For the anniversary of the death of Emiliano Zapata on April 10, 1919, I repost this review of Mexico: The Frozen Revolution (1971), which gives an excellent overview of the Mexican Revolution, and analysis of its aftermath. I originally wrote this documentary film review in 2010 for the Monkey Smashes Heaven blog under the pen name Siglo. The blog subsumed into another organization which I and others split from and are no longer part of. I have updated it from the original to correct spelling and grammar, clean up unnecessary verbiage and take out dogmatic language.
Mexico: The Frozen Revolution
Directed by Raymundo Gleyzer, 1971
The documentary Mexico: The Frozen Revolution was directed by Raymundo Gleyzer in 1971. Gleyzer was a documentary filmmaker from Argentina who was involved with Cine de la Base, a group committed to bring revolutionary films to the people. In 1976 Gleyzer was kidnapped and killed by the fascist military regime in Argentina during the Dirty War. The Dirty War aimed to physically annihilate leftists and popular movements andclaimed the lives of over 30,000 Argentinians. The film was barely recovered along with his other films and luckily today it survives. Mexico: The Frozen Revolution looks at the history of the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910, and how it fell short of its goals. The film looks at how the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution affected the people in the then present time, . still striving for justice through revolutionary social change.
The film opens with footage of the 1970 presidential campaign in Mexico, introducing Luis Echeverria, candidate of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. It shows the cynical manipulation of the memory of La Revolucion by the ruling party that came out of the revolution. Echeverria is shown echoing the themes and slogans of the revolution in his campaign speeches and public gatherings while promoting the business as usual politics of the PRI, invoking the masses to not struggle for gains but only to work harder. Yet it will not matter, for Echeverria had nothing to worry about in the campaign. The PRI candidate up to then has won every election, with at least 85 percent of the official vote. It obtains its office by whatever means are necessary not short of outright fraud.
This film then presents the history of the Mexican Revolution. It mixes rare newsreel footage from the period with interviews of veteran soldiers in the Revolution to tell briefly the rich history of this struggle. It cost the lives of 1 million people, and had lasting effects on the history of Mexico. The Mexican Revolution, one of the first major social revolts of the 20th century, has its roots in 1876 with the rise of dictator Porfiaro Diaz in a 4-decade rule known as the Porfiriato. Diaz was the first to open the nation of Mexico to direct United States imperial influence, and reduced it to semi-colony of the U.S. It also led to vast inequality, for in 1910, 1 percent of the population owned 97 percent of the land. These antagonistic contradictions came to a head that year.
Class Dimensions of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1919)
This revolution was waged by different class forces, taking the form of armed conflict. Each of the sides took on different generals and other leaders. Popular forces led by Madero overthrew Diaz in 1911, bringing in a more reformist era. But this era was short-lived, for as the film explains there was no universal philosophy to unite the vastly different forces that took power. Madero fell in 1913 to counter-revolutionary forces of the wealthy classes. They consolidated their power through the military dictatorship led by Diaz-era general, Victoriano Huerta. The closest to a progressive unifying platform for the revolutionary forces was offered by the Agrarians in the south led by Emiliano Zapata. The resulting Plan de Ayala they presented was able to rally popular forces to a cause of “bread, land, and justice,” meeting the needs of the oppressed and exploited peoples which were the majority of the population. The revolutionary forces united under this plan to fight a common enemy. These included those led by Pancho Villa in the North. In 1914 both Villa and Zapata’s forces occupied the capitol, taking the seats of power. But as the film stated “spontaneity was not enough to consolidate power”, and the revolution became “stillborn.”
The outcome of the revolution, which officially ended in 1919, became the assassination of Zapata, and the dispersing of revolutionary class forces. For instance, the film mentions an anarchist workers house leading militias that fought against Villa. Many urban workers threw their support to reformist leaders Obregon and Carranza, with Carranza the ultimate victor of the revolution. Carranza took a seemingly middle path on the revolution, appeasing popular classes by co-opting revolutionary slogans, while keeping the wealthy oligarchy’s in power. The new government failed to carry out the promises given to the people who fought the revolution. Land reform was offered on paper, but little concrete was done. Fifty percent of peasants still had no land, and those that legally had land could not benefit from the product of their land and labor. Like most modern revolutions, the Mexican Revolution was ultimately one of class struggle. These class forces were divided among each other and had no common program to offer. This lack of a program led to the upper classes gaining power, and the lives of the poor peoples remaining the same as before.
In another context, in observing the revolutionary situation in China, Mao Zedong wrote of peasant revolts that previously occurred in that country. Oftentimes the goals of those revolutions was often no more than the overthrow of corrupt landlords and not changing the system that produced the landlords. Corrupt landlords were overthrown and land changed hands, but new ones emerged that would continue the exploitation and inequalities. It was not enough to change positions of power, revolutionaries needed to change the structures of power itself, economically as well as politically. Overthrowing individuals and not systems led to those oppressive systems continuing in a new form. That is why he warned “never forget class struggle.” In the context of the Mexican Revolution, the failure of revolutionary forces to unite and seize state power resulted in the revolution being co-opted.
