Mexico: The Zapatista Army and the Caracoles - A Marxist Analysis

Between August 9 and 11 in Oventic, Chiapas, the history of "Aguascalientes" as a rebel territory of the EZLN ended. This has made way for the establishment of civil administration in the areas where the EZLN has set up autonomous municipalities. It is a clear sign of the open intention of the EZLN leadership to go from being a military organization to being a local or regional political organization. Between August 9 and 11 in Oventic, Chiapas, the history of "Aguascalientes" as a rebel territory of the EZLN ended. This has made way for the establishment of civil administration in the areas where the EZLN has set up autonomous municipalities.

There will be five central coordinating councils of the autonomous municipalities. These so-called "good government assemblies" or "caracoles" ("sea shells") formalize of the transfer of power from the EZLN to the pro-Zapatista communities. The caracoles are not opposed to the formal kind of municipality which the state recognizes, because they are neither competing for representation (i.e., formal municipal representation) before the central government, nor for any of the administrative or political prerogatives (of a formal municipality). They are in essence a form of self-organization of the Zapatista communities and a way of establishing a formal mechanism with which to have relations with the outside. Now whoever wishes to discuss with an authority of the Zapatista region must deal with the administration of the autonomous municipalities and not with the EZLN. Thus Marcos ceases to be the spokesman of the EZLN in order to become spokesman of the caracoles, and this is the clearest sign of the open intention of the EZLN leadership to go from being a military organization to being a local or regional political organization.

Without any doubt, the creation of the caracoles is the most important event in the area of the Chiapas mountains since the visit to Mexico City in March-April 2001. For many young people and activists the level of self-government which the indigenous communities may achieve, represent a sign of hope and they see in this an example of self-government that can be applied to other sectors in struggle. Many people think that in the face of the deep crisis of the bourgeois political parties, the EZLN alone achieves anything of any value.

The Attitude of the Government

On the same August 12, Santiago Creel expressed his approval of the Zapatista initiative. It is not difficult to understand why. Since the beginning of his six-year term, he has maintained an absolute silence towards every movement that has come up against the government, whether it be a movement of peasants, workers, or students. We are not referring here to generalisations that any university professor could make, but to political initiatives that are capable of collaborating or linking up with any concrete struggle. While he (Marcos) has withdrawn from the national political struggle which had centered upon defining the forms of organization of the Zapatista power in the mountain regions, at the same time the government has stopped attacking the EZLN publicly. Fox even defends them in international forums, and has let them do as they please in their own territory. Nor does the EZLN have any real effect on national politics, since in the last elections the level of abstention in the Zapatista regions, despite an active boycott, was not much greater than in the rest of the State, between 60% and 70%, approximately. In these regions, as in the rest of the State, abstention ended up being a vote for the PRI, which won everything.

In this context, why should the government attack the EZLN for forming the caracoles? It has no reason whatsoever to do so. It even welcomes them, for this is one more step of the neo-Zapatistas towards breaking with any kind of subversive movement.

Marcos has declared that the EZLN is giving up its police functions and to the degree that it is withdrawing any of its reserve troops that are still active, this is simply one more indication of the retreat of the EZLN as a military force.

What we are witnessing is in fact a kind of tacit agreement between the government and the EZLN and a form of coexistence which suits them both - the government because with the formation of the caracoles, the EZLN ceases to be a military danger, and the EZLN because for a long time its leadership has been seeking a way out of the conflict that would not appear as open surrender and that would allow it to escape repression. In this context, the setting up of the caracoles fits its aspirations like a made-to-measure suit.

The Revolutionary Aspect

Without a doubt, all of Marcos' speeches in which he states that the national state is a victim of globalization represent a rejection of any kind of struggle against the national state. In fact, according to his way of thinking the problem is the "empire" which is waging a "Fourth World War" against cultures and peoples. His position is that the form of struggle is no longer that of carrying out the the revolution, but "being" the revolution and that being a rebel means resisting, and that this resistance does not have to do with struggling against the enemy but with self-organization and living autonomously. All these ideas and much more are his way of preparing his supporters, and the people in general, for this gradual abandoning of the politics that led them to the uprising of the January 1, 1994.

Marcos and the EZLN leadership have ceased to be revolutionaries. They even repudiate and "don't give a shit" (these are the words Marcos used in his polemic with ETA) about all those who aspire to form a fighting vanguard for the social revolution. In all this there is no ambiguity in their speeches. There is no intelligent tactic aimed at misleading the enemy, there is no intention to gain time in order to accumulate their forces. At least the Zapatista leaders and Marcos himslef are sincere when they explain what they want to do. We say that there are no contradictions here, because we can see that all their activities match the content of their speeches. They are striving to reach an agreement without necessarily having to sign it formally.

Marcos and the EZLN leadership do not now believe that it is necessary to overthrow the government in order to liberate either the indigenous communities or the people as a whole from extreme poverty, exploitation or hunger. They think that it is possible to realize all their ideals of emancipation through local autonomy. They think they can open clinics and schools, make the land produce, provide electricity, impart justice, without having to depend on a central government. (They have abandoned the slogan of "everything for everyone else, and nothing for us" and have put in its place "Let the world go round as long as they leave us in peace").

The Reality

Poverty and alienation have not been alleviated in any way since the Zapatista took control of their regions. Nor are we, the indigenous people and the exploited masses in general, any better off than before the EZLN emerged as a force. The bourgeoisie continues in its activities and condemns millions of workers to a life of physical and moral misery without any perspective. The EZLN does not live in a glass house, and it is a utopian idea to think that
by isolating themselves from the struggles of the whole people it will be possible for them to create an island of "good government." The Zapatista communities will be victims of the logic of capitalism and of the contradictions that this implies. Only the socialist revolution can create the conditions where degeneration and bureaucratization of self-government in the Zapatista region can be avoided.

The Tasks

No responsible revolutionary would attack the indigenous communities and the peasants who are in the leadership of this genuine and sincere attempt of the people to take control of their own destiny. The task of the revolutionaries is to underline the limits of this policy and explain that it is necessary to go further. It is necessary to build a movement around a programme, which would obviously include the demands of the indigenous communities. However, it would also have to brings together the demands of all the exploited sections of the population and it would have to clearly state that in order to achieve these demands, it is necessary to fight the government and to struggle to destroy the present political power system and build a new one based on workers' democracy.

The peasants and indigenous peoples have struggled heroically for decades and they will continue to do so. It will no longer be the banner of the EZLN that will guide them in new revolutionary struggles. The EZLN is showing day by day that it is not prepared to play this role. However, from among the peasants and the indigenous masses that are now taking part in the caracoles experiment, a new layer of militants will emerge which will be an integral part of the struggles which mark our epoch, the struggle for the socialist transformation of society. This will create the conditions in which many worlds will be possible, without any of them oppressing or crushing one another.