If we sustain the distinction – as we try to throughout this book – between “politics” (understood as the battle for power) and the experiences in which processes of the production of sociability or values are at stake, we can distinguish then between the political militant (who founds their discourse on a certain set of certainties) and the militant researcher (who organizes their perspective on the basis of critical questions concerning these certainties).
Is a prologue internal or external to the text that it precedes? As we know, the prologue precedes from the end: although it opens the book, it is the last part to be written. It is not, then, a text that is internal to the book, nor is it completely external to it. It is, rather, both at the same time. It is external; yes, it is “post.” It speaks from “after” the book’s closing. It is a “second closure” that opens. But this new beginning – starting afterward – makes the main body of the text exist in another way: as if by being prefaced, it were projected and prolonged.
This extension is not a mere continuation, but rather an operation that reveals a form of work. This book is always already a prolongation: the prolongation of an encounter in a workshop, of one workshop into many others, of those workshops into an initial publication, that of the original dossier (Situaciones 4; Conversations with the MTD of Solano), from the dossier – already re-edited and out of print again – into this book that, in turn, will itself be prolonged in its readers, and becomes available for many other possible prolongations. [We might add that it is again prolonged, temporally, linguistically, geographically, in its translation many years later.]
The names of its authors – the Movimiento de Trabajaodores Desocupados (MTD) [Unemployed Workers’ Movement] of Solano and Colectivo Situaciones – could, somehow, appear excessive. This became clear to us when we wanted to legally register the publication. For the state institutions in charge of regulating and registering everything that has the shape of a book – be it anything capable of adopting this form – the author is a fact whose absence cannot be excused. If for any reason this name were not available, one would have to resort to a pseudonym (which always names the responsible person, either the author or the editor). One way or the other, the author must appear; someone must take responsibility for what is said.
We do not believe that we are amazingly original by reminding the reader that the “author” – authorship, from authority – has died. This book will therefore be what other forces, other becomings, are capable of doing with it. The death of the author is not only a fashionable phrase, it has concrete implications: it means that our intention as “authors” is not what counts here, that authorship is only a resource, an element, an item that is not worth spending time on.
This prologue, therefore, does not intend to promote a certain “appropriate” reading of the text – although, inevitably, it does suggest perspectives – nor does it anticipate conclusions that would be “suitable” to the intentions of those of us who participated in its making. Here prolongation does not mean the restriction of possible readings, but precisely the opposite: an offering, the act of delivering an object – that condenses encounters, thoughts – to the forces of new encounters and thoughts. [Similarly, this translation – one of many, and one that arises from specific encounters between the translators and the authors – does not purport to be the only possible translation but an opening up to many new translations and encounters.] Therefore, there is no “author,” but there is a work composed of rhythms, passions, forces, inspirations, thoughts, and affects. Those are what demand prolongations and epilogues. Those are what believe they can reveal something about themselves in what follows, while at the same time adding some clues about the figure of the research militant – an approximate word game to name the precarious existential equilibrium of a new form of commitment –.
Militant research, as we understand it, lacks an object. We are aware of the paradoxical nature of this statement – if one does research, one performs research on something; if there is nothing to do research on, how can we talk about research? – and, at the same time, we are convinced that it is exactly this nature that gives militant research its potencia.1 To investigate without objectifying, implies abandoning the conventional image of the researcher. And that is what the militant researcher aspires to do.
In fact, research can be a road to objectification (again, we are not being original by confirming this old knowledge, and, yet, this effect is one of the most serious limitations of the ususal subjectivity of the researcher). As Nietzsche reminds us, theoretical man (and woman) – which is something more complex than “the man (and woman) who reads” – is the one who perceives action from an entirely external point of view (that is to say, their subjectivity is constituted in a way that is completely independent with respect to that action). In this way, the theorist works by attributing an intention to the subject of the action. Let’s be clear: every attribution of this kind supposes, in relation to the protagonist of the observed action, an author and an intention; confers values and goals, and, in the end, produces “knowledge” about the action (and the actor).
Following this path, critical activity remains oblivious in regards to at least two essential moments. On the one hand, concerning the – external – subject who exercises the critique. Researchers do not need to investigate themselves. They can construct consistent knowledge about the situation to the extent – and, precisely, due to the fact – that they remain on the outside, at the prudent distance that, supposedly, guarantees a certain objectivity. And yes, this objectivity is authentic and efficacious to the same extent that it is nothing but the other side of the coin of the objectification – violence – of the situation on which the researcher works. [Meanwhile, the translator translates “neutrally” and “objectively,” always from a double outside.]
But there is yet a second aspect in which critical activity remains oblivious: the researcher – in their act of attribution – does nothing but adapt the resources that are available at the situation of their investigation to the unknowns presented by the object. The researcher, in this way, constitutes themself into a machine that confers meanings, values, interests, kinships, causes, influences, rationalities, intentions, and unconscious motives to their object.
Both blind spots, or perhaps the same blind spot in regards to two issues (concerning the subject who attributes and concerning the resources of attribution), come together in the configuration of a single operation: a machine that judges good and evil according to the set of available values.
This modality of knowledge production presents us with a clear dilemma. Traditional academic research – with its object, its method of attribution, and its conclusions – obtains, of course, valuable knowledge – that is mostly descriptive – in regard to the objects it investigates. But this descriptive operation in no way occurs after the object’s formation, because it itself produces that objectification. Thus academic research is much more effective when it best uses these objectifying powers. Thus science operates much more as separation – and reification – of the situations in which it participates than as an internal element in the creation of (both practical and theoretical) possible experiences.
The researcher offers themself as a subject of the synthesis of the experience. The researcher is the one who explains the rationality of what happens, and is preserved as such: as a necessary blind spot of that synthesis. The researcher, as the subject who gives meaning, remains exempted from any self-examination. That researcher and their resources – their values, their notions, their gaze – constitute themselves into the machine that classifies, gives coherence, inscribes, judges, discards and excommunicates. In the end, it is the intellectual who “does justice” regarding matters of truth, in terms of the administration – or adequateness – of what exists under the present horizon of rationality.
We have mentioned commitment and militancy. Are we perhaps proposing the superiority of the political militant in opposition to the academic researcher?
We do not believe so. Political activism is also a practice with an object. As such, it has remained tied to a mode of instrumentality: one that connects to other experiences from an always already constituted subjectivity, with prior knowledge – the knowledges of strategy –, supplied with universally valid, purely ideological statements. It relates to others through utilitarianism: there is never affinity, always “agreement,” never encounter, always “tactics.” Political activism – especially that of the political party – can hardly constitute itself into an experience of authenticity. From the very beginning it gets stuck in transitivity: what it finds interesting in an experience is always “something other” than the experience itself. From this point of view, political militancy – and militants on the Left are no exception – is as external, judgmental, and objectifying as university research.
Let’s add the fact that the humanitarian activist – let’s say from an NGO – does not escape these manipulative mechanisms. Strictly speaking, the now globalized humanitarian ideology is constituted from an idealized image of an already made, unchangeable world. Faced with that world, the only remaining possibility is to dedicate efforts to those – more or less exceptional – places where misery and irrationality still reign.
Not only do the mechanisms unleashed by humanitarian solidarity foreclose any possible creation, but they also naturalize – with the compassionate resources of beneficence and their language about exclusion – the victimizing objectification that separates each person from their subjective and productive possibilities. [While the humanitarian translator makes sure that those poor victims voices are heard, translated into the language of those with power.]
If we refer to the commitment and the “militant” character of research, we do so in a precise sense, connected to four conditions: a) the motive underpinning research; b) the practical character of research (elaboration of practical situated hypotheses); c) the value of what is being investigated: the result of research can only be evaluated in its totality in situations that share the problematics being investigated, as well as the constellation of conditions and concerns; and d) its effective procedure: its process of development is already a result in and of itself, and its results lead to an immediate intensification of effective procedures.
In fact, every idealization strengthens this mechanism of objectification. This is an authentic problem for the militancy of research. Idealization – even when it falls on an object not consecrated to such effect – always results from a mechanism of attribution (even when it does not happen under the pretext of scientific or political pretensions). Because idealization – like any ideologization – expels everything from the constructed image that could cause it to lose its status as an ideal of coherence and completeness.
What happens, however, is that every ideal – contrary to what the idealist believes – is more on the side of death than on that of life. The ideal cuts reality off from life. The concrete – the living – is partial and irremediably inconceivable, incoherent, and contradictory. The living – to the extent that it persists in its capacities and potencias – does not need to adjust itself to an image that gives it meaning or justifies it. It is the other way around, living is in itself a creative source – not an object or repository – of values of justice. In fact, the entire idea of a pure or complete subject is nothing but the conservation of this ideal.
Idealization conceals an operation that is inadvertently conservative: behind the purity and vocation for justice that seem to be its origin, its foundation in dominant values is once again hidden. Thus the righteous appearance of the idealist: they want to do justice, in other words, their desire is to materialize, to make effective, the values that they hold as good. Idealists do nothing but project these values onto the idealized (this is the moment when what was multiple and complex turns into an object, corresponding to an ideal) without asking themselves about their own values; more importantly, without undergoing a subjective experience that transforms themselves.
This mechanism reveals itself as the most serious of obstacles for the militant researcher. Originating in subtle and almost unperceivable forms, idealization slowly produces an almost unbridgable chasm. To the extent that the militant researcher only manages to see their own projections on what appears to them as already complete.
That is why this activity cannot exist unless a very serious work on the research collective itself takes place; in other words, it cannot exist without doing serious research on itself, without changing itself, without reconfiguring itself through the experiences in which it takes part, without revising the ideals and values it holds dear, without constantly criticizing its own ideas and understandings, and in the end, without developing practices that expand in all possible directions.
This ethical dimension points to the complexity of militant research: the subjectifying work of deconstructing every inclination towards objectification. In other words: carrying out research without an object.
Like in genealogy, it is all about working at the level of the “criticism of values.” It is about penetrating and destroying “its statues,” as Nietzsche affirms. But this work that is oriented by – and towards – the creation of values is not done by mere “contemplation.” It requires a radical critique of the prevailing values. That is why it involves an effort to deconstruct the dominant forms of perception (interpretation, valorization). Therefore there is no creation of values without the production of a subjectivity capable of submitting itself to a radical critique.
One question becomes clear: is such an investigation possible without at the same time setting in motion a process of falling in love? How would the link between two experiences be possible without a strong feeling of love or friendship?
In fact, the experience of militant research resembles that of a person in love, on the condition that by love we understand what a certain long – materialist – philosophical tradition understands by it: that is, not as something that happens to someone in relation to the other, but a process that takes two or more; a process that transforms the “self” into the “common.” One participates in such a relationship of love. Such a process is not decided intellectually: it takes the existence of two or more. It is not an illusion, but an authentic experience of anti-utilitarianism.
In love, in friendship, contrary to the mechanisms we describe above, there is neither objectivity nor instrumentalism. Nobody is spared from what the bond can do, nobody comes out from it uncontaminated. One does not experience love or friendship in an innocent way: we all leave them reconstituted. These potencias – love and friendship – have the power to constitute, qualify, and remake the subjects they catch. [And the translator, how could they not fall in love, how could they not be remade in the process of translating a text such as this? That is what makes translation an act of love.]
This love – or friendship – is constituted as a relationship that renders undefined what until that moment was preserved as individuality, composing an integrated figure made up of more than one individual body. And, at the same time, such a qualification of the individual bodies participating in this relationship causes the failure of all the mechanisms of abstraction – dispositifs that turn bodies into quantifiable, interchangeable objects –, as characteristic of the capitalist market as the other mechanisms of objectification we have mentioned.
Thus we consider this love a condition of militant research.
In this book we refer several times to this processes of friendship or falling in love, under the – less compromising – name of composition. Different from articulation, composition is not merely intellectual. It is neither based in interests nor in criteria of (political or another type of) convenience. In contrast to (strategic or tactic, partial or total) “agreements” or “alliances” founded on coincidences expressed in a text, composition is more or less inexplicable, and goes beyond everything one can say about it. In fact – at least while it lasts –, it is much more intense than any merely political or ideological compromise.Love and friendship tell us about the value of quality over quantity: the power of the collective body composed of other bodies does not increase according to the mere quantity of its individual components, but in relation to the intensity of the bond that unites them.
Love and friendship, then: the work of research militancy is not to be identified with the production of a party line. It works – necessarily – on another plane.
If we sustain the distinction – as we try to throughout this book – between “politics” (understood as the battle for power) and the experiences in which processes of the production of sociability or values are at stake, we can distinguish then between the political militant (who founds their discourse on a certain set of certainties) and the militant researcher (who organizes their perspective on the basis of critical questions concerning these certainties).
Yet, this distinction is often lost from sight, in the belief that what can be seen in the experience of the MTD of Solano – particularly following the Situaciones 4 pamphlet – is just one more party line.
In some way, then, some have thought they have seen the birth of a “situationist” line, as an idealized product of language – or even the jargon – of the publication and the image that – apparently – the pamphlet transmits – at least in some readings – of the experience.
Detractors and adherents to this new line have created a motive for disputes and conspiracies out of it. In this regard, all we can do is admit that out of all the possible outcomes of this encounter, these reactions are the ones that motivate us the least, both because of the manifest improducitivity that results from such repudiation and adhesion and because of how such idealizations (whether positive or negative) usually replace a more critical vision about those making them. Thus, a too closed position is rapidly adopted out of what is supposed to be an exercise of opening.
We have already admitted that we cannot control interpretations. But perhaps we did not think about a particular implication of this point of view. The death of the author turns the reader into the subject responsible for creating a meaning based on the text. And in this very operation, the reader-author is produced (one who does not preexist and will not endure beyond what they can do with the text). Thus, the supposed original author has lost their right to tell the reader what to do with their reading. What the “author” (as a talking corpse) can indeed do is read the understandings that have been made of their texts; in other words, intervene as reader. It is only in this character that we pronounce ourselves decidedly in open refusal of the purely political interpretation of the present text.
Let’s take another step in constructing the concept of research without an object. Interiority and immanence are not necessarily identical processes.
Inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion, are categories of the dominant ideology (if we are allowed such an expression): they usually hide more than they reveal. That is, the experience of militant research is not one of being inside, but of working from immanence.
Let’s say that the difference can be presented in the following terms: the inside (and therefore the outside) defines a position organized from a certain boundary that is considered relevant. Inside and outside refer to the location of a body or element in relation to a disjunction or a border. To be inside is also – in this line – to share a common property, which makes us belong to a same set.
This system of references interrogates us about the place where we are situated: nationality, social class, or even the site where we choose to situate ourselves in regards to… the next elections, the military invasion of Colombia or cable television programming…
In the extreme, both “objective” belonging (that derives from the observation of a common property) and “subjective” belonging (that derives from choice in the face of) come together to the joy of the social sciences: if we are unemployed workers we can choose to join a piqueterx movement; if we are from the middle class we can choose to be part of a neighborhood assembly. Through determination –collective belonging to the same group, in this case social class – choice (the group of commons with which we will join) becomes possible – and desirable –.
In both cases being inside implies respecting a pre-existing boundary that distributes places and belonging in a more or less involuntary way. It is not about denying the possibilities that derive from the moment of choice – which can be, as in the case of these examples, highly subjectifying –, but distinguishing the mere “being” and its “inside” (or “outside,” it does not matter), from the mechanisms of subjective production that arise from disobeying those destinies. At the border, it is not as much about reacting in the face of already codified options as it is about producing the terms of the situation ourselves.
In this sense it is worth presenting the image of immanence as something other than merely being inside.
