As the Canadian federal election approaches, Archives of Resistance presents extracts from the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN) contributions to the international seminar “Critical Thought vs. the Capitalist Hydra,” convened in Chiapas in May 2015 (in advance of the Mexican midterm elections in June). The following remarks, translated into English and edited for length, were offered by Subcomandante Insurgente Moises in the name of the men, women, children and elders of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation.
These days, every time that this thing they call the “electoral process” happens, we hear and see the stuff that comes out saying that the EZLN calls for abstention, that the EZLN says that people shouldn’t vote. They say this and other idiocies, these big-headed people who don’t study history or even try to understand. And they even put these absurdities into history books and biographies, and then charge for them. That is to say, they charge for these lies. Like politicians.
Of course, you know that we’re not interested in these things that those above make up in order to try to convince those below that they’re concerned about them.
As Zapatistas, we don’t call for people not to vote, nor do we call for them to vote. As Zapatistas, every time we get the chance we tell people that they should organize to resist and to struggle for what they need.
We, like many other originary peoples of these lands, already know how the political parties operate, and it’s a bad history of bad people.
And for us Zapatistas, it is a history [that] is already in the past.
I think it was the late Father Juan Chavez Alonso who said that political parties separate and divide the people, creating confrontation and conflicts between them, even among members of the same family.
And here we see this happen again and again.
So the partidista [one who identifies with a political party] brother comes to us all sad and asks us what to do, saying that he is screwed.
Well, you know what we say to him:
We don’t tell him that he should change to another party, the one that is now the least bad option.
We don’t tell him to vote.
Nor do we tell him not to vote.
We don’t tell him that he should become a Zapatista, because we already know, through our history, that not everyone has the strength of heart to be a Zapatista.
We don’t make fun of him.
We tell him that he should organize, plain and simple.
“And then, what do I do?” he asks.
And so we say to him: “then you will see for yourself what to do, what emerges in your heart and your head, no one else is going to tell you what to do.”
And he says: “The situation is really bad.”
And we don’t lie to him, or make grand narratives or speeches. We tell him the truth.
“It’s going to get worse.”
But what those above do is deceive people. That is their job and that is how they survive.
And we see that there are people who believe it, that yes, now the situation is going to get better, that this leader is going to fix their problems, that he is going to behave himself and not steal much, that he’ll only be involved in a couple of dodgy dealings, and so that they really have to give him a try.
So we say that these are pieces of little histories that need to happen. That people have to learn for themselves that no one will solve their problems for them, but that instead we have to solve them ourselves, as organized collectives.
It is the people who create solutions, not leaders or parties.
And we’re not saying this because it sounds pretty. It’s because we see it in reality, because we already do it.
It could be said that a long time ago, before they became part of the institutional apparatus, some of the partidistas on the left sought to build awareness among the people. That they weren’t seeking power through elections, but rather to move people to organize themselves, struggle and change the system. Not just the government, the whole system.
Why do I say partidistas of the institutional left? Well, because we know that there are parties on the left that aren’t involved in the dealings of above; they have their same form, but they don’t sell out, or give up, or change their belief that we must end the capitalist system. And because we know, and as Zapatistas we do not forget, that the history of struggle from below is also written with their blood.
But money is money, and above is above. And the partidistas of the institutional left changed their thinking and now they seek out paid positions. It’s that simple: the money. Or, in other words, the pay.
Do you really think that it’s possible to create political consciousness by disdaining, humiliating and scolding those below?
We Zapatistas say that we shouldn’t be afraid of having the people rule. It’s the most healthy and just way. Because it is the people themselves who going to make the changes that are truly necessary. And that is the only way that a new system of government is going to exist.
It’s not that we don’t understand what selecting a candidate or elections are. We Zapatistas have a different calendar and geography for how to have elections in rebel territory, in resistance.
We have our own ways in which the people truly choose, and not through spending millions, much less producing tons of plastic rubbish and banners with photos of rats and criminals.
It is true that it’s been just barely 20 years that we’ve been choosing our autonomous authorities, with true democracy. This is how we have been walking together, with the Freedom that we have achieved for ourselves and with an “other” Justice of an organized people — where thousands of women and men are involved in the process of choosing. Where everyone finds agreement and organizes to ensure compliance with the mandates of the people. Where the people organize to determine the work that will be undertaken by the authorities.
