The son of a 'strong farmer', Zapata grew up to become the most famous leader of the Mexican Revolution. Like Connolly or the Ladies' Land League in Ireland, Zapata is paid much lip service by the Mexican establishment, but his revolutionary ideas are ignored by those who inherited the power won in the Revolution. A gifted organiser, Zapata also spoke Náhuatl, his local indigenous language.
Elected leader of his village in 1909, Zapata began recruiting an insurgent army even before the Revolution beginning in 1910 which overthrew the dictator Porfirio Díaz. The links between the dictatorship and the U.S.A., combined with Mexico's colonial past, gave rise to much 'revolutionary nationalism' - revolution as defence of the nation - which is still a vibrant force today.
Zapata's Liberation Army of the South did not accept the new reformist government under Francisco Madera. The Zapatistas fought on against government troops lead by Victoriano Huerta, the general who overthrew Madera in February, 1913, and was then deposed in 1914. At the following Convention in Aguascalientes, called to decide the future of Mexico, the Zapatistas demanded 'tierra y libertad' - land and freedom - for their people.
This was the core of Zapata's 'Plan de Ayala', produced in November 1911. Clearly influenced by anarchist ideas spread in Mexico by people like Ricardo Flores Magón, Zapata demands the socialisation of land:
The lands, forests and water that have been usurped ... will be immediately restored to the villages or citizens who have title to them ... Because the great majority of Mexicans own nothing more than the land they walk on ... one third of these properties will be expropriated ... so that the villages and citizens of Mexico may obtain ejidos , sites for towns, and fields.
Zapata remained in opposition, fighting against terrible repression, until 1919. Lured to a meeting with government troops apparently mutinying against President Carranza, he was gunned down on April the 10th, 1919. Although the insurgents fought on, and Zapata's ghost was seen to ride the hills of his native state, Morelos, the conservatives won out, and Zapata's ideas of fair distribution of land remained ignored until the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas in the late 1930's.
Zapata's memory, like his ghost, rides on in Mexico. His name has been invoked by the indigenous rebel army in Chiapas, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), in their struggle against exactly the same social ills that Zapata fought against: large landlords and (often foreign-owned) big business running a corrupt and repressive régime that leaves the peasants, particularly indigenous peoples, landless and exploited. Throughout this century, people all over the world have risen up against oppression, taking heart from Zapata's cry:
|'Villa and Zapata' is a very useful biography of the two major peasant leaders of the Mexican revolution.|