The Zapatistas and the Invasion of Ukraine

Protesters in Moscow march with a banner that reads: ‘Ukraine – Peace, Russia – Freedom. Photo: Dmitry Serebryakov/AP Photo

by Raul Zibechi

The EZLN communiqué After the Battle No Landscape Will Remain, dated March 2, establishes the Zapatista position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in a concise and forceful manner, supported by the political ethics that characterize the movement.

Unlike a good part of the Latin American left (parties, governments and intellectuals), the EZLN condemns the invasion, rejects Putin and big capital on both sides and stands with the peoples of Russia and Ukraine who resist the system. The most important thing about the first point of the communiqué is that it does not take sides with any state, something that is customary in Zapatismo, but always with those from below.

Then it rejects Putin’s argument to denazify Ukraine. On this point, it differs with those who believe that Nazism can be eradicated from above, at cannon point, and who accept the argument that the invasion has that objective when it is nothing more than an imperialist act.

In our region there are many who quietly support Russia, with two arguments that they do not dare to debate: they believe that there is a certain parallelism between today’s Russia and what the Soviet Union was and, on the other hand, they hold the fanciful position of supporting all that opposes the imperialism of the United States. 

As some analysts have reflected, in Latin America there persists an unexpressed sympathy for Russia and in particular for Putin. Years ago, one of them compared the speech of the Russian president in October 2014, with Lenin’s speech at the Finland station in April 1917, upon his return from exile (https://bit.ly/3CG2X0R).

Such comparisons show the smallness of the so-called intellectual supporters of progressivism. They simplify reality, insinuate continuities between both leaders and cloud the vision of some part of the organizations from below by maintaining, out of all ethical considerations, that everything that goes against the enemy must be supported.

The fourth and fifth points of the communiqué summarize the political position of Zapatismo. They do not follow the mainstream media or experts to define their politics, but choose the path of asking those who, like us, are engaged in the struggle for life in Ukraine and Russia. It defines them as kin in resistance and rebellion, which indicates that they feel as brothers and sisters to those who struggle in any geography.

They support and encourage those who reject war, people who repudiate borders and nation states and stand firm in their convictions. To resist is to persist and to prevail, concludes the fifth point. Accordingly, it calls for support for those in Ukraine who are resisting Russia’s invasion.

This point has raised criticism in several geographies. Not a few insist that supporting the resistance is as much as encouraging the Nazis, since the money that arrives could be diverted to Zelensky’s bad government, or to fascist squads themselves, operating in Ukraine.

This way of analyzing the world has deep repercussions in anti-systemic movements. In a way, it is heir to the idea that there is a main enemy, against which any alliance can be used to overthrow it. However, this is the way states and governments act, acting not on the basis of ethics, but out of convenience and interests.

The most serious thing is that it leaves out the human beings of flesh and blood who resist, from below and to the left, any oppression, wherever it may come from. It will be said that those who resist in Ukraine and Russia are a minority and that they play into the hands of the right, as the defenders of progressivism are wont to say.

For one thing, dignity and ethics are not measured in numbers. These days, news of collectives and people resisting in Ukrainian cities are beginning to appear, which the mainstream media do not reflect (https://bit.ly/35Ywwye). It is these people and these collectives that we must support, without counting, without thinking about how many they are, because what guides us is not whether they appear on the television news, but only and simply ethics.

Regarding the argument of playing into the hands of the right wing, it is the most rampant and crass of countless perverse ideas that circulate in the world. It means, no more and no less, that all human action must be guided by calculations of expected profits and possible losses. Is this not, perhaps, a profoundly capitalist way of looking at life?

On the contrary, the policy of defending life and supporting those who defend it, setting aside any calculation of interests; guided by ethics, and nothing but ethics, defies the system because it does not enter into the game of profit/loss, which is one of the main tentacles of the capitalist hydra.

A policy guided by ethics can condemn us to loneliness. But if we trust in the nobility of ordinary people, we will have the energy and courage to continue sailing against the current.

This article was published in La Jornada on March 11th 2022. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/03/11/opinion/015a2pol English translation posted by Schools for Chiapas.

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