INDIGENOUS MOVEMENTS AND MAGONISMO
By Juan Carlos Beas and Manuel Ballesteros
[The article that follows is excerpted from a paper presented at the seminar "Ricardo Flores Magón," organized by Casa de Cultura Oaxaqueña and CIDSTAO (Centro de nvestigaciones y Documentación Sobre Temas y Asuntos Oaxaqueños) on June 25-27, 1986.
It was subsequently published in February 1987 by Ediciones Antorcha as part of its Pamphlet Series. We have decided to reprint part of this pamphlet because it tackles a subject rarely addressed: the relationship between the Mexican anarchist movement
and Indigenous communities. This theme is now very real and timely, in view of the rebirth of Zapatismo and the subsequent debate about revolutionary tactics and strategies.]
The Indigenous nations that have existed in Mexican territory since ancient times have been direct actors in the great social convulsions that have shaken the country.
From the moment in which the first Iberian conquistador brought the cross, blood and gunpowder to these lands, the majority of the Indian people have fought a necessary, tenacious and violent resistance whose aim was and is the preservation and recovery of land, forest, customs and their own lives.
This struggle has been on-going, and has not only confronted the Spanish, French and North American invaders, but also the conservative and liberal governments of independent México and the group that inherited power as a result of the defeat of the so-called "Mexican Revolution."
Porfirio Díaz [dictator of México from 1876-1910], the bloodthirsty Oaxacan "pacifist," like
the serene Santa Ana [dictator from 1824-1855], handed over our resources and lands to the foreign invader, and during his rule developed a process of capitalist modernization based on dispossession and violence against the already diminished Indigenous nations.
As a response to these actions the Native people organized revolts both during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz and during the period of armed struggle. These revolts were aimed at regaining their plundered lands and stopping the process of domination. They fought for their way of life.
Communalism, like Indian customs, puts forward a concept of social property, directly democratic forms of representation, and a utilization of labour and resources where the notion of the commodity is excluded. In that way, the Indians' way of life presented an obstacle to the project of a national state and capitalist modernization, the project that drove Porfirio Díaz and his successors.
Magonismo, through many of its actions, proclamations, articles, programs, rebellions and
assemblies, showed itself to be a movement connected to the Indigenous nations' traditional
In a predominantly rural country, like México was at the beginning of the 20th century, an important part of the Magonista's actions were directed at the Indigenous sector.
So, the connection between Indigenous resistance and Magonismo is part of a socialist tradition, and appears to have been determined by the communalism of the Indian people. Magonismo is fundamentally supported by three currents: Mexican liberalism, European anarchism and Indigenous communalism.
Magonismo is an expression of what we call socialism. It has as its principal demands a call
for re-communalization, restitution of communal lands to the people and respect for the difference between the Indian people and an increasingly mestizo and western society.
In this essay we seek to show the profound connection that existed between ethnic resistance and the Magonistas at the beginning of the century. It is the history of a struggle which has not ended, as the "vanquished" continue fighting in the mountains, jungles, highlands and barrios. The Magonista ideas have not died, but, on the contrary, have germinated, and are part of the memory of the living history of a people that refuse to die, regardless of the wishes and forces of the technocratic rulers.
The Radical Current of the Mexican Revolution
Magonismo was a political movement independent of the state, which took its name from the
revolutionary Oaxacan Flores Magón brothers. This movement arose spontaneously in 1892, and later closely aligned itself with other revolutionary movements. This association diluted their ideological purity, though they left a recognizable imprint on the other movements.
Many Magonistas died in jail or in violent confrontations with federal troops, while others
came to govern their states or became deputies; many others died poor.
The Magonista movement, like other popular currents, was defeated. Once it took governmental power, the revolution died. The group that capitalized on this great social movement saw itself as obliged to adopt some programmatic axioms from Magonismo in order to give revolutionary character to the still-born political Constitution of 1917. Without a doubt, Magonismo constituted the principal opposition to Porfirian tyranny, but ultimately did not succeed in making its more advanced social project triumphant.
