USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Rivera Returns to Mexico

When Rivera returned to Mexico in 1921, he encountered a revolutionary society that was just emerging from a decade of civil war. The war had been incredibly bloody and chaotic, notable for the breakdown of any form of centralized power and the rise of localized militias led by charismatic figures like Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. By 1920, however, Zapata had been assassinated by the new constitutional regime and Villa had surrendered. The situation in Mexico mirrored in many ways the revolutionary dynamics in Russia, which witnessed a shorter period of chaotic civil war, followed by an attempt, like in Mexico, for a stabilization of the revolutionary government in the 1920s and 1930s. Like in Russia, the stabilization period was marked by struggles for power among political leaders, violence, and a mishmash of social and cultural reforms. Like in Russia, the Mexican revolutionary government in the 1920s learned that despite its desire for broad social reforms, it would be incredibly challenging to remove itself from the global economy. Finally, like in Russia the Mexican government sought to create “an aesthetics” of the revolution. Diego Rivera, bringing together threads of hyper-modernity with traditional motifs, Marxism with peasant communitarianism, would be the most famous example of the revolutionary artist. By the late 1920s, however, Rivera had fallen out of favor with movements on the right and the left in Mexico. As the government moved away from revolutionary Marxism, it viewed Rivera as too radical. At the same time, the fissures in the world communist movement, primarily between Stalinists and the diverse array of opponents to Stalin, eventually led to Rivera’s expulsion of the communist party in 1929 on the grounds that he was a “Trotskyite.”

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