Historians of twentieth-century Mexico generally agree that Marxism contributed little and late to the Mexican workers’ movement.1 Certain historians explain the limited impact, for example, of the early Mexican Communist party (PCM) by reference to the strength of nationalist ideologies within the Mexican Revolution and the “exotic” and “antinational” character of Marxism.2 Historians of the left comment on the absence of a vigorous Social Democratic tradition and bemoan the deleterious impact of anarchist and libertarian ideology on the Mexican working class, whose capture by bourgeois revolutionary coalitions they attribute to the obfuscatory impact of antistate and antipolitical thought that affected many workers outside formally anarchist circles.3 And although the early history of Mexican communism has been almost totally unexplored, many historians of the Mexican labor movement have commented negatively on the anarchist presence within the PCM during its first ten years. It is this factor that supposedly explains the seriousness and frequency of the theoretical and tactical errors that the party committed in its attempt to confront the emerging national state in the 1920s.4 In fact, this conflation of Social Democratic and anarchist and syndicalist sectors was by no means peculiar to Mexico or to Latin America, as is so often claimed.5

This article attempts to trace the evolution of socialist and Marxist thought and activity during the decade preceding the formation of the Mexican Communist party in 1919. It will argue that the echoes of Social Democracy were not as faint as has often been thought and that efforts to clear the confusion surrounding the origins of the PCM must involve an examination of the peculiarities of the implantation in Mexico of the antiutopian and antiethical “scientific socialism” of the Second International. It is not always easy to distinguish clearly among Marxism, the utopian and libertarian variants of socialism, and the many strands of anarchism. For the purpose of this article, however, I will somewhat schematically locate anarchists and libertarians in that camp which sees the state, rather than the economy, as the fundamental social structure and the basis of proletarian oppression. The state was to be overthrown through a workers’ insurrection and not through organization of a workers’ party. Marxist Social Democracy, on the other hand, called on the workers’ movement to organize politically for the conquest of state power. This was to be achieved through independent workers’ parties.6

Among the general arguments put forward to explain the weakness of the Social Democratic tradition in Mexico, two require some comment. The absence from Mexico of the mass immigration of European workers that the Southern Cone countries experienced, it is alleged, denied it the rich and constantly replenished fund of ideas, strategies, and experiences that supposedly abounded in Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. The membership of the Partido Socialista Internacional (PSI), forerunner of the Argentine Communist party, for example, was drawn mainly from Italian, Spanish, and East European workers. Unfortunately, this argument fails to take into account that not all countries with large-scale immigration developed strong socialist movements at the turn of the century; Brazil is one counterexample.7 It might also be argued that the Mexican labor movement secured some benefit from the absence of a transplanted European working class bearing the seeds of the discredited Second International. In practice, the small number of radical European immigrants who settled in Mexico, nearly all of whom played an important role in the country’s labor movement, came mostly from Spain and reinforced the already existing libertarian tradition among Mexican workers and artisans. The second general argument is somewhat more relevant. The lengthy and increasingly more repressive Díaz dictatorship undoubtedly erected severe, but not insurmountable, obstacles to the fluent transmission of socialist, Marxist, and anarchist ideology in Mexico.

The dominant ideological strands informing Mexican worker activities in the forty years before the 1910 Revolution were various versions of anarchism, libertarianism, and radical liberalism. During the first major wave of organization of worker societies, from 1862 to 1882, utopian socialism was the order of the day. Figures like Plotino Rhodakanaty, Francisco Zalacosta, and Santiago Villanueva aligned themselves with the antiauthoritarian Bakuninist members of the International Workingmen’s Association. Not all the socialists involved with early groups like Gran Círculo de Obreros and La Social, however, espoused similar ideas. Rhodakanaty, for example, was a disciple of Charles Fourier and Pierre Joseph Proudhon and saw his goal as “undoing the relationship between the state and the economic system, the reorganization of property, the abolition of politics and political parties, the complete destruction of the feudal system … this is socialism and this is what we want. ”8 He saw the tasks of socialists as the encouragement of workers’ collectives, artisan workshops, and agrarian communes; the future socialist society would be organized on the basis of a federation of self-governing voluntary organizations.

Meanwhile, the radical wing of the libertarian socialist groups addressed itself to the task of developing newer strategies for eroding capitalism. Workers were urged to go beyond mutualism and to extend their control over the social environment by forming production cooperatives. Whatever their individual differences, socialism for these figures meant, as it did for Julio López Chávez, the leader of the important peasant uprising of 1868-69, being “an enemy of all governments.”9

If Mexican socialists of the late nineteenth century drew upon French utopian socialism and the antiauthoritarian tradition of Bakunin, is it possible also to detect Mexican contact with the majority stream of the First and Second Internationals? Students of anarchism and socialism in nineteenth-century Mexico have generally argued the case for there being relatively little contact or even outright opposition. A recent author concludes that “amongst Mexican anarchists there was a general ignorance of the writings of Marx.”10 Another student comments: “Unlike most nineteenth century Mexican socialists, Rhodakanaty revealed in his writing some knowledge of Marxism, indicating both his opposition to it and the fear that it might succeed.”11

The most exhaustive discussion of nineteenth-century socialism in Mexico argues that the Marx-Bakunin conflict was reproduced, if rather faintly, within the artisan-based Gran Círculo de Obreros, with Francisco Zalacosta taking the side of the Jura Federation and Juan de Mata Rivero supporting Marx.12 The worker press of the 1870s and early 1880s, however, carried very little news of this great European debate or of the issues that were at its heart.13 On the other hand, the growing strength of German Social Democracy was greeted with approval and on occasion the antistate doctrines of men like Zalacosta seem to have been relaxed somewhat. Referring to the strength of the socialist program in Saxony, the journal La Internacional commented favorably on the program of confiscation of all capital by the state in order to form a great “Banco de Avío,”a goal that was viewed as “an excellent system of regeneration.”14 The Mexico City daily press seems to have been as important a source for the socialist press as private correspondence and news taken from publications received from Europe.15 The first discussion of Marx’s writings in Mexico occurred in a series of newspaper articles on his economic writings in 1877. Seven years later, El Socialista published a translation of the Communist Manifesto in an edition of ten thousand.16

The second phase of worker/radical activity and organization occurred between 1900 and 1910, with the development of a more militant and revolutionary form of anarchism, drawn from Kropotkin and syndicalist sources. This ideological strand, whose best known focus lay in the Magonista movement, involved the development for the first time of a concerted and vehemently expressed campaign to secure the dissolution of the Díaz regime.

It is in this second period that the echoes of Marxist Social Democracy become less faint. To be sure, it would be wrong to argue that “the ground was prepared for a deeper penetration of Marxism among Mexican workers in this period,” as one Soviet historian has claimed.17 There are signs, however, of the emergence of socialist politics among groups of workers in different areas of Mexico. The capital city of Jalisco, Guadalajara, seems to have been one of the socialist foci that developed after 1900. In 1904, a socialist party, the Partido Socialista Obrero (PSO), was founded in the city by Miguel Mendoza López Schwertfeger, Roque Estrada, Román Morales, and J. M. Kerr. López Schwertfeger, a lawyer, had two years earlier founded a worker organization with the name Sociedad de las Clases Productoras.18 Subsequently, López Schwertfeger established a reputation as an agrarian specialist with his pamphlet Tierra libre. Roque Estrada at this time was a student at the law school of the University of Guadalajara and editor of a short-lived journal, Aurora Social, published by the Socialist party.19 About J. M. Kerr little is known; Jacinto Huitrón refers to him as an Esperantist. The fourth founding member of the PSO, Román Morales, was a textile worker who had helped establish the Weavers’ Union (Unión de Tejedores) in Guadalajara.20

The development of Mexican socialism in this period also owed something to the activities of the United States Socialist party. The party gave its strong support to the struggles of anti-Díaz forces on a number of occasions during the years following the strike at the Cananea copper mines in northern Sonora. The 1908 National Convention of the party condemned the role of Mexican and United States government officials in the suppression of this strike and pledged its support for the defense of imprisoned Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM) militants like Antonio Villarreal, Li-brado Rivera, and Juan Sarabia, who had been a member of the Socialist party local in Los Angeles since 1906. The party claimed members in Mexico, but gave no details about whether they were North American citizens resident in Mexico or Mexicans.21

The most significant development in this period was not to bear fruit until shortly after the overthrow of Díaz. The Bismarckian antisocialist laws stimulated the immigration of many German Social Democrats to Latin America. Most went to Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, but a few made their homes in Mexico, the most prominent being Paul Zierold. A piano tuner by profession, Zierold was born in Leipzig and left Germany in 1889 at the age of twenty-five.22 His militancy in the German Social Democratic party and familiarity with Marxism earned him the title of “Maestro” among the Mexican workers and intellectuals who in August 1911 formed the Partido Obrero Socialista de la República Mexicana (POS). Almost nothing is known of Zierold’s life and activities before the Revolution, although it is not unreasonable to assume that he cultivated good relations with a group of Social Democratic brewery workers of German origin living in Toluca, the capital of the state of Mexico, who gave their support to the Socialist party in 1911 and 1912. An article by Zierold in the German Social Democratic party magazine Die Neue Zeit in mid-1911 attests to Zierold’s continuing links with the European socialist movement, although it contains only the briefest and most general of references to the Mexican working class and its organizations.23

Eleven men founded the POS in August 1911. Apart from Zierold, the founding members included a Mexico City lawyer, Adolfo Santibáñez, secretary of the party and an activist in socialist politics right up until the end of 1919; Fredesvindo E. Alonso, a Cuban printing worker; and Juan Humboldt, a German colleague of Zierold.24 The other founding members included a government official and a mechanic. Apart from the brewery workers at Toluca, the party had only a precarious link with the Mexican working class, and its membership at no point exceeded fifty individuals.25 The party edited twenty issues of its organ El Socialista, which began publication in March 1912 and sold two thousand copies per issue.26 For several months before that, POS articles and news had appeared regularly in the pages of a small Mexico City daily, El Paladín.

