Popularly known as la bola, the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917) was the first great social upheaval of the twentieth century. More than one million Mexicans lost their lives in an epic struggle that pitted peasants (campesinos), landowners (hacendados), factory workers, merchants, and provincial and national elites against one another. For more than a generation now, historians and social scientists of the Revolution have probed the hostility that festered among these diverse groups at the regional and local level. Inspired by the landmark regional studies of John Womack (Zapata and the Mexican Revolution) and Luis González y González (Pueblo en vilo: Microhistoria de San José de Gracia; San José de Gracia: Mexican Village in Transition, 1974)—both published in 1968—young historians have carved out veritable academic fiefs in the provinces, becoming intellectual versions of the regional revolutionary leaders (caudillos or caciques) about whom they write. Abandoning the perspective of Mexico City for the view obtainable in more remote and tranquil cities and towns, this new generation of scholars has provided a much-needed corrective to the worst excesses of a traditional historiography that prior to 1968 overemphasized the dominant role which Mexico City and the national government had played in the epic Revolution. Their accumulated efforts have produced a storehouse of empirical research for several regions.
After two decades of intensive study of region and locality, several stimulating syntheses have appeared which reevaluate the Mexican Revolution, generating their arguments and analyses in part from this rich harvest of microhistories. Alan Knight’s The Mexican Revolution (1986), François-Xavier Guerra’s Le Mexique: De l’ ancien régime à la revolution (1985) and the book under review here, John Mason Hart’s Revolutionary Mexico: The Coming and Process of the Mexican Revolution, fashion original and often contradictory theses about the origins and outcome of la bola. Each interpretative synthesis stakes out new ground and assembles its own cache of primary and secondary sources to prove its hypothesis.
Hart’s contribution to the historiography of the Revolution emphasizes the pivotal role that economic factors played in shaping the origins and final direction of the Revolution. Foreign investment swamped Mexico during the Porfiriato, dominating the financial, mining, agricultural, and transport sectors. This overwhelming influx of capital in a relatively short time span made the nation economically dependent on imported capital. The French secured spheres of influence in the banking and textile industries. The British preferred petroleum exploration and public works projects. American businessmen invested heavily in railways, silver mines, cattle, tropical agriculture, and a host of raw materials needed for their burgeoning factories and farms back home. In 1900 fully one-half of all American foreign investments were in Mexico. In particular, North American dollars began flowing heavily into the border states of Coahuila, Chihuahua, and Sonora. By 1902 more than 23 percent of all American investments were located in these three cradles of revolutionary discontent. While expatriate entrepreneurs secured lucrative concessions from Mexico City bureaucrats, provincial elites, factory owners, and merchants found themselves unable to compete successfully with the better-capitalized foreigners. Hart is convinced that an often-conspiratorial working relationship existed between foreign investors and national politicians which triggered a wave of nationalistic discontent during the late Porfiriato. Unlike Knight, who insists that many Mexicans lacked a clearly defined sense of nationhood in 1910, Hart finds anti-imperialism to be an important causative factor in the revolutionary equation.
Utilizing the personal papers of American entrepreneurs, corporate records, and documents from the American-Mexican Claims Commission—a joint investigation conducted during the 1920’s into the damages suffered by North American companies during the Revolution—Hart spins a fascinating web of intrigue linking General Porfirio Díaz and his oligarchical clique to such Gilded Age luminaries as Daniel Guggenheim,...
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