What can be learned from the Zapatistas?


Buenos dias,

Good morning,

All is under construction,

Here below, I share an introduction into what I would like to further elaborate on in the near future. Especially indigenous cultures in which pre-modern traditions still hold up to date. Going back as old as the Maya’s in Mexico. The Zapatista are, therefore, an interesting case to have a closer look at. Their Mayan influenced movement might hold some valuable ways of cooperating through difficult times, other communities and groups in the world could learn from.

Below my assignment for my pre-master sociology, an introduction I wrote to propose a further investigation into postmodern alternatives for social theories and diving a deeper look into places and communities that are especially hit by negative externalities because of the globalisation process.  Sources are mentioned below. So going to universities is nice for inspiration and getting some readings lists, however, then you can always continue on yourself using google scholar, or is it just me?

Happy to receive any feedback or input.

Just catch me on the streets,


‘The Zapatista’s, the rebels of Mexico (Chiapas)’

The Army of National Liberation (EZLN) of the Zapatista’s in Mexico have declared war on the Mexican government on 1 January 1994 by demanding the preservation of their indigenous rights (EZLN 1994, 33–35) cited in Neil Harvey 2016) . Examples of these rights are: autonomy, property rights, cultural self-determination, education, health etc (pg. 2 Neil Harvey) More important was an affirmation of their dignity after a 500 year struggle of colonialism and marginalisation (Holloway 1998 in Neil Harvey 2016) This act of rebellion and expression of de (tegenovergestelde van colonialism) colonial liberalism (Mignolo 2011 in Neil Harvey 2016) gave them national and international allure among indigenous and non-indigenous people who recognise and respect these rights. The Zapatista’s still struggle to redeem the cultural dignity during the (neo)colonialism or neocapitalistic period and want to redeem the sovereignty of Mexico after the NAFTA treaties (George A. Collier & Jane F. Collier (2005) pg. 4) by working from ‘grassroots’ level. The Zapatista movement can, because of the above, be seen as a symbolical need for counter-globalism in a postmodern age in which there appears to be a need to redefine autonomy and governance in a dynamic day to day fashion.

By making efficient use of hidden social media channels the Zapatista rebellion is often portrayed as the first ‘postmodern’ ‘netwar’ revolution. According to ‘The advent of Netwar (Ronfeldt, D. e. (1999)) a netwar is an emerging mode of conflict and crime in different levels of society in which the protagonists use technological communication platforms in small and autonomous groups to communicate and organise themselves without having a central chain of command.” – which is interesting, since without a ‘central chain of command’, we can speak of a social system which is organised similar to complex and chaotic systems seen in the social behaviour of the natural world. There is order and there is freedom while at the same time there can be the opposing need of stability and safety by keeping an eye out for each one. It does require high levels of self-reliance of the agents or a good portion of them, I think, to make such systems of organising people around a certain evolutionary goal or motive work. Otherwise one could be speaking of phenomena like brain-draining the economy. In chaotic systems however the levels of freedom are so high that there seems to be disorder. However, within this disorder there exist an interconnected web of relevant contributors to the greater evolutionary purpose of an organisation, country, city within the greater span of all other sub and supra systems. So without these necessary levels of freedom, randomness, chaos etc. there would not be enough divergence nor diversity to sustain the greater system, implying a collapse of the reality of such a system by lack of inventiveness in finding a right fit within the fitness landscape the particular system is nested in. Hence, the reason why trickster figures are often portrayed in mythology as so well redeemers and wrecking balls of society allegorically speaking, so this dials into one of the fundamental challenges of contemporary age how one should deal with deviant behaviours that might either redeem a society or bring it into further collapse? Therefore, a question that should be thoroughly scrutinised is who are the false prophets of (post)modern age? Those hero, heroins bringing redeeming boons only to realise their good intentions were indeed the pavement of the road to hell, hence the reason, I think, that the hero turns into a warrior, not loosing ones source of inspiration, and yet being able to find realism in its applications in today’s wicked age. This is not meant as a justification for criminal behaviour, yet rather investigating what criminal behaviour really means if it could also turn out that deviant behaviour could be needed in the sense that certain systems require some radix or uprooting of the system, which means deviance, which means criminal according to the definition of bending norms. So depending how interconnected a particular organisation is, could, therefore, be indicative for how complex and diverse it is. A practical philosophical tip then is that by appreciating simple joys, needs and pleasures or just a nice gesture downtown could initiate a catalysing effect throughout the greater span of such a system, which is called the butterfly effect in systems theory. So all these small, well-placed graces and joys count in the sense that the compounding effects of it matter most in the end. So many things are possible by partaking within a complex or chaotic system like life itself could be seen for the sake of explaining stuff a bit better.