In spite of the party’s title and Zierold’s orthodox socialist past, it is no easy task to decode the political and theoretical position of the POS and its members. A substantial number of them were much closer to anarchist and libertarian positions than to Social Democracy and “scientific socialism.” At least seven members, including Luis Méndez, Jacinto Huitrón, and Eloy Armenta, left the party in June 1912 to form the Grupo “Luz,” a rationalist and libertarian education center that was the nucleus around which the Casa del Obrero Mundial was formed later that year.27 Colombian anarchist Juan Francisco Moncaleano played a part in splitting the POS with his criticisms of the socialist demand for direct working-class possession of the state’s political power.

The theoretical orientation of the POS reflected the entire range of radical thought current in Mexico at the time. The party’s program was copied with very few modifications from that of the Spanish Socialist party, the most revisionist of the European socialist parties. It called for the direct exercise of political power by the working class and the socialization of all means of production—land, mines, transport, and industry. To achieve this goal, the Mexican working class was urged to intervene “in all questions arising from the exercise of government.” The preamble to the POS program disassociated the party from the “so-called socialist movement of Ricardo Flores Magón and his supporters.28 In spite of the early support it received from libertarian figures, the POS strongly opposed the bitterly hostile attitude of the Magonistas toward the Madero government and the PLM’s rejection in principle of the value for socialists of parliamentary activity.

The POS included among its members renegade Magonistas like Lázaro Gutiérrez de Lara, who was expelled from the PLM because of his sympathies for Madero and for the reformist American Federation of Labor. Gutiérrez de Lara in fact represented the POS at the Indianapolis congress of the United States Socialist party in May 1912.29 Other members, however, were clearly still working within the cultural and ideological frame-work of anarchist thought. When the party purchased books and pamphlets to help in the education of its members, the material acquired included a collection of the writings of Bakunin, Kropotkin, and other anarchist authors.30 The POS, weak though it may have been, saw itself as part of the international socialist movement. The electoral successes of the German Social Democratic party were greeted enthusiastically in the POS columns of El Paladín. In a congratulatory message sent to the German party in January 1912, the POS proclaimed: “Our masters in philosophy have been Germans and German philosophy produced scientific socialism.”31 United States leftist journals and sources provided socialist material that the POS translated for its Mexican readers and Zierold corresponded with the International Socialist Review, an organ of the United States Socialist party.32

The pages of El Socialista and El Paladín carried articles on socialist topics and discussed international politics from a socialist perspective with columns written by Adolfo Santibáñez and Zenaido Cárdenas, while the most prolific contributor was Paul Zierold himself. His contributions included a large number of translations from English and German—pamphlets like The ABC of Socialism by H. P. Moyer, The Great Chinese Revolution by the Russian orientalist, Menshevik Mikhail Pavlovitch, and articles by Otto Bauer, the most important theorist of Austrian Social Democracy.33 In May 1913 El Paladín carried two articles summarizing Engels’s description of the arguments of Das Kapital.34

In spite of the undoubted influence of anarchist figures, the POS combated a fundamentalist opposition to parliamentarism, although it warned its readers about reformist illusions concerning what could be achieved through parliamentary action. Writers for El Socialista cautioned against belief in the efficacy of parliamentarism as a long-term solution for workers’ problems, but urged readers to “elect people of your own class” and to support deputies as long as they articulated the interests of the masses.35 The party repeatedly sought to emphasize the chasm that separated its views from those of the Magonista liberals. Government and people alike must not confuse Magonism with true socialism. “Socialists form political parties and are respected and feared by bourgeois political groups.”36 These sentiments echoed very accurately the reformist and parliamentarist positions both of the Spanish Socialist party and of the majority core of the German Social Democratic party of the immediate pre-First World War period.

After the murder of Francisco Madero in 1913, the POS faded from view. According to Rafael Pérez Taylor, the party decided to merge with the Casa del Obrero Mundial after realizing how limited its achievements had been in its first year and a half of existence.37 The Mexican Socialist party seems to have been organizing activities and lectures in Mexico City under its own name, however, right through 1915.38 During the repeated occupations and evacuations of Mexico City by Constitutionalist and Convention forces in late 1914 and the first half of 1915, the sympathies of the POS leaders leaned heavily toward the Convention forces of Villa and Zapata, in whose ranks could be found such pioneer Mexican socialists as Miguel Mendoza López Schwertfeger. Paul Zierold, for example, in an article for the International Socialist Review in early 1915, told United States readers that the Convention will “clear the way for Socialism since Villa and Zapata are more than half Socialists.”39 This position of the POS was in sharp contrast to the strong pro-Constitutionalist sympathies of a large part of the Casa del Obrero Mundial.

While the POS represented probably the most orthodox focus of “scientific socialism” and Second International Marxism in Mexico during the early years of the Mexican Revolution, the image of socialism projected in the writings of the many nonparty thinkers and teachers who styled themselves socialists still encompassed a broad spectrum of often contradictory radical social theories and positions. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the writings of Rafael Pérez Taylor. Born in Tacuba in 1887, Pérez Taylor was an ardent supporter of Madero’s antireelectionist campaign and a frequent speaker at meetings of the Casa del Obrero Mundial during 1912 and 1913, although his attempt to organize railway workers to fight against the United States occupation of Veracruz during the Huerta presidency secured his expulsion from the Casa.40

His El socialismo en México, published in 1913, is a survey of European socialist thinkers with critical commentaries and an evaluation of their relevance to the Mexican situation. The socialist writers reviewed are almost entirely outside the Marxist tradition (like economist Charles Gide and social theorist Gustave le Bon). Socialists in Mexico are characterized mostly as freethinkers and Masons struggling to dispel religious superstitions. The form of socialism that Pérez Taylor saw as most appropriate to Mexican conditions was cooperatism since it emphasized the mutual interdependence of worker and capitalist within the same organization. “The problem in Mexico is the question of mutual concessions—let the employer concern himself for the worker and the worker for the employer; this is the psychological basis of our socialism.”41 Just as did the “cultured artisans” (artesanos cultos) of the Casa del Obrero Mundial, Pérez Taylor saw illiteracy and fanaticism as the dominant characteristics of the Mexican working poor. “Radical socialism,” he argued, would not be possible until full literacy was achieved.42 Radical socialists, Pérez Taylor conceded, would accuse him of trying to encourage workers to believe in bourgeois institutions that try to capture the working class through material concessions and by encouraging a taste for savings and prosperity.43

On the Marxian strand of socialism there is very little comment. Marx is mentioned twice briefly in a passage criticizing the philosophical basis of collectivism, defined as the progressive socialization of the instruments of production, and he is taken to task for his view that labor is the sole measure of value and for dismissing the relevance of such concepts as scarcity and utility.44

The vagueness and heterogeneity of Pérez Taylor’s reading of socialist ideas is by no means exceptional in this period. In Yucatán, which in the early 1920s became a center of radical social and political experimentation associated with Felipe Carrillo Puerto, socialism was interpreted in many varied and contradictory ways. In June 1916, the second year of General Salvador Alvarado’s governorship, a group of radical workers in the Yucatán capital, Mérida, established the Partido Socialista Obrero. Although it is unclear how much the party’s creation owed to Alvarado’s own political interests in his struggle against the state’s commercial and agricultural oligarchy, the party quickly became an enthusiastic supporter of the Alvarado government.45 During the party’s early years (1916-18) socialism was an umbrella concept, encompassing a wide range of ideological positions.

