Monday, January 09, 2006


A message from Harry Cleaver posted to Aut-Op-Sy list:


For those of you who have been preoccupied by other things, I'd like to draw your attention to the current Zapatista "Other Campaign" in Mexico. As with the National Democratic Convention in 1994, the formation of the FZLN in 1995, the continental and intercontinental encounters of 1996 and 1997, national and international plebesite in 1999, their 2001 campaign for indigenous rights, the formation of the Caracoles or regional autonomous governments in 2003, the "Other Campaign" is an unexpected, innovative initiative worth observing and evaluating. Coming after two years of consolidation of their own internal community and regional organization, and taking place during a year of presidential elections in Mexico, the Campaign, which was prepared during the period June-December 2005, began in early January.

The Campaign has at least two general political dimensions. First, and secondarily, it consitutes a sustained critique of Mexico's professional electoral politics and constitutional order, a critique that takes on leftist parties as well as more overtly conservative ones. Second, and more importantly, it is an attempt to promulgate widespread thinking and discussion at the grassroots in Mexico about the possibilties of consituting ever more comprehensive and grassroots political networks with the power to replace capitalism and the current constitutional apparatus with new, bottom-up democratic forms of social organization.

Materially the Campaign consists of the Zapatistas themselves, including Marcos and several of the EZLN Comandantes, traveling from community to community all around Mexico and asking the local people to talk, to them and to each other, about their problems, their struggles, their experiences with organization, their successes and their failures, and their ideas for future political organization. In short, they are traveling - and this traveling is scheduled to continue for a six month period - to listen.

Listening has been a central feature of Zapatista politics since Marcos and the other "revolutionary" outsiders who came to Chiapas in 1984 learned to set aside their pre-conceived ideas and program and listen to the local yokels. Throughout the last 12 years they have repeatedly affirmed that they were not pushing their own form of organization as a model, nor were they pushing a particular political
program. In the CND, in the FZLN, in the National Indigenous Congress, in the continental and intercontinental encounters, in all these events they shared their experience and encouraged others to share their own, without arguing for any collapsing of that diverse experience into a singular model or formula. So too today.

The Mexican Left generally is interpreting the Other Campaign through its own imagination and sees it only as either one step towards the entry of the Zapatistas into the formal arena of Mexican politics or at least as one step toward a socialist platform. They see the latter because Zapatista statements during the formation of the Campaign have made its overtly anti-capitalist (not just anti-neoliberalism) position clear. The Left, of course, can only see "socialism" beyond capitalism (and "communism" somewhere over the horizon). Mexican anarchists have seen more clearly though it is inevitable that they too bring their own preconceived ideas to their understanding of what the Zapatistas are doing.

At any rate what is happening in Mexico is something most of us in other countries can only dream about: a grassroots group with the power to convoke literally hundreds of meetings all over the country to discuss the possibilities of formulating and implementing real non-capitalist, bottom-up alternative forms of social organization and democracy outside and against the formal consitutional political and economic system. Here in the US I can't remember a time since SDS, beginning with the Port Huron Declaration, was able to initiate widespread discussions of "participatory democracy", that any group has had the power to convoke such widespread focus on such a subject.

While the Mexican political class and its media are doing their best to portray the Campaign as just another attempt by Marcos to "get back into the limelight" it's worth remembering that it was the Zapatista uprising and ongoing struggles that catalyzed the grassroots struggle for democracy in Mexico that brought down the PRI and ended 50 years of authoritarian, one-party rule. Today, professional Mexican politicians, like those in other countries, try to convince people that "democracy" exists when one party of professionals replaces another. The Zapatistas are making the very old revolutionary point that such replacement is largely a spectacle that hides the absence of real democracy and that absence is essential to the survival of capitalism. But unlike the myriad Left sects that have made this point throughout the 20th Century the Zapatistas are making it heard among millions of people disenchanted with professional politicians and the failure of the first post-PRIista president (Fox) to bring about any real change as he has pursued the same old neoliberal capitalist agenda.

It would be nice in the midst of the exploding Abramoff-corruption scandal in the US, in which poll after poll shows a similar expanding disenchantment with professional politicians, if there were some group or network with the ability to convoke the kind of widespread discussion of the possibilities of consituting real democratic self-government here as is occurring in the Other Campaign in Mexico (as opposed, for example, to current calls by some professional politicians for marginal reforms in lobbying laws).

At any rate, those of us who think what is happening in Mexico is of interest far beyond its borders are doing our best to make available in English as much of the Zapatista-initiated discussion as possible. If any of this sounds interesting to you, you can find some accessible documents amongst the Chiapas95 webpages at:

If you read Spanish you can find more material at the Other Campaign's web page:
(there is some material there in English as well)

A fairly steady flow of information is being provided through the Chiapas95 listservs
(information on subscribing at:
whose archives are at: )

No comments: