Autonomous Politics and its Problems

[Contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications. This paper was originally prepared for the June 1 – 7 2006 first Z Sessions on Vision and Strategy, held in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and also published in the book Real Utopia: Participatory Society for the 21st Century.]



Part One: Two Hypotheses on a New Strategy for an Autonomous Politics 


My aim in this article is to present some hypotheses on issues of strategy for anti-capitalist emancipatory movements. The idea is to rethink the conditions for an effective politics, with the capacity to radically change the society we live in. Even if I will not have the space to analyze concrete cases, these reflections are not a purely "theoretical" endeavor, but spring from the observation of a series of movements I had the chance to be part of – the movement of neighbor’s assemblies in Argentina, some processes of the World Social Forum, and other global networks- or that I followed closely in the past years – the piquetero (unemployed) movement also in Argentina, and the Zapatistas in Mexico.


From the viewpoint of strategy, the current emancipatory movements can be said to be in two opposite situations (somewhat schematically). The first one is that in which they manage to mobilize a great deal of social energy in favor of a political project, but they do that in a way that make them fall in the traps of "heteronomous politics". By "heteronomous" I refer to the political mechanisms by means of which all that social energy ends up being channeled in a way that benefits the interests of the ruling class or, at least, minimize the radical potential of that popular mobilization. This is, for example, the fate of Brazil‘s PT under Lula, and also of some social movements (for example certain sections of the feminist movement) that turned into single-issue lobby organizations with no connection to any broader radical movement. 


The second situation is that of those movements and collectives that reject any contact with the state and with heteronomous politics in general (parties, lobbies, elections, etc.) only to find themselves reduced to small identity-groups with little chances to have a real impact in terms of radical change. This is the case, for example, of some of the unemployed movements in Argentina, but also of many anti-capitalist small collectives throughout the world. The cost of their political "purity" is the inability to connect with larger sections of society.


To be sure, this is just a schematic picture: there are many experiments here and there of new strategic paths that may escape those two dead-end situations (the most visible example being that of the Zapatistas and their "Sixth Declaration"). The reflections I present here are aimed at contributing to those explorations.


Hypothesis one: On the difficulty of the Left when it comes to thinking power (or, what truth can be discerned in people’s support for the Right).


Let us face this awkward question: Why is it that, being the Left a better option for humankind, we almost never succeed in getting support of the people? Moreover, Why is it that people often

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