Following on our previous post on housing occupations in Rome, we share below, in translation, an interview with an activist of the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca of Sabadell, Catalonia (BCstore 04/04/2017). We have had numerous occasions to write about the PAH in spain. Beyond the movement’s intrinsic importance, it provides, along with parallel movements elsewhere, the occasion to think anew the notions of anti-capitalism and revolution so dear to anarchists. We do not necessarily share all of the ideas expressed below, but there is still much to learn from what follows.
Resisting evictions, home occupations, anti-captalism: Interview with Albert Jiménez of the PAHC Sabadell
by Marc Balfagón Iniesta for BCoreDisc
Everyone is familiar with the PAH for their green shirts, their loud political rumpuses in banks or because the mayor of Barcelona was one of its most visible faces a few years ago. But this would be to remain at the level of the anecdotal for a movement that has been able to articulate a titanic resistance against the real-estate fraud: they have gathered together bodies against the police so that people without means do not find themselves in the streets, and they have gone on the offensive housing families by occupying whole building blocks, properties of the banks. Among all of the PAHs, one that serves as a reference is that of Sabadell. We spoke with Albert Jiménez, one of its members.
What is the PAHC Sabadell?
The PAHC of Sabadell does not cease to be one more branch, a local assembly, of the PAH that is a movement of national scope. We dedicate ourselves to stopping evictions, to getting housing for people through the Obra Social de la PAH, pressuring the banks, etc. : the repertory of actions that everyone is familiar with. But in this case, the PAH of Sabadell, in contrast to the majority of the PAHs, is something more. It is a PAH that is trying to go beyond the self-imposed limit of housing as its thematic axis, and expand to include necessities that arise. In fact, we were already coming to understand that housing was the last trench. When someone loses their house, it is because they have practically lost everything. And this normally implies a series of necessities and conflicts, which may go from food to questions of education or others. We organised a self-defence group for women, we have organised workshops … We have taken advantage, between quotation marks, of the centrality of the assembly of the PAH, which is in fact an assembly of working class people that meets regularly.
Why does the PAH of Sabadell have a C at the end of its name?
When the PAH of Sabadell was founded, it was felt to be timely to add “y la Crisis [and the Crisis]” to “Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipteca [Platform of those affected by Mortgages]”. Already in the beginning there existed the desire to say “mortgages are not the only problem, mortgages are the consequence”. We said that the problem was the capitalist crisis. Then some sister PAHs, like that of Bages, dared to go onestep further and name the beast, calling itself Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca y el Capitalismo. In our case, there was a political will from the beginning to address a greater problem that was the crisis of capitalism, and not only the housing niche in particular. It is a reading of the situation that we have maintained over time and of which we are very proud; this capacity to link our concrete struggles with fundamental socio-political phenomena, and always have this broader perspective.
In addition to stopping evictions, you also re-lodge people through the occupation of houses?
This is one of the most important things that we do in the PAH, the Obra Social campaign, which are occupations of apartment blocks owned by the banks and large speculators. It is at the forefront of what we are doing at this very moment and this for various reasons. Firstly, because there are natural limits to actions that aim at stopping evictions and securing debt forgiveness. You can stop an eviction five or six times, but there will arrive the moment when you will lose the house. It is an ultra-minimal struggle. The Obra Social in that sense is more pro-active. It begins from the question, “How can we guarantee the right to housing?” If the administration cannot guarantee it, then “let us assume the guarantee of those rights”. We thought, “if no one can do it other than ourselves, then we will do it ourselves”. And we thus started occupying, out of pure necessity. We did not know where to put people who found themselves in the streets. It was as basic and as simple as this.
Did this idea begin with you?
The first experience was in Terrassa, but the campaign gained form in Manresa and Sabadell. It was real work and today we have at a country wide level occupied some forty apartment blocks. They are not only a response to an immediate necessity, for they allow us to see in what direction a housing politics should go if marked by the PAH. In the end, it is something as simple as saying, “housing is a fundamental right. As such, it should not be subject to the market.” If we all assume that health and education are fundamental rights, then no one should pay and they should be guaranteed universally. Housing is exactly the same. Our program moves along these lines: housing for everyone, period; without any further nuances or qualifications. Houses for everyone outside the market. We assume their guardianship, their self-management and we do it ourselves. Therefore, if the desire was there, the administration could follow behind to regulate what we do, but we continue to move forward, otherwise no one will do anything.
Among certain sectors, the PAH is seen as movement with little political voltage, a sort of species of welfare that goes no further. How would you convince otherwise those who think this way?
The political voltage of a social movement is not measured by its theoretical content, but rather by the implantation, the real impact, that you have on the subject that you supposedly represent; in this case, as I understand it, on the working or popular classes. I may have the most leftist rhetoric, the most pure, but if it is only my colleagues and I having eternal assemblies where we polish our concepts until they shine … it is fantastic, but the movement is totally sterile. It has no kind of impact or resonance. The voltage of a movement is measured by the capacity that it has to mobilise this collective subject. In this sense, I believe that the PAH has the highest voltage of the last … I dare say of the last forty years.
The traditional left had revolutionary objectives and made use of reformist means. The PAH, if one wants to think in these terms, has reformist objectives but employs revolutionary means. Yes, perhaps we have proposed minor legislative changes, like the creation of more public housing (which is not socialism). Yet if to arrive there, we organise popular assemblies of 200 hundred people who meet every Tuesday, if we systematically disobey the State, if we confront the forces of order, if we offer tools to a population which did not have them, if we are introducing for the first time concepts like capitalism, social class, financial capital … I do not conceive of social or political movements without praxis. And what the PAH has is a superabundance of praxis.
How does the politicisation of people with no political experience take place within the PAH?
Only the fact that the person who arrives can have influence over a process that is being carried through and then having an impact, deciding whether an action is undertaken or not, against whom, etc. This only, the capacity to directly participate in a democratic process of decision making, is already a complete rupture with the daily practice of 99% of the population. People do not have the experience of democracy. And I am not speaking of direct democracy, but of any kind of democracy. On the other hand, the person who arrives at our assembly, what s/he does is to make common an experience that until that moment was thought to be individual, an individualised vision of a personal failure. What the PAH does is revert this process. You explain your case, and the other next to you does the same and the other. In this way emerges a shared narrative.
I think that to be a militant of the PAH, that one has to break with certain inertias that we sometimes carry with us from musical subcultures. Or in general, from surroundings where certain political references are very clear. In the end, in the PAH, you find yourself with folks who come from the bottom of everything and who perhaps, from the outside, do not have much in common with you. Have you thought about this?
This little podemos-like idea of occupying the cultural centre is for me positive. Self-identification with the extreme Left, for example, or with a subcultural ghetto (“We are different”, “We do it our way”) is ultimately politically sterile. However it cannot be underestimated. It can be very good, it can generate spaces in which we are comfortable and from these spaces fertile things to spread may come forth. In the end, it is not all black or white, but I believe that we have to aspire to that centrality. And this surely implies abandoning some of the codes of self-recognition that we had in our own communities and making compromises. In the PAH, there are people who are sexist, racist, xenophobic. What then happens is that instead of you saying “Oh, oh, I am going”, you work on this attitudes bit by bit.
There are many people who have never been able to enter into contact with certain groups or tools. And I do not say this from any paternalistic perspective. It is simply that the education and social system is organised to impede this from happening. But when this breaks and spaces are generated where knowledge can be shared, extremely powerful things happen. Yet for this to take place, we have to break with the artificial barriers. Barriers which are sometimes class differences. In sum “I went to the university and you didn’t”. How do you break with this? Where do we create these spaces? The PAH is one of these spaces.
We seem to be in a wave of rising political consciousness, but the impression is that real commitment remains very modest.
Of course, because there is a fear of commitment. Commitment is difficult. It implies sacrifices and, up to a certain point, discipline. And the renunciation of things.