Friday, January 11, 2013

The Tenacious Zapatista Persistence

by Raúl Zibechi
translated by Kristin Bricker

The Zapatista communities' mobilization on December 21 and the Zapatista National Liberation Army's (EZLN's) three communiques on the 30th of the same month were received with joy and hope by many anti-systemic and anti-capitalist movements in Latin America. Immediately, these movements' media outlets reflected on the importance of the mass mobilization, which comes during a difficult moment for those who are still determined to resist the system of death that misgoverns us.

These past years have been especially complicated for movements that are determined to build a new world from below.  In most South American countries, repression of popular sectors has not ceased, despite the fact that the majority of the governments call themselves progressive.  The have implemented a set of "social policies" designed, according to them, to "combat poverty," but in reality they seek to impede poor peoples' autonomous organization or to neutralize it when it has already reached a certain grade of development.

Progressive social policies, as demonstrated by the cases of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, amongst others, have not managed to reduce inequality, nor redistribute wealth, nor carry out structural reforms, but they have been very effective when it comes to dividing popular organizations and in not a few cases detour the struggle's aims towards secondary issues.  They haven't touched land ownership and other means of production.  Social policies seek to mitigate the effects of accumulation by dispossession without modifying the policies that sustain this model: open-pit mining, monoculture, hydroelectric dams, and large infrastructure projects.

With the exception of Chile and Peru, where the student movement and mining resistance remain alive, in the majority of the countries the initiative has been passed on to the governments, anti-systemic movements are weaker and more isolated, and we have lost strategic goals.  Ever since formidable offensives against neoliberal privatization were launched, urban territorial work has found itself in an alley with a difficult short-term exit since ministries of social development, of solidarity economics and others have begun to infiltrate territories of resistance with programs that range from monetary transfers to poor families to various "support" for productive undertakings.  Initially, the movements receive this support with the hope of growing stronger, but after a short while they see how it spreads demoralization and disintegration in their ranks.

What is a grassroots collective to do when it builds a popular high school in a neighborhood, with great sacrifice based in collective work, when it sees how quickly the Government creates another high school in the area with better infrastructure and identical courses, and it even names it after known revolutionaries?  The answer is that we don't know.  We still haven't learned to work in territories that were once ours and are now spaces invaded by legions of workers and social workers with very progressive--and even radical--discourses, but who work for those above.

Zapatismo has grown stronger throughout this policy of military and "social" blockade and annihilation, where the State thoroughly dedicated itself to division through material "aid" as a complement to military and paramilitary campaigns.  That is why many of us received the December 21 mobilization with great joy.  Not because we suspected that they were no longer there, something that only those who listen to the media can believe, but rather because we proved that it is possible to go through the hell of military aggression combined with social counterinsurgency policies.  To know, study, and understand the Zapatista experience is more urgent than ever for those of us who live under the progressive model.

It is true that progressivism plays a positive role regarding the Yankee domination in that it seeks a certain autonomy for a local and regional capitalist development.  Faced with anti-systemic movements, however, those that try to follow the path of social democracy do not differentiate themselves at all from previous governments.  It is necessary to understand the duality within a single model: the progressive collision with Washington's interests but within the same logic of accumulation by dispossession.  In the strictest sense it has to do with a dispute between those who are the beneficiaries of the exploitation and oppression of those below, a role in which the local bourgeoisie and the administrators of the "leftist" parties allied with certain business unionism, claim part of the spoils.

The Zapatista journey leaves some lessons for the movements and the people who live "blockaded" by progressivism.

In the first place, the importance of militant commitment, the strength of values and principles, of not selling oneself out nor giving up despite how strong and powerful the enemy might appear and despite how isolated and weak the anti-systemic movements might be at a given moment.

Second, the necessity of following what one believes and thinking beyond immediate results, supposed successes or momentary failures, in contexts that are often fabricated by the media.  Persisting in the creation of movements that are neither institutionalized nor prisoners to electoral timeframes is the only way to build strongly and long term.

Third, the importance of a different way of doing politics, without which there would be nothing beyond what which is media, institutional, or electoral.  An intense debate exists in not a few South American movements about the benefit of participating in elections or of institutionalizing themselves in various forms as a way of avoiding the isolation from territorial work and to enter into "real" politics.  The Zapatistas show us that there are other ways of doing politics that don't revolve around the occupation of the State's institutions and that consist in creating, down below, forms of making collective decisions, producing and reproducing our lives based in "governing by obeying."  This political culture is not adequate for those who try to use the common people as ladders for individual aspirations.  That's why so many politicians and intellectuals within the system reject those new forms, within which they must subordinate themselves to the collective.

Fourth, autonomy as a strategic aim and as a daily practice.  Thanks to the way in which the communities resolve their necessities, we have learned that autonomy cannot just be a declaration of intentions (as valuable as that might be) but rather it must be based in material autonomy, from food and health to education and the form of decision-making, that is, the form of governing ourselves.

Over the past few years we have seen experiences inspired by Zapatismo outside of Chiapas, including in some cities, which demonstrates that this is not about a political culture that is only valid in indigenous communities in that Mexican state.

Raúl Zibechi is a radio and print journalist, writer, and political theorist from Uruguay.


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