Water is Life!
By: Raúl Zibechi
In hegemonic political culture, notions about triumphs and failures, victories and defeats, usually allude to very specific situations, generally linked to the final objectives of the actors in play.
The concept of victory applies to the wide range that goes from electoral triumph to taking power as a result of an uprising or a people’s war, as happened in 1979 in Nicaragua, and before in many other countries. However, on many occasions, victories are celebrated, let’s say tactical or punctual, when certain laws are approved or important difficulties are overcome.
Defeats, on the other hand, enjoy such a bad reputation, that they are rarely assumed by those responsible for them, who, on the contrary, tend to attribute them to external factors outside their control.
The electoral defeat of the Sandinista Front in 1990, to continue with the same example, was so brutal that it paralyzed its actors rather than bringing about a deep reflection on its reasons. The triumph of the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 can be read in the same way, which in many analyses is usually attributed to the “betrayal” of then President Boris Yeltsin.
At this moment, it’s not the trajectory of Sandinismo or other victories/defeats that move me to write these lines, but rather something much more recent and, I believe, transcendent: the eviction of the House of the Peoples, Altepelmecalli, in Puebla, by the National Guard and the state police to hand it over to the multinational Bonafont/Danone.
If we are guided by the current political culture, we are facing a clear defeat for the 22 communities and the Pueblos Unidos organization that promoted the plant’s recuperation, and a victory for the federal and state governments. To the contrary, the plant’s closure, on March 22, 2021, International Water Day, should have been considered a victory.
I think that things are completely different. I propose to stop using arguments and concepts that, being adequate for reflecting on inter-state conflicts, or for those whose objective is to occupy the State, are not at all suitable for addressing the resistances of social movements and the peoples in movement.
What would victory be for a native people? And defeat? It’s evident that they are not related to what the system’s politicians and even their followers celebrate, or lament.
The objectives of the peoples have no basic relationship to “external” agendas, whether it be to electoral calendars, revolts to. take power or to bring someone down from power, but rather to what’s most “internal” and profound to a people: their survival as such, the persistence of what makes them continue being peoples. In other words, the difference from the hegemonic culture and modes, or from above.
The great defeat of a people would be its disappearance as a people, the loss of territories, language, ways of life and of relating among its members and with its surroundings. Of course, they need to stop the infrastructure works underway and put limits on looting. But they don’t do it to get greater visibility in the media of above or more negotiating power, but rather because the extractive economy of looting puts them at risk as peoples.
I want to insist that the ways of approaching the resistances of the native peoples, and those below who resist, imply setting aside hegemonic culture (media, bossism, colonial and patriarchal) to comprehend the reasons for and objectives of each action. The great “victory” of the closure of the Bonafont well was that the campesinos’ wells filled up again with water and that that space of death became a space of life for all those who want to stop the dispossession.
Rather than victories or defeats we can talk about steps forward, steps to the side, or setbacks, in the long walk of the peoples about themselves. The resistance of Nahua peoples of the Cholulteca region, has decades in its current phase and centuries if we follow its long-term trail.
Other yardsticks are needed to measure the advances or setbacks of those below: how is the organization, how are the hearts and the state of mind; how many women and girls participate in the activities; do they continue being different because they respect their ways or do they begin to lean on the commercial and open their territories to the logic of capital?
These are some of the aspects that allow them to continue walking, for as long as necessary.
In hegemonic politics, it’s about walking in a more or less straight line towards an objective, sometimes going through enormous sacrifices, to start to rest (so you imagine) when you come to power.
In the logic of the peoples, as Old Antonio already taught us, we walk around and never stop walking, because resisting and struggling is not a “means to,” but rather the way of life chosen to continue being.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Friday, February 25, 2022: https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/02/25/opinion/016a1pol
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee