Twelve years ago, a revolt broke out in the south of Mexico, among the poorest and most oppressed in a poor country. The revolt was timed to mark the coming into force of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on January 1, 1994, which opened Mexico to unbridled exploitation by U.S. imperialism. The rebels seized five towns in the largely indigenous state of Chiapas. Calling themselves the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), after Zapata, the peasant leader of the Mexican revolution of 1910, their revolt galvanized the popular forces throughout Mexico and gained the respect of progressive forces throughout the world. Though the Zapatistas soon withdrew from the five towns under pressure of the Mexican army, they waged a low-level guerrilla war for several years and took part in mass political campaigns.
But the hopes that the Zapatistas aroused in Mexico have gone largely unfulfilled. Among other things, the Zapatistas, and particularly their leader, Subcomandante Marcos, not only refused to take up a vanguard role in the fight against the Mexican bourgeoisie, but denied the need for such a vanguard at all. Also, Marcos now portrays violence as the dark side of human history, ignoring its transforming role in the class (and national) struggle. As the Mexican Marxist-Leninists describe in this article, Marcos’ pronouncements have led the Zapatistas deeper into a position of support for the reformist and social-democratic forces in Mexico.
At the same time, certain reservations must be made as to this article. First, the indigenous peoples in Mexico are treated here as ‘ethnic’ groups rather than as oppressed nationalities (particularly in section VI: ‘The problem of the land and the ethnic question’). To ignore the fact that the indigenous peoples in Mexico who live in their communities and have been oppressed since the time of the Spanish conquest are oppressed nationalities is to downplay their role and the significance of their struggle.
Furthermore, there is a weakness in reference to the indigenous struggle, particularly the struggle for land, and its relation to the overall revolutionary struggle. In the last section of this article, the Mexican Marxist-Leninists state that, even if the indigenous people are granted territorial autonomy and carry out an agrarian reform, ‘Without the working class coming to power, it is clear that even with such a reform, sooner rather than later things will get worse with the differentiation of classes in this area, a product of the laws of the capitalist market.’ This is true, but in the sense that any reform can be reversed as long as the bourgeoisie continues to hold state power. The point, however, is not to use this fact to reduce the importance of such reforms, but to use these reforms to strengthen the consciousness and organisation of the working class and all popular classes to build toward the fight for revolution.
With this reservation, we recommend this analysis to readers worldwide as part of the fight to uphold the Marxist-Leninist world outlook against all attempts to oppose it ideologically.
When the EZLN’s struggle broke out in January of 1994, our party, and we are sure all revolutionaries in our country, hailed this event; we could see the magnitude of the armed movement and the radicalism of its slogans, could appreciate that this had every possibility of becoming the pole that would unite the class struggle and contribute enormously to awakening the working masses of town and country from their lethargy. We stand firm in our conviction that the EZLN was restoring the armed struggle of the masses by their actions. Unfortunately it was soon evident that the Zapatistas reversed themselves, they went back on their slogans, redrew their project, they discredited the revolutionary struggle and they retreated into the arms of social-democratic concepts to evade their responsibilities, rooting themselves in the pettiness of the petty bourgeois patriotic dream.
The Communist Party of Mexico (Marxist-Leninist) made public its sympathy with the armed Zapatista movement in a series of communiqués that called on them not to turn down the volume in the struggle of the masses and to make use of the effervescence and high spirits generated with the perspective of a national convergence of popular opposition to the regime and of the need for a Democratic and Popular National Constituent Assembly. Our efforts in that period in regard to the struggle of the masses were centred on raising that perspective.
Our organization proposed without the least hesitancy or the slightest fear of the fact that ‘others’ were the ones who provoked the fissure in the system, that the EZLN would be in a position to become the unifying factor of social discontent. We understood that the EZLN was in a position to put itself at the head of a powerful mass movement that went beyond its initial demands, which were already greater than those that they are raising today, since this was a war against the regime. When we discussed this with the Zapatistas, they stuck to their line of ‘not being the vanguard’ as a justification for leaving the mass movement without leadership. Now that the opportunists and the right-wing are congratulating them on such a line (moreover preaching it on every occasion), one must remember that this has caused a great deal of damage to the mass movement, shrinking it and diluting it for some time.
