(eng) mexico, civil society, neoliberalism [2/2]

transmis par counter@francenet.fr (Mneillft@aol.com)
Sat, 8 Jun 1996 12:34:22 +0200

believed) and that of peace in Chiapas following the January 1994 cease fire,
enabled the PRI to win.

Until December 1994, the upper middle income group had gained through
neoliberalism. But devaluation has hit them hardest. (In fact, once a week
the wives of the bourgeoisie -- not the biggest, though -- arrive in their
chauffer-driven cars to protest in front of Zedillo's office.) No one else
actually gained in 1994. The low-wage workers were bad off, still are, but
not yet worse off, though they will be.

Just as the unions are weak, so are the non-governmental organizations, the
social and civil organizations. The Convention started with a stong impetus,
but the left did not know what to do with the new experiences emerging from
the Zapatista uprising. Politically, there has been no advance.

I talked about conditions in the US. US capital is transnational and does not
care about US workers -- they go where profits can best be made and have no
national interests except as it serves profitability. In this sense, there is
no US capital. All forms of working class organization, from unions to social
organizations to left groups to churches (which mostly had been used in the
Black community) were in retreat, and there was now no social space or
organizations with strength to be a basis for organizing. Wages had been
falling steadily, from 2/3% - 1% per year since 1973. Wages were higher than
in Mexico, as were prices, but at least in Mexico there was a left and some
of it was in strong opposition to Zedillo, the PRI, the state and Mexico's
capitalists. This rap elicited general agreement, as well as surprise about
the situation in the US.

F., the math teacher, said that most important was how to understand Marxism
yet respond to real necessities of people, how to keep struggling in
movements while rethinking Marxism. Theory must be adapted to what is going

The EZLN opened ground, new space and ideas. They pushed the government to
the wall, now the government is striking out blindly.

The major impact of the Zapatistas was hope. The collapse of Soviet socialism
had produced a loss of hope that an alternative to capitalism was possible;
the EZLN has brought that back.

It is not so much the use of arms. More can be done without arms. One must
be imaginative, as are the EZLN.

The Zapatistas also brought out the Indian movement, revived it, led to new
compositions in that movement. Indians are no longer ashamed to be Indian.
(Several others expressed agreement, saying how important that point was.)

C. began by noting that he was optimistic. Since last year, new discussions
and re-thinking had spread. It was uneven and not deep enough and the deepest
problems were not yet addressed.

The most important point was the emergence of a revolutionary mass movement.
At its heads are the community organizations of the EZLN. There was the real
emergence of dual power in Chiapas. This makes it possible to talk about and
make revolution. It affects other organizations, especially peasants and
their organizations in Chiapas. It also affected regional organizations. And
it affects Trotskyists, Stalinists and urban movements, who are modifying.

In Oaxaca it affected even the electoral movement, as well as social
democratic projects in Tabasco, Michoacan and other states. The Zapatista
uprising could create the possibility to redirect theory that regular
political groups hold.

A revolutionary movement is needed to redo Marxism as revolutionary theory.
The movement makes us re-think problems of the left. It makes us think of new
kinds of organizations that articulate with the masses. It leads to
questioning vanguards. It poses not only the issue of the removal of the
government, but of how we organize our power within our class. It forces us
to rethink power and communism. We can therefore rethink all problems. How
do the masses start to wake up and organize themselves?

A new element has been introduced: how to think about culture. The issue of a
national project within a radical humanist project. This project takes off
from the poor. It means rethinking the cultural issues: what is proletarian
culture? Radical humanism stands against capitalist progress.

Taking a position with respect to human culture means looking at modernity
since the 18th century and doing two critiques: of Eurocentrism and of
capitalism. The Zapatistas have led us to question the national project, but
the EZLN is not critical enough of Western Civilization or of capitalism. It
has provided us with the space to critique them. It is also now a special
moment in the history of capitalism.

The EZLN reopens the question of who is the revolutionary subject and breaks
dogmatic ideas of who is the proletariat, who is the poor -- the precarious.
How to think about the poor, a structural fact of life in third world
nations. Who also is the "middle class." The EZLN opens up revolutionary
possibilities with them and the possibility of breaking with the Stalinist
tradition. A new strategy is needed.

