Re: [OPE-L] Horizontalism

From: John Holloway (johnholloway@PRODIGY.NET.MX)
Date: Sat Oct 21 2006 - 13:18:00 EDT

The book is really excellent, I found it very helpful. John

> I talked to Marina Sitrin earlier today -- while waiting outside the court
> house for the sentencing of Lynn Stewart.   Marina is the editor of a book
> to be published by AK Press next month, _Horizontalism: Voices of Popular
> Power in Argentina_.  See:
> <>
> It has already been published in Spanish.
> The following should give you an idea of some of what is in the book.
> I'm going to get something quick to eat and go back to the court house.
> Hopefully, Lynn will be set free.
> In solidarity, Jerry
> =====================================================================
> Horizontalidad en Argentina
> by Marina A Sitrin
> The following is a small selection of interviews with protagonists in the
> autonomous social movements in Argentina, the second in a series that will
> continue to appear here in the coming months. These are among the many
> voices that I have the privilege to be compiling into an oral history to
> be published bilingually in the near future.
> I concluded my introduction of the first selection of these interviews by
> admitting happily that "I am still learning what I am learning." This
> remains true today, as I hope it will remain true always, indelibly
> inspired as I have been by the social and political transformation that is
> taking place in Argentina. Among the most wonderful and profound
> dimensions of the social movements in Argentina is, I believe, their
> pervasive commitment to continually question, learn, and relearn new forms
> of social creation. In the spirit of the Zapatistas' "walking while
> questioning," the movements in Argentina are not about particular goals,
> but about the process, about the revolution that can be achieved in the
> every day. The movements are not about taking power, in other words, as
> the interviews reflect, but about creating "another power" through social
> relations, through the process of creation.
> I also admitted there that at first I thought that this might all be too
> good to be true, as I have heard some wonder since in response to the
> interviews, as I do still myself on occasion. These voices are indeed so
> very inspiring. What the movements in Argentina are creating, after all,
> is much of what many of us have imagined for the world for so long. I have
> shared so much with their protagonists, and still I have to worry
> occasionally that I may be hearing in their voices not their vision, but
> mine. Upon rereading the interviews, however, listening again to the
> voices they reflect, and hearing them anew in the conversations and
> correspondence I continue to enjoy, I am fortunately and happily reminded
> of the deep seeded hope and vision that the movements in Argentina do in
> fact represent, of the ways in which they have moved me, ones I could
> never have imagined, ones I continue to struggle to understand, of the
> tears of joy I have witnessed and shed myself. These are the stories of
> our time, and of our future. A profoundly real social and political
> transformation is taking place in fact in Argentina, a revolution in every
> day practice. It is happening there. I can happen everywhere.
> <i>NATALIA and I met one afternoon in the Toma. The Toma is an enormous,
> four-story occupied building next to the train station in Lomas de Zamora,
> outside of Buenos Aires. In 2002, a few neighborhood asambleas and a
> piquetero group from the area of Lomas de Zamora came together and decided
> collectively to take over a space to use for the community. The word
> "toma" means "taken."  It was a conscious decision on the part of those
> involved in the taking of the space not to call it "occupied" or
> "recuperated," so as not to impose on it any particular political
> identity. The Toma serves many functions, from popular education classes,
> to theater and music workshops, to housing a popular kitchen (comedor)
> that feeds over one hundred and fifty people a day. Those who eat in the
> comedor also participate in asambleas on questions of the food gathering
> and of serving and cleaning. The goal is not to have a separate
> relationship among the people who eat and those who cook, serve, and
> clean. The Toma also works with dozens of street kids. The changes in
> these kids, as well as in those in the Toma who work with them, is one of
> the most amazing and visibly concrete things that I have observed during
> the time in Buenos Aires. While they were at first completely distrustful
> of anyone in the Toma, seeing them as just more people they could hustle,
> how wonderful it was to witness, during one of my last visits, one of the
> older kids working with an asamblista and turning afterward to helping a
> younger one learn to read.</i>
> This is a new space, a space of creation, one where we are creating
> distinct connections, new relationships among and within ourselves. It is
> also about creating connections with people who are generally
> marginalized, and breaking with the sort of relationship that does not
> recognize the other, or creates a barrier that does not allow one to see
> the other or their situation, making them invisible. It is a new space
> outside of what has previously been instituted or established. The
> intention of the Toma is the creation of these new personal relations,
> other forms of socialization. This is one of the main reasons why it was
> fundamental that we incorporate the street kids in the space. It is a
> place for all to share, it is of and for everyone. The idea is to create a
> consciousness that this place, the Toma, does not belong only to me, those
> who work here, or the asambleas, but rather it is of and for everyone in
> the neighborhood, the kids, the cartoneros [who collect and sell cardboard
> to survive] the people that live in the street, everyone.
