Fidelidad En La Tormenta: Part 1

An Introduction to the Mexican Revolution and the Liberating Army of the South

“Yo andaba preguntando, por que andaban peleando
Mi madre cavilando me dio contestación
Me hablo de las banderas, de luchas por las tierras
De ideales y partidos y de Revolución…”
“And I began to ask: why were they fighting?
my mother replied to me as she pondered,
she spoke of the flags and the fight for the lands,
of ideals and parties and of the Revolution…”


It has now been little over a century since the Mexican Revolution came to its conclusion. An epic conflict which tore through Mexico in successive waves of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary violence, it unleashed a decade of conflict and upheaval which claimed the lives of over a million individuals, but also reshaped the face of Mexican modernity. Were its significance limited to the Mexican republic, it could not easily be considered an event on the level of the French, Russian or Chinese revolutions. But this is not the case: the Mexican revolution resonated throughout the world. Its heroes – most prominently, working class revolutionaries Fransisco “Pancho” Villa and Emiliano Zapata – are universally known, in even the most unexpected corners.1 The Mexican revolution does indeed lack the prominence of the great episodes of that most terrible century, the century of Verdun and Ypres, of Hitler and Mussolini, of Hiroshima and Pol Pot. Mexico’s greatest social upheaval was submerged by the even more chiliastic world upheavals which followed, christened by the great cataclysm of the First World War. But the revolution, like the Great War, erupted on the fault-line of two world epochs. Before the revolution stood the “long nineteenth century”, an era of European domination, the conquest of the world by modern capitalism, and set beneath the shadow of the French Revolution.2 Along with the Mexican Revolution, the Great War and the Russian Revolution initiated a new epoch, characterized by the complete global domination of the capitalist mode of production, the struggle between the imperialist and socialist states, and finally the collapse of capitalism’s greatest political challenge to date, the international communist movement. In the case of the Great War, this existence between worlds would be felt first on the battlefield. In the case of the Revolution, it would be felt in the arena of social transformation. The Mexican Revolution stands on the edge of an older, liberal, tradition within Mexico, but it also gave rise to a prototypical communist struggle which, although typically couched in 19th century anarcho-syndicalist or agrarian socialist language, pointed towards something like the modern conception of politics represented by Marxism. Mexico of the early 20th century was a classic bellwether. It announced the coming storm and presaged the immense transformations to be wrought throughout the modern world, and promised that the old would never be the same.

One might ask: “why concern ourselves with the Mexican Revolution if it represents something on the edge of that which was outmoded? Why bother with this upheaval when we have the greater, more modern examples of the 20th century communist struggles? Are the partisans of this revolution not representative of something regressive, of the past, incapable of providing new lessons to a revolutionary movement which has now accumulated and studiously accounted for thinkers like Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong?” Villa is often derided as a murderous and confused bandit; Zapata is portrayed as a backward-looking, if noble, peasant leader.3 It is indeed true that there were few Marxists in the Mexican Revolution. There is no indication that Villa or Zapata had any serious acquaintance with Marx,4 and what Marxists there were in the Revolution were few. If we accept Marxism as a discourse sustaining a revolutionary subject,5 we may be tempted to look elsewhere for historical sequences which appear more befitting a formal Marxist heritage. But Marxism is only a theory of revolution; it is not a prescription for revolution and formal identification as such does not preclude symmetry with communist politics as the “…real movement which abolishes the present state of things.”6 The essence of communist politics is unbound by symbolic order and rooted in concrete sequences directed towards goals not monopolized by formalized bodies of representation and thought. Despite the absence of a revolutionary subjectivity explicitly couched in communist terms, we are more than capable of tracing the red threads of our collective pre-communist past. Upon a careful study, one will find that the Mexican Revolution is brimming with material which can inform our praxis today.

How do people fight domination and exploitation? How do they work towards an egalitarian future, the dissolution of classes, the demands of justice and an end to the tyranny of the state? How is it possible to conceive of a modernity other than the capitalist one, or an emancipatory future that does not degenerate or rely on the notion of a return to a golden past? All of these questions were posed by the Mexican Revolution, and though not all were answered, the ten years (1910-1920) which constitute its core trajectory,7 attempted, and sometimes fruitfully answered them. Its failures, too, are instructive. Its lessons are both political and metapolitical, dealing with both the content of a revolution and the metastructure of political thought and action. It proposed new ways, both for Mexico and the world, that the poorest people, those who are “void”8 in the eyes of the state, can combine and struggle, defying incredible odds, towards a classless society and against the state. We also find that there are greater congruities with the Marxist experience of modern revolution that make the Mexican revolutionary sequence immediately relevant to Marxist political thought. The revolution highlighted the limits of revolution without revolutionary theory, the necessity of the destruction of the ancien regime and its repressive apparatuses as well as the inherent dangers of securing revolutionary objectives through parliamentary democracy. In this sense there are both positive and negative lessons which are not only of historical interest but are of critical importance to emancipatory struggles today.

The Mexican Revolution presaged the unusual form of modern peasant revolution most identified with Maoism: concepts such as “people’s war”, the “mass line”, and the possibility of the peasantry as revolutionary subject all situate themselves in a prototypical manner in the popular struggles of the revolution, but most poignantly in the shape of the person and following of Zapata. All these anticipated the composition of the (arguably) most significant of all world-historical revolutions, the Chinese Revolution, for whom Mao and the Chinese Communist Party are the indices. The Mexican Revolution furthermore contained subterranean discourses on the nature of the state and its relation to politics, what it means to be a subject to truth and how to be faithful to an event which brings about a decisive rupture in the order of the old. Finally, the Zapatista revolution, while being outside the Marxist tradition, can be understood retroactively as a “communist” struggle in the broadest, most generic sense of the term. It is perfectly within the reach of communist thought of our collective past, present and future.9

If one thinks at all of the Mexican Revolution, the most likely individual to come to mind is the bandit-turned-revolutionary-folk-hero, Pancho Villa, infamous for the first continental land invasion of the United States since the war of 1812.10 Indeed it is true that Villa was a born revolutionary and a man larger-than-life. But, I suggest, the pantheon of political figures of the Mexican Revolution contains an emancipatory kernel of greater significance; one which preserves the revolution as a truly great social revolution. This “hard core” arms us with instruction that it is valid not only for interpreting other revolutionary sequences but also for political organization in the present. It gives us a political figure of singular importance and universal value. Of the pantheon, there is a plethora of revolutionary notables – radical liberals, anarcho-syndicalists, agrarian socialists, and more. But only one man stands out in a world-historical sense, unbent by accommodation to the dominant order, with an uncompromising political vision that was truly egalitarian and thus universal. In fidelity to the event of the revolution, centered upon the fight for the land for peasants of his home state and the Mexican nation, this man was unflinchingly devoted to his political cause. At first simply an intuitive militant with limited aims, he only grew more radical as time passed. That man was the famed peasant-cowboy turned revolutionary, Emiliano Zapata. The movement which bore his name, the Zapatistas, constituted the most systematic and visionary political challenge to the dominant social order that the revolution ever witnessed. 



