Intellectuals, Experiences, and Militant Investigation: Avatars of a Tense Relation

Over the past fif­teen years, the fig­ure of the intel­lec­tu­al has been chal­lenged, com­bat­ed, and reor­ga­nized in rela­tion to prac­tices that have severe­ly ques­tioned it. But, what is the sta­tus of thought and inves­ti­ga­tion in the face of the forms of con­flict and dis­pute that have char­ac­ter­ized the con­ti­nent in recent years? What is the role of mil­i­tan­cy when faced with a series of expe­ri­ences that chal­lenge the clas­si­cal ped­a­gog­i­cal mod­els of pol­i­tics? We must read these ques­tions from the present: a cri­sis of the very notion of social move­ment and the decline of the so-called pro­gres­sive gov­ern­ments that appro­pri­at­ed their legit­i­ma­cy.

Anti-intel­lec­tu­al prej­u­dice has had a large influ­ence on both intel­lec­tu­als and activists and has set­tled into a series of com­mon notions that remain oper­a­tive today. For exam­ple, that con­stant­ly repeat­ed divi­sion between think­ing and doing, between plan­ning and exper­i­ment­ing, between com­fort and risk. Undoubt­ed­ly, these poles repro­duce car­i­ca­tures: mil­i­tant self-denial devot­ed to prac­tice as if it were com­plete­ly lack­ing ideas and, on the oth­er hand, the intellectual’s limpid ado­ra­tion of a sky full of con­cepts, as if it were about pure abstrac­tion.

Despite the stereo­typed nature of these fig­ures, they con­tin­ue mark­ing the con­fines of a map that, how­ev­er, has changed con­sid­er­ably, with shocks that make it dif­fi­cult to return to how things were pre­vi­ous­ly. In this sense, the issue can be raised in reverse: every time that this bina­ry reemerges (in its most bru­tal for­mu­la of those who do ver­sus those who think) it is a dis­ci­plin­ing response to a dis­place­ment of the rela­tion between thought and prac­tice. There­fore, anti-intel­lec­tu­al­ism, rather than a nod toward the pop­u­lar (which is often an over­re­ac­tion), is a call to order and a con­fir­ma­tion of class-based hier­ar­chies. In recent years, we have heard this repeat­ed in many dif­fer­ent ways:1 that idea isn’t under­stood in the neigh­bor­hoods; that con­cept couldn’t have been devel­oped by a group of unem­ployed peo­ple; we don’t need the­o­ry to know what to do when there is hunger; think­ing is a priv­i­lege, etc. The stig­ma takes on a con­de­scend­ing and pater­nal­is­tic form because it reacts to the quag­mire of assigned places, claim­ing to have the best of inten­tions.

Echoes of this are seen, in a dis­con­tin­u­ous way, in the exer­cise of divid­ing the polit­i­cal field in two. “Those who fight and those who cry,” Jorge Maset­ti titled his inter­view-book with Fidel Cas­tro in the Sier­ra Maes­tra (1958), the pre­lude to his con­ver­sion from jour­nal­ist to guer­ril­la. The blunt caesura, in dia­grams such as this, is a call to com­bat. It repu­di­ates pas­siv­i­ty and chal­lenges intel­lec­tu­al tools to draw their fire­pow­er. In turn, the divi­sion between those who do and those who think traces a much more con­ser­v­a­tive and forced divi­sion: it does not pro­vide any call or inter­pel­la­tion, rather it con­firms the pas­sive and sub­or­di­nat­ed divi­sion between an above and a below, in which know­ing is an over­val­ued pow­er of the elite and doing is a mod­est sub­al­tern resource. 

Here I pro­pose a sit­u­at­ed exer­cise: a type of car­tog­ra­phy of the prob­lems in which the rela­tion­ship between thought and prac­tice has been shak­en up over the past decade and a half. I will focus on Argenti­na but it should be clear that this delim­i­ta­tion becomes impos­si­ble: the transna­tion­al per­spec­tive emerges from the very con­junc­ture set in motion by the peri­od in ques­tion. This is not only a move beyond the method­olog­i­cal nation­al­ism that is repeat­ed­ly imposed as a premise, but I also want to show how that assump­tion has been undone by the mate­r­i­al dynam­ic of cer­tain polit­i­cal-intel­lec­tu­al events. I think that it is worth adding anoth­er shift: the idea is not to under­stand what mil­i­tants read to com­pre­hend their keys for action and clas­si­fy them accord­ing to deter­mined tra­di­tions, but rather to ask to what extent mil­i­tan­cy implies a pol­i­tics of read­ing. There­fore, in the field of read­ing, there is a pro­duc­tiv­i­ty that can­not be reduced to pre-estab­lished ped­a­gog­i­cal mod­els. The con­trived image of the spe­cial­ized intel­lec­tu­al-read­er (of books and con­junc­tures) is what is pre­served in regard to regimes of read­ing that man­age, in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions, to weave new rela­tions and car­ry out oth­er oper­a­tions: pre­cise­ly those that dis­obey the dis­tinc­tion between the man­u­al and the intel­lec­tu­al and those that are prac­ticed not to con­struct sym­bol­ic cap­i­tal or per­son­al pres­tige, but rather take a risk in nam­ing and val­oriz­ing modes of exis­tence that denounce and com­bat forms of exploita­tion and dom­i­na­tion.

It is pos­si­ble to explore three moments-debates to address this rela­tion­ship between con­cepts and expe­ri­ences dif­fer­ent­ly.

One: The Destituent

The 2001 cri­sis in Argenti­na – tied to a con­ti­nen­tal sequence of anti-neolib­er­al revolts and upris­ings – pro­vid­ed a space for the­o­ret­i­cal-polit­i­cal cre­ation. The moment of erup­tion of “sub­jec­tiv­i­ties of the cri­sis,” that took the form of move­ments of the unem­ployed, expe­ri­ences of self-man­age­ment in fac­to­ries and neigh­bor­hoods, and prac­tices of alter­na­tive and pop­u­lar econ­o­my (from barter clubs to the com­mu­ni­ty sup­ply net­works to pop­u­lar mar­kets), demon­strat­ed a capac­i­ty for oppo­si­tion and action that was capa­ble of break­ing the neolib­er­al con­sen­sus. At the same time, it was able to artic­u­late, in a new way, forms of resis­tance that had been woven togeth­er over the course of years. All of polit­i­cal the­o­ry is put to the test in moments like those. Mul­ti­ple reac­tive respons­es of infan­tiliza­tion, con­tempt, and clo­sure in regards to the het­ero­ge­neous move­ment emerged from all sides (and con­tin­ue dis­put­ing the inter­pre­ta­tion of the events): exact­ly when the Jus­ti­cial­ist Par­ty (PJ)2 was fac­ing its most dif­fi­cult chal­lenge in three decades in its tra­di­tion­al ter­ri­to­ries, per­spec­tives that insist­ed on only detect­ing order did not see any­thing oth­er than the PJ rebuild­ing itself there; any hint of find­ing some­thing in that emer­gence oth­er than vic­tims or a des­per­ate pop­u­la­tion was con­sid­ered to be vol­un­taris­tic or over­es­ti­mat­ing pop­u­lar pow­er. In our col­lec­tive mil­i­tant inves­ti­ga­tion, we called that pow­er des­tituent: pre­cise­ly for its capac­i­ty to over­throw and remove the hege­mo­ny of the polit­i­cal sys­tem based on par­ties and for open­ing up a tem­po­ral­i­ty of rad­i­cal inde­ter­mi­na­tion based on the pow­er of bod­ies in the street. We also want­ed to empha­size that what was called spon­ta­neous was actu­al­ly the vis­i­bi­liza­tion of a fab­ric that had been patient­ly con­struct­ed, that syn­the­sized a long elab­o­ra­tion from below, and that went deep enough to ques­tion the very dis­tinc­tion between the “social” and the “polit­i­cal.” There­fore we spoke of a “new social pro­tag­o­nism.”3

The way in which the con­cept of the mul­ti­tude res­onat­ed in the debate about the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and val­oriza­tion of that polit­i­cal­ly nov­el “sub­ject” also pro­ject­ed the Argen­tinean expe­ri­ence onto the plane of the­o­ret­i­cal debates in oth­er lat­i­tudes and found con­crete inter­locu­tors with Anto­nio Negri and Pao­lo Virno, to name two of those who were most cit­ed dur­ing that time. But, why? Above all, because a cycle of strug­gles against neolib­er­al­ism in Latin Amer­i­ca coin­cid­ed with a cycle of strug­gles in Europe against glob­al­iza­tion and war (with Genoa in 2001 as a key moment), which made it nec­es­sary to pro­duce strate­gi­cal­ly com­mon con­cepts to account for sub­jec­tiv­i­ties that had already been dis­re­gard­ed in the prac­tice of the mod­el of the Fordist work­er (in the cen­ter and the periph­ery) and that implied tak­ing a bal­ance of the forms of defeat in the 1970s. Those cycles, addi­tion­al­ly, are inscribed in an open field by the Zap­atista insur­gence, which frames an entire gen­er­a­tion of activists at the plan­e­tary scale. 

