Introduction

José María Arizmendiarrieta is considered the founder, or inspiration, of the cooperative movement of Mondragon.

The cooperative experience in Mondragon began in 1956.1 "The great significance of the cooperative movement of Mondragon," Professor D. Arazandi, Rector of the Universidad de Deusto, recently wrote, "is its emphasis on industrial cooperativism." Figuring into this experience are the largest industrial cooperatives in the world, with this industrial aspect being somewhat unusual and even unique at the global level."2

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According to the 1982 annual report of the Caja Laboral Popular, the movement then had 160 associated cooperatives,3 in which 18,788 cooperative members worked. Of those, 88 are industrial production cooperatives.4 The high number of teaching cooperatives is striking, with a total of 44 centers, with approximately 30,000 students.5 This is due to linguistic needs, which have forced the Basque people to search for solutions through cooperative citizen initiative.6 Keeping in mind that the two fields in which cooperativism has traditionally prospered are agricultural production and consumption, the originality of this Basque cooperativism is obvious.7

The movement now has its own Institute of Technological Investigation for the humanization of work ("Ikerlan"), a center for polytechnical studies ("J.M. Arizmendiarrieta Eskola Politeknikoa"), its own insurance and social welfare service ("Lagun-Aro") and, above all, its own financial organization, the Caja Laboral Popular/Lan Kide Aurrezkia.

Every author highlights the importance of the creation of this financial organization in the rapid and solid development of this movement. "The special weakness cooperative businesses suffer from in finance," writes Professor Aranzadi, "is classic […]. To confront this problem, the Caja Laboral Popular is an extremely interesting creation, because it has been able to collect resources through people saving, or from temporarily inactive funds from the Cooperatives […]. Mondragon may, then, be a starting point for realistic, solid industrial cooperativism, and may be an important milestone, not only in the history of the cooperative movement, but also in the solution to the terrible dilemma of reconciling the demands of the industrial system with the humanization of business."8

The interest that the Mondragon cooperative experience has sparked around the world in recent years is reflected in the bibliography that can be seen at the end of this study. It would be easy to bring together here an anthology of praise and expressions of acclaim, from R. Tamames, from the Commission of British parliamentarians, or from the Scandinavian, Chilean or Japanese press, or to highlight the interest shown in this experience from the Soviet Union to the countries of the Third World. But that is not our purpose. The objective of this study is not–we want to underscore, is not–the cooperative experience of Mondragon, to which the name of Arizmendiarrieta is invariably associated. Our objective is, solely and exclusively, the thought of the person who, from the first moment, was its inspiration and guide, José María Arizmendiarrieta.


José María Arizmendiarrieta Madariaga was born in Markina, Biscay, on Iturbe estate in the neighborhood of Barinaga, at 1:00 in the afternoon, the twenty-second of April, 1915.9 He died in Arrasate/Mondragón at 8:20 in the evening on the twenty-ninth of November, 1976. He was 61 years old. He was a priest.

Here, in brief, are the most important biographical data:10 at twelve years old, in 1928, he entered seminary. He studied at the Seminaries of Castillo-Elexa-beitia (Humanities) and Gasteiz/Vitoria (Philosophy), until his studies were suspended by the civil war. He served as a journalist in the Basque Army. Taken prisoner after the fall of Bilbao (in the Larrinaga jail), and found guilty in the briefest of proceedings of military rebellion, he was later cleared of the charges11 and transferred to the nationalist ranks in Burgos.12 When the war ended, he returned to the Seminary of Gasteiz/Vitoria to be ordained a priest on the twenty-first of December, 1940. A month and a half later, he arrived at Mondragon, where he remained until his death.

The time of his activities at Mondragon has been divided into three periods: "[H]e would call the first phase ‘youth,’ from 1941 to 1956; the second, ‘work,’ from 1956 to 1973; the third, which is unfinished, ‘the classless society,’ since 1973."13 Arizmendiarrieta first dedicated himself to training youth, to then give himself over fully to the cooperative movement that he himself had promoted with his teachings. In later years, he dreamed of interesting projects, especially concerning children and the elderly, looking towards a community that would bring about in its bosom the classless society. However, these three phases reflect his concerns about concrete tasks to carry out, not the depths of his thought. It is clear, for example, that the concern for a classless society does not constitute only one stage, but a constant in his thought. In this sense, the last phase of his life, as Ormaechea has observed, means "something like the synthesis of everything that came before."14

A rigorous story of Arizmendiarrieta’s life and activities has yet to be written, a fact that, at times, makes it difficult to study his thought. Just as for Mounier,15 whose disciple and follower he considered himself, events were Arizmendiarrieta’s "interior teacher." We see his reflections developing in intimate connection with the world of his surroundings, which he tried to transform, at the same time that he himself allowed himself to be transformed by it. That said, we again alert the reader that we will not stop to closely study his life and activities except to the extent that it helps provide a better understanding of his ideas.


