Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I ran across this piece the other day which is mostly about how the EZLN, the Zapatista's, function.  It begins with a paragraph or two about the General Assemblies which have become noted lately in regards to the Occupy groups around the country.  From there it moves on to an old article written about how such assemblies work in the territories controlled by the EZLN in Mexico.  It is a fascinating analysis and discussion of a way of people governing themselves in a manner alien to most of us.  This is actually a long pamphlet, so I will only print a short selection and you can move on to the web to read the rest.

This is taken from the Workers Solidarity Movement.

Occupy Movement, the Zapatista's and the General Assemblies

"...The autonomous municipalities are made up by the indigenous communities within an area defined by zapatista influence. The communities of an indigenous zone or area are the ones who decide, at an assembly of all their members, whether or not they will belong to the autonomous municipality.
The autonomous municipalities, parallel to the constitutional ones, do not receive any financing from the state, nor do they collect taxes.
It is the communities who elect their representatives for the Autonomous Municipal Council, which is the authority for the municipality. Each representative is chosen for one area of administration within the autonomous municipality, and they may be removed if they do not fully comply with the communities’ mandates.
Generally, a Council is made up of a President, a Vice-President, a Secretary, a Minister of Justice, a person in charge of Agrarian Matters, a Health Committee and a director for the Civil Registry. Each members’ powers are clearly defined within their appointment, and they function in a collegial manner, with the advice of previous authorities or of the Council of Elders.
The Councils are elected and renewed every one or two years, according to the municipality.
The activities and the responsibilities of each autonomous municipality are dependent on the will of their members, and on their level of consolidation. They do not manage public resources, and their budget, if it exists at all, is very limited, and due to the cooperation of some of their members. Those who hold a position on the Municipal Council do not receive a salary for it, although their expenses should be paid by the same communities who request their presence, through cooperation among the members. In some cases, members of the Council are supported in their farm work, so they can dedicate themselves to their [Council] work, and not have to go the fields.
The autonomous municipalities resolve local problems of coexistence, relations and exchanges between communities, and they attend to minor crimes. The application of justice is based on customary law. For example, in cases of common crimes, the punishment imposed by the Autonomous Council is reparation of the damages: instead of punishment by jail or fines, a sentence is imposed of working for the community, or for the aggrieved family.
In the autonomous municipality of Polho, in Chenalho, where thousands of war displaced are found, the Autonomous Council receives national and international humanitarian aid, and it distributes it to the camps through the Supply Committee." [10]
It is this sort of decision-making structure that truly determines the health of a revolution rather then the fine words of its leaders or the slogans it is organised under. And also of course they present a clear alternative to the state (and seizing state power) something the Leninist left is reluctant to acknowledge. Strangely enough both the Mexican government and the local Catholic church seem to be more on the ball here.
A document written by the Catholic Dioceses of San Cristobal de las Casas says "The naming of authorities through indigenous norms and customs, signifies that the political party system is no longer the only channel to elect authorities and government representatives. At a local level municipal presidents imposed by the PRI are left governing only themselves, without being able to penetrate into the communities. Basically this means the slow destruction of the false democracy sustained by the political party system and its replacement by communities and organizations that construct their own history first as autonomous municipalities and eventually as autonomous zones."[9]
It is revealing how much left commentary on the Zapatistas ignores these structures altogether. Instead the Zapatistas are analyised on the basis of the revolutionary laws or the demands they have put forward in the peace process. Such an analysis seems to stem more from the observers wish to be in power then any true understanding of what a revolution should look like.
On the local level of Chiapas it is this issue of autonomy that the government most fears as it threatens to remove their right to impose decisions on the people completely. "In its very basic form autonomy consists in recapturing and restoring the culture and self-determination taken away over the last 504 years. That is, in terms of territory, that the people that live in a region administer their own economy, their own politics, their own culture and their own resources." [11]
The idea of autonomy provides the core of the attraction many of the international supporters of the Zapatistas have for the rebellion in Chiapas. But, at least as the EZLN see it, it is not an idea without its contradictions. Not least the danger of perceiving these structures as just being applicable to Chiapas or co-existing with the apparatus of state rule...

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