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.

March 30, 2013

World Social Forum Begins

World Social Forum begins with march through streets of Tunis

The Guardian reports that "Tunisian revolutionaries, globalization activists and civil society groups were in carnival mood ahead of the five-day event."

Representatives from D2C are attending the World Social Forum in Tunisa after stopping en route in Cairo to meet with pro-democracy advocates.

(Thank you to Barbara Parker for the link).

March 15, 2013

Justice Under the Law?

Two debates over justice that threaten to destabilize the neoliberal state have broken out in recent days. In the United States, legislators have objected to the threatened federal government use of drones to kill U.S. citizens while on U.S. territory. In Egypt, a court verdict contested by various participants in the Arab Spring revolution was issued in the midst of a police strike.  For both debates a central question remains: whether legislative and court systems will be able to limit the reach of the President, a time-honored defense against abuse of power by sovereign authorities and strategy promoting justice in the exercise of government power.

January 23, 2013

Populism or Democracy?

After the December, 2012 constitutional referendum in Egypt we find that electoral success may not translate into popular support. So how do democracies come to diverge from populism?
Democratic governments claim that the will of the populace is represented in government decision-making and policy. Yet historically democracy has had two broad variants. One variation, widespread until the early 19th century, was where ordinary people by force of numbers govern, so that democracy (sometimes known as popular democracy) is shaped by a relation between all the people and a form of government. A second now more commonly accepted form is where carefully selected representatives govern.  The claim of electoral democracies to full democracy is based on the second form, which unfortunately is now widely associated with democracy to the exclusion of the earlier and still popular sense.

January 7, 2013

Jean-Luc Nancy

Jean-Luc Nancy points out that democracy now means (or signifies) a number of totally different things: politics, ethic, law, civilization—and therefore means nothing.

Chantal Mouffe

Much of democratic thought, especially liberal and deliberative forms of democracy, is dependent upon, and emphasizes, consensus and majority rules. But according to Mouffe, consensus oppresses differences--in race, opinions, class, gender, etc.--by forcing conformity according to similarities with, most often, the privileged groups in any society. Because of the ubiquity of power—the tendency for the majority to rule the minority—and the plurality of values in any given society, decisions are never neutral or purely democratic; they are always excluding, privileging, and determining according to certain criteria. It is therefore impossible to achieve the proposed aim of liberal and deliberative democracies: fully inclusive rational consensus.

Jean-François Lyotard

In contemporary politics, the word democracy most often connotes ideas like government, state, human rights, law, etc. It is often perceived as a system or meta-narrative designed to organize and order differences hierarchically according to the majority rule (aggregative democracy), or particular “(I)deas of reason,” such as freedom, patriotism, human rights, nationalism, justice, etc.

Jacques Derrida

Most basically, Jacques Derrida's thesis is that enactment of a democratic political state must, in some fundamental ways, undermine the very principles of democracy upon which it is founded. The paradox of democracy is this: democracy is, by definition, necessarily always open to it’s other, to non-democracy. Democracy, as the direct will of the people, contains the possibility that you could actually vote for the end of democracy. If democracy is truly democratic, then it must be open to the democratic election of a new form of government, or the democratic cessation of democracy. The alternative to democracy, or criticisms of democracy can be held within democracy. Democracy thus only and always exists in and as this tension between its idea and its realization.

Alain Badiou

Building on Plato’s two theses about democracy, Badiou suggests democracy can be viewed as both a form of government (the state), and mode of subject-construction (the democrat). But, according to Badiou, the fundamental question at the heart of the democratic government—at heart of all of its state structures—is “of what objective space, of what settled collectivity, is democracy a democracy.” In other words, over what constituency does democracy govern? His answer: (D)emocrats. Therefore, since the democrat is at the heart of democracy-as-government, Badiou suggests we look for democracy at the subjective impact of this state rather than at its objective state status; he proposes a shift in focus from the legal framework of democracy to the democrat.