A - I n f o s
a multi-lingual news service by, for, and about anarchists **

News in all languages
Last 30 posts (Homepage) Last two weeks' posts

The last 100 posts, according to language
Castellano_ Català_ Deutsch_ English_ Français_ Italiano_ Polski_ Português_ Russkyi_ Suomi_ Svenska_ Türkçe_ All_other_languages _The.Supplement
{Info on A-Infos}

(en) The Commoner #6 - Is the Zapatista Struggle an Anti-Capitalist Struggle? by John Holloway

From <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 25 Jan 2003 10:01:12 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

 The march of the zapatistas is the march of dignity. Not 
was: is. And not just of the indigenous, but of all. 

Dignity is a march. "It is and it is to be made, a path to 
walk" (Words of the EZLN, 27th February 2001, in 
Puebla). It is a ?hard, endangered journey, a suffering, a 
wandering, a going astray, a searching for the hidden 
homeland, full of tragic interruption, boiling, bursting 
with leaps, eruptions, lonely promises, discontinuously 
laden with the consciousness of light?. (Bloch 1964, Vol. 
2, p. 29) 

Dignity does not march on a straight highway. The path 
to be walked is many paths which are made in the 
process of walking: paths which resist definition. More 
than a march, it is a walking, a wandering. 

A walking, but not simply a strolling. Dignity is always a 
walking-against. Against all that denies dignity. 

What is it that denies dignity? All that imposes a mask 
upon us and imprisons us within the mask. The world 
without dignity says to us "you are indigenous, so that is 
what you can do"; "you are a woman, that is why you do 
what you do"; "you are homosexual, that is why you 
behave in this manner"; "you are old and we know what 
old people are like". The world without dignity encloses 
us within a definition. It says to us "your walking comes 
so far, you cannot go farther". And it says to us "you 
must walk on the highway, not just wherever you want". 
The world without dignity limits us, defines us, but it 
does not define us externally but with a definition that 
penetrates our very existence. 

But where does this imposition of masks come from? Is 
it racism? Is it sexism? Is it homophobia? It is all that. 
But it is more than that. All of us are forced to wear 
masks. All of us are trapped in linear, homogeneous 
time, time that leads only forward, in a straight line, 
time that denies our creativity, our ability to 
do-otherwise. It is not only the indigenous but all of us 
who are forced to see the same film every day: "We want 
life to be like a cinema programme from which we can 
choose a different film every day. Now we have risen in 
arms because, for more than five hundred years, they 
have obliged us to see the same film each day" 
(Subcomandante Marcos, La Jornada, 25 August 1996) 
But there is a change in the film we are forced to watch 
each day: it becomes more and more violent. It becomes 
clearer each day that the linear time which takes us 
forward, the straight highway on which we are forced to 
walk, leads directly to the self-destruction of humanity. 

What is this force that traps us within linear time, that 
makes us walk on the straight road to self-destruction, 
that entraps doing within a mask of being? What is it 
that negates our dignity? 

It is the breaking of doing itself. Our dignity is doing, our 
ability to do and to do differently. Ants do not have 
dignity: they do, but they can not project a different 
doing for tomorrow. For them time is linear. But "that 
which [makes] our step rise above plants and animals, 
that which [makes] the stone be beneath our feet" 
(EZLN, La Palabra, Vol 1, p.122) is that we do have the 
ability to do-differently, to create. We can plan to do 
something new and then do it. This ability to do is 
always social, whether or not it appears to be so. Our 
doing always presupposes the doing of others, in the 
present and in the past. Our doing is always part of a 
social flow of doing in which the done of some flows into 
the doing of others. 

But in present-day society, the social flow of doing is 
broken. The capitalist takes that which has been done 
and says "this is mine, mine, mine!" By seizing the done, 
he breaks the social flow of doing, since doing always 
builds upon that which has been done. By seizing the 
done, the capitalist is able to force the doers to sell their 
ability to do (which is transformed into labour power) to 
him, so that he now tells them what they must do. With 
that the doers lose their ability to do-differently: now 
they must do what they are told. 

