Poetics And Aesthetics In Zapatismo. The Farewell Of Subcomandante Marcos.

Written by Alessandro Zagato

Image by Maria L. Guillen Valdovinos

Amador Fernandez Savater (2015) has observed that it would be hard to think of an experience with a better capacity of engaging, and that is yet so deeply rooted in a specific territory, than Zapatismo. Indeed it seems that in the experience of this movement, the particular and the universal tend to merge and to intensify each other, producing unprecedented local processes which resonate at international level, where the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberaciòn Nacional (EZLN) inspires people and movements.

This is due to the fact that Zapatismo breaks in many respects with traditional forms of politics. It does so by opening spaces at a creative distance from the state, and by constantly experimenting with innovative ideas and strategic perspectives. In this short article I will give an insight on the organic role that aesthetics and poetics have played in the politics of this revolutionary movement. In the first part I will provide a general overview on this theme. Some of my views are informed by the fieldwork that I conducted in Chiapas between 2013 and 2014, and by my recent experience of curating, together with Chilean art historian Natalia Arcos, an exhibition on Zapatista art within the event “Rights of nature: art and ecology in the Americas” organised by Nottingham Contemporary[1]. In the second part I will analyse as a sort of case study the surprising and spectacular farewell of Subcomandante Marcos, the movement’s leading and iconic figure appealing to the mass media and the educated middle classes, a prominent personality capable to dialogue with intellectuals from around the world. In May 2014 the EZLN revealed that this figure was just a “hologram”, a “complex manoeuvre of distraction, a malicious move from the indigenous heart that we are, (…) challenging one of the bastions of modernity: the media” (EZLN 2014). The “farewell” or “death” of Subcomandante Marcos took place in a highly performative event organised by the Zapatistas in La Realidad (24/05/2014), one of the five political hubs of the movement, in the hearth of the Lacandon Jungle – and in which I personally participated.


The EZLN was born clandestinely in 1983. It was founded by a group of just 6 people: five men and a woman, three mestizos and three natives who had moved to the Lacandon Jungle from various parts of Mexico. There they built a first military camp with the ambition of organising the indigenous population of the area in a guerrilla army, which in some years could eventually defeat the regular army and bring about revolution in Mexico. Initially the group was influenced by an ideology typical of the Latin American revolutionary movements of the Sixties and Seventies, faithful to a Marxist-Leninist style of construction of Socialism.

According to first hand reports (Marcos 2014) already in these initial stages, and despite the harsh conditions of living in clandestinity, the EZLN showed a peculiar penchant towards artistic expression. “Each Monday we used to organise cultural events: the group was convening in what we called the cultural unit and we were reading poems, singing, and representing theatre plays”.The strict military routine involved physical training, the reading and discussion of strategy books of the Northern American and Mexican armies, but also a collective engagement with authors such as Cervantes, Juan Gelman, Shakespeare, Miguel Hernandez, Brecht, among others, who would strongly influence the unique style shaping the official communiques of the EZLN.

However, it was not just a tendency within a tiny group of revolutionaries that determined the political/ aesthetic singularity of Zapatismo, but rather their encounter with the cosmology and the ancestral forms of resistance of the Mayan people living in that region of Chiapas. This encounter constituted literarily an event, a “sublime occasion” (Deleuze 1994:190), a powerful disruption on the original plan, and the opening of unprecedented possibilities around which a new subjectivity started taking shape. “At this stage”– recalls Marcos – “the EZLN was no longer what we had conceived when we arrived. By then we had been defeated by the indigenous communities, and as a product of that defeat, the EZLN started to grow exponentially and to become very other”. In another text Marcos (Le Bot 1997, 123) sounds even more drastic: “We really suffered a process of re-education, of restyling. As if they [the
indigenous people] had disarmed us. As if they had dismantled all we were made up of – Marxism, Leninism, socialism, urban culture, poetry, literature – all that formed part of us, and things we did not even know we had. They disarmed us and then armed us again, but in a different way”.

In the effort of starting a political dialogue with the local populations, the subjective disposition of the Guerrilleros had to get through a major reconfiguration. They had to give up conventional strategies of indoctrination and recruiting, where campaigners approach a specific population (which they identify as the actor of change) to generate “awareness”, and indicate the road towards political change – and where propaganda serves as a means of “splitting” and “colonising” subjects by exposing them to ideological content. Contrary to that, the encounter of the EZLN with the indigenous communities is immediately shaped by frictions, which force the two parts into exploring paths of reciprocity and exchange. “We sensed” says Marcos “that our political conception clashed with the political conception of the communities and was changing accordingly. This had also an impact on the cultural life of the EZLN, which was quite intense for a guerrilla unit. (…) Therefore we liked to joke about the fact that for being revolutionary cadres we were also quite round” (Marcos 2014).


The full article is available here: http://www.seismopolite.com/poetics-and-aesthetics-in-zapatismo-the-farewell-of-subcomandante-marcos

The article is also available in full on our website: https://dorsetchiapassolidarity.wordpress.com/poetics-and-aesthetics-in-zapatismo/


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: