A - I n f o s
a multi-lingual news service by, for, and about anarchists **

News in all languages
Last 40 posts (Homepage) Last two weeks' posts

The last 100 posts, according to language
Castellano_ Deutsch_ Nederlands_ English_ Français_ Italiano_ Polski_ Português_ Russkyi_ Suomi_ Svenska_ Türkçe_ The.Supplement

The First Few Lines of The Last 10 posts in:
Castellano_ Deutsch_ Nederlands_ English_ Français_ Italiano_ Polski_ Português_ Russkyi_ Suomi_ Svenska_ Türkçe
First few lines of all posts of last 24 hours || of past 30 days | of 2002 | of 2003 | of 2004 | of 2005 | of 2006 | of 2007

Syndication Of A-Infos - including RDF | How to Syndicate A-Infos
Subscribe to the a-infos newsgroups
{Info on A-Infos}

(en) The Zapatistas - an anarchist analysis of their structure and direction - by Joe - WSM - Lucy Parsons pamphlet II. (2/3)

Date Sun, 06 May 2007 13:09:23 +0300

Autonomous municapalities
The consultas are ideal for making the big decisions on the questions of war or peace. However, state wide votes are far too unwieldy to settle smaller questions. Some of the more important can be settled by the CCRI, but from 1995 another regional structure emerged to deal with regional co-ordination and record keeping.The rebellion has also meant Zapatista communities refusing all contact with the Mexican state - right down to refusing to register births and deaths. The practical problem thrown up by the need for inter community co-ordination saw the formation of these regional councils. These are known as Autonomous Municipalities. For instance 100 communities make up the Autonomous Municipality named after the Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magon. Another, Tierra y Libertad, on the border with Guatemala contains a total of 120 Tzotzil, Tseltal and Tojolobal communities from the official government municipalities of Las Margaritas, Ocosingo, La Trinitaria, La Independencia and Frontera Comalap.[8]

EZLN Commandante Samuel explained the reason's why the
EZLN decided to create these liberated zones, "It was an idea
that surfaced in 1994 as a way of not having to interact with
government institutions. We said `Enough!' to them controlling
all aspects of our community for us. By creating autonomous
municipalities we are defining our own spaces where we can
carry out our social and political customs as we see fit, without
a government that never takes us into account, interfering for its
self- benefit." [9]
The Non-Governmental Organization, SIPAZ, has this to say
concerning the Autonomous Municipalities:
"Considered from a western political perspective, the autono-
mous municipalities make no sense. They have no resources or
real power or legal legitimacy, and they are dying, encircled by
hunger, diseases, the paramilitary threat and the security forces.
However, for the indigenous peoples, they constitute an eloquent
symbol of a culture which is resisting and defying the dominant
culture, making a reality of a different way of understanding
politics and of organizing the economy, society, and even human
relations." [10]
In fact SIPAZ is wrong to state that the municapalities make
no sense from the western perspective. Europe has seen similar
structures emerge at times of revolutionary upheavel, as Soviets
in 1905 and 1917 in Russia, as Workers Councils in Germany
from 1918-23, as Factory Councils in Italy in 1920-21, as Work-
ers Committees and Cantonal Federations in Spain in 1936-37
and as recently as 1974-76 in Portugal as Workers Committees
and Neighboorhood Commissions. Ireland even saw a short
lived example during the Limerick general strike of 1919 when
the trades council took over much of the running to the town and
even issued its own money. Although these structures differed
from each other and from the structures in Chiapas they all rep-
resented a mechanism for ordinary people to run their societies
The business of the Autonomous Municipality is concerned with
the practicalities of day to day life rather then the issuing of com-
muniques[41] or the commanding of troops. As such they are
perhaps less exciting then the CCRI or the military command of
the EZLN and so only receive media coverage when the army
invades the towns where they are based in order to try and de-
stroy them. But for the ordinary Zapatistas it is the very day
to day nature of the Autonomous Municipality that means they
have a major impact on life
One observer, Mariana Mora, explains that "Within the newly
created municipal structures, the communities name their au-
thorities, community teachers, local health promoters, indige-
nous parliaments, and elaborate their own laws based on social,
economic, political and gender equality among the inhabitants
of diverse ethnic communities.
