Words of Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés at the May 2015 Seminar “Critical Thought Versus the Capitalist Hydra”
May 7, 2015 (evening session)
Good evening, compañeros, compañeras, brothers and sisters.
It seems like a splash of cold water on our faces was indeed what we needed, because now we are definitely getting some thought-provoking ideas.
So we will need to translate this from Spanish to Tzeltal, Tojolabal, Tzotzil, and Chol, and from there a joint response will arise, because there are some things proposed by the compañeros at this table that we are interested in discussing.
We continue with our words of explanation and discussion on what resistance and rebellion mean to us as Zapatistas.
For us, as an organization that resists and struggles in rebellion, we first need to be clear on why one would resist and rebel. If we are not clear on the “Why?” the “For what?” and the “From what?” we simply cannot go forward.
For us, resistance and rebellion give us life. Why? Because we are clear on the “For what,” the “From what,” and the “For whom.” So we carry out what we’ve agreed upon and see if it brings us results, or better, if it brings us the results we wanted.
That’s how we are able to see that when resistance and rebellion are organized, they give life. And it is precisely because of resistance and rebellion that we are now here speaking with you. If it would have been otherwise, if ferocity had surpassed our sense of rebellion, we wouldn’t have paid attention to what happened next, the movement of January 12, 1994 [the civilian mobilizations calling for a halt to the war]. And if we hadn’t paid attention to that, who knows where our bones would be spread now; we wouldn’t be here speaking with you all.
So it is thanks to our rebellion and resistance that we were able to understand that movement, and that’s why we are here with you. But it’s also thanks to rebellion and resistance that we have been able to construct something for ourselves as Zapatistas, something small, tiny, like this [he holds up two fingers pressed together]. Can those in the back see this? Ah no? Well that’s exactly the point. This is how we began—small—so small you can’t see it, but if that resistance and rebellion is organized, it starts to multiply.
When this thing was that small, we used to say amongst ourselves, “One day, we’re going to speak with all Mexicans, with brothers and sisters, compañeros and compañeras from all over the world.” Well, here it is. That now exists in reality. But for this to happen, one must resist and rebel.
In talking about resistance and rebellion, we’re not saying that there’s only one way. That’s why we say not to copy, that it’s not about copying. But for us, the Zapatistas, our self-government—that is, our autonomy to govern ourselves—is thanks to resistance and rebellion. If we would have dedicated our energy only to bombs and bullets, to military efforts, then compañeros and compañeras, brothers and sisters, we wouldn’t be here right now, and that’s the truth.
But because it was understood that resistance is also a weapon in the struggle, and that organizing resistance was important, we are able to be here today and you can see this in our actions; that’s how we are battling capitalism. For us, resistance and rebellion has no end. That’s how we understand it in practice, because through our resistance and rebellion we can meet our needs.
For example, we found an answer to the lack of education available to us, we found our own [education] promotores, and we figured out how to feed those compañeros and compañeras. And with the problem of health, we sought out and trained compañeros and compañeras. Then we found they needed more support and assistance because it’s also a question of specialization in health, as it isn’t always the same medicines that work; there are always new types of illnesses. So we had to resolve that issue also.
In each instance, with each step we take to resolve each problem, we have to again organize our resistance. As a joke we used to say, “Why was it again that we wanted autonomy?” So our answer to that was, and you have already noticed how we talk around here, “To fuck over capitalism!” And then, again how we talk here, “The thing is you have to work really fucking hard to build it!”
So that’s why we say that it never ends. With each step that we take, we construct, and this is always accompanied by resistance and rebellion, organized, of course.
Resistance and rebellion guide our laws as Zapatistas. Through resistance and rebellion, we create and improve our laws and accords, always through assemblies in the communities, always through democracy. That is to say, through the thought and the voice of the people.
The justice we create is strengthened by our resistance. Here I want to give you some examples because it’s really necessary to have resources. First, we are clear amongst ourselves what it is to create a justice that is different from the capitalist system, but in putting it into practice we start running into difficulties. For example, in the case of a murder: under our theory our law states that if I am the murderer, then I need to work not only to provide for my family but also to provide for the family of the person I murdered.