> This has been a hugely important learning process. One of the first things
> I noticed when I entered the Toma is the wonderful tendency, to actively
> listen to all opinions, ones we may or may not agree with, but listening
> to everyone, and continuing to try to construct an understanding among all
> people. If things are not collectively built they are not likely to be
> succeed. I am reminded, by way of example, of something that happened with
> the left political parties. The parties wanted to participate in the
> asambleas of the Toma, but really they just wanted to have everyone work
> on their particular project. They had an objective, they wanted to voice
> it, and then just wanted to bring it to a vote within the asamblea, and
> that was it. It became clear they could not get what they were seeking and
> they had to leave.
> As I see things in the asamblea, we are creating, and continue to create
> everything, among and between everyone. One puts out an idea, another
> complements it, another criticizes a part of it, another supports a part
> of it, and that is how things continue to grow and change. It is, of
> course, sometimes difficult. Each person participating has a different
> learning process. All of us come with a set of ideas and different ways of
> being. It is difficult to get accustomed to learning to think together. We
> have many conversations on precisely this topic in the asamblea. The
> overall objective is that everyone believes that no one can impose
> anything on another, we strive for horizontality, we know that we need
> much more time and that it is complicated. but we continue. It is all a
> learning process, a process of constant creation.
> We try and not think too big, because we know that the work is enormous,
> and the process is very difficult, but when we see certain things, the
> happiness is enormous, like the work with the street kids . sometimes
> these kids would steel from us, or hit or spit at us, and now that we have
> the bond that we do with them, as they have with us, it is incredible.
> When you not only believe, but know you can connect with another, it makes
> it all worth it, it is enough. This is how one continues giving
> everything, why we know we will continue to give.
> It is as if we are not only appropriating the space, but also liberating
> the word. Before I felt a bit shy and fearful, and now I even approach
> people to speak. The fact is that we, any of us, go and eat with those in
> the comedor, and we stay late, it is different than just going, helping
> with a plate of food and then leaving. The exchange and sharing is all
> part of creating the bond and connection, a bond that is much more ideal.
> And this is the difference, that you can begin to discuss, because the
> learning process, obviously, is mutual. It is not that I have something
> and am going to then teach it to others, it is about a relationship, that
> from them I learn so much, the richness is on both sides, it is huge.
> <i>PATRICIA, MARTIN and VASCO participate in the MTDs Allen and Cipoletti,
> in Patagonia, a region in southern Argentina that is one of the most
> politically coordinated and sophisticated that I have encountered so far,
> including a powerful network of occupied factories, MTDs, indigenous
> Mapuches, university students, and a strong barter network. Formed in the
> mid 1990s, MTD Allen was the first in the region to organize, and has
> since inspired MTDs in neighboring towns, including Cipoletti, in part by
> coordinating autonomous encuentros of unemployed workers. The MTDs Allen
> and Cipoletti are pursuing numerous important projects, from organic
> gardening and other forms of food production, to clothing repair and
> manufacture, to a medical clinic, which even provides eye care. Most
> recently, a huge expanse of land has been occupied in order to build
> homes, and plans are under way to locate there an alternative education
> project.</i>
> The interpretation of horizontalism is important so as to understand the
> movements. I say this because if you talk with compaņeros in the left
> parties they will schematize the question. They believe that horizontalism
> is a direct line, an association of points, where all are equal and
> differences do not exist. If you view horizontalism from the perspective
> of a relationship of different people, all with the same quantity of
> rights, you do not understand it. You are presupposing that horizontalism
> is a mechanism that divides up one chorizo in equal parts, and that is not
> horizontalism. We are all distinct and different. The challenge is for
> each of us to think within the collective, for each person to be
> integrated, to form collective thought, as well as understand how we
> produce a collective, and how this collective relates amongst itself in
> creating collective thought. This is horizontalism.
> The movement in Allen arises, and from there a freshness and naturalness.
> From the moment it is born with all its freshness and spontaneity, it is
> born breaking free from the social control imposed by the parties. The
> first rupture is to toss off the shit of leaders, stop messing with
> political parties, and to look for our own path. Without an elaborated
> theory of practice, [the movement] arises as spontaneous expressions of a
> social practice looking for a different path, as a search.
> As well as a search, it is a rupture with everything. A strong break with
> all that I have seen, all that I have been experimenting with for many
> years. As they say "enough of this," including the revolutionary
> experiences. It is as if we have seen it all and this is not it. So then
> we make a break and begin to forge another path. I believe that autonomy
> is a path that is doing this, it is not complete, every day there are
> things to learn, to internalize, each of the compaņeros learning from the
> experiences of the other. Autonomy is something that is developing, and
> developing constantly. It is in no way closed.
> Through the concept of autonomy, this epoch shows the intent to construct
> a way that will not be a mirror of modes of domination, and will be able
> to subvert it, if not it is not subversive, but simply reactive.
> Autonomous thought does not only question the ideas of the revolutions of
> the past, nor does it simply question the practices of past
> revolutionaries in their struggle against capitalism. Rather, we are in a
> time where the contradiction is capitalism, the presupposition of the
> disappearance of humanity, or the constitution of a new civilization..
> This is to say, not only to try to change the system, not only to question
> capitalism, but to try and question everything, including all of our own
> practices.
> <i>CARLOS G spent hours with me one afternoon discussing the history of
> the struggle at Zanon and how deeply the struggle there has affected not
> only the workers, but their families, the local community, and the broader
> community of the movements. Zanon has been occupied by the workers and run
> directly democratically since the fall of 2001. It is the largest factory
> in Neuquen, Patagonia, occupying several city blocks. Entering the factory
> offices, one is greeted by walls filled with posters and other materials
> documenting their struggle, and the struggles of other factories,
> communities and MTDs in the movements. One wall in particular is covered
> with letters from elementary school students in the region, thanking the
> workers for setting an example for them to follow as they grow up. Zanon,
> no longer in the service of exploitation, is now in the business of
> creating a community, not only in the "ceramics family," but throughout
> the whole of the city. What the workers of Zanon are accomplishing
> represents a truly inspiring redefinition of values. </i>
> There are so many things we are thinking about, including which way to go
> until this society changes. We are not going to achieve this from day to
> night. We did not take the plant from day to night. Everything is step by
> step. We are trying to take these steps little by little. We have come
> far, from being in the street to being here, working and producing at the
> level we desire, one that month to month is growing.
> When Hebe Bonafini of the Madres visited us in the Zanon plant for the
> first time, she told us she could feel the life beating here in the song
> of the machines functioning. This song makes her heart beat, and she sees
> in us the children that she has lost. For us these words were really
> important, very "llegantes" also for each one of us. A woman that has
> fought for more than 26 years, struggling for social change, in a country
> that has more than 30,000 disappeared and that the only thing that they
> fought for was a better society, a better country, imagine, how we were
> affected when we heard these words.
> We began this for one reason, that of survival. We have done a lot, taken
> many steps in which we have grown not only in expressing ourselves, but
> also in the things that we have done. None of this is done for
> self-aggrandizement. We are humble. If you ask me, "why are you here?" It
> is to keep our workplace, and not only for me, but also for my compaņeros.
> I go to other places and I say this, and they say, "but you are making
> history, you are the greatest and they elevate us like this as if we were
> an idol, as if you were famous. Or you go to speak in a place, and as soon
> as you speak people begin to applaud. This happened to me once. These are
> things that show you what we are living, and you do not want to open your
> eyes because we know that what we are doing is very very big.
> In this conflict we have always been attacked, always. In total we have
> had five orders of eviction, and all five were pushed back with the help
> of the community movements. Each time that we faced an eviction, outside
> thousands gathered within half an hour, so that the factory could not be
> evicted. The factory is of the people, as we have suggested.
> My life has changed, absolutely. The struggle has given me much more
> courage, more values than I can count. I learned what solidarity is, what
> is the dignity of a person, up to the valors, until where you get, and
> that you have to feel for others, collaborating, feeling, to think in a
> collective form, as a part of the community, and much further from there
> you think in a collective form that is yours.
