The Struggle for Freedom and the National Democratic Convention

To the Mexican People:

The current revolution was not made to satisfy the interests of a personality or of a party. The current revolution recognizes deeper origins and is in search of higher ends. [...] It is true that the dreamers think that the country will be reformed (as it was not reformed in 1910) with an electoral pantomime in which new men of white appearance arise, who will occupy the courtroom benches and the high seat of the presidency. But those who think like that forget that the country has sown, during the crisis of the past four years, unavoidable lessons, that will not allow us to lose our way, and a profound understanding of the causes of our problems and the means of combating them. [...]

Military government first, parliamentary second; reforms in the administration that it might be reorganized; ideal purity in the handling of public funds; official responsibilities that are scrupulously followed; freedom of the press for those who cannot write; freedom of the vote for those who do not know the candidates; correct administration of justice for those who have never hired a lawyer. All of these beautiful democratic facts, all of these great words that led our grandparents and our parents astray, have today lost their magical attraction and their meaning for the people. This, in view of elections and without elections, with electoral suffrage and without it, with the Porfirian dictatorship and the Maderista democracy, with gagged press and with free press, the people continue reflecting on their bitterness, suffering their misery, devouring their indigestible humiliation, and for those reasons they fear, with good cause, that the liberators of today will be the same as the caudillos of yesterday, who in Ciudad Juárez abdicated their beautiful radicalism, and in the National Palace left forgotten their seductive promises.

—Revolutionary encampment at Milpa Alta., August 1914
Writings of Emiliano Zapata (1911-1918)

by Vangelis Pandelis
translated by Todd Prane with Elizabeth Bright

At the beginning of January, when the first information about Chiapas was crossing the Atlantic by means of the international press monopoly (CNN) and some contacts with Mexican compañeros, one part of the extreme left and almost all of the anarchist movement lent its support to the armed uprising in the Mexican Southeast.

Nevertheless, revolutionary anarchist solidarity with this insurgency is accompanied by some reservations, and criticizes the hierarchical structure of the EZLN and the demands for democratic and just government.

Theses and demands that speak of a representative democracy and of the possibility of the existence of a "just" state, and of the necessity of government, all of these concepts are strangers to revolutionary anarchist theory and practice.

Because of the solidarity demonstrated by Greek anarchists, one might think that there is a contradiction in the previous paragraph. Nevertheless:

 This is an insurgency that surpasses the spontaneous character of the uprisings of the oppressed of this world. The Zapatistas have chosen a moment to start to act without loosing their impetus or their rage. They selected the day that NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] officially began, clearly opposing the penetration of the New World Order (the rich get richer and the poor get poorer).

 We are speaking of an insurgency that gets strength from the Mexican revolutionary tradition, restoring its continuity through collective memory. In this way, they have achieved substantial social support. ("The conditions of our repression remain the same, our response will remain the same.")

For these reasons, in my opinion, the Zapatista struggle has received the support of the European anarchist movement. A movement which, at the same time, is living the nightmare of the European Common Market (new forms of domination and control, new relations of production, new forms of exploitation) and which does not see on its horizons a response similar to the Zapatistas in the towns of Europe with respect to the decisions of the European Council, of the International Monetary Fund, and of the Maastricht Treaty.

"Know Yourself and Know Your Enemy and You Will Win a Thousand Battles"
—The Art of War—Sun Tzu

Aguascalientes, Chiapas, Aug. 6-9, 1994.

If we were in some country in Europe and we spoke of a national democratic convention, without doubt there would be no place for people with anarchist politics and activities. But in a region such as Latin America and in a place such as México, with the recent memories of the armed uprising in the Southeast of the country, things change.

We are speaking of the intention of a people's army to create a free space, to create a common effort between civilians and soldiers to find new paths, new organizational forms, and new struggles for freedom.

If we overlook the excessive interest and the unimaginable fact for Europe that part of its civilian population would travel thousands of kilometers to exchange opinions with an armed group in free territory, we find that the work of the National Democratic Convention can be characterized in the following ways: confusion, hurry, obsession to express the popular will through a vote, and finally, the intent of the Democratic Revolutionary Party [PRD—commonly referred to as the "center-left" party in México, a spin-off from the ruling party] to proselytize.

