Zapatista and Psychoanalytical Ethics

From the beginning, it may seem strange to compare psychoanalysis with a subversive movement. Even more surprising may appear the fact that this comparison comes from an ethical perspective.

But before we go any further, we must try to understand what IS the EZLN (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, or Zapatist Army for National Freedom), from its first appearance on January 1st, 1994 to January 1st, 1996, when the Fourth Declaration from de Lacandon Jungle was made public (the publication of this document coincided for me with the invitation to this reunion).

Chiapas is located in Mexico’s south-east(1), on the border with Guatemala, and was not fully integrated to Mexican political life until a fairly late date. In the region ancient and modern forms of social margination coexist; these range from a condition that may well be described as semi-slavery, inherited from the colonial period, going through several feudal ways of land control and peasant exploitation, to the new way of capitalist relationships, linked to an incipient industrialization, also present in the region. As a clear example taken from daily life we may quote the fact that to this day the natives must step down from the sidewalks in order to allow the true coletos to pass, coleto is the name with which the criollo (white) landowners, descendants of the Spaniards (who control the wealth produced by the almost free work of the natives) are known in the small city of San Cristobal.

Here we may quote from Willy Apollon’s article “Post-Colonialism and Psychoanalysis: The Example of Haiti” (2) when he points out that the history of post-colonialism may well be divided into two stages: in the first one we encounter a colonialism embodied in an illustrated despotism characterized by authoritarian regimes, when the foreign colonizer embodies the masters discourse, followed by a second stage in which

” the collapse of the authoritarian regime ushers in a general movement in favor of democracy. Post colonialism then would describe the transition from a colonial regime to a regime of indigenous autonomy. I would argue that this transition takes place within the framework of an enlightened despotism. This is how I would designate the regime characterized by the discourse of the master, insofar as the master is the foreigner, the stranger.”(3)

The transition to post-colonialism does not fundamentally alter the existing conditions of colonialism. As Apllon says

“The management of the colonies has become too costly for the master’s economy. It has become necessary first to incite, and then to encourage or even support, a nascent nationalism: this is to make sure that certain responsibilities and their social and economic costs will be assumed by a dominant group among the formerly colonized… these new masters were necessarily the allies of the former masters.” (4)

Therefore the term post-colonialism does not imply the disappearance of colonialism but rather it’s continuation under a new appearance and with new faces.

Apollon’s description, though intended for Haiti, also fits the Mexican situation. In this case the independence war was lost by the criollo rebels in the battle field, but the conditions in the metropolis were altered and so it graciously decided to grant independence to its subjects, transferring the power to the new masters, representatives of the nation thus funded.

In Mexico’s case it becomes necessary to add another chapter to that of post-colonialism: that of the revolution, in which the name of the peasant leader Emiliano Zapata stands out (who would later become the symbol of the movement that concerns us today), with the motto “The land for those who work it”. A revolution that, paradoxically, led to a state party, the revolution became “institutionalized” and the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) embodied the masters discourse. The peasant revolution became a burgoise one. This transition was long, painful, bloody and can not be summarized here. Lets keep in mind the idea of a Post-postcolonialism, that of the revolution that succeeded, a century after the formal independence that had led into the classical post-colonialism. The post colonialism known in other parts of the world.

This discontinuity in the forms of economical, political and social integration has given way in Chiapas to what Antonio García de Leon has poetically named “the night’s jaguar”(5) because in it are combined the parts of light, the ones of greater capitalist penetration with those of deep inherited from an immemorial past darkness. The light and dark of the jaguar’s metaphor do not allow us to ignore the racial implications of the proposed simile.

The National government, from Mexico City supported, after the revolution, reforms that went against the regional processes that recognized a different dynamic than that of the integration of the country to the global market.

It is against this background that, on January 1st, 1994, at the same time that the government was proclaiming with pride the macroeconomic success that were to lead the country into a bright future and out of the ranks of the third world countries, the day NAFTA went into effect, out comes a subversive movement, storming four counties in Chiapas. The return of what was repressed took center stage, thanks to a movement in which predominate the indigenous influences, and which claims a space within Mexican society, after almost five centuries of margination and dispossession.

