Review: Mexico, the Frozen Revolution

By Siglo, Monkey Smashes Heaven (www.llco.org)

Mexico: The Frozen Revolution
Directed by Raymundo Gleyzer, 1971

The documentary Mexico: The Frozen Revolution was directed by Raymundo Gleyzer in 1971. Gleyzer was a documentary filmmaker from Argentina who was involved with Cine de la Base, committed to bring revolutionary films to the people. In 1976 Gleyzer was kidnapped and killed by the military regime in the Dirty War. The Dirty War was conducted by the fascists in Argentina, which claimed the lives of 30,000 Argentinians. and aimed to physically annihilate leftists and popular movements. The film was barely recovered along with his other films and luckily today it survives. Mexico: The Frozen Revolution looks at the history of the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910, and how it failed to achieve its goals. The film documents how the Mexican Revolution was cut short of its socialist ideals, how it was appropriated by comprador bourgeois forces. It also shows the dire situation of the country’s people at present, and the continuing striving for revolutionary social change due to unequal class conditions.

The film opens with footage of the 1970 presidential campaign in Mexico with then-candidate, Luis Echeverria, of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. It shows the cynical manipulation of the memory of La Revolucion by the ruling party. Echeverria echoes themes and slogans of the revolution in his campaign speeches and public gatherings to promote non-revolutionary ends. In one of his speeches, in a version of the Theory of Productive Forces, evokes the masses to produce more to get the benefits of the Revolution. Production, not class struggle, is the tired message the PRI continues to preach to the masses. For Echeverria, he had nothing to worry about in the campaign. For the PRI up to then has won every election. It obtains its office by whatever means are necessary not short of outright fraud. A party endorsement for Echeverria is enough to secure the election, always won by at least 85 percent of the official vote.

This film begins by presenting the history of the Mexican Revolution. It mixes rare newsreel footage from the period with interviews of veteran soldiers in the Revolution to tell briefly the rich history of this struggle. It cost the lives of 1 million people, and had lasting effects on the history of Mexico. The Mexican Revolution, one of the first major social revolts of the 20th century, has its roots in 1876 with the rise of dictator Porfiaro Diaz. Diaz was the first to open the nation of Mexico to direct United States imperial influence, and reduced it to semicolony of the U.S. It led to vastly unequal conditions, where ultimately, in 1910, 1 percent of the population owned 97 percent of the land. These antagonistic contradictions came to a head that year.

Class Dimensions of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1919)

This war was waged by different class forces, taking the form of armed conflict. Each of the sides took on different generals and other leaders. Popular forces led by Madero overthrew Diaz in 1911, bringing in a more reformist era. But this era was shortlived, for as the film explains there was no universal philosophy to unite the vastly different forces that took power. Madero fell in 1913 to counter-revolutionary forces of the wealthy classes. They consolidated their power through the military dictatorship led by Diaz-era general, Victoriano Huerta. The closest to a progressive unifying platform for the revolutionary forces was offered by the Agrarians in the south led by Emiliano Zapata. The resulting Plan de Ayala they presented was able to rally popular forces to a cause of “bread, land, and justice,” meeting the needs of the oppressed and exploited peoples which were the majority of the population. The revolutionary forces united under this plan to fight a common enemy. These included those led by Pancho Villa in the North. In 1914 both Villa and Zapata’s forces occupied the capitol, taking the seats of power. But as the film stated “spontaneity was not enough to consolidate power”, and the revolution became “stillborn.” The outcome of the revolution, which officially ended in 1919, became the assassination of Zapata, and the dispersing of revolutionary class forces. For instance, the film mentions an anarchist workers house leading militias that fought against Villa. Many urban workers threw their support to reformist leaders Obregon and Carranza, with Carranza the ultimate victor of the revolution. Carranza took a seemingly middle path on the revolution, appeasing popular classes while ultimately coopting revolutionary slogans, while keeping the wealthy oligarchy’s in power. The promises made to fulfill the goals of the revolution which were carried out little to none. Land reform was offered on paper, but little concrete was done. Fifty percent of peasants still had no land, and those that legally had land were not able to own the product of their land and labor. Like all revolutions, the Mexican Revolution was a class struggle. These class forces were divided among each other and had no common program to offer. This lack of a program led to the upper classes gaining power, and the lives of the poor peoples remaining the same as before.

Revolution Stillborn

In another context, in observing the revolutionary situation in China, Mao Zedong wrote of peasant revolts that previously occurred in that country. Oftentimes the goals of those revolutions was often no more than the overthrow of corrupt landlords and not changing the system that produced the landlords. Corrupt landlords were overthrown and land changed hands, but new ones emerged that would continue the exploitation and inequalities. It was not enough to change positions of power, revolutionaries needed to change the structures of power itself, economically as well as politically. Overthrowing individuals and not systems led to those oppressive sytems continuing in a new form. That is why he warned “never forget class struggle.” In the context of the Mexican Revolution, this film shows the fatal results of a lack of science in approaching revolutionary change. The failure of revolutionary forces to seize state power resulted in the revolution being coopted.

