Autonomous Class Struggle in Mexico 1810-1911




This is a dissertation I had to write for the bourgeois Academy. I suppose they thought they were training me to be some kind of small time boss. I was mainly actually their to avoid wage labour and engage in radical activity. Luckily many of the workers their were revolutionaries and helped me to establish my ideas. This essay was originally titled “How did the political-economic structural transformations in Mexico from War of Independence to the Revolution influence the nature of workers’ resistance movements?” and was probably the work i put most effort into.



This is a historical analysis of political-economic structural transformations in Mexico, in the two centuries from it’s birth as a nation state in the 1810s to the beginning of the Revolutionary period. Using a historical materialist framework of analysis we understand developments at the political level to be intimately connected to changes in the mode of economic production in society. This relationship is not a simple causal one, with economic developments automatically leading to corresponding political ones, but a complex dialectical relationship in which each “sphere” affects the other, both being understood as part of the same overall totality.


The class nature of Mexican society is a main focus of this essay. In general society is understood as being made up of a majority of productive labourers, the working class, and a minority elite class living of the surplus produced by the workers, having appropriated it coercively by means of a monopoly on State power. However, within this general framework there are many possibilities for variation. There are different modes of production, different forms of surplus extraction and corresponding different categories of both workers and exploiters. There are also different corresponding middling layers, and the competing interests of each of these different categories makes itself visible to us on the political level.


The movements of all social classes play their part in bringing about political-economic transformations, but here we are especially concerned with those of the very lowest castes of Mexican society, what Gramsci called “subaltern classes”. The stories of the struggles of  the Mexican indigenous/Mestizo peasantry and urban proletariat present us with stories of popular heroism than shine as an example to oppressed people in the rest of the world. We will see how the aims and conceptions of these movements evolved over time, and discuss how the lessons learned from previous struggles informed those of later generations.


From a historical materialist perspective we can identify several main strata of society of their general class interests. The peasantry, who work on the same land they live on, have generally aimed for a lesser degree of exploitation by means of a decrease in the amount of surplus that is extracted from them. The most advanced expression of this has been the call for the complete abolition of the landlord class, and the complete political control of the land by those who work it, as elaborated by Flores Magon and others.


The proletariat, those who either in an urban or rural environment live by wage labour, have generally aimed for a more favourable ratio of wages to labour time, or intensity of labour. Aside from this general conflict between labourers and capitalists, workers of different degrees of privilege have often had conflicts, with the less privileged struggling for an end to discrimination based on such factors as gender, nationality or skill level, and the more privileged struggling to maintain their position. The most advanced and conscious expression of the proletariat’s interest has been the call of the revolutionary socialist and anarchist movements for class unity and the seizing of the means of production by the workers.


Capitalists and landlords themselves, whilst both struggling to maintain the highest possible level of exploitation of the proletariat and peasantry, have also come into conflict over the relative degree of political influence they have had. As capitalist modes of production increasingly predominated, landlords came under new pressure to either conform to the new system or to resist the power of the capitalists. The middle classes of professionals, small business owners and administrators, have also sought to increase their own level of political influence, and have often proved a crucial element in the wider struggles between the working and ruling classes. Middle class movements have often sought the support of lower sections of society, or have been coveted for support by sections of the ruling class. At times sections of the middle, or even ruling class, have given genuine assistance to movements of the most oppressed, either out of a Machiavellian tactical interest or for reasons of ideology.


Ideology is an extremely important element, because at the political level class interests are not usually explicitly expressed. Concepts of democracy, tradition, nationalism, progress, justice or religion are generally invoked as the true cause of the conflict, and not always cynically. Allegiances between classes have often been more on the basis of a shared commitment to a set of ideals than on genuinely shared class interests. In fact, the resonance amongst subaltern classes of the ideals expressed by a faction of a higher class is often what has made the exploited act directly against their own interest, by helping to bring about a situation of even worse exploitation for themselves.


It is here that the concept of autonomy is important. It is when subaltern classes have taken direct action in their own interest without being deceived or co-opted by a leadership caste with motives separate from their own, that we can speak of an autonomous social movement. Autonomous social movements can come about both spontaneously and as a result of propaganda by groups actively seeking to promote their development, such as the anarchists. They can even start as a mobilisation of a subaltern class by an elite faction seeking to use it for their own ends and who are then unable to control it, as we shall see in our first case study of Manuel Hidalgo’s peasant movement.




Before the Mexican war of independence the vast majority of the wealth produced in the region flowed directly back toSpain, the colonial power. The political system inMexicowas nothing more than an extension of the Spanish Feudal system, to the extent that native born Spanish nobles dominated all of social life. Creoles, people of Spanish decent but born inMexico, were excluded from many positions of wealth and influence and thus grew resentful, even revolutionary. But they themselves were incomparably privileged compared with the great masses of society, the labouring classes, made up of indigenous and Mestizo (mixed) people.


