The Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910 and lasted roughly until 1920, shares some key similarities with other major social revolutions in history. At its core, the Mexican Revolution arose in response to widespread dissatisfaction among different sectors of society with the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. Just like the French and Russian revolutions, the underlying causes of the Mexican Revolution were rooted in inequalities and repression. The revolution sought to overturn the existing social order and redistribute power and resources more equitably. As with many other revolutions, the Mexican Revolution involved a complex array of factions vying for control, from moderate liberals to radicals. The violence and upheaval of the revolution led to major changes in Mexico’s government, land ownership patterns, and social order. While each revolution arises from unique historical circumstances, the Mexican Revolution followed a general pattern familiar from other major social revolutions.
What were the main causes of the Mexican Revolution?
The Mexican Revolution was spurred by profound dissatisfaction with the regime of Porfirio Díaz, who had ruled Mexico as a dictator for over three decades. Díaz’s regime favored wealthy landowners and industrialists while repressing peasant farmers, workers, and the middle class. Some key factors that provoked opposition to Díaz included:
– Vast inequality of wealth – A small elite class owned most of the land and resources while the masses lived in poverty.
– Lack of democracy – Díaz tended to crush opponents and maintained power through fraud and intimidation.
– Repression of workers – Workers seeking better wages and rights faced crackdowns from Díaz.
– Concentration of land – The hacienda system concentrated rural land in the hands of a tiny elite.
– Economic disruption – Peasants lost land and livelihoods as haciendas expanded, foreign industries dominated, and traditional ways of life were disrupted.
So while Díaz brought stability and progress in some areas, ultimately his dictatorship profited the few at the expense of the many. Widespread discontent finally boiled over into armed revolts against Díaz’s rule.
What groups initially rebelled against Díaz?
Three major forces came together to initiate the revolution against Díaz in 1910:
– Middle-class intellectuals and reformers – Educated middle-class professionals opposed Díaz’s authoritarianism and joined reformist clubs. Prominent figures like Francisco Madero helped spur revolt.
– Emiliano Zapata and southern peasants – Zapata led an armed peasant uprising in Morelos demanding return of village lands.
– Francisco “Pancho” Villa and northern ranchers – Villa raised a northern peasant army against Díaz’s rural policies.
So the early revolution brought together urban middle-class reformers and rural small farmers and ranchers seeking better opportunities and rights. These forces converged to overthrow Díaz in 1911.
Phases of the Mexican Revolution
The Mexican Revolution can be divided into several phases as different leaders and factions vied for power:
Overthrow of Díaz – 1910-1911
– Armed revolts against Díaz break out, led by Madero, Zapata, and Villa.
– Díaz is quickly defeated and resigns in May 1911.
– Madero is elected president in late 1911.
Madero Presidency & its Overthrow – 1911-1913
– Madero proves an ineffectual leader, unable to press radical reforms.
– Conservatives in Mexico City revolt against him in early 1913.
– General Victoriano Huerta betrays Madero and seizes power in Feb. 1913.
– Madero is assassinated.
War of the Factions – 1914-1915
– Opponents of Huerta like Villa, Zapata, and Carranza turn on each other.
– Huerta defeated and ousted in July 1914.
– Villa victorious in the north, Zapata in the south. The two fail to unite.
– Venustiano Carranza emerges as new First Chief.
Carranza Rule & Constitution – 1915-1920
– Carranza slowly consolidates power and pushes back Villa and Zapata.
– New Constitution passed in 1917, enshrining many radical demands.
– Carranza as president turns conservative, prompting further revolts.
– Carranza assassinated in 1920, ending main revolutionary period.
So the revolution passed through periods of optimism, chaos, and consolidation before ultimately leading to a new political order and Constitution.
Armies and Factions in the Mexican Revolution
– Emiliano Zapata’s Liberation Army of the South – Guerrilla army demanding land reform. Base of support in Morelos. Allied to Villa 1915-1916.
– Pancho Villa’s Division of the North – Fierce cavalry that controlled northern Mexico. Allied with Zapata, broke with him 1915.
– Constitutionalists – Bourgeois pro-Carranza faction. More conservative but committed to new Constitution.
– Federales – Federal army of Díaz and later revolutionary leaders. More professional than rebel forces.
