The transition blossoms, although we may not see it
Autonomous Zapatista cooperatives produce hand-woven artistry for the local market. Photo by Carolina Dutton.
By: Raúl Zibechi
We are transitioning towards a new, post-capitalist world. In the measure that it is a process we are experiencing, we don’t have sufficient distance to know which period we’re in, but everything indicates that we’re crossing through the initial phases of said transition. Although it has deep similarities to previous ones (transitions from antiquity to feudalism and from feudalism to capitalism), a remarkable fact is the inability to comprehend what’s happening before our very eyes: a true process of the collective construction of new worlds.
In emancipatory thinking and especially in Marxism, the idea that all transition begins with the taking of power at the nation-State level has been converted into common sense. This assertion should have been re-thought after the Soviet and Chinese failures, but above all since the demolition of the states by neoliberalism, in other words by financial capital and the fourth world war underway. It’s certain, however, that power must be taken in order to move towards a non-capitalist world power, but why at the State level, why at an institutional level?
This is one of the essences of the problem and an enormous conceptual difficulty in being able to visualize the transitions that really exist. The second difficulty, tied to the former, is that transitions are not homogenous, and don’t involve all of the social body in the same way. History teaches us that they usually begin on the peripheries of the world-system of each nation, in remote rural areas and in small towns, in the weak links of the system, where they collect force and then expand to the centres of power.
On the other hand, transitions not only are not uniform from the geographic point of view, but also the social, since they are processes guided by human need and not by ideologies. Those who first construct other worlds are usually the peoples that inhabit the basement, Indians, blacks and mestizos; the popular sectors, women and youth are usually the principal protagonists.
I want to give an example of something that is happening right now, since it has a degree of important development and that can hardly be reversed, except with genocide. I refer to the experience of the Unemployed Workers Union (Unión de Trabajadores Desocupados, UTD) in General Mosconi, in northern Argentina. The city has 22,000 inhabitants who worked at the state oil company YPF until its privatization in the 1990s, which left a lot of people unemployed. In those years a strong movement of unemployed workers, known as piqueteros, took off and forced social plans out of successive governments.
During the cycle of piquetero struggles, the UTD was one of the principal referents in the whole country and the other movements enthusiastically followed its memorable roadblocks. The UTD and its leaders enjoyed strong prestige, which carried over to hundreds of cases before the courts because of the roadblocks and other “crimes;” they were the most popular ones in Argentina.
Things changed very quickly. The arrival of Nestor Kirchner to the presidency in 2003, and the retraction of the movements, took the UTD out of the media scenario and away from the -attention of the social militants. News about what’s happening in far-away northern Argentina is as scarce as it is nebulous.
Nevertheless, the UTD took advantage of the social plans (now cut by Macri) to construct a new world. At this time 110 agro-ecological vegetable gardens function, of two hectares each, where an average of 30 people work and produce a large variety of vegetables, besides a chicken coop and pigs in each garden. They have a carpentry workshop that is nourished from the zone’s abundant wood, workshops for soldering, classification of seeds and recycling of plastics in the five large structures the movement has, as one can read in the reporting of Claudia Acuña in the magazine MU (July 2016).
They built nurseries that reproduce native flora with which they supply from the town squares to the woods, those threatened by the dizzying expansion of transgenic soy and woodcutters. They dedicate part of their work to sustaining public spaces in the city and in the surrounding forests, a region where drug trafficking is increasing under state-police protection and complicity.
A simple calculation shows that from 4 to 5 thousand people make their living in relation to the collective work the UTD organizes, which is equivalent to 40 percent of Mosconi’s active population. Those families forged food autonomy, they no longer depend on social plans, and they are aiming from the production of food to the construction of housing, in other words they are reproducing life outside the framework of the system, without relating to capital or depending on the State. In sum, they work with dignity.
Zapatista coffee cooperatives produce coffee that is sold in Chiapas, in Mexico and internationally.
It will be said that it is just a local experience. But the gardens and the UTD’s ways of doing things are already expanding to neighbouring Tartagal, which has triple the population. Many thousands of undertakings of this kind in Latin America, because the popular sectors comprehended that the system doesn’t need them or protect them, as happened during the brief years of the welfare states. There is an implicit strategy in this group of new worlds that does not pass through nation-states, but rather through strengthening and expanding each initiative, in sharpening the anti-systemic and anti-patriarchal traits, and in strengthening resistances.
A stroke of maturity of a good part of these new worlds consists of maintaining distance from the political party and state institutions, although they can always demand support and glean resources with one eye set on guaraneeing survival and the other on maintaining independence.
In the long transition underway, impossible to know whether it will be decades or centuries, the new worlds are facing one of the system’s most powerful offensives. What they have achieved up to now permits us to breathe a serene optimism.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Friday, March 3, 2017
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee