Thursday, June 15, 2017

BCN Muni 2: Theory, Practice, Theory

(My reports on the “Fearless Cities” conference on municipalism in Barcelona are coming out rough. So I won't make any more promises about what's coming next!)
The ferociously over-determined space of the plenary sessions, the Aula Magna of University of Barcelona (19th c. medieval revival)

In a Saturday panel, “Municipalism for Dummies,” a speaker referenced the book “La Apuesta Municipal” – (the municipal bet or wager; democracy begins from the local – in Spanish, free download).
Ana Méndez was introduced as strategy advisor to Ahora Madrid, and I'm pretty sure I've seen her representing Observatorio Metropolitano. That's an independent research group on the city of Madrid that has been working for years to compile information on every part of the city. This kind of research, with links to academia but first of all militant, is key in building the base structure of a municipal movement.
(This is in contrast to academia which encloses information as part of its work of selling it and building professorial reputations, aka academic assets; this is a bind which individual figures, most notably Nicholas Mirzoeff, have fitfully sought to escape.)
To make an institution closer to the people, she said, we became researchers of the territory. Thinking of what is available, we imagine new kinds of economic models that are more in relation to the territories. Those include not only money but access to physical resources. (This has to do with the “social unionism” described by Beatriz Garcia of Instituto DM, also an Ob Met researcher.)
Another line of action of Ahora Madrid is the opening up of the institutions, changing structures that have been impenetrable to citizens. (I thought immediately of NYC Mayor Bloomberg's early innovation of a 211 telephone line for any kind of query or complaint. It cut through the maze of city agencies in a way that an internet business billionaire could conceive and implement.)
Her talk was fascinating – an exposition of “theory on your feet” borne of the hard experience of wielding municipal power. We try to understand local government functionaries – the city's bureaucrats – as inhabiting enabling structures, she said. When you get into government it is very complicated. We struggle with deep structural situations. Government in Spain is mainly on an administrative scale, requiring a very specifiic kind of managing which is in the detail of the law. The devil is in the details, and these are not systems that were designed by us. We wrestle with the codes that order the social activity that produces the state, and what we understand as municipalism.
Classical politics is built on inside/outside relations. It is built on demands which are answered or denied. Our question is how to do otherwise, how to build platforms that can make structural proposals. The in/out relation is less clear – now we are out/out, in/in, etc. We have not developed the tools to deal with the social movements from this complexity. With municipalism we are proposing local institutions that are less attached to the state organization, or state-like organization.
How can we imagine local governments that are not local branches of the state, but are the places where this state structure meets reality with all its complexities? It's like, how can we desflecar – like threads on cloth. How can we open the threads on this very heavy structure of the state?
All the power is in the mayor who delegates by decree (like a chocolate fountain). But the city is not a tree – the city government shouldn't be a tree, society is not made like that. It's a very hierarchical structure.We are faced with structures that don't understand the overlapping of things.
She said this is a question of what researchers on organization call “information ontology” – the system, the names which institutions use to name the world is rooted, and clings in a way that is very deep. We face a 25-year-old machine designed by the rightwing Popular Party. “It has tendencies.” We little by little open up spaces, making redistribuution, making other things happen – this has to do with this feminization of politics.
The question of citizen participation is a great shift in the mentality around governance.
Kate Shea Baird, coordinator for Barcelona en comu's international committee and a key conference organizer, moderated this session. At one point, during a discussion of problems, she remarked that when we think of the opportunities and limits of municipalism, we need always to think of the alternative. Another on the panel agreed, citing a saying in Catalan, “If we don't do politics, politics will be made against us.”
Beppe Caccia of Venezia in Comune buttered us up. “I think there are very few dummies here. Most are already working.” As a political culture municipalism does not need to be “a new ideological item, or discourse.” We need to connect a plurality of political cultures with our daily practice. We cannot even discuss models. We have to discuss single examples like the exempla of Spinoza's ethics.
Municipalist political culture has always been a minoritarian one, even in left political cultures. He said. The workers movement, for example, has always been a state-centered political culture. There is an idolatry of the state on the left. The state is the driving force of capitalist development. The state is also the possible regulator of wealth distribution and possible provider of social protection.
Even so, new municipalist culture emerges again and again in transition times. Now, following Gramsci, we are in the time of interregnum. The old economic and social models are dying. New social forces, new economic models of common life are striving to affirm themselves. These are dangerous times, times of monsters. The resistance of the old creates reactionaries – nationalism, protectionism, authoritarian responses. This is a crucial time. New social forces are emerging and looking for tools, for theoretical weapons to achieve radical structural social transformation.
The main impact of austerity policies has been on cities, rending the urban social fabric over the past 10 years. The logic of political reputation has been challenged in the past decade mostly from below, by developing new forms of social organization. (Not sure this has been true in USA, though!) In the late 1990s, the focus was on participatory democracy and participatory budgeting. Now participation is empty of significnce. It has become about building consensus, not building democracy from below.
Why we are winning elections is, after the new cycle of social movements, there is a desire, a demand to have a different way of governing our towns, villages, and cities. We take a three-fold approach to establishing municipalist practice. First, there must be a strong social dynamic from below. Second we must be able to build confluences, and construct new political platforms. These are not the same as social movements; they assume the demands of social dynamics and formulate a political project. Finally we work to transform the city institutions.
Soon we broke into small groups. I was supposed to send in my report, but I never did it. That's okay. Prensa will never get back to me on my query about the substitute speaker's name, so... it evens out. More soon!


Pablo Carmona and Observatorio Metropolitano, “La Apuesta Municipal” from Traficante de Suenos in Spanish, free download).
Observatorio Metropolitano independent research group on the city of Madrid
An Italian perspective on militant research (Ephemera journal on the theory and politics of organization has a special issue on the subject)

Instituto DM – Instituto para la Democracia y el Municipalismo

Last lunch at the "Fearless Cities" conference -- paella

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Meeting for Fearless Cities in Barcelona 1

Back from the inspiring summit on municipalism in Barcelona, produced by the city government there. That is the new political movement which corporate media misread as left populism – or simply ignore. There is so much to process – notes by hand and on computer, the posts by many participants in English and Spanish, the streams appearing and disappearing, and the sprawling website itself, that... Well, here is a start.
Most of the time there I spent with a U.S. delegation – (there was more than one, but the one I was invited to seemed to vanish) – comprised of hardcore political activists. Working Families Party operatives, Democratic Socialists and Black Lives Matter people predominated. Their discussions were intense and focussed on building electoral campaigns. It was exciting to watch them grappling with the tenets of the municipalist program and ideology. It seems simple: It's direct democracy, high ethics, transparency, and at the center feminism, ecology and the care economy.
There are many rough stumbling blocks along the path to realizing or using these new ideas in practical political organizing. (They're really not so new; ancient, actually, but refashioned.) I know these folks will get it together, though. And I am convinced, through spending time with these energetic, committed and intelligent political activists that we're going to see some dramatic electoral results on the local level around the USA. I'm sure I was in the room with many future elected leaders – but people who also know that the ration of glory high office holds is not what their work is all about.
This was a wildly diverse conference, with people from so many countries, and so many sessions I could not hold names and positions together. I just tried to keep up with the conversations. Now I'm giving only a mostly anonymized taste of some of that talk. Please comment if you wish to add some detail.
Arriving for the conference, I was fortunate to have a solidarity apartment from an Italian professor and writer on Spanish politics. Steven Forti presented on Italian municipalist platforms in the conference, while running around doing things for his radio station as well. Almost immediately I ran into some SqEK academic/activist comrades – Miguel Martinez, Claudio Cattaneo who lives in Can Masdeu, Julia Ramírez Blanco, Andrej Holm and Galvao Santos.
The first event of Fearless Cities was a welcome in the public square in front of the art museum MACBA. (I longed to see the show inside of “Forensic Architecture” and punk in contemporary art, but – no time for my love.) We heard Ada Colau, the mayor of the city and head of Barcelona en comu, the political platform that has taken power in the city government. She welcomed us “back to the squares” in springtime, a reference to the 15M movement of 2011 where in a sense it all began. That pivotal Spanish political event was one among many “movements of the squares,” including the US Occupy. Numerous recently-elected dignataries spoke, including Madrid's own mayor Manuela Carmena. The event was live-streamed, and is still online (in Spanish only, however; highlights also, all over-dubbed in Spanish).

Photo: Manuela Carmena y Ada Colau at opening of Fearless Cities

The next day saw an opening plenary with statements from muck-a-mucks in BCN en comu laying out their ideas. Is that online also? Maybe... as the conference went on, less and less seems to be, although it will likely come along later, as happened after the 2015 MAK-1 and 2016 MAK-2 conferences on muncipalism, which featured reflections by many participants (search #MAK2; the first MAK saw afterwards an important assemblage of texts on the transversal website – see my own post here “Where Does Municipalism Come From? II” from February 2017 for a precis). The big difference now is that these folks have been governing for a while now, and their ideas are tempered – chastened in some cases, stronger in others.
Still optimism and inspiration ruled the day. Looking at some of the conference-time tweets conveys some sense of the lead themes as seen by conference organizers and speakers:

Kate Shea Baird‏ (a key organizer of BCN en comu's international group) @KateSB – “Can the municipality be a space of self government rather than the local branch of the state?” asks @anametropolitan

“Municipalism is not about implementing progressive policies,but about giving power back to ordinary people.” – @debbiebookchin #FearlessCities (she's the daughter of Murray, the revered theorist of libertarian

"Without the soil of fear, the 1% can't win" @drvandanashiva

“We must put life and care at the centre of politics! 💚”

"Gender equality isn't about specific policies for women. Gender must be integrated in all public policy" @L_Makeba

"Without feminism there is no revolution of municipalism" Laura Perez Castano - Councillor for Feminism and LGBTI, BCN en comu

"We measure the amount of time men and women speak in meetings to visibilize inequalities and reduce them"

“Ada Colau (mayor of Barcelona): States are slow, authoritarian and patriarchal. Against this municipalism is a must, it is morally obligatory.” #FearlessCities

“When the states fail to assume their responsibilities, cities should step in. This is why we need more #FearlessCities working together.”

"Intelligence, diversity and self-organization are the essence of life, and it's stronger than fear" @drvandanashiva in #FearlessCities

“There is no one size fits all in municipalism. You have to find your formula"

Social Protection instruments for housing are not enough without civic mobilization @AndrejHolm #FearlessCities

More than the pep talks and high-flown rhetoric to which the left is addicted, the “Fearless” conference included numerous discussions of ground-level strategy on how municipalist platforms in different cities were built. There were fascinating statements of the kind of new subjectivities the movement was both based on and was constructing. And there were discussions about how to apply some of these lessons in the USA.
I listened to a lot of it, but know I missed a lot as well. The organizers handled the event as well as may be expected, given the language divide between Spanish and English.
The need for efficient organizing in the USA is now so urgent I prioritized sessions on strategy and application. The best of these I saw was in English, “Como creat una canidatura municipalista y participatia” (title in Catalan in the program, go figure).

Next: Fearless Cities 2: Local Strategies from:
London, England
Comu de Lleida, Spain
A Coruna, Spain
The US contingent of organizers held their own sessions and breakouts. You could feel the urgency in their meetings. One session I came in on dealt with white supremacy, and the personal damage of racism. (Other sessions I missed considered neo-fascism.) It was very affecting to hear the stories of oppression people of color are often reluctant to share. From the terrible shared childhood experience of "Mommy, what's a nigger?" to the the call from the agency after you have rented the apartment, "Oh, we made a mistake, it's already rented."
These are stories white folks read about, from the children of families trying to better their situation who were kicked in the face on their way up the ladder – as you are reading now. But to hear people tell them, and to see the effect these oppressions as children, these experiences had as remembered by mature people is to realize something fundamental about the nature of our rotten society. And as well, to see something of the motor spring of revolutionary intention. During lunch, one white conferee from Canada asked me, when will there be a truth and reconciliation commission in the USA as their had been with indigenous people up north?
Yes, white organizers need to relearn the lessons of the New Left, and let organizers of color lead. This was such a sturdy, intelligent, sensitive and militant bunch!
But when some tried to generalize to Europe as, yes, ideological cradle of white supremacy, the contemporary application of the argument broke down. In Europe it is Muslims who are the oppressed and racialized minority, and also most of the refugees and the terrorists. The “M” word was not spoken during that US session. But it struck me then that Barack Hussein Obama was for the extreme right in the USA a convenient way to displace and deny their racism. When Trump inveighed against Muslims while before he had denied Obama had been born in the US, he was playing to a deep-seated Other-izing fear of white USAians stretching all the way back to Malcolm X. It wasn't a dog whistle, it was a fog horn. And it was a lesson learned by the US extreme right from the international neofascist movement.
A key question for me at this conference was how could the US progressive left and its various movements use the lessons of Spanish municipalism? How does it differ from the practice of politics in the USA?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Kunst und Gentrifizierung in Berlin

Poster for the 1980 show, by Andy Baird of Artpolice

I participated in an art show this June, “The Real Estate Show Extended,” Berlin edition. The title refers to our famous/notorious exhibition in New York City in 1980, when the BeeGees were still big. We took over a building to mount a show of art protesting the exploitation of artists and the eviction of tenants in Lower East Side social housing – the early stages of what has become a global problem – gentrification.
This show-in-occupation was remembered and reprised in NYC itself in 2014 in four galleries and at the place that came out of the original Real Estate Show, ABC No Rio. The Cuchifritos project space in the old Essex Market also held a part of the extended RES show – a Free Speech center, where passersby and community members were informed about the impending plans to develop the enormous parcel of vacant land where the 1980 RES took place.
A curator from Berlin, Matthias Mayer, saw the show there and invited Becky Howland to mount a version of it in Berlin. We helped him produce a show of documentation from the original RES, and participated in the “RES Extended” alongside Berlin artists.
It was great to see old comrades again – Becky, Peter Moennig, and Joseph Nechvatal. We are all still making art, and despite our separate life courses, we all recognize that our project of 37 years ago was prescient. Gentrification has turned out to be the way Big Capital rolls now, destroying big city neighborhoods and reconstructing them as rich folks' quarters. It's a major problem for working class people and artists.
I made two “zines” for this show – collages, actually, in the form of newspapers. Each one hung on a cafe reading stick (Zeitungsstock). One concerned the events at the Free Speech center and the giant development proposed in '14, and now a-building. The second concerned gentrification itself, and the erasure of bohemia in both Berlin and New York.

Panel with Becky Howland (NYC), Peter Mönnig (Cologne), Alan Moore (Madrid), Joseph Nechvatal (Paris). Moderated by Howard McCalebb (Dada Post, Berlin). Photo by Anne Fatoyinbo

I want to describe these zines in later posts. But first I'll talk a little about the show itself. The documentary part opened in a small art space in Kolonie-Wedding, a district well to the north of Berlin's Mitte (Spor Klübü project space). The housing is fine old stock, and full of working class families, including many of Turkish descent. The neighborhood was sehr gemuetlich – quiet, children playing, folks lounging out front of cafes – it was hard to realize how rapidly it was being transformed. In Berlin the landlords' scheme is to upgrade the infrastructure in an old building, needed or not, and then raise the rent through the roof. I stayed in an AirBnB apartment not far from the first show venue where this had happened. The room was great, light-filled with a balcony, and three very nice young roommates. The person who let the room had moved out with her boyfriend for the time I would be there. They needed my money to make their rent.
In this case, AirBnB buffers gentrification, giving young people a strategy to manage high rents.
I met Fred Dewey at the opening of that show. He's from Los Angeles. There and in Berlin, Fred organized neighborhood councils. He wrote a book about that, and his other adventures. Now he's into Hannah Arendt's political philosophy, leading a reading group this summer. We sat down for a conversation in his apartment near Templehof. (A report on that will also be coming along here soon.) Later we went for a walk to the vast disused airfield. Development plans there were halted by a community referendum. No political party supported that, but it went through. For the moment, Templehof is a vast public commons, with a small community garden area, places to picnic grill, and numerous runners, bikers and kiters.
The second show of the RESx-B included a large number of Berlin artists, and was held at a space called Kunst Punkt in Mitte. I hung around there for days during the install, but not many conversations happened. Everyone was just working on their piece, the way artists do when preparing for a show.
The opening was mobbed, however. And the talk the next day, with the three of us “veterans” on stage, was also well-attended.
For my part, I had to make a relevant noise. I began the panel talk with a kind of performance. I asked how many knew who Andrej Holm was? Not very many, maybe 5 or 10 raised hands. This matters because Andrej Holm was appointed as Berlin's housing minister under the new red-green-red coalition government elected last year. A concerted defamation campaign against him caused the government to dismiss him. Soon after he was fired from his university position at Humboldt as well.
In reponse to that action, students of the sociology faculty occupied their part of the university. “Holm bleibt!” they cried – “Holm stays.” (#HolmBleibt will fill you in on their action and manifestos.) And so did I, in the art gallery, while banging on a beer bottle with a stick of wood. The point? You need laws to protect tenants and neighborhoods. Holm was fired because he would help to draft them, and see that they were enforced rather than exceptioned and looking the other way.
Andrej Holm is Germany's expert on gentrification. His case study is Berlin. He is also a member of our SqEK network of squatting researchers, so he has learned from that movement and its strategies of self-organization.
Then I held up a poster from the Köpenicker Strasse squat's street festival, a “festival of counterculture.” I had passed by there on my way to the gallery. The streets all around the Köpi, as it is known were full of police vans, waiting. These events often end with a riot – although when I passed by the music was just beginning on the blocked-off street, and kids were playing with their parents.
I said that in order to preserve housing and communities and cultural spaces you need law. That would have been Andrej's job. But you also need “anti-law” – disobedience, contest and disorder. The punk culture which impels, animates and preserves squats like the Köpi is something Berlin is famous for. It not only animates the milieu of bohemia, it is a concrete path for working class kids who didn't go to art school or music academy to enter into a kind of artistic life. It is also a solidarity experience for many marginalized and dysfunctional people, folks with mental problems, addicts, or just young misfit toys in the capitalist playing field.
Andrej Holm in a photo from the publication