The Constitution Has Died
The grand edifice of fraternity, democracy and national greatness rises above tyranny's insults, rises above the clergy's manipulations, rises above capitalism and militarism
--February, 1907. Liberal Manifesto.
The revolutionaries of the Mexican Liberal Party recognized that they had been greatly influenced by the anti-imperialist, anti-clerical and reformist spirit of the liberals of the Reform. This can best be seen in their constant criticism of the role played by the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the illogical character of the religious discourse.
>From 1892 until 1903, Magonismo openly defended the implementation of the February 5, 1857 Constitution; the Liberals continually denounced the systematic violations of the Constitution by judges, bureaucrats and pen-pushers.
Although the majority of the Liberal clubs only expressed anti-clerical sentiments, Ricardo Flores Magón, at risk to his life, also denounced Porfirista tyranny during the First Liberal
Congress. The valiant position of this 26-year-old Oaxacan left an anti-Porfirista stamp on the
During their first years, the Liberals spent a lot of energy publishing newspapers. These papers played an important role as instruments of agitation, condemnation and propagation of ideas. These Liberal papers were the scourge of government officials, whom they harshly criticized and satirized. The anti-imperialist tradition that sprang from the Liberal movement during the period of the Wars of Intervention fed the imaginations of the Liberals of the early 1900s. Through various means, these modern Liberals criticized the links between the dictator and foreign exploiters.
Anarchy Travels to México
The ideas regarding social change advocated by European socialists found fertile ground in México during the 1800s and they directly influenced some of the popular social movements of that time. European socialism left its egalitarian imprint on the School of Socialism, in the devastated region of Chalco, and on the artisans' mutualist unions.
While anarchists and Marxists were fighting for control of the First International in Europe,
Zalcosta, Santa Fe, Jose' María González and Juan de la Mata Rivera were spreading the egalitarian ideal of European socialism throughout México by means of Liberal newspapers, public forums and travelling throughout the countryside.
Of the different tendencies of European socialist thought, anarchism exercised the most influence on the members of the organizing committee of the Mexican Liberal Party.
Anti-statism, atheism, egalitarianism and a rejection of the electoral system attracted an
important part of the Mexican Liberal Party. Repression, persecution, jailing and exile had laid
the groundwork for these ideas; this sector of the Mexican Liberal Party saw radical revolution as the only solution to the despotism of the Porfirista dictatorship. [...]
The organizing committee of the Mexican Liberal Party, as a whole, didn't take an openly anarchist stance until after 1906. However, starting in 1904, the party aided in the creation of armed groups in more than 12 states of the Mexican Republic.
The dominant anarchist tendency in the organizing committee was clearly expressed in a letter sent by Ricardo Flores Magón to his brother Enrique and to Práxedis G. Guerrero on July 13, 1908. On the one hand, the anti-statist tendency was a determining factor in allying with anarchists from other countries, and, in particular, with the IWW in the United States. However, it was also a factor in the defection of a number of Liberals to the Maderista
camp. [Francisco Indalecio Madero is credited with leading the overthrow of Díaz; he then became President, but failed to implement significant reforms.]
Juan Sarabia, final editor of the 1906 Program of the Mexican Liberal Party, downplayed the anarchist and communalist tendencies expressed in the program and gave the document a reformist tone. However, that same year, the Mexican Liberal Party made an open invitation to the people to take up arms against the dictatorship.
In the Manifestos of 1911, the anarchist core of the Mexican Liberal Party directed their attacks against the unholy trinity: capital, authority and the clergy. They openly advocated the formation of armed militias.
The last Magonista manifesto was published in March, 1918. It called for anarchists around the world to revolt, since the world found itself on the brink of the abyss as a result of the First
World War. As with many of the writings of the Mexican Liberal Party, this manifesto ended with the cry, "Land and Freedom!"--a cry that had first been raised years before by Prádexis G. Guerrero, who had taken it from the Russian populists. This manifesto would ultimately result in the jailing and death of Ricardo Flores Magón.
The Communalist Tradition and Magonismo
The centuries-long struggle of the Indigenous groups in México, their tenacious resistance and their communitarian tradition were, without a doubt, strongly present in the thought and actions of the Magonistas.