Before we can delve into the politics of Zapata, we must establish the general trajectory and structure of the Mexican revolutionary sequence. The Mexican revolution officially began in 1910 with an armed rebellion against an aging authoritarian government. By consensus of most historians, the revolution ended in 1920 with the establishment of a new political order which would eventually crystallize into the Partido Institucional Revolucionario (Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI). But this did not mean that the Mexican Revolution’s effects were limited to the decade of civil war. A “Great Mexican Revolution” can be discerned which exceeds the periodization of the most common historical consensus. Divided into two phases, each in turn can be parceled into smaller moments.11 The first cleavage in periodization can be said to be between the “active phase” and the “passive phase”. Active here is indicative of acute (often armed) struggle, instability and surges of popular political movement, coupled with a high tide of social and political radicalism. The active phase began in late 1910, with a liberal-democratic rebellion backed by popular peasant forces against the regime of Porfirio Díaz. It lasted until 1920 when revolutionary general Álvaro Obregón12 secured the presidency, peace, and what was to become the post-revolutionary order. The passive phase, a period of reconstruction punctuated by occasional turbulence, lasted from Obregón’s ascension to the presidency all the way to 1940 with the end of the six year presidential term of the great reformer, Lazaro Cárdenas.13 

The active phase, which constituted what is also known as the Mexican Civil War, can be divided into four rapidly successive moments, marked by violent changes of government. The first, which saw the overthrow of the Porfiriato and the establishment of a liberal-democratic regime, represents the initial liberal-democratic moment, in which the new revolutionary elite attempted to enact a purely political transformation while keeping their peasant and proletarian supporters in check. The second moment was inaugurated by a coup d’etat initiating one of Mexico’s most intense periods of military dictatorship and constructing the most militarized state in the world at that time.14 The military dictatorship ruthlessly fought the revolutionary camp in a bid to re-establish a pre-revolutionary order. The third moment was ushered in by the defeat of the military regime and the brief accord of a revolutionary coalition which rapidly devolved into its own civil war. The camp in control of the state during this period was formally liberal-democratic, but its leadership was even more conservative than the government of the first, liberal-democratic moment. This third phase, a civil war amongst revolutionary victors, posed the question of pushing the revolution through to the end and toward what end for which the revolution should be fought. It was terminated when the party in power itself split in 1920, resulting in a civil war against a regime increasingly moving towards an entrenched conservatism. This regime was in turn overthrown and replaced by what would become the political order for the rest of the century.

The fourth and final revolutionary conflict in 1920 saw a shift from the active to the passive phase. We should not interpret “passive” in this designation to mean that little happened – but nothing occurred on the scale of the violent disturbance of the previous decade. The passive phase was marked by struggles generally less acute than those of the active phase. It saw radical political energies greatly tempered in comparison. Nonetheless, between 1920 and 1940, rebellions and crises did break out, of which the largest was the Cristero War from 1926-1929.15 The passive phase can be considered integral to the overall periodization of the revolution because of the acute influence of the active phase, the persistence of revolt and instability, and the recurring debates and struggles over the fulfillment of revolutionary promises. The 20’s and early 30’s saw a gradual stagnation on promises of reform and marked the move towards a conservative stance on the part of the post-revolutionary elite.16 General Obregón was assassinated by a Catholic extremist in 1929 while another revolutionary leader and party elite, Plutarcho Elías Calles, became the prime political actor in Mexican society through to the early 1930’s. Calles shifted gradually to the right, flirting more and more with European Fascism.17 His political predominance would persist beyond his presidency and signaled a general end of the revolutionary traditions of the active phase,18 but this degeneration was deceptive. In 1936, Calles was outmaneuvered by his long time mentee, Cárdenas, an ex-revolutionary who still harbored desires to act upon the unfulfilled promises of the Mexican Revolution, specifically in the form of labor laws, economic nationalism and agrarian reform. While many of the appendices of great revolutions terminate with a gradual retrenchment, the Mexican Revolution flared out with a period of unprecedented social reform that made Cárdenas perhaps the most popular president in Mexican history. Though the leftist president was immensely popular and surprisingly far-reaching, the Mexican Revolution finally gave way to its own inertia. After Cárdenas was succeeded by Manuel Ávila Camacho in 1940, Mexican national politics collapsed into a torpid conservatism with fateful effects on Mexican history leading all the way up to this day.19

A History

Thus delineated, the Mexican revolution gains some apparent structure not always obvious in the bewildering forest of ever-shifting fractal rebellions of its erratic history. On the eve of the revolution, Mexico was a largely agrarian nation of fifteen million people, indelibly marked by its colonial past and a quasi-feudal, quasi-capitalist social structure. It was imbued with a profound racial hierarchy, whereby those with greater European ancestry typically ruled immense populations of mestizo and indigenous peasants and workers. The regime toppled by the Mexican revolution was a personalist dictatorship led by Porfirio Díaz, one of Mexico’s longest serving presidents and an economic liberalizer who oversaw an unprecedented period of modernization. After a long period of instability following the Mexican war of independence (1810-1821), Díaz had established himself as president in 1876 and oversaw a relatively stable era which brought Mexico great wealth. But the accumulated wealth came with a frightful and widening social inequality, unevenly divided as it was among the population. Simultaneously with this modernization, Díaz’s rule, known as the “Porfiriato”, presided over a deeper entrenchment of an aristocracy of hacendados (landed elites) who ran haciendas (large landed estates owned and run as plantations).20 Major landowners and agriculturalists, backed by the local jefes políticos (political bosses) had uncontested control over vast swathes of Mexican society, most especially the indigenous and mestizo peasantry who composed the bulk of the Mexican people.21 Foreigners, most especially the Americans, were invited to invest and exploit Mexican resources and labor, extracting great quantities of riches of which the Mexican people saw little.

Economic liberalization enclosed and dispossessed peoples of land which had often been collectively owned by the peasants and small-to-middling farmers. The haciendas, always an oppressive force in Mexican political and social life, grew ever larger. They robbed many of their land and coerced landless workers to labor for the hacendados to which they were often bound by debt.22 The Porfiriato witnessed general impoverishment and disenfranchisement of the great majority of the population, who lost what little legal protection they had to communal land rights in the face of an aggressive capitalist agriculturalist class. The petit-bourgeois too were cut out of political life. Having long been economic and social beneficiaries of the Porfiriato, they nonetheless began to accumulate grievances with the regime that contributed to their becoming a revolutionary force.The Porfiriato also alienated much of the ruling class outside of Díaz’s orbit. The absolute dominance of one man in the person of Díaz left little room for other sectors of the upper classes, who now wanted a greater voice in Mexican politics. Díaz’s entourage was dominated by a small group of technocratic functionaries known as the “científicos” (scientists). The científicos were acolytes of 19th century positivism who took a depoliticizing approach to economic and state development, aiming toward what they considered “order and progress”.23 They were the representatives of the social transformation of Mexico which had wrought such unhappy results for the nation’s poor. The Díaz regime was arbitrary and corrupt, and political abuses were rife. Though the resentment of the lower classes was profound, it would be the bourgeois malcontents who would present the first challenge to the Porfiriato. A parliamentary struggle led by upstart liberal elites would shatter the pyramid of Mexican society and unleash a social revolution that they neither wanted nor could control.24

Díaz’s government centralized power around one man while keeping a wide array of competing local interests in harmony through fealty to the sovereign. This structure secured peace in Mexico for three decades, but would contribute to the regime’s undoing. In a centralized and hierarchical state system, when signaling from leadership is clear and unified, such a structure has little difficulty in carrying out normal operating procedures. When, however, signals become mixed or contradictory, the entire system can be placed in existential jeopardy. The spark which set the revolution in motion thus came from none other than Porfirio Díaz himself.25 Díaz was formally a head of a democratic parliamentary regime which was only superficially a democratic republic. Díaz won repeated elections unfailingly through manipulation of the ballot, intimidation and graft, making him a de facto immovable dictator. He appointed government officials and the jefes políticos who in turn won elections without serious challenge.

Despite the apparent security of the regime, what first appeared a harmless incident tumbled into an avalanche, revealing that Porfiriato had always rested on pillars of sand. In a 1908 interview with an American journalist named James Creelman, Díaz made an announcement that he would not be running for the upcoming 1910 election campaign. He would step down, retire, and make way for “democracy”. After all, years of peace now paved the way for just that. Díaz was most likely bluffing, following a long tradition of leaders disavowing reelection only in order to return once again to the presidency. This time, Diaz’s signaling set off shockwaves through Porfirian society. Politicians and engaged citizens alike were suspicious, but an enigmatic opening had forced its way onto the parliamentary stage. Suddenly a flurry of electoral campaigning overtook Mexico as many electioneered for positions in an anticipated post-Díaz order. Furthermore, a major depression a few years earlier had undermined the regime’s claim to unprecedented economic progress – mines, factories and haciendas closed, many already poor were pushed to the brink of starvation, and dispossession kept apace. Combined with this economic shock and long standing social grievances, the unrest generated by the Creelman interview diffused downward into society. As fissures widened, local popular political movements began to appear, first in a trickle and then in a torrent. One such rebellion saw peasants agitating for stolen land in the small southern-central state of Morelos, led by Emiliano Zapata.

Among the figures now politicking for the upcoming election, Fransisco I. Madero, son of a wealthy landowning elite family, became a national figure capable of mounting a serious parliamentary challenge to the Porfirian ruling clique. Madero, himself a hacendado, was nonetheless a staunch liberal and a convinced democrat. Madero’s campaign stoked a wildly popular response, and though initially ignored by the president, he soon came to appear as a frightening challenge to the regime. Díaz, perhaps realizing he had made a mistake – for he had no real intention to retire from politics or the position of presidency – attempted to suppress this flurry of activity through heavy handed repression: the regime intimidated voters, crushed protest and arrested opposition candidates. Madero himself was arrested and briefly jailed, but the cat was already out of the bag. Realizing there was no parliamentary path to power, Madero called for a general uprising against the Díaz regime in November 1910. With rebels throughout Mexico eagerly answering Madero’s call, the country steadily careened into civil war. This revolution-in-the-making was in reality a highly variegated kaleidoscope of unconnected rebellions arising out of Mexico’s diverse populations and local conditions. But a general axis formed around Madero, the single figure which was able to give local rebellions their national scope, thus pitting Madero head on against Díaz and his Federal Army.

Madero successfully seized power in 1911 after a string of military victories throughout the country, especially in the north, where he was crucially aided by the rebellion in Chihuahua lead by Pascual Orozco and other revolutionaries including Pancho Villa.26 In the south, the main axis of revolution centered upon what would become known as Zapatismo. Madero, however, wanted to achieve a political revolution without the dangers of a social revolution. He was, after all, a child of one of Mexico’s richest families, and had admired much of the Porfiriato’s commitment to social order and economic progress. This orientation manifested in a desire to retain as much of the old order as possible while transforming the political superstructure into a liberal-democratic regime. Once the regime had fallen and Díaz fled to France, Madero not only preserved much of the civilian structures of the state but also of the military. In the end, this would be his undoing. Before resigning, Díaz had successfully negotiated a settlement whereby much of the social order could be saved. Madero would also forgo the right to be immediately named president, instead preferring to wait until democratic elections were held after a six month interim period. Ironically, Francisco León de la Barra, a porfirian inner circle elite became acting president, and by this arrangement Madero ensured he would have no executive authority in this formative period. The conservative state apparatus, despite its surprise at its survival, did not delay in moving against the most strident radicals.27

Madero became president in 1911 after winning in a landslide. But in the meantime he had alienated his erstwhile radical supporters by postponing reform, showing favoritism towards liberal elites and political professionals, and siding with order over the demands of revolution. During the period from Díaz’s resignation and the end of the Madero regime in 1913, Madero’s revolutionary credentials were flagging; he was outmaneuvered by conservative civilian and military officials on numerous fronts. The army moved to disarm and neutralize the zapatistas despite Zapata’s erstwhile loyalty to Madero, and Villa was imprisoned (and almost executed) by suspicious military authorities. Madero, despite whatever anguish he might have had over the estrangement between him and other revolutionaries, took the side of the conservatives out of an intuitive skepticism of radical social reform. Placating reaction did not ingratiate him to the ruling classes, and his electoral victory only reinforced conservative spite for the new president. Meanwhile, Orozco, who had been shunted aside after contributing so handily to Madero’s revolution, went into open rebellion against the liberal president. Challenges to the fledgling Madero regime were grave.

But It was not to be an external rebellion which undid Madero but an internal threat which the naive revolutionary had not anticipated. In February of 1913 Madero was overthrown and murdered in a military coup lead by General Victoriano Huerta, an arch-reactionary and ruthless man, who had been presumably loyal to the new government.28 The unrest culminating in the coup d’etat, which lasted just short of two weeks, is known to posterity as “La Decena Trágica” (“The Ten Tragic Days”). In reality Huerta had despised Madero from the beginning and believed that a return to rule by strongmen could avert and reverse what he saw as the social disaster of the revolution.29 But Huerta’s coup only revived the flagging revolution and caused a general eruption of even greater violence and struggle. Revolutionary upheavals reignited again all across Mexico, forming into a loose alliance against the military dictatorship. This new alliance, dubbed the Constitutionalists, was also ironically headed up by an old Porfirian-turned-Maderista official named Venustiano Carranza. Carranza was a man even more conservative in his leanings than Madero, and likewise a hacendado – he had no desire for social reform and his political demands were even narrower than Madero’s. Despite widespread revolutionary misgivings about Carranza, the practical demand of the conjuncture necessitated a united front. A temporary accord among revolutionary camps was reached. 