The film explores the results of the revolution being stalled. Many interviews are taken with rural campesinos in southern Mexico. They show how the extreme poverty that still afflicts Mexico affects their daily lives, and the graphic outcome of a failure of land reform. One man, formerly a slave to his landlord before the Revolution, still works, at more than 70 years old, to prevent from starving to death. A farmworker cutting sisal hemp debates eating less one day so that his children do not die from lack of food. Two of his children died already. Another worker in the state of Chiapas chops wood and carries it on his back for miles to sell in a nearby city. He does this, like others, just to afford food to live another day. The people here are also indigenous, facing additional oppression in the form of colonialism. Families mention experiences at community meetings (organized because no one trusts the White authorities) about disappeared family members and friends, likely by the White landowners who exploit the indigenous peasants. The lives of the masses are of bare subsistence, struggling every day to survive. A medical worker is quoted on the vast hunger and malnutrition happening in Mexico. In contrast, the upper classes are shown as arrogant and corrupt. A descendant of the old landed aristocracy recalls better days because at the present time they have only 14 haciendas where before they had 21. They naively dismiss the idea that there is discontent within Mexico, as they naively dismiss problems of racism “like in the U.S”. While they sit in their shaded patios and profit from the campesinos’ labor, they call the campesinos lazy because they schedule their work to avoid the hot sun in the fields. One truth the oligarchs admit is that their crops are priced by the global market, with the difference being that changes in markets can often mean death for those that depend on the land and what it produces. The campesinos shown are in a poor and exploited majority in Mexico, which is similar worldwide, who must not only contend with an exploiter comprador bourgeoisie but also the Amerikan-led capitalist-imperialism.

Revolution Hijacked

The revolution was hijacked by the oligarchical forces in the form of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. The PRI connively uses the symbols of the revolution to legitimate their power, and reduces the revolutionary aims to empty campaign slogans. The new ruling class uses the revolution for their own benefit. The PRI exercised total political control of the country, and dissent is repressed. The party machine buses in rural people for their rallies, who have no other choice to go. The film calls their unifying politics the “ideology of the poster,” where peasants bussed in by the party are given posters of a man they have never met who will be the next government official. As one peasant says, all they got from the revolution is a slogan. The new business class became a base of support for the PRI and even some of the urban workers form a labor aristocracy that gets privileges from the corrupt corporatist system that the PRI governs. Unions and workers are channeled through the PRI and even in the May Day rallies they are forbidden to go against the government. They rule through ballot stuffing, voter intimidation, and outright fraud, all of which was an open secret in Mexican politics.

“Left” Opposition of Mexico, Revisionist and Opportunist

The left opposition is divided, underground, and more than often outright opportunist and revisionist. They provide no leadership to the peoples movements. A leader of the revisionist Popular Socialist Party (PSP) is interviewed. He gives an explanation of why they, a self-avowed Marxist Leninist party, support the PRI candidate based on a supposed alliance with the national bourgeoisie to bring development so that Mexico can resist imperialism. In reality they do nothing to make Mexico independent from imperialism, and only legitimates the current government. It is the same argument given by many a revisionist party in justfying alliances with the comprador bourgeoisie. Instead of being an independent force for the proletariat it in practice becomes another part of the PRI.

PSP shows their revisionism in their analysis of the Tlatelolco massacre. PSP claims that the students who protested in 1968 were pseudo revolutionaires, saying students mentioned Mao and Che in their banners, and he asks “what does Che have to do with revolution in Mexico?” This shows the sellout leadership of the PSP and how they are fake Marxists and Leninists. Proletarian revolution has always been an internationalist movement, and the students in Mexico, as did people around the world, saw their struggles represented by those led by Mao, Che, and Ho Chi Minh, struggles of the Third World rising up in a colonial period. The students were correct in holding aloft their banners. The then Secretary of Interior Echeverria orchestrated the massacre at the Plaza de Tlatelolco, where 400 students were assassinated. Images of the dead students with songs written about the massacre are shown, and the film says the students were “the consciousness of the people,” and the massacre “revealed the rot of the frozen revolution.”

Many things have happened in Mexico since the film was made. The PRI lost their 70 year long grip on power after 2000 and the more right wing National Action Party, or PAN, became the ruling party. Chiapas, one of the most exploited region of Mexico as shown in the film, was the birthplace of the Zapatista movement, but their effect was limited due to their goals of not taking state power in lieu of autonomy. There are several other guerrilla groups operating in Mexico to this day, along with several more social movements. Mexico is still plagued by vast inequalities. Mexico remains a comprador state, where Amerikan imperialism still interferes in it, and a comprador bourgeoisie that rules and oppresses the people. With the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution happening this year in 2010 the ideals and unrealized dreams of the revolution are coming up again. It is also the 200th anniversary of the start of the Mexican War of Independence, and pundits have wondered whether this cycle will bring anything comparable with the two. Revolutionary scientists don’t look to metaphysical explanations like this, but it is clear that the problems Mexico faces must have revolutionary solutions, and as one campesino says in the movie the whole system must be swept away for something new. Those committed to revolution have a duty to study past revolutions in order to understand current potential openings. Mexico The Frozen Revolution is a valuable film to understand the history and politics of Mexico and to look at current events there from a proletarian worldview.