It was on their labour that the comfort and wealth of the Spanish and Creole ruling elites depended, on their labour thatMexico’s reputation as a jewel in the Spanish crown was founded. Under the Feudal system most Mexicans were essentially slaves, subject to various systems of indentured labour. The majority were agricultural workers on big haciendas owned by Spanish landlords, with industrial labourers mainly confined to the mines of the North.


Some indigenous (Indian, the term inMexicodoes not have the same negative connotations as in theUS) communities did still have their own lands and thus a degree of economic independence. But their country was nonetheless occupied by a powerful imperialist force that had conquered their ancestors centuries before and could beat them easily in a military confrontation.

The native people ofMexicowere seen by the colonists as inherently inferior, the original attitudes towards them of the Conquistadores having changed little in over three centuries. They were seen as stupid, unholy, dirty and subhuman by their colonial oppressors who imagined themselves to be civilised even as they lived by the sweat and blood of others. The authority of the Catholic Church was inextricably linked to the power of the State in colonialMexicoand historically the church had justified the domination of the native people of theAmericaswith the notion that they were sinners worshiping false Gods, and by converting them to Christianity through armed conquest the Spanish were benevolently saving their souls.


One might imagine, given this context of overbearing oppression, denigration and exploitation by a foreign power that the War of Independence amounted to the liberation of the indigenous and Mestizo people ofMexicofrom the institutions of Spanish power. In fact the outcome of the War was simply the replacement of native Spanish-born nobles by Creoles as the dominant class. The structures of land-ownership, labour relations and the general disposition of economic production towards exports remained essentially the same, as did the lot of the working classes who remained poor, uneducated and in a position of what amounted to slavery.


But though the outcome of the war failed to deliver liberty to the workers, this does not mean they did not seek it. For the workers liberty meant control over the means of production, and in this preindustrial economy that meant control of land. During the War of independence many indigenous and mestizo agricultural workers did indeed seek to claim land for themselves and to destroy the structures of domination. In this they were fighting for their own direct interests, not those of the Creole class who eventually came out on top, and their movements could not be controlled by those figures that would have liked to imagine themselves as leaders, such as Miguel Hidalgo.



Hidalgowas a Catholic priest, one of the few with genuine sympathy for the indigenous people, even if it was sympathy of a paternalistic kind. He had studied the progressive liberal works of the day that had made their way to Mexicofrom Europe, where the Enlightenment was in full swing, and was a member of a tertulia or radical reading group of other Creoles in the city of Querétaro[1].

The Queretarogroup conspired to overthrow the Napoleonic government that ruled Mexicosince the invasion of Spainby France, and to restore a monarchy for Mexicounder Ferdinand VII, the deposed Spanish king. This was hardly a proletarian manifesto. As educated Creoles the Querétaro group were already amongst the privileged elite, just not quite as high up as the Peninsulares, or Spanish born nobles who ranMexico. To call for a return for the monarchy was to call for a maintenance of the basic status quo with a bit more opportunity for Creoles to gain increased privileges within the monarchist system, especially if they had successfully restored it.

However, all did not go according to the Monarchist rebel’s plans. The Napoleonic authorities discovered their conspiracy, forcing them to escalate their tactics earlier than they had planned. Two days laterHidalgomade a public speech to a congregation of mostly indigenous and Mestizo peasants in the down of Dolores, calling for an armed revolt for Mexican independence. This was known as the Grito del Dolores, or Cry of Dolores, though poetically it could also be translated as the Cry of Pain.

Hidalgo’s grito opened up a can of worms for him, in that the motivations for the peasant’s he had assembled to fight for him were much different from those of the original Querétaro groups[2]. The peasants were an exploited labour force in a country dominated by a political system from which they were completely excluded, in a culture that vilified them. Many of them therefore had an anger at the system that would not be calmed merely at the prospect of achieving some reforms of the monarchical system and an end to Napoleonic rule.

This difference in aims between the base and leadership of the early independence movement, was not so much expressed in slogans and manifestos (after all hardly any peasants were literate) as it was through praxis. During attacks on towns the peasant army frequently acted on their own initiative, raiding and looting towns, attacking symbols of power and massacring members of the ruling classes. This frightened Hidalgo, but to remain in a position of leadership he had to move with the increasingly radical movement, at least to some extent. He declared that he supported to seizure of lands owned by Penisulares and for use by the peasantry and the abolition of Slavery[3].

