You are on page 1of 27

BrokenBarricades:TheOaxacaRebellionin

Victory,Defeat,andBeyondCollective
Reinventions
Oaxacastreetbarricade,2006

Ananalysisofthe2006Oaxacarebellionanditscontradictions.Its
diversityencompassedworkers,indigenousgroups,Stalinists,
anarchistsandothers.Itsweaponsandtacticsincludedgeneral
assemblies,strikes,barricades,mirrorsandfireworks.
Apdfversionofthetextisavailableathttp://www.collectivereinventions.org/
andtheauthorscanbecontactedthere.
=====================================
=====================================

BrokenBarricades:TheOaxacaRebellioninVictory,Defeat,
andBeyond
(ByCollectiveReinventions)
*
Thefollowingtextistheresultofacollaborativeeffort,andisthefruitofa
considerablenumberofmeetingsanddiscussions.Itreflectsthegiveand
take,eventhehesitations,ofanongoingconversation.Itshouldalsobenoted
attheoutsetthatthisessaymakesnopretenseofbeingadefinitiveaccountof
theOaxacarebellion,norisittheproductofadirectlyobservedorlived
experienceoftheeventsthemselves.Likeallsignificanthistoricalevents,
therearemanytruthsinsteadofoneAbsoluteTruthtobediscoveredinthe
Oaxacarebellion.Inanycase,thisanalysiswaswrittenataliteraldistance
fromtheunrestinMexicointheperiodunderdiscussionhere.Whilethetextis
unashamedlypartisan,inthesenseoftakingthesideoftheOaxacanrebels,
andspecificallythemostradicalamongthem,itisnotaworkofmere
advocacyorapologetics.Stilllessdoesitrepresentthekindofventriloquism
commontotheleft:itdoesnotspeakforOaxaca,whichcanmostcertainly
speakforitself.Itseekstoaffordsomeperspectiveontherebellion,andto
revealsomeoftherootsofacomplexphenomenon,andnothingmore.
ItiswrittenaftertheapogeeoftheOaxacarebellion,butwiththecertaintythat
thismovementisnotover,thatinoneformoranotherthestrugglethatbegan
in2006willcontinue.Ouranalysisispresentedinthehopethatwillshedsome
lightonOaxacabeforetheuprisingismythologized(byantiauthoritarians)
distorted(byalltheLeninistvanguardswho,intheirarrogance,areeagerto
imparttheirsternlessonstothemassesinOaxaca)orsimplyfadesaway,
farfromtheglareoftheproverbialmediaspotlight.
I
Sinceallofthis,wewillnotbethesameatallasbeforewecantbeand
wedontwanttobe.
OaxacanresidentquotedinLabatallaporOaxaca(EdicionesYopePower,
Oaxaca:2007)
*
Forthelasthalfof2006,andcontinuingwellinto2007,thecityofOaxaca,
MexicowastheepicenterofarebellionthatdefiedboththetheMexicanstate
anditslocalincarnation,thegovernorUlisesRuizOrtiz.Inthisdefiance,the
socialmovementthatemergedinOaxacachallengedothernexesofpower,
capital,andclasswithinMexico,assumingamarkedlyantihierarchicaland,
overtime,antisystemiccast.Asitgrew,expandingwellbeyonditsinitial
focusanddemands,theuprisinginOaxacaalsodispelledconventionalnotions
ofcentralityandimportancetiedtoquantitativecriteria:aprovincialcapitalin
thesecondpooreststateinMexico(afterChiapas),acitybestknownbeyond
itsbordersasatouristdestination,becameforatimethefocusofconsiderable
attentiononthepartofradicalopinionthroughouttheworld.

WhileitsharedcertaincharacteristicswiththeZapatistamovementin
neighboringChiapasmostimportantlyinitsstrongorientationtoward
indigenouspeoplesandthedefenseoftheircommonlandsandtraditionsit
alsodifferedfromtheEZLNinothersignficantways.TheOaxacanmovement
aroseinanurbanenvironment,evenasitdrewsupportfrom(andembodiedthe
concernsof)therural,largelyIndiancommunitiesintheOaxacanhinterland.
Also,unliketheZapatistas,ithadnoarmy,onlycrowdsofdeterminedmenand
women,supportedatkeymomentsbycontingentsofyouthswillingtofightthe
policeinthestreetsofthecity.
Crucially,inOaxacatherewasnocharismaticleaderinthemoldofthevoluble
SubcomandanteMarcos.[1]Instead,therewasareferencestatedagainand
againinthediscourseofthemovementtothefactthatthiswasamovement
delosdeabajo,ofthosefrombelow,meaningboththattheparticipants
primarilycamefromthebaseoftheMexicansocialpyramidbutalsothatthe
movementitselfwascontrolledbyitsrankandfileandnotbythosewho
soughttobecomeitsleaders.Therebellionfoundorganizedexpressioninan
assembly,anddidsointheplural,notthesingular.Notonlydiditgiveitself
thenameofthePopularAssemblyofthePeoplesofOaxaca,itwasa
movementinanearpermanentstateofassembly,orratherassemblies,at
leastinitsbeginningphase.
Beyondthequestionofthemovementsformreminiscentofthetraditionsof
directdemocracydeartotheantiauthoritarianleftthereisalso,ofcourse,
oneofitscontent.Here,onetreadscautiously.Whilemanyreportsonthe
Oaxacauprisinghavestresseditsradicalism,itsinnovativeness,itsstatusas
thefirstrebellionofthe21stcentury,theseclaimshaveoftenbeenmadein
thefacile,overblownlanguagethatisthehallmarkofleftisttriumphalism.[2]
Suchaccountsofthemovementoftenreadlikeamoralityplayinwhichthe
noblePeoplewho,inthenavechantofLatinAmericanmilitancy,willnever
bedefeatedfightvaliantlyagainstEvilIncarnate(UlisesRuizOrtiz,the
Mexicanstate,Yankeeimperialism).GiventherealitiesofOaxaca,itsgrinding
povertyanditsbrutal,corruptauthorities,suchadepictionisnotwithoutits
aspectsofverisimilitude.Butithardlydoesjusticetothecomplexitiesofthe
Oaxacanrebellion,andprovideslittlebasisforadiscussionofitsimplications.
Othermorecritical,butequallyshrillvoicespointedouttheweaknesses,the
contradictions,theinsufficienciesoftherebellion.ThearidMarxistsofthe
InternationalCommunistCurrentdispensedtheirusualverdictonallsuch
uprisings:notproletarianenough.AnarchistinsurrectionistsinMexicoCity
denouncedarebellionthatdidnotabolishthestateandcapitalismovernight.
Again,insuchanalysestherewerekernelsoftruth:theOaxacanrebellion
couldbeunderstoodasakindofradicalpopulismtherewerebureaucrats
presentinAPPOfromitsinception.Buttodismisstheentirerebellioninthis
wayonlyshowedwheredogmacanleadto:acuttingoffofthebranch(or
pedestal)onwhichonestands.ThereisnoneedtoendorsetheOaxacan

movementuncriticallyandbecomeyetanotherleftistcheerleader,butattitudes
ofdisdainfulsuperiorityormaximalistdenunciationareequallyunhelpful.
Unless,ofcourse,onewantstomissthefullsignificanceoftherebellion
entirely.[3]
Thatsaid,onemustrecognizethatevenattheheightoftherebellion,whenthe
firesofOaxacawereseenasbeaconsofhopearoundtheworld,certain
paradoxeswerenotedbysomecommentators.Herewasamovementthat
resonatedinternationallywiththoseopposedtothestatusquo,andyetwithin
Mexicoitselftherebellionfoundnolargeecho,andnosequelsintermsof
massactionsorsimilarrebellions.Whiletherewasextensivecoverageof
OaxacaintheMexicanmedia,therewasnogeneralstrikeinthecountryin
supportofthosebeingcrushedbytherepressivepowerofthestatein
November2006.One,two,manyOaxacasdidnoteruptacrossMexico.
WherethesituationistRaoulVaneigemsawaOaxacaCommuneandinthis
rhetorichewasmerelyrestatingathemeusedbyothersbeforehimalarge
numberofMexicanssawsomethingelse.Rightlyorwrongly,theyviewed
Oaxacaasbeingoneormoreofvariousthings:acorporatist,selfinterested
strikebyteachersarebellionbelongingtotheindigenouspeoplesofOaxaca,
andnottherestofMexicoanentirelylocalaffairthatwasfortheOaxacansto
decide.Whiletheinfluenceofmediadistortionsinsuchperceptionscannotbe
discounted,itdoesnotexplaineverything.Whatisclearisthatsomethingin
theOaxacanmovement,orincurrentMexicanrealities,workedagainstits
callingforthothersuchmovements.Understandingthisisperhapsthegreatest
analyticalchallengeconfrontingthoseidentifyingwiththemovement.
II
Togettoaplacewhereanswerstotheabovequestionscanevenbeventured,
onemustrenouncetheconceitofbelievingthatonecanexplainOaxaca,asif
therewereasingleexplanation(orsetofexplanations)thatcouldbeadduced,
orasifthoseinthestreetsofOaxaca(orelsewhere,forthatmatter)were
waitingforsomesortofbenevolentactofcriticalinterpretationthatwould
bestowsignificanceonwhattheyhavealreadymadesignificantintheirown
lives.
Itisalsonecessarytobackupabit,andtoallowonetobeastonishedagainat
whatdidtakeplaceandcontinuestotakeplaceinOaxaca.Ifsucha
commotionhasbeenmadeabouttheOaxacarebellion,itisinthefirstplace
becauseofallthecommotionoccurringinOaxacaitself.BeginninginJune
2006,andcontinuingvirtuallywithoutinterruptionforthenextsixmonths,the
socalledcommonpeopleofOaxacadiduncommonthings.
Inanepochinwhichenvironmentalissuesseemtotrumpallothers(andthere
isnodenyingtheirfundamentalimportance),itisworthrememberingthatthere
isahumanenvironment,andasocialworld,aswell.WhatoccurredinOaxaca

wasanexampleofradicalenvironmentalchange,oneaccomplishedwitha
minimumofresources,andamaximumofinitiativeandcreativity.Iteven
extendedtothekindofnovelrecyclingplanimplementedonthebarricadesof
Oaxaca:scrapsofjunk,evenentireautomobiles,wereputtonewuses.The
wallsofthecitywererepaintedwithgraffiti,featuringspraypaintedinvectives
andstencileddesigns.Notallofthiswasatthelevelofpoetryfartoomuch,
infact,remainedatthelevelofmeresloganeeringbutitdidachievethe
effectofremindingaworldthathadseenOaxacaasonlyaquaintand
picturesquemarkettownthatindeedsomethingwashappeninginthisplace,
thatthecitywasabattlegroundwhoseidentitywasbeingdisputed,its
physiognomyrefashioned.
ThiseruptionofthemarvelousinOaxacacaughtmanybysurprise.Inthe
absenceofseriousresearchconductedonthesceneoranycomprehensive
attempttolettheOaxacanrebelstelltheirstoriesforthemselves,various
readymadeanalyseswereputintoservice,withoutmuchconcernasto
whetherweretheywerecommensuratewiththesituationtheypurportedto
describe.Itisnotonlythecorporatemediathatengagesinsuperficial
reportingmanypostingonIndymedia,whileclearlymotivatedbysomething
otherthancommercialgain,havebeenguiltyofthesame.Inspiteoftheso
calledinformationage,languageandculturalbarriersstillexistthathindera
fulltranslationofaneventlikeOaxacaintowords,andforthatmatter,even
Spanishwords.
ManyleftistsupportersoftheOaxacamovementhaveproducedaquickand
easysolutiontotheriddleofitsorigins:itisallduetotheravagesofneo
liberalism.Moreover,inatextbookcaseofasimplisticlinkingofcauseand
effect,theOaxacauprisingischaracterizedasaresponseto,andrevolt
against,thedeleteriousimpactofNAFTAandtheWashingtonConsensus:the
setofenforcedtradeagreementsandfinancialpoliciesthatconstitutethe
arsenalofneoliberalism,whichisonlyanewernameforlaissezfaireand
monetaristeconomics(oftheChicagoschoolthatwroughtsuchhavocinChile
andArgentina,forexample).[4]
Ofcourse,justbecauseanargumentissimplisticonethinksoftheone
positingtheU.S.sneedforcontroloveroilsuppliesastherootcauseofits
invasionofIraqdoesntmeanthatitiswhollywrong.Thequestioniswhether
neoliberalismisthecasusbelliofthesocialwarinOaxaca,oreventhe
primarytargetofthosewhohavetakentoitsstreetsinprotest.
Certainly,thedamageswroughtbyneoliberalismcanbeandhavebeen
measured.Forthepastnearly20years,Mexicohasbeencaughtinthevortex
ofaglobalizinghypercapitalismanditstransforming,destructivepowers,of
whichNAFTAwasonlyarelativelysmallexpression.[5]Beforethe
implementationofNAFTA,thebillionaireTexanpopulistRossPerotwarned
darklyofthegiantsuckingsoundthatonewouldbeabletohearasNorth

AmericanfactoryjobsmigratedsouthoftheU.S.border.Heneithercarednor
wasclairvoyantenoughtoknowthatthepostNAFTAhorrorshowhetriedto
scareAmericanvoterswithwouldplayoutinafarmorecomplicatedwayasfar
asMexicowasconcerned.
HydraulicforceswouldhollowouttheU.S.economywithouttransferring
substantialnumbersofindustrialorpostindustrialjobstoMexico,outsideof
thoseinthemaquiladora(assemblyforreexport,usingmainlycomponentsof
nonMexicanorigin)zonealongtheU.SMexicanborder.Andsinceitwas
indeedaquestionofaworldmarket,andofadrivetofindthelowestpricefor
labor,Mexicowasonlyoftransientinterestfortransnationalcapital.Mexico
begantolosejobstoChinaandelsewhere,asitsexportsectorwasundercut
byproductsfromareaswherelaborcostswereevenlowerthanitsown.
InvestmentsinthesmallelectronicssectorinMexicohaveyieldedarelatively
lownumberofjobsinhightechnologyassemblyandmanufacturing,andthese
havebeenclusteredaroundJaliscoandMexicoCity,andin
themaquiladorazonejustdescribed.Intermsofinformationtechnology,what
resultedwasanenclaveeconomy,andnotanykindoftakeoffofthe
Mexicaneconomyasawhole.(Formoreonthissubject,seeKevinP.
GallagherandLyubaZarsky,TheEnclaveEconomy:ForeignInvestmentand
SustainableDevelopmentinMexicosSiliconValley,Cambridge,Mass.
(2007).)
Moreover,themagneticpulloftheUnitedStateswhichfordecadeshasbeen
unofficiallyimportingacheaplaborforceforitsagriculturalandservicesectors
fromMexicodidnotdisappearwithNAFTA.AsignificantnumberofOaxacan
workershavecontinuedtomigratetoelNorte,andtheirremittanceshave
becomeamajorsourceofincomeintheOaxacaneconomy.
ThislargerstoryisreallyonlypartofthestoryinsofarasOaxacaisconcerned,
however.IfNAFTAandthechangeswroughtbyneoliberalpolicieshave
shapedoppositionalcurrentsthroughoutMexico,includingOaxaca,and
sharpenedtheirlanguageintermsofadenunciationofforeigncapitaland
globalizationingeneral(acritiqueofdomesticMexicancapitalbeinganother
matteraltogether[6]),theydidnotalonegeneratethesocialcrisisthatledto
theOaxacarebellion.
InthecaseofOaxaca,thiscrisispredatesNAFTA,andeveninthecurrent
periodthereareotherfactorsatwork.ThePlanPueblaPanama,forexample,
whichisdesignedtoprovideinfrastructurefortheeasiertransportationof
goodsandresourceshasbeentargetedbyOaxacanprotesterswhoseeitas
leadingtoafurtherintegrationoftheirregionintoanareadominatedbyNorth
Americancapitalism.Thismayindeedbetheendresult,butthePlanPuebla
PanamawaslargelyaninitiativeoftheMexicanstate,actinginconcertwith
othercountriesintheregion.Itmayultimatelyservetheinterestsofforeign
capital,butitalsohasasouthMexicanandCentralAmericandimension.

AndwhilethereisofcoursealargercontexttotheOaxacarebellion,its
immediatedimensionswereshapedlessbyneoliberalismintheabstractthan
byconcreteregionalcharacteristicsofsocialstratification,culture,andhistory,
includingthetraditionoforganizedprotestinOaxacastate.Thisalsomeant
thatwhilethemovementhadalocalcoloration,auniquelyOaxacanidentity,it
wasforthisverysamereasonadeeplyrooted,embeddedphenomenon,one
thatcouldnoteasilybesuppressed,removed,orindeedreplicatedelsewhere.
Therebellionwasfurtherdefinedbythekindofpowerstructureitopposed,
whichagainhadspecificallyOaxacanfeatures,onesnotnecessarilyfound
everywhereelseinMexico.InOaxaca,thedinosaursofthePRI(Institutional
RevolutionaryParty,thepoliticalpartythathadperpetuateditsruleatthe
nationallevelthroughclientelism,repression,andthecreationofalargepublic
sector)werestillinpowerinOaxacastateandpracticingtheirdecadeslong
traditionsofcorruptionandbrutality,usingcaciques(politicalbosses)astheir
localsurrogates.Foralongtime,powerhadbeenenforcedinOaxacaatthe
pointofagun,coupledwithakindofinstitutionalizedbribery:thegrantingof
subsidiestovariousorganizations,includingthoseperceivedtobeapotential
threattothesocialorder.UnderUlisesRuizOrtizspredecessor,JosMurat,
thesesubsidiesweregiventoindigenousgroups,includingsomeorganizations
wholoudlyproclaimedtheirMagonistaradicalism,suchastheCIPORFM
(PopularIndigenousCouncilofOaxacaRicardoFloresMagn).[7]The
withdrawalofsuchsubsidiesbyUlisesRuizOrtizmayhavebeenthefirstof
themanymisstepshemadeinconfrontingoppositiontohisrule.
UlisesRuizOrtizsdecisiontounleashhispoliceagainstanencampmentof
teachersontheirannualstrikeforbetterpayandimprovementsinthe
educationalsystemwasthesparkthatignitedarebellion,producingabroader
andboldersocialmovementinthestreetsofOaxaca.Whatemergedwhenthe
cloudsofteargasclearedinJune,2006wasAPPO,thePopularAssemblyof
thePeoplesofOaxaca.Itscreationinwhatwasaclassicexampleofa
collectiveinvention,withnoindividualauthororinstigatorwasa
manifestation,andthedirectexpression,ofastrugglethathadbecomeboth
wideranddeeper.Theassemblypartofitsnamewasanassertionofthe
supposedsovereigntyofitsrankandfile,whichmeantthatthemovement
would,intheory,nolongerbebeholdentotheteachersunionandits
bureaucracy.
III
Whenlookedatretrospectively,thetrajectoryoftheOaxacarebellion
resemblesthatofoneofthefireworksthatwereusedasimprovisedweapons
bythemovement.Therewasasmolderingatthebeginning,aswiftascent,
andthenanexplosionthatleftpiecesandburningembersscatteredonthe
ground.Intryingtodiscernjustwherethebrightestsparkswere,some
recapitulationofthekeyepisodesinthemovementisnecessary.Furthermore,
aninterpretationofthemovementsriseandfallrequiresacloserscrutinyofits

