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(en) The New Formulation Vol.2, #2 - New Argentine Social Movements: Logic and History - Review by Fernando López

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 9 Sep 2004 09:25:58 +0200 (CEST)

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In the last decade Argentines have been witnesses to and victims of the
collapse of the system bequeathed by the dictatorship of 1976-1983.
This system was prolonged by Alfonsín’s post-dictatorship
“hostage democracy,” culminated in the robbery during
Menem’s rule of 1989-1999, and was continued by De la Rúa. It
established immunity for a small group that concentrated the
country’s scarce resources in a few hands while condemning a third
of the population to social exclusion. Faced with this brutality, our
society generated varied and novel forms of resistance, as revealed in
the social explosions that occurred in December 2001. They are called
new social movements because, among other things, the labor
organizations did not participate decisively and the social bases of these
movements were impossible to frame professionally. Likewise, political
organizations did not produceand could not controlthe new

The protagonists of these revolts had been displaced from their sources
of subsistence by the privatization of state-run businesses or budget
cuts in the national and provincial states. They include landless
peasants, those with precarious employment, ex-proletarians, and those
excluded from salaried work in the urban and suburban centers, all
whom achieved visibility in the media by successfully interrupting the
circulation of merchandise on the national highways, thus earning a
denomination that distorted their origins and the conditions of their
existence. They are called piqueteros because the “picket”
[blockade] is their most visible activity.

The first critical texts to report on the new situation were slow to appear
and were not limited to the period immediately after December 2001.
Those reviewed here contribute to the recent debate about the strategies
and modalities assumed by the new actors in the social conflict. Raúl
Zibechi’s Genealogía de la revuelta: Argentina, la sociedad en
movimiento (Genealogy of the Revolt: Argentina, Society in
Movement) covers the last ten years of our history, documenting and
analyzing the varied forms of these new social movements. He begins
by reviewing the human rights movement and two of its paradigmatic
organizations, the Madres de Plaza de Mayo and the HIJOS,(1) and
then examines the 1990s, when hundreds of new groups exploded, and
concludes by focusing on the most significant and novel of these
groups, specifically the unemployed groups summed up under the term
piqueteros. On the other hand, Hipótesis 891. Más allá de los
piquetes (Hypothesis 891: Beyond the Pickets) is a collaborative text
written by Colectivo Situaciones and the MTD de Solano (Unemployed
Workers’ Movement of Solano) that tries to enter the theoretical
core of these new social movements. Colectivo Situationes is a radical
collective located in Buenos Aires, with roots in the student movement
of the 1990s, and the MTD de Solano is an organization now grouping
more than 800 families from various neighborhoods that has been
struggling for the dispossessed since August 1997. Its participation in
highway blockades and the piquetero movement is its most well known

Hipótesis 891
>From the beginning it is clear that Hipótesis 891 is an attempt to
articulate a subject-object relationship: that is, a self-analysis of and by
one of the emblematic organizations of the new generation of social
movements. Arranged in three parts, the first section describes the
methods employed by Colectivo Situaciones in the elaboration of the
work and the result of the discussion workshops they co-organized with
the MTD de Solano in September and October 2001. The second part,
titled “Multiplicity and Counter-power in the Piquetero
Experience,” which is signed exclusively by Colectivo Situaciones,
articulates their political-theoretical interpretations of this experience.
The third part alternates between the MTD de Solano’s evaluations
of the discussion workshops and the evaluations of Colectivo
Situaciones, which are conclusions of the dialogue. The dialogue
explores the last two years and the way in which the MTD perceived its
situation in the crisis that would affect the country between December
2001 until October 2002. In the conclusion, they review the visit made
by John Holloway (author of Change the World without Taking Power)
to the MTD de Solano’s community storehouse. The value of this
book lies not only in the discussions derived from the workshops held
by Colectivo Situaciones and the MTD de Solano, but also in the
project’s theoretical richness.

Colectivo Situaciones begin the text by clearly establishing the type of
the investigation that they are undertaking. They not only advance a
method, but also take a stand against other methods of research. They
counter-pose the academic theoristwho “objectifies” from
outside and constitutes his or her object by attributing values to itto
the activist theorist (militante investigador), who carries out research
that puts his or her experience in relief and searches for insights that
will intensify and strengthen his or her radical practice.

