I Am Action: Praxedis Guerrero, 1882-1910

Courtesy of AK Press and editor/translator Javier Sethness-Castro, we share part of the introduction to the forthcoming I Am Action: Literary and Combat Articles, Thoughts, and Revolutionary Chronicles by Praxedis G. Guerrero, a Mexican anarcho-communist militant, journalist, and organizer. The editor’s biographical introduction is followed by translations from the volume of three of Guerrero’s most moving writings.

Praxedis G. Guerrero, 1882-1910

The militant Mexican anarchist and revolutionary martyr Praxedis G. Guerrero arguably merits his comrade Ricardo Flores Magón’s laudatory characterization of him as a “sublime figure in the revolutionary history of the world.”[1] This self-described “warrior, apostle, and philosopher,” born in 1882 to an aristocratic family in the highlands of Guanajuato State, was “destined to be one of the principal precursors” of the Mexican Revolution, according to his biographer Ward S. Albro.[2] During his short but highly illuminating life, Guerrero participated as a central figure in the transnational revolutionary network established by the Organizational Council of the Mexican Liberal Party (PLM), which was dedicated firstly to deposing the tyrant Porfirio Díaz and thereafter to promoting anarchist revolution throughout Mexico according to the slogan Tierra y Libertad (“Land and Freedom”).

As Magón writes in his reminisces about Guerrero following his death early in the Revolution, there was little immediate indication from the childhood of Praxedis, whose father was a local indigenous chief and whose mother was the daughter of a Spanish count, that he would be anything other than bourgeois. His family’s hacienda in Los Altos de Ibarra, Guanajuato, comprised thousands of acres that were worked by hundreds of farmhands. Yet Praxedis was privileged to have developed an “exceptional sensitivity” and an “exceptional brain” that led him to adopt the revolutionary proletarian cause upon his maturation.[3] At eighteen, he left with his brother for San Luis Potosí, where they worked for a number of months in a brewery and smelter. Thereafter he returned to Guanajuato to work in the family business for some time before enlisting in the Second Military Reserve under General Bernardo Reyes, Díaz’s minister of war and appointed governor of Nuevo León State. Rising to the rank of Second Lieutenant of cavalry, Praxedis received the military training that would later serve the PLM’s cause. He resigned his post after the 2 April 1902 massacre in Monterrey ordered by Reyes against Liberal protesters who were mobilizing in favor of another gubernatorial candidate. Around the same time, Guerrero became acquainted with Mexico’s Liberal oppositional press, including the satirical newspaper El Hijo del Ahuizote (“The Son of the Ahuizote”),[4] edited by Juan Sarabia from August 1885 until July 1902, when Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magón rented out the press, and presumably Regeneración (“Regeneration”), founded by Jesús and Ricardo Flores Magón in August 1900.[5] After resigning his military post, he returned to Guanajuato to attend to his ill father and manage the family’s hacienda, and it was from his father’s bookshelf that Praxedis first encountered the writings of Victor Hugo, Maxim Gorky, Lev Tolstoy, Mikhail Bakunin, and Peter Kropotkin.

In 1904, consummating the dream Tolstoy had envisioned but could never effect, Guerrero definitively abandoned his aristocratic upbringing. With his comrades Francisco Manrique and Manuel Vázquez, he left Mexico for the U.S., where he sold his labor as a miner in Colorado, a lumberjack in Texas, a longshoreman in San Francisco, and a copper and coal miner in Arizona. He founded the newspaper Alba Roja (“Red Dawn”) with Francisco and Manuel while in San Francisco, and it was likely in this way that he brought himself to the attention of the newly established Organizational Council of the Mexican Liberal Party, founded in St. Louis in 1905 by the exiled radicals Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magón, Juan and Manuel Sarabia, Librado Rivera, Antonio I. Villarreal, and Rosalío Bustamante. In Douglas, Arizona, Praxedis met and befriended Manuel Sarabia and requested successfully to affiliate himself with the PLM. Days after the suppression of the June 1906 Cananea strike in the desert of Sonora, which had been launched by thousands of Mexican miners demanding an eight-hour work day and higher wages, Praxedis founded the organization “Free Workers” with his comrades toward the end of propagating the Liberal ideal among the miners of the region. He also established a local PLM group in Morenci counting some fifty members, as a counterpart to the Liberal Club of Douglas. The failure of the Council’s plans for an insurrection against the dictatorship in the border towns of Ciudad Juárez, Nogales, and Jiménez—a plot that was organized to coincide with Independence Day, 16 September 1906—and the subsequent arrest of Ricardo, Antonio, and Librado in Los Angeles for having violated existing neutrality laws between the U.S. and Mexico launched Guerrero into the position of principal responsibility for the cause. Indeed, as Albro argues, Praxedis effectively led the PLM’s struggle during the three highly significant years of 1907 to 1910, corresponding to the time that the Council’s better-known organizers were imprisoned, and ending with his death in the Revolution.[6]

