‘Critical Thought Versus the Capitalist Hydra’


The Zapatistas held an international seminar in early May that they titled “Critical Thought Versus the Capitalist Hydra.“ It was a week-long event, with intense workdays full of passion, and many voices warning of the damaging advances of capitalism, which we must stop with rebellion, resistance, organization and hope. This is only a summary of some of the thoughts shared, mere seeds of the ideas offered by intellectuals and activists from all over the world.

By Jorge Alonso

Despite increased military and paramilitary activities within the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) area, the Zapatistas began organizing an homage to Spanish–Mexican philosopher, researcher, university professor, diplomat, academic and writer Luis Villoro in March of this year, the first anniversary of his death at 91. The homage would be held on May 2, and would be followed by an international seminar they titled “Critical thought versus the capitalist hydra.”

The seminar itself was held from May 3 to 9 in the installations of the University of the Earth, whose dean is Raymundo Sánchez Barraza. Some 2,500 people registered with a floating population of another 1,600 attending the seminar tables.

Luis Villoro was a sentinel

The homage to Luis Villoro, which also honored Zapatista teacher Galeano, killed by paramilitaries earlier this year, was held in the Caracol of Oventik. Subcomandante Galeano, who adopted the murdered teacher’s name in his honor, explained that when Zapatistas name the life of those who are missing, they come to exist in a different way. He insisted that each person must struggle for freedom in whatever corner of the world they live. He reminded us all that being a Zapatista means organizing and working collectively, without selling out, until the capitalist system is destroyed. He revealed that Luis Villoro had clandestinely joined the Zapatistas a while back and had been a sentinel who saw changes unnoticed by a great many intellectuals. The urn with Villoro’s ashes remained on Zapatista lands.

The importance of critical thought

In the communique about the event, Subcomandante Galeano stated that Zapatistas see critical thought as having the same task as being a sentinel. He warned of the sentry syndrome in which the lookout tires in his work and no longer perceives danger. He explained that the Zapatistas could see a catastrophe approaching while others went on with their same methods of struggle, and for that reason had sent out this invitation to a seminar, or seedbed, so others could say what they were seeing ahead.

In a talk at the seminar itself he spoke more specifically about the storm they are seeing today. It’s an economic crisis such as no other seen before because it has turned the most basic elements—water, air and light—into merchandise; its traditional institutions have lost their legitimacy and the corruption of the political classes is scandalous. Most once-national big businesses are now straw-men for the giant world capitalists linked to the international banks and the traditions and customs of the corrupt political class have moved to organized crime, not the other way around.

Those invited were asked to bring not “fads, dogmas, lazy thinking and lies, but words that will spark and encourage reflection.” Later, at the seminar itself, Subcomandante Galeano explained that the reason for holding it was to invite participants to bring their seeds and the Zapatistas would examine which ones could be useful for them. The objective was not to receive recipes but to spark ideas.

Many people came to present their comments personally, while many more who couldn’t attend sent papers, videos, photo exhibits and artwork. What follows is only a brief summary of some of those seeds. The audios and some of the transcripts are available for review on http://radiozapatista.org/?page_id=13233.

An impressive number of young people from different entities in Mexico and other parts of the world swarmed around the university. They abounded in the main hall, with ita capacity for about a thousand people, while other large rooms nearby were set up so the interventions could be transmitted electronically. A professional team of interpreters did simultaneous translation into other languages.

The seminar was intense, with long working hours and theoretically dense expositions. After each round table came interventions divided between Subcomandante Moises and Subcomandante Galeano. Their interventions were thus a break despite their length, due to their unique way of talking (the one poetic and masterly; the other concrete and deliberative).

Families of the student teachers who were “disappeared” in Ayotzinapa, who have still received no response from the government but have been supported by the Zapatistas, attended the inauguration of the seminar, which also took place at the Oventik Caracol. Subcomandante Galeano said some think capitalism is an indestructible wall, but assured that Zapatistas aren’t concerned by its alleged omnipotence and eternity because they know it’s false. Cracks are appearing in the system’s wall, and the family members of the disappeared in Ayotzinapa have become one of those cracks.

He urged them not to falter because there’s still a long way to go but the perseverance of the rebellion and resistance of those below who don’t give up or sell out is what terrorizes the ones above.