Immanence refers to a mode of inhabiting the situation and works from composition – love or friendship – in order to bring about new possible elements of this situation. Immanence is constituent co-belonging that traverses the representations of “inside” and “outside” transversally or diagonally. Where interiority demands a mode of being that is exhausted in belonging or adhesion, immanence implies inhabiting the experience, opening it to the possible potencias of composition. [Immanent translation expands this composition, in all directions at once, the translator is neither inside nor outside the situation, be actively composing, weaving, it together with new situations.]
Summing-up: immanence, situation, composition are notions that are internal to the experience of militant research. Useful names for the operations that organize a becoming common and, above all, constituent. If, in other experiences, they turn into the jargon of a new political line or categories of a fashionable philosophy – something that does not interest us at all – they will, for sure, obtain a new meaning based on those uses which are not ours.
In other words: the operational difference between the “inside” of representation (foundation of belonging and identity) and the connection of immanence (the constituent becoming) has to do with the greater openness that the latter form grants us for participating in new experiences.
It seems like we have arrived at the production of a difference between love-friendship and the forms of objectification against which the – precarious, we insist – figure of the militant researcher seeks to rebel.
Yet, we have not entered in the – fundamental – matter of the ideologization of confrontation.
Struggle activates capacities, resources, ideals, and solidarities. As such it speaks to us about a vital disposition, about dignity. In it, the risk of death is neither pursued nor desired. Thus the meaning of the dead comrades will never be complete, but rather, painful. This dramatic quality of struggle is, however, made banal when the confrontation is put in ideological terms, to the point that they are postulated as its exclusive meaning.
When this happens there is no room for research. As we know, both – ideology and investigation – have opposite structures: while the first is constituted from a set of certainties, the second only exists on the basis of a grammar of questions.
Yet, struggle – the necessary, noble struggle – does not in itself lead to the exaltation of confrontation as the dominant meaning of life. There is no doubt that the limit can appear very thin in the case of an organization in permanent struggle, like a piqueterx organization, and yet, to give up on this point would be to prejudge.
Unlike the militant subjectivity that is usually sustained through a meaning given by the extreme polarization of life – the ideologization of confrontation –, the experiences that seek to construct another type of sociability are very active in trying not to fall into the logic of confrontation, according to which the multiplicity of experience is reduced to this dominant signifier.
Confrontation, on its own, does not create values. As such it does not go beyond the distribution of dominant values.
The result of a war shows us who will appropriate what exists. Who will have property rights over goods and existing values.
If struggle does not alter the “structure of meanings and values” we are only in the presence of a change of roles, which guarantees the survival of the structure itself.
Once we have arrived at this point, two completely different images of justice – because in the end that’s what this is about – are sketched out before us. On one side, the struggle is for the ability to use the judging machine. To make justice is to claim for oneself what is considered just. It is to interpret the distribution of existing values in another way. The other image suggests that it is about becoming creators of values, of experiences, of worlds.
This prologue affirms that the book it opens for us does not speak of a model experience. Moreover, it continues – insistently – to affirm that it is against the existence of such ideals. It will be said – and with reason – that it is one thing to utter this principle and something very different to achieve it in practice. One can also conclude – and here our doubts start – that in order for this noble purpose to become a reality it would be necessary for us to make “our criticisms” explicit (in this case, Colectivo Situaciones’s criticisms of the MTD of Solano). If we were to look at this demand closely, we would see how it asks us to save the model – now in a negative way – by comparing the realexperience to the idealmodel, a mechanism that is used by the social sciences to extract their “critical judgments.”As we can see, all these reflections on criticism and the production of knowledge are not minor issues, and that is because they concern forms of justice (and judgment is nothing but the judicial form of justice). This book can offer nothing that resembles a juridical event, nor does it provide resources to make judgments about other experiences. Rather, the opposite is the case: if we have tried to do something as “authors” – talking corpses that write – it has been to offer an image that is completely opposed to juridical justice, or, in other words, a justice founded on composition. What is it good for? There are no predetermined answers.
In Spanish, there are two words for “power”: “poder” and “potencia,” which derive from the Latin words “potestas” and “potentia.” Colectivo Situaciones’ understands power based on this distinction they take from Spinoza. While “potencia” has a dynamic, constituent dimension, “poder” is static, constituted. Potencia defines our power to do, to affect, and be affected, while the mechanism of representation that constitutes “poder” separates “potencia” from the bodies that are being represented. To preserve the emphasis of this distinction, the Spanish word “potencia” is used, where appropriate, throughout this book. – Trans.
Today, when the term “militant research” is regularly used in academic articles and texts, it is worth returning to the question of the purpose and practice of research militancy. Ultimately, as Hipotesis 891 highlights, research militancy is not primarily about another way of doing research, or least research that assumes academia as its main site of enunciation. Rather, it is about another way of doing politics, that does not follow a predetermined line or presume to know the answers a priori, but that sees research as part of the political process itself.
