Interview with Subcomandante Marcos, Part III: “The ruling class and the system don’t have a solution”
Many Are Going to Be Surprised by the Left that Will Emerge
By Hermann Bellinghausen
May 18, 2006
In the final part of his conversation with La Jornada, Subcomandante Marcos comments on the Left, from the perspective of the Other Campaign, and with the assertion that the ruling class and political system “don’t have a solution.” He revisits the circumstances in which the proposal for this alternative movement first emerged, and evaluates the current state of the indigenous movement. Finally, he shares his thoughts on the immigrant rights mobilizations in the United States, and the move towards the left unfolding in South America, especially identifying and sympathizing with Bolivia.
La Jornada: Behind the new stage of civilian Zapatismo in Chiapas, what is happening?
Marcos: The political-military structure went silent, which didn’t mean that we were preparing a military attack, but something else entirely that wasn’t negotiation or uprising. We made a theoretical and practical analysis. The theoretical part has to with the fact that, in the current context of neoliberalism, nation-states are being destroyed. At the same time that they break down borders so that goods can cross, they erect new borders so that people cannot cross. There’s this paradox, all over the world, that capital is everywhere at once. Type in a few keys, and your money is wherever you want it to be; a few gestures and an empty warehouse becomes a maquiladora, then disappears and reappears again in some other corner of the planet.
But not human beings. They remain completely compartmentalized, and in a much crueler way than ever before. At the same time that a nation-state is destroyed, the ruling class that made it possible is also destroyed. In this process of destruction, Carlos Salinas de Gortari began to kill and co-opt. I bring that up, because nobody up above seems to remember all the people who died in the PRD, who according to us, weren’t so much from the PRD as they were from real social struggle for a better quality of life. He who forgets his own dead is dead.
So, we said, okay, the ruling class doesn’t have a solution. The compañeros of the National Indigenous Congress have denounced the new laws passed by congress. They are passed unanimously. Up there, there is no right or left, and these laws are paving the way, legally, for the transnationals to come in and steal land from the indigenous, and install projects where they have no business doing so, destroying the environment. We didn’t learn all this from a book. The people themselves told us about it. And if they’re scared by the violence, what comes after is worse. Someone imagined what might eventually happen in the all “belts of misery” around the edge of Mexico City, that people would reach their limit and descend on the city, like in the movies, to invade the streets and houses. But it turns out, that’s not how it is, that the growth of capital in the city is also pushing on those marginalized areas, pushing them farther and farther out.
LJ: It has been said that the Other Campaign is gathering up the castaways from the shipwreck, the “Neanderthal left,” and that the “civilized and democratic” left isn’t with the Other Campaign. To say that the Other Campaign is the only national leftist movement, isn’t that exclusive?
Marcos: There are some basic definitions of the left. One definition refers to the economic system. Then there’s the cultural left, against chauvinism, misogyny, homophobia. The political left has to be defined in relationship to the economic system, and it has to be anti-capitalist; it has to define itself fundamentally in terms of holding the system responsible, not just an administration. The Other Campaign locates itself in the anti-capitalist left, and doesn’t go farther than that. That’s why the Other Campaign talks about rebellion, and not about revolution.
It’s a school, not just for the people themselves, but also for the policies of the left. The left that is going to emerge from the Other Campaign is going to surprise a lot of people, especially those who say that it’s just the “same old people.” It may be “the same old people,” but their common characteristic is that they haven’t sold out or given up. Sure, they have all their imperfections, but they are honest people. And that honesty was what kept them from selling out or giving up, and it’s now helping them learn from others.
LJ: What is the role of the indigenous movement? What situation is it in?
Marcos: With the indigenous movement we have coincided, more than anything, in the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) in the Central-Pacific region. Even without being familiar with the Sixth Declaration of the Lancandon Jungle, they came to the same conclusions. The nucleus of the CNI that is still active saw that the “ruling class doesn’t offer any solution, and that here we have an economic problem and a party system problem.” So basically, they told us, ‘We agree now that we are in fact talking about the same thing, in the same way.”
