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(en) Ireland, Red and Black Revolution* #10, The Zapatistas: A New Strategy in Mexico by Andrew Flood

Date Thu, 17 Nov 2005 17:16:45 +0200


Anarchist analysis of the repercussions of the news from Chiapas
Over the summer the Zapatistas announced a new strategy but what
was it and what does it mean? On the global level the the rebellion in
Chiapas was both an inspiration and organisational model for new a
generations of anti-capitalist activists. Because of this the change in
direction will have repercussions that stretch far beyond Mexico
> Zapatistas: A New Strategy
Over the summer the Zapatistas surprised their supporters by
suddenly declaring a Red Alert out of the blue. After a couple of days
of near panic it emerged that this was just because they were
undergoing a consulta (a discussion and referendum) which would
decide on a new path for the movement. This new path is to once
more turn outwards and to aim to build a new alliance across Mexico
and beyond.

At the time I was drafting an article for Red and Black Revolution
which looked at how the Zapatistas had been in a long inward looking
phase which required many local compromises with the Mexican
state. I was interested in the self-management structures they had
built in this period but also the nature of the compromises and in
particular the question of dual power. That is the question of how long
a situation could exist where you had Zapatista structures of
self-management on the one hand and the Mexico state on the other
as opposed mechanisms that both tried to decide what life in Chiapas
could be like.

The traditional leftist understanding is that situations of dual power
cannot be indefinite - yet it appeared that the Zapatistas were
attempting to do just this. Then the Red Alert and the communiques
which followed made all my speculations irrelevant as they clearly
brought this period to an end.
The years 2001-2004

The process by which the Zapatistas have spent most of the period
from 2001 to mid 2005 building up self-management started when the
Zapatistas realised they faced an all party coalition determined not to
allow through the new indigenous laws contained in the San Andres
peace accords. They date this to April 2001 when "the politicians from
the PRI, PAN and PRD approved a law that was no good, they killed
dialogue once and for all, and they clearly stated that it did not matter
what they had agreed to and signed, because they did not keep their
word".

After the usual long period of silence which indicates a lot of internal
discussion the Zapatista's announced that the Auguscalantes where
the big external meetings were once held were becoming Caracols or
the centres of Zapatista internal organization as well as contact points
with the Zapatistas for the outside world. These were to be the centres
of the Juntas of Good Government (although in English junta is often
assumed to mean dictatorship in fact it means something like council).

What exactly this meant was not all that clear until on the 15th of
August 2004 the EZLN released a set of 8 communiques, most of
which fleshed out in a huge amount of detail just what the Zapatistas
were up to in this period. In many ways these are among the most
important documents of the rebellion and it is worth taking the time to
read them in detail.
Self-management in Chiapas

From these documents we learn that the "good government juntas"
follow the libertarian structures established by the other layers of
Zapatista self-management. By far the most provoking aspect is that
the actual people who make up each junta are rotated in an incredibly
rapid fashion. According to Marcos these rotations are from every
"eight to 15 days (according to the region)". The delegates are
themselves drawn from the members of the Autonomous Council
(AC) and because these are rotated in turn (over a longer period which
seems to be a year) this means that by the time everyone on an AC
has been on the junta a new AC is created and so all these new people
must in turn learn the ropes.

As might be imagined this is driving those who work with the
Zapatistas nuts because it means every time you go to a 'good
government junta' you are dealing with different people. This is by
design and it is worth quoting Marcos at length as to why this is so

"If this is analysed in depth, it will be seen that it is a process where
entire villages are learning to govern.

"The advantages? Fine, one of them is that it's more difficult for an
authority to go too far and, by arguing how "complicated" the task of
governing is, to not keep the communities informed about the use of
resources or decision making. The more people who know what it's all
about, the more difficult it will be to deceive and to lie. And the
governed will exercise more vigilance over those who govern.

"It also makes corruption more difficult. If you manage to corrupt
one member of the JBG, you will have to corrupt all the autonomous
authorities, or all the rotations, because doing a "deal" with just one of
them won't guarantee anything (corruption also requires "continuity").
Just when you have corrupted all the councils, you'll have to start over
again, because by then there will have been a change in the
authorities, and the one you "arranged" won't work any longer. And so
you'll have to corrupt virtually all the adult residents of the Zapatista
communities. Although, obviously, it's likely that once you've
achieved that, the children will have already grown up and then, once
again"

I think the logic here is quite recognisable to anarchists and needs no
further explanation. The August 2004 communiques also explored the
limitations of what had been achieved - notably the failure to involve
women as equals in the decision making structures at the base of the
organisation and the tendency of the military side of the organisation
to try and make decisions for the communities.
The new turn of 2005

The new turn of the Zapatistas makes no signifi cant difference to the
basics of the self-management structure sketched above. The
communiques which announced it did add more details to what had
been happening and the steps taken to address some of the problems
identified.

