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- Subject: En;Cleaver:Virtual & Real Chiapas Support Networks,Pt 1/4
- From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Chiapas95)
- Date: Mon, 24 Jul 2000 15:55:59 -0500 (CDT)
- Reply-To: email@example.comThis message is forwarded to you by the editors of the Chiapas95 newslists. To contact the editors write to: <firstname.lastname@example.org>. To submit material for posting send to: <email@example.com>. Folks: What follows is a review and critique of a very malicious article that attacks the Chiapas solidarity networks in cyberspace for being being made up of lazy, self-satisfied individuals who are content to circulate (and act on the basis of) an endlessly repeated handful of oversimplified facts drawn from a small number of unreliable sources. The text below dissects this article, paragraph by paragraph and thus contains both the entire text of the original article and my commentary and critique of it. If you would rather read the original article by itself then you can find it at url: http://www.yorku.ca/org/socreg/ Although I originally read the article in hardcopy, this is the source from which I have drawn the e-text reproduced below. I will be placing a more nicely formatted version of this critique on the Chiapas95 webpage (and on my own)in sort order -from which it will be possible to obtain a better formatted and thus more easily readible copy. Harry ............... beginning of part 1 of 4 .............. The Virtual and Real Chiapas Support Network: A review and critique of Judith Adler Hellman's "Real and Virtual Chiapas: Magic Realism and the Left", Socialist Register, 2000. The emergence of cyberspace as a new terrain of social struggle was initially met by the Left in three dominant ways. First, there were those who enthusiastically joined contemporary postmodern celebratory fantasizing on virtuality and simulacra. Some of these may have theorized on the basis of little or no real experience in cyberspace but some spun their constructions from the threads of their own experience. Second, there were those who reacted with disdain or skepticism, deriding activists engaged in this new terrain as lazy, button-pushers too comfortable in front of their computers to engage in "real" struggle. Many of these carped from the outside never having put a finger to a keyboard although a few spoke from brief and disillusioned experience. Third, there were those activists who neither fantasized nor condemned but elaborated struggles in cyberspace developing new spaces to achieve their political goals. Many of us in this third group were already involved in struggles elsewhere and anxious to harness what we saw as new tools and to explore new potentialities. Some were computer techies, turned political through their experiences with state and corporate constraints on their activities. Over time, the numbers of those in the third group has grown and our successes in the use of cyberspace have multiplied to the point of eclipsing the first group and overcoming much of the skepticism of the second. An early experience that taught many activists in North America the usefulness of the Internet was the tri-national struggle against NAFTA involving hundreds of groups in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Although that effort failed, its experience lay the groundwork for others, including the widespread use of the Internet to circulate information against the Gulf War in 1990-1991 and against the Mexican government's military repression of the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas in 1994 and 1995. Throughout the 1990s activists in struggle after struggle created new zones of cyberspace in which to share information, discuss tactics and strategy and evaluate both their own experiences and those of others. By the later half of the decade the number of interlinkages among struggles increased to the point of making not merely local, but global actions possible. Indeed, in the last five years activists using the Internet have played a key role in the organization of a series of global political mobilizations that have, for the first time in history, contested capitalist Power at the supranational level. The First and Second Zapatista Encounters Against Neoliberalism and For Humanity in 1996 and 1997 gathered thousands of grassroots activists from a multiplicity of struggles to share experience and discuss how to interlink and combine efforts at a global scale. The People's Global Action, directly inspired by the Zapatista networks, and bringing together movements from Europe, North America and Asia launched international caravans of mobilization and a global anti-WTO action in Geneva in May 1998. A year later on June 18, 1999 a world wide, coordinated effort saw hundreds of groups in dozens of cities on several continents participate in a Day of Action against neoliberal policies. The anti-WTO Battle of Seattle in November 1999 and the anti- IMF/World Bank Actions in Washington D.C. in February 2000 were not only made possible by, but building on the cyberspacial experience of the Zapatista encounters, were able to extend, real-time those mobilizations throughout cyberspace due to the efforts of new, innovative Independent Media Centers operating through the World Wide Web. Today, IMCs are multiplying and as the Internet spreads and increases in density its role in facilitating efforts to rollback neoliberal policies and to elaborate alternatives. This reality has made it impossible for large numbers of people on the Left to ignore the importance of this new terrain and its centrality in contemporary efforts to change the world. For the most part, postmodern criticism has become a