Wednesday, 30 November 2016

President Trump: Significance and (Likely) Implications

In response to the surprise election victory of Donald Trump, members of the Centre for Global Politics, Economy and Society reflect on the importance, meaning and likely significance of a Trump presidency. In the first of two blogs, we cover the potential impact on the UK, Latin America and the environment.

Who now inherits the earth? Or Trump my Brexit by Barrie Axford

Like Sean O’Casey’s anti-hero Joxer Daly, post November 8th we all know that the world is in a “state of chassis” (chaos). You may also believe that this state of affairs is due to an untimely upsurge in the temerity of previously unheard Morlocks; those tired of laboring in the cause of an elite consensus on free trade, collective defence, gender and racial equality and the architectures of the rules-driven international order. Then again, you may not.

So, there is reason enough to reflect on the likely, or possible, impacts of the Trump victory on the UK; so some thoughts.  In policy terms most of these are still imponderable. Initially markets slumped in the aftermath of Trump’s victory. By the following day they had rallied. So the issue for the UK is how long and how deep is the uncertainty about the policy stance of the US president likely to last?  If market and consumer confidence in the UK were to show a secular decline the Bank of England might well decide to cut interest rates still further to allow the markets to settle.

At present the value of sterling against the US dollar is shifting around the 1.23 -1.25 mark. This is low, but not historically so. The greater impact on the value of sterling came after the decision to leave the EU and this will remain the main determinant in the coming months and years.

After campaign coolness and some derision on the part of UK politicians and their cohorts, the reality of a Trump victory has seen ministers scrambling to affirm their willingness to work with the Donald. The shibboleth of the “special relationship” has been much abroad. Trump himself appeared to reassure Theresa May about US-UK relationships and, on the face of it, the change occupant in the Oval Office may well see a reversal of Obama’s “opening to the East” that so discommoded European politicians. At the same time, the president elect is talking a hard game about “can’t pay – won’t pay” NATO allies. Here, the UK is on the side of the angels - or at least the Pentagon - and because of Brexit, will not be party to any future EU defence regime.

And if we don't know the threat or promise that resides in Mr Trump’s policy brief, how much more difficult to gauge what his victory heralds in terms of the emerging quality and direction of UK politics. Is Nigel Farage now to be Trump’s vicar on earth, or at least in Westminster, notwithstanding his subaltern status among British political elites and the distaste shown him by the chattering classes. Brexit may have begat Trump, with its brand of populism treated as a Damascene moment in the campaign, but who now inherits the earth as the grain of UK politics shifts? UKIP without Farage looks a one trick pony and struggles to overcome the vagaries of the British electoral system and the fastidiousness of large section of the electorate. Has Trump’s victory given Brexiters, Ukipers and sundry discontents in Labour and Tory ranks the belly to make a go of it at the next general election? What of Jeremy Corbyn? Leave aside his politics if you can. On the face of it Corbyn espouses the same contempt for usual politics and its vehicles as Trump. They both talk of “movements” as the wave of the future. As the mainstream parties become more and more debilitated can the forces of, admittedly different, varieties of populism capture the castle?

Barrie Axford is Professor of Politics, Oxford Brookes University

Trump and Latin America by John Crabtree

Latin America has come low down on the list of US foreign policy concerns in recent years; many Latin Americans – concerned about the implications of Donald Trump’s presidential election victory – hope that this will remain the case. 