Praxedis was named a “Special Delegate” of the PLM’s Organizational Council in June 1907, and the next month he distributed a public call for justice in the case of Manuel Sarabia, his comrade and roommate in Douglas, Arizona, who had been kidnapped, deported, and imprisoned in Hermosillo, Sonora, at the hands of Díaz’s henchmen. This crime sparked an international outcry that resulted in Sarabia’s release following a show trial that acquitted the militant’s captors. Then, following the arrest of another exiled Liberal, Lázaro Gutiérrez de Lara, Guerrero moved to Los Angeles to collaborate with Sarabia and Enrique Flores Magón in editing and publishing the newspaper Revolución, which began its run in June 1907. Sarabia was soon arrested on the very same charges as Magón, Villarreal, and Rivera, but was subsequently rescued by Elizabeth Trowbridge, a socialist activist and heiress from Boston, who paid his bail, married him, and escaped with to England. Although Praxedis cut off communication with Manuel over this decision to elope, Sarabia nonetheless would circulate Guerrero’s writings throughout much of the European continent.[7] Praxedis had his first meeting with Ricardo, Antonio, and Librado in the Los Angeles jail in November 1907; the next month, he was named Second Secretary of the Organizational Council. Revolución was subsequently shut down, its press destroyed and its editors incarcerated by L.A. police acting on behalf of the Mexican State. Whereas Praxedis and Enrique saw the light of day thanks to the efforts of their co-editor Modesto Díaz died in prison.[8]

Seeking to relaunch the Revolution against Díaz, Praxedis left Los Angeles with Francisco Manrique for El Paso, where they organized a widespread insurrection in Mexico, set for 24–25 June 1908. Guerrero commanded some sixty armed Liberal groups divided across five geographical zones comprising Mexico that were prepared to revolt.[9] Nonetheless, as in the case of the uprising organized two years prior, this new revolutionary plan was largely foiled by the two States’ transnational spy network: hundreds of conspirators were arrested and sent to the San Juan de Ulúa prison in Veracruz, where many perished. Still, Liberal forces managed to engage in three battles against federal troops during this time: in Las Vacas, Coahuila, a village which the Liberals likely would have taken, had they not run out of ammunition during the firefight; Viesca, Coahuila, where the insurgents liberated the local jail, expropriated State funds, and proclaimed the PLM’s program, but were driven out by Díaz’s forces; and Palomas, Chihuahua, an attack that Praxedis personally led, but which led to the death of his comrade Francisco. Guerrero commemorates these three revolutionary episodes in heroic chronicles translated in this volume. The pathos permeating the “Palomas” chronicle celebrates Francisco’s martyrdom, serving both to foreshadow Guerrero’s own end and to laud the revolutionary commitment of his childhood friend, who, like Praxedis, had been born into wealth but who had repudiated such privilege to dedicate himself wholeheartedly to the struggle.

Despite the failures of the 1908 uprisings, Guerrero continued organizing the Revolution unfazed. In early 1909, he traveled to central and southern Mexico on a mission authorized by the Council to coordinate a new simultaneous uprising on both sides of the border. During this trip, he also visited his family in Guanajuato for the last time, announcing to them that he had become a vegetarian because “it hurt him that animals were sacrificed” and that he renounced the inheritance left to him by his late father for being inconsistent with anarchism.[10] Upon return to the U.S., he undertook a tour of the Midwest to request support from the Socialist Party for the coming Revolution. By this time, U.S. and Mexican authorities had come to realize the threat posed by Guerrero, with the Mexican consul referring to him as the “revoltoso chief” and the Secretary of State identifying him as a “notorious revolutionist who is still at large.”[11] In fact, in Houston in early 1910, the militant narrowly escaped capture at the hands of a U.S. marshal by reportedly climbing out a third-story hotel window.

Thereafter, in El Paso, Praxedis founded Punto Rojo (“Flash Point”) as a successor to Revolución, and this periodical enjoyed an estimated weekly circulation of ten-thousand copies, primarily among Mexican laborers in the U.S. Southwest. Guerrero also founded the Pan-American Labor League in San Antonio in the summer of 1910. Once Ricardo, Antonio, and Librado were released from prison in August 1910, Praxedis left Texas for Los Angeles, where the Organizational Council was reconstituted and Regeneración relaunched. Guerrero had dozens of his most important articles published in this newspaper during the three months he spent with his comrades before his final departure, and several more were published in its pages posthumously.

