In Mexico, Gilly notes that the political ossification of the Porfirian regime blocked upward mobility by the petit bourgeoisie (2005:41). This gave rise to two tendencies within the petit bourgeoisie. First, an ascendant or opportunist tendency, which sought to take advantage of the peasant revolution to seize land and constitute itself as a new bourgeoisie (see “The new Mexican bourgeoisie of 1920” 2/12/2014). This tendency was most strongly represented among the officers of the Constitutionalist Army. Secondly, a revolutionary or Jacobin tendency, which could discern that the economic and social development of the nation, by promoting a higher standard of living for peasants and workers, would create possibilities for the expansion the petit bourgeoisie, in areas such as commerce, education, and health. Its presence was most strongly felt in the Conventionist government, established as an alternative to the Constitutionalist government in 1914, and in the Querétero Constitution of 1917, and it would later re-express itself in the Cardenas government of 1934-40. As we have seen, the revolutionary tendency was not sufficiently advanced to forge a unity based on a peasant-worker alliance from below. It was unable in 1914 to define a direction that would enable the revolution to be consolidated as a popular revolution.
The most promising possibility was represented by Ricardo Flores Magón. Born in 1873 in the state of Oaxaca, Flores Magón was the son of a mestizo military officer. The family relocated to Mexico City in 1881, and Flores Magón studied law in in the capital, although he did not complete his studies. He began to participate in protests against the Porfirian regime at age 19, and he forged a career as a revolutionary journalist and politician. In 1900, he founded with his brother Jesús the journal La Regeneración, which became an influential journal of opposition. In 1906, with his brother Enrique, he founded the Mexican Liberal Party, which organized strikes of miners in Senora and industrial workers in Vera Cruz in 1906 and 1907. Based in Los Angeles, California at the time of the breakout of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, the Magonists launched an insurrection in Baja California, taking the cities of Mexicali y Tijuana. But the insurrection was isolated from events elsewhere in Mexico, and it was overcome by the federal army. Flores Magón was forced to seek exile in the United States, where he was located in the critical year of 1914.
As we have seen (“The proletariat and the Mexican Revolution” 2/14/2014), the program of Flores Magon synthesized the goals of the peasant revolution with the demands of the working class organizations. Flores Magón combined all the components necessary for the forging of a united popular revolution: anti-imperialist nationalism, which was shared by the various tendencies, although sometimes violated by the bourgeoisie in pursuit of particular interests; an understanding and endorsement of the program of the peasant revolution; and an affirmation of the demands of the workers’ movement. And he combined intellectual work with militant political action.
Gilly maintains that the Magonists did not have sufficient material resources or organized forces to make their peasant-worker program a reality, and they did not have the means to establish contacts and form alliances with peasants in arms (2005:88). But it is possible that the isolation of Flores Magón was in part a consequence of a tendency toward sectarianism. Unlike Zapata, Flores Magón rejected the San Luis Plan issued by Maduro in 1910, in spite of its calling for land redistribution, because he considered it to be a bourgeois plan that did not have adequate social provisions. And there is some evidence that he did not accept an invitation by Zapata in 1913 to establish the headquarters of the Mexican Liberal Party and the publication of La Regeneración in Morelos, because he viewed the Zapatist project as merely a rural program of land redistribution, not adequate for the nation as a whole.
From today’s vantage point, on the basis of observation of popular revolutions of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, we can more fully understand the strategic decisions that Flores Magón faced. We can see that the popular revolutions that were able to sustain themselves adopted a strategy of forming alliances with various tendencies, and defining the right path in the context of the on-going struggle, unifying the people on the foundation of a national program. It is in this context that charismatic leaders emerge, defining the correct way and calling the people to its fulfillment, bringing on board most of the principal actors who emerge from the various tendencies. In addition, we can see today that sectarianism, or the tendency to disassociate from tendencies with insufficient revolutionary consciousness, created divisions in many popular revolutions of the twentieth century, and thus it should be considered an error that must be avoided.
Errors are an unavoidable component of revolutionary processes, and they do not take away from the heroic qualities of revolutionary leaders. Ricardo Flores Magón possessed the most advanced understanding of his time of the direction in which the Mexican Revolution ought to go in order to sustain itself as a popular revolution, an understanding to which he arrived as a consequence of his life commitment. The trajectory of his life can lead us to no other conclusion than that, in any strategic errors that he may have made, he was motivated by a desire to push the revolution in a popular direction, avoiding the pitfall of being channeled by bourgeois interests. In exile in the United States, Flores Magón published with Librado Rivera in 1918 a manifesto to the anarchists of the world, which led to his imprisonment. Suffering harsh prison conditions, he died in the federal penitentiary of Leavenworth, Kansas on November 20, 1922, at the age of 49.
When Zapata and Villa were in control of the nation in December 1914, they agreed to turn power over to the “educated people” of the Conventionist government, entrusting to them the task of carrying forward the popular revolution. But the revolutionary petit bourgeois Conventionists were confused and divided. There was not among them a leader who could show the way: an alliance of peasants and workers forged from below on the basis of a program that defends their interests. What would have happened if Ricardo Flores Magón, who possessed the understanding, the commitment, and the political experience, had been present? Is it possible that a charismatic leader, necessary for revolutionary processes, would have emerged?
Gilly, Adolfo. 2005. The Mexican Revolution. New York: The New Press. (Originally published as La Revolución Interrumpida by El Caballito, Mexico, in 1971).
"Ricardo Flores Magón." Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 [DVD]. Microsoft Corporation, 2008.
“Ricardo Flores Magón.” Wikipedia, la enciclopedia libre. Oct. 6, 2013.
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