“This is what democracy looks like” goes the popular protest chant. However, it’s not democracy that captures the imagination, provides answers, and drives today’s resistance movement. Something much more interesting has been taking place during protests, forums and intentional communities. In his book The New Left the anthropologist David Graeber states that anarchy has become the logical and probably last hope of the international resistance to capitalism. Mondeggi, an agricultural squat in the Tuscan countryside celebrating its first year this summer demonstrates how that might just be the case.
Anarchy is completely misunderstood amongst the larger public. The word in modern vocabulary has come to mean chaos. This is ironically the opposite of Anarchy, which could be described as organic order of horizontal self-governance. The misunderstanding comes partly due to political theory ignorance, propaganda from the right, and due to some of the “violent” acts of some historical anarchists such as blowing up bridges and factories in the context of oppressive monarchies, world wars, and Fascist regimes. These extreme strategies are ironically much less drastic that the systematic widespread organized violence of the various state regimes through history.
Chomsky argues that Anarchism is based on the assumption that any structure of authority and domination has to justify itself. All such structures have a burden of proof to bear and if they can’t bear that burden they’re illegitimate. If they are illegitimate they should be dismantled and replaced by alternative structures which are free and participatory and are not based on authoritarian systems.
Democracy allows for the exploitation and destruction of the environment that is taking place today because of the financial interests of a few organizing the nations states according to the bottom line of international profit. Direct democracy does allow for taking some of the responsibility and control of affairs yet it still maintains the existence of the state. The states governs the separate community as a whole, often disregarding their well-being in order to follow the international financial game of an economic system which like an addiction, has reached a point of unsustainability given the resources but must grow annually resulting in further debt and devaluation of labor and resources.
Direct action is one of the prime characteristics of the anarchist approach. It is precisely direct action in the context of land and food sovereignty that has proven to be most fruitful. In Brazil MST’s (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra) direct-action strategies of occupation and road blockage succeeded in expropriation of large estates. In Bolivia it managed to overthrow corrupt neoliberal presidents. It is the peasant movement that provides a possible route to opposing the Free Trade Area of the Americas (ALCA) in Brazil, Central America, Ecuador, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Mexico. It is the strongest force fighting against the detrimental agricultural practices of genetic modification promoted by Monsanto while offering an alternative of ecologically sustainable cultivation. Via Campesina (the Peasants’ Way) is another major land based international movement. It coordinates peasant organizations of small and middle-scale producers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities, advocating family-farm-based sustainable agriculture. Via Campesina coined the term “food sovereignty” which asserts that the people who produce, distribute, and consume food should control the mechanisms and policies of food production and distribution, rather than the corporations and market institutions they believe have come to dominate the global food system.
The principles of food sovereignty are best followed in anarchy. The definition states that one should have direct control and choice over the kind of food one consumes and produces. The beauty of anarchy is that rather than worrying about a large scale, complex, centralized society one can focus on the immediate matters of one’s community. In case of peasants’ movements these immediate matters are exactly the production and distribution of food locally. The knowledge coming from direct involvement with food production ensures well informed appropriate decisions made directly by the peasants based on their immediate needs.
It is this right and the practice of food cultivation rather than abstract political ideology that is at the heart of Mondeggi “Terra Bene Commune” (Ground for Common Good).
Mondeggi is situated about 30 km South the city of Florence, in the beautiful Tuscan country side. The twenty acres of prime agricultural land are covered mostly with vineyards and olive trees. The land, currently property of the state, after numerous attempts to sell it through auctions, has been abandoned. The state of the vineyards, orchards and the two buildings has been continually deteriorating until 2014 when it was settled and revived by twenty squatters who live there presently. There are over one hundred temporary volunteers who help with the agricultural activities of the community. The state has not taken any action in either trying to evacuate or negotiate with the squatters. Even if the land is to be repossessed by the state, in the year that it has been cared by the community it has been cultivated for high yielding harvest making it more appealing for future owners to continue its use for agriculture.
Mondeggi is not explicitly an anarchist C.S.O.A. (Centro Sociale Occupato Autogestito, “self-governing squatter social centers” community). It’s fascinating how labels and ideology become unnecessary when the spirit and principles of anarchy are applied to such human matters as growing food and co-existence. Mondeggi is a squat and as such, it places the needs of the people over the state, overriding state law in order to create a sustainable community serving the people. These are the three guiding principles of Mondeggi expressed in the community’s own words:
1. Food sovereignty
We need to find the meaning of a real economy in the linking of the concrete local community, the large urban centers with its natural and traditional agricultural land. An economy based on creative relationships and shared among food producers (farmers) and co-producers (people) are at the center with equal dignity and respect for the custody of the environment and social justice.
