For many years social scientists have disagreed on the relative importance of the local peasantry as a pressure group in spurring land reform during the Mexican Revolution of 1910. This is the issue this book sets out to explore. The author argues that a key role was played by a grassroots agrarian reform movement in Lagos de Moreno, a municipio in Los Altos of Jalisco, in sustaining the legal struggle for land reform between 1924 and 1940.

This well-researched monograph traces the political history of an agrarian reform movement primarily through an analysis of its leadership. The author interviewed many of the first generation of agraristas to ascertain how, with whom, and why a group of urban workers risked their lives to bring about social, economic, and political change in a highly conservative and religious region. The first three chapters survey the agrarian history of Lagos de Moreno from the colonial period. By the end of the nineteenth century, large landholdings had emerged as had a landed aristocracy. Extensive tables reveal the precise size of these large haciendas in the Porfiriato, but, regretfully, the data are not well integrated into the text. The revolution, however, brought little or no change to this landowner-dominated municipio. Only in the 1920s did agrarismo emerge from within a group of skilled craftsmen and white-collar workers struggling to form a small trade union and subsequently to forge an alliance with middle peasants petitioning for land. The singular importance of urban leadership here seems to be related to the relative marginality of the region from the revolution and the repressive nature of the landowning class, particularly during the Cristero revolt. Yet outside political alliances were always a necessity from the 1920s, when Governor Guadalupe Zuno sent municipal presidents as popular organizers, through the Cárdenas era. The author must admit that the rise of agrarismo “is principally a chronicle of campesino power growing in tandem with the expansion of state power, and then declining with the consolidation of the state’s power and the satisfaction of the agraristas’ demands for land” (p. 11).

The remaining two chapters recount the political biographies of José Romero Gómez and eight community leaders based on in-depth interviews conducted by the author. These agraristas held certain characteristics in common: an awakened desire for change, an ardent yearning to possess the fruits of their own labor, certain basic literary skills, and residency in the United States.

For several reasons this work goes far beyond being a simple case study. Important statistical data have been uncovered in the Manifestaciones prediales de 1900 and the Catastro antiguo, 1900-47 on land tenure and land values. This information could be invaluable for a study of the socioeconomic structure of the landowning class. The author has also ably integrated into her analysis of peasant leadership most of the recent literature on Third World peasant movements. Finally, she has painstakingly explained the legal land reform process for the general reader in one of the appendixes.

The First Agraristas is first and foremost a human story about real people recounted through their own words. It is a narrative about individual struggle rather than an analysis of a social movement, but this gives it its charm. Few books on peasant movements have brought the personal aspects of agrarian struggle out so poignantly for the general reader.