Hypothesis 891 presents precisely that, a series of situated hypotheses (the number comes from the street address where those hypotheses were elaborated). It also showcases the process through which those hypotheses were proposed, discussed, tested, challenged, accepted or discarded. In other words, it does not present answers, but a way of asking questions. It is in this sense that it represents a process of “militant research” or “research militancy.” These texts were part of a series of workshops held with members of the militant research collective Colectivo Situaciones and members of the Movimiento de Trabajadores Desocupados [Unemployed Workers’ Movement, MTD] of Solano. At the time, Colectivo Situaciones consisted of a group of university students who had become frustrated both with the dominant forms of leftist activism and academic knowledge. In search of a form of knowledge immanent to struggles, that did not separate the object from the subject of knowledge production, they began working with the series of innovative social movements emerging in Argentina to collectively reflect on and theorize the moment, recognizing, in turn, that this knowledge is itself a productive force that intervenes in the situation at hand. The work presented here brings Colectivo Situaciones into dialogue with one of the most innovative movements of the unemployed at the time: the MTD of Solano. The MTD of Solano was already developing its own conceptions of autonomy, power, neighborhood organizing, alternative economies, the production of subjectivity, the meaning of freedom. The confluence between the two groups thus produced an immensely rich dialogue, which extended well beyond the production of this book.
The texts that make up this book include initial hypotheses, written by Colectivo Situaciones, edited transcripts of the conversations in the workshops discussing the hypotheses, and response pieces by both Colectivo Situaciones and the MTD of Solano. The book, as a whole, is the result of a process of collective thought and elaboration, both by each group on its own – Colectivo Situaciones and the MTD of Solano – and together through the workshop discussions where the words of members of each collective are woven together, to create new understandings and analyses that could not have emerged from either collective alone. The texts thus reflect tensions, both between and within the collectives, and also elaborations on those tensions as the thinking changes over time.
The workshops that provided the material for this book took place between September 2001 and August 2002, during which time Argentina saw one of the most important processes of resistance to neoliberal capitalism that the world had seen at that time, effectively overthrowing the neoliberal government in December 2001. That uprising was led by many of the movements and organizations discussed in this book – the movements of the unemployed, neighborhood assemblies, and barter networks – yet it also exceeded and went far beyond those existing forms of organizing. It drew all sorts of people into the streets, despite the state of emergency and curfew declared by the government. Those people, whether in organizations or not, protested, set up barricades and fought off the police and military, until the president, Fernando de la Rúa, abandoned his office. This led to a time of intense social experimentation, both in forms of political organization and in forms of researching and thinking, of which this book is a prime example.
“A movement of movements”: The Unemployed Workers’ Organizations
By the late 1990s, Argentina was experiencing a severe economic crisis: years of neoliberal structural adjustment, demanded by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, had failed and poverty and unemployment were reaching record levels. It was in this context that the unemployed began organizing. At first derided and ignored by the major labor union federations and leftist parties alike, the unemployed began organizing autonomously, initially coming together around shared problems of social reproduction – unpayable electricity and gas bills, the rising cost of food, health care, and education – and mass job loss. In smaller cities in the interior of the country, such as Cultral-Co, whole communities came together after mass layoffs at the recently privatized oil company YPF. These uprisings – known as pueblazos for the way the whole community participated – were fundamental in bringing the issue of unemployment into the public agenda and popularizing the tactic of the roadblock (piquete). As the unemployed began organizing around the country, from those smaller cities to the urban peripheries of major metropolises such as Buenos Aires, La Plata, and Rosario, the tactic of the roadblock became the tool of choice for the unemployed. This is what led to the organized unemployed being baptized as piqueteros.1 Organizations of the unemployed – piqueterxs – thus started organizing roadblocks around the country, blockading major highways, bridges, and other key transit points, sometimes for weeks at a time. Those roadblocks brought the circulation of commodities to a halt and forced different levels of government to start responding to the piqueterxs demands for unemployment insurance, food aid, etc. The roadblocks, at least in some cases, were also a space for what the MTD of Solano refers to as the construction of a “new sociality,” producing new ways of living together that challenge the dominant capitalist subjectivity.
Despite this shared tactic and common problems, the different organizations of the unemployed that emerged in different territories were extremely diverse, with different compositions, adopting different ideological positions and organizational forms, and making different alliances. As the political power of the unemployed became clear, labor unions and leftist parties also started their own unemployed branches or tried to bring existing unemployed organizations into their fold. And yet other unemployed organizations remained “autonomous,” unaffiliated with any major unions, parties, or other social organizations. Those autonomous organizations generally took the name of Movimiento de Trabajadores Desocupados [Unemployed Workers’ Movement] of their given territory. The MTD of Solano, a locality in the southern part of Buenos Aires’ urban periphery, was one of these. The organization initially emerged from meetings at a local parish and then, after being evicted from the parish by the Bishop, expanded to bring together different neighborhood groups of the unemployed across the territory of Solano, ultimately encompassing hundreds of families. Despite remaining autonomous from political parties and trade unions, they did, at different times, join different political alliances and coordinating bodies, most importantly the Coordinadora de Trabajadores Desocupados Aníbal Verón (Aníbal Verón Unemployed Workers’ Coordination), which brought together many of the different autonomous unemployed workers’ organizations to organize actions together and support one another’s initiatives.
