Oil and Revolution in Mexico

In This Review

Oil and Revolution in Mexico

By Jonathan C. Brown
University of California Press, 1993
453 pp. $40.00

An exhaustively documented and well-written book that reexamines many of the old notions about the impact of foreign capital on the modernization of Mexico between the 1880s and the 1920s, and the ambivalent Mexican reaction to the changes unleashed then. Drawing on his research, the author focuses on the role of the foreign oil companies in Mexico and issues some explicit warnings about the Salinas administration's turn to unfettered markets and foreign investors. The comparison, however, is mostly asserted rather than developed, which is a great pity because events in Mexico since January 1994 (both in Chiapas and Tijuana) have given his prophesy some substance. His findings are complex and sophisticated and not easily summarized, but his bottom line is that inattention to the primacy of Mexico's social heritage is dangerous. He writes: "In few other national histories have the complexities of the preindustrial social order been more evident than in Mexico . . . the thin privileged and fearful European upper crust; the competitive, vulnerable and racially mixed middle strata; the mass of Indian peasants and day laborers, suffering abuses and saving up grudges." This is provocative history at its best. In understanding some of the difficulties facing Mexico in the next few months, this history, as Professor Brown demonstrates, is not one to be ignored by analysts.

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