Viva Alan Knight

W.G. Runciman

  • The Mexican Revolution. Vol. I: Porfirians, Liberals and Revolutionaries by Alan Knight
    Cambridge, 620 pp, £37.50, April 1986, ISBN 0 521 24475 7
  • The Mexican Revolution. Vol. II: Counter-Revolution and Reconstruction by Alan Knight
    Cambridge, 679 pp, £37.50, April 1986, ISBN 0 521 26651 3
  • Mexico: Inside the Volcano by Alan Riding
    Tauris, 401 pp, £19.50, July 1987, ISBN 1 85043 042 X

The Mexican Revolution of 1910 to 1920 defies all stereotypes. It had no vanguard party and no coherent ideology. It owed almost nothing to external influences. It only started because of the gratuitous folly of Porfirio Diaz, whose dictatorial rule had lasted unchallenged since 1876, in failing to make effective arrangements for the succession to himself. Its initial protagonist, Francisco Madero, was as unlikely a revolutionist as it would be possible to conceive – the diminutive, squeaky-voiced theosophist eldest son of a rich landed family whose own grandfather likened his defiance of Diaz to ‘a microbe’s challenge to an elephant’. Its ultimate victors were hardly more sympathetic to the hopes and wishes of those who had borne the brunt of the fighting than Diaz himself. It ended by pitting urban workers in half-hearted alliance with bourgeois constitutionalists against an equally half-hearted alliance of Northern cow-boys and Southern peasants led in the one case by a homicidal, teetotal, illiterate ex-cattle rustler (Pancho Villa) and in the other by a dandified, horse-loving, ex-municipal village president (Emiliano Zapata). It was characterised throughout by a quite astonishing degree of duplicity, cynicism, self-seeking, and uninhibited recourse to violence. Indeed, it so often appears to be no more than a protracted slugging-match between rival caudillos that it can be (and has been) questioned whether it should be called a revolution at all.

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