Democratic socialism has returned to American politics after having been banished by McCarthyism and the Reagan Republicans in past decades, propelled by the vibrant enthusiasm of Senator Bernie Sanders. But after such an absence, many Americans are still unfamiliar with what democratic socialism actually is, and what it really can achieve.
To see a shining example of the benefits of democratic socialism, look no farther than the quiet town of Marinaleda, in Andalusia Province, Spain. It is close to a utopia for the 2700 people who live there- there are no police, no crime, and no unemployment. As the financial crisis wreaks havoc on the surrounding province’s economy, the democratically elected mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo takes care of his village and his people.
In the 1970s, Marinaleda was a poverty-stricken village, a farming community of serfs working huge estates owned by the rich nobles like the Duke of Infantado. In Andalusia, 2% of the population owned 50% of the land, fenced off and isolated while the population around them starved. Unemployment was at 60%. After the fall of Franco’s fascist dictatorship, Gordillo and the people of Marinaleda took matters into their own hands. They unionized the farm workers and through occupations and hunger strikes eventually won, earning 1200 hectares from the provincial government and turning it into a job creating powerhouse by planting labor-intensive crops.
While Andalusia suffers through a 37% unemployment rate and the country at large is bereft of job opportunities, virtually everyone in Marinaleda works on the town’s collective farm, receiving a salary of 1200 euros ($1300) a month. Which may not sound like a lot, but with little taxes and free housing, it is more than enough to live comfortably in rural Spain. There are no profits from the farm, because surplus money is invested right back into the business, to keep jobs readily available.
While there are 690,000 homes in Andalusia abandoned by bank foreclosures, every family in Marinaleda is provided with a home and land, free of charge, from the town, which bought land from the provincial government. Homeowners invest 450 hours of work into construction, materials for which are provided free of charge, and pay a paltry upkeep sum ($19) every month under the agreement not to sell their home for financial gain.
Gordillo has been re-elected in a landslide every cycle, and is enormously popular due to his generosity and visionary fervor: “We have learned that it is not enough to define utopia, nor is it enough to fight against the reactionary forces. One must build it here and now, brick by brick, patiently but steadily, until we can make the old dreams a reality: that there will be bread for all, freedom among citizens, and culture; and to be able to read with respect the word ‘peace ‘. We sincerely believe that there is no future that is not built in the present.”
It’s a fascinating and inspiring story that we should take notes from. Obviously, their model wouldn’t work on an urban scale, but it has been enourmously successful for small rural communities. America’s isolated towns and hamlets that are bereft of opportunities and investment from the state government could do well to learn from Marinaleda’s successes. It shows that democratic socialism is not the totalitarian suffering that the right-wing propaganda would have you believe, but a way of life and a governing philosophy that truly takes the needs of the people to heart.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.