Maria del Mar Araus – Self-Management: a New Culture (2004)

[Maria del Mar Araus is a Catholic academic and historian associated with the magazine Solidaridad and the Movimiento Cultural Cristiano. She is the author of La comuna: experiencia de autogestión del pueblo de París (published by VOZ DE LOS SIN VOZ in 2016), La sensibilidad política del pueblo el concejo castellano (2008), and Relaciones entre el movimiento obrero español y el iberoamericano (1998) among other works.]

[Speech given by Maria del Mar Araus, PhD in history, at the Malagón-Rovirosa classroom.]


The word appears in the wake of WW2. Behind the term “self-management”, which is of relatively recent use, lies some very remote historical values. Self-management is the synthesis of anthropological, social, ethical, and cultural impulses, united in the consciousness of humanity … across space and time. 


In the mid-60s, France … spread and popularized the word. It constituted part of the general outline of emancipation which emerged in Europe and America, beginning with the Enlightenment and the 19th century, when the political-social theories aimed at liberating humanity from feudal despotism and the absolute monarchies of divine right were elaborated.

The philosophical, ethical, political, and religious postulates which emerged have their origins in the civilizations of the Mediterranean: the humanism of Socrates, the idealism of Plato, the universalism of the Stoics, the direct democracy practiced in Athens, the theoretical essays on the perfect model of society, such as Thomas More’s Utopia, or Campanella’s City of the Sun.

In the medieval guilds we encounter traces [of it] as well. They possessed a hierarchical structure, but at the corporate level they enjoyed a broad margin of autonomy to regulate their affair without the intervention of the public powers.

But it is in the 18th and 19th centuries when the liberation movement of humanity began to acquire a solid dimension. In this historical period, it developed the theoretical-practical suppositions which in the second half of the 20th century served as the basis of the self-management idea.

One of the theoretical elements intrinsically linked with self-management is liberalism. Despite the fact that the liberal idea had much to do with the thought and mentality of the bourgeoisie, it should not be forgotten that it signified a total shift against feudalism and monarchist authoritarianism. 

The Enlightened era defended the autonomy of the individual, freedom of conscience and of assembly, equality before the law, the inviolability of the person and the values which constitute the Rights of Man. With liberal ideas, modern democratic revolutions triumphed: first in England, France, and the USA, later in other countries. The theoretical-practical impulses of the liberal-democratic movement would be: Locke, who affirmed that all men are free and independent; Hume, Rousseau, who gives democracy a social direction, Kant, who advances an autonomous ethic, affirming that everyone can seek happiness however they’d like as long as they did not impede others.

The theoretical contribution of liberalism and the first democratic revolutions are consummate in the 19th century by the rise of social ideologies: socialism (Saint-Simon, Fourier, Owen, Blanc); communism (Mably, Babeuf, Blanqui, Cabet, Weitling, Marx) or anarchism (Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin). Many of these thinkers put forward a notion of social revolution and emancipation contrary to the idea of self-management, but they all emphasized the defense of the principle of the social and political self-management of the working class as an indispensable condition for the emancipation of humanity. The social ideologies which emerged in the 19th century are not a theoretical invention, but a reality potentially contained within human nature. They are an ideal and systematic projection of man’s inclination towards social management.

The real contribution of the workers’ movement of the 19th century and (part) of the 20th did not consist in its economic struggle against the bourgeois, but in the institutionalization and recreation of a series of values, in a new culture, with concrete organizational practices which symbolized a qualitative rupture with the system that exploited them and announced the emergence of a new form of culture … based on freedom, dignity, solidarity, and protagonism or, as we would say today, self-management.

This protagonism finds its concrete expression in the creation of societies of resistance and mutual aid, unions, consumer and production cooperatives, recreational societies, houses of the people [casas del pueblo], worker schools, workers’ montepíos, choral societies, cultural circles, and above all, a great continuity of periodicals and publications directed and written by workers. The central force of the worker culture starts from the idea that human life is only able to develop in a dignified, humane and integral way on the basis of forms of social organization.

In conclusion, from the synthesis of these driving two theories: liberalism and socialism,  the idea of self-management is nurtured. In this way, self-management can be defined in the following way: self-management [autogestionario] thought is, strictly speaking, the synthesis of two important principles: the communitarian-socialist principle and the liberal-democratic principle. If, in self-management, we remove its socialist substance, it loses its raison d’être, if we remove its democratic substance, we denature it. And these two driving principles are the reflection of two fundamental anthropological dimensions: the individual instinct and the social instinct.