In the autonomous municipality 17 de Noviembre, located in the
region of Altamirano, educational promoters from the region's
75 communities meet regularly through workshops and meet-
ings in order to create the municipality's new educational sys-
Education is an important example of the depth of the impact
of the Autonomous Municapilities, for instance in the Ocosingo
region "People from the communities are saying that they might
as well suspend the present education because it is being im-
posed from above. We consider that the present education does
not include the four themes that we think are the most important:
the economic question, the political question and the cultural
and social questions. So now we are calling on all the teachers
to elaborate a new educational project that is supported by the
community bases and that is based on the four main themes men-
tioned. At this point all the schools are closed which was agreed
on by the base communities. The communities (of our region)
have said, we will close all the schools and call together all the
professors who work in this region so that they can develop their
proposal, even though we also have ours." [11]
How they function
Enlace Civil, another Mexican NGO in detailing the govern-
ment's attempts to smash the Autonomous Municipalities ex-
plains how they function;
"The autonomous municipalities are made up by the indigenous
communities within an area defined by zapatista influence. The
communities of an indigenous zone or area are the ones who
decide, at an assembly of all their members, whether or not they
will belong to the autonomous municipality.
The autonomous municipalities, parallel to the constitutional
ones, do not receive any financing from the state, nor do they
collect taxes.
It is the communities who elect their representatives for the
Autonomous Municipal Council, which is the authority for the
municipality. Each representative is chosen for one area of ad-
ministration within the autonomous municipality, and they may
be removed if they do not fully comply with the communities'
Generally, a Council is made up of a President, a Vice-Presi-
dent, a Secretary, a Minister of Justice, a person in charge of
Agrarian Matters, a Health Committee and a director for the
Civil Registry. Each members' powers are clearly defined within
their appointment, and they function in a collegial manner, with
the advice of previous authorities or of the Council of Elders.
The Councils are elected and renewed every one or two years,
according to the municipality.
The activities and the responsibilities of each autonomous mu-
nicipality are dependent on the will of their members, and on
their level of consolidation. They do not manage public resourc-
es, and their budget, if it exists at all, is very limited, and due
to the cooperation of some of their members. Those who hold
a position on the Municipal Council do not receive a salary for
it, although their expenses should be paid by the same commu-
nities who request their presence, through cooperation among
the members. In some cases, members of the Council are sup-
ported in their farm work, so they can dedicate themselves to
their [Council] work, and not have to go the fields.
The autonomous municipalities resolve local problems of coex-
istence, relations and exchanges between communities, and they
attend to minor crimes. The application of justice is based on
customary law. For example, in cases of common crimes, the
punishment imposed by the Autonomous Council is reparation of
the damages: instead of punishment by jail or fines, a sentence
is imposed of working for the community, or for the aggrieved
In the autonomous municipality of Polho, in Chenalho, where
thousands of war displaced are found, the Autonomous Council
receives national and international humanitarian aid, and it dis-
tributes it to the camps through the Supply Committee." [10]
It is this sort of decision-making structure that truly determines
the health of a revolution rather then the fine words of its lead-
ers or the slogans it is organised under. And also of course they
present a clear alternative to the state (and seizing state power)
something the Leninist left is reluctant to acknowledge. Strange-
ly enough both the Mexican government and the local Catholic
church seem to be more on the ball here.
A document written by the Catholic Dioceses of San Cristobal
de las Casas says "The naming of authorities through indigenous
norms and customs, signifies that the political party system is
no longer the only channel to elect authorities and government
representatives. At a local level municipal presidents imposed by
the PRI are left governing only themselves, without being able
to penetrate into the communities. Basically this means the slow
destruction of the false democracy sustained by the political
party system and its replacement by communities and organiza-
tions that construct their own history first as autonomous mu-
nicipalities and eventually as autonomous zones."[9]
It is revealing how much left commentary on the Zapatistas ig-
nores these structures altogether. Instead the Zapatistas are ana-
lyised on the basis of the revolutionary laws or the demands they
have put forward in the peace process. Such an analysis seems to
stem more from the observers wish to be in power then any true
understanding of what a revolution should look like.
On the local level of Chiapas it is this issue of autonomy that
the government most fears as it threatens to remove their right
to impose decisions on the people completely. "In its very basic
form autonomy consists in recapturing and restoring the culture
and self-determination taken away over the last 504 years. That
is, in terms of territory, that the people that live in a region ad-
minister their own economy, their own politics, their own culture
and their own resources." [11]
The idea of autonomy provides the core of the attraction many of
the international supporters of the Zapatistas have for the rebel-
lion in Chiapas. But, at least as the EZLN see it, it is not an idea
without its contradictions. Not least the danger of perceiving
these structures as just being applicable to Chiapas or co-exist-
ing with the apparatus of state rule.
Some problems I see
The criticisms I'm moving on to make are from the perspective
of anarchism. Modern socialism first arrived in Mexico with the
Greek anarchist Plotino Rhodakanaty in early 1861. In the next
60 years Mexican anarchism went through many stages (paral-
lel with the developments in Europe) which included the first
agrarian uprising with a positive program and the formation of
the Mexican trade unions. To this day the anarchist flag (red in
one diagonal, black in the other) is the symbol used to indicate a
strike in progress in Mexico.