Once this actually happens the problems arise, because when you put the murderer to work you need to give him the tools. But then he might escape; some have in fact escaped. So you would have to kill him so that he doesn’t escape, but we wouldn’t do that. Why? What’s the problem? Well, because there isn’t a jail where all the work that would need to be done would be inside. That is, everything the murderer needed to work would have to be inside the jail, as well as some way to convert this work into maize, beans, everything that is necessary in order to eat and to distribute food to the family who suffered a loss and the family responsible for that loss. But this doesn’t exist; there aren’t the resources for that. So what’s the system’s problem? In some jails they do have these resources, but they are stolen by the same people who mete out justice, or who say that they mete out justice.
So what do we do when this type of problem arises? Because it has arisen in the past. What the compañeros do for now is mediate while the murder is being investigated. The authorities speak with the family that suffered the murder and the family responsible, and that is how the information is shared and communication carried out. While the investigation is going on, sometimes the family responsible for the damage might say, “We will give them 40,000 pesos,” and then the authority says, “It’s not up to me to accept. I will need to ask the family that suffered the damage because we as authorities can’t put a price on a life.”
So this is why the authority plays a mediating role. The authority goes and relays the offer to the family that suffered the damage and it goes back and forth until an agreement is reached. That’s how it has worked and how we resolve things today. And it’s there where resistance and rebellion come in—because as I was saying yesterday, it’s not enough to have strength and rage in the face of the enemy, in the face of capitalism—there are also things that we know we cannot do, such as stealing. We know perfectly well why there is theft, and why there is violation of laws. Where do those problems come from? Because there are violations when there is theft.
So all of these things need to be investigated because a lot of times these problems arise with drugs and alcohol, with drunkards. So what the authorities do is carry out an intense campaign in the communities to prevent this from happening, to prevent violations committed by drunks or drug addicts by reminding them how difficult things will be for them if they commit crimes; this includes preventing them from killing as well. So where this does end up happening with is the partidistas [political party followers or members].
So then we end up having problems because it turns out that we end up taking care of the partidista murderers, feeding them and policing them to make sure that they don’t escape. That’s why we say that Zapatista justice is for everyone, no matter who you are. It’s a nice thing to say but in practice it’s not easy to do because now you’re talking about taking care of someone for a week where you have to heal them, feed them. And watch out because his family might go complain that you’re violating his human rights because you’re not feeding him. So then this became a problem for us Zapatistas.
I tell you this, compañeros and compañeras, not so that you become discouraged or demoralized. It’s so that you can you can take note that in order to govern yourselves you must organize yourselves, and recognize all it takes in order to govern yourselves.
What we did in order to resolve that problem was that we said to the partidistas, “You know what, Mr. Comisariado [local authority], we are going to resolve this case, we are going to investigate it and everything, but you all need to keep the murderer over there in your community, or take him to that government you believe in, the bad government.” So then the partidista family says, “No, we want to resolve the problem here because there [with the official government] we won’t know where they will hold him, we won’t know how they will violate the family’s rights, and we also don’t have money to go back and forth, and on top of that, there’s the money needed for an attorney.”
So what we say is that they will need to jail them and be responsible for them in their community, so that the partidista community realizes how much work it is, how many resources it requires, and what a problem the murderer is because you have to take care of him, you have to feed him, and this makes for a lot of work. And so we have educated the partidistas like this, and little by little we see them fighting drug addiction. Where this is really hard for them is in those places where this problem is really out of control; they even tell us, “We have already picked him up and taken him to the government maybe four or five times, but the bad government doesn’t know what to do with him either and just lets him go.”
It is in our resistance and rebellion, where we’re forging a path, where we’re seeing how to put into practice and improve implementation of our seven principles of lead by obeying, that we say that the people rule and the government obeys.
Here I want to give you all an example of what we experience with “the people rule and the government obeys.” For example, in a municipal assembly, which can be three or four regions—with each region having dozens of communities, which is why we call it an assembly of the autonomous municipality—the authorites of the MAREZ [Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities in Rebellion] put forward a proposal perhaps for a cooperative or a collective work project. Then it circulates among the communities and when the time comes to see what the people think, then the majority say, “Yes, we are in agreement,” and there are one or two communities that say, “We are not in agreement.”
So a discussion begins where we ask them to give us their reasons, and to see if it’s clear what is meant by collective work and what the goal of collective work is. Then the communities that are not in agreement present their argument: “It’s because we are very far away, we have a lot of expenses.” And so from there the municipality, that is, the authorities and the communities that are in agreement, begin to think of a way to make collective work a closer possibility for those who say they don’t agree. I’m not sure if you all understand me.
So then the discussion goes back over to the community that was not in agreement, and then the community authority comes back and says, “The community still doesn’t want to.” So then the assembly, the majority that does agree, asks him, “But why?”
