The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1975, Volume 21, Number 1
James E. Moss, Editor

Book Review

David J. Weber, Book Review Editor

Sembradores. Ricardo Flores Magón y el Partido Liberal Méxicano: A Eulogy and a Critique.By Juan Gómez-Quiñones. Los Angeles: Aztlán Publications, Chicano Studies Center, UCLA, 1973. Appendix. Bibliography. Illustrations. Notes. 168 pages. Softbound. $4.95.

Reviewed by Lowell L. Blaisdell, Professor of History at Texas Tech University, Lubbock. Professor Blaisdell is author of The Desert Revolution, Baja California, 1911 (1962), and numerous articles dealing with radicals in Mexico and Europe.

Aztlán Publications has attractively packaged this work, using quality paper and large, clear type. It consists of approximately seventy pages of text, eighty-five of selected writings by people connected with the Partido Liberal Mexicano, chiefly Ricardo Flores Magón, and ten pages of bibliography, plus several striking photos and illustrations.

In the last fifteen years the Ricardo Flores Magón-Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM) field has been rather intensely cultivated, so that the author was not in a position to do much turning of new soil. He has, however, done well in collecting, analyzing, and collating available materials, adding hitherto obscure bits and pieces on PLM and on RFM’s personal life, and in providing readings and compiling sources. The title accurately conveys Gómez-Quiñones’ emphasis. It should be added that, because of strongly positive assessment of Flores Magón, the critical side runs second-best to the eulogy. In particular, by only mentioning, rather than duly weighing the defects compared to the virtues of Flores Magón’s character and slighting his underhanded tactics, the author underestimates the extent of the PLM’s deterioration caused by internal as well as external factors: the repeated splits in the Junta, the distrust engendered by RFM’s methods, and the leadership’s failure during the Revolution to establish their base in Mexico. On the other hand, Gómez-Quiñones skillfully explores the origins and development of Flores Magón’s political thought, gives needed emphasis to his literary and aesthetic creativity, and provides a moving account of the relentless persecution to which the anarchist was subjected. He also offers the most complete survey to date of PLM’s local leadership, cadres, journals, and sympathizers strung out across the American Southwest in the pre-1910 period.

The author’s bibliography is inclusive. The primary sources encompass State and Justice Department files, the “Asunto Flores Magón” files in Mexico’s Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores, correspondence in the Bancroft and Sterling libraries, a wide variety of newspapers, published documents, and writings of participants or observers. Other sources comprise books, pamphlets, papers, and theses. Next in importance to the archival materials for the author was Regeneración, the PLM organ, and, after it, the contributions of Manuel González Ramírez, a major Mexican historian, and of the late Mrs. Ethel Duffy Turner, a participant.

The most debatable aspect of Gómez-Quiñones’ presentation is his thesis that Flores Magón and his party were “major contributors . . . to the intellectual climate of the Chicano community” (p. 1), and, vice versa, that Chicanos contributed significantly to the Mexican Revolution. This is to assume that a contemporary ethnic state of mind fits a situation of some sixty-five years ago. Presumably the author’s viewpoint stems from Flores Magón’s and PLM’s long years of agitation in the Southwest, and to RFM’s continued militant championship of the underdog. However his efforts were directed at Mexico, or, as an anarchist, at the world, and certainly not at creating a regional and ethnic entity within the United States. Obviously many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans strongly backed the Mexican Revolution. The most poverty-stricken, oppressed, and therefore apathetic ones lacked political awareness. Whether the individual identified with the Mexican events, was militantly labor, anarchist, or apolitical, his frame of mind was not what today is recognized as Chicano. Flores Magón’s party was not the “PLC” but the PLM. In the selections from his writings in the back of the book, nowhere does the word “Chicano” appear. In this connection, the scholarly world would be helped were the word accorded greater precision.

For San Diegans who may be aficionados of the famous Magonista uprising in Baja California in 1911, the book has only peripheral interest, since for the author that episode was only one facet of Flores Magón’s overall career. Two or three of his references to the disputed 1911-12 events suggest too complete acceptance of the Magonista version. Incidentally, in mentioning that Jack Mosby was shot trying to escape immediately after the 1912 trial, the author apparently repeated an error made by virtually all commentators on the Magonist movement. From a letter of Joe Hill published in Joyce Kornbluh, ed., Rebel Voices, p. 150, the reader can infer that Mosby was alive in 1914. This volume is cited in his bibliography.

There are some minor shortcomings that readers and editors should have obviated, such as misspellings (Mosky for Jack Mosby, or attorney Andrews’ name actually was Willedd, not William), misuse of words (bourgeoisie nationalism for bourgeois nationalism), a certain preciosity of style (Tejas for Texas), in a few instances a need for source citation or for further documentation (e.g., PLM Chicano irridentist feeling in the pre-1910 period).