But fundamentally they recognised that "we have reached a point
where we cannot go any further, and, in addition, it is possible that we
could lose everything we have if we remain as we are and do nothing
more in order to move forward. The hour has come to take a risk once
again and to take a step which is dangerous but which is worthwhile."

The 6th Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle is interesting because it
also sees the Zapatistas publically put forward an explicit and general
anti-capitalist line for the first time. Previously there was an
anti-capitalist logic underlying their opposition to neo-liberalism but
here for the first time they distinguish between neoliberalism simply
being a bad phase of capitalism and capitalism in itself being bad.

The section 'How we see the world' includes a long section on how
capitalism works "capitalism means that there are a few who have
great wealth, but they did not win a prize, or fi nd a treasure, or inherit
from a parent. They obtained that wealth, rather, by exploiting the
work of the many. So capitalism is based on the exploitation of the
workers, which means they exploit the workers and take out all the
profi ts they can. This is done unjustly, because they do not pay the
worker what his work is worth. Instead they give him a salary that
barely allows him to eat a little and to rest for a bit, and the next day he
goes back to work in exploitation, whether in the countryside or in the
cities".
Alliance with the left

This sets the basis for an unacknowledged change in who the EZLN
are seeking an alliance with. In the past this was all progressive forces
('civil society'), now it is "with persons and organisations just of the
left". Previously outside of Chiapas the EZLN appeared to advocate
that the first step was a democratic (but capitalist) state and that the
struggle for this included 'progressive' sections of Mexican business in
the fight for democratic reform.

Now the declaration says "we are going to go about building, … a
national program of struggle, but a program which will be clearly of
the left, or anti-capitalist, or anti- neoliberal, or for justice, democracy
and liberty for the Mexican people". In concrete form "the EZLN will
establish a policy of alliances with non-electoral organizations and
movements which defi ne themselves, in theory and practice, as being
of the left, in accordance with the following conditions:

* Not to make agreements from above to be imposed below, but to
make accords to go together to listen and to organise outrage.
* Not to raise movements which are later negotiated behind the
backs of those who made them, but to always take into account the
opinions of those participating.
* Not to seek gifts, positions, advantages, public positions, from the
Power or those who aspire to it, but to go beyond the election
calendar.
* Not to try to resolve from above the problems of our nation, but to
build FROM BELOW AND FOR BELOW an alternative to neoliberal
destruction, an alternative of the left for Mexico.
* Yes to reciprocal respect for the autonomy and independence of
organisations, for their methods of struggle, for their ways of
organising, for their internal decision making processes, for their
legitimate representations.
* And yes to a clear commitment for joint and coordinated defense
of national sovereignty, with intransigent opposition to privatisation
attempts of electricity, oil, water and natural resources."

The declaration also makes it clear that the EZLN is not talking about
a return to armed struggle but "a struggle in order to demand that we
make a new Constitution, new laws which take into account the
demands of the Mexican people, which are: housing, land, work, food,
health, education, information, culture, independence, democracy,
justice, liberty and peace. A new Constitution which recognises the
rights and liberties of the people, and which defends the weak in the
face of the powerful."

In all this the 6th declaration does not represent a return to the
strategy of the 1994-2001 period - a strategy which limited itself to
democratic demands and the opening up of a political space. This
strategy meant that while the practical organisation of the Zapatistas
was a useful model for anarchists of self-management in practice,
their actual declared goals always seemed quite naive - a demand for a
nicer capitalism in an age when neoliberalism ensured any such
experiments would be isolated and impoverished.

