For twenty years the best study of Práxedis G. Guerrero—anarchist, writer, poet, organizer, warrior, and member of the inner circle of Ricardo Flores Magón’s Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM)—has been Piero Ferrua’s Italian-language Gli anarchici nella rivoluzione messicana: Práxedis G. Guerrero (Ragusa, 1976). Ward Albro, combining research in the Mexican Foreign Relations archive along with his findings from the United States Department of Justice files, and having translated a significant collection of Guerrero’s writings, now brings us the first English-language treatment of this relatively little-known Mexican revolutionary. Making some of Guerrero’s writings accessible in English is valuable. Unfortunately, however, this book suffers from organizational and historiographical flaws that seriously limit its usefulness.
Organizationally, Albro has divided his study into two parts. The first consists of a 67-page, 4-chapter biography; the second comprises thematic essays (chapters 5-7), and a conclusion (chapter 8), followed by “selected writings” in translation (chapter 9). Part II needlessly repeats much of part I, and the whole should have been integrated rather than fragmented. The discussion of anarchism in chapter 6, for example, comes far too late to provide the general reader with a context for Guerrero’s writing and action. Significant terms such as “anarchy” and “socialism” are not defined. The final chapter should have been an appendix. In the 1990s, university presses frequently fail to discharge their editorial obligations to an author; this is the case here.
The historiographical difficulties are more problematic, reflecting a general bias in the United States against serious study of anarchism by United States historians writing on the Latin American and Chicano experience. For at least a generation, Europeanists and many Latin Americanists have tried to present historical studies of anarchism on its own terms, without letting its historical failure prevent the author from taking anarchism seriously as, under certain circumstances, a meaningful option. With few exceptions, this has not been the case with studies produced in the United States. In his analysis, Albro chooses not to discuss the principal anarchist ideas that deal with industrial workers and anarcho-syndicalism, nor their impact on Guerrero (p. 180 n. 4 erroneously asserts that these ideas only became important after Guerrero’s death) despite Guerrero’s work as an industrial laborer (copper and coal miner, longshoreman, machinist), and despite his desire to form a “Pan American Labor League,” a goal that he expressed in both his writings and organizing efforts (p. 60). This is a serious weakness.
Albro views Guerrero as “one of the principal precursors of the [Mexican] Revolution” (p. 2), but fails to see the contingencies in the past and perpetuates the presentist fallacy that the Mexican Revolution began with Francisco Madero. This fallacy relegates anarchist uprisings to the dustbins of history and blocks appreciation of the fact that Guerrero and his anarchist colleagues were competitors, and not simply forerunners, of Madero. Although Albro uses Ferrua’s title for chapter 6, he does not discuss Ferrua’s book or its arguments. He similarly ignores my Rebellion in the Borderlands: Anarchism and the Plan of San Diego, 1904-1923 (Norman, 1992).
Failure to appreciate the conflicting views of revolutionary action in anarchist thought as they affected Flores Magón and Guerrero from 1908 onward leaves Albro unable to perceive or comprehend the rift that developed between the two before Guerrero’s death. Before the 1908 battle of Palomas, Ricardo Flores Magón’s brother, Enrique, shot himself in the foot and was unable to fight. Guerrero considered Enrique a malingerer and expressed this view to the American socialist Ethel Duffy Turner, who in turn relayed these comments to Albro in Mexico in 1965. Yet even though Guerrero had voiced his discontent to a fellow socialist, he wrote nothing directly about the matter for Ricardo’s newspaper, Regeneración, since doing so would have forced Ricardo to choose between Guerrero and his brother. On the basis of this Albro denies that there is any evidence of a rift between Práxedis and Ricardo (pp. 77, 177 n. 9). But the personal problem between the two arose amidst an intellectual one. Ricardo had decided that rhetorical agitation was the correct way to move the masses into the revolution that anarchists believed would topple tyranny. Others favored conspiratorial organizations and violence to prompt the people to revolution. Ricardo had earlier favored that view, encouraging the creation of local PLM groups and their paramilitary focos, but beginning in 1908, Ricardo turned more to manipulative oppression. Guerrero, however, favored the clandestine organizations and violence. Shortly after telling Duffy Turner about Enrique, and against Ricardo’s wishes, Guerrero left Los Angeles for Mexico and died in combat. The impact upon the PLM and its anarchist followers, had Guerrero lived and pressed his views, can only be conjectured.
Although Albro’s is the only English-language attempt at a biography of Guerrero, it needs to be read in context with other works treating anarchism more fully.