So the movement emphasises on non-hierarchical ways of (re)organising social ties in local, national, and international spaces in communities. The development of virtual reality could off course assist in such a further integration of communities worldwide by adding an additional dimension to play from. In doing so, the Zapatismo social theory represents a political and theoretical shift that calls for greater attention to the processes and practices that can sustain autonomy (on grassroots levels it seems, rather then the more traditional centralised top-down government) (harvey, N. (2016). The technology allows them to practice a dynamic way of autonomy that could depict a postmodern way of self-government in small networks throughout the world as seemingly more crisis lures the world down.

Therefore, to understand what the Zapatista’s value most, what they stand for and what they strive for, this paper discusses the meaning of their need for autonomy. Besides this radical call for autonomy in 1994, the Zapatista’s also wanted to redefine modernist ideals for a postmodern age like: Justice, liberty and democracy (Nash, J. (1997), but these will be spoken of only in relation to this fundamental need of autonomy. This would be an ongoing process of transforming the Maya ethnic identity from fragmented, ethnically distinct communities, to a multicultural coexistence with the state and the rest of Mexico. This ‘grassroots’ experiment of the Zapatista could then be seen as an attempt for multiculturalism by using different systems of autonomy or governance in achieving cultural coexistence and multi-polarity within the existing status quo, establishing a parallel reality by which lesser models of socioeconomic life could be made obsolete.

The Zapatista understand autonomy as a process rather than as a fixed structure or legal framework in society. On ‘grassroot’ levels, small and autonomous groups are redefining what autonomy is on a daily basis and don’t follow a fixed hierarchical chain of command. An anecdote from a Zapatista could maybe help in understanding this approach to autonomy better;

So, it is interesting that we realised that the plans that we make at the start can be modified as many times as necessary, according to what is needed to be done. We aren’t obliged to carry out something just because that is how we thought it should be and should remain always. There are some things that are that way, but there are others that are not. (EZLN

2013a, 62 in Neil Harvey )”

To build a nation or democratise new countries in the global world order, there often is a practice of assimilating or even annihilating marginalised cultures within the greater nation under the rule of law and, in so doing, demoralise the indigenous people by giving up their distinctive identities (Bonfil Bata(1987 and Cynthia Hewitt (1984 in Fiesta of the world pg. 2). This threat of marginalisation only became worse after the World Trade Organisation in 1980 formulated new treaties in which weaker democracies, as opposed to stronger ones, would be targeted for democratisation (George A. Collier & Jane F. Collier 2005 pg. 3). This meant that global organisations could have an interest in Mexico for expanding their trade and capital by, for example, overextending transnational petrodollar loans and attracting international agriculture corporations (George A. Collier & Jane F. Collier 2005 pg. 3). It is assumed this would be good for the world economy and the development of weaker democracies like Mexico, but at the expense of local and indigenous rights to natural capital et cetera. So there you have it, the discourse of all empire building lays within the stories they tell. Just as it is with the discourse that economic world wide trade will automatically cause world peace is wishful thinking at best.

This was the main reason why the Zapatista started to organise themselves. The timing and course of the Zapatista rebellion, therefore, reflect global processes other grassroots around the world could learn from.

