divine opens up. Mankind finds itself between nature and the divine, partially freed from nature, and at the same time chained to it, overcoming it in his titanic effort to ascend through sheer willpower and the lightning bolts of his intelligence. In this view, both Judeo-Christian roots and the classical Greek thought, myth and philosophy converge in various ways.

The eternal tension implicit in this concept of man, between angel and beast, is evident throughout the history of thought, according to whichever tendency is preferred. On the one hand, the idealist danger of "angelism" is manifest from Plato to Hegel, which Feuerbach will brandish energetically, lauding the originality of man with respect to the rest of the universe, his freedom of spirit, his ideas and beliefs, his conscience, and his creative will. On the other hand, from Calicles to Nietzsche, there are no fewer dangers in defining man in purely natural terms, completely lacking in any higher order of values, thrust into the dark realm of his animal roots, a violent mass without spirit, governed by the fateful rules of the flock or the herd, with no principles beyond instincts and the law of the strongest. "Because the preface"—warns Maritain—or the beginning of fascism and of Nazism is ignorance of the spiritual dignity of man, and the theory that human life and morality are regulated by purely material or biological values."8

The personalist current comes down decidedly in the line of transcendent humanism, of the man who overcomes man,9 thus overcoming the limits of his will and his own reason. For the Personalists, each man, open to the absolute, is himself an absolute. He is not a passing moment in time. He is not part of a whole (social or natural) into which he is absorbed. "The person," says Mounier in words that Arizmendiarrieta has underlined in his reading, "is an absolute with respect to any other material or social reality, or any other human being. He can never be considered as part of a collective; family, class, state, nation, humanity. No other person, certainly no collective, can legitimately consider him as a means to an end. God himself, in Christian doctrine, respects his freedom, although he may breath life into him from within."10

Both Maritain and Mounier severely criticized Marxism for not recognizing, even denying, this transcendent human dimension and its absolute value. Arizmendiarrieta, within a different context, seems not to have felt the need to make the same criticism, no doubt more in tune to the Marxism of the workers in his own surroundings, with whom he hoped to connect, than to academic and doctrinaire Marxism. When he highlights the dignity of man (his inviolate freedom, etc.) his criticism points rather toward the all-encompassing State, capitalism, the apathy of consciences, which he intends to shake up and move to action. For the same reason, for Arizmendiarrieta, human dignity is not so much something which one possesses and which others must respect, as it is something which each person must achieve and impose on social reality. Man must be aware of the dignity which, by rights, is due to him. But it is worth nothing if he is then unable to bring about an order built on the demands and requirements of dignity. Human dignity, in his thinking, as much or even more than a principle, is an objective to be attained.

Defining man as in tension between what he is, in fact, and that which by his own effort he can become, Arizmendiarrieta begins with the premise that current humanity, engulfed in crisis, is a "monster," acting and thinking as such. But, unlike animals, men are skillful and open to change and can transform their environment and, by doing so, transform themselves.

Mondragon has a popular legend, mythically associated with the name and coat of arms of the town, of a violent dragon which devoured all it encountered, people and livestock, terrorizing the region.[ch2-84] Although generally not a friend of literary devices, on this occasion Arizmendiarrieta made use of the following allegory to express his thought:

"Once upon a time there was a fairy who was condemned to appear, at certain times, in the form of an ugly, poisonous snake. Anyone who treated her badly during her "serpent" moments was immediately and forever excluded from her blessings. Nevertheless, to those few who, despite everything, never quit loving her, protecting her, and pitying her while she was a "serpent" she appeared again in all her un-earthly beauty and made them the beneficiaries of all her blessings, favors and kindnesses. It must be hard to see in this beautiful fairy, condemned to appear at certain times as a repugnant serpent, any man, youth or child who does not enjoy a minimum level of spiritual and material assistance the lack of which impedes the development and the cultivation of the most beautiful and noble virtues and which encourages the appearance of the lowest and most base instincts. Let us not forget that all men, of whatever class or condition, bear the mark of the divine, which makes them worthy of all consideration and which, if they are treated as they deserve, will not fail to become beings full of goodness, understanding, and virtue. And we will all benefit" (EP, I, 89; Cf. CAS, 197-198)

  1. Maritain, J., La educación en este momento crucial, Desclée de Brouwer, Buenos Aires 1950, 149. On p. 184: "Manchesterian liberalism is good and dead."

  2. Mounier, E., Manifiesto al servicio del personalismo, Taurus, Madrid 1972, 13.

  3. Ib. 15.

  4. Maritain, J., op. cit., 149.

  5. Maritain, J., Humanisme intégral, Aubier, Paris 1968,169.

  6. Mounier, E., op. cit., 91-92.

  7. Mounier,E., Le personnalisme, PUF, París 1978, 18.

  8. Maritain, J., La educación, 190.

  9. Pascal, Pensées, Nr. 434.

  10. Mounier, E., Manifest, 60. "The word "absolute" here can cause us confusion," Mouniere writes in another place. "The person is, through the creative will of God, an absolute, insofar as, through his model and through the ontological perfection that he is called to realize fully beyond time, he is ‘the most perfect creation in nature,’ a perfection which the life of grace elevates as well to the infinite. It is such that, not only can nothing in nature prevail against it, but also that God himself, having refined it and having made it potentially one with Him, is linked through his creation, through his Redemption, and He can neither destroy him nor treat him in any fashion but as a person. But this [personhood] is not an absolute in the sense that its prominence is free of all conditions of servitude, of time and place, and is called upon to meet, immediately and unconditionally, its full potential. Mankind is situated, ontologically and historically, in a situation which forms part of its very definition, as well as of his ultimate potential. Customs, politics, and thus a Personalist anthropology, can only be identified in reference to this situation, outside of which we abandon the real and, with it, usefulness. In this way, the concrete existence of the person is characterized in a double entry: his ontological character and his historical character" (Ib. 278). Concerning the critique of Blondel of the "absolute" character of personhood recognized by personalism, and the polemic caused by his critique, cf. Nedoncelle, M, Maurice Blondel et les équivoques du personnalisme, en: Explorations personnalistes, Aubier, Paris 1970, 251-261. [This note was torture, and really needs to be reviewed by a theologian or a philosopher.]

Chapter Two (5/8)

Difficult Publicity

In his effort to educate and spread ideas through society, Arizmendiarrieta did not limit himself to study groups and to lectures and sermons. He tried to make use of all media within his grasp, and the former war journalist in the daily Eguna was quite aware of the power of the press. "There is one lever of power," he wrote, "whose effectiveness is not always taken into account, and this is the effectiveness of well trained and well informed minds. I refer to public opinion. A duly channeled current of public opinion is so powerful and effective that no one, or very few, can resist it." But for that to happen, public opinion must be appropriately created" (CAS, 222).

Nevertheless, Arizmendiarrieta lacked a press which could serve as his platform. He had to create one himself, and in the ’40s, it was not easy to be a journalist "on your own."1 See the following letter (1947) from Arizmendiarrieta to the Honorable Alberto Bonet:

"I would not have wanted to bother you regarding a matter of such little substance, but I cannot manage to make any progress without calling on someone. You are the victim of my mania for venting about an issue.

We were publishing a pamphlet entitled Aleluya, which was suspended for lack of authorization. In the seventeen issues we published, they found nothing censurable, but we were publishing with ecclesiastical authorization without worrying about anything else. We appealed to the governor for the authorization. After a year of waiting, we had nice promises and nothing more. Finally, this Christmas, we put out the same pamphlet with the title Equis. Nobody said anything to us. But neither have we dared to continue to tempt fate, because we were open to being taken the wrong way. Once again, we insisted, and this time they authorized a single issue, "because the Spanish market is poorly supplied with paper." Before distribution we had to submit it to censorship. How curious! We waited for the submitted copy to be returned to us, and after more than a week it did not arrive, so we did the distribution. Nothing has happened.

We now have a complete plan of action and of publicity throughout the village, and in order to move forward we need an organ of information and contact, modest and simple, but capable of explaining everything which must be explained in order to motivate the masses a bit. I am sending you the issues which I have on hand so that you can get an idea of the object we are pursuing. We think that the time is not yet ripe to propose the idea of constituting a new entity. Before taking that step, we want to warrant our best elements as a credit to the people, and we want to congregate the workers around concrete, defined objectives. In this matter, publicity which stays in the lofty area of principles will not be of interest at this time. And the application of principles, the firming up of objectives always brings on greater difficulties, above all within privileged classes and people. There’s no problem in stating general principles, but carrying out the practical purposes contained within them immediately incites the apostles of prudence and discretion.

I think that here, even when they grant authorization, they will do so reluctantly. I know those who get involved in these matters, and they even see politics in soup, or they are suspicious of everyone. That is why I remembered X.X.,2 but it seemed more prudent to turn to you first and to abide by your advice. If you should feel it advisable, I will be happy to contact him to resolve this matter once and for all. So, I hope that you will be so kind as to advise me as to how to proceed.

I am reading TU. What I fear is that all these matters will fall on deaf ears. The attitude of many people seems stranger every day, and every day I understand some things even less. Perhaps I will have occasion to greet you at the end of April, since there is going to be an Assembly of Professional Education and His Honor the Bishop has expressed to me his desire that I attend. I will go with little hope, for I believe that there is very little sense of justice in many spheres."3

Difficulties and censorship did not come only from the government. Already in this letter there is allusion to "privileged classes and people" which seem to have begun to feel annoyed by Arizmendiarrieta’s work. As the social movement was taking shape around Arizmendiarrieta, there were no doubt in Mondragon those who felt they had a reason to feel their authority was being undermined or their positions threatened. Once more it is Arizmendiarrieta himself who will describe it in all its detail:

"Just today we had a small, but unpleasant, incident which because of the way it got blown out of proportion, has provoked much comment. It is not the first time and will likely not be the last, if some people do not learn to understand things better. I will explain the facts to you.

During these eleven years that I have been serving as a councillor of Youth and Men of Catholic Action, we have published several pamphlets, some mimeographed, some printed, etc., for the purpose of maintaining communication with youth who are absent, of carrying out other social campaigns, of promoting some programs of ministry, and even to train youth in the handling of the pen [journalism] by offering them the chance to work. Some of these pamphlets we called Aleluya, others Equis, others Despertar, etc. Some were circulated privately and others were flyers. When they were given to the public, generally we gave them to the censors, and of course they were inspired by a constructive spirit. In testimony, we can offer the entire collection which we have in our archives. A few times, people with bad intentions have tried to see political intentions in us, and we were even turned in once or twice. Recently, we had to call on His Excellency, Governor Baron de Benasque to protest the bothersome interference of one individual or another, and we made a clear declaration of everything to the Police Commissioner. After that interference, we have had peace to the present day.

