The political economy of revolt  

000_9CH7LD… Indigenous people on a local bus in 2021 Cali, Colombia protests against tax increases. Photo: Al Jazeera

By: Raúl Zibechi

Oaxaca 2006, Quito 2019, Cali 2021. They are just some of the Latin American cities that experienced important revolts that lasted weeks and even months. When rebellion exceeds the brief times of insurrection and is installed holding on to spaces that insurgencies convert into territories of liberation, they compel questions.

How do the rebels sustain themselves, who at times make up important portions of the population? What do they do to reproduce their material life, from food to health, when economic life has been paralyzed?

In recent stays in Cali and Bogotá I was able to learn in detail how daily life is organized during the revolt, a period that lasted between 60 and 90 days, depending on the city. People didn’t go to their jobs or were not able to work in the informal economy because transportation and commerce were not functioning.

Activity to ensure survival had turned to protest, especially in the popular barrios. Neither exchanges nor productive activity were abandoned, they were redirected to feeding the revolt. The formal capitalist economy, both the one that pays wages and the so-called “informal” one, was disarticulated and its energies were turned toward resisting dispossession.

Those energies made it possible that thousands of people could live in solidarity for weeks and that their material and spiritual needs were covered, living in common. The 28 points of resistance that operated in Cali ensured food, health, care, culture and sports leisure.

Hundreds of community pots were installed with food donated by families and small businesses, in which many young people got three meals a day, something impossible in urban poverty. The five lines of defense, or also the first lines, divided the work: the most frontal set limits with shields against the anti-riot squads and the second supported the first.

The next lines took care of the injured and in some of the places they created spaces for first aid. The last line was made up of housewives who provided water with bicarbonate so that their sons and daughters could withstand the gases. There were times and spaces to play sports, to exhibit art and music, to paint murals and do street theater.

I found four central aspects that made possible the continuity of life during the revolt, which make up a “political economy of revolt” or of resistance. Strictly speaking, it should be said that it’s about the fact that material life is organized around the resistance and the defense of life.

The first aspect has to do with collective work that is present in all the activities, from the communal pots to self-defense. This work is the engine and support of the revolt. Without it there would not be the slightest chance of sustaining it for more than a few hours and it becomes the common sense of the revolt.

The second aspect is self-defense, which also occupies a central place, understood in a broader sense of community care collectives, which include the preservation of life, health, dignity and personal spaces.

The third aspect is the territories. The creation of “points of resistance” is a major fact, since they were at the same time spaces free of state repression, but also of collective protection and the creation of new social relations founded on use value, such as food, health care, arts and sports.

The fourth aspect is the prominent role of women and youth, which continues being a distinctive feature of the mobilizations of the popular sectors that are not present either in unionism or in the progressive parties.

In addition to these four features, I want to emphasize the anti-racism and anti-colonialism that were let loose from the mobilization of the black, indigenous and mestizo majorities –in a very particular way in the three cases mentioned at the beginning–, which are at the same time expressions of resistance to the predatory extractivism that characterizes current capitalism.

This “economy in struggle,” as Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés called it at the “Critical Thought versus the Capitalist Hydra” gathering, is based on collective work and on the diverse autonomies that currently exist, and could not exist without their own territories as the points of resistance were.

The popular sectors in the big cities, during the revolt put in common what they do in daily life: self-managing their lives because the capitalism of dispossession condemns them to marginality, death and a precarious survival.

I believe that it can be good time to reflect on these economies in struggle, of deepening their comprehension, their ways and concrete forms. Not to write some academic thesis, but rather for something more urgent and profound: to contribute to strengthening the resistances and separating the emancipatory practices from those that reproduce the oppressor system.


Originally Published in Spanish b y La Jornada, Friday, April 22,, Republished with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

One Comment on “The political economy of revolt  

  1. Pingback: Zibechi: the limits of protest as a form of struggle – The Free

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