Sheep magazine Archive 2: issues 10-17

AlfRodchenko

Lefty online magazine: issue 10, May 2016 to issue 17, November 2016

Abahlali baseMjondolo

is a movement largely based in shantytowns

built on land occupations in and around the

South African city of Durban. Since 2005 it

has sought to build popular counter-power

through the construction of self-managed

and democratically organized communities

engaged in a collective struggle.

While the movement has not used the

term “commune”, it has, on occasion,

been described by left theorists as seeking

to constitute itself as a set of linked

communes. This assessment has been

based on the movement’s organizational

form. But this struggle, while often

strikingly similar to Raúl Zibechi’s account

of territories in resistance in Latin America,

is very different from how Marx and

Bakunin imagined the struggles of the

future in their reflections on the Paris

Commune. It is primarily framed in terms

of dignity, fundamentally grounded in

the bonds within families and between

neighbors, and often largely waged by

women from and for bits of land in the

interstices of the city.

If Abahlali baseMjondolo (the term

means “residents of the shacks”) is to be

productively connected to the idea of the

commune in terms of a set of political

commitments, it would require – as George

Ciccariello-Maher has argued with regard

to Venezuela – a detachment of the concept

from “a narrow sectarianism” with the

intention to “craft a communism on local

conditions that looks critically, in parallax,

back at the European tradition.”

THE LAND OCCUPATION

In Durban, as in much of the world,

one starting point for this work is that

the passage from the rural to the urban

seldom takes the form of passage, via

expropriation, from the commons to the

factory, from the life of a peasant to the

life of a proletarian. And for many people

born into working-class families long

resident in the city, work – as their parents

and grandparents knew it – is no longer

available.

When urban life is wageless, or when access

to the wage occurs outside of the official

rules governing the wage relation, the land

occupation can enable popular access to

land outside of the state and capital. And

land, even a sliver of land on a steep hill,

between two roads, along a river bank, or

adjacent to a dump, can – along with the

mud, fire and men with guns that come

with shack life – enable spatial proximity to

possibilities for livelihood, education, health

care, recreation and so on.

43

June 2016

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