Present and Preterite: Anti-imperialist Critiques of the Mexican Revolution from the Iberoamerican Viewpoint of Cuadernos Americanos amid the Triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959

Receipt: September 6, 2022

Acceptance: October 21, 2022


In the 1940s the cultural, social, and political project of the journal Cuadernos Americanos was created. Iberoamerican intellectuals aligned with anti-imperialist ideas and intellectual commitment gathered with the publication’s director, Mexican economist Jesús Silva Herzog. Beginning with Cuaderno’s first issues, the viability of the Mexican Revolution was deliberated, where the mistakes and distortions of the process, as well as the need for more radical measures to be undertaken, were discussed. These reflections were catalized by the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, as it presented various possible guidelines for the revival of its Mexican counterpart, or at least for it to come under more severe criticism from the anti-imperialist point of view.

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present and preterite: anti-imperialist critiques of the mexican revolution from the iberoamerican viewpoint of american notebooks amid the triumph of the cuban revolution in 1959

In the 1940s the cultural, social, and political project of the journal Cuadernos Americanos was created. Iberoamerican intellectuals aligned with anti-imperialist ideas and intellectual commitment gathered with the publication's director, Mexican economist Jesús Silva Herzog. Beginning with Cuaderno's first issues, the viability of the Mexican Revolution was deliberated, where the mistakes and distortions of the process, as well as the need for more radical measures to be undertaken, were discussed. These reflections were catalyzed by the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, as it presented various possible guidelines for the revival of its Mexican counterpart, or at least for it to come under more severe criticism from the anti-imperialist point of view.

Keywords: Cuadernos Americanos, anti-imperialism, anti-imperialism, Mexican Revolution, Cuban Revolution, intellectual commitment.

During the first half of the 20th century, traveling to Paris was a sort of initiation rite for writers from the American continent. Most of the Mexican intellectuals active in those years were in Europe at least once in their lives, some even fulfilled diplomatic tasks or attended cultural or artistic meetings. Such was the case of Alfonso Reyes, who in his respective European incursion of 1914 also passed through Spain, where he established close ties with characters such as Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo, José Ortega y Gasset, Ramón del Valle Inclán and Ramón Gómez de la Serna, especially from the contacts referred to by his great friend, the Dominican writer Pedro Henríquez Ureña (Weinberg, 2014). Therefore, when the Spanish transterrados arrived in Mexico in the context of the Spanish Civil War, some already had contact with Mexican intellectuals such as Reyes and others took advantage of this previous ground to insert themselves in the spaces of confluence and exchange of cultural initiatives.

As economist Jesús Silva Herzog recalled, it was in February 1941 when Spanish writers León Felipe and Juan Larrea, together with Mexican journalist Bernardo Ortiz de Montellano -who acted as liaison between the two parties- went to visit him to explain their intentions to resume publication of the magazine Pilgrim Spaina, an outlet for the expression of the Spanish republicans, now from Mexico (Silva Herzog, 1972: 246). The following day, Silva Herzog met with them again and proposed "the adventure of creating a new magazine of continental scope". The name of Cuadernos Americanos was suggested by Alfonso Reyes himself. To finance it, Silva Herzog activated the networks of his personal contacts, asking for small individual contributions, and so finally a trust contract was signed that "would last 30 years, with the assets that existed passing later to the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)" (Silva Herzog, 1972: 247).

An alternative version of this story is that of the trans-terrestrial Spaniard Juan Larrea, who would later become the magazine's secretary. In his narration, the idea of "the creation of a great magazine, the most important magazine in the Spanish language that, at that moment when Europe was burning on all four sides, would be the product of the close creative collaboration of Spanish Americans and Spaniards, with a view to preparing the advent of a more universal, more human culture [...]" (González Neira, 2009: 11-30), was thought of by the Spaniards themselves and not by Silva Herzog or Reyes. In addition, Larrea incorporated another variation: the request for economic support for the publication of said magazine to the government of President Manuel Ávila Camacho, who governed the country between 1940 and 1946, although he did not present evidence to prove that this had been the case.

As researcher Liliana Weinberg points out, the "governing board" was the result of the confluence of different networks in its formation. It was made up of Pedro Bosch Gimpera, archeologist, historian and former rector of the University of Barcelona; Daniel Cosío Villegas, then general director of the Fondo de Cultura Económica; Mario de la Cueva, university professor specializing in labor law and constitutional law, as well as the rector of unam; Eugenio Ímaz, philosopher in exile, professor at the same university and translator; Juan Larrea, writer, editor and former secretary of the National Historical Archive of Madrid; Manuel Márquez, academic and former dean of the University of Madrid; Manuel Martínez Báez, specialist in public health and then president of the Academy of Medicine of Mexico; Agustín Millares Carlo, paleographer and Latinist, former professor and secretary of the University of Madrid, integrated in 1939 as academic at the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Madrid; Agustín Millares Carlo, former professor and secretary of the University of Madrid, integrated in 1939 as academic at the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of unam; Bernardo Ortiz de Montellano, Mexican journalist and writer who served as a liaison with other figures linked to the Ministry of Public Education and literary magazines such as Contemporáneos and El hijo pródigo; Alfonso Reyes, then president of El Colegio de México, and Jesús Silva Herzog, director-manager of the new publication and also director of the National School of Economics (Weinberg, 2014).

The curious thing is that in spite of the constant insistence on the contact between the Hispanic and the American, that is to say, the "Ibero-American", in the end the proposal was made to emphasize the "American" in the title of the magazine. It seems that this has a political explanation and Liliana Weinberg details it in terms of underpinning the rapprochement and alliance between Mexico and the United States, which fit within the "American", but not in the "Ibero-American". In the context of the alliance of "the two Americas" against Nazism, fascism and Franco's regime1 (Weinberg, 2014), Reyes also stressed the urgency of the formation of an "American" culture, inasmuch as "the knowledge of our world system is not even a mere political convenience of the moment, to reach the laudable and indispensable friendship of the Americas and the single front of culture. We are an integral and necessary part in the representation of man by man" (Reyes, 1942: 9-10). In addition, he placed the magazine in a tradition shared with other Central and South American cultural projects of his predecessors, especially Repertorio Americano by Costa Rican Joaquín García Monge (Weinberg, 2014).

The launch of the first issue of Cuadernos Americanos, corresponding to January-February 1942, was celebrated with a dinner on December 29, 1941 at the Spanish-owned Prendes restaurant, located on the south corner of the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. From this first meeting onwards, an annual meeting was instituted, in which the circles of collaborators and sponsors of the magazine came together as a way of reaffirming alliances (Silva Herzog, 1972: 248).

The format of Cuadernos Americanos was half tabloid (16 x 23 cm) and about two hundred pages on average, i.e., close to the format of a book, and had cardboard covers printed in color. Among its distinctive features were the characteristic colored "waves" on its cover, which referred to the Atlantic Ocean that communicated the Iberian Peninsula with the American continent. The material resources of the magazine allowed it to have large print runs since its foundation, which, between 1959 and 1961, reached, every two months, around two thousand copies and maintained a price of 15 pesos. Its main sections at that time were the following: "Nuestro tiempo", in which reflections were made on contemporary political, social or economic issues; "Hombres de nuestra estirpe", in which each issue paid biographical tribute to an Ibero-American author; "Aventura del pensamiento", with an essayistic vocation; "Presencia del pasado", in which historical reflections were presented; and "Dimensión imaginaria", dedicated to texts or reflections related to the literary world. In each of them, at different times, aspects related to the triumph of the Cuban Revolution and the consequent anti-imperialist criticism of the Mexican Revolution were discussed.

"A man of the left" at the helm

Jesús Silva Herzog, "a man of the left" in his own words, liked to say: "every year that passes I am more of the left" and sometimes complained: "what angers me most about being called 'rojillo' is the diminutive; rojo should be said" (Carmona, 1991: 233). His almost total blindness, to a great extent derived from the silver nitrate with which his eyes were burned as a disastrous wrong treatment for pus on his third day of life, was not an obstacle for him to occupy diverse positions and responsibilities. Silva Herzog was in charge of the direction of institutions, diplomatic representations, chairs, and was the author of a large number of books, even without having finished high school or having a university career in the traditional sense (Naufal Tuena, 2001: 173). He had little need for institutional validation, thanks to his own determination and to a circle of people who acted around him as readers aloud, transcribers and a long list of supportive friends and disciples.

One of Silva Herzog's first approaches to leftist thought was when the Facultad de Altos Estudios de la Universidad Nacional received him between 1920 and 1923 to study, among other classes, three years of Political Economy with the German professor Alfonso Goldschmidt (Silva Herzog, 1972: 65-66).

The German economist had been invited by Mexican philosopher José Vasconcelos -the University's rector between 1920 and 1921- to teach in Mexico. Goldschmidt had been educated at the University of Leipzig in Germany, he was among the founders of the German Communist Party and during his stay in the country he was a militant in the Mexican Communist Party. It would seem that Goldschmidt was "the first to introduce Marxism into the Mexican academic milieu" (De Pablo, 2018: 210). Precisely, this was what attracted Silva Herzog to his professor of Economics, since "[...] in his lessons he expounded Marx's economic theories", starting with Capital, text still somewhat inaccessible in Spanish in those days, since the complete translation of the book was made by the Spanish exile Wenceslao Roces two decades later (Marx, 1946), although not without some errors (Silva Herzog, 1980: 166).2

The disciplinary transition from literature to economics in Silva Herzog's education had an important influence in Alfonso Goldschmidt. A clear example of this influence was when the economist from Potosí began to teach political economy and sociology in the new premises of the National School of Agriculture in Chapingo in 1924 (Silva Herzog, 1972: 79). In his classes he took up several of the readings recommended by his German teacher, among them Goldschmidt himself, Charles Gide, Andrés Molina Enríquez, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

In his back-and-forth between service in public administration and academia, another of the great constants in Silva Herzog's life was his interest in the transnational and the search to nurture links with people from diverse backgrounds, as he would also do in Cuadernos Americanos. For example, when in 1928 he was appointed head of the Department of Library and Economic Archives of the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit to direct what would become Mexico's first economic library, he summoned a plethora of foreigners. Among them the Spaniards Monserrat (Monna) Teixidor and the bibliographer Francisco Gamoneda, the Peruvian economist Carlos Manuel Cox and the Bolivian writer Tristán Marof, "the ill-wishers called the department 'The league of nations'" (Silva Herzog, 1972: 86).

Consistent with his curiosity for other regions of the world and Marxist thought, Silva Herzog had frequented the representation of the Soviet Union in Mexico since the mid 1920s. After having been in contact with various people close to this office, in December 1928, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Genaro Estrada, offered Silva Herzog, on behalf of President Emilio Portes Gil, the Mexican legation in Moscow (González Casanova, 1985: 24). After his disappointment with his experiences in the ussr and the rupture of diplomatic relations by the Mexican government, Silva Herzog returned to Mexico in 1930.

Upon his return, the economist combined his academic work with advising the government of General Lázaro Cárdenas on oil issues in 1937. By this time, Spanish exiles were beginning to arrive in Mexico and in his intellectual development, between public service and academia, Jesús Silva Herzog began to have contact with several of them. Probably what attracted the economist was the opportunity to build a cultural and political project even bigger than those in which he had been able to participate up to that moment.

Jesús Silva Herzog and the American of his Cuadernos: intellectual commitment, Ibero-Americanism and anti-imperialism

Along with Iberoamericanism, the other major guiding principle of Cuadernos was that of intellectual commitment to the critique of the social and economic reality of the world. This approach was clear from the first bimonthly issue (January-February) of the magazine, which went public in January 1942. In that issue, Silva Herzog published the article "Lo humano, problema esencial" in which he stated that "it cannot be denied that capitalism was a creative regime, but in the past perfect tense and not in the present" (Silva Herzog, 1942: 11) and added that "since the end of the last century capitalism ceased to be an instigation to progress". In this type of affirmations, Silva Herzog's training in Marxist thought could be glimpsed; even if, in cases such as this, they were somewhat schematic fragments. The economist also showed his anti-imperialist conscience in his criticism of the Soviet Union -the country in which he represented Mexico at the end of the 1920s-: "[...] the success of that socialist regime cannot be denied; but it has cost immense sacrifices, cruelty and inevitable errors have not been scarce and it is still far from definitive victory" (Silva Herzog, 1942: 14).

These criticisms, both of the capitalist system and of the socialism of the Soviet Union, came at a crucial moment during World War II. As early as mid-1941, the ussr had begun to participate on the side of the Allies, and in December the United States had done the same. This agreement placed the presumed antagonists on the same side, with a common enemy: fascism and the Axis powers. As mentioned, the suggestion of naming "Americans" to the Cuadernos was a notion of rapprochement between "the two Americas" (the Anglo-Saxon and the Ibero-American). Silva Herzog (1942), on the other hand, took it to the terrain of Latin Americanism, over and above convergence with the North American country:

In this hour in which ruin and desolation threaten to invade everything, it is necessary that a saving cry be heard whose echo crosses the seas and is repeated from mountain to mountain. This cry cannot be launched by tortured Europe, nor perhaps even by the United States because it would be muffled by the imperative voices of financiers; it must come from American throats, from our America, from "la América Nuestra -as Darío said-. that had poets since the old days of Nezahualcóyotl [...] The supreme ideal lies in the birth of the superman from man. Science and art must aspire to that unlimited purpose (Silva Herzog, 1942:12-15).

The work of Cuadernos Americanos was thus clearly established from the first publication made by its director. The "Revista del Nuevo Mundo", as it was announced, had the principle of influencing the concrete reality through "science and art" from America (Hispanic/Latin America), since it was the last redoubt of humanity. In addition, it assigned to the region the capacity to promote the birth of the "superman" and to Cuadernos that of being the guide to carry it out. Silva Herzog's article concluded with the proposal that, in the face of capitalist failure and the errors of socialism, it was necessary to generate a new anti-imperialist alternative: "to the pan-Americanism of the United States it was necessary to oppose Ibero-Americanism [...]" (Naufal Tuena, 2001: 175), in order to "update Bolivar's dream and for the first time decisively influence the drama of universal history" (Silva Herzog, 1942: 16).

This first article brought together, in addition to two basic elements of Jesús Silva Herzog's thought such as Ibero-Americanism and intellectual commitment to reality, the approach that established that ideas were the binding force for those who participated in Cuadernos Americanos. In short, it was an exhortation to militancy through writing for Ibero-American intellectuals, both trans- and Latin American.

An anti-imperialist connotation was added to "Ibero-Americanism", by posing it as an opposition to the "Pan-Americanism of the United States". This idea contrasted significantly with the initial consideration of Cuadernos Americanos as a union of Latin America with the "other", the Anglo-Saxon, and incidentally allowed to question the notion that the "intellectual cold war" was exclusively a post-war phenomenon. As is evident here, even when Reyes promoted the meeting of "the Americas", Silva Herzog maintained his discourse close to the Latin American left at that time.3 This did not imply a rupture in the editorial board, far from it. For the economist from Potosí, cultural diplomacy meant, for him, the possibility of maintaining alliances that would allow him, among other things, to continue promoting projects, to express some of his ideas freely and to remain close to the circles of power.

Through collaborations, invitations, discussions, encounters and slogans, Silva Herzog structured in Cuadernos a network of exchanges, connections, trips, friends, presentations and epistolary dialogues with a great diversity of intellectuals. Of particular relevance were the "leftist" Cubans, which would help to explain the great enthusiasm that the director of Cuadernos the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

One of those Cuban friends was the Cuban anthropologist and historian Fernando Ortiz Fernández who, due to the importance of his studies on Cuban culture, had been called by Juan Marinello "The third discoverer of Cuba", after Christopher Columbus and Alexander von Humboldt (Barnet, 2009: 199-203). Ortiz addressed a letter to Silva Herzog in the last days of December 1943 in which he commented on how much he had been impressed by his article on the Mexican Revolution published in the previous issue of Cuadernos Americanos: "The Mexican Revolution in crisis" (Ortiz, 1981: 254). This comment was relevant because it showed the interest of the island's intellectuals in the transformation process in Mexico. Later, Mexican intellectuals would turn to the Cuban Revolution and would turn it into one of their references to criticize their country's revolution.

Silva Herzog stated in his article that "the crisis of the Mexican Revolution is of an extraordinary virulence, it is above all -let us say it once and a thousand times- a moral crisis with few precedents in the history of mankind" (Silva Herzog, 1943: 50). The seriousness of this diagnosis was not only because of what it literally pointed out about the decomposition of the Mexican political system, but also because it attacked the great foundational myth of Mexican modernity, on the one hand, and the great referent of the "successful" revolution in Latin America, on the other.

