Marinaleda, November 26.
Day 1 of the IV National Assembly.
A week after the right wing party won the elections in Spain we enter the small farming community of Marinaleda early in the morning. It’s shocking. As if we took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in Cuba. The walls of the local olive oil cooperative are adorned with revolutionary murals. The trees lining the roads are heavy with full ripe oranges. The stars are exuberantly bright.
This is where the fourth National Congress of the 15M movement is held this weekend. The delegates are housed in the ‘Ernesto Che Guevara sports complex’. The road that leads up to it has only recently been paved. Many others are still dirt roads.
The village of Marinaleda has the fame of being different, very different. To understand this, you have to know that many of Spain’s agricultural lands are still owned by ancient ‘noble’ families, especially here in Andalusia.
Up until the latter half of the 20th century Marinaleda has been repeatedly threatened by famine. Many of its inhabitants have emigrated to the North or abroad. But soon after Franco’s death in 1975, things changed. The villagers tell you their story with pride. And they have every reason for it. They are protagonists of their own history.
All through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s the estates around the village have been occupied and collectivised by the farmers. Nowadays, Marinaleda is a thriving communist community of 2500 inhabitants active in agriculture and small scale industry. The village is largely independent as its food production goes. Emigration has gone down. Marinaleda is now attracting immigrants from other parts of Spain, even from the cities. They have the possibility to build their own house with public subsidies, and rent the terrain for 15 euros per month. Housing is more than a right here in Marinaleda, it’s a practice. All of this makes this small community the appropriate place for a nationwide encounter of the 15M movement.
This morning the Congress was opened in the ‘House of the People’, under the watchful eye of el comandante Che Guevara. One after another, delegates from all over the country speak about the current situation of the movement in their neighbourhoods, villages and towns. The general picture that emerges from this is more or less the following.
In the villages and many of the smaller towns, the assembly attendance is down by about ninety percent since the assemblies started in late May. Only a small core is still regularly participating in the movement. Often the same people are active in many different commissions and working groups.
The general public stays at home and only takes part in the major demonstrations. Clearly the novelty wore off for most. They don’t want endless discussions, they want results.
But things won’t change overnight. It’ll take a change in mentality, it’ll take active participation and hard work. It’ll take time.
Another recurring problem is that the initiatives, the strikes and the demonstrations are simply too many. And for too many different reasons. People are saturated. They want it all and they want it now, but in practice there’s no choice, they will have to go one step at a time.
Because of the reduced size of the assemblies, activists are working to coordinate initiatives on a regional level, between various assemblies and communities. The basis of the movement is as strong as ever, but in many cities, like in Madrid, it seems like we are losing the public space. The movement is less visible, even though in various assemblies people are working on public relations by creating their own old style media outlets, like magazines and radio stations.
One of the few practical results that the movement is obtaining is preventing people from being evicted, or else offering them alternative housing. But especially in the smaller communities it’s hard for the appropriate commissions to localise the families who are being evicted, because many people don’t dare to admit to the outside world that they can’t pay their mortgage anymore, out of pride.
‘What will the neighbours think?’, is still the predominant way of thinking. People are ready to help others, but they are afraid to depend on solidarity themselves.
The revolution will have to advance to the next level. Up until now everybody seemed to ride the wave of the initial enthusiasm. Now it’s time to create real alternatives. Marinaleda has proven that this can be done. ‘A Utopia towards Peace’ is the village’s official motto. Maybe it’s a bit exaggerated. The place surely isn’t perfect. But it’s better than many other communities. And most of all, it’s different. Refreshingly different.