No 1042 Posted by fw, April 29, 2014
“A vision becomes tangible. Here at the edge of Europe, models for a new socialism arise, for the lived experience of justice and freedom; for the healing of nature and for regional self-sufficiency. Interconnected communities and regions – and no longer (only) the working class – are the revolutionary subjects for a new socialism. Amongst them the collective intelligence develops with which they are able to encounter the challenges and resist opposition. The country could thereby again become the Mecca of the world’s revolutionary youth. This spark will spread like wildfire – and no power in the world will be able to extinguish it. For a united people, connected through friendship and the sharing of knowledge, in possession of healthy and decentralized conditions of production, unified by a heart-anchored universal ethic – will never be defeated.” —Leila Dregger
Is a “realistic utopia” possible? Freelance journalist Leila Dregger thinks so. She sees a living example of one in the small experimental community of Tamera in Portugal. The question is: Is Dregger’s blueprint for a realistic utopian model of community living, based on five core points, too perfect for imperfect humans?
This post is an abridged version of a long article which is accessible by clicking on the following linked title. The abridgment below omits “Part I: Dictatorship and Revolution in Portugal – History of a Dream”, which briefly highlights the troubled history of the country during the period 1960 to 1986.
This article is directed toward all those interested in justice, solidarity and freedom.
The false promise of Portugal’s 1986 entry into the EU
The entry into the European Union (EU) in 1986 was promoted to the Portuguese people as a way toward security and prosperity. The still quite impoverished country soon became Brussels’ exemplary student, eagerly conforming to all requirements. Included in these was a pervasive change in agriculture. Although the large grain fields had largely covered the nutritional needs of Portugal they were transformed into monoculture forests. Pine and eucalyptus trees were cultivated for export as cheap wood for paper and pallets. This was a short-sighted decision. Not only ecologically, but also economically, as eastern European countries could take over this endeavor even more cheaply after the Berlin Wall fell. At this point, however, Portugal was already dependent on food imports which today stand at approximately 80 percent of the country’s consumption. This is the situation in a country blessed by abundant sunshine and rain and with a mild climate; the “best growth conditions within Europe,” according to Ferry Enthoven of Atlantic Growers, one of the many foreign agri-businesses in Portugal.
The ambitious and destructive mega-projects of the dictatorship, such as the reservoir dams, were carried forward under the EU. One example is the Alqueva Dam in the Alentejo, constructed in 2002, Europe’s biggest reservoir dam which flooded villages and historical cultural sites. It destroyed the once splendid Guadiana River and the many rock formations and breeding grounds for rare birds along its shore. Its water – already severely contaminated by Spain’s agricultural industry – currently feeds into a canal system. Its head-high concrete pipes and reservoirs go through the entire Alentejo. The profit is almost exclusively reaped by foreign agriculture companies with their immense olive groves, plantations of genetically modified corn and greenhouse tunnels. Instead of bringing wealth into the region by employing local labor, these projects annually attract many thousands of low-paid migrant workers from Nepal, Bulgaria and Thailand into the country.
Alfredo Cunhal, organic farmer from Montemor-o-Novo says, “In regard to nature and agriculture, dictatorship, socialism and capitalism have all followed the same strategy – centralization and specialization. This has a destructive effect on nature and is fatal for rural development.” His attempts at reintroducing the traditional way of farming, Montado and at establishing a diverse farm, deserve all the support they can get.
“Then in the nineties they threw money at us,” remembers history professor Antonio Quaresma. “The banks almost chased after us with generous loan offers.”
The borrowed wealth blurred people’s sense of reality. The country was soon full of brand-new cars, modern one-family houses and unused highways; however they had hardly any means of production that could generate wealth. Quaresma says, “We sensed that we would receive the bill for this at some point, but we didn’t know in which form. Now we know.”