Arizmendiarrieta, through the years, left copious written records of his thought, some unpublished, that have been collected and jealously treasured by the Caja Laboral Popular, which put all this material in our hands with an invitation to examine it. The study now presented to the public is based on the results of this analysis, which, beginning with the initiative of the Caja Laboral Popular, was the object of the author’s doctoral thesis, presented at the School of Philosophy and Sciences of Education of the University of the Basque Country/Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea. It has been lightly re-touched which, while not changing the basics, we hope will facilitate the reading thereof, as well as the placement of Arizmendiarrieta’s thought in the context in which it was developed.

I would like to express here my recognition of the Directors of the Caja Laboral Popular and of the Polytechnical Professional School in Arrasate/Mondragon, who put their corresponding archives and libraries at my full disposal for this study. Likewise, I must record the great deal of help, criticism, and clarification received from direct disciples or followers of Arizmendiarrieta, who are active repositories of his thought: the interest with which they have followed the development of this work since the first moment, their contributions of unedited or unknown material, their constant and kind availability for consultations, and their information—always prompt and accurate—have been of incalculable value. I hope that my many good friends who are well deserving of a mention will forgive my silence, in the interest of avoiding clumsy omissions, and that, nonetheless, they will let me highlight, for all of them, the indispensable bibliographical help and guidance from M.ª Jesús Zabaleta, of the Caja Laboral Popular, and the ever-discreet but particularly efficient collaboration of Juan Leibar, Secretary of the Polytechnical Professional School and custodian of the Arizmendiarrieta Archives.

This study also would not have been possible without the help of the editorial team of Jakin magazine, in Donostia/San Sebastián, in whose bosom I have received constant encouragement, with more than a few observations, and I have been able to enjoy the favors of teamwork. This team comprised the initial discussion and opinion-sharing forum, and later served as the test bench to assess the validity of the organized systematic doctrinal work. In particular, I cannot hide the debt owed to Joseba Intxausti, whose labor of permanent critical revision has been remarkably valuable to me, both for its close and continuous nature and for the important historical suggestions that have been definitively incorporated into the work. Finally, I need to recognize that without the selfless and intelligent collaboration of Mila and Pili Larrea, this work could not have been carried out with the required accuracy and rigor in the detailed matching of sources.

I readily recognize that only the abundant help I have received has made it possible to study a topic that seemed unmanageable as much for its breadth as, above all, the dispersion of the materials to analyze, with the added difficulty of the lack of prior studies to set an objective starting point for the research. The criticisms, observations, and suggestions, and the assistance of so many people of good will have sustained this prolonged effort to clarify one of the most recent, yet least known, chapters in the labor history of Euskal Herria [the Basque Country].


In only a few years, the studies dedicated to the Mondragon cooperative experience have multiplied. In recent years, more than forty specialized books and booklets could be named in which this experience is analyzed, as well as innumerable articles. The topic also appears to have become a favorite object of cutting-edge academic research. After the first analyses were carried out in the ’70s in French universities (Burdeos, Grenoble, Paris), just in the brief interval of 1980-1982, no fewer than eight doctoral theses have been presented on the Mondragon cooperative phenomenon at universities in Great Britain, the U.S., Sweden, and Italy (none, in contrast, at Spanish universities). While the researchers’ interest has been predominantly directed towards economic and business matters, the Schools of Geography and Anthropology have not been absent from these studies, and, surprisingly, the topic has merited three doctoral theses in philosophy at U.S. universities.

It may seem a bit strange to add that, of all these studies, not one has been centered on research into the thought that has served as the basis of this experience: the concepts of man, of labor, of community, etc., that have inspired this movement, ideas that this experience has tried to make a reality and embody in lasting institutions. That is, no one, until now, has decided to do a systematic study of Arizmendiarrieta’s thought, which has been the education of cooperators, the inspiration of the movement and the greatest (though always modest) leader of the Mondragon cooperative experience. This is the case, however, and there is quite a simple explanation.

