Analyzing World

Analyzing political and economic issues

Archive for November, 2012

Reaganomics

Posted by picard578 on November 27, 2012

a.k.a. “neoliberalism”

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Al-Qaeda now a US ally in Syria

Posted by picard578 on November 16, 2012

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/opinion/alqaeda-now-a-us-ally-in-syria-20120910-25oby.html

While we reflect on the 11th anniversary of the al Qaeda attacks on American soil, there is a blinding light that may obscure our view: this sworn enemy now fights hand in hand with the US against the Syrian regime.

The historic State of the Union address by US president George W. Bush on September 20, 2001 is loaded with morals and principles about good and evil.

The president’s ultimatum was clear: either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.

In Syria, there is mounting evidence that Al Qaeda and its allies are actively deploying terror tactics and suicide bombers to overthrow the Assad regime.

Syrian citizens who prefer the secular and stable state to the prospect of an Iraqi-style sectarian state may well be turning this same question around to the US government: are you with us, or with the terrorists?

This week, head of the Salafi jihad and close ally of al Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, pledged ”deadly attacks” against Syria as ”our fighters are coming to get you” because ”crimes” by the regime ”prompts us to jihad”.

Bush referred to al Qaeda as the enemies of freedom: ”the terrorists’ directive commands them to kill Christians and Jews”. But Sheikh Muhammad al Zughbey proclaimed that ”your jihad against this infidel criminal and his people is a religious duty … Alawites are more infidel than the Jews and Christians”. Because the new jihad targets Alawites rather than Jews and Christians, does this render them better bed fellows?

By his own admission, Bush stated that al Qaeda was ”linked to many other organisations in different countries … They are recruited from their own nations … where they are trained in the tactics of terror … They are sent back to their homes or sent to hide in countries around the world to plot evil and destruction”.

Yet this is precisely how the foreign jihadists in Syria have been described by reporters. They are funded and armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. And they collaborate with the Free Syrian Army which is aided and abetted by the US.

Bush condemned the Taliban regime because they were ”sponsoring and sheltering and supplying terrorists. By aiding and abetting murder, the Taliban regime is committing murder”. Eleven years later, the parallels produce an uncomfortable truth.

If only the Syrian uprising was as simple as the Arab Spring narrative where citizens seek democracy and freedom. But those unarmed protests have long since been hijacked by a cocktail of agendas which have little to do with Syrian democracy, and more to do with a proxy war to create a sectarian Sunni state that weakens Shi’te Iran’s main partner in the region.

Bush was correct in claiming that al Qaeda ”want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan” – who were all US-Israel allies at that time.

But his list stopped short of mentioning Syria or Iraq, the real targets of al Qaeda. Why does overthrowing Syria, using the same terror tactics, fail to attract the same degree of outrage?

Bush continues: ”We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism.”

This pledge appears to have fallen on its own sword, given the funding of the jihadists in Syria. The terrorists have bred and spread across borders, which is the opposite of Bush’s prophecy.

The US administration must come clean about its financial aid. It cannot use one hand to sign a blank cheque to the rebels, and the other hand to cover its eyes to their immoral and illegal tactics. It cannot hide behind ”the end justifies the means” as there are too many innocent lives at stake.

Bush rode off on his high horse: ”We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them … may God grant us wisdom”.

If the principles and morality are to be taken seriously, then they need to be applied consistently.

The US regime should be actively and publicly distancing itself from the foreign terrorists and Salafist jihadists that are proliferating within sovereign Syria.

It should be condemning al Qaeda for its militant intervention. It should be condemning the Saudi sheikhs who issue fatwas for an Alawite holocaust.

The wisdom that we see is grief over the al Qaeda crime 11 years ago, yet covert collaboration with this sworn enemy today.

Perhaps the US is applying another principle that they may have learned from their pragmatic Arab allies – the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

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Nature, Neoliberalism and Sustainable Development: Between Charybdis & Scylla?

Posted by picard578 on November 10, 2012

An article about neoliberalism I have found:

 

https://webspace.utexas.edu/hcleaver/www/port.html

 

And all this time,
in travail, sobbing, gaining on the current,
we rowed into the strait –Scylla to port
and on our starboard beam Charybdis, dire
gorge of the salt sea tide. (Odysseus)1

At this point in history, policy thinking about human relationships with Nature seems unable to escape either the whirlpool of Neoliberalism or the mist-shrouded dangers of sustainable development. On the one hand free-marketeers tout an overt subordination of every aspect of the world to private property, commodity production and quick profit making; on the other, the critics of such short term calculus search for ways to continue the same processes indefinitely. What a choice!

Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism is a variation on the classical liberalism of the 19th Century when British and other imperialisms used the ideology of market competition and “free trade” to justify both capitalism at home and colonialism abroad. Revolt in the North by industrial workers and the unemployed in the 1930-40s and in the South in the 1940-50s by anti-colonial struggles ended classical liberalism and most colonialism. These efforts, however, were contained by Keynsianism: government management of the wage and collective bargaining, subsidies to industry to support productivity growth, the welfare state for the unwaged and a mixture of counter-insurgency and “development” for the new neo-colonies.

Within less than 30 years, another international cycle of worker, woman, student, peasant and pro-ecology revolt in the 1960s and 1970s ended Keynesianism which was replaced by Neoliberalism. Workers slowed down the growth of productivity while driving up wages and benefits, thus rupturing the post-WWII productivity deals and undermining profits. Women stepped up their refusal of patriarchal authority in the home while fighting for greater access to income and self-determination. Students, often taking a cue from their mothers, challenged authorities in schools and in governments demanding rights to pursue their own interests and not to be sent to imperial wars. Peasants fought to keep or reclaim their lands and to avoid being forced into low-waged, high risk jobs in alienated cities. Greens challenged the capitalist definition and exploitation of Nature as object/other/raw-material and sought new and more harmonious relationships with all elements of a world whose “naturalness” was being constantly reconstructed. Attacked from all sides, the carefully crafted but ultimately fragile structure of Keynesian command collapsed. In this historical perspective, Neoliberalism can be seen as the latest capitalist response to the power of people to break loose from previous forms of exploitation while setting their own varied agenda for social evolution.

Neoliberalism came to be widely named as such in Latin America in the wake of the international debt crisis that exploded in 1982 when Mexico announced it could no longer meet its debt service obligations. Faced with soaring interest rates (driven by the American Federal Reserve Board’s campaign against global inflation, i.e., against wages), collapsing world output and plummeting trade that made earning increased foreign exchange impossible, Mexico and then other countries threatened to default on their foreign borrowings. In response, the International Monetary Fund and the banks that looked to it for leadership, demanded the substitution of market oriented policies for previous state guided approaches to development as part of their conditions for repeated debt bailouts and roll-overs. Local governments, whether with regret or ill-hidden glee, embraced this shift with a vengence. The policy mix which has been implemented in debtor countries, however, differs little in essence from the more general orientation of capitalist policy elsewhere in the world – so the term “Neoliberalism” can serve well enough as a general descriptor in this period. Like some criminals Neoliberalism has many aliases: Reaganomics, Thatcherism, supply-side economics, monetarism, new classical economics, shock therapy and structural adjustment. No matter the alias, capitalist policy makers and apologists in this period have enthusiastically embraced greed and profits while coldly turning their backs on working people and the poor. Their ferociously pro-business, pro-profit, anti-wage and anti-labor policies have led some to speak of a “new class war.”2 Their attitudes are reminesent of the behavior which provoked Cupid’s angry denunciation of loving things instead of people in Camões’ Lusiads:

As for those whose duty it was to dispense to the poor
the love of God and to treat all men charitably, they were
in love only with power and riches, and made an empty
show of justice and integrity. Right to them meant ugly tyranny,
harshness, severity to no purpose. They made laws in favor of the king
and allowed such as favoured the people to lapse.
(Camões)3

In all of its guises, Neoliberalism is both an ideology and a strategy. The ideology of Neoliberalism worships the market and the subordination of all of life to its demands, including government, individuals and Nature (all carefully defined in terms of its own logic). As strategy Neoliberalism involves privatization, slashed food and housing subsidies, disinvestment in education, multiplying prisons, a celebration of the death penalty, union busting, land enclosure, lower wages, higher profits, monetary terrorism, the substitution of export-oriented for import substituting development, free capital mobility, a crackdown on immigrants, accentuated racism, an anti-feminist counteroffensive, intensified low-intensity war against peasants and the accelerated commodification of Nature – all this under the banners of freedom, efficiency and profit. Should not such policies enrage not only Cupid, but all men and women who believe social institutions should be elaborated for the welfare of society and earth as a whole rather than for the power and wealth of a few?

