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The Mexican Revolution: 1910 - 1940

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We are going to see how in the case of Mexico this long regime of order and progress is going to accumulate failures and a whole process that is going to lead to the Mexican revolution and that represents a real turning point in the history of the Americas because for the first time we have a country of this continent including the United States and Canada that is trying to integrate its diverse population, that is to say its population composed of Indians, mestizos, descendants of slaves, whites in the nation.

The Dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz: 1876 - 1910[edit | edit source]

What triggered the Mexican revolution was the fraudulent re-election in 1910 of the dictator Porfirio Díaz, who had reigned since 1876 and who was very old at that time.

However, if we look more closely, we can see that during all the years of the porfiriato a whole series of factors were to precipitate the overthrow of Porfirio Díaz :

  • increase in the poverty of the vast majority.
  • Insufficient food production for a growing population since the owners produce mainly for export.
  • a staggering increase in the number of landless small farmers.
  • worsening of working conditions.
  • beginning of trade unionism despite repression.
  • control of industries by foreign monopolies.
  • Inflation generated by this whole cycle.
  • rise of nationalism, especially of the emerging middle-classes who are increasingly frustrated by foreign monopolies taking over the country.

Causes of the revolution[edit | edit source]

Some Marxist authors maintain that the Mexican revolution is not a real revolution because it is not socialist.

Taking the definition of revolution, the Mexican revolution is a revolution:

  • massive participation of the population, which includes the populations of the North and Centre of the country, the majority of which are peasants who
  • have different views on their future, for those in the North they wish for an end to political and economic hindrances, for those in the centre it is the return of the land taken under Díaz.
  • The Mexican revolution represents a real struggle for power leading to civil war in which the pillars of the regime are destroyed.
  • the revolutionary leaders replace Porfirio Díaz's system of control with another system of control that also puts new elites in place as well as a new dominant ideology that is nationalist; at the same time, it is something different since there is a construction of the state, of national integration and the formation of a national capitalism.

The Mexican revolution is a pioneering revolution for its time, as it occurred before the Bolshevik, Chinese and Cuban revolutions that changed the social, economic and cultural structure of Mexico. On the other hand, this revolution influenced all of Latin America.

The Mexican Revolution[edit | edit source]

This revolution can be divided into three phases:

  • 1910 - 1920: a decade of struggle and civil war, which will however see the adoption of the 1917 constitution.
  • 1920 - 1934: the years of sonoria.
  • 1934 - 1940: the government of Lazaro Cardenas.

1910 - 1920: A decade of struggles. Adoption of the 1917 Constitution[edit | edit source]

This first phase is a very violent phase of war; all the great leaders are in fact assassinated in this process. One of these protagonists is Victoriano Huerta who was a general linked to Porfirio Díaz and is the only one who dies of natural death from cancer in Texas.

The first one assassinated is Francisco Madero who comes from Coahuila, a great landowner from the north, an enlightened liberal assassinated in 1913; Francisco known as Pancho Villa who is a half-breed bandit from Chihuahua who was assassinated in 1923 ; Pascual Orozco who is a transport entrepreneur from Chihuahua who is first with Villa and then allied with Huerta who will end up murdered by the police in Texas in 1916; Zapata is murdered in 1919; Alvaro Obregón who is a farmer, landowner and important politician of Sonoria is murdered in 1928; Venustiano Carranza is murdered in 1920.

Thus, the Mexican revolution is experiencing a real war for power, out of these seven protagonists, only Huerta dies of cancer.

It is a revolt that is going to start in the North against the re-election of Díaz aged 80 years old in 1910, it is in this more mining and industrialized North that the revolt bursts following the launching by the liberal Madero of the first plan which is the plan of San Luis de Potosí that asks for free elections, it is a plan that has the support of the great peasantry of the North and the industrialists who form an army of 25 000 Guerrero that manages to negotiate the departure of Díaz who dies in France of old age in 1915.

In 1911, Madero was freely elected, leaving the entire Díaz system in place, which was highly displeasing to the northern Guerreros led by Pancho, Orozco and Villa.

In the centre, the peasants of Morelos under Zapata also revolted against the fact that Madero left the entire Diaz system in place and in particular so that they would not attack the sugar plantations. Under Zapata they take up arms again and declare the second plan of the Mexican revolution which is the Alcala plan which denounces Madero's betrayal and announces a peasant revolt if he does not give back the forests, waters and lands to the Amerindian peasant communities taken since the middle of the 19th century.

It is Huerta who will overthrow Madero in 1913, he manages to re-establish the porfiriato with the support of the big landowners, the church and also foreign investors. However, his days were numbered, as in the north there were a large number of troops against him under Obregón and Carranza while in the centre troops under Zapata were mobilized. In the cities the workers are on the move, often unionized, the artisans who climb the barricades and a new inteligencia that is not positivist, but linked to socialist nationalist, indigenous and somewhat romantic ideas.

