With a new Panther hunt underway, this is a good time to include this second installment of interviews with members of Estación Libre (EL) by The Matrix Magazine out of Humboldt State University's Women's Resource Center...also check out the first EL interview, an earlier post on Ashanti, as well as Kazembe's recent biography on another Black Liberation Army soldier, Kuwasi Balagoon. And for those that are wondering what's going on in Oaxaca, the struggle continues to unfold...but for now, here are some words to get us focused on fighting back against the most recent wave of repression against black revolutionaries...(and to help us do this, a site has been created, and a pamphlet too!)
Interviewed by Dina Rodriguez & Victoria Gutierrez
Originally appeared in print in The Matrix Magazine (Spring 2006)
Ashanti Alston is a truly inspiring human being, activist, organizer and comrade to folks in struggle. A former Black Panther Party (BPP) member, Ashanti has seen and experienced many intense times since the sixties and seventies when the BPP was active, he has emerged from his past struggles with the wisdom and foresight to make attempts at connecting various efforts from different communities – in particular connecting anarchist communities and works to that of the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico. This February, in conjunction with a larger speaking tour of the West Coast, Ashanti and Estación Libre comrade Karl Singh were hosted by Acción Zapatista, Black Student Union and other local groups as part of Black Liberation Month. He engaged in a film screening and discussion of Lee Lew Lee’s documentary on the BPP “All Power to the People,” attended a community mitote, and participated in numerous informal dialogues with various folks. In the following conversation with The Matrix, Ashanti discusses his life, work and perceptions of what’s next – and in addition he poses some questions for all of us to engage in.
Matrix: Can you tell us a little bit about your work?
Ashanti Alston: Of course, you know Estación Libre (EL) – that’s probably my main organization. Right here in the New York chapter, we just had a delegation back from Chiapas – so a lot of it is setting up little report-backs for them. And then also just gathering up that energy to come back with and do everything from fundraisers to political education stuff. So that’s my main thing here.
Also, I’m a member of Critical Resistance. Our thing here is, we have an upcoming round table – this is the second round table. And it’s all part this idea of establishing, [of] helping groups in particular communities develop a ‘harm-free zone’ – and a harm free zone is the idea of getting people away from dialing 911, dialing the police every time there’s a problem. But it’s like, being able to offer the different communities ways that that can happen. For example, if we need conflict resolution or mediation skills, can we offer that kind of training to communities who want to do this? Are there intervention skills? Like if there’s some direct violence in the street; whether it involves street organizations of the criminal activity or maybe just domestic violence – can we find ways of intervening?
And it’s not for us as Critical Resistance to intervene. We want to identify folks in communities who are willing to do this kind of work – and we will help to provide the trainings and the resources to make it happen. We had one round table discussion about three months ago; this is the second one that’s coming up. So there’s follow-up work around that from the organizations that came to the first one, and then preparing for this second one – but also we’re always identifying folks who can provide training or resources to make this happen.
Other than that I do political prisoner work – but I’m not doing that with a particular organization; though I work closely with people from the Jericho movement. [NOTE: If you follow the link, you will see that Ashanti has accepted the role of 'co-chair' of Jericho and is heavily involved now in organizing against the repression mentioned in my intro. -RJ] I guess the last year I’ve been back into visiting the political prisoners in New York state more. And right now I’m just trying to talk to folks from different organizations who have not worked together – for all kinds of political and personal reasons – to see if I can encourage them to sit down at the table and work out some agreements, principles, that would allow them to work – even as different organizations and not let differences from the past stop them.
I don’t get to do this much – but the Institute for Anarchist Studies (IAS) ... Lately I’ve been on a little speaking thing, I get more speaking engagements, and it hasn’t been possible for me to do more [with IAS]. But when I can, I do participate in that, even if its doing a speaking engagement that would help to raise money for the Institute.
Speaking of anarchism – you self-identify as an anarchist, right? We were wondering what were some of the key elements of anarchism that draw you to that political philosophy?
For me anarchism showed me some weaknesses in like a Marxist-Leninist or Maoist approach, which is what I came out of, being a member of the Black Panther Party (BPP). And specifically around internalized oppression, [and the] internal structure of the organization; in terms of the organization being structured on a hierarchical basis, and the whole authoritarian thinking and ideology that comes with that ... Also I think what attracted me to anarchism was that it was giving me a better understanding of diversity, and like what the Zapatistas say – the vision of creating a world where many worlds fit. That, I was getting more from an anarchist perspective, because all of them [anarchists] were helping me to reflect on my past and the BPP, to see some serious errors we made.
For example, the sexism – for me to read feminism, and I’m definitely making a connection between feminism and anarchism – it allowed me to see my own organization’s practice around trying to create equality between men and women in the BPP. But also when I began to read about heterosexism and homophobia and all that stuff, it just allowed me to see other forms of oppression that sometimes we practice, and the kinds of practices that weaken us. And I wasn’t getting that from a strict class-materialist, historical-materialist approach that is encouraged from the more Marxist-Leninist revolutionary vision. So it [anarchism] opened more doors for me, and I think that, this thing about staying open; being willing to break all molds, boundaries, cross boundaries, especially when you find yourself in a situation where you’re stuck. Being willing to go somewhere else, break out of it, dissolve it, whatever. And that temporary limbo is okay, as long as you’re still searching for something better to bring about a revolution, that brings more people into the picture, that helps you to overcome some of your own internalized oppressions that weakens your hand. You accept that the capitalist system is going to do everything it can to crush you, that’s what its supposed to do; but when you don’t see what you do that participates in that – I don’t care how good your rhetoric is, or how good your intentions are, you tend to perpetuate the system in so many other ways. And anarchism has given me a way of going beyond that.
Having walked with the Zapatistas in Chiapas, can you tell us the connections you see between the Black Panther Party and the Zapatistas?
One thing that is immediate is seeing what the Zapatistas were doing gave me a way to see some of the good things the BPP were doing in terms of the community work – even the vision – cause you know, our vision was still, like, freedom, and how that works through one’s community practice, like drawing on your community to organize itself. I mean, that stuff was in common with what the Zapatistas was doin’. It was also giving me a way of seeing just what the destructiveness of the BPP’s practice around hierarchy was; trying to impose a vision from above, you know. Hey, you’re coming with a whole ideology of a Marxist-Leninist-Communist-Socialist society, and you’re convinced that this is the way that it has to go.
That’s different from what the Zapatistas are doing, but I think with us – when I was reflecting on the way we were trying to do it – and the ways that other folks in the movement were also placing us in this position of a vanguard; it was really destructive because we excluded so many other people, and even people within the BPP who may have had different ideas or criticisms or critical perspectives themselves against what was going on.
The Zapatistas were creating communities of resistance, and that had always been the vision of the Black Power Movement, and in a sense the Zapatistas were showing me how the Black Power Movement could have unfolded if we had been more ... open, flexible, horizontal, and I guess maybe even participatory; always including people in the community in the decision-making process – instead of the decision-making process getting narrower and narrower. Like what you see when you go to Chiapas into the Zapatista communities, you see how the juntas and even the caracoles work. The whole thing is bringing more and more people into the process. The Zapatista leadership, the military leadership, are so concerned that people actually take control over their lives, and that decisions – especially that it used to be that a lot of major decisions were being made by the EZLN – they were like, no, this is not what this is about. This is about you, this is about you regular people, this is about your life, you gotta come into this process. I wish we had done that back in the day for the BPP.
So for me, Black Power is still a project; you know, it’s all part of when we say, ‘All power to the people.’ It’s like, today, how can we still as a Black community begin to take control over our lives again and at the same time do it in alliances with so many other folks in this country and in the world who are also fighting for their visions of freedom, their visions of revolution, their visions of liberation, or sovereignty ... however they define it, however they envision taking back their lives? How can we all do it now in a sense of being on the same page but respecting the integrity of our struggles?
We were wondering what were the differences you see between the ways organizers and activists conduct themselves today, and the ways they conducted themselves back in the sixties and seventies? What are some of the main differences or similarities that you saw?
I think one that’s always obvious to me is, even though we were coming from specific ideologies and specific organizational practices back in the sixties that I would be critical of now, I think key was what made us effective was that we were actively engaged in our communities – the daily communication, the daily interactings, the daily struggles that encouraged other people to help organize, to help fight landlords, to help build these liberation schools and free breakfast programs – they’ve transformed a lot of people’s lives, especially ours as we were engaged in it.
Today, for me the big difference is I think we got more people involved – I really do think that there’s many more people involved with movements, there’s even many more movements – but when you look for that kind of dynamic interaction with folks in the communities, I don’t see it. I see more demos, I see more forums, I see more presentations, rallies, and stuff, but folks don’t challenge their own alienation. And they end up just preaching to the converted, but not taking that other step of like, talking to all those people who are not so easily convinced. Those are the ones we need to interact with when it comes down to it.
You know, do you even interact with your neighbors? And I tell people, I don’t even interact with my neighbors in my building like that, even though I’ve made that my goal. It’s like, I got to know folks in this building, you know? I really feel folks are scared to do it – but whatever kind of preparations we need to do to do that, then let’s do it. Because there’s a lot of trained organizers out there, even from the old days who would be willing to walk folks through what it is to meet people, to encounter people.
I love that word encounter, because that’s really such a big basic part of this, just meet people where they’re at, they get to meet you where you’re at. But we go the same way as when Marcos and the other intellectuals first went into Chiapas. We’re probably coming with our own little arrogance of knowledge, and we’re gonna get humbled when we really discover that the people who we want to interact with have their own knowledge, they have their own understanding, and now you’re asking for a respectable creative interchange in a sense – a real dialogue around oppressions that are common to both of us and oppressions that are different, you know. I think that’s the big difference that I see now; people have to take the risk of interacting, of breaking their own fears, of just engaging, encountering others.
Can you talk about the importance of allied behavior within organizing spaces, in regards to racism, sexism, homophobia, and other isms?
Some of the things that I’ve even been learning – and it’s all been a learning process for me – is for example, around the sexism. It’s a major responsibility of men, if they want to be allies, to organize amongst themselves and figure out ways of breaking down their own sexism, you know, of building up new senses of what it means to be men, what it means to be human beings, beyond what roles we have taken on and have just acted out of as common sense. And a lot of the women who I’m associated with appreciate more the effort rather than putting out the rhetorical, political correctness. They don’t want to hear it, they want to see it, and they are more comfortable when they know that we are also involved in men’s groups that are actively working on it. That way I think we tend to see what it means to be real allies, like pro-feminist allies, you know, and I think it’s the same thing we talk about in relationships between people of color and white folks.
You know, there’s things that we want to see white folks do on their own initiative. To begin to challenge and break down all this stuff around whiteness and not be afraid of it... well I guess I shouldn’t even say not be afraid, but to not allow that fear to stop you from doing it and just going to those things that are more comfortable, which tends to be back towards the standard political outreach organizing that has always been just very male dominated, and a practice that still excludes and shuts down women.
