Posts Tagged ‘Subcomandante Marcos’

On Climate Satyagraha: Interview with Quincy Saul

April 9, 2015

Published on Counterpunch, 10 April 2015

The socio-ecological catastrophe that is global capitalism is clear for all to see. We are in dire need of an alternative system which does not ceaselessly destroy nature and oppress and impoverish the vast majority of humankind, including our future generations, whose lives may very well be highly constrained if not outright canceled due to prevailing environmental destructiveness. It is in this sense of contemplating and reflecting on alternatives to capitalist depravity that I was fortunate enough recently to discuss the present moment and some of the possible means of displacing hegemonic power with Quincy Saul of Ecosocialist Horizons (EH). Quincy and the rest of the members of this collective have envisioned a compelling means of overcoming the environmental crisis: that is, through climate Satyagraha.

The latest biological studies show a decline of a full half of animal populations on Earth since 1970, and an ever-burgeoning list of species and classes of vertebrates at immediate risk of extinction: a quarter of all marine species, a quarter of all mammals, and nearly half of all amphibians are on the edge.1 Moreover, two independent studies published in Science and Anthropocene Review in January conclude that the present rate of environmental destruction essentially threatens the fate of complex life on the planet.2 Meanwhile, global carbon emissions continue in relentless expansion, with each new year bringing a new broken record, whether in terms of total greenhouse gas emissions, average global temperatures, or both. Truly, then, this is a critical moment in human history, one which could lead to utter oblivion, as through the perpetuation of business as usual, or alternately amelioration and emancipation, as through social revolution.

Quincy, could you share your assessment of the global climate-justice movements at present, some seven months after the People’s Climate March (PCM)—a development of which you were famously highly critical—and five months after yet another farcical example of the theater of absurd that is the international climate-negotiation process, as seen at the Twentieth Conference of Parties (COP20) in Lima, Peru?

Thank you Javier for compiling those statistics. There’s such an immense range of data out there, and it’s important to hone in on the key information. In terms of the climate-justice movement, the problem I see is that the whole doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. So you have this amazing, fearless, courageous work that’s happening on local levels, all over the world—too numerous to even start listing. When it comes to resistance struggle, people are resisting mines, pipelines, and destructive development projects from the Altiplano of Peru to central Indian jungles, the Amazon River, indigenous reservations in the U.S., the factory-cities of China, the Niger Delta—uncountable acts of courage that people are taking to defend their ecosystems and their lives, whether climate change is the central issue, or it’s about defense of a single ecosystem. And then on the prefiguration side, there are people on every continent who are working really hard laying the foundations for the next world-system. Seed-saving, agroecologies—people are combining ancestral productive projects with appropriate technologies, building community resilience, and constructing community democracy in the context of war and natural disaster. So this is hopeful and wonderful work that has be encouraged. But somehow it’s not adding up.

One example I’d pick is this wonderful campaign that’s happening around the island-nation of Palau to create the world’s largest marine reserve. They want to ban commercial fishing in this whole area. It would be an unprecedented development, and it deserves our full support. But if ocean acidification is not addressed at the level of the whole earth-system, then a ban on commercial fishing is not going to save those beautiful marine ecosystems. That’s kind of the problem. The key question is convergence—how all these local movements could add up to something more than the sum of their parts. But what we have now is almost the opposite: when all these groups get together, they add up to something less. So what I wrote in that article is what Al Gore said many years ago: that he couldn’t understand why people weren’t undertaking massive nonviolent civil disobedience campaigns to shut down coal plants. And we’re still not seeing that. Everybody gets together, and it’s less than Al Gore: it’s petitions, it’s rallies, books, movies, advertisements. There isn’t even anything illegal. Not that illegality is the measure of what we should be doing or not doing. But whether we’re talking about the gatherings in New York, Durban, or even Lima, I don’t think it’s much of a difference. Durban and Lima were much more militant than New York, but these actions are still not at all commensurate to the scale of the catastrophe you just illustrated.

Our friend Sky Cohen said to me when I last saw him, “Look, I don’t think anyone is doing the work they should be doing. I mean, Bangladesh is going under water.” He was funny; he said, “Even Subcomandante Marcos isn’t doing enough!” And I resonate with that. Who’s doing enough? I got some criticism for what I wrote, but what’s the balance sheet? I think that now is the time for those who defended the march to speak up. What changed? Was there any payoff for this multimillion-dollar PR campaign? Did we concretely reduce carbon emissions? Did we change the United Nations agenda? Did we put climate change as a question on the map that now has to be addressed? Is it being addressed? All the things they said: “the biggest climate change march ever,” “this changes everything.” Has it? Let’s see. We can measure these things. But we aren’t; I think on some level people are afraid to.

So what is the answer? How do we get the whole to add up to more than the sum of its parts? I don’t have the one answer, but I do think that part of the diagnosis of what’s wrong is that there’s a problem inside of us: I think we lack imagination about what a real movement would look like. I think too many of us identify too much with this Earth-destroying system, such that we can’t imagine what it would be like to make a break from it. This is especially the case in a place like New York City, which epitomizes “empire as a way of life.” The other problem is that we keep chasing the ruling class around to all their conferences. I can’t get over it; when are we going to stop doing this? We know what the outcomes are going to be: they’re going to have a big PR campaign, they’re going to open up new markets for false solutions. We’ve seen this process happen so many times. When are we going to stop just conference-hopping around the world, putting up a big pagoda, and having the “alternative people’s tent”? An alternative precedent was set in Cochabamba, Bolivia, when they made the Cochabamba Declaration, which is still the most radical document out there on climate change, in terms of calling for even less than a 2°C rise in average global temperatures—a 1.5°C cap. They just held their own conference and set their own agenda on their own schedule.

I think these are the key things: We need to stop chasing the ruling class around the world, and we need to build our own autonomous bases of resistance and prefiguration. Again, all this amazing local work, how do we help it converge? How do we help it become more than the sum of its parts? I think the first step is that we have to imagine what that would look like, and that means imagining a break from the system that we’re dependent on. Concretely, how would you not have fossil fuels be part of existence anymore? Not as a consumer decision, but as an ontological life movement?

Recently, I read Truth and Dare: A Comic Book Curriculum for the End and the Beginning of the World (Ecosocialist Horizons/Autonomedia, 2014), which you helped to edit and write, as I understand. This work is divided into ten chapters or sections, and comes with an appendix listing seemingly hundreds of recommended readings. Could you speak to the vision which led you to put Truth and Dare together, and the hopes you have for it?

Thank you Javier, I’m very honored that you read it. Just to give some credit: I can be blamed for it, because I was the final editor, but I must credit Fred Ho, Seth Tobocman, Joel Kovel, and many other people who sent in suggestions for that curriculum. It was a big collective effort.

The vision? All the literature that was out there about ecosocialism was pretty academic, and we wanted to break out of that. We wanted to break out of the academic perspective and make ecosocialism a perspective that’s available to children, to people who don’t have the time or energy or inclination to read The Enemy of Nature or Imperiled Life or any of the many books out there that illustrate our problems. Specifically, we wanted to give an illustration of how our collective understands ecosocialism, which differs from the way some other groups have put it forward, as you’ve noticed.

Specifically, this comes through in our understanding of gender and the role of patriarchy in the development of capitalism; it comes out in our understanding of indigeneity, which relates to the question of intrinsic value; it comes through our attention to spiritual traditions and their role in emancipatory politics; and in terms of our perspective on questions of revolutionary strategy, where we understand struggle and prefiguration as equally important. So in those four areas, our conception of ecosocialism differs in some ways from what other people are putting out there. We wanted to put all this into an accessible framework. Another part of the vision is that we wanted the artwork to be of high quality. The whole first chapter has no words. We wanted to do that, to draw people in.

In terms of hopes for it, we just hope that it is both useful and inspiring. For rookies, it can be a point of departure to learn about all kinds of things. And for people who already know a lot, if it can inspire them, or maybe give them a new perspective on ecosocialism—even if they disagree with it—hopefully it will help them think more deeply about things. The curriculum at the end includes everything from children’s books to movies to scholarly theoretical texts, so hopefully all ages will find a way to make use of it. We also want to do translations. We have some inroads for Chinese, Spanish, Swahili, and Arabic versions. We hope that people read it and review it.

I particularly liked Paula Hewitt Amram’s illustration of the toad in “The Ecosocialist Horizon”: the panel in question says, “Nature has intrinsic value: it has value independent of us.” It is both telling and ironic that an amphibian should be chosen to depict this point, in light of the sordid fate to which humanity and capitalism—or better, capitalist humanity—has consigned these animals.

There’s this documentary I saw recently about a water struggle on a Diné (Navajo) reservation. They were fighting for their water, and a younger native woman repeated what one of the elders had told her—that actually the water didn’t even belong to the Diné people. The water belongs to the frog.

You highlighted the question of intrinsic value. In one word, what is ecosocialism? It’s socialism plus the intrinsic value of nature: a non-anthropocentric socialism, that’s what we’re going for here. In terms of how we see an ecosocialist horizon, that’s one of the crucial things. We differ from a lot of socialists who have a much more Cartesian outlook about inanimate, “clockwork” nature, here for human use and abuse. So we are breaking from those socialists, but on the other hand we are connecting to every single indigenous tradition on every continent. Perhaps there are very few universal things, yet one of the universal things it that every non-state or pre-state people—whether you call them tribal, indigenous, aboriginal, etc.—have some sense that nature is alive, even if it’s inanimate—that it has value outside of us. And I want to expose some of the socialists on this, because it’s very hip now to pay lip service to indigenous struggles. All socialists do this, and that’s great, a big change over a few decades ago. But in terms of the actual ideology, a lot of these socialists have a paternalistic, condescending attitude toward indigenous cosmovisions—they don’t believe in the Pachamama or in the Great Mystery; they don’t believe that value really exists independent of human labor. They think that this spiritual stuff is some sort of anachronism that will be overcome through social labor on the factory floor. And that’s just a disaster. That’s Manifest Destiny. So what we want is an anti-Manifest Destiny socialism, a non-anthropocentric socialism—not only for the humans, but for the frogs as well. I really want to expose that: If you want to have real solidarity with the first nations, you should pay attention to what they say, not just support them as bodies which just happen to be blocking a pipeline. No, genuine solidarity with first-nation peoples should be built on ideological unity, on a shared belief in and commitment to the defense of intrinsic value of nature.

Last summer, you attended the conference of the Pan-African Network for Nonviolence and Peacebuilding in Cape Town, South Africa, and the document which issued forth from this convergence was the “Call for Climate Satyagraha!”  Please speak about the proceedings at this conference, and what you mean by climate Satyagraha.

Thanks for reading. This was a historic conference. It was organized by War Resisters International together with local sponsoring organizations. It was the first fully Pan-African conference on non-violent resistance, in the sense that there had been a few others, but they were smaller and more localized. There were people represented from over 30 countries in Africa, from some 50 countries globally, and from every continent. And everybody came with some kind of a base; people were representing organizations.

We were invited to bring the ecosocialist perspective to conversations around nonviolence and anti-militarism. We did three things: we handed out invitations to a discussion on the draft document of the “Call for Climate Satyagraha; we did a big event, which included speeches, a tribute to Dennis Brutus, who was a very visionary person in terms of ecological struggle and climate change; and several world-class musical acts of local and international musicians. We were also part of a working group that met every day called “Resisting the War on Mother Earth and Reclaiming our Home.” A lot of the Working Group’s time was spent discussing the climate Satyagraha proposal, and refining it.

I’ve read a fair amount about struggles throughout Africa, about historical and contemporary genocides, but I had never really met people from a lot of these places. It changes things when you’re talking to someone from South Kordofan, Darfur, or the DRC. These are people who are here for a conference on nonviolence and peacebuilding, not on climate. And they’re coming from places where there’s not a lot of room for bullshit. Life and death: they’re taking a risk even being there. I was expecting people not to reject the environmental analysis in any way, but just to say, “Well, that isn’t really what we’re working on. This is a good idea I support, but we’re focused on trying to get these two ethnic groups to not kill each other.” But that wasn’t the case. People have a very acute awareness of how environmental factors are going to immediately play out into violent, warlike situations. They have an acute awareness of how climate change is going to precipitate violence in their communities. So to really meet people from these places and to know that whenever you talk about “the climate-justice movement,” you’re not just talking about some activists in New York, Lima, or Durban; you’re talking about these people! It was really transformative for us, to realize that these too are the faces of the climate justice movement, that this is a world-wide struggle which includes everyone.

There was a very positive response from so many people. We approached it with a lot of humility: we handed out our draft, and we said, “This is an invitation to discussion. We’re interested in any feedback or critique you have.” We had to push people to critique, because they were really into the idea from the beginning for the most part. It was, and remains very inspiring and challenging to understand that.

In terms of the idea of Satyagraha, it’s an old idea. It means “to hold onto truth,” “love force,” “truth-power.” There are many different definitions and translations. It’s a method of political struggle, an action and a process, which combines resistance and prefiguration. The Satyagrahi, or the person who engages in Satyagraha, has to embody the principles they’re fighting for. In this sense, I think this is really the antidote to a lot of the dead-end NGO activism in the U.S., where politics is a career. I think it’s this kind of salaried activism that is getting us nowhere. It’s not about going to work with your styrofoam cup of coffee, sitting at your computer all day sending emails, and calling that a climate justice movement. You have to really embody what you’re fighting for. This has a negative and a positive element, a rejection and an affirmation: You have to resist the war on Mother Earth, and you have to embody the alternative, “being the change you want to see in the world.” So I think as a framework, Satyagraha is hugely important. There’s a long history, very complex, in many countries, especially in South Africa and South Asia. I think specifically for people in the US, where we’re very colonized by the NGO activist culture, and its endless divorce of means from ends, it’s liberating for us to think about Satyagraha.

Climate Satyagraha: we need a climate Satyagraha now because 2015 is our deadline! The IPCC has been saying since this 2007, with their Fourth Assessment Report (4AR). In the 4AR, the IPCC said that 2015 is the deadline for a carbon emissions peak if we want to keep a temperature increase below 2°C, which as you know from Cochabamba isn’t even enough. Still, it is a threshold to be recognized, because if you get beyond that point, the various positive feedback loops in the earth-system are triggered, and it all slips out of our hands. So what do we do? We’ve chased the elite, we’ve written petitions, we’ve done everything short of what Al Gore called for, which is actually blocking the production and further use of fossil fuels. So that’s what we need, a mass nonviolent prefigurative resistance movement to keep the oil in the soil. The one strategic element we’re adding is the attention to ports and logistics, as we’ll see in the next question.

To turn to the question of spirituality: Let go of your ego form of the self for a moment and think about the future generations, about what’s going to be left on this planet after you die, and the opportunity that we have now. We have every technical ability to turn the tide. If you read David Schwartzman and a lot of other people—even if they don’t get a lot of publicity—there are actually immense strides in terms of solar technologies that could enable us to contain contain climate catastrophe and also reduce energy poverty. We already have climate catastrophe, but it could get hellishly worse. So we have that opportunity right now, but it’s a year-long opportunity. Next year carbon emissions need to begin a rapid decline. What, then, does it take? We can’t know the future, but we can know the path: I think Satyagraha lights the way forward. We have to hold on to the truth, which is love, which is power: that we can change the course of history.

What it says in Truth and Dare is that we need a convergence. “All of the world’s profound spiritual and revolutionary traditions converge for the preservation of life and beauty, in a world and time in which both are threatened.” Bottom line, all of these forms of organized spirituality value life—all the major world religions. Everybody needs to come together in a struggle against the big multinational corporations and their puppets in government.

As economic and ecological catastrophe continues, breaking-apart societies are going to get pretty ugly, and that ugliness will be expressed though all of our social contradictions, one of which is religion. So I do present a rather “pro-spiritual” line, but I know that Third Reich meant “Kingdom of God.” Religion is not inherently emancipatory in any way. During the decolonization movement in India, they would have big rallies for Hindu-Muslim unity. People of both religions wanted decolonization, and they had some foresight to see that things would get ugly if they didn’t emphasize strongly that they were united on this. And it wasn’t enough, but it also was something. We’ll talk about the Sarvodaya villages in Sri Lanka, some of which have acted as firewalls for the spread of ethnic and religious violence, because the people of those villages stood up to the mobs. Similarly, we must emphasize and educate around inter-faith unity here, as this will be a key part of our resilience to climate change. If we don’t do that type of work more and more, it’s going to get even worse, and it’s already terrible, especially for Muslims in this country.

Clearly, the question of logistics and the prospect of physically blockading the flow of capital is not foreign from current events, in light of the 2015 labor dispute between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA). How do you think labor can be radicalized (or radicalize itself), both in the U.S. and throughout the world, and come to the revolutionary consciousness which is such a necessary prerequisite for engaging in material struggle against climate catastrophe from below? What can you say about the relationship between workers at the point of production and concerned outsiders, such as climate activists and radical intellectuals?

On the first question, I spent a couple of years working in and around organized labor. I worked with the United Electric Workers in Chicago and later I came to New York and worked with a Teamsters local, through a program at the Murphy Institute. These groups I worked with are exceptions to the norm: the United Electric Workers, like the ILWU, are some of the few radical unions left, who paid the price, and their membership got decimated, because they refused to sign Taft-Hartley. I only know in detail the U.S. labor movement. But let’s be honest, there’s not much of a labor movement in this country, unless you call retreat a movement. It’s important to say that, because leftists do a lot of “rah-rah labor movement,” but the only obvious movement is retreat. Union density has been declining for the last several decades, and people are fighting noble defensive struggles, but you can’t necessarily call that a movement.

I think the old answers still hold true: people are radicalized and revolutionized through struggle and collective action. The problem is I think what Guy Debord said, that the representatives of the working class have become the enemies of the working class. We spent a lot of time in the Teamsters fighting our own International reps, and against other mobbed up locals. There are important exceptions, obviously, but there’s really very little collective action or struggle. The labor “movement” is often all about corporate campaigns—meaning a bunch of union staffers doing media smear campaigns against the corporation, and the workers aren’t involved at all. Every few years they have election drives where workers are rounded up to vote for the less anti-union candidate. And then there are Potëmkin organizing drives. Every once in a while, they’ll do a big “Rah-Rah” spectacle. I think that’s what happened in the recent Walmart strike, to be perfectly honest; we were lied to. The whole country was told that workers were striking at Walmart. But go talk with them now; see what’s happening. They haven’t built a movement.

It’s not about building working-class power. The words “working class” barely even appear in mainstream labor movement discourse. It’s about integrating people into the middle class—that’s what they’re trying to do. That’s the state that things are in. But on the brighter side, if you look at labor-movement history, you see that change never comes from the established leadership. The CIO was born in a fist-fight on the floor of the AFL: John Lewis punched William Hutcheson, and the rest is history. Another thing that you see is that union organizing doesn’t come gradually; it always comes in surges. In the late 1920s union density was at a historic low. Within a decade it was the highest in U.S. history. So change is going to come from outside the established union leadership, and it’s going to come suddenly. I think we saw some seeds of that in Wisconsin when the state house was occupied. Who ended the occupation? It was the union leadership; they literally told people to “put down their picket signs and pick up their clipboards.” The people are ready, but the leadership is holding them back.

In terms of the relationship between workers at the point of production and climate activists: I think the novelty in the call for Climate Satyagraha is that we’re not talking about the point of production, but rather about the point of distribution. These are the new commanding heights, the new lynchpin of the global economy, and I don’t think that’s really been grasped by a lot of people—the way global political economy functions structurally today with just-in-time production. When you buy something from Walmart, it’s shipped two hours later from Shenzhen, so that Walmart doesn’t have to stock their shelves with excess product. Capital when not in motion ceases to be capital, so it’s constantly in motion; department stores get restocked several times per day. Then you have these mechanized ports, such that the entire port of Shanghai is run by a handful of workers. It’s an amazing opportunity for an intervention, for workers’ control. Chicago has about a hundred thousand workers in the logistics industry through whose hands pass about 60% of all commodities in North America. A hundred thousand workers is not that many. I think this is the equivalent of the GM Fisher No. 1 Plant that was famously occupied in the 1930s. If you occupy that one plant that none of the rest of the factories can function without, you can shut down the whole supply chain. That’s where the focus has to be.

But let’s be honest, in terms of relations between workers and activists, they’re terrible. With important exceptions, people don’t know each other, and they don’t even speak the same language. I think part of the problem is the climate-activist identity, which I think comes out of the dominant NGO culture. The NGO culture has transformed the way we think about social change over the past 60 years for the worse. Once climate activists and radical intellectuals start speaking a language that the people working in the ports can understand, and once they start leading lives that these people can relate to—instead of just conference-hopping and emailing—as soon as we can concretely build solidarity in door-to-door organizing, then we can see a change. I would emphasize the door-to-door approach. Hardly anyone one does that anymore. That’s the way to organize; you go door-to-door. As soon as the climate activists start doing that in the ports, I think you could see serious results.

I understand that you and David Schwartzman, author of “Solar Communism” (1996), have been working together to concretely propose that the Bolivarian government of Venezuela play a significant role in simultaneously advancing renewable energy and anti-capitalism on the global stage. Please explain how you envision this process unfolding. For me, the contradiction between petrosocialism and ecosocialism is fundamental and daunting. Why do you think the Venezuelan State would champion a dialectical transcendence of the very extractive economy on which it has depended for its power and prestige?

They have to. In 2013, they came out with a new Plan de la Patria, which was the campaign that Chávez ran on for his last reelection. It wasn’t just something that they wrote up in a room. It was a constituent process of creation. Some of the people I spoke to last time I was there said it was almost on the scale of the constituent assembly for the constitution (1999). It was a massive effort to get this document together, and it’s worth reading. Venezuela is the first government in the world to officially call for ecosocialism. So what does that mean? That’s the big question, and that’s literally being determined now at all levels of society. There are people in Venezuela who are counter-revolutionary, people who are opportunistic, people who are very radical. This fight is happening inside the ministries and it’s happening in in the fields—with the Green Revolution being practiced on one side of the street and agroecology on the other. It’s everywhere.

Why would they transcend petrosocialism? In terms of their mandate, they have to. They have a mandate to ensure the “general wellbeing” of all their citizens, in a healthy environment, for all perpetuity. So if they burn all the oil in the Faja del Orinoco—they just discovered a field that may be bigger than Saudi Arabia, though it’s hard to believe these oil predictions—everybody in the country and the whole world is going to be at severe risk. So they can’t. It says in the Plan that ecosocialism is another stage in socialism, where we respect the rhythms and cycles of nature, wherein we learn from indigenous peoples—all the language is in there. So the question is how, and also it’s a question of conscientization, to use Paolo Freire’s term. Ecosocialism has to be expressed at the level of poder popular, and that’s starting to happen.

There are contradictions in the Plan de la Patria, because they call for a coordinated mass-movement for climate justice, yet they also call for increased extraction of natural resources. When I was there for the Fourth Congress of Biological Diversity, this was all being debated. I think Brecht was right when he said, “in the contradiction is the hope.” These are the stages that we have to get through to move forward in a revolutionary process. How do you use oil to get off oil? It’s a huge challenge, and it’s not just a domestic problem—some people were very explicit there, saying quite plainly, “If we stop exporting oil, we get invaded by the Yanquis.” That’s the primary reality; they just prevented a coup!

So how do they do this? They have the mandate, and they’re required to do it based on what the people have asked of their government, and the government is constituted on poder popular. I think they’re better situated to do it than anyone else. Why? Because they’re sitting on a giant gold mine. Just use all that oil money to become the solar-energy hub of the entire world. Bring experts in from all over the world, build up the industry, train cadre in appropriate solar technology, and then send them out all over the world, like the Cubans send doctors. The key, qualitative tipping point that has to be reached in terms of renewable energy, is to build solar panels with solar power, no longer with fossil fuels. Venezuela has the money to start that process. Not only that, they also have the political process and the level of political consciousness among the general population to be able to precipitate something like that. You need it all. You can’t just have good people in government; you can’t just have a mass movement. You need these people situated at all levels to be able to push something like that forward. That’s the context of the proposal that David and I wrote—for people in the grassroots and in the government—for a new Gran Misión to solarize the economy of Venezuela and jumpstart the transition in all the Mercosur countries.

There is a revolutionary process underway in Venezuela, which you can’t necessarily tell without visiting it or studying it in detail. The key thing is, how do we play a role in this? We have to side with the people in Venezuela who are fighting for the ecosocialism that we want, which isn’t the Green Revolution, nor is it the opportunism of the Chinese Communist Party. It’s grassroots democracy built around communes, agroecology, and ancestral cosmovision. Those forces are there to be supported. This is the most important point to make, really. Using existing oil reserves, Venezuela can create a fully solarized economy within the next decade, stop using oil, and moreover provide all the seed money for the same transition in the whole region. The fact that that kind of proposal can potentially be heard and responded to in the mountains, in the jungles, in the barrios, and in the corridors of power in Venezuela is extremely unique.

Returning to the concept of climate Satyagraha, which we know to be a model that is clearly influenced by Gandhi and the Sarvodaya movement: given that you are proposing a “return” to Gandhian strategy, what is your assessment of the legacy of the Sarvodaya (or “common good”) movement during Gandhi’s lifetime and since? Our friend John Clark writes a very friendly account of the movement in The Impossible Community (2013), wherein he notes it to essentially be an anarchist mass-movement, given the stress on direct action, decentralization, ahimsa (non-violence), self-management, and (voluntary) redistribution of lands to the poor peasantry.3 John also discusses Sarvodaya Shramadana, a community-based alternate-development movement that blends Gandhianism and Buddhism in Sri Lanka, and he likens it even to the Zapatistas’ liberated territories. Yet I do not think that Gandhi’s approach should be considered as being beyond reproach, in light of his numerous critics, both from his day and ours.

Definitely. I recently read B. R. Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste that just came out with a long introduction by Arundhati Roy. I learned a lot from this, and I’m a lot more critical of Gandhi than I was before reading that book. In fact, I would go so far to say that the discussion of Satyagraha has to be completely divorced from the person of Gandhi to move forward progressively. Gandhi may have been a political genius but he had big blind spots and prejudices, to say the least. Yet in this complex matrix of contradictions is the path to truth. Gandhi, and Roy credits him with this, got something that Ambedkar didn’t, which is that Ambedkar saw the “liberated future” as an urban metropolis, whereas Gandhi had the vision to see—even if it wasn’t born of a specifically ecological understanding—that the future may lie not so much in a massive urban metropolis but in a return to village economies, as set forth in Hind Swaraj.

I recently got back from Sri Lanka, where I had the opportunity to learn a lot about the Sarvodaya movement, which is inspired by Gandhian ideas. Sarvodaya means “the awakening of all.” A. T. Ariyaratne, the founder of the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement in Sri Lanka, contrasts this to utilitarianism—the philosophy from European liberalism of “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Sarvodaya is about everyone, not just the majority. Sarvodaya Shramadana means “the awakening of all through collective work.” Founded i>n 1958, they started by going door-to-door, the way everything starts, by going to people’s houses in a village and talking to them about their lives and their needs. Then they would bring people from the city—Ariyaratne was a college professor, so he brought his students—and they would do this work together with the people of the village. Then someone in the next village heard about it and invited them to come. Fifty years later, there is a network of 15,000 villages, and over 2,000 are self-governing and self-reliant. It is a very unique formation in the whole world.

One of the things that is really compelling is the methodology they’ve developed. They’ve come up with a whole vocabulary for development, so that they’re not always stuck with the Western paradigm. It’s a five-step program: it starts with individual awakening (Purna Paurusodaya), then family awakening (Kutumbodaya), then village awakening (Gramodaya), then national awakening (Deshodaya), and finally world awakening (Vishvodaya). That’s the program. Recently they’ve just started the Deshodaya campaign—that’s how long they’ve taken. There’s a saying that bad news travels fast and good news travels slowly. This is a slowly building movement, and it’s good news! I think part of what appealed to me is about Sarvodaya was the culture—it was such a breath of fresh air! Everyone was so kind and generous. You could tell that everybody had been through a process of really soul-searching for why they’re in this work in the first place. That isn’t something you encounter much in the U.S., where people are involved for all kinds of crazy reasons, which can be a big obstacle to moving forward over the long term.

So it’s a very slow, non-violent revolution. You don’t often hear words like anti-imperialism or anti-capitalism; they don’t always come up. It’s very much rooted in satisfying people’s basic needs, and they’ve defined basic needs democratically. There are some interesting things about this. One is that employment is not included. They don’t think that it’s our purpose here on this planet to have a job. Instead they talk about leading fulfilling lives. Also they say that they are working for a world without poverty or affluence. So there are elements which are very revolutionary, but they don’t rant and rave about it. The politics are all prefigured in what they’re doing. Their conception of a society based on human needs sounds simple, but if you push it to its limits you realize it’s challenging capitalism at the level of the individual, the family, the village, the nation and the world.

It’s really amazing what they’ve built. At this point, about one in twenty people in Sri Lanka has gone through a Sarvodaya training process—about 1 million in a country of 20 million people. They’re everywhere, and they work with everybody. They’ll work with other NGOS, even with USAID, but they don’t get corrupted by it. Their guiding philosophy acts as a force field against the corrosive influences in the mainstream.

Our whole political culture in the U.S. left is built around protest and opposition; resistance and struggle. We’re not used to a politics that starts with meditation, and focuses on working with and caring for our neighbors. These Sarvodaya villages have acted as firewalls to contain the spread of ethnic violence, as I’ve said, so their politics are very real. We have a lot of discussion in the U.S. about what climate resilience. It occurred to me while visiting a self-managed village in Batticaloa, in the wake of a tsunami and a civil war, that the best resilience you can have is community democracy. When disaster strikes, are people going to know each other? Are they going to be able to work together to do things? Resilience is built by going door-to-door and finding out what your neighbors are doing and how to work and live together. So to go back to some of the other questions—I think Sarvodaya challenges us to rethink, what is the revolutionary subject? Who is the real climate justice activist? What does the revolution look like? Fifty years ago, A. T. Ariyaratne said, look, we need a revolution against capitalism and imperialism, but we are taking the long, slow, non-violent path to get there. Now five decades later, they are still on that path. They don’t protest, so they aren’t immediately recognizable as part of the left. But there are millions of people who protest all the time—and how many village economies have they built based on self reliance, democracy, and respect for nature? I was very inspired by what I saw and learned there.

In your critique of the People’s Climate March, entitled “Like a Dull Knife: The People’s Climate ‘Farce,’” you close by invoking the counter-image of the peoples of the U.S. autonomously deciding to overthrow the historical relationship we have maintained with the rest of the world for centuries: that is to say, parasitism and predation. You anticipate that we will abandon our “imperial hubris” and join the revolutionary ecosocialist uprisings of the Global South. How do you envision this transition proceeding in the imperial core of the capitalist world-system, or the “belly of the beast”?

Good question. I think this is the kind of thing that a lot of people haven’t really thought out. As far as I know, Marx and Engels said, “We don’t write recipes for the cooks of the future.”

Or, as they write in The German Ideology: “Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.”

Right—so we’ll see, and we are seeing. But on the other hand, climate change gives us a deadline, so we have to move a little more quickly here. First of all, this is an empire. It’s different than just any oppressive regime: there’s a major qualitative difference. We have a responsibility not only to our own population to bring it down, but as a matter fact to the entire world, whose emancipation is held back by our failure to overthrow it from the inside.

All empires fall the same way: through reclaiming the land. Sometimes it takes a long time. It took about three hundred years for the Roman Empire to fall. But it started on the peripheries, with people taking the land back. I think there’s no reason to think it will happen any differently here. It has already to some degree begun in the sense of the Monroe Doctrine falling apart. We no longer have any military bases in South America—

Colombia?

Well, Colombia is a U.S. military base. And so is Costa Rica. But the point is that, forty years ago, all these countries had military bases. So this process has begun, but it has to happen in the heartland too.

There’s a contradiction here: because we need more coordination and coming together than ever before, but we also need to break up the empire. So how does that look? That’s the question. For socialists, the question is, do you believe in the Socialist United States? Or is that a contradiction in terms? This is not a nation built on freedom, but on slavery and genocide. Let’s understand that and move forward. There are some wonderful things that happened in this country’s history, and we can continue to honor those things and respect them. The “founding fathers” said some great things—even the North Vietnamese copied their constitution! But the fifty states as we know them are an imperial project. So the people need to reclaim the land. The key element is how do we make sure that these reclamations—these secessions—are progressive. This is really a key thing, because if you look at the progressive things that have happened in our country’s history, it has mostly been federal legislation—Civil Rights, women’s suffrage, and so on. These are not things that the states decided. Grassroots democracy has to prevail over grassroots fascism. So this is a challenge: We need to break up the empire, but make the breaking-up a greater coming-together. We need to realize that the empire actually is in the way of our coming together closer.

This is controversial, but I would say that the vision for revolution in the belly of beast is not one of seizing power; it’s one of exodus. I think that’s very concrete in a coastal city like New York—we literally have to leave, because it’s going under water. So we should immediately, starting now, begin to plan the exodus. Sometimes the exodus is a physical movement; sometimes it doesn’t have to be a relocation. It can be a change in the way of life—a secession from empire as a way of life. Go back and read Exodus. It’s an interesting analogue to our times. Lots of people didn’t want to leave the pyramids; they liked the flesh-pots of empire. We’ve got a lot of nice flesh-pots around here: all the fast food and smartphones. We have to give that up. And along the way, some people are going to want to turn back. They’re going to make a little golden iPhone and worship it.

I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think that that’s the model: A revolutionary exodus which dismantles the pyramids. My ideal vision would be an ecosocialist confederation of maroon societies. And I think you can actually see the seeds of this starting to grow in places like Troy, New York, in northern Vermont, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—all the places where we’ve organized convergences with Ecosocialist Horizons, we’ve tried to focus on places where the system is already breaking down, and people are already in the midst of building something new. Again, the key question is how to make the breaking-apart of empire a greater coming-together of the people? It’s the same path, we just have to learn how to walk it, and since time is short, to run it.

1 Damian Carrington, “Earth has lost half its wildlife in the past 40 years, says WWF,” The Guardian, 29 September 2014; Robin McKie, “Earth faces ‘sixth extinction’ with 41% of amphibians set to go the way of the dodo,” The Guardian, 13 December 2014; Tom Bawden, “A quarter of the world’s marine species in danger of extinction,” The Independent, 30 January 2015

2 Oliver Milman, “Rate of environmental degradation puts life on Earth at risk, say scientists,” The Guardian, 15 January 2015.

3 John P. Clark, The Impossible Community: Realizing Communitarian Anarchism (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 217-45.

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“Contra el Capital, la Autoridad y la Iglesia”

March 27, 2015

Sobre la vida y la muerte del compañero Ricardo Flores Magón

Esta es la segunda parte de una entrevista a Claudio Lomnitz acerca de su libro, El Retorno del Compañero Ricardo Flores Magón (The Return of Comrade Ricardo Flores Magón, Zone Books, 2014). Traducción elaborada por el entrevistador y revisada por María A. Castro.  Publicada en linea en Portal Libertario OACA y Bloque Libertario.


Para continuar con el tema de la última pregunta de la primera parte de nuestra conversación sobre las relaciones profundamente románticas, tanto platónicas como sexuales, que se desarrollaron entre las figuras centrales de la Junta Organizadora del Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM) y l@s más cercanos a ell@s, ¿qué papeles jugaron el arte y la belleza en este movimiento? En su capítulo sobre la época bohemia de Magón, “La Bohème,” Ud. observa que la sensibilidad estética estaba íntimamente asociada a la sensibilidad humanista y revolucionaria que sentían l@s militantes que formaban parte de este grupo. De hecho, tal conexión filosófica entre el arte y la revolución social ha sido identificada por Herbert Marcuse y Albert Camus y a G. W. F. Hegel se le conoce por la idea de que el heroismo estético se ve en la responsabilidad en la causa de cambiar el mundo.

Aunque sería difícil responder a tal tipo de pregunta en términos del movimiento en general, dadas las variedades entre sus integrantes, se puede decir que el movimiento en general dependía críticamente de la lectura y la escritura, siendo la belleza una razón fundamental para ganar acceso a la alfabetización. Ricardo era muy explícito en sus cartas en cuanto a la importancia de la palabra, del conversar y del pensar. El insistía que era la conciencia y no la violencia la que verdaderamente llevó a cabo la Revolución, aunque hubo mucho más que la cuestión de la propia revolución. En primer lugar, los contenidos de Regeneración y The Border (La Frontera) incluían mucho arte y belleza y se daba énfasis a la poesía, por ejemplo, además de existir un gran interés en el arte gráfico así como en el reconocimiento de autores y obras literarias. Este énfasis también era crítico en el desarrollo de las afinidades interpersonales, las cuales eran un factor indispensable en la vida social del militante, como vimos en cuanto al amor. 

Había asimismo un principio filosófico involucrado en todo esto, expresado en la idea de que el movimiento sentía que las formas contemporáneas de explotación y opresión estaban degradando a los seres humanos del mundo, y que la belleza era clave para la vocación humana. Para poner un ejemplo, en una carta que escribió desde Leavenworth a Ellen White, Ricardo dijo que “No pude evitar reirme un poco—sólo un poco—pensando en tu inocencia. Tú dices que es supérfluo que yo hable de la Belleza, y lo dices cuando es la Belleza aquéllo que yo amo más que nada.” En términos más filosóficos, y otra vez desde Leavenworth, Ricardo escribió al activista socialista Winnie Branstetter que la humanidad “ha violado la Belleza. Siendo el animal más inteligente, y el más favorecido por la Naturaleza, la [humanidad] ha vivido en la suciedad moral y material.”

Diría que la belleza y el arte eran realidades claves en la formación política de l@s militantes, en la socialización del movimiento, en la definición de las metas del movimiento, en la formación de las afinidades espirituales entre desconocid@s que podían entonces apoyarse el un@ al otr@ de manera espontánea, y en la actitud filosófica que les impulsaba a l@s individu@s a rebelarse en contra de la situación que, en caso contrario, se podría haber naturalizado. Esa es una de las razones por las cuales vemos que vari@s militantes importantes crearon obras artísticas en diferentes periodos de sus vidas. En ciertos casos—como el de Práxedis Guerrero, Juan Sarabia o Santiago de la Hoz, por ejemplo—la poesía se creó en el momento cumbre de sus vidas como organizadores políticos. En otros casos—siendo ésta la dinámica de las obras de teatro de Ricardo—la vuelta hacia la producción artística llega a ser un espacio alternativo hacia la militancia y a organización comunal, en un momento histórico en que la eficacia política a través de la lucha armada revolucionaria había decaido de manera significativa. Pero hablando en general, sí es verdad que vari@s militantes escribían poesía o buscaban formas de expresión artística, incluso para atraer a amantes potenciales.

Para l@s que están más familiarizados con una narrativa reduccionista de la Revolución Mexicana (1910-1920) que da prioridad a la Campaña Anti-Reeleccionista del terrateniente reformista Francisco I. Madero—o, al mínimo, a la oposición maderista inicial a la elección que Díaz había hecho para su vicepresidente en los comicios previstos para el año 1910—podría resultar sorprendente considerar que el PLM organizó varias revueltas armadas en la región fronteriza antes de la Revolución, con la esperanza de catalizar una insurrección popular general en México. La primera revuelta tuvo lugar en 1906, la segunda en 1908, y la tercera siendo todavía la Revolución muy joven, en diciembre del 1910, e igual en Baja California durante el primer semestre de 1911. La revuelta armada más ambiciosa fue la primera, siendo organizada para coincidir con el Día de la Independencia en septiembre del 1906 y con las figuras centrales de la Junta Organizadora en participación activa. La idea era asaltar e invadir tres ciudades mexicanas importantes en la frontera: Ciudad Juárez, Nogales y Jiménez. Lamentablemente, los esfuerzos de la red transnacional de espías causaron que fallara la insurrección, y parte de la Junta fue detenida, mientras que la otra parte se escapó. Desde entonces, Díaz decidió dejar que el Estado estadunidense procesara a los revoltosos por haber violado las leyes de neutralidad que se habían establecido durante la Guerra entre España y EUA, a cambio de la no-intervención del dictador mexicano en ese conflicto. Este fue el cargo por el que Magón y sus camaradas fueron encarcelados de nuevo en 1907 por tres años, castigo por la revuelta que habían planificado. La revuelta de 1908, que consistió en un ataque en contra de Las Palomas, Chihuahua, liderado por Práxedis Guerrero y Francisco Manrique mientras los demás integrantes de la Junta Organizadora estaban encarcelados, parece haber sido desaconsejable, y lo mismo tal vez se podría decir de la revuelta de diciembre del 1910 en la que el mismo Práxedis murió.

Además, tomando en cuenta esta nueva encarcelación de varios de los integrantes claves de la Junta Organizadora, el PLM parecer haber sido eclipsado, en los años antes de la Revolución, por el Maderismo, sistema que proveía un alternativa más incrementalista, familiar y complaciente que la que avanzaba el PLM: Francisco I. Madero (“Don Panchito”) representaba “el Estado de Derecho” y la reforma burguesa-democrática, mientras Magón recalcaba la acción directa, la redistribución de las tierras, la expropriación, y la autoemancipación proletaria. Ud. nos cuenta la historia fascinante en la que Madero se aproximó a Magón para ofrecerle la posición de vicepresidente a su lado—siendo ésta una propuesta que Magón rechazó inmediatamente. Entonces, Ud. nos enseña como fue que Madero se apropió del Ejército Federal de Díaz para regular y vencer las fuerzas Liberales que habían tomado Mexicali y Tijuana en los meses antes de la caída de Díaz en 1911, y después que él activó las relaciones diplomáticas con EUA para exigir que la Junta y varios comandantes del PLM fueran encarcelados de nuevo, tras el repudio de Magón hacia Madero, ¡a no ser que Madero hubiera pedido y recibido apoyo militar a los Liberales en un acto de buena fe hasta ese punto en la Revolución! En este sentido, la traición oportunista de Madero claramente demuestra su compromiso al practicar un arte de gobernar autoritario y Weberiano, y puede explicar la razón por la cual Regeneración llegó a considerarle un “dictador,” un “segundo Porfirio Díaz,” y un “dueño de esclav@s.” ¿Podría Ud. hablar más acerca de los varios dilemas con los cuales el PLM se enfrentó en la fase inicial de la Revolución? Ud. plantea que, tras su división con Madero, el PLM se convirtió en una corriente más marginal en el proceso revolucionario, aunque se pudo liberar para expresar su filosofia ácrata abiertamente. ¿Podría haber sido diferente?

Lo hipotético siempre es difícil. La gente siempre va a debatir si Ricardo se equivocó o no al rebelarse en contra de Madero. Por lo menos, y desde una perspectiva política, su sentido del tiempo no fue aconsejable. Ricardo pronunció que Madero era un traidor mientras que la revuelta en contra de Díaz todavía estaba ardiendo. Esta posición abrió al grupo la acusación de que sus integrantes eran traidores financiados por los científicos y de que hacían trabajo sucio para Diaz. Varios auténticos revolucionarios lo sintieron así, entre ellos simpatizantes anteriores del PLM, como Esteban Baca Calderón y Manuel Diéguez, del caso de Cananea. Puede ser que Ricardo creyera que perdería la confianza si apoyaba a Madero y después se rebelaba en contra de él una vez llegado al poder. No es fácil decirlo con precisión. Pero sí es claro que la Junta bajo el liderazgo de Ricardo carecía de un estrategista militar, y que su posición con relación a Madero, y después con Huerta, Carranza, Villa, y los demás, vulneraba el liderazgo militar que sí tenía en México, dado que siempre necesitaban alianzas. Estas alianzas hicieron posible que la Junta de Los Ángeles considerara a los comandantes PLMistas como traidores. En este sentido, la decisión de Magón en cuanto a Madero aseguró una derrota militar rápida, y quizá también causó una influencia ideológica más amplia y duradera.

Para Magón, la lucha armada era indudablemente una táctica importante, pero considerando su opinión de que el dominio contrarevolucionario se concentraba en la hidra de tres cabezas fatales—el capital, el Estado y el clero—la revolución social, según él, se extendía más alla de la insurrección, y de ahí su idea de que el esfuerzo intelectual de agitación se tenía que mantener para inspirar las acciones militantes directas, tal como se ve en los ejemplares de Regeneración. La decisión de Magón tras el fracaso de 1906 y la encarcelación de ciertos integrantes de la Junta para prevenir que su hermano Enrique participara en la revuelta de 1908 y a partir de allí para asegurar la protección de la integridad física de los intelectuales del PLM provocó un conflicto con Práxedis, quien—a lo mejor de manera más verdaderamente ácrata—sentía que no podía pedir a otr@s que arriesgaran sus vidas en la revuelta armada sin hacer él lo mismo. El joven militante de veintiocho anos murió en la revuelta de diciembre de 1910 en observación de este credo, expiando su culpa por haber sobrevivido a Manrique, quien murió en la revuelta de 1908, siendo éste un caso paralelo al del Subcomandante Pedro del Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), quien cayó en la insurrección neozapatista de enero del 1994.

Dada esta diferencia de opinión acerca de la relación entre la teoría y la práctica, Ud. pone de relieve que Práxedis tenía más dudas que Magón en cuanto al uso del odio en la lucha revolucionaria. El dijo en algunos de sus últimos artículos en Regeneración que “sin odio se pueden aniquilar los despotismos,” y que “Vamos a la lucha violenta sin hacer de ella el ideal nuestro, sin soñar en la ejecución de los tiranos como suprema victoria de la justicia. Nuestra violencia no es justicia: es simplemente necesidad.” ¿Y cómo veía Magón el odio? Me gustaría añadir que su presentación de la supuesta falta de comprensión juvenil que le faltaba a Práxedis del “valor de la supervivencia,” corre el riesgo de reflejar un sentido discriminatorio por edad. ¿Cómo ve la acusación?