Silva Herzog's negative diagnosis was not, however, a death sentence. There was still a solution and it was possible to move forward with it, as long as a new structure was given to society, in which "the human is the essential problem, in which the enjoyment of existence is for the greatest possible number of individuals, in which science, technology and art have the purpose of achieving the good of man and his own self-improvement". Silva Herzog called this model "socialist democracy", and only through it would it be possible to bring the Mexican Revolution out of its crisis, retaking its principles in full (Silva Herzog, 1943: 53).

Not as a direct response to Fernando Ortiz's letter on the article "The Mexican Revolution in Crisis", but as a long extension of the intellectual exchange between Silva Herzog and Ortiz, there is the missive that the Mexican addressed to the Cuban at the end of March 1947. The economist reminded the anthropologist of one of the central premises of his thought, the commitment against imperialism: "[...] it is an indeclinable duty of the clean intellectuals of Latin America to keep their peoples alert in the face of North American power" (Silva Herzog, 1947: 257). Thus, the platform of collaborations of Cuadernos Americanos also seemed to be a propitious space to invite people to subscribe to certain intellectual principles or, alternatively, to confirm ideological affinities.

In those same years, Jesús Silva Herzog suffered from cataracts in one of his eyes. To his good fortune -even though it was temporary-, the ophthalmologist offered him not only to remove the cataract, but also to have a corneal implant to improve his vision, which had been badly affected since the economist was a small child (González Casanova, 1985: 34). This operation gave him a visual acuity he had never enjoyed before, so between 1947 and 1948 he planned to travel around Latin America: "The purpose of the trip is only to get to know our countries, talk to their interesting people and give lectures". Thus, in March 1947, he announced to Fernando Ortiz that the first stop would be Havana (Silva Herzog, 1947: 257).

Silva Herzog's visit to the Caribbean island allowed him to strengthen ties with Fernando Ortiz, as well as to get in touch with other figures of the Cuban left. One of them was Jorge Mañach, José Martí's biographer, whom he met at the Cuban Pen Club. Mañach put him in contact with the communist writer Juan Marinello, with whom he was unable to meet, but he did initiate an epistolary exchange. Marinello had been exiled twice in Mexico, first in 1933, during the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado in Cuba; and between 1936 and 1937, which allowed him to get close to some Mexican intellectuals.

The year after his visit to the island, Silva Herzog invited Marinello to collaborate in his magazine, specifying the interest of the editorial line in accordance with the anti-imperialist and Ibero-American principles: "[...] within the tone of Cuadernos we have initiated a campaign in favor of Peace and to a certain extent against the plutocrats who at this moment govern the neighboring nation". With the latter, Silva Herzog was probably referring to the growing anti-communism experienced during Harry Truman's presidency in the United States. But, beyond that, Silva Herzog recognized in Marinello's voice the Ibero-American potentiality that Cuadernos Americanos sought in his collaborators to influence the reality of the continent: "[...] your article [...] will surely reflect the opinion not only of the advanced groups of Cuba but of all the progressive men of Hispanic America" (Silva Herzog, 1948: 191).

Almost a decade later, in 1956, the dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Public Law of the University of Havana, Raúl Roa, invited Jesús Silva Herzog to present three lectures in November of that year. From that moment on, a nourished channel of communication was opened between the two academics, probably stemming from their relationship that arose during Roa's stay in Mexico between late 1953 and mid-1955 (De la Osa, 1987: 9).

During Silva Herzog's visit to Cuba in 1956, the Cuban magazine Carteles interviewed him. When questioned about the validity of the Mexican Revolution, he returned to his 1943 text on the revolution "in crisis": "every revolution has its period of gestation, development and death. And I believe that, although our Revolution has not fulfilled all its objectives, it has already closed its cycle". The Mexican expressed the need to renew the revolutionary referents, almost as a premonition of what the Cuban Revolution would become: "today we need new formulas, objectives and ideas" (Silva Herzog, 1973: 56).

The leftist thought defended by Silva Herzog, at least since that 1943 article, invited to formulate new systems and modes from the present. This approach seemed to find its ideal audience in the University of Havana in 1956, since it should be remembered that a good part of the 26th of July Movement -one of the main organizational nuclei of the Cuban Revolution- was made up of students or graduates of this same institution: one of them was the lawyer Fidel Castro. In those days when Silva Herzog was giving lectures, Castro set sail with 82 expedition members from Tuxpan, Veracruz, to Cuba. The accidental grounding and disembarkation of those expeditionaries in the midst of an ambush by Fulgencio Batista's army took place on December 2, 1956 at Coloradas Beach, in the east of the island.

The type of cultural diplomacy that Silva Herzog established from Cuadernos Americanos took the meaning of "American" to a plane of connections with prominent figures of the Ibero-American left, especially visible in the internal structure of the magazine itself and from its links with Cuba, which emphasized the strong connection of the editor of Cuadernos with this country since before the triumph of the Revolution in 1959. In those years, criticism of the Mexican Revolution stemmed more from its own mistakes than from the possible reorientation from its renovating Cuban counterpart.

Diagnoses and epitaphs of the Mexican Revolution in the mid-twentieth century

At the end of the 1950s, and especially with the approach of the governmental celebrations for the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution, certain discourses were revived that foreshadowed the death of that process, which had become a "unitary myth" that sustained the Institutional Revolutionary Party (pri).4

In the previous decade, one of the most constant intellectuals in pointing out the demise of the Mexican Revolution was Jesús Silva Herzog himself in his articles of Cuadernos Americanos: "The Mexican Revolution in crisis" in 1943, "Meditations on Mexico" in 1947 and "The Mexican Revolution is already a historical fact" in 1949. At the same time, Daniel Cosío Villegas published "La crisis de México" in 1947 in the same magazine. Although there were other texts that referred to the agony of this process, those of Cosío Villegas and Silva Herzog were among the ones that had the greatest repercussions in the Mexican intellectual sphere.

