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Rage One (blog)

domingo, abril 29, 2007

The Pot and the Vapor (Gustavo Esteva on Oaxaca)

In the midst of the daily struggle, an image attempting to express what has happened in Oaxaca is now circulating.

Years of fierce corruption and overflowing authoritarianism converted Oaxaca into a pressure cooker above a slow flame. Ulises Ruiz added fuel to the fire until the pressure hurled the lid off on June 14th 2006. The Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) articulated the discontent brewing inside the pot and converted it into transformative action. The ferocity of the federal forces put a new heavy lid on top of Oaxaca on November 25th, but the fire continues. Small holes opened in the lid through people’s initiatives alleviate the pressure, but they are insufficient. The pressure continues to accumulate and in any moment will hurl the lid off once more. The experiences accumulated in the last year might provide was to let the pressure escape in a more organized way, but nobody can foresee what will happen. There are too many forces at odds with each other.

Another metaphor can contribute to understand what is coming. More than 35 years ago, in the final pages of The Interrupted Revolution, Adolfo Gilly quoted some phrases from Leon Trotsky: “Without leading organizations, the masses’ energy will dissipate, like vapor not contained by a boiler. But be that as it may, what propels the movement is not the boiler nor the piston, but the vapor”.

What is this “real material, invisible and indefinable” that Trotsky calls “the masses’ energy” and compares with “vapor”? In contrast to this, adds Gilly, that material has “sense, understanding, and reason and because of this does not dissipate, like vapor, but endures transmuted in experience, invisible for those that believe that the movement resides in the piston and the boiler (in other words, in the organizational apparatuses), but existing in unexpected subsequent aspects of daily life.”

Oaxaca is still “at full steam”. Part of what has been generated in the past year has condensed itself into an experience and transformed into a behavior: it is in the daily attitudes of many people, who will never return to the old “normalcy”. Another portion of the “vapor” generated yesterday, or that comes up every day, propels many initiatives. And there is “vapor” that continues to accumulate, that raises the pressure and that perhaps is trying to redefine its course once it succeeds in liberating itself from everything still retaining it—which is not a boiler with a piston, but the oppressive lid of the repression that continues—political and police blocking of the popular initiative.

The obsession to ascertain who generates that “vapor” persists, according to the prejudice that people can not take initiative themselves. It’s taken for granted that somebody, a person or a group, would be throwing rocks and hiding the hand: it would have manipulated the docile masses and would want to continue doing so. The media constructed their leaders, presenting as leaders people better adapted to the image they created to better prepare public opinion to the violent liquidation of the movement. The authorities did the same to organize co-optation and repression; they seem now to believe that the APPO will be paralyzed or at least disabled while those that supposedly lead the movement remain in prison. Similar attitudes have been observed in the left, inside and outside the movement. Those who think that what has happened would be inconceivable without a leading organization now see it dissolved or weakened and want to renovate it or reconstruct it. Or else, when the absence of real leaders of the APPO is recognized, everything is transferred to the past: that deficiency would have provoked the evaporation of the spontaneous popular outbreak. The popular energy would have dissipated, like vapor not contained in a boiler.

When the question is not about taking power, but about changing the world, the vapor, which continually condenses in experience, operates in its dissipation, spilling itself onto reality. Occasionally adapting itself in boilers and the pistons generated by the vapor itself and used for certain tasks, the vapor can not be contained in “organized apparatuses” nor be driven by “leading organizations”. For those apparatuses and organizations to be relevant a play a role, they should renounce to be a pyramid, when a web is needed, and they must learn to lead by obeying. Furthermore, they should operate on an appropriate scale, adapting themselves continually to conditions and styles of the real men and women that are always the vapor, the impulse, those finally determining course and reach of the whole movement.

Mechanical metaphors always fall short of the richness of real social processes. But the pot and the vapor are useful images to observe the complex present situation, in Oaxaca and Mexico, when what is most important seems to be invisible.

La Jornada, 23/04/07
[translated by Jennifer Miller]

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