We are witnessing a crisis of civilization accompanied by a global authoritarian turn. However, this crisis is often reduced to a purely political crisis, designated with the recurrent epithet of „crisis of democracy“. This framing of the questions does not allow seeing what is really at stake in the relation between democracy and capitalism, and which are the possibilities to construct alternative forms of organization in-and-beyond democracy in the current scenario. These two concerns were addressed in the panel “Alternative to democracies / alternative democracies” by Inés Durán Matute (México), Azize Aslan (México-Rojava) and Katia Valenzuela Fuentes (Chile), coordinated by Dario Farcy (Argentina-Germany), taking into consideration the anti-capitalist practices of the Zapatists and the Kurdish Movements and the Chilean uprising to defy classical visions of democracy beyond the limits of liberal discourses.
The discussion began with the presentation of Inés Durán Matute who invited us boldly to stop thinking of democracy as the ultimate horizon of every political project. From her experience accompanying the Mexican indigenous movement, Durán Matute showed that what is at stake here is not the question of democracy, but a process from below that aims at the self-organization of life against capital and that cannot be contained in any democratic institutionalization. Although in the Zapatista uprising of 1994 the demand for democracy was central, over time this situation changed and democracy ceased to be a goal in itself, instead becoming a medium to self-organization. This mutation of emphasis indicates that revolutionary practice is no longer conceived as the seizure of power by a vanguard, but as daily self-organization for the struggle for life. According to Durán Matute, democracy never ceased to be a support for capitalist relations since it obscures domination by eliminating the division between exploited and exploiters. Its name has been used as an ideological tool for the imperial expansion of the capitalist system; it is tinged with an anthropocentric vision of the world and contributes to the shrinking of political imagination by reducing the struggle against capital to the struggle for democratizing capitalism.
In her presentation, Azize Aslan raised the same question regarding a set of uprisings against different dictatorial regimes (the Arab Spring) or neoliberal democracies (the revolts in Chile), but also against the old organizational structures of the traditional Left. Aslan showed that these revolts recovered what the Zapatista in Mexico and the Kurds in Rojava had put at the center of their political practice: the breakdown of the division between society and political practices and the confidence that the world cannot be changed without organization. However, organization should not be confused with fixed institutions or pure means of governance, but are an expression of the willing and ways of life of the communities and territories. In this context, Aslan showed us, through a detailed analysis of the communal and political organizing experience of the Rojava movement, new and transformative ways of building democracies that go beyond the simple instrument of representation. Kurdish organizing instances, such as democratic confederalism or the communal assemblies are much more than physical or administrative spaces. They understand themselves as the social expression of the daily life and the vital needs of the communes.
This discussion was continued by Katia Valenzuela, who interpreted certain aspects of the Chilean process opened after the revolts of 2019 through the tension between communal territorial organization and a liberal institutional framework. Those demonstrations, demands, and experiments in organizing experimentation have marked Chilean history forever. They also had a moment of institutionalization in the year 2022 with the elections for the Constitutional Convention to elaborate a new Constitution in replacement of the old Pinochetist one. Valenzuela emphasized that the Convention must not be considered a natural synthesis of the emancipatory and transformative energies contained in the 2019 events, since not all social movements took the institutional path, nor that the popular discontent was limited to political shortcomings. On the contrary, first weeks of the revolts already showed that the critique addressed not only the political institutionalism but also the neoliberal order, the patriarchal and colonial structures of society, and the state as such. According to Valenzuela, as a political legacy of the Chile uprising, we should conclude that the widespread criticism of multiple forms of oppression, which materialized in organizing practices from below, goes beyond the representative apparatus of the liberal State and the left-leaning parties.
The three speakers agreed on calling into question the centrality of the concept of democracy as the ultimate horizon of any political struggle, and they invited us to deconstruct the dichotomy between democracy vs. authoritarianism as well as to focus on organizing practices that exceed the tight channels of liberalism and the traditional left. However, the open character of these agreements emerged when the audience raised some key questions about on the ground realities of these movements. Notable were a question about representation of sexual dissidence and other identities in these democratic organizations, the presence of forms of social authoritarianism within the communities and movements, the specific strategies against the advance of neo-fascism, or the characterization of the state as something more than an instrument of capitalist domination. These questions shed light on the fact that the experiences of the Zapatists, the Rojava movement, and the Chilean revolts are not only possible alternatives to -liberal or socialist- democracies, but also that their political practices attest pending questions of any emancipatory project.
*Edited by Aurel Eschmann
The panel „Alternative Democracies / Alternatives to Democracy“ was part of the conference „Contesting Authoritarianism: Perspectives from the South“ that happened in Berlin from 16. to 21. May 2022. You can watch all vídeos here