The Art of Road Blockades

17.Jul.03    Análisis y Noticias

In earlier times, the bandits of the forests, groups of resistance against the European monarchies, and the aboriginal communities that everywhere resisted the sacking and the genocide of the early accumulation of capital, used road blockades as a form of struggle to stop the horse lead carriages using tree trunks and rocks across the roads, that, when seen by the conductor, immediately tried to turn around and retreat, as he already knew that a horde of attackers was on its way. The ladies gave shouts while the horsemen took their guns or swords with shaking hands and a discussion would ensue about whether it would be better to surrender so that not all of them be killed. The brave machos after moments to unload their machismo with tough words against the group of bandits, would agree to put down their weapons. Sometimes horsed guards came accompanying and others would position two or three expert gunners on the carriage.

Tricks from side to side, the fact is that those in the resistance and some commonly called delinquents, seeded terror on the roadways, kidnapped the gentlemen and took the wealth out of the mercantile circulation putting barriers to the development of the long and complex chain on the giving birth of capitalist society on the blood of Abya Yala (badly known as Latin America), India, etc. The resistance organized in autonomous communities (just in Brazil they were counted by the hundreds, if not thousands) were nourished from the fruits of the earth and from this interception of the merchandise circuit, of which they used many products without having to pay for them.

Some time later, roads, rivers and oceans ceased to be the stage of the struggle and antagonism became to be manifested in the cities, where the rising working class is forced to give rivers of blood to the benefit of capital. The principal forms of struggle become the strike and the barricade, blocking streets, interrupting transit and in many occasions irrupting in factory warehouses and stores, withdrawing from the mercantile circuit an infinity of products for which not a cent is paid. The similarity is evident, as this is about the continuity of the same struggle of always, the people against the proprietors, which naturally not only interrupts production and circulation, but also questions the entire concept of property and restores free circulation.

The appetite for power took political parties and unionists to create vertical, authoritarian and pyramidal structures directed from top to bottom where the strike and the barricade became to be functional to the capacity of dialogue of the bureaucracies, from where it was decided if one could or not move a finger. The ‘leaders’ seeded the respect for property and for the mercantile circuit, they tried to end direct action as a form of struggle disputing spaces within the system with the ‘strength’ of the ‘masses’ behind them. No longer it was permissible to brake window displays or even worse to enter and withdraw products from the market. Now what goes is the respect of the status quo. The industrialists begin to see that some of those leaders are alright, that they control the workers in exchange for small concessions, historically social democracy and reformism are born.

That is how the strike as a weapon of struggle came to be a measure regulated by the law of the bourgeoisie, but not the barricade, the window display breaking, the withdrawal of products from the market or the burning of public buildings, which cannot be swallowed by the social peace of exploitation and continues to be used by many despite the tireless efforts of the conciliators.

Those who aspire to occupy spaces along the throne of power try at whatever cost to assume the language and disciplined behaviour that capital demands from the population. That is why one is not surprised by Attac, and particularly by Susan George constantly criticizing those who struggle against any form of capitalism and who as a fact boycott the functioning of capital by calling on the people to the generalization of direct action as a way of struggle, be it by vigorously confronting the ‘forces of order and discipline’, be it by destroying or entering to withdraw parts or components of the infrastructure of property and its functioning, be it by setting fire to stores as it was during the mobilizations in Argentina in Salta which preceded the popular insurrection that tumbled four governments.

The ‘dialoguing’ bourgeoisie make the enjoyment of reformist bureaucrats who continue to dream with the alliance of classes, conciliations and subordination of the population to the capitalist order, as Kirchner (newly elected Argentinean President), for example, or even Lula, who’s neoliberal program is denounced even by intellectuals and economists of his own party.

If the majority of the population of our countries is poor, marginalized and concentrated in peasant, aboriginal and peripheral communities, it is absurd to ask them to behave to win over the middle layers. Those layers, as well as the industrial working class and public sector workers have already been shrunken a great deal, as is the case of Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Venezuela, just to refer to the countries of the continent (Latin America) that have gone through high levels of industrialization and ‘progress’, situation from which they have already departed for some time and which will never come back, that is why it is worth even more now to strengthen that criticized ‘behaviour’ of those who occupy lands, block roads, sack trucks or assault stores.

It is exactly those who aspire to occupy spaces of power the ones who question direct action the most, as they can only reach power on the condition that they submit along with submitting the people to the conditions of the rules of the game ordained and determined on the laws of the bourgeoisie.

The process of building and accumulation of social forces get through by evading and confronting those laws, order and property in general, allowing the expansion of the rebellious sentiment of the population. The Argentinean experience is the best proof of that, as well as the proof of institutional re-composition in the face of a still weak capacity of popular power that organized from bellow assure the control and administration of lands. The political parties that during the insurgency were hiding under the mattress, went out to tie the insurrected population within the most varied blocks and groups that expanded everywhere thanks to an aggressive discourse or to some negotiating capacity with power.

