The following quotations are taken from:

Christopher Day, “Dual Power on the Selva Lacondon,” from A New World in Our Hearts: Eight Years of Writings from the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation. AK Press 2003.

“On April 10, 1998, seventy-nine years to the day after the treacherous murder of Gernal Emiliano Zapata, the community of Taniperlas hosted a celebration of the inauguration of the Autonomous Municipality of Ricardo Flores Magón. At 4:00 am the next morning, roughly nine-hundred soldiers and police invaded Taniperlas, arresting six members of the community, three other Mexicans, and twelve foreigners. They also destroyed the auditorium constructed as a site for democratic assemblies and defaced a beautiful freshly-painted mural.

            The raid on Ricardo Flores Magón has focused attention on a little appreciated aspect of the revolution that the Zapatista have been carrying out in the areas in which they have a significant base of popular support: the construction of revolutionary dual power.

            In December 1994, The Zapatistas broke through their military encirclement by the Mexican Army and declared the creation of thirty-two ‘autonomous municipalities’: democratically-chosen, independent governments based on popular assemblies that would exist parallel to the ‘official’ municipal governments of Chiapas, which are little more than an extension of the one-party rule of the PRI. Each autonomous municipality included a number of communities and their surrounding territory, and like the ‘official’ municipalities, corresponding roughly with the county structure that exists in the US. The autonomous municipal governments were to take on all the functions of governance, including may that had been largely neglected by the ‘official’ PRI-dominated municipalities: public health, settling land disputes, education and so on.

            The seriousness of this challenge to the authority of the Mexican state was made evident by the military offensive launched by the Mexican Army against the Zapatistas in February 1995. The attacks against Ricardo Flores Magón in April 1998 is only further evidence that the government regards these counter-structures as a dangerous example that must be crushed.

            In the weeks since the attack on Ricardo Flores Magón, the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) has called for the formation of twenty, new autonomus municipalities in the states of Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Guerrero; the Organization of Purhepecha Nation (ONP) has called for the creation of autonomous regions in the state of Michoacan. The communities that constituted Ricardo Flores Magón have also declared their determination to re-establish their autonomous municipality in spite of its current occupation by military and paramilitary forces.” 17

“A situation of dual power can be said to characterize all genuine revolutionary social situations. The classic definition of dual power is found in Lenin’s brief article on the subject written in the wake of the February Revolution in Russia, but the phenomena itself has appeared repeatedly in different guises at least as far back as medieval European peasant revolts. In the broadest sense of the term, dual power refers to situations in which a) parallel structures of governance have been created that exist side-by-side with old official state sturctures and that b) these alternative structures compete with the state structures for power and for the allegiance of the people and that c) the old state is unable to crush these alternative structures, at least for a period of time.

            Two qualifying comments should be made here. The first is to distinguish on the one hand between institutions of dual power that have revolutionary aims or are at least perceived as having revolutionary potential (that is to say, they might potentially replace the existing state and constitute themselves as the governing structure of a new reorganized society), and on the other hand, institutions like the Catholic Church or the Mafia that, while retaining a certain autonomy from the state, do not seek to displace it.

            The second distinction that needs to be made is between genuinely democratic institutions of dual power in which the masses have real power and more artificial ones in which the formal appearances mask the effective domination of a new emerging elite. This second distinction is not as tidy as some people like to suggest, as there exists a continuum between the two, and a given expression of dual power is likely to move in one direction or another along that continuum in response to developments in the struggle for power. Existing structures that had previously shown relatively little democratic vitality can, under revolutionary conditions, sometimes be infused with more democratic content by the determined will of the people. Old communal village structures have repeatedly undergone such transformations in the course of peasant revolutions. Similarly, genuinely democratic structures of dual power, like the soviets in revolutionary Russia, can come under the domination of anti-democratic minority like the Bolsheviks and be progressively drained of their democratic content. Generally speaking, the historical experience has been that movements away from democracy taken in the name of emergency conditions is not reversed when those conditions change (when internal and external threats to revolution subside).

            Finally, there are the supposed structures of dual power that are under the domination of an aspiring elite from the very beginning and that never manifest the kind of open discussion and contention that characterize genuine democracy. Again, it should not be automatically assumed in these cases that these structures don’t represented some sort of radical break with the old order. In the absence of any previously existing democratic traditions, these sorts of manipulated ersatz popular assemblies may actually constitute a dramatic step forward in the degree of popular participation in governance. They represent a grudging acknowledgement of the power of the people as a legitimate force for the new state. Neither should it be assumed that the rank and file participation in such structures means that the people have been duped. Such a view negates their agency and flattens out what is always a more complicated situation. While consciousness in such situations is always uneven, many participants undoubtedly see these structures as a means to certain specific ends (land reform, expulsion of foreign occupying armies, an end to certain particularly onerous social practices like foot binding, etc.) and have few illusions about he more grandiose promises to storm heaven or turn the world upside down. They are engaged in a sort of real politik of the oppressed: knowing their own strength and weaknesses, they throw their lot in with a new gang of bosses to throw out the old in the hopes of extracting certain concessions in the process.