Sustainable Development

As an ideology, sustainable development originally appealed most to those preoccupied with the tendencies of capitalist development to lay waste to the world in its haste to convert anything and everything into commodities which could be sold for a profit. Many advocates of sustainable development have seemed to reason within Western traditions that see humans as stewards of Nature, with responsibility for its care.

I never kept sheep,
But it is as if I did watch over them.
My soul is like a shepherd,
Knows the wind and the sun,
And goes hand in hand with the Seasons
To follow and to listen.
(Pessoa)4

Against the destruction of forest clear cutting, for example, has been posed the selective extraction of well chosen trees.5 Against the exhaustion of non-renewable resources was posed the conservative tapping of renewable ones. And so on. In general, the idea is to so manage the extraction and tapping so that it can go on endlessly. The perspective cuts transversally across the Neoliberal preoccupation with markets versus other institutions of development to emphasize a desirable framework rather than a particular technique. All methods which are “sustainable” are open for discussion. Unfortunately, by focusing on the adjective (sustainable) instead of the noun (development) well-intentioned proponents of sustainable development have left themselves open to instrumentalization.

Although discussions started much earlier, the official embrace of sustainable development dates from approximately the same moment as the onset of the debt crisis which provided the occasion for the Neoliberal policy offensive. The Brundtland Commission was launched in 1983 about a year after Mexico declared bankruptcy.6 Its deliberations and final report Our Common Future (1987) gave sustainable development the stamp of high level approval in the world of development managers.7 Sustainable development – a term which implicitly critiques “unsustainable” approaches to development – has proved susceptible to such a diversity of interpretations as to be integrable even within the policy orientations of the most notable proponents of Neoliberalism, e.g., the World Bank.8

In the wake of the Brundtland report, sustainable development spread rapidly as a new and appealing framework for doing business. There was some resistance from free market ideologues who incanted Hayek’s name, denounced the report’s failure to insist on private property rights and went so far as to call the concept of sustainable development “a euphemism for environmental socialism.”9 But on the whole the concept was received positively.

In the period around the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, discussion of sustainable development evolved along a trajectory which soon brought it into alignment with market capitalism. The year before the Summit, the International Chamber of Commerce’s creation of The Business Charter for Sustainable Development demonstrated clearly which way the wind was blowing. Jim MacNeill, who had been secretary general of the Brundtland Commission and primary author of its report went over to the Trilateral Commission and co-authored Beyond Interdependence: The Meshing of the World’s Economy and the Earth’s Ecology which was published in advance of the Summit.10 The Worldwatch Institute’s pre-conference book Saving the Planet was subtitled “How to Shape an Environmentally Sustainable Global Economy”.11 Later, one of its authors, Christopher Flavin would write: “The challenge is to adopt policies that make economic and ecological imperatives converge, redirecting market forces to achieve the environmental goals.”12 Instead of juxtaposing the economy and the environment, instead of critiquing the economy per se, these authors seek “convergence” assuming that there is no alternative to working within the system. When the UN established its Commission on Sustainable Development in the wake of the Summit, and then the US President created a Council on Sustainable Development, their constitution also assumed from the beginning that solutions to sustainability could be found within the context of multinational business and markets. The economy and ecology, in the words of the Trilateral Commission, could be “meshed.”

In good Neoliberal style the role of the government is generally portrayed in the sustainable development literature as subsidiary and complementary to the central role of business – a position quite satisfactory to such entirely corporate groups as the Business Council for Sustainable Development set up by an industrialist who was advisor to the UN Secretary General at the Earth Summit. “Governments,” the Council’s major report enjoins, must “create the frameworks in which business can produce the technology, the innovations, and the processes for sustainable development. Business leaders are looking forward to improved conditions as governments begin to deregulate markets, privatize enterprises, and stabilize basic economic conditions.”13

