Dear blog readers..

Im so sorry to once again fail to write daily updates.. lack of internet access has not helped here is a much too long piece about one of our stops.. sorry for being verbose ..

JJXX

 

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A Utopian Detour

“A map of the world that does not include utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of utopias.”

 

Oscar Wilde. The Soul of Man Under Socialism

 

“Have you heard about the Spanish village which has no police or priests and is run by a radical Mayor?” asks Kim on our first night in the Merida Campsite. At first I think she is about to tell us a joke “We are thinking of going there after the anarchist school” she enthuses “why don’t you come, it will be perfect for your trip.” Isa and I looked at each other hesitantly, this would mean a detour from our meticulously planned route.

 

It took a long time to plan our journey, weeks of wading through descriptions of communities trying to decide which ones we should visit. In many ways it was encouraging to have so many to choose from, and these were just projects that weren’t centred around spiritual practices and gurus. If we had included those in our definition of Utopias then we would have had hundreds more to choose from.

 

The big question was – how many could we visit in seven months. We didn’t want to do an in depth study of a few, that would require joining a community for at least a year, neither did we want to do a whistle stop tour, ticking off dozens of projects like tourists on a package holiday trip round a utopian Europe. We decided, after much deliberation, to visit twelve and to spend at least a fortnight in the majority of them. This we felt would give us a taste of life there whilst allowing us to show a diversity of projects. We wanted to give a sense that when one scratches the surface, one can discover experiments in alternative everyday life spread across Europe. So we organised a strict schedule, working out in-between journey times and contacting each community with clear dates of arrival and departure.

 

But Utopia will never be found by simply following a planned and well worn path. It requires detours and distractions, misplacing maps and getting lost, going astray and forgetting where one is going. Expeditions that refuse to revel in the unexpected resemble the advance of an army rather than an adventure. The minute this journey ceases to be an adventure, we will lose sight of Utopia. So we decided to follow Kim’s suggestion and go to this priestless and policeless village. The detour became the route.

 

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The heavens open as we leave Merida. Huge lake like puddles form around the anarchist school. The kids immediately start to use this to their advantage by building bridges across them with brightly coloured plastic crates. They jump from one to the other dancing across the wobbly stepping stones, laughing as they try to keep balance. Above them children are throwing paper boats from the balcony, they fall through the air and land in the muddy water, bobbing up and down as the huge dark clouds of an electric storm approaches. We are sad to leave this place from which freedom seeps from every pore, but we have to move on and head south towards our unexpected Utopia, the village of Marinaleda.

 

As we drive across the Extramadura plains, lighting strikes a distant mountain, the heavy air shakes and shudders, rain batters on the vans roof. The night draws in and Carlos tries to teach us the words of “A las Barricadas” the famous anarchist song from the civil war. With its images of clouds and black flags its seems an appropriate thing to do to pass the time. We stumble through the words and try to find poetic ways of translating such passionate images into English. We soon give up.

 

I’m always fascinated by what I call people’s road to Damascus moments. The events that transform and radicalise people, the little slices of time which hurl us from one world into another, from one way of thinking into ways of thinking we never thought possible. Whenever I meet new people I will try to find a way of asking how they became politicised. So I ask Carlos. He described a hot humid summer’s night staying awake till dawn reading an anarchist text that his sister had leant him. “It was as if I had been hit by lightning and given the word of god” he says “except of course there was no God” he laughs “ or masters, only an understanding of the potentiality of human beings to run their own life. It seemed so beautifully obvious.”

 

Writing during the Spanish civil war, Sylvia Townsend Warner said of Anarchism that “the world was not yet worthy of it, but that it ought to be the politics of heaven.” The sense that we are not worthy, strikes me as a deeply distopian notion, related to the age old belief that sees humanity as an immutable mass of miserable beings. This vision of fallen humanity remains one of the greatest obstructions to the envisioning of a transformed world, time for a little textual detour.

 

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Detour Notes on a Short History of Human Self Hatred

 

”Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond imagination. It is our light more than our darkness which scares us. We ask ourselves – who are we to be brilliant, beautiful, talented, and fabulous. But honestly, who are you to not be so?”

Marianne Williamson

 

As a child I sang in the church choir, I don’t remember much from those Sundays, but an enduring image is from one of the prayers “We are not worthy to pick the crumbs from under thy table.” I remember imagining a shower of crumbs falling like a cascade from a huge wooden table and tiny naked human beings scrambling on all fours trying to eat them. Sunday after Sunday these words would be drummed into us, what kind of sense of self did such ritual generate I wonder? How differently would I have felt about myself as a teenager if every Sunday the priest had stood up and recited the words of Marianne Williamson.

The Judeo-Chritian tradition is based on a deeply pessimistic theory of innate limited ‘human nature’. We disobeyed in the garden of Eden and from that moment on we would be born sinners and must abandon all hope of self-improvement, happiness could only be found through the grace of God. It’s the root of the social forces that demand we defer fulfilment in the present, and sacrifice our lives now for the sake of some distant better future, whether it’s called the after life, heaven, a holiday or retirement , it’s basically the same thing.

 

Saint Augustine, one of the greatest influences in the Christian conception of human nature, described man as “corrupt and condemned” a being who lives a “death which has no end.” Faced with the threat of being burnt at the stake in this world or roasted on the spit of hell in the other if one tried to think otherwise, it was not surprising that visions of political hope rarely lasted in Medieval society.

The curse of original-sin and the abandonment of human self reliance was further developed by Luther and Protestantism, finding its pinnacle in Calvin who summed up the protestant passion for self hatred and imperfectability thus: “There is more worth in all the vermin of the world than there is in man, for he is a creature from whom the image of God has been effaced.”

 

Living in a state of pathological fear and insecurity, yet developing a philosophy which would dominate post seventeenth century politics, Thomas Hobbe’s believed that human beings ”naturally scramble for everything they covet” thus leading to a permanent war of all against all unless an absolute tyrant laid down the law. Left to their own nature human beings life would be “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short.” Such deep seated unhistorical and unanthropoligical notion that human nature is fundamentally bad what Historian of Utopias Stephen Coleman calls “Human Racism” was a perfect theoretical basis for defending the need for authority, social control and the state.

 

When eighteenth-century radicals such as William Godwin’s ideas of human benevolence and unlimited progress began to be popularised in the late 18th century Britain, the philosophers of doom responded. Reverend Thomas Malthus’ quasi-scientific account of the struggle for existence in a world where the earth’s resources would always be fought over by ever expanding populations, was written as a direct repost to Goodwin. For Malthus, Godwin’s belief that benevolence was the moving principle in society was “little better than a dream, a beautiful phantom of the imagination, ” poverty and misery were not social ills but part of natural law, humans would always compete in a world of limited resources.

 

It was Darwin’s chance reading of Malthus “for amusement”, in 1838 that proved to be the key that unlocked his world changing theory of evolution which finally toppled man from the apex of creation. If the gap between man, ape and worm was negligible then all the hierarchies between humanity and the rest of nature which Christianity and rationalist philosophers had tried to maintain came tumbling down. Man was not created, as Christianity believed, by god on October the 23rd, 4004 B.C, at nine o’clock in the morning, but had slowly evolved throughout millions of years. The church panicked, his books were banned. Darwin’s great proponent and populariser Thomas Huxley famously said in a debate with Bishop Wilberforce that he would rather acknowledge an ape for his grandfather than be a clergyman careless with the truth. The definition of human nature and humanities relationship to nature was radically thrown into question.

 

Although Darwin’s extraordinary conceptual leap laid the groundwork of our contemporary understandings of ecology as a web of life, a constantly changing interdependent system made up of relationships, it was his emphasis on struggle and competition within nature rather than cooperation that took precedent. The survival of the fittest, images of nature at war with itself rather than harmony, prevailed. It wasn’t long before those who wanted to justify capitalism, racism and imperialism used Darwin as the scientific underpinning to vindicate their horrors. Social Darwinism was born, Hobbe’s sinister view that the state of nature was a universal war was further confirmed and a youthful Adolf Hitler found inspiration.

 

Despite the last half century of work on ecology and systems theories which now emphasise the complex cooperative partnerships that are key for eco systems to sustain themselves, Darwin’s “nature red in tooth and claw” continues to dominate our popular image of nature, a cursory look at most natural history Television documentaries confirm this. Nature remains a battlefield, not the cooperative community which contemporary science shows it to be. And thus our negative self image as predatory brutes unable to share and cooperate is maintained. Such self doubt that we can run our own lives combines with self hatred creating a powerless current of self-fear, so easily exploited by elites, the very ones whose rule and domination have wrecked untold chaos on the world.

 

Whilst the young Hitler in Vienna conjured up images of a world where the will of the strongest needed to dominate the weak to avert chaos and catastrophe, Freud set the foundations for an individualistic society obsessed with the self by developing the ideas that inside us all were dangerous instinctual drives. The first world war confirmed Freud’s pessimism in human beings; humans were a sadistic species driven by irrational forces that could never be improved. The role of civilisation was to control our violent irrational desires. Freedom was an impossible ideal, because it was too dangerous to allow human beings to truly express themselves. They must always be controlled and would therefore always be discontent.

 

Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, took his uncle’s ideas about human nature and in the 1920’s developed many of the techniques of consumer capitalism that came to dominate the twentieth century. The inventor of modern Public relations and marketing, originator of product placements and celebrity endorsement, advocate of a share owning public, inspiration for Josef Goebells, CIA consultant and architect of Guatemala’s bloody coup, Bernays was also the first publisher and avid promoter of Freud’s writing in the United States. The now relatively unknown figure of Bernays was perhaps one of the most influential figures in the early rise of consumer capitalism, he realised that by linking consumerism with people’s unconscious desires, people could want things they did not need. Like Freud, he believed that citizens were too irrational to run society, but he thought that their inner selfish desires could be satisfied by making them buy products which would make them happy and thus docile, leaving the running of society to an elite. He called this the engineering of consent.

 

In 1928 President Hoover, the first politician to articulate the idea that consumerism had become the central motor of American life, told a group of Advertisers and Public Relations executives “you have taken over the job of creating desire and have transformed people into constantly moving happiness machines which have become the key to economic progress.” The global historical system crash and reboot of the great depression and world war two simply strengthened this new dream. It didn’t take long for the elite to declare that society was abolished and only the selfish self was left, at last the masses with their dangerous animals drives were safely satiated; citizenship was effaced by consumerism, democracy became shopping and god gave way to GDP.

 

But the happiness machines had a tendency to break down and whilst inner lives were falling apart, relentless economic growth was decimating the planets life support systems. By the end of the century rates of depression were rising amongst young and old, self harm, eating disorders, drug addiction and suicide was blighting more and more peoples lives. And yet it wasn’t just the poor and destitute who seemed to be unhappy.

 

 

*

 

In 2006 two UK based NGO’s, the New Economics Foundation and Friends of the Earth, published “The Unhappy Planet Index”: it aimed to challenge the way wealth was measured. The conventional index of progress, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) takes neither ecosystems or human happiness into account, What “The Unhappy Planet Index” wanted to show was the ecological efficiency with which well being could be delivered. Could a happy society be built without levels of consumption that was costing the earth ? They brought together statistics relating to a country’s consumption of environmental goods and services (working out its ecological footprint, how much of the planets surface is needed to feed, house, clothe, absorb carbon dioxide etc.. based on an equitable share of the planet’s resources, measured in global hectares per person) , the life expectancy of its citizens and their happiness ( measured by asking people about how content they are about their lives) .

 

What they found was that well-being was not dependent on high levels of consumption. In fact the western world, beacon of consumer capitalism performed poorly. Of 178 surveyed countries, the G8, the proud promoters of market economies, scored atrociously: Italy coming 66th, Germany 81st, Japan 95th, UK 108th, Canada 111th, France 129th. The United States, top of the GDP index, came a miserable 150th. The worst hit countries were those who had recently adopted market capitalism and so nearly at the bottom of the pile came the G8’s new boy, Russia at 172nd. Not surprisingly, at the bottom were many sub-Saharan countries, bighted by extreme poverty and HIV/Aids.

 

No country achieved an overall high,. But at the top was the small pacific archipelago of Vanuatu made up of 85 small islands speaking 100 different languages with 65% of the population making their living from farming. Its ecological footprint was only1.2 global hectares of land used per person, compared to 9.5 for the United States, and yet its life satisfaction score was identical, a graphic illustration that a happy life necessarily involves sacrificing the health of the planet. If the whole world were to consume at the level of the United States we would need more than five planets to support it, three if we were all European , but just one, which is all we’ve got, if we all consumed happily like Vanuatu.

 

A great surprise, was Columbia coming second, a country whose extraordinary natural beauty, vivid cultural diversity and low ecological footprint tend to be overshadowed by the Western media’s obsession with its drugs war, fuelled, yes you guessed it, by the western worlds insatiable appetite for cocaine, which just happens to be media workers drug of choice.

 

Coming third is one of the few countries in the world to have abolished its army, Costa Rica. With more money to spend on health and education and one of the world’s richest biodiversities the central American country also boast an impressive conservation programme covering two thirds of the country. But it’s ecological footprint, at 2. 1 global hectares per person puts its consumption above the 1.8 average that the index (whose figures it admits underestimate the actual damage done) assumes is the equitable, sustainable level. Globally our average foot print is 2.2, which means capitalism is depleting the planets living stocks 23 percent faster than nature can regenerate them, if we continue to use GDP as a measure of well being, this figure will continue rising exponentially. In their vain attempt to keep the happiness machines from unleashing chaos, the money machines will have reduced the earth to a lifeless desert.

 

*

In William Morris’s Utopian novel “News From Nowhere” the protagonist , Guest, travels forward in time into a Britain fifty years after a revolution. What he immediately notices it that it is populated by people who exhibit “unanxious happiness” “none had a glimmer of unhappiness.” The miserable, competitive , selfish world faded away to be replace by a joyous cooperative society where people make it “a point of honour not to be self centred’. As he travels down the transformed Thames Valley he meets “lovely folk who had cast away riches and attained to wealth,” everyone displays an intense desire and pleasure in living, something Morris would call the Religion of Humanity.

 

Visions of cooperative people living contentedly without leaders continue to be regarded as unrealistic. Those who live happy peaceful lives, satisfied with their work and in touch with the natural world are considered at best cloud cuckoo land utopians at worst naive primitive simpletons who don’t understand that it’s a jungle out there and that to really live is to struggle for existence. Examples of such life styles if represented at all are relegated to the world of freaks, social outcasts and irrelevant subcultures. The road map of economic progress must not show such inconsequential aberrations of human nature.