Frequently it was identified with Saint-Simon’s notion of industrialism and progress. Socialism is identified with hard work. This is a moralizing ideology, which facilitates alliances between the bourgeoisie and the wage-earning masses.46

Elsewhere in Mexico, hundreds of soldiers and politicians proclaimed their socialist faith, disseminating often grotesque versions of socialist ideas concealing what were essentially populist and statist positions. David G. Berlanga, a Constitutionalist educationalist and journalist who had spent some time in Europe and who was killed on Villa’s orders while serving as a delegate to the Convention of Aguascalientes, told an audience in August 1914:

socialism aims at the socialization of products. This means government inspection of workshops, factories, mines, haciendas, and all commercial establishments that contribute to the acquisition of wealth. In other words, the government looks after the interests of the wage worker and establishes fair relations between capital and labor.47

Berlanga’s use of the term socialism reflected the widely held view that the revolutionary state’s supreme goal was the establishment of social peace and collective well-being through a rigorously enforced class equilibrium. Alvarado expressed this populist conception of socialism very well.

Capital, which is simply accumulated labor, will be in perfect balance with labor because each needs the other as the indispensable basis for the prosperity of everyone. The state has the solution in its hands—state socialism. Its basis is universal cooperation.48

Among students and intellectuals socialism was an important topic of debate. Indeed, the widespread use of socialist terms and labels during this period suggests the growing prestige of radical thought in a world where the certainties of pre-1914 capitalist civilization were rapidly being undermined by revolutionary agitation and world war. At the same time the increasingly common use of “socialist” and “socialism” served to differentiate varying degrees of commitment to the radical and liberal content of the Mexican Revolution. As Rafael Nieto put it in his Polémica laborista:

In France liberals with conservative allegiances are known as socialist radicals and socialist republicans. It is hardly strange then that in Mexico conservatives have labeled themselves cooperatistas and that all those who reject the reactionary label believe themselves to be socialists.49

When the Sociedad de Conferencias y Conciertos was founded in September 1916 to continue the work of the humanist Ateneo de la Juventud, the first series of lectures included two presentations centered on socialist issues.50 In spite of the stated goals of organizations such as the Sociedad— to bring art, culture, and ideas to “the people”—this kind of discussion of socialism seems to have taken place with minimal contact with the popular masses of the large cities. In fact, most of the young intellectuals, mystics, and poets who helped form the Sociedad, the “seven wise men” (siete sabios), were insistent on proclaiming their apolitical status. Only Vicente Lombardo Toledano directed his attention toward educational work among trade unions in 1917 and 1918.51 Moreover, the attempts of the youthful revolutionary intelligentsia to deal with the social problems of the times were handicapped by a contemporary environment that lacked any obvious legitimate source of theoretical inspiration and guidance. The positivists of the Porfirian oligarchy were already discredited, yet no system of ideas had replaced either classic liberalism or positivism. There were few, if any, scholars familiar with socialist thought, which made contact with socialist ideas for many university students irregular and arbitrary. The young Manuel Gómez Morín, later a distinguished conservative thinker, recalled how the titular professor of economics at the National University lectured on socialism by reading from Anatole France.52

At the beginning of 1917, therefore, it could not be said that Marxism was widely disseminated among Mexican workers and intellectuals or that “scientific socialism” was a major current within the ideological trajectory of the labor movement. Anarchist and libertarian precepts still dominated the most radical sector of a working class that was still only partially organized and in which liberalism and mutualism were still significant influences. In 1916 the best organized section of the workers’ movement had been thrown into disarray. The defeat of the general strike in Mexico City that year and the dissolution of the Casa del Obrero Mundial by the Carranza government stimulated a rethinking of workers’ strategy that would bear fruit in the next three years in the formation of two clear currents within the working class of the central core of the country—the reformist trade unionism of the Confederación Regional Obrera Mexicana (CROM), founded in March 1918, and the temporary merging of anarchist-syndicalist and Marxist currents in the Gran Cuerpo Central de Trabajadores and the Mexican Communist party during 1919.

The Formation of the Mexican Communist Party

The three years preceding the founding of the Partido Comunista Mexicano (PCM) in November 1919 were years of great activity on the Mexican left in which the repercussions of the Casa del Obrero-Constitutionalist confrontation were still being felt. The CROM very rapidly adopted an openly reformist position, despite the lingering presence of anarchist overtones in the organization’s title and constitution. The CROM hoped to win the support of powerful patrons for its activities, but the growing hostility of the Carranza government toward labor obliged the labor federation’s leader, Luis Morones, and his followers to seek newer, friendlier patrons during 1919 with the help of its political wing, the Partido Laborista. The Partido Laborista attracted the attention and support of Generals Alvaro Obregón and Plutarco Elías Calles, leading members of what was to become known as the Sonoran Dynasty, and it rallied behind the Agua Prieta revolt of 1920, which destroyed the Carranza administration and inaugurated the rule of “the northerners” for the next eight years.

Another pointer to the CROM’s future orientation, and a source of conflict with more radical unions, were the close links that the organization established with the American Federation of Labor. During World War I, the AFL had become totally identified with the military aims of the United States government; it was also the prime mover in attempts to establish a “moderate” antisocialist Latin American labor federation, with the Mexican CROM as its key affiliate.

The bulk of the organized working class at this period, however, still operated within the ideological framework of mutualist or libertarian ideas. Large numbers of workers were alienated by the CROM’s orientation and, in particular, its embracing of the strategy of ‘‘acción múltiple,” a combination of “direct” industrial action with intervention in the political arena. At the end of 1918 some of these discontents established a new labor organization, which has gone almost unnoticed by historians of the Mexican labor movement, the Gran Cuerpo Central de Trabajadores. Heavily oriented toward Mexico City workers, the Gran Cuerpo embraced the most staunchly independent and militant workers of the capital city and its southern suburbs, many of whom would, in February 1921, find their way to the Confederación General de Trabajadores (CGT). The Gran Cuerpo drew support from bakers, tramway workers and telephone company employees (both unions very active in late 1914 and 1915), chauffeurs, and certain sections of the textile workers’ movements of the Federal District. It also established close links with the old Mexican Socialist party, which had taken a new lease on life in January 1918.53

Clearly, no discussion of the formation of Latin American communism can take place without consideration of the international conjuncture inaugurated by the Russian Revolution, yet the few treatments of this theme that exist are strangely schematic and brief. News of the 1917 revolutions arrived in Mexico through the Spanish radical press (Tierra y Libertad of Barcelona, for example) and through the often distorted accounts appearing in the daily press.54 The anarchist orientation of most of the radical workers did not at all dim enthusiasm for the momentous developments in the young Soviet state.55 The revolutionary events were simply given an interpretation that accorded with anarchist and syndicalist beliefs. The Mexican radical press placed particular emphasis upon the soviet, or workers’ council, as the most characteristic and significant institution created by the revolutionary upsurge. For Mexican anarchists, the Russian Revolution was a magnificent example of “direct action” (acción directa) carried out by an active minority with the familiar anarchist and libertarian slogans of antimilitarism, individual freedom, and the smashing of the state. The world was witnessing a spontaneous uprising by the masses made desperate by the miseries of war. Russia had indeed become the “proletariat in arms” and to a certain extent the distortions of the bourgeois press actually encouraged these attempts to see the Bolshevik revolution as the incarnation of the anarchist goal of revolución social. The Mexican radicals’ response to revolutionary developments in Russia almost exactly echoed the response of many syndicalists and anarchists in Spain and throughout Europe during the immediate postwar years.56

The entry of the United States into the war in April 1917 was another of the influences that reshaped the course of Mexican radicalism and socialism. Attempts by the Wilson administration to alter the neutral stance of the Carranza government aroused increasing Mexican resentment of bullying interference by a powerful neighbor. The aggressive policies of the United States sharpened the hostility, in particular, of radical and nationalist opinion in Mexico. Its response took the form either of strident neutralism or of antiimperialism, sometimes accompanied by sentiments favorable to German power, which was viewed as a potential counterweight to the hegemonic pretensions of the United States.57

The United States declaration of war had other effects on Mexico. Many hundreds who opposed United States entry into the armed conflict crossed the Rio Grande. Perhaps only a few dozen of the hundreds of “slackers” who made their way to Mexico had been involved in socialist and left-wing activities in the United States. Some of them, like Irving Granich (later Mike Gold), Carleton Beals, Charles Philips (later Manuel Gómez, a leading member of the Communist party of the United States), and the brilliant cartoonist of The Masses, Henryd Glintenkampf, found their way by accident as much as by design into the world of the Mexican worker and socialist movement from which the Mexican Communist party emerged at the end of 1919.