“Don’t allow [the crack] to close up.
Not only do your children breathe through that crack,
but so do the thousands of others who have disappeared across the world.”

Resistance and rebellion

He also described the everyday practices of the Zapatista communities and the history of the Zapatistas. Zapatistas have been exercising resistance and rebellion for more than 20 years, he said. To resist is to stand firm in response to enemy attacks, to resist their threats and provocations and not depend on the government. Resistance requires discipline and involves learning to solve problems and develop one’s own initiatives.

He wove everything together with many concrete examples. It’s about organized disobedience that has been improving and is taught to the new generations. They have come to understand what to do with their resistance and rebellion, how, why and for what. He confessed that the continuous implementation of resistance and rebellion has cost them a lot of work, effort and sacrifice, but it has also helped them practice their freedom. With rebellion and resistance, the Zapatistas can freely practice what they think at each level: local, autonomous municipality and the Good Government Council. They are practicing a new democracy.

Governing isn’t
about having power

Subcomandante Moisés also referred to Mexico’s current electoral dynamics. He explained that Zapatistas aren’t calling on people either to vote or not to vote:

“We understand there are those who believe they can change the system by voting in the elections.
All we say is that it’s nonsense, because the same power organizes the elections;
decides the candidates;
says how, when and where to vote;
announces the winner and determines whether or not it was legal.
Solutions come from people, not leaders, not party followers.”

He explained that in Zapatista lands autonomous authorities are elected through true democracy and another kind of justice is done, that of the organized people. They begin by organizing assemblies where they give their opinions and search for proposals, studying their advantages and disadvantages to choose the best ones. Before the decision-making process is over, the results are taken to the people so a decision can come from below. Governing the Zapatista way doesn’t mean having power. We need to remind those who say there are only two ways to become government—by armed force or by voting—that there are other options, one of which is to buy the government, which is what the current President has done. Another way, Moisés said, is to “take charge without being in government,” explaining that “we must organize and unite our organizations in favor of a world where the people rule and the governments obey.”

Another world has to be constructed Economist Sergio Rodríguez Lazcano spoke on how capitalism has moved from its industrial form to financial speculation, acting on the border between legality and illegality, with financial interests pushing for the fourth world war, most workers lacking steady employment, capital being dislocated; the welfare State gone for good and the nation State unable even to play its regulatory role any longer. We’re seeing a settling of scores between capitalism and humanity in which another geography, another time and other kinds of social relationships that aren’t capitalist will have to be constructed.

Luis Lozano Arredondo, who directs an interdisciplinary analysis center, explained why the capitalist system can’t recover. Economist Rosa Albina Garavito, once a guerrilla fighter, focused on the urgency of stopping capitalism’s destruction of Nature.

Dispossessing indigenous
peoples of their common goods

Painter María O’Higgins sent a piece she had written to the gathering; videos of Oscar Chávez and the poet Guillermo Velázquez were shown; and a group of graphic artists participated with art work created for this occasion, titling their exhibit “Signs and Signals.” Muralist Efraín Herrera addressed ethics and aesthetics against the capitalist hydra, arguing that we must resist the capitalist individualist dynamic by creating many collectives, while Eduardo Almeida, a psychologist from the Jesuit University of Puebla, delved into the value of dignity for a devastated country.

An academic from the same university, Maria Eugenia Diáz y Rivera, criticized pseudo-national identity and used her learnings compiled from living in a community of indigenous people to talk about itheir intellectual and emotional capacity to deal with adversity and harassment. Vilma Almendra, a Colombian indigenous woman, referred to the war in her country as an instrument to displace indigenous people from their lands. Anthropologist Alicia Castellanos spoke of the crisis of a social system in which violence has become inseparable from it.

Young urbanologist Jerónimo Díaz presented the effects of neoliberal urbanization on Valle de Mexico. Writer Rubén Trejo spoke of the dispossession of common goods, capitalist exploitation and the resistance of the “comuneros.” Cati Mirielle, from the “Sin maíz no hay país”

Don’t remain in symbolic resistance

Pablo Reyna, member of the YoSoy132 movement in the Iberoamericana University, warned that capitalism is patient and wherever it encounters resistance, it waits to attack. We saw a video sent from France by a theater group working in poorer barrios that calls itself “Tu madre en chanclas” (Your mother in flip-flops). Its members showed how theater is used to potentially emancipate children.

