September 28, 2013

Subaltern Democracies: Zapatista Practices

The Zapatista movement of southern Mexico introduced their democratic practices to the world in L@s Escuelit@s or “Little Schools” this past August.  The Escuelit@ attracted over one thousand interested folks from all over the world and more attended by webcast, an auspicious beginning to the newest phase of the twenty-year-old movement.

While the Zapatistas are well-known for taking democracy to be central among both their demands and their practices, until recently not much was known outside the mostly indigenous movement participants about what democracy meant for them. With the prospect of ongoing Zapatista Escuelit@s over the next several years, it seems that what was known will increase rapidly.

September 19, 2013

“Las Escuelitas” | Autonomy, Chiapas - California

About Raúl Zibechi

Zibechi’s comments below on the Zapatista movement’s newest phase builds on his extensive experience writing about and participating in Latin American social movements since the 1970s. After participating from 1969-1973 in the Uruguayan Revolutionary Student Front, he was forced into exile with many other activists in 1976. In the 1980s he began writing about Central American liberation movements for various newspapers in Argentina and Uruguay, and he now does political analysis for La Brecha (Uruguay), La Jornada (Mexico), and the America’s Program. He won the José Marti Journalism Award for his work as a journalist. He is also the author of several books, including two essay collections recently translated into English (Dispersing Power, 2010; and Territories in Resistance, 2012). 

The essay below was published shortly after Zibechi completed a program this past August 12-17 that the Zapatista’s call “Las Escuelitas” or “The Little Schools.” This program invited activists from all over the world to come to the Zapatista autonomously governed indigenous areas of the southern Mexican state of Chiapas to observe and listen to the movement’s participants. Like much of Zibechi’s other writings, he combines penetrating observations of the ways movements of the poorest of the poor have been successful in resisting capitalist social exploitation and economic inequalities with precise use of sophisticated political theory to critique traditional social movement analysis. Woven into this short essay we find a recognition following Giorgio Agamben of the “concentration camp” character of modern life characterized by the attempted elimination of entire categories of citizens through permanent states of exception without failing to find room for liberated subjectivities in the renegotiation of Foucauldian power/knowledge relations in the classroom, the family, and political economy. Ultimately Zibechi argues as he has in his other writings (Territories, 204) for a rejection of the claim by Castells, Bourdieu and Wacquant, and Negri that the rural and urban poor excluded from capitalist social mobility lack social agency, instead making some very strong claims for major Zapatista innovations and successes in resisting the modern state, patriarchy, and neocolonial forms of knowledge. 

From The Schools From Below, originally published in In Motion Magazine:
There will be a before and an after the Zapatista school. A recent one and those that are to come. There will be a slow impact, diffuse, which will be felt in some years but which will impact the life of those below for decades. What we lived was a non-institutional education, where the community is the educating subject. Self-education face to face, learning with the heart and the body, as a poet would say.
It’s about a non-pedagogy inspired in the farming culture: select the best seeds, scatter them in the fertile ground and water the soil to produce the miracle of germination, that is uncertain and can never be planned.
The Zapatista schools, in which more than a thousand of us set foot in autonomous communities, was a different mode of learning and teaching, without classrooms or blackboards, without teachers or professors, without curriculum or grades. The real teaching begins with the creation of a climate of kinship among a multitude of subjects instead of dividing educators with power and knowledge from naïve students that need to be inculcated with knowledge. >> Read more

July 5, 2013

Street Democracy

Massive street demonstrations have recently proved very effective in another round of attempts to pressure elected governments to listen to popular opinion. While the mass protests of the past month may seem like another wave of popular movements comparable to the Arab Spring, they have spread to new countries, new regions, and new strategic goals.

April 29, 2013

A Democratic Revolution? Egypt at Two Years

Since the Egyptian revolution of January, 2011, the democratic process has been working in fits and starts. The international press has focused its attention on the machinations of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose political party won the first round of elections handily and then forced its vision of the new constitution through the constitutional referendum of December, 2012. However, other movements and parties have also been organizing and working to proliferate political forces beyond the pre-revolutionary establishment and the typical big business interests and crony networks of neoliberal governance.

April 10, 2013

IMF Loan Terms Attack the Democratic Legacy of the Arab Spring

With IMF officials visiting Egypt this week, negotiations have resumed on the terms of a bailout loan to address the Morsi government’s plummeting credit profile and foreign reserves. The IMF loan, if the agreement is successful, will come only with terms that demand reductions in social support spending following the classic lines of neoliberal economic policy demands. The IMF’s technical assistance to Egypt has repeatedly advised the government to trim energy subsidies and implement broader tax reforms, and investor tax reforms were also announced this week. Yet the investor-friendly policies and social support reductions are only part of the picture.

Egypt's subsidies are long-standing, many begun during the Nasser period but becoming essential when global commodity prices rose dramatically in the 1970s, and are now particularly urgent given Mubarak’s neoliberal policies and their impoverishment of a substantial portion of the population. Egypt spends close to 10 percent of its GDP on subsidies, and almost everyone agrees that the subsidies are not effective at reaching the poorest of the poor.