Monday, July 24, 2006

The Other Campaign

From Below and to the Left...
The Zapatistas Build a Different Way of Doing Politics
by RJ Maccani
(Originally appeared in print in Left Turn Magazine's fifth anniversary issue)

The Zapatista rebels of Mexico’s Southeastern state of Chiapas are taking their boldest step since they rose up in arms twelve years ago. Continuing a twenty-two year journey of growth and transformation, they are spreading out beyond their autonomous communities to join with and build a Mexican and global movement for democracy, freedom, and justice.

Following an internal consultation with the over 200,000 members of the Zapatista communities in June of 2005, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) released their Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle. The declaration is essential reading as it tells their story in their own words and will be the guiding document for their future work. Also an invitation to publicly join the EZLN in building a movement against capitalism “from below and to the left,” it can be found on-line in at least eight languages.

Although the Zapatistas have been the most popular reference point for the radical Left in the past decade, and in spite of their being hundreds of books and hundreds of thousands of articles and essays written and translated into dozens of languages by and about them, they have often been misunderstood. One reason for this is that they have been practicing a way of doing politics quite distinct from the one to which the westernized world is accustomed. Since their emergence in the public eye on New Years Day of 1994, the Zapatistas have unfailingly put into practice the principle that leadership is a position of service, they have prioritized listening, accountability, and consensus-building, and they have put ethics before pragmatism, moving “at the pace of the slowest.” And it is because of this that the Zapatistas enjoy a nearly unrivaled level of moral authority in Mexico and the world.

In launching the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, they are putting this moral authority, as well as the lives of their leadership, at risk. The Sixth Declaration is distinct from the five that precede it because this time the Zapatistas don’t just intend to inspire or convene those fighting for humanity and against capitalism, but to defy arrest warrants and death threats by leaving their autonomous territories and literally joining with “the humble and simple people who struggle” in Mexico and throughout the world. The moral authority of the EZLN will soon be held not just in their own hands, but also in the hands of all those who build new initiatives with them.

That being said, the EZLN is remaining accountable to their Mayan indigenous support base and the majority of the army will remain in Chiapas and continue to defend the over 1,100 Zapatista communities which are grouped into 29 autonomous municipalities and five regions known as “caracoles.” With massive support and solidarity from Mexican and international civil society, these Zapatista communities are innovating with political and judicial structures and educational, health, communication and economic development programs that put the Mexican government to shame. They have accomplished all of this while being surrounded by 50 to 60 thousand troops—roughly one third to one fourth of the Mexican military.

Two new groups have recently formed out of the EZLN: the Sixth Commission and the Intergalactic Commission. The Sixth Commission is composed of fifteen indigenous comandantes of the EZLN and its iconic mestizo spokesman, Subcomandante Marcos, and is responsible for carrying out the national objectives of the Sixth Declaration. These objectives are to join with Mexican civil society to create or recreate another way of doing politics “from below and to the left,” to build an anticapitalist national plan of struggle, and to form a new Mexican constitution.

The Intergalactic Commission is currently headed by Lieutenant Colonel Moisés and is concerned with building closer links with movements around the world, including sending material aid to groups in resistance and participating in the creation of more convergences such as the legendary “Encounter for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism” convened by the Zapatistas in 1996, which laid the groundwork for what would become known as the Global Justice Movement.

In August of 2005, less than two months after releasing the Sixth Declaration, the Sixth Commission began convening meetings to build a national political force beyond the electoral parties. Over consecutive weekends, Mexican civil society came to the Zapatista territories of Chiapas in sectors: first—political organizations of the left, second—indigenous peoples and organizations, third—social organizations, fourth—collectives, non-governmental and artistic organizations, and fifth—families, communities and individuals with no organizational affiliation. A sixth meeting was held for all those who could not attend the previous meetings. Each meeting was a listening party in which everyone who came and publicly adhered to the Sixth Declaration was encouraged to speak for as long as they liked about their lives, struggles, and wishes for the new movement that they were building together. For six weekends in a row, the Sixth Commission listened and took notes while their new compañeros introduced themselves. Subcomandante Marcos played mediator and his opening and closing remarks generally framed each weekend.

