Ricardo Flores Magón: Living Thought

by Raúl Romero*

Ricardo Flores Magón and his brother Enrique.

In his history classes, professor emeritus at the UNAM Juan Brom used to say that it was a credit to the student movement of 1999-2000 that they named the main auditorium of the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences after Ricardo Flores Magón. The gesture was not minor and Brom knew it: it was not merely a homage from a generation that defended free education to the most important anarchist intellectual of the Mexican Revolution; it was, at the same time, a reappropriation of space, a plebian resignification, a rupture with the hegemonic history, and also perhaps, a sign of the advance of libertarian thought and action among social movements. 

The first time Ricardo Flores Magón was taken to jail he was only 19 years old. At that time, the anarchist had moved with his family from his native Oaxaca to Mexico City and was studying at the National School of Jurisprudence. It was the spring of 1892, and people were moving, agitated, as if with the arrival of the season the outdated organism of Mexican society had been shaken, he would write in Apuntes para la Historia (Notes for History). My first prison. Ricardo Flores Magón described the anti-reelection movement against Porfirio Díaz, in which the student movement played a key role: At that time we students were the idols of the people. The fact is that Ricardo Flores Magón and his brother Jesús, along with dozens of members of the student movement were arrested for participating in the protests. Fortunately, the massive popular mobilizations that followed their arrest saved them from being shot, as happened to so many others at that time.

Do not listen to the sweet songs of those sirens, who want to take advantage of your sacrifice to establish a government, that is, a new dog to protect the interests of the rich. Up with all of you; but to carry out the expropriation of the goods held by the rich!

Ricardo Flores Magón

The theoretical and practical contributions of the Magón brothers, and of other members of the Mexican Liberal Party (PLM), such as Práxedis Guerrero or Librado Rivera, have been widely studied from different standpoints. Particularly noteworthy is the link between the native communities and Magonism, a link that would not only be marked by the birthplace of Flores Magón, San Antonio Eloxochitlán, Oaxaca, populated mainly by Mazatec communities, but that would develop in the very formation of the PLM itself, as Benjamín Maldonado has pointed out in his text El Indio y lo Indio en el Movimiento Magonista (The Indian and Indian-ness in the Magonist Movement). On the nuances and debates of this link, it is worth reviewing the interesting conversation Ricardo Flores Magón and the national indigenous movement, recently held at the Institute of Social Research of the UNAM (https://bit.ly/3EolUGm).

Although the anarchism of the group led by Ricardo Flores Magón has had a profound impact on the political, cultural and intellectual life of Mexico, it should also be noted that from the beginning — and due to the very characteristics and conditions in which it developed– it was a transnational movement, with repercussions even beyond Mexico and the United States.

It is also among the youth movements where “Magonismo” has flourished with the greatest vigor. This libertarianism has taken root where anti-authoritarian, counter-cultural and anti-statist positions converge. Since the 1970s, whether promoting newspapers, magazines, libraries, radio stations, cooperatives, in the countryside and in the city, dozens of organizations and collectives have reproduced and nurtured Magón’s ideology in the struggle against the State and capital. In the 1990s, with the outbreak of the Zapatista rebellion and its frontal critique of the State, anarchist ideals also gained ground among hundreds of young people who wanted to build emancipatory alternatives against and beyond the State.

In September 1911 the PLM would launch a decisive manifesto: The storm is intensifying day by day: Maderistas1, Vazquistas2, Reyistas3, Cientificos4, Delabarristas5 call out to you, Mexicans, to leap to defend their faded banners, protectors of the privileges of the capitalist class. Do not listen to the sweet songs of those sirens, who want to take advantage of your sacrifice to establish a government, that is, a new dog to protect the interests of the rich. Up with all of you; but to carry out the expropriation of the goods held by the rich! The document would conclude with the slogan “Land and Liberty,” which Emiliano Zapata and the Liberation Army of the South would later make their Own.

Almost a century later, the link between Zapatismo and Magonismo would be claimed by the EZLN, when the neo-Zapatistas named one of the municipalities recovered in 1994 as the rebel municipality Ricardo Flores Magón, located in the Lacandon Tseltal jungle, near the Montes Azules biosphere.

One hundred years after his death, the thoughts and actions of Ricardo Flores Magón live on with those who struggle from below, against and beyond the State.

* Sociólogist

This article was published in La Jornada on November 20, 2022. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/11/20/opinion/015a2pol English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

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  1. Francisco Madero, revolutionary era President of Mexico, until his assassination.
  2. Emilio Vazquez Gómez, politician turned revolutionary
  3. Bernardo Reyes, general and politician
  4.  The Científicos (scientists) was a group of wealthy politicians and intellectuals who influenced political life in Mexico during the reign of Porfirio Díaz.
  5. Francisco León de la Barra
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