Latin American History
Was the Mexican Revolution a Success?
Alan Knight (Oxford)
21 February 2012

A rebel camp outside Juárez, Chihuahua, during the Mexican Revolution.

Mexico in 1910 was a country beginning the path toward a long and bitter uprising that before its end would turn into a full-scale civil war and eventually into revolution.  The Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920 was the greatest upheaval Mexico faced in the 20th century.  The conflict began with an uprising by Francisco I. Madero against Mexico’s dictator leader Benito Juárez.  Madero succeeded Juárez in 1911 but failed to live up to his promises of reforming agrarian life and transforming the socioeconomic status of Mexicans.  Further revolutionary activity led to three presidents in less than a decade, ending only with the death of the Constitutional Army’s first chief, Venustiano Carranza in 1920.  Nevertheless various coup attempts and uprisings continued (including the more extensive Cristero Wars of 1926-1929) for at least another decade.

“Was this revolution a success?” is therefore a difficult question to tackle especially, as clearly stated by Alan Knight himself, the multitudes of deaths and lost lives can never (and should never) be quantified in such terms.  There are also difficulties in how we determine ‘success’.  Do we mean progress?  If so how do we assess progress and how do we demonstrate that the Revolution was the primary cause behind it?  How do you assess success of failure?

On one level the Mexican Revolution can be called a success simply because it survived – it moulded a new political generation and made a significant impact on the future of the Mexican state.  Revolutions that do not survive very long generally have much less of an impact.  However, such an assessment is simplistic.  Alan Knight tries to assess ‘success’ in terms of its seeming effect on liberalist politics and social tensions (such as aggregation reforms, labour, and economics).  He does so cautiously, noting the danger of suggesting that everything that happens post-revolution is directly related.  To level the playing field, therefore, Knight ends with counterfactuals as a way to assess possible success or failure.  What if the revolution never happened?  How different might Mexican civilisation have been?  Knight ends with the equally difficult question: was it all worth it?  Again the answer is far from straightforward or easy.

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