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Awareness of the Violence, the Mud

by Gustavo Esteva
San Diego, California

Gustavo Esteva speaking at the University of California, San Diego. Photo by Nic Paget-Clarke.
Gustavo Esteva speaking at the University of California, San Diego. Photo by Nic Paget-Clarke.

The following talk was delivered by Gustavo Esteva on February 26, 2015 at the University of California, San Diego. Gustavo Esteva is a founder of La Universidad de la Tierra, based in Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico. He is a local/international grassroots activist and a de-professionalized intellectual. He is the author, co-author, or editor of more than 40 books.

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A failed state

We have lost the country we had and loved. The worst is we don’t know how and why we lost our country.

The category of failed state is a failed category. You cannot do anything with it. But when the U.S. State department classified us as a failed state they identified three countries as failed states: Mexico, Congo and Pakistan and there is something there. Our situation is a total mess, like in Congo and Pakistan. This is Mexico today.

One way of describing our situation is to talk about mud. Mud is that peculiar stuff in which you cannot draw a line between water and earth because it is a mix of the two. In Mexico today what we have is a situation in which you cannot draw a line between the world of crime and the world of institutions. It is basically the same thing. What we are living in is a specific kind of mud, a social and political mud. This is our situation. What we are trying to do is discover ways to survive in that specific kind of mud.

What we have is not the idea that is very popular that the world of crime, the drug cartels, has occupied the government, occupied the state; that now you have the cartels, the criminals out there coming to the government, corrupting parts of the government. No, this is a new tradition. It is the worst case. It is not the cartels here and the government there. They are the same kind of thing, the same kind of criminals, the same kind of situations.

Why Ayotzinapa?

One very important thing which for us is a very central point in understanding the current situation is: Why Ayotzinapa? You have heard about Ayotzinapa. You have heard about the 43. You know what happened in September, these 43 young men disappeared and three were killed. But why did Ayotzinapa become a national and international thing? It was really a commotion. Millions of people knew about Ayotzinapa. But why Ayotzinapa? These 43.

Why not the previous deaths and disappeared? We have these figures of the horror. 100,000 deaths in the last five years, assassinated -- and many of them in a very barbaric way. You have the official figure for the people who disappeared in the last five years -- 27,000.

But we know there are a lot more people who have disappeared. Just a few weeks ago, a woman was at Unitierra (La Universidad de la Tierra) telling us how, “They disappeared my first son. I cannot say anything because they will disappear my second son.” They are not talking about the people who have disappeared because they are afraid for the rest of the family that can also disappear.

This idea of your loved one, your son, your daughter, your husband disappeared is for many, many people, for many families, worse than death. Yes, they are still looking for them, but looking with great anxiety. If they imagine that they are still alive, they can imagine that they are in one of two or three circumstances.

Some of them that have appeared have been appearing with their body showing all the signs of terrible torture before dying. They are thinking, “Is my loved one now being tortured?”

Or, there is what they call the “incorporation” as a hit man. They can kidnap one young man and bring him to another state, and then they will tell him, “You need to become a hit-man for us. If you don’t do that then we will kill all your family. We have all the information about your family. We know where they are and we can kill them.” He knows that they can kill them. And they can kill them in a very horrible way.

To test him, first they say, “You need to kill that guy that is doing nothing, an innocent guy passing by. You need to kill him to show that you are now one of us.” And then, after the first killing, “You need to show us that you really know how to torture someone.” They train him to be a barbaric hit man. Can you imagine your son, your husband transformed in that kind of way?

To have someone disappear, and to think that he is still alive, can really be worse than thinking that he is already dead.

A school for guerrilleros, Indigenous leaders, for dissidents

Then again, why Ayotzinapa? Why did Ayotzinapa create this kind of national, international pain? Why are we all concerned about Ayotzinapa? There are many, many different kinds of explanations.