In Chiapas, those of us in EL; we would come into contact with some of the white folks, whether they’re coming from Europe or the U.S., and we would watch their interactions with folks of color – Mayan folks in Mexico primarily and Zapatistas – and we would see this either arrogant or condescending behavior, just outright racist statements that they seemed to be clueless of.
Sometimes we have to actually just pull them up and say, ‘Hey, that what you just did, or that what you just said was fucked up, racist, dah dah dah...’ I mean one of the bad things is that they give the impression to the Zaps that, Well, this may be what all Americans, North Americans, or even Americans from the United States feel, you know? And they don’t get it unless they’re challenged, and if they’re not challenged they may tend to just still do the same behavior. But ultimately we shouldn’t have to be the ones who keep doing that. If they even really want to help the Zapatistas, they need to reflect on their own racism. And it’s not a bad thing. How can you not be racist if you’re born and raised in a racist empire? It becomes very simple. How can a man not be sexist if you’re born in a sexist empire? The thing that you do is not get caught up in feeling bad or pity for yourself. You recognize that you gotta be a product – so now I wanna be able to help myself, as well be in a position to aid others – by dealing with some of that stuff that’s within me, the stuff that I have internalized just by being a product of this empire. And it just seems to me to make for better relations; and it’s relations beyond just straight-up political relations. Now you may allow someone to kind of know you also as just a human being, you know – and not just oh, white ally, oh, male ally – now we maybe can get to really know some of our stories and some of our personal makeup.
Speaking of trying to get to know each other beyond the political level; we were wondering if you had any opinions regarding drug and alcohol use within organizing circles.
I mean the BPP allowed the use of alcohol and marijuana, but it just couldn’t be done durin’ what was called ‘Party hours,’ or work hours. If you was workin’ you wasn’t supposed to do it before or durin’ work. After work, if folks drank or if folks smoked, it was allowed, you know?
Anything can be abused, you know. Alcohol, marijuana, even sometimes beliefs can be abused and be abusive. But one of the things I think in the BPP that was good about it was that it made for a more social organization, and it allowed us to be even more social with folks in our communities. You know, one was also always supposed to keep moderation in mind. Also, it helped to get a picture of a world where you wasn’t so uptight, proper, that you couldn’t get loose and just enjoy life. So therefore, it was not only just drinking or smoking marijuana; but we partied, we did all of that stuff. I think it helped when people saw us as real holistic people.
Today, I still think that that’s a good thing. Today, what concerns me is that people in the movement will sometimes use that kind of understanding to still hide the issues goin’ on inside of them that may have them drinking or smoking or partying even more than what might be healthy. My concern is, do you know when you’ve reached that point? And if you do, do you know how to ask for help? I have some of my older comrades who are just totally against drinking and smoking, cause we went through the sixties and the seventies and the crack epidemic and we saw all this destructiveness from it. But my other thing is, you know, we don’t want to be in the position of being the authoritarians and say you can’t do that in the movement. It could also lead to, you can’t do that once we create a new world or our own liberated territories.
I understand why the Zapatistas do it, but I think that there’s other ways, other practices that we can develop, or even the other understandings to accompany these practices to get people to really think about how much they do, and why they smoke or drink, cause I know folks who I’m concerned about, who I believe smoke or drink too much, and I know from getting to know them that there’s some other issues there. And now movement stuff, because we have this thing about freedom, and not being loose and hung up and bourgeois; [we think] that this is okay. And yeah, it’s okay, but now, you seem to not be able to do certain things at certain times because of this, or you don’t deal with some of the other ghosts in your own closet because of this, and maybe you need to do that. And can I be that person who, if I’m concerned, to bring it up to you? And if you need help, tell me what you need because then maybe possibly I can find someone to help you. There’s people in the movement now who’s got skills, from therapeutic skills to healing skills, and I think that all of that needs to be available, not only for our community, the community at large, but even for the communities of activists, because like I said before, we are products of this society.
We done got beat up in all kinds of ways by this society, and just because we’ve taken on a new belief and a new activist practice it don’t mean that we’re still not suffering, we’re not screaming silently, you know. And with the hope that this movement would help us to get to a better place, but then when it doesn’t, we got to still figure out how to get to that better place while we’re trying to stop this empire from oppressing all of us. But then the words of a Frantz Fanon, and the words of an Audre Lorde, and even the life of a Malcolm X becomes very important. Again it’s like, oh I gotta read that again, you know, cause I think I missed some understanding(s) here. What is internalized oppression? What are the radical existentialists saying about this, you know – what we suffer from being in this society, feeling like we’re lost? We don’t quite know how to judge things anymore. I mean, even activists go through this, and it may be family stuff, it may be just, ‘I lost a grip on how to see life in a more relevant way, and I’m medicating, I’m self-medicating.’ We gotta see that, no, we’re a part of this too, and we’re human too, and we gotta figure out all the time how to heal so that we can do the work we want, but also so that we can just enjoy the life that we got.
Can you speak on the power of poetry and spoken word in resistance movements?
Well, I like it. (laughs) I like it, what I can understand of it, okay. Like a lot of hip hop stuff, right, I’m like, man, I need someone to interpret that like Spanish, you know? But what I probably do more is read different writers’ analysis of today’s poetry, spoken word, music, and all that other stuff. You know, like I had kind of a narrow attitude towards punk rock – until I watched Afro-Punk and met Moe Cipher and began to see and appreciate the resistance aspect of punk rock. But you know, I look at a lot of the cultural artistic expressions today as like, this is the new phase of what we did back then.
Our poetry took on different forms than poetry of the fifties and the sixties, and I know there’s a connection between probably the fifties beat-era of poetry and then when you started getting into R&B and the Last Poets and the Watts Prophets, and all the other stuff that even led into radical hip hop and stuff. But it’s like, I look at how people’s creativity comes out in so many different ways and that for me is like what Hip Hop is doing. Hip Hop is probably right now one of the greatest communicators of revolutionary consciousness. You know, that aspect of Hip Hop that has to battle behind the awesome influence of the corporate control of that music, right. You still got Dead Prez, The Coup, and all these other folks who are tryin’ to put out something more positive, but I go places like – I was in Harlem, probably two or three weeks ago, just before I came to California – and on 125th Street, this brother, just by hand, is selling CDs of his hip hop group, and it’s radical stuff, you know? And then you go a couple blocks down and there’s a table set up – this is on the corner where all the Garveyites of the Black Nationalist Movement set up – and on the table is this other brother I meet, with his CD, of his own Black Nationalist radical hip hop. And it makes you think how in the sixties you had all the radical newspapers, so many radical newspapers.
Today, it’s not so much the newspapers, it’s like CDs that begin to play that kind of role. Directly related to how technology is advancing and developing and people’s access to it, you know, there’s so many people who connect with a consciousness movement through hip hop. Whether it’s by hand like that, whether it’s in these clubs where you find a lot of spoken word goin’ on, or at these political events, I think that we may can find more ways of bringing it back to communities – so maybe it’s not on busy commercial corners or stuff like that – but it’s out there. And the word does spread, so people do know about political prisoners, people do know about the Panthers and the Young Lords and the Brown Berets. They’ll hear the word ‘Aztlan’ and it’s not from some of those Chicano nationalists from the sixties and seventies whose voices were prominent back then. It may be more of the Chicano hip hop artists who are puttin’ it out there. So for me, it’s like looking for the different ways that these mechanisms are challenging the consciousness-raising tools of the empire, and not everybody is getting caught up into like CNN and all the other media out there – people do listen.
So, you’ve recently finished a series of speaking events throughout the West Coast. We wanted to know what were some of the most memorable moments during that tour...
Number one: God, Humboldt...
You don’t have to say that....
No, I mean, but it’s true. I tell people about it now – I mean you got 500 people to come out to see the video ‘All Power to the People’ and I do a question & answer. I’m like, I looked at that audience, I have never, never been in front of so many people. But to be able to organize this many people to come out to something specifically on this topic ... and when one says Panthers, one is not just saying the fact of the Panthers, but just more of the idea of resistance that will not limit itself in what it takes to be free – and that’s what Panthers represented. But for that many people to come out was just like, whoa.
And then the mitote, right? ‘Mitote,’ did I say it right? Cause I’m learning, I’m learning. So here, on a smaller scale, is such a great simple way to combine social and political. People coming together to eat; from different organizations and communities, representing different issues, to eat, to talk, to party. And this was kind of like the things back in the sixties too that was very effective. You know, it wasn’t just strictly political, it wasn’t just talking heads, somebody preachin’ to people. The learning experience and the affirmations was in all of the interactions themselves. Just the fact of the interactions was affirming what we’re about. The fact that people could get on the dance floor and listen to music and party, is affirming where we’re at with life – you don’t need some fancy ideology to be able to come out your mouth for that, it’s right there in your activity. So for real, I don’t just say it because y’all from there ... those things ... I was so impressed. So impressed. And the mitote, being something different, is something that I’m like, ‘Oh we gotta try that over here, we gotta do that, more consciously I think we gotta do it over here.’
And then, some of the other events I spoke at, actually all of them, the energy level and the desire of people to know was just so energizing for me. Even after every talk I gave, after every q & a, I felt like I worked a straight eight hour day with no break. But it was good, because it’s what I want to do. I want to be able to share my story, my experiences, and answer questions that people might have who want to know, if I can help with that.
So AK Press was really good. The turnout there was really good. When we went to LA, we spoke to this small youth group, and that may have been about thirty young folks, but it was good because these young folks are in a program, and some of them have already interacted with the criminal justice system and stuff, but they were hungry to know about the BPP. About the idea of taking on the system in a way where they’re taking back their lives, and doing it in a defiant manner, that they had the hope of winning, and to know from somebody who’s been through that, and whose been to prison, and who’s watched comrades die, and still be enthused. I got to do one, sort of like a panel, at DeAnza College and Yuri Kochiyama was on the same panel, and Gerald Smith, who is also a former member of the BPP, and [Raul] ‘Curly’ Estremera, who was also a soldier in the Black Liberation Army. Just to be on a panel with them became very memorable for me, because I’ve never been on a panel before with other of my comrades, and for us to all sit and just share all this stuff with the folks who came out was; it made me feel really good.
Are there any moments that you’d like to forget?
On the trip? Ha! Oh my god, not so far, not so far... maybe one white boy at East Side Arts Café whose racism really came out ... but then again, you look at it and say, ‘I’m glad it came out, cause people put him in check!’ But other than that ... no, I had ... man, I had a good time ... just maybe the fact that I had to leave. You want to be everywhere where there’s so much energy. I definitely loved being in Cali during them two weeks. From LA to Humboldt was just really good – and people were just really good with me.
You touched on this earlier: the Jericho Movement. Can you talk about it a bit more?