sideshow and Left critiques of the "virtuality" of cyberspacial struggles have been toned down or disappeared. For the most part, activists no longer question the importance of cyberspace but are busy figuring out how to maximize its potential and overcome its limitations, how to interlink it with other kinds of efforts to maximize their effectiveness while staving off counter efforts, especially by the state, to undermine this new highly effective terrain. There remain, unfortunately, those on the Left who, instead of joining in these efforts to increase the effectiveness of our use of the Internet, peck away from the outside, deriding what they see as the limitations of struggles on this terrain while condemning with faint praise what little they do recognize as having been accomplished. The most extensive example of such criticism that I have come across is an article by Judith Adler Hellman. The article was originally published in Spanish in Este Pais in 1999 and subsequently published in English in the annual Socialist Register 2000. In that article Hellman, author of Mexico Lives, (1994), lays out a sweeping indictment of the cyberspacial network of activists who have acted in support of the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas. She bases this indictment, as far as I can make out from the text, only on the basis of a few interviews in Mexico and a brief perusal of pro-Zapatista websites and listserv archives. The result is a highly unflattering and condescending portrayal of a network of enthusiastic and dedicated but nai:ve, ill-informed and lazy militants who spend their time banging away at computer keyboards creating web pages instead of engaging in either serious study of the complexities of the situation in Chiapas or in serious activism in "real" space. At the same time, Hellman also provides a sketch of the Zapatista movement itself that both misrepresents it and ignores its importance. Given the very real importance of the Zapatista experience, both on the ground in Mexico and in its cyberspacial extension to the rest of the world through cyberspace, I take the trouble below to dissect and critique Hellman's entire article, her representations, her analysis and her criticisms. I do this reluctantly because I don't really think Hellman's article will do much to undermine the struggles in either Mexico or cyberspace. But doing so does provide an opportunity to clarify some issues that are important to those of us engaged in these terrains of struggle. In what follows Hellman's text is prefaced, line-by-line by greater-than symbols (">"). Her footnotes are enclosed in parentheses and reproduced at the end of this essay. The article begins: > Until the uprising of 1 January 1994, Chiapas stood at the >periphery of the periphery. It was a land marginal to both the >Aztec and the Mayan empires and, at the time of independence from >Spain, unclear as to whether it would become another miserably >poor, nominally independent Central American country, the >northernmost province of Guatemala, or the southernmost state - >and, in effect, internal colony - of Mexico. > Actually, Chiapas stood primarily at the periphery of Left perceptions of social conflict in the "Third World." Russia, Cuba, China, Indochina, Central America, South Africa, the Middle East were the "centers" of Left awareness in the 20th Century. Only the left-wing writer B. Traven in his novels of the 1920s paid much attention to the struggles of the indigenous and peasants in Chiapas. In Mexico, however, capitalist interests had long turned to Chiapas, to exploit its forests, its earth and later its water resources. Well before the Zapatista rebellion in 1994 giant hydroelectric projects had made Chiapas into a major provider of energy to much of Mexico. > With just over three million people, Chiapas has now >become the "navel of the world" - as the Incas called their >capital, Cuzco. It is the setting of events so moving and >compelling that they can bring 50,000 Italian protesters into >Piazza del Popolo, while the networks of Chiapas solidarity >groups ring the world, dozens of websites are devoted to >following the ins and outs of events in the Altos de Chiapas, a >reported 5,000 foreigners have fanned out over these highlands to >participate in one way or another in the drama as it unfolds, and >by April 1998, representatives of 45 US-based organizations >convened in Washington D.C. to establish a Solidarity Network.(1) >In sum, in countries around the globe there are energetic >activists for whom a central political and social commitment is >solidarity with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, the >EZLN. They consider Subcomandante Marcos and the EZLN to have >articulated the most impressive challenge to neoliberalism and >they see the Zapatistas as the foremost exponents of a >revolutionary way of doing politics through electronic >communication. At the same time that this paragraph both gives credit to the Zapatistas and their supporters and gives the reader a reason for continuing to read the article, it both misrepresents and understates the situation. In the first place, the analogy between the Incas' characterization of Cuzco as the "navel of the world" and Chiapas is badly put. The Zapatistas have been quite clear, and insistent, that they neither see themselves as the center of a global movement (the way the Soviets pretended during the period of the Third International) nor do they even hold their struggle up as a model for others to copy. What the Zapatista rebellion has become is a reference point, an inspiring example of imaginative and creative struggle where people have valiantly resisted the same kind of policies that many other peoples have