One of a series of interconnected notes
prepared by Acción Zapatista de Austin
Neoliberalism and Identity
Neoliberalism’s most dramatic impact on indigenous
communities has been its attack on their access to land.
Throughout North America NAFTA has provided a rationale
for new enclosures of indigenous lands for purposes of
commercial exploitation. In Canada indigenous land claims
are being overridden with growing ferocity. In the US efforts
to privatize public lands and commercialize indigenous ones
are rampant. In Mexico the privatization of ejidal lands is
aimed at their concentration in the hands of agribusiness.
On a world scale the GATT has provided a rationale for the
enclosure of all public and indigenous lands and the reduction
of life everywhere to private property exploitable for private
gain. Such enclosure degrades all of nature to a mere “natural
resource” to be raped via mining, clear cutting, ranching, the
rip off of indigenous knowledge or genetic engineering. But
such enclosures not only destroy the land, its flora and fauna,
mountains, river systems and oceans. It also wipes out the
material foundations of indigenous community survival and
As a replacement for the cultures undermined, and for the
self-determined identities of those excluded from the land,
neoliberalism offers only the hollow rhetoric of development
and a new identity of “homo economicus” --the selfish
economic person without ties to others and standing alone in
work and consumption . The rhetoric is hollow because it
hides a vast concentration of wealth and spreading poverty.
Homo economicus is not only an impoverished abstraction
but even the usual formulation of “consumer” rings false
amidst starvation wages and endless work for the wealthy.
Indigenous Resistance to Neoliberalism
From local artisan and farming cooperatives to human rights
watchgroups and armed guerrilla movements, indigenous
peoples throughout the Americas have organized themselves
to resist such attacks.
Local coalitions have merged to form
multi-ethnic alliances and multi-national organizations that
recognize the common struggles that all indigenous and
subordinate groups face. The Foro Nacional Indigena in
Mexico stands as an exemplary model of this movement. This forum allows for
permanent dialog among indigenous communities and
opportunities for joint action against potentially devastating
neoliberal policies at both local and national levels.
Decades of repression and subsequent political struggle have
developed strong, vibrant and militant indigenous movements
that present sophisticated, well-organized challenges to the
capitalist system and the new era of neoliberal policymaking.
Because of their well-developed sense of purpose, of the clarity
of their autonomous conceptions of alternative, non-capitalist
ways of being and doing, the influence of these indigenous
movements has reached far beyond their own communities and
organizations. Their ideas and self-activity have come to
provide models of organization against neoliberalism for others
engaged against the same enemy. Perhaps most obvious in this
regard has been the struggles of those concerned with
ecological degradation who have often looked to the
indigenous for alternative approaches to the relations between
humans and nature.
Indigenous Leadership Against Neoliberalism
With the development of the struggles against neoliberalism
around the world, growing numbers have also come to
appreciate the politics of indigenous networking: collaboration
with respect for autonomy and new, creative ways of
discussing democracy, justice and peace. Through their
discussions of self-determination and democratic practices
rooted in community-level cultural, political and economic
traditions and needs, the international indigenous movement
has reinvigorated debates over developing democratic practices
and alternative community consciousness in many nonindigenous
left and radical communities.
The indigenous movement has placed community autonomy at
the center of the development of democratic practices and the
renewal of community consciousness and identity. Indigenous
autonomy goes beyond simple economic self-determination to
include social, cultural, legal and political community
autonomy. This notion of autonomy recognizes local and
ethnic differences and is not based on a universal notion of
rights, needs, culture and desires but on a plurality of political,
economic and cultural systems. This conception of autonomy
allows for a radical pluralism that accepts and fosters both
differences an dialog among people everywhere --an essential
ingredient of a better world.