At the beginning of this century, the Indigenous population was the most exploited sector of Mexican workers. They were peons on large haciendas and many of them worked in mines or constructing the railways.
According to Magón, revolution should guarantee people the right to survive, and he believed that only a social revolution would be able to give all people control of the land. He believed that common good and freedom could only be achieved by eliminating every kind of master. "The most urgent social necessity in México is to give the people dignity..."
In his 1911 writings, Ricardo pointed out that when the Indigenous people of México take control of the hacienda lands with rifles in hand and work those lands in common, they create an important social and economic transformation. In contrast to the doctrinaire socialists, Ricardo made the point that the "bandits," who caused so much grief for the bourgeoisie, didn't necessarily have to have read Kropotkin or Marx to help bring about social revolution. In Regeneración, Ricardo wrote: "We have sent word to our brothers of the various Indian tribes calling for them to take possession of the land. Our forces will fully support their
The Mexican people are ripe for communism because they live it and have lived it; the communalist tradition, the mechanisms of community representation, the working of common land and the fierce tradition of resistance made their mark on the Magonistas' actions and debates.
The cry of "Land and Freedom!" that shook different regions of México scared the caciques, landlords and political leaders who had, under the protection of Don Porfirio, fenced-in entire villages, looted their resources, and fattened their own bank accounts with the blood, sweat and tears of Indigenous workers.
The connections between Magonismo and Indigenous struggles created, in large part, the conditions necessary for the re-taking of land by Indigenous peasants through armed conflict.
Magonistas and Indigenous People:
Together in Armed Revolt
The delegates of the organizing committee of the Mexican Liberal Party travelled throughout the country making pacts and distributing information. Meanwhile, a group that remained in the United States established contact with the Liberals by mail. These Liberals maintained the spirit of resistance in many parts of the country. The organizing committee established strong links with the Indigenous movements many months before the uprisings of 1906.
In Anenecuilco, Morelos, a community meeting agreed that the time had arrived for rebellion, and thus started the Zapatista movement. The Magonistas, in solidarity with the struggle, connected themselves with the Zapatistas, and many Magonistas joined the southern forces. They fought with the peasants who came down from the mountains in search of justice.
The Indigenous people of México contributed decisively to the radicalization of the revolution.
The Magonistas constantly strengthened their alliance with the Indigenous movements—movements that viewed revolt as the only means of defending their rights. In this way, they prepared the country to take advantage of the coming storm:
Magonista influence in the Northern Isthmus
In the north-eastern portion of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec lie the cantons of Acayucan,
Minatitlán and Tuxtlas in the state of Veracruz. This region had long been inhabited by communities of the Zoque, Populuca, Nahua and Chontal peoples, and is characterized by fertile lands and forests rich in tropical woods. It was here that the Magonista movement and the traditional Indigenous struggle mixed and created one of the most radical and profound anti-Porfirista revolts.
It was Porfirismo that realized the old dream of linking the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of México by railway. The railway construction project was given to the English firm Pearson and Son Ltd., with whom Porfirio Díaz had an excellent personal relationship.
The development of the ports of Salina Cruz and México (Coatzacoalcos) as well as the construction of the railroad in Tehuantepec, violently aggravated the plundering of the region's land and woods.
The forest lands next to rivers, roads, and the sea were stripped of their tropical woods. Within a few years there was wide-scale hunting in the areas where they had stripped the caoba and cedro woods. The forests provided the ties for the rail roads. None of this benefited the original inhabitants of the region.
In this way the Indigenous people suffered not only the plundering of their resources, but were forced into slave labour. They also suffered from the imposition of repressive, authoritarian measures. Those who protested were exiled to the jungles of Quintana Roo near the Valle Nacional, or were assassinated by the rurales (police force similar to the Spanish Civil Guard).
When the delegate of the Mexican Liberal Party arrived in Veracruz in 1904, the Indigenous
communities were undertaking legal action aimed at recovering land and resources that had been plundered. The memory of the protest movement at the beginning of this century is still alive in the oral tradition of the Zoque-Populuca peoples.