Those most alarmed are those closest to the United States, namely Mexico, Central America and parts of the Caribbean. Here the main issues in relations with the United States have long been what Abe Lowenthal once called ‘inter-mestic’, those that for the United States are a foreign policy matters but which have a high political resonance in domestic US politics: trade, migration and drugs.
·         The threat of abrogating NAFTA would, if realised, have major economic consequences for Mexico, for which the United States buys 80% of its exports. NAFTA encouraged the industrialisation which makes Mexico exceptional in Latin America and which, according to Trump, is the most proximate cause of de-industrialisation in the United States. Tearing up other free trade agreements with countries like Colombia, Chile and Peru would have much less serious consequences than NAFTA.
·         Stopping and reversing migratory flows from Latin America was a keynote of Trump’s election discourse. Whether or not a wall is ever built along the US-Mexican border, the threat of expulsion of Mexican migrants will be a major irritant in bilateral relations.  A reduction in remittances would also be a serious blow to the Mexican economy. It would be even more serious for the countries of the ‘northern triangle’ of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) which have been the main source of illegal immigration in recent years.
·         Halting the flow of drugs into the United States would be a secondary objective in building the Mexican wall. While Trump has said less about drugs than migration, the ‘war on drugs’ – in spite of its failure so far – is likely to remain a preoccupation in Washington, and one likely to impact on policy not just towards Mexico and Central America but Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. 
Despite their initial misgivings, most Latin American leaders have settled into a wait-and-see mode, afraid to antagonise the new administration before it takes office. Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto says he will adopt “enormous pragmatism” in his dealings with Washington. But beyond the impact of the falling peso/dollar exchange rate which threatens Mexico’s already languid growth rate, the prospect of an aggressive neighbour to the north will further reduce his centre-right PRI’s popularity in advance of the 2018 elections and boost the chances of its more nationalist presidential opponent, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Another country immediately affected will be Cuba where a return to cold-war hostilities threatens to end any hint of the rapprochement negotiated with Obama. Raúl Castro’s first response to Trump’s election was military manoeuvres. The chance of the US Congress voting to end the Cuban embargo now seems remote indeed. For several other countries, the prospect of a Trump administration will hasten their efforts to develop closer economic and political ties with China. The collapse of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) opens the way for this.

John Crabtree is a senior member of Saint Antony’s College.

What does Trump mean for nature?  by Aarti Chauhan with Lucy Ford.

A quick glance at president-elect Donald Trump’s twitter account and you will see that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. Post-election the appointment of Myron Ebell as the lead on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team and the vow to ‘get rid…of [the EPA] in almost every form’, and we have an echoing of climate change denialism that was endemic in the Bush administration. In fact, Ebell, a director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an ultra-conservative lobby group, is a well-documented beneficiary of funding from the fossil fuel industry and aide to the Bush administration’s supressing and discrediting of EPA reports on climate change. And yet, look to other Trump interviews and the climate change hoax statement is a ‘joke’ for the benefit of China and in a recent interview with The New York Times Trump states that there is ‘some connectivity’ between human activity and climate change, which was quickly punctuated by the remark that the amount of ‘connectivity’ depends on the level of financial impact on corporate America. Throw in the fact that the 2016 Republican manifesto pledges to reject the Paris Agreement (arguably the Kyoto Protocol of our time), the immediate halt to US funding of the UNFCCC and Trump’s rally against free-trade agreements, and all rhetoric points to the US withdrawing from the global stage, international institutions and agreements, and a reestablishment of isolationism. It would seem that Trump means a disaster for nature.

However, should the focus be on Trump himself? With the now Republican trifecta, the power and will to overturn democratic legislation is stronger than ever, take for instance the Republican-laden Supreme Court, which has halted President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) while a federal court considers whether the legislation exceeds the executive branches’ power, a point upheld by Republican states and utilities companies. It is no coincidence that the CPP would be the first legislation of its kind in US history, giving power to the EPA to regulate carbon emissions from power plants, thus mandating state involvement in the regulation of the economy and limiting the output of utility companies, contravening neoliberal principles and conservative ideology. With a well-established network of climate change denialism in the US that involves conservative politicians, the fossil fuel industry and corporate America,  to name but a few, it seems what the Trump administration will administer is a ramped-up platform of climate change denial that stretches back to the Bill Clinton administration.     

At this point it is worth reflecting on how much of an alternative Hillary Clinton would have provided for nature? Are Democrats more environmentally progressive? Several studies say yes. Clinton’s official platform on climate change was positive, pledging to cut oil consumption by a third, to generate enough renewable power to every home in America and, uphold the Paris Agreement. However, in politics, rhetoric seldom directly translates into practice, and it is anyone’s guess as to what sort of environmental governance Clinton would have led. As much as Obama’s legacy entails environmental protection, it cannot be overlooked that the protests surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline have been met with some of the most violent crackdowns witnessed in decades, which beyond environmental protection is tied up in the struggle for civil rights. What this example highlights are the corporatist arrangements in industrialised and industrialising countries, where the forces and principles of the capitalist market operate without concern for people or planet. Ultimately the bottom line is continued exponential economic growth and anthropocentrism, and this is the concern of all government irrespective of party affiliation.

Aarti Chauhan is a final year undergraduate in International Relations with Philosophy who has recently completed a dissertation investigating climate change belief in the United States and Latin America.

