The Virtual and Real Chiapas Support Network:

A review and critique of
Judith Adler Hellman's "Real and Virtual Chiapas: Magic Realism and the Left", Socialist Register, 2000.

The emergence of cyberspace as a new terrain of social struggle was initially met by the Left in three dominant ways. First, there were those who enthusiastically joined contemporary postmodern celebratory fantasizing on virtuality and simulacra. Some of these may have theorized on the basis of little or no real experience in cyberspace but some spun their constructions from the threads of their own experience. Second, there were those who reacted with disdain or skepticism, deriding activists engaged in this new terrain as lazy, button-pushers too comfortable in front of their computers to engage in "real" struggle. Many of these carped from the outside never having put a finger to a keyboard although a few spoke from brief and disillusioned experience. Third, there were those activists who neither fantasized nor condemned but elaborated struggles in cyberspace developing new spaces to achieve their political goals. Many of us in this third group were already involved in struggles elsewhere and anxious to harness what we saw as new tools and to explore new potentialities. Some were computer techies, turned political through their experiences with state and corporate constraints on their activities.

Over time, the numbers of those in the third group has grown and our successes in the use of cyberspace have multiplied to the point of eclipsing the first group and overcoming much of the skepticism of the second. An early experience that taught many activists in North America the usefulness of the Internet was the tri-national struggle against NAFTA involving hundreds of groups in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Although that effort failed, its experience lay the groundwork for others, including the widespread use of the Internet to circulate information against the Gulf War in 1990-1991 and against the Mexican government's military repression of the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas in 1994 and 1995. Throughout the 1990s activists in struggle after struggle created new zones of cyberspace in which to share information, discuss tactics and strategy and evaluate both their own experiences and those of others. By the later half of the decade the number of interlinkages among struggles increased to the point of making not merely local, but global actions possible. Indeed, in the last five years activists using the Internet have played a key role in the organization of a series of global political mobilizations that have, for the first time in history, contested capitalist Power at the supranational level.

The First and Second Zapatista Encounters Against Neoliberalism and For Humanity in 1996 and 1997 gathered thousands of grassroots activists from a multiplicity of struggles to share experience and discuss how to interlink and combine efforts at a global scale. The People`s Global Action, directly inspired by the Zapatista networks, and bringing together movements from Europe, North America and Asia launched international caravans of mobilization and a global anti-WTO action in Geneva in May 1998. A year later on June 18, 1999 a world wide, coordinated effort saw hundreds of groups in dozens of cities on several continents participate in a Day of Action against neoliberal policies. The anti-WTO Battle of Seattle in November 1999 and the anti-IMF/World Bank Actions in Washington D.C. in April 2000 were not only made possible by, but building on the cyberspacial experience of the Zapatista encounters, were able to extend, real-time those mobilizations throughout cyberspace due to the efforts of new, innovative Independent Media Centers operating through the World Wide Web. Today, IMCs are multiplying and as the Internet spreads and increases in density its role in facilitating efforts to rollback neoliberal policies and to elaborate alternatives continues to grow. This reality has made it impossible for large numbers of people on the Left to ignore the importance of this new terrain and its centrality in contemporary efforts to change the world. For the most part, postmodern criticism has become a sideshow and Left critiques of the "virtuality" of cyberspacial struggles have been toned down or disappeared. For the most part, activists no longer question the importance of cyberspace but are busy figuring out how to maximize its potential and overcome its limitations, how to interlink it with other kinds of efforts to maximize their effectiveness while staving off counter efforts, especially by the state, to undermine this new highly effective terrain.

There remain, unfortunately, those on the Left who, instead of joining in these efforts to increase the effectiveness of our use of the Internet, peck away from the outside, deriding what they see as the limitations of struggles on this terrain while condemning with faint praise what little they do recognize as having been accomplished. The most extensive example of such criticism that I have come across is an article by Judith Adler Hellman. The article was originally published in Spanish in Este Pais in 1999 and subsequently published in English in the annual Socialist Register 2000. In that article Hellman, author of Mexican Lives, (New York: The New Press, 1994, reprinted with a new "Afterward" in 1999), lays out a sweeping indictment of the cyberspacial network of activists who have acted in support of the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas. She bases this indictment, as far as I can make out from the text, only on the basis of a few interviews in Mexico and a brief perusal of pro-Zapatista websites. The result is a highly unflattering and condescending portrayal of a network of enthusiastic and dedicated but naïve, ill-informed and lazy militants who spend their time banging away at computer keyboards creating web pages instead of engaging in either serious study of the complexities of the situation in Chiapas or in serious activism in "real" space. At the same time, Hellman also provides a sketch of the Zapatista movement itself that both misrepresents it and ignores its importance.

Given the very real importance of the Zapatista experience, both on the ground in Mexico and in its cyberspacial extension to the rest of the world through cyberspace, I take the trouble below to dissect and critique Hellman`s entire article, her representations, her analysis and her criticisms. I do this reluctantly because I don`t really think Hellman`s article will do much to undermine the struggles in either Mexico or cyberspace. But doing so does provide an opportunity to clarify some issues that are important to those of us engaged in these terrains of struggle. In what follows Hellman`s text is indented and in smaller font. Her footnotes are enclosed in parentheses and reproduced at the end of this essay.

The article begins:

Actually, Chiapas stood primarily at the periphery of Left perceptions of social conflict in the "Third World." Russia, Cuba, China, Indochina, Central America, South Africa, the Middle East were the "centers" of Left awareness in the 20th Century. Only the left-wing writer B. Traven in his novels of the 1920s paid much attention to the struggles of the indigenous and peasants in Chiapas. In Mexico, however, capitalist interests had long turned to Chiapas, to exploit its forests, its earth and later its water resources. Well before the Zapatista rebellion in 1994 giant hydroelectric projects had made Chiapas into a major provider of energy to much of Mexico.

At the same time that this paragraph both gives credit to the Zapatistas and their supporters and gives the reader a reason for continuing to read the article, it both misrepresents and understates the situation. In the first place, the analogy between the Incas` characterization of Cuzco as the "navel of the world" and Chiapas is badly put. The Zapatistas have been quite clear, and insistent, that they neither see themselves as the center of a global movement (the way the Soviets pretended during the period of the Third International) nor do they even hold their struggle up as a model for others to copy. What the Zapatista rebellion has become is a reference point, an inspiring example of imaginative and creative struggle where people have valiantly resisted the same kind of policies that many other peoples have been subjected to elsewhere, and, simultaneously elaborated alternative ways of organizing their own lives.

Second, Hellman repeats the myth that the Zapatistas are "foremost exponents" of "doing politics through electronic communications." This is a myth that needs to be laid to rest. During the ten years or so that the Zapatista movement was developing prior to 1994, there is no evidence that any of its communications involved cyberspace. Their communications networks were primarily word of mouth, some written materials and from time to time, the telephone. The elaboration of the globe circling electronic network of solidarity with the Zapatistas was done, not by them, but by those who sympathized with them and who linked their own struggles to those in Chiapas. As the reader will discover, a little further down in the article, Zapatista communiqués reach the Internet through mediators, through journalists or NGOs. Not only does Marcos not sit in the jungle uploading his communiqués to the Internet via modem and satellite uplink, but no one in the EZLN is on-line! What the Zapatistas have done is to recognize the importance of the Internet and at the First Intercontinental Encounter in the summer of 1996 called for the creation of an intercontinental network of communication. But even then the point was the interlinking and creation of an intercontinental network of struggle; there was no particular focus on the Internet. The closest things to a Zapatista presence on the Internet is the FZLN (Zaptista National Liberation Front) that operates news lists and web pages out of Mexico City and Enlace Civil, a non-governmental organization that has become a prime conduit for messages coming directly from Zapatista communities in struggle.

[NB: before going any further I want to note the following: while I, like Hellman, will use the term "solidarity networks" repeatedly, in the case of the Zapatistas and those who support them this does not have the traditional meaning of those who work only to provide support to some worthy group. The Zapatistas have been quite explicit about wanting to link their struggles to those of others, not just having "others" work for them. This has been understood within the "solidarity" movement and as a general rule when one examines the various organizations of solidarity one finds groups that are also involved in local struggles as well as in providing "support" to the Zapatistas. For those in the "solidarity networks" on the Internet, one dimension of our efforts has been to facilitate linkages between the Zapatistas and other groups in struggle.]

"As seen from a great distance." With these six words Hellman subtly begins her polemic. We can already suspect that in what follows, starting with the Italians, she will be talking about those who "only" know events in Chiapas at a "great distance" and we already suspect, that their knowledge will be flawed.

At this point the polemic abandons subtlety for nastiness. The Left, she suggests, is not only "attached to" but "obsessed" with Chiapas. Both of these terms are characterizations of emotions, of passions. The image she evokes is not that of activists drawn to support the Zapatistas for rational reasons, for example because it does provide an excellent critique of neoliberalism and because it is imaginative in its methods and innovations. No, it is an image of irrational, and thus unwarranted, passions. When she suggests that Marcos' "utterances can be interpreted" to cover any event, speak to any need, she evokes the scam artist, the fortuneteller who spins ambiguities just to dazzle and to gain a buck. Lowy's words, dragged in presumably as second-hand evidence of this humbuggery, provide no such support. On the contrary, they suggest very different and very positive reasons why Marcos' words draw attention. Finally, it should be noted that nowhere does she give any example of any set of Marcos words that are ambiguous or of contradictory interpretations which they support. A skilled rhetorician could, of course, contrive such interpretations from any writing, but Hellman has not even bothered to do that. She is satisfied with leaving the impression of a world of gullible Leftists bedazzled by humbug.

