Revolutions have unintended consequences. In 1910 Mexicans re-
belled against an imperfect dictatorship; aft er 1940 they ended up
with what some called the perfect dictatorship.1 Mexico was ruled
by a single— admittedly mutation- prone—party from 1929 to 2000,
a record of longevity surpassed only by Liberia’s True Whig Party
(1878– 1980), the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (1921– 1996),
and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1917– 1989).2 While
everyday people and scholars debated the details of this long-
running regime, a compelling story survived the passing of time,
governments, and scholarly fashions. This metanarrative held that
the revolution had evolved from violent pop u lar upheaval to sweep-
ing social reform in the 1930s. Mexico’s new rulers of the Partido
Revolucionario Institucional— the pri— had with that reform signed
a revolutionary social contract to reestablish central
control.3 Peas-
ants traded in their radicalism for land grants; a diverse labor move-
ment mutated into a monolithic servant of government. The new
state delivered economic growth, po liti cal stability, and a discourse—
partially fulfi lled— of social justice. The years between 1940 and
1968 were consequently a golden age.4 History, in the pejorative sense
of one damn thing aft er another, ended in 1940.
Yet this vision of a thirty- year pax priísta doesn’t add up: it “drops
history out at every
turn.”5 Numerous studies of the revolutionary
period have demonstrated that Mexico was nowhere near this sort
of synchronic stability in 1940. The state that emerged from Cárde-
nas’s agrarian, labor, and educational reforms was inchoate and oft en
in eff ec tive. The po liti cal class remained fragmented, a “loose, hetero-
geneous, and shift ing co ali tion” of radicals, reformers, moderates,
Paul Gillingham and Benjamin T. Smith
Previous Page Next Page