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Cooking the Books: Socialism in One Village?

Last month Graham Keeley, the Times correspondent in Spain, reported on a visit to Marinaleda, a small village in Andalusia near Seville, under the headline “Viva la revolución: Spain’s tiny answer to a crisis of capitalism” (5 May). He met the mayor who told him that “the village proves that Marx, not Adam Smith, was right”.

He is not the first journalist to have written about this village of 3,000 inhabitants whose website proclaims it to be “a utopia through peace” (www.marinaleda.com). Its claim to fame is a council-run farm established on land that originally belonged to a local aristocrat and a housing scheme under which people can rent houses cheaply as long as they help build them themselves and help others to build theirs. The farm provides employment for local people and support for any becoming unemployed.  It also generates an income to build and maintain local amenities. There is no local police force and villagers clear the streets and do repairs on a voluntary basis.

“It just shows,” the mayor told Keeley, “that when people own the means of production they get more back.” It certainly shows that the competitive individualism that capitalism seeks to impose is not the only way to live, even under capitalism, and that Adam Smith was wrong to assume that it is “human nature” to want “to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another”. But is this “village socialism” a real “answer to a crisis of capitalism”? The mayor himself doesn’t make this claim, only that his village council is a “counterpower” to that of the “bourgeoisie” and the “big landowners”, protecting land workers from them and their policies. It may well be (anarchists should note that this involves using the ballot box), but clearly the problems facing workers in Spain cannot be dealt with solely at village level – or even at national level.

Spanish capitalism is in deep trouble and it’s the workers who are paying the price. As the BBC reported on 27 April:

“Spanish unemployment has hit a new record high, official figures have shown. The number of unemployed people reached 5,639,500 at the end of March, with the unemployment rate hitting 24.4%.... Official figures due out on Monday are expected to confirm that Spain has fallen back into recession. Earlier this week, the Bank of Spain said the economy contracted by 0.4% in first three months of this year, after shrinking by 0.3% in the final quarter of last year. Other figures released on Friday showed that Spanish retail sales were down 3.7% in March from the same point a year ago - the 21st month in a row that sales have fallen. In the first three months of the year, 365,900 people in Spain lost their jobs. The country has the highest unemployment rate in the European Union and that rate is expected to rise further this year. It has risen sharply since April 2007, when it stood at 7.9%.”

With unemployment up from 8 percent to over 24 percent in five years (and growing), this is a slump of 1930s proportions. The mayor is right. The solution does lie in the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production but, since capitalism is already a world system, this has to be on a world level. A “global village” socialism, if you like.