I’ll add that the work of the Comu­na group in Bolivia also coin­cid­ed, and not by chance, with sim­i­lar the­o­riza­tions, while fol­low­ing a unique tra­jec­to­ry. The reac­tion (of the dis­ci­pli­nary bina­rism between those who think and those who do) had its own inter­pre­ta­tion of this con­junc­ture: the colo­nial idea that Europe placed its con­cepts onto Latin Amer­i­can prac­tice was estab­lished from diverse intel­lec­tu­al posi­tions,4 pre­cise­ly at the moment when post­colo­nial sub­jects were inter­rupt­ing into Euro­pean metrop­o­lis­es, “provin­cial­iz­ing” Europe. Denounc­ing an intel­lec­tu­al impe­ri­al­ism (that places Latin Amer­i­ca as a pas­sive recep­ta­cle of “for­eign” cat­e­gories), these authors reaf­firmed a the­o­ret­i­cal and polit­i­cal geog­ra­phy that was being put into cri­sis by the emer­gence of a pol­i­tics that found its pow­er in oth­er sub­jects, oth­er ter­ri­to­ries. And pre­cise­ly when Latin Amer­i­ca was becom­ing a sort of van­guard scene of insur­gency, its con­cep­tu­al pro­duc­tion remained mar­gin­al­ized and was only ever seen as in need of tute­lage. As if what hap­pens here in Latin Amer­i­ca could not be under­stood as any­thing more than the expe­ri­en­tial dress­ing for a bib­li­o­graph­i­cal adap­ta­tion that fol­lows the rhythm of “fash­ions” or dom­i­nant the­o­ries, this reveals the impos­si­bil­i­ty of detect­ing from anoth­er place those sub­jec­tiv­i­ties that appear as “illeg­i­ble” and, there­fore, under­val­ued polit­i­cal­ly.5 How­ev­er, this issue demon­strates some­thing inter­est­ing: the epis­temic debate set in motion by any moment of insur­rec­tion and revolt and that allows for the moment to be polit­i­cal­ly defined as des­tituent.6

The com­mon ques­tion about a con­stituent pow­er, capa­ble of cre­at­ing a world from below and impos­ing new rules – that is, the unfold­ing of the prob­lem of what the des­tituent force gives rise to in terms of the con­struc­tion of new ways of orga­niz­ing social rela­tions based on the moment’s strug­gles – was closed off in Argenti­na with the [police] mur­der of activists Darío San­til­lán and Max­i­m­il­iano Koste­ki on June 26, 2002. It was pure and hard repres­sion which cre­at­ed the space for the polit­i­cal sys­tem to call elec­tions. It also repressed a mode of com­po­si­tion between thought and prac­tice that was the basis for the pro­duc­tion of polit­i­cal con­cepts and lan­guages that were also quite inno­v­a­tive.

Second: the Prince versus the Multitude

Lat­er there were two dif­fer­ent read­ings that closed off the inde­ter­mi­na­cy of des­tituent pow­er. One, which oper­at­ed on a con­ti­nen­tal scale, was the soci­o­log­i­cal clas­si­fi­ca­tion of the mul­ti­tudi­nous under the all-encom­pass­ing cat­e­go­ry of “social move­ments.” Sil­via Rivera Cusi­can­qui ana­lyzes a sim­i­lar process in Bolivia: 

What has hap­pened to us is that we have been enrap­tured by the vig­or of the mass­es, by the des­tituent capac­i­ty of mobi­liza­tions, and we have auto­mat­i­cal­ly clas­si­fied them as “social move­ments” to trans­form them into sub­jects of pow­er. The ide­o­log­i­cal arti­fices of [Boli­vian] “process­es of change” have tried to appease their effer­ves­cence, to quell the ungovern­able and illeg­i­ble social mag­ma that they sig­ni­fied. They have tried to reduce them to dis­course and to a charis­mat­ic and author­i­tar­i­an lead­er­ship.7

The notion of “social move­ment” was turned into a cre­den­tial for leg­i­bil­i­ty: it revealed a reper­toire of demands, iden­ti­tar­i­an fea­tures, and, final­ly, a struc­ture of dia­logue with the state that was capa­ble of a cer­tain form of man­ag­ing resources. It func­tioned, to a large extent, as a mode of sta­bi­liza­tion that froze cer­tain ways of doing and think­ing that were out of phase in respect to the new dynam­ics of mobi­liza­tion. The sec­ond clo­sure was the dis­place­ment – in a lit­er­al way in Argenti­na, as well as in a broad sense in all of the coun­tries of the “pro­gres­sive” cycle – of the idea of the des­tituent as the renew­al of the idea of a “coup” against the gov­ern­ment: now the right was “des­tituent.” The des­tituent thus went from refer­ring to the inde­ter­mi­na­cy of pop­u­lar forces to a threat that required a call to defend the gov­ern­ment.

