The Journey for Life: To What End?
The Journey for Life: To What End?
A clarification: often when we say “los Zapatistas,” we are not referring to men, but to the Zapatista villages [pueblos]. And when we say “las Zapatistas,” we’re not describing women, but the Zapatista communities [comunidades]. That’s why you’ll notice this ‘gender-hopping’ in our wording. When we refer to gender we always use “otroa” to mark the existence and struggle of those who are neither men nor women (our ignorance on the subject prevents us from going to details—but soon we will learn to name all of the differences).
That said, the first thing that you should know or understand about the Zapatistas is that when we are going to do something, we prepare first for the worst. We start with a disastrous ending and prepare in reverse to confront it, or ideally to avoid it.
For example, we imagine being attacked: the usual massacres, genocide disguised as modern civilization, total extermination—and we prepare for those possibilities. On January 1, 1994, we did not imagine defeat: we assumed it as a certainty.
Maybe that helps you understand our initial shock, hesitation, and any puzzling improvisation on our part when, after so much time, effort, and preparation for ruin, we discovered that…we live.
So it is out of that skepticism that we develop our initiatives: some smaller, some larger, all outrageous. Our calls are always directed at “the other,” that which is beyond our daily horizon but which we recognize as necessary in the struggle for life, which is to say in the struggle for humanity.
In the maritime version of this initiative-gamble-delirium-folly, we prepared for the Kraken, a storm, or a stray white whale to wreck the vessel. That’s why we carved canoes and sent them with the 421st Squadron on La Montaña all the way to Vigo, Galicia, Spanish State, Europe.
We also knew that we might not be welcomed, so we sought in advance consensus for the invasion—that is, the visit… Actually, we’re still not sure whether we’re exactly “welcome”. For more than one man, woman, or other [una, uno, unoa], our presence is annoying, if not frankly disruptive. And we get it: it could be that after a year or more of lockdown, some might find it inconvenient that a group of indigenous Mayans, mere producers and consumers of commodities (electoral or otherwise), would try to talk in person. In person! (Do you remember how that used to be a part of daily life?) And worse, that they would make it their principal mission to listen to you, to pepper you with questions, to share nightmares and, of course, dreams.
We prepared for the bad governments to impede or put up obstacles to our departure and arrival in one way or another; that’s why a few Zapatistas were already in Europe… Oops, I shouldn’t have put that down on paper, erase that. We already knew that the Mexican government would create obstacles for us. It remains to be seen what the rest of the European governments will say and do—so far Portugal and the Spanish State did not put up any opposition.
We prepared for the mission to fail, that is, for it to turn into a media event and by the same token become fleeting and irrelevant. That’s why we primarily accepted the invitations of those who wanted to listen and talk, that is, to converse, because our principal objective is not massive demonstrations—though we do not rule them out—but the exchange of stories, knowledge, feelings, assessments, challenges, failures, and successes.
We prepared for the plane to fail: that is why we embroidered parachutes of many colors so that instead of a “D Day” in Normandy (oh, oh, does that mean that the plane landing will be in France?… Huh?… In Paris??), there would be a “Z Day” for the Europe of below, and it would look like the sky is raining flowers, as if Ixchel[i], mother goddess, rainbow goddess, is accompanying us, and with her hand and her flight, opening a second front for the invasion; even better now that, thanks to the Galicia of below, the 421st Squadron has managed to secure access to a beachhead in the lands of Breogán[ii].
In short, we are always prepared to fail… and to die. For that reason, life, for Zapatismo, is a surprise that must be celebrated every day, all the time; even better if it includes dancing, music, and art.
Over all these years we have learned many things, perhaps most importantly how small we are, and I’m not referring to stature or weight but the size of our endeavor. Contact with people, groups, collectives, movements and organizations from different parts of the planet has shown us a diverse, multiple, and complex world which has reinforced our conviction that any proposal of hegemony or homogeneity is not only impossible but is, above all, criminal.
Attempts to impose ways and gazes—not infrequently hidden behind cardboard nationalisms in the window displays of the mall of electoral politics—are criminal because they aim to exterminate differences of all kinds.
The other is the enemy: the differences in gender, race, sexual or asexual identity, language, skin color, culture, belief or disbelief, conceptualization of the world, physique, beauty stereotype, story. Taking into account all the worlds there are in the world, there are practically as many enemies, real or potential, as there are human beings.
We could say that almost any affirmation of identity is a declaration of war against difference. I said “almost,” and we cling to that “almost” as the Zapatistas that we are.