The Jericho Movement ... I think it started either ‘98 or just before ‘98. At least in ‘98 they had their biggest rally, march in Philly. The Jericho Movement is a political prisoner’s movement and it focuses on most of the political prisoners who’ve been in there since the sixties and the seventies, and there’s also some from the eighties. Many of them come from the BPP, Black Liberation Army, the A.I.M. movement (the American Indian Movement), the Weather Underground, and than more recently, some of the anarchists and Earth First and animal liberation folks – and I do work with them in New York. But I’m not a member.
Critical Resistance is my organization. I was the North East Regional Coordinator – I’m just a regular member now. Critical Resistance; because it’s about getting rid of prisons. And then as I learned later – a lot of people, they don’t necessarily say “prison abolition,” they say “penal abolition,” because penal abolition – it even goes beyond what people might think that abolition deals with. So penal deals with not only the physical structures of the prisons but the whole criminal justice system, the whole criminal justice ideology, you know, everything that goes into that, to perpetuate that kind of system – so it becomes necessary to look at society as a whole. Now Critical Resistance; what has always stood out about it is that it looks at society as a whole and not just prisons. But sometimes when people hear ‘prison abolition’ you got a lot of folks who identify with that, who just look at the prisons critically, and for us, it’s about looking at all those systems connected too – that makes prisons, the prison system – necessary, that you just can’t get rid of one, you gotta get rid of all of them. So we’re back to that small ‘r’ revolution; without looking at how to bring the empire down as a whole and get rid of it so that we can produce other institutions and practices in the process – that makes for a more just and freer world.
Well, that’s about it on our end. It’s been great talking to you; you are very inspiring. Thank you. We just wanted to ask if you had any closing ‘statements’?
‘Closing statements...?’ (laughs) No, I have a closing question. Okay, I can give a closing question, right?
I guess you can ... we’re pretty flexible.
Thank you so much; I’m gonna remember this. Alright, my question to all of you who read this and all this other stuff... is, ‘Will you carry the torch?’
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Sunday, January 21, 2007
UPDATE 2/22/07: The camp is on...there are all different ways to contribute to the Cucapá camp, and also the Huitepec camp in Chiapas, check out the invitation and get organized!
The Zapatistas' Sixth Commission, the arm of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) with the responsibility of participating in Mexico's Other Campaign, is preparing its next steps...as are many other Mexican and international adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle. One of these initiatives is being dubbed "La Otra Campamento Cucapá". Check the call-out below to see what Other Campaign adherents in Mexico's northwest and the USA's southwest, including the EZLN's Sixth Commission and members of Mexico's National Indigenous Congress, are preparing for '07...
On Oct 15 - 20, 2006, The Other Campaign, a transnational initiative spearheaded by the EZLN, made stops in San Quintin (Triqui & Mixtecos), San Jose de la Zorra (Kumiai), Ensenada, Tijuana, Mexicali and El Mayor (Cucapá), all cities and communities in Baja California. After witnessing the neglect, abuse, mistreatment and systematic isolation of indigenous communities in Baja California, Subcomandante Marcos (aka Delegado Zero) announced that after carefully analzying the situation in Baja, something, anything had to be done to stop the overall extermination of indigenous communities in Baja at the hands of the Mexican Government.
During Delegado Zero's visit, on Oct, 17, 2006 to San Jose de la Zorra, a Kumiai community, he along with members on the CNI (Indigenous National Congress) and elders of the Kumiai proposed the first Intercontinental Indigenous Gathering for Oct. 12th of 2007 at a location in northwestern Mexico (that is still to be determined). Delegado Zero said the following:
Let’s invite the indigenous people of Canada and the United States and let’s invite the indigenous people of South America and Central America, and let’s come from all parts of the continent to this indigenous zone in the Northwest to say that we are here, and let’s tell our story. And it doesn’t matter if they pay attention to us or not, because we’re going to pay attention to each other.Consequently, he arrived on Oct 20th, 2006 in the Indigenous Community of El Mayor, home to the Cucapá, an indigenous group native to the Mexicali region of Baja California. After listening to members of the Cucapá community speak of abuses by the Mexican Government, Delegado Zero made another proposal similar to the one proposed in San Juan de la Zorre. This last proposal during his trip in Baja California discussed the ways in which the Cucapá have been stripped of their ancestral rights to fish, one of the last traditions they still hold. Many of their customs have been killed off by the capitalist machines from the U.S. and Mexico. For instance, the rivers near the Cucapá are drying out because of dams that have been built on the US side of the Colorado River, which in turn, water NAFTA's cash crops in the US and are eventually sold back to Mexico at a much higher cost than if they would have been grown in Mexicali. Flora & fauna that once fed the Cucapaá no longer exist because the river no longer provides nourishment for the land. Due to this, fishing in the area has been privatized and sold off to corporations who abuse the waters and over-fish protected areas. Ironically, it is the Cucapá who are used as scapegoats and blamed for the mistreatment of the waters and thus denied their indigenous rights to work the land and fish the waters they have occupied for thousands of years.
The government has systematically tried to kill off their culture by imposing an educational system that denies the preservation of their culture and traditions. The Mexican and Baja governments have also raided the natural resources of the communities by supporting and imposing so-called community leaders that have periodically sold off communal land to foreign companies to strip it clean of it's natural resources with no benefit to the Cucapá. Extremely high electricity rates are forced onto the community even though a Geothermal electric plant exists on Cucapá land, again the community doesn't benefit from these neoliberal mega projects in or near their land.
Twenty years ago after a dam on the US side broke and flooded the rivers & valleys, the Cucapá were forced to relocate to where they now live and were given by the government cancerous materials to build houses and due to that many of the Cucapá now find themselves with cancer and respiratory problems from the asbestos lined materials. Some have sadly died from this as well. The biggest insult of all, is that the government of Baja claims there are no indigenous communities in Baja and some of those with "Indigenous Certificates" claiming indigenous rights and land are not indigenous.
The struggle of the Cucapá encompasses as a whole the struggle of the indigenous communities throughout Mexico and it is because of this that Delegado Zero, along with the Cucapá Indigenous Community of El Mayor, proposes inviting adherents to the sixth declaration of the lacandon jungle to come to El Mayor and set up camp. A camp that will help preserve and revitalize traditions and customs that are almost extinct within the Cucapá and other communities such as the Kiliwa who recently announced a "death pact" of no longer bearing children because their culture and people had been exploited to the brink of extinction by the Mexican Government. Along with that the camp will serve as a safe space in which humanitarian brigades will accompany the Cucapá and assist with fishing. This will be a camp that will reach out to other indigenous communities and help with establishing the ways and means for self-sufficiency, autonomy and prosperity.
You are no longer being asked to stand in solidarity with the indigenous people of Mexico. Now you are being asked to play an integral role in a bi-national effort that will no longer consist of only resisting but also help these communities exist and live as they have for thousand of years. To help reestablish the networks and relations that existed before borders separated families and communities, and to help expose these atrocities to a world that has avoided looking at the price of it's excess, comfort and luxury.
For more information and to participate in the Cucapá Camp please go to the official blogspot of the Cucapá and La Otra transfronteriza at pecesenredcucapa.blogspot.com
Que Viva los Pueblos Cucapás! Que Viva los Pueblos Indigenas de Baja California y de Mexico! Que Viva el Congreso Nacional Indigena! Y, Que Viva La Otra Campana!
Monday, January 15, 2007
What makes the World Social Forum process and the Zapatista-initiated Zezta Internazional process different? I got into this a bit in Enter the Intergalactic! and one of the pieces I reference there is an essay by Kolya Abramsky. Previously unavailable on-line, here is his insightful piece in its entirety...
The Bamako Appeal and The Zapatista 6th Declaration
Between Creating New Worlds and Reorganizing the Existing One
by Kolya Abramsky (Written in May 2006)
Fifty years after Bandung, the Bamako Appeal calls for a Bandung of the peoples of the South, victims of really existing capitalism, and the rebuilding of a peoples’ front of the South able to hold in check both the imperialism of the dominant economic powers and U.S. military hegemony. Such an anti-imperialist front would not oppose the peoples of the South to those of the North. On the contrary, it would constitute the basis of a global internationalism associating them all together in the building of a common civilization in its diversity... The Bamako Appeal is an invitation to all the organizations of struggle representative of the vast majorities that comprise the working classes of the globe, to all those excluded from the neoliberal capitalist system, and to all people and political forces who support these principles-- to work together in order to put into effect the new collective conscience, as an alternative to the present system of inequality and destruction.
(Bamako Appeal 2006)
We will forge new relationships... As far as we are able, we will send material aid such as food and handicrafts for those brothers and sisters who are struggling all over the world...we are going to fill [a truck] with maize and perhaps two 200 liter cans with oil or petrol, as they prefer, and we are going to deliver it to the Cuban Embassy...we’ll also send [people in struggle in Europe] some organic coffee from Zapatista cooperatives, so that they can sell it and get a little money for their struggle. And, if it isn’t sold, then they can always have a little cup of coffee and talk about the anti-neoliberal struggle...And to all of those who are resisting throughout the world, we say there must be another intercontinental encuentro...And we think it might be in a place that has a very large jail, because what if they were to repress us and incarcerate us, and so that way we wouldn’t be all piled up, prisoners yes, but well organized, and there in the jail we could continue the intercontinental encuentro for humanity and against neoliberalism.
(Zapatista 6th Declaration 2005)
In order to understand the two documents, it is important to briefly situate them in an analysis of the changing constraints of the world-system and its inter-state system, as well as to briefly appraise different “national” development strategies of the past, and the historical specificities of current global dynamics. There is nothing new about the world economy imposing constraints upon specific countries, regions or localities, as well as on specific social sectors within these geographically defined units. Nor is there anything new about resistance to these constraints, both locally and through international cooperation. Since it’s beginning, the world-system as a whole has always been both constitutive of and constituted by the parts which exist within it, existing in creative tension, in which social relations are in a continual process of evolution, as patterns of domination are continually imposed, resisted, redefined, and reimposed, both spatially and temporally. As such, the Bamako Appeal and the Zapatista 6th Declaration both follow on from numerous attempts at resistance and experimentation as subordinated populations and regions attempt to better their position in the world-economy. It is important to simultaneously recognize their debts to the past (which indeed both of them do) as well assessing their appropriateness for the specific current conjuncture which has given rise to the two documents, and to what extent they might be useful or limiting to future social struggles (McMichael 1990).
Throughout the last century, a wide variety of struggles and strategies against unequal distribution of resources, wealth, surplus and power emerged to challenge the hierarchies of the world-economy, its interstate system and world-wide division of labor, hierarchies which simultaneously existed (and continue existing) both between states and within states. Although some of struggles in the early part of the 20th century involved attempts to go beyond the nation state as a form of organizing social relations (the most significant example being revolutionary Spain in the late 1930s, in which Anarchists played an important role), the majority, and most enduring, of struggles ended up relying on, and reinforcing the state (and inter-state system) as a crucial form of managing and disciplining the social relations of production and exchange. All have placed great emphasis on the need to “develop”, “modernize” and industrialize, even those which have also placed great emphasis on the rural sector, such as Maoist China. These efforts have been met with varying degrees of success, even in their own terms.
