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  Number 292 | Noviembre 2005
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Mexico

“The Other Campaign” of “Those at the Bottom”

The Zapatista movement has initiated its new stage. Who has responded to its call to develop “the other campaign,” and what ideas and proposals have they brought with them? This initiative has produced a new heterodox and irreverent political dynamic in Mexico. But there are risks that it could end in a new orthodoxy.

Jorge Alonso

In late June 2005, the Zapatistas issued the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Forest, in which they laid out where their movement has come, how they view the world, how they see Mexico, what they are thinking of doing and how they envision doing it. They invited all those “at the bottom” to participate with them individually or collectively in a different kind of national campaign from the ones run by those“ on top,” which will be focusing on electoral issues until next year.

Preparatory meetings

In August and September, the Zapatistas invited the most pluralist and diverse of the fragmented struggles against neoliberalism to their lands, and organized them into six sectoral meetings and one plenary. The sites for the different sessions were divided up among Zapatista towns, whose inhabitants prepared shelters, food and venues. The Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center provided maps to help the invitees get to their respective destinations. In each meeting the Zapatistas gave the welcoming and closing words and summed up what had been dealt with. No time limits were imposed on anyone who wanted to speak. In addition to presentations by those attending, position papers and other writings submitted by people who could not attend were read. The Zapatistas also organized a team that taped everything and made summaries, later sent to the participants for their comments. The idea was that, once corrected, they would be published on the on-line Revista Rebeldia. The meetings were cumulative, in that the progress made in one session was shared with those attending the next ones.

By promoting deliberative reflection, “the other campaign” has opened an ample experience of participatory democracy. It has insisted that decisions must be made by everybody and not just at the leadership level of each grouping. It invokes the power of dialogue, discussion, persuasion and informed deliberation. It wants the base to lead and to promote an integral citizenry to transform the state rather than merely reform it.

The EZLN rejected all
three national parties

One constant in all these meetings was the emphasis on differentiating this new alternative from the essence and acts of the political class. The Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) commented that it opposed that entire class and clearly suggested that the “other campaign” should have nothing to do with the electoral campaign or supporting candidacies. It explained that the economic elite is currently imposing both the economic and political policies and that the role of the political class is simply to administer this imposition by the powers that be. Thus, it argued, politicians are mere managers of the destruction rather than reconstruction of social relations.

The EZLN considered that after wresting the presidency from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had governed for nearly three quarters of a century, the National Action Party (PAN) had equaled in five years what the PRI had done in seventy. The PAN, it argued, will leave a country deep in economic crisis and with greater discontent than it inherited from the PRI. It added that the PRI is banking on the population’s short memory. After having instigated the nightmare of frauds, massacres and corporatist control, it today represents organized crime’s aspirations to consolidate its institutionalized power. The PRI can be defined as crime turned government as its plan is to return to presidential office to elevate corruption. For its part, the EZLN accused the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) of limiting itself to filing down neoliberalism’s sharp edges. Such harsh and repeated criticisms of the PRD have led that leftist party to accuse the Zapatistas of playing the Right’s game to prevent PRD candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador from winning the presidency, which would permit the PRI’s return.

Tough on the PRD

The EZLN ironically asked: “When the PRI left the presidential office, what party has continued to have control of the majority of states, municipalities and the upper and lower houses of state parliaments?” It argued that it’s not the same to hope for victory for the “least evil” option as to hope that a project of profound transformation could be victorious.

Looking back a decade, the EZLN recalled that when it burst onto the national scene in 1994, during an electoral period, it saw the strength of the PRD under Cuauthémoc Cárdenas. But the political class’ rapid decomposition also contaminated the PRD, a party that had pledged to promote the rights of the EZLN and indigenous peoples but in the end only betrayed and mocked them. In its narrow-minded calculations, the PRD preferred to see the Zapatistas confined to their territory. As for López Obrador, the EZLN accuses him of having destroyed the grassroots movement in the capital while mayor of Mexico City and of surrounding himself with advisers from the corrupt PRI government of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

The EZLN slammed both the PRD leaders and the party’s rank and file in all the meetings. And while it had clearly stated that it wanted nothing to do with the PRD, it complained that PRD militants were attending the meetings without disclosing their real identity, despite the fact that members of registered political parties were not invited to the meetings. It further accused them of exploiting the good faith of their hosts to use any opportunity to invalidate criticisms of their party.

Sixteen-hour meetings

Another constant throughout the meetings was the airing of criticism of the Zapatistas by many groups. The latter humbly examined the claims and where they were right made a strong self-criticism with a clear promise to change in the future. The EZLN accepted that its own clumsiness had undermined relationships with many groups and expressed embarrassment for not having acted in solidarity with many struggles. Many also accused it of having paid more attention to international issues than to national ones.

Yet another characteristic of the meetings was that the Zapatistas took on the task of listening patiently to all who wanted to talk so they could learn what people were thinking, their problems, their experiences of struggle. The sessions lasted some 16 hours a day. It was a new experience for the Zapatistas to have direct contact with so many varied struggles and concerns from all over Mexico. The EZLN assured the participating organizations that it was not going to try to win away their members. The gathering was not about promoting the growth of an organization but rather encouraging the appearance of new social subjects, new groupings and new forms of organization. The EZLN wants to join its struggle to others, and if the Zapatistas were doing the inviting this time, in the next phase it will be just one more prganization.

With political organizations

The first meeting wasn’t very large. It was attended by representatives from leftist organizations that are not registered as electoral parties, of whom 26 made public statements. The Zapatistas acknowledged the grassroots work of these organizations. Some of the participants argued that a critical vote had to be given to López Obrador, while others suggested launching an independent candidate, but the majority favored working to create a different, non-electoral kind of movement organized around an anti-capitalist, anti-neoliberal struggle that aspires to a different society. They opposed the construction of a new leftist party or fusions that would only end in more schisms.

In the desire to create a broad front against neoliberalism, some felt it was better to join what had already been built while others favored something new. Some argued for well-structured organization while others wanted to avoid anything rigid, preferring more horizontal spaces. Nonetheless, they all agreed on the need to achieve consensus with respect and equal treatment for all participants in this effort.

With indigenous peoples

The second meeting, with the indigenous organizations, was much large: 300 delegates from some 50 groupings, 31 of which made public statements. It was recognized that the indigenous struggles are fundamental to the country’s transformation. The Zapatistas promised to accompany indigenous peoples in defending their difference and characteristics. They explained that no one would respect indigenous peoples’ place if the peoples themselves did not fight for respect; they also exhorted the groups to advance “the other campaign” and create a collective of collectives.

It became clear that “the other campaign” is an effort that will take years. It was also evident that the Mexican indigenous movement is still strong and has a lot of appreciation for the Zapatista movement.

With social movements

The third meeting exceeded the Zapatistas’ expectations. They had planned for about five hundred participants and nearly three times that many came, from a hundred organizations, plus journalists and observers. Seventy-six of the organizations’ delegates made public presentations. There were organizations representing workers, peasants, cooperative members, fishers, merchants, day laborers, civic committees, grassroots urban residents, teachers, students, women, lesbians, artists, even people who wanted to continue studying but had been turned down. The meeting teemed with plurality in search of convergences.

Opposition to both subordination and command was expressed in this meeting. Each organization would contribute based on its own history, experience and form of organization and each would preserve what it already had or enrich it through contact with the others. Together, they would all define the whats and hows, the ends and the means. They re-clarified the principles: no agreements would be decided at the top to be imposed below, but rather agreements would be made to go and jointly listen to and organize the indignation; no movement would be established only to negotiate deals behind its members’ back; it would not be about seeking positions, advantages, public posts, but rather about reaching beyond electoral calendars...

Given that several organizations were quite concerned about the 2006 elections, the EZLN again made clear that it is not recommending any candidate, or even encouraging anyone to abstain; it fully respects the decision of each group. It did, however, stress its hope that while electoral campaigns start and end, the “other campaign” would continue.

