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The spinning top and the magic world of movements

spinning top

The concepts and words used typically to describe and understand our realities are inadequate to the task of interpreting, and accompanying, those societies in movement.

It is as if the capacity to name has been trapped in a period transcended by the active life of our peoples. Many of the assumption and analyses that shaped us during the struggles of the sixties and seventies have become, to borrow a phrase from Bruadel, “long-term prisons”. Quite often, they stifle creative capacity and condemn us to reproduce what already known and has failed.

A new language, one that is capable of talking about relationships and movements, must break through the tangle of inherited concepts to analyse structures and organizational frameworks. We need expressions capable of capturing the ephemeral, the flows that are invisible to the vertical, linear eyes of our masculine, legalistic, and rational culture. That language does not yet exist, and thus we must invent it in the heat of the various resistances and collective creations. Or, better yet, pitch it out from the underground of popular sociality so that it can grow out onto the great avenues, where it can become visible and, thus, be adopted, altered, and transformed by societies in movement.

In short, we need to name ourselves in such a way that is faithful to the spirit of our movements and that turns fear and poverty into light and hope; a magical gesture reminiscent of the zumbayllu (spinning top). Ernesto, the forlorn protagonist of Arguedas’s book The Deep Rivers, uses the zumbayllu as a means to escape the violence of his boarding school into what Cornejo Polar calls the “unusual movement of brotherhood”. I employ the image of the zumbayllu as a reflection of societies in movement that, in order to exist, to ward off death and oblivion, must move themselves from their inherited place. These societies must keep moving, because to stop means falling into the abyss of negation, to cease to exist. At this stage of capitalism, our societies only exist in movement as the Zapatista communities teach us so well, as do the Indians throughout the Americas, the landless farmers, and, increasingly, those condemned to the margins of the urban world.

Images like the spinning top bring us closer to the magic world of movements, which can move quickly from horror and hatred to fraternity, and vice versa. The double movement, the rotation on its own axis and the passage across a plane, are two complementary ways of understanding social change: displacement and return. Indeed, it is not enough just to move, to vacate its inherited material and symbolic place; a type of movement is also necessary that is a dance, circular, capable of piercing the epidermis of an identity that does not let itself be trapped because with each turn it reconfigures itself. Displacement and return can be understood as repetition and difference. The zumbayllu, as a reflection of the other society, is, philosophically speaking, committed to intensity over representation, destined always to sacrifice movement to the alter of order.

The spinning top of social change is dancing for itself. We do not know for how long to where. The temptation to give it a push in order to speed up its rhythm can bring it to a halt, despite the good will of those trying to “help”. Perhaps the best way to promote it is to imagine that we ourselves are part of the zumbaylla – spinning, dancing, all and sundry. To be a part of it, without any control over the final destination.

This fantastic metaphor is from the Introduction to Raúl Zibechi’s new (in English) book, Territories in Resistance: A Cartography of Latin American Social Movements. Zibechi explores how the practices of movements such as the piqueteros and recuperated factories in Argentina, landless workers in Brazil and Zapatistas in Mexico challenge theories of social change centred on parties, trade unions and other institutions of the ‘working class’, the Left. What’s exciting is not only these movements’ insistence on being autonomous from the state and from state-oriented groups, but the way both territorialisation (i.e. creating and sustaining a territory) and social reproduction seem to be at the heart of their practices. These groups have all moved beyond the attempt simply to reappropriate wealth, demanding that the state to provide healthcare or education or food, for example. Instead they working out how to produce wealth.



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Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.