Yet, despite this common adherence to the nation state form, and the inability to escape completely from the constraints of the world-economy and the inter-state system, the post-second world-war global accumulation regime was based around a wide variety of different state forms and strategies. Some of these attempts, such as the USSR in its early years, place greater emphasis on confrontation and rupture with the existing order. Others, such as North Korea tried to escape through autarky. Yet others, such as the Western European welfare states, tried to accommodate. Some, such as Cuba, went to great efforts to abolish internal patterns of hierarchy and domination, while others, such as South Korea or Ireland, merely sought to ascend the ladder and better their own terms of engagement. Some few protected, sought or achieved global hegemony.
Nation states (and their associated economies) achieved (and were granted) a relatively high degree of autonomy, based on a continual interplay between resistance and accommodation to the wider global constraints and the successful (or at times unsuccessful) management of class forces (2), both at the national level and globally. Economic growth together with social management was achieved through national pacts, with coalitions of class forces varying from country to country. This is a process that started in the early 19th century, but really gained strength in the fires of the second world-war, which laid the terrain for the state centered post war-landscape of global accumulation under US hegemony. This landscape, in which global capital and the international communist movement found an uneasy yet acquiescent accommodation in the form of the Cold War, was based around the Bretton Woods Institutions, and varying forms of Keynesian monetary policies combined with Fordist production regimes, national liberation, import-substitution-industrialization (ISI). Importantly, monetary policy was in the hands of somewhat autonomous national central banks. In countries associated with the Soviet bloc, as well as Communist countries that followed a different path (notably Yugoslavia), a different form of national development occurred, but showed remarkable similarities in many ways, still prioritizing industrial development and economic growth, and still largely based around the nation state form as a way of managing internally the labor force (3).
However, and for a variety of reasons, state forms which had served well in the past have become increasingly untenable since the 1970s, and the state centered global accumulation regime has given way to the neoliberal, or so-called “globalization” regime, a regime that the Zapatistas aptly baptized the “Fourth World War”. This is a highly unstable accumulation regime which, via numerous financial crises, is in the process of swiftly morphing into what many are calling “armed globalization”, “permanent global war” or “endless war” (Midnight Notes Collective 2001, 2002).Very briefly, this change, which has involved a substantial “financialization”of capital, has come about due to the undermining of the previous global accumulation regime, due to a combination of pressures coming simultaneously “from above” (especially in relation to the decline of US hegemony), and “from below” (associated with the global labor force escaping capitalist control, especially following the Vietnam war and the world-wide circulation of struggles associated with 1968 and into the 1970s (4). Furthermore, the international organizational efforts aimed at promoting inter-state cooperation between peripheral countries in order to improve their collective strength in the world-system were greatly weakened during this period. Especially important in this regard was the fact that proposals to create a New International Economic Order through UNCTAD and a similar global restructuring of communications infrastructures through UNESCO, had failed to materialize, and the non-aligned movement had been reduced to the sorry condition of being either willing to accommodate to the demands of the global market, or powerless to confront it on its own terms. In parallel, and following the break up of the Soviet Union and the Comecon economy, the GATT has expanded both in scope and in the number of member countries, and its Uruguay Round of negotiations resulted in the establishment of the World Trade Organization in 1995. The WTO now includes 149 member countries. China is a full member and Russia in the process of joining.
Whereas the previous accumulation regime had been based on states having certain powers (albeit distributed very unevenly between states) the neoliberal regime has been based around an immense centralization of power towards the global level and a corresponding loss of autonomy for states. Multilateral, regional and bilateral trade regimes (including, but not limited to, the World Trade Organization, NAFTA, European Union, APEC) and international financial institutions (IFIs) (including but not limited to, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, regional development banks (e.g. InterAmerican Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) and credit rating agencies (e.g. Moody’s, Standard and Poors)and Standard), as well as investment banks and hedge funds (e.g. The Quantum Fund) have all become enormously powerful. So too have financial markets, and transnational corporations. The latter have become powerful both in economic terms due to concentration of capital through mergers and acquisitions which in the last twenty years have happened at both an unprecedented scale and speed, as well as in political terms due to the proliferation of highly organized and influential business lobby groups, such as the World Economic Forum, International Chamber of Commerce, World Economic Forum or the European Round Table of Industrialists, to name but a few. Importantly, the United Nations is also being subjected to these market pressures, with a major example of this being the Global Compact, an initiative aimed at establishing high level partnerships between the UN and leading industrialists.
This imposed expansion of the global market, and the corresponding centralization of power toward institutions representing the interests of global capital has meant that measures that were at one time effective for pursuing “national development” (even putting aside the critiques of the “developmental” model itself, which will be discussed below) have been effectively outlawed or made increasingly difficult. These include national currency controls, central bank autonomy, local performance requirements, national procurement requirements, tariffs and quotas, generic production, and other forms of national protection. Even public ownership and restrictions on upper-levels of land ownership are substantially threatened. This applies across the board, covering agricultural, industrial and service sectors, as well as intellectual property rights and investment regulations (both FDI and portfolio). Certain investment treaties even include provisos allowing companies to sue national governments. Whilst countries are hit differently, according to their economic, commercial, financial and military weight (as well as their internal class relations and social stability), all countries are hit to some degree, and even the USA has had WTO rulings against it, and its continued membership in the organization is provisional on the fact that it does not make more than three major rulings against it. (5)
However, it is essential to stress that while states are changing, they are not necessarily weakening. While it is undoubtedly true to say that the partial autonomy that states had in the 30 years following the second world-war is weakening, it is also important to remember that states have never been completely autonomous, and have always functioned within a continuously evolving inter-state system of hierarchically networked states (Wallerstein 1988, Holloway and Bonefeld 1995) (6). Nor should states be viewed as innocent bystanders in the process. Rather they have been, and continue to be, complicit in the construction of an increasingly centralized and polarized world market. Whilst states have always been collectively networked to manage, police, legitimate, restructure and impose the world-wide division of labor, recent changes mean that their role is becoming ever more explicit as the protectors and armed guardians of this order. States continue to serve the interests of protecting and promoting the expansion of capital, subsidizing it through the continued transfer of wealth from the public to the private sector, at the same time as repressing dissent, and in particular labor (7). Admittedly, the compromises that gave rise to a state with a role in providing welfare and stimulating national “development” may well have been (at least temporarily) undermined, but the state itself as an institution has not (8).
However, what is changing, and perhaps irreversibly, is the public perception of state, both the state in general, and the developmental state in particular. Apart from in the few areas of the world where oppressed national groups are still struggling for a state (such as in Palestine, Kurdistan or Western Sahara), the state as an institution has progressively lost legitimacy since the world-wide circulation of social struggles in the 1960s and 70s. And, perhaps more importantly in the long-term, the promise of deferred reward contained in ‘Modernization’ and ‘Development’ discourses is also becoming increasingly hard to swallow by large numbers of people, movements and even governments in the periphery. As potential for communication and travel has increased, it has become ever more difficult to isolate people from one another in order to hide and deny social inequalities, both within countries and between them, and calls to be patient and wait for “development” at some undefined point in the future are becoming increasingly hard to swallow. This means that capital’s option of implementing partial reforms which only satisfy a select group and exclude the rest, a process which has been essential in staving of and containing resistance in the past, is becoming increasingly unfeasible. Yet, the further social demands are met, and especially if they are to be met for the broad majority in periphery countries, the further capitalism’s profit margins will become squeezed. However, failure to respond to these social and economic demands will mean increasingly profound crises of legitimacy throughout the world, core and periphery alike, making it harder to contain resistance without direct repression, a cycle which further undermines legitimacy. Furthermore, new forms of resistance have been emerging since the cycle of struggles in the 60s.These struggles, which importantly have included struggles against hierarchies based around race, gender and ethnicity, have presented a profound challenge to the unitary conception of state based development and to the ideology that surrounds it (Arrighi and Silver 1999; Hopkins and Wallerstein et al 1996; Wallerstein 1998; Cleaver 1988, 1989).
Another important fact to consider is that accumulation of surplus is a global process. Nation states do not compete to accumulate. Rather, they compete for a share in global accumulation. The post second world-war economic boom generated a surplus big enough to distribute in a way that simultaneously allowed for major social reforms in the industrialized countries, minor social reforms in the now formally sovereign “developing countries” as well as leaving record profits for capital. All of this took place under and underpinned US hegemony. However, it is very likely that in any future expansions of the world-economy the competition for a share of the global surplus will be far tighter than it was in the post-war period, as we head towards a tripolar world of increasing rivalry between the USA, the European Union, and some configuration of Asian countries possibly involving China, India, Japan and the Koreas. All of this means that, in the face of growing social demands, the majority of peripheral states are likely to be able to capture a far smaller share of the global surplus than they were able to during the era of the developmentalist state. This is likely to contribute to an important source of international tension, as well as fuelling north-south migration (Wallerstein 1998).
These changes underway in relation to the state must be understood in the context of crisis. A number of crises have been manifesting themselves in recent years. The crisis of US hegemony is occurring in the context of a longer term crisis, the crisis of the capitallabor relation. The cumulative effects of past struggles, as well as the effects of reaching the planet’s ecological and geographical limits, are making it increasingly hard for capital to maintain and expand its profit levels. Restorative mechanisms that have worked in the past are becoming increasingly difficult to implement, deepening a long term systemic crisis, of the world-economy and its inter-state system. Crisis as a prolonged period of systemic disintegration, driving us forward with not only the need for far reaching change, but also the hope, opportunity and expanding possibilities opened up for emancipatory resistance, aiming for fundamental changes at the global level, going beyond any individual nation states. Once again it is becoming possible to imagine ruptures and revolution.(Wallerstein 1998, Hopkins and Wallerstein 1996; Amin et al 1982, Holloway and Bonefeld 1995, Cleaver 1993, Bell and Cleaver 1992) (9).
A stark choice is presented - either accommodate on increasingly harsh and unfeasible terms to the demands of the world-economy, or resist in an openly confrontational manner. As will be described below, such confrontation is in fact increasingly occurring, both at the social level and at the state level, and ranging from the local, to the regional, the national, the international and, if Zapatista propaganda is to be believed, even the intergalactic. It is taking many different forms. Some resistance is explicitly anti-statist, such as the community based Zapatistas, some is more in favor of taking state power, as the recent electoral victory of Evo Morales in Bolivia shows. What is clear is that the last years have seen many different struggles accelerating their efforts at communicating and coordinating amongst each other at the global level through the painstaking, incredibly complex but also inspiring construction of global grassroots networks. These networking processes have had great success in accelerating a decentralized process of convergence between locally rooted struggles in different parts of the world based on respect for diversity and autonomy and a multiplicity of different political perspectives and organizational forms.
