The urgency of educating (ourselves) in self-defense  


By: Raúl Zibechi

When the system has become death. When capitalism is synonymous with risk to life, environment and peoples. When the great works to accumulate capital go hand in hand with femicides and genocides, we should stop to think about how to stop this system to defend life.

Even those of us who have known for a long time that capitalism is sliding down the slope of war against the peoples, permanent undeclared wars, have difficulty finding ways to act collectively to be able to prevent the madness that it intends to make mere merchandise of life.

In the first place, we rule out symmetries. Opposing war after war is not a good path, because those who put up the deaths are always the same: native peoples and blacks, women and young people of all skin colors, campesinos, workers and the entire range of those below. The recent experience of Latin American wars, I’m referring to so-called revolutionary wars, should convince us that symmetry is a bad path.

But we also reject the silence and pacifism of turning the other cheek, both functional (just like war) to the genocidal and femicidal system. Because capitalism isn’t going to fall alone, by natural death or because of the supposed “laws” of the economy, of history or whatever. The system must be brought down. The issue is “how.”

A first step is collective self-defense, which first involves being organized. There are many ways and means of defending ourselves, as the Latin American peoples teach, the ones who have created the most diverse forms of self-defense to protect themselves from paramilitary groups, police and the armed forces, but also from big mining companies.

History has taught us badly. Or we learned it wrong and we must recuperate it. I recently learned that the early 20th century English suffragettes had self-defense groups, thanks to the work of the French feminist Elsa Dorlin. [1]

Part of the movement, which refused to resort to the law because of considering the State as the main instigator of inequalities, took courses in jiu-jitsu (a defensive art with a stick). Collective self- defense, Dorlin argues, “politicizes bodies, without mediation, without delegation, without representation” (p. 112).

In a recent interview, Dorlin emphasizes something related to self-defense that was useful both to the French “yellow vests” and to the young people of Cali, with whom I was able to share training spaces these days: a turning point is reached when power disregards the lives of certain people. It’s about the lives that understood that: “they are no longer worth anything and that they can burst in the midst of silence and indifference if they don’t rise up” (

Wide sectors of the population need to defend themselves collectively, because they don’t have either power or capital. We can name them in many ways: those from below, disposables, inhabitants of the zone of non-being, surplus population; that portion of humanity that only exists when it rebels.

It’s worth remembering the recent assertion of the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, about the Palestinians: “If they don’t utilize violence, the entire world will forget about them” (

Not all self-defense, he points out, exercises violence, but that depends on collective decisions. It especially seeks to assure collective survival, for which it’s essential to stop accumulation by dispossession/fourth world war against the peoples: mega-mining, monocultures, mega-infrastructure works and urban real estate speculation. In sum, all the ways that do business with life.

Self-defense, or common care, has a self-educational dimension for its members and for the towns and barrios that have decided to defend themselves. The system has mutated, to the point that it is capable of converting the most intimate emotions into merchandise. [2] Participating in collective self-defense should help us deal with these new modes of accumulation by dispossession.

The new generation of young Zapatistas attempt to use the Internet in a different sense than that designed by the system. With that I intend to insinuate that the self-defense groups work both in material defense, placing limits on the violent, and in subjectivities, unlearning the ways of consuming taxes with much more subtle ways of violence, but that equally dispossess us of our feelings and identities.

Finally, self-defense is an art of life in the midst of a system of death. A way to walk dodging obstacles, teaching us to continue being peoples and human beings. Not to conquer something like power, but rather simply to continue walking as the lives that we are.

[1] Autodefensa. Una filosofía de la violencia, Txalaparta, 2019.

[2] Eva Illouz (comp.) Capitalismo, consumo y autenticidad. Las emociones como mercancía, Madrid, Katz, 2019.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Friday, April 8, 2022,

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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