A Call for Anarchism: Beyond Neoliberal Capitalism and Communism as Modeled by the EZLN By Noah Goslin
Chiapas, Mexico January 1, 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement is poised to be adopted by all three-member Nation-states: Mexico, America, Canada. A promise of progress, order, and liberalization are quickly replaced by turmoil born from a quest for freedom. Armed members of the Tsotsil, Tseltal, Ch’ol, Tojolabal, and Mayan Indigenous peoples as well as Campesinos—an endearing Spanish term for peasants—stormed San Cristobal de las Casas, the capital of Chiapas, to demand an end to NAFTA and a return of their land and autonomy. The organization, which was known as the National Zapatista Liberation Army (EZLN), expropriated large agricultural estate lands through direct action occupations beginning a calculated, yet reactive revolution enduring to the present, though in constantly evolving forms.
As a result of neocolonial Mexico, characterized by neoliberalism and globalization where most food that is grown is exported, land privately owned, and productive capabilities controlled by transnational corporations, little room has been left for the Indigenous and peasant farming operations. It is important to note that the EZLN uprising is not a universal ideological struggle of Socialism versus Capitalism incorporated within the Cold War Eurocentric Marxist praxis, but a reaction to 500 years of colonial oppression with various intersecting identities and political beliefs at work. The EZLN owes its immediate existence to a history of 30 years of radical struggle, “ranging from revisionist Maoists and liberation theologians to proponents of indigenous ideals and practices, all operating in the context of a predominantly Indian population” (Berger, 2001, 159). With this base, the EZLN was able to incorporate Mayan indigenous ideologies into an autonomous Marxist rhetoric, reminiscent of Spanish Anarcho-syndicalist’s experiences with working class trade unions and rural collectives in 1936-1937 (Chomsky, 2013, 51-52). In fact, the EZLN’s rhetoric underwent major changes in the 1980s when, “in search for a common language, [...] the guerillas adopted simple terms, baseline ideals, and shared historical and cultural icons” (Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, 2007, 19).
Apart from the initial repression from paramilitaries and the Mexican national and state governments in the 1990s, a relative peace ensued with the Zapatistas’ gaining international support from the Alter-globalization movement and favour from a substantial population of Mexico. With this peace, the Zapatista’s were able to focus on reconstructing a civic society separate from the EZLN military structure, which included both Indigenous and Anarchist teleologies. This shift from military power to civic power was largely influenced by Mexican agrarian autonomists such as Ricardo Flores Magón (1874-1922) and Emiliano Zapata (1879-1919). The Mexican agrarian autonomists were evidently influenced by political theorists and Anarchists Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876) and Peter Kropotkin (1842-1941), as well as Indigenous modes of governance such as collective self-defense, collective land ownership and consensus governance (Lomnitz-Adler, 2014; Van de Harr, 2004). Flores Magón and Zapata are known in Indigenous, leftist, and agrarian circles in Mexico for their historic contributions to the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). Zapata led the agrarian Indigenous and peasant faction against then dictator Porfirio Diaz, which is immortalized in Mexican national imagery, and Magón for his attempts to institute Anarchist collectives based on Kropotkin’s Conquest of Bread (2003) (Flores Magón & Poole, 1977). These two are largely responsible for popularizing collectivization, worker and peasant control over the means of production, and Indigenous and Anarchist modes of governance across Mexico (Ibid). However, it is important to remind readers that the Zapatista’s do not fall ploy to cults of personalities as there are no formalized leaders, perhaps philosophical influences but not representative officials as they do not practice electoral democracy (Mora, 2017).