These additional economic demands were certainly more in the peasants’ interest. It was they who were effectively slaves, and it was they who would stand to benefit from seizing Penisulares lands. Nonetheless, these demands were not framed by the peasant’s themselves and fell short of a call for full emancipation of the peasantry. The limits of these demands highlight the limits of the class alliance between a Creole elite and more subaltern classes. By seizing penisulares lands Creoles would be weakening their rivals economically and strengthening their own position. Also by ending “Slavery” there would be the opportunity forMexicoto experiment with new capitalistic techniques of labour exploitation via the wage system. It was Creole elites who stood to gain from incorporation ofMexicointo the world capitalist market, for as the new ruling class of a country that had just broken ties withSpain, they would need other buyers for goods produced byMexico’s export driven economy.

The movement underHidalgomarked the beginning of the war for independence and achieved several important military victories, owing largely to the ferocity of the peasant warriors.Hidalgoand by extension the entire movement, was excommunicated from the Church for their activities.Hidalgowas a weak leader, with leadership falling to Jose Maria Morelos. He remained leader until the eventual victory overSpainand helped establish a constitutional monarchy, the First Mexican Empire. This constituted a new nation state, led by a ruling class made up mainly of Creole landowners. The ruling classes were far from united though, and as we shall see,Mexicowas torn apart by internal political conflicts for the next 50 years.

Not all peasant movements at this time were mere footsoldiers for Creole aims, however. In the Yucatanregion there was a movement for actual self government at the community level in communities where indigenous Maya peasants were the majority[4]. The region had already strong traditions of municipal autonomy through the institution of the republicas de indios, a colonial institution giving indigenous people some right to self-government. Both Maya and Spanish traditions were important in this, as the Maya’s had had no central authority for two decades.

In Yucatanthere were few haciendas and Creole landowners were generally smaller scale and much closer to Mayan people than large-scale haciendados, in that many spoke Mayan languages and interacted with the Maya daily in social life[5]. Thus the movement for municipal autonomy which developed throughout the nineteenth century was in some respects a class alliance, though obviously there were different motivations behind the different actors.

From 1812-14 there were a series of rebellions in the Yucatan, after which both Mayas and Creoles together developed elaborate municipal funding systems[6]. Though the movement was crushed eventually when Ferdinand VII returned to the throne, it was a shared experience for the participants that would be an important model for things to come.

The war of independence was thus a period of intense upheaval pf the previous political-economic structure of the Spanish Colonial regime. Those class forces best positioned to exploit the situation for their own ends were Creole elites rather. Subaltern classes such as the peasantry in failed to form their own independent movements that could articulate their class interests. This meant that their passionate efforts to fight for liberation only aided Creole movements, thus supporting the interests of landowners, which were contrary to their own.

Early Independence


The first few decades of Mexican independence were turbulent times with many power shifts within the ruling class. The head of State changed many times through violent means such as coups and civil wars.


Ideological splits within the ruling class included divisions between liberals and conservatives over the role of the Church, and centralists and federalists over the form of the State. A federalist constitution was created in 1824, but tendencies towards centralism amongst powerful elites were strong, as it consolidated their power on a local level. Many of the official heads of state during this period were merely opportunistic generals who seized power.

Antonio López de Santa Anna is particularly significant example of this in the era, becoming head of state on eleven different occasions, usually through armed force and constantly shifting political allegiances and making and breaking promises to maintain support.  During one of his reigns in 1834 there were uprisings in several parts ofMexico, most significantly in theYucatanandTexaswhere movements for independence developed. The Texan independence movement laid the ground for the Mexican American war, which eventually lostMexicoover half of it’s territory.  Santa Anna was again in power during most of the War, having been deposed, exiled and then returned on a promise not to assume power, which he broke. He lead the Mexican army to near victory against the American’s at one point, but had to return to Mexico city to quash a rebellion against him there, sabotaging the war effort.


As well as becoming drastically geographically restructured, Mexico also changed constitutions several times during this period, so it’s hard to speak of any long term continuity of State strategies with regard to economic production in this period. One major macro-level shift that can be identified however, is the trend towards exporting to other imperialist powers besidesSpain, such as theUSandBritain. This contributed towards the gradual shift towards a more capitalist economy. However, because of all the political disruption many wealthy Mexicans in this period chose to invest in large scale agriculture, as it was more of a stable investment than industry, delaying Mexico’s industrial development.


Therefore the mode of production in most ofMexicowas still fairly feudal in terms of the relations of production. Some indigenous communities still kept their own communal land, but the majority of the population were tenant farmers or indebted labourers. In general they had no access to the political realm at the national level. It is notable that areas where there were the strongest movements against the government, Texas, Yucatan, Guerrero, were all places where a strong cultural tradition existed, in Yucatan and Guerrero, that of the indigenous people, and in Texas that of white immigrants from the United States.