During 1905 and 1906, the Magonistas devoted themselves to propaganda and making connections with the Indigenous communities.
Faced with the growing expansion of the properties of Pearson and the Veracruz Land and Cattle Co.-- which together had taken possession of more than 175,000 hectares of communal land--the Indigenous people, tired of legal maneuvers, enthusiastically took up the Liberal cause. On Sept. 28, they occupied Soteapan, Mecayapan and Pajapan.
Two days later 1,000 Indians entered into violent combat in Acayucan; they were defeated and retreated back to the mountains. On Oct. 4 there was still fighting going on in the vicinity of Soteapan. There, the federales were defeated, despite reinforcements from Juchitán.
Throughout the region there were revolts that lasted several days before they were put down.
The uprising of September-October 1906 didn't last. More than 400 insurgents were exiled to San Juan de Ulu'a and their villages were razed. Other insurgents went into hiding or were isolated in small groups. The communities continued their legal manoeuvres, and in Ixhuatla'n the struggle against the cacique Nicasio L. Rosaldo continued under the direction of Daniel P. Gavilla.
With the defeat of the revolution came the defeat of the struggles of the Indigenous people south of Veracruz. The inhabitants of the area would have to wait until the '40s and the '50s to retrieve some of their communal land, and the majority of those who had participated in the struggles in the South died poor. Among those was Candido Donato Padua, one of the founders of the Federacio'n Anarquista de Me'xico [Mexican Anarchist Federation] in the
'40s, who was still expounding radical struggle when he died.
Recently, in 1985, 20,000 Nahuas from Pajapan managed to halt the plundering of their lands by PEMEX [the state-run oil monopoly in México] despite jailings and confrontations.
The Magonista actions haven't been forgotten by the Indians south of Veracruz; their struggle has not ended.
Indigenous Oaxaca Rebels
In the State of Oaxaca the impact of modernization worsened with the construction of the Nacional de Tehuantepec and Mexicano del Sur railroads. Numerous Indigenous communities faced dispossession by foreign surveying companies during the reign of
Porfirio Díaz; at that time, the mines were regaining economic strength. Oaxaca was in fourth
place in foreign investment nationally.
Starting in 1910, the Indigenous people in various regions of the state rose up to retake land and throw out the political bosses. For their part, the Zapatistas operated at length in Oaxaca, above all in the Mixtec region; some Magonistas became followers of Zapata, taking up the cry "Long live land and liberty!"
The Yaquis Take up the Red Flag
In July, 1901, after the execution of chief Tetabiate, the Yaquis, caught in a war of
extermination, listened to the word of the Temastian Tascaichola, and it was his sad and
outraged voice that motivated them to continue fighting the holy war for the land. It fell to
Opodepe and Sibalaume to lead the Yaquis' guerrilla struggle. In 1908 the Mexican Liberal Party delegate in the states of Baja California and Sonora was the Indian Fernando Palomares, who created an easy alliance with chief Sibalaume. That same year the Mexican Liberal Party also made alliances with the insurgent Tarahumaras led by Santa Pérez.
On August 31, 1911, five hundred Yaquis took the federal barracks by storm in Pitahaya, Sonora. Inscribed in the red flag which they planted there were the two words "Land" and "Liberty."
Ricardo Flores Magón reported on the successful use of copies of Regeneración by the Yaquis, who used them as simple fuses with dynamite or nitroglycerin at the end. The devastation that they caused among the federales was grave.
The Yaqui war officially ended in 1929. More than fifty continuous years of war almost succeeded in actualizing the Porfirista soldiers' old dream—to exterminate the "beast."
The Magonistas Terrify the Ruling Class
At the beginning of the 20th century in the North of Yucatán, the Henequen people lived under slavery. In the South of the peninsula the unsubmissive Maya kept old Xbatab, the heart of the kingdom of the Speaking Cross, as their capital.
