But the peasants did not arrive to power. As we have seen in various posts since February 3, the ascending sector of the petit bourgeoisie, concentrated among the officers of the Revolutionary Constitutionalist Army, was able to take advantage of the changes provoked by the peasant revolution to seize land and to constitute themselves as a new elite in a new political-economic system, characterized by revolutionary rhetoric and modest concessions to working class demands.
In addition to being understood as a frustrated peasant revolution, the Mexican Revolution can be understood as a nationalist anti-imperialist revolution. Anti-imperialist nationalism was a perspective shared by the various competing and conflicting tendencies. The liquidation of the landholding oligarchy had nationalist implications, inasmuch as that the estate bourgeoisie had commercial ties with foreign enterprises and tended to serve as direct agents of imperialist interests. Reflecting a nationalist perspective, the Constitutionalist government in 1914 tripled the tax on foreign-owned petroleum companies, and in 1915 it issued decrees designed to control foreign investments in land, oil, and minerals (Gilly 2005:212, 214).
The administration of President Lázaro Cardenas (1934-40) represented an attempt by the revolutionary sector of the petit bourgeoisie to revitalize the Mexican Revolution. It nationalized the petroleum industry and stimulated the development of industry, the expansion of the domestic market, and the strengthening of workers´ organizations. In addition, an agrarian reform program converted twenty million hectares of land into cooperatives. However, the rapid growth of rural and urban consumption provoked a high inflation, a situation that was used by international and national opponents of the project. President Manuel Ávilo Camacho (1940-46) reversed many of the Cardenast reforms, although he did so with a populist rhetoric that obscured his intentions (Harperin 2002:413-15).
During the 1940s and 1950s, the Mexican government functioned relatively well as a developmentalist state that was typical of Latin America during the period. From 1960 to 1980, there occurred the metamorphoses of the Mexican state from a developmentalist state into a neoliberal state, displacing from power those sectors of the Mexican national bourgeoisie most oriented to the strengthening of the domestic market. This period was characterized by the privatization of state enterprises and by the oppression of those elements of the Left opposed to the process of de-nationalization (Regalado 2008:44-45).
Thus, the Mexican Revolution can be understood as having two phases. The first was the period of 1910 to 1920, during which a peasant revolution facilitated that the ascending sector of the petit bourgeoisie could constitute itself as a new ruling elite. During this phase, there were three significant revolutionary developments: (1) The alternative political structures and land redistribution of the Zapatist commune in Morelos, which was brought to an end through military occupation from 1916 to 1919; (2) the 1917 Constitution, which affirmed the goals of the peasant revolution and the workers’ movement, reflecting the influence of the revolutionary sector of the petit bourgeoisie, but which was for the most part was not implemented, a reflection of the influence of the ascending sector of the petit bourgeoisie; and (3) nationalist policies designed to protect natural resources before imperialist interests. The second phase of the Mexican Revolution was the period of 1934 to 1940, during which there occurred a renewed struggle by the revolutionary sector of the petit bourgeoisie to implement the goals enshrined in the 1917 Constitution, which up to that point had simply functioned as rhetoric to obtain the support of workers and peasants for the project of the ascending petit bourgeoisie. However, many of the gains of 1934 to 1940 were soon reversed. The second phase also was characterized by a deepening of nationalist policies in opposition to imperialist interest, which were erased in the transition to neoliberalism following 1960.
In spite of its incapacity to sustain itself as a popular revolution, the Mexican Revolution was an event that transcended the frontiers of Mexico. It inspired and influenced revolutionaries in Cuba in the 1920s, such as Julio Antonio Mella and Antonio Guiteras, and it inspired the indigenous rebellion in El Salvador of 1929-32. These nations later would forge revolutionary movements that would challenge the structures of the neocolonial world-system, as we will discuss in future posts.
The memory of Emiliano Zapata was invoked in Chiapas in 1994, when a new stage of the Latin American popular struggle was inaugurated with the Zapatista rebellion. This new stage was characterized by popular mass demonstrations throughout the region in opposition to free trade agreements and the neoliberal project. After 1998, beginning with the election of Hugo Chávez as president of Venezuela, the popular struggle would pass to a more advanced stage, in which progressive and leftist parties and organizations would arrive to participate in government, establishing a situation in which many Latin America governments, to a greater or lesser degree, are seeking to bring to an end the structures of neocolonialism, thereby establishing the definitive independence of the region (Regalado 2010). The new political reality of Latin America is a theme that we will discuss in future posts.
Although the Mexican Revolution ultimately was contained by the structures of the neocolonial world-system, it was an advanced expression of popular aspirations for a more just and democratic world. It remains an event of universal significance, which should be studied as we seek to understand the components and dynamics that are necessary for advancing the global popular revolution of our time.
Gilly, Adolfo. 2005. The Mexican Revolution. New York: The New Press. (Originally published as La Revolución Interrumpida by El Caballito, Mexico, in 1971).
Halperin Donghi, Tulio. 2002. Historia contemporánea de América Latina. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.
Regalado, Roberto. 2007. Latin America at the Crossroads: Domination, Crisis, Popular Movements, and Political Alternatives. New York: Ocean Press.
__________. 2008. Encuentros y desencuentros de la izquierda latinoamericana: Una mirada desde el Foro de São Paulo. México D.F.: Ocean Sur.
__________. 2010. “Gobierno y poder en América Latina hoy,” Curso de actualización: América Latina: entre el cambio y la restauración conservadora, Centro de Investigaciones de Política Internacional, La Habana, Cuba, 22 de noviembre de 2010.
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