Saturday, November 9, 2013

Another World Is Possible: Marinaleda

I've been reading about Marinaleda for some time. A small village in the south of Spain, about 60 miles east of Seville, Marinaleda is a cooperative. A commune, a utopia, a socialist success story -- take your pick of terminology. The point is that it is a thriving community where everyone has a job, a home, a place in life. Poverty has been banished. There is no police force.

Yes, this place exists.

Marinaleda transformed itself in the 1970s. Under the leadership of its charismatic rabble-rouser and mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, it has managed to avoid the high unemployment and disastrous economic conditions that exist in the rest of Spain.

Now, a new book has come out that traces Marinaleda's history. Called "The Village Against the World," it outlines the advantages -- and disadvantages -- of this remarkable village. According to this book review by Nomi Prins at Truthdig, author Dan Wilcox was fascinated by the place and wanted to dig more deeply into what makes it tick.
The current economic crisis has left Spain with 4 million empty homes, and ghost towns on the outskirts of Madrid. In contrast, “Marinaleda brims with excitement and festivity during its famous annual ferias and carnivals,” though most of the time, “it is incredibly peaceful.” No one there has experienced a foreclosure.
“Even before the crisis descended on Spain, the wealth gap in Andalusia was a chasm,” Hancox informs us. “It has been so forever. It is a region where mass rural pauperism exists alongside vast aristocratic estates—the latifundios. It’s an oft-repeated bit of southern rural mythology that you can walk all the way from Seville, the Andalusian capital, to the northern coast of Spain without ever leaving the land of the notorious Duchess of Alba, a woman thought to have more titles than anyone else in the world. While 22.5 percent of her fellow Spaniards survive on only €500 a month, the duquesa is estimated to be worth €3.2 billion—and still receives €3 million a year in EU farm subsidies.”
Well, wow, there's a shocker -- you mean the rich benefit more from government largesse than the poor? Gee, never heard that before! Why, it's the "free market" that confers wealth, right? Banks and their enormously wealthy owners don't get bailed out by government, do they? Nah, never happens.
Hancox recalls that Sánchez Gordillo once suggested to him that the House of Alba could invest their riches—from shares in banks and power companies as well as multimillion euro agriculture subsidies—to create jobs, but “they’ve never shown any interest in doing so.” It is not just the callousness of this inaction, but the bad economic sense that accompanies it, that so angered activists. If more people were employed, a more stable overall economic environment would arise—for everyone.
But when has common sense ever meant anything to our overlords? It's all about how much wealth they can stuff into their insatiable, gaping maws. So what if the economy collapses? They'll just retreat behind their gated communities with their armed guards while the little people riot and starve. Or so they think.

In Marinaleda, people decided to take things into their own hands, and not just metaphorically:
Finally in 1991, the slogan “the land belongs to the ones that work on it” was realized, as 1,200 hectares of land were expropriated from the Duke of Infantado and transformed into an agricultural cooperative, tending to labor-intensive root crops and olive groves, that provided every villager with work.
Can you imagine that happening in the U.S.?? Ha! People would be arrested and jailed so fast your head would spin. Environmental activists are being labeled "terrorists." And the persecution is increasing. Anti-fracking activists are being attacked merely for speech.

Yep, Land of the Free, all right. But I digress.

Back to Marinaleda:
If this book was simply a one-sided leftist yarn, it would be harder to believe, but Hancox is careful to depict the positives and negatives of the village, its philosophy, and its leadership.
External skeptics point out that nearly 70 percent of Marinaleda’s population lives off some form of subsidies from the EU, Spanish, or Andalusian government. Others argue that Sánchez Gordillo tolerates no dissent, and that locals disagreeing with him or his philosophies have had to move to nearby towns. As one villager told Hancox of Sánchez Gordillo, “If you are not on his side, that puts you on the right, that makes you a fascist—and you are attacked, insulted, and intimidated.” Hancox acknowledges that “unpicking the gossip from the facts is impossible,” but he concludes that whatever the concerns, elections are free and Sánchez Gordillo keeps winning them: “Again, and again, and again. He does so neither by slender, contestable margins, nor by margins so implausible that you’d be minded to send in UN election observers.” 
Why shouldn't the villagers get government subsidies?? The rich do. Reminds me of complaints in the U.S. -- all the outrage directed at the poor, while Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein and Warren Buffett and Rob Walton and their ilk suck up billions of dollars in tax loopholes and hand-outs, while their workers make minimum wage, and they preach to us about "hard work" and "American values." Without the dreaded government subsidizing and bailing out their sorry asses, they wouldn't be rich. That's the way capitalism works, that's the way it's always worked, and it's a farce to pretend that these people got rich all on their own.

I don't know if Marinaleda is possible everywhere. But I do know that the current system of global capitalism is crushing us. It's shitting on the planet and chewing up and spitting out millions of people. The only way to build a new way of life is by doing it. And we aren't going to do it by sitting back and waiting for crumbs from our corporate overlords.