Rigel Sergent is a spokesperson for a powerful tenants’ anti-eviction movement called Movimiento de Inquilinas (henceforth “Inquilinas”). That movement forms part of the Movimiento de Pobladoras (henceforth “Pobladoras”) which is a wide platform for urban struggle. Earlier this year we interviewed Hernan Vargas, a spokesperson for Pobladoras [click here for part I and part II of that interview]. In this interview, we focus on self-management in the movement and its discrepancies with the existing institutions in Venezuela. Sergent has been a part of the movement since its early days in 2004.
You are part of Pobladoras, a grassroots initiative that works for the “urban revolution” and struggles against big landlords. Within that movement, you are a key spokesperson in the Movimiento de Inquilinas. Can you tell us something about these organizations, which are interesting expressions of Chavista commitment and rebelliousness?
Pobladoras is a platform of organizations that have worked in a coordinated way for some fifteen years. That is one of its great successes: a fifteen-year history connecting different expressions of struggle for the right to the city, for the construction of a new collective habitat, and for an urban revolution.
Pobladoras brings together five different organizations that struggle for the right to housing: Movimiento de Inquilinas [tenants’ anti-eviction movement], Campamentos de Pioneros [self‐construction housing initiative], Movimiento de Trabajadoras Residenciales [residential workers movement], Comites de Tierra Urbana [Urban Land Committees, henceforth CTU, formed in the early days of the Bolivarian Process to struggle for urban land titles], and Movimiento de Ocupantes de Edificios Organizados [vacant building occupiers movement]. However, we are not merely a housing-rights organization. The organization does not limit itself to fighting for reformist claims.
One of the first projects that brought us together was organizing to stop urban evictions. Our first unified action was stopping evictions, but we simultaneously worked to make the practice known. Around that time (in 2004), there was also a struggle in the barrios to make people owners of the land where they had built their houses in the hillsides of Caracas. Those were the days of the Comites de Tierra Urbana. In 2003 there was also a movement of people occupying vacant buildings, and it all began to come together around 2004. Those were our first coordinated efforts in what later became known as Pobladoras.
Since then, we have generated a common political program. On January 8, 2011, we presented our “Urban Revolution Program” to Chavez, which represents a synthesis of our first seven years of work. Our practices generated new political theses which connected with Chavismo’s guiding political premise: the construction of a communal society. That’s to say, the territorial and democratic components of [Chavez’s] communal proposal coincide with the Pobladoras struggle.
With this program as a guiding strategy, we organize our decision-making as democratically as we can. Each organization within Pobladoras has its assembly, which is its highest political body… From there, the Pobladoras platform connects with the different organizations and develops a plan of action based on the decisions taken within each organization.
Inquilinos might be the organization within Pobladoras that is most heterogeneous in social class terms. We struggle for the rights of tenants, and many of the people come from the middle class. It might be a working middle class that is no doubt precarious, but it is not the most vulnerable sector of our society. Often, they are depoliticized and don’t have a firm class perspective.
That is my base organization and our work isn’t easy. However, we can say now that Inquilinas is an organizational project which has grown politically. We have advanced in the struggle against evictions and in the fight against urban land speculation. We struggle against evictions, but we also fight for people’s right to a home. Along the way, the political struggle has gone through a process of maturing.
Many people come to us simply to stop an eviction, but through their participation in the Pobladoras movement as a whole, the struggle creates solidarity and fraternal bonds. This allows for a qualitative transformation, which is very important to us. Finally, I should highlight that the majority of those in the movement are women. Patriarchal patterns make women more vulnerable when it comes to housing. For that reason, Pobladoras (and Inquilinas) is mostly constituted by women.
The Pobladoras is non-statist project and works through direct democracy. Can you tell us something about what it means to work in an autonomous organization of that kind?
Pobladores has matured over time. Over the years we have come to understand that the self-managed path is our only option. But here we should make one thing clear. People in institutions often think that Pobladoras is simply about self-constructed housing. Autonomous management is not the same as self-construction. To give you an example, someone can build his or her own home, but she or he doesn’t necessarily participate in a process that aims at the collective transformation of the city. That person is not thinking about planning and she doesn’t struggle for the collectivization of resources. She isn’t struggling for the land beyond the plot where she is building a home. In other words, there is an individual decision process rather than a collective one, so that does not break with the logic of capitalist society.
That is why in our organizations we focus on self-management and aim to create a transformative collective experience.
In Chavez’s last speech, he emphasised the communal transformation of society. It was a call for self-government and self-management, and that is what we subscribe to. Chavez’s call was to develop socialism on a local, grassroots level, and that cannot be done without popular democracy, self-management, and self-government.
This also brings us back to one of the Chavista cornerstones: massive, protagonist participation that forges another way of doing politics and revolutionary democracy. This means that the decision-making process cannot be vertical. Instead, it should involve processes where those affected have a say. The decision-making process must happen in a new way, generating consensus through debate.
Finally, regarding new democratic processes, they must also involve shifting away from the world of capital into the world of labor, shifting away from private property and turning towards social property, which entails a new way of managing resources. However, when we talk about resources here, we aren’t just talking about socializing resources in the sphere of housing, but in all spheres of life.
Self-management also requires a rupture with our collective cultural baggage. It isn’t about individually detaching ourselves from the logic of capital, which isn’t possible. Rather, it means collectively struggling to build another set of values. In other words, we cannot talk about self-management without talking about solidarity and organization.