This essay is a review of the book Zapata and the Mexican Revolution written by John Womack and first published in 1968. Firstly, it is necessary to establish who the author is. John Womack (Jnr.) was born in 1937 and has established himself as a prominent historian regarding Latin America and in particular the social history of Mexico and has received many awards in this connection. He is generally regarded as the foremost author in respect of Mexico during the period in question. It then follows who was Zapata? Zapata (1879-1919) was a major player in the Mexican Revolution and was basically a peasant leader in the state of Morelos in Mexico and was responsible for an agricultural movement described as Zapitimso which sought wide-ranging changes to the agricultural laws as then applicable to land working in Mexico. The followers of Zapata were revolting at the long standing reign as president of Diaz and his lack of sympathy to their demands, hence the description, of the so-called, Mexican Revolution.
The Mexican revolution effectively began in 1910 and Zapata became a central figure in this revolution. The revolution descended into a kind of civil war and Zapata became something of an iconic figure in this civil war. In his book Womack portrays Zapata as a hero and the book has attracted some criticism in this respect. This is however, not uncommon in any work of a historical nature and why would anyone write book of this nature without a hero?
Womack’s book is a hefty tome not far short of 500 pages with a full bibliography as well. It is, by any standards, a comprehensive review of the period in Mexican history and many have described the work as the definitive work of the period in question. Civil war is vexing subject in any country’s history and this book is no exception with it’s graphic account of alliances misplaced and perceived disloyalty to the cause as the normal.
The Mexican revolution took place mainly from 1910 to 1920 and significantly changed Mexico in terms of both politics and it’s society. It is often noted that in the annals of modern history the Mexican revolution is hardly mentioned, and it is true to say that the revolution in Mexico and the struggle between the land workers and industrialisation became much later than other countries such as in Europe and the United States. The so called revolution did not really end until the 1960’s, barely 50 years ago. This was an armed conflict and as such many casualties resulted from the civil war with many Mexicans choosing to emigrate from the country mainly yo the United States it’s nearest neighbour.
The book has often been compared to George Orwell’s account of the Spanish civil war Homage to Catalonia regarding the conflict between republicans and monarchists in the 1930’s, in Spain. The theme of civil war is the same as are the vast contradictions in what people thought they were fighting for and what they hoped to achieve and the complications of each cause. Also, the theme of betrayal and personal anguish are highly relevant to both historical accounts with the graphic detail of killings and slaughter associated with any civil war.
A prominent review of Zapata and the Mexican Revolution written by Carter Wilson in 1969, describes the book as being “occasionally a book appears which chronicles for an illiterate people what they could not record themselves.” This sums up the whole point of the book in question. Wilson goes on to say that the book is a “vast achievement” and this too, cannot be denied. Carter makes the telling point that Womack whilst fascinated by his hero Zapata is not taken in by the myth surrounding him and remains objective in the telling of the history. Zapata, after all, is a small-town hero with limited goals (and by no means wholly successful) as were those of the people he represented.
In conclusion as Carter writes Womack captures the true spirit of Zapata in that he was loved by his followers and never lost sight of their values. The aim of Zapata was limited as was the vision of his followers but this does not detract from the powerful thrust of the story which is both inspiring and at the same time historically and factually based.