Reviewed by Dominic Alexander
June 23 2011
Cockcroft is a veteran activist and scholar of Mexican history, politics and culture. This short, clear but densely-textured book epitomises the Mexican revolution and its history through to today, argues Dominic Alexander.
The first twenty years of the twentieth century were decades of revolution that set the terms of world politics perhaps for the rest of the century. The most familiar events would be the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917, but others of world importance include the Chinese revolution of 1911, and the German revolution of 1918-19. To these should be added Mexico’s revolution that began in 1910. Like all great revolutions it is difficult to pinpoint its precise end. Did it close with the creation of the progressive constitution in 1917, or with the assassination of Zapata (1919) and the collapse of the insurgent peasant armies? Should it be extended to the suppression of the reactionary Catholic revolts of the late 1920s (shades of the Vendée in the French revolution)? Perhaps the stable point was 1929 and the creation of the PRM, later renamed the Institutional Party of the Revolution (PRI), which ruled Mexico continuously until 2000. Finally, perhaps 1940, and the culmination of the Mexican equivalent of the New Deal under President Cárdenas, marks the point where the social struggles sparked by the revolution were tamed by the ruling class.
Yet for many Mexicans the revolution has never truly ended, as the promise of the 1917 constitution was never realised. This constitution is indeed moribund in today’s Mexico, where, according to Cockcroft, present levels of violence committed, sponsored or just allowed by the state amount to ‘governability by force, against the law – and the majority of the population is aware of that’ (author’s emphasis, p.120). Disgust with the corrupt political system erupted spectacularly in the Mexico City Zocalo protests against the stolen election of 2006 (the left-wing candidate, López Obrador, officially lost by a tiny margin), in which demonstrators established a three-month long ‘popular assembly and vigil’. Protests have continued with a ‘takeover’ of Mexico City in 2009 modelled on the 1914 occupation of the city by the forces of revolutionary leaders Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata.
Cockcroft is a veteran activist and scholar of Mexican history, politics and culture, and this short, clear but densely-textured book epitomises the Mexican revolution and its history through to today. This is of great value since the revolution and its unfolding relevance deserves to be more widely understood. Most will know that Trotsky eventually took refuge in Mexico, but it is less well known that this was the direct result of the recent revolution. If the regime in power by the 1930s was not genuinely revolutionary, the social forces unleashed by the revolution had not been entirely suppressed or contained. It was therefore useful for President Cárdenas to make an anti-imperialist gesture, such as giving refuge to an internationally-renowned revolutionary….
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