Letter from Mexico: Indigenous create tools of resistance

March 4, 2020

From the March-April 2020 issue of News & Letters

by J.G.F. Héctor

On Feb. 22, the Assembly from Oaxaca in Defense of the Land and Territory met with more than 15 Native peoples attending from all over this southwestern state. It was part of the nationwide three Days of Action (Feb. 20-22) called by the Zapatista Army for National Liberation and the National Indigenous Congress to commemorate one year since the murder of Indigenous activist Samir Flores.

After an opening statement, representatives from three different communities spoke briefly about their struggle. One of them was the community of Capulálpam de Méndez, which just a few days before had obtained a legal ruling declaring mining forbidden on its territory.

In Oaxaca, several communities rule themselves by the customs and traditional system, which allows them to make local decisions autonomously. Capulálpam has turned this legal recognition into a tool for resistance.

What has to be pointed out is that, among the spokespersons for the Assembly and the representatives from the communities, there were almost no women. This speaks to the profound changes and social uprooting that still have to be worked out within the movements themselves. A second concern is the lack of reflection about the limits of the customs and traditional system, which does allow communities to manage their land and to decide how to distribute their share of federal funds, but which still works within the frame of the national state and the capitalist system.


After listening to the experiences of these three communities, the assembly divided itself into four groups, each of which would discuss proposals about what to do next, and then present them to the rest of the attendees. Then the assembly just went south, since most of the proposals were merely denunciations of how companies and government are trying to despoil peoples from their land. In the “best” case, proposals were reduced to specific actions such as demonstrations, dates for a second meeting of the assembly, etc.

Clearly, the movements present in the gathering have no illusions about capitalist “progress.” As they declared in their closing statement, “…the view of ‘development’ of neoliberal capitalism and the current administrations is in total opposition to our way of life.” However, without working out philosophically and practically how to overcome such contradiction, as well as what it means to actually give birth to a new society, the rejection of capitalism dissolves into mere actions of resistance.

These philosophical/methodological issues should be, in our view, an integral part of the assemblies from below—not as collateral “study circles,” but as serious collective reflections which would determine the activity and the organizational life of the struggles themselves.

This is precisely what it would mean to recreate Marx’s concept of revolution in permanence for our day. Can we recognize the importance of it in order to move forward in our battle against capitalism? Can we look collectively into this philosophy?


The Assembly from Oaxaca in Defense of the Land and Territory decided to constitute itself as a statewide organization in Oaxaca, and agreed on a date for a second gathering and for a national demonstration. Surely the emergence of any new organization from below should be welcomed and supported, for it means a new front in the fight against capitalism. However, once again, an organization without a philosophy of revolution in permanence as its inner source of self-movement is at risk of stopping short in its effort to overcome the system. Can we make this philosophy an integral part of this newly formed organization?

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