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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .

Zapatista! Reinvention Revolution in Mexico
Edited by John Holloway & Eloína Peláez

(London: Pluto Press, 1998)
201pp. Index. Hb.: £40.00; ISBN 07453-1178-4. Pb.: £13.99; ISBN 0-7453-1177-6.

On 1 January 1994, the previously unheard of Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) occupied the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas and a number of other towns in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. Most EZLN members were from indigenous ethnic groups. Their main motivation was their social, economic, political and cultural exclusion from a Mexico which was developing unevenly. A decade of neo-liberalism had emphasised the marginalisation of the poor, the rural, the landless and the indigenous. The uprising was timed to coincide with Mexico's entry to NAFTA, a move the EZLN felt would further immiserate peasant farmers. Government proposals to repeal land re-distribution legislation were a further motivation.

The initial government military reaction gave way to an offer to enter into negotiations. While EZLN wanted the talks to tackle county-wide issues such as social exclusion and electoral reform, the government was anxious to pursue a minimalist approach. A stop-go peace process followed, punctuated by military offensives and increased civil disobedience in Chiapas. As a backdrop, Mexico slipped into crises of political and economic confidence, both not entirely unrelated to events in Chiapas.

Chapters on the symbolism of Zapatism, its reaction to global capitalism, Zapatista indigenous women, the use of computer communications to circumvent State attempts to isolate the region and Zapatism's influence on the rest of Mexico make for an eclectic survey of a rather idiosyncratic revolution. Unusually, Zapatism did not want to take power, they wanted to re-distribute it. They seemed genuinely egalitarian in decision making processes.

But the book is partial, in both senses of the word. First, it lacks basic facts on the uprising and subsequent peace process. When, what and where are seemingly secondary to grinding Marxist analyses. No casualty figures are given. Details of the peace process are sketchy. Reality might, after all, interfere with theory! Second, the book is written from a pro-Zapatista position which hampers an objective analysis of their position and methods. Finally, the book's central argument is that the Zapatista revolution marked a re-invention and re-legimitisation of the very notion of revolution. This is especially the case in the face of the seemingly world-wide victory for neo-liberal orthodoxy. This is an interesting argument and is reinforced by the quirky nature of the EZLN's approach to conflict and negotiation. The editors fail, however, to examine whether the lessons of Zapatism can be transferred to other situations.

Roger Mac Ginty, INCORE - University of Ulster

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