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May 05, 2006


Christopher Day

There is a very good reason to pay cloer attention to the Zapatistas even if you think they have some deficiencies: they are a vibrant liberation struggle taking place in a country right next door to the U.S.. Are the Maoists in Nepal closer to a revolutionary seizure of power? You bet. And there are all sorts of interesting discussions to be had about why, to what degree it reflects the enormous differences in their situations and to what degree it is a reflection of the (in)adequacy of the respective lines. But from the perspective of revolutionaries in the U.S., special attention should always be paid to Mexico and presently the Z are a big part of that.

What the Z (especially Marcos) have meant by their statements regarding not taking state power and not being a vanguard are not neccesarily as simple as their gringo supporters and critics think. The truth is that the Z has said different things, sometimes contradictory, at different times. I'll be the first to admit that it can be maddening to try to decode the latest utterances from the Subcomandante. But three things should be kept in mind. The first is a realistic appraisal of the EZLN's actual and potential military capacity to overthrow the Mexican state except as part of a much much broader military-political broader. The second is Mexico's history of rule by a party-state borne from the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1921. The third is the long and largely disastrous experiences of the Mexican left with self-proclaimed vanguards.

The poetry and the practice of the Z are not always in perfect synch. The Z may say that they don't aim to take state power, but they exercise a sort of state power in the areas under their influence and control. The Z may say they oppose vanguardism, but they have certainly been the actual advance guard of revolutionary politics in Mexico anyway.

As for their class composition, let me echo Burningman. The EZLN is 99% campesino in composition -- in Marxist terminologly a mix of poor and middle peasants and rural proletarians. For better or worse, the admixture of urban intellectuals is much much lower than any other modern revolutionary guerrilla army that I know of. Of course that doesn't mean they have the correct line, but its significance should not be dismissed.

Comandante Gringo is correct that I have no idea what some people here are doing. But if they are operating in the U.S. I do know that its a pale shadow of what the Z have done in Chiapas OR it is so tippy-top secret that the gringo Comandantes shouldn't be showing their hand by insinuating otherwise. Seriously, the question here isn't what the CPN(M) has to teach the EZLN or vice versa. The question is what both of them have to teach revolutionaries in the U.S. if we are able to shut our yaps long enough to listen. Anybody here who thinks they get a free pass to act like Lin Biao on account of their cheerleading for the CPN(M) needs to have their head examined.

Finally, it needs to be said that the Zapatistas have been an inspiration to lots of folks other than the largerly white and middle-class anarchist scene. In Mexico they have energized the struggles of indigenous peoples living under crushing poverty across the country. In the U.S. they have captured the imaginations of no small number of Chicanos and Mexicanos. Each group of Zapatista supporters tends to project their own politics on them, (something that the Zapatistsas can take some of the blame/credit for) emphasizing often quite different aspects of the their words and deeds.


Being willing to learn is a good thing. We constantly have to question not only what we believe to be true but even the adequacy of our analytical tools. While it is true that many things in the world have changed/are changing rapidly, some things have not. Learning new things should not mean discarding important lessons that we've ALREADY learned.

Lenin and Mao stressed that, in revolution, the question of state power is key. ShineThePath, am I wrong? Is it no longer an important question? Am I really just imposing my own criteria?

I didn't think that many people would agree with my views here but I didn't expect people to vilify for for even bringing up the question. Humility?
Has that been re-defined to mean silence?

Here's what I've been saying. The EZLN has said that they do not want to overthrow the state. From here I was trying to draw out some implications of this line, based on historical experience. Of course the EZLN are not exactly like any other organization nor are their historical conditions exactly the same as others, this is a truism of any movement. But if we're not to be absolutre relativists here, we have to be able to raise questions based on prior experience. Especially in regards to state power. Otherwise we are saying that history can teach us nothing.

Want to call me dogmatic? Arrogant? Give me a fucking break. Pissed off because I interrupted your flag-waving with a question you'd rather ignore? Then you should have addressed this question yourselves. If I were to call out the Shining Path for their alleged abuses and brutality [something much of the so-called 'non-Eurocentric 'US left has no problem doing], I wonder if I'd still be called on the carpet.

Burningman admits that it is 'shameful' that the EZLN advocates have failed to provide a critical assessment. Yes, but does he include himself and Day in this shamefulness?

Chris Day says: "The Z may say that they don't aim to take state power, but they exercise a sort of state power in the areas under their influence and control. The Z may say they oppose vanguardism, but they have certainly been the actual advance guard of revolutionary politics in Mexico anyway." This is the contradiction at the heart of any politics of decentralization - centralization, hierarchy and 'vanguardism' are not avoidable on any significant social scale while class relations continue to exist, in the nation and the world at large. I raised this question in a previous posting on anarchism: what is the cost of denying that this process occurs?

the burningman

I had this terrible vice for the longest time of not liking music before I heard it because I didn't vibe with the people who listened to it...

Here we are in the heart of Babylon. We have the world's most powerful, and currently vicious ruling class... and around the world different kinds of resistance break out, unsuprisingly motivated by different conditions and led by different lines.

