Persons Die, but Noble Ideals are Eternal
The Mexican anarchists teach us “Las personas mueran, pero los ideales buenas son eternos”: Persons die, but noble ideals are eternal. This romantic notion contains within it a profound insight into the limits of personhood and a profound awareness of the infinite regeneration of hope. In this volume, the first anarchist remembrance of Ricardo Flores Magón published in the nation of his exile, we must carefully consider how to understand his legacy. In particular, we must guard against the myth that Flores Magón himself always warned about: that of personalismo, of identifying the struggle for human liberation with a certain leader. One can point towards the example of the authoritarian revolutionary figure Ernesto “Che” Guevara as an object lesson in the perils of a cult of personality. When one identifies a hope with a personal leader, one condemns the struggle for liberation to be something that can be easily represented and repeated; co-opting a revolutionary dream into an icon that capitalism can easily turn into a commodity to sell alcohol or pop music.
In Ricardo Flores Magón’s 1917 play Víctimas y Verdugos (Victims and Executioners), the sincere worker José defends his companion Isabel from a judge who arrives with a group of gendarmes to throw her and her sick, dying mother out on to the street. After José proclaims that the bourgeoisie have prostituted the concepts of “justice” and “rights” to forward their own interests and to whip down the poor, the judge furiously demands, “Are you an anarchist?” José responds, “I am a friend of justice, of human justice, of the justice that is not written in the codes, of the justice that prescribes that all human beings have the right to live without exploiting and without being exploited, without ordering and without being ordered.” Falsely believing that he has finally uncovered the personality that directs José’s revolutionary awareness, the judge shouts to his gendarmes, “This man is a magonista” - a follower of Ricardo Flores Magón - “Search him!” However, José, restrained and patted down by authorities, indignantly responds “I am not a magonista: I am an anarchist. An anarchist does not have idols.”
certain scholars and some radicals use “magonista” as
shorthand to refer to those who have been inspired by the profound dream of
Ricardo Flores Magón, one must immediately realize
that this term is a misnomer. Indeed, Flores Magón
An anarchist not only refuses to recognize a leader in the political or a military sphere, but also in the intellectual realm. From the outset, anarchists have always opposed the totalitarian Marxist-Leninist vision of a dictatorship of the proletariat. They also renounce the elitism of a Trotskyist vanguard party that leads the ignorant masses to a correct ideology, compelling them all to accept their “party line.” Believing in a certain basic decency and intelligence among all humanity, anarchism proclaims that one need not coerce others to accept any viewpoint. In the earliest document clearly attesting to his political commitments, Flores Magón distinguished his principles from authoritarian ones. A prison letter to his brother Enrique and his comrade Praxedis Guerrero explained that they must work as “anarchists, even from those who take us as their leaders.” Rejecting all forms of coercion, Flores Magón believed that a true anarchist would neither order others around nor prescribe a doctrine for others to follow. Rather than leading a set of followers, true revolutionaries must inspire others to action. Flores Magón explained, “Let us then, those who are conscious, prepare the popular mentality for when the moment arrives.” This notion of the anarchist intellectual as the one who guides rather than commands echoes the classical, Socratic idea of the philosopher as the one who frees the shackled slaves from false ideas, conducting them towards the Good beyond Being. In his denunciations of the rapacity of the rich and the ruthlessness of the powerful, Flores Magón also evokes the biblical prophets’ exhortations for justice.
Throughout his writing, Ricardo Flores Magón repeatedly described himself as a prophet of emancipation. Traditionally, a prophet does not merely call others to justice; his own prophecy is also a response to a calling from an Other beyond himself. Flores Magón described his own inspiration in a similar manner: “‘Onwards!’ says a mysterious voice that appears, uprooting the innermost core of our being. It spurs on all those who are weary, spiritually burdened; whose swollen feet have been bled dry by the long, hard road; we who intend to rest for a while. … ‘Onwards, onwards!’ the voice orders us.” Similarly, Flores Magón asserted his prophetic role in human history in the essay “Utopians.” “Nevertheless, at all times, the progress of humanity is indebted to the dreamers and the utopians. This thing called civilization: what is it if not the result of utopian efforts? The visionaries, the poets, the dreamers, the utopians, so disdained by ‘serious’ people, so persecuted by the ‘paternalism’ of governments: lynched here, shot down there, burnt to death, tortured, imprisoned, torn to pieces in all epochs and all countries, nevertheless, have been the engines of all movements forward, the prophets who have pointed the blind masses towards luminous paths leading to glorious summits.”
