LAND & LIBERTY! Anarchist Influences in the Mexican Revolution — Ricardo Flores Magón Compiled and Introduced by Dave Poole. eBook £eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)


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Cipriano Ricardo Flores Magón (September 16, 1874 – died, Leavenworth Penitentiary, November 21, 1922)

“A succinct biography of Ricardo Flores Magón together with a collection of his essays, a history of Mexican anarchism, and a chronology of the anarchist movement. “It contains the finest collection of Magón’s writings yet seen in English. It also presents important evidence in support of the argument that Magón’s influence within the Mexican left between 1910 and 1920 was far stronger than we have previously recognised.” John M. Hart, Hispanic American Historical Review.”

‘This collection of articles under the title Land and Liberty was first published by the Organising Junta of the Mexican Liberal Party in Los Angeles, California, in 1913. It was intended to be the first of a series of booklets to explain to English speaking readers, mainly in North America, the aims and ideas of the Mexican Liberal Party, and the true social aspect of the Mexican Revolution ignored by the general press. Some of articles published in ‘Land and Liberty’ first appeared in Regeneración during the years 1910-1912 and were written by Ricardo Flores Magón, William C. Owen and Antonio de P. Araujo.

Ricardo Flores Magón, although almost unknown outside his native Mexico, was the most important anarchist active during the Mexican Revolution, and through his influence large areas of land were expropriated by the peasants, many former slaves, and worked in common by them. He not only opposed and fought against the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, but also against all the so-called revolutionary leaders who came to power after the latter’ downfall in 1911. Ricardo ceaselessly strove to direct the struggle of the working people away from mere helpless participation in a political revolution to creating for themselves a truly social revolution based on anarchist-communism, where they could live and work without the recourse to leader or master.

Ricardo Flores Magón was born on September 16th 1874 in San Antonio Eloxochitlán, Oaxaca State, the second of three sons of a Zapotec Indian father and a Mestiza mother. While still young his family moved to Mexico City where Ricardo was able to attend the Escuela Nacional Primaria and later the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria. It was while at this school, in May 1892, that he took part in his first protest against the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz for which he was charged with sedition and sentenced to five months imprisonment. The following year he graduated to the Escuela Nacional de Jurisprudencia and also joined the editorial group of the opposition newspaper El Democrata. Within a few months though, the paper was banned by the dictatorship and its staff arrested. Ricardo, however, managed to escape and was obliged to hide with friends for several months before returning to school.

In 1895 Ricardo was admitted to the Mexican bar and practised law a little while continuing his studies at school until he was expelled in 1898 for his political activities. Together with his two brothers he then worked as a clerk in several law offices in order to save enough money to start a new opposition newspaper. With money thus saved they were able to bring out the first issue of Regeneración on August 7th 1900 with Jesús, Ricardo‘s elder brother, and A. Horcasitas as editors. For the first few months of its life Regeneración was careful not to openly attack the dictatorship, but in December of the same year it changed its position from being just a law journal to an “Independent Journal of Combat’ and from then on vigorously attacked every aspect of the Díaz regime, based as it was on slavery and official corruption on the grandest of scales. This change coincided with Ricardo becoming editor in the place of Horcasitas.

atencionTrabajIn February 1901 Ricardo participated in the first Congress of Liberal Clubs held in San Luis Potosí. These clubs had been formed throughout the country at the initiative of Camillo Arriaga a mining engineer and former senator. Their aim was to combat the ever-growing influence the churches exercised in the running of the country. It was here that Ricardo was to make his first open attack on the Díaz dictatorship. While the other delegates were content to make speeches of simply an anti-clerical nature, when Ricardo’s turn came to speak he stood up and denounced the Díaz administration as a den of thieves. After that the wrath of Díaz was not long in descending. Ricardo and Jesűs were arrested the following May and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment for insulting the president.

Despite the imprisonment of its editors Regeneración continued, printed clandestinely with the younger of the Flores Magón brothers, Enrique, taking over the editorship. Ricardo, though, still contributed articles from his prison cell and smuggled out by a group of sympathetic prisoners. At the end of the year, however, Regeneración was forced to cease publication.

