TO WHAT EXTENT DID MEXICAN PEASANTS ACHIEVE WHAT THEY HOPED FOR IN THE MEXICAN REVOLUTION
An important point in the Mexican history was marked in 1910 with the revolution which rocked the country. The conflict was important to all Mexicans regardless of the social class and status. It displayed discontent which normally exists within the lower social classes which cannot be expressed but through the use of revolution. Articles 27 and 123 which are very vital to the constitution of Mexico came as a result of political forces which pressed the powers of government at that time. Article 27 barred foreigners from owning sub soil resources or many lands. As has been the case, the capitalistic mode of governing allowed foreigners to own huge tracks of land at the expense of natives who could only offer their labor and nothing else to celebrate. In Mexico, foreigners owned large pieces of land while the natives were mostly peasants. Article 27 also put measures which ensured equitable land distribution for Mexicans. Article 123 on the other hand guaranteed rights for wage earners which did not exist before. These articles came as a response to the social conditions of peasants. Some scholars have argued that the aim of these reforms was to make villages self sufficient.
The Mexican Revolution, it is argued, was the only way through which the peasants could have been heard. The two articles were included in the constitution due to the pressure which was put on the legislature by revolutionaries like Zapata. The Mexican President’s position was that the representative government’s power was of more importance than the people’s economic well being. With regard to this, it was within the power of the peasants to push for reforms since they did not expect that the government will give them an upper hand when drawing national economic policies. In other words, the needs of the peasants were not given priority by the Mexican government. Their needs were placed below the governments desires. The committee which was to study and report the needs of the farmers was largely made up of upper class citizens who presented biased views. This committee made of lawyers and other upper class citizens could not understand the real situation that farmers faced, especially the peasants hence their focus was the on the large scale farmers of whom they belonged to the same class. Thus, the decisions and analysis of these bourgeoisies was not representative of the Mexican people especially the peasants. However, their policies were to affect the entire Mexican population.
The majority who saw the social and economic adjustments as a strong force of peasants who hitherto were not given a voice had a point. Thus, those who wielded power were not willing to solve problems that they felt did not exist. The upper ruling class were not in touch with the lower class members of the society. Change hence rested entirely in the hands of the lower class who had to show the government the need for action which may have not come in any way but through force. The policies of expropriation were violently resisted by the army of peasants who gained strength through Zapata. They believed that the plans which the government adopted were not good for the society. The problems and solutions which were adopted were formulated by people who were actually not in touch with the situation as it was, making them unfair to the peasants. The leading figures, Zapata and Modero, who previously were allies, failed to agree on the solutions put forth to agrarian reforms. Modero did not consider helping the millions of the landless as a priority.
Peasants had to make themselves heard. Revolution was inevitable. Extreme pressure put by the peasants made reforms possible even though policy decisions could only be effected by the elites. As much as it can be stated that the condition of the peasants improved, there were problems which otherwise persisted. History was thus repeated eighty four years after the Revolution only that the conditions were different.
On January 1st 1994, sons and daughters of native Indians peasants marched out of a foggy and wooded valleys and hills of Mexico’s state of Chiapas for a course which was to transform the political and social situation of Mexico. These were soldiers of Zapatista Army of National Liberation on a mission to take over the government of Mexico which they claimed has neglected and ignored them. The rebel soldiers, were armed with all sorts of weapons, some with modern automatic weapons, others with wooden rifles, clubs and knives. These soldiers mainly came from nearby villages and towns. This was to be the beginning of another revolution.
On the first day of the rebellion the army took control of various towns and attacked a military base. All these were located in Chiapas. As they matched, the army distributed communiques explaining their course of action and their objectives. Chiapas, being one of the most productive states in Mexico had a poor majority and these peasants thus came together to protest what they considered grave injustices to the people of that region. According to their commander, the state produced more than 50 percent of the country’s electricity yet the majority were in darkness. The farm outputs ended up in foreign countries. The majority were starving while the minority flourished in wealth. They believed they were rebelling for a right course and appealed to more people to join them since it was for the benefit of a great majority. They claimed that 70 years of dictatorship and endless greed has led to the majority of the Mexicans to starve. They accused the sitting government of being headed by traitors who have managed to sell out the nation. They also stated that their act of rebellion was constitutional, citing article 39 of the Mexican constitution. They wanted change.
