[OPE-L:2793] Zapatista conference

Fred Moseley (fmoseley@laneta.apc.org)
Mon, 5 Aug 1996 21:21:01 -0700 (PDT)

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This is a brief report on the the Zapatista conference "for humanity and
against neoliberalism" last week. Needles to say, it was very interesting.
Over 3000 people attended from 42 countries. Mostly activists, not many
academics. For the first 4 days, we were divided into 5 discussion groups
(politics, economics, culture, civil society, many worlds) that met in
different Zapastista communities. We were basically camping out with lots
of rain and mud, but at least there was usually a roof over our heads. We
ate mostly beans and tortillas and were well taken care of by the local
cummunity. The encounter between the participants and the local community
was of course another interesting part of the conference. The encounter was
one of mutual respect, but there was very little actual dialogue.

The economic group was the smallest of the five with around 250 people. It
was subdivided into 4 subgroups (neoliberalism, drugs and the military,
labor and work, alternatives). I participated in the first subgroup and
tried to emphasize the current crisis of capitalism and neoliberalism as a
response to this crisis. Massimo was in the same subgroup (small world).
He and I agreed (I think) that the main cause of the current crisis was a
decline in the rate of profit, but we disagreed about whether the main cause
of the decline in the rate of profit was workers' struggles for higher wages
and less work (him) or the was objective dynamics of capitalism, e.g. mainly
technological change which increased the composition of capital and the
ratio of unproductive labor to productive labor (me).

After the first 4 days, most travelled to the main Zapatista camp, La
Realidad, for two days of closing ceremonies. I decided not to go because
it required three long days of bus travel to get to and return from La
Realidad for two days of closing plenaries. Also, I had to get back to
Mexico City to complete all the arrangements for my job here next year. I
think Massimo went to La Realidad, so he can tell us more about that.

The main accomplishment of the conference I think was simply the personal
and organizational connections that were made by leftists from all over the
world. The atmosphere was very much one of "let's talk and listen to each
other" and see what we can learn and see if we can figure out how to move
forward. People were amazingly patient and tolerant under sometimes very
difficult conditions. I have seldom seen the left so well behaved. Who
knows what will come of this, but it was definitely an energizing experience.

Not much in the way of specific economic proposals were agreed upon.
Everyone agreed that we should fight against neoliberalism in its many forms
(restrictive government economic policies, power of financial capital,
globalization, privitization, union-busting, etc.) and a wide variety of
proposals were suggested, but there was little attempt to reach consensus
(which would have been impossible anyway, given the number of people and so
little time). There was not much specific talk of socialism. Too often, in
my view, the enemy was seen as neoliberalism rather that capitalism. The
final declarations hardly mentioned capitalism and socialism at all. But
for many (including the Zapatistas) this may be the result of current
political practicality rather than conviction.

At the end of the conference (I read in the newspaper), Marcos called for a
second conference next year in Europe and challenged the European
participants to organize it. One advantage of such a conference would
presumably be that it would allow Marcos and the other Zapastistas to
travel. ` They are currently pretty much confined to their jungle hide-outs.