 

The Spanish Civil war was one of the worlds most remarkable social revolutions, millions of people lived and worked collectively without hierarchy, whole towns and cities were run with popular assemblies and yet whilst it was happening the mainstream press showed a blind eye to the success story and reported on what they understood better, war and conflict. In 1937, when George Orwell , returned from the front impressed by the achievements of the anarchists, and published his Homage to Catalonia, it only sold 300 copies, the rest were remaindered to an anarchist bookshop.

 

What was perhaps most disturbing for mainstream society was the fact that amidst some of the most poverty stricken towns and villages in Europe people without coercion from rulers were managing their own lives, sharing what little they had and welcoming political refugees. Many villages were ignoring ancient boundaries and in one case 275 of them banded together in 25 federations speaking for 40,000 active members. Collectivisation increased the productive yield in many cases and anyone who didn’t want to join the collectives was allowed to continue working the land as an “individualists”. Persuasion by example, not force was the ideal in these experiments in free but equal poverty. Such practical examples of successful everyday living that disentangle poverty from misery, scarcity from competition, wellbeing from richness remain a threat to the grand abstract theories of “human nature.”

 

*

 

We are driving across Andalusia, its hard to imagine that during the civil war there were entire communities in this region that abolished money, collectivised land and developed barter systems. All we seem to experience are endless identical grids of olive plantations, grey green dots on a backdrop of dry white earth, a monotonous industrial monoculture that continues for hours on end.

 

Spain was the only country in the modern era where Anarchism developed into a large enough social movement that had the power to threaten the state and successfully manage huge areas of a country, during the 1936-39 civil war. Spanish Anarchism was rooted in popular peasant culture, a precapitalist collective village tradition. To many in the close knit rural communities and newer urban neighbourhoods Anarchist values were as much a way of life as a theoretical position. This long history of Self governing communes with their own laws and charters, created a fertile soil for the anarchist politics of the late 19th century. Pretty much every revolutionary Spanish political movement in the the sixty years previous to civil war was ostensibly anarchist in spirit if not in name.

 

Within a few months of the start of the war in 1936, approximately y three million people had set up collectivised communes. Popular assemblies involving the entire populations of villages including women and children were federated with towns and cities. Three quarters of the land in the state of Aragon was managed by collectives. In Catalonia, which had 60% of Spain’s industry, three quarters of the economy were under worker control. In Barcelona the factories and public services – telephones, transport, gas and electricity – were self managed by members of the CNT, the autonomous union that boasted one and a half million members at the start of the war.

 

One of the biggest questions concerning the Spanish Revolution was why did the experiment in mass anarchist organisation not last long, less than two years in most cases. Was it, as Hobbes and his historical cohort of human haters would have claimed, that people without leaders reverted to their naturally greedy uncooperative selves? Or was it something else?

 

Carlos explains to me that there was a popular mass of people across Spain who had Anarchist values deeply engrained in their culture and there was an ‘activist’ class, the organisers in the CNT. The CNT, was a deeply democratic autonomous structure, no delegate was ever paid and the right for a committee member to be recalled was taken for granted. Calling for self management and autonomy, they saw the state as the source of all social ills. “There is no such thing as revolutionary power, for all power is reactionary” it had claimed “Power corrupts both those who exercise it and those over whom it is exercised: those who think they can conquer the state are unaware that the state overcomes all its conquerors; there are no good and bad politicians, only bad ones and worse; the best government is no government at all… to vote for a politician is to renounce your own personality, your union is yourself.” The first ten months of the war following the 19th July Coup by general Franco, saw the CNT and FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation) as the dominant organisations in Republican Spain, the country responded to their call for the collectivisation of all land and factories and the social revolution took off.

 

“But what happened” said Carlos “was that this activist class, started to be attracted to power and they started to make compromises with the government , it wasn’t long before the social revolution began to wither away.” In the September of 1936 in an extraordinary Volte-face, key CNT organisers joined the Catalonian government, they soon forgot that they were delegates and started to control the popular movements, believing that the social revolution had to be sacrificed for the war against Franco. Within a month a law was passed that whilst recognising collectives wanted them under government not workers control. The drift to centralised control had begun, Europe’s greatest Utopian experiment in self-management was over, Like so many histories of popular movements, it seemed that once again it was not the people, the popular base who were greedy for power, but those who decided to become their leaders. Perhaps the only absolute about human nature is that power corrupts, absolutely.

 

Its going to be interesting going to this mythic radical village of Marinaleda, apparently the Mayor has been in power for 30 years. We have another days drive left to get there, so we stop off for the night on the edge of a steep valley. When we arrive we smell something strange, a sweet acrid smell that we can’t identify. The electric storm lasts all night, flashes illuminate the black sky, silhouettes of trees play hide and seek on the horizon. When we wake up, we realise that we have parked on the edge of an apocalyptic backdrop. Burnt eucalyptus trees stretch as far as the eye can see, a dead landscape of black charred ground and scorched stumps tumbles towards a roaring river, the only thing that is left alive are the ants.

 

 

 

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Apparently a lot of official maps don’t show Marinaleda, a village of 3000 people, set in the middle of the frying pan of Andalusia. Perhaps it’s a bureaucratic blunder . But the fact that the mayor describes capitalism as “A thieving and terrorist system. Thieving because it is based on expropriation and exploitation and terrorist because it uses violence to maintain the privileges of the few” probably means that it is more of a deliberate mistake. . The more successful a radical social experiment is the less we are likely to hear about it and the Spanish State certainly doesn’t want people to find their way to a good example.

 

As we drive down the main street, the back bone of the community, looking for the bar syndical where we are to meet friends of Kim and Carlos who are also visiting, we pass dozens of murals painted onto the bright white walls – A huge purple feminist symbol with the words “I Love You Free” – a fist rising up through a black and red world “Guerra Social contra el Capital”(social war against capitalism) . We cross streets with names that resemble the index of a revolutionary encyclopedia – Calle Ernesto Che Guevera, Calle Salvador Allende, Calle Ghandi, Avenida de la Libertad. Eventually we find the the bar and park the van. Three large arches of green steelwork frame the casa del Pueblo which houses the bar syndical. Written in large steel letters are the words “MARINALEDA – UNA UTOPIA HACIA LA PAZ – OTRO MUNDO ES POSSIBLE” (Marineleda – a Utopia towards peace – another world is possible) For a few seconds I feel like I’m back in a Zapatista community in Chiapas, Mexico and then I remember that I’m somewhere in Europe.

 

The bar is packed. This is clearly the point of gravity of the village. On the walls are large prints of the black and white photographs of the Brazilian Landless peasants movement by Sebastian Salgado, jubilant crowds wielding scythes and pitch forks. Next to these images, that were icons of the 1990’s alter –globalisation movement, two massive flat sceen TV’s blare out trashy Spanish pop video’s and a 24 hour news service. Between them a colour poster with a spoof lords prayer written by the Mayor. One of the lines reads “They call us idiots because we never tire in the struggle for Utopia.” There is already no doubt that our paths through Utopias should have made this unexpected detour.

 

Around a large table sit Kim and Carlo’s friends from the international anti-capitalist collective “Escanda”, based in the mountains of Asturias, together with a delegation of Columbian political activists. They are here on a special programme organised by the Asturian local government which host Columbian’s who have death threats looming. For six months they are given housing, a mobile phone and some money. In return they have to give talks across Spain about the political situation in Columbia. It’s a little respite from the shadow of paramilitary execution. Several of those in previous programmes returned to their death. It’s strange meeting all these young people, with smiling jovial faces, knowing that some of them might not be alive in a few months time.

 

A feast of grilled shrimp, chips, fried eggs and beer is spread across the table, all on the house, or rather a gift from the mayor (in fact every lunch for the following 5 days is paid for by the mayor). We eat and begin to hear stories of this village unlike any other in Spain. Stories of expropriating land, a mayor who answer to assemblies and full employment ( a rarity in this part of Spain). The enthusiasm however, is peppered with cynicism. After all, we are being told these stories by visiting Anarchists, whose distrust of anything that reeks of a communist leadership runs deep.

 

Spain’s 1936 social revolution was viciously destroyed by Stalin and the communist party. Being the only state willing to send arms to the Republicans, they wielded enormous influence and were thus able to deliberately derail the truly revolutionary processes that were unfolding and replace them with systems of centralised authoritarian power which ultimately wrecked the republican movements and lead to Franco’s victory and 36 years of a fascist military dictatorship. No wonder there is mistrust.

 

Marinaleda is clearly not anarchist, on paper it is more of a mini libertarian communist state with aspects of ecological thinking. On the surface it feels very similar to Murray Bookchin’s theories of Municipal Libertarianism, the practice of building revolutionary direct democratic institutions in ones own neighbourhoods. It will be interesting to see if Bookchin’s theory has become reality here. What ever the case is, Marinaleda’s history, which began just after the death of Franco and the transition to democracy, reads like a fairy tale.

 

Andalusia was suffering chronic unemployment , in Marinaleda’s case it was over 75%. The majority of the land was owned by a tiny elite of aristocratic landlords who farmed olives and cotton using huge agro industrial machines. The villagers eacked out a living as precarious agricultural day labourers, not knowing whether they would have work from one day to the other. Jobs like olive picking only lasted three months in the year. People lived in squalid cramped conditions, sometimes three separate families sharing the same house. Life was hard and many emigrated to the cities or abroad, villages across the region died.

 

In Marinaleda though they decided to do something about it. The party in power in the local council together with a radical agricultural union, the SOC decided to fight for their own land. In 1979 they started the struggled and took direct action to reclaim the local Count’s land. This included 700 people going on hunger strike for 13 days, trapping the Spanish president in a local village, 25 days of government building occupation in Seville, sabotaging the Counts farm machinery and most importantly occupying his land. After twelve long years a final push involved a non stop occupation of his fields for 90 days and nights. The Count gave up and sold the land to the Andulucian government. Not wanting to accept that it had been won through struggle, they invented a kind of legal song and dance which ended with 1200 hectares being given to Marinaleda. Many of the local land owners followed suit, frightened that their land was going to be subject to the same treatment, they sold it cheaply to Marinaleda council.

 

The mayor later described to us how one of the most beautiful moments of his life was the day when they were given the keys to the Counts Finca and let themselves in to the majestic farmhouse, which now boasts a huge mural on its façade saying LAND and UTOPIA. With their own land they were autonomous from the count, could create jobs and start to run their own lives..

 

 

That night the rain returns and the streets become brown torrents, we park the van next to the municipal gymnasium where the Columbians are being put up. Tomorrow, we are told, a general strike has been declared in the village.

 

 

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The twisting shadows of trees sweep the parched football pitch as the sun rises. The village is quiet. This morning the Mayor has to go and give a statement to the court in the local town Estepa, he called a general strike so that there would be a crowd of support outside the court house. He and the council are on trial because Marinaleda’s local pirate TV station has been illegally broadcasting using Discovery Channel’s frequency. He risks a two year prison sentence for this.

 

A long convoy of cars heads out of the village through the acres of olive groves towards Estepa. Outside the court the streets are filled with people. Deep brown faces against glaring white Andulasian walls, young and old squeeze onto the narrow pavements, “the people are with you” they chant as the mayor, with a kind of revolutionary hybrid beard merging Kropotkin and Castro enters the building.

 

A couple of hours later he re-emerges, the crowd surges forward, he makes a brief statement, the Andulusian national anthem is sung by all and there is a vehicular exodus back to the village to hold an assembly. The Mayor has been in power for 30 years, his party the CUT has absolute majority of the council, but Marinaleda is ultimately run by village assemblies.

 

When we arrive back the car park next to the huge meeting hall is jam packed with cars, everyone wants to know how the trial went. It doesn’t last long, there are more speeches by the mayor: “They are trying to oppress our freedom of speech as poor people. The rich don’t want us to have the right to speak. They want to know who is doing the programming, paying the bills and I tell them, we are all volunteers, we are all one, the TV station is the villages, no one is in charge” He thanks everyone for striking and coming to support “the judge was a lot more lenient during the hearing, because he knew you were all outside” there is laughter. “Now we have taken the land from the count, we can do whatever we want, we are becoming more and more autonomous, nothing can stop us.” Once again the Andulusian Anthem is sung and everyone drives home.

 

That evening we eat in the gym with the Columbians, our camper van serving as kitchen. The few restaurants and cafes in town are closed due to the strike. Sitting in a circle over a large saucepan of pasta, we hear harrowing stories of social struggles in Columbia. One of the activists is a photographer carries with him boxes containing hundreds of photographs, he passes a selection of images around. Pictures of massacres, mass graves and assassinations, burnt and beaten bodies, teargas and police riots. The courage of these guys is incredible, such extreme violence everywhere around them, so many death threats and yet they keep struggling.

 

 

****

 

The next morning we are woken up by the sound of Columbian Guerrilla pop music coming from the Gym. It’s a bizarre blend of punk, trashy pop and umpa umpa folk music with a surprisingly jolly tone. Marinaleda feels very different this morning, the sound of shouting kids in the school playground and the siren from the olive oil factory are clear signs that the village has returned to work.

 

So, how did this place transform itself from a dying village of poor precarious day labourers into a thriving model of municipal libertarian communism ? Old sun bleached election fly posters, with the slogan “Be realistic demand the impossible” and a photograph of the mayor smiling beneath his beard, are plastered all over the village. Despite our reluctance to defer to authority figures, it seems he is probably the person who can give us one of the deepest insights into Marinaleda. We arrange an interview.

 

The Town hall is a large modern building, clad in white marble and tinted glass. The official Marineleda logo adorns it: a line drawing of an idyllic village under a baking red sun with a dove rising above it, set inside a large red, green and white circle with the words “Marnineleda: a utopia towards peace” embossed in gold. I never thought I would see the word Utopia engraved on the front of a town hall. In the UK Mayors tended to be lacklustre characters who appear at summer fetes and tawdry official functions looking ridiculous with their large golden chains around their necks. I never imagined meeting a mayor with such contagious charisma and radical politics, a mayor who has survived two assassination attempts, spent time in jail and celebrates direct action and direct democracy.