A month ago, which is to say, around February first, we posted a few typewritten sheets entitled Echoes on the bulletin board in a room in the Center of Catholic Action. It was a sort of "broadsheet" newspaper to be read by those who come to the Center. The Center serves as the social hall not just for the Men’s Branch of Catholic Action, but also for the Marian Congregation of Saint Louis congregation, the Sporting Youth of Mondragon, and even for the Education and Culture League. In the first editorial, the purpose was explained. A mailbox was placed along with the sheets and beneath them so that people could leave articles and questions. As you can see, it was quite a modest endeavor, private in nature, without public circulation and in our own center. As well, you can see in the copies which I include for you, everything was thought out according to a constructive plan.

At midday yesterday our mayor Mr. X.X.,4 who also frequents the Center, learned that those sheets were posted. He got angry because he had not been told about them. He spoke in strong language against the Board and the Center, criticizing that kind of action. When I was informed by a member of the Board who was present for all this, I wrote a letter that afternoon saying simply that he was giving too much importance to the matter, that that publication, which did not go beyond a completely private matter and which was posted on the premises of Catholic Action, did not need special authorization, but in any case I could give him all the information he wanted if he needed it in order to understand the situation.

We don’t know what happened after that. This morning the civil guard pulled the sheets as well as the mailbox off the bulletin board. Then they called the headquarters of the President of the Board of the Center, and of the Youth Group, as well as the custodian. I did not have to go because they could not find me, since I was going from school to school. As you can see, today at noon there was more than a little alarm around here.

I am explaining all this to you and am sending you copies so that you can tell us what we are to do in view of this. I do not think we can continue at the expense of the ill feelings of some people. But, on the other hand, we know each other well enough so that more understanding and spirit of cooperation can exist among us. All this has repercussions among the people. We work so hard to gain their collaboration and interest and then, in one day, everything falls apart since the reaction of many is that nothing can be done when these public examples of intolerance and interference occur. If I thought that everything was going to end here I would not have been so forward as to take the liberty to address you, disracting your attention. But I know from experience what some people are capable of when they start to put up roadblocks."5

  1. Abellan, M.L., Censura y creación literaria en España (1939-1976), Península, Barcelona 1980. GUBERN , R., La Censura. Función política y ordenamiento jurídico bajo el franquismo (1936-1975), Península Barcelona 1980.

  2. We omit the name.

  3. Letter from Arizmendiarrieta to the Honorable Alberto Bonet, Madrid, 20 March 1947 (Arizmendiarrieta Archive). Do not confuse the journal TU, of the JOC, to which this text refers with the one which Arizmendiarrieta will found in 1960 with the name Cooperation, and which, after 1964, will also be called TU – Trabajo y Union.

  4. We omit the name.

  5. Letter from Arizmendiarrieta to the Honorable Tomas Garicano Goni, Civil Governor of Guipuzcoa, 5 March 1952 (Arizmendiarrieta Archive). Among the many media used by Arizmendiarrieta to get his ideas out must be listed the creation of a local "Parish Radio Station" as part of the Professional School. Beginning in 1957 and up to the mid sixties, it was under the direction of E. Illarramendi.

Chapter Two (4/8)

Worker emancipation: self-emancipation

Arizmendiarrieta did not intend to emancipate the workers. He wanted the workers to emancipate themselves.

As we have already seen, Arizmendiarrieta tried from the beginning to imprint a clearly social slant on Catholic Action of Mondragon. In doing so, he separated himself in no small measure from the general tendency of the hierarchy, not only because of its spirit of submission to the State, but following pontifical guidelines, he preferred during those years to see CA become a purely spiritual movement, far removed from any political or labor commitment.

Decisive for this orientation were the serious incidents which the Italian Church had had with Mussolini, who accused Catholic Action of subversive activities, and which led in the end to the official condemnation of fascism by Pius XI in 1931.1 The Church would end up backtracking. Only by giving up the public life of Catholic Action and by leaving all social activity to fascist organizations did the Church avoid a break between the State and the Church.2 Beginning then, it would insist that the proper role of this lay institution is of a purely spiritual character, the expansion of the kingdom of God. It should not meddle in social causes. It is only after the defeat of fascism that the Vatican would attempt to restart Catholic Action as a truly socially active movement, in good part in order to confront the communist threat, which did not give Pius XII a moment’s rest.

Under Franco, Spanish Catholic Action, under the direction of Mons. Zacarias Vizcarra, adopted the same spiritual attitude as its Italian counterpart.3 But this was more the result of its own lack of initiative than because of demands imposed by the regime. Franco would give it the special task of "re-Christianizing" society and of restoring the country with a notion of "victorious Christianity":4 exercises, mission work, retreats, etc. would be the means by which Catholic Action would support this goal, as has already been explained elsewhere. "Under current circumstances in Spain," wrote Ecclesia in an editorial in its first issue, "intensive work by Catholic Action is more necessary than ever. We have received a sad anti-Catholic inheritance, a legacy of liberalism and Marxism. A large segment of the Spanish people has been systematically de-Christianized. It is necessary to re-Christianize it, in order not to fall into the same dreadful tragedy again. The instrument of providence to help the Church and the State in this enormous task of re-Christianization is Catholic Action."5

Right from the beginning, Arizmendiarrieta demonstrates a very different view of the work of Catholic Action.6 It is not that he opposed the workers’ exercises and retreats, although it seems that he did not always agree with the way they were organized and carried out.[^ch2-59] But above all, he attempts to organize youth7, and he tries to instill in them a strong social conscience, so that they become an instrument both of reconciliation and of worker emancipation, not avoiding temporal commitments, but rather, confronting them decisively in all areas.

[ch2-59]: there is correspondence in the arizmendiarrieta archive from fall 1944 concerning a conflict on this issue with the House of Spiritual Exercises of Loyola. Apparently, Arizmendiarrieta had described the Exercises of that House as a "business." After that, with communication broken down, Arizmendiarrieta sent the Mondragon workers to Begona.

"The mission of Catholic Action, an organ of Catholic teaching and a providential instrument in whose effectiveness the Pope has trust, is to train men with a social spirit and awareness, capable of winning the trust of the masses, and at the same time, of promoting all social projects suitable for achieving the elevation of the proletariat, for which the Pope is calling. As of today, we do not have those men, or we do not have them in adequate proportion and number. Thus, as of today, we cannot harvest abundant fruit. Our action will be slow and it will take time to produce results. That should not concern us. Rather we should fulfill our mission in such a way as never to be branded as unfaithful to it. In order to carry out this mission, Catholic Action must endeavor to give its members broad social training, both theoretical and practical, which leads them to action consonant with circumstances and with necessities." 8

Arizmendiarrieta understands his own role as a board member of Catholic Action to be that of encourager and, above all, educator.9 [I know that I came across "consiliario" before. Check to see if I rendered it as board member then, which I think fits best rvb] He is decidedly against, as has been stated, the naming of factory chaplains (CAS, 135), an initiative launched by Mons. Lauzurica that created chaplaincies in the most important firms of Guipuzcoa and Vizcaya.10 And his brief experience as a labor religious advisor will end as a disappointment. Although we do not know the precise date, Arizmendiarrieta must have been named labor religious advisor some time after March 1949.11

Before the year is out Arizmendiarrieta will tender his resignation from this position in the following terms:

Yesterday, I was at the Provincial Delegation of Labor Unions of San Sebastian and I would have liked to speak with you, but it was not possible because I was awaiting an interview with Don Jesus Los Santos and finally I had to return without speaking to him. I was able to meet with D. Jose Sanchez and I regret that we could not come to an understanding. It is clear that very narrow and poorly justifiable criteria, from the point of view of an authentic and integral sense of social and distributive justice, are still in force. I believe that a good-faith collaboration with these organizations is not viable. Perhaps I was under illusions, but the fact is that, today, the impression weighs on me that there is nothing more to do. Or rather, the best social work that can be done is to counter them, as long as it can be done discretely. You and all who know me know that I have been an enemy of negative and destructive attitudes and that I have a rule of not judging things a priori, but as they occur, with a view to their effectiveness and their rectitude. And it is precisely this point of view which forces me today to adjust my thinking about these organizations. The truth is that I am resistant to this decision, because I can see that at the moment there is no immediate possibility of doing anything else positive. But the reality of the facts overcomes my own desires. On principle, starting today, I want you to consider finding someone else if you intend to move forward with some of your plans concerning religious advisors. I have taken all I can take, and prefer to be out. In that way, I will be better able to serve the workers, and I will be closer to them, who today are more abandoned than ever, even though it is precisely this abandonment that is building up a wonderful solidarity among them, as we can see every day in a thousand details.

I know well that I am leaving myself open to charges of exaggerating my position, but I prefer to run any risk in order to remain faithful to my conscience and to my mission as a priest. I have never given in to risks because neither have I sought personal advantage. When I became a priest, I had the good fortune to embrace a life completely consecrated to an ideal, and I want to live it without further considerations.

One more thing: one cannot serve two masters, and even if all things were equally good, I would prefer to serve the most needy and lowly. And in view of certain matters, I have no doubts concerning my current position.

There is nothing more, dear D. Jose Maria. Do as you see fit, and you know that you will have in me a priest ready to serve the cause of the defenseless and needy. Yours sincerely.12

Between the years 1945 and 1955, Arizmendiarrieta was extremely active giving classes and lectures on social training, not only in Mondragon, but in the entire province and even outside the diocese. He spoke to young people and to the leadership of the J.A.C., to workers, to technicians, and to business owners, as well as to priests and to council members. He also participated in several National Assemblies. But he does not limit himself to just words. "It is not enough to teach or to preach the truth. Someone once said that the banner of truth which we Christians raise on high is a testament to our negligence and apathy if we do not turn it into reality. For this reason, our works must be an expression and testimony of our love of truth and justice…" (CAS, 143).

Years pass, and Arizmendiarrieta hopes that at long last, deeds will be born of words. He does not want talk without action. His overwhelming impression—that all the classes and conferences are, in the end, just talk, because no one wants or knows how to do anything—will lead him to withdraw from this field of action as well, to concentrate on building something real and positive, something concrete, in his own Mondragon. Thus, in 1956, the first cooperative is born. The Arizmendiarrieta Archive preserves a great deal of material that illustrates his progressive disenchantment. We will limit ourselves to reproducing a letter to D. Jose Arrue, on the occasion of his being named to the board of the male division of Catholic Action of Guipuzcoa:

I received your kind letter of the 19th of this month, and first and foremost, let me congratulate you on your recent nomination to the difficult position of Councilor of Catholic Action, Men’s Division, with which I work in social ministry, and which has left me with gray hair. We have a good roster of men, some well-seasoned and others in a period of gaining maturity. They have all been able to meet the demands of their respective consciences and rise to the level of circumstances. More than once I have been edified by their spirit of sacrifice and Christian brotherhood. In truth, so far, we have had no need to formalize this solidarity in an official constitution and with lapel pins of the Masculine [Male?] Branch of Catholic Action. If it is necessary, we will do so.

