The Zapatistas: A movement to preserve commons against modern enclosures


The lecture on Commons and “our way of life” made me think about what is one’s way of life. Perhaps George Bush referred to Western way of life as the one to be defended against terrorism. However, by extrapolation, it became obvious to me that everybody’s way of life should be defended against any sort of invasion or disruption. This is exactly what the Zapatistas movement has been doing since 1994 to defend the indigenous’ lands in Chiapas region of South Mexico.

The Zapatistas armed revolution stood against the Mexican’s government attempt to sell indigenous lands to multinational companies for the so-called “development projects” such as the construction of dams. I personally consider this neoliberal invasion as the worst form of terrorism which deprives an entire population from their livelihood. And the Chiapas indigenous’ survival instinct is justifiable and understandable: they have just protected their way of life. They have preserved the commons against the modern enclosures. Perhaps the Zapatistas’ great understanding of the neoliberal danger is well quoted as follows:

“The Zapatistas’ insight of neoliberalism as a war against humanity is precisely this: the deepening of a rat race over the global social body” (De Angelis 2007, p.118).


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5 Responses to “The Zapatistas: A movement to preserve commons against modern enclosures”

  1. rlinton Says:

    It’s interesting, when Massimo read out the quote “We’re fighting for our way of life” I heard words of attack, not defence. I heard Bush rationalising the illegal attack on Iraq (and I say that without any value judgement on the ambition to depose Sadam Hussain – good idea, not so good a way to go about it) as the spread of democracy – an aspect of “our way of life”. And fighting certainly describes the way he set about achieving that. Yes, war can stimulate development, but can conflict, even at the level of Zapatistas really be said to be a sustainable means of achieving this?

    • jeansykazadi Says:

      The fact that Georges Bush used “fighting for our way life” after an attack on America can as well signify a defence mechanism. However, I don’t think it is worth directing our discussion on terminological interpretation.
      My comparison is rather based on the fact that both neoliberalism and the commons are entitled to protect “their way of life”. I find it unacceptable that the indigenous of Chiapas region in South Mexico be displaced from their lands, traditions, culture…to give way to capitalist interests which don’t benefit them. No capital can rebuild people’s culture and traditions.
      The Zapatistas never claimed to achieve sustainable development through war or conflict. They were peaceful peasants living in their ancestors’ land (their commons) which was about to be grabbed from them by the power of capital (modern enclosures). Rightly they stood up to defend their only possession, their livelihood against this capitalist misappropriation. We should agree that no much choice was left to them.
      These people were in better position to appreciate the type of development the “mighty neoliberalism” was bringing to them. They rather decided to defend their land at the expense of their life. I honestly believe we should respect their choice since they never created this antagonism; but capitalism’s greed did.

  2. diatezuam Says:

    The Zapatista coalition, which began as a mass movement of uneducated peasant farmers and agricultural laborers, became coopted by a group of sophisticated left-wing intellectuals in Mexico city. These men were urban radicals, some with socialist and some with anarcho-syndicalist backgrounds.
    Best -known of these zapatistas-by-adoption were Antonio Diaz Soto y Gama, Rafael Perez Taylor, Luis Mendez, and Miguel Mendoza Schwerdtfeger (Blood, 2002).
    The flavor of this migration was captured in one of Hollwood’s better portrayals of the Mexican Revolution. This was the 1952 film Viva Zapata!, in which the Morelos revolutionary is played by Marlon Brando. Early on in the film a citified radical intellectual – played by joseph Wiseman – comes to the rebel lines and calls Zapata’s name. Afetr being almost shot by trigger-happy militiamen, he is admitted to Zapata’s headquarters, there to leaven an inarticulate movement of the soil with doses of sophisticated Marxism (Blood, 2002).
    Putting leaders aside for a moment, there are amazing similarities between the Zapatista movement of the teens and its successor of the nineties. Both flourished in a state with high mountains, great natural riches, and an exploited underclass that benefited little from this wealth. Both Zapatista regions – Morelos and Chiapas – had an entrenched economic oligarchy that violently resisted attempts at reform.

  3. slin41 Says:

    According to Johnston and Laxer the name of the Zapatistas refers to Emiliano Zapata, “the legendary indigenous leader of the Mexican revolution for campesino autonomy and against gringo domination.” (2003:p.41) Even if the Zapatistas just came into the public sphere with their seizure of San Cristóbal de las Casas on the 1st of January 2004, their founding took place on the 17th of November, 1983.

    Neoliberalism remains a prior Zapatista target. In particular, the date chosen for the uprising need to be understood as a symbolic statement against the start of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) the same day. The Zapatistas criticise politicians as marionettes, which obey global financial powers such as transnational corporations and their accomplices from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Furthermore, the principal of liberal democracy, that is the mainstream model of democracy nowadays, is viewed as a by capital corrupt system which pursues neoliberal policies without taking the needs and demands of the people into consideration.

    While I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2004/2005 I became interested in the Zapatistas after I attended a film screening of the Chiapas Support Committee. I joined this solidarity group and traveled to the Zapatistas as a human rights observers in the summer. For more infos about the Zapatistas and a link to a newsletter please refer to

    Best wishes,


  4. rlinton Says:

    I am surprised that anyone would be so quick to sideline issues of interpretation (not terminology) especially as they relate to war. It reeks of an attitude of “the ends justify the means”.

    There is a song in “Rent” – one of my favourite musicals – called La Vie Boheme. In it there is the line “the opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation”. This is something that really struck me as an insight into the meaning of war to the people who experience it. It is not just conflict (which is not to trivialise this aspect) but destruction. Therefore the issue of sustainability is inherent to any form of war, “justified” (if indeed that is possible) or otherwise.

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