Contributions to revolutionary theory from the Mexican highlands: A review of 'Lucio Cabañas y la guerra de los pobres'

Lucio Cabañas y la guerra de los pobres.
Silva Nogales, Jacobo. 2015.
Mexico City: Deriva Negra and Cooperativa Rizoma. 207 pages.
Cooperativa Rizoma:
Deriva Negra:

Review by Nevin Siders

March 3, 2019 Links International Journal of Socialist RenewalMany biographies have been written on Lucio Cabañas. This one’s value derives from how it highlights his contributions to revolutionary theory. In the first chapter we see how he was in teacher training in the early 1960s in the state of Guerrero, home to Acapulco but also one of Mexico’s most violent and y despotic. When he left school he was assigned to a school in the rural county of Atoyac where he got involved in the small revolutionary movements of the time, the Teacher’s Revolutionary Movement (MRM), the Mexican Communist Party, and a group that the latter directed, the Independent Farmer’s Confederation (CCI).

That same year he graduated, Cabañas organized the community to force a local sawmill to fulfil its promises to bring into the town the drinking water, electricity, telephony, and roads in exchange for the business permit. After the success of that campaign and another inside the school to resist imposition of uniforms, he had gained local recognition. He soon called on the community to form the Association of Farmers, Small Business People, and Parents (UCPCPF) which “took up the banner of all possible demands, not only those of the school children’s parents”.

With this grouping the author underlines how from his origins, Cabañas held an outlook distinct from those prevalent in his days: la Association was not an exclusively farmer or proletarian organization, but rather one of the entire oppressed and exploited population. In each section he directs our attention to this aspect, coming to name it as Lucio’s poorism.

This poorism led the movement to winning statewide and national notoriety, as well as gain and hold a free territory stretching through three counties that lasted more than half a decade.

During that time Cabañas fought for a socialism different from the “bureaucratic” model, one of a single class, and even less so of a socialism directed by a single party. This is why Silva Nogales gives recognition as the originator of a variety of socialist thought distinct from Leninism, Maoism, Trotskyism, and so on, assigning him a place hard by Guevarism thanks to its anathema to centralism. The book offers abundant examples, in fact from nearly every crossroad, of how Cabañas called the ranks together in meeting to take the necessary decisions.

The book has only two chapters, a first one having a more bibliographic style, and a second that starts out in the same pattern. That second chapter gradually passes into a more academic mode that semantically and systematically deconstructs the slogans and actions of the Party of the Poor (PDLP) in accordance with the declared intent to prove that poorism constituted a novel form of insurrectionist organization and revolutionary thought.

It is more evident that Cabañas knew of and took inspiration from the commune in the neighbouring state of Morelos in 1914, of when the twin armies of the Convention, the Northern Division (DN) led by Francisco “Pancho” Villa and the Liberation Army of the South (ELS) led by Emiliano Zapata ruled Mexico City for more than a year. Yet unlike that year, when the Workers of the World (COM) opposed the peasant army, Cabañas did not limit himself to one side or the other of the worker-peasant duality, but rather originated a manner of operation that brought both in as natural allies against the wealthy. Although the book does not mention it, it is beyond doubt that the names of the trilogy of immensely popular movies by Pedro Infante — We the Poor, You the Rich, and Pepe the Bull — helped to orient the masses in favour of such cosmovision.

What the author does consistently in that second chapter is to compile the experiences of the Party of the Poor and its growing influence in the state that won contacts throughout the country, giving evidence of how every movement, organization and military tactic was conceived and carried out in accordance with a democratic structure, setting an example of how a future, just society may be.

In sum, this reader affirms that Silva Nogales builds a consistent, convincing argument that Cabañas’s poorism represents an important contribution, and possibly in certain aspects original, to socialist thought on how to motivate and organize capitalism’s victims to march together in the same direction.

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, a time in which they have held a liberated territory extending through several counties and in which they are carrying out an experiment in building a society beyond capitalism, this article is submitted in the hopes of its obtaining the greatest possible number of readers.