It is in this context that the global war on terror must be understood, a war on terror that simultaneously threatens dissident states and dissident populations. While not denying the threat of weapons proliferation, the way the war on terror is being formulated and pushed means that the obsession with possible probable potential weapons of mass destruction is essentially a policing of different long term strategies of national level (state based) industrialization (as well as global social unrest). This is especially paradoxical given that international processes are at the same time heavily favoring a transition from oil to nuclear energy, giving very little support to renewable energies, and it is virtually impossible to separate the civilian and military use of nuclear energy. Importantly, multilateral, regional and bilateral trade and investment treaties are also increasingly including security clauses (Midnight Notes Collective 2002)
The young global networks have also been quick to respond to (though largely still ineffective in stopping) the global War on Terror, especially in relation to the war and occupation against Iraq and the issue of Palestine, as well as its “internal war” on migrants etc. Movements have also played an important role in accelerating struggles from the street into the negotiating halls of global institutions, as progressive or revolutionary movements have come to power, notably in several Latin American countries. Periphery states currently find themselves in a strange position, being caught between pressures of the world-market, and facing enormously legitimacy crises in the face of their populations. Although it is too early to tell, this is perhaps reopening space up for more radical, anti-imperialist, state based processes to emerge, as evidenced throughout Latin America, and importantly in the resource rich countries of Venezuela and Bolivia. The existence of such governments has been very important in shifting the discourse from one of free trade for the region to an almost entirely delegitmized and paralyzed ALCA and the early rumblings of the ALBA. Similarly, recent WTO meetings (especially Hong Kong and Cancun) have witnessed major tensions between core and periphery countries (as well as among the core countries). Needless to say, as these globally coordinated resistance processes have taken off, becoming more massified and moving from the streets to the corridors of state power, they have also become increasingly complex and contradictory. However, despite all the difficulties and uncertainties, their existence has been of vital importance, and their continued existence is likely to have an important impact on how the world-economy develops in the years ahead.
However, it would be dangerous to celebrate all forms of resistance, to naively equate resistance to the status quo with emancipatory resistance. As existing power structures and mechanisms of control lose their ability to maintain order, space is opened up for many different forms of resistance. An important and obvious example of this is Al Qaeda, or the religious state of Iran. A crumbling of regimes of power at the global level also opens up enormous space for the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, both into state hands and non-state entities. And, surely just because such actors are “standing up to the USA” this should not make them friends of the friends of justice and, as the Zapatistas would say, those who are for humanity. Thus, a key question opens up - on what basis can we (10) confront current social relations in order to transform the world in a broadly emancipatory direction? We cannot afford to be trapped into the Cold War logic of supporting the “lesser” form of two equally despotic forms of despotism.
The next decades will undoubtedly be a time of rapid transformation and increasing conflict between different understandings of the kind of social relations we want to build in the future. As has been described above, many substantial changes are already underway and likely to intensify in the near future, in particular regarding the role and social perception of the state and its sources of authority and legitimacy. Although these transformations are aimed at strengthening the current social and political order, they also provide an excellent opportunity to advance social change in the opposite direction. But to make use of this historic opportunity, we urgently need to deepen and extend the existing global networks of struggles for social change and create alternative and decentralised social and economic relations at the grassroots level, in order to increase our collective capacity to transform society in a just and empancipatory sense.
Although it is undeniable that recent efforts at state centered radical transformation, as personified by Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez is an important, and even essential, part of today’s radical struggles, it nonetheless remains an open question as to what extent they will actually be able to fulfill their goals, and to what extent anti-imperialist state centered forms of the past will become widely viable or desirable again at some point in the future. In general, the idea of nostalgically returning to past forms of social organization is something that is frequently both undesirable and unfeasible, and tends to ignore the reasons that these organizational forms were undermined in the first place. As the above discussion of crisis acknowledges, the importance (and perhaps the possibility) of building new forms of social organization rather than returning to old ones, cannot be over-emphasized. History does not repeat itself in mechanistic cycles, but rather is built upon past processes in ways that are both cumulative and spiraling outwards, as antagonisms are not merely reproduced with time, but are expanded and intensified (Fernand Braudel Center RWG 1979, Cleaver 1993, Bell and Cleaver 2002, Holloway 2005, Holloway and Bonefeld 1995, Hopkins and Wallerstein 1996, Wallerstein 1998, McMichael 1990)
It is within these historically specific dynamics of systemic crisis, and, hopefully emancipatory, social struggle that the Zapatista 6th Declaration and the Bamako Appeal must be understood and evaluated. The remainder of this article will turn to this question.
Differing Origins of the Two Documents
From their very early days, the Zapatistas were quick to call for international attention, and equally quick to receive it. One of their very early moves was to initiate a series of Intercontinental (humorously extended to Intergalactic) Encuentros for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism. Such gatherings, the first which was held under virtual military siege in Chiapas itself, attracted thousands of people from many parts of the world.
Rather than attempting to lead an international movement headed by the Zapatistas, such encuentros aimed to create political spaces, for an incredibly fragmented, diverse, complicated and highly disillusioned social fabric to slowly come together, building globally reaching threads of solidarity where they had not existed beforehand. Solidarity based on mutual learning, the recognition of being part of a common global struggle against the global regime of neoliberalism (a term itself popularized by the Zapatistas), in what the Zapatistas referred to as the Fourth World War. From the beginning, despite conflicting tendencies, the aim of what has since been referred to as an “armed matchmaking process” (Midnight Notes Collective 2001) was to go beyond conventional (and often patronizing) one way solidarity from the wealthy (but, “unfortunately, politically passive”) Northern countries, to the poor (but “excitingly rebellious”) Southern countries. Rather, the challenge posed by the Zapatistas was that “Todos Somos Indios”- “We are all Indians”, and that the best way of helping the Zapatistas was to resist, rebel and construct alternatives in our own locations and to network our struggles on the basis of autononomy, rather than on the basis of a homogenizing vision of unity.
And, needless to say, the process was immensely complex, attempting to construct new forms of unity, based on diversity, recognition of mutual ignorance in an ongoing experiment, and the ability to learn from one another, rather than the traditional leftist canons of homogenization, towing the party line as exemplified by select groups of intellectual holders of the truth, and the arrogant assurance of historical inevitability. An interesting, yet hardly recognized, example of this process of moving from solidarity to inspiration was the first protest in Davos against the World Economic Forum. Whilst these are now big events, blessed with the sanctity of the World Social Forum, the history of these protests goes back to 1994, just a few weeks after the Zapatista uprising, when a handful of Swiss activists decided to support the Zapatistas by protesting Zedillo’s participation there (together with Kurdish supporters who were similarly protesting the presence of the Turkish heads of state), only gradually learning about the global merits of protesting the WEF’s existence outright. The inspirational effect of the Zapatista concept of self-organization based around autonomy and diversity meant that the 1 st Intercontinental Encuentro must be seen as one of the key moments in the emergence of the so called “anti-globalization”, “global justice”, or “anti-capitalist” movement that has taken shape in recent years. Concretely, out of the second encuentro (held in the Spanish State in 1997) emerged Peoples’ Global Action, a global communication and coordination tool that helped place WTO in the targets of globally coordinated struggles, with the first day of decentralized global action against WTO occurring in 1998, over a year before the protests in Seattle erupted into the world’s media. Whilst this network is now in a complicated process of trying to redefine itself, and reemerge from a prolonged period of relative inactivity and disarray, it had a very important impact prior to the creation of the World Social Forum which held its first forum only in 2001. A further important connection between the Zapatistas and the emergence of such global resistance networks is illustrated in the fact that, despite PGA’s commitment to non-violence, it explicitly called upon the EZLN to form part of its initial Convenors’ Committee, based on a recognition that despite being armed, the Zapatistas were (and are) essentially a nonviolent struggle (11). Interestingly, and in a process that seems highly oblivious of the debt the global movement owes to the Zapatistas, the fact that the Zapatistas are armed has made them unwelcome at the World Social Forum. (Abramsky 2001, Midnight Notes Collective 2001, Notes From Nowhere 2003, PGA website, WSF website)
As will be described below, globally coordinated resistance has grown from strength to strength over the last nearly fifteen years. Yet, as February 15th 2003 saw the world’s biggest single day co-ordinations of grassroots anti-war protesting in history, as trade summits throughout the world cannot escape the virtually inevitable rioting and militarized policing, as the WTO and ALCA negotiations have been thrown into complete turmoil, and even as left wing governments sweep across Latin America, the limits of popular protest become ever more patent. The free trade summits continue, the occupation in Iraq continues, the “clash of civilizations” continues. The war drums on Iran continue. The dollar continues to slide. The hands on the clock continue to tick, getting closer to no one knows what, but getting closer nonetheless.
And, it is in this context that the summer of 2005 saw the Zapatistas go into a red alert. After a long and intensive period of collective self-reflection and discussion within their communities, they issued the following grave, yet hopeful announcement.
To our way of thinking, and what we see in our heart, we have reached a point where we cannot go any further, and, in addition, it is possible that we could lose everything we have if we remain as we are and do nothing more in order to move forward. The hour has come to take a risk once again and to take a step which is dangerous but which is worthwhile. (Zapatista 6th Declaration)This document attracted large amounts of attention, especially amongst movements in Latin America, as well as, but by no means limited to, much interest within organizations involved in trying to resurrect the Peoples’ Global Action process (PGA 2005), though so far the PGA, as a global network, has not actually effectively responded to the challenged posed by the declaration The initial excitement generated by the 6th Declaration is nicely summed up as follows:
The most important thing about this initiative, in my opinion, is its timing. It is eleven years since the tide began to roll back against neo-liberalism and imperialism. But for the Zapatistas, not enough has been accomplished. I have the sense that they are not the only ones who think this. I have the sense that throughout Latin America, and especially in all those countries where left or populist groups have come to power, there is a similar feeling that this has not been enough, that these governments have had to make too many compromises, that popular enthusiasm is waning. I have the sense that in the World Social Forum, there is the same sentiment that what they have accomplished since they started in 2001 has been remarkable, but is not enough, that the WSF cannot simply continue to do the same things over and over. In Iraq and the Middle East in general there seems also to be a sense that the resistance to the machista interventionism of the United States has been amazingly strong but that even so it has not been enough. Will the 6 th Declaration now be the inspiration for a similar reevaluation throughout Latin America, in the World Social Forum, throughout the antisystemic movements all around the globe? And what will be the detailed objectives of the next phase? (Wallerstein 2005)However, the fact that the Zapatistas are not allowed to participation the World Social Forum has meant that the document has had little impact within this organizational space. On the other hand, a separate yet connected process had been paving the way for the Bamako Appeal, an entirely different type of document, which would be issued by certain influential actors at the World Social Forum in Bamako in early 2006. Whilst it is important to recognize that the Appeal does not represent the World Social Forum, nor bear its name, in many ways it can nonetheless be seen as a logical outcome of the World Social Forum Process.