Migrant activist Malú Huacuja del Toro sent a document from New York highlighting that Mexico is among the top places in disgrace and in first place in exploitation of the cheapest manual labor in the world. Javier Hernandez, member of a free and independent medium called “Zapateando,” posed that one should not stay in symbolic resistance and that the Zapatistas need others, not as disciples but as compañeros. Academic Ana Lidya Flores, also from the Jesuit University in Puebla, warned about the vastness of the social networks and the urgent need for free communication against the domination of the media-ocracy.

Sociologist and world systems analyst Immanuel Wallerstein sent a document in which he reflects on anti-system movements and the future of capitalism. He argues that the system is in a structural crisis and cannot return to its previous stage, and that while the results of the struggle against it are uncertain, it depends on creativity, where small actions can detonate large consequences. French-Brazilian Marxist sociologist and philosopher Michael Löwy also sent a document, in which he presents eco-socialism as a social alternative. Mexico’s distinguished sociologist and critic Pablo González Casanova was present via a document read by his assistant, in which he questions whether we are before the terminal crisis just of capitalism or of humanity itself. War is being waged militarily, economically and culturally, which combines what is virtual with what is real and is destroying the Earth. Salvador Castañeda, director of “Unidad Comunista” (Communist Unity) magazine, pointed out that those governing are just front-men for the transnationals.

The Kurdish people’s experience

In a round table made up exclusively of women, journalist Havin Güneser, a militant of the Kurd’s liberation movement, talked about the Kurdish revolutionary process and presented a flag of the Kurd student’s movement to teacher Galeano’s family. She explained that the Kurd’s ancestral territory is divided into what are today four States (Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran).

Güneser said women and armed women’s groups have an outstanding position in their struggles, and have struggled within and from outside to gain respect. In 1993 they founded a women’s guerrilla organization without male leadership and later founded a revolutionary women’s party. Finally they have become a women’s movement fighting for autonomy and against hierarchies. They have established armed self-defense units. There is autonomy from the local level and in all decision-making bodies and a federated coordination. The women have been transforming their men through these dynamics. Recently, women’s armed contingencies defeated and expelled the Islamic State from their territory, something no other army in the region has accomplished.

The Kurds have been advancing in their own autonomy and feel united with the Zapatistas. Since it was founded in 1978, the Kurd Communist Party has resisted fascism, colonialism, patriarchy and capitalism. Its leader, Adullah Öcalan, was kidnapped and is being held by NATO in solitary confinement on an island, sharing his reflections with his people from there. In another table a text from him was read in which he referred to democratic modernity versus capitalist modernity, in which the paradigm of democratic modernity is based on the liberation of women.

Three generations
of Zapatista women

Karla Quiñónez, a Mexican woman living in Brooklyn and leader of Alianza Adelante, sent a video shown at the women’s round table, in which she speaks about exploited migrant women and women’s cooperatives. The young Mariana Favela, member of the #YoSoy132 movement, pointed out that indeed if women were the first colony, they were also the first to resist. She discussed the movement she participates in, and how it doesn’t have representatives or leaders.

Silvia Federici participated with a paper in which she noted that capitalism goes against the Earth and against women’s bodies. Academic Margarita Millán, from Mexico’s Autonomous University, spoke of the need to put “what’s fair” at the center of the ordinary and between genders. Sylvia Marcos, a feminist ecologist, said resistance isn’t only about enduring, but also about building. Because we are equal and different, she explained, we should examine the practices of both genders.

Five Zapatista women also spoke during this session. A young woman named Selena referred to the war the government and capitalism wage against young people and how Zapatista youths, though poor in material goods, are rich in the way they think. Lizbeth, from the support base, told how the Zapatistas live their autonomy. Comandante Dalia narrated women’s process of awakening in defense of their rights and stated that they are no longer humiliated by anyone. They know that if they don’t organize, capitalism will do away with everyone. Comandante Rosalinda recalled how the EZLN recruited women and formed them and Comandante Miriam described the deplorable situation in which Chiapas women lived before the Zapatista uprising in 1994; they were like merchandise and got no rest, with triple exploitation. They have been freeing themselves through organization.