Lucy Ford is Senior Lecturer in International Relations, specialising in global environmental politics.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Findings from a Voting Advice Application in Georgia: Ideology matters by Dr Jonathan Wheatley

On 14 September, the Preference Matcher Consortium,
of which Oxford Brookes University is a member, launched a Voting Advice Application (VAA) in the run-up to the Georgian parliamentary elections of 8 October.
VAAs are web platforms that allow users to compare their positions on a set of concrete policy issues with those of parties or candidates in elections. They then provide their users with visual displays showing their positions with respect to parties or candidates. The Georgian VAA Xmamkvlevi, which can be loosely translated from the Georgian as “Vote Survey”, asked Georgian voters to position themselves on thirty issues using the categories “completely agree”, “agree”, “somewhere in the middle”, “disagree”, “completely disagree” and “no opinion”. It then matched their responses with the positions of the eight largest political parties in Georgia. These positions had already been determined by a panel of experts from Ilia State University in Tbilisi. The issues related to economic policy, relations with the West and Russia, the role of the Church and gay rights, amongst other topics. Xmamkvlevi provided its users with three displays: (1) a bar chart comparing users' proximity to all parties based on all thirty VAA items; (2) a two-dimensional map, based on users' responses to selected items that were deemed to “belong” to a particular ideological dimension (economic left versus right and liberal versus conservative), and (3) a bar chart that indicated how other users who answered the thirty items in a similar way intend to vote. This third feature depended on another attribute of Xmamkvlevi; by means of supplementary questions it collected (anonymous) data from users on age, gender, education, political interest, party identification and vote intention. These supplementary questions had options that included “I do not intend to vote”, “I am undecided” and “I prefer not to say”.

The purpose of VAAs such as Xmamkvlevi is twofold. First, they help undecided voters decide how to vote and, in less established democracies such as Georgia, provide voters, politicians and political parties with incentives to consider matters of policy. In former Soviet republics such as Georgia, scholars have often assumed that voters are either to be drawn to charismatic leaders (of which Georgia’s former president Mikheil Saakashvili is a prime example) (Enyedi 2006) or simply vote for the party or leader that will provide (or promises to provide) material goods to their village or family (Stefes, 2006). The normative rationale of a VAA is to contribute to competitive and programmatic politics by counteracting this tendency. Promoted through advertising on Facebook, Xmamkvlevi was accessed by a relatively large number of voters. According to Google Analytics, 13,510 users accessed the site and meaningful data were obtained from 10,531 users. This should be considered a rather large number given that the number of registered voters in Georgia is just 3.5 million, VAAs are not well-known and Internet use in Georgia, although growing fast, is far from universal. The relatively high uptake rate suggests that policies matter for Georgian voters and this sends a clear message to Georgian politicians that their policy positions (insofar as they have any) will either appeal to or repel voters.

Second, VAAs provide the researcher with a wealth of data on voters' political preferences. Provided due care is taken to control for the fact that the data is self-selected, and therefore not representative, this data can help us to address some of the core research questions in political science. In this respect Xmamkvlevi has provided some fascinating insights into whether Georgian voters choose parties according policy or ideology and, if they do, what are the main dimensions of political competition that divide them. Drawing on a subsample of approximately 4,500 users from the Xmamkvlevi data that were representative of the population as a whole in terms of vote intention (using “abstainers” and undecided users as a proxy for the 49% of the population who did not turn out to vote), I carried out a dimension reduction technique called Mokken Scale Analysis to identify latent political dimensions. This showed that a single ideological dimension appeared to split Xmamkvlevi users. One pole of this dimension is represented by those who take a conservative position on social-moral issues such as gay rights, believe in a greater role for the Georgian Orthodox Church, oppose integration with the EU and the West more generally and adopt a statist position with regard to the economy. Those that cluster around the opposite pole, on the other hand, are more liberal on social-moral issues, feel that the Church already has enough power, strongly favour integration with the West and support free market economic policies.

Interestingly, this dimension differs radically from the traditional left-right dimension that is used to explain political competition in Western Europe. In Georgia social conservatism is associated with the economic left, while a liberal or progressive position on moral-cultural issues is associated with the economic right. This largely conforms to the findings by Gary Marks and his colleagues that the economic and cultural axes of political competition correlate in a different way in much of post-communist Europe than in Western Europe (Marks et al., 2006). A possible explanation for this is that the multiple transformations that many post-communist societies have undergone in the past twenty-five years as a result of economic transformation from a state-run to a market-run economy and more recently of both economic and cultural globalisation has created a divide between “winners” and “losers” of globalisation that is even deeper than that identified by Hanspeter Kriesi and his colleagues in western Europe (Kriesi et al., 2006). According to this logic, the so-called “winners” embrace the liberal economic and cultural changes that globalisation brings, while “losers” reject these changes.