Capital is a process of separation. It separates the done 
from the doing, and therefore the doers from the done 
and from their own doing. In the same movement, the 
doers are separated from the wealth they have created 
and from their ability to do-differently. We are made 
poor and robbed of our subjectivity. Capital is a process 
of separating us from the richness of human social 
creation, from our humanity, from our dignity, from the 
possibility of seeing a different film tomorrow. 

By separating the doers from the ability to 
do-differently, capital subordinates doing to that which 
is. Capitalism is the reign of "that's the way things are", 
"that's the way life is", "you are a woman and women are 
so", "you are indigenous and the indigenous are like 
that". Behind the racism, the sexism, the homophobia 
stands a more general problem: the domination of 
masks, of labels, of identities. Behind the particular 
denial of dignity ("you are an Indian, a woman") lies the 
more general denial of dignity ("you are what you are, no 
more"). Dignity is the struggle against its own negation: 
the struggle for dignity starts as a struggle against a 
particular denial of dignity (discrimination against 
indigenous, against women), and it leads on and on 
towards the mutual recognition of dignities, towards the 
uniting of dignities. The paths cross, flow together, 
divide and join, flow in the same direction. All dignities, 
if they are honest, turn not just against particular 
negations of dignity, but against the general negation of 
dignity which imposes a label and subordinates our 
potential as humans to that label. The march of dignity 
leads us not just against the particular insult, but takes 
us further, against the general insult. And the general 
insult is the labelling of people, the subordination of 
doing to being. And this terrible, terrible insult which 
now threatens to extend the denial of humanity to the 
absolute destruction of humanity, this terrible insult 
arises quite simply from the way that doing is organised, 
from the fact that capital is the separation of the done 
from the doing, with all that follows from that. 

The struggle of dignity for dignity, then, is an 
anti-capitalist struggle. But this must not become a new 
label ("I am a socialist, you are a liberal", "I am a 
communist, you are a revisionist"). The struggle against 
capital is the struggle against the process of separation 
that is capital: the separation of done from doing, the 
separation of the wealth that we create from us, the 
separation of our subjectivity, our dignity from us. The 
struggle for dignity is the struggle against separation, the 
struggle to bring together that which capital separates, 
the struggle for a different form of doing, a different way 
of relating to one another as active subjects, as doers. 
The struggle for dignity is the struggle to emancipate 
doing from being, the struggle to make explicit the social 
flow of doing. The struggle for dignity is the struggle to 
create a society based on the recognition of that dignity 
in place of one that is based on the negation of dignity. 

How can we do it? Is it possible? We can struggle, of 
course, but is it really possible to create a society based 
on dignity, a society that goes beyond capitalism? Is it 
possible to construct alternative ways of doing within 
capitalism, or do we not have to destroy capitalism first 
in order to create such a possibility? Is it possible to 
create and expand spaces of dignity or are such spaces 
not bound to be repressed or absorbed by? Is it possible 
to create and expand spaces of dignity to the point where 
capitalism is destroyed and a society based on the 
mutual recognition of dignity is created? 

It used to be argued that the only way to build social 
relations based on dignity was first to destroy capitalism 
and then to build the new society. It was argued that the 
transition from capitalism to communism is quite 
different from the transition from feudalism to 
capitalism. Capitalism grew within the interstices of 
feudalism, within the spaces left open by feudal 
domination, but, it was argued, the same could not 
happen with communism: the construction of new social 
relations required the conscious control of social doing 
and this could only be introduced at the level of society 
as a whole. The change from capitalism to a different 
type of society could therefore not be interstitial: it 
could only come about by the seizure of power at the 
centre of society, which would allow the introduction of a 
new sociality. 

The problem with the old argument is that, apart from 
everything else, it is quite unrealistic. It assumes that 
the world is the sum of different societies, each with its 
own state, so that each state can be understood at the 
centre of its society. But it is now clear that the 
capitalist world is not like that and never has been. 
Capital is an essentially a-territorial relation, in the 
sense that the fact that social relations are mediated 
through money means that the capitalist exploiter can 
quite easily be in London and his workers in South 
Africa, or the producer of a product can be in Puebla and 
the consumer in Hong Kong. Capitalist society, then, is 
not the sum of many, territorially limited societies: it is 
(and always has been) one global society supported by a 
multiplicity of states. To gain control of one state is, 
therefore, not to conquer power at the centre of society, 
but merely to occupy (in the best of cases) a particular 
space within capitalist society. In other words, if we 
leave aside the possibility of taking power in all or most 
of the states at the same time, the only possible way of 
conceiving revolutionary change is as interstitial change, 
as a change that comes about in the interstices of 
capitalist society. 

