Neither vertical nor horizontal

Soledad Seville, untitled, 1977


Newly Released Book Introduction

Insurrections have come and gone. This book is, to a large extent, a response to the cycle of struggles that began in 2011 and whose impacts, direct and indirect, are still unfolding around us. It is a response to the hope that these struggles awakened, but also to the limits they encountered and which prevented them from fulfilling their initial promise – at least for the moment. Above all, it is about these limits: about how to overcome them or, perhaps more accurately, how to overcome the patterns of thought and behavior that keep them coming back.

Such limits have already been the subject of much discussion: the inconstancy of those uprisings and their inability to sustain themselves over time; their inability to go beyond the tactics they originally coalesced around – occupations of squares, in general – and their declining capacity for tactical innovation as circumstances around them changed; their difficulty in scaling up viably and tendency to disintegrate when they tried to do so; the propensity to demand large investments of time and energy from participants in exchange for little clarity about strategy and decision-making processes; the relative lack of social roots and strength to defend themselves when faced with repression. Several, if not all, of these limitations ended up being associated with the label that many used to describe the spontaneous philosophy behind these mobilizations: “horizontalism”.

Highlighting these internal limits does not, of course, imply denying the magnitude of the external obstacles they encountered: police repression, censorship and distorted media representation, lack of responsiveness on the part of institutions and political elites, not to mention the inertia of existing economic structures. . Ultimately, however, these are the obstacles that any process of social transformation will have to overcome if it is to succeed. More than a reason for lamentation, the relative weakness before them should be seen as a challenge: how to become strong enough to defeat or disarm them? Doing so, however, requires overcoming internal limits; hence the focus of this book.

The importance of recovering the momentum of those struggles in order to take them further than they were capable of going needs no explanation. In a somewhat schematic way, we can divide the 2010s into two distinct moments, each responding in its own way to the various overlapping crises that permeate our time: the global economic crisis that began in 2007 and the crisis of political legitimacy resulting from governmental reactions to it. ; the crisis of liberal democratic institutions, whose progressive emptying these reactions made explicit; and the acceleration of the environmental crisis. While the wind seemed to be blowing in favor of demands for political and economic equality in the first half of the decade, in many places this transformative momentum has since been captured and redirected.

Appropriated by the elites and by a resurgent extreme right, it came to serve to strengthen the entrenchment of unequal structures and reactionary identityisms of all kinds (nationalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, xenophobia, homophobia…). The global system has become highly unstable, and it seems clear that things cannot go on as before. As the possibility of even darker alternatives looms on the horizon – in particular, that of an increasingly exclusionary capitalism, aimed at protecting a few in the face of environmental collapse and a growing number of surplus populations –, the urgency to resuming the initiative only makes it grow.

Parallel to this shift to the right, however, the second half of this decade witnessed something that would have been unthinkable ten years earlier, when the notion of “horizontalism” first became popular within alterworld activism. In places like Spain, the United States and Great Britain, networked movements gathered around political parties and began to openly discuss the need to build their own electoral alternatives; even a section of Greece's notoriously combative anarchists gave the newly formed Syriza government a public vote of confidence. Are we witnessing the end of horizontalism?

For some, the answer is indisputably affirmative: movements are finally rediscovering the importance of organization. Indeed, the idea that we are seeing a return of what was once known as “the organization question” – the venerable Organizationsfrage – has been repeated frequently in recent years. Shortly after the mobilizations that spread around the world in 2011, Alain Badiou wrote that, “as brilliant and memorable as they were”, they ended up facing the “universal problems of politics that remained unresolved in the previous period. At the center of which lies the problem of politics par excellence – that is, organization”.