The State of Guerrerowas the scene of a well organised rebel peasant movement, originating in the area of Chilapa, where there was a majority of indigenous people still living on their own lands[7]. Local disputes with centralist landowners meant that indigenous leaders increasing formed ties with federalism, and even developed an alternative interpretation of what it meant than that of elite Creole federalists. For Creoles federalism meant decentralisation of power to the regional level, for the indigenous it meant much further decentralisation to the level of the municipality, or local town or village government[8].


When Santa Anna, backed by centralists, demanded a tax increase in 1843, it sparked a wave of unrest that saw peasants formulating their own political proclamations for the first time. In the war of independence it had been Creoles like Hidalgowho had done the work of issuing statements such as the Grito de Dolores. However, in Guerrero in the 1840’s those peasants who were literate issued a series of “plans” similar to those issued by contemporary military generals when they wanted to start a coup. The “plans” drawn up by the peasant rebels synthesised local peasant concerns with wider nationalist federalist rhetoric that would appeal to Creole elites[9].


This suggests a development in political consciousness since the time of Hidalgo, as peasants now identified their own direct aims with a wider political strategy involving other actors. This strategy became increasingly revolutionary as “plans” moved from suggesting reforms to calling for the overthrow of the government. The peasant movement helped overthrow Santa Anna by following the federalist Plan de Jalisco,[10] written by elite Creoles who were swept into power on the back of it. However, this was overthrown a year later by another centralist wanting to impose large taxes on the peasantry, sparking off more revolutionary unrest. Peasant rebels in Guerrero also later played a role in finally getting rid of Santa Anna once and for all in the Plan de Ayutla.


In theYucatanthings were slightly different. Here peasants also connected their immediate local struggles with a wider national policy, but it was one of complete independence from the Mexican state rather than just a federalist reform of it.


The region had a much higher indigenous population from most of the rest of Mexicowith a strong cultural identity dating back to the Maya civilisation. There municipal government gave people a greater degree of autonomy in terms of access to decision making structures. As mentioned before, there was a strong movement towards municipal autonomy during the war of independence that involved both Mayans and Creoles. However by the 1840s definite class distinctions had emerged within the structures of municipal autonomy. Traditional landed elites manipulated the structures of municipal power, through such means as literacy qualifications for participation, which excluded poorer Creoles and most Mayans[11]. The 1840s was a decade of political violence in theYucatan region based around struggles of access to power and challenging the labour regime.


Much of this was directed against local priests who played an important role in the supply of cheap labour to landowners. The Church demanded tithes from everyone in the parish, leading many poor peasants into debt. Wealthy farmers seeking short time labour power could simply pay off a peasants’ debt to the priest in exchange for the right to use his labour for a set period[12]. Though the priest were clearly class enemies of the peasant’s in this respect, the focus on targeting priests was also in part due to Creole leaderships of the movement for municipal autonomy wishing to divert attention away from themselves and their own role in subduing the labour force.


The movement was so widespread throughout the region that another attempt at forming an independent state away fromMexicowas made. This ultimately failed, with the rebel forces suffering military defeat by the State, but some communities remained autonomous for several decades. The experience of this social movement played a big role in laying the background to the Caste War in theYucatanin later years.


The first few decades of independence saw a failure of ruling elites to form long time allegiances or a coherent national economic policy. This delayed the development of a capitalist mode of production inMexico, at a time when other parts of the world were developing rapidly. The power of big landowners was still strong, as was that of the church, and the federalist and liberal factions of the Creole elite were mobilised against these issues. There were many instances of peasant uprisings in this period, and signs that the peasantry were developing their political organisational ability, for example the writing of Plans and political proclamations on the part of peasant leaders. Independent indigenous communities were strong, and defence of their interests was a powerful mobilising factor.

In the Central south this led to alliances between Liberals and some peasant leaders. The common basis for action was in a shared desire for political decentralisation and opposition to taxes introduced by conservative governments such as that of Santa Anna. However, the convergence in interests was more illusory than real, with peasants demands for autonomy at the municipal level not necessarily shared. In theYucatanas well, peasants united with some sections of Creole elites around demands for municipal autonomy, but again the class interests behind this were contradictory.


La Reforma 1854-76


Santa Anna was finally deposed for the last time in 1854 by an armed political faction of Liberals following the Plan of Ayutla. Internal civil wars between Liberals and Conservatives continued for at least a decade after. Liberals generally supported a transition to a more capitalist economy, with a “free” labour force, whilst conservatives wanted to retain older feudal-style relationships between landowners and tenant farmers. Conservatives also generally supported the traditional power of the church whereas liberals wanted a secular state, which the achieved with the Constitution of 1855, though church lands remained intact. Liberals were victorious in their wars against the conservatives, and so the Mexican state had more of a definitive approach to economics than it had previously had a chance to.


The Liberal constitution also removed legal protections of indigenous people’s lands, which coupled with a rising population created an ever larger mobile workforce, or proletariat. By the 1860’s a third of indigenous people in Chiapashad become temporary workers[13]. This accompanied by state support for the development of industry through tariff reform helped create the conditions for a capitalistic mode of production, at least in the affected sectors: mining, railroads and textiles.


The Liberals period of progressive reform and running a stable state apparatus was disrupted by another invasion by an imperialist power, this timeFrance, supporting the Hapsburg Emperor Maximilian’s claim to the Mexican throne.  Creole elites eventually successfully defeated the French militarily, though it is uncertain what the reaction of subaltern classes to the French invasion was.


The most notable act class violence in this period was what became known as the Caste War in the Mayan regions of Chiapasand the Yucatan. This lasted for several years throughout the 1860’s, with mainly Mayans attacking symbols of Creole power. This suggests that the class alliances that had formed key parts of previous social movements in the Yucatanhad broken apart and represents a shift towards Mayan peasant self-awareness as a separate social force. In Chiapasat least the Caste War lead to Creole elites putting aside their factional differences as Liberals and Conservatives and uniting in defence of the State against the indigenous masses[14].


The symbolism of the Chiapasmovement was quite developed and disturbing. The revolt began with a new religious cult claiming that Gods had declared that Creoles were the enemy, and that a young Mayan man must be Crucified. In a bizarre and horrible subversion of the central myth of Christianity, a Mayan was indeed Crucified by his peers and became a symbol of the movement. Dianne Nelson describes this as an example of “negative consciousness”, when a subaltern class simply inverts the symbols of their oppressor. There are obvious limitations to this as an ideology of liberation, for instead of challenging the existence of hierarchical power in general, instead the symbolic poles are simply reversed with an “Indian Jesus” replacing a white one as the symbol of authority[15].


This religious cult only existed inChiapashowever, and the 1860’s also give us an example of another ideological development amongst the subaltern classes ofMexico: the emergence of revolutionary anarchist and socialist doctrines.


In 1869 a peasant revolutionary called Chavez Lopez issued a manifesto calling for peasants to rise against the state, church and landowning classes and expropriate lands for themselves. His movement was small, consisting of only around 1500 men in the region between Pueblaand Chalco[16]. It is also significant in that Lopez sought the support of all the peasantry, recognising a common class interest that he hoped could win out over sectional interest. This is particularly important with regard to acasillado peasants. These were labourers bound by debt to hacienda owners. This may seem like unbearable slavery to modern people but in fact acasillados were relatively privileged in comparison to other workers. They had job security and enjoyed some degree of patronage from the hacendados, whereas landless peasants or tenant farmers were much less secure and desperate. It is for this reason that there are hardly any accounts of uprisings by acasillados, only by other types of rural workers[17]. However, Chavez Lopez specifically tried to recruit them to his movement, though there is no evidence to suggest how successful he actually was. His movement was eventually crushed within a year and he was executed by gunshot while crying “Viva el socialismo”[18].


The Reforma period marks the beginning of the slow formation of a hegemonic ruling class inMexicowith a shared economic agenda. This was interrupted by continuing wars between the liberals and conservatives and the French invasion. At this time in theYucatanindigenous peasants fought a mass movement in their own direct interests, seeing Creole elites as enemies rather than allies. Fear of the indigenous peasantry created incentives for Liberal and Conservative to cooperate to defend their elite privileges against them. The period of Liberal dominance saw a constitutional change removing protection of indigenous lands, thereby undermining the traditional basis for popular resistance. This helped start the creation of a landless proletarian mass, which along with government incentives for the development of industry through tariff reform, aided the transition towards a more capitalistic mode of production in many parts ofMexico.


The Porfiriato 1876-1911


Porfiro Diaz was a progressive dictator, for whom Liberalism and Democracy were not necessarily synonymous. He had been an important military general in the War against the French and had been considered that time a revolutionary. Once in power however, he changed the constitution to allow himself to be reelected, despite having originally won the presidential elections under the slogan of “no-elections”. Through vote rigging and repression of political opposition he managed to remain in power until 1911.

Under Diaz the Mexican state grew and took on new roles. A class of technocrats called cientificos developed, influenced by modernist ideas of progress: positivism, capitalism, technology[19]. The Porfiriato marks a rapid period of industrial capitalist development forMexico. Railways were build, the mining industry intensified, oil extraction began, telegraph networks installed and factories built.


All this was done through unquestionably capitalistic arrangement. Foreign capitalists invested heavily in Mexican industry for and agriculture during the period, expecting to make a profit, and workers were all paid in wages for set hours, in contrast to how things worked in the haciendas. This new industrial working class was made up by the masses of now displaced peasants, without their own lands and struggling to find a way to survive in the face of the competition for work in the countryside. These new proletarians had to find new ways of struggling, as nothing akin to the tight-knit village communities that had been the nucleus of previous movements was present in their new surroundings. The forms of struggle associated with peasant movements did not suit the new mode of production.


In theUnited Statesindustrial takeoff had developed much earlier and traditions of trades unionism were already present in the American working class. Thus when Diaz encouraged American railroad workers to come and help build the Mexican railway system (which after all was being built by American companies), they brought with them the first labour unions inMexico’s history.


At first the American unions did not allow Mexicans to join[20]. American workers had considerable privileges in the workplace that they wanted to maintain: higher rates of pay, access to better jobs, and bosses who spoke the same language as them, despite being in a foreign country. The comparative advancement of Mexican workers was seen as a threat to these privileges.


Mexican workers had their own tradition of mutual aid societies, where workers would pool together money to help each other out in hard times. These were not political organisations that would only ever seek to relate to management on cooperative terms, which suited the bosses just fine[21].


They were so cooperative in fact that they were used by bosses to mobilise Mexican workers to act as scabs when the American unions went on strike. This caused the Americans to reconsider their position and eventually allow Mexicans to join. However, Mexicans within the unions still found themselves being discriminated against and so decided to start their own independent unions instead.


Experiences like these gave the Mexican labour movement a strong tendency towards a nationalistic and anti-american sentiment[22]. Even socialist and anarchist influence worker’s press played up to these sentiments, which was understandable given that so many American companies were exploiting the labour ofMexico’s industrial workforces.


The Mexican organised labour movement grew rapidly in size and effectiveness during Diaz’s reign. Around the turn of the 20th century it was capable of causing serious national disruption as in the waves of confrontational strikes in 1906. Diaz’s government was ruthless in dealing with the labour movement, suppressing publications accused of having “socialist” leanings and sending in troops against striking workers. These years of struggle against foreign capitalists and the state helped fuel the revolutionary sentiment amongst industrial workers that was to explode. They were egged on by conscious propaganda by groups such as the Partido Liberal, which while officially a liberal political party in reality was dominated by anarchist communists the Flores Magon brothers. Along with other revolutionary socialists they called for workers control of industry and peasant’s control of land, to be achieved by violent revolutionary means[23]. These arguments were made without recourse to religious sentiment or simplistic inversions of ruling class ideology, and were very influential in the build up to the Mexican revolution and during it. This reflects a growth in general political consciousness amongst the working classes.


The capitalist mode of production and it’s corresponding social relations where not completely hegemonic inMexicoin this time. In fact there was a great increase in various forms of bonded labour during the Porfitirio, due the huge surplus of landless peasants.

There were a variety of factors determining the militancy of different sections of the rural workforce, including variations between different regions. In the South temporary workers were often migrants from different regions, speaking different indigenous languages from others at the workplace. Unfamiliarity with the terrain and disorientation due to cultural differences made it hard for tem to organise politically.


In the North the situation was different, as temporary workers had more options. They could work in the mines, in cattle or other livestock farms, or in the United States. Whenever one of these sources of work was unavailable they could simply switch to another. Only when all three were unavailable at the same time would there be unrest in the North on the part of landless workers. This is exactly what happened at the end of Diaz’s reign, precipitating the revolution.[24]


There were also regional differences in the dynamics between different kinds of workers. As mentioned above, in the Haciendas of the south acasillado peasants would often have greater loyalty to the landowners than temporary, or less privileged tenant workers. This meant acasillados generally refrained from joining the revolution, and often sided with landowners against the rebels. Other workers had to be tightly controlled by a system of armed guards, “recruiters” who would effectively press gang workers into the farms, and the State authority, to prevent workers running away and to bring them back when they did.


In the Northern pastoral farms, senior ranchers or cowboys were less relatively privileged compared with their underlings. Cowboys were in a position of much greater strength than landless peasants in south, as the requirements of their job included having a horse to ride and a gun to shoot, meaning it was relatively easy for them to just run away from work if the landowners abused them[25]. Cowboy rebels played an important role in the Revolution in the North, for example in Pancho Villa’s army.