World-wide public sympathy towards the string of decentralised global actions against international organizations such as WTO, World Bank and IMF that had taken place from 1998 onwards resulted in a very positive process of increasing involvement by more mainstream social and political movements in what the media came to call ‘the antiglobalisation movement’. Whilst not being in any way limited to this, the first World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre in 2001 was a clear manifestation of the growing interest and participation by the social-democratic, reformist or classic hierarchical left (including NGOs and political parties) in a process that had been initiated by antiauthoritarian networks of autonomous and anti-capitalist social movements, which as mentioned above, had been greatly inspired and motivated to come together by the Zapatistas. This development had simultaneously positive and negative consequences.
On the positive side, many mainstream social and political movements took up seriously for the first time the struggle against global capitalism due to the ‘mainstreamisation’ of the so-called ‘anti-globalisation movement’, and the ones that were already working on this topic shifted the bulk of their work from lobbying international institutions to publicly denouncing and condemning them. This was a further blow to the legitimacy of these institutions, and of the economic and political system that they symbolise. Furthermore, the active involvement of people from increasingly diverse social and political backgrounds in the mobilisations made them much larger, more fertile and increasingly problematic to repress (12). Finally, the intentional visibility of the Social Forums made them more accessible to people without previous political experience than networks without representatives or spokespersons.
The negative side is closely connected to the positive side. The unequivocal rejection of capitalism and its overseeing institutions and governments, which characterised the first mobilisations, became slightly blurred as mainstream organizations joined the actions with demands towards these institutions which would actually increase their powers (such the Social Clause in the WTO, a Tobin Tax on international financial transactions, etc). These demands are extremely unlikely to ever be implemented, but their presence in the mobilisations and the collective discourse of the so-called ‘anti-globalisation movement’ undermines the coherence of the message and therefore its de-legitimating potential. This is an unsurprising consequence of the involvement of social and political organisations which fight against neo-liberalism, not against capitalism.
A more serious problem is related to the same questions of visibility and forms of organisation that was referred to above. The WSF was created among other reasons due to the fact that there was no visible actor at the international level behind the large global mobilisations that took place from 1998 to 2000. These actions resulted in a major breakdown of legitimacy for both the WTO (due to the protests in Geneva in 1998 and Seattle in 1999), the IMF/World Bank (due to the protests in Washington and Prague in 2000), and the World Economic Forum (due to regular and growing international actions in Davos, Switzerland, from 1994 onwards), as well as a serious erosion of legitimacy for the G8, the EU summits and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (due to mobilizations in Amsterdam, Birmingham, Quebec, Nice, etc). This lack of a recognisable actor at the international level motivated different organizations, most of which came from a rather mainstream and classic organisational culture and understanding of social change, to fill the gap and create a very visible forum which would ‘embody’ the so-called ‘antiglobalization movement’. The problem was that they decided to do it on the basis of alliances and partnerships that are highly problematic for many anti-capitalist social movements. The problematic alliances have resulted in aspects of its internal decisionmaking, functioning and participation which exclude the participation of many of the groups, movements and networks that initiated the Global Days of Action and which are still a substantial (and particularly dynamic and active) part of the so-called ‘movement’ (not least the Zapatistas themselves). Some examples include the presence of organisations such as the Latin American Association of Small and Medium Entrepreneurs in the International Council of the WSF, its controversial sources of funding (where the Ford Foundation, for instance, played an important role), or the prominent presence of conservative French ministers and other highly controversial politicians in different forums. Many of these issues were symbolically reflected in Lula’s participation as leading speaker at both the WSF (thanks to the notorious role that his political party, the PT, has always played at the WSF) and the World Economic Forum in 2003, claiming to build a bridge between them. (Abramsky 2001; Notes from Nowhere 2003; Waterman et al 2003).
The different appreciation of positive and negative aspects of the WSF and other Social Forums within autonomous anti-capitalist networks resulted in different strategies towards them. Some people and organisations decided to participate and try to influence the process from within, others decided to organise autonomous spaces in parallel to the forums, and others decided to ignore them completely or even organise actions against them. There is growing frustration among the movements that have been trying throughout the last years to change things from within the forums (particularly the WSF and the European Social Forum, or ESF), and there seems to be the intention to reinforce autonomous spaces independent from them (13). This interesting and dynamic debate is far from over, and is quite relevant to the extent that it reflects some of the strategic dilemmas that anti-capitalist networks are facing nowadays.
Accelerating forward in time, the Fifth World Social Forum, held in Porto Alegre in 2005, saw attempts to create a centralizing programmatic document, informally known as the Porto Alegre Manifesto (PAM) or the Appeal of 19. This document was primarily a product of high profile intellectuals such as Samir Amin, Bernard Cassen (of Attac, France), Francois Houtart from Belgium, as well as several others. The document was rejected within the World Social Forum itself as being highly problematic. However, by the time the polycentric World Social Forum took place in 2006 (in Bamako, Caracas and Karachi), the push for such a document was fortified, by the crucial role which Hugo Chavez played in providing infrastructure and political support to the event, as well as the renewed enthusiasm for state based transformation which had received an incredible boost through Evo Morales’ election victory in Bolivia, and Fidel Castro’s apparent reawakening as a veteran revolutionary on the world stage. The Bamako Appeal was issued on January 18th 2006 in Bamako, sponsored by a small group of non-governmental organizations: most notably the Forum du Tiers Monde/Third World Forum, the World Forum of Alternatives, and the Dakar-based ecology and development NGO, ENDA The three leading individuals involved are prominent figures within these NGOs and the WSF, Samir Amin, François Houtart and Rémy Herrera. It was published in a form ready for approval after just one day’s debate, rather than for a wider and more prolonged collective debate and redrafting. It is a final document, rather than a living document in progress. On the one hand, by late March 2006 it had already gathered approximately, 21 collective endorsements, and 66 personal ones. At the organizational level, this included the major Brazilian union confederation, CUT and Brazil's landless labor organization, MST, as well as the Assembly of Social Movements at the WSF in Caracas. Personal signatories included Aminata Traoré, a Malian ex-minister prominent in the African Social Forum, Mahmoud Mamdani, an well known Ugandan radical academic, John Bellamy, editor of the US Monthly Review, Bernard Cassen, President of Attac in France, and Devan Pillay, an academic labor specialist, South Africa. On the other hand, it had also provoked immense controversy within the World Social Forum itself as well as outside of it. (Waterman 2006, WSFDiscuss Listserve)
The difference between the collectively written and discussed Zapatista 6th Declaration, drawn up under red alert by entire communities, and the Bamako Appeal drawn up on activist red carpets, stands out clear for all to see. Even within the World Social Forum itself, this is causing immense disputes. Antonio Martins, a member of the WSF International Council is quoted as asking of the Bamako Appeal:
Why should we rush into a 'choice' of campaigns supposedly capable of 'unifying' the world of social forums? Why should we propose them from small groups; are we reestablishing the barrier between those who think and those who fight, and violating the simultaneous commitment to equality and diversity? (Cited in Waterman 2006)However, although the origins and the contents of documents are perhaps in some way connected, it is also important to recognize that they are also separate questions. A document written collectively in a democratic manner may be irrelevant, and a document written in a less participatory manner may be incredibly pertinent. Or, vice versa. It is important to assess both things separately. The next part of this article will address the contents of the Zapatista 6th Declaration and the Bamako Appeal.
Differing Approaches to Long-term Social Change
The Zapatistas are currently in a process of reconfiguring their struggles and interactions with other groupings, both within Mexico and globally. This change of strategy, beautifully, humorously and humbly articulated in the 6th Declaration from the Lacandon Jungle, extends an invitation to struggle together. Without an intensification of struggle (and importantly this has actually involved dropping their arms), the Zapatistas stress the danger of losing all that has been gained. Importantly, The Other Campaign which has been initiated throughout Mexico is described as coming “From the Bottom to the Left”, explicitly complementing the term “anti-neoliberal” with the term “anti-capitalist”. Whilst the 6th Declaration is mainly devoted to The Other Campaign within Mexico, it is also explicitly inviting a global process of building new social relations from the Bottom to the Left, calling for a global reconfiguration and reinvigoration of the Left, a globalization of The Other Campaign. Above all it is inviting a process of creation, not just of merely reassembling pre-existing Left parts that have somehow been sleeping for years. The document is based in the understanding that the world Left does not exist, it is up to all those who are “humble and simple people like ourselves, who are dignified and rebel” to create and become the global left. Above all, while covering a far reaching description of the Mexican and world-economy, the declaration has nonetheless been written in a playful, imaginative, seductive language, a language that can make people laugh and imagine.
Rather than an appeal to replicate the Zapatistas throughout the world, a task which is likely to be both impossible and undesirable, the Sixth Declaration is an invitation to groups in struggle throughout the world, to deepen their knowledge of one another, to deepen their interactions, their process of mutual creation and construction of a global process of resistance and construction, based on direct human interaction, diversity and autonomy. The Declaration includes a rejection of the concepts of “development”, economic growth and “modernization”. And while having a healthy respect for indigenous knowledge, does not fall back on nostalgic yearnings for a mythical past. Their appeal goes out to the great diversity of marginalized, oppressed, but struggling and dignified groupings. Notably, this also includes a lengthy and respectful inclusion of “other loves”, gays, lesbians and transgenders. By complexifying identity to a multilayered and immensely fluid space of interaction and autonomy between such diverse realities, it simultaneously plays havoc with homogenizing discourses of the left, and also conceptions of unity upon which the nation state itself is based. Such diversity does not advocate separatism, but rather a deepening of webs of inter-connection and respect for different forms of oppression and marginalization in a process of construction. It is in these connections that a new global Left can be built, not around pre-existing organizations, or any preconceived global working class, but rather by connecting fragmented groupings. Yet, paradoxically, though perhaps deliberately, while shying away from old leftist language about “the working class”, the Declaration could hardly paint a richer and more diverse picture of the world’s working class if it tried, or a more powerful conception of revolutionary working class unity (14). Yet, the important understanding is that, if it is ever to become a reality, the unity will be built through concrete struggle and concrete human bonds. It cannot be conjured up as an intellectual desire.