variouscomponents.
APPOwasaproblematicentityfromitsinception.Itquicklybecameclearthat,
initsemphasisonakindoflowestcommondenominatorunity,APPOhad
becomeallthingstoallpeople,beingpartbureaucraticcondominiumandpart
socialmovement.Fortheantiauthoritariancomponentoftherebellion,itwas
anexampleofdirectdemocracy.FortheStalinistsoftheFPR(Revolutionary
PopularFront,anorganizationcontrolledbytheCommunistPartyofMexico
(MarxistLeninist)),whoseoperativesmovedaggressivelytoinstallthemselves
inpositionsofleadership,empoweringthemselvesasspokespersonsfor
APPO,itrepresentedagoldenopportunitytoexpandtheirinfluence.Other
politicalgroupings,suchasNIOAX(TheNewLeftofOaxacainwhichthe
polticoFlavioSosaandthefirstpoliticalprisoneroftheOaxacanmovement
hadfoundhislatestperch),sawanopeningforamoreconventionalkindof
politicaladvancement.Inthewordsofthosewholatercriticizedsuch
manipulationandopportunism,APPOwasviewedbysomeasatrampoline:
itspowercouldbeleveragedtoachieveotheraims,whethersecuringelective
officeorfurtheringtheagendaofaMarxistLeninistparty,orbothatthesame
time.ThemuchvauntedautonomyofthebaseofAPPOwasoftenmore
honoredinthebreachthaninreality,atleastwithintheassemblyitself.
Asmentionedpreviously,theOaxacarebelliondidnotappearexnihiloor
simplyasaspontaneousresponsetoeconomicandpoliticalcircumstances.
Therehadbeenalongstandinghistoryofoppositiontothestatusquointhe
stateofOaxaca,oneinwhichthetacticoftheplantn(protestencampment)
hadbeenusedrepeatedlyindeed,itwaspartoftherepertoireofsocialprotest
inMexicogenerally.Overtwodecades,Section22oftheteachersunionhad
demonstrateditscombativenessanditsdemandsoftenexceededpurely
economiccategories:bettereducationforindigenouspeopleshasbeen
foremostamongthem.However,therehadalsobeenaclearlimittothekindof
strugglewagedbytheteachers.Whileoftenportrayedasaltruisticchampions
oftheindigenouspeoplesofOaxacaandbehindthisidealizedportraitthereis
indeedsometruththeteachersstruggleclearlyalsohadanelementofself
interest.
Forexample,itwasnoaccidentthattheleadershipoftheteachersunion,
immediatelypriortointerventionoftheFederalPoliceinOctober2006,was
preparedtocutadealandsellouttherestofAPPO.Thisbetrayalwas
denouncedbytherestoftheOaxacanmovement,includingtherankandfileof
theteachersunionitself,butthepicturewasnotassimpleasacleardivision
betweenunionbureaucratsontheonesideandradicalbaseontheother.
Withintheteachersunion,andinoppositiontoitsmoremainstreamleadership,
theStalinistsoftheFPRhadaconsiderablefollowing,andthiswasthe
organizationalfulcrumthatallowedthemtoeffectivelycolonizemuchofAPPO
itself,installingtheiractivistsinkeypositionsandattemptingtocurtailand
silencetheantiauthoritariancurrentswithinthelargerrebellion.Itisperhapsno

surprisethatradicalOaxacanteachers,wholiketheircounterpartsinsomany
othercountriesseethemselvesasbearersofconsciousnesstothe
unenlightenedmasses,wouldalsobesuchavidMarxistLeninists.
Beforethisdrearydenouement,however,agooddealelsehappenedinOaxaca
thatwasduetotheinitiativesofthemovementsbaseandwhichlargely
escapedthestrictcontrolofitsprotobureaucraticrepresentatives.These
outlinedanewconfigurationofsocialpowerinOaxaca,butnotintheclassic
senseofdualpowersooftendiscussedbyrevolutionarytheoristsinthe
twentiethcentury.InOaxaca,thisreconfigurationwasmoreimplicitthan
explicit,morenomadicandmobilethansomethingobjectified.Thisrelative
failureofthemovementissomethingitscriticsontheleftpointto,butthey
overlookthefactthatitwasinitsownexistenceinactsthattheParis
CommunehadvalueintheeyesofMarx.
WhatstillisntclearatthislatedateiswhathappenedinsideAPPO,andwhat
itsproceedingswerelike.Weknowthattherecountlessmeetings,andthat
variouscommissionswereelectedwithspecifictaskstoaccomplish.Inthis
respect,theredoesseemtohavebeenaprincipleofmandatesthatoperated
withinAPPO.Butthefactthatvariousspokespersons(anditworthreiterating
thatthesewereforthemostpartStalinists)continuedtospeakforthe
movement,withoutanyaccountabilitytoitsbase,throwsthisintoquestion.
Thefactthattheassemblyinsistedonfunctioningonthebasisofconsensus,
atleastinitsfirstfewmonths,isalsointeresting,butnolessproblematic.
Strictadherencetoconsensuswouldseemipsofactotomitigateagainstthe
abilityofaradicalminoritytohaveitsviewpointsexpressedintheassembly.
Antiauthoritarianswithinthemovementwouldlaterdiscoverthelimitsofsuch
aprinciple,andofanillusoryconsensusthatinanycasewasnotsomething
thatbotheredtheunscrupulousoperatorsoftheFPR.Atpresent,wehaveno
transcriptsavailabletoseeifthedeliberationsoftherankandfileofAPPO
meetinginassemblywere,infact,analogoustothedebatesofthePetrograd
SovietortorevolutionaryworkersassembliesinBarcelonain19361937.For
alloftheuseofthetermOaxacaCommune,atthispointitcanonlybe
understoodatbestasagoalthemovementaspiredto,andatworstasmere
wishfulthinking.
Whatisclear,however,isthattheperiodofOctoberNovember2006wasthe
highwateroftheOaxacarebellion,andthedecisivestageforthemovementin
astrategicsense.WiththeentryoftheFederalpoliceintothecityonOctober
29,2006,themovementwasconfrontedbythearmedpoweroftheMexican
state,andnotjustthepoliceandgoons(porros)ofthegovernor.Followingthis
intervention,therebellionwasfirstplacedonthedefensive,beingdislodged
fromitscentralpositionsinandaroundthezcalo(townsquareorplaza)and
fallingback,underthepressureofriotpoliceandteargasfiredfromhelicopters
andontheground,towardtheareaaroundtheuniversity.

OnNovember2,2006,asthepolicemovedtowardtheuniversitytosilencethe
movementsremainingradiostation(onethathadservedasavitalmeansof
coordinatingresistancetothepolice),adefensewasmountedbytherebellion,
usingthebarricadesthathadalreadybeenerectedinthecity.Determined
streetfightersweresuccessfulinthwartingthepoliceadvanceintothe
university,andforatimeitlookedasthoughthemovementhadregainedthe
initiative.Butafterthisvictoryinthestreets,protesterssoughttoretake
thezcaloonNovember25,2006,andindoingsotheyfellintotrapdesigned
expertlybytheauthorities,wholaunchedtheirownviolentcounteroffensive
againstthemovement.Theresultsofthiswouldbecountedinthescoresof
woundedprotesters,thekillingsconductedbyporros,theimprisonmentof
activists,andageneralstrategicsituationinwhichthemovementwasforced
undergroundandliterallyputontherun.
WhentherebellionraiseditsheadagaininOaxacaCityinearly2007,itwas
notthesamemovement.Themovementconfrontedakindofpolicestateat
thelocallevel,whileitsowncontradictionshadsharpened,reachingthe
breakingpoint.Already,onNovember25,2006,atacrucialmomentof
confrontationwiththepolice,theselfstyledleadershipofAPPOhadtriedto
removetheCincoSeoresbarricade,onlytobeshouteddownbyits
defenders,whorefusedtomove.AmoregeneralsplitbetweentheStalinist,
officialfaceofAPPOandtheantiauthoritariancurrentswithinitsbasewas
intensifying,andwouldemergeinbroaddaylightinearly2007.
IV
InthebeginningofSeptember2006,atatimewhenbarricadessurged
throughoutthecityofOaxaca,itwasevidentthatanunprecedented
occurrencewastakingplace:
thecityhadbeenconvertedintoalaboratory.Neverinthecontemporary
historyofthecountryanditscitieshadbarricadesbeenerectedonsucha
largescale(andneitherhadtherebeenspontaneouscreationsofsuch
amplitudeinanurbansettinginMexico),somethingthatalsoimpliesthat
neverbeforehadthepopulationofacitytakencontrolofsuchan
extensiveurbanarea.
HectorBallesteros,IntroductiontoPuntosB:Cartografiasdeunaciudaden
crisis:Oaxaca2006,interactiveDVD,2007(http://puntosb.blogspot.com)
Aswellasanarrativeofpoliticsatthemacroandmicrolevels,theOaxaca
rebellionshouldbeunderstoodintermsofthecreationofanalternativesocial
spacewithinthecityofOaxacaitself.Thisspacewascreatedbymeansof
occupations,theerectingofbarricades,andinthelargestreetprotests(called
megamarches,often,butnotalways,accurately)conductedbythemovement
overaperiodofmanymonths.AsmuchasanymeetingofAPPO,thisis
wherethemovementexpresseditselfand,likesomanyothersimilar
movements,freeandcreativeexpressionwasoneofitscentral