On his release from prison in April 1902, Ricardo took over the editorship of the anti-Díaz satirical weekly El Hijo del Ahuizote, aided by Enrique; Jesús having had enough of illegality, abandoned the struggle to practise law. In September the offices of El Hijo del Ahuizote were raided by the police and the presses etc., confiscated. Ricardo and Enrique were arrested and sentenced to four months imprisonment after being held incommunicado for over a month in a military prison. El Hijo del Ahuizote was forced to close but appeared again in November under the direction of Juan Sarabia. Ricardo and Enrique resumed work on the paper in January 1903 on their release from; prison, until April, when the offices were raided for a second time. Now the entire editorial group of ten people were arrested and imprisoned for five months for “ridiculing public officials.” Ricardo was again held incommunicado, this time for two-and-a-half months. While in prison the Supreme Court of Mexico forbade the publication of any article written by Ricardo. On gaining his freedom at the end of 1903 and faced with the ban on his writings Ricardo was forced to leave Mexico and seek exile in the U.S from where, or so he thought, he could continue the anti-Díaz struggle without persecution. In exile he was joined by Enrique and later by Librado Rivera, Juan Sarabia and Antonio I. Villareal, all co-workers on El Hijo del Ahuizote.

Ricardo (left) and Enrique Flores Magón

Ricardo and his comrades first settled in Laredo, Texas where they found work as labourers. Some months later though he moved to San Antonio with Enrique and Juan Sarabia where they were able to resume the publication of Regeneración in November 1904. However, during the following months an attempt was made on Ricardo’s life by an assassin hired by the Díaz dictatorship, the attempt being averted only by the quick intervention of Enrique. Because of this the exiles were forced to move again, this time to Saint Louis, Missouri, where Regeneración appeared again in February 1905.

While in Saint Louis, Ricardo attended lectures given by Emma Goldman. Her ideas were not new to him, for as early as 1900 he had become familiar with the writings of Bakunin, Malatesta, Faure and Kropotkin, all of which he read with great enthusiasm, especially the latter; and it was through Ricardo that the anti-Díaz journal Vesper of Mexico City brought out The Conquest of Bread in booklet form in 1902. Through his contact with Emma Goldman, with whom he was later to become friendly, and the Spanish anarchist Florencio Bazora, a former comrade of Malatesta, Ricardo was able to both expand and clarify his anarchist ideas. _,

In September 1905 Ricardo founded the Junta Organizadora del Partido Liberal Mexicano with himself as President, Juan Sarabia as Vice President, Antonio I. Villarreal as Secretary, Enrique as Treasurer and Librado Rivera as a committee man. The function of the Junta was, and remained so until its disbandment in 1918, simply as a co-ordinating centre for liberal activities both inside and outside Mexico.

Less than a month after the founding of the Junta, Pinkerton detectives raided the offices of Regeneración. The presses and office equipment were taken and Ricardo, Enrique and Juan Sarabia arrested. Released later on bail the three were forced to flee to Canada fearing, not without reason that they would be handed over to the Mexican authorities.

Meanwhile a reward of $20,000 was offered for the capture of Ricardo. While Díaz agents were harassing Ricardo in Canada, the P.L.M. programme was published in July 1906. This programme was written after as many liberals as possible had been consulted about its contents. For example the section on labour was compiled after consultation wit workers who had participated in the famous Canadian copper mine strike that had taken place hardly a month before the publication of the programme. Yet it was decidedly reformist in tone, even though it went far beyond the Mexican Constitution of 1917 (which was partly based on the P.L.M. programme).

While reformist though many of its fifty-two clauses were very advanced for the time, they included the abolition of the death penalty, the suppression of compulsory military service, complete secular education for children, a maximum working day of eight hours, the restitution of communal lands to the villages and the protection of all indigenous races.

Ricardo himself wrote the accompanying manifesto and the programme itself would no doubt have been e truly radical document had Juan Sarabia not moderated much of Ricardo’s contribution.