The per­sis­tent obsta­cle to under­stand­ing the col­lec­tive fig­ure (whether the mul­ti­tude or anoth­er) as the prince (to adopt cat­e­gories from Machi­avel­li and Gram­sci, as well as from Ital­ian operais­mo) results in a fetishism of pop­ulist lead­er­ship. Whether the case of Nés­tor Kirch­n­er or Cristi­na Fer­nán­dez in Argenti­na or that of Evo Morales, and, par­tic­u­lar­ly, that of Álvaro Gar­cía Lin­era in Bolivia, although with their dif­fer­ences, the effects are sim­i­lar: the expan­sion of a rhetor­i­cal rad­i­cal­ism that used the the­o­ry of Ernesto Laclau to jus­ti­fy a new “auton­o­my” of the polit­i­cal, with indi­vid­ual vari­a­tions. The prob­lem lies in the sub­sti­tu­tion of a col­lec­tive fig­ure for per­son­al lead­er­ship when it func­tions as the expro­pri­a­tion of polit­i­cal sur­plus val­ue pro­duced from below. The prob­lem, of course, is not lead­er­ship in itself (that is not more than a tran­si­to­ry pro­jec­tion of the imag­i­nary of the mul­ti­tude), but rather the nature of the polit­i­cal form at stake in the artic­u­la­tion of a cer­tain lead­er­ship and the epis­temic dis­pute that is tied up there. Nor is the point to demand purism from the so-called pro­gres­sive gov­ern­ments (a list of com­mand­ments of what they should be), but rather to show to what extent their own mode of being pre­vents a polit­i­cal bal­ance of the con­crete effects that are con­stant­ly hid­den in the name of “nation­al sov­er­eign­ty.”

Pop­ulist lead­er­ships have rou­tine­ly dis­placed inves­ti­ga­tions into the com­mu­ni­tar­i­an demo­c­ra­t­ic pop­u­lar form and intro­duced a sort of expro­pri­at­ing clause that, for exam­ple, in the pre­vi­ous Latin Amer­i­can cycle sought to neu­tral­ize crit­i­cism of how neolib­er­al con­di­tions were artic­u­lat­ed with neode­vel­op­men­tal­ist ini­tia­tives and relaunched new forms of dis­pos­ses­sion and exploita­tion. Laclau’s the­o­ry – which was pos­tu­lat­ed as a syn­the­sis of that moment in the region – iden­ti­fies the forces that deform and threat­en the uni­ty of the juridi­cal and polit­i­cal insti­tu­tion exclu­sive­ly with the forces of the glob­al mar­ket and local elites. This total iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, how­ev­er, neglects any “des­tituent” (to return to the term) effect emerg­ing from the social dynam­ic “from below” that is not inscribed into “demands” that are accept­able to the polit­i­cal sys­tem8 and dis­cred­its any force of over­flow that would require rethink­ing (as fre­quent­ly occurs) the game of the polit­i­cal insti­tu­tion in terms of the com­mon-mul­ti­ple.9 With this move­ment, auton­o­my is no longer a capac­i­ty from below to con­di­tion and rede­fine pow­er, but rather the dis­cur­sive artic­u­la­tion that is car­ried out from above.

The sub­sti­tu­tion of ple­beian mate­ri­al­ism by the ethe­re­al and dis­cur­sive fig­ure of the peo­ple dis­places a series of prob­lems that today are explod­ing in Latin Amer­i­ca as mis­un­der­stood ele­ments of the so-called “neo­con­ser­v­a­tive turn” in the region: ter­ri­to­r­i­al vio­lence, infor­mal-ille­gal economies, neo-extrac­tive con­flicts around ter­ri­to­r­i­al and resource dis­pos­ses­sion, renewed forms of cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion under appa­ra­tus­es of finan­cial exploita­tion (for exam­ple, through the use of wel­fare ben­e­fits as guar­an­tees for indebt­ed­ness with bank­ing insti­tu­tions), and an inten­sive war in the name “secu­ri­ty.”10