Having said this, I do not want to skip over some ideas which constitute a barrier in my mind. And I am going to explain them clearly to you, as has always been my custom: with my name and surname. In our eagerness to organize, we attempt to organize teams of activists to perform sincerely and loyalty in the field of social ministry, or to "play worker." I warn that men get tired of responding over and over again to our calls. The simple listing and proclaiming of doctrine contained in pontifical documents has little persuasive force, as long as men do not see more determination and solidarity to put it into action among those who call ourselves Christians, whether as shepherds or members of the flock. I observe that the doctrine is now well enough known that, without much critical sense, our bourgeois spirituality and our insincerity are revealed.

I recognize that the real problems are very complex, but not so much so that those of us who bear responsibility for the souls of the present generation should be giving the impression that firm steps forward cannot be taken yet in this life, or not until profound changes occur in the current conditions of human existence. Let’s study the problems, let’s address them, let’s agree on something, and once we have decided to confront some real problem, that is when we should gather our sheep. But first we should be sure our own thought and action is in order. We must study and be clear about the goals of our Catholic Action, of our Hoac. I am referring to Guipuzcoa, to every town, and I would ask the same thing of each priest, of each council member. As to the answers we would receive, do you think there would be the most indispensible unanimity?

Returning to the subject of the letter, I will say that a representation of ours can go to said retreat week, but I do not see the necessity of creating any new "section" since a firm agenda may be sufficient to give the group cohesion. Perhaps patches, buttons, and rules will only serve to divide people. Is it not true that it is more critical to live out Christian principles than to brandish them for external effect? In any case, as for myself, I will do what I am ordered to do, and meanwhile I will continue to trust that good sense will prevail so that realities will matter more to us than simple appearances, and solidarity in ideas and feelings more than insignias and bright colors.13

The preceding lines might cause the impression that for Arizmendiarrieta, practice might have been the cause for his disenchantment with theory. Nothing could be further from the truth. Arizmendiarrieta, while recognizing the need for long years of training and study, made it clear from the beginning that study should not end with itself, but rather open itself in appropriate ways to social practice.

What he never thought is that said social practice should be the work of priests and councillors, as training might well be (CAS, 226-228). In his judgment, training should consist precisely in the complete empowerment of workers to act on their own. It should be they, the workers, who decide –once they are solidly trained– which fields and forms of work they judge most suitable. The worker cannot be emancipated; only he can and must emancipate himself.

  1. Alix, Ch., Le Saint-Siège et le nationalisme en Europe (1870-1960), Sirey, Paris 1962, 275.

  2. Libertini, L., "La politique du Vatican sous le règne de Pie XII," Les Temps Modernes, Nr. 155, janvier 1959, 1134.

  3. Urbina, F., op. cit., 19-21.

  4. Ib. 21.

  5. Ecclesia, Nr. 1, January 1941

  6. See PR, I, 10-94 and the entire volume of CAS.

  7. This will also lead to several problems for him, such as the prohibition by the Clergy of Saint Viator to organize within Catholic Action the youth of the Saint Joseph’s High School, because "in this school, a Eucharistic Crusade is organized." Furthermore, he is warned in a surly tone that "it is not within the competence of an organization outside the Colegio to get involved within it." Letter from X. X. (we omit the name), Clergy of Saint Viator, Colegio de S. José-Mondragon, to D. José María Arizmendiarrieta, 19 October 1943 (Arizmendiarrieta Archive).

  8. CAS, 19. Lecture given to the directors of J.A.C. of Guizpuzcoa, Villa Santa Teresa (San Sebastian), August, 1945.

  9. See: "The Priest and the Coach and Their Respective Role in the Promotion of Works of Social Assistance" (CAS, 131-150); "Professional Worker Training and the Mission of the Priest in the Apprentice Schools" (Ib. 151-162); "Concerning Social Ministry" (IB., 189-198); "The Active Presence of the Priest" (Ib., 207-216); "Social action, a Talk to Priests" (Ib. 223-230).

  10. Rodriguez de Coro, F., Colonización política del catolicismo, CAP, San Sebastián 1979, 358-359.

  11. D. José María Arrieta Miner, Ecclesiastical Advisor of the Provincial Delegation of Labor Unions of Guipuzcoa, in a letter dated 18 March 1949, asks the parish priest of Mondragon D. J. L Iñarra to name a priest who could serve as Regional Advisor: "His task would be to undertake social-moral work among the workers: handing out propaganda folders and leaflets, inviting them to and facilitating religious retreats and lectures at opportune moments. These tasks will be remunerated, albeit for the time being, modestly." In his reply on 23 March, the parish priest recommends Arizmendiarrieta for this task, noting that as a condition of his acceptance, Arizmendiarrieta’s’ services will be religious and moral in character and free of charge (Arizmendiarrieta Archive).

  12. Letter from Arizmendiarrieta to D. Jose Maria Arrieta, 11 February 1950 (Arizmendiarrieta Archive).

  13. Letter from Arizmendiarrieta to D. Jose Arrue, 21 June 1957 (Arizmendiarrieta Archive).

Chapter Two (3/8)

Years of Reflection and Study

Having finished his theological studies, Arizmendiarrieta wanted to go to Lovaina to study sociology. The Apostolic Administrator of Vitoria, Monsignor Lauzurica, sent him to Mondragon. In his first five or six years, Arizmendiarrieta reveals himself to be full of social concerns, preferring to be a man of action. His activity is surprising–in the face of any type of need, he seems obsessed with building organizations, whether they involve sport, public health, religion, education, or housing. His ability to come up with new ideas on the field of action seems unlimited. The doctrine, on the other hand, that he pours into his lectures and sermons, is the same that he received in his formative years in seminary. Only in a very limited sense could we speak of Arizmendiarrieta’s own philosophy at this point.

In 1945, Arizmendiarrieta is thirty years old. A new period in his life is opening up, one which will evolve in the coming years. It will be a period of reflection and study.

In reality we should not think of the opening of this new stage as a break or an abrupt change. Arizmendiarrieta is a man of decisive processes, but slow, almost imperceptible ones. He is more reflective than scholarly, yet he is constantly studying. He hammers on the need for study and continuing education and, among all his activity, never in his entire life did he abandon study. Let us review the history.

One of the first actions carried out by Arizmendiarrieta in Mondragon was the organization of a youth library. In the Annual Report for 1941-1942 of the Youth Association of Catholic Action (Pr, I, 31–35), we learn that the Association in those years had a library endowed with 354 books, of which 140 are training books, in the circulating collection, as opposed to the in-house collection (Ib, 35) 39. Two years later, over 800 volumes are listed (Ib. 52), and in 1945, the total reaches a thousand (Ib.64). This is the year a special library for the young women of Catholic Action is begun "with training books appropriate for them" (Ib. 84).

Study circles are organized around the library for youth. During 1943-1944, according to Arizmendiarrieta, "the study circles were very busy. Average attendance was never less than fifty" (PR, I, 45). He adds that "the acceptance of the training books by the libraries of the Apprentice School of the Center for Catholic Action is constantly increasing" (Ib.). "The library averages a hundred readers per month" (Ib.52). A year later, "there was an average of forty readers per month for the year" (Ib. 64).

The organization of study groups for older people ran into some difficulties. Arizmendiarrieta writes in 1945: "The training of a group of men has begun. Young married men and others who have been discreetly chosen have been meeting for more than half a year. It now numbers around twenty. Women gathered in secret, coming also from the young women raised in Catholic Youth plus a few others. In this town, all this caution is indispensable because there is so much political sensitivity, which, thank God, has not made a dent in or been noticed in the Youth Branches" (Ib.84).

Of special interest is the founding, in June 1943, of a Social Academy or Academy of Sociology which Arizmendiarrieta considers to be very important for the future. He ran this Academy himself. It meets every Monday, beginning with eight youth (Ib.40). A year later, attendance exceeds twenty (Ib.46). The objective of this Social Academy is "to train future worker leaders" (Ib.). Classes are an hour long and are organized in the following manner:

"[T]he first quarter hour is devoted to the reading of papers presented by those in attendance. They critique and comment on each other’s work, which is then archived.

There is a half hour of explanation of the topic lead by the chaplain, who follows the agreed-upon text which all present in their possession. The text is the "Manual de Orientaciones Sociales" by Pedro Villa Creus, S.J.1

The last quarter hour is for information and the occasional commentary (PR,I,46).

Drawing from the Annual Report for 1943-1944: "The building of a worker section with a broad base has begun and, inspired by Catholic Action, having been named the delegated spokesman of Social Apostolate, which, with the collaboration of those in attendance at the Social Academy, is pursuing as its primary objective representation in this Academy of all factories, workshops, and even of diverse sections of factories, for the purpose of bringing together a compact bloc of all the young people of Mondragon who, in unity, will find the stimulus and the strength necessary to defend their economic, social, and moral interests. For now, its work will be limited to the formation of said social consciousness among the young people attending the Academy" (Ib.55).

Let us conclude with the following passage from the Annual Report for 1944-1945:

This Delegation was constituted to assure the development of the Academy of Social Studies, which was organized some two years ago. The delegate of the Social Apostolate, and those who serve at his pleasure, have promised the faithful attendance of a considerable number of young people at weekly study sessions which are held every Monday, from 8:30 to 9:30 in the meeting hall of the center. Some twenty young people have attended these meetings regularly, as has another group as well, but without the consistency of the first group.

A complete course of social orientation has been given, following the text of the Manual de Social Orientation, by Vila Creus. In the time devoted to each week’s lesson, social problems have been discussed extensively, their history, their causes, property, characteristics of property, limitations, social justice, the demands of social justice, work, the dignity and prerogatives of labor, insurance, salary, subsidies, participation in profits and in management, the moral and material elevation of the work force, unions. In this same course, in all meetings, time has been devoted to the study of current problems, to their documentation, and even to the study of work rules.

The Academy has at its disposal a section of the library of the Center devoted exclusively to the social question. It has conducted some surveys on the sick, housing, etc.

Currently, the second course is under way, devoted to the study of social systems, and has already taken up the topics of liberalism, socialism, corporatism, national-socialism, and national-syndicalism.

In the works is the immediate subscription to several journals, both Spanish and foreign, to closely follow the entire social movement, in the hopes that several young people who have specialized in foreign languages can extract and summarize anything that might be interesting, and make it available to their classmates in the Academy. Today the Academy has a more energetic life than ever and has very interesting studies and plans in the planning stage."2

The educational activity set in motion by Arizmendiarrieta must have been truly incredible. "In the calculations we did in 1956," writes Ormaechea, "we counted more than two thousand study groups that he led. Some were for religious and human training; others, for social formation."3 This means that, at a minimum, Arizmendiarrieta gave a lecture every 2.7 days for fifteen consecutive years, holidays and vacations included.