been subjected to elsewhere, and, simultaneously elaborated alternative ways of organizing their own lives. Second, Hellman repeats the myth that the Zapatistas are "foremost exponents" of "doing politics through electronic communications." This is a myth that needs to be laid to rest. During the ten years or so that the Zapatista movement was developing prior to 1994, there is no evidence that any of its communications involved cyberspace. Their communications networks were primarily word of mouth, some written materials and from time to time, the telephone. The elaboration of the globe circling electronic network of solidarity with the Zapatistas was done, not by them, but by those who sympathized with them and who linked their own struggles to those in Chiapas. As the reader will discover, a little further down in the article, Zapatista communique's reach the Internet through mediators, through journalists or NGOs. Not only does Marcos not sit in the jungle uploading his communique's to the Internet via modem and satellite uplink, but no one in the EZLN is on-line! What the Zapatistas have done is to recognize the importance of the Internet and at the First Intercontinental Encounter in the summer of 1996 called for the creation of an intercontinental network of communication. But even then the point was the interlinking and creation of an intercontinental network of struggle; there was no particular focus on the Internet. The closest things to a Zapatista presence on the Internet is the FZLN (Zaptista National Liberation Front) that operates news lists and web pages out of Mexico City and Enlace Civil, a non-governmental organization that has become a prime conduit for messages coming directly from Zapatista communities in struggle. [NB: before going any further I want to note the following: while I, like Hellman, will use the term "solidarity networks" repeatedly, in the case of the Zapatistas and those who support them this does not have the traditional meaning of those who work only to provide support to some worthy group. The Zapatistas have been quite explicit about wanting to link their struggles to those of others, not just having "others" work for them. This has been understood within the "solidarity" movement and as a general rule when one examines the various organizations of solidarity one finds groups that are also involved in local struggles as well as in providing "support" to the Zapatistas. For those in the "solidarity networks" on the Internet, one dimension of our efforts has been to facilitate linkages between the Zapatistas and other groups in struggle.] > Why is the drama in Chiapas so compelling? What is the >appeal that has led so many progressive people outside Mexico to >make it the focus of their attention? In the early days the >caustic observations, self-reflexive wit, and biting perception >of Marcos held foreigners spellbound and surprised and charmed >millions of Mexicans. But beyond the figure of Marcos - heroic, >analytic, rebellious, amusing and solemn by turns - stands the >appeal of the events as seen from a great distance. As Pierluigi >Sullo, Nino Lisi, and Marcello Vigli all note and debate in the >pages of the Italian daily, Il Manifesto, the vast mobilization >around Chiapas in Italy, the avalanche of signatures on the >petitions of protest, and the massive participation in the >national demonstrations protesting the massacre at Acteal "mean >something important for the left."(2) > "As seen from a great distance." With these six words Hellman subtly begins her polemic. We can already suspect that in what follows, starting with the Italians, she will be talking about those who "only" know events in Chiapas at a "great distance" and we already suspect, that their knowledge will be flawed. > But what, exactly, does it mean? What accounts for the >European, Canadian and American left's ferocious attachment, not >to say obsession, with Chiapas? Is the appeal to those so far >from Chiapas based only on the ease with which Marcos's >utterances can be interpreted and reshaped to cover every event, >to speak to every personal and collective need? When Michel Lowy >writes with enthusiasm, "It is a movement freighted with magic, >with myths, utopias, poetry, romanticism, enthusiasms and wild >hopes, with 'mysticism' ... and with faith. It is also full of >insolence, humour, irony and self-irony," he has catalogued many >of the elements of the appeal that the struggle of miserably >poor, vulnerable people have for those whose circumstances are so >different. As he himself notes, "This ability to reinvent the >re-enchantment of the world is no doubt one of the reasons why >Zapatism is so fascinating to people far beyond the mountains of >Chiapas."(3) At this point the polemic abandons subtlety for nastiness. The Left, she suggests, is not only "attached to" but "obsessed" with Chiapas. Both of these terms are characterizations of emotions, of passions. The image she evokes is not that of activists drawn to support the Zapatistas for rational reasons, for example because it does provide an excellent critique of neoliberalism and because it is imaginative in its methods and innovations. No, it is an image of irrational, and thus unwarranted, passions. When she suggests that Marcos' "utterances can be interpreted" to cover any event, speak to any need, she evokes the scam artist, the fortuneteller who spins ambiguities just to dazzle and to gain a buck. Lowy's words, dragged in presumably as second-hand evidence of this humbuggery, provide no such support. On the contrary, they suggest very different reasons why Marcos' words draw attention. Finally, it should be noted that nowhere does she give any example of any set of Marcos' words that