Revolutionary Mexico, the Sovereign People and the Problem of Men with Guns

Joshua Lund
University of Notre Dame

Alejandro Sánchez Lopera
University of Pittsburgh

Volume 7, 2015


On Saturday, January 9, 1915, General Felipe Ángeles, a romantic hero of the Mexican Revolution, rose to speak. The forum was the Military Convention of Aguascalientes. According to the testimony of one Citizen Berlanga, the assembly comprised generals and governors, or their designated representatives in arms (Fabela 230). Today, when it is remembered at all, Aguascalientes is usually recalled as an inconsequential pause between Venustiano Carranza’s early bid for presidential power and Emiliano Zapata and Francisco Villa’s momentous entry into Mexico City, complete with the obligatory stop at the Sanborn’s lunch counter for licuados de plátano. Carranza had called the meeting in an attempt to reconcile with Villa, Zapata and Álvaro Obregón. But the plan backfired, quickly spinning out of Carranza’s control and churning up a rancorous sentiment against his potential leadership of the Revolutionary forces. The Convention’s most immediate function was to establish the ground for the ephemeral presidency of Eulalio Gutiérrez.

While perhaps forgettable when enveloped by the crush of historical spectacles that constitute the Mexican Revolution, the Convention is rhetorically and discursively fascinating. It provides an entire archive of the emergent lines of political conflict among the various jefes as the Revolution slowly began to sort itself out. Moreover, it represents a significant node in the long discursive trajectory on sovereign right and the state of exception, so crucial to Mexican political and cultural history. It is within this archive—no less than six of the 27 volumes that constitute the Fondo de Cultura Económica’s essential Documentos históricos de la Revolución Mexicana (1960)—that we find Ángeles, representing Villa himself, standing before this revolutionary assembly to urge caution: “I do not agree that we [the Convention] must actually declare ourselves sovereign, simply because there is a majority [of convention delegates] present; we don’t know if we are in fact a majority; but even if this were the case, it isn’t a sufficient condition that the majority be represented. It is also necessary that all of the factions be here represented in order for the Convention to be representative” (Fabela 225).[1]

Behind the comments of Ángeles is a specific object, and that object is a problem, and that problem is the absence of Emiliano Zapata. And behind the Zapatistas lies, of course, the object at stake in the Revolution itself: land. That is, at play in Ángeles’s position on the Convention’s sovereignty is a preoccupation with the potential exclusion of a protagonist, the force that, up to early 1915, had embodied the central plank of the Revolution through an unfailing concern with the occupation, tenancy, use and distribution of the land. It was Zapata who, in precise terms, put this vision into practice via one of the signature documents of the Revolution, the celebrated Plan de Ayala, ratified in Morelos on November 28, 1911. Point 6 of the plan reads as follows:

As an additional part of our plan, we make it known: that the lands, forests and waters that have been usurped by the hacendados, científicos or caciques in the shadow of venal justice, will henceforth enter into the possession of the villages or of citizens who have titles corresponding to those properties, and who have been despoiled through the bad faith of our oppressors, and they shall maintain that possession with weapon in hand, and the usurpers who believe they have rights to those lands will be heard by the special tribunal that will be established upon the triumph of the Revolution. [2]

(Zapata and others 341-42) 

At issue in Ángeles’s comment, then, is an armed conflict that revolves around the land question on two levels: first, the de facto situation of the Revolution itself, in which specific armies governed specific lands, inscribed spatially as geographic territories; second, the juridical aim of Zapata’s rebellion, in which specific individuals will have possessed specific lands, inscribed legally as plotted properties.

It is no coincidence that this condition of the land under dispute underwrites Ángeles’s expression of caution specifically on the topic of sovereignty. State formation was the order of the day, and, just a few years later, speaking in the context of another revolutionary and relatively new republic, Max Weber would offer a theory of “the state” in these succinctly memorable terms: “a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” (77), a condition that the Convention explicitly sought to assert. Thirty years and a world war later, a tenacious theorist of modern sovereignty, the fascist jurist Carl Schmitt, will deepen this relation between sovereignty (“legitimate use”), violence (“physical force”) and land (“given territory”). In the chapter on “Law as a Unity of Order and Orientation” in Schmitt’s The Nomos of the Earth and the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum, written in Berlin between 1942 and 1945 (see Ulmen’s translation notes in Schmitt 35), he concludes:

Thus, in some form, the constitutive process of a land-appropriation is found at the beginning of the history of every settled people, every commonwealth, every empire. This is true as well for the beginning of every historical epoch. Not only logically, but also historically, land appropriation precedes the order that follows from it.


Forms of primitive accumulation, in this thesis, precede law, or at least effective law, not only in every empire (which we expect), but also in every settled people (which, on the advice of Ernest Renan, we may have forgotten), and even, most bracingly, at the beginning of every historical epoch.[3] At the heart of revolution—the dawn of a new age—is the possession of the land, and from this founding act new law will flow.

The Mexican Revolution is a productive context in which to contemplate the limits of this thesis and to think about the conditions for its displacement, the possibility of another sovereignty, not hierarchical but generic, one not motivated by the right to rule over things possessed but rather the right to be in the world: always on the horizon but also embedded in the human heart. Two idiosyncratic thinkers of the Mexican Revolution, in historical consonance with Weber and Schmitt respectively, would take on the problem of the land-sovereignty-violence relation in direct terms. And they do so in a pragmatic context, the world of the Mexican Revolution and its legacy. The first, José Vasconcelos, writing on behalf of the Convention of Aguascalientes, reaches the liberal-democratic limits that Schmitt will later sound out in juridical form. Even with its forthright radicalism, Vasconcelos’s case maintains a position placed coherently within the terms of the Hobbesian premise that guides both Weber and Schmitt: effective sovereignty depends upon the force of arms necessary to possess the land. The second, José Revueltas, writing in the decade of Schmitt’s Nomos, would reflect on a radical politics in potentia, always yet to come, or not, via a sovereignty more in line with another philosophical trajectory, one that seeks to outflank men and wolves by running in the paths cleared by Baruch Spinoza and Walter Benjamin. Read through and against each other, Vasconcelos and Revueltas, two Mexican thinkers linked by a common spirit with opposite political trajectories, in reflecting on the possession of the land and the commitment to violence that this possession requires, problematize the relation between radical politics and the rule of law in ways that still resonate today, in Mexico and in the world.[4]


A century ago, and a mere two weeks before the birth of José Revueltas, the young lawyer José Vasconcelos crafted an opinion defending the sovereign legitimacy of the Military Convention of Aguascalientes. The case was presented a couple of months prior to the comment by Felipe Ángeles that opened this essay, and while addressing the same topic—sovereignty over the land—it evinces none of its urge to hedge bets. Philosophically and aesthetically, Vasconcelos’s opinion is the high point of the Convention in this regard, especially for its surprising candor around the question of the relations between land and revolutionary practice.