Subcomandante Galeano noted that the EZLN women who had spoken spanned three generations and mentioned men’s resistance to women’s liberation in the Zapatista process. “The women fought against us and defeated us,” he said, clearly pleased with this irreversible victory.

Seeking hope in catastrophe

Argentinian Juan Wahren, from Autonomía Libertaria (Libertarian Autonomy), highlighted the ideas of strength in horizontality while Arturo Anguiano, a researcher from UAM, alluded to four types of dispossession: of common goods, of people, of work and of salary. Capitalism restricts and distorts politics, while the politics of the oppressed is to resist and construct new roads. Political Science Professor Paulina Fernández spoke about how she had written the book that recently appeared about Zapatista autonomous justice. Chilean-Spanish sociologist and political analyst Marcos Roitman sent a document in which he argues that critical thought is nourished by a lot of knowledge and goes against the current. He points out that capitalism reinvents itself, and has the capacity to break down resistance and get people to monitor, censure and exploit themselves and each other.

Academic Daniel Inclán said that the worst part of the war to conserve capitalism, designed from the top, is that it pits people against people. Writer Gustavo Esteva posed the tension existing between individualism and solidarity. And if there are those who think the structures of power can be used for change, evidence shows that this is unfeasible. The disaster caused by capitalist dispossession is widespread and overwhelming, old responses no longer work and resistance alone is not enough. Imagination and creativity are needed.

Manuel Rozental, a Colombian physician, analyst and participant in indigenous and other grassroots processes, reflected on how we haven’t learned from fascism, which recommends breaking out of economic stagnation by reactivating the economy with wars. Capitalism is facing a surplus population combined with a resource deficit, which is why Nature and people are being privatized. Guatemalan researcher Sergio Tishler posed that the wall isn’t an external reality but is subjective and proposed developing the concept of the crack. He also referred to the Zapatista concept of the different types of time: exact time, which is displayed by a clock and is used for commerce and urban exchanges; revolutionary struggle time; and just time, that of Nature and community. Clock time doesn’t have to subordinate the others. Irish John Holloway emphasized that those below are putting capitalism in crisis and are proud of it, as they’re subjects, not victims. Critical thought isn’t thought about catastrophe but a search for hope in the catastrophe.

Capitalism is an inch away
from extinguishing human life

Donovan Corcuff, from southern France, sent a video in which he discussed the plasticity of capitalism, which is now trying to present itself as “green,” but i is a huge lie because the dynamics of capitalism are based on the relentless search for profits. He praised the Zapatistas for creating a language that is uncommon in academia. Another Donovan, this time Donovan Hernández, a university student from Puebla, argued that grassroots expressions don’t need leaders because people construct themselves.

I spoke about the experiences of collectives that are outside of capitalism and State and go beyond parties, elections, social movements and even farther beyond the democracy of those on top, constructing the freedom of those below. Considering that capitalism doesn’t want to leave anything on the margins but rather to devour everything, those who want to escape from it are facing a hard struggle. Patient labor exists from below and little by little it is building something different from capitalism. I threw out the question about whether we would have enough time since capitalism s an inch away from extinguishing human life from the planet. Uruguayan Raúl Zibechi delved further into the systemic chaos and referred to the dispossession caused by extractivism.

Capitalist greed seen from
the indigenous perspective

Peruvian Hugo Blanco pointed out that the defenders of Mother Earth have to engage in an internationalist dynamic. Indigenous intellectual Xuno López, spoke in Tzeltal then translated himself. He said capitalism deceives and harms. It’s a way of being in this world that we reproduce in the relationships we weave everyday through our consumerism. Mayan Juan Carlos Mijangos talked about how capitalism mocks, sickens and deceives.

Bolivian Óscar Olivera sent a video about the struggle to stop water privatization in Cochabamba that has served as an inspiration so others will stand up against capitalist despoiling of water. Carlos González, leader of the Indigenous National Council (CNI), did an overview of the struggles indigenous peoples in Mexico, who in spite of the repression are defending their lands; creating autonomy and opposing capitalism. He referred to data presented by CNI that reveal a violent strategy of dispossession throughout the country: cities devouring peasant lands; indigenous people and peasants becoming migrants without leaving what was once their land; everything converted into merchandise; gender violence… He recommended updating the genealogy of capitalism. Capitalism has created fictitious money that’s not backed by labor while financial capitalism steals everything
it can and puts up Nature as collateral. In the current capitalist dynamic entire countries will go broke and the migrant populations will increase. He recalled that language is also a form of resistance.

