Thinking and acting from heterogeneities

Zapatista women. Photo: Tim Russo

By: Raúl Zibechi

La homogeneity of collective subjects was nothing more than an impossible dream of critical thought, which today is questioned by reality. The effort to standardize the popular field led to the politics of unity that ran through unions, diverse social organizations and the party, because was thought to be key to the conquest of the State.

From his earliest works, such as the Communist Manifesto (1848), Marx worked on the idea that society would divide more and more into two opposing camps and that each one would be homogenous, because they would defend common interests that prevailed over “secondary contradictions,” as Mao baptized them.

Marx considered that “the conditions of existence of the proletarians are becoming more and more equal,” due to the industrial development that plunges them into poverty, but he also believed that “only the proletariat is a truly revolutionary class.” The rest tend to disappear or are reactionary, as he thought the peasantry was.

But if these ideas were unjust, less so would be the application of certain “principles” derived from them in political action.

They thus appeared “unique” centrals, as the CUT of Brazil and Chile, among others, and even the “unique” campesino central of Bolivia, the CSUTCB. There are hundreds of “unique unions” per branch, each of which embodies “unity.”

These concepts of unity and unique embody an express will to exclude and flatten the diverse, everything that is not subordinate to a strategy that needs homogeneous collective subjects. Because it is assumed that the unity carved out of homogeneity permits powerful subjects to exist, who are capable of taking power and imposing the hegemony of the revolutionary camp.

Then happens what happens: it hides a leadership that represents unity and ends up usurping the role of the popular sectors that it claims to represent. Until that bud from above becomes a new dominant class, or however you want to call the likes of Putin, Ortega and Xi, who govern commanding.

In the 1970s, and until recently, the defenders of unity accused feminists of dividing the left and the unions, and that their demands would materialize when they (the male leaders) came to power. The same thing was said to the native peoples and blacks. Aimé Césaire’s letter to a Maurice Thorez resigning from the French Communist Party (1956) is one of the most brilliant pieces of denunciation of that policy (

What’s certain, and what’s hopeful, is that ever since other collective subjects such as indigenous peoples and women have started to emerge, things have started to change and there is no longer so much talk of homogeneity and unity. But new problems have emerged.

Resisting and struggling in heterogeneity has led collectives and individuals to defend limited and narrow issues, ignoring common problems. Anchoring oneself in the defense of oppressions that are suffered, but also struggling against capitalism, patriarchy and colonialism, is not usual in these times.

In that way, power has learned to co-opt adopting a sustainable green veneer, claiming to support women, sexual dissidences, indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants. Iy has been the way to enlarge its social base by incorporating the elites of the movements, but laying a political siege against the anti-capitalists, accusing them of being radicals.

In reality power plays their game. The problem, as almost always, is in our camp. We can only come out ahead if we feel that all the oppressions question us, that we must support all the resistances, beyond the geography of each one, of the attractiveness of this or that speech or leader.

As León Felipe said: “Let us never sing the life of the same town / nor the flower of a single orchard / May all the towns and all the orchards be ours.”

A central theme is how to relate among different people and collectives, among the heterogeneities that resist. Here, the words unique and unity get in the way. The native peoples of Brazil created an “articulation,” the APIB. The Nasa of the Colombian Cauca created a “regional council,” the CRIC. There is the Indigenous Governing Council as an example of a similar proposal.

Others have created coordinating bodies, plenaries and the most diverse forms with the intention of including differences, encouraging their expression in a rainbow in which all the colors coexist without one being imposed on the rest. To embrace all peoples, all oppressions and resistances, neither vanguards nor principal and secondary contradictions have value.

Constructing in heterogeneity, respecting the times and ways of walking of each one who, as the Zapatistas propose, is an unfinished learning process, always incomplete, which requires us to be willing to continue learning and to continue letting go of individual and collective egos.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Friday, June 17, 2022, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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