This is a line with serious consequences, for which the Zapatistas are directly responsible. It is a bitter truth that they cannot hide, no matter how much they try in their sweet-sounding speeches and campaigns. Particularly because the masses in the country to a certain degree were expecting orientation, directives and examples of consistent struggle.
The changes in the EZLN’s political line are not new, since the democratic convention of 1994 when they handed over leadership of the mass movement which they had convened to the bourgeois intelligentsia and social-democracy, rejecting the forces that were most consistent in defending the revolutionary line; there were many other facts of that nature, as were shown later. They already demonstrated a continuous abandonment of the tasks imposed by the situation generated by the uprising, which was: to contribute to the revolutionary struggle.
With the Zapatista march to the Federal District [Mexico City] we witnessed how the leadership of the EZLN and their supporters reached a peak in their crusade against the revolutionary perspective, to the satisfaction of the ruling class; naturally the class struggle does not stop at Marcos’s will.
In the Zapatistas’ campaign with their march throughout the country, and especially because of the interviews Marcos granted to Monsivais, Scherer and García Márquez, the zeal with which he sounded off against the revolutionary struggle became clear, without stopping to take account of the major significance of this in the emancipation of the exploited, without taking into account the contributions of the revolutionary movement. He identified himself with the slanderous, blackmailing and reactionary criticism of the bourgeoisie. The matter cannot be simply forgotten; we are obliged to give an answer from the trenches of those of us who have not fallen into the traps of bourgeois democracy. If we now return to this once again it is because of the Zapatista’s need to hitch themselves to such a policy that is so unfortunate for the exploited and oppressed masses of the country. Monsivais (yes, that intellectual enemy of the university student movement and of everything that rings of mass struggle outside of the bourgeois constitutional order) in an interview congratulated Marcos for the fact that the EZLN had gone over to civilised positions; he branded the initial objectives of the Zapatista struggle as delirious, but when the line changed, he was delighted. Marcos agreed with him without batting an eye and they were all happy. Monsivais was pleased with Marcos and Marcos reinforced Monsivais. In spite of all this, our party maintains that the slogans to which the struggle of the EZLN has limited itself as outlined in the San Andrés accords are completely valid, even if they would not provide a complete solution to the problem. At the time we put them forward, what has changed is the form of promoting them and their projection into the class struggle; now they have become the final objective of the Zapatista movement.
With the aim of rejecting revolutionary criticism, the Zapatistas through Marcos have a consistent formula in declaring that that is what they have always fought for, that others either were relics of ‘old conceptions,’ or even worse, others had made bad interpretations of their objectives. Put this way it sounds irrefutable; they deny what they said before and make one believe that they have taken a step foreword into the political environment in which they now travel, surrounded by social democrats and petty bourgeois cretinism.
This is their favourite manner of rejecting criticism of their political inconsistency and the game they are playing with the social democrats by discrediting the revolutionary movement in front of the masses and nullifying its action.
I. The revolutionary struggle and Marcos the rebel
Marcos stated that it was his contact with the indigenous communities that was the reason for losing his revolutionary convictions, calling those convictions a ‘loss of the vocation of death. This sounds very humanitarian and romantic, but with this he hands over all his contingents and followers to a life dedicated to making the capitalist system into a regime of exploitation ‘with a human face,’ and from then on any another struggle deserves to be rejected.
In our view it was not contact with the communities that made him ‘understand’ the new course of the struggle, but his incapacity to supersede the class nature of the movement to give him greater perspective. Marcos went into the jungle as a revolutionary element; the determining factor of his degenerating ideologically was in the weakness of his formation (as he himself recognised), the inability of the leadership, on the basis of the extremely tragic situation of the indigenous masses, to politicise them based on a proletarian outlook, and in the process of the movement, the flirtation with social democracy and the internal and external pressures have influenced them more, finally leading to the open rejection of the revolutionary struggle.
According to Marcos in his interview with Julio Scherer García, ‘The revolutionary tends to become a politician and the social rebel does not stop being a social rebel.’ In this way he is proposing again a very well-known thesis from the period of the guerrilla movements of the 1970s, particularly preached by the anarchist groups of that time, that ‘power corrupts’; that is, the masses should reject the seizure of power, they should take the means of production into their hands (which is really a trap in the class struggle for power). Even worse, the masses would be unable to take the affairs of the country into their own hands, to take power, because everything would end in corruption and the failure of every project; they have no confidence in the power of the masses to overcome and finally resolve any attempt to move backward in the class struggle. The Zapatistas say they ‘reject being the vanguard’; their rejection is more than that, they reject the revolutionary struggle even without being the vanguard.
Of course, Marcos is not that consistent, because in his interview with Carlos Monsivais he stated: ‘we are a serious revolutionary movement,’ although from his later rejection, it has become totally clear to all that the leader of the EZLN and its structure has decided to exchange revolutionary speeches for peace.
Returning to his interview, with Scherer and with Gabriel García Márquez, the one which Subcomandante Marcos used to rave against the revolutionaries, he made this a defining point of his social-democratic position by stating that it is not necessary to seize power, that power must be left to those who already have it, as this is how it is in the world. Who does not know that the upper classes have the power? Who does not know that in Mexico the financial oligarchy rules? Who does not know that the politics of the legal parties is the politics of the big bourgeoisie? Such senseless talk by the leadership of such an important movement is shameful.
In social activity, what is not political nowadays? Fundamentally, the Zapatista discourse tries to alienate the masses from the political struggle, under the pretext that everything political is corrupt, without putting this in class terms, that is, without differentiating between bourgeois politics with all its hues and proletarian politics. One must state dryly, Marcos is taking up social democratic politics of the left and rejecting revolutionary politics.
Certainly, revolutionaries propose to organise the masses so that they can wage political struggle, take power and transform their reality in all facets of social life, contributing historically to the popular struggles so that the masses gain certain more or less immediate objectives, but above all so that they can raise their level of consciousness and increase their forces in the struggle against their oppressors. While the Zapatistas, at first very quietly, but in the end completely openly, propose to assimilate the bourgeois slogan of making the masses people who should only take part politically in questions that have nothing to do with political power and the material base on which it rests, the ownership of the means of production. At another point of this Zapatista litany, they try to identify the radicalisation of the movements with defeat: ‘we will not force the movement to the point that it leads to defeat.’ This seems like a call to dignity with which the student movement confronted the regime; the background of this was that they refused to deepen the struggle for fear of repression, an attitude that leads to defeatism, but which also touches on dirty blackmail of the masses with the supposed ‘risks’ to force them to take down their banners.
With regard to the socialist perspective in Mexico, the Zapatista discourse followed the same patterns of classic social democratic, revisionist and big bourgeois language; in agreement with them, it identified socialism with the time of revisionism in power, when the revolutionary socialist processes degenerated into state capitalism from the middle of the 20th century until its complete bankruptcy a decade ago. We revolutionaries accept defeats in the class struggle of the proletariat in the process of overcoming all the historic situations and the errors that confronted the peoples with the return of wage slavery, with the idea that the working masses themselves and their broader participation in all levels of struggle will block their moves. We do not ask for the understanding of the oppressors because we do not receive gold from Moscow, we do not call on the representatives of the bourgeoisie who try to make us believe that there is no longer a revolutionary struggle. We call on the masses to exercise the revolutionary struggle to transform present society. We continue to be conscious of the fact that the class struggle is the motive force of history.
II. Revolutionary Violence
Violence is a fact of the class struggle. Given the antagonisms, social classes and even more those who have a revolutionary perspective always resort to the criticism of arms. Marcos, who embarked on a violent movement in response to the violence of the oppressors, now comes to give lessons of repentance, ‘Violence is always useless, but one does not understand this until one exercises it or suffers from it’ (interview with Scherer). One should not spit into the wind. The history of humanity has advanced by this ‘useless’ deed. What happened to the revolutions of the slaves, the serfs, the peasants, the bourgeoisie, the working class in history? What about the revolution for independence of 1810, the revolution of 1910-17, or the revolutionary guerrilla traditions in the history of our country? With his romanticism Marcos takes us back to the old outmoded bourgeois conception of violence as a dark symbol of human history, its black side, denying again any class distinction between the reactionary violence of the oppressor classes and the revolutionary violence of the dispossessed classes. And he continues hammering, ‘clearly a soldier, I include myself among them, is an absurd and irrational man, because he has to resort to violence to convince someone’ (interview with Scherer). A soldier, we say, is someone in arms in the service of a social class, his action is determined by the needs of the class or sector that has put him there or for which he has stood up. Even the generals in power in Latin America are clearly maintained by the needs of the local oppressor classes and of course by the burning needs of the imperialists, but not by their so-called ‘evil nature.’ The Zapatistas used arms not to convince, but to assert their interests and to put a halt to the increasing repression and extermination to which they had been subjected for many years. This is something that they should not forget; the peoples of the Lacandon jungle have an urgent need to resort to self-defence against the big landowners and the State.