According to our ways, our calendars, and in our geography, we have reached the conclusion that it is always possible for the nightmare to get worse. The pandemic of the so-called “Coronavirus” is not the apocalypse; it is only its prelude. If the media and the social networks wanted to pacify us before, “informing” us about the extinction of a glacier, an earthquake, a tsunami, a war in a distant part of the planet, the assassination of another indigenous person by paramilitaries, a new aggression against Palestine or the Mapuche people, governmental brutality in Columbia and Nicaragua, images of camps of migrants from another place, another continent, another world, thereby convincing us that that is all “happening elsewhere,” in just a few weeks, the pandemic showed that the world can be merely a parochial, selfish, stubborn and vulnerable backwater. The different national governments are the gangs that aim to control a street or a neighborhood through “legal” violence, but the “kingpin” who controls everything is capital.
In short, worse things are coming. But you already knew that, right? And if not, well then it’s time that you found out. Because, in addition to trying to convince you that pain and misfortune will always befall others (until they don’t anymore, until they sit down with you at the table, disrupt your sleep and leave you without tears), they tell you that the best way to confront these threats is as a lone individual.
They tell you that you can avoid evil by distancing yourself from it, building a self-contained world, and constantly shrinking it until all that fits is “I, me, mine.” And for that purpose they offer you custom “enemies,” always with a weak flank and easily defeated via buying and consuming: Hey, you, take a look at this item that coincidentally is on sale today only, you can buy it and receive it at the door of your bunker in a matter of hours, days… or weeks, because the machine has discovered (surprise!) that its money also depends on the circulation of commodities, and, if that process stops or slows down, the beast suffers… so distribution and delivery is also profitable.
But, as Zapatistas we are, we have studied and analyzed and we want to interrogate the conclusions we have arrived at through encounters with scientists, artists, philosophers, and critical analysists from all over the world.
But not just them: also and especially with those who, in the everydayness of their struggles, have endured and warned about the tragedies to come. In the social realm, we hold in high esteem the analysis and assessment of whoever puts their skin in the game in the fight against the machine, and we are skeptical of those who opine, assess, advise, judge, and condemn or absolve from an outside perspective.
Note, however, that we consider the critical gaze of the “outsider” to be necessary and vital because it allows us to see things that can’t be seen in the thick of the fight and provides knowledge about the genealogy of the beast, its transformations and its functioning.
In short, we want to speak with and above all to listen to whomever is up for it. And their color, size, race, sex, religion, political militancy, or ideological stumbling do not matter to us, as long as we agree on the general outlines of the murder machine as we have discussed.
Note though that if in speaking about the criminal, someone sees it as a predetermined fate, bad luck, “the natural order of things,” divine wrath, laziness, or human nature, then in that case we have no interest in listening or talking. To understand those explanations it suffices to watch telenovelas and get on social media in search of confirmation.
Which is to say, we believe that we have established the identity of the criminal, their modus operandi, and the crime itself. Those three characteristics combine to form a system, or a way of relating with humanity and with nature: capitalism.
We know that the crime is ongoing and that its culmination will be catastrophic for the entire world. But, no, that’s not the conclusion that we want to corroborate.
It turns out that, also through studying and analyzing, we have discovered something that could be important, or not; it depends.
Taking it as a given that this planet will be annihilated, at least the form in which we currently perceive it, we have been researching the possible options.
That is, the boat is sinking and up above they say that nothing is wrong, that it is temporary. Yes, like when the tanker Prestige shipwrecked on the European coasts (2002)—Galicia was the first witness and victim—and the corporate and governmental authorities said that only a few trickles of oil had spilled. Neither the boss nor his overseers and managers paid for the disaster. The towns that survive by fishing on those coasts paid for it, and are still paying for it, as will their descendants.
By “boat” we mean the planet that is homogenized and hegemonized by a system: capitalism. Of course, they’ll be able to say that “that’s not our boat,” because what’s sinking is not just one system but the whole entire world, including the most distant and isolated corners, and not just in its centers of Power.
We understand that there are some who believe that it’s still possible to mend, patch, paint a little here and there, and remodel the boat, and who act accordingly. But to keep it floating by any means necessary also means selling the fantasy that it’s possible to have megaprojects which will not only not destroy entire villages but which also will not affect nature.
We understand there are people who think that it’s enough to be very determined and to enthusiastically apply makeup (at least until the elections are over). There are those who believe that the best response to the cries of “Nunca mais” [Never again!] that are repeated in every corner of the planet will be promises and money, political programs and money, good intentions and money, flags and money, fanaticisms and money. There are the faithful who believe that the problems of the world can be reduced to a lack of money.
And money requires roads, large-scale civilizing projects, hotels, malls, factories, banks, labor, consumers… police and armies.
The so-called “rural communities” are classified as “underdeveloped” or “backwards” because the circulation of money, that is, of commodities, is nonexistent or very minimal. It’s not important, for example, that their rate of femicide and gender-based violence are lower than in urban areas. Government achievements are measured by the number of neighborhoods destroyed and repopulated by producers and consumers of commodities, thanks to the reconstruction of that territory. Where before there was a milpa, natural spring or forest, now there are hotels, malls, factories, power plants… gender violence, persecution of difference, drug trafficking, infanticide, human trafficking, exploitation, racism and discrimination. In short: c-i-v-i-l-i-z-a-t-i-o-n.
Their idea is that the rural population becomes an employee of the “urbanization” process. They will go on living, working, and consuming in their locality, but the owner of all of their surroundings will be an industrial-commercial-financial-military conglomerate whose headquarters is in cyberspace and for whom the conquered territory is just a point on the map, a percentage of profits, a commodity. And the real result will be that the originary population will have to migrate, because capital will bring with it its own “qualified” employees. The originary population will have to water gardens and clean parking lots, storefronts and pools where before there was farmland, forests, coasts, lakes, rivers, and springs.
What they hide is that, after the expansions (“wars of conquest”) of the States—whether they are internal (“incorporating more of the population into modernity”), or external with different alibis (like the government of Israel in its war against Palestine)—there’s a common logic: the conquest of a territory for commodities, that is, for money, that is, for capital.
But we understand that those people, in order to become the cashier who manages the payments and receipts that give life to the machine, who form electoral political parties, broad or narrow fronts to fight for access to government, “strategic” alliances and ruptures, and all of the nuances in which efforts and lives are engaged, hide enormous failures behind small successes. A little law there, an official dialogue here, a news story there, a tweet here, a like there, and nevertheless, to give an example of the global crime in progress, femicides are on the rise. In the meantime, the left rises and falls, the right rises and falls, the center rises and falls. As the unforgettable Malagueña Marisol, sang, “life is a tómbola”[iii]: everyone (above) wins, everyone (below) loses.
But “civilization” is just a flimsy alibi for brutal destruction. The poison keeps gushing (not from the Prestige this time, or not just from that vessel) and the entire system seems ready to poison the last corner of the planet, because destruction and death are more profitable than stopping the machine.
We are sure that you could add more and more examples: snapshots of an irrational and nevertheless real nightmare.
So for the past several decades we have focused on looking for alternatives. The construction of rafts, canoes, boats, and even larger craft (the Sixth as an improbable ark) has a well-defined horizon. We will have to land somewhere.
We have read and continue to read. We have studied and we continue to do so. We analyzed then and now. We opened our heart and our gaze, not to current or past ideological trends, but to science, to art, and to our stories as originary peoples. And with those knowledges and tools, we have discovered that there is, in this solar system, a planet that could be habitable: the third planet from the sun that up to now has appeared in the textbooks and scientific publications under the name of “Earth.” For further reference it’s between Venus and Mars: in other words, according to certain cultures, it’s between love and war.
The problem is that that planet is still a heap of debris, real nightmares and tangible horrors. Little is left standing: even the plot that hides the catastrophe is cracking. So, how to put it: the point is not to conquer that world and enjoy the winner’s spoils. It’s more complicated and requires, yes, a global effort: we will have to make the world anew.
Now, according to the big Hollywood blockbusters, the way out of a global catastrophe (always something external: aliens, meteors, inexplicable pandemics, zombies resembling candidates for public office) is for all the governments of the world to join together (headed by gringos)… or, worse, for the United States government to be synthesized in an individual [un individuo] or una individua (because the machine has learned by now that the farce should be inclusive) who has the politically correct racial and gender characteristics but wears on their chest the mark of the Hydra.
Far from those fictions, reality shows us that everything is a business: the system produces the destruction and sells you the tickets to flee from it… to space. And, of course, in the offices of the big corporations there are brilliant projects for interstellar colonization… with the private ownership of the means of production included. In other words, the system is moving, intact, to another planet. The “all included” package refers to those who work, to those who live off of those who work, and to their relation of exploitation.
But sometimes they don’t only look to space: “green” capitalism fights for “protected” zones on the planet, ecological bubbles where the beast can take shelter while the planet heals its wounds (which should take just a few million years).
When the machine talks about “a new world” or “humanizing the planet,” it’s thinking about territories to conquer, depopulate and destroy to later repopulate and rebuild them with the same logic that now has the whole world hanging over an abyss, always ready to take the next step forward that progress demands.
You might think that it’s not possible that someone could be so stupid as to destroy the house where they live. “The frog doesn’t drink all of the water in the pond,” says a Sioux proverb. But if you attempt to apply rational logic to the functioning of the machine, you will not understand (well, neither will the machine). Moral and ethical assessments are no use. The logic of the beast is profit. Of course, you could ask how it is possible that an irrational, immoral, and stupid machine rules the destinies of a whole planet. Ah, (sigh), that is in its genealogy, in its very essence.