Integrating the different class structures is possible only if we have new
ideas about what can be done with the poor. We need ways to get out of the
false traditions of globalization and return to working class and poor
peoples culture, putting Marx at the center.

A new proposal for communism is not just Mexican. This is starting to happen
with the EZLN and represents an exceptional opportunity. It is not just a
matter of hope -- the contradictions are deepening. From this we can start to
rethink a different leftist movement. Even with represssion, this kind of
movement can happen. We should not be pessimistic.

E. questioned, what about the left we have now? C. replied, the
contradictions won't be simply resolved, but the space is opening up.

I then explained some of what A. and I had been discussing. This clearly fit
well with their thinking.

After the meeting, B. and C. and I repaired to B.'s house for a delicious
lunch of fish, rice, mushrooms. I asked C., given the status of the left,
which he agreed was a problem, what were the forces that led to his optimism.

C. thought there are three areas or sources of movement. One is the emerging
discussions among intellectuals, acting mostly open but some clandestine

Second is among clandestine groups, mostly Marxist-Leninists, the left of the
Convention or the "ultras." They have an idea of a national liberation
movement. There is little new discusion, but it is beginning to happen as
more people realize they must rethink. In all groups there are people with
these views. But folks with these views are not interconnected. They won't
renounce M-L, but they may change toward "radical humanist" -- at the level
of practice, they are still Leninists, but their practice could change.

These people are dispersed all over the country. They are formed as
independent groups and movements across all sectors -- some worker groups,
even some in the most modern industries, the public sector, phone and auto,
though in those sectors they are isolated.

In many ways they are more radical than the EZLN, the third source. At first
the EZLN tried to connect with them; these people at first accepted the EZLN,
but now it is more difficult. Some things going on are not explicit and it is
hard to understand the strategy of the EZLN. Some say the EZLN are social

The EZLN utilizes some of these groups, but the EZLN has not been open enough
to negotiate with these groups. If there are increased attacks on the EZLN,
there may be more negotiations with these other groups. If the EZLN becomes a
legal political group, the other groups might combine into one group.

A new space is what the EZLN has created. Still, some people are locked into
old methods, Maoist or Sendero.

The big issue will be strategies of power, what to make socialism into. The
intellectuals would support dual power experiences such as Chiapas. The
second group, however, thinks they are dual power, but they have no
reflective capacity about dual power. They have an old, fixed model.

With the EZLN, it is less clear about dual power. Sometimes it seems they are
thinking about a new state, other times it seems like liberal democracy; or
maybe we don't understand them; or maybe the EZLN has not fully worked out
their thinking.

It is hard to know about the government in the rebel zones that developed
before the military occupation. There is an assembly structure for the
government, and the M-L groups are part of it. In the rebel territory, they
pay no taxes to the Mexican government. In these areas, there are two forces,
the EZLN and the sector of social organizations and left groups. Most people
in these organizations are Leninist, but they are doing new things and having
new discussions. If the Zapatistas refers to the whole movement, as some use
the term, then behind them are the EZLN, headed by the CCRI, and the other
political groups.

C. and I took the metro toward the zocalo. At one stop a procession headed
toward the demonstration was alongside us, so we got out. We walked the 3-4
subway stop distance, passing probably 2000 marchers: men, women, babies,
teenagers, elderly people, the colonias, the working poor of Mexico City.
They were all from the same group, the Frente Popular Francisco Villa. They
are, said C., one of the groups he was talking about, with a Leninist
orientation. I had had a hard time conceptualizing a Leninist group that was
something other than a small sect, and it helped me understand who he was
talking about to see the FPFV, thousands strong and marching to the Zocalo.

February 16, Final talks.

A. and I talk some more. He emphasized that the military intervention was
intended to overrun the zone of autonomy, the rebel government, its laws --
which as regards land, relations between women and men, and other things,
were new and different -- and its social power. He thought the civil
structures would reform in the forest, but under very much worse conditions
and perhaps in ways limited by the war. The autonomous zones were possible
because of the military action of the EZLN, but the non-intervention of the
Mexican government allowed the civil organization, new government, laws, etc.
to flourish there and more widely in Chiapas. Many leftists, A. said in
agreement with the folks at the meeting in the morning, are beginning to
rethink socialism, etc.