So it can be seen that the 6th declaration represents quite a step
forward in the political program advocated by the Zapatistas. But why
or how did these changes occur. Is this merely the old core leadership
of leftists that went into the mountains in the 1980's shifting a step
along the path they always intended to follow. Or does it refl ect a
genuine development of analysis at the base of the movement. Or
more realistically a transformation at the base driven by the old
leftists?
Learning from struggle

This question is addressed in another long communique released in
the weeks after the 6th declaration called 'A Penguin in the Selva
Lacandona'. Much of this is taken up with the story about the Penguin
and dealing with criticisms from Mexican social democrats but a long
section also asked the reader to imagine the infl uence of the rebellion,
and everything that went with it, on the children who have grown up
during it. "What happens with that girl-
then-adolescent-then-young-woman after having seen and heard "the
civil societies" for 12 years, bringing not only projects, but also
histories and experiences from diverse parts of Mexico and the
World?" "We told you in the Sixth Declaration that new generations
have entered into the s truggle. And they are not only new, they also
have other experiences, other histories. We did not tell you in the
Sixth, but I'm telling you now: they are better than us, the ones who
started the EZLN and began the uprising. They see further, their step
is more firm, they are more open, they are better prepared, they are
more intelligent, more determined, more aware.

What the Sixth presents is not an "imported" product, written by a
group of wise men in a sterile laboratory and then introduced into a
social group. The Sixth comes out of what we are now and of where
we are."

The suggestion clearly is that the process of rebellion and solidarity
shown with the rebellion has been a political education for all those
growing up during it. And that this is why the Zapatistas have moved
towards a more explicit anti-capitalist position. Only time can reveal
the accuracy of this claim but there is no reason for dismissing it out
of hand.

At the time of writing the work to build the 'National Campaign with
Another Politics' is well underway with the first of a series of
meetings, the one for 'Political Organisations of the Left' having just
taken place. The Mexican anarchist groups, including 'Alianza de los
Comunistas Libertarios', were taking part in this. The ACL had
circulated a detailed discussion of the 6th declaration that questioned
the aim of writing a new constitution. They pointed out not only that
the fine words found in constitutions are frequently meaningless in
reality but more importantly a constitution implied the existence of a
government to implement it. In other words the state would continue
to exist and the state is the negation of the social revolution.
Contradictions remain

So if the 6th declaration represents a very significant shift in Zapatista
politics to anti-capitalism it also still contains many of the
contradictions between their local organisational methods which are
based on self-management and what they appear to advocate at the
national level. The opposition to electoral politics has significantly
hardened with the 6th declaration but still appears as a critique of all
the existing electoral parties rather than of electoralism as a strategy in
itself. The confusion between an anti-imperialist opposition to US
domination and support for nationalism whether in Cuba, Mexico or
Venezula also remains.

How meaningful is it to talk of "our leaders are destroying our nation"
because "they are only concerned with the well being of capitalists"
when this is the natural order of capitalism, not just in Mexico now
but throughout the world and throughout the history of the capitalist
period. There have always been those on the left - including James
Connolly in Ireland - who tried to redefine the nation so as to exclude
the capitalist class. But are such semantic word games not simply
building on sand - and facilitating the creation of a future 'history'
where radical movements can be drained of their meaning by draping
them in the national flag?

None of these criticisms are new but they will provide the excuse
needed for those council communists and others who have sat on their
hands for the last 12 years waiting for the Zapatista rebellion to turn
authoritarian to sit on their hands for the next dozen. The challenge of
the Zapatista movement for anarchists has been how to have real
solidarity with a movement that contains such ambiguities. And how
to learn what there is to learn - and tell others - without becoming
unthinking cheer leaders.
The global anti-capitalist movement

On the global level the significance of the rebellion in Chiapas has
been the inspiration and organisational model it provided for new
generations of anti-capitalist activists. Because of this the change in
direction will have repercussions that stretch far beyond Mexico. The
Zapatistas are also aware of this which is why the 6th declaration
starts off by talking of forging a new relationship of respect and
support with those struggling against neo-liberalism around the globe.
This is to include sending aid - even to those in struggle Europe -
although the communique makes clear that they are well aware that
the relative poverty means this can only be symbolic.

But importantly it also announces the intention to organise a 3rd
intercontinental encuentro at the end of this year or the start of the
next. The previous two, held in Chiapas in 1996 and the Spanish state
in 1997 played an important role in the emergence of the summit
protest movement by bringing activists from around the globe into
contact with each other. Those of us who met in Chiapas or Madrid
would later meet on the streets of Seattle, Prague and Genoa. This
encounter could help us take the next step.

From Red & Black Revolution 10 - 2005 - online soon
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