> We continue growing in different ways. This growth has caused many
> compaņeros to change their way of thinking, this way of thinking of only
> oneself, and to open up and think also about others, no longer in just the
> singular. We are everyone.
> It is all part of a new reeducation. You speak with a certain confidence,
> you feel that it is a compaņero that struggles at your side. and there you
> become more human. How are you not going to love him? Yes, you esteem him,
> you love him, and I am not exaggerating.
> And as a dream.a dream is to win this struggle, to move ahead. move ahead
> with this factory. My personal dream is to teach my son all of the values
> that I have learned up to this point; that he follows in his fathers
> footsteps, that he struggle and know why, that if one of us should fall,
> our children raise our flag, as so many have raised, and continue
> fighting, that he struggle for just causes and is always conscious that
> things can always be better, that they can be better on the personal
> level; and that more than anything he have a path that is clear. I speak
> of my baby, because my baby was born two months before this conflict.
> <i>ALBERTO and I met one afternoon on the factory floor of Chilavert, a
> printing press that was taken over by the workers in December of 2001, and
> has been run collectively and directly democratically ever since. Alberto
> was there as a representative of the Clinica Medrano, a clinic that has
> been run without bosses or hierarchy, and by the workers, for over a year.
> He was there to discuss how to help Chilavert and the neighborhood
> asamblea of Pompeya open a free neighborhood clinic in one of Chilavert's
> front offices. Alberto invited me to come visit the clinic and discuss its
> history and current reality. He explained that before taking over the
> clinic the workers had a series of struggles with a boss who had not paid
> them for months. A new owner then took over the clinic, continued not to
> pay the workers and then called out armed guards when the workers occupied
> the clinic. In the end, the workers, with support from the community
> forced the boss to back down. They have been running the clinic without
> bosses ever since.</i>
> The process. it has been a revolution in every sense of the word. It was a
> revolution from the point of view of "I will not tolerate any more." We
> decided that we would not tolerate more, the workers together, including
> us, and we began to look for a way out by our own means. The workers, from
> state employees to private, began to see how to resolve their own
> problems. What were their problems? Their basic problem was that they had
> corrupt leaders that did not allow them to fight, who did not allow them
> to advance.  In our case we did not have a way out, so we decided ok, we
> will invest our energy into taking our clinic, fighting along the way with
> the government, and fighting with the union bureaucracy.
> We are politically independent, and our politics as a cooperative get
> resolved in the asamblea, from the most minimal individual problems, to
> the changes of hours, to things that are not necessary to resolve in the
> asamblea, but in this case we do resolve all things in the asamblea
> because we do not want to make mistakes.
> How did we feel about taking the clinic, how do we feel? In general we
> have a lot of hope and many expectations, together with happiness. But
> also uncertainty, we were facing something that we had no idea how to do.
> We knew how to work, but not how to administer the mechanics of the
> organization of a workplace, so everything was a challenge. We pretty
> immediately surrounded ourselves with people who know about these
> subjects, and people who in solidarity came to help us. But the work
> itself was to be done by us.
> Solidarity is an essential aspect of our project. We do not want to
> practice the same type of medicine where what is important is that you
> have money rather than your health, which is the traditional medicine in
> this country, as well as others. Our idea is to be able to live, to bring
> home a salary, while giving the most dignified and best service possible.
> Offering attention to people who need to resolve their health problems,
> including a day that we devote to unemployed people, from medical
> attention to medical consultations. We want to give medical attention to
> those sectors that are marginalized.
> Forms of solidarity among the occupied factories.  We have with Chilavert
> an agreement of attention. They print all of our paper and we give medical
> attention to all of the members of the cooperative and their families. We
> also have an agreement with a cooperative that is called the 26th of
> September. They make software which they install for us. They also offer
> courses at for the administrative support staff so that we can work
> better, and learn more about the programs we have. Of course we give
> medical attention to the cooperative and their families.
> One of the things we are trying to do is put together a group of
> recuperated workplaces that is independent of the political parties. We
> would like an encuentro of recuperated work places that is the most
> politically independent and autonomous possible, with independence from
> the state, political parties, the church, and all of the sectors in
> general; not independence from politics in relation to the political
> thoughts of someone who works, but from the institutions; one where the
> workplaces determine for themselves, in a form that is autonomous where no
> one comes to tell you what to do, where the workers themselves decide what
> path they need, and construct it for themselves.