In "La crisis de México", Daniel Cosío Villegas stated that "the Revolution had abandoned its program when it was just beginning to fulfill it", since social justice, the main banner of the Mexican Revolution, had been distorted and the very term "revolution" was no longer meaningful (Cosío Villegas, 1947: 29-51).

In similar terms, Silva Herzog wrote in his article "The Mexican Revolution is already a historical fact" that to state this affirmation "is not necessarily to sustain a reactionary thesis as someone might maliciously suppose. It is not because the political position depends fundamentally on the solutions to the country's vital problems". That is to say: he was careful to situate his criticism in the spectrum of the left, in which he wished to be placed: "If it is said that we must retrace our steps, return to porfirism, we are reactionary: but if it is affirmed that we must go beyond the point to which the Revolution could reach, that we must overcome it, then we are progressive and on the left, as is the author of this work". The author was thus making a call to retake the potential radicalization of the revolutionary postulates. Finally, Silva Herzog was lapidary when he stated that "The Mexican Revolution has ceased to be present and is now preterit" (Silva Herzog, 1949: 15-16).

The idea of the death of the Mexican Revolution was latent in Cuadernos Americanos with greater emphasis towards the end of the 1950s. In the first issue of January-February 1959, a section entitled "Three questions about the present and future of Mexico" was included, in which, as a survey, several intellectuals were asked to answer the following questions: What is the current situation of the Mexican Revolution? What will be the main task of the revolutionary groups in the immediate future? What should be -within this situation and in accordance with this task- the role of intellectuals? (Flores Olea, 1959: 44).

Among the intellectuals who responded were some of the regular contributors to another publication of the unam, the Revista de la Universidad de México, as its director Jaime García Terrés and writers and political scientists Carlos Fuentes, Víctor Flores Olea and Enrique González Pedrero.

Silva Herzog recalled Victor Flores Olea as a student of Law and History at unam during the fifties, and later professor at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences and at the School of Economics, upon his return from higher studies in European universities (Silva Herzog, 1980: 132). Flores Olea considered, in replying, that the Mexican Revolution had begun to be problematized in a demagogic way, so a "consciousness raising" was necessary, since it was essential that "the Mexican "people" burst into Mexican political life beyond the "pure intellectual act". This would consist of the "concrete will to act in history" through the conversion of intellectuals to be "organically the intellectuals of the people of Mexico" (Flores Olea, 1959: 47).

Awareness was also addressed by Carlos Fuentes, who lashed out even more severely at the regime emanating from the Mexican Revolution, saying that "the only effective and active conservative force that exists in our country is the one emanating from the Revolution itself, the one that hides behind certain rhetoric that, without paradox, could be called 'traditional-revolutionary', and that is located, for all real purposes, in the current Mexican right wing". Fuentes concluded by blaming the pri of the "traditional-revolutionary" perversion and "the paralyzation of the popular revolution" (Flores Olea, 1959: 50).

Meanwhile, Jaime García Terrés was categorical in his death sentence: "It is no longer possible to speak of the Mexican Revolution (the social movement known by that name) as a current phenomenon", in terms very similar to those of Silva Herzog in "The Mexican Revolution is already a historical fact". The loss of validity was due to the fact that the Revolution had become a bureaucracy alien to the dynamics intrinsic to truly revolutionary processes (Flores Olea, 1959: 54).

For his part, Enrique González Pedrero stated that "in order to be a Politician you need to be a Man of ideas and, in order to have them, it is necessary to be a Politician -that is, to act on reality by transforming it- with human dignity, with a human dimension". González Pedrero thus outlined a peculiar intellectual model of the "politician", one who participated in the public discussion from a position that transcended the criticism of reality and not only pointed out the defects, but also sought ways to solve them and participate in the process (Flores Olea, 1959: 62). This postulate of the "direct" action of the intellectual-politician acquired great relevance in the second half of the sixties in Latin America, along with the deepening of Cuban revolutionary radicalism.

These were the reflections held by Mexican intellectuals who collaborated with Cuadernos at the dawn of the phenomenon that would shake them and, in many cases, would lead them to find answers by radicalizing their positions: the triumph of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 1959.

The irruption of the Cuban Revolution in the criticisms of the Mexican Revolution

After the military coup of March 10, 1952 against Cuban president Carlos Prío Socarrás, perpetrated by Cuban general and former president Fulgencio Batista, several groups of opponents organized themselves against what was clearly becoming a dictatorship. Some, like the members of the Orthodox Party, opted for the electoral route to oppose both the remnants of the corrupt officialism of Prío and Batista's authoritarianism. Among the orthodox, there were young people linked to the University of Havana who began to become radicalized, and the armed road seemed to some as the only alternative for the conquest of power. Finally, on July 26, 1953, a group of precariously armed guerrillas, commanded by the young lawyer Fidel Castro, attempted to storm the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba.

This assault and the rest of the actions coordinated with this operation were a resounding failure that claimed several victims among the guerrillas. The imprisonment of the survivors was not long in coming. Fidel Castro's legal knowledge allowed him to vindicate the "right to popular rebellion against despotism and tyranny" in a legal defense speech delivered in 1953, which would later be known as "History will absolve me" (Rojas, 2015: 42). It was a liberal constitutional defense that was well received by public opinion and gave Castro and the other members of the 26th of July Movement, so called in commemoration of the date of the assault, a certain political legitimacy.