Almost immediately the Mexican anarchists realised the connec-
tion between the society they were fighting for and elements of
the traditional practise of the indigenous people. They advocated
linking up with the indigenous people on this basis. By 1867 the
anarchist Chávez López who declared "I am a socialist because I
am the enemy of all governments, and I am a communist because
my brothers wish to work the lands in common" had launched
the first rural insurrectionary movement. In 1869 in April they
issued in a manifesto calling for "the revered principle of au-
tonomous village governments to replace the sovereignty of a
national government viewed to be the corrupt collaborator of
the hacendados".[42]
There is no room here for a detailed discussion of anarchism in
Mexico, John M Hart's "Anarchism and the Mexican Working
Class" is a useful English language introduction. The introduc-
tion above is just to demonstrate that the history of anarchism in
Mexico is considerably longer and more important then even the
key figures of Zapata and Ricardo Flores Magnon imply.
Mexican anarchism was destroyed as a mass force by the 1930's
and although small collectives have kept the ideas alive after
this point revolutionary politics, including those of the Zapatis-
tas, tended to stem from Marxist origins. However the Zapatistas
represent a return to at least some of the ideas of the Mexican
From this point of view the most attractive aspect of the Zap-
atistas is that they demonstrate how decisions can be effectively
made without a need for electing individuals to represent our
views. On the historic level, there is a conflict between systems
of direct democracy on the one hand and government on the oth-
er. In Russia 1918 and Barcelona 1937, as elsewhere, this con-
flict led to the government using force to dissolve the structures
of direct democracy. So from the anarchist perspective there is
a choice to be made here, you are for one or the other but not
I cannot claim that the Zapatistas agree. Indeed it is precisely to
these sort of debates that Marcos was responding in May 1995
when he wrote (in imagining his political trial)
"The communists accuse him of being anarchist: guilty
The anarchists accuse him of being orthodox: guilty".[43]
Because I disagree with a lot of what follows, precisely because
I consider the Zapatistas to be somewhat `orthodox' in terms of
electoral politics, I quote extensively below from the material
they have produced explaining their position.
The Zapatisatas seem to argue for the co-existance of their sys-
tem of direct democracy and the indirect electoral system of the
Mexican state. They also talk of reforming the electoral system,
by introducing some element of leading by obeying. Marcos in
1995 claimed that "What is in crisis is the system, the govern-
ment, the old things and the anachronous ways of doing politics.
But the nation can survive with a new pact, with a new political
class, and with new forms of doing politics." [18] The existance
of a distinct `political class' separate from the ordinary people
implies the continued existence of some form of state system.
On December 8 2000 the CCRI referred to Amado Avendano
who had probably won the 1996 election as governour of Chia-
pas and who was widely recognised as the `rebel governor'. "Six
years after his taking office, Don Amado Avendano has acquitted
himself well to those who elected him and, despite the electoral
fraud committed against him, who supported him.
The zapatista indigenous communities, through the EZLN, are
publicly recognizing the former Governor of Chiapas today.
He can have satisfaction in having carried out his duty." [23]
Again the implication here is that if Amado Avendano had been
allowed into power the Zapatistas could have worked with him.
In the 1994 presidential election it appears that most Zapatistas
voted for Cardinas, the candidate of the opposition PRD even if
the Zapatistas stopped short of publicaly endorsing him.
Although the Zapatistas have broken with many elements of
their political past one thing that appears to have carried over is a
stages theory of liberation. In the old days this would have talked
about the need for national liberation to preceed a socialist revo-
lution. Today the Zapatistas still seem to talk of the need for two
stages, the first of which is equivalent to a national revolution.
Their ideas were spelled out in some detail in the Second Decla-
ration from the Lacandon Jungle;
"We aren't proposing a new world, but something preceding a
new world: an antechamber looking into the new Mexico. In this
sense, this revolution will not end in a new class, faction of a
class, or group in power. It will end in a free and democratic
space for political struggle. This free and democratic space will
be born on the fetid cadaver of the state party system and the
tradition of fixed presidential succession. A new political rela-
tionship will be born, a relationship based not in the confron-
tation of political organizations among themselves, but in the
confrontation of their political proposals with different social
classes. Political leadership will depend on the support of these
social classes, and not on the mere exercise of power. In this new
political relationship, different political proposals (socialism,
capitalism, social democracy, liberalism, christian democracy,
etc.) will have to convince a majority of the nation that their
proposal is the best for the country. The groups in power will
be watched by the people in such a way that they will be obli-
gated to give a regular accounting of themselves, and the people
will be able to decide whether they remain in power or not. The
plebiscite is a regulated form of confrontation among the nation,
political parties, and power, and it merits a place in the highest
law of the country." [20]

The 2000 elections
An EZLN communique released for the Presidential election in
June 2000 discusses at length the flaws of the current systems
and possible reforms to it;
"In Mexico, presidentialism has been a heavy burden and an ob-
stacle for democracy. Even though we have not had a president
in the last 70 years who has not belonged to the official party,
the possible arrival to the presidential chair of the opposition
does not mean "movement towards democracy," if the executive
branch continues to be concentrated in one single person, and
while the branches charged with legislating and upholding the
law are merely decorative elements which are changed every 3
or 6 years. The survival of the presidentialist system in Mexico is
a fact. What kind of democracy is this, in which the fundamental
decisions of a nation fall to one single individual for six years?
