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Rewriting the End of History: The Zapatistas

"Rebellion is like this butterfly that heads for the ocean without island or rocks. It knows it has no place to land. Still it doesn't hesitate to fly. Neither the butterfly nor the rebellion are foolish or suicidal. They know that they will be able to land somewhere since there is a tiny island in this direction undiscovered by any satellite." Subcomandante Marcos in December 2002
Rewriting the End of History

By Harald Neuber

[This article is translated from the German in the German-English cyber journal Telepolis on the World Wide Web,  http://www.heise.de/tp/deutsch/inhalt/co/16433/1.html.]

Ten years ago the Mexican EZLN-guerillas occupied seve3ral cities. Today the rebellion is regarded as an important inspiration for the international movement against neoliberal globalization.

No one had expected the rebellion, least of all the Mexican government. When hundreds of women and men of the "Zapatista army of national liberation" [EZLN (1)] occupied several cities on January 1, 1994 in the southeast state of Chiapas [2], the world looked perplexed at this speck of the earth. Hadn't these masked farm workers heard the news? Didn't the reports of the collapse of Soviet communism penetrate Mexico's mountains and primeval forests? Didn't they know that the end of history [3] had come as the US theoretician Francis Fukuyama wrote in an essay five years before. Revolutions belonged to the past!

The rebels remained single-minded. On the first day of NAFTA, the free trade agreement between Canada, the US and Mexico, they demanded exodus from the neoliberal model, land and freedom. Their declaration won followers around the world.

Rebellion is like this butterfly that heads for the ocean without island or rocks. It knows it has no place to land. Still it doesn't hesitate to fly. Neither the butterfly nor the rebellion is foolish or suicidal. They know they will land somewhere since there is a tiny island in this direction undiscovered by any satellite.
Subcomandante Marcos in December 2002

No one suspected that the rebellion of the little guerilla organization would give the decisive inspiration for the worldwide movement against neoliberal globalization - since the EZLN was militarily crushed within a few days. However the massive military reaction laid the cornerstone for international solidarity with the rebels.

Showed up by the surprise coup, the Mexican army launched a great offensive against the EZLN territories up to January 11, 1994 and bombarded villages. They also fell into the trap. The EZLN wasn't a conventional guerilla according to Ernesto "Che" Guevara's model. The EZLN couldn't be overcome militarily since it attacked on another plane. Their weapon was the word; their medium was Subcomandante Marcos. The focus on the planned external effect was only clear in his person. With his face covered by a ski mask, Marcos unites the props of the old revolutionary Mexico of Emiliano Zapata [4] with those of the present. He wears a headset over the mask and has a cell phone on his belt.

In a certain way the military appearance of the EZLN - founded in 1983 - was a diversionary maneuver. Its real intention, as Marcos said later, was to give signals against the political agony of the left. "If you want to help us", he said, "help yourself".

With old revolution- and new progress-symbolism, Marcos sought to cast bridges beyond the end of history. The debate over the neo-Zapatista revolt revealed the problems of the left. How should one position oneself to a guerilla organization that openly declared the conquest of power was not one of its goals. Are the Zapatistas a paradox? Not at all, says the sociologist John Holloway teaching in Mexico:

When we participate in the political without putting it in question as a form of social activity, we have an active share in the process of separation which is capital. We struggle against capital regardless of how `progressive' our politicians may be. When we understand the state as the `dominant organizational form of the oppressor', this is not an argument for a struggle waged over the state but on the contrary an argument for the invention of other forms of struggle.
John Holloway: Zapatism as Anti-Politics in: Das Argument 06/2003

The Zapatistas don't come off badly if one compares the political working model of the EZLN still undeveloped in 1994 with the present situation. The worldwide anti-globalization movement is in fact outside orthodox forms of leftist political action. A political party striving for parliamentary power has not arisen out of the ATTAC-movement in any country.

Rather the Zapatistas on the regional plane and the anti-globalization movement on the global plane succeeded in establishing a counter-public to the political supremacy of the Fukuyama scenario. Modern communication is used actively (Communication guerilla with old methods [5]). In both cases, the motto is true: Strike the adversary with his own weapons without letting the adversary dictate the rules of the battle. Neither a closed system nor a finished solution is hidden behind this strategy. This strategy is necessary, the EZLN declared ten years after the rebellion, since the traditional "solutions" of the left failed in 1989 and 1991. Another spokesperson of the organization, Comandante Tacho, summarized the idea this way:

A revolution is like instruction in a school that hasn't even been built.

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Viva Zapata! 11.Jan.2004 12:00


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