Horizontalism

Voices of popular power.

JUAN PLAZA

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We began learning together. It was a sort of waking up to a collective knowledge, rooted in a self-awareness of what was taking place in each of us. First we began asking questions of ourselves and each other, and from there we began to resolve things together. Every day we keep discovering and constructing while we walk. It’s like each day there’s a horizon that opens before us, and this horizon doesn’t have any recipe or program. We have discovered that strength is different when we are side by side, when there is no one telling you what you have to do, and when we’re the ones who decide who we are.

My personal perspective has to do with the idea of freedom, this idea of discovering that we have collective knowledge that brings us together, gives us strength, starts the process of discovery. This is beyond revolutionary theories, theories that we all know and have heard so often, theories that are all too often converted into tools of oppression and submission. Constructing freedom is a learning process that can only happen in practice. For me, horizontalism, autonomy, freedom, creativity, and happiness are all concepts that go together, and they’re all things that have to both be practiced, and learned in practice.

I think back to previous activist experiences, and remember a powerful feeling of submission. This includes even my own behavior, which was often excessively rigid. It was difficult for me to enjoy myself, and enjoyment is something sane that strengthens you. Under capitalism, we were giving up the possibility of enjoying ourselves and being happy. We need to constantly break with this idea. We have life, and the life we have should be lived today. We shouldn’t wait to take power, so that we can begin to enjoy ourselves in the future. We should take it now. We begin by believing in what’s possible and then we push aside all of those things that don’t allow us to create this possibility.

— Neka, a member of an unemployed workers’ movement

I see in the movement that there’s a reaction with a certain naivety. We are forgetting the state while we construct a territorial autonomous power. I think the idea to not take state power is right, but in some ways it’s an incomplete analysis. The state exists, it’s there, and it won’t leave even if you ignore it. It’ll come to look for you however much you wish that it didn’t exist. I believe that the assemblies and the movements are beginning to notice that something important is being forgotten. A year and a half ago we began to think of a strategy for constructing an alternative autonomous power, forgetting the state, but now we see it isn’t that simple. You have to seek a way to build autonomy while remaining cognizant of the state’s existence. There is no alternative. That’s a problem that directly affects us, and one that has to be kept in mind. I believe that no one has the remotest idea of how to do this, at least not that I know of.

It seems to me there is a very strong rejection to the idea that we are going to live on the margin of the state, on the margin of its theories and laws, and that we can live in this way, based only on our willingness and good heartedness. Change in cultural subjectivity and in the hearts of each one if us is fundamental, but for me it isn’t enough. We also have to invent new types of rules and institutions. This is another way of saying we need explicit political agreements with clear rules, which are distinctly ours, and that don’t depend only on goodwill. One of the ideas is to preserve the good we’re creating and, at the same time, to not be so vulnerable to the outside. I sometimes see an enormous vulnerability to many external pressures, and I realize that even the most insignificant and weak of them could destroy us. We must protect this, our construction.

— Ezequiel, a participant in a neighborhood assembly

Marina Sitrin is a lawyer, author and sociologist with a keen interest in personal revolutionary narratives. She is the editor of Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina, from which these accounts are taken.