The chimera of revolution: Travels through 15M’s spain

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Chimaera … breathed awful fire,

Three-headed, frightening, huge, swift-footed, strong,

One head a bright-eyed lion’s, one a goats,

The third a snake’s, a mighty dragon-head.

Hesiod, Theogony

Monsters have always defined the limits of community …

Donna Haraway, A Manifesto for Cyborgs

A chimera points to what is imaginative, implausible, a general term to describe an idea or a concept as unrealistic; in our so realistic present, a seemingly unanswerable objection to all that is proposed that is different from that which is perceived to be.  But the term here masquerades as descriptive, when in fact its function is normative.  One should not think the implausible, nor imagine differences beyond what is, nor, even more dangerously, act upon such imaginings.

To judge as chimerical is to exclude, and possibly even prohibit and condemn, the imaginary.  And if it is held that the imaginary lies at the very centre of thought, which it does, then it is to prohibit thought itself.

The chimerical is placed beyond the border of reality and reason.  It refers to a space of fantasy, delirium, madness; a space which then reflects back upon and helps to define what is real and reasonable.  To embrace the chimerical is then to engage in an act of transgression, the moment/event of rebellion.

Revolution is monstrous, for its nature is of the ancient chimera, not only of the order of the imaginary, but of a real that is polymorphous.  Unsusceptible to domestication, unpredictable in its movements, it is the fire that feeds all creativity.

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On the 9th of May, in the Plaza de Cabestreros, in the neighbourhood Lavapiés, of Madrid, the building that formerly housed the Centro Social Okupado El Laboratorio 2 (1999-2001) was retaken.  The day after, the following statement presented the project to the neighbourhood:

Today, we inaugurate a new space that residents of Lavapiés have decided to liberate in the neighbourhood.  This decision arose from the necessity for spaces that we share where we can live our lives fully, where we can develop our many different dimensions with other people.

This concern led us to explore our surroundings, to come to know the spaces and residents of our neighbourhood, their past and present.  It is for them that we elected this space that we today inaugurate.  This building was already once before a social space, freed and self-managed.  In 1977, the building was abandoned, unfinished.  And so it stayed until 1999, when it was liberated and converted into the CSOA El Laboratorio 2, an experience that lasted two years (though the project preceded this okupation and did not finish there), again being closed until now.

This is the history of the building … but it is not an isolated case, nor an exception.  Some considerable time ago, the gestation of what has come to be today one of the worst economic and social crisis that we have experience began, which in how it touches us, was in large part based on urban speculation.  But we are also reminded of the fact that crises are one of the basic characteristics of the economic system in which we live.  A few people profit on the basis of speculating with the lives of others, people who attribute monetary values to things, making of some of them (buildings, whether for living or sharing social life) something unattainable.  We are tied to salaried labour as the only means to accede to these goods; an interaction through which the fictitious object called “money” comes to exist.  Everything in this reality is valued only according to economic value, including people.  Yet it is not we ourselves who set the values of exchange.  It is done by those who possess power (and money).  It is they also who are accustomed to decide about that which affects us all.  Labour, education, mortgages, consumption, money, salary, contacts … are concepts around which our daily lives turn (now complemented by such technical marvels as “risk premiums”, “bailout rescues”, “recession”), even if it is not we who chose them.

Yet sometimes the state of things changes; sometimes people meet each other who share in common their interests, realities, necessities or anxieties.  And it is here where social processes emerge autonomously, from the people themselves, from below and from day to day, from which changes come.  The situation that we presently live has favoured the intensification of collective processes.  In a moment of economic crisis and precariousness, we have found the occasion to take to the streets, to let our imaginations fly, believing that now yes, not only is another reality possible, it is necessary.

Our action of okupying an empty building was born of the radical belief in the illegitimacy of the current condition in which the building finds itself.  To leave such a space unused for such a long period of time is unacceptable.  Who maintains it closed steals from society.  For this reason, we have decided to open it.  We want to transform this dead space, closed, into a living open one.  We want to again open the doors to collective creation, to direct political action … we want definitively to maintain a liberated space in the neighbourhood, a space where we can make real what we believe in; a secure, horizontal, autonomous and self-managed space where mutual aid and care may be found.  This action does not appear from nowhere.  We come from La Escoba, La Alarma, Malaya, La Mácula, Casablanca, Magerit, Raíces [former Madrid social centres]: many years of corrections, mistakes, reflections, changes and continuities, of self-change and learning.  Our dreams remain, as well as our desires.  Today we open again this new Okupied and Self-managed Social Centre, to which we invite all of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, of the city, and from everywhere those who wish to arrive here, who wish to come and live it and build it.