To familiarize the Anarchist canon, a brief overview of agrarian autonomists the previously mentioned theorists follows. Proudhon is the first to use Anarchist as a self-identifying term. Proudhon is understood to have changed the discourse that was revolving around Communism and Capitalism by publishing What is Property (1840). In it he outlines the main tenets of Anarchism, in simple they are anti-state, anti-hierarchy, and anti-private property (Bowen & Purkis, 2004, 24). To obtain these objectives worker self-managed collectives, direct democracy, and communal property were required. These ideas of self and direct organizing were carried over by Bakunin and Kropotkin’s writings and practices (Biddle, Graeber, & Shukaitis, 2007, 280; Bowen & Purkis, 2004). This is the crucial point of departure from other literature on radical and social movements in that Anarchist theories are not meant to be theory alone; they are a praxis one which is constantly morphing as situations require and if they maintain independence and the main initial tenets this change is encouraged. Bakunin’s and Kropotkin’s mutualism and collectivist anarchism became the dominant theories influencing practice. Kropotkin summarizes this idea of Anarchism in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1910):
Anarchism is the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government-harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being (914).
It is liberty, free association and free agreement without the State that Anarchist’s believe will bring harmony, justice and breed cooperation over a Capitalist State. The final and arguably most crucial element of an Anarchist means is the importance of “equating the means of an action with its ends” (Biddle, Graeber, & Shukaitis, 2007, 7). This means a revolution and other forms of resistance, if it is to remain true and represent the original objects, must use tactics that reflect their goals. This is what the Zapatista’s have accomplished, they have not become tyrannical, they refuse to operate within the auspices of State power, and they are defensive, mostly peaceful, over waging an aggressive war against the Mexican State (Mora, 2017).
Figure 1 (Mora 38).
By 2003, in the autonomous zones under Zapatista control in the Chiapas highlands and the Lacandon Jungle, the civic society added a new function to their autonomous democratic decision-making bodies called The Good Government Councils and it was to be incorporated within the existing Caracoles or autonomous regions (Wohlgemuth, 2014, 77).
Figure 2 (Mora 53).
Decisions are made based on rotating positions to ensure equal representation, as well as a lack of corruption. All delegates are appointed (or elected via consensus) and are recallable by all communities (Van de Harr, 2004). The strongest level of governance is considered to be the individual autonomous municipal assembly councils, even though figure 1 demonstrates an upward hierarchy this is merely representing the flow of the process not who controls the process. Decisions are initially made by the municipal assemblies through consensus decision making, once consensed the proposal moves higher via delegates (if need be if the issue affects the larger Caracol) from each assembly eventually reaching the Caracol assembly of which there are five of. The Zapatistas require a strict code that adheres to autonomy without the Mexican State’s finances or other State support; instead it has been observed that the international Alter-globalization and human rights movements have been supporting the movement, though mainly the EZLN’s own collectives provide the majority of support (Van de Harr, 2004, 103-104). Essentially within each Caracol there are three institutions: many autonomous municipal councils (positions rotate monthly), one Good Governance Council (which each position rotates weekly), and the general Caracol assembly which has delegates of all the autonomous municipal councils and the rotating members of the Good Governance Council (Mora, 2017, 194). The final part of governance is not shown in figure one, but it consists of a territory-wide assembly of appointed and recallable delegates from each of the Caracols for any issues affecting the whole of the Zapatista territory. The purpose of the autonomous units is to “avoid a concentration of power, while at the same time, the junta [council] provides certain cohesion and purpose to this fluidity” (Mora, 2017, 195).
The Zapatistas are maintaining autonomy through democratic means and free association adhering to the Anarchist idea that one must use the same tactics they hope to reach. They follow a modified version of confederal and consensus democracy which comingles European Anarchist traditions and local Indigenous ones. They have not become despotic in their revolutionary aims and this is largely unique as they have been operating over 20 years. The EZLN is perhaps the largest Indigenous-Anarchist, both formal and prolonged, experiment in recent history and according to all the authors and the Zapatista’s themselves it is working. Autonomous control over the means of production, collectivization, rotating governance, and self-defense units provide a strong example of alternative modes of governance for future insurrections, but also for people willing to understand why Anarchism is not utopic nor chaotic, but a flexible and attainable order.
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