What caused the Mexican Revolution of 1810

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The revolution became the key event of the 20th century in Mexico. Much has been written about the revolution abroad, but above all in Mexico itself; it was immortalized in the truest sense of the word in art, literature, music and cineastics. After all, with the end of the armed phase of the revolution in 1920, its immense potential for legitimizing the government was discovered. The governments initially described themselves as revolutionary for obvious reasons - Presidents Carranza and Obregón were caudillos of the revolution and as such had led factions during the fighting.

Calles, the first president who could not claim this justification for himself, was the one who discursively made the revolution permanent and thus included the past, present and future in the revolution. He made the Mexican Revolution La Revolución con mayúscula (the capitalized Mexican Revolution) and thus consolidated the myth of the revolution and with it its power.

Francisco I. Madero secured the revolution its special place in the history of Mexico by describing it as the third great revolution after independence (1810) and Reforma (1854), but it was only the group from Sonora around Calles who shaped the myth1 in all its facets .

When Calles took office in 1924 he was confronted with different political factions (each caudillo had left his movement, his -ismo), among which he had to find a consensus. This consensus has been shifted to the symbolic realm by expanding the myth of the revolution. This myth became the foundation of the nation and the Mexican Revolution its origin. With his help, the different factions of the revolution were subsequently united into a revolutionary family and differences were played down to personal differences. This reconciliation in the past made it possible, on the one hand, to combine the different camps into a large party, the Partido Nacional Revolucionario (PNR), and to create common heroes, and on the other hand, the idea of ​​a social revolution, an authentic peasant uprising, as actually only seen in the struggles Zapata had represented to make the central idea of ​​the revolution. The revolution was thus linked to its ideals that are still powerful today; it became democratic, nationalistic and, in this, equally guided by social justice.

But the reality was different, many farmers still suffered, and the new upper class secured power again through a hierarchical, authoritarian political system. This fact made the revolution permanent. With the idea of ​​the Revolución hecha gobierno the past, present and future were connected and hopes for future reforms were strengthened. Calles based the expansion of the revolutionary myth, according to Thomas Benjamin, on three pillars: the holiday, monuments and official historiography.

In 1920, November 20th was officially declared a national holiday for the first time. Citizens' initiatives had previously taken care of the day's inspection, but the government has now taken over and organized a large parade of athletes to celebrate the day. Why sport was chosen can only be speculated, probably to show that what the people fought for during the armed phase was not in vain and that the regime's efforts were also worthwhile. The athletes embody the revolution as a healthy and living force in the history of Mexico. Revolution Day authorizes, justifies and legitimizes the official party, the ruling government and the post-revolutionary state. It was around this time that the famous Revolution Monument was built on Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City. It symbolizes the three great revolutions of independence, reform and revolution and now unites the revolutionary heroes Madero, Carranza, Villa, Calles and Cárdenas as a common burial place.

The writing of history on the Mexican Revolution was instrumentalized step by step. Since the PNR was founded, the supposed unity of the revolutionary family should also be found in the history books. Alberto Morales Jiménez won a competition that the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI - successor party to the PNR) had announced, and in 1951 published the prototype for the official history version with his Historia de la Revolución Mexicana. He glorified the revolution and its heroes, erased internal contradictions and presented the revolution as a nationalist and democratic revolution of the people.

All presidents of the PRI took advantage of this myth and managed to keep the PRI in power until 2000. Although the myth is still used rhetorically by many senior PRI politicians today, it has lost its impact. But why is that?

According to Hans Blumberg, narration of meaning and reception must coincide with a myth, if the stories of meaning are no longer believed and therefore no longer received, they lose their integrating effect, and the myth becomes dogma.

Myths come to an end when what they were supposed to aim at could either be achieved and thus dealt with, or when the “genuine figure” of the myth was arbitrarily and unilaterally reshaped without the purpose being achieved. Myths and their application are very flexible and change over time, but the actual core, according to Blumberg, must not be changed. That was exactly the case in Mexico. Gawronski speaks of a legitimation crisis in the case of the PRI, which kept itself in power through the revolutionary myth. This consisted of three phases: the moral weakening, the weakening by poor political performance and the political weakening. The moral weakening began with the Tlatelolco massacre, in which protesting students were shot in 1968, thus turning the government against its strongest sponsors, the intellectuals and the children of the middle class. Corruption, clientelism and poor reaction to the 1985 Mexico City earthquake highlighted the poor performance of the PRI, which began in 1997 in the election of C. Cárdenas from the PRD as Mayor of Mexico City and the subsequent presidential election of Vicente Fox from the PAN 2000 resulted in the political legitimation crisis.

Profound socio-economic changes took place in Mexico in the mid-1980s. In 1982 Mexico fell into a debt crisis due to the changed interest rates on the international financial markets. This caused the Mexican economy to open up further and cuts in social spending. A neoliberal policy also spread in Mexico, as shown by the liberalization of the banking sector and the integration into the free trade system with the USA and Canada and with the EU.

In the PRI, a new elite of entrepreneurs emerged who saw the revolutionary myth as a danger and steered politics away from national unity towards the integration of Mexico into the world economy. For this new elite, what was intended to be the aim of the myth was done for. According to Gawronski, they exchanged the myth of the revolution for the myth of integration into the “first world”.

The realpolitical measures of the government permanently damaged the “genuine figure” of the myth. Salinas modified Article 27, one of the most important achievements of the revolution - the establishment of the ejido system - and subsidies from the peasants and poor sections of the population were withdrawn. This had a doubly negative effect on the myth of the revolution. On the one hand, a sacred achievement of the revolution, the right to land, was abolished and the symbolic consensus between the layers damaged. On the other hand, the neoliberal measures led to a drastic deterioration in the social situation of many people.

For these people, the revolutionary narrative with its claim to social equality, national unity and sovereignty itself became contradictory and the fundamental changes made them lose hope of an improvement in the future. Since globalization took hold in Mexico, revolutionary nationalism has been replaced by formal democratic mechanisms. The realpolitical turning away from the ideals that made up the myth of the revolution made it ineffective as a legitimation for the government.

Literature: Benjamin, Thomas, La revolución. Mexico's great revolution as memory, myth and history. Austin 2000.
O'Malley, Ilene V., The Myth of the Revolution. Hero cults and the institutionalization of the Mexican state, 1920-1940, New York et al. 1986.
Florescano, Enrique, Historia de las historias de la nación mexicana, México D.F., 2002.
Zimmering, Raina (ed.), The Revolutionary Myth in Mexico., Würzburg: 2005.
Krauze, Enrique, La historia cuenta, México 1998