Afterwards I had an argument about this from a fellow who insisted the punks needed to be dealt with because they took property and did not follow rules. Well, the property is not being used, and not following the rules is kind of the point of punk culture. Anyhow, punks have their own rules which are in effect as strict as “straight” society. And social solidarity for society's outcasts means they aren't sitting around public parks and skulking on streetcorners.
But the place is so dirty, a terrible eyesore! With the Wagenplatz nearby, there are mounds of garbage. Could it be that the city is deliberately not picking this stuff up? Imagine if, instead of repressing them, and feeding the aggressive self-defensive side of the punk culture the city cooperated with these places. They are not as chaotic as they appear. There is a plenum, an assembly, which runs the place through open meetings. There are lawyers who protect them, or they wouldn't still be there. These places and these people would act differently if they didn't always have to defend themselves so strongly.
Finally, I showed the back cover of Erick/a Lyle's most recent issue of SCAM zine with an image by Barry McGee. What is more, sez me, important artists have come out of the squatter punk subculture. And that's not to mention innumerable musicians, like the Clash – although this is rarely a part of the official biographies of those who promote them.
On my last day in town I waited on the street to meet Matthias on a lonely stretch of Frankfurter Allee, in the shadow of the Plattenbau housing complexes built by the East German government. There, right next to the Stasi museum, the artists' coalition he works with is scheduled to receive some run-down buildings to develop as artists' studios.
I had it all planned out for him by the time he arrived, whether he wanted to hear it or not. They should open a cafe in the part with the nicest door, and next to it a bookstore and women's center. The cafe should be run by a politically-minded workers' co-op. That way, if they succeed, they might be able to spin off another business into the neighborhood. The bookstore, similarly constituted, can provide venues for poets and writers. Artists in the building should be required to do at least some hours of collective labor regularly so they have to interact with the community. Included in that can be sittting in the bookstore, a semi-social activity, or working in the cafe. Both of these projects would be open to the public and would materially enrich the neighborhood's cultural resources which are bleak-to-nonexistent.
Of course there are all sorts of regulations you have to observe for every different activity... the more money the less freedom.
We'll see.

"The Real Estate Show" Documentation of the original show from 1980 from ABC No Rio's Archive, organized by Becky Howland & Matthias Mayer
May 27-June 27, 2017 at Spor Klübü project space, Kolonie Wedding, Berlin

The Real Estate Show Extended / Berlin @ Kunstpunkt Berlin – June 3-24, 2017
Schlegelstr. 6, 10115 Berlin – Opening hours: Wed-Sat, 14:00-18:00


"The Real Estate Show Extended -- Changes on the Fly" has not yet been reviewed... this is an artist's site:

A fine review for Studio Int'l online, "Lower East Side: The Real Estate Show Redux," by Natasha Kurchanova

Nice blurb on Fred Dewey's book "School of Public Life"

SqEK network's biggest conference, in Barcelona in 2015, has the best developed website

Hunh! Here's a video about the Spanish PAH with Andrej pacing around up front...

Die Köpi (auch Køpi) ist ein 1990 besetztes und 1991 legalisiertes Haus in der Köpenicker Straße 137"... I did not know it was legalized.

A traveler's recent experience in a Wagenplatz (2015); by "leetheperm":

SCAM, Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Issue, Erick Lyle (Editor)

Yes, the Stasi Museum. Yow!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

“Ungovernable” – From the Street to the Center

It's an inspiring thing to see popular power at work. To see the people assembling, moving through the streets, excited, with bubbles of jubilance, chanting, singing, carrying signs and banners – and then acting.
This just happened again in Madrid. There was a demonstration last Saturday, 6th of May, “Madrid no se vende” – Madrid is not for sale. I've been working on the theme of gentrification for a show in Berlin, so of course I had to go to this manifestation of the resistance in my city. The “mani” assembled in a tight little plaza not far distant from the Puerta del Sol, epicenter of touristic Madrid. “Maybe it's only a concentracion, not a manifestacion,” my partner suggested. Perhaps there won't be so many people.
But as the noon hour approached, the crowd began to build, hundreds filling all four corners of the plaza. The police – national in this case, who control civil demonstrations – closed the streets, and the marchers set off down a quaint old street lined with touristic shops. These aren't crappy places, but nicely done, reeking of authenticity, and sprinkled with genuine old businesses.
By now I was beginning to wonder a bit that the “mani” did not seem so very focussed on the questions around touristic gentrification. No denunciations of Air BnB. Rather it was a crowd of folks representing their affiliations.
There was the PAH, the famous housing rights activists and campaigners, in their green vests and t-shirts. Everywhere folks were wearing “No se vende” neckerchiefs. (I gotta get one.) Many bicyclists, some with “bicycle life” t-shirts. “Open the borders” shoulder bags. A group of Africans with a banner and signs, “right to papers” (“papeles por derecho”). “#stop buitres”, the “vulture capital” firms that have been buying up public housing from the previous city council. “Por un Madrid respirable”, a Madrid you can breathe, anti-smog, probably Ecologists in Action. A woman wearing a placard advertising for a place to rent! Folks wearing t-shirts of their barrios – Carabanchel, Arganzuela, and the ever-radical Vallekas. Radio El Salto is doing interviews. (El Salto is a new media project, a consolidation of two other left outlets.) Men wearing “castizo” hats. I didn't see the Yayoflautas “in uniform,” but there were plenty of older folks like me there. Everyone led by a sound truck plastered with posters and banging out dance music.
At the hour mark, I left them marching down calle Atocha, and headed home to make lunch.
To my surprise and delight, I learned on Monday that the crowd of the “Madrid no se vende” demonstration had supported the taking of a building in the very heart of the city, across the street from the Prado Museum. An ancient heritage building, formerly a university, then a health clinic, now – la Ingobernable, the Ungovernable social center.
This action expresses the frustration that many social movements have with the recently elected city government, Ahora Madrid. After long years of right-wing rule, the new council has been slow to realize change. Their motions have been fitful, and much of their energy consumed with internal strife.
After a year away from Madrid, I had expected to return to something politically exciting. I left just after Ahora Madrid was elected, so I looked forward to new cultural opportunities, and a blossoming of citizens' initiatives supported by the city council. That isn't the case. They are working, and there are signs of it, but it's all been quite sluggish and unspectacular. Meanwhile, business as usual marches on, and the big news is the corruption of the previous administration, not the initiatives of the new one.
The public art agency of the council, Intermediae, has commissioned architects to make maps of citizen services and projects in the barrios outside the center. These projects are useful, no doubt. And the groups of architects involved – Basurama, Zuloark, and Todo por la Praxis – are skillful and ingenious. But they haven't ramped up at all since the election, and so far as the social movements are concerned, this is pretty small beans. The systemic problems of the city to be confronted, baked in by years of insider governance and corruption, are much greater.
At a meeting in January, a packed house of squatting movement(s) activists complained of the indifference of the city government to their claims. Patio Maravillas, the thrice-evicted now homeless social center, complained that it was impossible to open any place in the center of the city, only in the peripheral barrios. EVA Arganzuela begged for participation. I later walked around this giant popular market, now shuttered with weeds growing out of it, and wondered what happened to the surge of people who stopped its development as a riverside shopping mall. The citizens of the barrio “won,” but now everything is frozen, on hold, awaiting a normalized process of development.
So clearly a great sense of frustration with the pace of change, and the opportunities the new city council has not offered to citizens' initiatives, lies behind the new Ingobernable. Now frustration has turned into action.
The news of this occupation first appeared on an Italian website! They published the manifesto: “We are surrounded by abundance and opportunities to improve our society.” The feminist movement in Madrid expresses, thinks and acts to transform society, to make it more just, and put sustainable life at the center of an ecological vision. They declare for “the joyful self-organization of people in the face of the desperate paralysis of public institutions.”
Coming out of a demonstration for the “right to the city,” Ingobernable will be a “hub of social self-organization” in the heart of the city. (As it happens, on calle Gobernador!)
Emmanuel Rodriguez of the recently-formed Institute for Democracy and Municipalism declared the move a “practical criticism of the spectacle city.” Madrid is not sold!, as canned leisure to the “army of suitcases with casters that day after day leave the airport towards the center.”
The social center is “something material and positive. To open a social center is to create a living space... a reality that does not wait for the administration, which in fact does not need it at all. It is civil society at its best.” It gives a new job to an abandoned facility, “taking advantage of a social wealth” that has only been used for speculation or corruption.
The building occupied by the activists is an old one, a heritage building. Owned by the city, it was given to an architect by the former mayor so that he might make a museum in it – that is, it was removed from its public uses (as university and then health center) and placed in line to the realm of touristic spectacle.
But nothing can ever be so simple as the rhetoric of action proposes. The architect in question, Emilio Ambasz, is a pioneer green architect, praised by urban visionary Michael Sorkin. Sorkin's students worked on green design for a South Bronx okupa in the 1990s. In my ideal world, Ambasz would visit Ingobernable, then, with city council support, work with the architectural collectives Intermediae has already contracted to produce a truly dynamic, continually evolving “museum” of the architecture of civic participation. This is what Ingobernable proposes to do by themselves. We'll see if governance itself up to the challenge.


“#MadridNoSeVende, nuova occupazione in centro: nasce 'La ingovernable',” "Dinamo" press online, 8 May 2017

La Ingobernable, manifesto and web page

"Del 6M a La Ingobernable," Emmanuel Rodríguez (@emmanuelrog), Público, 6 May 2017
(Público, formerly a print daily, is now online; best consistent coverage of social center occupations after 15M monthly paper itself.



