This book from a doctoral dissertation presents a realistic view of the complex role Michoacán campesinos played in slowing down Lázaro Cárdenas’ reforms, especially in religious matters. Marjorie Becker attributes the more flexible approach that Cárdenas eventually adopted largely to his gradual understanding of “campesino culture.”

This study contains much material of a sociological and anthropological nature, yet many or most sociologists and anthropologists would probably maintain that there was and is no campesino culture as such. In any event, the author penetrates numerous rural and agrarian aspects of the Mexican Revolution that to date have been slighted. These include rustic societal Catholicism, whose spiritual problems the Cardenistas were slow to comprehend; clerical elitist influence over feminism; various nuances of agrarian reform conflicts, in which Catholicism and the hacienda system were deeply entrenched; and the vigorous Tarascan Indian heritage in art, music, and folklore. Becker readily admits that part of what she claims to have uncovered is speculative.

The many cross-currents of Michoacán reform, antireform, and counterreform presented in the work point up numerous antagonisms and ambiguities. For example, the clerical-hacendado policy of holding Tarascan women in a state of humility, modesty, and subservience may have been prolonged because various revolutionary leaders promised feminist reforms but did not produce many until later. The church-state conflict is illustrated by Becker’s documentation that public school teachers were prime targets of Cristero vengeance, with at least 42 killed. When the Cardenistas closed churches and forbade fanatical public worship and glaring displays of icons, an ambivalence developed that finally resulted in a request for the reinstatement of Catholicism. Many Tarascans, especially women, made such a choice knowing that it would lessen their chances of material gains; thus there was a price for maintaining a deep-seated Indian Catholic heritage.

In these ways, a societal web of Indianism, ritualistic Catholicism, and a traditional agrarian value system played a part in restraining Cárdenas’ leftist reformism. Although he was an experienced politician, he took a while to see the importance of these factors. The president also came to realize that ideological conformity “was not necessary for government control,” and therefore he began a policy of gradualism and flexibility to redeem significant aspects of the Revolution.

Becker treats Cárdenas’ problems as essentially internal Michoacán questions, even though the struggle toward and for Mexican hegemony was widespread and thorny all across Mexico. Most of Becker’s evidence comes from Michoacán (correctly so, as that is the focus of her study), but national and international events also influenced the president’s decision to slow reform. As the Cardenistas were coming to understand the importance of campesino consciousness and its spiritual nature, Cárdenas was being forced to move toward a centralist policy because labor leaders, bankers, industrialists, boycott activists from the United States (a result of oil expropriation), and the expanding war in Europe carried a rising middle class toward the center.

This book fills a need, and, to the author’s credit, it invites much more investigation of the questions it raises. Unfortunately, the written product makes for difficult reading. Metaphors abound to a problematic degree, and at some points, names and places crowd out issues. I believe that traditional historical narrative would have provided some needed continuity to the various intricate chains of thought. Stronger transitions from chapter to chapter and between sections within chapters would also have helped (granted, the tangled cross-currents of Michoacán’s complex history pose a real challenge for any writer). Part of the difficulty is that the scope of this study is too extensive for a mere 162-page text. In any event, the careful and extensive research —often with penetrating analyses —makes an important contribution to the field.