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This book is the story of a changing society told by people who are taking their lives and communities into their own hands. It is told in their own voices. It is a story of cooperation, vision, creation, and discovery.
Over the past ten years, the world has been witnessing an upsurge in prefigurative revolutionary movements; movements, that create the future in the present. These new movements are not creating party platforms or programs. They do not look to one leader, but make space for all to be leaders. They place more importance on asking the right questions than on providing the correct answers. They do not adhere to dogma and hierarchy, instead they build direct democracy and consensus. They are movements based in trust and love.
Where are these movements? They are everywhere. They are in the autonomous Zapatista communities of Chiapas, Mexico, where indigenous communities are organizing autonomously from the state to meet their basic needs, while using consensus-based decision-making to create themselves anew. They are in the massive organizations in rural Brazil, where the landless movement (MST) has been reclaiming the land, creating the future in their daily activities and interactions. They are in the shanty-towns of South Africa, where women and men, "the poors," use direct democracy and action to take back electricity, housing, water, and other things stolen by corporations and government. They are in India, where many thousands of people are coming together to protect the environment and prevent the construction of dams, using mass action and participatory decision-making. They are in Ecuador and Bolivia, where indigenous groups are stopping privatization and preventing the destruction of the earth through mass blockades and mass democracy. They are in Italy, where new social centers are providing direct services as well as space to gather for those involved in direct democracy projects. They are in the many groups in Eastern Europe, organizing against borders, while asserting the principal that no person can be illegal. They are in the US and Canada, where autonomous groupings are being built on the basis of consensus decision-making, anti-hierarchy, and anti-capitalism.
The autonomous social movements in Argentina are one part of this global phenomenon. Within Argentina, they are also a "movement of movements." They are working class people taking over factories and running them collectively. They are the urban middle class, many recently declassed, working to meet their needs in solidarity with those around them. They are the unemployed, like so many unemployed around the globe, facing the prospect of never finding regular work, yet collectively finding ways to survive and become self-sufficient, using mutual-aid and love. They are autonomous indigenous communities struggling to liberate stolen land.
In Argentina, these active movements are now communicating, assisting, and learning from one another, and thus constructing new types of networks that reject the hierarchical template bequeathed to them by established politics. A core part of this rejection includes a break with the idea of "power-over." People are attempting, instead, to organize on a flatter plane, with the goal of creating "power-with" one another. Embedded in these efforts is a commitment to value both the individual and the collective. Simultaneously, separately, and together, these groups are organizing in the direction of a more meaningful and deeper freedom, using the tools of direct democracy and direct action. They are constructing a new form of popular power.
Horizontalidad is a word that has come to embody the new social arrangements and principles of organization of these movements in Argentina. As its name suggests, horizontalidad implies democratic communication on a level plane and involves—or at least intentionally strives towards —non-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian creation rather than reaction. It is a break with vertical ways of organizing and relating.
Horizontalidad is a living word that reflects an ever-changing experience. Months after the popular rebellion in December of 2001, many movement participants began speaking of their relationships as horizontal as a way of describing the new forms of decision-making. Years after the rebellion, those continuing to build new movements speak of horizontalidad as a goal as well as a tool.
Our relationships are deeply affected by the power dynamics of capitalism and hierarchy, which operate in our collective and creative spaces, especially in how we relate to one another in terms of economic resources, gender, race, access to information and experience. We see this arise often in our meetings, assemblies, activities, and actions. While usually not intentional, power based in various sorts of privileges often comes up and can silence others in a group or movement. As a result, until these fundamental social dynamics are overcome, the goal of horizontalidad cannot be achieved. Simply desiring egalitarian relationships does not make them so. But the process of horizontalidad is also a tool to achieve this goal. Thus horizontalidad is desired and is a goal, but it is also the means, the tool, for achieving this end. In the second chapter, "Horizontalidad," dozens of movement participants discuss their experiences and reflections on this new social relationship.
The social movements in Argentina describe themselves as autonomous in order to distinguish themselves from the state and other hierarchical institutions. Autonomy also describes a politics of self-organization, autogestion, and direct, democratic participation. This use of autonomous is not meant to address, or reflect, any direct relationship to the autonomous Marxist currents, which have their origins in Italy. While the autonomous movements in Argentina are not the largest numerically, I believe they are the most interesting in terms of what they are creating. The effect of these movements is much larger than their physical size would suggest. This is true in part because of the new social relationships and articulations of these relationships that these movements are creating—relationships and institutions that can be emulated. "Autonomy," the fourth section of the book, will clarify this choice of political identification.