Her second suggestion to explain the motivations of those who support the Zapatistas is no more flattering than the first:

In other words, if the "outsiders'" passions aren't just based on humbug it must just be another case of the "thirdworldism" that has often plagued alienated middle-class Leftists in the North. Why she picks on Sartre and de Beauvoir I don't know; she might more usefully, for an English speaking audience, have pointed to Baran and Sweezy and the Monthly Review crowd of the 1950s who wrote of "people`s imperialism" and touted Cuba and China while ignoring working class struggle in the United States. She doesn`t answer her own rhetorical question of course; she leaves it hanging. But she leaves the reader with two initial images of Zapatista supporters: gullible and bamboozled and/or alienated and desperate.

When she turns from rhetorical questions to her own view of why so many people support the Zapatistas, we discover what she thinks is those supporters' third and equally unappealing trait: they are lovers of simple-minded dichotomies who refuse engage the real complexities of the situation.

Here we have the basic thrust of the whole piece. It is a tried and true rhetorical strategy: portray those you would critique as either unwilling or unable to confront the "complexity" of the issues and then win points by displaying your own better grasp of what they miss or by pointing to those who know better. It is similar to the strategy of branding an opponent's argument "inadequate." Because it is never possible for anyone to grasp every detail of a situation, any analysis can always be proved "inadequate" by bring up some aspects they have ignored. In this case what Hellman, who seems to have no personal knowledge of the situation at all, does is to drag in some well known academics and the results of a few interviews to argue that those in involved in the Zapatista support networks are ignorant, naïve, lazy and therefore must have bad politics. Moreover she proposes to "analyse" the specific way in which these well-intentioned fools have used the Internet.

On the one hand, Hellman is forced to recognize that despite its asserted deficiencies, the information relayed by Zapatista supporters has "saved countless lives" ­which of course has been a major goal of the movement. On the other hand, despite this success she is going to spend some thousands of words trying to convince us that that information "bears only a very partial resemblance to the "real" Chiapas." Now, like her previous evocation of simplicities, this "partial resemblance" is a characterization that can be made of absolutely any representation, no matter how exhaustive. It is never possible to completely and accurately represent any reality through any media, not the Internet, not books, not films, not articles or artwork. The real issue is not whether a given representation is exact but whether it achieves its goals. The only goal that she has evoked so far is that of saving lives and by that criterion, and her own account, the information circulated has been effective.

(Footnote 4) In this footnote Hellman specifies that by the "Internet" she means "the most commonly accessible sites that people interested in Chiapas would be most likely to find while surfing the world wide web." Despite the fact that the websites that she cites in her footnote contain the extensive archives of the listservs that deal with Chiapas (including Chiapas95, Chiapas-L and reg.mexico on PeaceNet) there is absolutely no evidence that Hellman spend any time at all researching these sources. This is a fundamental methodological flaw in her whole research because by limiting herself to websites (and only part of those sites at that) she limited herself to examining only those scattered moments that have been drawn out of the continuing flow of information on Chiapas that has circulated in the solidarity networks and placed on web pages. She is therefore completely blind to not only the vast majority of information that has circulated but to the daily experience of that flow. She could have sought to reconstruct that experience by reading the archives but there is no indication that she did. Many of the misrepresentations that fill her essay are the direct result of this neglect. The "Internet" is not the web. It is something much vaster and more alive. For the most part the web is a stock of accumulated pieces of information. Over time there is something like a flow as web pages are constructed and expanded, but it is generally slow and cumulative. The real flows are the daily postings of e-mail that circulate through the aforementioned listservs and PeaceNet conferences, that pour into the mailboxes of those in the solidarity networks throughout the day and night. No serious assessment of what is known by, or familiar to, those in the networks is possible without an examination of those flows. And no such examination informed this article.

Whether and to what degree, Hellman actually highlights any "political perils" of the solidarity movement I will leave aside for the moment. Certainly none are even evoked here.

What she does do is continue to vilify those in the solidarity movement in a condescending manner and to caricature them without any evidence whatsoever about real individuals. They are "disenchanted and discouraged people on the left" she says, who, out of their desperation are "passionately dedicated" to an illusion. They are simple-minded folk who "require unambiguously downtrodden indios who are homogeneously good and pure, etc." Who are these people? What are they disenchanted by and what has discouraged them? We donŐt know and she doesn't tell. The only group that I can think of that even begins to fit this description are those segments of the Old pro-Soviet Left in Latin America that fell apart with the collapse of the Wall in 1989, who abandoned revolutionary activity, often doing their best to join the establishment. Are these who she is referring to? Certainly, I can say, from within the Zapatista solidarity movement that the vast majority of the people there engaged have no such history. On the contrary, as suggested at the outset above, many in the movement cut their teeth in cyberspace in the very substantial, very complex battle around NAFTA. Though they lost that battle the experience of trans-border mobilization produced not disenchantment but further struggle and a new sense of possibilities. Perhaps Hellman can find a few individuals in the solidarity networks who fit her description, but she hasnŐt named any. All she has done is continue sketching a pathetic, disreputable cartoon figure to deride.

Moreover, she has yet to demonstrate the "flatness" she claims, the dramatic discrepancy between the representation of the situation in Chiapas and the "reality" on the ground, a "reality" whose difference from its representation, she claims, even casual (hers) acquaintance reveals.

At this point Hellman begins her sketch of the "real" situation in Chiapas based primarily on a handful of second-hand academic studies, what she calls "reliable accounts." This reliability, of course, is to be juxtaposed to the unreliability (because of its simple-mindedness) of the representation of the situation on the Internet.

The irony is that the very "reliable" sources she cites include precisely those books that have been consumed avidly within the solidarity network! Some examples: George Collier and Elizabeth Quarantiello's Basta! Land and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas (1994) and Neil Harvey, Rebellion in Chiapas (1998). In fact, Collier's writings on Chiapas in Cultural Survival were being shared and cited on the web well before his book appeared. And when it did appear not only did I review it and circulate that review in the cyberspacial spaces of the solidarity network, but also the review was so favorable that Collier sent me an e-mail of thanks! Similarly with Neil Harvey. Before his book appeared, Harvey's writings on Chiapas were circulated in working paper form and like Colliers' were widely shared and discussed in the solidarity network. When Gilly published El Vento del Sur, its issues were rapidly snatched up by the solidarity network. And the same has been true of the journal Chiapas.

There has, however, been one notable hurdle to the widely shared goal of circulating such material as quickly as possible on the Internet: the academic need for publication and for individualidentification with new ideas and research. There are academics otherwise quite willing to share their work with the solidarity networks who are loath to put material in cyberspace before it has been published in hard copy for fear that it will be "stolen" and someone else will get credit. And, after it has been so published they have often not retained copyrights so that they could so post the material.

This said, the truth of the matter is that a substantial component of the pro-Zapatista solidarity network is based in universities and part of their contribution to the movement has been to do what university types do by reflex: search out and identify, and then share, the best and most useful of academic work on the issue at hand. For Hellman to juxtapose these two domains as if they were separate and unconnected, displays not only a misunderstanding of those in the network, but of its very modes of functioning.

As for Hellman's opening description of the "complex" economic situation of Chiapas (that shows as I mentioned above how connected the state has been the rest of Mexican capitalism) that information is familiar to those in the network, if not from books like Harvey's and Collier's, then from Marcos' classic 1992 essay, "The South in Two Winds" that was not only widely distributed in cybperspace but also widely reproduced and circulated in hard copy.

All of this is well known to those in the solidarity networks who discovered this history the same way Hellman did, by reading good books by good people. She overstates the case about Chiapas being only recently pushed into the world economy. In truth the Spanish did that long ago and as Traven so vividly portrayed, some industries, like the lumber business, have been exploiting the people and forests of Chiapas for decades.

Not only is all this well known, but if Hellman had been familiar with the genesis of the Zapatista solidarity network she might have noted not only how the change in Article 27 was an attack on communal ejidal property aimed at bringing about the final enclosure of the Chiapan countryside, also how in part because of this, indigenous issues like land were an integral part of the discussions around the struggle to block the passage of NAFTA. There is a continuity here, not only in Chiapas but in the multinational circuits of struggle from which part of the Zapatista solidarity networks would spring.

While of this is more or less true, and well known, there are two problems with this brief synopsis. First, Hellman, in traditional orthodox Marxist fashion, locates the stimulus to change in the dynamics of capitalist development. State and private business intervention changes things and the peasants merely react to these exogenous forces. Second, that reaction is conceived first and foremost in terms of "consciousness" which is "heightened" by capitalist actions and brings on new forms of struggle. The problems are that in the both cases Hellman ignores the long history of indigenous struggle, both passive and violent, that marks the interactions of the people of Chiapas with their exploiters. The new state initiatives in Chiapas, as elsewhere in Mexico, came in response to wide variety of struggles against the PRIista single party state. "Populist programs" were the carrot that accompanied the stick of slaughter and repression that came in reaction to those struggles. The "heightened" consciousness evokes the specter of a long previous period of quietude when in fact a combination of resistance and the transformative use of tradition had long characterized the social scene in Chiapas, as elsewhere in Mexico. The changes Hellman has noted down from reading Collier and Harvey and others are important but as those authors know they were not sudden splashes in a hitherto quiet pool.

