The Tenacious Zapatista Persistence – Raúl Zibechi


By: Raúl Zibechi

Published by: lalineadefuego (line of fire)

January 8, 2013

Gara <>

January 06, 2013

About the mobilization of the Zapatista communities that took place last month (December), Raúl Zibechi believes that the anti-systemic and anti-capitalist movements of Latin America ought to extract important lessons, for the purpose of being able to break the “circle” of progressivism. Among them, the importance of militant commitment or the necessity of persisting in what one believes.

The mobilization of the Zapatista communities on December 21 and the three communiqués from the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) on the 30th of the same month were received with joy and hope by many anti-systemic movements and anticapitalist strugglers in Latin America. The communications media for these movements immediately reflected on their pages the importance of the mass mobilization, which happened in difficult moments for those who remain pledged to resist the system of death that dis-governs us.

Recent years have been especially complex for the movements that persist in constructing a new world from below. In the large part of South American countries, repression against the popular sectors has not stopped, despite the fact that the majority of the governments are called progressive. In parallel, they have put into effect a group of “social policies” destined, according to what they say, to “combat poverty,” but that in reality seek to impede autonomous organization of the poor or to neutralize it when it already reached a certain degree of development.

Progressive social policies, as the cases of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay among others demonstrate well, have not achieved diminishing inequality, or distributing the wealth or realizing structural reforms, but they have been very efficient at the time for dividing popular organizations, introducing wedges into territories that the popular sectors control and in not a few cases diverting the struggle’s objectives toward secondary questions. They have not touched ownership of land and the other means of production. The social policies seek to attenuate the effects of accumulation by dispossession without modifying the policies that sustain this model: open sky mining, mono-crops, hydroelectric dams and the big infrastructure works.

With the exceptions of Chile and Peru where the struggle of the student movement and the resistance against mining continue alive, in the better part of the countries the initiative has passed to the governments, the anti-systemic movements are weaker and are more isolated, and we have lost a strategic horizon. Urban territorial work, from which formidable offensives were launched against a privatizing neoliberalism, finds itself in a blind alley with a difficult way out short term, while the ministries of social development, economic solidarity and others, have started to infiltrate the territories in resistance with programs that range from monetary transfers to poor families to different “supports” to productive undertakings. Initially the movements receive this aid with the hope of strengthening themselves, but in a little while they see how demoralization and a loss of membership spread in their ranks.

What can a grassroots collective do when it erects a popular high school in a barrio, with enormous sacrifice based on collective work, to observe how a little while later the Government creates another high school nearby, with better infrastructure, identical courses and even placing names on it of famous revolutionaries? The answer is that we don’t know; that we have still not learned how to work in what were our territories and are now spaces invaded by legions of workers and social workers with very progressive and even radical discourses, but that work for those above.

Zapatismo has come out strengthened from this policy of a military and “social” circle and annihilation where the State was thoroughly pledged to dividing through material “aid” as a complement to the military and paramilitary campaigns. Because of that many of us receive with enormous joy the December 21 mobilization. Not because we suspected that they were not there, something that only those that are informed by the media can believe, but rather because we confirm that it is possible to cross through the hell of military aggression added to social counterinsurgency policies. Knowing, studying, comprehending the Zapatista experience is more urgent than ever for those that live under the progressive model.

It’s certain that progressivism plays a positive role with respect to Yankee domination by seeking a certain kind of autonomy for local and regional capitalist development. Facing the anti-systemic movements, however, they seek to follow the path of social democracy not at all different from previous governments. It’s necessary to understand this duality inside of the same model: the progressive collision with Washington’s interests but inside the same logic of accumulation by dispossession. In a strict sense we’re dealing with a dispute over who the beneficiaries are of the exploitation and oppression of those below, a role in which the local bourgeoisie and administrators of parties of the “left” allied with certain business unionism, claim part of the booty.

The Zapatista course leaves some lessons for the movements and individuals that live “encircled” by progressivism.

In first place, the importance of militant commitment, firmness of values and principles, not selling out or giving up because of an enemy that appears stronger and more powerful and because of the anti-systemic social movements that are weaker and more isolated at a given time.

Secondly, the need of persisting in what each one believes and thinks beyond the immediate results, of the supposed momentous successes and failures, in conjunctures that many times are fabricated by the media. Persisting in the creation of movements that are not institutionalized or prisoners of electoral seasons is the only way of constructing solidly and long term.

Third, the importance of a different way of doing politics, without which there is nothing beyond the media, the institutional or the electoral. An intense debate runs through not a few South American movements about the convenience of participating in elections or of the institutionalizing of diverse modes, as a way of avoiding the isolation of territorial work and to enter into “real” politics. The Zapatistas show us that there are other ways of doing politics that don’t turn around the occupation of State institutions and that consist of creating below ways of making decisions collectively, of producing and reproducing our lives on the basis of “govern by obeying.” That political culture is not adequate for those who seek to use the common people as stairways to individual aspirations. Therefore, so many politicians and intellectuals of the system reject those new modes, in which they have to be subordinate to the collective.

Fourth is autonomy as a strategic horizon and as a daily practice. Thanks to the way the communities resolve their needs, we have learned that autonomy cannot be just a statement of intentions (for being more valuable) but that it has to be consolidated in material autonomy, from food and health to education and the way of making decisions, in other words of governing ourselves.

In recent years we have seen experiences inspired by Zapatismo outside of Chiapas, even in some cities, which shows that we’re not dealing with a political culture that only has validity for the indigenous communities of that Mexican State.



English translation: Chiapas Support Committee

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