The Extra Element: Organization
An Exclusive Interview with Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos: Part I
By Sergio Rodríguez Lascano
May 30, 2006
Rebeldía: For a long time the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) has talked about a global tendency: the crisis of the Nation-State. At the core of this idea is the transformation of a series of political paradigms that once were the bases of the theory of the Nation-State. We’re not asking for another explanation of what you have already said. The question is more concrete: What relationship does this vision have with the proposals of the Other Campaign?
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos: The most basic thing we see is that this crisis is yet to be resolved. Not, as some think, by returning to the fundamental and original bases of the Nation State, but, rather, in the context of what is happening at the global level, with globalization and neoliberalism. We say that the destruction of the bases of the national States has been so extreme that it is impossible to reconstruct them from above.
But there is an entire sector of the new political class, or the reactivation of some sectors of the political class, that proposes to reorganize the Nation State: to make it function anew, today, in this stage of savage capitalism.
This reconstruction or this reorganization of the national States, that are already inside the perspective of globalization, means, on the one hand, the most important threat to social movements, to popular movements, and in general to the movements of rebellion throughout the world. And on the other hand, this reordering of the States and their governments is going to mean that they have just assured the destruction of the planet. And I don’t refer to that in a symbolic way, but a real one.
That is, the big multinational businesses in their voraciousness are literally destroying nature: the springs, forests, beaches and rivers. And then that State, that new State is emerging. The tips of its iceberg are: the new State in Brazil with (President) Lula (da Silva), also in some other parts of South America, and in this proposal by the parliamentary left or the institutional left of the PRD (Democratic Revolution Party in Mexico) and of (its presidential candidate Andrés Manuel) López Obrador.
The EZLN has begun to make note of this reordering process. It’s already going to be different than it was with (former Mexican president Ernesto) Zedillo and with (president Vicente) Fox, this species of disorder or chaos in which the managers that are in the government and in the State are simply operating things. Now it’s about a recuperation of the Man of the State, the statist of old, but now with another perspective. This reordering, a dispute over the social project will be, and – as they say up above – what the project of the nation will be, is coming. And if there is no alternative to the proposal from above, a major moral defeat is coming, almost comparable with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Nothing is more worrisome, we say, because this trick being pulled off from above is going to be able to solve the thing in a way that, one way or another, turns each of us into an accomplice to that destruction.
This analysis, that we offered in the Sixth Declaration comes in a spiral – before this the EZLN gave other clues about how it makes its decisions, its steps, of what happens in each place and later above, and later higher above – which is the caracol that is growing. And then we proposed that this thing that is the EZLN is later going national, and later global.
And it’s not here yet, but the vision is here – in the Sixth Declaration – that there is going to have to be a dispute. It doesn’t address the problem of what are the characteristics that new State underway is going to have, but, rather, it addresses their implications. For us, the fight against that offers the only possibility of survival as a nation. The new National State, or the new confederate of the multinational one that is being created, means the destruction of what we call homeland and everything that is part of it.
Thus, the Sixth Declaration makes this analysis, takes that decision, and says: what remains to be seen is whether in our country and in the world there are others who are seeing what we are seeing and are thinking about the same thing. The proposal of the Other Campaign is a proposal to unite; first by getting to know each other and listening to each other and to these points of agreement which, at first, we thought were going to be fewer and more dispersed and that are, with the advance of the Other Campaign, becoming concrete. I am not referring just to the steps of the Sixth Commission but to how the Other Campaign is evolving: it turns out that, no, that there are more, that there are many, and that their experience is even greater. And that they agree on this: that this fight is not just ours, but it is also the last chance that we have.
If we let this crisis pass and let it be solved from above, the cost for all social movements, not only of the left, defined as of the left, but including the spontaneous ones, will be death. That’s how we see it.
Rebeldía: Exploitation, looting, disrespect and repression were listed in the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle as the four whips of capitalism in its actual phase, unleashed against humanity and especially against the poorest. After traveling through 20 states of the country, do you think that these four whips effectively represent the objective to combat against?
SCI Marcos: Yes, we think that what is happening is that there are two stages of this development in capitalism at the global level and in Mexico. It’s about looting, robbing and later exploiting what immediately appears as a source of wealth: work, and the land. And we say that ideological forms of political and cultural domination are being constructed, in turn, over these two spokes, that are synthesized in these two words: disrespect and repression.
But the moment comes when these limits on wealth are not enough. In this vista we have the big cities with great concentrations of wealth surrounded by a poverty belt. But today in these cities – to use the same simile – this center of the network of capitalist power advances each day more upon what was its periphery, the spaces that didn’t matter to it before. Concretely, we say it comes against our poverty. It’s not enough that we are poor. They also want that poverty because they have discovered that there is still something here.
In the case of the poorest and most marginalized sector of this country, which is the Indian peoples, it’s crystal clear: its about kicking them out of their home, because now their home has become a product. And I am referring to the forests, to the springs, the rivers, the coasts, that is, the beaches, and even the air.
Thus, we have also posited that this is happening in other sectors, like that of the workers’ movement, like that of the non-indigenous farmers’ movement, in social security, in health care, in everything, well, that the system begins to do to a society. What is happening is that in the central nucleus of capital, which is its exploitation of the workforce and all the tricks that are pulled in turn, a kind of brutal whirlpool begins to form against all the sectors to take everything away from everyone. Although the central nucleus, in our analysis, is the exploitation of the workforce.
But this begins to be done in that way and it creates this central nucleus, the fact that the exploitation, the looting, the disrespect and the repression begin to open up large sectors of the population to see what it does, it allows this central nucleus to count on what is called the use of reserves… What allows it to shrink salaries even more, to raise the exploitation toll and push the development of capitalism in Mexico back one hundred years. Apart from that is the phenomenon of immigration, which is a problem for those below and also for those above as is being seen in the responses by the United States government.
Applying the notion of capitalism to these manifestations is what allows the majority of the people that form part of the Other Campaign to understand that this is what it does to us, as Indian peoples, as workers, as farmers, as students, as teachers, as people, well, from below. Anyone can see these four elements of capital that, in other ways, seem vague.
If we speak about disrespect and racism, for example, against the Indian peoples it seems very vague. But since it is clearly accompanied by the looting of communal lands and ejidos, it then becomes clear who is the enemy and that it is not enough – because here what all of the Other Campaign is concluding that the fights we wage at the individual or group level are not enough – that the horizon has been surpassed, broken, not by us – because we have a wide vision – but it was broken by capital, by power.
Thus, who is it that decides that the Indian people should look ahead and stop fighting only for recognition of their indigenous rights, and instead should now fight against capital as well? It is capital; that which is broken. It has said so clearly: The problem is not whether we recognize you as indigenous or not, because for me you are not going to exist. I am going to destroy you.
And in the case of the workers’ movement, this is what is called the pulverization of the workers’ movement and the workers’ sector. And I am not referring only to their being cut up in many pieces, but, rather, it’s chronological: you are a worker for a while and suddenly you are not. You don’t have any security. At times you are on one side and at times you are not, you are then on the other side. This big lie says that the entrance of capital and industries means employment for the population that is here and it ends up with the workers being brought in from outside, because that is how those who are looting them are inclined.
It becomes a war that, as we say, in those four aspects is the place where we all are cast together. And it is where the sex workers, the gays and lesbians, the indigenous, the youths, the children, are able to say: Yes, here it is. This changes its name but is has the same effect on us. And it means – the advance of all this – for us, the destruction of what we are. In some cases, even physical destruction.
Rebeldía: It seemed that the Other Campaign in Puebla meant a kind of point of redefinition of the Other Campaign, especially in the meetings that took place in Altepexi. A new proletariat, different, very “other” than the traditional one grouped in the big industrial unions appeared, told of its pain and identified its enemy, not only in the abstract, but it named names. This proletariat – very indigenous – doesn’t have years of union organizing experience, nor has it been touched by the ideology of the Mexican revolution, but it has an impressive clarity regarding what its exploitation means and considers its boss as its enemy. What does this proletariat say to the EZLN? Are they looking into the same mirror? Do you identify with their pain and their fight?
SCI Marcos: What does it mean for us? And what does it mean for the political organizations with a traditional or more rigid view of the workers’ movement? For us it means, on the one hand, our destiny. Because all these people that are today in the sweatshops are indigenous people that, because of the looting of their lands, leave – above all, youths – to find work and they begin with this reality. Now they have arrived from the countryside to the city, as the saying goes, but in the most brutal form that can be imagined. In this sense we identify with the roots, the common denominator, and I think that, one way or another, when we met them it was easier for us than with the traditional workers, because we have the same roots, the same origin.
And at the hour that they explained this, they explained it like we explain ourselves. And we have said it again and again: these people go there because they are expelled. They don’t go to find better living conditions, but, rather, to survive, because there is no other option. And that is what allows for such brutal conditions of exploitation: workdays of 14 to 16 hours; very minimum wages of 45 or 50 pesos (less than five dollars a day); and a high cost of living because in the city you have to scratch yourself with your own fingernails.
We think that with this proletariat, with this new proletariat, there is an almost immediate identification. The indigenous roots give it strength and clarity, at least for us. And in the worker’s gathering it was very clear that the workers from this sector and with this tradition came saying: this is about a system, not a union. In spite of what have been struggles to gain recognition for unions and for better working conditions, the presence of the boss is so immediate and brutal: almost the same as the presence of a plantation owner in the times of porfirista hacienda. And the fact that these sectors also identify not with the workers’ movement of Fidel Velásquez for union independence, but that begin to present similarities – perhaps not conscious of it – with the workers’ movement in the epoch of Porfirio Diaz. Very combative, very radical, very ready to confront capital, right there, at the place of work. We strike, we strive, we rebel on the same assembly line, a line that has, today, almost no employment on this side.
Since the current workers’ movement – we are speaking of that which is most known – is not found on the assembly line but, rather, it is seen outside: through the union or through mobilizations. I don’t know, I’m very ignorant about this, but there are very few workers’ struggles on the assembly line. And these are coming forward here. Here is where the rebellion is being fought. At least that’s what they were telling us. At the hour when the sweatshop workers send the assembly line to hell, or rise up, or strike, then all the repression will follow. We believe that we have here an important teacher: that, on their part, they still don’t have the notion that they have a lot to teach; maybe that is made opaque by their own will and the radical nature of their struggle.
When the EZLN and the Sixth Commission say that the indigenous are those who will fight to the end, we are not just referring to the traditional indigenous people that are in their communities and make their wares and then later the plantation owners and police come to take them off their land. We are also, and above all, referring to them, to those that here in Mexico or on the Other Side are confronting the exploitation in another form, but they are confronting it with their roots. And this is what brings their radical nature and their determination in the struggle.
We think that the political and union organizations ought to look there to learn many things.
Coming Next in Part II: Marcos answers the intellectuals about the “correlation of forces,” and their critiques of the Other Campaign’s call to topple the government and take back the means of production from the rich.
Click here for Part III
This is a translation of the first part of an interview that appears in the current issue (#42) of Rebeldía magazine, a special edition about Atenco that is available throughout Mexico and will soon be available online at its website.
Click here for more Narco News coverage of Mexico
Lea Ud. el Artículo en Español
Narco News is funded by your contributions to The Fund for Authentic Journalism.
Please make journalism like this possible by going to The Fund's web site
and making a contribution today.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism
For more Narco News, click here.