A. believes that working within a national perspective cannot succeed. The
EZLN has understood globalization better than anyone. They have bridged an
Indian revolt in an "unnamed state is southeast Mexico" with a growing model
of development that is global. They did so from an armed movement, but other
armed movements have remained national, such as the Palestinians,
Salvadorans, IRA, ETA. National limitations are a real problem. It is not
just the EZLN speech, but also their practice -- such as in launching the
attack on the day NAFTA went into effect and in their use of the world media.

The EZLN proposes a way to counteract the global model by saying, create
areas of autonomy. The Mexican government can't allow autonomy. Actually, the
University is officially an autonomous area. Neoliberalism, said A., is a
totalitarian ideology. But, with fax and phone, the Zapatistas created an
autonomous zone in Chiapas. It shows you can create areas of autonomy within
the global capitalist economy.

This authonomy needs to be evaluated. It was created by force of arms. Now
there need to be autonomous spaces of production and consumption, and in the
universities. It can link Indians in Canada, consumers in the US. The idea
of creating a socialist bloc in opposition to a capitalist bloc did not work.
Now the area of autonomy as a productive guerilla space. This approach needs
to be evaluated and analyzed.

The leftists who reflects on emerging alternativist activity tends to dismiss
autonomous production, cooperatives and so on. But they need to be more
seriously evaluated.

How was civil society developed in the autonomous areas in Chiapas? Is the
CCRI really democratic? Did they really discuss and vote on the Mexican
government's proposal? I think they did, adds A. but we don't know much
about how the rebel areas really developed.

[B. later reminded me that autonomy is an Indian project also, taking various
forms across Mexico. The Chiapas rebel government is supported by these
projects for territorial autonomy, but it not synonymous with autonomy.
Again the complexity of many groups, projects and demands rooted in a long
history of struggles, including previous indigenous rebellions in Chiapas and
elsewhere in Mexico.]

I am reminded of a few things. One is the work of p.m., from bolo-bolo, on
the creation of autonomous zones in very different circumstances,
Switzerland. Looking in detail at how they really operate is essential. There
is, after all, a history of "liberated zones" in, for example, Maoism. So the
content in the form must be considered. The EZLN, I think, sees itself as
creating more than temporary autonomous zones; they see themselves as
initiating a new society. They hang on to social democratic forms -- why, for
example, demand US-level wages, why retain the money form? -- but then I
don't know the particulars of Chiapas within which the EZLN is working.

It is one thing to begin to develop autonomous political space or temporary
small autonomous zones for living. But anything larger raises the questions
of socialism and communism that certainly have not gone away, and therefore
raises questions of class and class projects, seizing power and the use of
power. Capitalism requires labor power and is not going to peacefully allow
large numbers of workers to withdraw permanently from the labor market and
live outside of capitalism. If they were, they would not bother with the
vicious attacks on rights to land and subsistence the World Bank and IMF
continue to launch across Latin America, Africa and Asia.

It has been a fantastic week, powerful especially to one so used to a
non-existent left movement. Though I don't see how I can be of any real help
to the Mexican people if I stay in Mexico, I don't want to leave.

For the Mexican working class to win in the extremely difficult circumstances
of Mexico and world neoliberalism will be near miraculous, but not
impossible. It may require that Mexico once again, as in 1910, be a harbinger
of a world cycle of struggles that can push capital back. If so, then the
Mexican working people could accomplish a lot. They cannot do it alone.

In January 1994, in Mexico and the US, the Zapatista uprising seemed it might
open a global offensive against the IMF and world capital. It has seemed
stalled at times since then, but the crisis has deepened, not abated, in all
areas. Hope remains and the struggle promotes intense thought and rapid
learning. I hope that I have learned and that these notes will aid a
circulation of knowledge that will help the companeros in Mexico. Viva

Monty Neill
P.O. Box 204
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130 USA

mneillft@aol. com

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