The “Other Campaign” and the Left: Reclaiming an Alternative*

I don’t know how to say what I want to say. We are on the brink of a precipice, the sky is about to fall. At the same time, we are full of hope. We finally see the light, at the end of the tunnel. How to explain this contradiction?


          Words fail me. All of the terms in which I was politically educated, above all those that define my political position and militancy up to now seem increasingly inadequate in the world in which I live, to describe the present moment in Oaxaca, in Mexico, in the world …


          I want to say that The Other Campaign constitutes a real alternative, perhaps the only one in the current political crisis. But that seems absurd. It doesn’t make sense at first glance, when the public’s attention is focused on the conflict surrounding the new administration, and on Oaxaca. The left is fragmented, as usual, in the face of various options put forth: the "institutional way" and free-for-all seem to be real possibilities. In this panorama, adherents of The Other Campaign would be totally marginal. No one is paying attention to their proposals. The media, in which all political activity seems to be concentrated, barely notes their existence. How to raise their banner at this moment? Is it true, as many think, that both the Zapatistas and Marcos missed their opportunity a long time ago, and march slowly but surely to their political extinction?


          In order to present my point of view, I will first set forth some contextual elements.



The Political Transition in Mexico


Six years ago a poll indicated that, a few weeks before the presidential election, only 25% of Mexicans wanted the PRI to win, but that 60% expected that it would. People know about the tricks, the fraud. For 70 years, the PRI had "won" all the elections.


          The outcome of the election took everyone by surprise, and throughout the world, the media celebrated. Time magazine wrote: "On the evening of July 2, Mexico finally became a democracy." The pundits said that this key point of the neoliberal agenda, democracy, had finally been accomplished, in a country of great strategic importance for its implementation.


          Such a perception is illusory. Mexico is not what one usually describes as a democracy. Democratic institutions are not well established in our reality. Officially, we have, in form, one of the best electoral systems, but we do not have the traditions that go along with it. We lack, in particular, the primary element of a true democracy: the faith, confidence and belief of the majority of citizens of a country that they choose their representatives and that those representatives do indeed represent them. Perhaps what happened in Florida and Ohio cannot happen here, given the strength of our formal system, but we lack a culture of democracy.


          Let’s not have illusions about what happened six years ago. An indigenous leader put it clearly the day after the election: "For us, the system is like a snake. Last night, it shed its skin. Now it is a different color, that’s all."


          Nonetheless, we are clearly conscious of what we have gotten. In general, we did not vote for the winner, but against the PRI. We did not transform Mexico into a democracy, but we did get rid of the oldest authoritarian regime in the world.


          Thus we catalyzed a political transition toward a new regime. But we are not yet there. What defines the current juncture is the struggle to define it and therefore also the nature of the transition. Some want to consolidate the regime that can be described as a neoliberal republic. Others want to reorganize society from the bottom up and create an entirely different regime.


          An immense uncertainty afflicted us, long before the confusing outcome of the 2006 Presidential election. No one knows what is going to happen, with regard to this outcome or anything else. Anyone who thinks he knows what will happen lacks information. No one knows.


          The most difficult element to share with others in these circumstances is our hope. How to explain it? Upon what is it based? It is not the victory of optimism over reality. It is a new type of awareness.


          A few years ago I visited Morelia, a Zapatista community that is one of the most battered by external aggression, both military and paramilitary. I asked my friend, an old woman called Doña Trinidad, how she felt about that situation, how she was able to keep her spirits up. She looked at me, smiling, from the height of her dignity, and said:


          "Look, there aren’t anymore people dying of hunger now than before, nor are we more hungry than before. They aren’t killing us more than they did before, either. But now we have hope. And that changes everything."


          Imagine what it means to live when your children die of hunger or of curable illnesses, when at any moment, they might rape your sister or mother, or kill your father or brother. To be like that, thinking that your children and grandchildren will continue to be exposed to that horror, is really unbearable. Hope, no matter how tenuous, can change everything. You resist bad fortune and restrictions in a different way. And hope, we must not forget, is the essence of popular movements.


          Is it a mere illusion? To nourish the hope we now have, is that just whistling in the dark? We have suffered the impact of so-called globalization through the North American Free Trade Agreement. We suffer all types of economic difficulties, social banes and political conflicts. Nonetheless, what defines our situation, what I am smelling at the grassroots, what feeds our hope, is the possibility that we are in the midst of the first social revolution of the 21st century, the revolution of the new commons. We believe that we are creating alternatives:


·         We are organizing ourselves beyond development, reclaiming our own definition of the good life.

·         We are trying to go beyond the economy and capital. We, the so called marginal, are now succeeding in marginalizing the economy from our lives.

·         We are going beyond the individual in reclaiming our commons.

·         We are moving beyond the nation-state, in reclaiming a new political horizon.


          We see so-called globalization as an economic project, which attempts to root in the planet homo economicus, the possessive individual born in the West, under the hegemony of the United States and capital. This project has two attractive masks: a political mask, "democracy," and an ethical mask, "human rights." We are challenging three aspects of this project:


— We are resisting the transnationalized economy that encroaches upon and disrupts our lives


— We see "democracy" as a structure of domination and control


— We perceive "human rights" as the Trojan Horse of re-colonialization.


          We do not accept globalization. For us it is neither promise nor reality. It is the emblem of a hegemonic project of domination that we are not willing to accept.


          To understand better what is happening and how we reached this point it is necessary to take a step backward.



The End of the Old Regime


In December of 1992, the dominant impression was that nothing could prevent Mexico from entering into the First World. They had just accepted us in the club of rich countries. The World Bank presented Mexico as a model for everyone. I often heard, at that time, a comment in the middle and upper classes: "We’re not going to live like the people in the United States, but better than them. We’ll have all the goods and services that they have … and in addition, servants." Obviously, this cynical observation did not take into consideration the point of view of the servants. But that was the feeling. We were getting closer to the supposed paradise of the American Way of Life.


          At that time, President Salinas received more and more recognition every month, as a global leader who understood the way that the wind was blowing in the world and was pulling his country out of under-development. He was the candidate to be the first Director of the World Trade Organization, the institution quintessentially defining our times.


          On December 31, 1993, Salinas was celebrating his success in Huatulco. Neoliberalism was clearly established. He was only months away from completing his term, but he told a visiting high-level commission from Japan: "You can negotiate with u

Leave a comment