Esteva: Subjects of Change


 By: Gustavo Esteva

During demonstrations over Ayotzinapa, a young man raises a Zapatista (left) fist.

During demonstrations over Ayotzinapa, a young man raises a Zapatista (left) fist.

We already know what to do. Now we need an agreement about how to do it and with whom.

The political classes lost the little credibility they had because of Ayotzinapa. A consensus formed through long experience crystalized like this: only violence, corruption, impunity and incompetence come from above.

Another consensus emerged along with this: the institutions themselves are rotten, not only those that direct them. They are not at the service of the people, nor do they fulfill their functions. We need substitutes for them.

It also extends to a consensus that comes from perspective. In recent decades the political classes adulterated and finally dismantled what remained of the 1917 Constitution. We need another one. Or rather: a constituent mechanism that formulates the new social order from below.

To do that we must conceive how we get rid of what is and create democratic mechanisms of transition that forestall and contain the current disorder and violence.

There is no consensus about the way to do all that. Among those that share the conviction that we must remove the current functionaries and construct other institutions, some think that the only way of attaining it without violence is to stay within the current frameworks, through the electoral and party path. According to them, we would have to use ballot boxes to disqualify them. Any other way would be illusory or undemocratic and violent. Thus emerges a profound difference, because many other people consider that what’s illusory and undemocratic is to continue using ballot boxes, entirely inadequate for what is sought. What’s missing is to break with the current frameworks.

Within this debate, as in other questions, weighs an old tradition that centers the possibility of change on a leader or a handful of leaders. According to Luis González y González, since the XVIII century “a handful of people (politicians, intellectuals, capitalists and priests), who are the ones that principally distribute the bread, propose and dispose the path to follow,” are periodically installed in the leadership of Mexico. Those who have been responsible for social change, he maintains, “are a small number of directors, groups of eminent men, assemblies of notables, not masses without a face or local commanders.”

That vision of our history, which ignores the millions of ordinary men and women that gave their lives in the changes that occurred in the country, or that converts them into obedient masses, manipulated or controlled, forms a tradition in effect that has been updated in the era of globalization and the mass communications media. A leader or at least a party or a group continues being sought. They have to constitute the minority directorate, a disciplined and articulate leadership body. Without them we would fall into disorder and violence and the changes we seek would be frustrated.

A vigorous current attempts to break with that tradition and proposes reconstruction from below, by ordinary men and women, without leaders, luminaries, experts, vanguards or parties.

It is certain that a handful of men have assumed the representation of all Mexicans ever since the country was born. Morelos asserted that it was the nation’s sentiment to be governed by the creole minority. That sentiment prevailed among those who forged the new social order, expressed in the Constitution of 1824, marginalizing Indian peoples, which then represented two-thirds of the population and had been the principal champions of the revolution for Independence. In a similar manner, successive elites converted their own ideals and interests into the mold in which the national will should be molded. The ritual of elections, which was maintained even in times of the dictatorship to legitimize the social pact imposed from above, never achieved compensating for that absence of the majority. The general will cannot be reduced to a statistical grouping of individual votes to elect individuals or to define postures. “My dreams don’t fit into your ballot boxes,” the Indignados of Spain said well.

It is not a document that will reconstitute us as a nation or permit us to reconstruct the coexistence and social fabric, and was formulated with a social sense and patriotic ardor by the country’s better minds. As LaSalle said, constitutional questions are not issues of law but rather of power. We’re dealing with defining those who have it and how it is articulated and how it constructs the general will: above or below, with elections that delegate everything to a few… or without them, with autonomous governance.

Faced with the immense national tragedy, no assembly of notables can assume the transition and even less determine the new direction and the ways in which we reconstruct. The challenge consists of attaining that the very diverse social subjects that from below have been resisting dispossession and oppression are finally those that conduct the transformation. Far from representing the chaos and disorder, trusting in the wisdom and experience that they have been accumulating from below is the only alternative to the chaotic disorder that characterizes the national moment and will continue as long as we continue rendering social engineering from above.

In that transit, we also need certain people, perhaps a handful, that are moral guarantors of the transition, bind together a consensus and intellectually nourish change. The government would not be in their hands, but in the hands of the people that would watch, control and reconstruct the institutions. That way, democracy would be where it ought to be: where the people are. And they would be those who maintain the social order and would be a barrier to the current chaos and violence.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

English Translation: Chiapas Support Committee

Monday, January 19, 2015

En español:


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