An autonomous legislative branch, independent of the execu-
tive, is essential in a democracy. Nonetheless, the campaigns
for deputies and senators have passed unnoticed. The natural
passion over the presidential contest has managed to conceal
an advance which has already been seen during the last 6 year
term which is now ending: a legislative branch struggling for its
independence and autonomy.
In addition to confronting the executive, the legislative branch
should become independent of party leaders, who not infrequently
replace leaders of the parliamentary wings in those agreements
and regulations which correspond exclusively to the legislative
arena. Legislating is not the prerogative of the political parties,
but of those who are democratically elected to that task.
At the back of the line behind the presidential campaigns, the
campaigns by the legislative candidates are not winning any-
thing for themselves, nor are they of any benefit to those who are
seeking executive office. They are different elections, because
their function is different. The legislative contests deserve an at-
tention they have not received.
We hope that the next legislature - which has been so neglected
during these elections - does not carry out their work tied to
commitments with their party leadership or with the elected ex-
ecutive, but with the Mexican men and women who, having voted
or not for their candidacies, make up the Mexican nation and
are the ones with whom they must make laws.
Today, in response to the current election process, the zapatistas
declare ourselves to be in favor of an authentic balance of pow-
ers. Not just in the exercise of their duties, but also in the fight
for seats. It is as important to know about the proposals and po-
sitions of those candidates seeking to be deputies and senators
as it is to know of those of the presidential candidates. The end of
presidentialism is a condition for democracy in Mexico.
...Today, in response to the current election process, the zapatis-
tas denounce that it is not an election of citizens responding to
political proposals, and those who represent them, but rather a
state election, with the opposition confronting not only the of-
ficial party, but the entire machinery of the Mexican state. No
election can be called "democratic" under these conditions.
For zapatistas, democracy is much more than an electoral con-
test or changes in power. But it is also an election fight, if it is
clean, equitable, honest and plural.
That is why we say that electoral democracy is not sufficient for
democracy, but it is an important part of it. That is why we are
not anti-election. We believe political parties have a role to play
(nor are we anti-party, although we have criticisms of party do-
We believe that the elections represent, for millions of persons, a
space for dignified and respectable struggle.
Election time is not the time for the zapatistas. Not just because
of our being without face and our armed resistance. But also,
and above all, for our devotion to finding a new way of doing
politics, which has little or nothing to do with the current one.
We want to find a politics which goes from below to above, one
in which "governing obeying" is more than a slogan; one in
which power is not the objective; one in which "referendum"
and "plebiscite" are more than just words which are difficult to
spell; one in which an official can be removed from his position
by popular election.
Concerning the political parties, we say that we do not feel rep-
resented by any of them. We are neither PRDs or PANs, even
less PRIs.
We criticize the parties' distance from society, that their exist-
ence and activities are regulated only by the election calendar,
the political pragmatism that goes beyond its mandate, the cyni-
cal juggling act of some of their members, their contempt for the
Democracy - regardless of who is in power - is the majority of
people having decision making power concerning issues that
concern them. It is the power of the people to sanction those in
government, depending on their capacity, honesty and effective-
The zapatista concept of democracy is something that is built
from below, with everyone, even those who think differently from
us. Democracy is the exercise of power for the people all the
time and in all places.
Today, in response to the current election process, the zapatistas
reaffirm our struggle for democracy. Not only for electoral de-
mocracy, but also for electoral democracy." [ 24]
The historical problem with this sort of approach, in Mexico and
elsewhere, is that it leads to a process by which liberal reformist
parties can use the revolutionaries to help overturn more autho-
ratarian governments, but once this is achieved can then rapidly
isolate and neutralise the revolutionaries. This happened in 1914
during the Mexican revolution when Carranza was able us use
the anarcho-syndicalists of the Casa to overturn the Huerta re-
gime. The Constitutionalists then allowed the Casa to organise
amongst urban workers and used their suspicion of the religious
nature of the armies of Zapata and Villa to mobilise `red battil-
ions' to fight them in 1915.