The source of Vasconcelos’s opinion is in itself still an unresolved story. The document that we are handling here circulates today as a small, primitively bound pamphlet, available through various archival holdings in the United States, in apparent translation (it’s in English), under the colorful title: “The Sovereign Revolutionary Convention of Mexico and the Attitude of General Francisco Villa.” The date of publication is March of 1915, and no translation credit is given. Its publisher is listed as the Confidential Agency of the Provisional Government of Mexico, Washington, D.C. [5] Along with Vasconcelos’s opinion, it includes a manifesto by Villa, a document ratifying his brief ascension to Commander in Chief, and his decree upon “assuming political power”; and an exchange of cables between Ángeles and the Villista officer Eugenio Aguirre Benavides, regarding Ángeles’s opinion on the political direction of the Convention.

The route between the delivery of Vasconcelos’s legal opinion to the Convention and its translation incorporated into a “confidential agency” located in Washington and linked to the US State Department is not yet clear, but the document likely came from Vasconcelos himself.[6] Another version of the document is included, in what we presume is the original Spanish, in the second volume of Vasconcelos’s autobiographical tetralogy, La tormenta (1935), titled “La convención militar de Aguascalientes es soberana” and dated October 29, 1914. The opinion, he reports, was commissioned by the president of the Convention, Coronel-General Antonio I. Villarreal, as a “’juridical study’” which was then incorporated into “the record [actas] of the Assembly” (168). He includes it in his autobiography, he explains, so that future historians might “discover something noble in the orgy of cannibals that we today call the revolution” (168). The English translation is faithful to the Spanish version included in Vasconcelos’s autobiography, and it is this 1915 publication that we are handling here. In it, Vasconcelos propels the Mexican discourse on sovereignty and the state of exception to new levels of sophistication, and in dramatic resonance with the historical task at hand. It covers a lot of ground in an efficient 16 pages; we focus our attention on the relation between sovereignty, land and violent force that animates the narrative.

Vasconcelos opens his case for the sovereign legitimacy of Aguascalientes with a conventional move: formal sovereignty, he declares, redounds to the Constitution of 1857 (“Military” 2). At the same time, as this founding document makes clear, the ground for its own sovereign legitimacy can be nothing less than the people (“Military” 4). However, in the name of this very people, that constitution famously provides for its own exception and suspension, an escape clause, Article 39, which guarantees the right to popular reform: in short, the people reserve the right to declare a state of revolution.[7] In direct competition with this right stands Article 29, which contemplates the Constitution’s suspension at the hands of the sovereign: in short, the executive reserves the right to declare a state of exception.[8] It would be no exaggeration to say that, along with the controversial land reform clause of the 1917 constitution, the red thread of debate around the nature of Mexican constitutional democracy has run through these two articles for over a century. As if to increase this tension between popular and sovereign rights even further, and highlighting the duress under which the document was composed, Article 128, the concluding directive of the 1857 constitution, conflates the two, stating:

This Constitution shall not lose its force and vigor, even though its observance be interrupted by rebellion. In case that through any public disturbance a Government contrary to the principles which it sanctions be established, its force shall be restored so soon as the people shall regain their liberty, and those who have participated in the Government emanating from the rebellion or have cooperated with it shall be tried [serán juzgados] in accordance with its provisions and with the laws arising under it.

(qtd. in Branch 109)

Serán juzgados: the Constitution itself invites a popular struggle over its spirit, that is, a struggle between who will judge and who will be judged, one in which the Convention of Aguascalientes was eminently engaged.

Scholars of Mexican cultural politics know these two faces of the state of exception, whether invoked explicitly—wielded without remorse by Benito Juárez, memorably put forward in 1994 as the neo-Zapatistas stated their case for rebellion—or implicitly, from the Mexican student revolutionaries of 1968 to today’s paramilitarization of Mexico glamorized as a “narco war.”[9] In other words, the constitution may be preserved by the popular revolt that usurps its spirit from a corrupt state; or it may be preserved through its own suspension, kept safe in an “arca cerrada” in the words of Ignacio Altamirano (Obras 56), during times of social and political upheaval, from revolution to race war, from golpe de estado to widespread disturbance.[10] Crucial, here, is the productive confusion around the subject of sovereignty, for while the executive, as sovereign, may invoke the extraordinary powers of Article 29 (as Juárez repeatedly did) on behalf of his government, ultimately, sovereignty redounds to the people; it is the sovereign people, with Article 39 of the constitution in hand, that may step alongside of its strictures and present the constitution itself to the state, demanding governmental recompense (as the neo-Zapatistas did). It is on this terrain and its reaffirmation in Article 128—“The constitution of 1857, so slandered and disregarded in our day, foresees the case where it is itself set aside and violated, and creates a remedy against its own destruction” (“Military” 2-3)—that Vasconcelos will rest his case: the fact that el pueblo is sovereign, and thus always retains the right to name the leaders that will carry forward its sovereignty in practical terms. This is where the Convention of Aguascalientes comes in and Carranza goes out. Insofar as the convention exercises de facto supreme power over the land and thus stands closest to the “will of the people,” it reserves the right to recall Carranza’s command and install its own elected official as transitional president, as sovereign messenger.

Vasconcelos’s opening moves thus contain three key points, the first two plain enough: the Convention is guided by the limits imposed by the Constitution of 1857 (“Military” 2-3); and Carranza’s claim to sovereignty cannot stand the test of legitimacy (“Military” 3-4). But it is on the third, and central, point that things get dicey. The problem: the only sovereign is the people, and the Revolution has left the people incoherent. The question, then, is how to make that body politic speak, give it voice through which it can transmit political will. The answer is short, and not unexpected: guns. In Vasconcelos’s interpretation, the Constitution of 1857 affords the people, through military conventions, the right to name transitional leaders while the true sovereign—that is, the people—stands in abeyance due to logistical reasons, the fact of social upheaval, in other words, the Revolution itself: “When the people, harassed in their sovereignty and deprived of their government, appeal to arms to secure for themselves respect and freedom. [sic] When under these circumstances, every vestige of legal power has disappeared, sovereignty returns to the people who had delegated it, and who then take it over by virtue of the disappearance of their rulers, in order to enforce it later by force of arms” (“Military”4). Thus the vicious circle of sovereignty, wherein popular sovereignty sustains the legitimacy of the military convention whose task it is to restore popular sovereignty, all of this mediated by the legitimate possession of the means of physical force: “it should nevertheless be borne in mind that the Convention is the only legitimate power in the country, since it represents the armed citizens on whom, on the disappearance of the legal powers, sovereignty devolved” (“Military” 6, emphasis added).