We cannot think of radical social change, then, as 
coming about from above, or as the introduction of 
central planning. Revolution can only be a construction 
from below. But how can we build dignity in a society 
which systematically negates dignity, how can we make 
it so strong that it negates the society that negates us? 

It is a question not of Revolution, but also not just of 
rebellion: it is a question of revolution. Revolution (with 
a capital "R"), understood as the introduction of change 
from above, does not work. Rebellion is the struggle of 
dignity and will exist as long as dignity is negated. But it 
is not enough. We rebel because we rebel, because we 
are human. But we do not want just to struggle against 
the negation of dignity, we want to create a society based 
upon the mutual recognition of dignity. Our struggle, 
then, is not the struggle of Revolution, not just of 
rebellion, but of revolution. Not just rebellion, not 
Revolution but revolution. But what does it mean and 
how do we do it? In this revolutionary struggle, there are 
no models, no recipes, just a desperately urgent 
question. Not an empty question but a question filled 
with a thousand answers. 

Fissures: these are the thousand answers to the question 
of revolution. Everywhere there are fissures. The 
struggles of dignity tear open the fabric of capitalist 
domination. When people stand up against the 
construction of the airport in Atenco, when they oppose 
the construction of the highway in Tepeaca, when they 
stand up against the Plan Puebla Panama, when the 
students of the UNAM oppose the introduction of fees, 
when workers go on strike to resist the introduction of 
faster rhythms of work, they are saying "NO, here no, 
here capital does not rule!" Each No is a flame of dignity, 
a crack in the rule of capital. Each No is a running away, 
a flight from the rule of capital. 

No is the starting point of all hope. But it is not enough. 
We say No to capital in one area, but it keeps on 
attacking us, separating us from the wealth we create, 
denying our dignity as active subjects. Yet our dignity is 
not so easily denied. The No has a momentum that 
carries us forward. 

The struggles that say No often go further than that. In 
the very act of struggling against capital, alternative 
social relations are developed. Those in struggle realise 
that they are not struggling simply against a particular 
imposition of capital, but that they are struggling for a 
different type of social relations. Especially in recent 
years, many struggles have laid great emphasis on 
horizontal structures, on the participation of all, on the 
rejection of hierarchical structures which reproduce the 
hierarchies of capitalism: thus the mandar obedeciendo 
of the zapatistas, the horizontal assemblies of the 
students of the UNAM, the asambleas barriales of 
Buenos Aires, the structures developed by the 
'anti-globalisation' movement in the whole world, the 
comradeship developed in strikes. All of these are very 
often explicit and conscious experiments, all ways of 
saying "We are not just saying No to capital, we are 
developing a different concept of politics, constructing a 
different set of social relations, pre-figuring the society 
we want to build." 

But that is not enough. We cannot eat democratic 
discussions, we cannot drink comradeship. It is no good 
if, after the democratic discussion in the asamblea 
barrial or frente zapatista in the evening, we have to sell 
our capacity to do (labour power) to capital the next day 
and participate actively in the process of separation that 
capital means. Yet here too the energy of the struggle 
carries us forward, from talking to doing. 

The struggles that struggle not just to say No, but to 
create other social relations in practice are driven a step 
further, to the practical organisation of doing. The 
asambleas barriales in Argentina are increasingly 
moving on from discussing and protesting against the 
government to taking their lives in their own hands and 
occupying clinics that have been abandoned, houses that 
are empty, banks that have fled, in order to provide 
better health care, and to provide places for people to 
live and centres for people to meet and discuss. When 
factories close, the workers are not just protesting but 
occupying them and using them to produce things that 
are needed. The fissure becomes a place not just for 
refusing, not just for developing horizontal structures but 
for building an alternative form of doing. 