I reach this point to show how pop­ulism has restored the place of intel­lec­tu­als as the priv­i­leged “pow­er­house” for pro­duc­ing dis­course and sup­port: fol­low­ing the des­ti­tu­tion of their role as an author­i­ty, intel­lec­tu­als returned as those lead­ing the so-called “cul­tur­al bat­tle” against the mass media, in the frame­work of the cel­e­brat­ed “return of the state.” That func­tion entered into cri­sis with the elec­toral defeats (in Argenti­na and Bolivia, but we must also take into account the Brazil­ian and Ecuado­ri­an sit­u­a­tions). The argu­ment that is used is that of a “betray­al” at the polls by the peo­ple that those gov­ern­ments want­ed to rep­re­sent and favor. The eval­u­a­tion of Gar­cía Lin­era – the most cel­e­brat­ed pro­gres­sive intel­lec­tu­al-gov­er­nor – was the most devel­oped and, at the same time, the most prob­lem­at­ic: in a talk in Buenos Aires, he said that one of the obsta­cles of left­ist gov­ern­ments has been “the redis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth with­out social politi­ciza­tion.” It is the expan­sion of the mid­dle class­es through the inclu­sion of sub­al­tern sec­tors via con­sump­tion, some­thing that, accord­ing to his words, does not lead to a change in “com­mon sense.” Con­sump­tion with­out hege­mo­ny would thus pro­duce “a new mid­dle class, with a capac­i­ty for con­sump­tion, a capac­i­ty of sat­is­fac­tion, but bear­ing the old con­ser­v­a­tive com­mon sense.”11

Here we see a new point of clo­sure, from above, of a key dis­cus­sion on our con­ti­nent about the com­po­si­tion of the work­ing class­es, the expan­sion of con­sump­tion of non-durable goods, and the pre­car­i­ous appa­ra­tus­es of social inclu­sion that appear as the “pos­si­ble” form of redis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth and state inter­ven­tion. But addi­tion­al­ly, social politi­ciza­tion remains sole­ly mea­sured in terms of elec­toral results. From Gar­cía Linera’s point of view, the para­dox is trag­ic: the MAS (Move­ment to Social­ism) pro­duced the sub­jects that led to its defeat. The “rev­o­lu­tion­ary gov­ern­ment” finds itself over­whelmed by the trans­for­ma­tion of those who led the social move­ments that drove the anti-neolib­er­al agen­da dur­ing the 2000–2005 cycle. 

The soci­ol­o­gy (or the soci­ol­o­giza­tion) of these changes in con­sump­tion habits through the analy­sis of class com­po­si­tion seeks to elude and/or replace – with more or less polit­i­cal astute­ness – the idea of the pop­u­lar “betray­al” of a gov­ern­men­tal project that claims to exist in order to ensure the well-being of the poor­est. It thus attempts to under­stand the unde­sired or uncon­trol­lable effects of social ascen­sion, of inclu­sive mod­ern­iza­tion, or neode­vel­op­men­tal­ism (these vari­a­tions in the lex­i­con are not minor), with­out con­fronting the crit­i­cisms of the mode of sub­jec­ti­va­tion and decom­po­si­tion of the com­mu­ni­ty base that have been tak­ing place in more than one space and with more than one voice.12

We have also read intel­lec­tu­als such as Emir Sad­er blame the so-called “ultra-left” for the pro­gres­sive defeat.13 This argu­ment, which accus­es the alliances between crit­i­cal intel­lec­tu­als and social move­ments of con­spir­a­cy and instru­men­tal­ism, with their only goal being that of an “adven­tur­ist” posi­tion seek­ing to obtain a place in the polit­i­cal field, is not only stingy (attrib­uted to the famous hege­mo­ny of polit­i­cal space), but above all it posi­tions cri­tique as the “cause” of a broad rejec­tion – that still has not been pro­found­ly dis­cussed – of the legit­i­ma­cy of pro­gres­sive gov­ern­ments, and thus avoids tak­ing seri­ous­ly the prob­lem of the caus­es of suc­ces­sive “defeats.” This not only implies the infan­tiliza­tion of vot­ers from dis­tinct social class­es, but also igno­rance of how much more com­pli­cat­ed forces oper­ate: church­es against the so-called “ide­ol­o­gy of gen­der,” finance as a form of exploita­tion of pop­u­lar economies, con­ces­sions to multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions as direct expro­pri­a­tions of com­mu­ni­ties.

The emer­gence of a pop­ulism that is dis­placed from the gov­ern­ment but that the­o­log­i­cal­ly orga­nizes the polit­i­cal field in Argenti­na instead invents a form of pres­ence in the ter­ri­to­ries, of dis­pute for com­mu­ni­tar­i­an desire, and an affec­tive net­work with the sub­jec­tiv­i­ties made vul­ner­a­ble by the vio­lence that was not present in the pro­gres­sive pop­ulism in pow­er. How­ev­er, one can­not be under­stood with­out the oth­er.

In Argenti­na, the role of the Catholic Church was key in the ter­ri­to­r­i­al dynam­ic of the last pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. The role of church­es – par­tic­u­lar­ly Evan­gel­i­cal ones – was also fun­da­men­tal in cre­at­ing the atmos­phere and the par­lia­men­tary process for Dil­ma Rousseff’s impeach­ment in Brazil, as well as in pro­duc­ing new can­di­da­cies (the emblem­at­ic case is that of the new may­or of Rio de Janeiro14).

Three: Social Unrest, Community Weavings, and Neoliberalism

The inverse map of cur­rent con­flicts might arise from inves­ti­gat­ing the modes of politi­ciza­tion that accom­pa­nied the mod­i­fi­ca­tions in the Latin Amer­i­can land­scape over the past fif­teen years and that don’t exact­ly respond to the hege­mon­ic ele­ments for which the pro­gres­sive imag­i­nary today feels nos­tal­gic or over which it projects its dis­ap­point­ment. The era’s “sub­jec­tiv­i­ties in cri­sis” are con­nect­ed to con­di­tions that were struc­tured around a neo-extrac­tive type of inser­tion into the glob­al mar­ket, microp­ol­i­tics orga­nized around the neolib­er­al con­di­tions of the social bond, and the finan­cial sector’s hege­mo­ny in the mode of accu­mu­la­tion that was nev­er com­plete­ly reversed and was then relaunched. The com­bi­na­tion of poli­cies of inclu­sion through con­sump­tion and the dynamiza­tion of new forms of finan­cial exploita­tion and pre­cariza­tion of work has been deep­en­ing and matur­ing under the sign of the neo­con­ser­v­a­tive turn. Some­times the lan­guage is sim­ply pathet­ic: in Argenti­na, state ben­e­fits for unem­ploy­ment or for self-man­aged work now claim to be coor­di­nat­ed by a “Tal­ent Agency,” and they speak of “orig­i­nary per­son­nel” in the Labor Min­istry.

The need for strate­gic con­cep­tu­al­iza­tions – faced with social con­flict whose “opac­i­ty” is also strate­gic – new­ly intro­duces the ques­tion about the com­po­si­tion of strug­gles and enun­ci­a­tions, of bor­der prac­tices and con­cepts. We can point to two con­stel­la­tions of prob­lems that have sought to map con­flicts and con­struct cri­tique based on the rhythm of strug­gles in Latin Amer­i­ca in recent years: on the one hand, all of the debate around the issue of neo-extrac­tivism, of expand­ed extrac­tivism, and the new forms of exploit­ing the labor force in its present con­di­tions; on the oth­er hand, the per­spec­tive of the “com­mu­ni­tar­i­an weav­ings,” as Raquel Gutiér­rez Aguilar calls them: a way of think­ing about the vari­a­tions of the com­mon, com­mu­nal­i­ty, and the com­mu­ni­tar­i­an as modes of col­lec­tive efforts of trans­for­ma­tion and imple­men­ta­tion of anti­colo­nial or decol­o­niz­ing prac­tices.

Thus as Karl Marx’s cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my is shift­ed to the zones of pro­duc­tion in which class­es are mate­ri­al­ly con­sti­tut­ed as social forces, mil­i­tant inves­ti­ga­tion again takes up the issue of the non-dis­cur­sive dimen­sion of the con­sti­tu­tion of sub­jec­tiv­i­ties. In oth­er words: ini­tia­tives of mil­i­tant inves­ti­ga­tion train a cer­tain sen­si­bil­i­ty for com­pos­ing enun­ci­a­tions and con­flicts. It is not a thema­ti­za­tion (like con­struct­ing an agen­da), but rather a ques­tion of method and a prac­ti­cal com­mit­ment.

One cur­rent form of mil­i­tant inves­ti­ga­tion is con­nect­ed to map­ping the com­po­si­tion of labor­ing, sub­al­tern, pop­u­lar class­es (all vari­a­tions which are worth tak­ing into account). But it is nec­es­sary to add a third com­po­nent that is fun­da­men­tal in our con­junc­ture: the issue of vio­lence against women, which requires that the ques­tion of gen­der takes on, as Rita Sega­to says, “a real the­o­ret­i­cal and epis­temic sta­tus.”15 The “famil­ial and patri­ar­chal” onslaught dri­ves a web of machista vio­lence that today is artic­u­lat­ed with new forms of exploita­tion and extrac­tion of val­ue tar­get­ing the ges­tures and spaces of auton­o­my that have been con­struct­ed both in the midst of var­ie­gat­ed Latin Amer­i­can urban areas and in indige­nous and peas­ant com­mu­ni­ties and, espe­cial­ly, in the types of mix­ture that emerge in those ter­ri­to­ries. The ter­ri­to­r­i­al femi­cides – as activists in Hon­duras and Guatemala call the assas­si­na­tions of lead­ers of the strug­gles against transna­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions – con­dense forms of con­flict that struc­ture new forms of war or coun­terin­sur­gent dynam­ics.

