Building Golgonooza

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Golgonooza is Blake’s name for the city of the Imagination, “ever building, ever falling”—the continual process of both spiritual and physical transformation through which humanity forges a space for its own liberation and self-realisation – and therefore, for Blake, for the realisation of God. “All imaginative and creative acts,” notes Northrop Frye, create Golgonooza, “the total form of all human culture and civilisation”. It is a city because it is conscious, collaborative, and collective. Golgonooza is being built right now, all around us  – and the following are examples of how inspiring and creative it can be.


Marinaleda, the Spanish ‘Utopia for Peace’

Strada_di_Marinaleda,_Andalusia_(Spagna)-View of a town's roadThe village Marinaleda, in impoverished Andalusia, used to suffer terrible economic and social hardships. Then in the 1970s, led by a charismatic mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, the village declared itself a communist utopia and took farmland to provide for everyone. Could it be the answer to modern capitalism’s failings?

Sánchez Gordillo described Marinaleda – which has no municipal police and full employment – as a “utopia for peace”, acutely observing that “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.”  Transforming human society “brick by brick”, for the betterment and wellbeing of every one of its citizens, is exactly what Blake’s vision of Golgonooza is all about.

IMG-20130529-WA0012In the village, striking political murals and inspiring revolutionary slogans adorn the town’s whitewashed walls and streets are named after Latin American leftists. Every few weeks, the town hall declares a Red Sunday over a bullhorn and volunteers clean the streets or do odd jobs.

Sánchez Gordillo was first elected mayor of Marinaleda in 1979 (a position he has held ever since – re-elected time after time with an overwhelming majority), and in the following year 700 people staged a 13-day hunger strike, demanding better pay and stricter regulation of the old system of employment.

30-Mayor-of-Marinaleda-AFP-27% of Spaniards are out of work. Yet in one town everyone has a job

The mayor, Sánchez Gordillo

The success of this action led to intensification of the land struggle, with further occupations of large landowners’ estates under the slogan “Land to those who work on it”. In 1984, the Cordobilla marsh was occupied for 30 days to demand irrigation for a farm called El Humoso, the property of the Duke of Infantado, facilitating its later expropriation. The next year, the occupation of estates increased in number, and in 1991 a 1,200 hectare tract of El Humoso farm was handed over to Marinaleda for the use of the population, followed by many occupations of government buildings and institutions.

A-socialist-mural-in-Mari-010In August 2012 the mayor achieved a new level of notoriety by leading a series of expropriations from supermarkets, marching into supermarkets and taking bread, rice, olive oil and other basic supplies in order to donate them to food banks for Andalusians who could not feed themselves. For this he became a superstar, appearing not only on the cover of Spanish newspapers, but in the world’s media, as “the Robin Hood mayor”. As he explained, the action “was to draw attention to the fact there are so many people in Spain who have a hard time getting enough to eat right now. We wanted to say, in the 21st century in Spain, ‘this problem exists’. Gandhi would have supported it.”

p1987_1 “We believe the land should belong to the community that works it, and not in the dead hands of the nobility. It is true we form part of a tradition, but we’re doing something new here too: we’re insisting that natural resources should be at the service of people, that they have a natural right to the land, and that land is not something to be marketed. Food should not be speculated with either. It is a basic human right. We also believe in the [common] sovereignty of [food] as a way of profoundly changing agriculture in the world, not just one particular place.”

111126-011Sánchez Gordillo’s philosophy, outlined in his 1980 book Andaluces, Levantaos and in countless speeches and interviews since, is one which is unique to him, though grounded firmly in the historic struggles and uprisings of the peasant pueblos of Andalusia, and their remarkably deep-seated tendency towards anarchism. “I have never belonged to the communist party of the hammer and sickle, but I am a communist or communitarian,” Sánchez Gordillo said in an interview in 2011, adding that his political beliefs were drawn from those of Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Marx, Lenin and Che Guevara.

Mr Sánchez Gordillo believes Spain’s deep recession is the fault of its government. “Unfortunately, this government’s policies have not been directed towards the people’s problems; they were directed towards the banks’ problems,” he says.

“People are more important than banks, particularly when the profits are received by a handful of bankers who have speculated with basic human rights. The money they’ve provided doesn’t reach the base of the social pyramid, which is why the economy is paralysed. It’s the small property holders and businesses who have been hurt the most. [We have] six million unemployed and twice that number living in poverty.”

He laments that the village’s initiatives are not being adopted elsewhere in the country and even across the world. And it seems Mr Sánchez Gordillo may not be alone in seeing Marinaleda as spearheading a global change “towards a peaceful Utopia” – as the road signs leading into the village pronounce. Support for moderate to hard-left politics is certainly growing in Spain. The Communist-led coalition to which Mr Sánchez Gordillo’s party belongs, the United Left, gained 15.6 per cent of the votes in a recent poll, more than double than at the 2011 elections.


