Rural Revolt in Mexico: U.S. Intervention and the Domain of Subaltern Politics / Edition 2
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Duke University Press Books
Rural Revolt in Mexico: U.S. Intervention and the Domain of Subaltern Politics / Edition 2

Rural Revolt in Mexico: U.S. Intervention and the Domain of Subaltern Politics / Edition 2


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Rural Revolt in Mexico is a historical investigation of how subaltern political activity engages imperialism, capitalism, and the United States. In this volume, Daniel Nugent has gathered a group of leading scholars whose work examines the relationship of revolts by peasants and Indians in Mexico to the past century of U.S. intervention—from the rural rebellions of the 1840s through the 1910 revolution to the 1994 uprising in Chiapas.
Through their studies of social movements and popular mobilization in the Mexican countryside, the contributors argue for understanding rural revolts in terms of the specific historical contexts of particular regions and peoples, as well as the broader context of unequal cultural, political, and economic relations between Mexico and the United States. Exploring the connections between external and internal factors in social movements, these essays reveal the wide range of organized efforts through which peasants and Indians have struggled to shape their own destiny while confronted by the influence of U.S. capital and military might. Originally published as a limited edition in 1988 by the Center for U. S.–Mexican Studies, this volume presents a pioneering effort by Latin Americanist scholars to sympathetically embrace and enrich work begun in Subaltern Studies between 1982 and 1987 by projecting it onto a different region of historical experience. This revised and expanded edition includes a new introduction by Daniel Nugent and an extensive essay by Adolfo Gilly on the recent Chiapas uprising.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822320869
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 06/12/1998
Series: American Encounters/Global Interactions Series
Edition description: Expanded
Pages: 408
Product dimensions: 9.06(w) x 5.91(h) x (d)

About the Author

Daniel Nugent (1954–1997) was a professor of anthropology and Latin American studies, a managing editor of the Journal of Historical Sociology, and coeditor of Everyday Forms of State Formation, also published by Duke University Press.

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Rural Revolt in Mexico

U.S. Intervention and the Domain of Subaltern Politics Expanded Edition

By Daniel Nugent

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1998 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-8248-5


The United States and the Mexican Peasantry, circa 1880-1940


While there have been many studies of U.S.-Mexican relations during the period 1880-1940 and, especially in recent years, many significant studies of peasant protest and rebellion, these two themes have rarely interacted. Indeed, they have tended to absorb the attention of quite distinct scholarly groups, who have followed contrasting approaches. People who are interested in peasants are not usually very interested in diplomats, and vice versa (Katz 1981 is a notable exception). By uniting these two themes, this volume offers certain new angles and may serve to show whether their previous mutual neglect was warranted by the intrinsic nature of the different problems or was merely the contingent outcome of conventional academic divisions—social history, agrarian history, diplomatic history, etc.

New angles do not necessarily come easy, however. My own analysis demands three initial disclaimers. First, unlike most of the other essays, it adopts a national rather than a local or regional viewpoint. Generalizations advanced at the national level are likely to face the objection that they are inapplicable in this or that specific case. This is a familiar enough historical problem, but one whose solution is far from straightforward. It involves distinguishing what is typical, or broadly representative, of certain trends/ patterns/types from what is untypical or aberrant. Untypical cases of course deserve study, but they should not be elevated to the status of paradigms; there is a contrasting misapprehension—evident, for example, in some discussions of zapatismo—whereby the untypicality and exceptionality of the case is mistakenly stressed. Either way, it is important to try to locate case studies within some broader (national or international) comparative context. "What should they know of England who only England know?" is just as relevant for those who claim knowledge of Mexico, or even of Morelos.

If, from the national perspective, it is crucial to distinguish between "typical" and "untypical" local examples, such intellectual discrimination is notoriously hard to achieve. This introduces my second disclaimer. While "typicality" carries connotations of statistical incidence, it is rarely possible to achieve satisfying statistical data—not to mention satisfying theoretical criteria—whereby the typicality of cases may be judged. How many peasant rebels do we need to make a peasant revolution? How many nationalists to make a nationalist revolution? So familiar and recurrent (and recalcitrant) are such problems that, by way of excuse for the lack of "hard" numerical data presented here, I would quote a historian of quite different provenance:

I particularly regret not having been able to offer more of those exact statistical data upon which the precise analysis of historical change must so often depend. Unfortunately, the sources seldom permit such computation.... [Hence] in my attempts to sketch the main outlines of the subject I have only too often had to fall back upon the historian's traditional method of presentation, by example and counterexample. (Thomas 1973:x)

Of course, such a method, even if unavoidable, can easily lead to critique and debate which are in turn based upon the further trading of examples and counterexamples—whether like goods in the market (i.e., to comparative advantage) or like blows in a prizefight.

