Week 8: Signs of Crisis in the Gilded Age

This weeks material focused on crisis facing Latin America at the beginning of the 20th century, with a particular focus on Mexico and the Mexican Revolution. The Mexican revolution is really interesting to me because it seems to still play a role in Mexican politics and society. As Dawson mentions in the video the Plan de Ayala is still taught in the Mexican educational system. However, its influence goes well beyond this. Dawson also speaks to the continuation of the EZLN and their resurgence in 1994. I think it is very interesting that they were the first Guerrilla that utilized the internet to spread awareness of the crisis that they were facing. I don’t  think it was mentioned in the video, but as many of you know the EZLN re-emerged in 1994 in opposition to the implementation of NAFTA. The trade deal threatened their communal lands, and I believe that they also(rightfully so) feared the liberalization of agricultural trade. To this note, their use of the internet was very successful. They were able to alert NGOs, and regular people around the world of the imminent threat that they faced. In turn this helped protect them from the state repression that undoubtedly would have followed their resistance to NAFTA.  Now that I think about it, i’ve talked to my parents about this, both of whom remember hearing about the Zapatistas, led by subcomandante Marcos declaring war on the Mexican government on January 1st. I guess this should have made it obvious that they were using new methods to spread awareness. The legacy of the revolution is also present in a very strong way in Mexican Politics. The PRI which I think can be considered a product of the revolution, has, to put it lightly,  been a powerful force in Mexico since the 1930s. With an uninterrupted rule of something like 70 years, they have clearly been a shaping force of modern day Mexico. And if i’m not mistaken they are back in power today after a short interruption in the early 2000s.


Something Dawson said that  I found really interesting was that Zapata and Pancho Villa became very strong symbols because they did not live long enough to disappoint. This idea rang true for me. It made me think of Castro, Ortega, Chavez.. It seems that, to a certain extent these leaders have fulfilled that claim. Although I am honestly a fan of all these leaders, I don’t think any of them lived up to their potential. I think Castro did well, yet did not truly create the society of which he had imagined. Same thing goes for Chavez. His first 10 years or so were amazing, yet it seems that towards the end of his life the idealistic society he aimed to create began to become warped. However, for both these guys I think that is incredibly important to consider the outside influences that impeded their dreams. What could have happened if the US minded their own business? As for Ortega I simply find him disappointing. But anyways i’m getting way off track.

A further point that Dawson made is that their were no clear winners of the Revolution.  In the Cuban revolution Castro and his followers clearly won, in Nicaragua Ortega and the Sandinistas won, what made the  Mexican outcome different?  

This weeks original documents were also quite interesting. Primarily, I liked “ The Problem of the Indian” and the “Plan de Ayala.”  I found “La Raza Cosmica” sort of confusing so I will address this one first. It seems that Vasconcelos was headed in the right direction, but i found it really hard to ignore the racist undertones which in the end made me doubtful. Was Vasconcelos saying that the ultimate human will be created from the mixing of “races” by eliminating unwanted weaknesses. Or was he saying that the ultimate human would be created because the “savagery” of blacks and indians would eventually disappear? Perhaps someone can clarify this in the comments.   

The other two mentioned readings I really liked. The Plan De Ayala clearly echoes many of the demands of the poor. Not just in Mexico but throughout Latin America. The Indian problem framed the need for land as a socioeconomic problem. Secondly, his framing as the Latifundio system as a continuation of feudalism is spot on. Even today, in a “modern” way we can see this continue in the fruit plantations of central america, in the orange groves of florida or in the vineyards of the Okanagan.  Particularly interesting was the argument that the division of land is capitalist, liberal and bourgeois, something i’ve never heard anyone else argue for.  The way that the current neoliberal system frames this issue makes this seem counterintuitive; bigger is better. Yet, with a little thought it does make sense. Small plots of land=more capitalist, arguably more production, and definitely increased competition.  

My question for this week is in regards to Dawson’s idea that revolutionary figures can be eaten by the revolution and thus usually disappoint. Can anyone think of a revolutionary leader who survived to rule afterwards and actually implemented what they had promised?


Sorry to anyone who’s had to read this, I know it’s not very clear. haha.


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