Regarding the resurrection of the idea of ​​communism that Alain Badiou (among others) has promoted, Peter Thomas observes that “a coherent investigation of the meaning of communism today necessarily requires a reconsideration of the nature of political power, political organization and, above all, the form -broken". Jodi Dean, a prominent advocate of a return to both communism and the party-form, sums it up this way: "the idea of ​​communism urges the organization of communism." In turn, Mimmo Porcaro argues that, once any type of “evolutionary vision” of a post-capitalist future that could be reached without moments of rupture is discredited, the need for “coordinated and articulated action in stages and phases” calls us to to reconsider a type of organization that can be identified by a proper name: “The crisis strikes Lenin's hour once more”. Finally, Frank Ruda suggests, more recently, that overcoming a “paralysis of the collective and social imagination” in relation to “new ways of conceiving emancipatory politics” is necessarily “linked to rethinking the question of organization”.

As this cursory survey demonstrates, however, calls for an “organizational comeback” tend to fall along two broad lines. Or they call for a search for new forms but are frustratingly reticent to go into detail about what those forms might look like; or they are, in fact, calls for a return to some redefined notion of the party, the contours of which, in general, tend to be left equally vague.

As Jasper Bernes and Joshua Clover note in a review of Badiou's proposed reading of the 2011 protests: “The call to organize was heard frequently during the dissolution of the movement's various camps. Occupy here in the United States, coming from leftist thinkers as diverse as Noam Chomsky, Doug Henwood, and Jodi Dean. And "organizing" must, in some sense, be the right thing to do, insofar as that is both a seemingly self-evident term and broad enough in its lack of specificity to encompass anything. It risks being what Fredric Jameson has called a “pseudo-concept”: the imperative to “declutter” boils down to doing what makes you most effective rather than less effective. But without any additional tactical clarity, the word inevitably ends up regressing back to the meaning it used to have, reeking of morose activists trying to sell copies of the Socialist Worker. Faced with this vast and unpredictable irruption that Badiou's book wishes to record, the call to “organization” serves, for the time being, as the refrain of a paradoxical song: this new policy is fantastic, but it seems to have reached its limit; we need... the old politics!

Getting the organization out of this pseudo-conceptual state and dispelling its supposed synonymy with the party-form are certainly two goals to which this book aspires. Doing so requires a substantial shift in perspective; With that in mind, I set myself three principles. The first was that a theory of organization had to be a theory of what organization is before it could be a theory of what it ought to be. Rather than starting with questions like “What kind of organization should you build?” or “what is the right organizational form?”, it should first try to define what political organization is in its most general terms, what it is for, what it can and cannot be.

Instead of prescribing a certain result, it would be necessary to start specifying as precisely as possible the variables involved in the problem, mapping the choices, the trade-offs and the thresholds that determine the points at which different possible solutions begin to diverge from each other. Some important consequences follow from this approach. By thinking of the organization as a domain with relative autonomy in relation to any specific doctrine or political objective, we are more likely to be able to raise issues that maintain their power of interpellation regardless of whether those to whom they are addressed describe themselves as Leninists, anarchists, autonomists, populists. , verticalists or horizontalists. The question of organization, therefore, ceases to be an arena for the endless reiteration of previously defined positions and becomes, on the contrary, a shared construction site in which everyone has to deal with the same set of problems, even if they approach them under different angles.

Furthermore, avoiding the prescriptive approach to the question of organization allows us to surface the unspoken assumptions that normally surround it: that it admits of only one answer, that there is a single organizational form to which all organizations should conform, or even a single organization. to which all others should be subsumed. Indeed, it is the very idea that the problem should be thought of at the level of individual organizations that is called into question. If we start by asking ourselves what organization is, the first answer we will find is that it manifests itself in varied forms and varying degrees. This means, in turn, that we must be able to account for the relationships that different organizations have with each other, the relationships that unaffiliated individuals have with each other and with existing organizations, and, finally, the total system that all these relationships form. constitute.

In other words, we cannot conceive of organizations isolated from each other without first understanding “organization” as something that is said of the general ecology to which such organizations belong. That changes the conversation: from questions like “What shape should all organizations take?” or “what kind of organization should encompass the whole ecology?”, we move on to questions such as “how different organizations can complement each other?”, “what strategies can make the best use of the resources and potentialities available in an ecology?”, “how improve coordination between different parties without necessarily implying that everything converges in a single organization?”. This suggests, finally, that we have already moved away from the presumed synonymy between “organization” and “party”. It is not just that we have ceased to regard the party as the telos of organization, its most advanced form and the point at which all paths converge; “organization” now comes to designate a much broader range of phenomena, many of which are not contained in any single organization, still less in a single specific type of organization.

