Eleven years and nine months have elapsed since the fateful New Year’s Day 1994 when the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) conquered San Cristobal de las Casas, the capital of the Mexican state of Chiapas.
Now the Zapatistas have broken a long period of isolation. They have invited political organisations of the left to join their “Other Campaign”, proposing the building of a broad front, throughout Mexico.
During their uprising in the mid-1990s, it was the support of anti-capitalists around the globe, rather than military strength, that halted the Mexican army’s counter-offensive.
The Zapatistas’ demands for land, liberty, respect, autonomy and justice found echoes in many places.
After recapturing the main villages of Chiapas the Mexican government stopped their bloody reaction, though a low intensity war continues to this day.
A truce was established and the government negotiated with the Zapatistas. Some agreements were reached, including the recognition of indigenous communities.
But pressure from the mining and oil multinationals, eager to exploit the region’s resources, led to the collapse of these agreements.
The Zapatista communities decided to withdraw into the Lacandona Forest and started to build their “autonomy”, ignoring the Mexican state.
Their attempts to govern “liberated spaces” free from interference by the state have inspired anti-capitalist theoreticians such as John Holloway and Toni Negri.
But now reality is knocking on the Zapatistas’ doors. They are coming to realise that it is not possible to live in a parallel world. They cannot ignore the system which attacks them—they need to destroy it.
Poverty has not changed in Chiapas and, although the Zapatistas’ forms of governance have done great work, they now need to link up with the rest of Mexican society because they are not able to produce everything they need.
The continual depreciation of the price of agricultural goods makes it increasingly difficult for them to purchase medicines, clothes and tools.
So the Zapatistas have launched what they call the “Other Campaign”, inviting anti-capitalist groupings, to get involved.
This alliance is embryonic. It may include an electoral aspect, although the Zapatistas have made it clear that this is not the main point.
The first steps have been taken to set up an anti-capitalist movement from below, where social and political organisations can come together in a non-sectarian way.
This political turn of the Zapatistas is very important because it shows there cannot be revolutionary successes without workers, students, peasants and poor people uniting against capitalism.
They must break down the national, regional and ideological barriers that divide and weaken us. The Zapatistas seem to be on this road.
This article first appeared in Spanish in El Mundo Al Reves, Socialist Worker’s sister paper in Uruguay. For more go to www.elmundoalreves.org