Even more interesting is the fact that those users who self-identified as party supporters by declaring that they identified with a particular party and that they were going to vote for that party occupy distinctive niches along that dimension. The graphs below show density maps of the supporters of the three parties that at the time of writing appeared to have overcome the 5 percent electoral barrier required to enter parliament through the party lists (party lists provide 77 out of 150 seats, while the remaining seats are elected by means of a majoritarian system over up to two rounds). These three parties are the governing Georgian Dream party (GD in the graph), which appears to have won a majority in parliament, the main opposition United National Movement (UNM, in second place) and the small pro-Church Alliance of Patriots of Georgia (PAT). The graph clearly show that the three groups of party supporters have common ideological characteristics with supporters of the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia closest to the (economic) left, conservative pole, supporters of the UNM closer to the right-liberal pole and supporters of the governing party rather closer to the middle, but tending towards the left-conservative pole. This suggests that Georgian politics is not only a struggle for power and resources, but that ideology also matters, especially amongst the rather well-educated sectors of society that used this online application.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Local elections in South Africa see ANC's dominance under pressure as they lose control of key municipalities by Dr Stephen Hurt

Towards the end of the negotiated transition to democracy in South Africa, Nelson Mandela famously said 'if the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government'. This quote was recently employed by Mmusi Maimane the current leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), South Africa’s main opposition party, during his speech at the DA’s final rally before local elections, which were held recently on 3 August. The results of these elections indicate that an increasing number of South Africans are putting Mandela’s words into practice, despite the repeated assertion by Jacob Zuma (the current President) that the ANC will rule 'until Jesus comes back'.
The 2016 vote resulted in a national picture that saw the ANC’s share of the vote fall by 8%, in comparison to the last municipal elections in 2011, to a historic low of 53.9%. The DA secured 26.9% to cement their place as the leading opposition party, while the Economic Freedom Fighters, only formed in 2013, were third overall with 8.2%.

Beyond these headline figures an even more challenging picture emerges for the ANC’s electoral future. A significant rural-urban divide is developing in voting patterns. Of the eight metropolitan municipalities, which include all of South Africa’s major cities, the DA held Cape Town with an impressive two-thirds of the vote and became the leading party in Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth) and Tshwane (Pretoria). It has also gained control of Johannesburg, despite trailing the ANC in second place, because it has managed to secure the votes of the EFF and other smaller parties. Meanwhile, the ANC now only have overall control of three of the eight metros. Like many other countries in the developing world South Africa is experiencing rapid urbanisation. According to the government’s recently published Integrated Urban Development Framework 63% of South Africa’s citizens live in urban areas and this is projected to increase to over 70% by 2030. Hence, the urban vote is going to become increasingly significant in the future.

It appears that the ANC’s reliance on its credentials as a liberation movement is increasingly losing currency with South African voters. This ‘liberation legacy’ is something that the ANC has relied upon in its campaign strategies for both the most recent local elections and the national poll in 2014. It is therefore unsurprising that some research conducted by a team at the University of Johannesburg, suggests that the ANC is relying increasingly on the support of older voters, whereas the two main opposition parties appeal most to younger voters.

Much of the debate since the 3 August poll, both within and outside the ANC, has focused on whether the decline in support for the ANC is because of the increasingly toxic reputation of President Zuma, or whether it is a verdict on the ANC's broader record on human development.  South Africa continues to face the triple challenge of a very high unemployment rate, rising income inequality and persistent levels of poverty. It appears that the initial debriefing within the ANC's national executive committee refuses to accept either explanation. Any suggestion that the blame rests with Zuma is certainly not being made public and in fact the conclusion seems to be simply that some ANC voters stayed at home and that all the party needs to do is address their concerns. In fact, the turnout in the most recent poll was 58%, which is consistent with the figure for the previous local elections held in 2011.

Many analysts (e.g. Justice Malala) have celebrated the outcome of the recent municipal elections arguing that they are good for democracy in South Africa. It is certainly the case, from a procedural point of view at least, that having a less dominant ANC may well result in a more accountable ruling class. However, given the development challenges faced by South Africa, I would argue that what is most necessary is an effective leftist political programme. As a recent Afrorbarometer poll suggests, a majority of South African citizens would be in favour of the creation of a new workers' party.