While the workshops focus on the specific experience of the MTD of Solano, the complex cartography of different organizations of the unemployed is referenced throughout the book. Frequent mentions are made of organizations such as the Federación Tierra y Vivienda (Land and Work Federation, FTV, lead by Luis d’Elía) linked to the Central de Trabajadores Argentinos (Argentine Workers’ Central Union, CTA), the Corriente Clasista y Combativa (Class-based and Combative Current, CCC, affiliated with the Revolutionary Communist Party), the Polo Obrero (Workers’ Pole, affiliated with the Workers’ Party) and the Movimiento Teresa Rodríguez (Teresa Rodríguez Movement, MTR). Each of these organizations have their own histories, compositions, practices, and ideological and theoretical positions. It is in that sense that Colectivo Situaciones refers to the unemployed workers’ organizations as a whole as “a movement of movements.” These different organizations and movements would sometimes come together in specific actions or campaigns. Notably a couple of “National Piquetero Congresses” attempted to bring together organizations of the unemployed across this spectrum, however, without much lasting success. As the MTD of Solano recounts here, there were major differences in terms of how to relate to the state and forms of internal organization. For the MTD of Solano, many of these other groups represent ways of doing politics based on a way of thinking based on “globality,” thinking in terms of predefined concepts and understandings of power, rather than starting from the situation. That way of thinking, starting from the situation and insisting on the autonomy to define one’s own concepts and on the self-affirmation of one’s own project, is what sets the MTD of Solano apart from many of these other organizations of the unemployed.
Another major sources of difference and tension among the organizations of the unemployed was their relationship to what in Argentina are colloquially known as “subsidies,” the complex array of welfare benefits packages offered to the poor and the unemployed. These subsidies were one of the primary demands of the movements in the roadblocks and other mobilizations. Eventually, they came to include a wide range of programs offered by different levels of government (from municipalities to the federal government). Originally proposed as individual welfare benefits to the poor and the unemployed, the movements demanded, and won, the right to collectively administer the programs. This meant that organizations would receive the money, distribute it to their members, deciding who was eligible based on their own criteria and, in cases of corresponding work requirements, determine what counted as “work” in order to subsequently receive benefits. Of course, this had mixed consequences. It led to a swelling of the ranks of the organizations of the unemployed, as people signed up in order to have access to those benefits. It also led to accusations of clientelism, of organizations essentially paying people to show up to their events or otherwise using the programs to the sole benefit of leaders. In other cases, it led to interesting experiments in collectivizing the benefits – pooling benefits to use them to use for common projects – and redefining what was considered work – valuing care and community labor above all else.
Of course, the organizations of the unemployed were also part of a broader constellation of movements, organizations, and alternative economic practices during the crisis. These include the neighborhood assemblies of largely middle-class urban neighborhoods and the barter clubs which extended across the country, using alternative currencies and barter to trade for goods and services as the official economy collapsed. As the members of the MTD of Solano explain here, the movements of the unemployed had complicated and evolving relations with these other movements and practices, sometimes coming together across class differences and sometimes entering into irresolvable tension. Yet, as a whole, this complex constellation of movements was responsible for a unique moment of experimentation in terms of forms of life, ways of organizing economic and social relations, and of producing knowledge.
Twenty Years of 2001
A lot has changed in the twenty years since Hipotesis 891 was originally published. Ultimately, much of the energy of the revolt in 2001 was institutionalized, with the election of Nestor Kirchner in 2003 and then of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in 2007. Their administrations not only increased the subsidies and other benefit packages available to the poor, and specifically to social movements and cooperatives, but also incorporated movement leaders into government positions and created programs directly designed to booster those alternative economic activities that had emerged in the crisis. The conversations with the MTD of Solano included in this book make it clear that there were already intense debates about the issue of institutionalization between different organizations of the unemployed. These tensions only increased Kirchner’s election as many organizations jumped on the opportunity to participate in official policies, while others began defining themselves precisely in opposition to that institutionalization and organized around explicitly fighting against the Kirchner governments, accusing them of co-opting and pacifying movements.
The position of the MTD of Solano can best be described in Raquel Gutierrez’s terms as non-state-centric. In Gutiérrez’s words, a non-state-centric politics “does not propose confrontation with the state as the central issue nor is it guided by building strategies for its ‘occupation’ or ‘takeover;’ but rather, it is strengthened by defense of the common, it displaces the state and capital’s capacity for command and imposition, and it pluralizes and amplifies multiple social capabilities for intervention and decision-making over public matters: it disperses power as it enables the reappropriation of collective decision-making and speech over matters that belong to everyone because they affect us all.”2 In that sense, the MTD of Solano always prioritized its own project: the project of creating new forms of life, new social relations, and new subjectivities in the neighborhoods where they worked. This never meant completely ignoring the realm of the state, and it often meant directly organizing forms of collective self-defense against state repression. Yet, they also continued occasionally receiving subsidies and grants from the state and other institutions, when they determined that doing so would further their organizational needs and not greatly sacrifice their autonomy. Most of members’ energy went into the group’s productive projects, from a bakery to community garden, their neighborhood health clinic, and popular education and pedagogical processes, and to maintaining the alliances and coalitions to support those projects. The MTD of Solano discusses this in terms of not letting their practice be defined by “the political conjuncture.” Instead, the organization’s project and needs, the project of creating new modes of life, were always prioritized over conflicts taking place at the level of state politics, no matter who was in the presidency.
