The Zapatistas On the Elections: Organize
Elections Divide the People, Have them Fighting Against Each Other, When they Produce the Same Bad Governments. The Truth is “no one will solve their problems for them, but that instead we have to solve them ourselves, as organized collectives.”
To the compas of the Sixth:
To those who are reading because it interests them, even though they’re not part of the Sixth:
These days, every time that this thing they call the “electoral process” happens, we hear and see the stuff that comes out saying that the EZLN calls for abstention, that the EZLN says that people shouldn’t vote. They say this and other idiocies, these big-headed people who don’t study history or even try to understand. And they even put these absurdities into history books and biographies, and then charge for them. That is to say, they charge for these lies. Like politicians.
Of course, you know that we’re not interested in these things that those above make up in order to try to convince those below that they’re concerned about them.
As Zapatistas, we don’t call for people not to vote, nor do we call for them to vote. As Zapatistas, every time we get the chance we tell people that they should organize to resist and to struggle for what they need.
We, like many other originary peoples of these lands, already know how the political parties operate, and it’s a bad history of bad people.
And for us Zapatistas, it is a history is already in the past.
I think it was the late Father Juan Chavez Alonso who said that political parties separate and divide the people, creating confrontation and conflicts between them, even among members of the same family.
And here we see this happen again and again.
You all know that in many of the communities where we live, there are people who aren’t Zapatistas, and who aren’t organized, and are scraping by hoping that the bad government will give them a few handouts in exchange for letting them snap a photo that makes the government look good.
And so we see that every time there are elections, some dress up in red, others in blue, others in green, others in yellow, others in faded colors and so on. And they fight amongst themselves; sometimes they even fight among family members. Why do they fight? Well, they fight over who is going to be in charge of them, who they are going to obey, who is going to give them orders. They think that whatever particular color wins, the people who supported that color will receive more handouts. We see thay they say they are very aware and decisive in their political party choice, and sometimes they even kill each other over a fucking color. Because it’s the same thing among all those who want a political position, regardless of whether they dress up red, or sometimes in blue, or green or yellow, or sometimes they put on a new color. And then they say they are of the people and that therefore the people have to support them. But they aren’t of the people, they’re the same bad governments who one day are local representatives, and the next are union leaders, then they are party functionaries, and then municipal presidents, and that is how they work, bouncing from one position to another, and also from one color to another. They are the very same people, with the same last names, from the same families as always, the sons, grandchildren, uncles, nephews, relatives, brothers in-law, boyfriends, lovers, friends of the same cheats and bullies [i] as always. And they always say the same thing: that they are going to save the people, that this time they are going to behave themselves, that now they won’t steal so much, that they are going to help those who have nothing, that they’re going to pull them out of poverty.
Well, then they spend their money, which is of course not theirs but rather what they take from taxes. But these little cheats and bullies don’t spend that money helping those who are down-and-out. No. They spend it on their political propaganda, putting up their posters and photos, on radio advertisements and TV spots, on ads in newspapers and commercial magazines, and even in the movie theaters.
Well, the people in the communities who are partidistas [people who identify with a political party] during election times and very conscious of which color they’re supporting, as soon as it’s clear who won they all switch to that color because they think that way they’re going to get their little handout.
For example, supposedly now they’re going to get a television. Well, as Zapatistas, we say that they are being given a garbage can because through this television they are going to get a mountain of garbage.
But, regardless of whether the parties gave them what was promised before, now they’re not nor will they give them anything at all.
If the parties gave them anything at all, well, it was in order to make them lazy. They even forgot how to work the land. They’re just there, waiting for the next government payment to arrive so they can waste it on booze. And there they are in their houses, making fun of us because we are cultivating, while they just sit there waiting for their wife or daughter to return from collecting the pay-out, the government’s handout, that they sent her after.
It goes on like this until the day comes that the pay-out doesn’t arrive. There is no notice, it isn’t announced by the paid press, no one comes to tell them that they are their saviors. There is simply no more support. And then this brother or sister realizes that now they have nothing, that there is no money for booze, but there’s also none for corn, beans, soap, or underwear. And so they have to return to the farm plot that they had abandoned, now so overgrown that they can’t even walk through it. And because they have forgotten how to work, soon their hands are covered in blisters and they can’t even hold a machete. That’s how useless they have become living off handouts from the government instead of working.
And this kind of thing is already happening. They don’t talk about it in the news controlled by the bad government. On the contrary, the news says that there is a lot of government support. But nothing is getting to the people. Where does the money go that the government says it’s spending on handouts for the campaign against poverty? Well, we know that those up above have already said that there is going to be less money, or that there isn’t going to be any at all. Do you all think that if the campesinos accustomed to getting hand-outs stop working, those above distributing the handouts really do work? Well no, that guy up there is also accustomed to getting something for nothing. He doesn’t know how to live honorably from his own work; he only knows how to live if he has his government position.
Well, now that there is less money, there are no handouts. All of the money remains up above. The governor takes a chunk; the judge takes some, so do the police, a bit goes to the local representative, some to the Municipal President, some to the trustee, some to the campesino leader and well, there’s nothing left for the partidista’sfamily.
Before there was a little something, but now there’s nothing. “What’s happening?” asks the partidista. He thinks that it’s because his color doesn’t work anymore and so tries another color. The result is the same. In their assemblies the partidistas get angry, they shout and accuse each other of things, they call each other traitors, sell-outs, corrupt. Ultimately, it’s both the ones who are shouting and being shouted at who are all traitors, sell-outs, and corrupt.
And so, the ones that they call the party’s base lose hope, worry, and feel bad. They stop joking because they realize that in the Zapatista’s homes there is corn, beans, vegetables, there is a little bit of money for medicine and clothes. Our collective labor helps us support one other when there is need. There is a clinic; there is a school. And it’s not because the government has come to help us. We, ourselves, have helped one other as Zapatistacompañeros and compañeroas [ii] of the Sixth.
So the partidista brother comes to us all sad and asks us what to do, saying that he is screwed.
Well, you know what we say to him:
We don’t tell him that he should change to another party, the one that is now the least bad option.
We don’t tell him to vote.
Nor do we tell him not to vote.
We don’t tell him that he should become a Zapatista, because we already know, through our history, that not everyone has the strength of heart to be a Zapatista.
We don’t make fun of him.
We tell him that he should organize, plain and simple.
“And then, what do I do?” he asks.
And so we say to him: “then you will see for yourself what to do, what emerges in your heart and your head, no one else is going to tell you what to do.”
And he says: “The situation is really bad.”
And we don’t lie to him, or make grand narratives or speeches. We tell him the truth:
“It’s going to get worse”.
– * –
Well we know that’s how things go.
But also, as Zapatistas, we are clear that there are still people, in other parts of the city and countryside, that fall into being partidistas.
And well, being involved with the party seems very attractive, because you can get money without doing any work, without toiling away to make a few cents and have something dignified to eat, clothe and take care of your health.
But what those above do is deceive people. That is their job and that is how they survive.
And we see that there are people who believe it, that yes, now the situation is going to get better, that this leader is going to fix their problems, that he is going to behave himself and not steal much, that he’ll only be involved in a couple of dodgy dealings, and so that they really have to give him a try.
So we say that these are pieces of little histories that need to happen. That people have to learn for themselves that no one will solve their problems for them, but that instead we have to solve them ourselves, as organized collectives.
It is the people who create solutions, not leaders or parties.
And we’re not saying this because it sounds pretty. It’s because we see it in reality, because we already do it.
– * –
It could be said that a long time ago, before they became part of the institutional apparatus, some of thepartidistas on the left sought to build awareness among the people. That they weren’t seeking power through elections, but rather to move people to organize themselves, struggle and change the system. Not just the government, the whole system.
Why do I say partidistas of the institutional left? Well, because we know that there are parties on the left that aren’t involved in the dealings of above; they have their same form, but they don’t sell out, or give up, or change their belief that we must end the capitalist system. And because we know, and as Zapatistas we do not forget, that the history of struggle from below is also written with their blood.
But money is money, and above is above. And the partidistas of the institutional left changed their thinking and now they seek out paid positions. It’s that simple: the money. Or, in other words, the pay.
Do you really think that it’s possible to create political consciousness by disdaining, humiliating and scolding those below? Telling them that they’re a bunch of “sandwich-gobblers”[iii] who don’t think? That they are ignorant?
Do you think that you create political consciousness by asking people to vote for you while simultaneously telling them that they’re fools who would sell out for a television?
Do you think that you create political consciousness if, when you say to them, “hey you, partidista of the left, this cheat or bully who says that that he’s the hope for the future actually used to work with the other colors and is a rat,” they (the people) respond that you’ve sold out to Peña Nieto?
Do you think that you create political consciousness if you lie to people, telling them that we Zapatistas say not to vote, because you are seeing that you might not have enough people on your voter registry, or in other words, enough for more pay, and you’re simply looking for someone to blame?
