- Rural Resistance in the Land of Zapata: The Jaramillista Movement and the Myth of the Pax Priísta, 1940-1962
Regional history has long been the gold standard for broader interpretations of Mexico's past. In extending that tradition past 1940, Tanalís Padilla's study of peasant politics breaks new ground. She begins when most histories end, in the late 1930s, in the Zacatepec sugar mill in southern Morelos. From that peasant dystopia she traces two decades of grassroots opposition, spanning strikes, elections, bureaucratic wrangling, and three periods of armed resistance in the sierra. This thematic focus is also original, as extant studies treating the period tend to the cultural. While Padilla labels her approach postrevisionist, it centers on classic revisionist concerns: the interaction between economic, social, and political structures. Gender is profitably added as a category of analysis that helps explain the resilience of peasant radicalism, among other things. This work is not so much timely as overdue: while the PRIísta regime disintegrated historians remained bizarrely ignorant of its origins.
Inside this new-old framework, Padilla's extensive research reconstructs the history of Rubén Jaramillo, a peasant leader who alternated armed and legal resistance until the army murdered him and his family in 1962. In the rise and fall of Jaramillismo, Padilla argues, the idea that PRIísta rule before 1968 was consensual and peaceful is exposed as state-crafted codswallop. Mexico was, rather, the scene of hidden but endemic regional instability, with protests at electoral and economic exclusion that fell between the extremes of the weapons of the weak and national mobilizations. To dominate unruly rural communities, the state continued to rely heavily on terror. Nineteen sixty-eight was no great turning point; repressive violence just became more visible as it moved to the city and to the middle classes.
This is a logical development of the consensus among historians of Cardenismo that emphasizes state weakness in the later 1930s. It has important revisionist implications. Padilla's case bolsters Jeffrey Rubin's (1997) dismissal of mid-century political stability as a corporatist myth—a dismissal rooted in an unusual place (Juchitán, Oaxaca) and as such in need of generalization. It qualifies the neogramscian argument that hegemonic give-and-take between local societies and the center formed the bedrock of PRIísta Mexico's longevity. By the late 1940s, Padilla argues, such give-and-take was greatly diminished. Miguel Alemán's Mexico was straightforwardly "authoritarian" (p. 141). Rebels against [End Page 113] that authoritarianism, like the Jaramillistas, formed critical links between the popular revolutionaries of the 1910s, the guerrillas of the 1960s and 1970s and the social movements of the 1980s and 1990s. Yet what early PRIístas lacked in consent they made up for with force. Gunmen, policemen, and soldiers suppressed peasants and workers who organized, politicked, or went on strike with fear, raids, occupations of factory and fields, beatings, torture, and murder. Such provincial violence was "standard practice" (p. 15). PRIísta Mexico would not have worked without it.
This forceful argument puts Tanalís Padilla in the vanguard of scholars working along similar lines, and makes this book the first of several new and forthcoming publications that focus on violence. Her interpretation is occasionally too forceful, pushing state-society relationships that she elsewhere acknowledges as complex into David-and-Goliath simplicity. Thus the state "invariably responded with force" to the "steady progression of social unrest" (p. 7) that characterised 1940 to 1968. This underestimates the more matizado, cyclical nature of popular protest and PRIísta repression. Alemán was widely seen as a democrat at the beginning of his regime, and fired several governors for violence. Adolfo López Mateos was more than the smirking Judas whom Padilla outlines; he also redistributed as much land as his two predecessors combined. Such concessions were founded on the tacit realization that presidential power was not "seemingly unlimited" (p. 59...