Letter from Mexico: Remembering Emiliano Zapata

April 27, 2019

From the May-June 2019 issue of News & Letters

by J.G.F. Héctor

We of Praxis en América Latina, our Marxist-Humanist organization in Mexico, attended the commemoration on April 9-10 of the 100th anniversary of the murder of Emiliano Zapata, the peasant leader of the Mexican Revolution. It was not just a remembrance of things past, but an attempt to actualize his figure in the current struggles of peasants and Indigenous peoples against the despoiling of their lands by the “new” developmentalist government of Mexican President López Obrador.

Emiliano Zapata. Photo from mexicodesconocido.com.mx

On the first day an assembly took place in the hometown of Indigenous activist leader Samir Flores Soberanes, who was murdered by paramilitary gangs on Feb. 20 for his opposition to the Integral Project of Morelos, an industrial complex of two thermoelectric plants, an oil pipeline and superhighways connecting the region to the rest of the country. (See “Samir Flores murder,” p. 12.) His murder brought together people from all over Mexico to resist Obrador’s myriad developmentalist projects.

We heard of communities fighting mining concessions in the northwest; Indigenous people from Oaxaca opposing a corridor that would cross their lands connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans; women battling violence; teachers and other workers from Mexico City fighting anti-labor laws and cuts in the public budget; and Native peoples from the City defending their territory and right to autonomy. We learned from these movements about the deep contradictions within this regime—accurate reports, because they came from their own practice of resistance, and not from intellectual deduction.


On the second day there was a demonstration in the town where Zapata had been shot dead. That made it impossible for the government to have its own official act there, forcing it to move it elsewhere. 

In these 100 years there has been a continuous attempt by part of the State to appropriate Zapata’s legacy. With their actions of permanent resistance, with their own lives in rebellion, the struggles from below are continually renewing the revolutionary meaning of this peasant leader.

While listening to all these voices in those few days was exciting, one couldn’t help but note that there is still a unifying force that is missing and that could bring all these movements together in an ongoing struggle against capitalism. The question of assuming an anti-capitalist position was implicitly and explicitly posed on several occasions. 


It is odd that, except for what we with Praxis brought to the discussion, there was almost no mention of Karl Marx. Only by recreating Marx’s philosophy of revolution in permanence for our day, in conjunction with all these subjects from below, can we actually carry on a true anti-capitalistic struggle.

Instead, there was an absolute impatience—especially by small groups of activists—for agreeing on “joint immediate actions,” and to create a national organization “where all struggles would be united.” Other activists posed that, instead of massive actions, we should focus on “small individual changes that can positively affect the world,” such as harvesting our own food and stop buying from “big businesses.” In the end, no agreement was actually possible, except for maybe fixing a date for a next gathering.

By evening the day had been fatiguing but joyful, full of philosophical/practical activism. On our way back to Mexico City, we were thinking of how we could share with others the absolute need of Marx’s Marxism for our day. Maybe we should keep on trying, not yet with a massive audience, but with a few movements which we met at this gathering who showed some interest in the ideas they read in our paper or that we posed during the assembly. 

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