Hasta siempre, Subcomandante

Gilberto López y Rivas

La Jornada, 30th May, 2014

16-1A disguise, a changing and modish hologram, a distracting manoeuvre, a trick of terrible and wonderful magic, a malicious dirty trick by the indigenous heart, a constructed and illusory character, half not free, a spokesperson, a war chief, or whatever Subcomandante Marcos might have been up to the day of his disappearance, collectively decided, the fact remains that over those years he played an important role in shaping and developing both the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and the autonomous processes that take place under its hegemony in the territories of the five juntas of good government.

Accepting that the Zapatista Maya (at all levels of military-political organization and within the circles of militants and bases of support) are the main architects of this achievement which began with armed rebellion on the first of January 1994; and taking into account that the prevailing racism, even within the leftist camp, tends to negate the indigenous leadership and in the mirror sees the EZLN’s visible mestizo; nonetheless, we must recognize and emphasize that it is also true that Subcomandante Marcos managed to give an imprint and singularity to the Zapatista movement.

Between Light and Shadow, the last words of the Subcomandante before he ceased to exist, constitutes one of the most important keys for understanding the significance of this extraordinary movement headed by the EZLN. [These words shed light on] this war of resistance [waged] "by those below against those above … for humanity and against neoliberalism"–a war that brandishes the demands of life, speaking up, respect, memory, dignity, rebellion, freedom, democracy and justice in the face of death, silence, humiliation, forgetting, contempt, oppression, slavery, imposition and criminality by the powerful.

This farewell document gives a report on the choice the Zapatistas made between killing and living, between the military path and that of constructing autonomy: “Instead of dedicating ourselves to becoming guerrillas, soldiers and squadrons, we trained promoters of education and health and raised the foundations of the autonomy that today amazes the world. Instead of building barracks, improving our weapons, constructing walls and trenches, schools were raised, hospitals and health centres were built, and we improved our living conditions."

This trade-off took place in the middle of a war which "for being muffled was no less deadly." A war in which paramilitaries and organizations of all kinds–together with anti-zapatista intellectuals–have been serving the Mexican government’s counterinsurgency strategy, which has never ceased to be active throughout the expanse and depth of the rebel territory.

The failure and success, and the “nothing for us,” are measured in terms of ethical consistency, an exotic concept for the political class of the institutional left: "If being consistent is a failure, then inconsistency is the road to success, on the path of power … given these parameters, we prefer to fail rather than succeed."

10329032_575812472539012_4485905442148058856_nThis multiple and complex process that the EZLN has experienced is expressed in a single word: change. Generational, class, ethno-cultural affiliation rather than of race and gender, which leads to a change of skin of this indigenous peasant movement, with the broad and visible participation of young people, men and women, with a distinctly indigenous leadership. Above all, Subcomandante Marcos emphasizes that the most important change is the one carried out on the plane of thought: "From the revolutionary vanguard to the leader obeying; from seizing power from above to creating power from below; from professional politics to everyday politics; from the leaders to the peoples; from the marginalization of gender to the direct participation of women; from mockery of the other to celebration of difference."

This phrase captures, without a doubt, a synthetic self-definition of today’s Zapatistas, which must be remembered especially in light of the habitual tendency to identify this movement in terms of one’s own political identities and the political preferences of analysts or followers. At the risk of being one of these, I highlight this criticism of a vanguardism that needs caudillos and leaders. This cult of individualism that is found "in its most fanatical extreme in the cult of the avant-garde … It is our conviction and our practice" — Marcos declared — "that neither leaders nor caudillos nor messiahs nor saviours are necessary to rebel and struggle. All that’s needed to struggle is a little sense of shame, a bit of dignity and a lot of organization."

Without making concessions to either “libertarians” or current fashion, Subcomandante Marcos describes the EZLN’s pyramidal nature, as an army, with its command centre, its top-down decision-making that for better or for worse, has made possible this entire journey up to today. Without the army that rebelled against the bad government, exercising the right to legitimate violence against the violence from above, it would not have been possible to build and strengthen the autonomous subjects who command obedience in all three areas of the Zapatista government.

Once again, the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle is regarded as the most audacious and most Zapatista of the initiatives launched by the EZLN; it serves as the point of reference for encounters with the rebels’ ongoing struggle.

The arguments for explaining and justifying the statement of the non-existence of Rebel Subcomandante Marcos, impeccable in terms of the logic for arriving at that decision, duly weighed by the political leadership of the EZLN, leave, however, a sense of absence, of astonishment for the compañero who, motley or not, will always be a benchmark of the revolutionary who never sold out, who never surrendered and never gave in, and who, I am sure, will continue making mischief, whoever and wherever he might want to be. Trick or hologram, it doesn’t matter: he has been an effective vehicle for something that transcends artifice.


Based on a translation by Jane Brundage


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