At this point the third plan is launched, called the Guadalupe Plan, which calls for the establishment of a constitutional government without mentioning social or agrarian reforms.

Among Carranza's supporters were Villa and Obregón launching a kind of assault on Mexico City, while in the south the Zapatistas mobilized and advanced on Mexico City. The government of Huerta was caught in a pincer movement; in 1914 Obregón entered the capital, forced Huerta to flee and installed Carranza in power.

Between 1914 and 1915, Carranza's "interregnum" was installed in power, but once he was in power the differences between all these groups would come to light since Carranzas did not achieve anything.

The Zapatistas are mobilizing behind the slogan "tierra y libertad. This movement is democratic and communitarian against the great land property, but not against the Catholic Church.

In the north, Pancho Villa looks more like a caudillo, his movement takes the haciendas, confiscating them, not giving them back to the peasants, but to his lieutenants to administer them for the benefit of the revolution.

Carranza and Obregón are men from Sonora who have little interest in agrarian issues, but rather are driven by urban, democratic, but also anticlerical forces against the Catholic Church.

Carranza's supporters are about 80,000 men, Villa's 500,000 men, and Zapata's 20,000 men less.

Zapata's body was exhibited in Cuautla (Morelos) on April 10, 1919.

Après 1914, les luttes entre ces différentes forces sont très intenses avec une alliance entre Villa et Zapata afin de prendre d’assaut la ville de Mexico. Ils seront chassés par les constitutionnalistes permettant à Carranza de reprendre le pouvoir très peu de temps après.

In 1919, Carranza lures Zapata into an ambush that leads to his murder; he has a little more distance to go against Villa, who can retreat to a hacienda; in 1923 it is Carranza's turn to be murdered. What must be seen is that Carranza is assassinated in 1923 just like Villa.

The main result of this first phase of the Mexican revolution was the adoption by an elected constituent assembly of a constitution in 1917 at the same time as the Bolshevik revolution broke out in Russia.

General Lázaro Cárdenas.

The constitution is largely written by Francisco Mujica, socialisant proche de Lazaro Cárdenas, he's a nationalist and progressive man. It is a liberal constitution that establishes a presidential system, while at the same time being the most social constitution of the time because it establishes the principle of agrarian reform, but also guarantees for workers and especially social protection.

It was also a nationalist constitution because it defined that the subsoil resources, including the oil exploited at the time by the British and Americans, belonged to the nation, while limiting the property of foreigners.

The other important dimension of this constitution is that it is secular and even anticlerical, suppressing the privileges of the Catholic Church.

Carranza then in power, during the rest of his reign did very little to enforce this constitution, in addition he tried to maintain himself illegally in power leading to his assassination in 1920 when he tried to flee taking part of the national treasure with him.

At that time, Obregón was the only living and powerful man who became president almost instantly. However, the country was ravaged by civil war, with estimates ranging from 1 to 1.5 million dead, or 10-15% of the total population; everyone suffered from the war and many were displaced.

The railways will play a predominant role in this revolution as they allow the transport of combatants. Women are also going to be involved in the struggle, some of whom will take part in the fighting; it is a revolution that is costing many lives.

1920 - 1934 : The years of the Sonorians[edit | edit source]

Project[edit | edit source]

It is a bloody revolution that will be followed between 1920 and 1934 by the years of the sonorians. These were fifteen years during which Sonora men governed the country, it was a region undergoing modernization and they wanted to transform Mexico into another California.

Modernization is a Mexico with a prosperous agriculture and irrigation, roads, technology, and bank credits. They are not looking at industrialization of Mexico except for a few agricultural products, their program is somehow not very different from the porfiriato program. Still, it's a national program that's run by Mexicans, not by foreign investors.

Following the 1921 and 1929 crises, there will be the forced return of Mexican workers from the United States; they are more or less succeeding in carrying out some of their reforms, per capita production is multiplied by five years in the north, in the centre this is more problematic, because there is in fact a regression in food production and all this for years where the Mexican population doubles from 20 million in 1920 to 40 million in 1940.

Socially, the sonorians seek to control the working classes through integration rather than repression as under Porifirio Diaz. The number of peasants affected by the reform is large, as is the extent of the land, which is relatively sparsely populated; however, 10% of the peasantry, 40% of the village community benefits from the agrarian reform, being particularly in the centre of the country where Zapatism has been strong.

Towards the workers, the government uses a mixture of control, co-optation and repression, the main trade union is gradually coming under the control of the Minister of Industry, while the socialist, anarchist and communist unions are harshly repressed and the right to strike is restricted.

Independent political parties are neutralised by the formation of the National Revolutionary Party, the institutional National Revolutionary Party's forerunner, which will dominate until the 2000s.

On the army side, the rural guard at Diaz is replaced by a new national army.

Building Mexican nationalism[edit | edit source]

It was during these years that revolutionary Mexico built a nationalism based on its mixed race and Indian roots. This is something very original that is happening in the Americas, we are in an era where every country, every ethnic group is trying to show that it is a nation with its race, culture, language, art and territory.

