The Mexican Revolution was a major armed struggle in Mexico that began in 1910, ending dictatorship in Mexico and establishing a constitutional republic. The revolution is considered to have lasted until 1917 or 1920, although violence continued through the rest of the 1920s. The revolution led to the creation of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional which governed Mexico for much of the 20th century. The revolution greatly impacted not only Mexico but the rest of Latin America as well.
Causes of the Mexican Revolution
The Mexican Revolution was caused by various factors:
- The dictatorship of President Porfirio Diaz who had been in power since 1876. Diaz had brought stability and economic growth to Mexico through modernization and foreign investment but only benefited wealthy landowners and industrialists while the bulk of the population remained in poverty.
- The concentration of land and wealth into the hands of a tiny elite upper class while the peasants remained landless and impoverished.
- The rigging of elections to keep Diaz and his cronies in power.
- The failure of Mexico’s institutions to provide adequate paths for political participation and the repression of dissent and opposition groups. This resulted in armed revolt being one of the only options left for change.
- The influence of the Mexican Liberal Party who strongly opposed Diaz’s dictatorship. Key figures such as Camilo Arriaga and Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magón advocated revolution against Diaz.
- The perception among the Mexican middle class that their economic opportunities were blocked by the elite and foreign investors who monopolized the economy.
- The spread of anarchist and socialist ideology among Mexican intellectuals, workers and peasants which made them sympathetic to revolution.
These factors led to a build up of tensions that finally exploded into armed revolts against Diaz in 1910 led by figures like Francisco I. Madero, Pancho Villa, and Emiliano Zapata.
Key Events of the Revolution
Some key events of the revolution include:
- Francisco Madero’s call for revolution – Madero issues his Plan de San Luis Potosí in October 1910 calling for Mexicans to rise up against Diaz on November 20. This sparks the beginning of the revolution.
- Overthrow of Diaz – Fighting breaks out across Mexico and rebel forces converge on Mexico City. Diaz resigns in May 1911 after a negotiated peace and Madero is elected president in November.
- Pascual Orozco’s rebellion – One of Madero’s own generals, Orozco, turns against him in 1912, feeling betrayed by Madero’s failure to enact radical reforms.
- Huerta’s coup – Army chief Victoriano Huerta overthrows Madero in February 1913 with the support of the US ambassador. Huerta then becomes president.
- Rise of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata – Villa in the north and Zapata in the south lead major rebellions against Huerta’s usurpation of power.
- Huerta forced out – Huerta resigns under pressure in July 1914 and flees to Spain.
- Zapata and Villa enter Mexico City – After Huerta’s fall, Zapata and Villa march triumphantly into Mexico City.
- Carranza takes power – Alvaro Obregón defeats Villa, while Venustiano Carranza emerges as leader of the Constitutionalist faction. Carranza becomes president in 1917.
- Constitution of 1917 – Carranza convenes a constitutional convention that frames the Constitution of 1917, enacting many reforms demanded since the revolution began.
The revolution fractured into various, often competing factions and forces including the Villistas, Zapatistas, Constitutionalists, and Carrancistas. Ultimately Carranza and Obregón were able to use the Constitutionalist Army to consolidate power and enact reforms demanded by the revolution, though armed conflicts would continue into the 1920s.
Effects on Mexico
The Mexican Revolution’s effects on Mexico itself were wide-ranging:
- Overthrew the 31-year dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz
- Ended the monopoly of power held by a small number of wealthy landowning families
- Redistributed a significant amount of land from large estates to peasants and farmers through provisions such as the ejido system of communal land tenure
- Improved labor rights such as shorter workdays, higher wages, and regulations against child labor
- Sparked a cultural renaissance in art and literature led by figures like Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and José Clemente Orozco who depicted the revolution’s ideals
- Enabled Mexico’s transition to a modern capitalist democracy rather than a socialist state as radicals like Zapata envisioned
- Laid foundations for one-party rule in Mexico by the PRI which co-opted the peasant and labor groups that had supported the revolution
- Expanded public education and legal reforms gained women greater rights
The 1917 Constitution remains Mexico’s fundamental charter to this day. While the PRI regime failed to live up to many of the revolution’s ideals, Mexico nevertheless transitioned from an autocratic society to an electoral democracy.
Impact on Latin America
The Mexican Revolution also had ripple effects across Latin America:
- Inspired other social revolts and uprisings against oligarchic quasi-feudal systems in Latin American countries throughout the 20th century
- Sparked fears among the United States and Latin American elites of radical social “subversion”, communism, and threats to U.S. business interests in the region
- Led the U.S. to actively intervene, sometimes militarily, in Latin American nations to “stabilize” regimes and economies in line with U.S. interests – e.g. deploying the Marines to occupy Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic
- Provided an impetus for populist and sometimes leftist regimes and leaders like Getúlio Vargas in Brazil, Juan Perón in Argentina, and Lázaro Cárdenas in Mexico
- Influenced later major revolutions such as Cuba’s in 1959 and inspired revolutionary leaders like Che Guevara
- Weakened the landed oligarchies in Latin America and opened spaces for the growth of urban middle classes and industrial labor movements
- Spread ideals of nationalism, anti-imperialism, and indigenismo (celebration of indigenous roots) throughout Latin American intellectual circles
The Mexican Revolution showed that the existing social order imposed since colonial times could be fundamentally transformed through popular revolt. This example inspired an entirely new generation of Latin American leaders, thinkers, workers, and peasants to seek radical social change in their own countries throughout the 20th century. The populist and Marxist movements that subsequently gained traction can trace their ideological roots to therevolutionary fervor unleashed by Mexico’s great revolution.
Ruled Mexico as president and dictator from 1876 to 1910. His repressive regime created the grievances that ultimately sparked the Mexican Revolution.
Led the initial uprising against Diaz in 1910 and became president after Diaz resigned. Madero failed to enact major reforms which led to new rebellions against his rule.
A peasant leader from Morelos. Fought for radical land reforms for peasants under his Plan de Ayala. His Zapatista army formed a key faction in the revolution’s southern front.
A bandit-turned-guerilla leader in the north. Commanded the famed División del Norte cavalry. Later routed by forces of Venustiano Carranza.
A leader of Chihuahua rebels who helped overthrow Diaz. Turned against Madero in 1912 before being ultimately defeated.
Military commander who overthrew Madero in 1913 and installed himself as president. His regime was opposed by Villa, Zapata, and the Constitutionalists.
Leader of the Constitutionalist faction. Defeated Villa and Zapata to become president in 1917. Pushed through the 1917 Constitution before being overthrown and assassinated in 1920.
Brilliant general who supported Carranza and defeated Villa in 1915 to help Carrancistas consolidate power. Elected president in 1920.
The Mexican Revolution was a tumultuous period that utterly transformed Mexico’s social, economic, and political landscape. The revolution destroyed Mexico’s old order dominated by wealthy landlords and dictatorial rulers. It unleashed powerful currents of nationalism, identity politics, and class/land reform movements. Leaders like Zapata and Villa became heroic icons. The 1917 Constitution enacted sweeping reforms that benefited peasants, workers and the nation’s development.
The reforms of the revolution remainMexico’s guiding framework today. The revolution’s reverberations throughout Latin America contributed to the downfall of oligarchic regimes, the rise of populist nationalism, and revolutionary socialist movements inspired by Mexico’s example. The Mexican Revolution’s effects, both within Mexico itself and across the wider Latin American region, marked it as one of the most significant geopolitical ruptures of the 20th century. Its consequences continue to shape the social struggles and political contours of Latin America today.