Radio El Salto



"Social Centers in the New Cycle of Politics" meeting at Traficante de Suenos, January 2017

David Harvey, "Right to the City" article

"Ungovernability" -- it's not just for riots anymore!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Revival of Anarchist Art in Spain

It's been some years since I attended a show and talk in Madrid put on by the youth section of the Spanish anarchist union, CNT in the arts faculty of a public university. This production of the Juventudes Libertarias (libertarian youth) was disappointing – yellowing reproductions of 1930s anarchist posters, a long talk by a published anarchist author about a Chilean pamphlet “against art and artists”, and a circle of bored head-scratching grafiteros sitting around, clearly more from duty than interest. “Anarchist art” seemed to be pretty much stuck in the past, with wheels spinning quite slowly.
I sat there for two days with materials I'd brought from the USA – posters and publications of political art that even today remains largely unseen in Europe. My display was ignored. The only interest in this work came from two sociology students from another campus. After that I pretty much wrote off anarchist culture in Madrid.

But I was wrong. Time have changed! The JACA 2017 (for Jornadas de Arte y Creatividad Anarquistas), presented at various spaces in April in Madrid, was an exponentially more developed program. I missed nearly everything since I've been away from Spain for a while. But I did catch a discussion about an important rolling initiative aimed at building a counter-institutional sphere of art practice.
Three organizers from Valencia spoke at the JACA segment held in the ESLA Eko occupied social center. They had just concluded a presentation called “AnArco: liberal art vs. libertarian art.” in conjunction with the Anarchist Book Fair in Valencia. That program included pieces by dozens of artists and collaborating groups, nearly all doing work in political social practice, performance, video, and traditional media.
Upstairs in ESLA Eko, JACA organizers had put up some of this – large forceful black and white photocopies pieced and pasted on the wall, piles of scattered stickers, hanging screens, video monitors, a built masonry wall, a giant tree trunk pencil in a carriage, as well as conventional artworks. A full program of discussions, music and theater took place at the other JACA locations. I looked in briefly on one, a large group of older people recalling the years-long film festival now defunct hosted in Carabanchel, the barrio wherein ESLA Eko is situated.
The Valencia presentations came out of an earlier project in the Madrid barrio of Vallekas at a place called ABM confecciones. That was called “Art and libertarian propaganda” in a nod to the prevailing conception of anarchist art, that is as a poster art in service of social movements. This tradition continues strong in the USA, notably with the propaganda work of Interference Archive, the Art & Revolution project, and the recent highly productive “art builds” undertaken in San Francisco, Milwaukee, Chicago and New York to make materials for demonstrations.

The shows are only part of this rolling initiative. The guts of it are the continuous discussions around what an anarchist art, a libertarian art might mean, what it can be. The project and the shows are open to participation, and their terms are hashed out in many meetings of many different assemblies. This is never without conflict, for sue, since artists and anarchists both love to argue. “We are caught between the monsters of art and libertarianism,” one of the Valencian organizers told us at Eko.
What struck my quite conventional antennae of course was the participation of Santiago Sierra in the JACA show. Probably the best known Spanish political artist, he was there alongside the Democracia collaborative, whose publication work I've seen dropped here and there in non-art venues. (They showed part of their 'opera,' “Dinner at the Dorchester.”) But this was full-throated participation in an art show in a squatted space. Conventionally, that should be a big deal, rather as if Marcel Duchamp had put a piece into your little show in a bookshop in Paris in the '30s. But come to think of it, that would probably have also been unremarked at the time. As it surely will be this time. After all, the Rubells don't collect Sierra, do they? That's why they call it avant garde, well ahead of the pack.
Sierra put in a serious piece, one of his “Monuments to Civil Disobedience” dedicated to the venue itself, ESLA Eko. The works of this series come out as editions. Perhaps I should buy one, since the Rubells won't. Eko, of course, is still around, unlike the Spanish Republic Sierra's work has eulogized. And it is indeed a remarkable place, and its own monument. It's part of the world being built under our noses as most eyes are averted to the tiny screens we love so well.
Santiago Sierra, "Monumento a la desobediencia civil" at Eko.

I perused the linked list of artists and groups working in the Valencia AnArco project. It's a big fascinating job, and I only began it. One that jumped out at me was a project by Dos Jotas in Madrid called "Institutional Gray". This was their contribution (2015) to an ongoing institutionally sanctioned mural project which is unfolding on the block-long back wall of the Tabacalera self-organized cultural center. Dos Jotas painted the wall gray. Whatever appeared as "volunteer," they painted over, also in a shade of gray. (It's the same procedure as the filmmakers of the 2001 work "The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal," although active, not documentary.) It's a great instance of what Stevphen Shukaitis calls a strategy of over-identification with the ongoing repression of street art in Madrid as in most cities.

But I don't know if that work was shown. The JACA and AnArco gangs surely did not have the resources to mount the artists' works in ways that institutions do. Like Alán Carrasco's Geschichtsaufarbeitung (like, "history workup"), a campaign of letters written to Spanish companies that profited from slave labor under the Franco dictatorship asking them what they were doing about that, since German companies with similar histories had conttributed to a fund compensating victims' families.
Dos Jotas and Carrasco are but two from the impressive roster of artists who participated in the ABM show, the AnArco, and/or the JACA events, artists with solid backgrounds of intriguing and provocative political work. Most of these artists' work of course has been done in institutional contexts – schools, museums, art centers – not in places like Eko. Squatted social centers usually have great street art on the walls outside and murals inside, theater, circus, poetry, and music groups and events. But it's never been clear what kind of relation the recent wave of social practice art – or 'social sculpture' to use the old Beuysian term – could or would have to the squatting movement. Would it find a place in these centers with their punky freak-flag-flying alternative positions so zealously maintained?
Now my question is being answered in the best possible manner, by action. And it is gangly, wildly articulated, and unconventional productive action. The Vallekas event was “halfway between a show, a distributor and a place to debate about the anti-authoritarian struggle and the relevance of the alternative” [sphere] (Paris, 2015). The artists and collectives were less “in the show” than in relation, in discussion.
Having stepped out of the institutional sphere for which, and in reaction to which most of their work has been designed, these artists have entered into a practice of composition, in the terms of the Autonomists. Chatting with Marc Herbst about this, he wrote: “composition, first is, figuring out who you are. Becoming self composed (like you know, clearing one's throat before beginning to sing). Politics are an inside-outside tack of growth, so self-composing occurs throughout a process, where the group gathers steam and self-awareness.” In writing this little notice, I am trying to help in this process of composition, even as I also am being composed. I want to help because I want to find myself.


The online reports of these events are all in Spanish. I use Google translate with fair results. The most complete account I've seen so far is:
Enric Llopis as SPMujer, “'AnArco': Arte anarquista frente al arte liberal,” 16 Abril, 2016 at:
This includes a valuable account of Luis Navarro Monedero's participation, an artist and theorist whose influence is quite important.

See also:
Germano Paris, "Arte y propaganda libertaria en Encarnación González 8 (Vallecas)", in ¿Qué pasa aquí?, Difusión, Octubre 6, 2015 at:

The Vallekas show was also covered in the print publication “Todo por Hacer: Publicación Anarquista Mensual,” a monthly Madrid anarchist sheet I have not seen

ABM confecciones is on Facebook; a video shows a hand drawing on the wall: “We don't want to be a gallery.”

Manifiesto of JACA
tabs also contain the program and participating spaces

View of JACA show at Eko. Caption: "This show is currently out of entrepreneurship. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused."

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Talking Municipalism in Minneapolis (Part Two)

This is a long read (4000+ words), the second of two talks I gave in March, 2017 in Minneapolis to a group interested in the Spanish municipalist movement. We're hoping to do more on this question and strategies in the U.S.A. come warm weather... No normalization! Not one step back!

The affective dimension – This is what we artists and art historians are better at.
I only squatted twice in my life – and, to be precise, it was occupying, not squatting. The subsistence level of my life was not involved. The motive in both cases was political.
Still I remember both occasions very well, even though they were very brief, only hours long.
The experience of collective disobedience, of stepping outside the frame of the legal, the permitted, the allowed, of violating norms and expectations is indelible. Intoxicating. Unforgettable.
Where does it lead? It is always impossible to tell for sure. Transgression is experiment.
A massive political and social experiment lies behind the contemporary political movement in Spain called “municipalismo,” or municipalism. That experiment was 15M, the long-term encampment of the central plaza of Madrid, the capital of Spain, by activists and citizens collectively called “indignados” – the indignant ones.