Mexico also provided a temporary home for protestors of a different kind—representatives of the Indian anticolonial movement, which had gathered considerable strength in North America in the decade before 1917.58 The close vigilance by British and United States intelligence of the activities of the Indian antiimperialists, fueled by knowledge of the German connections of a section of the movement, brought several “Hindu” nationalists to Mexico in 1917 and 1918.59 One of the Indians, the Bengali M. N. Roy, was to play an important role not only in the birth of Mexican communism, but in the evolution of Comintern policy on colonial questions in the 1920s.60

Roy arrived in Mexico in June 1917 with his North American wife, Evelyn Trent, who made contact with Mexican feminist groups and helped found the Consejo Feminista Mexicano in the second half of 1919.61 Roy’s anticolonial nationalism had gradually taken on a socialist character in the last months of his stay in New York; and on his arrival in Mexico City, he slowly established contact with the recently revived Mexican Socialist party, whose journal he helped refinance by early 1919.62

Finally, the strategic location of Mexico on the borders of the United States and the worldwide impact of the social and agrarian radicalism of the Mexican Revolution attracted the admiration and attention of sections of the European left and in particular of the newly formed Third International. Mikhail Borodin, a Comintern agent who visited Mexico in late 1919, was only the first of a number of Comintern and communist figures who left their mark on the development of Mexican communism.63

The National Socialist Congress and the Foundation of the PCM

The most important step toward the creation of a Mexican Communist party was taken by the National Socialist Congress of August-September 1919. The meeting was called by the Mexican Socialist party, one of the few organizations related to the Marxist and Social Democratic tradition, although, as we have already seen, its relationship to that tradition was highly ambiguous. After several years of inactivity, the party reemerged at the end of 1917 under the leadership of Licenciado Adolfo Santibáñez and Francisco Cervantes López. Santibáñez was a middle-aged lawyer who had long specialized in cases involving workers. He had served the Zapatista-Villista Convention government during 1915 and had spoken in the defense of the Casa del Obrero Mundial workers put on trial during the 1916 general strike in Mexico City.64 The party published a journal, El Socialista, which began circulating some time in 1917 on a weekly, then a monthly, basis, but financial problems forced it to suspend publication at the end of 1918.65 According to M. N. Roy, his financial assistance enabled the journal to resume publication in an expanded form in January 1919.

Some idea of the party’s ideology and style can be glimpsed from El Socialista’s contents. At the level of international politics, the paper aligned itself with European Social Democratic movements, drawing news and articles from papers like L’Humanité (French Socialist party) and Vorwärts (the Berlin daily of the German Social Democratic party). An important theme was the Russian Revolution, which received the full sympathy of the journal’s writers. The sense of the party’s intellectual isolation, however, can be judged from comments made by Francisco Cervantes López in April 1919. In an article for El Socialista, he argued that socialist doctrine was almost unknown in Mexico where illiteracy was a severe problem and where anarchism had its grip on workers. Ignorance of socialist theory and strategy was made worse by a lack of appropriate reading materials. “The books that come from Spain are translations of works published more than a century ago in France, Germany, and Russia,’’ he concluded, which made confusion of anarchist and socialist ideas easier.66 In fact, Cervantes López was exaggerating his case somewhat. During 1919 a number of pamphlets celebrating the Soviet experience circulated among Mexican workers, including a translation of the Soviet constitution made by the Mexican syndicalist Vicente Ferrer Aidana and published under the title Carta magna bolsheviki67 Like a great deal of the information about European socialist and communist events, this particular pamphlet was translated from material published in the United States.

Roy, recalling meetings during 1918 in which he spoke to Santibáñez and members of the executive committee of the party, noted that, with the exception of “the very bourgeois Santibáñez and one school teacher,” all the executive members were “full-blooded proletarians.”68 It is doubtful, though, that the party had more than a couple of dozen active members, although it probably received the support of several hundred sympathizers and readers of its journal. For a start, the Socialist party was not formally linked with worker sindicatos, although through the activities of a new recruit at the end of 1918, José Allen, it established close contact with the Gran Cuerpo Central de Trabajadores.

José Allen would subsequently become the first secretary-general of the Mexican Communist party, yet in early 1919 his links both with the Mexican labor movement and with the Socialist party were of very recent origin. An electrical engineer by training, Allen, as his name would suggest, was descended from an Anglo-American family; his grandfather had been an engineer in the United States Army who settled in Mexico in the 1840s. Although Allen was later to claim that he had long been active in student and worker politics, there is no evidence of his having participated in labor or socialist activities before the end of 1918.69 In fact Allen was, by his own admission, an agent of United States Military Intelligence, having been recruited while working in one of the Mexican government’s military manufacturing plants by Major R. M. Campbell, the military attaché of the United States Embassy in Mexico City in late 1918. After supplying information on the country’s military facilities, Allen was persuaded to join the Gran Cuerpo Central de Trabajadores and to insert himself into the world of radical worker politics.70 Within a very short period he had won the confidence of leading members of the Gran Cuerpo leadership and of the Mexican Socialist party and his regular weekly reports to the United States Embassy provide a valuable picture of life among the anti-CROM workers of Mexico City in the years immediately following the end of the First World War.71

In spite of the explicitly antianarchist tone of the Socialist party’s publications, its working-class membership was still deeply imbued with anarchist and syndicalist ideas, to the point of refusing to endorse concrete action in protest of United States threats to Mexico over the implications of the 1917 Constitution. Whatever doubts some party members had about the appropriate way of responding to these serious conflicts, by the middle of 1919 the Mexican Socialist party had taken up a firm position against Rritish and United States imperialism, using a militant language that showed the influence of M. N. Roy. On July 11, 1919, the party adopted a resolution protesting Washington’s intention to deport Indian nationalists and recognizing the right of the Indian people to rebel against Rritish colonialism.72 Early in August, the Socialist party furiously denounced rumored United States intervention in Mexican affairs and called on the United States proletariat to “organize for concerted economic action to prevent intervention.” Mexican workers were urged to give full support to the Carranza government’s defense of Mexican interests, although it was made clear that this did not involve a categorical endorsement of the Mexican government.73 The language of the Socialist party resolution displayed a militant internationalism and an identification of Mexico’s interests with those of other colonial and semicolonial countries burdened by imperialism.74

Meanwhile in Europe, amid the ruins of the collapsed Second International, the first steps in the formation of a new “International of Action were taken in March 1919 at the inaugural congress in Moscow of the Comintern. The invitations to the founding congress had been issued at the end of January to all parties opposed to the Second International. Interestingly, few of the parties or groups named in the invitation as eligible to attend the congress were located outside of Europe and these were small United States and Japanese socialist groups.75 In the end only a few delegates attended the inaugural congress of the Third International and a majority of these were from Russia or from the small Eastern European states bordering Soviet Russia.

The Manifesto of the Communist International to the Proletariat of the Entire World was imbued with the prevailing revolutionary optimism of the time and called on workers of all countries to unite under the communist banner. Although it made specific reference to conditions in the colonial countries of Asia and Africa, urging struggle for proletarian revolution rather than mere liberation from colonial rule, there was no reference to Central or South America and, with the exception of a delegate from the United States, the Americas were unrepresented at the congress. Neither were there Latin American representatives at the Baku conference on colonial questions, held shortly after the close of the Comintern’s first congress, although the United States delegate, John Reed, included a number of references to Mexico in his speech to the meeting.76

Following the Comintern’s call and under pressure from an increasingly radicalized workers’ movement, new communist parties were formed in several European countries and the struggle among left, centrist, and right factions of socialist parties intensified. Certain key figures within the Mex-ican Socialist party, especially Koy and Santibáñez, were anxious for the party to define its position in the international arena. The party’s program, however, as late as August 1919 still reflected the heterogeneity of its membership base and ideological orientation.77

The first invitations to a National Socialist Congress came from the Socialist party in the middle of July,78 one of the major goals being the designation of a delegate to represent the party in “the Berne International.” This was presumably a reference to the rump of the Second International whose first postwar meeting took place in Berne in February 1919. The Berne group was made up of right and centrist parties (like the German Socialist and Independent German Socialist parties) and was an attempt to revive the Second International in an openly anti-Bolshevik way. Quite how the Berne reference came to be mentioned in the context of a conference that would nominate a delegate to the recently established Third International remains a mystery. Possibly the attendance of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español at the Berne meeting may have been a factor confusing the issue for the Mexican socialists, who had a close knowledge of Spanish socialist affairs. More probably it was sheer ignorance of the fast-moving developments in Europe that produced the reference. In any case, subsequent announcements of the forthcoming congress dropped the reference.79

The National Socialist Congress assembled in Mexico City on August 22, and sixty delegates accredited by various organizations attended.80 A Mexican Socialist party worker informed the New York socialist daily, The Call, that “delegates from every state have been invited, representing the workers’ syndicates, leagues of resistance and all liberal publications as well as the purely Socialist and radical groups.”81 From the list of the twenty-one signatures attached to the Declaration of Principles that appeared at the end of the congress it is possible to gain a limited idea of the kinds of delegates who attended the meeting.82 Nine delegates represented individual unions or worker organizations like the cámaras obreras; among these were a number of men who had already been linked with socialist circles, including José Medina, representing the Cámara Obrera de Zacatecas, and Leonardo Hernández, a delegate of the Sindicato de Molineros de México and a leading member of the Gran Cuerpo. Major figures of the Mexican Socialist party who attended were Francisco Cervantes López, José Allen, Eduardo Camacho (representing the Cien Jóvenes Socialistas Rojos de México), and M. N. Roy (in representation of the party’s El Socialista).83 The agenda consisted of five items, of which four were general calls for the establishment of a clear definition of the goals of the socialist movement in Mexico and for finding ways to strengthen the movement. The fifth item proposed the “election” of a socialist delegate from Mexico to the Third International.84

