This year marks the hundredth
anniversary of one of the great events in modern history. On November
20th of 1910 Francisco I. Madero denounced the electoral fraud
perpetrated by President Díaz and called for a national insurrection.
This marked the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. Today, the
conditions have matured for another revolution, this time with a mighty
proletariat at its head.
dominated by a small elite that held in its hands the lion’s share of
its wealth, while the majority of the population lived in conditions of
crushing poverty. Under the leadership of General Porfiro Díaz, the rift
between rich and poor became transformed into an unbridgeable abyss.
Opposition to Díaz emerged under the leadership of the liberal
bourgeoisie, people like Madero. But the real motor force of the
revolution came from below. The infant Mexican working class was
beginning to find its feet. Important labour struggles, starting with
the Cananea miners’ strike, were shaking Mexico. Feeling the ground
quake beneath his feet, Díaz was forced to hold an election in 1910, but
in order to make sure he won it he threw his main opponent, Madero, in
After fleeing from prison, Madero continued his battle against Díaz.
He declared that the elections had been fraudulent and called for a
national uprising against the Porfiriato. But the struggle for
democracy, in order to succeed, had to be linked to the most urgent
demands of the majority of the population – the peasantry. The peasants’
struggle for land was the real motor force for the bourgeois-democratic
revolution. The peasant armies of Pancho Villa in the north,
and the peasant leader Emiliano Zapata in the south harassed
the Mexican army in a classical guerrilla war.
The permanent revolution
It is not possible to understand the Mexican Revolution without
reference to Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution. The essence
of this is that the colonial bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie of the
backward countries are incapable of carrying out the tasks of the
bourgeois democratic revolution. This is because of their links
with the landlords and the imperialists. The banks have mortgages on the
land, industrialists have landed estates in the country, the landlords
invest in industry and the whole is entangled together and linked with
imperialism in a web of vested interests opposed to big change.
is why, although Russia in 1917 was a backward country like Mexico, the
task of carrying out the bourgeois-democratic revolution fell on the
shoulders of the proletariat. But the proletariat, having conquered
power at the head of the peasantry and the majority of the nation, could
not stop at the accomplishment of the bourgeois-democratic tasks of
expropriating the landowners, unifying the nation, and expelling the
imperialists. It passed on immediately to the socialist tasks
expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the setting up of a workers’ state.
This was the only way in which the enormous potential of the
Mexican Revolution could have led to a complete social transformation.
The weakness of the Mexican revolution was the weakness of a peasant
revolution. The peasantry was strong enough to overthrow the existing
order, but not to put its decisive stamp upon Mexico’s historical
destiny. This is no exception to the rule. Ever since the Peasants’
Revolt in Fourteenth Century England and the Peasant War in Germany in
the Sixteenth Century, all history shows that the peasantry is not
capable of playing an independent role. Ultimately, the outcome of the
struggle is decided in the towns and cities, not in scattered rural
The peasantry, by its very nature a class of individuals not bound
together by production, is therefore the perfect instrument for
bourgeois or proletarian Bonapartism. It is a class that can be
manipulated and deceived. For most of history, the fate of the peasantry
has been to play second fiddle to the bourgeoisie, which has used the
peasantry as a battering ram to overthrow its feudal enemies, and to
install itself in power.
Such was the rottenness of the existing order that the insurgents
succeeded in wresting control from the government forces in their
respective regions. The peasant insurgency spread like wildfire. The
peasant armies of Zapata showed tremendous courage and determination
fighting against the old oppressors. But in the end the revolution was
taken over by the bourgeoisie and its political representatives.
Díaz was forced to recognise defeat and resigned in May, 1911. He
then fled to France after the signing of the Treaty of Ciudad Juárez,
and Madero, the Mexican Kerensky, was elected president. But the new
bourgeois government did not satisfy the expectations of an aroused
peasantry. Under the leadership of the real hero of the Mexican
revolution, Emiliano Zapata, the peasant war continued. Madero’s appeals
to the peasants to wait patiently for an orderly land reform fell on
deaf ears. The peasants had already heard too many empty promises from
men in power who pretended to have their interests at heart.
