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[Nettime-bold] [Fwd: En;Cleaver:Virtual & Real Chiapas Support Networks,Pt 1/4]

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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.
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 

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 

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 

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 

(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 

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 

>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
Harry Cleaver
Department of Economics
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, Texas 78712-1173  USA

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