Hands off ESC, hands off the city of solidarity!


In a city in disarray, grey and provincial like no other European capital, in a corrupt and inhospitable city, it is astonishing that the “civic throb” claimed by Commissioner Tronca resulted in the fury against self-managed social centres and cultural associations. But through little healthy realism, we put our astonishment to a side and try to grasp the problem for what it is: among the rhetoric of decency, the apology of civic-mindedness, and the neoliberal government of the territory – that is the government for the market – fully coincide. Moreover, the figures of dissent and active participation are now hit in order to hide the unprecedented squandering of Metro C, the discomfort of people waiting hours for a bus in the suburbs, the unemployment of thousands of young people and the many currently facing the employment crisis.

We are also outraged, although not surprised, by the resolution that the Municipality of Rome placed on 30th of December in order to evict Esc: the self-managed atelier we animate, the space that has lived in this city and has accompanied and given life to many of its struggles for more than 11 years. The excuse is some pending arrears. In fact, as it is well known, following several years of occupation, after the eviction we faced on January 2007 and the immediate reoccupation of the building, Esc entered negotiations with the city government on the application of a social lease in exchange of the allocation of our space that occurred in 2009.

But the real objective is to wipe out an experience of radical democracy and new welfare, of mutualism and solidarity, of independent cultural production and of youth social relations. At Esc, migrants get free legal assistance and learn Italian; freelancers, informal, and precarious workers organize new tools of unionization and self-defence (Councils of Freelance and Precarious Workers); the Free Metropolitan University nurtures national and international critical thinking through seminars, publications, book launches; every year we hold a festival of independent publishers and winemakers, L/ivre, that is crossed by thousands of people; young people experience new musical trends and cultural styles. It’s true: all of this does isn’t business and the market, which rhymes with decency, must win over all.

Troubles, however, come from further away. The previous municipal council of Major Marino, in a botched attempt, has tried to meddle with the deliberation that provides the social lease: a resolution that the council was forced to put through by the struggles of social centres of the city twenty years ago. The Commissioner, in defiance of his role, has turned this rule into a tool of meritocracy against the political and social recognition of occupied and self-managed spaces.

The main issue of this twist is the ideology of “tenders as a saviour”,where the tender is considered a neutral tool in order to enhance meritocracy. Even a child knows that evaluation is based on criteria, and the criteria is determined by the strongest, who is in charge. And who is in charge, especially in Italy, hardly ever respects the popular mandate or the consensus. That is to say, that lifting meritocracy, one always gets a clear glimpse of the market and its power, quite far from being neutral.

Then, the social lease is on target to pay and pay a lot. In other words, if solidarity and culture are not a business, a nice shopping centre is better! Meritocracy is the facade, but what this essentially is, is the privatization and dismissal of public assets when not profitable. Less culture and more market, less solidarity and more competition: this is the aim of the resolution that has hit Esc last December, the resolution that is hitting dozens of social centres and cultural associations. This has absolutely nothing to do, in fact it is as far as possible, with the mercy of the Jubilee of Pope Francis that every great “moralizer” of Rome is talking grandly.

The administrative management of the commissioner has accelerated down a path that was already paved. It was just as predictable, as unacceptable. We speak about Esc, because it concerns us, but we are convinced that the issue concerns all: it is about the clash between common use of public assets (new welfare, independent cultural production, self-education, social unionism, co-working, etc.) and its neoliberal valorisation. If the ideology of market lease will prevail, the anomaly of self-management and good solidarity practices of Rome will be cancelled. We shall NOT allow it, and we will defend Esc with “any means necessary”. Few words are enough to the wise. At the same time, we need to transform the defense of Esc in a great political opportunity for programmatic alternative, more so in this complicated phase that is commissarial and electoral at the same time.

We address the thousands of women and men that, for long or just more recently, have crossed and live Esc. We turn to migrants and workers who, through Esc, are less fragile. We turn to the social movements and struggling unions. We address local administrators and politicians who have bowed their heads to the arrogance of the merchants or technicians. We turn to grassroots Catholicism that made mercy a practice of life. We turn to the world of culture that does not stop hating the misery of the present…

They want to kill Rome by means of privatization, speculation, legalist hypocrisy: we shall NOT let them!

Defend Esc, defend the city of solidarity, defend self-management!


[Unedited version]. This op-ed was originally published in blog.


Krytyka Polityczna
Krytyka Polityczna (Political Critique) is the largest Eastern European liberal network of institutions and activists. It consists of the online daily Dziennik Opinii, a quarterly magazine, publishing house, cultural centres in Warsaw, Łódź, Gdańsk and Cieszyn, activist clubs in a dozen cities in Poland (and also in Kiev and Berlin), as well as a research centre: the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw.