Friday, August 27, 2010

Layer 345 . . . Devo, Zapatistas, Naomi Klein, Marcos, Joumana Haddad, More Football and No More Forgetting

"When up or down, light and dark, progression and regression are viewed not as opposites, but as contraries, different manifestations of the same basic energies, then devolution becomes not only possible, but viable."

The name "Devo" comes "from their concept of 'de-evolution' - the idea that instead of evolving, mankind has actually regressed, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society. - Wikipedia

I'm not sure why I started looking into Devo's musical history - I think it was because of a half-heard snippet on the radio recently. They're a weird bunch, Devo. Can't argue too much with their philosophy though. The very idea of bands having something coherent to say about life, the universe and everything, some sort of challenging philosophy, is pretty unusual these days, apart from odd exception such as Manu Chao.

Devo reckon that most people live in a state of constant anxiety, possibly even fear. This is part of the reason why most people are unable to think logically, critically, coherently and abstractly. Another reason is due to not having any education or training that would help them develop critical, abstract and coherent thinking. But where are the political parties that have identified and highlighted this fact? say Devo.



Glancing through some old Guardian magazines this morning I noticed an article by Naomi Klein, written in 2001, which focused on the Zapatista movement in Mexico – it’s history, philosophy, membership and leadership. This seems synchronous with recent Oxzen musings about Che, Cuba, Chavez, and Oliver Stone’s movie about left radicalism in South America – ‘South of the Border’.

The unknown icon

Next week, rebels will march on Mexico City demanding rights for the country's indigenous people. But they will not fire a single shot, for this is a new kind of revolution. Naomi Klein describes the appeal of the Zapatistas and their 'voice' Subcomandante Marcos.

The caravan, nicknamed the "Zapatour" by the Mexican press, is being led by the council of 24 Zapatista commanders, in full uniform and masks (though no weapons), including Subcomandante Marcos himself.

Perhaps only a man who never takes off his mask, who hides his real name, could lead this caravan of renegades, rebels, loners and anarchists on this two-week trek. These are people who have learned to steer clear of charismatic leaders with one-size-fits-all ideologies. These aren't party loyalists; these are members of groups that pride themselves on their autonomy and lack of hierarchy. Marcos - with his black wool mask, two eyes and pipe - seems to be an anti-leader tailor-made for this suspicious, critical lot. Not only does he refuse to show his face, undercutting (and simultaneously augmenting) his own celebrity, but Marcos's story is of a man who came to his leadership, not through swaggering certainty, but by coming to terms with political uncertainty, by learning to follow.

Having failed as a Marxist missionary, Marcos immersed himself in Mayan culture. The more he learned, the less he knew. Out of this process, a new kind of army emerged, the EZLN, the Zapatista National Liberation Army, which was not controlled by an elite of guerrilla commanders but by the communities themselves, through clandestine councils and open assemblies. "Our army," says Marcos, "became scandalously Indian." That meant that he wasn't a commander barking orders, but a subcomandante, a conduit for the will of the councils. His first words said in the new persona were: "Through me speaks the will of the Zapatista National Liberation Army." Further subjugating himself, Marcos says that he is not a leader to those who seek him out, but that his black mask is a mirror, reflecting each of their own struggles; that a Zapatista is anyone anywhere fighting injustice, that "We are you".

Marcos himself - the supposed non-self, the conduit, the mirror - writes in a tone so personal and poetic, so completely and unmistakably his own, that he is constantly undercutting and subverting the anonymity that comes from his mask and pseudonym. It is often said that the Zapatistas' best weapon was the internet, but their true secret weapon was their language. In Our Word Is Our Weapon, we read manifestos and war cries that are also poems, legends and riffs. A character emerges behind the mask, a personality. Marcos is a revolutionary who writes long meditative letters to Uruguayan poet Eduardo Galeano about the meaning of silence; who describes colonialism as a series of "bad jokes badly told", who quotes Lewis Carroll, Shakespeare and Borges.

