Aug 4, 2005

Cursory thoughts on armies, insurrection, and The Sixth

In my last post I briefly addressed the IRA’s recent statement on ending its armed struggle and the urging of all of it’s members to throw their weight into “peaceful” political work that we can only assume is Sinn Fein electoralism. Sinn Fein has steered a course away from revolutionary action and any variant of socialism in an attempt to bring stability to Ireland through a (questionable) democratic pragmatism.

There is no doubt that the IRA had reached a point where a political approach beyond the armed struggle was necessary. But it’s direction seems far from the tenets of Republican Socialism or the radical tradition of James Connelly and the ICA. The success of the Irish Republican “cause” was/is wholly dependent on an animated rank and file, programs for social reorganization based on popular community and workplace committees, with an intransient rejection of top-down social relations and command structures. Add to this the need to develop working class relations across the sectarian divide, a feat not all that easy and given the history of Loyalist/Protestant aggression, one that many Catholics/Republicans view with understood skepticism.

At it’s most radical stage the Irish Republican struggle saw the development of several of these elements. However, the current Provisional Republican leadership have opted to integrate themselves fully into transnational capitalism hopefully to make it safer for the “Celtic Tiger” to prowl – though on the leash of it’s Brit/US Roy and Siegfried handlers. There is no doubt that the majority of Irish people, namely those of the Northern counties, are sick of war and would like there to be more than the bombs, riots, punishment beatings, mass imprisonment, as well as the damaging psychological wear of continuous war. However, the agenda of the Provisionals is one of securing business interests rather than sustaining an insurgent and revolutionary temper amongst the base.

I stated in the last post on the IRA that a radical and socialist success depends on the formulation of a long term strategy. This long term strategy must be coupled with current social initiatives that are about more than supporting the war effort. If anything, the social revolution of Ireland was subordinate to the armed struggle, rather than seeing, and maintaining, that the war and revolution were inseparable. This success also demands popular participation in defining the objectives of the movement, rather than through a bureaucracy or a top-down military command structure. The goal is to eradicate the order giver/order receiver relationship.

This last point seems to be the defining of the EZLN. In the 12 years since their armed entrance into global consciousness, they have prioritized the development of social projects that both support the Indigenous communities that the EZLN has been the army for, as well as an attempt to expand the capabilities, collective knowledge, and self-governance of those communities.

When the EZLN first staged it’s insurrection it did not believe that it would find itself in what essentially amounts to a sustained dual power situation – where the Zapatista communities exist along with, but in opposition to, those under federal government rule.

It was actually assumed by the EZLN that they would be wiped out after the insurrection of January 1, 1994. This did not happen. They were able to retreat to the villages and towns that made up their base. A combination of popular support amongst the citizens of their communities, the ability to defend themselves (armed if necessary) against attack from the Federal government and local right-wing paramilitaries, and international solidarity campaigns all contributed to the survival of the Zapatistas. The global awareness of the struggle in Chiapas also made it more difficult on the part of the Mexican government to carry out a direct attack to destroy the EZLN and the Indigenous communities in Chiapas. This hasn’t prevented the Mexican State from waging a low intensity war against the Zapatistas, but enough international support exists that it would create a volatile situation if a massacre were undertaken.

However, after 11 years and finding themselves in a situation that they did not imagine unfolding at the beginning, the EZLN and Zapatistas as a whole have to reconsider their strategies for the future. They recently released a document, The Sixth Declaration of the Selva Lacandona, discussing their situation and plans to create (in their flowery yet sometimes cryptic language) a new national and “Intergalactic” movement where the Zapatista communities will work at developing greater links with more urban movements. The Zapatistas, in an attempt to expand their ability to both survive and project their ideas on social transformation, see this only possible by forging “ …new relationships of mutual respect and support with persons and organizations who are resisting and struggling against neoliberalism and for humanity”.

This document, The Sixth, also opens up the Zapatistas to dialogue and discussion. They have asked for the widest range of feedback and critical perspectives. Unlike much of the authoritarian Left, the Zapatistas appear to be concerned with the developing of a genuinely “democratic” and participatory approach to analysis and strategizing. While they are not necessarily bound by outsider’s claims or criticisms, they take an unprecedented step in opening their ideas on advancement up for discussion. They also go to lengths to make it plain that the previous success of the Zapatistas has had much to do with “many people throughout the world” who mobilized to defend the Zapatistas, therefore they appreciate the input of those who have popularized, stood by and defend them until now. This breaks down the category of Zapatista and outsider, laying further the grounds for future collaboration.

