Sixty-five years after he laid down the carbine that he had used to battle Catholic guerrilla rebels in the late 1920s, an elderly peasant from the western state of Michoacán reflected on what had inspired him and his comrades to risk their lives on behalf of Mexico’s revolutionary government: “We fought with complete loyalty, for love of the land,” Trinidad Coronel explained, “because the high clergy and the hacienda owners wanted to demolish agrarismo. They wanted to take over the lands. And we fought with open love for the land.”1

Coronel’s comments distill the odd hybrid of well-worn attitudes and newly minted cultural values that together formed the postrevolutionary peasant identity known as agrarismo. Its central tenets derived from the articulation of local traditions of defense of village lands with the socially interventionist ideology espoused by revolutionary politicians of the 1920s. Not surprisingly, then, Coronel was not the only person who believed that clergymen and landowners intended to undermine the revolutionary cause. Most members of Mexico’s emerging political class held similar beliefs.

This elision of “elite” and “popular” political culture did not occur through a simple top-down process of ideological imperialism. Instead, agraristas in postrevolutionary Michoacán found that they could influence some of the contours of the newly re-emerging state. Even though the revolution in Michoacan saw no large-scale popular mobilization or destruction of haciendas, it had left the great landowners politically weakened. At the same time, the old Porfirian political class had practically vanished by the 1920s.2 Thus, when events conspired to allow some peasant groups to procure arms, they found themselves in an enviable position. The politicians in Morelia (the capital of Michoacán) and Mexico City who were laboring to reconstitute the state, the economy, and society found it all but impossible to ignore agrarista demands.

The politicians themselves had opened the door to peasant claims regarding land by codifying agrarian reform in the 1917 constitution. The agrarian laws trace their origins to a turning point in the armed conflicts of 1915, when Venustiano Carranza reluctantly agreed to the principle of land redistribution in order to blunt the rural appeal of agrarian movements led by his comrades-turned-rivals, Francisco Villa and Emiliano Zapata. Carranza prevailed against his enemies on the battlefield. His successor, President Alvaro Obregón, haltingly implemented the promised land reform.3

Soon, voices within Obregón’s administration began to call for a larger cultural campaign to refashion rural society. This crusade was taken up in Michoacán by radical governor Francisco J. Múgica and his collaborators in the state’s tiny Socialist party. The Socialists came to power in 1920 after a hotly contested election. They aimed to impart what they understood as modern, rational values to the rural masses through the use of educational and anticlerical campaigns. Agraristas, for their part, accepted the state’s tender of lands and tentatively engaged the revolutionary project. As a result, issues of land reform and cultural reconstruction came to constitute the key axes of negotiation between the state and peasant communities throughout the 1920s and 1930s.4

Most people in Michoacán who solicited land from the government hoped to resolve long-simmering disputes against parvenu hacienda owners who had successively monopolized the state’s most fertile croplands over the previous 30 years or so. Indigenous Purépecha communities (both those with traditional landholding patterns and those that had been hispanized)5 had an especially hard time of it in economically dynamic areas such as the Zacapu marsh in north-central Michoacán, the central plateau around Morelia, and the northwestern Zamora-area Bajío.6 In such places, the loss of communal lands to wealthy and well-connected outsiders typically provoked intense resentment and a willingness to accept the government’s terms for redress. This attitude put agraristas at odds with other sectors of society who opposed land reform, postrevolutionary cultural politics, or both.

Michoacán’s Socialists intended to orchestrate these conflicts in such a way as to refashion society, but it turned out that they could not influence the cultural development of agrarismo for long. Their policies failed to create a new, revolutionary society and succeeded primarily in polarizing communities throughout the state. Many rural folk either already had their own lands or did not want to acquire them if it meant collaborating with a government that many regarded as the enemy of religion. In the end, both the Socialists’ commitment to land reform and their anticlericalism served to pit agrarista peasants against counterrevolutionary elites (old-school politicians, most landowners, and the clergy) as well as against broad sectors of Michoacán’s popular classes who interpreted agrarian reform as an immoral land-grab. Múgica himself succumbed to a coup in the resulting conflicts a mere 16 months after he had taken office. But even when a conservative governor replaced him, Michoacán’s agraristas did not melt away. Small groups of radicalized villagers began to invent their own rhetoric and practice of revolution—their own agrarista identity—as they pressed on with local struggles to regain community lands.

The unfavorable political climate that followed the withdrawal of Múgica and his coterie forced landless villagers to seek new sources of political and ideological leadership. The villagers turned inward, to people who resided within rural communities. Intellectual guidance of agrarista cultural politics thus shifted from the governor’s office to actors in the countryside. Rural schoolteachers made available administrative and ideological knowledge that villagers could get nowhere else. At the same time, political bosses known as caciques developed an understanding of revolutionary ideology and working ties with regional politicians, both of which allowed them to style themselves as the bulwarks of agrarismo.

Led by caciques and schoolteachers, agraristas sometimes collaborated with revolutionary politicians, eventually such powerful ones as Governor, and later President, Lázaro Cárdenas (1928-32). This does not mean, however, that their movement can be interpreted as an epiphenomenon of revolutionary social engineering or as the simple artifact of patronage politics. It is true that agraristas did not resist state projects outright as did other peasant groups of the 1920s. The cristeros of Michoacán and elsewhere in the Mexican west, for example, rebelled against the government from 1926 until 1929, in a desperate bid to unmake the revolutionary program. Taking the opposite tack, agraristas plotted a course that accommodated the needs and traditions of their villages as well as some components of the state-directed agrarian policies and cultural imperatives of the times. Agraristas, therefore, participated in agrarian violence while making a piecemeal appropriation of “official” discourse. Such actions demonstrated their enthusiasm for some aspects of the revolutionary project and their determination to negotiate the terms of others.

The Problem of Agrarismo

Until very recently, analysts of the relationship between popular groups and the emerging postrevolutionary state in Mexico have focused their attention on issues of strategic accommodation and resistance rather than of appropriation and negotiation. Recent scholarship has been inspired by a healthy skepticism about popular groups that appear overeager to make common cause with the state (the “revolutionary” nature of which many people began to question after the events of 1968). As a result, historians have cast an increasingly critical eye on the nature of peasant participation in the upheavals of the 1910s and in postrevolutionary agrarian politics.

In the 1970s and 1980s, many historians came to believe that the agraristas of the 1920s toed the government’s ideological line in exchange for material benefits. To scholars, peasant participation in the land reform of the 1920s had come to look like the messy results of inter- and intra-village strife, schoolteacher proselytization, and patronage politics, all of which imperfectly related to rural people’s hunger for land and political power.7 Led by Frans Schryer and Ann Craig, historians soon concluded that few peasants actually shared postrevolutionaiy politicians’ enthusiasm for anticlericalism and the communally held ejido as the central institution of agrarian reform. Instead, studies showed that in many places the agrarian movement originated when relatively wealthy and well-connected village notables discovered that the land reform could function as “a convenient tool to gain local supporters” among landless villagers.8

This reconsideration of postrevolutionary agrarian politics corrected earlier renderings by admirers of the land reform. Some contemporaries had argued that progressive politicians and peasants forged a powerful cross-class alliance during the armed struggles of the 1910s that endured well into the 1920s. For example, Frank Tannenbaum asserted in 1929 that, on the one hand, “demand for ejidos played an important part in shaping the course of the revolution and determining its program,” and, on the other, that “the distribution of lands to the villages must therefore be looked upon as a fulfillment of a promise embedded in the revolution.”9 His argument clearly implied that peasants and revolutionary leaders were of one mind about both revolutionary mobilization and the subsequent land reform. Peasants wanted and fought for land during the revolution; the government recognized this fact and “fulfilled” its debt of honor to the rural masses in the following decade.

Revisionist histories showed that the victorious Constitutionalist faction had carefully controlled its lower-class supporters during the war and that in the aftermath few rural people spontaneously rose from the grass roots to embrace the new postrevolutionary government. In the 1970s and 1980s, regional studies further revealed that some populist governors had used land reform as a tactic to mobilize rural people. In the states of Veracruz and Yucatán, for example, Adalberto Tejada and Felipe Carillo Puerto each used the promise of land to fill the rolls of ostensibly radical, progovernment corps intended to serve as the political backbone of their respective regimes. The governors drafted caciques to their cause and entrusted them with organizing partisan leagues of peasants. Yet makeshift activism of this sort did not necessarily run very deep in the countryside, and both of these agrarista movements disintegrated once their patrons fell from power.10 Political leaders could leverage a modest following, it seems, but radicals could not purchase self-sustaining revolutionary mass movements.

As historians began to perceive asymmetrical power relationships between revolutionary leaders and relatively powerless rural people, they began to emphasize that peasants in many regions resisted the postrevolutionary cultural project. Jean Meyer’s monumental study of the 1926-29 cristero war represented the first major contribution to what has become a well-defined current of studies on revolutionary state-making and popular resistance to it.11 One of the most insightful of these studies, and one that concentrates on Michoacán specifically, is Marjorie Becker’s Setting the Virgin on Fire. Becker describes the cultural initiatives of Cárdenas and his cronies in the 1930s as a hegemonic project to “remake Michoacán peasants” that was undertaken with an evangelical zeal on par with that of “sixteenth-century Spanish missionaries.” She incisively shows that the Cardenistas relied on a “myopic” and gender-biased understanding of peasant society that ultimately hobbled their ability to comprehend and address some of rural people’s most urgent needs.12

Yet Becker ends up portraying peasants who collaborated with the politicians as misguided and venal. Popular-class actors who reached for the opportunities that postrevolutionary politics opened up to them were induced, she says, to allow the Cardenistas a glimpse of their “cultural knowledge.” They made the Cardenistas privy to what mattered most to rural folk in exchange, it would seem, for material and political perks. By the same token, Becker finds that indigenous men who welcomed Cardenista education did so chiefly because of the government’s “promise to ensure their livelihood.”13 Thus, while Becker sheds much light on Cardenista political culture and popular resistance to it, her discussion of the motivations of those who engaged the postrevolutionary project expands little on previous analyses that interpreted agrarismo as a more or less unproblematic by-product of patronage politics and expanding state power.

Recently, however, a small number of scholars have reconsidered peasant agency and concluded that some groups consciously participated in episodes of state formation. Historians of nineteenth-century Mexican liberalism have insisted that peasants’ engagement in local politics left regional and national leaders little alternative but to accommodate to popular demands as they mapped out their state projects.14 Studies by Mary Kay Vaughan and by the collaborative duo of Allen Wells and Gilbert Joseph of popular experiences of revolution and its aftermath in Mexico have followed a similar path. They show that popular negotiation with politico-economic elite actors and with cultural representatives of the state (especially educators) over issues of political economy and social engineering were as much a part of village life as outright resistance to state power.15 The present essay advances this emerging postrevisionist synthesis by insisting that peasant experiences of land reform and elite-orchestrated postrevolutionary cultural politics were inextricably linked. Together these initiatives furnished the discursive elements with which agraristas attempted to direct, on a local level, the course of state formation.