My third and final caveat derives in part from this last consideration. Two main conclusions, relevant to the current discussion, emerged from my study of the Mexican Revolution, which focused on the years 1910-20 (Knight 1986a). The first, contentious for some but probably not for the contributors to this volume, was that the revisionist dismissal or demotion of the role of peasant groups and agrarian factors in the revolution had gone way too far; that while the old "agrarian-populist" notion of the revolution (espoused, for example, by Frank Tannenbaum) was highly simplistic and not a little romantic, it nevertheless contained truths and insights about the revolution which the revisionists had overlooked—or even brusquely dismissed—to the detriment of their interpretation. The revolution was clearly more than a simple confrontation of peasant and landlord, village and hacienda; but that confrontation, in its many variations and nuances, was central to the revolution and lent the revolution its markedly popular and agrarian character. Indeed, it seems likely I was sometimes overcautious in my reemphasis of the peasant/agrarian factor, especially in Chihuahua (cf. Alonso 1986).

A second conclusion, negative and therefore less eye-catching, also emerged from my research. Foreign interests did not figure as victims of the revolution to anything like the extent argued or assumed in many studies, "traditional" as well as "revisionist." To put it at its simplest, the idea of a virulently nationalist popular revolution was largely a myth. Clearly, this conclusion is directly relevant to the present discussion, and it conflicts with the argument of other essays in this volume. The conflict may derive from contrasting evaluations of "typicality," as already suggested (what, for some, may be a revealingly typical "nationalist" outburst is, for me, a rare aberration); or, even more likely, it may depend upon contrasting interpretations of agreed "facts." We all know, for example, that American interests suffered damage during the Mexican Revolution; we may even be able to agree on some rough computation of these damages (though, when confronted by Claims Commission data, we should surely strive for the skepticism of insurance claims adjusters); but none of this affords straightforward evidence of motive, of the underlying grievances, pressures, and attitudes that gave rise to damages and claims. Only careful analysis of specific cases can reveal the context and thus the significance of supposedly "nationalist" or antiforeign actions. The subtleties of attitude and behavior can rarely be inferred from aggregate statistics (as cliometricians have learned to their cost in several encounters, apropos both European popular radicalism and North American slavery).

At the outset, therefore, it seems best to emphasize, rather than to obfuscate, the position taken here: the Mexican revolution (1910-20) was fundamentally—though not, of course, solely—popular, rural, and agrarian in character, and heavily dependent on peasant participation. The revolution was not, least of all in terms of its basic origins and popular manifestations, a nationalist, or anti-American, or anti-imperialist revolution. Central to this argument is a distinction between the latent and manifest role of American influence and American actors in Mexico.

The latent influence of the United States—especially of U.S. capital was profound, as I shall argue. At a very basic level it could be stated that the Mexican Revolution occurred because of the rapid incorporation of a large "traditional" peasantry within a dynamic, commercial, agrarian economy, a process that also necessarily involved a considerable extension of state power. The dynamism of this economy was to a significant degree the result of U.S. trade, enterprise, and investment. Of course, European demand and capital also figured; and, of course, other agrarian societies also experienced these broad processes during the same period. But nowhere else did so rapid and powerful a deployment of U.S. economic influence encounter so large and entrenched a peasantry, possessed of resources that made resistance possible.

Elsewhere, the tide of American influence ran more slowly (e.g., in Peru, at least in this period); or, as in the case of Cuba, it washed over an agrarian society of radically different character, such that the response was—pace Eric Wolf—less a "peasant war" than middle-class nationalism and working-class syndicalism (Wolf 1973). In this very general sense, the Mexican Revolution—not just the first but, perhaps, the only major peasant (sic) revolution of Latin America—may be said to derive its distinctive character from the fortuitous juxtaposition, within North America, of the most dynamic representatives of twentieth-century capitalism alongside the still numerous and doughty carriers of the ancient Mesoamerican and Hispanic peasant tradition.

Nevertheless, the manifest consequences of this latent American influence were another matter. Historians, like sociologists or psychologists, are familiar enough with this distinction. Spanish American silver may have caused—or contributed to—European price inflation in the sixteenth century, but the European victims of this trend did not share Bodin's sophisticated grasp of its causes. Mexican peasants may have suffered as a result of growing American trade and investment during the porfiriato, but that alone did not ensure an anti-American or nationalist response among the insurgent peasantry. No more did the impoverished artisans of the Bajío vent their ire against the Puebla, Veracruz, and Federal District industrialists who were responsible for their plight; rather, they concentrated on local targets: officials, merchants, moneylenders, and retailers.

American influence, then, could exert a powerful latent effect without necessarily incurring a manifest, targeted reaction. And "American influence" could, of course, embrace a range of elements. An initial task within this general analysis of the problem must therefore involve the disaggregation of the many elements covered by the umbrella term "American influence." In particular, it is only by such an analytical disaggregation that we can appreciate what I have suggested is a central—and, at first sight, paradoxical—feature of the Mexican Revolution: U.S. capital (by far the most efficacious agent of American influence) laid the groundwork of the revolution, but the revolution was not directed against U.S. capital, especially not in its popular, peasant manifestations. U.S. capital, to put it differently, helped bring about significant, objective, structural changes in Mexican society, but these did not translate into comparably significant, subjective, conjunctural reactions.

To call U.S. capital the most efficacious agent of American influence is to imply some sort of sectoral breakdown of "influence." "Influence" may be defined according to type, agent, or recipient. Types of influence would include political, economic, cultural, ideological, etc. (each, to be sure, overlapping and intersecting). Agents would denote the actors, individual and institutional, who transmitted influence: governmental (politicians, diplomats); private (U.S. companies, churches); or social (e.g., the broad influence exerted by "American society," whether upon Mexican migrants or Mexican policymakers impressed by U.S. values). Finally, recipients could be found throughout Mexican society: peasants and landlords, middle and working classes, radicals and conservatives, Catholics and Protestants. Since our agreed focus is the peasantry, the range of recipient groups is, to that extent, formally limited. (However, given the definitionally subordinate position of the peasantry within society, it should be recognized that American influence acting upon nonpeasant groups—say, Sonoran landlords or magonista intellectuals—could indirectly affect the peasantry too.)

American influence on the peasantry may therefore be analyzed by type or agent. (Needless to say, more precise limitations of time and space are possible and perhaps desirable; here, however, I attempt a national overview of this relationship throughout the "long" revolutionary period, c. 1880-1940.) And within this overview, it is the analysis of agents rather than of types of influence which is preferred—not least because major agents, such as the U.S. government, exercised a polyvalent influence, at once political, military, economic, and ideological. Though we may wish to isolate analytically such types of influence, it is the polyvalent actor—the U.S. government, U.S. capital, U.S. "society"—which should provide the starting point. Accordingly, I will start with the most visible and institutionally concrete actor, the U.S. government, and will then proceed to the more diffuse—but, I will argue, more powerful and pervasive—influence of U.S. capital and society.

The U.S. Government's Influence on the Mexican Peasantry

As regards the causes, character, and consequences of U.S. governmental influence during the porfiriato and the revolution I shall be brief, for four main reasons. First, these have already been the subject of considerable study and debate, even if no scholarly consensus has emerged (cf Katz 1981; Haley 1970; Grieb 1969; Gilderhus 1977; Ulloa 1971). Second, as one participant in the debate has suggested, the study of U.S. policy toward Mexico, of its inputs and outcomes, reflects the policy itself, which was formed 'on the basis of conjectures and amid great uncertainty" (Hoernel 1981:209). Hence the debate often hinges upon assumptions and inferences that are strongly resistant to empirical validation or falsification. Ostensible "facts"—U.S. official tolerance of Madero in 1910, opposition to Orozco in 1912, recognition of Carranza in 1915, repudiation of the new Constitution after 1917—can accommodate widely different interpretations, for each of which some supportive evidence can be found. Adjudicating between rival interpretations is difficult, since the balancing of evidence may depend less upon the intrinsic weight of this or that "fact" than upon divergent prior assumptions, according to which "facts" are assembled and arrayed.

A familiar historiographic dilemma, this problem is, I think, particularly acute in the analysis of Great Power policymaking. Charles Maier's observation concerning the celebrated debate over the origins of the Cold War bears repetition in this comparable, albeit narrower, context: "more than in most historiographical controversies, the questions about what happened are transformed into concealed debate about the nature of freedom and duress, exploitation and hegemony" (Maier 1978:24). This is not to suggest that we give up and go home, but rather to recognize that, in a brief part of a brief essay, no very solid advances or conversions are likely to be made.

Instead, point three, I shall state my position: that U.S. governmental influence over the Mexican Revolution has often been exaggerated, especially for the period 1910-20. And, if post-1920 is a somewhat different story, it is not a story that primarily concerns the peasantry. That being the case, it seems (point four) much more profitable and interesting to focus on the unofficial, nongovernmental actors who impinged on Mexican society, not least Mexican peasant society, and who did so in important and often neglected ways. Such a focus will dominate the latter, more positive, sections of this essay.

