LOOKING SIDEWAYS AT CAPITALISM
by Mary Ann Tenuto-Sánchez
Sup Galeano with children
The Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) sponsored the Seminar on “Critical thought versus the capitalist hydra” from May 3 to May 9, 2015. A star-studded cast of left intellectuals participated either in person or by sending papers to be read by others. Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés and Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano (formerly Marcos) issued their words, as did Comandantas Miriam, Rosalinda and Dalia. Compañeras Lizbeth and Selena also gave their word. More than 1500 people registered to attend the Seminar. A complete list of presenters can be found here:
Before the start of the Seminar in the Caracol of Oventik, the EZLN paid homage to Compañero Galeano, the teacher, and also to Compañero Luis Villoro.
Prior to the start of this anticapitalist gathering, SupGaleano issued an important communiqué called, in English, “The Storm, the Sentinel and the Lookout Syndrome,”  which puts the purpose of the Seminar in perspective, or better said, it puts the purpose of the Seminar into a Zapatista perspective.
“We, the Zapatistas, see and hear a catastrophe coming, and we mean that in every sense of the term, a perfect storm.” However, he also says that others don’t see it coming, they don’t see what the Zapatistas see. He elaborates: “We see the tendency to resort to the same tactics of struggle, to continue with marches, real or virtual, with elections, surveys and rallies.” As if nothing has changed in the last 20, 40 or 100 years! We think they have the Lookout Syndrome.
If you do the same thing over and over and it doesn’t work, maybe you should try something different!
“We Zapatistas look sideways. We pay more attention, climb to the top of the ceiba (tree) in order to try to see farther, not to see what has happened, but to see what’s coming.” And what they see is “something terrible, more destructive than ever.” But, Galeano admits, they can be mistaken. So, they want to hear what people from other geographies are thinking, what the compañeros, compañeras and compañeroas of the Sixth are thinking. That’s why they called for the Seminar, to share ideas.
Ceiba tree with house for looking sideways at capitalism
Every military installation has lookout towers, guard posts, watch posts, or whatever you may call them, a place where members assigned to that military installation take turns (shifts) at guard duty. Their role is that of the Sentinel: to survey the surrounding area to know who or what is out there; and to sound the alarm in case of an attack or other event. The EZLN is no different; its military members call the guard post the “posta” and take turns carrying out the role of the Sentinel, or lookout. But the important thing is that the Sentinel must be vigilant for signs of danger. If something big and destructive is coming, then the Sentinel must alert everyone to the imminence of the coming storm.
Galeano says that, according to the Zapatistas, theoretical reflection and critical thought have the same task as the Sentinel. “Whoever works on analytic thinking takes a shift at the guard post.” The problem is that the Sentinel, or lookout, can become overwhelmed, overtaken by the task of critical observation and can develop the Lookout Syndrome.
The Lookout Syndrome
After a while the Sentinel “exhausts” his capacity for vigilance. This is what the Zapatistas refer to as the Lookout Syndrome. It consists of: “a) not keeping watch over the whole, but only one part of the whole, and b) when the lookout ‘tires,’ he does not perceive the changes that appear in the zone being watched because those changes are imperceptible to him; that is, they don’t merit his attention.” Because being on lookout duty reproduces the same images over and over again as if nothing ever changes until the lookout doesn’t want anything to change and repeats that: ‘everything is fine and nothing bad is going to happen.’
One way of counteracting the Lookout Syndrome is indirect observation or peripheral vision, also known as “looking sideways.” So, the Zapatistas are inviting people to the Seminar to look sideways with them at what is coming.
Looking sideways at voting
With mid-term elections taking place in Mexico during June 2014, let’s see what thoughts looking sideways at elections produced.
The Zapatistas have not been into voting for a long time. It makes sense for them because they have declared war against the Mexican government and have their own local and regional government. But what should everyone else do? Subcomandante Moisés says you can go ahead and vote, but don’t expect anything to change. We assume he means change for the better. And, indeed, if citizens are looking for fundamental progressive change in Mexico by means of the ballot box, they may have a very long wait! But, Moisés points out that whether you vote or not, you must definitely organize. If you want positive change you have to organize!
On the other hand, what if you live in the United States? We have a presidential election in 2016 and candidates are already announcing their candidacy, starting to raise money and taking positions on issues.
Immanuel Wallerstein, a United States sociologist and left thinker, submitted a paper that addressed, among other issues, voting in different electoral systems. He seems to agree in principle with SupMoisés about not relying on elections for any fundamental progressive change. However, in countries where people have won certain benefits from the government, like social security in the U.S. or universal health care in Canada and Europe, perhaps it’s worth voting to hold onto those benefits. Remember when George W. Bush tried to privatize (take away) social security? If one party is proposing to cut social benefits, Wallerstein suggests that it’s definitely worth voting for the party that doesn’t want to take them away (this assumes there is such a party). Hmm…
Looking sideways at the Storm
SupGaleano did not say in “The Storm, the Sentinel and the Lookout Syndrome” what kind of storm the Zapatistas see coming. Is the storm coming to Chiapas, to Mexico, or to the entire world? Will it come from war, climate change, drug-resistant diseases, one or more natural disasters or the depletion of our natural resources? We thought that perhaps the branches of the ceiba tree obstructed their vision.
And then, the “words” SupGaleano spoke on May 4 were posted on the EZLN’s website in Spanish. (As this is written, those words have not yet been translated into English.) His words give us some answers to those questions. In Spanish the comunicado is entitled “El Método, la bibliografía y un Drone en las profundidades de las montañas del Sureste Mexicano.”  It translates as: “Method, bibliography and a Drone in the depths of the mountains of the Mexican Southeast.”
SupGaleano says that the storm is a profound economic crisis, but not only economic. It stems from the complete domination of the world by international banking, but also from the loss of legitimacy of “traditional” institutions (parties, government, judicial system, church, army, police, communications media, family). Additional factors contributing to the crisis are the corruption of the political class and destruction of the environment. The latter is due to privatizing or “the transformation of everything, even fundamental needs -water, air, light and shade, land and sky-, into merchandise.”
SupGaleano goes on to sum up this profound crisis, this perfect storm as follows:
“We are facing a reality that is synthesized today in one word: Ayotzinapa. For we Zapatistas, Ayotzinapa is not the exception, but rather the current rule. It is the family portrait of the system on the global level.
It has been said that organized crime or drug trafficking has permeated politics. It has been the reverse: the uses and customs of a corrupt political class (like the Mexican political class), […] were transported to organized crime.”
And the antidote for this profound crisis: ORGANIZE! Prepare yourselves! The dominant message of the EZLN’s Seminar is to organize. While Galeano uses examples from Mexico, he applies the control of international banking, privatization of our shared environment, corruption of the political classes and the loss of legitimacy of traditional institutions globally.
June 18, 2015