The movements described in this book are prefigurative movements: they construct and enact, in the present, the social relationships by which the future will be shaped. Unlike past movements, social change isn’t deferred to a later date by demanding reforms from the state, or by taking state power and eventually, instituting these reforms. As the interviews reflect, most in the autonomous movements are placing their energies in how and what they organize in the present. Most of the movements are anti-capitalist, and some anti-state, but their strategy for the creation of a new society is not grounded in either state dependency or the taking of power to create another state. Their intention is, to borrow John Holloway’s phrase, to change the world without taking power.
Over the past five years, in particular, the autonomous social movements in Argentina have begun to articulate a new and revolutionary politics, embodied in various new practices, and in language used to describe these practices. Some participants say that they are not political, or that they are anti-political. Often this is related to their experiences with "old" ways of doing politics, with the use of hierarchy and political parties that make decisions for people, taking away their agency. Today, they are engaged in the more immediate politics of everyday life, creating the future in their present. They reject hierarchy, bosses, managers, party brokers, and punteros. Simply put, they reject the very idea of anyone having power over someone else. They organize themselves in every aspect of their lives, both independently and in solidarity with others: autogestionandose in communities, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, and universities. What is the name of this revolutionary process: Horizontalidad? Autogestion? Socialism? Anarchism? Autonomy? Politica afectiva? None of these? All of them? Certainly, no single word can describe it. It is a process of continuous creation, constant growth and the development of new relations, with ideas flowing from these changing practices.
Argentina has a long rich history of rebellions, resistance, and self-organization. The movements discussed in this book are the most recent of these, and developed in two cumulative waves. The first wave represented a movement of unemployed workers, which emerged in the 1990s. It had little support from, and in some cases was violently opposed by, the still relatively prosperous Argentine middle class. However, the collapse of the Argentine economy and the declassing of much of the middle class as a result of the coercive policies of the IMF, sparked a second wave of popular rebellion, during which the now declasses Argentine middle class linked up with the unemployed and underemployed workers.
The people of Argentina have endured a long history of domination of their communities and neighborhoods by those who, while claiming to represent them, make huge profits from this alleged representation. This concept of "representation" was seen most notably under Peronism, particularly with its reliance on "punteros," local neighborhood Party bureaucrats, or brokers. This system resulted in a politics of "clientelism" where, particularly in poor neighborhoods, nothing could be accomplished without the mediation of the punteros, and people were forced to exchange their autonomy for basic necessities. The new autonomous social movements are a conscious break with this form of politics. They reject the hierarchy inherent in the clientelist system and replace it with direct democracy, and in public gatherings discuss alternative plans, deciding openly and collectively what to do. Chapter 1, "Context and Rupture," discusses this new form of direct democracy. Clientelism still exists in many neighborhoods and is discussed in parts of chapter 3, "Challenges to Autogestion."
Olivia, a woman in her eighties living in Ledesma, Jujuy, in the far north of the country, explained how things today are different now from how they were for most of her life. She spoke with tremendous pride about being a part of an unemployed workers’ movement in her neighborhood—one of thirty three neighborhoods organized in Ledesma. As a part of that movement, she now participates in the decisions that affect her life, as well as the life of her community. One of the ways this is done is through weekly neighborhood assemblies that use direct democracy and synthesis as a means of making decisions. Decisions are made on a town-wide basis once a week, when over three thousand people come together in a mass assembly. Everyone has a voice. Discussions range from direct action planning, to the coordination of bakeries, childcare centers, and beauty salons, all self-organized by the neighborhood movements.
The creation of directly democratic organizations, such as those in Ledesma, are clear rejections of, and decisive ruptures with, past vertical organizational structures of clientelism, as well as concepts of "representation."
Unemployed workers movements
The emerging rejection of old political ways became publicly visible in the North and South of the country in the 1990s, when unemployed workers’ movements, as well as other popular movements, began organizing against local governments and corporations. Generally led by unemployed women workers in the provinces of Salta, Jujuy, and Neuquen, they took to the streets by the thousands, blocking major transportation arteries to demand subsidies from the government. In a decisive break with the past, this organizing was not led or brokered by elected leaders. Instead, those in the streets decided day-by-day and moment-to-moment what to do next.
