Performative Reform: Considerations On Obregon’s Consolidation
The Mexico that existed in the early 1920’s was in dire need of stability and reform. The entirety of the last decade had been spent on brutal conflict in revolutions that only lead to counter revolution. Following the successful plan of Agua Prieta, in which the nation rose up against then president Venustiano Carranza the country was left in a turbulent position. The job of stabalizing Mexico then fell to one of the biggest figures in the revolution era, Alvaro Obregon. Gonzalez discusses Obregon’s central position throughout the revolution, “Although he lost an arm in the battle of Leon and believed that he was going to die, Obregon survived to vanquish Pancho Villa in 1915, secure the presidency of Venustiano Carranza in 1916, and established himsel as carranza’s inevitable successor.” (Gonzales, 182). Given the unenviable job of fixing a broken Mexico Obregon focused his efforts on labor and land reform issues in an attempt to bring the country under control.
The plan that removed his predesessor, The Plan de Agua Prieta also directly brought Obregon into power. Alongside Obregon the plan also brought numerous Sonoran leaders into power as well. One of these men, Adolfo De la Huerta was invaluable in allowing for a relatively bloodless transition of power. Huerta was able to onvice Pancho Villa, a man who Obregon had fought against to lay down his arms and accept the incoming government. The beginning of Obregon’s time in office was marked with many examples of this reconciliation, Gonzales writes, “President Obregon continued this fence-mending policy with former rivals as well as potential adversaries. He reached an accord with new Zapatista leader Gildardo Magana and began discussions of a serious land-reform program in Morelos, while simultaneously allowing some Porfirian-era caudillos, such as Luis Terrazas in Chihuahua, to return from exile and resume business activities” (Gonzales (184).
Obregon’s willingness to mend relationships with competitors and even enemies was a stark difference from the initial decisions his predecessors had made. Where Huerta and Madero had entered office with their past enemies and competition intact, Obregon decided that it would be more prudent to connect and reconciel with these people before he began the work of fixing the damage done during the revolution. These various mending of fences worked for the moment and allowed Obregon some breathing room to begin making policy decisions. Obregons first actions were to gain the support of the newly popular labor unions. Forming political alliances with organized labor groups would allow him to consolidate power among the working class. Here is the first example of what I would call performative reform. Instead of working with varous groups Obregon sided with a moderate labor group that had been formed by the previous president, Gonzales writes, “In 1919, Obregon signed a secret pact with CROM that secured the labor confederation’s backing in exchange for increased political power, CROM subsequently muscled its way into positions of great influence within the government” (Gonzalez 186). Like many of Obregon’s actions, his support of reform came with a cost. The ulterior motives behind his backing of labor unions brings doubt to his outward appearance as a man of the people.
Support for labor unions gained Obregon a lot of power, but it was in the area of land reform that he would see his support truly begin to consolidate. Land reform was one of the most important issues during this era. It was one of the inciting ideas behind the revolution. Obregon found himself caught between providing for working class agrarian leaders who wanted radical reform, and wealthy businessmen who did not want to lose their wealth or power. Gonzales writes about Obregons motives in this area, “The president compromised ideology and revolutionary objectives, however, to achieve political and economic stability. He made deals with the old guard, whose business skills and political resilience he valued, and he limited land reform to areas where agrarians kept up the political pressure.” (Gonzalez, 187).
Land reform then became another tool that Obregon would use to consolidate his power. Obregon was a successful agro-businessman and he did not see the vaulue that in the village economy that radical agrarian leaders pushed for. The land reform seems to be incredibly selective, occuring only in ares with groups that Obregon found politically problematic. The times in which land was returned to the working class or indigenous groups was then just an example of Obregon placating communities in a further attempt to bolster his administrations control, “To consolidate power, he used land reform to appease militant agrarian radicals and to recruit them into his political alliance” (Gonzales 190). Obregon may have brought change to Mexico, but most of this change was not done in the name of the people. Instead it was done to bolster and consolidate his power as president. In this light we can see that Obregon’s reforms were not altruistic, but performative.