From a letter sent to the anarchist periodical “Green Anarchy” sometime around 2002. A look at why the Zapatistas do not subscribe to a singular political identity.
First and foremost, it must be said that only small elements of the Frente Zapatista are willing to engage in a debate with insignificant elements along an ideological fringe. One would find even fewer warriors within the Ejercito Zapatista who would be willing to engage in intangible rhetorical battles with people whose greatest virtue is spreading their lack of understanding and knowledge around in newspapers and magazines. But the article entitled “The EZLN Is NOT Anarchist” reflected such a colonialist attitude of arrogant ignorance, several of us decided to write a response to you.
You are right. The EZLN and its larger populist body the FZLN are NOT Anarchist. Nor do we intend to be, nor should we be. In order for us to make concrete change in our social and political struggles, we cannot limit ourselves by adhering to a singular ideology. Our political and military body encompasses a wide range of belief systems from a wide range of cultures that cannot be defined under a narrow ideological microscope. There are anarchists in our midst, just as there are Catholics and Communists and followers of Santeria. We are Indians in the countryside and workers in the city. We are politicians in office and homeless children on the street. We are gay and straight, male and female, wealthy and poor. What we all have in common is a love for our families and our homelands. What we all have in common is a desire to make things better for ourselves and our country. None of this can be accomplished if we are to build walls of words and abstract ideas around ourselves.
Over the past 500 years, we have been subjected to a brutal system of exploitation and degradation few in North America have ever experienced. We have been denied land and freedom since before your country was even made and accordingly have a much different view on the world than you. We were subjected by colonial rule first by the Spanish, then by the French and Germans and lastly by the North Americans. For centuries Mexicans have been slaves and fodder and treated as less than human; a fact that scars us to this day and a fact we cannot and should not forget. Our past has made us what we are today and in attempting to break this historical trend of exploitation, we have risen up multiple times in attempts to reclaim our humanity and better our lives. First we fought with Juarez and Hidalgo against the Spanish crown, then Zapata and Villa against the Porfiriato. Now we fight against the different faces of the same head seeking to keep us enslaved as subhuman servants to Capital. This is not a struggle that was picked up from a book or gleaned from a movie, but a struggle we all inherited the moment we were given the light of life. This is a struggle that is in front of all our lives, even running through our blood. It is a struggle many of our fathers and grandfathers died for and one we ourselves are willing to die for. A struggle necessary for our people and our country. It is apparent from your condescending language and arrogant shortsightedness that you understand very little about Mexican History or Mexicans in general. We may be “fundamentally reformist” and may be working for “nothing concrete that could not be provided for by capitalism” but rest assured that food, land, democracy, justice and peace are terribly precious when you don’t have them. Precious enough to struggle for at any cost, even at the risk of offending some comfortable people in a far off land who think their belief system is more important than basic human needs. Precious enough to work for with whatever tools we have before us, be it negotiations with the State or networking within popular culture. Our struggle was raging before anarchism was even a word, much less an ideology with newspapers and disciples. Our struggle is older than Bakunin or Kropotkin. Even though anarchists and syndicates have fought bravely with us, we are not willing to lower our history to meet some narrow ideology exported from the same countries we fought against in our Wars for independence. The struggle in Mexico, Zapatista and otherwise, is a product of our histories and our cultures and cannot be bent and manipulated to fit someone else’s formula, much less a formula not at all informed about our people, our country or our histories. You are right, we as a movement are not anarchist. We are people trying to take control of our lives and reclaim a dignity that was stolen from us the moment Cortes came to power.
