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.

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