Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Zapatismo: Other Geographies Circa "The End of the World"

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Zapatismo: Other Geographies Circa "The End of the World"

Article excerpt

Abstract. A chorus of activists and intellectuals claim that the Zapatista Army of National Liberation has either ceased to exist or become politically irrelevant for Mexico and the world. In this paper I put forward the rather different thesis that despite the enormity of their task, the Zapatista project continues apace and merits careful consideration. To this end, I first argue that much of the confusion regarding the 'death' of the Zapatistas arises from a change in Zapatista strategy in response to the decomposition of Mexican society resulting from the contemporary global crisis of capitalism. Next, I detail how, having foreseen this decomposition, the Zapatistas set out to both theorize the nature of contemporary capitalism and reconceptualize anticapitalist politics accordingly. Since the early 2000s this reconceptualization has led to a shift in Zapatista strategy that, although not easily intelligible to contemporary media or much academic discourse, centers on the construction of 'other geographies'. Finally, I argue that judging from the events of the past few years, this strategy has allowed the Zapatistas not only to persevere but also to pose a concrete alternative to the dominant strains of left political and spatial strategy.

Keywords: Zapatistas, Mexico, capitalist crisis, territory, reterritorialization, new territorialities, anticapitalism

Introduction: the walking dead

As daylight broke across the Southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas on 21 December 2012, news cameras fixated on the throngs of tourists that had overtaken the state to witness the 'end of the world' purportedly predicted by the ancient Maya. Yet in the cities of Altamirano, Palenque, Las Margaritas, Ocosingo, and San Cristobal de las Casas reports began to emerge of unusual activity: groups of indigenous people constructing makeshift wood stages atop the back of pickup trucks. Hours later 45 000 masked members of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), all of them Choi, Tzeltal, Mam, Tojolobal, Zoque, and Tzotzil Mayan indigenous peoples, descended on these city centers in perfectly ordered columns. Bystanders stood incredulously in front of the improvised stages waiting for the masked Mayans to make a statement of some sort, but the Zapatistas marched by the thousands across the stages in chilling silence with their left fists in the air. In a matter of hours, the Zapatista contingent had left the city centers in the same silence and with the same much-commented-upon discipline with which they had arrived, leaving many wondering what this--the largest march in the history of Chiapas and the largest mobilization of Zapatistas ever seen--was all about. Late that evening, an equally cryptic five-line message appeared on the EZLN's website. Signed by Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos for the General Command of the EZLN, it read:

   "To Whom It May Concern:
   Did you hear that?
   That is the sound of your world crumbling.
   That is the sound of our world resurging.
   The day that was day was night.
   And night shall be the day that will be day" (EZLN, 2012a, my

In a communique a few days later, the Zapatistas would further aid us in unraveling the mystery surrounding their actions of 21 December 2012, stating that what others had mistaken for prophecy (that is, 'the end of the world'), they had set out to make promise (that is, ending this world) (EZLN, 2012b).

Amazingly, just months before their massive 'End of the World' march, the EZLN had been declared all but dead by a number of sectors of Mexican society. In this paper I will attempt to fill a lacuna in Anglophone academic discourse by offering a comprehensive analysis of the events surrounding both the 'death' and 'resurgence' of the EZLN. The paper is divided into two major sections. The first, titled "The death of the EZLN? Or the death of Mexico?" begins with an examination of the way in which, after an explicitly 'anticapitalist' reorientation of its political strategy in the early to mid-2000s, the EZLN became radically isolated from the 'progressive' and institutional left in Mexican society and was effectively declared dead by the Mexican government. …

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