Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Revolution and Ideology

Revolution and Ideology: Images of the Mexican Revolution in the United States

John A. Britton
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Revolution and Ideology
    Book Description:

    Mexico and the United States share a border of more than 2,000 miles, and their histories and interests have often intertwined. The Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910 and continued in one form or another for the next thirty years, was keenly observed by U.S. citizens, especially those directly involved in Mexico through property ownership, investment, missionary work, tourism, journalism, and education. It differed from many other revolutions in this century in that Marxist--Leninist theory was only one of many radical and reformist influences.

    Historian John A. Britton examines contemporary accounts written by Americans commenting on social upheaval south of the border: radical writers John Reed, Anita Brenner, and Carlton Beals; novelists Katherine Anne Porter and D.H. Lawrence; social critics Stuart Chase and Waldo Frank; and banker-diplomat Dwight Morrow, to mention a few.

    Their writings constitute a valuable body of information and opinion concerning a revolution that offers important parallels with liberation movements throughout the world today. Britton's sources also shed light on the many contradictions and complexities inherent in the relationship between the United States and Mexico.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6223-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    Revolution remains a subject of prime importance in the postCold War era. Although Communism in general and Marxist-Leninist theory in particular have lost much of their credibility, the continuation of massive social and economic problems provides an environment in which political umest and social revolution refuse to disappear. Under these conditions, the Mexican revolution of the 1910–40 period has a new significance because it was one of the last major revolutions before the onset of the Cold War and worldwide fascination with the Marxist-Leninist formula for revolution. Although Mexico had a small but active Communist organization after 1918, the...

  5. 1 Revolution in Context
    (pp. 5-24)

    In 1916 Pancho Villa, a hero of the early Mexican revolution but a controversial and enigmatic figure during the Carranza and Obregon presidencies, came to symbolize mindless violence and rapacious banditry for many in the United States. In the predawn darkness of March 9, a detachment of 485 Villistas crossed the United States border and descended on the small, isolated town of Columbus on the southern edge of New Mexico. Within two hours the Villistas killed eighteen U.S. citizens and left much of the town a burned-out shambles. Although this incident may have been connected to Villa’s effort to survive...

  6. 2 A Search for Meaning
    (pp. 25-49)

    Journalists and other serious observers who visited Mexico during the first decade of the revolution confronted a broad panorama of military, political, and social conflict that was too complex to be quickly understood. Unable or perhaps unwilling to grasp enough facts to form a comprehensive judgment, most U.S. writers fell back on the attitudes they brought with them to make sense of the revolution. Many turned to familiar stereotypes spawned in America’s early contacts with foreign peoples and fully developed in the jingoistic, racist mood of the late 1800s. The Anglo-Saxon proclivity to denigrate anyone with a darker pigmentation or...

  7. 3 Revolutionary Enthusiasm
    (pp. 50-66)

    It was a “wild party”—not unlike raucous gatherings in New York and Paris in the 1920s. Alcohol flowed freely, conversation was uninhibited, and the air contained a smoky haze of tobacco and perhaps marijuana. The hosts of this boisterous bohemian event at a rented house near Chapultepec Park in Mexico City in early December 1925 were photographer Edward Weston and erstwhile film actress turned model Tina Modotti. The guest of honor was Mercedes, Tina’s sister. In attendance was a collection of artists, art critics, and writers dominated by Diego Rivera, the mountainous, free-willed Marxist muralist, with his strikingly beautiful,...

  8. 4 The Limits of the Techniques of Hospitality
    (pp. 67-76)

    Many diplomats and businessmen found the Yankee bohemia of Mexico City objectionable as much for its leftist politics as for its avant-garde life-style.¹ U.S. State Department officials saw a sinister design in the perceived domination of these radicals by the GrueningTannenbaum-Haberman “Jewish trinity” with the assistance of Beals. In fact, the tension and rivalry within this quartet made any notion of unified leadership more fantasy than fact; however, the less imaginative assertions of U.S. diplomats that these leftists had some connection with the Mexican government were not entirely groundless. Although documentary evidence that they were on the payroll of the...

  9. 5 Reactions on the Left and the Right
    (pp. 77-87)

    While liberal statists and independent leftists pulled away from the official techniques of hospitality to express their own distinctive responses to the revolution, other U.S. observers were grappling with events in Mexico within their own ideological frameworks. The awesome bugaboo of Communism gained an energetic if not always effective advocate in the person of New York-born Bertram Wolfe—and U.S. diplomats saw evidence of Bolshevism in Mexico in his outspoken efforts. Meanwhile, as oil companies and other corporations mounted a public relations campaign against Article 27, a small group of international bankers quietly devised a much more perceptive response to...

  10. 6 The Liberal Mainstream and Radical Undercurrents
    (pp. 88-104)

    John Dewey was a philosopher, not a mountain climber, and the 7,000-foot altitude of the Indian village of Xocoyuacan would have challenged younger men from sea-level cities such as New York. Nevertheless, the sixty-six-year-old philosopher must have felt a sense of pride to find his ideas in use in a teacher-training school in the isolated, ruggedly mountainous state of Tlaxcala. More than four hundred years before Dewey’s visit, these tenacious mountain people had successfully resisted the powerful Aztec empire and, after the Spanish Conquest, managed to hold European influence to a minimum. By the 1920s, however, the winds of change...

