By Sergio Ferrari *
Earth, social democracy, collective ethics
A municipality where each worker earns the same, around 1,200 euros -for 35 hours of work a month-, in a Spain that is still mired in its strong structural crisis and in Andalusia where unemployment figures exceeded 30% in 2014 the economically active population.
Marinaleda, with barely 25 square kilometers and less than 3,000 inhabitants, its fundamentally agricultural economy and a left-wing government for 35 years, has managed to consolidate an “alternative-micro” model of society. With 15 euros per month each family can have a home. The prices of services are low; the nursery with dining room does not cost more than 12 euros per month per child.
A social state is the result of another way of doing and understanding participation and politics. And in which the governing party and the strong agricultural union mutually reinforce their synergies using the institutional instruments of the City Council to implement substantive advances after a conception of effective social democracy.
If the struggle for land - with occupations, strikes, protests of various kinds - was the lever that propelled social advances, the fight has been going on for decades and required patience and creativity, in a region of great rural concentration where 2% of the owners they own more than 50% of the land. But agriculture was not enough and a local industry proposal was then implemented through the Humar Cooperative Group that allows the development of the secondary sector - canning factory -, the best weapon against unemployment, which in Marinaleda is non-existent.
The “utopia towards peace”, as indicated by the Marinaleda shield-logo, gradually took shape in a broad participatory construction that today accepts with complete certainty that “power is not neutral”. Experience based on a strict ethical rigor that is expressed, for example, in the decision of the governors of the City Council not to have salaries or special bonuses. And that today, in 2015, continues to shape an alternative project based on human solidarity.
The "landless" think of the entire society
Almost 10,000 kilometers from that Andalusian laboratory, the Movement of Rural Landless Workers (MST) of Brazil, which held its 6th congress in February 2014 with the participation of thousands of delegates, exercises its “collective right to alternatives on a daily basis ”.
Considered one of the most important social actors on the Latin American continent, a prominent promoter of the international network Via Campesina, he has integrated a whole new conception of power around the struggle for land and agrarian reform.
Each new occupation of unproductive extensions is accompanied, as a first symbolic act, by the construction of a little school for the children of the occupants. Each rural mobilization seeks to strengthen itself with a broad citizen alliance. The leading positions are rotating; there is a permanent going back and forth from the leadership (coordination) to the bases and vice versa; there is neither president nor general secretary and the leadership is collective and decentralized.
In recent years, common and consensual struggles have become almost a political obsession for the MST. Opening its action to other actors from the rural world, the urban world, the academy, civil society in general, to achieve a more comprehensive articulation of its objectives and combats in synergy.
One of the most important current objectives for the MST is food sovereignty. This implies confronting the agribusiness production model - with its export priority - and actively denouncing, for example, the abusive use of toxins. Each Brazilian today consumes about 5 liters of poison per year in their food and the confrontation against this scheme must be the work of the whole of Brazilian society, which must also include, according to the MST, the debate for a change of paradigm in the field .
The MST has already achieved that more than 400 thousand families obtain plots. Hundreds of cooperatives and associations in the settlements ensure food production. Completed by the development - as in the Andalusian experience of Marinaleda - of the agro-industry. The "Landless" answer the model that considers the land as a simple commodity, that proclaims mono-cultivation, that visualizes its main objective in agro-export and that totally despises nature, the environment, the soil and being human himself. And they strengthen the paradigm of agro-ecological family production that is based on agricultural cooperation with the necessary ingredient of agro-industry. The MST is already, for example, in Río Gran del Sur, one of the main producers of duly certified organic rice. Thousands of tons of its agricultural products enrich - with due official agreements - the basic diet of schoolchildren throughout Brazil.
The cities of the future
From the campaign to the urban centers, just one step to go. From certified organic rice in Rio Grande do Sul to participatory budgeting as a tool for direct democracy, just facets of the same new exercise of the "right to dream."
Porto Alegre, the capital of that southern Brazilian state, launched itself into the invention of this tool. It was 1989 and the Workers' Party (PT) had just won the elections in that municipality. An opportune moment to submit the financial and budgetary priorities to a gradual and gradual exercise of collective analysis, through assemblies of citizens that designate delegates, and that go from the neighborhoods and regions to the entire city.