A war against humanity

In the last session, Swiss-born Jean Robert, an architect, researcher on the history of perceptions and an adviser to the Zapatistas who has lived in Mexico for 43 years, sees the Zapatistas as the regeneration of a territory with a people. He reminded the participants who attended the Zapatista school that they were asked if they were free, because what people from the city consider freedoms are commodities, not the freedom to truly decide in their lives.

English art critic, novelist, painter and poet John Berger sent a writing describing how the world has changed as migration has become the main form of survival. He says the rebels have to trust themselves and that the desire for justice is multitudinous. Historian Jérôme Baschet praised the Zapatistas for opening a gap in this dark world. He considered that the catastrophe is already beginning to happen and we live in the middle of the storm unleashed by capitalism’s war against humanity. He said Zapatistas are warning that a worse storm is approaching with the devastation of Nature and all forms of life, but an effort to build a non-capitalist world with autonomy as the main policy also exists. Philosopher Fernanda Navarro stressed the importance of the questions of what to do and how, noting that the seminar had shown encouraging signs of alternatives.

It was a voice of alert

At the end of the packed week, Moisés summarized the seminar’s works. The subcomandante said the seedbed must be increased because this seminar at the University of the Earth was just to get it started. It should be seen just a beginning, and reproduced everywhere we came from. He said we need to trot, not walk, to face down and destroy capitalism because time is running out.

Comandante Tacho did the closing presentation, exhorting those of us who came to the seminar to return home to share the thoughts on the harms of capitalism that we had heard, organize, grow and widen the crack in the wall. We need to defend ourselves against the capitalist disaster with organization. We need to say “that’s enough!” to capitalism and take the world into our hands and build a world without rulers.

Here I’ve only presented a short summary of the wealth of interventions. I urge you to listen to the voice of warning issued by the Zapatistas and replicate the reflections available on radiozapatista.org. We’re living in a time of great darkness, but we ourselves can ignite lights that will illuminate us.

Jorge Alonso is a CIESAS West researcher and envío correspondent in Mexico.

Seminar “Critical Thought vs. the Capitalist Hydra”

3 – 9 May 2015
Caracol de Oventik
CIDECI / Universidad de la Tierra Chiapas


Audios and Photos per day

2 de mayo: Homage to Luis Villoro Toranzo and Zapatista teacher Galeano

3 de mayo: Day 1 – Seminar

4 de mayo: Day 2 – Seminar

5 de mayo: Day 3 – Seminar

6 de mayo: Day 4 – Seminar

7 de mayo: Day 5 – Seminar

8 de mayo: Day 6 – Seminar

9 de mayo: Day 7 – Seminar


Words by the EZLN (text and audio)

Looking at the Hydra

“On elections: organize ourselves”
Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés

“The Wall and the Crack. First Note on the Zapatista Method”
Words by SupGaleano in the Inauguration of the Seminar

Looking Within

Political Economy from the Communities

Political economy from the communities I
Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés.
4 May 2015

Political economy from the communities II
Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés.
5 May 2015

Resistance and Rebellion

Resistance and Rebellion I.
Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés.
6 May 2015

Resistance and Rebellion II.
Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés.
7 May 2015

Resistance and Rebellion III.
Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés.
8 May 2015

Women’s Struggle

Comandanta Miriam – 6 May 2015

Comandanta Rosalinda – 6 May 2015

Comandanta Dalia – 6 May 2015

Compañera base de apoyo Lizbeth – 6 May 2015

Compañera escucha Selena – 6 May 2015

Words during the Homage to Luis Villoro and Teacher Galeano

Words by Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés
in the Homage to Luis Villoro and teacher Galeano

“Zapatista teacher Galeano: Notes of a life”
Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano

“Luis the zapatista”
Subcomandante Insurgenet Galeano


Chronicles (RZ)

“This life, to life”… Teacher Galeano and the philosopher Villoro together in Oventik

¿What vs. What? A Zapatista Seminar/Seedbed Begins

“With the Fiercest Love” We Struggle Creating

Women Standing

A critic to etcetera or for an exact social science, by sup Galeano