Friday, December 15, 2023
Your blogger tables at another book fair, this one at the popular school La Prospe in Madrid. All my stock is old, but I’m planning new research and reporting on the new ‘commonsing’ (open, assembly-run, not publicly administrated) citizen action spaces which are sprouting anew in the Spanish capitol. This post discusses some of these new initiatives, and gets into the library with some recallings of Chicago hobo eggheads and Surrealists.
After my fun experiences at the Pichifest zine festival (blogged previously), I was primed for the Madrid anarchist book fair at La Prospe. That self-organized place is a libertarian free school which is celebrating their 50th anniversary this year.
I felt a basic elation to be again in the middle of this kind of cultural action in autonomous space. My Spanish is poor. I understood about 20-30% of what was going on. But everyone was polite, even friendly to this old man with his small spread of radical books on squatting.
I’d received no response to my request to join. “We had so many proposals,” the woman hosting said when I arrived as the doors opened. “But I can give you this little bookstand.” She dragged it into the front room and I plopped my stuff down. I set up the “House Magic” zines on the chalk shelf of a blackboard, the pages resting in the white dust of past writing.
Those zines are old stuff: “House Magic: BFC” (Bureau of Foreign Correspondence), my project from 2009 to 2016. Along with this blog, those zines fed into Occupation Culture: Art and the City from Below (Minor Compositions, 2015), and Making Room: Cultural Production in Occupied Spaces (JoAAP & Other forms, 2015), the anthology that SqEK research group members contributed to. (Both are free PDFs online.)
All of that work is ancient in internet time; Google has demounted the original “House Magic” site with PDFs of the zines. (They are scattered around elsewhere.) That site was built when the ABC No Rio visual arts collective put up the exhibition in 2009 that began my researches.
But after a long interregnum I am back at it. The time is ripe. A revitalized commonsing movement is rising again in Madrid. When the right took over city government in 2019 with the help of the neo-fascist Vox party, they immediately began a campaign of eviction against citizen-run spaces across Madrid, both squatted and permitted.
They cancelled contracts for several permitted centers which had been many years in operation, thereby greatly annoying neighborhood organizations that were not radical left. They evicted a roster of okupas, which are always vulnerable, climaxing with the centrally located Ingobernable. (The building has remained empty despite government promises, which is quite typical.) With the Covid virus fear and lockdown in full swing, it was hard to muster crowds to defend these spaces, although people did come out in hundreds on the streets against some of these moves.
So Vox got their red meat: The centers of Venezuelan- and George Soros-inspired communist indoctrination were closed. And the neo-fascists march on with a culture war agenda targeting any LGBTQ representations. Vox pols are mounting a concerted attack in the cultural arena across Spain, a complement to De Santis' crusade in Florida, and radical Christians throughout the small towns of provincial USA.
But true to the axiom that repression breeds resistance, the movements have been reconstituting themselves with a strong effective organization. Their sap is rising now, with more motivations, and consequently a broader base of support, than in the past. With rampant gentrification and a debilitated public health system – (both the responsibility of the city and provincial governments) – political imperatives are stronger than ever.
A recent article in ElDiario.es, "La nueva estrategia”, explains the complex organization of the resistance, and the actions that are unfolding. The neighborhood movements are bolstered by organizations based in rented or owned premises -- Ecologistas en Acción, Fundación de los Comunes, and Traficantes de Sueños and others -- which have expanded their facilities and produced programs in support of the commonsing projects. What is new this time is the clearer emphasis on the provision of space for culture and free sociality.
The Cultural Turn
Groups which have run what we might call “social centers” are renting and buying spaces. How they constitute themselves, their public faces, are also changing. The article notes several projects, including Ateneo La Maliciosa and La Villana de Vallekas. La Maliciosa is a large recently-opened space close to the Lavapiés neighborhood, a collaboration between the above-named groups and the bookstore/publisher Traficantes de Sueños.
Like La Prospe and its innumerable anarchist ancestors in Spain, La Maliciosa is an ateneo, a space for meeting and learning. La Villana is in the peripheral barrio of Vallecas. The space they are working towards was a tavern. It will continue as such, and include a bookstore. Both these places were crowd-funded, with a built-in intention to “generate money that can be put in the service of political ends”.
What clearly links all these projects, almost irrespective of their divergent political positions, is a desire to organize and produce their own cultural and social projects and events without having to engage with and navigate scarce public resources and official administrative apparati.
It is a good moment to pick up the strings of the project I dropped eight years ago – the grail of my SqEK days, a “popular book of squatting”. That is the volume that will life the scales from people’s eyes by demonstrating historically how important the movement of occupied collectively organized social centers has been.
“La nueva estrategia” is just that, the new strategy for a kind of organizing that has been rolling continuously for decades. The March, 2015 document, “Manifiesto por los espacios urbanos de Madrid”, was circulated at a more hopeful moment. I translated and posted it here as “The places where the future is invented”. That post is hyperlinked to many of the projects of that moment, some of which survive.
Quite a lot has changed in the intervening years since that manifesto appeared, and even more since I proposed the “popular book” project to our group. There is change in the overall situation in which the squatting movement finds itself, changes in its public face, and for me, changes in how I think my researches should be reported.
Ontology of Self-Publication
The general questions around how to go forward with my researches and reportings is somewhat clearer after these two fairs. Writing academic articles does nothing for me; I stopped long ago. I think there’s no point in aiming for finished books, since there’s so little audience and so little response. Still, as with avant-garde art it’s not how many it’s who. Maybe I flatter myself that the “House Magic” zine series 2009-16 helped to animate occupations in the USA during those years of strikes and OWS.
Limited audience means limited editions. I’m going to continue to both blog online and “zinefy” in print. I’ll work myself more closely into the production process of the publications as well as researching and writing. I’ll learn bookbinding.