General Huerta inherited a highly precarious position when he came to power in early 1913. The revolution had become only more disruptive and violent, and disparate revolutionaries effectively unified against the military authorities. But he was aided by a newfound alliance by Pascual Orozco, now, surprisingly, serving the forces of reaction.30 During this period Villa rose to national prominence at the head of the División del Norte, the most powerful revolutionary army Mexico had ever seen. The Zapatistas continued their guerilla struggle undaunted by the devastation wrought by the federal army. Suffering a string of military defeats, economic instability and an American invasion of the port city of Veracruz, Huerta was overthrown in July of 1914 and the revolutionaries were again victorious. A convention of the revolutionary camp was held in Aguascalientes, and was briefly dominated by the Villistas and Zapatistas. But the unity of the fractious revolutionary movement was temporary, and soon devolved into yet again even more vicious civil war between dueling revolutionary camps. The Zapatistas and Villistas demanded that Venustiano Carranza not be appointed as president, but Carranza, bent towards total power, refused. After an ultimatum, the Convention declared that it no longer recognized Carranza, and that the constitutionalist leader was in rebellion. 

Thereafter, the Constitutionalists, dominated by Carranza, fought the Convention, informally led by Villa and Zapata. While in 1914 the position of the Convention looked strong, they were unable to capitalize on their moment of ascendency. The following civil war saw the ignoble fall from grace of the Villistas and the assassination of Zapata in 1919, but not quite the defeat of the Zapatistas. Carranza came to power with the support of a wide base, including radical workers and peasants, but his concessions to them were at best makeshift, at worst a machiavellian caricature. Carranza would turn against these supporters, and even jettison the cause of “no re-election”. A fourth, but relatively brief, civil war resulted from the fragmentation of the constitutionalists when Carranza refused to step down as president. Though Carranza’s regime lasted a surprising five years from 1915-1920, Carranza himself was assassinated after refusing to leave effective power in 1920, a move which had provoked new rebellion.31 In the wake of the assassination of Carannza, Álvaro Obregón, a centrist revolutionary and the great state-maker of the modern Mexican republic, became president later that year, laying the foundations for the post-revolutionary order which would dominate Mexico throughout the 20th century. Villa would be later assassinated while in retirement in 1923 in a conspiracy by Plutarcho Elías Calles and Álvaro Obregón, marking a tragic epilogue to the most active and formative phase of the Mexican Revolution. 


A History of the Zapatistas

The Zapatistas, formally known as the Liberation Army of the South (Ejército Libertador del Sur), at once constituted an element within the Mexican revolution and something which exceeded the political knowledges32 of the society from which they appeared. While the revolution at the national level was sparked by an elite “outsider”33 committed to liberal-democratic aims and opposed to social revolution, the Zapatistas were committed to a revolution of their own. While the sector of the revolution represented by Madero was often middle and upper class (though not without peasant and proletarian supporters), the Zapatistas were drawn from the rural peasantry, largely indigenous and mestizo. Madero’s revolution sought a transformation of the parliamentary apparatus, whereas the Zapatistas sought to overturn the entire social order which had so disrupted traditional life in their home state of Morelos. MorelosThough by modern standards the aims of the Zapatistas appear moderate, at the time their demand for land reform was positively radical. While this was a wellspring of inspiration for the peasantry, Zapatista demands were rarely recognized as anything other than criminal by privileged and upper class revolutionaries.34 The Zapatistas, though firmly set within the national context of the Mexican Revolution, pointed toward something beyond Madero: they represented nothing other than a revolution within the revolution.

Initially the Zapatistas acted without concern for alignment with Madero, but once his movement picked up steam and the possibility of Díaz’s downfall became discernable, they hitched themselves to the rising star of the Maderistas. The Zapatistas found no particular affinity with Madero or his aims, save one passage in Madero’s Plan, the Plan De San Luis Potosí, which called for the legal redress of land theft against the peasants by rapacious hacendados.35 Thus believing Madero to be a national figure who could at least provide cover and advocacy for the land reform and autonomy that the pueblos of Morelos desired, they aligned themselves with the Maderistas. But this revolution was always their own, in a double sense; first in the sense that the Morelos rebels were intent on fighting for their immediate communities, but also in the sense that they knew that the problems suffered at home were widespread throughout rural Mexico. From the beginning they chose to align themselves with the oppressed rural masses across the nation, who were, in general, not to have a major part of government in the vision of accidental revolutionaries like Madero.

As popular rebellions spread throughout Mexico in late 1910 and early 1911, local forces seized the initiative to fight for rights and redress which they had been denied under the Porfiriato. Emiliano Zapata is instantly the most recognizable figure of such a local force. He would in time lead a collection of southern movements, as an index for the agrarian struggle in the Mexican Revolution in general. Zapata was born in the village of Anenecuilco in Morelos on August 8th, 1879, to a family which had long been politically active. While he was not among the poorest of his community, he was better off than some, with land and modest education.36 After his parents died when Zapata was a teenager, he began to work for himself, taking jobs as a muleteer, a small farmer and horse trainer. He eagerly became interested in local village politics and quickly became a respected and beloved member of his community, although he had several run-ins with the law which at times required him to flee the state, or go into hiding – he was, even at one point, briefly drafted into the army.37 For his talents, humility and his dedication to the political affairs of his village, he was widely popular with his community. Shortly after his 30th birthday, he was overwhelmingly elected the head of his village council, tasked with facing the growing problems experienced by the pueblos in their fight with the ever-encroaching haciendas and draconian repressive apparatuses.38

As the national situation deteriorated for the Porfirians, unusual things began to stir in Morelos. After a long and demoralizing peaceful struggle over lands appropriated by a nearby hacienda, Zapata, having exhausted all legal channels for the villagers’ case, decided to take a group of nearly a hundred men, some armed, to retake the land.39 The hacienda workers and guards backed down, and Zapata immediately distributed the land back to its rightful owners. The regime, fearing the revolutionaries in the north more than agitating peasants in Morelos, decided not to act and granted Zapata and his followers this victory. Then and in retrospect this was a pivotal event which set in motion a series of increasingly radical developments that would see Zapata propelled to the head of a widespread general insurrection of peasants throughout the state.40 In Morelos, Zapata was immediately hailed as a hero. It is not too much to say that something had dramatically changed for him and his fellow villagers. Henceforth they would become ever bolder and more aggressive in asserting their sovereignty over land which was rightfully theirs. From thereon Zapata made an unprecedented wager: to take the hacendados and their political and military auxiliaries head on.41

It was after this initial reclamation of stolen land that the rebels explicitly allied with the Madero movement. Local rebellions in villages throughout Morelos erupted into a newfound political existence, spreading like wildfire. The largely indigenous, mestizo and mulatto peasantry seized land, raided the haciendas, executed hated administrators and officials, and divided land and wealth among themselves. The mass surge of the peasantry, combined with sustained Guerilla attacks, put government forces on the run. What would become the Zapatistas were initially a loose fighting force composed of political leaders and ordinary peasants from the pueblos throughout the state, but they eventually united under the banner of Zapata and formally became known as the Liberation Army of the South.

The Zapatistas liberated most of Morelos by the first half of 1911, but the euphoric moment of revolutionary initiative was interrupted by surprising news from the north. Ciudad Juárez had fallen to the combined forces of Orozco and Villa, who staged the assault on their own initative against Madero’s orders. Madero had been in negotiations with Díaz, but the news of the capture of the city forced Madero’s hand. Díaz’s government crumbled, he resigned, and fled on a ship to France. The maderistas had successfully overthrown the government, and a possibility that a political system capable of reform seemed within reach to Zapata and the people of Morelos. But they were soon disenchanted with Madero’s lukewarm liberalism. Madero seemed hesitant to initiate any of the reforms that the Zapatistas had fought for, and it became apparent that he preferred to keep as much of the old order intact as possible.42 If he believed in land reform, it was only at an imperceptible and gradual pace through peaceful evolution. The Zapatisas felt and knew they could not wait, for the ruling classes were still intact and they would surely go on a counter offensive to reclaim what they had already lost. Furthermore, because the top Maderistas refused to immediately assume power and the old federal army was kept fully in place, the government offensive against the Zapatistas would soon resume. The state apparatus viewed the zapatista’s aims as even more anathema than those of Madero, and they viewed Madero as an enabler despite his skepticism of radical social reform. Significantly, in his studious observation of democratic formalities, Madero naively disavowed himself of any real control over the state apparatus at this formative moment. He made matters worse by insisting that the revolutionary armies disarm immediately, thus depriving himself and his supporters of any force capable of enforcing revolutionary aims.

The porfirian ruling class was still alive and well, though their scion was now an exile – and they had little interest in molding themselves to Madero’s agenda. Openly hostile toward the Zapatistas, they were horrified at the self-authorization the ‘indios’ and other social ‘dregs’ had embarked upon with their revolution. In firm alliance with the wealthy planters of the Morelos, the old political elite sought to crush Zapata as quickly as possible while Madero remained without any formal power. Still loyal to Madero, the Zapatistas had mostly disarmed and demobilized. The provisional government dispatched an army, led by General Huerta, to “ensure” the disarmament of the Zapatistas – in reality they aimed to eliminate the threat of Zapata and the Morelenses altogether. Still trusting Madero, Zapata frantically communicated with him regarding this disturbing situation, and Madero, still trusting the army but nonetheless seeing his desires thwarted by a government and army unanswerable to him, was unable to get a grip on the situation. The army proceeded against the Zapatistas; Zapata and his soldiers fled into the mountains, and a brutal counterinsurgency began in Morelos. Once all was said and done, Madero seems to have had a change of heart and sided with the military, calling for the abandonment of the Zapatistas’ armed struggle and offering Zapata only safe passage to exile. The rupture with Madero created an inseparable gulf between the two men and their movements. From that point on, the Zapatistas were forced into conflict with the fledgling post-revolutionary society. But this was the beginning of a long struggle against successive governments, revolutionary and counterrevolutionary, and would lead from the Zapatistas initially relatively moderate aims to ones far more radical and all-embracing in scope. It would also plunge Morelos into a brutal series of wars of epic proportions.43

After this betrayal by Madero, the Zapatistas gave a fiery riposte in the form of the legendary Plan De Ayala. Issued on November 28, 1911, the document was nothing less than a political platform and manifesto for revolutionary land reform unmatched in its radicalism. No other force within Mexico had raised the stakes so high, nor demanded such a profound transformation of the social order. Looking upon the document retroactively, the document appears to be something less than a revolutionary manifesto. Its demands are tame by the standards of the present day, but within the context of Mexican politics, it was a fiery proclamation. The Plan De Ayala denounced Madero as a traitor to the revolution, called for the removal of the armed forces from Morelos, the nationalization of property confiscated from capitalists and other elites and more. Of particular note was point 6:

“As an additional part of the plan we invoke, we give notice: that [regarding] the fields, timber, and water which the landlords, cientificos or bosses have usurped, the pueblos or citizens, who have the titles corresponding to those properties will immediately enter into possession of that real estate of which they have been despoiled by the bad faith of our oppressors, maintaining at any cost with arms in hand the mentioned possession; and the usurpers who consider themselves with a right to them [those properties] will deduce it before the special tribunals which will be established on the triumph of the revolution.”44

The Plan De Ayala was an instant sensation in Morelos. Fransisco Madero let it be published in Mexico City because he thought it would illustrate what he saw as Zapata’s irresponsible extremism. It quickly became a bestseller.45 But though the Plan was a remarkable call to arms, it suggested little about the creation of a completely new society and instead couched its aims in a redress of grievances. Subsequent pronouncements along with the track record of the Zapatistas throughout the remainder of the revolution would indicate that their political vision was much more far reaching.46

Armed with the banner of the Plan  De Ayala, Zapata led a popular guerilla war in the face of an enemy that brooked no opposition and gave no quarter. Madero, for all his liberal humanitarianism, apparently had no compunction in savagely repressing the poor if they flaunted his idea of orderly sensibilities and demanded what he viewed were extreme and untenable aims. A terrible counterinsurgency gutted Morelos, brought untold suffering – mass executions, rapes, concentration camps, forced conscription, destruction of entire villages. Not only did the peasants suffer, but soon the middle classes and the haciendas alike were attacked by the military authorities. The counterinsurgency that began in late 1911 was indelibly shaped by strategy from other colonial conflicts, including the Boer War in southern Africa.47 But the Zapatistas stuck to their guns and persisted in their struggle, and the Federals were never allowed to gain the upper hand. Madero became president on November 9th, 1911, but though he now had formal control of the state he continued his policy of placating his natural enemies and shunting his potential allies at every opportunity. He did, however, shift towards a milder strategy by recalling Huerta, and then the notorious Juvencio Robles, and replaced them with Filipe Angeles, who attempted a comparatively more humane strategy.48 The camps were dismantled, arbitrary executions halted, abuses against the peasantry curbed – this policy helped deflate some support for the Zapatistas as villagers began to feel that joining the Zapatistas would be more risky than not. But Filipe Angeles’s tenure would be brief, because of rapidly developing events in the national capital.

