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Dignified and Undignified Rage

Dignified and Undignified Rage: Brief Notes on a Pending Invitation, the UK riots, and Our Collective Failure to Construct Revolutionary Responses to the Global Crisis
Kolya Abramsky

Up there, they intend to repeat their history.
They once again want to impose on us their calendar of death, their geography of destruction.
When they are not trying to strip us of our roots, they are destroying them.
They steal our work, our strength.
They leave our world, our land, our water, and our treasures without people, without life.
The cities pursue and expel us.
The countryside dies and we along with it.
Lies become governments and dispossession is the weapon of their armies and police.
In the world, we are illegal, undocumented, unwanted.
We are pursued.
Women, young people, children, the elderly die in death and die in life.
And up there they preach to us resignation, defeat, surrender, and abandonment.
Down here we are being left with nothing.
Except rage.
And dignity.[1]

With these words “the men, women, children, and elderly of the Zapatista Liberation Army in Mexico convoked all the rebellious of Mexico and the World” to attend the World’s First Festival of Dignified Rage, under the theme “Another World, Another Path: Below and to the Left”. Coincidentally, or not, the call was issued on the very same day that Lehmann Brothers bank, metaphorically, went up in flames, September 15th 2008.

Nearly 3 years later, in mid August 2011, the UK exploded in nearly a week of urban war. Sparked by the killing of a young Black man at the hands of the police, London and other major (and also not so major) cities proceeded to burn in the worst riots the country has seen in decades. A tinder box, waiting for a spark. And, though not directly related, it was nonetheless impossible not to notice the fact that the riots took place exactly the same time as the world’s stock markets once again found themselves hurtling towards a free fall.

Yes, the political right wing and the crisis are ugly, and rapidly getting even more so. And, yes, the parliamentary left in many countries, including Britain, is nearly as bad as the right. Yes, the Obama regime seems to be in the process of implementing an agenda that is as bad, if not worse, than the agenda implemented by Bush, despite the hopes that many of his supporters held for change.

And, yes, the riots were also ugly.

Despite the fact that the riots were predictable and predicted, and despite the fact that this explosion was, in all likelihood, necessary to shock people in Britain out of a collective sleepwalk towards the abyss, something is nonetheless wrong. There is nothing to celebrate. Involving the burning of residential homes and family owned shops in poor areas; the deaths of 5 additional people on top of the original death at the hands of the police; wounded people being mugged under the guise of helping them; a rampant living up of repressed consumerist fantasies; and a blinding absence of a clear “articulate political discourse” - something is indeed very wrong.

Whereas the Zapatistas issued an invitation to the world, what exploded in the UK last week was a warning to the world. A warning of the immense Typhoon of Undignified Rage that is almost certain to engulf the world should we collectively shy away from accepting the Zapatista invitation to celebrate and build an ongoing Festival of Dignified Rage.

There is no ear for our pain, except that of the people like us.
We are no one.
We are alone, and just with our dignity and our rage.
Rage and dignity are our bridges, our languages.
Let us listen to each other then, let us know each other.
Let our rage grow and become hope.
Let our dignity take root again and breed another world.
We have seen and listened.
Our voice is small to be the echo of that word, our gaze small for such an amount of rage, a rage with such dignity.
We need to see each other, look at each other, talk to each other, listen to each other.
We are others, the other.
If this world doesn’t have a place for us, then another world must be made.
With no other tool than our rage, no other material than our dignity.
We still must find each other, know each other.
What is lack is yet to come… Falta lo que falta…

The urgency of these dignified words of rage is ever greater with each day that passes. There is no turning back. The world of yesterday is gone, and many possible worlds of tomorrow are hanging in the air. We have no choice, but to be ready, whether we like it or not. There is no neutrality, nor stability in the years ahead. The Zapatista invitation was prescient, though perhaps its meaning nonetheless remained obscure when it was issued in 2008. Yet, its intention becomes more and more self evident, the London riots making it blindingly clear: In the absence of Dignified Rage, the Rage will not disappear, it will simply become Undignified Rage. We are in dangerous times.

Now, three years after the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, the EZLN has undertaken a collective assessment, nourished by the broad horizon that our compañeros of the Other Campaign in Mexico and the Zezta Internazional across the world have given us.

