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Anarchism and Anarchist Movements

Anarchism and Anarchist Movements

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ANARCHISM AND ANARCHIST MOVEMENTS
From "Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society & Culture"
 
Copyright © 1997 by FITZROY DEARBORN PUBLISHERS
Anarchism played a crucial role in the formation and history of working-class movements in Mexico duringthe nineteenth century and in political unrest in Mexico between the 1860s and 1920s. Born of self-regulating working-class practices and experience in artisan shops and rural agriculture before the onset ofcapitalism, anarchism constituted a political defense of rural and urban working-class culture in the face ofthe relatively sudden reorganization of power and wealth that took place in the late nineteenth and earlytwentieth centuries. It was strongest in Latin Europe and Latin America, where peasant and artisan culturestill flourished at the onset of the capitalist transformation.The practice of mutual aid among peasants and artisans and the experience they gained from participationin local polity gave them the ability to organize along anarchist lines. Mutual aid and self-regulation prevailedin the agricultural communities and industrial workshops of the Native American peoples of Mexico beforethe European invasions of the sixteenth century. The Spaniards, in turn, brought their own clearly definedrural communalist and artisan mutual aid practices with them. Missionaries applied those concepts to therural populace during the chaos, demographic collapse, and reorganization of the 1500s. From the 1540sonward the Spanish Crown assisted in the process by incorporating Native American pueblos that featured
fondos legales
, or civically owned lands dedicated to town life and agriculture. As 95 percent of thepopulace died following contact with Europeans, the survivors offered refuge to the disabled, orphans,widows, and stragglers. Later, Spanish artisans and farmers merged their past experience with communalpractices in Spain with those of Mesoamerica. As a result of these events a syncretic mestizo working-classculture emerged. Throughout the remainder of the colonial era, and then into the nineteenth and earlytwentieth centuries, workers’ self-management was a real force in the cultivation of
ejido
 (village) propertiesand in the artisan workshops.But change was coming. During the eighteenth century foreign trade opportunities helped overcome the lackof a large domestic marketplace for Mexican raw materials such as metal ores, cotton, sugar, henequen,and livestock. The beginnings of the reorganization of agriculture preceded the workplace and meant adrawn out struggle for control of production between communalists in agriculture and those seeking profitsthrough economies of scale and increased commercial intercourse. While industrial unrest influenced byanarchists did not come until the second half of the nineteenth century, communal agriculturalists reflecting ageneric anarchism surfaced much earlier.The rise of anarchist-like agricultural conflict began among the peasantry in and around the sugarplantations south of Puebla at Izúcar. There, in 1780, the rebels complained of outsiders overriding theauthority of pueblo and town councils and of their interference in the control of the land and workingconditions. The rebels called for the restoration of local autonomy, self-governance, lost landholdings, andthe assertion of their political rights by the expulsion of the Spaniards from America. The tension in ruralsociety continued during the multilayered disputes of the Wars of Independence. In many places thepeasants rolled back commercial holdings and occupied hacienda properties while artisans and urbanworkers remained relatively quiescent. But the victory in the countryside was short-lived. Beginning in thelate 1820s, the state and national governments began issuing a series of edicts enabling privatization.Several of these innovations provoked unrest among the communalists in the pueblos. The most notable
 
