The "Other Campaign" and the Left: Reclaiming an Alternative*
The "Other Campaign" and the Left: Reclaiming an Alternative*
I don't know how to say what I want to say. We are on the brink of a precipice, the sky is about to fall. At the same time, we are full of hope. We finally see the light, at the end of the tunnel. How to explain this contradiction?
I don't know how to say what I want to say. We are on the brink of a precipice, the sky is about to fall. At the same time, we are full of hope. We finally see the light, at the end of the tunnel. How to explain this contradiction?
Words fail me. All of the terms in which I was politically educated, above all those that define my political position and militancy up to now seem increasingly inadequate in the world in which I live, to describe the present moment in Oaxaca, in Mexico, in the world ...
I want to say that The Other Campaign constitutes a real alternative, perhaps the only one in the current political crisis. But that seems absurd. It doesn't make sense at first glance, when the public's attention is focused on the conflict surrounding the new administration, and on
In order to present my point of view, I will first set forth some contextual elements.
The Political Transition in
Six years ago a poll indicated that, a few weeks before the presidential election, only 25% of Mexicans wanted the PRI to win, but that 60% expected that it would. People know about the tricks, the fraud. For 70 years, the PRI had "won" all the elections.
The outcome of the election took everyone by surprise, and throughout the world, the media celebrated. Time magazine wrote: "On the evening of July 2,
Such a perception is illusory.
Let's not have illusions about what happened six years ago. An indigenous leader put it clearly the day after the election: "For us, the system is like a snake. Last night, it shed its skin. Now it is a different color, that's all."
Nonetheless, we are clearly conscious of what we have gotten. In general, we did not vote for the winner, but against the PRI. We did not transform
Thus we catalyzed a political transition toward a new regime. But we are not yet there. What defines the current juncture is the struggle to define it and therefore also the nature of the transition. Some want to consolidate the regime that can be described as a neoliberal republic. Others want to reorganize society from the bottom up and create an entirely different regime.
An immense uncertainty afflicted us, long before the confusing outcome of the 2006 Presidential election. No one knows what is going to happen, with regard to this outcome or anything else. Anyone who thinks he knows what will happen lacks information. No one knows.
The most difficult element to share with others in these circumstances is our hope. How to explain it? Upon what is it based? It is not the victory of optimism over reality. It is a new type of awareness.
A few years ago I visited
"Look, there aren't anymore people dying of hunger now than before, nor are we more hungry than before. They aren't killing us more than they did before, either. But now we have hope. And that changes everything."
Imagine what it means to live when your children die of hunger or of curable illnesses, when at any moment, they might rape your sister or mother, or kill your father or brother. To be like that, thinking that your children and grandchildren will continue to be exposed to that horror, is really unbearable. Hope, no matter how tenuous, can change everything. You resist bad fortune and restrictions in a different way. And hope, we must not forget, is the essence of popular movements.
Is it a mere illusion? To nourish the hope we now have, is that just whistling in the dark? We have suffered the impact of so-called globalization through the North American Free Trade Agreement. We suffer all types of economic difficulties, social banes and political conflicts. Nonetheless, what defines our situation, what I am smelling at the grassroots, what feeds our hope, is the possibility that we are in the midst of the first social revolution of the 21st century, the revolution of the new commons. We believe that we are creating alternatives:
· We are organizing ourselves beyond development, reclaiming our own definition of the good life.
· We are trying to go beyond the economy and capital. We, the so called marginal, are now succeeding in marginalizing the economy from our lives.
· We are going beyond the individual in reclaiming our commons.
· We are moving beyond the nation-state, in reclaiming a new political horizon.
We see so-called globalization as an economic project, which attempts to root in the planet homo economicus, the possessive individual born in the West, under the hegemony of the
-- We are resisting the transnationalized economy that encroaches upon and disrupts our lives
-- We see "democracy" as a structure of domination and control
-- We perceive "human rights" as the Trojan Horse of re-colonialization.