Explaining, for example, that Ayotzinapa is a specific school for teachers and was created in 1924 (Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College) and that the main reason for the creation at Ayotzinapa was, “We need to create a school for the emancipation of the Indigenous people. We need to have there in that specific place training for young men to become teachers.” Not teachers who abandon their communities, as is the usual path: you go to college to abandon your community, to follow a different kind of path, to have a different kind of life. No, here at Ayotzinapa it was to get the training to come back to your community, to work with your community.

And soon it became a school for guerrilleros, a school for Indigenous leaders, a school for dissidents. Everyone knew. And it was not the only school. There was a collection of schools that the government has been trying to destroy for the last forty years. And there are still these islands of small schools where the sons of campesinos are being trained to still be campesinos; to go back to the communities and do something for their own people.

That is one explanation about why Ayotzinapa. But this is not enough.

They see all the institutions collapsing

Knowing the background, you can explain why the government did what they have been doing against Ayotzinapa, about the people at Ayotzinapa, why they wanted perhaps to teach them a terrible lesson, to intimidate them i-- but it does not explain why we are reacting in the way we are reacting. Why Ayotzinapa created that kind of commotion, general commotion.

We have some pertinent precedents. In 2011, Juanelo, the son of Javier Sicilia the poet, was killed in a very barbaric way. Javier Sicilia came, full of pain, and he said, “Poetry has died inside me. This is my last poem.” And he read a poem about Juanelo. (To learn more, see here.)

Additionally, he wrote an incredible letter to the criminals and to the government, the politicians. He expressed his condition with a very precise phrase, “Estamos hasta la madre.”

How do you translate that? It is impossible, but it is a very strong expression meaning “We have had it!”

And the immediate reaction in Mexico was, “Yes, we all estamos hasta la madre.” Even very nice girls who had never pronounced these words anywhere, they started to say “Estamos hasta la madre” because the poet had already said it. They were authorized to use that terrible expression. We all started to say “Estamos hasta la madre.”

Then, on May 8, 2011, the poet, with millions of people after him, walked from Cuernavaca to Mexico City and with the whole country listening, the poet, in the Zocalo in Mexico City, told the nation, the politicians, “We suggest a pact between the people and the politicians.” He told the politicians, “Clean your house. Your house is full of criminals, full of corruption. It is clearly very, very messy. Clean your house and, if you clean your house, if you do something about the political parties, the government, then perhaps we will believe in you again.”

In 2011, many people, many millions, saying, “Estamos hasta la madre” said, “Ok, let’s wait. Let’s hope that the politicians will do something about this; will clean the house.” But three years later in Mexico, nothing has happened in these three years. Not only did they not clean the house, the house is clearly worse than it was three years ago. Nobody will accept today the idea, “Let’s have a pact with the government. Let’s have a pact with the political parties. Let’s hope that they will do something and then we will believe in them.”

Furthermore, Ayotzinapa was the first public, incontestable evidence of the mud, the fact that the police and the criminals are together, that you cannot draw a clear line between the world of crime and the world of the institutions. We all suspected this. We have some specific experiences. But Ayotzinapa put in the eyes of everyone the images of the overlapping, the combination, the mud. This, in my view, explains why Ayotzinapa.

Today we have the very simple fact that the majority of the people in Mexico not only don’t believe any more in the people in government, in the politicians, but also not in the institutions themselves. They see all the institutions collapsing. This is the public awareness. This is the condition of the Mexicans.

So, what to do? How to deal with this specific situation? How are the people reacting to the horror. The horror they have suffered.

It’s not just the violence of the military and the police and the militarization of the society, it is all the violence that we have internalized: the violence in all our relationships, the violence we are carrying with us. And this awareness of the violence, of the mud, of this condition of the politicians and the government, etc., this is also awareness of our own condition. It is in every one of us.

A revolutionary situation

So, again, what do we do?

One way of talking about this in the past, 60 years ago, was to talk about what was technically described as the objective and subjective conditions for the revolution. You had the objective conditions, the misery of the people, the deterioration of the working class, etc., and then you needed to create the subjective conditions. You organized the party. You had political theory, and a journal, and the program. You created a revolutionary vanguard.

Well, now we are again using theories to explore if we have or not today in Mexico, and in other parts of the world, what can be technically described as a revolutionary situation. I would like to examine with you, according to the experts, the people that have been studying revolutions and even participating in some of them, the five basic elements that define a revolutionary situation.

1. The deterioration of society’s functioning

The first element. There is a very serious deterioration of the societal functioning, of all the institutions. In Mexico today, every week, a baby is born on the patio or in the restroom of a hospital. The mothers come with all the pains of birth. And the doctor of the hospital says to her, “Go back to your home. You are not ready. You cannot occupy our time here.” And so the woman leaves the doctor and she gives birth in the courtyard or in the restroom. This is not an exceptional event. It happens frequently.

Last year we had two strikes of doctors and nurses. The strikes were because they didn’t have all the medicines, the instruments they needed to attend to the patients in the hospitals. The strikes were not for salaries, not for working conditions. It was because they could not perform their functions, because there were no materials in the hospitals. The health system is a total mess.

Or if we talk about education, we know very well it is clear in Mexico that the education system is not preparing people for life and work. It is not a question of literacy or there are not enough schools for the people, it is the conditions of the schools. And it is not only the bad quality of some schools.

In Oaxaca, the state where I live, there are many children who cannot read well the diploma they are getting after six years in their school. That is the quality of the education they are getting. But if you go to the most advanced colleges in Mexico, you will see we have great universities, we have the best universities in Latin America. Yet the category of people that have the highest rate of unemployment is the people that got their diplomas from university in the last ten years. Meaning, after twenty years of studies and blood and tears and a lot of effort to get your diploma, a college diploma, a very good diploma, there is still a very good chance of being unemployed. And, if you are a lawyer or you are a philosopher and you are driving a taxi or selling tacos in the street you are not happy.

A study, a few years ago by the Ministry of Education and the National University established that only eight percent of all the graduates of Mexican universities will be able to work for the rest of their life in whatever they studied. Of course, in the U.S. the rate is not as low as ours. It is 28 percent. It is a lot higher. But that means that seven of every ten of the graduates of American universities will never be able to work in whatever they studied.

Anyway this is just a snapshot of the deterioration of the functioning of the institutions. We can look at all the institutions in Mexico and we clearly see the deterioration of society’s functioning, of our institutions. This is the general situation. Accept that situation. There is full awareness that this is happening in every possible aspect with every institution in Mexico.

The first condition for a revolutionary situation is clearly being met in the case of Mexico.

2. The rapid crystallization of classes

What is the second condition, according to the experts? They describe this as the rapid crystallization of classes. This is not the classic “classes”. It is not just the workers, or the bourgeois, the different classic classes organized in a certain way. For example, a group of students suddenly discover that they are together in something, with whatever pretext. Or it may be a group of Indigenous people or other certain groups that come together and organize.

Perhaps you heard about the “I am 132” in Mexico when a massive movement, a national movement of students emerged in Mexico just because of one specific event in a Jesuit University in Mexico City with the presidential candidate of the PRI. After this a whole national movement emerged.

This was a typical event. The episode in itself was clearly irrelevant, was not important. It was not something that can provoke any kind of reaction. The students were not really offended. There was no repression. Almost nothing happened that day in the Universidad Iberoamericana. But in a few days there was a national movement. “We are 132.” The students mobilized. This is what is described as a rapid crystallization of classes.

This is the second condition that you can see is clearly met in the case of Mexico. We have every day a rapid crystallization in hours -- a movement is crystalized for whatever kind of pretext.

3. Challenging the conventional wisdom

What is the third? A series of proposals, ideas, suggestions emerge in society. Many proposals, ideas are challenging the conventional wisdom, the standard pact. It is the kind of situation in which many people are coming with ideas and putting them on the table: some of them foolish ideas, some of them brilliant ideas.

