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Report on encounter from Monty Neill

Some thoughts on issues continuing out of the Second Encuentro. These are largely based on participation in Mesa 1a/1b in Madrid, plus a few comments and notes available thus far from other mesas. These comments also include ideas and views generated in discussions I have had after the encuentro, mostly with people who did not attend, including some Midnight Noters.

[The Mesa 1a/b Madrid report is posted with other encouentro 2 reports at <> or if you want to go straight to it, then <... /3849/report_mesa1a1b.html>, and it is at, which is also beginning to include reports of the encuentro 2. I hope other mesas report soon, as thus far little is posted, at least in English (I did not check the Spanish site at pangea).]

The most powerful and joyous aspect of the encuentro was meeting and being with so many brothers and sisters. I want to say that up front, because this letter will focus on analyzing some aspects of the encuentro.

I will return to some questions of the political meaning of this, developing our human relationships at the encuentro, but after discussing the absence of a discussion of strategies and networks. I will close with some general comments about the second encuentro and some third ideas for the next encuentro, including some interim ideas for furthering discussion (and some aspects of networking).

1) Strategies.

Based on my interests, the issues we raised in the Midnight Notes ponencia, plus reading some of the other ponencias, I had hoped that the question of developing strategies against capitalism/neoliberalism would be on the table. This would include the discussion of networks. In fact, this did not happen. The 1a/b Madrid report is something of a platform, indicating important areas of at least initial agreement, and I think represents some progress from Encuentro 1, but is well short of beginning to talk strategy. Indeed, we really did not even talk about networks in this submesa. Some of the ponencias address the issue in various ways, and some of the small groups we had at the submesa allowed presentation of political struggles and somewhat touched on strategies -- but these were not enough to get a discussion going.

Mesa 1a talked about several interim goals/demands: less work (and here waged work/employment vs unwaged work for capital vs non-capitalist work all need to be sorted out), guaranteed income, access to/control of means of production (mostly this was only touched on, not really discussed, and includes demands for land; thus of the topics of work and production, the sub-mesa focused on work), and developing alternatives (the most contentious of these topics, I think). None of these goals -- all of which might best be seen as efforts to position the working class on stronger ground vs capital (as Franco emphasizes), all of which are partial and cooptable, and all of which are only partly point us out of capitalism -- were really addressed in strategic terms.

[Note: in response to a letter from George Caffentzis, fHuman called a meeting at the start of the encuentro for Zapatista support groups. The initial idea was for that meeting to end up addressing the question of what strategies of Zapatista support make the most sense. For example, does it make sense to begin putting energy into combatting corporations and perhaps therefore reducing the time spent demonstrating at Mexican embassies and consulates? For a variety of reasons, that discussion also never got that far, meaning strategies for strengthening Zapatista support work were essentially not discussed at the second encuentro -- and this is I think a serious failure. See Patrick Cunninghame's report, which is available at the <...3849/encounter2dx.html> address given above.]

Question: how do we initiate a discussion of strategies? In what little was said at the submesa, it seems that people see networks and strategies as primarily, or at least initially, local; but also there are ongoing campaigns of Zapatista support in many places, anti-Maastricht (Europe), anti- WTO (planetary; and an issue that involves many kinds of forces); and often people also are involved in national-level struggles. All these involve strategies (clear or not) -- goals, plans for achieving them, etc. -- which can and should be discussed, analyzed, etc. However, they were not. I do not offer a solution to this lack, only to suggest we make addressing it a priority.

Some comments on key issues that were addressed at mesa 1a/b in Madrid:

Reduction of work: mesa 1a Madrid came out in favor of reducing work for capital as an end in itself and for enabling further, stronger attacks on the system, rather than in order to create more jobs -- but we can work in alliance with those who see this goal as mainly for creating more jobs. [I recently saw a piece citing World Bank report for 1996 promoting a reduction in employed time in exchange for lower wages and more peopel employed-- so we most certainly must be very careful on this strategy.] We recognized that work involves much more than employment: but what is the strategy for reducing work for capital that is not waged, e.g., much of what is housework. There have been proposals over the past several decades, but none have succeeded. I look forward to finding out if any of the women's/anti-patriarchy mesas discussed this issue.