The Zapatista movement symbolises the struggle of indigenous people all around the globe in the conflicts that arise due to the globalisation process of (‘weaker’) nations. In the just recently globalised world the Zapatista’s show in their efforts alternative ways of governance and multiculturalism that can inspire teachers, academics, politicians and all those interested in the attempt for creating a more resilient framework from which a more resilient society can emerge. Therefore, there is relevance for each society to stay optimistic on the question of reform or revolution. The debate of Rosa Luxemburg and Eduard Bernstein 100 years ago, before the world wars, was positive in that regard (Ronfeldt, D. e. (1999). pg. 1). Both sides thought with confidence that the world can be made a better place, that a just society can be created or maybe better said, creating the right conditions for the spirit of the age. The only question would be how this should be done. Therefore, the Zapatista approach to dynamic governance could show us some empirical insight how this plays out in the context and history of Mexico. Maybe the rebellion is simply a fight for romantic ideals resulting in another road to hell paved with good intent, or maybe we can learn from these ‘grassroots’ movements and understand what dynamic governance really implies and benefit our own local communities to be more self-reliant and independent from the state or other caregivers.

The main research question of this paper is, therefore, investigative in nature.

What are the effects of the Zapatista movement on preserving indigenous rights in Mexico and the globalization process?”

1. What is the Zapatista movement?

To understand the effects of the Zapatista’s on globalization and preserving indigenous rights, there has to come an understanding how the movement came to be and what they stand for.

2. What (main) social issue(s) and value(s) do the Zapatista movement stand for?

autonomy, postcolonial, decolonisation.

3. What does the globalisation process mean?

Similar like words such as ‘sustainability’, there probably exist many different definitions of what ‘globalization’ could mean. However, I would like to just share my view on it. In many ways, I think, that there exist many structural issues around culture and tolerating diversity within and among cultures. This has been mentioned so often on this website, without using the word globalisation. So in the simple fact that cultural minorities do not have to be ‘weak’ or inferior persé in the face of giants regimes. Underestimating neighbouring civilisations and cultures could very well be the reason for the downfall of the culture that is on top at the moment. So despite all the differences, there still is the reality potential that one or the other has to be stronger or better. This dogma is mostly used within Westernised modern cultures itself. So not only are the people who promote competition brainwashed by the system they are in, they also brainwash the cultures deemed to be inferior. Personally, I have been around China and to observe the hegemonic power of the Western image is insane and frightening to say the least, since originally speaking Chinese people were no conquers according to my understanding of it so far since there used to be no need to migrate to better lands. So however hard it is to be David, especially when it turns out David is much wiser then the giant, one has to come up with passive-aggressive ways to defend oneself when needed. Capoeira could be a way for those who are stuck in slavery, since that is where it originated from (correct me if i’m wrong). Freedom of movement can entail many other freedoms, like craftsmanship, music etc. This is also why the practice of Capoeira, I think, entails many more facets then just the superficial physical part. Same goes for Yoga etc. So, therefore, different themes and levels of warfare can be fought or are already being fought on a higher level besides the mere physical side of life. So, especially, because of the globalisation empire building, certain parties could be so oppressed that they can turn into world calamities perhaps even. So, this is more of a rant on globalisation, however, I am not the one that wants to define such words too much. Rather this is a section of the website by which such meaning behind the words are undefined, and, therefore, open for interpretation and execution by those who define such concepts for themselves and, in so doing, set forth into subjective realities due to the nature of language itself.

The Zapatista movement is studied in relation to the globalization process of Mexico.

4. How does the Zapatista movement affect the globalisation process of Mexico and vice versa?

to be continued.


Collier, G. A. (2005). The Zapatista rebellion in the context of globalization. The Journal of Peasant Studies.

harvey, N. (2016). Practicing autonomy: Zapatismo and decolonialliberation. Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies.

Holloway, J. (1998). Dignity’s Revolt. In Zapatista! Reinventing Revolution in Mexico.

León, A. G. (1994). EZNL. Documentos y comunicados.

Mignolo, W. D. (2011). The Zapatistas’ Theoretical Revolution. The Darker Side of WesternModernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options.

Nash, J. (1997). The Fiesta of the Word: The Zapatista Uprising and Radical Democracy in Mexico. American Anthropologist.

Ronfeldt, D. e. (1999). Zapatista “Social Netwar” in Mexico.

Thanks for the read,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.