The Zapatistas's Theoretical Revolution (Its Historical, Ethical, and Political Consequences)

Author: Walter D. Mignolo. Link to original: (English).
Tags: philosophy, revolution, Zapatistas, революция, сапатисты, Философия Submitted by Copylefter_Bidin 04.12.2008. Public material.
Whatever the future of the Zapatistas's uprising would be, the theoretical revolution they enacted it is here to stay. Theoretical revolutions are not supposed to come from popular sectors, without the necessary research and communicating the results by interviews, the internet, or newspapers. The theoretical revolution of the Zapatistas consists, precisely, in changing the perspective. Those who, in the long history of colonialism, or coloniality (the hidden side of modernity) are not supposed to speak but to be spoken to, not only spoke but managed to be heard. One of the reasons that the Zapatistas are being heard is precisely because they achieved a theoretical revolution. The theoretical revolution require a mediator between the Western and indigenous cosmologies. And required also double translation which, at its turn, ended up in enacting border thinking. I explore these issues and argue that in the theoretical revolution, the Zapatistas changed not only the content but the terms of the conversation.

Translations of this material:

into Portugese: A revolução teórica Zapatista ( suas consequências históricas, étnicas e políticas) . 0% translated in draft.
Submitted for translation by rodrigo.toniol 04.10.2010
into Russian: Сапатистская теоретическая революция (Историческое, этическое и политическое значение). Translated in draft, editing and proof-reading required.
Submitted for translation by Copylefter_Bidin 04.12.2008 Published 9 years, 1 month ago.


In a Chiapas market, shortly after the insurrection of 1994, a young Indian girl was heard to say: "Los Zapatistas nos devolvieron la dignidad" ("The Zapatistas have given us back our dignity"). Who took the dignity away from the Mayan peoples of Chiapas? It is easy to identify specific collective agents, like the Spaniards in the case of the colonization of Meso-America or the Creoles who built nations (Mexico and Guatemala in this case) after decolonization. The same loss of dignity occurred, however, elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in North America, Australasia, and other regions where there was no direct Spanish intervention. I propose, therefore, the more general formulation; that the dignity of indigenous people was taken away by the coloniality of power enacted in the making of the modern/colonial world, since about 1500 until today (Mignolo, 2000a). In the world-making process we identify today as modernity/coloniality, the term modernity does not stand by itself, since it cannot exist without its darker side: coloniality. As I conceive it here, the modern/colonial world goes together with the mercantile, industrial, and technological capitalism centered in the North Atlantic, both of which carry out the epistemic mechanism of coloniality of power: classifying people around the world by color and territory, and managing the distribution of labor and organization of society (Quijano,
1997; Mignolo, 2000b).

Accordingly, the statement of the young girl in the Chiapas market has significance far beyond the local history of indigenous people in Mexico. Nevertheless, her words draw meaning from an intense local history, as described in the Zapatistas's first declaration from the Lacandon Forest, in January of 1994:

We are the product of five hundred years of struggle: first against slavery; then in the insurgent-led war of Independence against Spain; later in the fight to avoid being absorbed by North American expansion; next to proclaim our Constitution; next to proclaim our Constitution and expel the French from our soil; and finally, after the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz refused to fairly apply the reform law, in the rebellion where the people created their own leaders. In that rebellion Villa and Zapata emerged-poor men, like us (First Declaration from the Lacandon Jungle, 1994).

The girl's reference to "human dignity" takes its full meaning, on the one hand, not only within and as a consequence of this local history, but also through its connection to similar colonial experiences, although arising from different colonial histories. (I develop this idea below in terms of diversality as a universal project). In other words, "human dignity" should not be taken, under any circumstances (even those of the French Revolution), as an abstract universal. Rather, it is a connector of similar colonial experiences in different colonial histories, whether in the rest of the Americas, in Asia, or in Africa.

The idea of "human dignity" illuminates, on the other hand, a particular ethical dimension in the Zapatista uprising, outlined by Subcomandante Marcos as follows:

All of a sudden the revolution transformed itself into something essentially moral, ethical. More than the distribution of wealth or the expropriation of the means of production, the revolution is becoming the possibility for carving a space of human dignity. Dignity becomes a very strong word. But it is not our contribution, a contribution of the urban component, but a contribution from and by indigenous communities. They want the revolution to be the warranty for the respect of human dignity (Subcomandante Marcos, 1997: 146).

This emphasis on the ethical problem does not imply that the economic question has been forgotten, that land claims, exploitation of labor, and economic marginalization do not count. On the contrary, bringing ethics to the foreground is a reminder that, after all, Karl Marx did not study the logic of capital to make an economic, but rather an ethical claim about the adulation of money and commodity at the expense of human life.

In what follows I explore the Zapatistas's theoretical revolution, the introduction of a historical macronarrative from the perspective of coloniality that supports their ethical and political claims.


Subcomandante Marcos's narrative of his encounter with "old man Antonio," an encounter in which Rafael Guillen, the Marxist urban intellectual, began the process of becoming Subcomandante Marcos, the double translator, is a key concept. The wisdom of the elders is what characterizes Amerindian intellectuals (e.g., persons whose role in a given community is to transform knowledge into j wisdom).Marcos became the translator, on the one hand, of Amer-indian discourses to the Mexican nation and the world beyond Mexico, and on the other hand, of Marxism to Amerindian intellec-tuals. As a double translator he displaced the model implanted by missionaries. at the beginning of the colonial world. Missionaries, whether translating to or from their native Spanish and any indige- nous language, never put themselves at risk; this sort of translation, in ideological terms, was always unidirectional. The missionaries were the only translators, and they never changed their conceptual frames.

As conceived and practiced by Subcomandante Marcos, however, translation was bidirectional and involved risk. Indeed, Rafael Guil len became Subcomandante Marcos at the moment of his recogni -tion that Amerindian intellectuals and political leaders could use him in the same way he could use them. He realized that his Marxist ideology needed to be infected by Amerindian cosmology, and that Amerindians had their own equivalent of what Marx meant to Rafael Guillen and the urban intellectuals who went to the Lacandon Forest in the 1980's with the hope of propagating revolution. In contrast to sixteenth-century missionaries who never doubted that converting people to Christianity was the right thing to do, Subcomandante Marcos may have understood that aiming to convert Amerindians to Marxism was just a reproduction of the same logic of salvation, albeit with a different content. The character of Subcomandante

Marcos's transformation is particularly evident in his reflections on the merging of Amerindian and Marxist cosmology in the process I call double translation:

The end result was that we were not talking to an indigenous movement waiting for a savior but with an indigenous move-ment with a long tradition of struggIe, with a significant expe-rience, and very inteliigent: a movement that was using us as. its armed man (Subcomandate Marcos, 1997: 147).

Rafael Guillen's conceptual transformation emerged from his. first encounter with "old man Antonio" in 1984, ten years before the latter's death. According to Subcomandante Marcos's own narrative, written in 1997, a group of urban intellectuals (a Marxist-Leninist group with a profile similar to the guerrilla movements in Central and South America) joined a group of politically oriented indige-nous leaders and intellectuals (Tacho, David, Moises, Ana Maria) to work with indigenous communities in Mexico. When Guillen sat down to talk to Antonio, a respected elder of an indigenous group, the topic of Emiliano Zapata soon came up. Guillen told the story of Mexico from a Marxist perspective and situated Zapata in that history. Then Old Man Antonio told the story of the Amerindian communities froma Mayan perspective, and situated Zapata, indeed, Votan/Zapata1 within that story.

After this exchange" of narratives, in which Zapata became a connector of two stories embedded in different cosmologies, old man Antonio extended to Guillen a photograph of Votan/Zapata standing up, with his right hand on the handle of a sword hanging at his right side. Antonio then asked Guillen whether Zapata was drawing or sheathing the sword. As Guillen understood Antonio's question, the old man wished to emphasize that both histories have their reasons, and that only an unconscious structure of power can decide which one is history and which is myth.

This is not, to meet possible objections, to adopt a position of cultural relativism. Rather, I interpret Guillen's encounter with the old man and the latter's question in terms of colonial difference. "Culture" is a term that acquired its current meaning in the eighteenth century, replacing "religion" in a Western secular world, embarking

1 "Votan" and "Zapata" are two different names to identify the same person.

on a new discourse of colonial expansion (Dirks, 1992). Communities of birth began to be conceptualized as national communities, replacing communities of believers, defined in religious terms. The notion of "cultural relativism" changed the question of coloniality and coloniality of power to a semantic problem that engendered a new discourse of political and ethnic tolerance. If we accept, for instance, that actions, objects, beliefs, languages, or ideas are culture-relative, we then hide the coloniality of power through which differ-ent "culture" came into being in the first рlace. "Сultures have not been "there" all the time, but have been forced into what they "are" today in the making of the modern/colonial world. There were no "Indians" in the Americas until the arrival of the Spaniards. Of course there were different groups of people that identified themselves with names, but they were not "Indians" (Silverblatt, 1995). And there was no America either until Northern European colonialism began to map the world and to include "America" within the Christian trinity of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The world was organized and divided into continents and the people identified by their color, their culture, and the continent they inhabited. Coloniality of power originated at this junction as an epistemic principle for the

classification of people and continents. The modern/colonial world emerged as the locus of enunciation of such an epistemic principle. The issue, then, is not whether to see old man Antonio and Guillen's discourse in the frame of cultural relativism, but rather to dissolve cultural relativism into the making and reproduction of the colonial difference. The exercise of the coloniality of power in "cultures" in the classification of people by religion, color, and continents (that is, the making of the colonial difference) created the conditions for the conceptualization of both cultural differences and cultural relativism.

We can now further explicate the key role of double translation in the Zapatistas's theoretical revolution. Double translation enables

the dissolution of cultural relativism into colonial differences, and the unmasking of the colonial structure of power (i.e., the coloniality of power) in the production and reproduction of the colonial difference. From the perspective of double translation emerges an ethical and political imaginary that opens up the possibility of conceiving possible futures beyond the limits imposed by two hegemonic ab-stract universals, (neo) liberalism and (neo) Marxism. The theoretical revolution of the Zapatistas is rooted in the double translation or rather, double infection—that makes possible a double epistemic movement. Forms of knowledge that had been discredited from the beginning of modernity/coloniality enter into a double movement of "getting in/letting in" that is allowed by the reversal of coloniality of power opened up by double translation. The theoretical revolution grounded in d^ubletranslatioriinakes it possibJЈ^to^magine_ epistemic diversalityjor pluriversality) and to under^tarjdjjjg limits. of the abslxact-universals ^aTKavҐ73on^naHaTKe" imaginary of the modern/colonial world from Christianity to liberalism and Marxism. The Zapatistas's theoretical revolution allows us to understand that, in terms of the logic of abstract universale, the difference between, say, the Shining Path and Alberto Fujimori was relatively insignificant; it was the same logic with different content. Perhaps, moreover, it was the tyrjanny of a logic grounded in abstract universals_ that misguided Che Guevara in Bolivia and the Sandinistas in Nicara-gua in interactions with indigenous populations, and in their blindness to the theoretical, ethical, and political potential in Amerindian communities.

The epistemic potential of double translation and double infection (i.e., the "getting in/letting in") is indeed the strength of the Zapatista discourse and the grounding of their theoretical revolution. Subcomandante Marcos "was born" in the process I am here calling the double translation. As he articulated it:

We [the urban intellectuals] went through a process of reeducation. As if they [the indigenous intellectuals and indigenous communities] were undoing the tools we had; that is Marxism, Leninism, urban culture, poetry, literature every thing that was part of ourselves. At the same time, they showed us things we did not know we had____They undid us and then remade us again. The EZLN was born the very moment in which it was ready to confront a new reality for which some of its members had no answer and to which they [the urban intellectuals] subordinated themselves in order to survive (Subcomandante Marcos, 1997: 149-51).

Marcos describes old man Antonio as a translator between the urban and the indigenous intellectuals and communities, and himself as a translator whose audience was the world at large, beyond indigenous communities in Latin America or local power structures. Indeed, the Internet proved to be crucial in the Zapatistas's theoretical "uprising." In contrast with the model of translation implanted by missionaries in the sixteenth century and around the world in subsequent centuries, however, Marcos's translation gave indigenous voices a place similar to that which a translator from Greek into, say, German would give to Aristotie. Indigenous intellectuals were no longer seen as a curiosity or an object of anthropology, but as critical thinkers in their own right. One could venture to say that "we, the nothing not counted in the order, are the people, we are all against others who stand only for their particular privileged interests," as Zizek would say to underline the emergence of the political proper in ancient Greece (see below) (1998: 998). Such change in the directionality of translation contributed to the opening up of Marxism to the colonial difference and, consequendy, to understanding racism in relation to labor in the global order of the modern colonial world. It contributed also to the underscoring of the limits of the Western notion of democracy, showing the way for displacing the concept from its current abstract universal meaning, as well as taking it as a connector for the diversity of universal projects (diversality) that can be imagined in the name of democracy. In the next section I explore these two points further.


Regarding the first aspect, we may once more listen to Subcomandante Marcos:
Zapatismo is and is not Marxist-Leninist. Zapatismo is not fundamentalist or millennarist indigenous thinking; and it is not indigenous resistance either. It is a mixture of all of that, materialized in the EZLN. The regular group, the insurgents, that is Mayor Mario, Capitan Maribel, Major Ana Maria, all of us who lived in the mountains during the late 80's and 90's are product of that cultural shock (Subcomandante Marcos, 1997: 99).

Because of all of this, Zapatism cannot attempt to become a universal doctrine, a doctrine of homogenization, like the (neo) liberal and (neo) socialist goals and ideals. It is important that Zapatism remains undefined (Subcomandante Marcos, 1997: 261). This is why, also, the true creators of Zapatism are the translators such as Mayor Mario, Mayor Moises, Major Ana Maria, and all who bridged the distance between dialects [Marcos is referring here to indigenous languages] for those such as Tacho, David, Zevedeo. They are indeed the Zapatist theoreticians ... they built, they are building a new way for looking at the world (Subcomandante Marcos, 1997: 338-39, emphasis added).