 

It’s past eight o’clock at night, he arrives dressed in a bright magenta short sleeved shirt. At first he spends a few minutes in the car park checking a pair of banners that have been prepared for an action against property speculation then unlocks the town hall and lets us in welcoming us into his office. A gigantic oak desk is framed by three large hanging flags, the institutional light green walls are adorned by massive aerial photographs of the village and a picture of Che Guevara. We sit down around a round table in the corner.

 

“Utopia is not just a word or a dream it’s a right,” he begins “and through struggle we realise our dreams”, his right hand gesticulates above the table “Our dream was to end unemployment and we thought that the best way to realise that dream was to have land, and land is not property or a merchandise, it’s a right.” We realise that we are in for a long political speech rather than an intimate chat, but his charisma is infectious and we settle down patiently to listen.

 

“So at first we organised ourselves politically and in a Trade Union. We are in an agriculture workers union, SOC, which is part of the Via campesina network – whose main goal is food sovereignty. Politically we organised through the CUP an anticapitalist and Andulusian nationalist party.”

 

One of the principal reasons for taking this journey in Europe was to show that there are Utopian practices taking place on our doorstep, that we don’t have to go far away to find inspiration in other cultures. One of the key inspirations for many of us in the alter-globalisation movement was the Brazilian Landless Peasants movement, the MST, which has reclaimed hundreds of thousand of hectares from rich land owners in Brazil. The MST was part of Via Campesina, which was an important network helping to globally coordinated the mobilisations of the 90’s. But until we visited Marinaleda, we had absolutely no idea that anything similar to the MST was happening in contemporary Europe.

 

The mayor continues his talk, pausing confidently between paragraphs so that our translator can keep up; “Since we started running for elections we have always had absolute majority in the council. But we don’t believe that power is neutral. When we got absolute majority we decided that power in the hands of the workers should be a counter power. In order for the power to be by the people, for the people and with the people we decided that the most important thing is participation. So we set up a structure so that the general village assembly became the highest decision making body The assembly decided that direct democracy was the way forward rather than representative democracy. In representative democracy, which we call opinionated democracy, people only express an opinion every four years when they vote, but with direct democracy we have the power to make ourselves heard every week.

 

Although direct democracy is better than representative democracy or as I like to call it ‘Bourgeois democracy’, we quite quickly noticed that political democracy is worthless unless you have economic democracy. So we decided to deal with the issue of ending unemployment . With unemployment one is paralysed, so we said OK we need to get land and we looked around the area to see who owned the most land and found out that the Duke of Infada had 16000 hectares… “

 

His bright blue eys, that radiate above the huge bush of beard, light up. “So we started fighting for his land, we occupied it hundreds of times, we disrupted the international airports of Malaga and Seville, we blocked the streets, we threw ourselves in front of the Duke’s Agricultural machinery, we had general strikes, hunger strikes. And after many years of struggle we got 1200 Hectares of land that now supports 8 cooperatives within it.

 

 

As soon as they occupied the land they converted much of it to pepper and artichoke fields, which requires manual labour to pick and therefore creates many more jobs than the industrial cotton plantations.

“Having land alleviated the situation but it did not end unemployment and we realised we needed industry so we built cooperative factories that processed the fruits of the land – olive oil factories, pepper and artichokes processing and this gave us full employment.

 

 

Now that we have political and economic democracy what about social democracy. We noticed that there was no housing and many social services missing. So we decided to turn all council held land into building land. Now we can offer land, materials, architect all for free to young people so that they can build their own houses. These self-builders, as we call them, have fortnightly assemblies with the architects where they discuss what the house will look like, how its going to be built, how much to pay. At the moment they are paying 15 euros per month which reimburse the materials costs. So far we have built 300 houses and we are building a further 120.”

 

He goes on to explain the setting up of free home help for the elderly, very cheap kindergartens and numerous sports facilities including two swimming pools ( unheard of in a village this size.)

 

“Our experience tells us that another world is possible, another society is possible, another way of living is possible and the only thing we need to achieve it is political audacity, the desire to fight for it and unity. Although I was one of the most intense dreamers, even I didn’t believe that we would achieve so much in such a short time. …What’s beautiful about this place is that it makes the impossible look possible. The left should be utopian and should invite people to dream and realise them and if they don’t do this then they are part of the system.”

 

As we leave his office I notice a VHS tape on his desk, it’s a copy of the classic Kirk Douglas film “Spartacus.” Whose epic holywood images of slave revolts and solidarity, the moment when the mass of rebel slaves all answer “I am Spartacus” to the roman authorities, I remember vividly from when I was a kid. I’ve always thought that romanticism was an essential ingredient for successful radical political organising, it makes one aim for the highest ideals rather than begin at the level of the mediocre. In the glossy campaign promises booklet that his party sends to every resident before an election, next to his portrait is a photo of a perfect blue sky. But what is extraordinary about this romanticism is that it is thoroughly grounded in the nuts and bolts of everyday life. The rest of the booklet explains everything from the fact that the village pays some of the lowest taxes in the region (partly due to the fact that they don’t pay for public services like rubbish collection but do it themselves as part of a collective work day “Red Sunday”) to the fact that free wifi for the whole village is being planned and that the olive oil factory is getting a brand new piece of machinery. Marinaleda clearly isn’t a micro subcultural Utopian experiment , but a long term struggle deeply rooted in working class experience that affects the daily lives of 3000 people . Romanticism followed by pragmatism has made it all possible.

 

***

 

On the way to the demonstration outside the court house we talked to Sara, a young woman in her twenties. She works as a picker in the pepper fields, earning 1500 euros a month, well above the average for agricultural labour in Spain. She believes in the process of the village and thoroughly supports it, but told us “It’s boring here, like any tiny village of 3000 people, it’s boring.” Despite the two night clubs, (including Palo Palo with its tacky 20 metre long gold electric guitar façade) two swimming pools and a local TV station that anyone can be part of programming, Marinaleda is still a rural village in the middle of nowhere.

 

It seems that one of the biggest problems at the moment is trying to keep participation and self management going. The second generation of Marinaledans, born after their parents struggle, have a much easier and less adventurous life. There is not much left to fight for.

 

One afternoon we are invited to a meeting of the apprentices school, which trains young people in building work and social care . A panel of 18 to 20 year olds, many wearing Che tee-shirts. as it is the 40 anniversary of his death this week, present their work to the packed auditorium in the town hall. We have heard a lot about the lack of participation by young people and when the time comes for a question and answer session one of the Columbian activists, who the night before in the bar had been trying to persuade us to join the international brigade of a leftist Columbian guerrilla group, stood up and gave a passionate speech to the youngsters. He described how in his country, going to an assemblea, participating in grassroots politics was a priveledge, Many young people were murdered for that priveledge. How could these Spanish kids take their situation for granted and not participate in building this radical project. There is tension in the hall, the fellow Columbians look uncomfortable at the outburst and one of the Schools staff tries to respond rather blandly. But everyone knows that he is right and that one of the central questions of every single historical struggle is how to keep the struggle going when it feels as if one has won.

 

Much activism is seen as a direct response to a crisis, once the crisis is sorted we can go home. Perhaps this is because we think that Utopia is a fixed place of perfection like paradise, which once reached means we can stop trying to get there, change stops and we can stop having to try and change things. But Utopia, as Wilde said, is not somewhere that one rests for long, one has to set sail again and again, keep on moving and realising that there is no such thing as static perfection, the world is always changing, and as such we must always keep wanting to change it.

 

Gloria, a jovial young mother who is in the process of building her own house as part of the self build scheme and also works in the pepper fields, confirmed the dilemma for us “ yes the participation has gone down, the situation is so different from what it was. Before people had nothing. now they have jobs, a house, a car – they are much more comfortable, they don’t go to the assemblies so much, they don’t need to take to the streets anymore.” “But What would happen if the Mayor fell down dead tomorrow ?“asks Isa bluntly. We really want to know how much the whole project rest on his personality and charisma. Gloria had been talking to us for over an hour about the self-build scheme. Barrio asselblies and the way elections work, but this question throws her, she suddenly becomes awkward and doesn’t want to answer.” well, we would be stupid if we let it all fall down if something happened to the Mayor.” She says after a long pause “He doesn’t need all this anymore, he has his life, his job in the school, his house. He doesn’t live off the land anymore, but we do and we would be very stupid if we let it all collapse.”

“what about the word Utopia in the village motto” – I ask “Is Marinaleda really a Utopia ?” “Its very difficult to achieve a word, but we have.” she replies, taking another drag of her cigarette “My parents never imagined that they could fight the powerful count and win, but we did and so we showed it is possible.”

 

“Is there anything left in your personal life that you would need to achieve

to reach Utopia” asks Carlos “ In Marninaleda ? “ she asks, taking a deep breath “No. ” She pauses again thoughtfully “There are things we could improve but things are great…. This is such a tiny village but look at how much we have achieved, we have stuff that no one else have.. for example every year we have ten Palestinian kids who come for the summer. In the whole of Spain there are only 50 of them who visit and yet ten of them chose to come here, and we aren’t even on the map”

 

 

 

 

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Presque 3 semaines sans ajouter un mot sur ce blog… Tout va si vite, les expériences et les kilomètres s’accumulent, et il nous est vraiment bien difficile de maintenir le rythme que nous nous étions fixés : écrire régulièrement (nous nous étions promis d’écrire quotidiennement !) sur les projets visités, tout en partageant la vie et le travail, en les observant, en les filmant, en conduisant des interviews ; aller de l’un à l’autre au volant de notre fidèle Humphrey (baptisé ainsi par Jack, 12 ans et demi), robuste et confortable mais fort lent… Un programme bien ambitieux, et qui s’avère presque impossible à tenir. Qu’importe, les expériences sont si riches d’enseignements, d’inspiration, d’amitiés… le récit attendra. Le vécu vaut toujours plus que ce que l’on peut en dire. A choisir, je préfèrerai toujours l’action à la représentation.

Ceci dit, ce que nous vivons est si fort qu’il me semble important d’essayer de ne pas laisser trop de temps s’écouler car la mémoire alors commence à faire son travail de réaménagement, d’inévitables déformations et altérations.

D’autant plus ardu que le monde lui aussi continue de vivre et chaque jour apporte son lot de nouvelles, qui nous font toujours réfléchir aux prémisses de notre projet sous un jour nouveau.

Ainsi, alors que nous avalons les kilomètres et les litres de gasoil, le prix du baril de pétrole lui continue de grimper, et les références au pic pétrolier commencent à se multiplier : alors que toute l’économie mondiale repose sur du pétrole très bon marché, il est quasiment certain que nous avons en atteint (voire même dépassé) la production maximale. Les réserves vont ainsi commencer à baisser alors que la consommation, elle, ne cesse d’augmenter. Entre des coûts d’extraction de plus en plus exorbitants, les tensions géopolitiques actuelles en Turquie, au Tchad, etc… et la bonne vieille loi de l’offre et de la demande, le pétrole à bas prix est certainement déjà chose du passé. Il suffit de se rappeler que le prix du baril a triplé en moins de 3 ans pour commencer à avoir une idée des scénarios à venir.

Quant à nous, nous devons une nouvelle fois faire face à nos propres contradictions : conscients depuis longtemps de l’imminence du pic pétrolier et critiques ardents de ses conséquences catastrophiques pour notre société, nous nous retrouvons à consommer plus de pétrole que jamais alors même que le fameux pic commence à se faire sentir !

La hausse vertigineuse des prix de « l’or noir » pourrait bien entraîner une véritable dépression économique et son cortège de réjouissances. Ainsi on parle déjà de crise alimentaire à venir, notamment car hausse des prix du pétrole dit hausse des prix des denrées alimentaires de base mais aussi parce que les Etats-Unis, pris de panique à l’idée de manquer de carburant sont en pleine conversion agricole pour produire du bio-carburant à plein rendement [link article]… sans oublier la croissance phénoménale de la consommation globale de viande et de lait, qui exigent une production céréalière insoutenable.

Ce qui m’interpelle le plus c’est que l’effet domino de la dépression économique (inflation généralisée -> hausse des déficits commerciaux, baisse des investissements, chômage massif, contraction du budget des états -> baisse de la demande) risque fort de non seulement renforcer l’hégémonie des grandes entreprises (car elles seules auront suffisamment de marges et de stocks pour faire face à la prise en étau entre une demande décroissante et des coûts exacerbés) mais surtout d’inverser le processus de la mondialisation de l’économie. Comment en effet faire perdurer un système où il est plus rentable de produire des biens à des milliers de kilomètres de chez soi plutôt que localement si les coûts de transports et de matières premières sont vertigineux ?

On peut se réjouir de cette relocalisation (après tout j’ai rarement entendu un altermondialiste souhaiter autre chose pour revenir à une gestion plus humaine de nos vies)… Pourtant imaginer devoir produire toute la nourriture, les matériaux pour la construction, les machines, les vêtements, etc à un niveau régional ou même national (car c’est bien de ce type de réorganisation dont on parle) va nécessiter un processus de ré-apprentissage, de ré-éducation et de transformation de la société actuelle si l’on ne veut pas faire face à de sérieuses pénuries.

C’est en cela (entre autre) que nombre des projets que nous avons visités jusque là me semblent faire figure de passionnants laboratoires. Il suffit par exemple d’examiner l’ancienne léproserie accrochée à la montagne surplombant Barcelone et qui abrite 25 Utopiens, pour comprendre la force potentielle d’un tel processus de ré-apprentissage. L’immense bâtisse, abandonnée pendant plus de 50 ans, est squattée depuis décembre 2001. On imagine l’état du bâtiment et des jardins alentours lorsque le petit groupe initial décida de s’y installer… A la vérité, lorsque l’on se promène sur les dizaines de terrasses croulant sous les légumes ou dans l’immense maison confortable il est difficile d’imaginer un bâtiment quasiment sans fenêtre au toit troué, sans eau, sans électricité, envahi par les broussailles. En seulement 6 ans, les habitants de Can Masdeu ont refait le toit ; remis des carreaux à toute les fenêtres ; installé l’électricité ; rouvert les mines d’eau et installé l’eau potable dans toute la maison, ainsi qu’un système d’irrigation dans toute la vallée grâce au déblaiement de bassins pour collecter l’eau de pluie ; débroussaillé des dizaines de terrasses pour y planter des jardins potagers (dont beaucoup ouverts aux habitants du quartier) ; construits deux chauffe-eau solaires, dont un pour la douche ; construit une boulangerie et son four à pain ; une brasserie pour produire leur bière artisanale ; sont devenus autonomes en légumes toute l’année…

Pas un des habitants n’était jardinier, plombier, maçon ou boulanger. A chaque fois que j’ai demandé, pétrie d’admiration, comment ces compétences avaient été acquises, on m’a toujours répondu avec un haussement d’épaules signifiant l’évidence : « On a appris sur le tas. On a demandé autour de nous, on a essayé, on s’est trompé, on a refait, on a appris. »

En grande partie afin de vivre avec le moins d’argent possible, les habitants de Can Masdeu ont pris à bras le corps toutes les tâches nécessaires pour rendre leur environnement vivable et agréable, en se détachant progressivement de la dépendance à la société de consommation. La plupart de ce qui fait le tissu du quotidien (la nourriture, la production d’énergie, la plomberie, la maçonnerie, l’électricité mais aussi l’information ou la culture) ne sont plus des services à acheter mais des savoirs partagés.

Il n’est pas question d’atteindre l’autosuffisance pour vivre détaché du monde, mais de choisir ses propres réseaux d’interdépendance afin d’être autant que possible maître de ses choix et de sa vie.

Le groupe est ainsi inséré dans une série de réseaux à géométrie variable lui permettant de perdurer et de s’épanouir.

Ayant mis à disposition des jardins en terrasses libérés sur toute la vallée pour les résidents locaux désireux de produire leurs propres légumes (en posant pour seules conditions que la production soit biologique et que l’organisation se fasse par assemblées non hiérarchiques), les habitants de Can Masdeu coordonnent plus de 80 jardiniers locaux.

De même, un centre social, le PIC, a été ouvert dans l’une des plus grandes pièces de la maison. Entre le bar et le magasin de vêtements gratuits, des canapés et petites tables rendent enclins à la discussion et à l’échange, tandis qu’une librairie fournie pique la curiosité. En plus des tracts en tout genre sur les luttes politiques locales et régionales, et des tonnes d’infos sur la vallée, on y trouve des étagères entières de livres (classés !) sur le capitalisme, l’anarchisme, l’écologie, le féminisme ainsi qu’une documentation très importante sur l’agro-écologie.

Chaque dimanche, le PIC s’ouvre et, autour d’un repas préparé à tour de rôle par les habitants de Can Masdeu, un programme d’ateliers est proposé. Mariana, magnifique portugaise polyglotte et l’une des co-ordinatrices du programme, explique « Nous essayons toujours de mêler des ateliers d’information politique au développement personnel : la danse, la musique, le chant, le yoga. Pour moi, l’un et l’autre vont nécessairement ensemble. On ne peut être un humain complet que si l’on n’est pas équilibré entre soi-même et le Monde ». Il est très fréquent que plus de 100 personnes passent au PIC sur une même journée, déjeunant dans le patio tout juste refait lors d’une journée de travail collectif, avant d’aller s’informer sur le réchauffement climatique, le squat ou les politiques d’immigration. Bien entendu, hormis le délicieux repas bio à 3,50 euros ou les gâteaux faits maison à 1 euro, toutes les activités ici sont gratuites. « Ce que l’on peut apprendre ici n’a pas de prix » remarque Mariana. Arnau, un vétéran faisant partie du groupe initial de squatters, renchérit « en règle générale nous préférons les échanges : travail dans le jardin, massage, peinture murale, peu importe. Nous essayons de nous détacher de la monétarisation des relations sociales. »

A ces réseaux locaux s’articulent des réseaux d’échanges plus élargis. L’un des plus importants est le Réseau Catalan d’Agroécologie, défendu avec enthousiasme par Guilhem, dont le visage émacié à la barbe Lincolnienne s’éclaire dès qu’il en explique les prémisses. « Au niveau le plus basique, cela permet de créer des liens d’entraide. Par exemple hier, nous sommes allés cueillir 800 kilos de pommes pour nous-mêmes chez un producteur faisant partie du réseau. Cela arrange tout le monde : lui car il peut finir la saison plus rapidement (cela n’était plus rentable pour lui de payer des cueilleurs pour les derniers arbres) et nous, car ainsi on a des pommes pour tout l’hiver, sans avoir à payer. On fait ça aussi avec les olives, et d’autres fruits et légumes en fonction des besoins de chacun ».

Mais cela va plus loin. Le réseau est aussi pour échanger des infos, et défendre une agriculture biologique et soutenable, respectant la souveraineté alimentaire pour tous. C’est une organisation foncièrement politique qui appréhende ces thèmes sous l’angle de la lutte et de la résistance. Guilhem a ainsi été très impliqué dans la lutte contre les OGM.

Au final, les enseignements du réseau sont mis en pratique directement « à la maison », devenue autonome en légumes toute l’année, et partagés avec tous durant la journée collective au jardin une fois par semaine, où tous participent. Ce partage des savoirs est fondamental. Ainsi il en va de même avec la fabrication du pain. Une équipe de véritables boulangers s’est formée au départ sous l’enseignement d’un artisan boulanger du quartier. Kike, un jeune historien de l’anarchisme… et apprenti boulanger explique : « Felipe nous a enseigné la manière traditionnelle de faire du pain au levain ; il est lui-même issu de quatre générations de boulangers. Pour moi, c’est très important de pouvoir maintenir ce type de traditions, qui ont tendance à se perdre. » Ainsi chaque vendredi, l’ « atelier pain » est ouvert à qui veut, et Kike, Juan ou parfois même Felipe lui-même, montrent aux intéressés comment faire une fournée de 40 pains dans le four fait maison.

L’exemple pourrait être dupliqué sur la fabrication artisanale de la bière, des savons, la pratique de la danse ou du yoga…

Il n’y a pas ici d’expert hyper spécialisé mais des praticiens aux compétences multiples, la plupart acquises au gré des besoins collectifs ou des intérêts de chacun. Par conséquent, l’approche du travail à Can Masdeu est indubitablement moins aliénante que celle d’une société productiviste où le travail est le contraire des « loisirs », conçu ainsi comme une tâche punitive et pourtant essentielle, où il faut vouloir « travailler plus pour gagner plus (pour accumuler plus) » sans quoi l’on est nécessairement un paresseux, un parasite. Dans cette vision du travail choisi, où l’on se donne les moyens de faire ce que l’on juge nécessaire pour le bien-vivre de la communauté dans laquelle on vit, plutôt que pour satisfaire un « supérieur » (terme intéressant pour indiquer un chef !) dans la visée d’obtenir argent et/ou statut, le travail n’est plus un stade intermédiaire où l’on exécute des tâches dans le but d’obtenir autre chose, mais bien une activité à « satisfaction directe ». Et ce n’est pas pour dire que les gens travaillent peu. Can Masdeu est tout le contraire d’un « repère de paresseux ». Simplement le travail y a du sens, tout comme sa rétribution qui n’est pas en monnaie sonnante et trébuchante mais dans l’appréciation ou l’utilisation de ce qui est produit ou offert.

Grâce à la mise en commun des jardins et de la maison, les habitants de Can Masdeu n’ont besoin que de très peu d’argent personnel pour vivre. Hormis la contribution mensuelle et individuelle de 25 euros afin d’acheter les denrées alimentaires impossibles à produire dans les jardins (farine, riz, sucre, etc), tout est fourni « gratuitement ». « On peut très bien vivre ici avec 200 euros mensuels » nous dit Arnau.

Parallèlement, collectivisation dans le squat Barcelonais n’est pas synonyme de déni de l’individu. On est loin de l’URSS ! Il y a au contraire ici un véritable équilibre entre le respect des besoins individuels et le collectif. Si la grande majorité de la maison est commune, chaque membre a sa chambre individuelle. Au niveau de l’organisation du temps, chacun s’engage chaque semaine à deux jours de travaux collectifs (dont un au jardin) et à cuisiner un repas pour tous. Comme le résume Guilhem : « Lorsque l’on est de cuisine, ça prend environ 4 heures, entre récolter les légumes, les laver, les couper, les cuisiner. Mais alors pendant toute la semaine tous les autres repas sont prêts, à l’heure, sans que j’aie besoin d’y penser. Pour moi c’est un super compromis. » Une fois par mois chacun doit aussi participer à la préparation du repas pour le centre social ainsi que s’engager à des travaux de nettoyage de la maison. Le reste du temps, chacun est libre. Certains travaillent à temps partiel (ainsi Jony et Alvaro sont rédacteurs dans un magazine anti-consommation ; Fraggle est musicienne ; Noa, actrice), d’autres sont très impliqués dans des luttes locales (notamment sur les squats), d’autres encore s’occupent de leur enfant.

Lors de la visite guidée, organisée comme chaque dimanche, un visiteur posa une question attendue « Mais comment faites vous si l’un de vous ne fait rien ? Comment forcez-vous les gens à travailler ? » Bryan, un jeune Américain à Can Masdeu depuis le début de l’aventure, fit une réponse inspirante : « Il faut accepter que tout le monde ne travaille pas autant, pour diverses raisons. Si jamais quelqu’un exagère vraiment, nous en parlons. Notre expérience ici est que personne n’aime être un parasite, car cela signifie aussi ne pas vraiment faire partie du groupe. Nous sommes des animaux sociables, nous les humains ! »

Can Masdeu semble ainsi être une belle illustration de la théorie qui veut que les rétributions matérielles ne soient pas la seule manière pour que les gens travaillent. On peut en effet entr’apercevoir « une moralité basée sur l’entraide et la solidarité, se développant afin de produire une satisfaction dans le travail pour le bien de tous » (Marshall, 1993 : 656). Il apparaît aussi que s’exemplifie ici la notion purement anarchiste que lorsqu’il n’y a pas coercition, il est possible de trouver un équilibre où le travail se trouve effectué de manière volontaire car, distribué selon les intérêts de chacun et de manière juste, il est devient source de plaisir plus que de tourment, tandis que les travaux les plus pénibles sont partagés entre tous.

Au final, on peut se demander avec Marshall si peut-être « il en va de la société comme du corps : la santé d’une communauté libre pourrait bien se mesurer au nombre de parasites qu’en tant qu’organisme elle peut supporter sans disparaître. » (1993 : 657)

Néanmoins il me semble que Can Masdeu est une communauté en pleine santé non parce qu’elle supporte un grand nombre de parasites, mais justement parce qu’il y en a si peu : l’implication de tous est réelle et visible. Alors que j’ai entendu si souvent dire que la « nature humaine » exige leaders et hiérarchie pour ne pas sombrer dans le chaos, car sans coercition, il est évident que personne ne travaillerait, Can Masdeu me rend l’espoir, et ça c’est déjà un peu l’Utopie.

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J’arrive en fin a trouver le temps de poster un blog sur cette ecole merveilleuse visitee il y a 3 semaines. Nos trouvons bien difficile de maintenir le rythme entre les trajets, les visites, les interviews, les prises de notes… Ecrire regulierement au milieu de tout ca est bien difficile! Nous allons essayer d’etre un peu plus disciplines et d’ecrire plus regulierement.

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Paideia est une île de et en résistance… D’ailleurs c’est exactement à cela qu’elle ressemble : une maison jaune entourée d’un jardin asséché et de quelques arbres, se tenant fièrement au milieu d’un océan de ronds points à demi terminés et de chemins boueux creusés par des tractopelles. Il y a encore à peine un an, Paideia était au milieu d’un immense champ d’oliviers… Mais l’avancée urbanistique de la ville a, comme d’habitude, fait fi des arbres centenaires pour faire place à un énième développement d’appartements. Mais si cette situation géographique insolite exaspère et attriste les « Paideiens », elle ne les arrêtera certainement pas. Après tout, l’école est le fruit d’une bataille permanente depuis 1978 ; elle a tenu bon face à tous les obstacles mis sur sa route, quelques véhicules industriels ne risquent pas de la faire plier. L’endurance de Paideia n’a rien d’étonnant lorsque l’on rencontre Pepita, l’une des fondatrices de l’école libertaire : sous les cheveux rouge feux de cette femme petite et costaude, la ténacité du regard vous fait vite penser qu’il doit être plus facile de déplacer des montagnes que de la faire dévier du but qu’elle s’est donné.

Il faut dire que ce but là a dû en nécessiter de l’obstination ! Une école anarchiste, gérée par les élèves eux-mêmes, où l’une valeurs fondamentales est le refus de toute autorité n’a certainement pas été simple ni à mettre en place, ni surtout à pérenniser. Et pourtant 29 ans après sa création Paideia est bien là avec ses 60 élèves et ses 10 professeurs, démontrant à tous les cyniques qu’il est possible, avec beaucoup de patience et de conviction d’appliquer les principes anarchistes à l’éducation des enfants sans mener au chaos. Bien au contraire.

Paideia est le concept antique grec faisant référence au processus de construction du caractère des citoyens. A l’école libre de Mérida, au sud ouest de l’Espagne, c’est ainsi que l’on considère l’éducation. Par là même, tout est basé sur 7 valeurs fondamentales : l’égalité, la solidarité, la justice, la liberté, la non-violence, la culture et le bonheur. Ce dernier est vu comme le plus important, car il est la somme de toutes les autres valeurs et l’objectif final de l’école. Mais comme nous l’a rappelé Pepita « le bonheur ce n’est pas avoir tout ce que l’on veut, c’est acquérir une vraie stabilité et maturité émotionelle ».

Ces valeurs, on les retrouve souvent brandies même dans les contextes les plus conservateurs, les projets les plus réactionnaires.

A Paideia, pas question de jouer avec les mots, de galvauder ces notions à la base de toute éducation réellement émancipatrice. Et c’est pourquoi tout le fonctionnement de l’école et ses pratiques en sont le reflet.

Ainsi le cœur du fonctionnement de l’école, comme tout groupe anarchiste qui se respecte, est l’assemblée : organe de démocratie directe où tous participent aux débats, où les décisions sont prises collectivement sans hiérarchie mais dans le respect de chacun. Ainsi à Paideia tout est décidé par assemblée, qu’elles soient au niveau de l’école entière ou par groupe d’âge : l’emploi du temps, les matières à étudier, les menus, les résolutions de conflits. Ces assemblées sont animées par les élèves eux-mêmes, à tour de rôle. Nous avons assisté à plusieurs d’entre elles, et la maturité de ces enfants, capables d’exposer leurs idées et leurs émotions, de raisonner, de faire part de leurs désaccords, de s’écouter les uns les autres et surtout d’émettre des propositions pour toujours trouver une solution acceptable par tous, n’a jamais cessé de nous ébahir.

