This is the third contribution in the series Thesis Pieces featured on For the Desk Drawer written by my past and present doctoral students. This contribution from Ertan Erol focuses on Henri Lefebvre’s notion of autogestion, related to forms of struggle for spaces of difference, alongside the expansion of capitalist space in Mexico and Turkey.

In my recently completed PhD (2012), I focused on particular processes of neoliberal re-territorialisation and peripheral capitalist spatiality. Specifically, I analysed the intensification and expansion of capitalist space in Mexico and Turkey in the form of regional integration projects. In that sense, Mexico’s major regional integration project known as Plan Puebla Panamá/Proyecto Mesoamérica and Turkey’s major regional economic development efforts in the Black Sea and Trans Caucasus areas were located and analysed within the wider processes of neoliberal restructuring in the periphery. It is important to recognise, though, that these neoliberal re-territorialisations are complex and dialectical processes that unfold on different social scales and include various social actors resisting on different levels and across different socio-spatial forms. Hence, in a focus on the regional expansion of neoliberal re-territorialisation in the periphery attention must also be cast towards the main social responses and forms of resistance offering alternative projects to neoliberal restructuring.

Overall, both reactionary and revolutionary contestations and forms of resistance will be a determinant factor in the upcoming resolution of the contradictions that have been cultivated by the expansion of neoliberal capitalist social relations. It is possible to observe that efforts of neoliberal rescaling and the extension of peripheral capitalist spatiality have affected more than most the exploited, by worsening the pauperisation and dispossession of different segments of society. Significant here are the urban proletariat—including unionised labour and seasonal and subcontracted workers—and the peasantry. The realisation of this intensification can, for example, be detected in the reformed labour laws of Mexico and Turkey that are aiming to increase flexibility and thus ensure competitiveness through the deregulation of controls in the labour market.

Another important aspect of this re-territorialisation is the completion of three decades of privatisation of major state enterprises and public services. In the Mexican case, this aspect appears in the privatisation of the state owned oil company PEMEX while in Turkey the privatisation of public services such as electricity and gas distribution, or the management of tolled highways and bridges, continues apace. Also, the process of re-territorialisation includes significant infrastructural projects that have utilised under-valued or non-commercialised spaces. Such projects are mainly focused on enormous housing projects that currently ravage both Mexico City and Istanbul and energy production projects, for example through the construction of hydroelectric dam and micro-dam projects that affect mainly petty agricultural producers by either displacing or commercialising their natural environment. In that context, should we not expect a surge in counter-hegemonic contestations, particularly in such peripheral capitalist spaces? If there will be a surge in these movements in the periphery what kind of socio-spatial form will they take?

autogestionThe dialectical nature of global processes of neoliberal re-territorialisation and capitalist spatiality as well as resistances to these processes is perfectly captured in Henri Lefebvre’s notion of autogestion. As detailed in State, Space, World: Selected Essays, autogestion (or self-management) is defined as a site and stake of constant struggle which is born spontaneously with the capitalist mode of production. It appears from zones of weakness in capitalist society that could turn into key nodes of counter-hegemonic politics. The 1871 Paris Commune is a good example of the counter-hegemonic spatial practice of autogestion where the weakest point of the French bourgeoisie was assailed by the working class and turned into one of the strongest sites of revolutionary struggle. In The Civil War in France, Marx emphasised the dialectical nature of this struggle by defining the Commune as the direct antithesis of the French Empire. In this respect, he argued that the working class cannot emancipate itself by simply seizing ‘the ready-made state machinery and wielding it for its own purposes’. The emancipation of the working class resulted from the antagonism of the Commune against State power, which materialised through the establishment of democratic institutions.

Therefore, autogestion cannot coexist with the State since it is the antithesis of it and, in that way, it reveals the contradictions of contemporary capitalist society. Whether resistances will culminate in a moment of autogestion or will degenerate into co-gestion (co-management) is a crucial question. Nevertheless, it is possible to argue that counter-hegemonic space and spatiality, defined by Lefebvre as a ‘space of difference or differential space’, will arise in zones of weakness where the contradictions of neoliberal processes of intensification and extension will be most salient.

In that sense, it is important to question whether there is “autogestional momentum” in Mexico and Turkey, which may provide alternative programmes or counter-hegemonic movements to neoliberal restructuring. My view is that in both Mexico and Turkey we can find social movements that carry the potential of transformation into such wider unified contestations. In Mexico, the student movement #YoSoy132 should be considered as a movement that carries such potential. During last year’s presidential elections in Mexico, #YoSoy132 emerged as an opposition force made up of university students challenging the candidate of the PRI, Enrique Peña Nieto, now the president. However, #YoSoy132 quickly evolved into a wider contestation of the current political and economic system in Mexico. Therefore, it is possible to expect that the popular bases of the student movement can be translated into a coherent political project.

No Classes, if Police are HereMeanwhile in Turkey, the contestation of neoliberal re-territorialisation has remained sporadic and rather smaller in scale. The resistance of the privatised state-owned tobacco company TEKEL, local resistances against micro-dam construction projects, or the recent protests in the Middle Eastern Technical University (METU) against the visit of Prime Minister Erdogan can be considered as major examples of these contestations. However, the neoliberal rhetoric that enjoys significant ideological hegemony in Turkish society has enabled the violent repression of these contestations, which have made Turkey the biggest prison for journalists in the world, with many members of these movements facing charges of terrorism and spending many years in jail awaiting trial.

It is important to note that these movements and forms of social resistances can only gain a transformative and progressive momentum if they can establish links with other segments of society, namely the urban proletariat and the peasantry. This will be a major challenge. On the other hand, these movements are already playing a very significant role in the creation of autogestion consciousness, in an era already marked with the undoubted hegemony of neoliberalism. Therefore, dismissing these elements of “autogestional momentum”, as simply contextual and ephemeral, would be a significant error that would underestimate their potential for transformation today.

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