It is important at this point to insist that in my various references to Subcomandante Marcos, I have not been constructing him-or have sought not to construct him-as a modern subject. The argu-ment I have been advancing should help us understand that the French journalist of Le Monde, Bertrand de la Grange, and Spanish journalist Maite Rico insist, however, in interpreting Marcos under the frame of the biographical conception and moral code of the modern individual (de la Grange & Rico, 1998). This "study" is a biography of Subcomandante Marcos following the traditional Western pattern of biography. They missed the point that both in Maya and other indigenous cosmologies, contrary to the European and North Atlantic, the community, not the individual, is the center and the final goal. While both indigenous cosmology and the very prac-tice of Subcomandante Marcos affirm a different conception of the person and society, de la Grange and Rico insist in judging him according to the Eurocentric patterns of Western biography! De la Grange and Rico, like sixteenth-century missionaries, are incapable of changing their conceptual frames and had no better option than to frame Subcomandante Marcos as they are used to conceiving of the individual, a conception stemming from Rousseau, and still obviously in use nowadays.

To interpret Subcomandante Marcos in the familiar frame of biographical narrative, to see him as an "impostura" (imposture) centered on the subject (even though it is condescendingly recognized as "genial"), is to miss the point of the Zapatistas's theoretical revolution. Even worse, it is to frame Zapatism under the colonial epistemic model that the Zapatista revolution seeks to overcome. In-deed, an interpretation of Marcos's role in terms of a philosophy of the modern subject implicitly characterizes indigenous communities as silenced and unconscious victims, rather than as initiators of a theoretical revolution in which Marcos operated as mediator / translator

It is surely not modesty nor even a show of modesty when Marcos says that the theoreticians of the Zapatista movement as well as those building a new way of looking at the world are the indigenous intellectuals, not he himself. Such an interpretation requires that we accept the changes in the directionality of translation and, further, that the ethical and political consequences I have been stressing can only come from a theoretical subject rib longer located in Western cultures of scholarship. Neither is this theoretical revolution located in the indigenous intellectuals, which would celebrate a kind of original indigenous knowledge; rather, it is located in the double process of translation in which Western (e.g., Marxist episte-mology) is арргорriated by Ameridian epistemology, but then transformed and returned. In this process, formerly subaltern Am-erindian knowledges enter the debate piggy-backing on Marxism and Western epistemology.


As I have defined them, double translation and the Zapatistas's theoretical revolution can be described as border thinking conceived as the epistemic potential of subaltern knowledges (for an extended discussion of border gnosis or border epistemology, see Mignolo, 2000a; 2000c). The idea receives succinct and powerful clarification in the text of a speech delivered by Major Ana Maria at the inauguration of the Intercontinental Encounter in the Lacandon Forest in August of l996

For power, the one that today is globally dressed with the name of neo-liberalism, we neither counted nor produced, did not buy or sell. We were an idle number in the accounts of Big Capital.

Here in the highlands of the Mexican Southeast, our dead ones are alive. Our dead ones who live in the mountains know many things. Their death talked to us and we listened. The mountain talked to us and we listened. The mountain talked to us, the macehualo, we then common and ordinary people, we the simple people as we are called by the powerful.

We were born war (sic) with the white year, and we began to trace the path that took us to the heart of yours, the same that

today took you to our heart. That's who we are. The EZLN. The voice which arms itself so that it can make itself heard. The face which hides itself so it can be shown. The red star that calls to humanity and the world, so that they will listen, so that they will see, so that they will nominate. The tomorrow that is harvested in the yesterday. Behind our black face, behind our armed voice, behind our unspeakable name, behind the we that you see, behind we are (at you) fdetras estamos ustedes) (Major Ana Maria, 1997).

There is indeed a strange disjunction between the first sentence, which could have been written by a French intellectual in Le Monde Diplomatique, and the rest of the paragraph, with its invocation of a dialogue with death. In the Spanish text, moreover, ser is confused with the other stative verb estar, a distinction lost in English, in which "to be" is the only possibility. And, finally, a discourse that began with an epistemic (we know the world is such) and political claim (this is it shall be done from our perspective) ends in a "poetical" note. Perhaps the most distinctive epistemic features of Ana Maria's discourse are the displacement of the subject-object correlation and, consequently, the semantic effect that this displacement produces The displacement is obvious, since Ana Maria is thinking from the structure of her own language, Tojolabal, and not from Greek, Latin, or French. It is obvious also in the sense that Ana Maria is not implementing a discourse "against" an individual thinker recognized by a proper name and located in the pantheon of the "great thinkers" of Western civilization. Unlike any European vernacular/ colonial language, Tojolabal features an intersubjective correlation between first and third persons, that is: a code devoid of direct and indirect object, instead structured in the correlation between sub-jects (Lenkersdorf, 1996).

This has important consequences. If, for instance, a given language lacks a subject/object correlation as a basis for the elaboration of epistemic principles and the structuring of knowledge, the speakers of such a language do not engage in acts of "representa -tion", but engage instead in "intersubjective enactements." Consequendy, "nature" in the Tojolabal language and social consciousness is not an "it." Further, acts of enunciation in Tojolabal not only involve the co-presence of "I" and "you" but also the presence of the "absent" third person, "she" or "they." A simple sentence in English or Spanish consisting of a subject, verb, and object is expressed in Tojolabal by two subjects with two different verbs. For instance, the idea that in Spanish would be expressed as "Les dije (a ustedes о a ellos)" and in English as "I told you (or them)" would be expressed in Tojolabal as something like "(lo) dije, ustedes/ellos (lo) escucha-ron," or in English "I said (it), you/they heard (it)." What is impor-tant here is that the indirect object in Spanish or English, is the second subject with another verb of agency in Tojolabal, in this case ustedes/you."

As articulated for the first time by the French linguist and philosopher Emile Benveniste, in modern Western languages the pronominal structure has only two persons, "I" and "you" (Benveniste, 1966: 225-66). When thinking from the perspective of the subject-object relationship dominant in these languages, then, the rest of the pronouns (she, he, it, them, they) lie beyond in the further horizon of the non-person, since the object is the "it." Benveniste's theory, of course, doesn't apply to Tojolabal. But, better yet, Benveniste's theory could not be formulated by anyone thinking from Tojolabal. And this is what the missionaries who wrote grammars of Amerindian languages never understood, which now can be corrected thanks to the Zapatistas's theoretical revolution.

That is not all. From Tojolabal it would have been impossible to come up with a universal principle such as "the right of the people" (later on the "rights of man and of the citizen," and more recendy "human rights") by which those whose "rights" are "defended" are in a third-person role, effectively a nonperson. Additionally, thinking from Tojolabal, instead of German, French, English, or Spanish, would make it difficult or impossible to conceive of people as "other" and to develop an idea of justice and equality by defending the "inclusion of the other" (Habermas, 1999: 129-54; 203-38), since in this language there is no object only interacting subjects. Nor, of course, is there a concept similar to the European "nation-state" that is presupposed in legal and politic theories about "inclusion" and citizenship.

