Poster of U.S. government closure of anarchist newspapers, with portraits of Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magón, 1916
All history, unstudied, is revisionist. It is epitaph.
In the Dolores Cemetery in Mexico City, there is a special place called the Rotonda de los Hombres Ilustres (Rotunda of “Illustrious Men”), a section reserved for the heroes of the revolution. It is full of epitaph. Ricardo Flores Magón is buried there with inscription set in marble calling him "the intellectual author of the Mexican Revolution."
Ricardo Flores Magón was an anarchist. Openly, fervently and in the truest sense of the word. His anarchist publication, Regeneración, lasted through numerous Mexican leaderships, beginning with Diaz. Its readership was more widespread in the U.S. than in Mexico and Flores Magón himself spent most of his life in exile in Southern California and, later, imprisoned in Leavenworth where he died in 1922.
In 1911, he was the intellectual force behind the communist anarchist occupation of Baja. Emma Goldman, John Kenneth Turner, the IWW and the Los Angeles Socialist Party heavily supported him. Fifty-two of his anarchist-based points outlined in Regeneración are now contained within the Mexican Constitution of 1917.
These are all easily obtained facts, available to anyone who wants to ignore the revisionist history of the Mexican Revolution and the U.S. involvement in that revolt. James A Sandos’ Rebellion in the Borderlands demonstrates to the fullest degree that when one cracks the gloss of one particular example of consensus history, world history in its entirety consequently becomes more complex and enlightening. Here Sandos explores the little known Plan of San Diego and the life of Ricardo Flores Magón. Yet in doing so he uncovers many levels of understanding about Mexican-U.S. history, life in the Borderlands and the international effects of the anarchist-syndicalists.
World War I looks more like a corporate takeover than the noble fight for freedom it has since been reconstituted into. It was under the auspices of WWI that President Wilson was able to imprison the anarchist Flores Magón for treason. In the cover of The Great War, the highly volatile relationship between Wilson and Carranza, the U.S. and Mexico, subdued. Socialism and anarchism were repressed.
History is so much more colorful and meaningful when its particulars are exhumed and investigated. The characters that arise from this study range from the well-known Emma Goldman to the relatively obscure Voltairine de Cleyre. The prominence of Goldman and de Cleyre demonstrates just how progressive and visionary the socialists and anarchists were. They were women and they were outright leaders committed to practical action. They had already gone beyond feminism and their colleagues readily accepted their leadership.
"Women are important to this movement," Flores Magón wrote. "They are active in spreading the word, smashing the tyranny, and implementing the new order." Voltairine de Cleyre’s life of commitment and her early tragic death comprise one of the many compelling moments in Sandos’ work.
Then there is the figure of Praxedis Guerrero, the poet-warrior who served as the charismatic leader for the Floresmagonistas in the early fighting of the revolution. Guerrero wrote Puntos Rojos, tracers fired at the Diaz regime. Published often in Regeneración, they unveiled Diaz’ hypocrisy.
"According to El Imparcial [the official Diaz newspaper]," he wrote, "the causes of [Mexican] poverty are intoxication, sexual excess, absence of savings, subversive meetings, dice and early marriage. Our aristocrats are drunk, intemperate wastrels, fond of immense carousals, eternal and quite juvenile merrymakers who have three or four women instead of one and who nevertheless do not live in poverty."
Guerrero worked as a miner, wrote poetry and fought for the Mexican Liberal Party. He died in battle. But it is Ricardo Flores Magón and his quiet supportive brother Enrique who reside at the heart of the anarchist’s prominent involvement in the Mexican Revolution. As Villa and Zapata waged battle against the string of governments that came to power, the Flores Magón brothers continued to push their ideas through Regeneración. They worked from the darkness of prisons and the shadows of exile. Still, Regeneración remained as prominent and influential as Goldman’s Mother Earth and Alexander Berkman’s The Blast.
Something has been lost between the political, social and intellectual arenas of then and now. The nationalism generated by World War I is probably greatly responsible for that sense of loss. Legitimate, well-written, professionally produced journals like Mother Earth and The Blast no longer flourish with the same type of influence and readership they had at the beginning of this century. Anarchism, communism and even socialism are terms now weighted with the stigma of treason. They are certainly "un-American." The word "liberal" is handled like a hot potato even within the Democratic Party.
The great writers of the time, figures who appear in Regeneración, worked for the progressive publications. Ibsen appeared on the September 3, 1910 cover of Regeneración. Jack Reed and Emma Goldman voiced their ideas and the ideas of those whom they respected through journals such as Appeal to Reason. Sandos’ book is immersed in this world, this pre-World War I time of adventuresome, transitional thought.
Imagine Tijuana in May of 1911.
Anarchism’s black flag flies over the city. Mexicali and Tecate have fallen to the PLM forces and the entire state of Baja has become the environment for anarchist communism.
"Insurgent forces consisted of Mexicans, Canadian and Mexican Indians, IWW members (Wobblies) of many backgrounds, a Welsh soldier-of-fortune, and a deserter from the U.S. Marine Corps."
Anarchist camps thrived in San Diego and Los Angeles, living and surviving by "mutual aid from varied ethnic groups, communal effort, sexual equality and frugality. They enlivened their daily struggle with dances, public oratory and other events."
Imagine San Diego as one of the intellectual centers of international concern. Where Emma Goldman and Ben Reitman were sequestered in the Grant Hotel across from Horton Plaza in 1912. Where tourists crossed into anarchist Tijuana and paid rebels one dollar for the privilege of looting. It happened in the Borderlands. If you cannot believe it, if you cannot imagine it, you have been reading the wrong history books.