Letter from Mexico: Zapatistas on praxis

From the May-June 2015 issue of News & Letters

by G.W.F. Héctor

Mexico City—On May 2, 2014, a paramilitary group hired by the State murdered the Zapatista teacher Galeano and destroyed an autonomous school building in La Realidad, Chiapas. One year later, with the help of Zapatista supporters worldwide, the Zapatistas finished reconstructing the building, now turned into a school and clinic.

Following the grand opening, they published a series of communications. One of them stated:

“The entirety of the funds required to construct the huge buildings where the powerful hide…would not be enough to pay for even a single drop of Indigenous Zapatista blood. That is why we feel that this is the most expensive building in the world….So [the mass media] should say…that Indigenous Zapatista girls and boys attend the most expensive school in the world. And that the men, women, boys, girls, elderly, indigenous, Zapatistas, Mexicans, when they get sick in La Realidad, will be treated in the most expensive clinic on earth.”

They are saying that the Zapatistas don’t measure the value of a building by its price, but by its human value. We can confirm that, first, by attending to the concept of compa/work day (CWD), compa meaning comrade, which according to them “could be thought of as equivalent to socially necessary labor time. However…CWD is not a unit of measure of value, [but] a referent in order to compare the individual and the collective (an individual would have taken almost seven years to do what a collective did in almost seven months).”

The difference between the capitalist mode of production, with its unstoppable need to accumulate value, and freely associated labor carried out by the Zapatista communities couldn’t be bigger. They produce use values—clinics, schools, etc. The work is done by people, for people, in a way that helps develop the physical and spiritual creativity of the community to its fullness: human power as its own end.

The Zapatistas are not just creating a new world in practice, but in theory—as we have seen by the radical concept CWD, which opens new possibilities to emancipatory social movements. Or, better to say: They can develop revolutionary theory because they develop simultaneously a revolutionary practice (and vice versa).

The Zapatistas understand this joining between theory and practice; that’s why they are organizing an international seminar of critical thought in Oventik, Chiapas, in May. Their invitation refers to critical thought as a sentinel: “whoever works on analytic thinking takes a shift as a guard at the watch-post.” Furthermore: “[The critical thought] is…part of the whole, nothing more, but nothing less,” as in a jigsaw puzzle, where “the whole exists because of all the parts, and of course…each part acquires its meaning in relation with all the others.”

This analogy refers to the dialectic relation between theory and practice, whose understanding has made the Zapatista movement one of the most significant. Not pragmatism, neither academic nor vanguardist theoreticism, but practice itself as a form of theory, and theory itself as a form of practice, that’s what the Zapatistas have been developing in their action and thoughts for more than 20 years. Are we learning from the Zapatistas’ methodology and experiences?

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