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–2 votes
For a long time I thought the Zapatistas were essentially anarchist, and kicking butt at that.  Was I wrong?  What gives?
by (320 points)
i haven't heard people hating on zapatistas (although i could've missed something).
i've heard/read people being aggravated at the conflation of zapatistas-as-an-issue with a whole trajectory of anarchists supporting nationalist struggles as a way to be anti-racist--one part of a tendency of anarchists/leftists who find it convenient to support (which frequently means nothing other than "talking up") groups of POC, especially POC in Other places...
I hate on the Zaps.

then explain!
here is the place,
now is the time...
look for the article "The EZLN Is NOT Anarchist: Or Struggles at the Margins and Revolutionary Solidarity" from Willful Disobedience (archives appear to be offline), and the "Zapatista Response to 'EZLN is NOT Anarchist'" from Green Anarchy: http://greenanarchy.info/etc/ezln_response.htm
Thanks madlib! good to know where the alt archives are located! i also like this bit from the greenanarchy.info indigenous solidarity and resistance page regarding indigenous nationalism (which i've always seen as cultural rather than geographic as distinct indigenous nations often share territory without concepts of ownership):

Many anarchists regard Native issues as “nationalist” and therefore irrelevant. This is extremely flawed because it holds that any distinct culture that takes action against a colonial power is “nationalist”. Some Indigenous movements are indeed “nationalistic” - but usually not in the sense of a nation-state, but rather in terms of a distinct culture with distinct customs that has the right to exist freely within its own bioregion. The efforts of Native peoples to declare their sovereignty is often fully consistent with the anarchist desire for decentralization.

Our movement needs to realize that the struggles of Native peoples are issues that should be of major concern to all who consider themselves opponents of oppression. Indigenous peoples have always engaged in struggles against the state, industrial expansionism, and corporate exploitation. They are the only communities that have maintained a relatively harmonious relationship with the natural world. They have and continue to wage impressive battles against the status-quo. These battles often have the objective of forcing corporations off of sacred land, rejecting the arbitrarily imposed laws and ordinances of the State, and ending industrial developments which threaten the well-being of humans and animals. These issues are fully consistent with anarchism, and here we find the potential for powerful alliances between sincere anarchists and radical ecologists, and Native peoples.

Anarchist solidarity with Native peoples must not resemble, in any shape or form, the “solidarity” of “New-Age” cultural appropriationists - whose idea of “solidarity” with Natives really consists of stealing their traditions and exploiting them for personal gain and profits. Rather, anarchist solidarity with Natives must be genuine, concrete, and, most importantly, egalitarian. When our support is welcomed by them, we should accept it and join them on the frontlines in the battle against colonial domination.
Zapatismo's nationalism is very much about facilitating political cooperation in the forum of the Mexican state in order to secure reforms of industry, and more specifically to resolve the lack of Progress in Chiapas. They are for a "Mexico for Mexicans". All nationalism is of and for the social order, and indigenous people are just as capable of reproducing it. Especially when they're lead into the shitstorm by a rag tag group of leftoids.

If one wants to understand the indigenous peoples of Chiapas on their own terms then the first thing to do is subvert the political threshold of groups like the Zapatistas and approach the former in an in-and-of themselves method. Anything less than that will just lead to confusion and the continuing reproduction of the moronic-Trotskyist relation between anarchists and nationalism.

I'm sure the peasants are far more interesting and intelligent than some dumbass who walks around with a balaclava and a radio mouthpiece, flanked by soldados with toy guns, for every possible photo opportunity.
There are fairly regular updates from some pro-Zap group in the British Isles on Libcom: http://libcom.org/forums/news/chiapas-news-november-2010-16112010

…in case anyone's interested.

2 Answers

+6 votes
What does "essentially anarchist" mean? The EZLN have always seen themselves as a caucus within the Mexican state (they fly the Mexican flag after all). They are an armed peasant insurgency, vying for the loyalty of locals. From what I can tell, their organizational forms are not very hierarchical, and also fluid. Their army (such as it is) is not a separate institution outside and over the population, making it more like a militia, and is at least supposed to be responsive to civilian oversight.

Their form is radical, even revolutionary on its own terms, and therefore they should be critically supported. But it makes no sense to give them a label they would refuse for themselves. I don't see that merely stating that the EZLN are not anarchists (a statement they would agree with) makes the person saying it hate them, although for many anarchists, saying "that's not anarchist" is a good excuse for not showing any kind of support or solidarity. It's the easy way out. Maybe that's who you're talking about.
by (550 points)
"Their form is radical…"

I am no expert, but from everything I understand, Zapatismo is gnerally rooted in decision making on a highly local, "grass-roots" level. This is radical in a etymological sense.

They have also integrated strands of thinking from marxism, anarchism, feminism and more with the indigenous traditions of the region, while maintaining their independence from external authorities (with the notable exception that, as Lawrence mentioned, they do see themselves as part of the Mexican state and do not reject participation in the governement whoelsale). While not explicitly anarchist, I would definitely say that they are radical.
The form of general assemblies or plenaries for most decision making makes them radical. The form does not guarantee the content, however, which is where the 'critical' in the 'critical solidarity' comes in.
+2 votes
Well, to begin let me just say right from the start that I am very comfortable with approaching the Zaps just as I approach the problem of every other prominent political manifestation on the Left—which is with a sort of reactionary pessimism and defiance. I have absolutely no reason not to begin from this particular method on this matter.