We do not accept globalization. For us it is neither promise nor reality. It is the emblem of a hegemonic project of domination that we are not willing to accept.
To understand better what is happening and how we reached this point it is necessary to take a step backward.
The End of the Old Regime
In December of 1992, the dominant impression was that nothing could prevent
At that time, President Salinas received more and more recognition every month, as a global leader who understood the way that the wind was blowing in the world and was pulling his country out of under-development. He was the candidate to be the first Director of the World Trade Organization, the institution quintessentially defining our times.
On December 31, 1993,
On the first of January of 1994, a small group of Mayan indigenous people, armed with machetes, sticks and a few guns, occupied four of the major cities of
The old regime died. We are constructing upon its ruins. All sorts of pestilence emanates from the unburied corpse and we have not had time nor the serenity to bury it. But it is a corpse. There's no doubt about that.
I want to propose a question now that is not as rhetorical as it seems: How can such a small group, the EZLN, which never represented a military threat to the Mexican government, change a country of more than a hundred million people? Some may say that is not a valid question. They say that we haven't changed so much, as the recent electoral frauds demonstrate. Others recognize that yes, we have changed, admit that we live in a country radically different, but sustain that the change is not due to the Zapatistas, but many other groups and factors.
I believe that in future years
In 1993, we suffered from a general sense of individual guilt. People were enduring all types of adversity, but heard that everything was good in the best of worlds. The experts were saying that the economy was advancing on all fronts and was better than ever. The media constantly celebrated the triumphs of
Suddenly, in a matter of a few days, there was an immense "aha!" effect. People could see that their problems were not personal, but rather social, that we had a wrong administration and a perverse president. The magnitude and intensity of the revelation was partly due to luck. In the first week of the year 1994, nothing happened on the planet - no airplane crashed, no princess died. Nothing. The media desperately sought news and received the Zapatistas like a blessing. On the second of January, a thousand journalists fell upon
The force that liquidated the old regime in
The Nature of Modern Power
What is modern power, this thing for which
The dominant idea is that it has to do with something difficult to define, located above, something that some have and others do not. For that reason, we talk about empowering people.
Centuries ago, it was thought that power came from heaven, that it expressed nothing less than God's will. The Pope crowned the king. He would explain to all that his power came from above. Since the French Revolution and the U.S. Revolution, we have changed the terms for the constitution of power, but we retain the image. It's not just that some presidents take office swearing upon the Bible and often call upon God. It's also that the impression is maintained, that power resides above, in the hands of a few, the powerful, those who have political or economic power. It is generally assumed that power is something that could be distributed, that could be given to the people.
I want to use a children's story, the Wizard of Oz, as a parable of modern power. Dorothy and her friends approach the wizard of Oz, confronting the claptrap paraphernalia of power that attempts to intimidate them. A little dog discovers by accident the curtain behind which hides the wizard, who turns out to be a small man almost dead of fright. The important thing is what happens next. When he asks what they want, their petitions surprise him. "Why do you ask for courage?" he says to the Lion, "You have demonstrated that you are already very courageous." He says the same thing to the Tin Man, "Why does someone as compassionate as you ask for a heart?" And to the Scarecrow, "Why does someone as intelligent as you ask for a brain?" The parable is clear. People ask of the powerful what they already have. But the politicians do not react like the wizard. On the contrary, they reinforce prejudices. "If you vote for me," they say, "Then you will have everything you want: a job, protection, happiness ..."
The premise of this dominant notion of power was well-formulated by Hegel in 1820, when he affirmed that the people cannot govern themselves and that, therefore, someone has to govern them; thus concentrating political power in those who govern. How to constitute power is discussed, but not the principle itself; that people give power to those who govern, by means of a revolution or through elections, or at least they accept that they hold the power. This is a central element of the democratic culture of the modern nation-state.
There exists another notion of power: the idea that the people already have it. In this conception, power has another name. It is called dignity.