Upon the proclamation of the Mexican Revolution in November 1910, as issued by Magón’s reformist rival Francisco I. Madero, Liberal combat-units were activated throughout much of the country: in Sonora, Chihuahua, Tlaxcala, Morelos, Durango, Oaxaca, Tabasco, and Veracruz. Believing that his aloofness from the battlefield contradicted his anarchist principles, Praxedis departed Los Angeles for El Paso to join the Revolution, much to the consternation of Magón and other comrades on the Council. Leading a group of insurgents who flew the red flag emblazoned with the slogan Tierra y Libertad across the border into Mexico on December 19, Guerrero had planned to liberate a number of communities in Chihuahua before marching on the state’s capital city.

After having attacked the Cruz González hacienda and taking the train south to Guzmán station, destroying bridges along the way, the rebels divided into two groups, with the column commanded by Praxedis attempting first to take Casas Grandes. Such a task appeared impossible due to the vast discrepancy in forces between the Liberals and federal troops, so the insurgents retreated northwest to the town of Janos, which they took on December 30 after fierce fighting. Nevertheless, federal reinforcements arrived shortly after this victory, and it was during this battle that Guerrero and some eleven other militants lost their lives. Greatly moved by the deaths of their comrades, the Liberal troops repelled the reinforcements, though they ultimately had to withdraw and leave the bodies of Guerrero and the others behind. Thus ended the life of Praxedis, the revolutionary anarcho-communist whose existence “had given off such intense light.”[12]

[1] See “A Letter from Ricardo Flores Magón” in this volume.

[2] Ward S. Albro, To Die on Your Feet: The Life, Times, and Writings of Praxedis G. Guerrero (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University, 1996), 2.

[3] See “A Letter from Ricardo Flores Magón.”

[4] The ahuizote (from the Nahuatl ahuitzotl, “spiky aquatic thing”) is a creature from Aztec legend that likely refers to the axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), an amphibian species that characteristically does not metamorphose upon maturation.

[5] Diego Abad de Santillán, Ricardo Flores Magón: El apóstol de la Revolución mexicana (México, D.F.: Editorial RedeZ, “Tejiendo la Utopía,” 2011), 26; Claudio Lomnitz, The Return of Comrade Ricardo Flores Magón (New York: Zone Books, 2014), 83.

[6] Albro, 138.

[7] Ibid, 112.

[8] Ibid, 35-37.

[9] Benjamin Maldonado, “Biographical Sketch” in Dreams of Freedom: A Ricardo Flores Magón Reader, eds. Chaz Bufe and Mitchell Cowen Verter (Oakland: AK Press, 2005), 83.

[10] Eugenio Martínez Núñez, La vida heroica de Práxedis G. Guerrero (México: Instituto Nacional de Estudios Históricos de la Revolución, 1960), 51.

[11] Albro, 55-59.

[12] Ricardo Flores Magón, “Praxedis G. Guerrero,” in this volume.


“Passivity and Rebellion,” from Punto Rojo no. 3 (29 August 1909)

In the damp corners of miserable dwellings are produced dark, viscous beings, often clumsy, who also engage in the struggle for life, exploiting the environment that produces them—the infected, noxious, unwholesome mire—without which their existence would not provoke the disgust of beings who grew in different environments.

It is possible that the bug comes to believe itself, in good faith, the protector and savior of the black, humid corner and that it endeavors to prevent the sun and the broom from entering, revolutionizing, and transforming the medium by destroying it and its products. Doing so fulfills its duty of self-preservation, because where would it go without miasmas, darkness, and putrefaction? Passivity writhes in resistance to the progressive impulse of revolution.

The myriapoda[1] and the arachnids, the scorpions and burying beetles—the world of vermin living off the poverty of the people—practice postures and skillful slitherings to dodge and delay the blow of the broom and the rays of the sun.

They defend their environment of conventionalism and enervation, because it guarantees their vitality to the constant detriment of the mass of producers.

The quiescent ones raise an outcry calling themselves apostles of evolution, condemning everything that has any hint of rebelliousness; they appeal to fear and make pathetic patriotic calls; they resort to ignorance and go so far as to advise the people to let themselves be murdered and insulted during the next round of elections, to again and again peacefully exercise their right to vote, so that the tyrants mock them and assassinate them over and over. No mention of leaving the fetid corner, which they propose to improve by adding more and more filth, more and more cowardice.

A somersault within a cubic centimeter of slime, they say, represents a salvational evolution, a peaceful and necessary evolution—necessary, that is, to those who are in their element, in the medium that creates and nurtures them—but not for those of us who seek a pure, clean, and healthy environment, one that only the Revolution can create by destroying the existing despots as well as, very essentially, the socio-economic conditions that have produced them and that would cause new ones to sprout, if we were foolish enough to only end the effects and to allow the causes to remain—that is, if we were to evolve as do they, the inert ones, taking a dive in their cubic centimeter of mud.

True evolution that will improve of the lives of Mexicans, rather than their parasites, will come with the Revolution. The two complement each other, and the former cannot coexist with the anachronisms and subterfuges that the redeemers of passivity employ today.