Once they had been defeated and strikes began in Mexico Car-
ranza simply dissolved the red battalions in January 1916 and
by February began a process of closing down the unions offices
and arresting the leadership. When the unions called a second
general strike in late July the government reacted with martial
law including the death penalty for striking in essential circum-
stances. It can be easily argued that similar process accompanied
the periods of radical change everywhere from the Irish War of
Independence to the ending of apartheid in South Africa. In the
transition the radicals were isolated and then suppressed.
Stages theory
It remains unclear where exactly the Zapatistas stand here. Part
of the confusion may arise from the two distinct stages the Za-
patistas see as being necessary. Part of it is a feeling that the
way they make decisions in Chiapas may not be applicable to
the rest of the country. In a 1995 interview Marcos discusses
these issues. Interestingly it also suggests a difference between
the political leadership of the EZLN and the rank and file on this
very question.
"We are planning a revolution which will make a revolution pos-
sible. We are planning a pre-revolution. That is why they accuse
us of being armed revisionists or reformists, as Jorge Casatane-
da says. We are talking about making a broad social movement,
violent or peaceful, which will radically modify social relation-
ships so that its final product might be a new space of political
I was saying that the communities are promoting democracy. But
the concept seems vague. There are many kinds of democracy.
That's what I tell them (the Indians). I try to explain to them: You
can do that (to solve by consensus) because you have a com-
munal life. When they arrive at an assembly, they know each
other, they come to solve a common problem. But in other places
it isn't so, I tell them. People live separate lives and they use the
assembly for other things, not to solve the problem. And they say,
no, but it means that yes, it works for us. And it indeed works for
them, they solve the problem. And they propose that method for
the Nation and the world. The world must organize itself thus.
That is what they call "to rule while obeying"("mandar obede-
ciendo"). And it is very difficult to go against that because that
is how they solve their problems. And the one who doesn't work
out, they dismiss him, and there is no big scandal. When the
ejido's head authority makes a mistake, they remove him and he
goes on to become a member of the assembly.
We have insisted upon the fact that what the EZLN proposes is
not a representative democracy, that of the political parties. And
they tell us in articles, and in the newspapers, that we are wrong,
that in reality the Indigenous communities have been defeated,
because what is worth here is the individual, and the commu-
nities want to have the collective will valued. Yes. That's why
we say: we need another, different non-partisan political force.
When we propose that, we do it as when we started the war in
1994. At that time I used to tell them (the communities who had
decided to start the offensive), we are going to go to hell, they
are going to fuck us up; the international correlation of forces is
against us, they are going to cut us to pieces. And the brothers
saying: Let's go, let's go, and let's go to war. And now it's let's go,
and let's go for this type of democracy. And how do you tell them
that it is no good. If they have used it for years...What better re-
sult than to have resisted all the annihilation campaigns! That is
why they say: the country must organize itself like this."
...the brothers are saying: "That Parliament should obey those it
claims to represent." I know I am talking about something new
which is difficult to understand...
Interviewer What you are saying is to take over the power...
To exert it.
What you are not saying is how to embody that.
Because we don't have the fucking idea of how to do it. I can
imagine an assembly in a "canada" (canion), even within an
ethnic group.
Why? Because I have seen it. I know how they organize them-
selves and how they go on solving their problems in the midst of
a sort of mixture of representativity and assembly.
And you honestly believe that that can function for a nation?
I know that the other way does not work. What there is right now
does not work." [19]
On this subject however, it is important to note that the EZLN
has been very clear that they do not wish to become a political
party or promote the formation of one. When the Fourth Dec-
laration of the Lacadon jungle announced the formation of the
FZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Front) it defined it as
"A political force whose members do not exert nor aspire to hold
elective positions or government offices in any of its levels. A po-
litical force which does not aspire to take power. A force which
is not a political party.
A political force which can organize the demands and proposals
of those citizens and is willing to give direction through obedi-
ence. A political force which can organize a solution to the col-
lective problems without the intervention of political parties and
of the government. We do not need permission in order to be free.
The role of the government is the prerogative of society and it is
its right to exert that function.
