The 80 Percent: Without Strategies and Confused

By Raúl Zibechi

One year after the Zapatista uprising, during the State of the World Forum in San Francisco, in 1995, prominent members of the global elite commented on the strategies they were devising.

As is well-known, because the subject has been published in books and in many media, Zbigniew Brzezinski (former National Security advisor in the government of US President Jimmy Carter and an ideologue of neoliberalism) presented his idea, the 20-80 Society, which has become the paradigm of the dominant classes, although they refuse to repeat it for more than obvious reasons.

He emphasizes that 20 percent of the global population is sufficient to sustain the economic system and that the remaining 80 percent will have no jobs, no opportunities, no future. The first sector is the one that participates in the system’s benefits: quality consumption, private health care and education, as well as jobs in high-tech companies.

Those at the bottom, that immense 80 percent, consume junk food, fill their bellies, but are not nourished, they are numbed by entertainment that leaves them dazed and prevents them from understanding what’s happening around them. Those at the top read books and newspapers, attend universities, travel and have the ability to save. The rest just watch television, telenovelas (soap operas) and football games.

Bzrezisnki coined the term “tittytainment” (breasts plus entertainment, in the sense of the sleepiness of babies when they are breastfed), to account for how they treat the majorities of the world-system.

So far, a fairly well-known panorama of what’s happening in the world today, let’s say after the implosion of the Soviet Union. We can discuss the percentages (20-80 or 30-70), but it seems out of the question that the world is divided into these two sectors: those who sustain the system and those who are disposable.

The main problem is the one Carlos Fazio pointed out based on the analysis of the psychoanalyst Mattias Desmet ( I find that the so-called “dissident group” must be well below the 30 percent mentioned in the article. Hopefully, we are 10 percent, but it seems inappropriate to dwell on the question of percentages.

The central issue is whether there is a possibility of uniting, as Fazio points out, and what difficulties we face in doing so. I understand that there are various problems to overcome, structural as well as cultural.

The first difficulty has to do with the natural differences of the anti-systemic sector, highlighting the sexual and gender ones, the contradictions and disagreements between generations, people of color, geographies and cultures, which make it difficult to create an “us,” a collective identity or, instead, spaces of confluence between different and differences.

In second place, among those of us who define ourselves as anti-capitalists we don’t have anti-patriarchal and anti-colonial consensus, which is why machismo and racism continue causing splits and ruptures. I know a few collectives that have broken up, literally, due to the macho attitude of some members.

The statist or state-centric political culture is the third difficulty to overcome. We cannot ignore the fact that adhesion to social policies –as an expression of statist culture– continues being the majority in the realm of the 80 percent, among those below. To the contrary, the tendency in favor of autonomy and self-government is the minority one, even among movements that work in that direction.

Without naming names, we know important movements of peoples whose communities survive from cultivating drugs, which brutally contradicts the outlined objectives, since it converts them into hostages of drug trafficking and, therefore, of paramilitary groups and the State itself.

However, a major difficulty in acting together, which deeply divides movements and organizations, comes from the left. A central part of the bewildering entertainment is the political system, the electoral circus: bread and circus, said the Romans, which we can translate today as social policies and electoral campaigns.

The left of above, the electoral and institutional left, is a central part of the entertainment the system offers, with its promise of renewal every four or six years, appealing to the same marketing that is used to sell soap. It professes the culture of consumerism that characterizes capitalism and has hijacked electoral politics.

This left was trapped in the binomial dictatorship or democracy, always supporting the “lesser evil,” even knowing that nothing different can be constructed that way.

Regardless of how many are truly committed to overcoming this system, what seems crucial is advancing towards territorial autonomy where self-government that is capable of creating new worlds is exercised. Its multiplication will be through contagion.

Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada on Friday, January 14, 2022. Re-posted here with perimission and English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee.

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