By Raúl Zibechi
April 12, 2021
In a meeting with the National and International Caravan of Observation and Solidarity with the Zapatista Communities, held on August 2, 2008 in La Garrucha, Subcomandante Marcos explained how the Zapatistas perceive international encounters between movements, within the framework of La Sexta Internacional.
He said that it was a matter of a “meeting of rebellions” for the direct exchange of learning, not as a media opp but as a real exchange.
Since Zapatismo turns everything upside down, as we prepare for the tours, it is worthwhile to review its plebeian ways (this is how we refer to relationships between those at the bottom in my land) of establishing relationships and working.
Marcos recounted that during those months they received delegations from various parts of the world and that members of Vía Campesina were told: “A meeting between leaders means nothing to us, nor does any picture they could take of themselves. If the leadership of two movements don’t help the movements meet and get to know each other, those leaderships are useless”.
We are dealing with a political culture that is completely opposite to what is practiced, even by movements that claim to be anti-capitalist or revolutionary; and this is so unconventional that it deserves some explanation.
First of all, capitalist and patriarchal culture is not only hegemonic in society in general, but also in popular sectors, among black and native peoples and, therefore, also in movements and organizations. Recognizing it and preventing it from reproducing is a central task, since we cannot change the world using the ways of the system itself.
Secondly, in order to minimize the culture of capital in our movements, I am not saying eliminate because it is a very long process, it is necessary to start doing things differently, to avoid inertia, to discuss each and every practice and to do it openly, in dialogue, between those who are organized from below.
A typical feature of capitalist culture within movements consists in giving priority to leaders: men over women, the most experienced and recognized militants over the lesser known, those who express themselves better in the language used by the media displacing those who speak native languages.
In the system’s media there is a clear tendency to “recognize” and give voice to the leaders who express themselves the best, those who stand out for some reason that mirrors the dominant culture, often turning them into the favorites of journalists who always look for them and feel most comfortable with them. This is how the media, rather than the rank and file, ends up electing the leaders.
Popular education has taught us that culture from below has been colonized by capitalism and expresses itself in a complex and distorted way, with many traces of the dominant culture. However, the best features of black, native, land-based and popular cultures still persist. But it is necessary to do internal work, at the very heart of our communities, to winnow—separate the chaff from the wheat—the oppressive aspects of the liberators.
This cannot be done in a single assembly, nor should it be done only by the higher bodies of the organization and the leaders: it is a permanent task for all of us who belong to a collective.
As the EZLN points out, a photograph of leaders makes no sense and goes nowhere, it only occupies space in the media. The important thing is that the people who make up the movements get to meet, talk, learn from each other and exchange knowledge and experiences. This is easier to do in circles, around the campfire, where there is time to share, talk and listen without outside interference. But parties, soccer games and dances also work well for these purposes.
The public forms of movements are even more important than their programs and statements, because their message is more profound and they embody the world they are fighting for. Many speak out against capitalism and neoliberalism, but act in the opposite way. The coherence between what is said and what is done is an ethical question that, ultimately, is the north star that should guide all actions.
Published in Spanish by Desinformémonos on April 12, 2021. Translated into English by the Chiapas Support Committee.