In fighting for these ends, we must do what is most effective for us, for all of us, without succumbing to the temptation of being divided into small little groups that are more easily purchased by those keeping us enslaved. We learned this lesson from La Malinche as she helped Cortes divide 30 million Mexicans up into an easily conquered group of feuding bodies. We learned this lesson from the post-independence reign of the Porfiriato and from the post-revolutionary betrayal at the hands of the rich powers. We see narrow-minded ideologies like anarchism and communism as tools to pull apart Mexicans into more easily exploitable groups. Rather than facing our enemies as groups that can be turned against each other, we prefer to work together as a common people with a common goal. Your article used the word “compromise” as though it were profanity. For us it is the glue that holds us all together in a common struggle. Without these compromises that allow us to work together, we would be nowhere; lonely slaves waiting to be exploited just as we have been in the past. We will not be bought off this time. We will not allow ourselves to be treated as particulars and accept favors from the powers that harvest wealth from our misfortune. And as we are doing things right now, it is working. 60 million people signed petitions to stop the War in Chiapas. Zapatismo is alive again. We have cells in every town in every state all across the country made up of people from all over the demographic spectrum. We are organized. We are powerful. We will succeed in our fight simply because we are too large and too well organized to be ignored or quashed by the Powers. What we have may not be perfect. It may not be ideal. But it is working for us now in a very much visible fashion. And we wouldn’t hesitate to say that if you were in our position, you would be doing the same things. But what really enraged us in your article was the familiar old face of colonialism shining through your good intentions. Lots of North Americans come to Mexico and turn up their nose at our food and our lifestyles, claiming that we are not as good as things they have “back home.” The author of your article does the same thing in his “critiques” of Zapatismo. If these “critiques” had included a detailed discussion on our tactics with reference to our history and current positions in the world, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, nothing that we don’t do constantly within our own organizations. But the fact that he just slagged Zapatismo off as being a vanguard of reformist nationalists without even a touch of analysis on WHY this is, illustrates that once again we Mexicans are not as good as the all knowing North American Imperialist who thinks himself more aware, more intelligent and more sophisticated politically than the dumb Mexican. This attitude, though hidden behind thin veils of objectivity, is the same attitude that we have been dealing with for 500 years, where someone else in some other country from some other culture thinks they know what is best for us more than we do ourselves. Even more disgusting to us was the line “The question of revolutionary solidarity in these struggles is, therefore, the question of how to intervene in a way that is fitting with one’s aims, in a way that moves one’s revolutionary anarchist project forward.” It would be difficult for us to design a more concise list of colonial words and attitudes than those used in this sentence. “Intervene?” “Moves one’s ‘project’ forward?” Mexicans have a very well developed understanding of what “intervention” entails. Try looking up Conquista and Villahermosa and Tejas and Maximilian in a history book for even a small glimpse of what we see when North Americans start talking about “intervention.” But once again, the anarchists in North America know better than us about how to wage a struggle we have been engaged in since 300 years before their country was founded and can therefore, even think about using us as a means to “advance their project.” That is the same exact attitude Capitalists and Empires have been using to exploit and degrade Mexico and the rest of the third world for the past five hundred years. Even though this article talks a lot about revolution, the attitudes and ideas held by the author are no different than those held by Cortes, Monroe or any other corporate imperialist bastard you can think of. Your intervention is not wanted nor are we a “project” for some high-minded North Americans to profit off.The author talks much about revolutionary solidarity without ever defining the term. What does revolutionary solidarity mean to him? From the attitude of his article it is apparent that revolutionary solidarity is more or less the same thing to him as “profit margins” and “cost/benefit analyses” are to corporate imperialists, ways to use someone else for one’s own gain. So long as North American anarchists hold and espouse colonialist belief systems they will forever find themselves without allies in the third world. The peasants in Bolivia and Ecuador, no matter how closely in conformity with your rigid ideology, will not appreciate your condescending colonial attitudes anymore than would the freedom fighters in Papua New Guinea or anywhere else in the world.
Colonialism is one of the many enemies we are fighting in this world and so long as North Americans reinforce colonial thought patterns in their “revolutionary” struggles, they will never be on the side of any anti-colonial struggle anywhere.We in the Zapatista struggle have never asked anyone for unflinching, uncritical support. What we have asked the world to do is respect the historical context we are in and think about the actions we do to pull ourselves from under the boots of oppression. At the same time, you should be looking at your own struggles in your own country and seeing the commonalties we have between us. This is the only way we have to make a global Revolution.