were the uprisings of 1832 and the 1840s that convulsed southwestern Mexico, and the privatization ofCatholic Church mission properties, which revolutionized landholding in parts of San Luis Potosí, Querétaro,and California.In 1856 the victorious Liberals promulgated the Ley Lerdo, which declared the privatization of all ruralcorporate properties, clerical and pueblo. The crisis deepened. Between 1856 and 1910 the nationunderwent a prolonged privatization process in which collective peasant holdings of arable lands fell from 25percent to only 2 percent of the total. Despite a significant increase in middle-sized holdings, the owners oflarge commercial estates gained control of the vast majority of arable and nonarable properties. The ruralworking class experienced a remarkable decline in their access to arable land during this period andresorted to legal and extralegal means of defense. Their resistance became desperate and in many casesmerged with urban and industrial anarchism, creating new programs and forms of resistance. The directcontact of artisan and urban anarchists with the peasantry synthesized the confrontation of the workingclasses and the emergent capitalist elites.Plotino Rhodakanaty, a political missionary from the European revolutions of 1848 familiar with the left-wingideologies of Paris and Barcelona, arrived in Mexico in the early 1860s. He became a teacher at the Colegiode San Ildefonso in Mexico City. Teaching the need for universal brotherhood, equal wages, mutual aid,cooperatives, and political federalism between the pueblos, cities, and states, he encouraged the students toform a “Bakuninist Group.” They called it “La Social.” The membership included a number of industrialworkers.Santiago Villanueva and Francisco Zalacosta, the sons of artisans, assumed leadership roles in thesegroups. Basing his operations in the La Social and its successors the Círculo Proletario and the Gran Círculode Obreros de México as workers centrals, Villanueva coordinated the unionization effort in the Valley ofMexico. They created a movement that merged mutualist self-help and management with labor actions insearch of collective bargaining agreements that provided higher wages and better working conditions. In1865 they succeeded in recruiting the memberships of the mutualist societies at the La Colmena andTlalnepantla textile factories. Strikes ensued at the two plants, followed immediately by another at La FamaMontanesa. However, at the textile plant at Tepeji del Río, Emperor Maximilian’s Imperial Guards broke upthe massed workers and arrested those on the picket lines.In the meantime the organizers broadened their efforts to include the artisans. By 1868, when the Liberalgovernment of Benito Juárez had been restored to power, the typesetters, candle makers, and cloth makershad joined the textile factory workers in a new movement. The anarchist leadership had successfully broughttogether workers practicing mutualist self-help and artisans using collective management strategies throughtheir cooperatives into an organization that supported strikes and political propaganda. In 1869, they createdthe first workers council in Mexico, the Círculo Proletario, in charge of coordinating the organization of theindustrial and agricultural laborers of the central plateau.By the early 1870s the unification of workers’ organizations had progressed to the point of including morethan 20 groups. Each unit sent a delegate to the Gran Círculo de México, which met at the Church of SaintPeter and Saint Paul in the colonial section of downtown. The anarchists’ objectives were clear.Rhodakanaty declared: “Down with all governments.” Although he was not a leader within the Círculo, hisinfluence pervaded the group. Ricardo Velatti, a Círculo spokesman, described their economic adversary:“Capital, here we have the terrible enemy of the worker. . . . [They] act like petty kings in order to fill theircoffers from the sweat of those who have to work. . . .” But the workers did not seek to only oppose the newcapitalists. They sought utopia: “No more rich and poor, masters and servants, governments and governed,capitalists and workers! All men share the just and dignified task before them!” In other areas of the nationsimilar unionization undertakings by labor radicals were underway. At this point we know little about themexcept for their appearances at the Congreso General Obrero de la República Mexicana, which convened inMexico City in 1876. In those meetings they displayed the same commitment to the politicizing of mutualistand cooperative working-class groups as their metropolitan counterparts. Their balance of anarchist idealsand more generic unionist beliefs paralleled those of the Mexico City delegates. They were a mix ofanarchists, radicals, and activists, temporized by their weakness vis-à-vis the government.
 
