Resisting Authoritarianism One Co-Op at a Time

A popularly-elected republic overturned by a reactionary armed revolt—there are myriad reasons why the painful history of the Spanish Civil War might pop into one’s head at this particular moment.

For one thing, that conflict reminds us just how fast dictatorship can kill democracy. Backed by Hitler and Mussolini, General Francisco Franco seized power in 1939 in a war that left hundreds of thousands dead. He used that power for close to 40 years to enrich the biggest landowners, the largest banks, the most oppressive church and himself.

Spain’s story reminds us that elections aren’t guarantees. They’re expressions of popular will—a majority’s wish. What follows is up for grabs. And that’s worth remembering as the US hurtles towards November and an election that could remain undecided for days, even weeks.

There’s another reason to remember the Spanish story too, and that’s what drew The Laura Flanders Show there last year. That’s the story of resistance to authoritarianism and how people survived the longest dictatorship in modern Europe and came out of those years of loss with the world’s largest worker-owned cooperatives and a culture of defiance and community care that endures to this day.

The Mondragón cooperatives in Spain’s Basque region grew out of the need to feed, heal and employ a minority population whose culture Franco’s forces tried to criminalize and punish out of existence. Today, Mondragoón employs upwards of 70,000 and invests its profits in a university, a credit union and the culture of its people.

In Barcelona, war time practices of solidarity economics and mutual aid live on in the social movements that dominate city government and, not long ago, elected its mayor. Covid cases have spiked more than once there this year, but the death toll remains low. An infrastructure of community care is saving lives.

State power matters. That’s why elections matter. Who will a state care for and how? On whose behalf will a government govern? For how long?

This November 3rd, nothing matters more than voting. But Spain reminds us that what comes after matters too. The ways of working and caring that people come up with in a crisis can stand them in good stead even long after the crisis has passed and point the way to a better future in years ahead.

If you missed The Laura Flanders Show’s season premiere September 6th, don’t worry, you can watch the show on the WORLD Channel every Sunday at 11.30 am Eastern Time and on close to 100 PBS stations nationally every week. Check your local listings or watch online at YouTube. The Show is fully captioned and audio described for accessibility. It’s also available as a podcast and radio show. Find out more at our website,


Laura Flanders interviews forward-thinking people about the key questions of our time on The Laura Flanders Show, a nationally syndicated radio and television program also available as a podcast. A contributing writer to The Nation, Flanders is also the author of six books, including The New York Times best-seller, BUSHWOMEN: Tales of a Cynical Species.  She is the recipient of a 2019 Izzy Award for excellence in independent journalism, the Pat Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award for advancing women’s and girls’ visibility in media and a 2020 Lannan Cultural Freedom Fellowship for her reporting and advocacy for public media.