As a result of the global economic crisis the debt trap snapped shut – on both nationally and individual scales. In March 2011 the Portuguese government applied for the European bailout. The consequences of the consequent austerity measures impoverished large parts of society. According to recent reports 600,000 people over the age of 65 are suffering from malnutrition. The unemployment rate in Portugal is at 18 percent and among people under 24, it stands at 37 percent. Through the hikes in interest rates, countless people were unable to pay back their loans, similar to what happened in the United States. They needed to forfeit their homes, which were financed on debt, and move into public housing projects. Innumerable families broke apart under these conditions, yet maintain the pretense of order. “They are ashamed,” notes Teresa Chaves, coordinator of Caritas in Beja, who due to the crisis, has to deal with an ever-increasing number of hardship cases. “School pupils spend the few Euros they have on mobile phones and branded clothes in order to not lose prestige but they don’t have any money left for their school lunches.” She makes a clear point that the country sits on a social time bomb. In the local elections of 2013 the voters gave the government a sign of this discontent; now half of all municipalities in the Alentejo have communist mayors again.
Can a renewed vision of Portugal reawaken people’s will for change?
What positive idea can reignite people’s will for change after all these attempts and defeats? What is the dream of Portugal?
Will strong village communities once again help people survive?
If one drives through the countryside and stops in remote villages to share bread and thoughts with the locals, one recognizes that something in the people of this nation has remained astonishingly untouched by the many invading forces, including the current demands of globalization. There is a downright defiant connection with the land; village life is still characterized by mutual help, neighborliness and a quiet non-participation in the attitude and pace of global-commercialism; there is also often determined non-cooperation to enviro-economic mega-projects like reservoir dams and mines. Chatting with the customer is still more important to the cashier than the impatient bureaucrat waiting in line. The mechanic still stops working to pet a stray dog. In the bar on the corner one can still get the home-brewed liquor and the cake baked by a neighbor – even for the policeman who turns a blind eye to them; he is part of the village community after all. And it was this community that helped people survive throughout all the times of hardship. Still today, this is more important to many people than arguments about economics and employment.
It is as if the majority of the people silently follow an approach to life different to that prescribed as a panacea in our modern time. An approach to life that is not centered only around money and profit but around common values, connectedness and mutual responsibility. It seems as if a dream has survived in this country, throughout monarchy and the colonial empire, dictatorship and revolution. Perhaps Portugal is destined to revive this dream.
Although ridiculed, traditional values of community and cooperation with nature did not perish
“All knowledge is remembering,” Plato once said. There are few countries with so many cultural monuments, stone circles and dolmen from the Neolithic era. Nestled in many secluded places they give a deep impression of a timeless, enchanted world. Is it possible that these stone circles tell the story of matriarchal peace knowledge where community and cooperation with nature were still a matter of course? It is as if these monuments coined the history of the country more than all attempts at domestication by church and state.
Now that the savage global capitalism is “sickening to the point of collapse” can village life be resurrected?
In times of savage globalized capitalism this original way of life has been pushed to the brink of abyss, declared as weakness, has been sneered at and ridiculed. Yet it did not perish, not here in rural Portugal.
Observers asks themselves, ‘Could this world become the center of attraction again now that the hitherto capitalist system is cracking, sickening to the point of collapse due to its inherent flaws?’
In this historical situation, the first young people from the protest generation move to the countryside in order to create a perspective for life outside of the Troika. In this climate, away from the modern centers of power, they breathe a new air of freedom and experiment with projects; regenerating landscapes and reactivating abandoned villages in contact with the old local communities. Confronted with austerity measures and the restrictions of the Troika, projects for neighborly help and modern subsistence arise. They connect to each other, develop alternative cooperatives for regional produce and subvert prohibitions against local trade with creativity and stubbornness. They experience for themselves what the older locals hold clear: that village communities and neighborhoods are the most reliable bases in times of crisis.
If these experiments now begin to catch on and apply the widely available knowledge for ecological healing, decentralized energy technology, community and peace-knowledge and alternative economics, their projects could become laboratories for the future. As unlikely as it may seem, it could thus be that the crisis in Southern Europe could help catalyze a global system change. It is a system change which the whole Earth needs. For not only Portugal lives under the dictatorship of capital; the entire world does. With even the most remote regions under threat of subjugation to the New World Order of free trade, the protest movements on all continents urgently need models to pave the road towards post-capitalism.
