In this installment from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of my collection of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss the first major revolution of the 20th century, the revolution in Mexico that began in the fall of 1910, and which was to last until around 1919-1920, with the assassination of the peasant army leader, Emiliano Zapata, in 1919, and the peace agreement with the revolutionary general, Pancho Villa, in 1920. The Mexican anarchist movement went back to the 1860s, when the first anarchist groups were founded. They called for “Land and Liberty,” a slogan that was adopted by Zapata and much of the Mexican peasantry during the Revolution. By the time of the Mexican revolution, the best known Mexican anarchist was Ricardo Flores Magón, who continued the anarchist call for “Land and Liberty” from exile in the United States, where he was to die in Leavenworth Prison in 1922. Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas contains a chapter on the Mexican Revolution, with writings by Magón, Praxedis Guerrero and the American anarchist, Voltairine de Cleyre. Just as today there are revolutionaries in Mexico who call themselves “Zapatistas,” so there are anarchists and “Magónistas.” I included material from today’s “Magónistas” and the better known “New Zapatistas” in Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.
Revolution in Mexico
While the Russian workers were able to bring Russia to a standstill in October 1905, it was during the 1910 Mexican Revolution that expropriation was first applied on a wide scale by landless peasants and indigenous peoples. Anarchists in Mexico had been advocating that the people seize the land and abolish all government since the late 1860s, when Julio Chavez Lopez declared that what they wanted was “the land in order to plant it in peace and harvest it in tranquility; to leave the system of exploitation and give liberty to all” (Volume One, Selection 71).
In 1878, the anarchist group La Social advocated the abolition of the Mexican state and capitalism, the creation of autonomous federated communes, equal property holdings for those who worked the land, and the abolition of wage labour. When the government renewed its campaign of expropriation of peasant lands in favour of foreign (primarily U.S.) interests and a tiny group of wealthy landowners, the anarchists urged the peasants to revolt. Anarchist inspired peasant rebellions spread throughout Mexico, lasting from 1878 until 1884 (Hart: 68-69). Another peasant rebellion broke out in Veracruz in 1896, leading to a lengthy insurgency that continued through to the 1910 Mexican Revolution (Hart: 72).
In 1906 and 1908, the anarchist oriented Liberal Party of Mexico (PLM) led several uprisings in the Mexican countryside. On the eve of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, the PLM issued a manifesto, “To Arms! To Arms for Land and Liberty,” written by the anarchist Ricardo Flores Magón (1874-1922). He urged the peasants to take “the Winchester in hand” and seize the land, for the land belongs “to all men and women who, by the very fact that they are living, have a right to share in common, by reason of their toil, all that wealth which the Earth is capable of producing” (Volume One, Selection 73). The PLM organized the first armed insurrections against the Díaz dictatorship in the late fall of 1910, beginning a revolution that was to last until 1919. Throughout Mexico, the largely indigenous peasantry arose in rebellion, seizing the land and redistributing it among themselves.
Anarchists outside of Mexico regarded this expropriation of the land by the Mexican peasantry as yet another vindication of their ideas. As Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912) put it, “peasants who know nothing about the jargon of the land reformers or of the Socialists” knew better than the “theory spinners of the cities” how to “get back the land… to ignore the machinery of paper landholding (in many instances they have burned the records of the title deeds) and proceed to plough the ground, to sow and plant and gather, and keep the product themselves” (Volume One, Selection 71). This was the model of the peasant social revolution that Chavez Lopez had tried to instigate in 1869, that Bakunin had advocated during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War (Volume One, Selection 28), and that anarchists in Europe and Latin America had been trying to instigate for years.