The essence of Zapatista philosophy and action is the discovery of a new order of revolution. In the wake of failures of other socialist movements from Lenin to in Russia to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the small group of Mayan farmers in southwestern Mexico contend not only with reconstructing revolutionary tactics but also with the massive opposition from dominant governments, including those in Mexico and the United States. Governments that continually uphold the principles of capitalism will find in the Zapatistas an idealistic, hopeless cause of swimming against the tide of globalization. Even before the ratification of the North American Free trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexicans struggled with political and economic oppression. The indigenous peoples of Mexico, like the Mayan nations of Chiapas, fared worst. Lowest on the scale of economical, social, and political power, these individuals hearkened to the voice of their martyred namesake Zapata, who was murdered on April 10, 1919. Since his death and until the efforts of subcommandante Marcos to revive his brand of socialism, peasant class Mexicans contended with a legacy of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). But Vicente Fox, player into the hands of "neoliberal" global economics, cannot unburden the invisible masses of Mexico. The struggle continues for "democracy, liberty, and justice," in the words of Marcos himself.
What the Zapatistas experience as day-to-day, practical work, scholars find rich with potential for analysis. Indeed, Marcos and early instigators of the Zapatistas hasten their political cause from a foundation in academia, and many supporters of the Zapatistas come from educated backgrounds unlike the peasants they represent. On January 1, 1994, the day NAFTA took effect, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) first took arms and seized several towns in the region of Chiapas. It seemed at first to be just another socialist revolution doomed to failure, one that would meet with the same fate as the countless other revolutionary movements around the world. In the Irish Mexico Group article, "What is it that is different about the Zapatistas," the author outlines key differences between the Zapatistas and similar movements. The author also offers a plethora of primary source material, mainly from the words of subcommandante Marcos. The Irish Mexico Group's piece also provides a thoughtful criticism of the Zapatistas, which includes a comparison with early Mexican anarchism. Moreover, the author analyses the main difference between the Zapatista and almost every other peasant movement in history: the proclaimed lack of desire for political control. Zapatistas call for the democratic self-rule of indigenous people, not for complete control of the Mexican state. Because Zapatista philosophy is based on traditional culture and is essentially an agrarian movement, this lack of lust for power is refreshing but not surprising. Nevertheless, the Irish Mexico Group does not idealize the movement, but rather points out flaws and hypocrisies in its often nebulous ideology. While the Zapatistas adamantly oppose the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, et al., Zapatistas do not argue against capitalism per se. Finally, the author points out that the Zapatistas are frequently accused of fragmenting Mexico, especially in relation to the laboring classes.
Zapatistas echo the voices of indigenous people across the globe, and it is for this reason that this relatively small group of jungle-dwellers has garnered so much attention. Furthermore, the Zapatistas seem to be aware of their position in the grand scheme of global economic revolutions. This type of self-awareness and self-consciousness serves to unify the unique needs of the thousands of years-old Mayan people with the specific needs of other indigenous populations around the world. While the Zapatistas' concerns include issues that do directly affect people from Europe, the United States, Asia, and Africa, the main EZLN agenda is for autonomy. That the Mayan grandmother's need for medical attention and the Mayan baby boy's need for milk and schooling apply only to those individuals is irrelevant. This ability to envision connectivity between the individual, the society, and historical context is the crux of what C. Wright Mills calls "the sociological imagination." While the WTO and supporters of free trade harp about interdependence based on consumption, the Zapatistas feel acutely the need for interdependence based on compassion.
Massimo De Angelis, in his article "Globalization, New Internationalism and the Zapatistas," calls the Zapatista focus on humanitarian interdependence a "new internationalism...rooted in the material conditions of today's class struggle at the international level," (De Angelis, 10). Like the sociological imagination, new internationalism implies a merging of the local with the global, but in this case assumes that "global" does not refer to globalization, NAFTA, or neoliberalism. The grassroots efforts of the Zapatistas aim to link the common concerns of labor activists, environmentalists, feminists, and human rights groups, fostering productive dialogue and cooperation.