The first and most basic reason for this lack of studies lies in the state of the sources. Arizmendiarrieta poured out his ideas in a multitude of conferences, sermons, study circles, readings he recommended to cooperators, etc., especially through articles, which he published year after year in little magazines that he himself founded over and over, keeping pace with the successive interventions by relevant official agencies of the dictatorship. These were, as we will see, magazines with minimal circulation, including one that was small enough to go on a bulletin board in the difficult post-war years. Even the cooperative newsletter T.U., Trabajo y Unión [Work and Union], the most important source for understanding Arizmendiarrieta’s thought in its last phase, was founded in 1960 with a circulation of only 550 copies. It is true that by 1973, it had reached 9,600 copies monthly, but these were passed between cooperative members in the factories themselves.16 As a result, it has been practically impossible for researchers to access the sources, especially those from before 1960. The fact that Arizmendiarrieta wrote his articles both in Euskara and in Spanish constitutes another difficulty.

This situation changed recently, when all of Arizmendiarrieta’s articles were published. J.M. Mendizabal took it upon himself to patiently collect all of Arizmendiarrieta’s dispersed articles, notes, conferences, and manuscripts, successfully completing a formidable task. On this basis, and with the collaboration of various people who knew Arizmendiarrieta, an edition has been produced of his Complete Works in 15 extensive volumes. This edition, which was mostly limited to universities and other centers of learning, constituted the basic source of our study. At the same time, a Selected Works of Arizmendiarrieta was also published in two volumes, which we funded, as well as an anthology of Arizmendiarrieta’s thoughts and sayings, also under our responsibility. With this prior work of critical reconstruction of the sources, the foundation was laid for the present research.

The Complete Works, given its size, had a small circulation. This fundamental work, therefore, will remain difficult to access, except for a small number of researchers and specialists. This is why we had no qualms about presenting lengthy texts from Arizmendiarrieta in our study, instead of just using simple footnotes.

The years of work at reconstructing the sources have unquestionably borne generous fruit. Even so, the predominant characteristic of the sources for the study of Arizmendiarrieta continues to be dispersion. We will now distinguish between an internal and an external dispersion.

External dispersion: it has proven possible to bring together the literature by Arizmendiarrieta, but there is a long way left to go to do the same with the literature about Arizmendiarrieta and about the cooperative movement, which remains dispersed. This study is, we hope, a first effort to collect and encompass all that literature. However, the geographic and, above all, linguistic dispersion of the materials (there are materials in Japanese, Hebrew, Korean, etc.) make the work enormously difficult by requiring collaboration with translators, who are not always available. We must recognize our inevitable shortcomings in this field. On the other hand, during the dictatorship, an abundant underground literature flourished, which is difficult to access today, with rich material for and against the Mondragon cooperative movement, and with which Arizmendiarrieta held a lengthy argument. This delicate topic will be addressed for the first time in our study, and we believe we have achieved a difficult, but satisfactory, reconstruction of the polemic process. First and foremost, research into the very rich material contained in the archives of Mondragon’s Polytechnical Professional School and the Caja Laboral Popular has been essential. In these archives, over the years, Arizmendiarrieta himself and his collaborators accumulated an immense amount of material which, not being ordered or classified (the project is under way), requires the researcher to do patient work in sorting and selecting. What is especially important in these archives is Arizmendiarrieta’s materials which, after his death, were transferred to the Archives of the Professional School. The material kept by Arizmendiarrieta over the years is limitless: from class notes or notebooks of Examinations of Conscience in Seminary, safe conducts and other notes from the war, trip receipts, private meditations, to wide-ranging correspondence (which goes from family correspondence and spiritual direction, to official correspondence with Ministries, the most virulent polemics, and academic correspondence with professors from a wide variety of countries in Europe and the Americas). Everything has been conserved. His personal library, much of which has also been conserved, has been of incalculable value for research into Arizmendiarrieta’s sources, as have thousands of pages and notes he took on his readings over the years. These archives constituted our second main source in carrying out this study.

We have also referred to an internal dispersion. Perhaps the expression is not quite accurate. Indeed, Arizmendiarrieta, who always had trouble expressing himself and apparently never became fully fluent in the Spanish language,17 appears to us in his writings struggling tenaciously but uselessly to articulate his ideas. His own words rebel against him. He bogs down in long, tortured sentences, which end up going off in all directions. But this is not only a problem of (obvious) grammatical incorrectness or of style: it is, first and foremost, very much his own way of thinking. It has been said that he was a man of "few truths."18 The attentive reader of his writings, on the contrary, is left with the impression of a man overflowing with ideas, which he is unable to contain or sort through. The most notable characteristic of his thought is surely its strong cohesion. Arizmendiarrieta feels the tight mutual bond between his ideas so strongly that he seems to want to see them all understood in each one. An attempt to summarize many of his articles would have to resign itself to affirming that they are about "everything"; and the superficial reader would easily conclude, comparing two completely different articles, that they are about "the same thing." The dignity of man, work, emancipation, classless society, all appear to end up becoming confused. Whatever concept Arizmendiarrieta is developing, we will immediately see all the other central ideas come pouring in, and Arizmendiarrieta shows himself to be incapable of telling them apart.19