What we have seen and heard is not little, sometimes directly, sometimes through the words and the gaze of others.

The rage that we felt and the dignity that we found was so great that now we think we are smaller than what we thought before.

In Mexico and in the five continents we have found what we sensed we would when we began our sixth step: there is another world, there is another path.

If the catastrophe that is coming is to be avoided and humanity is to have another chance, it will be because these others, down here and on the left, have not only resisted, but are already sketching the outline of something else.

Something different from what is going on up there.

A famous man, whose name I have forgotten, once said, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles...In a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.” And, now, once again, we are in a moment where the fight is open. The gloves are off. The unspoken truth that everyone knows but barely dares to say: the ongoing and worsening world economic and financial crisis was not caused by mistakes, and the “recovery” is a myth. The crisis is worldwide class war from above, against the majority of the world’s population. That’s it, plain and simple.

As the capitalist crisis deepens, it will not wait for people to get ready. We will either make emancipatory solutions through our creativity and resistance, or capitalism’s solutions will reap their devastation. And, yet, seemingly a certain inevitability has begun to unfold. As the same famous man also once said, "We recognize our old friend, our old mole, who knows so well how to work underground, suddenly to appear: the revolution." As if by clockwork, as the crisis deepens, the old mole has come up to the surface, alive and well, as if it had never even disappeared from view: uprisings in much of the Arab world, mass assembly movements in Spain and general strikes and insurrection in Greece, occupations in Wisconsin, student rebellion in Chile and tent cities in Israel. This is just to name a few of the places where the mole has made itself visible, and not just to wildlife enthusiasts who scrutinize the wilderness with binoculars in hand.

Yet, as the Zapatista invitation so clearly recognized, there are no inevitabilities, no clockwork revolutions. Only human activities, our choices, creativities, conformities, strengths, weaknesses, courage and our fears.

In the impossible geometry of political power, the fundamentalisms are distributed evenly: the right wing becomes ultra-right and the institutional left wing becomes the impossible cultured right wing. Those who make up the progressive media complain that the fanatics on the mainstream press censure them, twist their words and slander their leader. But they at the same time censure, twist the words, slander, and remain silent before any movement that hasn’t bowed down to the dictates of their ringleaders. And without shame they condemn and acquit to the rhythm of a senseless media rating. Fanatics on one and other side fight over lies dressed as truths and crimes are gauged according to the media time they occupy. But this is nothing more than a pale reflection of what is happening in politics.

Weariness in the face of cynicism and incompetence on behalf of the traditional political classes has been turning into rage. Sometimes this rage still hopes for change following the usual paths and places, and it crashes head-on either with the disappointment which immobilizes it or an arbitrary force which tramples it. The unsettled and brutal North goes back to its old ways. When it is not sponsoring electoral fraud (as in Mexico), it is promoting, encouraging, and financing state coups (as now attempted in Bolivia and Venezuela). War continues to be its primary and favored form of international diplomacy. Iraq and Afghanistan burn, but, to the despair of those up there, they are not consumed.

The impositions of hegemony and homogeneity on a global scale find their witches’ apprentices in nations, in regions, and in small localities, which rehearse the impossible historic return to a past where fanaticism was law and dogma, science. Meanwhile, the governing political classes have found in the world of bright lights an adequate disguise to hide their full participation in organized crime.

Sickened by so much greed, the planet begins to pay the unpayable bill of its destruction. But “natural” disasters are also class issues and the devastation is felt most by those who have nothing and are no one. Faced with this, the stupidity of Power has no limits: millions and millions of dollars are dedicated to the manufacture of new weapons and installation of more military bases. The power of capital does not worry about training teachers, doctors, engineers, but rather soldiers. It doesn’t prepare constructors, but rather destructors.

And those who oppose this are pursued, incarcerated, murdered.