In terms of actual organizing Hellman's sketch of the emergence of a new cycle of struggle begins reasonably enough:

Except for portraying the indigenous as a passive set of victims only mobilized into action by Catholic professionals, this is an accurate enough sketch. A better one would require some account of the interaction of those professionals with the communities within which they moved ­the kind of account that Marcos has given of his own early encounters with the indigenous and how he soon discovered himself the student instead of the teacher. Although I have never seen such an account by the catechists who went into the villages, I suspect the story is much the same. As the indigenous have said about the new priest that recently replaced Samuel Ruiz, "donŐt worry, we'll educate him soon enough."

Once again, the portrayal here is completely one-sided: outside agitators who "organize" the peasants. It is good that Hellman recognizes (and it would be hard to miss in the books she has been reading) the linkages between the struggles of the 1960s and those of the 1970s. But we still await a better account of this encounter between students and peasants, or of the continuities between the peasant struggles of the 1960s (which were also violently repressed by the state) and those of the 1970s.

Again, on the whole, this is more or less accurate as a sketch of how the Zapatista movement emerged from within a larger cycle of struggle with a complex array of actors, both local and from the "outside." If I were telling the story I would put more emphasis on how "indigenous leadership" interacted with the "outsiders" and how the ideas of those "outsiders" were often appropriated and transformed by that leadership, but basically the text gives a flavor of the times. The only real shortcoming is the feeling one is left with that the Zapatista movement is only the latest, and perhaps most successful, example of a series of "outside" interventions. It would be more accurate to say that the Zapatista movement emerged from the way the communities digested all of these experiences and appropriated them for their own purposes. The Mexican government, like the white Southern power structure during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, has long attempted to portray the Zapatistas as a bunch of outside agitators manipulating the poor Indians. But as in the US South, the image is an intentional misrepresentation of a grassroots movement. Yes, outside agitators came in, both religious and secular. But the communities either chewed them up and spat them out (like the ex-Maoist Orive who joined the state and has played a key role in counterinsurgency efforts against the Zapatistas) or absorbed and transformed them (like Marcos).

This distinction is an important one, and one the Zapatistas have reiterated again and again. While they revere Che as a symbolic figure of the revolution in Latin America their methods and their politics have been entirely different. Che went to Bolivia, remained isolated and was tracked down and killed. Marcos went to Chiapas, was absorbed by the communities and remade as their spokesperson and intermediary to the world. The only thing that is missing here is the symbiosis between movement and communities. It is not that the Zapatistas are a military force, recruited from who knows where, that is "supported" by the villages. The Zapatistas are villagers who have joined the EZLN and taken up arms. The are supported in the sense of being supplied food and aid and information by their families and friends who continue the day to day activities of farming, hunting and gathering, artisanal and waged labor through which the communities survive.

The representation of the role of nationalism here is misleading. The Zapatistas have certainly reappropriated an array of history, personalities and icons of the Mexican revolution that began in 1910. Naming themselves after Emiliano Zapata is the most obvious example of this. However, this taking back from the state of the revolutionary tradition was only possible because of the way the Zapatistas rerooted that history in indigenous traditions of Chiapas. This is an important point because too often Left observers, especially anarchists, have sometimes cringed or exclaimed openly against the Zapatista use of nationalist symbols like the Mexican flag. Although they celebrate Zapata, it is as Votan-Zapata, an amalgam of real history and Mayan mythology that the Zapatistas root that history in the Chiapan soul. Marcos tells more stories of his indigenous mentor "Old Antonio" or of his master Don Durito de la Lacandona, a beetle, than he does of Zapata, or Villa, or any other Revolutionary Hero. The Zapatista reappropriation of Zapata is not "nationalistic" in the sense of being an ideological means to achieve or maintain the cohesiveness of a nationstate. They have simplely brought Zapata back to the people from whom he had been stolen.

As for their emphasis on the ways in which their struggles are "Mexican," either in their use of the flag or their appeals to the Mexican people, the Zapatistas have had to struggle from day one against the attempts of the Mexican state to isolate them. They have been accused of being Balkan-like successionists, of advocating a pan-Mayanism in which Chiapas might be stripped away from Mexico and joined to Guatemala. It is against such propaganda and such isolation that the Zapatistas have reached out to others in Mexico (and beyond) to speak of the ways in which their struggles are like those of others, of the ways they share common enemies. In this political struggle symbols have played an important role, but they must be understood in context and not in the abstract.

A second point, at the First Intercontinental Encounter in 1996 (Hellman got the date wrong), the Zapatistas convoked over three thousand activists from over forty countries to come to gather and to discuss, among themselves, the nature of neoliberalism and of struggles against it and to go beyond it. They were not, as Hellman suggests, simply articulating "internationally popular critiques of neoliberalism." Indeed, before the preliminary Continental Encounters organized in the Spring of that year, the very term "neoliberalism" was term known only in Latin America. (In the US a "neoliberal" was ex-ADA democrat turned free market republican!) Much of the Spring encounters involved discussion in Europe, North America and Asia of the meaningfulness of the term "neoliberalism" outside of Latin America. Once the essential commonalities between "neoliberalism" and Thatcherism and Maastricht and Shengen and Reaganomics and new classical economics were recognized, the term stuck and is now a widely shared way of refering to capitalist policies in this period.

For a while early in 1994 Hellman's characterization of the Mexican government's response to the Zapatista uprising as ambivalent might have made some sense. At first it attacked with overwhelming military force, and then, faced with widespread public outrage and protest, it backed off and negotiated. Since then, however, this characterisation will not stand. We now know that the Mexican government's position has actually been fairly consistent ever since: a public façade of negotiations behind which the state has elaborated a highly repressive counterinsurgency program of systematic terrorism against Zapatista communities using not only every available police and military agency of the state itself but including the financing, arming and cooperation with paramilitary groups that have murdered dozens and driven thousands from their homes and villages. Some time back the Mexican magazine Proceso published a 1994 internal military document outlining this strategy ­including the use of paramilitaries --and every month that passes has brought more evidence of its systematic and continuing nature. The primary constraint that national and international mobilization has placed on the Mexican government has been to sometimes halt overt military operations (Spring of 1994 and 1995) and sometimes force the state to pretend to negotiate. But the reality revealed by the history of those negotiations has been one of hypocrisy and duplicity. Hellman's characterization hides the consistency of these policies and by so doing undermines the unceasing efforts of human rights observers and others in the solidarity networks to tear away the façade and make that consistency clear to the public.

In the next section of her article, "The Complexities", Hellman takes up four topics --Land, Relgion, Politics and Indigenous Autonomy -and treats each pretty much the same: she sets up a strawman (the simple-minded representation of the issue on the Net) and then draws on her readings and interviews to show how much more "complicated" the situation really is.

As Hellman turns from her reference books to "the accounts available to this mobilized international community of supporters" she would have us believe that we have moved from one world ­an academic world that recognizes complexity-- into another: one that satisfies itself with simplified versions that bypass all the complexities. As I have pointed out above, this is a totally false dichotomy; these are not separate worlds, they are interlinked ones, overlapping spheres in which real individuals pursue activities in both. HellmanŐs blindness to this interlinkage can only stem from first, not being part of the networks, and two, doing a lousy job of studying them.

I would like to say two things about Hellman's treatment of the land issue in Chiapas. First, she creates straw targets to attack in pretending that the solidarity network is rife with people who believe Chiapas is covered in expansive 19th Century-style landed estates ripe for land redistribution. She gives no examples of such claims, whatsoever. Second, the portrait that she draws copies the propaganda of the state which, through spokespersons like Warman, have tried to present all land conflicts as petty squabbles among competitive poor small farmers ­her "war of the poor" is the state's prime rationale for hiding its systematic attempts to divide communities through the differential giving of aid and the funding of paramilitaries. When state financed paramilitaries slaughted over forty people at Acteal in December 1998, the state, after failing to cover up the act entirely, dismissed it as an intra-community feud.

What Hellman glosses over in her haste to attack an imaginary missrepresentation are the very real differences in size and value of farms, wealth and power among land holders in Chiapas. There are those with a few barely arable hectares and those with many, highly valuable hectares. There are those who have the wealth to employ hired goons ("white guards") to defend their lands and terrorize their labor force and those whose only defense is communal resistance. There are substantial cattle raising ranches in Chiapas and valuable coffee plantations. And if the neoliberal policies to attract foreign investment into Chiapas are successful expansive eucaliptus plantations may displace more and more small farmers and destroy the material basis of whole communities. There is none of this in Hellman's accounts. Nor, I might add are there any concrete examples of land battles, of what lands have been invaded or by whom that might illustrate or undermine her argument. Moreover there is no mention of the latest rounds of enclosure and land theft carried out by the state-financed paramilitaries who have driven thousands from their villages and seized both homes and lands. Finally, the key land issue for the indigenous concerns the survival of coherent communities, with whatever land tenure system they find best suited for their purposes. It is not the atomized world of individual against individual that Hellman portrays but of collective decisions against private appropriation and profit, whether by wealthy land holding families or corporations. These are not pseudo-issues but vital ones for indigenous communities.

