Pierre Vayssière, a specialist in Latin American history, is now professor of contemporary history at the University of Toulouse; he taught previously in Santiago and Paris. Viewing Latin America as a world in permanent revolution, in this book he traces its diverse revolutionary experiences, defining minimally a revolutionary act as an attempt, successful or abortive, to overturn established power. He divides his book in two parts. Part one, the traditional revolutions, 1810-1950, treats the wars for independence, struggles over caudillismo and dictatorship, Mexico’s 1910 revolution, and early twentieth-century popular and student revolts and military uprisings. Vayssière notes each action’s profound effect on popular psychology, producing more or less enduring trauma in national identities. The revolutionary becomes the sorcerer’s apprentice for change, whether desiring to impel history forward or to deflect its course. “The militant is a fanatic who believes in the strength of his ideas, his slogans, and his arms. . . revolutionary violence appears then as a sacrificial rite, a purifying catharsis” (pp. 17-18).
Part 2 considers the Marxist revolutions, 1953-1990, and their prolongations: Castro’s Cuban Revolution, attempts to block its exportation (1960-1990), and military revolts and counterrevolutions in those years. Separate chapters study Nicaragua’s aborted revolution; Christian, chiefly Roman Catholic, reactions to the modern situation; and revolution as a cultural fact. Revolutionaries’ appeals to Indian heritages and historical developments lead to Vayssière’s conclusion, “The Revolution Betwixt Myth and Utopia.” His well-documented hypothesis is sustained: “All revolutionary action is the cultural expression of a violence, more or less profoundly rooted in a tradition” (p. 327).
Comprehensive French, English, Portuguese, and Spanish sources and informative notes demonstrate Vayssière’s broad, syncretic research. Backmatter includes a chronology; a Spanish-Portuguese glossary; and indexes of authors cited, historic personages, themes, and place names. Occasional indexing lapses produce unwarranted results; for example, Ecuador’s dictator Gabriel García Moreno and Mexico’s economist Jesús Silva Herzog appear under their matronymics, Moreno and Herzog, falsely implying illegitimacy.
Vayssière’s synthesis of this polyglot literature on contemporary politico-military history, integrated with developments in art and literature, gives specialists new, thoughtful insights. General readers will need to research further unfamiliar persons and events.