Zapatista article from the Socialist (UK)

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Sat Apr 7 15:21:43 MDT 2001

Article from the Socialist Party in England and Wales and the CWI:

MOUNTING EXCITEMENT gripped Mexico in early March as the 15-day
"Zapatour" by 23 Zapatista (EZLN) comandantes and subcomandante Marcos
made its way from Chiapas towards Mexico City. The EZLN followed, in the
last leg of their trip, the historic route taken by the legendary
Emiliano Zapata and the revolutionary southern army in 1914 during the
Mexican Revolution of 1911-1920. ROBERT BECHERT witnessed the Zapatistas

WHEN THE Zapa Caravan finally arrived in the capital on 11 March a crowd
of between 120,000 to 150,000 assembled to greet the Zapatista leaders.
The majority attending were young, with a fair number of indigenous
people, community groups and some older activists from previous

A tremendous roar greeted subcomandante Marcos, the EZLN’s effective
leader, when he stepped forward to speak, but his words left many

In the run-up to the rally there had been a widespread media discussion
on whether the Zapatistas would launch a movement or party from their
rally. But nothing concrete came from the platform. Unfortunately, an
opportunity to start to build a wider movement was not taken.


THE INITIAL Zapatista uprising on 1 January 1994 captured the
imagination of many around the world. It was seen as a blow against the
capitalists’ triumphalism after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the
sharp right turn of many leaders of the labour movement. The fact that
the Zapatistas launched their rebellion on the very day that the NAFTA
(North American Free Trade Area) came into being helped turn them into
symbols of the struggle against capitalist globalisation.

In Mexico itself the combination of the 1990s boom in the USA and NAFTA
have lead to economic growth in some sectors. But while the economy has
boomed, the working class and poor have hardly shared in it.

Last December, the new President, Vicente Fox, pointed out: "For the
last 18 years in a row, wages have lost purchasing power". A recent US
report said that since NAFTA went into effect the productivity of
Mexican workers has increased by 36.4%, "yet their wages have declined
by 29% between 1993 and 1997
Under NAFTA, eight million Mexicans have
been pushed out of the middle class and into poverty".

In just the two years between 1996 and 1998 the richest 10% of the
population increased their share of the national income from 36.6% to
38.1%, while the share of the poorest 60% from 26.9% to 25.5%.

The way in which some families’ absolute living standards have increased
in the late 1990s has been because more workers have had regular work or
relatives have migrated to the US.
Unemployment is officially down to around 3%; the real statistics show a
tremendous growth of so-called ‘informal’ employment, street vendors,
marginal jobs and part time occupations.

RECENTLY some workers have been able to start pushing real wages up, but
this is precisely at the time when the boom is starting to end.

RIGHT Populist president

THE 1980s saw a growing radicalisation in Mexico. In 1988, the PRD (a
Left split from then ruling PRI), actually won the Presidential election
but were denied victory by electoral fraud. But, fearful of starting a
movement that it could not control, the PRD leaders did not seriously
challenge the PRI’s fraudulent win.

This failure has affected the PRD ever since; its leaders have not been
seen as determined enough to defeat to PRI. When, finally, after nearly
72 years in power the PRI was defeated last year, victory did not go to
the PRD but to Vincente Fox the candidate of the right wing,
pro-business orientated PAN.

However, Fox’s victory was not a victory for the right. He campaigned on
a very populist basis, promising democracy and prosperity to all. His
victory was largely the result of the masses’ determination to oust the
PRI. Indeed, millions of PRD supported Fox in the Presidential race
while voting for PRD candidates for the Congress.

Today, Fox is attempting to maintain a balancing act. He says his
government is "not a right wing government, but a government of rights".
At times Fox almost seemed to be promoting the Zapatista march,
declaring: "My government is in favour of the march".

Fox’s aim is to incorporate the Zapatista leadership within "normal",
i.e. pro-capitalist, politics. On this basis he welcomed the Zapatistas
to Mexico City and urged Congress to support the Cocopa law, a measure
to improve the lives of Mexico’s ten million indigenous peoples, the
descendants of those who living in Mexico before the Spanish conquest
500 years ago.
Shaky economy

BUT MEXICO’S prosperity is built on shaky foundations. It depends on the
USA economy and that is already starting to enter a downturn.