Few references to the congress have survived; and most of the contemporary accounts were highly partial, reflecting the position of only one of the tendencies represented in the congress.85 All agree that a major dispute emerged over the seating of Luis Morones and the accounts have further tried to identify three opposing currents of opinion within the congress— the reformist position of Morones and the CROM, the opportunist line of the United States draft evader, spiritualist, and self-appointed “Lenin of the Americas,” Linn Gale, and the revolutionary socialist position of the Mexican Socialist party leaders, especially Roy and Allen.86 It is doubtful, however, that such clarity of position and line was evident in the proceedings of the congress. Linn Gale and his Philippine colleague, Fulgencio Luna, represented only themselves, although they expressed sympathy for the revolutionary unionism of the International Workers of the World (IWW). Morones and another leading cromiano, Samuel Yódico, whose credentials were also challenged, appear in the end to have won no political support from any of the delegates present. The final Declaration of Principles was carried unanimously on the last day, just after Morones withdrew from the congress. Linn Gale’s accounts of the congress, which circulated widely in the United States labor press, were undoubtedly colored by his personal animosity toward Morones. At one point during the deliberations, Morones interrupted Gale by brandishing a copy of Gale’s Spanish-language magazine Nueva Civilización, which contained a portrait of the Carrancista minister of the interior, Manuel Aguirre Berlanga, with whom Gale had had friendly relations throughout 1918 and 1919.

According to José Allen’s account of the congress, written in mid-October 1919, his decision to seat Morones at the start of the meeting was due to the fact that the CROM leader was carrying credentials from two radical organizations that had been invited to send delegates.87 “To have refused him a seat would have meant antagonizing half the delegates and would have split the congress from the first day—but by admitting him and fighting him in a fair and open field his adherents were won completely away from him.”88

The Declaration of Principles drew some of its points from the conclusions of the inaugural congress of the Comintern, but it gave most emphasis to those points that were most closely linked to, or conflicted least with, libertarian thinking. Thus, in one paragraph, the congress fixed the label of “traitor to working-class interests” on anyone who “tried to divert workers toward the belief that the working class can be freed by means of political action—that is, by means of participation in bourgeois parliaments.”89 The contemporary mood of the newly formed Third International, particularly its temporary enthusiasm for “spontaneity” and its virulent denunciations of the parliamentarism of the old Second International, made it much easier for Mexican socialists to derive familiar and comforting conclusions of a libertarian and antipolitical nature from early Comintern pronouncements. Finally, in an act that sealed the congress’s decision to affiliate with the new international communist movement, the delegates approved the sending of a telegram of greetings to the United States Communist party, which was meeting at that moment in Chicago.90 In its greeting, the Mexican Socialist party announced: “We are naming delegates to the Third International.”

The National Socialist Congress did not lead immediately to the creation of a Mexican Communist party, however. The Mexican Socialist party did not change its name to Mexican Communist party (Partido Comunista Mexicano) until November, several months after the close of the congress. Much confusion, therefore, has arisen over the appearance in mid-September of a “communist party,” led by Linn Gale. In spite of the attacks he suffered during the congress, Gale stayed until the bitter end and signed the final Declaration of Principles. Shortly afterward, though, he was expelled from the Mexico City local of the Socialist party because of his political links with Aguirre Berlanga. He promptly formed his Communist party of Mexico (Partido Comunista de México), which was never more than a paper organization.

For the remainder of 1919, Gale and his coterie of followers launched an elaborate attempt to discredit the activities of the Socialist party under the direction of Roy and Allen. Gale’s Communist party of Mexico was hardly more than a shadowy organizational extension of Gale’s Magazine, a socialist journal that Gale had published in Mexico since his arrival in July 1918.91 Gale’s party projected itself almost exclusively outside of Mexico in an attempt to convince the United States labor and socialist movements that Gale was the only exponent of “true Bolshevism” in Mexico. Conveniently forgetting the history of his own association with the Carranza cabinet and with the German Embassy in Mexico, Linn Gale labeled Roy a spy of the German government and chief accomplice in the capitulation of the Socialist party to the stratagems of Luis Morones and the CROM.92

Gale’s party showed a particular interest in reaching the IWW press in the United States, and its program and public statements emphasized that the party “was unequivocally committed to IWWism and ready to do anything possible to further the One Big Union idea.”93 Unlike the Socialist party (later PCM), which still enjoyed close links with an admittedly small section of the Mexico City workers’ movement, the Partido Comunista de México existed completely on the margins of the Mexican working class. Two of its national committee members, the North Americans J. C. Parker and M. Tabler, claimed association with the IWW in Tampico, but there is no real evidence of any significant connection between the party and the work force of the oil zone.94

Between the close of the National Socialist Congress and November 1919, the decision was taken to create a Communist party that would formally seek affiliation with the Third International. The formation of such a party had of course already been foreshadowed by the congress’s decision to send delegates to the next meeting of the Comintern. At the beginning of October, a group of Socialist party members, headed by José Allen and Eduardo Camacho, began publication of a weekly journal, El Soviet, whose title left no doubt as to the direction the party was taking.95El Soviet described itself as a “semanario de propaganda socialista” and was published by the Grupo “Hermanos Rojos” from the headquarters of the Bakers’ Union in Mexico City.

The editors saw the world revolution spearheaded by the Russian Bolsheviks, German Spartacists, and North American Wobblies engulfing not only Europe, but also the United States and Mexico. The language of the articles and the slogans printed on the title page (“Por la Salud y Emancipación Universal”), however, indicate that the imminent revolutionary breakthrough was still conceptualized in a semilibertarian fashion as the culmination of a general struggle of direct action by the masses.96 The choice of title for the paper was especially significant. The left wing of the Mexican workers’ movement, influenced by syndicalist and libertarian ideas, was particularly taken by the concepts of the soviet and workers’ council, to which it gave a meaning that was in some respects quite different from that understood by the Bolsheviks. The soviet became the very epitome of direct action by the working class engaged in the destruction of the authoritarian state.

The decision to establish formally a Mexican communist party was taken by Roy and Allen with the advice of the Soviet Comintern delegate, Mikhail Borodin, whose presence in Mexico at the end of 1919 is one of the most fascinating and most ill-understood aspects of the early history of Mexican communism. Borodin, born Mikhail Grusenberg, had been an active member of Lenin’s faction of the Russian Social Democratic party before emigrating to the United States in 1906. His knowledge of English and the contacts with the North American left, acquired while a member of the Socialist party of America, were sorely desired by the economically and politically hard-pressed Soviet state, which desperately needed to revive commerical links with the capitalist world. Borodin’s prime task on his return to the New World in the summer and fall of 1919 was to provide financial assistance to the Soviet Government Bureau in New York, operated by Ludwig Martens, and to develop trade in raw materials with Mexico.97 After a complicated series of journeys involving travel through the Caribbean and the United States, Borodin reached Mexico at the end of September or beginning of October.98 It is clear, therefore, that Borodin could not have been present during the deliberations of the National Socialist Congress, as has commonly been believed.99

The more difficult questions relate to the larger political and diplomatic tasks of Borodin in his visit to Mexico. In addition to providing funds for the Soviet Government Bureau in New York, was Borodin’s visit also connected with the revolutionary strategy of the Comintern in the Americas? British and United States intelligence believed that before leaving Moscow, Borodin had been given the same title for Central and South America as Martens had received for North America, together with instructions to influence the Mexican government in favor of supplying Russia with foodstuffs and raw materials.100 The Soviet Government Bureau in New York was primarily a commercial venture, however and, in spite of Martens’s obvious Bolshevik affiliations, it doggedly refused to enter the political arena, much to the chagrin of United States socialists. It was not until July 1920, in fact, that the Comintern established a section with special responsibility for North America.101 Yet El Soviet announced the formation of a Latin American Bureau of the Third International at the beginning of December 1919.102 Given the Comintern’s evident lack of interest in Latin America at this time and its tendency to view the conflict between the imperialist and colonial worlds as being essentially an East-West issue involving the peoples of Asia and the Middle East, Borodin’s visit becomes even more problematical.