By 1878 some 50,000 workers in the textile industry and artisan crafts had joined groups affiliated with theCongress of Workers. The anarchists continued to influence ideology and practical decision making. Theyreported some 62 anarchist societies in Mexico. The Congreso affiliates adopted the
rojinegra
, the red andblack flag of anarchism, as their emblem, and Mexican labor unions continued to use it into the late twentiethcentury. In 1880 the Congreso split into two groups, one favoring electoral participation in opposition to thenational government and the other favoring only local and state participation in the context of a decentralizedfederalism that emphasized local self-government. The factions never reconciled. In 1881 the anarchistgroup, which was the largest, endorsed Nathan Ganz, the American publisher of the
Anarchist SocialistRevolutionary Review
 of Boston, to represent them at the International Workingmen’s meeting in Europe.While no record of his fulfilling that function exists, the Mexicans’ willingness to endorse him speaks for itself.In 1882 the government suppressed the labor movement while recruiting the foreign capital needed for itsindustrialization program. The anarchists continued to operate, but they were out of the limelight for 10years.In the agrarian sector Zalacosta undertook organizing the disgruntled ranchers and workers at Chalco,southeast of Mexico City. During the late 1860s he and Julio Chávez López, probably a disgruntled localranchero who had operated a small olive orchard, organized a large peasants’ uprising there. Mexico Cityland developer Inigo Noriega had provoked the citizenry by privatizing the property and draining LakeChalco with government permission. In response, Chávez López and Zalacosta issued a manifesto to all the“oppressed of Mexico and the universe” calling for the restoration of the communal lands and municipalautonomy. The Mexican army executed Chávez López, who actually led the 1,500 rebels into battle atChalco. In the late 1870s Zalacosta organized a communalist agrarian movement. In 1878 therepresentatives of 80 pueblos and rural communities convened in a congress arranged by Zalacosta at LaBarranca. They demanded the restoration of their peasant lands and municipal autonomies. Rebuffed,several armed bands seized properties in the northern parts of the states of Michoacán and Mexico andpoints in Querétaro and San Luis Potosí. In 1880 the army captured Zalacosta and executed him atQuerétaro. The fighting continued from 1878 to 1884 and spread to Tamaulipas, Hidalgo, and Veracruz. Inthe northern sector of the fighting, the leaders of the peasant forces, Juan Santiago and Padre Zavala, hadbeen in direct contact with the “communists” from Mexico City.Meanwhile, other radical agrarian programs revealed the deep interconnectedness between anarchistthought and peasant community aspirations. In 1878 Colonel Alberto Santa Fe, once described as “half-Bakuninist, half-Marxist,” published his “Ley del Pueblo” in Puebla. Reflecting strong anarchist influences, hecalled for the distribution of land parcels to all families resident in the pueblos on the basis of their numbersof male offspring. He wanted to end urban ownership of rural land, level income and wealth, abolish wages,and create self-governing
falanges
 (or communities, not to be confused with the
falanges
 of Spanishfascism). Santa Fe’s program anticipated that of the Plan de Ayala of the Zapatistas during the 1910Revolution. Otilio Montaño, who wrote the Plan de Ayala after becoming an aide to Emiliano Zapata,attended classes at a small public school in Ajusco while Rhodakanaty taught there during the 1880s.During the 1890s two forms of anarchist activity prevailed. Among the workers,
sociedades de resistencia
,such as the one formed by the textile workers at Río Blanco, Veracruz, survived as long as they escaped thescrutiny of the army and
rurales
 (rural police). The other appeared as a student challenge at the NationalUniversity School of Law to the political dictatorship of President Porfirio Díaz. Led by Ricardo, Enrique, andJesús Flores Magón, the movement quickly radicalized and fought with the police during demonstrations.Ricardo and Enrique soon became anarchists, espousing the rural communalism found among theindigenous peoples of their native state of Oaxaca, while Jesús remained more moderate, favoringfederalism and democracy. By 1900 Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magón had become anarchistrevolutionaries.They then fled to the United States and Canada to escape apprehension by the Mexican authorities. In theUnited States they established the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM, or Mexican Liberal Party), a political partythat served as a tranquil front for violent resistance to the Díaz regime. They established a politicalheadquarters in exile at Los Angeles, where they published
Regeneración
, a newspaper of “resistance,”and distributed it surreptitiously in Mexico. Their efforts found considerable support. At the large Río Blanco

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