2. Access to land and knowledge for farmers
We demand the right of every person to be able to take at least part of their food needs from working the land and therefore the right to have access to the land regardless of their ability to pay. We encourage and support all the places and opportunities for free exchange of knowledge between old and new farmers, so that traditional agricultural practices and good new practices meet to enrich each other.
3. Refusal to sell agricultural land
Starting from what already belongs to the community, we want to give life to new experiences and vital rural agriculture released from the concept of ownership. Public land is the most “fertile” to give birth to a healthy food economy shared by local communities. To do this it is essential that farmland, a public common good, becomes subject to civic use, inalienable and managed by local communities.
(From Mondeggi’s official website)
The revival of the land is possible due to the hard work of the twenty members and the many volunteers. Their efforts turn the abandoned land into a functioning two hundred acres of olive trees, vineyards, rye fields, and agricultural community. It also has developed a large vegetable gardens and is raising stock. The neighboring local farmers are invited to and do in fact collect food from, the restored vineyards and orchards.
My peek into Mondeggi happened during its first year celebration which took place in the form of a tour of the massive agricultural projects and an assembly. What was taking place was much larger than a simple celebration .The assembly included a variety of people most of whom were part of or interested in Genuino Clandestino. Genuino Clandestino started in 2010 and has become a network of hundreds of farming communities on the Italian territory. One of the major efforts of Genuino Clandestino is the preservation of organic seeds and part of the event was an exhibit of the seeds. The discussions related to alternative economies center around the Italian GAS (Gruppi di Aquisto Soledale) solidarity buying groups movement. From just one group in 1994, the network has grown rapidly and now has over 700 registered GAS groups, though the actual number of groups in existence is estimated to be nearer 2000, involving over 100,000 people. Usually, a buying group is set up by a number of consumers who cooperate in order to buy food and other commonly used goods directly from the producers. Mondeggi sells and buys through GAS. Mondeggi is one of the key grounds where the Genuino Clandestino was conceived. The massive diversified functioning farm is one of the driving forces of the movement as it gives confidence of the scale it can take. The community also uses the help of many transitory volunteers, and in this way provides food, shelter, a stopping point, and valuable agricultural training for them.
During the tour I had the opportunity to ask a few question about the community to Roberto, a forty-something geologist, one of the core founders of Mondeggi. From my conversation with him I learned that his decision to co-create Mondeggi was a carefully considered one and came out of dedication to a political cause rather than necessity. When I inquired regarding problems facing Mondeggi he admitted that water was a major issues since there was no spring or river passing by. He mentions that they have managed with the help of the volunteers and villagers but they were looking for a permanent solution. The toughest challenge and the essence of the movement lie in co-existence, self-governance, and conflict resolution. Roberto explained that Mondeggi members govern themselves through assemblies, following the difficult but fruitful principle of horizontal discussion and decision making based on consensus. Other individuals such as the volunteers, and organizations such as Genuino Clandestino participating in Mondeggi or implicated in its governance, meet at larger assembles. He seemed really comfortable with the discussion and explained that for the members of the Bena Comune the priorities have to do with the practical issues of the fractatoria. The community agreement on those seems to be a strong unifying factor. The short visit did not allow putting the principle of self-governance to the test; however what could be said is that Mondeggi is still governed by the twenty people who started a year ago and all of its various projects are successfully ongoing.
Mondeggi’s anniversary celebration embodied the efforts of the community that go beyond simply sustaining the farm and aim at creating and preserving a space for people opposing industrialization, capitalism, and the poverty resulting from class-based society based on private property. Similar to Via Campesina and MST, and in the spirit of the massive factory occupation of Argentine 2005 and Italian Fiat in 1920, involving hundreds of thousands of workers, it serves as an example of how human beings can collaborate, work and produce. These principles, embedded in various communities from squats, co-operatives, occupied factories, eco-villages, are what Anarchy looks like. Mondeggi, GAS and Genuino Clandestino are still quite new and small and only the future will show if they manage to make an impact on the Italian society, but their existence, alongside the well-established movements of Via Campesina and MST, is a testimony to viral contemporary resistance movement.