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#6: Revolution or Resistance

David Riff // Throw them out!

Dislocated somewhere between 9/11 and Iraq , the Argentine insurrection of 2001-2002 seems to lie in the already-distant history, even though its events took place in the very recent past. During the mid-1990s, Argentina was lauded as an economic miracle. In order to promote the privatization of the Argentine economy following years of military dictatorship and a stagnant, nationalized economy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multilateral organizations had been supporting the dollarization of the peso by flooding Argentina with huge loans. But by December 2001, the IMF’s stabilization-recipe had soured. Currency values caved in completely. Unemployment and wage-withholding grew rampant. Fearing a run on the banks, the government froze accounts. The cash-machines ran out of money. The stores refused to sell their goods. The president resigned. Within a month, Argentina defaulted on 132 billion dollars of foreign debt. Millions took to the streets throughout the country shouting “Que se vayan todos!” (“throw the bums out!”), banging pots (= caserolas ) in protest. The power vacuum left by both governmental crisis and investor withdrawal created a need for radical-democratic grassroots “self help”: neighbours formed constituent assemblies, barter points, and public eateries; factory-workers took to forms of self-organized production, once the owners had been driven away by the default. The heterogeneity of a insurrective multitude, bound together not only by negative (destructive, violent) criticism, but also by the existential need to build something new as an alternative to the system’s hopelessness.

Dislocated somewhere between 9/11 and Iraq , the Argentine insurrection of 2001-2002 seems to lie in the already-distant history, even though its events took place in the very recent past. During the mid-1990s, Argentina was lauded as an economic miracle. In order to promote the privatization of the Argentine economy following years of military dictatorship and a stagnant, nationalized economy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multilateral organizations had been supporting the dollarization of the peso by flooding Argentina with huge loans. But by December 2001, the IMF’s stabilization-recipe had soured. Currency values caved in completely. Unemployment and wage-withholding grew rampant. Fearing a run on the banks, the government froze accounts. The cash-machines ran out of money. The stores refused to sell their goods. The president resigned. Within a month, Argentina defaulted on 132 billion dollars of foreign debt. Millions took to the streets throughout the country shouting “Que se vayan todos!” (“throw the bums out!”), banging pots (= caserolas ) in protest. The power vacuum left by both governmental crisis and investor withdrawal created a need for radical-democratic grassroots “self help”: neighbours formed constituent assemblies, barter points, and public eateries; factory-workers took to forms of self-organized production, once the owners had been driven away by the default. The heterogeneity of a insurrective multitude, bound together not only by negative (destructive, violent) criticism, but also by the existential need to build something new as an alternative to the system’s hopelessness.

By today, the potential of inner crisis has been externalized to a state of emergency on occupied territories, mediated in permanent prime-time hotspots like those in Gaza or Iraq . Yet the crisis in Argentina 2001-2002 – which entailed a complete collapse of the Argentine economy and became the scene of insurrection – is still extremely relevant. It shows how partial and total collapse can take place within societies on globalism’s inner periphery, societies that have embarked upon the path of politico-economic liberalization. But even more importantly, it allows us to ask what happens to the revolutionary potential unleashed by the crisis and economic collapse of neo-liberalism. Does it simply diffuse, once the “damage” is “under control”? Or does it converted into some other form of dissent? To be more concise: does revolution become resistance? And how are these forms of resistance reterritorialized? Can they be applied globally as a venue for change, no matter whether it is called revolution or resistance?

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Invariably, the scene of cultural production is one of the most important places for such revolutionary potentialities and resistance-strategies. Such was also the case with Argentina .

Initiated by Andreas Siekman and Alice Creisher, the project “exArgentina” explored the political and artistic subjectivities that the crisis unleashed. The project consisted of two parts, namely a congress held in November 2003 in Berlin and an exhibition held from March to May 2004 in Cologne ‘s Ludwig Museum . Instead of functioning as “an Argentina-show that present[ed] young art [and theory] from a precarious country”, both congress and show “[brought] together artists and groups from Argentina and Europe who express[ed] their views on the effects of the international financial and economic policies and their neoliberal ideology. Using the economic crisis and the revolts in Argentina in December of 2001 as a point of departure, [the theory and art-works] were concerned with the problems of representing and visualizing political and economic realities, [revealing] the parallels of the “crisis”.” ( https://www.exargentina.org/ ).

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