The Power of Below
Zapatista women and children listen to discussions at 5th National Indigenous Congress.
By: Raúl Zibechi
It’s unheard of in Latin America for dozens of indigenous peoples and nations to decide to endow themselves with their own government. The recent decision of the 5th National Indigenous Congress (CNI), after consultation and approval by 43 peoples, to create the Indigenous Government Council which proposes to “govern this country,” will have repercussions in the country and the world.
As the communiqué “And it shook!” points out, we are faced with dozens of processes of radical transformation, of resistances and rebellions that “constitute the power of below,” which will now be expressed in the Government Council. Simultaneously, the organism will have an indigenous woman as spokesperson, and she will be an independent candidate in the 2018 elections.
It is the mode that the peoples have found so that “indignation, resistance and rebellion figure on the 2018 electoral ballots.” In that mode they seek to “shake the conscience of the nation,” to “dismantle the power of above and to reconstitute ourselves, no longer just as peoples, but also as a country.” The immediate objective is to stop the war, to create conditions for organizing and collectively overcoming the paralyzing fear that the genocide of above provokes.
In the final part the communiqué emphasizes that perhaps this may be “the last opportunity as original peoples and as Mexican society to peacefully and radically change our own forms of government, making dignity the epicentre of a new world.”
In broad strokes, that’s the proposal and the path for making it a reality. From the distance it calls attention to the fact that the debates since last October had been centred on the question of the indigenous woman spokesperson as a candidate in the 2018 elections, setting aside a fundamental theme that, I believe, is the formation of the Indigenous Government Council. It’s evident that the new political culture that the CNI and the EZLN embody cannot be understood with the blinders of the old culture, centred on media discourses and on elections as almost the only way of doing politics.
That the indigenous peoples of Mexico decide to create a government council seems an issue of the greatest importance. They are peoples and nations that will no longer be governed by anyone else. Millions of men and women establish self-government in a coordinated way, in a single council that represents all of them. It’s a parting of the waters for the indigenous, which will have repercussions throughout all of society, like the January 1, 1994 Uprising had.
Here is where it’s convenient to make some clarifications versus the more absurd interpretations and, my apologies if I’m wrong. The political culture that Zapatismo and the CNI practice consists of promoting the self-government of all the sectors of society: rural and urban, indigenous, campesinos, workers, students, professionals and all the sectors that want to be added. They never sought to govern others; they don’t want to supplant anyone. “Govern obeying” is a form of government for all the oppressed, which each one implements in their own way.
The communiqué clarifies that they do not seek to compete with the professional politicians, because “we are not the same.” No one that is even minimally familiar with Zapatismo throughout these 23 years can imagine that they will be dedicated to counting votes, to getting positions in municipal, state or federal governments. They won’t be dedicated to adding or subtracting electoral acronyms, because they’re on another path.
In times of war against those below, I believe that the question that the CNI and the EZLN raise is how to contribute to the way the most diverse sectors of the country are organized? It’s not about (the CNI and the EZLN) wanting to organize them, that’s the job of each sector. It’s about how to support, how to create the conditions so that it is possible. The indigenous candidacy goes in that direction, not as “vote-getting,” but rather as the possibility of dialogue, so that others may know how they did it.
The creation of the Indigenous Government Council is the sign that if millions of individuals from peoples and nations can do it, self-government is possible; why can’t I do it in my district, in my neighbourhood, wherever it may be? The 1994 Uprising multiplied rebellions; it contributed to the creation of the CNI and of multiple social, political and cultural organizations; something similar can happen now. There is nothing as potent as the example.
This year we celebrate the hundred-year anniversary of the October Revolution. The obsession of the Bolsheviks and of Lenin, which can be corroborated in the marvellous book of John Reed “Ten days that shook the world” (Diez días que estremecieron al mundo), is that everyone would organize into soviets, even those that as of that moment were fighting against them. They even called to the Cossacks, enemies of the revolution, to create their soviets and to send delegates to the congress of all of Russia. “The revolution is not made, but rather is organized,” said Lenin. Independently of what one thinks about the Russian leader, the assertion is the nucleus of any revolutionary struggle.
The transition from indignation and rage to solid and persistent organization is key to any process of profound and radical change. Rage abounds in these times; it lacks organization. Will the 2018 campaign be able to become a leap forward in the organization of the peoples? No one can answer that. But it’s an opportunity for the power of below to be expressed in the most diverse ways, even in electoral events and tickets, because the form is not essential.
Reflecting on the criticisms, which are not few, instead of accusing the CNI and the EZLN of being divisive, they could recognize their enormous flexibility, being capable of entering territory that, as of this moment, had not been probed and, of doing it without flags, while upholding the principles and objectives. The coming months and years will be decisive for delineating the future of the world’s oppressed. It’s probable that in a few years we will evaluate the formation of the Indigenous Government Council as the turn which we were waiting for.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Friday, January 6, 2017
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee
Posted with minor edits by Dorset Chiapas Solidarity