Perhaps we can trace the origin of the tendency to reduce “organization” to “party” in a more elementary attitude that reduces “organization” to “intentional organization” and this, in turn, to a residual anthropocentric exceptionalism embedded in political thought, which denies nature power of creation and historical development and restricts to human ingenuity the capacity to produce the new. If it was once possible to oppose “organization” to “spontaneity”, it was precisely in the sense that the former was conceived as a rupture with what “comes naturally”: what is thoughtless, mechanically determined to happen, what is inscribed in the nature or in some kind of original essence. As we'll see in Chapter 4, even when spontaneity is given a positive value, it doesn't get rid of these associations.

This exceptionalism is, however, something we have learned to distrust – not only because the scientific advances that have taken place since the XNUMXth century give us reason to question it, but also, and above all, because of its share of responsibility in creating the conditions for the uncontrolled anthropogenic climate change that we face today. The second principle I imposed on myself, then, was not to make intentional political organization an "empire within an empire", but rather to conceive of it as integrating and being in fundamental continuity with "organization" in the widest possible sense: the natural organization, if we understand “nature” in a Spinoza sense.

This choice, too, has some important consequences. One of them concerns precisely the relationship between organization and spontaneity. If the former is everywhere, the latter cannot properly be understood as its absence, but its emergence: it designates the appearance and propagation of an identifiable pattern or structure, no matter how weak or transient. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as the absence of organization. Or rather, as I asserted in Chapter 1, nothing that we can meaningfully refer to can properly be described as being "without organization." This also means that even those individuals who are not affiliated with any organization, or those movements that are largely independent of traditional structures, are organized in their own way.

Another consequence involves the relationship between organization and self-organization. If we consider that nature is self-organizing, this means that intentional organization must be seen as a particular case of self-organization, and not the other way around. (If this sounds counterintuitive, it's because people often use "self-organization" both in this broad sense and in a narrower sense that refers to a specific kind of intentional organization that we might call, to avoid confusion, "self-management".) It also follows that the term “political organization” should encompass both intentional and unintentional forms of organization, and that all forms of human organization should be understood as particular ways of shaping dynamics and tendencies common to self-organization in general, rather than of islands of exception to which such trends and dynamics for some reason would not apply.

It also means that the organization can and should be thought of beyond the agents' conscious intentions, beliefs and ideological justifications – another reason why we can and should be able to raise issues that apply to organizational practices of all kinds. Finally, portraying political organization as a branch of a more general theory of (self-)organization allows us to draw inspiration from other fields of knowledge that deal with self-organizing processes. This requires, on the other hand, that we try to make the conclusions we reach compatible with theirs, which does not mean that we must blindly submit to them, but that we need to find explanations whenever this compatibility is not possible. With that in mind, I made use of fields as disparate as thermodynamics, cybernetics, network theory, information theory, Aleksandr Bogdanov's tectology, Gilbert Simondon's philosophy of individuation, Baruch Spinoza's thought, the institutional analysis and poststructuralism.

It may be that this attempt to partially derive a theory of political organization from a more general idea of ​​organization exposes the book to the charge of formalism or too much abstraction. While I hope it is clear that I am drawing on my personal experience and the literature on social movements as much as theoretical texts, such an accusation is one that I ultimately take with ease. This is not a book about how to get organized, which there are many good texts on, nor about what strategy to follow. To answer these questions one must necessarily start from a set of premises, and my aim here is to focus on the premises rather than the conclusions.

As a result, this is a book about thinking about organization and strategy, and it is less concerned with finding solutions than with providing adequate definitions of problems. This approach seems to me justified for two reasons. The first is that it is only by trying to frame the question of organization outside any particular political tradition or doctrine that we can reach the problems that are common to those traditions and doctrines and develop a language they can share. In order not to be just another verticalist or horizontalist defending his own position, it was necessary to invent some other perspective to occupy.

