Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano
April 12, 2017
A few months ago, Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés gave me a more extensive and substantive summary of what he just told you.
Perhaps unintentionally, he had detected a through line between the past and the storm that’s here now.
Early this morning, after listening to the stories—told through the voice of SupMoy—of the oldest of our compañeros, I returned to my hut. In any case, an unseasonal rain had begun to lash the tin roof, and it was impossible to hear anything beside the storm.
I continued rummaging through the trunk that SupMarcos had entrusted to me, because I thought I had seen a text that might relate to what I had just heard.
Reviewing those writings is not easy, believe me. Most of the texts piled in disarray in that trunk date from 1983 to January 1, 1994, and it’s clear that at least until 1992, the Sup not only did not have a computer, he didn’t even have a mechanical typewriter. So the texts are handwritten on pages of all sizes. The deceased’s handwriting was far from legible in any case, in addition to the impact of the time in the mountains, humidity, and tobacco stains and burns.
There’s all kinds of things in there. For example, I found the original manuscript with the operating orders for the different Zapatista military units on the eve of the uprising. Not only do they contain each unit’s makeup, but also each operation, detailed with a thoroughness that reveals years of preparation.
These are not the notes of a poet lost in the mountains of the Mexican southeast, or of a storyteller. They’re the writings of a soldier. No, better said, of a military commander.
But yes, stories and histories also abound and redound. There are a few scattered poems and a sparse array of political and economic analyses.
Well, not so much analyses as schematics and themes in bullet points, as if they were meant to be later developed, or completed, or corrected. I’ve connected some of these with others that were made public later, although by then they were more polished.
But that’s not what I was looking for. The stories that SupMoy collected reminded me that there was something in this messy heap of papers and ideas about the genealogy of anticapitalist struggle.
Here it is. This one does come from after the beginning of the war, because it’s printed and the typography is that of a word processor.
Given its content, it must have been written about 20 years ago, when the Zapatistas made public some deeper analyses about what was happening and what they foresaw would come next. Well, at least the first lines, because some of it seems to come from a later period.
The text has a disconcerting title, but which makes more sense as you keep reading. It’s called “April is also tomorrow,” and following the title are what seem to be points to be developed, left incomplete at the time.
The majority of the concepts appeared fully developed in texts that were made public around the years 1996-1997, so I won’t bore you by repeating them here again. The main ones have now been grouped together in a book called Writings on War and Political Economy, by the press “Pensamiento Crítico Ediciones” [Critical Thought Press]. If anyone is interested in learning more about those topics, this book might be helpful. Or you can also consult the Enlace Zapatista website.
The part I’m interested in sharing with you now doesn’t appear in any of these published writings and, although only moderately developed in this draft, one can glimpse a series of reflections on social science, that is, political economy, as well as on the old and current challenge of theory and practice.
I’ll read it to you:
“The possible stages of capitalism. More than a scientific definition, the notion that imperialism was the highest stage of capitalism became an action plan for worldwide struggles. From being ‘the highest stage,’ it was concluded that imperialism was the ‘last stage’ of capitalism.
Established upon this base was a kind of international division, not of labor, but of anticapitalist struggle. In the so-called Third World countries which weren’t industrially developed and, therefore, were lacking a solid working class, the struggle for socialism had to go through a nationalist, anti-imperialist, and anticolonial struggle, and only then could these populations aspire to be ‘anticapitalist.’ It was established that the struggle against capitalism and for socialism must necessarily first go through a struggle for national liberation, at least in the so-called Third World countries. In order to transition to socialism, nations first had to liberate themselves from the neocolonial yoke, in this case the one imposed by North American imperialism. The construction of socialism in a sole country wasn’t possible, especially if that country was underdeveloped. The socialist revolution was global or it wasn’t a socialist revolution. Scientific analysis thus became a kind of central command for the global revolution, and it was centered in the USSR. From there came the strategies and tactics for anticapitalist struggles all over the world. Whoever complied with the orders received the approval of the global ‘vanguard.’ Those who didn’t, who tried to construct their own path—that is, their own struggle—were condemned, ostracized, and labeled with whatever disqualification was in style.
The science of history—political economy—stopped being a science and abandoned scientific analysis, replacing it with slogans. If reality didn’t coincide with the vision of the Central Committee, reality was catalogued as reactionary, petit-bourgeois, divisionist, revisionist, and many other such ‘-ists.’ Critical thought went from analysis to justification, and all stumbles and errors were covered up under the alibi of confrontation with North American imperialism. The over-simplification of a bipolar world invaded social science and, just like political forces and governments, it chose sides between the two giant and sole contenders. Intelligence was defeated and mediocrity settled in comfortably.
In the mid-twentieth century, everyone was happy and relaxed. The poorly named ‘Socialist Bloc’ was wholly contained in what we call the Third World War. Struggles in Asia, Africa, and particularly in Latin America played out without particular relevance to that war, the one that mattered, and the political party organizations of the Left at that time were ordered to direct their primary efforts at supporting the Socialist Bloc. Any effort of struggle had to have the approval of the tanks, thinking or not, in the U.S.S.R. where manuals were written that not so much simplified but muzzled the development of social science. As if it were the Olympics, competition in the social sciences was not over who could better understand what was happening and what was to come, but who could raise higher and more frequently their own flag; out with the stars and stripes, out with the hammer and sickle.
On the global stage everything seemed predictable and simple…but that’s when Fidel appeared. And the problem, la problema as the compas say, is that he didn’t arrive by himself, but brought with him a certain Camilo whose last name provided the definition.i With this tremendous pair came the Argentine-doctor-photographer-asthmatic without a last name relevant to the genealogical tree of global revolution, and without official position in any structure. Just a few months later, the entire planet would know him by only three letters: Che.
What happened happened, and the light that illuminated the Caribbean in the early 60s became, unintentionally, a virus that contaminated the continent. After a long calendar of defeats across that wound called Latin America, an entire people was organizing itself, changing its destiny and extending its name.
Ever since the failed mercenary invasion sponsored by North America, Cuba’s name has been Fidel and Fidel Castro has carried ‘Cuba’ as his last name in resistance and rebellion—in struggle.
The smallest, most disparaged and humiliated country rose up and, through organized action, changed world geography.
Within a few years, the statesman put at the head of things by the Cuban people effectively erased all other ‘world leaders’ and, as it should be for such figures, garnered around him two extremes: the few who would praise him, and the majority who would attack him.
Only a handful watched and learned that something new had arisen, and that the Cuban Revolution had done more than rupture the domination imposed across the Americas by the empire of the stars and stripes, the ‘brutal and turbulent north.’ It had also shredded the already lifeless social theory herded along by those commissars who across the political spectrum provide the norm and never the exception.
Sixty years later, there’s still no shortage of old commissars who, from their position ‘heroically’ entrenched in the academy and now armed with social media, attempt to tell the people of Cuba what they should and shouldn’t do and undo.
Far from the theoretical masturbations of the tepid academy, the Cuban people initiated their long road of resistance, advancing in unprecedentedly harsh conditions.
Today [Cuba] still suffers the most extensive and intense economic blockade in world history. And not just that: it has also resisted terrorist attacks and military invasions, handing prideful Uncle Sam his first defeat on the continent and, against all odds, constructing its own destiny.
But it hasn’t only been attacked by the global Right. The well-behaved Left has also besieged the Cuban people, aided by clichés and platitudes which ignore not only Cuba’s reality, but also its heroic efforts to rise above its errors and failures.
With the sole goal of making nice with the Right, the institutional Left worldwide has attacked the Cuban Revolution, repeating the slogans of the Right and complying with current fashions.
The resistance of the Cuban people is so consistent that the intellectual hysteria that abounds and redounds in this broken country called ‘Mexico’ will surely say that it has persisted because it was created by Salinas and is supported by the ‘mafia of power.’
Days after this lightning bolt of military skill and conviction that gave new meaning to a tiny territory and made space for the name ‘Playa Girón’ in the nearly empty trophy cabinet of the global Left, the people of Cuba, on May 1, 1961, through the hoarse voice of a big-bearded man in an olive green combat uniform, uttered the following words:
‘If Mr. Kennedy does not like socialism, well, we do not like imperialism, we do not like capitalism. We have as much right to protest the existence of an imperialist and capitalist regime 90 miles off our coast as he may consider he has the right to protest the existence of a socialist regime 90 miles from his.
Now then, it would not occur to us to protest such a thing, because that’s the business of the people of the United States, a question that corresponds to them. It would be absurd for us to try to tell the people of the United States what system of government they should have, for in that case we would be dismissing the United States as a sovereign people and assuming that we have rights over the domestic life of the United States.
