Marcos on culture, chess, clocks and boots

English translation for publication by NAP
courtesy of Irlandesa

Originally published in Spanish by the EZLN
Translated by irlandesa

Text presented by Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos at the “Paths of Dignity: Indigenous Rights, Memory and Cultural Heritage” intercultural meeting, held on March 12, 2001 in the Olympic Village Sports Center, organized by the ENAH, and with the participation of José Saramago, Alain Touraine, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Bernard Cassen, Carlos Monsiváis, Elena Poniatowska, Carlos Montemayor and Pablo González Casanova.

March 12, 2001.

A good noontime to all:

We would like to express our appreciation to the National School of Anthropology and History for giving us the opportunity to say our word alongside these persons who, in addition to their bringing words to the light of day, are also human beings who are accompanying a struggle which is circumscribed solely within the greatest of humanity.

It is not easy to begin this talk.

Not just because the lights accompanying us are dazzling and leave very few dark spaces, the favorite haunt of the shadows which we are.

But also because an impertinent beetle has prevented me from preparing something calm and sound, interrupting me with all kinds of absurd and unintelligible things.

Perhaps you have heard talk of him before, the self-styled “Don Durito of the Lacandona,” and his self-appointed mission of, as he says, righting wrongs and coming to the aid of the needy and helpless. For some reason which I am not able to understand, Durito has decided that I fit into the category of the needy and helpless and, he says, my entire life is a wrong. And you know that what has kept me up all these days has not been the volume of Fox’s contradictory statements, nor the death threats so lavishly proffered by the National Action Party. No, it’s been Durito, who has been determined that that the bus is not a bus, but a vessel, and the march does not, in reality, march, but rather sails, since it is the sea which supports it.

According to the little I’ve been able to figure out, Durito is going to the rock concert which is going to take place today in the Zócalo of Mexico City, in which, as we are told, Joaquín Sabina, Maldita Vecindad, Santa Sabina and Panteón Rococó will be participating, as well as a good number of young people.

But that, as is everything in this march, is a story yet to be told.

In culture, zapatismo has been able to find generous ears and echoes which speak their own dignity. In music, especially in rock, in the visual arts and the stage, in letters and in scientific research, we have found good, human, people, who are following their own paths of dignity. And so we would like to take advantage of this event to give our regards to all those men and women who are fighting for humanity in culture.

In order to speak as zapatistas about the paths of dignity, we will recount a tale which is called:


“In their solemn corner, the players control the slow pieces. The board delays them until dawn in their strict arena in which two colors despise each other.


When the players have gone,
When time has consumed them,
The rhythm will certainly not have stopped.


The player is also prisoner (the sentence is by Omar) of another board of black nights and white days.

God moves the player, and he the piece. What God behind God begins the plot Of dust and time and dream and suffering?”

Jorge Luis Borges.

This is the tale:

A group of players had found themselves immersed in an important chess game. An indigenous approached, observed, and asked what they were playing. No one answered. The indigenous went over to the board and contemplated the position of the pieces, the serious, frowning faces of the players, the expectant attitude of those gathered around them. He repeated his question. One of the players went to the trouble of responding: “It’s something you wouldn’t be able to understand, it’s a game for important, wise people.” The indigenous remained silent and continued to observe the board and the opponents’ moves. After a time, he ventured another question: “And why do you play if you already know who’s going to win?” The same player who had responded previously said to him: “You’ll never understand, this is for specialists, it’s beyond your intellectual grasp.” The indigenous didn’t say anything. He continued looking and he left. A little while later, he returned, carrying something with him. Without saying a word, he went over to the game table and he placed an old, mud covered boot on the middle of the board. The players were taken aback, and they looked at him angrily. The indigenous smiled maliciously, asking: “Check?”

End of Story.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the English poet of the cusp of the 18th and 19th centuries, wrote: “If a man were to cross through Paradise in a dream, and they gave him a flower as proof that he had been there, and if, upon awakening, he were to find that flower in his hand...what then?”

In this March of Indigenous Dignity, we zapatistas have seen a part of the map of the national tragedy which is not shown on primetime on the radio and television news programs. Any of those present here might argue that that has no merit whatsoever, and that a march wasn’t necessary in order to realize that the Mexico of below is the majority, in numbers and in poverty.

But I did not come to talk to you about poverty rates, about constant repression, or about deceptions.

During this march, the zapatistas have also seen part of rebel Mexico, and this seeing themselves and seeing others, is nothing other than dignity. The Mexico of below, especially the indigenous, speak to us of a history of struggle and resistance which comes from afar and which beats in the today of every place. Yes, but it is also a history which looks forward.

>From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast to the Zócalo of Mexico City, the zapatistas have crossed a territory of rebellion which has given us a flower of dark dignity as proof that we were there. We have reached the center of Power, and we find that we have that flower in our hands, and the question, as in Coleridge, is “what then?”