We can now return to the young girl's dictum, "the Zapatistas have given us back our dignity," and make an effort to understand it from an indigenous perspective. In particular, we can see it now as an ethical claim that impinges on the Zapatistas's reworking of the idea of "democracy." It may sound strange, like bringing back all of those beliefs that have been discarded in the name of the "reason" of science and knowledge; from Bacon, Descartes, and Kant to Aristotle, and forward to our time. Indeed, how can one conceive of democracy beyond the foundation of the "political proper" (see below for a discussion of this concept) in Greece, then rehearsed and recast by the philosophers of the European enlightenment? How can we imagine democracy from a Tojolabal perspective, a perspective that has been and continues to be enacted by the Zapatistas? Certainly, the Zapatistas have produced no treatise on government or legal/philosophical speculations about cosmopolitanism and universal peace, such as those written in Germany, France, and England in response to the religious wars of the seventeenth century and the Peace of Westphalia. Nevertheless, there is a principle from Amerindian wisdom among the Zapatistas that is both engrained in the intersubjective structure of their language and in their corresponding conception of social relations (Lenkersdorf, 1996). In Spanish this principle reads: "Mandar obedeciendo" (in English: "To rule and obey at the same time"). This political principal is also engrained in the intersubjective logic of the Tojolabal language.

"Mandar obedeciendo" is the tide of a declaration of February 26, 1994, signed by the EZLN and addressed to all the people of Mexico, as well as to journalists in Mexico and the world. The crucial two paragraphs read:

When the EZLN was only a shadow creeping between the fog and darkness of the mountain, when the words justice, freedom and democracy were just words; merely a dream that elders of our communities, the real custodians of the words of our ancestors, had given us at the moment they give way to night, when hatred and death were beginning to grow in our hearts, when there was only despair. When the times turned back over their own selves, with no way out... the authentic men talked, the faceless, the ones who walk the night, those who are mountain, so they said:

It is the reason a will of good men and women to search and to find the best way to govern and self-govern, what is good for most is good for all. But not to silence the voices of the few, rather for them to remain in their place, hoping that mind and heart will come together in the will of the most and the inspiration of the few, thus the nations composed of real men and women grow inward and grow big, so that there could be no exterior force capable of breaking them or of deviating their steps toward different roads In this way our strength was born in the mountain, where the ruler obeys, when she or he is unquestionable, and the one who obeys command with the common heart of the genuine men and women. Another word came from far away for this government to be named, and this word, called "democracy", this road of us who moved forward before words were able to walk ... (EZLN, 1994: 176-77).

The word "democracy" used in this paragraph, very much like the word "dignity" used by the young girl in the Chiapas market, has a double edge. The words are universally used but they no longer have a universal meaning. "Democracy" in the mouth of the Zapatistas doesn't have the same meaning as pronounced by functionaries of the Mexican government or, for that matter, in the official discourse of the White House, in Washington, DC. The same could be said about "dignity." When pronounced by a young girl in a Chiapas market, it does not have the same meaning as when used by a proud Catholic and bourgeois family in Buenos Aires, Argentina, or in Paris, France. However, I will now say that both "democracy" and "dignity" are empty signifiers able to accomodated the different meanings the words may acquire when pronounced in different parts of the world, by people in different sectors of racial hierarchies or at different ranges of the social scale. What the words "democ-racy" and dignuty" have lost are their "abstract universal valueg." If we conceive of them as empty signifiers we will indeed ratify them as abstract universale and claim for their openness to accommodate "different" conceptions of democracy or of dignity. But this is not what is at stake here. "Democracy" and "dignity" are not conceived of as empty signifiers but as connectors. As connectors they are the place of encounters of diverse epistemic principles underlining rules for social organization and moral codes for collective behavior. The problem with conceiving these words as empty signifiers is that the primary meaning attributed to these words will prevail and any other meaning would become derivative. If, instead, we conceive of these words as connectors the primary meaning becomes one more among many, but with no claim to the privilege of being primary.

This line of argument allows the further statement that the Zapatistas's theoretical revolution resembles the notion of Ayllu democracy discussed in Bolivia in the Aymara Research Institute Thoa (UMSA/THOA, 1995; Rivera Cusicanqui, 1990; 1993). Very similar to Oykos in Greek, the term Ayllu in Aymara encompasses family, economy, social organization, and education. Whether the social organization implied by Ayllu would be similar to that of "democracy" as elaborated by Western political theorists upon the legacy of Oykos and demos (6fjuo<; "the commons, the people" + крсстод "rule, sway, authority"—democracy) would have to be explored. However, there is a complex historical configuration to take into account. When the French Revolution imposed the notion of democracy and built it on the concept of citizenship, the "government of the people" was a bourgeois concept implemented against the monarchy. When the Ayllus were dismanded in the sixteenth century, the process was rather the opposite: it was the monarchy that, via colonization, cast as "barbarian" a form of social organization that was closer to the social organization under which the concept of "democracy" was conceived in ancient Greece. What happened, instead, was that the population of Spanish descent (creoles and mestizos) that considered themselves "natives" but clearly distinguished from the "indigenous" population, used the French Revolution to rebel against the Spanish colonial monarchy. By so doing, they took control and imposed a new form of coloniality, internal colonialism, as a tool for nation building in decolonized countries. One can imagine a scenario in which, instead of Creoles, the dominated population of the Ayllu would have rebelled against the colonial side of the monarchy as well as against the would-be-bourgeoisie formed by the Creoles, whites, and mestizos, in Latin America. This scenario did not occur, of course, but it is now overdue and becoming conceivable. "To rule and obey at the same time" could be taken as the "democratic" version from the perspective of the indigenous communities of which the Ayllu was not an exception. In any case, the Ayllu organization of today is not what it was before the conquest, though it remains clearly distinct from the social organization of the Bolivian State. And you can say that not all is democracy in the Ayllu. But the same applies to the United States, France, England and Germany, doesn't it?

Currently the Ayllu is not as closed and hierarchical as liberal and Marxist intellectuals, as well as NGOs, pretend it to be. In fact the Ayllu organization follows "democratic" rules based on a sense of community and reciprocity among persons and the living world (Fernandez Osco, 2000; Rivera Cusicanqui, 1990; 1993). It may not be perfect, but neither is the democracy in modern, Western states. Though a modern state, whether Bolivia or, say, the United States, may be ruled according to democratic principles, it is not surprising to see those principles violated in a social context either internally or externally. Similarly, the Ayllu organization is not without occasional abuses, though these do not affect the principles that assure its legitimacy in the eyes of its many practitioners. Indeed, after 500 years of external (Spain) and internal colonialism (the Bolivian State), indigenous communities in Bolivia (in significant numbers) continue to base their social organization on principles inherited from the ancient Aymaras and Quechuas, rather than the ancient Greeks and the European enlightenment, which is the case for the Creole and (neo) liberal state of Bolivia. Why the ideologues of nation building in Bolivia as well as in another similar countries acted and continue to act with their back toward the contribution indigenous politics and ethics can offer, has no explanation. No explanation beyond the fact that coloniality of power was enacted and continues to rule out everything that did not conform to the principles under which rnodernity was being conceived. "Peripheral" or "alternative modernities" are indeed соlonial аnd dependent versions of modernity enacted by the high class of mestizos. A ruling' class, either in Bolivia or in Mexico, which tries to become modern, has to reproduce the silence to which Indigenous and Afro-Americans have been reduced through over 500 years of coloniality.