The second reason is that it is only when we begin to unravel the categories that we normally take for granted that we realize the extent to which our thinking can be fraught with inconsistencies: incompatible desires and ideas, remnants of outdated habits, empty slogans and clichés, false associations, dogma. unexamined and deliberate self-deceptions. Distancing ourselves from our prefabricated schemata and seeking a higher level of abstraction every now and then can act as a kind of mental hygiene – an exercise in revising our assumptions and clarifying the theoretical decisions that need to be made.

None of this would be very useful, however, if it did not also serve to clarify practical decisions, helping us to understand the potentialities, risks and trade-offs that they involve. After all, even if there is no “correct” way to organize in absolute terms, there are still better and worse choices to be made here and now. It is this first-person perspective that is often lacking in attempts to translate scientific and philosophical discourses on self-organization into politics. This occurs because the problem they usually start with is that of limiting the scope of action of agents (the State, the party, collective subjects above a certain size, and so on).

Doing so requires postulating that the interference of such agents is at best redundant and at worst harmful; what these readings of self-organization ultimately assume is that not only can some ideal outcome come to pass without being actively pursued, but that the deliberate intervention of these agents is bound to prevent that outcome or produce another, much worse one. The problem is that we can only guarantee that this is necessarily the case if we assume the outcome in question to be the equilibrium towards which a self-organizing social system tends (as in the Austrian school of economics) or the telos towards which this system progresses over time (as some activist discourses suggest). It is only then that it is possible to distinguish between, on the one hand, the self-organized process as it is “in itself”, without the interference of agents; and, on the other hand, the effects of what agents actually do, which may or may not be the desired ones.

As it turns out, there are three obvious flaws in this gesture. The first is epistemological. In their claim to restrict the sphere of what agents can know and do to the “local”, these discourses generally ignore their own status as observers who do not describe society from an external and neutral position, but from within. With this, they infringe exactly the limits they intended to establish, occupying the same point of view of totality that they denounce as impossible.

So, for example, in an analogy between ant colonies and human societies, we can argue that, “if an ant started to somehow assess the general state of the entire colony, sophisticated behavior would stop flowing from below and logic would stop flowing from below. of the anthill would collapse”. But to say this is not just to ignore the fact that (as far as we know) humans differ from ants in that they are capable of forming their own notions of what constitutes fairness and the good life; it is also ignoring that statements like “individuals in a society should refrain from evaluating the society as a whole” are, in themselves, global evaluations of society.

The second flaw, then, has to do with the practical consequences of this lack of self-reflexivity. If we consider ourselves the holders of a knowledge that establishes legitimate limits to the actions of agents in general – even if it is a knowledge that, according to our own premises, no agent could legitimately have –, we are authorized to take actions that, according to our own premises, no one can. agent should take. In neoliberalism, this manifests itself in what Philip Mirowski has described as its “double truth”: the fact that its advocates simultaneously deny that any individual can process all the information circulating in markets and assert their own ability to interpret, design and intervene in those markets. , or intending to combat state intervention while pressing for all kinds of action by the state. In the case of activist interpretations of the concept of self-organization, on the other hand, this tends to translate into a strong revulsion against any attempt to think or act beyond the boundaries of the “local” – a term, as we shall see, one of the most ambiguous and slippery ones. .

This brings us to the third flaw, which is ontological. The notion of an "ideal" self-organization in contrast to which the actual actions of individuals could be measured would only make sense from the perspective of an outside observer; from within a system, no one is really in a position to guarantee that, "left to itself", it will necessarily behave in this or that way. “Self-organization” is not a transcendent reality that exists apart from our actions, like blind logic that develops regardless of what we do, or like a benign providence that our best intentions can only get in the way. It is precisely because it depends on the actions of the agents that participate in it that its destiny cannot be determined in advance. Self-organization is the emergent effect of what these agents do and nothing else. This includes both “local” decisions and efforts to influence system behavior on a wider scale. Precisely for this reason, it makes no sense for agents to renounce acting on any scale other than the tiniest of ways. beforehand.