Likewise, they are critical of the methods of party militants and NGO,
“humanitarian” activists. The first are loathed for their
utilitarianism, strategic specialists, and the absence of dialogue, affinity,
or authenticity and their replacement of these things by
“tactics,” agreements, and representation. They write: “if
we sustain the distinctionas we try throughout this
bookbetween “politics” (understood as the struggle for
power) and the experiences in which processes of the production of
sociability or of [new] values enter in play, we thus can distinguish the
political militant (who founds his or her discourse in some collection of
certainties) from the activist theorist (who organizes his or her
perspective around critical questions with respect to these
certainties).”(2) The second group, the NGO humanitarians, are
criticized for holding an idealized or unchangeable vision of the world
and for overemphasizing (more or less exceptional) efforts in
marginalized areas.

In contrast, they argue that activist theory is unique in the following
four ways:

1. The character of the motivation that sustains the investigation is
2. The investigation has a practical character (i.e., its goal is to elaborate
a situated, practical hypothesis).
3. The value of the investigated is only measured in specific situations.
4. Its development is already a result and this result creates an
immediate intensification of practice.

Thus they are not advancing a political line, but rather a critique of
“lines” and one that investigates and criticizes its own

An example of this situated, critical perspective can be found in the
MTD de Solano. This group is famous for its horizontal structure and
creation of a counter-power that is not organized around the goal of
seizing the state, but rather the transformation of society and the
construction of new, radicalized webs of sociability. It does not fight for
some postulated, ideal society that is outside of its experience but to
transform its own immediate situation. Its labor consists of
“strengthening different economic, political, cultural-artistic
projects among the residents of the neighborhood and the families
linked to the movement, in order to resolve problems such as
unemployment, hunger, and education, but at the same time manages
to produce social cohesion and multiplies the dimensions of existence
(values and senses).”(3) In a framework of fragmentation, misery,
and impotence, the creation of horizontal forms of work and
decision-making, structured around the principles of autonomy,
pluralism, and respect for diversity, re-signify the highway blockade and
the links with the state, converting the later into non-central

Colectivo Situaciones’s perspective has roots in identity, specifically
that of the “excluded.” The “excluded” is one who is
not only poor but also outside, in a territory from which there is no
return. In fact, the category of “exclusion” has little to do with
gradations of poverty: “exclusion is the specific form in which our
society includesrepresentsan increasing part of the society,
that is ‘produced’ as excluded and constructed as such.”(4)
This use of the idea of exclusion is successful because it names that
which society produces as if it were something alien to itself and
clarifies the fact that the included and the excluded are part of the same
social order.

The power of the new social movements lay in their capacity to
organize exclusion. Although the first data of identity is a “lack”
(the unemployed, as someone who lacks work), the achievement is the
creation of an identity that transcends the lack to affirm itself in a new
practice. And if at first it was a protest activitythe picket
[blockade], and from there the piqueterosthe economic and social
initiatives produced by the movements generate new identities related to
non-exploited, autonomous work. Thus the movements “do not
announce their desire to ‘return to work,’ so-licit-ing the reentry
of a segment from the ruined social structure, that only could accept
them in conditions that they have learned to despise. Neither included,
nor excluded, but beyond these representations.”(5)

For Colectivo Situaciones, “The politicalthe statist, the party
structurebelongs to our societies more like a machine that registers
(misappropriating) the echoes of transformations underway than a
productive site of these transformations.”(6) Although the end of
the centrality of the political was seen as the end of history by
neo-liberals and post-modernistsand the defeat of the whole
project of social transformationthe end of the centrality of politics
is not the end of politics. This work argues that it must be brought
closer to the multiplicity of existence to assist in the “constitution of
nuclei capable of producing a perspective internal to the experiences of
the new sociability, strengthening it and making bonds, insights, and
practical hypotheses.”(7)

Genealogy of the Argentine Revolt
The book by Raúl Zibechi has a very different approach. Its great merit
is that it puts the rapidly changing and overwhelming new social
movements in perspective. His work unravels hundreds of social
experiencesthat are very unique and yet share common
featuresand allows us to enter the history of each experience and
the movement as a whole, a dynamic whole whose forms are being
permanently redefined.