Do you think that you create consciousness if you now have the same people working in your party who used to be yellow, or red, or green or blue?
Do you think that you create consciousness by saying people who have no formal education shouldn’t vote and that are poor because they are ignorant fools who only vote for the PRI?
If in Chiapas, Velasco slaps people around with his hand,[iv] those partidistas slap people around with their poorly-hidden racism.
It is clear that the only thing about which those partidistas are creating consciousness is that in addition to being arrogant, they’re also imbeciles.
What do they think?
That after being insulted, lied to, and scolded, that the people from below are going to get down on their knees in front of that color, vote for them, and beg to be saved?
What we Zapatistas say is: there you have the proof that in order to be a party politician above one has to be shameless, a fool, or a criminal—or all three.
We Zapatistas say that we shouldn’t be afraid of having the people rule. It’s the most healthy and just way. Because it is the people themselves who going to make the changes that are truly necessary. And that is the only way that a new system of government is going to exist.
It’s not that we don’t understand what selecting a candidate or elections are. We Zapatistas have a different calendar and geography for how to have elections in rebel territory, in resistance.
We have our own ways in which the people truly choose, and not through spending millions, much less producing tons of plastic rubbish and banners with photos of rats and criminals.
It is true that it’s been just barely 20 years that we’ve been choosing our autonomous authorities, with true democracy. This is how we have been walking together, with the Freedom that we have achieved for ourselves and with an ‘other’ Justice of an organized people – where thousands of women and men are involved in the process of choosing. Where everyone finds agreement and organizes to ensure compliance with the mandates of the people. Where the people organize to determine the work that will be undertaken by the authorities.
In other words, the people command their government.
The people organize in assemblies, where they begin to express their opinions and from there proposals emerge and these proposals are studied for their advantages and disadvantages, to analyze which one is best. And before making a decision, the proposals are taken back to the people and the assembly for approval so that a decision can be made in accordance with the majority of the communities.
This is Zapatista life in the communities. It is already a true culture.
Does that seem very slow to you? That is why we say that it is according to our calendar.
Do you think this is because we are Indigenous peoples? This is why we say that it is according to our geography.
It is true that we have made many mistakes and had many failures. And it is true that we will have more.
But they are our failures.
We make them. We pay for them.
It’s not like in the political parties where the leaders make mistakes, where they even charge for them, and those below pay for them.
That is why the elections coming in the month of June mean nothing to us either way.
We don’t call for people to vote, nor do we call for them not to vote. It doesn’t interest us.
And more, it doesn’t worry us.
For us, Zapatistas, what we’re interested in is knowing how to resist and confront the many heads of the capitalist system that exploits us, represses us, disappears us and steals from us.
Because it not just in one place or in one way that capitalism oppresses. It oppresses you if you’re a woman. It oppresses you if you’re a white-collar worker. It oppresses if you’re a blue-collar worker. It oppresses if you’re acampesino. It oppresses if you if you’re a young person. It oppresses you if you are a child. It oppresses you if you’re a teacher. It oppresses you if you’re a student. It oppresses you if you’re an artist. It oppresses you if you think. It oppresses you if you are human, or plant, or water, or earth or air or animal.
It doesn’t matter how many times they wash it or perfume it, the capitalist system is “dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt” (you can figure out who wrote this and where).[v]
So our idea isn’t to promote voting.
Nor is it to promote abstention or casting blank votes.
Nor is it to provide recipes for how to confront capitalism.
Nor is it to impose our thinking on others.
The seminar is to see the different heads of the capitalist system, to try to understand whether it has new ways of attacking us or whether they are the same ones as before.
If we are interested in other ways of thinking, it is in order to see if we are right about what we think is coming, that there will be a tremendous economic crisis that will connect with other bad things and do tremendous damage to everyone everywhere, all over the world.
So if it’s true that this is coming, or that it’s already happening, we need to think about whether it will work to keep doing the same thing that has been done before.
We think that we have the obligation to think, to analyze, to reflect, to critique, to find our own pace, or own way, in our places and in our own times.
Now, I ask those of you who are reading this: whether you vote or not, is it harmful to think about what is going on in this world that we live in, to analyse it, to understand it? Does thinking critically impede voting or abstaining from voting? Does it help us to organize or not?
– * –
Finishing up on elections:
Just so that it’s very clear and you aren’t misled about what we say and don’t say.
We understand that there are those who think that it is possible to change the system by voting in elections.
We say that’s a difficult spot because it is the same Ruler that organises the elections, who decides who the candidates are, who says how, when, and where to vote, who announces who wins, and who says whether the election was legal or not.
But well, there are people who think that this can work. It’s fine, we don’t say no, but we also don’t say yes.
So, vote for a color or one of the washed-out colors, or don’t vote, what we say is that we have to organize ourselves and take into our own hands the decision of who governs and make them obey the people.
If you already decided that you won’t go and vote, we don’t say that’s good, nor do we say that it’s bad. We only say that we think that it is not enough, that you have to organize yourselves. And, of course, that you have to prepare yourself because they will blame you for the miseries of the institutional parties of the left.
If you already decided that you are going to vote and you already know who you will vote for, well same thing, our opinion isn’t that it’s good or bad. What we do say clearly is that you should prepare yourself because you’re going to get really angry about the cheating and fraud that will happen. Because those in Power are experts in cheating. Because what’s going to happen has already been decided by those above.
We also know that there are leaders who deceive the people. They say that there are only two paths to change the system: electoral struggle or armed struggle.
They say this because they’re ignorant or shameless, or both.
First of all, they aren’t fighting to change the system, or to take power, but to be government. That’s not the same thing. They say that once they are in government, they will do good things, but they are careful to make it clear that they’re not going to change the system, they’re only going to get rid of the bad stuff.
Perhaps they should to study a little and learn that to be in government isn’t to have Power.
You can see that they don’t realize that that if they get rid of the bad parts of capitalism, then it won’t be capitalism. And I’m going to tell you why: because capitalism is the exploitation of man by man, of the many by the few. Even if they include women, it’s the same. Even if they include otroas, it’s the same. It’s still the system in which unoas enrich themselves with the work of otroas.[vi] And the otroas above are few, and otroas below are few. If those partidistas say that this is fine and they just have to be careful that they don’t push it too far, that’s fine, let them say it.
But there are more than the two ways that they describe (the armed path and the electoral path) to get into government. They forget that the government can also be bought (or they’ve already forgotten how Peña Nieto got there?) And not only that, but perhaps they’ve also forgotten that it’s possible to rule without being in government.
If these people say that it’s only possible with weapons or with elections, the only thing that they’re actually saying is that they don’t know their history, that they haven’t studied well, that they have no imagination, and that they have no shame.
It would be enough for them to see just a little of what happens below. But their necks are already cramped from looking up so much.
That is why we, the Zapatistas, don’t get tired of saying organize yourselves, let’s organize ourselves, each person where they are, let’s struggle to organize ourselves, let’s work to organize ourselves, let’s begin by thinking about how to start to organize and let’s gather together in order to unite our organizations for a world where the people command and the government obeys.
In summary, as we said before, and we say now: whether you vote or not, organize yourself.
And well, we Zapatistas think that we have to have good ideas in order to organize ourselves. Which is to say, we need theory, critical thought.
With critical thought we can analyze the ways of the enemy, of the one who oppresses us, exploits us, represses us, disdains us, and steals from us.
But with critical thought we also examine our own path, our own steps.
For this reason we are calling on all of the Sixth to have meetings of thought, analysis, theory, of how you see the world, your struggle, and your history.
We call for you to have your own seminars and share with us the ideas that you cultivate there.
– * –
As Zapatistas, we are going to continue governing ourselves as we already do, where the people rule and the government obeys.
As our Zapatista compañeros say: Hay lum tujbil vitil ayotik. Which means: how good it is, the way that we are now.
Another: Nunca ya kikitaybajtic bitilon zapatista. Which means: we will never stop being Zapatistas.
One more: Jatoj kalal yax chamon te yax voon sok viil zapatista. Which means: Even after I’m dead, I’ll still be called a Zapatista.
From the mountains of the Mexican southeast.
In the name of the EZLN, the men, women, children and elders of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation.
Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés
Mexico, April-May of 2015.
[i] The text uses “cabrón,” like bully or asshole, and “cabra,” (literally “goat”), playing with the feminine form of gendered nouns in Spanish. We will use “cheats and bullies” throughout the rest of the translation for this phrase.
[ii] The text uses “compañeroas,” to give a range of possible gendered pronouns including male, female, transgender and others.
[iii] A reference to those who accept gifts or handouts—often a sandwich at a rally—from the political parties in return for support.
[iv] A reference to the slap Chiapas governor Manuel Velasco gave to an assistant at a December 9, 2014, public event, which was caught on camera.
[v] From Karl Marx’ Capital Volume 1, Chapter 31.
[vi] The text uses “unoas” (some) and “otroas,” (others) to give a range of possible gendered pronouns including male, female, transgender and others.