are ambiguous or of contradictory interpretations which they support. A skilled rhetorician could, of course, contrive such interpretations from any writing, but Hellman has not even bothered to do that. She is satisfied with leaving the impression of a world of gullible Leftists bedazzled by humbug. Her second suggestion to explain the motivations of those who support the Zapatistas is no more flattering than the first: > If the appeal to outsiders is not strictly a search for >"re-enchantment," by the disenchanted, is it perhaps an impulse >similar to that of Sartre and de Beauvoir who, disheartened by >the prospects for revolutionary change in their own society, >embraced the cause of revolution in the third world? Is it a >contemporary case of involvement with people's struggles >elsewhere in the place of participation and personal investment >in the struggle at home? > In other words, if the "outsiders'" passions aren't just based on humbug it must just be another case of the "thirdworldism" that has often plagued alienated middle-class Leftists in the North. Why she picks on Sartre and de Beauvoir I don't know; she might more usefully, for an English speaking audience, have pointed to Baran and Sweezy and the Monthly Review crowd of the 1950s who wrote of "people's imperialism" and touted Cuba and China while ignoring working class struggle in the United States. She doesn't answer her own rhetorical question of course; she leaves it hanging. But she leaves the reader with two initial images of Zapatista supporters: gullible and bamboozled and/or alienated and desperate. When she turns from rhetorical questions to her own view of why so many people support the Zapatistas, we discover what she thinks is those supporters' third and equally unappealing trait: they are lovers of simple-minded dichotomies who refuse engage the real complexities of the situation. > Unquestionably much of the appeal to outsiders of the >events in southern Mexico lies in the apparent extremity of the >case. It appears as a direct confrontation between the powerless >and the powerful, the pure and the impure, the honest and the >corrupt. Given the elegant simplicity of these images in a world >normally filled with ambiguities (or worse, postmodern >relativism!), it is not surprising that there are progressive >people around the world who would do anything to support the >struggle in Chiapas except learn the confusing details. In >short, there is a great resistance on the part of many abroad to >acknowledge and integrate into their analysis the immense >complexity of the forces at play in Chiapas today. > In this essay I propose to examine a number of the >complexities that make the situation at once so explosive and so >resistant to resolution. In doing so I will identify the >reductionism that produces a simplified version of events that is >necessarily misleading. Here we have the basic thrust of the whole piece. It is a tried and true rhetorical strategy: portray those you would critique as either unwilling or unable to confront the "complexity" of the issues and then win points by displaying your own better grasp of what they miss or by pointing to those who know better. It is similar to the strategy of branding an opponent's argument "inadequate." Because it is never possible for anyone to grasp every detail of a situation, any analysis can always be proved "inadequate" by bring up some aspects they have ignored. In this case what Hellman, who seems to have no personal knowledge of the situation at all, does is to drag in some well known academics and the results of a few interviews to argue that those in involved in the Zapatista support networks are ignorant, nai:ve, lazy and therefore must have bad politics. Moreover she proposes to "analyse" the specific way in which these well-intentioned fools have used the Internet. >I will then analyse the very mixed role of electronic >communication which has, on the one hand, saved countless lives >by relaying information on military and paramilitary violence and >human rights abuses around the world, but has also provided a >remarkably "flattened" picture of the actors and events in >Chiapas. This picture constitutes a kind of "virtual" Chiapas >that is instantly available to us on a computer screen, (4) but >which bears only a very partial resemblance to the "real" Chiapas >that Chiapanecans themselves or foreign activists, human rights >workers, EZLN sympathizers, or even casual visitors would find on >the ground in southern Mexico. On the one hand, Hellman is forced to recognize that despite its asserted deficiencies, the information relayed by Zapatista supporters has "saved countless lives" -which of course has been a major goal of the movement. On the other hand, despite this success she is going to spend some thousands of words trying to convince us that that information "bears only a very partial resemblance to the 'real' Chiapas." Now, like her previous evocation of simplicities, this "partial resemblance" is a characterization that can be made of absolutely any representation, no matter how exhaustive. It is never possible to completely and accurately represent any reality through any media, not the Internet, not books, not films, not articles or artwork. The real issue is not whether a given representation is exact but whether it achieves its goals. The only goal that she has evoked so far is that of saving lives and by that criterion, and her own account, the information circulated has been effective. (Footnote 4) In this footnote Hellman specifies that by the "Internet" she means "the most commonly accessible sites that people interested in Chiapas would be most likely to find while surfing the world wide web." Despite the fact