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.

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