But leaving aside the impossible exercise of bringing rationality to the irrational, you will reach the conclusion that it is necessary to destroy that spawn which, no, is not the devil’s: unfortunately it is human.
And, of course, you study, read, confront, analyze, and discover that there are grand proposals for moving forward: from those who propose a fresh shave and makeup, to those who recommend classes in morality and logic for the beast, passing through new or old systems.
Yes, we understand, life is shit and it is always possible to take refuge in that cynicism that is so overvalued in social media. The late SupMarcos used to say, “The bad part is not the fact that life is shit, it’s that they make you eat it and still expect you to be grateful.”
But let us suppose otherwise: that you know that in effect life sucks, but your reaction is not to retreat into yourself (or into your “world;” that depends on your number of “followers” on current or future social media platforms). So you decide to embrace, with faith, hope, and charity, one of the options presented to you, and you choose the best, the biggest, the most successful, the most famous, the one that’s winning… or the one that’s close by.
Big projects from new and old political systems, impossible delays of the clock of history, patriotic nationalisms, futures shared by force with such-and-such candidate taking office and staying there until everything is fixed. Your faucet drips? Vote for such-and-such. A lot of noise in the neighborhood? Vote for so-and-so. The cost of transportation, food, medicine, energy, school, clothes, entertainment, culture has risen? You’re afraid of immigration? You feel uncomfortable around people with dark skin, different beliefs, incomprehensible languages, different heights and complexions? Vote for…
There are even those who share the same objective and differ only on the method, and later they repeat above what they critique below. With disgusting contortions and arguments about political strategies, they support the repeat culprits of crime and stupidity. They demand that the people endure oppression so as to support the “correlation of international forces and the rise of the left in the area.” But Nicaragua is not Ortega-Murillo[iv] and it won’t take the beast long to figure it out.
In all of those grand offers of solutions in the deadly supermarket of the system, they don’t usually tell you that they involve the brutal imposition of hegemony, and a decree of persecution and death for whatever is not homogenous with the winner.
The governments govern for their followers, never for those who are not. The stars of the social networks feed their followers, even at the cost of sacrificing intelligence and shame. And “political correctness” makes us grin and bear it, which will later come back to bite those who recommend resigning oneself to that reality “so as to not benefit the primary enemy.”
Is Zapatismo one more grand answer to the problems of the world?
No. Zapatismo is a bunch of questions. And the smallest can be the most disturbing: And you?
In the face of the capitalist catastrophe, does Zapatismo propose an old-new idyllic social system which would repeat the imposition of hegemonies and homogeneities now deemed “good”?
No. Our thought is small like us: it is the efforts of each person, in their own geography and according to their own calendar and customs, which will perhaps allow the liquidation of the criminal and, simultaneously, the remaking of everything. And everything is everything.
Each person, according to their calendar, their geography and their customs, will have to make their path, and just like us Zapatista peoples, they will stumble and get up, and what they build will have whatever name they want to give it. It will only be different and better than what we have suffered before and what we suffer now if each person recognizes the other and respects them; if they give up on imposing their thought on what is different, and if they finally realize that there are many worlds whose richness is born from and shines in their difference.
Is it possible? We don’t know. But we know that to find out, you have to fight for Life.
So, what is our purpose in this Journey for Life if we do not aspire to dictate paths, routes or destinies? If we do not seek supporters, votes or likes? If we are not going to judge, condemn or absolve? If we do not call for fanaticism for a new-old creed? If we do not seek to go down in History and occupy a niche in the moldy pantheon of the political spectrum?
Well, to tell you the truth like the Zapatistas we are: we are not only going to confront our analyses and conclusions with the other who fights and thinks critically.
We are going to thank the other for their existence, for the teachings that their rebellion and their resistance have given us. To deliver the promised flower. To embrace the other and whisper in their ear that they are not alone [sola, soloa, solo]. To whisper that resistance and struggle, the pain for those who are no longer here, the rage at the impunity of the criminal, the dream of an imperfect, but better world, a world without fear, are worth it.
Also, and above all, we are going to look for accomplices… for life.
June of 2021, Planet Earth.
[i] Ixchel is Mayan goddess of the moon, water, birth, medicine and weaving. For context see http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2021/04/29/the-route-of-ixchel/#_edn1
[ii] According to Irish legend, Breogán is the name of a mythical Gaelic king in the area that is currently Galicia.
[iii] Josefa Flores González (1948-), known professionally as Marisol or Pepa Flores, is a Spanish singer and actress who starred in the 1962 musical film Tómbola. A tómbola is a raffle in which numbered tickets are drawn at random from a revolving drum. The title song from the film can be heard here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDmu3UpDtZE
[iv] Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo, who are married.