Barcelona en Comú
Barcelona en Comú, meaning "Barcelona in Common," is the name of both a grassroots political party and a broader municipalist social movement whose participants are known locally as Communs. From 2015 to May 2023, a Barcelona en Comú official named Ada Colau served as the city's mayor (and was the city’s first female mayor). The Communs’ experience has shown some of the possibilities as well as pitfalls of municipalist strategy and especially its electoral varieties.
Barcelona en Comú has roots in the M15 or Indignados movement of 2011 when "more than six million Spaniards poured into public spaces across some 60 towns and cities, joining protests that included a May 15 mobilization of Madrid's Puerta del Sol Square." Additionally, many Communs drew on experience in neighborhood movements such as the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages.
The Comuns have fostered a vibrant cooperative and commons-based economic network that preceded their taking office. A 2016 study found:
"there are 4,718 cooperative, social and solidarity economy initiatives in the city, which generate approximately 8% of the city’s jobs. Of these 4,718 initiatives, 2,400 are third sector entities; 1,197, employment companies; 861, cooperatives, and 260 community-economy initiatives."
Aspiring to be more of an open-source political "platform" than a party of politicians, Barcelona en Comú embraced a fairly democratic culture influenced by the Zapatistas' ideal of "Governing by Obeying." The Comuns formed a political program based on ideas shared at open meetings and by civic groups across the city. One example of the participatory culture of governance is Decim.Barcelona (Decide Barcelona), a web platform for open and public policy deliberations. In developing a strategic plan, the website received 10,000 suggestions with input from about 40,000 individuals and 1,500 organizations
In 2019, muncipalist-friendly candidates lost power across Spain, leaving Barcelona's Comuns isolated nationally. Colau was able to remain mayor but only by making an alliance with the pro-austerity and anti-Catalan-independence Socialists. In elections of May 2023, the Comuns lost narrowly to the Socialist Party. Though each party won 10 of the 41 total city council seats, a Socialist mayor replaced Colau.
Some of the Comuns' accomplishments include:
- Increased social spending by 50 percent, including quadrupling the budget for housing
- Recovered 150 million euros by cracking down on corporate tax fraud
- Reigned in tourism industry by enforcing a moratorium on hotel construction, regulating Airbnb, and closing thousands of illegal tourism flats
- Established a public dental clinic with affordable rates
- Helped migrants set up cooperatives
- Opened the city's first LGBTQ center
- Declared Barcelona a sanctuary city and expanded services for refugees
- Committed $600 million towards cutting carbon emissions
- Began creating car-free zones called "Superblocks" which would recover a million square meters of public space.
- Set up a public renewable-energy company, called Som Energia Coop, that produces wind turbines and solar panels
- Expropriated vacant apartments from landlords
- Required that 30 percent of new buildings be used for affordable housing
Peter Gelderloos critiques a number of compromises and reformist tendencies of the Comuns:
- Bowing to pressure from the police unions and pro-police media, Colau promised “to add more than a thousand new cops to the streets”
- Failing to stand up to the police crackdown on undocumented immigrants known as manters who are mainly from sub-Saharan Africa and make a living as vendors in public spaces. Some of the manters have called Colau “racist.”
- Helping co-opt the militant March 8th radical women’s events, installing “a much more limited, reformist agenda.”
- Taking a reformist approach to the problem of mass tourism.
- Engaging in “strike-breaking and slander against transportation workers”
- Advancing “AI integration of urban management, total surveillance, and completely illusory ‘green’ measures’” while “attracting additional high tech investment that is helping push out poorer city residents”
- Mark Engler and Paul Engler, "Lessons from Barcelona's 8-Year Experiment in Radical Governance," Waging Nonviolence, 9 May 2023, https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/05/lessons-barcelona-en-comu-ada-colau/.
- Engler and Engler, "Lessons."
- Kevin Carson, Exodus: General Idea of the Revolution in the XXI Century (Tulsa: Center for a Stateless Society, 2021), 316.
- Engler and Engler, "Lessons." Carson, Exodus.
- Peter Gelderloos, “What Went Wrong for the Municipalists in Spain,”, ROAR, 2 July 2019, https://roarmag.org/essays/what-went-wrong-for-the-municipalists-in-spain/.