For his part, Fulgencio Batista called elections in 1954, which he won in the absence of strong electoral opponents, since a good part of the opposition was in exile after the military coup of 1952. A year after the elections, in 1955, the prisoners of the Moncada Barracks assault were amnestied. Castro and the other released members decided to go to Mexico, because since the beginning of Batista's dictatorship, a large group of Cuban politicians had chosen to go into exile in the Mexican capital, Miami and New York. The networks previously woven by them allowed the Moncadistas to take advantage of the good connections with "high spheres of the Mexican government and also with sectors of public opinion in the United States" (Rojas, 2015: 59).

In Mexico, Castro came into contact with Maria Antonia Gonzalez, a Cuban woman who was married to Mexican wrestler Dick Medrano. Her house had become a meeting point for Cubans living in or passing through Mexico City. From Mexico, the revolutionaries prepared their guerrilla expedition to overthrow Batista. The first manifesto of the 26th of July Movement was disseminated thanks to the printing press of the Mexican Arsacio Vanegas, who also helped them with the physical conditioning for the guerrilla (Morales and del Alizal, 1999: 202).

Fidel and his companions, who already included the Argentine guerrilla Ernesto "Che" Guevara, were arrested on June 20, 1956, accused of violating Mexican immigration laws. In mid-July they were released, and former Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas interceded so that they would not be deported and, instead, that they would be granted asylum (Morales and del Alizal, 1999: 207).

Finally, in November of that same year, 82 members of the 26th of July Movement set sail from the Mexican port of Tuxpan, Veracruz, bound for Cuba on the yacht "Granma". After disembarking, they headed for the Sierra Maestra, where they spent two years fighting Batista's army as guerrillas, until the latter fled in defeat on January 1, 1959. Mexico was the first country in the world to extend its recognition to the new Cuban revolutionary government, on January 5, 1959 (Casuso, 1961: 111).

Although official Mexican policy at least discursively supported the new Cuban government, several Mexican intellectuals or those settled in Mexico expressed their reservations about the revolutionary triumph in different spaces. For example, the Spanish exile in Mexico, Max Aub, wrote in his diary dated January 7, with a mixture of dubious optimism and suspicion: "Revolutions, or the jolts towards freedom, happen when a group is determined to die to achieve it. Those who live well - if not at ease - are incapable of it. Verbigracia, today, the Algerians, but not the Spaniards. There remain, moreover, the romantic caudillos -if there are those who finance them-, such as Fidel Castro" (Aub, 2002: 147).

The ambiguity of Max Aub's note mixed the claim against Spanish passivity with distrust of the Cuban Revolution. He did this by questioning Castro's financial autonomy and organizational capacity. Even so, the note in Aub's diary is illustrative of the interest in looking toward Cuba on the part of a prominent collaborator of Cuadernos Americanos.

During the previous decade, Max Aub had traveled to Cuba twice. However, the triumph of the revolutionary movement did not prompt him to visit the island in 1959.5 What did seem to have a significant impact on him was the death of Che Guevara in October 1967. On that date he wrote in his diary: "one more hero in the account of history. He should have realized long ago that his death would be more useful than his life" (Aub, 2003: 96). Some time later he wrote a dramatic work inspired by Che's death, titled El cerco. Towards the end of the 1960s he also visited his daughter in Havana (Aub, 1969). Aub's initial reservations progressively changed and gave way to his interest in the Cuban Revolution, as happened with many other collaborators of Cuadernos Americanos.

"The animal is gone [...]," were the words that the Mexican professor of the National School of Political Science of unam, Enrique Gonzalez Pedrero, heard over the phone in the early morning of January 1, 1959. González Pedrero had been in Havana since December 20, eleven days before Fulgencio Batista fled Cuba. Gonzalez Pedrero's chronicle entitled "The fall of another dictatorship" was published in the March-April 1959 issue of Cuadernos Americanos. In it he recalled that, after the initial surprise of Batista's flight, came Castro's call for a general strike until the "barbudos" -as the fighters of the 26th of July Movement were colloquially known- completely seized power, as it happened on January 3. -as the fighters of the 26th of July Movement were colloquially known- completely seized power, as it happened on January 3: "The radio and television broadcast the orders. The cessation of the strike has been dictated. The revolution is in power" (González Pedrero, 1959: 25-33).

Once the Revolution was installed in the government and the celebrations were over, the measures that affected the privileges of the island's landowners began. The Cuban agrarian reform was one of the issues that generated the greatest expectations in Mexico, especially because of the comparisons -some more explicit than others- that were made between the distribution process of the "barbudos" and that which had taken place in Mexico as a result of the Mexican Revolution, particularly during the presidency of General Lázaro Cárdenas between 1936 and 1940.6

Silva Herzog was one of the Mexicans who were significantly impressed by these Cuban events. In the fourth issue of 1959 of Cuadernos (July-August), Silva Herzog published his article "La reforma agraria en México" which summarized the outline of a forthcoming book of his. Although Silva Herzog's interest in agrarian reform issues did not begin in the wake of the Cuban Revolution, the edition referred to coincided punctually with the moment of approval of the Cuban Agrarian Reform Law on May 17, 1959. Although there are no direct references to that event in his text, the retrospective on the Mexican distribution insisted on a self-reflective look, which concluded with the loss of the Mexican revolutionary ideals, in the light of the accelerated changes in the island.

In the article, Silva Herzog analyzed the different moments of land redistribution in Mexico from the colonial period to the present. He emphasized the different characteristics of each moment and paid special attention to some periods, such as the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas. In the public discussion, Cárdenas appeared as a reference and compass on the correct directions and deviations of the Mexican Revolution. This explained why Silva Herzog made a precise statement on the ideology of the Michoacán native: "the government of Cárdenas can be classified as leftist, but Mexican leftist, in accordance with the trajectory of the social movement initiated in November 1910" (Silva Herzog, 1959: 41).

Taking up Cárdenas' ideas regarding the agrarian reform of the 1930s allowed Silva Herzog to vindicate the "radicalism" of Cárdenas' interpretation of the 1917 Constitution and the Mexican Revolution itself, although he also emphasized that this "does not imply any kinship with the revolutionary movements of other nations", thus making a defensive allusion to the disqualifications made by the general's opponents who labeled him a "communist" and pro-Soviet (Silva Herzog, 1959: 33). These accusations increased after the recognition given to Cárdenas by the Soviet Union in 1956: the Lenin Peace Prize. It is worth mentioning that the paranoia regarding Cárdenas' "communism" on the part of the most conservative sectors of Mexican society increased as a result of his expressions of sympathy towards the Cuban Revolution, as manifested during his visit to the island during the commemoration of the 6th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada barracks on July 26, 1959 (Pérez Montfort, 2021: 324).

After a broad exposition of Cárdenas' project, Silva Herzog went on to denounce the abandonment of this type of policies, especially noticeable after 1953. Consequently, he considered that the fundamental thing was to "reform the agrarian reform", as a kind of purge of errors and reactivation of what in his opinion was a bastion of the "left, but of the Mexican left" (Silva Herzog, 1959: 41). The association between agrarian reform and the left became a means to establish parallels between the Cuban and Mexican Revolutions. Moreover, this was one of the grounds for making calls to commit to the defense of the transformation process on the island.

For her part, Loló de la Torriente, a Cuban journalist based in Mexico, and a reporter for the newspaper Novedades and a regular contributor to Cuadernos Americanos published the article "Reality and hope in Cuban politics" at the end of 1959. This article had a very clear purpose, shared by most of the texts that spoke about the Revolution in Cuba from Mexico, which consisted of denying the conservative press: "To the heart of many simple people who wonder what is happening in Cuba" (De la Torriente, 1959: 35).

De la Torriente contrasted the living conditions in Cuba during the Batista dictatorship with the new revolutionary panorama. He contributed to Fidel Castro's promotion as the architect of the revolutionary process by saying that he was "[...] the product of a Marti's ideal, fragrant and alive in Dr. Castro and the brave boys who with him ran the adventure of death". In addition, he highlighted values similar to those mentioned by Silva Herzog about Cárdenas by cataloguing him as "leftist, but Mexican", stating that "[...] the Revolution is about cubanizing Cuba by reintegrating the riches that belong to it" (De la Torriente, 1959: 35). This type of allusions were intended, in both cases, to counteract the accusations of having "foreign" or "exotic" ideas, as an anti-communist euphemism to disqualify any process.

De la Torriente took up the same episode narrated by González Pedrero recalling the last moments of December 31, 1958 as "the hallucinating night [that] opened into a dawn of splendor" and about Castro's arrival in Havana: "Fidel arrives in the Capital[,] millions of compatriots are waiting to see him pass by. Women cry. Children cheer for him. Flowers rain down on him and his men. Never has another reception been more spontaneous and warm" (De la Torriente, 1959: 58).

Later on, De la Torriente issued a severe criticism of the revolutions of the continent -perhaps thinking specifically of the Mexican Revolution- and called to learn from those failed attempts: "All revolutions in all times have seen the undertow rise, but the American ones have seen how it persists and undermines, weakening the foundations. We must not relapse into old vices" (De la Torriente, 1959: 64).

The retrospective look towards the Mexican Revolution oriented the construction of new utopian projections in perspective of its Cuban counterpart in 1959. It also dictated the prerogatives that were implied in terms of the similarity between both processes, committing itself to the Cuban transformation from the intellectual trench in Mexico.

The defense of the Revolution was mainly based on three axes: the first consisted of clearly pointing out what was threatening the island, especially interventionism, imperialism and what they considered "lies" derived from anti-communism. The second axis contemplated the arguments for such defense with historical references such as the independence struggles of the 19th century, the anti-imperialism derived from Latin Americanism and the vanguardism of measures such as the agrarian reform. In addition, at this point, it also became necessary to demonstrate that it was not a socialist or communist revolution, but a nationalist one, comparing it with the Mexican one. Finally, the third line postulated the mechanisms with which the Cuban Revolution would have to be defended: one of the most important was intellectual commitment, which also implied criticism of the Mexican social context.

In the following section of this article, I discuss expressions in which the new orientation in the argumentation of intellectuals from Cuadernos Americanos and some other collaborations in the adjoining circle of the Revista de la Universidad both publications are part of the intellectual platform of the unam.

A half-century after the Mexican Revolution in Cuadernos Americanos and the Revista de la Universidad

In the framework of the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, at least four publications of certain relevance for historiographic assessment were published: La revolución social de México, by Manuel González Ramírez; Breve historia de la Revolución mexicana, by Jesús Silva Herzog; La verdadera Revolución mexicana, by Alfonso Taracena, and a series of other texts that "the Presidency of the Republic promoted with the publication by the Fondo de Cultura Económica of a work in four thick volumes titled México. 50 años de Revolución. (Hurtado, 2010: 118). The latter had the participation of sixty-two authors, among them Edmundo O'Gorman, Pablo González Casanova, Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, Emilio Portes Gil and Jaime Torres Bodet. Each volume was dedicated to a theme: economy, social life, politics and culture. In the intellectual sphere, this was one of the mechanisms used by the PRI regime to vindicate itself as the heir and continuator of the revolutionary process.