characteristics.Therebellionitselfwasakindofstreamingtorrentofwords,
images,anddeeds.Theselefttheirimprintonthewallsofthecity,onthe
intersectionsofitsstreets,andinthemindsofitsinhabitants.Whenthepolice
reoccupiedthecenterofOaxaca,oneofthefirstactsoftheauthoritieswasto
orderapaintingoverofallgraffiti,anactthatresultedinswathesofdifferent
coloredpaintreplacingtheslogansandstencilsofthemovement.This
abstractpoliceartwasdesignedtoerasealltracesoftherebellion,butallit
didwastoprovidethosewithcansofspraypaintafreshcanvasfortheir
works.
AsHectorBallesterosimpliesinhisremarkaboutOaxacabecominga
laboratory,therebellionhadanexperimentalqualityintheusesitmadeofthe
city.Whateveritsshortcomingsintermsofpoliticalclarityoranabilityto
generalizeitsstruggle,therebelsofOaxacashowedaremarkableendurance,
asawellasaconsiderabletalentforimprovisationandinnovation.
Oneofthemythsthathasgrownuparoundthemovement,andneeds
dispellingevenattheriskofupsettingmanyofitssupporters,isthatthe
rebellionwascompletelyorevenessentiallynonviolent.Whilethemovement
seemstohavemadeacollectivedecisionnottoescalateitsownviolence,and
toactinselfdefenseofthespacesitoccupied,itwasnotapeacefulstruggle
inthepacifistsense.Instead,itwasahybrid:somethingmorethana
movementconductingcivildisobedience,andsomethinglessthanurban
guerrillawarfare,ithadaspectsofboth.
Thetermasymmetricalwarfareisabuzzwordamongmilitarytheorists,a
euphemismforabattleinwhichthesidesareunequal,orwagequalitatively
differentkindsofcombat.Forsuchanalysts,theOaxacamovementmay
ultimatelyserveasatextbookcase.Aninterestingexampleoftherebellions
creativityishowparticipantsgaveanewandpositivemeaningtothephrase
smokeandmirrors.Atcrucialpointsinthebattleswithpolice,groups
ofbazuqueros(namedfortheplastictubestheyusedaslaunchersfor
fireworks)wouldshootskyrocketsatthepolicelines,therebypartially
offsettingtheeffectofvolleysofteargasdirectedattheprotesters.Buseswere
alsosetonfireandrolledtowardpolicelines:thesewerecalledkamikazes.(If
nothingelse,theOaxacarebellionhasaddedsomenewwordstothelexiconof
radicalsocialprotest.)
Mirrorswereusedbothtoreflectlightandtoputmattersinadifferentlight.
WhenapolicehelicoptercircledoveracrowdofprotestersonNovember1,
2006,hundredsofhandmirrorswereusedbythoseonthegroundinanattempt
toconfuseordisorientthepilot.Ifnothingelse,itshowedtheMexicanarmed
forcesthattheyweredealingwithamovementthatwasnoteasilyintimidated.
Afterreportsofrapesandotherviolencebypoliceagainstwomenwhohad
beenarrested,protestershelduplargermirrorstothefederalpolice,whocould
seetheirfacesinthemirrorswiththesuperimposedwords:Iamarapist.

OneofthemostinterestingaspectsoftheOaxacarebellion,andonethatmay
infactdefineitforposterity,hasbeenthedegreetowhichwomenhave
participatedinit,creatingtheirownspacewithinthemovementand
undertakingimportantinitiativesoftheirown.Inthis,theyhavedirectly
challengedthereigningmachismoofMexicansocietyingeneralandthe
patriarchaltraditionsofindigenouscultureinOaxacastatespecifically.The
radicalredefinitionofgenderrolesisatopicmuchdiscussedinthewell
appointedcampusesofNorthAmericanandEuropeanacademia.InOaxaca,
suchchangehashadamoredowntoearthandsubstantivemeaning:relations
betweenmenandwomen,andamongdiversecategoriesofpeoplegenerally,
arebeingrenegotiatedineverydaylifeandinthecontextofaradicalsocial
movement.
Womentooktheleadinoneofthemostremarkableepisodesintherebellion:
thetakingoverofalocaltelevisionstation,whichthenresumedbroadcasting
asamovementstation,withtheoccupierscreatingnewprograms,conducting
interviews,andradicallyalteringthebalanceofmediapowerwithinthecity.Not
ofallofthesebroadcastswerefreeofdogmaorrepetition,butinatleastsome
ofthemarebellious,alternativespiritshonethrough.
Youngpeoplealsoplayedamajorroleinallphasesoftherebellion,
contributingbothlaninthestreetfightingandtakingtheinitiativeincreating
alternativemediathatplayedavitalroleassourcesoftacticalintelligence
(aboutpolicemovements,forexample)andasameansofcommunicatingthe
ideasofthemovementtothesurroundingpopulation.Thesemediaincluded
theradiostationsusedbythemovement,aswellaspublications
likeBarrikadaandvariousculturalworkshopsthatbroughtfreshperspectives
andnewidiomstosocialprotestinOaxaca.Andthiswasalldonewithout
youngeractivistsevernarrowlydefiningthemselvesasprotagonistsofarevolt
ofyouth.
However,therewasafarfromprogressiveaspecttotherebellionsrelationto
itsveryyoungestparticipants,andthiswasthecurious(andperhapsculturally
specific)useofchildrenasmascotswhomimickedadultsingivingstaged
performancesofspeechesbeforemucholderaudiences,mouthingwordsthat
theyclearlycouldnothavewritten,muchlessfullyunderstood.Thiswas
repeatedinsimilarlyscriptedappearancesbychildreninprogramsbroadcast
bytheoccupiedtelevisionstationandbythemovementsradiostations.What
mayhavelookedcutetoaOaxacanaudienceonlyseemstoanoutsidertobe
bothcontrivedandcloying,howeverbenignitsintentionmayhavebeen.
DocumentariesmadebyU.S.andMexicanindependentmediahaverecorded
suchsceneswithoutanycomment,displayingakindofpaternalistic
indulgencethatironically,andnodoubtunintentionally,echoespast
stereotypesofindigenouspeoplesasnatureschildren.
Intermsofthesocioeconomiccategoriesrepresentedinthemovement,great

attentionhasbeenpaidofcoursetotheroleofteachers,atleastinitially,and
thatplayedbytheworkingpopulationgenerallyinOaxaca,alongwiththe
inhabitantsofpoorneighborhoods.Marxistshaveseentheheterogeneityofthe
movementasitsAchillesheel:itwasnotstrictusensua"trulyworkingclass"
phenomenon.Thismayindeedbeareasonwhythemovementdidnotreceive
tangiblesupportelsewhereinMexico,unlikerecentstrikestherethathave
receivedanactiveresponsefromotherworkers.Buttheissueofclass,ina
erainwhichsomanyfixedsocialcategories,includingclassstructure,are
beingdisarticulatedorrecomposed,isonethatisinneedofaradicalrethinking
tobeginwith,especiallyasthemuchtoutedmodernproletariatdearto
situationistsandothershasyettomakeitsappointedrendezvouswithhistory.
Thereisnodoubt,however,thatasociologicalinventoryoftheOaxacan
movementwouldrevealspecificcharacteristicsthatmaynotbefound
elsewhere,eitherinMexicoorinothercountries.
*