A self-managed society in which structures, collectivities, groups — whatever their political, economic, and social nature…, or the framework in which they are situated (national, local, neighborhood, workshop, etc) — function in such a way that the people who live in them are in the optimal conditions to know the problems of their structures, collectivities, groups, and [have] the responsibility of solving them, including the responsibility to say what their management should be.

A self-managed society, to be authentic, needs persons that self-manage it, that is to say, the largest possible number of men and women that have at their disposal the information to know and comprehend the problems raised in the diverse groups or collectivities to which they belong; that possess the will to intervene themselves personally in … solving these problems and to take real responsibility, including those involving decisions. 

All of this must be accompanied by permanent education. What is at stake is a cultural revolution.

These days, self-management is seen as a utopia. But in this regard we must carry out a series of actions, solutions, which guarantee that the path of self-management is open, such as houses of culture, municipal action in the street, youth groups, publishing houses, periodicals. If we maintain, from the start, a will to self-management, we must stress the importance of cultural revolution, … in order to transform structures and behavior among men. 


The social and worker phenomena which have had direct influence in the theoretical-practical field of self-management are:

  1. The rise of the worker movement during the 19th century, from the local unions that emerged in England, to the foundation of the First International in 1864.  The strategic and tactical position of its members is clearly [that of self-management] as its slogan announces: the emancipation of the workers has to be the work of the workers themselves. 
  2. The emergence of cooperativist movements in England and other countries beginning in the first half of the 19th century.
  3. The foundation of socialist colonies in the New World, principally in the US, inspired by Owen, Fourier, Saint-Simon, Cabet, and other theoretical representatives of so-called utopian socialism.
  4. The rise in the second half of the 19th century of the first worker political parties. In Germany, France, England, and other European countries. 
  5. The Commune of Paris (March-May 1871). The first modern experience [of] self-management.
  6. The appearance of revolutionary syndicalism … which leads to the rise of anarcho-syndicalist unions: such as the French CT, the Spanish CNT, or the Argentine FORA. This libertarian syndicalism advances the self-management conception by the defense of direct action, federalism, anti-parliamentarianism, and anti-centralism. The union organizations … were managed by their own workers, the social democrats and the socialists happened to be dominated by intellectuals, lawyers, professional politicians, and professional functionaries.
  7. The … Soviets in Russia, as well as the movement of the worker councils in Italy, Germany, and Hungary, after the end of WWI. Among the most important theorists of … councilism are Gramsci, Karl Korsch, Antonie Pannekoek
  8. The “Guild Socialism” inspired by William Morris and the theoretical team of the New Age publication. It  emerged in England in the first decades of the 20th century. One of the theorists linked [to it] was G.D.H. Cole.
  9. The anti-Bolshevik movements of Kronstadt and Makhno during the Russian civil war [which rebelled] against central power. Of self-management inspiration were the so-called “Workers’ Opposition” appearing in the Russian Communist Party under the direction of Alexandra Kollontai.
  10. The Israeli Kibbutz [which] emerged in the 1920s as the nucleus of Palestinian rural society.
  11. Libertarian collectives founded on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War.
  12. The interwar period is dominated by three fundamental forces: the social democratic parties, the communist parties, and the fascist movements, all hostile to the self-management idea. That is why in this period the idea of self-management is expressed in these two last expectations: the Spanish collectivist movement, in full civil war, and that of the Kibbutz in Palestine. 


Franz Wilhelm Seiwert, Die Arbeitsmaenner – The Workmen. 1925 (Source)
  1. The self-determination of man and of the basic social group as the governing norm of society.
  2. Refusal of the principles of authority, hierarchy, and elitism, as symbols of the old class society.
  3. The affirmation of the principle of the fundamental equality of all men and thus, of their right to participate on equal terms in the collective dynamic.
  4. The principle of solidarity as the fundamental common link of inter-human and inter-social relations on all levels.
  5. The collectivization or socialization rather than [the] nationalization of the means of production, as a fair instrument to manage the economic resources of society.
  6. The creation of a complete self-managed order.