Less than two years into an undulating popular war against the new regime, events rapidly spiraled out of control in Mexico City. A small barracks revolt, led by Bernardo Reyes (a popular ex porfirian official) and Felix Díaz (nephew of the former president of Mexico), saw several units of soldiers attempt to seize the capital by force. In the chaos of the Ten Tragic Days, Mexico City was swamped in intense combat. Possibly a conspirator all along, or potentially taking advantage of an uncertain situation, General Huerta, who Madero called upon in this desperate hour, took initiative and executed a lighting coup d’etat himself. He arrested the president, forcing the resignation of the president and his cabinet. Despite promises that Madero would be spared and sent into exile, the military executed Madero and his vice president, Pino Suarez, with the support of the ambassador of the United States of America.49 Huerta declared himself president, pushed aside the other reactionary conspirators, and immediately set about constructing a militarized dictatorship in staunch support of counterrevolution. He intensified the already horrific conflict with the Zapatistas, seeking to exterminate them altogether and replace the locals with immigrant populations.50 To this end he reappointed Juvencio Robles as military governor of Morelos, and embraced plans to completely depopulate the state. The peasants would be replaced with migrants from elsewhere in Mexico – those who would not be killed would be deported to labor camps out of state. 

Following Huerta’s coup, Zapata fought in loose alignment with the Constitutionalists under Carranza. The Constitutionalists also boasted membership of many other great revolutionaries of the period – Villa and Obregón are perhaps the two most prominent. Zapata and his people carried on, fighting a deft and skillful war against vastly superior forces without outside supplies or help. The federales under Huerta were never able to truly gain control over Morelos, and the Zapatista rebellion would be a major key to his own undoing, tying Huerta down in an unwinnable asymmetrical conflict. Facing pressure on multiple fronts, including the aforementioned invasion of Veracruz by the US military, Huerta’s government collapsed and he too fled the country on July 15th, 1914. The constitutionalists were victorious. But this was a fractious movement composed of a bewildering variety of factions composed of various interest groups, and each with very different aims and concerns. It is not surprising that shortly after the victory of the constitutionalists, the revolutionary movement split and devolved into a fratricidal civil war. This was an ideological and material conflict which represented vast differences between the revolutionary camps. Carranza, as a member of the former regime and a doctrinaire (if conservative) liberal, was decidedly even more anti-revolutionary than Madero.51 He had no interest in land reform and considered the Zapatistas to be little more than criminal rabble to be suppressed as soon as possible. The two great social revolutionaries, Villa in the north and Zapata in the south, had been gradually building rapport with one another. After the constitutionalist victory, they became allied under the banner of the Convention.52 Soon a new phase in the war would begin which became even more intense than the two previous cycles of violence.

Villa, whose Division Del Norte had been virtually undefeated in the field, now suffered a series of disastrous defeats at the hand of the Constitutionalists, whose most brilliant commander was Obregón. Villa proved unable to recognize the degree to which the nature of war was changing, and Obregon, an astute observer and capable general, closely studied developments of the European theater of the First World War.53 Villa would also lose the crucial material support he had garnered from sympathizers in the United States, including president Woodrow Wilson. The Zapatistas meanwhile were never really able to operate effectively outside of their small state because of tremendous logistical problems. While the conflict was raging in the north, during most of 1915, Constitutionalist attention was deflected away from Morelos, and the Zapatistas took advantage of the situation to enact the social revolution which they had fought and paid so dearly for over the previous years. Deferring to the pueblos, but providing political scaffolding as the people under arms, the Zapatisas helped reshape Morelos in accordance with their agrarian socialist views and the Plan De Ayala. They enacted land redistribution mediated by the pueblos and nationalized the haciendas and factories in one of the most radical social experiments to that point, in what has come to be known in posterity as the Morelos Commune.54

But Zapata either would not or could not prepare adequately for an onslaught that he must surely have known would return sooner or later. After Villa’s stunning collapse and reduction to small-scale guerilla warfare, the Constitutionalists were now free to turn their attention to the stubborn revolutionaries of the south. They closed in upon Morelos, and skirmishing opened up towards the end of 1915. The asymmetrical nature of the combat made Zapata’s disadvantage a foregone conclusion. They proved unable to halt the Federal advance and soon the state was again ravaged, as all the gains which had been made over the previous year were wiped away in yet another murderous counterinsurgency. Moving toward the end of the decade, the experiment of 1915 and the Commune of Morelos had been hollowed out by war, famine, and general exhaustion. Villa was never again to have the power he had attained at the height of the Division Del Norte, and he rarely coordinated with Zapata. But the people of Morelos still refused to budge from their support for the Zapatistas, and most categorically refused to cooperate with the federal army and Constitutionalist politicians. Zapata, however, was forced back into a desperate war for survival. Living as a fugitive in the hills, unable to secure the state in the face of overwhelming enemy firepower, he would never again gain the advantage that he had in the first half of the revolutionary years. Despite the grim outlook, Zapata was determined to win or die trying.

As the war dragged grimly on, Zapata attempted to take political initiative. His proclamations and platform growing ever more radical, he also aimed to seek alliances both national and international. He was aided in this task by his colleague, the intellectual Gildardo Magana. Magana was Zapata’s most capable diplomat, a brilliant networker with a mind towards conciliation without compromising Zapatista radicalism. With Magana, Zapata appealed to the unity of the peasantry with the proletariat, and to all revolutionaries to resist Carranza, who was to him no better than those who came before. They attempted to reach out to disaffected revolutionaries within Mexico as well as international allies abroad. Zapata never ceased to prophecy that Carranza would seal his own doom.55 For Zapata, Carranza’s time was soon to be over; victory could be around the corner at any moment – persistence was paramount and no effort would be spared in regaining the initiative. But Zapata would not live to see any such victory. He was betrayed in 1919 and assassinated, in a conspiracy organized by the military and with the connivance of Carranza. A mid-ranking officer in the federal army pretended to defect to the zapatistas: during a meeting, the officer ordered his soldiers to shoot Zapata at point blank range. Zapata was killed instantly. The authorities slung Zapata over a horse and took his body to Cuautla. There his bullet-riddled corpse was displayed publicly, intended as a symbol of the defeat of the Zapatistas and the futility of their struggle.56

