New World of Indigenous Resistance

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* Book: New World of Indigenous Resistance. Noam Chomsky and Voices from North, South and Central America. Edited by Louis Meyer and Benjamin Maldonado Alvarado, City Lights Books, 2010, pp. 416.


Davide Torri:

"New World of Indigenous Resistance explores the meaning of indigenous unrest at the beginning of the 21st Century. This is done through long interviews with Noam Chomsky and the answers he received from a wide selection of American Voices, often speaking directly from the field.

The starting point is the Oaxaca Movement, in Mexico: in 2004 an indigenous movement broke out, requesting dignity and equal rights for the population. An innovative educational project was launched, based on the links between scholarisation, language(s) and communities. The Mexican stateformation process was leaving behind indigenous communities, and scholarisation was, under a veneer of modernisation, just a way to homogenise them into an obedient class of low-waged workforce. At the same time, it was destroying local cultures and communities.

In a couple of years, in 2006, the movement was so strong and diffused that it was able to seize the power for seven months. During that time, Oaxaca was administered through the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO, Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca). Conflict with the State was inevitable, and bloody: Oaxaca Popular Assembly was defeated and many people were killed.

The book revolves around the concept of comunalidad as a new category of thought in the dialectic of power between State and Society. An indigenous category, elaborated through the practice of conflict and resistance against Statepromoted initiatives: ‘Indigenous Comunalidad reaches far beyond Western ideas of cooperation, collectivization, or social concern for the other, addressing the philosophical, moral, even spiritual question: what, or who, is the very ground of existence, both human and cosmic?’ (p. 23). For the indigenous communities, on a deeper ontological level, the land does not belong to those who work it. This could appear like a great gap between the Indigenist and Marxist thought, but, as Chomsky points out quoting Rosa Luxemburg: ‘we are never going to have socialism until there is a spiritual transformation among the population to recognise a different array of values’ (p. 353).

The school is another battlefield for the Indigenist movement, and an ambiguous one: as one commentator says, in Bolivia during the first half of the twentieth century the movements fought for access to scholarisation and access to the Spanish language; then, in the second half, for the equally important preservation of their own languages. Several commentators deal with the state-controlled and organised school system as an instrument of oppression used against marginal communities.

But they also recognise the progressive role a local-centered and administered school could have: the use of local idioms and knowledges together with the usual school subjects will produce a conducive environment for the new generations.

The book explores also the implication of NAFTA agreements, and the alternatives brought forth by the Zapatistas, Via Campesina and the leftist governments of Brasil, Venezuela, Bolivia. The book is intended as an ongoing conversation offering a vision of indigenous resistance, survival and possibly a new hope for the future." (