In other words, the people command their government.
The people organize in assemblies, where they begin to express their opinions and from there proposals emerge and these proposals are studied for their advantages and disadvantages, to analyze which one is best. And before making a decision, the proposals are taken back to the people and the assembly for approval so that a decision can be made in accordance with the majority of the communities.
This is Zapatista life in the communities. It is already a true culture.
Does that seem very slow to you? That is why we say that it is according to our calendar.
Do you think this is because we are Indigenous peoples? This is why we say that it is according to our geography.
It is true that we have made many mistakes and had many failures. And it is true that we will have more.
But they are our failures.
We make them. We pay for them.
It’s not like in the political parties where the leaders make mistakes, where they even charge for them, and those below pay for them.
That is why the elections coming in the month of June mean nothing to us either way.
We don’t call for people to vote, nor do we call for them not to vote. It doesn’t interest us.
And more, it doesn’t worry us.
For us, Zapatistas, what we’re interested in is knowing how to resist and confront the many heads of the capitalist system that exploits us, represses us, disappears us and steals from us.
Because it not just in one place or in one way that capitalism oppresses. It oppresses you if you’re a woman. It oppresses you if you’re a white-collar worker. It oppresses if you’re a blue-collar worker. It oppresses if you’re a campesino. It oppresses if you if you’re a young person. It oppresses you if you are a child. It oppresses you if you’re a teacher. It oppresses you if you’re a student. It oppresses you if you’re an artist. It oppresses you if you think. It oppresses you if you are human, or plant, or water, or earth or air or animal.
It doesn’t matter how many times they wash it or perfume it, the capitalist system is “dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt” (you can figure out who wrote this and where).[DE: Das Kapital, vol. 1, Ch. 31]
So our idea isn’t to promote voting.
Nor is it to promote abstention or casting blank votes.
Nor is it to provide recipes for how to confront capitalism.
Nor is it to impose our thinking on others.
The seminar is to see the different heads of the capitalist system, to try to understand whether it has new ways of attacking us or whether they are the same ones as before.
If we are interested in other ways of thinking, it is in order to see if we are right about what we think is coming, that there will be a tremendous economic crisis that will connect with other bad things and do tremendous damage to everyone everywhere, all over the world.
So if it’s true that this is coming, or that it’s already happening, we need to think about whether it will work to keep doing the same thing that has been done before.
We think that we have the obligation to think, to analyze, to reflect, to critique, to find our own pace, or own way, in our places and in our own times.
Now, I ask those of you who are reading this: whether you vote or not, is it harmful to think about what is going on in this world that we live in, to analyse it, to understand it? Does thinking critically impede voting or abstaining from voting? Does it help us to organize or not?
Finishing up on elections:
Just so that it’s very clear and you aren’t misled about what we say and don’t say.
We understand that there are those who think that it is possible to change the system by voting in elections.
We say that’s a difficult spot because it is the same Ruler that organises the elections, who decides who the candidates are, who says how, when, and where to vote, who announces who wins, and who says whether the election was legal or not.
But well, there are people who think that this can work. It’s fine, we don’t say no, but we also don’t say yes.
So, vote for a colour or one of the washed-out colours, or don’t vote, what we say is that we have to organize ourselves and take into our own hands the decision of who governs and make them obey the people.
In summary, as we said before, and we say now: whether you vote or not, organize yourself.
And well, we Zapatistas think that we have to have good ideas in order to organize ourselves. Which is to say, we need theory, critical thought.
With critical thought we can analyze the ways of the enemy, of the one who oppresses us, exploits us, represses us, disdains us, and steals from us. But with critical thought we also examine our own path, our own steps.
As Zapatistas, we are going to continue governing ourselves as we already do, where the people rule and the government obeys.
As our Zapatista compañeros say: Hay lum tujbil vitil ayotik. Which means: how good it is, the way that we are now.
Another: Nunca ya kikitaybajtic bitilon zapatista. Which means: we will never stop being Zapatistas.
One more: Jatoj kalal yax chamon te yax voon sok viil zapatista. Which means: Even after I’m dead, I’ll still be called a Zapatista.
From the mountains of the Mexican southeast…