Amid that sea of troubles, during lean years when hope was extinguished to many -- a hidden army emerged in the country to our south.

Mexico is another country... but it is also a part of the same political and economic fabric we all live in.

In order to see the majority for revolution in the USA, we can't pretend we are a "city on a hill" without seeing where all the roads come in from.

How it happens, exactly, I do not know -- lacking a crystal ball or master plan. But the "life after America" will mean a deeper integration and connection with the Americas as a whole, and Mexico in particular.

Mexico IS our struggle, I don't care how easy I personally sunburn. I've worked in restaurants long enough to know that the North American proletariat often speaks Spanish, and even many of the indigenous languages of Mexico.

There's nothing "foreign" about them. And understanding how this unprecedented movement has navigated treacherous waters without being co-opted into the Mexican state, without being crushed outright by the modern and mechanized Mexican army -- well, forgive me for noticing!


Do we not ALSO need a "revoluton to make revolution possible?"

There's an old hill expression in the USA to answer those asking directions through the hollows and dirt roads: "You can't there from here."

This means you have to go somewhere else FIRST to get on the road to where you're going.

What does THAT mean?

And how can we not use this conceptual framework as a way of "doing revolutionary work in non-revolutionary times?"

We face crisis on crisis... but the class-conscious revolutionary forces in our country are NOT leading the broad mass of people.

If we want to get THERE, we can't just declare it... we can't there from here.

So where are WE going NOW? And how do the projects and campaigns we work on NOW prepare both oppressed people and the vanguard forces for what most people on earth think is impossible?

Proletarian revolution in the USA?

A revolution to make revolution possible. The EZ calls it the "Other Campaign." We are "the other," uniting the fractious Mexican reality against co-optation and capitalism, against the imperialists and their traffic in our bodies...


Nepal is more important than many in the USA can now see, or, put another way -- the victory of People's War in a country that's near impossible to invade can't but be a good thing. But the kind of society Nepal is does not provide templates for our activities here.

Throughout the Americas the masses are in motion and different lines are contending... and it is true that MLM politics do not CURRENTLY have the capacity to openly contend throughout the hemisphere.

But we do have allies. And we do have some experiments and learning lessons unfolding. We can criticially engage these allies.

Back in the days of the Revolutionary Union, one thing I always admired about Avakian's leadership was the understanding that Cuba was a progressive, initially anti-imperialist revolution, and that the NLF in Vietnam were a revolutionary army -- whatever their problems.

This was in contrast to the PL line against the "Washington-Moscow-Hanoi Axis" that dogmatically rejected national liberation struggles out of hand as not "communist" enough.

Avakian's ability to support and learn from revolutionary movements, even those that had DEEP line problems was great, and something we can CRITICALLY engage now, like comrades.

the burningman

I missed Leftclick's response while I was writing.

A couple things:

1) Christopher can speak for himself and is among the most knowledgable people in the United States on what has happened down there. Without tooting his horn too much, he was an early advocate for their uprising and through the then Love and Rage organization and publication, information was spread very widely from jump.

Support for the EZLN, and crtitical enagement with the problems they faced, I believe, had a deep effect on Love and Rage in terms of understanding poltiics proper... and helped sharpen some key questions in their organization, among their leadership and periphery.

When Chris was living in Mexico, which he did for a few years, he wrote a piece called the "Historical Failures of Anarchism" that I'd encourage interested parties to look up (if its available online in unedited form, cough).

It deals with Makhno's partisans in Ukraine and the limitations of the anarchist militia model in Spain, the need for a standing army to seize and hold territory and the political implications of this for liberation movements.

As a single piece of writing, it was a bookend to that chapter of the North American anarchist movement.

If we want to learn from someone with immense "empirical" data and experience -- don't assume Chris is just another "flag waver."

2) Regarding the question of the state, means and ends...

I visited Chiapas briefly and stayed in several autonomous communities, of different kinds, but all at least in political sympathy with the EZLN. I didn't speak fluent (or even functional) Spanish, and many of the campesinos in the base communities spoke even less Spanish than myself, using various indigenous languages in daily life.

This basic communications shortfall meant that my deepest conversations in Chiapas were not, unfortunately, with the rebels, let alone the people in the base communities, but with international supporters (and students from the UNAM... and a priest!) who "translated" a huge amount of what was happening for me.

One thing I noticed was that each person painted the picture they wanted to see. When Marcos discusses, to great effect, the idea of a "world where many worlds are possible," that's not just shim-sham.

This orientation served to "unleash" much broader forces throughout all of Mexican society without demanding acts of obedience and submission to a "new authority" that had not, in fact, established itself.

It opened a road, with millions able to "paint their own picture."

Does this dislodge the state?

Or, perhaps more exactly to the point, is the EZLN itself the vanguard of the coming Mexican revolution?

They say no. Or have said no -- even while acting as an advance guard.

Is this wrong? Or just "incorrect?" Or is it, in living actuality, a process that is open to mutation, development, criticism and exchange?