The insurgents called for the resignation of Salinas and the placement of a transitional government. They also threatened to match to Mexico city and overthrow the government. The timing of the uprising coincided with the operationalization of NAFTA, a continental treaty which the Chiapas had vehemently opposed since they feared it would drive them deeper into poverty. The rebel’s manifesto asked the people of Mexico to support them in fighting for among other things, land, food, housing, justice, freedom and peace. Indigenous people of Chiapas consisted the leadership and ranks of the EZLN troops. They claimed that their struggle was not concentrated within the state of Chiapas but was national as they represented all the oppressed within the state of Mexico.
The complaints of the rebels about poverty and its accompanying social ills were not only a problem within the Chiapas state but also among the urban poor. In other words, most people saw the rebels just like they pictured themselves; people pushed to the wall by social, economic and political injustices. The soldiers were not however considered as posing a serious military threat to the Mexican government because they were ill equipped. However, there existed a real political danger to the government. Possibility of change began to loom within the minds of of many people.
After hesitating for more than 48 hours, the president moved to crush the rebels. 10,000 troops were mobilized. The first approach was to suppress the social base of the rebels leading to terrorizing of the communities throughout Chiapas. Six days after the rebellion begun, the president addressed the nation through the media demanding for the surrender of the rebels before engaging in dialog. As the rebellion in Chiapas retreated, other partsof Mexico begun to experience new outbreaks. The same day that the president addressed the nation, another group, the Urban Front of Mexico City of the Zapasista National Liberation Army, rejected calls for dialog saying that the struggle will persist. Support for the rebels and political opposition begun to emerge. Demonstrations were held in Mexico city by factory workers and bus drivers under a movement known as Independent Proletarian movement. There grievances were that the government should call off its military actions against the rebels, recognize and negotiate with them.
On the twelfth day after the beginning of the rebellion more than 100,000 people gathered to demonstrate against the government’s military action. The uprising was full blown making it a political crisis for Salinas and his government. On January 10, the stock exchange dropped by more than 6 percent. United States also advised its clients not to invest in Mexico until the government settles the Chiapas’ problem
Faced with these challenges, negotiation was the only choice that Salinas had. The measures that he adopted led to a truce even though he did not precisely agree to accept the demands of the rebel peasants. On the 12th of January he called off the military action and offered amnesty to surrendered rebels. He promised to listen to the social demands of the people of Chiapas. However, the political crisis deepened even after the end of the fighting. The inequality within Mexico was exposed and the legitimacy of Salina’s government questioned.
The band of peasant soldiers transformed politics in Mexico. The rebels exposed Salina’s poor economic reforms which rendered the Indians poor while a few languished in riches. The civil society’s hand was strengthened by the rebels call for democracy. Many groups were inspired by the existence of the rebels as an independent organization. This stepped up the struggle for social justice, among independent groups in Mexico. With the rebellion, things begun to change in Mexico.
With the opening of peace talks, the Zapata had an opportunity to present their grievances to the Mexican government. This negotiation proved to be a success. The Mexican government promised both structural and social adjustments to the people of Chiapas. Besides, the Mexican people were also liberated by the rebellion. The residents of Chiapas were to receive better housing and hospitals, roads and their culture was to be respected. They were also granted semi-autonomy.
It is evident that the Chapias rebellion posed a serious political crisis for Mexico. Mexico City was characterized by demonstrations due to the way in which the government sought to handle the issue. The brutal way in which the peasants were handled by the government, bombings of towns, villages and cities, execution of captured rebels; all had an impact in Mexico. The peasants could no longer be ignored by the government and this was the first step to realizing their goal. As peasants and workers turned to the ruling parties, the upper class sought for ways to disarm and mislead the majority. As the majority which is often made up of the peasants and workers threaten the state and capitalist property, the army always serves as the shield. Even though some leaders had shown sympathy to the EZLN rebels during the time of their uprising, they attacked them for killing soldiers. The rebellion was however successful in every way since a joint declaration was signed to protect the legal order of Chiapas.
The struggle of peasants against Mexican capitalists was to be defended by revolutionaries. However, the type of leadership followed by the fighters was radical middle class as opposed to revolutionary working class. The capitalist order which had been strongly established in Mexico could not thus be overthrown by the peasant movement. It is the Urban working class which possesses the resources to seize power and restructure the society on a socialist model. The Mexican revolution provides a classic example of revolutionary proletarian leadership. The peasants took political power but handed it back. Even though the Mexican workers were involved in the fight, they could not fight for leadership since they did not have a party with an autonomous class program.