Early in September 1906, Ricardo and Juan Sarabia left Canada and went, secretly, to El Paso, Texas, to finalise plans for an armed uprising against the Díaz dictatorship, preparations for which had been going on for many months. Despite the arrest of Texas liberals by the U.S. authorities and the discovery of a large quantity of hidden arms, and the suppression of Regeneración, which had been run by Librado Rivera in Ricardo’s absence, the uprising began on September 26th 1906. The first armed P.L.M. action ms the taking of the main plaza of Jiménez. Coahuila by a group of thirty liberals. They managed to hold the town for a day before being forced to withdraw. Four days later three hundred liberals attacked Acayucan Veracruz. They were near to success when their leader was wounded and the ill-armed liberals decided to withdraw. Several small-scale actions took place in the north of the country but the liberals were soon forced into a merely defensive position by the federales. ‘In October, Sarabia, who had crossed the border into Mexico was arrested in Ciudad Juárez and subsequently imprisoned by the dictatorship.

On the same day the home of the Junta in El Paso was raided and all but Ricardo, who managed to escape by jumping from a window, were arrested. At the same time important documents on the P.L.M. groups within Mexico, together with the subscription list of Regeneración were found and immediately handed over to the Mexican authorities. The dictatorship then began the systematic repression of liberals throughout the country. On their side of the border the U.S. authorities followed the same example.

Ricardo, meanwhile, on the run with the price of $25,000 on his head went first to Sacramento, then San Francisco, finally, after narrowly avoiding arrest several times, he settled in Los Angeles where Antonio I. Villarreal joined him. Although he had been captured at El Paso, Villarreal had escaped as he was about to be handed over to the Mexican authorities. In June 1907, working clandestinely, they brought out the first number of Revolución which replaced Regeneración. Some weeks later Librado Rivera joined them. In August their hiding place was discovered and the three comrades were arrested without a warrant. During the arrest Ricardo was beaten unconscious when he tried to attract the attention of passers-by. The following day the “detectives” who had made the arrest, employees of the Furlong Detective Agency whose sole aim was the tracking down of the P.L.M. activists for the Díaz dictatorship returned to the offices of Revolución and removed all important letters and documents. Revolución continued publication under the editorship of several comrades who were arrested one after the other until the journal was finally silenced in January 1908.

Ricardo, Enrique and Villarreal were tried in September 1907. The initial charge of “resisting an officer” was dropped and replaced with four other charges ranging from the murder of an unknown man in Mexico to the violation of the neutrality laws. One by one all the other charges were dropped leaving only the latter and for this “crime” the court decided that the three should be deported to Arizona where the offence was supposed to have taken place.

Ricardo Flores Magón and partner Maria Talavera Brousse

While in Los Angeles jail awaiting deportation Ricardo made the final preparations for a second uprising against the Díaz dictatorship, the plans being smuggled out of the jail by Ricardo’s partner Maria Talavera. In June 1908 P.L.M. groups rose up in the state of Baja California, Coahuila. Chihuahua and Tamaulipas. But despite taking the towns of Viesca and las Vacas, Coahuila, the latter being taken by a liberal force of only forty men against the local garrison of over a hundred federales, the uprising was again a military failure. After the rising followed the usual repression and at the request of the Mexican government Ricardo, Librado Rivera and Villarreal were held incommunicado in Los Angeles jail for several months.

In May 1909 Ricardo and his two comrades were deported to Arizona where they were sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment for the violation of the neutrality laws. While serving their time in Yuma and, later, Florence jail, the propaganda work of the P.L.M. was carried out by Enrique and Práxedis G. Guerrero.

On their release from prison in August 1910 Ricardo, Librado and Villareal returned to Los Angeles where the publication of Regeneración was resumed in September, and the planning of a third uprising was started. While in prison, events in Mexico had given Ricardo much hope of the success of a new rising. The discontent of the people had manifested itself in many acts of petty revolt, and in May 1910 the town of Valladolid, Yucatan was taken by fifteen hundred armed peones and held for four days until retaken by a large force of federales. The following month the towns of Bernardino Contla, Tlaxcala was taken in the name of the P.L.M. and held for a day.

