Despite valiant efforts by historians to explain the course of the Mexican Revolution, much of what transpired after 1911 still remains a mystery. On the surface, the bloody episode altered the face of traditional Mexico, ushering in an era of benefit to peasant and worker. Even a cursory examination of the record, however, reveals trappings of the ancient apparatus that survived intact. The hacienda, to cite an obvious culprit, weathered the winds of change until 1935, when Lázaro Caŕdenas began to dismantle it. Caudillo and Peasant in the Mexican Revolution, a provocative collection of essays edited by D. A. Brading, sheds new light on what, in the thinking of unorthodox scholars, can be called the “wayward” revolution, although interestingly, none of the authors of the essays questions the legitimacy of using the term revolution to describe the upheaval.

As Hans Werner Tobler, author of the concluding essay, points out, the provincial caudillos played a pivotal role in shaping the character not merely of reform but of the absence of reform, both during the years of warfare and the aftermath. It was the local caudillos, the countless bosses who sprang up with Francisco I. Madero’s challenge to the old regime, who helped to institutionalize the Revolution and to consolidate the modern Mexican state. Likewise, by looking at the relationship between caudillo and peasant, it becomes clear why this “mass” movement, chiefly peasant based and often called an agrarian uprising, failed to encourage social changes in keeping with its depth and duration. To ascribe the rebellion simply to agrarian discontent distorts the picture, especially since half of the country’s dirt farmers sat out the conflict, many of them on hacienda lands. In truth, the essays demonstrate, what took place was mass mobilization under the control of caudillos, frequently of backgrounds and aspirations at odds with those of their rural followers. This explains the nature of the revolt and the present institutionalized system.

The essays range far and wide. Héctor Aguilar Camín documents the case for Sonora, where local chieftains put together a professional army devoid of ties to the agrarian question. In Guerrero, Ian Jacobs emphasizes, local leaders rebelled against a political and economic monopoly, and not in protest against agrarian injustices. Dudley Ankerson’s study shows how Saturnino Cedillo’s alliance with national leaders limited the scope of land reform in San Luis Potosí. Excellent essays on Yucatán, Veracruz, Tlaxcala, and Michoacán examine provinces where no significant peasant uprisings occurred. In all four states, the mass mobilization engineered by caudillos in the 1920s and 1930s proved too fragile to survive attacks by national chieftains.

Caudillo and Peasant, in short, lays bare shortcomings of much scholarship on the Mexican Revolution and, conversely, points the way to what can be done to unravel the twists and turns of an upheaval that promised much but fell far short of its ballyhooed goals. For this volume, Brading, author of a stimulating introductory essay, and his collaborators merit special thanks.