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  • Los orígenes del zapatismo
  • David G. Lafrance
Los orígenes del zapatismo. By Felipe Arturo Avila Espinosa . Mexico City: El Colegio de México, Centro de Estudios Históricos / Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2001. Table. Bibliography. Index. 332 pp. Paper, $19.60.

The revolutionary agrarian movement of the 1910 s led by Emiliano Zapata in south-central Mexico continues to fascinate lay people and historians alike. Despite a growing number of studies on the Zapatistas, much is still to be learned. In this vein, Los orígenes del zapatismo fills some of the lacunae left by earlier works, such as those by Samuel Brunk, Horacio Crespo, Gildardo Magaña, Francisco Pineda Gómez, Jesús Soto Inclán, and John Womack.

As its title indicates, this book focuses on the early years of Zapatismo, from its colonial and nineteenth-century roots to the end of the Francisco Madero presidency in early 1913. The geographical area examined is principally the traditional Zapatista heartland, the state of Morelos, and portions of Guerrero and Puebla. The volume explores the origins of the movement and its development into a full-fledged military and social movement. Over generations, campesinos had developed a relationship with terratenientes comprising an interdependent, mutually acceptable moral economy, which both sides saw as roughly just. By the early twentieth century, however, this modus vivendi had weakened, arriving at the point of rebellion. The author believes the main reasons for this discontent lay in the impact of the modernization of the sugar hacienda, which resulted in a demand for land and, to a lesser extent, for water and local autonomy. This rupture in the longtime sense of justice that led to revolt was, in turn, facilitated by the breakdown of regime control both in Mexico City and in the state capital of Cuernavaca, as well as government repression. The complex relationship between the followers of Madero (the president who replaced Porfirio Díaz) and the followers of Zapata ended in alienation, thus setting the stage for the latter to break with the revolutionary government and continue with their own agenda for the rest of the decade.

The author makes several important points that modify and challenge previous studies. The sugar hacienda did not negatively affect peasants so much by its territorial expansion (few communities or water sources were overrun) as by its modernization. Especially affected were campesinos who previously had rented plots on plantations but now, due to new technology and intensified methods of production, became either redundant or day laborers with no usufruct. The Zapatista movement developed its own homegrown leadership, identity, and increasingly radical demands; it was not dependent on outsiders for advice or guidance. Only later, after 1913 , did urban intellectuals such as Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama and Gildardo Magaña play a role in it. The Maderistas must take most of the blame for the break with the Zapatistas, as the latter made numerous attempts to come to terms with the former, but to no avail. The tension and conflict with the Maderistas in turn, however, helped speed the maturation of the agrarian movement, even as it weakened Madero's coalition, which divided into liberal and conservative factions over how to deal with the agrarian insurgency. Finally, the author asserts what [End Page 548] too few historians dare admit: the Zapatistas abused their own people and were not liked by all other campesinos, even in Morelos. Indeed, many preferred to remain neutral in the conflict, while some formed armed units to fight the agrarian rebels, thus undercutting its effectiveness.

Much in this work, however, is not new, and the general outlines of the movement having been covered by other studies. The first and last chapters (dealing with the colonial and nineteenth-century origins of Zapatismo and the relationship between the movement and the civilian population) are the most important and pathbreaking. The book does add details to the southern agrarians' story, as the author has assiduously read the newspapers and documents of the early 1910 s. However, the author does not fulfill the expectations he raises in the introduction. The author promises to examine, for example, the movement in regions...


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pp. 548-549
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2004
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