Now Ricardo was convinced that any new uprising must be anarchist in nature, although until then he had been careful to avoid any mention of anarchism for fear of alienating people, or so he thought, from the P.L.M. In a letter to his brother and Práxedis Guerrero, written in 1908, he said: “ . . . if we had called ourselves anarchists from the start, no one, or at best a few, would have listened to us. Without calling ourselves anarchists we have fired the peoples’ minds with hatred against the owner class and government caste . . .1

Regeneración P.L.M. Programme

Regeneración, which now had a circulation of about 30,000, was preparing the minds of the people for a revolution they would make without the need for leaders. In To The Proletariat Ricardo wrote: “ . . . Men of labour, friends, listen then. You must, needs arise, but in full consciousness of the needs of an epoch, and just as urgent, it is that your strong arms represent the spirit of the century. If you fail to be in it with your brains as well as your brawn, the cherished revolution we see approach will not differ in anything from the almost forgotten revolts fomented by the bourgeoisie and directed by military petty chiefs as pioneers for a conviction, but acted in the ignoble role of nobodies, fit for cannon food. You have fought in the past the revolutions for your masters; learn to fight the battle for your own selves. Impress in your minds once and for all the truth, that to shed blood only to place in power another robber who oppresses the people is nothing but a crime, and such a crime will be accomplished by you again if you should take up arms for no other object than to unseat Díaz to put in his place another master . . . ”2

In October the motto of the P.L.M. was changed from “Reform, Liberty and Justice” to “Land and Liberty”. While the P.L.M. were preparing for their plans for an uprising, in Texas, Francisco I. Madero was planning his revolution. Madero was from one of the wealthiest families in Mexico and had stood as the anti-re-electionist candidate against Díaz in the 1910 presidential elections. Madero lost; or rather Díaz was declared the winner. Madero then protested that the elections had been rigged and was promptly imprisoned by Díaz. However he was able to escape and fled to the U.S. In Madero’s revolution though, the P.L.M. were to be ignored, despite their great knowledge of the anti-Díaz groups within Mexico. Yet during his pre-election campaign the preceding April he had gone to great lengths to make liberal groups believe that Ricardo supported his candidature and the P.L.M. and the anti-re-electionists were working together. In addition he addressed a manifesto to the ‘ nation calling himself the “Provisional President” and claiming that Ricardo was the “Provisional Vice-President”. He was careful to do this while Ricardo was still in prison and unable to refute these lies. _

Madero’s new found revolutionary ardour was very surprising considering that only four years before in 1906, he had refused to give either moral or financial aid to the P.L.M. during their first anti-Díaz uprising, claiming that the uprising was unpatriotic, and that Díaz was not such a tyrant as the P.L.M. made him out to be.

Now accomplishing a complete volte-face Madero timed his revolution to begin on November 20th 1910 and Ricardo advised all those P.L.M. groups who were ready to time their uprising to coincide with the anti- re-electionist to work independently. While giving this advice though Ricardo continually clarified the relationship between the P.L.M. and the Maderists: — “ . . . Governments have to protect the right of property above all other rights. Do not expect then, that Madero will attack the right of property in favour of the proletariat. Open your eyes. Remember a phrase, simple and true and as truth indestructible, the emancipation of the workers must be the work of the workers themselves . . .”3

Despite this warning though many P.L.M. members joined Madero’s movement, believing his earlier lies and failing to receive any clarification of the situation from the Junta. All this fell in with Madero’s plans.

Madero’s revolution began on the appointed date but met with near defeat. Groups that survived fled into the hills and began a guerrilla action until their numbers were of sufficient strength to attack major targets. The first independent actions taken by the P.L.M. were the attacking of several towns in Northern Chihuahua by a group of liberals under the leadership of Práxedis Guerrero. Unfortunately, Guerrero was killed while trying to take the towns of Janos on the last day of 1910. The death of this important organiser was a great loss to the Junta. I

1911, Baja California: Magonistas occupy Mexicali

By the end of January 1911 P.L.M. groups were active in the states of Sonora, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, Durango, Oaxaca and Chihuahua. In Baja California the town of Mexicali fell to a P.L.M. group on January 29th and on February 5th a large P.L.M. group under Prisciliano Silva took the town of Guadalupe, Chihuahua. On 14th Madero crossed the border into Mexico and assumed command of all revolutionary groups then engaged in the fighting. Madero’s plans were upset though when the following day Gabino Cano, a P.L.M. member who had been lighting with the Maderists decided to join Silva’s column with all the men under his command. The united force would then undertake action independently of the Maderists.

PriscilianoGSilva1908FBP copy
1908, US Federal Bureau of Prisons: Prisciliano G Silva arrested by Texas Rangers in El Paso and imprisoned for violating US Neutrality Act.

