Movement of the Day: Longo Mai

Simon Fairlie of the Land Magazine presents an intentional community with a history of several decades and 10 working cooperative farms.

For a full interview of a participant, Hannes Reiser, who has been resident at Longo maï since its beginning, and explains how its co-operative farms are structured in an interview conducted by Katharina Morawietz, see here.

Simon Fairlie:

“Nothing in the UK matches the network of European communities known as Longo maï, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. Longo maï, like so many communes of the era, sprang out of a widespread movement amongst soixante-huitards — the hippies and radical students and workers of the 1968 revolts — to create an alternative society by going back to the land. Two leftist groups, Spartakus based in Austria and Hydra in Switzerland, joined forces at a meeting in Basle in 1972, in which it was decided to found “European communities for young people” in rural areas suffering from depopulation. A year later the group acquired a farm at Limans, in Provence, where it now runs a larger farm incorporating three restored hamlets.

The network currently comprises 10 co-operatives, five of them in France and the others in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Ukraine and Austria. Together they house and provide a livelihood for about 200 people. All of them are working farms, with the exception of La Filature de Chantemerle, in the French Alps — a spinning mill which processes wool from the other communities and from neighbouring farmers. Most of the farms produce a wide range of subsistence produce including cereals and livestock, and specialise in one or two cash crops — for example organic vegetables at the Mas de Granier, near Arles, wine at La Cabrery in the Luberon, timber and carpentry at Treynas in the Ardeche. However what makes Longo maï more remarkable is that it not only runs these farms, and achieves a high level of self-sufficiency, but also finds time to maintain full frontal political campaigns. Within a year of acquiring the first farm in 1973, activists at Longo maï in Switzerland helped start the “Place Gratuite” movement which provided a welcome for some 2,000 refugees from Pinochet’s coup d’état in Chile. More recently Longo maï has spearheaded a campaign against the servile working conditions imposed on immigrant seasonal agricultural labourers in the EU, notably Spain, and the ecological damage caused by industrial-scale production of fruit and vegetables. And residents of the various farms have been active in campaigns against, for example, seed protection, nuclear power, antimicrochipping of livestock (see p.11) and currently the proposed airport at Notre Dames des Landes near Nantes.

Longo Maï also has its media outlets. The community at Limans operates a free radio station – Radio Zinzine, and mails out a weekly broadsheet called L’Ire des Chênaies (Oakgrove Rant) whose nearest equivalent in the UK is (or rather was) the Brighton-based newssheet, SchNews. Longo maï also provides a base in France for the European Civic Forum, which publishes a monthly bulletin, Archipel, in French and German (but not in English). Although clearly on the anticapitalist left, Longo maï does not tow a party line, or subscribe to any rigid political viewpoint. There is no guru laying down a philosophical or religious orthodoxy, nor has there ever been. As one resident puts it, any tendency to dogmatism is checked by the practical requirements of living in a community. The agricultural and productive life of the collective is the framework in which its political views and its relations with the outside world are grounded. Unlike Voltaire’s Pascal, the inhabitants of Longo maï maintain that you can cultivate your garden and change the world — and perhaps you have to do one to achieve the other.”