that the websites that she cites in her footnote contain the extensive archives of the listservs that deal with Chiapas (including Chiapas95, Chiapas-L and reg.mexico on PeaceNet) there is absolutely no evidence that Hellman spend any time at all researching these sources. This is a fundamental methodological flaw in her whole research because by limiting herself to websites (and only part of those sites at that) she limited herself to examining only those scattered moments that have been drawn out of the continuing flow of information on Chiapas that has circulated in the solidarity networks and placed on web pages. She is therefore completely blind to not only the vast majority of information that has circulated but to the daily experience of that flow. She could have sought to reconstruct that experience by reading the archives but there is no indication that she did. Many of the misrepresentations that fill her essay are the direct result of this neglect. The "Internet" is not the web. It is something much vaster and more alive. For the most part the web is a stock of accumulated pieces of information. Over time there is something like a flow as web pages are constructed and expanded, but it is generally slow and cumulative. The real flows are the daily postings of e-mail that circulate through the aforementioned listservs and PeaceNet conferences, that pour into the mailboxes of those in the solidarity networks throughout the day and night. No serious assessment of what is known by, or familiar to, those in the networks is possible without an examination of those flows. And no such examination informed this article. > Finally, I will highlight the political perils of intense >involvement with a virtual Chiapas. What harm, we might ask, is >done if people thousands of miles away seize upon a set of >images, symbols, and slogans that consolidate their sense that >they form part of an international force that confronts >neoliberalism? To be sure, there is no harm in much of this >enthusiasm and, indeed, many foreign Zapatista solidarity groups >are explicit on the need to support the effort in Chiapas by >pursuing struggles closer to home. However, I will show that >virtual Chiapas holds a seductive attraction for disenchanted and >discouraged people on the left that is fundamentally different >than the appeal of the struggles underway in the real Chiapas. >Solidarity with the real people who inhabit the real Chiapas >requires far greater political maturity and tolerance for >ambiguity than the most passionately dedicated support for >virtual Chiapas. It reflects a severe problem in the contemporary >left's politics that energetic solidarity for Chiapas often seems >to require unambiguously downtrodden indios who are homogeneously >good and pure, not multi-faceted, fully developed people with >varied and divisive interests, not to mention complex individual >personalities. Understandable as the urge to simplify may be, I >will show that it is politically important to distinguish between >the Chiapas on our computer screens and the actual situation on >the ground. Whether and to what degree, Hellman actually highlights any "political perils" of the solidarity movement I will leave aside for the moment. Certainly none are even evoked here. What she does do is continue to vilify those in the solidarity movement in a condescending manner and to caricature them without any evidence whatsoever about real individuals. They are "disenchanted and discouraged people on the left" she says, who, out of their desperation are "passionately dedicated" to an illusion. They are simple-minded folk who "require unambiguously downtrodden indios who are homogeneously good and pure, etc." Who are these people? What are they disenchanted by and what has discouraged them? We don't know and she doesn't tell. The only group that I can think of that even begins to fit this description are those segments of the Old pro-Soviet Left in Latin America that fell apart with the collapse of the Wall in 1989, who abandoned revolutionary activity, often doing their best to join the establishment. Are these who she is referring to? Certainly, I can say, from within the Zapatista solidarity movement that the vast majority of the people there engaged have no such history. On the contrary, as suggested at the outset above, many in the movement cut their teeth in cyberspace in the very substantial, very complex battle around NAFTA. Though they lost that battle the experience of trans-border mobilization produced not disenchantment but further struggle and a new sense of possibilities. Perhaps Hellman can find a few individuals in the solidarity networks who fit her description, but she hasn't named any. All she has done is continue sketching a pathetic, disreputable cartoon figure to deride. Moreover, she has yet to demonstrate the "flatness" she claims, the dramatic discrepancy between the representation of the situation in Chiapas and the "reality" on the ground, a "reality" whose difference from its representation, she claims, even casual (hers) acquaintance reveals. >Points of Agreement > > There are, or course, some aspects of the case about which >there is little or no controversy. For example, all reliable >accounts of the background to the Zapatista uprising necessarily >emphasize the ironic and tragic disparity of a land exceptionally >rich in resources populated by the poorest people in what is >still a country comprised, in the majority, of poor people.