Resistance to Neoliberalism & Sustainable Development

As a result of the systematic imposition of Neoliberal policies in Latin America in the wake of the international debt crisis, their impact on humans, forests, rivers, oceans, and the atmosphere have been widely observed and intensely critiqued. The dramatic discrepancies between the proclaimed principles and practice, between pro-environmental laws and their non-enforcement, have become too obvious to ignore. Governments that have sworn to safeguard “Nature’s treasures”, look aside as state firms and multinational corporations plunder the earth and cover what is left with toxic wastes. Pledged to sustainable agrarian practices they drive peasants from the land and collaborate with drug lords and Northern police and banks to create the biggest export industry of all: narcotics Ńone proven to have meshed all the necessary attributes of sustainability and profit. All together they declaim the urgent necessities of preserving sea and air while profiting mightly from overfishing, waste disposal on land and at sea, endless burning and the production of ozone killing gases.14

The rapaciousness of Neoliberal policies – whether in Latin America or elsewhere – have provoked an increasingly widespread resistance. Efforts to reduce wilderness to natural resources are being fought by eco-warriors.15 Efforts to privatize communal lands and to impose corporate property rights on their cultural heritage and environmental knowledge are being fought by peasants and by indigenous peoples everywhere. Efforts to turn communities into waste dumps for the poisonous by-products of socially irresponsible Neoliberal development are being resisted by Ogoni blacks, Texas red-necks and European Greens. From the indigenous Zapatista uprising in Southern Mexico to recent anti-nuclear waste mobilizations in Germany struggles are spreading, linking up and complementing one another. Many have recognized Neoliberalism as a whirling maelstrom of greed, hot money, narrow vision and brutal violence threatening to suck down and destroy all who come within its reach.

That lesson is always the same: ‘Act like
you know what you’re doing.’ ‘This is the fundamental axiom of power
politics under Neoliberalism,’ their teacher has told them. And they asked
her, ‘and what is Neoliberalism, dear teacher?’ The teacher doesn’t respond,
but I can deduce from her perplexed expression, her red eyes, the drool that
drips from her parted lips, and the evident wear on the sole of her right
shoe, that the teacher doesn’t dare to tell the truth to her students. And
the truth is that, as I discovered, Neoliberalism is the chaotic theory of
economic chaos, the stupid exaltation of social stupidity, and the
catastrophic political management of catastrophe.”
(Don Durito of the Lacandon, 1995)16

In reaction to this understanding of the dangers of Neoliberalism, many are rowing hard to port to avoid the maelstrom on their starboard beam. But as Odysseus’ men discovered to their horror, alternatives unclearly seen can be every bit as dangerous as the blatantly obvious. Indeed, as the corporate world moved rapidly in the late 1980s and early 1990s to adopt “sustainable development” as its own banner, the monster in the mist was growing new heads with frightening rapidity.

Fortunately, with time, study and experience the outlines of Scylla have been perceived and sketched, the “high-jacking” of ecological issues by business and state planners has been analyzed and warning buoys have been deployed. One such buoy, or set of buoys, is the work of German Green, Wolfgang Sachs, editor of the Development Dictionary (1992) and Global Ecology: A New Arena of Political Conflict (1993).17 In his own work Sachs has traced the co-optation of sustainable development into an ideology that provides a new rationale for “environmental management” and reinforces the role of “experts” at the expense of the grassroots.18 In the Development Dictionary he assembled a variety of buoys in the form of warning essays from various parts of the world, some North, some South. Among them can be found essays by Serge Latouche from France who wrote Faut-il Refusé le Developpement? (1986) and La Planéte des Naufragés (1991), Vandana Shiva from India, author of Staying Alive: Women, Ecology & Development (1989), Ivan Illich founder of CIDOC in Cuernavaca, Mexico and Gustavo Esteva from Mexico author (with Madhu Suri Prakash of India) of the forthcoming book Grassroots Postmodernism: Human Rights, The Individual Self and the Global Economy (1997?).19 All of these authors have not only elaborated critiques of sustainable development but, eschewing utopian speculation or ideological rhetoric, have evoked or sought to map existing alternatives at the grassroots.

At the heart of these critiques is a shift in focus from the adjective to the noun, from “sustainable” to “development”. The “lost decade” in Latin America produced by Neoliberal responses to the debt crisis generated plenty of critiques of Neoliberalism. But all too often by focusing on the practical incompatibility of Neoliberal reforms with sustainability, those critiques wound up denouncing merely a form and missing the substance: development itself. The shift in focus to “development” has amounted to a wholesale assault on the economy as such and the modern hegemony of the economy over all of social life. With this theme, these authors have picked up a thread of social critique that ran from Karl Marx through Karl Polanyi to a wide variety of both Marxist and non-Marxist critics of capitalism. Among them Ivan Illich is probably the most central figure in this renewal as he has, in his own idiosyncratic way, extended the Marxist critique of commodification from manufacturing to the services (schools, medicine, housework) while favoring Polanyi’s language over Marx’s, e.g., what is critiqued rather than capitalism is industrialism (a few years back) or the economy (more recently) and the possibilities of renewal are discussed in terms of the vernacular, or subsistence, rather than communism or self-valorization.20Despite these differences, the similarities are many and the preference for a new language in the wake of the Soviet appropriation of Marxism as an ideology of domination and exploitation is easy to understand.