Tu acusación de “discriminación por edad” en contra de mí probablemente tiene razón. No lo había considerado en ese sentido, pero sí hay un tipo de identificación paterna con respecto a la simpatía que siento en referencia al intento de Ricardo de prevenir que Práxedis fuera a la guerra.

Pero de todas maneras, también es verdad que siento más simpatía por Práxedis que por Ricardo en cuanto a la cuestión del odio. Varios de sus ataques en contra de sus enemig@s, y en contra de sus compañer@s a l@s que llegó a ver como enemig@s, son verdaderamente horripilantes. Se puede comprender la razón por la cual Ricardo odía si se contemplan las numerosas dificultades y sacrificios que él experimentó en la vida, pero eso no hace que su actitud fuera atractiva. Ricardo tenía varias virtudes, pero su promoción del odio no se puede incluir aquí. En cambio, Práxedis tenía más conciencia de este problema, y una de las cosas más bellas de Práxedis es que el escribía sus pensamientos acerca de esta cuestión, y los publicaba en Regeneración.

El odio que Ricardo sentía también tenía que ver con su perspectiva histórica, no sólo con el rencor. Él estaba convencido que vivía en el inicio de la revolución mundial, y no era el único que tenía esa opinión, especialmente tras el comienzo de la Primera Guerra Mundial. En cierto sentido, esta consideración podría justificar hasta cierto punto los contínuos llamamientos que Ricardo hacía por la violencia e incluso por los asesinatos, pero tengo que decir que esta parte de la vida de Ricardo es para mí una de las más problemáticas. Se ven los efectos negativos que tuvo esta orientación tanto en las relaciones interpersonales entre Ricardo y algunas de las personas a quienes él consideraba más confiables, como en la decaida de apoyo a la Revolución por un pueblo que estaba agotado por tanta violencia incesante. Esta fue una de las cosas que Ricardo no vivió directamente, pero esta cuestión es muy relevante para poder comprender lo que Enrique y otr@s Liberales experimentaron cuando volvieron a México tras la Revolución.

Durante el desarrollo de la fase inicial de la Revolución y mientras más integrantes del PLM decidieron juntarse a Madero, la red transnacional que apoyaba la “Causa Mexicana” empezó a deteriorarse, como Ud. nos dice—en parte como respuesta a la agresividad virulenta que Ricardo expresaba hacia varios ex-compañer@s que abandonaron el Liberalismo por Madero. Un componente clave de tal actitud impropia entre camaradas tuvo que ver con el prejuicio evidente que Ricardo tenía en contra de la gente LGBTQ. Él expresó su ira de manera particular en contra de la lesbiana Juana B. Gutiérrez de Mendoza, cuando reveló su homosexualidad públicamente tras su deserción, presentándola como alguien “degenerada” que estaba involucrada en una “lucha contra la Naturaleza.” Igual ocurrió en el caso de Antonio I. Villarreal, quien dejó la Junta Organizadora para unirse al maderismo, y después fue acusado de haber tenido relaciones sexuales con cierto peluquero. A pesar de la “traición” de Gutiérrez de Mendoza, hay que clarificar que ella ayudó a Zapata a escribir el Plan de Ayala (1911/1914) tras su desilusión con el reformismo maderista, mientras que Villarreal el socialista sirvió bajo Madero y en cambio fue nombrado coronel antes de que él fundara una versión en la Ciudad de México de Regeneración (que Magón consideraba “Degeneración” o “Regeneración burguesa”), y luego acusara a Ricardo de haberse vendido.

Sin duda, las “acusaciones” de homosexualidad que Magón perseguía se afiliaron con el conocimiento popular del “Escándalo de los ’41,” operación policiaca en contra de un baile de la clase alta en la Ciudad de México en 1901, evento que resultó en la detención de 41 muchachos que estaban bailando el un@ con el otr@, la mitad vestidos de mujer. La implicación fue que la clase dominante del Porfiriato era afeminada, emasculada y “degenerada,” y que lo que se necesitaba era la regeneración masculina, masculinizando una regeneración ¡patriarcal! Lamentablemente, y con relación al momento actual, una dinámica de tono similar parece operar ahora en Mexico, en relación al Presidente Enrique Peña Nieto y Manuel Velasco Coello, Gobernador del Estado de Chiapas. No hay duda que estos priístas son tiranos, pero se conoce que una corriente entre la oposición en contra de ellos se expresa en términos tales como “putos” putativos, casi en estilo magonista. A partir de esto surgen varias preguntas. En primer lugar, ¿hasta qué punto se reflejaban los prejuicios de la sociedad mexicana en la homofobía de Ricardo? Es evidente que este prejuicio viola la filosofía militante y anti-autoritaria del PLM, siendo si no profundamente transgresiva, dado que sus adherentes “se enfrentaban con el status quo e intentaban crear una alternativa frente a ello.” Otra cosa es preguntarle, ¿cuánto es que Ud. cree que la sociedad mexicana ha avanzado, en términos de la diversidad sexual y de género en el siglo que ha pasado desde la Revolución?

Con toda probabilidad, sería imposible evaluar la profundidad o el alcance de la “homofobía” durante la epoca de Magon. Ese término ni existía en ese entonces, y como Carlos Monsivais ha observado, el “Escándalo de los ’41” fue el primer escándalo homosexual en México (1901). Así que mi respuesta a la primera parte de tu pregunta es tentativa, pero aquí va: Tengo la impresión que Ricardo era más intensamente “homofóbico” que vari@s de sus contemporane@s, y creo que así era por dos razones. La primera tiene que ver con la idea de regeneración en sí— idea que dependía de la perspectiva de que México estaba postrado, humillado, esclavizado, etc. Todas estas ideas minaban la virilidad, lo cual era un valor clave en el movimiento. Esta dinámica no necesariamente lleva al pánico homosexual, pero sí puede contribuir al mismo. Creo que en el caso de Ricardo, sí contribuyó.

Un segundo factor, en mi opinion, fue la gran cantidad de tiempo que Ricardo estuvo encarcelado. Las relaciones homosexuales eran muy comunes en la cárcel, y eso se sabía bien en Mexico. Carlos Roumagnac, el principal criminólogo mexicano, publicó un estudio de “tipos criminales” basado en entrevistas de gran duración en la Prisión de Belem—donde Ricardo había estado internado—y concluyó que casi todos los encarcelados tenían relaciones sexuales entre sí. Los cuentos que contó Antonio Villarreal acerca de las experiencias de la Junta en la prisión federal en Arizona se enfocaban asimismo en esta cuestión. Es posible que Ricardo desarrollara una aversión a los avances sexuales que había experimentado en la cárcel, o tal vez existíera para él un enlace entre la homosexualidad y la debilidad, o también es posible que él fuera homosexual, y que le horrorizara la posibilidad de que su homosexualidad se desvelara. No se puede decir nada definitivo a partir de los documentos históricos, pero creo que se puede decir que sus experiencias en la cárcel fueron relevantes.

Por último, el tercer factor es la utilidad política de la acusación. En la prensa, Ricardo era constantemente atacado, y el solía utilizar cualquier cosa que pudiera para profanar a sus enemig@s. La acusación de homosexualidad le era útil, y él la utilizaba. Diría que no sólo la utilizaba, sino que se satisfacía haciéndolo.

En cuanto a la situación de México en la actualidad, yo diría que la sociedad mexicana ha experimentado transformaciones tremendas en términos de género y relaciones sexuales—tremendas. Aún durante el curso de mi vida, ni hablar de lo que estaba pasando durante el Porfiriato. Ahora si, las ideas de la conspiración homosexual, en particular entre la élite, como las teorías conspiratorias antisemíticas, todavía son comunes. En este sentido, Ricardo era mucho menos pernicioso que algunos teoristas de conspiración contemporáneos, dado que él no creía que México estaba bajo el control de un círculo gay. Creo que el hecho de que Ricardo en general era antinacionalista le conservó en cuanto a las teorias de conspiracion de las cuales hablas—las que dicen que la gente es pura, pero que sus explotadores son una camarilla de malditos perversos. La homofobía de Ricardo se dirigía hacia las personas que él consideraba traidoras, pero ést@s según él habian traicionado una Causa en vez de una nación “pura.”

Dado, como dice Ud., que la revolución ácrata es “la revolución más radical que la Ilustración ha engendrado,” siento curiosidad por saber si Ud. tendría algún comentario acerca de la influencia que el posmodernismo y el posestructuralismo han tenido en la tradición ácrata en las ultimas décadas, como se ve por ejemplo en la propuesta para un “anarquismo posestructuralista.” Como sabrá Ud., ambas escuelas rechazan la Ilustración.

No conozco estas tendencias bien, en cuanto a las posibilidades de hacer tal comentario, aunque creo que hay buenas razones por las cuales el posmodernismo y el posestructuralismo tendrían un interés serio en el anarquismo. Para ilustrar, la crítica del Michel Foucault en cuanto al Estado y la soberanía fácilmente podría resultar en la exploración del anarquismo como espacio político alternativo. Además, el rechazo del posmodernismo hacia el grand récit del progreso podría proveer un amplio espacio para la valoración de l@s campesin@s, l@s artesan@s, y los modos de vida que se diferencian del antiguo romance marxista con el proletariado industrial. Esas conexiones siempre fueron muy importante para l@s ácratas, ya que ell@s no tenían el compromiso de despojar a l@s campesin@s y transformarl@s en mano de obra industrial.

Cuando digo que el anarquismo ha sido la corriente más radical de la Ilustración, quiero resaltar la consigna “Libertad, Igualdad y Fraternidad [o Solidaridad].” Estas palabras tuvieron una gran influencia, una influencia máxima.

De manera crítica, Ud. menciona que el vegetarianismo era una práctica social innovadora que algun@s integrantes del PLM y l@s estadunidenses que apoyaban la Causa Mexicana adoptaron: es decir, Práxedis Guerrero y Elizabeth Trowbridge. Es de presumir, como escribe Ud., que l@s dos se convirtieron en vegetariani@s para afirmar su amor hacia los animales y repudiar la crueldad y sufrimiento impuestos sin necesidad hacia estos seres, de manera que su rechazo de la injusticia social entre los seres humanos se extendió hacia la esfera de los otros animales y de la naturaleza. Tal vez en esto les habrían influido los ejemplos del ácrata-pacifista Lev Tolstoy y Élisée Reclus, el Communard vegetariano,” algo que también se reflejaba en las sociedades vegetarianas que surgieron durante la revolución social de l@s ácratas españoles, además de entre l@s ácratas-vegetarian@s del movimiento Sarvodaya en India y Sri Lanka.1 Como paralelo a la pregunta que trataba de la emancipación LGBTQ, ¿hasta qué punto ve Ud. progreso o regresión en cuanto a la lucha por los derechos de los animales y su liberación en el momento actual?

Sí, a tu comentario acerca de Tolstoy y Reclus. Creo que la cuestión de los animales y sus derechos es una señal de progreso profundo, y que hoy se extiende mucho más que en la época de Elizabeth y Práxedis, dado que los problemas ambientales y nuestra responsabilidad como sujetos no simplemente de la historia humana, sino de la historia del planeta, actualmente son de un orden distinto al que existía anteriormente. Recuerda que la Revolución Mexicana tuvo lugar antes de que se desarrollaran las bombas átomicas y la energía nuclear. El sentido de que los seres humanos de verdad podían destruir el planeta entero todavía no existía, aunque las ideas de conservar el medio ambiente y oponerse a su destrucción ya existían. Frances Noel, uno de l@s estadunidenses radicales sobre quien escribo, fue un ambientalista que apoyaba la política de conservación en California. Hablando en términos más generales, las cuestiones de salud, aire puro, y medio ambiente formaban parte del discurso entonces no solamente de l@s higienistas y eugenistas, sino que también de l@s organizadores de la clase obrera y l@s reformistas urbanistas. Así que no quiero decir que no existiera el ambientalismo en esa época, sólo que era diferente. Hoy en día, la lucha ambiental tiene una máxima prioridad, mientras que entonces no era así. Esta dinámica causa que el vegetarianismo de un Práxedis o una Elizabeth resulte mucho más interesante, relevante y atractivo actualmente.

Pasando a la consideración de la campaña militar en Baja California (1911)—la lucha armada del PLM más conocida, aunque parece haber sido más un fiasco que una revolución exitosa—Ud. habla de varias problematicas: por ejemplo, que solo un 10 por cien de los insurrectos que “liberaron” a Tijuana eran mexican@s, los demás siendo Wobblies estadunidenses y mercenarios extranjeros. En primer lugar, esta dinámica material resultó en la situación inoportuna en la que los voluntariados anglos con más experiencia militar fueron elegidos oficiales, según los principios ácratas-democráticos, para luchar en la guerra contra l@s mexican@s “leales” a Díaz. Un ejemplo es el caso del aristócrata británico Carl Ap Rhys Pryce, quien anunció sin demora la independencia de Baja California tras la renuncia de Díaz en Ciudad Juárez en mayo del 1911. Junto con las propuestas fantásticas del capitalista “emprendedor” Dick Ferris de colonizar abiertamente la peninsula en interés del capital estadunidense, la decisión de Pryce—que no recibió apoyo ni de la Junta en Los Ángeles, ni de los guerreros Liberales y Wobblies—llevó a vari@s mexican@s a concluir que la campaña Liberal en realidad intentaba facilitar la anexión de Baja California a los EUA, en un paralelo a la pérdida anterior de Tejas, territorio que se convirtió en el Suroeste de EUA tras la guerra iniciada por James K. Polk contra Mexico unos 65 años antes, así que los Liberales eran nada más unos filibusteros, en su opinión.

Esta manera de presentar la campaña en Baja California sirvió para deslegitimizar de inmediato los esfuerzos de los Liberales al, y de hecho facilitó que Madero utilizara las fuerzas federales que había heredado en contra del PLM. Mexicali y Tijuana cayeron antes de pasar un mes después de la caída de Diaz. Aunque la Junta creía que Baja era un punto rojo entre varios, es de imaginarse que este vínculo que se estableció entre el PLM y el separatismo dañó su relación con la opinión pública mexicana. ¿Considera Ud. que Ricardo se equivocó al permanecer lejos de la operación en Baja, o cree que él no fue suficientemente directo para distinguir entre la campaña Liberal y las acusaciones del filibusterismo que se alzaron en su contra, a pesar del énfasis que el ponía en la acción directa y la expropriación revolucionaria? Como observa Ud., este problema es inherente al anarquismo de la Junta Organizadora, que no se preocupaba por la “integridad nacional,” como sí lo hacen los nacionalistas y estatistas.

Esta es una pregunta difícil de responder, dado que no sabemos lo que estaban pensando Ricardo y los otros integrantes de la Junta, y por eso mi respuesta va a ser muy provisional. Es claro que en 1911 Ricardo ni pensaba ni creía que la situación en los Estados Unidos se acercaba a una revolución—aunque tal vez sí así pensaba en el 1917—pero si él pensaba que los Wobblies y socialistas en el Suroeste estadunidense estaban creciendo rápidamente en fuerza y así podrían estar de camino para tomar el poder en esa región en un futuro próximo, podría ser que a él no le importaba si Baja permanecía en Mexico, se convirtiera en una república independente, o fuera anexada a EUA.

Mi impresión es que no le importaba mucho si Baja llegara a ser independiente, pero que sí se oponía totalmente a su anexión a EUA en ese momento. Ya sabes que todo esto es pura conjetura. Según Ricardo, él rechazaba ambas alternativas y quería que la peninsula permaneciera en México, donde debería de estar—pero todo esto salió después de que le acusaron de ser filibustero. Sin duda, creo que a él no le importaba nada cuáles eran los porcentajes de las fuerzas Liberales, entre mexicanos y extranjeros. La lucha era para la liberación de la explotación económica y política, no para la independencia nacional. Ricardo estaba a favor de extenderles la nacionalidad mexicana a l@s extranjer@s que participaron en la Revolución.

¿Debería haberse ido Ricardo a Baja California a ser comandante? Desde el punto de vista de los guerreros que simpatizaban con los Liberales, sí. Al mínimo, debería de haber estado en mejor contacto. La Junta utilizaba a John Kenneth Turner y a Antonio de Pío Araujo como intermediarios, y los insurrectos en Mexicali y Tijuana nunca recibieron la visita de Ricardo, Anselmo Figueroa o Enrique, quienes eran los integrantes principales de la Junta en ese entonces.

Pero de todas maneras, Ricardo y la Junta siempre consideraron que Baja era sólo un frente, no su meta principal. Desde esta perspectiva, tuvo sentido que Ricardo no viajara hacia allá para mandar, dado que Baja estaba muy aislada en esa época, y él no podía haber encabezado un esfuerzo propagandístico allí, en comparación con lo que podía hacer desde Los Ángeles. No obstante, tras la caída de Tijuana, todos los integrantes de la Junta fueron encarcelados, y les mandaron a la isla de McNeil en el estado de Washington. Por esta razón, es posible que pudieran haber logrado mucho más desde Baja California, después de todo.

Enfrentándose con el “avance” de la Revolución, y en particular con el coup d’etat de febrero de 1913 encabezado por el General Victoriano Huerta que mató a Madero y su vicepresidente Pino Suárez—una toma de poder que la Embajada de EUA ayudó a coordinar, como Ud. dice—Regeneración reaccionó, diciendo que tod@s l@s polític@s eran la misma cosa, fueran tiran@s, reformistas burgueses o generales. No obstante, Ud. implica que este tipo de análisis ultra-izquierdista no lo compartía la mayoría de la sociedad mexicana. Entonces, ¿podría hablar acerca de los conflictos entre el anti-autoritarianismo “vanguardista” del PLM y las realidades de los sentimientos populares en cuanto al curso de la Revolución, especialmente en relación con el fin de Madero?

El difamarle a Madero fue un mal error político que reflejó una falta de consideración por los sentimientos populares en el mismo México. O tal vez, como dices, simplemente reflejaba el grado de movimiento vanguardista y su responsabilidad de educar al pueblo y destetar a la humanidad del engaño. Aunque antes de ocurrir el coup, la popularidad de Madero se estaba cuestionando, en ciertas regiones mexicanas—claramente, en el Distrito Federal—su asesinato fue profundamente repudiado. Las críticas que surgieron en Regeneración en contra de Madero, su esposa, y su familia tras sus asesinatos fueron muy insensibles, y podrían haber garantizado que el movimiento se quedara como marginal en cuanto a fuerza política, si no hubiera sido por el hecho de que ya estaba marginalizado en Mexico en ese período en cualquier caso. Recuerda que mientras que derribaron a Madero, la Junta estaba encarcelada en Washington, y varios ex-militantes del PLM se habían unido a otros movimientos, frecuentemente como los bordes más radicales de tales.

Este fallo táctico aparte, al parecer igual había un desprestigio entre los integrantes de la Junta hacia la reforma liberal-democrática, y es por esto que les veían a Huerta y a Madero como la misma cosa. Sí es verdad que eran muy similares en términos económicos, pero Huerta hasta le dio unas concesiones al movimiento sindical para reforzar su régimen. Las posibilidades de la democracia parlamentaria tenían más valor de lo que el PLM reconocía, en mi opinión, incluso para el futuro del movimiento laboral.

¿Qué nos puede decir acerca de las relaciones entre el PLM y otros movimientos insurgentes que se oponían a Madero y a sus sucesores Huerta y Venustiano Carranza: es decir, Emiliano Zapata y el Ejército Libertador del Sur, o Pancho Villa y su División del Norte? Ud. plantea que Zapata simpatizaba con el manifiesto del PLM de septiembre de 1911, y que él tomó el concepto de “Tierra y Libertad” directamente de los Liberales, con las manifestaciones prácticas de la estrategia zapatista avanzando de cierta manera de acuerdo con le llamamiento de Magón hacia la revuelta armada decentralizada y generalizada para expropriar los bienes de la producción. Sin embargo, la situación parecer haber sido muy diferente en el caso de Villa.

Creo que sí es justo decir que el Zapatismo encontró sus ideas principales en el ejemplo de los Liberales, y que el Zapatismo terminó siendo el mejor ejemplo del tipo de política que Ricardo favorecía. Es obvio que la filosofía no era todo, y mucha de la práctica zapatista tenía que ver con las condiciones particulares de la región sureña mexicana, así que no creo que el PLM tiene toda la responsabilidad por lo que el Zapatismo hizo o no hizo. Su influencia filosófica fue muy real, y hubo varios puntos en común entre los dos movimientos. Los problemas del caudillo y del personalismo preocupaban a los integrantes del PLM, pero probablemente no tanto a l@s zapatistas. De todos modos, dado que el Zapatismo no intentaba tomar el poder federal, esta preocupación terminó siendo secundaria.

El PLM tenía una opinión horrible de Villa y ello se relacionaba mucho con su papel en la lucha contra el PLM bajo el mando de Madero, especialmente dado que él era directamente responsable por la muerte de varios de sus compañeros. Las diferencias con Villa igual transcendieron a esa esfera: para Ricardo, Villa era un politiquillo típico: corrupto, sanguinario, autobombástico, comprado por las autoridades estadunidenses primero, y después por quienquiera pagara más…

Aunque la opinión del PLM era muy negativa en contra de Villa, eso no quiere decir que no existía ningun punto de coincidencia con el Villismo, o el Carrancismo. El manifiesto del PLM de 1906 tuvo mucha influencia sobre el proceso revolucionario mexicano. Dado el odio mutuo entre Villa y el PLM, no había muchos ex-militantes PLMistas en su División del Norte, pero sí había varios individuos prominentes que se afiliaron con Carranza durante un tiempo: gente como Antonio Villarreal y Juan Sarabia, quienes fueron protagonistas en el desarrollo de las ideas agrarias de este movimiento.

Ahora, un siglo tras la Revolución, ¿ve Ud. algún movimiento actual que siga el ejemplo de Magón y el PLM? En una entrevista que dio en abril del 1994, el Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos (ahora Galeano) del EZLN explícitamente vinculó el neo-Zapatismo con el pensamiento de Ricardo, entre otras figuras históricas mexicanas, mientras que en Rojava, varios acontecimientos en paralelo entre l@s kurd@s han resultado en el florecimiento del “confederalismo democrático” y la autogestión ácrata durante los últimos años. También es claro que Magón sigue siendo un punto de referencia clave para el movimiento social en México hoy en día.

Ricardo Flores Magón fue unos de los pocos ideólogos de estatura en la Revolución Mexicana. Otras figuras importantes, como Luis Cabrera o José Vasconcelos, muy probablemente fueron mejores analistas políticos que Ricardo, pero ellos no fueron visionarios en el sentido de poder imaginar una sociedad verdaderamente diferente. Por eso, no obstante sus varias deficiencias, el pensar y vivir de Ricardo vuelven constantemente. Además, las dimensiones transnacionales, feministas, antiracistas y antinacionalistas eran únicas en el caso de la Revolución, y han sido una gran inspiración para todos los movimientos mexicanos-estadunidenses auténticos, empezando con el movimiento chicano de los 1970s. La influencia del PLM vuelve en los movimientos sociales, como dices, igual que en la vida de los individuos. Sé que me impactaron mucho los escritos de Ricardo cuando los leí por primera vez a los 17 años (¡ya hace muchos anos!), aunque entonces todavía no sabía mucho de la Revolución, y no tenía ningún interés particular en la cuestión.

De manera similar con el caso de otras figuras complicadas, hay personas que dicen haber sido inspirad@s por Ricardo, pero que no avanzan una política que coincide mucho con la suya. Estas diferencias se deberían de reconocer, sin duda, aunque el punto más profundo es que existen movimientos sociales hoy que buscan instaurar varias formas alternativas de autogestión, democracia, e igualdad que han hallado—y que continuarán hallando—mucho que aprender en el pensamiento de Ricardo, igual que en las experiencias colectivas del PLM y de sus amigos y camaradas.

La subida al poder de Huerta en 1913 provocó en Tejas y otras partes de la región fronteriza una crisis que sería fatal para Magón. Como respuesta a la toma del poder de Huerta, Jesús María Rangel, un comandante Liberal muy respetado, organizó un contingente armado que iba a cruzar a Chihuahua para luchar en contra de los Carrancistas, y después avanzar hacia el sur a enfrentarse con el mismo Huerta, pero a estas fuerzas Liberales les impidieron el paso unos cuantos “Texas Rangers” quien les esperaban en la frontera, donde dispararon y detuvieron a los que sobrevivieron. El PLM de inmediato adoptó la causa de los “Mártires de Tejas” y de los supervivientes presos políticos. Después, en 1915, una revuelta mexicana en Tejas que seguía el Plan de San Diego resultó en una contrareacción brutal en contra de l@s mexican@s que vivían o trabajaban en el estado: miles fueron masacrad@s, víctimas de ejecuciones extrajudiciales y arbitrarias cometidas por paramilitares racistas. Tales atrocidades llevaron a Magón a declarar en Regeneración que no eran los rebeldes de San Diego sino que sus ejecutores los que deberían haber sido fusilados. Fue esta declaración, junto con la designación correcta de Ricardo en cuanto a Carranza, la que le consideraría “otro Díaz” y otro “lacayo de la Casa Blanca” en su esfuerzo por “subordinar el proletariado mexicano y entregarlo a la clase capitalista doméstica y extranjera, atado de pies y manos,” además que la llamada que él hizo hacia los mexicanos que luchaban bajo Carranza para convertir a sus comandantes en blanca, fue lo que les costó a él y a Enrique otra encarcelación (1916), hasta que los empeños de Emma Goldman por pagar su fianza les dio un aplazamiento temporal.

Con el comienzo del Temor Rojo, los hermanos Magón fueron perseguidos por las autoridades, y fueron condenados nuevamente en 1918. Ricardo recibió una sentencia por veintiun años, “gracias” a la ampliación del cargo con la nueva violación de la nueva Ley de Espionaje, que se había promulgado el año previo. Tal sentencia representaba pena de muerte para Ricardo, cuya salud ya se estaba deteriorando. De hecho, dos años después de llegar a la Prisión Federal de Leavenworth en Kansas, donde había pedido asistencia médica unas 22 veces, Magón murió debido a un infarto cardíaco. Su muerte tuvo lugar solo días después de que le habían trasladado a una celda más remota que la de Librado Rivera, quien igual estaba encarcelado en Leavenworth por la misma razón que Ricardo. Aunque no hay duda que Venustiano Carranza ordenó el asesinato de Zapata en Chinameca, Morelos, en 1919, es menos claro que el fin de Magón tuvo que ver con una ejecución extrajudicial propia, en vez de negligencia médica, sea a propósito o no. ¿Cree Ud. que le asesinaron a Ricardo?

Personalmente, no creo que a Ricardo le asesinaran, aunque probablemente nunca sabremos de manera positiva si sí o no. Creo que sí hubo negligencia médica consciente en cuanto a las condiciones serias que Ricardo sufría, y que su muerte podría haberse pospuesto o evitado si hubiera recibido la atención médica adecuada, pero no creo que le estrangularon, como dicen.

Sabemos claramente que una de las teorias de su “asesinato” es falsa, como demuestro en el libro, y también sabemos de la negligencia médica. Podría ser que un guardia le asesinara a Ricardo, y estoy seguro que habrá muchas personas que estarían convencidas de esa teoría.

Las razones por las cuales no creo que le asesinaran son, en primer lugar, que Librado Rivera no dijo que a Ricardo le habían asesinado en una carta que escribió a un compañero desde Leavenworth en la que contaba la historia de la muerte de Ricardo, eso en un momento en el cual Librado no sabía lo que se decía fuera de la prisión. Tras su liberación de Leavenworth, sí aceptó la teoría del asesinato de Ricardo, pero ya en ese momento la productividad de esa narrativa estaba clara, así que contradecirla hubiera sido costoso e insensible, dado que, considerándolo de manera profunda, es muy claro que a Ricardo sí le asesinaron sus opresores.

Otra razón por la cual no creo que a Ricardo le mataran es que entiendo que las autoridades estadunidenses ya no le veían como una amenaza, y el gobierno de Obregón estaba a favor de aceptar su retorno a México. Si Obregón no consideraba a Ricardo amenazante, ¿por qué el gobierno estadunidense? Recuerda que Ricardo casi estaba ciego cuando falleció, y de salud estaba muy mala en general. Al final, la muerte de Ricardo fue una vergüenza para el director de Leavenworth, quien había insistido de manera continua que la salud del preso estaba bien. Su muerte resultó en una investigacion directa desde la Procuraduría Federal. En este sentido, no veo mucho motivo allí tampoco.

Yo creo que la narrativa del asesinato de Ricardo fue una manera de expresar el poder de sus ideas subversivas, y de resaltar la represión que él sufrió bajo las autoridades estadunidenses. Las ideas de Ricardo sí que son poderosas, y sí es verdad que le condenaron a la vida encarcelada, dada su resistencia a la conscripción y a la Primera Guerra Mundial, y su anarquismo. Todo eso sí es verdad. La única cosa es que no creo que le asesinara un guardia en Leavenworth—eso, nada más.

Aunque el crepúsculo de la vida de Magón estuvo lleno de pathos, dadas tanto la decaída de Regeneración, como la miseria y marginación experimentadas por los integrantes de la Junta antes de la encarcelación en Leavenworth, y la separación emocional de Enrique, Ud. clarifica que a Ricardo le inspiraba al fin la idea optimista y casi hegeliana que las Revoluciones Mexicanas y Rusas iluminaban el camino adelante para la humanidad, anunciando el comienzo de una transformación social mundial que destruiría el capital y toda autoridad. En una carta escrita en Leavenworth menos de un año antes de su muerte, Ricardo expresa su certidumbre en cuanto al “futuro brillante que [ahora] se abre a la raza humana,” y hasta la identifica como su “consuelo.” Un poco menos de un siglo después, vemos que la crisis multidimensional del orden-mundial capitalista persiste precisamente porque las revoluciones del siglo XX fallaron en desplazar a los enemigos reaccionarios que Magón había identificado desde el escenario de la historia. Considerando el conocimiento íntimo y profundo de la revolución social que Ud. ha recopilado y presentado en El Retorno del Compañero Ricardo Flores Magón, ¿tiene algunas recomendaciones para l@s ácratas y otr@s radicales de hoy en día que quiere compartir?

Gracias por esta pregunta, no sería ésta una pregunta que me hubiera atrevido a hacerme yo mismo. Aquí viene mi respuesta, en tanto en cuanto no me consideran un oráculo délfico. Creo que la parte más emocionante de esta historia y experiencia es la idea de la centralidad del apoyo mútuo. Además, creo que el feminismo del movimiento, su resistencia meticulosa al nacionalismo, su compromiso con el amor, el arte, la belleza, y su crítica hacia el Estado y la religión organizada son todas cosas maravillosas. No estoy de acuerdo con la afinidad del movimiento hacia la violencia o su teoria de la revolución, que simplemente estaba equivocada.

Con relación a la segunda cuestión, Ricardo creía que cada aldea y comunidad en Mexico reproducía una lucha fundamental entre l@s opresores y l@s oprimid@s, y que una chispa revolucionaria tenía la potencia de explotar la situación entera. En este sentido, se puede ver al Ricardo como un precursor del foquismo y Che Guevara—con algunas de las mismas limitaciones de tal teoría y figura histórica, igual. Lo que Ricardo no veía es que los procesos revolucionarios son guerras civiles, y en las guerras civiles, todas las divisiones sociales se pueden movilizar de maneras productivas, políticas y materiales. La dinámica de la guerra no era, como Ricardo lo imaginaba, un tipo de llama de purgatorio que resultara en el sanamiento de la sociedad y el parto del comunismo puro. No, la guerra civil llegó a ser un proceso en el cual se formaban las coaliciones, los liderazgos, y se negociaban la vida y la libertad de los mejores individuos. Sí es claro que hubo victorias mayores en este proceso, pero costó muchísimo, y los resultados no eran lo que los militantes del PLM habían esperado. Por esa razón, vari@s de sus militantes continuaban en la lucha, y continuaban alzándose en armas hasta que por fin les asesinaron las autoridades. Doy el ejemplo de Lázaro Alanís al principio del libro, quien se levantó por primera vez en contra de Porfirio Díaz, después en contra de Madero, y después se opuso a Huerta y Carranza. Por fin fue ejecutado tras haber participado en la Revuelta De la Huerta contra Obregón.

No me convencen mucho las teorias bakuninistas acerca de la violencia. Pero en mi opinión hay una verdad profunda filosófica en varias de las ideas de Kropotkin y otr@s, quienes creían en la primacia del apoyo mútuo. Igual creo que actualmente hay unos medios de comunicación y organización que podrían facilitar la adopción de los ideales ácratas, en comparación con la situación hace un siglo. Es claro que tendría que haber nuev@s teoristas para poder movilizar estos recursos de manera distinta a la que se intentó en generaciones previas.

Gracias de nuevo Javier, por ofrecerme esta conversación, que me ha proveido mucho para contemplar.

1 John P. Clark, The Impossible Community: Realizing Communitarian Anarchism (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 145-6, 180, 229.

On the Life and Death of Comrade Ricardo Flores Magón

March 13, 2015

Against Capital, Authority, and the Church”

This is part II of an interview with Claudio Lomnitz regarding his book, The Return of Comrade Ricardo Flores Magón (Zone Books, 2014). Part I can be found here.


Continuing in the vein of the last question from the first part of our conversation, which had to do with the profoundly romantic love-relations, both platonic and sexual, that developed among the central figures of the Junta Organizadora of the Mexican Liberal Party (PLM) and those closest to them, what role would you say art and
beauty played in this movement? In the chapter on Magón’s bohemian period, “La Bohème,” you observe that an aesthetic sensibility was intimately related to the humanistic and revolutionary sensitivities felt by the militants affiliated with this group. Indeed, such a philosophical connection between art and social revolution has been identified at different times by Herbert Marcuse and Albert Camus, among others. G. W. F. Hegel is known for his view that aesthetic heroism is seen in one’s commitment to the cause of changing the world.

Although it is tough to respond to a question like this for the entire movement, because there was a fair amount of variation amongst its participants, one can say for the movement as a whole relied crucially on reading and writing—and that beauty was a key reason to gain access to literacy. Ricardo was very explicit in his correspondence on the significance of words, of discussion and thought, and insistent on the fact that it was consciousness, not violence, that really did the work of Revolution. Yet there was quite a lot more beyond the question of revolution itself. First, the contents of Regeneración and The Border included a fair amount of art and beauty—emphasis on poetry, for instance, interest in graphic art, and the recognition of literary authors and works. This emphasis was also critical in the development of interpersonal affinities—a factor that was indispensable for the social life of the militant, as we saw in the discussion of love.

There was also a philosophical principle at stake, which was that the movement felt that humanity was being degraded by contemporary forms of exploitation and oppression, and that beauty was in fact key to the human vocation. So, for instance, in one letter written from Leavenworth to Ellen White, Ricardo wrote: “I could not help laughing a little—only a little—at your lovely naiveté. You say that it is superfluous to speak to me of Beauty, and you say this when it is Beauty what I love most.” More philosophically, again from Leavenworth, Ricardo wrote to the socialist activist Winnie Branstetter that “Man has wronged the Beautiful. Being the most intelligent animal, the one most favored by Nature, Man has lived in moral and material filth.”

I would say that beauty and art were key to the formation of the militants, in the socialization of the movement, in the definition of the movement’s goals, in the formation of spiritual affinities between strangers who could then reach out and support one another spontaneously, and in the philosophical attitude that led individuals to revolt against what might otherwise have been naturalized as “their lot.”

This is also, I think, one of the reasons why we see important militants of the group tending to artistic production at different moments of their lives. In some cases—Práxedis Guerrero, Juan Sarabia, or Santiago de la Hoz come to mind—poetic writing was happening at the height of their role as political organizers. In others—with this to some extent being the case of Ricardo’s plays, for instance—the turn to artistic production is an alternative space for communitarian organization and militancy, at a point in time when political effectiveness in the armed revolutionary struggle had declined significantly. But it is generally true that a great number of militants wrote poetry or found forms of artistic expression, even if it was simply to court a potential lover.

For those who are more familiar with a reductive account of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) that prioritizes the reformist landowner Francisco I. Madero’s Anti-Reelectionist campaign against the Porfiriato—or at least, early on, the Maderista opposition to Díaz’s choice for vice-president in the planned 1910 election—it may come as a surprise to consider that the PLM organized a number of armed revolt in the border region during the lead-up to the Revolution in the hopes of catalyzing a generalized popular insurrection across Mexico. The first came in 1906, the second in 1908, and the third when the Revolution was very young, in December 1910, and then in Baja California during the first half of 1911. The most ambitious of these planned revolts was the first, slated to commemorate Independence Day in September 1906: with the central figures of the Junta Organizadora fully participating, the idea was to attack and take three major Mexican border towns—Ciudad Juárez, Nogales, and Jiménez. However, the machinations of the transnational spy network foiled the uprising, with part of the Junta being arrested and another part managing to escape capture. Díaz thereafter opted to have the U.S. State prosecute the revoltosos for their violation of neutrality laws which had been established during the Spanish-American War in exchange for his non-intervention in that conflict—with this being the very charge on which Magón and his comrades were imprisoned once again for three years in 1907, as retribution for their attempted insurrection. The 1908 revolt, an attack led by Práxedis Guerrero and Francisco Manrique on Las Palomas, Chihuahua, while the rest of the Junta was behind bars, seems to have been ill-advised, and a similar analysis could perhaps be applied to the December 1910 uprising in which Práxedis himself was killed.

In addition, in no small part due to this new jail sentence for many of the key figures of the Junta Organizadora, the PLM seems to have been relatively eclipsed in the years leading up to the Revolution itself by Maderismo, which provided a more incrementalist, familiar, and accommodating alternative to the one advanced by the PLM: for Francisco I. Madero (“Don Panchito”) stood for “law and order,” constitutionality, and bourgeois-democratic reform, in contrast to Magón’s stress on direct action, radical land redistribution, expropriation, and proletarian emancipation. You discuss the fascinating history whereby Madero approached Magón early on to offer him the position of vice-presidential candidate at his side—an offer which Magón readily rejected out of hand. Then, you show how Madero appropriated Díaz’s federal army to reign in and defeat the Liberal troops who had taken Mexicali and Tijuana in the months leading up to Díaz’s fall in 1911, and subsequently activated diplomatic channels with the U.S. to have the Junta and a number of PLM commanders imprisoned once again after Ricardo’s rejection—even if Madero had requested and received military support from the Liberals in good faith up to that point in the Revolution! Madero’s opportunistic traición (betrayal) clearly demonstrates his commitment to practicing authoritarian-Weberian statecraft, and it can explain the reason for which Regeneración came to refer to him variously as a “dictator,” a “second Porfirio Díaz,” and “a slave owner.” Can you expand upon the various dilemmas faced by the PLM in the early phase of the Revolution? You argue that, following its split with Madero, the PLM became a more marginal current in the revolutionary process, even as it became free to openly express its anarchist philosophy. Could it have been different?

Counterfactuals are always difficult. People will always debate whether Ricardo made a mistake in rebelling against Madero or not. At the very least, from a political point of view, his timing seemed ill-advised. Ricardo pronounced that Madero was a traitor while the revolt against Porfirio Díaz was still raging. This opened the group that was loyal to his position to being represented as traitors, paid for by the científicos, and doing Díaz’s dirty work for him. Many honest revolutionaries felt this way—including old PLM sympathizers like Esteban Baca Calderón and Manuel Diéguez, of Cananea vintage. Perhaps Ricardo felt that he would lose credibility if he supported Madero and then rebelled once Madero was in power. It’s hard to say. It is clear though that the Junta under Ricardo’s leadership had no effective military strategist, and its position with regard to Madero first, and then with regard to Huerta, Carranza, Villa and the rest of them, left the military leadership that it had in Mexico very vulnerable, since they always needed alliances, and these alliances opened them up to being labeled as traitors by the Junta in Los Angeles. So Ricardo’s decision on Madero in effect paved the way to a quick military defeat, but perhaps also to more lasting ideological influence.

Junta 1910

The Junta Organizadora of the PLM in 1910. From left: Anselmo Figueroa, Práxedis Guerrero, Ricardo Flores Magón (seated), Enrique Flores Magón, and Librado Rivera. Práxedis’ face has been superimposed onto that of another central figure in the PLM, most likely Antonio Villarreal, who broke from the group early on within the development of the Mexican Revolution. Besides the question of Villarreal’s defection to Francisco Madero, Ricardo held his rumored homosexuality in contempt. (Courtesy El Hijo del Ahuizote)

For Magón, armed struggle certainly was an important tactic, but given his view that the counterrevolution was concentrated in the three-headed hydra of capital, State, and clergy, social revolution to him was more expansive than mere insurrection—hence his belief in the need for agitational intellectual work to continue to inspire militant direct action, as through the issues of Regeneración. Magón’s decision after the failure of 1906 and the subsequent imprisonment of the Junta to prevent his brother Enrique from participating in the 1908 uprising and thereafter to emphasize the protection of the physical integrity of the PLM’s intellectuals led to conflict with Práxedis, who—perhaps in a more consistently anarchist way—felt he could not ask others to risk their lives in insurrection without doing the same. The twenty-eight year old militant died in the December 1910 revolt for having observed this belief, thus expiating his guilt for surviving Manrique, who was killed in the 1908 revolt—in a parallel to the fate of the EZLN’s Subcomandante Pedro, who similarly lost his life during the neo-Zapatista uprising on 1 January 1994.

Intriguingly, given this difference of opinion on theory and practice, you discuss how Práxedis was more wary of the employment of hatred than Magón in the revolutionary struggle, with the former declaring in some of his final articles for Regeneración that “[d]espotism can be annihilated without hatred,” and that “[w]e are going off to a violent struggle without making violence our ideal and without dreaming of the execution of our tyrants as if that was the supreme victory of justice. Our violence is not justice; it is simply a necessity.” What was Magón’s take on hatred, in contrast? Beyond this, I will say that your assessment of Práxedis’ supposed youthful lack of comprehension of the “value of survival” potentially runs the risk of betraying ageism. Do you disagree?

Your charge of “ageism” against me is probably right. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but there is a kind of paternal identification in my sympathy with Ricardo’s attempt to try to keep Práxedis away from battle.

Having said that, though, it is also true that I sympathize more with Práxedis than with Ricardo on the question of hatred. I think that Ricardo at a certain point was filled with a lot of bile. Many of his attacks on enemies, and on comrades who he came to see as enemies, are simply horrifying. One can understand why Ricardo hated when one considers the hardship and sacrifices that he endured, but that does not make his attitude attractive. Ricardo had many great virtues; his promotion of hatred was not one of them. Práxedis, by contrast, was more conscious of this problem, and one of the beauties of Práxedis is that he wrote his thoughts on this question down and published them.

Ricardo’s fanning of hatred was also predicated on his view of history, and not only on rancor. He was convinced that he was living at the cusp of world revolution, and he was by no means alone in that belief—particularly after the start of World War I. In some ways this sense might justify to a degree Ricardo’s continuous call for violence and even for murder, but I must say that this aspect of Ricardo is to me one of the most problematic. And one sees its negative effects in some of the people who were closest to him, as well as in loss of support for revolution by a people who were exhausted by continual and unending violence. This was an aspect of the Mexican situation that Ricardo did not live directly, but that is very relevant for understanding what Enrique and other Liberals experienced when they returned to Mexico after the revolution.

As the early phase of the Revolution developed and increasingly more former members of the PLM decided to join Madero, the transnational network supporting the “Mexican Cause” began to break down, as you detail—in part as a response to the virulent aggressivity Ricardo expressed to a number of his former comrades who would defect to Madero. One critical component of this uncomradely behavior has to do with Ricardo’s evident prejudice against non-heterosexuals: he reserved special ire for the lesbian Juana B. Gutiérrez de Mendoza, outing her publicly as a “degenerate” engaged in a “quarrel with Nature” following her break with the PLM, and Antonio I. Villarreal, who left the Junta for Madero and thereafter was accused of having had relations with a certain barber. Despite Gutiérrez de Mendoza’s “betrayal,” she would go on to help Zapata compose the Plan de Ayala (1911/1914) following her disillusionment with Maderista reformism, while Villareal the socialist served under Madero and received a promotion to lieutenant colonel for having done so, before founding a Mexico City version of Regeneración (which Magón considered “Degeneración” or “Regeneración burguesa”) and later charging Ricardo with having sold out.

Of course, the “charge” of homosexuality raised by Magón played into popular knowledge of the “Scandal of the 41,” which refers to a police raid of an upper-class ball in Mexico City in 1901 that involved the arrest of 41 young males who were found dancing with each other, half of them in drag. The implication is that the Porfiriato’s ruling class was effeminate, emasculated, and “degenerate,” whereas what was needed was masculine, masculinizing—and to a certain degree, patriarchal—regeneration! Unfortunately, with regard to the present, a similar dynamic seems to operate to an extent now in Mexico in terms of President Enrique Peña Nieto and Manuel Velasco Coello, State Governor of Chiapas. Certainly, these PRI potentates are horrid reactionaries, but it is known that one current of the opposition against them is expressed in terms of their being supposed putos, or gays (“fags”), in Magonist style. Several questions come to mind. First, to what degree does Ricardo’s homophobia mirror the prevailing prejudices of Mexican society at that time? It rather self-evidently contradicts the militant anti-authoritarian philosophy governing the PLM, which, being profoundly transgressive, “confronted the status quo and sought to create an alternative to it,” as you write. Furthermore, how much do you think Mexican society has progressed on questions of sexual and gender diversity in the century since the Mexican Revolution—no thanks to Magón, unfortunately?