For example, in Mexico we have elections in June, 2015, mid-term elections. People are listening every day to proposals about what to do. People are saying, “Why bother about elections? They are totally irrelevant. We don’t believe in them and we don’t believe in elections themselves.” “Our dreams don’t fit into your ballot box,” said the indignados in Spain. “We know that these elections will be irrelevant for the country, for us, they will not represent us.” They say with Occupy Wall Street, “We know that they represent the 1% -- they don’t represent the 99%. Why do we bother about them?”

And some people say, “We can have an abstention.” Six years ago the abstention was 67%. The people are saying we need to increase that. We need to match at least 80% or 90% for them to know that we are not interested.

And then other people say, “No, wait, because that will be a way to strengthen them because they have a group of votes and then they will keep going. So we need to go and vote against them.”

“No,” other people say, “We need to do something else. We need to go to the ballot box and tear the ballot in two and keep half of the ballot. Then we can go to a public notary and have a certification of the nullification of that ballot box. According to the law, if you have 20% of the votes of a specific ballot box nullified, then the ballot will be nullified. If you have 20% of the total ballot boxes in the country nullified then you have the election nullified.

And then the people are saying, “A lot more than 20% are not happy. We can do that. We can produce the nullification of the election.” And people say, “Yes, great that is a good idea … but then what? The election didn’t happen and now we don’t have a Congress. What will we do after that?”

This is a challenge for the imagination because the people are beginning to think seriously about what to do. The question is not, “To vote or not to vote.” Boycotting the election is a very solid proposal. But then what?

A new constitution

In Mexico City, there are people coming from all over the country and they are promoting a Constituent Assembly. They acknowledge what we all know that our current constitution is totally useless. What we created in 1917 after the first social revolution of the country is irrelevant. It is useless. It does not represent the realities and the aspirations of the Mexicans and it is not applied any more. We need a new constitution.

But what is this idea of a new constitution? Usually you create a new constitution after a revolution. You make a new kind of constitution that is not produced by a small group of people. You create a new constitution through a very long process, one to two years preparing the Constituent Congress, and then you formulate the constitution with interaction with the people. For all of this you need four, five, eight, ten years. You need ten years to prepare a new kind of constitution, new principles for the social order in Mexico that can represent the ideas of many people.

But how do we live in these ten years? We cannot live with these guys that we have currently. We need to get rid of them. And that is very easy. We are ready to get rid of them at any given time. But we are not doing it because, again, we don’t know what to do once we get rid of them.

We don’t want a substitute

Let me share with you one idea that is circulating in Mexico. There are plenty of people all over Mexico that know very well the very sophisticated technology of closing a road with simple barricades. They love to do that and they know how to do it. They are anxious to do that -- tomorrow.

But what happens if fantastically, with the solid intervention of the Virgin of Guadalupe, we decide to do that, say, next Monday?

We would close all the roads of the country. We have people ready to do that. In every state. And they really want to do that. They want to close the roads. If we close the roads all over the country, we are not stopping the people’s daily life. The children will continue going to the schools. We are not blocking every street. We are blocking the highways. Can you imagine what happens in a country that has all the highways blocked? Nothing can move around. There is no government that can really stand after eight days or ten days of paralyzing the country. It would be very easy to do that. But we are not doing that because we don’t know what to do later.

Okay, we get rid of all of them -- but then what? We don’t want a substitute. We don’t want a certain charismatic leader who will occupy the apparatus. The idea is not to occupy that kind of power, to take the power into our hands – that was the way of past revolutions. That is not the kind of revolution in which we are interested. We want a different kind of society, with different kinds of institutions.

Beyond capitalism, beyond the nation-state,
and beyond the patriarchal mentality

In Ayotzinapa there was another assembly on February 5th. Two hundred and fifty-two organizations from the whole country came together to discuss what to do. How would we react to this situation?

