Zapatismo, and the principles of revolutionary autonomy in general, could be an excellent way to build a genuinely revolutionary movement in the Bay Area. But applying this effectively requires us radicals to be more proactive in networking, collaborating, and cooperating with one another.
I recently went to a discussion group called “Conversations on Autonomy II”, which was a gathering held by the Chiapas Support Committee in order to discuss the Zapatistas, recent events involving the murder of a compañero in Chiapas, and a noise demo which took place on May 22, 2014.
The discussion was generally interesting and fruitful; a decent overview of the discussion can be read here. However, I want to draw attention to a comment that was made by a former Zapatista about halfway through the meeting. . He put forward the idea that true support and solidarity with the Zapatistas shouldn’t simply be in the form of sending them money, buying T-shirts, etc., but rather, in the form of actually applying principles of zapatismo and revolutionary autonomy right here at home, to solve local issues and create local autonomous political and economic structures. (At least, that’s what I took away from his comments; I could just be projecting my own opinions and bias onto his statements). Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to have a serious discussion on this.
The compa’s comment resonates with comments I’ve heard in other spaces, such as a report-back that took place a few months ago from a group of people who went to the Zapatista Little School last winter. Here, too, it was stated (if I remember correctly) that the ultimate desire of the Zapatistas, above all else, is to see rebellions and revolutionary mobilizations take place across the world.
I like to think that the dozens of different organizations, collectives, and cooperatives that currently exist in the Bay Area shows that there is already a strong, popular desire for decoupling our communities from state and capital. But as long as these groups are separate, fractured, and disjointed, the terrain of resistance in the Bay will never approach anything even close to what the Zapatistas have accomplished. So the question in my mind is–could organizations with strong ties with the Zapatistas, like the Chiapas Support Committee, contribute to strengthening the networking and collaboration between the multitude of radical Bay Area groups?
I certainly think so. One key advantage that Zapatista-linked groups have, with respect to radical organizing, is that zapatismo seems to generally have a universal appeal. This is a rare and precious thing, given the tendency of Bay Area radicals and revolutionaries to be highly sectarian, and as a result rarely accomplishing anything practical or concrete. But perhaps this tendency toward sectarianism can be mitigated if certain projects are undertaken under the banner of revolutionary autonomy, and making it clear that it is inspired by zapatismo, and for the purpose of building a Zapatista-esque movement in the Bay Area.
What would such projects be? I think there is a lot of revolutionary potential in forging ties between two different types of groups, both of which develop autonomy: groups that seek to develop autonomous political and economic structures, and groups that seek to resist and rebel against the structures of state and capital. The former would include things like radical newspaper collectives, urban farms, hacker spaces, squats, and community enterprises. The latter is much more common, and includes everything from anarchist affinity groups, minimum wage activists, radical student groups, community organizations fighting against oil infrastructure, and anti-repression committees.
There is some interaction between a few of these groups–but what I believe to be critical to the development of a genuinely revolutionary movement is for there to be a fusion of the two types of autonomous struggles. Building a local cooperative or community political space without challenging and undermining the hegemony of state and capital means that you limit yourself to a particular space, or falling to the inexorable laws of capital accumulation. And attacking hegemonic institutions without having alternative structures in development means that you are restricted to making demands of people in power, who have next to no incentive to change their ways absent an actual threat to their power.
From my perspective, the success of the Zapatistas comes from the fact that they fused the two types of struggles into a cohesive revolutionary struggle. They have control over their own political spaces and the local means of production, but they also continually challenge and undermine the authority of the state and the forces of capitalism. The latter of this was the main motivation for the 1994 uprising, which brought the Zapatistas into the spotlight as they took over numerous municipalities and engaged in firefights with Mexican security forces.
Of course, since then, the expansion of zapatismo seems stifled–but this returns us to the original theme of how best to support the Zapatistas, and more importantly, how they want us to support them. One of the main purposes of the Little School–which drew thousands of revolutionaries, both in Mexico and abroad, seems to have been to pass on the experiences and wisdom that the Zapatistas have developed over their thirty or so years of praxis–and thus, effectively jumping over the hurdles that the Mexican state has erected against expanding locally.
Hopefully, the fact that so many comrades in the Bay Area have recently returned from Chiapas armed with this knowledge means that we are entering an era of increased cooperation and collaboration between the various revolutionary groups that pepper the area. And surely, helping facilitate this increased collaboration between existing struggles is the best way to be in solidarity with the Zapatistas.