BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky

Wealth Extraction Sparks Mexican Revolutions

In Mexico’s Revolution Then and Now (Monthly Review, paperback, 2010), James D. Cockcroft provides a window to the past and present of the US neighbor. A speaker of English and Spanish, Cockcroft is also a prolific author of books on Mexico, with over a half-century of experience and study there.

His new book published a century after the Mexican Revolution arrives at a crucial time, as pundits and politicians “talk loud and say nothing” about the struggles of common people in Mexico.

Lost in such odious fog is the nation’s place as a site of wealth extraction for Mexican elites and US financial and industrial firms. Cockcroft offers up that story and much more in a clear, left analysis in 176 pages, a notable effort.

A photo of Ricardo Flores Magón opens the book. This Mexican revolutionary, 1874-1922, has scant name recognition in the US now. But his ideas and activities as a revolutionary activist of anarchist, communist and socialist leanings, run a red line through Cockcroft’s book.

He situates the Zapatista movement with Subcomandante Marcos rising in Chiapas against the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Congress passed under President Clinton and took effect on Jan. 1, 1994, in the tradition of Magón. The two figures and their anti-imperialist movements, separated by decades, reveal differences and similarities. It’s a complex process to compare and contrast such actors and factors across time and space, but Cockcroft handles it with a deft touch.

A current flashpoint which he details is soaked in blood. I mean Mexico’s lethal war over the distribution of illegal drugs for mainly US consumers. The Mexican death toll is 7,000 people per year, or roughly 20 lost lives each day, so the lucrative drug trade can continue. US businesses export most of the weaponry that fuel this conflict. But it is Mexico that US lawmakers and demagogues describe as a “failed state.”

Cockcroft counters that description by pulling the curtain back on US involvement, commercially and militarily. One example is the public relations playbook of portraying US military aid as nurturing an embattled Mexican democracy. Just the opposite is the case. Cockcroft paints a vivid picture of a militarized social landscape, peddled to Americans as a battle between the forces of good and evil.

Another theme that recurs is the prize of Mexico’s fossil fuels and labor services. Both are raw materials to profit US investors mainly. Cockcroft does a nice job of fleshing out the historic and current resistance of the Mexican people to such outside extraction of their wealth. They resist, he writes, as they have against colonial invaders in the past. Cockcroft makes the connections without jargon.

His theoretical base is that of a critic of monopoly capital. That is, the handful of firms that control entire industries, from agriculture to media. Consider the biotech titan Monsanto. It illustrates one case of corporate American capital penetrating the Mexican countryside to upend for profit the most basic relations of human society: those between people and the land. Theoretically, Cockcroft also applies Trotsky’s “law of combined and uneven development.” That is, in Cockcroft’s words, “the drawing together of different stages of historical processes, a combining of separate and disparate steps.” For example, landless ex-peasants and billionaire patricians work and live in urban areas such as Mexico City.

Cockcroft is strong on the role of the country’s “original peoples” (76% of whom “live in extreme poverty”) and Mexican women (40% of the labor force) as active participants in resisting exploitation. He ties both into his analysis of the nation’s political culture, rife with machismo, the upper-class-friendly Catholic Church and patriarchy generally.

Cockcroft dissects the so-called US political debate over migrant workers as a cruel ploy. It serves to further divide the US working class in a post-9/11 world, and to maintain a supply of desperate Mexican workers with no human rights forced north since NAFTA. Nowhere has the damage from such misnamed “free trade” been more apparent than the flood of US taxpayer-subsidized corn that has destroyed Mexican peasant farmers’ livelihoods. On the other side of the barricades are some independent Mexican labor unions and progressive groups such as Feministas Socialistas. They are trying to transcend the electoral stranglehold of the PRI and PAN, the two political parties that serve the interests of national elites and US investors.

Cockcroft blogs at

Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento, Calif. Email

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2012

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