The EFF are at present the only effective electoral force offering something resembling such a programme, however, in reality they offer a populist blend of African nationalism and class-based politics. After the local elections the EFF faced the dilemma of being a potential kingmaker in a number of municipalities. It declared it would not enter into any formal coalition with either the ANC or the DA but it did decide to vote to support the DA’s candidate for mayor in Johannesburg. Given how orthodox the DA's economic policies are, this is a decision that is remarkably inconsistent with the EFF’s radical leftist rhetoric.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Passive revolution and everyday life: state formation and resistance in Chiapas, Mexico by Dr Chris Hesketh

In my recent article in Critical Sociology I explore the role that passive revolution has played in the process of subnational state formation in Chiapas, Mexico. The concept of passive revolution, formulated by Antonio Gramsci in his Prison Notebooks, has been used by a variety of scholars to interpret different processes of national and regional state formation. However, in this article, passive revolution is explored in terms of its particular manifestations in Chiapas linked to what Claudio Lomnitz calls an ‘intimate class culture’. The originality of the argument is therefore to decentre the concept and to explore the geographically differentiated manner that it is expressed through ‘everyday forms of state formation’. In this short blog post, I want to explain the meaning of the term ‘passive revolution’ and highlight why it is important for the case of Chiapas (known to most people around the world as the home of the Zapatistas rebel group). I conclude with the lessons we can learn from this concept for social movement activity more broadly.


Passive revolution was a key concept formulated by Antonio Gramsci in the context of the Italian Risorgimento that he later came to develop as a more generalised understanding of statecraft. It refers to instances whereby the social relations of capitalist development are either instituted or expanded. However, it is a contradictory process which involves both elements of revolution and rupture, but also a restoration of class power. Integral to the concept is that the state replaces social groups in leading the process of renewal. Therefore, while certain gains may be achieved, such gains ultimately serve to exclude the subaltern classes from meaningful participation through their resulting demobilization. In contrast to Gramsci’s more well known concept of hegemony, passive revolution refers less to the strength of a dominant class, but rather the weakness of their adversaries in being able to construct alternatives. Gramsci explicitly developed the concept of passive revolution in relation to Karl Marx’s Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, declaring that it was derived from ‘the two fundamental principles of political science: 1. that no social formation disappears as long as the productive forces which have developed within it still find room for further forward movement. 2. that a society does not set itself the tasks for whose solution the necessary conditions have not already been incubated, etc.” Dwelling on the first point, ‘room for forward movement’ is not simply about the inevitable march of the productive forces. Rather it about what people are prepared to acquiesce to or fail to successfully resist and overcome. The accent is therefore firmly on the process of struggle as Peter Thomas reminds us. This leads us to consider the case of Chiapas.

Chiapas famously came to the world’s attention on January 1st 1994 when a masked, indigenous rebel army rose up to contest the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Taking their name from the hero of the Mexican Revolution, Emiliano Zapata, the modern day Zapatistas claimed the government had betrayed the legacy of the Revolution and sought to salvage the cry for land and liberty in the context of privatization and authoritarianism. In order to demonstrate how this revolutionary legacy went unrealised in Chiapas I explore the changing contours of the state post-Revolution, notably in relation to issues of land and labour.