Old Loves: The Coming of Agrarismo in Michoacán

When Francisco Múgica became governor in 1920, Michoacán did not have much recent experience with widespread peasant activism. Western Mexico had been the center of the nineteenth-century insurgency movements of Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos, but armed revolution in the decade of 1910 essentially passed the region by.16 Unlike the landowners and middle-class revolutionaries who raised large Constitutionalist armies in the northern states of Sonora and Coahuila, Michoacán’s political elite never tried to mobilize rural folk en masse or to forge the attendant mechanisms of social control over armed popular groups. Likewise, no Michoacano variant of Zapata or Villa had succeeded in sparking a statewide peasant movement. Most locals had experienced the revolution as a period of want, insecurity, and epidemic illness punctuated by the occasional appearance of troops passing through on their way somewhere else.17

The relative quiescence of Michoacán before and during the revolution had worked to the advantage of hacienda owners. The state’s largest landowners continued their operations during the revolutionary years and reaped the benefits of a voracious national demand for their crops. By the 1920s, however, growing tensions between certain communities and neighboring haciendas began to surface as peasant groups complained that haciendas had methodically gobbled up croplands through a combination of purchase, coercion, and outright thievery.18 In fact, antagonism between estate owners and “free” peasant villagers had been growing for decades. Nineteenth-century liberal disentailment laws had prompted land speculators, hacendados, and an occasional small-time agriculturist to buy collectively held lands from indigenous village leaders (or from people who claimed they were leaders), often for a pittance. Such transactions usually took place under dubious conditions in which the only person who ever saw the proceeds was the alleged village leader himself.19 Elsewhere, in the northwestern Zacapu region, hacienda owners drained a huge marsh to get at the fertile soil below, even though it meant depriving shoreline communities of their traditional subsistence activities of weaving reeds and fishing.20

These problems did not end when the revolution broke out. Some landholders took advantage of what anarchy did exist during the revolutionary decade to expand their holdings at the expense of neighboring peasant communities. Others shifted from growing foodstuffs for the local market to more labor-intensive cash crops such as sugar (the supply of which the Zapatistas had cut off from Morelos), creating labor conditions that rankled villagers who worked some or all of the year in hacienda fields.21 Even when land as such was not at issue, communally held forest resources often were. The postrevolutionary boom in railroad reconstruction induced a number of lumber companies to revive questionable nineteenth-century contracts with village leaders, particularly around Uruapan in the central mountains and in the eastern highlands between Zitácuaro and Ciudad Hidalgo.22

For decades, villagers in these contentious areas had resisted such seizures of their property. In the nineteenth century, villagers typically employed bureaucratic foot dragging: they refused to form the privatization commissions required by the disentailment laws or tried to circumvent the laws altogether by transferring de facto communal property into the possession of one individual.23 These measures failed to stem hacienda expansion, and between 1910 and 1915 a handful of communities supplemented these traditional “weapons of the weak” with the more direct tactic of armed rebellion.

Hacienda encroachment onto village lands had done more than threaten peasants’ economic well-being. The loss of communal property and other resources contributed to the breakdown of traditional forms of village government. The temporal authority of village headmen (representantes del pueblo) in most indigenous communities was predicated upon their faithful administration of communal property, which they oversaw in conjunction with politico-religious councils and religious confraternities (cabildos and cofradías).24 As communities lost their lands, however, traditional leaders lost one pillar on which their prestige rested, and this opened the way for younger, more secular-minded leaders to gain in stature. In villages such as Chichimequillas, Opopeo, Naranja, and others, a new generation of local leaders gained ascendancy. These young men appreciated the opportunities that the revolution had opened up. They severed most ties with the ecclesiastical hierarchy in favor of new associations with governors, presidents, and congressional representatives.

The lack of well-established patron-client relationships forged in the heat of revolution—combined with landowners’ increasing monopolization of resources in areas such as the Zamora Bajío, the north-central flatlands, and the eastern monte—favored grassroots militancy among landless peasants in Michoacán. For the most part, agrarian activism did not erupt until the arrival of Múgica in 1920. The new governor had already distinguished himself as a revolutionary idealist during the 1917 constituent assembly, and he immediately set about invigorating Michoacán’s somnolent agrarian reform. He appointed a number of his allies from the Socialist party to the state’s agrarian bureaucracy and charged them with taking action on the backlog of peasant requests for ejidos. In so doing, he opened the way for officially sanctioned agrarian radicalism over which, it turned out, he had little real control.

The Socialists’ Revolution

Múgica came to power through what amounted to a carefully orchestrated peasant uprising in October of 1920. A few months earlier, a bitterly contested gubernatorial campaign had produced two rival state legislatures and two self-declared governors. In a bid to consummate his own victory, Múgica and his supporters persuaded peasant home guards (defensas civiles) from two hamlets near Morelia to oust his opponents from the capital. The Socialists spirited some additional men into the city in the guise of a brass band. The home guards combined forces to run their rivals out of town and install Múgica in power. The federal detachment in Morelia (then commanded by Múgica’s friend and confidant, the young general Lázaro Cárdenas) did nothing to stop them.25 With this mobilization of peasant supporters for political ends, Múgica won a tenuous grip on political power and set a militant tone for his brief ascendancy in the state.

Despite landless villagers’ grievances against hacienda owners, few rural people flocked to the new, pro-agrarista governor. Many villagers regarded Múgica’s agenda with deeply suspicious eyes, not least because of its anticlericalism.26 He was not the first politician to make attractive promises about land reform in Michoacán, and no revolutionary leader yet had shown a real commitment to adjudicating villagers’ petitions for land. The governor’s aides soon found that a firm base of support in rural areas was notably lacking. Even villagers who said they fully supported the Socialists sometimes demanded to be paid to attend their political rallies.27 To shore up his sagging prestige among rural folk, Múgica decreed a lightning-strike land reform. Since the Socialists, like many politicians of the time, had little effective control of the countryside (where bandits, hacienda guards, and army commanders held sway), they realized that the only practicable way to ensure the reform’s success was to provide beneficiaries with arms to defend their new properties. In effect, Múgica militarized the land reform process and inadvertently encouraged the construction of village discourses that associated ejido creation with collective violence.

Nothing could have been further from the governor’s original intent. Múgica had hoped to associate land with books—not guns—in the popular mentality. The way Múgica envisioned it, the land would provide basic sustenance for peasants, and his agrarian reform would guarantee their access to it. Secular education and its attendant reordering of rural culture, on the other hand, would filter into peasant villages as part of a massive educational campaign run by the triumphant revolutionaries and their ideological allies.28

Múgica’s project of modernizing the popular consciousness with a socialist educational program fit in well with the emerging consensus in Mexico City that secular, public education should teach the popular classes how to take their proper place in the new civic order. School administrators in both Morelia and Mexico City believed that education would “enlighten our rural workers and prepare them to become true participants in progress.”29 In Michoacán, the central ingredient of educational reform would be a thoroughgoing anticlerical campaign designed to spread a nationalist, progovernment spirit that would counterbalance what was considered to be the retrograde influence of the Catholic Church. Múgica and the Socialists hoped that education would inculcate the value of modern, rational thought in the mentality of the destitute and allegedly superstitious masses of Michoacán and ultimately create an enlightened citizenry ready to embrace revolutionary ideals.

Unfortunately for Múgica and his collaborators, the implementation of their lofty cultural project in Michoacán created such an uproar that its failure was a foregone conclusion. The religious hierarchy decried Múgica’s government, which they believed had “lately become openly aggressive in its intent to do away at all costs with the sublime beliefs we have inherited from our elders.”30 People throughout the state resisted the Socialists’ anticlerical measures, and one particularly infamous protest march in Morelia led to a score of deaths when police fired into a largely unarmed crowd of Catholic activists. At the same time, a number of hacienda owners tried to block Múgica’s land reform. They brought lawsuits against decrees granting ejidos and encouraged gunslingers and hacienda laborers to intimidate villagers who solicited lands. Even Obregón began to consider ways to undermine the governor, leading the president to appoint army commanders in the state who were hostile to the Socialists’ political inclinations.31

Given the cold political climate, Múgica and his associates had no choice but to abandon most of their cultural project except for the occasional anticlerical gesture, such as shutting down Catholic schools. In desperation, they turned to armed agrarista militias as their primary constituency. Only in those villages where strong and radical local leadership combined with acute grievances against hacienda owners did peasants actually prove willing to respond to the Socialists’ offer. By early 1921 a scattered combination of landless and nearly-landless villagers had started to lobby the government for ejido parcels. The language of these early agraristas clearly linked the land reform to questions of justice and community survival. As one leader wrote, villagers felt they had a right to the land because they no longer had “any place even to build their houses, much less to plant crops.”32

Rural Violence and Agrarista Identity

Since the Socialists’ weak political position made it impossible for them to offer much more than rhetorical support to agraristas, villagers who received ejido grants frequently had to battle hacienda owners in order to occupy their fields. Accordingly, violence played a central role in the process of agrarista identity formation. The corporeal experience of violence (for which caciques were especially well known) galvanized peasant groups and forged an intense camaraderie among them.33 Physical actions such as storming hacienda lands, trading shots with hacienda guardsmen, and, eventually, skirmishing with cristero rebels buttressed village revolutionary discourses that portrayed militant peasants as deserving of the land because they had fought for it.34 After the first years of agrarian struggle, nonviolent cultural practices such as schoolyard festivals, anticlerical rites, and civic celebrations also helped to build and maintain group identity. Even then, however, the threat of violence often lurked just under the surface, since protest marches and speeches in the village square could easily turn ugly.

Immediately after entering office, Múgica armed about two dozen agrarista home guards to protect newly created ejidos in Tanhuato, Yurécuaro, Zinapécuaro, Contepec, and a few villages near Morelia.35 The home guards operated directly under his orders, bypassing the federal military hierarchy altogether. In most cases, guard members were either land reform beneficiaries or villagers who aspired to acquire their own ejido parcel. The mobilization proved an effective strategy for generating a small but committed core of peasants who had a stake in the government’s agrarian project and, so the Socialists believed, in Múgica’s personal fortunes as well.36

In some villages, home guards quickly became an important institution by superseding traditional politico-religious organizations. Leadership of the militia was usually a prestigious position within the community, with responsibilities that ranged from issues of parish politics to the administration of ejidal government.37 Militiamen also took part in ceremonies that in prior times had been reserved for members of well-established village institutions such as cabildos and the brass band. Home guards were expected to represent their villages in civic rituals such as Independence Day celebrations and political rallies, of course, but they were also called upon to bear the standard in religious spectacles. One dismayed revolutionary reported that the home guards of numerous townships in northern Michoacán chose to accompany the bishop of Zamora as he toured the region. The bishop arrived at La Piedad, the official wrote, “with a considerable number of armed men who comprised the home guards of [several] villages. He was received with a Gargantuan (monstruosa) rally.”38

In addition to providing the means through which agraristas could join the postrevolutionary equivalent of traditional village organizations, the guards played an important defensive role within ejidal communities. They were the only protection agraristas could count on against the endemic banditry of the early 1920s. Parties of up to 20 outlaws roamed through most parts of rural Michoacán and in postrevolutionary years preyed upon passers-by as well as entire villages. On some occasions, though, “bandits” appeared as interested in settling old scores and inciting rebellion as in robbery and pillage. One smalltown mayor notified his superior in 1923 that a dozen or so armed men from nearby hamlets repeatedly beset his precinct. The mayor concluded that the “banditry” was in fact an attempt to “undermine public order,” inspired by “political revenge” that had grown out of a long-standing rivalry between the villagers. On another occasion, people whom one Socialist identified as “bandits” had ridden into Tacámbaro and disarmed the notoriously pro-Múgica police force; instead of simply riding away, however, they freed all the prisoners in jail and handed them the constabulary’s weapons.39

Hacienda owners and their retainers often posed a more serious threat to agraristas than did bandits. Owners of great haciendas in Michoacán’s fertile flatlands lived with the constant fear that the Socialists might nationalize part of their property and hand it over to landless villagers. In this game, home guards represented agraristas’ trump card because they allowed peasants to back up with force their claims on landowners’ nationalized parcels. And because agrarista home guards did not answer to army commanders, federal officers often agreed with landowners that the home guards posed a serious threat to “order.”

Consequently, army units—acting either on their own initiative or at the behest of rich patrons—routinely captured or killed members of agrarista home guards.40 For example, in the early 1920s, tensions mounted between the agraristas of the Naranja-Tarejero area and the owners of the neighboring hacienda. The proprietors immediately persuaded a compliant army detail to intimidate the villagers. In October 1921 came the first of what would be many clashes. Federal soldiers and a trio of rancheros rode drunkenly into Naranja under the joint command of General Juan Domínguez and one of the land-owners. The soldiers could not locate members of the home guard, but they decided to make an example of those people they could find. They staged a mock execution of the municipal authorities and beat several of the agraristas’ daughters and wives.41

More often landowners chose to solve their problems with neighboring communities without the army’s help. In 1921, Múgica’s government responded to a complaint by some residents of Opopeo, a middle-sized village near Pátzcuaro, that the neighboring hacienda had usurped village lands. A surveyor was dispatched to begin mapping out an ejido. When news spread that Opopeo would be granted land from the Casas Blancas hacienda, relations between villagers and the landowner deteriorated rapidly. Agraristas formed a home guard under the leadership of Felipe Tzintzún, a carpenter who had led the campaign for the ejido.42 The hacendados, meanwhile, contracted the services of Ladislao Molina, a mestizo ranchero and well-known gunslinger. When surveyors arrived in Opopeo in January 1921, the home guard escorted them to work during the day and watched over them at night as they slept in Tzintzún’s house.

Despite these precautions, Molina managed to lead several dozen field hands from Casas Blancas in an attack on the village. His fighters caught the home guard unaware, surrounded the house, and began shooting. Those inside tried to return fire. One member of Tzintzún’s family used her last bullet to kill one of the aggressors, but all to no avail. Molina assassinated Tzintzún and three members of his family, and their bodies were added to those of four guardsmen and another agrarista leader who had already lost their lives in the ordeal. The surveyors barely escaped with their fives.43 Molina’s assault derailed the ejidalization process in Opopeo for months to come since no other surveyors would run the risk of mapping out an ejido on what was essentially enemy territory.44

Nevertheless, within a few months after Múgica left office another member of the Tzintzún family renewed the quest for land, and in 1923 the government finally established an ejido in Opopeo. The struggle against the hacienda and its hired guns became the cornerstone of community identity for a significant contingent of residents. In their correspondence, village leaders began to define Opopeo as an agrarista village. One local leader stated on the eve of the cristero rebellion that the “great majority” of residents had rejected Catholicism because priests were “enemies of Agrarismo.”45 Local agrarian activists fought on the government side during the rebellion and later helped ex-cristeros from a neighboring village apply for their own ejido parcel.46 This aspect of village identity is centrally displayed in Opopeo today. In 1950 ejidatarios built a small memorial to Tzintzún in the middle of the village square. In the end, Molina’s actions not only failed to quash the local land reform movement, they helped to structure a village tradition of agrarismo complete with martyrs and a foundational mythology.

The fracas in Opopeo suggests that Múgica had the authority to sanction peasant radicalism, but he had no real influence over the actions of landowners or their allies. Other events would reveal that Múgica had few effective means to control agraristas. For example, the leaders of the village of San Miguel Chichimequillas, a hamlet in the eastern sierra, readily rejected Múgica’s leadership when it conflicted with their own goals. In 1919 the village had won an order granting an ejido. But local landowners had prevented the villagers from occupying their lands until 1920, when Jesús Aguilar, a local stonemason, lobbied Múgica for help. With the governor’s approval, Aguilar’s family formed a home guard in 1921 and invited villagers to occupy their parcels.47

When the villagers moved onto their ejido, however, they immediately overstepped their charter and occupied a hacienda owner’s nearby irrigation dam as well. In response, the proprietor brought several lawsuits demanding that the peasants abide by the official ejido map. At first, Múgica encouraged the home guard to take an intransigent stance, and the peasants refused to bow to repeated court orders to vacate. They posted armed sentries on the dam, refused to let the hacienda owner’s cattle drink at the reservoir, and cut off water to various fields, including the ones field hands used for their personal crops.

A few months later, the agraristas reneged on a deal their own leader had brokered to share water with the hacienda, leading Múgica to reverse himself and direct the peasants to evacuate the dam. But they had already tasted the fruit of independent mobilization. They ignored the order.48 To make matters worse, they insisted on keeping possession of some parcels that a neighboring peasant village had long considered its own. The Chichimequillas group showed no inclination to renounce their territory even when their neighbors threatened to fight over the disputed lands. Múgica’s lieutenants had to scramble to avoid gunplay.49 Even when Múgica’s successor ordered the agraristas to disarm or face the consequences, they refused to accede. They threatened to kill the new governor’s brother when he came to negotiate a settlement and, despite pressure from various quarters, occupied the dam by force of arms until they won water concession rights in 1926.50

The quasi revolt in Chichimequillas was symptomatic of a small but palpable wave of peasant radicalism that Múgica found impossible to contain. By the end of 1921, Obregón decided that he had seen enough. The president had no love for militant agraristas who took land reform into their own hands, chipped away at hacienda territories without legal sanction, and aggravated federal army commanders. In November, Obregón ordered Múgica to demobilize all agrarista home guards.51 The governor rejected the order, which further added to Obregón’s determination to cashier him. Then the news came in early 1922 that field hands on the huge Buenavista hacienda had taken the unprecedented move of declaring a strike and that elsewhere agrarista guardsmen had assassinated a Spanish-born administrator of the Botello hacienda, thereby touching off an international scandal.52 Racked by internal and external pressures, Múgica’s government began to crumble.

By February 1922 a group of small-time landowners and conservative politicians had grown alarmed by the regime’s anticlericalism and the growing anarchy in the countryside, and they began to brew a small anti-Socialist rebellion. The insurgency gathered adherents throughout the state. Simultaneously, the army moved to disarm several key agrarista home guard units. The governor resigned within a week after hostilities broke out.53 A new governor who took a far dimmer view of peasant agitation saw to it that most agrarista home guards were forced to surrender their weapons within two months of Múgica’s ouster.54 Those groups that remained under arms found themselves accused of being “inimical to public order” or were placed under the command of new leaders loyal to the incoming administration.55 In either case, it meant the demilitarization of agrarismo and a sudden vulnerability to the movement’s enemies. A rash of landowner retaliations forced several groups to flee to the hills or even to the United States. These retaliations eventually played a part in the 1926 murder of Primo Tapia, the state’s preeminent agrarian activist.56 Yet paradoxically, the sudden demilitarization of agrarismo lent it a new dimension as agrarian leaders searched for new, nonmartial ways to express their identity.

Making Agrarismo after the Fall

The agraristas’ loss of their political patron and the disarmament of the home guards forced them to back away from violent confrontation in favor of more ritualized forms of revolutionary activism. Parades, revolutionary chants, and the destruction of religious icons began to take the place of land invasions and firefights with hacienda guards. Agrarista militancy did not cease altogether; even though peasants in some communities let their petitions languish in the agrarian bureaucracy or threw in with relatively conservative local politicians, others did not. Dozens of agrarista leaders continued to press for the creation of ejidos, sanctions against local haciendas, and the removal of anti-agrarista priests. Indeed, the new government’s decision to halt, and in some cases reverse, land distribution provoked pockets of renewed peasant activism.57 Still, as Michoacán’s politicians fell in behind the increasingly conservative agrarian policies of Mexico’s national leaders, they began to emphasize revolutionary discourse over the actual restructuring of the land tenure regime. This new political reality limited agraristas’ room for maneuver.

At this conjuncture, many communities found a new political resource in the person of the federal schoolteachers whose presence in rural areas grew steadily, beginning about the time Múgica left office.58 Teachers, occasionally acting as the clients of caciques, wrote many of the official letters brimming with revolutionary tropes that agrarista groups directed to government bureaucrats. They had a hand in formulating the posters and handbills that helped to define the parameters of village politics. By bringing their own version of revolutionary discourse into rural Michoacán in this way, teachers and their political allies within the villages helped to bridge the gap between agrarista practice and revolutionary ideology.59

The activist teachers of the 1920s had been trained in newly reinvigorated teachers colleges where they learned to bring “enlightenment” and guidance to rural people. Many teachers hoped to act, in one educator’s words, as “the mentor, not just for school-age children, but also for the village as a whole in order to guide the multitudes down the path of rectitude.”60 At times, such paternalism kept these village outsiders from gaining the acceptance of peasants or even provoked open hostility.61

Yet many teachers carefully went about their jobs as revolutionary missionaries and tried as best they could not to trample local customs, no matter how backward they found villagers’ behavior. As late as 1930, one rural schoolteacher observed that he had not opposed religious processions “that parade images of saints amid prayers and hymns. I do not dare protest to avoid attracting the hostility and ill will of the villagers.”62 Moreover, teachers’ command of the written word made them invaluable allies for agraristas. In some areas teachers and the village priest alone had access to paper and pen. While a few priests might use their literacy skills to help peasants petition for lands, the vast majority would not.63 Accordingly, agraristas looked to the “good teacher” to guide them through the intricate agrarian bureaucracies.64

Teachers nearly always found it expedient to work in cooperation with the peasant caciques who dominated political life in most agrarista villages. Caciques controlled official linkages with the government (i.e. key municipal and ejido offices) and, not infrequently, the lion’s share of ejido lands as well. As local-sons-made-good, they relied on personal prestige, ties of family and ritual kinship (compadrazgo), and an occasional dose of capricious violence—always being ready to “kill or be killed” (matarse con cualquier), as one observer put it—to maintain their local preeminence.65

When it came to creating the ideological parameters of agrarismo, schoolteachers and these agrarian bosses typically came to a mutually beneficial arrangement. Teachers counted on caciques to see to it that villagers sent their children to school. In exchange, caciques expected their learned allies to give them ideological cues when they dealt with higher-ups in the government. They also invited teachers to accept those positions in local administration that demanded literacy skills, such as secretary of the town council or of ejido governing boards.66

Caciques and teachers—who together might be labeled “village revolutionaries”—strove to form agrarista identity by jointly orchestrating civic rituals intended to signify and embody revolution within villages and, as Clifford Geertz has suggested, thereby to “cast into sensible form a concept of what, together, [spectators] were supposed to make of themselves.”67 In postrevolutionary Michoacán, civic spectacles constituted idealized tableaus of secular, patriotic, and revolutionary society. They allowed agraristas to make collective use of their bodies and to foster a social memory of “revolutionary” battles against the local landowner or some analogous counterrevolutionary figure.68 Furthermore, since civic rituals often culminated with the local schoolteacher giving a patriotic oration in the town square, they represented a key locus of peasant contact with revolutionary discourse.

