Week 8 Reflections

One thing I found particularly interesting that came up in Dawson, as well as Emilio Zapata’s “Plan de Ayala”, was the association of peasant revolutionaries as being ‘bandits and rebels’.  Dawson points out that the writing was essentially on the wall after Zapata and Villa occupied Mexico City; that they had irreversibly upset the liberal middle classes, and would from then on be associated with criminality. I suppose what was interesting was the role that class plays in revolution here. Quite often, as described by Professor Dawson, members of revolutionary movements who, unlike Zapata or Villa, survive, they are sometimes able to socially elevate themselves as a result, often leaving behind their respective movements in all but name.

I suppose what this labeling made me consider, is what is the role of the middle classes in a revolutionary struggle? Dawson points out that in Argentina, the middle classes interests were largely in line with those of the oligarchs; they both profited from the same exploitation, and they both feared similar types of retaliation (the former, of course, to radically different extents). Furthermore, you have the same type of denigration applied to the working class revolutionaries, instead of ‘bandits and rebels’, now the boogieman takes on a more red-scare-esque appearance, with unionists, socialists, and egalitarians being conveyed (perhaps rightly so) as the paramount threat to the status quo.

There’s this tricky impasse that seems to come up here. If working class people fail to agitate, they are more likely than not going to fail to secure better conditions. If they agitate too much, by say, occupying the symbolic center of a state, they alienate a class of people who might otherwise have been sympathetic to their movement. I’m kind of reminded of our current moment here, in Minneapolis (where I grew up), blocking highways has become a popular tactic of protest, largely in response to police brutality and other forms of systemic oppression. I feel like I constantly hear about how protesters could be doing something more effective, how they’re ruining people’s days, and not garnering any sympathy via their tactics. Yet, these are people who otherwise wouldn’t be talking about something like this, who certainly wouldn’t be paying attention to the role that police brutality plays within our society. I suppose this might just boil down to a case where it’s impossible to please everyone. In Martin Luther King Jr’s speech “The Other America,” he claims that a riot is the language of the unheard, and as we can see from the reaction to the Argentinian unionists, the Mexican revolutionaries, and those poised against the status quo today, there are many who simply don’t want to hear anything.

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