My third principle for this book was, therefore, that it should provide a description of self-organization not as seen 'from above' - from a supposedly objective perspective - but as seen from within. That is, by agents with limited information and capacity to act, for whom the future is unknown and open, and who wish to increase the probability of some outcomes at the expense of others without ever having any sure knowledge of what is the best way to achieve them. your goals. In doing so, I realized that I was repeating both the gesture that second-order cybernetics made towards first-order cybernetics and the one that Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg made towards the orthodoxy of the Second International.

Simply put, this gesture consists of resituating the observer in the world on which an observation is made, exposing the falsity of any merely contemplative posture. If we are not outside the world we are describing but in or alongside it, not only are the descriptions we make actions in that world, but our actions in general have effects on what is described. In second-order cybernetics, this amounts to turning the observer describing a system into the object of another observer's description, thus showing that all descriptions are partial perspectives within a shared world.

In Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, the argument was that, understood dialectically, historical materialism was not a scientific prognosis of how history would unfold regardless of what anyone did, but an instrument to guide the actions of those who would make history. to happen. In my case, this means stating that, since self-organization is nothing more than the emergent result of what we (and our environment) do, it makes no sense to restrict our sphere of action. beforehand in the name of a “spontaneous” process whose outcome we could never be certain of. Indeed, this is precisely why the question of organization matters, since it concerns the problem of agency, expanding, coordinating, and employing the collective capacity to act.

There are, of course, perfectly valid reasons why people have become so fearful of actions and organizations above a certain scale that they have come to rationalize this distrust, building arguments to prove that this kind of intervention was superfluous. The organization, as I argue in Chapter 1, is, historically and by its very nature, a site of trauma, particularly those involving the great socialist parties and regimes of the twentieth century. This is because, by accumulating and focusing the collective capacity to act on certain points, the organization also opens itself to the risk of being appropriated by particular interests, in a process in which the power to act becomes power over others, the power (power) becomes potestas (power). Reducing the organization to that, however, is equivalent to thinking of it exclusively from the point of view of its excess and ignoring the implications of its lack.

Organization is not just a danger, but a condition of possibility: that which gives each individual the chance to expand his limited capacity to act by pooling efforts and resources with others, constituting a collective capacity to act and extending its duration in time. . Refusing the organization itself would be the same as refusing that possibility, which makes no sense. But what about confining the organization to a specific scale? Rather than formulating this problem in the abstract, I subject it to the test of the most complex challenge facing political action today: the climate crisis.

The prospect of a planetary-scale environmental catastrophe makes both building a single collective global force and hoping that the aggregate effects of countless local actions will eventually translate into a solution seem equally unlikely answers. To tackle a problem of this size and complexity, the most plausible alternative seems to be some kind of distributed action that combines different levels and scales of organization. This alternative certainly does not offer absolute safeguards against the threat of potestas, nor guarantees of success; the question is whether we have any choice but to take that kind of risk.

If the idea that it would be possible to discard the question of organization altogether arises from a misunderstanding about its dual nature of pharmakon – poison and medicine, danger and condition of possibility at the same time –, the conception that the problem could be solved once and for all derives from another mistake. It is the assumption that the question of organization consists in the search for an ideal organizational form that can be universally replicated or that must subsume all others. In Chapter 2, I challenge this assumption by arguing that organization should be thought of in terms of strengths rather than forms. As the effective functioning of a form is determined by the balance of the forces that act on it, the concrete object of the question of organization consists in managing the tension between the different forces that constitute a collective subject, whatever its form: the forces that come of its different components as much as those that come from the environment around it, the centripetal and centrifugal tendencies within it, the hardening of the collective identity and its openness to the world, the inertia of habit and the receptivity to novelty… Since these forces and the relationships they establish change over time, managing them depends on continuous effort. That is why no single form can be a guarantee of effectiveness or permanent protection against risks.