Discourse analysis aside, the basic thrust of the critique is quite clear: there is no form of development, sustainable or otherwise, compatible with the health of Nature as a whole, including human beings within it. The economy, i.e., capitalism, IS the problem and cannot be part of the solution. To hand over the protection of Nature to business amounts to delivering it to those who have been systematically abusing it for centuries. The urgent work of undoing the damage already inflicted and avoiding more in the future must be taken into the hands of those for whom Nature is more than a resource to be exploited in a sustained manner.

Yet, this intellectual work of resistance has been done very much on the sidelines of mainstream policy discussions. The discussion has even been marginal to the most fervent advocates of sustainable development and has only recently begun to receive the attention it deserves, and only now as a result of much more dramatic forms of refusal Ńabove all the Zapatista Rebellion in Southern Mexico.

The People of the Corn Strike Back

Since erupting into public view on January 1, 1994 the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas has become a world-event. A rag-tag indigenous army with more wooden rifles than real ones, and with more human dignity in its few thousands than the whole corrupt Mexican government and its army put together, the Zapatistas have found ways of expressing the hopes and aspirations of Chiapanecan peasants that have touched hearts and fired imaginations throughout Mexico and around the world. In a simple language, rooted in the day to day lives and cultures of its communities, Zapatista communiqués and writings have elaborated a critique of Neoliberalism that while focused on Mexico has resonated with its victims and opponents in both hemispheres. At the same time, their major spokesperson Subcommandante Marcos has conjured from the same source visions of alternatives that have had an equally wide appeal despite their largely local origins and framing.21

Against Neoliberal reforms the Zapatistas have revealed its brutal reality: the final enclosure of the Mexican commons, deepened exploitation, increased suffering from malnutrition, lack of medical care, daily violence and cultural genocide against the indigenous. Against the Mexican government’s Neoliberal Dream of a competitive Mexican ship rowing vigorously in a free market sea captained by Harvard-trained economists, the Zapatistas have revealed a Nightmare. The boat, they have pointed out, is no free adventurer but a slave ship, the rowers are chained to their oars and the captains either corrupt or delusional. Ex-president Carlos Salinas and current President Ernesto Zedillo are neither Jason nor Odysseus but mad Ahabs who have been steering their country to catastrophe.22 Faced with such madness, the Zapatistas have demanded direct democratic control over their own lives and convoked others (in civil society) to demand the same.

Against the vertical subordination of indigenous needs to those of “Mexican” development, whose dynamic in turn has been subordinated to global markets (i.e., capitalist global policy in this period), the Zapatistas have called for a horizontally interlinked and cooperative pattern of autonomy – for the indigenous communities, for women, and for bioregions. No pastoralists, despite their agrarian origins, they envision no abandonment of modern industries and technologies that can be turned to good account, but instead offer a fundamental reordering of social priorities and liberation from all mandates of development (accumulation).

At the same time, they have refused to be caught in what Marcos calls the trap of mirrors, in illusions of difference which upon close examination turn out to be but inverted mirror images. The most important of these mirrors have been political ones: oppositional political parties which remain integral cogs of a repressive political machine and more broadly socialism as mirror image of capitalism, differing only in patterns of ownership and the distribution managerial responsibility among private and public sectors, but at the core no different from its supposed nemesis. Such a perspective almost guaranteed immunity from the seductions of “sustainable” development.

By July of 1994 the Zapatista Rebellion had turned “sustainable development” into an issue of National Security in the United States. Not only was the US Defense Department aiding the Mexican government with advice and matèriel for low intensity warfare, but Senator Timothy Wirth gave a speech before the National Press Club in which he suggested that sustainable development could provide a policy framework to replace the now vanished Cold War. One of his examples was Chiapas where “resource conflicts”, he argued, “underlie the insurgency”.23 Unfortunately, the concrete contribution of the US government to sustaining Neoliberal development in Mexico has been to ship more military hardware (e.g. helicopters) for political repression and vast monies ($50 billion) to bailout panicked speculators (in the wake of the Peso Crisis in December 1994).

For a great many of the grassroots who have heard or read the Zapatista message around the world, on the Internet or in local translations, the portrayal of reality and the vision of viable alternatives has been like a breath of fresh air. Thousands have, in turn, responded with enthusiasm. In country after country (almost 50 at last count) they have mobilized opposition to the Mexican repression of the Zapatistas and the indigenous and they have entered into discussions about and dialog with the Zapatista analysis and proposals.

The extent of this influence was difficult to measure because it was so spread out. It became easier and even more impressive when the Zapatistas issued in January of 1996 an open Call to civil society for a global dialog on Neoliberalism and alternatives.24 They suggested a series of continental encounters to be held in the Spring of 1996 and then an Intercontinental Encounter for the Summer of that year. They issued their call with some trepidation and little expectation. Who were they, after all, to convoke the world? To their amazement the call was answered with enthusiasm. Continental meetings were in fact organized in the Spring and drew thousands of grassroots militants (the one in Europe met in Berlin). The Summer Intercontinental drew over three thousand participants from some 42 countries and five continents.25 Unlike international meetings organized by business, the state, or academics, e.g., Rio in 1992, these gatherings had no institutional funding, no high-tech conference facilities and no promise of payoff (neither profits nor publication) except for the opportunity to accelerate the struggle to build a new world.

In a week of intensive interaction, in the rain and mud of Chiapanecan jungle villages, these thousands discussed and debated the global relevance of the Zapatista critique of Neoliberalism and began a discussion of alternatives –a discussion in which “sustainable development” was often evoked, and critiqued. The manifest differences in perspective and analysis were many and expected. What was unexpected was the extraordinary consensus that the real problem, of which Neoliberalism was only the current manifestation, was capitalism. Gustavo Esteva and several other contributors to the Development Dictionary mentioned above attended the Intercontinental Encounter and their anti-economy critique of development, sustainable and otherwise, was received with sympathy or with echoes. But by far the central object of critique and ire was capitalism, not this or that kind of capitalism, but capitalism per se. What also became apparent was that even among the politicos in attendance, among those whom one might have expected to evoke past visions of socialism or communism, the Zapatista discourse and example of looking for alternatives within concrete communities overshadowed old inclinations and stirred new imagination.

Since the first few weeks of the Zapatista uprising, their struggle has been primarily political rather than military and their victories have been multiple. Surrounded by tens of thousands of Mexican troops and constantly subjected to all the ploys of low intensity warfare, the Zapatistas have repeatedly confounded and confused the officials of the Mexican government. They have reenacted, in their own ways, the ancient Mayan story told in the Popol Vuh of the defeat of the vicious Xibalbans by two children: little Hunahpu and Xbalanque. In that story the Xibalbans are portrayed in words quite appropriate for the Mexican government:

They are makers of enemies, users of owls,
they are masters of hidden intentions as well,
they are black and white, masters of stupidity,
masters of perplexity

Like the two boys, the Zapatistas have been achiving victory over the more powerful not through the force of arms but “only through wonders, only through self-transformation.”26 Their imagination and creativity in struggle is already legendary.27

Many who have read the Odyssey, upon coming to the passage where Odysseus must choose between Charybdis and Scylla have asked themselves the obvious question: why didn’t he just sail somewhere other than the Straits of Medina and avoid two bad choices? Why take Circe’s word that no other path was feasible? She may have been a Goddess, but by that time Odysseus should have learned to be wary of advice from on high! (It was jealous Circe [capital?], after all, who had turned Glaucus’ [ecologists?] lovely Scylla [respect for Nature?] into a monster [sustainable development?].) Drawing on an entirely different mythological tradition, that of Mesoamerica, the Zapatistas have avoided Odysseus’ mistake. They have looked sideways, not up, for advice, to peasants (Old Man Antonio) and even beetles (Don Durito) and they have been rethinking many things, including the relationship between humans and the world around them.

