The process began over two decades ago with the simple realization that the history of Mexico was not, nor could it be, synonymous with the history of Mexico City. Working against all attempts at political centralization were a geography tending to fractionalize, a communications system tending to regionalize, and an entire series of socio-cultural forces tending to localize. Many Mexicos was more than a title of Lesley Byrd Simpson’s classic synthesis. It was a stark reality that had to be addressed historiographically. State and local history had been left too long to amateurs and dilettantes.
During the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, carefully researched and skillfully argued state and local histories on the Porfiriato and the Revolution began to appear: John Womack on Morelos; William Beezley on Chihuahua; Luis González on San José de Gracia; Héctor Aguilar Camín on Sonora; Heather Fowler Salamini on Veracruz; Paul Fredrich on Naranja, Michoacán; Gilbert Joseph on Yucatán; and Frans Schryer on Hidalgo. Ian Jacobs’s study of the Revolution in Guerrero fits comfortably in this general historiographical tradition.
If few of his conclusions will surprise students of the Mexican Revolution (Who believes any longer that the Mexican Revolution can be accurately described as the revolt of the oppressed rural masses?), Jacobs’s careful analysis of the revolutionary process, especially in the northern districts of Alarcon and Hidalgo, performs a useful function. Using some local and state archives, but relying more heavily on materials from the national Archivo de la Secretaría de Reforma Agraria, he skillfully plots the course of the conservative revolution led by rural middle-class rancheros. In a conclusion strikingly similar to that of Charles Berry for Oaxaca, he argues that the decades which followed the Ley Lerdo in Guerrero did not witness simply a land grab by a few powerful hacendados. Indeed, to find any hacendados at all, he had to define the hacienda arbitrarily as any landholding over 2,000 hectares (less than 5.000 acres), a figure that will surely occasion some smirk on the faces of the heirs of Luis Terrazas or the Sánchez-Navarros, whose acreage had to be counted in the millions. In Guerrero it was the relatively prosperous middle-class rancheros who profited from the laws of the Reform. The author chooses as examples of this class the Figueroa brothers, Rómulo, Ambrosio, and Francisco, members of the rural middle class who subsequently embraced with enthusiasm Madero’s nineteenth-century liberal Plan de San Luis Potosí and ultimately reaped political profit from Madero’s military victory. The Figueroa brothers saw the problems of their fellow Guerrerenses as political and even urged Madero to “give legal protection to the landowners,” (p. 80). They were increasingly scandalized by the radicalization of the Revolution in neighboring Morelos.
The principal contribution of Jacobs’s study is that it instructs superbly on the causes of the fragmentation of the Revolution in the ten years following the May 1911 overthrow of Porfirio Díaz. As the situation in Guerrero so clearly demonstrates, this fragmentation had its roots in the fight against the dictatorship itself. The mistrust and tensions inherent in the series of anti-Díaz alliances fell victim to the passions of the early revolutionary period and spelled disaster for hundreds of thousands of Mexicans.
Less creative than Luis González’s microhistory and with a story less interest ing to tell than that of John Womacks villagers, Jacobs’s work is another important reminder that we must resist the temptation of facile generalization about Mexico’s epic struggle.