Could Portugal become a model for a new socialism?
Portugal, positioned at the South-Western corner of Europe, is a cultural and environmental bridge between Europe and Africa. Solutions that are developed here and tested under the protection of European security, can also be applied in the Global South and could thereby contribute to dissolving the disparity between North and South….[T]he country could become a model for a new socialism.
Five core points are key to the successful adoption of a new socialism
Socialism must be renewed and expanded by the knowledge that has been developed over the past century. The following five core points need to be components of a new socialism for it to gain a greater attracting and manifesting power than capitalism.
1. Socialization and Decentralization of Production
Socialism means that the economic power is in the hands of the people who operate and live from it. The decisions and responsibilities are carried by those concerned. Profit-centeredness as a motor of economy is not sustainable. Beyond the private enrichment of individuals stands the interest of the community – this is not a moralistic commandment but a law of social peace.
It is not states which should carry the new socialism, but systems small enough to be readily comprehensible– decentralized village and regional communities which are interlinked, largely self-sufficient and in cooperation with nature. The more transparent and comprehensible the cycles of production, trade and consumption, the healthier they are for humans and for nature. Interconnected, diverse and decentralized – the new socialism functions in many areas taking to nature as its role model.
What does regional autonomy mean? First of all, each region brings forth the basic products that are needed for supplying its humans, animals, plants and ecosystems. This mainly applies to nutrition and energy. The surplus products can be traded outside of the regions. The revenue gained from the sale of products stays in the region. Modern, interconnected subsistence is the principle for the redesign of the global economy and the absolute counter plan to the neoliberal globalization.
2. Community: the Human Interior of the New Socialism
Historically socialism did not fail because the idea was wrong, but because people had no substantial experience of community life. If mistrust and fear dominate human coexistence, one will not be able to socialize production. New socialism is based on communitarian ways of life.
The decision to be courageous, just and in solidarity, is not (only) an individual matter. Human development is also a consequence of the social conditions of production, in which a person grows up and lives; the things he or she experiences as a child – the love, home, security or openness. Functioning communities of trust are the most fertile ground to develop solidarity, communitarian consciousness, courage for truth – all the necessary human qualities for a functioning socialism. Under conditions of narrowness and loneliness, human beings become subordinate or consumers, and do not develop into social beings. Wherever they experience acceptance, home and challenge in a community, a dream of humankind is fulfilled.
What the youth of the world experience in the squares and camps of the revolutionary movements and what connects the elderly people in the Portuguese villages is an approach to community. This experience can be modernized, objectified and taught.
The community, into which nuclear families are integrated, is the original home of the human being. “It takes a village to raise a child,” says the African proverb. Community is also the home of love; it bestows protection for love’s sensitive opening here so that a love relationship does not turn into a prison.
3. Cooperation with Nature and Landscape Healing
Every region can produce what its inhabitants – human beings, animals and nature – require to live. “Water, food and energy are freely available to all human beings if we no longer follow the laws of capital, but the logic of nature,” says Dr. Dieter Duhm in the “Tamera Manifesto.” Even landscapes severely degraded by desertification, erosion and deforestation, can be healed. Thus the alimentary biotopes can flourish in abundance, which will deprive the basis for any speculation.
In addition, we need to learn to cooperate with nature. We need to realize that alongside human rights, there also exist rights for animals and the Earth. In the new socialism, the principles of equality and justice do not only apply to human beings, but also to nature. Before making any decision, any measure that concerns a region, the animals, plants and ecosystems which would be affected should be consulted as well as human beings. We can learn to hear their voice.
With knowledge about cooperation with nature we are capable of ending scarcity, hunger and war all over the world. It enables villages and regions to take their supply into their own hands and to liberate themselves from dependence on the globalized systems. It is knowledge for freedom.
4. The Role of Woman and Reconciliation between the Genders
The reconciliation between the genders is a condition of peace and justice. There can be no peace on Earth so long as there is war in love. Portugal has always fostered the adoration of the feminine – starting with the aforementioned Neolithic matriarchal tribal cultures, including the worship of the Goddess of the Sky, in Fátima and to the adoration of Mary, present in every village.