Il faut dire que l’apprentissage commence jeune : dès l’âge de 2 ans, les enfants décident des activités de la journée par assemblée. « Evidemment les plus petits ne participent pas vraiment. Mais ils apprennent vite que l’assemblée est un lieu où l’on s’assoit en cercle, où l’on est calme, où l’on écoute ceux parlent » nous expliquent Olivia tout en gardant un œil sur une fillette en équilibre précaire sur une balançoire. « C’est vous les instits qui animez les assemblées des petits j’imagine ? » « Non, ce sont les plus grands, ceux de 4 ans. Ils font ça très bien, très sérieusement » me répond elle comme si c’était la chose la plus évidente qui soit… Et tout à coup j’ai compris qu’à la base de cette éducation était surtout une foi profonde et fondamentale en la capacité des enfants (et des plus grands) pour l’autogestion. Que celle-ci n’est pas un don inné, certes, qu’elle s’acquiert lentement avec beaucoup de pratique. Mais n’est ce pas aussi le cas des relations hiérarchiques ? L’obéissance et l’autoritarisme ne sont pas innés non plus, ils s’acquièrent au fil des ans, au sein de la famille, à l’école, pour finir par être ressenti comme « naturels ».

« C’est aussi comme cela que l’on enseigne la non-violence » m’explique Olivia « par répétition : à chaque fois que l’on voit un enfant être violent avec un autre, on lui demande d’expliquer son geste, on met chacun en confiance pour qu’ils/elles exprime ses émotions, puis pour qu’ils/elles trouvent un moyen de discuter de leur différend ». Comme un fait exprès, ce même après midi, j’ai vu Marina, une brunette de 6 ans se retourner calmement vers Miguel qui venait de la taper dans le dos pendant 3 ou 4 bonnes minutes « Cela suffit maintenant. Ce n’est pas drôle du tout. Je suis sure que tu n’aimerais pas que je fasse la même chose, alors tu arrêtes ». Et Miguel d’obtempérer. Et je ne pouvais m’empêcher de penser à toutes ces cours d’écoles pleines de cris et de larmes, où les instituteurs semblent passer le clair de leur temps à devoir faire l’arbitre.

 

 

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En tout état de cause Paideia ne ressemble quasiment en rien à une école : à part quelques tableaux noirs dans certaines salles et des livres partout, pas de bureaux en rangs, pas d’horloges, pas de sonnerie pour rythmer la journée. L’emploi du temps est connu de tous et chacun semble vaquer d’une activité à l’autre sans besoin de rappel strident.

« En ce moment, on commence par la journée par des travaux collectifs, le groupe cuisine prépare le petit déjeuner, pendant que les autres balaient ou nettoient les classes. On petit déjeune à 11 heures, à 11heures et demi on a ateliers ou assemblée, temps libre de 14 à 15 heures pendant que les petits déjeunent, nous les plus grands déjeunons entre 15 et 16 heures, atelier encore à 16 heures, goûter à 17 heures, travaux collectifs et enfin on rentre chez nous à 18 heures », cet emploi du temps nous est livré d’une seule traite mais tout en sourire par Jara, 15 ans et, l’aînée de l’école, scolarisée à Paideia depuis l’âge de 2 ans. « On décide de l’emploi du temps par assemblée chaque trimestre, y compris l’heure du déjeuner » nous explique-t-elle. « On décide aussi de ce que l’on va étudier, après une analyse critique du trimestre précédent. Rien n’est jamais fixe ici, tout peut changer d’un trimestre à l’autre ! » Entourée d’une demi douzaine d’élèves approuvant sa version des faits, elle nous explique le fonctionnement des divers groupes de travail de l’école, qui sont révisables tous les mois : le groupe cuisine qui compte environ 8 élèves entre 6 et 15 ans, le groupe nettoyage qui lui est par groupe d’âge (il était mixe dans le passé mais les plus jeunes demandèrent par assemblées à être ensemble), le groupe travail manuel.

Le groupe cuisine est à l’œuvre, co-ordonnés par 2 adultes, et nous sommes époustouflés de voir ces enfants, dont certains si jeunes, participer complètement aux tâches d’épluchage, de découpage, etc. Sans aucun doute, de telles activités feraient s’évanouir tout inspecteur sanitaire ! Et pourtant, les adultes et les plus âgés supervisent les plus jeunes et assurent qu’il n’y ait aucun risque d’accident en leur montrant et en leur rappelant les règles de sécurité évidentes. « La solidarité aussi s’apprend et pour nous il est très important que les grands se sentent responsables des plus petits » nous dit Pepita. Et effectivement tout au long de la journée les exemples pleuvent : à la descente du bus, dans la cuisine, dans la cour de récréation, les enfants ne recherchent pas systématiquement un adulte pour les aider.

Cette indépendance par rapport aux adultes est primordiale. En effet l’un des objectifs est la liberté, comprise par les éducateurs comme capacité à prendre ses propres décisions en conscience des conséquences. Lors de notre première réunion avec les éducateurs, un soir après classe, l’une d’entre eux, Lali, nous explique qu’en ces semaines d’après rentrée les élèves sont soumis à être « mandado », c’est-à-dire « recevant les ordres ». « Après avoir passé deux mois dans leur famille, les grands parents, à regarder la télévision, ils sont de nouveau sous l’influence de ce système compétitif, consumériste, qui les met dans une mentalité de soumission. A leur retour ici ils sont sans arrêt à nous demander ce qu’ils doivent faire. Ils ne sont pas libres. Ils doivent réapprendre à ne plus avoir à demander. Etre mandado c’est ce réapprentissage : pour une certaine période (dont la fin est déterminée par une assemblée, qui est demandée soit par les éducateurs, soit par les élèves eux-mêmes) un enfant qui ne se montre pas capable d’autonomie doit faire ce qu’on lui dit. Comme c’est très pénible, il/elle réapprend vite. En ce moment, c’est l’école entière qui est mandado, ce qui est très rare ». Nos yeux s’arrondissent tandis que l’on digèrent l’information : ceci est une école où les élèves se font rappeler à l’ordre quand ils demandent trop la permission ! L’état de mandado est aussi appliqué lorsqu’un/e élève ne respecte son « compromiso » ou « engagement ». Chaque élève doit en effet s’engager à respecter rigoureusement un certain nombre de valeurs chaque trimestre ainsi qu’à rendre un nombre arrêté de rapports sur des sujets à étudier pendant le trimestre à venir. Si les engagements ne sont pas remplis, alors il/elle sera mandado… jusqu’à ce qu’une assemblée juge qu’il/elle a appris ce qu’il/elle devait et reprendre sa vie d’élève libre…

Afin de s’assurer que chacun prend ses responsabilités au sérieux, les enfants sont aussi répartis dans des commissions. Ainsi Chris, un jeune anglais arrivé 2 ans auparavant nous explique qu’il fait partie de la commission « solutions ». Son rôle est de rester alerte aux conflits et problèmes potentiels entre les ses camarades et proposer des solutions afin de les résoudre sans avoir recours à l’arbitrage adulte. « J’aime beaucoup ce rôle, c’est très important et on sent vraiment utile ».

De même les commissions « valeurs », constituées d’un élève de chaque groupe d’âge, ont pour but de faire rapport à chaque assemblée « Pas dans un esprit de dénonciation » nous explique Joana, une ancienne élève de Paideia, revenue visiter ses camarades et éducateurs, sa famille comme elle les décrit elle-même, « l’idée est de discuter collectivement et aussi pour chaque élève de savoir réfléchir sur ses propres actes et ses propres attitudes. Ce qui reste le cœur de tout ici, c’est le respect les uns des autres, et de soi-même. Moi j’ai l’impression que je me connais beaucoup mieux que la plupart de mes copines qui vont dans des écoles normales. »

Evidemment dans une telle école il n’y aucune d’obligation d’étudier ni d’examen, ou de notation quelconque. Chaque trimestre les élèves ont un face à face avec Pepita, pour ce qu’ils appellent “La Prueba Larga”, test durant elle évalue le développement de chaque enfant, tout autant au niveau des connaissances qu’au niveau maturité. Une série de tableaux et grilles d’évaluation est utilisée pendant l’entretien et les résultats sont ensuite discutés avec les autres éducateurs. Les progrès individuels sont ainsi suivis de très près par toute l’équipe pédagogique. Evidemment c’est en partie parce que Paideia est dans une sorte de limbes légales (pas vraiment reconnue officiellement mais tolérée) que les éducateurs ne sont pas tenus de suivre le programme national.

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It seems that I’m not writing blogs but trying to write the book on the go, which clearly is not sustainable. Blogs are daily diary entries not book chapters! So I promise any readers out there that I will try to write regularly and more briefly. I’m feeling a bit over stimulated by the amount of new experiences, new people and new ways of thinking about the world that we are encountering. Note books are filling up and we already have 40 hours of film, it’s beginning to feel a bit overwhelming to imagine what it will be like to return to London and try to turn all this material into something! What I need to do now is catch up to date …

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“It’s not like other schools, its more like a family.”
Letter from Paideai ex student, attached to wall.

There is so much more to write about the anarchist school. But it will mostly have to wait till we return, one thing worth mentioning now though was witnessing one of the spontaneous assemblies being convened by a group of six to seven year olds because the new boy, Pablo had bitten someone. Eleven children purposefully walked into the classroom and shepherded Pablo out into the main hall. Adriane a supremely confident 7 year old picked up piece of paper, drew two columns on it – one for stacking the speakers, the other for the proposals and began to facilitate. I have to pinch myself to believe this is really happening.

The kids lounged in a kind of messy circle, limbs falling onto and over each other. “Pablo bit me and so I called for an Assembly” says Miguel. Most of the kids seem totally relaxed, putting their hands up every now and then to speak and explain their version of events. Pablo is reacting very differently, he is tense, frustrated and fidgeting nervously. “Why did Miguel call for an assembly when I didn’t do anything” he shouts. He doesn’t wait for the facilitator to take his turn speaking, which is not suprising seeing as this is his first assembly (ever!) and that most of the other kids have been attending assemblies since they started the school at 18 months old.

Eventually one of the teachers, Laly, arrives, she had heard Pablo speaking out of turn and so decided to come and see if she could help out. What follows is a comical scene where the kids realise that you can tell who bit who by looking at the shape of the bite marks and relating it to the tooth pattern. Suddenly they are all biting their own arms to see what marks they leave. In the end it turns out that maybe Pablo never bit Miguel after all, as the bite marks don’t seem to match.

The children end the meeting by making proposals – one of the proposals is that Pablo is excluded from the community. This is the only form of punishment that Paideai has – to send someone outside of the community and isolate them from collective life. “I have another proposal” says Laly, “Pablo is new and has to learn to behave in a different way. How can he learn to be different without being in a group, his problem is not the group he is in, but himself. The group has to help him and he has to respect the group.” Adriane summurises the proposals, a vote is taken, the kids raise there hands, Adriane counts and notes the results. There is a unanimous decision to support the Laly’s proposal. “which one has won?” Pablo asks aggressively. I begin to feel sorry for this new boy who is clearly unable to embody the anarchist values of non-competitivity and non violence. “I cant believe that 12 people are meeting to sort your problem and that your not even concentrating.”responds Laly. “ But when I go to play with them” Pablo pleeds “they don’t let me play. ” “but you have to respect them, if they say no then you have to respect it.”

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Pablo has only been at the School for a few weeks, and this episode shows how hard it must be for children to adjust to the culture of Paideia. Pepa tells us that they no longer allow children over nine years old to enrole. By then they have become too moulded by capitalism, competivity and individualism “the system has structured the mind and it is impossible to be free” she tells us. She thinks that adults can begin the process of changing but it takes a long time, as we are all well aware. It challenges the very basis of our society of separation – the I and the them, subject versus object. Reaching a state of freedom requires us to seamlessly merge individual and collective responsibility. Until we are able to see the world as a seemless set of relationships, not objects but innumerable boundless subjects, we are not free.

On our last day at Paideia Josefa, who seems to be the theorist behind the school, and who has published numerous books about its pedagogy, tells us a story which sums up her understanding of the School. The children had been on a school trip. One of them had a stomach bug and suffered an awful attack of uncontrolable diarrhoea. She went into the toilets of a bar to get changed and emerged with her soiled clothes in a plastic bag, wearing only her underwear. When she arrived back to the park where her class mates were having a picnic, as an act of solidarity, they all took their clothes off and remained in their underwear for the entire day.

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“We are the ones who built all these palaces, these cities…we workers can replace them with newer more beautiful buildings. Ruins do no frighten us. The earth will be our inheritance, no doubt about that. Let the Bourgeoisie blow its world to smithereens before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world in our hearts and that world will go on growing. It is growing even as I speak…”

Buenaventura Durruti, (Spanish Anarchist who invented political bank robbing and used the proceeds to finance an anarchist school) Interviewed in the Toronto Daily Star, October 1936.

Merida is literally built on ruins, one of the Roman empires most important cities, it sits in the dry south west edge of the Iberian peninsula. Many of it’s modern buildings rise up out of exposed ruins, sometimes incorporating them into their own structures. Smooth concrete and glass juxtaposed against ancient rough brown rubble. Next to the pink signs pointing to the tourist office are similar signposts for the temple of Diana, the past underpins the present here on every corner. The Roman empire collapsed due to military and ecological overstretch, the day we arrive every flag in the city is at half mast. Two Spanish soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Empires rarely learn lessons from the each other.

For 29 years this city has hosted what must be one of the world’s longest running Anarchist Schools – Paideia. Named after the Ancient Athenian’s concept of character-building, something which was seen to be the key educational process of Athenian direct democracy, the school is an extraordinary laboratory of radical citizenship. If Utopias are places which challenge us to close the gap between what is done and the impossible, then our three days visiting Paideia certainly did this. This world turned upside down, a school without bells, where the children are in charge and where the curriculum is centred around anarchist values, taught us more about freedom than anything we had ever experienced.

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“ Be careful with the present that you create because it should look like the future that you dream”

Mujeres Creando ( Bolivian Anarcho Feminist street art group). Quoted on the walls of the primary kids class room.