Now we insist on trying to rebuild the CNI, together with them. We worry that the Other Campaign, when it gets where it’s going, might leave the indigenous out again; that everything ends up being about housing, and workers, and farmers, and well yes, the State…once again the indigenous don’t exist. They may be workers or farmers or poor people, but they don’t have the same identity. That’s why we have insisted that the indigenous sector has to exist within the Other Campaign, have it’s space within the Other Campaign, and start out with an educational process, so they are understood. We thought it would be a lot of work, but it’s already happening. The indigenous movement will end up being the most important teacher in this school. The clearest, most profound lessons, are those that have come from the indigenous.
LJ: The Other Campaign is such a diversity of differences and attitudes. Within that context, has it been possible to unite all of these expressions?
Marcos: We are in the stage of getting to know each other. When they harm one of us, they harm all of us. Without the Other Campaign, the Atenco story would be different. It would only be the organizations with which they already had connections, but now it is a national and international issue. It places them within a movement, because the refrain is: harm one of us, harm all of us.
We all have to take care of all of us. That’s the difference.
Development and progress have an above and a below. And what we have seen is that the development and progress of above are actually underdevelopment and impediment. Like the reform of Article 27, with its prophets, who are now all in decline, who swore that they were going to save rural Mexico, because land privatization would promote development, when all the campesinos wanted was to have their small piece of land. All the destruction of rural Mexico is founded in that. In the development of agribusiness; of landlords and landowners; in land grabs. This development and progress has increased the number of people looking for work on the other side of the border, drug trafficking, and the destruction of entire communities.
We’re all cornered, silenced, forgotten. They don’t see us. They don’t take us into consideration. We are on the defensive. We find ourselves here and we are seeing that we’re stronger than we thought. It doesn’t matter if we appear in the history books; what’s important to us is our place as indigenous, and I’m not just talking about the Zapatistas. With the discussions in Tuxpan (Jalisco), and later in the Nahua region of Manantlan, we saw how the system is stripping the environment. It was horrifying. And we heard the same conviction that we have to do something. The same conviction that we heard from our Huichol compañeros. This sentiment isn’t measured in the polls, nor in the sympathy (or lack thereof) of someone watching from the other side. We think we have made the right choice in looking towards the bottom, and that yes, maybe they say that this wasn’t the right moment, that it’s unfavorable. But the situation is really dramatic.
The two options are there. For us, we prefer the popular, non-violent option. It’s more inclusive, richer, less destructive, fewer deaths. And in the context of all the problems and repression, because we don’t mean to say that it’s going to be smooth sailing. But it will be easier than a war, and if we don’t build the Other Campaign, what might happen instead is a civil war. The Other Campaign is the only alternative for the survival of this country. How it will be done, with what system, and all that, is something will all have to build together.
The moment will come when this movement evaluates its strength. That moment in which a movement evaluates what it can do and when; decides the date, hour, and place for bringing down the government and kicking out the rich. When the people start to tell you, “even if we have to die for it,” or maybe they don’t say it, but you can see that it has come to that; when you say, these people don’t have any other options, then it will happen. The mistake is to not make that seen. The Other Campaign is against these two options: complete destruction or collapse brought on by fragmentation and lack of unity.
LJ: Will it be as if the country has broken its spine?
Marcos: The Balkans, Lebanon. Countries that lose their identity, where you cross the street onto one gang’s turf then cross another street and you’re in another gang’s turf. That’s how they describe Beirut: so many groups, without direction, without anything. Like all the ruling class, the PAN, PRI, and PRD, and all the little politicians, they already lost their legitimacy and their capacity for dialogue. It’s not a question of with whom they have a dialogue; it’s that they don’t have anything to dialogue about. In the case of Atenco, the only thing they can do is release the prisoners and deactivate the red light, as they call it, and let the Other Campaign go on. If not, they will just be exacerbating the situation. They think it’s going to deflate on it’s own, and it won’t. It has been growing, and everyone knows it.
