Parable/Casa Del Popolo: in the early 1900s socialism was slowly gaining traction in Italy. In 1914 the people in Abbadia di Montepulciano elected its first socialist municipal councilor. Elites reacted against this minor socialist inroad. One form of this was their refusal to rent spaces to socialist organizations.
Socialists could win a little election but could not legitimately hold space.
Their response? We can’t know all of it. Probably a lot of flaming the local elite-friendly press. Probably a lot of pointing at elite hypocrisy in pre-twitter bars and cafes. But also this:
They decided to build their own space. They collected money, they bought materials. On Sundays and after work volunteers raised timber and laid brick. They did not wait to vote themselves into more and higher offices of the state. In 1917, they completed their house of the people. It included a library, a consumer cooperative, meeting rooms for youth and women’s groups. In the words of Margaret Kohn, “The house of the people was a site of recreation, socialization, and the realization of an alternative moral universe” (96). It was a place for the left to know and hold itself, a ground to hold and defend.
It was the opposite of the plague house, a house on lockdown, the long wail typed into the ether. Other houses of the people included restaurants, adult education programs, theatres, bars, newspapers, spaces for affiliated cultural organizations, headquarters for producer cooperatives, bakeries of cheap bread. They sometimes made things free, served “communist soup.” They didn’t only train people, they made jobs.
There’s a real danger that the energy and resources of electoral assemblages will disappear. Many people are asking what’s next. One way is to concretize the advances of a leftist, more just politics into a physical infrastructure for interlinked horizontal organizations, where people don’t have to wait for the realization of their values through the electoral process. What if we make spaces where we can live them–and which make life possible in the face of a death-driven state?
This is drawing from Kohn’s work on houses of the people Radical Space.