Review of Gustavo Esteva’s talk on Anarchy and Buen Vivir at Kimmage - All Power to the Imagination


It does not prove difficult to persuade an anarchist to go to a meeting with the subtitle ‘ Anarchy and Buen Vivir (Good living)’ and more especially when the speaker, Gustavo Esteva, has direct links with the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN) who inspired the world with their uprising in 1994.

Gustavo was invited to speak by the Kimmage Development Studies Centre (DSC) as part of their 40th year celebrations. Gustavo addressed the gathering in the parish hall and started with the position that Development was counterproductive. Considering this was the Kimmage DSC’s raison d'être is to facilitate education and training for development practitioners, this was a sharp starting point.

Esteva addressed the issue by considering what the good life looked like and how it had become an idealised version which came from Hollywood. In the early years there was the idea of development as a chance for the ‘developing’ countries to catch up.

In 1960 the richer countries were 20 times richer, by 1980 they were 46 times richer, by the year 2000 the world banks worked out that Mauritania was 2,000 years behind, Mexico a mere 400 years. In all that time development had served to be counterproductive. After the uprising of the EZLN in the Lacandon Jungle aid poured in and Sub-commandante Marcos carried a single red stiletto shoe in his back pack as an emblem of the futility of it. He also communicated to the world that we should be a Zapatista where you are.

We’ve moved towards the idea that it is impossible to catch up, so the shift in emphasis went towards poverty, and the nastier fallout of savage capitalism, as witnessed by Bono and Bill Gates and the philanthropic types, but in reality their work is to protect capitalism. Aid has proven to be an obstacle to social transformation. Food aid produces hunger. Medical Aid increases sickness. Financial aid leads to bankruptcy. Esteva maintains that the top aid agency in the world, FINNIDA, from Finland, actually admits that what they try and do is minimise the damage, but the head of that agency admits that they know that damage is inevitable in their work.

He then moved onto look at democracy, and the actual meaning of that word which appears to be so lost to many of us now. What is democracy? Is it the active participation of people in the decisions that directly affects them? It has never existed, what Occupy Wall Street so beautifully illustrated was that the Government represent the 1% and contain and control the 99%.

Our dreams don’t fit into the ballot box.

Jefferson said when then the governments are afraid of people we have freedom when the people have fear of the governments we have tyranny Now we have both, at this time throughout the world.

Gustavo said that we had at the moment a crisis of imagination. Workers out in the streets marching with their Trade Unions for jobs that were never coming back is a sign of this crisis.

In 1982 in Mexico the Government had a choice and they choose to save the banks, and the people of Mexico are still paying back that debt, over half of the GDP, for that decision. So too it goes in the developed world and our recent decisions.

Power Examined: the shade of a tree

Let us examine the question of power. Hegel believed that people cannot govern themselves. Esteva disagrees with this. He told the story of an indigenous man being elected in Oaxaca. There was a big plenary session with many people there, over 16 languages spoken by the many assembled, and they spoke for ten hours. Eventually one old man came across to deliver the message to the new governor for what they wanted from him, ‘You are to be like the shade of a tree.’ The people never considered that they would be governed by this guy, but from time to time they may need to get some protection from him. Also, the tree is rooted in the ground, from that area, for those people who live there.

The recent announcement of the retirement of Subcommandante Marcos was addressed in relation to this. The construction of Marcos was initially needed as a way to communicate to the world, but this ‘hologram’ is no longer needed. The Zapatistas in Chiapas have taken the power for themselves, and now the indigenous people are in charge, they own and work the land, they export coffee and fancy boots and with that money they run medical clinics, radio stations, and so much more. The live in one of the safest places on earth and yet there are no jails nor police. A society run on love and respect, the Zapatistas do not suffer from a crisis of imagination, they are non-conformists, they are the dreamers.

Too often people get trapped into the structures of now. Take over the state, and bring about a workers state. That is not going to happen; it was never built for that purpose. That Leninist revolution paradigm is over. This is more of the crisis of imagination.

Bon viveur is living well, a good life.

The new society is already being created, is living well, self -sufficient, autonomous, singular and unique but also typical of what is happening around the planet

New types of social relations of production are being created every day, based on the three pillars friendship, hope and surprise.

Gustavo finished his inspirational with this these words from Howard Zinn

‘Revolutionary change is something immediate that we are doing every day`.

WORDS: Dermot