This whole sketch can be reduced to two sentences. There are other religious actors on the scene in Chiapas than Samuel Ruiz and the Catholic church. Those others are poorly represented in cyberspace. Neither of these afirmations are news to anyone that I have ever come across in the solidarity networks. As with so many of the other "complexities" that Hellman highlights, there is nothing new here. It is a fact that today the Diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas is on-line and puts out regular news bulletins and reports on its doings, protests, studies etc. This is, however, a relatively new phenomena. The Fray Bartelomeo Human Rights Center has been doing this for a longer period. As far as I know, no other religeous group active in Chiapas has this kind of internet presence and certainly this means that there is more news circulating about Diocean doings on the Internet than about those of other denominations. Nevertheless, there have been repeated reports of the expulsions of people of one religious denomination by those of others (often a political move disguised as a religious one) and these reports have been faithfully circulated on the Chiapas support lists and all who subscribe to them are familiar with the phenomenon, and thus the inter-religious issues involved.

But, on the basis of the experience of the last six years, I would say that the primary reasons why Samuel Ruiz and the Catholic church have figured so prominently in the news from Chiapas are two. First, those opposed to change in Chiapas, not just the Zapatista rebellion but all indigenous struggle, have leveled more attacks against Ruiz and the Catholic Church than against any other religious group. While there are many cases of Protestants being expelled from certain communities (such as San Juan Chamula) where PRIista catholics hold the reins of power -and the Zapatistas have denounced such expulsions- no other religious sect has come under the kind of fire that has been leveled at Ruiz and the Catholic Church. If Ruiz is well known outside of Chiapas it is primarily because he has been a focal point of violent resistance to indigenous struggle. Second, it is also true that those associated with the Catholic Church have been more outspoken and have produced more detailed reports on human rights violations than other denominations. The second most visible group in the US, Pastors for Peace, which organizes caravans of aid to beseiged communities in Chiapas, advertize their efforts on the Net and those messages are widely circulated and quite familiar.

Finally, I would also add the following. To date I have yet to see any detailed scholarly account of the relgious complexities to which Hellman points. Useful accounts of the various situations and activities of all the different religious groups are not merely absent on the Internet and in the Solidarity network but they have yet to be produced by anyone, anywhere. When such accounts do become available, they will, I have no doubt, be read and absorbed by the solidarity movement to whatever degree proves useful, just like the kinds of materials on other subjects that have been available.

A methodological pause: consider the characterisation: "the picture we usually see on the computer screen." Just what does one see on a computer screen within the circuits of the pro-Zapatistas/pro-democracry network? What one "usually sees" is an e-mail posting to a listserv or a single web page. It is similar to what one "usually sees on a book page" or in a clip from a movie, i.e., a limited quantity of information, ideas, etc. And just as one doesn't expect to be able to judge a book by a page, so can one not judge the flow of computer circulated information by a handful of bytes. When we actually examine the available information on the Internet, both its flow and the accumulating stock of material archived on web pages and gopher sites, we find something very different than Hellman's casual sampling seems to indicate. You would never know it from her article but there are litterally tens of thousands of archived e-mail messages accumulated from a steady flow of information that has been going on now for over six years. Counting both listserv articles and webpages there are hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of words of material, not to mention images, video and audio clips. For those of us who have produced and managed these flows and their accumulation, it is hard not see Hellman's criticisms as anything other than an example of the blind person who tells us what the elephant looks like on the basis of only touching his tail. Either Hellman's "study" misrepresents the situation in the cyberspacial networks because her work was superficial and failed to examine the full range of materials available, or she is deliberately distorting what she found. I prefer to believe the former.

The Zapatista support networks grew out of a widespread reaction to what a great many people considered an unambiguous evil: the vicious and murderous repressive response of the state to a justified uprising of exploited people. Those networks grew and expanded and became denser as the policies of the Mexican state, with the backing of the US, settled down into a continuing, ever vicious and murderous counterinsurgency war against the communities in rebellion. When Hellman juxtaposes "clear categories of good and evil" to a "more complex reality" she is either being trite or she is attempting to cloud perceptions of the situation "on the ground" into a meaningless mix of ambiguities. In her preoccupation with being "more sensitive to complexities than thou" the life-and-death drama of the situation "on the gound" disappears from view.

Hellman looks at some of the solidarity network information and sees "bad guys" and "good guys." Can you imagine how ineffective that information would be if it were impossible to indentify "the bad guys"? Who would one address to protest the slaughter of innocents, the daily terror against thousands? Can you imagine why anyone would care, one way or the other, if there were no "good guys"? no innocents? no one in justified struggle? But even Hellman, earlier on in the article admitted that there are exploited people in Chiapas, there are victims of repression and those who struggle valiantly against that repression. So why attack efforts to to cut through the usual ambiguous news reports and try to clarify whoŐs who in ways that mobilize people to take a position and intervene in a deadly situation?

Hellman's own list of the "good" and the "bad" is pitifully short, and very recent (she forgot the "ugly"). Indeed her critique can only bite by keeping the list short and ignoring most of what has circulated in cyberspace. In reality, as she likes to say, the information and analyses that have circulated in networks have tracked, since early on in 1994 a vast panopoly of actors, as many as activists and researchers have been able to identify. From the Mexican government, for example, she lists only three people (how stupid those cyberspacial activists must be to only recognize only three). But any serious study of the archives of the Chiapas lists would reveal literally dozens of individuals in the government who have come, left their ugly mark, and gone. In part, the Zapatistas and Mexican journalists have done this for us, telling us the sordid histories of not only big people, like President Salinas who murdered his maid as a child, but ugly little people like del Valle and Orive, ex-Leftists come to Chiapas for vengence and power. She says "the Mexican armed forces" are one "bad guy" as if no one ever differentiated within or among the military forces. In so doing she displays an unfamiliarity with the work of people like NAP's Darrin Wood who have tracked down and identified much of the military command structure, often trained at the School of the Americas, who are responsible for so much of the suffering in Chiapas. Nor does she recognize the analyses that have been done of the differences between the officer corps and the grunts, often indigenous and peasant young people, who are used as the battering ram against their brothers and sisters.

As for the "good guys," her, I have to say this, oversimplification, is just as striking. She says people only speak in terms of "the Zapatistas" when in fact those in the networks are familiar not only with Marcos, but also with Ramona, and David and Tacho and Anna-Maria and dozens more who voices have been reported and circulated through cyberspace. Those who have followed the flows, as opposed to those like Hellman who have only peeked in, know the difference between Marcos the spokesperson and the CCRI-GC of community leaders, between those who carry guns and those who support them (and that people move between these two domains). Hellman says people only speak in terms of "indigenous people" as if they were a homogeneous mass, when in fact people in the solidarity networks not only know of the ethnic and linguistic differences in peoples and communities but are all too familiar with the divisions in communities that include PRIista power structures and paramilitary bands. They know too of the rampant sexism in many indigenous communities and how that gave rise to an autonomous movement of women within the EZLN that formulated and demanded new "revolutionary rules" against gender discrimination. All of these things are familiar yet none of their familiarity is recognized by Hellman. It would undermine the whole thrust of her article to do so.

State vs local? "A more complete analysis"? Where was Hellman while those of us working in the solidarity networks were keeping track of the interplay between the struggles in Chiapas and the changes in local government and role of the national government in those changes, as governor after governor was removed and replaced in a comedic theatre of the absurd? Where was Hellman during the many posts that tracked the comedy at the state level, most recently of Albores' antics and stage productions? I don't know where she was, but she was obviously not following the flow of information on Chiapas-l, Chiapas95 or EZLN-it, etc! But that's ok, she has not been one of us. What is intolerable is for a so-called "Leftist" writing in "Socialist" Review (I can not imagine anyone not considering themselves a "Leftist" writing for a journal of that name.) to stick her nose briefly into a terrain of struggle with which she is not familiar and proceed to lambast the simplicity of its militants' understanding on the basis of a superficial glance at what has been going on.

Well, "pluri-ethnicity" is soooo prominent, the dumbbunnies had to let that bit of "complexity" into their simple-minded understanding! The business on land is redundant (and see above).

And why would it figure prominently? The fact is that while there are wide assortment of "displaced persons" the ones that get in the news are the ones who get attacked, and those who get attacked are primarily pro-Zapatista refugees. Those driven from their communities by anti-Zapatista paramilitaries and other PRIistas have tended to stay together and re-form their communities under the dire circumstances of flight and refuge ­in places like Polho. These are the groups that have been pursued, harassed and attacked by the police, military and paramiltaries. These are the groups that have appealed to human rights organizations for witnesses and who have thus been in the news. The large number of people who have been displaced under other circumstances and have often dispersed, not staying together in community groups, have found no voice, certainly no collective voice, whose messages might be circulated on in the solidarity networks. Those people do "not figure prominently because they are not "prominent" in the political scene. Not because their voices are plentiful and ignored!

The use of the term "civil society" had become virtually omnipresent in contemporary political discourse, across the entire political spectrum, from Left to Right. In the case of Chiapas, the term has become popular primarily due to its use by Marcos who frequently adresses his communiqués to "Ms Civil Society." When one examines the diverse uses of this term, as has been done in several books, it is clearly highly ambiguous, its meaning changes from person to person. It is what a friend of mine calls an "amoeba word" constantly changing shape. In Zapatista discourse, however, and thus in the discourse of many in the pro-Zapatista solidarity networks, "civil society" refers to those at the grassroots who struggle against neoliberalism and capitalism more generally in any of its guises, economic, policial or social, e.g., against neoliberal privatization and austerity, against the party system of representative democracy. Moreover, Hellman here makes the same mistake as some others have of conflating "civil society" with NGOs (non-governmental organizations). The term, as I have pointed out elsewhere (and if Helman had done her homework and she would have read that discussion) not only fails "to capture" the variety and diversity of "organizations," it fails to capture the social currents that crystalize from time to time in the form of organizations. (See:

It is very hard not to read this description of the treatment of NGOs "on our screens" as "an undifferentiated mass" as something other than mean-spirited misrepresentation. Anyone who follows the flow of news is well aware of the names and differences among a whole host of NGOs. Daily news summaries and synthesis, as well as special analyses and bulletins, have been forthcoming from the FZLN, from CIEPAC, from NAP, from Melel Xojobal, from Enlace Civil and so on, and these groups have identified themselves and differentiated their efforts from one another. No one who reads the postings to Chiapas-L or Chiapas95 regularly would see these as a "undifferentiated mass". The same is true with the human rights centers and organizations that regularly post urgent alerts or reports on the situation in Chiapas and elsewhere in Mexico. As for criticizing the work of these groups, well, while in general it is probably accurate to say that people are grateful for their work, in numerous instances they have been criticized not only for actions but for more general behavior. Any detailed study of the archives of Chiapas-L, the main Chiapas discussion list, would reveal this.

One of the problems with the concept of "civil society" and with the conflation of "civil society" with NGOs is that it results in a regrouping of such a diverse organizations that almost everything obtains. Not only does this loose use of "NGOs" allow some one like Hellman to point to well-known differences between private NGOs and what are called "GONGOs" (governmental non-governmental organizations) but the term can include (as is done by the WTO and its ilk) out-and-out business organizations and business derivatives like the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations within the same set! Given this diversity, the kinds of conflicts Hellman mentions only scratch the surface of the kind of politics involved among these organizations. None of this is new, or ignored.

Not only have these differences between feminists and the church been repeatedly discussed, essays have been written and circulated that have examined them. If Hellman had even examined carefully the webpages (other than the archives) that she only perused she would have found things like the book Chiapas, y las mujeres que? (Chiapas, and the women?), a collection of writings about women in Chiapas that quite explicitly addresses this "complexity" as well as others, a book whose translation from Spanish into English was carried out by a coordinated team of translators from throughout the solidary networks in cyberspace. That is the kind of "evidence" that there is really no excuse for Hellman to have ignored.

Does Hellman truly think that those of us working in the solidarity networks are unaware of these differences? Given that one of the things repeatedly debunked has been the government and coleto efforts to conflat the "Red Bishop" and the Zapatistas as being one in the same? Given that Marcos, and Ruiz, for that matter, have repeatedly been quite open about their differences? As for Hellman's treatment of Marcos as some kind of sectarian who denounces even slight deviations from the EZLN party-line, well, not only does she give no evidence of this, but she also doesn't even treat the very real differences that have existed and been discussed, say between the ARIC-official and the ARIC-Independent. Some of this has been discussed in the books Hellman cites so we must assume she is aware of them. Why doesn't she discuss concrete cases? In the "complex" terrain she wants us to recognize can there be any surprise that the EZLN differs from some other groups? As she took pains to point out at the beginning, there have been several in the history from which the Zapatistas emerged. Why, all of a sudden, are they being portrayed as intolerant bastards because they have differences?

Who is this peasant leader? From what group does he come? Hellman has already told us that there are not only pro-government "NGOs" but pro-government peasant organizations (as we all know). How are we to judge this testimony if we don't understand the context? As for the comments themselves, well, they seem to refer to the differences that exist within and amongst communities over accepting aid from government agencies. Some communities have accepted and some have refused. The pro-Zapatista communities have often refused because of the conditions and ties that have been attached to such aid. I wonder if Hellman would brand as intolerant those who have condemned others for accepting American foreign aid which has often come with strings attached to let the US get its hooks into not just communities but whole countries. As for the complaint that Marcos, and the EZLN, appeal "over the heads" of the people in Chiapas to the rest of Mexico and abroad, what does that mean? If it means that they do so without the sanction of the entire population of Chiapas, well, surprise, surprise, how could anyone expect anything else? If if means Marcos has no basis in community support to do so, well, Hellman has already admitted that that is not so. So whereŐs the beef? As for people elsewhere in Mexico having "made their own compromises", what of it? Let's face it, the quote is neither edifying nor does it serve the purpose Hellman would like it to serve -unless that purpose is just to demonstrate that there are peasants who disagree with Marcos. In which case, gee whiz, what else is new?

Pure redundancy. In short what we see is that Hellman has given us an oversimplified picture of the complexities that she claims others have ignored and she herself has ignored much that is familiar to those she would critique.

This is another one of those amazingly arrogant moments in which Hellman would have us believe that the only way that there can be so much international support for indigenous autonomy is that its supporters have only a simple minded understanding of the issue. In her usual style, Hellman then proceeds to sketch for us the history of the "indian question" in Mexico as if all this were unknown to those who have been studying the issue for years.

This history, and in greater detail, is so familiar it is not worth quibling about this sketch.

About this, I will only say the following: the basis thrust of the official policy of "indigenismo" was integrationist in a way that "full participation" in the life of the nation mean incorporation into the lowest rungs of the wage and unwaged hierarchy. Moreover, many Mexican Marxists have cared less because they were "decampinsinistas" believing that not only the indigenous but peasants more generally were a disappearing class. The struggles for peasant and indigenous autonomy originated in the communities themselves but found expression in the words of "campesinista" intellectuals, like Gustavo Esteva or Warman (before he went over to the state). The movement for autonomy has been long in rising from the invisible "ground" to the political "surface."

Before it was the goal of catechists it was not only the goal of many indigneous, it was often their surrepticious practice as they organized themselves independently of whatever state structures were imposed on them. It is from this concrete ferment of self-activity that the current movements have arisen. To repeat what I said earlier and above, it is time Hellman and many other Marxists set aside the view of the peasantry and the indigenous as a quiescent, exploited pool set in motion by outsiders. If they donŐt find ample evidence in the work of the anthopologists who have studied Chiapas, then they might turn to the work of those like Guillermo Bonfil (whom she cites but doesnŐt seem to have read) or James Scott who has studied the "arts of resistance" elsewhere.

The San Andrés Accords are available on the Internet, and have been since the time of their creation and signing. These accords were reached after extensive consultation both within the Zapatista communities and between the Zapatistas and a host of "advisors" who were invited to provide input into the ideas and negotiations. The final accords were a compromise with the government and have never been considered to represent the full desires of the Zapatista communities. They were agreed to as one step in the direction they wanted to move.

The "entire world of the internet" is no more "solidly behind this model" than the Zapatistas! As Hellman fails to note, and as I just pointed out above the actual Accords do not codify the Zapatistas' desires but were a compromise, a step in a direction. The Accords have become an icon, their inactment a ceaseless demand because due to the government's hypocrisy and perfidity not even that first step has been taken.

Of course the project of indigenous autonomy has its critics, not merely in the government but on the Left as well. Marxists in particular have generally been opposed to indigenous autonomy because their conception of "socialism" or "communism" has always involved the emergence of a new singular way of organizing society. The non-"model" of indigenous autonomy is one of a radical pluralism with many forms of self-organization.

Those who have supported indigenous calls for autonomy, however, are rarely guilty of the sin Hellman's unknown speaker attributes to them: that of believing it a magical cure-all that will make class, religious and political differences disappear. On the contrary, the demand for autonomy is the demand for the space and time for communities to cope with all those differences without their efforts being manipulated and controlled from the outside. It is obvious that, say, divisions between PRIistas and PRDistas within communities are the result not just of internal differences but of the larger national framework of party politics and patronage. The demand for autonomy is a demand for setting limits to such influences, but no one expects them to disappear. That autonomy would reinforce divisions and dominance is asserted but not even argued. It is not based on a concete analysis of either the form that autonomy might take or how it might work. It is a fearful a priori condemnation. If there was any concreteness here, it could be debated, as it has been in Chiapas, and elsewhere.

The source of this quote, as footnote 32 points out is Juan Pedro Viqueira who, interestingly enough, wrote an article attacking the Zapatistas and their supporters for the December 1999 issue of the French journal Esprit entitled, of all things, "The Dangers of Imaginary Chiapas"! It is of some interest to note that not only the title of Hellman's essay resembles Viqueira's but they make many of the same arguments and use much the same language in caricaturizing those they attack. The main difference between the two is that while Hellman sets her gunsights on the pro-Zapatista solidarity network, Viqueira aims at university academics and intellectuals who support the Zapatistas. I would recommend to anyone with both English and French a comparative reading of these two texts.

It would be nice, as usual, if Hellman or her "interviewees" provided some concrete instance to support their claims. I, for one, have never seen anyone trying to uncritically apply the experience of Native Americans to Chiapas.

As with every other possible simplification, it is possible to find those in the cybespacial networks of solidarity who have an "essentialized notion of the indio", just as it is possible to find such people anywhere. There is no evidence presented, however, to demonstrate that such persons are characteristic or even common in cyberspace. I know a couple of people like that. I also know lots who are nothing like that. Hellman has found another anonymous interviewee after her own heart: someone with a stereotypical image of the average pro-Zapatista supporter. The sarcasm of this person is completely unwarranted. The people being mocked are being mocked for perhaps comparing (and yes, inevitably contrasting) the situation of indigenous in Chiapas with those of indigenous elsewhere. What is wrong with that? That is exactly what has been going on throughout the world during the whole indigenous rennaissance of the last two decades or so. Native Americans have gone South to support their brothers and sisters in Chiapas. Representatives of the Zapatistas have gone North to discuss their situation with Native Americans and others. Why does this arrogant person assume that when they share their views and their experiences they do so stupidly, not recognizing differences as well as similarities. There is no excuse for this kind of commentary.

I'm sorry, but this is nonscense. Hellman is either not aware or choses to forget the fact that for much of the last six years the slogan "todos somos indios" or more particularly "todos somos Marcos" have been common in the solidarity movement in Mexico and without. The cry "todos somos Marcos" became common when the state issued arrest warrants against Marcos and other Zapatista leaders as part of the states February 1995 military and police offensive. The cry "todos somes Marcos" was in the spirit of the scene in the movie Spartacus when slave after slave stood up saying "I am Spartacus" to prevent the Romans from singling out one man for death. The cry was generalized to "todos somos indios" in huge rallies in the Zocalo in Mexico City as people cried out their solidarity with the Zapatista rebellion. They were not fools; the mestizos who said this were not confused about who is indigenous and who is not; they were making a statement of solidarity. So too, were the Italians who went to Chiapas against the wishes of, and to the embarassement of, the Mexican government.

Which Mexicans have been threatened by the indigenous? Those who have exploited them. To what North Americans and Europeans does this accusation of Rousseauian delusions apply? As an epitaph applied to a whole movement of solidarity it is merely a baseless insult, perhaps a psychological projection of the author's own inclinations.

First, who holds "romanticized, essentialized notions"? I repeat: as an epitaph applied to a whole movement of solidarity it is merely a baseless insult, perhaps a psychological projection of the authors own inclinations. Second, what makes Hellman think that "minority rights" would not be guaranteed within the context of autonomy? On the basis of what elements of the San Andrés Accords does she base this accusation? And how can she maintain it against the evidence of the Zapatistas repeated condemnations of such discrimination against minorities as the expulsion of religious minorities? She cannot.

Hellman deserves a resounding rebuttal from the Italians whom she insults in these lines. Of all the places in the world where pro-Zapatista supporters can be found, Italy is one of the best examples of the continuous translation and circulation not only of materials on the Internet but of hard copy materials produced in and around the movement. Did Hellman ever examine the archives of EZLN-it, the Italian listserv? I see no evidence of it, not in her footnotes or in her appreciatation of the knowledge of the people involved. What she has done is hurl insults on the basis of one misunderstood slogan. Inexcusable.

What can you say about a writer who repeatedly speaks about "most" people in some group when she has presented no evidence whatsoever to convince the reader that the characteristics she denounces are even common, much less pervasive. This is poor research and poorer writing. Beyond this, the issue Gledhill refers to is indeed an important one that gets to the heart of the differences between many indigenous cultures and bourgeois ideology and law. The former often grasp the individual first and foremost as a member of a group, with the corresponding rights and responsibilities. The latter celebrates and recognizes only the individual and rejects the former. There has been, in fact, a developing dialog over such issues in the solidarity movement and it has been a sticky one. The most obvious reason is that vast numbers of those preoccupied with "human rights" think about that issue in the classic bourgeois/individualistic way in which most statements of such rights have been formulated. The indigenous whose views of rights and obligations differ from this mold have been, to all appearances, careful not to alienate some of their best supporters over a disagreement about philosophy. But some efforts have been made to articulate these differences and to discuss them. The "tension" is indeed unresolved and will remain so for the forseeable future, but it can be a fruitful one as it develops. Had she read more deeply into the essays developed around these struggles Hellman might have talked about this instead of just, once more, dismissing those in solidarity with the Zapatistas as ignorant fanatics. Revolution by Internet?

First, leaving aside the issue of "simplification" discussed abundantly above, Hellman has nowhere demonstrated that information that has been circulated on the Internet has been "distorted." It is possible to argue this, but she hasnŐt. One could, for example, argue that each posting, taken out of context, "distorts" oneŐs impressions. But this, of course, is true about any particular bit of evidence in any media. There have also been accusations of the circulation of "disinformation" which is surely a distortion of sorts. But she doesnŐt take that up either, nor the equally interesting issue of how quickly such disinformation can be countered on the Internet as opposed to other media. Second, the smug evocation of someone "participating" in a movement without ever leaving the comfort of their room tells us more about HellmanŐs "holier than thou" attitudes than it does about anyone on the Internet. One might as well smirk at Karl Marx's "participation" in the German revolution of 1848 because all he did was produce a workers' newspaper while Engels was on the barricades!

While it is true that La Jornada has been an essential source for keeping up not only with the Zapatista communiqués but with events in the state, and with useful analytical essays by columnists, it is not true that "almost all of the material" on the Internet is drawn from this one source. Hellman can say this only because she has neglected to study the daily flows of information on the listservs. Otherwise she would have seen, and hopefully reported, the mass of information that has been regularly drawn not only from other mainstream sources (New York Times, La Reforma, Washington Post, El Financiero, El Diario de Yucatan, Dallas Morning News, AFP, Reuters, AP, VOA, IPS etc) but also from the kinds of NGOs mentioned above (NAP, the FZLN, Melel Xojobal, etc.). The fact is that the flow of information on the Internet is the most comprehensive available from any one source because the participants in the solidarity network feed all of these other sources into it in steady streams ­streams that have so swelled the quantity as to make it an unmanageable for flood for some. I'll return to this shortly.

All this is well-known.

The idea of the editors of La Jornada explaining to Marcos how to write is amusing. This is a story I've never heard before. It is one of Marcos' great abilities to be able to craft communiqués in ways that appreal to a diverse array of people, from intellectuals to those in the streets. The quality of his writeing is so different from the journalism in the paper that I can't even imagine what Hellman's informants think the editors of La Jornada have told him?

What Chiapan activist? Once again Hellman cites conveniently unnamed persons as authorities in the place of personal study and experience. For those of us who are constantly processing the news, the coverage that La Jornada gives Chiapas is a god-send compared to the lack of regular coverage in other major dailies. We also read and circulate everything the others print but their coverage is often spotty. How different the attitudes of Hellman and her friendly unknown "activist" as they make fun of and question the legitimacy of La Jornada's coverage. Even so, the reality -as any examination of La Jornada's abundant on-line archives will reveal- is that the newspaper does not constantly cover Chiapas and it does in fact carry much more information about national issues and the capitol than it does about the state. Moreover, it's on-line version is not complete and research has shown that many communiqués that were actually published in the paper don't make it onto the paper's website and archives. "If if two peasants who were not EZLN supporters are found dead, sometimes it gets no mention at all." Nor, I suspect, are all the murders and crimes committed daily in Mexico mentioned either. La Jornada is not a tabloid. The newspaper's coverage is selective, like all papers. Fortunately, for those concerned with the struggles in Chiapas it is better than most.

Which regular contributors? I suspect that regular readers of the La Jornada are highly unlikely to consider it biased against the PRD. It is much more of a PRD paper than a Zapatista paper. The attention its editorials and its columnists pay to inter- and intraparty squabbles -something which are of very secondary interest to the ZapatistasŃmake this very clear. It's attention to elections is a great as any other mainstream papers and it has never, to my knowledge, ever embraced the Zapatista refusal to participate in elections. When I read this kind of commentary I wonder if Hellman has ever read more than a copy or two of the paper.

Once again, where has Hellman been? The discussion is renewed at every election. How does she think the EZLN comes to the positions it has taken on the elections? How does she think the communities do? The anger of the PRD over the Zapatista refusal to back them has made it a much discussed issue. Marcos has written many things on this subject, precisely within the context of such discussion. For her to pretend there is no discussion is ludicrous.

How does Hellman know what articles were "relayed around the world"? By her own admission she has not studied the archives of the listservs. If she had she would have found find plenty of articles dealing with such issues. What she would find less of, although she doesn't take this up here, are the more stridently anti-Zapatista articles published by PRIista and PANist columnists like Sergio Sarmiento in La Reforma and elsewhere. Those who choose and post articles to the listservs (and eventually to the websites) in general have not seen any point in working for the enemies of the Zapatistas in spreading their material. It has been done when there have been particular reasons to do so, but it is not done in general. The same is true with lots of the stories about infighting in the PRD and accounts (frequent in the La Jornada) of its adventures in electoral campaigns. Precisely because many who support the Zapatistas share their scepticism of electoral politics they don't allocate as much of their limited time and energy to reproducing such material as they do, for example, to tales of repression in the villages. Clearly Hellman does not share these priorities.