How does one then explain Borodin’s nearly two-and-a-half-month stay in Mexico? Trade negotiations with the Mexican government may have been a major concern. Certainly, Borodin had regular meetings with a number of government officials, including Carranza himself.103 Clearly, Borodin was also interested in recovering valuable jewelry (which he had abandoned in Santo Domingo en route to New York and which was intended to fund Russian commercial and possibly also Comintern activities in North America).104 According to M. N. Roy, Borodin was also interested in securing Mexican support and possibly even diplomatic recognition for the new Soviet government. Carranza was suitably impressed by the Russian’s declaration of his government’s support for the struggle of the Latin American peoples against colonialism and imperialism and, if we are to believe Roy’s account, authorized Borodin’s use of Mexican diplomatic channels to communicate with the Comintern in Europe.105

What exactly was Borodin’s role in the formation of the Mexican Communist party in these months? On his arrival in Mexico, Borodin made no attempt to get in touch with the Socialist party directly. His first meetings with Roy and the other party leaders were arranged only after he had approached a number of North Americans who were sympathizers of the party and who had attracted his attention with the radical tone of the English-language page of the Mexico City daily El Heraldo de México, which they edited.106 Subsequently, Borodin went to live with Roy in the latter’s palatial residence in Colonia Roma and was only rarely seen by other members of the Socialist party.107

Did Borodin, as is sometimes asserted, convert Roy to Marxism and communism? Apart from the fact that a ten-week period seems hardly adequate for such a major task, it is quite clear that Roy’s anticolonial nationalism had been steadily taking on a socialist character ever since his leaving the United States in the middle of 1917.108 Moreover, in spite of the real isolation that the Mexican Socialist party experienced and about which Francisco Cervantes López complained, the party had begun discussions about its response to the Third International long before Borodin arrived in Mexico. It is quite likely, though, that Borodin provided Roy and the party with detailed and up-to-date information on the growth of the communist movement in Europe, on the crucial differences that divided Social Democracy from communism, as well as with the requirements for entry into the Comintern, which became formalized the following year in the famous twenty-one conditions.

On November 28, 1919, an extraordinary session of the Mexican Socialist party changed the party’s name to the Mexican Communist party, and appointed a commission to decide on the makeup of the party’s delegation to the next congress of the Third International. A few days later, Borodin wrote to José Allen, the first secretary-general of the PCM, saying that the party would be admitted to the Comintern with all the rights given to affiliated parties as soon as the Mexican delegates reached Moscow.109 Two weeks later, on December 8, the PCM established a Latin American Bureau of the Third International with the alleged support of the Third International and with the goal of establishing ties between organizations on the American continent whose programs and principles were close to those of the Comintern.110


In spite of the ambitious language of the party’s first declarations, the PCM led a precarious existence during its first four years. Its activities were hampered by lack of funds, by limited contact with the world of Mexican labor outside of Veracruz, Mexico City and one or two other centers, and by a small, rapidly changing, and inadequately prepared leadership, The party’s activities were disrupted by the turmoil surrounding the presidential succession in 1920; and until the end of 1921 the most stable and coherent group within the party was its youth section, the Juventud Comunista, founded in mid-1920 by José C. Valadés and the Swiss socialist Edgar Woog.111

Communication difficulties and language differences maintained the PCM on the margin of international communism, creating problems in the reception and interpretation of Comintern policies. By the middle of 1924, after the Adolfo de la Huerta rebellion had destroyed much of the party’s structure and after the loss of its influence within the tenants’ movement of Mexico City, the PCM was in complete disarray.112 It was, ironically, the ligas de comunidades agrarias, the most conscious sections of the peasantry, a class almost completely ignored by the National Socialist Congress of 1919, that gave the party its first major links with the Mexican masses. The continuing importance of libertarian and anarcho-syndicalist ideology within the party also contributed to the difficulties the Communist party had in integrating important political and industrial issues in the 1920s. The PCM did initially manage to attract the support of important nuclei of workers in the Mexico City area and in Veracruz and Puebla as the more radical elements, or rojos, became alienated by the class collaborationist and pro-American Federation of Labor position of the CROM. Since the radical bakers, telephone operators, textile workers, automobile drivers, and other rojos were libertarian in orientation, their temporary fusion with early communists created a Communist party with an extremely heterogeneous basis and the potential for severe disagreements over strategy and policy. Tensions arose with particular ferocity during the first nine months’ existence of the Confederación General de Trabajadores (CGT), which for a brief moment in 1921 became the organizational focus of “red” workers both inside and outside the PCM.

The tension generated by the coexistence of Marxist and libertarian forces within the party surfaced most clearly in the Communist party’s early opposition to parliamentarism and participation in elections (1921— 22) and in the reluctance of some sections of the party to embrace the strategy of trade union work within and alongside the “reformist” CROM as part of the United Front tactics preached by the Comintern after 1922. It was only in the mid-1920s that the party seriously took up organizing support within sympathetic unions belonging to the officially anticommunist CROM in such states as Puebla and Veracruz.

The intriguing question with which the historian of Mexican communism is left is that of the periodization of this symbiotic relationship between Marxist and libertarian currents. At what point can we distinguish clearly between the two phenomena, and how many communists of the 1920s were in fact sympathizers with anarchist or syndicalist ideas? It seems clear that the break between the two traditions cannot be reduced to the formal rupture between the Mexican Communist party and the CGT in October 1921. Certain features of the libertarian heritage are visible in the practice of the party right through the 1920s and 1930s, and there are echoes of this past as late as the 1960s and early 1970s in the PCM’s policy of electoral abstentionism and in the appeal to a substantial body of workers of the virulently anti-political party positions of the Unidad Obrera Independiente, led by a former PCM militant Juan Ortega Arenas.

Perhaps the most urgent, and, for some observers, most painful task is to make a more objective evaluation of the contribution made by anarchism and libertarian positions to the history of the Mexican left. We would do well to heed the comments of a one-time PCM militant and theoretician José Revueltas:

The Communist party, reflecting the schematic mold in which it was formed, condemned anarcho-syndicalism in the name of Marx as being tainted by the abstract theory of the classical ideologues of anarchy. Rut it did not acknowledge the positive contribution the great anarcho-syndicalist mass movement made to the theme of working-class independence within bourgeois democratic struggle.113


There are exceptions here. See, for example, Soviet historian A. Ermolaev, “Naissance du Mouvement Ouvrier,” Recherches Internationales, 32 (July-Aug. 1962), 82.


Karl Schmitt, Communism in Mexico: A Study in Frustration (Austin, 1965); Donald Herman, Comintern in Mexico (Washington, D.C., 1974).


Valentín Campa, Mi testimonio: Memorias de un comunista mexicano (Mexico City, 1978), p. 61.


See, for example, the anonymous article in El Machete Ilegal, Sept. 10, 1933, and Miguel Velasco, “Veintitrés años de lucha por los intereses nacionales y populares,” La Voz de México, Sept. 15, 1942.


The development of communism in western and central Europe, particularly in France, Holland, Hungary, and Germany, involved the fusion of Marxist Social Democracy with powerful antistatist and antiauthoritarian forces. Combined with the bankruptcy of the “parliamentarist” socialism of the Second International, this merging of traditions explains the vigor of the debate over parliamentary and trade-union participation that raged during the first three years of the Comintern. Outsise of Mediterranean Europe, the best known example of this conflict between Marxism and left communism and syndicalism comes from Germany where the German Communist Party (KPD) split in October 1919 over the issue of participation in elections and in the Social Democratic trade unions. James Hulse, The Forming of the Communist International (Stanford, 1964), pp. 151-152.


David Fernbach, ed., Karl Marx: The First International and After (London, 1974), pp. 44-53.


For a discussion of the origins of Marxism and communism in Brazil, see Ronald Chilcote, The Brazilian Communist Party 1922-1972 (New York, 1974), pp. 18-26.


John Hart, Anarchism and the Mexican Working Class (Austin, 1978), p. 25; Gastón García Cantú, El socialismo en México (Mexico City, 1969), pp. 171-179.


Cited in Hart, Anarchism, p. 33.


José González Sierra, “Anarquismo y el movimiento sindical en México: 1843-1910” in Primer anuario de estudios históricos de la Universidad Veracruzana (Jalapa, 1977), p. 157.


Hart, Anarchism, p. 35 (emphasis added).


García Cantú, Socialismo, pp. 185-186.




La Internacional, Sept. 15, 1878, p. 4.


Reproduction of a letter from the French Socialist party to German socialists on the opening of their eighth congress, La Internacional, Sept. 8, 1878, p. 3.


Ermolaev, Naissance, p. 82; García Cantú, Socialismo, p. 197.


Ermolaev, Naissance, p. 82. The historian describes the Gran Círculo as having been founded by Mexican Marxists and argues that during the heat of the Díaz repression of the late 1880s and 1890s, “revolutionaries brought their Marxist ideas to workers, defying repression and ruthlessly combating anarchists and opportunists. ”


In Tierra Libre, López Schwertfeger outlined a revolutionary program for the socialist transformation of Mexican society, including a call for the abolition of private property and for the abandonment of purely legal strikes. Between 1914 and 1916 he was one of Zapata’s collaborators and minister of justice in the Convention government. During the Obregón presidency, he directed the Comisión Nacional Agraria and in 1958 he stood as the presidential candidate of the Mexican Communist party.


International Socialist Review (New York), 10 (Apr. 1905), p. 634; Jacinto Huitrón, Orígenes e historia del movimiento obrero en México (Mexico City, 1974), pp. 103-104. According to the anonymous correspondent of the International Socialist Review, Aurora Social’s socialism is the real thing.” The paper appeared only once, in February 1905, after which the state authorities immediately arrested and banished Estrada from the state, in spite of protests from his fellow students. Several years later, Estrada joined the Maderista antire-electionist movement and became Francisco Madero’s secretary.