The occupation of the Puerta del Sol plaza took place in 2011 during a time period right before federal elections, when electioneering rallies are forbidden. The “indignados” were not electioneering. They were there to say that both parties, both the right and the left – “No nos representan”: they don't represent us.
Both political parties had caved to, or played along with a brutal austerity program enforced by the European Union. This shredded the social safety net, and led to double digit unemployment, especially among the young.
The surprise of the 15M encampment would change politics in Spain. But first it changed the people involved.
Luis Moreno Caballud, a scholar of classical Hispanic literature teaching at U Penn, was a participant in the 15M camp. He writes in his book Cultures of Anyone what this felt like.
(I paraphrase, interpolate and quote indiscriminately now from his epilogue) –
The movement of 15M was inclusive and hospitable. It sought to construct common spaces, spaces of encounter. The “indignados” were trying to change the way that citizens thought about representational democracy -- to interrogate its pretexts, and its pretensions, which are not true – and especially the conviction that capitalism is the only system possible.
In his epilogue, Caballud wishes he had written a different book, one which proposed tools for the democratic development of a common story, like the encounters and conversations he saw in the Puerta del Sol.
He laments the progressive erasure of forms of sociability that do not conform to the capitalist productivism we call ‘modernity.’ He observes the persistence of collective inferiority complexes among those whose ways of life don't matter under first the modern, and now the contemporary, say post-modern, cycle of domination. These cycles never repeat exactly, but tend to have the same result – precarity, immiseration, destruction of communities.
Then, quoting a number of authors, Caballud observes that the experience of the occupation, of daily life in the camp, this kind of voluntary temporary collective exile, built a “network experience a bit like LSD in the ’60s: a different, unreal but real experience that stays in your memory because you have actually experienced what you have experienced: the ability to converse with strangers, to cross borders, to self-transform, to easily create... In the plazas of the 15M, that experience [was] explored with an overwhelming passion. With much uncertainty, too, because it’s not clear where you’re going... [There was a] very strong impression of being cast adrift, so many different people in the same boat. The feeling that we could drown, that it could fall at any time, not because of the police but because of ourselves. Every day in [the Puerta del] Sol was a conquest, everything depended on us.”
This was not only a ‘political empowerment,’ but also an ‘expressive empowerment,’ which .
It was not only a series of demands to political institutions, but rather ‘a systemic approach that speaks of the possibility of a radical self-organization, of an existence without formal hierarchies, of forms of volunteer work and non-monetary economy, and community life where care is collective’ (236). A lifestyle that directly confronts not only the neoliberal logic, but also the monopoly of the production of meaning by the mass media, intellectuals, and the ‘experts.’
In Charmaine Chua's class they have talked about how political subjectivities are constituted by the state. [See my previous post for my talk to her class.] Caballud and his fellow 15Mers are speaking about how political subjectivity is constructed by disobedience to the state.
When I visited the camp of 15M in Puerta del Sol in 2011, I was unsurprised. Although I had not been involved in any way in this sudden eruption of a popular movement, everything was just as I expected it would be.
This was because I had been researching the squatting movement in Europe for years. I began in a way, in New York City in 1980, as an artist and an organizer, occupying a city-owned building for an art show with my cell of friends from the artists' group Colab. We ran a cultural center thereafter rented from the city for a few years, then handed it off to another group. The place still exists. It's called ABC No Rio.
During the early 1980s, we worked with another legalized occupation, a large former school building run by a Puerto Rican nationalist group called CHARAS. (This place was evicted by mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 1999.)
As an artist and organizer, and much later as an art historian of a Bourdieuvian slant, I was attentive to systems of cultural production – and, to be sure, to romantic radicalism in the tradition of Blake and Ginsberg. My attentions ultimately devolved onto the large building occupations called “social centers” after the 1970s Italian usage of the term by the Marxist workerist movement called Autonomia.
My European research picked up steam in 2009 when i joined SqEK – the Squatting Europe Kollective of researchers – at their conference in London. The group is still completing an EU and Spanish research council grant to make a comparison study of squatting in several European cities. The project, called Movokeur, has yielded I think astounding results in its quantitative aspects, producing squatting maps of cities which reveal deep layers of activism. It is the intention of SqEK, a group of mostly sociologists, geographers, and anthropologists, to prove that squatting in Europe is a social movement.
While academics may have been looking away, this has been obvious to activists for decades. The squatted social centers have been key centers for all sorts of grassroots autonomous extra-parliamentary political activism. In the 1990s and into the '00s, for example, the global justice movement organized through them. a fact first proved to this historian in 2006 by the files of international correspondence in the 56A infoshop in London. 56A Infoshop is an autonomous archive, a tiny space next to a food co-op where they still hold weekly squatting workshops, posting likely local empties, and dealing with the how-tos. (The Squatters Handbook has been published by the ad hoc paralegal group Advisory Service for Squatters in London since 1976. It is now in its 13th edition.)
I was unsurprised when I visited the 15M encampment precisely because it resembled the squatted social centers I had seen in different European cities during the several annual conferences of the SqEK group. As an engaged (if not exactly militant) research group, we had unusual access to the movement and its locations.
All this is told in my book "Occupation Culture," published in 2015 as a “scholar adventure story,” together with an anthology of squatter voices we made called “Making Room.” (That both publications are also available online as free PDFs is consonant with the “copyleft” ethos of open publication.) “Occupation Culture” is a book-length culmination of the “House Magic” zine project, 2009 to 2016.
Last year I had planned another book on the European squatting movement, more straightforward this time, with the intention of explaining the movement to a general audience through case studies of social centers in different cities. There are many fine examples throughout Europe, both north and south, of autonomous self-organization by political and cultural people in occupied spaces which later became public resources, enriching their cities. While these social centers are all pre-eminently local institutions (albeit of the “monster” type), they are regularly linked in inter- and national networks.
(And as an aside, besides one rump meeting, SqEK has not yet made it to the Americas. The Atlantic Ocean is a formidable barrier, and American squatting, both south and north, remains largely a dark mystery.)
With the election of Trump I have put this project aside. I believe it is more important now to focus on the broader spectrum of resistance strategies in cities, of which the autonomous movements provide rich examples.
Now, only resistance matters, resistance to a solidified federal and state revanchist power. And more, much more, resistance that builds and sustains popular power, both political and economic. Resistance that pushes past the dominion of wild capitalism and the new dispossession.
Squatting expresses the ideals of the commons, coming from a view of the earth and its built resources as a “common treasury” for all. Indeed, a key “monster” or citizen institution in Spain is called Fundación de los Comunes – the foundation of the commons – and operates out of a squatted social center in Málaga. The Fondacion organized a conference in the spring of 2014 at the Reina Sofia contemporary art museum called “The new abduction of Europe: debt, war, and democratic revolutions.” Political theorist Antonio Negri and housing activist Ada Colau were both featured speakers. (Significantly, this conference took place in an art musuem, a federal state institution, in a state controlled by the right wing Popular Party, a circumstance inconceivable in the USA.)
Ideas around the commons, like free information, flow throughout the European movements. (David Bollier spells out commons ideology in English on this “explainer” page, citing historian Peter Linebaugh's work on the Magna Carta.) “Commonsing” as a verb describes the project of squatting itself. Just as proper governance is for the public good, so ownership is stewardship. If improperly exercised or abandoned, it may be abrogated, either temporarily or permanently. The more legitimate expropriation is performed by collectives; the most legitimate is civic. So it is that groups of squatters reclaim public and private buildings neglected by their owners and return them to use. At times these places are recuperated by governance to full public uses.
The rise of 15M and Podemos-related municipalist governments in Spain has shown how imbricated the occupied social centers have become in government institutions and what the Spanish call “cycles of politics.”
This actually runs against the grain of the 30-year-old squatting movement itself. A first principle of the squatting movement is autonomy. Squatters want nothing to do with government or capitalist economy. This is absolutist, and it has preserved the ethos of the movement as a kind of secret society of anti-capitalist pirates, a brotherhood [sic] of social bandits. This has assured a certain continuity, as generations of squatters arise from the weeds of the city to continue the tradition of living free, and for free.
Similarly, in the USA, although there are almost no political squats, much political activism remains an adventure of youth. As people come to universities and colleges, they learn the facts about social, political and economic arrangements in our society. Many become politicized. Fewer remain so once they leave the warm waters of the class- and seminar room, ample public space for students, and the tolerant atmosphere of collegiate institutions. The modern consumer society, as the Situationist Guy Debord observed 50 years ago, is built on techniques of separation. It is chill waters for collectivity. The techniques of separation have only increased in the intervening half century, to the point of a screaming intensity that today binds us by social media to portable communicating devices so that we carry our separation – another analyst called it our “disperson” – with us everywhere.
How to overcome “autonomous interruptus,” the real world snuffing-out of political awakening?
European social centers have been bastions of radical knowledge, extending the useful life-span of activists considerably. In a short video of a dance through the Malaga social center called Casa Invisible, all the dancers are wearing masks to emphasize their anonymity. But you may observe a couple of tables 'round which cluster bands of serious people who can't be bothered with the masquerade of the music video. Those are the municipalists. They'll only dance and sing once the meeting is concluded.