Located in an old two storey pastel yellow farm house on what was once the edges of the city, Paideia used to be surrounded by lush green olive groves as far as the eye could see. This year every single tree was bulldozed and the school now sits in a sea of churned up mud and partially built roads. Once a free school in the countryside it is now a encircled oasis stuck in the middle of the hell of urban sprawl. Enormous bulldozers roam around its edges, sending noisy vibrations up through the walls and stone floors. Next year it will be surrounded by 1500 identical new suburban homes, another speculative Spanish development whose corporate motto is proudly presented on billboards above the Somme like devastation “We are making the future”.

Term has only just started when we arrive. Our first meeting is in the evening with the eight members of staff, who are with the 58 students from 10am till 6pm and then do admin till 9pm. Despite the long days they greet us with great warmth and numerous kisses and we sit down at a large round table surrounded by shelves of books and piles of files. Kim and Carlos, friends from the permaculture collective Escanda in Asturias, have come to help us translate. Kim set up the radical popular education collective Trapeze, which toured Europe during the lead up to many of the large anti capitalist summit mobilisations. Carlos, now working on Escanda’s plans for a community owned wind farm, used to teach immigrants Spanish in a squatted neighbourhood education centre in Madrid. They have always wanted to visit this mythical educational establishment. Last night in the Campsite we admitted to each other that we were all a bit anxious about visiting the school. In fact it felt very much like the first day of school, a very old memory for us but something we recognise by the butterflies and apprehension in our stomachs. Despite its long history, few people get the privilege of visiting Paideia, why we have been allowed we are unsure, although the fact that it calls itself a Utopia in many of its publications probably helps.

Pepa, heavily built in her early 60’s is one of the founders of the school. Despite her bright red dyed hair she looks like the most normal school teacher possible, as do the other seven women and one guy who sit around the table with us. She explains to us that the first few weeks of term after summer are always different from the normal way the school runs. “Returning from the summer holidays is always a problem” she says “ for two months the kids live with their parents and their grandparents, who start to do everything for them and they loose their autonomy.” At the core of the schools philosophy is autonomy and self management, every aspect of the school is run via assemblies from deciding the lunchtime menu to the timetable, personal conflicts to what academic subjects to take, everything is discussed and decided collectively without hierarchy and imposition from the staff. The students from the age of 18 months to 16 years self manage the school together, they cook, clean and make decisions on how it is run.

In Paideia one of the many things I learnt was that being free is fundamentally about taking individual responsibility and being able to collaborate fluidly in a collective community. “When they come back they forget how to do things.. how to cut carrots, what needs doing etc. Their minds aren’t free when they have to ask what to do,” Pepa explains. “They are free when they know what they want…its easier to be told what to do than being free, and you pass on your responsibility to others.” As a result the school is under what is known as Mandado – which means to be ordered or demanded. To describe this as a kind of collective punishment, would be wrong. In the three days spent there we never heard anyone shouting or raising their voices. What it is, is more of a temporary learning culture that is imposed by the staff. Seeing as the students are no longer able take the initiative to do things themselves without asking the authority figures what to do, they are mandadod – told what to do by the teachers.

I later tried to explain this on the phone to my twelve year old son Jack in London, whose secondary School motto “ Serve and Obey” is blazen across a large heraldic stone crest above the entrance. “In the anarchist school you are in trouble if you ask a teacher permission to do something rather than just getting on and doing it yourself” His confused silence displayed the counter intuitive leap that we all had to do when we realised what this really meant. In most schools if you don’t do what you are told you are in the wrong. Here you are in the wrong if you are expecting to be told what to do.

The Mandado remains until the students decide to call for an assembly where they will discuss collectively whether they have returned to state of freedom and responsibility or not, if they all vote for its lifting then its lifted. “They need to re- find their anarchist values” concludes Pepa. “It doesn’t take long. If they want to be free they have to fight for it.”

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“There is not in the world a truer object of pity that a child terrified at every glance, and watching with anxious uncertainty the caprices of a pedagogue.”

William Godwin (the first great philosopher of anarchism and happiness whose An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice had an enormous impact in late 18th century Britain) An Account of the Seminary that will be Opened on Monday the Fourth Day of August, at Epsom in Surrey, for the Instruction of Twelve Pupils, 1783.

The school bus arrives, a long sleek brand new white coach. Children pour out. The older ones hold hands with the little ones guiding them down the steps and into the school grounds where they all pat the two lounging school dogs and are kissed by the waiting teachers. I have painful memories of taking my son to nursery, seeing so many children crying as they are pushed through the institutions doors. Here there seem to be no tears, just smiles and some nonchalant skipping. The smaller children, 18 months to 5 years old, peel off to the kindergarten annex, we stay with the older ones in the main building.

The first thing that happens when they arrive is that the cooking group, seven kids in mixed ages from 5 till sixteen, go into the kitchen put on white aprons and start preparing the day’s meals. Outside some kids are swinging on the trapeze attached to an old crooked Cyprus tree and others are sweeping with brooms that are nearly twice as tall as them. No one seems to tell them what to do, it just happens. This is perhaps one of the most lasting impressions, despite the state of Mandado, there is a constant flow and movement of energised children through the building getting on with things without being shouted at or managed by the terrorising shrill of a teacher or a school bell.

In the kitchen I can feel myself tense up as I witness five year olds wielding large knives, diligently cutting up tomatoes and stirring huge boiling catering size silver cauldrons. I hear myself wondering whether this is safe and soon realise how indoctrinated I have become by the control culture of health and safety that dominates modern institutional life.

Six year old Manu starts to swat the flies in the dining room next door. It’s walls are plastered with quotes including the first self styled Anarchists Joseph Proudhon’s famous tirade: “to be governed.. is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated, regimented, closed in, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, evaluated, censured, commanded…” Which when read in this context suddenly becomes a pretty good description of traditional schooling. “We eat lots of different dishes here. It’s the best food in the world” Manu tells us between swipes. I can’t really believe that school dinners could ever rise above gruel status. “Is it the best school in the world?” I ask as I help fold up napkins. “Yes of course” he declares, his wide brown face grinning as he wields the tea towel.

“Come on its time to work” calls Carlos from the kitchen. Although he is only seven, and not the official coordinator of the cooking group, who is thirteen year old Arai, Carlos is able to see what needs doing and can gently wheel in Manu from enjoying fly slaughter. Three other kids, who can’t be older than nine, are going around the entire school with a pen and paper, asking everyone how many fried eggs they want with lunch.

A group from the nursery arrive with a teacher, a five year old and two three year olds set the tables for 23 people ( the nursery kids eat lunch first). They are so small they can hardly reach up to the cutlery draws. Ernesto, the older child, explains in a helpful manner to Kim who towers above him, that she should only carry one plate at a time because otherwise it can be dangerous. The culture of help here is incredible, whether its Ernesto telling thirty five year old Kim about plate carrying or the older kids doing up the younger children’s shoe laces, its permeates everything at Paideia. As I watch this all unfold, I have a moment where I wish I could teleport every person who has ever told me that anarchism is chaos into this exquisite example of self organisation – by children!

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A tall skinny sixteen year old, her freckled heart shaped face framed by enormous jangling hooped earrings, bounds up to us. Everyone kisses and she introduces herself in a deepish voice as Jara. “This is the time for collective work” she tells us, her long fingers gesticulating with complete confidence “cooking, cleaning etc. Let me explain our timetable to you. “ She leads us a notice board in the main entrance hall. Most of the notices are written in children’s hand writing, list of working groups and various timetables. Sepia postcards of the Barcelona CNT anarchist run tram system and telephone exchange from the 1936 revolution are pinned beside colourful lists of workshop groups decorated with crayon drawings.

“After the collective work we have breakfast. From 11.30 to 1pm we either have a general assembly or attend a workshop, after that we have free time. Then it’s lunch at three and some more collective work till four, then an hour and a quarter long workshop and finally afternoon tea…” Jara realises that she is dominating the conversation and turns to Manuel a shy class mate of hers. She encourages him to continue the explanation. It feels rare to see such sensitivity to group dynamics and sense of solidarity from a teenager.

“How are the timetables decided?” I ask. “ By assembly ” he replies. “Before each term starts we analyze how the last term went, decide what subjects we want to study in the workshops and how the timetable should be sorted. We also work out the working groups there”

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The central organ of the school are the assemblies, but what runs it on an everyday level are the working groups and committees, all made up of kids. Besides the cooking and cleaning groups, there are committees that observe the running of the school. Chris, a blonde very English looking student from Yorkshire, who moved to Merida two years ago when he was ten, tells me that he is in the “Solution makers” committee a job he really enjoys. “ I have to be on the look out for problems and conflicts that arise” he tell me “ and if there is a problem I go and try to help out, if we can’t find a solution there and then, we call an assembly” He explains that there are also ‘values committees’ whose role is to study and asses what lies at the very heart of this school, the anarchist values. At the very heart of what is being learnt and practiced at Paidea is not abstract knowledge, not dates, facts, history, arithmetic – but a set of profound human values. These values underpin everything that happens – they are the curriculum. Instead of the three R’s of traditional education are 7 anarchist values: Solidarity, Justice, Equality, Freedom, Non-violence, Culture and above all happiness.

The values committees are made up of a student from each age group and rotate every two weeks. There are four age groups in the upper school and each has as a self assigned name and their own classroom – 5-7 ‘cool group’, 7-8 ‘tornado’, 9-11 ‘group one’ and 12 – 15 ‘group two’. The ‘values committees’ rotate every two weeks and feedback to the general assembly.

Chris is in the middle of a history workshop. They don’t have lessons, we are told these sound too religious and ejecting religion from schooling is key in a country where the church was the right hand of the fascist dictatorship. What workshop subjects they want to do are decided in the general assembly at the beginning of term where the whole school reflects on how last term went . The staff might suggest a series of 10 workshops, and the class collectively decides five that they want to do. ‘Group one’ Chri’s group has chosen to do History, English, Global Economy, Grammar and Art.

In the workshops you don’t have a teacher standing infront of a blackboard facing rows of desks. Every class room has all the school tables pushed together to make a large central table around which the students sit. They get on with their own work, getting up to find a book, writing notes, occasionally throwing a rubber at a class mate. A teacher, although they are never called teachers, mostly they are called by their first name or “the adults”, wanders into the class every now and then to help out and look through the work they are doing from books.

Each students sets themselves a commitment to do a certain amount of projects each term. They also commit to what is called “Intellectual work.” This is a totally self decided project, on any subject that they want. They all fill in and sign a complex Commitment sheet at at the beginning of term, each deciding their personal commitments, ranging from how many projects and work books they are going to complete to how they are going to keep to the anarchist values, what collective work they will do to and what they commit to on an affective level. At the end of the term they collectively assess each others commitments.

Chris is doing work on the Roman Empire. At the end of the fortnight he will stand up infront of his class and present it to them. There wont be any marking, the only formal assessment is that each term they do ‘la Prueba Larga” a test that is done one to one with Pepa and involves everything from motor coordination to general knowledge. There is no mark, it is just a way for the staff to assess the development. In fact there seems to be reams of complex observation tables and forms that the staff fill in on a regular basis as ways to access the students progress.

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We are heading for our third Utopia now, an anarchist school in Merida, southern Spain and I still haven’t written anything (beyond notes) about our second one, Landmatters or much about our first The camp for Climate Action. Its taken time to get into the rhythm of things and the work-pleasure load, but now last we have more time to write.

The van is parked on the top of a hill beside a colossal sculpture of a shepherd, Monumento El Pastor. Towering bright white beside a pock marked rock face somewhere between …… and Burgos in central Spain. this 27 tonnes of stone was carved to honour the heroism of a shepherd struck by lighting. It looks more military than pastoral and was opened in the presence of General Franco, archbishops and numerous officials in 1961. Perhaps it’s a useful reminder to us of the narrow gap between the celebration of pastoral idylls and fascism.

Green and Black is not just the colour of green anarchist flags flying above the tents at the Climate Camp, it is also two colours that have historically merged dangerously during times of social crisis with quite different meanings. The rise of German National Socialism in the early 30’s rode on the back of a romantic youth movement of the 1920’s. The Volkish movement , despite it’s proto- hippie deep ecology politics was easily turned towards profound nationalism and gradually towards genocidal racism by Nazi activists.

As a result, Europe’s first and largest green Utopia was designed in jack boots. A massive expansion of organic farms took place as part of the Lebensrum, millions of trees were planted besides the worlds first motorways and Hitler’s vegetarianism came with deep green paganism. Whilst the SS were running homeopathic herb farms, the ovens roared in Treblinka.

Today we can see the right lining up everywhere to turn the soft hand of ecology into a gauntlet of power. The first UK party after the green party to have a page on their website about the Peak oil crisis was the British National Party. And when the conservative party changed their logo from an Olympian burning torch to an English oak tree, it was clear that the battle for planetary survival must always be hand in hand with one against authoritarianism.

Late one evening, when I was living in Argentina in the aftermath of the economic collapse and grassroots uprisings, I took a taxi ride through Buenos Aires. The acrid smell of stale alcohol wafted towards the back seat from the heavily moustached mouth of the driver. The taxi was driving at breakneck speeds down the wide avenues and lurching from side to side. I held on tight, the driver was clearly drunk. In my broken Spanish I asked him about his take on the countries meltdown, “What this country needs” he shouted “ is a man with balls” he took both his hands of the steering wheel to holding them cupped as if to show me the exact size of the aforementioned balls. “ A man with real balls” he continued “just like Franco.” I held my breath and held on tight as the taxi careered into another curb, dying in the back of a drunken Argentinean fascist’s upturned taxi was not how I thought my life was meant to end.

Authoritarianism always finds followers during crisis. The combinations of climate chaos, peak oil and financial turmoil that are on the ever encroaching horizon, will lead to a time when green fascism could very likely return as a succour to a society completely out of kilter. The work we have to do is clear, whilst resisting capitalisms suicidal drive towards metldown and creating a just ecological society, we have to create models of collective anti-authoritarian societies that provide as much sense of security as authority has. The Camp for Climate action provided a wonderful living breathing example of exactly this.

———–

One of the may reasons we chose the Camp for Climate Action, as our first example was so that we could locate Utopian practices within resistance. So many Utopian visions have been strangled within the world of fiction or perverted by fascism. The desire for the perfect world is a lot easier to be left to the simple pleasures of the imagination rather than risk being distorted by the complexities of reality, and becoming another grand blueprint for a totalitarian society. Initially chosen by Thomas More to mean “Nowhere”, perhaps an ironic acceptance of the impossibility of actualising his 16th century blueprint, Utopia has increasingly become inseparable from the notion of perfection.