In addition, during these same years, Arizmendiarrieta is a leader and teacher at the Professional School, which he himself founded in 1943.

It is a classic saying that "you learn by teaching." And we see that between 1941 and 1945, Arizmendiarrieta devotes himself intensely to social teaching, a task which he could not carry out without study. But what training did he himself have at this moment? Without doubt, Arizmendiarrieta was still largely self-taught. His theoretical and conceptual framework seems quite limited, consisting basically of the philosophical-theological education from seminary, and Pontifical social doctrine. While it is true that his perception of the world and of the current crisis of values and ideas is informed by notable French writers—of whom he makes much use, at times verbatim—this does not necessarily imply direct and serious knowledge of them.

The very evolution of the classes he was teaching, with growing demands of a higher order, as well as the renewal of the intellectual climate which we noted at the end of the World War, moved him to undertake more study. And it seems that a certain disenchantment with pontifical social doctrine and, more generally, with his training as a priest, was not completely alien to this decision.4

Arizmendiarrieta’s curriculum vitae, written personally by him, gives us the following schematic of his studies: "Philosophy and Theology in the Vitoria Seminary. Ethical-Social Studies in the University of Comillas, enrolled in special and intensive courses. Economics in intensive courses in the Social School of Vitoria-Malaga, 1949-1952."5 A few lines later, he lists among the positions he has held: "Subdirector of the Social School of Vitoria, 1954 –1954."

The ethical-social studies to which the curriculum refers, must have been undertaken in the summer of 1940.6 Likely he had studied on his own—or perhaps in regular seminary classes—Christian social doctrine, of which he had a deep and detailed knowledge. But there came a moment when such ethical-social studies must have seemed insufficient to him, and he decided to approach the social question no longer only from the point of view of unchanging principles, but more realistically and at closer range by studying economics.

The following words, written years later in a letter to the Auxiliary Bishop of San Sebastian, Mons. D. Jose Maria Setien, could well be a reflection of his sense of unease:

Perhaps it is not out of place to observe that it would be better for us were we to devote more time to studying socio-economic reality, perhaps a part of the time that we devote to scholarly tangents. In any case in order to approach and know these realities, purely logical, conceptual, and abstract resources and methods are not sufficient. And, of course, we have such realities very close at hand provided we are able to descend to another level of "vulgarities" from the Olympus of beautiful dreams and inaccessible ideals to which our clerical training accustomed us." 47

In fact, among the old books, one of the most worn out and dog-eared in Arizmendiarrieta’s library, we find F.V. Kleinwachter, Political Economy, published by G. Gili in 1946, full of marginal notes in small handwriting, not always easy to read. This could well have been the book with which Arizmendiarrieta began his study of economics,[^ch2- 48] possibly as preparation for classes at the Social School of Vitoria. A curious note: where Kleinwachter says "the representatives of pure socialism totally reject private property" (p. 209), Arizmendiarrieta erases and corrects to "the representatives of communism." We cannot now dwell on the many underlinings and marginal notes with which Arizmendiarrieta has enriched the manual. But we do permit ourselves a single observation. In later writings of Arizmendiarrieta, we find an interpretation of the history of humanity which, echoing Hegel and Marx, conceives of humanity as a process in three phases of the development of cooperation: a first phase of cooperation by force, a second phase of cooperation by necessity (brought about, apparently, by the machine) and a third phase which opens from the present toward the future, of cooperation in freedom. This view of history—which we will develop in due course—centering around the concept of work and considering all work to be essentially cooperative, appears for the first time as a marginal handwritten note in the book in question. The following sentence of Kleinwachter seems to have given rise to Arizmendiarrieta’s development of his own thought: "The great constructions of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Egyptians show what cooperation imposed by force is capable of" (p. 180). In Kleinwachter, the term "cooperation" means "in common" and in no way has the deeper meaning which Arizmendiarrieta finds in it (rather, it is the other way around), nor does it appear again in discussion of the concept of the business firm (pp. 179-184).

Also we most note that, in the chapter on the cooperative enterprise in the same book, we find little underlining by Arizmendiarrieta, and not one marginal note. If this should be interpreted as an indication that Arizmendiarrieta during these years was not especially interested in the subject of cooperatives, we would have to conclude that the primary interest of Arizmendiarrieta lay not simply in a list of principles, but also in actual cooperation. Only in a secondary and derivative manner did he become interested in what is known as the cooperative enterprise.

These ideas will take time to bear fruit.7 It is clear that during these years, Arizmendiarrieta studies, analyzes, and observes, looking for opportunities everywhere. It is a period of reflection and searching. Perhaps we need to apply to the ideas which we see arising now among underlinings and marginal notes what Arizmendiarrieta himself will eventually declare to J. Larrañaga about ideas he heard from his professors in seminary (such as, work ennobles man) and of which he will only much later become conscious: "But awareness is like a seed. How can one imagine that an oak tree can be born of an acorn?" 50

During the period of the late forties and the early fifties, which would see the creation of the first cooperative, we find Arizmendiarrieta devoted to his studies. He maintains close contact with the Vitoria Seminary, attending the classes organized there by the Social School year after year. His interests range from economics and sociology to philosophy and pedagogy. Still, at the same time, this is a period of great activity in the training of youth, and of contact with social reality.

Arizmendiarrieta not only studies, he also observes and analyzes; and he does not study alone, but rather jointly with groups of young people. Unlike Pallas Athena, the cooperative experience of Mondragon was not born full blown from the head of a sovereign Jupiter, but from the joint reflection and common study of a group of workers led by Arizmendiarrieta.8 "I try to learn directly," he declares in his curriculum vitae, "the socio-economic realities of the region, cultivating and maintaining a relationship with its protagonists, without regard to their ideological or social status."9

  1. In 1955 (CAS, 234), he recommends for the study of social doctrine "the classic works of Llovera, Fallon, del P. Azpiazu, de Vila Creus, etc."

  2. By this time, the library already had subscriptions to the journals Ecclesia, Signo, Oye, and Jace (PR, I, 64).

  3. Ormaechea, J.M., "Una solución a tiempo para cada problema," TU, Nr. 190, nov.-dic. 1976, 31.

  4. Through some of his later statements we learn that he judged that training harshly cf. Larranaga, J., op. cit., 23, 28,65. "The gave me scholastic training and I realized that it was just a formula, a lifeless element. "(72).

  5. Curriculum vitae of 16 January 1971, prepared by Arizmendiarrieta for the Press Office of the Prime Minister (Arizmendiarrieta Archive).

  6. In the Arizmendiarrieta Archive we find the following diploma: "Pontifical University of Comillas. Academy of Sociology. D. Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta has brilliantly passed the Sociology Shortcourse, held at this university, during the summer, 1940. (Signed) Joaquin Azpiazu, S.J, Director. It bears no date. Note that Arizmendiarrieta in his curriculum does not designate [these courses] simply as sociological studies, but rather as ethical-social, not an infrequent term for Christian social doctrine.

  7. Das Kapital, beginning with Chapter 11, Section IV, Book I, will facilitate the full later development of these ideas. On the other hand, we should not forget that V. Kleinwachter himself simply repeats the end of the same chapter of K. Marx, cf. Das Kapital, D. Kiepenheuer, Berlin 1932, 320-322.

  8. Ornelas, C., Producer Cooperatives and Schooling: The Case of Mondragon, Spain, 1980, 76, (unpublished, CLP Archive) has expressed it perfectly as a statement of J.M. Mancisidor to the author: "Not only did Mondragon find D. Jose Maria, but D. Jose Maria also found Mondragon. It was like a perfect marriage."

  9. Formal and normative study in Lovaina, writes J. Larranaga, op. cit., 71, was cut off abruptly for D. Jose Maria by the Monsignor. But what he did not manage to draw from teachers and books, he more than made up for with what he drew from observing social life." A favorite phrase from Arizmendiarrieta’s own mouth, an expression of his critical attitude toward sterile scholasticism and academics, was that, more than in books, one must study first and foremost "in the great book of the world," or, "in the great book of life." It should be remembered that this is a crucial expression of R. Descartes, Discourse on Method, I, Alfaguara, Madrid 1981, 9, which marks the definitive break between scholastic philosophy and the beginning of modern philosophy: "I completely gave up academic study and decided not to search for knowledge anywhere (…) except in the great book of the world," etc.

Chapter Two (2/8)

Euskadi comes back to life

Discussing the early postwar years, F. Urbina highlights the positive fact that Catholic Action provided a space for personal and social growth to many young people of the urban middle class, in a desolate period during which the long-term outlook for this group was grim. Catholic Action, he says, "also penetrated into the socially unprotected layers of the urban petty bourgeoisie. It did not, however, manage to reach the working class until the beginning of HOAC and JOC, in the late ’40s.1

"The particular history of apostolic movements," we continue reading from the same author, "begins for HOAC in 1946; for JOC, in 1947. HOAC was created as a result of action by the hierarchy; the man chosen to lead the outreach to the working-class faithful was Guillermo Rovirosa who, from the beginning, gave the movement the stamp of working class authenticity. JOC began more at the ecclesiastical margins; it arose almost spontaneously, somewhat ‘clandestinely,’ through the actions of a few priests and activists, young workers in the Basque Country and Catalonia, and later in Madrid and Valencia. Later, in 1956, they were completely merged, as HOAC, under the CA, which was officially recognized by the hierarchy."2 There is no need to pause now to remember the importance of the AC during these years, which is recognized and beyond dispute.

These dates deserve some correction, at least as far as Guipuzcoa, and specifically Mondragon, is concerned. Arizmendiarrieta tells us that since June 11, 1940, there existed in Mondragon "an exclusively workers group, entirely made up of young men between 16 and 19 years of age, which has weekly meetings, or a sort of study group. (PR, I, 12; cfr. Ib. 126).3 By February 1941, the number had reached 30 (ib.12). In May 1942, this group was named "Juventud Obrera Catolica" [Catholic Worker Youth], better known simply as "worker youth" (ib.31); it goes by the acronym JOC (ib.32) and we are informed that in 1941-1942, it organized 45 study groups and assorted activities (ib. 32-35). The annual report for 1943 even gives us a list of members and applicants to the JOC in Mondragon (ib.38), etc. etc.

Returning to F. Urbina, who has written about this period with interest, we note that among the causes of this development of the Catholic worker he cites the following in first place: "The influence of the French apostolic movements on church leaders in Spain (JOC and Action Catholique Ouvriere), which were already very advanced."4 Urbina notes that this is especially true for the JOC of San Sebastian, Bilbao, and some other major urban centers.

