EZLN: Political Economy from the Zapatista Communities II
Words of Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés. Seminar “Critical Thought Versus the Capitalist Hydra,” May 5, 2015
Good afternoon to everyone, compañeras, compañeros, brothers and sisters.
In response to what we have been listening to yesterday, and the day before, we have been commenting in the commission of compañeros and compañeras of the CCRI, that it seems to us that you can see there what it is that we want to do. This is the reason all of us are here, and if we haven’t been dreaming or sleeping, then we are thinking about the things that we have discussed, what the compas and brothers and sisters already brought up and talked about. They have already told us a lot about what this hydra is. So the question is what do we need to do against it?
Organize ourselves. When we give this response, organize ourselves, it means that our brain is already telling us what must be done first, and then second, and third, and fourth, and so on. And so, it’s an idea, when it is in your head it is an idea. Now, when you move your tongue, then it is in your words. What is still missing is action, that is, to organize. Now when you are organizing yourselves, watch out, because it isn’t going to come out like you thought in the idea, or like you said in the word. You are going to begin to encounter a lot of barriers, a lot of challenges.
Because if we don’t organize ourselves, we’re going to get to the year 2100, well, that is, those of us who are going to get there, and we’ll still be talking about ideas, words, and thoughts while capitalism has kept on, where were those of us who criticized capitalism so much? Where will we be if that’s how things are?
Ok, this is what we were reflecting on among the compas of the CCRI, of the Sixth Commission of the EZLN.
We’re going to continue sharing about yesterday’s theme, about how the economy works in the struggle, in the resistance of the Zapatista men and women, but in practice, not in theory. From our practice we take the little bit of theory that we are sharing for now.
For example, this is how we work, we don’t receive anything from the government, in fact we don’t even speak to the government, not a single base of support does so. Even if they murder us, we don’t speak to the bad government. How do we deal with what we need to tell bad government? One way is through the public denunciations that the Good Government Councils make so that the bad governments get the message. And if not, well then in the Zapatista community radios, because as we were discussing yesterday, the government has its spies, its ears, and there is someone who is recording the messages on the Zapatista community radios, and so we put this information there. There’s also another way, but we’ll talk about that later.
We seldom deal in money. For example, we don’t have a choice when we have mobilizations, because we have to pay for the gasoline with pesos, they don’t accept kilos of maize or beans. And this is what we fight, what we combat. Everything that I’m going to be discussing here through examples, happens through a lot political and ideological work, a lot of explaining, a lot of conversation about the importance of and necessity for what we want to do.
For example, education. I’m going to tell you how we came up with our education process for the Zapatista school. A compañero who is a formador [teacher trainer] in the zone spent six months in the caracol training the education promotores and promotoras [like teachers, but literally ‘promoters’], where hundreds of students, student-future teachers go to be trained.
And so this compa who is an education formador went to see his family. When he got to his father’s house he said, “I’m here, papa.” And the father of this compa formador asked, “Did you bring your maize? Did you bring your beans? Because here you don’t have anything,” And the formador said:
-But what do you mean?
-What do I mean? Well you aren’t working.
-How can you say I’m not working papa, if I am working there with the compas?
– What did your compas give you? If your work is a benefit that we offer, then why don’t they also think about the fact that here you also have to have something here to be able to live.
-No, the thing is that we are in the struggle too – said the compa.
– Yes but we also need to survive in order to struggle.
– Yes – said the compa formador.
-You know what my son? – said the father – Son, you need to go back there. Speak to the autonomous authorities, because if you don’t it’s going to continue on this way, without organization.
And so the compa had to go back and talk to the Good Government Council, and the Good Government Council organized with the compañeros who were in ‘the commission,’ which is what we call the vigilance commission and the information commission, that is, the compas, compañeros and compañeras of the CCRI. They organized and began to discuss this problem because well, it is a problem.
And the junta and the CCRI say, yes it is true, this work takes a long time and will keep taking time, and so we need to figure out how to make it work. And so the discussion began there about what to do.
– Well, we need to take it out of the little that we have.
-But how long will it last, the little bit that we have?
– No well, it will only last about a year.
And so they started to think about the problem until they came up with an idea. For example, the zone works collectively, all of the bases of support who live there participate in collective work projects. So the Junta’s proposal is that the bases of support from the community of the education promotor or formador don’t go to do their collective work project, and that instead they work in the cornfield, the bean field, the coffee field, and the pasture of the formador’s family. That way the formador will have maize, beans, coffee, a few animals, but it is the other compa bases of support that will do this work and that way he can have what he needs to live on. So they don’t provide pay, they aren’t giving a salary to the compañero and compañera education formador, and they do the same thing for the people who train the compañero and compañera health promotores.