This issue also takes very different form depending on circumstances: is one a waged/salaried employee (full or part time), a housewife, a micro-entrepreneur, a small farmer, some combination of these, or unemployed (to name significant sectors of the planetary class of workers)? Reduction of work means different things in these different circumstances.

The discussion at the mesa focused, I think, on the quantitative aspects of work: we seek less work for capital. We did not address the qualitative aspects. As I was reminded in a discussion on my return, the social relationships of work are as central as the quantitative aspects. That is, for example, cooking may be an onerous chore, done to reproduce the family for work for capital; or it can be a shared act of sociality and a form of pleasure. That said, it still remains necessary to work to reduce the burden of unwaged work, which is done mostly by women, and we need to develop strategies for doing so.

Guaranteed income: again, we clearly supported it, but again this has different meanings depending on precise class location. We did not address in detail what it means to get such an income, nor strategies for struggling to get it. We say it should not be tied to work for capital, but what does that mean and how can we begin to articulate struggles in that direction? What kinds of unities and divisions within the class will develop from pushing this issue? In the U.S., I think developing strategy for this demand is not now feasible, wheras developing a strategy for reducing the formal working day might be feasible (putting aside for the moment many questions, such as who cares if the formal work week is 20 hours if you then have to have 3 jobs to earn enough to live; or what about unpaid work for capital).

Alternative economy: Madrid 1a/b sees the efforts to develop alternative economics as part of the anti-capitalist struggle. There was some debate about this at the very end of the 1a discussion, too late for a full engagement in the submesa; and apparently the two Barcelona submesa representatives to a meeting of representatives of Madrid and Barcelona 1a submesas held at the final gathering rejected the idea of alternative economics being anti-capitalist. We in Madrid recognized that they certainly may not be anti-capitalist, they could be coopted -- but then any struggle can be coopted; more, the majority at Madrid seemed to see these as part of developing two things: a stronger base from which to attack capital, and pointing toward new work relations that prefigure post-capitalism (developing aspects of the new society in the womb of the old).

Franco said in his report on Madrid mesa 1a/b is accurate (posted on CapitolHill site) that some of the Europeans viewed alternative economics as inherently too cooptable but argued that the use of time freed from work for capital can be used to develop alternative cultural and social spaces. I find this formulation very questionable. It appears to be Eurocentric and not listening to the issues as raised in the "south." ("North" and "south" were preferred to "first" or "third" worlds, "center" or "periphery" -- but the terms are problematic, as many recognize; mesa 1a noted, for example, the "south" exists in the "north" and vice versa. Part of our political work must be to develop better terminology, as we also had, in the writing of the mesa 1a/b report, debates over terms like "working class" and "humanity.")

In nations with 60- 70% unemployment, just what do the demands for reduction of employed work time and guaranteed income via wages mean? No doubt people in those spaces should struggle to control the means of production, as is true in the "north" also -- but are there not interim struggles that help people survive and build strength against capital? And why is creating social space outside of capital less likely to be coopted (or repressed) than creating productive spaces? To repeat: mesa 1a/b stated, and I concur, that attempting to create alternative economic forms can be coopted. Indeed, they often will turn out to be new moments of capitalist entrepreneurial development. And we know of cases of "alternative" cooperatives that end up hiring (and exploiting) wage labor (to add the nastiness, often immigrant waged labor), which is certainly not the "new society in the womb of the old," just more of the old society. More, "alternative" is also a major approach of the World Bank, etc., as a means of capitalist development, coopting struggles and turning them into "development," etc. Many NGOs, including big foundations and development projects, are part of that process, and this issue needs much more investigation as well. They too use the language of "empowerment," "popular participation," "democracy," etc. Since the WB and many NGOs that are capitalistic are also promoting "alternatives," we need ways to distinguish reproduction for capital from reproduction for struggle. What are our criteria? The mesa 1a/b report lists a few, but this too will need some further thought and discussion. [But to repeat, the WB also has promoted a shortening of the work week.]