United Left’s Alberto Garzón and Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias aim “to take back the country”

Even more excitingly, in May 2016 United Left and Spain’s anti-austerity party Podemos announced that they would combine forces to run on a joint platform for Spain’s June elections. In a statement, party representatives said the alliance aimed to “recover the country” in favour of the “working classes and social majorities.”  Watch this space!



The City of Arts, Cuba

UnfinishedSpaces2The City of ArtsCuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta’s ambitious (and controversial) plan to restore Fidel Castro’s and Che Guevara’s dream of a ‘City of the Arts’ in Havana, Cuba – “to create the most amazing five schools of arts in the world – ballet, music, contemporary dance, plastic arts, drama schools.” British architect Norman Foster has offered to help “realise Carlos’s dream”, but the project is not without its critics: original Cuban architect, Vittorio Garatti, is concerned that Foster’s style of architecture may compromise its original Cuban character and introduce even further “privatisation” into the country – but it’s a radical and tantalising prospect. “The school’s original structures are intact, a dazzling swirl of red brick shapes and huge domelike Catalonian vaults set against the lush green jungle. The winding corridors, stairways and sightlines come together in a cascade of twists and graceful curves, like music turned to stone.”  Top tip: follow Acosta’s journey in this recent BBC Imagine documentary as he masterminds a new production of Carmen for the Royal Ballet before embarking on his new project in Cuba.

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Casa de los Tres Mundos, Nicaragua

acerca-de_casa12 (1)Casa de los Tres Mundos is a literary and cultural organization based in Nicaragua, co-founded by the remarkable Nicaraguan Catholic priest, poet and politician Ernesto Cardenal. Cardenal has been described as “the most important poet right now in Latin America”, both politically and poetically.  The Casa was created to initiate, support and promote cultural projects in Nicaragua and Central America. Besides these artistic, musical and educational activities, which emphasize support for the poorer segments of Nicaraguan society, the foundation finances and coordinates an integrative rural development project in Malacatoya. It was built on the conviction “that development aid should not only concentrate on economic aspects, because the causes of under-development and poverty are not entirely confined to material needs. Only by combining material educational and cultural elements can a development program be effective in the long term and support sustained prosperity.”

acerca-de_casa-vorderansicht (1)A core concern of the foundation is to promote cultural exchange between the European tradition and the rich artistic potential of Central America. It aims to serve as a connection between these traditions, and to promote awareness of the diverse culture of the country’s roots. The foundation Intends to mobilize the creative potential of the people locally, to rediscover the buried cultural heritage, and to help a young nation search for a unique identity. To find out more about their projects click here!

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Christiania, Denmark

Christiania9 (1)Founded in 1971 when a brigade of young squatters and artists took over an abandoned military base on the edge of town and proclaimed it a “free zone” beyond the reach of Danish law, Christiania (or Christiania Freetown) is a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood bang in the centre of Copenhagen. There are bars, cafés, grocery shops, a building-supply store, yoga centre, a lake, cobblestone roads (no cars allowed), a museum, art galleries, a concert hall, a skateboard park, a recycling centre, even a recording studio. It’s also the only place where the the sale of cannabis (though no hard drugs) is officially tolerated. The people of Christiania fly their own flag and use their own currency.

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Local politi – or ‘co-happeners’ as the provos nicely refer to them

Christiania is sadly named not after JC but rather the war-loving King Christian IV, who originally built the district as a military barracks in the 17th century. In a wonderful act of beating swords into ploughshares the area was taken over in the early 1970s and turned into first a playground for children (which all utopias should start with) and then a commune. It was formally declared open in September 1971 by Jacob Ludvigsen, a well-known journalist and provo – a fascinating Dutch countercultural movement in the mid-1960s that focused on provoking responses from authorities using non-violent bait. The provos comprised four main groups: ‘activists’, ‘thinkers’, ‘hipsters’, and ‘the happeners’ – who combined non-violence with absurd humour to provoke the police. Indeed, the police were regarded as ‘essential non-creative elements for a successful happening’ and were therefore dubbed ‘co-happeners’.


Enter Now

Ludvigsen also co-authored Christiania’s mission statement, which states that “the objective of Christiania is to create a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible over the wellbeing of the entire community.” In this way, Christiania therefore resembles some of the early Christian communities with their emphasis on communal living, freedom, love, and absence of private property (i.e. the idea of guardianship of the earth, not ownership). Often dismissed as a ‘hippy commune’ it is actually a highly successful model of an alternative community, and the second most popular tourist site in Copenhagen (with up to a million visitors a year). Even elementary-school groups come to see it. Top tip:  Listen to the unofficial anthem of Christiania – their rather wonderful protest song (and very catchy) I kan ikke slå os ihjel (‘You cannot kill us’) and enter into their future paradise through the virtual map here.

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