EZLN: 38 years of consciousness raising and construction of autonomy


By: Gilberto López y Rivas

On November 17, we commemorated the 38th anniversary of the founding of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN, Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional) by a small guerrilla group composed of five men and one woman, three mestizos and three indigenous men, who entered into the mountainous zone of the Lacandón Jungle in the Mexican southeast. This proportion of its composition was to change: the political-military organization is today majority indigenous and with a significant presence of women in all its organizational spaces.

The Zapatista Mayas have walked many paths during these 38 years of clandestinity, recruitment and exponential growth of their ranks among the Tseltal, Tsotsil, Chol, Tojolabal and Mam peoples, their military and political preparation for the January 1, 1994 Uprising, the dialogue and negotiation of the San Andrés Accords with the federal government (1996) and, after the betrayal of the political class and the three powers of the Union, the extraordinary process that opens with the construction and strengthening of local, municipal and regional self-governments, based on autonomy.

The EZLN makes the autonomous exercise a strategy of peaceful resistance against the counterinsurgency war, organized crime, para-militarism and corporate invasion of territories, which goes beyond the self-governments, transforming the autonomous subject in various directions: inter-generational and gender relations, which promote a unique participation of women and youth, the permanent political, cultural and ideological awareness of its membership, the preparation and relief of the militancy in the political spaces of their structures and hierarchies.

This experience of comprehensive autonomy constitutes a paradigmatic example of the revolutionary nature of these processes in the forging of highly politicized and participative communities, which can establish a new type of democracy and forms of government, which are synthesized in the govern-by- obeying concept, a redefinition with the surrounding environment, local and national, a real change in the development of a solidarity economy.

The defense of the autonomous subjects to the action of the market and its state agents means control of territory from the communities. At the same time, the Zapatista Mayas strengthen in the spaces where their hegemony prevails, a multi-ethnic weave of diverse peoples, overcoming secular conflicts over boundaries and resources, through consensus, tolerance and overcoming religious, ethnic and cultural differences. Likewise, and without pretending to fall into vanguardism, which also characterized many of the national liberation groupings, the Zapatista Mayas promoted the formation of the National Indigenous Congress-Indigenous Government Council (CNI-CIG, their initials in Spanish), which currently embodies the resistance of the indigenous peoples to the process of recolonization, continued with special vigor by the current government of historical change.

Like none of the political-military organizations that emerged after the triumph of the Cuban revolution, the EZLN overcomes proletarian perspectives about revolutionary subjects, forming its popular army with indigenous peoples, who appropriate the insurgent project and transform it. This fact signifies a qualitative change in the conception of the indigenous world that the national liberation organizations had been holding, in which they conceive indigenous peoples, in the best of cases, as a secondary and subordinate ally of the revolutionary processes, on which one must impose a veiled form of paternalistic assimilation. Far from a stagnant version of Marxism, it is applied to the objective and subjective conditions that the founding group encounters, which one might expect, caused ruptures, criticisms and disagreements that still flourish today, in equivocal demands, out of place and loaded with resentment that, in the current context, only help the counterinsurgency and the established power.

Despite a counterinsurgency strategy that has been active non-stop since 1994, exacerbated at present by extremely provocative actions of criminal paramilitarism, militarization and militarism deployed in the extension and depth of national territory by the current Fourth Transformation government, the EZLN celebrates its 38th anniversary with an audacious political initiative for life, against capitalism, racism and patriarchy, which takes to the  limits of the world its dialogue with the peoples and movements in struggle, beginning in the disobedient land of Europe.

Keeping the flame of the concrete and possible utopia, the ethical congruence of the “everything for everyone, nothing for us,” is an extraordinary political merit of the EZLN in its 38 years of struggle, without surrendering, without selling out and without giving in.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Friday, November 26, 2021


Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

One Comment on “EZLN: 38 years of consciousness raising and construction of autonomy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: