The First Socialist Constitution
Learning from the successes and failures of the Mexican Revolution.
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On both the political Right and Left, there’s much debate about which countries are and are not “Socialist.” Commentators spend countless hours arguing over the proper label for Cuba, China, Venezuela, Norway, and a host of other potentially-Socialist nations. Oddly admitted from that list is Mexico, which, at least in the early 20th century, had a Constitution that was undeniably the product of revolutionary Socialism.
Often called “The First Socialist Constitution,” the Mexican Constitution of 1917 arose from the Mexican Revolution, which occurred between 1910 and 1920. To make a long story short, the Mexican Revolution was a series of sporadic, regional peasant uprisings against wealthy land barons and the federal government that protected their interests. Revolutionary bands battled the Federal Army, the imperialist armies of the U.S., Germany, the U.K., and France, and, as is common in such conflicts, each other. By late 1916, the Constitutionalist faction led by Venustiano Carranza controlled most of the country. Seeking to end the turmoil, Carranza called a Constitutional Convention, which drafted one of the most radical national charters ever devised. In addition to the guarantee of universal male suffrage and basic human rights, the Mexican Constitution of 1917 held three landmark articles that would cement its legacy as the First Socialist Constitution.
Article 3: Limiting Church Power & Establishing Free, Universal Public Education
Like many early 20th-century states, Mexico was dominated by a powerful religious institution that ruled the country through its psycho-spiritual control of the masses and its enormous land holdings. In pre-revolutionary Mexico, the Catholic Church owned large swaths of the nation’s land and was the primary provider of education, which they used to uphold the social hierarchy upon which the Church sat. With the Constitution’s revolutionary writers wanting to guarantee education for all, free from religious indoctrination, Article 3 of the 1917 Constitution established that free, secular, education was to be provided to all by the state. The Church was prohibited from teaching, as well as owning property.
Article III. The education imparted by the Federal State shall be designed to develop harmoniously all the faculties of the human being and shall foster in him at the same time a love of country and a consciousness of international solidarity, in independence and justice.
(The full Constitution can be read here.)
Article 27: Land Reform
At the heart of nearly every peasant rebellion is the issue of land ownership, as land is one of two necessary ingredients in the creation of wealth (the other being labor). The Mexican Revolution was no different.
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