A revolutionary war
In November 1911 Madero had assumed power, but he was arrested and
executed by reactionary army officers. This provoked a new peasant
uprising, which wiped out the remnants of the Porfirista army. Zapata
moved to take power in the state of Morelos, where he carried out a
revolutionary agrarian programme. He drove out the landowners and
distributed their lands among the peasants. Zapata used guerrilla
tactics, but Villa’s Division del Norte was more like an army. The
armies of both Zapata and Villa were very well organized and defeated
superior forces because they were revolutionary armies, waging a
revolutionary war against the exploiters. This is a point that is often
obscured in the official histories of the Mexican revolution.
most decisive role in the revolution was played by the oppressed and
the poor (peasants as well as rural labourers). These were the poorest
of the poor, people with very limited formal education. Brought to their
feet by the revolution, the men and women of no property fought like
tigers. Poorly armed and without formal military skills, they inflicted
one defeat after another on the government forces in spite of the
latter’s machine guns, artillery and professional officers.
We see the same story repeated time after time in the history of
revolutions. How did the barefoot volunteers of the Convention defeat
the armies of royalist Europe? How did the untrained American militias
hold in check the mercenaries of King George? How did the Bolshevik Red
Army defeat the 21 armies of foreign intervention in 1917-20? In every
case, the revolutionary armies prevailed because they were inspired by a
burning desire to sacrifice everything – including their lives ‑ for
the cause of the revolution. By contrast the apparently formidable
armies of the old regime were armies of hired mercenaries or slaves
compelled to fight for something they did not believe in.
The agrarian revolution could have been the basis for a complete
social overturn in Mexico, on the lines of the Bolshevik revolution of
1917. But there was a difference with Russia: the absence of a Bolshevik
Party, like the party that under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky
led the Russian workers and peasants to power in November 1917.Unlike
Russia, the Mexican peasants failed to find a revolutionary leadership
in the towns in the form of the proletariat under the guidance of a
Leninist Party. Thus, all the heroism and sacrifice of the peasants
merely served as a stepping stone upon which the Mexican bourgeoisie
raised itself to power. But once having installed itself in the
Presidential Palace, the bourgeoisie began to prepare the betrayal of
its peasant allies.
The upper stratum of the Mexican bourgeoisie was alarmed that the
revolutionary movement of the masses was getting out of control. They
feared (correctly) that the revolutionary solution of the land question
could be the starting point of an all-out assault on private property
itself. They therefore decided to put a stop to it. Their first act was
to get rid of the most courageous leader of the revolutionary peasants.
In 1919, Zapata was assassinated by Jesus Guajardo acting under orders
from General Pablo Gonzalez. The murder of the peasant leader was a
clear indication of the counterrevolutionary character of the Carranza
What happened next cruelly exposes the limitations of a purely
peasant revolution. The murder of Zapata deprived the peasant movement
of any possibility of developing into a coherent centralised force.
Zapata had no party, and his removal was intended by the ruling class to
disorganize and atomise the revolutionary movement in the countryside.
It succeeded. The revolutionary movement splintered into many different
factions. The fate of the peasantry – and the Mexican revolution – was
to be decided elsewhere and by other class forces.
motor force of the Revolution, suffered a decisive defeat at the hands
of the bourgeois factions around Obregon and Carranza. Thereafter, the
entire country degenerated into a state of chaos, with Pancho Villa’s
forces rampaging through the north, and different factions fighting for
control of the state. Isolated guerrilla units roamed across the country
destroying and burning down many large haciendas and ranchos. At times,
it was difficult to distinguish genuine revolutionary guerrillas from
Society cannot exist in a state of permanent instability. The
bourgeois yearned for “order”. The masses were exhausted and their
leaders had no perspective. The unstable balance of forces was
eventually settled by the victory of the bourgeois politician Venustiano
Carranza, who, in 1917, took over the presidency and passed a new
Constitution. The Constitution of 1917, which is still formally in
effect today, marked the victory of the bourgeois democratic revolution
in Mexico. Its central point was land reform, which, in the form of the ejido
(farming cooperatives), carried out the redistribution of a large
portion of the land held by the wealthy land holders to the peasants.