Given the context, the Military Convention must operate not merely as a sovereign body with demonstrable and enforceable legitimacy, but, moreover, as a “Revolutionary Assembly.” This raises the question of revolution, one to which Vasconcelos will return throughout his writing life, and we might certainly recall that this Vasconcelian leitmotif does not always represent the most progressive of visions, enveloped as it is in questionable premises along the lines of his notorious “aesthetic eugenics” thesis usually remembered as the “cosmic” race. But the Convention is before all of that, and in the young Vasconcelos, like in the young Hegel, we can catch the glimpse of something potentially transformative. Revolution, as Vasconcelos proposes here, is always a movement toward freedom, one that begins with man’s agency radiating from “rebellion,” the popular declaration of the sovereign exception and the ushering in of a moment of liberty, fraternity, intense creativity, and ultimately social transformation. The agent of Revolution, then, is neither plan nor man, but rather the multitude (“Military” 9), which ultimately determines its parameters and is its condition of possibility. For Vasconcelos, the basic trajectory of revolution runs a specific course: from rebellion, standing outside of the law; to freedom; on to sovereignty; through idealism; and ultimately ending with a new legality, emerging organically and transcendentally from the old (“Military” 9-11).[11] Revolutions, in the end, are composed of both a departure and a return: the progress toward a new order which will re-establish the rule of law. And it is at this point that Vasconcelos pivots—slightly and momentarily, but significantly—away from a Hobbesian vision of the construction of state power, and moves toward something more conflictive, and, potentially, radical. Revolution, he asserts, has two objectives. So far, the Mexican Revolution has been concerned with a purely geometric politics: the question of who can legitimately stand as the receptacle of the will of the people.[12] But there is another objective. And this objective thinks politics dialectically, as ongoing conflict, immediately and immanently linking it to the mode of production: not just who rules whom, but who has the right to stand where, and on what terms. For the young Vasconcelos, the political is the economic, and while Francisco Madero’s Plan de San Luis Potosí addressed both, his revolution only succeeded in getting around to the first; perhaps by this standard, it was actually not a Revolution at all (“Military” 14).[13] And the Plan de Guadalupe—Carranza’s response to Victoriano Huerta which ultimately underwrites the Aguascalientes Convention—is, in revolutionary terms, a step back insofar as it only deals with the politics of sovereignty. If politics are economics, then for Vasconcelos, at least in 1914, the spirit of the Revolution is about the latter, in other words, about agrarian reform and land redistribution, and thus any legitimate revolutionary must make these projects a priority, central to the very work of revolution.

State power may be the aim of a certain set of revolutionary actors and their grievances around political marginalization (sufragio efectivo, no reelección, in the famous slogan of the maderistas), but economic power is the Revolution’s end (not liberty and voting rights, but, with Zapata, liberty and land: tierra y libertad). The political aim of the Revolution is straightforward enough, and looks backward: toward the restoration of the Constitution of 1857, except where that document conflicts with the revolutionary needs established at Aguascalientes, especially in regard to penal justice and, crucially, social reform (Vasconcelos, “Military” 13). Politically speaking, Vasconcelos essentially asks the people, and the Convention, not to fear the Revolution: to those who say that it represents social anarchy in need of the strong hand of disciplinary order, he reminds them that Porfirio Díaz, too, perennially warned of a pueblo not ready to take responsibility for itself (“Military” 12-13). To those who cannot reconcile “individual guarantees” (personal freedom) with reparation (agrarian reform), he urges his audience to transcend this liberal-positivist impasse (“Military” 13). And here he turns to the central task of revolution. The Military Convention of Aguascalientes is sovereign, and in this quality it can enforce, indeed, simply force, agrarian reform—that is, material reparation—and must do so because this task simply cannot occur under constitutionalism (as the anarchist Flores Magón argues, underwritten by documents sustaining the prevailing social hierarchy), or dictatorship (as the Porfirian liberal Molina Enríquez argues, underwritten by a logic of amificación, Díaz’s uniquely effective talent for clientelism). Thus the Convention must carry out land redistribution now, before a new congressional assembly can defuse it. He hedges a little: it must, he writes, be advanced intelligently (i.e. technocratically, with an eye toward national productivity) and with moderation (i.e., without pillage) (“Military” 15). But then, with bracing radicalism and drawing on the popular tradition, from Julio López to Emiliano Zapata, he seems to lose himself in the fervor of the moment, writing: “revolutionary assemblies do not mete out the justice of the textbook, but that which is imbedded in the heart. Our fight against the landed interests could never be solved within the legal order” (“Military” 15). In other words, the Military Convention of Aguascalientes must invoke its sovereign power—which always also brings with it a sovereign exception—and execute land reform “immediately… before the legally constituted congresses of the governments succeeding the Convention can labor against the national interests” (“Military” 15). He closes by reasserting the sovereignty of Aguascalientes on multiple fronts: law and Revolution, right and might, and most affectively, that which is imbedded in the heart. The Constitution of 1857 shall be restored, and along the way land reform shall be swift and extra-legal, formative of the new legal order to come. Thus the Convention is sovereign, in that old paradoxical sense, insofar as it both enacts the laws and is prior to, or, excepted from, their force. And lest anybody should want to object, let us recall that its acting body is constituted and sustained by a host of men with a lot of guns: “The Aguascalientes Convention will act and speak for the good of all Mexicans, and will carry out its resolutions, with sovereign power, by virtue of two principles: that of the law and that of the revolution, that of right and that of might” (Vasconcelos, “Military” 16).

