Thursday, 20 September 2012

Spain's Pain.

Santiago Carrillo just passed at the age of 97, perhaps the last major figure of Spanish leftism to have fought in the Civil War and participate in Spain's transition to democracy. He became a major figure in the rising Eurocommunist movement, which could be understood most fairly as an attempt by the Communist Parties of Europe to take an independent line from the Soviet Union. It took the form of an embrace of the democratic norms and institutions of Western Europe in a bid to differentiate itself from Trotskyism. As the Civil War broke out Carrillo was brought into the orbit of the Soviet Union and he was later complicit in the Paracuellos massacre - in which some 2,000 prisoners were shot. The massacre was taken up as an instance of "red barbarism" by Franco's Nationalists. General Franco claimed that the war he waged on Republicans and the Spanish Left in the 1930s was a crusade for Christian civilisation - and he found common cause with reactionary rightists of all stripes to this end.

Franco's Falangists had finished the Second Republic by 1939 and in its place crafted what would be Europe's longest reigning dictatorship. The anarchist revolutionaries of Spain were crushed by the combined forces of Fascism, Stalinism and Western democracies. For the reactionaries in Spain it meant the end of the social upheaval and rebellious unionism that had threatened the fabric of Spanish society for too long. Francoism in Spain was born out of a negation of radicalism, at first Franco only promised a return to order and an end to the revolution. Yet he endorsed liberty, equality and fraternity in his first proclamation. He was quick to promise the middle-class the reversal of land reform, the banning of trade unions along with the parties of the Popular Front. The General went further to promise the return of the monarchy and defence of Catholicism. Leading conservative intellectual William F Buckley, Jr. described Franco as an 'authentic national hero' and condemned the left-wing government as 'visionaries, ideologues, Marxists and nihilists'.

As noted by Richard Seymour, the priority in rural areas of Spain during the Republican era was land reform and the countryside was subject to high unemployment. This helped the Popular Front government to spring up with the promise of quick land reform. The unemployed peasants couldn't wait for the government to deliver and opted to occupy large estates, starting with 3,000 farms in the province of Badajoz. The government legalised the early occupations given the amount of civil unrest and hundreds of thousands of peasants were resettled. The seizures provided not just land and work, a democratic forum was opened up where arguments were waged over the whole future of how the society would develop from then on. It was this which General Franco conquered and destroyed, the peasants and leftist leaders were swiftly done away with. Franco set out to undercut the Left with promise of nationalisations, even the Falange flag was designed to mimmick the flags of the anarchists they intended to annihilate.

Today the very radicalism that the Spanish Fascists had fought to eradicate has resurfaced in the time of austerity and widespread despair. As Fascism collapsed and Spain became a monarchical democracy Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo came to power in Marinaleda in 1979 and, as the rest of the world fell under the spell of neoliberalism, embarked upon the construction of a pocket of what has been described as a 'communist utopia'. There in Marinaleda there is no need for mortgages, while full employment has almost been achieved Sánchez Gordillo has sought to move to a common ownership of land and establish wage equality. Housing is now a right in Marinaleda, taxes are low and the groundwork of a direct democracy laid down. This continues while the rest of Spain suffers an unemployment rate of 25%, even the rest of Andalusia endures a 34% unemployment level. The situation is actually more dire than it is in moribund Greece in this regard. Everywhere there is disaffection and it has taken on living forms in the streets.

The Mayor of Marinaleda has become a prominent figure seen as a surfer on the tall waves of popular anger at the sight of the government handing billions to banks and cutting services to cover the bill. It's obvious he is not a lone-wolf either. The 8 million strong indignados have protested for hundreds of days against the austerity regimes of the established Left and Right of Spain's mainstream politics. The indignados have no faith in the formal institutions of representative democracy anymore. The striking miners of Asturias have taken to firing homemade rocket launchers at riot police and blocking off roads. It was the Asturian miners who were put down by Franco's forces in 1934 only to awaken from their slumber in 1962 and fight valiantly. Franco killed 3,000 miners in 1934 and captured many thousands more, but still they rose up again. Now it's the austerity regime of the Spanish government backed by the Euroconservatives at the heart of the EU that the miners are fighting against.

The egalitarian pocket Marinaleda stands out in Andalusia where around half the arable land is owned by 2% of the land-owners. In the Mayor's own words "The concentration of land ownership in Andalusia is 10% higher than it was in the Second Republic. They tried an agrarian reform. But it was annulled with Franco's coup d'etat... The agrarian reform is still pending." Sánchez Gordillo has been most controversial for orchestrating the looting of supermarkets. It was an act of civil disobedience to grab lentils, oils, beans, chickpeas and milk in order to redistribute the supplies through food banks to the poor. The police have been unable to arrest Sánchez Gordillo given his immunity as the Mayor of Marinaleda. The renegade Mayor has issued calls for other mayors to follow his example and for the occupation of empty buildings owned by the banks. A welcome cry in a country with 800,000 empty homes and millions in need of affordable housing. The death of European social democracy gives many good reason to seek out a more radical solution.


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