Gilly’s classic work enables us to understand that the Mexican Revolution was a peasant revolution that culminated in the taking of power by a rising petit bourgeois class, mostly military officers of the revolutionary armies. This rising petit bourgeoisie would constitute itself as a new bourgeoisie and establish a new system of class rule, while preserving important progressive measures and significant concessions to workers and peasants.
The revolution began in 1910. Francisco Madero, a member of a rich family of landowners and industrialists, was a political reformer who called for free elections and a single-term presidency. When Porfirio Díaz rigged the election of June 1910 to have himself reelected, Madero, the opposition candidate, declared the election results null and void and proclaimed himself interim president. He issued a call to arms; and he called for the restoration of land, expropriated by an abusive law, to their original owners, most of whom were indigenous peasants (Gilly 2005:54-55).
Madero’s call stimulated peasant uprisings throughout the country, including the formation of small peasant armed units that attacked the federal army and well as the armed appropriation of haciendas by peasants. Two important peasant leaders who emerged were Pancho Villa, who led peasant armed units in the northern state of Chihuahua; and Emiliano Zapata, who led seizures of haciendas in the southern state of Morelos (Gilly 2005:55-56).
Madero, however, made an agreement with Porfirio Díaz in May 2011, which stipulated the resignation of Porfirio, the organization of general elections, and a cease-fire between governmental and revolutionary forces. Inasmuch as the accord made no mention of the land question, the seizure of haciendas by armed peasants continued. Whereas the bourgeois opposition considered the uprising to be over, for the peasants the revolution had just begun (Gilly 2005:57-59).
From 2011 to 2014, armies led by Villa and Zapata advanced and took control of the northern and central regions of the country. But the revolutionary army led by Alvaro Obregón, who was part of the moderate sector of the nationalist petty bourgeoisie, occupied Mexico City. Conflict between bourgeois and petit bourgeois moderates and reformers, on the one side, and the radical nationalist petit bourgeoisie, peasants and workers, on the other, led to the breakout of fighting among the revolutionary armies, resulting in the retreat of Obregón’s army from Mexico City, which was subsequently occupied by the armies of Villa and Zapata (Gilly 2005).
Thus by December 1914, the two peasant armies controlled the northern and central regions of the country, and they occupied the capital. But the peasant leaders did not take political power. They turned power over to the petit bourgeoisie, which was composed of various ideological currents. Not taking the power that was in their hands, the peasant leaders took the first step toward the ultimate triumph of reformism under the direction of the new bourgeoisie being formed from the petty bourgeois sector connected to the revolutionary army. The result was a new class system that made concessions to the peasants and workers, but in which delegates representing peasants and workers were excluded from power (Gilly 2005).
Thus the Mexican Revolution overthrew the old ruling estate bourgeoisie, but it established rule by a new bourgeoisie and not rule by the popular classes and sectors. To accomplish rule by the popular classes, an alliance of peasants and workers, forged by the revolutionary sector of the petit bourgeoisie, was required. We will be examining in subsequent posts the factors that prevented the formation of such an alliance.
Gilly, Adolfo. 2005. The Mexican Revolution. New York: The New Press. (Originally published as La Revolución Interrumpida by El Caballito, Mexico, in 1971).
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