10, 100, 1000 social centres!

On the 20th of May, the new centre was baptised: Centro Social (re)Okupado y Autogestionado La Quimera

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The La Quimera okupation followed on a nationwide guerilla action/sabotage of the spanish bank, Bankia, on the same day.  The operation, entitled Toque a Bankia had as its goal to disrupt the normal daily activities of the bank, during the course of a day.  Threatened with bankruptcy, the institution was nationalised on May 7th, 2012; a nationalisation that revealed an enormous financial black hole of 19 billion euros.  The country was then obliged to seek financial aid from the european union.  To this day, the government has supported the country’s banks with 54 billion euros of public money.  And during this time, it has cut and continues to cut in all public services, as well as forcing upon spanish labourers harsher working conditions.  Meanwhile, Bankia continues to order the eviction of the growing numbers of unemployed/the precariously employed from houses that they can no longer afford.

The action against Bankia was not the first of its kind, though the scale on this occasion was unprecedented.  And similar actions are promised in the future.  Some 42 of the bank’s branches were effectively closed, operations in over a hundred others were disturbed, the bank’s website was knocked out for two hours, and telephone services were overwhelmed and paralysed, and this all the work of GILA group of artistic/political intervention, with a diffuse group of other collectives, 15M neighbourhood assemblies, 15M working groups, mareas, in sum, the very fabric of what 15M has become over the course of the last two years.  (For more details about the action, see acampadasol)

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What has become overwhelmingly evident in the short history of 15M is the degree to which it has remained true to its initial form of self-organisation.  The movement is remarkably complex and is better grasped in the plural.  The assembly remains its essential organisational structure, multiplied now without number at the level of neighbourhoods, thematically organized working groups (e.g. economia sol), professional groups, media collectives and a multiplicity of other collectives/associations/initiatives that either pre-date 15M, or emerged in parallel with it, gaining from it either or both an enormous impulse and change.  The assembly, horizontal, open, consensual, is the quintessential space for the making and remaking of the subjectivities that are 15M’s protagonists; a collection of singularities that refuse representation and mediation, have resisted institutional appropriation, or institutionalization itself, thus continually challenging the basic political and economic forms of capitalist society.

This was testified to in the groups that organized and structured the protest march of the 12th of May, a march marking the 2nd anniversary of the movement, and serving, as always, as a signal for further protest/creation.  They were the very same collectives that have come to embody 15M, and most notably the neighbourhood assemblies, the professional mareas and the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, the country’s anti-home eviction movement.  And aside from protests, the day of the march, and subsequent days after, would be marked by the gathering of these many different assemblies.

Under the name of Toma tu Ágora, on the 12th of May, assemblies were celebrated to “participate and construct together from below so as to remove those above.  The demonstration and the activities of the Global May cannot just be mobilisations and concentrations of hundreds of thousands of strangers.  It should be the beginning of change; it should be the space from which we begin to construct the new world that is in our hearts.  It will be a space to come to know each other, to share our knowledges and to decide between and with everyone where we shall go together, without forgetting the strong attacks that we are being subject to from those above and that we must defend ourselves and resist through unity and solidarity.

Following the 12th of May, from the perspective of the Asamblea de Carabanchel, Madrid …

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Carlos Taibo has been a fine observer of 15M since its emergence.  Very early on, he identified two broad positions discernable within the movement: the first, concerned largely with elaborating demands from government for reforms of a legal, political, economic nature, reflecting what can be described as an essentially citizens movement, and the second, dedicated to the creation of autonomous spaces within which different ways of life are developed in opposition to the dominant political-economic order.  For Taibo, over the course of 15M’s history, the latter has gained ground over the former, pushing/giving to the movement an increasingly anti-capitalist character, a direction the movement should continue to pursue if it is to survive as more than just a movement of protest.  (See: Carlos Taibo, Que no se apague la luz: Un diario de campo del 15M).

This is nowhere more evident than at the level of the neighbourhood assemblies of 15M.  To take but one example among so many, the Asamblea Popular de Carabachel has put into place a network of social rights (Red de Derechos Sociales) organised around four main projects: cooperatives and self-employment (an effort to develop alternative, self-managed economic activities – coopmix@gmail.com), tienda amiga (a network of “friendly stores” in the area that agree to provide the unemployed of the neighbourhood discounts on goods sold – tiendaamiga.carabanchel@gmail.com), food and resources (popular kitchen, barter, a free clothing store – rds.carabanchel@gmail.com) and housing (protesting/halting home evictions and the promotion of social/cooperative housing – social.carabanchel@gmail.com).  None of these initiatives are understood as ends in themselves (indeed as such, they would be easily compromised), but rather as strategies of resistance, strategies which constitute a politics, a way of being politically in the world that challenges the violence of capitalism.

An introductory document to the network opens as follows:

The RDS is a network of self-organisation, mutual aid, but also of protest and denunciation of the gross violation of rights that take place all around us.

We organize ourselves for the satisfaction of our basic necessities, and we extend ourselves in a struggle for and construction of another possible world.

The examples of Carabanchel, and others, can be found throughout Madrid’s neighbourhoods, and throughout other cities in spain, creating thereby an expanding archipelago of autonomies that contest in a multiplicity of ways State-Capital. (The mapping of Madrid based social movements/collectives under the name of Mapa Social de Madrid (madrid.mapunto.net) is eloquent testimony of part of this archipelago).

And at levels going beyond neighbourhoods, autonomous, self-managed projects are emerging quite literally everywhere, with various degrees of development and success, and divergent self-conceptions of their relationship to the broader society.  (For example, the Madrid based Red de Colectivos Autogestionados, or the network of Cooperativas Integrales, which at a regional and city level are now advocating the “integral cooperatives” as vehicles for an anti-capitalist revolution – see the Red Autogestion Madrid).

And on the 1st and 2nd of June, Madrid is host to the Primera Feria de Economia Solidaria

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At the extreme ends of the archipelago are the okupations: okupations for housing (the Corralas in Sevilla are perhaps the best example of this, but in many other cities, examples are also abundant, especially in Barcelona) and okupied social centres.  Both are examples of autonomous self-management and both contest the sacred character of private property.  The former also challenge the tyranny of debt, a debt regime now central to capitalism’s reproduction.  Okupied social centres on the other hand provide crucial spaces for broader political work  They are furthermore and most essentially laboratories for experimenting radical forms of autonomous social life.  Many of the initiatives of the Asemblea Popular de Carabanchel, for example, are sheltered in the social centre EKO Carabanchel, an okupation that took place a year ago at the initiative of the assembly.  Without such rebellious social centres, 15M would be very far from what it presently is.

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After only two years of life, it would be premature to adventure any simple general judgements about so a young a movement; and any predictions about its future, would be ridiculous.  That it has continued for these last two years, lacking all of the traditional characteristics of an oppositional political movement (a relatively rigid organizational structure, a leadership, a party program, to cite but a few)  is already a matter of considerable astonishment to many.  But perhaps that is because the surprise is born of a failure to realize that rebellion/revolution lie not so much in the meeting of demands, in forcing government to respond to protest in a timely manner, but in the making, the fictioning of new subjectivites who live the intensity of collective creation in ways that give rise to new forms of life.  What 15M has above all created is a habit, a custom, of protest/building and it has forged new common spaces, spaces of autonomy, which combined, having given rise to radically new singularities.  The temptations are strong for domestication: merchants of political fantasy offer the guilded prizes of party politics, insurrectionalists endeavour to seduce with the storming of parliaments.  These however are but the empty chimeras of power and not the monstrous realities that 15M has so generously brought forth and which have so frightened those who rule. The monsters that we celebrate are as the chimeras of the past, they are the monsters which can take us beyond our present horrors.

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From a 15M inspired opera buffa, El Crepúsculo del Ladrillo

… and the choir of La Solfónica, an orchestra born of 15M …

 

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