And this, of course, is the heart of the problem. The Mexican Left will always recall that this revolutionary aperture was never effectively filled in, nourishing the source of its perennial rancor. For decades, stretching all the way back to the 1920s, it has been common to speak of the “failure” of the Revolution, as if the Revolution were a single project with coherent objectives, but of course we cannot deny that this hurricane-force upheaval and all of the tragedies that underwrite it brought forth real political and social transformation and a creative dynamism that we can, in moments of healthy romanticism, still feel today. To speak of “the failure” of the Revolution is to speak to the fact that its radical, leading edge, was overcome by other forces, and that the land remained in the hands of the minority. Attempts to undo this paradigm were certainly made. There is Zapata’s Morelos in the fleeting years around the rise and fall of Madero, although this was a local episode, carried on in today’s neo-Zapatista Juntas de Buen Gobierno, pragmatic attempts at everyday state formation. Historically, the more ambitious attempt came from Villa. While his “attitude” at Aguascalientes was nothing if not mercurial, he channeled this attitude into a program of real and swift agrarian reparation, opening Article 1 of his 1915 “ley agraria” with the blunt premise that “the peace and prosperity of the Republic are incompatible with the existence of large landed estates.”[14] With his División del Norte in control of large swaths of Mexico, his was probably the most bombastically pragmatic attempt to activate this kind of reform, eloquently memorialized in John Reed’s Insurgent Mexico (1914), on a tangibly national scale. And as Reed makes clear, it is a project whose realization would require guns, lots of guns, and this paramilitarization of the Revolution’s social aims would become fodder, the central motif, for the novel of the revolution, from Mariano Azuela’s tragic-comic saqueos of Los de abajo (1915), to Gregorio López y Fuentes’s El indio (1933) and its “white guards” who reform the Indians right out of their lands, to El luto humano (1943), the novel by Revueltas that concerns us here, riffing on Azuela with this caricature of freelance land reform:

Colonel, sir, he said, I´d like to work a small piece of land but where can I find one? The colonel seemed surprised: Damn! I hadn´t thought about that. But grab whatever piece you find and see what happens… And then what do I do if they protest? The colonel shrugged his shoulders. What do you mean? What do you think you have the rifle for?.[15]

(101 [trans. 111])

Thus the utopian (or perhaps a-topian) question: how to disarticulate social-economic revolution from militarization, how to forge a new man as citizen whose subjectivity transcends the force of law and thereby the force of its law-making violence?


José Revueltas was clearly preoccupied with this question. On the one hand, he accepted Vasconcelos’s 1914 argument on the nature of the Revolution. Not voting rights, but land, not politics, but economics. As he puts it in a 1947 interview:

The formula of [effective] suffrage and no re-election has triumphed. But the indigenous masses and the dispossessed seem to ask: what do these words mean? They have been struggling on behalf of words since Independence. Behind these words they have wanted to see the land, but the land has not been given to them. The formula of effective suffrage still leaves them without land… Emiliano Zapata rises up as a Maderista, supporting the formula of effective suffrage, but he wants this abstract formula to become land and bread for his Indians… [Thus] Zapatismo has become revolution, now it is in and of itself the Revolution.

(Revueltas, “La independencia nacional” 76)

On the other hand, he rejected that Mexico’s entrenched history of militarist caudillismo—of which Aguascalientes would be a spectacular example—could see this process through to its potential socialist conclusion. In 1939, he writes:

In the analysis of the Mexican Revolution, the caudillos are important insofar as they represent interests and classes that are not transitory, not episodic, not superficial, not anecdotal. One could even go as far as to say: no caudillo, individually, has represented the aggregate interests of the Revolution…

(Revueltas, “La independencia nacional” 114)

Between these two obstacles, Revueltas would take up the challenge of trying to work through the possibility of another relation with the land, ultimately, another sovereignty. His trajectory is experimental in nature, and the impressive first attempt can be found not through the study of constitutional law, but rather in a literary text, his early novel, El luto humano, based in part on his personal experiences with militant syndicalism (Conversaciones 117) and published as Mexico’s first frontier of post-revolutionary state-building came to a close. At once a reflection and a proposal, it is to this work that we now turn.

Two stories constitute El luto humano. One is the creeping, agonizing present, a meditation on the Mexican condition in the wake of failed revolution, wherein we follow Adán and Úrsulo—two peasants and mortal enemies brought together by a natural disaster—and their immediate community—two couples, a dead baby, a priest, and eventually Adán’s bloated corpse—as they flee a flood only to be abandoned, left to die on a rooftop. The animalization of man is a prominent theme, and the word “naufragio,” shipwreck, abounds. The other story revolves around Natividad—a labor organizer and the novel’s protagonist—and is set in the immediate past, the years when the Revolution so quickly degenerated into a sectarian conflict memorialized as the Cristero War. Natividad’s arrival to Adán and Úrsulo’s world brings with it the breath of pure potentiality, as he perceives, with special clarity, the true meaning of Revolution as the redemption of man, and this redemption resting upon man’s relations with the land and, by implication, with other men. While the division of the land is certainly at stake, the more essential theme is how to work and occupy the land, and how to change the nature of this occupation. Revueltas saw the limit of the Revolution in the fact that shifting around the ownership of hectares and plots leaves the structure of exploitation intact. He would send forth Natividad to re-organize the relation between man and land—to organize those who work the land—and thereby bring forth real Revolution, the big one, the emergence of a new mode of production. The culminating moment of Natividad’s work, and of the novel, will be the general strike. And the strike, of course, will fail.

Read as a meditation on society and its potential forms of authority, Revueltas’s novel is productively placed alongside and against the Vasconcelos of 1914 and his clear case for a proprietary and singular sovereignty realized in the seizure and subsequent monopoly of legitimate force. Vasconcelos foresees Weber’s dictate and gives us land and guns. Revueltas takes another path altogether, confronting us with Natividad, who in his quasi-messianic persona refuses to take up arms even in the most extreme situations—pursuing a confessed traitor to the revolution (149), faced with his own assassin (156)—and yet radiates a force of unguarded humanity that stirs the reader in a way that Vasconcelos’s prose cannot. Within the bloody context of the Mexican Revolution, Revueltas’s turn to an unarmed protagonist is certainly a provocation, one that deviates from the expected narrative course of the conventional anti-heroes that populate the novels of the Revolution. And it is more than Vasconcelos that Revueltas confronts. Hobbes, for example, representing the dominant mode of thinking sovereignty in the West (and as we suggested at the beginning, the specter behind Weber, Schmitt, and ultimately Vasconcelos), looms large. In the Hobbesian tradition, sovereignty is about authority, the governing power that keeps nature at bay and that protects man from other men, in short, that puts an end to endless war.[16] It represents a linear trajectory and geometric design, from head to body, in which the internal fissures of territories—states—are saturated with the authority of the one:

the only way to erect such a common power as may be able to defend them from the invasion of foreigners and the injuries of one another, and thereby to secure them in such sort as that by their own industry, and by the fruits of the earth, they may nourish themselves and live contentedly, is to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men. [17]

(Leviathan 109)

