The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación NacionalEZLN), often referred to as theZapatistas, is a revolutionary leftist group based in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico.

Although the ideology of the EZLN is reflective of libertarian socialism, paralleling both anarchist and libertarian Marxist thought in many respects, the EZLN has rejected and defied political classification, retaining its distinctiveness due in part to the importance of indigenous Mayan beliefs in Zapatismo thought. The EZLN aligns itself with the wider alter-globalization, anti-neoliberal social movement, seeking indigenous control over their local resources, especially land.

Since 1994, the group has been in a declared war “against the Mexican state”, although this war has been primarily defensive, against military, paramilitary and corporate incursions into Chiapas. In recent years, it has been focused on a strategy of civil resistance. The Zapatistas’ physical base is made up of mostly rural indigenous people but includes some supporters in urban areas and internationally. Their main spokesperson is Subcomandante Marcos.

The ideology of the Zapatista movement, Zapatismo, synthesizes traditional Mayan practices with elements of libertarian socialism,anarchism, and Marxism. The historical influence of Mexiccan Anarchists and various Latin American socialists is apparent in Zapatismo, with the positions of Subcomandante Marcos also adding a distinct Marxist element to the movement. 

Another key element of the Zapatistas’ ideology is their aspiration to do politics in a new, patricipatory way, from the “bottom up” instead of “top down”. The Zapatistas consider the contemporary political system of Mexico to be inherently flawed due to what they consider its purely representative nature and disconnection from the people and their needs. In contrast, the EZLN claims to reinforce the idea of patricipatory democracy or radical democracy by limiting public servants’ terms to only two weeks, not using visible organization leaders, and constantly referring to the people they are governing for major decisions, strategies, and conceptual visions. As Marcos has reiterated, “my real commander is the people”. In accordance with this principle, the Zapatistas are not a political party: they do not seek office throughout the state, because that would perpetuate the political system by attempting to gain power within its ranks. Instead, they wish to reconceptualize the entire system.

Since their 1994 uprising was countered by the Mexican army, the EZLN has abstained from using weapons and adopted a new strategy that attempts to garner Mexican and international support. Through an Internet campaign, the EZLN was successful in disseminating an understanding of their plight and intentions to the public. With this change in tactics, the EZLN has received greater support from a variety of NGOs. The Zapatistas have achieved documented improvements in Chiapas in the areas of gender equality and public health, although they remain unable to establish political autonomy for the province.

In an unusual move for any revolutionary organization, documents released by the EZLN (in Spanish) before the initial uprising in 1994 explicitly defined a right of the people to resist any unjust actions of the EZLN. They also defined a right of the people to:

demand that the revolutionary armed forces not intervene in matters of civil order or the disposition of capital relating to agriculture, commerce, finances, and industry, as these are the exclusive domain of the civil authorities, elected freely and democratically.

 Para todos todo, para nosotros nada 

For everyone, everything. For us, nothing

-Zapatista slogan