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Serviços Humanitários / 21/12/2020

Concrete utopia in anarcho-communist village

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Concrete utopia in anarcho-communist village


Land and work for everyone. 6-hour days. Equal wages. House for one hundred reais. Permanent mobilization. How cooperativism transformed little Marinaleda into an oasis, in the midst of Europe in social and political regression

In the south of Spain, a small village of 2626 inhabitants has been organizing for decades to communal ownership of land, labor and houses. The small Andalusian village of Marinaleda, which is mainly dedicated to agriculture, has revealed itself to the world with its system of cooperatives as an example of how this management model can reduce inequality levels in an absolutely effective way and achieve full employment.

Tim Ginty and Scott Arthurson spoke with the movement's mayor and charismatic leader, Juan Manuel Sanches Gordillo, about their role in the organization, education and excitement of the city of Marinaleda.

Among olive groves in southern Spain, we asked rural workers with their old tractors and vans to take us to Marinaleda. Francisco opens a place for us in his car, and while driving along the local road, he tells the main points of the village: Casa do Povo, the Union of Rural Workers performs common tasks of education, activism and organization; public services such as the swimming pool, schools and sports centers.

Marinaleda, covered with white lime like any other village in the Sevillian mountains, has several murals painted on its buildings: Che Guevara's dark eyes watch us the municipal buildings. The flags of a red Andalusia, an independent Catalonia, a Basque Country and a free Palestine paint the city in red, green and blue. Pigeons fly over the words of peace, rebellion and hope.

Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo is a central figure in the “miracle of Marinaleda”. Mayor since 1979, the year of the return of democracy after Franco's death, he won the elections with vast absolute majorities. Intellectual, revolutionary, arrested for occupying military lands and the son of farmers, Gordillo's central role in building Marinaleda as a communist “utopia for peace”, as the city's motto says, has gained equal fame and hatred. Gordillo's supporters celebrate his leadership in the countless campaigns that have turned Marinaleda into an oasis of full employment, in a region unemployment still rises above 20% and youth unemployment above 40%. Marinaleda's 5% unemployment rate is much lower than in large cities like Madrid or Barcelona.

The most important struggle of the olive village was the twelve-year campaign to take the land of the modern aristocracy and return the property to the people who cultivated it, the day laborers. Beginning in 1979, the struggle for the collectivization of the land began with a hunger strike of more than 700 neighbors that lasted half a month. The process continued with innumerable occupations of private plots, and long disputes and legal negotiations that finally earned them, in 1991, the legal ownership of a vast expanse of land called El Humoso, a 1200-hectare latifundium owned by the Duque del Infantado and which today is managed as a cooperative by workers Marinaleda

At the entrance to the property, a large sign reads: "This land is for unemployed day laborers in Marinaleda". At Humoso, agriculture is 100% ecological, the fields are irrigated and completed with olive trees, greenhouses and nurseries. A goat and sheep farm and a local vegetable canning factory were also promoted. The pillars of production are peppers, beans, artichokes and olive oil.

Recognizing that their struggle was not just a local battle for land, the residents of Marinaleda became the moral leaders of the movement against austerity in Spain after the collapse of the housing system in 2008. And during long years of economic crisis, Gordillo achieved fame national for its policies against poverty, unemployment and homelessness that skyrocketed during years of recession.

Entering his office, the flag of the Second Spanish Republic - symbol of the anti-Franco left - shines with its red, yellow and purple tricolor in the corner, while a photograph of Che Guevara addressing the United Nations is beside him. The centerpiece of the room sits on a round table: a sculpture of large raised fists, trying to free itself the iron chains that hold the wrists. Below the handle is engraved: ”MARINALEDA”

Gordillo's political philosophy matured as the Spanish fascist regime weakened; after Franco's death, Gordillo became involved with the Union of Rural Workers, an agrarian union that allied with the Union of Workers Collective (CUT) to present Gordillo as a candidate for mayor in the first Spanish municipal elections in 1979, after the collapse Franco's regime.

In order to win the city hall, Gordillo launched one campaign after another with the aim of meeting people's basic needs: food, water, housing and electricity. The most audacious step in those early years was the historic hunger and occupation strike that sought to transfer vast private land to landless peasants. Explaining the reason for this hunger strike and occupation, Gordillo says: "We understand that the fight against unemployment meant a struggle for land." This confrontation with private landowners made Gordillo's office a mayor's office that faced the problems at its roots; a rare and radical cabinet.

A History of Political Awareness

At our meeting, Gordillo emphasizes that collective action must be based on political education that develops class consciousness: “expropriated people must organize and identify themselves as expropriated. Even the middle classes are also expropriated - land, capital, power. And in Marinaleda, class consciousness is a high priority. The counter-cultural murals that paint the walls of the people are testimony to the hope that drives these people to action. ”

But Gordillo is not a dogmatic. He is inspired by all sources, by any human being who has dreamed of “building a different world in which resources are placed at the service of people and not of private interests”. He quotes Gandhi, Che Guevara, Jesus Christ, along with the experience of nations that are still struggling to be recognized as such; the Kurds, the Saharawis, the Palestinians. He says: “You have to take a little of each one; you have to get a little out of anarchism, socialism, Marxism, Che, some things Lenin, some things everyone and, above all, your own experience ”. Gordillo's political philosophy is a mosaic of ideas hardened by the experience of genocide that the left lived during the Franco regime, the civil war and the dictatorship, and shaped in the historical memory of Andalusian nationalism. Asked what he learned his own experience, he replies: “Nonviolence can do anything in the world. That everything is possible ”.

Asking his quote of Christ among his heroes, he explains to us that he sees Christ as the first communist. “Christ was a revolutionary, and so they got rid of him. Christ the pacifist, Christ the agitator, the reformer who declared that the kingdom of God is within man, not else, and certainly not within a pope ”.

It is this Christian social tradition, the same developed by Liberation Theology in Latin America, that Gordillo claims. He insists that "Christianity and Marxism, Christianity and Communism are perfectly compatible", and recognizes the role of a deeper element - personal or spiritual - in political humanism, demonstrating that, in contrast to neo-fascist projects or "supremacy" theological ”, a progressive Christian tradition can be reconstructed.

Marinaleda and the Cooperative Solution

The socio-economic successes of the village, such as full employment, equal wages of 1200 euros per month (approximately 4450 reais) in 6-hour workdays or the lack of police make us think about how the cooperative model of Marinaleda would be transferable to other regions. The cooperative model has been accompanied by a participatory system in which all strategic decisions of the municipality are taken in a Popular Assembly, as well as land and housing management policies, offering housing 15 euros per month (approximately 66 reais)

The cooperative model has no strategic infeasibility. Instead of channeling profits to executives and shareholders who add little productive value, a cooperative reinvests the company's capital, allowing it to prosper in good times and survive in difficult times. It is a model that safeguards joint social, economic, political and cultural aspirations through collectively owned and democratically controlled companies.

The conflict between management and workers is minimized thanks to democratic representation and decision-making, and the example of successful cooperatives like El Humoso de Marinaleda can be seen else - as in the representative case of Mondragon's cooperative, the largest of the world. Located in the Basque Country, north of the Iberian Peninsula, it currently employs around 81 thousand workers and has an annual turnover of more than 11 billion euros (approximately 50 billion reais).

In the current decline of social democracy, replaced by social neoliberalism in the Spanish context, cooperatives are a mechanism capable of initiating transformative models of resource management. The case of Marinaleda reveals the potential for success of these intersectoral mechanisms, capable of tackling the structural inequalities resulting the current system. In a context of systemic, economic, environmental, social and political crisis, materialized in the rise of extreme rights, these practices offer effective forms of collective action.

However, only through this collective action, mobilized by the various pro-cooperative organizations, as well as by the unions, will it be possible to promote an effective social conscience, capable of demanding policies that promote the cooperativization of the economy through a series of tax and credit incentives.

Marinaleda demonstrates that a community dominated by family farming will have a more egalitarian social structure and a richer institutional life, collaborating not only in successful socio-economic relationships, but also in the generation of emotional and psycho-affective bonds, allowing this management it is, as Gordillo says, “a form of political education and the acquisition of class consciousness”.

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