All this, it will be said, is exactly the opposite of dispersion. Indeed, this must be recognized. Still, for the researcher, it has the effect of a total dispersion. With only a very few exceptions, nowhere did Arizmendiarrieta leave us limited, systematic discussions on major topics of his thought. In a writing on education, the reader finds the loveliest ideas on work; reflections on work contain, unexpectedly, the finest exposition on his concept of the dignity of man; a meditation on the dignity of man is, for Arizmendiarrieta, a good time to return to the topic of work, of education, of cooperation… The researcher is forced to painstakingly glean Arizmendiarrieta’s ideas from here and there, to reconstruct his concepts, and discovers, to his surprise, once he has placed all the pieces in the puzzle, a wealth of nuances, of suggestions and relationships that each concept takes on as he reflects on it. The analysis of the variation in the nuances in each concept, more than the variety of topics, seems to us the main source for the study of the evolution of his thought. This study will pay special attention to this aspect.

Due to all this, our attempt to reduce Arizmendiarrieta’s free and spontaneous thought to a system, with the obligatory static structure of divisions and subdivisions, is inevitably going to be rather artificial. Arizmendiarrieta’s thought blossomed in the midst of action, always adapted to it, fragmentary, without systematic concerns. However, we believe that this sacrifice of its liveliness was neither in vain nor unjustified.


We have referred to the state of the sources; we will now spell out the purpose of our study.

This is the first systematic study of Arizmendiarrieta’s thought. That was decisive when it came time to propose our objectives. First of all, we thought it necessary to understand that thought in all its breadth. We consider this beginning to be an indispensable, methodical requirement, so that ensuing studies will be able to deal with particular aspects as case studies without risk of distortion.

Secondly, together with this purpose of totality, our interest is centered, right from the beginning, on a question: throughout so many years, and in such diverse reflections, is there a framework, a coherent system of thought that gives unity to diversity, or rather, deals with loose, disconnected reflections? What relationship is there, for example, between Arizmendiarrieta’s reflections on work with his religious, educational, and political ideas? We must remember that the writings themselves are always occasion-specific, and apparently have no mutual relationship. If indeed such a system existed, the next step would doubtlessly be to define it. Anticipating one of the conclusions of the study, we can say that this systematic connection really did exist, and was even conspicuous, though we will need to qualify that statement momentarily. In this study, then, we have worked to discover the systematic unity underlying the diversity. And we have also proposed, as stated earlier, to methodically bring together in this system all the main aspects of his thought—religious, moral, economic, and political—without overlooking any, however distant it may appear from his principle concerns. We have preferred to sin on the side of maximizing rather than omitting.

Finally, a third objective must be cited as a concern that cannot be ignored: Arizmendiarrieta’s thought, through his writings, underwent a dramatic evolution between 1941 and 1976. We have worked, to the extent that it does not conflict with our second systematic objective, to analyze the causes and ways in which this has happened over the years. But we always recognize the primacy of the systematic, not historical, exposition of his thought.

Therefore, we once again alert the reader that this study proposes to carry out a systematic study, not a historical study, of Arizmendiarrieta’s thought. In this regard, the biographical notes in this study have a merely complementary value.

Certainly, a historical analysis of his development would highlight nuances in many ways. It would shine another light on the intellectual personality of Arizmendiarrieta, who, starting from the most modest and traditional presuppositions,20 was able to raise himself to a high level of reflection and study. This struggle for liberation and building on his own roots, remaining critically faithful to them, is not the least admirable characteristic of this priest, who—R. Tamames21 has compared him to Father Llanos in the Madrid neighborhood of Pozo del Tío Raimundo—would end up as an "antimodel" in an uncomfortable position within his own church.22 We believe, however, that even to understand this process in depth, it would be good to begin with a systematic study, without entirely giving up on the historical aspects.

We must confess, moreover, that our claim to be the first to study Arizmendiarrieta’s thought cannot be understood in an absolute sense. All of the authors who have been interested in the Mondragon cooperative phenomenon have also studied the figure of Arizmendiarrieta and his thought. But all of them, out of necessity, have had to do so very briefly and without being able to avail themselves of his own writings, except on a very limited basis.23 With that, we dispense with the need to refer to the current state of research into our topic. The only exception, if we overlook the above-mentioned work by J. Larrañaga, which remains a basic introduction to the topic, is the partial studies by S. Mtz. de Arróyabe.24 However, apart from the fact that his main study is unpublished, we believe that our analysis differs from it both in the pursued objective and in the method, as well as in the breadth of the sources on which it is based.