The principle objectives of self-management praxis:

  1. The labor sphere: to suppress the control of capital in the company by [reconstituting] it on the basis of collective management. 
  2. The social sphere: Self-determination of society, the municipality, and the local administration against the centralism of the State. Nothing is as contrary to the project of a self-managed society than the “democratic centralism” proclaimed by Lenin, as “state socialism”, an overwhelming dictatorship of the one-party bureaucracy or the “part-democracy”. A self-managed society is a pluralistic society. 
  3. The political sphere: to replace the current forms of management and political organization with a system closest to the social base to serve the interests of man and the social group. One must overcome a decisive political stage: the conquest of political power of the state leadership or decisive political forces, not only to destroy neo-capitalist society, but to construct the social, economic, and political bases of a socialist society, characterized by self-management.
  4. The cultural sphere: the struggle against the monopoly exercised by “mass media” through various pressure groups, from the state and private capital. It requires the decommercialization of culture.


The principle of self-management took shape in affluent societies for three fundamental reasons:

  1. The crisis of values that arose in the wake of WW2.
  2. The impotence of the political parties and unions to overcome the contradictions of impoverishment engendered by the neo-capitalist system.
  3. The lack of confidence in the statist model of socialism.

Self-management was born on the margins of the orthodox socialist-communist movement. The banner of self-management was not raised in France by the CGT or the communist or socialist parties, but by a union of Christian origin like the CFDT (Confédération française démocratique du travail). May 16th, 1968, the CFDT used, for the first time, the word “self-management”, though the term had already been debated previously. In Belgium and Holland, it was Christian unions and parties which demanded self-management. In Spain, apart from the old CNT, self-management became the program of a weak union like USO (Unión Sindical Obrera).

The self-management movement was, from the very beginning, an attempt to escape traditional ideological roads and create platforms of social action that would gather the values of the worker movement without falling into the dogmatic exclusivisms of the official left. 

A sociological section that has wanted to promote self-management has been the students. [It is] significant [that] in the 60s the anti-authoritarian movement, set in motion by students of European and American universities: Berkeley, Berlin, Frankfurt, Nanterre, Mexico… was a reaction against the capitalist system and against leftist trade union and political organizations themselves.

Currently, post-industrial society is demanding new models of social organization. The centralized bureaucratic class structures are no longer useful. The high complexity of human relations, the necessity of major operational flexibility, the interdependence of the distinct functional and geographical levels, the pluralism and diversity of thought and structures require a change in organizational models.

The combination of liberty, the autonomy of the individual, and solidarity, is the historical [and] philosophical challenge of the future in a period of transition from industrial civilization … to a post-industrial, technological epoch, which offers the possibility of tremendous autonomy, but at the same time, [the] grave risk of totalitarianism [as well].

The old challenge [of] society-individual must be posed again, [while] not forgetting the historical experience … of the last two centuries.


The first steps taken at the level of theoretical research on the study of Self-Management were:

  1. The Parisian magazine Autogestion el Socialisme. This was linked to the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and to the Centre internacional de coordination des recherches sur l’autogestion in Paris. The magazine appeared quarterly starting from 1966. Of Marxist orientation.
  2. In France, starting in 1973 at the LIP factories. At the end of 1978, a group of militants from the socialist party created the Centre d’iniciatives et de recherches pour le socialisme autogestionnaire. (CIRSA)
  3. In Spain during the 1970s, the professor Atonio Colomer Viade organized the I and II conferences of Self-management in Valencia. With the Francoist regime … He directs the “Instituto Intercultural para la Autogestión y la acción comunal”.
  4. The first publication [to] properly [pertain to] self-management was published by editorial ZYX [of the HOAC] S. A, whose president was Julián Gómez del Castillo, with the title Autogestión Obrera. From 1980 up to the present, he is the head [at the time of this article’s publication] … of the publisher Voz de los sin Voz, whose … principle is clearly self-management.
  5. In North America, the self-management movement is of a moderate character, but attentive to immediate and microscopic improvements.
    The Association for Self-Management was created in 1973. The University of Cornell has organized various international congresses on the theme of self-management.
  6. In Latin America, by the initiative of Santiago Roca, a “Consejo Latinoamericano para la Autogestión” was created in Lima (Peru). In January 1979, it began the publication of a Bulletin[.]
    In the 70s, various congresses and meetings were organized for the deepening of the self-management movement.
  7. December 1972, in Dubrovnik (Yugoslavia). First international conference of sociologists on self-management and participation with attendance from 203 congresspersons coming from 24 countries.
  8. From September 6 to 10 in 1977, the “Second International Conference on participation, worker control and self-management” was organized by the Groupe d’etude de l’autogestion (GEA) in Paris. Coinciding with this congress, the first assembly of the Centre international de coordination des recherches sur l’autogestion, founded in 1976 by the GEA, was held. In June 1978, the Fourth International Conference of the Association for Self-Management was held in Atlanta.
  9. In August 1978, in Uppsala (Sweden), the 9th World Congress of Sociology created a permanent committee on self-management.
    In October 1978, the Interuniversity Center of Dubrovnik organized the First International Conference on The Economy of Self-management where the International Association for Economics of Self-Management, based in Yugoslavia, was founded.