In the Midnight Notes ponencia we argued that the class of those who work and don't own/manage significant means of production (to us, the working class; to others and in the mesa 1a report, "humanity"), that class needs to find ways to survive materially without dependence on capitalist-controlled means of subsistence. To extend this, we can also think of this as developing the ability to control the reproduction of our struggles. We also need to understand that any "alternative" cannot be an anti-capitalist space by itself other than momentarily -- it must link up with other spaces, become part of a network if you will. If such spaces do not support each other and expand -- reproduce and grow the struggle -- then they will be repressed or coopted. Strategies that want to proceed along this line have to ensure both the growth of networks of alternatives and combat capitalism (and patriarchy, etc.) within the alternative.

Well, I think this whole issue needs to be investigated more and debated, and the issue will have a lot to do with strategies and the ability to develop struggles that are both local and connected on a planetary basis.

It is worth noting that Madrid 1a was not supportive of "third sector" work, seeing this as basically another aspect of work for capital (and perhaps in very regressive form, as "workfare") and not, generally, as alternative space against capital. Also, the idea that has circulated in some quarters of a global minimum wage was not raised at all.

While Madrid 1a was useful for clarifying some issues, it only clarified a little bit the questions of strategic analysis, without saying how to advance those analyses, never mind the actual struggles themselves. There should be some value in the conclusions of the meetings, so it is important that they be disseminated widely and used to further discussions..

We concur (and I support) the approach of "many yeses" -- but these yeses must be united in a "no" and I think also in some aspects of the yes (e.g., combatting patriarchy as well as capital involves yeses that necessarily will have some aspects in common). The fHuman ponencia shows how difficult developing unity can be even in one nation. This is an issue to explore: how united do the "many yeses" need to be for success against capital? And on what basis other than shared "no" can the "yeses" unite?

As I noted earlier, Madrid 1a/b talked little about networks, but perhaps other mesas had useful things to say about this. In what little was said at 1a, the idea of network was presented as territorial or topical. How to cross those two in useful ways, or to what actual end (more specifically than against neoliberalism), our group did not discuss. A German group had a ponencia about networks (group 2828), but they were in Barcelona and the English translation I had was too unclear to be of much use in Madrid (this ponencia is I think posted in English at one or both sites). To me, the two big underlying questions are the relationship between networks and strategies (is *the* strategy the development of networks; what does that mean?); and what is the relationship of networks to revolution (networks = revolution??). But we talked neither about underlying issues nor any particulars, and hopefully other mesas have made progress on this. [The continuing work of mesa C, to be carried on in English (at least) on the list and the reports on that mesa by Andrew Flood indicate the state of the discussion.] Finally, if strategies are to evolve out of analysis of actual struggles (and thus also of the changing composition of the class through its struggles), we need also to question whether the encuentro format is helpful. That is, does the kind of work of analyzing strategies demand the sorts of time and detailed attention that a brief meeting of people who largely do not know each other can provide? I do not mean that as a statement against the encuentro -- I hope to be at the next one. Rather, it is to say that we need to think a lot about the uses of the encuentro in terms of advancing struggles and strategies. It may be that most of the work on this will have to be done ahead of time. That could make us even more dependent on ponencias, though we could agree to have presentations made that are not written up ahead of time. And there is no guarantee that people will read papers before arriving at the encuentro, if only because not everyone will have access to them. In that case, it is important to bring written summaries to the ponencia that raise key issues for discussion, with enough context provided to make sense of the issues.. But I am not ahead of myself, talking about the next encuentro..

2) Human relations at the encuentro.

At the encuentro, how can we learn better to relate to each other as humans (these thoughts are formed in part by a discussion I had with Maria Bruquetas after mesa 1a was done)? Or, how can we act as the communities we say we want to have while we are at the encuentro? I heard that at least some of the women's/anti-patriarchy sub-mesas wanted to address this issue, including in their practice -- to develop other ways of meeting. But I do not yet know what happened in this regard. I do not mean that the encuentro, mesa 1a/b Madrid in particular, was a bad space, as I did not find it to be negative. But it did remind me too much of the kinds of political meetings it would be good to get beyond.

In a very brief meeting with a great diversity of people focused on a topic, what are the limits to creating community? How much time should we use to focus on our own relationships? Clearly in the short run using time to discuss process, alternative ways of having an encuentro, or raising issues of social-political behavior that may repress and silence some people and perhaps even drive them away, will take time away from focusing on the topic (e.g., work and production). But in the long run, will we be more effective if we pay attention to the topic <and> create a better space for ourselves? Another way to pose it: we should make sure we do not reproduce a capitalist conception of "efficiency" unless we are sure we have no other good choice -- and to some extent, despite the (relatively) extensive time spent on "productive chaos" or "brainstorming", I think that is what we did at Madrid mesa 1a/b. I would note also that every ponencia was delivered by a man; and though it improved toward the end, men were the dominant speakers. We had best listen to the (mostly) women who push toward better ways of meeting -- and I am sure I should be among the listeners.

Also in this regard, there were both open statements within and rumblings outside the formal meetings about who got called on and the processes used to select speakers. I think Ramon (the moderator) did a good job, but issues of moderation and processes do need to be considered as part of the discussions of making the encuentro a stronger part of getting out of capitalism.

Interestingly, I heard many people say, as I said, that the most important thing was meeting people and being with people. But then here I am in this report focusing mostly on the formal topics. To some extent, our being is our content -- though we want to learn and build struggles that reach far beyond the few thousand who attended. So, what we do to improve our human interactions is also part of learning to make struggles that succeed: if we drive people away because of how we act, because of our processes, we are not going to succeed. The content of our politics is both issues (e.g., work and production) and our human interactions. This is obviously a long way from a new thought -- but we have to keep talking about it and improving our interactions.

3. Structure of encuentro 2 and ideas for continuing the work:

a) who is in charge of what?
Do we need to develop a body that can reasonably and fairly represent the encuentro to act politically and then logistically in developing the next encuentro? How would that connect with the wider range of people who are to be represented?

Decisions about the political and organizational structures of the next encuentro should not rest with one nation, or even one continent, though whoever is on the ground where it will be necessarily bears the brunt of the logistics. My point is not to bash the Europeans or the residents in the Spanish state, who at least pulled off a reasonably successfuly encuentro (THANK YOU!), but to think to the next stage. There will be meeting(s) in Europe, but there need to be ways to obtain ideas and views from the rest of the planet on how best to proceed. In a post last winter, I critiqued the consulta held last winter as being rather non- political -- but how can the disucssions proceed politically with a dispersed political subject linked uncertainly in what are at best embryonic networks of communiation?

b) travel.
There were good political reasons for the travel around Chiapas, but I am not aware of good political reasons for all the travel in Spain, particularly to El Indiano at the end. It seems to me that of a 9-day event, 4 were devoted to real work. That is a very wasteful ratio: we come from too far at too great an expense to spend our time on buses and trains unless there is a powerful political justification. The next encuentro needs to minimize travel and also ceremonies -- is it really useful to read versions of papers shortened to the point of platitudes all day in the hot sun? (No, I was not at El Indiano, but every report I have heard says it was not a good use of time and resources.)

c) organization of mesas.
Above, I noted a significant disagreement between Madrid 1a/b and Barcelona 1a; it may not have been resolvable, but could have been talked about. In general, the separation of 1a was a very bad idea. We were able to have a meeting at the very start of the encuentro of 30 people, all of whom agreed the separation was a bad idea. We should see what other mesas have to say, but I think this very definitely should not be replicated. Given the limitations of time, it may be perfectly OK to have different sub- mesas at different sites -- we may not meet anyway -- but sub-mesas definitely should not be split.

d) it was difficult to deal with interventions that simply had little to do with the discussion at hand
(in this case, work and production and resistance) This may not be solvable -- a "strong chair" would be apt to cause more problems than would be solved. But we need to make this a topic of thought. In his report, Andrew Flood noted that going "off point" was often in fact positive in that submesa. But in 1a, we were treated to such things are presentations on electing representative assemblies, with no effort made to address work and production. In other cases, agendas were presented which indeed had a connection, but with no apparent effort to then connect to anyone else's agenda, simply to present ones own story. These are of course different problems, but each is a problem. I do not have an answer to this problem, and wonder if others also perceive the same problem.

e) How can we best help each other?
We come from very different circumstances and it is not often evident how we can help each other, or how to use the encuentro to create the means to help each other. This is a central political question that the encuentro needs to discuss in preparation for the next one. That is, what is the political use of the encuentro?