During the road blockades, people used direct forms of decision-making, and began creating new social relationships, which, in many places, evolved into what are now known formally as unemployed workers’ movements (MTDs), Unions of unemployed workers (UTDs), or the Movement for Work and Dignity (MTD). They are referred to informally to piqueteros, (both the people and the movement), a name taken from "piquete," the tactic of blockading roads.
In some places, as the Solano Unemployed Workers’ Movement people describe, neighbors came together, tried to discover what needs existed in the neighborhood, then formed a movement, and decided to blockade roads. In other areas, the movements began with a group of neighbors meeting in the street to demand something. They would form a road blockade, and then use democratic forms of decision-making to collectively decide their demands, and then negotiate with representatives of government. From these points of collective action and decision-making, the movements were born. Distinct from previous forms of organizing, where there was always a person speaking for the group (most often without consent), in these early piquetes, people decided they would negotiate at the blockade itself. There are some cases of government officials being helicoptered onto the road to negotiate directly with the assembly at the blockade. The piqueteros’ initial actions forced the government to give the first (small) unemployment subsidies in the history of Latin America, which inspired many other visions and projects. The chapters "Autogestion" and "Creation" describe the specifics of what the various movements are doing. Projects range from bakeries and organic gardens, to alternative medicine, education, and schools, to raising animals and taking over land for housing and food production.
The relationship of various movements to one another continues to evolve. Soon after the popular rebellion of 2001, the dozens of autonomous unemployed workers movements, which reflected the participation of tens of thousands, created a loose network called Anibal Veron, after a piquetero who was murdered by the police in northern Argentina. This network had regular gatherings to share information, experiences, and to plan collective direct actions. The various movements in the network organized around the principles of horizontalidad, autonomy, dignity, and social change. Over time, this network stopped functioning, and some movements continued to coordinate actions through the Frente Dario Santillan, named after another young piquetero murdered by police at a road blockade. Others formed a loose network that focused on an exchange of information and support. These changes reflect friction over the question of autonomy, and how it is understood in practice by the various movements. Around 2003, a number of the MTDs decided—some of them after these interviews were conducted—that they no longer wanted to fight for the government unemployment subsidy. They felt this maintained a relationship with the state, rather than focusing their energy on self-organization, autogestion, and attempts at self-sufficiency. Organizing a road blockade creates a contentious relationship to the state, when many would prefer no relationship at all. It also entails a sophisticated level of organizing, which takes a great deal of time to develop. These questions of time and political priorities pushed a number of movements to stop using the road blockade as a frequent tactic. Other movements that continue organizing regular piquetes are critical of those that do not, both for theoretical reasons—they don’t see the relationship to the state being overly determined —but there is also a sense of frustration because they believe support is needed from everyone in the movements to make the blockades successful. This is an ongoing discussion and debate.
While the piquetero movement was still growing, the increasing economic crisis pushed thousands into the streets in the northern town of Santiago del Estero. As one of the first contemporary urban uprisings, this rebellion looms large in the imagination of millions of Argentines. It involved protests against government, as well as the creation of libratory spaces where people together began to feel their collective power. Government buildings were destroyed—as were the homes of government officials. "Representatives" were forced to leave office, due to their fear of the rebelling population. These early rebellions remain significant because they represent, in the memory and imagination of Argentines, the rejection of systems of representation, in favor of direct action and direct democracy.
The definitive rupture with past practice, however, occurred in the popular rebellion of the 19th and 20th of December of 2001, often referred to as the "nineteenth and twentieth." Millions spontaneously took to the streets across Argentina and, without leaders or hierarchies, forced the government to resign, and then, through continuous mobilizations, proceeded to expel four more governments in less than two weeks. The precipitating incident was the government’s freezing of people’s bank accounts, and converting their money, once pegged to the dollar, into a financial asset that would be held by the banks and used to secure payments to foreign investors, but that could not be accessed by the depositers.
This was the spark dropped on a long smoldering fire. The government of Argentina had taken out huge loans with the IMF in the 1990s, and in the late 90s began to pay these loans back through privitization and severe austerity measures. Thousands of people were laid off, wages and pensions were cut, and social services degraded. These measures eminated from the IMF as part of the contract for yet another loan of billions of dollars. As with most of Latin America (and the world) the results were disasterous for most people. Working and middle class Argentines experienced no direct relief from the new loans, and by 2001 industrial production had fallen by over 25 percent. The official poverty level grew to 44 percent, with the unofficial level substantially higher. For many Argentines the popular rebellion was no surprise.
As with the previous experiences in the North and South, the experience of the rebellion was one of direct democracy and direct action. The government quickly responded by declaring a state of emergency, ordering citizens to stay at home, and attempting to disperse the people in the street. In response to this repression by the state that killed dozens and wounded many hundreds of others, and was witnessed on television by the general population, hundreds of thousands poured onto the streets of Buenos Aires.
These protesters were not demanding something new, but were creating it. As pointed out by a number of those interviewed in this book, this massive outpouring into the streets, despite the state of emergency and repression witnessed by all, is hugely significant. These days, many refer to this moment as a rupture with the past, a break from the deeply instilled fear and silence that was a legacy of the most brutal dictatorship in Argentine history. A dictatorship that "disappeared" 30,000 people, often torturing them in the most horrific ways. Some see the nineteenth and twentieth as a break in the collective memory. In chapter 1, "Context and Rupture" many reflect upon this simultaneous break and opening.
The popular rebellion was comprised of workers and unemployed, of the middle class, and of those recently de-classed. It was a rebellion without leadership, either by established parties or by a newly emerged elite. Its strength was measured in the fall of four consecutive national governments in two weeks. It precipitated the birth of hundreds of neighborhood assemblies involving many tens of thousands of active participants.
People in the neighborhood assemblies first met to try and discover new ways of supporting one another and meeting their basic needs. Many explain the organization of the first assemblies as an encounter, as finding one another. People were in the streets, they began talking to one another, they saw the need to gather, and they did so, street corner by street corner, park by park. In many cases someone would write on a wall or street, "neighbors, let’s meet Tuesday at 9pm" and an assembly was begun.
In each neighborhood, the assemblies work on a variety of projects, from helping facilitate barter networks, creating popular kitchens, planting organic gardens, and sometimes taking over buildings—including the highly symbolic take-over of abandoned banks, which they turn into community centers. These occupied spaces can house any number of things, including kitchens, small print shops, day care areas, they may offer after-school help for kids, free internet access and computer usage, and one even has a small movie theater.
The assemblies change form
The years after the rebellion have witnessed a significant decrease in the organization of, and participation in, neighborhood assemblies. Many dozens are still active, but this is much less than the hundreds that instantly emerged. While we will explore the reasons in the interviews ahead, some recurring themes are: the intrusion of left political parties, a lack of concreteness in activity, and interference from the state.
After the first months of self-organizing, a number of political parties saw an opportunity for recruitment and control. Party members entered neighborhood assemblies, and attempted to take them over. Many neighborhood assembly participants recounted stories of political party members coming to their assemblies and attempting to dominate discussionsby speaking at great length, as well as by raising political demands that the assembly must adhere to—such as an end to all imperialism and the creation of a workers’ state. Many people described to me a high level of frustration about this. The nature of the assemblies, which were based on trust and listening with respect, facilitated the problem. Party members used this to enter the assembly and talk or shout endlessly until many neighbors left out of frustration. Many explained that it was not that they were against the political demands raised per se, but that this was not what the neighborhood assembly was organized for.
Similar attempts to dominate the assemblies occurred in the inter-barrial assemblies, where hundreds of assemblies would come together in a park in the center of Buenos Aires and exchange ideas and experiences, in order to create networks of mutual support. As has also occurred around the world historically, political parties created front groups, false neighborhood assemblies in this case, so that they would have the right to speak at the inter-barrial assemblies. They then used this time to push their political line and program, and again participants in the real neighborhood assemblies decided to remove themselves from this experience. There is a great deal of hostility toward the political parties for this disruption in particular. Many participants in the neighborhood assemblies saw the inter-barrial as a potential place to begin to generalize the local experience of the neighborhood into a city-wide phenomenon of direct democracy and new politics.
Many of the assemblies lacked concrete projects, and ended up talking a great deal more than doing. While one of the lasting effects of the assembly movement is the change in the participant’s sense of self, community and collectivity (a process many refer to as the creation of new subjectivities), without concrete projects to ground the assemblies, many people drifted away. Of the assemblies that continue to exist, almost all are involved in a variety of neighborhood-based projects, and some continue to function in occupied buildings.