Those who knew or observed Ricardo Flores Magón also attested to his spiritual force. Their descriptions of him tend not to focus on his personal qualities, but rather on his ability to beckon others to the struggle for human liberation. On hearing of his death, Flores Magón’s old Liberal Party comrade, Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama, eulogized him by saying “he was the inspiration, the clear vision that impelled the people to revolution … Ricardo Flores Magón saw the Revolution totally, integrally, with the vision of a prophet.” Similarly, Flores Magón’s closest comrade for over half his life, Librado Rivera, praised him because “his great steadfastness and heroic courage even transformed a people enslaved, downtrodden, and humiliated by the greatest of despots into a proud, valiant, and respected people, resplendently uplifting faces imbued with terror and horror towards their exploiters and torturers. Indeed, Ricardo Flores Magón was the soul of that great libertarian epic who, in the manner of Prometheus of mythological legend, infused that divine fire that impelled the people to rebellion; rebellion, the creative well of all liberties.” Even Thomas Furlong, the detective who made a career out of pursing Flores Magón and other members of the Partido Liberal Mexicano, described him in spiritual terms. In his 1906 report to the Mexican government, he stated that Flores Magón had “a very resolute and energetic character and is fanatical about the cause he pursues … Ricardo is the soul of all, and without him the other people would do nothing.”
As a revolutionary
prophet, Ricardo Flores Magón attempted to awaken the
enslaved masses of the world from their nightmares through a dream of social,
economic, and political justice. As in
Flores Magón’s time, most people today have been
taught to accept their degradation as part of the normal order of the universe. As an
apostle of anarchism, Flores Magón taught that this
misery and this suffering are produced by the thievery of the rich, the
manipulation of religion and ideology, and the repression of the government. These
three forces conspire to uphold the very basis of injustice: the institution of private property. One
can look at the history of
In order to
steal the common goods to benefit the few as their private property,
aristocrats and capitalists utilize the coercion of government and ideology. The
government creates laws protecting the dominion of the wealthy and employs its
police to enforce obedience. Those of us who rose up in 1999 against the
This anarchist critique of private property further underlines Flores Magón’s objection to personalismo. The thing that a person calls its “Self” is perhaps the most private property it can own. If we anarchists take Flores Magón’s analysis of private property seriously, we must further question our approach to individualism. Whereas the libertarian capitalism of Ayn Rand and the egoist anarchism of Max Stirner assert the individual’s right to dominate everything, the communist anarchism of Flores Magón stresses the importance of well-being for all. In this way, Flores Magón’s thought finds an echo in the contemporary philosopher of “anarchy,” Emmanuel Levinas. Throughout his work, Levinas explores how each everyday encounter with an Other person confronts us with a perspective that lies beyond our own consciousness, with a life that lies beyond our power to possess and control. Challenging our sovereign ownership of property, the Other beckons us to take responsibility for its destitution in the world. According to Levinas, prophecy is this very witness of suffering and this very demand for justice.
A scene in a recent film profoundly explores this idea of Otherness as a call to justice. In it, an Argentinean grandmother passionately declaims the government that has so savagely murdered so many young political dissidents, saying “We must fight so that more children do not die. It can not be a thing of pity. It can not be that, in this country, 100 children die every day. We can not allow it. We must accompany the struggles. Each of us must feel, at last, that I am ‘the Other’. I am ‘the Other’. I am ‘the Other’. I am ‘the Other’. I am ‘the Other’. I am ‘the Other’. I am the unemployed worker. I am the revolutionary. I am those who take over the factory. I am those who do not eat. I am all of us.” At the end of the film, the Zapatista thinker Subcomandante Marcos likewise urges, “Make yourself our hearing in order to listen to the word of the Other. You shall no longer be you; now you are us.”
The Other does not only present me with a challenge, but also offers me a chance for Regeneration. A person may die, yet his noble ideals shall still live on in the minds and hearts of others. Even though Ricardo Flores Magón, the apostle of anarchism, was martyred for his prophecy, he spread the fecund seed of his dreams of freedom through his writing and his action. Across the infinity of time, hope shall spring eternally from his grave.
