RECLAIMING THE STRATEGIC DEBATE
By: Raúl Zibechi
It seems evident that we are before a turn of history. What happens in the next few years, added to what is already happening, will have a long-term effect. What we do, or what we stop doing, is going to have some influence on the immediate fate of our societies. We know that it is necessary to act, but it is not clear that we are capable of doing it in the appropriate direction.
The recent events in Ukraine and Venezuela intensified the sensation that we are facing decisive moments. This juncture reveals that violence will play a decisive role in the definition of our future: war between states, struggle between classes, violent conflicts between the most diverse groups, from gangs to drug trafficking organizations. As happened in other periods of history, violence starts to decide junctures and crises.
Violence is not the solution, and the longer we are able to postpone it the better. “Without violence we will not be able to achieve anything. But violence, as very therapeutic and efficient as it may be, does not resolve anything,” Immanuel Wallerstein wrote in the preface of Frantz Fanon’s book Black Skin, White Masks. Being prepared for violence, but subordinating it to the objective of social change, is part of the necessary strategic debates. (Emphasis added.)
I mention the question of violence because of what’s happening in Venezuela and the Ukraine, in Bosnia, South Sudan, Syria and more places all the time. Like it or not, the conflicts are not being resolved in voting booths, but rather in the streets and in the barricades, by means of insurrectional arts that the right is learning to use for its purposes, supported by the big Western powers, the United States and France in an emphatic place. What’s called democracy languishes and tends to disappear.
I never tire of reading and reproducing the view that the journalist Rafael Poch sent from Kiev’s Maidán Square: “In its most massive moments some 70,000 people have congregated in this city of 4 million residents. There is a minority among them of several thousand, perhaps four or five thousand, equipped with helmets, rods, shields and bats for confronting the police. And inside of that collective there is a hard core of perhaps 1,000 or 1,500 purely paramilitary people, disposed to die and to kill, which represent another category. This hard core has made use of firearms” (La Vanguardia, 2/25/14).
Multitudes protesting and small decided and organized nuclei confronting state apparatuses that usually lose all restraint. They succeed for three reasons: because there are tens of thousands in the streets that represent the sentiment of a part of the society, which legitimizes the protest; because there is a “vanguard” often trained and financed from the outside; and because the regime is not in any condition to repress them, either because of weakness, a lack of conviction or because it has no plan for the following day.
That the right may have photocopied the revolutionaries’ ways of doing things and uses them for their own ends, and that they count on abundant support from imperialism, doesn’t make the central question: how to confront situations in which the State is overwhelmed, neutralized or used against those from below?
My first hypothesis is that the anti-systemic forces are not prepared to act without the state umbrellas. Almost all of the continent’s progressive governments were possible thanks to direct action in the streets, paying a high price for putting one’s body on the line, but that dynamic remains very far away and is no longer the patrimony of the movements. Putting one’s body on the line stopped being the common feeling of protest ever since the state shield reappeared with the progressive governments.
The second is that confidence in the State paralyzes and morally disarms anti-systemic forces. To my way of seeing, the worst consequence of this confidence is that we have disarmed our old strategies. This point has two sides: on the one hand, it’s not clear what kind of world we’re struggling for, when state socialism stopped being a projection for the future. On the other hand, because it is not up for debate whether we affiliate with the insurrectional thesis or the prolonged popular war, in other words the European and Third World types of revolution.
I don’t want to linger on the electoral question because I do not consider it a strategy for changing the world, not even a way of accumulating forces. I understand that there are better and worse governments, but we cannot take the electoral path seriously as a revolutionary strategy. In sum, we are not debating the how. Meanwhile, the right does have strategies, in which the electoral plays a decorative role.
Between insurrection and popular war, Zapatismo inaugurates a new path, which combines the construction of non-State powers defended by the communities and support bases with weapons in hand, with the construction of a new and different world in the territories that those powers control.
It can be argued that we’re dealing with a variable of the popular war sketched by Mao and Ho Chi Minh. I don’t see it that way, beyond some formal similarity. I believe that the radical innovation of Zapatismo cannot be comprehended without assimilating the rich experience of the indigenous movement and of feminism, on a crucial point: they do not struggle for hegemony, they do not want to impose their ways of doing. They just act; and the rest decide whether or not to accompany them.
There is a trap in this argument. One cannot “struggle for hegemony” because it would be transmuting it into domination, something that the triumphant revolutions quickly forgot. Hegemony is attained “naturally,” to use a term related to Marx: by contagion, empathy or resonance, with ways of doing that convince, create and enthuse. It seems to me that reclaiming the strategic debate is more important for changing the world than the endless denunciations against imperialism. It’s still necessary to sign manifestos, but it’s not enough.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Friday, March 7, 2014