Art and the Oaxaca Commune

A recent event in Portland Oregon highlighted the interest that average people have in the ongoing events in Oaxaca, showcasing the dormant political energy that many are desperately trying to direct into action.

At a time when many US citizens feel powerless to stop the criminal direction of ‘their’ government, the examples of revolutionary movements elsewhere give not only hope, but practical education towards organizing a society where humans outrank profit on the list of social priorities.   

The ‘Oaxaca Commune’ in Mexico is such an example.  For three months, the Mexican state of Oaxaca was controlled by a people’s ‘popular assembly’ that took rapid measures in ousting the corrupt state government and its accomplices within the media and police.   

The Mexican federal government has since taken severe action in repressing this popular movement, but further organizing and revolutionary momentum has already begun. The huge successes of the movement and its continued political evolution should thus be an inspiration for all those interested in social progress.     

Art and the Oaxaca Commune Because Oaxaca proved that the masses can become a powerful political force – in this case the sole source of power— the story was suppressed by the international mainstream media.  The scant coverage given by the New York Times simply discounted the events as the actions of wayward ‘anarchists and protesters’.   

It is thus the duty of the working-class to learn about and share this gem of events with those who’ve fallen victim to the media’s blackout. Oaxaca Solidarity groups have sprung-up across the world in an attempt to do this very thing, finding many receptive ears in the process.    

A recent event in Portland Oregon highlighted the interest that average people have in the ongoing events in Oaxaca, showcasing the dormant political energy that many are desperately trying to direct into action. On February 4th, an art show was held at Liberty Hall that displayed the revolutionary street art that emerged from the streets of Oaxaca.  

History has shown that under revolutionary conditions, people’s consciousness undergoes a rapid change, since chaotic environments leave powerful impressions. In consequence, art evolves with lightning speed, as people attempt to give expression to their changes of perception.  The best of this art emerges as a symbolic expression of the movement, capturing the moods of the masses and acting as a motivational and educational force.     

In Oaxaca, the most widely used art is stencil, practical because it is easily transported around the city and quickly spray-painted onto buildings.  The stencil art varies considerably, from mere political slogans to juxtaposed images of past revolutionary figures (a 6-foot stencil of poncho villa sporting a gas-mask is one example).  Much of the art is dedicated to demonizing the federal police and the much-hated Oaxacan governor Ulises Ruis.  Another popular target is the giant corporations that dominate social life, and the connection between these entities and mainstream Mexican media (the television giant Telemundo is ruthlessly portrayed).          

The reception to the Portland art show was astonishing— the venue was filled far beyond capacity.  The Oaxaca-Oregon solidarity group— including WIL members who helped organize the event— used the turnout as a tool for political education: presentations were given about the effects of NAFTA on the region, and how the accumulated discontent paved the way for open insurrection. One of the artists was on hand to help describe the particular context that the paintings were created, giving interesting details about specific scenes.    

In the end, the event succeeded in spreading the word about the events in Oaxaca, as well as raising consciousness about the similarities of experience of people internationally.  The presenters, however, experienced some difficultly in explaining the purpose and significance of Oaxaca’s popular assembly (APPO).  Was this a new government? Or was it simply a ‘social movement’?  The differences of opinion are of no small matter, as confused but eager questions from the audience made clear.     

The successes in Oaxaca automatically raise further questions regarding ‘bottom-up’ organizational methods, and whether or not they should lay the political/social framework for a new society.  For Marxists, this debate has always been a crucial one: organizing a democratic socialist society can only be done with the active participation of the working-class, utilizing such organizational methods like the popular assembly in Oaxaca.  In explaining the relevance of such organizations, and pushing for their implementation and coordination on an international level, the essence of Marxism is revealed.

Click here for a slideshow of some of the pieces in the show.