Is this anti-capitalist, ant-state movement something to wave out hand at and say... "look over here, THIS is the third world rebellion that dignifies MY OWN political identity?"

Because that's kind of what's irritating in how anti-authoritarians have promoted the EZLN to make grandiose and ignorant statements about the world movement. Shouldn't we be smarter, more agile and open-minded?


So, yeah, the EZLN's semi-anarchist line of "not taking power" is wrong wrong wrong -- and will not serve them or the people of Mexico (and the USA) AS WELL as a revolutionary line. Zapata and Pancho Villa once met in Mexico City, had some drinks and went home... abandoning Mexico to the bourgeoisie and paying for it down the line.

The same kind of provincial failure that lost the Mexican revolution could be repeated... but it doesn't have to be.


Considering all that, there still remains the questions I'm most interested in:

How do vanguard forces act as catalyst beyond their own immediate presence and stated "line?"

How do we "unleash" social events and relationships that: 1) take on a life of their own among the oppressed, 2) sharpen the contradictions throughout society on more favorable terms (what the RCP calls "repolarization"), and 3) Advance the revolutionary struggle among the people in places where the Protracted People's War may not be logistically possible: that is, most of the world these days.

We don't have Himalayas. We don't get a Yenan. We have to do this here dog in the cities and favelas and well-policed zones of the world -- AND it must be done by the people themselves.

So much respect from me to ANYONE who is making moves in THAT terrain, because even if they fail -- they are trying. And in all attempts we learn more. Criticism enables us to think, but engagement makes us matter.


First of all, when the Zapatistas rose up in 1994, it was an indegenous peasant rebellion -- a good thing, that should be supported. But we should not forget, on this Maoist website, that Marcos, from the beginning made explicit statements opposing the Shining Path. For Sendero, without state power, all is illusion. One of their chants was, "que tenemos? Nada! Que queremos? Todo!" And then along comes Marcos, after Communism has been declared dead, with the first "postmodern revolution." This is the same postmodern context that revolutionaries here have to fight against -- the limits of what has been deemed possible. Revolution is impossible, so all we can hope for is fair-trade coffee from a Zapatista collective. Marcos’ poetics about "indigenous autonomy" has ultimately led to the ghettoization of Zapatista communities, dependence on European/American zapatourists, and lack of change in the vast areas of Chiapas dominated by plantations. What is the “Otra Campaña?” Something “otra”/other than capitalism and other than revolution – a third way. I was in Oaxaca recently when the other campaign came through. I talked to a fisherman from the coastal town of Puerto Angel about it. He was telling me that the small fisherman’s union had formed an alliance with the Zapatistas through this otra campaña, but the question he still had was, “Now what?” Mexico is a third world disaster under the boot of U.S. imperialism. Unless you are talking about kicking imperialism out of the country, then what are you talking about? On the question of a revolution to make a revolution possible, I think it downplays the question of line. In many ways, the Zapatistas have been a revolution to make revolution impossible.

Other questions: why have the Zapatistas not fired a single shot since 1994? What kind of guerrilla army is this? Why has the Mexican government tolerated them, and not crushed them?

the burningman

One of the problems with reducing any complex social phenomenon simply to "line" is that it misses the military science point about "friction." Any plan encounters problems -- many, many problems. So many problems than what you INTEND to do becomes, by necessity, something different -- even IF you win.

Yadadamean is right about quite a bit, even essentially in analysis.

So, then what?

Nobody here is arguing that the Zapatista line is the end of the road, or that people here or there should be constrained by their analysis.

The "other" is not just a "third way," it is also another way of describing the proletariat that isn't a five-syllable word.

"El Otro, Yo Soy."

I am the other. The housewife, the faggot, the cholo, the landless, the shantytowns, the dreamer.

El otro? Yo soy tambien.

The EZ "we" is building a national movement, now geared towards power, through non-electoral means in direct opposition to the "populist" PRD candidate and through building connections between the notoriously divided and sectarian Mexican left.

Is this bad?

Is this something to oppose -- or to embrace and struggle for a better line? By demonstrating that better line in practice!


The EZLN's crude criticisms of the PCP/SL aside, which is worth a discussion -- and something I couldn't help but notice when they first began.

Other Maoists have not adopted the PCP line of pretty sharp hostility towards non-Party elements.It is almost impossible to see Shining Path having formed an alliance such as what the Nepalese have done, or in the "embraces not replaces" line coming from the RCP,USA.

The PCP's call to militarize ALL of society as the "dictatorship of the proletariat" reminds me of nothing so much as Trotsky's "left" form of rightism.

Put another way: are "we" fighting for a totally militarized society?

I'm not. I don't think that's what socialism is, or involves a correct understanding of popular agency in the struggle for communism. Without the people in their liberty, how can we conceive of a socialism worth the name?

Mao said: "The people make history, the party leads."