At the conclusion of these six meetings, in the middle of September, all the adherents from the previous meetings were invited back to Chiapas for a plenary in which they launched what is being called “The Other Campaign”. They discussed in depth what it means to practice another way of doing politics and build a national plan of struggle. This discussion is being structured around six points or themes: 1. Characteristics, 2. Who is invited?, 3. Structure, 4. Treatment of differences, 5. Other forces, and 6. Work.

One aspect of this other way of doing politics is that these six points are intended to be discussed by all adherents not so that some people’s positions will eventually dominate others, or that there will be winners and losers, but so that adherents will begin a process of communication that allows them to create a movement together, understanding each others’ perspectives while respecting the autonomy of each organization and individual. It is understood by most that it will be the shared work more so than these discussions that will ultimately reveal the face and nature of the Other Campaign.

“The Other Campaign” is a clever title for this new initiative when put into the context of the June 2006 Mexican presidential elections and the massive electoral campaigns being launched by the three dominant political parties: the Institutional Revolutionary Party (the “PRI” whose over 70 years of one party rule was finally broken in the 2000 elections), the National Action Party (the “PAN” whose candidate, Vicente Fox, won the presidency in 2000 as “the candidate of change” and then followed in the footsteps of the PRI) and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (the “PRD”, founded in 1989 as a party of the left, whose candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador—known simply as “AMLO”—is expected to win the presidency this year).

What has perhaps made the Other Campaign most challenging for Mexican civil society are the blistering verbal attacks Subcomandante Marcos has been directing towards the PRD and their candidate, AMLO. What is most concerning for AMLO and the PRD is that a great deal of their base listens to and highly respects the words of the EZLN. While some on the Mexican and international left have scoffed at the Zapatistas for publicly attacking a left candidate poised to win the presidency, it should be understood that the PRD and AMLO have justly earned the Zapatistas’ suspicion and disdain.

After working beside each other in prior years, the PRD stabbed the Zapatistas in the back in 2001 by joining the PAN and PRI in ratifying a mutilated version of the Law for Indigenous Rights and Culture. The constitutional amendment they passed, which was later upheld by the Mexican judiciary, closed the door on the hopes of Mexico’s indigenous for achieving justice through the existing political structure. AMLO has continued to surround himself with former members of the PRI and even signaled that he does not have substantive objections to the Pact of Chapultepec, which was created by Carlos Slim (the richest man in Mexico and, according to Forbes, the fourth richest man in the world) to secure the commitment of all three leading candidates to continue pursuing neoliberal economic policy. Meanwhile, members of the Zapatista Front have been spending time in Brazil documenting the devastating effects that popular “left” president Lula’s tenure has had on that country’s social movements and people.

The Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle and the Other Campaign partially arrive as the culmination of various experiences in which the political class of Mexico has attacked, lied to, and betrayed the Zapatistas. The EZLN have broken all dialogue and relationships with the political class and are successfully organizing to bring the vast majority of Mexicans with them. For the first time in their history, at the beginning of 2006, the Zapatistas celebrated New Years Day not with “Long Live the Zapatistas” but with “Long Live the Other Campaign.” And they celebrated by taking over the city of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas just as they had done twelve years earlier but this time they were not two thousand armed rebels but rather tens of thousands of unarmed indigenous and mestizo Mexicans poised to launch a peaceful, civil movement to, in the words of Subcomandante Marcos, “… shake this country up from below, lift it up, and stand it on its head.”

And so, on New Years Day 2006, at the center of San Cristobal de las Casas, the indigenous comandancia who comprise the Sixth Commission handed over Subcomandante Marcos to tour the Mexican Republic promoting the Other Campaign and, most importantly, to meet, listen to and speak with those adherents to the Sixth Declaration who could not make it to last years’ meetings in Chiapas. Unarmed and with the civilian title of “Delegate Zero,” the safety of Subcomandante Marcos is in the hands of those adherents who are hosting him in each of the 31 states of Mexico, in Mexico City, and at the border. He will conclude the six-month tour with an informational plenary in Mexico City at the end of June before returning to Zapatista territory just days before the country’s July 2nd elections. In September, the next delegates of the Sixth Commission—members of the indigenous comandancia—are scheduled to fan out across Mexico, taking up more long-term residencies, each in their own state or region, and join, in person, the building of the Other Campaign.

Delegate Zero has just completed his tour of Puebla—the eighth state in his route—and so far over 1,000 political organizations of the left, indigenous groups and organizations, social, non-governmental and artistic organizations and collectives have publicly joined the Sixth Commission to build the Other Campaign for another way of doing politics, an anticapitalist national plan of struggle, and a new constitution. In the backyard of our overextended empire, a revolution, from below and to the left, has already begun.

Go to to read and adhere to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle and to communicate directly with the Sixth and Intergalactic Commissions of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.

This article is dedicated to Comandante Ramona who passed away on January 6th of this year after a ten-year struggle with kidney cancer. A fierce organizer for women’s rights within the Zapatistas, Ramona led the EZLN fighters in taking San Cristobal de las Casas in 1994. Two years later, she broke the military encirclement of her communities and defied the arrest warrant issued against her to be the first Zapatista leader to leave Chiapas to speak with her Mexican brothers and sisters. On that visit, Comandante Ramona promised to them that she was just the first of many more to come. As usual, the Zapatistas are keeping their word.

Want More?! Go to to read “Stories from the Other Campaign

-Part 1 of the on-line series is "Outlines of a Mexican Rebellion" and continues telling the story of the national movement up to April '06.

-Part 2 is "Thoughts on Marcos and Leadership" and will appear (now with hyperlinks) here at Zapagringo by the end of the week.

-Part 3 will be called "Enter the Intergalactic" and focus on the global or "intergalactic" nature of the Zapatista movement-it will be posted next week...

RJ sends thanks to the Ricardo Flores Magón Brigade and the whole Narco News team, to Ra for the edits and to everyone he interviewed in Oaxaca: Omar Olivera Espinosa, Heidy and Chucho, Gilberto Canseco, Elena, Alejandro Cruz, Laloó, Gustavo Esteva, Donaciana Antonio Almaráz and the whole Oaxacan State Coordination of the Other Campaign. He sends a special thanks to Steve Ankrom—without whose support he would’ve never made it to Oaxaca.


cwm said...

This is a well-written piece and i like it, although i am disappointed by the fact that it is so uncritical. For example, while you rightly point out that the Zaps emphasize dialogue and listening, there's no doubt that Marcos is The Man, and that the centrality of one charismatic individual raises some tough issues about democracy in the movement. That is not to suggest that your comments, RJ, are false, but it would be good to confront some of the problems. No one needs more cheer leaders.

ALso, i was confused by this: "they have been practicing a way of doing politics quite distinct from the one to which the westernized world is accustomed." What do you mean by that? Mexico is in the west. What are you refering to?

max said...

For those interested in an article that RJ (zapagringo) wrote on Marcos & Leadership, you can actually check this out online which details some of your concerns:

cwm said...

Yeah, Kazembe, RJ is a very good writer and thoughtful guy, but his pieces here are largely celebratory and descriptive. Of course there is a lot to describe and celebrate about the Zapatistas, but people have been doing that for twelve years and I’ve personally had my fill. What interest me are questions like the one you ask: Have the Zapatista communities grown? Likewise, while RJ does a good job describing Macros’s paradoxical role, I wonder if there have been any efforts to protect the movement against his overwhelming centrality. Like you suggest, maybe there have been some interesting discussions at some of the encuentros? I am also curious about how the model of leadership articulated by the Zapatistas can be squared with that advanced by Chavez. I can’t see how you can be for Chavez (top down) and also for the Zapatistas (bottom up) without being totally contradictory.