But the desire for perfection, inevitably leads to horror. Whether in the global imposition of a theoretically ‘perfect’ yet practically genocidal neoliberalism, or the individuals fantasy body annihilating trauma of anorexia, the path of perfection is always paved with terror. Perhaps the last thing the world needs is more Utopian visions, but if the dystopian despair of the present social and ecological crisis makes us unable to imagine a radically different world, the only choice might be one of Utopia or oblivion.

Maybe like the word anarchism, Utopias true meaning has been deformed by histories darker shadows. The cloak and the bomb have eradicated the history of love, collectivity, and non-violence of anarchism in the same way that Stalin, Pol Pot and Hitler’s jack boots have squashed Utopias hopes and dreams. Perhaps we need to transform the word, as the contemporary Marxist philosopher Emmanuel Wallerstein did in his book Utopistics: Or, Historical Choices of the Twenty-first Century. By “utopistics”, Wallerstein means what most of us would call our “preferred future” as opposed to an ideal one perfect one. But new words rarely have the weight of ones that boast nearly 500 years of usage. So we should stick to the word, but work hard to radically redefine it.

As radical cultural theorist, Rebecca Solnit writes in Hope in the Dark, we are looking for a “A better world Yes, a perfect world Never”. The Utopias that interest us are those which reject perfection in the face of the natural impermanence of life, they are the ones that celebrate the fact that the only constant is change, and that to strive for perfection on a planet where everything is evolving and in flux, is like trying to freeze the flow of time.

If the 20th Century was the century of the big, perhaps as activist novelist Arundhati Roy suggests, the 21st will be that of the small. The best thing to do with the big blueprint Utopias whose blood still seeps from the pages of our history books, is to rip them up and compost them. Now the challenge is to think of Utopia as something small scale whilst at the same time having the potential to revolutionise society.

The end of the last century saw the development of science, politics and technologies where the small, the interconnected and interdependence became more prominent. The increasing understanding of ecology and networks led to a celebration within social movements of diversity and context specific alternatives, rather than singular global solutions. It is within this way of thinking that we are searching for Utopia.

Those who have tried to create smaller scale consciously imperfect micro-Utopias, tend to be seen by mainstream society as escapists dropouts who withdraw from the complexities of engaging with and transforming society. Many of the small scale projects we will be visiting are attempting to challenge this view. They believe that resistance is as much saying yes as no.

We want our project to critique these binary oppositions, between fiction and fabrication, micro and macro, concrete and imagined. We want to explore those who are creating micro-Utopias that are neither permanent nor perfect, but profoundly present, actual and embedded in the places and times within which they live. Most importantly we want to understand how building micro-utopias can be a larger act of resistance, whose extraordinary ability to transform the imagined into the material, is an encouragement to all of us to make the frightening leap from the impossible into the tangible.

The title Paths through Utopias is peppered with plurals and the emphasis is on process, through, not to – journey not destination. Perhaps the Utopias of the future, if we get that far, will be manifold microcosms, prism like mirrors which reflect the past and the present, without capturing them. Mirrors whose prisms are held up to disorientate us from dystopian despair, with their stunning multiplicity. If the Utopian images of the past century were those of row upon row of identically dressed Maoists all holding up a little red book, perhaps this centuries images will be a sea of different dancing bodies, all holding different shaped prisms and mirrors in their hands, tiny reflectors projecting a million crystal clear chinks of a future towards us, a future that was previously unimaginable.

We aren’t managing to keep up with this blog. As always we’ve been a bit too ambitious – the plan was to drive across Europe for 7 months, visit 12 utopian communities, write a book in English and French, shoot a utopian road movie set in the future, file a monthly newspaper column and whilst doing all this – write a blog. Hmm – that’s quite a lot of work for two people!

A bit of an irony seeing that one of the defining qualities of many Utopias is less work and more pleasure. The 19th century artist activist William Morris, in his vision of a 21st century green stateless Thames Valley, put a hyphen between the two words: “work-pleasure”. In the utopian novel News From Nowhere he describes a new way of working where things that were needed were produced with the same excellence, pleasure and attention to beauty that art  is in our society.  Or rather, as one of the Utopian inhabitants says “what used to be called art, but which has no name amongst us now, because it has become a necessary part of the labour of every man who produces.”

Art, life, work, pleasure all remain deeply divided for most people in our society of separation, and perhaps Isa and I’s challenge during this journey is to find a way to  “work-pleasure” without “burn-out”!

Après la traversée de la Manche qui, symboliquement me donne l’impression que le périple commence vraiment, nous faisons une pause chez mes parents. Les retours en France sont toujours (et je  crois de plus en plus) source de plaisir : le bonheur de retrouver cette indicible impression d’être dans « son » pays… La familiarité des paysages, des odeurs, des mots sur les murs… Tout cela me rappelle à quel point je me sens française, sans pour autant défendre une attitude chauviniste (que j’abhorre), sans fierté particulière, juste le régal de se sentir appartenir à quelque chose que l’on aime.

 

Vrai bonheur, dans la même veine, de revenir chez mes parents et mon frère. Une certaine forme d’Utopie personnelle que l’endroit où l’on se sait aimé de manière inconditionnelle, où l’on sait que quoi qu’il arrive, quelles que soient les circonstances, on sera toujours attendu, bienvenu, écouté, choyé, aidé.. sans aucune attente en retour.

Je suis bien convaincue que si je suis partie vivre à l’étranger, si j’ai toujours eu l’âme voyageuse c’est bien parce que je savais au plus profond de moi que j’avais quelque part où toujours je pouvais revenir. La stabilité que m’a procurée et me procure toujours cet amour sans limite de la part de mes parents et de mon frère est aussi ce qui me permet de pouvoir m’investir à ce point dans cette course à l’Utopie, à chercher un futur plus beau, plus juste, moins destructeur… C’est une fondation qui n’a pas de prix.

 

De plus, les valeurs que je porte, respecte et veux défendre – celles, entre autres, de justice, générosité, dignité – elles ne viennent évidemment pas de nulle part. Je les ai apprises et vues appliquer toute ma vie au sein même de ma famille. Et c’est aussi cela qui me donne l’énergie nécessaire pour aller me battre afin de les voir appliquer autant que possible.

 

Nous repartons donc après 5 jours au Mans, ressourcés, pleins d’énergie et d’émotions. Un aperçu d’une autre petite Utopie nous a été offert par Les Romanouchis, dont la vitalité, la générosité, le talent et l’humour me renforcent dans l’idée que nous avons de quoi construire cet avenir radieux. Il suffit de trouver un moyen pour que ce soit ces énergies là qui s’expriment et travaillent plutôt que l’égoïsme et la cupidité ambiantes qu’on nous vend comme la « nature humaine ». Je ne crois pas à cette notion. Moi je pense que quasiment tout est question de contexte et de circonstances, et que si l’opportunité se présente, la majorité des gens préfèreront la collaboration, le partage et la prise de responsabilités plutôt que la compétition qui pousse à marcher sur la tête des autres pour monter vers une vie d’insatisfactions, plutôt que le stress permanent.

 

Notre prochaine étape est l’école anarchiste Paideia à Merida au sud ouest de l’Espagne. Après une pause bordelaise (encore un joli exemple de bonheur familial) nous traversons le Pays Basque et ses paysages stupéfiants. Les flans de montagne luxuriants semblent vouloir offrir tous les verts mis à disposition par la nature tandis que les vallées se cachent en creux pour mieux préserver leur fraîcheur. Je ne peux pas m’empêcher de penser que je comprends mieux l’attachement féroce des Basques à leur pays : comment peut-il en être autrement avec un paysage pareil. Maigre début d’une analyse politique, j’en ai bien conscience, mais tout de même !

Le passage du Mont Urkiola nous mènent abruptement à l’autre visage castillan : aridité et poussière, quartiers industriels qui m’apparaissent comme des spécimens assez frappants de ce que notre société peut offrir de dystopique. Des villes de béton qui semblent dépeuplées et n’ont qu’à offrir des lignées de pylônes électriques ou de hangars sans âmes…

Bien entendu il est facile de cracher sur la société industrielle et tous ses défauts alors que dans bien des aspects de ma vie je profite de ce qu’elle m’apporte (j’en connais qui aurait vite fait de me rappeler que j’ecris ce blog sur un ordinateur qui n’a pas poussé sur un arbre, dans un camping car pas non plus sorti d’une ferme bio)… Pourtant je veux croire qu’il est possible de vivre sans revenir à l’âge de pierre ni sans continuer à détruire tous les écosystèmes dans lesquels nous avons à vivre. On doit pouvoir survivre sans avoir à continuer à construire zones industrielles comme celles de Burgos ou de Valladolid… voire même à faire sans elles !

Arrivée à Landmatters

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Les paysages du Devonshire sont d’une beauté envoûtante : vallées et collines verduriantes où coulent des ruisseaux chantant offrent un panorama idyllique après la frénésie du Camp pour l’Action Climatique enchaînée avec la frénésie des derniers jours Londoniens précédant notre périple.

Nous sommes en soif de calme, de nature, de choses simples et l’arrivée à Landmatters sous un soleil radieux ressemble à s’y méprendre à l’entrée au paradis ! Après quelques kilomètres de voies uniques sinueuses bordées de haies typiquement hautes de plusieurs mètres qui nous donnent quelques émotions, nous passons le somptueux portail de bois gravé des mots « Landmatters Co-Op Permaculture Project ».

Landmatters est un jeu de mots qui résume magnifiquement la philosophie du lieu : cela signifie à la fois « les choses de la terre » et « la terre est importante ». Rooh, l’une des fondatrices de la co-opérative, nous explique que pour elle ce nom va même plus loin car il incorpore « matter » (mère en latin): la Terre mère nourricière, mère enseignante, mère protectrice, à aimer et à respecter est une notion qui fait sens ici.

Nous garons donc notre camion au bas du chemin escarpé qui grimpe au premier champ de l’immense terrain du projet (20 hectares) et sommes déjà époustouflés par la beauté du lieu. La vue sur la vallée est splendide : les bois s’étendent le long des champs dont les couleurs couvrent toute la gamme des couleurs naturelles tandis que les haies font garder une dimension humaine au paysage et lui donnent un aspect « carte postale » charmant !

Une jolie balade de 5mns (dynamique car bien en pente !) mène au champ où vivent les 10 personnes du collectif. Ce qui me frappe d’entrée c’est à quel point tous les signes de présence humaine sur le site se fondent de manière naturelle avec l’environnement. Les habitations comprennent une yourte mongolienne, une cabane circulaire faite de rondins PHOTO et 6 « benders », les tentes traditionnelles de forestiers, faites de longues branches souples (le plus souvent du noisetier) et recouvertes de bâches. PHOTO Avec leurs formes organiques et leur couleur kaki, ces benders ressemblent à de petites collines au milieu d’un grand jardin. Ces extérieurs apparemment rudimentaires ne préparent pas du tout à la surprise lorsque l’on pénètre dans ces logis rustiques : la plupart sont chaleureux, agréables, plus que confortables et surtout superbement personnalisés. On s’attend à des cabanes glaciales et humides et on entre dans, ici une caverne d’Ali Baba, là dans un appartement (presque) hi-tech avec, à côté du poêle à bois, des platines de DJ et du matériel vidéo pro !

C’est que Landmatters n’est pas un lieu pour se retirer du monde. Au contraire. Tous les membres du collectif insistent régulièrement sur ce point : si l’une des ambitions du groupe est de devenir autosuffisant en nourriture et en énergie, il n’est pas question d’en faire un projet isolationniste ni un retour au primitivisme.

Permaculture

En tout état de cause, Landmatters n’est basé sur aucun dogme théorique, politique ou religieux. Le seul cadre de référence commun est celui donné par les préceptes de la permaculture. La permaculture, dont le terme renvoie à « agriculture permanente » et « culture permanente », est un processus de design écologique dont le but premier est la soutenabilité et l’intégration harmonieuse des humains et de l’environnement en dépassant la notion cartésienne de la séparation des humains et de la nature.

Ses principes fondateurs sont simples et percutants, et en font un projet bien plus politique que purement agricole :

soin de la Terre

soin des gens

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La permaculture prend la nature comme modèle, tente d’imiter au mieux ses principes, ses modes de fonctionnement et d’organisation, afin d’apprendre la capacité qu’ils ont à se régénérer et à être soutenable. S’inspirant des écosystèmes naturels, et en essayant notamment de reproduire leur diversité, stabilité et résilience, la permaculture pense le design en terme de « systèmes » dont tous les éléments sont d’égale importance et nécessairement interdépendants.

Un projet de permaculture doit donc dès le départ intégrer les éléments conceptuels, matériels et stratégiques appropriés. Penser de manière holistique est ainsi un précepte fondamental. Tout projet agricole devra ainsi considérer l’habitat, les systèmes d’irrigation, le transport, etc mais aussi les structures invisibles telles que les systèmes juridiques et financiers ainsi que le développement de réseau sociaux de soutien.

Les thèmes qui gouvernent la permaculture la rendent adéquate à des secteurs bien plus variés que la seule agriculture. L’un des experts britanniques de la permaculture, Patrick Whitefield, explique ainsi que pour lui, la permaculture est « un système de design holistique basé sur des principes éthiques applicable, entre autres, au développement soutenable, aux prises de décision, la santé, à la médecine, aux medias et à l’action directe ».

Cette vision holistique est l’un des arguments récurrents des membres de Landmatters pour expliquer pourquoi ils y sont si attachés.

Lorsque l’on commence à s’intéresser un peu plus en détail à la permaculture, on est souvent frappé par deux choses : tout d’abord les règles qui la dirige apparaissent surtout comme du bon sens appliqué (ce qu’elles sont !). en second lieu c’est à quel point ce bon sens là est perdu dans la société dans laquelle nous vivons (où nous avons tellement tendance à ne pas penser aux conséquences de nos actes) et combien penser ainsi de manière holistique demande d’efforts. Nous sommes tellement habitués à tout analyser de manière fragmentée, en séparant bien les choses en catégories, en disciplines, en cases dans lesquelles il faut faire rentrer même les éléments les plus récalcitrants… que s’attaquer à un projet en essayant d’en considérer toutes les dimensions et surtout toutes les différentes façons dont ces éléments interagissent n’est pas du tout chose aisée. Bien entendu au cœur de la permaculture est un autre principe rejeté par notre société industrielle de consommation : prendre son temps et observer. Pas par paresse, mais pour se donner le temps de contempler la manière dont les choses évoluent.