(5) >In this internal colony, a population that is substantially >without proper shelter, adequate food, drinking water, or >electricity, "exports" timber, corn, beans, gas, oil, and >hydroelectric power to the rest of Mexico. At this point Hellman begins her sketch of the "real" situation in Chiapas based primarily on a handful of second-hand academic studies, what she calls "reliable accounts." This reliability, of course, is to be juxtaposed to the unreliability (because of its simple mindedness) of the representation of the situation on the Internet. The irony is that the very "reliable" sources she cites include precisely those books that have been consumed avidly within the solidarity network! Some examples: George Collier and Elizabeth Quarantiello's Basta! Land and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas (1994) and Neil Harvey, Rebellion in Chiapas (1998). In fact, Collier's writings on Chiapas in Cultural Survival were being shared and cited on the web well before his book appeared. And when it did appear not only did I review it and circulate that review in the cyberspacial spaces of the solidarity network, but also the review was so favorable that Collier sent me an e-mail of thanks! Similarly with Neil Harvey. Before his book appeared, Harvey's writings on Chiapas were circulated in working paper form by UCSD and like Colliers' were widely shared and discussed in the solidarity network. When Gilly published El Vento del Sur, its issues were rapidly snatched up by the solidarity network. And the same has been true of the journal Chiapas. There has been one notable hurdle to the widely shared goal of circulating such material as quickly as possible on the Internet: the academic need for publication and for individualidentification with new ideas and research. There are academics otherwise quite willing to share their work with the solidarity networks who are loath to put material in cyberspace before it has been published in hard copy for fear that it will be "stolen" and someone else will get credit. And after it has been so published they have often not retained copyrights so that they could so post the material. This said, the truth of the matter is that a substantial component of the pro-Zapatista solidarity network is based in universities and part of their contribution to the movement has been to do what university types do by reflex: search out and identify, and then share, the best and most useful of academic work on the issue at hand. For Hellman to juxtapose these two domains as if they were separate and unconnected, displays not only a misunderstanding of those in the network, but of its very modes of functioning. As for Hellman's opening description of the "complex" economic situation of Chiapas (that shows as I mentioned above how connected the state has been the rest of Mexican capitalism) that information is familiar to those in the network, if not from books like Harvey's and Collier's, then from Marcos' classic 1992 essay, "The South in Two Winds" that was not only widely distributed in cybperspace but also widely reproduced and circulated in hard copy. > Common as well to all serious analyses of the causes of the >upheaval in Chiapas is a focus on the recent decades of rapid >economic change stimulated by a mass of state-sponsored programs >that followed centuries of neglect by the central government in >Mexico City. The populist program of President Luis Echeverri'a >(1970-1976) required a vastly expanded state presence in Chiapas >and precipitated a tenfold increase in public spending in this >previously marginal corner of the Republic. Within a very brief >period, both the political economy and social structure of >Chiapas were transformed by ambitious projects: investments in >roads, dams, petroleum extraction, cultivation and >commercialization of coffee, development of cattle and milk >industries, and "colonization" schemes to move landless peasants >from other parts of Mexico and other regions of the state of >Chiapas into the Lacandon rainforest. These state policies >pushed Chiapanecans into the world economy, even as the wars in >Central America and the refugee flows they produced, altered the >structure of employment throughout southern Mexico. All of this is well known to those in the solidarity networks who discovered this history the same way Hellman did, by reading good books by good people. She overstates the case about Chiapas being only recently pushed into the world economy. In truth the Spanish did that long ago and as Traven so vividly portrayed, some industries, like the lumber business, have been exploiting the people and forests of Chiapas for decades. > Naturally, these transformations touched different groups >of indigenous people in different ways, further impoverishing >some, while opening to others alternatives to subsistence farming >and new sources of income in transport, construction, oil, cattle >and dairy production. And soon the disequilibrium produced by >these economic and social changes was intensified by the crash of >the oil boom that had drawn so many indigenous people from the >central highlands into wage labour on the gulf coast.