This, of course, is a lot to take on, but Revueltas is not without his own legacy of allies. However grandiose, Hobbes’s “one assembly of men” must always be in the business of compromise, ceding its quotidian sovereignty to the individual atoms that constitute the social body; within the context of a capitalist geoculture, this entails making participants in sovereign right of all those who “legitimately” possess land and guns. And these compromises open the door to conflict, to the point where the struggle over everyday practices of sovereignty hurls challenges against states so constant that we may begin (and Hegel, and Marx, would indeed begin) to see sovereignty as a synthetic moment within dialectical processes defined by the eternal history of fights over rights.[18] But even two centuries before the revolution of dialectical thinking, Spinoza, a contemporary of Hobbes, would perceive this problem and question the Hobbesian premise about sovereign authority. Significantly for a reading of Revueltas, Spinoza can open the way toward rearticulating the problem back to the relation between man and land, and toward thinking it anew. If Hobbes fretted about the authority that could mediate rights over the land—“for before constitution of sovereign power (as hath already been shown) all men had right to all things, which necessarily causeth war; and therefore, this propriety, being necessary to peace, and depending on sovereign power, is the act of that power, in order to the public peace” (Leviathan 114)—Spinoza would point to inalienable right, the land where we stand, out of which flows the human subject as such.

One way to think about this tension between sovereign and subject, with Hobbes and his cognates, including of course Vasconcelos, is in the terms of a popular sovereignty. Inverting the directional flow of power, popular sovereignty nevertheless maintains the vertical structure of political hierarchies always at work in social contract theory, now given over by the people but, ultimately, reimposed upon them: an invitation to all sorts of military conventions taking on the task of making the revolution “speak.” Revueltas, channeling Spinoza, seems to be proposing something more radical, but no more utopian, than Hobbes. Indeed, as Spinoza puts it, in the trajectory that runs from Hobbes to Vasconcelos, the transfer of power between citizen and sovereign “will always remain merely theoretical” (Theological 208).[19] In other words, the power that propels you, us, humankind, as animals, is not something that can be given over to another. What remains, then, is right in the concrete sense, precisely not theoretical, but material, that dimension of power—call it agency, call it resistance—as immanence, as that which resides within us as living beings. The idea emerges centrally in one of Spinoza’s most challenging passages when, in a critique of absolute authority, he concludes: Quare concedendum unumquemque multa sibi sui juris reservare, quae propterea a nullius decreto sed a suo solo pendent (Political Works 148). Israel renders the controversial first clause of the passage as “each person retains many aspects of his right” (209), but the key word, the vaguely stated multa, is understood as “aspects,” which seems to lose the emphasis that Spinoza was after in declaring each man sui juris, “his own master.” Wernham goes another direction, filling the blank space of multa with “actions,” as each retains “many of his actions” (Political Works 149). Curley, for his part, brings materiality to Spinoza’s idea, where multa becomes the more tangible “things”: “So it must be granted that each person reserves many things to himself, that he is his own master in many things…” (personal communication). And then finally is the authoritative Spanish translation, in which Atiliano Domínguez rearticulates the revolutionary spirit of the Spinozian tradition by offering us a version that resonates the land itself: cada uno reserva muchas parcelas de su derecho (Tratado 351). The parcel: not merely a quantity or amount of something, but more crucially for any social revolution, a piece of land, especially one considered as part of an estate. Available neither for conquest nor sale, Spinoza’s parcel is sui juris, imbedded in the heart, that micro-territory upon which the sovereign has no purchase. Taking the next logical step, we can easily imagine many parcels fused as one, in solidarity, overflowing the vertical sovereignty of the right to rule over with a horizontal sovereignty of the right to be in the world.

The parcel, that smallest piece of land, which we never cede. Neither divine nor popular, nor even the sovereignty over the “self,” Spinoza’s parcel is the land where we stand, our inalienable condition of occupation. Let us call it generic sovereignty.[20] As we will see, its force stands at the center of El luto humano.


Even while attempting a displacement of Spinoza’s vision of sovereignty and its relation to violence, Walter Benjamin nevertheless faced a similar—quite perhaps the same—problem when he ended the “Critique of Violence” (1921) with an enigmatic gesture to a sovereign violence. Sovereign violence, neither “administrative” nor “executive” (252), points at once to Revolution and the messianic return, the (potential) transformation of the mode of production felt in the threat of mass occupation through the general strike. At stake in Revueltas’s novel there is in fact a strike. But this moment, full of revolutionary fervor and solidarity and masses of men, is not, in our reading, the moment of greatest confrontation with the singular sovereignty of the Revolution that we saw in Vasconcelos. The more challenging, and, perhaps, radical thematization of sovereignty in El luto humano is to be found around the margins of the strike and its aftermath, in the precarious itineraries of those most directly affected by it, and their return to the land, now with Natividad dead and buried beneath it.

Natividad’s activity, of course, has everything to do with the land and those who work it. Thus from the perspective of post-revolutionary authority—essentially, the hegemony that would arise in the wake of Aguascalientes—he can only be seen as a threat. The political scene of the story revolves around the administration of a development initiative, a new irrigation system that will help give material shape to the guiding project of land reform, an experiment sponsored by “the central government, deeply worried about giving its Agrarian Reform program a modern and advanced face, had established in the country different irrigation units on the lands expropriated from the large estates” (132 [trans. 146]). The system comprises a dam and a series of canals, and along these waterways properties of various scale have been divided. With the irrigation system in place, “the government achieved a series of objectives: it established a deeply entrenched, solid, and conservative class of medium-sized property owners with which it moderated the otherwise extremist impetus of the agrarian revolution” (132 [trans. 146-147]). Natividad’s arrival imperils the limits of the authorities’ tolerance for reformism. His critique begins immediately, and explicitly revolves around the land. Accompanied by Adán, his eventual assassin, he gazes upon the irrigation system, reflecting to himself: “The totally inadequate distribution of property constituted a terrible obstacle for any reform. Perhaps a cooperative and the introduction of collective work would have improved everything” (135 [trans.149]). The spectrum of revolutionary land reform, from its appropriation to its productivity, is in play: On the one hand, the old problem of property, the process of redistribution to give it political form; on the other hand, the old problem of use, the process of cultivating the land to make it economically productive. Intervening between the two, and representing the center of Revueltas’s heterodoxical production of a generic sovereignty, is another question of land: its vital link to human community, and the definitive relation between this link and collective action. Estates (property, especially in the character of Calixto) and guns (legitimate force, especially in the character of Adán) trace the normalized expressions of sovereignty that we have come to expect from the novel of the Revolution, and that Vasconcelos expressed so eloquently in juridical terms. But around these attempts to capture and control alternative sovereignties we find the footprints of a more immediate sovereignty in man’s return to the land itself, to the parcel that defines and potentially unites us.

