The Other Rebellion: Popular Violence, Ideology, and the Mexican Struggle for Independence, 1810-1821.
The process of Mexican independence from Spain began with the 1810 uprising of Father Hidalgo and his plebeian followers and ended eleven years later when Iturbide, a former Spanish officer, proclaimed himself emperor of the republic. The relationship between these events and the connections between elite leaders and rural followers are not always clear. What did rural plebeian rebels hope to gain in the fight for political independence? What was the role of ideology in the independence struggle? How did Mexican independence compare to contemporary Atlantic revolutions? Eric Van Young addresses these questions with thorough analyses of empirical data, compelling microhistorical accounts, and attention to issues of discourse and representation. The "Other Rebellion" was the rural insurgency which was separate in many ways from the war waged by elite creoles to gain independence from Spain. Rural insurgents were not inspired by the anticolonial ideology which motivated creole elites. Instead they fought in order to protect their local cultures and communal autonomy from the incursions of colonial authorities.
Van Young's findings challenge several long-standing characterizations of the independence struggle. Data from cases of 1,284 people captured for insurgent activity, most between 1810 and 1812, show that about 55% of the participants were identified as Indians, rather than mestizo, as historians influenced by the "cosmic race" idea (the idea of Mexico as an heroic mestizo nation) have long assumed. Appendix A discusses the methods used to analyze this data. Rural insurgents were motivated to participate by frustration at personal and professional setbacks; by loyalties based on ties of kinship, friendship, and love; and by longstanding local alliances and feuds. The local nature of rural rebels' concerns is illustrated by the fact that insurgent activities generally took place close to home, especially for Indians. Van Young also challenges the traditional emphasis on the power of leaders to incite insurgents. Indian notables, whose influence was feared by colonial authorities, were underrepresented in the insurgent forces as compared to Indians in general, probably because of their ties to the colonial regime, the source of much of their authority and material benefits. The majority of "cabecillas," or low-level leaders, were not indigenous and did not have village-level ties. They, like other leaders, facilitated rather than motivated the participation of rural insurgents. Although priest leaders like Hidalgo are often used to symbolize the independence struggle, Van Young estimates that as much as 80% of the clergy remained at least passively loyal to the crown. Priests who did get involved in the insurgency on both sides were motivated by various reasons ranging from personal discontent to political convictions. Van Young illustrates the complex web of motivations that inspired leaders through portraits of specific people, including four priest cabecillas and a delinquent-turned-cabecilla named Chito Villagran. Delinquency and rebellion were often intertwined. While Villagran's rebel activities seem to have stemmed from his pre-insurgency criminal activities, a letter sent by Villagran (probably written by a member of his entourage) indicates that he had ideological concerns as well. Villagran discussed who had the right to rule Mexico and seemed to suggest that the Mexican people together would decide on the appropriate form of rule. Appendix B contains the Spanish version of this letter. Van Young puts the rural insurgencies within the context of a longer tradition of popular discourse, protest, and collective violence. Three chapters on village riots show that local insurrections were often rooted in resentments and local politics which had pre-insurgency era roots. Older messianic ideas about mystical kingship were also an important part of rural insurgent ideology, and some Indian insurgents claimed that they were fighting for the Spanish king, who was a savior figure in their eyes, against the Spanish government. Fascinating descriptions of individuals and events show that the insurgency gave people a vehicle and a language for acting on motivations which had to do with their past histories, both individual and collective. The variety of motivations explains the fragmented nature of the rural insurgency, which never coalesced around a single plan of action, and also illustrates the great gulfs between elite and rural ideologies.
Scholars will value The Other Rebellion as much for its methodological and theoretical insights as for its rich descriptions. This book is broad in terms of its geographical scope and time period (although the focus is on 1810-1816 Van Young places insurgents and insurgencies within the context of colonial and national history) and detailed in its attention to individuals. He shows how personal histories help explain big events. For example, on the village level the insurgency gave men who had been frustrated in their desires to achieve social mobility an opportunity to defend their villages against the attempts of Spanish authorities trying to limit village autonomy. Van Young shows that cultural factors are as important as economic factors in explaining the causes of the rural rebellion, and that the two categories are linked. He claims that the issues that underlay village riots before and during the insurgency were as much cultural as material, and that these issues were similar in both periods, although the form of the riots changed. One striking difference is that land conflicts, which were important in pre-insurgency riots, were not part of later riots. Yet Van Young suggests that both land conflicts and the insurgency served as excuses or superficial incitements to riot. Rioters' main concern in both periods was to preserve their communities, cultural traditions, and group identities from outside attempts to control their villages. According to Van Young, this "ethnocultural conflict" distinguishes the straggle for Mexican independence from the French, English, and American revolutions of the same period and from the 1910 Mexican Revolution as well. The 1810-1821 struggle was characterized by the rural and significantly indigenous nature of the popular insurgency; the importance of religious discourse, especially for indigenous rebels; and the role of the monarch in rural ideology. He argues that these ethnic and cultural factors make theories about class conflict as the basis of social revolution inappropriate for analyzing Mexican independence. Ultimately the ethnic dimension of the rural insurgencies made creoles fear a possible race war and led them to exclude rural and indigenous people from national politics.
Advanced scholars and graduate students will certainly appreciate this valuable contribution to the historiography of Mexican independence, and the vivid descriptions of people and events and the clear discussion of arguments and methodology would make this book a good choice for advanced undergraduates as well. The length may limit the possibilities of assigning it in an undergraduate course. Although I hesitate to suggest another task to Van Young after he has completed this comprehensive book, I imagine that many teachers would welcome an abridged version that could be assigned in undergraduate surveys. As it is, scholars at every level will enjoy The Other Rebellion and benefit from the empirical information, theoretical insights, and fascinating narratives which fill its pages.
George Mason University
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|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2003|
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