With it’s appearance, the EZLN not only questions the neoliberal model, which had been presented as the only option for the whole country, but also exposes its cracks and the illegitimacy that supported it.. The (first) declaration from the Lacandon Jungle, dated January 2nd, 1994 is a motto “Today we say ENOUGH!”. It was a declaration of war as a fair but desperate last resource, and it called upon the Mexican people to participate, not in the armed struggle, but supporting a plan that demands: work, land, housing, health, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice and peace. This first declaration of the armed movement justifies its means by the fact that they have run out of legal resources to be heard. From the position we occupy we may not ignore this first condition, that of creating a space in which the word may be heard.

The reaction to the sudden appearance of the EZLN ranged from extreme sympathy from the perpetually dissatisfied to the declarations of the masters of culture that considered it an extemporaneous manifestation of the guerillas of the ’60, without forgetting the ideologists of the system and private enterprise which claimed for its instant extermination. Others saw it as the first guerrilla of the new millennium. In either case, something strange was going on. The country could no longer recompose itself without recognizing this new voice, from the depth of the jungle, What had been symptomatically silenced, had been heard.

The first reaction of the government to this unexpected presence was, as could be expected, one of disqualification: they are troublemakers, foreigners, enemies of the country, they are not true Indians (these, of course, must be submissive) etc. Therefore the answer was, obviously, the fire of the guns. Towns were bombed, the population was forced to run from their homes. It was the logical reaction; the government, however, could not continue on that path.

The days of the war were short but intense, they ended thanks to the joined action of several factors. On one side there was the pressure of the international media. This country, about to enter the first world could not afford to present the image of a murderous monster that killed and devoured its own citizens. The presence of the international media and the International Red Cross, summoned by the EZLN imposed some limits to the arbitrariety of the government. On the other hand we encounter the mobilization of the Mexican society, as Antonio García de Leon puts it:

“…as the number of the rebel communicates increased we became aware that the revolt really came from within ourselves, that it covered the whole of our social territory, and while we believed the Indian was paying the faults of the necessary progress (italics our) so far aside of the supposed benefits, freely given away by a benefactor State, or by the new policies of “social liberalism”- what they were really dragging were our own ailments, the crimes of a whole society deprived of democracy and justice. That is why the call of the wild resounded so deep in the heart of the Mexican people. That is why that hidden face became a mirror for us, where we could watch our own imprisoned face”(6)

So we have a rebel army that seeks not war but peace, and claims that the use of force is a desperate solution when faced with official deafness. It is remarkable that among the weapons of this peculiar army are included wooden guns. It is an army that is aware from the beginning that in the battlefield it has no chance whatsoever of survival, let alone of victory, so its bet must be placed in the political field. The relationship between war and politics is in this case extremely clear.

In the official front, when faced with the afore mentioned factors there was a necessary change of direction. In spite of having a modern army, with the state’s legal system to support it, that is to say, the monopoly of violence, the government was forced to recognize that the movement represented a legitimate request of the perpetually forgotten, and even offered, “generously”, forgiveness to the rebels. The indigenous presence that existed only for the empty praise of text books and the subject of anthropological papers, began to manifest itself as a real presence.

The official offer of forgiveness received the answer it deserved: What are they going to forgive us for? This is the title of the EZLN’s communicate dated January 21st, 1994, its contents are not any less clear:

“What should we apologize for? What are they going to forgive us for? For not starving to death? For not being quiet in our misery For not having humbly accepted the gigantic historical load of disdain and abandonment? For taking up the arms when we found all other paths closed? For not respecting Chiapas’s Penal Code? For showing to the rest of the country and the whole world that the human dignity subsists even within its most impoverished inhabitants?…”(7)

The story is too long to follow it here step by step, and this is not the goal of this paper, we only mean to point out some unexpected facts and some key moments of this movement.

A relevant aspect of this rebellion was the efficient and innovative use of the media as a weapon. Communicates, letters and declarations literally flooded the oral, visual and written press, including INTERNET. The EZLN is the first Cyber-guerrilla in the history of mankind. This was not limited to a national context: support groups were created all over the world and they continue to watch with special attention what goes on in Chiapas; the media, traditionally a repressive tool became the necessary key to the movement’s survival.

It’s spokesman, the renown “Sub-Comandante Marcos”, an expert in the information sciences brings a new language to the world of politics, with poetical resources, literary quotes, the effective use of a language directly translated from the native tongues, which creates a rhetorical effect as it brings forth the ancestral and points towards the modern policies. Spartacus, Tupac Amaru and Guevara, hand in hand with Eco and MacLuhan.

