Ricardo Flores Magón: Anarchism and the Mexican Revolution

Ricardo Flores Magón's political stance was determined by his anarchist and socialist readings, and it was in anarchism, a political movement that he embraced throughout his life, where he would find the basis of his thought and action.

Ricardo Flores Magón: Anarchism and the Mexican Revolution
Ricardo Flores Magón, forerunner of the Mexican Revolution. Image and text: Cultura

In 1892, sixteen years after the first time Porfirio Díaz became president of Mexico, students from the National Preparatory School held a demonstration against his re-election since Díaz was seeking to occupy the presidency for the third consecutive time. Among the demonstrators, who were taken prisoner in the National Palace, was Ricardo Flores Magón, who by then was between 19 and 20 years old, a young age in which he showed a deep discontent and nonconformity with the already configured Porfirian machinery.

Ricardo Flores Magón, born in Eloxochitlán, Oaxaca, and whose parents were Margarita Magón and Teodoro Flores -who since his youth fought in different wars that marked the course of the country, such as the American intervention in Mexico and the Reform War- arrived in Mexico City at a young age accompanied by his mother and his brothers Jesús and Enrique. In the capital, he attended the National Superior Primary School Number 1 and studied at the National Preparatory School to later enter the National School of Jurisprudence, where he remained for only three years, as he abandoned it to concentrate his energies on the fight against the dictatorship.

Today Ricardo Flores Magón is considered a key piece of a movement that would convulse and transform the social reality of Mexico in the 20th century. His ideas and political activism were essential to making possible the outbreak of a process of national transformation: the Mexican Revolution. Ricardo Flores Magón's political stance was determined by his anarchist and socialist readings, and it was specifically in anarchism, a political movement he embraced throughout his life, where he would find the basis of his thought and action.

Flores Magón himself described anarchism with the following words in a text published in 1915: "Anarchism is not a system of libertinism, but one that, based on Science, teaches us that all human beings are equal, and therefore, no one has the right to make others obey him, nor does anyone have the obligation to obey, and this is not libertinism, this is: justice". In this text he also points out: "So who does anarchism want to dignify, if not the fallen? Anarchy wants equality, and who benefits from equality, if it is not the fallen?"

These ideas, sufficiently solid in Ricardo Flores Magón's thinking around 1915, were the impulse for his work as a participant in the anti-reelectionist movement and as a journalist. In 1893 El Demócrata saw the light of day, a newspaper founded by the impressionist painter Joaquín Clausell and in which Ricardo Flores Magón was one of the young editors; however, this publication was canceled, since censorship was something that usually occurred with opposition manifestations.

Likewise, several publications appeared showing critical positions towards the government, so Flores Magón's journalistic work did not end with the political persecution to which the founder of El Demócrata was subjected, since Ricardo also joined the ranks of El Universal and the student magazines El Ideal and El Azote.

However, it was his participation as founder and writer in Regeneración that would make Ricardo Flores Magón's thought a germ of the Mexican Revolution. The first issue of this newspaper appeared on August 7, 1900, under the slogan " Independent Legal Newspaper" and its editors and co-founders were Enrique Flores Magón and Antonio Horcasitas. Later, Ricardo Flores Magón would become editor, and at the end of that same year the slogan of the publication would change to " Independent Combat Newspaper".

Regeneración soon became the trigger for the first mass actions of the workers in Mexico, which is why it has been considered the "gigantic torch that lit the fire of the Revolution". For, unlike other media, this newspaper did not limit itself to reporting news or facts, but rather it expressed and defended ideas and principles until it became a tool for dissemination, but also a source of encouragement for the most varied causes whose efforts coincided in confronting the abuses and injustices of the Porfirian regime.

Ricardo Flores Magón's texts in Regeneración focused on attacking public officials and denouncing irregularities in the system. Soon how Ricardo Flores Magón wrote and the topics addressed in Regeneración caught the attention of young people and various political groups concerned about the future of democracy, but it also caught the attention of the authorities, who soon exerted their forces to censor this newspaper.