Early in January 1906, the League met to celebrate the first anniversary of “Red Sunday” in Russia, a reference to the massacre of workers on January 22, which was one of the detonators of the 1905 Revolution. Its public act was a significant pointer to the socialist internationalism of the Morales group. The Mexican correspondent of the International Socialist Review described the meeting as “the first public socialist gathering ever held in the Republic.” The suppression of Aurora Social by the authorities does not seem to have deterred Morales. Later in 1905, he and a group of comrades began publishing a new paper, El Obrero Socialista, linked to the Socialist League of Guadalajara (Liga Socialista de Guadalajara), a small group that held regular weekly meetings. International Socialist Review, 8 (Feb. 1906), p. 498.


Proceedings of the National Convention of the Socialist Party, Chicago, May 10-17, 1908, Socialist Party Papers (hereinafter cited as SPP—microfilm edition), reel 76 pp 69’ 103, 105.


El Machete, July 9, 1938.


Die Neue Zeit, June 16, 1911.


Other German residents in Mexico appear in the pages of the POS press from time to time. See, for example, the articles by Gerardo Kroncke on the German Social Democratic party in El Socialista, June 16, 1911.


Mario Gill, Primera demonstración del 1 de mayo en México,” El Machete May 1 1938.


El Socialista, June 15, 1912. Among the paper’s correspondents were Ciro Esquivel, Francisco Sarabia, Lázaro Gutiérrez de Lara, Adolfo Santibáñez, and Z. Cárdenas.


Huitrón, Orígenes, p. 194; Francisco Córdova Pérez,“ El movimiento anarquista en México (1911-1921)” (Tésis de Licenciatura, Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales, UNAM, 1971), p. 36.


“Programa y bases constitutivas del Partido Socialista Obrero de la República, El Paladín, Jan. 11, 1912; El Machete, May 1, 1938.


Proceedings of the National Convention of the Socialist Party, May 12-18, 1912, SPP-microfilm edition, reel 76, pp. 37-39.


El Machete, May 1, 1938.


“Los socialistas mexicanos se dirigen a los alemanes,” El Paladín, Jan. 18, 1912.


International Socialist Review, 11 (May 1913), pp. 795-796.


El Paladín, June 30, 1912, Feb. 6, 1913; El Socialista, Sept. 30, 1912.


El Paladín, May 4, 8, 1913.


El Socialista, July 20, 1912. See also the editorial by Z. Cárdenas in El Socialista, Apr. 27, 1912.


El Socialista, Sept. 30, 1912.


Rafael Pérez Taylor, El socialismo en México (Mexico City, 1913), p. 73.


El Monitor, May 10, 1915, provides news of a public lecture given in Mexico City by Adolfo Santibáñez and Z. Cárdenas.


international Socialist Review, 8 (Feb. 1915), p. 508.


Rosendo Salazar, Historia de las luchas proletarias de México 1930-36 (Mexico City, 1956), p. 257.


Pérez Taylor, Socialismo, p. 42.


Ibid., p. 54.


Ibid., p. 26.


Ibid., pp. 12-13.


Francisco J, Paoli and Enrique Montalvo, El socialismo olvidado de Yucatán (Mexico City, 1977), pp. 50-52, The PSO changed its name in February to Partido Socialista de Yucatán.


Ibid., p. 62.


Jesús Silva Herzog, El mexicano y su morada (Mexico City, 1960), p. 48.


Salvador Alvarado, La reconstrucción de México. Un mensaje a los pueblos de América, 3 vols. (Mexico City, 1919), III, 91, 94. Cited by Arnaldo Córdova in La ideología de la revolución mexicana (Mexico City, 1973), p. 211.


Rafael Nieto, Polémica laborista. Más allá de la patria (Mexico City, 1975), p. 41.


Enrique Krauze, Caudillos culturales de la revolución mexicana (Mexico City, 1976), p. 72. The two lectures were by Antonio Castro Leal on “¿Qué es el socialismo?” and by Vicente Lombardo Toledano on “Posibilidades del socialismo en México.”


Ibid., p. 79.


Ibid., p. 91.


El Socialista, Oct. 10, 1918. Nearly all the unions affiliated with the Gran Cuerpo operated in foreign-controlled enterprises.


Luz frequently reprinted editorials and news items from Tierra y Libertad. See, for example, Feb. 20, 27, 1917.


A. P. de Araujo, “Hacía la emancipación,” Luz, Dec. 25, 1918.


Gerald Meaker, The Revolutionary Left in Spain, 1914-1923 (Stanford, 1974). For a similar response among the Hungarian left, see Rudolf Tökes, Bela Kun and the Hungarian Soviet Republic (New York, 1967), p. 37. For Brazilian responses to the Russian Revolution showing much the same tone, see Astrojildo Pereira, Formação do PCB 1922-1928 (Lisbon, 1976), pp. 61-63.


Friedrich Katz, Deutschland, Díaz und die mexikanische Revolution (Berlin, 1964), pp. 467-469.


On the Indian nationalist movement in the United States, see Kalyan Kumar Banerjee, Indian Freedom Movement Revolutionaries in America (Calcutta, 1969); L. P. Mathur, Indian Revolutionary Movements in the United States (New Delhi, 1960); Thomas G. Fraser, “Germany and Indian Revolution, 1914-1918,” Journal of Contemporary History, 12 (Apr. 1977), 255-272.


When the United States entered the war, the Indian nationalists fled to Mexico, as did the leading German intelligence agents in the United States, although there is no reason to believe that these movements were coordinated. The links between certain of the nationalists and German intelligence were maintained in Mexico for a little while, although it is clear that they were of little use to the German war effort and constituted a rich source of funds for anticolonial agitation. Roy used some of the money to finance the socialist press in Mexico. See M. N. Roy, Memoirs (Bombay, 1964), pp. 65-72.


There were at least five important Indian revolutionaries in Mexico—Dhirendra Nath Sen, Sailendranath Ghosh, J. N. Sanyal, Herambalal Gupta, and Manabendra Nath Roy. For Roy’s activities in Mexico, see Arnold Robertson to R. M. Campbell, London, Oct. 31, 1917; J. P. to Major Wallinger, Jan. 14, 1918, British Foreign Office 371, Public Record Office, London (hereinafter cited as FO 371), 3069/21776; 2423/43175.


For details of the foundation and activities of the Consejo Feminista Mexicano, see El Monitor Republicano, Nov. 10, 16, 18, 24; Dec. 26, 1919.


Roy, Memoirs, pp. 74-90, Roy was also a prolific lecturer and writer on anticolonial questions, and in 1918 he founded an association to promote the cause of Indian independence, the Liga Internacional “Amigos de la India.” C. Cummins to Foreign Office, London, Feb. 14, 1919, FO 371, 4243/38521; M. N. Roy, Algunas opiniones sobre la administración británica de la India (Mexico City, n.d.).


Other figures associated with the Comintern or with other communist parties who visited Mexico between 1919 and 1924 were Sen Katayama, Edgar Woog, Louis Fraina, and Bertram Wolfe.


Archivo General de la Nación (Mexico City) (hereinafter cited as AGN), Secretaría de Justicia, leg. 3-1, exp. 410.


The first issue the author has found is no. 29, dated Aug. 15, 1918.


Francisco Cervantes López, “Socialismo,” Gale’s Magazine, Apr. 19, 1919, p. 6.


Vicente Ferrer Aidana, Carta magna bolsheviki: Edición de propaganda (Mexico City, n.d.).


Roy, Memoirs, pp. 78-79. By December 1918, Roy claimed that the party was able to gather together several hundred delegates from around the republic for its first national conference. Like so much else in Roy’s Memoirs, the details of this 1918 conference are impossible to verify from other sources. As Boris Goldenberg has pointed out, at no point does Roy ever explicitly refer to the most important conference the party held—the National Socialist Conference of August-September 1919. Boris Goldenberg, Kommunismus in Lateinamerika (Berlin, 1971), p. 571 n.59.


José Allen published an account of the origins of the PCM in 1944 under the pseudonym of Alejo Lens. Allen describes himself as “a mature man, steeped in the precursor struggles of the Revolution since his days as a student.” La Voz de México, Sept. 15, 1944.


For details of Allen’s activities for the United States Embassy in Mexico City, see National Archives, Washington, D.C., Military Intelligence Division, Record Group 165 (hereinafter cited as NA: RG 165), 10640-1402. For Allen’s confession in 1921, see copy of his interrogation in National Archives, Washington, D.C., Bureau of Investigation of the Department of Justice (hereinafter cited as NA: BIDJ), B.S. 130, 202600-1913.


Allen was arrested and deported from Mexico to the United States in May 1921 during a famous redada of “foreign” radicals carried out by the Obregón government.