Where Does "Municipalism" Come From?
I quote from a website called “United Explanations”:
“Municipalism refers to political organization based on assemblies of neighbourhoods, practicing direct democracy, which would be organized in a system of free communes or municipalities, as an alternative to the centralized state.”
Assembly. It's all about listening, listening and being heard.
For an American caught in the rat trap of U.S. politics, the “Municipalist Manifesto” reads like a document from an alien world. This document, which came out of a meeting held in Málaga, Spain, in July of '16 – the MAK-one – describes 'cycles of politics' and spaces of civic discourse that practically don't exist in our country. The guiding principles are expressed in its title: it is a “meeting for municipalism, self-government and counterpower.”
First the manifesto declares independence from political parties. The municipalist's roots are local. That is the “bet” on building this kind of power, that “democracy begins with the local.” (I refer to the title of a book by Pablo Carmona and the Observatorio Metropolitano called in Spanish, “The municipalist bet.”) Then the congregants name their issues – Spain's onerous balanced budget law, lack of housing, crushing municipal debt, and the necessity of reclaiming city services like water and power from the private companies to which they were sold by the right wing city governments in a coordinated campaign of corruption across the country. (Again, please note this important difference between Spain and the USA: What is in fact prosecutable as corruption in Spain is largely political business as usual in the USA.)
The municipalists aim to build a “federated network” of groups of political candidates (lists) and movements, and to support it with autonomous communications media which can construct “a new social common sense.” This unfolds on the internet, and its traces are clearly visible to those who look. Full transparency of government processes is also part of the new politics.
From the institutions they will expect resources and strategies to promote new movements and experiments – a “new institutionality” which – crucially – respects the autonomy of all such initiatives.
The manifesto goes on for 10 more points – on building social space, cooperative enterprises, protection of migrants and more. They also commit to internationalism.
This isn't cloud cuckoo land. These are concrete proposals, action items, which are backed up by a series of recent electoral successes in cities around Spain. The most visible and energetically internationalist of these is Barcelona en Comú which achieved the mayoralty of Ada Colau. They have published a guide to how to build a political movement in the city, “How to win back the city en comú,” and have launched an array of initiatives based on the notion of an “open code” city, that is, fully hackable by its citizens.
This success depended on earlier cycles of politics. These cycles have included the decades-long squatting movement that began after the dictator Franco died in '75. Those squatters opened up social centers in cities all over Spain. Barcelona, with its proud anarchist past, has quite a number of them both legalized and still resistant.
When the 15M arose, it was clearly understood by many activists as the Spanish part of an international “movement of the squares,” taking place in Tunis, in Cairo, in Athens, and New York. When the police finally moved against the 15M camp and the sprawling tent city was evicted, the activists had already begun their carefully planned move into the neighborhoods.
Even then their open assemblies in public places in the barrios were harrassed by police. So the assemblies of 15M moved into the resistant occupied social centers, and opened new ones. Thus, as Miguel A. Martínez writes, two movements converged. Punk concerts, beer-drinking gripe sessions, vegan dinners and bike fixing clinics were joined by regular open meetings of multi-generational neighborhood activists.
Curiously these assemblies joined up with neighborhood associations which had persisted since Franco's time. These groups, essentially security patrols organized by the fascist Falange, had become moribund in the years since '75. Now they came alive again, with new generations of citizens.
Spanish don't call their congresspeople. They are generally unavailable, and in any case people know that it's useless. As the European Union-mandated cutbacks to social services began to bite, enthusiastically enforced by the right, and apologetically by the left socialists, workers and clients in the affected sectors began to organize into mareas or “waves,” taking to the streets in parade, and occupying their workplaces. Health clinics and hospitals, public schools, social service agencies – Mareas arose all over the country, each in a different color: white (health), green (schools), orange (social service), blue, red, violet, yellow and black. These organizing committees became other sites of citizen activation.
Equally important for radicalizing citizens with grievances was the well-reported movement of the PAH, fronted by Ada Colau. In direct response to federal government refusal to repeal or substantially alter harsh and onerous laws around mortgages in the face of the long-term European recession called simply “The Crisis”, thousands of people were forced from their homes. The PAH movement organized these dispossessed workers and middle class people and began to occupy homes. Many of these homes were owned by the very same banks which had foreclosed on the mortgages, and were vacant because of evictions. The government foolishly 'collaborated' with the PAH, exacerbating the problem by selling off much public housing to private companies which raised rents to market rates.
Hence, the very regressive policies that punished the poor and less wealthy helped to set the conditions for building popular power. This is more than the power of anger to move people into the streets in protest. More than what MSNBC talking heads call “grassroots activism” to turn out and yell at right wing congresspeople. It's the power of solidarity to take back the necessities of life which the government and financial sector have been taking away.
How can the repressions and dispossessions, the abrogations of government responsibility to care and protect, which are arriving daily in the USA similarly be used in a mode of political jiu jitsu to build movements of popular power?
Contemporary Spanish municipalism came out of the 15M movement. The key issue – expressed in the slogan “They don't represent us,” was the “false representation” that political parties both left and right were undertaking concerning what is simply called the Crisis. This sustained, nearly decade-long recession has meant an EU-directed campaign of austerity, budget cuts, privatizations of public services, foreclosures and evictions. The big banks were bailed out with the people's tax money, and, in the words of the gilded age robber baron J.P. Morgan, as regularly and gleefully quoted by the Marxist geographer David Harvey, “assets return to their rightful owners.”
Anti-capitalist activists on the left in Europe have worked hard for years, often supported by the smaller political parties. The plurality of voices which parliamentary systems allow to speak (if not always act) within the circuits of power is foreign to the U.S.A., given its construction as a pseudo-monarchical republic along Roman lines. In the USA, the role of interrupter in the continuity of political transactions by conservative proprietors – the owners of those assets that have been returning – is taken by social movements, even at times in the past by criminal gangs. There is then a blockage in the paths to power in the U.S. which is only occasionally, and only partially overcome. When it is, it usually happens in cities. That's how Bernie Sanders started, as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. He did good. Just like the “sewer socialists” of Milwaukee in the 1930s through the '50s. They represented all the people and worked for the public good.
With its remnant welfare state and firm (if limited) civil liberties rigorously enforced, Europe's case may seem quite dissimilar from the USA. But this is a new Europe, under extreme political pressure from their enforcement of austerity throughout the union.
The U.S. version of what Mark Blyth calls “global Trumpism” appears to me to amount to much the same thing – a totalizing austerity, even if it doesn't go by that name. An ideological tsunami intent on wiping away the care economy, education, the research and cultural economies – anything deemed “soft” – and leaving only the “hard” bodies supported, the police and armed forces.
An anarchist tweeted as I wrote, “If we don’t prevent fascists from building strength, debate won’t matter. Only popular self-defense has succeeded in stopping fascism.”
That's true. And I agree. But it's possible to move beyond self-defense. The strategies of European municipalist organizing, action and electoral success – which arose during right wing governmental control – are echoed by Chokwe Lumumba's Jackson Plan for that city in Mississippi. Lumumba, a former lawyer for the Black Panthers, was elected mayor of Jackson, and his program follows along from the Panthers, without the Marxist-Leninist seize-the-state baggage.
In conditions of centuries of oppression, Lumumba's administration's plan, the Jackson Plan, was to build popular power, develop workers' cooperatives, and more. Why can't we now demand more from US cities politically more than just resistance, and a token resistance at that, to bad moves by federal power? With the mounting movement against a massively unpopular authoritarian president, activists can be in a position to get more and better now.
The question is what to ask for? And how to know what citizens need?
I'd suggest it might be un-capitalism.
There is an illustration from the book “Communitas” by Paul and Percival Goodman, published in 1947 which shows a huge bag of gross domestic product receipts. In the corner a small trickle comes out. That's what people need to live on. The rest is luxury...
When conceived, the Goodmans' image clearly relates to Keynesian economy, the post-World War 2 Fordist era bargain with the industrial working class that amounted to – “we'll take care of you as long as we can make our profits.”
This bargain is over with globalization. Capital can chase the cheapest labor all around the globe, and the folks at home, well, whatcha gonna do about it?
So what is needed – and this is consonant with the feminist leadership of Barcelona en comu, and many of the other municipalist platforms – is a de-capitalization of the subsistence economy, that is, an unhooking of capitalist and market logics from human reproduction, from the economies of subsistence and care.
Rather than anti-capitalist, as most radical leftists define themselves, I suggest that what is at work behind the broad social movements in Europe today is a demand – fully legitimate and not at all utopian – for a de-coupling of capitalist economics from the basic things people need to live.
For example, an important plank of the municipalist program deals with “remunicipalization” – returning city services which had been privatized, sold off the private corporations, to the public sector.
What people need to survive should be socialized. Subsistence today should not be the locus of profit. Leave profit to the realm of luxury.
With the advance of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), and the consequent making-useless of millions of pathetically inefficient humans, this is only going to become more obvious.
Much of municipalist politics derives from feminist positions. While I cannot provide that geneaology, I will propose a reading of the notorious image of the "defiant little girl" in the Wall Street area. I know many really hate this statue. But I don't see this as a future female CEO preparing to ride the market bull. Nor do I see it as corporate woman-washing.
Rather I see this as una pequena toreadora – and suggest that it can be seen to stand for a girl as the woman to be, standing up for the future of the economy of care, for subsistence, for home, family, and its coherence, in the face of an over-excited bull which is going to rush into that china shop and ruin everything.
Both statues are at the bottom of Manhattan island, only a short distance from the original waterfront. The girl stands “upstream” of the bull, between the wild animal and the rest of the city. With luck and skill she can turn him in circles.

Afterword – In the near term, I hope that, working with comrades here and in Europe, we are able to order up and present some tools – examples of cultural, educational and political tactics, kinds of collective formations, and technological innovations that have and are being used to both seed and strengthen autonomy and collectivity in cities. Many of these tactics have been used specifically to build citizen participation in political movements that have brought concrete electoral results. Whatever we come up with, followers of this blog will hear about it.