Contrary to what the columnists of the political class might suppose, the question does not refer to what follows, but rather to what that dark flower means. And, above all, to what it means in the future.

I know that, in these times of modernity, where intellectual quotients are replaced by bank accounts, poetry by advertising spots, and science by verbal diarrhea, speaking of dreams can only sound anachronistic.

Nonetheless, the struggle of the Indian peoples for their dignity is fundamentally a dream, indeed, a very otherly dream.

The indigenous struggle in Mexico is a dream which not only dreams the tomorrow which includes the color of the earth, it is, also and above all, a dream which fights to hasten the awakening of that tomorrow.

We Indian peoples have reappeared precisely when what they have denied us has seemed most strong and solid. And our dream has already exactly foretold that the monuments which neoliberalism is erecting to themselves are nothing but future ruins.

The power wants to ensnare the indigenous struggle in nostalgia, chest beating and the crafts “boom.” It wants to fence in the Indian struggle within the framework of the past, something like “the past reaches out to us with its unpaid accounts,” to use the marketing language which is so fashionable. As if settling these accounts would be the effective solvent for wiping out that past, and then the “today, today, today” which Fox used as an election platform and uses as a government program, could reign without any problems. The same “today” which neoliberalism has converted into a new religious faith.

If we warn that they are trying to make the indigenous movement fashionable, we are not referring only to the PR efforts which are trying to contain it.

After all, fashion is nothing more than a return to a past whose final horizon is the present, the today, right now, the fleeting moment.

In the struggle for dignity, there is an apparent turn to the past, but, and this is fundamental, the final horizon is the future.

To put it in other terms, neoliberalism, which is nothing other than a fashion — that is, a turn to the past with the horizon of the present (that is why the “neo” which gives the present to the liberalism of yesteryear) — conceives of the current world as the only one possible, as the culmination of the ages (that’s why Fox says, and says to himself, that all progressive struggle has now ended with his reaching Power), and his intellectuals and image advisors (that is, if there is any difference between the two) take aim at the clock of history in order to stop time, and thus ensure that there will be no tomorrows other than the one they are presiding over.

Neoliberal intellectuals, in contrast with their predecessors, have renounced the historic initiative, and they are no longer announcing the future. Not because they are unable to see it, but because they are afraid of it.

The Mexican indigenous struggle has not come to turn back the clock. It is not about returning to the past and declaiming, in an emotional and inspired voice, that “all previous times were better.” I believe they would have tolerated, and even applauded, that.

No, we Indian peoples have come in order to wind the clock and to thus ensure that the inclusive, tolerant and plural tomorrow — which is, incidentally, the only tomorrow possible — will arrive.

In order to do that, in order for our march to make the clock of humanity march, we Indian peoples have resorted to the art of reading what has not yet been written. Because that is the dream which animates us as indigenous, as Mexicans and, above all, as human beings. With our struggle, we are reading the future which has already been sown yesterday, which is being cultivated today, and which can only be reaped if one fights, if, that is, one dreams.

To the skepticism made State doctrine, to neoliberal indifference, to the cynical realism of globalization, we Indian peoples have countered with memory, the word and the dream.

By throwing ourselves with everything we have into this fight, the Mexican indigenous, as individuals and as collective, have operated with a universally human impulse, that of rebellion. It has made us a thousand times better than before, and it has turned us into an historic force, not for its significance in terms of books or monuments, but for its ability to make history, in that way, in lower case.

The key of the story “The Player” is not in the old boot full of mud which interrupts and subverts the media chess game of the gentlemen of power and money, and the game that exists between those who have made politics the art of simulation and deception. The essential is in the laugh which the indigenous laughs, and that he knows something. He knows that the other player, who is himself, is missing there, and the other who is not him but who is also other and who is missing. But he knows, above all, that it is not true that the fight has ended and that we have lost. He knows that it has barely begun. And he knows it not because he knows, but because he dreams.

In short, we indigenous are not part of yesterday, we are part of tomorrow.

And, given boots, culture and tomorrows, we are reminded of what we wrote some time ago, looking back and dreaming ahead:

“A boot is a boot which has lost its way, and which is looking for what all boots long for, that is, a bare foot.”

And it comes to mind because, in the morning which we are dreaming, there will be no boots, nor jeans nor soldiers, but bare feet, which is how feet should be when the morning is barely beginning.

Thank you.

From the National School of Anthropology and History.

Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos.

Mexico, March of 2001.

P.S. — I know that it might be disconcerting to some that, in speaking of culture from the indigenous point of view, I recur to other voices, Borges and Coleridge in this case, but that is how I remind myself, and remind you, that culture is a bridge for everyone, above calendars and borders, and, as such, must be defended. And so we say, and say to ourselves, no to cultural hegemony, no to cultural homogeneity, and no to any form of hegemony and homogeneity.