There were fascinating discussions, brilliant ideas, and at the end of three days of very intense discussion they came up with one specific decision, “Let’s formulate together with all the other people in the country a national program of struggle.” This is one specific way of saying the things that have been discussed for years. How we would organize the whole struggle. How we would reconstruct society.

But perhaps the most interesting element of all this discussion was this, that you can find all over Mexico millions of people who are not discussing what we are going to do later, but are creating a new kind of society today. Doing the kind of things that represent a reality beyond capitalism, beyond the nation state, beyond the state, beyond the common political conditions, the current economic conditions, creating a new kind of society.

And also, something that for me is the most important point that defines what is happening today in Mexico as a substance of our activity -- it is a post-patriarchal society. What we are seeing is basically the collapse of 5,000 years of the patriarchal mentality.

The most important point for us is this specific transformation that tries to go beyond the patriarchal mentality that is buried in every one of us, men and women. It creates behaviors, attitudes, institutions, capitalism, all this. We are trying to create a new society beyond capitalism, beyond the nation state, and clearly beyond the patriarchal mentality.

There are many small initiatives. People, men and women, ordinary men and women doing, creating something that represents a new kind of social relations, a new kind of society, a new kind of world.

When we have all these proposals, these creations of proposals, this is the third condition for a revolutionary situation.

4. The decomposition of the elite

The fourth condition is the decomposition of the elite, the economic and political elite. There are problems in the elite and in the case of Mexico this produces laughter, more than any other thing. We have conditions in Mexico in which you have conflicts within the political classes. All of them are fighting. There are conflicts between the political classes and their bosses in the capital.

Today, perhaps, there is no one happy with what is happening in Mexico, including the main beneficiaries of this operation. Mexico still produces one of the richest men on Earth (Carlos Slim Helú) and some of the poorest. It is important to consider that today Mexican wages are lower than the Chinese wages, which were the lowest ten years ago. The average level is one of the lowest on the planet. This reproduces a lot of misery in Mexico and some of the richest men on Earth. They are not two phenomena. It is the same phenomenon. This is the situation in which we are living. To produce the rich you need to produce the poor.

But even the beneficiaries of this whole operation, of this dispossession, of this process in which the nation-state has been destroyed, the state of law has been destroyed, many of these beneficiaries are not happy with what is happening. Many of them are here in the U.S. because they can no longer live in Mexico. They cannot deal with the violence. Yes, they have a lot of money but they cannot accept as a good way of life sending their children to school with ten bodyguards.

They do not have safety for their investments. We have a very high public debt, but Mexican capitalists have investments outside of Mexico higher than the public debt of Mexico. They are not investing in Mexico because they have seen the situation. They cannot put their money and their hopes and their future in Mexico. They are not happy with what is happening in Mexico. Apparently no one is happy.

It is very clear that there is decomposition among the elite, among those with economic and political power.

5. A moral crisis

And then the final, the fifth point, is a moral crisis. Moral crisis meaning that there is a massive loss of credibility in all of the rulers and also the dominant truths in society. That which a few years ago were basically the statements by which we governed ourselves are no longer credible in Mexico. There is this kind of moral crisis.

No leaders, no parties, no vanguard

One very important point is to say that the kind of revolution that we clearly have today in Mexico is a different kind of revolution.

It is not the model of the revolution that started in the 12th Century with Pope Gregory VII that attempted the first total reform of the world.

It is not the revolution that took the shape of Leninism in the 20th century. That was a revolution from the top down, of capturing the state apparatus, starting the revolution from there. It is not a revolution with a political party, with a vanguard, with a leader, and the use of social engineering to change the society.

It is the revolution of ordinary men and women and this is of course the most challenging, the most interesting aspect of this specific revolution. No leaders, no parties, no vanguard. No attempts to seize the state apparatuses, the government, the institutions. How we learn to learn. How we learn to follow ordinary men and women, as they are constructing a new social order, new social relations… A time of inventing and producing this kind of revolution from the bottom up.

Published in In Motion Magazine May 29, 2015

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