He imagined a world without
leaders and states, and stoked a revolutionary firestorm, but
Ricardo Flores Magón’s dreams
have been sidelined by history
Dreams of Freedom:
A Ricardo Flores Magon Reader
Edited by Chaz Bufe and Mitchell Cowen Verter
2005, AK Press
Reviewed by Jay Kerr
RICARDO FLORES MAGON is a name familiar to few beyond the international anarchist movement and often sidelined by conventional history books. Yet from his liberal journalism to the political repression he endured in Mexico to his exile and imprisonment in the US during the anarchist witch-hunt in the years preceding the first world war, Magón’s life is a story of passion, struggle and sacrifice that deserves greater recognition.
In the early period of the Mexican Revolution, he was a leading voice against the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. He was a contemporary of, and even an inspiration for, more notable figures in the Mexican Revolution such as Zapata, Madero and Villa.
Dreams of Freedom: A Ricardo Flores Magón Reader is an important contribution in the broader effort to address this lack of recognition. With more than 300 pages reflecting the numerous social and political issues that were originally covered in newspapers published and distributed across Mexico, the book contains a broad range of Magón’s writing.
From the manifestos that influenced the early rebellions against Díaz to his short stories with overtly anarchist themes written later during his many years of incarceration, Dreams of Freedom reveals Magón as a brilliant journalist with the potential to offer insights to the social activists, writers and revolutionaries of the 21st century.
One of the jewels of this book is the documents of the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM), the party founded by Ricardo and his brother Enrique Flores Magón, along with other activists fighting the dictatorship.
The PLM was influential in the early 1900s in building the rebellion against Díaz, with about 70 party cells springing up across Mexico and gaining the support of notable figures of the period including the first man to gain the presidency after Díaz, Francisco Madero. However, PLM ideas evolved from liberal political reforms to social liberation and a philosophy of anarchist communism. The PLM documents and manifestos reproduced in this collection appeared in the party’s publications that, at a time of increasing oppression of the workers, peasantry and the indigenous population, inspired huge rebellions against the dictatorship paving the way for Mexico’s momentous revolution.
Other articles in Dreams of Freedom tackle issues of feminism, racism and political repression, as well as war, expropriation and philosophy. There are moving accounts of individuals who fought for liberation, clearly written to inspire people to rise up, and engaging articles discussing politics and anarchism aimed at a readership with limited literacy. All the articles in each section are placed chronologically, mirroring Ricardo’s own political development from liberal reformism to revolutionary anarchism.
One of the main criticisms of the book can be levelled against its editors. While Chaz Bufe and Mitchell Cowen Verter have done an excellent job both in selecting and translating the works, they do not provide any commentary that contextualises the historic events these articles speak of. There is nothing in the way of an introduction to individual sections to provide a background to the pieces or the context in which they were written. However, Dreams of Freedom does open with an excellent biographical sketch of Ricardo Flores Magón’s life, that helps to provide the reader with some understanding of the events that inspired the original works.
Criticisms aside, this remains a quality read. The Ricardo Flores Magón Reader is a fascinating collection of the work of a much maligned historic figure; the biographical sketch encourages you to seek out a fuller biography; and the articles will inspire those who wish to learn more about the views expressed.
Student rebel, liberal reformer, prisoner of a tyrannical regime, anarchist propagandist and voice of the oppressed, Magón led the sort of life that inspires romantic stories about revolutionary heroes. He lived to see the downfall of his original adversary, Díaz, but never saw his dreams of a liberated society materialise.
In his last days he said of himself, “My former comrades are practical men while I am only a dreamer … while they have counted dollars I have spent time counting the stars. I would like to make a man out of each human animal; they, more practical, have made an animal out of each man and have made themselves the pastors of the flock. Nevertheless, I prefer to be a dreamer than a practical man.”
This dreamer imagined a Mexico and a world without leaders, authority, government and the state. Nearly a century later, humanity is still waiting – but the dream still exists.