[Bannercaption"Protectus,MostHolyVirginoftheBarricades".Oaxacas,
2008.]
Wheredoesthesoundcomefrom?
Itisthesoundofthebarricade
TheSoundoftheBarricade,asongof
theOaxacarebellion
OnecategoryofparticipantsthatisdiscussedbyMexicanobservers,butby
fewoutsiders,isthatofthechavosbanda,atermthatisdifficulttorenderinto
English,butwhichmeanssomethinglikestreettoughsorhoodlums(a
Frenchequivalentmightbeblousonsnoirs).Thisgroupplayedanactiverolein
therebellion,especiallyonthebarricadesandinthefightingwithpolice,and
becamesoconspicuousastofigureinthepolemicsofothers.Notsurprisingly,
sincetheseweremembersofthelumpenproletariat(andonemustremember

justhowpejorativeandsubjectiveatermthisis,andthatitisanotherof
Marxsmoredubioustheoreticallegacies),theywereviewedwithscornbythe
StalinistsoftheFPRandbythosewithamoresecuresocialstatusgenerally,
suchastheteachersandthepettybourgeoiselementswhowerealsopartof
themovement.Anditisnotanunambiguousstory,forthatmatter.Manyof
thesepoliticizedstreetfighterswereinfluencedbyanarchistideas(another
reasonwhytheyweretreatedwithsuchdisdainbyMarxistLeninists),butthat
didntmeanthattheirautonomousactionsalwaysmadestrategicsensetothe
organizedanarchistsinOaxaca.Clearly,however,itwouldbeinterestingto
knowmoreabouthowsuchtensionshaveplayedoutsincetheendof
November2006,andtolearnwhathashappenedtothechavosbandasince
theebbingoftherebellionasamovementinthestreets.
Inadditiontothoseonthebarricades,theotherradicalfociioftheOaxaca
rebellionwerecomprisedofthosegroupsandindividualswithinAPPOwho
challengedthehegemonyoftheFPRStalinistsovertheformalstructuresof
theassembly.Theseantiauthoritarians,wholooselycomprisedthe
Magonista/antibureaucraticwingofthemovement,didhaveaconscious
politicalperspective,onethatwascommittedtofreedebateandthe
autonomouspoweroftherankandfileofAPPO.Havingbeenoutmaneuvered
bytheFPRintheearlyphaseoftheassembly,theseelementswhoincluded
thegroupsthatmakeuptheAlianzaMagonistaZapatistaandthemore
recentlyformedVOCAL(VocesOaxaqueasConstruyendoAutonomay
Libertad,orOaxacanVoicesConstructingAutonomyandFreedom)wereina
weakpositiontochallengetheStalinists,especiallywhenthebaseofAPPO
couldnolongermeeteasilyoropenlyinthewakeofthesevererepressionin
theweeksandmonthsafterNovember2006.However,thesegroupsdid
publicizetheirvehementcriticismsoftheFPRsmanipulativepoliticsandits
characterassassinationsofthoseopposedtoitsviselikeholdonAPPO(for
Englishtranslationsofmaterialsdetailingthepositionsoftheantiauthoritarian
leftinOaxaca,seewww.collectivereinventions.org).
ShortlyafterthesedivisionswithinAPPOcameoutintotheopen,theleading
activistofVOCAL,DavidVenegas,wasimprisonedbythestate,givingthe
antiauthoritariansinOaxacaafigureandacause(politicalprisoners)around
whichtheycouldrally,astheyalsotriedatthesametimetodisseminatetheir
antiStalinistviewsonthefutureofthemovement.However,theimprisonment
ofVenegasdeprivedthemofaneloquentandsharptongue,onethatwas
unafraidoftakingthefighttotheFPR(Venegaswasreleasedfromprisonfor
thetimebeinginearlyMarch2008,butstillfacestrialonanumberof
charges).Inlate2007,theantibureaucraticwingofAPPOheldapublic
meeting,whichcalleditselftheThirdStateAssemblyofAPPO,onethatwas
convenedinanopenbreakwiththeFPRorofficialwingofAPPO.This
broughttogetheranumberofgroups,aswellasrepresentativesfrom
neighborhoodsandthe(former)barricades,includingaconsiderablenumberof
youngantiauthoritarians.

Whilethisdevelopmentseemedtoindicatethattherewasaclearopeningfor
theantiStalinistsectortogrowandestablishitselfonitsowntermsasan
autonomousmovement(withorwithouttheuseoftheAPPOname,which
someinVOCALsawasalreadybadlycompromisedbytheactionsofthe
FPR),itappearsthat,forthetimebeingatleast,theOaxacananti
authoritariansarewagingavaliantbutlonelybattle,makingdowithlimited
resourcesandattractingonlyarelativelysmallnumberofpeopletotheir
cause.
StaterepressionandthebureaucraticpoliticsoftheFPRanditsteachers
affiliatehavetakentheirtollinOaxaca.Themovementisnolongerwhatit
was,andnolongermobilizesthecrowdsitdidinitsheyday.Thrownonthe
defensive,whatremainsoftherebellionhasbeenreducedtoalmostasingle
demandtheone,overridingissuethathasbeentherefromthebeginningthe
removalofthereviledUlisesRuizOrtizfromoffice.Indoingso,themovement
hasbecomeselflimiting:itnolongerovertlyembodiesavisionofadifferent
society,somethingthatisadmittedlyveryhardtodoinpresentcircumstances.
Still,meetingstakeplace,andyounganarchistshavebeenespeciallyactivein
keepingtheflamesoftherebellionfrombeingentirelyextinguished.Meanwhile,
theteachersunionhasgoneitsownwayagain,andwhilemakinganappeal
forthereleaseofpoliticalprisoners,hasessentiallyreturnedtotheterrainof
corporatist,economicdemands.
ThelastpagesoftheOaxacarevoltclearlyhavenotbeenwrittenyet.
However,iftherebellionisevertobecomeamassphenomenonagain,andif
itsmessageistobetakenupelsewhereinMexico,itwillhaveto,somewhat
paradoxically,reconnectwiththelargerOaxacansocietywhiletryingtobreak
outofbeingnarrowlytypecastasapurelyOaxacanmovement.Itisaverytall
order,anditseemsarrogantforthoseontheoutsidetocriticizethe
shortcomingsofarebellionthatwentasfarastheoneinOaxacadid.But
turningablindeyetothemovementsweaknessesanddilemmasisofnouse
toanyone.
V
itcanbecalculatedthat,withlittleeffort,morethan10,000menwould
bereadytocometothisparishfromthesurroundingmountains,bold
liketheclimateoftheland,asiswitnessedbytheatrocioushappenings
thathavetakenplace,moreinthisoneprovincethaninalltheothersof
therealmandsowaryarethesementhatIhaveheardandknowthings
abouttheminthisbusinessthatcannotbesaidofveryexperienced
captains.
Fr.AlonsodeCuevasDvalos,BishopofOaxaca,inhislettertotheviceroy
fromTehuantepec,April1660[8].
*
IntryingtotracethecontoursofthelargercontextinwhichtheOaxaca

rebellionemerged,oneisremindedofexplorersseekingtheoriginsoftheNile:
italldependsonhowfarbackonewantstogo.Astheabovecitationindicates,
theOaxacaregionwasconsideredarebelliouslandafullcenturyafterthe
SpanishconquestofMexico,anditwasthesceneofseveralmajorrevolts
againstcolonialauthority.Indescribingthesamerevoltof1660thatso
alarmedthegoodBishopofOaxaca,anotherofhiscompatriotsreferred
gravelytocircumstancesofrebellionandbadspiritthatprevailedinthe
region.
Supportersofthecurrentrebellionhavebeentemptedtodrawadirectlinefrom
incidentslikethe1660Tehuantepecrevolt,whichoccurredinthesouthofwhat
isnowOaxacastate,totheeventsoftoday,viewingthecontemporary
movementasbeingonlythelatestepisodeinanunbrokentraditionof
aboriginaloppositiontoWesternsocietyinallitsguises,whetherintheformof
Spanishconquistadors,theMexicanstate,U.S.imperialism,orglobalized
consumerculture.Thisthemehasfrequentlyappearedinthediscourseof
indigenousradicalismitself,wheretheconnectionbetweenpastandpresent
hasbeenmadeliteralinthecelebrationof500yearsofresistanceonthepart
ofnativepeoplestoforeign(i.e.,nonindigenous)domination.
Ifonesympathizeswiththethrustofthisargument,therearenonetheless
problemswithanyidealizationofnativetraditions,andwiththeconstructionof
animperfectlyunderstoodcommunalitysetagainstthesupposedlyabsolute
evilsofModernity.Instatingthis,onedoesnotimpugn,ordescribeasfalse
consciousness,theviewpointsoftheindigenousthemselvesabouttheirlives,
theirstruggles,andtheirfundamentalgrievancesagainsttherulingorder,both
localandglobal.Onthecontrary,itaccordstheseviewpointstheautonomy
theydeserve(whoelsebuttheindigenouscanspeakfor,ratherthanjuston
behalfof,nativecultures?),anditrecognizesacertainincapacityonthepartof
theoutsideobservertograsptherealitiesofindigenoussocieties,toseethe
worldinthesamewayasthoselookingatitthroughautochthonouseyes.
However,recognizingsuchalimittounderstandingdoesnotrequirea
wholesaleabandonmentofcriticalfacultiesinfavoroftheemptygeneralities
thatcharacterizesomuchofthelanguageofFirstWorldsupportersofFourth
Worldradicalism,rhetoricthatismoreemotivethananalytical,andmore
acclamationthanasubstantiveencounterwithindigenousrealities.Toread
someaccounts,onewouldthinkthattherehadexistedsomepreColumbian
GoldenAgeinwhichpeace,equality,andcooperationreignedthroughoutthe
landsthatwouldcometobeknown(inhomagetotheirEuropeancolonizers)as
theAmericas.Putsimply,thislegenddoesn'tallowfactstogetinthewayof
itsutopianstoryline.Itignoresortrivializestheexistenceofhereditary(and
absolutist)authority,castes,slavery,andtribalwarfareintheindigenousworld
priortotheConquest.
ToreturntorealityandtothesituationinOaxaca,akeychallengeforoutsiders

