A communist village against the world
The people of Marinaleda don’t take activism lightly. They’ve occupied airports, train stations, government buildings, farms and palaces. They’ve staged hunger strikes, blocked roads, and set up pickets. And when feeling a little ambitious, you can even count on them to raid supermarkets and donate the stolen goods to food pantries. But few of us have heard of Marinaleda, a small town tucked away in Spain’s Andalusia region. They are led by their charismatic mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, who has held the position since 1979. “I have never belonged to the Communist Party of the hammer and sickle,” Gordillo notes, “but I am a communist.”The core of Marinaleda’s communist ethic is a 1,200 hectare farm that was won through a decade of occupations and hunger strikes from the Duke of Infantado. The Duke’s property was just one of many instances in Spain of vast estates with arable land fenced off from the area’s surrounding, usually starving, population.
Villagers would walk 10 miles, every day, to occupy the Duke’s land. They were routinely evicted by the police everyday around 6 or 7 PM. They would leave, peacefully, only to return the next day. In 1985, the people of Marinaleda did this everyday for a month, Hancox notes. It was at the height of the summer heat and they only took Sunday off to rest. When all was said and done, the Duke’s land had been occupied 100 times. In 1991, the people of Marinaleda won. The Andalusian government compensated the Duke with an undisclosed sum, and gave it for the people of Marinaleda. They planted the Duke’s land, which previously grew non-labor intensive crops like sunflowers, with labor intensive crops like olive trees. The logic was simple: the more labor required, the more jobs would be created. So once the olive trees were grown, an already labor intensive process, they then had to be processed into oil. That would require a processing plant, and the employment of more workers. As Hancox notes, there are no profits because “any surplus is reinvested to create more jobs.” Marinaleda has an unemployment rate of 5%. Spain, by constrast, has an unemployment rate of 27%.