If we have a fetish of either, we get neither.

the burningman

The Zaps ARE talking about kicking imperialism out of the country, btw... and have an explicitly anti-capitalist program. I should have mentioned that just now, but the Sixth Declaration of the Lacondan Jungle is pretty upfront about that, as well as the direction towards regime change...

Whether their line, as currently formulated, CAN do that IS another question -- and I am still skeptical. But let's not act like this social rebellion isn't real -- or is stagnant. It's not. And when these comrades are under attack, we should lend support as we can.

...which includes the kind of criticism that brings out what is best in them.


The funny thing about various people talking about the so-called failures of anarchism is that in practice events like Makhno and the peasents(Makhno was actually a smaller part of that revolution then many people realize) or the Zapatistas was actually a hell of alot closer to communism in practice then those political, power hungry statists. The simple fact is unlike newtonian science you can't solve a negative with a negative in this regard. There is no way to learn from statist revolutions past. If there is any failure to speak of it would be those so-called revolutionaries who did not put the final bullet in the head of the state. There is no different way to do it as to avoid those great leaps. A statist to non statist revolution is litterally a 100% failure rate. Even though groups like the makhnovista failed, their chances were much better for the simple fact that they lived their politics. The vanguardists love to talk about how class has been internalized and must be rooted out of people through the state. How has this internalization escaped the very people who would keep the state alive?

Oh and the charges of the anarchist movement being mostly white and middle class have gotten boring. Besides the fact that the class composition of north american anarchists really should not matter(as apposed to agency),it's a baseless claim to say that most are middle class. Besides that, POC don't tend to make up much of any radical movements at this point(though in regards to the anarchist movement that is changing). Speaking as a so-called POC myself, I would like to see these identities exorcised completely. I'm not black white or mixed, I am unique.


"Even though groups like the makhnovista failed, their chances were much better for the simple fact that they lived their politics." Didn't someone mention something about lowering standards? Why not proclaim your living room a 'liberated zone' and be done with it? Old school anarchism used the nation as a framework for success, not just interpersonal relations within a small geographical area. They believed that anarchist revolution had to be generalized. Murray Bookchin has already taken "lifestyle anarchists" to task for their lowball approach to politics.

"The simple fact is unlike newtonian science you can't solve a negative with a negative in this regard." True, you can't get rid of a state by simply being anti-state. Anarchism has proven that over and over again.

"A statist to non statist revolution is litterally a 100% failure rate." Read a history book. Anarchists have the 100% failure rate. In fact, because anarchism's so inadequate for overthrowing a state, it's more of an imaginary anti-statism. You won't create a new state but you can't get rid of an existing one either. By creating the illusion that anarchism is actually viable strategicaly, not only tactially, it can only channel genuine revolutionay energy into a dead ends that leave the system intact. You might say anarchism's a "statism by default."

"Besides the fact that the class composition of north american anarchists really should not matter(as apposed to agency),it's a baseless claim to say that most are middle class." I agree - anarchism is liberal bourgeois ideology no matter who espouses it.

Jaroslav O.

(I'm going to talk at a bit of a length here, please excuse the rambling but I feel it helps sometimes to do this rather than use shorthand & assume everyone knows what you're talking about.)

There is always a problem in analysing & deciding how much or what kind of support to give a "good but not best" movement, especially in a country where such "best" movement doesn't exist.

The RCP says we should support every outbreak of protest & rebellion. Look even at its article about recent May 1st in the US, here. That was something the RCP participated in but by no means was it the largest or leading edge, yet they still summed it up as overwhelmingly positive. There are of course questions of line, & the article mentions these as obstacles to overcome but still the objective fact of millions of proletarians in the streets in action is a positive thing for any prospects of revolution.

So that approach is even where there is a revolutionary vanguard present. What about when there isn't? Not just Mexico but the overwhelming majority of countries do not have a vanguard or even an organised maoist force of any size. Nonetheless in many places the people are in rebellion to varying degrees, to name a few: Mexico, Brasil, South Africa, China, France, & of course Iraq.

What is the maoist position towards all this upheaval? It is unity-struggle-unity. We should always be joyous at the sight of people in struggle against their true enemies. Neither should we be blind to their mistakes. But it is a better situation to have ideological struggle in the midst of high level practical struggle, rather than isolated or during a lull. Hightened struggle is always better than a lull, & new ideological advances are always better than stagnancy, & we want as much of both as possible.

But it also eventually comes back to the old saying "first time tragedy, second time farce".

Campesinos are in struggle against the ruling classes. Great. The EZLN is organisationally facilitating this. Great. The EZLN refuses to make a thorough revolution. Not great.

Just like the 60s in the US -- or to be more provocative, the Cultural Revolution in China -- without the combination of a good line & sufficient power to carry it out victoriously, any people's movement will ebb, the class enemies will regain the upper hand decisively, & whilst it might not be completely back to square one, it will be something like "square one and one-eighth".

So the ideological struggle is not just idle sideline heckling or armchair coaching. It is vitally important not just to our own correctness in abstract, but also to the success of the masses of people involved in the struggle in question.