  11. 7 Two Errant Pilgrims and an Anthropologist
    (pp. 105-115)

    A trio of books appearing in 1930 and 1931 suggested that Mexico was still a mainstream issue in the United States. The Great Depression affected the ideas and ideology of many commentators, including at least two of the authors of these books. Stuart Chase, a well-known critic of private enterprise, turned from the scrutiny of industrial process to search for a haven in Mexico’s frequently studied village of Tepoztlan. Social critic Waldo Frank had been seeking an alternative to the potent union of pragmatism with the material culture of the industrial revolution. The collapse of the U.S. economic system gave...

  12. 8 Pilgrims without a Shrine
    (pp. 116-127)

    Chase and Frank projected onto Mexico their solutions to the economic and cultural crises of modem times just as the revolution was collapsing upon itself. Among veteran U.S. Mexicanists the pessimism of the late 1920s deepened in the early 1930s. Former head of state Calles and three short-term presidents—Emilio Partes Gil, 1928-30; Pascual Ortiz Rubio, 1930-32; and Abelardo Rodríguez, 1932-34—dominated this period known as the Maximato. Social and economic reform declined, while behind-the-scenes machinations sapped the nation’s political energies. Political pilgrims who had been drawn by a vision of revolution found this fragile optimism shattered under the weight...

  13. 9 Mexico under Cárdenas
    (pp. 128-143)

    By the mid-1930s most U.S. observers regarded Plutarco Elías Calles as a sinister figure utilizing dictatorial legerdemain to retain control of the Mexican government. Interim presidents from 1928 to 1934 (Pascual Ortiz Rubio, Emilio Partes Gil, and Abelard a Rodríguez) had to reckon with and try to maneuver around this power behind the scenes. They had little success. In the writing of many liberals and radicals from the United States, Calles had undergone a remarkable transformation from leftist leader of an enlightened government in 1925 to the embodiment of the much-detested phenomenon of caudillismo in 1935.

    At this point, when...

  14. 10 The Revolution beneath the Revolutionary Image
    (pp. 144-157)

    The fears of right-wing critics and the excitement of left-wing sympathizers created the impression that Cárdenas had led Mexico a considerable distance down the path to socialism. A closer reading of these polemics makes clear, however, that neither camp rendered their respective verdicts on the basis of a comprehensive, widely accepted definition of socialism. The rightists (with the exceptions of Kluckhohn and Prewett) wrote mainly in terms of exaggerated fears that skewed their perceptions. Many leftists held exaggerated hopes that skewed their perceptions in the other direction. As the preceding chapter indicates, their capacity for enthusiasm seemed to outweigh their...

  15. 11 Friendly Dissenters
    (pp. 158-170)

    American liberals and radicals accorded Mexico such high esteem in the late 1930s that the handful of sympathetic critics who expressed doubts about the revolution did so in near-obscurity. Yet this variegated group—from independent leftists to liberal capitalists—revealed their immunity to the techniques of hospitality and the aura of revolutionary elation in penetrating commentary that was a small but vital segment of the American response to the Mexican revolution. As previously noted, liberal capitalists Kluckhohn and Prewett were highly skeptical of both the radicalism and the authority that seemed to be concentrated in the Cárdenas presidency. Other observers...

  16. 12 The Changing Image
    (pp. 171-181)

    In the 1930s Mexico’s image in the U.S. popular media took on a more positive tone. Conventional assumptions about ethnic inferiority and political retardation gave way under the cumulative effect of the writings of sympathetic U.S. observers in the 1920s., the emergence of new leadership in Mexico in 1934, and the upwelling of a broad-based, intercultural sense of identification with the underdogs of society during the depression years.

    Yet the old image died hard. In the early part of the decade, fiction, travel accounts, tourist guides, and films still borrowed heavily from the easily recognizable stereotypes. In 1934 the popular...

  17. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  18. 13 From Selective Amnesia to a New Liberal Orthodoxy
    (pp. 182-199)

    In reviewing the changes in U.S. intellectuals’ views of Mexico from 1910 to the early 1940s, it is helpful to think of the observers as using binoculars to focus on events and trends across the border. Their eyes were fixed on Mexico, but their feet and also their ideologies and other cultural baggage remained planted in the United States. The history of Mexico in this period was so complex that they usually found some figure or occurrence to sustain their prejudgments.

    The most blatant carriers of prejudice were the ethnically biased writers who went to Mexico during the first years...

  19. 14 The Persistence of Doubt
    (pp. 200-211)

    In the 1940s and 1950s the independent left again found itself swimming against the currents of mainstream government, business, and academic opinion. The two decades after the oil expropriation seemed to be a golden age for Mexico. Its stable government and expansive economy attracted much favorable commentary from U.S. observers. For example, historian Hubert Herring and biographer William Cameron Townsend, two outspoken defenders of the Cardenas administration, extolled the “institutional revolution” of the 1940s and 1950s. Herring, who had settled in as a professor of history at California’s Claremont College, published a successful college text on Latin American history in...

  20. 15 A Relevant Legacy
    (pp. 212-226)

    Had government, business, and academic observers in the United States managed to overcome the effects of selective amnesia and consider the implications of the Mexican revolution in the context of the Cold War, they would probably have found that the commentary on this revolution, though voluminous, offered no quickly phrased, universally accepted answers to the issues raised by such rnovernents. This book makes no claim to resolving the debate about the nature of the Mexican revolution; it aspires only to analyze the discussion of this revolution in the United States in the half-century after 1910. Though the Bolshevik revolution in...

  21. Notes
    (pp. 227-256)
  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 257-264)
  23. Index
    (pp. 265-271)