As in the previous meetings, the Zapatistas exhorted the participants to report back to their other members on what had been debated and discuss it within their own organization. They insisted that “the other campaign” has nothing to do with elections, and added that when the Zapatistas tour the country they will dialogue and discuss projects, programs, characterizations, definitions and planning for the near and long term. They will not present themselves as a rival, but rather as a new partner in struggle.

With NGOs and other collectives

There were 650 delegates from 220 nongovernmental organizations and other collectives in the fourth meeting, and they represented a wide range of focuses, as could be seen from the 149 organizational statements. Both the government and business leaders had planted people among the 258 observers to find out what was being cooked up in Chiapas. Given such heterogeneity and a large number of young people, it was decided that participants could communicate either through traditional means or through songs, poetry, dances and plays. The session was extended accordingly.

One problem the Zapatistas detected was a kind of sector-based attention: artists only listened to other artists, feminists to other feminists, anarchic groups to other anarchists, and alternative media only to each other. They perceived little interest in histories that referred to different and even opposed realities, as if, despite the diversity intended in the invitation, each sector wanted to remain locked within its own place with its own mode of struggle. The Zapatistas reminded them that listening and respecting does not imply subordinating and obeying, much less remaining quiet. They invited everyone to listen to and respect each other to build one “grand and collective us,” radically transforming gender and generational relations. In all of their opening speeches, they came out strongly in favor of women’s rights.

With families and individuals

The fifth meeting, with communities, families and individuals, increased the diversity and complexity by including even those “who barely represent themselves.” One young man commented that it was the gathering of “our solitudes.” There were 300 participants, of whom 113 made public statements, plus some 200 observers. The meeting was attended by defenders of forests and opponents of dams that would flood out their towns. Autobiographic testimonies abounded. There was a proliferation of young people seeking their place, who had a certain suspicion of the Zapatista movement. It was a fragmentary, dispersed gathering that revealed how unhappy the marginalized are with the current state of affairs. Many proposals about what stages should be included in “the other campaign” had been previously gathered for this meeting.

With all the rest

The sixth and last meeting—“with all those who couldn’t come before”—included organizations representing indigenous peoples, teachers, students, and social, cultural and countercultural groupings, with a predominance of collective groups and networks with an express interest in convergence. There were 110 public presentations in what was easily the most political meeting. As in the others, there was a search for solutions, but presentations on the local and national situation predominated. The discussions from the other meetings were shared and everything was up for debate: definitions, slogans, times and places for “the other campaign.” It was strongly felt that by coinciding with the parties’ electoral stumping, this campaign could underscore its difference from the simulation being carried out at the top, in which candidates promote themselves like merchandise, reflecting a profound scorn for people’s dignity and intelligence.

Plenary: Everyone together

All participants from the sectoral meetings were invited to return for the plenary session, scheduled for the weekend Mexican independence is celebrated. Given the festive nature of the moment, the invitees were warned that neither liquor nor drugs were permitted in Zapatista lands. As many who had attended the previous meetings could not come to the plenary session, they were able to follow up on the work by Internet. While no time limit or specific set of themes had been fixed during the previous meetings, it was requested that the interventions not exceed five minutes and that they focus on the point under discussion for economy of time and to make the session productive.

Many young people attended, but there were also old party militants. There were members of indigenous organizations, unionists who had never previously sought out the Zapatistas, members of renovated grassroots urban movements, intellectuals, teachers, students and members of new kinds of social movements: human and civil rights defenders, feminists, lesbians and gays, artists, pacifists and environmentalists. Some organizations and brigades identified themselves by name, while others preferred to remain anonymous. There were workshops and collectives of all kinds, anarchists and abstentionists, artisans, credit unions, subcontracted workers and displaced people. The novelty in all this was the participation of individuals as such.

While 30 leftist political organizations had committed themselves to “the other campaign” in early August, that number had reached 55 by mid-September. In that same lapse of time, the number of Mexican indigenous organizations and peoples involved had climbed from 32 to 103; of social organizations from 42 to 162; of NGOs, collectives and groups from 210 to 453: and of neighborhoods, communities, families and individuals who belonged to no organization from 690 to 1,624.

