On the night of the 19th (2001) while the news was on television and the middle class was at home watching, seeing people from the most humble sectors crying, women crying in front of supermarkets, begging for or taking food, and the State of Siege was declared, then and there began the sound of the cacerola (the banging of pots and pans.) In one window, and then another window, in one house and then another house, and soon, there was the noise of the cacerola … The first person began to bang a pot and saw her neighbor across the street banging a pot, and the one downstairs too, and soon there were four, five, fifteen, twenty, and people moved to their doorways and saw other people banging pots in their doorways and saw on television that this was happening in another neighborhood, and another neighborhood … and hundreds of people gathered banging pots until at a certain moment the people banging pots began to walk.
(Sitrin 2006: 22)
Argentina: a crack in history – 19 and 20 December 2001
Hundreds of thousands joined the cacerolazo on 19 and 20 December 2001 in Argentina, and continued in the streets for the days and weeks that followed. Within two weeks five governments had resigned: the Minister of the Economy being the first to flee on 19 December, with the president rapidly following on the 20th.1 The institutions of power did not know what to do. On the evening of 19 December a state of siege was declared, reverting back to well-established patterns of state power and violence. The people were breaking with the past, with what had always been done: they no longer stayed at home in fear, they came onto the streets with even more bodies and sounds – and then the sound of the cacerolazo found a voice, a song. It was a shout of rejection and a song of affirmation. Que Se Vayan Todos! (‘They All Must Go!’) was sung, and sung together with one’s neighbor. It was not just a shout against what was, but it was a song of affirmation sung together by the thousands and hundreds of thousands. ‘Ohhh Que Se Vayan Todos, que no quede ni uno solo’ (‘They all must go, and not even one should remain’). People sang, banged pots, and greeted one another, kissing the cheeks of neighbors whose names had been discovered only recently. People were seeing one another for the first time. It was a rupture with the past. It was a rupture with obedience. It was a rupture with not being together. It was the beginning of finding one another, oneself, and of meeting again.
The 19th and 20th was a crack in history upon which vast political landscapes unfolded. Revolutions were created – revolutions of everyday life. Throughout history, in numerous places and various eras, there are moments like 19 and 20 December 2001 in Argentina, when the ways in which we see things drastically change: something occurs that allows our imagination to open up to alternative ways of seeing and being, opening cracks in history (Zapatistas). These openings can come from any number of places, from natural disasters to rebellions, strikes, and uprisings.
This book addresses what happens in the wake of this rupture, and how the often-inspiring moments that emerge in that space can become lasting, transforming rupture into revolution. When formal institutions of power are laid bare, as often takes place in the moments of a crisis, people frequently come together, look to one another, and create new supportive relationships (Solnit2005, 2009). These can be some of the most beautiful moments, and moments of the greatest solidarity, that we ever experience. However, what happens repeatedly is that after a period of time, these new relationships are co-opted by institutional power and our previous ways of relating return. How can we prevent this? Under what circumstances is this less likely to occur? How can we bring about moments where history breaks open, where our imaginations are freed and we are able to envision and create new landscapes towards new horizons?
Around the world communities and movements are successfully creating everyday revolutions in social relationships. The autonomous social movements in Argentina are one of these many movements. This book examines what has been taking place in Argentina over the past ten years so as to help us glimpse what alternatives are possible. In particular it looks at the question of rupture as an opening for new social relationships, and asks how we can not only open up a space for new ways of being in a crisis, but continue to develop these relationships. This book shows what has worked in the Argentine experience, what has continued to transform people and communities, and what some of the obstacles have been to an even deeper, longer lasting, and more transformative revolution. The overarching question of what success means is at the heart of what is addressed within these pages.
This book will examine concrete experiences, and I will argue that what allows rupture to continue as revolution of the everyday is a combination of the following:
• horizontalidad – a form of direct decision making that rejects hierarchy and works as an ongoing process;
• autogestión – a form of self-management with an implied form of horizontalidad;
• concrete projects related to sustenance and survival;
• territory – the use and occupation of physical and metaphorical space;
• changing social relationships – including changing identity with regard to the personal and collective;
• politica afectiva – a politics and social relationship based on love and trust;
• self-reflection – individual and collective, as to the radical changes taking place and how they break from past ways of organizing; and
• autonomy, challenging ‘power over’ and creating ‘power with’ – sometimes using the state, but at the same time, against and beyond the state.