Roy, Memoirs, pp. 79-80. According to Roy, the secretary of the Socialist party remarked, “What has the proletariat to do in the quarrel between the bourgeois governments—we are indifferent. ” The most radical sectors of the Mexico City working class concentrated within the Gran Cuerpo Central were also divided over the issue of armed resistance to United States military threats to Mexico. José Allen, Mar. 11, 1919, NA: RG 165, 10640-1402/48. New York Call, July 26, 1919.


New York Call, Aug. 12, 20, 1919.


Proceedings of the National Congress of the Socialist Party of America, 1919, Session of Aug. 3, pp. 18-20 (Glen Rock, N.J., n.d.).


E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1923, 3 vols. (London, 1966), III, 126: “Bolshevik thoughts of revolution were still confined mainly to Europe; and the principal appeal was to groups to revolt against the Second International.”


Jane Degras, ed., The Communist International 1919-1943, 2 vols. (London, 1956), I, 38-47. The American communist Louis Fraina did make a number of references to United States-Mexican relations during his intervention at the Comintern congress. National Archives, Washington, D.C., United States State Department Records on the Internal Affairs of Mexico 1910-1929, microfilm roll 90, 812.00B/195, Second Congress of the Comintern: English Edition, Moscow, 1920, p. 123 (document is contained in the microfilm record).


“Party Platform of the Socialist Party of Mexico,” New York Call, Aug. 29, 1919. The most significant clauses called for the nationalization of mines, land, and means of transportation and for the abolition of the standing army and its replacement by a people’s militia. Alongside these clauses were calls for the establishment of a minimum wage, equal wages for men and women, abolition of all indirect taxes, the suppression of bullfights and cockfights, and the prohibition of alcohol.


The initiative for the congress came from the Socialist party and had nothing to do with the CROM’s Aguascalientes Conference held earlier that year, as Luis Araiza incorrectly suggests. Some of the unions opposed to the CROM had held a meeting, albeit a very unsuccessful one, at Zacatecas at the end of May.


Gale’s Magazine, 12 (July 1919) carries the first call with the Berne reference. See also Gale’s Magazine, 1 (Aug. 1918).


Thirty delegates were finally seated. El Heraldo de México, Sept. 3, 1919.


New York Call, Sept. 3, 1919.


For a reproduction of the Declaration, see Rosendo Salazar and José Escobedo, Las pugnas de la gleba (Mexico City, 1922), p. 271. There was heated discussion over the seating of certain delegates, but it is not clear whether any delegates were finally refused admittance.


There were at least four non-Mexican delegates—M. N. Roy, his wife Evelyn, Linn Gale, and Fulgencio Luna. There were also two representatives from the Michoacán Socialist party, which had thrown its weight behind the presidential candidacy of Alvaro Obregón in August 1919. Luis Morones and Samuel Yúdico had also signed an electoral pact with Obregón on August 6.


“Agenda of the First National Socialist Congress,” New York Call, Sept. 3, 1919.


Acta del Primer Congreso Nacional Socialista; two typewritten pages, AGN, Sección de Gobernación, paquete 1: sección administrativa.


Octavio Rodríguez Araujo and M. Márquez Fuentes, El Partido Comunista Mexicano (Mexico City, 1973), p. 61; Schmitt, Communism, p. 6. Mario Gill goes so far as to say that “se reproducía en México la batalla entre mencheviques y bolcheviques y como en Rusia, vencieron los bolcheviques.” Mario Gill, México y la revolución de octubre (Mexico City, 1975), p. 21.


NA: BIDJ, OG 224875.


Ibid. Allen also refuted another claim by Gale that one of the founders of the Socialist party, Adolfo Santibáñez, withdrew from the congress in protest over the seating of Morones. In fact, Santibáñez did withdraw for a time, “but later rejoined the congress and stayed with it to the last.”


New York Call, Sept. 17, 1919; NA: RG 165, 10541-912/2.


El Heraldo de México, Sept. 3, 1919.


National Archives, Washington, Record Group 153, Judge Advocate General of Army, Proceedings of a General Court Martial that Convened at Governors Island, New York, New York, Oct. 17, 1921, pp. 216-219. After his expulsion from Mexico in mid-1921, Gale was court-martialed and sentenced to seven years’ hard labor on charges of draft evasion and treason.


Linn A. E. Gale, “The War against Gomperism in Mexico,” One Big Union Monthly, Nov. 1919, pp. 22-25.


Ibid., p. 23.


For details of Parker and Tabler, see One Big Union Monthly, Mar. 1920, p. 48. The party remained in existence until the beginning of 1921, having failed to secure a reunification with the PCM. The party’s paper, El Obrero Industrial, published for a short while in the summer of 1920, described itself as the “organ of the IWW of Mexico.” NA: RG 165, 10058-3/101.


The first issue of El Soviet that this author has seen is no. 3, dated Nov. 3, 1919. According to an editorial note, the paper had been temporarily suspended pending receipt of its post-office registration, which would suggest that the first issue appeared around the end of September or beginning of October. Issue no. 3 had a circulation of two thousand.


The words “socialist” and “socialism” do not appear once in the pages of issue no. 3 of El Soviet (with the exception of the paper’s subtitle).


Borodin was not without experience in the area of international trade and finance since he had worked for a while as the second secretary to the Railway Interest of the Russian government in the United States during the Kerensky provisional government. Borodin returned to Russia in mid-1918. Report, Sept. 28, 1919, NA: BIDJ, OG 247149.


Héctor Cárdenas, Los relaciones mexicano-soviéticas: Antecedentes y primeros contactos diplomáticos 1789-1927 (Mexico City, 1974), pp. 42-46; M. Churchill to Department of Justice, Mar. 4, 1920, NA: BIDJ, OG 247149; report by Agent Spolansky, Jan. 28, 1920, NA: BIDJ, OG 247149.


Manuel Gómez (alias Charles Phillips) recalls Borodin arriving in Mexico City in the early summer of 1919. See “From Mexico to Moscow,” Survey, 53 (Oct. 1964), p. 37.


George Lamb to J. E. Hoover, Mar. 5, 1920, enclosing report by British Military Intelligence dated Mar. 1, 1920, NA: BIDJ, OG 247149.


Theodore Draper, The Roots of American Communism (New York, 1957), p. 269.


’’Manifiesto del Bureau Latinoamericano de la Tercera Internacional a los Trabajadores de América Latina,” El Soviet, Dec. 16, 1919. Evidently news of the Pan American Bureau reached Comintern organizations in Europe because the Western (Amsterdam) Bureau of the Comintern instructed the United States Communist party in February 1920 “to establish a sub-bureau for the Americas based on work already done in Mexico” (emphasis added). Branko Lazitch and Milorad Drachkovitch, Lenin and the Comintern (Stanford, 1972), p. 191.


Roy, Memoirs.


The affair of the “tzarist jewels” has attracted a good deal of attention. The most useful sources from which an accurate account can be reconstructed are Roy, Memoirs, pp. 178-203; José C. Valadés, “Confesiones políticas,” Revista de la Universidad de México (Mexico City), 10 (June 1969).


Roy, Memoirs, p. 204. The West European Bureau of the Comintern was established in November 1919.


Gómez, From Mexico, p. 204.


Valadés, “Confesiones.”


Roy’s version is that Borodin “initiated me into the intricacies of Hegelian dialectics as the key to Marxism.”


José Allen, report 21, NA: RG 165, 10541-912/24; Borodin to José Allen, Nov. 29, 1919, NA: BIDI, OG 374726. M. N. Roy and Charles Phillips both attended the Second Congress of the Comintern in July 1920 as delegates from the PCM. Roy had a full vote and Phillips (traveling under the pseudonym Frank Seaman) was a “representative” with a consultative vote. Lazitch and Drachkovitch, Lenin, pp. 389-390. It seems likely, therefore, that the PCM had been accepted at least on a provisional basis as a member party of the Third International by the time of the Second Congress. For a contrary view, see Goldenberg, Kommunismus, p. 570 n.4.


El Soviet, Dec. 16, 1919. Bureau members were Elena Torres, Leopoldo Urmachea, Martin Brewster, Antonio Ruiz, and José Allen.


Interview with Rafael Carrillo, Mexico City, Apr. 28, 1976. The Juventud had 150 members in the Federal District (mostly workers) and branches in Veracruz, Córdoba, Orizaba, Tampico, Monterrey, and Toluca.


El Machete, Jan. 8-15, 1925. By the middle of 1924 the party’s National Executive announced that links between the local branches and the central body of the party were nonexistent and that a large number of branches (Veracruz, Yucatán, Michoacán, and so forth) had been destroyed by the rebels. Dues collection and fund raising had been suspended so that the total funds available in the party treasury amounted to only $2,50.


José Revueltas, El proletariado sin cabeza (Mexico City, 1962), p. 224. For a discussion of the twenty-one conditions, see Helmut Gruber, ed., International Communism in the Era of Lenin: A Documentary History (Garden City, N.Y., 1972), pp. 241-246.

Author notes


The author is Senior Lecturer in History at La Trobe University, Bundoora, Australia.