Toward the New Commons: Working Class Strategies and the Zapatistas

by Monty Neill, with George Caffentzis and Johnny Machete

In July-August 1996, several members of Midnight Notes traveled to the selva of Chiapas, Mexico to participate in the First Intercontinental Encuentro against Neoliberalism and for Humanity, called by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). For us, it was a moment of great political rejuvenation (see Neill, "Encounters," this volume). It could be we are merely desperate in this long capitalist drought, thirsty for some sense of anti-capitalist life, seeing in the Zapatistas an oasis from which we can drink and then travel on, renewed in hope -- but misled in direction and analysis.

We think not. Rather, we think we have found in the mountains of southeastern Mexico, in the practice and ideas of the EZLN, some important things to learn from: hope and energy yes, but also a break from a history of working class struggles that had reached a dead end, and some initiatives and practices from which we can learn to rethink working class struggle at the planetary level. This piece is an effort to begin that thinking, knowing we share with others in the effort and that this piece is only a small start.
(1) However, wrong and incomplete this piece may be, however, we do insist on a few basic points:

1) The critical and essential criterion must be whether a struggle moves the world's working people further against capitalism and toward communism (a discussion to which we will return below).

2) Inevitably, we use our theoretical and experiential knowledge to try to understand what is before us, but we must recognize that so far this has been insufficient to the goal of ending capitalism.

3) We must, therefore, with humility, recognize that we may not now always be able to recognize or understand just how a particular struggle is moving, and so must approach it with a combination of critical acumen and openness toward understanding new possibilities.

I. Introduction: The Emergence of the Zapatistas

II. Strategies and Deals

III. Reflections on the Zapatistas' Strategy

IV. Localism, Homogeneity, and Networks

V. Class Composition and Developing a New Working Class Strategy