Having said that, & acknowledging that personally I'm no expert on the EZLN (neither do I know nothing tho), here's a couple specific points on the debate so far:

1) "A revolution to make revolution possible" is not necessarily a revisionist position. Obviously in the US & other imperialist countries there must be a period of preparation before the full-on insurrection. But this is also true in the oppressed countries. The party in Nepal did this, they had non-violent campaigns & mass movements (all the while upholding violent revolution as the proper path tho), built organisation, made plans, & then implemented such plans. Other RIM parties such as those in Iran & Afghanistan are also in the stage of preparing for People's War but are not yet waging it. So before anyone gets too high-&-mighty about taking up the gun keep this in mind. The issue is that EZLN specifically has thrown down the gun only a few months after picking it up in '94 -- to the dismay of many masses involved -- & to my knowledge have yet to announce any desire to pick it back up in the future.

2) What is the reason for the necessity of a vanguard & for a socialist period leading to communism, i.e. a period where there is a state which is utilised to dismantle the state? It is not because of "internalisation of class" or whatever. The reason is that objective conditions cause class, which causes the rise of the state. Not the other way around. I've had this chicken-&-egg argument with many an anarchist, who seem to think that somehow the state arrived on the scene (by a few evil individuals? or what? they never are able to explain it) & then proceeded to invent & enforce class distinctions. Just like chickens & eggs, there is a definite correct answer despite what the popular idiom is supposed to imply. The egg came first. It was the egg of some proto-chicken animal, giving birth to a mutant. Back to the state tho (& what a mutant that is!), there were various economic inequalities at play in the world, by geography or climate or gender or random accidents of history; the story is different in every location & most stories are not fully known to the last detail, but we know the general plotline. The contradictions between the classes created by these objective inequalities had to be resolved, or attempted to, & the state as the organised form of particular classes arose. There were proto-states as well just like our proto-chicken, before the fully developed species any kindergartener can recognise today. There was the slavers' state, & the feudal lords' state, & the capitalists' state -- & some states of shared possession (like Nepal's today). All of these states reflect the social & economic reality of their locations, though of course they change &/or restrict the change of this reality through the course of their functioning. So the issue is how to change the basic reality, not the way it is managed per se. The way it is managed is of course fucked, but that's not the cause. Don't shoot the messenger. Shoot the messenger's boss & get the messenger a better job. What we need to do is set up a new kind of state, of the proletariat & its allies (e.g. peasants), which goes about eliminating the state-generating conditions until they are no more, at which point no more state either. In terms of chickens, breaking the eggs over & over does nothing. The chickens will keep fucking & the hens will keep laying eggs. You need to sterilise &/or kill the chickens. Not sure how you use eggs to do that but no analogy is perfect.

Jaroslav O.

OK apparently you can put links into the comments, the article on May Day that I mentioned is here:


"Didn't someone mention something about lowering standards? Why not proclaim your living room a 'liberated zone' and be done with it? Old school anarchism used the nation as a framework for success, not just interpersonal relations within a small geographical area. They believed that anarchist revolution had to be generalized. Murray Bookchin has already taken "lifestyle anarchists" to task for their lowball approach to politics."

It's not about lowering standards, just avoiding the lousy ones you set. You are correct that anarchists have traditionally had a generalized idea of revolution, though I think that view is changing as it should. There is no guarentee that an economic shake up will free anyone. A revolution is micro as much as it is macro. Oh and Bookchin wrote pretty good critique of marxism btw. And in regards to the worst piece he ever wrote, I'll let Bob Black handle that ie wither anarchism.

"True, you can't get rid of a state by simply being anti-state. Anarchism has proven that over and over again. "

Nice way to twist words, I'm of course talking about the ubsurd position that a "state can dismantle a state".

"Read a history book. Anarchists have the 100% failure rate. In fact, because anarchism's so inadequate for overthrowing a state, it's more of an imaginary anti-statism. You won't create a new state but you can't get rid of an existing one either. By creating the illusion that anarchism is actually viable strategicaly, not only tactially, it can only channel genuine revolutionay energy into a dead ends that leave the system intact. You might say anarchism's a "statism by default.""

Anarchists at least have a chance and have suceeded on certain levels(Ukrain). The vanguardist method on the other hand is litterally doomed from the start.
And if Chiapas is any indication, there are examples of a state being overthrown(as the former governing rachers will tell you). Yet no indigenous state of Chiapas exists.

"I agree - anarchism is liberal bourgeois ideology no matter who espouses it."

Now that's an interesting comment scorchy. It would appear that the workers in Kronstadt or the peasants in the Ukrain would dissagree. I know that alot of the elitist vanguardist througout history have come from ivory towers.

