Peasant Struggles and International Solidarity: The Case of Chiapas
Precisely because of the enormous stakes involved, it is crucial that socialists soberly examine the Zapatista struggles-and the solidarity networks built around them. Judith Adler Hellman's critique of the Zapatista solidarity movement ('Real and Virtual Chiapas: Magic Realism and the Left', Socialist Register 2000) was an important and insightful intervention in what will probably be a growing debate on the merits of 'cyberactivism', and of solidarity more generally, over the next several years. I agree with several of Hellman's basic points concerning technology and activism: that vicarious participation in an Internet 'community' does not substitute for real community (or real activism); that oversimplifications of the struggle will in the end hinder rather than help the movement; that there is unequal access to the Internet; and that fetishism of 'new' technology is simply the wrong way to approach the possibilities offered to us by that medium (a position I've never hesitated to express since I first brought the Ya Basta Web-page online in 1994). Yet, despite these points of agreement, I feel that many of Hellman's specific criticisms miss their mark. In insisting on the complexity of what is too often taken to be a simplistic struggle between good and evil, Hellman aims to show that foreign activists have, in general, been subjected to a 'flattened' version of events in Chiapas; that the appeal of Zapatismo in fact has more to do with the 'appeal of the events as seen from a great distance' than with Zapatista proposals per se; and that Zapatista rhetoric, particularly concerning the issues of land tenure and autonomy, is too simplistic and reductionist to match the realities of life in Chiapas. In what is intended as a friendly response to Hellman's essay, I shall attempt to show that this judgement is too harsh. An appreciation of Zapatismo, and of solidarity activists' relationship to it requires a fuller contextual setting than Hellman's essay provides.
Paulson, J. (2001). Peasant Struggles and International Solidarity: The Case of Chiapas. Socialist Register, 37.