The Liberal groups distributed the 1906 Program in the north of Yucatán and prepared themselves for armed revolt. They did a grand agitation campaign, which included exploding bombs in Tepich, Acanceh and other Mayan towns. In 1910 the Valladolid people rose in arms. This movement was defeated and dozens of Magonistas were jailed; of these, three
For the Party of the South-east, the primary goal was the redistribution of communal lands, or
ejidos, to the Indigenous people. The appropriation of land for Indigenous communities was the principal contribution of the old Liberals to the revolution.
The Peasants Say "Enough!" and Show it with Their Deeds
"!Nemi Zapata! !Nemi Zapata! Nian ca namotata; ayemo miqui. !Nemi Zapata!" (Zapata still lives! Long live Zapata! Here is your father, he hasn't died. Long live Zapata!)
As of June, 1910, there were revolutionary uprisings in a growing movement that, in 1911,
culminated in the fall of Porfirio Díaz.
The state of war that reigned on Mexican land impeded communication among the Magonistas. Many stayed isolated and integrated into the peasant armies.
After taking Guadelupe, Chihuahua, which created the Libertarian army led by Prisciliano Silva in 1911, the Magonista's main enemy was Maderismo. This fact deeply divided the Mexican Liberal Party.
The Magonistas succeeded in controlling an extensive area of Northern Baja California for five months, and they maintained armed groups in the northern states for more than two years.
In 1913, the Magonista Antonio de P. Araujo began negotiations with Zapata, who proposed that Regeneración be published in Morelos, the liberated zone. The Magonistas Barrio, Rangel, Díaz Soto y Gama, among many others, actively participated in the Zapatista armies, which were mainly composed of Indigenous Nahuas, Mixtecs, Amuzgos, Otomi's, etc. The presence of the Magonistas left its stamp on Zapatismo.
Ricardo Flores Magón, through articles published in Regeneración in 1914 and 1915, defended Zapatismo, which he saw as the materialization of the revolutionary ideal, unlike Villismo.
The complications in communication between the Magonista core that resided in the north and the revolutionaries in México were sharpened by the constant persecution and jailing of many of the leaders of the movement.
The organizing committee of the Mexican Liberal Party disseminated condemnations of the Madero, Huerta and Carranza governments through their publications. On account of this, these governments asked the US government to persecute the party.
In the context of the First World War and the general increase in social change struggles by
peoples throughout the world, the core of the Mexican Liberal Party in the United States sent out a call for world revolution and openly expressed support for the rebels that rose in arms against their government in Texas, Oklahoma and other states in the US.
For Ricardo Flores Magón, the triumph of the Mexican revolution was necessarily tied to
worldwide revolt, including North American revolution. He realized that the big capitalists of
the United States and their army would never permit their neighbour to the south to consolidate a revolutionary process.
Ricardo Flores Magón was assassinated in a North American jail. The surviving Magonistas persisted in their struggle until death, in accordance with the proclamation of 1914: "Now we must work with the same spirit as before until death or victory. Long live land and liberty!"
Some Final Considerations:
History, written by the victors, is presented to us deformed, so much so that an Indigenous presence does not exist in historical accounts of this century.
Since Tlacaelel, we know that the destruction and manipulation of popular memory is indispensable to maintaining power. The ruling class utilizes different means to achieve this objective. The powerful know well that a people without memory is weak and manipulable, which is why they have made Magonismo into street names and pretexts for their demagogic discourses.
We know well that Magonismo has not died, that Magonista thought has continued permeating sectors of the Mexican people in struggle. When the young gangs from the barrios and the marginalized neighbourhoods of México City declared "the government does not want us because we are Magonistas"; when the drivers of Chiapas and Oaxaca fought up front against the charro unionism that tried to get rid of their Flores Magón National Union; when in a city besieged by thousands of soldiers, above the principal door of the university read the message: "The tyrants appear big because we are kneeling; let us rise," when all
this happened, we knew that Magonismo had not died and will not die, because important sectors of the Mexican population have decided to continue fighting. In an unjust México, where more than a million deaths served the rise of the so-called "revolutionary family," and since the seat of power, in alliance with foreign sectors, gives free reign to an intense process of capitalist development that is nothing but the destruction of the Mexican country, we know that Magonismo will be present in order to end these crazy times.