The 1994 ‘Tequila crisis’, when the Peso crashed and a million jobs were
lost, was a warning of how quickly the Mexican bubble could burst. Now
90% of Mexico’s exports go to the USA.
In the weeks before the Zapatour the first lay-offs were announced in
Mexico’s large auto industry as DaimlerChrysler sacked 1,000 workers in

Despite his sweet sounding words one of Fox’s first measures on coming
into office was to start to prepare austerity measures. The first cuts
in government spending have already begun.
In January, the government started to sack 8,000 of the 14,000 workers
at the state-run national water commission. Now there is a plan to levy
a 15% VAT on food and medicine, part of a neo-liberal plan to increase
reactionary indirect taxation.
However, Fox is fearful of the population. For the beginning he has
promised not to privatise the oil industry, a nationalisation rooted in
the legacy of the Mexican revolution and the radicalisation of the

Zapatista programme

IT IS in this situation that the Zapatistas have won broad public
support. In many ways the forces of the PRD and the old Left have a
limited appeal to the radicalising layers, especially the youth. The PRD
leadership IS clearly terrified of losing much of their electoral base
if the Zapatistas organise a wider movement.

However, the Zapatista leadership have, so far, consistently held back
from organising the potential support they have. Increasingly, they have
centred on the demands for the indigenous peoples, coupled with a
general criticism of capitalist globalisation by Marcos.

Interviewed in Le Monde Diplomatique Marcos spurns the critical issue of
leading a mass struggle for political power: "The problem isn't one of
taking power. We know that the struggle for power is a struggle for a
lie. What is needed in these times of globalisation is to build a new
relationship between government and citizens. If a peace deal is signed,
the EZLN will cease making politics in the ways we've done so far. We’ll
do politics differently, without masks, without weapons, but still for
the same ideas."

But these ideas are left in mid-air, as the Zapatistas are reluctant to
organise their potential support among the wider working population or
to accept the socialist alternative to global capitalism. Marcos and the
EZLN have rejected any idea or programme that goes beyond the approval
of the Cocopa law.
The day after their entry into Mexico City the first meetings that the
Zapatista leadership held were three discussions with different groups
of, mainly foreign, intellectuals. The millions of working class, poor
and youth of Mexico City had to wait.

Marcos’s future is ambiguous. The EZLN is now led by 23 comandantes
(commanders) and Marcos is "only" a "subcomandante", but everyone knows
that he is in effect the real leader. It is a peculiar form of
"democracy" where the single deputy leader has more power than the
formal top leadership.
Despite these weaknesses the Zapatistas still have a great appeal and
could build a powerful movement for struggle and change.

Socialist programme

THE SUPPORTERS of the CWI in Mexico around their well-received new paper
"Oposición Socialista" raised the question of "After the Caravan. What
next?" They called on the EZLN to build upon their support to help
create a new party, drawing in the most radical layers from the workers,
peasants, indigenous peoples and youth, as well as the fighting elements
still within the PRD.

Oposición Socialista also calls for a "new agrarian revolution" to give
back the land to the peasants and indigenous peoples, together with
access to technology and cheap credit for the peasantry.

Oposición Socialista campaigns within the working class to change the
unions and mass organisations into fighting bodies and, where necessary,
supports those who are fighting to create new ones.

Confronting the attempt by Fox to reach a consensus of PAN-PRI-PRD to
reform the Constitution and create a renewed basis for capitalist rule,
Oposición Socialista is calling for the election of a Constituent
Assembly and for workers and peasants representatives to fight for
anti-capitalist and socialist demands as an alternative to the policies
of the parties of the ruling class.

With a radicalisation already under way before a recession bites Mexico
will clearly see sharp class battles in the future. While an economic
slowdown might inhibit industrial struggles for a period, politically it
would sharpen the situation. In this situation, with the revolutionary
traditions of the Mexican workers, peasants and youth, socialist ideas
will gain a wider response.
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