I didn't understand. I sought out my friends, to ask them what that might mean. They were surprised by my surprise. The first part, they explained, was an effort to let the candidate know that he could not seriously have the intention of governing us. How could he, if he had to use Spanish, the language of the colonizers, in order to speak to us? How could he govern us if he did not speak our language, the supreme expression of our culture? That's why we spoke for more than ten hours. To make it clear that he did not understand us. The second part, they told me, was even simpler. We wanted to tell him that this is not a rebellion. We want a governor, and better that it be one of us, an indigenous person. But he should be the head of a different type of government. He would not be a governor who would try to govern us 24 hours per day, in all places, even against our will. He would have to be in one place, visible to all, well-rooted in the people. If we suffer a calamity, an earthquake, a drought, or if we have a conflict among ourselves, among communities, we would go to him and he would give us protection, as a tree gives us shade.
I have used that story ever since as an alternative political theory. If the people have the proper political structure, they can govern themselves. It is not necessary to give "power" to one person or to an elite group to govern everyone.
The Construction of a New Regime
In the defining of a new political regime in
What kind of regime have we had for 70 years? What was the regime that we liquidated in the year 2000, thanks to the Zapatista movement?
Our economy was a peculiar hybrid of capitalism. In 1982 the public sector represented 62% in a highly closed economy. The government controlled it completely. In the year 2000, due to the privatization frenzy, the public sector represented only 18% in one of the most open economies in the world. The Mexican economy had escaped from the control of the government ... and of the country itself.
As regards the political structure, the president appeared to be at the apex of the pyramid of political power, but in reality, was its axle. With the mafia-like structure created by the PRI, which extended to the farthest reaches of the country, nothing moved without the will of the President. He had total control of his own government, of executive power; of his party, and through it, of Congress; and of judicial power. The three branches of government were in his hands. In those 70 years almost 500 amendments to the Constitution, our Magna Carta, were introduced. All of them came from the initiative of the President. In contrast, President Fox does not control his government, his party, the Congress, or the judiciary. He doesn't even control the presidential home ...
For 70 years, the experts described our regime as a peculiar monarchy, which replaces the king every six years for another member of the so-called "revolutionary family", the group that inherited the power structure created by the 1910 revolution.
This regime suffered a long agonized end. A group of technocrats, who took power in 1982, accelerated it. They used the authoritarian instruments of the old regime to dismantle it, in order to impose the neoliberal catechism, as the "Washington Consensus" was called. Astutely avoiding Gorbachov's error, they postponed political reforms. We must remember, in response those who doubt the importance of the Zapatistas in the current transition, that the regime made more concessions to the political opposition in the three weeks that followed their uprising than in the previous 50 years. The Zapatistas, thanks to the immediate uprising of civil society which since then has supported them, radically altered the balance of political forces.
The system is dead. But we have not yet organized the funeral. President Fox uselessly applied artificial respiration to the cadaver and has applied many cosmetics to present it as something alive. But it is truly dead. As was recently demonstrated, on July 2, all attempts to resuscitate it are impossible. At this point, the only conclusion that can be drawn is the loser, the PRI, whose last hope of returning to power has been dismissed.
At the beginning, the transition caused great disillusionment. Those who had fought against the old regime in the name of formal democracy were frustrated and depressed. The political campaigns, instead of providing an opportunity for public debate and citizen participation, were reduced to a three-ring circus. And instead of a popular government, capable of stopping the devastating neoliberal tsunami, Vicente Fox, a wealthy businessman, ex-director of Coca Cola, became president and dedicated himself to consolidating that ideology.
At the grassroots, people tried to reorganize society from below, for the purpose of creating a new political regime, taking advantage of the option created by the Zapatistas.
Fully aware of the limitations of formal democracy, in which citizens freely elect their oppressors, the Zapatistas did not see in it a good political umbrella for the transition to radical democracy. Fully conscious that the nation-state is a structure of domination and control, a strait-jacket that restrains or prevents cultural diversity, they saw it as a provisional framework for the transition to a new form of social organization, with a different political horizon.