RJ Maccani said...

Good stuff, cwm and kaz...

i'm posting a slightly different version of the "Marcos and Leadership" piece's got hyperlinks which i think adds a little bit to it. the piece does explore the concerns/contradictions re: Marcos, cwm, although it seems as if you may have also already read that piece...

with respect to the comment regarding "practicing a way of politics distinct from the western world", yes, much of mexico is very westernized, especially the north and mexico city, but the south, and especially places such as the mountains and jungles of chiapas have some cultural ways that are very distinct from what would be called "western" terms of political practice, i see the emphasis on listening and the integrity of the word as things that have been totally obliterated by the machiavellian strategies that pervade politics, and-much more recently-the saturation of advertising in our culture.

an interesting thing about the zaps is the dialogue that takes place between traditions of resistance...mayan and left...with respect to the question of leadership, Moises has something interesting to write about how they see "the vanguard" (and it's a twist on, or perhaps moreso a clarification on Marcos' famous "i shit on all the revolutionary vanguards of the planet" comment back from his days beefing with basque countries ETA). You can read Moises words here (scroll down to his part):
It's a very interesting insight into leadership within the EZLN and something I completely left out of the leadership article.

also, in terms of visible leadership , it has just been announced that indigenous comandantes from the EZLN are leaving chiapas to join the struggle to free the 27 people still imprisoned from the attack on atenco:

in terms of kaz's question, there are indications that the zap base in chiapas has grown over the years as their increasing numbers at new years mobilizations in '03 and '06 would indicate...or, at the very least, its a base that is increasingly organized and mobilized. And in terms of reach, soon enough, i'll start to report on the Other Campaign organizing happening here in NYC...

And with the Other Campaign, a different base is being built than the one the zaps began building when they were more heavily leninist/guevarist/maoist and i think the question of subjectivity is key here. it is also important to point out that the Other Campaign is a serious revindication of class struggle and i hope that we will get into this conversation when i publish "enter the intergalactic" next week.

The organizing in the Other Campaign--the listening and emphasis on self-organization--is very focused on facilitating people's process of creating their own, conscious revolutionary subjectivity. That being said, there is a real tension between this kind of building and the need to defend oneself against or confront the state (this is the challenge for us here as well)...with respect to the zaps, John Gibler's recent piece is an excellent discussion of this,
With respect to organizing here in the USA, a recent piece by Dan Berger and Andy Cornell is also very much worth reading and you can find it at ...

i think there is still much to describe and celebrate about the zapatistas--there is still much people don't understand, especially about the Other Campaign and the Sixth Declaration, etc. The zaps are putting forward an inspirational and revolutionary praxis that we should relate to--not as internet critics (and i don't think either kaz or cwm are proposing that)--but rather as organizers with a stake in building a successful global anti-capitalist movement.

RJ Maccani said...

it looks like the link to moises words re: the vanguard, etc. mentioned in my previous comment got cut off--here's the complete url:

cwm said...

Thanks for your comments, RJ. I’m also tremendously inspired by the Zapatistas and The Other Campaign. As a US reader, I can’t help but feel super gratified by their response to the presidential election: I’m still disgusted by the US left’s pervasive support for John Kerry in 2004 and read the Zaps take on the PRD as rebuke to all the “lesser evil” lovers around the world. The United States would be a much better place today if the left had had the courage to respond to our election in the way that the Zapatistas are responding in Mexico.

A premise of your article is that the Zapatistas have a lot to teach us in the US. I definitely agree with that, although I think we differ about how to engage their legacy and example.

In my view, in order to confront the Zapatistas’ lessons and consider building a Zapatista-like movement in the US, we will first have to clarify a lot of things about the Zaps themselves. To begin, we will have to get a handle on the movement’s overriding political principles: what are their views on the state, on capitalism, would they embrace representative democracy under any circumstances, etc, etc. We’ll have to address issues such as those and decide what we think of them. Of course that will be tough, given that the Zaps are notoriously vague on such matters.

