In his classic work on the Mexican Revolution, Adolfo Gilly describes the manner in which petty bourgeois military officers of the revolutionary army were able to acquire land. The agrarian reform law of January 6, 1915 mandated the restoration of land unjustly appropriated during the regime of Porfirio Díaz. Gilly notes that the law stipulated that all claims for the restitution of land should be addressed, not to the elected village officials as was being done in Zapatist controlled areas in Morelos, but to the governors of each state. In addition, the law permitted claimants to address “senior officials specially authorized by the Executive Power.” This centralization of the decision-making process in the executive branches of the state and federal governments “was the foothold for a huge land-seizure operation conducted by Constitutionalist generals, senior officers, functionaries, and politicians. The most direct beneficiaries of the ‘agrarian reform,’ they would enrich themselves with a voracity comparable to that of the bourgeoisie in the great French Revolution,” constituting a landholding nouveaux rich that came to be known as the “revolutionary bourgeoisie” (Gilly 2005:187, 333).
Gilly further writes: “The officers of Carranza’s army had enriched themselves by buying up the best lands of the old Porfirian oligarchy at knockdown prices, while the agrarian redistribution for which the peasants had fought the revolution barely went further than the parchment of the Constitution. Under Obregón, this system of capitalist class formation reached quite scandalous proportions, and state-organized plunder became a veritable national institution through such forms as economic concessions, handouts, public contracts, and even more brazen diversion of public funds. The postrevolutionary bourgeoisie developed through this peculiar system of ‘primitive accumulation’ . . . then invested its gain in banking, industrial, and commercial concerns and went on enriching itself by the normal mechanism of capital accumulation. Forces newly attached to the state political apparatus then took their turn to become capitalists through the plunder of state funds” (2005:325).
Thus the state apparatus was central to the formation and growth of the Mexican bourgeoisie. The large landholders were excluded from the state, displaced from power by the rising petit bourgeoisie from the provinces. The victorious provincial petit bourgeoisie legitimated its rule by recalling its leadership role in the armed struggle and by adopting popular revolutionary rhetoric (Gilly 2005:333).
The failure of the Mexican Revolution to triumph as a popular revolution was rooted in particular disadvantages, which we will highlight in a subsequent post. And we also will note that the Vietnamese and Cuban revolutions, in different historical and social conditions, were able to maintain the popular direction of the revolution at the critical moment of its triumph, thus consolidating popular revolutions.
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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