The idea that people can govern themselves is very old and in
We have seen, for example, that
We also find, in The Federalist Papers, responses to some doubts. A little more than 200 years ago, Madison and Hamilton debated intensely the political form that the
Allow me a digression: I was active in Sandinista support groups and a few weeks after their triumph, they invited me to
Young guerrillas drove through
In effect, in the main question was power. When I dared to give them my point of view, questioning the dominant notion, they looked at me tenderly: "That power which you doubt is what we now have in our own hands. With it, we are going to make the revolution." This case lends itself to analysis. What was the power of Somoza? It had three pillars: the
What we are now doing today in Mexico is to appeal to sociological and political imagination in order to conceive of a new type of society, or rather, to create our daily lives in a new world. As the Zapatistas say, to change the world is extremely difficult, if not impossible. But it is possible to create a new world. This is not a romantic dream, but a pragmatic attitude. In order to understand it, however, it is necessary to take a step backwards.
The main contradiction
In 1824, the year of our first Constitution, two thirds of the brand-new Mexicans were indigenous, but they are mentioned only once in that document: when Congress is authorized to make commercial treaties with foreign countries or indigenous tribes. They were seen as foreigners in their own country. Upon proclaiming this magna carta, the Founding Fathers made it clear that in this aspect, as in all the rest, they were following, step-by-step, the example of the felicitous republic of the United States of America. They did so even with regard to the name of our country, baptizing it the United Mexican States.
Twenty years ago Guillermo Bonfil said, in the best book that has been written about
Until now, the minority of elites has tried to dissolve the other, to transform
Since the year 2000, one can see in the depths of the political classes an intense dispute among different groups that are trying to retain or conquer fragments of the old structure and attempt use their constituted powers in accordance with the interests and points of view of each group. Once again, they are not taking into consideration
Throughout his term, President Fox was incapable of achieving the approval of reforms which are indispensable for the neoliberal agenda. In
It is in this context that "The Other Campaign" was proposed, in mid 2005. The Zapatistas had accomplished important advances in the consolidation of their social and political life in the zones under their control, and had introduced significant changes in their structures, in the form of their new "Juntas de Buen Gobierno" [Good Government Boards]. The report on the operation of these Juntas, which was presented in August of 2004, confirmed their usual style: they say what they do, and they do what they say. It also revealed the impressive progress they have made in the tasks that they set for themselves, and the no less impressive difficulties that they face.
Above all, the Juntas "are proof that the Zapatistas don't intend to hegemonize or to homogenize the world in which we live with their ideas or methods. In Zapatista territories, there is no aim to pulverize the Mexican nation. On the contrary, it is here that the possibility of its reconstruction is being born". (La Jornada, Aug 23, 2004). The Zapatistas are well aware of the fact that the existing powers will not fulfill the San Andrés Accords. Through their practical implementation in Zapatista territory they offer valid proofs that they don't produce the negative impacts which were used as pretext for the constitutional counter-reform.
It's Zapatismo, say the Zapatistas, that communities make their decisions at odds with the dominant regime. "Ours is not a liberated territory or a utopian commune. Neither is it an experimental laboratory of an absurdity or a paradise for an orphaned left. It's a rebellious territory in resistance." (La Jornada, Oct 2, 2004).
Zapatista "government," observes Luis Hernández "...is not a regime, but a practice...a laboratory of new social relations... [that] recovers old aspirations of the movements for self-emancipation: liberation should be the work of those it benefits; there should not be authorities over the people; the subjects of the social order must have full decision-making capacity over their destinies. Their existence is not the expression of a moral nostalgia, but the living expression of a new politics." (Hernández, La Jornada Sept 7, 2004).
In their own way, as usual, the Zapatistas continue to test the speed of dreams, with a libertarian spirit. They are accompanied by those who come to learn and collaborate with them. During the period of the report of the Juntas de Buen Gobierno, these others came from 43 countries and many regions of
The terms that we use do not adequately describe the experience of what they are doing. Zapatista practices arise from ancient traditions but at the same time they constitute a radical novelty that is strictly contemporary. The idea of government clearly implies people governing and people being governed, the division of society into these two classes of people in the hollow of an oppressive regime. It assumes a conjunction of institutional mechanisms by which those who govern are able to control the governed. Perhaps for this reason, many indigenous communities do not use those terms to describe their own authorities, who don't have those same characteristics. Those terms are used only to allude to officials or institutions of the government, at any level, which they always perceive as alien, imposing, and oppressive. In calling their new bodies created to express the collective will, the Juntas de Buen Gobierno, the Zapatistas implicitly denounce the mal gobierno [bad government] of the dominant structure. But perhaps a new words will need to be invented to express exactly what it means to "command while obeying" [mandar obedeciendo] – that the governed govern – and what specific "color" is taken by the hope that appears in the different names that the communities give to each Junta.
The Sixth [Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle]
In June of the year 2005, the Zapatistas announced that they were consulting their bases about a political initiative that might put at risk all that had been accomplished up to that point. It was the result of a long process of consolidation of their political options in the Lacandon Jungle and of their continuous analysis of the context, characterized by the increasingly profound and general breakdown of the political class. The three branches of government as well as the political parties are continuously deteriorating. The spectacle is pathetic and painful, not so much because there are many things worth saving, but because of the consequences.
Since August of 2004, the Zapatistas have called for attentive observation of what is going on:
"The relentless and frenzied dismantling of the nation state, driven by a political class lacking professionalism and decency (clearly accompanied in no few occasions by some in the media and the entire juridical system), will result in a chaotic nightmare that not even primetime shows of suspense and terror could equal." (La Jornada, 20-08-04)
This is not an encouraging perspective. It is not about a necessary and sensible transformation for the progressive substitution of broken or useless parts in an obsolete machine. It is a turbulent and tense process in which the fragments of what used to be the Mexican political system try clumsily and uselessly to express themselves anew; or fight among themselves, clumsily and endlessly, guided by an eagerness to be rid of their rivals on a course which only in the illusions of those involved represents progress. In fact, the situation has all the indications of approaching a precipice toward which all other nation states are also heading, each one in its own way.
In June of 2005 subcomandante Marcos recalled the context: the war declared by capitalism in the era of neoliberal globalization, what the Zapatistas have called the Fourth World War.
"Amidst the rubble produced in this war of re-conquest lies the economic base, the material base, of the traditional nation-state...The tools and forms of traditional dominance have also been destroyed or severely crippled ... The destruction thus also reaches the traditional political classes."
Through the communiqué the Zapatistas drew a line. They showed how the electoral marketing process pressures all the parties and candidates to accommodate themselves within the ideological center. They outlined the characteristics of each party and then felt it necessary to define themselves. â€Â˜Up there' [in the political arena], they denounced "... indecency, impudence, cynicism, and shamelessness rule... We feel rage and indignation seeing what we see, and we will fight to prevent these shameless people from getting their way. For it is the hour to begin to fight so that all those â€Â˜up there' who scorn history and despise us will have to reckon and pay their dues."
No one was surprised at the distance the Zapatistas took in relation to the PAN or the PRI, but the communiqué distressed those in the ranks of the PRD or close to them, who nurtured hopes that the Zapatistas would fall in line with the campaign of their candidate or would at least leave him in peace. The strength and virulence of the criticism distressed them particularly.
The political classes and almost all the media adopted an elitist and dogmatic attitude towards the Sixth Declaration and displayed their racism, ignorance and nearsightedness. Although by so doing they involuntarily justified the Zapatistas, they thus made clear the magnitude of the risks taken by the Zapatistas, conscious as they are, based on experience, that these political classes can manufacture any kind of outrage, including one that might endanger everything that they have accomplished up to now.
The Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, in typical Zapatista style, clearly specified their intention:
"This is our simple word to tell you what has been our path, and where we are right now, to explain how we view the world and our country, to say what we are thinking about doing and how we plan to do it, and to invite other people to walk with us in a large place called Mexico and an even larger place called the world."
The Sixth is an effective synthesis of the years of Zapatista struggle and of their present perception. There is no way to summarize it and a careful reading is indispensable. In it the Zapatistas take the difficult initiative of articulating their vision to the thousands of organizations and millions of people in the ranks of the discontented, with the goal of transforming their current resistance -- which perhaps is going as far as it can go -- into a struggle for liberation. To unite them, the Zapatistas do not use an abstract doctrine, a political manifesto or a partisan hierarchical structure. They appeal to recognized moral principles, which alone can create favorable conditions for the meeting of and respect for the "different".
In a strict sense, the Sixth simply reiterates what the Zapatistas have said they would do since the beginning and have never ceased doing. Ten years ago they liberated the hope that had been trapped in the cowardly or complicit accommodation of all the political parties to the neoliberal agenda. People started to walk with the Zapatistas on unprecedented paths. Many groups, for example, accepted the challenge in the Fourth Declaration of Lacandon Jungle: to walk without the political parties or the government, though perhaps no one really reached as far the Zapatistas. In their territory the communities have gone farther than ever in creating their own life without government support and at the margins of the political parties. Time and again the Zapatistas have tried not only to open themselves to others but also to hand over the initiative to national and international civil society, as they have explicitly proposed since the National Democratic Convention of
The Sixth is a challenge to the imagination, to enable the social majorities to conceive a viable alternative to a corrupt regime based on violence, exploitation and oppression. Both the nation state and formal democracy are established on the premise that we are competitive and violent individuals who can coexist only if we are controlled by the state, which grants itself the sole monopoly on legitimate violence. The citizens' struggle is thus reduced to participating in manipulated elections to choose the officials who will control them; to observing them and trying to make them accountable (which they never are); and to changing them periodically. For that reason, we continue to be exposed to the brutal and manifold violence of a regime that is supposed to protect us from our own violence. The time has come to put another regime in its place, joyfully and peacefully. That's what the Zapatista initiative is about today.
The risks are huge and the Zapatistas are not exaggerating when the say that they could lose everything they've achieved up to now.
- The political parties and their members, sympathizers and allies may resent the Zapatistas' initiative and employ their financial, social and media means to isolate and marginalize them, weakening the support that they have had until now. That is: they could intensify what they have unsuccessfully done for a decade.
- Many "sympathizers", who had supported a Zapatismo that they perceived as the expression of marginalized, indigenous groups struggling against bad government, could step aside, disconcerted, once the anti-capitalist orientation of the struggle has been openly established.
- Within the so-called left, where many militants are obsessed with securing power, the usual savage infighting against those on your own side could occur. Some of them may transform the Zapatistas into the main enemy. That tendency was already observed in some of the reactions to the Sixth, first among the "disillusioned", who attempted to rationalize their abandonment of the rank and file of what they saw as Zapatismo, and later with those who were always "outside", with certain reservations, and can now comfortably express themselves as "against". Some prominent intellectuals of the left, who supported the Zapatistas in 1996, have been pressured to take sides, and now criticize them in a systematic way. For others, the Other Campaign "lacks ideas and disregards the need for political alliances," shows "sectarianism and intellectual poverty in its proposals," and "does not have an alternative project for the country." (Guillermo Almeyra, La Jornada, 2-07-06).
The risk, to summarize, is that the Zapatistas will remain alone, isolated, and in the end exposed to extermination. They are clearly aware of that possibility. I think that despite all this, the reason they are taking this initiative is for consistency with themselves, because they trust the strength of what they have created in their own lives, to answer to themselves, and perhaps because they have no other choice. The current situation demands action. Looking back on what has occurred during the last ten years, the Zapatistas cannot continue to wait for civil society to articulate and take the initiative. They will appeal to the "pockets of resistance" that have been appearing everywhere, and with many of which they have established and maintained contact.