Rights do not come from size; rights do not come from one country being bigger than another. That does not matter! We have but a small territory, a small nation, but our right is as respectable as that of any country, whatever its size. It would not occur to us to tell the people of the United States what system of government they must have. It is absurd for Mr. Kennedy to tell us what kind of government he wants us to have, it’s an absurdity; such a thing only occurs to Mr. Kennedy because he does not have a clear concept of international law and the sovereignty of peoples.’”
The text continues with an extensive reflection on social science and critical thought. But I’ll stop here and point out that you could easily replace the name “Kennedy” with “Trump” and see that these words reflected not a declaration of a critical juncture, but rather a declaration of principles.
I stopped reading then and looked at the hourglass.
It occurred to me that maybe it doesn’t just contain any old sand. Maybe it’s not just any old sand because this sand might come from a beach invoked again and again throughout the history of humanity’s struggle and resistance against capitalism.
Maybe the sand that flows from one side of this ‘clock’ to the other comes from some place on the American continent and its geography is anchored on an island stretched across the Caribbean like a rebellious caiman that refuses to be subjugated, thus hardening its skin and its gaze.
Maybe—it occurs to me now—the sand from this hourglass from Playa Girón. Maybe that’s the name of the crack in the wall of Capital which, with its persistence, taught us all that the great and powerful can be defeated by the small and weak when there is organized resistance, stubborn determination, and a new horizon.
Let me tell you that the deceased SupMarcos, and not only him, felt a great admiration for the people of Cuba and a profound respect for Fidel Castro Ruz.
In the informal chat we had hours before his death, our words circled on military topics. He told me that he thought the military history of peoples’ struggles was little known. He referred to what was called the Battle of Zacatecas and the taking of Ciudad Juárez, both led by Francisco Villa. He told me that he borrowed the concept implemented by General Villa to take Ciudad Juárez in order to design the initial uprising. “For the Battle of Zacatecas I wasn’t lacking cavalry,” he said jokingly, “just flat land.”
Internationally, and despite norms on the Left, his reference point wasn’t the Battle of Leningrad but the Battle of Santa Clara, led by Che, of Cuito Cuanavale, led by Fidel Castro, and of Playa Girón, also commanded by Fidel Castro.
I seized the opportunity to ask him why, when he referred to Fidel Castro, he didn’t say ‘Comandante’ as does the entire Latin American Left. He responded:
“The fact that everyone calls him that would be reason enough, but that’s not why. We are an army, and when we say ‘comandante’ we’re saying ‘command.’ And nobody commands us but our own peoples. But in any case Fidel Castro doesn’t need us to call him that. His people have given him that rank and he doesn’t need anything else.”
He continued telling me about Playa Girón, and narrated with admiration the occasion on which Fidel Castro argued and physically scuffled with his own officials because they wouldn’t let him advance toward Playa Girón to combat the mercenaries. “Imagine,” he said, laughing heartily, “Fidel against his entire military staff: him determined to be on the front lines, and the rest of them insisting he had to protect himself. And you know what? Fidel Castro didn’t argue that it was his duty; he argued that it was his right.” The deceased lit his pipe and, after the first puff, lifted it as if he were giving a toast and said, “Of course Fidel won the argument.”
Later, closing conversation on that topic he added, “Fidel Castro is the Maradona of international politics. And they’ll never forgive him for the goals he made against those who dared to confront him.”
I remembered the words of the deceased SupMarcos when I was reading what the emaciated Latin American political spectrum opined about the death of Fidel Castro: the reiteration by the Right and the well-behaved Left of reproaches and supposed critiques—this from a Right that will never forgive him for the defeats he handed them, and from the institutional Left that will never absolve him for having been all that they, in their mediocrity, will never be.
There are also those mediocre people who pronounce judgements and sentences but simply can’t explain why, if he was a dictator, the greatest power in the world couldn’t organize a popular rebellion against him and opted instead for terrorist attacks to destroy him.
Far from the fiction films and television series where the North American secret service does away with the bad guys armed only with a pen, they failed in Cuba simply because “Comandante Fidel” was the name, image, and voice which that people took on to reaffirm what they had been constructing at all times and against all odds: their freedom.