Something radical has changed in the balance of power in Mexico. The Zapatistas are calling the shots now - which is significant, because they have lost the habit of firing shots. What started as a small, armed insurrection has in the past seven years turned into what now looks more like a peaceful, and mass movement. It has helped topple the corrupt 71-year reign of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, and has placed indigenous rights at the centre of the Mexican political agenda.

This is a movement keenly aware of the power of words and symbols. Which is why Marcos gets angry when he is looked on as just another guy with a gun: "What other guerrilla force has convened a national democratic movement, civic and peaceful, so that armed struggle becomes useless?" he asks. "What other guerrilla force asks its bases of support about what it should do before doing it? What other guerrilla force has struggled to achieve a democratic space and not take power? What other guerrilla force has relied more on words than on bullets?"

The Zapatistas have come to represent two forces at once: first, rebels struggling against grinding poverty and humiliation in the mountains of Chiapas and, on top of this, theorists of a new movement, another way to think about power, resistance and globalisation. This theory - Zapatismo - not only turns classic guerrilla tactics inside out, but much of leftwing politics on its head.

Unlike classic revolutionaries, who preach through bullhorns and from pulpits, Marcos has spread the Zapatista word through riddles. Revolutionaries who don't want power. People who must hide their faces to be seen.

The Zapatista uprising was a new way to protect land and culture: rather than locking out the world, the Zapatistas flung open the doors and invited the world inside. Chiapas was transformed, despite its poverty, despite being under constant military siege, into a global gathering place for activists, intellectuals, and indigenous groups.

The strategic victory of the Zapatistas was to change the terms: to insist that what was going on in Chiapas could not be written off as a narrow "ethnic" struggle, and that it was universal. They did this by clearly naming their enemy not only as the Mexican state but as the set of economic policies known as "neo-liberalism". Marcos insisted that the poverty and desperation in Chiapas was simply a more advanced version of something happening all around the world. He pointed to the huge numbers of people who were being left behind by prosperity, whose land, and work, made that prosperity possible. "The new distribution of the world excludes 'minorities'," Marcos has said. "The indigenous, youth, women, homosexuals, lesbians, people of colour, immigrants, workers, peasants; the majority who make up the world basements are presented, for power, as disposable. The distribution of the world excludes the majorities."

The Zapatistas staged an open insurrection, one that anyone could join, as long as they thought of themselves as outsiders. By conservative estimates, there are now 45,000 Zapatista-related websites, based in 26 countries.

So it's worth asking: what are the ideas that proved so powerful that thousands have taken it upon themselves to disseminate them around the world? A few years ago, the idea of the rebels travelling to Mexico City to address the congress would have been impossible to imagine. The prospect of masked guerrillas (even masked guerrillas who have left their arms at home) entering a hall of political power signals one thing: revolution. But Zapatistas aren't interested in overthrowing the state or naming their leader, Marcos, as president. If anything, they want less state power over their lives. And, besides, Marcos says that as soon as peace has been negotiated he will take off his mask and disappear.

What does it mean to be a revolutionary who is not trying to stage a revolution? This is one of the key Zapatista paradoxes. In one of his many communiqués, Marcos writes that "it is not necessary to conquer the world. It is sufficient to make it new". He adds: "Us. Today." What sets the Zapatistas apart from your average Marxist guerrilla insurgents is that their goal is not to win control, but to seize and build autonomous spaces where "democracy, liberty and justice" can thrive.

Marcos believes that what he has learned in Chiapas about non-hierarchical decision-making, decentralised organising and deep community democracy holds answers for the non-indigenous world as well - if only it were willing to listen. This is a kind of organising that doesn't compartmentalise the community into workers, warriors, farmers and students, but instead seeks to organise communities as a whole, across sectors and across generations, creating "social movements". For the Zapatistas, these autonomous zones aren't about isolationism or dropping out, 60s-style. Quite the opposite: Marcos is convinced that these free spaces, born of reclaimed land, communal agriculture, resistance to privatisation, will eventually create counter-powers to the state simply by existing as alternatives.