LJ: Why have many intellectuals, who were previously supportive, distanced themselves? Are they just less interested, or are they really upset?
Marcos: Because another path was chosen. We thought about this at the beginning. If the sympathy from a group of intellectuals was part of the coverage protecting us from a military attack, at the moment that those intellectuals, or an important part of them, sympathized with those above, while at the same time we were rejecting those above, then they would be breaking ties with us. We knew it would happen. But we won’t forget what they’ve done for us. We appreciate it, even though now they are shitting on us, because we do remember.
LJ: What does the immigrant movement in the United States have to do with the Other Campaign?
Marcos: We are reaching the immigrants on two levels. On one hand, we are reaching them at the grassroots, with their families. Wherever the Other Campaign passes, they tell us that practically everyone they know has lost someone, either because they’ve died, or because they’ve crossed the border and not come back, and they feel the need to rebuild not just their family, but their community.
They tell us that this is what happened with their parents, men and women, young people, who had to migrate, because our country couldn’t offer them dignified work. And they talk about the sacrifice they have to make in order to get the money to cross, and without even knowing if they’ll get across. On this level, down below, the situation is one of economic desperation.
This is the part “from below.” But we also looked at the part from above in the moment that these compañeros up there said, this is the problem, this is what led to us voting from up here, so far from our families. And there’s no political option either. We need to participate in something else that recognizes us, because the immigrant sector in the United States is like a hunting ground, especially right now with the vote also happening on this side, and these groups have succeeded in building something inside the empire with this strength and rebellion, and they’re not going to be won over easily by any politician back home, as leftwing as he may say he is. At the moment that they see that the Other Campaign is a space where they can conserve their autonomy, their independence, their identity…well they join us.
We can see that over time the rate of migration is going to increase. With Fox’s cynicism, saying that the national economy is in good shape, because the immigrants are regularly sending their money back. But the United States government is going to close the border in lots of different ways. It is going to deport people and obtain the Mexican government’s acquiescence in closing the border.
So this is going to turn into a pressure cooker. Where are the people going to go, without work, without land, stripped of everything they had? It’s creating an intense social strain, from which there’s really no exit, not through employment, not through anything, because there’s nothing to produce or sell. People tell us that sometimes they have tons of corn, but they can’t harvest it, because the price is so low, it’s costs them more to harvest it than to leave it.
Why would you cultivate corn, or some other product, if there’s nothing to gain from it? So that all falls apart, and instead we are importing food. Just like in a war, where the army destroys everything and the crops are all lost, and the people have to flee. In this case, the millions of displaced are the ones who sustain the economy, but that can be sustained for very long. In that sense, the Other Campaign, on both sides of the border, is paying attention to what’s happening down below, which is where we should be, among the families and those who have left.
This is the Other Mexico that we are going to unite. All of that mobilization is happening outside of the political parties, because now it’s neither the Democrats nor the Republicans up there; there’s no party for them to go to. And that is part of the political crisis happening all over the world, and in order for those movements to survive there, as they are, with their latino identity, and not just Mexicans, they are also reaching that point of saying, we have to do something. And none of the organizers, none of the convokers, expected this level of participation. Things are happening that the political columnists don’t find in their textbooks, that don’t have anything to do with the traditional balances of power. No one was paying attention to what’s happening down below, no one noticed that, down below, there is a process that doesn’t depend on what is happening up above with the political parties or with the ruling class.
In the moment in which they begin to propose unified actions, that is when they’ll say, this is like what happened on January 1, 1994, but civil and peaceful. But in both cases, what honor flows in Mexican blood.
LJ: Is the Other Campaign going to be received well when it gets close to the border?
