Sociologist Luz Kerkeling (born 1972) works as a freelance journalist, a speaker in adult education and a filmmaker (1). After the activist of the Zapatista group B.A.S.T.A. Returning from a several months long trip to Mexico in early April 2012, Bernd Drücke, editor of Graswurzelrevolution, and GWR intern Monika interviewed him. (GWR-Red.)
Monika: What is Zapatismo? What do you understand? What should we mean by this?
Luz: The Zapatista movement is based on the name of Emiliano Zapata [1879 – 1919]. Zapata was a peasant-indigenous revolutionary in the Mexican Revolution. The began in 1910, when opposition groups started to overthrow the dictator Porfirio Díaz. The uprising against Díaz was the beginning of struggles that covered large parts of Mexico until the 1920s. In the process, some of them also realized a real social revolution. Carrying the social-revolutionary side of the revolution was, above all, the Zapatista movement, which also drew on the ideas of the anarchist Magonistas, who, under the slogan Tierra y Libertad ("Land and Freedom") propagated an indigenous collectivism and libertarian socialism.
Zapata was instrumental in overthrowing the dictatorship of the time. He fought with his people for village self-government. There were also many women who fought. Zapata was never about taking central power from Mexico, but about turning society upside down, building a grassroots democracy. People should be able to determine and decide their own destiny where they live.
Its name the Neozapatistas as Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) taken up to continue this tradition. They made an armed insurrection in Chiapas, in the southeast of Mexico, in 1994, under the slogan "Ya Basta"! Land and freedom.".
It was an interesting time. For many people, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of "real socialism," the mood was that capitalism had prevailed. An "end of history" was claimed, capitalism was the only possible form of economy and society.
It was at that moment that the Zapatistas said, "We've had enough! This is not the end of the story. We want something completely different: a society without capitalist exploitation, racism and patriarchal oppression."
The Zapatistas managed to make a lot of big landowners cower away. They themselves do not say "we occupied the lands", but "we reappropriated them" and distributed them to thousands of families. Now people can live better than before. So they not only fought politically, but also improved the material conditions of the people.
Bernd: The Zapatistas have basically been fighting without violence since 1994. The EZLN has not used weapons since then. Can you describe how this has evolved? How the international movement came into being? What was the motivation to create a Zapatista group?? Briefly, in advance, about my assessments: I can. Does not want to speak at all for the Zapatistas. They speak for themselves and all people who are interested can easily find their explanations, in various languages. My statements are based on many years of experience on the ground, but we must always be aware of our privileged position as white people from Europe, especially me as a man – and permanently question these aspects. Back to the movement: it is very heterogeneous. It arose from urban leftists in the cities. From the traditions of indigenous struggles on the ground. There was also some influence from the Catholic base church, that is, the currents of liberation theology. And of course there were still the struggles of women. This mixture has led them to distance themselves from an avant-garde concept. In 1994, large sectors of Mexico's committed civilian population said, "Your demands are legitimate, but if you continue to fight armed, you will be struck down and murdered.".
In response, the Zapatistas said, "We obey the people, the society," and decided that they would not use their weapons until further notice.
The historical situation was also particularly interesting, because it seemed as if capitalism had prevailed globally without any significant resistance, also ideologically. The Zapatistas have said that the political and economic elites have long been well networked and that we need to re-network as a left from below. From this context, a network then emerged, according to the motto "we must form an international of hope". It was not Marxist, Leninist, Maoist orthodox, but a colorful fabric of people who came together. Essential was that Intergalactic meetings against neoliberalism and for humanity 1996, which took place in the Zapatista insurgency area.
There, thousands traveled to an insurgency area, were controlled by the Mexican army, but because the sympathy was so great, people had to be let through. There were people talking to each other who probably would never have done so otherwise. This is considered one of the founding myths of the anti-globalization movement.
Bernd: You have just been in Mexico again for several months, have traveled Mexico often and have good contacts there. What are your impressions of the development of the Zapatista movement? What is the concrete situation in the Zapatista communities??
Luz: Mexico is an extremely diverse country. There are great differences in everyday life. At the moment we mainly hear about the drug war. This is justified because this aspect of aggressive militaristic capitalism has been able to spread, on the one hand, because of the crisis situation in Mexico and, on the other hand, because of foreign policy aspects. The U.S., where there is the greatest demand for drugs in the world, has imposed a war on Colombia. As a result, many drug cartels have moved out of the way. Are represented by the Mexican narcos.
But: It is not an exaggeration to say that the autonomous areas of the Zapatistas, where the state is basically not present, are among the safest villages in the entire country.
In addition, the Zapatista women – even against the resistance of their own comrades – were able to enforce a ban on alcohol and drugs. This has greatly reduced violence in their communities.
They are still a disciplined organized movement. This leads to the fact that the situation is usually actually "tranquilo", calm.