Indeed, this study of Arizmendiarrieta’s thought proposes to encompass it to its full extent, being based not on select articles, but on the entirety of his texts; being limited to written documents, rather than personal oral testimony and references, the obligatory main source of all preceeding studies.

That is not to devalue the testimonies of those who knew him and lived alongside him. We ourselves have made use of them on various matters we were unable to clarify using existing documents. Moreover, the legitimacy of the documentation through testimonies has been confirmed in the tributes paid in writing to the memory of Arizmendiarrieta by the cooperative members themselves. We believe that the collection of testimonies should continue. However, given the nature of this study, we felt obliged to limit ourselves to written, documentary sources. This simple decision, by itself, distinguishes our study from earlier studies.

In the writing style we have adopted, we will deal separately with Arizmendiarrieta’s thought and his historical-social environment, as well as his sources. This writing method may turn out to be a bit disconcerting, so we will take the liberty of stopping to explain the reasons that led us to this decision.

Arizmendiarrieta, whose writings fill 15 volumes, never published a single book during his life. The overwhelming majority of the 727 writings of his that we possess (excluding correspondence), are brief texts. They deal with the most wide-ranging topics (business financing, entertainment of youth, the dignity of man, a Eucharistic Congress, the crisis of western culture, electoral campaigns in France); they are directed to completely heterogeneous audiences (landlords, economists, workers, priests, women, youth, businesspeople, soldiers); they are of highly varied natures (annual reports of the Caja Laboral Popular, school-year inauguration speeches, sermons, presentations at national congresses, training talks for workers, academic conferences, small articles). They are very diverse, both in form and content. We will not try to hide that the reconstruction of a system of thought through such disparate texts, making the absolute best possible use of them, has presented no few difficulties. In all things, we are considering an obligatory starting point for any future reader who may become interested in Arizmendiarrieta’s writings. This underlying architecture and systematic unity, apparently so foreign to the texts, when they are considered in isolation, should be highlighted in its purity and fullness of form, because it constituted an original objective of this study, and we hope that it will also be its main contribution.

A second reason to write separately about Arizmendiarrieta’s system of thought on the one hand, and about his sources and surroundings on the other hand, is that while Basque cooperativism and Arizmendiarrieta’s personality have become relatively well-known, it must be recognized that Arizmendiarrieta’s thought, as a body, remains unknown, even nearby.25 These pages aspire to make this thought known. It must also be added that the brief studies that have existed up until now could easily contribute to a deformed idea of that thought. That is the third reason to opt for the above-mentioned writing method.

Arizmendiarrieta’s thought does not begin or end with the topic of cooperativism, though his most noteworthy contributions are in this vein. Before he was a cooperativist, Arizmendiarrieta was a Personalist; before he had formulas for business, he had a philosophy of the person–not only in a logical, successive, foundational order, but even in a temporal sense, in his life. His concept of business, for which he has gained fame, is no more than the consequence of that philosophy, and without it, is reduced to a mere business formula, lacking its principal theoretical support. That is why our writing will clearly distinguish the first book, concerning the person, from a second book concerning business. We would define the relationship between the parts as the relationship between their premises and their necessary implications.

The aspect that suffers most from a separate treatment, such as that which has been adopted for the writing of this study, is doubtlessly the analysis of doctrinal sources: in the first place, because it made it difficult to write in a detailed and precise way; and, also, later, because it required tedious repetition. Given the fact that, in Arizmendiarrieta’s case, he cannot be described as particularly original on the whole, the problem of his sources appears rather secondary, and seemed to us to legitimize separate treatment of this topic, as well.

Arizmendiarrieta’s sources can basically be divided into four groups: 1) Christian social doctrine, 2) the Personalist thinkers, primarily Maritain and Mounier, 3) Basque social tradition, particularly the Social Christian tradition of the "propagandist priests," on the one hand, and the UGT (Unión General de Trabajadores, Union of General Workers) supporters and socialists, on the other hand, especially believers in "Eibar socialism," and 4) the classics of cooperativism (P. Lambert, etc.). More briefly, we can refer to his social and philosophical sources. J.L. del Arco, Arizmendiarrieta’s friend and legal counselor, has justly recognized in his cooperative ideas "a complete coincidence with cooperative orthodoxy, just as it has been written about by so many authors and by me, myself."26 The same can be affirmed about his philosophical sources. Arizmendiarrieta shows an extraordinary fidelity to his sources, sometimes literal, perhaps due to the difficulty he had with his own formulations. As for the rest, his principal philosophical sources, such as the integral humanism of Maritain, Esprit magazine, and Mounier’s Manifesto at the service of personalism, are sufficiently well-known texts still today that we can dispense with having to indicate in each case Arizmendiarrieta’s manifest debts.