In the continent, the struggle went back to the streets, being the most known cases those of the Argentinean piqueteros, the coca growers, the aboriginal and peasant communities of Bolivia and lately Peru, where the peasants, a few days before the teachers mobilizations went out, paralysed the country by way of simultaneous road blockades every where, from north to south, surprising everyone, there were declarations of different spokespeople who said that nobody was expecting a movement like this one. Similar to those in Bolivia, the Peruvian compas (short for compañeros) carried hundred of thousands of stones, rocks and tree trunks carpeting long tracks of asphalt and dirt with those objects. The hit to the economy was huge. Interruption of cargo and passenger transport with the consequent repercussion on the rest of the chain of mercantile flux. Immediately the government negotiated and again deceived these peasants, who announced new mobilizations within weeks.

Road blockades are then a weapon of struggle that can be perfectly reproduced on a wide scale along with strikes and urban barricades, which have already been proved, they incorporate a great part of the population who’s discontent grows. Regional work stoppages in Colombia, for example, have been very successful, but have diminished lately due to a number of causes. In Brazil road blockades have been sporadic and too circumscribed, not allowing the expansion and use by other sectors of the population.

This is how two dynamics crossing through the popular movement manifest themselves, one which tends to take the people to a State, be the current one or one that replaces it, which battles to organize and tie from top to bottom, and the other, on the contrary, aims for the development of something new away from that or any other State, prioritising local power and the capacity to influence and determine their own destinies, valorizing other regions in struggle by way of instances of co-ordination and exchange.

The first dynamic took a big breath with Chavéz and later with Lula. Sectors of the continental left called to wait and see. And while we wait, neoliberalism and the humanization of capitalism are imposed at a fast pace. Now with the presidency of Kirchner they put forward Mercosur as a pole of capitalist regional grouping that they say, has to be supported. Then comes Gutierrez (President of Ecuador) the girl’s eyes of this leftists. But within a short time these projects have grossly crumbled down, both, Lula and Gutierrez, imposed IMF programs with ‘mass support’, but now the illuminating lantern used to blind the people has gone out. Without the lantern, they invent other tools, in the old ways, refusing to see that even their own bases of the Worker’s Party and the Landless Peasants are rebelling. This groups need to be attracted to the resistance.

We need now to abandon the slogan of the ‘ceasing of power’ and substitute it for that of ‘building of power’. We need to confront the proliferation of reformist texts that insist in the old flags and through that, they display a string of attacks against autonomies and horizontality of relations within the dynamics of resistance, we need to show even more, that on the contrary, social struggles continue their firm advance throughout the continent.

This is necessary due to the divisionism that those slogans seed in the middle of open struggles and discussions. For example in Argentina we are witnessing a re-accommodation of forces from the bases, groups become divided, others come together, some negotiate with Kirchner, others keep due distances, some call to organize on the one hand, some on the other, many assemblies have entered into a symptomatic reflux due to having failed to develop communitarian forms of relations, more rather maintaining the discourse modalities of the encounters, and for failing to develop task of local power and of local administration from the beginning, continuing with the discussion of projects and programs that are non conducive to anything. The groupings around Zanon and Brukman (worker’s run factories) are assuming a certain profile closer to strategic objectives of the left as is the ‘ceasing of power’ than towards a new direction of building local power. That’s the way we are going. Those contradictions will be resolved not by the realization of finished strategic programs, but by the retaking of forms of direct action and the call to raise regional programs to bring together the people in function of their immediate interests. Pragmatic discussions have been so empty that have not attracted the population, as is shown by the low electoral levels of the left.

And those useless discussions have been the ones that allowed the reestablishment of institutionality, as the advance towards new forms of doing local politics with power of attracting the population as has been the case in Esquel or even in Salta, have been sacrificed. Kircher has taken advantage of those optimal conditions to re-model the state apparatus and to modernize it in many varied fields, especially in the armed forces and police, retaking as well the negotiations with the IMF and with Mercosur. Initially the role of vanguard was recognized to Brazil, as the Lula example of stabilization notably influenced in Argentina, but later, once in office and seeing the difficulties of Lula around the critics of the left and even in the heart of the population, Kirchner has said that this is no longer about following the leader (Lula) but of a friendly relation, with which he hopes to revive blossoms of nationalism typical of the Peronism as an expression of developing capital. Poor Argentineans will continue to be such, the middle layers impoverished and with hopes on Kirchner will not take long to be disappointed, the unemployment problem does not have a solution. In the end, the factors of the crisis are still there and the day that the street struggle retake its place with new pickets and regional actions is not far. Kirchner is aware of that and repression is being prepared. The beating of an Indy media reporter is no other than a demonstration of that. If the left does not leave behind its ideas of the ‘ceasing of power’ it will continue to feed the continuation of the status quo. The way out is to come together to the combative actions from bellow in the construction of real spaces of local power.

