Zapatistas – rebellion from the grassroots to the global
By Alex Khasnabish
When the Zapatista movement exploded onto the political stage on New Year’s Day in 1994 it seemed to have emerged from nowhere. It captured the headlines of the world’s media and fired the imagination of rebels everywhere with its audacious exploits. The poetic words of its charismatic, masked and pipe-smoking spokesperson, Sub-comandante Marcos became the new credo. It appeared to be a new type of movement, eschewing old dogmas and traditional forms of guerrilla struggle. There were no hierarchies of command – only horizontal networks - and the movement identified with the aspirations and wishes of the Mexican indigenous people; they offered no blueprint for others, merely averring that their ways were developed to suit Mexican reality. It took its name from the legendary Zapata, who was a peasant leader of the first Mexican revolution in 1910.
Sickened by decades of virtual dictatorial rule by the corrupt Institutional Revolutionary Party and its brutal oppression of the indigenous people, they were orientated toward shorter-term objectives and local movements rather than the longer-term, strategic goals of conventional political actors like parties and trade unions; indeed the Zapatistas declared they were not interested in taking state power.
Their philosophy as expounded by Marcos, in his replies to hypothetical accusations is more an intangible dialectical credo than a real policy or manifesto. It emphasises the movement’s more anarchist than Marxist basis. The Zapatistas see modernisation as representing the obliteration of all that is ‘backward’ ie indigenous in Mexico.
Khasnabish is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Mount Saint Vincent University in Canada, and gives an excellent depiction of the roots of ‘Zapatismo’ and relates how the moment evolved. He may be somewhat in thrall to its romantic aura but he doesn’t cross the line of becoming its mouthpiece. He emphasises the world-shattering effect of the Zapatistas, but one has to ask brutally what the movement has in fact achieved on the ground.
It is a very informative book and certainly provokes a rethinking of traditional attitudes and modes of struggle on the Left.