Socialism in One Village

Published on Jacobin, Magazine of culture and polemic, by Belén Fernández, Nov 5, 2013.

Back in 2003, a friend and I acquired jobs at an avocado packing facility in a village in Andalusia not far from where two of my father’s relatives were executed by Franco. For three and a half euros an hour, we stood by a conveyor belt and alternately clipped avocado stems, arranged the fruit in boxes, and arranged the boxes on wooden pallets.

Each activity was accompanied by unironic reminders from the factory bosses to work como una máquina, although they eventually realized that such rhetoric was less effective in increasing our output than the provision of boxed wine and cognac in plastic cups. 

Our spare time was spent consuming the same refreshments in other venues where elderly villagers reminisced about periods of mass regional starvation and counted the number of days remaining until the Christmas lottery. Andalusia appeared permanently and inevitably repressed by the state, the aristocracy, the euro, and a host of related demons. Beyond palliative cognac and lottery ticket purchases, there seemed little that could be done.

Not once did we hear of nearby Marinaleda, star of a new study by Dan Hancox called The Village Against the World. A self-proclaimed “utopia towards peace,” the central Andalusian village currently boasts 2,700 inhabitants and some delusions of grandeur. Hancox notes, “In most parts of the capitalist world, ‘another world is possible’ is just an idealistic rallying cry. In Marinaleda, it’s an observable fact.”

The utopian experiment began following the demise of Franco, who had been “happy to let [Andalusia] rot” as punishment for the region’s anarchist tendencies. Radical ideology appealed to so many Andalusians because the class disparities in the region were so egregious – between landless laborers, whose “poverty was often fatal,” and the aristocracy, whose massive estates were often reserved for activities like firearms target practice rather than those that could help sustain human life.

Faced with grave food shortages and over 60 percent unemployment in the late 1970s, the citizens of Marinaleda decided to act. At the helm of the struggle was village mayor Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, the proprietor of one of Hancox’s many satisfying metaphors: “a beard that could topple empires.”

Through the local fieldworkers’ union, the marinaleños defied elites with a seemingly unending sequence of strikes, land occupations, airport occupations, train station occupations, palace occupations, marches, and road blocks. A 1980 “hunger strike against hunger,” in which 700 villagers (including children) went without food for nine days, propelled Marinaleda into the international spotlight.

The state caved to villagers’ demand for an emergency payment to Andalusia’s unemployed and the marinaleños pressed on with the fight, gaining intermittent concessions throughout the 1980s and setting the stage for a stunning triumph in 1991: Marinaleda was awarded 1,200 hectares of farmland, formerly owned by Spanish royalty, by the Andalusian government.

The farm is now run by the village cooperative, which has typically paid workers more than double the Spanish minimum wage, and crops are chosen with the aim of maximizing labor opportunities rather than profit. The village also has an olive oil processing plant, a vegetable processing and canning factory, various stadiums and sports facilities, a park, an amphitheatre for film screenings, two schools, and 350 casitas – family homes built by the villagers themselves with government-provided materials and entailing a 15 euro-per-month “mortgage” payment … //

… (full long text).

(Jacobin is a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture. The print magazine is released quarterly and reaches over 5,000 subscribers, in addition to a web audience of 250,000 a monthabout; see also Blogs).

Links:

The Losers From Our Lost Wars, on Guernica, a magazine of art and politics, by Ann Jones, Nov 8, 2013: how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan first silenced our soldiers and then defeated them;

All The Selves We Have Been, on ZNet, by Lynne Segal, November 07, 2013;

Exit Strategy, on Guernica, by hina Miéville, Nov 1, 2013: in the occupied West Bank, undesirable life is ended, and unauthorized death is banned.

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