In relation to other guerrilla groups, with the idea of not only questioning ultra-left errors or positions, but of rejecting the armed struggle, Marcos said that, ‘it is not ethical that all means are justified’ (interview with García Márquez). This is an old trick to which the ruling classes have resorted since the beginning of the Mexican revolution of 1910 to discredit the armed struggle.
But this is not the end. ‘He who must resort to arms to assert his ideas is very poor in ideas’ (interview with Scherer). That is to hit your head against the wall; it is not just using a phrase of the regime to combat the armed struggle, but the beginning of its abandonment, prettified by a good dose of humanitarianism. Marcos says he is a follower of Zapata, but how could one understand Zapata without the armed movement that he led?
One must remember that the masses resort to armed struggle, and especially to its highest form, the armed insurrection, not simply because of their desperate situation, but after a long process of struggles until they understand the significance of their aspirations and the need to assert them in a revolutionary way, confronting the ruling classes, being prepared to shed their blood in the struggle for their liberation.
In this way, translating the Zapatista logic into plain language one could say that because exploitation is a certainty in this world, and oppression is inevitable, one must convince the whole world of this for everything to change. But we do not try to impose our ideas of freedom by force of arms, because then they will become very poor ideas, or poor ideas. Such gibberish is contagious!
In summary, he would have us believe that open revolutionary struggle has been superseded and from now on we should limit ourselves to peaceful struggle. It is notorious that the position of the EZLN is now fully identified with classical liberalism of the bourgeois democracies.
They have tried to frighten the regime by stating that if the peace process is not begun, other armed groups will arise; yes, they will arise with or without you. This is the result of the sharpening of class contradictions, foreseen in general terms by the development of capitalism, and seen concretely by the anti-popular and pro-imperialist politics of the regime.
III. The Zapatista View of Capitalism
To the praise of the bourgeoisie and the shame of the tradition of struggle of our suffering Mexican people, the Zapatistas have brought us an old and stale slogan, ‘We do not believe that all businessmen are thieves, for some have earned their wealth by honourable and honest means’ (interview with Scherer). No, this is not a Christian sermon, where the thief is accused and the saint is rewarded. Capitalist exploitation is not simply a question of morals or robbery, but of social relations of production established between the owners of the means of production in private property and those who do not own anything but their own labour power to sell to the former. ‘Honest’ means of producing wealth do not exist; one is either a direct or indirect exploiter. If Marcos had to give a single example of his thesis, he would be faced with the same thing as all intellectuals of the system, a complete absurdity. The humblest of the bosses who crosses himself (before the Virgin of Guadalupe) must always exploit his workers to the maximum, the banker will demand the highest profit, the investor will seek the highest interest, the landowner wants to maximise his rent, the cattle raiser will seek the greatest profits. It is the law of the system.
Marcos asks for incentives for cooperatives such as that of Tephé [an indigenous community north of Mexico City which has built a water park on their land, attracting Mexican tourists – translator’s note] and ‘that their business potential be recognised, giving them advantages and possibilities in the market which are offered to the big hotel owners’ (interview with Scherer).
Well, to follow his logic of vitalising those sectors, we would first have to forget that the State today is in the service of the big monopolies. Who does not know that? Once this ‘simple detail’ is forgotten, with the best of results, assuming competition between hotel monopolies, what would be achieved is to create a new monopoly that would fight to crush the small businessmen or other small cooperatives. Why? Because the search for the greatest profits reigns, because without this they would succumb to the competition, because the social relations of capitalist production in their monopoly phase reign.