Money sought and seeks and always finds psychopaths ready to sell their thirst for blood and destruction. It will always find the Mas Canosas, the Posada Carriles—although, in another geography and calendar, they may be named Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, or his former wife and now supposed sweetheart Margara Zavala; or Mauricio Macri in Argentina; or Temer in Brazil; or Leopoldo López in Venezuela. Politicians, psychopaths, and crooks, all of them. Always ready to let others die so that they can to get paid
I am telling you this not only because it brings up the subject of that small thing that rebels and rises up, breaking imposed molds, but also because of what I’m about to tell you next. Just a few days after the death of Fidel Castro, I had to report to Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés at one of our positions. When I arrived, the insurgenta Erika told me, unable to contain her tears: “Fidel Cuba died.” She said it just like that. The Cuban Revolution has resisted against all odds for 58 years; insurgenta Erika must be twenty-something—she’s never left these lands, she learned Spanish in an encampment in the mountains, she struggles with math and “hard” words, and despite all that, or precisely because of it, she synthesized in two words an entire history of struggle, of resistance and rebellion.
I’ve come to talk to you about Cuba—that is, about Fidel Castro, and by Fidel Castro I mean about Cuba—for the simple reason that he is no longer spoken of. Maybe because they think that he died and rebel Cuba died with him. With regard to Fidel Castro Ruz, we’ll just say this: “if they couldn’t kill him when he was alive, even less possibility they have now that he’s dead.”
Going back to that moment, as time dragged on, I continued talking with the deceased SupMarcos when he wasn’t yet deceased. Time in Zapatista reality/La Realidad had entered that rhythm that makes it seem like the day is in a hurry to end and the night is lazy in coming. It seems that Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés was handling all issues regarding operations that day, May 24, 2014, since nobody approached SupMarcos with reports or questions. It was as if SubMoy was doing all he could so that SupMarcos could have calm during his final minutes.
As we continued waiting there, I asked him why he said that thing about he himself being the character, rather than Durito, Viejo Antonio, or the other beings who populated his tales. Of course, at that point I didn’t yet know, nor did anyone else, about the text he would read in the coming early hours of the morning, called “Between Light and Shadow.”
Before responding, the Sup looked at both of his watches.
He had never done that before. He always either consulted one or checked the other, depending on the situation.
After confronting both watches, he took a deep breath and asked me:
“What is it you don’t understand?”
“Just that,” I responded, “Because then who are you? Or better yet, who have you been?”
He then stood at attention and, bowing his head and trying paradoxically to imitate the tone of Akira Kurosawa’s serious and formal samurais, declared:
I say “paradoxically” because SupMarcos joked about everything and made fun of everything, most of all himself.
I made the same face that you’re all making right now.
“What the hell is Kagemusha?”
“A decoy,” he responded, “a distractor, a shadow, the shadow of the warrior.”
I understood then why, in his last texts, all of a sudden a new character had appeared: “Shadow, the warrior.”
“And so?” I asked him.
“So nothing, someone had to do it and it fell to me.”
“So what are you going to do?” I insisted.
“Die,” he replied while putting on his ski mask. He put on his cap, lit his pipe and, turning to face the guard who was protecting the door, gave an order for the last time: “Tell SubMoy that I’m ready.”
The storm is coming.
Time and again, money will try to undo the history that matters. And time and again, it will be defeated. Just like in that month of April, now 56 years ago, on Playa Girón, when entire generations rose up and challenged the fate imposed on them.
That day they will hear once again, though now in a different voice, the words that the people of Cuba said to those who tried to crush them:
“You, neither, will escape the verdict of history. It won’t be a simple spoken verdict, but rather a verdict that inexorably marks the fate of the exploiters of the whole world, like a clock that says, ‘your days are numbered, the end of your exploitative system is drawing near.’”
Cuba will live on. The originary peoples will live on. Humanity will live on.
And when we say “homeland,” we will be saying “world”; we will be saying “house”; will be saying “life.”
Of course, there will be no fiercer lightning bolts, no greater storm. But in the end, this land will rise up and with it its women, its men, and those who are who they are without being one or the other.
Memory will not be forgotten, but there will be no celebrations. Not because it won’t be worth celebrating, but because all of life itself will then be what it should always be—that is, a celebration.
And when that tomorrow comes, I, a new, nomadic Kagemusha, will only regret not being there to look at you mockingly and say:
“I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.”
Thank you, not too much, but always at least quite a little bit.
iCamilo Cienfuegos, literally “a hundred fires.”