The neighborhood assemblies quickly became one of the focal points of the government’s attempts to regain control of society. These efforts generally involved, on the one hand, overt and covert repression, such as violent evictions of occupied buildings and police harassment. And on the other hand, the government tried to use them to regain legitimacy. For example, the choice to run the notorious Carlos Menem as a candidate for president made many feel they had no alternative but to vote against him. Menem was seen, with good reason, as the person most responsible for privatizing Argentina. This privitization was profound, and included everything from natural resources to the local zoo. He was one of the most right wing candidates that could have been considered. He ran his campaign on a "Law and Order" ticket, promising to "clean" the country of its disrupters, referring to people in the social movements. Because of this, many people in the neighborhood assemblies decided that they had to vote—not for Menem, but against him. The result was that focus was once again on the state, conferring legitimacy onto the process of elections, and the state itself.
Another, sometimes successful, tactic the government used was to offer services, goods, and sometimes even physical space to the neighborhood assemblies. Most assemblies self-organized all of their popular kitchens and projects, including the occupation of buildings for community use. The government saw this as an opportunity to gain credibility, and began to offer assemblies boxes of food, and even buildings where they could hold their meetings, rather than conducting them on the street corner. These offers were sometimes debated for months in the various assemblies, and created huge distractions from projects that were already underway.
Many of those interviewed in this book predicted a decline of the participation in neighborhood assemblies, and even felt it would not be a significant loss. Something, they explained, had changed in them as people, in how they related to one another. These changes could not be undone, even if the structures of organization changed. Once their subjectivity and social relationships had changed, the assemblies had fulfilled their role. This change would then infuse new organizations and activities.
This may be true. I returned to Argentina several times in 2005, after this book was published in Spanish. I participated in, and witnessed, the emergence of a number of groups, including political prisoner support groups, anti-repression organizations, new assemblies in parks, collectives of street artisans, and high school student groups. All of these began with the basic consensus that they would organize based on horizontalidad and autonomy. They referred to the neighborhood assemblies or MTDs when discussing their conceptions of horizontalidad and direct democracy. And, like earlier groups, these new formations absolutely rejected political parties and hierarchical organization. I was fortunate enough to witness a number of meetings and assemblies where political parties that tried to dominate were kicked out, sometimes with people even referencing previous experience. The experience of the neighborhood assemblies continues as a living part of an overall continuity. This is something that many participants imagined would take place as early as 2002.
Relationships among autonomous movements
Just as the popular rebellion sparked the growth of neighborhood assemblies, it also inspired the unemployed workers movements. As they grew to include tens of thousands of participants, these groups developed an even more sophisticated theoretical framework. A network formation grew among those in the various autonomous movements, a network that crossed class lines and class identification. One of the most significant relationships in this network was that between the piqueteros and neighborhood assemblies. Before the 2001 rebellion, the middle class (or at least those who identified themselves as the such) considered the piqueteros’ use of road blockades more than an annoyance. There was a general, social consensus that the unemployed were to blame for their own economic and social condition, and that drastic methods were justified in suppressing them. After the rebellion, a relationship of words and deeds developed between the piqueteros and the neighborhood assemblies. Joint actions with middle class groups were organized, including bridge and road blockades. The same middle class people who had hated the piqueteros for disrupting daily life were now supporting blockades as a necessary action for re-establishing economic viability. At the same time, many piqueteros, who in the past had seen the middle class as partly responsible for the dire economic situation (or at least culpable through their inactivity), were now organizing side by side with them.
A "space for autonomous thought and reflection" began, taking place on land occupied by unemployed workers movements, with participants from neighborhood assemblies, unemployed workers movements, indigenous communities, arts and media collectives, and various other social actors. For a time the slogan "Piquete y cacerola, la lucha es una sola," [The road blockade and the banging of pots and pans is one struggle] was widely used.