With this amazing arsenal, and after the amnesty law, the dialog between the government and the guerrilla was inaugurated. The government was forced to recognize them as a legitimate voice in order to legitimize the dialog and appointed for this purpose a special envoy for a dignified peace in Chiapas. It became necessary to create a new legal figure in order to answer to a specific atypical situation. It may seem odd, or a byproduct of Mexican surrealism, but these talks between the government and the rebels were to take place in the Cathedral of San Crtistobal de las Casas, this town being crucial to the revolt. Here we encounter yet another new aspect: deal, concessions and the distribution of power quotas have always existed, but always as secret agreements by the party leaders, here this negotiations were carried out in the open, with the representatives of the EZLN asking for the consensus of the towns they represented.

These talks got stuck for lack of agreements beyond the good will of the intermediaries. On the other hand, the political environment of the country was darkened in 1994 by a surge in political crimes that evidenced the decay of the governing party, indistinguishable from the state. First the PRI’s presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio, and then the party’s General Secretary, Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, were murdered. The investigations into these crimes showed the corruption as they reached impasses because they could not reach to the level of those who were really responsible. Of course the murder of the chosen victims were followed by the murders of those who had known what had really happened.

After the failure of this first stage of the dialogue, the EZLN decided to change its interlocutor, and after building a stage worthy of Fitzcarraldo, in the form of a ship in the middle of the jungle, they called to that place, Aguascalientes, to a National Democratic Convention (CND, Convención Nacional Democratica).

And so we encounter another paradoxical situation, an armed institution making a peaceful call to the civil society for, renewing the political exercise, to uphold democracy. And the civil society answered the call of the wild: leftist intellectuals, representatives of political parties, Non-Governmental Organizations, and independent participants met in Aguascalientes for a convention with more than 6,000 attendants.

By calling to the National Convention, the EZLN established it as the Other and committed itself to a struggle for democracy in which it does not seek to replace the master. The zapatists took part in the debate as just another voice, without claiming ownership of the truth and underscoring with each step the possibility of a coexistence in spite of the ideological differences.

And so separate spaces were created: in the official side, the appearance of signs of corruption, that although well known had never reached the levels of decay that were now evident, on the other side a call to rebuild political participation, where everything (after seventy years of a monopoly of power by a state party) seemed futile,and these under the motto “All for all. For us nothing”

With this change of interlocutor, and the creation of a new Other, the EZLN pointed towards its own destitution, it recognized the CND as the representative of the Mexican people in its transit towards democracy. Without giving up their weapons, the zapatists tried to ensure the fulfillment of the will of the people. They proclaimed themselves as professionals of hope. George Steiner had said, that the fall of the socialist block had open, towards the end of this century, a black hole in the history of hope, would there be any room left for it?

Psychoanalytically speaking, we must not forget that hope, as illusion, is a belief moved by desire. We may renounce our imaginary investment, with its ideological burden, but we can not neglect the power of desire and it’s phantasmatic.

The direction of the cure in the analytical process points towards the destitution of the analyst from the place of the “Sujet suposse Savoir” (S.s.S), opening the gates to the play of possibilities of desire in which the analyzed would like to get involved. But very seldom, if ever, is its own destitution the goal of an armed movement. Even stranger is the concept of a rebel movement that does not seek to overtake power.

In this short introduction we risk a schematic and manichean presentation. The history of colonialism is bloody and genocidal, but we must keep in mind that the conquerors did not reach a rousseaunian paradise. It was the perpetual war between the different tribes that paved the way for the conquest. Mexico, the country we now know under that name, did not exist before the arrival of the Spaniards, it is the result of the shock of the encounter of two worlds. History is always the result of compromises and mixtures, that forbid us from claiming a pure origin, embodied in a single indigenous presence. Between the disdain and the idealization of the Indian we encounter a polar opposition that shows two forms of the same ignorance. Thinking in the possibility of the existence of a full discourse, without repression, would lead us to a fundamentalist position, as the ones that proliferate all over the world, even if this fundamentalism had an opposite sign than that of absolutist religions. We know, as psychoanalysts, that repression is constitutive of the discourse, and this applies also to a social context. Any historization has the characters of a secondary elaboration, which is also a part of the dream and the history. It is the attempt to grant coherence to a past full of aleatory elements which, as past, is without return.