Personally, we are inclined to think that the tradition and activity of groups that, before the war, were called "social apostles" or "propagandist priests" is of no less importance.5 We cannot ignore the important role which those priests and teachers of Christian social doctrine managed to carry out under poor conditions, only to end up being shot, jailed, or exiled, and in every case, slandered and abandoned by their own ecclesiastical hierarchy.6 On the contrary, everything leads us to believe that Catholic worker movements in Euskadi arose after the war in perfect continuity with the doctrinal and even personal tradition of the pre-war period, with the difference that unions were prohibited. We recall as well that the aforementioned influence of progressive French Catholicism on the Basque Church dates to before the war—the International Catholic Conversations in San Sebastian will give us a new confirmation of this—and was reinforced during the war.7

This does not prevent us from recognizing that, after 1945, the wind changes in Euskadi. Limiting ourselves to the Basque Church, let us recall that around this time, the return of exiled and jailed priests is beginning.8 The defeat of Fascism is felt by Basques in general, and also by their clergy, as a victory of their own.9 Though defeated and shackled, Euskadi is beginning to move.

In 1945, Monsignor Mateo Mugica, Bishop of Vitoria in exile, writes his Imperativos de mi conciencia [Demands of My Conscience], a defense of the clergy and of the "unjustly persecuted, accused, and condemned" Basque faithful.10 In 1947, the workers celebrate May first with a general strike, successfully carried out.11 The same year, the clandestine opposition redoubles its activity with propaganda, graffiti, Basque flags (for example, on the top of the steeple of the cathedral in San Sebastian), and bombs. In Aberri Eguna, the resistance intervenes in Radio San Sebastian, transmitting a message in Basque and Castilian from the lehendakari [president] Aguirre: thirteen thousand demonstrators are gathering in the church of San Anton in Bilbao.12 In September 1948, the Seventh Congress of Basque Studies takes place in Biarritz and several lecture cycles organized by the "Gernika" International Society of Basque Studies are organized, in which social topics stand out.13 When the Diocese of Vitoria (the three Basque provinces) is broken up on 1 July 1950, many priests from San Sebastian sign and publish a document which is sent to the new prelate for San Sebastian Monsignor Font y Andreu. "The speculation," reads the letter, "practiced by the highest bodies of the State, with such severe consequences as the obvious insufficiency of salaries and shortage of food; even the very subsistence of a State clearly incapable of providing for the citizens’ most elementary material needs (food, shelter, clothing) and moral ones (the guarantee of freedom to exercise human rights)—is this matter not important enough for instruction and joint action by the Spanish Episcopate? Since the Church is not capable of preventing great abuses of power current rulers, by what right is this state of affairs offered up to the world as a Christian regime, and even as a paragon of Catholic states?"14 And somewhat later: "Why, while the Church continues to present among the rights of man that of unionization and freedom of information, does it remain silent in Spain before the Sindicato Unico [Single Union, the state-run union, the only one allowed] and the tightest press censorship? How can the Church complain about the "iron curtain," when in Spain, censorship has been exercised against the Most Excellent cardinals and the official work of the Church, and the microphones in radio stations have been closed to any sermon or discussion not previously censored?"15

Finally, in the same year, 1950, the clandestine publication Egiz (With the Truth/In Truth) appears and denounces "serious public immoralities," understood as the suppression of worker unions, the prohibition of the Basque language, etc.16 A total of 18 issues came out, "which met with an enthusiastic reception."17 On 20 August 1951, a decree signed by the three new prelates of the Basque Dioceses prohibits priests from having any management role or any collaboration in the journal, even if only in its circulation. The journal continues to appear. Another decree, on 20 March 1952, threatening collaborating priests with the canonical punishment of "suspensio a divinis," finally shuts down the publication.18

Between 1945 and 1950, Euskadi comes back to life; it is in full bloom. Beltza can rightly describe this period as "the Golden Era" of the Basque government in exile, in which the resistance reaps its greatest successes.19 But leaving aside other aspects that touch most directly on political development, it is our belief that, among the most notable activities of this period, the International Catholic Conversations of San Sebastian, because of their importance both inside and outside of Euskadi, deserve to be highlighted.20

The first Conversations of San Sebastian were organized in 1935 by a group of young intellectuals who were convinced of the need to establish a permanent exchange of ideas among Catholic thinkers of different nationalities. This need arose from the fact that religion, as historical fact, develops in different countries in very different historical and social circumstances. The diversity of perspectives and attitudes was such that there was a danger of isolation and of mutual incomprehension.21 "The cultural and religious crisis," writes C. Santamaria, "that preceded the war was at its height in 1935, and a sense of foreboding was already in the air with respect to events which, before long, would shock the world. It was in this environment that the first attempt at conversations took place…"22 The second Conversations, planned for July, 1936, could not take place. But it is interesting, even ironic, to recall the subject on the agenda: "The Newness of Christian Thought in Relation to Today’s World."23

With WWII over and peace reestablished, the Conversations began again in 1947 with the topic "The Biblical Command of Love among Christians as an Element of International Solidarity." This year and, above all, in the two following years (1948, 1949), the profound differences in thought among the participants became evident, with regard to the idea of a "Charter of Human Rights according to the Church’s Thought." A considerable number of Catholic intellectuals of international renown took part in these debates.24

At the time, the Conversations of San Sebastian played a fundamental role in Spanish intellectual renewal. In a small-minded Spain, they became the privileged agora for the free interchange of ideas and projects. Present at the Conversations of 1947 were representatives of the following countries: Germany, Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Chile, Spain, France, Holland, Hungary, England, Italy, Lithuania, Mexico, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland, and the USA.25 "I attended the International Catholic Conversations in San Sebastian for the first time in 1949," wrote J.L. Aranguren, "an undertaking carried out by Carlos Santamaria and whose importance for Spanish Catholicism has been enormous, considering that until then, Spain had been the victim of a new "Tibetization."26

We have paused to discuss the topic of the International Catholic Conversations because their influence was decisive in the development of Catholic social thought and because they have yet to be studied. It is true that Arizmendiarrieta does not figure among the participants, but he is linked to them both through the Christian worker movement, whose most prominent representatives did participate, and, above all, through the Vitoria Seminary and the professors of its Social School. It is there that we find Arizmendiarrieta during these years, where the shining star was Professor G.R. de Yurre. Nor should we forget that for several years, Arizmendiarrieta had a close personal relationship, though not without tension, with Carlos Santamaria.27 It is not unlikely that much of the dispersed material that is in the Arizmendiarrieta Archive today—articles with no indication of author or origin, typed translations of lectures by foreign authors (J. Leclercq, etc.), which served him as valuable information and study material—came from these Conversations.28

As evidence of the change which is occurring, in the late ’40s, we see the first appearance of books in the Basque language since the war, which had been forbidden since the military occupation.29

The oft-quoted F. Urbina writes the following concerning the self-critical intellectual movement which, beginning in the late ’40s, even reaches the Second Vatican Council (1962): "But it can be said that at this level, as well as at the pastoral base, some of the fundamental impulses come as well from the effort at renovation during those years in Catholic Europe, particularly in France. That is when the great Catholic novelists began to be read: Bernanos, Mauriac, and Graham Green. The influence of philosophical-political thought, first of Maritain, and later of Mounier (…) widen the intellectual and spiritual panorama of the years just prior to the great Council."30 We think that it is also true, in Arizmendiarrieta’s case, that this is the time when the influence of these thinkers begins to be felt profoundly, even though his knowledge of them indisputably dates from earlier. This is not due solely to the change in atmosphere. Arizmendiarrieta himself has had a change in attitude during these years.

  1. Urbina, F., "Formas de vida de la Iglesia en España," in: Iglesia y Sociedad en España 1939-1975, Ed. Popular, Madrid 1977, 21.

  2. Ib. 55. The same dates are given in Ecclesia, N. 534, 6 October, 1951

  3. It is interesting to note that one of the reasons adduced for the value of organizing young workers separately is precisely "homogeneity, which is necessary for the complete development of study circles" (PR, I, 12.)

  4. Urbina, F., op. cit., 51.

  5. Larranaga, P. de, Contribución a la historia obrera de Euskalerria, Auñamendi, Donostia/San Sebastián 1977, vol. II, 178-180. Onaindia, A. de, Ayer como hoy. Documentos del Clero Vasco, Axular, Saint Jean de Luz 1975, 11. Elorza, A., Ideologías del nacionalismo vasco, L. Haranburu, San Sebastián 1978, 254-322 ("Los sacerdotes propagandistas y la ideología solidaria en la Segunda República"). These "propagandist priests" should not be confused with the well-known Propagandists of Herrera Oria (A.C.N. de P.), which they have nothing to do with.

  6. Let us remember only, and well aware of the injustice this does to the many names omitted, the names of Aitzol (shot), "Don Poli" (exiled), Onaindia (exiled), Mendikute, Markiegi, Lekuona (all three shot), Azpiazo (exiled), etc. etc. This important chapter, like so many others, has yet to be written.

  7. We referred earlier to Cardinal Verdier, Maritain, Mounier, Bernanos, Mauriac, etc. Let us recall also that the French Social Week in Rouen, July 1938, the last one celebrated before WWII, had not hidden its sympathies for the cause of the Basque Catholics in the Civil War, going so far as to invite a Basque delegation in exile to take part. See: La recente Semaine Sociale de France et le problème basque, Euzko Deya, Nr. 120, 7 August 1938. It is not surprising then, that when the Social Weeks begin again after the war in Toulouse (1946), there is a lively interest in them in Euskadi. It will be G.R. de Yurre who write about them in Ecclesia, and Arizmendiarrieta will make ample use of the lessons they contain.

  8. Iztueta, P. Sociología del fenómeno contestatario del Clero Vasco 1940-1975, Elkar, Donostia-San Sebastián 1981,144.

  9. See Aguirre, J.A., Obras Completas, Sendoa, Donostia/San Sebastián 1981,719-723. Also recall the "Memoria dirigida a S.S. el Papa Pío XII por miembros del Clero Vasco," of 25 November, 1944, cfr. Herria-Eliza, Euskadi, Estornés Lasa, San Sebastián 1978, 353-370.

  10. This document can be seen in Onaindia, A. de, op. cit., 76-117. In 1945, this document was issued in mimeograph. There is a copy in the Arizmendiarrieta Archive.

  11. Beltza, El nacionalismo vasco en el exilio 1937-1960, Txertoa, San Sebastián 1977, 35-37.

  12. Ortzi, Historia de Euskadi: el nacionalismo vasco y ETA, Ruedo Ibérico, París 1975, 267-268. BELTZA, op. cit., 34-35.

  13. Beltza, op. cit., 47-48; cooperatives are among the social issues dealt with.

  14. Onaindia, A… de, op. cit., 167-168.

  15. Ib. 169

  16. Iztueta, P. op. cit., 144-146. Belda, R., La Iglesia española y el sindicalismo vertical, asserts that "the first critical reflection on Spanish union organizing arose unexpectedly from the pen of (…) Brugarola," which is to say, around 1952 or 1954. For someone for whom the only real Spain of the ’40s (with its prohibited, but real, unions and political parties) was not the legal Spain, such an affirmation from a Basque priest is, to say the least, surprising.