Other compañeros, compañeras in other zones, live in different situations. For example in the Selva Fronteriza Zone or the Selva Tzeltal Zone the situation isn’t the same situation as it is for the compas in Los Altos; it is very different. So there are zones where they work collectively in cattle raising, and so when the compañeros try to organize their first steps, there are some things that they realize immediately.
For an example of what I am talking about, for the collective work at the zone level, the thing is that the communities are really far away, and the compañeros have to spend a lot of money in order to get to the location where they do the collective work. Since this costs a lot, what the compas decided to do is distribute the tasks, but the work itself is collective. So let’s imagine that this is a zone, imagine this building is a zone, but each community is very far way, some of them are 10 hours by car. So the compas come to an agreement. It might be the case that there are different collective work projects, there is a bakery over here, over there in that corner is a shoemaker, over in a another spot there is the farm that grows x thing, and then over there another collective project for the zone. So all of the communities, the bases, go and work at the collective project that is closest to them, in order to avoid having extra expenses, and then just the representatives meet to discuss how things are going.
The point is that there isn’t anyone who doesn’t work collectively. And in case you have this doubt or some day it occurs to you to ask, what happens with the people who don’t want to do the collective work? We don’t force anyone to work. We don’t force them, we simply say to them, “that is fine, compañero, compañera, if you don’t want to, but as a Zapatista, when we need to cooperate for something, you will have to pay out of your own pocket.”
And in our deeds and our practices, this is how the compas have managed to survive and this is how they have built their movement, the compañeros. And it is how the ones who don’t want to do the collective work have integrated themselves as well.
It is the same thing in these zones that work collectively in cattle-raising. All of the collective work that they do is for the struggle, for the movement for autonomy. Here what we learned in practice is that what we were doing wasn’t working, that is, we made a mistake, we failed when we required 100% collective work. We saw that this didn’t work because there were complaints, there were a lot of problems.
The complaints were that there wasn’t any salt, or there was no soap. Complaints that the products of the harvest weren’t distributed on time. Complaints that compas who had many children were apportioned equal amounts tocompas who had few children. And so this all made us realize that it would be better if the communities, the regions, the autonomous municipalities, and the zone come to an agreement about how they wanted to work.
The point is that they want time for the family and time for the collective. That is how the compas work. For one example we could take cattle-raising. When I talk about cattle-raising, there is not just one way of doing this. There are, for example, cattle collectives who do cattle breeding; others who don’t, who just purchase the young bulls, have them for a few months and sell them, take their profit and buy another, as if they were trading goods.
There are zones that also work in shoe making, where the compas make shoes. There the compas were very critical of and called out the others, the ones who do cattle raising, saying that the skins of the cattle that they eat, or who die, just rot there, the skins of horses, donkeys, mules, that there they are just lost because they don’t know how to tan them. And so the compas tried to find someone to teach them how to do the tanning but no one wanted to do it, because they were looking for a teacher at the place that buys the skins. Well, maybe you all know someone who can teach us.
Another form of Zapatista economy—and who knows why the compas put it like this—but the autonomous banks like the BANPAZ, BANAMAZ, well now they call them BAC, for Banco Autonomo Comunitario (Autonomous Community Bank). There are two ideas at play in these banks. One is about having basic necessities like soap, salt, sugar, and that type of thing. The bank is for the money that the compas have once they sell their beans, corn, pig, whatever they have, so they can put that money into their local supply store. That way, the money that they make selling their products goes into the collective cooperative and this little bit that they make goes toward the movement for autonomy, or the struggle, and not to the partidistas [party-followers or party loyalists].
So this is what they do in the BAC or the autonomous banks. Because before when they had to borrow money from someone, Zapatista or not, they were charged up to 15% interest per month, meaning they were taken advantage of. That is why the compas created this fund, this autonomous bank, for health issues and for commerce. Thecompañeros have had problems in this area; don’t think it has gone perfectly. But these problems are being improved, and if there are good things, it is because of the decisions of the people in the communities, men and women.
For example, if I borrow 10 thousand pesos from the autonomous bank for a family health problem, and my child or my wife is cured, I pay 2% interest. If they aren’t cured, if my child or wife passes away, then the money lent is also lost; I don’t have to pay it back. This is an agreement that they made in the zone, that if someone dies, then the money doesn’t have to be paid back.