And, in response to once such murder, in a long string of police murders, London, and then the rest of the UK exploded, spectacularly failing to conform to the benign image of the uprisings occurring in other places. Uprisings that have articulated a clear and political critique of the world economic-financial-and-increasingly-political crisis, and which all but complete heartless morons could not fail to sympathize with. And, horrified by the murders and house burnings that screamed across the world’s media, then comes the raucous clamour for law and order, safety of person, and property. Young kids herded into jail for stealing some bottles of water, or for posting inflammatory words on facebook; a wave of national hysteria that sees the sickening image of parents delivering their teenage children on a plate to the police, for stealing some designer shoes or a TV set, or some other petty property crimes, all of which are put on a par with those most extreme of acts, the undeniably horrendous burning of houses and killing of people standing in the way of the riots. A vision of the future, no doubt, but a nihilistic vision. Kids without a future. No alternative, so the narrative runs. A rage without creativity.

In Mexico, farmers who have defended their land are in prison (San Salvador Atenco); in Italy those who opposed the installation of military bases are pursued and treated as terrorists; in the France of “liberty, equality, and fraternity”, humans are only free, equal, and brothers if their papers say so; in Greece being young is a vice that must be eradicated; again in Mexico, but now in that city of the same name, young people are criminalized and murdered and nothing is done because it is not on the agenda dictated by those up there. Meanwhile, a legitimate referendum is converted into a shameful way for an assassin-governor to wash his hands off a situation. In the Spain of the modern European Union, publications are closed and a language, Euskera, is criminalized —they think that by killing the word they can kill those who speak it—; in that Asia that is so close, the demands of the peasants are met with armored nonsense; in that arrogant American Union, born of immigrant blood, the “other colors” who work there are pursued and killed; in the long wound that is Latin America, the brown blood that sustains it, is despised and humiliated; in the rebellious Caribbean, a people, the Cuban people, have to add up to the disgrace of a natural hazard that of an imperial embargo that is nothing other than an unpunished crime.

And in all of the corners of the world’s geography, and in all of the days of its calendars, those who work, those who make things run, are plundered, despised, exploited, repressed.

But sometimes, many times, as many times that a smile sets off, that rage looks for its own paths, new paths, other paths. And the “no” that they raise now not only resists, but begins to propose, to propose itself.

Since our public appearance, now almost 15 years ago, it has been our goal to be a bridge on which rebellions can walk back and forth.

Sometimes we have achieved this, sometimes we haven’t.

Now we see and we feel not only the rebellious resistance that, as sister and compañera, stays at our side and encourages our steps.

Now there is something that wasn’t there before, or that we hadn’t been able to see.

There is a creative rage.

A rage that paints all of the colors of the paths down below and on the left on the five continents….

There has been a collective failure to take up the Zapatista invitation. It’s time to stop pretending.

The riots are not the fault of the right. Nor are they the fault of the supposed “kids with no future”. They are the fault of the “organized”, “political” left, for failing to build a meaningful and convincing process of struggle, resistance and reconstruction based on creative and dignified rage in the face of the worst crisis of capitalism in close to 100 years. And, if the left continues to fail to do so, the riots will almost certainly become stronger and uglier. A crisis whose effects build upon years, sometimes even generations or centuries, of cumulative pent up rage. Rage against the multiple oppressions, discriminations, exploitations and brutalizations that stamp themselves indelibly on the lives of women, men and children throughout the world. Rage against the fears of losing hard fought for gains. Rage against never having been included in these gains in the first place.

The complacent left and radical movements need to wake up to the glaring truth that it is not true that if we do not make the revolution today, we can do it tomorrow, or next week, or next year....the time is now. Failure to make revolution, based on viable alternatives in peoples’ real lives and not in the realm of ideas, means only one thing: Undignified Rage and counterrevolution. Undignified Rage waiting to explode at any moment, in any place: the USA, Brazil, Mexico, India, Russia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Germany, Italy...

The Zapatista invitation to build a World Festival of Dignified Rage, and to build alternative social relations amongst ourselves was not an indefinite invitation. Time is running out, and no one else will take up the invitation if we don’t.

[1] This and subsequent quotes from the Zapatista call for a World Festival of Dignified Rage are taken from the websitehttp://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2008/09/18/comunicado-del-ccri-cg-del... Throughout this article, the call has been quoted almost in its entirety. The Spanish original can be found athttp://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2008/09/15/comunicado-del-ccri-cg-del... , and footage of the event can be found athttp://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2010/01/24/primer-festival-mundial-de... .

 

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