September 2012        

TINA hasn’t a stitch to wear!

Workers’ collectives give the lie to a lie

Neo-liberalism’s media circus tells us continually that TINA—Thatcher’s “there is no alternative”—is the only game in town; and that game is “one for one and none for all!” As Goebbels is reported to have said, a lie told seven times becomes a truth.
     It can be credibly argued that the muted (to put a generous spin on it) response of the Irish to the crushing unjust economic burden placed on them by our new European masters is partly due to the shared feeling of helplessness engendered by the seeming truth of this message.
     That collectivist forms of social/political organisation function, even in the face of hostile economic pressures, is discounted by these media. Most news about Cuba passes through the “Miami filter,” where it is systematically deformed to make it seem that Cuba’s participatory democracy is really a tatty dictatorship, cynically manipulated by a few self-serving demagogues. Mainstream media relay this lie to convince us that only neo-liberal ideology, founded on rampant individualism, can supply answers to the massive social and environmental problems that neo-liberalism itself has created.
     But Cuban-type collectivism is far from being so much pie in the sky, as the manipulated media would have you believe. Consider the case of Marinaleda, a rural municipality in the Spanish province of Andalucía, where collectivist democracy applies!
     There is no unemployment whatsoever in Marinaleda, whereas Andalucía suffers a massive unemployment rate of 37 per cent, and 22 per cent of the population there go hungry. Most of the community’s 2,700 inhabitants work in agriculture-related activities. All, including the mayor, administrative staff, and workers, work thirty-five hours a week and earn exactly the same salary: €1,200 per month.
     All decisions regarding the community—taxes, housing, expenditure, including the community budget, etc.—are determined by the votes of all members of the community, in open assembly.
     “People shouldn’t just vote every four years,” says José Sánchez Gordillo, mayor of Marinaleda; “they should vote for every decision that is going to affect them.” In Marinaleda, there are neither police nor fines.
     The road to what the New York Times has referred to as Spain’s “communist utopia” began in 1979 with the election of Señor Gorilla of the Workers’ Unity Collective, a party integrated in Spain’s Izquierda Unida (United Left), a Marxist political formation.
     At that time Marinaleda was a community of impoverished farm labourers, without regular incomes or prospects. In the 1960s almost half the population emigrated to Barcelona and other industrialised areas of Europe.
     With the election of Gordillo, however, protests were organised to recover lands about the municipality that had been appropriated by powerful landlords and used to exploit the local population. Hunger strikes, the occupation of lands, airports (Málaga and Sevilla) and railway stations and the Bank of Spain were used tactically to achieve this aim. In the mid-1980s El Humoso, an agricultural estate of 1,200 hectares, the property of the Duke of Infantada, was seized and a co-op was established there. In 1991 the legal right of the inhabitants of Marinaleda to the estate was recognised.
     The land of El Humoso is now cultivated by four hundred workers, while hundreds more are involved in food-processing plants organised by the co-op.
     Housing management in Marinaleda has attracted attention in a Spain that, like Ireland, has a massive mortgage repayment problem. Marinaledans pay only €15 a month for houses they own. The local council supplies the land, the builders, and the architect. The prospective buyer contributes 400 days of their own labour; the €15 covers the cost of materials supplied by the council. Once the house is built it may be inherited by succeeding generations but never sold. Speculation is not permitted in Marinaleda.
     Critics of Gordillo say that his model of a participatory democracy, involving a few thousand agriculturalists, can never be projected onto modern urban societies of millions. Those who buy in to such twaddle need to study the successful Cuban effort to develop participatory democracy—the essence of socialism—in both rural and urban settings, in a country of 11 million people.
     If they bypass the “Miami filter” and the curtain of silence around Marinaleda they will discover that the TINA shibboleth wears no clothes whatsoever; and that collectivist democracy, socialism, is demonstrably possible and offers the only viable alternative to a barbarism that is already with us . . .
[TMS]

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