Self-Help Against The State

A war has been raging in Mexico for almost ten years now. The nexus of American drug laws and Americans’ drug use has spawned outlaw cartels who, like the Prohibition-era Mob, use violence to enforce their control of the drug trade. In 2006, the situation was exacerbated when the government of then-president Felipe Calderon launched Operation Michoacan, intended to reassert state control over areas theretofore largely ceded to the cartels. Pressed by state forces, the cartels began campaigns of terror against the local population, designed to deter cooperation with state authorities — and, according to many reports, state forces have done much the same thing.

Caught in the middle, the people of Michoacan have risen up against their tormentors, not with signs and slogans but with rifles in hand, and have put much of the infamous Knights Templar cartel to flight. But not only the cartel has felt the sting of these armed citizens —  upon entering the town of Nueva Italia in Michoacan, the vigilantes did not stop after expelling the Knights Templar, but disarmed the local police, assuming responsibility for the town’s security themselves. These men clearly understand who their enemies are, knowing from long experience that the rule of the Mexican state, fueled by corruption and consumed with violence, is hardly preferable — perhaps even hardly distinguishable — from rule by the cartels.

The Mexican government clearly understands the threat it faces as well. Rather than trying to co-opt the citizens’ militias as the American occupiers did local Iraqi groups that arose in response to the brutality of Islamist fighters, the Mexican government means to crush them, and rightly so from its strategic perspective. These groups have implicitly, and in some cases vocally, repudiated the state’s fundamental claim on existence — the provision of security. When its legions could no longer protect the provincials from raiding and pillage, the days of the Roman Empire were numbered. The Mexican government clearly realizes that if it cannot secure its citizenry — keep the sheep safe in the folds, as it were — then it will lose its claim on them and its ability to shear and slaughter them.

Clearly, these self-defense groups are a far graver threat to the Mexican state than anything any cartel has attempted or likely even desires. States expect to fight with competitors over populations to exploit, but the exploited are supposed to remain passive victims. The cartel may threaten to defeat the state at its own game, but a rising of the people themselves? That threatens the game itself.

Mutual aid isn’t just about helping one another, although helping one another is of course an important and fundamental aspect. Mutual aid is about showing our masters and each other that we don’t need them anymore, that we can get by just fine without begging for scraps from master’s table. When cities try to hamper efforts to feed the homeless, when the United States government steps in to keep health care costs high, when local governments act against locally grown food, when the American FDA steps in to stop people from buying and drinking raw, local milk, and when the Mexican Army and federal police strive to crush citizens’ self-defense forces, they aren’t merely mindlessly enforcing dumb, often antiquated laws. They are acting to keep us atomized and dependent. Mutual aid doesn’t just help our brothers and sisters. Mutual aid terrifies our masters.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory