An introduction to Cara Baldwin’s contribution, they are several. At the end of April, when Cara was compiling links related to a situation in which Facebook shut down the pages of dozens of anti cuts groups in the UK, I invited her to use the platform of CONTENTS (at that point more of an idea than a platform) as a tool to organize and make public this research. It seemed to be another instance (after Wikileaks and then the government imposed internet cutoff in Egypt during the revolution) of power swiftly and decisively intervening in the infrastructure that supported a certain type of horizontal organizing or dissemination. Although her contribution has evolved into a reflection on horizontality and more generally the metaphors with which we imagine our collective formations, I still think these questions among others are lurking within Cara’s text and selections – what happens when horizontality occupies a vertical landscape? or the reverse? how do we manage at the intersection of these ways of thinking and living, what new languages and subjectivities are to be articulated here? -SD
CONTENTS #2: they are several.
Cara Baldwin is an artist, writer, researcher and theorist whose work focuses on art practice, public art, and intersections of cultural production and political organizing.
“Our ribs are broken to spare planes of glass.”
— Escalate Collective, UK
Abstractly, social struggles are configured horizontally and vertically. Concretely, social struggles are centered around resources, power and their distribution. In this field of the everyday we find social forms.
Just as life challenges us to redefine the terms through which we live in a personal sense, in the last decade, new words have emerged to describe new cultural forms. In the wake of economic collapse in Argentina in 2001, for example, the term horizontalidad came to describe parity of exchange that was both creative and dynamic.
Horizontality or horizontalism is a social relationship that advocates the creation, development and maintenance of social structures for the equitable distribution of management power. These structures and relationships function as a result of self-management, involving continuous participation and exchange between individuals to achieve the larger desired outcomes of the collective whole.
[Horizontalidad is a word that encapsulates most directly the ideas upon which the new social relationships in the autonomous social movements in Argentina are founded. It is a word that previously did not have political meaning. Its new meaning emerged from a practice, from a new way of interacting that has become a hallmark of the autonomous movements. Horizontalidad is a social relationship that implies, as it sounds, a flat plane upon which to communicate. Horizontalidad requires the use of direct democracy and implies non-hierarchy and anti-authoritarian creation rather than reaction. It is a break with vertical ways of organizing and relating, but a break that is also an opening.]
Speaking for myself, I became radicalized in the context of the anti-globalization movement and collectively organized media and art projects. In the same way that Lucy Lippard traces herself back to the Argentina in the summer of 1968 and experiencing the work of Tucumán Arde, I often find myself in the doorway of the LA IMC in the summer of 1999. Occasionally, I leave my post and look out at oceans of police and friends from the fire escape. Sometimes I join them. And then I am not there. In fact, I am here now. This is just to say layers of shared experience are formative—they are under our skin.
In 2004 in the UK, the terms ‘horizontals’ and ‘verticals’ [re]emerged to describe ideological orientations that are respectively non-authoritarian and authoritarian. In 2011 in the UK, the same terms again [re]emerged in organizing debates in the student movement. Nina Power and friends from Occupied Goldsmiths in London shared several instances in which this occurred and I represent some of those here.
Thankfully, social struggles are not only characterized as tussles over power and resources. These vital moments of rupture are also art and life; they are sites of creation as well as destruction. As Brian Holmes recently noted in relation to ACT-UP, “The event can be a glance or a tear in private, a gesture or a speech in a meeting as much as a public action.” Little by little —and sometimes explosively— it’s through these moments that we develop humor, imagination, discernment and experience embodied action and feeling.
