Zapatistas Turn to a National Mass Campaign

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by Gerry Foley / October 2005 issue of Socialist Action newspaper

After a long period of political stagnation and relative isolation, Mexico’s Zapatista National
Liberation Army (EZLN) issued a statement in June announcing that it was launching a national and international campaign of resistance to the capitalist/imperialist offensive known as neoliberalism.

The statement, known as the Sixth Declaration from the Lacondon Jungle, even indicated opposition to capitalism as such, and not simply neoliberalism, although it was not very definite about this.

“We are going to listen to and talk directly,” the declaration stated, “without intermediaries, to the simple and humble members of the Mexican people, and as we listen and learn, we are going to build, together with these people, who are simple and humble like us, a national program of struggle, a program that will be clearly left or anticapitalist, or anti-neoliberal, or for justice, democracy, and the freedom of the Mexican people.”

The statement was clear about breaking off the alliance with the supposedly more left-wing of the Mexican bourgeois parties, the PRD of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, which the EZLN had maintained for many years. It equated the PRD with the other capitalist parties—the PAN and the PRI:

“The day that the politicians of the PRI, PAN, and PRD approved a law that does not serve, they killed dialogue, and they clearly said that it does not matter what they agree to or sign because they will not keep their word.”

Of course, the EZLN did not say anything about the class nature of the PRD, and it has gone back and forth in the past in its attitude to this party.

Nonetheless, the statement did indicate disillusionment with this demagogic bourgeois party.
Since the EZLN’s break from the PRD, the Zapatistas have come under heavy fire from reformists and middle-class leftists for allegedly “dividing the left” and “playing into the hands of the right.” But the rebel group seems to be holding firm in opposition to this pressure and continuing its turn to the left.

In a lecture given at the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City on Aug. 15, Manuel Aguilar, a leader of the Liga de Unidad Socialista, Mexican cothinkers of Socialist Action, commented:

“There is no reason to be surprised by this break. It is not a small thing that the PRD members of parliament, along with those of the PRI and the PAN, voted for a law on the question of indigenous peoples that represented a rejection of the EZLN’s proposal. … The PRD members of parliament did not even want to cast a minority vote against it but just joined the PRI-PAN majority.”

Aguilar noted that the Mexican media had focused largely on this aspect of the EZLN statement. The Mexican presidential elections are coming up next year, and these elections—held every six years—are the main focus of Mexican political life.

In reality, the essential governmental power is in the hands of the president. The parliament is mainly window dressing. This has been the situation since 1920, from the stabilization of the regime that emerged from the civil wars that followed the revolution of 1910.

Aguilar pointed out that Mexico has been in a social crisis since 1982 and that each stage in it has been marked by the end of a six-year presidential term (presidents can be elected for only one term).

“The political and economic crisis in 1982,” Aguilar said, “opened an inflationary spiral whose effects we are still feeling. In 1988, the PRI system [the party of what had been a one-party state] was dealt a moral blow at the polls that it was only able to survive by a colossal electoral fraud….

“In 1994, the EZLN insurrection threw the regime into one of its worst crises. The PRI was able to come out of the election victorious, but it was mortally wounded. Finally in 2000, the economic and political power groups worked out a solution to the PRI crisis and the Fox government [PAN] was installed with the benefit of the ‘useful vote.’

“It was supposed to represent a ‘democratic transition’ [this was the first time that the PRI had been ousted in a presidential election]. But in reality it was a transition designed to preserve the fundamental features of the dependent capitalist state system.

“So, the situation we are in now is that the overwhelming majority of the population is deeply
disillusioned by the pathetic record of the PAN-Fox government. This has created an atmosphere of political malaise that is potentially explosive.”

Given this deepening crisis, Aguilar thought that the EZLN turn toward a mass campaign could have a very powerful effect on the political and social situation in Mexico: “It is into this broad historical and political context that the impact of the Sixth Declaration from the Lacondon Jungle and its political and organizational consequences fit. This tension-filled national political situation can only be influenced by forces of the same magnitude.

“The EZLN is one of these forces, as is well known. It is the only political force outside the system that is capable of mobilizing massive sectors of the population. Its appeal today is the only one that can complete with that of the three main parties that support the established political system.”

Thus, Aguilar said, the EZLN declaration has an importance comparable only to the insurrection of 1994.

Aguilar noted that the EZLN appeal was not for any specific alternative in the 2006 elections, not for an electoral campaign. But he hoped that the Zapatistas’ declaration of political independence from the parliamentary parties and their call for a united campaign of mass mobilization would lead to the creation of an alternative to the bourgeois parties.

He pointed out that the EZLN has called meetings with independent, socialist, and indigenous organizations in Chiapas, which might offer “a perspective that a front or great coalition of independent, left, and democratic forces will unite broad sectors to fight for the emancipation of the working people and national liberation, for the project of a new nation,
which—with a profound internationalist vocation—will extend its hand of solidarity to the peoples of Latin America and the other continents to forge another world free from oppression and exploitation.”

“This is the perspective,” Aguilar stated, “of starting Mexican history in the 21st century by
learning the terrible lessons of the past.” In this, he evidently was referring to Mexico’s historical record, in which bourgeois demagogues had deceived the oppressed and exploited masses and thus frustrated their aspirations for social liberation—which is impossible without overthrowing capitalism.

From this standpoint, the turn of the EZLN is very hopeful. It could indeed have a historic impact, in particular in today’s Latin America, which is seething with social rebellion. In fact, the EZLN declaration refers to the anti-imperialist movements in Latin America and solidarizes with the besieged Cuban Revolution.

But it remains to be seen how the EZLN will implement the sentiments of this declaration. In fact, it seems certain to usher in a great political drama in Mexico, a play of powerful forces. The outcome cannot be foreseen, but it is a process that needs to be followed very closely by socialists throughout the world.

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