In Mayan mythology as in the daily life of the men and women of the corn, Nature is not a unified something but a multiplicity of which they are a part. The milpa from which they draw sustenance from the earth and sky and the comida where together they consume it link them with the rest of the cosmos.28 In some ways their vision was expressed in poetic echo by Fernando Pessoa in the 20th Century:

I saw that there was no Nature,
That Nature does not exist, That there are mountains, valleys, plains,
That there are trees, flowers, grasses,
That there are streams and stones,
But that there’s not a whole to which this belongs,
That any real and true connection
Is a disease of our ideas.
Nature is parts without a whole.
This is perhaps that mystery they speak of.
(Caeiro/Pessoa)29

The Zapatistas are revolutionaries, not ecologists, certainly not environmentalists, but they have learned on the ground that there can be no harmony in the indigenous cosmos without a reversal of their separation from the land and a grounding of their own health in that of the soil, the forests and the rivers. The people of the Zapatista communities are not hunter gatherers, they are not forest dwellers and when the Mexican Army has forced them to flee into the deep jungles and mountains they have suffered atrociously. They are people of the soil, agriculturists, even when they go into the cities to work for wages because other options have been stolen from them. In their public discourse the Zapatistas have emphasized these particularities of their roots and their culture but they have not held it forth as a universal guide, or template, for others to follow or fit themselves into. They have set them forth to demonstrate not THE way, but one way, one alternative to what are usually presented as the only options. And by so doing they Ńlike other indigenous groups in recent yearsŃ have stirred others, even city folk, to look away from the mirrors of reflected inverted images for real, instead of illusory alternatives.

From my point of view, one of the most attractive things about Zapatista thinking and politics is just this emphasis on multiplicity, on the power of collective bodies and on diverse paths or lines of flight that these bodies can trace into the future.30 Two great mistakes in the Western revolutionary tradition have been the obsession with totalization and the idea that system must follow system. Revolutionaries, despite their rejection of capitalism’s imperial efforts to absorb the world and impose a universal hegemony, have still thought the future in terms of unity and counter-hegemony. Many Marxists have believed that just as a unifying capitalist system followed feudalism, so must some unifying system called socialism (or communism) be constructed to replace capitalism. Many radical environmentalists, while condemning the destructiveness of capitalism’s imposed unity, think in terms of bio-systems, of a holistic Gaia. To use Marcos’ metaphor of mirrors, such conceptions, even in the intellectual form of the dialectic, or the spiritual form of Goddess worship, never escape an endlessly repeated mirroring of the past in which the best you get is inversion (e.g., public instead of private ownership, Mother Nature instead of God-the-Father) but no liberation of human society from a single hegemonic framework for the organization of life, no liberation of humans or the rest of Nature from the imposition of singular measures of value (e.g., money or labor). To see that mirrors can be set aside and newness crafted links the Zapatistas’ vision to the best of contemporary Western thought, to a certain anti-dialectical tradition of philosophy, to the embrace of difference within contemporary feminism, to autonomist Marxism and to the most interesting biocentric explorations of deep ecologists.31

The implications of this line of thinking are at least two-fold: first, recognizing that we can reject the normally inescapable framework of the economy (capitalism) means that we are freed to see what alternatives are already being elaborated, and second, freed from the search for a single comprehensive alternative, we can take a more enjoyable phenomenological and experimental approach to the study of and participation in the crafting of alternatives. Unlike Odysseus, we can thank Circe sweetly for her “roasted meat and good red wine” and sail off into the sunset on courses of our own choosing. Whether we sail in search of Camðes’ Isle of Love or follow Odysseus to Lisbon or head off into completely unknown waters, we are truly free to choose. We can even, like Old Man Antonio, simply paddle our log canoe into the middle of a quiet mountain lake, under a full moon, have a smoke and tell old tales for each other’s amusement and edification.32

To conclude. We must find ways to link the emerging alternative new approaches to redefining and organizing the genesis and distribution of “wealth” and to crafting new relationships among humans and between them and the rest of the universe in ways that are capable of linked or complementary action. There are many on-going experiments around the world whose experiences and creativity can be shared. This does not mean unity for socialism or any other singular post-capitalist “economic” order, but rather the building of cooperative interconnections among diverse projects. Nor does it mean a delinked and divided localism. It means putting together a new mosaic of interconnected alternative approaches to meeting our needs and elaborating our desires. It means inventing new politics that welcome differences but provide processes of interaction which minimize antagonism.

Harry Cleaver
Austin, Texas
April, 1997

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