Kristian Buss

I’m starring into a plate of lukewarm spaghetti, unsure whether my stomach is still under the skin of my belly or has taken up residence amongst the chopped up pieces of red roasted tomato. I’m starving but can’t eat a thing. Any appetite has been obliterated by anxiety. Rarely have I been so nervous. We are in an insipid pizzeria on the northern edge of Heathrow airport, behind us planes are taking off into the night sky, in front of us lies certain adventure. I never thought our Utopian Journey would begin somewhere like this.


It’s Saturday night, a dozen of us are pretending to celebrate a birthday party. A table has been booked, under the pseudonym – Abbey Hoffman, but it’s all a front. For activists, normally unable to disguise ourselves as smart, we are quite convincing tonight in our jackets and dresses. The illusion is made complete by a large bunch of lilies that we have given to “the birthday girl’ and that now sit in the middle of the long table. White lilies, white for innocence.

Many of us have been working a whole year for this moment. The next few hours will determine whether it was all worth it. None of us sitting here desperately pretending to party know how it’s all going to unfold, but all of us are focused on the same goal, taking the site for the climate camp tonight.

***

The day began with four of us huddled around the morning papers speaking in hushed tones in an east London park. The entire process of the climate camp organising has been some of the most open, truly horizontal and democratic processes I’ve ever been involved in. The monthly gatherings were open to all and every decision was made by consensus, several hundred people were part of this unique process. Working groups were set up for everything from organising the camp food to media relations, medics to compost toilet building. Anyone could be part of a working group, but there was one that had to be closed, the “land group”.

For a year a handful of trusted yet unknown people had scoured the UK looking for a suitable piece of land to hold the climate camp on. For security reasons this group had to be clandestine, so that the police could not have prior notice to the exact location of the climate camp and prevent it setting up. In June the “land group” had presented a thorough briefing paper to the gathering detailing six possible locations. Ranging from oil refineries to the construction site of a new coal fired power station, each place had pros and cons listed and detailed strategic reasons why they were suitable locations for this year’s camp. After an extraordinarily difficult 12 hours of debate trying to decide a favoured location (link to isa) the gathering of 80 people found consensus on Heathrow airport. It was an incredibly audacious choice, some called it “the crazy option” but in our hearts many of us sitting in that circle collectively making the decision, knew that change only happens when social movements have the courage to be audacious. History has never been made by the timid.

Although the general location was public, in fact the day we released it to the press the front page of London’s evening standard declared “Eco-warriors plan massive disruption at Heathrow”, the specific site had to be kept secret till the last possible moment. A few weeks ago, police had recommended that we “cancelled the camp, much to the derision of our police liason working group. They certainly didn’t want it to happen and this morning’s front page headline of the Guardian Newspaper warned that terrorism laws were going to be used against us. (Link article) But none of this was going to deter anybody.

Lying in the park reading the Guardian on a sunny Saturday morning in this part of London was far from suspicious activity, “Only 3 people know where the camp is going to be held” began the the article. We giggled. Under our newspaper lay large scale maps of the site, which we would uncover whenever the coast was clear of dog walkers. This was the first time Isa and I had met members of the land group, and this meeting was so that we could brief a wider group of people who will take the site that night. The secret was going to be spread bit by bit over the next twelve hours to a hundred and fifty people who were going to descend on the site from dozens of different directions all perfectly coordinated so that they arrived before the police noticed anything. It was a stunningly ambitious plan. The camp is due to open to the public on Tuesday, but it takes days to set up a temporary eco-village to cater for 1000 people, so we have to take the land a few days before hand. We imagine the police know this and expect it to happen that weekend, news was already coming through that numerous police vans were circling the area.

***

Next stop a children’s nursery class room in West London. Booked under the auspices of the imaginary “West London Orienteering Club” this is the location for a final big group briefing. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon, we are expecting about 50 people to turn up, bit by bit they trickle in. The time and place has been spread entirely by word of mouth, no emails or phone calls have mentioned it. As a result no one knows how many actually got the message and will turn up, but our nerves are assuaged as more and more folk arrive. As they enter the brightly painted room with its miniature tables and chairs, the security ritual takes place, – check all mobile phones are turned off and batteries taken out (preferably before they left home so as to not have any electronic foot print of the location). This year several climate actions have been busted before they even took place, resulting in pre-emptive arrests and house raids. We are praying that this time there have been no leaks or stray rumours.

There’s a pub on the corner of the road leading to the nursery. People drinking at the tables outside have been wondering why all afternoon there’s been a steady stream of people laden down with large rucksacks making their way to a nursery. “Are you going to a protest?” they ask. As the hour for taking the site nears, the paranoia rises. Are these plain clothed cops pretending to be drinkers? Do they already know about this briefing? Have we been rumbled? Unfortunately not many of the participants had been told about the Orienteering Club cover, and so a variety of responses are offered “No, we’re going to a festival” or “ of course not, It’s a camping convention.”

By late afternoon the same drinkers are still putting back the pints and the mixture of sun and strong larger seems to suggest that even if they are cops, they are unlikely to be much use following us tonight.

***

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The briefing begins. “Welcome to operation Roaring Monkey “ everyone laughs, the nervous tension releases a bit, “The police’s operation has been codenamed Hargood, we are already winning on the imagination front. Tonight we are going to make something we have been imagining a reality. Tonight we are going to take the site for the climate camp, determinedly and its with a lot of fun. They tried to stop us with the injunction, they are trying to criminalise us with the use of terror laws, but our resolve hasn’t been bruised and whatever happens, tomorrow morning we are going to be sitting together in a field having breakfast at the climate camp.”

What follows is an explanation of the communications tactic which will be used. I won’t describe it here for the cops to learn from, but it involved a story of how pirate ships organise themselves in battle, a plastic bag full of dozen’s of “clean” mobile phones, a pile of photocopied maps and splitting into different groups of around 10 people each.

Some groups will approach the land via a park, where they will stop off for a “picnic” and then go on a long walk through thick undergrowth and across streams that have already been bridged in preparation for tonight’s jaunt. Others will take public transport or cycle. Some will hide in the back of white vans with drivers dressed as builders, complete with football shirts, a copy of the Sun on the dash board and plaster dust in their hair. And us, well we are the Pizzeria gang.

Then comes the first logistical cock up. The van that should have arrived to take everyone’s rucksacks hasn’t turned up. There is no way we can all carry our camping gear, any hope at disguise will evaporate immediately. A fresh faced young man comes to the rescue. “My mum’s house is just up the road, we can store them there, she’s gone away for the weekend” “That’s over 50 rucksacks and tents. Are you sure?” responds one of the facilitators “Well we haven’t got much choice have we” he smiles “ by the time she gets back home tomorrow morning, we will have either taken the land and managed to get our stuff delivered there in a van or we will be sleeping off the experiment in police cells. In which case she will have other things to worry about.”

Dotted across London there are at least four simultaneous meetings like this taking place. At the moment its easy to blend into this vast city of concrete and crowds, but soon a hundred and fifty of us will converge on open fields, a stones throw from one of the world’s busiest airports, with police on high alert swarming the area. It all seems totally insane, but sitting on these tiny fragile chairs, looking at the children’s scribbled drawings of lollipop trees and smiling suns, it dawns on me that this is an entirely appropriate place to prepare for this adventure and what else would I be doing at this time and place, anyway. After all, if more people don’t put their bodies on the line to try and stop our society careering into catastrophic climate change, it’s the children who spend their days playing in this classroom who are going to suffer the consequences. It’s not insane, this is the only sensible thing to do in this psychotic society.

***

The adrenaline is peeking. It feels as if someone is peeling off my skin. My body has become a hypersensitive mass of raw flesh weighed down by a mess of heavily knotted guts. Eye balls can’t stay still, they dart around searching for danger. We’re on the underground, the train is deafening as its sharp metallic rattle screeches through the tunnels tearing to the edges of the city. Our group has broken down into independent couples for the first leg of the journey. We’ve been doing all the things to make sure we are not being followed – jumping onto the trains at the last minute just as the doors close, walking to the wrong platform and then doubling back on ourselves – but it still feels as if everyone sitting in the carriage is starring at us. I keep looking down at my trousers, are my flies undone? Did I spill food down my shirt? Why is everyone starring? Why do we stand out so much? The guy in the white t-shirt who I’m sure is looking us up and down is reading the Guardian, “please don’t read the front page” I hear myself wishing…

Calm down… Try to remember to breath … Breath in… count… 1,2,3… breath out… 4,5,6… they aren’t looking at us…they really aren’t…

Last week my son Jack and I saw an animal show in a wildlife park entitled “The Wolfman”, featuring a man who had brought up and lived with a pack of wolves. Before the show began and the hungry wolves entered the fenced enclosure, he took a series of deep breaths and explained to the audience that wolves can sense the fast beating anxious heart of a human from ten miles away. Maybe everyone on this train is able to sense the fact that my heart is rapidly rising into my throat and we haven’t even got to the airport yet.

A drink in a suburban pub and a taxi ride later and our group converges on the Pizzeria. Our booked table is right at the front, next to and in full view of the large plate glass windows. Police vans are cruising up and down the street outside – bugger… Quick, think of an excuse why we need the tables at the back of the restaurant. ..No, that will seem even more suspicious. Just sit down, relax, and make sure those of us in the group who are “known” faces sit with our backs to the window. Remember – this is a birthday party!

We order food and try to talk together about anything except the climate camp, or politics, or resistance, or ecological meltdown or anything that might be overheard by the clientele many of whom are wearing ID tags around their necks, which suggests they work at the airport. Mary sitting opposite me mentions that a car has drawn up outside – “ Two bulky guys are sitting in it, they seem to be waiting for something and are drinking coffee from a flask” she whispers “I’m sure they are plain clothes cops. One of them just wound down his window to talk to the passing police van.”

We are stuck here until we get a phone call that tells us that Operation Roaring Monkey is on green light at which point we leave the restaurant, walk up the street 30 metres and then over a fence into a field and head north until we get to the site. That’s the plan anyway. How we walk straight past the plain clothes cops and jump over a fence without them noticing is another matter.

Food is eaten by those whose stomachs aren’t tied in knots. Coffee is ordered. Then it begins. Time Slows right down, to a torturous ticking trickle as we wait for the call that will give us the go ahead. We ask for the bill. Still no call. The restaurant is beginning to empty now. I go to the toilets about four times, to check the phone and to empty the stress from my bowels. No call. The tables are being cleared and the smell of bleach wafts across the room as the staff finish cleaning the kitchens.

The plain clothes are still outside and we are the only customers left. I hold the phone tight in my hand, wishing it to ring. There is nowhere to go, this pizzeria is on the edges of the deadzone which is Heathrow Airport, we walk out of here and there are no pubs, café’s nothing, nowhere to hide and wait. The waitress asks us to pay up. We try to spend as much time working out the bill as possible. Then the lights start to be switched off. Why isn’t the phone ringing? Has everyone been arrested? The police vans are still cruising up and down the street, no sirens or anything, at least that must mean they still don’t know we are slowly converging on the site.

Then at last the phone rings. A voice shouts “GO”. Out of sheer miracle the plain clothes have moved their car. We stand up and try not to run out of the restaurant door. Turn right, keep moving. Don’t look back. Walk, don’t run. Up the road, not far to go. No police van’s, phew. Keep looking straight ahead. There’s the fence. Jump over. Single file through the field. The crops are woody bean plants, as high as our shoulders and brushing our faces. It feels like walking through a shrunken forest, we try to make the least possible noise, but the crunch of foot onto dry crispy branch erupts into the darkness. Keep going north. Can’t see anything ahead. We stop and double check the map, we must be nearly there. I keep expecting to see blue flashing lights whizzing past in the distance, or the search light of a police helicopter scanning the ground. Nothing. It’s so quiet, eerily quiet, feels to easy.

Through never ending crops, then over another fence and we are on a footpath. According to the maps we must be so close now. We strain our eyes towards the horizon. Then they appear out of the darkness. Grey figures up ahead, a dozen or more, ghostly. A few white vans moving. Must be cops, but no blue lights. Are we there ?

David points ahead, “look – tripods” his face erupts into a cracking smile “it’s us!”Sure enough soaring into the night sky are the tell tale silhouettes of two tripod structures, with agile acrobatic figures clambering about on them. Designed to put activists out of reach from cops to claim land or roads during actions, they are hall marks of the UK direct action scene.

We break into a run. We reach the safety of the crowd, see so many faces, smiles, eyes beaming so much happiness. We took the land and there isn’t as single cop in sight! I look up into the sky and see a meteor scratch the blackness. We did it!

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Within seconds a large flat bed lorry arrives, marquees are quickly unloaded. Everyone is busy, head lamps and torch beams sweeping the area, planks and poles being carried. All the time more people appear out of the darkness from every corner of the field. The crowd grows and everyone is waiting for the police to arrive, but still no sign of them. A makeshift fence marking out the site is rigged up and ‘section 6’ squatter notices attached to it. Oliver, an archaeologist, is helping mark out the plan of the camp with large rolls of tape. Eva and friends have brought in a large lock on barrel and have locked themselves to it under the tripods. The media team sit in a circle and start to write a press release and make phone calls to announce the good news. As if by magic three marquees rise up like the sails of phantom ships flapping in the night sky.

After half an hour dozens of police vans appear down the lane that borders the field. A commanding officer appears, surrounded by the Forward Intelligence Team with their incessant flash photography and beaming torches. He walks along the footpath on the edge of our marked site and in an attempt at asserting authority says “ I am asking you on behalf of the Landowner to leave the site.”Most people too busy building the camp to even notice him, but the few who have come to greet him simply laugh and he walks back to the vans.

Within hours the police have stopped letting any of our vehicles into the lane, which means the rucksacks stored in the unknowing mum’s house never arrived. So for many it was a cold night without sleeping bags or tents, but it didn’t seem to matter, not tonight. And in one of the marquees a giant collective bed was improvised, made out of one of the long folded canvas sides. It held twenty very tired people, cosily cuddled up together, sleeping off an adventure and perhaps dreaming of another one.
Kristian Buss