On our side we are only presenting the directions taken by the facts. The division and the contradictions showed us the complex reality of the different contenders, and it must be remembered that the voices that favored democracy were not homogeneous nor beatific. The first meeting of the CND ended in the midst of a storm, and we are not referring here to a metaphorical storm, that introduced some of the participants to the severity of the jungle. If the storm ended with the first reunion of the CND, internal disagreements threatened the whole ship’s survival.

In the meantime, specially in 1995, there was an alternation of tension and distension from the army and the government. This push and pull is already a game played on a political background.

It is within this whirlwind, in which the possibility of political activity in Mexico is reawakened, that the EZLN presents a proposal for the creation of a Movement for National Freedom ( Movimiento para la Liberación Nacional). The stated goal:

“To come together without losing our differences… to come together without subordinating the ones to the others. To come together without renouncing our own existence.”(8)

The history of the world is full of examples of strategical fronts, created at a particular time of a political confrontation. However here we encounter already what would eventually become the core of the fourth declaration from the Lacandon Jungle, and what is to set this movement apart from other political fronts:

“The CND does not seek to gain the power, the CND will not become a political group that seeks control of the government or to stay in it, but rather a place where those without a party (italics our) can organize themselves to demand from the power, whatever it may be, the fulfillment of the demands that guide the historical aspirations of the Mexican people: democracy, freedom, justice.” (9)

The EZLN organized then a national consultation, seeking the people’s opinion about whether the EZLN should become a political movement, alone or in a coalition with other political groups already in existence.

Though disputable in its planning, it must be recognized in this national consultation the originality of a movement that keeps presenting new and unexpected solutions whenever it reaches an apparent dead end. Their efforts had to consider the different fronts: the military and also the political front, where they not only had to confront the government, but also with those who seek to gain their own goals through the EZLN’s efforts. The one thing they have to show is their selfless devotion to the cause they represent. In an environment where corruption is the norm, this card is of no little significance.

After the National consultation, on January 1st, 1996, to celebrate the second anniversary from the appearance of the EZLN, the fourth declaration from the Lacandon Jungle is made public. It is, beyond the generalities about democracy and justice, a call to create a new political force: the Zapatist Front for National Freedom (FZLN, Frente Zapatista para la Liberación Nacional).

The original aspect of this proposal, and the cause of the violent reaction it caused, comes from the following declaration

“… a political force whose members do not have or seek to have a publicly elected position or governmental roles at any level. a political force that does not seek to control the political power. A political force that is not a political party.”(10)

The press reaction to this communicate was diverse and often contradictory, through the different players of Mexican politics. These reactions ranged from surprise to disbelief, to anger and disqualification. All this leads me to try to understand these different readings of the rebel text, with conceptual tools derived from Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis.

And so the first question we must ask ourselves is: why is it so irritating not to aspire to control power? It is as if suddenly everyone had been questioned, beginning with the political parties that make up the PRI’s traditional opposition, because of the implicit question: What has been your role up to this point? Was this Zapatist manifestation a call or a condemnation? Was their apparently selfless sacrifice a fascinating but futile proposal that would leave all previous practices stained with a stigma of impurity? We have no answer, but perhaps we have the right and maybe even the obligation to try to provide one.

It is a combination of both, a call and a condemnation, it is a fact that there is a need for a new path, that the one so far followed leads nowhere so a new solution must be, if possible, invented. It is plain that it is impossible to claim that all political parties are corrupt, or that politics itself is, and still to believe in this activity as a possible option. The EZLN goes on and calls upon others to do the same. It is perhaps the illusion that those without a party are the best guarantee of purity.

Up to this point we have referred to historical events and therefore spoken in past tense, and more about politics than psychoanalysis. Perhaps it is because what characterizes the analytical position is, rather than speaking, the ability to hear new shades in the proposals that open the path for a change of the positions in discursive relationships.

Our intent is to show the relationship between two forms of discourse that have some points in common and others of total difference. We may not think that there is a continuity between the psychoanalytical discourse and the political one, without falling back into old delusions. But maybe analytical categories may help us realize what is new in the Zapatist proposals we have just described.

The psychoanalytical situation presents itself as the place in which the sufferer directs himself to the S.s.S. the Other of the transference, in search of an answer. This is possible only through the existence of psychoanalysis as a space created by the psychoanalytical practice, specially by the presence of an analyst who should never use the power derived from the patients complaint.