But that is not enough. The fissures are often small, the 
alternative doings isolated. How do we connect these 
alternative projects? If it is done through the market, 
the market comes to dominate them. It cannot be done 
by introducing social planning from above, for that 
presupposes structures that do not and cannot exist at 
the moment. It is necessarily a process of doing it from 
below, in a piecemeal fashion. In Argentina, the 
movement of barter, in its best manifestations, is an 
attempt to develop other forms of articulation between 
producers and between producers and consumers 
(prosumidores), but that too is experimental. 

But still it is not enough. Revolution cannot be poverty. 
The movement of revolution is to make explicit the 
richness of social doing. But now capital separates us 
from that richness, stands as gatekeeper to the social 
doing, telling us that we can have access to that richness 
only if we obey the rules of capital, the logic of profit. 
How can we circumvent that gatekeeper, find other ways 
of connecting with the richness of the doing of so many 
millions of people throughout the world who, they too, 
are saying No or would like to say No to the social 
connections of capital? 

At every stage the state offers itself as an answer to our 
questions. The state says in effect "Come to me, organise 
yourselves through me, I am not capital. I can provide 
the basis for an alternative organisation of sociality." 
But it is a lie, a trick. The state is capital, a form of 
capital. The state is a specifically capitalist form of 
social relations. The state is so tightly bound into the 
global web of capitalist social relations that there is no 
way that an anti-capitalist sociality can be constructed 
through the state, no matter which party occupies the 
government. The state imposes upon us hierarchical 
social relations that we do not want; the state says we 
must be realistic and accept capitalist logic and the 
calculations of power when we are quite clear that we do 
not accept that logic and those calculations. The state 
says that it will solve our problems, that we are not 
capable of it, it reduces us to victims, denies our 
subjectivity. The state is a form of reconciling our 
struggles with capitalist domination. The path of the 
state is not the path of dignity. 

There are certainly many situations in which we can turn 
the resources of the state to our own advantage - as when 
the piqueteros close the roads in order to force the state 
to give them funds which they, the piqueteros, use to 
develop an alternative form of doing. There are also 
situations in which it may make sense to vote for one 
party rather than another, in order to defend or create 
more space for our movement. But the state does not, 
can not provide the alternative sociality that it seems to 
offer. State-owned industries, for example, do not 
provide a different organisation of doing: they transform 
doing into labour and subordinate it to the movement of 
capital in much the same way as any other industry (the 
same in the ex-Soviet Union as in Britain, as in Mexico). 
Even if there are situations in which we may want to use 
the state, just as we use money, it is important to be 
clear that the state, like money, is the embodiment of 
relations which deny our dignity. It is not through the 
state that we can create a society based on dignity. 

Then how? The question torments us. The old solutions 
did not work, cannot work. But can any solution work? 
Can the struggle against the negation of dignity really 
lead us to a society based on dignity, a society in which 
the social power of doing is emancipated (a communist 
society)? Certainty is not on our side. Certainty cannot 
be on our side, for certainty exists only where human 
dignity is denied, where social relations are totally 
reified, where people are completely reduced to masks. 
The only certainty for us is that human dignity means 
fighting against a world that denies that dignity. 

Flames of dignity, flashes of lightning, fissures in 
capitalist domination. Look at the map of capitalism 
and see how torn it is, how full of fissures, flames of 
revolt. Chiapas, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Cochabamba, 
Quito, Caracas and on and on throughout the world. Our 
struggle is to extend the fissures as time-spaces, to fan 
the flames of dignity. At times the flames light up the 
sky so we can see clearly that which gives us hope: the 
rulers depend on the ruled, capital depends on us, on 
being able to transform our doing into work which it can 
exploit. It is our doing which creates the world, capital 
that runs behind trying to contain it. We are the fire, 
capital is the fire fighter. To put it in more traditional 
terms: the only productive force is the creative force of 
human doing, and capitalist relations of production 
struggle all the time to contain that force. 