As for Joroslav zilch, He ends up falling back on those crude, orthodoxical marxist postions such as "objective conditions". Anyone who deconstructs enough knows that such a thing does not exist. Everything that we know is fed to us via a text which simply corresponds to a will to power which is always contingent. It is when this process becomes fixed and instrumentalized that you get the mess that we are in. In regards to class and the state, both have logics that deserve their own analysis. It matters little what came first. Industrialism for example developed within capitalism, however anyone who thinks that process like the state is neutral is on a high level of crack and needs to read him/her some Ellul or Virillio. Phenomenas of all kind transcend their creation and grow their own legs like their postulates before hand. The state certainly has it's own legs and logic intact that need to be destroyed everybit as much as the logic of capitalism and class. Why do you think that in Venezuala the state owns 51% of the factory with the workers getting 49. Or more tragic examples being Kronstadt. The state does not give a fuck who wields it, it will feed on the internalized instrumentality at hand.

Ultimately people need to part with this absurd view that these things are separate of our ability to socially construct and deconstruct accordingly. Class and the state rest on a will, the will may not be fully sovereign as Foucault points out, but it is a will none the less. People will not be vanguarded out of their views(ie shocking the masses). Agency must change.


This piece by Saul Newman spells out what's wrong with the marxian analysis very well.

r graves

yo chris--

i'd like to read that "historical failures of anarchism" piece if it's available anywhere.



There you have it: objective reality does not exist. I would recommmend that Link go look up "objective" in a dictionary to see that it does not entail 'eternal' or 'necessary' relations, but then what is a dictionary but a bunch of signifiers referring other signifiers? Never mind the bodies [yes I know Foucauldian language too] that have to pay for this foolishness. Even Foiucault had to admit, towards the end of his life, that discourse must operate through physical entities upon established relationships, and have a real lifespan not just a ''contingent ' one that changes when we want it to.

Anarchism has a 'chance'? Assuming that the present state crumbles in Mexico, here's how it will probably play out. Mexican infrastructure will be crippled during the struggle. The 'revolutionary' process will stop at the Mexican borders, most notably by the US in the north. The new Mexican society will be attacked from all fronts, again most notably by the US. The people will need mechanisms to quickly coordinate resources, personnel and information on a nationwide level to fight off a multiple-sided attack and rebuild infrastructure. This will most likely necessitate centralized structures, but being loyal decentralists, this option is not even considered. If the new society survives with decentralized structures intact [big IF], they will still need to deal with the imperialist world, not always on terms favorable to them. Imperialists will now implement procedures to deform this society over time while still trying to crush it. No state? No chance. With a state? No anarchism.

Link, enjoy the anarchist utopia in your 'liberated' little head. You won't be able to make it happen anywhere else.


You’re right Burningman, you wouldn’t want to reduce everything to line. But line is decisive.

On the question of “the other” – not to be cynical, but I got my share of post-colonial sub-altern subject positions at UC Santa Cruz. It doesn’t always translate to real world struggles. Now, uniting all who can be united against the common enemy of imperialism – that language is actually more descriptive, if less poetic. I sincerely hope Marcos and the Zapatistas succeed in building a non-electoral grassroots left in Mexico. It seems a welcome departure from their earlier indigenous autonomism.

On the PCP, maybe you could start a separate thread on that.

“But let's not act like this social rebellion isn't real -- or is stagnant.”

I hear you… but you start to wonder in a place like San Cristobal, where dreadlocked European and Chilango anarchists party at bars called “La Revolucion” with pictures of Marcos on the wall, while Mayan women hawk Zapatista dolls at 10 cents each right outside. Donde esta la revolucion? It’s the same feeling I had in Caracas, where 75% of the population works in the informal sector and the traffic is so bad, that you can actually buy Hugo Chavez books (about Bolivarian revolution) from vendors passing between car lanes while you sit in a bus that doesn’t move for 3 hours.

But I’m sure those of you that have been to their communities can attest that it is a “real” social movement. Although It does seem like a movement (like anarchism in general post 9-11) that is struggling to stay relevant. Nothing wrong with that. It’s better than the alternative – an internet rebellion selling tourism and fair trade while Chiapanecos suffer from San Cristobal to the Mission District of San Francisco, where indigenous Mayans outcompete other Mexicans at street corner wage slavery, selling their day labor power for $8/hr instead of the standard $10 (on Cesar Chavez street… go figure!).

Christopher Day

A series of unrelated points:

1. The claim that "the EZLN refuses to make a thorough revolution" assumes that objective conditions are ripe for one. I wish they were. Unfortunately they aint. Its a voluntarist criticism. The Zapatistas have been very creative in attempting to push the envelope of their situation. The idea that they are "refusing" to push all the way is IMHO a misreading.

2. While the Zapatistas agreed to a cease-fire they have not disarmed and have been quite pointed in their refusal to do so. A twelve-year cease-fire is quite likely a first in the history of revolutionary movements, but it ain't over til its over. I presume that none of the folks who are disappointed in the Z's decision have themselves been waging armed struggle in the interim, presumably for similar reasons.

