Cadaqués marxism and the universidad de la villa

Cadaqués Marxism began long before Karl Marx was born and lasted until the middle of the 19th century when Marx and Engels in 1848 published the Communist Manifesto.

The first settlers in Cadaqués were not wanderers seeking a safe haven, but the masons and carpenters with their wives and children who had laboured for three generations building the great Gothic monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes.

Leonardo da Vinci

With the French seizing land in Catalonia and the Barbary pirates raiding hamlets along the coast, the Benedictine abbot decided to extend his sphere of influence by building an outpost in the bay known as Cap de Quers (Rocky Cape), with a good wind and eight rowers less than an hour by sea from the monastery.

The bay was barren, uninhabited and surrounded by dense forests where eagles nested and roe deer, chamois and rabbits survived among the bears and wolves. Like an island, it was almost impossible to reach Cap de Quers except by sea. The entrance to the bay was protected by a large rock shaped like a shark’s fin that calmed the waters lapping into a narrow strip of grey shingle beach. From the beach, the land rose at a sharp angle providing the rough walls of a fortress.  

Once the building commenced, the men learned to fish and the women plaited hemp for rope and nets. They built small, boxy houses with slate roofs and planted every available piece of fertile land with crops.

Universidad de la Villa de Cadaqués

Except for occasional visits from the abbot and his monks, the people were cut off from the rest of the world. The only way to survive in this remote spur of rocky coast was as a collective which, in time, became known as the Universidad de la Villa de Cadaqués. 

What we know today about the cooperative comes from studies of the ancient manuscripts by the writer Federico Rahola y Trémols, who published in 1904 Algunas noticias sobre las antiguas comunidades de Pescadores en el cabo de Creus (Some news about the old fishing communities in Cap de Creus).

‘Without a hint of doubt,’ he writes, ‘from remote times, the boats and tools of fishing in Cadaqués were owned collectively, and the produce of the fishermen’s labour was shared equally among the families that constituted the cooperative.’

The first mention of the Universidad de la Villa de Cadaqués is found in a document from the 13th century in the archives of King Jaime. The Universidad appears to have continued without interference for another 200 years when King Martin learned to his horror that a form of self-government operated in this far away village in his kingdom. He considered the very notion of people working together for the common good as rebellious, even pagan. A messenger with the king’s seal on a parchment came to demand an end to the cooperative which was duly ignored. The institution was finally outlawed in 1492 in the reign of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile.

The village elders were ordered to choose twelve consuls, only men, to organise the payment of local taxes and liaise with the authorities in Figueres. While the order was ostensibly obeyed, the people continued to be loyal to Cadaqués Marxism ‘through many generations and various forms.’ According to Rahola’s research, the collective was ‘flourishing in 1542, when it received official approval from the abbot at Sant Pere de Rodes.’

Sant Pere de Rodes Monastery

Cadaqués Marxism and the Turk

The Universidad is mentioned again in documents in 1777 when, on a stormy autumn night, a battered Algerian galley crewed by forty-four pirates washed up on Cucarucaruc, the inhospitable, imaginatively named wedge of rock at the mouth of the bay.

At daybreak, Armadán, the Turkish captain, swam ashore and presented himself at the fortress gate. He was led through the low tunnel carved from the rock – unchanged to this day – and escorted under armed guard to the alcalde’s office in the ayuntamiento. He explained that his men were hungry and dying of thirst. They had been at sea for thirty days ‘without taking prisoners’ and needed ‘water, food and ballast to be on their way back to Algiers.’

Parsons-Condensing turbo generat

We know these simple facts from a surviving letter sent by the mayor to Baron de la Linde in Barcelona to report the incident. What we do not know is how the guards first reacted on seeing a Turk standing alone outside the castle walls in a wet shirt and pantaloons. Neither do we know in what language they spoke – although alcalde (mayor) and ayuntamiento (town hall) are words of Arabic origin and men in other times appeared to have communicated with a facility lost in our age of communication.

We can assume that Armadán, while cold, wet and hungry, must have been a charming and charismatic figure for, after centuries of savage raids, sacrilege, kidnap and pillage all along the coast, he manged to convince the consuls of Cadaqués to spare the lives of his stranded crewmen. They sent a fleet of boats to the island and, with ‘scrupulous precaution,’ notes  Josep Pla in Cadaqués, provided sufficient water, food and ballast for the pirates to steer their galeota back to the Barbary Coast.

Josep Pla

Did the consuls believe the Turkish captain would spread the word that the good people of Cadaqués should henceforth be left in peace? Was this an act of Christian kindness to show the superiority of the teachings of Jesus over Mohammed? Did Armadán carry a persuasive purse of gold coins omitted from the alcalde’s letter to the Baron?

We are left to our own imaginations to decide. One thing that is certain, is that Cadaqués Marxism through the Universidad de la Villa created to give men and women equal rights and a democratic say in local affairs, was still alive and the decision to aid the hungry pirates was made collectively.

‘The rights and obligations did not fall on the individual, but over the community,’ writes Rahola. ‘The patrons governed but, above them, the interests of the Universidad de la Villa reigned.’ Through the Universidad de la Villa, most people in Cadaqués had a progressive regard for democracy and were largely in accord with the Paris mob who stormed the Bastille on 14 July 1789 and escorted King Louis XVI to the guillotine. The era nurtured what Josep Pla called a ‘manifest sense of liberal individualism.’ The eternal fear of the pirates had been the glue that bound the people together. Now that the raids had all but ceased, the reliance on communal property and Cadaqués Marxism slowly disappeared and a new breed of enterprising Catalans grew rich with shipping, contraband, wine exports and exploiting the coral divers cut from the seabed. By the time Karl Marx started to put pen to paper the cooperative and Cadaqués Marxism was just a memory.

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