In December of 1984, this brown woman says "Enough is Enough!", but she says it so softly that only she hears herself. In January of 1994, this woman and several thousand indigenous people not only say but yell "Enough is Enough!", so loudly that all the world hears them...
- 12 Women in the Twelfth Year
Who are the Zapatistas?
"The trenches of Zapatistas belong to everybody who wants democracy, justice and liberty." - Subcomandante Marcos
‘Zapatista’ generally refers to those of the people of Chiapas, Mexico who reject association with the Mexican State in favor of living in a Libertarian Society organised on the basis of Land, Justice and Freedom.
Where did the Zapatistas come from?
''We are a product of 500 years of struggle’’ -First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle
The Zapatistas see themselves as the inheritors of 500 years of Indigenous resistance against European Domination. From the Mayan people that they are descended from who first fought the Spanish, to all those who fought for a free Mexico with Zapata in the Mexican Revolution (Hence the name).
The Zapatistas came to be from the 1968 massacre of Students in Mexico City. At this point many Urban Revolutionaries in Mexico gave up on organising in the centre of the nation and instead moved to rural areas and began to organise there. The founders of the EZLN (The armed wing of the Zapatista movement), three indigenous and three non-indigenous, were among this wave. The EZLN was originally a Marxist-Leninist Organastion, but found little success, with the local people having no reason to trust these outsiders with their European Ideology could offer them positive change. Subcomdante Marcos said that the outside Revolutionaries had to ‘listen, instead of just speak’, and this was the start of Zapatismo.
The Zapatistas spent many years in the mountains, before bursting into open rebellion, and the world’s eyes, in an armed rebellion in 1994. While this failed to start the Second Mexican Revolution they hoped it would, they successfully created an autonomous zone where they could live as they wish free of the influence of the state and capitalism.
What is Zapatismo? What is the practice of Zapatismo?
"You are in Zapatista territory. Here the people command and the government obeys." – Signpost in the Mountains
Zapatismo is not a fixed Ideology, but rather the idea that through a slow process of ‘Walking and Asking Questions’’ within a framework of Direct Democracy and Communal Ownership the people will gradually discover a good path that benefits them.
In practise this means that all decisions are made by direct democratic assemblies. These involves all people who wish to come at the village level, but beyond that the decisions are taken by delegates due to practicalities. The delegates only serve two weeks, and do not have authority to make decisions; they directly represent the will of the people. This was evident during the negotiations with the government, whenever the government made a new proposal the negotiation team would leave, return to the rebel land, and explain the new proposal, when given the response they would return to the negotiations. This took a long time, but this is the pace of democracy. There are also Women’s Assemblies who deal with women’s issue.
All land is owned communally, and is worked non-hierarchy and for the benefit of all. As the Zapatistas say ‘Everything for everyone, and nothing for yourself’.
There are no bosses, no cops, no parties or politicians. The Zapatistas do not live in utopia, but they do live in a society almost entirely free of coercive violence and hierarchy, even while still living in crushing poverty.
Are the Zapatistas Anarchists?
‘’As to whether Marcos is gay: Marcos is gay in San Francisco, black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal,… a Jew in Germany, a Gypsy in Poland, a Kurd in Turkey, a Mohawk in Quebec, a pacifist in Bosnia, a single woman on the Metro at 10pm, a peasant without land, a gang member in the slums, an unemployed worker, an unhappy student and, of course, a Zapatista in the mountains.’’ - Subcomandante Marcos
Anarchism is a peculiar European development of Ideology which rejects hierarchy and the violence that is inherent to it. The Zapatistas are not Anarchists because Anarchism never really enter the minds of the Mayan people.
But are they struggling for the same things we are struggling for? Have they won victories we can only dream of? Do they deserve our full solidarity and support in their struggle?
I can only answer yes.
Where do they want to go from here?
“In our dreams we have seen another world, an honest world, a world decidedly more fair than the one in which we now live. We saw that in this world there was no need for armies; peace, justice and liberty were so common that no one talked about them as far-off concepts, but as things such as bread, birds, air, water, like book and voice.” Subcomandante Marcos
The intention of the Zapatistas was never simply to carve out a small piece of land within the ‘Capitalist hydra’ and live there, free while the rest of the world is in chains. The nation that is referred to in ‘’Zapatista Army of National Liberation’’, is the Mexican nation, and they wish freedom for all Mexico, and the world. But they do not believe that they can do this by invading other lands, this can only happen through other places rising up like they did.
A International Compa asked at the Little School, ‘’Why do you have guns but do not fire them?’’ The Zapatista Compa answered ‘’In 1994 we fired our guns, but we fired alone, and we cannot win alone. So we will fire our guns, but only when you are ready to shoot together’’.
Antonio dreams of owning the land he works on, he dreams that his sweat is paid for with justice and truth, he dreams that there is a school to cure ignorance and medicine to scare away death, he dreams of having electricity in his home and that his table is full, he dreams that his country is free and that this is the result of its people governing themselves, and he dreams that he is at peace with himself and with the world. He dreams that he must fight to obtain this dream, he dreams that there must be death in order to gain life. Antonio dreams and then he awakens…. Now he knows what to do and he sees his wife crouching by the fire, hears his son crying. He looks at the sun rising in the East, and, smiling, grabs his machete. The wind picks up, he rises and walks to meet others. Something has told him that his dream is that of many, and he goes to find them… -Chiapas: The Southeast in Two Winds" (August 1992)