It is probably impossible to gauge the depth or extent of “homophobia” during Magón’s day. The term itself did not exist and, as Carlos Monsivais once pointed out, the affair of the 41 was Mexico’s first homosexual scandal, and it happened in 1901. So my response to the first part of your question is tentative—but here it is: I have the impression that Ricardo was more intensively “homophobic” than many of his contemporaries, and I think that he was that for a couple of different reasons. The first was to do with the idea of regeneration itself—a notion that constantly relied on the view that Mexico was prostrated, humiliated, enslaved, and so on. These ideas all involved undermining virility. And indeed “virility” was a key value for the movement. This does not automatically lead to homosexual panic, but it can play in as a factor, and I think that for Ricardo, it did.

A second factor in my view is Ricardo’s extensive prison experience. Homosexual relations were extremely common in prison, and this was well-known in Mexico. Mexico’s chief positivist criminologist, Carlos Roumagnac, had published a study of criminal types based on extensive interviews in Belem Prison—one of the places where Ricardo had been held—and claimed that almost all of the prison inmates had sex with one another. Antonio Villarreal’s description of the Junta’s experience in federal prison in Arizona also dwelled on this point. It is possible that Ricardo developed an aversion to sexual advances that he’d been subjected to in prison, or that he developed a view concerning homosexuality and weakness, or that he himself was a homosexual and was terrified to be “outed.” We cannot say from the historical documents, but I think that we can say that experiences in prison were relevant.

Finally, the third factor is the political utility of the accusation. In the press, Ricardo was constantly on the attack, and he tended to use whatever he could to defile his enemies. The accusation of homosexuality was useful, and he used it—I would say not only that he used it, but that he indulged.

As for changes with present-day Mexico, Mexico has had tremendous transformations in gender and sexual relations—tremendous. Even in my life-time, let alone with regard to what was happening in the Porfiriato. Now, ideas of homosexual conspiracy, and of homosexual conspiracy in the elite, like anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, are still common and commonly indulged. In this regard, Ricardo was much less pernicious than contemporary conspiracy theorists, because he did not believe that Mexico was in the hands of a homosexual ring. I think that the fact that Ricardo was for the most part anti-nationalistic spared him from some of the worst aspects of conspiracy theories like the kind to which you refer, that tend to imagine the nation as pure, and then to posit its exploiters as a cabal of ill-born perverts. Ricardo’s homophobia was also directed to people who he saw as traitors, but to traitors of a Cause rather than traitors of a “pure” nation.

Given, as you say, that the anarchist revolution “was the most radical revolution that the Enlightenment spawned,” I was curious if you have any comments to share about the influence postmodernism and poststructuralism have had on the anarchist tradition in recent decades, as in the concept of “post-structuralist anarchism.” As you know, both these schools of thought reject the Enlightenment wholesale.

I don’t know enough about these tendencies to comment, but I think that there is good reason why postmodernism and post-structuralism would have a serious interest in anarchism. On the one hand, Michel Foucault’s criticism of the State and of sovereignty can easily lead to the exploration of anarchism as an alternative space; on the other, postmodernism’s rejection of the grand récit of progress provides ample space for the valorization of the peasantry, of artisans, and of modes of life that are distinct from the old Marxist romance with the industrial proletariat. Those connections were always extremely important to the anarchists, who were not at all committed to uprooting the peasantry and transforming it into industrial labor.

When I say that anarchism was the most radical current of the Enlightenment, I mean this especially with regard to the slogan “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” They took this further than anyone else.

Importantly, you observe that vegetarianism was an innovative social practice taken up by some members of the PLM and U.S.-based supporters of the Mexican Cause: namely, Práxedis Guerrero and Elizabeth Trowbridge, a young Boston heiress sympathetic to socialism who made a substantial proportion of her inheritance available to the struggle. Presumably, as you write, she and Práxedis adopted vegetarianism as an affirmation of their love for animals and a repudiation of the cruelty and suffering unnecessarily visited on them—such that their keen rejection of social injustice among humans was extended also to the animal and natural worlds. Perhaps they were also influenced in this decision by the examples of the anarcho-pacifist Tolstoy and Élisée Reclus, theVegetarian Communard,” which were in turn echoed by the vegetarian clubs that arose in the Spanish anarchist cultural revolution as well as among the Sarvodaya vegetarian-anarchists.1 In a parallel to the question of LGBTQ emancipation, to what extent do you see progress or regression in terms of the struggle for animal rights and liberation at present?

Yes to your comment on Tolstoy and Reclus. I think that the question of animals and animal rights is a sign of deep progress, and extends much further today than it did at the time of Elizabeth or Práxedis, because the question of the environment and of our responsibility as subjects no longer of human history, but of the history of life on the planet, is today of a different order than it was then. Remember that the Mexican Revolution occurred before the existence of the atomic bomb or of atomic energy. The sense that humans could actually destroy the planet was not yet there, even though there were ideas of conservation and concerns with destruction of environments. Frances Noel, one of the American radicals that I write about, was an environmentalist and supporter of conservation in California. More generally, the question of health, fresh air, and environment was part of the discourse not only of hygienists and eugenicists, but also of labor organizers and urban reformers at that time. So I don’t mean to say that environmental issues were absent then, but simply that they were of a different order. Today the environmental struggle is of the very highest priority. It was not then. This makes the vegetarianism of a Práxedis or an Elizabeth all the more interesting, relevant, and attractive today.

With reference to the Baja California campaign of 1911—the PLM’s most famous military struggle, which resembled a fiasco more than any successful revolution—you note a number of problematics: for one, that only an estimated 10 percent of the insurrectos who captured Tijuana were Mexicans, with the remainder being Wobblies from the U.S. and foreign soldiers of fortune. Secondly, this material dynamic led to the awkward situation whereby more experienced Anglo volunteers were elected as officers—in accordance with anarchist-democratic principles—to wage war against Mexicans, as in the case of the British aristocrat Carl Ap Rhys Pryce, who promptly announced the independence of Baja California following Díaz’s resignation in Ciudad Juárez in May 1911. Juxtaposed with the clownish venture capitalist Dick Ferris’ proposal for outright colonization of the peninsula in the interest of U.S. capital, Pryce’s move—which was not supported by the Junta in Los Angeles or by Liberals and Wobblies in the field—inexorably led many Mexican observers to conclude that the Liberal campaign in reality sought to facilitate the annexation of Baja to the U.S., as in the concept of filibusterismo, in a parallel to the previous loss of Texas and the entire Southwest after the war waged by James K. Polk against Mexico some sixty-five years prior.

This framing of the Baja campaign immediately served to delegitimize the Liberal efforts there, and furthermore aided in the ease with which Madero employed the federal troops whose command he had inherited against the PLM—with Mexicali and Tijuana falling within a month of Díaz’s abdication. While the Junta felt Baja was but one among several fronts, or puntos rojos, for libertarian upheaval in the country, this association made between the PLM and secessionism may well have marred its relationship with Mexican public opinion. Do you consider Ricardo’s decision to remain physically aloof from the Baja operation to have been a mistake, or believe that he was insufficiently forceful in distancing the Liberal campaign from the charges of filibusterism raised against it, his stress on direct action and revolutionary expropriation notwithstanding? In part, as you observe, this problem is inherent to the Junta’s anarchism, which was not concerned with “national integrity,” as patriots and statists are.

This is a difficult question to respond to, because we don’t actually know what Ricardo and the Junta was thinking, so my response is very tentative. It is clear that in 1911 Ricardo did not think or believe that the United States was close to a revolution (a notion that he might have thought in 1917), but if he felt that the Wobblies and Socialists in the Southwest were in fact strongly increasing in force and might be building to a position where they might aspire to take power, he might have been indifferent as to whether Baja stayed in Mexico, became independent, or was annexed to the United States.

My impression is that he may not have cared all that much if Baja had become an independent republic, but that he would have been adamantly opposed to annexation by the United States at that time. This is all speculation, you understand. According to Ricardo, he rejected both alternatives and wanted the peninsula in Mexico where it belonged—but this was after he was accused of filibusterism. I certainly don’t think that he cared what proportion of troops were Mexicans and which were foreign. The struggle was for liberation from economic and political exploitation, not for national independence. Ricardo was for extending Mexican nationality to foreigners who participated in the Revolution.

Should Ricardo have gone to Baja California to lead the fight? From the viewpoint of the fighters who sympathized with the Liberals, yes. At the very least, they should have been in more direct contact. The Junta tended to use John Kenneth Turner and Antonio de Pío Araujo as intermediaries, and the troops in Mexicali and Tijuana were never visited by Ricardo, or by Anselmo Figueroa, or Enrique, who were the senior members of the Junta then.

But on the other hand, Ricardo and the Junta always viewed Baja as one front, and not as their principal goal. In this respect, it made sense for Ricardo not to go there to lead the fight, because Baja was extremely isolated then, and he could not have led a propaganda effort comparable to what he could do from Los Angeles. And yet, the Junta was all imprisoned and sent to McNeil Island in Washington State after the fall of Tijuana. So it is possible that they would have been able to do more from Baja California after all.

Faced with the progression of the Revolution and particularly the coup d’etat of February 1913 led by General Victoriano Huerta that killed Madero and his vice president Pino Suárez—a coup which the U.S. Embassy helped to coordinate, in fact, as you show—Regeneración reacted by claiming all politicians to be the same, whether they be dictators, bourgeois reformists, or generals. Yet you suggest that this ultra-left type of analysis was not shared by the Mexican people at large. Could you speak, then, to the tensions between the “vanguardist” anti-authoritarianism of the PLM and the reality of the popular sentiments regarding the course of the Revolution, particularly in terms of the fate of Madero?

Maligning Madero was a bad political mistake that showed lack of regard for popular sentiment. Or maybe, as you say, it simply reflected the degree to which this was a vanguardist movement that saw its role as educating the people and weaning them from deception. Although by the time of the coup Madero’s popularity was very much in question, at least in some areas of Mexico—certainly in Mexico City—his assassination was deeply unpopular. Jibes in Regeneración against Madero and his wife and family at the time of their assassination were deeply insensitive, and might have guaranteed that the movement would remain marginal as a political force, if it hadn’t been for the fact that the movement was so deeply marginalized in Mexico by then in any case. Recall that at the time of the coup, the Junta was in prison in Washington, and many of the old militants of the PLM had left its ranks and joined other movements—often as those movements’ radical fringe.

Beyond the tactical blunder, there seems to me to have also been insufficient appreciation for liberal-democratic reform by the Junta, which is why they viewed Huerta and Madero as being the same. It is true that they were pretty similar from the point of view of economic policies. In fact, Huerta even made some concessions to the union movement in order to buttress some of his popular support. But the fact of parliamentary democracy was more of a value than the PLM recognized, in my opinion, including for the future of the labor movement.

What can you say about the relationship between the PLM and other insurgent movements opposed to Madero and his successors Huerta and Venustiano Carranza: that is to say, Emiliano Zapata and the Ejército Libertador del Sur, as well as Pancho Villa and his División del Norte? You observe that Zapata sympathized with the PLM’s September 1911 manifesto, and he would seem to have consciously taken the concept of “Tierra y Libertad” (“Land and Freedom”) directly from the Liberals, with the practical manifestations of Zapatista strategy arguably advancing in consonance with Magón’s call for generalized and decentralized armed revolt designed to expropriate the means of production. However, the situation would seem to have been rather different in the case of Villa.

I think that it is fair to say that Zapatismo got its main ideas from the Liberals, and that Zapatismo ended up being the best example of the sort of politics that Ricardo was advocating for. Obviously, ideology was not everything—and much of what Zapatismo did responded directly to conditions on the ground, rather than to ideology, so I don’t think that the PLM can take all of the credit, or all of the flak, for what the Zapatistas did and did not do. But their ideological influence was very real, and their points of confluence were many. The problem of the caudillo and of personalismo was a concern for the PLM—probably not shared by Zapatistas overall—but because Zapatismo did not really aspire to take power nationally, this concern was in the end secondary.

The PLM had a terrible opinion of Villa. This was in large part due to Villa’s role fighting the PLM during the Madero revolution, and to the fact that he was directly responsible for butchering many of their comrades. But differences with Villa also went beyond that sphere—to Ricardo, Villa was a typical politiquillo: corrupt, blood-thirsty, self-aggrandizing, in the pay of the Americans at first, and of the highest bidder after that…

The fact that PLM opinion on Villa was so negative, though, does not mean that there were no points of coincidence with this movement, or with Carrancismo, for that matter. The PLM’s 1906 platform had pretty broad influence in the Mexican revolutionary process. Because of Villa’s personal animosity to the PLM, there weren’t a lot of former PLM militants in his movement, but there were many prominent people in Carranza’s camp for a while, including people like Antonio Villarreal and Juan Sarabia, who were relevant players for the agrarian ideas of that movement.

A century now after the Revolution, do you see any movements taking from the example of Magón and the PLM? In an April 1994 interview, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos of the EZLN explicitly tied Zapatismo to the thought of Ricardo, among others, while in Rojava a number of parallel developments taken up by the Kurds have seen the flowering of “democratic confederalism” and anarchistic self-management during the past few years. Self-evidently, as well, Magón remains a key reference for the movimiento social in Mexico to this day.

Ricardo Flores Magón was one of the few ideologues of stature in the Mexican Revolution. Other important figures, like Luis Cabrera or José Vasconcelos, for instance, were probably much better political analysts than Ricardo, but they were not visionaries, in the sense of imagining a truly alternative society. Hence, despite all of their shortcomings, Ricardo’s thought and experience return constantly. What is more, the transnational, feminist, anti-racist and anti-nationalist component is unique for the Mexican Revolution, as well as being a source of inspiration to any contemporary Mexican-American social movement worth its salt, starting with the Chicano movement in the 1970s. So PLM influence returns in social movements, just as you say, and it also often happens with individuals as well—I know that I was impacted by Ricardo’s writings when I first read some of them, when I was 17 (years ago!) and yet I knew very little about the Mexican Revolution then, and did not have any special interest in the subject.

As with many other complicated figures, there are people who claim inspiration from Ricardo but who have a politics that is not very compatible with his. This deserves to be noted, certainly, but the deeper point is that there are movements today looking to formulate various alternative forms of self-management, democracy and equality that have found—and will continue to find—much to learn from Ricardo’s thought, and from the collective experience of the PLM and of their friends and allies.

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Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, where Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magón and Librado Rivera were imprisoned during the First Red Scare for violating neutrality laws and the Espionage Act. This would be Ricardo’s place of death during the early morning of 21 November 1922, whether due to conscious medical neglect or outright murder. (Courtesy John Murray Papers)

The ascendancy of Huerta in 1913 provoked a crisis in Texas and the rest of the border region which would ultimately prove fatal to Magón. In response to Huerta’s coup, Jesús María Rangel, a respected Liberal commander, organized an expeditionary force to cross into Chihuahua, do battle with the Carrancistas, and progress south to deal with Huerta himself, but they were forcibly prevented from doing so by Texas Rangers who met them at the border, fired on them, and arrested the revolutionaries who survived the shoot-out. The PLM immediately took up the cause of the “Texas Martyrs” and the surviving political prisoners. Then, in 1915, a Mexican uprising in Texas following the Plan de San Diego was met with a fierce, all-out reprisal against Mexicans located in the state: thousands were shot, lynched, or otherwise summarily executed by white-supremacist gangs. Such atrocities led Magón to declare in Regeneración that it was not the San Diego rebels but their executioners who should be shot. It was this declaration, together with Ricardo’s apt designation of Carranza as “another Díaz” and another “lackey of the White House” who would work to “subject the Mexican proletarian and turn him [sic] over to the foreign and domestic capitalist class, hand and foot,” as well as the accompanying call he made for Mexicans fighting in Carranza’s army to turn their guns on the officer class which landed him and Enrique once again in jail in 1916, until Emma Goldman’s efforts to raise bail gave them a temporary reprieve.

Then, with the coming of the Red Scare, the Magón brothers were tried and convicted yet again in 1918. Ricardo was sentenced to twenty-one years’ imprisonment, thanks to a new charge of violation of the Espionage Act, which had just been passed the year before. Such a sentence amounted to capital punishment for Ricardo, whose health was already declining. In point of fact, two years after coming to Leavenworth Federal Prison in Kansas, where he had requested medical assistance no fewer than 22 times, Magón died of a heart attack. Ricardo’s death came just days after he was transferred to a different cell farther away from Librado Rivera, who was also interned in Leavenworth on the same charge as Magón. While there is no question that Venustiano Carranza ordered Zapata’s assassination in Chinameca, Morelos in 1919, it is less clear that Magón’s end was due to outright execution rather than conscious medical neglect. Do you think Ricardo was murdered?

I myself don’t think that Ricardo was murdered, but probably we will never know for sure. I do believe that there was deliberate medical negligence with regard to Ricardo’s serious condition, and that his death might have been postponed or averted had he been given proper medical attention, but I don’t believe that he was strangled, as the theory goes.

We know for sure that one of the theories of his “murder” is false—as I show in the book—and we know for sure about the medical negligence. Whether Ricardo might have been murdered by a guard in any case is possible, and I am sure that there will be many who subscribe to that theory.

The reasons why I don’t think that he was murdered are, first, that Librado Rivera did not say that Ricardo was murdered in a letter that he wrote to a comrade from prison telling the tale of Ricardo’s death, at a time when Librado did not know what was being said outside the prison. After Librado’s release from Leavenworth, he did subscribe to the theory of Ricardo’s murder, but by that point the productivity of that tale was clear, and going against it would have been costly and unnecessary since, in a deeper sense, Ricardo was of course killed by his oppressors.

I also don’t believe that Ricardo was murdered because I don’t think that the Americans saw him as such a threat at that point. The Obregón government was willing to repatriate him to Mexico. If Obregón did not see Ricardo as a threat, why would the US government? Remember that Ricardo was practically blind by the time that he died, and in very poor health. Finally, Ricardo’s death was an embarrassment to the warden of the prison, who had repeatedly claimed that the prisoner’s health was good. It earned him a direct inquiry from the Attorney General. So I don’t see much motivation there either.

My sense is that the story of Ricardo’s assassination was a way of figuring and expressing the potency of his subversive ideas, and a way of pointing to the repression to which he was subjected by the American government. Ricardo’s ideas were indeed powerful. And he was indeed condemned to life in prison because of his resistance to the draft and to World War I, and because of his adscription to anarchism. All of that is true. I just don’t think that he was murdered by the guard, that’s all.

While the twilight of Magón’s life was full of pathos, given the decline of Regeneración, the poverty and marginalization experienced by the Junta members prior to imprisonment in Leavenworth, and the estrangement with Enrique, you make clear that Ricardo was encouraged in the end by an optimistic, almost Hegelian sense that the Mexican and Russian Revolutions illuminated the way forward for humanity, hearkening the beginning of a universal social transformation that would overthrow capital and all authority. In a letter written in Leavenworth less than a year before his death, indeed, Ricardo expressed his certainty regarding the “bright future which is [now] opened to the human race,” and he even identifies this as his “consolation.” A little less than a century on, we see that the multidimensional crisis of the capitalist world-order persists precisely because the revolutions of the twentieth century failed to displace the reactionary enemies identified by Magón from the stage of world history. In light of the intimate and profound knowledge of social revolution you have collected and presented to us in The Return of Comrade Ricardo Flores Magón, do you have any concrete suggestions to make to anarchists and other radicals today?

Thank you for this question—it is not one that I had dared to ask myself. As long as I’m not taken as some sort of Delphian oracle, here’s my response. I think that the most powerful aspect of this story and experience is the idea of the centrality of mutual aid. Also, I believe that the movement’s feminism, its punctilious resistance to nationalism, its commitment to love and to art and beauty, and its criticism of the State and of organized religion are all exemplary. I do not have as high an opinion of the movement’s embrace of violence or of its revolutionary theory, which was simply wrong.

Concerning the latter, Ricardo believed that each town and village in Mexico replicated a fundamental struggle between the oppressors and the oppressed, and that a revolutionary spark had the power to explode the whole tinder-box. In this sense, he can be seen as a precursor to foquismo and Che Guevara—with some of the same limitations as that theory, too. What Ricardo did not visualize though is that revolutionary processes are civil wars, and that in civil wars all of the fractures of society become politically productive and material for political exploitation. The dynamic of war was not, as Ricardo imagined, a kind of purgatorial fire that would end up cleansing society of its ills and giving birth to pure communism. Instead, civil war proved to be a process wherein coalitions were formed, leaderships emerged, and the life and freedom of the best people were bargained with. There were major gains in the process, to be sure, but the costs were huge, and the results were not what the PLM hoped for, so much so that many of its militants continued to struggle, and continue to rise up in arms until they were finally shot. I give the example of Lázaro Alanís at the very start of the book, who rose up in arms first against Porfirio Díaz, then against Madero, then against Huerta, then against Carranza, and was finally executed after participating in the De la Huerta rebellion against Obregón.

I don’t think much of Bakuninist theories of violence. But to my mind there’s deep philosophical truth in much of the doctrines of Kropotkin and others who believe in the primacy of mutual aid, and I also feel that there are communications media and organizational possibilities in the present that make at least some anarchist ideals more viable today than they were in the early twentieth century. Of course, new theorists will be necessary to put these resources into play in a way that is different from those that were tried in that earlier generation.

Thank you again, Javier, for offering me this conversation, which has given me much to reflect on.

1 John P. Clark, The Impossible Community: Realizing Communitarian Anarchism (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 145-6, 180, 229.

The First Global Festival for Anti-Capitalist Resistance and Rebellion

January 26, 2015

Published on Counterpunch, 26 January 2014

Organized by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), the first annual Festival Mundial de las Resistencias y Rebeldías contra el Capitalismo, or the Global Festival for Anti-Capitalist Resistance and Rebellion, was held in central and southern Mexico over a two-week period at the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015. The event’s subtitle sums up its purpose well: praxWhile those from above destroy, those from below rebuild.” Taken as a whole, this new Festival recalled the different “intergalactic” meetings hosted by the EZLN in Chiapas in the 1990’s, such as the Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and Against Neo-Liberalism (1996). According to the statistics made known at the event’s close at CIDECI-Unitierra in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, the number of officially registered participants at the Festival came to over 3400 Mexicans, including 1300 individuals belonging to 20 indigenous ethnicities, and 500 foreigners from 49 countries—though the total number of those who attended the Grand Cultural Festival in Mexico City and the EZLN’s year-end festivities at the Oventik caracol at other points over the course of the Festival must be considered as amounting to several times this total. While the Festival generally focused on the numerous problematics faced by Mexico’s various indigenous peoples amidst the power of capital and State—due in no small part, indeed, to the central participation of the CNI in the event—the distressing case of the 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Normal School who were forcibly disappeared by police in Iguala, Guerrero, in late September also took central stage throughout the event.