Where does the fund in the autonomous bank come from? There are different ways that the compas create these funds in different zones. For example, one agreement that they have made in order to not place a big burden on the compas, the bases, is that they agreed that each base of support should pay one peso per month. Or, that is to say that this month, in May, I should deposit one peso, and then in June I deposit another peso. As a base of support, I pay 12 pesos per year, and given that there are thousands of us, then there are 12 thousand or 15 thousand pesos at the end of the year. This money is what goes into the fund, into the autonomous bank.
Money also comes from the donations made by our brothers and sisters, compañeros and compañeras in solidarity. One part of these donations goes into this fund, into the autonomous bank, and another part goes to the collective work projects in the zone.
Another way to acquire resources is through agreements in the zones. When it is time to sell the harvest, be it coffee or corn, they agree that, for example, each base of support contribute 80 kilos of corn, or 50 kilos of beans, and then they sell it by the ton and the money from the sale goes into the fund. Then they decide whether to deposit this fund in the autonomous bank or to invest it in something else.
Another thing that the compas do by zones is collective work in the cornfield, or collective work in the coffee grove, and then they sell those harvests as another form of income.
Ok, so there is something else that we want to share here, so that some day when you are struggling if the same thing happens to you, you are aware that such things go on. Yesterday we were talking about NGOs, and we said that there were fewer projects than there used to be, but this isn’t because there are no longer NGOs or because NGOs don’t manage projects anymore, they’re still there. It is because there was something going on that we didn’t like. A few years ago, an NGO came to the compas in the Good Government Council. They proposed to do a health project, and the compas agreed; there were 400 thousand pesos in the project. Later they came back to explain how the project would work, but this time the person who came was a different member of the NGO and so the Good Government Council asked to see the project paperwork and the information about the total resources for the project.
– You don’t have it yet? They asked.
– No, that is why we are asking for it.
– Oh, it’s my pleasure to give it to you.
And so they went and got it and gave it to us, and the project had a budget of 1 million 400 thousand pesos. And so we saw that this NGO was giving us 400 thousand pesos and keeping 1 million for themselves. Of course, it was to pay the light bill, they said later, to pay the rent, and I don’t know what else. And so from that moment we started to think that, I don’t know exactly how to put it into words, but isn’t NGO supposed to mean Non-Governmental Organizations?
And so there are these people who latch on to those who are struggling against injustice, inequality, misery and all the rest. Smart, huh?
From this moment on, the compas let the Juntas of the zone know that they had to be careful. Now we ask each NGO that comes to present their projects for the total budget. Sometimes they say “oh, we will bring it to you,” and years pass and they haven’t managed to bring it to us, they must not be able to find their car.
And so that’s what happened. Some stayed, and they are here accompanying the compas on the Good Government Councils. But that isn’t to say that there aren’t NGOs out there funding themselves through projects, maybe even saying that they are working with the Zapatista autonomous municipalities in rebellion, but whatever, that’s their problem.
I will give you an example of another way that the compas are able to gather resources, which has to do with health, because the compas of the Good Government Councils made an agreement with some doctors who provide assistance. The doctors told us that there are two types of surgeries, minor and major, and that the minor surgeries cost somewhere between 20 to 25 thousand pesos and the major surgeries cost much more. So the doctors who provide assistance to the compas go to the autonomous hospitals and do surgeries.
It really is a huge help because they use their saws and remove what needs to be removed and that’s it; the compasdon’t have to pay. The compas are only responsible for the cost of the antibiotics, which they take afterwards to avoid infection, and which only cost about a thousand or twelve hundred pesos. In other words, it is a major savings.
Another way they gather funds, as I already mentioned, is that word gets around. It gets around the communities, and yesterday we were talking about this, about how the partidistas go to the Zapatista hospitals because they don’t have a doctor, they don’t have a surgeon, and word gets around about how the compas are organized, so all of the partidistas go to the hospital where the doctors in solidarity come to work. And so what the compas have done is that in a zone assembly they decided that they have to charge something, but they also don’t want to charge too much.
For example, if the doctor says that a surgery is worth 6 thousand pesos, then the partidista will have to pay 3 thousand. And if they say that a surgery is worth 8 thousand, then the partidista has to pay 4 thousand. This way the partidista is still saving money, because otherwise in another hospital they would be paying between 20 and 25 thousand pesos.
This is one way that they try to have some income, revenue. There are zones that have work collectives that make crafts. There are compañeras in the zones that work in cattle raising collectives or who sell food, doing collective work periodically when there are particular events. For example, each time we have a party, the food vendor collective is there selling food.