Same thing in Venezuela, if popular self-organizing is not strengthen, the crisis will continue with advances and retreats of each one of the blocks disputing power, no matter how many times it is said that Chavéz is there to stay and that United States has been defeated in its overtaking adventures. That is false from heads to toes, there is no stability in that country. Each block uses their street organizing capacity or institutional spaces for their own benefit. As it is not possible for one of the blocks to do away with the other, the way out is going to be a super-structural accord with favours to both bands, the possible stepping down of Chavéz, the reinstalling of the armed forces as a professional body and the distribution of areas of economic and political control between the contenders. It is a fact that each block count with entrepreneurs and union bureaucrats, as it is also a fact that the bolivarians count with a strong organization of masses subordinated from top to bottom without lacking its contradictions which flourish from time to time. But for that it is good to remember the Panamá experience, that even though wrapped up with the yanqui invasion, it is nevertheless a fact that the agreements between the blocks were discussed in parliament and the elections, which is what is going to also happen in Venezuela at the end. There is no way that Chavéz project is going to allow the subordinated lefts to cease ‘power’ as a way to ‘move forward towards socialism’. Venezuelan dominant classes, even though divided in two blocks, are firmly decided to form an ever more beneficial relation with international capital through its oil wealth. And the bolivarian movement of class alliances is functional to that objective.

In Colombia, the State has surprised many with its latest measures oriented to industry restructuring and a blow to the union movement along the way. The militarization of the Ecopetrol plant and the liquidation of the powerful communications group of Telecom which leaves over 10 thousand workers on the street, form part of a strategy oriented to the facilitation of international capital penetration in those two traditionally State managed areas. The response from the bureaucratic union movement has not waited and a national strike of public sector workers has been called. That strike will be a proof of fire for both sectors, government and public sector workers, as the blow has been a tough one and it tends to weaken even further the structures of the old union movement with still old fashion leadership style, especially in the union centrals, though within USO, Ecopetrol Worker’s Union, from years, a more participative style of unionism along side the grass roots has predominated, which has transformed it in a powerful union force, perhaps the most solid of the country, but the problem now is going to be how to confront the militarization of the oil plants where now to get in one has to show identification and everyone is checked by counter-insurgency troops.

The government’s desperation due to its inability to advance in its anti-guerrilla fight its making it to reinforce the mechanisms of a militarized functioning of capital. It is ever more notorious the organizational advance of aboriginal, peasant and afro-descendant communities in the most diverse regions of the country, and some of them with total autonomy from the armed groups, be them from the government or the guerrilla, which has taken the government to attack entire communities arresting many people under invented charges of collaborating with the guerrillas. The Colombian government’s plan was to do away with the guerrillas in a short period to facilitate the circulation of international capital, but as this has not been possible, well then it is done via militarism, giving the tone to what should be the next steps for the government to follow, of more militarization of cities and industry plants, which will do no other than to exacerbate the population, whom as seen in the case of Comuna 13, is also disposed to take up arms to defend themselves from the government. Comuna 13, a peripheral neighbourhood in Medellín (if I am not mistaken a city neighbourhood) formed its own armed militias to defend themselves from the government and from military incursions. For a long time the combats were so intense that the guerrillas of the Eln and Farc arrived to bring support constituting thus a popular-guerrilla alliance and maintaining the government in check. The only way that the impasse between the government and the guerrillas will be broken, is by the multiplication of the example of Comuna 13 in other city’s peripheral areas and with the consolidation of autonomous forms of social self-organizing in rural communities. The current conditions within social organizations and the experiences of the armed regional strike taking place in some regions, can contribute to the realization in a not too far away time of mobilizations of national character with road blockades and economic boycott.

There are many more examples, but these are enough to show that without a strong autonomous struggle at the grass roots level, the alliance making and ‘ceasing of power’
projects will continue to create divisionism within the resistance. It is no longer enough with marches and peaceful demonstrations, because in a short time there is again the need to go out and there we go again, favouring the electoral proposals that take us to new defeats. Traditional unionism is defeated and is attempting to stay afloat with the new politics of conciliation, of the ‘humanization of capitalism’, but those politics are also failing, that is why we now have the best conditions to raise new offensives of struggle from the bottom on the condition that they are decided in the territories by a population

articulated in local co-ordinations allowing them to develop their own power.

We need to be artists. We need to develop more of the art of road blockades and to paralyse the economy. With that we will be creating the conditions to accumulate local forces and to set forth the task of bringing down governments.

To the roadways!

Profesor J

Translated by Clajadep Canada