The Anti-Capitalist Festival was inaugurated in Mexico state on 21 December, and the comparticiones (“sharings”) followed for two days afterward in two locations in central Mexico. While I was present for neither, I can here relate the reports made ex post facto at CIDECI regarding the goings-on at these spaces. The launch of the comparticiones took place simultaneously in San Francisco Xochicuautla in Mexico state and in Amilcingo, Morelos. San Francisco Xochicuautla has become an emblem of socio-ecological resistance in Mexico lately, as the local indigenous Ñatho peoples have opposed themselves to the imposed plan of building a new private highway on their territory—a project that implies vast deforestation, and which has to date seen State repression meted out on those in opposition—while, as two Nahua CNI delegates from Morelos explained to me as we waited together outside the Zapatista Good-Government Council’s office at Oventik on New Year’s Eve, the case of Amilcingo reflects the problems of domestic and foreign rackets, extractivism, and profit in Mexico, as these exigencies result in the plundering of territory (despojo) and fundamentally violate indigenous autonomy. In Amilcingo, in accordance with the vision set forth in the “Integral Morelos Plan” (PIM) that has been on the books for years, there has been an attempt to construct a natural gas pipeline that would supply a planned thermal power station, this despite the various dangers posed to the integrity of such structures within such a seismically and volcanically active area as Morelos. In Amilcingo, as in San Francisco Xochicuautla, indigenous Nahuas have mobilized to prevent the construction project from being carried through. At both sites on 22-23 December, representatives from indigenous ethnicities represented in the CNI and affiliates of the National and International Sixth—that is to say, those who subscribe to the EZLN’s Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle (2005)—made presentations about their struggles, philosophies, and commitments.

In San Francisco Xochicuautla, the Las Abejas Civil Society from the highlands of Chiapas discussed the December 1997 massacre which they suffered at the hands of State-supported paramilitaries—an attack on the community of Acteal in which 45 people, mostly women and children, were murdered, with this number coming ominously close to the number of students currently disappeared from the Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa—and they described how, though the attack was an act of State terror that should demand international prosecution, the Supreme Court for Justice in the Nation (SCJN) has in recent years instead liberated scores of indigenous men who had been convicted for having participated in the massacre, such that now only 2 out of the 102 individuals who had originally been held for the crime remain incarcerated. Similarly, ejidatarios from San Sebastián Bachajón, Chiapas, reviewed their historical struggle against the state-government’s attempt at privatizing their lands for touristic ends, as at proposing a new highway between San Cristóbal and Palenque—again for purposes of “developing” the tourist sector—in addition to the repression they have faced at the hands of paramilitaries belonging to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, which in addition to dominating the country’s executive, also holds power now in Chiapas in the person of Governor Manuel Velasco Coello, “el Güero,” or “the White Guy”), which has resulted in the murders of two of their comrades in the past couple of years. The Voz del Amate, a group of former and current political prisoners who similarly subscribe to the Sixth Declaration, also shared its experiences in Xochicuautla.

For their part, the Yaquis from northwestern Mexico revindicated their just struggle to prevent the waters of the Yaqui River from being massively diverted in order to supply the burgeoning industries and populations of cities like Hermosillo, Sonora, and they declared themselves in resistance to the systematic violation of their traditional laws and customs, to which they are entitled under international law, particularly the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169. At the first of two days of the Festival’s conclusion at CIDECI, in fact, Mario Luna, a Yaqui political prisoner who has been imprisoned precisely for having led the struggle in defense of the Yaqui River, was allowed to communicate by phone with the assembled: expressing his gratitude to the EZLN and CNI and the indigenous revolutionaries of Xochicuautla and Cherán, Michoacán, he affirmed his people’s right to govern themselves differently, in spite the conscious efforts that have been made to suppress such alternatives; making mention of the horrific fire at the ABC Nursery in Hermosillo which took the lives of 49 children in 2009, Luna announced that, despite his unjust incarceration, he continues firm in his convictions. International adherents to the Sixth Declaration from Argentina denounced the ingression of transgenic crops, the expansion of open-pit mining, and the repressive socio-psychological forgetting of the foundational genocide that took place in that country, while comrades from the Anarchist Federation of France (FA) declared themselves opposed to the degradation of the rights of workers and the destruction of nature. An additional group from Italy that was present described its political work as “anti-fascist, anti-sexist, anti-capitalist,” and in favor of mutual aid and solidarity.

In Amilcingo, the padres de familia (parents) of the disappeared students opened the compartición, naming the principal responsible parties for the atrocities to which their sons have been subjected to be the federal and Guerrero-state governments, the narco-paramilitaries, the Army, and President Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN, from the PRI). Constructively, they proposed the physical occupation of major mass-media outlets in the country as a means of intensifying the calls that have resounded throughout the country these past three months to demand the return with life of their sons. From Tepoztlán, Morelos, CNI delegates discussed the case of another planned highway expansion designed in accordance with the PIM, for which they blame private capital and State together. Hailing from Oaxaca’s Tehuantepc Isthmus, national adherents to the Sixth Declaration spoke to the expropriation of communal property by international firms like Mareña Renewables that have sought to install scores of wind-energy towers in the area in recent years, and they announced a caravan for January 2015 to highlight the problematic of looting and systematic violations of free, prior, and informed consent by these corporations. Other national Sixth adherents who presented at Amilcingo include the Anarchist Black Cross; the environmental wing of #YoSoy132, which declared itself opposed to transgenic maize and the newly approved energy and rural reforms spearheaded by EPN; comrades from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, who denounced the ongoing femicides, militarization, and war-footing for which that city is known, as well as burgeoning oil-extraction and fracking schemes in the region; the “Lucio Cabañas” collective from the Xochimilco campus of the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) of Mexico City, which shared its experiences with police repression following the mobilizations they had undertaken for the disappeared 43 students in November; CACITA Oaxaca, which has for years worked in favor of a generalized adoption of ecologically balanced and appropriate technologies, including bicycle-operated machines and dry bathrooms; as well as an environmentalist grouping from Mexico City that resists attempts to privatize the Chapultepec forests in that city. Internationally, comrades from Ferguson arrived to share their experiences with police brutality and to highlight the effective racial segregation on hand in U.S. society, while Parisian rebels lamented the annihilation of anarchist social spaces which has resulted from processes of gentrification in the French capital; commemorated the life of 21-year old Rémi Fraisse, who was murdered in November during a police clearing of the ZAD (Zone a Défendre) encampment in southwestern France; and detailed the various actions they have taken in solidarity with Ayotzinapa and the political prisoner María Salgado. Representatives from the Norwegian Committee for Solidarity with Latin America similarly explained the concrete actions they had taken of late to protest the criminalization of social protest in Mexico and elsewhere.

Thus was the first part of the Festival completed, with the comparticiones lasting two days in San Francisco Xochicuautla and Amilcingo each. The next phase of the event—part two of five, we can say—took place in the Iztapalapa district of Mexico City, at the Lienzo Charro, a stable located near the Guelatao metro station, named for the birthplace in Oaxaca of the celebrated indigenous president of Mexico, Benito Juárez, who repelled the revanchist French invasion of 1862 that sought to install Maximilian von Habsburg as emperor and weakened the hegemony of the Catholic Church over Mexican society, in accordance with his Liberal principles—which are very far from the liberal (or neo-liberal) values known in the U.S.! Indeed, the “Grand Cultural Festival,” which started on 24 December and lasted three days, until the 26th, took place a short walk from the “Cabeza de Juárez,” a huge structure commemorating the Liberal Oaxacan president. Principally, the space at the Lienzo Charro was divided between a massive tianguis cultural—a cultural market of sorts, full of food vendors offering huaraches and tacos; anarchists and other radicals selling books, shirts, and prints; and intellectuals representing Praxis en América Latina, which takes after Marxist-humanism and the thought of Raya Dunayevskaya—and two stages for musical and theatrical performances: one named for Compañero Galeano, a Zapatista support-base (BAEZLN) who was killed in a paramilitary attack on the La Realidad caracol in May 2014, and the other for Compañero David Ruiz García, an Otomi indigenous man who died in a traffic accident after having attended the meeting held between the Zapatistas and the CNI that very same month to mourn Galeano. The Grand Cultural Festival also provided various activities for children, hosted chess and soccer tournaments, and opened space for various workshops addressing such questions as urban gardening, traditional Mexican medicine, eco-villages, prisoners’ rights, digital self-defense, and solidarity economics.

When I arrived to the Festival on the morning of the 24th, the activity on hand on the “Compañero Galeano” stage was a series of speeches made by padres de familia and even by students who had survived the police attack in Iguala of 26 September. At least one father and mother expressed the hope that their sons were in fact still alive, in this way rejecting the official account of the events of 26-27 September which was presented by Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam in early November: that is, that the 43 students had been expeditiously handed over by the Iguala municipal police to the “United Warriors” drug cartel, who subsequently murdered them and incinerated their remains. Omar García, a student-survivor who has become a spokesperson of sorts for the padres de familia, announced that, though the 43 students had been unarmed at the time of the police attack against them and the forcible disappearance which followed, many of the parents now wished that their sons had actually been carrying weapons that night with which to defend themselves. That morning of the 24th, which was marked by strong rains, the padres de familia were organizing their action for that night, Christmas Eve—known as Noche Buena (“The Good Night”) in Spanish—which was to involve a public protest outside the Los Pinos presidential residence. The action, which proceeded despite the rainstorm which raged that night, was meant to demonstrate to the government and Mexican society as a whole that, for the parents of the disappeared, there could be no Noche Buena. At the tianguis that day, I came across a print commemorating the life of Alexander Mora Venancio, 21 years old, the only one of the 43 whose remains have been positively identified by Argentinian forensics experts to date.

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Hasta siempre compañero”: a print commemorating Alexander Mora Venancio, 21 years of age, being the only student among the 43 disappeared whose remains have been positively identified since the police attack of 26 September 2014. The man depicted as holding Alexander’s image is Lucio Cabañas, a guerrillero from Guerrero state who founded the Party of the Poor in 1967.

After this sobering beginning, the Grand Festival Cultural proceeded principally to open space for a multitude of rebellious and revolutionary theater-artists, dancers, and musicians to share their art and vision with the masses of people who came to attend the event, even in spite of the heavy rains on the 24th. That morning, a Nahua man and his comrade provided a thorough public explanation of how the imagery of the Virgen de Guadalupe—originally depicted by a Nahua artist, in fact—preserves and expresses a myriad indigenous symbols, from the stars and flowers which adorn the Virgin’s dress to the waxing moon on which she stands. The duo showed that the iconography of the Virgen communicates the Nahua notion of Tonantzin, or “our beloved mother,” “la madre más primera” (“the first or most important mother”), and as such stands in for la Madre Tierra, Mother Earth. Notable musical artists from that first day of the Cultural Festival included the collaboration between Raíces Libertarias (“Libertarian Roots”) and Mentes Ácratas (“Anarchist Minds”), who melded stirring hip-hop beats with a profound anti-authoritarianism to simultaneously entertain and enrage; Inercia (“Inertia”), a group of young punk rockers who dedicated at least one song to the inertial manner with which humanity would seem to be careening toward eco-apocalypse; and a Chilean rapper who concluded one of his songs using the following lines, palpably referring to the contemporary eco-political situation identified by “Inercia”: “La tierra un infierno / Y la humanidad en cenizas” (“The Earth, an inferno / And humanity in ashes”).

The Grand Cultural Festival continued with musical celebrations on the 25th and 26th as well. The former day, reggae artist El Aaron sang the praises of cannabis while condemning the police (“Policias en helicopteros / Buscando marijuana”), in this way presenting an embodied rebellion against Zapatista rebelliousness: for it is known that all drugs are forbidden in EZLN communities. The all-women’s group Batallones Femininos (“Female Batallions”) provided raps having to do with feminist issues on the evening of the 25th—much as they would do live on Radio Insurgente during the night of the first day of the Festival’s closure at CIDECI just over a week later. Also the same evening from the “Galeano” stage, Sonora Skandalera provided everyone who so desired and could the opportunity to dance to the tune of their joyous music.

In contrast to the first two days, which were open to all, entrance to the third and final day of the Cultural Festival was limited to those who paid 70 pesos to attend a concert that doubled as a fundraiser for the CNI. A number of celebrated Mexican and Latin American groups performed this day, including El Sazón María, Mr. Blaky, Polka Madre, Antidoping, El Poder del Barrio, and others. Among the most impressive artists who performed on this final day was the Mexikan Sound System. Like El Aaron, Mexikan Sound System played a song explicitly dedicated to the legalization of marijuana, and much of the rest of the duo’s oeuvre would seem to be similarly politically radical, discussing State terror, migration, and the drug war. Another one of their songs, “No Te Olvido” (“I Will Not Forget You”), which is dedicated to “all those who have given their lives in the attempt to form a world in which many worlds fit,” features the following gripping refrain: “Pasarán los dias / Pasarán los meses / Pasarán mil anos / Pero no te olvido” (“Though days, months, and even a thousand years may pass, / I will not forget you”). Impressively for an artist who identifies consciously with the reggae musical tradition, Gabo Revuelta, the Mexikan Sound System’s MC, explicitly affirmed sexual diversity in personal comments between songs, both during this performance at Lienzo Charro, as at a subsequent one he did in collaboration with Panchito Rha, Sista Gaby, and Manik B (Al Sentido Kontrario) at El Paliacate Centro Cultural in San Cristóbal de Las Casas. In contrast, Lengualerta, another celebrated Mexican reggae artist who performed at the Grand Festival on the 26th—and in fact dedicated a song to Compañero Galeano, having modified the lyrics of the famous “Hasta Siempre Comandante” song to accommodate the murdered Zapatista—saw a brawl break out at the end of his concert with Al Sentido Kontrario in San Cristóbal a week later, owing to controversy surrounding the place of LGBTQ individuals in his vision for resistance against Babylon.

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The Mexikan Sound System at the Grand Cultural Festival in Mexico City, 26 December 2014.

I left the Cultural Festival early in the mid-afternoon of the 26th to attend a protest-action being organized to mark three months since the forcible disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa. The mobilization was massive: having started at the Ángel de la Independencia on Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma, it proceeded to entirely fill the Monumento a la Revolución (the Monument to the Mexican Revolution). One of the more telling banners I encountered read—as an inversion of René Descartes’ Cogito, ergo sum—that “I think, therefore they disappear me.” At the Monumento, padres de familia and student-survivors spoke to a rally of the assembled protestors; one father described how the parents of the disappeared had just been protesting outside the Germany embassy in Mexico City, given that new findings showed that the Iguala municipal police had used Heckler & Koch G-36 assault rifles in their attack on the students on 26 September, while another called on all Mexicans to boycott the upcoming 2015 elections—declaring that in Guerrero state, no elections would be held at all! Alongside the padres de familia, Omar García spoke again, as did another student from Ayotzinapa who had survived the police attack that horrible night, providing details of their ordeal: the caravan of three buses that had been appropriated by the students to raise funds for their participation in the upcoming 2 October protests in Mexico City, which happen every year to commemorate the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968 that took the lives of hundreds of student radicals; the sudden encirclement of the caravan as it passed through Iguala, followed by an entirely unprovoked barrage of gunfire from the police against the students; the escape of the students from the first two buses and their tribulations seeking refuge from police and military alike in a local medical clinic, and thereafter in the home of a compassionate elder who agreed to take them in, once the nurses in said clinic had washed their hands of them; and the fate of the third bus, which contained the 43 students who are currently disappeared. Adán Cortés Salas, the 21-year old international relations student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) who became an instant national and international celebrity after interrupting the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malaya Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi on 10 December to call on the pair not to forget Mexico and the disappeared students, also addressed the rally, leading an emotive count-down to 43.

The aura of this protest-action, particularly following the concluding interventions of these two youth, was fraught with trauma and horror; in fact, a number of individuals fainted over the course of the rally’s two hours, provoking calls for assistance from nurses and doctors alike. Leaving the action after hearing of so much negation and re-entering the usual flow of things in downtown Mexico City, I was reminded of an observation made by a survivor of the 2 October 1968 atrocity, as reproduced by Elena Poniatowska in La Noche de Tlatelolco (translated into English as Massacre in Mexico), that, once she had successfully maneuvered through the military barricades surrounding the Plaza de las Tres Culturas—the site of the mass-shooting, that is—and rejoined “normal” society, she felt that she had chanced upon an entirely foreign world, wherein people had little to no concept of what had just happened blocks away. Of course, I do not want to say that the masses of Mexicans one sees in the streets of Mexico City are uncaring or unaware of such shocking crimes as that which took place in Iguala. Still, I felt that I had passed from a place of profound rage, suffering, and dignity—la digna rabia—into the larger world, governed by the vast cruelties of the capitalist everyday.

The third part of the Anti-Capitalist Festival consisted of another compartición, this time held in Monclova, Campeche state, on the Yucatan Peninsula, from 28 to 29 December. There, as at other points during the Festival, 43 empty chairs were set up to commemorate the disappeared students from Ayotzinapa; the Yucatan being a tropical region, moreover, the comparticiones were interrupted on various occasions because of torrential rainfall. Those in attendance at Monclova were told of land-grabs in neighboring Quintana Roo state, where 26,000 hectares have been bought up in recent years by Mennonite families and German, Filipino, and Japanese corporations, leading to a mass-exodus of campesin@s from their formerly communal territories, in a continuation of processes which acutely worsened with the coming into law of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. Monclova itself is the site of a civil-resistance movement whose members refuse to pay for electrical energy provided by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), holding out the alternative of a popularly managed energy system that makes electricity available at affordable prices. In this sense, the movement in Monclova, which is comprised of 20 participating communities, echoes the resistance taken up by groupings like PUDEE (Peoples United in Defense of Electricity) in Chiapas, as elsewhere in the country. Beyond this, those participating at the compartición in Monclova heard from representatives from the “La 72” migrant-home in Tenosique, Tabasco, about the “exterminationist policies” overseen by the three levels of the Mexican government as regards the transit of Central American migrant workers through the country toward the USA—such that the Mexican side of the border is reportedly full of mass-graves containing the bodies of such economic (and environmental) refugees. In fact, the Central American mothers who have long organized periodic missions to seek out their children who have gone missing after passing through Mexico en route to el Norte estimate that a full 70,000 migrants have gone missing in the country in the past three decades.

The fourth part of the Festival took place during New Year’s Eve at the EZLN’s Oventik caracol—appropriately given the name “Resistance and Rebellion for Humanity”—in the highlands of Chiapas, not far from San Cristóbal. Indeed, the year-end’s event at the caracol can in some sense be considered the climax of the Festival. At Oventik, Zapatistas from the five regional caracoles—La Realidad, La Garrucha, Roberto Barrios, and Morelia, besides Oventik—were present en masse, resting under large tarps to shield themselves from the rain. The thousands of Mexican and international guests who arrived that day were invited to camp in tents, or join the BAEZLN under the tarps if need be—such that, by midnight on 31 December, the Oventik campus had become a veritable tent-city! The size of those gathered at the caracol that night was seemingly even larger than the previous year, when the EZLN celebrated the twentieth anniversary of its 1 January 1994 insurrection. While the legacy of those twenty years (and the thirty since the EZLN’s founding) provided much of the impetus for reflection at last year’s celebration at Oventik, as reflected in Comandanta Hortensia’s speech that night, the case of the disappeared students from Ayotzinapa was the focus this time, with Subcomandante Moisés himself—now the effective “chief” of the EZLN, following Subcomandante Marcos’s “suicide,” as announced in “Between Light and Shadow,” a discourse that was presented before the CNI in La Realidad last May—dedicating a substantial proportion of his comments to the struggles of the students and their parents. In fact, before Sup Moisés’ address, two padres de familia spoke publicly before the multitude assembled at Oventik—one being a mother who believed that her son had in fact been murdered, and the other a father whom I had seen speak both at the Grand Cultural Festival, as at the protest-action on 26 December. The most moving moment of the night—and perhaps of the Anti-Capitalist Festival as a whole—came when Sup Moisés interrupted his discourse to embrace each and every family-member of the disappeared who was standing alongside him on stage. Subsequently, the BAEZLN present followed suit, providing hugs “of tenderness, respect, and admiration.”

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Zapatistas embracing relatives of the 43 disappeared students on New Year’s Eve at the Oventik caracol, following the example of Subcomandante Moisés (pictured at the microphone).

Much like the previous year, live music was performed from the Oventik stage before and after the “political act” which saw Sup Moisés and the padres de familia make their public addresses. This music included various cumbias that brought the BAEZLN and their sympathizers alike to fill the basketball court adjoining the central stage and dance to welcome the change in year. In fact, both the cumbias and dancing continued on through the night until shortly after dawn. In contrast to the case at year’s end 2013, the weather cooperated through most of the night this time, with the rains coming only around 3 or 4am. The next morning, for this reason, Oventik was a veritable mudscape. But that, taken together with the heavy fog which accompanied the mud (lodo, in Spanish, or che, in Tsotsil), did not stop the BAEZLN from continuing with their planned volleyball and basketball tournaments on the morning of 1 January.

The fifth and final act of the Festival took place at CIDECI-Unitierra in San Cristóbal de Las Casas from 2 to 3 January, as has been mentioned. The CIDECI-Unitierra has had a long history of supporting the Zapatistas and various other autonomist-indigenous political movements. (CIDECI itself stands for the Center for Integral Indigenous Education and Training.) Every Thursday evening, indeed, the space’s director, Dr. Raymundo Sánchez, hosts an international seminar for reflection and analysis of current events, considering local, national, and global matters. The second day of the conclusion at CIDECI, then, resembled a typical night at the Unitierra seminars, only taken to a much higher level—for, while the first day of the Festival’s conclusion at CIDECI summarized the three comparticiones that had taken place during the previous two weeks, the second was dedicated to consideration of popular proposals from below and to the left for confronting the hegemony of capital and State. This remarkable exercise in deliberative, participatory democracy was open to any and all registered participants, being adherents to the EZLN’s Sixth Declaration, who wished to share their views.