And, just as the Zapatistas do not aim at creating or taking over a state apparatus within Mexico, their conception of building global links is not based around interaction between states, but rather on creating alternative relations of solidarity from below. Rather than espousing an abstract ideal, the basis of such two-way solidarity is imagined concretely, including the proposal to build direct community to community links of material mutual support through the donation and exchange of handicrafts, coffee and maize. In other words, the aim is to imagine and construct new forms of politics and exchange at the global level. While Leftist (or anti-imperialist) states such as Venezuela, Cuba or Bolivia are celebrated and saluted with nothing but positive praise, they are not placed upon a pedestal above non-state based forms of resistance and struggle. Rather, such states are clearly recognized as just one actor among many. And, while saluting these individual states, another message also makes itself heard, even if just implicitly – that, despite the existence of a few anti-imperialist states, the state form in general is an important source of domination and hierarchy, and that for anti-capitalist resistance to be successful in the long run and at the global level, it must also be about building new forms of collective power from below that are able to transcend the nation state form and the interstate system. Collective forms of solidarity based on diversity and autonomy that undermine the unitary nature of the state, as well as the artificial ideological distinction between politics, economics, on which the state form rests. But, the Declaration does not look for prepackaged answers, nor does it try to elaborate a program. Rather it is an invitation to engage in a long term process of dialogue and cooperation to create, invent and experiment in building these new relations. And, a process relying on humans in all their glory and all their weakness, is bound to be full of setbacks and failures and, yes, simply fuck ups, all of which must be taken for what they are and learnt from. As the quotation at the beginning of the article makes clear, in an echo of Rosa Luxembourgs assertion that Revolution is built on a string of heroic failures, the Sixth Declaration humbly acknowledges that there is time to “have a little cup of coffee and talk about the antineoliberal struggle”. Furthermore, the same quotation very explicitly recognizes that if these processes of global construction really take off in a meaningful way, they will be subjected to very harsh repression.
The whole endeavor is nothing but an uncertain gamble, and may well fall on deaf ears. If people throughout the world do not respond to the call, it will surely amount to nothing. But, the Zapatistas are confident in the fact that they are a firmly rooted local struggle, a struggle that has proven it’s self to be not just empty words and wishful thinking, but the hard earned reliability of real struggle, with all the limitations, disappointments, setbacks, imperfections and contradictions that such struggle entails. People listen to and respect such experience, without holding it in awe. At any rate, we can be thankful that they were confident enough to issue the invitation in the first place. Perhaps its effects will be limited to Mexico, where a very strong country-wide Other Campaign has already set out on the long road to create a new form of politics, and ultimately pave the way for a new Mexican Constitution based on the needs of its diverse, oppressed and marginalized but dignified population. And, in some instances, the Campaign has already faced harsh repression. As May Day 2006 rolls on, Delegado Zero has proclaimed that they will topple Evil Governments. Today they made it to the US Embassy in support of the historic migrant protests in the USA. In June they will make it to the US border at Tiajuana. The impact of the global call has yet to be seen. To a large extent it is out of the Zapatista’s hands. They have set the ball rolling. We have all been invited to participate in the elaboration of another of the legendary Zapatista Intercontinental Encuentros, and to deepen our global networks on the basis of direct inter-community relations. The invitation clearly recognizes the urgent need and historic possibilities for going beyond nation state structures. It is up to us if we are able and committed enough to respond.
Let us now turn to a discussion of the Bamako Appeal. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is a far reaching document. Despite criticisms directed against it, it has undoubtedly emerged from within the organizational context of grassroots struggles, and much of the document contains very positive discussion and ideas. Yet, much of it is also highly problematic. This text will focus on the problematic aspects, since the positive aspects clearly speak for themselves. Many of the problems arise from the fact that the document leaves a feeling that it has an implicit agenda that rings out loud and clear yet at the same time remains simultaneously undeclared, as if the authors were not brave enough to actually place their terms of debate squarely on the table.
The Bamako Appeal is essentially a program for action. Like the Communist Manifesto, it is, coincidentally, a 10 point program. The following 10 fields are discussed, including both long- term goals and proposals for immediate action: the political organization of globalization; the economic organization of the world system; the future of peasant societies; the building of a workers’ united front; regionalization for the benefit of the peoples; the democratic management of the societies; gender equality; the sustainable management of the resources of the planet; the democratic management of the media and the cultural diversity; democratization of international organizations.
While it is clear that it is hoped that its readership will be as broad as possible, it lacks some of the poetic flair that gives the Zapatista document such as widespread appeal. Preferring the well-chewed language of past struggles, the Bamako Appeal highlights the need to “build a united workers front”, aiming to contribute to the emergence of a new popular and historical subject” and “affirm the solidarity of the people of the North and the South in the construction of an internationalism on an anti-imperialist basis”. An important question stands out? Which actors is it primarily addressing? While it is clearly addressing movements, it is hard to escape the fact that “the humble and simple people” addressed by the Zapatistas nonetheless seem to be absent from the equation. Rather, it appears as if nation states and policy makers, (or perhaps aspirant policy makers who are now movement activists?), are the main expected audience, as well as “experts” who are appealed to on several occasions throughout the text. Again implicit, is that the program will be approved from below, but implemented from above – it is full of policy recommendations and demands rather than encouraging self-organized activity and the construction of new relationships between human beings. This is not a stated message, but the controversial manner in which the document was approved seems to bode badly in this regard.
The document calls for a high level of increased coordination of struggles and solidarity, based on diversity and autonomy:
The diversity of nations and of peoples produced by history, in all its positive aspects along with the inequalities that accompany them, demands the affirmation of autonomy of peoples and nations. There does not exist a unique universal recipe in the political or economic spheres that would permit any bypassing of this autonomy. The task of building equality necessarily requires a diversity of means to carry it out.Yet it nonetheless is a program aimed at harmonizing. Arguably, in contradiction to the above statement, these aspects make it program aimed at homogenizing the demands of people all across the world and centralizing the movement to a much higher degree than its current levels. Many different opinions may exist as to whether such centralization and homogenization is a bad thing, but the disturbing fact is that it is implicit, not explicit in the document, seemingly having been snuck in the back door, since centralizing and homogenous organizational forms are not very popular within current global networks. Some might argue that such decentralized and diverse forms have reached the limits of their usefulness. Again, this is a perfectly legitimate intellectual opinion to have, but then it should be acknowledged, and debated in these terms.
Work is not placed as the central axis of struggle for the global movement, but the document does contain a broad discussion of labor. According to international labor activist Peter Waterman, this “may well be the most radical political statement on the topic to be found within or around the World Social Forum” (Waterman 2006)
The most important task will be for workers outside the formal sector to organize themselves and for the traditional trade unions to open up in order to carry out common actions.... To consider the rights of migrant worker as a basic concern for the trade unions by ensuring that solidarity among workers is not dependent on their national origin. Indeed, segregation and discrimination on ethnic or other bases are threats to working-class solidarity... To take care so that the future transnational organization of the laboring class is not conceived as a unique, hierarchical and pyramidal structure, but as a variety of various types of organizations, with a network-like structure with many horizontal bonds.Having displaced worker struggle from the central position it occupied in old leftist discourses, the section also goes to great lengths to be critical of mainline trade unionism that marginalizes different forms of labor. Yet, at the same time, it gives the impression that reformed trade unions should still be at the center of workers struggles that will reach out to include other forms of organizing. At the same time, the document clearly distinguishes between “workers” and peasants, without either explaining why it makes this distinction or how work is understood in relation to the creation of surplus value. It is unclear if or how it considers unwaged labor. What the Zapatista document does not say about a diverse world-wide working class, the Bamako Appeal does say, with a fairly “workerist” conception of working class, seemingly unaware of the conceptual advances made by autonomist class composition analysis and certain strands of world-systems analysis that understand relationally the multiplicity of different forms of waged and nonwaged labor which are all essential for capitalism.
As the quotation at the start of this article makes clear, the Bamako Appeal places great emphasis on the North-South hierarchy, and South-South solidarity. Aside from the fact that terms such as North and South are increasingly unhelpful in explaining today’s inequalities (especially since the collapse of former Communist countries), there is very little, if any criticism of the “modernization” and “development” discourses per se, which has largely been spurred forwards by the struggles of groups (such as indigenous peoples) who are themselves marginalized or oppressed by developmental practices. Nor is there a discussion of the complicity of Third World elites in the process of capital accumulation. The document calls for support of governments which resist neoliberalism, and are antiimperialist without qualifying what such support may actually mean in practice. Implicit is a “with us or against us” message of unconditional support. Apart from the obvious fact that this kind of statement shows very little concern for the fact that state structures themselves constitute important sources of domination and hierarchy, it also neglects to raise major questions as to how it might be possible to be simultaneously supportive and critical of anti-imperialist states such as Chavez’s Venezuela. Other important questions are also neglected. Vague calls such as “solidarity with the people engaged in resistance in the hot spots of the planet” suggests a very simplistic “the enemy of our enemy is a friend” approach, which could potential even include embracing Al Qaeda and the Iranian state. And, while it is clear that such actors are currently unwelcome in the picture, it is less clear what could happen as an anti-imperialist state such as Venezuela moves closer to Iran, as it is indeed in the process of doing. How easy will criticism of the Iranian regime be, especially if it were to start giving material aid to the global movement as Chavez has done at the World Social Forum?
In contrast to the Zapatista document which is clearly aimed at stimulating thinking and action with regard to the need to create new social relations, the Bamako Appeal is very rooted in the desire to reform and improve, but not go beyond, existing institutional structures. The document is rooted in the language of reforming the nation state, and the United Nations and “the full affirmation of citizenship”. States (hopefully anti-imperialist ones) will coexist with one another in peace, there shall be a “return to the principle of the rule of national law... so that the national states can recover their full sovereignty”. Both citizens and states will have rights. There is no discussion implicit or explicit of the possibility of going beyond the nation state and the inter-state system, nor is there an attempt to engage seriously with the contradictory nature of universalism as being inherently exclusionary or the fact that states have in any case never been autonomous in the past. Again, this raises, or fails to raise, many questions. Will the states form a confederation of non-capitalist states? Or perhaps some kind of reformed ultra-imperialist rearrangement of capitalism? How will citizenship be genuinely universalistic, when in the past it never has? Will existing structures be replaced with similar ones that are simply “better arranged”? And above all, how will such interstatal relations actually be built?
Linked to this, but separate, is the issue of confrontation with existing relations of domination, which are surely essential for global anti-capitalist resistance. While the document clearly stresses the need to continue and accelerate political struggles against international institutions or agreements, such as the World Trade Organizaiton or ALCA, other areas of (material) confrontation are neglected. Debt cancellation is demanded, but the more confrontational idea of globally coordinated non-payment of debt, an idea first mooted by Fidel Castro within the Non Aligned Movement, and later taken up by the more radical sections of Jubilee South, are nowhere to be seen in the Bamako Appeal. Nor are discussions of reparations for slavery and colonialism, which were some of the fundamental demands of movements protesting at the Durban Conference of Racism. Another glaring absence is any discussion of direct reappropriation of capitalist wealth, even though the global anti-capitalist movement is primarily based in mass movements that are squatting land in India and Brazil (to name but a few), buildings, and factories (Argentina) throughout the world, as well as using armed struggle to appropriate the fruits of oil from oil multinationals (Nigeria). Furthermore, there is only minimal discussion of the role that global resistance networks might be able to play in building processes of globally coordinated efforts at direct action based disruption of the commodity chains which keep the world economy alive, which is surely a logical direction to go in after they have achieved so much success in delegitimizing organizations such as the WTO, World Bank and IMF which symbolize, promote, protect and impose the expansion of the global market.