4) Continuing the mesa 1a discussion.

Perhaps the discussions can continue within the mesas or even submesas. Uli Brand was pushing for those who had been at mesa 1a in Chiapas to to meet and talk, but the logistics got too complex (starting from the mess of having mesa 1 in two cities), so it did not happen. Continuing the discussions poses the question of how to include new people. It also raises questions of the logistics of continuing discussions in the interim with all those who want to participate -- including translation (I am already scrambling to find someone to give me at least a summary translation of Ana Esther Cecena's comments on mesa 1a in Barcelona). And if we focus on continuing the discussion by mesa, will we fragment ourselves too much? Even within mesa 1, what are the connections among the sub-mesas; to say nothing of connections across the mesas? What did the women/anti-partiarchy mesa(s) say about "economy"? -- this could be very important for continuing disucssion in mesa 1a. We can read things, and perhaps there will on occasion be summary sorts of pieces arising from different topical areas that can be shared across the mesas -- but that too will have to be planned for so they can in fact be shared. (I am assuming almost no one will be able to participate in a discussion groups that might ensue from many sub-mesas or mesas; hence the need for summaries to share across mesas, much as -- I hope -- the reports of the mesas will be widely available.) And while this presentation I am making is is focused on topics, there is also the issue of territorial bases of struggles (e.g., the zapatistas, anti-Maastricht) which cross the lines of the mesas. (Indeed, structuring the mesas by topic seemed to have the effect of precluding discussions of supporting the EZLN). These 'territorial' bases also have discussion networks (that hopefully lead to action), and those too will need summary.

A post by Harry Cleaver from last June he recently re-posted does, I think, take us a bit further toward thinking about constructing electronic discussion forums that can serve these purposes (e.g., RICA), but as I said above, I think a lot still needs to be done. [And for those who read his post, his term "grand synthesis" is I think very problematic on several levels -- just who is it that will perform this "grand synthesis" and how will "they" adequately include the variety of the planetary class -- can that even be done? that is, the term carries the, probably unintentional, implication of the old crew of theoreticians who represent a sector of the class attempting to define the class and its struggles; that aside, Harry's comments do I think move the thinking about networks ahead.]

A proposal: All that said, might there be a way to focus discussion on the topics of work and production, capitalist and "post-capitalist" economics in an electronic forum, with some agreement to share responsibilites for those not on internet (e.g., printing out material and mailing it, knowing that will proceed at a slower parallel pace -- but then, for me one frustration with the internet discussions on the lists I am on is they often go to fast, then end abruptly... we will need to learn perhaps some kinds of patience, making the machine fit a perhaps more human pace).

One option, already used to some extent, is the aut-op-sy list. Andrew Flood plans to use the encounter2 list to focus mainly on issues of communication, and thus the development of networks of communication, that arose from mesa 3. Using aut-op-sy would bring in lots of folks. It is currently mostly in English, some in Italian, but would need at least to be open to discussions in Spanish. (Issues of translation are going to be major here as well -- many ponencias were not translated though they arrived well over a month before the encuentro began.) So, since I am posting this to aut-op-sy, what do its participants think? Clearly this would not preclude other aut-op-sy discussions, but it presumably would bring in numbers of people not now on aut-op-sy. But if this is objectionable, then we will need a separate discussion list and perhaps archive (we have one offer already to set such a space up). If people think this is a reasonable idea (on aut-op-sy or some other venue), please say so.

To conlude, let me sketch a few ideas on proceeding, assuming we have a group that wants to proceed. Three things that will be needed quickly: a) spreading the word in a way that will bring in a strong range of discussants (this posting will, I am sure, not reach many people who I would hope would participate in such a list); b) finding ways to get at least some things translated. c) finding ways to agree on framing discussions and topics that lead toward strategies and networks for struggles;

a) I am concerned that, for example, I do not have email addresses for most of the people at Madrid 1a/b, and that many probably do not have email, and that there are many other people who would be interested who we need to contact. If we are to proceed, we have to agree to find ways to locate such people and include them, including those who are not on the net. Note also that there are other existing 'networks' that we need to pay attention to, such as around food and land which I am told involves many women, perhaps some of whom were involved in the encuentro (which for example connects to mesa 1a/b issues of alternatives and of work relations.) Ideas? Offers? Contacts?

