Independence to Revolution

The Mexican Revolution of 1910-1924.

"The Revolution began as a demand for truth and honesty in government, as can be seen from the Plan of San Luis (October 5, 1910.)."

"The revolution has not succeeded in changing our county into a community, or even offering it any hope of becoming one."

Octavio Paz

The first great social revolt of the twentieth century.

“History has the cruel reality of a nightmare, and the grandeur of man consists in his making beautiful and lasting works out of the real substance of that nightmare.”

Octavio Paz

The center arch of the wall contains the Mexican eagle holding a serpent that showed the end of the Aztecs' migration.

Included on the current flag, the eagle also represents a resurgent Mexico with resistance and self-assertion. Above the eagle Rivera painted the leaders of Mexico's independence from Spain: Father Hidalgo, Salvador Allende, and Morelos. On top of them are the leaders of the modern Revolution such as Emiliano Zapata and Carillo Puerto. The hands of Zapata and those of workman holding a banner saying "Tierra y Libertad." The banner allows Rivera to insert his Marxist opinions by encouraging freedom of the people. In this case, Rivera interprets and adjusts the history to suit his views.

Mexican Revolution
Diego Rivera, Mural, Monumental Stairway in National Palace, Mexico City, D.F.

The Aztec calendar stone continues under the under the eagle as a symbol of the ancient civilizations. On one side of the stone is the Aztecs' conqueror Hernan Cortes' hand holding a spear and on the other side the hand of Cuauhetemoc, the last Aztec emperor, holding a sling. The two people are completely opposed to each other but both play essential roles in formation of present day Mexico. In the lower portion of the mural, Rivera contrasts the Spanish enslavement of the Indians and the protection by the Catholic clergy of the Indians. Rivera always chose to exaggerate in favor of his people. His portrayal of ancient Mexico shows a society filled with "peace and harmony, of light and of plenty".

“The moral damage it has caused is incalculable, it has affected profound areas of our existence,”

Paz, p.122.


Perhaps more than any other political event in Latin America, the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) acted as a catalyst for an explosion of artistic and cultural manifestations in the continent, to the extent that it may be argued that modern Latin American art finds its true voice at that point in time.


Madero who initiated the Revolution in 1910 against Diaz, was killed in 1913 by Caranza.

Obregon (Machine guns, Indians (Yaqui), a star general
Caranza            consolidated power

Pancho Villa (cavalry drawn from the peasants of Chihuahua)

Who had defeated
Huerta (no support from US)

Emiliano Zapata (State of Morelos) he advocates that for the peasants who fight with him, that communities take over the land and form their own governments, peasants

Constitutionalists:            Obregon             Caranza

Obregon against Villa
April 6 - May 15, 1915
Huge battle of Solino for the northwestern frontier
38 days Trinidad to Leon (Obregon lost 5,000 men and his arm to Villa) Villa retreated North

May 1, 1915, Caranza takes control of the government dissolved the old federal party and officials
Drafted a radical land reform (no intention of practicing it)

Caranza recognized by the USA, and he then went to war with Zapata

March 9, 1916, Columbus New Mexico attacked by Villa, US cavalry killed, banks robbed.

Pershing sent after Villa, after 11 months—to no avail-- US leaves in 1917.

Feb 5, 1917                        New Constitution adopted
State Control of Natural resources, right of workers to strike.

The revolution caused an enormous inflation, famine in 1917, disease, epidemic and Spanish influenza in 1918, leading to expatriation to US and population decline.

Zapata, who is linked to the land and embodies land reform is attacked by Caranza in order to kill him
Landlords given land by Caranza, despite the Constitution’s support fro agrarian reform

1916, Pablo Gonzales is the General who invaded Morelos and drove out Zapata, at
Tlaltizapan he executed 300 people when PG captured the city.

New Constitution of 1917
By 1917, Approximately 2000 soldiers only remain Zapatistas in Morelos, after warfare

Alvero Obregon and Caranza conspire with Jesus Huerta, to  kill Zapata

Huerta kills Zapata in a ruse by luring Zapata to a truce meeting in Chacamacas

Caranza tried to circumvent Obregon, his general, from becoming president.