The prioritizing of discussion and reflection is absent from much of what passes for the Left. Referring back to the IRA and Republican movement, at it’s height the Republican movement emphasized study and debate within the community and amongst it’s members in prison. Documents dealing with analysis and strategy were released and circulated for discussion amongst the rank and file, and when mistakes were committed the Republican movement would attempt to address these failings. Online Irish Republican journals like Fourthwrite and The Blanket have attempted to develop an understanding of how their movement retreated from this and instead has become overly centralized and void of discussion. In fact, these journals who are comprised of former Republican soldiers and organizers claim that essential discussion has been replaced by the tactics of thuggery and intimidation against those who do not carry the Sinn Fein party line and actively speak out against the degeneration of their movement.

When looking at The Sixth, another point of comparison between the EZLN document and the IRA statement is concerning their armies. Both armies see that an armed campaign is not desirable and that a political process is needed. Where the IRA has instructed it’s Units to disarm and work within an electoral process aimed at normalization of Irish politics, the Zapatista statement comes form a different perspective.

The EZLN raises the discussion about their relationship to their communities and how best they (the EZLN) can serve the interests of the Zapatista rebellion,

“…we also saw that the EZLN, with its political-military component, was involving itself in decisions which belonged to the democratic authorities, "civilians" as they say. And here the problem is that the political-military component of the EZLN is not democratic, because it is an army. And we saw that the military being above, and the democratic below, was not good, because what is democratic should not be decided militarily, it should be the reverse: the democratic-political governing above, and the military obeying below. Or, perhaps, it would be better with nothing below, just completely level, without any military… what we then did about this problem was to begin separating the political-military from the autonomous and democratic aspects of organization in the zapatista communities. And so, actions and decisions which had previously been made and taken by the EZLN were being passed, little by little, to the democratically elected authorities in the villages. It is easy to say, of course, but it was very difficult in practice, because many years have passed - first in the preparation for the war and then the war itself - and the political-military aspects have become customary. But, regardless, we did so because it is our way to do what we say, because, if not, why should we go around saying things if we do not then do them.”

The discussion addresses the difficulties of maintaining an armed military structure and relating it to the popular governing structures of the communities. A protracted struggle against the authorities requires the ability to act both defensively and offensively, and this requires a structure that is tighter with varying degrees of centralization that may not be necessary in more social affairs. For the military, the level of autonomy within its society may be greater than other structures, but this is due to demands that are of an extra-ordinary nature in which details of operations may not be up for a complete unveiling. The task is having the military conform to the general decisions of the civil society: military objectives are determined by the political direction agreed upon by the popular committees.

A fundamental question is, as has been the case of many groups whose operations have a military component, what if a majority of a population disagrees with the actions of the military or that the military itself represents the more politically advance ideas? Should the military structure curtail it’s activity and wait for the popular struggle to advance? Waiting for the correct time may take an eternity and in the mean time direct and possibly effective military action is tabled for some undetermined period. There need’s to be a constant gageing of the political climate and a questioning of does the military exist in a vacuum or is it assisting the growth of a popular resistance movement. Difficult questions, but one’s the revolutionary movements need to grapple with.

By the fact that the EZLN is being so candid with their current situation and asking for feedback and critical responses, I would argue that The Sixth has much to offer contemporary liberation movements, perhaps not necessarily in strategy for our respective locals, but in it’s approach.

A personal response from EZLN Subcomadante Marcos acts as one follow up to The Sixth in which he thanks the various responses that were generated.

He outline’s concerns the EZLN have, as well as one’s raised since the release of The Sixth.

Marcos states that one concern raised was of it’s proposed relationship with “The Left”. Marcos writes that the EZLN likens it’s struggle to others of the oppressed

“…does it not seem natural that, in a movement which is primarily indigenous like the zapatista, sympathy and admiration would be evoked by what the indigenous in Ecuador and Bolivia are doing? That they would feel solidarity with those who have no land and are struggling in Brazil. That they would identify with the "piqueteros" of Argentina, and they would salute the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. That they would perceive similarities in experiences and organization with the Mapuche of Chile and with the indigenous of Colombia. That they would warn of the obvious in Venezuela, namely: that the US government is doing everything possible to violate the sovereignty of that country. That they would enthusiastically applaud the great mobilizations in Uruguay in opposition to the imposition of "macroeconomic stability.”

He also makes firm the EZLN’s opposition to the US blockade of Cuba.

However, he goes on to say

“The Sixth Declaration does not speak to the institutions of above, good or bad. The Sixth is looking below. And it is seeing a reality that is shared, at least since the conquests made by Spain and Portugal of the lands which now share the name of "Latin America."

This evidences the notion that the Zapatista identify with the base rather than the “Left” governments of the Southern hemisphere. There is no praise for Lula, Castro, or Chavez. “Looking below” is the key phrase here.

Connected to this is the elaboration on forming alliances with Left forces in Mexico and why they will reject electoral politics.

Marcos’ deals at length with the issue of support for Mexico City Mayor López Obrador who is attempting to build a Left base of support for a run for Mexico’s Presidential office.

Marcos make’s it clear that many criticisms would have instead been praise if the EZLN in there 6th Declaration had rallied behind Obrador, rather, than having rejected him on the grounds that Mexican electoral politics has time and again betrayed the interests of the indigenous and oppressed.

Marcos state’s the EZLN’s positions on Obrador’s campaign with

“We are suspicious, and we don't see anything more than plastic cosmetics (and which change according to the audience) and a list of forgettable promises.”

From there Marcos examines prominent national organizers for Obrador, Socorro Díaz Palacios and Ricardo Monreal Ávila. Outlining their previous anti-Zapatista rhetoric Marco’s makes it obvious that despite the Left appearance of Obrador’s campaign it contains elements that are in direct conflict with EZLN initiatives and indigenous resistance in Chiapas. Unless Obrador were to distance himself form his men’s positions or current political stances are taken by the men Marcos refers to, we could only assume that their past attitudes still apply today. This reinforces Marcos claim that the electoral arena contains deceit and treachery for the Zapatista’s.

Marcos says that the new alliances the Zapatistas hope to form, outside of the electoral process, will go ahead despite the risks and attacks of those who can not bring the Zapatistas under their domination. He says

“We are going to come out. We are going to come out, and they had better get used to the idea. We are going to come out, and I believe, there are only 4 ways of stopping us.

One is with a preventative attack… Another is taking us prisoners… Another is to kill us… Another is to disappear us. I am referring to a forced disappearance, as was applied to hundreds of political opponents in the PRI "stability" period.

We have been preparing for many years to confront those possibilities. That is why the Red Alert has not been lifted for the insurgent troops, just for the towns. And that is why one of the communiqués pointed out that the EZLN could lose…”

Understanding that they have reached the limits of their previous strategy, the EZLN and the Zapatistas are making clear that they to go beyond survival they must take chances. The alliances they seek to form, and when, are still not clear. The process may take sometime and we may see new encuentro’s aimed at bringing different forces together to discuss and work out common perspectives and work.

One of the last sections of Marcos’ letter stresses what had previously been touched on in The Sixth, that the Zapatista struggle has become international, not because they now wish it, but because of the international solidarity that has grown over the last 12 years of the Insurrection. New ideas, customs, experiences have intermingled with the Indigenous communities of Chiapas creating itself a qualitatively different culture and consciousness – Indigenous but more. This speaks to the concept that in the process of struggle, new conclusions are reached and that success depends on the ability to be fluid and experimental with approaches.

Marcos touchs on several issues. Looking at society from the view point of a small Zapatista girl who has grown up during the Insurrection, he try’s to make the case of personal expansion and development and where this may lead her. Marcos writes

“What happens when she discovers that there are not just men and women in the world, but that there are many paths and ways of attraction and love.

What happens when someone tells her that in a place called Ciudad Juárez, young women like her are being kidnapped, raped and murdered, and the authorities are not seeing that justice is done?

What happens when, for example, a girl grows up and reaches youth in the Zapatista resistance over 12 years in the mountains of the Mexican Southeast... And there are men and women all over these lands who passed from childhood to youth to maturity in the zapatista resistance.

We told you in the Sixth Declaration that new generations have entered into the struggle. And they are not only new, they also have other experiences, other histories. We did not tell you in the Sixth, but I'm telling you now: they are better than us, the ones who started the EZLN and began the uprising. They see further, their step is more firm, they are more open, they are better prepared, they are more intelligent, more determined, more aware.”

The questions Marcos raises are at the core of revolutionary anti-authoritarian politics, that the development of the social forces of insurrection are intrinsically connected to the experiences and growth of the participants consciousness. The child example Marcos uses is not figurative, it is reality that he see’s. The continued development of the girl and her fellow Zapatista rebel children makes the expansion of the rebellion outside of Chiapas a necessity, and that this expansion may aid in the cause of “justice” elsewhere. Here again Marcos alludes to the notion that the future of one sector is tied up with the future of others and that struggle exists beyond local, regional or cultural confines.