b) It may be that people conversing within a given language will have to find a way to agree on what are particularly important comments, reports, analyses, etc., and get them translated. Encuentro 2 proceeded primarily in Spanish and English, but there were attendees who know neither, so that makes it yet more complex. This implies of couse that we have somewhat parallel and therefore inevitably somewhat diverging discussions in the different languages.

c) Framing the discussions to get us started is the politically complext and tricky part. Mesa 1a documents and networks/strategies can be starting points for discussion (see the web sites listed earlier), and we already have some discussion going (Franco has several posts, Ana Ester in Spanish, and this one, that I know of so far). Franco has presented some ways of thinking about proceeding, which I have not yet digested and so will not now reply to. Instead, some additional thoughts.

In his paper I note above, Harry uses the term database, which is a term some of us had arrived at independently, to I think the same end: that is, we need a database of reports and analyses that will enable us to further both a general analysis and development of strategies and that can be useful to each of us in our particular struggles (learning from each other). Franco commented on the need for research. I would argue that this research should be first about struggles and second about what capital is doing (they are of course related). I most certainly hope that these are not going to be only by academicians -- we need a lot more than that.

We have seen some analyses: Graeme's reports on the Liverpool dockers' struggles is something of a model for this <> and more recent reports at <... /3843/june97.html> and <... july97.html>. The fHuman London ponencia is a valuable piece for exploring the complexities of finding how one no can be built out of many nos and whether there is a commonality across the "many yeses" (including the dockers, and an issue Graeme raises also).

To develop this "database" is another reason we need many people involved -- there are a lot of struggles we should know about and learn from. That is, we need to actively work at developing the "network to support struggles" called for at the end of the first encuentro.

This database and discussions about it can then be used to develop political lines for discussion and to develop common actions that might strengthen our common "no."

We could also proceed by thinking about possible topics: -- what are the basic changes under neoloberalism, including the new divisions of labor, and how do they manifest in different spaces? -- what is the role of NGOs? -- what current strategies are being employed in particular struggles and what do analyses of those suggest for moving ahead? -- is "localism" an alternative -- or, how can localism be an alternative that can strengthen our struggles against capitalism? -- how do we connnect support for the EZLN with other work? This would include deepening our understanding of why they are important. (Can we make a parallel with Spain in the 30s? That defeat was probably critical for world war 2 and the "post-war" struggles. Is the Zapatista struggle of the same consequence? If not, of what consequence? -- aside from our love for them and desire to help them in any case.

Can we prioritize topics for investigation and analysis?

Finally, in doing all this work we will need to be explicit about who we are. I hope the "we" will end up truly diverse, including many sectors of the planetary working class. But we will not be "everyone." That is, we need to be clear about who we as individuals and groups are. I am not , by the usual constructs of the terms, a woman, an indigenous, an African- American, a gay, a factory worker; I am male, European-American, live in the US, almost 50 years of age, married (a grandfather); have been involved in such struggles over the years as against the Vietnam war, supporting black liberation, prisoner struggles, developing co- ops, education reform; have worked in education in a variety of ways (teacher, administrator, now with an 'advocacy' group, a sort of small NGO or non-profit); am mono-lingual; have been influenced a lot by Italian autonomia and by wages for housework; think I am something of a Marxist and communist (with a small c -- not a Leninist); been part of Midnight Notes for nearly 20 years now. This of course is not a political definition of who I am -- but it should show clearly that I am not "every man", not a "universal subject" -- but I know I am part of the world's working class and want to figure out how to get out of being a proletarian by helping to abolish/overcome the working class through ending capital. And also, of course, there are power relations within the class that cannot be eliminated by good intentions alone: we must be aware of them and address them, explicitly (again, a central point in the ponencia I co-authored). Well, there are many subjectivities in our world, and we need to find what is shared and not shared and how to develop our struggles.

That's it for now. Thanks for your time and I hope this has contributed something.

Monty Neill <> or <>

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