At the risk of being overly paranoid, one possible conclusion that might be drawn from all of the above points, though perhaps not the only one, is that the Bamako appeal implicitly contains the seeds of a program for a movement whose (very) long term aims are some (undefined) form of world government. The text is explicitly in favor of world “socialism, a word that is snuck in quietly just once in a 17 page text. Again, the word “socialism” is explicitly rejected by many in the movement, and if an aim of this text is to resurrect and or/redefine the concept this is fine, but should be argued in these terms, rather than snuck in.
In many ways, the goals of the Bamako Appeal are incredibly far reaching, but also incredibly utopian. There is little discussion of how the desired changes will come about and be defended. Its proposals are lofty: a multipolar world system founded on peace, law and negotiation; an economic reorganization of the global system; regionalizations in the service of the people and which reinforce the South in Global negotiations etc. While saying that there is a need to harness and mobilized the social forces in this direction it leaves much to be imagined as to how these forces will bring about these changes. In constrast to the Zapatista Declaration which stresses the need to construct a new global Left in which people are transformed in the process, the Bamako Appeal seems to be appealing to pre-existing social forces that are waiting to be mobilized by a bunch of high-level mobilizers with a highly mobilizing plan. Finally, the absence of any discussion of the dangers of (global) counter-revolution should these proposed processes of resistance gain momentum is very conspicuous.
Part 3: Some Questions Raised by the Two Texts
Despite their differences, certain topics are absent from discussion in both documents. Both are mobilizing texts, and as such are primarily aimed at discussing organizational questions “from below”, rather than understanding systemic developments “from above” (to the extent that it makes sense to frame the question in these terms, which are to some degree artificial). These questions will not be discussed in great depth, but will be briefly pointed out.
Specifically, neither document includes an analysis of crisis – either the crisis of the capital –labor relation or the crisis of US hegemony. Both issues raise a number of important questions for global networks. The question of why capital has taken the form it has in recent years (especially the money form, backed up by naked state coercive power), and the need for capital to resolve this crisis, perhaps with a massive forced devaluation/destruction of capital (and with it labor) is unaddressed. Similarly, the bulk of attention in both documents is on US imperialism rather than changing and dynamics of rivalry within the inter-state system as US hegemony declines. There is no mention of Euro-Dollar rivalry, the emerging European super-power, and a possible global dollar flight and the enormous global consequences this would have should it occur, as it is almost certain to do at some point in the not so distant future. Nor is there discussion of the related global realignment and remilitarization processes involving China, India, Japan and Russia (amongst others). Nor is there a discussion about the obstacles and challenges that such rivalry presents to global networks, in terms of who is building links with whom. Interestingly, struggles in China, which are on the rise especially in the countryside and urban industries, are still hardly connected to global networks.
Another area that is not discussed in depth is the world-wide division of labor. While both documents touch on discussions of the world-wide division of labor, neither explicitly discuss world-wide class dynamics. Nor is the danger of new forms of national or regional protectionism discussed, a danger which is likely to become more and more pronounced as social struggles gain strength and capital seeks to grant certain social reforms (while remaining within the context of capitalist social relations) to certain sections of the population at the expense of other sections, and how such national/regional level reforms may actually intensify interstate competition in a manner reminiscent of Polanyi’s discussions of fascism and war in the first part of the twentieth century.
The two documents, The Zapatista 6th Declaration and the Bamako Appeal clearly raise a number of important questions for current global struggles. Are the ideas and proposals in them desirable? If so, to what degree are they actually possible in the current conjuncture described in the first part of this article? In the event that they are both desirable and possible, how can we turn these ideas into reality? And, last but not least, are the different strategies and ideas mutually compatible or not? Can the different approaches reinforce one another or do they actually pose threats to one another?
Both of the texts raise fundamental questions about the nature of state power and interstate relations, and whether this is a desirable arena of focus or not. They also, at least implicitly, raise the question as to what kind of class alliances are (or are not) desirable and possible globally, potentially reopening important discussions about worldwide class formation, and debates about whether surplus (and bourgeoisie) are national or worldwide phenomenon, and is there such a thing as a national revolution, or does do we once again have to think in terms of world-revolution? The question of whether it will be possible to “change the world without taking power” (Holloway 2005) is one with no easy answers. Yet, the Zapatista document dares to open the question for discussion, whereas the Bamako Appeal seems to be in danger of closing the discussion. None of these questions will be answered on paper, but through hard struggle, and judging which methods work and stand the tests of history and which do not.
1 The Bamako Appeal is available at http://www.openspaceforum.net/twiki/tiki-read_article.php?articleId=66 The Zapatista 6th Declaration is available in English at www.zaptranslations.blogspot.com The Bamako Appeal has been the subject of intensive discussion on the listserve WSFDiscuss. To join this list send an empty email to firstname.lastname@example.org Past postings to this list are available at www.openspaceforum.net.
2 This discussion of class is based on the understanding that the division of labor is essentially a world-wide phenomenon, with national states serving to divide a global labor force, managing specific sections that inhabit territories under their jurisdiction and/or commercial or military influence, in order to continually produce, reproduce and control the labor force. Working class is understood in the broadest sense of the word, including anyone whose labor (or land or other natural resources) needs to be harnessed and/or commodified in order to produce surplus value. It does not prioritize industrial labor in the factory, nor urban labor over agricultural labor, nor waged labor over unwaged labor (mainly domestic, subsistence agricultural, bonded or prison labor, and in the past different forms of slavery and serfdom). Furthermore, it is based on the premise that real hierarchies and conflicts of interest exist within the working class itself due to internal structures of racist, sexist, ethnocentric, agist or other forms of oppression and domination. Crucial material and status hierarchies also result from people’s differing positions within the global division of labor, a hierarchy based around fundamentally different wage levels, both within, and especially between countries depending on their position within core-periphery hierarchies. Similarly, capital is seen as a worldwide social relation. Chibber (2005). and McMichael and Patel (2004) offer interesting critical discussions about national Vs transnational bourgeoisies and their relations to Third Worldism and the developmental state, in terms of the difficulty that states have faced in terms of disciplining capital and their inability to escape serving the disciplinary needs of capital. A more detailed discussion of world-wide class formations is unfortunately beyond the scope of this article.
3 For a range of perspectives on role of the nation state in managing particular sections of the global accumulation regime and the world-wide division of labor, and the importance of national pacts (in combination with state repression) to undermine or contain class conflict within these global processes, see the following:– Polanyi 1944/57; Silver 2003; Arrighi and Silver 1999; Holloway and Bonefeld 1995; Wallerstein 1984; Dunayevskaya, James and Lee Boggs 1950.
4 A detailed discussion of these changes is, unfortunately, beyond the scope of this article. For a discussion of pressures “from above”, especially in relation to the decline of US hegemony and the financialization of capital, see Amin et al 1982, Hopkins and Wallerstein 1996, Arrighi and Silver 1999, Arrighi 1994. For a discussion of pressures “from below” associated with the global labor force escaping capitalist control and the relationship between world-wide class struggle and financialization of capital in the 1970s, see Holloway and Bonefeld 1995, Cleaver 1989. In any case, although different authors have placed differing emphasis, the distinction between pressure “from below” and pressure “from above” are to some degree artificial. This is why quotations have been used (McMichael 1990).
5 Amsden (2001) offers a fairly unconvincing account of how countries, especially those with a higher level of inequality, are able to retain some degree of autonomy despite the WTO restrictions on national policy, citing the fact that there is a time delay and that agreements do not have to be implemented immediately.
6 This, and the above paragraphs, should not be understood as implying that there is no specificity and agency of states and that they are entirely defined by the world-system. As mentioned earlier, local particularities also exert their influence on and are constitutive of the systemic whole.
7 Labor here is understood in the broadest sense. See footnote 2.
8 See McMichael and Patel (2004) for a discussion that stresses the essential continuities between the Third Worldist developmental state and the nakedly coercive neoliberal state form based on national elites and a disciplinary process that they describe as ”global fascism”. Their argument builds heavily on Fanon’s critique of Third World elites.
9 It is not possible to go into greater discussion about crisis in this article. While it is widely agreed that the current period is a period of prolonged crisis, the causes are not generally agreed upon. Wallerstein 1998, Hopkins and Wallerstein 1996; Amin et al 1982 tend to focus on the crisis of US hegemony and the longterm crisis of the capitalist world-system. Holloway and Bonefeld 1995, Cleaver 1993, Bell and Cleaver 1992 focus more on the crisis of the capital-labor relationship, and the increasing difficulty that capital is facing in order to impose control on labor. However, both schools of thought have in common the understanding that the current period is simultaneously one of great danger and great hope and that long- term outcomes will greatly depend on the strength of worldwide social struggle.
10 The word “we” is used to describe people who are participating, in different ways, in collective processes of emancipatory social change. This includes people active in a wide range of social movements, understood as broad-based participatory processes consciously aimed at deconstructing different forms of discrimination and oppression and building equal and sustainable social relations. It also includes people who express their desire for change in forms which are not primarily political or antagonistic, but have a collective social impact, such as cultural resistance and creativity.
11 In the end the EZLN never formed part of the PGA Convenors Committee since their collective decision making process meant that a decision would have taken too long. Instead, the FZLN were invited, and accepted the role.
12 Unfortunately, the repression happened anyhow, as exemplified by the criminal behaviour of Italian authorities during the protests against the G8 summit in Genoa, in July 2001, which included the murder of Carlo Giuliani, and sadistic and totally unjustified attacks on demonstrators in the streets and in the Diaz school (where 66 of the 93 people who were sleeping had to be taken out in stretchers, many of them with broken jaws and ribs and punctured lungs). But the involvement of large and diverse social sectors in the protest provoked a strong rejection of that murder and of the repression in general, something that would not have happened in that way if only autonomous anti-capitalist groups would have participated.
13 However, whatever ones opinion of the WSF and other Social Forums, it is undeniable that the active role they played in the protests against the war in Iraq was decisively important in making them the largest global protests ever seen. This was a great achievement, since those protests had a very different nature than the anti-capitalist mobilisations that took place from 1998 to 2001.
14 For a very interesting discussion of the Zapatistas and global class composition analysis, see Monty Neill’s Rethinking Class Composition Analysis in Light of the Zapatistas, in Midnight Notes Collective (2001)
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Zapatista Army of National Liberation Sixth Declaration of the Selva Lacandona. English translation available at www.zaptranslations.blogspot.com
Theme(s): zezta internazional