            Keeping all these qualifying considerations in mind, it is still possible to talk about a genuinely democratic and revolutionary dual power and to find many examples of it, albeit generally short lived, throughout history. These instances share a number of important features. The first is the primacy of popular and democratic assemblies in which people have the real freedom to speak their minds as the ultimate source of governing authority. Particular responsibilities may be delegated to committees subordinated to the popular assemblies. Others may be delegated upwards through confederal regional and/or national delegate bodies. But the foundation of power is the people themselves meeting in popular assembly. The assemblies might be based in the workplace, the neighborhood or the village. Elected delegates, officials, and leaders are generally immediately recallable and often subject to rotation to prevent their ossification into a new ruling elite.” 18-19

“Within the consciousness of oppressed people there is a constant battle between two kinds of consciousness. On the one hand, we have all been socialized by the very institutions that maintain our oppression: family, school, religion, the media, and the economic structures that exploit our labor. These institutions fill us up with their ideology, with the ideas that justify their power over us. At the same time, there is the actual fact of our oppression, our basic human desire to be free and to exercise control over our own lives, and our periodic experiences of individual and collective resistance that give rise to counter-consciousness. This is a constant battle that one can never escape so long as there are oppressive social relationships. In every individual these two kinds of consciousness exist side by side. The balance differs, the degree to which the counter-consciousness is articulated or coherent varies, but the fundamental fact of this dual consciousness is constant.

            Counter-consciousness is not necessarily revolutionary in the sense of taking the form of a coherent grasp of the totality of oppression and what must be done to destroy the oppressive order and replace it with a new just and free society. Generally, the counter-consciousness is alloyed with elements of the dominant oppressive ideology. This ‘contamination’ on the level of ideas corresponds with the actual character of peoples’ struggles to be free in the real world. Social struggles are rarely pure expressions of the fight between the oppressed and their oppressors. Aspiring elites and middle forces offer their organizational skills and resources to the oppressed in the conscious or unconscious hope of riding the struggle to power. The oppressed accept this alliance, perhaps grudgingly, in the hopes of improving their lot but usually swallow some of the ideology of their allies in the process.

            To speak of revolutionary consciousness then, involves an understanding that is not necessarily something pure. Revolutionary consciousness refers to the point at which the counter-consciousness of the oppressed becomes articulated as a coherent critique of the existing society and a plan to transform it through the revolutionary actions of the oppressed.” 21

“Another important point here is that revolutionary consciousness is collective. Individuals can come to revolutionary conclusions, but it is only when they start to talk to each other about those conclusions and attempt to draw out larger more general truths by looking at all of their experiences and drawing on all of their knowledge that we can talk meaningfully of revolutionary consciousness.


The creation of a nucleus of people with a revolutionary consciousness was the first stage in the development of dual power in Chiapas. The process of bringing people to that consciousness was, of course, a continuous wone. But once a certain critical mass existed, they were able to move to a new level—to begin to put their ideas into practice.” 22

“The EZLN did not introduce direct action to the indigenous communities of Chiapas. Those communities had been engaged in ongoing practices of resistance for 500 years. Land occupations had been going on for decades before the FLN appeared in Chiapas. What the EZLN did was couple the practice of direct action with a revolutionary consciousness and develop a revolutionary strategy.” 22

“The relationship between the EZLN and the indigenous communities began as an almost purely practical one. The communities in the Selva (where the Zapatistas first established themselves) were facing a rising tide of state repression and violence on the part of the ‘Guardias Blancas’ organized by the landlords who were seeking to push them off their lands. The EZLN offered to train the communities in the use of firearms and in organization of village defenses. The communities accepted this arrangement and sent their sons and daughters to the EZLN’s camps to train with the guerillas. But of course the training they received went beyond the immediate practical considerations of community defense. It also involved political training that enabled the sons and daughters of the community to see their struggle for land in a larger global context. With this new understanding they came to see that a purely defensive approach to their problems was a losing proposition. Behind the white guards were the police and behind the police were the army. If they wanted to win, they needed to be prepared to fight the army and not just the Guardias Blancas. The revolutionary implications of deciding to fight back were always there but it took a revolutionary organization to draw them out and articulate them in a coherent way that could convince people at the moment they were ready to be convinced.

            While the existence of the EZLN was a closely guarded secret under the principle of the ‘slow accumulation of forces’ that the EZLN probably picked up[ from the Guatemalan guerillas, their cadres were active in the ongoing political struggles of the 1980s. They participated in demonstrations and land occupations. When the Maoist-initiated campesino organization, ARIC, split over whether to focus on building a cooperative bank or carrying out more land occupations, the EZLN cadres when with the more militant faction and participated in the armed defense of occupied lands through this period. They also participated in mass mobilizations, including a March on Mexico city and the famous October 12, 1992 March on San Cristóbal (where the statue of the city founder-conquistador Diego de Mazariegos was toppled while armed Zapatista units waited to defend the march if it was attacked.)

            All these forms of direct action gave thousands of people direct experience in a political struggle, a sense of their own capacity for independent action, and knowledge that the enemy was not invulnerable. These things are all crucial building blocks in the construction of dual power. Without the experience of their own power in more limited contests, it is impossible for large numbers of people to acquire the confidence necessary to set about building institutions parallel to the existing power structure.” 23

“…counter-institutions in Chiapas… train their participants in self-organization, organizational process, and putting democratic ideals into practice on the ground. In this sense, the counter-institutions represent pre-figurative forms of the new society. There is nothing automatic or easy about building democratic structure. It is a long, hard fight to overcome the many obstacles, starting with our own socialization, that this society puts in the way of such projects. Building such structures in the context of the sort of societal collapse in which revolutions actually take place is even more difficult. Every bit of previous experience becomes extremely valuable in such situations. To the degree that large numbers of people are not prepared for such tasks, these tasks will tend to fall to the minority who have organizational expertise, and in this moment we see the beginning of the new elite. The creation of counter-institutions is one of the most important things we can do to prepare for the construction of genuine revolutionary dual power.

            A second function of counter-institutions is to provide a more or less independent economic base for the revolutionary movement. The money that indigenous communities earned by cooperatively selling their produce rather than handing them over to a middle-man, became money that could buy radios, uniforms, guns, trucks, medicines, and whatever else the communities and the EZLN would need to take the struggle to new levels. Of course, not all counter-institutions are profit-making concerns. Many, such as alternative media projects or community centers, consume the movement’s resources but broaden the base of support for the movement and thereby give it more access to resources. No revolutionary movement can succeed without establishing some sort of economic basis to support its activities.

            Just as there is nothing inherently revolutionary in taking militant direct action, there is nothing inherently revolutionary about building counter-institutions. It should never be imagined that by establishing a collective or a cooperative one is actually breaking out of capitalism. On the contrary, one is in a sense becoming an effective capitalist. Successful counter-institutions that really meet the needs of a community can often be easily integrated into the existing social order, and thereby even become an example of the viability of the system. This reformist potential exists in all ‘Sere the People’ projects. Direct action often seems more revolutionary than building counter-institutions precisely because the latter often attracts people who are still holding on to hopes for reformist solutions or who have careerist aspirations for their own integration into the existing power structure.

            The only thing that makes a counter-institution revolutionary is the determination of its organizers to use it to build the revolutionary movement by training new cadres and channeling resources into the struggle.” 24

“The creation of autonomous municipalities was thus the culmination of a prolonged process that involved the development of revolutionary consciousness, first among a small group of people and then more broadly, a consistent practice of direct action, and the construction of counter-institutions. These were necessary preparatory steps for launching the autonomous municipalities, the organs of genuine revolutionary dual power in Chiapas.

            A situation of revolutionary dual power is inherently unstable. It can not last forever. Dual power is not an end in itself. Rather, it is a necessary stage in the revolutionary process. The question that is confronted as soon as dual power structures are brought into being is whether or not they will be able to survive. There are two threats to such survival. The first is external: the repressive power of the still-existing state. The second is internal: the process by which the democratic content of such structures are hollowed out by various ‘emergency measures’ advanced consciously or unconsciously by aspiring new elites.” 25

“The question of how to defeat both the internal and external threats to the organs of revolutionary dual power is intimately tied up with the question of revolutionary military strategy. On the one hand, the necessity of defending the gains of the revolution against external enemies demands the repression of counter-revolutionaries and some degree of military centralization. On the other hand, it is precisely those repressive measures and that military centralization that constitute the internal threat to the democratic character of the revolutionary institutions.” 25

“The revolutionary army was placed under the command not of a political party claiming (by virtue of its program) to represent the interests of the people but of the directly and democratically elected representatives of the communities themselves.

            The ability of the EZLN to transfer command to a representative body elected in popular assemblies under clandestine conditions is a reflection of the particular cohesion of the indigenous communities among which the Zapatistas had based themselves. It is questionable whether such a transition could be engineered in a socially atomized, advanced-capitalist society or even in most non-indigenous peasant societies.” 27

“The state is traditionally defined as the monopoly on legitimate violence—as the collection of institutions which are recognized as the final arbiters of social conflict: the police, the army, the courts, the prisons, the legislative bodies, and administrative bureaucracies. But this definition misses the most crucial feature of the state: that it exists as a body over and alienated from the people. What distinguishes the existing society from our vision of stateless society is not whether the institutions of governance have a monopoly on violence but whether those institutions are genuinely controlled by the people.” 27