Before joining Silva, Cano wanted to take a number of wounded men over the border into the U.S. for medical treatment. Being informed of this Madero alerted the U.S. immigration authorities who arrested Cano for violating the neutrality laws. The following day Silva was arrested for refusing to recognise Madero as the “Provisional President”. The day after Silva’s group were disarmed and arrested after they had followed his example. On February 25th Ricardo denounced Madero’s treachery in an article entitled, “Madero is a Traitor to the Cause of Liberty”: —  “ . . . The wolf has taken off his sheepskin and shown us his fangs and talons . . . Mexicans: your ‘Provisional President’ as he styles himself has begun to deliver blows against freedom. What will happen when the ‘Provisional’ becomes actual!”4

The following day Antonio I. Villarreal deserted the P.L.M. to join the Maderists, an act that hurt Ricardo deeply. Juan Sarabia joined Villarreal on his release from prison in June 1911.

The months that followed saw a great increase in P.L.M. activities throughout the country, and in Baja California a large part of the state was under P.L.M. control. To combat these advances Madero resorted once again to the same treachery he had practised on Silva, claiming that by operating independently P.L.M. groups were “in rebellion against his government”, and in Altar, Sonora, twenty-eight liberals were murdered by Maderist soldiers.

In May a peace treaty was signed between Madero and Díaz and with the latter’s resignation some days later Madero believed his political revolution had come to a victorious end. Not so Ricardo. For him the social revolution that he had for so long fought for was only beginning. He refused to accept Madero’s treaty and P.L.M. groups continued the struggle, this time against Maderist forces.

On June 13th Madero sent Ricardo’s eldest brother Jesús and Juan Sarabia to Los Angeles to induce Ricardo to lay down his arms. The mission was a failure. Ricardo refused, saying that until the land was distributed to the peasants and the instruments of production were in the hands of the workers, the Liberals would never lay down their arms.

The following day the offices of Regeneración were raided and Ricardo, Enrique, Librado Rivera and Anselmo Figueroa were arrested and accused of violating the neutrality laws. Later, Ricardo was freed on bail of $2,500, which was raised by P.L.M. groups around Los Angeles.

In September 1911 Ricardo issued a new manifesto to replace the 1906 programme. This new manifesto was uncompromisingly anarchist in content and in one of the most moving and practical examples of Ricardo‘s revolutionary writing. While recognising the great number of land expropriations that had taken place during the first months of the revolution, both under P.L.M. propaganda and action, and the Mexican peones own natural anarcho-communism, the manifesto urged yet more revolutionary actions: — “ . . . expropriation must not be limited to taking possession of the land and the implements of agriculture alone. There must be a resolute taking possession of all the industries by those working in them, who should bring it about similarly that the lands, mines, the factories, the workshops, the foundries, the railroads, the shipping, the stores of all kinds and the houses shall be in the power of each and every one of the inhabitants, without distinction of sex . . . ”

The manifesto ended:

“ . . .Liberty and well being are within our grasp. The same effort and the same sacrifices that are required to raise to power a governor — that is to say a tyrant — will achieve the expropriation of the fortunes the rich keep from you. It is for you, then, to chose. Either a new governor — that is to say a new yoke —or a life- redeeming expropriation and the abolition of all imposition, be that imposition religious, political or any other kind.

Land and Liberty!” 5

The P.L.M., now resisting the new Madero administration with as much force as they had resisted Díaz, were joined, in November 1911, by the Zapatistas, who rebelled against Madero when he failed to fulfil the promise he had made about the redistribution of land. The Zapatistas were the only revolutionary group that the P.L.M. were to have any links with at all, although Zapata, in reality was a statist and not an anarchist. Yet his approach to the agrarian problems was truly radical. Under his influence much of the land in the state of Morelos was expropriated by the peasants and worked by themselves. In the very early days of the revolution Zapata had made contact with the P.L.M. and soon after adopted the motto Land and Liberty. Ricardo’s influence can be seen also in Zapata’s Plan de Ayala, which was based on the P.L.M. manifesto of September 25th 1911. Ricardo’s brother Enrique later explained the connections between the P.L.M. and Zapata: — “ . . . These Agrarians (Zapatistas) and the Liberals work together owing to the fact that the former are direct actionists, although they still think a government is needed . . . They go after the rich, the authorities and the priestcraft. They too, as the Liberals, have burned to ashes the private property deeds as well as all official records; have thrown down that marked private properties; the jails have been destroyed and everything has been turned into the property of all. So Liberals and Agrarians work in conjunction and good harmony, while the former propagate our principles and put them into practice amongst the latter to the extent that there are now several communities living practically in accordance with our theories . . .”6