Fresque by Diego Rivera.

It is also the same period when in the United States racism and the Ku Klux Klan are being revived, and when Mexico glorifies interbreeding and revalorizes, among others, the Maya and the Aztecs and their great urban civilizations as the foundations of the country's history.

What is interesting to see is that in 1917, when the constitution was formed, the government opened an anthropology office that also dealt with archaeology and studied the various indigenous communities that enriched Mexican culture.

This celebration of crossbreeding was carried out under the aegis of Vasconcelos, who was Minister of Education between 1921 and 1924. He is best known for his work La Raza Comisca[8] which he published in 1925 imagining the cosmic race made up of mixed race, Europeans, Indians and Africans.

That was the time when intellectuals in Europe and the United States were declaring that whites should dominate the world; it was a bold thing for the time, but that doesn't mean that Vasconcelos is not racist, because he thought that in the long term the Indians and Africans will disappear because they will be absorbed by the mixed race and the whites in order to re-found the Mexicans in a cosmic race.

Diego Rivera with Frida Kahlo, his third wife.

At the same time, we are still in the ideology where we think that education can improve the race and especially the Indians, it was at that time that Vasconcelos among others had pushed the education of the country a lot.

All this was first done at school, just as after the French Revolution, the Mexican revolution was convinced that the school teacher would replace the priest, becoming the link between the citizens and the State.

Under Vasconcelos, education accounted for up to 14% of the national budget, schools were opened in villages, itinerant teachers were sent out to remote areas, evening schools were opened to teach adults to read and write, and libraries were opened with works by Mexican authors. Between 1921 and 1934, the illiteracy rate fell from 72% to 62% and almost half of the children went to school.

The other major axis in order to develop the national culture is the arts, the government mobilizes artists, musicians, singers, sculptors to promote the national consciousness paying them materials and providing them with buildings on which the artists will illustrate the epic of the Mexican people, it is a revised epic where the Maya and Aztec past will be glorified and the colonial past will be condemned; some artists will become artists of international audience such as Diego Rivera, Orozco or Frida Kahlho.

All this unique national art movement in Latin America is fundamental in the formation of "mexicanidad", the national pride and independence of the country and in the beginning of the acceptance of the elites in popular culture; it is a movement that continues until 1940 having repercussions throughout Latin America with the populisms.

The government of Lázaro Cárdenas, 1934 - 1940[edit | edit source]

Lázaro Cárdenas.

It is a government by a man who comes from Michoacán, who came to power after the crisis of 1929, who was military during the revolution, but who knows well the needs of the small peasantry of the South, a man who remains modest, at least in appearance, and who does not seek to get rich.

Unlike the sonorians, Cárdenas believes in dialogue and the power of conviction travelling throughout the country. Under Cárdenas, the great spike of the agrarian revolution took place, redistributing 18 million hectares in six years, almost double what was distributed between 1915 and 1934; in 1940, 47% of the country's cultivated land belonged to village and indigenous communities.

This policy allowed the regime to ally itself with the small peasantry; Cárdenas also unified the trade unions and integrated socialists and communists into a pro-government workers' centre.

In the field of education, he continued the policies begun under the ministry of Vasconcelos; compared to the Catholic Church, he was much more conciliatory than the anticlerical sonorians who let the churches function almost autonomously.

Cárdenas was most innovative in relation to the United States, because after a series of strikes in which the big American and English companies refused government arbitration, in 1938 Cárdenas nationalized the oil industry.

In response, the United States and France boycotted Mexican oil while England broke off diplomatic relations. It is felt that war will break out, but the great powers will go further not wanting to alienate Mexico at this key moment in history; the nationalization of oil produces a national union that unites everyone behind Cárdenas, from bishops to socialist university students.

Cárdenas also reformed the governing party, making this revolutionary party the precursor of the Institutional Revolutionary Party to which he attached the peasants and the workers' unions.

In 1938, a good part of the Mexican revolutionary project of state building, national integration and national capitalism was achieved. The revolution changed the country profoundly, moreover the Mexican revolution shows the importance of Mexico for all the Americas and many Latin American countries are trying to imitate some of these policies.

The year 1938 was the apogee of the Mexican revolution, but the governments that followed the government of Cárdenas would quickly destroy the achievements of the revolution, especially its agrarian revolution.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

  • Posada, et al. “La Revolución Mexicana y Los Estados Unidos En Las Colecciones De La Biblioteca Del Congreso El Ascenso De Francisco Madero.” El Ascenso De Francisco Madero - La Revolución Mexicana y Los Estados Unidos En Las Colecciones De La Biblioteca Del Congreso | Exposiciones - La Biblioteca Del Congreso, www.loc.gov/exhibits/mexican-revolution-and-the-united-states/rise-madero-sp.html.

References[edit | edit source]