This is a mass movement that has managed to achieve progress in health, education and women's participation, despite all the internal contradictions and authoritarian outbursts of the Zapatista army.
Even as a sociologist, it is almost a miracle to me that the movement still exists at all: whether because of the military encirclement, whether because of all the money with which people are also corrupted again and again and are to be bought out of the movement. Unfortunately, violence against some Zapatista and other opposition communities continues, the state is clearly involved, according to Zapatistas' observations, and independent human rights organizations continue to make serious accusations against all levels of government
Bernd: You have written a standard work on Zapatismo: "La Lucha Sigue"! [The struggle continues!], which was published in a second edition by Unrast Verlag in 2006. At the moment you are writing a doctoral thesis on the subject of. What would you say Zapatismo has brought to the population since 1994, and especially to women??
Luz: I think the most important thing is that the Zapatista movement participatively produces an everydayness of resistance. The young people and also the women are strongly involved in the organization.
There is a village self-government. Several villages merge into autonomous counties. In turn, these join together in one zone. There are five of these zones. There is a "council of good government" there – that's what they call it in distinction to the official, bad government. There then become peasants. Peasant women deployed. It's not about cadres or political commissars, it's really the people who work there, who usually go back to their fields after a week. This leads to the successful avoidance of establishing a new political class. As many people as possible should learn to exercise self-government.
This goes back to indigenous traditions, also to various leftist currents, not least the anarchist currents around the Flores Magón brothers.
The situation of women is interesting. It is not only in Germany that we suffer from patriarchy, and of course especially women, but in Mexico it is even more severe. There are strongly rooted authoritarian traditions in the indigenous communities. But the Zapatista women were able to push through a revolutionary women's law, which may sound a bit "reformist" to our Western urban ears, because it's about; we have the same duties and the same rights, but the women were generally forcibly married before that!
The Zapatistas consider it revolutionary and their word counts, they know their reality. It is interesting that in the EZLN it is possible to speak of more gender justice. Men have to do reproductive work as well, divorce and contraception are not taboo unlike in many villages, there is also more education, but it is nothing romantic as we were always told, but a hard life underground.
And if we all take a look at our own noses: How long has it taken to make a little progress toward gender equity here?!
Monika: You said that in the beginning the Zapatistas fought armed. Do you think that if they had fought unarmed in the first place, they would have gotten the attention of the population as well?
Luz: I think that was already a factor, that they challenged the Mexican state. But we must realize that Chiapas is still a feudalistic state to this day. So, there are big landowners – also of German descent – and they had completely subjugated the people. There were such disgusting things as the "right of the first night," d.H., before the young women got married, the landowner had the de facto right to rape them. These are reasons that make it understandable why people said: "That's enough for us! We can't just do this with slogans, we really have to expropriate and disempower the people."The Zapatistas have succeeded, largely without bloodshed, in driving out the landowners and breaking some of their power. Nevertheless, the landowners were richly rewarded by their class brothers, that is, by the political elite. They have usually received huge settlements. Then somewhere else their new businesses are founded. So, there is no need to feel sorry for anyone from the big landowners.
I don't think you can get rid of the gun thing, as sympathetic as it is that they don't fight armed now. But I think that in 1994, with the aggressiveness of the government, peaceful protest was difficult. There was no public outrage and no functioning rule of law.
Monika: Then that was quasi self-defense?
Luz: Yes. It wasn't about a war of conquest, it was self-defense.
Bernd: The GWR is a non-violent-libertarian newspaper. You have also written in GWR about "The Bees," a nonviolent movement in Mexico. Could you tell something about this?
Luz: "Las Abejas", in German "die Bienen", are active in six counties in 29 municipalities. They share the Zapatistas' demands for village self-government, which also means self-determination over the exploitation of resources and so-called development projects. And they are very successful. They are moving forward, like the Zapatistas, they are building their own education and health systems, they have a radio, a website… All this was unthinkable before. They have been marginalized by the Mexican state. So it's quite a success story now. They work shoulder to shoulder with the Zapatistas. In the main community in Actéal, they also live with supporters of the EZLN.
Bernd: You also write for the newspaper "Tierra Y Libertad (Land and Freedom) – News from Mexico and more. In the current no. 71 it is about biopiracy, about the topic "Hands off our plants". Can you tell something about this?
Luz: Chiapas is an extremely resource-rich state: there is fresh water, oil, gas and, in addition to mineral resources such as gold deposits or uranium, above all biodiversity.
There is a lot of interest from different sides to control this, from Mexican elites and corporations but also from Canada, the USA, Europe, Asia, China, and now also from Brazil to get access to the Lacandon rainforest, which is also known through the declarations of the EZLN. The problem with biopiracy is that corporations want to privatize common property because they want to make minimal changes to certain crops and then think they own them. That would lead to people having to pay for what their ancestors developed.