Caranza fled to Vera Cruz and was attacked by Obregon

May 21, 1920, Caranza killed by “friendly” rebels who turned on him.

Alvero Obregon becomes president upon Caranza’s execution by rebel elements.

December 1920 – Obregon becomes President (negotiator and balancing agent who consolidates the Mexican Revolution).

  • Obregon  gives Zapatistas the land they had claimed
  • Makes Jose Vasconcelos is the minister of education
  • Orosco and Rivera as artists were promoted to make public art

Adolfo de la Huerta (ally with Villa in Chihuahua)

Ellias Calles is favored by Obregon to run Mexico

July 20, 1923, the landed elites of Chihuahua conspire to kill Pancho Villa

Spring 1924, Obregon crushed de la Huerta’s resistance.

Obregon & Calles ended their conflicts with revolutionary changes supported by their now vanquished enemies.

Several 100,000 died in the upheaval of 1910-1924.

  1. Social revolution
  2. Land labor and education
  3. Reclaimed resources for the nation


It was of course Diego Rivera, along with his compatriots David Alfaro Siquieros and José Clemente Orozco, who broke the dependent links to European culture, helping to create authentic visual aesthetics for Mexico and establishing the profoundly influential, socially conscious Mexican Mural School in the process.


The numbers

The human cost of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) was enormous, but there is little agreement on the magnitude, causes or components of the prolonged social upheaval.  Published census figures for 1910 and 1921 understate the magnitude of the losses because the 1921 count was without doubt the worst conducted in Mexico in the twentieth century.  The “official” death toll from a comparison of crude census figures for these years (15.2 million for the former and 14.3 for the latter) is almost one million, around six percent of the population in 1910.  That estimate of loss triples when the demographic growth of the decade preceding the outbreak of war is added to the equation.

Losses can be decomposed into excess deaths, lost births, epidemics, emigration and census error.  A new demographic method, inverse projection, is used to read the demographic history of Mexico for the decade of revolution from the age and sex structure of the population in the 1930 censuses of Mexico and the United States. 

The best fitting model reveals an undercount in the 1921 census of one million and a total demographic loss from 1910 to 1921 of 2.1 million.  Excess deaths accounted for two-thirds of the missing millions (900 thousand males and 500 thousand females), lost births one-fourth and emigration considerably less than one-tenth of the total (100 thousand male and 75,000 female net persisting emigrant refugees).   

Mexican Revolution of 1810.

Brief Timeline of events:

“the nature of the Spanish state, which’s most notable characteristic was the fact that it was an artificial creation, a political construction in the strictest sense of the word”

Paz, p. 99.

"The Conquest then, whether considered from the native or the Spanish point of view, must be judged as an expression of a will to unity.”

Paz, p. 100.

1910 urban & rural revolts Pancho Villa in Chihuahua, Maliero came to power
1911 tried to disarm the army & agrarian reform stalled
1913 Maliero was killed by Huerta

1914 Huerta took charge without support of Caranza -- the main general & Villa the main rebel or with Zapata.
Wilson dispatched the Fleet to Tampico Caranza, Villa & Zapata oust Huerta
Villa & Zapata later break with Caranza & fight against him & Obregon

1915 Obregon defeats Villa in the north & Zapata (south) USA backs and recognizes the Caranza regime

1916 Pancho Villa incursion into Texas & New Mexico

1917 Caranza tries unity through writing a constitution.

1918 nationalization of oil & gas holdings in Mexico

1919 Treaty of Versailles ended WWI in Eurpoe.

1925 USA troops sent to quell strikes in Panama

1927 Dwight Morrow becomes US ambassador to Mexico

1932 Occupation of Manchuria by Japan

1934 "Good Neighbor" Policy no armed intervention in the affairs of member nations called the OAS or the Organization of American States; OAS.

1935 Rural electrification admin. USA

1938 House "Unamerican Activities Committee" est.




Labyrinth | Site-map | Other Works | Authors | Site-map | home

Octavio Paz | Sydney Mintz | Alfred Crosby | Jamaica Kincaid