[Returning to this idea of horizontalidad; when explaining how an asamblea or unemployed workers movement functions, in the months and even years after the rebellion it was common to have people set the palms of their hands to face down and then to move them back and forth to indicate a flat plane, as well, in order to indicate how it does not function, joining the tips of their fingers together to form a kind of triangle or pyramid. In many ways is these hand gestures with the knowledge that they genuinely represent a new and powerful set of social relations. As Neka, a participant in the unemployed workers movement of Solano, outside Buenos Aires, Argentina explains:
“Constructing freedom is a learning process that can only happen in practice. For me, horizontalidad, autonomy, freedom, creativity, and happiness are all concepts that go together and are all things that both have to be practiced and learned in the practice. I think back to previous activist experiences I had and remember a powerful feeling of submission. This includes even my own conduct, which was often really rigid, and it was difficult for me to enjoy myself, which is something sane and that strengthens you, and if you do it collectively it is that much more so. Like under capitalism, we were giving up the possibility of enjoying ourselves and being happy. We need to constantly break with this idea, we have life and the life that we have is to live today, and not to wait to take any power so that we can begin to enjoy ourselves, I believe it is an organic process.” Quoted by Marina Sitrin in Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina, 2006]
Just as one of the significant ways that contested social fields are [re]defined is through language, the sort of sorting that takes place on AAAAARG is political. As Stephen Wright points out this space is one that actively challenges authoritarian notions of ownership and expertise and enacts instead a space of exchange and intersectionality. One of the affects of this flat architecture, this impermanent archive is that it allows users to reconfigure ideas and histories of ideas. Therefore, subversive power of this project is not simply a matter of copyright or intellectual property, but rather, a challenge to those who think they benefit from keeping ideas from freely circulating and associating.
[These are not authors—they’re brokers.]
I chose these texts because they show some of the problems with free labor and collective organizing. Much has been said, for example, about the self-managing worker whose communicative production is monetized and exploited. While I do share these concerns and have long felt that the ‘open platform’ is capitalism’s response to self-organizing labor, I’m more concerned at this moment that public libraries, schools and museums are being closed.
This year, many of my friends allowed institutions to charge money to hear them talk or to read their writing—a few got paid—even fewer were exposed to their work. This year saw the near dismantling of our commons. Others stand outside. What is the quality of this exchange? What does it have to say? Moreover, what life does this work aspire to?
In this way, production by and for a common is, increasingly moving from a luxury we cannot afford to a criminal act. As you read through these texts I want you to think about your relationship to them. I want you to be aware of the way you look at them. In this archive, we can set ideas alongside one another.
While this means we look at relationships like intersectionality and horizontality wondering how they came to be so far apart— it also means the way we are looking is different. We are casting a sideways glance rather a furtive gaze. Entire histories of ideas will bounce off and thread through one another freely and everywhere.
[They are several. They will not be contained.]
And us? I think we need to insist on the logic of free.
This is not surplus. This is not content. This is ours.
affect | anarchism | anti-globalization | archive | autonomia | autonomy | cognitive capitalism | collaboration | collective | communicative capitalism | communization | composition | commons | crowd-sourcing | critical pedagogy | direct democracy | effect | enclosure | event | everyday | factory line | feminism | field | flat interface | flexible worker | globalization | horizon | horizontalidad | horizontality | human resource management | individual | intersectionality | lines of flight | marxism | multitude | neoliberal aesthetic | networked economy | participation | platform | post-fordism | post-neoliberalism | post-operaismo | post-structural | post-workerist | relation | urban planning | structural | verticality
[The Edu-factory Collection – Toward a Global Autonomous University: Cognitive Labor, The Production of Knowledge. Especially “All Power to Self-Education” as read against George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici (Midnight) Notes on the edu– factory and Cognitive Capitalism.]
[Jasbir Puar offers some preliminary thoughts on the limits and possibilities of intersectionality and assemblage Cultural Feminism meets Material Feminism. Thinking this in relation to Jo Freeman’s excellent Tyranny of Structurelessness.
[A foreshortened history of horizontalidad by Marina Sitrin, author of Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina, AK Press.]
[Especially “turning cracks into landscapes” by Marina Sitrin, author of Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina, AK Press.]
[UK student organizers debate around organizational structure; horizontalism. Thanks to Nina Power and University of Goldsmiths Occupation.]
[Brian Whitener edits and translates an English translation of Genocida en el Barrio: Mesa de Escrache Popular by Colectivo Situaciones) documents the autonomist practice of the “escrache”, ChainLinks Press]
[Autonomist Marxists Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis of Midnight Notes Collective on the Edu-Factory, critical pedagogy and forms of social reproduction.]