Capital is afraid of us. Capital flees from us, just as we 
flee from it. Flight and the threat of flight is a central 
feature of capitalist domination. Feudal lords did not 
flee from their serfs: if the serfs did not behave 
themselves, the lords stayed and punished them, often 
physically. But in capitalism it is different. Capital says 
all the time to us: "if you do not behave yourselves, I 
shall go away". We live in great stress, under the terrible 
threat that our rulers will go away and leave us. And 
often capital does go away, and then millions are left in 
unemployment, whole regions or countries are left 
without investment, whole generations are left without 
the experience of direct exploitation. Under 
neoliberalism, this threat of flight and this reality of 
flight become more and more central: that is what the 
expansion of credit and the rise of finance capital means. 
More and more clearly, capital says "behave like robots, 
do everything that I say or I shall go away". More and 
more, capital flees from the fact that we are not robots, 
capital flees from our dignity. 

Dignity and capital are incompatible. The more the 
march of dignity advances, the more capital flees. When 
the indigenous rise up, capital flees. When the workers 
occupy the factories, capital flees. When the students 
rebel against the restructuring of education, capital 
flees. When it seems that a left-wing government might 
introduce measures which affect profits, capital flees 
(and the government changes its mind). That is why the 
question of how we respond to the flight of capital is 
crucial for the struggle of dignity (even more basic than 
the question of repression, because repression is always 
presented as a response to the flight of capital). What 
shall we answer when capital says "behave yourselves or 
I shall go"? What shall we say when capital goes? 

Let it go! Let it flee! That is the great genius of the 
Argentinian slogan "¡Que se vayan todos!" ("Let them all 
go away!") Capital dominates by threatening us that it 
will flee. Well, let it go away, then. We can manage 
perfectly well without it. We will survive. 

Or can we? That is the big question. Capital is not just a 
process of closing fissures. By going and by threatening 
to go, it also opens up potential fissures. When capital 
threatens too much, then workers may be driven to say, 
"right, go then, take your money, but we shall stay with 
the machines and the buildings". When capital goes 
away from whole areas, then people are driven by choice 
and necessity to find other ways of surviving, other ways 
of doing. They are driven to build social relations that 
point beyond capitalism. The fissures are opened not 
just by our own struggles but by capital's flight from our 

But how do we survive without our exploiters, when they 
control access to the richness of human doing? That is 
the great challenge. How do we strengthen the fissures 
so that they are not just isolated pockets of poverty but 
a real alternative form of doing that allows us to say to 
capital "well yes, go away then, if that is what you are 
always threatening to do"? The next time that capital 
makes us unemployed, how can we say "Fine, now we can 
do something more meaningful"? The next time that 
capital closes a factory, how can we say "Go, then, now 
we can use the equipment and the buildings and our 
knowledge in a different way"? The next time that 
capital says "help our banks or the financial system will 
collapse", how can we say "let it collapse, we have better 
ways of organising our relations"? The next time that 
capital threatens us "I shall go", how do we say "yes, go, 
go for ever and take all your friends with you. Que se 
vayan todos."? That is the problem of revolution (with a 
small '"r"). 

What does revolution mean? It is a question, can only be 
a question. But it is not a question that stands still. It is 
not a question that gets stuck in one place, whether that 
place be Saint Petersburg or the Selva Lacandona or 
Buenos Aires, or in one moment, whether that be 1917 or 
the first of January 1994 or 19/20 December 2001. It is 
not a question that can be answered with a formula or a 
recipe. It is a question that can be answered only in 
struggle, but theoretical reflection is part of that 
struggle. It is a question with an energy and a rage and a 
longing that drives it forward. Let us push the question 
forward all the time, as far as we can, with every single 
political action, with every single theoretical reflection. 
Preguntando caminamos, asking we walk. Yes, but we 
walk with rage, ask with passion. 


Bloch E. (1964), Tübinger Einleitung in die Philosophie, 
Bd. 2 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp) 
Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (1994) La 
Palabra de los Armados de Verdad y Fuego (Mexico City: 
Holloway J. (2002), Change the World without taking 
Power, (London: Pluto)

       ****** The A-Infos News Service ******
      News about and of interest to anarchists
  COMMANDS: lists@ainfos.ca
  REPLIES: a-infos-d@ainfos.ca
  HELP: a-infos-org@ainfos.ca
  WWW: http://www.ainfos.ca/
  INFO: http://www.ainfos.ca/org

-To receive a-infos in one language only mail lists@ainfos.ca the message:
                unsubscribe a-infos
                subscribe a-infos-X
 where X = en, ca, de, fr, etc. (i.e. the language code)

A-Infos Information Center