Thursday, July 14, 2005

Wallerstein on the Zapatistas

Immanuel Wallerstein (Fernand Braudel Center, Binghamton University)
Commentary No. 165, July 15, 2005
The Zapatistas: The Second Stage

Since 1994, the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas has been the most important social movement in the world - the barometer and the igniter of antisystemic movements around the world. How can it be that a small movement of MayanIndians in one of the poorest regions of Mexico can play such a major role?

To answer that, we have to take the story of the antisystemic movements in the world-system back to 1945. From 1945 to the mid-1960's at least, the antisystemic movements (or OldLeft) - the Communist parties, the Social-Democratic parties, the national liberation movements - were on the rise throughout the world, and came topower in a very large gamut of states. They were riding high. But just asthey seemed to be on the cusp of universal triumph, they ran into two road blocks - the world revolution of 1968, and the revival of the worldright.

The world revolutionaries of 1968 were of course protesting everywhere against U.S. imperialism but they were protesting against the movements ofthe Old Left as well. For the students and workers involved in the 1968 movements, the Old Left movements had come to power, yes, but had not then fulfilled their promises of transforming the world in a more egalitarian, more democratic direction. They were found wanting. The 1968ers went on to create new movements (Greens, feminist movements, identity movements) but none of these was able to mobilize the kind of mass support that the traditional movements had acquired in the post-1945 period.

In addition, and in the wake of a major downturn in the world-economy, theworld right caught its breath and reasserted itself. Most notable of course were the neoliberal governments of Mrs. Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. But even more important perhaps was the ability of the IMF and the U.S. Treasury to impose on most of those governments where the Old Left was still in power a major retreat in their economic policies, getting them to shift from import-substitution developmentalism to export-oriented growth.

When the last and strongest of these Old Left governments - the Communist regimes of the USSR and its East-Central European satellites - collapsed in 1989-1991, the growing disarray of the antisystemic movements (both Old Left and New Left) reached an apex of disillusionment and gloominess about their capacity to transform the world.

But just as the tide of neoliberal ideology seemed to reach its peak in the mid-1990s, the tide began to turn. The turning point was the Zapatista rebellion of Jan. 1, 1994. The Zapatistas raised high the banner of the most oppressed segments of the world population, the indigenous peoples, and laid claim to their right to autonomy and well-being. Furthermore, they did it not by demanding to take power in the Mexican state, but by seeking to take power in their own communities, for which they asked the formal recognition by the Mexican state. And while the military side of their rebellion came rapidly to a close with a truce, politically they reached out to the "civil society" in Mexico, and then to that of the entire world. They convened "intergalactic" conferences in the forests of Chiapas, and were able to obtain the attendance of an impressive number of militants and intellectuals from around the world. When a new president came to power in Mexico in 2000 (ousting the decrepit"revolutionary" movement that had been in power for sixty-odd years), theZapatistas marched on Mexico City to demand that the terms of the truce accord of 1996 (the so-called San Andreas Accords) at last be implemented by the Mexican government. And when the Mexican legislature failed to do this, despite the enormous support the Zapatistas were receiving from the "civil society," they returned to their villages in Chiapas and began to implement their autonomy unilaterally by creating - defacto, if not de jure - democratic governments, their own school system, their own health facilities. But the Mexican army remained poised around them, always potentially threatening to dismantle this de facto structure.

The importance of the Zapatistas went way beyond the narrow confines of Chiapas or even of Mexico. They became an example of the possible to others everywhere. If in the last five years, most South American countries have put left or populist governments in power, the Zapatista example was part ofthe igniting forces. If the protestors in Seattle were able to derail the1999 WTO meeting, and were able to follow up with similar demonstrations in Genoa, Quebec City, and other places as well as this year in Gleneagles, they were in no small measure inspired by the Zapatistas. And when the WorldSocial Forum capped this renewal of antisystemic struggle beginning in 2001, the Zapatistas were a heroic model.

But now, suddenly, in June 2005, the Zapatistas proclaimed a red alert, calling all their communities to leave their villages and come into theforest for a massive "consultation" of the base. The reason? They said they could no longer afford simply to wait indefinitely as the Mexican state ignored the promises they had made a decade earlier in the truce agreements.

They declared themselves ready to "risk the little they had gained" (that is, the de facto limited autonomy which had no juridical base) in order to try something new. The Zapatistas declared that they had ended the first phase of their struggle, and that it was time to move on to a second stage, one that would be political and not military, they added.

In the third and last part of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacondona Forest, issued on June 30, 2005, the Zapatistas have given us a clear indication ofthe political line they are advocating. It makes no mention of any politicalparty, either in Mexico or elsewhere. They tell people everywhere who are struggling for their rights, who are on the left, that the Zapatistas are with them. They talk of creating a vast political alliance in Mexico - we are Indians but we are also Mexicans. And they talk of creating a vast political alliance in the world. They use a language that is at once inclusive - inclusive of all strata and all peoples and above all of all oppressed groups - but that is resolutely on the left, not however necessarily tied to any party.

The most important thing about this initiative, in my opinion, is its timing. It is eleven years since the tide began to roll back againneo-liberalism and imperialism. But for the Zapatistas, not enough has been accomplished. I have the sense that they are not the only ones who think this. I have the sense that throughout Latin America, and especially in all those countries where left or populist groups have come to power, there is a similar feeling that this has not been enough, that these governments have had to make too many compromises, that popular enthusiasm is waning. I have the sense that in the World Social Forum, there is the same sentiment that what they have accomplished since they started in 2001 has been remarkable, but is not enough, that the WSF cannot simply continue to do the same things over and over. In Iraq and the Middle East in general there seems also to be a sense that the resistance to the machista interventionism of the United States has been amazingly strong but that even so it has not been enough.

In 1994, the Zapatista rebellion was the barometer of a rejection of the helplessness that had begun to overcome the world antisystemic sentiment. It served also as the igniter of a series of other initiatives. Today, when theZapatistas tell us that the first stage is over and that we cannot linger there, they seem to be again the barometer of a shift in sentiment everywhere. The Zapatistas want to move on to a second stage - political, inclusive, but thus far without having made very detailed objectives. Will they now be the inspiration for a similar reevaluation throughout LatinAmerica, in the World Social Forum, throughout the antisystemic movements all around the globe? And what will be the detailed objectives of the next phase?


Blogger The Husband said...

i would just like to say that hiliary clinton is the anti-christ.

14 July 2005 at 21:26  

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