The dozen or so occupied factories that existed at the start of the 2001 rebellion grew in only two years to include hundreds of workplaces, taken over and run directly by workers, without bosses or hierarchy. Many in the new movements gathered inspiration from the occupation and recuperation of workplaces, and those workplaces received much support from the movements, particularly the neighborhood assemblies and new arts and media collectives. In most instances of occupation, it is the immediate neighbors and various collectives and assemblies that physically come to support and defend the occupied workplace. In the example of Chilavert, a printing press, it was the retirement home across the street that came out and not only defended the factory from the police, but insisted on being the front line of defense. In many other workplaces, the neighborhood assemblies cook lunch and bring it to the workers, and then sit down with them to eat. In many workplaces, there is a relationship with media and arts collectives who collaborate on the use of space in the factories, opening art galleries, venues for live music for the neighborhood at night, as well as cafés and after-school programs. Almost every workplace sees itself as an integral part of the community, and the community sees the workplace in the same way. As the workers of Zanon, a ceramic factory say, "Zanon is of the people."
Workplaces range widely, from printing presses and metal shops, to medical clinics, from cookie, shoe, and balloon factories, to a four star hotel, and a daily newspaper. Throughout this book, participants in the recuperated workplaces say that what they are doing is not very complicated, despite the challenges, quoting the slogan: "Occupy, Resist, and Produce." The third chapter, "Autogestion," is where these stories are discussed in the most detail. Autogestion—meaning self-organization and self-management—is how most in the recuperated movements describe what they are creating and how.
This movement, now generally calling itself a movement of recuperated workplaces (though some use the terms "occupied factories" and "recovered factories"), continues to grow and gather support throughout Argentina, despite threats of eviction. Thus far, each threat has been met with sufficient mobilization to thwart the government’s efforts. The government does not seem to know what to do with the recuperated workplaces, and acts in contradictory ways. The recuperations are hugely popular, and many outside the movements explained them to me quite simply, saying that there is a lack of work and these people want to work. Based in part on this support, the government on the one hand will sometimes give start up loans to recovered workplaces. However this is only temporary, and the government has also supported attempts to evict countless workplaces. Each eviction is met with an outpouring of support from neighbors and other participants in the factory movement. This support ranges from giving food, money, and other physical manifestations of support, to people organizing by the hundreds and sometimes thousands, as was the case with Zanon and Brukman, to physically defend the factories. Battles with slingshots and molotov cocktails are not uncommon as a part of the physical defense of a factory.
Over time, recuperated workplaces have begun to link with one another, creating barter relationships for their products, and collective links to the global workplace. For example locally a medical clinic will service members of a printing factory in exchange for the free printing of all of their material. This has happened on a global level, as well. A number of workplaces now have international relationships, including, for example, relationships for the exchange or purchase of products. In November 2005, the "First Gathering of Recuperated Workplaces" took place in Caracas, Venezuela. There were 263 recuperated workplaces represented from eight countries in Latin America. The gathering concluded that this was, "the first step in the creating of a network of workplaces and factories without bosses or owners." The recuperated workplaces that gathered there, signed seventy five agreements. Some were for the exchange of material goods, while others were more creative. A tourist agency in Venezuela, for example, agreed to provide yearly vacations to the families of workers at a recuperated newspaper in Argentina, in exchange for advertising.
New Movements Internationalism
The particular movements discussed in this book may be new, but some of the goals and methods of achieving those goals, are historically familiar. While movements of such rapid growth, diversity, and popularity are not unprecedented, the most significant innovation in Argentina may be that disparate groups are aware of one other, that they are interrelated, and that they can make use of (or create) many more networks of exchange and communication around the globe. Argentine movements, for example, have made significant connections to the MST in Brazil, trading experiences and strategies for land take-overs, forms of traditional medicine, and tools for democratic practices. The Zapatistas have also consistently engaged in exchanges, visiting and being visited by people in other movements. Since the 2001 rebellion, a number of people from various unemployed workers movements have been invited by the Zapatistas to spend time in the autonomous communities in Chiapas, exchanging ideas and experiences. Also, participants in the then Frente Zapatista spent time with movements in Argentina discussing a range of things, including how the election of a so-called progressive president effects the movements. Despite limited resources, dialogue between various movements has been long and varied.
During the past three years in Buenos Aires, autonomous movements have held an annual gathering called Enero Autonomo (Autonomous January). Groups came from all over Latin America and Europe—including Mujeres Creando from Bolivia, and autonomous groups from Brazil. Participants also included various collectives and community-based organizations in Europe and the United States. This linking process has gained momentum over the past few years and all signs indicate that this growth is accelerating.