[Links to the following books, if possible, are put in brackets — including English translations as well, if one exists. If any of the links go down — contact me.]

.- Abad de Santillán, Diego: El organismo económico de la revolución. Ed. ZYX. Madrid. 1978 [ES, ENG]

.- Adizes, Ichak: Autogestión: La práctica yugoslava. Fondo de Cultura Económica. México. 1977

.- Álvarez Palacios, Fernando: Los justos pioneros de Rochdale. Aproximación al moderno cooperativismo democrático. Cuadernos Cooperativos. Serie de Historia. Sevilla. 1979

.- Autogestión en Yugoslavia. Ed. ZYX. Colección “Lee y Discute”. Madrid. 1971

.- Bilandzic, D // Tonkovic, S.: Autogestión: 1950-1976. Colección Autogestión 5. El Cid Editor. Buenos Aires. 1976

.- Bonanno A.M.: Autogestión. Debate Libertario. Campo Abierto Ediciones. Madrid. 1977

.- Brademas, John: Anarcosindicalismo y revolución en España. 1930-1937. Ed. Ariel. Barcelona. 1974 [No PDF, but the English version is called Revolution and social revolution: A contribution to the history of the anarcho-syndicalist movement in Spain, 1930-1937.]

.- Canne Meijer, H.: Movimiento de los consejos obreros en Alemania (1917-1921). Ed. ZYX. Col. “Lee y Discute”. Madrid. 1975 [ES — this is not the full text but rather a supplement. EN — full text of the pamphlet in English.]

.- Carr, Raymond: Estudios sobre la República y la guerra civil española. Ed. Ariel. Barcelona. 1973 [EN]

.- Carrasquer, Félix: La escuela de militantes de Aragón. Una experiencia de Autogestión educativa y económica. Ediciones Foil, Barcelona, 1978

.- Castellote, J // Perez Turrado: La Comuna y el proletariado. Ed. ZYX. Colección “Lee y Discute”. 2ª Edición. Madrid. 1971

.- Castellote, Jesús: Socialismo agrario en Israel. Ed. Zero. 2ª Edición. 1970

.- Castells Durán, Antoni: El proceso estatizador en la experiencia colectivista catalana. Ed. Madre Tierra. Madrid. 1997

.- Chamorro Turrez, Eduardo: Introducción al cooperativismo. Ed. ZYX. Madrid. 1968

.- Coates, Ken// Topham, Tony: El nuevo sindicalismo (El control obrero). Ed. ZYX. Madrid. 1973

.- Colectivo Alternativa: La Autogestión a debate. 7×7 Edicions. Barcelona. 1976.- Colectivo autogestionario de Valencia: Apuntes históricos autogestionarios. Folletos autogestionarios. Colectivo autogestionario de Valencia editor. Madrid. 1977

.- Colectivo Mira: Autogestión. Informe de la TMRI. Schapire Editor. Buenos Aires, 1974

.- Debate Libertario: Textos situacionistas sobre los consejos obreros. Campo Abierto Ediciones. Madrid. 1977

.- Díaz, Carlos: La tensión politicismo-antipoliticismo en el sindicato autogestionario. Madrid. 1977

.- Documentación Social: Propiedad y Conflicto en la España en crisis. Ed. Cáritas Española. Madrid. 1980

.- Elorza, Antonio: La utopía anarquista bajo al Segunda República española. Ed. Ayuso. Madrid. 1937

.- Gandera Feijoo, Alfonso: La reforma estructural de la Empresa. Hacia una sociedad autogestionaria. Cuadernos de Derecho Público, nº 2. Venezuela. 1976.