Paradoxically, neoliberal and Marxist intellectuals alike persist in efforts to "break up" a social organization that they see as nondemo-cratic, as if democracy should be exclusively defined by the European legacy and grounded in the Greek example! Their idea of "the political proper" can be identified as the "difference" they were able to maintain for 500 years from European colonists, a difference that today is making a move forward with the Zapatista uprising, one that is paralleled by indigenous movements in Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, and other states of Mexico. In the Zapatistas's theoretical revolution we encounter the epistemic frame that indigenous communities were unable to find either in the liberal, or the Marxist European legacies ultimately grounded in ancient Greek political and constitutional thought. Why is it then that the Zapatista uprising stands out among numerous indigenous uprisings? There is no doubt that Subcomandante Marcos was and still is a great mediator, and his role as successful mediator can be explained by the political and ethical effectiveness of double translation. What is then the connection between double translation and a nonindigenous mediator, a mediator who was an urban intellectual? Basically, the question is education and what is inculcated in education, both from the right and from the left. It would be necessary at some point to trace the conditions under which, for example, Afro-American intellectuals in the French and British Caribbean, for instance, had the possibility of being educated and attending university. Or how similar-conditions operated for Native American intellectuals in the United States, like Vine Deloria, Jr. In Latin America these conditions were even more restrictive for the indigenous population. Amerindian intellectuals like Fausto Reinaga, in Bolivia, do not abound and they saw their role more in terms of affirming a tradition rather than performing double translation. Thus, given the sociohistorical circumstances of the indigenous population in Latin America, the difficulties for people of indigenous communities of having access to state education, the prejudice of the "White/mestizo" elite toward the Indian, made it difficult for them to enter into a dialogue and to negotiate with the state. People in official positions are predisposed toward not listening to them. In this regard, an urban intellectual like Subcomandante Marcos was helpful and useful in these transactions. It has been suggested, several times, that Subcomandante Marcos was "using" the indigenous people to advance Marxist agendas. I would like to think that the indigenous people "used" Sub-comandante Marcos to advance indigenous ideas. There is indeed a wide range of contributions in the long history of indigenous upris-jngs, as there is a wide range of contributions in the long histoiy of the White male in modern Europe. But among those contributions there are some that stand out over others: the French Revolution in Europe, the Haitian revolution, and the Zapatistas in Latin America.

We are now in a position to explore the current concept of "democracy" further as affected by the Zapatista uprising and the oretical revolution. The belief remains widespread that democracy is a Greek invention, rehearsed during the Enlightenment, modified in its socialist version, and capable and deserving of diffusion all over the planet. To question this macro-narrative of "democracy" (written from the perspective of Western civilization and modernity) and to open new avenues to imagine democratic futures is precisely what the Zapatistas's theoretical revolution has achieved. It has detached democracy from jts original" meaning, i.e., as a Western construct that originated ancient Greece. No longer does any community or civilization own the rights over its imposition or exportation; instead, it is shared by all those people around the world who care for equity and social justice, and especially by those who have been or are victims of injustice and inequities. Instead of ancient Greece, the Zapatistas have postulated another origin for democracy, i.e.., the beginning of the modern/colonial world and the making of the colonial difference, thereby making possible the construction of new macro-narratives from the perspective of coloniality.

As we have seen, mandar obedeciendo is a principle grounded within the intersubjective structure of the Tojolabal language, a language in which neither "nature" nor the "other" can be conceptualized as objects; or better yet, a language in which it is unthinkable that there could be "nature" and "others" as well as nature as other. Even though Tojolabal intellectuals, as well as ancient Greek or eighteenth-century philosophers all have or had a sense of social organization for the common good, I do not want to idealize either of them; neither the Tojolabal notion of "to rule and obey at the same time," nor Greek-derived European concepts of "democracy" and "socialism," notions that, significantly enough, became abstract universal correctives parallel to the global expansion of capitalism. However, in my view, there are people—"non-liberal honest people," as Rawls (1999:1-54) would like to say—all over the planet able to entertain a dialogue of equals with liberal notions of democracy and Marxist notions of socialism. Among those people are the Zapatistas, both Amerindians like Major Ana Maria and Comandante Tacho, or Latin Americans (Creoles, mestizos, or immigrants) like Subcomandante Marcos, who have been making political and ethical claims grounded in new epistemological principles derived from the double translation of Amerindian cosmology into Marxism and Marxist cosmology into Amerindian cosmology.

We are now back to "double translation," a term that is still difficult to understand, even for an enlightened French journalist like Yvon Le Bot, who has shown himself to be totally supportive of the Zapatistas, yet completely blind to the colonial difference. Le Bot interviewed the leaders of the Zapatista uprising (Major Moises, Comandante Tacho, Subcomandante Marcos), but did not feel comfortable with the concept of "democracy" introduced in the letter signed by the EZLN, and discussed above. In his introduction to the series of interviews, Le Bot offers a definition of "democracy" by Subcomandante Marcos published in La Jornada (December 31, 1994). For Le Bot this is a "better definition of democracy, less poetic, perhaps more simplistic but more satisfactory (sic!)" (Le Bot, 1997: 83). He writes:

Democracy is the situation in which thoughts reach an agreement. Not necessarily that everybody thinks in the same way, but that all thoughts or the majority of thoughts look for and reach an agreement which will be good for the majority, without marginalizing or eliminating the minority; that the word of the ruler obey the word of the majority of the people; that the baton of command be supported by a collective voice rather than by one only will (1987: 83).

Without the previous discourse by the EZLN or of Major Ana Maria, this "satisfactory" definition of democracy by Subcomandante Marcos either makes litde sense or lends itself to be interpreted as common, and therefore meaningless. However, what matters about this definition is not that it is more "clear" and "satisfactory" for the logic of Spanish and French readers and their corresponding concepts of democracy, but that Subcomandante Marcos's definition follows Tojolabal logic even while it is expressed in Spanish syntax and semantics. Elsewhere I elaborate the notions of "border thinking" and "border gnosis" to characterize the epistemology that emerges from the subaltern appropriation of mainstream Western epistemology. In the Zapatistas's theoretical revolution, border thinking emerges from the double translation across the colonial difference; indeed, their theoretical revolution can be explained and its political and ethical consequences derived from the conceptualization of border thinking (Mignolo, 2000a: 49-90; 2000b).


The noted liberation theologian Franz Hinkelammert first recognized the Zapatista uprising as an emerging project with a distinct logic, a logic that no longer reproduces the need for abstract universals (Hinkelammert, 1996; 238-40). We must be clear: diversaIity is not the rejection of universal claims, but the rejection of universality understood as an abstract universal grounded in a mono-logic. A universal principle grounded on the idea of the di-versal is not a contradiction in terms, but rather a displacement of conceptual structures. According to Hinkelammert, the Zapatistas are claiming diversity as a universal project: a world composed of multiple worlds, the rightto be different because we are all equals, to obey and rule at the same time. In such a world composed of multiple worlds we do not need abstract universal and empty signifiers but connector to link the Zapatistas's theoretical revolution and its ethical consequences with similar projects around the world emerging from the colonial djfference (either as "external" or "internal," i.e., national forms of colonialism). A world interconnected by diversality instead of by universality, in which translation is always at least bidirectional, is very different from a world encapsulated in one abstract universal, even it that abstract universal, wherever it originated, is the best one~ anyone can imagine. The problem is that for "the best one anyone can imagine," no matter its origin (the Islamic world, the Quechua people, etc.) to be finally universally consensual is difficult to imagine. CormsЈtors_are nodes where interactions take place. Empty signifiers are spaces in which what has been excluded can be included. But those who are included would have to pay the price of being "the included and being denied the possibility of being those' who include. Connectors eliminate the possibility of some actors playing the role of includer and some other actors the role of the included. Connectors are the places where negotiation takes place and where the final destination is not being included or being successful as an includer. Inclusion as a final goal and the empty signifier as the form of inclusion, is thee position being defended, in different ways, by Jurgen Habermas and Ernesto Laclau. Diversality as universal project and connectors at the place of negotiations are the positions defended, in different ways, by Hinkelammert, Dussel, and myself, and successfully theorized in the Zapatistas's discourses and enacted by their uprising.

