To gaze without seeing, to think without feeling: the limits of eurocentrism

The EZLN marches against the war in Ukraine and all capitalist wars.

By: Raúl Zibechi

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the consequent war between powers is having profound effects on critical thinking and movements, but in a divergent way in the North and in Latin America: differences and distances are deepening in the ways of conceiving and practicing anti-capitalist transformations, as well as ways of thinking about reality.

In the history of critical thought, war and revolution have been intertwined, to such an extent that it’s almost impossible not to relate the second to the first. Maurizio Lazzarato’s recent book, War or Revolution. Because peace is not an alternative (Tinta Limón, 2022), recovers the concept of war that, in his opinion, had been “expelled” by critical thinking in the last 50 years.

The core of his work returns to Lenin’s 1914 proposal, in the sense of “transforming the imperialist war between peoples into a civil war of the oppressed classes against their oppressors. “He argues that the great problem has been, in parallel, the abandonment of the concept of class, as well as that of war and revolution. And he assures that the current situation is very similar to that of 1914.

This is a first and decisive difference: on this continent, war is present and cannot be hidden, in particular against indigenous and black peoples, peasants and inhabitants of the urban peripheries. The “wars on drugs” and the appropriation of territories for extractivism are just the latest version of a centuries-long war against the peoples.

However, the central aspect to highlight is something different. The peoples are facing asymmetrical wars against them, not because they are pacifists, but because a long experience of five centuries convinced them that to survive as peoples they must take other paths.

Autonomy Is Life | Submission Is Death

Zapatismo has managed to break the ties that existed between revolution and war and, in the same process, has eliminated its statist adhesions from revolution, to leave its nucleus intact: recovery of the means of production and exchange, creation of new social relations and non-state powers. Autonomies are the way, both to resist the war of dispossession and to affirm themselves as self-governing peoples.

It’s true that the European and also the Latin American lefts have been left without politics, without concrete proposals in the face of war. But the peoples of this continent, experts in surviving the wars of dispossession, are taking unprecedented paths, as do the Mapuche, the Nasa and Misak, the dozens of Amazonian peoples and the black and peasant peoples to face this war. They begin to place autonomy at the center of their constructions and reflections, something that apparently escapes intellectuals on both sides of the ocean.

An additional example of this Eurocentrism that pretends to speak for oppressed peoples, is when Lazzarato points out that “the great merit of the Russian revolution was to open the way to the revolution of oppressed peoples.” He forgets nothing less than the Mexican Revolution and the first Chinese revolution. The deepest processes are born in the peripheries and much later expand towards the center.

It’s not true that during the First World War, “the clearest position in relation to war remains the revolutionary socialist position.” It was very valuable at the time, for the working classes of Russia and Europe. It failed in China, where the communists took very different paths, creating red bases liberated by the peasant army, a process followed by other peoples in the south.

Euro-centrists believe they understand what’s happening in Latin America and consider our struggles as “laboratories” that would confirm their reflections. Some of them feel “theoretically disarmed” in the face of war, but they do not want to learn from the experiences of peoples who have survived five centuries of massacres and exterminations. They only attend to the theoretical production of the academies and the lefts that are referenced in the nation-states, that is, to the coloniality of power.

Stop the attacks on the Zapatista Peoples | Paramilitaries out of Chiapas!

To me it seems necessary to reflect on how the peoples with Maya roots, who are organized in the EZLN, have disarticulated the revolution-war marriage, which did so much damage to us in the immediate past, and obtained such bad results.

It’s no longer possible to ignore those who were exterminated in the Central American wars, and how the vanguards repositioned themselves in legality, abandoning the peoples they used (yes, used) for their “revolutionary war.”

The decision to deploy peaceful civil resistance to confront the Mexican State’s asymmetric war and extermination is a strategic determination, but it doesn’t have the slightest relationship to pacifism. If I have understood anything about Zapatismo, is that it’s a reading from below, from the peoples, of the challenges that the system is throwing at us.

Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Friday, December 16, 2022, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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Join the Chiapas Support Committee on Thursday, December 22, 12:00-2:00pm, in front of the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco, to denounce the capitalist and paramilitary violence and to express solidarity with the struggles of the Zapatista and Indigenous peoples. Details here.

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