(andthestatusofbeinganextranjeroisnotonethatisnecessarilypossibleto
overcome,butmaybeonethat,whenallowancesaremade,affordsa
perspectivethatisofvaluepreciselybecauseofitsfocallengthfromthe
subject)ispreciselythatofgrapplingwiththerelationshipoftherebellionto
indigenousculture.Participantshavestressedthattherehasbeenastrong
imprintleftonthemovementbytheexampleoftraditionalpracticesand
customs(usosycostumbres,whichcanalsobetranslatedascustomarylaw
or"traditionalpractices")observedinmanyvillagesinOaxacastate.This
influenceisunderlined,tobeginwith,bythecentralimportanceattachedbythe
movementtotheideaandpracticeofanassembly,withtheassemblyform
beingconstruedbyparticipantsasintegraltotherebellionsexperimentin
directdemocracyin2006.
Theelementsofusosycostumbresthataremostoftendescribedby
observersandbyindigenouspeoplesthemselvesare,inadditiontothe
importanceofthevillageassemblyasthesovereignbodyofconsensual
decisionmaking:1)thesystemofcargosorofficesthatavillagecitizenis
expectedtoservein2)aformofobligatoryandunpaidlaboronbehalfofthe
communityknownastequio3)apracticeofreciprocalexchangeofgiftsand
servicesknown(inZapotec)asguelaguetza4)adeepcommitmenttothe
valueofcooperationand5)thecontinuingcommunalownershipoflands.
Itisworthnotingthatnearlyallofthesepracticesandcustomsareonesthat
havechangedovertime,andhaveundergonefundamentaltransformations,as
has,ofcourse,theverystructureofindigenoussocietyinMexico,beginning
withthedisappearanceofitshereditarynobility.Moreover,iftodaysusosy
costumbresarenotwholeandintactpracticesfromanotheragethathavebeen
preservedinsomekindofculturalamber,theyarealsonotuniform,varying
considerablywithinOaxacastate.
Asanexampleofhowhistoryhasmodifiedwhatarepresentedastimeless
traditions,onecantaketheexampleofoneofthem:tequio,generally
describedasunpaid,butobligatory,laboronbehalfofthecommunity.Along
withtheimportanceofcooperationinindigenousvillages,thispracticeisoften
adducedasalivingexampleofmutualaidinacommunalsociety,whichin
manycasesinOaxacaitundoubtedlyis.However,itisinterestingtotracethe
etymologyoftheworditselfandtoseethedifferentmeaningsithasacquired
invariouscontexts.TequioisderivedfromtheNahuatl(Aztec)wordtequitl,
andoriginallymeanttribute,asinlaborandlandsduetothetraditionalnobility
(thepreColumbian,indigenousrulingcaste)orotheroverlords(includingthe
Aztecconquerorsofotherindigenoustribes).Itwaslaterintegratedand
codifiedasthetributesystemoftheSpanishcolonizers,whodeftlymadeuse
oftribalandcastedivisionswithinindigenoussociety,fissuresthathadalready
playedamajorroleinfacilitatingtheConquestitself.
Whiletequio,asitispracticedincontemporaryOaxaca,mayconjureupin

someNorthAmericanorEuropeanmindsavisionofvoluntarycollaboration
asinthecommunitygardensofBerkeleysPeoplesParkin1969orinstill
earliercooperativeendeavorsinProvoAmsterdamitspositiveconnotations
areagainsomethingthatdevelopedandweremodifiedovertime,andnot
everywhere.InpartsofCentralAmerica,thenegativemeaninghasnotbeen
lost:inNicaraguanSpanish,tequiosomeansoverbearing,cumbersome,or
bothersome,clearlyshowingitsrootinawordassociatedwithcoercedlabor,
obligation,andduty.
Thesystemofcargosisalsoproblematic,andhardlymeritstheenthusiasmof
antiauthoritarianswhoareproponentsofassembliesandrevocabledelegates.
Inapproximately15%oftraditionalOaxacanvillages,womenareformally
barredfromparticipatinginthevillageassembly,andfromholdingoffice(a
cargo).ThisfacthasrecentlyreceivedagooddealofattentionintheMexican
mediaastheresultofthecaseofEufrosinaCruzMendoza,whocouldnot
standforpresidentinhernativevillageofSantaMaraQuiegolani(inOaxaca
state)forthesimplereasonthatsheisfemale.Suchanexampleofakindof
genderbasedapartheidshouldgiveseriouspausetoanyonetryingtosee
Oaxacanvillagesasbeingcontemporaryanaloguestotheruralcollectivesof
theSpanishRevolution.Italsounderlinesthedegreetowhichthe
contemporaryOaxacanmovementbrokenewgroundvisvistraditional
indigenousculture,especially(butnotonly)inregardstogenderroles.Inmany
ways,then,theOaxacarebellionwasnotanatavisticortraditional
phenomenon.TheassemblyintheurbanOaxacarebelliontotheextentthatit
functionedasagatheringoftherankandfileparticipantselectingmandated,
revocabledelegateswassomethingdifferentthananassemblyofallthe
citizensofaindigenousvillage.Itmayhavehadalinktocommunalpractices
inOaxacastate,butitwasalsoaninnovationcomparedtothosesame
traditions,withmoreincommonwithautonomousformsproducedinother
strugglesinLatinAmericainrecentdecades,rangingfromChile1973
(thecordonesindustriales)totherecentpiqueteromovementinArgentina.
Therelevanceofindigenouscustomsandpracticesisopentoquestioninother
respectsaswell.InmanytraditionalOaxacanvillages,oneisobligedto
performsociallyusefullaborandtoacceptresponsibilityinanumberof
definedpositions(theaforementionedcargos).Ifonerefusesorevadessuch
obligations,oneisdeprivedofcitizenshipinthevillage,ineffectbecoming
ostracizedfromthelifeofthecommunity.Oaxacanswholeavetheirvillage
andbecomeimmigrantworkersintheU.S.andCanadastillmustfulfillsuch
obligationsinordertoretaintheirstatusasvillagecitizens.Itistestimonyto
theimportanceofsuchanidentitythatmanysuchimmigrantsreturntotheir
villagestoacquittheirresponsibilitiesitisrevealingoftheambiguitiesofsuch
anidentitythatitscommunalityimpliesacertaincoercionandthattodaythe
notionofwhatisvoluntaryorfreelygivenisunderminedbythefactthatvillage
memberscanpayotherstoperformtheirtequioobligations:theruralcommune
meetsthecashnexus,andnotonlyatthispoint.RemittancesfromOaxacans

workingintheU.S.andCanadaservetobuoythestateeconomy,butthey
havealsotransformedaspectsofvillagelifeinruralOaxaca,bringingsatellite
dishesandotherappurtenancesoftheconsumersocietysodisdainedbyFirst
Worldsupportersofindigenouscultures.
Furthermore,inthepresentarrayofsocialpowerinOaxaca,thesystem
ofusosycostumbrespracticesthathavealegal,codifiedstatusinthestate
canbeunderstoodasaformofrecuperation,asawayofintegrating
traditionalindigenoussocietyintopreexistingstructuresofpoliticalandsocial
power.Theofficialenshrinementofusosycostumbrestookplacein1995
duringthetenureofthePRIgovernorJosMurat,atpreciselyatimewhenthe
rulingeliteinOaxacafeltunderattackbydemandsforautonomyfrom
indigenousmovementsinthestate.AcarefulstudybyAlejandroAnayaMunoz
revealstheelitesstrategy,inthefaceofthisthreat,tohavebeenoneof
cooptationandtheintegrationofindigenousdemands,combinedwiththe
traditionalresortofbuyingofflocalcaciquesandmakingpayoffstovillagersat
electiontime.[9]
Whatthen,intheend,canbesaidabouttherelationshipoftraditionalpractices
tothesocialmovementinOaxaca?Clearly,thereisone,butasexplained
above,itisnotunequivocal.Thisdoesnotmeanthatitistrivial,either,orthat
theindigenousperspectiveissomehowonlyasecondaryquestion.However,a
definitivetheoreticalpositionvisvistheseissuesmaybeachimera.Rather
thantryingtoarriveatananswerthatinanycasecouldneverbedefinitive,but
onlyapproximate,onemayhavetoposequestionsinstead,andtoinsiston
thewrinklesinalandscapethatothersseeasflatoruncomplicated.
Forunconditionalanduncriticalsupportersofindigenousstrugglesthereare
nosuchconceptualproblems.Theysimplyendorsetraditionalpracticesas
beinginnatelyegalitarianandcommunalsomeevengosofarastomake
extravagantclaimsaboutthecosmovison(viewoftheworld)ofnative
peoples,raisingthedissimilaritybetweentraditionalandmodernmentalitiesto
thelevelofpureontologicaldifference.[10]Thisaclassicexampleof
anessentialistargument:thereisatrueIndiannessthatisahistorical,
immutableandorganic.Andwhatemergesfromsuchthinkingisakindof
identitypoliticsbasedonanindigenistfundamentalism.
Conversely,traditionalMarxiststendtobepreemptivelydismissiveofany
argumentonbehalfofradicalpeasantriesandtheircommunaltraditions.In
this,onehearsthevoiceoftheMaster:theMarxwhofamouslyreferredinthe
openingsectionofTheCommunistManifestototheidiocyofrurallife.There
is,ofcourse,moretotheMarxistargumentthanmerecondescension,
includingayoungerMarxsownrhapsodizinginTheGermanIdeologyabouta
communistsocietyinwhichhecouldhunt,fish,andphilosophizeallonthe
sameday,withouthavingtobedefinedbyanyoneactivity.[11]However,for
almostallMarxists,whobasetheirperspectiveonatheoryofnecessary,

inevitablestagesofhistory,thereisonlyonepossiblepassagetoapost
capitalistfuture,andthatgateisopenedbytheindustrialworkingclass.All
otheragencyonthepartofsubordinatedsocialelementsisdiscountedat
best,itcanbeanadjuncttotheactionsoftheworkingclass,whomustplaya
vanguardrole(except,althoughthisisneveradmittedbyMarxisttheorists,
whentheymustfollowtheleadoftherealvanguard:theradicalintelligentsiato
whichthetheoristsbelong).
Inrecentyears,however,Marxistteleologieshavebeenthrownforaloopmore
thanonce,anddissidentMarxistshaverecognizedthis.AutonomistMarxism
hasshownitselftobemuchmoreopentoaconsiderationofnontraditional
socialmovements(inArgentinia,Bolivia,andMexico)asbeingchargedwith
radical,anticapitalistpotentialities.Unfortunately,theirwritingsonthesubject
oftenveerintopostmodernistselfparody,aswhenthetermsvalorization(as
apositivetermrelatingtoradicalprotagonistsandtheirautonomousactions)
andbiopoliticsappear.
Incontrast,theanarchisttraditionhistoricallyhasbeenfarmoreopentothe
considerationofradicalinitiativesbypeasants,andhasgonemuchfurtherthan
Marxisminincludingacritiqueofthedominationofnature(aprojectthatisat
theheartofproductivistLeniniststates)aspartofitsrejectionofsocial
hierarchies,thestate,andcapital.Itpreciselyforthisreason,alongwithan
insistenceontheimportanceofcooperationandcommunity,thattheworksof
Kropotkin,Rclus,andLandauerhaveacquiredanewrelevance,evenfor
someMarxists.AndinthecaseofLatinAmericananarchistthinkers,andthe
kindsofissuespresentinOaxaca,thereisamuchmoredirectconnection.
Peruviananarchistsintheveryearlyyearsofthetwentiethcenturynotonly
weretryingtointegrateindigenousperspectivesintotheirtheoryofhowan
Andeanlibertariancommunismcouldbeachieved,theyincludedAndeans
amongtheirranks.Thereisacertain,sweetironyinthefactthatthehistories
andmovementsthatseemedsoantiquatedorobsoleteto20thcenturyLatin
AmericanMarxists(withafewexceptions,JosCarlosMariteguiamong
them)arenowreceivingtheattentiontheydeserve.HistoriansofLatin
Americananarchismcontinuetouncoverapastthathasimplicationsinthe
present,andtheyhavenotyetbeguntoexhaustthesubject.[12]
AsforOaxaca,oneneedlooknofartherthanitsmostfamousanarchistnative
son:RicardoFloresMagn,whoseinfluenceonthecurrentsocialmovement
thereissuchthatthereisanentiresectorwhoseorientationisMagonista(and
thishasbeendescribedinaprevioussection).Although,andthiswasalso
mentionedearlier,thereisapossibilityforanyradicaltendencytobe
neutralizedorboughtoffbythestate(andtheredoesseemtohavebeena
kindofrecuperatedMagonismamongthevariouspoliticalcurrentsinOaxaca),
atthecoreofMagnsownthinkingisanuncompromisinginsistenceon
revolutionarytransformationandthelinkingofendsandmeansinthestruggle
tobringaboutafreesociety.Hisanarchismincludedmorethanamere

sensitivitytoindigenousissues:inaveryrealsense,theseconcernswereat
thecoreofhisradicalvision.
Magnfamouslydeclaredin1911thattheMexicanpeoplearesuitedfor
communism,bywhichheemphaticallymeantlibertariancommunism,an
egalitariansocietybeyondthestateandcapital,andbeyondthetyrannyof
partybossesofwhateverstripe.Andthiswasnomereassertionofhisown
credo:hebasedhisaffirmationonobservationsmadeinOaxacaand
elsewhereinMexico,whereheknewthatatraditionofcommunalownership
andcooperationhadsurvivedintothetwentiethcentury:
TheMexicanpeoplehate,byinstinct,authorityandthebourgeoisie.
EveryonewhohaslivedinMexicocanassureusthatthereisnoone
morecordiallyhatedthanthepoliceman,thatthesoldier,admiredand
applaudedinallotherplaces,isseenwithantipathyandcontempt,and
thatanyonewhodoesntmakehislivingwithhishandsishated.
Thisinitselfisenoughforasocialrevolutionwhichiseconomicin
natureandantiauthoritarian,butthereismore.FourmillionIndianslive
inMexicowho,untiltwentyortwentyfiveyearsagolivedincommunities
possessingthelands,thewaters,andtheforestsincommon.Mutualaid
wastheruleinthesecommunities,inwhichauthoritywasfeltonlywhen
thetaxcollectorappearedperiodicallyorwhenrecruitersshowedupin
searchofmentoforceintothearmy.Inthesecommunitiestherewereno
judges,mayors,jailers,infactnobothersomepeopleatallofthistype.
(Regeneracon,September12,1901.TranslationbyChasBufe,Dreamsof
Freedom:ARicardoFloresMagnReader,AKPress(2005))
Thecommonlandsquestionisonethathasintriguedanumberofradical
analystsofthesituationinOaxaca.Whileonemightwanttobelievethatin
OaxacaandChiapassomesortofequivalentoftheRussianmirsurvivesasa
openingthroughwhichsocietycouldmakearadicalleaponthebasisof
collectivepropertyandcommunal,cooperativepracticesintolibertarian
communism,intheabsenceofgreaterproofthisisonlyutopianspeculation.
Asitisnow,theruralcommunesofOaxacaareoftenlockedindisputeswith
eachotherovertheircollectivelyownedlands,andthedemandforindigenous
autonomyoftenseemsmoreacallforakindofradicalautarkythanany
general,revolutionarytransformationofsociety.
FormodernizingcapitalismorproductivistMarxism,socialdifferencesareto
besteamrolledinthenameofhomogenization,aprocessinwhichthereisno
placefortraditionalpractices,exceptintheirinstrumentalizationasfolkloreor
culturalwindowdressing.Butiftraditionalsocietiescanbecharacterized
preciselybythequalitiesthatdifferentiatethemfromdominantsociety,thereis
anotherkindofdifferencethatcannotriseupinaconsensual,collective
societyatthevillagelevel.Whatisnotthereisacertaincomplexityand

variation,aswellasanaleatoryqualitythatisusuallyassociatedwithamore
urbanlife.Thereislittlepossibilityofasubculture,andultimately,ofpoliticsin
suchcommunities.ItisnoaccidentthattheinitialsiteoftheOaxacarebellion
wasinOaxacaCityandnotthecountryside,afactthatalsolargelyaccounts
foritsassumingadifferentcomplexionthantheZapatistamovementin
Chiapas.
Moreover,thereisadangerinimbuingtraditionalsocietyorsomeradical
peasantrywitharedemptive,salvationistmissionthatreplicatesthatformerly
assignedtotheindustrialproletariat.Todaysantiauthoritariansruntheriskof
furtheringakindofcontemporaryThirdWorldismintheiruncriticalsupportof
theZapatistasandtheOaxacanmovement,andevenmorenuanced
interpretationssometimesreekofvicariouspleasure,theenjoymentofradical
violenceatadistance,onethatisbothgeographicandsocial.Theremustbe
somemoremeaningfulandcreativewaytoengagetheOaxacarebellionthan
thatwhichbasicallycorrespondstowatchingthestreetfightingofothers(and
lamentingthefactthatcircumstancesdontallowonetoengageinthesame
sortofactivityoneself).
Howeverlaudabletheconcept,mereemulationisanothernonstarter.Inthe
firstplace,especiallyforthoseinadvancedcapitalistsocieties,alltheworldis
notlikethisplacecalledOaxaca,muchasonemightliketothinkso.Tobe
sure,therearecopsandcorrupt,arbitraryauthoritieseverywhere,andtothat
extentonecouldsay,ifonewantedtoengageinemptyposturing,thatWeAll
LiveInOaxaca.ButthespecificmixthatgeneratedtheOaxacarebellion,the
particularsocioeconomicstructureandhistoryofthecityandregion,isnot
reproducedinthemetropolesoftheNorth,oreveninthoseoftheSouth,for
thatmatter.
However,itwouldbeamistaketounderstandtheOaxacarebellionasonlya
local,andlocalized,phenomenon.Oaxacaisliterallypartoftheworld,and
especiallyinthecontextofaglobalizedeconomy,whetheritwantstobeor
not.OaxacanworkershaveemigratedtotheUSandCanada,andhavebrought
theirpoliticswiththem.ThecirculationofpeoplewhomovewithinMexico(and
outsideit)isimpelledbyforcesthataffectthoseinothercountriesandregions,
andtothatextent,othershaveastakeintheoutcomeofrebellionssuchas
thatinOaxaca.Thisstakegoesbeyondtheabstractionsofpoliticaleconomy
oreventheconcreteencounterswithsomeaspectofOaxacathatmightoccur
ineverydaylife(ifyouliveinCalifornia,forexample,thepersoncleaningyour
dishesinarestaurantorpickingthefruitandvegetablesthatenduponyour
tablemightverywellbeOaxacan).
VI
Geographyisnotanimmutablething.Itismade,itisremadeeveryday
ateachinstant,itismodifiedbymensactions.