The 1994 Chapias rebellion was not the first. Such kind of rebellions have been going on for more than 500 years. The main reason why the peasants rebelled was because of the capitalist market expansion. Every time there was an expansion, an equal resistance resulted among the peasants. Since the community was self sufficient, any move to dismantle it was met with utmost resistance leading to a revolution. During the dictatorial regime of Porfiro Diaz, there was a great expansion of Mexican capitalism which led to the Mexican Revolution. Surprisingly, the revolution was not felt in Chiapas. However, the Mexican peasants have had a long history of struggle as they try to cope with the changing situation especially in a market driven economy which values profit more than any other thing. The Chiapas situation is a remarkable example of how the peasants are often pushed to the wall by unpopular policies which is not inclusive of the needs of the lower class members of the society. In most cases, the peasants are given attention and to some extent, their lives are often improved after the revolution.
It can be said that the peasants obtain what they often fight for in the sense that the government of Mexico, after rebellions, often listen to their plight in order to avoid more chaos and instability. The peasants situation in Mexico since the Mexican revolution has improved. For instance, in Chiapas where peasants revolted, certain structural adjustments have been experienced. These adjustments are focused on improving the conditions of peasants with regard to possession of the means of production and providing an environment which may empower the peasants economically. However, revolutions are a product of mass psychology and hence it is not possible to analyze its effects on the individual peasants. After revolutions, classes emerge which are dependent upon the role of an individual in the revolution. Some may join the bourgeois class as the government may give them positions to make them docile. Other peasants may continue with their old status with not remarkable change in their lives. Viewed holistically, there is often some noticeable positive change within the peasant community after revolutions.
List of references
Neil Harvey, The Chiapas Rebellion: The Struggle for Land and Democracy (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998).
Bazant, Jan. A Concise History of Mexico. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977. Brandenburg, Frank. The Making of Modern Mexico. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964.
Calvert, Peter. The Mexican Revolution, 1910-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968.
Carey, James C. The Mexican Revolution in the Yucatan 1915-1924. Boulder: Westview Press, 1984.
Camin, Hector A. and Lorenzo Meyer. In the Shadow of the Mexican Revolution: Contemporary Mexican History, 1910-1989. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993.
Cumberland, Charles C. Mexican Revolution: Genesis Under Madero. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1952.
John Mason Hart, Revolutionary Mexico: The Coming and Process of the Mexican Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).
John Ross, Rebellion from the Roots: Indian Uprising in Chiapas (Monroe: Common Courage Press, 1995).
Joe Foweraker and Ann L. Craig (eds.), Popular Movements and Political Change in Mexico (Boulder, 1995).
Hart, John Mason. Revolutionary Mexico. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. Knight, Alan. The Mexican Revolution: Volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Knight, Alan. The Mexican Revolution: Volume 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Marián Peres Tsu, ‘A Tzotzil Chronicle of the Zapatista Uprising,’ in Gilbert M. Joseph and Timothy Henderson, eds., The Mexico Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002), 655-69.
Millon, Robert Paul. Mexican Marxist: Vincente Lomabardo Toledano. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1966.
Parkes, Henry Bamford. A History of Mexico. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1960.
Sierra, Justo. the Political Evolution of the Mexican People. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1969. Weyl,
Nathaniel and Sylvia. The Reconquest of Mexico. New York: Oxford University Press, 1939.
 Calvert, Peter. The Mexican Revolution, 1910-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968.
 Bazant, Jan. A Concise History of Mexico. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.
 Camin, Hector A. and Lorenzo Meyer. In the Shadow of the Mexican Revolution: Contemporary Mexican History, 1910-1989. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993.
 John Ross, Rebellion from the Roots: Indian Uprising in Chiapas (Monroe: Common Courage Press, 1995).
 Dan la Botz. Democracy in Mexico. Peasant Rebellion and Political reform. South End Press p.21
 Tom Hayden (ed.), The Zapatista Reader (New York: Nation Books, 2002). Rebellion in Chiapas: An Historical Reader.
 Marián Peres Tsu, ‘A Tzotzil Chronicle of the Zapatista Uprising,’ in Gilbert M. Joseph and Timothy Henderson, eds., The Mexico Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002), 655-69.
 Neil Harvey, The Chiapas Rebellion: The Struggle for Land and Democracy (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998).
 Joe Foweraker and Ann L. Craig (eds.), Popular Movements and Political Change in Mexico (Boulder, 1995).
 Hart, John Mason. Revolutionary Mexico. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.
 John Mason Hart, Revolutionary Mexico: The Coming and Process of the Mexican Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).