The sincere disposition of the EZLN to offer a space in the Lacandona Jungle, which did not belong to anyone in particular but rather to all of the participants ("You are in your house, the house of the National Democratic Convention," were the words of Commander Tacho. "This is a common effort between civilians and soldiers, a common effort for change," were the words of Subcommander Marcos) did not have the desired result. The truth is that the time necessary for substantial dialogue, for an interchange of ideas among the participants, where some could express other opinions (perhaps more radical ones) about the popular participation in the electoral circus, was lacking.

The EZLN declared in January that they did not want to seize power, and they manifested this during the convention as well, when they said that they would not support any political party. At the convention, Subcommander Marcos said, "The EZLN did not put as a condition of their support for the National Democratic Convention [CND] a favorable result for an opposition party in the elections."

It is also known that within the EZLN there is no clear tendency of support for any particular political party. Nevertheless, the decision to vote against the PRI and the PAN, and the call for the people to express their resistance within the vote, what can it mean? Why did groups and individuals of the authoritarian left with their clear reformist tendencies and whose history is known, have so much power and in many cases a leadership role within the convention? Why was the PRD allowed to lower the proceedings of the CND to a pre-electoral meeting? Who does not remember the shirts with the Aztec sun [insignia of the PRD] printed on them, the propaganda, the ridiculous painting of Marcos and Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas shaking hands under the gaze of Emiliano Zapata?

And to be more specific, why was the proposal for electoral abstention, in such an appropriate moment, not expressed by any participant? Is it possible that the vote is the right response to the violence of exploitation? Why was emphasis not placed on the self-determination and organization of the Mexican people (in the neighborhoods, in the factories, in the countryside, in the schools), organization against the domination of the sate, of domestic and foreign capital (NAFTA), against the electoral self-deception, against political parties? Who did not know that the first obstacle to radicalization in the struggle of the proletariat around the world are the followers of "social peace," reformists, and the authoritarian left.

Without a doubt, at this moment, Mexican society needs to assume its historical responsibility. Is it prepared to pay this price?

The thesis of the EZLN, which is directed towards the people and asks them to ask, is right on the mark: The people should not wait for an armed group to "dig them out of their hole." The people should organize resistance parallel to the armed insurgents, with the methods that they decide upon, in order to jointly carry out a revolution for liberation, equality, solidarity and dignity.

The obsession for expressing will through the vote during the CND created the current situation, with struggle against electoral fraud, where Mexicans have their "legal government" (the PRD) and they are going to struggle for them to govern starting December [this article first appeared in the Oct./Nov. issue of Amor y Rabia]. (For example in the meetings and marches in San Cristóbal, Chiapas, and in Mexico City, after the elections). It is almost assured that this type of struggle serves confusion, mistakeness and the interests of reaction and counter-revolution.

It is the moment, compañeros, to know who are our brothers and sisters in struggle and who are our enemies. This is the debt that all honest strugglers have. The process of social liberation cannot pass through every means to reach an end.

In the history of humanity, in the history of popular struggles for liberation, neither politicians nor governments nor elections have offered a solution. This is what people who think freely know; this is known by people who have studied the smallest part of the Mexican Revolution and its undoing; this is what indigenous people in Chiapas knew, when they rose up in arms against tyrants; this is, finally, known by Mexican compañeros who will never sell out their social struggles for a place in a party or a seat in the legislature.

In these times that we are living in, we should keep our eyes wide open. The first battle that the oppressed of this world must put up is the battle against those who trade in human hope, the home of dignified life. When there exists exploitation of a human by another human being, there cannot be social peace. We are living in a state of war.

Self-organized action without mediators or political leaders, of a popular revolutionary movement, with conscience and memory is the only path towards a society without bosses or slaves. This in the only way to end the old world. Revolution is alive in the Lacandona Jungle, in the cities, in the countryside of México, in Latin America, in Europe, throughout the world. It is alive in the souls of those who follow the wind of dignity and resistance.

All that we have to lose is our chains.

Vangelis is a Greek anarchist who attended the first convention of the CND in Chiapas and is currently working with Amor y Rabia in Mexico City.

This article originally appeared in the Oct./Nov. '94 issue of Amor y Rabia.