What to do

Nuevo San nGregorio

By: Gustavo Esteva

And yes, it’s the old question. But the answers are entirely different.

As usual, Raúl Zibechi hits the nail on the head when describing the impotence of social movements or the so-called left faced with current predicaments. He rounds-off the tracks that he opened in two recent articles (La Jornada, 1/14/22 and 12/31/21).

What has been called the left has been losing its reason and meaning along the way. In the 1950s, it began to place development, instead of justice, as the reason and destiny for its existence. In order to “make the revolution,” whose form changes continuously, it remained attached to the obsession of “taking power,” which in practice simply meant assuming the reins of government.

Organized groups still exist that aspire to the original purpose: establishing socialism, although the very idea of a socialist society was modified to increasingly resemble capitalism and even the model that defined development: the United States. The evolution of the Soviet Union was framed this way. Cuba has shown for decades its satisfaction of a duty fulfilled, by having education and health systems that surpass US systems in various ways.

In the last three decades what still calls itself the left has been in a permanent crisis of orientation and character. In general, it has accommodated to the dominant system and the democratic game. “Taking power,” to its militants, means winning elections and occupying public positions. They feel especially satisfied if the rhetoric of the interests they serve has a progressive tone, although it may never state that it opposes patriarchy or capitalism.

That left has played a decisive role in the dismantling and liquidation of social movements. When it cannot use them for its own purposes, it excludes them and limits them as much as it can and frequently manages to divide them, according to a pattern that has always characterized it.

For those and other reasons, as Zibechi rightly points out, in practice it’s impossible that social movements and those who are still active in something that claims to be “on the left” are able to unify and even coordinate their actions, in order to confront the dominant system and the waves of horror that it has unleashed today. To place them into a framework, Zibechi refers to the State of the World Forum that took place in San Francisco in 1995. There, a political orientation of the elites was defined in relation to a new social class, which the Zapatistas called “the disposables:” [1] people who no longer have use to them. They see them as “surplus population,” which they can do without but need to subject and control. In the face of challenges like these, relatively new, the Leninist answers to what to do, the ones that expect a group of intellectuals to guide “the masses,” have lost all meaning and sustenance.

The hope of a new world is no longer emerging from the “left” or from the social movements, but rather of well-organized common people who for mere survival or old ideals have set themselves in motion and are busy –once again Zibechi– constructing territorial autonomies and their own systems of self-government.

When the Zapatistas finish their internal evaluation, they will surely make public the results of their Journey through Europe. From what was known during its realization, the purpose of listening to a multitude of groups of all classes and conditions that came to receive them with enthusiasm and commitment and created the conditions for intense exchanges, was amply fulfilled.

Time and again the growing distance of the people from all forms of respect for what is still called the “State” and the disillusion with all governments, from the broadest ideological spectrum. Everywhere they are reporting the dangerous emergence of fascist-leaning groups, which link their threats to those posed by climate collapse and generalized crisis.

Time and again the voices of women were heard exercising new forms of leadership, taking radical initiatives of enormous value and very clearly contributing to the construction of autonomy that is spreading. A discussion about government begins. Should we continue using that word for forms of organization in which there are no longer rulers and ruled, because the people themselves direct their lives?

We are faced with radical uncertainty. The collapses underway and the criminal irresponsibility of the elites, who intensify their efforts to dispossess and destroy everywhere, put even the survival of the human species at risk.

In a very real sense, we must return from the future. Instead of continuing to imagine utopias, which inevitably are projections of perceptions of the dying world, we need to creatively transform the present. Instead of trusting in messiahs or in liberating cataclysms, we must trust in the capacity that all of us have when we put our hands to work. That’s where we are.

[1] Subcomandante Marcos used the term “disposables” in his 1997 essay: “7 loose pieces of the global jigsaw puzzle.”


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Monday, January 24, 2022


Re-Published with English translation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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