Subcomandante Marcos describes Zapatism as a phenomenon that depends on the indigenous question. He also underlines that this local problem tends to find values that are valid for Japanese, Kurds, Australians, Catalans, Chicano/a, or Mapuches (Subcomandante Marcos, 1997: 259-60). He is not talking here about exporting the content of the Zapatista uprising and theoretical revolution (as global designs such as Christianity, civilizing mission, modernity, and development intended to do), but instead connecting through the logic of double translation and the colonial difference. Diversality as a universal project emerges, precisely, as a project of interconnections from a subaltern perspective and beyond the managerial power and mono topic inspiration of any abstract universal, from the right or from the left.

Though the idea of diversality aptly describes Hinkelammert's position, I owe the term not to him but to the Martinican thinker and writer Edouard Glissant. His thinking and consciousness is based on Сгео1е and Afro-Caribbean linguistic and cultural heritage, in contradistinction to Spanish and German in Hinkelammert's case, or Tojolabal and Spanish in the case of the Zapatistas's collective imagination. We find a commonality in the diversity of Hinkelammert's, Glissant's, and the Zapatistas's experience of the colonial difference. A commonality that transforms groups into political collectivities united by the exteriority of their epistemology and the colonial history that shaped the exteriority in question: Afro-American diaspora, indigenous people and the critical and dissident position of a creole-mestizos (like Quijano), and immigrants, like Dussel and Hinkelammert, in Latin America. It is also centrally important in the articulation of an ethic of liberation by Enrique Dussel, for whom the Zapatistas as well as the Maya-Quiche activist, Rigoberta Menchu, constitute important paradigms (Dussel, 1994; 1998).

This theoretical scenario opens up new avenues for the conception of democratic projects beyond human rights. Let's explore the Zapatistas's theoretical revolution in relation to what. Hannah Arendt (1976) and Giorgio Agamben (1996) identified as the "figure of the refugee." The refugee, Agamben states, is "perhaps the only thinkable figure for the people of our time and the only category in which one may see today—at least until the process of dissolution of the Nation-State and its sovereignty has achieved full completion—the forms and limits of a coming political community" (1996: 160). He goes on to suggest:

It is even possible that, if we want to be equal to the absolutely new tasks ahead, we will have to abandon, without reserve, the fundamental concepts through which we have so far repre- sented the subjects of the political (Man, the Citizen and its rights, but also the sovereign, people, the worker, and so forth) (Agamben, 1996: 160).

It seems obvious that the crisis of the nation-state brings together the crisis of its major symbols; especially the complicity between citizen, Man, and human rights. One of the consequences of the crisis is that the conditions of citizenship and the concepts of "Man" and of "human rights" can no longer be taken for granted. The very concept of "rights of the people" in the sixteenth century was grounded in the Renaissance and humanistic conceptualizations of Man that were still valid in the eighteenth century, both of which brought to light the need for international conviviality. The citizen and the foreigner became the figure of the nation-state under which Europe organized itself. The figure of the refugee appears in Europe, indeed, after the first symptom of the breakdown of the nation-state and of course one of its main figures, the citizen. The first appearance of the refugee as a mass phenomenon, says Agamben, "took place at the end of WW (1996: 30). He further elaborates on the argument presented by Hannah Arendt (1976) in her book Totalitarianism, particularly in the chapter tided "The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man." These historical references allow Agamben to propose that:

The refugee should be considered for what it is, namely, nothing less than a limit-concept that at once brings a radical crisis to the principles of the Nation-State and clears the way for a renewal of categories that can no longer be delayed (1996: 162).

Agamben's argument pushes my point that the Zapatistas's theoretical revolution brought a different kind of figure into the picture. Like the figure of the refugee that closes the cycle of the nation-state forged since the end of the eighteenth century in Western Europe, the Zapatistas close the cycle of the colonial world, a world enforced since the sixteenth century by Christian and Southern Europe. To consider the refugee as the only thinkable figure for the people of our time and the only category in which one may see today ..., the forms and limits of a coming political community" (1996: 159; emphasis added) is both short-sighted and Eurocentric. The "return of human dignity" brings to the foreground another figure, the figure of the Indigenous, Aboriginal, or First Nations (but also Afro-Americans from Brazil to the United States through Cuba and Martinique, for instance) that has been placed on the margin of humanity and beyond the possibilities of producing knowledge, or. having ethical principles and political drives. The indigenous figure, unlike that of the refugee, had to be educated, managed, and either included or totally excluded from the human community. This general perspective, initiated in the sixteenth century, reproduced itself in the colonial experiences after the nineteenth century in Asia and Africa, and in the internal colonialism of nation builders in Latin America. This is the historical context of the Zapatistas's theoretical revolution. Although the intellectuals of the Renaissance school of Salamanca recognized the rights of peoples and discussed them with great seriousness, the people whose rights were being discussed did not have the right to participate in the discussion. The Zapatistas, on the other hand, rose in arms in order to reclaim the letter, in effect reversing the modern (sixteenth-century) ideal of the man of arms and letters. To reclaim the letter was to reclaim the voice that had been taken away, which explains why a young girl would say that dignity had been returned to Amerindians. Indeed, the Amerindian emerged in Western consciousness as a figure that was questionable as Man, never having been, nor with the potential to be a "citizen." As the Haitian revolution of 1804 bore witness, the figures of the colonized, especially those of color, were not eligible for the "rights of Man and of the citizen."

I am not reaching these conclusions via Agamben, i.e., applying Agamben's figure of the refugee to the Zapatistas; rather I am trying to reverse the process. Enrique Dussel, in 1994, and Maurice Najman, in "A la conquete de la societe Mexicaine," published in Le Monde Diplomatique, January 1, 1997, perceived the theoretical, ethical, and political implications of the Zapatista uprising (Dussel,-1994). However, intellectual legitimization of their accounts still depends on the implicit sanction of North Adantic scholarship. For this reason I have brought the figure of the refugee and the figure of the Amerindian together within the frame of diversity as a universal project (or diversality). Epistemic, ethical, and political diversality imply that projects are anchored in local histories (like Europe after the Second World War and the refugee or indigenous movements in Latin America ), with the consequence of also implying the undesirability of an abstract universal (be it Christian, Liberal, or Marxist) that would unite the diverse and bring it together within a uni-versal frame that is good for those who designed it. This scenario may get us into the "good" empty universal that opposes the "bad" neoliberal ones. If the "end of history" has any meaning, it could be the "end of history of abstract universals, Christian, liberals or Marxists." More-over, the Zapatistas's theoretical revolution "provides a means of escape from Hegelian (temporal) dialectics, i.e., the sense of lineal progression. A crucial element of the abstract universal of modern epistemology-inherendy complicit with the coloniality of power—is the conceptualization of "newness" in a temporal rather than spatial dimension. In such a theoretical model, the "new" would be either the Hegelian synthesis or the "next" step in an already planned development, progression, modernization, or revolution. From the perspective of coloniality, "epistemic breaks" (to use FocauIt's term) are spatial rather than temporal. Epistemic breaks are not then, paradigmatic changes in the chronology of Western knowledge but paradigmatic changes in the spatial dimension of coloniality, from the perspective of subaltern and marginalized knowledges. The theoretical revolution of the Zapatistas is a paradigmatic break in the spatial configuration of modernity/coloniality.

Regarding Agamben, it is possible to infer that the political task of our time consists in "selecting in the new planetary humanity those characteristics that allow for its survival, removing the thin diaphragm that separated bad mediatized advertising from the perfect exteriority that communicates only itself (1993: section xvi). But the need to start from a different place might imply, for instance, the recognition that the selection would be made by social actors in singular local histories and that the theorization would also be grounded in experiences similar to but different from the refugees. Such claims and actions would neither expect a universal design nor pretend to install a "new," singular one. Indeed, the only singularity would be the connector, that is: diversality as a universal project.

In this context, I wish to return to a claim in Dussel's argument that connects with a statement by Subcomandante Marcos, in which he underlines the ethical turn taken by the Zapatista uprising. While Hinkelammert took advantage of the Zapatistas's theoretical revolution to formulate the need of diversality as a universal project instead of looking for new abstract universale, Dussel took advantage of it to postulate his distinction between "ethics of discourse" and "ethics of liberation." In a nutshell, an ethics of discourse argues for the "recognition of the difference" and the "inclusion of the other"; such benevolent recognition and inclusion, however, leave those to be included with little say in how they are recognized or included. In that it assumes an abstract universal space in which to recognize and where to include, the ethics of discourse is, in essence, the standard version of multiculturalism, and, as such, is common, in spite of the obvious differences, to such thinkers as Charles Taylor and Jurgen Habermas. The idea of an "ethics of liberation" on the other hand, thinks, as it were, from the thinking of the excluded, like Rigoberta Menchu or the Zapatistas. Whereas an "ethic discourse" allows only the tolerance of diversity within a refashioning of existing and hegemonic abstract universale, an "ethics of liberation" proposes diversality as a universal project. But this can only be pursued as long as the theoretical revolution, with its double translation, creates the conditions for new ways of thinking "at the borders," i.e., overcoming frameworks of thought structured by the coloniality of power in the making of the modern/colonial world. In this way, ethics, politics, and epistemology come together next to an already existing framework that will continue to exist and that has been the legacy of the modern/colonial world.

Just as the figure of the Amerindian is complementary to that of the refugee (and vice versa), the Zapatistas's conception of democracy is complementary (and vice versa) to democracy as conceived and enacted within the hegemonic tradition of the Greco-Enlightenment legacy. They are, however, irreducible to each other sociohis-torically as well as logically. Sociohistorically, refugees are people expelled from their territories while Amerindians have been dispossessed and marginalized in their own territories. Both, however, are "victims" of global designs. The word democracy in its Greco-Enlightenment root is displaced when appropriated by antiglobal movements like that of the Zapatistas, and reconfigured to imagine ajust social order that is not the invocation of "freedom" defended with an entire army. Sociohistorically, the Zapatistas's use of democracy displaces the idea of "original property rights" that the word democracy implies in the Enlightenment tradition. In response to the consolidation of identity politics in the United States and to the impasse in which both the Left and Right find themselves in the fight against globalization, Slayoj Zizek has made the case for a universal concept of democracy rooted in the Greek-Ejoropeari legacy, in contrast to the particular implied in identity politics. In Zizek's view the emergence of identity politics announces the end of what he calls "the poiitical proper," as constituted within the Greek legacy. In a highly polemical discussion, Zizek himself posits the necessity of "Eurocentrism from the left" (Zizek, 1998; 1999; 171-244). He offers the following definition of the "political proper." It is a phenomenon that appeared for the first time in ancient Greece when the members of the demos (those with no firmly determined place in the hierarchical social edifice) presented themselves as the representatives, the stand-ins, for the whole of society, for the true universality ("we-the 'nothing,' not counted in the order—are the people, we are all, against others who stand only for their particular privileged interest"). Political conflict proper thus involves the tension between the structured social body, where each part has its place, and the part of no-part, which unsetdes this order on account of the empty principle of universality, of the principled equality of all men qua speaking beings, what Etienne Balibar calls egaliberte (1998: 988).

Zizek implicidy makes two claims here, although the structure of the paragraph gives the impression that there is only one. On the one hand, he offers a definition of the "political proper"; on the other hand, he specifies its place of origin as ancient Greece. The former is a logical move, while the latter is geopolitical. In other words, Zizek introduces a geopolitics of knowledge disguised as the universality of the political proper. This disguise become crucial in his argument when he calls for the "fundamental European legacy" on the basis of the distinction of globalization and universalism (1998: 1006). With the term "globalization," Zizek refers to the "emerging global market" (new world order), and by "universalism" he refers to the "properly political domain of universalizing one's particular fate as representative of global injustice" (1998: 1007). This is important because:

This difference between globalization and universalism becomes more and more palpable today, when capital, in the name of penetrating new markets, quickly renounces requests for democracy in order not to lose access to new trade partners. This shameful retreat is then, of course, legitimized as respect for cultural difference, as the right of the (ethnic/ religious/cultural) Other to choose the way of life that suits it best—as long as it does not disturb the free circulation of capital (1998: 1007).

Few would disagree. Contrary to the Christian, the Civilizing, and the Modernizing projects that formed the successive (and today coexistent), ideologies of capitalism, the Market project has ceased converting, civilizing, or modernizing. In today's world, those who were targeted for improvement or salvation in earlier phases of capitalism do not count as believers or citizens, but only as "consumers" (Garcia Canclini, 1995). Zizek substantiates this with several examples, including one involving Singapore's "wise" (Zizek's quotation marks) ruler Lee Kuan Yew, who has been playing on the differences between East and West to justify capitalism in the Asian way (Kuan Yew, 1994). Following Zizek's argument, it becomes clear that Singapore is a case of globalization without universalism, globalization in which the political proper has been suspended. On the other hand, one can also say, even if in disagreement with Kuan Yew's policies, that the only alternative to his system would have been to accept capitalism in the Western way, i.e., to accept both an economic system and a (neo) liberal ideology. Kuan Yew is not operating at the level of the Zapatistas, however, since his position, like that of the Mexican government, has been defined by the character and requirements of the neocolonial state.

I am not certain that the "political proper" was suspended in the Singapore of Kuan Yew, despite the fact that both the U.S. perspective (Zakaria, 1994; cf. Kuan Yew, 1994), as well as that of Zizek, suspects just that. Kuan Yew's political strategy was "conservative" in the sense that it conserved a certain sense of Singapore's past. There also was no interest in constituting the population of Singapore as the equivalent of the demos, as defined in ancient Greece, although even in ancient Greece, slaves and foreigners were not part of the demos. However, given Kuan Yew's subaltern position in a world order managed by the G8, it could be said of him that "we the 'nothing' ... we are all, against others who stand only for their particular privileged interest" (Zizek, 1998: 988). Indeed, Zizek makes a similar move when he insists "on the potential of democratic politicization as the true European legacy from ancient Greece onwards" (1998: 1009). But there is a remarkable difference between Zizek and Kuan Yew: the former proposes a return to the past to generate a transformative future, while the latter would preserve the past. Is it not possible to imagine a transformative future stemming from the very past that Kuan Yew proposed to preserve? According to Zizek's argument this is not the case, since the "political proper" has been linked to Greece and appropriated as a "European Legacy," forcing the rest of the world to bend, whether toward the right or toward the left, to a universal standard geopolitically defined as the "true European legacy."

The Zapatista dictum, "because we are all equal we have the right to difference^' opens up other avenues for thinking about the ethical and political proper when imagining possible futures. That is, to "think difference" beyond the market and capitalist designs, or to think beyond the process of capitalist subsumption that allows and encourages subaltern differences while maintaining a hegemonic ideology of management. The difference the Zapatistas are claiming is at the level of social management, not only at that of civil society. To move this "difference" to the level of management means also to introduce the distinction between civil and political society (Chatter-jee, 1999a; 1999b). At the level of the civil society we encounter reform and dialogic negotiation, as Zizek himself will have it (1998: 1009). At the level of the political society (the self-organization of subaltern collectives that have been left out of the civil society constituted by the legal community of citizens) we encounter struggle and demands for participation in managerial transformation, as the Zapatistas have it. Their goal is not to take power but to participate in opening up the space for the political society, indeed in the sense of "the political" as defined by Zizek, if we dispense with his implicit geopolitics: ancient Greece and the European legacy! It is precisely at the level of the political society that the second Zapatista dictum: "to rule and obey at the same time" is the necessary corollary of the first ("the right to be different because we are all equal").

Two issues remain to be clarified. One is the conception of the political in the local history of imperial differences. The imperial difference is the connector of "differences" between imperial countries in which a conception of the political is linked, in fact, to ancient Greece, to Rome, and Christianity, to the Italian city-states of the fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries (Venice, Florence, Genoa), and to the bourgeois republics of the early modern Netherlands and England. This "North Adantic legacy" has paralleled the history of capitalism until the end of the twentieth century (i.e., before capitalism began to locate itself in Asia, rather than merely using Asia as a source of natural resources and a place to colonize from afar). Zizek's argument can be understood against this historical background.

The second issue is the conception of "the political" in relation to the local histories of the colonial difference. This does not originate in Greece, except perhaps in the discourse of the colonizers who appealed to the Greco-Roman tradition to justify colonization. The "political proper" in the colonial difference appears "for the first time" (I am using Zizek's statements in quotation marks) in the Caribbean, in Anahuac (the territory of the Ancient Mexicans), and in Tawantinsuyu (the territory of the Ancient Incas). At that moment, "we—the nothing" were those left out of the frame of Greek and Christian-European legacy, and those who had to figure out how to deal with a political order that was being imposed upon them. Briefly, "we—the nothing" were those who were spoken about by "good" Spanish humanists (like Bartolome de Las Casas and Francisco de Vitoria), but whose voices where suppressed by the colonial difference built on the Greek and Christian-European tradition. For example, Guaman Puma de Ayala, in Tawantinsuyu, wrote a political treatise entided Nueva coronica у buen gobierno (New Chronicle and Good Government) between the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries, yet it was not printed for the first time until 1936 (Adorno, 1986).

This, then, is the legacy in which the Zapatistas's theoretical revolution and its ethical-political implications must be understood. Of course, there is also the legacy of political struggles framed by the colonial difference, within which Enrique Dussel was able to postulate the distinction between discourse ethics and ethics of liberation. The project of discourse ethics (Apple, Habermas) means inclusion and reform, in Dussel's words; it is also, in Zizek's words, dialogic negotiation and de-politicization. The Ethics of Liberation is transformation grounded in a philosophical discourse which questions the fact that in the politics of inclusion and recognition what is left unquestioned is the very place in and from which inclusion is being proposed. Those who propose inclusion do not reflect critically on the fact that those who are being welcomed for inclusion may not necessarily want to play the game generously offered by those who open their arms to the inclusion of what is perceived as different.

This is the issue at stake, I believe, in Kuan Yew's insistent opposition of an Eastern and Western way of doing things. We may not agree with the way in which Kuan Yew frames the issue; however, we should not be oblivious to the existence of an issue in which imperial differences (e.g., differences within capitalism itself) and colonial differences (e.g., historical differences built by the complicity between a coloniality of power and capitalism) come together in very interesting ways. The Zapatistas's theoretical revolution may prove invaluable in the effort to evade the vicious circles inherent in a political imagination limited to the local history of Europe, whether attentive more to the legacies of ancient Greek thought, or to the short history of the European post-enlightenment.


The Zapatistas's theoretical revolution, with its ethical and political consequences, indicates that the time has come to look beyond European legacies (Greece or the Enlightenment) and the figure of the European refugee, in order to find diverse possibilities for imagining and building democratic futures (Mignolo, 2000c). The figure of the colonized (indigenous people and the Greek legacy on slavery, reconverted into Black slavery in the Atlantic in the sixteenth century) and the figure of the immigrant from local colonial histories toward local metropolitan histories, should be added to the spatial scenario of planetary transformations. This is not to claim that the "end" of the European legacy has arrived, since to frame the issue in terms of "end" and "new beginning" would imply remaining within Western modernity's frame of mind, and maintaining the unilinear conception of historical changes and human progress(ion). History tells us that radical transformations come from the spatial margins. Spain was the margin of the Roman anc Islamic empires before rising to imperial power. Europe was the margin of the great civilizations of China and India. Europeans were dying to reach these civilizations. The Chinese were not interested in going to Europe. It was not until the early twentieth century that Europe began to count in China's own history and consciousness.

It is not the "end of Western democracy" hat has arrived, then, but rather the opportunity for its regionalization. Those who are imagining democratic futures in Latin Americas do the Zapatistas (Rivera Cusicanqui, 1990) or in India (Chatterjee, 1999a; 1999b) can hardly take seriously Zizek's invitation to "insist on the potential of democratic politization as the true European legacy from ancient Greece onwards" (Zizek, 1998: 1009). Although such a claim could be valid within the proper history of the North Atiantic region, i.e., from the legacy of ancient Greece to the modern United States, for Latin Americans, it is only too reminiscent of ideas advanced in the first half of the twentieth century by right wing politicians, who were facing unsettling demographic transformations due to the emergence of industrial "development." The Zapatistas, in contrast, have introduced "democracy" within a frame that has revealed the need to look at the multiplication of interlocking histories and their corresponding legacies, linked by coloniality of power and the colonial difference.

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