Here We Are. 30 Years of Revolution.

Photo: Francisco Lion

In a changing world, the EZLN revolution is a continuous, although transformative, element that remains firm in the development of an anti-capitalist thought and practice, composed of a decided decolonial and anti-patriarchal vision. So many no’s that materialize in a big yes – indigenous autonomy – an idea of another possible world.

The EZLN has had to face many changes in these 40 years of life, and 30 of insurrection. The internal ones, first and most importantly, to have changed the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary trajectory with which the founding group entered the Lacandon Jungle on November 17th, 1983, giving it a new form built, together with the communities, with the indigenous Maya cosmogony. Then came the dead of the war, those killed by paramilitary attacks, the changes of roles, the new generations and the clashes between currents. The external ones, the changes of government – up to six -, then the different forms of counterinsurgency from the military one of 1994 to the one that combines organized crime, low intensity war, paramilitarization, and today’s social policies and geopolitical changes. As well as geopolitical changes and the new capitalist paradigm.

In this scenario it is important to remember that while between 1983 and 1994 there were several guerrillas and revolutionary impulses in Abya Yala, today the EZLN has been effectively left alone. Certainly the idea of indigenous autonomy, not driven by an armed struggle, has been taken up and applied in different ways in central Mexico with the perhaps most interesting case of Cherán and Michoacán. The Zapatista revolution continues to be based on being both civic and military, with the military wing remaining as organized as any army, that is, vertically. At the same time that the army is the place of political training, it is the same army that decided to question the use of violence already in its clandestine phase. Thus, since January 12th, 1994, it has been an element of community protection, but inactive de facto from a military point of view. There have been very few armed confrontations since the opening of the peace dialogue, and in the face of the provocations of the last 30 years, the response has practically never been armed. A complex revolution, an uprising that began under the sign of fire and death and soon moved into the realm of words. Thus, an armed and military movement became a symbol of non-violent movements and anti-globalization movements around the world. It was a movement that relaunched the indigenous insurgency that on the American continent was articulated in local resistances that were often unorganized and almost always invisible, but at the same time were part of a fervent and growing debate capable of feeding a new direction and a revision of the postcolonial and decolonial thought. The Zapatista revolution certainly gave, also in its capacity to accompany political action with theoretical production, a considerable stimulus to such critical thinking, however formally the academic world does not recognize it. Anomalies that touch on the unique particularity of the neo-Zapatista experience, where the word, the radicality of the facts and the obstinacy to create a world capable of containing many worlds made hatred, resentment and violence give way to the construction of alternatives, bridges of peace and proposals for dialogue….. “without losing tenderness” and without retreating from the idea itself. The “geometric power” advanced by the EZLN was made explicit on January 1st, 2024, in the speech of Subcommander Moisés, military chief and spokesperson for the organization since 2013.

Words far from the poetics of the Marcos era, a pragmatic vision of reality, a speech in Tzeltal rather than in Spanish, a short and sharp speech more directed at the organization and the indigenous world than at the internationalists who participated in the act of celebration of the first 30 years of the uprising. Many would have expected more, but the EZLN has always been hostile to the logic of the event for the event’s sake. Ten years ago for the 20th anniversary of the uprising there was no central celebration, but between the second and third rounds of the ‘Little Zapatista School’ in the five caracoles (now 12) there were local, open initiatives, without ‘official’ sermons. The change from Marcos/Galeano to Moisés is not only symbolic but factual: from the power of words and poetry to indigenous practicality and acuity. Marcos continues to represent the avant-garde wing of the National Liberation Forces, which after the great repression of the 70s reorganized and launched the neo-Zapatista epic. Moisés is an indigenous face who joined the organization long after that day in November 1983, and is, therefore, the symbol of a transition that does not move away from the “original” mandate, but rather organizes a new school of government of the structure and, therefore, of the revolutionary process. I must admit that reading the various communications with which the 30th anniversary was prepared, I was prepared for the appointment of the first female deputy commander of the EZLN, an illusion perhaps built from the apparent ‘demotion’ of Marcos to Captain (a role that he already had in 1984). A move that seemed to me in the vein of Zapatista history, the first army in history with more than 30% women, and its attention to the gender issue that took shape from the ‘Women’s Revolutionary Law.’ It would also be a “response” to Mexican institutional policy, which strongly demands that in the next elections on June 2nd the candidates for the presidency be two women. The EZLN has often decided to ‘play’ in the field of presidential elections: in 1994, by naming Amado Avendaño rebel governor of Chiapas. On December 3rd, 2000, after the newly proclaimed president Vicente Fox said at the time of his proclamation that he would resolve the armed conflict in Chiapas in 15 minutes, they launched the March of the Color of the Earth to demand the application of the San Andres Agreements. In 2006 the Other Campaign was held, while in 2018 they participated in the grassroots process of an independent candidacy attempt by an indigenous woman, Marichuy. That is why in 2024 they decided to look into the distance, and focus on their internal process. A process that today has to take on the passing of the years, the new generations that do not know life outside the revolutionary sphere, the crisis of the social movements in Mexico, in Latin America (apart from the feminist one) and in the world, the reduced solidarity that supports the Zapatista struggle, the violence of state and criminal groups, the internal shocks of global capitalism, migration both as a continental process and of indigenous communities, the growing need for camps and innovation that crosses the life of the community. The Zapatista uprising has improved indigenous life, it has changed the lives of those who make up the organization, but by forcing governments to recognize the existence of indigenous peoples and to provide, even if insufficiently, forms of well-being that prevented the Zapatista example from being replicated in other places or spread through Chiapas, has made indigenous life improve throughout Mexico. And not only that. However, the EZLN is also publicly assuming its mistakes. In the last decade, based on the Little Zapatista School and the narrative of the first years of autonomy, an internal confrontation has opened about what went wrong with self-government. The “birthday gift of the first 30 years of revolution” was to make a public account of what led them to end the experience of the Rebel Autonomous Municipalities (founded in 1995) and the Good Government Councils (2003) to make way to a new structure that recognizes the specificity of the organization and allows greater dialogue between families in the communities. The GAL or Autonomous Local Governments are the basis of the new organizational form. Those who have never been to Zapatista land must remember that the territory organized and administered by the EZLN has never been homogeneous, the communities that proclaimed themselves rebels did not always have everyone’s adhesion to the revolution, and above all not all the communities in Zapatista lands joined the EZLN. This free and conscious choice to join the organization in recent years has generated a new geography and relational geometry with families and communities that had never been Zapatistas that have become Zapatistas, as well as families and communities that historically were Zapatistas who decide to leave the organization. Those who are no longer Zapatistas, or have never been, are not necessarily anti-Zapatistas. A complex situation derived from a territory historically marked by indigenous and peasant organization. In its first decades of life, the EZLN managed to create bridges and dialogues with different subjects in the name of a network of dignity for indigenous beings. A network that was born even before the armed eruption and that lasted until the end of the 90s, when the Acteal massacre and the cooptation of paramilitary groups led to the development of “low intensity war.”

Today, the conflict generated by public policies is reduced to an intercommunity conflict, but it is the child of a process of opposition to the Zapatista revolution that blew the wind of difference and promoted the division between organized groups first and then the division within the individual communities. ORCAO is the peasant organization that, together with the CIOAC, acts most violently against the Zapatista experience. As Desinformemonos reminds us, “ORCAO was founded in 1988 by 12 communities in the municipality of Ocosingo, Chiapas, as a legitimate organization that demanded better coffee prices and a solution to agrarian backwardness. Many other communities soon joined. For years, ORCAO maintained links with Zapatismo. However, these were broken in the late 1990s, when the organization, like many others, succumbed to the temptation of obtaining government support and public positions in exchange for favors. The rupture deepened with the arrival of Pablo Salazar to the governorship of Chiapas in 2000. ORCAO then abandoned the fight and allied itself with the government, breaking with the EZLN to access public money. From then on, the attacks became increasingly frequent and violent.’ And it is in the specific scenario of the Chiapas indigenous world that the EZLN positions itself today. It knows that it is one of the organized subjects of the State, and by trying to break the conflictive logic acted by other groups and supported by state public policies and federal ones, takes a step back, stops wearing the “territorial” hat, and by adhering to Zapatismo subjective and individual, it tries to make the pressures to which non-Zapatista families in autonomous communities were subject to disappear. Not only that, the proposal to reorganize the Zapatista civil structure is accompanied, for me, by the idea of a common and non-proprietary management of the land. The idea of the common and non-property is the great Zapatista proposal for the future. Much of the public indigenous “welfare” policies are based on the delivery of certificates of ownership of the land, a dirty and violent measure that has fueled tensions for two reasons: the first is that on January 1st, 1994 the EZLN occupied 700,000 hectares of land that the landowners had taken from the communities, land that today sees the emergence of caracoles or autonomous clinics. The second is that one of the great legacies of the revolutionary axis of Zapata and Villa in the last century is the creation by constitution of ejidal land, that is, communal and collective. For this reason, the requirement for property certificates to access government programs has triggered the search for paperwork and confrontations over use of the fields, feeding individualistic logic outside of community law, which has created a feeling of rejection of practice of occupation of the fields by the EZLN in 1994. Zapatistas break the logic of appropriation and the proposal to use the occupied fields as communal fields attempts to overthrow the confrontation desired by the government and offers a peace process in the name of the ancestral practice of community development: fieldwork. At some point, this magnificent proposal to analyze the idea of “the common” in an indigenous sense would have been accompanied by a meeting of intellectuals and autonomous indigenous movements from around the world, to create a new meaning to the concept of “the common.” The EZLN has always reminded us of the urgency of keeping theory and practice together. The new direction of Zapatismo, on the other hand, suggests, together with the silence to which the EZLN has returned after January 1st of this year, a direct practice without the need for spectacular calls, international seminars, intergalactic congresses and public moments of creation of meanings other than those they have determined as necessary for their development. Perhaps that is also why international attention to the Zapatista struggle has declined in the last decade. Perhaps it is precisely an internal option that has also materialized with the Zapatista Tour of Europe where, despite the presence of spokesperson Moisés, they decided not to have public events and meetings with the press…not even with the press of the movement. A choice that I still do not fully understand, but that, at the same time, I not only respect as we must respect every choice of those who have made autonomy the center of revolutionary political practice, but above all I respect it because it is made by those who for 40 years they have been organizing, building and living one of the few experiments in another possible world. Sometimes I think that what I think and what I would have done is valid only for me and cannot be a real element of evaluation of a path that has been demonstrated over the years, between victories, errors, mass events, failures, creation of imagination, and the ability to question yourself to be able to respond and resist every attack and change. And perhaps it is good to remember that my observation is impregnated, although I would not like it to be, with a colonial and patriarchal legacy from which I have certainly not freed myself. And so, 30 years after January 1st, 1994, it matters little what I would have done, it matters little if this January 1st I expected a broader and more staggered speech, it matters little if the Zapatista Tour through Europe was going to be for me also a moment of resurgence of its situation and capable of creating new attention, the important thing is that the Zapatista laboratory has changed again, generating ideas and new attention. Without distorting ourselves, continuing in the wonderful and brave practice of questioning the public role of one of the most influential critical thinkers of the last 30 years, such as who would hide behind the balaclava and the name of Marcos, as well as in the shocking capacity, at least for me, of taking ideas and suggestions from other worlds and making them one’s own, resisting a cruel and lethal war without accepting the logic of violence. Looking at the changes in the EZLN is necessary and it is something that must be done carefully, with the respect due to fellow fighters, without placing oneself in a position of advantage or judgment but with the logic of critical thinking. Supporting the resistance process today is as important as yesterday.

Finding new forms of dialogue is necessary to leave the Western-centrist practice of solidarity and enter that of complicity because as the Clash said “the future is not written.” And Allende, resisting in the Palacio de la Moneda, said ‘’history is ours and it is made by the people.’’

Original article by Andrea Cegna in Camino al Andar.
Translated by Schools for Chiapas.

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