Conference on Latin American History 71
In this panel, Ph.D. candidates and professors will incite discussion about the precise role of Mexico’s state during the middle of the twentieth century. In examining the nature of this state, which was led by the authoritarian Institutional Revolutionary Party (the PRI), the papers will emphasize the importance of understanding the intricate negotiations of power that took place between the PRIísta state and various actors during a time when the authoritarian state was trying to stabilize its control. This panel will be of interest to specialists in the subjects of Mexico, authoritarianism, industrialization, political economy, private interest groups, rural history, urban history and political patronage.
Although recent historians have made clear that the PRIísta state was not the leviathan that previous generations had characterized it as, there are still three major lacunae in Mexicanist mid-century historiography. The first is an empirical explication of the complicated ways in which the PRIísta state maintained its rule. The second is a thorough demonstration of the political and economic continuities with the preceding revolutionary period that characterized the conservative turn national elites took in 1940. The third is an examination of the critical importance of non-state actors in shaping both policies and on-the-ground realities for everyday Mexicans. The presentations will span the entire country --- rural and urban, from the north to the south – in the quest to map these historiographical terrains better.
In the first paper by Michael Lettieri, we see that the PRIísta state had to pragmatically negotiate with the Alianza de Camioneros de México in Mexico City, demonstrating a flexibility which gave it a marked degree of strength. In the next paper, Susan Gauss decenters state power by discussing how business elites in several industrial enclaves had various agendas that pulled in opposite directions, and shows that the state’s centralizing and stabilizing tendencies were forced to accommodate these heterogeneous demands. In various rural areas across Mexico, Nicole Mottier demonstrates that the PRIísta state was relatively absent in the realm of agricultural credit to peasants as compared with various important non-state actors, showing that the state was not necessarily the main actor in every socioeconomic aspect of Mexico. Finally, Paul Gillingham addresses the myth of the Pax PRIísta by showing that both the PRIísta state and peasants used a high degree of violence in their struggles over development projects, but that eventually the state won peasants’ genuine consent through strategic development projects, structural progress and cultural engineering.
This panel, then seeks to tell a broadly-scoped story that speaks not only to Mexico’s political uniqueness during the middle of the twentieth century, but to place Mexico’s experience within a larger story about the myths and realities of authoritarian regimes.