Village revolutionaries choreographed a number of different civic rimais, but the most important celebration was the fiestas patrias (Independence Day celebrations). For years, local elites had controlled the complexion and content of fiestas patrias in Michoacán. In the avowedly Catholic town of Zamora, for example, the antirevolutionary Asociación Católica de la Juventud Mexicana (ACJM) helped to organize the observance of fiestas patrias in the early 1920s. In 1921 the ACJM members reoriented the ceremonies’ symbolic thrust away from populist independence heroes Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos. Instead, they exalted the notoriously conservative and pro-Catholic Agustín de Iturbide, who had consummated Mexico’s independence a century earlier. As part of the fiestas patrias festivities, the ACJM dedicated a small monument to Iturbide in the town’s main square and declared him the true father of the nation.69 Within a scant few years, though, schoolteachers and local politicians wrested control of the celebrations away from the ACJM and forced the Catholics (and Iturbide) out.70

Henceforth, the celebrations had a distinctly secular flavor in Michoacán. The fiestas patrias commenced (as they still do) when a political official such as the governor in Morelia or municipal authorities elsewhere shouted Miguel Hidalgo’s battle cry of independence. The ritual call to arms on the night of September 15 set off festivities that in the larger towns continued until the following evening. The typical celebration consisted of patriotic recitations by teachers, political figures, and schoolchildren. Anthems were sung and church bells chimed to solemnize the moment. Students, unionized workers, municipal and military corps, politicians, agraristas, mounted charros, and other organized groups marched around the plaza and main streets, sometimes accompanied by adorned automobiles. Confetti filled the air.71 In one case at least, the program wound up with the prescription that “all the students will kneel before the flag and will recite the pledge, ending the ceremony with the National Anthem.”72 In the late 1920s, the architects of fiestas patrias celebrations deemphasized such pseudoreligious acts of allegiance to the fatherland in favor of speeches that extolled good hygiene and sports, and warned against the evils of sexually transmitted diseases and alcoholism.73

Most smaller towns in Michoacán had never held their own civic celebrations before the revolution. In the 1920s, however, teachers single-handedly began to organize events marking the opening of a new federal school or other important milestones.74 On such occasions the teacher, perhaps accompanied by the local school inspector, would direct students to sing patriotic songs or recite passages lauding government efforts to bring enlightenment and economic progress to the masses. A village band might play some brassy notes while agraristas from the local ejido marched through central streets. Nearly always, the ceremony included a keynote speaker who held forth on such issues as “the importance of installing organized collectives of workers and peasants in the Republic” or “the federal government’s huge effort to improve our workers and peasants as well as its ongoing task of incorporating indigenous races into our modern society.”75

Revolutionary rituals also functioned on a deeper level than spectacle. They allowed agraristas to cement their cultural identity through bodily practice. Once mobilized peasants were deprived of the easy violence associated with militarized agrarismo, civic rituals gained new importance. They represented the only officially sanctioned manner in which agraristas could use muscles and voices to publicly, and in a sense belligerently, express their partisanship. Indeed, by their very nature parades have a martial aspect, and in the 1920s participation in the fiestas patrias or marching in the streets could easily lead to gunplay if aggrieved Catholic activists took offense. In one instance, a hacienda day laborer shot the speaker at Carácuaro’s 1926 fiestas patrias celebration out of disgust with his anticlerical message. In another, peasants who marched with an agrarista banner through the streets of Zamora were arrested by municipal authorities and attacked by Catholic militants.76 Such actions expanded the loci of contention from the fields and peasant villages to the symbolic realm of street protests and political oration.

Fiestas patrias were only the most visible of the unprecedented title of official practices that became part of everyday village life during the 1920s. Evidence of the new behavior was everywhere. In one instance, agraristas, school children, and a brass band formed an impromptu parade to march a village’s first Mexican flag through the streets. In another, elementary school students went on an excursion to visit newly built teachers colleges (escuelas normales) and later wrote—no doubt with a bit of coaching—of having met a “circle of young people who are preparing for the struggle (la lucha).” In yet another, women in activist villages joined government-sponsored leagues and took sufficient interest in regional politics to accuse their neighbors of having participated in an antigovernment “military insurrection.”77 Village notables even regarded such seemingly innocuous bodily performances as schoolyard calisthenics to be emblematic of the way revolutionary culture had worked its way into the countryside. Teachers placed students’ participation in calisthenics on a par with such ideologically loaded activities as giving patriotic recitations and marching in military exercises; priests grumbled about such carryings-on in public, especially by students wearing “uniforms that leave much to be desired.”78

Despite the revolutionary pedigree of these local-level, secularizing practices, many of them represented straightforward adaptations of local customs and religious rituals that predated the revolution by decades, if not centuries. For example, teachers often reported with much fanfare that their community had made a “handsome effort” to build a primary school by creating new village cooperatives to raise money for materials and to oversee construction. In fact, the practice of uniting to finance and erect public buildings had a long history in Michoacán: rural folk had built parish residences and churches in this manner for centuries.79 Even agrarista marches drew upon the much older form of religious procession. In each case, the “icon”—whether an agrarista banner or the representation of a saint—led the cortege, followed by the “faithful” who threw confetti, played instruments in brass bands, and launched rockets.80

Another way in which the cultural politics of agrarismo dovetailed with older cultural forms was by injecting a new ideological charge into older intervillage land disputes. Chichimequillas was far from the only case in which agraristas attempted to encroach on their neighbors’ property by reframing a preexisting intervillage rivalry as a question of agrarismo versus counterrevolution. The agraristas of Opopeo similarly denounced a neighboring village (most of whose residents worked as sharecroppers on the local hacienda) as fanatical Catholics. This accusation may have had some basis, given that villagers from neighboring communities later rose up as cristero rebels, but Opopeo’s leaders also had designs on hacienda lands and hoped to win politicians over to their side.81

The same revolutionary reinterpretation of intervillage rivalry took place in the realm of religious politics as well. In 1929 a long-standing dispute between two northwestern hamlets over the location of a parochial residency found new expression as an agrarista-versus-Catholic conflict. Peasant leaders from one village asked the bishop to relocate the parish residence to their village, away from a rival, agrarista one. They promised to make a “just and rightful defense of priests,” whom they accused their neighbors of neglecting.82

A further example of how postrevolutionary cultural politics reorganized preexisting cultural idioms is revealed by the fact that agrarista leaders expressed their local preeminence in terms of well-established village norms. Primo Tapia, the famous agrarista chief of Naranja, mocked priests and allowed his supporters to run “fanatical” Catholics out of town, but he also patronized and revived local religious celebrations. In part, he planned to use the proceeds of religious festivals to prosecute lawsuits on behalf of the village, but he also recognized the symbolic power of traditional dances and pageantry. According to anthropologist Paul Friedrich, Tapia “sought to attach or rearticulate the sensuous, folk stimuli of the fiestas to the new moral and political order of agrarianism.”83

Ernesto Prado, another powerful cacique, also participated in anticlerical grandstanding as part of his public persona. He too took pleasure in sponsoring traditional Tarascan dances in his home town. He got along well with the local priest and marched all atremble at the head of religious processions.84 Prado’s actions, like those of Tapia, echoed of traditional civil-religious “cargo” duties that obliged important community members to underwrite and lead village religious celebrations. The difference, of course, lay in that these updated “cargo” holders functioned as political bosses with powerful ties to the expanding postrevolutionary state.

The characteristic practices of agrarismo may not have been as novel as they at first appear, but the discourses that schoolteachers and caciques introduced to rural Michoacán in the 1920s had no prerevolutionary antecedents. In the village revolutionaries’ idiom, hacendados became “exploitative estate holders,” agrarista peasants became “honorable and enthusiastic farmers (campesinos)”, and the land reform—itself a novelty—meant the “emancipation of the sacred rights of the people (pueblo), which has given to the people what belongs to the people.”85 This upstart revolutionary language permeated the village public sphere. Schoolteachers attended agrarista meetings to read official correspondence aloud; political and educational leaders incessantly stumped in the village schoolyard and zocalo; and whenever a local event of any importance took place, posters and handbills rained down everywhere.

The singular language of village revolutionaries linked agraristas’ growing distrust of clergy with the “official” ideologies of revolution that emanated from the political elite of Morelia and Mexico City. As early as 1923, village representatives of the agrarista stronghold of Tiríndaro complained of a priest who, they wrote, “not only has revealed himself as an instrument of avaricious estate holders (latifundistas) … but who has openly attacked average [agricultural] workers from the pulpit, from the confessional, and through all the means at his disposal.”86 Over the following years, complaints about priests (or, more generically, the “reactionary classes”) who sided with landowners against landless peasants would become a recurring trope in agrarista language.87 By conjoining militant peasants’ antipriest sentiment with the struggle for land in this way, agrarista discourse subtly shifted the thrust of official anticlerical ideology.

After all, the primary complaint that Michoacán’s revolutionary politicians leveled against the Catholic Church had to do with religion’s influence on peasant culture. Politicians argued that religious belief kept the popular consciousness backward and superstitious, leaving the rural denizen “meekly imprisoned in darkness, far from anything associated with Fraternity, Progress, and Light.”88 Peasant agrarista leaders, on the other hand, complained about the obstructionism of priests in regard to specific issues of local politics, particularly those concerned with land. Far from the elite’s abstract ideas of Kulturkampf, village anticlericalism was rooted in peasants’ more immediate concerns that priests would endeavor to keep the land in the possession of hacendados and condone the actions of landowners who intimidated rural activists.

Agrarista discourse made similar readjustments to official ideologies about the revolution itself. For the political elite, the revolution was a way to destroy the corruption of the Porfirian old regime, redeem the lower classes—especially indigenous people—from economic and intellectual backwardness, and construct a secular nation over which the victors would preside.89 Agrarista discourse usually associated the revolution with more tangible issues. For the leader of land reform beneficiaries in the village Churumuco, for example, the revolution resided in the ejido that the village had been granted. He described it as “a little piece of land, the precious fruit of revolution, that we anxiously awaited and demanded as just recompense for our blood spilt in all the [revolutionary] battles for liberty.”90 As the cristero revolt would soon demonstrate, this was an extremely powerful notion. When agraristas decided to take up arms against the rebels in 1926, they felt that they fought for both their “precious fruit” and for the revolution itself.

