Symmetries are Systemic Prisons

Raul Zibechi

For a long time critical thought and the practices of the rebellions have acted (we acted) in a symmetrical way to capitalism. Against the capitalist State, we proposed to build a socialist State or a workers’ State; to the violence from above we countered with violence from below; to the reactionary war, the revolutionary war. Against the original accumulation of capital (Marx), the original socialist accumulation (Preobrazhenski) in the Soviet Union. The list is long and shows that the sphere of revolution operated in an opposite but identical way to capital and its political forces.

I intend to reflect on the simplification of our ideas: to mechanically oppose what those at the top do holds us hostage to their initiatives, their ways of doing and their agendas. Symmetry is reactive, it is limited to doing something very similar or the same as what the system does but, supposedly, with antagonistic objectives.

This way of operating prevents us from developing our autonomy, from choosing our own paths, moments and ways, and traps us in a dynamic that is alien to the long-term interests of those at the bottom.

The war between Israel and Hamas is an opportunity to reflect on the role of military violence, to show solidarity with the victims and also to look at ourselves in the mirror. It seems to me necessary to condemn with the utmost energy Israel’s crimes and to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. But this is not enough.

It seems necessary to me to condemn with the same energy the terrorism of Hamas. But it is not enough.

The two main transformative forces of the world, which inspire us with their ethics (the Kurdish movement and Zapatismo) reject the war for similar reasons. Neither side in a war that has lost its morality is in the right, says the Free Women’s Movement of Kurdistan (

Neither Hamas nor Netanyahu, says the EZLN, pointing to the symmetries between armed alpha males ( The logic of the war of conquest (in which there are no limits, no rules, no laws, no shame) should not be imposed on the ethics of life. Even when peoples take up arms, they do not do so symmetrically to the armies of the system, because they do not intend to annihilate the other, but to continue to be, for which they need to defend themselves by defending life.

I believe that we must flee from symmetries and simplifications which, at this point, seem to be twin sisters.

The Italian Franco Bifo Berardi argues that humiliation generates monsters, in reference to the fact that the humiliation of the German workers by the Treaty of Versailles generated Nazism; that the humiliation of the Palestinians crushed by the military domination of the Zionists has created Hamas; as well as the humiliation of the Jews by the Nazis generated the monster of the ethno-militarist and colonialist State of Israel ( He argues that the end of internationalism leads movements and peoples to navigate blindly.

I believe that this is not enough to explain the current blindness, at least in our camp. There are powerful actions of international solidarity such as the Zapatista tour of Europe and the support that the Kurdish movement receives in many countries of the world. They are not very visible to those who are guided by the mainstream media, but they exist.

To break free of this blindness, we can turn to the original peoples of our continent, overcome Eurocentrism and the logic of an eye for an eye. Haven’t these peoples been systematically humiliated, dispossessed and assassinated for five centuries? Yet they are far from having created the criminal monsters that Bifo rightly denounces.

They have not given up, they continue to resist and to recover the lands that were stolen from them. Sometimes they carry out strong, bold and aggressive actions. But they do not commit crimes or resort to terrorism. It is not out of kindness or naivety that they do not behave that way. They are not pacifists who turn the other cheek. An ethic of life and collective care is at the basis of this behavior.

Even when they must engage in war to continue as peoples, they do so on the basis of their worldviews: they put the care of mother earth and the lives of their fellow human beings first. What they feel least of all is the need to take revenge for the crimes they suffer. They want justice, as the support bases of the EZLN pointed out at the time of the brutal assassination of the teacher Galeano in La Realidad (

The native peoples who have stood up in Latin America shun symmetries – they are guided by the complexity of their cosmovisions, by their commitment to get out of this absurd world and build another one from their collective hearts.

It may seem little to those who gloss over the historical experiences of socialism and wish for a war to get out of capitalism. But it is the easiest way to remain prisoners of the system.

Original text published by La Jornada on October 20, 2023.
English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

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