From Ricardo Flores Magón to Julian Assange (I)

by Carlos Fazio

From 1903, outside of the satirical paper, El Hijo del Ahuizote, a banner reads, “the constitution has died.”

The battle cry of the anarchist leader: “Tierra y Libertad! (Land and Freedom!) was taken up by Emiliano Zapata, along with the slogan “land for those who work it.”

100 years have elapsed between the death of Ricardo Flores Magón in the Leavenworth Penitentiary, in Kansas, USA, on November 21, 1922 – where he was serving a 22-year sentence for the crime of anarchism, but formally sentenced for violation of the Espionage Act and the Enemies Act-, to the solitary confinement Julian Assange now faces in Belmarsh Maximum Security Prison in London, England, awaiting extradition to the U.S. to face charges of conspiracy and espionage.

This period marks the interval between the nascent US empire of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and its current decline as hegemon of the capitalist system, with one constant: the factional use of US class justice, with the consequent violation of the rule of law and freedom of speech and press.

At the end of the 19th century, weakened by war debts and disputes among liberals, the bourgeois-democratic Mexican state gave way to an oligarchic-dictatorial one, led by Porfirio Díaz, who administered the country as a capitalist reserve for his Mexican and foreign friends. His 35-year dictatorship (1876-1911) developed communications, electrification, transportation, industry and large-scale agriculture through concessions to foreign and national commercial interests, and the use of salaried and forced labor, even company stores. As a veritable praetorian guard of private capital and the state, the elite rural police (los rurales) patrolled the country, while a strong army crushed strikes.

Towards the end of the Porfiriato an important industrial proletariat was emerging with growing class consciousness, which led dozens of mining, railroad and textile strikes between 1906 and 1908, which were stimulated by the illegal Mexican Liberal Party (PLM), officially organized in 1905 by the anarchists Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magón and Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama, who radicalized anti-clericalism in favor of democracy, and advanced their demands in a peasant and proletarian classist direction, while creating a political-military organization with an anti-imperialist revolutionary ideology, which promoted armed revolts in several states of the country.

Although repressed with great costs to human life, the strikes and these unsuccessful armed actions played a major role in the military victories that ousted Díaz from power in 1910-11. (The strike at the Cananea mine, Sonora, near the US border, repressed by rangers and 2,000 Mexican soldiers, left nearly 1,000 dead, a toll similar to the slaughter of federal troops during the Río Blanco-Orizaba textile strike in Veracruz.)

Through the clandestine newspaper Regeneración, the PLM —also known as the party of the Magonistas– circulated its reformist program in Mexico and the southern U.S., a significant part of which would be incorporated into the 1917 Constitution. The program called for an eight-hour workday, a minimum wage, an end to child labor and an end to latifundia. Its rallying cry: Land and Freedom, was taken up by Emiliano Zapata, a small farmer who had been dispossessed of his land in Morelos. Along with the slogan land for those who work it, the Magonistas advocated the protection of the rights of Mexican migrants in the U.S., the end of Washington’s interference in Mexico’s internal affairs and a single presidential term.

In this context we can situate the revolutionary leader Ricardo Flores Magón, born in San Antonio Eloxochitlán, Oaxaca, in 1874, and who emigrated at a young age to Mexico City, where he studied at the National Preparatory School and the National School of Jurisprudence. He was not yet 20 years old when he participated in a student protest against Diaz’s third re-election. His audacity was great when he denounced that the dictator had lost his memory with respect to his famous motto of no re-election and that, due to his obsession to perpetuate himself, the workers were threatened and the peasants lulled with pulque and mezcal to be herded like cattle to the polls. This audacity resulted in his first imprisonment in the galleys of the jail of Belén1.

At the age of 27, after dabbling in journalism in El Demócrata2 as proofreader, and another imprisonment, along with his brother Jesús and Antonio Horcasitas, Ricardo Flores Magón founded Regeneración on August 7, 1900, a publication considered a precursor project of the Mexican Revolution, as well as a reference for the working class of the time in Mexico, USA and Europe, and an emblem of anarchism and Mexican socialism at the beginning of the 20th century. Regeneración was published for 18 years, most of it from exile in the USA, with interruptions forced by censorship, persecution and tyranny. Several times the police destroyed its printing presses, and its editors were jailed.

On February 5, 1901 Ricardo Flores Magón participated in the first Liberal Congress in San Luis Potosí, thus linking himself to the budding political organization of which he became the undisputed leader: the Mexican Liberal Party. At the Congress he expressed his famous statement: “The Díaz administration is a den of bandits.” Upon his return to Mexico City, the repression of the liberal movement reached him, and on May 21 he was arrested along with his brother Jesús. On October 7, Regeneración published what would be his last issue in Mexico.

After his release from prison, on April 30, 1902, Flores Magón joined the editorial staff of El Hijo del Ahuizote, a satirical publication loaded with political criticism and an anti-reelectionist theme, which through caricature functioned as a double-edged sword: to both inform and to mock the Porfirian dictatorship. On February 5, 1903, a banner was hung from the offices of El Hijo del Ahuizote with the lettering La Constitución ha muerto (The Constitution has died). In the photograph of the moment appears Ricardo Flores Magón. On April 16, the offices of the publication were seized and its editors, among them Ricardo Flores Magón, were incarcerated.

This piece was published in La Jornada and republished on November 3rd, 2022. English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

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  1.  The official name of the prison was the National Jail. It stood in Mexico City from 1862 until 1933.
  2. El Demócrata Fronteriza (the Democratic Border) was founded in 1896 by Justo Cárdenas to defend the interests of Mexicans in Texas.[
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