The conditions of strategy

Foreword to Manuela Zechner’s Commoning Care and Collective Power, Transversal Texts (2021)

Bue Rübner Hansen
4 min readOct 11, 2021
Commoning Care & Collective Power (2021)

Since the political, social, and feminist revolution of the 1930s, and the reactionary war against it, the global left and feminist movements have looked to Barcelona as a laboratory of social struggle. In the last decade, a great number of books and articles have drawn up the lessons of the key movements and actors in post-2011 Spanish politics: the housing rights movement PAH, the 15M movement, Podemos, the municipalism, and Catalan independentism.

For all the specificities of this context — the history of revolution and fascism, the extreme real estate boom and collapse, the tenuous unity of the Spanish state — the situated experiments of Barcelona help us pose much broader questions of struggle and transformation: how to build and sustain popular power, how to fight financialized real estate capital, how to create a feminist mass movement, and how to sustain a productive dynamic between movements and party? Manuela Zechner’s approach to this laboratory is new and refreshing, guiding our attention to the hidden abodes of care and micropolitics, whose power or weakness profoundly condition and shape the heroism of social revolution and riots, the grit and cunning of electoral experiments, and the contradictory quest for national liberation.

The focus on micropolitics may appear to remove us from Barcelona’s highly-publicized lesson of strategy and policy, and throw us back to less significant questions of ethics and conviviality. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Dealing with the aftermath of May 1968, Alain Badiou has stressed the centrality of “fidelity to the event”, as the basis for the subjective continuation of the event and the truth it produced. Manuela Zechner proposes another, less idealist approach to the question of the continuity of the event: that it is within relations and territories of care that the people and potentials of an event — here the uprising of May 15th 2011 — were tested, nurtured, and given longevity.

Manuela Zechner shows how the space of experimentation opened by the 15M and its feminist commissions was kept open by self-organized childcare groups in the Barcelona neighbourhood of Poble Sec, not just to respond to immediate needs of childcare in a crisis of social reproduction with its austerity, unemployment, and precarity, but as a way to build resistant communities through which parents, children, and carers engage in a continual process of democratic self-education. Tracing the questions of the relation of such care commons to city politics, Zechner demonstrates how the neighbourhood politics of care helped keep open the horizon for an institutional politics of the commons.

In her profound case study of the micropolitics of municipalism, Zechner points to how, despite their mutual tension, the “feminisation of politics” and “politics in the feminine” worked in response to the macropolitical crisis of legitimacy. It did so through a transformation of the practice of politics, which it opened to the protagonism of subjects who refused to perform the white male subjectivity so dominant in Spanish politics as elsewhere.

The story told by Manuela Zechner is a complicated one of breakthroughs and reversals, failures, and inventions. As such, it is also an urgent call to take seriously care and micropolitics. The capacity of Spanish municipalism to break through the deep political cynicism of large sections of the population rested to no small extent on its capacity to do and perform politics differently, through feminist ethics and transversal, participatory policy making. It did so with affective intelligence and an intelligent embrace of affects usually excluded from politics, with expressions of doubt and questioning, care, and empathy. Similarly, Zechner’s account of one of the central difficulties and common failures of municipalist platforms — to engage social movements and parties in a continual process of mutual learning and tension — testify to the organisational and political importance of feminist practice.

Zechner’s careful ethnography and theoretical elaborations attune us to the political importance of care and micropolitics as conditions for transformative strategy, both as they nurture spaces of social experimentation and resistance, and as they maintain the subjective and collective refusal to accept subsumption to the rules and norms of the games of institutions, political parties, and the media.

More than a complication of the question of care, and the 2011 cycle of struggle and institutional experimentation, this book is a vital contribution to the creation of a feminist “culture of precedents”. Feminist precedents do not centre on the much-publicized successes of movements and parties, but on the work to overcome care impasses and their characteristic separation between the macro and the micro, between production and reproduction, between caring and “getting shit done”, and between “independent individuals” and the web of social and natural life. The precedents in this book allow us to learn from hypotheses and experimental protocols to deal with the care impasse that defines the unfolding age of disaster. Care, micropolitics, and the commons emerge as foundational rather than sideshows to the macropolitics of movement building, institutional transformation, and ecological transition.

The book can be ordered and found as a free pdf at Transversal Texts.



Bue Rübner Hansen

researcher, writer, editor writing about whatever extends democracy. mostly in #spain #denmark #uk & #europe but eager to provincialize them all