Horizontalism as a strategy: “Taking over the state doesn’t lead to real liberation” (II)

Marina and her son Camilo.
Marina Sitrin and her son Camilo.

By Dmitri Prieto

HAVANA TIMES: We continue interviewing Marina Sitrin, a researcher and activist from the US. See part one of this interview here.

HT: In current world left-wing politics is there any future for horizontalidad, or instead only a return of old bureaucratic models: social-democrat / authoritarian / Stalinist / “market-Leninist”?

Marina Sitrin: Just as in Argentina since 2001 most all organizing now takes on a horizontal form, and/or strives for horizontalidad, I believe that a great many of the new global movements are also horizontal, and are trying to create another form of power and change – so quite against the concepts of Leninism, social democracy, authoritarianism etc.

I recently co-authored a book based in my participation in some of the global movements, OWS in particular, as well as interviews with people in the various movements from Greece to Spain, and found that not only do people strive for non-hierarchical relationships and forms of organization, they even sometimes call it horizontalidad. (I am going to speak about the global movements now and use the ‘we’ form since I am a part of them, whether in NYC, Athens, Spain, Bosnia or Brazil.)

The idea that we can make revolutionary change by taking over the state and then achieving liberation does not resonate with people anymore. This is not to say that we should not or do not take the state serious – we do – dead seriously – but as the way to change the world, as the way to change ourselves, replacing one hierarchical structure with another – no matter the intentions – has not led to liberation. We first must create these liberatory relationships, even if small and with lots of mistakes, but first we begin to change the world where we are, taking over workplaces, neighborhoods, schools etc, and then in the process create the relationships and strengthen our self organization muscles so as to continue and then take on the state.

HT: Your life today?

MS: My life today. Well, I am doing this interview in a 30-minute break while my now 9 month old Camilo (yes, named for the smiling revolutionary from Cuba) is in the other room playing with his father. My life is filled with the joy of raising Camilo – it is also filled with challenges because of this as well. Time and exhaustion to name the big ones.

Horizontalism in the library.
Horizontalism in the library.

I am living in Germany because of the health care and great social support for babies and children – something I did not have in New York, so was, in many ways, forced to leave. It sounds strange that I could have a law degree as well as a PhD and still not be able to be in a situation where I could support my family and have good health care – but that is the US, and that’s a topic for another day. So, while here in Germany I am doing as much support and solidarity work with refugees here, who have been self organizing to ensure they are not deported and have some semblance of a dignified life. I am also spending time with the more autonomous movements, here but more in Greece and Spain. And, I am writing. My next book is rethinking the meaning of social movements, and challenging the framework that is now used, and offering an expansion of the theory to one that looks something like ‘societies in movement’ borrowing from Raul Zibechi.

I am inspired again and again by those creating new worlds in their day to day relationships and struggles, taking back their factories and running them together, taking over land to sustain themselves, occupying buildings, as in this neighborhood where I am in Berlin, to house refugees, and even by the smaller acts of solidarity and love that we can see everyday – we just have to look for them. People helping one another in the most simple things. And, of course, the massive movements for real democracy. But really, it is the acts of collective self organization, with horizontalidad, that inspires me most. I guess because I see that as the seeds of the new society – the future in the present if you will.

HT: A future for Cuba…

Marina and the  Morro Lighthouse in Havana.
Marina and the Morro Lighthouse in Havana.

MS: For Cuba. That people are able to self-organize their lives together, to autogestionar, and whatever that means for people. For me that would mean horizontally and without hierarchy. For Cuba, it is for people to decide. Of course in an emancipatory way, without exploitation or oppression – so of course without capitalism.

I imagine, as with other places around the world, this will take time, since even though basic rights are met in Cuba, and that is huge, something not to ever underestimate (thinking again about Detroit or my having to leave the US) you are not accustomed to making decisions with your neighbors or co-workers on all or most things in life – as most of us in the world. So, practicing the democracy muscle. And, while practicing, prefiguring the future you desire, and then making it happen.

That might sound ambiguous, but not living in Cuba it really is not for me to say. What I hope for Cuba, as I do for the rest of the world, is a society where the people decide their own future, and one that is free of all oppression and exploitation.

One crucial addendum, Cuba is not the same as the rest of the world. So many basic rights and necessities are already foundational on the island, as everyone knows, so it is with that in mind, working from that base, that I say all that I have so far. As others in Cuba have said, Hagamos Nuestra la Revolucion (Let’s make the revolution ours), working from the base that is already there and continuing.

HT: Thank you, Marina!

7 thoughts on “Horizontalism as a strategy: “Taking over the state doesn’t lead to real liberation” (II)

  • Hey there John. On behalf of the more than 7.1 billion people in the world and 99.9% of us who were brought up respecting male-dominated families and/or capitalism and/or organized religion, I think it is safe to say that if we are all wrong and you are right, we might still be OK.

  • Marina , you are precisely correct that democracy is the answer to the problems of poverty and other social problems in Cuba AND in the United States as well.
    As expected the Moses crowd immediately responds with the normal vitriol they have always shown for democratic forms .
    Hence their attitude towards socialism and communism and anarchist forms that at their base are democratic and their necessity of them calling Leninism and Stalinism either socialism or communism as if those forms were actually socialist or communist when their top down way of operating is/was state CAPITALISM . .
    Their preference, often stated is for totalitarian forms such as capitalism, organized religion , the oligarchic form of government they support; the unelected dictatorship of money and the traditionally male-dominated nuclear family.
    You cannot argue with them or hope that logic, facts and/or reason can change their thinking .
    Neither should you take them seriously.
    They are to serious and rational political and social thinking as
    professional wrestling is to Greco-Roman wrestling .
    IMO, you will be wasting time and effort in engaging them in conversation.

  • I do not wish to be snide. If you see my comments as hostile and aggressive, I would argue that the situation in Cuba merits no less a response. Martin Luther King Jr. was asked at the onset of his work in the civil rights struggle if it might not be a better strategy to be less confrontational and allow the ‘natural’ order of things to resolve the racial discord. He rejected this strategy and famously responded, “that Jim Crow does not speak the language of patience. Jim Crow is deaf to the silence of calm”. I regret that you read my comments and see no space for debate. There are other pro-Castro commenters who do. I do have a question for you: Lacking the basic human rights of free speech, freedom of assembly and association, private property rights and so on, what “basic rights and necessities” are you referring to?

  • Marina wrote:

    “What I hope for Cuba, as I do for the rest of the world, is a society where the people decide their own future, and one that is free of all oppression and exploitation…. Cuba is not the same as the rest of the world. So many basic rights and necessities are already foundational on the island”

    Many Cubans would dispute that assessment. The oppressive Castro regime abuses the human rights of the Cuban people. They are denied their rights to free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association. The Cuban workers are exploited by the State who sell their cheap labour to foreign corporations. The Cuban trade union is there to represent the will of the Party, not the interests of the workers. Cuba is run by a military oligarchy and is far, far from the horizontal utopia you imagine.

  • Moses, who are you? Are you engaged in organizing to create change and liberation in the world as your photo indicates? If so, why are your comments always so hostile and aggressive? They in no way open space for discussion and debate, and in all honesty resemble the comments of people paid to disrupt discussions about real change. If you have a question for me, ask. If you just want to be snide, please, do it in your personal journal.

  • Moses,you nailed it

  • What a politician! She carefully advocates for a Cuba “where the people decide their own future, and one that is free of all oppression and exploitation.” which implies that such a society does not currently exists and yet manages to avoid criticizing the Castros. By the way, anybody with a legitimate Ph.D. and a law degree can earn a good living in NYC. The problem is they would have to actually work to earn that living. I suspect that Sitrin probably didn’t want to work that hard. In that case, Germany is probably a better option.

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