The plenary was attended by 2,069 people, including national and international observers. Of those, 196 attended as individuals, and the rest were delegates from 26 indigenous organizations, 91 social organizations, 36 political organizations and 129 NGOs and collective groupings. The EZLN viewed the attendance as bountiful, but recognized that it didn’t represent the majority.

Seven points up for debate

The discussion focused on seven proposed points. The first was to ratify, expand or modify the characteristics of “the other campaign” (civil and peaceful; anti-capitalist; leftist; with another way of engaging in politics; in favor of a national program of struggle and a new Constitution; familiar with the struggles and resistance occurring all over the country and in solidarity with them, supporting them and learning from them; respecting individuals, organizations, collectives and other groups in their forms of work, decision-making, demands, strategies and tactics; mutual respect; seeking to link struggles and organizations; and aware of and supporting the struggles for humanity and against neoliberalism all over the world).

The second point addressed who was invited and who not. The third had to do with the organizational structure of “the other campaign,” the fourth with the special place in it for differences, the fifth with its position toward other organizational efforts, the sixth with tasks and the last with whatever anybody thought was still missing.

All the Zapatista commanders attended the plenary, which conjured away the rumors of splits. The Zapatistas announced that Marcos would head up the first stage of the national tour next year, from January 1 to June 24. The Zapatistas would make this tour unarmed and entrust their security to the members of “the other campaign.” The tours would be financed by contributions and a detailed report would be made of it all. Paraphrasing a verse of “The International” and alluding to PRD presidential pre-candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Subcomandante Marcos, they sang “no more dictators, or supreme saviors, no Caesars, nor bourgeois, nor God nor Andrés nor Marcos. No one will be his own redemption!”

The second stage of the tour would be headed by another Zapatista delegation, which would travel through the whole country, and by specially created state and regional delegations. That tour would begin in September 2006 and finish in April 2007, at which point it would be relieved by another team.

The Zapatistas, who are literally putting their life into this project, see “the other campaign” as a way to try to shake up the country from below, to reveal all the despoiling, disparagement and exploitation. Public speeches will be secondary, with the main effort concentrated on contact at the grassroots level, place by place.

What will “the other campaign” be?

Sixty-three participants addressed the first point. Some proposed that various other elements be added to the definition of “the other campaign’s” characteristics. Some wanted to add “anti-hierarchical” and “anti-authoritarian” to the term “leftist,” while others said that what was meant by “for humanity and against neoliberalism” needed to be spelled out more clearly. There were those who insisted on more detailed definitions: the international struggle as not only anti-capitalist but also anti-imperialist and in opposition to the war. It was said that the new movement should be social, political and national. Others wanted to see concrete proposals about the nation. Yet others thought it essential to add rejection of structural reforms, defense of sovereignty and a stress on trade union democracy. Some favored including that it was a cultural, counter-hegemonic and anti-capitalist struggle. A good number of participants considered it important to make clear that “the other campaign” was in itself an educational process, one of shared learning. There was a desire for resounding definitions, such as that it was the accumulation of centuries of resistance and rebellion by thousands of Mexicans who were saying “enough” to capitalism. There were also groups who felt that it should state its opposition to feminicide.

The novel experience of bringing together so many groups and individuals provided many ideas. Some suggestions had more to do with programmatic points of struggle: boycott of capitalist products; defense of the rights to housing, education, health care, services and work; the struggle against the privatization of water and for a comprehensive and grassroots urban reform; an emphasis on culture, science, art and technology… Finally, it was agreed that the Revista Rebeldía would draft a text showing what the EZLN had initially proposed and what points had been added.

Who can be part and who not

On the second point, the initial formulation was that those invited were individuals, organizations and collective groups that were rebelling and struggling, were declared anti-capitalists and belonged to no institutional political parties. One of the new proposals was a clear statement that the political class was not invited. Others proposed excluding both political parties and any other organizations seeking power. Some preferred simply stressing that those with a candidate could not participate.

If party members strictly speaking were excluded, some wondered what to do with PRD sympathizers. The discussion also had to deal with the fact that while some groups want nothing to do with voting, others—without being ether PRD members or sympathizers—favor voting for López Obrador. It was a point that would require further discussion.

Various participants got annoyed because one group appeared in the plenary with a photo of Stalin and thus proposed leaving out anyone who claimed to be Stalinist. As the discussion went on, the list of categories that at least some did not want to participate in “the other campaign” grew: bosses, spurious and corrupt union leaders (known in Mexico as charros), those with a history of corruption and fraud, sexists, homophobes and anyone who had exercised any kind of violence against women. At the same time, a list was started of those who should be invited, which included the millions of professionals who belonged to the middle classes and had been victims of the system. Some groups argued in favor of making a special call to the Christian base communities. This point was resolved in the same way
as the previous one: list the proposals and send them to everyone so they could be discussed and decided.

The dilemma in the discussion about organizational structure was between one with a very organic configuration to avoid an amorphous movement or something horizontal and reticular. It was stated that whatever structure was adopted needed to permit plurality and multiple initiatives. The discussion made it quite clear that “the other campaign” would not be reduced to the Zapatistas’ tours through the country. With respect to infrastructure for those tours, the creation of an economic fund was rejected in favor of the Zapatista travelers moving and living with what their host communities could provide for their subsistence and activities. This idea echoes the medieval movement of the mendicant friars.

Intense debates, pending decisions

The plenary opted to leave the fourth point, about differences, open for further discussion. The fifth point examined the relationship between “the other campaign” and other organizational efforts, particularly the Peasant, Indigenous, Social and Grassroots Front and the National Promoter of Unity against Neoliberalism and for Peace. The dilemma was whether to incorporate these structures or maintain their individuality and independence. The positions of the preparatory meetings had opened a range of possibilities: bring in these initiatives, given that they were somewhat asleep and coming into “the other campaign” would get them moving again; do not bring them in but examine which ones to ally with; or let them go their own way.

One serious problem examined was that PRD and PRI politicians were participating in the existing organizational initiatives, and in some cases charro leaders were even in top positions. The Zapatistas expressed their strong determination not to ally with these figures, and asked the organizations of “the other campaign” to respect their opinion. This point also ended up on the pending discussion list.

Finally came the issue of the tasks they would take up in the near future. First there was a call for solidarity with grassroots struggles in general. Then came the proposals: the creation of a class-based front, a national front for jobs, a network of small markets for organic products and one for fair trade among communities. There was an emphasis on the importance of supporting a national gathering of young people, of forming a national roundtable of leftist groups, of solidarity with political prisoners, of defending human rights defenders. Some insisted on including those who have been forgotten and those who have nothing even to defend. Others proposed promoting massive electoral abstention. It was also decided that this point would continue being discussed by all those who had signed on to “the other campaign.”

To get an idea of how many are following these Zapatista-led discussions by Internet, the figure is available on the Revista Rebeldía web page. By the beginning of October 2005, the text of the Sixth Declaration had 1,715 hits, Marcos’ closing words at the first plenary 1,753, and the page presenting agreement with and opposition to “the other campaign” 12,433.

At the close of the plenary, Marcos declared that he was simply the EZLN spokesperson and would not agree to be the spokesperson for “the other campaign.” In any event, he commented, the first step would have to be to define if it even needed or wanted a spokesperson or preferred to let organizations or individuals speak for themselves. What had been fundamental was the practice they started with: consult everybody so no one was left out and take everyone’s opinion into account so that those who were the largest, knew more or talked more didn’t end up prevailing. Everyone should decide on and set the course, even if that means leaving urgent tasks pending a while longer.

As it was anticipated that the members of “the other campaign” would begin receiving threats and even experience repression, it was decided to respond by mobilizing all peaceful and civil means to defend anyone who came under attack.

The EZLN pledged to send a letter to all adherents listing the different options in each of the points addressed and requesting that they be discussed and the corresponding pronouncements sent back. It asked that this be done as soon as possible, but with the necessary patience to guarantee the participation of all. Only this way could it be guaranteed that “the other campaign” would find its course and take shape.

Marcos’ leadership:
Affronts and intolerance

The Zapatista movement made important progress when it concentrated on constructing autonomous municipalities and regions, but by closing itself it off, its relationships with old allies cooled off and in some cases were even broken. If the EZLN was now interested in unleashing a broad national movement, it had to stanch some still open wounds. It has in fact done that, in a process of self-criticism and dialogue, reestablishing those ties and rebuilding old bridges with various social movements.

Nonetheless, it is impossible to ignore serious problems and evident contradictions in the dynamic of “the other campaign.” Some argue that despite everything said about Subcomandante Marcos having a subordinated role in the Zapatista leadership, about merely being a spokesperson because everything is consulted, his overwhelming presence and immediate responses make him appear as an indisputable leader who imposes points of view that are embraced without much internal discussion. Many also believe that he has contrived such personalism that many critical commentaries are taken as affronts.

It is very questionable, for example, to try to push forward “the other campaign” with major insults. The EZLN claims that it is defending a vision that reaches beyond the moment, but it is dealing with the electoral moment in a very opportunistic way. Thus the tour to be headed by Marcos coincides exactly with the campaign period. Making “the other campaign” coincide with the electoral year will unquestionably influence the elections. So, in the end, there is self-criticism of old insults but new ones are being committed without prior deliberation. In other words, the EZLN’s self-criticism is selective.

The Zapatista movement argues that it opposes the whole political class, but more often than not it has referred only to the PRD—to which it has directed many strong disqualifications. The disproportionate tone of its insults and taunts against the PRD and its presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has been held up as an expression of great intolerance.

It must not be forgotten that Marcos previously adopted similar tones against individuals with positions very close to the Zapatistas, but who dared to differ on some points and to express their critiques. Rather than engage in discussion, Marcos responded with angry dismissals and summary disqualifications. While Zapatistas talk about creating a world with room for other worlds, they have demonstrated narrow and sectarian visions that hearken back to the tradition of the old Left. Their movement is trying to bring together part of the Left, that part outside the PRD, but by its hostile logic, it obliges those who want to follow it to make an unnecessarily hard-line choice.

The EZLN’s obsessive and disproportionate attack on the PRD is a bit contradictory: on the one hand Marcos accuses the party of being a conglomerate of infighting tribes, while at the same time attributing to it the actions of a homogenous top-down body. The most problematic aspect is that Marcos is going after a presidential pre-candidate who consistently gets the highest popularity ratings, and this obviously has political repercussions.

His relentless attacks raise many questions: is the aim to wrest votes away from the PRD so that the clearly rightwing options win, thus aggravating the contradictions? Marcos is leading a negative electoral campaign with no other option than abstention. Does he and his movement think it is better to abandon the electoral game and citizens’ rights to those who currently dominate power? Marcos has also been accused of falling into the temptation of dirty media wars.

It is extremely important for the EZLN to define its non-negotiable positions and its positions of consensus clearly, in a way not related to the 2006 elections or limited to any other passing concern. If the PRI wins with Madrazo as its candidate, dignified by a hard-line vote in a sea of abstention, it would be the end of any pluralism in the state and an even greater threat would hover over the Zapatista movement. Accepting that a victorious López Obrador would hardly represent an ideal for a leftist movement, and would certainly not augur a radical transformation of the country, does not imply ignoring that his awareness of the needs of the poor and excluded and his struggle against inequality could bring advantages.

By setting López Obrador up as the main rival to beat, the Zapatista movement seems to have lost sight of the main enemy. The most recent Zapatista position divides the Left and many do not accept that the choice must be a leftist variant on Bush’s threat: you’re either with the Zapatistas or with López Obrador. The excessive criticism of the PRD has annoyed many who back the PRD but also support the Zapatista demands. A broad front, an anti-capitalist program and a new Constitution involve working for the creation of a political force that can make the demands of the majorities viable, and that cannot happen with divisions at the bottom.

