The Americas 58.3 (2002) 493-494
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After decades of histories of the Mexican Revolution written from regional, state, and local levels, la capital is again the subject of attention. John Lear examines the participation of Mexico City's urban masses--workers, neighbors, and citizens--in the revolutionary process. He locates the origins of the city's modern working class in the foreign-led economic growth of the Porfiriato, which created a small population of skilled, literate, urban-born and politically active male workers. These workers were vastly outnumbered by unskilled workers, largely illiterate and rural-born, whose ranks included a good many women. Porfirian modernization restructured urban space, bringing an end to traditional socially mixed neighborhoods by creating separate elite and working class districts and fomenting class-consciousness among neighbors. Lear also finds that the division between skilled and unskilled labor contributed to the formation of multiple working class cultures shaped by gender, religion, and paternalistic mutualist tradition, and politically by popular liberalism, nationalism, anarcho-syndicalism and socialism. In opportunity born of the crisis of the ancien regime, "men struggled with their employers and with political leaders over the terms of work, over participation in elections, and in the armed revolution, while women asserted their citizenship first in defense of their community, often taking over markets, tenements, streets, and the halls of government to demand the availability of food and a just exchange value for the product of their husbands' and their own work" (p. 362).
Lear makes it clear that Mexico City's workers did not seek an end to capitalism, but rather to reform it, and so fell into an alliance of convenience with the Constitutionalists, whose economic policies worked less hardship upon them than those of the Convention. By forming the Red Battalions, industrial workers established their revolutionary credentials, allowing them to negotiate their place in the new order by political alliances, strikes, and consumer riots. But, Lear concludes, "ultimately, the response of the working people of Mexico City to the revolution was organizational rather than insurrectional" (p. 364). The elevation of organization over insurrection [End Page 493] was seen in the emergence of the Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers (CROM) whose decidedly unrevolutionary leadership "wrested control" from labor radicals to pursue a policy of cooperation with Alvaro Obregón and his successors, thus forming the basis of Mexican corporatism that mirrored the emergence of corporatist governments in Europe out of the crisis of World War I. Thus the collective power that Lear says workers acquired out of the revolution was ultimately articulated through the state.
Other reviews have justly praised Lear's book for its passion, but as I read it, I often wished for greater clarity and brevity and a tighter narrative. Yet, he has managed to shine a light on the lives and cultures of Mexico City's urban masses to reveal complex, often contradictory interests of a group that has been too often treated as undifferentiated and homogeneous and, in doing so, has made a significant contribution to our understanding of Mexico's great revolution.
William Schell, Jr.
Murray State University