3. Its not the Zapatista's fault that Chamulan women sell dolls on the streets of San Cristobal while foreigners of varying degrees of political seriousness drink in ridiculous bars. I lived there for a minute and drank in a few of those bars myself, because well, I needed a drink. If you want to divest yourself of all your worldly possession and eschew all such pleasures, be my guest. Otherwise I'm not sure what your point is. The world is riddled with these sorts of contradictions. If you think you have figured out how to avoid them you are kidding yourself. Some of those dreadlocked anarchists are just tourists, some are doing real valuable material aid work in Zapatista communities. If you can't tell which is which, thats a good thing, because doing the latter can get your ass tossed out of the country or into jail depending on your nationality. Make all the snide comments about Fair-Trade coffee you want, its money in the bank for some very poor folks who are waging an important struggle. Whether it goes to buy bullets or vaccines is their call (and not something you or I are likely to need to know).

4. I only have a hard copy of "The Historical failure of Anarchism." when I have a minute I'll try to make it available electronically.

5. The difference between the historical accomplishments of anarchism and communism is the difference between a bicycle and the Wright Brothers plane. Getting off the ground, if only to crash land a minute later, is a huge qualitative leap over not flying at all. What Zapata, Makhno and the Spanish anarchists demonstrated was that attempts to create stateless islands in a sea of states and antagonistic class relations are doomed to a very short lifespan. Indeed both Makhno and the CNT were compelled by the logic of their situations to accomodate themselves to the statist logic of their situations.

6. The relationship between the genesis and evolution of the state and class relations is much more complicated than suggested here in a manner that reproduces the split between the political and the economic of bourgeois ideology. That the abolition of antagonistic class relations is a neccesary condition for the abolition of the state should not blind us to the powerful ways in which the state has constituted social classes and the very real problems this presents in the course of an actual socialist transition. The attempts to construct socialism so far have failed to satisfactorily resolve the tendency of the socialist state to reproduce capitalist social relations. Mao identified the problem and posed some solutions, but did not in fact overcome this problem.


That is the bottom line, no?

Yadadamean's point (I think?) -- that people are still buying and selling themselves, so what is the movement? -- is the issue.

Let us not be beautiful losers, crying of betrayal and sticking to our private utopias.

If it is true that the EZ says they will not fight the state, but will "turn out the city halls," then that's about standard rhetoric for any candidate, right or left, in the USA (and I bet Mexico, too).

After all, they had the Party of Institutional Revolution as corrupt dictatorship for DECADES.

Anybody can SAY they are a revolutionary, and nobody knows that better than Mexicans!

So, what then is the way to deal with it? If this IS what is happening, and it IS what it promises to be -- a popular, democratic model -- then I think we SHOULD try to encourage what is good and criticize what is bad while doing WHATEVER we can to obstruct imperial designs on Mexico.

Are they revolutionaries or not? None of this discussion has cleared this basic point of orientation up.


the burnngman

The EZLN is what it is doing, just like everybody. And, right now, they are not making revolution nor are they laying particular tracks that lead in that way organizationally.

Without a vanguard there will be no revolution... but something *essential* is not at the same time the alpha and omega, and the way in which anti-authoritarians/social-democrats have "used" the EZ is not the only lens by which to analyze it.

Is it a standard being demanded of the EZ by the ostensibly MLM critics here? Or a "if they aren't going all the way... then whatever?"

The point about Mexico's proximity to us, and deep interdependence, is not incidental. The point about what is the range of the real in Mexico is also on the table.

I feel that the EZ's emphasis on agency, which may be to a (fetishized) fault, is at least as close to the basic orientation of human liberation as, say, the PCP/SL's unorthodox and contradictory vision of the vanguard... be provocative.


Scorchy raises some interesting questions about the role of instrumentality within a revolutionary process. First of all on the point of discourse and material bodies it is indeed true that it works out in practice. However 1) these physical entities are never divorced from the text, and 2 the astablished relationships that obsorb are never truly fixed(as nothing in the universe is). They are only astablished because YOU make them so. The revolts of paris 68 show how easily symbols can be ingnored albeit for a fleeting moment.

On the point of a territorial body being hypothetically attact within a revolution, this is hardly a cause for indulding ones self in the same instrumentality that you are fighting. It's like Rambo and his buddy blowing their brains out before he takes on the entire army in part 3. As far as tactics go to take on a military threat, the simple fact is cell based war fare works, if you've ever read Paul Virilio for example, he goes into great detail how this has been the case. Vietnam is a perfect example of this. The nomadic, non-specialized military tactics of men women and children are what eventually wore down the US war Machine. The Vietcong on the other hand lost alot of battles and killed alot of indigenous peoples. With the instrumental process the "imperialists" don't have to deform anything. It's been done by those idiots who ask what is to be done.

No on to Mr Day. In his talk of Makhno and the Spanish anarchists, what he fails to mention is that the red fascists [SNIP -- please don't waste your own time with this kind of bullshit. Ridiculous anti-communist jargon isn't happening here. Take it back to your drinking buddies. -- the burningman]

Christopher Day

The Zapatistas have not said that they won't fight the state. What they have said is that they do not aim for the seizure of state power by themselves. Combined with some anti-vanguardist comments this had led many to view them as quasi-anarchists. Since the anarchist movement has been a significant source of international solidarity with the Z in Europe and North America, and is not a small part of their support in Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America it is not suprising that they have not aggressively sought to disabuse folks of that notion. The Zapatistas seem to like having all sorts of folks project their various hopes and dreams on them in this way. But the Zapatistas have NOT said that the state shouldn't be overthrown or that it won't have to be replaced with another state. Indeed this conception was part of their politics right up to the launching of the uprising in 1994.

The Mexican experience of 70 years of rule by an ostensibly revolutionary party-state probably has a lot to do with the Zapatistas anti-vanguardist rhetoric. The historical memory of the massive loss of life in the Mexican Revolution and the experience of watching Central America wracked by civil war both undoubtedly contribute to the reluctance of both the Z and the Mexican populace to take that route too hastily. It should be remembered that Chiapas recieved no small number of refugees from the genocidal counter-insurgency waged in Guatemala in the 1980s.

While they have deliberately left some key questions ambiguous I believe that the objectives and intentions of the EZLN are unambiguosly revolutionary. Revolutionary warfare is not a game. It pays to have all your ducks in a row before launching such things. The Z have spent the past twelve years building up all sorts of capacities and lines of communication, presumably not all of them public. I think the Zapatistas have a VERY long-term perspective rooted in a 500-year long history of indigenous resistance that may test the patience of our MTV-addled minds.

I am not as convinced as some that the lessons of earlier socialist revolutions are so clear on what is and isn't universal in the revolutionary process. Indeed the one thing every socialist revolution has had in common is that it has refused to conform to the rules laid down by previous experiences.

the burnngman

Just a heads up to discussion participants:

Please check the Rules of the Road linked in the left column.

Use of the term "red fascist" to describe anti-fascist armies is not accepted here. This terminology is used by a very slim section of the anarchist movement with whom I, and I suspect other site users, have little interest in swatting.


Carry on.

Christopher Day

Link is kind of cute like a stray cat that barfs on your rug every day. I say we keep him (and I didn't even have to lift his tail to know it was a he).

There is little question that individuals and self-directed small units can do all sorts of things. They just can't do everything that needs to be done. Insistence on the exclusivity of this form is dogmatic, self-limiting and historically self-defeating.

There comes a point when in the development of small unit warfare when success exhausts possibilities of effective action and it is necessary to move on to actions that involve larger numbers, higher degrees of coordination and more complex logistics. Even before this moment there are considerable advantages to having some kind of unity of command even if in practice small units are given great latitude. Unity of command can amplify the POLITICAL impact of small unit actions -- for example when a common type of target is hit simultaneously in many locations.

There comes a point, for instance, when harassment of an occupier is successful in forcing them to retreat to fortified positions and the question of defense of liberated territory is posed. This can't be left to individual "nomads" with guns and home-made grenades. The problem of dual power is posed concretely in these moments and this is when people discover the hard way the limits of anarchism.

Call me crazy but I take Mao a lot more seriously as a source of military strategy than Virilio. But if you want some recommended reading on the subject I still swear by "Armies in Revolution" by John Ellis (Oxford University Press, 1974). He is a military historian who documents the organizational, strategic and tactical evolution of revolutionary miltary forms from the English Civil War to the Chinese Revolution. Its brilliant and, of course, out of print. But if you can find it grab it up. You won't be sorry. Reading it was the beginning of the end of my anarchism.


Plenty of them on Amazon.


I’m really not trying to be snide Chris D., but come on, fair trade coffee to buy bullets??? Where does the money come from to pay extra for that rebel coffee? From imperialist super-profits… the kind of profits that are extracted from normal trade coffee plantations right next to the “fair” ones in Chiapas.

“I think the Zapatistas have a VERY long-term perspective rooted in a 500-year long history of indigenous resistance that may test the patience of our MTV-addled minds.”

Yeah, but the world can’t wait, man! Mexico can’t wait, and neither can the dispossessed, indigenous of Chiapas, who can now be bought (as I mentioned) for $8/hr on the streets of our own country.

The question isn’t about the Zapatistas as an indigenous rights movement. They do that great, and should be supported, and defending when attacked. The question is about Marcos’ marketing of Zapatismo and the way in which it’s become a model for “revolution” – or the post-modern, post-Central-America, post-Sendero, post-communist “future of struggle. I don’t think the problem is entirely anarchist and social democrats’ projections onto the Zapatistas. The Zapatistas seem to embrace a lot of that shit, and project it back to the world – a world desperate for inspiration. The Left in America is drawn to 3 poles/models of “revolution”: the Zapatistas, Hugo Chavez (replacing Cuba), and Nepal. It’s not a competition, and the people should be supported whenever they rise up, but people in search of line/theory/ideology/leadership need to know the true nature of these “revolutions.” Because bad line and bad leadership cause bad problems. To come back to the point about “a revolution to make revolution possible,” the Zapatista pole (partly planted by Marcos and partly by their 1st world supporters) has the effect of making revolutions like in Nepal seem impossible, or undesirable.

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