Living in Freedom: Notes on Colectivo Situaciones and MTD Solano’s Hypothesis 891

Florencia Vespignano, Marcha, 2000. 

Hypothesis 891 presents precisely that, a series of situated hypotheses (the number comes from the street address where those hypotheses were elaborated). It also showcases the process through which those hypotheses were proposed, discussed, tested, challenged, accepted or discarded. In other words, it does not present answers, but a way of asking questions. It is in this sense that it represents a process of “militant research” or “research militancy.” These texts were part of a series of workshops held with members of the militant research collective Colectivo Situaciones and members of the Movimiento de Trabajadores Desocupados [Unemployed Workers’ Movement, MTD] of Solano. At the time, Colectivo Situaciones consisted of a group of university students who had become frustrated both with the dominant forms of leftist activism and academic knowledge. In search of a form of knowledge immanent to struggles, that did not separate the object from the subject of knowledge production, they began working with the series of innovative social movements emerging in Argentina to collectively reflect on and theorize the moment, recognizing, in turn, that this knowledge is itself a productive force that intervenes in the situation at hand. The work presented here brings Colectivo Situaciones into dialogue with one of the most innovative movements of the unemployed at the time: the MTD of Solano. The MTD of Solano was already developing its own conceptions of autonomy, power, neighborhood organizing, alternative economies, the production of subjectivity, the meaning of freedom. The confluence between the two groups thus produced an immensely rich dialogue, which extended well beyond the production of this book. 

The texts that make up this book include initial hypotheses, written by Colectivo Situaciones, edited transcripts of the conversations in the workshops discussing the hypotheses, and response pieces by both Colectivo Situaciones and the MTD of Solano. The book, as a whole, is the result of a process of collective thought and elaboration, both by each group on its own – Colectivo Situaciones and the MTD of Solano – and together through the workshop discussions where the words of members of each collective are woven together, to create new understandings and analyses that could not have emerged from either collective alone. The texts thus reflect tensions, both between and within the collectives, and also elaborations on those tensions as the thinking changes over time. 

The workshops that provided the material for this book took place between September 2001 and August 2002, during which time Argentina saw one of the most important processes of resistance to neoliberal capitalism that the world had seen at that time, effectively overthrowing the neoliberal government in December 2001. That uprising was led by many of the movements and organizations discussed in this book – the movements of the unemployed, neighborhood assemblies, and barter networks – yet it also exceeded and went far beyond those existing forms of organizing. It drew all sorts of people into the streets, despite the state of emergency and curfew declared by the government. Those people, whether in organizations or not, protested, set up barricades and fought off the police and military, until the president, Fernando de la Rúa, abandoned his office. This led to a time of intense social experimentation, both in forms of political organization and in forms of researching and thinking, of which this book is a prime example.

“A movement of movements”: The Unemployed Workers’ Organizations

By the late 1990s, Argentina was experiencing a severe economic crisis: years of neoliberal structural adjustment, demanded by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, had failed and poverty and unemployment were reaching record levels. It was in this context that the unemployed began organizing. At first derided and ignored by the major labor union federations and leftist parties alike, the unemployed began organizing autonomously, initially coming together around shared problems of social reproduction – unpayable electricity and gas bills, the rising cost of food, health care, and education – and mass job loss. In smaller cities in the interior of the country, such as Cultral-Co, whole communities came together after mass layoffs at the recently privatized oil company YPF. These uprisings – known as pueblazos for the way the whole community participated – were fundamental in bringing the issue of unemployment into the public agenda and popularizing the tactic of the roadblock (piquete). As the unemployed began organizing around the country, from those smaller cities to the urban peripheries of major metropolises such as Buenos Aires, La Plata, and Rosario, the tactic of the roadblock became the tool of choice for the unemployed. This is what led to the organized unemployed being baptized as piqueteros.1 Organizations of the unemployed – piqueterxs – thus started organizing roadblocks around the country, blockading major highways, bridges, and other key transit points, sometimes for weeks at a time. Those roadblocks brought the circulation of commodities to a halt and forced different levels of government to start responding to the piqueterxs demands for unemployment insurance, food aid, etc. The roadblocks, at least in some cases, were also a space for what the MTD of Solano refers to as the construction of a “new sociality,” producing new ways of living together that challenge the dominant capitalist subjectivity.

Despite this shared tactic and common problems, the different organizations of the unemployed that emerged in different territories were extremely diverse, with different compositions, adopting different ideological positions and organizational forms, and making different alliances. As the political power of the unemployed became clear, labor unions and leftist parties also started their own unemployed branches or tried to bring existing unemployed organizations into their fold. And yet other unemployed organizations remained “autonomous,” unaffiliated with any major unions, parties, or other social organizations. Those autonomous organizations generally took the name of Movimiento de Trabajadores Desocupados [Unemployed Workers’ Movement] of their given territory. The MTD of Solano, a locality in the southern part of Buenos Aires’ urban periphery, was one of these. The organization initially emerged from meetings at a local parish and then, after being evicted from the parish by the Bishop, expanded to bring together different neighborhood groups of the unemployed across the territory of Solano, ultimately encompassing hundreds of families. Despite remaining autonomous from political parties and trade unions, they did, at different times, join different political alliances and coordinating bodies, most importantly the Coordinadora de Trabajadores Desocupados Aníbal Verón (Aníbal Verón Unemployed Workers’ Coordination), which brought together many of the different autonomous unemployed workers’ organizations to organize actions together and support one another’s initiatives.

While the workshops focus on the specific experience of the MTD of Solano, the complex cartography of different organizations of the unemployed is referenced throughout the book. Frequent mentions are made of organizations such as the Federación Tierra y Vivienda (Land and Work Federation, FTV, lead by Luis d’Elía) linked to the Central de Trabajadores Argentinos (Argentine Workers’ Central Union, CTA), the Corriente Clasista y Combativa (Class-based and Combative Current, CCC, affiliated with the Revolutionary Communist Party), the Polo Obrero (Workers’ Pole, affiliated with the Workers’ Party) and the Movimiento Teresa Rodríguez (Teresa Rodríguez Movement, MTR). Each of these organizations have their own histories, compositions, practices, and ideological and theoretical positions. It is in that sense that Colectivo Situaciones refers to the unemployed workers’ organizations as a whole as “a movement of movements.” These different organizations and movements would sometimes come together in specific actions or campaigns. Notably a couple of “National Piquetero Congresses” attempted to bring together organizations of the unemployed across this spectrum, however, without much lasting success. As the MTD of Solano recounts here, there were major differences in terms of how to relate to the state and forms of internal organization. For the MTD of Solano, many of these other groups represent ways of doing politics based on a way of thinking based on “globality,” thinking in terms of predefined concepts and understandings of power, rather than starting from the situation. That way of thinking, starting from the situation and insisting on the autonomy to define one’s own concepts and on the self-affirmation of one’s own project, is what sets the MTD of Solano apart from many of these other organizations of the unemployed. 

Another major sources of difference and tension among the organizations of the unemployed was their relationship to what in Argentina are colloquially known as “subsidies,” the complex array of welfare benefits packages offered to the poor and the unemployed. These subsidies were one of the primary demands of the movements in the roadblocks and other mobilizations. Eventually, they came to include a wide range of programs offered by different levels of government (from municipalities to the federal government). Originally proposed as individual welfare benefits to the poor and the unemployed, the movements demanded, and won, the right to collectively administer the programs. This meant that organizations would receive the money, distribute it to their members, deciding who was eligible based on their own criteria and, in cases of corresponding work requirements, determine what counted as “work” in order to subsequently receive benefits. Of course, this had mixed consequences. It led to a swelling of the ranks of the organizations of the unemployed, as people signed up in order to have access to those benefits. It also led to accusations of clientelism, of organizations essentially paying people to show up to their events or otherwise using the programs to the sole benefit of leaders. In other cases, it led to interesting experiments in collectivizing the benefits – pooling benefits to use them to use for common projects – and redefining what was considered work – valuing care and community labor above all else. 

Of course, the organizations of the unemployed were also part of a broader constellation of movements, organizations, and alternative economic practices during the crisis. These include the neighborhood assemblies of largely middle-class urban neighborhoods and the barter clubs which extended across the country, using alternative currencies and barter to trade for goods and services as the official economy collapsed. As the members of the MTD of Solano explain here, the movements of the unemployed had complicated and evolving relations with these other movements and practices, sometimes coming together across class differences and sometimes entering into irresolvable tension. Yet, as a whole, this complex constellation of movements was responsible for a unique moment of experimentation in terms of forms of life, ways of organizing economic and social relations, and of producing knowledge.

Twenty Years of 2001

A lot has changed in the twenty years since Hipotesis 891 was originally published. Ultimately, much of the energy of the revolt in 2001 was institutionalized, with the election of Nestor Kirchner in 2003 and then of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in 2007. Their administrations not only increased the subsidies and other benefit packages available to the poor, and specifically to social movements and cooperatives, but also incorporated movement leaders into government positions and created programs directly designed to booster those alternative economic activities that had emerged in the crisis. The conversations with the MTD of Solano included in this book make it clear that there were already intense debates about the issue of institutionalization between different organizations of the unemployed. These tensions only increased Kirchner’s election as many organizations jumped on the opportunity to participate in official policies, while others began defining themselves precisely in opposition to that institutionalization and organized around explicitly fighting against the Kirchner governments, accusing them of co-opting and pacifying movements.

The position of the MTD of Solano can best be described in Raquel Gutierrez’s terms as non-state-centric. In Gutiérrez’s words, a non-state-centric politics “does not propose confrontation with the state as the central issue nor is it guided by building strategies for its ‘occupation’ or ‘takeover;’ but rather, it is strengthened by defense of the common, it displaces the state and capital’s capacity for command and imposition, and it pluralizes and amplifies multiple social capabilities for intervention and decision-making over public matters: it disperses power as it enables the reappropriation of collective decision-making and speech over matters that belong to everyone because they affect us all.”2 In that sense, the MTD of Solano always prioritized its own project: the project of creating new forms of life, new social relations, and new subjectivities in the neighborhoods where they worked. This never meant completely ignoring the realm of the state, and it often meant directly organizing forms of collective self-defense against state repression. Yet, they also continued occasionally receiving subsidies and grants from the state and other institutions, when they determined that doing so would further their organizational needs and not greatly sacrifice their autonomy. Most of members’ energy went into the group’s productive projects, from a bakery to community garden, their neighborhood health clinic, and popular education and pedagogical processes, and to maintaining the alliances and coalitions to support those projects. The MTD of Solano discusses this in terms of not letting their practice be defined by “the political conjuncture.” Instead, the organization’s project and needs, the project of creating new modes of life, were always prioritized over conflicts taking place at the level of state politics, no matter who was in the presidency.

The divisions which became present under Kirchner and Fernandez’s governments, in some sense, only intensified with the election of right-wing neoliberal Mauricio Macri in 2015. Macri represented a return to many of the neoliberal economic policies of the 1990s, but with a friendlier face, that sought to incorporate the popular sectors into the neoliberal project. In this sense, it sought to reestablish a neoliberal subjectivity at the base of society, individualizing welfare benefits and encouraging “entrepreneurship” at all levels of society.3 Macri’s administration was also responsible for taking out the largest IMF loan in the institution’s history, for cutting subsidies for utilities for the middle class, and undercutting unions in wage negotiations. In this context, many movements became further entrapped by the spatialities and temporalities of state politics, focusing their energy on electoral campaigns and influencing politicians in power, rather than the autonomous grassroots experiments that had characterized much of the 2001 uprising. 

It was also a moment of new alliances and political strategies. Starting during Fernandez’s government, Colectivo Situaciones and the MTD of Solano focused much of their efforts on constructing new alliances and research initiatives with emerging subjectivities of struggle, particularly migrants, precarious workers, and, later, feminist organizations and collectives. This research also focused on shifts at the level of popular subjectivity – on forms of what some referred to as microfascisms – as increased competition, identitarianism, and authoritarian behavior were being enacted on the extremely local level. One of the clearest examples of this was the case of Parque Indoamericano, in which three thousand families, mostly Bolivian and Paraguayan migrants, occupied the park and set up a temporary encampment, only to be violently attacked by more middle-class neighborhood residents and state forces. Three migrants were killed in the police’s raid on the park, which was yet celebrated by many of the white middle and upper-class sectors of society.4 Members of Colectivo Situaciones and the MTD of Solano worked together with collectives of migrants and other urban researchers in the Hacer Ciudad (Making the City) workshop to investigate changes occurring in the city, and the subjectivities of its inhabitants, at multiple scales. This research, and the web of alliances that carried out it, was thus able to diagnose the Macri government in a novel way, emphasizing those shifts in subjectivity that accompanied a generalized precarization of life.

Living in Freedom: Resonances Today

Twenty years after its original publication, the debates and themes raised in Hipotesis 891 are more relevant than ever. Both the process from which the book emerged – research militancy – and the concepts proposed, such as counter-power, autonomy, horizontality, new forms of militant commitment, and new understandings of freedom, offer important insights for movements today. With this translation, we hope to contribute to the further circulation and dispersion of ideas and concepts, allowing them to travel to new territories, be transformed in the process, and contribute to the mutual contamination of struggles for our collective liberation.5 

The first of these themes, and that which has made the name Colectivo Situaciones well-known in the English-speaking world, is that of militant research or research militancy. The concept traveled broadly through different militant translations of Colectivo Situaciones’ work and their participation in movement encounters and events across Europe and North America, entering into dialogue with other concepts ranging from conricerca to participatory-action research. Hipotesis 891 does not offer theories of militant research, but rather demonstrates a process of militant research. As Colectivo Situaciones explains in the prologue, they understand militant research as both a critique of traditional forms of academic research as well as the politics of most leftist movements and non-governmental organizations that is based on already knowing the answers. Instead, the offer a politics that in itself involves research, questioning, and collectively constructing responses. Colectivo Situaciones maintains a commitment to the knowledge produced in struggle and also a commitment to the idea that knowledge can and must be used for struggle. Today, when the term “militant research” is regularly used in academic articles and texts, it is worth returning to the question of the purpose and practice of research militancy. Ultimately, as Hipotesis 891 highlights, research militancy is not primarily about another way of doing research, or least research that assumes academia as its main site of enunciation. Rather, it is about another way of doing politics, that does not follow a predetermined line or presume to know the answers a priori, but that sees research as part of the political process itself. 

Another key theme, which highlights the uniqueness of the MTD of Solano’s approach to politics and organizing, is their emphasis on the production of subjectivity. This emphasis highlights the fact that we are not fully formed subjects at the beginning of a political project and that politics takes place, among other levels, on the level of subjectivity. We see this emerge in two different ways in the MTD of Solano’s analysis here. First, it can be seen in their critique of capitalism as producing particular subjectivities and desires, particularly as they see that manifest in their neighborhoods in terms of cut throat competition and lack of solidarity between neighbors. Rather than condemn those neighbors, they seek to understand how those elements are a fundamental part of capitalism’s reproduction and expansion. The second element, involves asking how the movement can function as a space for the production of different subjectivities. Thus they ask what pedagogical practices are necessary, what forms of decision-making and internal discussion are helpful, for creating subjectivities that are not oriented by the logic of capitalism. Again, there is no predefined path for this, but it involves transforming all of those who participate in the project. As members of the MTD of Solano put,  “we have also proposed to recreate ourselves, to subject ourselves to change as well, as we have thrown all our certainties out the window.” This also means being willing to engage with comrades who make mistakes, recognizing how we have all internalized elements of the capitalist logic, and that we must be willing to work through that process of transformation together. Thus, instead of searching for the “right” subject to engage in revolutionary activity, whether determined by some sort of identity or class position, the MTD of Solano always understood their task to be that of producing a revolutionary subject.

Finally, the MTD of Solano always stood out, even in Argentina, for its understanding of power – and counter-power – and autonomy, moving beyond a state-centric politics. Counter-power, as posed by the MTD of Solano, is not in symmetrical opposition to power, the power of the state, the power of domination, power over. Rather, counter-power operates differently, on a different realm. Counter-power is the power of creation, the power to act, the power to affect and be affected by others. This commitment to counter-power lies at the heart of the MTD of Solano’s non-state-centric politics, which is not driven by a logic of confrontation with the state nor the desire to take state power. Here autonomy arises as a horizon, not a fixed state but a process through which and toward which the movement works. They attempt to progressively create more autonomy both in terms of the sustainability of their alternative economic projects that allow them to meet some part of their daily needs while relying increasingly less on state subsidies, and in terms of the autonomy of thought and language, proposing their own analyses, their own concepts, for understanding and creating the world in which they want to live. Counter-power ultimately manifests through enacting other ways of living together, ways of organizing work without a boss and managers, ways of living intimate relations beyond the heterosexual nuclear family, ways of cohabiting spaces without hierarchical governments. Or as the MTD proposes, “It is very important to recognize that it is not about transforming the municipal government, or the police force, among other things, but rather that these things exist today as things that we no longer want, we reject them, we negate them. We don’t want to substitute any part of that system, we want to build something different. And it is that new thing that we are envisioning, constructing. That is counter-power.” This is a project that ultimately proposes “a project of living in freedom,” understood as freedom from capitalist imperatives of how to live our lives and the collective creation of new forms of life that allow us to lives and our relations to each other in their fullness. 

Thanks to Minor Compositions for allowing the publication of this introduction and the corresponding excerpt from Hypothesis 891. Beyond the Roadblocks.


1 In the remainder of the text, we use the gender-neutral term piqueterxs, which has been widely taken up in recent years thanks to the mass feminist movement and that highlights the important role that women played in the movement as a whole, although it was often not recognized at the time. We opt to maintain the Spanish term rather than simply refer to “the unemployed,” because, as the MTD of Solano explains later in this book, piqueterx refers to a political identity, an identity based on action and resistance, while “the unemployed” merely refers to a sociological description, which is often depoliticized and cast in the position of a victim.
2 Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar, Horizonte Comunitario-Popular. Antagonismo y producción de lo común en América Latina. (Cochabamba: Sociedad Comunitaria de Estudios Estratégicas y Editorial Autodeterminación, 2015), 89.
3 For more on these shifts in subjectivity and the spread of a “neoliberalism from below” during both the late Kirchner period and the Macri’s government, see Verónica Gago’s Neoliberalism from Below: Popular Pragmatics and Baroque Economies (Durham, NC: Duke Press, 2017) and Diego Sztulwark’s La ofensiva sensible: Neoliberalismo, populismo y el reverso de lo político (Buenos Aires: Caja Negra, 2019).
4 For a militant research process analyzing the Parque Indoamericano Case, in which Colectivo Situaciones was involved with migrant collectives, see Taller Hacer Ciudad, Vecinocracia: (Re)tomando la ciudad (Buenos Aires: Tinta Limón and Editorial Retazos, 2011).
5 For more on dispersion and the work of the book, as it travels, in the construction of movements and struggles, see Magalí Rabasa, The Book in Movement: Autonomous Politics and the Lettered City Underground (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019).

Author of the article

is an editor at Viewpoint Magazine, a member of the Counter-Cartographies Collective, and a member of the translation collective Territorio de Ideas. She is a long-time translator of, and participant in, feminist movements in Latin America.