By this measure, the Mexican bourgeois succeeded in defusing the
situation and demobilizing the peasant revolutionary armies. The
peasants looked upon this as a victory. But it was the bourgeoisie that
was the real victor. It succeeded in making itself master of the state.
But in so doing, it had to be careful to appeal to the revolutionary
instincts of the masses, both the peasants and, to a certain extent, the
Just as the French Revolution ended in the rule of Napoleon
Bonaparte, so the Mexican Revolution ended in a bourgeois regime with
clear Bonapartist features. The bourgeoisie thus carried through a
counterrevolution under the banner of the Revolution, which thus became
an Institution. The PRI itself, the so-called Revolutionary
Institutional Party, was a Bonapartist party, through which the Mexican
bourgeoisie, having seized state power on the backs of a popular
revolution, sought to disguise its class rule by skilfully balancing
between the classes.
In a way that has few precedents in history, the bourgeoisie
developed political deception and demagogy to a fine art. After
Carranza, other leaders continued to carry out reforms, for example in
education and land distribution. By skilfully manoeuvring between the
classes, the bourgeoisie managed to achieve a degree of stability that
was exceptional in Latin America and lasted for generations.
As the bastard child of the Mexican Revolution, the PRI, while
representing the class interests of the national bourgeoisie, always had
a left wing, which leaned on the workers and peasants to strike blows
against imperialism. One of the most radical of these left leaders was
General Cardenas, the man who invited Trotsky to take up residence in
Mexico, when every other “democratic” government in the world had shut
its doors against him. Cardenas was undoubtedly a genuine revolutionary
democrat, who nationalized the Mexican oil industry in 1938.
Cardenas went very far in his policy of nationalisation, leaning on
the revolutionary masses to strike blows against imperialism. He never
ceased to be a bourgeois revolutionary, but he showed great courage in
fighting imperialism, for which Trotsky expressed the warmest
admiration. The heritage of Lazaro Cardenas provided the PRI with a
solid base of support, which lasted for decades. It is the secret of the
relative stability that Mexican capitalism enjoyed until recently. For
seven decades the PRI ruled supreme, through a combination of cunning,
corruption and carefully organised violence. But now all that is over. A
new and turbulent period opens up for Mexico.
The heritage we defend
The 1910-20 revolution was a great leap forward for Mexico. It partly
solved the agrarian question – although not entirely. It destroyed the
power of the old corrupt oligarchy that had misruled Mexico for decades.
It laid the basis for a further development of capitalism and
industrialisation, and therefore for the creation of the mighty Mexican
proletariat. But ultimately, the revolution remained incomplete,
unfinished and botched.
failure was the absence of a strong revolutionary class in the urban
centres, capable of providing a coherent leadership to the stormy and
heroic movement of the revolutionary peasantry. The nascent movement of
the Mexican proletariat was as yet in its infancy. Its immature and
undeveloped state was reflected by the domination of the anarchists, who
displayed their usual confusion in relation to the
One hundred years later, the situation is completely different. The
majority of the population now lives in towns and cities. The specific
weight of the proletariat is a thousand times greater. Together with the
semi-proletarian masses and the urban and rural poor, the working class
constitutes the decisive majority of society. Today the only class that
really stands for the traditions of Zapata and the Mexican Revolution
is the proletariat, which has potentially the power to transform society
from top to bottom. But in order that this colossal potential should
become reality, certain things are necessary.
In every modern society, the power of the working class is manifest.
It is a necessary produce of modern industry and the relations of
production that have been established by capitalism itself. In modern
society, not a wheel turns, not a light bulb shines, not a telephone
rings without the kind permission of the working class. This is a
colossal power, but the workers do not realize that they possess such
Let us draw a parallel with nature. Steam, too, is an enormous power.
