- For God and Revolution: Priest, Peasant, and Agrarian Socialism in the Mexican Huasteca by Mark Saad Saka
Over the past thirty years, major regional studies, mainly of Mexico’s southeastern states, have explored the way in which nineteenth-century civil and foreign wars drew rural communities into politics as indigenous peasants took to arms in support of regional and national causes in exchange for promises of constitutional guarantees. For God and Revolution is a welcome contribution to this literature. Well suited for undergraduates, this short book provides a fascinating case study of the popular roots of Mexican liberalism, Catholicism, and republicanism.
Mark Saad Saka’s region is the Huasteca, encompassing the vast Panuco river basin that includes segments of five states and serves as a natural boundary between east-central and north-eastern Mexico. The first five chapters chart 400 years of resistance of the region’s Maya-speaking Teenecks to Aztec, Spanish, and republican rule. The final two chapters explore the principal focus of the book: a peasant rebellion between 1877 and 1883 led by indigenous leader Juan Santiago under the banner of “death to all those who wear pants!”
Hard to reach from Mexico’s highland centers of power, even from its own provincial capital of San Luis Potosi, the Huasteca provided sanctuary and a strategic reserve for forces opposed to colonial rule and later to foreign invasions. Saad Saka traces a pattern of peasant guerrilla forces embracing national causes, manifesting first in the insurgency in 1811; continuing through the federalist movement of the 1830s, the Mexican-American War of 1846–48, and the European Intervention of 1862-67; and culminating in Díaz’s rebellions against Juárez’s centralizing liberalism during the 1870s. Santiago’s rebellion is explained as a response to secular changes facing much of rural Mexico during the final decades of the century: the privatization of church land and town lands, the use of forced labor for constructing of roads and railways, the growth of large estates, mounting insecurity of land tenure and worsening terms of sharecropping, the introduction of sugar with its accompanying abuse of labor, and so forth. Particularly interesting is the involvement of radical priest Mauricio Zavala who, after first promoting education and social reform in the state capital, moved in 1873 to Ciudad del Maíz and promoted primary schooling throughout the region, paying close attention to the needs of indigenous-language speakers, women, and field workers. Backing for villagers in their petitions and legal struggles brought Zavala in touch with indigenous leaders as well as radical liberals, socialists, and anarchists in Mexico City. Adaptation of socialist and anarchist ideas to the traditions of indigenous communal politics and folk Catholicism is evident in rebels’ petitions and emblems (including the black and red flag).
Specialists will be disappointed by the author’s reluctance to explore important questions more deeply. How, in contrast to other regions, was the Huasteca clergy able to mobilize peasants in successive wars and popular uprisings? The [End Page 696] region’s complex ethnic hierarchy—particularly divisions between Indians and non-Indians, and between Nahuas and Teenecks—is underexplored. Why were certain communities particularly rebellious? The agrarian trouble spot of Tamazunchale’s barrio de San Francisco, Santiago’s home base, deserves closer attention. Primary research was limited to the (admittedly rich) state archive in San Luis Potosi. Yet the historical archive of the Ministry of Defense (now online) would have helped clarify the relationship among armed groups in the Huasteca, regional actors, and national actors, and sampling of local municipal archives would surely have shed light on subregional and local differences in ethnic and political allegiance. Murky maps, containing no keys or obvious reference to the text, confirm this lack of attention to national context and local difference, expected of a regional study.
This book represents more an exploratory sampling rather than a full exploration of a subject which deserves closer examination based on fuller research. Yet, For...