In his search for the origins of the new social movements, he goes as
far back as the rise of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo during the first
years of the 1976-1983 dictatorship and, later, to the formation of the
HIJOS in the first years of democracy. He then covers the youth
movements (built around fanzines and street musicians, etc), the free
radio movement around 1989, the creation of the Central de los
Trabajadores Argentinos in 1992, the six Encuentros de Organizaciones
Sociales (Gatherings of Social Organizations) between 1997 and 1999
that became the Coordinadora de Organizaciones Populares
Autónomas (Coordinator of Autonomous Popular Organizations)
around 2000, to conclude with a minuscule history of the movements of
the unemployed, who originated in shanty towns during the dictatorship
and reappeared at the end of the 1990s with the radicalized orientation
that is so recognizable today.

What defines these movements as new? For Zibechi this classification
arises when the “instrumental” and rigid character of the older
social movements(8) is compared with the autonomy and horizontalism
of the contemporary movements, which are created from a base of
interpersonal relations and that question the logic of
“representation.” A theoretical affinity with Colectivo
Situaciones is evident when he notes that these movements do not have
their origin in a universalist discourse but, on the contrary, are
generated by particular situations and produce political consequences
without this being their express mission. The spectrum of the
participants in the new social movements was represented in the second
Encuentro de Organizaciones Sociales in March 1998, which was
attended by participants in student and neighborhood groups,
independent newspapers and magazines, low frequency radios, street
performance groups, cultural centers, cooperatives, human rights
organizations, NGOs, organizations working of issues of childhood and
health, feminist and sexual minority groups, unemployed groups, and
(minimally) unions. To this it would be necessary to add the squatters
on state-owned and private lands and the new workers’ collectives
in the occupied, self-managed factories.

Although the essay focuses on organizations of the type mentioned,
significant space is devoted to analysis of the Central de los
Trabajadores Argentinos (CTA),(9) the dissident labor federation that
arose in 1992 and became, for Zibechi, “the movement advanced
experience that the labor movement in Latin America has produced
since the defeat of the 1970s.”(10) He highlights the value of its
territorial work,(11) “something totally exceptional in the labor
movement in any part of the world,” the creation of a youth
movement, and role occupied by the women and their emphasis on
gender in the organization’s development. He highlights its
combativity and internal democracy but notes that this vast and loose
organization did not manage to attract the new social movements,
which preferred to remain autonomous and shape their own networks.
Zibechi explains this as a cultural difference, given the union’s rigid
form and the centrality of votes and elections as means of
decision-making. He displays a long list of reasons for this
disconnection, but finally concludes that “The union of the masses
can be as combative as it wants, but it does not belong to the category
of movements that have emancipation as their ambition. It is inserted in
the logic of progress and postulates the development and evolution of its
members in this direction.”(12)

This strikes me as a prejudiced conclusion and one reminiscent of
Lenin’s “DIAMAT,”(13) which only concedes
trade-unionist ends to the labor movement and argues that The Party
must bring consciousness to the workers. Here there is thenot very
hiddenpresence of the strong “reform versus revolution”
antinomy that polarized the debate on the Left twenty years ago. And
this is curious, because Zibechi’s attempt to rescue
“exemplary” groups, such as the piqueteros, is premised not
only on their horizontal and autonomous practices but also on their
concept of revolution, which is distinct from the “storm the
palace” type of the old Marxist-Leninists. They, on the contrary, are
involved in making daily and invisible changes, made along cultural
lines and in small economic transformations, which would have been
seen as reformist by the revolutionaries of the 1970s.(14) And what
does it mean to transform society without taking power? This implies
the generation of other powers, multiple powers, and creation of a
movement replete with small reforms that transform the relations of
domination while generating new areas of emancipation.(15) Why
can’t one argue that the CTA is also making such transformations?
Doesn’t it do so when it produces a territorial organization such as
its Federación de Tierra y Vivienda, which is conceptually very close
to the Landless Workers’ Movement of Brazil and paves the way for
land seizures by the unemployed, or the self-management and
self-organization of seized factories (to which Zibechi proclaims his
solidarity)? Certainly this is not a flagrant contradiction, at least as
posed like this, especially, when Zibechi himself recognizes that the
CTA raises similar claims, at times in the same terms, as the Encuentro
de Organizaciones Sociales and that CTA Leader “Claudio
Lozano(16) cites the phrase of Subcomandante Marcos “We will
what type of militant or what type of man is generated by a movement
that does not have seizing the state as its objective,”(17) and that
the Secretary General of the CTA, Víctor De Gennaro, says that
“‘the fight is outside of us, but also in our heart’”[…]
and explicitly rejects the culture of delegation to signal that ‘we do
not delegate the solution of our problems. It is necessary to construct
our own power,’ even further, other leaders speak of
horizontalism.’”(18) They are in fact participating in a project of
social transformation, one that is doubtlessly different from that being
perused by the new social movements. But there is more than one
project of social transformation: the questionas alwaysis to
search for the ways that they can coexist without suffocating one