The move­ment con­nect­ed to the Women’s Strike opens up a rad­i­cal­ly het­ero­ge­neous space where a map of work can be read from a fem­i­nist per­spec­tive, incor­po­rat­ing infor­mal, pre­car­i­ous, and even ille­gal economies as key ele­ments of the new social com­po­si­tion. The strug­gle for bod­i­ly auton­o­my and sov­er­eign­ty and the mul­ti­plic­i­ty of forms of vio­lence (insti­tu­tion­al, ter­ri­to­r­i­al, domes­tic, etc.) are inex­tri­ca­bly linked, mov­ing those con­flicts out of the ghet­to of gen­der issues. This leaves open the ques­tion of the insti­tut­ing capac­i­ty of that com­mon, the every­day force based in the streets and through which the ques­tion of its polit­i­cal capac­i­ty flows, or more pre­cise­ly, of the rad­i­cal­i­ty of a “pol­i­tics in fem­i­nine” as Gutiér­rez Aguilar the­o­rizes it. In this sense, it can be said that more than a clo­sure of the cycle of pro­gres­sive gov­ern­ments as the key ele­ment for under­stand­ing the region, we must val­ue the open­ing of a cycle of trans­ver­sal con­nec­tion pushed by the women’s move­ment (where the word “woman” itself is no longer bound­ed or pre­de­ter­mined but refers to an inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty of expe­ri­ences), which revi­tal­izes the need to put prac­tices and con­cepts into ten­sion, nour­ished by a microp­o­lit­i­cal desire to cre­ate with oth­ers and by the inde­ter­mi­na­cy of the region­al con­junc­ture.

– Trans­lat­ed by Liz Mason-Deese

This text orig­i­nal­ly appeared in Nue­va Sociedad.


  1. There is a sit­u­at­ed char­ac­ter to this reflec­tion: it involves my expe­ri­ence as a mem­ber of Colec­ti­vo Situa­ciones and the pub­lish­er Tin­ta Limón. I turn to that col­lec­tive reflec­tion, that we have car­ried out togeth­er with oth­er col­lec­tives and com­rades around the prac­tice of mil­i­tant inves­ti­ga­tion in order to take account of these debates. It is an expe­ri­ence that, in my reflec­tion, con­tin­ues to oper­ate at dif­fer­ent lev­els, as affec­tive and intel­lec­tu­al premis­es, beyond the collective’s exis­tence as a group. 

  2. Translator’s Note: The Per­o­nist polit­i­cal par­ty, orig­i­nal­ly found­ed by Juan and Eva Perón in 1947, based on a nation­al-pop­ulist pro­gram. It remains one of the most impor­tant polit­i­cal cur­rents in Argenti­na, which today encom­pass­es both the right and left-wing ele­ments of Per­o­nism, includ­ing the neolib­er­al Car­los Men­em and more left-lean­ing Nés­tor Kirch­n­er and Cristi­na Fer­nán­dez de Kirch­n­er. The PJ is tra­di­tion­al­ly strongest in the work­ing class neigh­bor­hoods of Greater Buenos Aires, although this began being called into dis­pute dur­ing Menem’s neolib­er­al regime in the 1990s. 

  3. Colec­ti­vo Situa­ciones. 19 & 20: Notes for a New Social Pro­tag­o­nism. Trans­lat­ed by Nate Hol­dren and Sebastián Touza. (New York: Minor Com­po­si­tions, 2012). 

  4. This was most explic­it­ly done by José Pablo Fein­mann, for exam­ple, in “Poder y Con­trapoder” in Página/12, Decem­ber 14, 2002. 

