Mexico: the legacy of the left | Pablo González Casanova

Subcomandante Moisés and Pablo González Casanova in the seminario ‘The walls of capital, the cracks of the left.’ Photo: Daliri Oropeza

By: Pablo González Casanova

The EZLN invited the former rector of the UNAM to offer a conference at the seminar ‘The walls of capital, the cracks of the left’, and he explained what left ideology is. He also criticized the closure of Donald Trump with respect to climate change and maintained that the Zapatistas’ intention to participate in the presidential elections is an opportunity to open the consciences of Mexicans.

Here is his complete discourse:

First an excuse, because yesterday I was trying to finish, and I finished, a paper that I was going to read and that now I think that it was best not to read… Because, I had brought three texts to Chiapas, thinking that I was going to speak at the beginning of the meeting, of the gathering, and it turns out that they invited me for the end of the gathering, and what I was thinking about saying wasn’t appropriate. Then I decided to do… agreeing with the teacher Alfonso Reyes, who told me that when I was able to give a conference without reading, it would be much better to give it without reading, and that if I read it I would see more… of the audience than the paper. Here I can see a little, in the midst of the darkness, of the audience, and telling you that I think about the convenience of what the left is to… in part, contradict those who are accusing us of dividing the left. And it seemed to me that that problem is interesting to bring up here, and then it occurred to me to see how the Mexican people have defined the left throughout their history.

I started to think about the rebel priests that fled from the Inquisition and from the Christianity of Carlos V and Felipe II. And those rebel priests are the beginning of a process that corresponds to human emancipation; and that naturally includes a category that didn’t exist in the social sciences, or that wasn’t central in the social sciences, and that is central in human life, which is the category of the exploitation of some men over others.

That category didn’t exist before, but it’s not the only thing that makes emancipating thought, in other words, you can’t have human emancipation if there is exploitation of some men by others; that is absolutely clear, but ending exploitation is not sufficient because human emancipation is much more than that. Then, starting with this position, it seemed to me that those priests; that priest that went up to the pulpit on the island of Santo Domingo and before the fury, the unleashed rage of the conquistadores, declared or said in his sermon that the Indians have a soul; in other words, they are not animals… that priest demanded respect for them, for their human dignity. And the conquistadores became furious, and good, in reality they were the heirs of the Aristotle that managed the Inquisition, the one that recommended Alexander the Great, a disciple of theirs, when he went away to conquer Asia; and told him: “treat the Greeks as citizens and the Barbarians as animals or as plants.”

Then, respecting the human being, respecting the dignity of the human being, is a very big struggle that continues happening even today; and the word, the term dignity, is part of the terminology most dear to us.

I just sent the Marxist Encyclopedia of Social Sciences of Germany a work about dignity, and there I cite those rebel priests that vigorously defended the dignity of the Indians. But as we see, this struggle continued until our time and among the theologians appeared liberation theology with Gustavo Gutiérrez, in Peru; with several notable theologians and political thinkers in Brazil, like Leonardo Boff, or like Frei Betto, who I have met many times in Cuba, and who is now fighting not only for recognizing the human dignity of the Natives, but also for socialism.

A first definition then of left would be: that which struggles for the human dignity of whatever human being that is oppressed and discriminated. A second one is the struggle for independence, a struggle which is not given the importance that it had, and that it has, but until very recently; until some decades ago with Fanon, in which the colonial man –he that lives in the colonial countries- appeared as an oppressed man, and under an oppression and a form of domination and of scorn, and of deprivation, special; and so special, that now we see for example with what is occurring in Africa.

In 7 African countries, several million inhabitants are about to die or have already died of hunger; a thing that will happen if what Magdalena Gómez told us yesterday, according to what they told me, occurs in Mexico, where they are not only taking resources like oil, electricity, etcetera away from us, but also lands, water and subsoil, and where colonial “enclaves” are being created like the ones that she mentioned.

So, it remains a special problem to be against colonialism, which later on is going to link to monopoly capital and is going to acquire another name, that of imperialism, and I will talk about that a little later. The struggle for independence also united the Indian peoples with the leaders of the Independence… When Guadalupe Victoria proposed Morelos to lead the war, Hidalgo, as they told me, answered him: “No, this is a war of the people” and it seems that there were more Indian peoples in the war fighting for independence that mestizos, or whites.

So, the Indians have been inserted in our history ever since this country was born as an independent one, and we must realize that what is now being done is saying that again; again expressing the tight linkage, the total linkage that the Indian and the non-Indian have in Mexico. Also that pair of priests, Hidalgo and Morelos, apart from waging the people’s war, one of them, Morelos, made the first self-governed community, and that is another way of defining the left: with communities and networks of self-governed and self-sufficient communities.

And now I turn to a legacy more about what those who carried on that somewhat fundamental Marxism, with which I don’t agree, said that it was a bourgeois revolution, etcetera; but no, it’s something else, another legacy of emancipation that Don Benito Juárez is going to realize. Emancipation from what! From the use of religion to oppress and from the church hierarchy that together with many of the colonial era’s wealthy were the ones that remained with the power and riches when Spain could no longer retain them. And it was a great virtue of Juárez to make “The Reform” as it’s called, the most profound in all of Latin America, taking their immense properties away from the clergy, and establishing lay education and the right to think without anyone invoking God to tell you that you were wrong. So, that’s another legacy that defines the left and the struggle for human emancipation.

Other forms of emancipation also appear with the liberals. One is that which happens through University Autonomy; the great struggle that occurs throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and that demands State independence so that official thinking does not intervene in what the professors and students teach and learn. It was and is a marvelous struggle, which continues happening over the years and that will give us up to “’68” much of what human emancipation is.

And in that current someone stands out who wasn’t born in Mexico, but who is Latin American and is one of the most notable writers of the Spanish language: José Martí, who represents a radical liberalism, of a truly extraordinary depth, because on the one hand he gives a strength, a central importance, to the moral as power; and on the other hand, he denounces, with his richest pen, the nascent imperialism; and even more… he organizes a revolutionary struggle in which he invites a communist to form part of the revolutionary leadership. All this radical liberalism at the end of the XIX Century is the antecedent of the only revolution that survives at this moment out of all the struggles that were made in search of socialism. And it means that those who rejected, or even asked us not to speak about morality, didn’t understand that we weren’t talking about morality, as Benedetti correctly called it, but rather we were talking about the spirit of struggle, the spirit of cooperation and of a word that always comes to me in red on the computer because the Spanish Academy still doesn’t accept it and that the Zapatista compañeros invented here, which is what permits us to emphasize the spirit of sharing (compartición)… So, the spirit of struggle, the spirit of cooperation, the spirit of sharing clarify what spirit we are talking about and that we tenaciously seek to practice; and both clarifications finish completely with the absurd proposals, and with the false syllogisms that a large anarchist current suffered, and also finish with the simulation of those who talk about spirit only to deceive and pretend that they are something they aren’t…

Thus, the contributions to the left from the liberal currents are very strong and are going to last until our day when they are enriched a lot with countless experiences and practices that proved their strength in the power of movements and collectivities.

But, I am going to more or less follow the course of history of legacies and I’m going to move to the Mexican Revolution, in which Mexico is also the one that made the most profound agrarian reform in all of Latin America, a revolutionary reform in which the campesinos and the Indian peoples participated very actively, above all with the historic Zapatismo, with the first Zapatismo, and it wad a revolution of those that were overlooked in a certain moment as bourgeois by those who also qualified as bourgeois to the revolutions of State socialism, in a way of thinking using stereotypes that impede us from seeing the evolution of the struggles and of the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary actions. And it’s the struggles in their historic drive that really define the processes… In effect, the Mexican Revolution was not a revolution that the workers would have made alone, and moreover, communism had not spread as much as anarchism among the workers.

But the los workers participated in that war the campesinos, the Indian peoples and the petty bourgeoisie participated, and it became a revolution that achieved that 1917 Constitution, which was much more advanced than that of the Soviet Union, with really extraordinary political principles of free self-determination of the peoples and of non-intervention, and with workers rights and campesino rights… and all that occurred in processes in which it seems that for a moment the bourgeoisie allied with the popular forces for the objectives that they seek, but little by little those alliances were lost, and the bourgeoisie again recuperated its consuming greed and their egotism and the process functions in the most perverse manner… It produces a phenomenon that we have seen recently with the majority of the new progressive governments of Latin America.

It is a phenomenon that is repeated and will be repeated whenever possible, if we are not prepared to confront it as soon as it appears. And that process occurred with the Mexican Revolution of that era, which we see having really extraordinary moments of left definition. Its policy, for example, of receiving Trotsky, was really a very, very great talent for explaining what our position was; because on the other side was the alliance with Lombardo and with the workers, an alliance of classes that Lombardo took too far and that was discredited, but that at a given moment helped him radicalize many of the positions of his own Cardenismo.

Then, in Mexico we see one of the revolutions, which at the global level led to revolutionary nationalism, to the most profound re-structuring of national sovereignty, of the right to land of the campesinos, ejido owners, comuneros and small property owners, of the right of workers to organize to defend their values and interests. And that revolution, like many others, suffers a process of recuperation that leads first to establishing governments of the so-called populist type, with a populism in which the lack of public spirit starts to prevail, but not to the degree that will dominate today. There is really a qualitative leap in shamelessness, and at this moment this leap has taken place and one sees that the impunity and the exhibition of illegally obtained wealth, coincide with the impoverishment of the country and its people.

Then that populism is going to stumble and is going to lose fore and there enters the grand project of domination and accumulation of globalizing neoliberalism on a worldwide scale. And that project has reached a global level because something similar was occurring in the Soviet Union and in China to such a degree that Kissinger organized the so-called ultra-left very well, which ravaged in Peru and finished off many cadres of the Communist Party, which was pro-Soviet.

And in the case of President Allende… I was there when Compañero Fidel Castro was, and the de-stabilization policy was operating in which at the same time that prices went up, supplies were hidden and provocateurs were let loose to agitate; and many of them were genuine, they were not police agents, but believed they were more revolutionaries and had the green light as a consequence of the previous talk with Mao Tse Tung and Kissinger. And so we saw and we see a very, very painful process in which the discourse, reflection and reasoning of Fidel was useless.

I heard him there, I was at several events where Fidel was, and in one of them we were in the City’s Government Palace and they -Allende and Fidel- were on the central balcony, and I was physically a little to their left. Then Fidel gave a marvelous speech, truly, and suddenly when he had now captivated his audience, he said: -“And do you believe, do you think… that the people are wrong?” And then everyone in the plaza shouted: -“No, they are not wrong!” “Well believe it!” That laughter was the loudest that I have heard in my life. And so what he was trying to explain to them is that the correlation of forces that Allende had, were not able to recognize it, and that Allende could not go farther, nor faster, and that they were trying push him to take it farther; because a person that is running, can only be pushed in two ways: by pushing the foot, or by pushing him in the back. And that was what they were doing.

So there we have another problem, another way of defining the left in the sense one has who carefully calculates the kind of alliances that are made, and that there are always possibilities of error, but that thinking in terms of a single current is completely contradictory and unity in diversity is necessarily imposed.

There is one more element to which I want to refer and it’s that which concerns the enrichment of values, or of the goals for which the left struggles. That enrichment takes place in a notable way in the case of Cuba, where it’s authentically certain that the teacher, or the intellectual author of the revolution… is Martí, and where we see that we’re really dealing with another socialism. And it’s enough to see the role that the Cuban Communist Party plays, which is not a party that dominates truth and that is the spokesperson of the conscience of the proletariat; but rather is a party that orient and that learns. And we see there an enormous importance that defines the left with liberation pedagogy of Paulo Freire and with Fidel’s speeches, which are really exemplars for transmitting power to the people; because it’s very, very pretty to think that the people govern, but do they know how to talk, do they know how to listen? No, but they can be taught, and by teaching them, one can also learn. And that’s what happened to the leaders of the July 26 Revolution; they learned a lot. So, there appears a new revolution that we see has a capacity for resistance that the others didn’t have, and that will be the final theme to which I refer; because before I would like to say something more in relation to the new values that define the left and human emancipation.

One of them refers justly to the woman, the homosexual, the trans-sexual, to a series of values that were not recognized and that suddenly emerge in the forefront with appalling sufferings whose existence we had not perceived, and that occurs in “68” with the student movements. And as the population had a much shorter life expectancy before, for example, I would not be speaking here if we were in the 19th Century, because a new and very important figure appears in the revolutions, which is the youth. And the youth play a role of linkage between all ages and brings these new values to the forefront, and brings them, for example, with another extremely original movement of which I am going to speak very carefully because I don’t want to commend my hosts too much, who show me this fraternal hospitality; but what has occurred in the Lacandón, I believe that is the beginning of a project of universal democracy.

If imperialism, if monopoly capital, if the business, military, political and media complexes have a project of neoliberal globalization, I believe that we have a project that was born here in the Lacandón, which is not only national, which is universal and that will be universal if humanity is saved. That is the ultimate problem that I wanted to treat. And it’s that we are seeing a tremendous effectiveness of the new forms of organization that are using two techniques, or two scientific technologies, very efficient. One of them is relates to the communications sciences, of information, of messages, of the reading of the message and of the execution of the message.

Another is linked to the existence, or modeling and staging of systems that are called intelligent and that seek to achieve an objective. And that whole system is dominated by a completely foolish system, which is capitalism, and which is denying the validity, the value of the very sciences that it cultivates as soon as they say that something affect its greed for power, wealth and profits.

The problem is that in academic life there is a fear, an attitude of caution, a fear that prevents its members from saying that there is really no solution for resolving vital problems inside of capitalism. That all the measures that capitalism has taken in the past to solve its crises and the problems it poses to humanity and the earth, to life on earth are in crisis, but many specialists don’t dare to say it and I give you an example: Trump recently denied that climate change was due to industrial gases and returned to the use of coal and other contaminants and ignored the value of science, and the president of the U.S. Academy of Sciences wrote a letter of protest, but at the end of the letter, he says that science opened the Pandora’s Box; in other words, for these people to think that capitalism is the origin of its own death and of the death the death of their own heirs is impossible. They are foolish and impertinent, and they become furious; as you will have seen if you are told something that is absolutely elemental. It’s as if one were angry because the law of gravity exists and one becomes furious.

We encounter a very delicate situation in which movements like the Zapatista movement are of the utmost importance; and for me, as much Cuba as the Lacandón, are the hope for humanity. In both of them there are present all the values of potential human emancipation, and there is a fact that we must carefully repair, and that is that in other countries we believed were going towards socialism, and at least I never imagined that we were going to return to capitalism; and capitalism was restoring and is now governing in Russia, in China and in the West. So, the responsibility of our project is immense because presents elements for passing from the idea of democracy, to the idea of democracy with power distributed among all the people. There is the possibility of going from (the democracy of) pure rhetoric to democracy for all, with everyone and for everyone, and to a world in which all worlds fit. It can become reality that that could remain nothing more in a sentence, in a group of words, in a group of concepts; it can become reality by the techniques that we put in order today and by la spirit of struggle, of cooperation and of sharing that we sustain.

We have an advantage now, and it’s that what before had to remain rhetoric, can now become real and we must take advantage of it and have the capacity to increase it; we must increase our ability to communicate our projects with the rest of the world, beginning with our country. This is why the decision that the EZ has made with the National Indigenous Congress to participate in the elections, and of doing it in the form in which it was introduced, knowing that the electoral processes have served exclusively for intervening in class struggles and the struggles of the peoples; now it’s entering, not to play that intervening role and not to occupy little public posts, but rather to create a space for ideological struggle that opens the conscience of many more Mexicans, of those who speak Native languages, which is how we can best define the Indian peoples, by their languages.

It proposes to us the problem of impeding the restoration, and for that the theoretician Durito told us something that is very important and it’s that one must bury capitalism face down so that if it wants to get out it gets in deeper and deeper and doesn’t come back. Gracias.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Friday, May 12, 2017

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee





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