(1) The Zapatist revolution appropriated, without compensation, the large haciendas and the sugar mills in the state of Morelos. Agrarian commissions “handed over all the land to the villages, nationalized the sugar mills, and effectively eliminated the capitalist and landowning class. All the capitalists and big landowners living in the state fled abroad or to the capital.” The nationalized sugar mills were managed by the workers, proving “that the industry could go on functioning perfectly well without the bosses” (Gilly 2005:241, 245-46, 289-90).
There was a tendency among the peasants, once they had acquired land, to cultivate subsistence crops for their own consumption and for sale in the local market. But Zapata believed that the peasants also should produce sugar for export, in order to generate income necessary for economic development. Measures designed to encourage sugar production were adopted, but they had only limited success (Gilly 2005 245-46).
(2) In villages under Zapatist control, structures of self-government were established. The men in each village met each month to discuss and decide on issues that they considered important, and they elected delegates who served in a municipal assembly, which in turn elected delegates to represent them at the district level. Alongside these structures of village self-government, the villages formed associations that created primary schools for children and night schools for adults and that functioned as committees to address everyday problems (Gilly 2005:268-72, 290-92). With reference to these popular associations, Gilly writes: “As each village association gained experience, it assumed many tasks: to read and explain declarations from the revolutionary headquarters; to settle disputes between villagers; and to arrange talks by revolutionary lecturers. In short, it operated as a true peasant committee for all the political matters and everyday problems of peasant life” (2005:271).
The structures of village self-government and popular association of the Morelos commune are more participatory and more truly representative than bourgeois structures of representative democracy, which limit popular participation to biannual elections in which voters choose from among candidates with whom they have not had opportunity for interchange in village, municipal, or district assemblies. The structures of popular democracy in Morelos were similar to the soviets of the Russian Revolution (see “The Russian Revolution (February)” 1/22/2014; “The Russian Revolution (October)” 1/23/2014). They also are similar to the structures of popular power that would later be developed in Cuba after the triumph of the revolution in 1959, although Cuban popular power and popular democracy would be characterized by the full and equal participation of women (see “The Cuban revolutionary project and its development in historical and global context”).
(3) As we observe revolutionary processes in the world, we see that revolutions that are able to sustain themselves are characterized by the development of some structure of popular armed self-defense. This occurred in Morelos: the federal army was expelled, at least for a period of time, and the functions of protecting villages and peasant land and defending the rights of citizens were assumed by the Southern Liberation Army of Zapata, an army led by and consisting of peasants (Gilly 2005:56-57, 62-63, 66, 72, 290).
The Morelos Commune was a regional alternative to the official revolutionary government of Carranza in Mexico City. Once Villa’s Army in the North was eliminated as a serious threat, the Carranza government undertook the re-conquest of Morelos. In May and June of 1916, the federal army occupied the major cities of the state, killing hundreds of persons, including combatants and civilians and including women, children and the elderly. However, Zapata’s Army organized into small guerrilla units of 100 or 200, and with its base in the local population, it was able to control the countryside. But in late 1918, in the wake of an influenza virus that killed thousands, the federal army launched a new offensive and occupied the main towns, forcing the Zapatist Army to retreat to the mountains. This situation provoked vacillation, confusion, and contradictions within the Zapatist leadership. Emeliano Zapata was assassinated on April 10, 1919, bringing to an end the peasant revolution (Gilly 2005:261-66, 284-88).
Gilly, Adolfo. 2005. The Mexican Revolution. New York: The New Press. (Originally published as La Revolución Interrumpida by El Caballito, Mexico, in 1971).
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Mexican Revolution, popular power, popular democracy, Zapata, Morelos Commune