EliseReclus,LHommeetlaterre(19051908)
ForthoseoutsideofMexico,especiallyintheUnitedStatesandCanada,a
studyofthevariousprocessesthatlinkthesecountriestoMexico,andto
Oaxacaspecifically,isperhapsmoretimelythananillusoryattempttofully
understandthequestionofusosycostumbres.Thephenomenonoflarge
numbersofOaxacansseekingworkintheNorthisgenerallywellknown,but
therearemoreaspectstothisthanthesimplequestionofremittancesoreven
ofthestatusofillegalimmigrantsinahostile(i.e.,increasinglynativistand
racist)sociopoliticalenvironment.
Oaxacanworkershavebroughttheircultureandtheirpoliticswiththemintheir
travelstotheNorth.Theyhavecreatedtheirownlabororganizations,withtheir
ownpublications,andhaveoftenbroughttotheseactivitiesaspecifically
indigenousperspective,whichcannotthereforesimplybeassimilatedas
HispanicorMexicanAmerican.Itwouldseemincumbentuponsupportersof
theOaxacanrebelliontolearnmoreabouttheOaxacansinCalifornia,Oregon,
orBritishColumbia,forexample,andabouttheirstruggles,whichhave
includeddemonstrationsinLosAngelesin2006againstpolicerepressionback
homeinOaxaca.[13]
TherearealsowaystomakeconnectionstoOaxaca,andtomakeaconscious
choicetoaidthemostradicalwingofthemovementthere.Thereismaterial
supportthatcanbegiventoorganizationsthereareproteststhatcanbe(and
havebeen)organizedatMexicanconsulatesinsupportofpoliticalprisoners,
andintheUnitedStatesgenerallyagainstantiimmigranthysteria.Thereare
also,andnotsecondarily,words:onesthatgobeyondmerereceivedopinion,
evenofthealternativekind.Thebesttributetotherebellionistopartakeof
itsspiritintakingrisks,andbystickingonesneckout,evenonthewritten
page.
Inacontemporaryeracharacterizedinmanypartsoftheglobebywar,misery,
andenvironmentaldestructionandmadeallthemoredrearybymass
indifference,resignation,ordistractioninthefaceofthis,especiallyinthe
misnamedadvancedsocietieseventsliketheOaxacarebellionareas
inspirationalastheyarerare.Onecanbefairlycertainthat,atleastinLatin
America,otherradicalsocialmovementswillemerge,andthattheytoowill
havetheirantiauthoritarian,emancipatorycurrents.Butunlessthese
consolidatethemselvesandbecomeconsciousoftheiraimsandtheirenemies
(whoinclude,inadditiontothegeneralsandthugsoftheright,thebureaucrats
andcaudillosoftheleft),theyaredoomedtoremaininginterestingfootnotesto
history,ratherthandoorsthatopenontoabrighterfuture.
March2008
==============

FOOTNOTES
1]ForalloftheZapatistasdisavowaloftheirbeingavanguardinthetradition
ofLatinAmericanMarxismLeninismadisavowalthatledtotheEZLN
becomingthefavoritearmyoftheworldanarchist
andaltermondialistemovementsitisstillnotclearhowfarMarcoshasmoved
fromtheMaoistbackgroundofhisyouth.Foralloftheeditions(incountless
translations)ofeveryutteranceoftheSubcommander,nooneamongthe
legionsofZapatistsseemstohaveaskedthemselvesafewobvious
questions:WhyisitthatitisalmostalwaysMarcostheintellectualwhois
boththeideologueandstrategistoftheEZLNwhospeaksinthenameofthe
IndiansoftheLacandonjungle?Howdoestheauraofcelebritysurrounding
Marcosdifferfromothercultsofpersonality?Andjustwheredoes
internationalismbegin,andMexicannationalismend,intheZapatistaprogram?
Afterall,theEZLNdoesntcallitselftheZapatistaArmyofNational
Liberationfornothing.
2]TheOaxacanexperiencehasattractedparticipantwitnesseswhohave
producedinterestinganddetailedaccountsofevents.Italsobeenamagnetfor
thekindofrevolutionarytouristdenouncedlongagobyHansMagnus
Enzenberger(TouristsoftheRevolution,DreamersoftheAbsolute,London:
1988)andwhosebreathlessdispatchesfromthefrontlineshavenot
necessarilybeenaccurateorinformative.Intheformercategory,onemust
mentionGeorgeLapierre,whosechroniclesofthefirstsixmonthsofthe
rebellionarerichindetailandinsight,andarefranklyvastlysuperiortothe
earnest,buthighlysimplisticarticlesthatcompriseNancyDaviessThePeople
Decide:OaxacasPopularAssembly,NewYork:2007.Unfortunately,
LapierresaccountswrittenoriginallyinFrenchhavenotyetbeentranslated.
ManyofhisaccountscanbefoundcompiledinthespecialissueoftheFrench
journalCQFD,LaLibreCommunedOaxaca,JanuaryFebruary2007
(www.cequilfautdetruire.org).
3]FortheICCsverdictonOaxaca,seehttp://www.internationalism.org/.For
theanarchistinsurrectionistcritiqueofAPPO,whichinitsitemizationofthe
variouspoliticalmaneuveringswithinAPPOwasbothprescientandprecise,
seethetextbytheCoordinadoraInsurreccionalAnarquista
(http://espora.org/okupache//b21hart_imp.php?p=1249&more=1).Anotable
earlyanalysisoftheOaxacarebellion,andonethatavoidedthepitfallsof
eitherabstractdenunciationoruncriticalsupport,wasThisIsWhat
RecuperationLooksLikebyKellenKass,publishedinAMurderofCrows,no.
2,March2007.http://libcom.org/library/whatrecuperationlooksrebellion
oaxacaandappokellenkass
4]AkindofvulgarMarxismisthecommoncurrencyofmuchofwhatpasses
forradicalanalysisthesedays.Andinaneraofwar,economicturbulence,and
aglobalizedcapitalismthatindeedhasbattereddownallthewallsofChina(as
iftofulfillMarxspredictionof1848),thisshouldnotbesurprising.The

campaigntovindicateMarxdoesnotstopthere,however,andwhentheterm
vulgarMarxismisuseddisparaginglybyawriter,itusuallyonlymeansthat
heorsheisabouttodeployaslightlymoresophisticatedargument,butone
stillbasedonMarxistcategories.ItisthisDeeperMarxismthatrulesboththe
academicandmilitantleft,includingthepartsofboththatstylethemselvesas
antiauthoritarian,whoserelianceonaMarxistcrutchonlyshowstheirlackof
autonomouscriticalskills.WhilethecritiqueofMarxismpastandpresentlies
outsideofthescopeofthepresentessay,itissomethingimpliedinthe
orientationofourtendencytowardrenewalandreassessmentinconceivingof
anemancipatorysocialproject.
5]Tofullyunderstandthedimensionsofthecrisesthathavebuffetedthe
Mexicaneconomyinrecentdecades,onemustgobackatleasttothedebt
crisisof1982,whentheMexicanstateintheparadoxicalpositionofbeing
bothaproducerofoilrevenuesandadebtornationreceivingrecycled
petrodollarsintheformofloansfrominternationalbanksdefaultedonitsdebt
payments.Bymeansofapolicyofausterityandprivatization,Mexicoqualified
in1987forarescuebyinternationalfinancialinstitutions,onenegotiatedby
noneotherthantheconsigliereoftheBushfamily,JamesF.Baker.Further
concessionsonthepartofMexicowouldbedemandedonthepartofthe
Clintonadministrationaspartofanotherbailoutprogram,allofthisforminga
preludetotheimplementationofthetermsoftheNAFTAtreatyand,
simultaneouslyandinresponsetoNAFTA,thebeginningoftheZapatista
rebellioninChiapas.
6]SeetheinterestingpointsraisedaboutthenationalistleftinMexicobythe
GrupoSocialistaLibertarioinitscritiqueoftheEZLNsOtherCampaign
(translationcanbefoundatwww.collectivereinventions.org).
7]SeethearticlebyDavidRecondo,Oaxacaelocasodeunrgimen,Letras
libres(Mexico),February2007.Magn'sownanarchismisdiscussedlaterin
thepresentessay,asaretherevolutionarypoliticsoforganizationssuchas
theAlianzaMagonistaZapatista.
8]QuotedinJudithFrancisZeitlin,CulturalPoliticsinColonialTehauntepec,
Stanford:2005,p.168.
9]AlejandroAnayaMuoz.Autonomaindgena,gobernabilidadylegitimidad
enMxico:lalegalizacindeusosycostumbresenOaxaca,MexicoCity:
2006.
10]Foroneexampleofthis,seeBrendaAguilar,Autonomas
Latinoamericanos:AlgunasreflexionessobreUtopasPosibles,2008
(http://anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=7625)
11]ForaMarxistcritiqueofaradicalismbasedonpeasantotherness,see

TomBrass,NeoliberalismandtheRiseof(Peasant)NationswithintheNation:
ChiapasinComparativeandTheoreticalPerspective,TheJournalofPeasant
Studies,Vol.32,Nos.3&4,July/October2005.
12]See,forexample,WilfredoKapsoli,Ayllusdelsol:anarquismoyutopa
andina,Lima(1984),aswellasbooksbyOsvaldoBayer(onthePatagonian
generalstrikeof1921)andSergioGrezToso(onthehistoryofChilean
anarchism).
13]ForbackgroundonOaxacanworkersintheUnitedStatesandCanada,see
LynnStephen,TransborderLives:IndigenousOaxacansinMexico,California,
andOregon,DukeUniversityPress(2007)