SYSTEMIC CHAOS AND TRANSITIONS UNDERWAY
By: Raúl Zibechi
Geopolitics helps us comprehend the world in which we live, particularly in turbulent periods like the current one, whose principal characteristic is global instability and a succession of permanent changes and fluctuations. But geopolitics has its limits for approaching activity of the anti-systemic movements. It provides us with a reading of the scenario in which they act, which is not a small thing, but cannot be the central inspiration of emancipatory struggles.
The way I see things, Immanuel Wallerstein has been the one that has succeeded in perfecting most precisely the relationship between chaos within the world-system and its revolutionary transformation by the movements. In his most recent article entitled “It is painful to live amidst chaos,” he emphasizes that the world-system is self-destructing with 10 to 12 powers coexisting that have the ability to act autonomously. We are in the midst of the transition from a unipolar world to another multipolar world, a necessarily chaotic process.
In periods of instability and crisis activity of the movements can most efficiently influence the world’s redesign. It’s a window of opportunity necessarily short in terms of time. It’s during these storms and not in periods of calm when human activity can modify the course of events; and therein is the importance of the current period.
Some of his works published in the collection El Mundo del Siglo XXI (The World of the 21st Century), directed by Pablo González Casanova, approach the relationship between systemic chaos and transitions toward a new world system (Después del liberalismo e Impensar las ciencias sociales, Siglo XXI, 1996 and 1998). In Marx and under-development, published in English in 1985, now three decades ago, he warns about the need to “re-think our metaphor for transition,” since the 19th Century we have been entangled in the debate between evolving ways facing revolutionaries for attaining power.
I think that the most polemic point, and at the same time the most convincing, is his assertion that we have believed that transition is “a phenomenon that can be controlled” (Impensar las ciencias sociales, p. 186). If the transition can only be produced as a consequence of a bifurcation in a system in chaotic situation, as the scientists of complexity point out, seeking to direct it is as much an illusion as a risk of re-legitimizing the order in decomposition if se accede to state power.
The above isn’t saying that we can’t do anything. To the contrary, “we must lose the fear of a transition that takes on the aspect of collapse, of disintegration, which is disordered, in a certain way can be anarchic, but not necessarily disastrous,” Wallerstein wrote in the quoted text. He adds that revolutions can do their best work by promoting the collapse of the system.
This would be a first form of influencing the transition: aggravating the collapse, exploiting the chaos. As the same author recognizes, a period of chaos is painful, but it can also be fertile. Moreover: the transition to a new order is always painful, because we are part of what is crumbling. Thinking about linear and calm transitions is a tribute to the ideology of progress.
After 1994 we began to know the second way of influencing the transition, which permitted us to enrich the previous considerations. We’re talking about the creation, here and now, of a new world; not as prefiguration, but rather as concrete reality. I refer to the Zapatista experience. I believe that both ways of influencing (collapse and creation) are complimentary.
Zapatismo has created a new world in the territories where it is settled. It is not “the” world that we imagine in our old metaphor of transition: a nation-State where a symmetric totality is constructed that seeks to be a negation to the capitalist one. But this world has, if I understood something that the support bases taught us during the Escuelita, all the ingredients of the new world: from schools and clinics to autonomous forms of government and production.
When the systemic chaos deepens, this new world created by Zapatismo will be an unavoidable reference for those below. Many don’t believe that the systemic chaos can be deepened. Nevertheless, we have in front of us a panorama of inter-state and intra-state wars, which add up to the “fourth world war” of capital underway against the peoples. These are some chaotic situations that we watch. That can coincide, within the same period, with climatic chaos in development and the “health chaos,” according to the WHO’s forecast of the next and inevitable expiration of antibiotics.
In history, the big revolutions were produced in the midst of wars and dreadful conflicts, as a reaction from below when everything was crumbling. During the cold war the hypothesis spread that the contestants would not use nuclear weapons that assured mutual destruction. Today there are few that would bet on that.
A new metaphor of the possible transition is being born before us: when the world-system begins to disintegrate generating tsunamis of chaos, the peoples will have to defend life and reconstruct it. Upon doing so, it is probable that they adopt the kind of constructions created by the Zapatistas. That’s what happened in the long transitions from antiquity to feudalism and from feudalism to capitalism. In the midst of chaos, the peoples usually bet on principles of order, like some indigenous communities of our time are.
Something like that is already happening. Some of the PRI families go to the clinics in the (Zapatista) Caracoles and others seek a just solution to their conflicts in the Good Government Juntas. The peoples have never passed in mass to systemic alternatives. One family does it one day, then another, and so on. We are transitioning towards a new world, in the midst of pain and destruction.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Friday, January 23, 2015