Smallholder societies manage for the most part without money, d.H., they can realize an autonomy that we can hardly imagine in Germany. They are 80% autonomous. If they exchange their seeds and knowledge about medicinal plants, then it is possible to get ahead on one's own, not to have to become corrupt, not to take part in the power games. The call to "keep your hands off our seeds!" Is legitimate and is also supported by the population. After all, they feed on their corn, beans, squash, etc every day. That's an 8.000-year-old culture, the so-called milpa, i.E. The field for self-sufficiency. Corn, beans, chili, tomato, rice, spices and other varieties grow there. There is a UN report that says it is the best way to farm the land. The beans grow on the dried corn. The plants give each other nutrients.
This is not to romanticize, there is also slash and burn usf. But the milpa for self-sufficiency is quite different from clearing the rainforest to raise cattle there.
Monika: So in that context it's also about genetic manipulation?
Luz: Yes, indirectly. Of course, corporations like Bayer and Monsanto are interested in marketing seeds and pesticides. And there is the so-called terminator gene, which is inserted into genetically manipulated varieties and ensures that the corn cob is no longer suitable for sowing. This is a problem with a culture that reproduces itself, relatively past the capitalist market. They have internal, small markets and exchange their products. But that's different from the aggressive agro-industrial market.
Bernd: During your stay in Mexico you shot a film (2). Can you say something about it?
Luz: We're finishing a film called "When the Land Becomes a Commodity". There is the issue of small-scale indigenous lands being forcibly converted from self-sufficiency to monocultures and large-scale tourist projects. This is an existential threat for people.
What is being pushed by the government of Chiapas is the monocultures of oil palms, mainly for the production of fats used in the food industry. In the long term, the production of biofuels is also envisaged.
The third theme of the film is "sustainable rural towns". There is a program of the government of Chiapas with great support from the Mexican federal government to resettle people. In Chiapas there are 14.000 settlements with less than 100 people. The government says, "The reason for poverty is the scattering of these small communities, because we cannot possibly live in 14.000 communities lay water and electricity". That sounds plausible at first, but it's an old tactic from colonialism. The Germans did it in Cameroon, the French did it in Algeria, Franco did it inside Spain, with the anarchist and communist villages.
It's a means of total control of the population. It's about political control. To release the lands. I just quoted the UN positively, now I'm quoting them negatively: there are some advisors who give themselves up to say, "These new rural towns, this forced relocation of small villages into a new rural town, would fulfill the eight millennium goals for sustainable development".
It is bad. When the first rural town in Chiapas was inaugurated in September 2009, 65 ambassadors from Mexico City were brought to Chiapas to applaud it. So that the television also has something to report. Fortunately, the social movements recognized the importance of this program early on. It's now considered more or less a failure. This is nice. I am not objective there. I think it's an imposition on people. It's just made their way of life impossible. They are being forcibly relocated, they are being converted from small farmers and peasants into a new proletariat.
Then there are the so-called maquiladoras, where they have to slave away in low-wage factories. This is an aggressive program. Fortunately, the word is out that this will fail.
These three issues: Oil palm monocultures, the big tourism projects that also bring problems because it's also about land grabbing, and the rural towns are the themes of the film. We are making it in German and Spanish so that it can be distributed in the communities. We have been told over and over again that these films are making a difference. People don't have internet in their villages, but some family always has a DVD player and then when a movie comes on, it's always a little event for the village as well.
It is a privilege that we have experienced in all these years to be able to support these processes of resistance a little bit.
Bernd: In 1997, GWR 221 published an article entitled "Is Zapatismo an Anarchism??" Appeared. How would you answer this question?
Luz: I would say Zapatismo is not anarchism, but has many libertarian elements. The Zapatista Liberation Army EZLN is not democratic, although they also say we were formed to disappear. But especially the everyday self-organization has clear libertarian features for me. An important motto of the movement is: "mandar obedeciendo", i.E. "Obeying orders". That is, the people who hold office are only there to do their job. There is no great idea of officialdom. Functionaries can be replaced at any time. We have also seen this when an elderly man who earned his laurels during the uprising later accepted a car from the state electricity commission as president of an autonomous district. He was then removed for corruption.
You don't have to be ideologized to collaborate with Zapatismo, but it is something that has to do with your everyday needs. This principle of "obeying orders" ensures that people don't do political campaigns and say "I want to have this job", "I want to be such and such a functionary", but rather the community suggests "you do this job".
That's very different from our understanding of professionalized policymaking.
This is a result also of analyses of other social movements from Latin America. They say "questioning we go ahead", they don't have a "Mao Bible" that everyone must follow, read and memorize and then humanity will be blissful, but "we make mistakes". This closes the circle, we can learn a lot from it, also for politics here.