The strength and vigor of Arizmendiarrieta’s thought do not reside in its originality, but rather in its capacity to synthesize and in its pragmatic sense, without giving up on utopia. He was able to build, extracting his materials from such diverse quarries, his own extraordinarily solid and coherent system of thought. He knew how to carry out a harmonic synthesis of Personalism and cooperation, philosophy and economy, study and work. To analyze and explain this synthesis, which is what is most his own in Arizmendiarrieta’s thought, constitutes, as stated earlier, the principal objective of this study.


Arizmendiarrieta shares with the French Personalists, especially Maritain and Mounier, both their diagnosis of the current crisis of culture and their proposed solution, the path of a new, integrated humanism, or a Personalist society. However, where he differed from those authors, who demanded the implementation of new guiding principles in the economy, without stopping to explain them (except, to a limited extent, Mounier), was that Arizmendiarrieta would propose the development of the principles of a Personalist economy as an objective. He would do so primarily, though not exclusively, by turning to the tradition of cooperative socialism.

Though Arizmendiarrieta was not the first to recognize the proximity of the Personalist inspiration to the cooperative tradition and the “utopian socialists” (Owen, Fourier, Buchez, L. Blanc), he is, without doubt, one of the most dedicated people to give himself over to carrying out this synthesis of modern Personalist philosophy and social “communionist,” or cooperative, utopianism. He was convinced, as were all the Personalists, that bourgeois culture, while not actually dead, did not deserve to live, and sought to define the basis of a new order tailored to mankind.

What does Arizmendiarrieta’s thought mean? Considering it first in relation to Maritain and Mounier, to whom he owes a philosophical debt, it is clear that Arizmendiarrieta has moved beyond them in the development of Personalist economic principles. Remember that Maritain, in a vision of historical development in stages, appeared to postpone the installation of the Personalist order until after the material and moral liquidation of capitalism,27 though he considered that imminent. Arizmendiarrieta, understanding Personalist action in the economy as not so much a consequence of the liquidation of capitalism, but as an instrument for it, would develop a model that brought the Personalist order to realization, in a limited setting, within and against capitalism, without waiting for its historical liquidation.

Above all, it is the restless and revolutionary spirit of Mounier (though not the richness of his language) that is palpable in Arizmendiarrieta’s texts. The Principles of an Economy at the Service of the Person, by Mounier,28 fill Arizmendiarrieta’s pages. But, Arizmendiarrieta also represents an advance beyond Mounier, primarily in the sense of the development and manifestation of the general principles expounded by the master. This is worth noting both for the principle of the primacy of labor over capital29 and for the demands of education,30 or for the concept of authority and hierarchical order in Personalist democracy (“where the capacity to rule is born of personal merit and is, above all, a vocation of awakening personalities”),31 etc., etc.

On one decisive point, above all, Arizmendiarrieta represents a qualitative leap beyond Mounier: in his trust in the workers’ capacity for self-management and what can be derived from it. Mounier, still doubtful of working-class consciousness, did not believe the time had come “to elevate the global and unformed mass of workers to direct partners in production.”32 Arizmendiarrieta, on the contrary, believed that workers are mature; it is the employer/manager class which, because of its selfish interests, shows itself to be immature and incapable of decisively launching the construction of a new era of humanity, the Era of Man.

Arizmendiarrieta was not free of the proverbial difficulties of the prophet in his own land. Both his ideas and his accomplishments had numerous critics, especially in the tumultuous years between 1970 and 1975. As so often happens, so it was on this occasion that recognition appeared to come, via a circuitous route, from abroad. For our part, we have chosen not to do a critical evaluation of his positions, since a lengthy chapter dedicated to polemics sheds enough light on the state of the issue before us at the moment.

We do not believe it is our role to judge his accomplishments. It has already been noted that this is not a study of cooperativism, but of Arizmendiarrieta’s thought.

Speaking of his ideas, we must point out that they signify an endless search. He started with traditional concepts in his time, although the general crisis, of which he was very aware, had also brought those beliefs into crisis. Arizmendiarrieta’s thought, which developed according to events, would undergo a major evolution. Two principal elements would remain constant in this evolutionary process: his faith in people and his unlimited trust in workers. Perhaps the history of his thought could be summed up as a continuous deepening of the meaning of work for people. His last stage was, in fact, an attempt at a social summation of work, from childhood to old age, in its dual aspects of human realization and the social realization of the classless society.

