Creating utopia

For more than three decades, villagers in Marinaleda, Spain, have fought a relentless struggle to create utopia. Now, even as Spain’s economic crisis deepens, this village has almost full employment, strong social cohesion and no police. Journalist Dan Hancox wrote a lively, engaging book, The Village Against the World, to explore what Marinaleda has to offer the modern world.
The Intelligent Optimist: Do you miss Marinaleda?
Dan Hancox: “Well, sitting here in London, I do miss the sunshine! And I guess I miss the warmth of the people, too. They’re very friendly, and it was really nice to see familiar faces all the time.”

Dan Hancox
Dan Hancox sits at Marinaleda Farm.
Photo courtesy of Dave Stelfo.

DH: “Every victory they made, they had won for themselves. The 2,700 villagers have land that they own together. There’s a collective farm, a beautiful natural park and a community swimming pool. They have 350 homes they built themselves with a monthly mortage of only $15 [each]. None of these things came easily, but only after years—sometimes decades—of protests, occupations and strikes. They just didn’t stop, and to me, their persistence to create their utopia is most inspiring.”
TIO: Marinaleda is heavily subsidized by the national government. That’s somewhat ironic given how villagers proclaim to be an “independent, autonomous utopia.”
DH: “Absolutely, that’s a legitimate critique. I also believe the mayor has a legitimate response. He says they’re using the subsidies to create jobs and work on the farm. Yet their neighbor, the Duchess of Alba, who’s an aristocrat with an incredible area of land, receives millions of pounds of European subsidies—for what? For growing wheat, which hardly creates jobs. That response tells me the real question should be: What do you actually do with the money?”
TIO: How do young people in Marinaleda feel about this struggle?
DH: “People in their teens and twenties have a mixed relation with the struggle. They have respect for it and want to be grateful. Yet they are well aware of bigger places like Seville, Malaga and Barcelona, and they may just want to spread their wings. However, they realize that such a desire seems crazy now that in the rest of Spain, over 50 percent of youth is unemployed while in Marinaleda there’s almost full employment.”
TIO: What lessons can we learn from Marinaleda?
DH: “Marinaleda offers a model that works. It’s an alternative to the neoliberalism model that has left 6 million people in Spain unemployed and that has left 4 million homes empty. In a time when more and more people are challenging the economic system and when there’s widespread lack of faith in anyone with power, Marinaleda stands out positively. It’s a local community where people have a real stake in how they live together and come together to constantly make the village better. But foremost, I think, Marinaleda’s value is the persistence of its people. Their refusal to ever give up what they call dignity and justice is admirable.”
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