We’ll also have to look at how successful they have been at implementing their principles: have they really built “another way of doing politics,” have they improved material conditions for people in Chiapas, have they instituted democracy within the Zapatista communities? Again, this list could be much longer, and getting the data necessary to answer such questions will tough (but necessary).

Finally, we will have to explore how a Zapatista-like movement in the US would differ from the one existing in Mexico. Obviously the contexts are extremely distinct.

The point is that we will need to discuss the Zapatistas in political terms and analyze and critique them. That is the only why to come to terms with the movement’s implications for our lives. There is nothing arrogant about doing that: on the contrary, criticism and analysis is a necessary part of any meaningful dialogue (assuming you take a group’s ideas seriously). We’re going to have to go beyond the celebration and description of the Zapatistas that fills so much of the left press in America if we’re going to confront the movement’s far-reaching challenges.

I’m not implying that you’re promoting a superficial understanding of the Zaps. I’m definitely not. You’re a very good writer and highlight much of what I like most about the Zaps. My concern is with raising the level of discussion about the movement and politics in general in the American left. My hope is that you and I and all of us can build upon your very good articles in order to deepen the exploration.

(Incidentally, I just read Zapatistas: The Chiapas Revolt and What It Means for Radical Politic by Mihalis Mentinis, which attempts to address some of the questions I noted. Unfortunately I can’t recommend it. He also points to a lot of significant issues but doesn’t really address them in a meaningful way. The book has a very dissertation-like feel to it.

RJ Maccani said...

sounds like a plan cwm...

max said...

Yeah i dont know CWM, i guess im not really in agreement with your idea that:

"To begin, we will have to get a handle on the movement’s overriding political principles: what are their views on the state, on capitalism..."

From the last few communiques, specifically the 6th declaration which RJ cites a few times, i feel like the Zaps have been pretty straight forward about Capitalism and their relationship to the state.

Other then that your basically going to get studies like the ones you cite (Mihalis Mentinis), which are often coming from fairly detached PHD students etc. Its the nature of the academy. You seem to be wanting something more, although you admit several times that "getting the data necessary to answer such questions will tough".

It doesnt seem to me we have time, in terms of our relationship with La Otra Campaña, if there is to be any, to wait for the academics to figure out how to write an accessible critique of the Zapatista movement. This is part of what RJ is trying to do it seems. Although it might seem to you, as someone who has read a lot of material, that he is simply being "celebratory" -- i think its more accurate to say that he is trying to bring these conversations and ideas to a wider network of local grassroots activists across the US who are not coming out of the same group of "(ex) Global Justice-ers".

This is not to say that there shouldnt be more critical material out there and that anti-intellectualism is not a major problem in the US, but to say that you dont have enough to draw on for local work in the US without knowing exactly where every major thinker within the Zapatista movement stands in relationship to the state just seems like an excuse not to do anything.

Im looking forward to the reports from the organizing happening uptown around the New York leg of La Otra, it seems like they are figuring out how to relate just fine.


Se inicia “La Consulta del Barrio"
COMUNIDAD - 07/25/2006

Otros Titulares
Concurso de cuentos de Letras Latinas del Este
Jóvenes en operación limpieza
nueva york/edlp — El Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio ha iniciado “La Consulta del Barrio” para que el pueblo inmigrante del Barrio decida cuál de todos los problemas que enfrentan es el más grave. Después que los inmigrantes decidan el problema, la organización luchará sobre este nuevo asunto hasta lograr justicia.

La “Consulta del Barrio” consiste de una serie de reuniones públicas, entrevistas individuales y un voto comunitario. La primera reunión pública fue realizada el domingo 23 de julio. Desde ayer lunes el pueblo inmigrante puede dar su voz y voto en Las Urnas del Barrio. Además, votos telefónicos se tomarán llamando al 212-561-0555.

En la primera reunión pública realizada el domingo, inmigrantes del Barrio ratificaron que los ocho problemas identificados por los 180 miembros de Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio son problemas graves que enfrenta la comunidad inmigrante de El Barrio. Durante el diálogo comunitario, se dijo que la discriminación de género hacia las meseras inmigrantes se extiende al hogar por la violencia doméstica.