The Zapatistas, though dealt a severe body blow, were not defeated. Some defected or laid down their arms, but many continued to fight on, including most of the top leadership. The Zapatistas elected one of Zapata’s most trusted officers,  the intellectual Magana. Magana knew that the war could not continue much longer and that the revolution’s days were limited; he also knew that Carranza had become deeply unpopular and was far from secure. Magana’s concern became achieving an alliance with anti-Carranza forces and securing a settlement which would bring both peace to the region and the realization of the aims of the revolutionary peasantry.57 Zapata’s predictions turned out to be quite prescient: after a rebellion by the Liberal Constitutionalists, lead by Obregón, Carranza was assassinated in 1920. Upon Carranza’s defeat, Obregón achieved a general national victory and became president, thus concluding the core of the Mexican Revolution. Though a centrist and no close friend of agraristas, Obregón chose a practical alliance with the Zapatistas, knowing that only a political solution could bring the stubborn rebels to lay down their arms against the state.58 Land reform was realized in Morelos, and many high ranking Zapatistas would become local leaders or officials in the federal government. Though Zapata had been killed and the full extent of the Zapatistas’ aims were never realized, they achieved a limited but significant victory, though unfortunately only for the state of Morelos.59 Obregón left as much of the old social order (what remained, at least) intact elsewhere as possible. His concern was primarily with a restoration of order, centrist reforms, and the construction of a post-revolutionary state. The Zapatistas, who had begun as a loose network of aggrieved peasants seeking return of their stolen land, had done the impossible. They contributed to the overthrow of three governments, one after the other. They resisted a powerful federal army and frustrated the authorities at every turn. They never gave up on their central mission, and, in the end, they would achieve what few outside of Morelos would during the Mexican revolution. The Zapatista fidelity to the fight for land and liberty paid off, and Zapata was inscribed at the heart of their struggle. It is said of Robespierre that he was “the incorruptible”, and this is no less true for Emiliano Zapata, and the men and women of Morelos.

Part 2 of this essay can be found here.


1. For example, in the prelude to a lecture given by Paul Hart, a story is recounted in which a Mexican Diplomat, visiting Turkey, hailed a cab. The cab driver looked him over, and, pondering his complexion, asked “Are you Turkish?” The diplomat responded “No, I am Mexican” and the cab driver responded, knowingly, “Ah, Mexico. Land of Zapata”.

Paul Hart, Emiliano Zapata: Mexico’s Social Revolutionary, 277.

2. The “Long Nineteenth Century” is British Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm’s formulation. He uses the phrase to designate the period from the French Revolution to the first world war, conceived as an essentially unified periodization.

For further reading, see Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789–1848.

3. Even John Womack, a sympathetic biographer of Zapata, describes the Plan De Ayala, Zapata’s foundational text and political program, as  “emerging from this oldest of Mexican fashions [it] had a tremendous and poignant impact on men who could not imagine their country basically different.”  (Zapata and the Mexican Revolution, 399). For a detailed argument against this interpretive approach towards Zapata and the Zapatista movement, see Hart, Emiliano Zapata.

4. While Zapata is known to have been exposed to anarchist ideas through the writings of Proudhon and the Flores Magón brothers, it is unlikely that Zapata had not at least brushed across Marx’s ideas in his endless political discussion in saloons or the houses of his comrades. Zapata, despite being what we would call an agrarian socialist, is in some respects unclassifiable, blending disparate traditions with an intuitive sense of justice and collectivity.

5. Alain Badiou, Theory of the Subject.

6. Karl Marx, The German Ideology, accessed from

7. Alan Knight, The Mexican Revolution: A Very Short Introduction, 2-4.

8. This term is derived from the philosophy of Alain Badiou. For a detailed but introductory treatment of Badiou’s work, see Infinite Thought, 1-27.

9. These claims are my own.

10. After the defeat of Pancho Villa’s revolutionary army in 1915, Villa was reduced to conducting limited and small-scale guerilla attacks against the state. The American government, who had earlier supported Villa, now backed the Carranza with whom he had previously been allied but now was locked in a renewed civil war. Villa knew his conventional military capacity had been reduced to nil, but he sought a way to attempt to alter the political situation and destabilize Carranza’s regime: an invasion of the United States, which would be sure to provoke an American attack on Mexico. Villa took several hundred men on a forced march north from Chihuahua to Columbus, NM, where he attacked the town and the army garrison therein. The invasion had the immediate effect of an American occupation of the state of Chihuahua, and greatly sharpened Carranza’s difficulties. The “Punitive Expedition”, as the United States’ military operation was called, never managed to capture or kill Villa – the US army withdrew in failure. For further reading, see Friederich Katz, The Life & Times of Pancho Villa.

11. This follows the periodization I apply to the Cultural Revolution elsewhere. This schema is also articulated, albeit in a slightly different form, in Alessandro Russo’s Cultural Revolution and Revolutionary Culture, from which I drew inspiration. I do not conjecture that this schema is of universal value, and any symmetries between the periodization of the Cultural Revolution and the Mexican Revolution are for now treated as purely incidental.

12. Álvaro Obregón was a revolutionary general who became Mexico’s first post-revolutionary president and more than anyone else is considered the father of the modern Mexican Nation State. Seen as the great peacemaker and statesman of the revolution, he was a moderate revolutionary representing something like a “centrist” camp within the pantheon of revolutionary figures and factions. For further reading, see Linda Hall, Álvaro Obregón: Power and Revolution in Mexico, 1911-1920.

13. While historians do not always agree on the exact periodization of the revolution, they do tend to concur that the most acute years of the revolution lasted from 1910-1920. The last possible endpoint terminated with the end of the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas, an agrarian socialist and former revolutionary who sought to make good on the promises of the revolution through a campaign of radical reform. After he left office, the PNR (to become the PRI) shifted sharply to the right. Alan Knight, The Mexican Revolution, 107-114.

14. MIchael C. Meyer, Huerta: A Political Portrait, 95-96.

15. The Cristero war was a catholic rebellion against the increasingly aggressive secular state. It was eventually suppressed and the Catholic Church’s power was broken. Calles was instrumental in a radical secularization of the Mexican Republic and virtually eliminated the Church, one of the chief ideological state apparatuses in Mexican society, from any serious political existence.

16. This was exemplified especially by the Calles administration. Knight, The Mexican Revolution, 105.

17. Plutarcho Elías Calles was a Sonoran revolutionary and close associate of Álvaro Obregón. Though he did not play a major role in the active phase of the revolution he came into his own as a major political force in the post revolutionary order. But his liberalism devolved into an admiration for the fascist conception of politics. There is a perhaps apocryphal story that when Calles was finally arrested on the orders of his protege, Cárdenas, to be sent into exile, he was reading a Spanish translation of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”. Mike Duncan recounts this in his podcast series on the Mexican Revolution.

18. With the notable exception of radical anti-clericalism.

19. We will not treat this appendix of the revolution further within the scope of this essay, but the section on periodization is sufficient for a cursory understanding of the Mexican Revolution’s ultimate trajectory. For a brief summary of the years of the passive phase and beyond, see Knight, The Mexican Revolution, 75-116.

20. The question of the control of the land has been a fundamental question to Mexican political and social life since the Europeans arrived in the early 16th century.

21. Despite the retreat of politics, despite its absence, the tensions which the porfirian state mediated through careful manipulation, conciliation or repression were great enough to explode into a revolutionary rupture when the linchpin of state machinery began to buckle.

22. Many haciendas practiced what is known as debt peonage, whereby a worker was given a loan by the local hacendado, and was thereby bound to the hacienda for life, unable to escape the cycle of debt. Furthermore many haciendas paid not in money but in company script, redeemable only at a hacienda-run store.