From the particular perspective of Euskadi, we believe that Arizmendiarrieta has contributed to its people the most serious reflection yet done on the topic of work. Together with Barandiarán and Lekuona, his teachers in his youth, Arizmendiarrieta is due, as a necessary complement to them, a place of honor among those who have worked to open paths of comprehension and historical achievement to the Basque people. This people has needed many teachers to discover its history, its language, its traditions, its literature, its people’s dignity. No one, more than Arizmendiarrieta, has held forth the manifesto that the history of a people ultimately rests on the seemingly humble base of its work.


  1. This was preceded by a year of provisional business experience in Gasteiz/Vitoria, so some mark the date as 1955. cf. Larrañaga, J., Don José María Arizmendi-Arrieta y la experiencia cooperativa de Mondragón. Caja Laboral Popular, Mondragón 1981, 125-127. Arizmendiarrieta himself (CLP, III, 109) gives the year 1956 as the date of birth of the cooperative experience.

  2. Aranzadi, D., La cooperativa de producción industrial, in: Primeras Jornadas de Cooperativas de Euskadi, Eusko Jaurlaritza 1982, 73.

  3. Alava: 8, Guipuzcoa: 87, Navarra: 12, Biscay: 53.

  4. Alava: 5, Guipuzcoa: 54, Navarra: 7, Biscay: 22.

  5. Alava: 1, Guipuzcoa: 18, Navarra: 1, Biscay: 24.

  6.   Nuestra Experiencia Cooperativa, Caja Laboral Popular, Mondragón 1979, 32-33. Most of the cooperative teaching centers associated with the Caja Laboral Popular are at the primary level, but it does have three centers at the university level: J.M. Arizmendiarrieta Eskola Politeknikoa (EPP), in Mondragon, the Escuela Universitaria de Formación de Profesorado de E.G.B., in Escoriaza, and the Escuela de Técnicos Empresariales (ETEO), in Oñate, cf. Caja Laboral Popular, The Mondragon Experiment, s/f. (1983), 11-13.

  7. Total agricultural and food cooperatives: Alava: 1, Guipuzcoa: 2, Navarra: 1, Biscay: 3. Only one consumer cooperative: Eroski, with more than 120,000 members.

  8. Aranzadi, D., op. cit., 75.

  9. Civil Registry, sixteenth notebook, section on births, folio seventy, Number 69: certified by Pedro Goyogana y Ugarte, Municipal Judge responsible party for the Markina Registry, issued the first of September, 1935, the date on which, for reasons unknown to us, it was inscribed well after the fact in the Civil Registry (Arizmendiarrieta Archive). He descended, through the paternal line (Arizmendiarrieta y Acha), from Eibar, through the maternal line (Madariaga y Careaga) from Markina y Murélaga. The spelling of the last name Arizmendiarrieta varied from one document to another; he himself signed his name various ways.

  10. For his biography, see Larrañaga. J., op. cit., 13-36, and Leibar, J., "José María Arizmendiarrieta Madariaga. Apuntes para una biografía," TU, Nr. 190, Nov.-Dec. 1976, 58-63.

  11. The certificate that was issued for him on this occasion says, word for word,: "Audit of War of the ARMY OF OCCUPATION (sic!). Don Valeriano Peña González, AUTHORIZED SECRETARY OF THE PERMANENT MILITARY TRIBUNAL NUMBER 1 OF THIS CITY. I CERTIFY: That in the urgent summary proceedings no. 289 of this year, pursued for military rebellion against José María Arizmendiarrieta Madariaga, sentence was delivered on the second of this month freely absolving said procesee with all manner of favorable pronouncements, having freed him on this date. And to deliver to the interested party effects of notification, I issue and sign this document in Bilbao the ninth of August, nineteen thirty seven. SECOND YEAR OF THE TRIUMPH. (Signatures and seals) (Arizmendiarrieta Archive).

  12. A curriculum vitae written by Arizmendiarrieta himself in September 1963 says: "(…) and joined the Light Artillery Regiment No. 11 of Burgos, where he was sent to Plana Mayor, to go to work in an Information Office in the General Captaincy of Burgos until his discharge on the 30th of July, 1939." (Arizmendiarrieta Archive).

  13. Ormaechea. J.M., Una solución a tiempo para cada problema, TU, Nr. 190, Nov.-Dec. 1976, 30.

  14. Ib. 36.

  15. Barlow, M., El socialismo de Mounier, Nova Terra, Barcelona 1975, 86.

  16. Internal report by J. Leibar, entitled TU-Trabajo y Unión, Información, from November, 1973 (Archive Arizmendiarrieta). Every month for 16 years (188 editions), from the founding of the magazine until his death, Arizmendiarrieta wrote the editorial for this publication.

  17. Arco, J.L. del. El complejo cooperativo de Mondragón. Asociación de Estudios Cooperativos AECOOP, Madrid. s/f. [1983]. 13, refers to Arizmendiarrieta, who, when speaking, thought in Basque and translated into Castillian [Spanish]. The comfortable Mondragon bourgeoisie, annoyed primarily with his social activities, complained, according to testimony from a lady of that same class, "about that priest who didn’t even know how to speak Castillian," cf. Larrañaga, J., op. cit., 90-91. The same J. Larrañaga, Hizo camino al andar, TU, Nr. 190, Nov.-Dec. 1976, 24, writes: "Don José María had lived closely connected with Euskera. He acknowledged difficulties in expressing himself in Castillian (…). Rather, he was a monotone and repetitive speaker, who tired those listening to him for the first time. On occasion, he helped people to sleep peacefully as he insisted, with monotonous tenacity, on hammering our ears again and again with audacious ideas and concepts." He faced the greatest initial difficulties in preaching, which he ended up abandoning altogether. He climbed into the pulpit, as he himself confessed, aware of carrying out "an act of penitence": "saying what I felt, even at the cost of seeming ridiculous" (Ib. 25).

  18. Larrañaga, J., Don José María Arizmendi-Arrieta y la experiencia cooperativa de Mondragón, Caja Laboral Popular, 1981, 83. This may be an indirect way of declaring Arizmendiarrieta "genuinely Basque," in both good and bad ways, according to one’s tastes. Continuing an old topic in Castillian literature (cf. Legarda, A. from "The Biscayan" in Castillian literature, Biblioteca Vascongada de Amigos del País, San Sebastián 1953). Diego Laínez characterized Saint Ignatius of Loyola as a man of few, but solid, ideas, thus resulting in the famous comparison of Saint Ignatius and Lenin, developed by R. Füllop-Miller in his book Macht und Geheimnis der Jesuiten, Knaur, Berlin 1929 (a comparison which would be accepted by Maritain, J., Humanisme integral, Aubier, París 1968, 162). Later on, the affirmation of few, but firm, truths, or the other way around, as well as the primacy of common sense over theory, became rather too easy to say about any Basque author (the same thing happened to Larramendi, Arana Goiri, etc., more recently, to Unamuno, and now, to Arizmendiarrieta). For this observation to have any validity, which we would not want to deny at all, it would be good to carefully avoid the pretension of making each author into a representative of Basque character or spirit, about which it does not seem legitimate to make too many generalizations.

  19. A young, anonymous critic, "J.M.A.," would reproach Arizmendiarrieta, more rightfully than respectfully, in harsh polemics in the ’70s, for his expressions and "confused" ideas. These polemics will be addressed in Chapter 8 of this study.

  20. Especially in the field of religion (proofs of the divinity of Christ: prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, etc.) and morality.

  21. Tolentino, J., Ramón Tamames, Realidad y Mito del Cooperativismo de Mondragón. Tribuna Vasca, No. 17, 29 August 1982.

  22. Larrañaga, J., op. cit., 72-80.

  23. Such as one of the most precise works, the beautiful summary by Q. Garcia, in his doctoral thesis, Les coopératives industrielles de Mondragon, Les Editions Ouvrières, Paris, 1970, in which it is reduced to only seven pages. R. Oakeshott sums up Arizmendiarrieta’s thought in thirty lines (based, moreover, not on his writings, but on conversations with him). D. Aranzadi limits himself to five introductory pages, etc.

  24. Besides the article "Utopías y revolución. Aproximación al pensamiento de D. José María," TU, Nr. 190, Nov.-Dec. 1976, 44-49. S. Mtz. de Arróyabe has written an extensive analysis entitled Don José María Arizmendiarrieta, Su ideario, 1975 (unpublished, 255 pgs., CLP archives).

  25. Tolentino, J., op. cit., 1, wrote: "Thus, at our university, the students know the ideas of Milton Friedman by heart, and absolutely nothing about who a man named José María Arizmendi-Arrieta was."

  26. Arco, J.L. del, op. cit., 56.

  27. Maritain, J., Humanisme intégral, Aubier, Paris 1968, 195-196.

  28. Mounier, E., Manifiesto al servicio del personalismo, Taurus, Madrid 1972, 147-171.

  29. Ib. 152.

  30. Ib. 158.

  31. Ib. 160.

  32. Ib. 159.

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