– “Well, it’s because the people rule.”
And then the discussion begins once again and they reply:
– “You are mistaken, compañeros from X community, you are mistaken. You’re understanding things backward. We who make up the majority here will rule because the majority of the municipality’s communities are in agreement.”
So then the authority returns to the community to say that the majority, the voice of the people, is what rules, and you all must obey. The authority has to explain it until they’re finally convinced. The municipal authority has to go directly to the communities to explain things, and during the visit the authority observes many things. Sometimes when the municipal authority visits the community and speaks directly with the bases—complying with what our seven principles say about convincing the people, not defeating them—the municipal authority realizes that the community authority has not been explaining things well, because he’s the one who doesn’t want to do the collective work project. Then the community automatically punishes its authority because he was supplanting the community’s voice.
That’s why I was telling you all that about self-government, it’s not that we can’t do it, but that we must struggle a lot to do it. We have achieved it through our resistance and rebellion because we do a lot of political work, ideological work, a lot of explaining about how we see capitalism, and a lot of evaluating of how we are doing as an organization.
That’s where we realize that the only thing we can do is struggle with all of our will and a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of work, a lot of effort, and a lot of sacrifice. That is, a lot of resistance and a lot of rebellion. That’s how we’re going to be able to keep on struggling because we know full well that capitalism is not going to let us live in peace.
Our resistance and rebellion has given us the strength to put this into practice—to exercise collective freedom—because a lot of things that we come across on our path, in our governing process, we are figuring out how to resolve and improve from within our freedom. For example, there’s what I was saying earlier about the zones training a new generation of young people because that’s what allows us to understand things, but we don’t stop with just understanding. We have realized over these last 20 years that if all we do is say things, then nothing will get done.
So once when we discover what is important, what is necessary, once the decision is made by the people to move forward on that work, we begin to put it into place. First we have to take into account the voice and the decision of the people, and from there we begin the work. Because we have to try it and see if it works out, kind of like experimenting; that’s how we go about improving things.
That’s why we say that our resistance and rebellion is what has helped us improve our practice of freedom in what we want to do. For example, the compañeros and compañeras of the communities have the freedom to replace an authority who does not comply with the community’s rules, or to reprimand or punish an authority who doesn’t comply with the rules.
Our resistance and rebellion have given us the freedom to create, invent, and imagine how to make our government work better in order to have a better life, and that is what is helping us figure out how to keep improving how we govern, how to keep improving the work of our autonomous governments.
With our resistance and rebellion, the Zapatista people, men, and women now have the right to speak their word, that is, they have the freedom of expression. And they have the right to be heard, whether they are in agreement or not, they still have the right to be heard.
But at the same time, the people, men and women of free expression, are also free to think and propose, free to present opinions on what they think is a good idea or not, free to make proposals on how things could improve or on a new way of doing things; they have the freedom to study, think, and present new proposals. They are free to analyze and then say if they agree or don’t agree, they are free to discuss in order to reach the best possible agreement, the one with the most advantages, And for that, things have to be thoroughly discussed. And finally, our people have the freedom to decide which ideas will be put into place.
Within our resistance and rebellion, we have discovered something thanks to the practices of the compañeras. When we speak of the three areas of health—midwifery, bone setting, and medicinal plants—it was the compañeras who said that we need to rescue that past culture where medical doctors weren’t necessary (because indeed, we had no access to them before), where the people lived with the help of plants, roots, leaves, and hulls. One day they said why are we going to throw our tears into the grave, packing the earth down over our dead, burying all their wisdom and intelligence there; we need to rescue it.
So we reflected on that and were able to understand it in the political sense. What was that sense? We said, “What happened in 1810? What happened in 1910? When Villa died, when Zapata died, the struggle ceased with them.” That’s what happens when things are concentrated in just one person, the rage, wisdom, intelligence, the art, the art of struggle, of fighting. We said, “Why is it just us, the political leadership of the clandestine committee?” And so we began to think about what to do.
So, from within our resistance and rebellion we said, “So that this doesn’t happen to us, we need to give our inheritance to our compañeros, that is, to the new generation. But this inheritance is not about land, a cow, or even a louse or a flea, right? No, it’s about struggle, about the organization—the EZLN, and about autonomy.” And in the process of that experience, reflecting on the how and what and all that, one of our compañeros and compañeras said,
– “But we’re still missing something, compas.”
– “No, I think we’re ok.”