Under the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, the coming together of interests of the ruling class was consolidated and the state’s role in maintaining the social order grew more developed. Industrialisation continued rapidly, benefiting mainly foreign investors, but at the same time the power of Mexican landowners was also consolidated.

The proletarianisation and immiseration of the masses during this period was great in both agriculture and industry, compounded by an increased population and “army of reserve labour power”. Conditions both on Haciendas and in the new industries were appalling, with little means for resistance.

The development of the Mexican trades union movement was slow to begin with but it’s activity escalated rapidly towards the end of Diaz’s reign. This marked a new form of subaltern resistance to economic oppression, with corresponding new ideologies based around class struggle rather than ethnic or religious sentiments. However, because of the nature of Mexican capitalism, with so many foreign businesses being key players inMexico’s industrial development, nationalistic sentiments became a key part of the rhetoric of the labour movement.

Active class-conscious revolutionary groups such as the Partido Liberal de Mexico, influenced by anarchist and socialist theory, represented a new stage in the political development ofMexico. The Partido Liberal was able to issue revolutionary manifesto’s outlining a programme for the entire working masses ofMexico, based around the direct seizure of the means of production. This was a huge improvement on the political proclamations of previous movements in terms of autonomy.




The scope of this essay has been very broad, making it difficult to give more that a cursory examination of the key facts of each period examined. We have seen that the first hundred years of Mexican history were a violent and constantly changing.

In terms of the State’s role in promoting Capitalist development, we have seen how the first few decades ofIndependencewere too fraught with constant regime changes, civil war and war with theUnited States, for any real economic strategy to emerge. In this chaotic context investment in industry was seen as too risky for many wealthy Mexicans, and so they generally invested in large scale hacienda farms, reinforcing feudal power relations in the countryside.

Independent indigenous villages represented a power base in the countryside that was important in the mobilisation of violent peasant movements throughout the period up until the 1860’s.

The ascendancy to power of a Liberal regime in the 1850’s that took active steps towards increasing foreign investment into Mexican industry, marked the beginning of the real change towards a capitalist economy. Throughout the second half of the 19th century a “reserve army of labour” was built up inMexico, exacerbated by an increasing population and increasing encroachment on indigenous lands by hacienda farmers.

This proletarian labour force was the source ofMexico’s increasing industrial and agricultural productivity. However, especially under Porfirio Diaz, the power of Hacienda owners grew along with that of Capitalists, both benefiting from the same abundance of cheap, or easily controllable labour.

The new industrial working class took time to develop its organisational ability, developing trades unions structures gradually and increasing their power over time until at the end of Porfirio Diaz’s regime there it was powerful enough to be a major political force. At the same time decades of unrelenting oppression had created an explosive situation amongst the certain sectors of the agricultural workforce, though there were great regional differences.

At the level of popular ideology we can trace an increased tendency towards class consciousness and away from reliance on leadership from the upper classes. The peasant’s followingHidalgomay have been acting on their own initiative much of the time but they could not formulate their own interests into a political programme. In the 1840’s peasants’ movements in the South began issuing their own Plans and proclamations in which they tried to express their own interests of tax relief and local self government in the language of the Liberal Federalist Creole movement.  Then during the reign of Diaz explicit class rhetoric began to be used through the socialist and anarchist press, such as Regeneration.


The outcome of all of these tendencies was the Mexican Revolution of 1810-20, a period of history too complex to be adequately summed up here. Suffice it to say that although Creole leaders such as Madero did manage to elicit some popular support, strong alternative political currents existed within subaltern classes towards struggle in their own class interest. The mass movement’s of peasants mobilised by Zapata and Pancho Villa who refused to give up struggling for peasant’s to control their own lands despite several changes in the official government during the revolutionary period are testament to this.


Thus the rapid development of Capitalism inMexicounder Diaz, which had been delayed for decades by the chaos of the post independence years, gave birth to the world’s first attempt at a nation wide socialist revolution, because of the class conflicts it inevitably stirred up.



1.       Ideas and Society in Don Porfirio’s Mexico- William D. Raat The AmericasVol. 30, No. 1 (Jul., 1973), pp. 32-53 Published by: Academy of American Franciscan History

2.       Rural Workers in Spanish America: Problems of Peonage and Oppression,ArnoldJ. Bauer, Source: The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 59, No. 1 (Feb., 1979), pp. 34-63, Published by: Duke University Press

  1. The Impact of United States Railroad Unions on Organized Labor and Government Policy in Mexico (1880-1911) -Lorena M. Parlee – The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Aug., 1984), pp. 443-475 Published by: Duke University Press


  1. Dreams of Freedom, a Ricardo Flores Magon reader, edited by Chaz Bufe and Mitchell Cowen Verter, AK press 2005.


  1. David Poole “Land and Liberty”, Ethel Turner and Rey Devis “Revolution in Baja California” and Armando Batra “Regeneración: 1900-1918” (all cited in the above)


