About two years ago I went on a trip to Mexico, more specifically to Playa del Carmen. As an objective of the trip, I set myself the task of working for one month there to earn enough money to continue on to Chiapas, and from there -if time and cash allowed- to cross over into Guatemala.
Beyond the difficulties I had in realizing this adventure (such as having to work thirteen hours a day, eating once a day, walking forever to see new places, and painstakingly saving with the aim of realizing my plans), what really impacted me was the gigantic contrast that exists between the city and the countryside.
Arriving at Playa del Carmen, it was not difficult for me to get work. I was lucky, since there were many others also in search of bread and butter, most of them university students and campesinos from nearby, like those from Chiapas.
I worked serving drinks at a bar and grill, which didn’t leave me a lot of time for anything more than that. In the hours I had left, I worked making crafts to sell and the rest of the time I used for sleeping. I stayed there for 25 days, bearing witness in my own flesh to how glorious it is to have free time to develop as person.
Succeeding in establishing good relations with my co-workers, though getting into certain conflicts with the boss before getting paid what was due me, I left with everything I had saved -which was not a lot- to continue the voyage I had prepared to undertake.
Continuing my life far from that reality doesn’t erase the breathtaking images of the five star hotels, the late-model cars, private security, discos, or the service and attention given to the rich and fortunate of Europe and the world. Along with all this was a drug market disguised as bars and pizzerias set up on a small property on the Yucatan Peninsula.
There, where all luxuries converge, one forgets the other side of the coin – those who are back in the kitchen and behind the bar, those who clean up at the end of the day, those who struggle for their degrees within and outside the university, those who move away from their families and fields to send home money each payday, those who have no other alternative but to continue struggling to survive.
In addition, it was not easy for me to forget that a third of those who worked did so for pennies. These were children and teens younger than 14, who were forced to drop out of school to bring home bread at the end of every day.
Arriving in Chiapas, I witnessed the arduous labor of the campesinos, working from dawn to dark, without finding any justification for what many university professionals proclaim when explaining that their high standard of living is due to their intellectual development (as if others don’t contribute to the development of society).
In that case it would be fitting to ask: How did they finance their studies, and how is it that they achieved such fitting lifestyles for their intellectual development?
I have now obtained some answers. Their ultra-right faction responds, “This is due to immanent personal qualities”; others -more economics-minded- attribute this to personal “sacrifices” or to the efforts of many generations in their family, which is no more than the surplus value stolen from workers throughout humanity’s history.
Yes, there are groups that can develop intellectually by means of sacrifice, this is owing to the need of the powers at be to sustain their hegemony with art, science, services, technological development, etc., as a means of production.
But this is also as a result of successful protest struggles won through social upheavals that force capital to cede any of its organs so as not to lose its very head, though this does not result in anything close to a balance of power since capital can later take back what it has lost.
All this, with their particularities, was repeated in Guatemala. Without turning a blind eye, I don’t believe that any part of the world is exempt from this conflict that divides intellectual work from manual labor, with its consequent difficulty between the overseers and the overseen, which means nothing more than maintaining the status quo of the exploited and the exploiters.
Famines, wars, street crime, violations of all human beings of diverse types will continue being repeated if we don’t begin to take the reins of society in our hands. But this will only be possible if we have a vision that embraces the entirety of economic, political and socio-cultural conflicts as a whole and in their interrelation throughout history. Without revolutionary resistance that builds against hegemony, we won’t find an exit to this social crisis.
We must sustain an ongoing revolution that develops critical thought. To advance toward a superior stage, the previous stage must be kept in mind – studying it thoroughly so as not to regress but to develop a more cognoscible method of reality.
Socialism is cultivated; one does not just wait for the fruit to ripen.