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(en) Alt Media, Latin America Rising Horizontalidad: Where Everyone Leads by Marina Sitrin

Date Wed, 23 May 2007 15:21:05 +0300

Argentina's workers took over factories, citizens took over the streets -- no one seemed to miss having a boss. --- After the Argentine economy collapsed in 2001, the workers of the closed Zanon ceramic tile factory in the province of Neuquén, Patagonia, organized themselves and restarted the factory. What was once a business of 262 workers, today has more than 400. And no bosses. From the start, the factory has nurtured its relationship with the surrounding community. In 2005, FaSinPat voted to build a community health clinic. The community had been demanding such a clinic from the provincial government for two decades; FaSinPat built it in three months. --- The autonomous social movements in Argentina are part of a global phenomenon. From Latin America to South Africa to Eastern Europe and even in the United States and Canada, people are creating the future in the present. These new movements are built on direct democracy and consensus, and they make space for all to be leaders.

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*, or those who have
recently lost that status, 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.

Horizontalidad is the word that has come to embody these new social
arrangements and principles of organization in Argentina. Horizontalidad
implies democratic communication on a level plane and involves -- or at
least strives towards -- non-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian
creation rather than reaction. It is a break with vertical ways of
organizing and relating.

The social movements in Argentina describe themselves as autonomous to
distinguish themselves from the state and other hierarchical
institutions. Autonomy also describes a politics of self-organization
called autogestion, and direct, democratic participation.

Simply put, they reject the very idea of anyone having power over
someone else. Instead, they work toward the goal of creating “power
with” one another. They organize themselves in every aspect of their
lives, both independently and in solidarity with others. It is a process
of continuous creation, constant growth and the development of new
relations, with ideas flowing from these changing practices.

Unemployed Workers Movement

Argentina has a long, rich history of rebellion, resistance, and
self-organization. The recent movements developed in two cumulative
waves that spread the new organizational concepts broadly in Argentina.
The first, a movement of unemployed workers that emerged in the 1990s,
adopted consensus decision-making early, but had little support from the
Argentine middle class. The collapse of the Argentine economy in 2001
sparked a second wave of popular rebellion, during which the Argentine
middle class, rapidly losing its status, linked up with unemployed and
underemployed workers. Horizontalidad thus took hold across class lines.

The emerging rejection of old political ways gained public notice in the
1990s, when unemployed workers’ movements and other popular movements
began organizing against local governments and corporations. Generally
led by unemployed women workers, they took to the streets by the
thousands, blocking major transportation arteries to demand unemployment
subsidies from the government. In a decisive break with the past, this
organizing was not led or brokered by elected leaders, or by any leaders
at all. 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. Both the people and the
movement are referred to informally as piqueteros, a name taken from
“piquete,” the tactic of blockading roads. 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.

Rebellions and Assemblies

The definitive moment for the second wave of change 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.

These protesters were not demanding something new, but were creating it.
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, one that
“disappeared” 30,000 people, often torturing them in the most horrific ways.

The popular rebellion of 2001 was comprised of workers and unemployed,
the middle class, and those who had recently lost their middle-class
status. It was a rebellion without leadership, either by established
parties or by a newly emerged elite, a fact which formed part of the
foundation of horizontalidad and other new organizing forms. It
precipitated the birth of hundreds of neighborhood assemblies involving
many tens of thousands of active participants.

People in neighborhood assemblies first met to try to discover new ways
to support one another and meet 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 9 p.m.” and an assembly was begun.

New Groups Replace Assemblies

The years after the rebellion have witnessed a significant decrease in
neighborhood assemblies. Many early members predicted an eventual
decline in participation 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.

The remaining assemblies work on a variety of projects, helping
facilitate barter networks, creating popular kitchens, planting organic
gardens, and sometimes taking over buildings -- including the highly
symbolic takeover of abandoned banks, which they turn into community
centers. These occupied spaces house many things, including kitchens,
small print shops, and day care areas. They may offer after-school help
for kids or free internet access and computer usage -- one even has a
small movie theater.

A number of new groups have emerged, including political prisoner
support groups, anti-repression organizations, 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. Like earlier groups, these new formations absolutely reject
political parties and hierarchical organization. The experience of the
neighborhood assemblies continues as a living part of an overall continuity.

Relationships Among Movements

Just as the popular rebellion sparked the growth of neighborhood
assemblies, it also inspired the unemployed workers movements. A network
grew among those in various autonomous movements, a network that crossed
class lines and class identification.

Before the 2001 rebellion, the middle class considered the piqueteros’
use of road blockades an annoyance, at best. There was a general
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, 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,
were now organizing side by side with them.

Recuperated Workplaces

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 by workers, without bosses or hierarchy. 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 from printing presses and metal shops to medical
clinics, from cookie, shoe, and balloon factories to a four-star hotel
and a daily newspaper. 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.”
Autogestion is how most in the recuperated movements describe what they
are creating and how.

This movement continues to grow and gather support throughout Argentina,
despite threats of eviction. So far, each threat has been met with
mobilization by neighbors and various collectives and assemblies to
thwart the government’s efforts. In the example of Chilavert, a printing
press, the retirement home across the street came out and not only
defended the factory from the police, but insisted on being the front
line of defense. The recuperations are hugely popular, and many outside
the movements explain them quite simply, saying that there is a lack of
work and these people want to work.

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, a medical clinic will service
members of a printing factory in exchange for the free printing of their
material. This has happened on a global level, as well.

New Movements Internationally

While movements of such rapid growth, diversity, and popularity are not
unprecedented, the most significant innovation in Argentina may be that
disparate groups are creating global networks of exchange and
communication. Argentine movements have made significant connections to
the MST (Landless Workers’ Movement) in Brazil, with each sharing
experiences and strategies for land take-overs, forms of traditional
medicine, and tools for democratic practice.

The Zapatistas have also consistently engaged in exchanges. Since the
2001 rebellion, a number of people from unemployed workers movements
have been invited by the Zapatistas to spend time in the autonomous
communities in Chiapas, exchanging ideas and experiences. Despite
limited resources, dialogue between various movements has been long and

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, including Mujeres Creando from
Bolivia, and autonomous groups from Brazil. Participants also included
various collectives and community-based organizations from 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.

Horizontalidad and direct democracy are important models for building a
new society, one basis for which is the creation of loving and trusting
spaces. From this 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. Women, in particular, have created new roles
for themselves. 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.

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. The new movements in Argentina are examples of these

Marina Sitrin is a writer, teacher, student, dreamer, and self-described
militant, who has participated in numerous anti-capitalist and visionary
movements and groups. She is working on a new book, Insurgent
Democracies: Latin America’s New Powers (Citylights Press, 2007).

This article is based on the Introduction to Horizontalism: Voices of
Popular Power in Argentina (AK Press, 2006), a collection of
first-person narratives of the people who lived through, and created,
the events recounted here. Horizontalism was published first in Spanish
by Chilavert, a recuperated print house in Argentina.
* [Editor note: Even some good people fell in the capitalist ideology trap of the capitalist sociologists. They accept the "class analysis" of the enemy who split the various strata of working class into pseudo classes. This way, the pro capitalist proponents of "middle class" who join together the higher strata of the working class with the lower strata of the capitalist class try to promote in it the false identity of "middle class" and strengthen its support for the capitalist system. I. S.]
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