Leaders and Factions
– Francisco Madero – Liberal reformer who initiated revolt against Díaz and became president 1911-1913.
– Pascual Orozco – Radical revolutionary who helped oust Díaz but broke with Madero.
– Emiliano Zapata – Leading southern revolutionary demanding radical land reform.
– Pancho Villa – famed northern leader of peasant army. More conservative than Zapata.
– Venustiano Carranza – Politically astute head of Constitutionalists who assumed power 1915-1920.
– Álvaro Obregón – Highly successful Constitutionalists general who later became president.
The various factions had complex relations, at times allying and at others violently opposed as they competed for power.
Consequences & Effects of the Mexican Revolution
The Mexican Revolution had profound long-term impacts on Mexico’s society, government, and economy:
– Overthrow of Porfirio Díaz’s dictatorship
– Democracy instituted after Díaz via elections and new Constitution
– Creation of political party system to manage conflicts between factions
– Nationalization of oil and other resources
– Expansion of government’s role in society
– Redistribution of land from large haciendas to peasants via land reform
– Improved workers’ rights such as minimum wage, unions, 8-hour day
– Greater access to education for poor and rural populations
– Infrastructure and rural development programs launched
– Political turmoil and intermittent warfare until 1930s
– Assassinations of revolutionary leaders Madero, Zapata, Carranza
– Post-revolutionary governments often repressive
– One-party system dominated until 1990s
So while the Revolution enabled major reforms and progress, it did not fully achieve some of the ideals fought for. The violence and disruption also came at a huge cost. But on balance, most historians view the revolution as a pivotal event that reordered Mexican society for the better.
Similarity to Other Revolutions
The Mexican Revolution shares many parallels with earlier social revolutions:
– Widespread inequality and poverty
– Lack of political rights and democracy
– Economic disruptions impacting livelihoods
– Repression of dissident groups
– Corrupt, autocratic regimes
Cycle of Revolution
– Initial moderate phase overthrowing old regime
– Radicalization and rise of extremist factions
– Chaotic struggle for power among factions
– Reign of terror and violence
– Eventual consolidation of authority
– Overthrow of monarchy/dictatorship
– Establishment of republic and democratic institutions
– Significant changes in social order and hierarchy
– Redistribution of wealth, land reform
– Expansion of citizenship and rights
For example, the French Revolution similarly arose due to inequalities and absolutism under the Bourbons. It passed through moderate, radical, and terror phases. It led to the overthrow of monarchy, land reform, and expansion of rights. Both the French and Mexican revolutions were prolonged and bloody struggles that ultimately remade their societies.
The Russian Revolution shares similarities in its origins in poverty, repression, and autocracy. It also went through optimistic moderate, more radical, and eventually consolidated periods. While the Russian Revolution took a more extreme Communist direction, both it and the Mexican Revolution sought to radically remake their societies.
Comparison of Impacts
|Old Regime Overthrown
|Class Structure Changed?
|Porfirio Díaz dictatorship
|Elected civilian government
|Yes – greater rights for peasants/workers
|Yes – redistribution from haciendas
|Yes – after Díaz
|Yes – power shifts toward middle class
|Yes – redistribution of land
|Briefly under Republic
|Communist one-party rule
|Yes -abolition of private property
|Yes – redistribution of land
|No – one-party state
So while the directions they took varied, the Mexican, French, and Russian revolutions shared core similarities in what they opposed and their seismic impacts. Each represented a key modernizing rupture that utterly transformed society.
The Mexican Revolution, while arising from unique national circumstances, shared many common causes, cycles, and consequences with major social revolutions in France, Russia, and other countries. At its root, it represented the overthrow of an entrenched authoritarian order that had bred widespread poverty and inequality in Mexican society. It unleashed a prolonged period of violence and chaos as factions vied bitterly for power and advantage. Eventually consolidation emerged, leading to a new constitutional order and expanded rights and opportunities for common people. Mexico’s revolution left the country thoroughly transformed socially, economically, and politically. The legacies of leaders like Zapata and Villa endure as symbols of the revolution’s idealism. While an imperfect transformation, the revolution remains a pivotal event that remade Mexico into a more progressive and equitable nation.