23. For the científicos, order and progress largely meant a depoliticized society undergirded by liberalization of the economy. They were positivist followers of Herbert Spencer, who believed that the true aim of politics is a rational administration guided by scientific method. They were in many ways responsible for the destruction of traditional communal land rights of peasants throughout Mexico and, while allowing an impressive wealth accumulation for the state and the ruling classes, also contributed to a widening inequality driven by highly uneven economic development.

24. For a colorful and classic introduction to the Porfiriato and pre-revolutionary Mexico, see the opening chapters of Anita Brenner, The Wind that Swept Mexico: A History of the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1942.

25. My main work, which focuses on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China from 1966 to 1976, studies a period in which revolutionary ideology, or at least its formal dressings, were near universal and society was unusually politicized. The Cultural Revolutionaries had the virtue of having been the inheritors of a well established revolutionary regime which controlled most aspects of life and gave an immense, and perhaps unprecedented, pride of place to ideological and political theory and education. The world of the Porfiriato in Mexico was one that was intensely depoliticized; dissidents remained in the shadows, local revolts never went beyond the local and rebellion was quashed. The Mexican state on the eve of the revolution was authoritarian and repressive, but it was also “apolitical” in the sense that it favored order and stability for business to active political life of the masses, right or left. Grievances were widespread, there is no doubt about that, and rebellions did occur. But they rarely if ever gained national momentum, remained isolated and failed to coalesce into coherent and rigorous political platforms. The liberals, the anarchists, and other reform or revolutionary minded were more or less always in the shadows, resigned or biding their time in the crevices of a Mexican society oriented towards the domination by landed elites, regional bosses of the state machine and a small group of technocrats (científicos).

26. Pascual Orozco was an early revolutionary leader and one of the Mexican Revolution’s best generals. Based in Chihuahua, where he had been a muleteer, he was in his late twenties when the revolution began. Orozco quickly joined the revolution and contributed significantly to Madero’s victory, particularly in his seizure of Ciudad Juarez in 1911.

27. This process of conservative initiative and Madero’s incapacity, and ultimately unwillingness, to side with his revolutionary supporters over the conservative ruling classes is expertly depicted in Womack’s Zapata and the Mexican Revolution, 97-128.

28. The connivance of the American ambassador to Mexico, Henry Lane Wilson, was crucial to the plot to overthrow Madero. Wilson, a staunch conservative and appointee of president William Howard Taft, hated Madero, who he saw as an enabler of radical socialist doctrines. He played an important role in uniting counter-revolutionary conspirators and was elated when Huerta overthrew Madero. He also gave tacit approval for Madero’s murder.

29. For a useful, though perhaps relatively sympathetic work on Huerta, see Meyer’s Huerta: A Political Portrait.

30. Meyer, 92. Following Huerta’s seizure of power, the general attempted to find allies in erstwhile revolutionaries, who he was convinced could be brought over to the regime by incentive. Huerta likewise sent a delegation to Zapata. Zapata had the envoys executed, including Pazcual Orozco’s father.

31. Knight, 74.

32. Badiou describes the state – not only in its strict political sense as the government and its repressive apparatuses, but also in its wider sense, something akin to the ‘status quo – as the sum total of knowledges which serve to name and organize all things within a given situation and world.The character of truth, born of the event, is something which “punches a hole in knowledges” and opening up a process whereby the old world is transformed into something new.

33. Elite in the sense that Madero was a son of one of Mexico’s richest families. An outsider in the sense that he was not in the political circle surrounding Díaz.

34. Womack, 100. A Mexico City newspaper, “imparcial”, ran a headline in 1911 which read “Zapata is the modern Atilla” such attacks would be common currency for the privileged classes throughout the revolution.

35. Francisco Madero, “The Plan of San Luis Potosi.”

36. Hart, Zapata: Mexico’s Social Revolutionary, 16.

37. The Leva, a form of forced conscription for unruly citizens, was extensively used during the Porfiriato and later by the military dictatorship of Victoriano Huerta. It is not clear how Zapata secured an early honorable discharge but it was not uncommon to come to an understanding by way of bribe. This is hypothesized by Mike Duncan in his podcast series on the Mexican Revolution, episode 7.

38. For an account of the pueblo’s election of Zapata, see Womack, 3-9.

39. Hart, 38-39.

40. Hart makes the case that this event was foundational and formative for Zapata’s orientation, and for Zapatismo’s throughout the rest of the revolution, 39.

41. It is in my view not the opening of political spaces brought about by the Mexican revolution by Madero’s presidential campaign which is the founding event of the Zapatistas, but rather this expropriation of the expropriators that decisively transformed disenfranchised villagers into political subjects. This action would open a path which was direct, militant and exceeded parliamentary formality and traditional Mexican liberalism. Madero’s presidential campaign, is by comparison, a much weaker singularity, though it did reflect a breakdown in the normal operation of the state apparatus which enabled something truly new to appear down the road.

42. Hart, 56-57.

43. For a full account of this period, see Womack, 97-128.

44. Womack, 402.

45. Hart, 93.

46. Hart, “Emiliano Zapata: Memory, Myth & Meaning.

47. Womack, 138.

48. Ibid, 148.

49. Knight, 43-46.

50. Hart, 113.

51. It may be tempting to see the Constitutionalists as categorically representing more conservative interests and the Conventionalists as decidedly radical. But the real picture is considerably more murky. Both sides were cross-class alliances and were variegated in their political orientation. Notably, the radical urban working classes, influenced by socialism and anarcho-syndicalism, tended to side with Carranza, initially organized in “Red Battalions” which fought against the Zapatistas. Carranza’s alliance with them, however, was one of convenience and did not last. He would eventually disband the workers’ militias. On Carranza’s opposition to inclination to shy away from reform and his conservative tendencies, see Hart, 163-165.

52. The Convention was named after the revolutionary Convention which had presided over the radical period of the French Revolution from 1792-1794. For an account of the formation and debates of the Convention, see Katz, The Life & Times of Pancho Villa, 375-388.

53. For an account of one of the major engagements between Villa and Obregón, the battle of Celaya, see Hall, Obregon: Power and Revolution in Mexico, 122-131.

54. This expression is from Adolfo Gilly, “La Revolución Interrumpida”.

55. Hart, 266-267.

56. Womack, 322-330.

57. Magana’s aims are chronicled by Womack, 335-370.

58. At one point in late 1920, Obregon, on his way toward Mexico City, traveled through Morelos. He would be escorted by the Zapatistas, with whom he was by then in an alliance. The force responsible for Obregon’s security  in his journey through Morelos to Mexico City was the Liberating Army of the South. Hart, 275.

59. Cardenas would make good on some of the demands of Zapatista agrarian reform elsewhere in the nation during his presidency.