The film explores the results of the revolution being stalled. Many interviews are taken with rural campesinos in southern Mexico in the present day then. The failure of land reform from the revolution resulted in extreme poverty for many Mexicans. One man, formerly a slave to his landlord before the Revolution, still works, at more than 70 years old, to prevent from starving to death. A farm worker cutting sisal hemp debates eating less one day so that his children do not die from lack of food. Two of his children died already. Another worker in the state of Chiapas chops wood and carries it on his back for miles to sell in a nearby city. He does this, like others, just to afford food to live another day. The people here are also indigenous, facing additional oppression in the form of colonialism. Families mention experiences at community meetings (organized because no one trusts the White authorities) about disappeared family members and friends, likely by the White landowners who exploit the indigenous peasants. The lives of the masses are of bare subsistence, struggling every day to survive. A medical worker is quoted on the vast hunger and malnutrition happening in Mexico. In contrast, the upper classes are shown as arrogant and corrupt. A descendant of the old landed aristocracy recalls better days because at the present time they have only 14 haciendas where before they had 21. They naively dismiss the idea that there is discontent within Mexico, as they naively dismiss problems of racism “like in the U.S”. While they sit in their shaded patios and profit from the campesinos’ labor, they call the campesinos lazy because they schedule their work to avoid the hot sun in the fields. One truth the oligarchs admit is that their crops are priced by the global market, with the difference being that changes in markets can often mean death for those that depend on work from the land and what it produces. The campesinos are part of the poor and exploited majority in Mexico, who the revolution was fought for, who must not only contend with an exploiter comprador bourgeoisie but also the Amerikan-led capitalist-imperialism. This is similar to other countries in what is known as the Third World
The revolution was hijacked by the oligarchical forces who formed the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. The PRI cunningly uses the symbols of the revolution to legitimate their power, and reduces the revolutionary aims to empty campaign slogans. The new ruling class uses the revolution for their own benefit. The PRI exercised total political control of the country, and dissent is repressed. The film shows the party machine bussing in rural people for their rallies, who have no other choice to go. The film calls their unifying politics the “ideology of the poster,” where campesinos are given posters at the rally of a man they have never met who will be the next government official. One peasant says that all they got from the revolution is a slogan. The new business class became a base of support for the PRI and even some of the urban workers form a labor aristocracy that gets privileges from the corrupt corporatist system that the PRI governs. Unions and workers are channeled through the PRI and even in the May Day rallies they are forbidden to go against the government. They rule through ballot stuffing, voter intimidation, and outright fraud, all of which was an open secret in Mexican politics.
“Left” Opposition of Mexico, Revisionist and Opportunist
The left opposition is divided, underground, and more than often outright opportunist and revisionist. They provide no leadership to the peoples movements. An example in the film is given where the leader of the revisionist Popular Socialist Party (PSP) is interviewed. He explains why they, a self-avowed Marxist Leninist party, put their support behind the PRI candidate based on a supposed alliance with the national bourgeoisie to bring development so that Mexico can resist imperialism. In reality they do nothing to make Mexico independent from imperialism, and only legitimates the current government. It is the same argument given by many a revisionist party in justifying alliances with the comprador bourgeoisie. Instead of being an independent force for the proletariat it in practice becomes another part of the PRI.
PSP shows their revisionism in their analysis of the Tlatelolco massacre in 1968. The PSP leader claims that the students who protested and were killed were pseudo revolutionaries, saying students mentioned Mao and Che in their banners, and he asks “what does Che have to do with revolution in Mexico?” Proletarian revolution has always been about internationalism, and the students in Mexico, as did people around the world, saw their struggles represented by those led by Mao, Che, and Ho Chi Minh, struggles of the Third World rising up against First World colonialism. The students were correct in holding aloft the banners of these leaders, and the PSP like other revisionist parties were irrelevant.
The then Secretary of Interior Echeverria orchestrated the massacre at the Plaza de Tlatelolco, where 400 students were assassinated. Images of the dead students with songs written about the massacre are shown, and the film says the students were “the consciousness of the people,” and the massacre “revealed the rot of the frozen revolution.”
Many things have happened in Mexico since the film was made. The PRI lost their 70 year long grip on power after 2000 and the more right wing National Action Party, or PAN, became the ruling party. Chiapas, one of the most exploited region of Mexico as shown in the film, was the birthplace of the Zapatista movement, pursuing a different strategy than taking state power. There are several other guerrilla groups operating in Mexico to this day, along with several more social movements. For Echeverria, in a last attempt to bring him to justice, was charged with genocide in 2006 for his role in the Tlatelolco massacre, but the charges were dismissed.
Mexico is still plagued by vast inequalities. Mexico remains a comprador state, where Amerikan imperialism still interferes in it, and a comprador bourgeoisie that rules and oppresses the people. With the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution happening in 2010 the ideals and unrealized dreams of the revolution are coming up again for debate. It is also the 200th anniversary of the start of the Mexican War of Independence, and pundits have wondered whether this cycle will bring anything comparable with the two. Revolutionary scientists don’t look to metaphysical explanations like this, but it is clear that the problems Mexico faces must have revolutionary solutions, and as one campesino says in the movie the whole system must be swept away for something new. Those committed to revolution have a duty to study past revolutions in order to understand current potential openings. Mexico The Frozen Revolution is a valuable film to understand the history and politics of Mexico and to look at current events there from a proletarian worldview.