Taken together, these new social relationships, grounded in concrete experiences and social creation, form a new way of being, a new way of relating and surviving, and do so in a way that is successful – as defined by those in the movement, measuring this success by dignity and the creation of new subjectivities. Many autonomous movements and communities around the globe are prefiguring the world that they wish to create, that is, creating the world that they desire in their day-to-day relationships. Many use the language of prefigurative politics to describe this relationship. Prefigurative politics, as it sounds, is behaving day-to-day as much as possible in the way that you envision new social and economic relationships: the way you would want to be.
Worldwide these are not small ‘experiments’, but are communities that include hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people – people and communities who are opening up cracks in history and creating something new and beautiful in the opening. These new social relationships have existed, sometimes for many years: enough time to have children born of the new experience who speak as new people. The specific example I use is Argentina, in part because of the diversity of backgrounds of the movement and its participants, from class and social diversity, to political and experiential.
From cracks to creation: the emergence of horizontal Formations
In the days of the popular rebellion people who had been out in the streets cacerolando (banging pots) describe finding themselves, finding each other, looking around at one another, introducing themselves, wondering what was next and beginning to ask questions together. They also spoke of this new place where they were meeting, one without the forms of institutional powers that previously existed. Five governments had resigned and the legitimacy of the state was a question.
The Que Se Vayan Todos occurred, many of those in power left, and now the question was what to do in this opening. There is no documentation or exact memory recorded by those participating in the neighborhood assemblies as to how they began; but what is remembered is looking to one another, finally seeing each another, gathering in the open, and forming neighborhood assemblies. The feeling of no te metas (‘don’t get involved’) was melting away, and a new meeting was emerging (this will be addressed in detail in Chapter 2).
The social movements that arose in Argentina are socially, economically, and geographically diverse. They comprise working-class people taking over factories and running them collectively; middle-class urban dwellers, many recently declassed, working to meet their needs while in solidarity with those around them; the unemployed, like so many unemployed around the globe, facing the prospect of never encountering regular work, finding ways to survive and become self-sufficient, using mutual aid and love; and autonomous indigenous communities struggling to liberate stolen land. All of these active movements have been relating to one another, and constructing new types of networks that reject the hierarchical template bequeathed to them by established politics. Part of this rejection includes a break with the concept of ‘power over’: people are attempting to organize on a flatter plane, with the goal of creating ‘power with’ one another (Colectivo Situaciones 2001; Holloway 2002). 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, horizontalidad, and direct action. Together, what is created is a revolution of the everyday. Even with the changes, challenges, and decrease in numbers in many movements, this revolution continues, quietly perhaps, slowly perhaps, but it is walking. The movements in Argentina, and the new relationships and articulations of the process of creation there, have become a point of reference for many others around the world: from a network of Greek assemblies collectively translating the oral history of the Argentine movements and organizing dozens of conversations about the experience in 2011, to the US Occupy movements using horizontal language, whether it be horizontalism or another derivation, to describe what they are creating; and in the movements that emerged in Egypt, Greece, Spain, and other parts of Europe and from 2010 onwards, speaking of the forms of democracy that they are constructing as horizontal.
Marina Sitrin holds a PhD in Global Sociology and a JD in International Women’s Human Rights. Her work focuses on social movements and justice, specifically looking at new forms of social organization, such as autogestión, horizontalidad, prefigurative politics, and new affective social relationships. Her first book, Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina, is an oral history based on the then emergent autonomous movements in Argentina, published in Spanish (Chilavert 2005) and English (AK Press 2006). While much of her recent published work has been on contemporary social movements in Argentina, she has worked throughout the Americas, the Caribbean, and Japan. Her current research includes the global mass assembly movements, specifically in Greece, Spain, and Egypt.
Her new book Everyday Revolutions: Autonomy and Horizontalism in Argentina is published by Zed Books.