In case one tries to make them into small or medium-sized businesses with financial stability, they would again be faced with the constant threat of being devoured or subordinated to the more powerful ones. The independent companies in a monopolised branch create a factor of instability for the companies that dominate that branch and the independent companies always come into conflict with the prices and profits of the monopolies. By forgetting this Marcos fell into the trap of the regime which consists in promoting (in appearance) policies favourable to the small bourgeoisie, which in fact are subject to the whirlpool of big capital.
However it may be under the capitalist mode of production, by the law of the extraction of surplus value and the law of accumulation, the cooperatives in the Zapatista program will end up exploiting labour power, as the Pascual, the Excelsior and many others, or being cruelly subjected to elimination.
In the case of the small bourgeoisie and the cooperativists the main task is to integrate them into the democratic and revolutionary struggle to transform the present relations of production and to integrate them into a productive life where they do not become exploiters of the worker.
But this latter is not the expectation designed by the Zapatistas; for them what is at stake are: ‘the possibilities of constructing another type of relation, even within the market, which do not represent savage capitalism where some are devoured by others’ (interview with Scherer). This is also not new; it is a repetition of the social-democratic proposal for a ‘third way.’ Imperialist Europe is experiencing it; however the ‘domestication of the forces of capitalism’ has not brought about more than a change in the form of speech that obscures the significance of the capitalist market. The capitalists do not make economic or military war because they are evil, but only out of the need to survive. It is difficult to believe that Marcos really does not know this, or that the rest of the social-democrats, who are aiming to win the sympathies of the oligarchy, do not know this.
It is important to point out our differences especially on the question of the relations between the national oligarchy and imperialism, for the Zapatistas through Marcos recognise that the former will be devoured by the imperialists. In this sense, the dynamics of imperial rule in general always aims to consent to the national oligarchies, for the sake of being allowed to be guaranteed in the strategic sectors fundamental to consolidate their international control. The imperial rule over our country is based on the strategic alliance of subordination between the international financial oligarchy and the national financial oligarchy.
The Zapatista interpretation of capitalism is not as novel as some proclaim; those who state that Marxism is obsolete revive the most backward economist and populist theories, flavouring them with social-democratic discourse, but they have nothing new to offer. All they do is reveal their own class nature, sticking to them to this, they try to generalise the slightest social development.
The social-democratic discourse in the EZLN’s version follows: ‘recognizing differences’ are the new magic words to obliterate the existing contradictions. The meaning of this is very elastic, and acceptable to almost everyone; the Zapatistas speak of recognizing us as all being different and living in harmony, in the land of humankind. But humankind lives according to historic patterns which cannot be discarded; we recognise the differences between possessors and dispossessed, between exploited and exploiters, between oppressed and oppressors, but do we accept them? This is incompatible with our perspective of struggle.
Finally, we believe it is our obligation to give the lie to a grave error in the lessons that Marcos draws from the history of the 20th century, when he says: ‘When we declare that the new century and the new millennium are the millennium and century of differences, we are making a fundamental break with the 20th century: the great struggle of the hegemonic powers. The last struggle that we remember, between the socialist and the capitalist camp, led to two world wars. If this is not recognised, the world will end up being an archipelago in continuous war within and outside its territories. It will not be possible to live in this way’ (interview with Scherer). We should make clear three points:
- The struggle for world hegemony is a present-day matter, in which all the capitalist powers spurred on by their great transnational monopolies are involved, but also one in which North American power prevails.
- The world wars originated from the nature of the imperialist phase of capitalism for world domination; the First World War began before the proletarian revolution of 1917, the second had its cause in German expansionism that came to question English rule. To say that these wars were due to contradictions between socialism and capitalism is to follow in the footsteps of all that nebulous propaganda that tried to cleanse the capitalist powers of blame, above all the Western powers, who were the ones that pushed Germany (in the case of the Second World War) to fight against the former USSR.
- The world is already an archipelago at war for a new division of spheres of influence around the great Atlantic Alliance (NATO). We are seeing the scenes of war constantly shifting from one point of the globe to another; each time the imperialists run into more difficulties. The Atlantic Alliance is trying to prolong its existence by fighting against the countries that are not incorporated into it, but its internal contradictions, especially between Europe and North America, are heightened and turn into bitter disputes over who will get the greater share of the multiple booties of war.
‘We call on one of the forces to assume its role, the Congress of the Union’ (interview with Monsivais). Already the ideologist of present-day Zapatismo has forgotten the role that to date the merchants of the chambers play in the life of the country, they have already forgotten the role played by parliament to negate the EZLN. We see here how they have linked themselves to an organ that is not of the people, but of the owning classes, an instrument of bourgeois democracy. This call is dangerous not only from the viewpoint of the search for a solution to their demands, but of the illusions that it created in the masses, since it promotes confidence in an organ of the dictatorship of capital. And what do the Zapatistas now say with regard to the consummation of the Indigenous Law? What role did the Congress of the Union play? Things will go badly by promoting such illusions, since despite the facts the Zapatistas go to the extreme of stating that there are only three people who show bad will towards them. After this they will again flirt with the forces of the left to dazzle them once more with new demonstrations of their legalism.
But earlier, in his notorious interviews he has already stated without blushing in the least that:
‘For us it is very important that the nation should say: ‘I assume it and I put it in writing; I make history. I recognize that everything that has taken place before was not good. Not only do I recognize this, but I will make every effort to ensure that this will not happen again’ (interview with Monsivais). Oh Marcos! Who leads the nation, little brother? The fact that things were not good sounds like the classic bourgeois lament: let’s start with a new slate. To put it this way is to place the solution of the indigenous and peasant question in the hands of the ruling classes, giving the message to all the people that this is also a viable solution for their demands.
‘The EZLN is not asking that the whole Army must leave before negotiations. We ask Fox to answer this question: Are you willing to enter into negotiations and to abandon a military solution? Are you the commander of the Army?’ The Zapatistas here fall into Fox’s populism. Fox is a representative of the oligarchy, his actions are subordinate to the strategy of bourgeois domination, and obviously, to the pressure that the masses can exercise against that. Therefore, it is not the will of the president that will resolve such a serious situation.
In his interview with Scherer, he says: ‘We propose to try to convince this government, not only Fox, that they can sit down with the certainty that there will be results if they take this seriously.’ We have seen enough of this already; now it is the ‘good will’ of the Zapatistas added to a policy of shady deals worthy of professional mercenaries.
V. The Zapatista view of the masses and their struggles
The Zapatista concept of the masses and their struggle is not notably different from the classical social-democratic view. Why should it be? For the Zapatistas society, more than being divided into classes, is divided into the State, the military and civilians. The Zapatistas never call on the working masses and the popular sectors for their support, but on ‘civil society’, that broad spectrum of oppressor and oppressed classes in the old Hegelian language that has long ago been superceded by Marxism. However, it has again been dredged up, first by social democracy to prevent the masses from looking at classes and to try to unite what cannot be united in the class struggle, rather than to do the opposite, to continuously help to separate the workers and peasants from the bourgeoisie and their pernicious influence.
They are especially trying to raise the banner of the so-called ‘new social actors’, who have been brought into the struggle in the last decades and who have been exalted by social-democracy in opposition to the working class in their role of vanguard. These new actors, with their special problems, who are part of various classes or class sectors, are influenced by openly petty bourgeois and deeply individualist positions and forms of life. They are trying to take them aside to a marginalised struggle from the strategic point of view, alienating them from their exploited and oppressed condition by the system in most cases. In civilian society, as has been shown above, the EZLN encourages parliamentary cretinism, reformism and bourgeois and petty bourgeois constitutionalism, and all kinds of actions that ‘do not shake up’ the masses or lead them to confront their oppressors in a revolutionary manner.
A serious mistake that Marcos made in the Federal District was when he called on the students to concentrate on the studies and to postpone their struggles until they had gotten their degrees. Immediately the opportunist sectors and reaction applauded this ‘brilliant’ suggestion. Of course this is not the first time that the Zapatistas fell into the opportunist swamp in the student movement; during the strike, at a specific moment they gave their support to the moderate groups. We call on the students not to pay attention to such nonsense; our party calls on them to fight, to absorb the great experiences in their demonstrations and to push for revolutionary action from their trenches, so that at the end of their studies they have a clearer consciousness and broader horizons of struggle.
VI. The problem of the land and the ethnic question
The central problem of the Zapatista struggle, as much as they may present it as an indigenous question, is materially speaking the problem of the land, and sociologically one of ethnicity.