> <i>EMILIO and I first met in an asamblea of indymedia and Lezamal Sur,
> located in the occupied Banco de Mayo. Our conversation revolved around
> their possible eviction from the bank, a space that they, along with
> others in the community had been occupying and using as a cultural center
> since shortly after the 19th and 20th. Many of the occupied spaces in
> Buenos Aires are banks, chosen in large part for their symbolism. Emilio
> is 17 years old, and easily one of the most articulate and visionary
> people I have ever met. He has worked with a number of movements and
> collectives, including Intergalactica, a " laboratory of global resistance
> working against capitalism and for a global struggle based in the local."
> We met for our interview in Tierra del Sur, behind Lezama Sur, where
> Emilio spends a great deal of his time. Tierra del Sur was another
> collectively run occupied building, housing a number of families, and
> providing cultural activities and a kitchen for the community. During the
> interview, two children came into the room wanting to know what we were
> doing, what we were talking about, and why we were using a microphone.
> When we told them what the interview was about they wanted to talk. They
> proceeded to tell us why they loved Tierra del Sur and why the possible
> eviction was "very bad." They said they enjoyed coming to the space not
> only to eat, but for their music and puppet workshops as well. Together
> they chanted "No al Desalojo!" ("No Eviction!"). Both spaces were evicted
> by hundreds of police the following month. Indymedia is now located in
> another occupied bank and Tierra del Sur is in an occupied building a few
> blocks from the original. The workshops and communal kitchens
> continue.</i>
> What is our program, the good thing is that we do not have a program. We
> are creating tools to be free. First, obviously we need to meet our basic
> necessities. At the same time we are meeting our basic necessities we are
> creating tools to be free. And for me this is autonomy. Because if you
> think about it, what are the concepts that are incorporated in autonomy?
> One begins to think about self-organization, providing for oneself
> (individual and collective), organizing in networks, non-commercial
> exchange of goods, horizontalism, direct democracy, and we think, if we
> have all of these things then are we autonomous? Autonomous of what? No,
> if one day we really have autonomy we are not going to be autonomists or
> autonomous, we are going to be free.
> Autonomy for me is a construction and not an end, the day we are
> autonomous it will no longer be necessary to be autonomous.  As well we
> cannot believe that oh, good, we are autonomous and it is in some
> geographic or temporal space, that is to say in a non-capitalist
> community. This was the hippy experience that we can learn a lot from,
> because this did not work. While capitalism exists we are inside of it.
> Autonomy is a bubble that exists within the system. With autonomy what we
> are able to do is construct spaces where the logic of the system does not
> reign. That is not the same as the system not reigning. The capitalist
> system is everywhere, and will be until it no longer exists. And yes, of
> course we will get there. What can I say, if I did not think we could get
> there I would not be trying.
> What we can do is continue constructing, without falling into the logic of
> the system. To not think as the system thinks. Trying to make the
> revolution in our everyday life. And the day when we are successful, the
> day when we really successful, then the things are ready, we will then be
> free, we will not be autonomous.
> The times we are in are not electoral. We are continuing with our
> neighborhood construction, and our local construction, thinking globally.
> In this moment we are in a time of resistance and construction. The
> rebellions of the 19th and 20th of December and January have passed. Now
> we are moving ahead step by step, and sometimes we have to pause and
> examine where we are, each step we take, our successes, and wait, and then
> continue advancing. It is a moment of resistance and creation.
> We are historical subjects. We have stopped being passive subjects, which
> is what voting, electoral politics and the system try and do to us. We
> have stopped being marginalized subjects, so as to be historical subjects,
> active subjects, participatory subjects. Actors in our own lives.
> At this moment I believe more important than shutting down roads and
> bridges, more than direct action, is to expand the work in the
> neighborhoods. Clearly with an anti-capitalist vision of construction.
> Most important for me right now, as this moment of resistance is to expand
> our community gardens, expand our occupied factories, expand really all of
> the constructive projects we are working on. until another 19th and 20th.
> Marina spent the Spring in Argentina working with the autonomous popular
> movements and developing an oral history of the movements for a book
> entitled "Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina." She
> returns to Argentina periodically to continue this work.

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