In June 1912 Ricardo and the other Junta members were tried in Los Angeles for the alleged violation of the neutrality laws and sentenced to twenty-three months imprisonment. During their confinement Regeneración continued publication, edited by a group that included Antonio de P. Araujo, Blas Lava and Teodoro Gaitán.

Ricardo again threw himself into the struggle on his release from prison in January 1914. In June of the same year, through Ricardo’s initiative, the International Anarchist Congress that was to be held in London the following September decided to put the Mexican Revolution on its agenda, and it was hoped to send a representative of the Junta to participate and explain the Mexican situation fully. One of the reasons for this was to refute the very anti-Magonist attitude adopted by Jean Grave in Les Temps Nouveaux and Luigi Galleani in Cronaca Sovversiva. Unfortunately, owing to the outbreak of war the congress never took place.

In 1915 Ricardo and the other Junta members together with their families and friends rented a small farm on the outskirts of Los Angeles, where they founded a small commune. Towards the end of the year Regeneración resumed republication after it was forced, for financial reasons, to stop in December 1914. It was here that Ricardo wrote his first play, Land and Liberty, which was first staged in Los Angeles at the end of the year.

In February 1916 Ricardo and Enrique were again arrested, this time for attacking the Carranza regime. During their trial Ricardo was so ill that he could only attend the court to hear the sentence of twelve months imprisonment, Enrique receiving three years. The following month Ricardo was released on bail, which was posted by Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, pending an appeal. During the remaining months of 1916 and all of 1917 Ricardo continued to bring out Regeneración, although now only on an irregular basis, while recurring ill health forced him to stop writing for some of the time.

Ricardo was again arrested, together with Librado Rivera, in March 1918 after they had issued a manifesto To the Anarchists and Workers of the World in which they predicted the impending fall of the capitalist order, and urged all anarchists to prepare the peoples’ minds for this great event. Charged with sedition under the Espionage Laws Ricardo was sentenced to a savage twenty-years imprisonment and Librado to fifteen years.

While serving his sentence, first in McNeil Island Prison and later in Leavenworth Penitentiary, Kansas (where he was regarded as the most dangerous prisoner in the prison) Ricardo’s health began to deteriorate seriously and his eyesight began to fail. Despite this, all medical treatment, other than the most basic was denied to him. In 1920 he was offered a pension by the Mexican Government, which he declined, saying that as an anarchist he could not receive without shame and remorse money that had been stolen by the government from the poor.

In 1922, with the founding in Mexico of the anarcho-syndicalist CGT a campaign for, the release of both Ricardo and Librado grew, and several strikes and the boycotting of U.S. goods took place. Unfortunately, this action came too late. On November 22nd 1922 Ricardo was found dead in his cell. According to the prison authorities the cause was a heart attack, but it seems almost certain that he was in fact murdered.

Now offering no threat to the authority of the Mexican government, the Chamber of Deputies offered to pay for the return of Ricardo’s body to Mexico. His partner and his comrades rejected this offer. Instead, his body was transported by the Confederation of Railway Societies at their own expense. He was buried in Mexico City on January 23rd where a crowd of over ten thousand workers followed the coffin to the Panteón Francés. In 1948 Ricardo’s body was exhumed and re-interred in the Rotonda de los Hombres Ilustres.

Dave Poole.

Notes: –

1. Letter written on June 13th 1908 reprinted in Manuel González Ramírez, Epistolario y textos de Ricardo Flores Magón, Mexico D.F., 1964 pp 202-209. –

2. Regeneración, September 3rd 1910.

3. Regeneración, December 10th 1910.

4. Regeneración, February 25th 1911.

5. Regeneración, September 25th 1911.

6. Letter of Enrique Flores Magón dated October 31st 1916 printed in Freedom, February 1917.