(2019) The autonomy of struggles and the self-management of squats: legacies of intertwined movements

Sunday 28 July 2019, by Miguel Angel Martinez

All the versions of this article: [English]

The autonomy of struggles and the self-management of squats: legacies of intertwined movements

Miguel A. Martínez


Interface: a journal for and about social movements. Volume 11 (1): 178 – 199 (July 2019)


Abstract

How do squatters’ movements make a difference in urban politics? Their singularity in European cities has often been interpreted according to the major notion of ‘autonomy’. However, despite the recent upsurge of studies about squatting (Cattaneo et al. 2014, Katsiaficas 2006, Martínez et al. 2018, Van der Steen et al. 2014), there has not been much clarification of its theoretical, historical and political significance. Autonomism has also been identified as one of the main ideological sources of the recent global justice and anti-austerity movements (Flesher 2014) after being widely diffused among European squatters for more than four decades, which prompts a question about the meaning of its legacy. In this article, I first examine the political background of autonomism as a distinct identity among radical movements in Europe in general (Flesher et al. 2013, Wennerhag et al. 2018), and the squatters in particular—though not often explicitly defined. Secondly, I stress the social, feminist and anti-capitalist dimensions of autonomy that stem from the multiple and specific struggles in which squatters were involved over different historical periods. These aspects have been overlooked or not sufficiently examined by the literature on squatting movements. By revisiting relevant events and discourses of the autonomist tradition linked to squatting in Italy, Germany and Spain, its main traits and some contradictions are presented. Although political contexts indicate different emphases in each case, some common origins and transnational exchanges justify an underlying convergence and its legacies over time. I contend that autonomism is better understood by focusing on the social nature of the separate struggles by the oppressed in terms of self-management, collective reproduction and political aggregation rather than highlighting the individualistic view in which personal desires and independence prevail. This interpretation also implies that autonomy for squatters consists of practices of collective micro-resistance to systemic forms of domination which politicise private spheres of everyday life instead of retreating to them.


Keywords: Autonomy, squatting, feminism, anti-capitalism, Europe