- Although some historians have tried to downplay the ‘popular’, agrarian side of the revolution, it is difficult, in the end, to deny that it did involve massive, and extremely violent, rural rebellions. These ‘rural’ social movements were not all of the same kind, and some rural regions remained quite tranquil during the revolution, until they were disturbed by the interventions of revolutionary armies from outside. Some of these ‘quiet’ regions, like the Yucatan, were places where the most vicious and brutal forms of exploitation of rural people took place, so there is definitely something to explain here. They had also been explosive earlier in the 19th century. Nevertheless, the scale and extensiveness of agrarian movements alone makes it difficult to sustain this ‘revisionist’ view that the agrarian side wasn’t really important. And if we go on to try to gauge the impact of the agrarian movements on Mexico’s subsequent social development, this view seems even harder to sustain.
- On the other hand, a purely ‘agrarian’ model of the Mexican revolution seems equally unsatisfactory. Firstly, there’s the problem of the non-peasant leaderships who play such a prominent part in the affair. Secondly, there’s the problem of actually describing some of the popular forces which fought in the revolution in agrarian terms. Pancho Villa’s popular army from the North was made up of people who were very different from the Indian peasant villagers who formed the core of the forces of Emiliano Zapata in the South. Local ‘revolutionary’ bands, particularly in the North, might be made up of people from different social classes within a community - landowners, shopkeepers, miners and cowboys: it looks as if what we’ve got here are entire local communities revolting against something, and that ‘something’ would more plausibly be the central state in Mexico City. ‘Class relations’, in the sense of economic inequalities, may not be central to all forms of popular mobilization - or at any rate, class divisions within the local community are overriden by oppositions between the community as a whole and the larger society which may not be exclusively oppositions of class.
- Even more important, perhaps, is the difficulty of analysing the Mexican revolution in terms of the kind of teleological, ‘world historical’ formulation so deeply entrenched in western thought about social revolutions. This is reflected in a famous analysis presented by Adolfo Gilly. Gilly subscribes to a general model of the necessary movement of history. First we have ‘feudalism’, then bourgeois revolution, then proletarian revolution. As Gilly acknowledges, Mexico doesn’t fit neatly into either the ‘bourgeois’ or ‘proletarian’ pigeon-hole. Its outcome is not a transition to socialism, but it’s equally hard, Gilly suggests, to see pre-revolutionary Mexico as ‘feudal’, and interpret the revolution as ‘bourgeois’. So Gilly describes the Mexican revolution as ‘mixed’, a kind of ‘half-way house’ between bourgeois and proletarian revolution: it failed to secure the breakthrough to a new social order provided by the later 20th century revolutions, because its ‘mass’ base was ‘peasant’: nevertheless, the participation of the masses gave it a very different character to anything which had happened in history before.
Apr 21st, 2015
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