In this collective work, as we call it in the zone, the compañero authorities of the Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities in Rebellion and the Good Government Councils are the ones responsible for promoting, motivating, and seeking out advising support and encouragement from the compas from the Clandestine Committee.
Now the compa bases of support also participate, making proposals in the assembly about the kinds of collective work that can be done. These collective work projects that we are discussing have really helped us to understand and truly monitor our government, because they are the ones that administer the projects, our government, the Good Government Council, or the MAREZ. And because this work comes from the sweat of the people, then thecompas demand clear accounting from their authorities, of how much came in, how much was spent, what it was spent on, and how much was left. And they don’t leave their authorities alone; they are accountable to the people, and you can imagine what happens if there is money missing. Because now instead of going to jail one does collective work, because that person has to pay in collective work what they stole or spent.
In the collective work that we do, because we are talking about hundreds of men who go to work, small problems arise that quickly become big ones. For example, I know that there is going to be work in the cornfield and so I need a machete [inaudible], but then this compa brings an enormous machete. What’s the point? The point is when I am working, well the regular machete doesn’t reach very far, and the guy who has the enormous machete can cover more ground, or that is to say that he thinks he is very sneaky because he can do less work. And so when this happens, the authority, or the person in charge of the collective work, assigns 2 meters to each person, and well, that means that the person who tried to be sneaky by bringing a bigger or smaller tool screws himself.
Because it is these types of things that discourage people, demoralize them, cause problems, and they start saying “why did the manager allow that? Because it is his brother-in-law, his father-in-law,” and this type of thing, right? And they look for how to resolve them. And sure, others are smoking cigarettes and others file their machetes a lot to waste time, meaning there is no shortage of ways people try to be sneaky. I hope this doesn’t happen to you because if it does you aren’t going to be laughing.
And so the point is, like we were saying yesterday, that we can’t let this go. We are very stubborn, very hard-headed. We don’t abandon the issue. We seek out a solution, advising and clarifying and explaining things, and that is how we continue along.
For the collective work projects that we are discussing, what has really helped us a lot is working this way, where the month is divided into 10 days of collective work and 20 days of family work. Each person agrees. Someone might say no, 5 days for collective work and 25 for the work of the family. But each place makes their agreement, at the level of the community, or the region, or autonomous municipalities, or zone. These are the four levels at which the collective work projects happen, which is to say there are four levels of assemblies, we could say, four levels at which to come to agreement.
And so what we are discussing here, compas, what gives us strength is the fact that we are organized. We are organized in everything and we share the same thinking, which is that we all remind ourselves that here we need to resolve our own problems. We don’t think that anyone is going to resolve them for us, not the government or anyone. And so, compañeros and compañeras, we have to resolve this problem, we have to do this work. We have to think, we have to discuss, we have to analyze, we have to encourage, we have to consult the bases of support. Really the compañeros have developed this profoundly, they have even developed the mechanisms for doing it, because it is a process.
Note that while we have been here, there has been proposal from the Good Government Council, and we as the authorities who are here understand the great importance and need for this, but our bases do not yet know, and so we need to go back and inform them. And so it will take us 10 or 15 days, and then we will have another assembly and see how it turns out. That is, there are processes that we must go through in order to make a decision, but what makes this possible, the fact that we manage to do it, is because we are organized.
The organization is what unites us. That is why this thing we say, to organize yourselves, is so important. But once you try, the first question is what are we going to do, how are we going to do it and there will be a mountain of problems, you’ll see, which is why we are having this conversation. Because those of you here who are going to try to organize are really going to have to have guts, because you’ll see, you might be the first one to abandon the process. And when I say abandon, it could be for many different reasons, it might be that you will steal what your people have, or that it turns out that you are only good at yelling at people but not at working, that you only make demands and yell but you yourself do nothing. Or it could be the opposite, that you work like crazy and you look at your people and they aren’t following your example and so you ask yourself, “well, why am I killing myself here?”
You will see that what we are telling you is true, when you try do it, and that is why we are telling you this, because this is how it is, there isn’t any other way. Even though you might want to try to find one, there just isn’t any other way. There is this idea of what they call disobedience, or, the idea that you must disobey the system. How? Thecompa bases of support, now they are disobeying, and the government has no entry there, not in politics, nor in ideology, and with regards to economy we come out about even really, because we don’t pay millions in taxes, millions of pesos, but we also don’t receive the millions that they say they give out, and so that is why we say that it more or less equals out. But the government has no entry into our cultural or social life.
So I can see that your eyes are starting to look like little armadillo eyes. Tomorrow we’ll continue and (inaudible).