The rapid construction of railways in Mexico beginning in 1880 through investment by British and US companies led to the formation of a modern working class, and it expanded as a result of foreign investments in the mining industry in the 1890s as well as the emergence of new industries in steel and electric power in the first decade of the twentieth century. The emerging working class formed labor organizations, organized strikes, and founded journals and newspapers, and in these activities they were influenced by the working class movement in Europe and by European social democracy. Their demands for the most part were focused on the wages and working conditions of workers (Gilly 2005:20-22, 28-39).
A potential in the evolution of the Mexican working class movement was represented by the Mexican Liberal Party (PLM), a petit bourgeois group headed by Ricardo Flores Magón, which was active in organizing workers’ strikes in 1906 and 1907 in Senora and Veracruz. The PLM program combined issues of workers with those of peasants: it called for a minimum wage, an eight-hour working day, a ban on child labor, and workers’ compensation insurance as well as the cancellation of peasant debts to landowners, the restitution of village land, the redistribution of unused land to peasants, and the protection of indigenous peoples. But the potential for a peasant-worker alliance represented by Flores Magón and the PLM was not realized. When Madero called an armed uprising in 1910 (see “The Mexican Revolution” 2/3/2014), Magonists organized an insurrection in Baja California, taking the cities of Mexicali y Tijuana. But the rebellion was isolated, and it was defeated in June 1911 by the federal army. In the critical year of 1914, when the revolutionary armies triumphed and the conflict among the revolutionary factions emerged (see “Peasant armies occupy Mexico City, 1914” 2/5/2014), Flores Magón was in exile in the United States (Gilly 2005:50-52, 86-88).
From 1911 to 1914, the working class movement was isolated from the two peasant armies of Villa and Zapata that were advancing the revolution. With the taking of Mexico City by revolutionary armies in 1914, the principal actors were the peasantry, the petit bourgeoisie, and the bourgeoisie. In 1915, workers’ organizations gave support to the Constitutionalist Army of Carranza, in exchange for concessions in regard to workers’ wages and conditions. They organized Red Battalions, which played a decisive role in the successful military campaign against the peasant army of Villa in 1915 (Gilly 2005:190-92; see “A peasant-worker alliance from above” 2/10/2014). Thus, instead of an alliance of workers and peasants organized from below, what occurred was armed conflict between workers and peasants, orchestrated from above.
Following the successful military campaign against Villa’s Northern Division, the government in 1916 turned against workers’ organizations and arrested leaders. In response, a three-day general strike by 90,000 workers in Mexico City broke out, the first general strike in the history of Mexico. And a National Workers Congress was called, attended by workers’ delegates from throughout the country, which approved the foundation of the Mexico Regional Federation of Labor. But these actions were carried out in isolation from the peasant struggle spearheaded by the Morelos Commune and the army of Zapata in the South and the guerilla war of Villa in the North. And the statutes of the Federation of Labor appear to affirm the proletarian class struggle without seeking to define the role of the proletariat in the context of the peasant revolution of Mexico (Gilly 2005:217-22).
Beginning in 1918 and with the transition from Carranza to Obregón (see “The consolidation of reform from above” 2/11/2014), workers organizations played a main role in the consolidation of the new class system led by the triumphant “revolutionary bourgeoisie” (Gilly 2005:223).
The secondary role of the working class in the Mexican Revolution suggests the need for further reflecting on the insights of Marx, who formulated his understanding on the basis of the emerging proletarian movement in Western Europe, a movement that was then at the forefront of popular struggles in opposition to the structures of the capitalist world-economy. But during the twentieth century, the workers’ movements of the core nations would become reformist, and Third World revolutions would move to the forefront of the global revolution. In the context of the colonial situation of the Third World, the revolutions would have characteristics different from those that Marx anticipated, in that the petit bourgeoisie and the peasantry would play a central role (see “The social & historical context of Marx” 1/15/2014). This is a theme that will be addressed further in future posts.
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.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Mexican Revolution, proletariat, working class, Ricardo Flores Magón