The novel experience of the participatory budget would be the magnet that attracted the call in that city to the 1st World Social Forum in 2001, which after 14 years of existence and nine centralized conclaves held on three different continents, has become the space for reflection and broader exchange currently available to organized planetary civil society. And that now returns to self-convene for the last week of March 2015 in the capital of Tunisia.
A little over 25 years after that first Brazilian experience of participatory budgeting, more than 1,500 cities around the world of the most diverse dimensions -Brasilia, Buenos Aires, Bolonia, Seville, Malaga, Portland, Ontario, Yokohama etc. - currently exercise it in its most diverse variants and modalities.
The city of tomorrow is under construction, emphasize socially committed urban planners, who in recent years enrich concepts and proposals. The millions threatened by urban expulsions constitute the human face of the tragic social scene. And Brazil is an emblematic case that is internationally visible due to the social costs involved in the construction of the stadiums to host the 2014 Soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. "Every individual must appropriate the city as a whole," they emphasize. And this means fighting for public spaces, fighting for drinking water, building schools and dispensaries, sewers and public transportation.
And within this framework, alternatives proliferate in the world in parallel with the exacerbation of urban tensions as a result of excessive concentration. For example, the more than 250 Community Land Trusts, collective structures of land property that were born in the United States in the 1980s. And that now extend to China and India. Or property cooperatives in many other cities on the planet with the intention of promoting a democratization of access to urban property with a social sense. Likewise, the proposals for expanding urban or peri-urban agriculture; collective gardens; and so many other neighborhood socio-cultural initiatives that try to modify the paradigms of citizen ownership and appropriation. And that are added to many other forms of questioning the hegemonic values of the dominant system.
The Areas to Defend (ZAD), spaces of resistance
Emblematic example of resistant mobilization in Europe. They are experiences of citizen resistance that by dozens cross French territory and spread to other countries and regions - Belgium, the Basque Country, etc. - updating a methodology of struggle based on territorial occupation. Its main objective: to oppose the GPII (Large Useless Projects and Taxes), pretentious works of "development" that do not take into account the environment or the consultation of the surrounding populations.
Deferred construction zones (according to real estate developers), Zones a Defender (ZAD), according to the resistant ones, are spaces to live, -that is, surfaces occupied with another paradigm of life-, resulting from struggles, in particular, against large projects of infrastructure.
Let these be the "postponed" airport of Notre-Dame-des Landes, in the Atlantic Loire; or the failed dam designed for irrigation in the Tarn –whose protests cost the life of militant Remi Fraisse in October 2014-; or in the Rhône region against the Grand Stadium of “l’Olympique lyonnais”.
Tenacious, often heroic and long-range struggles - of months, years, and even decades - that radically question the values of growth, production, consumption and property, to project a new form of citizenship and collective responsibility. Another "possible world", already, here, now.
There is another possible thought ...
In recent years, especially hand in hand with the explosion of indigenous participation in new Latin American political processes - Bolivia, Ecuador, etc. - the concept of "Good Living" as an alternative to conventional development has become established. This concept is strongly present in a large part of the indigenous peoples of the continent, but it gains political visibility in the new constitutions of these two Andean States.
The new relationship with "Mother Earth"; the break with the anthropocentric logic so typical of capitalism and real socialism; the questioning of hitherto invulnerable concepts such as development and growth; It has been opening a framework that also feeds back interesting reflections in the North.
For example the theories / conceptions such as those of "ungrowth", which have gained intellectual space in France, Switzerland and other European countries.
Without underestimating the revitalization of the reflection on “eco socialism”, which, although it is not new, acquires a certain topicality in the current European debate in light, especially, of the crisis of democratic social thought.
Including the birth of new "theories" such as those of the "common good" or "public good", as an economic project open to companies that seeks to implement a sustainable economy and alternative to financial markets.
Also incorporating the constant reflections on alternative communication as a need and an ideological condition to bring worlds closer together, promote the conjunction of experiences, revitalize the debate on concepts and paradigms.
Local practices, global experiences, revived theories, new ways of thinking… A concrete search, a purposeful zigzag, an active exercise of the “global citizen” in order not to negotiate their right to dream.
* Sergio Ferrari in collaboration with the Latin American Agenda 2015 and E-CHANGER / COMUNDO