Unfortunately, as I have already pointed out, there is absolutely no evidence in this article that Hellman has ever carried out a "careful examination of the material that is translated, summarized and distributed through a variety of networks." She has limited herself to websites, which as I have said, contain only a tiny fraction of the material circulated. Her repeated statement that "most" of the material is drawn from La Jornada will not stand up to "careful examination." It is also interesting that after having just branded La Jornada a slavish follower of Zapatista dogma, Hellman now admits that it does provide broad "coverage of the PRD, the unions and other struggles on the left." She should try to be more consistent instead of shifting arguments as she shifts targets (from La Jornada to the cyberspace networks of information.)

And who are these uncritical dupes? These "many people" who take everything on the Internet at face value. Hellman excells in crafting unnamed and faceless strawmorons to knock down!

This is a truly remarkable passage. On the one hand I wonder how many readers of the Nation or some other Leftwing magazine could recount with any accuracy the political lives and theories of their editors and writers? On the other hand, her choosing me as an example is highly ironic because I have a rather elaborate homepage from which anyone curious as to my history and politics can satiate their curiosity to their heart's content! ( Moreover, by my automatic counters' count, my webpage is accessed as often as that of Chiapas95 (which I also maintain) so I suspect that a great many people are as familiar with my views as they are with what I post. Moreover, it is no secret that Chiapas95 is maintained by less than a dozen people, or that almost all websites are the product of the labors of one or a few individuals. There are, however, a great many websites maintained by a great many people all over the world, so Hellman's image of it all being done by "a couple of other people" is highly misleading. One might apply her argument to articles in magazines and to books. Gee, look at this article by Hellman, there is only one author! But guess what? There are many articles, many books and many authors.

On the other hand, the major flows of raw data occur on the Chiapas-L listserv which is an open and unmoderated list to which anyone subscribed can post, and dozens do every time they find (or create) something worthwhile to send out. The same is true with the various other discussion lists and conferences that have often dealt with Chiapas, e.g., reg.mexico, Mexico94, Mexico2000, Native-L and Mexicoxxi, as well as relevant newsgroups, e.g., soc.culture.mexican. Hellman's argument about a handful of people being responsible for selecting what goes out is only true for Chiapas95 and if she wants to do some real research sometime, she could click back and forth between the web archives of Chiapas-L and Chiapas95 and see just what that filtering produces. (This would, however, only tell part of the story because the Chiapas95 moderators also subscribe to lists like the Italian EZLN-it and the French "comités" as well as other language sources so the material on Chiapas95 is, in some ways, richer than that on Chiapas-L. Mostly what gets left out is the chit chat of discussion.

All serious students of the situation in Chiapas know that the best flow of regular information available is on the Internet. Hellman tries her best to deprecate what is there, to deligitmize it as a source. But there is more raw information available there and more regular analysis than anywhere else --because it combines the most useful material from all sorts of media: newspapers, wire services, even radio transcripts, magazines, etc. It is not exhaustive because not all magazines and books are online, nor do people often have the time and energy to scan in articles from hard copy. And for that reason those in the network also read (and produce) articles and books and often report on them and their usefulness on-line (as in the my reviews of Collier, and Ross etc.) I find it truly curious that Hellman works so hard to discredit what so many know to be so valuable.

As a matter of fact virtually all the communiqués of the EPR that have been sent to the press have been circulated on the Chiapas listservs. If like many other old-left Leninist organizations around the world they have not generated the kind of support that the Zapatistas have, that is, in large part, due to their politics and their rhetoric, not to an unwillingness on the part of those sympathetic to change in Mexico to give them a hearing. The same is true of news reports on their activities. To my knowledge every news story on the actions of the EPR or the state against them has been posted to the listservs. But this group, as well as some others, are by all evidence, small, isolated and unable to generate either the support or the voices necessary to make themselves heard more frequently or to evoke a more sympathetic response. That is the situation and it is a situation that only they can change. In the case of the most important party of the left, PRD, one Mexican-based media expert explained, "the traditional left in Mexico is technophobic, and has few ideas how to make electronic communication work for them." Whatever the reason, indeed, the PRD has been very slow to make use of the internet and as a consequence, the party appears in electronic sources largely in terms of its deficiencies which are highlighted in communications from the EZLN. Because of this unequal representation on the internet, few sympathizers around the world are able to debate, based on statements from both sides, the relative merits of each position and the appropriateness of various tactics and strategies.

Actually, for what they have to say, the PRD has several able and voluble spokespersons and their speeches and statements are carried by La Jornada and other media not controlled by the PRI, as even Hellman recognizes in the case of La Jornada. There are those who upload such material to the internet, sometimes on Chiapas-L, sometimes on Mexicoxxi. Today the Perredistas of California have set up their own news service and are sending out regular postings. It is generally true that the pro-Zapatista network has been much more effective than the PRD as a party, but this is not surprising, not because the Perredistas are technophobes but because the pro-Zapatista networks are world-wide and involve thousands of people from all kinds of movements. And, as the experiences of the UNAM strike and the most recent elections have most clearly demonstrated, the PRD often doesn't have much to say of interest to anyone! As some commentators have noted, Cardenas came in a miserable third in the recent presidential elections with only 17 percent of the vote because he and the PRD had nothing to ofter that Fox hadn't already picked up and packaged better. At any rate, as Hellman almost explicitly admits, whatever limits exist to the PRDs presense on the Internet is its own fault and not primarily those of the pro-Zapatista networks.

Why is Hellman so determined to undermine and destroy the "excitement and satisfaction"? Normally one would expect someone on the Left to revel in such movement of mobilization or to try to figure out how to contribute to deepening and broadening it. But no, Hellman chooses to dismiss it all as illusion. Why? Let's look at how she proceeds.

What is a "solitary act"? A lone individual who acts without reference to or input from others does so in a solitary manner. But reading a petition written by someone else and deciding to add one's name to it is not a "solitary act" in cyberspace, no more than it is in other spaces.

I'm sorry but I find this argument absurd. Support of a petition "in the flesh" does not require a face-to-face encounter with another human being. It only requires reading the petition, deciding to sign or not to sign and turning away --as anyone who has ever circulated peititions knows. It is nice when a petition leads to discussion but that does not always happen. It happens in the flesh, sometimes, and it happens in cyberspace, sometimes. Indeed, it probably happens more often in cyberspace because those who formulate petitions, or letters of protest, etc. sometimes circulate them on the Internet for comments and suggestions for modifications before sending them out for endorsements ­something that never happens on the street. Declining to sign a petition "in the flesh" involves nothing more than a turning away. Or, worse yet, refusing to even look at the petition ­ that is the equivalent of hitting the delete button, and it happens all the time.

About all I can say is that Hellman seems hellbent on trying to convince people that e-mail petitions are "less impressive" than those signed by hand. She has no evidence. As for the greater effectiveness of many activists gathered together in the same place, well, she displays no recognition of how that is precisely one of the things facilitated by the Internet! The First and Second Intercontinental Encounters that gathered 3-4000 activists in Chiapas and Spain were accomplished in large part through the Internet. So was Seattle and Washington and Davos and Amsterdam. So too with numerous more local demonstrations and protests. There is no either/or here. The people she mocks as lazily punching keyboards are the very people who have worked to organize such gatherings via the Internet. Once again her blindness to this can come only from a lack of real participation in such processes. She knows not whereof she speaks.

Once again the contrast she tries to draw just doesn't hold. In thirty years of political work I have seen thousands walk away from meetings as easily as one logsoff from a discussion group. In truth a great many of the people in the pro-Zapatista cyberspacial networks are also involved in local and national groups that have old-style face-to-face meetings and thrash out issues just as they always have. The Internet lets such groups communicate with each other outside of meetings faster and more efficiently, and circulate information more quickly. On a local level it does not substitute for other kinds of encounter. What it does is put such groups and the individuals in such groups in easy contact with others elsewhere, where face-to-face is difficult or impossible. And when Hellman asserts that there is no longer any "work of persuading others of our postion" she simply demonstrates that she has never participated in any of the debates in cyberspace, nor even read them in the archives.

This is fantasy! The only way Hellman can smugly conjure up such supercilious images of self-satisfied cybernauts is to do so in a vacuum of ignorance about the relationship between cyberspace and organizing --in the case of Chiapas and in the case of many other struggles. This is gratuitous nastiness against fictional people. [BTW, don't we all wish we had "ergonomically correct computer chairs"?]

And what are these "kinds of actions elicited on the net" that produce little political pressure? Sending an attachment to a senator's aid? And why would one do that? Perhaps because one had done the work to identify which senators and and aides deserved attention and because one had talked to said aide and provoked an interest in the material in the attachement? What constitutes "high level, continual political pressure"? We certainly can't tell from this quote, but it sounds like Stephen, and perhaps Hellman, have professional lobbying in mind. Perhaps the kind that well financed NGOs can afford to carry out? Well, that is one kind of pressure. Unfortunately we can only imagine what the argument here is really all about, what Stephen and Hellman think is really "worth doing." At any rate, as already stated they are ignoring the interaction between what people do with the Internet and what they do elsewhere, and by so doing they vitiate their own arguments. Stephen stresses that some types of activity coordinated through the internet can actually "limit grassroots organizing efforts."

It becomes clear her why Hellman quotes Stephen. Like her she sets up a false dichotomy between "action on the Internet" and "face-to-face interaction and grassroots organizing." As for the "glut of information on the internet" getting in the way of the calling of "a wide-ranging national meeting" this is almost humerous. In the first place it took no such time period. The National Comission on Democracy in Mexico (NCDM), an umbrella organization that included lots of groups around the country was organized very quickly. The Mexican Solidarity Network (MSN), to which I assume this quote refers, was organized later partially as a result of dissatisfactin with the NCDM's operations and its leadership. It is more accurate to say that the availability of the Internet, the flows of information and exchanges of experience it made possible acted to undermine the centrallizing efforts of the NCDM which proved inappropriate to the new situation. Moreover, the organization of the MSN took place to a considerable degree through Internet communications. If the ample supply of information slowed down the urgency for creating a national network it was only because a cyberspacial "national network" already existed for the dissimination of information and the sharing of experience and some other kind wasnŐt needed for that purpose.

The problem I raise in this passage from a paper that reflects on our experiences in the use of the Internet in struggle is quite real and continuing. But unlike Hellman, I raise the problem not to mock what has been done, but to try to figure out how to do better. Therein lies all the difference between a distructive mocking of the sort she elaborates here and a constructive attempt to identify problems so they can be remedied. It is worth noting that throughout Hellman's article her only "contribution" to improving struggle in cyberspace is to admonish people to take more factors into account: an admonition whose impact is seriously undermined by her failure to recognize what has already been done. Nowhere does she offer any creative suggestions to help improve actual practices in cyberspace.

The problem of activists being overwhelmed with too much information (alluded to earlier as well) is quite real. In the case of the Chiapas solidarity networks, Chiapas95 was created as a first step in solving this problem by filtering and reducing the flow of information to more manageable proportions. Subsequently, Chiapas95-lite and later Chiapas95-english and Chiapas95-espanol were all created for the same purpose of reducing the flows to the levels desired by subscribers. There have been other efforts along these lines at a broader level, e.g., Activ-L which collects stories about struggles from all parts of the world and creates digests to help people cope with the quantity. It is too bad that Hellman has nothing to ofter in helping us deal with this problem, but we will continue to work on it.

This is a curious notion that we have come to "depend" on the Internet to keep informed. It is phrased in such a way as to imply that there is a "dependency," a weakness, involved here. In the past activists have "depended" on newspapers, on libraries, on books and magazines for information. Are these weaknesses? Of course not. The only problem is that we always, and at all times, have limited sources of information and we "depend" on them. What the Internet has done is to add a new tool to our panopoly of sources, one that dramatically speeds up the circulation of information, discussion, organizing, and so on. This is not a problem, it is a great leap forward! As for the Internet "guiding" our political activities, it does so no more than any other of our sources. It does provide a new terrain and opportunity for poltical organizing, just as the telephone, automobiles, trains and airplanes have done in the past. HellmanŐs attempt to portray us as mindless geeks with our noses glued to our computer screens bespeaks only an unfamiliarity with our activitives, online and off.

Nowhere has Hellman provided any evidence of how the use of the internet "creates an illusion of connectedness and political effectiveness where little exists." What she has done is present an incorrect and misleading portrayal of both what goes on in cyberspace and how it interconnects with the rest of people's political activities. Her repeated accusation that "the information conveyed is often so partial as to be misleading" is true of any snippit of information taken from any source, on the Internet or off. Information is always partial and that is why people are always seeking out new sources and trying to see beyond what they know. Decisions abouts "what is to be done" are always taken on the basis of partial information, today with the internet, or in the past without it. This should be obvious. What Hellman is blind to is the way the Internet has increased our access to information and thus improved the basis on which we decide what is to be done. Nowhere does she give any example of how the current limits on what we know make figuring out "what is to be done, very difficult." If she knew what she was talking about she might have. We all can. Knowing lots of details about the terrorist measures applied daily to Zapatista communities by the government's counterinsurgency campaign gives us what we need to reveal to the public what the mass media hides, to bring out of the shadows and into the light of day the crimes that are commited. It also has suggested that having international observers on the spot can frustrate such shadowed efforts. So people have written the details for a wider audience (from the average citizen to government representatives) and people have gone to Chiapas as observers. But how would more information, more precise information about the details of the conflict help us discover other methods? What other information would be useful? Hellman is no help here at all. Everywhere she complains about limits but nowhere does she indicate what concrete information that is not available is needed and for what purpose. Suppose, for example, we find a detailed study of Muslim evangelization in Chiapas and a listserv that details those activities. What are we to do with that information? I can imagine (making contacts, linking struggles) but Hellman says nothing. For those of us in actual struggle, her complaints need to be replaced by real understanding and creative thought.

First, spending "time to support the struggle in Chiapas" does very much involve "working to understand Chiapas"! To suggest otherwise as she does here is groundless and insulting. Second, what is "reductionist" about the analysis of capitalist ideology and strategy as neoliberalism? What is "reductionist" about recognizing how people around the world face similar policies and are linking up to counter them? Who thinks that the story of what is happening in Chiapas is "reducible" to "neoliberal predations"? No one I know. If Hellman has found such a person, she has not shared a name with us. To be sure, "let us be wary" of such stupidity É. if we ever encounter it. Very basic appeals to respect human rights can be launched with no deeper understanding of the specifics of the situation. But any project that is more ambitious requires serious analysis.

What more "ambitious project"? What does she have in mind here? Who knows? She conjures the vague image of some more comprehensive effort, greater and more meaningful because grounded in better understanding. But what project? This is nothing more than cheap rhetoric by someone with no constructive ideas to offer.

Once again, Hellman's attack on the Italians who went to Taniperlas is not only misplaced but misaimed. Why isn't she attacking the PRIistas who, supported by the government as part of its anti-foreign observer campaign, attacked the Italians? Isn't that what you would expect from a "Leftist"? But no, her rhetoric echos the worst of the Mexican government's propaganda that tries to portray those who go to Chiapas to bring state crimes to light as "revolutionary tourists." Who is Hellman working for, after all? Did the state send her a thank-you note for aiding its xenophobic campaign to keep its crimes in darkness after her article was originally published in Este Pais?. The Italians knew damn well of the dangers in Chiapas from PRIista indigenous groups ­indeed anyone who follows the denunciations coming out of the communities and the reports of observers who have gone knows of these dangers -but they went anyway. Not because they were naïve revolutionary tourists but because they were willing to take risks to bring more international observation to bear on a beseized community.

If Hellman had read either the archives of EZLN-it listserv or the many Italian web pages and been able to demonstrate that nowhere in the materials that had been translated into Italian was there any recognition of either the governmentŐs or the local PRIista indigenous anti-foreign actions, she might have made a case that the Italians' actions were based on a "lack of knowledge." But she did not do these things (and if she had she would not have had any evidence for her claims). As for "giving the Zedillo regime a nationalist card to play", well, as event after event have shown the government has been playing that card again and again regardless of the particular actions of particular international observers. It has made an international spectacle of itself and brought down the scorn of the world for its blantant attempts to hide its crimes by persecuting international observers on trumpted up charges. Even the Mexican courts have repeatedly ruled against these ploys (most recently against the expulsion of Tom Hansen, and many other cases ­including that of the Italians-- are now being reviewed as well). Again Hellman attacks the activists instead of the state. What is going on here?

Once again, where is there any evidence of any lack of desire to discuss differences for fear of state use of such discussion? I have never seen such a thing in this context. I have seen it in the past. I remember being blasted by pro-Sandinista supporters for publically attacking their policies towards peasants and the indigenous in Nicaragua. But I have yet to see such attacks in the case of the Zapatistas. There have been several attacks against the Zapatistas, some from Marxists, some from anarchists, but no where have I seen those attacks being rebutted on such grounds. When John Ross critiqued the final formulation of the San Andrés Accords there were those who disagreed with him, but no one I read accused him of helping the state undermine the Zapatistas. Hellman here conjures old ghosts for new punishment.

What is unconvincing is Hellman's attempt to convince us that there is any such problem! More interesting would have been a discussion of how not only Orive but a whole series of other "Leftists" who started off as student rebels or intellectuals wound up serving the regime faithfully. Or perhaps a more detailed analysis of the history of Orive himself and how he turned coat after having been rejected by the poor peasants he was so set on "organizing." Helman is beating a dead horse long after it has died.

In the end, after reading not only this paragraph but the whole article, what I find sad is that for all her misplaced arrogance, mockery and bellyaching, Hellman tells us absolutely nothing about how foreigners might play a better role in supporting the struggles in Chiapas! All she tells us to do is to read things we have already read, as if we hadn't read them. Well, according to her footnotes, she has read those things. So what has she learned from them that the rest of us have missed? What bearing does what she has learned have on improving efforts to support those in struggle in Chiapas? She cites a web page ( of the Fray Bartelomeo Human Rights Center that lists ten things that foreigners might do to help out. Nowhere does she provide either a critique of those ten things or alternatives. She has nothing useful to say.