How To Establish An Autonomous Zone


Top: Juan Popoca / Bottom: Ángeles Torrejón. EZLN guerrillas circa 1994.

by The Decolonizer, September 1, 2017

An autonomous zone or “liberated” zone is an area or sphere of influence where the people can successfully govern themselves and can defend themselves against an oppressor’s military forces. 

It is usually an area that has thrown off state or government influence, either by way of a guerrilla movement or a mass action, and has established effective means to self determine. Localized and democratic, these communities embody the most revolutionary features of the people, who readily engage in their own governance and protection. In the autonomous zone the people are busy setting the terms of their own liberation, building the social and cultural formations that will make it possible.

Throughout history the autonomous zone has been established to provide safe haven for the people, mobilize and pool resources, and generate pockets of liberated communities that can then act against empire. Some of the most notable examples have been the Oaxaca Commune, the Rebel Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities (MAREZ), and the free slave communities established by the wayward maroons. When a people have the ability to be directly involved in their own governance they are less likely to consent to state rule and will dissent against any attempt to place them under domination.

Autonomous zones can be established anywhere, from the rural outskirts of the empire to the urban neighborhoods of the inner city, yet a key feature is that they are mostly anarchist in nature. They are grassroots attempts at governance that tend to have no definitive leaders and no political hierarchies in place. Instead the people govern themselves communally, with leadership occurring organically and spontaneously among them as people take free initiative.

If mass action sparks a revolutionary movement, the autonomous zone is where that movement takes deeper roots. The rebel areas act independently, freely lend their assistance to revolutionary struggle and feed into established guerrilla movements. On a concrete level, the people are prepared for self-sufficiency and responsibility while carving out an existence for themselves independent of the oppressive regime.

Step One: Are Conditions Right for an Autonomous Zone?

A few conditions should be present before an autonomous zone can be established. Generally, the struggle should be at an advanced level, with protest and mobilization already being exhausted. You must deeply analyze the current political situation. Autonomous zones are often formed during a popular uprising or guerrilla movement. Yet, they can also form in the mountains, forest, and rural areas located on the outskirts of empire or in the inner-city areas where the state has economically abandoned. Disillusionment with state power must be present among the people and it must be at a palpable level. If it is not, you can organize escalation campaigns to raise discontent to the proper level.

Step Two: Identify the Area to be Liberated

You can begin by identifying the area in which the autonomous zone will be established. You must conciser the size of the area, its proximity to resources, and your ability to defend its position. Proximity to resources is of the up-most importance and will determine how long the zone can be sustained. Remember that larger areas are more difficult to defend against an oppressors forces.

Zapatista signIn impoverished areas neglected by the government, a rebel area will sometimes be formed organically by the people themselves when conditions have become desperate and have forced them to come together to pool resources. Identify the areas in the community where a zone could most likely be established.

Another way that liberated areas are formed is through a armed struggle between guerrillas and the oppressive regime that results in liberation of territories from the government. In this situation, you must choose and map out the area to be liberated strategically as apart of the guerrilla mission. The autonomous zone can only be established when pigs and occupying military have been successfully ejected from the area.

Step Three: Resources and Supply Lines

Sufficient resources and access to them will make or break the autonomous zone. On a basic level, if you cannot provide food, fresh water and other essentials, there will be no reason for the people to divest from the state. A starving people are neither able to govern themselves, nor protect themselves from state repression.

You must accumulate a sizable food store before the autonomous zone is established and decide on the supply lines and methods that will replenish that store. In the long term, it will be necessary to rely on farming and gardening. In the short term, fishing, hunting, looting, and established supply lines by comrades from within the interior of the empire will be the methods used. Urban autonomous zones will especially rely on urban farming, looting, and rebel-friendly supply lines, and it is a good practice to ambush suppliers that are transporting materials to the capitalist centers.

Zapatista youth fistsWhen you are establishing supply lines it is very important that you keep them hidden from the oppressor. When they are discovered, the regime will not hesitate to attack and destroy these supply lines, which will result in disaster for the people.

Step Four: Defending the Zone

The autonomous zone will be in constant danger if it cannot successfully defend itself against the military repression and/or vigilante violence it is likely to confront. You must plan on having a store of weapons, ammunition, and materials needed to make improvised weapons. You must also make sure that those weapons do not fall into the hands of the few by adequately educating all of the people on their use.

There is no instance where weapons will not be necessary, as they will also need to be used to secure resources. It is however important for the culture formed around these weapons to be steeped in communities care.

Step Five: Establishing the Autonomous Zone

The way in which you establish the autonomous zone is all dependent on the political situation at hand and the location. In the impoverished conditions of the urban setting, an autonomous zone can be formed simply by organizing the urban masses to pool together their resources and operate independently of the current government. Sometimes, a riot or mass uprising is the best way to push back the police, allow space for looting to occur, and set the stage for an autonomous community to form. The rebels then hold the line against the pigs and military forces, and survive off of the resource stores and supply lines.

In the countryside, a zone can be established by mobilizing a people to again pool its resources. Here, use of the natural environment will provide the best source of food and resources. Often these zones co-exist with guerrilla movements or are direct extensions of them. Multiple zones in the countryside can be established to encircle a metropolitan area.

When the autonomous zone will be liberated through direct guerrilla action, the method is treated as apart of a guerrilla mission. The police offices in the chosen area are attacked and the military presence is actively repelled by the guerrillas. The people are then armed to prevent the recapture of the area by the oppressor.

Posted on September 6, 2017, in Decolonization and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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