.- Gómez Casa, Juan: Autogestión en España. Folletos Autogestionarios. Juan Gómez Casa Editor. Madrid. 1976

.- Goubart, Enmanuel: Autogestión en Argelia. Ed. ZYX. Colección “Lee y discute”. Madrid. 1970

.- Grupe de Recherche pour l´Education Permanente: La Autogestión a examen. Ed. Marsiega. 1981

.- Guillén, Abraham: Economía Autogestionaria. Las bases del desarrollo económico de la sociedad libertaria. Ed. Madre Tierra. Madrid. 1996

.- Guillén, Abraham: Economía Libertaria. Alternativa para un mundo en crisis. Ed. Madre Tierra. Madrid, 1997 [ES, EN, EN_2 — an excerpt.]

.- Guillén, Abraham: Socialismo Libertario. Ed. Madre Tierra. Madrid. 1996

.- Guillen, Alain // Bourdet, Yvon: La Autogestión. Galba Edicions. Barcelona. 1977

.- H. Darin-Drabkin: La otra sociedad. Fondo de Cultura Económica. México. 1968

.- Kardelj, Edward: Propiedad Social y Autogestión. Colección Autogestión, 4. El Cid Editor. Buenos Aires. 1976

.- Krumnow, Detraz, Maire: La C.F.D.T. y la autogestión. Ed. ZYX. Serie V. Madrid. 1974

.- Leval, Gaston: Colectividades libertarias en España. Ed. Anatema. Madrid. 1977

.- Lissagaray, P.O.: Historia de la Comuna. Ed. de Bolsillo. Barcelona. 1974. [EN]

.- Mandel, Ernest: Control obrero, consejos obreros, autogestión (antología), Ed. Era. México. 1974

.- Massari, Roberto: Las teorías de la Autogestión. Ed. ZYX. Madrid. 1977.

.- Mate, Reyes: La Autogestión. Ed. Mañana. Madrid. 1977

.- Meister Albert: Socialismo y Autogestión. Ed. Nova terra. Barcelona. 1965

.- Mintz, Frank: La Autogestión, en la España revolucionaria. Ed. La Piqueta. Madrid 1977


.- Mothé, Daniel: Autogestión y condiciones de trabajo. Ed. ZYX, Madrid. 1979

.- Ollivier, A.: La Comuna. Ed. Alianza. Madrid. 1977

.- Pannekoek, Anton: Escritos sobre los consejos obreros. Ed. ZYX. Madrid. 1975 [EN]

.- Pérez Barró, Albert: 30 meses de colectivismo en Cataluña (1936-1939). Ed. Ariel. Barcelona. 1974

.- Revista Iberoamericana de Autogestión y Acción Comunal (RIDAA). Instituto Intercultural para la Autogestión y la Acción Comunal (INAUCO).

.- Rosanvallon Pierre: La Autogestión. Editorial Fundamentos. Madrid. 1979

.- Saña, Heleno // Rubio Cordón, José Luis: Autogestión y Cultura. Ed. Voz de los sin Voz. Madrid. 1998

.- Saña, Heleno: Fundamentos teórico históricos de la Autogestión. Folletos Autogestionarios. Heleno Saña Editor, Madrid. 1976

.- Saña, Heleno: Sindicalismo y Autogestión. G. del Toro editor. Serie de Pensamiento Social. Madrid. 1977

.- Sik, Ota: Autogestión en Checoslovaquia. Ed. ZYX. 2ª Edición. Madrid 1971

.- Soler, Santiago: Lucha de clases y clase de luchas. Ed. Anagrama. Serie Documentos. Barcelona. 1978

.- Sturmthal, Adolf: Consejos obreros. Colc. De base Fontanella. Ed. Fontanella. Barcelona. 1971

.- T. Knight: Perú, ¿Hacia la Autogestión?. Ed. Proyección. Buenos Aires. 1979.

.- Tomasetta, Leonardo: Participación y Autogestión. Amorrortu Editores. Buenos Aires. 1972

.- Vaneigem, Raoul: Trivialidades de base. Ed. Anagrama. Serie Documentos. Barcelona. 1978

.- VV.AA.: Autogestión y Socialismo nº 2. Castellote Editor. Madrid. 1978

.- VV.AA.: Autogestión y Socialismo, nº 1. Castellote Editor. Madrid 1978

.- VV.AA.: La Autogestión, el Estado y la Revolución. Ed. Proyección. Buenos Aires. 1971.

.- VV.AA.: Los anarquistas y la Autogestión. Ed. Anagrama. Serie Documentos. Barcelona. 1977.