Though essentially all the proposals made by participants at the closure of the Festival shared a generally radical political analysis, the specific details varied in each case, and though I cannot review all the recommendations that were made, I will mention some of the most illuminating ones. One of the first speakers noted that capitalism is destroying the world, and it was for this reason that she had responded to the calls by the CNI and EZLN to attend the Festival: she posed the fundamental question, “How it is that we will destroy capitalism?” Another participant suggested that we work to report on the situation in Mexico and wherever else the plundering of land and resources is a pressing issue; arguing that we must struggle in the interests of future generations, she designated the State as enemy. A number of attendees separately called for a return to the traditional cultural and political forms of indigenous societies as a means of rejecting capital. Furthermore, a representative from a Mexican collective focusing on disability issues shared his view that disability per se is not a problem, as it is considered in the medical model, but rather that the hardships faced by people with disabilities have to do with social exclusion. Affirming the proposal that has been advanced by some of the padres de familia of the disappeared students, one individual person called on all Mexicans to boycott electoral politics, while another called for a new constituent power to intervene and form a new constitution, toward the end of instituting a “transitional government” in 2018—the very year, incidentally, in which the current Chiapas governor, Manuel Velasco Coello (el Güero), hopes to run and be elected president as the PRI candidate.1 A male in the crowd advocated that we all decolonize our minds specifically by identifying patriarchy as a principal enemy of the Sixth National and International, and engage in direct action against violence against women, which in Mexico is taking on epidemic proportions. Advocating the transcendence of national borders, a representative from CACITA Oaxaca announced a Caravana Mesoamericana para el Buen Vivir (a “Mesoamerican Caravan for Living Well”) that will launch its journey in April of this year—in many ways echoing the mission of the Caravana Climática por América Latina (“the Climate Caravan through Latin America”), which began its action-tour through Mesoamerica and Central and South America in northern Mexico a year ago, only to face repression at the hands of the “revolutionary socialist” government of Rafael Correa days before it had planned to arrive at the Twentieth Conference of Parties (COP20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), with this destination having been the original end-goal sought by the caravaner@s.

Omar García then addressed those assembled at CIDECI, thanking the CNI and EZLN for their support and presenting the proposal that Mexican society be transformed through the participation of everyone from below. An indigenous Purépecha male followed by expressing his rejection of industrial agriculture, while a representative from UAM Xochimilco mentioned the new “Cooperative of 26 September” that will provide space for exchanging seeds. A university instructor openly advocated a general strike to demand the presentation with life of the 43 disappeared students, and another individual called for boycotts against those corporations that are engaged in the looting of the lands and resources of the peoples represented in the CNI. One young activist presented an especially compelling vision for dual power and transition, outlining a vision whereby the national territory is to be divided into a multiplicity of local assemblies that are to meet twice a month and thereafter coordinate through bimonthly regional assemblies and, less periodically, national ones; he identified the minimum objectives of such a strategy to be the reversal of the plundering of lands, the liberation of all political prisoners, and the cessation of femicides, with the ultimate end sought by such action being the very abolition of capital. Affirming vengeance for those massacred by the State, he provoked a general cry from the assembled: “Los compadres masacrados / Serán vengados / Y, ¿quién lo hará? / ¡El pueblo organizado!” (“Our massacred comrades / Will be avenged / But by whom? / By the people, organized.”) Lastly, a Colombian male called on the Sixth National and International to adopt veganism, considering the vast waste of resources implicated in animal agriculture at present, and especially in light of the inescapable suffering of non-human animals who are instrumentalized for the end of human consumption. Taking a page from the more traditionalist political accounts heard earlier, he argued that pre-Hispanic societies consumed far fewer animal products than Latin Americans do now, thanks to the imposition of Spanish dietary preferences through colonial processes.

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Banner of the Anti-Capitalist Festival at CIDECI, San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, 3 January 2015.

In closing, the CNI agreed to organize further meetings between the padres de famila and its constituent communities, while the Sixth International pledged to assist in the organization of an international caravan for the parents of the disappeared. The general conclusion was that we must construct social relations outside of capital: autonomy in the countryside, as in the cities, and in the spheres of education, health, communication, politics, and nutrition. Addressing those who might have been disappointed by this conclusion, those assembled at CIDECI declared that “it is not a question of coming up with a grand program for national, global, and intergalactic struggle; […] there are no magical formulas that can change the world. The struggle cannot be reduced to one path, as we ourselves are not just one [but many].” In the official document produced in the final session at CIDECI, those present note rightly that “[i]t will only be through our rebellion and resistance that the death of capital will be born, and a new world brought to life for all.”

1José Gil Olmos e Isaín Mandujano, “Al estilo Peña Nieto, pero con madre vicegobernadora.” Proceso no. 1992 (4 January 2015), 16-19.

Support the Latin American Climate Caravan Action-Tour!

June 11, 2014

Also published on Counterpunch, 12 June 2014

If you are not yet familiar with the Latin American Climate Caravan Action-Tour, please allow me to introduce you to la Caravana Climática por América Latina. This itinerant grassroots initiative for climate justice, associated with Marea Creciente México (Rising Tide Mexico), is now in the third month of its activist tour which is dedicated to making-visible the destructive effects of climate change on people and nature in Latin America as well as highlighting the various resistance efforts taken by front-line communities in the region to confront the root causes of global warming. Beginning in March 2014, the Caravana’s flagship—a vegetable oil-powered schoolbus affectionately known as the Che Bus—inaugurated the action-tour in the northern Mexican state of Sonora, and it now finds itself in Honduras, having visited several climate hotspots in western, central, and southern Mexico as well as Guatemala and El Salvador en route. The Caravana is presently embarked on an epic journey that will soon see its collective members complete the first leg of their journey—Mesoamerica Resists—and pass to the second and third phases which are to take place in South America. After documenting the struggles and demands of countless peoples for socio-ecological justice in myriad parts of Latin America, the members of the Caravana ultimately hope to reach the Twentieth Conference of the Parties (COP20) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is to be held in Lima, Peru, in November and December of this year. But they need our help to get there. They are currently crowdfunding to cover the costs of their time in South America.

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In their own words, the Caravana members describe their goals as two-fold: first, to “draw urgent public attention to the climate crisis and the need for grassroots civil societies of Latin America to take the lead role in articulating a regional emergency plan of action to seriously address it,” and second, to pressure the governments of the region to advance an unprecedented spirit of international cooperation at COP20 toward the end of dealing rationally with the climate crisis. In their journey, the caravaner@s seek to reflect the proposals made in Latin America from below and to the left for addressing the root causes of the environmental crisis: commodification of nature, destruction of indigenous societies, land-grabs, and inequality. Specifically, the Caravana promises to promote campaigns during its cross-continental action-tour calling for “moratoriums and divestment in fossil fuels and other extractive, polluting, and unjust industries” throughout the region. Its collective members propose to advance these goals—as they already have done in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—by hosting open climate forums involving film-screenings, art exhibitions, workshops, musical performances, and presentations as well as engaging in direct action and political mobilizations at the various spaces to which it has been invited on its route. A particular initiative in this sense is the Caravana’s campaign for Art, Culture, and Action for Life and the Peoples of Mother Earth (Madre Tierra), a call for artists living along the action-tour’s route to participate and contribute works dealing with socio-ecological problems.

In terms of presenting critical information on the climate and environmental crises, the Caravana has already achieved much. In a section on its website are collected various Spanish-language articles and essays on these crises: for example, a column by Ángel Guerra Cabrera in La Jornada on the disconcerting recent report on the collapsing West Antarctica ice sheet as well as a contemplative essay written by Mayeli Sánchez, who criticizes the twenty-year COP process for never having thought to call into question economic growth and capitalism but celebrates the multitude of social alternatives to the dominant system which are emanating from below. She dedicates her thoughts in part to our mutual friend and comrade Jyri Jaakkola, a Finnish human-rights observer and climate activist who was murdered in in the Triqui region of Oaxaca four years ago. (Indeed, Jyri’s name is one of several on a list that was read aloud by ex-Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos in a speech presented on 24 May as an homage toJosé Luis Solís, “Galeano,” a Zapatista who himself was murdered in a paramilitary attack on La Realidad that took place on 2 May.)

In keeping with the desire of the caravaner@s to help illuminate climate-change policies as processes too often considered mysterious and daunting, moreover, their website hosts a note by Javier Flores summarizing the findings of the recent Fifth Annual Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), particularly the report by the Panel’s Working Group 3, which is tasked with examining the possible mitigation of climate destruction.  In this vein, the Caravana has also shared a Spanish translation of “Hoodwinked in the Hothouse: False Solutions to Climate Change,” written as a collaboration between Carbon Trade Watch and Rising Tide North America, as well as an essay written by ETC investigator Silvia Ribeiro on a recent study which concludes that the world’scampesin@s produce a majority of the world’s food on less than a quarter of all available lands. Perhaps most critically, the collective has posted a stunning new report in La Jornada (4 June 2014) which details the “tragic” findings of environmental researchers from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) regarding the very profound risks which climate change and the overall environmental situation represent for humanity and nature in general.

Beyond collecting and sharing perspectives on the climate and environmental crises, of course, the main work of the caravaner@s has been and continues to be its geographical visits to Mexican and Central American communities impacted by these crises. The Caravana’s very first stop occurred in Vicam, Sonora, where groups of indigenous Yaqui had blockaded the international Pan-American Highway leading north to Nogales and the U.S. border. The Yaquis have intermittently maintained this roadblock—a common form of social protest seen in Mexico and elsewhere Latin America—for more than a year in resistance to the planned construction of the El Novillo dam, which the state government of Sonora seeks to build on the Yaqui River toward the end of supplying the burgeoning city of Hermosillo (population 750,000). After Vicam, the caravaner@s saw it necessary to cancel their planned visits to Culiacán and Mazatlán in Sinaloa due to lack of security conditions following the State’s arrest of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, head of the Sinaloa Cartel, on 22 February 2014. Nonetheless, the Caravana’s subsequent stop in the coastal state of Nayarit centered around the Federal Electricity Commission’s (CFE) intent to construct the Las Cruces dam, a project that would flood vast stretches of wetlands, destroy a great deal of biodiversity, threaten the agro-fishing means of subsistence engaged in by local Nayeris, and inundate several spaces considered sacred by Tepehuan and Wixárika peoples, as well as Nayeris. Continuing southeast towards the interior of Mexico, the Caravana then visited the highly polluted Great Santiago river that adjoins the metropolis of Guadalajara (4.5 million), having been subjected to the excesses of industrial waste created for capital and urbanization: indeed, among the corporations that have discharged the most heavy metals and cyanide into the river are Nestlé, IBM, and Modelo beer. Due to this industrial pollution, the caravaner@s report that the Santiago River is now largely bereft of the myriad fish and bird species it previously had supported, and that the toxic waste contributes to local cancers, respiratory illnesses, and other maladies. Also in the state of Jalisco—now in the highlands—the Caravana met with peoples in Temacapulín in resistance to the Zapotillo dam, a project that, in a parallel to El Novillo and Las Cruces, would inundate their locality along with others to provide water for the cities of Guadalajara and León.

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Yaqui Valley, Sonora, Mexico

Pressing on beyond Jalisco, the Caravana came to the cerro (mountain) of San Pedro in the state of San Luis Potosí, located just outside the capital city which bears the state’s name. San Pedro is the site of the notorious San Xavier mining operation, which since commencing in 2007 has involved the employment of an estimated 25 tons of explosives and 16 tons of cyanide to extract silver and gold—not to mention an estimated 32 million liters of water daily, this within a highly water-stressed, arid region, as the Subversiones collective explains. In an ironical-absurd reflection of the historical founding of San Luis Potosí—so named in 1592 by the Spanish colonizers after the silver mines of Potosí, Bolivia, which they hoped to outperform in terms of mineral extraction using indigenous slave labor—much of the mineral devastation seen today in the San Xavier open-pit mine has been performed in the service of Canadian capital, which is involved in a mind-boggling 1500 mining projects throughout Latin America. Next, in Morelos, the home state of Emiliano Zapata, the Caravana visited the city of Cuernavaca to meet activists from the Front for the Defense of Land and Water in Morelos, Puebla, and Tlaxcala (FPDTA), a collective which stands against an infrastructural megaproject called the “Comprehensive Morelos Plan.” Soon thereafter, in Tepoztlán, the caravaner@s met with groups in resistance to a very specific manifestation of this Plan: a governmental bid to expand a highway into a natural protected area belonging to theAjusco-Chichinautzin ecological corridor that contains important archaeological sites from pre-Columbian times.

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Cerro of San Pedro, San Luis Potosí, Mexico

Coming to arrive in the Mexican southeast, the Caravana visited Veracruz state, where it connected with communities living on the Antigua river who have taken positions of resistance against the Los Pescados dam that is planned for the river, and caravaner@s linked up with activists and housewives in Veracruz City as well as Jáltipan organizing to demand the closure of petroleum-coke processing centers for their pollution and negative health impacts. Heading south to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca, the Caravana was next received by indigenous Binnizá and Ikojts residents of Barra San Teresa, a community that has served as a nucleus of popular opposition to the wind-energy megaprojects which have been “developed” on communal lands here, largely—once again—by international capital. The struggle against the imposition of “renewable energy from above” has been sustained for years now, and has involved serious repressive violence being exercised against critics of the corporate project. After taking leave of Oaxaca, the cavaner@s reached the neighboring state of Chiapas and participated with MOVIAC (the Mexican Movement for Alternatives to Environmental Impacts and Climate Change) in a public meeting and street-dance in San Cristóbal de Las Casas dedicated to raising the issues of government energy reforms and local resistance to climate and environmental destruction. In northern Chiapas, moreover, the Caravana visited the ejido of San Sebastian Bachajón, where indigenous Tseltal communities associated with the Zapatistas have resisted expropriation by State and touristic interests on the one hand and paramilitary attacks on the other. Before the Caravana finished with its stay in Chiapas to cross Mexico’s southern border into Guatemala, its collective members had the good fortune to observe the “blood moon” eclipse in San Cristóbal, seeing in the juxtaposition of red and black a symbolic representation of the anti-authoritarian political philosophy which has guided their odyssey.

Continuing on into the second Latin American country on the action-tour, the Caravana first visited Santa Cruz Barillas in Guatemala’s western department of Huehuetenango to meet with communities that have resisted the imposition of several Spanish-owned dam projects for the past decade. The people of Barillas have met with political imprisonment as well as declarations of states of emergency in response from the State. Continuing east to the Quiche department, home to Ixil indigenous Mayan peoples, members of the Caravana held interviews with survivors of the genocidal Guatemalan civil war (1960-1996) who were protesting the impunity which marks the one-year anniversary of the momentous decision by a Guatemalan court to find former U.S.-backed dictator Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983) guilty of genocide in the region. Nonetheless, in a typical counter-move to this ground-breaking decision from a lower court, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court formally nullified the genocide ruling within days of the decision, thus paving the way for the present impunity which Ríos Montt and the other perpetrators of the Civil War enjoy at present. The caravaner@s also interviewed survivors and protestors in Guatemala City who were similarly marking the anniversary in critical fashion. What is more, the Caravana came to visit the two-plus year blockade maintained largely by the La Puya women’s collective before the El Tambor open-pit gold-mine that had successfully halted all mining operations there for some time—at least, until just days after the visit by the Caravana, when police forces in turn violently dispersed the protestors and so opened the way for extractive machinery to be installed at the mining site, in accordance with the wishes of the U.S. capitalists who own the mine. Speaking to its time in Guatemala, the Caravana collective has produced a program specifically on the various forms of resistance it encountered in the country in “Guatemala Resiste!”

In El Salvador, the third country on the tour, caravaner@s interviewed Ricardo Navarro, founder of the Salvadoran Center for Appropriate Technology (CESTA) and avid proponent of the widespread use of the bicycle, and shared the highly critical drawings made by the Beehive Collective about capitalist globalization at a public gallery in San Salvador. As of this writing, the Caravana finds itself somewhere in eastern Honduras, where it has met with Garifuna peoples of mixed African and Carib descent.

In the near term, the Caravana will complete its Mesoamerica Resiste!tour after making what promise to be fascinating visits to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. From Panama City, the Caravana collective hopes to take a ferry-ride around the Darién Gap to Colombia, and to begin the second phase of its tour—Tahuantinsuyo Late—in South America. This first leg of the South American tour will involve Venezuela and Colombia as well as the Andean countries of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, while the third phase—Somos Sur hacia la COP20 (“Let’s Go South to the COP20”)—is slated to involve Brazil and the other countries of the Southern Cone: Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile. Finally, the Caravana seeks to be present at the COP20 itself, presenting radical alternatives to the official absurd processes.

As is evident, the Caravana represents an important intervention within the present multidimensional crisis (ecological, social, economic, political); its work, steeped in the struggle for climate justice and social transformation, advances these ends in significant and creative ways. Given the links the Caravana has made with communities resisting the imposition of mining and hydroelectric projects thus far during its action-tour, it will be intriguing to see how its collective members engage with the much-maligned extractivism that has been intensified by the “socialist” regimes in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Uruguay; it is to be imagined that their perspective will be quite close to that of Manuela Picq, who writes in Upsidedown World about the parallels between indigenous resistance to extractivism and self-determination.

In addition, it is to be hoped that the spirit of defiance embodied by the caravaner@s will be echoed at the resistance to the UN’s preparatory meeting for Lima that is to be held in New York City in late September—and particularly by those resistance currents which, like the caravaner@s, take critical views of capital and the State. Whether the NYC experience will represent a continuation or even intensification of the anti-WTO mobilizations seen in Seattle in 1999 is an interesting question to ponder.

Assuming the Caravana reaches its destination of Lima toward the end of the year, it can be expected to form a strong countercurrent to the COP20—much as a similar grouping did to resist the COP16 in Cancún in 2010.

You can help the Caravana get to COP20 by supporting it here.

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On the EZLN’s Escuelita and Neo-Zapatista Autonomy

January 23, 2014

Originally published on Counterpunch, 23 January 2014

As many readers of Counterpunch are likely aware, the Chiapas-based Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) has recently launched an open initiative called the Escuelita (“little school”), a four or five-day program by means of which outsiders, both Mexican and international, are invited to reside with Zapatistas to learn more about the EZLN’s politics and the daily lives of the organization’s members, as well as to promote cultural exchange. The openness reflected in the launch of the Escuelita stands in contrast to the relative aloofness of the organization in recent years—with the EZLN’s command observing a period of silence for more than a year after Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos’ plaintive condemnation of the Israeli military assault on Gaza during winter 2008-9. Of course, at the end of the thirteenth Baktun and the beginning of the fourteenth (21 December 2012), up to fifty thousand Zapatistas silently marched through five of the municipalities the EZLN had liberated in its 1 January 1994 insurrection—thus overthrowing their prior reclusiveness while dialectically preserving their verbal quietude. Indeed, in this sense the Escuelita’s founding recalls the early years that followed the EZLN’s public appearance with its uprising, when the organization hosted Intercontinental Encounters for Humanity and against Neo-Liberalism—and even Intergalactic ones—that brought together radical thinkers and dissidents from Mexico and the world over to publicly strategize on ways to bring down capital and the State. I was greatly pleased, then, when in response to a form I had sent the EZLN some time ago, I received a letter signed by Marcos and fellow Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés inviting me to the second round of the First Level of the Zapatista Escuelita, to be held in late December 2013.

Registration for the Escuelita took place at CIDECI, or the Indigenous Center for Comprehensive Training, which has its campus on the outskirts of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, the largest highland city in the state of Chiapas. Also known as Unitierra (Earth University), CIDECI hosts weekly international seminars on anti-systemic movements, in addition to monthly seminars dedicated to contemplation and discussion of the thought of Immanuel Wallerstein. Much of the art adorning the buildings on the CIDECI campus depicts Zapatistas, and the Center has hosted Sups Marcos and Moisés to speak on several occasions, so it is natural that it would be chosen as site of registration for the Escuelita. Arriving with my friend Reyna, we entered the short registration line established for foreigners—the lines for those hailing from Mexico City and the states of Mexico being much longer than this one—presented our documents to the receiving team, paid the 380-peso fee (about $30US), and then were told we would be placed in a community belonging to the La Realidad (“Reality”) region located deep in the Lacandon Jungle. I was pleased to hear this, as La Realidad is my favorite of the five Zapatista caracoles (“snails”), or administrative centers located in the zones with Zapatista presence. Reyna and I then got in line to board the various vehicles the EZLN had organized outside CIDECI to transport us to our respective caracoles.

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Map of the 5 Zapatista caracoles and their corresponding regions. From Niels Barmeyer, Developing Zapatista Autonomy (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2009), xvii.

When the caravan from CIDECI entered the jungle and arrived at La Realidad some ten hours after having departed, we were asked to remain in the vehicles outside the caracol compound for just a few more minutes. Thus were we faced with a white banner draped above the iron gate that served as entrance commemorating 20 years since the Zapatista uprising in general and the caída (“fall”) of Subcomandante Insurgente Pedro during the fighting in Las Margaritas in particular. Once the Zapatistas had finished preparing themselves, the alumn@s were invited to file through to enter the caracol, just as skilled masked players struck joyful tunes on the marimba from the stage above where the students came to join the assembled Zapatistas for a brief orientation to the Escuelita. After declaring our support to the cause of revolution—responding with ¡Viva! to the mention of various persons and groups, such as the EZLN, Subcomandante Marcos, Comandanta Ramona, the Escuelita, the peoples of the world, the world’s women, and so on.—we were assigned to our guardian@s individually and then sent to sleep as segregated by sex while the marimba continued to play into the night. My guardián was a young Tojolabal male BAEZLN (base de apoyo, or “support base”) named Héctor—his name here is a pseudonym for reasons of clandestinity.

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Banner in La Realidad commemorating Sup Pedro, who died in the insurrection on 1 January 1994.

The next morning, 25 December, the Escuelita at La Realidad officially commenced with a collective presentation made by Zapatista teachers of the region regarding different aspects of life and politics in the BAEZLN communities pertaining to this caracol. In basic terms, these teachers spoke to the EZLN’s autonomous health and banking systems—with the former comprised of health promoters, male and female, who are trained in the three fields of acute care, obstetrics, and herbalism, and the latter comprised of lending institutions (BANPAZ and BANAMAS) which offer loans for productive projects at 2-3% interest and provide economic support for Zapatista families struck by illness—as well as their democratic system of governance, which in parallel to the official system is made up of three tiers: the local popular assemblies at the communal level, the autonomous Zapatista rebel municipalities (MAREZ) at the intermediary level, and finally the Good-Government Councils (Juntas de Buen Gobierno, or JBGs), which coordinate matters at the regional level. Of the three, the JBGs represent the highest authority for the Zapatistas, yet legal proposals can be raised at the local assembly level, and the BAEZLN representatives voted into the JBGs through assemblies are fully recallable. The autonomous authorities, moreover, receive no wage or salary for their work but are instead supported with food from their base communities. While the Zapatistas’ methods in civic administration thus seem to bear a great deal of similarity to the positive policy proposals made in Euro-U.S. settings by Karl Marx and some anarchists alike, they resemble and develop the political customs of many indigenous peoples of the Americas as well. Indeed, in philosophical terms in this sense, one of the teachers expressed the idea—as recognized also by G.W.F. Hegel and others—that the perpetuation of oppressive social conditions drives forward the dialectic: he spoke specifically of the memory of the Zapatistas’ ancestors enslaved by the feudalism imposed by the colonia as propelling the strength of the movement of BAEZLN’toward autonomy. At this time, one of the teachers noted that the EZLN’s goal at present is two-fold: one, to “liberate the people of Mexico,” and secondly to uphold and extend the autonomy of the organization and its constituent members.