(6) Over >the next decade, the social tensions produced by the oil boom and >bust were deepened by a series of political and economic shocks: >the debt crisis of 1982, the fall of coffee prices, and, finally, >the neoliberal program of President Carlos Salinas (1988-1994) >which, for Chiapanecos, principally involved the elimination of >price supports to corn and basic grain producers and the >alteration of Article 27 of the Constitution, a concession to >Mexico's NAFTA partners that spelled the end of the land >distribution program that had been the key element in maintaining >social peace in the Mexican countryside. Not only is all this well known, but if Hellman had been familiar with the genesis of the Zapatista solidarity network she might have noted not only how the change in Article 27 was an attack on communal ejidal property aimed at bringing about the final enclosure of the Chiapan countryside, also how in part because of this, indigenous issues like land were an integral part of the discussions around the struggle to block the passage of NAFTA. There is a continuity here, not only in Chiapas but in the multinational circuits of struggle from which part of the Zapatista solidarity networks would spring. > Thus, the framework for understanding the remote and >immediate causes of the outbreak of armed conflict in Chiapas >centres on this series of changes. The most useful analyses >inevitably set this rapid penetration of capitalist relations and >the hyper-involvement and subsequent withdrawal of the state >against a background of racist oppression of the indigenous >population that began with the Spanish Conquest and continues in >most respects unabated to the present day. Moreover, such >analyses emphasize the way that the landed oligarchy of Chiapas >historically utilized both a racist discourse and control of the >PRI, that is, the Institutional Revolutionary Party's apparatus >in Tuxtla Gutie'rrez, the state capital, to reinforce its >economic, social, and political domination. Under the >circumstances, the intervention of the federal government >challenged the hegemony, but ultimately did not undermine the >control, of the Chiapanecan oligarches, while the social >upheavals created by the economic transformations of the 1970s >and 1980s stimulated a new militancy and consciousness among both >indigenous and mestizo peasants. In virtually all accounts of >the events, it is this heightened consciousness that provides the >precondition for the Zapatista uprising in 1994. While of this is more or less true, and well known, there are two problems with this brief synopsis. First, Hellman, in traditional orthodox Marxist fashion, locates the stimulus to change in the dynamics of capitalist development. State and private business intervention changes things and the peasants merely react to these exogenous forces. Second, that reaction is conceived first and foremost in terms of "consciousness" which is "heightened" by capitalist actions and brings on new forms of struggle. The problems are that in the both cases Hellman ignores the long history of indigenous struggle, both passive and violent, that marks the interactions of the people of Chiapas with their exploiters. The new state initiatives in Chiapas, as elsewhere in Mexico, came in response to wide variety of struggles against the PRIista single party state. "Populist programs" were the carrot that accompanied the stick of slaughter and repression that came in reaction to those struggles. The "heightened" consciousness evokes the specter of a long previous period of quietude when in fact a combination of resistance and the transformative use of tradition had long characterized the social scene in Chiapas, as elsewhere in Mexico. The changes Hellman has noted down from reading Collier and Harvey and others are important but as those authors know they were not sudden splashes in a hitherto quiet pool. In terms of actual organizing Hellman's sketch of the emergence of a new cycle of struggle begins reasonably enough: > This militancy found two forms of expression. The first >grew out of the outreach activities of the Catholic diocese under >the leadership of Bishop Samuel Rui'z.(7) Their activities began >in the 1960s with the training of catechists who fanned out >across the highlands, presenting the Bible and sermons translated >into indigenous languages and urging the people to talk about >their oppression and to consider their rights.(8) These >grassroots efforts culminated in 1974 in the First Indigenous >Congress which brought together 1,250 Indian delegates from more >than 300 communities. Informed by the new concepts of liberation >theology, the Congress was sponsored by the Mexican state, but >appropriated by Bishop Samuel Rui'z and the catechists as a means >to give voice to indigenous communities, encouraging them to >select their own delegates and conceptualize their problems in >their own words. As Collier notes, the Congress "provided a >model of bottom-up organizing upon which independent peasant >organizations subsequently drew," and offered the opportunity to >give expression to the grievances of indigenous Chiapanecans in >terms that precisely prefigured the discourse of the Zapatistas >twenty years later.(9) Except for portraying the indigenous as a passive set of victims only mobilized into action by Catholic professionals, this is an accurate enough sketch. A better one would require some account of the interaction of those professionals with the communities within which they moved -the kind of account that Marcos has given of his own early encounters with the indigenous and how he soon discovered himself the student instead of the teacher. Although I have never seen such an account by the catechists who went into the villages, I suspect the story is much the same. As the indigenous have said about the new priest that recently replaced Samuel Ruiz, "don't worry, we'll educate him soon enough." >The second type of militancy took the form of peasant unions, >often tied to radical national organizations. Organized in many >cases by veterans of the urban student movement that had been >savagely repressed in October 1968, these new formations of the >left reflected the belief of so many former student activists >that only through the long-term, painstaking development of mass >movements of the poor in the countryside and in urban shantytowns >would it be possible to challenge the hegemony of the political >elite entrenched in Mexico City. Once again, the portrayal here is completely one-sided: outside agitators who "organize" the peasants. It is good that Hellman recognizes (and it would be hard to miss in the books she has been reading) the linkages between the struggles of the 1960s and those of the 1970s. But we still await a better account of this encounter between students and peasants, or of the continuities between the peasant struggles of the 1960s (which were also violently repressed by the state) and those of the 1970s. >These organizations appeared in Chiapas shortly after the First >Indigenous Congress demonstrated so clearly the capacity of >indigenous people to come together across ethnic and linguistic >lines and to grasp and articulate their own grievances.