When November arrived, the month of the Mexican revolutionary commemoration, Cuadernos Americanos published, in its last issue of the year, a pair of texts by Jesús Silva Herzog and the French historian François Chevalier on that subject. The first, "Un esbozo de la Revolución mexicana (1910-1917)", was the long introductory note of the Breve historia de la Revolución mexicana which did not contain any reflection clearly related to the commemoration (Silva Herzog, 1960: 135-164). In the case of Chevalier, although he focused on observing the most radical aspect of the components of the Mexican process, the title of his article "A decisive factor in Mexico's agrarian revolution: 'Zapata's uprising' (1911-1919)" did not allude to a balance of the present with a historical perspective, but rather to a monographic work on the project of the agrarian leader (Chevalier, 1960: 165-187).

A more focused approach to the balance of the present of the Mexican Revolution was presented by Enrique González Pedrero in his text "50 años después" (50 years later), published in the Revista de la Universidad de México, also published by unam. This article invited the Mexican left to propose "[...] a concrete analysis of the contemporary leftist attitude that should start from the social process initiated in 1910 when it acquired, as a political position, a modern sense". Referring to the stagnation of the process, he considered that "the past had such an influence that, in spite of the renovating force of the revolutionary, inertia progressively slowed it down until it was almost nullified, until it was assimilated" (González Pedrero, 1960: 4-5). González Pedrero affirmed that the greatest of the vices of this revolutionary process was its proceeding "from above", that is to say, the political centralism that made communication with "those from below" impossible and hindered the defense of their interests.

This author marked as the axis of the transition between 1958 and 1959, "[...] two capital political events: the struggle that the workers began to wage in favor of their union independence and the triumph of the Cuban Revolution". And he stated categorically: "we have seen how the Mexican Revolution used a method that has begun to prove incapable of solving the problems of our time". That is why he called to resolve four demands in order to "update the Mexican Revolution, fill it with the contemporary content it lacks, give it new breath and invigorate it for the struggle it will have to wage in a future that is already almost present: agrarian, economic, trade union and political democracy". Only in this way would the Mexican Revolution be capable of transcending into the future, taking responsibility for the "historical" role that corresponded to it (González Pedrero, 1960: 7-9).

Although, apart from González Pedrero's, some of the evaluations did not point so explicitly to the Cuban Revolution as a guide, the balance sheets did take the radicalization process of the island as an analytical framework. The possible future of the Mexican process depended on resuming and deepening the transformation processes that had been suspended or stagnated over the years. The Cuban reforms were an unavoidable reference point for this.

Faced with the permanence of Franco's dictatorship in Spain, on the one hand, and the stagnation of the Mexican Revolution, on the other, the youth and vigor of the Cuban Revolution catalyzed some discussions that had been going on for decades and channeled new concerns after its triumph in 1959. Thus, a wide range of responses appeared to redefine and reorient intellectual commitment, revolutionary ideologies and the confrontation with imperialism, which turned this process into a meeting point for Ibero-American intellectuals. Frequently, the references to the Cuban Revolution in Cuadernos Americanos and in La Revista de la Universidad were verbalizations of the hope of being able to reactivate the Mexican Revolution.

Final thoughts

The discussion on intellectual engagement was reoriented at the end of the 1950s with the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 in Cuadernos Americanos. However, discussions in this regard can be traced back to previous decades, as demonstrated by the example of Jesús Silva Herzog and the circle of his collaborators in Cuadernos Americanos. What did happen after 1959 was the incorporation of a new reference point, in this case the Caribbean island to replace the Mexican Revolution of 1910, to reflect on the possibility of modifying the situation of Latin American countries.

Having the Cuban Revolution as a continental referent, it was necessary that some leftist arguments from the first decades of the 20th century, such as anti-imperialism, were reinvigorated and reoriented in terms of Latin Americanism or the analysis of policies such as the agrarian reform in the island. Thus, the historical references that linked the struggles with other previous ones were instrumentalized, as did the intellectuals of Cuadernos Americanos with Cardenismo to defend the radicalization process in the island at that time. These analyses evidenced the aging of the Mexican Revolution, as it was compared with its Cuban counterpart in the texts of intellectuals, in some cases more explicitly than others.

Finally, it is worth noting that the opportunity to publicly express intellectual commitment allowed the intellectuals from Cuadernos Americanos to position discourses, publish texts or participate in discussions that, arguing positions of criticism of the Latin American reality, the fight against imperialism and the defense of revolutionary projects in the continent, projected them in terms of their personal or institutional interests throughout the sixties and seventies.


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Juan Alberto Salazar Rebolledo is PhD Researcher at the International Graduate School "Temporalities of the Future" of the Lateinamerika Institut of the Free University of Berlin. He holds a Master's and Bachelor's degree in History from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (unam). He specializes in the cultural and social history of Latin America, with special attention to the contemporary period. He has participated in academic events in Mexico, Cuba, Germany, Portugal, Peru and the United States. He has published articles in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History of the University of Oxford and in the journals Sequence, Cuban Studies, The Latin Americanist, Visual Discourse and Babel. Some others, such as "Resistance and cultural reason: a field of struggle", "History of a failure: the commodification of youth culture in the Rock and Wheels Festival, Avándaro, 1971" and "Where are the boys? Una aproximación a la diversidad sociocultural de los jóvenes mexicanos de los años sesenta", have appeared in collective books published by Penguin Random House and by the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras of the University of Mexico. unam.


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