The situation of women in the EZLN was first examined an hour and a half into the teachers’ presentation, when various female representatives spoke to the issue. Like Friedrich Engels on private property, the introductory speaker argued that the patriarchal enslavement of indigenous women began with Spanish colonialism, whereas previously the worth of women had supposedly been fully recognized, as based on women’s ability to reproduce the human race. This speaker noted both males and females to have been oppressed by the patrones imposed by European invasion and genocide, and she welcomed the vast changes provided by the EZLN in terms of women’s ability to participate in socio-political matters, whether as health promoters, communal radio progammers, JBG authorities, or milicianas in the guerrilla movement. Several of the speakers on women’s issues stressed that the struggle to increase women’s participation in the EZLN has not been an easy one, due both to resistance from men as well as the internalization of self-deprecating values on the part of many indigenous women themselves. Another issue is that females in this context tend to be less literate and knowledgeable of Spanish than males, such that engaging in administrative work using Spanish as the common language among BAEZLN from different ethno-linguistic groups proves challenging. One teacher noted that Zapatista women face exploitation on three fronts—for being female, indigenous, and poor—and based on her and other compañeras’ words, it seems they largely bear responsibility for domestic affairs and child-rearing within the dominant sexual division of labor which prevails in Zapatista communities. Speakers in this section also analyzed the Revolutionary Law on Women, passed by the EZLN before its January 1994 insurrection, by enumerating its stipulations—such as the right to freely determine the total number of children to bear, to reject imposed marriage and freely choose partners, to resist domestic violence, and so on—and afterward simply stating that all the conditions of the Law are being observed in Zapatista settings. However, this claim came too quickly, as we will shall see.

In the third part of the initial presentation in La Realidad, the teachers addressed some of the challenges the EZLN has faced in the development of its autonomy in the 20 years since its armed revolt. They claim now that their form of resistance is the word, both spoken and written: while in January 1994 their resistance took on armed form, it has now become peaceful and civic—with the resort to arms opening the subsequent possibility for the Zapatistas’ impressive development of autonomy. Despite this difference between January 1994 and everything after, the Zapatista movement remains under siege, with the “bad government” (el mal gobierno) working now to divide indigenous communities among themselves by encouraging participation in official political parties and recourse to state-provided services—a strategy it adopted in direct response to the insurrection, yet one that was subordinated in the years of peak intensity (the years following 1994) to the overtly repressive resort to direct militarization and the fomenting of paramilitary groups designed to terrorize BAEZLN and Zapatista sympathizers in eastern Chiapas. However, forced displacement of BAEZLN still takes place—consider the cases of San Marcos Avilés in 2010 and Comandante Abel more recently. One speaker mentioned the Lacandon indigenous people who live quite close to La Realidad as an example the Zapatistas do not wish to emulate—for the Lacandones have been made dependent on the State after having been stripped of their rights to fell trees and cultivate agriculture for residing in the region which has been designated as belonging to the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve (RIBMA). Defining the principal problems which the EZLN confronts at the moment, one representative noted the issues of the occupation of lands “recovered” by the Zapatistas in 1994 by indigenous persons belonging to rival political groups, forced displacement, paramilitary activity, and the arbitrary incarceration of BAEZLN. This speaker connecting the experience of these problems with the “peaceful and civil” Zapatista approach, which is to engage in public denunciation through the JBGs.

To close this introductory presentation, the teachers accepted written questions from the audience of alumn@s. In response to a question that would continually be raised over the course of the Escuelita, one teacher said that the Zapatistas “respect” the ways of gays, but no more specifics were given on this. As for the question as to how to reproduce the neo-Zapatista model in other contexts—particularly in cities, where living conditions are clearly rather different—the teachers said that that prospect could be helped along by means of the promotion of an autonomous sense of politics, however that be translated into reality. Intruigingly fielding a question about Zapatismo and ecology, one of the teachers noted that the EZLN seeks to carry through the word of the people in terms of how to manage natural resources, such that the question of whether nature be ravaged or left alone is secondary to adherence to the vox populi—an interesting permutation of “green” anarcho-syndicalism or ecological self-management. Another question-and-answer had a maestro clarifying that BAEZLN practice a “high level” of abstention in official elections at the three levels (municipal, state, and federal). Perhaps most controversially of all, some of the teachers shared the general neo-Zapatista skepticism toward family planning methods, which are apparently considered in the main to be measures imposed from above to limit indigenous population growth. Along these lines, one maestra clarified that abortion is not performed at Zapatista autonomous clinics, considering it a practice of infanticide that should be suppressed if there are to be numerically more zapatistas. Separately, though relatedly, a different teacher declared that the Zapatista midwives are not trained by the Public Health Ministry.

Following the morning presentation, the alumn@s and their guardian@s traveled by group to the communities in which they would experience the Escuelita. Transport of these 500 people (about 250 students and their chaperones) took place by means of large sand-trucks—traveling in one of these during the journey out to community and back truly reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of the anarchist troop-transport vehicles used in the Spanish Revolution of the 1930’s. Upon arrival to the — community affiliated with the — MAREZ pertaining to La Realidad to which the group in which I was included had been sent, the first session of the Escuelita began for me, as Héctor and I were welcomed into the abode of the — family. (Thus, like many others, Héctor and I experienced the Escuelita with one family, though some alumn@s and guardian@s apparently experienced a more collective setting, such as took place in the actual space of an autonomous school.) The first text to be examined was Autonomous Government I, which like the remaining three volumes of written materials provided for alumn@s and guardian@s to study is comprised of varied testimonies from BAEZLN with different charges who belong to MAREZ affiliated with each of the five caracol regions.

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A scene from the — community, affiliated with the La Realidad caracol

This first volume tells its readers that the EZLN base is comprised of a total of 38 MAREZ, with 4 belonging to La Realidad, and it notes that this caracol was the successor to the first Aguascalientes established in 1994 by the EZLN in the nearby community of Guadalupe Tepeyac—Aguascalientes referring to the Mexican state in which the 1917 Constitution was drafted—which was in turn occupied by the Mexican Army in 1995, its residents displaced for six years until 2001. In 1995, the EZLN responded by founding five more Aguascalientes, administrative centers which would in 2003 become the caracoles and the seats of the JBGs. In terms of La Realidad, the region itself has an autonomous Zapatista hospital in San José del Rio—with a large state-based one recently installed in Guadalupe Tepeyac, and a government clinic (physically protected by barbed wire) constructed within the last three years just a couple minutes’ walk from the caracol itself. The text on autonomous governance says that the San José hospital has recently acquired ultrasound equipment for obstetrical purposes, but it remains unclear to me to what extent there exist rehab or harm-reduction programs for Zapatistas in public health terms—consumption of alcohol and all other drugs is forbidden for BAEZLN. Moreover, in sharing the names of all the Zapatista MAREZ which exist, the volume speaks to the role of revolutionary memory in the EZLN’s program: municipalities are named for Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, San Manuel (Manuel being the founder of the EZLN), Ricardo Flores Magón (a renowned Oaxacan anarchist involved in the Mexican Revolution), Comandanta Ramona, Lucio Cabanas (a left-wing guerrillero who formed the Party of the Poor in Guerrero in the 1970’s), La Paz, La Dignidad, 17 November (date of the arrival of the urban-based Maoists to the selva Lacandona in 1983), Trabajo (“Work”), and Rubén Jaramillo (a campesino insurrectionary who sought to carry on Zapata’s vision until his 1962 murder by the State), to give just a few examples. Politically, volume I lists the seven principles of mandar obedeciendo (“to command by obeying”) which is to govern the action of representatives of the JBGs and all other civilian Zapatista institutions:

“To serve and not to serve oneself”; “to represent and not to supplant [or usurp]”; “to construct and not to destroy”; “to obey and not to command”; “to propose and not to impose”; “to convince and not to conquer”; “to go down instead of up.”

Beyond this, the interviews in the text discuss problems with rival organizations in the region corresponding to Morelia such as ORCAO and OPPDIC, and it provides some history showing the necessity of direct JBG oversight of projects proposed by internationals and NGOs to be implemented in Zapatista communities. Moreover, with regard to the northern region affiliated with the Roberto Barrios caracol, the text specifies that economic donations from visitors often go toward expanding cattle-herds, in accordance with the wishes of base communities.

The second volume, Autonomous Government II, which Héctor, my teacher, and I examined on the Escuelita’s second day, gives details about the specific autonomous social projects implemented by the EZLN, especially health and education. Interviews with educational promoters specify the types of classes on offer at the ESRAZ (Escuela Secundaria Rebelde Autónoma Zapatista, or the Zapatista Rebellious Autonomous High School): languages (Spanish and indigenous), history, math, “life and environment,” and integration (on the EZLN’s 13 demands). In the La Realidad region at least, autonomous education programs are designed in consultation with students’ parents, who are asked what it is that should be preserved from standard public education approaches, and what should be added. With regard to autonomous health, the text specifies that EZLN health promoters have composed a list of 47 points for preventative health, that medical doctors assist in solidarity with health projects, and that the San José del Rio hospital had recently acquired an autoclave thanks to revenue from the 10% tax the JBG collects on all construction projects undertaken by community, corporation, or State in its territory. In the northern zone of Chiapas, vaccines arrive every three months for Zapatista children, and the organization SADEC(Salud y Desarrollo Comunitario, or Communal Health and Development) assists with their administration; my teacher assured me that vaccines are regularly given to BAEZLN children in the zone of La Realidad as well. Furthermore, the second volume mentions various difficulties and successes experienced by the EZLN, both internally and externally: for example, the forced displacement prosecuted by federal forces of the Zapatista San Manuel community located in Montes Azules and the scarcity of land limiting the scope of collective projects to be taken in the highlands region corresponding to the Oventik caracol, or the exportation of Zapatista coffee to Italy, Greece, France, and Germany.

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Zapatista school in the — community with anarcho-syndicalist colors (rojinegro)

This same day, my guardián, teacher, and I decided to begin study of volume three, Autonomous Resistance, as well. This collection of interviews provides great insight into neo-Zapatista culture and resistance, as well as relationships between BAEZLN and members of other organizations, particularly officialist grupos de choque (“shock groups”). Providing an interesting perspective on Zapatista child-rearing practices, one representative explained the various alternative cultural activities Zapatista communities offer to their youth so that they not fall into “ideologies of the government”: sports, poetry contests, and dance. Also in terms of cultural norms, another interviewed spokesperson notes the celebration of religious holidays to be more popular outside the ranks of the EZLN than inside it—a reflection of the organization’s secular orientation. A socio-cultural milestone for the EZLN, the first and only appearance of the neo-Zapatista air force is also described in this volume: to protest the military’s occupation in 1999 of Amador Hernández, a La Realidad MAREZ, local BAEZLN organized a mass-production of paper airplanes carrying subversive messages which were ceremoniously launched into the barracks of the soldiers upholding the occupation. The resistance to this occupation also took on the form of sit-ins, dance, and exhortative speech.

In addition, the third volume examines Zapatista diplomacy and relations with other organizations. The construction of water-irrigation projects with which many internationals involved themselves—as is described in Ramor Ryan’s Zapatista Spring: Anatomy of a Rebel Water Project (2011)is mentioned as a sign of international cooperation and solidarity, while in contrast relations with local communities affiliated with the PRI (the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party) and ORCAO/OPPDIC (comprised in part by ex-BAEZLN) are shown to continue to be tense and problematic. Indeed, it seems there is a true political competition going on between BAEZLN on the one hand and PRI militants on the other, with a number of respondents from the Morelia and La Garrucha regions expressing faith and pride that BAEZLN in many cases live better than their PRI counterparts, thanks to the organization’s reportedly consistent besting of the official system in health and educational outcomes—this despite the myriad social programs offered by the Chiapas state government, and the millions of pesos it spends on them. In universal (or galactical) terms, an education promoter from the Roberto Barrios region tells his interviewer that the neo-Zapatista struggle proceeds not only with the interests of BAEZLN in mind, but of all—tod@s.

The reading for the the third day was the fourth volume, Women’s Participation in Autonomous Government, perhaps the most interesting one of all—for it is testament to the patent conflict between Zapatista rhetoric and everyday life in this regard. From the La Realidad region, an ex-JBG member notes proudly that in neither organized religion nor in established political parties have women experienced the kind of participation that female BAEZLN have been allowed. A member from an autonomous council of the same zone claims the lot of Zapatista women to be better off than that of indigenous women in PRI communities, where high rates of alcohol and other drug abuse and sexual violence reportedly obtain. Nonetheless, a great deal of tension between the end of women’s liberation and respect for established patriarchal custom can be readily detected in this volume on women’s involvement. For example, the 47 points on preventative health from La Realidad include one endorsing family planning, while health promoters affiliated with Morelia suggest to their female clients that they ideally try to leave a 5- or 6-year gap between each subsequent birth, all in accordance with article 3 of the Revolutionary Law on Women, which grants female BAEZLN the right to elect the number of children they will bear—yet sources from Oventik and Roberto Barrios note that it is precisely this law no. 3 which is being least observed in practice, given the strong opposition expressed by many male BAEZLN to the use of birth control methods. Indeed, summarizing the results of a public discussion among BAEZLN in the Roberto Barrios region on women’s issues, one educational promoter reported the widespread opinion that women should not unilaterally decide on the question of number of children—thus expressing a popular repudiation of law no. 3! From La Garrucha, another educational promoter claims that women’s participation in her MAREZ is 2-3% of what it should be—that is, if I’m not mistaken, that >97% of female Zapatistas from that municipality opt out of taking on the charges passed to them through election. Sexual education would seem underdeveloped in the Roberto Barrios region, according to a Zapatista educator there, and in this zone marriage is common by 15 or 16 years of age, while in the Oventik region unmarried couples are apparently expected to ask permission from their parents to date—so that they avoid the “bad customs of the cities where lovers just get together without respecting their parents.”

In these terms, an interesting proposal from the base is that of the recommendations made in the Oventik zone in 1996 for an expanded Revolutionary Law on Women—a proposal that has yet to be adopted by the EZLN. While from volume IV it is unclear how this proposed expansion came about, and who precisely composed its articles, it in some ways reflects regression from the original Revolutionary Law: here, it is only married women who have the right to birth control, and this only to the extent to which agreement with male partners is achieved, while non-monogamous relationships are declared unacceptable: “it is prohibited and inappropriate that some member of the [Zapatista] community engage in romantic relations outside of the norms of the community and populace—that is to say, men and women are not allowed to have [sexual] relations if they are not married, because this brings as consequences the destruction of the family and a bad example before society.” In a similar vein, “arbitrary abandonment” and coupling with others while formally married are also tabooed in the articles of this recommended expansion. Whether such attitudes are representative of the thought of many or most female BAEZLN is unknown; however conservative such ideas may seem, it is also worth noting that 17 years have passed since their proposal.

Thus after finishing the last volume on women’s participation, the Escuelita in community had ended, and Héctor and I expressed our gratitude for the generosity showed by our maestro and his compañera (female partner) during the classes and our stay in the — community. We then met up with the other alumn@s (including Reyna) who had come together in the local assembly space and then departed for our hike to the access road at which we were to be picked up and returned by sand-trucks to La Realidad. Once the afternoon progressed into evening in the caracol, as more alumn@s continued arriving from other communities, the Zapatista teachers called us all back together once again for a final round of questions-and-answers, followed by the presentation of the Mexican and Zapatista flags and the singing of the anthems to State and EZLN, which in turn gave rise to more creative musical performances by the teachers and artistic interventions from alumn@s. I will confess that I cried for Sup Pedro when the maestr@s sang about this “simple” and “decent” man from Michoacán, born to a beautiful mother and killed in insurrection.

After the conclusion of the participatory cultural event, it was announced that all those desiring to return to San Cristóbal would be leaving in a caravan departing before dusk the next morning. Then the night was ceded to a large dance on the basketball court, as animated by a sustained series of ludic perfomances on marimba played by male BAEZLN of differing generations.

Fin de Año in Oventik

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Presentation of Zapatista flag, 31 December 2013

Upon returning to San Cristóbal, I was already greatly missing Héctor; I hope we will stay in touch. I considered which of the 5 caracoles to visit for the New Year’s celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the armed uprising and launched myself to Oventik, the closest to San Cristóbal. After being admitted into the foggy caracol with a crowd of other visitors shortly after arriving, I placed my belongings in one of the classrooms of the escuela autónoma, as a new friend had just recommended to me, and we then made our way to the basketball court where live music was being played under a roof, protected from the rain. Standing on stage alongside Zapatista authorities and BAEZLN, the performers included highland indigenous musicians and conscious freestyle rappers from Mexico City, among others. At a certain point in the evening, as the rain continued, the assembled Zapatistas performed a “political act” involving the marching presentation of the Mexican and EZLN flags and the public reading of the Revolutionary Indigenous Clandestine Committee’s (CCRI) declaration on the event of the twentieth anniversary of the neo-Zapatista insurrection, as performed by a Comandanta. The text was subsequently read in Tsotsil and Tseltal translations—with these being two indigenous languages spoken in the highlands region in which Oventik finds itself. In the Tsotsil translation, the word kux’lejal (“bodily pain”) could be heard uttered several times. At the end of this “act,” with the retiring of the Mexican and Zapatista flags, representatives of the EZLN wished all those assembled in the caracol a happy new year, and they particularly wished all Zapatistas a joyful twentieth anniversary for their resort to arms. Similarly to the case in La Realidad just days before, the remaining hours of 2013 and the first several hours of 2014 in Oventik were celebrated with several hours of cumbia rebelde, during which the basketball court was full with dancers, Zapatistas and their well-wishers together. Also present at the cumbia were organizers of the Climate Caravan through Latin America (Caravana Climática por América Latina), who sought to connect the assembled dancing rebels with this compelling initiative from below to combine direct action and information-gathering activities in resistance to unchecked ecocidal trends.

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Entrance to Oventik caracol, 1 January 2014

Questions, critique, and the future

There can be no doubt that the BAEZLN have been truly impressive in their efforts to “conquer liberty” and extend the cause of autonomy in the 20 years since their declaration of war against capitalism and the Mexican State. Nonetheless, it would contradict the spirit of critique and autonomy not to raise questions and concerns regarding different facets of the Zapatista movement. For one, what is the political model the EZLN is pursuing? As against the original demand for independence made in 1994, this model is not that of formal statehood—as is made, for example, in the Palestinian case—but rather that of developing the new society within the shell of the old. In his Developing Zapatista Autonomy (2009), German anthropologist Niels Barmeyer argues that the Zapatista example advances the creation of a counter-state to the official one presided over by the Mexican government (el mal gobierno). Contemplation of the various details provided in the four volumes of text assigned to alumn@s of the Escuelita would seem to confirm this diagnosis, from consideration of the Good-Government Councils (as counterposed to the bad government) to the Zapatistas’ alternative health and education systems. As Barmeyer notes, moreover, the EZLN provides protection to its members, even if the organization does not necessarily exercise a monopoly on “legitimate” use of force in the territories of its influence.1 Nonetheless, if the overall claim is true—that the Zapatistas really desire a State, or that the nature of their principles of self-government effectively express their wish for such, as an anarchist confided in me at the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City a year and a half ago—one must then interrogate the attraction the Zapatistas have represented for libertarian socialists and anti-authoritarians the world over these past 20 years. Clearly, the 1 January 1994 insurrection has proven seminal for the adoption of the Black Bloc tactic all over the globe, while the indigenous character of the movement and the radical humanism expressed by its principal spokesperson—Sup Marcos—have enlivened and illuminated the radical imaginations and hopes of millions of observers. But what do anarchists have to say about the processes of socio-political autonomy undertaken by the EZLN since January 1994? Are they too similar to State institutions, or are they sufficiently distinct? Is it just a matter of “contradict[ing] the system while you are in it until it’s transformed into a new system,” as Huey P. Newton observed with reference to the “survival programs” the Black Panther Party implemented in the late 1960’s, “pending revolution”?2

How are outsiders, especially internationals, to engage with the persistence of authoritarian and inegalitarian attitudes toward women in social movements putatively based on the principles of “democracy, justice, and freedom” with which they express solidarity—despite the relative improvements seen in these terms over time? Can it justly be said that feminist perspectives are simply irrelevant if they are held by those who do not pass the course of their lives within a given movement? If it were to be affirmed, the principle underlying this second question would betray a cultural nationalism and relativism of sorts, one which undermines internationalism and global notions of solidarity. It would also effectively trivialize the disappointment expressed from the start by many Mexican feminists at the perpetuation of patriarchy within the EZLN—and, indeed, paper over the absurd expulsion of COLEM (el Colectivo de Mujeres, or the Women’s Collective, from San Cristóbal) from Zapatista territory on the charge that its feminist organizing threatened to “incite a gender war”!3 Conceptually, the idea of “autonomy” cannot immediately tell us which of the conflicting principles is to be held superior: in the first place, autonomy likely should presume substantive freedom for all as a precondition of its existence, yet in practice it is taken to mean the outcome of popular self-determination, as opposed to Statist or capitalist imposition. Such tensions clearly exist in appraising Zapatismo, especially with regard to the situations faced by female and non-heterosexual BAEZLN. A similar critical line of thinking could also bring to light the extensive deforestation which Zapatista communities have produced through their “autonomous” desire to raise cattle en masse in jungle environments, or it could criticize the Zapatistas’s drinking and selling of Coca-Cola and their generally non-vegetarian lifestyles—or at least the ambivalence Marcos expresses as regards the prospect of even discussing this latter point, for he declares vegetarian tactics of moral suasion to be an imposition to be disobeyed. As Mickey Z. Vegan could be expected to point out, the collective Zapatista butcher-shop from the Roberto Barrios region mentioned in volume III may not be the most liberating project to engage in, for either BAEZLN workers or the beasts themselves.

Thus, in spite of the issues I have observed and the doubts they produce in me, I consider the EZLN nothing less than a world-historical revolutionary movement, one which has played a critical role in inspiring and spurring on the multitudinous activist militancy seen throughout much of the world following the self-implosion of the Soviet Union—a militancy which radically seeks the abolition of those power-groups which threaten the entire Earth with social and environmental catastrophe. I also believe that the EZLN’s struggle has much more to offer the world still—given that the Zapatistas had originally sought to incite other Mexican revolutionary groups to join them in insurrection in 1994, and in light of the continued strength of the capitalist monster against which the BAEZLN revolted—no matter how optimistic Marcos’s declaration last year on the occasion of the new Baktun and the silent Zapatista occupation of the townships the EZLN had taken in 1994, that the world of those from above is “collapsing.”

However, I do agree with Sup Marcos that the world of those from below is resurging. Hence was I very glad to have been able to attend the first course of the Escuelita and to celebrate the twenty years since the Zapatista insurrection together with them. I wish the BAEZLN the very best for this year, and the next 20 as well. ¡Zapata vive!

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1Niels Barmeyer, Developing Zapatista Autonomy: Conflict and NGO Involvement in Rebel Chiapas (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2009), 5, 214.

2Cited in Alondra Nelson, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 63.

3Barmeyer 99-100, 206.