However, if only briefly to substantiate the third point above, a word about U.S. policy is in order. Debates about the role of (official) U.S. intervention in the revolution are as old as the events they seek to explain. Did the U.S, government—acting, perhaps, in collusion with U.S. business—work for the ouster of Díaz? For the fall of Madero? For the elimination of, first, Villa, then Carranza? As regards the first case (1910—11), the empirical evidence does not seem to warrant a confident answer (cf. Calvert 1968:73-84; Wilkins 1971:129-30, 277). Nor do arguments based on the principle of cui bono lend much strength to the evidence. It is not clear that the Taft administration—or the U.S. economic interests it sought to represent—stood to gain from the ouster of Díaz, or that they rejoiced at his fall. Like most people, they were surprised by the turn of events in 1910–11. Even if U.S. tolerance of Madero's sojourn in the United States implied a degree of official connivance (which is open to question), it certainly cannot be inferred that this determined the victory of the 1910 revolution, or that the United States actively sought such a victory. As Braulio Hernández, who had no reason to love or to exonerate the United States, trenchantly remarked: "the truth of God is that the revolution [of 1910] was fought with the abnegation and hunger of Mexicans, with no more."

In subsequent episodes, U.S. policy was more obviously positive, even "interventionist"; and, occasionally, it was moderately successful. But "intervention" covers a multitude of sins (on which, see Knight 1987), and the ostensible "successes" of U.S. policy—the defeat of Orozco in 1912, of Huerta in 1914—must be placed in their contemporary context. In these instances the United States aligned itself with powerful forces within Mexico making for these outcomes; hence, it would be a crude form of historiographic dependismo to stress overmuch the determining role of the United States, as some have done. Cases must be judged on their merits: the fall of Huerta was not analogous to the fall of (say) Arbenz. Furthermore, in other important instances U.S. policy signally failed. The U.S. government did not seek the triumph of Carranza in 1915; it grudgingly accepted that Carranza had won, that a cobbled-together compromise, though preferable, was unattainable, and that realpolitik made recognition unavoidable.

What is more, in these several cases, covering 1910-15, it is far from clear how U.S. policy—even if assumed to be effective—affected peasant interests (e.g., peasant forces or agrarian reform movements). The ousters of Díaz and Huerta, which have been attributed to U.S. pressure, served peasant interests. The consequences of Madero's defeat of Orozco in 1912, or of Carranza's of Villa in 1915, are open to debate. In my view, the Carranza-Villa split did not reflect clear class or ideological differences; hence it cannot be confidently asserted that Carranza's triumph—even if it were the work of U.S. policy, which I doubt—represented an unqualified defeat for peasant interests (Knight 1986a, 2:263-302).


Excerpted from Rural Revolt in Mexico by Daniel Nugent. Copyright © 1998 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents

Foreword / William Roseberry xi

Preface xvii

Introduction: Reasons to Be Cheerful / Daniel Nugent 1

I. Popular Nationalism and Anti-Imperialism in the Mexican Countryside

The United States and the Mexican Peasantry, circa 1880-1940 / Alan Knight 25

Measuring Influence: The United States and the Mexican Peasantry / John H. Coatsworth 64

Social Unrest, Nationalism, and American Capital in the Mexican Countryside, 1876-1920 / John Mason Hart 72

Villismo: Nationalism and Popular Mobilization in Northern Mexico / Ruben Osorio 89

II. Class, Ethnicity, and Space in Mexican Rural Revolts

Rancheros and Rebellion: The Case of Northwestern Chihuahua, 1905-1909 / Jane-Dale Lloyd 107

Mixtec Political Consciousness: From Passive to Active Resistance / Michael Kearney 134

Space and Revolution in Northeastern Chihuahua / Maria Teresa Koreck 147

III. U.S. Intervention and Popular Ideology

The United States, Feuding Elites, and Rural Revolt in Yucatan, 1836-1915 / Gilbert M. Joseph 173

U.S. Military Intervention, Revolutionary Mobilization, and Popular Ideology in the Chihuahua Sierra, 1916-1917 / Ana Maria Alonso 207

From Alliance to Dependency: The Formation and Deformation of an Alliance between Francisco Villa and the United States / Friedrich Katz 239

IV. Resistance and Persistence

Chiapas and the Rebellion of the Enchanted World / Adolfo Gilly 261

Bibliography 335

Index 365

Contributors 381

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