Probably the most striking and poisonous aspect of the Zapatistas in the (alternative) media's fascination with them is the lack of clarity for outsiders between the cult of leadership (i.e., Marcos) and the people they're speaking for. This is reason enough not to trust them; not to accept them. The greater the distance between the observer and the object, the greater the appearance of unity in the object. I have little doubt in my mind that their leadership is the standard, readymade model of educated idealists selling themselves wholesale to agitated peoples in order to provide a vehicle for their ideology which, unsurprisingly, is perfectly suitable for "real change" (i.e., modernizing the established institutions). The Zapatistas have not failed to meet my expectations in this regard. Right from the beginning, their political platform was for national reform—i.e., the democratization of the nation's distribution of land-based production. They are nationalists. They do not, fundamentally, arrive at any sort of disciplined critique of the ruling class and the relations that gave rise to it. The Third Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle (1995): "Today, we repeat: Our Struggle Is National…".

It all begins with the limited, archaic nature of the gangsters that rule (ruled?) Chiapas. They were a throwback to old European rule when Chiapas was part of Guatemala before the Mexican state bought it out. Their methods were (are?) largely an impediment to capitalism; this is because production was driven by indebted laborers whereby the profits were not capitalized but spent luxuriously. This does not satisfy capitalist rule; capital needs to be developed in order to provide more efficient means of accumulating value. The fetishism that provides the rationale for the productive forces dictates that they be productively-progressively oriented rather than merely being a means to expenditure. So, people in Chiapas were very unsatisfied with the lack of democratization & liberalization of their land-based livelihoods. All around, Chiapas throughout the eighties and well into the nineties was a hotbed of political organization and lots of state spending on various social welfare (all of which, alongside rampant repression, encouraged protest and propaganda). There were all sorts of entrepreneurs from the Left hawking their wares to the largely indigenous peoples of the region in reaction to the violence of wealthy landowners and the subsequent discontent. Maoists, Catholic activists, etc. The Zaps got their start in that cesspool of leftism. This is the center of gravity for Zapatismo; landless peasants lead by romantic poets of Mexican nationalism into a struggle for the modernization of land ownership. Everything blooms from that seed.
by (2.8k points)
edited by
Like I said: form does not guarantee content. Perhaps what the original questioner was asking about was the way some anarchists hate on other anarchists who love the EZLN. Taken with dot's comment and your critique and my annoyance with anarchists who privilege form over function/content, this is starting to fall into place and make more sense. As anarchoids in the global North we have to take care when we criticize the movements of others because we are part of a cultural matrix that has a heavy legacy of colonialism. If we only end up saying "that's not anarchist" in relation to those movements/tendencies, we are pretty much continuing the objectification of the Other that is a part of that heritage. The downside of the beginning of that awareness is the opposite: the near fetishizing of the Other that dot mentioned. This is why I said that the EZLN are radical on their own terms; given the continual economic and socio-political marginalization of the folks who now make up a bulk of the EZLN, the kind of semi-self-organization they have is pretty nifty. It's just that it isn't as anti-capitalist or anti-statist as anarchists and other revolutionaries would prefer for an outfit looking for uncritical international solidarity. While we recognize the importance of self-organization (even under the sometimes heavy-handed tutelage of leftists and liberation theologists) and the general assembly locus of decision making, it's still not quite enough for us to be uncritical. Of course to the identity politics pimps this makes us sound racist for daring to impose our assumptions, expectations, and judgments on POC.
I realize my answer was very general and brief with any details, but I can provide references. Two articles readily available on Libcom come to mind:


I think your understanding of the zaps structure is a bit off madlib.  First off, Marcos is NOT the leader of the zaps, he is their spokesperson, hence "subcomandante" as opposed to the "comandantes" who are indigenous and compose the leadership.  Marcos is the spokesperson because many of the zaps don't speak spanish but rather pre-colonial languages.
If you read up on how the zaps came to be you will see that yes, when Marcos entered the Lacadon jungles back in the 80s it was his intention to organize and essentially "use" these "agitated peoples" but that is not what happened.  Both sides learned from each other and zapatismo is essentially a melding of marxism and indigenous beliefs.
Lawrence I'm interested in what this "form over function/content" is. Can you elaborate on these a little? Is an affinity group a form?
not lawrence, but it is 7 months later, so...
yes, an affinity group is a form. what the affinity group *does* is function/content. there could easily be fascist and/or racist and/or statist affinity groups. just as the zapatistas are statist, despite being highly decentralized in parts of their process. it is possible that function could follow form (ie the decentralization encourages people who are not statist to become more involved and work against the zap's statist goals) but usually when that sort of thing has happened in the past, the statists abandon the tactic (the form) in favor of their goals (the content). not saying that the zaps will do that.
is that what you were looking for?