A political force which struggles against the concentration of
wealth in the hands of a few and against the centralization of
power. A political force whose members do not have any other
privilege than the satisfaction of having fulfilled its commit-
ment." [21]
A second and related problem with the ideas put forward (or
in this case not put forward) by the Zapatistas is in the sphere
of the economy. On the one hand they denounce neo-liberalism
and call for land occupations as in this interview from January
"The immediate objective is that our agricultural laws begin
to operate in the liberated zones, that the campesinos organ-
ize themselves, taking land, respecting small rural property and
working in collectives, ignoring all of the debts with the govern-
ment. Banrural (Banco de Cre'dito Rural), all of the taken as-
sets, all of that, we don't know anything about in the rural zone
because where we move those laws will start to operate, that is,
the old Constitution before they reformed it. That is the immedi-
ate plan that we have, that is, to organize the rural life of this
country according to the will of the majority of our companeros.
That is, that there be land, because there is land, and that it be
distributed, because they just said that they were not going to
give any more out." [14]
As we have seen land occupations are a reality but the rheto-
ric behind them is most often based on the occupiers being the
legtimate owners of the land rather then on `the land to those
who work it'. "We, who have been EZLN support bases since
the year of 1994, have recovered this land, which was previously
called San Jacinto by the owner, but now we are the true own-
ers." [12]
And outside of the question of land occupations in Chiapas the
EZLN have been silent on the economic question. While they
have supported some strikes in the cities they have not put for-
ward any ideas on how the relationship of workers to the facto-
ries might develop in the future. Such workers, indigenous or
not, can't claim to be the original owners of the factories (al-
though they can point out that the working class built them).
The revolutionary laws produced by the EZLN on January 1st
1994 [30] cannot be called anti-capitalist. They restrict but still
very much allow for wage labour, rent and even multi national
investment. For example the law that " Foreign companies will
pay their workers an hourly salary in national money equiva-
lent to what would be payed in dollars outside the country."
[29] while a big step forward for many Mexican workers hardly
amounts to the abolition of capitalism.
Perhaps the simple reason is that the Zapatistas don't wish to
be a vanguard in any sense of the word and so are waiting for a
program for the urban centres and factories to emerge from those
who live and work there. Or perhaps they are worried that at this
stage of the transformation to talk of economic democracy in the
cities would simply serve to alienate some of their supporters.
The first of these two options is the more acceptable but it also
contains its own dangers. During the Mexican revolution it was
precisely such a lack of clarity that enabled the government of
Carranza to mobilise the anarcho-syndicalist unions of the Casa
against the rural Zapatistas. The Fox government which has the
advantage of being able to claim to have ended the one party
state will no doubt seek to use this credibility to isolate the Zap-
atistas from the workers in the cities. If we accept it was primarly
the enormous mobilisations of urban workers and students that
stopped the government counter offensive of 1994 and the of-
fensive of Feburary 1995 the danger of Fox suceeding becomes
Urban Workers
The few Zapatista communiques directed to workers in strug-
gle tend to support such an interpretation. Marcos writing to the
striking workers of Ruta 100 for instance says "Whatever the
outcome of your movement, today you represent what is best
about the Mexican working people, you represent the dignity of
the workers of the city, you represent the hope of that great revo-
lutionary force which is the force of workers awakened from a
long night in which the arrogance of money, the corruptness of
phony labor representatives and the criminal action of the gov-
ernment have held down all Mexicans.
Be well, workers of Ruta 100. In our poverty, there is little we
can give, but we give it with admiration and respect."[31]
The Zapatistas organised an encounter for teachers struggling
against low wages and democratic unions in August of 1999. At
this Marcos declared the Zapatistas "are also democratic teach-
ers and electrical workers and university students and workers
in the city and the country and artists and intellectuals and reli-
gious men and women and neighbors and homosexuals and les-
bians and ordinary women and men and children and old ones,
that is, rebels, dissidents, inconvenient ones, dreamers.
Because of that, the most important thing we zapatistas want to
ask you is to see us as another democratic union section. That
you do not see us as someone who must be helped, poor things,
out of pity, out of alms, out of charity.
We want you to see us as your companeros, as being as willing
as anyone to mobilize and to support the teachers struggles. Not
only because your demands are just and because you are good
and honest persons, but also, and above all, because they are
our demands as well.
Because nothing will be complete nor finished if teachers con-
tinue to be oppressed by pro-management unions, if bad labor
conditions continue - and the low salaries - , if education con-
tinues to breed oppressed and oppressors, if school continues to
be - for millions of Mexicans - as distant as dignified housing,
a fair wage, a piece of land, enough food, full health, freedom
of thought and association, popular democracy, authentic inde-
pendence and true peace.
Now, taking advantage of the fact that you are here, we want to
ask something special of you. We want to ask you to support the
student movement at the UNAM and the struggle of the Mexican
Electricians Union. The one is against the privatization of edu-
cation, and the other against the privatization of the electrical
industry." [32]
The clearest appeal for unity with the workers is contained in
the CCRI's 1st of May statement from 1995. "The workers that
build this country bleed from three wounds. The powerful bleed
them with unjust salaries, humiliations, and threats. The heads
of the great central government unions bleed the workers with
extortions, beatings, and death. Those who sell the country bleed
the workers with the dispatches of usurpation, writing the laws
that their treason dictates.
Let your voice run together with ours.... Accept this hand that
your smallest brothers and sisters offer you. Three forces should
unite their paths: the force of the workers, the force of the
campesinos, the popular force. With these three forces there will
be nothing to detain us.
Receive our voice, which, although far away, says: "Greetings,
workers of the sea and of the land! The Zapatistas follow you
in their struggles! With you there will be a country and future
for all some day! Without you, night will continue to rule these
These statements demonstrate that the Zapatistas recognise a
common struggle with urban workers in Mexico (and the op-
pressed everywhere). The fact that have donated considerable
resources in holding gatherings for radical students and teachers
as well as the American and intercontinental encounters shows
they take building such links very seriously.
A very lengthy discussion, from an autonomist Marxist perspec-
tive, around these points was published by Midnight Notes as
Toward the New Commons: Working Class Strategies and the
Zapatistas. They "think the Zapatistas are strategizing how to
unite the 80% or more, and doing so in relationship to the exist-
ing and historical class composition in Mexico and in light of
their understanding of global capital, in order to help overcome
capital. In this context, and if it is correct that capital cannot
now (for at least several generations) be other than neoliberal,
then the actual Zapatista practice and strategy are indeed anti-
capitalist." [28]
It is also not irrelevant that given their Leninist origins the Za-
patista leadership have made clear that they consider the failing
of the eastern regimes in 1989 was the failure of socialism. They
have tended to steer very clear of traditional socialist rhetoric.
But it does make you wonder how they could see such a system
as socialism when it was so clearly a top down dictatorship. All
the more so when as early as 1918 Lenin made no secret the im-
mediate goal of the Bolshevik government was the creation of
state capitalism.
Which leadership?
There are two meanings to the word leadership. The first one
is where a person or organisation is put in a position of author-
ity over others and can therefore tell them what to do. This is
the sort of leadership exercised by elected politicans. The sec-
ond which is often confused with the first is where the person
or group has no power over others but they are recognised as an
`authority' in a given area and so people are willing to try what
they suggest. Anarchists refer to this as being a `leadership of
ideas'. In reality the Zapatistas are already this kind of leader-
ship (whether they want to be or not) not only in Mexico but also
elsewhere in the world.
In that context perhaps the Zapatistas need to move from sim-
ply supporting the struggles of others to suggesting the ways in
which those struggles could be organised and what their goals
should be. To some extent they have done this, as for instance
in the 2nd Declaration of Reality. But it is almost certainly true
that if they were to start to do this in Mexico their suggestions
would almost certainly create a debate in which those who al-
ready agree with their method in the cities could organise.
The power of the Zapatatistas is the power of example. Their
methods of organisation are radically different from what has
become the norm in trade unions, community organisations and
left groups. Their rejection of seizing power is radically different
from the project of much of the left, a project that sees revolu-
tionary action more in terms of paper selling and `voting left
with no illusions' then ordinary people taking power into their
own hands.
In holding the Zapatistas up as an example we must also point
out the need to go beyond the point they have reached. Our soli-
darity with them must remain critical, in particular of the points
they have yet to make clear or perhaps even decide on. The Zap-
atistas represent one example of a different way of doing things,
not the sole model to be blindly followed.
Andrew Flood
Originally published in Chiapas Revealed, Feb 2001
* It may well be that some have not yet been publically declared to exist
1 See http://www.struggle.ws/mexico/marcos_index.html for English transla-
tions of many of these
2 For letters from observers, pictures and other information about Diez see http://
3 This section summarises extensive notes I took. For other articles making use
of these see http://www.struggle.ws/andrew.html
4 Behind the Balaclavas of South-East Mexico, Sylvie Deneuve, Charles Reeve,
Paris, August 1995 , http://www.struggle.ws/mexico/comment/balaclava.html
5 Making Zapatismo irreversible, Michael McCaughan, 20-8-96, http://www.
6 First interview with EZLN CCRI-CG, La Jornada, 2/4/94 & 2/5/94, Blanche
Petrich and Elio Henri'quez, http://www.struggle.ws/mexico/ezln/ccri_1st_in-
7 How the consultations with the communities was done, CCRI, La Jornada,
June 3, 1994, http://www.struggle.ws/mexico/ezln/ccri_how_consult_june94.
8 Tierra y Libertad, One Year Later, Luis Fernando Menendez Medina (Human
Rights defender and prisoner in Cerro Hueco), http://www.struggle.ws/mexico/
9 The EZLN and Indigenous Autonomous Municipalities
by Mariana Mora - Apr 1998, http://www.struggle.ws/mexico/comment/auto_
10 Enlace Civil, A.C., Autonomous Municipalities:The resistance of the indig-
enous communities in response to the war in Chiapas, Nov. 1988, html http://
11 IV. On autonomy an interview of Zapatistas from the Ocosingo region Pub-
lished in "El Navegante" (Sailors in every port) translated by Beto Del Sereno
12 San Manuel New Town, Francisco Go'mez Autonomous Municipality, Au-
gust 3, 2000. http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/mexico/ezln/2000/com_sm_our_
13 The company fails to respect the assembly, Nicolas Ruiz, Chiapas; January
20, 2000, http://www.struggle.ws/mexico/ezln/2000/assNR_corn_conflict_jan.
14 Excerpted transcriptions that were published in La Jornada. They were re-
corded in San Cristo'bal de las Casas just after the EZLN liberated the city on
January 1, 1994, and the transcription was published in La Jornada http://www.
[15] Interview with Subcomandante Marcos, May 11, 1994, http://www.strug-
[16] Don't Abandon Us!, Interviews with EZLN women, Interview conducted
by Matilde Prez and Laura Castellanos, published in La Jornada's special sup-
plement for International Women's Day, March 7, 1994. http://www.struggle.
[17] Commadante Javier demands federal army leave Simjovel, By: Jose Gil
Olmos and Hermann Bellinghausen, La Jornada, Los Altos Chiapas,December
21, 1994
[18] Interview with Marcos - August 1995, La Jornada August 25, by Carmen
Libra, http://www.struggle.ws/mexico/ezln/inter_marcos_consult_aug95.html
[19] Interview with Marcos about neoliberalism, the national State and democ-
racy. Autumn 1995, by Samuel Blixen and Carlos Fazio, Taken from Uruguay's
"Brecha" newspaper, http://www.struggle.ws/mexico/ezln/inter_marcos_aut95.
[20] Second Declaration from the Lacandona Jungle, June 10, 1994, http://www.
[21] Fourth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, January 1, 1996, http://www.
[22] 2nd Declaration of La Realidad, August 3rd 1996, xico/ezln/1996/ccri_en-
count_aug.html http://www.struggle.ws/mexico/ezln/1996/ccri_encount_aug.
[23] Don Amado Avendano has acquitted himself well, Communique' from the
Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee, December 8, 2000.
[24] EZLN communique regarding elections, June 19, 2000. http://www.strug-
[25] "What makes us different is our political proposal" Marcos, August 30,
1996, http://www.struggle.ws/mexico/ezln/marc_to_cs_se96.html
[26] EZLN communique "to the soldiers and commanders of the Popular Revo-
lutionary Army, August 29, 1996, http://www.struggle.ws/mexico/ezln/ezln_
[27] The ancient Maya, 5th ed, Robert J. Sharer, p585
[28] Toward the New Commons: Working Class Strategies and the Zapatistas by
Monty Neill, with George Caffentzis and Johnny Machete
[29] Labour Law & Industry and Commerce Law, Jan 1, 1994, http://www.strug-
[30] The EZLN Revolutionary laws, Jan 1 1994, http://www.struggle.ws/mexi-
[31] Marcos: To the workers of Ruta 100 - Aug '95, http://www.struggle.ws/
[32] Marcos in ` Teachers are a mirror and window' to Closing Session of the
"Democratic Teachers and Zapatista Dream" Encuentro, August 1, 1999, http://
[33] CCRI of the EZLN to the Workers of the Republic on May 1st 1994, http://
[35] See The story of how we learnt to dream at Reality, http://www.struggle.
[36] see for instance James Joll, The Second International, Ch. The struggle with
the anarchists
[37] see Where do we come from? Where do we go to? (talk to S26 Prague coun-
ter summit), September 2000, http://www.struggle.ws/andrew/prague3.html
[38] For a discussion of Bolshevik policies in the 1918-21 period see Aileen
O'Carroll, `Freedom and Revolution', Red & Black Revolution no1, 1994.
[39] Interview conducted by the author in Diez de Abril, Chiapas, September
[40] See Can you have an anarchist army?, WS59, Spring 2000, http://www.
[41] Although some have issued communiques see About the Zapatista autono-
mous council's, http://www.struggle.ws/mexico/councils.html
[42] John M Hart's "Anarchism and the Mexican Working Class"
[43] La Jornada, May 5, 1995
[44] Mike Gonzalez, The Zapatistas: the challenges of revolution in a new mil-
lennium, International Socialism, Winter 2000
A-infos-en mailing list

A-Infos Information Center