  17. Onaindia, A. de, op cit.,33. According to Onaindia, issue number 16 of these magazines reached a circulation of 40,000 copies (p. 34). This issue was printed—generally, the issues were mimeographed, so their numbers must have been much lower.

  18. Iztueta, P., op. cit., 144. Onaindia, A. de, op. cit., 34-36.

  19. Beltza, op. cit., 31. Regarding the opposition in general, see Heine, H., La oposición política al franquismo, Crítica/Grijalbo, Barcelona 1983.

  20. We thank Mr. C. Santamaria for allowing us to consult the material in his private file for this study. For the historical explanation that follows, we use the unpublished and undated (but from 1950) writing in his possession entitled Les Conversations Catholiques Internationales de Saint-Sebastien (the translation is ours).

  21. Santamaria, C., op. cit.,1

  22. Ib. 2.

  23. Ib. 2. The program planned for those conversations (C. Santamaria’s file) reveals that the social and religious themes we find in Arizmendiarrieta after the war already occupied a prominent place in his thinking in the pre-war period. We take the liberty of mentioning the titles of a few of the planned topics: "Liberal Apostasy," "Repercussions in the Collective Conscience of the Crisis of Materialist Civilization," "The Psychology of Present-Day Anguish," "Popular De-Christianization," "Christian Ideals in Marxist Propaganda," "The Marxist Concept of Life with Respect to Christian Civilization." As can be seen, there is an abundant presence of the favorite topics of Personalist thinkers.

  24. These debates were conducted by the French internationalist Prof. Albert de la Pradelle; "in the course of the discussion," writes C. Santamaria, "there were Spanish participants who expressed themselves very freely concerning the authoritarian situation at the time in Spain" (Letter of C. Santamaria to Joseba Intxausti, 3 November 1983).

  25.   Memoria que la Junta de Conversaciones Católicas Internacionales de San Sebastián eleva al Excmo. Ayuntamiento de esta Ciudad (unpublished, archive of C. Santamaria).

  26. Aranguren, J.L., Memorias y esperanzas españolas, Taurus, Madrid 1969, 75.

  27. The Arizmendiarrieta Archive gives evidence of several services rendered by C. Santamaria to Arizmendiarrieta with regard to dealings with the central administration, of conference addresses given by the former in Mondragon, etc., and, also of some differences between the two beginning in 1966.

  28. The problem for the moment is hard to resolve since neither the Arizmendiarrieta nor the C. Santamaria archive have been organized or cataloged.

  29. Torrealdai, J.M., Euskararen zapalkuntza (1936-1939), Jakin, Nr. 24,1982,573. ID., Euskal idazleak gaur / Historia social de la lengua y literatura vascas, Jakin/Caja Laboral Popular, Oñati 1977, 304ss.

  30. Urbina, F., op.cit., 64-65.

Chapter Two (1/8)

Note: The entire second chapter of this book was translated by Russell Brown. We at Level Translation are both impressed by and profoundly grateful for his considerable efforts. His work will appear for the next eight weeks.


By opposing both the liberal, capitalist order, as well as all-encompassing collectivism and statism, Arizmendiarrieta seeks a new order made to suit humans. The formula, which he will try to put into practice later, will be that of the cooperative business of industrial production. Of course, the concepts of the cooperative order and the new order are not completely comparable, although at times Arizmendiarrieta shows a certain tendency to make them so. Nor can the new order be reduced to simply a new kind of enterprise.

During this phase of Arizmendiarrieta’s thought, which, it could be said, now begins to take on a strength of its own, we observe a substantial change, one which we might venture to label his orientation to the future. This change is decisive. It is true that already in the first chapter, Arizmendiarrieta had called for a new order. But in a climate of general renewal, more than the establishment of a new order, the impression is left that it is really about the restoration of a very old order, one prior to the modern liberalisms and collectivisms that are responsible for the current disorder. In fact, it was about restoring morality, family, and social harmony, and the social reign of the Christian faith… It seems, then, that he was more or less openly intending, in the end, to go back to a better past in history: one prior to the ruin of family life and the apostasy of the working class, etc. This perspective, which was characteristic of Arizmendiarrieta’s thought, sometimes crudely expressed in his first period (which we have not attempted to hide from the reader), makes a complete turnabout between 1945 and 1955. His historical perspective opens entirely toward the future. The crisis is understood not as the destruction of some idyllic and longed-for pre-liberal ideal, but rather as a dialectical struggle between the demands imposed by the degree of historical consciousness that has been achieved and the social structures that are unable meet them. Thus, the new order depends, more than on a transcendent truth, on a living, historical consciousness. And it clearly comes to mean an order to be constructed, not restored, in the immediate future, upon the foundation and at the pace of historical development, rather than upon the ruins of war. Arizmendiarrieta turns to the future. This change, which did not occur abruptly, but rather slowly and gradually, is nonetheless the most profound change that has occurred in his thought, and undoubtedly is the key to understanding his new positions.

The new order to be built must be human, and for this, it must fulfill some basic requirements, which Arizmendiarrieta has developed broadly and energetically, convinced that only the strength of firm conviction can build the new world that is demanded.

In the second part of our study we will attempt to lay out the fundamental principles which, in Arizmendiarrieta’s view, must constitute the basis of any human order. These will necessarily also be the foundation of the cooperative order.

Let us observe that Arizmendiarrieta has not proposed to discuss how the new order should be, but rather how it can and must be built. His thoughts are always oriented to action, not to the description of an imaginary ideal. On the contrary, actions are always the wellspring from which Arizmendiarrieta’s thoughts flow. This mutual dependence of action and thought is fruitful, and characteristic of his work.

Following our purpose of identifying Arizmendiarrieta’s thought as clearly as possible—his sources, his personal activity, as well as his general historical context—we will first analyze these circumstances separately in a historical chapter. This will permit us to dedicate the three following chapters (3, 4 and 5) to the systematic exposition of Arizmendiarrieta’s thought about the basic requirements for the building of a human order.


Arizmendiarrieta stresses that cooperativism grows and develops within a specific geographical context,1 and he searches for its fundamental principles in Basque social tradition.2

Without intending to detract from the importance of this general point, we should point out another more immediate and more specific one: the case of Mondragon in particular, which was the fruit of a long sowing over the years by Arizmendiarrieta. In fact, its birth occurred over the 15 long years between Arizmendiarrieta’s arrival in Mondragon in 1941—an old cardboard suitcase in hand—and 1956, the year when the first cooperative, which came to be known as Ulgor,3 began to function with a small core of pioneers.

A Bit of History

"A Bit of History" is what Arizmendiarrieta calls a short work from 1972 (EP, II, 183–186) in which he reviews the history of the League of Education and Culture. We will use the same title to attempt to situate Arizmendiarreta’s educational work in its historical context.

Before Arizmendiarrieta’s arrival, Mondragon already had an Apprentice School, founded in October 1939 by the Unión Cerrajera (PR,I,12) to meet its needs exclusively.4 Two Brothers from Saint Viator were in charge of the classes in general culture, religion, and morals. Arizmendiarrieta, as chaplain, had an hour per week of instructional time at his disposal [Ib. 12-13).5

Arizmendiarrieta wanted a school of professional preparation that would be open to all the children who might want it,6 and in October, 1943, despite very precarious conditions, dares to open the Professional School, which he wants to become a source of material and spiritual prosperity for Mondragon (EP, I,9). Officially established in the name of Catholic Action as a private (not cooperative) school, it will be governed in principle by "a board made up of businesspeople, representatives of the workers, and the Town Hall" (Ib. 11).

The collaboration of businesspeople was critical in this first period. But it does not take long for dependence on them to bring about the subordination of the workers, which Arizmendiarrieta is not prepared to accept for his school. One more step and in 1948, the League of Education and Culture was created as legal umbrella entity for the Professional School.7

This school "will become, in time, the foundation of an experience which, without it, would not have been possible."8 This judgment is constantly repeated both by participants (including Arizmendiarrieta), as well as by all those who later have studied the Mondragon cooperative movement. Still, we should make two observations: 1. As we will see, in no way did Arizmendiarrieta limit his educational activity to this school; 2 what was taught in this school still did not have the formation of cooperatives as a direct objective, although it did in fact promote a spirit of responsibility and cooperation. Arizmendiarrieta did not come to Mondragon with a defined plan (for cooperatives), but rather with a few clear ideas: that workers can only free themselves through education and hard work.

Before going on to a more systematic exposition of this thought, it is appropriate to review the social and historical context in which it developed.

  1. This idea, more or less developed, is found in almost all the authors who have studied the cooperative movement in Mondragon. As an example, all the more representative because it deals with a cooperator, see Erdocia, J., El cooperativismo crece y se desarrolla en un entorno geográfico determinado, in: Cursillo para personal de la División Empresarial, 1974, 121-137 (CLP Archives).

  2. Garcia, Q., Les coopératives industrielles de Mondragon, Ed. Ouvrières, París 1970, 38, writes: "It is a recognized fact that the Basque people have a well-established personality. We can simply point out that, as far as work is concerned, responsibility, efficiency, and initiative are qualities particular to Basques. And in the social arena, solidarity and democracy are still mentioned today as forming part of the baggage of their traditions." [Translation from French by the author] Interesting observations about the specifically Basque character, or "Basqueness" of the cooperative phenomenon in Mondragon, and about whether it can be reproduced in other countries, etc, can be seen in the work Mondragón Co-operatives: Myth or Model, The Open University, Co-operatives Research Unit, London 1982, 24 ss., 28 ss., 72. Although these characteristics can seem a bit flattering, we fear that in this field it is all to easy to fall into unproductive exaggeration and subjectivism. It must be remembered that this cooperativism has in fact arisen in personal and social circumstances specific to Mondragon, and not in some other part of the Basque Country.

  3. Here are the names whose initials make up ULGOR: Luis Usatorre, Jesús Larrañaga, Alfonso Gorroñogoitia, José María Ormaechea, Javier Ortubay, cfr. LARRAÑAGA, J., Don José María Arizmendi-Arrieta y la experiencia cooperativa de Mondragón, Caja Laboral Popular, 1981, 124.

  4. This School admitted only 12 apprentices per year, the "chosen twelve," cfr. ORMAECHEA, J.M., "Una solución a tiempo para cada problema," TU, Nr. 190, Nov.-Dec. 1976, 32.

  5. Of the 36 apprentices registered in February 1941 (the time of Arizmendiarrieta’s arrival in Mondragon), 14 were members of Catholic Action (PR, I,13).