Marcos: There are already actions underway with Other Campaign compañeros on the other side. We’ve said that we need to build a different country so that our people don’t have to leave, and so those who already left have the option to come back. What they have built up there is part of us, it’s as if we exported a piece of Mexico north of the Rio Grande. In our own history, it is part of our pain, but also part of the same organizing experience. They are coming together as Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Chiapanecos, because there are lots of states that are dedicated to exporting indigenous people. We want to create a different Mexico, where all the things that force people to migrate are taken into account; where we can say that there is room here, that people can come back and they don’t have to leave.
LJ: What is the scenario today that the Other Campaign faces today in Latin America?
Marcos: In the case of Bolivia, it was spun as if we were rejecting and snubbing the movement, because we didn’t go to the inauguration of Evo Morales. We say that there, in contrast to Mexico and other places, a popular movement actually succeeded in breaking the structure and replacing it with one of theirs. So that presents all kinds of problems like what kind of relationship should exist between the government and the movement. What they should do there is look towards the bottom, towards the movement that made it all possible; and respect its decisions. Not the decisions being made at the institutional government level, but the decisions being made at the bottom.
LJ: What is the problem with the governmental institution in Bolivia?
Marcos: It’s looking upwards. Evo is in power, he’s president, but in that context the government should be looking downwards.
LJ: So you don’t see it as popular power?
Marcos: Not yet. It could emerge as that. We are still paying attention to what the grassroots say, the popular indigenous movement at the root of all this. We told them: we look upwards when the people down below tell us to. We feel strong ties to the indigenous movement in Bolivia. They are the ones keeping an eye on how everything is going, how things are progressing, and it would have been a mistake on our part, not just within the Other Campaign in Mexico, but on a continental level, to look upwards and not downwards.
Just like we send Zapatista corn to the Cuban people, not the Cuban government. If the government wants to get involved, that is their issue, not ours. And especially in this case, it is a strong message from the left. Because right now it’s all the fashion in the democratic left, the progressive left, or I don’t even know what to call it, to criticize Cuba, forgetting about the embargo, and not making the distinction between Castro and Cuba. A truly leftist position would be to say, here is an abuse of power against a people and the most important thing is solidarity. The people can make their own decisions. The Cuban people brought down Batista – no one can tell them what a dictator is.
LJ: With the recent changes in government, do you think a real transformation is happening in Latin America?
Marcos: Not yet. There are two examples. One is the example of Lula, in Brazil, which we see as the North American option for power in Latin America and the rest of the world, which reconstructs the administrative state for the right, while talking to the left. The other example is Bolivia, with all the implications of an insurrection movement placing Evo Morales in power.
LJ: Argentina, Uruguay?
Marcos: There it is even more diluted. The thing is that, everywhere, traditional states are breaking down, leaving two options: the right and the left. But as long as they are just administrators, the only difference between them is in the rhetoric. And sometimes not even in the rhetoric, like in the cases of Chile and Uruguay, and in Mexico. The most interesting situation is the one in Bolivia, for what it could mean. And then there is the constant friction between Lula and the MST (Landless Workers Movement), for all the demands with which Lula hasn’t complied with, and meanwhile he is imposing a neo-liberal economic model.
LJ: Has the MST approached the Other Campaign?
Marcos: Yes, and they are interested in this idea of proposing a new path, one that isn’t just leftist in its rhetoric, but one that comes out against capitalism. But we are paying the most attention to Bolivia, and where we want to look towards the bottom. We don’t want to tell anyone what to do; we want them to tell us; but it has to come from those at the bottom. We don’t want to hear what Evo Morales has to say about Bolivia, but instead what the indigenous who rose up have to say, what the people who are in struggle in Brazil, in Argentina, everywhere…what those at the bottom have to say. And in the case of Venezuela, same thing, it has to come from those at the bottom.
Click here for Part I of this interview
Click here for Part II
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