También se dijo que la explotación laboral incluye la falta de pago por trabajar horas de sobretiempo.

Algunos de los convocados solicitaron a Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio la necesidad de expander su trabajo organizativo para incluir otras zonas fuera de East Harlem. También se propuso que después que termine “La Consulta del Barrio” que la organización considere tratando más de un problema ya que el pueblo enfrenta varios problemas simultáneamente.

Hasta ayer se habían colectado 186 votos. La fecha límite para colectar votos será el 15 de agosto.

El 17 de agosto los tres problemas más urgentes que enfrentan los inmigrantes serán hecho público.

El pueblo inmigrante del Barrio está invitado a participar en “La Consulta del Barrio” dando su voz y voto en “Las Urnas del Barrio” instaladas en la esquina de la E. 116 St. y Lexington Ave. durante el siguiente horario:

Hoy martes 25 de julio de 5 a 9 pm; miércoles 26 de julio de 5 a 7 pm; jueves 27 de julio de 5 a 7 pm; viernes 28 de julio 5 a 7 pm.

Además, votos serán colectados por teléfono llamando al 212-561-0555.

Los problemas que se están votando y considerando son:

• El alto costo de remesas para enviar dinero a nuestras familias en nuestros países de origen.

• El maltrato en los hospitales,

• Malos servicios del Consulado Mexicano incluyendo las largas filas que tiene uno que hacer por toda la noche para recibir servicios.

• Abuso policiaco.

• Trabajos mal pagados a menos del salario mínimo de $6.75 la hora.

• El alto costo de transportación pública.

• Las propuestas leyes de inmigración.

• El acoso sexual hacia meseras inmigrantes.

Además, se pide que cualquier otro problema que afecte a la comunidad inmigrante sea nombrado para consideración.

Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio es una organización comunitaria de inmigrantes luchando por justicia en El Barrio, NYC. Para mas información, comuníquese con Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio al 212-561-0555.

cwm said...

Hi Max,

You make four arguments against having a larger political discussion of the Zapatistas, but I don’t think any are compelling.

1) The Zapatistas have clarified their views on capitalism and the state in recent communiqués, particularly the Sixth Declaration.

The Zaps have not elaborated how they want to reconstruct society or their principles in a systematic, comprehensive way (in the Sixth Declaration or elsewhere). They give lots of hints and suggest lots of compelling ideas, but they are also confusing, ambiguous, and contradictory. That is exactly why people keep writing book after book about them. Maybe you've somehow figured out the whole Zapatista project, but that seems unlikely to me.

If we want to build a Zapatista-like movement in the US, then we will have to be really clear about the nature of the Zapatistas. We'll need to know things like: how would they reconstruct the state? Would they reconstruct the state? Would they permit political parties? Would they allow private ownership of the means of production? Foreign investment? What would happen to the legal system? We'll need to understand things like these if we want to emulate the Zapatistas in any significant way.

2) Only academics can analyze and criticize the Zapatista.

That’s not true. I'm no fan of academia, but I'm not going to surrender theory to academia any more than I would surrender the economy to capitalism. You don’t have to be an academic to write theory.

3) There’s no time to have a deeper discussion of the Zapatistas' ideals.

Yes, there is.

4) We already have enough information about the Zapatistas to do “local work.”

That depends on what you mean by “local work.” If you mean organizing protests to lobby policy makers then, sure, there’s no need to know more about the Zapatistas or anything else for that matter. However, if by “local work” you mean revolutionizing society, then there is a lot to learn and important theoretical discussions to have.

There’s a role for journalism in any radical movement, but it is not the most important genre at a time when the left is in a historic crisis. We need to have weighty political discussions about justice, equality, freedom, and other thorny topics if we are going to try to emulate the Zapatistas or build a meaningful “new” left. These dialogues will be difficult, and will make things more difficult, but they are unavoidable.