– “But what’s missing?”
– “We still need to know what the Sixth, the Other [the Other Campaign], will have as inheritance.”
We then begin asking, “What Other, what Sixth?” because there isn’t an organization that speaks for it. It’s not like the autonomy that already belongs to the communities and is their form of organization, where they govern themselves, women and men, and the EZLN as an organization is also there, keeping on. So then, what Other, what Sixth? Or who exactly from the Sixth? So the answer was, “We’ll have to get to that later, compas.”
So now as a collective we have started to see what to do. And with that resistance and rebellion we see that it’s true what the compas are saying: “What?” “How?”
We don’t have anything to give as inheritance, on the contrary. It is our compañeros and compañeras from the communities who have an inheritance to provide to the compañeros and compañeras, those from the Sixth who are willing to engage with the truth. That’s how the Little School was born, and that’s what I mean that it’s the compañeros and compañeras who provide the inheritance.
But before that all happened, before they became Little School teachers and guardianes, we had heard what I was telling you about the compañeras, where they said that we needed to rescue things and not bury them. And it’s true, we would cry for our family members when they died, but we buried their wisdom and intelligence with them. I don’t know, we said something about how we should not be selfish, that we have to teach the compañeros and compañeras. And we are not going to live forever, even if the enemy doesn’t kill us, even if we don’t die in an accident, the fact is that we are all going to have to leave sometime, we are all going to have to return [to the earth] sometime.
So then we started to reflect on why it’s always us with the microphone. “Why is it always me?” we asked ourselves. “Why are we going to be afraid of the people?” Just like how they are the ones who govern now, it should be the same with this issue. And if we’re going to provide an inheritance then it should be complete: they, the compañeros and compañeras, should be the teachers.
So we had to organize this and encourage them, and the truth is the compañeros from the communities are going to know what to do when we’re no longer here. That’s the point, you know, that we needed to give them the space to do it, and it turns out they know how to explain things better than we can, that’s the truth. I’m an insurgent, I’m in the encampment, I’m not in the community. They are the ones who live it daily, not me. I’m in the camp, giving the orders, of course.
It was through our resistance and rebellion that we understood how to resolve this problem of giving orders. The previous way of doing things wasn’t the fault of the compañeros, those who have carried forward these 20 years of governing, and it wasn’t our fault either, because it was necessary at the time, we trained and prepared ourselves to follow orders. In the military orders have to be followed and not debated. There is no democracy, and that’s how we prepared the compañeros milicianos and milicianas, that’s how we were able to control thousands of combatants; it worked not to argue over orders. But when the time came to construct autonomy, it was difficult to change our thinking, because governing is not about orders but about agreements.
But when we’re organized, we can create and undo, and this can be seen in actions. We had to do political and ideological work once again in order to make sure the compañeros understood. That’s why we say that each thing has its purpose, its function, and these are not the same. It can be done, but it requires organization.
Because we think and believe that…this is why I told you this morning that “I don’t like being up here.” But the way that we’re organized is that what our people ask us to do we have to do. We who have been many years here up in front, we want the compañeros to also be there, now that we have given them the space, we want them to take this place. But the compañeros say, “The things is that we have a hard time speaking Spanish.” And so we have to do what the compas say.
It’s our way of walking, working, struggling, with our resistance and rebellion. Because we think that this way, we who represent are not indispensable, that everyone must learn, practice, and carry out these tasks so that before one goes, before they return to where we all must go [the earth], they have confidence in the compañero or compañera who will take over. Like a doctor giving a medical consultation, we provide support by drawing on our own experiences. Because it’s not the same to have the compañeros and compañeras just sitting there and listening; when they take the microphone and talk, then you see it’s like the compas say—now his hand isn’t shaking, but just a little while ago it was. Because it’s true, it’s not the same thing.
So what is needed is for the compañeros to practice, and to have us there helping them because once we’re dead we can no longer be consulted. Or can we? So there it is. It’s not the same when you are next to them, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, during the moments of your life and you can say, “Listen compañero, compañera, you think it’s okay how I have it here written out? You think it’s okay how I am going to explain it, discuss it, guide it?” And so that’s how we support each other, that’s how we help.
That’s why we say that we are very other. Because we move as if trying on a shoe, or clothes—you measure and see if it fits, try it on, and if not then you keep looking for the one that fits. That’s how we are compañeros, compañeras, brother and sisters, that is what our resistance and rebellion is about.
We’ll continue tomorrow.