New Loyalties: Taking Sides in the Cristero Revolt

In 1926 regional events once again intervened to redirect agraristas’ fortunes when Catholic militants, who became known as cristeros for their battle cry of “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” rebelled against the government. Prominent Catholic activists in Michoacán had complained of the “aberrations and extremism” of official anticlericalism ever since Múgica’s tenure in office,91 but for most people religious persecution did not become truly intolerable until President Calles assumed office in 1924. The following year his allies attempted to create a schismatic church. In 1926 the federal government passed a law that closed most convents and severely regulated the number of practicing priests.

Catholic leaders rode a crest of public outrage as they called for an economic boycott to put pressure on the Calles government. In March 1926 Michoacán’s archbishop, Leopoldo Ruiz y Flores, “after asking God for enlightenment and assiduously consulting Him,” tightened the screws on the state government by ordering priests in his diocese to cease exercising their ministry.92 Bishops in the rest of the nation followed suit in July. In September, cristero rebels started to take up arms against federal troops, administrators, and schoolteachers.93 The government responded in kind by mobilizing its army and popular-class supporters. By early 1927 it had armed and outfitted agrarista fighters throughout the nation, including three thousand in Michoacán.94

With little matériel but with considerable popular support, cristero rebels took to the hills and kept the federal army and agrarista irregulars at bay in western Mexico until June 1929, when the Church agreed to resume religious services. Cristero militants comprised an odd amalgam of hacienda laborers, mestizo smallholders (rancheros), indigenous people, and others, many of whom the land reform threatened in one way or another. But while material issues might have aggravated cristeros’ outrage at the government, their immediate goal was to defend religious practice. Anticlericalism threatened to suppress religious rituals that played a key role within indigenous communities and to undermine the clergy’s considerable politico-religious importance in some mestizo townships. In short, Calles succeeded in creating a multiethnic coalition (albeit one that opposed his government), the likes of which Michoacán had rarely seen before.95

The agraristas’ response to the cristero revolt, in contrast, revolved around their beliefs about revolution and land reform rather than religion as such. Trinidad Coronel, the aged agrarista veteran who fought for love of the land, insisted that he had even tried to explain as much to some hapless rebels:

Well, one time I caught some cristeros over by that ridge. Before I shot them, I said, “You have got it wrong. They are telling you that we are going to get rid of religion and we are going to get rid of your children and have the government take them away. It’s a lie! Look, we are just as Catholic as you.” I got one of my soldiers—I knew he was wearing religious medallions (santitos)— and said, “Look here! Look, he has his saints and you have yours. We are the same! The only difference is that they are making assholes (pendejos) out of you, telling you we are going to end religion.”96

“They,” in Coronel’s vocabulary, referred to landowners and the high clergy, whom he regarded as the archenemies of agrarismo. On one level, Coronel’s words paralleled the rhetoric of political leaders in Michoacán and Mexico City who understood the rebellion as an assault on revolutionary values. Unlike the politicians, however, he emphasized first and foremost that the rebellion threatened agraristas’ political identity and their right to the land.97

Agraristas worried for their lands and lives even though cristero military leaders pledged to respect the agrarian distributions that had already taken place.98 This promise notwithstanding, some ejidatarios refused to leave their parcels because they feared that cristeros would invade them in retaliation for the village’s collaboration with federal schoolteachers.99 Others feared that cristeros would target them for having accepted government lands prior to the rebellion. A large group of peasants in Opopeo rallied to the government in part because Ladislao Molina, the same landowning gunfighter who had killed the village’s first agrarian leaders, led the cristero movement in the Pátzcuaro region. When federal troops finally killed Molina in 1929, the soldiers publicly displayed his body in a nearby town square in order, as they said, to “completely demoralize the fanatics.”100 Whether it had such an effect on cristeros is doubtful, but on the other hand, agraristas throughout the region celebrated the news.101

To combat the insurgency, local politicians reorganized home guards in every major city and in most villages with ejido lands.102 In some cases, the home guards wavered and threw in with the cristeros, either because guard members remained true to the dictates of their religious conscience or because the militia leader had a personal ax to grind with those who supported the government.103 Other agrarista groups zealously defended their villages against cristero attacks but refused to fight outside their hometowns.104 In yet another case, a local elite family found a way to join in the fighting without ever threatening the local cristero cell. In the township of Atacheo, the García family both dominated the agrarista movement and occupied the upper echelons of the local parish administration. When the rebellion broke out, they contacted the cristero leaders (who were their kin) to avoid any confrontation in Atacheo proper. As a result, the village home guard traveled as far as Guanajuato to engage the rebels, but it never saw action at home.105

But elsewhere, in militant strongholds such as Coatepec, Opopeo, Zurumútaro, the Naranja area, La Cañada, and others, peasants again shouldered arms to fight for the postrevolutionary government, thus revitalizing the practical link between violence, revolution, and land reform. Guardsmen spent as long as two months in the field, sometimes without any pay. Many groups campaigned hundreds of miles from home. Even guardsmen who made shorter forays faced harsh conditions, since rebel ambushes could cost lives and produce, as one commander delicately put it, “a terrible but momentary demoralization.”106

Where battles between cristeros and agraristas did take place, they were often extremely bloody. In Michoacán, over seven thousand agraristas and cristeros appear to have died in the fighting.107 Cruelty was the order of the day. Prisoners on both sides were executed on the spot, with or without the pretext that they had tried to escape (la ley de fuga). Cristeros were known to cut the soles off an agrarista’s feet and force him to walk through thorns with a rucksack of earth tied around his neck. Agraristas showed no greater mercy. At one point an agrarista boss had his 13-year-old godson jailed and later hanged for having collaborated with the enemy.108

The hew and leather of the rebellion also generated a series of agrarista attacks on religious objects. During the uprising, caciques and schoolteachers routinely encouraged agraristas to remove images of saints from chapel walls, drag them into village squares, and either shoot them execution-style or torch them in order to prove that they were simple wooden statues that contained no magic. Churches, which the government had declared national property, might be converted into granaries, schools, or libraries.109 Village anticlericalism continued after the rebellion as well. In 1930 a cacique ordered the closure of the local church in Charapan and prohibited the local religious leaders from ringing its bells.110 The following year an aspiring schoolteacher in the same region—seconded by prominent agraristas—launched what he called an anticlerical and consciousness-raising campaign by breaking into another local church. The agraristas hauled the statues down from the walls, piled them in front of the entrance, and set them aflame as a throng of people despairingly looked on.111

Saint burnings and military campaigns against cristero peasants definitively reoriented what had begun as a series of local struggles over village lands. Peasants and their mentors restructured village discourses and practices, molding agrarismo into a social movement with close links to the revolutionary government. In a sense, then, the cristero war represented Michoacán’s Rubicon; agraristas either had to fight or lose out on their claim to revolutionary partisanship and perhaps their lands as well. Naturally, then, the rebellion produced some last-minute agraristas of convenience. Some local leaders appear to have belatedly discovered their allegiance to the government and strategically adopted the language of agrarian revolution.112

Yet many agraristas laid down their lives to defend a cultural identity that had been years in the making. Home guards lost scores of their members combating a committed enemy that had many friends in the countryside. Despite these odds, agraristas (unlike federal soldiers) did not usually sneak away from their units or defect to the other side.113 In those instances in which ejidatarios believed that cristeros intended to kill them, “defection” may not have been an option. But in many other cases, perhaps the majority, agraristas undertook dangerous campaigns away from their hometowns in order to express and defend their newfound cultural identity. Similarly, although the destruction of religious imagery might appear as little more than mean-spirited grandstanding, it is plausible to infer that some agraristas regarded iconoclasm as one way to publicly proclaim their membership in a social group comprising people who understood and believed in the government’s revolutionary project, even if it meant shattering the images that their neighbors held so dear.

In 1929 the Vatican came to an uneasy truce with the government. By then, militant agrarismo had reached its apex in Michoacán. The civil war had produced increasingly shrill discourses and violent practices that connected agrarismo with a dogged defense of anticlericalism and the revolution, both of which in turn were associated with the cultural process of land reform. Some peasant leaders had come to feel, in the words of one, like patriots with “agrarista blood and convictions.”114

Conclusion: Agrarismo and the Revolutionary State

The cristero revolt brought into sharp relief an agrarista identity that was intimately associated with postrevolutionary cultural politics and land reform. At the same time, agrarismo was articulated with much older village routines and peasant struggles. This cultural hybridism makes it incongruous to associate agrarismo too closely with the revolutionary elite’s ideological project. The agrarian policies of Governor Múgica, the anticlerical politics of President Calles, and other such affairs over which peasants had little control did greatly influence village politics in Michoacán. Yet the masters of the nascent postrevolutionary state were in no position to invent a new peasant culture whole cloth, and agraristas knew it. The events of the 1920s had made it clear that governors and presidents often undercut each other, that politicians lacked the resources to make more than modest stabs at social engineering, and (as the cristero revolt underscored) that revolutionaries could not impose their cultural program by fiat.

The agrarista movement that emerged in Michoacán in the 1920s, therefore, was largely controlled by village leaders rather than political elites. When it suited their needs, agraristas might refuse to cooperate with important politicians, or threaten governors’ families, or resist the federal army. Agraristas retained control over important aspects of their identity because regional and national leaders could not make their hegemony uniformly manifest in the countryside. In other words, agraristas did not have to “speak” only in the unyielding terms of elite discourse.115 Rather, villagers subtly recast revolutionary ideology concerning anticlericalism, revolution, and land reform in order to articulate it with their own local cultures and goals. Through this political and ideological tug-of-war, peasants and their leaders attached a multivalenced set of meanings to their practices. They succeeded in defining behaviors such as invading a hacienda owner’s dam, marching and chanting in village streets, breaking saints, and fighting Catholic guerrillas as the stuff of agrarismo.

Analysts’ heretofore circumscribed understanding of agrarismo as little more than the stepchild of political patronage and elite cultural meddling has led them to underestimate peasants’ impact on postrevolutionary project in Michoacán and Mexico as a whole. Reinterpreting Mexico’s postrevolutionary land reform as the nexus of a broad cultural process, however, opens up a rich, new avenue for the analysis of postrevolutionary state formation. For just as Francisco Múgica found that he had to modulate his political agenda to meet the demands of the very landless villagers he hoped to reform, later leaders who took up the cultural crusade would come to the same conclusion. In one case, this dynamic would have a thoroughgoing impact on the nation’s political development

Like Múgica, Lázaro Cárdenas later discovered that he needed to tailor his policies and political rhetoric to meet the expectations of agraristas when he became governor of Michoacán in the late 1920s. Indeed, even after the cristero war had drawn to a close Cárdenas found it necessary to accede to agraristas’ demands for arms and land and to imbricate a stylized rendering of agrarista discourse within his political organization’s official rhetoric.116 This accommodation suggests that Cárdenas’s peculiar brand of populism, and the Mexican state he later helped to create, relied principally on negotiation with certain popular-class actors rather than on bald, across-the-board authoritarian measures.

Jeffrey Rubin has recently argued that state “hegemony” of the sort Cárdenas tentatively began to establish in the 1930s was “actually a simultaneous forging of multiple regional arrangements—each a distinct combination of bargaining, coercion, and alliances—that together reinforced the power of the center in broadly similar ways.”117 In Michoacán, Cárdenas had already used all three of these strategies to gain adherents among local politicians and members of the popular classes alike. But where agraristas were concerned, he established both a personal and political bond sufficient to last through his tenure as president and into the late twentieth century. Institutional innovations helped in this project. But of at least equal importance, Cárdenas’s ability to intertwine agrarista and statist discourse reoriented the way that agraristas thought about government and political power. They recognized in Cardenismo and, to some extent no doubt, in the state that it helped construct, strains of their own political culture.

I would like to thank Heather Fowler-Salamini, Gilbert Joseph, Matthew Karush, Friedrich Katz, Amy Shannon, Pablo Silva, and John Tutino for their insights and suggestions. Earlier versions of this essay were presented at the University of Chicago Workshop on Latin American History and the Conference on Latin American History, to whose participants I am also indebted. Research funds were provided by a Fulbright-Hays Grant from the U.S. Department of Education, an Andrew Mellon Foundation Summer Research Grant, and travel grants from the University of Chicago Program in Mexican Studies.

Primary materials are cited from the following archives: Archivo General de la Nación, Mexico City, Ramo Dirección General de Gobierno, (AGN-DGG); Archivo Histórico del Centro de Estudios de la Revolución Mexicana “Lázaro Cárdenas,” Jiquilpan de Juárez, Michoacán, Fondo Francisco J. Múgica (FJM); Archivo Histórico Municipal de Morelia (AMM); Archivo Histórico del Poder Ejecutivo de Michoacán, Morelia (AHPEM), Ramos Amparos (A) and Religión (R); Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de Educación Pública, Mexico City (AHSEP); Archivo Municipal de Zamora (AMZ), Ramos Gobernación (G), Justicia (J), and Policía y Guerra (PG); Archivo Histórico de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Centro de Estudios sobre la Universidad, Mexico City, Fondo Miguel Palomar y Vizcarra (MPV); Archivo de la Sala Canonical de la Catedral de Zamora (ACZ); and Archivo de la Secretaría de la Reforma Agraria, Mexico City, (ASRA).


Interview with J. Trinidad Coronel Sosa, Coatepec, 10 Mar. 1995.


On the revolution in Michoacán, see the outstanding works by Verónica Oikión Solano, El constitucionalismo en Michoacán: el período de los gobiernos militares (1914—1917) (Mexico City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1992); and Jesús Romero Flores, Historia de la Revolución en Michoacán (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Estudios Históricos de la Revolución Mexicana, 1964).


The Mexican land reform functioned by giving groups of peasant families collective usufruct rights to federal lands. To receive these parcels, known as ejidos, in theory communities of landless peasants simply had to organize and solicit them in writing. If the government in fact created an ejido, beneficiaries (known as ejidatarios) would be responsible for administering and tilling the land as a single juridical entity. Because the ejidatarios did not own the lands, however, they could not legally sell, rent, or transfer them. The government might convert existing federal lands to ejidos, but in most cases it nationalized private property—hacienda land for the most part—and then turned it over to peasants. For a concise analysis of the technicalities of land reform in the 1920s, see José Rivera Castro, “Política agraria, organizaciones, luchas y resistencias campesinas entre 1920 y 1928,” in Historia de la cuestión agraria mexicana, vol. 4: Modernización, lucha agraria y poder político, 1920-1934, ed. Enrique Montalvo (Mexico City: Siglo Veintiuno, 1988); and Eyler Newton Simpson, The Ejido: Mexico’s Way Out (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1937), 75–97. On the land reform in Michoacán, see Jaime Hernández Díaz, “Política agraria en Michoacán, 1890-1928” (Licenciatura thesis, Universidad Michoacana, 1980).


I am grateful to John Tutino for encouraging me to formulate my argument in these terms.


Michoacán’s lower-class rural people can be roughly split into five social groups according to their relationship to the land they tilled. Hacienda laborers (peones) worked for pay in cash or kind. Sharecroppers (medieros or tercieros) worked in less favorable conditions on hacienda lands. Both groups depended to a greater or lesser extent on the goodwill of the hacendado for their livelihood. A number of indigenous communities whose members were known as comuneros still held their land in common—a holdover from colonial times. Mestizo smallholders of modest means who did not need to augment their income by working for others were typically known as rancheros. The final group comprised inhabitants of “free” villages, most often referred to by the generic term campesinos. This group encompassed both mestizo and indigenous smallholders and landless peasants, some of whom were comuneros who had lost most or all village lands, and many of whom supplemented their income by laboring on haciendas.


Arnulfo Embriz Osorio, La Liga de Comunidades y Sindicatos Agraristas de Michoacán: práctica político-social, 1919-1929 (Mexico City: Centro de Estudios Históricos del Agrarismo en México, 1984), 43-72; Alvaro Ochoa Serrano, Los agraristas de Atacheo (Zamora: El Colegio de Michoacán, 1989), 47-62; and Jennie Purnell, “With All Due Respect: Popular Resistance to the Privatization of Communal Lands in Nineteenth-Century Michoacán,” Latin American Research Review (forthcoming).


Particularly important contributions to this re-evaluation of postrevolutionary politics, in addition to those cited further below, are Luis González, Historia de la Revolución Mexicana, vol. 14: Los artífices del cardenisnto (Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 1979); Jean Meyer, La Cristiada, 3 vols., trans. Aurelio Garzón del Camino (Mexico City: Siglo Veintiuno, 1977); and several contributions in D. A. Brading, ed., Caudillo and Peasant in the Mexican Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1980).


Frans J. Schryer, “Village Factionalism and Class Conflict in Peasant Communities,” Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 12 (1975): 298. For a closer examination of this dynamic, see his The Rancheros of Picaflores: The History of a Peasant Bourgeoisie in Twentieth-Century Mexico (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1980), 76-92. See also Ann L. Craig, The First Agraristas: An Oral History of a Mexican Reform Movement (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1983).


Frank Tannenbaum, The Mexican Agrarian Revolution (New York: MacMillan, 1929), 320-21. This is, of course, only one component of Tannenbaum’s broader conception of the Mexican Revolution and its aftermath.


On Veracruz, see Romana Falcón El agrarismo en Veracruz: la etapa radical (1920-1933) (Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 1977), 95-127; and Heather Fowler-Salamini, Agrarian Radicalism in Veracruz, 1920-38 (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1977), 108-40. On Yucatán, see Ben W. Fallaw, “Peasants, Caciques, and Camarillas: Rural Politics and State Formation in Yucatán, 1924-1940” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Chicago, 1995), 48-65; and Gilbert M. Joseph, Revolution from Without: Yucatán, Mexico, and the United States, 1880-1924 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982), 263-87.


Important recent contributions in this spirit include Adrian A. Bantjes, “Burning Saints, Molding Minds: Iconoclasm, Civic Ritual, and the Failed Cultural Revolution,” in Rituals of Rule, Rituals of Resistance: Public Celebrations and Popular Culture in Mexico, eds. William H. Beezley, Cheryl English Martin, and William E. French (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1994); Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, México profundo: una civilización negada, 2d ed. (Mexico City: Grijalbo, 1989); and Alan Knight, “Popular Culture and the Revolutionary State in Mexico, 1910-1940,” HAHR 74 (1994).


Marjorie Becker, Setting the Virgin on Fire: Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán Peasants, and the Redemption of the Mexican Revolution (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1995), 4, 5, 157.


Ibid., 136.


Peter F. Guardino, Peasants, Politics, and the Formation of Mexico’s National State: Guerrero, 1800-1857 (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1996); Florencia E. Mallon, Peasant and Nation: The Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1995); and Guy P. C. Thomson, “Bulwarks of Patriotic Liberalism: The National Guard, Philharmonic Corps and Patriotic Juntas in Mexico, 1847-88,” Journal of Latin American Studies 22 (1990).


Mary Kay Vaughan, Cultural Politics in Revolution: Teachers, Peasants, and Schools in Mexico, 1930-1940 (Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press, 1997); and Allen Wells and Gilbert M. Joseph, Summer of Discontent, Seasons of Upheaval: Elite Politics and Rural Insurgency in Yucatán, 1876-1915 (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1996). Likewise, many of the contributors (including Marjorie Becker) in Gilbert M. Joseph and Daniel Nugent, eds., Everyday Forms of State Formation: Revolution and the Negotiation of Rule in Modern Mexico (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1994) demonstrate how popular-class actors found creative ways to collaborate with the state.


A detailed analysis of why Michoacán’s rural classes did not rebel in the decade of 1910 lies beyond the scope of this essay. Briefly, however, three key factors impeded widespread peasant rebellion. First, most villages located outside of economically desirable districts survived the nineteenth century with their lands mostly intact; those villages that did suffer from unrestrained dispossession were too widely scattered and politically fragmented to coordinate a mass revolt. Second, organized, militant Catholicism flourished in western Mexico, and many parish priests used their moral authority to discourage peasants from rebelling. And finally, since neither Zapata’s nor Villa’s armies entered Michoacán and threatened hacendados’ lives and lands, most landowners remained in the state to sustain personal links with field hands and to raise hacienda militias and discourage rural troublemaking.


Interviews with Rafaela Pichardo, Chichimequillas, 5 Mar. 1995; and with Trinidad Vega Villa, Atacheo, 1 May 1995. See also, Salvador Sotelo Arévalo, Historia de mi vida: autobiografía y memorias de un maestro rural en México, 1904-1965 (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Estudios Históricos de la Revolución Mexicana, 1996), 25-27.


In the case of Tiríndaro, the Díaz government declared peasant communal lands to be vacant (baldío), then sold them to entrepreneurs; unsatisfied with the acreage they had gained that way, landowners slowly invaded ever more peasant lands. See the “Informe” of the Comisión Local Agraria, Morelia, 26 Mar. 1924, AHPEM-A, caja 224, exp. 2. For Chilchota, see Jesús Alvarez and Josefa Herra to Adolfo de la Huerta, Guadalajara, 11 June 1920; and Alvarez to Alvaro Obregón, Guadalajara, 31 Dec. 1920; both in AGN-DGG, A.2.71-21. For Taretan, see various documents in AHPEM-A, caja 203, exp. 8.


For Taretan, see Los indígenas de Taretan to Gobernador de Michoacán, Taretan, 21 May 1920, AHPEM-A, caja 203, exp. 8. For Atacheo, see Sidronio Sánchez Pineda to Juez del Distrito, Morelia, 2 June 1924, AHPEM-A, caja 223, exp. 9; and Ochoa Serrano, Agraristas de Atacheo, 77-82.


Paul Friedrich, Agrarian Revolt in a Mexican Village (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1977), 43-56.


Los indígenas de Taretan to Gobernador de Michoacán, Taretan, 21 May 1920, AHPEM-A, caja 203, exp. 8.


Manuel Tercero to Juez de la Primera Instancia, Tingambato, 9 Mar. 1922, AHPEM-A, caja 212, exp. 27.


