“We are communality, the opposite of individuality, we are communal territory, not private property; we are sharing, not competition; we are polytheism, not monotheism. We are exchange, not business; diversity, not equality, although in the name of equality we are also oppressed. We are interdependent, not free. We have authorities, not monarchs.” (Jaime Martínez Luna in his book, Eso que llaman la comunalidad)
The way of life in the majority of Oaxacan communities is its system - social, cultural, economic. Like any other system in the world that people have invented to guide their lives, this one also has its challenges. As a result, there are various gradients of communality. Some communities are strict, others relaxed, with the majority finding themselves in the middle. For example, in some places in Oaxaca, the communal way of life and its uses and customs have also been exercised to grow marijuana and benefit from it.
Another challenge that the communities face is their local-patriotism. Some communities might seem enclosed, hard to enter. While individuals in the communities think more in terms of us than just I, communities tend to be community-centric. It often results in a fractured region of competition and rivalry between communities.
Zapotec intellectual Jaime Martínez Luna and researchers from the Universidad de la Sierra Juárez: Mario Fernando Ramos Morales, Mario Fuente, and a researcher from Universidad de la Tierra in Oaxaca, Arturo Guerrero, discuss if communality can be an alternative to capitalism in other parts of the world and how it can be adapted - if so. They also offer their views on the phenomena of capitalist societies, such as individualism, missing values and morals, and the change of an era.
Arturo Guerrero: I do not think it is possible to take it and bring it somewhere else because it is a way of life that corresponds with a specific place and a specific history. It can serve as inspiration. Not as a recipe, but as hope.
The first step would be an individual disposition. The disposition of giving, of attending the other, of being with him or her. What I believe is that they (those who want to get inspired) can start from the pillars of communality: territory, authority, communal work and celebration. In the beginning, it is possible to create a territory in a place that is your own, and that is not necessarily physical, it is rather like a network, an enclosed space.
Fernando Ramos: A few years ago, there was a case of young people from some Latin American country. I do not remember which one it was. They came to Oaxaca to learn how the villages and towns were organized, and they took the principles with them and transformed them to fit a company environment. How did they do it? For example, when you have collective work going on in a community, the municipal president and the local attorney general are the leaders in the sense that people follow what they are doing. If they sit down to rest, others will also rest. And if they work without stopping, others also work, it is a must to follow as they are setting up a moral example. Those young people brought it into their company where before the highest managers did not know their workers and vice versa. They made managers co-live with their workers, work in the same environment, and it has become the key element for the administration of that particular company.
Mario Fuente: It would be easy to say yes, but it would also be arrogant and out of context. They are completely different contexts, different cultures and different necessities.
Jaime Martínez Luna states that “individualism is a fiction invented by the Western world. Listen to him and his thoughts on individualism.
Fernando Ramos: I understand freedom as “us”, I do not understand it as “me” or for me. The more I am involved in the community, the freer I am. It seems ambiguous and contradictory, but it is not. For example, some people would say that the migrants who are still involved in the community of origin are not free. I think they are more free than others who are already in the existential crisis of individualism. I feel that they have reached their limit, the limit of individualism, and they do not know what to do next.
The West has lost most of the metanarratives that gave sense to the lives of people, such as family, religion, the state, democracy... All these metanarratives of the West are crumbling, and the individual has lost his way. What was guiding his freedom has gone, and the metanarratives are overthrown. So, the individual is now totally free and autonomous, but what now? Where to go next? In this sense, capitalism uses the loneliness and anxiety created by this situation, and it says: Here, you have everything you need, you do not need God, nor religion, anything like that.
Jaime Luna: If communality is a logic of reasoning, a thinking process that is generated from the interdependence of everything, then it can be a proper path because mutual help can be explained as a complementary economy necessary to exist. It is not required in the production of things for the market, and it is required to think about it if you produce for direct consumption. For example, exchanging if you grow more onions and I grow more tomatoes. This way, we consume less from outside, we foster internal production and thus slow down the impact of outside markets. As long as major decisions are taken by everybody, we will be able to walk on our own without depending on foreign economies. Communality offers you that possibility, yet it requires a change of logic, a change of reasoning, of seeing and understanding the world.
Arturo Guerrero: In the Universidad de la Tierra, we are exploring a hypothesis. We think that capitalism and patriarchy will not fall as a consequence of a revolution in the future. It will be a process of destruction and will collapse. At the moment, we can already find forms of non-capitalist and non-patriarchal relations. People are already generating - even if not completely, but partially - different relationships, for example, in neighbourhoods and communities. We have to locate them and learn from them to empower them. I imagine many of these are being created in Europe, too.
Arturo Guerrero: I think the challenge of communality is more general. I think that with the establishment of communality in Oaxaca, the Andes, or other places, for example in South Africa, we will see the change of an era: the end of colonialism and the beginning of a different era. Indigenous people are no longer a problem, and they are becoming the solution. On the indigenous side, the challenge is to arrange their knowledge properly and have enough imagination to create possibilities in this new situation, that is to say, that they have to have enough courage to start building a different civilization process. They need to find a way to leave behind their position as victims and concentrate on the actual opportunity that they have.
At the same time, there is a concept of non-communal prevalent in the West. The modern era rises from a reflection that the West achieves things thanks to being superior towards others. The West needs to understand that it is not that indigenous people would dominate, they’re just not playing their game anymore. They are not above anybody, nor above civilization. It is just that it is not about imposing on anybody any more; it is about learning. But, it is hard for the Western ego...