The Story of Ricardo Flores Magón

Ricardo Flores Magón was born in in Teotitlán del Camino, Oaxaca in 1874 to a middle class family. He grew up during a turbulent time for Mexico's young independent republic. While attending university in Mexico City he became radicalized by the excesses of the oppressive regime of Porfirio Díaz. Along with several other students and his brother Enrique, he established a newspaper called Regeneración in 1900, which pushed for liberal reforms such as freedom of speech and press, and a more representative parliamentary democracy.

In 1905, Magón formed the Junta Organizadora del Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM). He penned the , the most comprehensive and far-reaching document of the Mexican Revolution, which served as a basis for many other key players including the milder reforms of Francisco Madero as well as the revolutionary agrarianism of Emiliano Zapata. The eventual framers of Mexico's modern constitution borrowed heavily from it, which is why today Magón is known as "El Precursor de Revolution."

Ricardo Flores Magón (left) and his brother Enrique (right). Photo courtesy of the UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library.

Magón's program called for curbing executive office and limiting the office of president to four years with no reelection; ending compulsory service in the army; reforming the courts; replacing prisons with agricultural penal colonies; promoting basic human rights such as freedom of speech and press; limiting the working day to eight hours; legalizing unions; forbidding child labor; restoring confiscated indigenous land; and requiring Mexican citizenship in order to own land.

But Díaz's regime was quick to censor voices of opposition and after several arrests for their political agitation, the government banned the Magón brothers from publishing in Mexico. Deprived of the means of communicating with the people, Ricardo and Enrique went into exile, eventually landing in Los Angeles in 1907.

Ricardo Flores Magón (left) and his brother Enrique (right).

According to Rubén Martínez, the host of Variedades, "Ricardo Flores Magón's arrival in Los Angeles reconnected a circuit that had been broken by the Mexican-American War and the creation of the border between the US and Mexico. The Mexican population in Los Angeles plummeted after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and in the intervening years, the Anglo community became ascendant. By the turn of the century, the Mexican population began to grow modestly. Later, during the Mexican Revolution, it would explode, creating a sizable Mexican population in downtown, eventually founding the barrio of East L.A."

After arriving in Los Angeles, Magón set about publishing Regeneración and smuggling it back to Mexico. At the same time, he received news from Mexico about the revolutionary fervor engulfing the country. In Los Angeles, Magón found his voice and matured as a theorist. Here he came into contact with other radical thinkers, such as the famed Russian anarchist Emma Goldman. As a result, Regeneración became increasingly international in focus and started addressing a U.S. audience. It still covered the plight of Mexicans south of the border, but also took up the banner of marginalized communities in the United States, criticizing widespread racism and the demonization of workers' movements from the mainstream press in Los Angeles.

Linocut of Ricardo Flores Magón by Carlos Cortéz, 1978. Photo courtesy of Center for the Study of Political Graphics.

"In Mexico, Magón had been a radical reformist," says Martinez, "but in Los Angeles he became an anarchist. He began to believe that trading one state for another state, one government for another government, would always favor the interests of the rich. His definition of anarchism began to form around the idea of human society beyond state structures. He turned to the idea of the commune."

To fulfill his dreams of equality, Magón and his brother Enrique established a communal five and half acre farm at Edendale (current day Echo Park). It was here that Magón wrote plays and didactic stories, including "Tierra y Libertad," an excerpt of which is performed here.

But Magón's publishing activities did not go unnoticed and he made many enemies, chief among them the owner of the Los Angeles Times and large landowner in Mexico, Harrison Gray Otis. The Los Angeles Times coverage of Magón's publishing painted him as a villain, as it did all pro-labor interests. Eventually, the Times would collaborate with the U.S. government to bring Magón to trial claiming that he was trying to foment revolution in the U.S. Magón was convicted of violating the Espionage Act in 1918. He died in prison four years later.

Mugshot of Ricardo Flores Magón from his time at Leavenworth Prison.

But Magón's legacy lives on. "Ricardo Flores Magón represents the opening of a network of communication between Mexico City and Los Angeles," explains Martinez. "This interconnectedness was pioneered by Magón and his cohort at the turn of the 20th century and lasts all the way to the present."

The story continues! Click here to see how Magón influenced generations of artists, musicians, and thinkers.


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