[OPE-L] Horizontalism

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Mon Oct 16 2006 - 12:57:51 EDT

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

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

<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

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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