If we conceive the question of organization in these terms, it is easier to understand why, for so long, it has been so difficult to think about it. For decades, debates within the left tended to present conceptual pairs such as horizontality and verticality, diversity and unity, centralization and decentralization, micropolitics and macropolitics, as exclusive disjunctions: either one or the other. Given that it is precisely between qualities like these that the organization must establish a mediation, the organization as a concrete issue cannot fail to disappear when this mediation is made impossible. Through a dialogue with different uses of the concept of left-wing melancholia, I suggest that the source of this paralyzing dualism lies in the fact that, since at least the 1980s, the left has been split by two different melancholies, locked in one-sided opposition to one another. . This impasse may, however, be finally on the verge of dissolution these days.

Chapter 3 goes back even further in time to outline the transformations the idea of ​​revolution has undergone from the eighteenth century to the present. The objective here is twofold. On the one hand, I intend to describe the circumstances in which some fundamental aspects of how this idea was understood until the mid-twentieth century became foreign to us. It is difficult to find today anyone who defends a strong historical determinism, the existence of a necessary correspondence between social structure and political subjectivation, or an unrestricted faith in the demiurgic powers of a revolutionary subject. In itself, this is not a problem, and the notions that replaced the lost beliefs – tendency, composition, complexity – are vital guidelines for political thinking today.

However, it is also possible to see in contemporary responses to the crisis of the idea of ​​revolution a systematic evasion of the organizational dimension: most discourses on social transformation today seem to suffer from an inability to affirm both the possibility of systemic change and the question of your organization. So either the term “revolution” itself disappears altogether, or the word comes to be associated with small-scale changes that in the past would at best be seen as part of a revolution. When thinkers or movements raise the prospect of systemic change again, on the other hand, it seems to be at the expense of making organization unthinkable. The paradox, then, is that we seem to deny ourselves the means with which to think about organized collective agency just at the moment when, having lost faith in historical necessity and embraced contingency, we would need it most.

Or perhaps we have not abandoned historical determinism altogether, but merely traded its 4th-century positivist form for milder teleologies, couched in conditional terms? This is what chapter XNUMX suggests when examining in depth two concepts generally mobilized against the question of organization and any attempt to think about it: spontaneity and self-organization. Of course, it is possible to claim that certain events can occur “spontaneously” independently of – and perhaps even despite – any organized effort to produce them. The question we need to ask, however, is whether it is possible to guarantee that they will necessarily do so. This, I argue, neither the concept of “spontaneity” nor that of “self-organization” can achieve without resorting to some kind of teleology that projects the values ​​of those who employ them onto the world.

A more detailed investigation of the different attempts to incorporate self-organization into political thought, from Hayek to Hardt and Negri, indicates that this gesture serves both to disguise the political nature of the intervention itself (by representing it as a necessity) and to avoid the problem of how to organize it effectively (by portraying it as unnecessary). It is not a question, however, of discarding the notion of social self-organization, but of reframing it from the only point of view from which we can experience it: from within. From this perspective, it cannot be separated from what we and others do and, therefore, does not exclude, but rather demands, a politics that is subjectively involved: a politics in the first person plural or a politics with the subject inside.

On the face of it, efforts to make the issue of organization disappear as if by decree can come to be seen as an overreaction to the traumas of the twentieth century. The antidote to the fantasies of omnipotence that haunt the revolutionary tradition cannot be simply to relinquish our power to influence the course of events in the hope that history or nature will be on our side. It must consist, on the contrary, in situating political subjects within a world inhabited by different perspectives and agents connected to each other through complex causal circuits that surpass their capacities for calculation. In other words, it must consist of conceiving political action ecologically.

Chapter 5 begins, therefore, with a discussion of the concept of organizational ecology. Among other things, he points out that it is not possible to apply the same logic to an ecology that applies to an organizational space with defined boundaries, such as a party or an assembly; it is in the impossibility of taking this leap that the limits of horizontalism become evident. In order to explain the logic according to which an ecology operates, I present in chapters 5 and 6 the concepts of distributed leadership, vanguard functions (not to be confused with their equivalent in Marxist theory), platforms and organizational cores.

I also discuss how an ecology can, in the absence of any formal accountability mechanisms, exercise some degree of control over its component elements. Finally, I apply this ecological approach to the question of parties (how should they relate to an ecology and what role can they play in it?) and of strategy (how an ecology can develop its own strategies and what is implied by the idea of ​​a “ diversity of strategies”?).

Chapter 7 dives into the current debate on populism to argue that what is most relevant in this discussion is not populism as such, but a problem that it helped to put back on the agenda. I called it the fitness problem [fitness]; it refers to the qualities that a political project must have to gather support and produce change within a given conjuncture, rather than simply stake out a position that has neither broad reach nor any immediate applicability. Even if one disagrees with the way in which the so-called “left populism” intended to solve it – and part of the problem is undoubtedly a certain tendency to treat such a solution as a kind of universal recipe –, this is a type of question that follows being necessary to do. Drawing on Simondon, Paulo Freire and Liberation Theology, I extract some of the consequences of this problem and argue that it is not only central to understanding the role of leadership and pedagogy in politics, but also the only point from which to which it is possible to assign a concrete meaning to the notion of radicality.

The idea for this project has been with me for some time – and for much of that time, friends have known it by the (partly) jocular name of “Network Leninism”. I remember using this joke for the first time during a conference session Immaterial Labor, Multitudes and New Social Subjects, which took place in 2006 at the University of Cambridge. He aroused immediate interest, although no one knew exactly what he meant in practice. I didn't know either, but the basic idea was something like this. The “horizontalists” had won the ontological argument against the “verticalists”: the networks were, in fact, everywhere, including in and around the old vanguard parties, and much of the metaphysics that justified the latter now seemed clumsy and obsolete. .

And yet, something was wrong. Networks should be liberating spaces, of endless abundance and productivity, from whose spontaneous production one could expect solutions to problems of all kinds. But in those final days of the alterworld movement, their productivity was visibly dropping. It became increasingly clear that these networks were composed of local nodes with an increasingly limited ability to engage in any kind of action other than protests against summit meetings or the Social Forums, where scarce local resources of different places could be brought together in a brief show of force. When you got to those events, you quickly noticed that there was little else to coordinate other than the events themselves, as the ability to execute anything outside of them was very small.

Changing the quantity and quality of what the local nodes of the network could add to it (their input) seemed to demand modalities of political action – community and labor organization, building a local base – that many in the “horizontalist” camp had declared outdated and rejected as “Leninist”. But those networks had also been zealously vigilant against any deviations from a certain “horizontalist” identity and were often hostile to new ideas and political initiative. “Network Leninism” was the deliberately provocative name I chose to designate the problem and what then seemed to be its obvious solution: these networks would only start to yield as much as was expected of them if the local inputs grew in organization and capacity to produce effects .

Even if, in the end, I abandoned the name “network Leninism” for fear that the provocation would alienate many of those with whom I wanted to have this conversation, the idea of ​​talking about self-organization seen from the inside was already contained in germ. there. Just as it was already intended to escape binary thinking in both form and content. I wanted to show that not only was it possible to be critical of horizontalism without having to become a verticalist, but it was also necessary to think about some of the questions raised by this second tradition within the ontology presupposed by the first. Even more: that it was possible to take seriously (sometimes apparently contradictory) questions posed by both traditions without having to choose between them, using them instead to construct richer problems, in which binary oppositions of either/or type they were replaced by dyads of more-or-less. Since the subject of these dyads is the relationships between real forces, they suspend any and all promises of magical solutions or that we can solve problems once and for all, and offer, instead, the understanding without illusions that making making things work takes work. If there is anything beyond the choice between horizontalism and verticalism, this is it.

*Rodrigo Nunes is professor of political theory at the University of Essex, UK.


Rodrigo Nunes. Neither vertical nor horizontal: a theory of political organization. Translation: Raquel Azevedo. São Paulo, Ubu, 2023, 384 pages.

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  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives