Decolonizing critical thought and rebellions II

The concept of Buen Vivir, or Living well.

Artistic illustration of Buen Vivir, living well together.

By: Gilberto López y Rivas/II

The construction of another world in Latin America, according to Raúl Zibechi, is being carried out by means of organizations not state-centric nor hierarchical, which at times don’t even have permanent leadership teams and, as a consequence, tend to overcome bureaucracy, a traditional, elemental and very old form of domination. Women and youth play a new role in these new “modes of doing.”

In a first time criticism of the progressive governments, Zibechi identifies that, despite differences, all the processes have in common the continuity of the extractive model, either open sky mining, hydrocarbons or mono-crops. “In all the cases it’s about the production of commodities, the mode that neoliberalism assumes today in the region,” as well as the expansion of social policies that seek to neutralize the movements and buffer or impede conflict. “The map of the progressive governments and those of the left would have to establish a difference between those countries in which social action made the political system enter into crisis, like Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, and those like Brazil and Uruguay, where stability has predominated, Argentina being in an intermediate situation.” Upon questioning the principal dangers and benefits that the arrival in government of the progressive parties implies, Zibechi makes a remark, in my judgment transcendent, and starting from three scenarios: “The interstate relationships, in other words, the question of the governments, the relationship between movements and states, that is to say, the question of emancipation and the relationship between development and living well (buen vivir) [1], that is, post-development. If we look at the state question, the existence of the progressive governments is very positive, because within them is at play the relationship with the United States and with the big multinationals of the north, the crisis of imperialist domination that these governments accentuate. But, if we observe the question of emancipation or development, these governments have represented a step back. The problem is that there are social and political forces that cannot have any horizon other than being government, which converts them into administrators of the State.”

In the specificity of Latin America, Zibechi emphasizes that on the one hand “we have an official society, hegemonic, with a colonial heritage, with its institutions, its ways of doing things, its justice and all that. On the other hand, there is another society that has property in the remote rural areas and is organized into communities and also in the expanded urban peripheries. This other society has other ways and forms of organizing, has its own justice, its own forms of production and an organization for making decisions parallel to or at the margin of the established one.” Our author maintains that indigenous practice questions various aspects of western revolutionary conceptions and denounces that only the State-centric can be theorized, coinciding with authors like Leopoldo Marmora, who in the middle of the 1980s made note of the Eurocentric roots of Marxism in the treatment of the national question and in the concept of “peoples without history.” “There are various themes that the Indian movement puts on the table. The first is their conception of time, the present-past relationship. The second is the idea of social change or revolution, the Pachakutik… The third is related to rationalism and to the relation between means and ends, which involves the ideas of strategy and tactics, as well as the question of program and of plan.” In all these themes and processes, the role of the intellectual is important. Zibechi rejects being defined as an intellectual, even in the terms in which Lenin and even Gramsci plated them, and he prefers being called an activist/militant and thinker/educator, which in any case doesn’t stop him from being intellectual. He maintains, aptly, that many of the ideas of those who work in the movements are the patrimony of many people. “If people are at the center of the movement, then the intellectual tends to be one more in the movement… therefore the intellectuals must also be in movement and move away from that place of being at the top of the people.”

Zibechi considers that the autonomic anti-systemic movements started a new era of social struggles or classes that is in its first phases. This new era is one of the self-construction of a world, with the necessity of passing over the taking of state power, and concentrating on the territories where these new worlds are being constructed. The most evident case is that of the Zapatista Caracoles, where forms of supra-communitarian power have been constructed, like the Good Government Juntas that each unites hundreds of communities (although the federalism in Kurdistan also shows an unpublished experience in this conflictive region of the world). The Zapatista experience –Zibechi asserts– is a historic achievement that had never existed before in the struggles of those below, except for the 69 days that the Paris Commune lasted and the brief time of the Soviets before the Stalinist state reconstruction.

The reappearance of the EZLN, according to Zibechi, “combines historic positions (among which one would have to emphasize the rejection of the electoral scenario and the construction of homogenous and centralized organizations) with new developments that imply a different relationship with its support bases outside of Chiapas and, above all, a novel mode of intervention in popular sectors, consistent with demonstrating what they have been capable of constructing which, in reality, is teaching a distinctive and different path for transforming the world.”

In our author’s judgment, the Zapatista discourse recuperates the tradition of anticolonial resistance defended by Frantz Fanon, who emphasizes the existence of “two zones,” that of the oppressor and that of the oppressed, “those of above and those of below.” At the same time, Zibechi distinguished Zapatismo from other movements starting with integral autonomy, which leads them to reject aid and social policies from the government; the construction of organs of power on three levels, different from the forms of State power, inspired in the community; being a movement of youth and of women, and being consequently anti-capitalist.

[1] Buen Vivir – (Good living or living well, in English) is rooted in the cosmovision (or worldview) of the Quechua peoples of the Andes, sumak kawsay –or buen vivir, in Spanish– describes a way of doing things that is community-centric, ecologically balanced and culturally sensitive. In the concept of buen vivir, the individual lives in harmony with community, nature and culture.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Translation: Chiapas Support Committee

Friday, August 28, 2015

En español:







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