Middle Class Guerrilas: The Failure of the Mexican Student Revolutionaries to Build a Mass Movement




Sepko, Matthew

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The Mexican Dirty War, which lasted almost two decades from its onset in the middle of the 1960s to its conclusion during the early 1980s, is a period of Mexican history that has received considerably less attention than the revolution that began the century and the drug war which ushered in the next. This dirty war saw the rise of the middle-class student communist revolutionary, where many armed urban guerrilla movements would emerge against the dictatorial one-party Mexican state of the Partido Institucional Revolucionario, or the PRI. By looking at writings and rhetoric used by these middle-class guerrillas, as well as contextualizing those guerrillas and their writings within the post-student movement, Dirty War-era of Mexican history, this thesis will aim to look at the reasons why these student-composed urban guerrilla groups failed to create a mass movement that would have been a necessary step in the sparking of a communist revolution. Ultimately this thesis concludes that the urban guerrillas’ propensity to abstract their way of thinking about their cause was at the root of their failures to link with the masses, a result of these guerrillas’ origins as middle-class students rapidly radicalized during the student movements of 1968-1971. This abstracted thinking would lead the urban guerrilla movements to be severely overintellectualized, using dense, high-concept, and alienating rhetoric. They would also be clouded in their analyses and assessments of the present situation, causing a simultaneous overestimation of their own capabilities and an underestimation of their enemies. This abstraction would help foster an environment ripe for extreme sectarianism and left-wing factionalist infighting due to dogmatic obsessions with theoretical purity becoming priority above all else for many of the urban guerrillas. These urban guerrillas did not have the manpower necessary to win a decades long, drawn out civil war, a problem that would prove impossible to overcome due to their inability to ground and connect their cause with the masses in a way that would be of interest and relevance to them. With these groups unable to create a strong social base of support among the workers and peasants of Mexico, they had little to no hope of surviving both the vicious propaganda campaigns and the brutal war of extermination by the ruling party, leading to the eventual and total defeat of these urban guerrilla organizations and the humiliation of the Mexican Left.



Mexico, student revolutionaries, guerrilla groups, middle class radicals, dirty war


Sepko, M. (2023). Middle class guerrilas: The failure of the Mexican student revolutionaries to build a mass movement. Honors College, Texas State University.


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