The novel is full of failures large and small: Natividad will be gunned down by Adán; the strike will collapse; a natural disaster will ensue; most of the leading characters will be consumed by buzzards. It thus comes as no surprise that the discovery of a certain “pessimism,” and a general history of stasis, stands as a central insight in the critical literature on the novel. In short, it is easy, and perhaps correct, to read the assassination of Natividad as a foreclosure on the possibility of action among the peasant community. Throwing fuel on the fire of pessimism is the flight of Adán, Úrsulo and their families before the flood, and its tragic conclusion. The fact that the group’s escape route eventually forces them back to the beginning, the house that they attempted to abandon, now surrounded by water and vultures, may even tempt us to place the novel within a larger interpretative trajectory of Latin American fiction as an irreversible repetition of defeat and disillusion: the strikers only arrive at the same old conclusion of repression and murder; the attempt to flee only ends at the point of departure.[21] And so on. But then again, this is a novel whose central tension traces a trajectory from one protagonist called “Adán” to another called “Natividad,” leading us to wonder if the pessimist reading isn’t something of a boondoggle obscuring another, perhaps more essential, interpretation. Consider, for example, this impressive passage, which comes at the very end of the novel and which strikes us as decisive:

the strike failed because the terrible exodus had taken place. No one wanted to stay on a dry land without rain beside a useless river and an unusable, cracked dam. During the period of the exodus, from atop several beams, Ursulo was urging the migrating strikers to stay.

(185 [trans. 207])

The implied causal relation is crucial: the failed strike does not provoke the people to flee; the strike fails because of the “terrible exodus.” Only Úrsulo perceives this relation and he exhorts the people to stay.

To stay, to remain: not flight and failure, or to flee in the face of failure, but precisely the opposite, to confront that failure on the only terrain that remains, the last parcel of land, embedded in the human heart. This stationary flight, we maintain, suggests not the dissolution of history into myth, but rather the reinvention of a discourse of defeat: “But they were fleeing while still remaining [huir permaneciendo], while still feeling the extremely violent longing to remain, for their flight was actually a search, and the desire to find a vital piece of earth on which they could be safe [donde pudieran levantarse]” (60 [trans. 62-63]). Huir permaneciendo, “to flee while still remaining,” enacts another relation with the land, one disarticulated from the fear of endless war that would motivate Hobbes, or the redistribution that Vasconcelos underwrites with the force of arms. If, with Schmitt, it represents the beginning of a new historical epoch, the stationary flight will not succumb to the appropriation of the land of another, but rather rest on the community itself. It connotes a relation with the land, even in the land, and not a form of domination over it. Neither propertied nor armed, its sovereignty is generic.

But what of the specter of Adán—la impotencia llena de vigor (25)—the paramilitary man, us in all of our spite and cowardice, the first man and the only man, hurled forth from the space of nature (for Hobbes, the space of endless war) in order to stake his claim on the land, to dominate it as one, singular in his sovereignty? Revueltas recognizes his threat, writing in 1966, just before the world revolution would explode in Mexico City, that “Adán is nothing less than existing rational consciousness… That rationality that is ourselves…” (Cuestionamientos 240). But Natividad, too—not rational but material, not transcendent but immanent—will be multiplied to the infinite, standing firm on his parcel. Adán perceives as much: “What? he thought. I’ll kill Natividad tonight or tomorrow. But afterward it will be as if Natividad were still alive. They’ll make me kill the next one that follows and then the next” (117 [trans. 129]). Adán will accomplish his task, but will himself fall victim to the vultures that descend from above. As for Natividad: “They killed him. Today, under the earth, he would also be saved from the zopilotes” (186 [trans. 208]).

From the infinite repetition of Adán, then, emerges a kind of difference: another Natividad will always arrive. By the end of the novel, with Adán murdered at the hands of the priest, the storm will trap the four survivors on the rooftop, Úrsulo among them. If the flood that overflows the novel, that erases all in its path, is a sign of nature’s endless war against all human pretense to sovereignty, armed and territorial, it is at the same time the force that will exercise its own sovereignty over the earth itself. Neither proprietary nor mercenary, neither territory nor military, this sovereignty of extra-human force will arrive unarmed and full of renovating capacity. It represents an experience beyond the majesty of domination over another, of the armed landowner defending and expanding his holdings. Generic in its sovereignty, the flood will bring new life to the land where Úrsulo strives to stand firm in his immobile, unmoveable, flight. It will nourish the parcel beneath which rests Natividad.

Ursulo suddenly discovered that his kingdom was not of this world. That he belonged to the prevegetable world of the inanimate, and that like the first maternal stone he was merely an extrahuman will-toward-being, the most vehement, burning will of history, the will and vocation of the stone: weaponless, thoughtless, motionless, and final, like stone.

(61 [trans. 64])


An unarmed sovereignty, extra-human, ultimately, generic: “I exist and this fact is communicated to me by my body and my spirit, both of which are about to cease to exist; I have participated in the unspeakable miracle, I have belonged. I was a part and a factor, and life has given me an immaculate dignity, similar to what stars, seas, or clouds might have” (99 [trans. 91]). Compare this pure materialism with Spinoza’s conception of an anti-hierarchical vision of the world of men: “Here we recognize no difference between human beings and other individual things of nature, nor between those human beings who are endowed with reason and others who do not know true reason, nor between fools or lunatics and the sane” (Theological 196). Clearly, we are a long way from Aguascalientes.[22]

This is the point at which the opposition between Vasconcelos and Revueltas—two restless sons of the Mexican Revolution—reaches its most extreme tension: land to be governed versus the inalienable parcel. In Vasconcelos we can see a vision of the modern world, in the full glow of all of its pettiness and self-destruction. But through the dialectical rigor that guides Revueltas’s first novel, we can catch the glimpse of a sovereignty that resists land as object of appropriation, that perceives it without fear and without domination. With Negri, Revueltas’s perspective is eminently disutopian, “the sense of an overflowing constitutive activity, as intense as Utopia but without its illusion, and fully material” (Insurgencies 13), quite the opposite of the delusions of Revolution that equate social justice with the legitimate force of men with guns. El luto humano confronts us with these disarticulations, inhabiting the sovereignty of Vasconcelos and its sublimation in the pistol of Adán, its confrontation by Natividad, and its realization, however fleeting, however unsatisfactory, in the human figure of Úrsulo, the cipher for Revueltas himself, always striving, and then failing, only to strive again. Imprisoned and marginalized throughout his life, Revueltas would return, again and again, to confront us with ourselves. The tighter his quarters and the more extravagant his exclusion, the greater the intensity of his writing, the more committed to his parcel. Unarmed, without ever firing a shot. Only another order of sovereignty—generic, immanent, material—could account for that kind of freedom.


The authors would like to thank Edwin Curley.

01. All translations are ours unless otherwise noted in the list of works cited.

02. The obscure reference to “científicos,” or “scientists,” was common shorthand in fin-de-siecle Mexico, and is directed at the cadre of positivist intellectuals, statesmen and groupies affiliated with the Díaz regime that the Revolution overthrew in its opening phase.

03. On the importance of forgetting within the context of state-formation, see Renan’s classic Qu’est-ce qu’une nation? (1882).

04. We are not the first to sense a sort of contradictory affinity between Vasconcelos and Revueltas. In his prologue to Revueltas’s El apando, Octavio Paz writes that “Para ambos la acción política y la aventura metafísica, la polémica histórica y la meditación fueron vasos comunicantes. Unieron la vida activa con la vida contemplativa, o mejor dicho, especulativa: en sus obras no hay realmente contemplación desinteresada – para mí la suprema sabiduría-, sino meditación, reflexión y, en los momentos mejores, vuelo espiritual” (20), juxtaposing them to more serene thinkers such as Gorostiza and Reyes. He goes on: “El espiritualista Vasconcelos jamás dudó; no le tentó el diablo, espíritu de la negación y patrono de los filósofos: lo tentaron el mundo (el poder) y la carne (las mujeres). Vasconcelos confesó que había deseado a la mujer de su prójimo y que había fornicado con ella, pero nunca aceptó que se hubiese equivocado. Los únicos pecados que confesó el materialista Revueltas fueron los del espíritu: dudas, negaciones, errores, mentiras piadosas. Al final se arrepintió e hizo la crítica de sus ideas y de los dogmas en que había creido. Vasconcelos no se arrepintió; exaltó a la humildad cristiana sólo para mejor cubrir de invectivas a sus enemigos; Revueltas, en nombre de la filosofía marxista, emprendió un exámen de conciencia que San Agustín y Pascal habría apreciado y que me impresiona doblemente: por la honradez escrupulosa con que lo llevó a cabo y por la sutileza y profundidad de sus análisis. Vasconcelos terminó abrazando al clericalismo católico; Revueltas rompió con el clericalismo marxista. ¿Quién fue, de los dos, el verdadero cristiano?” (21). 

05. The Confidential Agency was the formal diplomatic channel between the United States government and the various “provisional” governments of Mexico as the Revolution played out most intensely during the 1910s. 

06. Mexico’s first decade after the fall of Díaz was full of chaos, and it was often difficult to determine who was in charge. According to the definitive biographical chronology provided by Vasconcelos scholar Claude Fell, in mid January of 1915—that is, a mere two-and-a-half months after submitting his case at Aguascalientes—Vasconcelos fled Mexico City with a harried president Eulalio Gutiérrez, and eventually ended up in the United States where he acted as a sort of “minister on horseback.” His task was to convince the United States government to withhold recognition of Villa or Carranza until elections could be convened. When later that year the United States recognized a Carranza presidency, a despondent Vasconcelos holed up in the New York Public Library to write (Fell 553-4). 

07. Article 39 reads: “La soberanía nacional reside esencial y originariamente en el pueblo. Todo poder público dimana del pueblo y se instituye para su beneficio. El pueblo tiene en todo tiempo el inalienable derecho de alterar ó modificar la forma de su gobierno” (“Constitución…,” 389).

08. Article 29 reads: “En los casos de invasión, perturbación grave de la paz pública, ó cualesquiera otros que pongan á la sociedad en grande peligro ó conflicto, solamente el presidente de la República, de acuerdo con el consejo de ministros y con aprobación del congreso de la Unión, y, en los recesos de éste, de la diputación permanente, puede suspender las garantías otorgadas en esta Constitución, con excepción de las que aseguran la vida del hombre; pero deberá hacerlo por un tiempo limitado, por medio de prevenciones generales y sin que la suspensión pueda contraerse á determinado individuo. Si la suspensión tuviere lugar hallándose el congreso reunido, éste concederá las autorizaciones que estime necesarias para que el ejecutivo haga frente á la situacion. Si la suspensión se verificare en tiempo de receso, la diputación permanente convocará sin demora al congreso para que las acuerde” (“Constitución…” 387).

09. In recent months, it is common to find participants in Mexico’s neo-autodefensa movement—the increasingly widespread phenomenon of civilians wresting security services from the state, including the occupation of police headquarters, such as the 2014 standoff in Tixtla—transferring the “right to change our government” refrain to a new variation claming the “right to defend ourselves from governmental incompetence.” 

10. Other studies in Mexican cultural politics that have advanced aspects of this problem include Melgarejo Acosta and Lund (2006); Rabasa (2010, see esp. Chapter 13); and Williams (2011, see esp. Chapter 6). 

11. Vasconcelos writes: “Revolutions begin by rebellion, they place themselves immediately outside the pale of the law, they are anti-legalist, and therefore sovereign and free, recognizing no other overlordship than idealism, the idealism to be found in social philosophies, in the vague speculations of forerunners or in the stirring action or generous impulse of apostles and leaders, of the Hidalgos and Maderos who awaken tenderness and enthusiasm, protest and pardons. They then develop through all the sudden changes and hazards of the struggle, and finally reach a new legality, a legality implying progress, built on the former social order” (“Military” 10-11).

12. On the historical centrality of a “geometric” relation between politics and space that underwrites traditional notions of sovereignty, see Galli (21-53).

13. The Plan de San Luis Potosí contains Madero’s call to arms, a manifesto to the nation that is often understood as the opening shot of the Mexican Revolution. In order to claim sovereign legitimacy and authority of action on behalf of the Convention, Vasconcelos must displace lingering commitments to Madero in the wake of his usurpation. He writes: “The Madero revolution summed up the economic problems of the country in the Plan of San Luis Potosí. Later the National Convention of the Progressive Constitutional Party drafted a full and minute platform, while at the same time, or shortly before, there appeared in the South the Plan of Ayala, devoted to the solution, particularly, of the agrarian problem… [However] It is to be regretted that so far [under Madero] no regulations have been issued determining not only what property should enter the public treasury, but the form in which this property is to be expropriated, and the purposes to which the proceeds are to be applied. The Convention should remedy these deficiencies… The revolution is in control of power in a country which still maintains the feudal organization. A mere handful of men are the owners of the land… This terrible situation, sanctioned by the might of tyrannical governments and by the cruel moral influence of the Catholic clergy, has been the moving cause of all our ills” (“Military” 14). 

14. For ample historical contextualization of Villa’s uneven political hegemony over the northern quadrant of Mexico, see Katz’s monumental The Life and Times of Pancho Villa.

15. For analytical purposes we’re handling the original Spanish, but translated citations come from the Roberto Crespi translation. 

16. Hobbes is no stranger to interpretations of the Mexican Revolution. Take Alan Knight, one of the most prominent contemporary historians of the Mexican Revolution, who characterizes the conflict as nothing less than “Hobbesian”: “Relations within the elite, therefore, were hardly those of fraternally united comrades – the dutiful generals and dedicated reformers of Carrancista myth (which still has its adherents today); rather they displayed a Hobbesian character – a ‘condition of war of everyone against everyone,’ a ‘restless striving after power which ceases only in death;’ and not least among the tasks of revolutionary myth, rhetoric and exhortation was to contain Hobbesian conflicts, lest they tore civil society apart. The Leviathan of the 1920s, it could be said, grew out of the ´state of nature´ pertaining in 1915-20” (450). 

17. We’re handling the Curley edition (Hackett 1994), which notes: “Like all modern English translations, this one follows the text of the Head edition of 1651 (but adopts, generally, the variations noted by Tuck from ´large-paper´ copies of that edition). Unlike previous English editions, this one takes note of many variations in the Latin version of Leviathan first published in Amsterdam in 1668” (lxxiii).

18. We are here guided by Carlo Galli’s brilliant exposition of the transition from geometric to dialectical interpretations of political space: “Dialectical thought does not, then, assume the tasks of constructivism and geometrization; it does not seek to remake space in the image of politics. Instead it seeks to adhere to the logical structure of political space—in all of its roughness and ruggedness, its solidity and concreteness—as it actually configures itself in the course of history. In Hegel, the purpose of this exercise will be to bolster political space. In Marx, it will be to break its back” (his emphasis, 69-70). 

19. We’re handling the Israel edition (Cambridge, 2007) of Spinoza’s treatise, which notes: “Until quite recently the best modern critical edition of the original text was that prepared by Carl Gerbhardt and published at Heidelberg in 1925, in the third volume of his complete edition of Spinoza’s works. An improved critical edition prepared by the expert Dutch Latinist, Fokke Akkerman, was published in a bilingual Latin-French version by the Presses Universitaires de France, in Paris, in 1999. It was this excellent and very scholarly edition of the Latin, correcting Gebhardt´s version (albeit mostly in small details) which we have used as the basis for this present translation” (xlii-xliii).

20. “Generic sovereignty” comes from Peter Hallward. It was first put forward as a manuscript that was eventually published as a book under the title Badiou: A Subject to Truth (2003) (see Bosteels, Badiou and Politics, Preface, xi) and a corresponding essay called “Generic Sovereignty: The Philosophy of Alain Badiou” (1998). While Hallward doesn’t develop the concept as such, his understanding of the “generic”, as a central category for Badiou’s thought, resonates in spirit with our own invocation here: “Any singular truth, in other words, is necessarily generic or indiscernible, indifferent, the stuff of a radically egalitarian homogeneity” (Badiou xxvii). On Alain Badiou’s use of “the generic”, see his Manifesto for Philosophy (108-9).

21. See, for example, Negrín; Ortega; and Ruiz Abreu. Paz’s 1943 review of El luto humano found the novel “contaminated” by discourses of “sociology, religion and the ancient and present history of Mexico” (11)—a productive contamination to be sure!—but also praised Revueltas for avoiding “cheap psychology” (12). By 1956, James Irby, in a master’s thesis which Revueltas personally denounced (Cuestionamientos 106), would import the negative side of Paz’s critique and thereby set the tone for the pessimistic conclusions that have since governed the critical literature on Revueltas, writing: “La filosofía de Revueltas se caracteriza más bien por un materialismo estático y muerto y un fatalismo atroz que anulan acción y movimiento y crean personajes unilaterales, sin desarrollo interno, meras figuras” (113). Commenting specifically on El luto humano, Edith Negrín refers to “la atmósfera de impotencia y desencanto que impregna el relato” (“El luto…” 96) and José Ortega argues that the “falta de progresión, de historia, que permea el relato se pone de relieve desde las primeras páginas. La repetición al principio y al fin del párrafo, así como en el centro, sirve para enfatizar un monótono y fatídico pendular…” (103). For what might be the furthest development of the negative thesis on Revueltas’s failures, especially in terms of a perceived dissonance between his literary and political projects, see Sánchez Prado (2007). In the past decade or so a minority position has emerged, arguing for an affirmative reading of Revueltas, here forcefully stated by Evodio Escalante: “A la eficacia represiva de una sociedad confinatoria, que pone a su servicio las fuerzas invencibles de una geometría enajenada, José Revueltas opone la naturaleza libertaria de un acto inmemorial, que surge de lo profundo, sin razón aparente. Me gustaría que el nombre de Revueltas se asociara siempre, entre otras cosas, a ese acto inmemorial intrínsecamente afirmativo” (162). See also Bosteels (2005; 2012). 

22. When Revueltas writes that “nos envolvamos en las cosas, les pertenezcamos como ser colectivo” (Cuestionamientos 122), or when he insists on ignoring any border between man and animal (as he does throughout El luto humano), he is working in a materialist tradition that attempts to conflate the divine (infinite) and the mundane (temporal) (see Negri, Subversive Spinoza, 75, 87) and in the same gesture reveal the limits of the notion of the individual-as-propietor by opposing it to the generic being: “Oponer al ahora y aquí de la vida, el ahora y aquí de la muerte. Es decir, estar tan dispuesto a no considerar la vida como persona, como propiedad privada, sino en atención al yo genérico del hombre. A que nuestra muerte no es la muerte del hombre” (Revueltas 2001, 39). In opposition to discourses of social contract, the materialism of Spinoza and Revueltas does not require an anthropology or any assertion on the specificity of natural man (as it does in Hobbes); instead it rests on a radically expansive ontology. Thus the recurrent meditations on beings and things that ultimately displaces the individual proprietor and his possessions. 

Works cited

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