This is the essence of Zapatismo, and explains much of its appeal: a global call to revolution that tells you not to wait for the revolution, only to stand where you stand, to fight with your own weapon. It could be a video camera, words, ideas, "hope" - all of these, Marcos has written, "are also weapons". It's a revolution in miniature that says, "Yes, you can try this at home." This organising model has spread throughout Latin America, and the world. You can see it in the anarchist squats of Italy (called "social centres") and in the Landless Peasants' Movement of Brazil, which seizes tracts of unused farmland and uses them for sustainable agriculture, markets and schools under the slogan "Ocupar, Resistir, Producir" (Occupy, Resist, Produce).

Zapatismo, according to Marcos, is not a doctrine but "an intuition". And he is consciously trying to appeal to something that exists outside the intellect, something uncynical in us, that he found in himself in the mountains of Chiapas: wonder, a suspension of disbelief, myth and magic. So, instead of issuing manifestos, he tries to riff his way into this place, with long meditations, flights of fancy, dreaming out loud. This is, in a way, a kind of intellectual guerrilla warfare: Marcos won't meet his opponents head on, but instead surrounds them from all directions.

It occurs to me that Marcos isn't Martin Luther King; he is King's very modern progeny, born of a bittersweet marriage of vision and necessity. This masked man who calls himself Marcos is the descendant of King, Che Guevara, Malcom X, Emiliano Zapata and all the other heroes who preached from pulpits only to be shot down one by one, leaving bodies of followers wandering around blind and disoriented because they lost their heads.

In their place, the world now has a new kind of hero, one who listens more than speaks, who preaches in riddles not in certainties, a leader who doesn't show his face, who says his mask is really a mirror.

In the words of Marcos –
The kaz-dzul , the false man, rules our lands and has giant war machines,
like the boob, half-puma and half-horse,
that spread pain and death among us.
The trickster government sends us the aluxob,
the liars who fool our people and make them forgetful.
This is why we became soldiers.
This is why we remain soldiers.
Because we want no more death and trickery for our people,
because we want no more forgetting . . .


Here’s another piece about a remarkable non-conformist – a woman who’s clearly bursting with spiritual intelligence, courage, and a determination fight for what’s right and to go her own way:

Joumana Haddad: 'I live in a country that hates me'

Joumana Haddad is a ferocious critic of sexism in Lebanon, and her erotic magazine has brought death threats. A new book is her fiercest attack yet on Arab culture. So what drives her?


Football Ownership

I'd meant to include this reference in a previous Layer on the state of football in Britain:

How can football clubs capture the social value of the beautiful game?
Football still has vast social value despite financial crises. Do we need more supporter-owned clubs to restore its rightful place at the heart of communities, asks David Conn

Released earlier this summer . . . was a report that found that for all its crises and financial overkill, football remains a sport of immense social value, and its clubs – when not falling into ruin – are widely considered to be rallying points for civic pride.

Commissioned by Supporters Direct, the government-backed initiative to encourage democratic, mutual ownership of football clubs, the report documents the beneficial impact that clubs can have in their communities, and recommends a series of ways in which this can be improved.

Principally, it argues that football clubs should formally recognise their social role and adopt it as one of their core purposes . . .

The report, The Social and Community Value of Football, suggests a range of ways in which clubs might commit to having a positive impact in their communities – many, at all levels, do some of them already. They include developing local transport plans, environmental best practice, supporter volunteering schemes, opening club facilities to disadvantaged groups, operating preferential local employment and purchasing schemes, and pricing match tickets at levels that "recognise economic exclusion".

Also included is "broadening ownership structures", and this is a key element of the report, setting out the social value of clubs incorporating some democratic form of ownership by supporters.

The chief executives of clubs that were mutuals or feature large stakes held by supporters argued that their model delivered "clear social benefits", including the promotion of democracy, keeping the club linked to the community, creating stability, and even a business advantage, because of improved working relationships with the local authority.

Norrie Stewart, chief executive of supporter-owned Exeter City, describes the mutual model as an "important [ownership] alternative".
The 'mutual model' is also described these days as the 'John Lewis Model', and it's time we all thought about how many of our companies would benefit from this model of ownership.

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