Various networks, conferences, and links between the various autonomous movements around the globe have been created over the past decade—groups and gatherings including People’s Global Action (PGA), The World Social Forum, Via Campesina, and indymedia, to name just a few. Many of these new global networks, such as PGA and Via Campesina, for example, are created and facilitated by participants in the global movement of movements. The relationships of the movement of movements in Argentina, is one piece of a much larger global phenomenon of networking and horizontal relationships.
Intention of and Approach to this Book
There is a growing body of literature analyzing the social movements of the last decade in Argentina. A brief list would include: Colectivo Situaciones, Mas Alla de los Piquetes, and 19 y 20: Apuntes para el Nuevo protagonismo Social; MTD la Matanza, De la Culpa a la Autogestion; Sebastian Pereyra y Maristella Svampa, Entre la Ruta y El Barrio; Raúl Zibechi, Genealogía de la Revuelta. This book however, is not another analysis. Instead, it offers the direct testimony of the participants themselves, through interviews conducted during 2003 and 2004.
These interviews allow the activists themselves to speak about what they are creating, why they are creating it in the ways that they are, what it feels like, what their dreams and desires are, and what it all might mean.
One caveat is in order here. While it may appear that you are looking through a transparent window at the person speaking, this is a window that I have constructed. I initiated and participated in all the conversations in this book. Then, after choosing what topics be addressed, and deciding which communities were fully explored, I selected the passages to be included in the final manuscript. For this reason, I think it is important to situate myself for you. I am not from Argentina, although I have spent a good deal of time there. I do not ascribe to any one ideology or practice, but partake in many, and feel that it is only through the practice of individual and collective social creation that we will invent, as the Zapatistas discuss, many new worlds. I am part of the global movement of movements, and I am not neutral towards the movements described in these pages. On the contrary, I traveled to Argentina because I had heard of them and felt that sharing this experience in whatever way I could would be important and useful to people who are committed to social change.
The texts are full of depth, emotion, intellect, and passion, but they also require patient readers. Some voices will sound familiar, others less so. Some of the narratives may seem redundant. However, it is often the similarity of the tales that is most fascinating. The ideas of a factory worker take on new meaning when echoed by a middle-class assembly participant, a piquetara, and a university student. Similarly, it is remarkable that an unemployed worker in the south speaks of autonomy in almost the same terms as someone from an indigenous Guarani community in the north. Horizontalidad, as a goal and tool of the autonomous movements, spans a great deal of physical and experiential geography. Both the similarities and differences make the movements in Argentina especially unique and the interviews I conducted so exciting. It is not just what is said, but the diversity of the voices speaking.
Rather than a contextualized history, this book reflects and explains what people are doing, what motivates them, how they are relating to one another, and how they have changed individually and collectively in the creation process. It is not so much a movement of actions, but rather a movement of new social actors, new subjects, new protagonists.
In my opinion, horizontalidad and direct democracy are important for building a new society. One basis for this new society is the creation of loving and trusting spaces. From this same space of trust and love, using the tools of horizontalidad, a new person—who is a protagonist in her or his own life—begins to take shape. This is not random, it is a conscious process of social creation (as discussed in chapter 9). Women, in particular, have created new roles for themselves (addressed specifically in chapter 8). Based on this new individual protagonist, a new collective protagonism appears, which changes the sense of the individual, and then the sense of the collective. From this relationship arises the need for new ways of speaking, a new language (as discussed is in chapter 5).
Ideas and relationships cannot occur in a vacuum. They take place in real places, in "territories" that are liberated from hierarchical structures, and involve real people. These territories are laboratories of social creation. What is being created, and how, is discussed in the chapters "Autogestión," "Creation, " and "Power." These chapters also address some of the challenges being faced.
As I write in January of 2006, the government of Argentina has been increasing its repression of the new social movements. This repression, while not as violent as that practiced by earlier regimes—in that tens of thousands are not "disappearing" or being tortured —is nevertheless daunting. For example, thousands of people are being forced through the legal system, many without formal charges, and many awaiting trial while in jail, some for years. Their crime—trying to create a new world. What offence did they commit? They protested the lack of jobs and their children’s hunger. In some cases, they took back their ancestral land, which had been stolen by corporations and the government. They worked in the street in order to feed their family. "Repression," (chapter 7), based on conversations in 2006, reflects on this current situation, and suggests some responses.
"Dreams," the last chapter of the book, gives a glimpse of what some of us dream. It is from dreams that we create new worlds.
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Photo from Argentina.indymedia.org