To evolve we must be free, and we cannot have freedom if we are not rebels, because no tyrant whatsoever has respected passive people. Never has a flock of sheep instilled the majesty of its harmless number upon the wolf that craftily devours them, caring for no right other than that of his teeth.

We must arm ourselves, not using the useless vote that will always be worth only as much as a tyrant wants, but rather with effective and less naive weapons whose utilization will bring us ascendant evolution instead of the regressive one praised by pacifist activists.

Passivity, never! Rebellion—now and always.

[1] A subphylum of arthropods that includes centipedes and millipedes.


“Blow,” from Regeneración no. 3 (fourth edition), 17 September 1910

The pacified multitudes made a noise like a flock at the shearer’s shop; brutality, infamy, flattery, lies, and vanity surrounded me; my nerves exhausted me; I fled from the city because I felt imprisoned there, and I came to this solitary rock which will be the mausoleum of my frustrations. I am alone at last; the city and its noises remained very far away; I am free from them. I will breathe another environment; the murmur of nature will be the sweet song that my ears hear.

Standing atop the high ledge, the vagabond smiles.

A light breeze arrived; and into the vagabond’s lungs something asphyxiating penetrated; he heard a strange voice moaning in his mop of coarse hair.

“From where do you come, light breeze, you who cause anxiety and mad sorrows?”

“I come from a long pilgrimage. I passed by the cabins of the peasants and I saw how these slaves are born and raised; with my subtle fingers I touched the coatless flesh of the little ones, the gaunt and droopy breasts of the ugly mothers, brutalized by poverty and abuse; I touched the features of hunger and of ignorance; I passed through the palaces and recovered the grunt of envy, the belching of excess, the sound of the coins counted feverishly by the greedy, the echo of the orders that kill freedom. I felt in my hand invisible tapestries, golden marble, and jewels that adorn to give worth to worthless people. I passed by the factories, workshops, and fields, and I was soaked with the saltiness of unrewarded sweat; I allowed myself the briefest peek into the mines and collected the tired breath of thousands of men. I went through the naves of churches and found crime and laziness moralizing; I took from there the acrid smells of evil incense. I slid through the prisons and I caressed childhood prostituted by the justice system, thought enchained in dungeons, and I saw how myriads of little insects eat the flesh of larger insects. I forced my way into barracks and saw in their quarters humiliation, brutality, repulsive vices, an academy of murder. I entered school classrooms and saw science befriending error and prejudice; I saw intelligent youth fighting to acquire certificates of exploiters, and I saw in the books the iniquitous law that gives the right to violate all rights. I passed through the valleys, through mountain ranges; I whistled in the tyrants’ lyre, formed with the taut ropes of those hanged from forest branches. I carry pain, I carry bitterness, and for that reason I moan; I carry resignation, I come from the world, and for this reason I am asphyxiated.”

“Go then, light breeze; I want to be alone.”

The breeze left, but human anguish remained trapped in the coarse mane of the vagabond.

Another wind arrived then in strong gusts, intense and formidable.

“Who are you? Where do you come from?”

“I come from all the corners of the world; I carry the just future; I am the breath of the Revolution.”

“Blow, hurricane; comb my hair with your terrible fingers. Blow, gale, blow over the cliff and valleys and in the abysses, and turn through the mountains; tear down these barracks and these churches; destroy these prisons; shake that resignation; dissolve  those clouds of incense; break the branches of those trees from which the oppressors have made their lyres; awaken from that ignorance; uproot those gold mines that represent a thousand misfortunes. Blow, hurricane, whirlwind, north wind, blow; lift those passive sands upon which camels’ hooves and serpents’ bellies tread, and turn them into burning projectiles. Blow, blow, so that when the breeze returns, it does not leave the horrible anguish of human slavery imprisoned in my head.”


“Darknesses,” from Regeneración no. 4 (fourth edition), 24 September 1910

The shadow is a shroud for impostures, vanity, and glitter; it is for that reason that so many hate it.

The shadow kills the useless beauty of the precious stones that captivate primitive minds.

In the shadows are born the tempests and revolutions that destroy but also fertilize.

Coal, a dark rock that stains the hands that touch it, is strength, light, and movement when it roars in the fire of the cauldron.

The rebellion of the dark proletariat is progress, liberty, and science when this vibrates in its fists and shakes in its minds.

In the depth of the darkness, beings take form, and the palpitations of life begin.

In the belly of the furrow germinates the seed.

The darkness of the cloud is the fertility of the fields; the darkness of the rebel is the freedom of the people.

Black and white photo of Praxedis G. Guerrero.


If you enjoyed this biographical piece on a historic anarchist figure then we recommend “Mikhail Bakunin, 1814-1876: Biography, Readings and Quotes” and “Brazilian Bakunin: Anarchist Militant Domingos Passos.”