Autonomy and difference go hand in hand, because autonomy implies that people have the right to govern themselves completely, “to determine their own form of government, their own sociocultural practices, and their own economic organization” (Díaz Polanco and Sánchez 2002, 45).
This point is extremely important because autonomy is often reduced to the function of government—this is how the powerful often receive the peoples’ demands for autonomy. In contrast, the Zapatista experience teaches us that autonomy is comprehensive and strategic—ranging from the smallest cooperative, to a school or a health center in the jungle—reflecting the form and manner in which each projects is carried out, in whom sovereignty resides, how they make decisions, and how they organize themselves.
Autonomy and heterogeneity are also related. If we are truly autonomous, each collective will do things as they decide. This enormous diversity is what the Zapatistas call “another world in which many worlds fit” and it shows us that “it is possible to act uniformly without suppressing diversity.” In that sense, the Good Government councils “are an instance of unified action rather than a mechanism of uniformity, to the extent that they do not centralize powers or dictate the terms of the base” (Ornelas 2004, 10). In this way, the Zapatistas cannot help but to undermine the homogenizing and excluding practices of capital. The political left replicates these modes of capitalism by seeking the cohesion and uniformity of anti-systemic forces, while, for the Zapatistas, “the multiplication of the subject of social transformation is the alternative to the mechanisms of power that characterize the capitalist system” (Ornelas 2004, 11).
Raúl Zibechi, Territories in Resistance
We often imagine autonomy as the aim of social movements, falling then into the inevitable debates about political means and ends, assuming throughout that these are distinct, that the movement must have a predefined subject-identity (e.g., worker, woman, black, etc), that they have demands to address to power or power to take. And at whatever step in this process, so conceived, “autonomy” is constantly coerced into pre-established moulds.
If then we imagine autonomy as the creation of societies in movement, then then the theoretical and practical ground shifts from beneath our feet: means and ends are bound together in ways of being, political subjects become unstable, and rather than seeking to address or control power, ways of life are generated that may reach out, unpredictably, beyond capitalist social relations and modes of reproduction.
Raúl Zibechi so reads the contemporary politics of anti-capitalism in south america, and we share below a review of his collection essays entitled “Territories in Resistance: A Cartography of Latin American Social Movements”, (AK Press, 2012) as well as a link to an online-pdf version of an earlier collection of essays with the title “Dispersing Power: Social Movements as Anti-State Forces”. (AK Press, 2010)