  6. According to Ornelas,C., Producer Cooperatives and Schooling: The Case of Mondragon, Spain, 1980, 73 (unpublished, CLP Archive), at the end of 1942, the workers associated with the PNV had tried to organize a strike to demand that the Unión Cerrajera admit more students to the Apprentice School. Mollner, T., The Design of Nonformal Education Process to Establish A Community Development Program based upon Mahatma Gandhi’s Theory of Trusteeship, 1981, 92 (unpublished, CLP Archive) notes that Arizmendiarrieta himself probably tried to convince the Unión Cerrajera to expand the school. After being rejected by the company (it would not be, Mollner observes, the last time that they would refuse to help him with his plans) Arizmendiarrieta most likely decided to create a new school, looking for funding from the working families themselves.

  7. Leibar, J.,D. "José María Arizmendiarrieta Madariaga. Apuntes para una biografía," TU, Nr. 190, Nov.-Dec. 1976, 60. Businesses such as Elma, Metalurgica Cerrajera (not Unión Cerrajera), Industrial Co-charera, Asam, etc., subsidized the school at a certain percentage per year, in addition to other assistance. The presidents of the Board of Directors generally came from these businesses. Even later, when the contributions of cooperatives gained more importance, Arizmendiarrieta continued to underscore the communal, not just co-operative, character of the school. The initial financial difficulties were enormous: "there were times," Juan Leibar informs us, "in which professors got paid a month or two late; on one occasion they even had to sell an old lathe, freshly painted, to meet the monthly payroll."

  8. Larrañaga, J., op. cit., 103. The main educational institutions (primarily for technical training) promoted by Arizmendiarrieta are the League for Education and Culture, the Professional Polytechnical School, Alecoop, and Ikerlan. All researchers of the Mondragon cooperative movement point to their importance as the foundation of the uniqueness of this phenomenon and its development. For their history, activity, organization, etc., see the study cited above by C. Ornelas, and Thomas, H. and Logan, C., Mondragon. An Economic Analysis, G. Allen & Unwin, Boston/Sydney 1982, 18-19 y 52-65. The present study, which does not attempt to analyze the cooperative phenomenon as such, but rather the thought of the man who inspired it, will be limited to pointing out, from among the educational activities of Arizmendiarrieta, only those aspects which have not been considered in prior research due to problems of access both to his original writing and to the archives.

The BAUEN Hotel Worker Cooperative: an experience of self-management and freedom

Fabián Pierucci and Federico Tonarelli
BAUEN Worker Cooperative, Limited/F.A.C.T.A.
(Argentine Federation of Self-Managed Workers)

Recover (def.): To take back or re-acquire what had been lost. To put back in service what was useless. To work for a given period to compensate for what stopped being done for some reason. To return to oneself. To return to normality after a crisis.

The BAUEN Worker Cooperative, Limited (INAES inscription 25801), has worked at Callao 360 of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires since March 2003. The venture is the direct heir of a number of experiences that, with a great deal of imagination and courage, were created to alleviate the social and economic consequences of the crisis in 2001. These experiences are known generically as Businesses Recovered by their Workers (BRW) and have been the object of analysis and study, especially for their impact on the creation of jobs, but also for their contribution to new organizational practices which, today, are discussed and valued in worker cooperativism and in cooperativism in general. To date, it is calculated that more than 250 BRWs exist.

Following successive changes in holding companies to make working conditions more “flexible” and to avoid taxes, in 1997, the Bauen S.A.C.I.C. firm, chaired by Marcelo Iurcovich, sells the twenty-story tower that had operated as a hotel since 1978. The buyer, Solari, S.A., a business with Chilean capital, without proven economic solvency and with no experience in the hotel industry, takes charge of the business. This operation takes effect with a bill of sale signed in exchange for an amount of money far lower than real-estate market practices to take possession of a property. Shortly after the hotel begins working under the new firm, assets begin to be stripped, workers begin to be dismissed, and a preventive case is opened, followed by the bankruptcy of Solari, S.A. This situation culminates with the definitive closure of the hotel and dismissal of all the workers who were still employed, the 28th of December, 2001.

From roadblocks to factory takeovers

Expelled from their work environment, without organizational contact with other workers, the newest and most spectacular form of worker resistance organized in the middle of the ’90s is the roadblock, organized by unemployed workers. National assemblies made up mostly of fired workers, but where housewives and youth with no access to the labor market also participate, decide plans of struggle with an agenda linked to demands for denied rights. The method of protest and demand, exercised as a kind of pressure on the State and on capital, is blockading the circulation of goods. Streets are blocked and access prevented to the entry and exit of vehicles with supplies, goods and workers. This modality is no more and no less than the expansion into the transportation aspect of commerce of the historical protests by organized workers in the production aspect of commerce (strikes, work slowdowns, sabotage, etc.). The extent of this organizational form of unemployed workers is massive, occurring across practically the entire nation.

In 2001, protests multiplied, accompanied by aggravation of financial restrictions by the State. There were unprecedented rates of unemployment and labor precarity. The inflation that accompanied the devaluation after the end of monetary convertibility had extreme consequences for family budgets.

The State response to social protest always created great tension. Every roadblock or street protest was accompanied by large repressive deployments. In many cases, police action ended with dead and wounded among the protesters. In the beginning, the answer was government support, with subsidies programs for those below the subsistence level. By the end of 2001, the State response was basically repressive.

Two facts are written in fire in the history of worker and popular struggles:

  • The protests of the 19th and 20th of December, 2001 lead to the resignation of the Minister of the Economy, Domingo Cavallo, and the President of the Argentine Nation, Fernando de la Rúa. On these days, different State and para-State repressive forces kill more than 30 protesters.
  • The massive manifestation of unemployed workers on the Pueyrredón de Avellaneda Bridge, June 26, 2002, which culminates with an attack that wounds hundreds of protesters and kills Darío Santillán and Maximiliano Kosteki.

Businesses recovered by their workers (BRW)

The recovery of factories, workshops and productive spaces by their workers was a defensive and last-ditch effort, within the dynamic of class struggle. The large majority went through three clearly differentiated stages: occupation, the organization of the resistance to maintain the occupation over time and, finally, the decision to produce. The time that each of these stages took had to do with the time for maturing and debate of the collectives that took responsibility for these actions. This process meant a major impact on the subjectivity of each worker that was part of the recovery of their jobs and workplaces. Every experience also left an imprint on the geography surrounding the factories and workshops: for the first time, these spaces were open to the neighbors, who generally participated as sympathizers and sustainers.

The 21st of March, 2003, living among the consequences of the economic crisis, especially large-scale unemployment and the impoverishment of popular sectors, former workers of the Hotel BAUEN, assembled in the Chilavert printing cooperative, decided to occupy the lobby of the building at Callao 360 with the purpose of demanding a solution to the social drama they were living in. They were already organized as the Buenos Aires, Una Empresa Nacional [Buenos Aires, A National Business, or BAUEN] Worker Cooperative, because, for months, they had received no response from the State, employers, or union. Gradually, they began to carry out economic activities to be able to subsist. So it was, as the fruit of much labor and saving most of the income the cooperative had for a long time, which made the draws quite meager, that each of the sections and stories of the building were reconditioned.

When the floors were opened to guests, an explosion of good, new jobs was created, which continues practically through today. From twenty-five founding members of the cooperative, they grew to a hundred and sixty. That is, growth of 640% in the labor force which, today, has an income comparable to the prevailing wage in the sector. But if there is a characteristic that is distinctive to the experience of the BAUEN, for which it is known in innumerable places across the world, it is the cooperative worker-members’ policy of openness towards the community. Without losing the central objective of improving the quality of life of its members, the cooperative has housed countless social and political events, and a multitude of personalities of art, of culture, of social movements and of the political representatives of popular sectors have passed through its doors. In fact, the main slogans used for years have “The BAUEN is everyone’s” and “BAUEN: struggle, culture, and work.” Both expressions are goals of daily action. And all this takes place in a framework of legal insecurity, of not having resolved the root problem, which is legal ownership of the property.

Beginning of this story

The Hotel BAUEN was constructed in record time with a credit from the BANADE (National Bank of Development) between 1977 and 1978. This credit was provided in the framework of the infrastructure program for the World Cup of 1978 approved by the military dictatorship. The disbursements made by BANADE (according to the mortgage record in the land register) were the following:

03/10/77 800,000,000 Pesos Ley (US$ 2,335,760)

11/21/77 743,852,000 Pesos Ley (US$ 1,352,450)

12/28/77 1,537,148,000 Pesos Ley (US$ 2,566,190)

01/05/78 508,000,000 Pesos Ley (US$ 798,740)

07/10/78 342,500,000 Pesos Ley (US$ 429,730)

10/30/78 92,800,000 Pesos Ley (US$ 101,860)

11/03/78 354,500,000 Pesos Ley (US$ 370,810)

11/03/78 54,700,000 Pesos Ley (US$ 68,040)

Total 4,433,500,000 Pesos Ley (US$ 8,023,580)

In these 34 years, the Argentine Republic changed currency four times:

The US$8,023,580 of 1977/78 becomes US$18,870,812.34 in 2012, which is an increase of 235% in 34 years, assuming an inflation rate of 7%, the annual average in the USA.

If we take the updated amount of capital of $86,805,736.77 and apply the preferential 5% annual interest rate that appears in the contract of the original credit, it gives a total of $147,569,752.50.


In the framework of the closure of the BANADE and attempts to collect the remainder through the Banco Nación, which managed the residual portfolio, an agreement is reached in 1994 between the bank and Bauen, S. A., for US$6,000,000 as the total balance of the original debt. This agreement was unfulfilled. The balance as of 2000, the year of the liquidation of BANADE, gives a balance of the updated debt to that date of $85,476,895 [pesos], considered entirely uncollectible.

At the beginning of the ’80s, Bauen, S. A., filed suit against BANADE for noncompliance in the granting of the above-mentioned credit, as a strategy to repudiate the original debt, to extend the terms and to liquidate the amount originally borrowed in a context of high inflation. After having made only a few consistent payments towards amortizating the interest, until se efectivizó the total of the agreed amount with BANADE, plus the expansions to the original credit for changes to the building project, no more payments were ever made to the bank. In March 2007, there was a judgment by the Court of Appeals which, today, is in the Supreme Court of the Nation in the case of Bauen SACIC vs BANADE, where the liquidation indicates that the debt to BANADE, updated as of 04/01/91, is $4,670,262.84, to which an 5% annual interest rate is applied from 01/01/83 to 03/31/2007, which gives, as of that date, the amount of $11,118,718, minus a penalty imposed on BANADE for noncompliance at the point of granting of the tranches of $2,502,193, leaving a balance favorable to BANADE of $8,616,524.

