"Horizontalism" is one of the ways in which so many here describe part of what they are doing and how they are doing it. Horizontalism is not an ideology, however, it is a relationship — a way of relating to one another in a directly democratic way while at the same time creating through the process of discovery. What has resulted is the creation of an amazing complex of movements, all linked, that range from hundreds of occupied and producing factories using forms of direct democracy and collective decision making, to dozens of neighborhood asambleas (assemblies), to dozens of piquetero groups, many of whom are organized into a network of the Movement of Unemployed Workers (MTD), and hundreds of autonomous neighborhood kitchens and centers of popular education.
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. It can happen everywhere.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 companeros. 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 companeros 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 companero 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.info.interactivist.net/article.pl?sid=05/07/26/1417232E-mail this article