“The Commune was the definite negation of that State power, and, therefore, the initiation of the social Revolution of the nineteenth century,” Karl Marx wrote in the first draft of “The Civil War in France,” (Marx 1974, 249) composed during the Paris Commune. The Commune of 1871 was not a sudden insurrectionary event, emerging from nothing, a spontaneous filling of state power after the Thiers government fled to Versailles. It was the “definite negation of that State power”, the rising of social unrest, strikes, and new forms of assembly over the second half of the 1860s. Hundreds of assemblies, each with up to a thousand participants, successively changed the social glue in the quartiers, and transformed daily life and modes of living in Paris and other French cities into an ecology of social revolution.
140 years later, in 2011, another movement of assembly spread through a significantly larger geopolitical space, from Arab North Africa through the Occupy movement in the United States to later occupation movements in Istanbul, Yerevan and Hong Kong. The most sustainable development of this social ecology, however, occurred in Spain, that is, in one of those European countries in which the multiple crises of 2008 bore the most severe effects. May 15, 2011 (15M) occurred as a mobilization in almost all Spanish cities, as a direct consequence of a call to rally by Democracia Real Ya! (Real Democracy Now!). The demonstrators stayed on and occupied the central square of their city, and they started camps. Not for a night, not for a week, not even for a month, but for longer, up to 90 days. Collective moderation, lasting care work, the further development of the specific sign language, and the methodology of radical inclusion created for hundreds of thousands of people an intensive experience of self-organization in multiplicity.
An important success factor of the camps of the summer of 2011 rested in the fact that even as the occupations and assemblies in the various cities dissolved after some weeks, this did not mean they simply disappeared: they took on a new form, and spread themselves out into the different parts of the city. And while in 2014 a new party, Podemos, focused on the EU, and subsequently more and more on the national space, from the beginning of 2015 platforms and confluences were created in which the social movements around 15M, the PAH (the platform of those affected by mortgage, which played a decisive role in the genealogy of the current Spanish municipalisms), the mareas and social centres set themselves up at the level of the city and city administrations. With a view to the June 2015 municipal elections in Spain, a municipalist movement from below was established that extended across the country. Despite various names (Barcelona en Comú, Ahora Madrid, Cádiz Si se Puede, Zaragoza en Común, Participa Sevilla, Málaga Ahora, etc.) and differing aims, these platforms shared their reference to the principles and methods of the 15M movement and some other concepts and preoccupations: the question of debt, the re-municipalization of services, city planning that would work against the gentrification and touristification of Spanish cities, and the guarantee of social rights, especially with respect to housing and education.
The way the municipalist movement relates to the municipalities cannot be described as a subject/object relation, as a revolutionary subject that seizes possession of its object of desire. At its best, it does not take over the vessels emptied through the hollowing-out of representative democracy, the corrupt parties, or bureaucracy. Instead it changes the institutional form itself, the modes of subjectivation and instituent practices. It is a “negation of State power” in the sense that it happens before and beyond linear notions of development from a social movement to its institutionalization.
Not only in Spain, but in such different places as Napoli, Zagreb or the municipalities of Rojava, more or less radical experiences are popping up when the interest in them and in a neighbourly discourse continuously increases: Rebel Cities, fearless cities, sanctuary cities, Stadt für Alle, anti-gentrification and tourism-critical initiatives, urban commons and urban undercommons, the right to the city. These experiences are less about the sudden emergence of left parties and platforms, or about the strategic victories in concrete voting periods. Beyond the mere dichotomy of movement and institution, what was and still is at stake with the Paris Commune as well as the municipalist movements is not the taking over of the institution without further ado, but rather experimenting with a new institutionality, with instituent practices and constituent processes.