Purnell, “With All Due Respect.”


Ralph L. Beals, Cherán: A Sierra Tarascan Village (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1946), 107-8; and Jennie Purnell, “The Politics of Identity: Cristeros and Agraristas in Revolutionary Michoacán” (Ph.D. diss., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1993), 331-35.


Untided list of patrons of the “Banda de Obreros San Pedro,” FJM, tomo 5, doc. 133; El Heraldo de Michoacán (Morelia), 22 Sept. 1920, p. 1; and Gerardo Sánchez Díaz, “El Partido Socialista Michoacano, 1917-1922,” in Jornadas de Historia de Occidente, VII Jornadas de Historia de Occidente: Francisco J. Múgica (Jiquilpan de Juárez, Michoacán: Centro de Estudios de la Revolución Mexicana “Lázaro Cárdenas,” 1985).


On villagers’ antipathy for outsiders, see, for example, Jesús Milanez to Departamento de Educación Rural, Tzintzuntzan, 7 Dec. 1922, AHSEP, caja 747, exp. 50.


Ricardo Adalid to Francisco Múgica, location unknown, 4 Sept. 1920, FJM, tomo 5, doc. 125.


On Múgica’s revolutionary project, see Christopher R. Boyer, “The Cultural Politics of Agrarismo: Agrarian Revolt, Village Revolutionaries, and State-Formation in Michoacán, Mexico,” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Chicago, 1997), chap. 2; and Martín Sánchez Rodríguez, Grupos de poder y centralización política en México: el caso Michoacán, 1920-1924 (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Estudios Históricos de la Revolución Mexicana, 1994), chaps. 7-9.


“Convenio” between the Secretaría de Educación Pública and the state of Michoacán, Mexico City, 1922, cited in Cayetano Reyes García, Política educativa y realidad escolar en Michoacán: 1921-1924 (Zamora: El Colegio de Michoacán, 1993), 33. See similar sentiments in the “Informe” of José Guadalupe Nájera to Secretaría de Educación Pública, Morelia, 18 Jan. 1926, AHSEP, caja 4,659, exp. 6.


El Cruzado (Zamora), 5 June 1921, p. 1. For similar depictions of socialism, see Revista Eclesiástica de la Diócesis de Zamora (Zamora), Jan. 1920, p. 71, and Apr. 1920, p. 141.


On the protest march, see especially La Lucha (Morelia), 15, 18, and 20 May 1921. On relations with Obregón, see Sánchez Rodríguez, Grupos de poder, 213-29.


“Informe” of Pablo Zamora, Santiago Conguripo, 6 May 1921, AHPEM-A, caja 208, exp. 11.


A number of scholars from different traditions have explained how collective participation in violence can form group cultural identity. William H. McNeill uses the term “muscular bonding” to describe the experience of organized violence, dance, military drill, and choreographed ritual. Renato Rosaldo argues that interfamily feuds structured most other social processes in Ilongot society, becoming its cultural touchstone. And Klaus Theweleit writes of how protofascist paramilitary units’ violent confrontation with the feminized, socialist “other” led to the construction of a new set of cultural boundaries and identities in the minds of interwar German Friekorps members. See William H. McNeill, Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1995), 9-10; Renato Rosaldo, Ilongot Headhunting, 1883-1974: A Study in Society and History (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1980), 61-79; and Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies, 2 vols., trans. Stephen Conway (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1987-89), 2:155-62.


Explaining the proclivity for violence of the agrarista “princes” who dominated the village of Naranja in the postrevolutionary period, Paul Friedrich noted “their typically fatherless boyhood, their extreme physical deprivation during infancy and childhood, their witnessing of violence during maturation and getting drawn into it, and, above all, the models and exemplars of violence in the adult world”; see his The Princes of Naranja: An Essay in Anthrohistorical Method (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1986), 182.


Hernández Díaz, “Política agraria,” 129.


Village militias had played essentially the same integrative role in other parts of Mexico in the nineteenth century. See Mallon, Peasant and Nation, 65 - 86; and Thomson, “Bulwarks.”


Francisco Fabian and Leonardo García to Manuel Fulcheri y Pietra Santa, Cherán, 20 Feb. 1933, ACZ, exp. “Cherán 29-34.”


Miguel A. Quintero to Francisco Múgica, Puruándiro, 30 May 1921, FJM, tomo 6, doc. 130.


Francisco Mágica to Secretaría de Gobernación, Mixcoac, 31 Mar. 1922, AGN-DGG, C.2.51-31.


For examples of federal officers’ negative attitudes toward home guards, see Gen. Alfredo C. García to Francisco Múgica, Morelia, reproduced in La Lucha, 17 May 1921, p. 2; and a series of telegrams between Múgica and García, Feb.-Mar. 1921, FJM, tomo 8, doc. 2. For the disarming of Panindícuaro’s home guard, see “Informe” of Raymundo Cabellero, Panindícuaro, 23 Feb. 1922, AHPEM-A, caja 212, exp. 16.


Primo Tapia et al. to Francisco Múgica, Naranja, 9 Nov. 1921, FJM, tomo 6, doc. 33; M. C. Rolland to Múgica, Morelia, 9 Nov. 1921, FJM, doc. suelta, caja 13, exp. 4260; and Friedrich, Agrarian Revolt, 90-92.


Detailed antecedents of the ejido creation can be found in the amparo granted to María Ortiz Lazcano, 30 Dec. 1922; and in the “Informe” of Bruno Valdez, Morelia, 22 Dec. 1922; both in AHPEM-A, caja 211, exp. 23.


“Informe” of José Murillo, Morelia, 14 Feb. 1921, AGN-DGG, B.2.71-126; and interview with Fortuno Saucedo Tinaco, Opopeo, 20 May 1995.


Sidronio Sánchez Pineda to Secretaría de Gobernación, Morelia, 26 Jan. 1923, AGN-DGG, C.2.71-391.


Vecinos de Opopeo to Secretaría de Gobernación, Opopeo, 3 Oct. 1926, AGN-DGG, 2.342 (13)-4.


Interviews with Fortuno Saucedo Tinaco, Opopeo, 20 May 1995; and with Isidoro Olivera, Casas Blancas, 20 May 1995.


Secretario de Gobernación to Francisco Aguilar, Morelia, 4 May 1922, FJM, anexo 9, doc. 398.


See various documents in AHPEM-A caja 203, exp. 27.


María del Refugio García to Francisco Múgica, Zitácuaro, 25 Aug. 1921, FJM, doc. suelta, caja 13, exp. 4145; and Mariano Valdés to Múgica, Zitácuaro, 9 Nov. 1921, FJM doc. suelta, caja 13, exp. 4243.


For the villagers’ ongoing aggressiveness, see the writ of amparo brought by Francisco Rodríguez Hernández, 16 Dec. 1924, AHPEM-A caja 335. For the final disposition of the dam, see El Baluarte (Zitácuaro), 21 Mar. 1926; and ASRA, exp. “Chichimequillas.”


Alvaro Obregón to Francisco Múgica, Mexico City, 8 Nov. 1921, FJM, tomo 7, doc. 83. See also Heather Fowler-Salamini, “Revolutionary Caudillos in the 1920s: Francisco Múgica and Adalberto Tejeda,” in Brading, Caudillo and Peasant, 179-81.


On the strike, see various documents in AHPEM-A caja 218, exp. 3. On the assassination, see AHPEM-A, caja 212, exp. 14; and Fidelmón López et al. to Francisco Múgica, Panindícuaro, 7 Feb. 1921, FJM, tomo 8, doc. 4.


For Múgica’s own rendering of these events, see “Renuncia de Francisco J. Múgica,” Morelia, 9 Mar. 1922, FJM, tomo 10, doc. 1.


For example, Daniel Coyt to Francisco Múgica, Uruapan, 11 Apr. 1922, FJM, doc. suelta, caja 14, exp. 4419; “Memorandum que tiene, en síntesis, la conducta del general Enrique Estrada ” (undated; perhaps written by Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama), FJM, doc. suelta, caja 13, exp. 4217; and Sotero Cuevas et al. to Alvaro Obregón, Morelia, 13 Apr. 1922, FJM, anexo 9, doc. 354.


Presidente Municipal to Secretaría de Gobernación, Morelia, 8 Sept. 1922, AMM, caja 73, exp. 9; for changing the personnel of home guards, see, for example, “Escrito” of Francisco C. González, Zitácuaro, 26 Feb. 1923, AHPEM-A caja 221, exp. 26.


Primo Tapia was killed in April 1926 by hacienda guardsmen. For an in-depth treatment of Tapia’s movement and demise, see Apolinar Martínez Múgica, Primo Tapia: semblanza de un revolucionario michoacano, 2d ed. (Mexico City: El Libro Perfecto, 1946), 214-22.


Hernández Díaz, “Política agraria,” 134-38.


Reyes García, Política educativa, 32-47.


For a revealing consideration of teachers’ insertion into local politics in a situation like this, see the case of Tecamachalco, Puebla, discussed in Vaughan, Cultural Politics, 77–105.


Joaquín L. Calvente, “Memorial dirigido a la delegación ” Aquila, 2 Apr. 1923, AHSEP, caja 673, exp. 96.


Becker, Virgin, 50-55; Mary Kay Vaughan, The State, Education, and Social Class in Mexico, 1880-1928 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois Univ. Press, 1982), 178-89.


José Gallardo to Profesor Inspector de la 5a Zona, La Mohonera, 3 Aug. 1930, AHSEP, caja 7200, exp. 9.


On the issue of whom the villagers could turn to for help with their correspondence, see interview with Rafaela Pichardo, Chichimequillas, 5 Mar. 1995. For an example of a pro-land reform priest in Atacheo, see Sotelo Arévalo, Historia de mi vida, 30–35.


Interview with Eliseo Carmona García, Nicolás Romero, 9 Mar. 1995.


Quoted in Salvador Novo, Jalisco-Michoacán (Guadalajara: Secretaría de Cultura de Jalisco, 1992), 49. See also Friedrich, Princes, particularly pp. 89-114 and 135-38; and articles by Jesús Tapia Santamaría, Pablo E. Vargas González, and Jorge Zepeda Patterson, in Intermediación social y procesos políticos en Michoacán, ed. Jesús Tapia Santamaría (Zamora: El Colegio de Michoacán, 1992).


For example, Sotelo Arévalo, Historia de mi vida, 47-69; and “Informe” of Evangelina Rodríguez Carbajal, Zitácuaro, 15 June 1925, AHSEP, caja 7264, exp. 1.


Clifford Geertz, Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1980), 102.


As Paul Connerton argues in How Societies Remember (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989), 3-4, “images of the past and recollected knowledge of the past are conveyed and sustained by (more or less ritual) performances.” For the ways in which bodily participation in ritual helps to structure cultural identity, see also Paul Stoller, Embodying Colonial Memories: Spirit Possession, Power, and the Hauka in West Africa (New York: Routledge, 1995); and Michael Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses (New York: Routledge, 1993).