The divisions which became present under Kirchner and Fernandez’s governments, in some sense, only intensified with the election of right-wing neoliberal Mauricio Macri in 2015. Macri represented a return to many of the neoliberal economic policies of the 1990s, but with a friendlier face, that sought to incorporate the popular sectors into the neoliberal project. In this sense, it sought to reestablish a neoliberal subjectivity at the base of society, individualizing welfare benefits and encouraging “entrepreneurship” at all levels of society.3 Macri’s administration was also responsible for taking out the largest IMF loan in the institution’s history, for cutting subsidies for utilities for the middle class, and undercutting unions in wage negotiations. In this context, many movements became further entrapped by the spatialities and temporalities of state politics, focusing their energy on electoral campaigns and influencing politicians in power, rather than the autonomous grassroots experiments that had characterized much of the 2001 uprising.
It was also a moment of new alliances and political strategies. Starting during Fernandez’s government, Colectivo Situaciones and the MTD of Solano focused much of their efforts on constructing new alliances and research initiatives with emerging subjectivities of struggle, particularly migrants, precarious workers, and, later, feminist organizations and collectives. This research also focused on shifts at the level of popular subjectivity – on forms of what some referred to as microfascisms – as increased competition, identitarianism, and authoritarian behavior were being enacted on the extremely local level. One of the clearest examples of this was the case of Parque Indoamericano, in which three thousand families, mostly Bolivian and Paraguayan migrants, occupied the park and set up a temporary encampment, only to be violently attacked by more middle-class neighborhood residents and state forces. Three migrants were killed in the police’s raid on the park, which was yet celebrated by many of the white middle and upper-class sectors of society.4 Members of Colectivo Situaciones and the MTD of Solano worked together with collectives of migrants and other urban researchers in the Hacer Ciudad (Making the City) workshop to investigate changes occurring in the city, and the subjectivities of its inhabitants, at multiple scales. This research, and the web of alliances that carried out it, was thus able to diagnose the Macri government in a novel way, emphasizing those shifts in subjectivity that accompanied a generalized precarization of life.
Living in Freedom: Resonances Today
Twenty years after its original publication, the debates and themes raised in Hipotesis 891 are more relevant than ever. Both the process from which the book emerged – research militancy – and the concepts proposed, such as counter-power, autonomy, horizontality, new forms of militant commitment, and new understandings of freedom, offer important insights for movements today. With this translation, we hope to contribute to the further circulation and dispersion of ideas and concepts, allowing them to travel to new territories, be transformed in the process, and contribute to the mutual contamination of struggles for our collective liberation.5
The first of these themes, and that which has made the name Colectivo Situaciones well-known in the English-speaking world, is that of militant research or research militancy. The concept traveled broadly through different militant translations of Colectivo Situaciones’ work and their participation in movement encounters and events across Europe and North America, entering into dialogue with other concepts ranging from conricerca to participatory-action research. Hipotesis 891 does not offer theories of militant research, but rather demonstrates a process of militant research. As Colectivo Situaciones explains in the prologue, they understand militant research as both a critique of traditional forms of academic research as well as the politics of most leftist movements and non-governmental organizations that is based on already knowing the answers. Instead, the offer a politics that in itself involves research, questioning, and collectively constructing responses. Colectivo Situaciones maintains a commitment to the knowledge produced in struggle and also a commitment to the idea that knowledge can and must be used for struggle. Today, when the term “militant research” is regularly used in academic articles and texts, it is worth returning to the question of the purpose and practice of research militancy. Ultimately, as Hipotesis 891 highlights, research militancy is not primarily about another way of doing research, or least research that assumes academia as its main site of enunciation. Rather, it is about another way of doing politics, that does not follow a predetermined line or presume to know the answers a priori, but that sees research as part of the political process itself.
Another key theme, which highlights the uniqueness of the MTD of Solano’s approach to politics and organizing, is their emphasis on the production of subjectivity. This emphasis highlights the fact that we are not fully formed subjects at the beginning of a political project and that politics takes place, among other levels, on the level of subjectivity. We see this emerge in two different ways in the MTD of Solano’s analysis here. First, it can be seen in their critique of capitalism as producing particular subjectivities and desires, particularly as they see that manifest in their neighborhoods in terms of cut throat competition and lack of solidarity between neighbors. Rather than condemn those neighbors, they seek to understand how those elements are a fundamental part of capitalism’s reproduction and expansion. The second element, involves asking how the movement can function as a space for the production of different subjectivities. Thus they ask what pedagogical practices are necessary, what forms of decision-making and internal discussion are helpful, for creating subjectivities that are not oriented by the logic of capitalism. Again, there is no predefined path for this, but it involves transforming all of those who participate in the project. As members of the MTD of Solano put, “we have also proposed to recreate ourselves, to subject ourselves to change as well, as we have thrown all our certainties out the window.” This also means being willing to engage with comrades who make mistakes, recognizing how we have all internalized elements of the capitalist logic, and that we must be willing to work through that process of transformation together. Thus, instead of searching for the “right” subject to engage in revolutionary activity, whether determined by some sort of identity or class position, the MTD of Solano always understood their task to be that of producing a revolutionary subject.