 For details of Che’s authoritarianism during and after the Cuban Revolution, see “Che Guevara: Myths and Legends”, http://www.spunk.org/library/groups/acf/sp001768.html.
 Even Madonna, the artist best known for the way she manipulates her own image, has cast herself in a Che beret to market her newest album. Susan Smith Nash’s article, “Madonna in Che Guevara’s Beret. First Vodka, now Madonna: Che Guevara Image Still Sells” discusses how both Smirnoff Vodka and Madonna have utilized the Che icon. http://www.xplana.com/articles/archives/Beret/
 Ricardo Flores Magón, Verdugos y Victimas, Act I, Scene VII. My translation
For example, Enrique Krauze’s
history Mexico: Biography of Power (Translated by Hank Heifetz.
 In contrast to the personalismo of historians, today’s Zapatistas, or EZLN, who fight for the liberation of the campesinos of Chiapas, have always remained careful in their usage of Emiliano Zapata. They venerate “Zapata” more as a prophetic hope for human freedom than as a historical figure: “… And the very oldest among the old people in the villages tell of a man named Zapata who rose up for his own people and in a voice more like a song than a shout, said ‘Land and Freedom.’ And these old folks say that Zapata is not dead, that he is going to return. And the oldest of the old also say that the wind and the rain and the sun tell the campesinos when they should prepare the soil, when they should plant, and when they should harvest. They say that hope also must be planted and harvested. And the old people say that now the wind, the rain, and the sun are talking to the earth in a new way, and that the poor should not continue to harvest death, now it is time to harvest rebellion. So say the old people. The powerful don’t listen; the words don’t reach them, as they are made deaf by the witchery that the imperialists shout in their ears. ‘Zapata,’ repeat the youth of the poor, ‘Zapata,’ insists the wind, the wind from below, our wind …” Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos in Shadows of Tender Fury (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1995) pp. 45-6.
Letter from L.A. County Jail,
 Manifesto to the Anarchists of the Entire World and the Workers in General, p. infra.
 Plato, The Republic, §514a-517a, §509a-c.
 The religious tone of Ricardo Flores Magón’s writing requires close inspection and contemplation. As an anarchist, he saw religion as one of the forces that, along with capitalism and government, preserve unjust hierarchies. Like most Mexican liberals, socialists, and anarchists, Flores Magón railed against the Catholic Church’s dominion over the Mexican peasant and proletariat. By 1907, Flores Magón had developed a general view that the “death of god,” the overthrow of all religion and metaphysical belief, was necessary for the end of social inequality. Nevertheless, Flores Magón frequently used theological terminology throughout his writing. For example, he repeatedly discussed the necessity of “holy rebellion” against Porfirio Díaz to bring “redemption” to the Mexican populace. Flores Magón’s critique of government and capitalism can certainly be compared with the biblical prophet Amos, who caustically attacked the violence of power-hungry rulers and the barbarity of the rich. It is unclear whether any particular religious influence affected Flores Magón writing style or whether his vocabulary and metaphors merely reflect the degree to which the Spanish language and Mexican culture have been influenced by Catholicism.
 “Utopians,” p. infra.
 Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama, “Eulogy to Ricardo Flores Magón.” In Ethel Duffy Turner, Revolution in Baja California (Edited and annotated by Rey Devis. Detroit: Blaine Ethridge, 1981), p. 98.
 Librado Flores Magón, prologue to Ricardo Flores Magón, el apóstol de la revolución social mexicana by Diego Abad de Santillán (México: Ediciones Antorcha, 1988), p. 11. My translation.
 Quoted in Abad de Santillan, p. 43. My translation.
 See the section “Principle and Anarchy” in Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. Translated by Alfonso Lingis. (Pittsburgh: Duquense University Press, 1998), pp. 99-102.
 Levinas states, “A thing does not resist acquisition; the other possessors – those whom one can not possess – contest and therefore can sanction possession itself.” Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity. Translated by Alfonso Lingis. (Pittsburgh: Duquense University Press, 1969), p. 162.
 The Fourth World War. Big Noise Films: 2004.