One of many websites devoted to the movement:

For an anatomy of the movement, see the “15M-pedia”:

L.M. Caballud, “Cultures of Anyone” book PDF:< br>

Collaborative Projects artists' group:

ABC No Rio, NYC artists' space

SqEK group of researchers on squatting, most developed website is from the Barcelona conference website:

"Mapping the Movement: Producing maps of squatted social centres in Western Europe", from Trespass e-zine #1:

56a Infoshop is a volunteer-run, 100% unfunded, DIY social centre in Walworth, South London

Occupation Culture: Art & Squatting in the City from Below" by Alan W. Moore free PDF online:

"Making Room: Cultural Production in Occupied Spaces" edited by Alan W. Moore and Alan Smart, free PDF online :

"House Magic" zine downloads:

Fundación de los Comunes, locations in Spain:

housing activist Ada Colau; she was a leader of the PAH – See Ada Colau and Adrià Alemany, "Mortgaged Lives," PDF of the English translation, as well as a book on the tactic of recuperating houses:

Ideas around the commons; A Shareable website “explainer” on the commons:

Music video, "LIPDUB con Verdiales en la Casa Invisible" (5:18):

The Municipalist Manifesto (September, 2016; Eng, Span, Germ)

Pablo Carmona, "La Apuesta Municipalista" PDF:

“How to win back the city”: the Barcelona en Comú guide in PDF:

Analysis of Mark Blyth's description of "global Trumpism" with links to his talk:

Chokwe Lumumba's Jackson Plan

How to win back the city: the Barcelona en Comú guide in PDF:

Analysis of Mark Blyth's description of "global Trumpism" with links to his talk:

Monday, April 3, 2017

Talking Municipalism in Minneapolis (Part One)

This is a talk I delivered to an undergraduate political economics class in Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota in March of 2017.

I am here in Minneapolis to work on spreading ideas and tools around the municipalist movement in Spain and Europe. This will involve producing some publications for a U.S. audience which contain different perspectives on the development of popular political power in cities – how it can be done, and most importantly I think, how it can be thought. Citizens in the U.S. I believe have rather limited ideas of how political processes work and how they develop. These ideas are continually reinforced by the mainstream news media, and bound in by seemingly immutable laws of U.S. politics, i.e., representational government. Other worlds are not only possible, they have existed for quite a long while.

The first challenge for my U.S. comrades is to think past the problem of President Trump. In the USA, mainstream discourse suggests that our institutions, our democratic institutions like courts, the media, and just a general sense of what is, as the 18th century founders of the U.S. called “appropriate” attitudes and behaviors will hold this neo-fascist and his comrades in check until a new and more reasonable government can be voted in. The media reinforces the idea that at the top level of state power everything is going, well, more or less normally along. Trump is weird, but things are fine.
A large number of those activists who are making change no longer believe this. Trump is seen as a symptom that reveals the disease, a giant suppurating sore on the face of a system called neoliberal capitalism, which lets us know that the underlying process is very unhealthy. Indeed it is mortal for the planet.
Over 20 years ago, a movement called the Zapatistas in the Mexican state of Chiapas launched a defensive rebellion, a secession from Mexico, on the day the NAFTA free trade agreement went into effect. Independent U.S. presidential candidate Ross Perot said that once the NAFTA treaty was passed, you would hear “a giant sucking sound” as U.S. jobs went south across the border towards the low wage nations. We live with those consequences today. As bad as it has been for U.S. workers, Bill Weinberg wrote that NAFTA was a “'death sentence' for Mexico's Indians—who stand to be forced from traditional lands by agribusiness and development projects. Drawing inspiration from Emiliano Zapata's followers, who rose up elsewhere in Mexico in 1910 against a dictatorship that embraced free trade policies, the neo-Zapatistas were the world's first guerrillas to explicitly take up arms in response to a trade agreement.”

The Zapatista movement has had a strong and continual influence on the left in Europe and North America. How did this group of Mayan peasants in remote villages inspire activists in large Western cities? They were one of the first movements to use the internet as a media platform, so they were heard far and wide. Their charismatic, poetic spokesperson – he denied being a leader – Subcomandante Marcos specified their analysis. “Globalization, neoliberalism as a global system, should be understood as a new war of conquest for territories,” he wrote in 1997. It is a strange modernity that moves forward by going backward. “In the world of the post-Cold War, vast territories, wealth, and above all, a qualified labor force, await a new owner.” This, he said, is the “Fourth World War.” [Weinberg, URL, op. cit.]
The Zapatistas, called international meetings, “encounters” in their jungle home, and spread their message and tactics of resistance. Their primary tactic was to build what they called “counter power”: infrastructure for their people. Instead of trading bullets with Mexican federal soldiers, the Zapatistas accepted their military losses, and concentrated on building hospitals, transport and communications operations. They developed a fully articulated state within a state.
The Zapatistas' 1994 announcement inspired the Global Justice Movement. Also called the “anti-globalization” movement, these activists staged massive protests at the sites of international trade, finance and government meetings throughout the world, most held in cities.
Like the Zapatistas, their message was the terrible damage that global trade agreements were doing to local economies and social fabrics.
Today Barcelona en Comu, the citizens' party which has recently won the mayoralty of that city, is doing something similar, traveling around, and spreading the word about their electoral success in that Spanish city, and the tensions and strategies they are using as they govern. The Zapatistas, meanwhile, have announced they intend to field a female Native American candidate for president of Mexico.
So in both Spain and Mexico there is a turn to electoral strategies at a moment when it seems that social-minded localists may have enough votes to actually get some traction within a system of representational democracy.
But that is not where they started. The Zapatistas of 1994 walked their ideology and volition back to Emiliano Zapata, a practical revolutionary and general. In his brief term as a governor in 1910, Zapata redistributed fraudulently appropriated hacienda lands to the peasants, and allowed village councils to run their own local affairs.[Wikipedia, “Emiliano Zapata”] Although he was assassinated, today he is a Mexican hero. Marlon Brando played him in a film written by John Steinbeck.

Actually the idea of a revolution that begins in the countryside, in isolated villages, and ends up having a global impact and inspiration around the world is pretty unusual. The struggles of the Zapatistas, like their namesake Emiliano Zapata, are based in land and local autonomy -- keeping out exploiters and developers, international mining companies and the like, and protecting the traditional rights of peasant farmers, most of them Mayan, not Spanish-Mexican.
In contrast, the most consequential revolutions in the West for centuries have all begun in cities.
Boston, 1775, a thriving port of whalers and traders, and the flash point for the North American colonial revolution.
Paris, 1789, the capitol of France and site of its royal palaces, and the storming of the Bastille prison to set free political prisoners.
Paris again, in 1871, under attack by the Germans, the government running away, the citizens take over the city for a few brief months – called the Paris Commune. The government returns, and thousands of citizens are executed.
Petrograd, now St. Petersburg, 1917, the capitol city of czarist Russia, sees an armed insurrection turn state power to the workers' councils, the signal event of the Russian Revolution – (the centennial is this year).
And so on – Berlin in 1919, an uprising of reds called Spartacists suppressed at the government's request by the Freikorps, precursor of the Nazi SS.
Budapest, Hungary, in 1956, a rising against the communist government put down by the “friendly” Russian Soviet army.
The Watts district of Los Angeles in 1965, the National Guard called up to put down a revolt of African Americans incensed about police violence.
Paris in 1968, the most romantic of 20th century urban revolutions, with artists and intellectuals taking the lead.
Mexico City 1968, students demanding rights slaughtered by the hundreds in the central square of the city as the Olympic Games were about to take place.
Detroit in the same year, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., a riot requiring the National Guard. Many other U.S. cities saw the same.
Beijing, 1989, the student and young people's encampment in Tianamen Square suppressed by the army and activists hunted down and imprisoned.
There are many many more of these major events. And I started arbitrarily with the touchstone of the U.S. revolution, one of the few which mainstream media delights to recall. That was not at all the first of such events.

Nearly all of these events, these revolts, uprisings and revolutions, found a context in severe political and usually economic crisis. In only a few did they result in substantive change in the form of government. But indeed, their failures – the fall of the Paris Commune; the failure of the Kronstadt rebellion of sailors and anarchists against the emerging Bolshevik communists; the brutal suppression of the Watts rebellion; the failure of Paris '68 even to bring down the president De Gaulle; the ruin of the hopes of the Chinese students – became in many cases the raw material for countless legends and family stories, tales of the hopeless love and sacrifice of so many people for freedom and democracy, and the fatal and life-shattering consequences when the authorities intervened.
The left revolutionary now really almost expects to fail. The quest for freedom is always a tragedy. The life of this increasingly tiny minority of political activists is a continual marination in bitterness and critique, with sporadic flashes of hope which quickly darken over. This is the texture of what we call the revolutionary imaginary.
What started to happen in 2011, however, was really rather different. It began in Tunis, capitol of Tunisia, and spread quickly to Cairo in Egypt. The Arab Spring of popular demonstrations, crucially started by women with cel phones, actually achieved results. They displaced dictators who had been considered invincible. (Moving forward, most of these uprisings, particularly in Syria and Libya, have had rather dismal outcomes – so far. The impulse to freedom of these populations will erupt again.)
When this revolutionary democratic movement spread to Europe, and then to the USA, it also had political consequences. In Athens, particularly in Greece, successive governments were brought down by good old fashioned general strikes, riots and street battles, until finally the Greeks ended up with a neo-socialist government called Syriza in power. That has been at the least a young more-or-less honest face on the national helplessness before the financial imperialism of the European Union and the implacable German banks.
Spain, also punished by the austerity of the crisis that followed the 2008 collapse of global credit, saw a massive encampment of the indignant ones – the “indignados” in the enormous central plaze of Madrid, the Puerta del Sol.
This was followed not too long after by another encampment in downtown New York City, the Occupy Wall Street. (Visiting Spanish, Arab and Greek activists were closely involved in that project, by the way.)
The first of these camps I saw was the 15M in Madrid, named after the day it was set up, the 15th of May. To me it all seemed very familiar. The camp was well-organized, with large tents for special purposes, informing the public of the aims of the occupation, welcoming new campers, cooking and serving food, taking care of injuries, cleaning and policing, a library, a children’s area, and so on. Why was it familiar to me? Because the organization of the 15M camp in the plaza, like Occupy Wall Street in the fall of 2011, followed more or less the way in which large building occupations have been carried out in Europe for decades. That's what I've been studying for more than 10 years – squatting, specifically squatting as a political movement.
Here I backtrack a little to Milan, Italy in the 1970s. A new kind of leftist movement emerged called Autonomia, theorized by dissident communist intellectuals. The activists of Autonomia came by their name because they were independent of the Italian Communist Party, which held many positions in government. The militants of Autonomia were made up of many southern Italian young people who had migrated north for factory jobs. The Autonomists called strikes without permission of the Communist union bosses. They carried out strikes on municipal services and commercial businesses in the form of direct theft – what they called “auto-reduction” of bus fares and organized shoplifting of food.