The indigenous communities were systematically pushed deep into the jungle by the landowners, for whom the main thing is to have them available as labour power for the harshest tasks. (In the same way other indigenous peoples in our country were pushed into the most inaccessible and unhealthy areas.) The real solution to the problems of the Zapatista communities must begin with a broad agrarian reform that returns to these people their former territories and the infrastructure needed to overcome their historic backwardness, as well as granting them territorial autonomy. Without the working class coming to power, it is clear that even with such a reform, sooner rather than later things will get worse with the differentiation of classes in this area, a product of the laws of the capitalist market. Besides let us not forget the existence of a pole of economic and political power which will crush them even if Zapatismo obtains certain considerable benefits.
Marcos maintains that ‘the fundamental thing in our struggle is the demand for indigenous rights and culture’ (interview with Monsivais). This is a false point; all this would be lost without material livelihood for the indigenous peasants. First they must own the means of production, and then the demand for indigenous territorial autonomy must be raised, in order to raise the ethnic groups in the general development of their life. If one raises only the demand for territorial autonomy, even if the bourgeoisie today does not want to yield on this, they may do this under certain circumstances. However, that autonomy by itself would still be amputated because it would be limited to an area with an independent administration with political powers for the ethnic groups as such, leaving intact the large private property in the land, and of course, the indigenous ethnic groups could not develop with such an enemy at their side. Besides, there would remain unsolved the problem of what the Zapatistas understand as rights and culture, since in the present-day terms that they have been using, it is a question of the right to exploit each other.
This petty bourgeois view of the indigenous problem has given rise to indigenous theory, sometimes presented as a problem of races. But it is rather a question of the systematic oppression of the ethnic groups in our country, expropriating their land eliminating all the agents who impede the capitalist relations of exploitation.
Although racism is an undeniable fact, it parts from those concepts. If we look outside our country, we see that the Japanese, who are not a white race, are accepted as such because they are an advanced capitalist society. Also it is not a problem of races since even the indigenous people have assimilated mestizo, black and white elements into their social activity as an ethnic group; they share a common life and a similar psychology, but not necessarily the same blood. Nowadays there is no more pure blood among the ethnic groups, and in spite of this the problem persists, and the ethnic groups also persist as historic social beings.
On the other hand, the Zapatistas have forgotten the thousands and thousands of indigenous people (separated not just in the last generation, but even several generations ago) who take part in the general social activity of the country, and are immersed in all the strata of capitalist society, exploiters and exploited, oppressors and oppressed. White, mestizo, Indian, black, Arabs, Asians, etc. make up the blood stream of our country. Moreover, without leaving this question aside, one must analyse the breakdown of social classes: bourgeois, proletarians, peasants, semi-proletarians and other middle strata. In the same way the ethnic groups have their class breakdown, in accord with the place that their members occupy in production: as exploiters, peasants, peons, day-labourers (agricultural proletariat) and artisans. They are subjected to a worse situation because of their ethnic oppression caused by the ruling class. These qualities should guide us in participating in their struggles, fundamentally their class nature, the particularity of the ethnic social organisation.
In the view of our party, even though the problem of the land and the question of ethnic territorial autonomy are problems which cannot be postponed, the guarantee that the ethnic problem would be fundamentally and decisively solved is by incorporating the ethnic groups into the struggle for socialism.
Our party does not reject a peaceful solution favourable to the Zapatista problem and to the mass movement itself, but this will not come from the defeatist line presently put forward, but by propelling the struggle of the masses. It is not a matter of simply signing a just peace agreement, but (if necessary) of making a dignified retreat in the armed struggle, without rejecting this, nor the class struggle in general.
As long as the Zapatistas continue along the line of abandoning the consistent struggle and are tied to all those groups in so-called civil society that are unable to take up a serious fight against the system, the results will not be favourable to the masses that they mobilise.
The Zapatistas and their leadership should see the nature of the capitalist system as it is, not in the light of indigenous subjectivism, and break with the concepts that seek to unleash the forces of capital within the ethnic groups. Otherwise, the tiger will make them swallow the mirrors and not the other way around as, they once preached.
Translated from the Spanish by George Gruenthal