In May 1901, Ricardo and his brother Enrique were imprisoned after being accused of defamation; Ricardo Flores Magón had participated in the First Congress of Liberal Clubs held that same year in San Luis Potosí, where he gave a speech in which he described the administration of Porfirio Díaz as a "den of bandits".

Regarding Porfirio Díaz's persecution of the press and its value in a democratic society, Ricardo Flores Magón published a text from prison in which he pointed out that the then-president was an oppressor and called judges who agreed to imprison innocent people in exchange for money "executioners of free men".

After leaving prison in 1902, Ricardo and his brother Enrique leased El Hijo del Ahuizote, a publication created by Daniel Cabrera at the end of the 19th century, which became the new trench of the Magón brothers; under his editorship, the newspaper reached great popularity and was characterized by its satirical caricatures. At that time, Ricardo Flores Magón was taken prisoner along with his brother after publishing an article criticizing Bernardo Reyes, so the newspaper suspended its publication and resumed it in 1903 when the Flores Magón brothers were released from prison.

On February 5th of that same year, Ricardo Flores Magón together with Federico Pérez Fernández, Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama, Rosalío Bustamante, Tomás Sarabia, Enrique Flores Magón, and other opponents of the dictatorship appeared on the balcony of the building where El Hijo del Ahuizote was published, accompanied by a banner that read "The Constitution is dead". Three days later Ricardo published in the pages of the newspaper an article in which he argued the use of such phrase: "We solemnly protest against the assassins of it, who as a bloody mockery to the people they have vexed, celebrate this day with displays of rejoicing and satisfaction".

Again, a few months later Flores Magón was taken prisoner and after being released in June 1903 he decided to go into exile in the United States since he couldn't work in Mexico due to a decree that stated that any newspaper that published his writings would be subject to legal proceedings. In 1904 Regeneración resumed its activities, but this time from San Antonio Texas, to later settle in Saint Louis, Missouri.

Ricardo Flores Magón believed that in the United States he would find greater freedom to continue his journalistic work; however, he did not find the desired freedom, since the Porfirian power followed him wherever he went. He went to prison on multiple occasions and was accused of defamation, conspiracy, and violating neutrality laws.

Regeneración, which had suspended and restarted its publication on several occasions, had not only become a problem for the government of Porfirio Díaz, who sought to prevent the newspaper from being distributed from the United States to Mexico, but also for the government of Francisco I. Madero, whom Ricardo Flores Magón accused of being a traitor and described as "a wolf (who) has shed his sheepskin and has shown his fangs and claws".

Finally, in 1918 Ricardo was imprisoned by the United States government after publishing a manifesto addressed to anarchists around the world; he was first taken to a prison in Washington and later transferred to Fort Leavenworth, where he would remain until his death in 1922.

Ricardo Flores Magón never abandoned his work in the press, even in the most drastic moments of his life, because for him the press was a form of dissidence, a space for struggle, and a way to contest power, but above all, it represented the light amid a world of shadows created by injustice, abuse and despotism of a regime that believed itself to be absolute and that presented itself as the only possible way to exercise power.

"The press is light when it lights up in a full orgy of despotism to surprise the oppressors and show them to the people as they are: weak and vulgar, without that aura of divinity that the ignorant mobs pretend to find in every tyrant", pointed out Ricardo Flores Magón in 1906 in his text "The Press", published in El Colmillo Público under the pseudonym of Anakréon.

In this text, Flores Magón points out the function of the press: "Then, the press educates, makes virility awaken in the submissive, and before the contrast of the harsh misfortune of those at the bottom and the joyful ease of those at the top, the yearning for a means of greater justice is awakened, which when clashing with the interests created by privileges is resolved in a civilizing and fruitful struggle, generating progress and welfare".