Why are the attacks
on the PRD so harsh?

There are conflicting interpretations of the Zapatistas’ persistent critique of the PRD. It could be understood as a kind of desire to destroy the old, so that something new can be generated that goes beyond the decrepit party-ocracy that so harms the interests of the majorities. The critique of vacuous electoral processes, caught up in cynical and wasteful marketing is aimed at freeing people from these repetitive electoral cycles, identifying them with ephemeral, grotesque and coarse aspects of their outrageously costly TV campaign spots.

This marking of the PRD’s boundaries can also be read as a new version of the Left at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st. The dreams of that old Left, conceived as an illuminated group that takes power through armed means to make the transformations that the exploited masses long for, are no longer under discussion, having ended in the enormous failure of what was called real socialism. What is being questioned now is the electoral path adopted by various Latin American leftist movements. As has happened in Brazil and Central America, particularly Nicaragua, those movements have been subjected to the logic of the powers that be, and in a context that has propitiated enormous corruption. Seeing this, the Zapatista movement may be proposing something different through its emphatic opposition to the electoral scenario. It would obviously be desirable to see a strengthened Left that does not accommodate itself, but really responds to its transforming role.

The Zapatista drawing of lines could also be interpreted as a confrontational posture to avoid confusion among the huge sectors afflicted by poverty and exclusion. The call for a “new campaign” has nothing to do with the Left’s historic attempts to forge fusions that could lead to the birth of a new party. The new convergent confluence is the complete opposite of the attempts of the registered so-called leftist parties, which are searching for a front made up of party elites and at the end of the day have little interest in elections other than to divvy up posts and privileges. In this take on the situation, the Zapatistas’ exhortations to the PRD grass roots to shake free of their elites and leave the party grow out of the imperious need to demonstrate that it’s not enough to renovate parties; something different must be constructed.

The treasure of the PRD grass roots

Whatever way one reads it, doubts remain. Some clear boundaries would have to be established to distinguish culpable from fallible. Wouldn’t it be an injustice to attribute the same blame to PRD members who attack Zapatista communities or to the regional and national leaders of that party—who obviously should respond, punish infractions by their members and mend fences with the offended—as to all other PRD members in the country? Isn’t the EZLN leadership falling into a simplistic, schematic and thus unjust generalization? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to examine the issue with greater care rather than repeat condemnations as if they were incontrovertible?

Adolfo Gilly, a prestigious leftist who participated in the founding of the PRD, wrote a piece called “The triangle and the campaigns,” which was published in a national news daily. He argues that the triangle in which the present capitalist domination is mounted consists of despoiling, exploitation and disparagement. He criticized the assault of pro-Salinas politicians who have taken over the PRD. He came down particularly hard on many figures with a bad political reputation that have ended up being important PRD candidates and leaders. He labeled López Obrador’s proposal “welfare-style developmentalism to stabilize the neoliberal reforms already in place” and he totally opposed the conversion of PRD politicians into post seekers.

So far, Gilly’s critique is in line with that of the Zapatistas. Nonetheless, he also says that anybody who proposes to organize something and goes out to towns, neighborhoods, communities and work places will come across many grassroots PRD workers whose greatest treasure is their experience of struggle, which nobody can take away from them. If “the other campaign” decides it can do without what these people have lived through and learned in their struggles, including their time in the PRD, it will lose out on a great deal. Gilly concludes that this is one of the greatest challenges facing not the electoral campaign, which will go on with its spots and its traps, but any attempt to organize and fight against that infernal triangle.

Other criticisms of the design of “the other campaign” argue that it’s simply not feasible to listen passively to what many groups are talking about locally. They argue that what’s needed is to build ties around determined objectives. The danger of leaving out those participating in registered electoral parties and making people feel uncomfortable about voting in 2006 is the exclusion of large combative grassroots sectors, which are necessary to face the enemies of grassroots interests. One major fear is that the bilious tone of Marcos’ criticism is fostering the hegemony of the most sectarian groups, which would lead to the reproduction of more testimonial groupings, which will have no effect in changing the current correlation of forces.