(10) The >history of this organizational effort in the 1970s and 1980s is - >not surprisingly - a history of alliances and schisms. It is a >tale of collaboration and cooperation, but also of rivalry >between and among maoists, communists, trotskyists, independent >agraristas, Catholic missionaries and catechists, and Evangelical >Protestants - all set against the cooptive efforts of the >Mexican state to sponsor its own competing peasant >organizations.(11) The Zapatista movement is clearly an >outgrowth of the activities of these predecessor organizations. >It reflects the commitment of these precursors to the basic >principle of stimulating indigenous leadership and organization >from below. However, zapatismo also represents a reaction >against the compromises with the system in which so many of these >organizations eventually became involved. Again, on the whole, this is more or less accurate as a sketch of how the Zapatista movement emerged from within a larger cycle of struggle with a complex array of actors, both local and from the "outside." If I were telling the story I would put more emphasis on how "indigenous leadership" interacted with the "outsiders" and how the ideas of those "outsiders" were often appropriated and transformed by that leadership, but basically the text gives a flavor of the times. The only real shortcoming is the feeling one is left with that the Zapatista movement is only the latest, and perhaps most successful, example of a series of "outside" interventions. It would be more accurate to say that the Zapatista movement emerged from the way the communities digested all of these experiences and appropriated them for their own purposes. The Mexican government, like the white Southern power structure during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, has long attempted to portray the Zapatistas as a bunch of outside agitators manipulating the poor Indians. But as in the US South, the image is an intentional misrepresentation of a grassroots movement. Yes, outside agitators came in, both religious and secular. But the communities either chewed them up and spat them out (like the ex-Maoist Orive who joined the state and has played a key role in counterinsurgency efforts against the Zapatistas) or absorbed and transformed them (like Marcos). > Thus there is little disagreement about the origins of the >Zapatista movement in these two earlier organizational efforts, >religious and secular. Moreover, for all the different >interpretations regarding the nature of zapatismo,(12) there is a >clear consensus that a distinguishing characteristic of the >movement is the way in which, over a period of more than a >decade, it slowly constructed a wide and solid base of support >among an assortment of ethnic groups in the highlands of Chiapas. >Unlike the classic guerrilla foco that hopes to attract a >following after revolutionary activity has been launched, the >Zapatistas were firmly supported by thousands of adherents in >villages throughout their zone of operations. This distinction is an important one, and one the Zapatistas have reiterated again and again. While they revere Che as a symbolic figure of the revolution in Latin America their methods and their politics have been entirely different. Che went to Bolivia, remained isolated and was tracked down and killed. Marcos went to Chiapas, was absorbed by the communities and remade as their spokesperson and intermediary to the world. The only thing that is missing here is the symbiosis between movement and communities. It is not that the Zapatistas are a military force, recruited from who knows where, that is "supported" by the villages. The Zapatistas are villagers who have joined the EZLN and taken up arms. The are supported in the sense of being supplied food and aid and information by their families and friends who continue the day to day activities of farming, hunting and gathering, artisanal and waged labor through which the communities survive. .... end of part 1 of 4 .......................................................................... Snail-mail: Harry Cleaver Department of Economics University of Texas at Austin Austin, Texas 78712-1173 USA Phone Numbers: (hm) (512) 442-5036 (off) (512) 475-8535 Fax:(512) 471-3510 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org PGP Public Key: http://certserver.pgp.com:11371/pks/lookup?opget&searchhmcleave Cleaver homepage: http://www.eco.utexas.edu/faculty/Cleaver/index2.html Chiapas95 homepage: http://www.eco.utexas.edu/faculty/Cleaver/chiapas95.html Accion Zapatista homepage: http://www.utexas.edu/students/nave/ .......................................................................... -- To unsubscribe from this list send a message containing the words unsubscribe chiapas95 (or chiapas95-lite, or chiapas95-english, or chiapas95-espanol) to email@example.com. Previous messages are available from http://www.eco.utexas.edu/faculty/Cleaver/chiapas95.html or gopher to Texas, University of Texas at Austin, Department of Economics, Mailing Lists.