I went into the book fair with a boost from the lovely folks at the Archivo 15M who put my call for collaborators on their blog. They also sent along a dossier of documents about the post-15M occupation project Hotel Madrid. I’m not holding my breath that such folks will, like elves, magically appear. The immediate question is how to gather the resources I need to make these zines.
At the Feria, I met an elder from an archive I didn’t know existed. It’s the Fundación Salvador Seguí, which is something of a cousin to the FAL-CNT archive and bookstore. With sites here and in Barcelona and Valencia, the mission of the FSS is “to collect, organize, preserve and disseminate documentation related to the libertarian movement”, which is exactly what I’m trying to do.
I’m confident now I can find the research resources I need to make the project possible.
Finally, These Are Book People
Third day of the anarchist book fair. I'm in the big room, awaiting the presentation of the Grupo Surrealista, “Towards a new romanticism: revolutionary and anti-development while capitalism destroys the world”. It was delivered by the author of a recent pamphlet, and I found it entirely incomprehensible. The discussion began with “the question that André Breton posed to the unknowable just at the moment of his death: ‘What are the true dimensions of Lautréamont?’ ” Hmmm....
As it was with that talk, I was slow to catch the matter of the many titles on display. But after browsing for three days I found several titles to grapple with.
A Deeper History
I was emboothed at the fair next to Pepitas de calabaza, a publisher with a large list and a full table. Almost out of the corner of my eye I spied their Spanish edition of Boxcar Bertha, a novel by Ben Reitman (1937), set in “hobo jungles, bughouses, whorehouses, Chicago's Main Stem, IWW meeting halls, skid rows and open freight cars”. Word is “Bertha” was likely an amalgam of historical personages; Reitman was a lover of Emma Goldman. It was made into an AIP flic directed by Martin Scorsese in the ‘70s. Reitman’s 1937 book is pretty little known, but it’s an important part of hoboing subculture, that is today, the thinking train-hopping crust punk.
As it happened, when I passed through Chicago picked up a copy of From Bughouse Square To The Beat Generation by Slim Brundage, with a foreword by Franklin Rosemont. Brundage came on the Chicago scene later than Reitman, but had similar ways and ambitions. The Rosemonts revived Charles H. Kerr, the IWW’s old publishing house. The Rosemonts are also beloved of the Grupo Surrealista folks. All that long-gone Chicago scene is getting hot again as it was the subject of a chapter in Abigail Susik's recent book Surrealist Sabotage and the War on Work (2021).
I was happy to share a copy of that book. I have bad Spanish, and I’m certainly an armchair anarchist, but in the end these are book people, and we all share a love of the ones that excite us.
Chicago, the Nation’s Railyard
The Chicago nexus, the early 20th century U.S. anarchist movement which saw the proliferation of Ferrer schools, named for the murdered Spanish educator – all this harks back to an era of international solidarity and a relatively free movement of peoples across borders which brought these movements into conjunction. The hobo intellectuals whom the Chicago Surrealists loved were of a piece with the Spanish anarchist movement which at the turn of the century launched hundreds of ateneos libertarios, libertarian free schools to educate the laboring classes. Workers in the 19th century in Spain were at the mercy of the Catholic church for what minimal public education was provided. School was – and still is – a drilling in wage labor discipline.
Punk zine table at anarchist book fair. "Every weekend at the Rastro I have a table", said this participant
To get away, to escape, to reach any wider plain of understanding of one’s own situation together with others, and the burden of the broader human condition needs schooling. Even in many cases un-schooling. This the ateneos libertarios provided.
That this situation is essentially unchanged – that government-provided education remains a contested political terrain – brings us back to La Prospe, the host site for this and last year’s anarchist book fair.
NEXT: La Prospe, the 50-year-old libertarian school in Madrid.
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XXI Encuentro del Libro Anarquista de Madrid 1, 2 y 3 de Diciembre 2023
“La nueva estrategia de los movimientos vecinales de Madrid: rearmarse en locales autogestionados” (The new strategy of Madrid's neighborhood movements: rearming in self-managed premises) A new surge in social center activism in Madrid is taking a cultural focus.
“Manifiesto por los espacios urbanos de Madrid” circulated in 2015, translated and posted here as “The places where the future is invented”
Ecologistas en Acción
Derecho a la ciudad, centros sociales, precarias y territorios QUEER.
My call for Madrid collaborators on the Archivo 15M blog
"Se buscan colaboradorxs para fanzine okupa"
October 2011 “OccuProp” blog post on my visit to the Hotel Madrid "Welcome to the Hotel Ocupa"
Rocío Lanchares Bardají, Hotel Madrid, historia triste (2021) a kind of fictional history of 15M and the Hotel occupation. Presentation of the book online; "Hotel Madrid, historia triste"
Fundación Salvador Seguí
Centro de estudios libertarios fundado en 1986 para recopilar, ordenar, conservar y divulgar la documentación referente al movimiento libertario.
Fundación Anselmo Lorenzo - CNT
Website of the author of the Grupo Surrealista book presented at the fair
Ben Reitman, Boxcar Bertha
https://www.pepitas.net › libro › boxcar-bertha
En este texto, original de 1937, Ben Reitman narra la vida de Bertha Thompson, una mujer que fue prostituta, ladrona, reformadora, trabajadora social, ...
in English: Sister of The Road: The Autobiography of Boxcar Bertha, as told to Dr. Ben Reitman (AK Press, 2002)
Slim Brundage, From Bughouse Square To The Beat Generation with a foreword by Franklin Rosemont https://charleshkerr.com › books
The writings collected here by the College's founder and janitor, Slim Brundage (1903–1990), chronicle the colorful history of what may well be the oldest ...