The book continues with an analysis of the Coordinadora de
Trabajadores Desocupados Aníbal Verón (Coordinator of the
Unemployed Workers of Aníbal Verón) and the MTD de Solano and
provisionally closes with commentary on the crisis that fired the events
of December 2001.

Zibichi inevitably advances similar claims to those made by Colectivo
Situaciones and at times cites and reinterprets them in simpler, more
comprehensible language than one typically finds in their work.
However, Zibichi believes that the movements cannot be understand
solely in relation to local conditions but must be placed in the context of
the evolution of these movements at the Latin American level. Indeed,
this is the principal difference between both books, between the “in
situation” perspective of Colectivo Situaciones and Zibechi’s
generalizing framework.

From the prologue on, Zibechi develops a definition of the struggle that
contains two currents: one carries out the natural struggle for life,
“for existence,” and the other is militarist in essence. He writes
that the “daily struggle to assure sustenance and the reproduction of
life consumes the greater part of the popular sector’s energies. It is
a creative struggle, for life. The other sense [of the struggle], the most
frequent among activists and militants, refers to the struggle as a war or
a confrontation, directed towards the annihilation of a real or imagined
enemy. The difference [between the two] is substantial: while the
struggle as the creation of life requires efforts of solidarity and
reciprocity among human beings, the struggle as the logic of
confrontation assumes the creation of a mechanism specializing in
destruction.”(19) Zibechi believes that the militarist orientation is
corrosive for social movements, given that it reconstructs all the forms
of exploitation and domination against which the emancipatory
movement fights. He is inspired by the indigenous movement, by the
experiences of the Zapatista Army (which Zibechi denies is an army in
the traditional sense), and the Movimiento Armado Quintín Lame in
southern Colombia. He affirms that “that which really changes the
world is learning to live in another way, in a communitarian way….
Fraternity is the key to social change, not war, not even the class war.
Fraternity, the little sister of threefold motif of the French Revolution,
clears the way for equality and liberty.”(20)

The following quote summarizes in some sense the conclusions of this
work: “The state cannot be a tool for the emancipation since one
cannot structure a society of non-power relations by means of the
conquest of power. Once the logic of power is adopted, the struggle
against power is already lost.”(21) Likewise, “…the past
century puts in relief the impossibility of advancing from power to a
new society. The state cannot be used to transform the world. The role
that we attribute to it should be revised.”(22) >From an anarchist
perspective, there is the temptation to point out that this was said by the
founders of the anarchist tradition, in the same terms, more than one
hundred years ago and that since then this knowledge has formed an
essential part of libertarian practice. In any case, it is highly auspicious
that a great part of the Left is making this critique of Leninism, and to
see them advocating the construction of horizontal, autonomous, and
complex organizations in which power is socialized, like any other
human necessity.

There is a lot superficial journalism about the movements analyzed in
the texts reviewed here as well as a proliferation of photographs and
statements without any originality. For this reason, the appearance of
these books is especially gratifying, the one more attentive to the
general movement of society and framed in the crisis of Latin America
as a whole and the other more focused on the analysis of the
“concrete situation” and the inner experience of these new
social movements. Both of these works are indispensable for
understanding the crossroads at which Argentina presently finds itself.

Translated from Spanish by Chuck Morse.
* An Anti-Authoritarian Review of Books of the institute of
Anarchist Studies.

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