Decolonizing critical thought and rebellions
By: Gilberto López y Rivas /I
Raúl Zibechi’s most recent book, Decolonizing critical thought and rebellions, autonomies and emancipations in the era of progressivism,recently published in our country (Mexico) by Bajo Tierra Ediciones(2015), constitutes a solid and profound contribution to the debate about ideas within the ambit of resistances and the anti-capitalist autonomic processes, as well as a large-scale critique of the progressivisms of the so-called institutionalized lefts, considered by the author as even a “new form of domination.”
It is divided into four sections preceded by an introduction: 1) Societies in movement, 2) Movements in the progressive era, 3) Progressivisms as new forms of domination, and 4) Below and to the left. The work is founded on the author’s experiential knowledge of important anti-systemic movements in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela, Uruguay and, especially, in Mexico, starting with the Zibechi’s coexistence with the process of the Maya peoples grouped together in the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN).
The introduction is key to comprehending the extensive 375-page text, and it begins with the impactful and little known story about the massacre of at least 200 Algerians and the arrest of another thousand in Paris in October 1961, as well as about the cost in human life and those tortured in the war for liberation, which according to reports from the National Liberation Front (Frente de Liberación Nacional), “of a total of between 9 and 10 million inhabitants, one million Algerians died, while another million were tortured.” Zibechi points out that there was never any punishment for murdering Algerians and that this is the climate in which Frantz Fanon reflected, considered as the “zone of non-being (…) where the humanity of those beings is violated day after day, hour after hour. The present state of Fanon’s thinking is recovered upon questioning hegemonic critical theory, in other words, Soviet Marxism of the 1950s and 1960s, and for thinking and practicing resistance and revolution from the physical and spiritual place of the oppressed: “there where a good part of humanity lives in situations of indescribable oppression, aggravated by the re-colonization that the neoliberal model supposes.” Zibechi maintains that a strategy continues being necessary that attacks the “inferiority complex” suffered by the colonized, and he asks: “Of what use is the revolution if the triumphant people are limited to reproducing the colonial order, a society of dominators and dominated? Because of that, broaching the question of subjectivity is a strategic political issue of the first order, without which the dominated repeat the old history: occupying the material and symbolic place of the colonizer, thus reproducing the system that it fights.” Criticizing the liberating role that Fanon attributes to violence, upon “elevating the people to the place of leader,” the necessity of bringing up the problem of subjectivity as a political priority is revisited, “thus breaking with the centrality of the economy and with the exclusive role conceded to the conquest of power and to the recuperation of the means of production and of change through the theory of revolution.”
Starting with these ideas, Zibechi develops aspects that he considers central, and that are certainly present in the texts that make up the volume: autonomy and dignity, power, reproduction and family, community or vanguard, identity, collective production of knowledge and the creation of a new world. He points out that those that live in the “zone of non-being” cannot be autonomous in an oppressive society, since violence is daily life and society doesn’t recognize them as human beings. Therefore, the colonized (Fanon), those below (Zapatistas), must create safe spaces to which the powerful cannot accede. At the same time, the autonomies of the indigenous peoples, campesinos and mestizos must be integral; that is, approach all aspects of life, from food production to justice and power. The dominated cannot appeal to State justice, but must create their institutions. In this way, the processes of change cannot be ordered around the current states. Autonomous processes are founded on democratic powers, not state (powers), and are anti-colonial because they destroy the subordinate relationships of race, gender, generation, inherited wisdom and power, constructing other new ones in which differences co-exist without any one of them being imposed.
The movements of the “zone of non-being” are counted in families. The fundamental political step is the passage from reproduction in the family home to collective reproduction in the movements, modifying the immobility of the dominated society, renewing their blood and their spirit (Fanon). Reproduction is where the society of those below can make “an effort on their own behalf.”
Fanon also continues in his denunciation of the elitism of the lefts, including the notion of a party that he considers “imported from the metropolis.” His rejection of an organization centered on the most conscious elites and organized on the basis of their ability to negotiate and become imbedded in the state apparatus. They have no need to destroy it, since they hope for a place in the system’s shadow. Zibechi emphasizes that Zapatismo, to the contrary, proposes to organize the entirety of the people. The EZLN inverted the colonial logic of the lefts, by placing itself at the service of the communities; that is, “from a revolutionary vanguard to governing by obeying; from the taking of Power of those above to the creation of power in those below; from professional politics to daily politics; from the leaders to the peoples” (sub Marcos). Zapatismo travels this path of decolonizing critical thinking, Zibechi maintains, revitalizing traditions of a community character, and starting from their wisdom, they teach that a revolutionary theory separated from reality and placed on top of it (reality) is not necessary for constructing a new world.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Friday, August 14, 2015