The years 1910–17 saw Mexico gripped by revolution. Driven by peasants and workers, the old oligarchic state of Porfirio Díaz was destroyed. Ultimately, however, the radical demands of some sections of the peasantry went unrealized, and instead the Revolution served as a key transformative moment that helped propel the growth of capitalism within the country (as I document elsewhere). Chiapas did not play a prominent role in the national Revolution as the peasantry there remained too weak and spatially isolated. Instead, they were mistreated by both sides during the upheavals. Whilst the initial fire of the Mexican Revolution had failed to spread to Chiapas, the Revolution’s ‘institutional’ phase led by Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–40) did begin the process of transforming socio-spatial relations in the region. Cardenismo, however, was a double-edged sword for the indigenous population, as, while giving them limited land redistribution, it also tied them further to the state’s corporatist control and reduced their autonomy. Crucially, land reform was conducted in a manner that did not adversely affect large land holdings, but did provide land for some communities thereby serving to quell emergent radical demands. By 1950, 47% of land formerly held as fincas had been transformed into ejidal property (a collective form of property over which peasant had usufruct rights but which was ultimately state owned). However, as was frequently the case nationally, this was done in a manner in which landowners retained power. Far from leading to the straightforward modernization of the region, it confirmed the existence of old forms of authority, while also leading to extensive capital investment in things like cattle ranching, the incipient development of an industrial sector and the continuation of the export economy, most notably in coffee. In this manner, despite apparent agrarian reform, the landowning class still retained their economic dominance whilst the limited land base of peasant communities served to necessitate poorly compensated wage labour. The state-led modernization of Chiapas thus enhanced commercialization but without damaging the traditional elite  - ‘la Familia Chiapaneca’ - in a classic example of passive revolutionary activity.
As the peasantry were drawn into the national state building project of import-substitution industrialization, Chiapas was treated as an internal colony, providing abundant resources for the national state whilst the majority of the population continued to live in dire poverty. Subcomandante Marcos, spokesperson of the Zapatistas, would later declare, ‘The tribute that capitalism demands from Chiapas has no historical parallel’. Social stratification along race and class lines increased and the state struggled to control this volatile process, evidenced by the forming of independent peasant unions outside of the traditional tight corporatist control. This was also linked to a broader crisis in agriculture (hitherto the main form of employment in Chiapas) as guaranteed prices for coffee and corn began to fall and machinery replaced human labour. Cattle ranching also expanded at the expense of ejidos during the 1970s. Taken together this caused a 30% drop in the number of people able to derive their living from agriculture. This misery was briefly alleviated with public works programs in the 1970s. However, when the debt crisis struck Mexico in 1982 these were curtailed and the situation compounded by falling subsidies, fluctuating commodity prices and the lack of access of credit for small farmers. The final straw for the indigenous peasantry was the repeal of Article 27 of the Mexican constitution in 1992 (as a prelude to NAFTA), which had promised to provide land for those without it. This truly signaled the end of the Revolution (or rather its abdication by the state) and foreclosed the legalistic options previously pursued.
Declaring ‘Ya Basta’ (enough is enough), the Zapatistas took it upon themselves to transform the social conditions of Chiapas, not waiting for a state that was no longer able or willing to listen to their needs but rather launching an armed uprising to put their demands into practice. In the years that followed, hundred of thousands of hectares of land, formerly held in as private property, were taken over, or as the Zapatistas put it, recuperated. This recuperated land is the territorial and material basis of Zapatismo upon which their project of autonomous politics, economics and justice is founded (which I wrote more about here). Over the last twenty years, the Zapatistas have attempted to construct a new geographical framework of power from that previously recognized by the state.
However, the the Zapatista project has of course been taking place concomitantly with increased activities of the state to re-absorb this social struggle into its hegemonic structure. The response by the Mexican state has gone through various phases. The first of these (supported by international capital) was a direct military attack aimed at coercing the recalcitrant population and eliminating the Zapatistas: it failed as civil society flocked to the support of the Zapatistas. The direct military response has since been replaced by subtler means of economic coercion and political pressure, in conjunction with the use of state-backed paramilitary violence against the Zapatista communities, beginning a new cycle of passive revolutionary initiative. Among the inducements offered to non-Zapatistas are promises of land certification, aid programs and territorial reconfiguration, which included the notoriously inept rural cities development. This has taken place in tandem with a broader drive to implement an ecological model of capitalism in Chiapas (ignoring the contradictions between eco-tourism, road-building, air-travel and monoculture). Intra-communal rivalry has been heightened as a result, due to the fact that the Zapatistas steadfastly refuse to accept any governmental aid. Whereas other peasant organisations have, by and large, been successfully absorbed into the state’s projects, the Zapatistas are the only significant group in Chiapas still fighting for fundamental land rights.
I believe two interrelated issues can be learned from this. First, in line with Gramsci’s exhortation to strip the concept of defeatism and fatalism, we must recognize that any attempts by the state to forge a passive revolution remain provisional. As Gramsci stated, “the conception remains a dialectical one – in other words, presupposes, indeed postulates as necessary, a vigorous anti-thesis which can present intransigently all its potentialities for development.” The Zapatistas enduring struggle is testament to these words. However, the opposite lesson must be learned for resistance movements and their interaction with state power, with the dangers or absorption and neutralization ever present. Concurrent with Anne Showstack Sasson, passive revolution therefore can serve, not just as an interpretation of events, but also as guide and theoretical reflection for thinking about social change. The concept can thus aid our understanding of political struggle, not so much in providing an answer to Lenin’s famous question of ‘What is to be done?’ but rather as a strategic orientation as to what is to be avoided.