It is the basis of the Industrial Revolution. But steam is only a power
in reality, as opposed to a mere potential power, when it is harnessed
and concentrated in one point – through a piston box. In the absence of
this mechanism, steam will merely dissipate uselessly into the
atmosphere. The political equivalent of a piston box is a revolutionary
party with a revolutionary leadership.
be shown from recent Mexican history. The immense power of the working
class was seen in the mass movement of 2006.Those events brought
forcefully to the fore the central importance of leadership. The Mexican
ruling class, and its pay masters in Washington, were terrified of the
victory of Lopez Obrador, the left-wing PRD candidate. They therefore
took steps to rig the elections.
As everybody knows, there is nothing new in this. It would be a
difficult task to point to an election in Mexico that was not rigged!
Yet this time it was different. Millions of Mexicans came out onto the
streets to protest against electoral fraud. They camped on the Zocalo
and refused to leave, defying all the attempts of the authorities to
move them. This magnificent movement of the masses had the potential to
lead to a genuinely revolutionary movement.
All that was required was to call a general strike, set up
democratically elected action committees of workers, peasants,
unemployed, women and youth, and the way would have been open for the
transfer of power to the workers and peasants. But this was not done,
the energies of the masses gradually evaporated like steam in the
atmosphere, and the opportunity was lost.
However, that is not the end of the story. The Calderon government
cannot do what the bourgeoisie did in the past. The crisis of capitalism
means it has no room for manoeuvre. It is compelled to attack the
living standards and rights of the Mexican people. That is the reason
for the brutal attack on the electricians’ trade union. But the Mexican
workers will not remain with their arms folded while the bankers and
capitalists destroy all they have won in the past. The stage is set for
new and violent class struggles that will put the events of the first
Mexican Revolution in the shade.
A new Mexican Revolution – the Socialist Revolution – is being
prepared. This will have an impact that is a thousand times greater than
the first Mexican Revolution. It will send shock waves through all
Central and South America, provoking a revolutionary upsurge everywhere.
The effects of a proletarian revolution in Mexico will not halt at the
Long ago, Porfiro Diaz uttered the celebrated phrase: “Poor Mexico,
so far from God, so near to the United States.” But the remorseless
dialectic of history has turned this relation on its head. American
imperialism, which for a long time exploited and oppressed Mexico and
the rest of Latin America, now lives in fear of the revolutionary wave
that is sweeping the Continent. All the efforts of the most powerful
state in the world to erect barriers to prevent human beings from
entering its territory will be powerless to prevent the influx of
The global crisis of capitalism is hitting the United States hard.
For millions of people, the American dream has become the American
nightmare. Washington is constantly conspiring against the government of
Hugo Chavez because it understands that the Venezuelan Revolution is a
point of reference for the revolutionary movement throughout Latin
America. They conspired to prevent Lopez Obrador from winning the
elections in 2006 because they did not want another Chavez (as they
believed him to be) on their doorstep.
The fears of US imperialism are well grounded. Today the Hispanic
population of the USA has overtaken the Afro-Americans as the biggest
ethnic minority. It is overwhelmingly composed of the most poorly paid
and exploited sections of society. The recent mass mobilisations of
migrant workers in the USA revealed a considerable revolutionary
potential. A revolution in Mexico would be the spark that ignites the
powder keg. It would spread rapidly through US society, posing the
question of a fundamental social and political change in the most
powerful capitalist nation on earth.
The Mexican Revolution was, in reality, only the first instalment. It
was a glorious anticipation that pointed the way forward. It shook
Mexican society out of its lethargy and prepared a great cultural
revolution. The achievements of Mexican music, art and literature are
justly celebrated, as is the work of Mexican anthropology, architecture
and science. The names of Diego Rivera, Orozco, Ponce, Revueltas are
internationally renowned. These are all the children of the Mexican
Revolution, and would be unthinkable without it.
If the bourgeois revolution in Mexico had such profound effects, one
can scarcely imagine what the impact of the coming socialist revolution
would be. A socialist plan of production would awaken all the colossal
potential of the Mexican people. It would mobilise the vast productive
and cultural potential of this great land and produce a cultural,
artistic and scientific revolution such as the world has never seen. For
us, the Mexican Revolution is not a distant memory of the past. It is a
glimpse of the future – a future full of hope and inspiration for the
people of Mexico and the entire world