In the liquidation, we can realize that the period 1991-2007 was not updated, which meant a considerable liquifaction of the debt. Now, if we do the exercise of applying the rate for noncompliance with the sentence of 5% monthly on the original capital in the 62 months since the sentence through the present, the amount of $4,670,262.84 becomes 14,477,814.80, which, updated by the 2012/2007 IPM brings us close to a debt of $25.000.000 to date. This judgment largely achieves the objective of the economic group led by Iurcovich: hold on to the building that he used since its construction essentially without paying. This strategy of a chain of successive scams allowed the economic group, which, today, demands ownership of the building, to use the flow of revenue created by the hotel to become rich and invest in other publicly known enterprises (the Bauen Suite in Buenos Aires, Bauen Buzios in Brazil, etc.) without any kind of State control.

We note that the difference between our first $86,805,736.77 of updated capital with no interest and the $25,000,000 from the updated calculation of the judicial judgment that would shed light on Iurcovich’s thirty-year debt, show us that the loss to the Nation-state would be $60,000,000 [Argentine pesos].

The legal structure adopted by all the BRWs was the worker cooperative. This organizational structure meant learning, which happened, in cases, with some resistance. Going from a wage relationship to taking responsibility for running the business meant crossing an abyss. Also, the “bad press” worker cooperatives were getting played a negative role when it came time to define the direction of the recovered businesses.

The need for an assembly-based organization for political decision-making and for the reorganization of production created a practice that radicalized the cooperative principle of internal democracy. The BRWs breathed a good dose of grassroots participation into the statutory tradition that delegates most operational responsibility for the cooperatives to the administrative council. The legal structure of the worker cooperative and the concrete practice of the BRWs, led to thinking, or, rather, rethinking the concept of self-management to describe these new experiences.

In the nine years of cooperative management by the workers of the BAUEN Hotel, there was an inverse proportion in the application of the income generated by the services they provided between investment and each cooperative member’s draw. In the beginning, investment meant that almost all earnings were applied to restoring the facilities. To the extent that reactivating the different spaces allowed, the income of the workers increased. This process made nearly 100% of the facilities of tower housing the cooperative at Callao 360 productively viable, with an investment of $5,000,000, without counting with the cost of the working time, when improvements were made by cooperative members. This amount, updated to 2012, is approximately $15,000,000. All this, with savings of earnings produced by their own efforts. The experience of the BAUEN Cooperative revitalized an abandoned building and created a business that is self-sustaining over time, with an auspicious future. These data show a notable contrast between the results of employer management, 1978-2001, and worker management, from 2003 to today.

Proportion of income received by the workers of the BAUEN compared to investment in the building over time. (Source: the workers themselves).

Public utility: work, value and hierarchy

Legislation on “public utility,” in which goods necessary for State infrastructure projects or for public use had been the most common application of this concept, is expanded by provincial legislatures to give legality to the BRWs. Public utility (which makes assets subject to expropriation) was declared to include those means of production, facilities and complementary parts of economic use that were abandoned by the employers, in almost all cases after assets were stripped and workers were fired en masse. This legislative practice gives an account of an widespread phenomenon in the defense of labor rights called Businesses Recovered by their Workers. The BRWs were tools, in these last ten years, of safeguarding rights denied to workers, as well as organizational forms in popular sectors of new management practices in productive enterprises. The hierarchical organizational forms imposed in the wage bond are replaced by strategic decision-making in the organization of labor and the internal life of each experience in a collective and democratic way. This new way of thinking and acting created a logic absolutely opposed to that of the world of capital. While the main and perhaps sole objective of a business managed by capital is the highest profit rate, as fast as possible, the fundamental objective of the BRWs is the preservation of jobs and the improvement of the quality of life of their members, closely connected to the surrounding community. This characteristic makes the BRWs eligible not just to be considered a practical alternative to unresolved market “failures,” but to be included in general legislation, now that these practices are considered to be profoundly linked to the material and spiritual well-being of the people that participate in them, which are so numerous that they are seen as connected with, and possibly even conflated with, the general social good of the working classes. These considerations, we think, expand the scope of the concept of “public utility.” Work, jobs linked to the means of production, the infrastructure that houses them, productive processes, as well as the “know-how” or worker knowledge that guarantees the quality of the finished products of factories, workshops and service businesses — we maintain — should be considered to be of “public utility,” given that their destruction or loss would impose a grave economic and social cost for the whole population.

Economics, law and politics

To date, there is a firm eviction notice handed down by judge Paula Hualde of Commercial Court No. 9, in 2007, with an appeal by the cooperative to a higher court and a grievance before the Supreme Court, both of which were rejected. Recently, the judge ordered meetings aimed at arranging a resolution between the parties (Mercoteles S.A., the bankruptcy trustee, Solari S.A., and workers from the BAUEN Cooperative, together with representatives of the State) to evaluate the social problem that would result from the announced measure.

Given this situation, we express that the social cost and the cultural impact of the dislocation of the cooperative and its eviction from its headquarters at Callao 360 in the C.A.B.A. would be of an irreparable magnitude:

  • one hundred sixty good jobs would be lost in a historical context where work came to be valued as much more than a mere contract between parties — it is considered a social good. Clearly, this would constitute a serious social drama for the members of the cooperative and would have a negative fiscal impact for the State, because of the loss of a value producing unit, and because of the cost of subsidies to unemployed families.
  • hundreds of small agents in the social economy that were developed as providers of goods and services to the cooperative (a priority from its beginning) would be affected.
  • a self-managed space would disappear, a space that has become a point of reference for social movements and popular sectors across the country and across the world that use the cooperative’s facilities for their activities. This would have an extremely negative impact on cultural dissemination and production in the city of Buenos Aires.
  • It would be the end of a space used by the nation-State for its events and activities across all ministries and government agencies that signed agreements to use the cooperative’s facilities (Ministries of Security, Education, Agriculture, etc.).

Because of this, with our legal options exhausted, having developed our cooperative experience for almost ten years in conditions of legal precarity, and now at risk of losing 160 good jobs, we express the need for a definitive political solution to the conflict.

The processes of cooperative integration, social movements, and the BAUEN

The BAUEN hotel and the story of its recovery as a productive space are intimately linked to social movements born of the resistance against the consequences of the crisis of 2001. Countless political, cultural and social organizations have passed through the facilities of the hotel. The BAUEN workers were also active in worker and popular struggles with participation and initiatives, from assessment and accompaniment of each factory or workshop in conflict, to demonstrations against FTAA. Since 2007, there has been a second-generation discussion about the stage of resistance and production. There was a debate about movement nature of the BRWs and the need for give institutionality to forms of social, political, economic and productive integration, which have been ever-present and distinctive qualities since their birth. In this framework, FACTA (Argentine Federation of Cooperatives of Self-Managed Workers) was created to meet this need. From its beginning, FACTA has been made up of BRWs, worker cooperatives formed by social movements, and of cooperatives strongly linked to these traditions. For two consecutive terms, the BAUEN cooperative was chosen to preside over FACTA. FACTA is a third-degree associated of the CNCT (the National Confederation of Worker Cooperatives) and a member of COOPERAR (the Cooperative Confederation of the Argentine Republic).

FACTA, the CNCT, and the Cooperative Printers’ Network have located their headquarters in the building of the BAUEN.

Work proposals for the BAUEN conflict

For six years, different expropriation bills in favor of this worker cooperative were presented in Congress of the Nation. The first was sponsored by Francisco Gutiérrez (today mayor of the municipality of Quilmes), the second by Deputy Carlos Tinnirello, and on three occasions by deputy Victoria Donda Pérez, which each successively lost its parliamentary chance by not being brought to a vote. Currently, the bill presented by Deputy Carlos Heller has a favorable opinion in the Committee on Cooperative Affairs. These bills propose to declare the tower at Callao 360 in the C.A.B.A. to be of public utility and that it be given in loan for use to the BAUEN cooperative.

Common sense indicates that any elemental calculation to update the debt contracted by Marcelo Iurcovich with the Argentine State in 1978 would far exceed the price of the property. There is also the need to review and consolidate debts of the Iurcovich group with the State for other reasons which should be added to the mortgage credits recieved from the now-defunct BANADE. So, the fiscal cost of a possible expropriation should be essentially zero.

Another aspect that we put a consideration is the fact of the obvious and proven link of complicity of the economic group with the military dictatorship. It would be a public affront to return the building to the same ones who participated and benefitted from economic links with the worst contemporary tragedy for popular sectors, with a measure that would fly in the face of the current policy of Human Rights of the National Government to pursue Memory and Justice.

In synthesis

The actors participating in the BAUEN conflict are:

Judicial Power
National State
Mercoteles S. A.
BAUEN Worker Cooperative, Ltd.

Judicial Power:

  • Has a firm judgment for restitution to Mercoteles, S. A., of the building (calls hearings with proposed agreements between parties)
  • An appeal is in process in the case of Bauen SACIC vs BANADE in the Supreme Court of Justice, which should define the final amount of Iurcovich’s debt to the Argentine State.

National State:

  • Is a user of the BAUEN Cooperative’s services
  • Is a provider of consulting and financing services to the BAUEN Cooperative
  • Is a creditor of Mercoteles S. A.’s mortgage
  • It is a creditor of as yet undetermined debts of Bauen S. A. and Mercoteles S. A.

Mercoteles S. A.:

  • Complicity with the military dictatorship to organize the hotel business in 1978
  • Simulated sale of the tower by Bauen, S. A., to Mercoteles, S. A., in 2001
  • Successive failures to abide by agreements with financial bodies
  • Judgement against it in the Chamber of Appeals
  • Extraordinary liquidation of original debt to BANADE
  • Process of accreditation for consolidation of other debts with state bodies
  • Disappearance of work credits of former Bauen, S. A., workers

BAUEN Worker Cooperative :

  • Founded in the year 2003 with 30 members; today, it provides 160 good jobs
  • Restarting the venture required refurbishing nearly every part of the tower at Callao 360
  • Projects of expansion of services with optimization of the productivity of associated labor
  • Process of cooperative integration through federated association
  • Process of horizontal cooperative integration with other hotel cooperatives
  • Process of vertical cooperative integration with providers and users in the social and solidarity economy
  • Associative projects for common undertakings with cooperative sector
  • Associative projects for financing of investment in cooperative sector
  • Process of IRAM/ISO 9001 certification with consulting from the Ministry of Labor of the Nation
  • Application to the National Congress for declaration of Public Utility, subject to expropriation, of building at Callao 360
  • Preservation of State assets and denunciation of historic inaction with respect to collecting on debts.


The resolution of the conflict over the building at Callao 360 of C.A.B.A., and giving legality to the legitimacy won by the BAUEN Co-op over the last ten years, will significantly increase the potential of this experience, and will also be a very important achievement for the whole solidarity sector. The BRWs are a new associative tool in defense of workers’ rights, and the BAUEN hotel is of the BRWs with the most symbolic weight, nationally and internationally.

This is why we say that the cooperative sector, and the working class in general, should declare itself to be in favor of a resolution of the conflict that includes labor continuity for the workers who recovered and self-managed this building for the whole community, understanding that this worker victory will be written into the pages of the history of worker struggle and self-management in Argentina.