Comité Diocesano to Presidente Municipal, Zamora, 6 Aug. 1921; and poster for 1921 fiestas patrias, Zamora, both in AMZ-G, 1921, exp. 38. Not incidentally, native son Agustín de Iturbide was the darling of the Catholic right wing in Michoacán; see, for example, Lic. Rafael Ruiz to Miguel Palomar y Vizcarra, Zamora, 18 Oct. 1920, MPV, caja 3, exp. 20, doc. 1482; various articles in the Catholic Ciencia y Letras (Morelia) Sept, and Nov. 1926; and Meyer, Cristiada, 1: 65-70.


No Catholic groups appear in programs for the fiestas patrias at the AMZ or AMM for the rest of the 1923-34 period.


This description is derived from posters announcing fiestas patrias celebrations or other descriptions of them. See various files in AMZ-G, including 1920, exp. 26; 1924, exp. 32; and 1928, exp. 15. See also AMM, caja 64, exp. 9; and caja 97, exp. 46.


Poster for the 1920 fiestas patrias, Morelia, AMM, caja 61, exp. 27.


Various documents in AMZ-G, 1926, exp. 13.


For example, villages such as El Ahuacate and San Miguel el Alto never held commemorations until 1924, when teachers organized them. See “Informe” of Evangelina Rodríguez, Zitácuaro, 30 Sept. 1924, AHSEP, caja 7264, exp. 3; and Aurelio Yáñez to Departamento de Educación Federal, Morelia, 17 Sept. 1927, AHSEP, caja 7221, exp. 24.


“Informe” of Ocampo N. Bolaños, Ziracuaretiro, 1 Mar. 1925, AHSEP caja 7264, exp. 1.


See, respectively, the writ of amparo brought by Juan Betancourt, 21 Sept. 1926, AHPEM-A, caja 249; and Luis García to Partido Agrarista Zamorana, Zamora, 1 May 1925, AMZ-G, 1925, exp. 5.


See, respectively, “Informe” of José Guadalupe Nájera, Morelia, 20 June 1925, AHSEP, caja 7264, exp. 1; Ariel (Morelia) July-Aug., 1926, p. 18; and Liga Feminista de Naranja to Secretaría de Gobernación, Naranja, n.d. 1924, AGN-DGG E.2.79-58. The Naranja writers referred to the failed 1923-24 rebellion led by Adolfo de la Huerta, whose leader in Michoacán, Enrique Estrada, the women accused their neighbors of having helped.


Poster entitled “A los vecinos de la Ranchería Laguna Verde,” Laguna Verde, 15 May 1925, AHSEP, caja 7264, exp. 1; and Pbro. J. de Jesús Arroyo to Salvador Martínez, Jiquilpan, 3 Dec. 1930, ACZ, exp. “Jiquilpan 29-30.”


See, for example, José Guadalupe Nájera to Director de Educación Rural, Morelia, 1 Sept. 1926, AHSEP, caja 7212, exp. 29.


See, for example, the description of the Feast of the Miraculous Christ in Carl Lumholtz, Unknown Mexico: Explorations in the Sierra Madre and Other Regions, 1890-1898, 2 vols. (New York: Dover, 1987), 2:378-80. That the structure of the festival remained essentially the same during the postrevolutionary period is attested by the description contained in Secretario de la Mitra to Pbro. Francisco Garnica, Zamora, 9 Sept. 1929, ACZ, exp. “Uruapan 29-30.”


In addition to sources on Opopeo and Chichimequillas cited above, see El Baluarte, 17 Mar. 1926; and interview with Isidoro Olivera, Casas Blancas, 20 May 1995.


M. Sipriano and Jesús Magaña to Manuel Fulcheri y Pietra Santa, n.d. (ca. July, 1929), ACZ, exp. “Taretan VII-1929-V-1936.”


Paul Friedrich, “Revolutionary Politics and Communal Ritual,” in Political Anthropology, eds. Marc J. Schwartz, Victor W. Turner, and Arthur Tuden (Chicago: Aldine, 1966), 208.


For dress and dance, see Novo, Jalisco-Michoacán, 49; for the procession, see interview with Mons. Francisco Valencia Ayala, Jacona, 4 May 1995.


Poster entitled “Enérgica y viril protesta que formulan las comunidades agraristas ” Chilchota, 14 Mar. 1925, AGN-DGG, E2.81.2-2; poster entitled “Una escuela rural bien organizada,” Morelia, Nov. 1925, in papers of Evangelina Rodríguez Carbajal in the possession of Samuel Ruiz Madrigal, Zitácuaro; and Vecinos de Atacheo to Presidente Municipal, Atacheo, 7 July 1927, AMZ-J, 1927, exp. 4 (emphasis in original deleted).


Severo Espinosa and Félix Espinosa to Secretaría de Gobernación, Tiríndaro, 14 Sept. 1923, AGN-DGG, D.2.71-773.


For example, Vecinos de Villa Jiménez to Alvaro Obregón, Villa Jiménez, 8 June 1924, AGN-DGG, E.2.71-213; and Vecinos de Tenencia Jesús Huiramba to Liga de Comunidades y Sindicatos Agraristas de Michoacán, Jesús Huiramba, 12 Apr. 1928, AMM, caja 81, exp. 54.


Alma Bohemia (Zamora), 11 Apr. 1926, p. 5.


On revolutionary ideology of this sort, see especially Victor Díaz Arciniega, Querella par la cultura “revolucionaria” (1925) (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1989), 92 – 96; and John Mason Hart, Revolutionary Mexico: The Coming and Process of the Mexican Revolution (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1987), 327-47.


J. Carmen Alvarado to Plutarco Elías Calles, Churumuco, 31 May 1925, AGN-DGG, F.2.81-72.


Mons. Leopoldo Lara y Torres, “Discurso pronunciado el día 30 de octubre de 1923,” in Leopoldo Lara y Torres, Documentos para la historia de la persecución religiosa en México, 2d ed. (Mexico City: Ed. Jus, 1972), 44.


“Instrucción a los sacerdotes de la Arquidiócesis de Michoacán,” Boletín Eclesiástico de la Arquidiócesis de Michoacán (Morelia) 4, no. 4 (1926): 99.


For a review of events leading up to the outbreak of the cristero revolt, see Meyer, Cristiada, 2:137-299.


El Universal Gráfico (Mexico City), 18 Jan. 1927, p. 2.


On indigenous communities, see Friedrich, “Revolutionary Politics”; and Purnell, “Politics of Identity.” On a mestizo ranchero community, see Luis González, Pueblo en vilo: microhistoria de San José de Gracia (Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 1968).


Interview with J. Trinidad Coronel Sosa, Coatepec, 10 Mar. 1995.


See Coronel’s comments at the beginning of this essay.


Meyer, Cristiada, 3:83.


Vecinos del rancho San Rafael de Atapan to Departamento de Educación Rural, San Rafael, 2 Feb. 1928, AHSEP, caja 7211, exp. 9.


“Circular 27/6” 24 June 1929, AMZ-PG, 1929, exp. 1.


Interview with José de la Cruz, Zurumútaro, 22 May 1995.


Purnell, “Politics of Identity,” 266-68.


Simón Cortés, an agrarista commander-cum-cristero of Nocupétaro, is said to have rebelled when the chief of a neighboring home guard insulted him, although his reasons may well have been more complex. See “Testimonio del jefe de la defensa civil de Nocupétaro” 1 Aug. 1928, AHPEM-A, caja 266, exp. 11. Home guards also wavered in Tinaco and Pichátaro; see Francisco Guardián to Enrique Ramírez, Cherán, 15 Jan. 1928, AHPEM-R, caja 2, exp. 12; and “Informe Confidencial” of Rafael Ordorica, Zamora, 4 May 1929, AMZ-G, 1929, exp. 2.


Presidente Municipal to Presidente Municipal de Zamora, Tangancícuaro, 1 Aug. 1927, AMZ-PG, 1927, exp. 1.


Interview with Jesús Negrete, Atacheo, 21 Mar. 1995.


Undated “Informe” (ca. Mar. 1928), AMZ-PG, 1928, exp. 2. On lengthy agrarista campaigns, see interviews with J. Trinidad Coronel Sosa, Coatepec, 10 Mar. 1995; and José de la Cruz, Zurumútaro, 22 May 1995.


This is an estimate based on Meyer, Cristiada, 3:260-64.


Interview with J. Trinidad Coronel Sosa, Coatepec, 10 Mar. 1995; “Informe” of Severino Terrazas, San Ramón, 18 Mar. 1926, AHPEM-A, caja 252, exp. 15; and “Semblanzas ejemplares: José Sánchez del Río,” unpublished manuscript, ca. 1934, MPV, caja 62, exp. 515.


Interview with Trinidad Vega Villa, Atacheo, 1 May 1995. For other examples of the destruction of religious images, see Agente del Ministerio Público transcribed to Secretaría de Educación Pública, Morelia, 14 Dec. 1927, AGN-DGG, 2.342 (13)-1; and Darío Pérez to Francisco Múgica, 31 May 1921, Panindícuaro, FJM, doc. suelta, caja 12, exp. 3898. For a careful consideration of iconoclasm following the Cristiada, see Marjorie Becker, “Torching La Purísima, Dancing at the Altar: The Construction of Revolutionary Hegemony in Michoacán, 1934–1940,” in Joseph and Nugent, Everyday Forms.


“La mayoría de los vecinos de Ichán” to Emilio Portes Gil, Ichán, 5 Jan. 1932, AGN-DGG, 2.340 (13)-51; and unsigned document “de rodillas y con lágrimas en los ojos …,” Charapan, 28 June 1931, ACZ, exp. “Charapan.”


“Biografía Histórica de Salvador Sotelo,” unfinished handwritten manuscript in the possession of Adonaí Sotelo, Ario Santa Mónica; and Andrea Molina et al. to Secretaría de Gobernación, Urén, 6 June 1931, AGN-DGG, 2.340 (13)-52.


See, for example, Francisco Guardián to Enrique Ramírez, Cherán, 15 Jan. 1928, AHPEM-R, caja 2, exp. 12; anonymous letter dated in Tacámbaro and printed in Excelsior (Mexico City), 14 July 1927, p. 3; and Comité Agrario de Nueva Italia to Presidente de la República, Nueva Italia, 10 Dec. 1932, AGN-DGG, 2.343 (13)-6.


On AWOL federal troops, see the documentation on army deserters in AMZ-PG, 1927, exp. 2; AMZ-PG, 1928, exp. 3; and AMZ-PG, 1929, exp. 3. See also Meyer, Cristiada, 3:7.


Joaquín G. Castellanos to Adalberto Tejeda, Guarachita, 11 July 1927, AGN-DGG, 2.317.4 (13)-4.


In this sense, postrevolutionary Michoacán differed radically from colonial India as described in Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Marxism and Interpretation of Culture, eds. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1988).


For a fuller discussion, see Boyer, “Cultural Politics of Agrarismo,” chaps. 5 and 6.


Jeffrey W. Rubin, “Decentering the Regime: Culture and Regional Politics in Mexico,” Latin American Research Review 31, no. 3 (1996): 86.