Traditional cultures do not operate on the same principles as industrialized nations. Zapatista self-awareness, their sociological imagination, allows for a vision that includes cooperation with capitalism. What the Zapatistas seek to change is the method of implementation. Zapatista leadership implies obedience to the people over obedience to the dogma of the movement, and likewise, Zapatista economics calls for collectivity. Property redistribution and the "ejido" system prevail in Zapatista-controlled Chiapas communities. In accordance with the NAFTA agreement, the Mexican government seized these common lands, preventing the native people (who had tilled that soil for possibly millennia) from access to basic needs. Forcing cash crop production on the Mexican peasants, the government was prepared to use force when the Zapatistas took up arms in five Chiapas towns and 500 Chiapas ranches. Zapatista military efforts were outmatched and currently some 30,000 troops surround Zapatista villages in Chiapas. But the bold actions of the EZLN made waves; throngs of protesters in Mexico City joined a chorus of international human rights groups to force the Mexican government to pay attention to the needs of its citizens. Unfortunately, the San Andres Accords on Indigenous Rights and Culture (1996) was never implemented. Vicente Fox shoved a diluted version down the throats of the Zapatistas in 2001, and the struggle continues.
Since NAFTA, economic conditions for Mexican farmers have worsened. Far from offering more jobs and better wages, NAFTA exposed the erroneousness of free trade. Mass production of crops like corn and coffee, which had long been standards in the Mexican diet and economy, squashed the traditional farmer. The ejido system cannot thrive when faced with competition like that, and many native Mexicans were forced to work for pittances on mestizo farms, never being able to climb even an imaginary corporate ladder. As De Angelis notes, the agribusiness multinationals pressed for artificially low prices for goods like corn and coffee, which in conjunction with cuts in social spending (also part of the neoliberal agenda) has created deplorable poverty, racism, and hopelessness in rural Mexico. Adding to these brutal economic weapons are the real military tactics of the Mexican army, which would be backed by the United States military should the need arise to suppress the "rebels." Anything in the name of capitalism and corporate greed.
Some scholars and analysts choose focus on the sociologically imaginative area of biodiversity. Because the forests of Chiapas are rich with native flora and fauna that multinational corporations cannot wait to genetically modify and patent, the Zapatistas adopted an ancillary objective. The threat of multinationals usurping Chiapas land parallels the same intrusion by the Mexican government, so it is only natural that the Zapatista opposition to NAFTA includes a consciousness of environmental concerns. In his article "Globalisation (sic) and resistance in post-cold war Mexico: difference, citizenship and biodiversity conflicts in Chiapas," Neil Harvey addresses the complex interaction between politics, economics, sociology, and the environment, all of which intersect in Chiapas. Harvey points out that neoliberalism, the adaptation of developing societies to the global market economy, transformed the very concept of citizenship in rural Mexico. Following the ratification of NAFTA, the "statist model...gave way to an aggressive model of market citizenship, in which individuals were encouraged, trained, or coerced into new relationships with global networks of similarly marketised (sic) societies," (Harvey, 1047). As is the case with most developing nations, Mexico's entry into the world market economy, especially its link to the United States, did not benefit the majority of Mexicans. And as is also the case in colonized civilizations, the native populations suffer the most. Since the Spanish conquest of the peoples of Mexico centuries ago, the native population and culture has dwindled and died. Linguistic, economic, religious and cultural domination continues to plague indigenous Mexicans, and the Zapatistas refuse to accept the status quo.
Discrimination against indigenous Mexicans led to what has been an attempt to control access to the incredibly rich, diverse ecosystem of Chiapas. Just as the Zapatistas fight for the celebration of cultural diversity, the EZLN also calls for a respect for biodiversity. Chiapas comprises.16% of the Mexican land mass, but contains 20% of its biodiversity (Harvey, 1051). The problem of how to wage war against the formidable agro-chemical and pharmaceutical industries, which control a massive amount of global capital, remains one of…