Finally, the MTD of Solano always stood out, even in Argentina, for its understanding of power – and counter-power – and autonomy, moving beyond a state-centric politics. Counter-power, as posed by the MTD of Solano, is not in symmetrical opposition to power, the power of the state, the power of domination, power over. Rather, counter-power operates differently, on a different realm. Counter-power is the power of creation, the power to act, the power to affect and be affected by others. This commitment to counter-power lies at the heart of the MTD of Solano’s non-state-centric politics, which is not driven by a logic of confrontation with the state nor the desire to take state power. Here autonomy arises as a horizon, not a fixed state but a process through which and toward which the movement works. They attempt to progressively create more autonomy both in terms of the sustainability of their alternative economic projects that allow them to meet some part of their daily needs while relying increasingly less on state subsidies, and in terms of the autonomy of thought and language, proposing their own analyses, their own concepts, for understanding and creating the world in which they want to live. Counter-power ultimately manifests through enacting other ways of living together, ways of organizing work without a boss and managers, ways of living intimate relations beyond the heterosexual nuclear family, ways of cohabiting spaces without hierarchical governments. Or as the MTD proposes, “It is very important to recognize that it is not about transforming the municipal government, or the police force, among other things, but rather that these things exist today as things that we no longer want, we reject them, we negate them. We don’t want to substitute any part of that system, we want to build something different. And it is that new thing that we are envisioning, constructing. That is counter-power.” This is a project that ultimately proposes “a project of living in freedom,” understood as freedom from capitalist imperatives of how to live our lives and the collective creation of new forms of life that allow us to lives and our relations to each other in their fullness.
In the remainder of the text, we use the gender-neutral term piqueterxs, which has been widely taken up in recent years thanks to the mass feminist movement and that highlights the important role that women played in the movement as a whole, although it was often not recognized at the time. We opt to maintain the Spanish term rather than simply refer to “the unemployed,” because, as the MTD of Solano explains later in this book, piqueterx refers to a political identity, an identity based on action and resistance, while “the unemployed” merely refers to a sociological description, which is often depoliticized and cast in the position of a victim.
Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar, Horizonte Comunitario-Popular. Antagonismo y producción de lo común en América Latina. (Cochabamba: Sociedad Comunitaria de Estudios Estratégicas y Editorial Autodeterminación, 2015), 89.
For more on these shifts in subjectivity and the spread of a “neoliberalism from below” during both the late Kirchner period and the Macri’s government, see Verónica Gago’s Neoliberalism from Below: Popular Pragmatics and Baroque Economies (Durham, NC: Duke Press, 2017) and Diego Sztulwark’s La ofensiva sensible: Neoliberalismo, populismo y el reverso de lo político (Buenos Aires: Caja Negra, 2019).
For a militant research process analyzing the Parque Indoamericano Case, in which Colectivo Situaciones was involved with migrant collectives, see Taller Hacer Ciudad, Vecinocracia: (Re)tomando la ciudad (Buenos Aires: Tinta Limón and Editorial Retazos, 2011).
For more on dispersion and the work of the book, as it travels, in the construction of movements and struggles, see Magalí Rabasa, The Book in Movement: Autonomous Politics and the Lettered City Underground (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019).
Consistent with his rejection of a romanticization of the working class, Linhart insists that workers’ knowledge is fragmented and partial, if also profound. The task of the inquiry is, thus, to collect via dialogue and participation, this disjointed state of collective memory and oral testimony in support of a systematic understanding of the whole.
If we want to understand something, I think there’s nothing to do but go see it oneself and to patiently collect the most direct knowledge possible. Go see the sites of production, speak with workers and businesspeople, engineers, work where possible together with workers, participate directly in production. This patient work of identifying reality as concretely as possible is what I call “making inquiries.”
The concrete functioning of those industries which have been “offshored” or set up by “transferred technology” in Third World countries has hardly been studied in a systematic way, and we only have scattered and disparate data on this subject. It is regarding this concrete process that we would like to make a few remarks. The contradictions at work in the process of industrialization in Algeria are far from having produced all their consequences.
The development of outside firms permanently employed across the cluster effectively transforms the division of labor in a thoroughgoing manner, more or less insidiously changing the function of workers of the petrochemical enterprise, and in many cases coming to load the position of the working class in this sector with ambiguity – posing a problem (more or less assumed) to industrial and trade union action.
In all capitalist countries, organizing work means dividing workers: exploring ever new “labor reserves,” just as one begins production on a new mining deposit, wearing down and laminating its dense cores. The organization of labor never stabilizes, even in periods where technology remains constant. Workers resist a mode of exploitation which seeks, limitlessly, to intensify work and make labor-power more lucrative and capitalism strives to detect and deepen weak points within worker resistance.
In the concreteorganization of labor existing in the field, we encounter a combination of different modes of workplace organization developed up to the present moment, a combination that is the result of employer policies, working-class practices and resistance, economic factors external to the internal organization of the labor process, and various elements of the class struggle in society. It is critical, then, to not be limited to a mode of workplace organization that, at each given moment, occupies the forefront of the ideological scene, but to take into account the totality of the real organization of labor, to the extent that one can grasp it or reconstruct it.
In the present context, what we are seeing does not really resemble the establishment of innovative organizations breaking with the Taylorist logic, but much more a mixture of genres where innovations are introduced but within a logic that remains fundamentally Taylorist. Management is engaged in a constant project to seek out another mode of control, domination, and coercion of employees before preparing the passage toward possible reforms of the organization of labor which could be rendered more compatible with the demands for responsiveness imposed by the market and new forms of competition.
In these very difficult workplace situations, all the agents interviewed indeed stressed the importance of the group. The existence of a genuinely solidaristic and very active work group functions as a shock absorber for those temporal tensions and multiple dilemmas that are the daily lot of full-time staff on the razor’s edge.