  5. It is fun­da­men­tal, although going back more than fif­teen years, to remem­ber that in the geneal­o­gy of the prob­lema­ti­za­tion of the rela­tion between prac­tices, the­o­ries, and colo­nial­i­ty, the trans­la­tions of sub­al­tern stud­ies that we car­ried out in Bolivia by Sil­via Rivera Cusi­can­qui, Rossana Bar­ragán, Raquel Gutiér­rez Aguilar, Ali­son Sped­ding, and Ana Rebe­ca Pra­da can only be under­stood based on the need for under­stand­ing minori­tar­i­an polit­i­cal ratio­nal­i­ties that seemed to be incor­po­rat­ed and paci­fied through neolib­er­al mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. There­fore, they demon­strat­ed the need to reevaulate the con­di­tion of dom­i­na­tion. 

  6. For more detail on this debate, see Diego Sztul­wark. “Puede la trascen­den­cia con­fig­u­rar luchas rad­i­cales? Notas de ontología políti­ca” in Grupo Martes; and Hora­cio González. “Cacero­las, mul­ti­tud, pueblo” in Página/12, Novem­ber 2, 2002. 

  7. “Pal­abras mág­i­cas,” paper pre­sent­ed in the Inter­na­tion­al Col­lo­qui­um of Mul­ti­ple Knowl­edges and Social and Polit­i­cal Sci­ences, Nation­al Uni­ver­si­ty of Colom­bia, Bogotá, Octo­ber 18-21, 2016. 

  8. One of Laclau’s opin­ions in the news, that was often repeat­ed at the time, indi­cat­ed, “the demands of the indige­nous peo­ple were not respond­ed to in a time­ly man­ner, but they are not cen­tral to the struc­tur­ing of pol­i­tics.” Ernesto Laclau, “La real izquier­da es el kirch­ner­is­mo,” Página/12 Octo­ber 2, 2011. 

  9. We call the com­mon-mul­ti­ple the pro­duc­tive capac­i­ty of the social beyond the posi­tion of the demand that Laclau seems to require from the pop­ulist dynam­ic of the democ­ra­cy that he the­o­rizes. 

  10. Translator’s Note: For more on the links between ter­ri­to­r­i­al vio­lence, neo-extrac­tive con­flict, and finan­cial extrac­tion, which emerged well before the pro­gres­sive government’s elec­toral defeat, see: Veróni­ca Gago.“Financialization of Pop­u­lar Life and the Extrac­tive Oper­a­tions of Cap­i­tal: A Per­spec­tive from Argenti­na.” Trans. Liz Mason-Deese. South Atlantic Quar­ter­ly 114 (1) (2014): 11–28; Insti­tu­to de Inves­ti­gación y Exper­i­mentación Políti­ca. Apuntes Del Nue­vo Con­flic­to Social. (Buenos Aires: Tin­ta Limón, 2013); San­dro Mez­zadra and Veróni­ca Gago. “Para una críti­ca de las opera­ciones extrac­ti­vas del cap­i­tal. Patrón de acu­mu­lación y luchas sociales en el tiem­po de la finan­cia­rización.” Nue­va Sociedad, no. 255(February 2015): 38–52. 

  11. Gar­cía Lin­era en Argenti­na: No hay rev­olu­ción ver­dadera sin rev­olu­ción cul­tur­al” in Notas, May 29, 2015. 

  12. Translator’s Note: See, Veróni­ca Gago and Diego Sztul­wark, “The Tem­po­ral­i­ty of Social Strug­gle at the End of the ‘Pro­gres­sive’ Cycle in Latin Amer­i­ca,” trans. Liz Mason-Deese, South Atlantic Quar­ter­ly 115, no. 3 (July 1, 2016): 606–14 and Mau­ra Brighen­ti, Inter­view with Raquel Gutiér­rez Aguilar, “New social con­flict. Extrac­tivism and pol­i­tics of the com­mon in Latin Amer­i­ca.” 

  13. Emir Sad­er, “A los int­elec­tuales lati­namer­i­canos,” Pági­na/12, Novem­ber 28, 2016. 

  14. Marce­lo Criv­el­la, el polémi­co pas­tor evangéli­co homofóbi­co que ganó la alcaldía de Río de Janeiro” BBC, Octo­ber 31, 2016. 

  15. Rita Lau­ra Sega­to. “Colo­nial­i­dad y patri­ar­ca­do mod­er­no: expan­sión del frente estatal, mod­ern­ización, y la vida de las mujeres” in Tejien­do de otro modo. Fem­i­nis­mo, epis­te­mología, y apues­tas decolo­niales en Abya Yala. (Popayán, Colom­bia: Edi­to­r­i­al Uni­ver­si­dad del Cau­ca, 2014). 

Author of the article

is part of Colectivo Situaciones, teaches in the School of Social Sciences at Buenos Aires University, and is a postdoctoral fellow at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET). She is currently working on a project exploring popular economies in post-neoliberal contexts.