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What Revolution?

30 November 2007

The Mexican Revolution was really three or four revolutions depending on how you define a revolution – but not one of them was a real revolution.

For John Ross, the 1910-20 (plus or minus) Revolution wasn’t “real” because “The class structure remained unaltered”. I’m not sure a change in class structure is the only thing revolutions do, and though the PAN administrations tend to pick leaders from the same old families that were in power before the Revolution (Creels, Terrazas, etc.) in the North, the class structure certainly did change.

It might not have changed the way Zapata or Villa intended (if they had any vision of the future in mind), but Revolutions don’t always work out quite as intended. The French Revolution gave the world Napoleon Bonaparte — which wasn’t exactly what the sans-culottes had in mind when they storned the Bastille, but that’s how Revolutions go… they don’t follow text books (especially text books written after the fact).

And there has been a huge change in “class structure” — Mexico is a middle-class country and it does offer more social mobility than most. Granted, if you’re born poor, you’re likely to stay that way, and — as Malcolm Forbes noted about the United States — the best way to make a large fortune is to inherit one — but families do move from rural poor to lower middle class or from lower to upper middle class quite regularly. Get on the Metro in Mexico City, and you see elderly indigenous grannies being squired by well-dressed (and much taller) grandsons carrying cell phones and the other acourtements of the modern urban middle-class.

The United States has only had one President who wasn’t a wealthy white Protestant (and he was a very wealthy white Catholic) and only a few (Van Buren, the Roosevelts and Eisenhower) who weren’t Anglo-Saxon. I guess the American Revolution never happened either.

How much did Mao’s Revolution really change China? The same bureaucratic elite that have ruled the country (and screwed over the peasants) for the last few millenia still run things, and the bureaucratic elite is doing an even more thorough job of undoing the economic changes brought in by Mao than any worshiper at the altar of NAFTA would envision for Mexico.

First the PRI and now Calderon’s PAN steal one election after another with impunity just like Porfirio Diaz did back in 1910.

SO? It’s a contradiction in terms.  Since when do Revolutions permit the opposition to form parties or win elections?  Even in the United States, you won’t find a political party that doesn’t buy the prevailing corporate capitalist model allowed on most state ballots. And the Mexican Revolution managed to incorporate some contradictory elements (Mexican businessmen seeking to break foreign control of their markets, urban anarchists, middle-class farmers, intellectuals, etc.), but did not “buy” any particular foreign ideology.  If anything, that makes it more authentic a revolution, not less.

Neither the Soviet Union nor the Islamic Republic of Iran have completely fair elections, but I’d be hard pressed to say that the Russian or Iranian Revolutions were “unreal”. And I’m not sure what stolen elections have to do with anything. Although Madero’s 1910 Revolution began with a call for term limits, the electorial process had very little to do with the Revolution. I can’t see where electorial process was necessary to the Revolution — and the term limits were made sacrosanct (the faces change, the parties remain forever). Zapata, for one, never trusted elections (nor do the present-day Zapatistas — that weird amalgamon of Stalinists, Indigenists and reactionaries). I’ve always thought that had Zapata by some fluke been in charge, he would have been the Pol Pot of Mexico — Villa and Zapata’s “celebrated meeting under an Ahuehuete tree on a “chinampa” (floating island) in the southern district of Xochimilco,” may be “… considered the apogee of all the Mexican revolutions.” by Ross, but, c’mon… the purpose of their meeting was to decide who they wanted to eliminate (and they did purge their own ranks).

Pancho Villa was no fan of electorial politics either. If he had any ideology, it was more in line with Leon Trotsky’s call for permanent revolution, using a threat of violence to keep “benign dictators” in line.

I’m a little disappointed in Ross’ article. I think Mexico could have done more, and still should do more — and I have complained about the recent return to “Porfirian” ways. It’s tempting to assume, that because the War of Independence started in 1810 and the Revolution in 1910 that another revolution (one more in line with European and U.S. academic categories) will start in 2010. Sorry, but a series of two does not indicate a trend. It indicates … a series of two.

There is a sizable dissident faction within Mexico, and there could be violent protests (a la Oaxaca 2006… but also a la Bajio 1920, nationwide 1852,1872, 1988…) which says nothing about the 1910 Revolution. And, Mexico’s leadership (those “elites” who are going to come out on top everywhere in the world no matter what — unless, like Haiti or Cambodia, you kill them off) has always worked out a compromise. Sometimes, they’ve been forced to compromise at the point of a gun — as they were between 1910 and 1920 — but that doesn’t mean there weren’t huge changes in Mexican culture and society coming out of the 1910 Revolution.

It was real.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. el_longhorn permalink
    30 November 2007 3:00 pm

    I read Ross in the Texas Observer every once in a while. He is a good writer who obviously knows Mexico, but he has tunnel vision – as does most of the American left. Ross and others have created a theoretical model of how politics and economics are supposed to work, and then they try to cram the historical facts into their model. Anything that doesn’t fit that model is dismissed. Can we please get some fresh thinking around here?

    That’s why I like MexFiles. As you point out, Mexico is becoming largely a middle class society – like it or not. This is OK!!! It is not a corporate American plot, it is not the cultural death of Mexico, it is a society that is growing and changing. These changes bring new opportunities and new problems. I can’t stand the contempt this generates from the left, who seem to want to freeze Mexico in some pre-colombian fantasy past.

    The AMLO-Cardenas issue runs throughout Ross’s piece, too. Even assuming there was fraud that pushed Cardenas over the top, there is just no denying that Cardenas received the support of about a third of Mexicans, unless you think that every scientific poll done in Mexico was part of the conspiracy against AMLO. I wish the American left would stop pretending that AMLO had some kind of broad mandate. He did not. His support was about equal to that of Cardenas.

  2. 30 November 2007 3:51 pm

    “His support was about equal to that of Cardenas.”

    Did you mean Calderón? AMLO and “FeCal” both received about 35% of the vote in the last Presidential election (and I’m one of those who thinks AMLO was robbed). I suspect AMLO’s support NOW is closer to what Cardenás (Cuautemoc, not Lazaro) had after 1988 — about 20% of the people. But the “left” (in Mexican terms, not those of us foreigners) probably enjoys the support of about 2/3rds of the VOTERS (I’d guess among people in general, it’s about 50-50 for the two broad visions of “left” and “right” — though with groups like the Zapatistas, you have extremely reactionary concepts like voting by concensus considered “leftist”)

    You’re right, that what bothered me was the way we gringos (left and right) try to fit Mexico into our categories of understanding — AMLO is not AL Gore and the 2006 Mexican election was not the 2000 U.S. election.

    I’m grateful as always for your support, and thankful you understand why a foreigner felt compelled to start a site like this — “Alas poor Mexico, so far from God, so badly reported in the United States.”

  3. el_longhorn permalink
    30 November 2007 5:00 pm

    Cardenas? Damn…I meant Calderon, or FeCal, as you like to call him. I am waiting to see how he does before I adopt that nickname for him 😉

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