The commotion over the "raids" on two supermarkets by present day "Robin Hoods" has caused a interesting ruffling in the political feathers of many activists and social commentators over the last week. In particular, insults, political jibes and death threats have been hurled at local mayor - Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo after he organised the Mercadona trolley convey raid on Tuesday. Even Twiiter has been flooded with the old reactionary ex-pat vehemence seeping out between its 140 characters as Tweets denounced his "extreme" Communism" or salivated over their flag-waving support on behalf of the innocent Mercadona Victim.
But then something strange happened. When one interviewer asked what his next plan was to be, Gordillo replied: “We are going to march to every Andalusian province, and we are not ruling out reoccupying Las Turquillas. We are obliged to grab attention in this way so that somebody stops and thinks. They have to understand that people here are desperate.”
Now, where had I heard this story before?
"Pronto llegará la hora, que la tortilla se vuelva. Los pobres comerán pan, y los ricos mierda, mierda."
Land issues and the history of the Latifundistas (large - often absent - land estate owners in Andalucia) is a touchy subject. Even as late as the 1980's the injustices of landownership and mass unemployment in the region were still under discussion. GIven the discussions began over many centuries ago, you may perhaps begin to see how some people would begin to tire of this debate. If we take one modern example - the 1930's and the 2nd Republic - it was the failure by the progressive coalition to resolve the issue of land distribution in the eyes of the Left, and the visible threat of actually doing so in the eyes of the political Right, that greatly contributed to the outbreak of the civil war.
But there is even yet a more poignant example to draw upon: That of the Bread and Cheese Revolution of 1861.
"In the middle of the nineteenth century, Andalusia was still crippled by feudal laws that permitted semi-absent landowners to treat their vast land-estates as they wished. They could leave them un-worked if they preferred or turn the land into a fertile source of food and employment for local people. Everything depended on the whims of these wealthy land barons. The majority of Andalusians - hungry, landless peasants - were consequently often unemployed for half the year, forced to daily scavenge for food and scrape a living from an unjust economy and politically turbulent system.
As if seeing good arable land go to waste each year was not enough, the history of how the land had been originally acquired was one more slap in the face for the starving local populace. The arable land had never been distributed fairly. Since the Catholic Conquest, it had been inherited according to a complex system of privileges and favours. Nothing short of a revolution would wrest these vast tracts of land in Andalusia from the apathetic ruling class, and a starving, illiterate peasantry was rapidly coming to this conclusion."
(From the book: Inside the Tortilla.)
On to this scene suddenly steps the smartly bearded: Rafael Pérez del Álamo and he brings with him, the collective muscle to ignite the fire of Revolution: The "Revolution of Bread and Cheese."
Pérez - a vet during the mid 1850's - was based in the town of Loja in the far western frontier of Granada. He was also a keen activist in local politics. The problem was, local politics was not actively encouraged. In fact it was illegal to hold political meetings and form political representative groups (unless of course you were a member of one of the elite landowning minority...clergy, aristocracy, military)"
So, when an armed conflict broke out against some of the clandestine political activists and the local Guardia Civil, Pérez gathered about him the rest of his supporters and began to take matters into his own hands.
From the Cordoban town of Iznájar, the small band of committed men marched back to Loja, gathering forces until they reached over 10.000 strong and took the city from the local authorities without resistance, declaring it an independent republic and presumably redistributing Bread and Cheese supplies from all local Mercadona outlets. The energy and enthusiasm spread out to neighbouring towns all the way as far as Santa Fe and Alhama de Granada, but by the end of the week, the Army had arrived to the gates of Loja and violently toppled the revolutionaries from their temporary utopia.
Though the short revolution failed in a military sense, in another more profound political and social sense it achieved great success. This was one of the many inspirational acts that inspired the First Republic in 1873, the Second Republic in 1931, and who knows what echos will appear in Andalucia amongst the bearded and politically active workers (And, I should point out that I'm not referring to a certain Sr. Rajoy here.). History, does indeed move in circles.
The whole Loja Republic story appears as: The Revolution of Bread and Cheese in the new book Inside the Tortilla including what happened last year when the town celebrated the 150th anniversary of the revolution. You can get a copy of the book here.