6.       Labor Conditions on Haciendas in Porfirian Mexico: Some Trends and Tendencies, Friedrich Katz, The Hispanic American Historical Review   >  Vol. 54, No. 1, Feb., 1974  Duke University Press


  1. Crucifixion Stories, the 1869 Caste War of Chiapas, and Negative Consciousness: A Disruptive Subaltern Study, Author(s): Diane M. Nelson, Source: American Ethnologist, Vol. 24, No. 2 (May, 1997), pp. 331-354, Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association


  1. Barbarism or Republican Law? Guerrero’s Peasants and National Politics, 1820-1846, Author(s): Peter Guardino, Source: The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 75, No. 2 (May, 1995), pp. 185-213, Published by: Duke University Press
  2. Rural Political Violence and the Origins of the Caste War, Terry Rugeley, The Americas ,Vol. 53, No. 4, Apr., 1997, Pp. 469-496, Published by: Academy of American Franciscan History
  3. Kirkwood, Burton(2000). History of Mexico.Westport,CT,USA: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated
  4. Van Young, Eric (2001). Other Rebellion : Popular Violence and Ideology in Mexico, 1810-1821.Palo Alto,CA,USA:StanfordUniversity Press.
  5. John  M. Hart,  “Mexican  Agrarian  Precursors,”  The Americas,  29:2[October  1972],131- 150




[1] Kirkwood, Burton (2000). History of Mexico.Westport,CT,USA: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated

[2] Van Young, Eric (2001). Other Rebellion : Popular Violence and Ideology in Mexico, 1810-1821.Palo Alto,CA,USA:StanfordUniversity Press.

[3] Kirkwood, Burton (2000). History of Mexico.Westport,CT,USA: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated

[4] Rural Political Violence and the Origins of the Caste War, Terry Rugeley, The Americas ,

Vol. 53, No. 4, Apr., 1997, Pp. 469-496, Published by: Academy of American Franciscan History Pp 478


[5] Rugeley pp 475

[6] Rural Political Violence and the Origins of the Caste War, Terry Rugeley, The Americas ,

Vol. 53, No. 4, Apr., 1997, Pp. 469-496, Published by: Academy of American Franciscan History Pp 478

[7] Barbarism or Republican Law? Guerrero’s Peasants and National Politics, 1820-1846, Author(s): Peter Guardino, Source: The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 75, No. 2 (May, 1995), pp. 185-213, Published by: Duke University Press pp 188

[8] Guardino pp 204

[9] Guardino pp 205-7

[10] Guardino pp 202

[11] Rugeley pp 477

[12] Rugeley pp 475

[13] Nelson Pp 340

[14] Nelson pp 348

[15] Crucifixion Stories, the 1869 Caste War of Chiapas, and Negative Consciousness: A Disruptive Subaltern Study, Author(s): Diane M. Nelson, Source: American Ethnologist, Vol. 24, No. 2 (May, 1997), pp. 331-354, Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association


[16] John  M. Hart,  “Mexican  Agrarian  Precursors,”  The Americas,  29:2[October  1972],131- 150


[17] Labor Conditions on Haciendas in Porfirian Mexico: Some Trends and Tendencies, Friedrich Katz, The Hispanic American Historical Review   >  Vol. 54, No. 1, Feb., 1974  Duke University Press pp 44


[18] Dreams of Freedom, a Ricardo Flores Magon reader, edited by Chaz Bufe and Mitchell Cowen Verter, AK press 2005. They cite:  David Poole “Land andLiberty”, Ethel Turner and Rey Devis “Revolution inBaja California” and Armando Batra “Regeneración: 1900-1918 pp339


[19] Ideas and Society in Don Porfirio’s Mexico – William D. Raat The AmericasVol. 30, No. 1 (Jul., 1973), pp. 32-53, Published by: Academy of American Franciscan History

[20] The Impact of United States Railroad Unions on Organized Labor and Government Policy in Mexico (1880-1911) -Lorena M. Parlee – The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Aug., 1984), pp. 443-475 Published by: Duke University Press pp 450


[21] The Impact of United States Railroad Unions on Organized Labor and Government Policy in Mexico (1880-1911) -Lorena M. Parlee – The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Aug., 1984), pp. 443-475 Published by: Duke University Press pp 444


[22] Parlee pp 462

[23] Dreams of Freedom, a Ricardo Flores Magon reader, edited by Chaz Bufe and Mitchell Cowen Verter, AK press 2005.


[24] Katz 44-7

[25] Katz PP 35-6

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