A new socialism is unthinkable without higher valuing of women. This is not only about demanding equality but about regaining the female powers and qualities that could not blossom during patriarchy. This is in full accordance with the constitution of the Iroquois where a chief was supposed to be “like a good mother.” In the communities of the future, qualities like care, reconciliation, forgiveness, social responsibility, communication and building trust will be indispensable.
Socialism is based on solidarity with women worldwide. This also means courage to stand for the sexual self-determination of woman; liberation from notions of virtue and morals which are no longer appropriate. This outmoded morality was initially violently imposed on women, until they themselves became its defenders.
Sabine Lichtenfels, theologian and co-founder of Tamera says, “A new feminine power is not targeted at men, nor is it targeted against our love for men – it simply, decisively leaves behind those patriarchal structures that have led to the worldwide extinction of life and love. It is now up to us women to again assume the political and sexual responsibility that we abandoned for so long.”
All areas of life, be it ecology, politics or economy will have a different orientation when women connect with their sources and accept their meaning and task. Communities in which solidarity and trust among women arises, where they take on responsibility for themselves, for their children and for what they love, are anchor places for life itself. Such communities become strong and stable, and can endure many of the storms of our time.
5. Ethics and Spirituality: Bridges Instead of Walls
The new socialism needs objective ethics which are anchored in the hearts of everyone and not in religious or political dogmas.
Traditionally, Portugal had been a haven for dissidents and heretics. Tolerance, hospitality and openness to strangers have always been more important to the people than ideology and juridical thought. Paulo Borges, a philosophy professor from Lisbon says, “It is part of Portugal’s being to build bridges, rather than walls. The world has been living in a paradigm of separation, leading to exploitation, war and violence for the past 6,000 years. Especially in times of crisis, Portugal can become a birthplace for a new paradigm of empathy and non-separation.” The PAN Party he founded – the party for animal rights and nature – already achieved impressive success at the first election they participated in.
After the fateful alliance between church and state, during monarchy and dictatorship, and the abuse of religious dogmas for domination and tyranny, the church in Portugal has changed. Today it takes on helping, social tasks without the moralizing, oversized pointing finger of its past. As understandable as it was that many followers of the socialist movement initially distanced themselves from the church, there is today a pragmatic cooperation in many places. This is how in some places the best of both church and communism unites – the role model of the revolutionary Jesus, combining the stand for social justice with mutual help. The ethics of an engaged, socialist love for the neighbor under the auspices of an omnipresent Marian power, would stand above any religion or ideology, and could unify the new powers of awakening.
Dom António Vitalino Dantas, the Bishop of Beja, is a representative for engaged Christianity. Known for his dedication to social justice, he tirelessly mediates between politicians and citizens. He also supports the manifestation of self-sufficient models and endeavors to motivate landlords to donate their unused properties to new ecological and social communities. Dom António says, “Abandoned villages, schools and farms could be revitalized in that way.”
Tamera Research and Education Center – One living example of a comprehensive model for a peace society
Within these conditions holistic models and socio-ecological experiments prosper. One example is the international peace research center Tamera, founded in 1995 by Sabine Lichtenfels and Dr. Dieter Duhm, a bestselling author of the German “New Left.” Today 170 people live here and work on a comprehensive model for a peace society. They thereby develop and combine ecological and social solutions for a post-capitalist way of life which can be replicated worldwide. Besides their pioneering work in ecology, they focus primarily on the healing of love and of human community. Tamera is an international education centre that also brings current ecological and social knowledge into the local region. It is also becoming a meeting point for a regional and local autonomy movement. Other communities and groups already begin to settle, get connected and exchange among one another around this nexus – in close cooperation and complementation with the extant rural population. Rui Braga, co-worker of Tamera says, “This is how the Alentejo could become the new Silicon Valley for autonomy and sustainability.”
Leila Dregger, born 1959, freelance journalist, was the publisher of the journal ‘The Female Voice – for a Politics of the Heart’ in Germany and has many publications about ecological, political, social and women’s issues. She is based in Tamera, Portugal.
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