Most importantly for my story the Autonomists of Milan and other cities occupied empty factory buildings. (Italian capitalists were already moving their businesses to escape these rebellious workers.) They called them social centers – centros sociales. One of the first was Leoncavallo. The Leoncavallo social center was opened – or “kraaked” as the Dutch word has it – in order to provide social services that the government would not: health services, child care, food cooperatives, cultural facilities, all of them run by collectives of citizens who took these jobs upon themselves.
Leoncavallo was only one of dozens of social centers opened by the young immigrant workers and their allies in Milan. The idea quickly spread, first to other cities in Italy, and then to the rest of Europe. The city of Amsterdam in Holland already had a squatting movement since 1969, when the activists and hippies of the Dutch Provo movement started it. (The Provos, by the way, are another revolutionary group which moved into city government, after changing their name to the Kabouters.)
The example of the Italian Autonomist social center was very simple: to take a large building and create a citizens' center open to projects which anyone could propose, subject to the approval of an assembly of those who were maintaining the center. They called this self management auto-gestion. The places they squatted were called CSOAs, centros sociales occupados autogestionados in Spanish, which followed the Italian model.
Since the middle 1970s throughout Europe the example of the Italian social center has been imitated and refined. Generations of activists have found a new purpose in squatting – not only to find a place to live for a while for no rent, but to open and work in a place to do exactly the kind of activism, social or cultural, which you want to do. This is a history of decades of both altruistic and playful illegal activism which really very few people know about.
A question for the class is why? We can discuss afterwards. [Answer: Mainstream media, indebted to property interests for support, will not report it.]
The Italian Autonomists had a very specific word for their kind of activism. They called it “extra-parliamentary” opposition politics. That meant they did not try to run candidates in elections, either nationwide for parliament or for city councils – and they did not try to take over labor unions. They organized separately, outside of existing institutional structures like governments and labor unions, and did not ask permission or coordinate their direct actions with the powers that be. That way they preserved all their energies for their direct action organizing, which is demanding in itself.
This ideology was not without consequences. The Autonomia movement was destroyed. An alliance of convenience between right wing Christian Democrats and Communist judges and government officials succeeded in imprisoning many of the leading theorists and activists – college professor Antoni Negri is the best known – and sending many others into exile. (Franco Berardi, aka “Bifo”, lived in Paris and New York during the years of repression.)
Even so, this political model spread in Europe. Germans particularly took it up, forming groups called Autonomen, which supported demonstrations dressed in black and ready to fight police. The signature of an Autonomen demonstration was the burning car, adding an extra hazard to parking in Berlin.
One of the most frequent causes of German Autonomen demonstrations during their heyday in the 1980s was the eviction of squats. The slogan, “One eviction a million Euros of damage” often slowed down police and inclined city governments to negotiations.
Over decades, what the model of extra-parliamentary direct action achieved was a network of large building occupations which provided spaces for organizing politically, socially and culturally throughout Europe.
The CSOA social centers provided meeting places for the Global Justice Movement to organize their movement and to prepare their major demonstrations against international trade and financial meetings.
The CSOAs were also the infrastructure of subculture. During the 1990s the idea of the social center was taken up by punks, who didn't especially like old hippies and tiresome communists, so they squatted their own centers. In the 2000s free party people, electro-beat ravers didn't like the mosh pits and crusty dirt-love of the punks so they took over their own places. There always seemed to be enough abandoned buildings to go around...
… until fairly recently. As David Harvey has pointed out, contemporary capitalism is in a crisis because of the declining rate of profits. The crisis of '08 was brought on by the crazy speculation of banks seeking profits in newly created casino markets (derivatives, hedge funds and the like). While that hasn't stopped, governments have slowed it down. So what to do? The main problem, Harvey says, is that there's too much money sloshing around with too few profitable places to put it. That's why capital is flooding into cities, especially the “global cities”. Developing property for rich buyers and renters delivers a high rate of return in a difficult market for investment. He calls this “rent seeking,” and it's made vacant properties in city centers very desirable. Even state-owned social housing is being sold off to developers as it finds itself in the expanding center of global cities.

All this means that the sites of popular autonomous political organizing, the social centers, have been under great pressure. Squatting in the center of global cities has become nearly impossible, and difficult everywhere.
Activists in the Middle East and Europe turned to public space to organize mass demonstrations and encampments – long-running open-ended demonstrations to achieve extra-parliamentary pressure on oppressive governments.
These camps mobilized far more than the communists, hippies, punks and ravers who had opened all those dirty, rough-looking COSAs in the past. The 15M movement in Spain was made up of many young people who simply could not find jobs in the depression conditions of austerity government with double-digit unemployment. They did not have an immediately recognizable ideological position. “They don't represent us” – that was a major slogan, and they meant this first in opposition to the duopolistic Socialist-Popular Party consensus that dominated Spanish politics and colluded with the European Union in imposing austerity. But the “indignados” of 15M did not look to the United Left (IU), communists and left socialists which form a minority party in Spain for representation either. That party is bound to the labor unions and the old way of doing things for the benefit of their members.
After not so very long, the 15M encampment in Puerta del Sol was evicted by police. The activists were not surprised by this. But before it happened, they had already conceived a plan. The 15M movement would move into the barrios, the neighbourhoods, and form local assemblies meeting every week to discuss local problems. They did this, and joined up withcommunity groups which had been relatively inactive, but were rejuvenated by the influx of new members.
In Madrid, the rightwing city government started to harass the weekly meetings in public squares, writing tickets for unlawful assembly and the like. So the 15M activists joined with squatters to open and manage new social centers where they could meet and not be harassed by police. In my neighbourhood in Madrid, some in the assembly squatted a vacant warehouse. They were soon evicted. But like most squatting collectives, this did not discourage them. They moved to another district, to squat a school. Evicted from there they squatted a bank. Now, with the new Podemos-linked city government in power, they have been granted the legal use of another abandoned school.
It is worth noting that the Occupy Wall Street encampment in the U.S. A. didn't do any of this. Instead they fractionated into many little working groups which met privately and designed projects. Many Occupy activists were relieved not to have to deal with a time-consuming general assembly anymore. In consequence, the movement itself simply melted away. Although many individuals did become politicized and undertake various activisms, Occupy Wall Street itself did not become any kind of political force.
Occupy Wall Street broke up, helped along by a coordinated federal government initiative to evict camps in cities around the country simultaneously. The Spanish 15M movement, however, continued coherent. It became an electoral movement, and captured power first on the European Union level, then in the Spanish parliament and in cities around the country. I'll discuss in my talk later today [subsequent blog post] some of how this happened.
The assembly-based municipal movement, rooted in locality, is a powerful revolutionary dream. It has been spelled out in the early 20th century movement of council communism, and in Murray Bookchin's plans for libertarian municipalism. It has been rehearsed for decades in the social center movement where large spaces have been opened, defended, and managed by assemblies of activists.
It was promoted by the “leaderless” Zapatistas, and generalized within the leadership of the Global Justice Movement with its complex horizontal organization for coordinating demonstrations, and its different “blocs” of activists with very different ideas of what to do in a demonstration.
Finally it was taken up by the 15M, and the “movement of the squares” in many different cities in 2011 – movements that were not really left wing in their composition and intention, but were about daily life, about privation, obscene wealth and government corruption.
Many of the talking points of the Global Justice Movement has been seized upon by Trump to deceive voters – that is the old-time fascist strategy, ethnic nationalist populism with socialist sauce that you can easily scrape off.

The tactic that brought the movement(s) together, that drew the world's attention, is as old as revolution – occupation.
All the reasons for discontent with the way things are going were enumerated by Paul Mason in his viral blog post of early 2011, “Twenty reasons why it's kicking off everywhere” (the basis of a 2012 book of the same name).
These have not changed. So the opportunity remains.


Bill Weinberg, “Zapatistas and the Globalization of Resistance,” Yes magazine, May 2004

Paul Mason, “Twenty reasons why it's kicking off everywhere,” 2011; original blog post at: