In 2008, anticapitalist campaigner Enric Durán borrowed €492,000 ($642,306) from 39 different financial entities with absolutely no hope or intention of paying it back. But—as you might expect from an anti-capitalist campaigner—he didn’t spend it all on diamond kitchen knives and luxury frisbees. Instead, he ploughed it into a number of unspecified anti-capitalist causes and spent the rest on Crisi, a free newspaper that detailed how he’d done what he did and urged others to do the same.
That display of reckless Robin Hoodery turned him into a hero overnight, but the one problem with becoming a hero through questionably legal means is that, for whatever reason, the police feel like they have to go and lock you up for it. Enric spent two months in jail in 2011 and was released pending trial, which was set for earlier this month. His minimum sentence would be eight years, which might explain why he refused to attend the first trial dates, prompting a warrant to be put out for his arrest.
I’ve been trying to interview Enric for a couple of years now, but—as the 14 financial entities currently trying to send him to jail for embezzlement can attest—he’s kind of a tough guy to get a hold of. After countless emails, we eventually set up a Skype date. That too got pushed back by three hours, but I guess when you’re trying to implement a complete overthrow of the capitalist system you don’t see time in quite the same way as everyone else. When we eventually got to chatting, we spoke about fucking the banks, his theory of civil disobedience, and his latest project: the creation of a completely autonomous town on the outskirts of Barcelona.
Enric with a copy of his newspaper, Crisi.
VICE: Hey, Enric, what exactly happened with your trial?
Enric Durán: The court accepted my lawyer’s resignation on February 13th, then they told me I had to come to court again on the 18th, but I didn’t go to that. And now it’s not that clear if they can go on further with the case because I haven’t got a new lawyer, so it would be against my rights if they were to continue.
I see. Let’s go back to the start. You got into activism in 2000. What sparked your interest in the financial system?
Well, back then I was part of the antiglobalization movement. By 2005, I’d started reading about the energy crisis, which was related to the financial system. I realized that not only was the system unwanted, but that it couldn’t keep going on as it was. That’s what sparked the idea of this act of disobedience—to retrieve money from banks and invest it in anticapitalist projects.
In a way you anticipated the link between the financial system, politics, multinationals, and governments when it still wasn’t clear to a lot of people. What made you realize that it wasn’t only one part of the system failing, but a global thing encompassing all of those aspects?
It was in 2000, when we were fighting against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, that we started realizing it was a global thing. What wasn’t clear to us was that the system would fail on its own. We thought we had to make it fail, we didn’t realize it would fall apart naturally.
Was taking out all those loans a demonstration of how you could take advantage of the system?
It was various things, but there were two main goals. One was to denounce the financial system as something unsustainable, and the second goal was to show that we can be disobedient, brave, and that we can empower ourselves. When I started with all of this I was inspired by historical characters like Gandhi, and I thought it was important to bring actions like those back to the 21st Century. We wanted to use the money for a project that could prove how methods other than capitalism were possible.
Enric in court.
What was the day-to-day process of going to banks and asking for credit like?
It was between the summer of the 2005 and the spring of 2008—nearly three years. I learned about how the loaning system worked and the information banks relied on to grant them. I learned about the holes in the system and how to move around them. At first, I’d get one loan granted out of three requests, and by the end I was getting nine out of ten requests granted. For instance, one loophole in the system was that the Bank of Spain shared the loan information with other banks, but only for loans higher than €6,000 ($7,833). So I only asked for loans under that amount for two years, moving funds without having the Bank of Spain controlling my actions.
Did it get to the point where you thought, Holy shit, I have a lot of money? Or did you just invest it on the go?
The money was invested. I never had more than €50,000 ($65,275) at any one time. It was all spent on various projects.
You haven’t revealed any of the projects you invested the money in, but are you aware of any of them being subjected to legal action because of your investment?
Not at all. In fact, it’s pretty clear that banks weren’t interested in where the money had gone. There haven’t been any investigations and, as it was a political action, they only wanted to repress me, not the collective. They didn’t want to make it a bigger deal of it than it already was.
You published your own newspaper, Crisi. Why did you want to diffuse your message through that and not use the regular media channels?
I spent a long time figuring out how to get the story into the public domain. I wanted to get it out to as many people as possible, but I was worried about being repressed. So we decided to use some of the money to print the newspaper, and I think it was one of the best decisions we made. The media understood that this newspaper was being distributed on the street and they didn’t want to be left out of something that was being talked about, so publishing our own newspaper actually helped to get the message in the mainstream press.
If you were to succeed, what would the effect be? What would the world be like?
Well, a lot of people are already doing it by accident; not paying off debts was one of the things that took down the financial system in the first place. Not so much with small loans and private mortgages, but with big construction and property development companies that couldn’t pay their debt and ended up going bankrupt. The chance of the overall plan going global isn’t very probable, but the important thing is to spread the idea of the little changes and decisions you can make to help the world become a better place.
You’ve got this phrase, “I prefer dangerous freedom to peaceful servitude.” That’s a big part of what you’re doing—you’re opening the door to massive civil disobedience.
Yeah, it’s all about acting consistently with what you feel and think and doing what’s best, even though there’s an authority trying to make you do otherwise. What would be interesting would be to start a debate about the efficiency of the system and question how the judicial system works. It’s a prison system that doesn’t help anybody—not the victims, and much less the prisoners or the government, who are the ones who have to pay for it all. It’s time to rethink and create something new, right?
I feel like you’re this guinea pig with bombs strapped to it trying to dismantle the system and see if alternatives can work.
The main thing is that we’re building another system from the bottom up. It’s an open system, not a closed one, meaning no one is going to oblige you to be a part of it. We can overhaul everything with this freedom and decide how we want the health system to work, the education system, the economy, conflicts, and many other things. We’re already putting it into practice through the Catalan Integral Cooperative (CIC) and other associated projects.
The base of the Catalan Integral Cooperative.
Yeah, tell me about the CIC.
It’s an assembly where we build a common economy, organize consumption, cover needs, organize all the work, and establish financial relations to support new productive projects. We have an infrastructure to cover heath, living, basic feeding needs, transport, energy—all the basics. The main point is that it works based on autonomy. What we need are very deep changes in human relationships—trust between people. The integral revolution isn’t about changing the economic system, it’s about changing everything, changing the human being. We’re talking about change in every aspect of life.
Would you ever apply these ideas through a political party?
The big issue here is that the concept of political parties contradicts the concept of an assembly. The assembly is an open process run through consensus. The political party system, on the other hand, is based on confrontation.