From despair to hope
Reviewed by Shelley Walia

Our Word Is Our Weapon
by Marcos 
Seven Stories Press, New York 
Pages 456 $18.50

‘In Mexico, the past reappears because it is a hidden present’ — Octavio Paz

Keeping in view that global grassroots movements of insurrection and counteraction are intended largely for social transformation, Our Word Is Our Weapon traces the new era of indigenous protest movements against capitalism from 1994 to the present. Making a case for the significance of art and literature and its impact on politics, the writer, Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, argues that peaceful activism is possible in the war on human exploitation.

As Emiliano Zapata, a Mexican revolutionary, said in a speech in 1914: "It is not only by shooting bullets in the battlefield that tyranny is overthrown, but also by hurling ideas of redemption, words of freedom and terrible anathema against the hangmen that people bring down dictators and empires." This activism manifested in separate movements around the world "converses, recognises each other as allies and struggles together, always aware that the unsung efforts of people everywhere work for no reward except the sweet knowledge that they are in the right place, at the right time in history, doing the right thing."

The struggle for freedom took off on the New Year's Day in 1994 when the residents of a district in the South of Mexico know as Chiapas revolted against the American backed military regime and multinational corporations that so greedily engineered their capitalist adventures in a land that held steadfastly to its history and its unblemished environment. The movement would give an impetus to other resistance movements across the world, deafeningly echoing in the rich centres of neoliberalism such as Seattle, Prague, Geneva, Washington and Durban. Indeed, the protests resounded with "their poets songs, dreamer's dreams, their rebels' calls`85snatching their past, their present and their future from the stranglehold of the powerful and the rich" and giving it back to the land to which they rightly belonged.

Using poetry and political theatre, over the last two decades, the Zapatista Movement set out to ensure that US hegemony does not reach their land and that NAFTA (the North American Foreign Trade Association) is kept out so that the imbalance and disorder created in the name of globalisation is checked.

The impact of this anti-capitalist protest has reached countries like Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela and has had a deep impact on the indigenous movements in Asia and Africa.

In this free market dramatics, global transformist thought in areas of social justice, universal human rights, rule of law and transnational camaraderie remains singularly an aspiration of survival and a motivating force behind all liberatory movements.

These protests have had this transcendental simplicity that had become the motivating factor for volunteers to come forth, and in the words of Che Guevara, "`85forget any idea of glory, confront earthly perils without fear, stand up in this particular tropical region and say ‘here we are, here we want to build a new society, in which the fruits of our labours will not be taken away, where our rights will not be violated, where joy is not privatised, where culture is within everybody's reach, where the smell of bread fills our homes, and dreams come with the sunrise to dislodge the terrors of the night. If you want to stop us, you will have to come and find us, and understand that we will fight."’

Marcos has poetically put down his views in this collection of his literary, philosophical, and political writings on the history of dominance using memory and the suffering of his people as witness. The book is full of meticulous detail and deep political conviction that gives the narrative a touch of anger and tenderness so deeply human and committed to the cause of egalitarianism, a defense of human rights in opposition to brutal military dictatorship and repressive capitalism. Though a revolutionary with firsthand experience of dreams and disillusions, sickness and health, heaven and hell, Marcos has created a world of pain and death, of tyrants and martyrs, of hopes and failures.