It’s still something
new and promising

None of this, however, overshadows the positive aspects of “the other campaign,” which brings with it a national and international political initiative to find a programmatic and political alternative to neoliberalism. It is a social movement that is endeavoring to create a new pedagogical political movement of organization and action. It is positive that the Zapatista movement is redefining itself as not only rebellious and anti-neoliberal, but also part of the anti-capitalist Left; that in response to a world where having predominates, it is trying to rescue a world of being.

We are observing an organic effort to leave behind the traditional form of parties and the old forms of mass fronts and coordinating bodies. Focusing on the crisis affecting all parties subjected to the logic of their elites, especially those known as leftist, “the other campaign” has repudiated all party-ocracy, manipulated by the powers of money, major media and organized crime. Instead, it is trying to create “something different.” In response to the discrediting of electoral democracy, “the other campaign” has turned rescuing the potential of a more comprehensive democracy into a goal and a daily practice, For all that, we should not lose sight of the fact that by implication a comprehensive democracy encompasses civil, political, electoral and social democracy. It’s not possible to erase electoral democracy from this vision, but it certainly needs to be transformed, although this has yet to be stressed in “the other campaign.”

Informed citizenry
in a new kind of collective

This long task transcends electoral dates. Given the political marketing that is deluging the citizenry with messages that it is supposed to receive as a passive spectator, “the other campaign” obliges those building it to listen to the people who are suffering from capitalism and resisting it through small daily struggles. It is an arena for the voice not of leaders, but of the organizations’ grass roots and of individuals being relegated because they can’t flash a membership credential. Innovative capacities can be seen in this initiative that are trying to ensure that what is built does not end up a prisoner of routine. The desire is to create a huge virtual assembly that debates, discusses and decides in a genuinely collective way, to guarantee a place and voice for all and keep the experts from dominating with their public speeches. A new kind of collective is therefore emerging that offers an equal and individual place within a collective of organizations or individuals. Another important innovation is that in this matrix the multiple is strengthened by both group and personal concerns. Thus, people who are not attracted by the traditional group molds can participate in a new type of broad collective that is not rule-bound.

The Zapatista movement’s accumulated moral authority was what made it possible to attract so many convergences. But it is still a challenge for these convergences to attain a level in which they have the capacity to break the vicious circles of dispersion and fragmentation. Releasing such trapped potential, when the institutions are so discredited, requires an inspirational and credible voice. If many of the contradictions pointed out are resolved, it should be possible to weave together hopeful and encouraging convergences that are dynamic and flexible, allowing the emergence of a movement that is more than a proposal, that could have the scope to remedy the currently lamentable state of affairs. Faced by an alienating maelstrom, the slower nature of indigenous time has been introducing a broad and unhurried temporality for the long haul. This proposed alternative must be patiently woven into strong and durable cloth.

With the civil society “from below”

There is genuine concern to ensure that this new construction comes from below, that it belongs to and involves those at the bottom. There is a perception that the nation can be energized through the construction of a force nourished by ethical objectives and strengths.

If up to now the Zapatista movement loosely called on civil society, it has now clearly discerned the existence of a civil society from below as opposed to the one from above. The mechanics proposed in “the other campaign” contrast with the National Agreement proposed and signed by Mexican multimillionaire Carlos Slim Helu, head of Televisiva, on September 29 before a group including Mexico’s wealthiest business leaders, anti-democratic union leaders and the owners of the largest media, an audience that was presented as “civil society.” “The other campaign” is distancing itself from the Weberian concept of power as a zero sum—what one wins the other loses—and instead proposing the empowerment of those at the bottom in the configuration of a power that, rather than being disputed, is shared and therefore grows. Rejecting the conception of a democracy closed to the elites, it is aiming for a democracy that creates shared power.

“The other campaign” is no longer just a Zapatista idea, although it prides itself on having their inspiration and dynamism. An irreverent heterodoxy has been born. Let’s hope it does not lead to a new orthodoxy.


Jorge Alonso is a researcher at CIESAS West, and the envío correspondent in Mexico.

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