In the field of national politics, Mexican or otherwise, the situation is far more complex. The state, in the role of the Other uses the power with no more restraint that that it itself imposes, ignorant to that it represses, denying thus its existence. In a State reasonably close to the democratic ideal, the division of powers functions as a balancing element, thus limiting, in a way, the power’s jouissance. This mutual regulation however, is impaired in Mexico’s case by the complete subordination of the legislative and judicial powers to the will of the executive. And thus there are no limits for the power’s jouissance .

The first thing the EZLN does with its appearance is to force the government to recognize it’s existence. With this it puts into evidence the flaws in the Other by uncovering what was hidden, and what was hidden was a requirement to the flawless facade. Not all of Mexico, nor all the Mexicans were about to enter the first world, what had been excluded reappeared from within and showed to the world the wounds with which that illusion had been paid.

In a way the EZLN creates with its first actions a place, a space in which the word can exist and be heard. “I do not see you and I do not hear you”, had been the government’s proud answer to the oppositions claims. With its armed presence and the official recognition this unconventional army not only offers a space for the dialog, but appears from the beginning as a denunciation of the crossing of the A. If the EZLN were to present itself as the savior and owner of the answers to solve the ancestral depravation of the Chiapas’s Indians and the Mexican society as a whole, we would be faced with a new disguise of power, a new face that would take the place of the master. By rejecting this option, which has traditionally been that of the left in Latin-america, the EZLN places itself in a neutral position, not a passive one, but as the object that causes desire. By not offering any solutions, by choosing to listen to civil society (an entity created through their own appeal), to what this society has to say and propose, it confronts it with what is happening and gives it a role as a possible subject of a political role. It does not offer a program for the exercise of power, as political forces have always done, it rejects the perennial motto Follow us, we’ll make you happy!

In the Freudian dispositive the transference is the engine, the force that supports the analyst’s power in the direction of the cure, but there is an ethical demand for the analyst not to use that power in his (or her) own benefit. He must know that the essential requirement for that power to function is not to use it except as a tool in the search of the cure, there “where the word is all-powerful”. It is the assumption of psychoanalytical ethics as envers, as front and back of the masters discourse. Thus the analyst must set limits to the jouissance, his own in the first place, and open the path for the revelation and the action of the unconscious desire.

The zapatists themselves are also an object of transference, and do not seek to overtake the power. Lets keep in mind that, in the current historical circumstances, they could not reach it either. Somehow they propose themselves as the ethical guardians of a policy that may lead towards a democracy based upon civilian participation, with all the implicit (and well known) imperfections that such a model would imply. Where does this self-proclamation, to play this role, come from? We run here the risk of creating, or reinforcing, the illusion that there is a new group of enlightened. And there are too many historical examples of the dreadful consequences that the pure may cause: from the jacobins of all the revolutions, the fascist youths, the maoist red guards and the surveillance committees of the Cuban revolution. There is, however, a fundamental difference between the Zapatist proposal and the examples we have just mentioned: these structures were supported and manipulated from within the power, and this is not the case of the EZLN.

It is fair to question whether what we have presented thus far has any value, beyond that of a mere analogy, because we must difference both the fields and the discourses.

In the psychoanalytical field it becomes necessary to set limits to the jouissance to open up the possibilities of the expression of desire, without appropriating or directing this desire. The crossing of the castration is the condition for this objective, that can not be reached without the destitution of the analyst from his place of S.s.S..

In the political field also becomes necessary to set some limits to the jouissance of power, but insofar as this unlimited jouissance is the pretension of the masters discourse who ignores his own castration, who talks and acts from the phallic imposture. The political struggle centers, necessarily, in the quest for power, is it thus condemned to replace one master with another? Democracy is more than a simple alternance of the different political parties, is this too, an illusion? Coexisting with our differences, without subordinating the ones to the others may still be something that is worth to take a risk for, to risk what? Surely not castration, an anguish to which the neurotic yields, unaware that this castration has already taken place. (12)

As we said before, the role of the analyst is that of the listener, and special emphasis is given to listening the differences, here the new elements mingle with the old, and their configuration differs. Could a new discourse appear? Can the psychoanalysis, rejecting all messianic notions, provide something to the daily, universal and endless struggle for social justice?

It is apparent that we are proposing ourselves expectations that concern us, between hope and that lucidity that has sometimes been called pessimism. It is important to recognize that the death drive is perpetually active, and that live includes it. This is why, without false promises of non-existent paradises, what is legitimate is to keep on looking. What moves us is the drive that, as Freud said : ”

…pushes unruly, always forward, without a perspective of closing the march, nor of reaching the goal” (13)

October 1996



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