1994: The Zapatista uprising

Zapatista women.
Zapatista women.

A brief history of the rebellion in Chiapas in the jungles of Mexico, where hundreds of thousands of people rose up against the Mexican state and organised themselves into libertarian-inspired federated communes, which are still in existence today.

Submitted by Ed on September 19, 2006

“¡Ya Basta!” ("Enough is Enough!") declared the EZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Army - named after the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata), as they burst to international attention on New Years day 1994.

The rebellion started in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico in the tradition of all peasant armies: ransacking town halls and burning land deeds! Destroying 10 government offices, freeing 179 prisoners, then attacking an army garrison, and in one town shooting down an army helicopter, and torching the town hall before quietly slipping back into the jungle. The timing for the international “audience” was crucial, coinciding with the controversial introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

It didn’t take long for the state to respond, on January 4th ten towns near San Cristobal were bombed, 400 people died. On the 5th tanks arrived in the area along with more troops, yet more died. The government began to distribute black propaganda, and prevent human rights organisations entering Chiapas. The EZLN then withdrew to the jungle, and a tense ceasefire began on January 12th. Since then the Mexican army has been using a tactic of low intensity warfare (killing and displacing civilians), which continues to this day.

The Zapatistas have organised international “encuentros” attracting thousands of people from around the world which have been influential on the global anti-capitalist movement.

The Zapatista uprising has allowed over 1,100 communities in Chiapas of 300-400 people to organise federally into 32 autonomous municipalities where power lies at the base. Local decisions are taken at a local level and important decisions are made at a wider regional or municipal level, discussions continuing until something like consensus is reached. In these areas the people have much more control over their lives than before and women can play a much bigger role than traditional society allowed.

On the negative side the EZLN is hierarchically organised with officers of different ranks and high profile leaders. Their stated aim is a programme offering little more than liberal capitalism and it’s even backed up by appeals to the Mexican constitution.

Nevertheless, the struggle of the peasants in Chiapas has been inspirational to many people around the world and we send our solidarity to all those struggling for freedom and equality in Chiapas.

By the Anarchist Federation



13 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Goti123 on June 23, 2011

The EZLN is hierarchically organised. But the societal structures don't seem to be. Militias need to be hierarchical (however, democratically hierarchical) or else they are inefficient.

And how are they aiming at "liberal capitalism"?


13 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Samotnaf on June 24, 2011


Militias need to be hierarchical (however, democratically hierarchical) or else they are inefficient.

Isn't that what the Stalinists said about the anarchists and the POUM in Spain '37?

The EZLN is hierarchically organised. But the societal structures don't seem to be.

No? Check out:

what an Australian woman said of the '96 encuentros: "... the women doing all the cooking and cleaning, including of toilets, invariably without any footwear (the men had the boots), even after heavy rainfall...Harry Cleaver said "Well, maybe they like it..."...the workshops organised like a bourgeois University - compartmentalised into separate categories like 'Indigenous Culture', 'Politics', 'Economics' etc....the impossibility of questioning anything openly in the meetings..." She then went on to describe how, when Marcos gave the red carpet treatment to a French journalist who'd just recently slagged off and lied about a wave of strikes in the public sector, a total bourgeois whom Marcos welcomed into his open arms and treated with far greater respect than the vast majority of the French contingent (who, for example, were forced along with lots of others, to endure, without shade, a 2 or 3 hour wait in the scorching shadeless midday sun), the French contingent, the biggest contingent there, revolted a little, and presented Marcos with a letter objecting to this complicity, an insult to the movement in France. A meeting was arranged to discuss this in the middle of the forest at night, in the pouring rain. After some wait, Marcos rode up on horseback with his entourage and, giving a monologue lecture, withdrew the letter from his coat and proceeded to contemptuously read it in a dull monotone (a crude contrast with his normal dramatic poetic style) to the gathering below him, at the end throwing the drenched letter into the mud below, saying "Well, politics forces us sometimes to meet with our enemies", which says how little this movement embodies a critique of politics. . At least one of the French critics was woken up in the middle of the night, ordered out of his tent and was confronted by a few armed Zapatistas, who abused him verbally for his lack of submissive respect for his hosts. Coupled with Marcos' star treatment of Mme.Mitterand, an even worse bourgeois scum, this seriously dented the illusions of the less ideological participants in the French contingent

Also, check out this.