The Mexican Revolution's Wake: The Making of a Political System, 1920-1929

Cambridge University Press, March 2018

Honorable Mention, 2019 Social Science Book Award from the Mexico section of the Latin American Studies Association




Throughout the 1920s Mexico was rocked by attempted coups, assassinations, and popular revolts. Yet by the mid-1930s, the country boasted one of the most stable and durable political systems in Latin America. In the first book on party formation conducted at the regional level after the Mexican Revolution, Sarah Osten examines processes of political and social change that eventually gave rise to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which dominated Mexico's politics for the rest of the twentieth century. In analyzing the history of Socialist parties in the southeastern states of Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco, and Yucatán, Osten demonstrates that these 'laboratories of revolution' constituted a highly influential testing ground for new political traditions and institutional structures. The Mexican Revolution's Wake shows how the southeastern socialists provided a blueprint for a new kind of party that struck calculated balances between the objectives of elite and popular forces, and between centralized authority and local autonomy.

Advance praise

"Provocatively - persuasively - revisionist. The Mexican Revolution's Wake offers a through-the-looking-glass analysis of prísmo's southern roots and is a welcome restatement of the value of regional and political histories of the post-revolutionary 1920s. Sarah Osten shows that the socialist bosses of Covarrubias's fabled 'Mexico South' were not revolutionary wildcatters or mad scientists but unacknowledged systemic architects of one-party rule. Brilliantly counter-intuitive."

--Matthew J. Butler, University of Texas at Austin

"Sarah Osten's clever, comprehensive, and painstaking work rescues Mexican politics in the 1920s from overly Machiavellian readings, finding in the swamps and mountains of the southeastern states the tangled roots of the revolutionary party, and among them not just corruption and violence, but also institutions and idealism. This is a book that will change how we think about post-revolutionary politics."

--Paul Gillingham, Northwestern University

"Osten takes regional history to the next level. She argues that four southeastern states served as a testing ground of the institutions, practices, and discourses of a distinctively Mexican brand of socialism. This southeastern socialism, above all Tomas Garrido Canabal's Tabascan variant, was adopted (and moderated) by the newly forged national ruling party in 1929. By steering clear of familiar explanations for Mexico's unique path of state formation (populism, caciquismo, culture hegemony, political machines), she has given scholars much to think about."

--Ben Fallaw, Colby College

"The Mexican Revolution's Wake is a path-breaking analysis of the role of the Mexican Southeast in the construction of the post-revolutionary state.  It is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the negotiation of rule at both the state and national levels, and a splendid interpretation of how Mexico passed from political chaos to stable central rule."

--Jürgen Buchenau, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

"Sarah Osten presents a fine grained and compelling new history of reformist socialism in southeastern Mexico, and shows how novel political experiments and forms of popular mobilization diffused through that region and played a critical role in shaping the emergence of a new, national political system that would govern Mexico for the next seventy years. Built on a deep foundation of careful archival work, Osten’s book is a vividly told, lucid, and judicious account of this critical and understudied era in Mexican history. Osten shows us the complex interplay between region and nation to illuminate both the popular and the authoritarian strands that defined the Mexican political system."

--Ted Beatty, University of Notre Dame


Barry Carr. Review of Sarah Osten, The Mexican Revolution's Wake: The Making of a Political System, 1920-1929. H-LatAm, H-Net Reviews. October, 2018. URL:

“This is an impressively researched book employing a wide range of primary sources drawn from the Archivo General de la Nación and the Calles Trust Archive as well as from state archives in Yucatán and Chiapas and the records of the Ministry of Defense. Osten is also the first scholar to have used the papers of the Chiapan state governor and politician Vidal. This is a fine example of regional political history but it is a political history that engages with everyday social, cultural, and economic life and that carefully reconstructs the webs that connected local, regional, and national politics.”

Booth, W. (2019). Sarah Osten, The Mexican Revolution's Wake: The Making of a Political System, 1920–1929 (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018), pp. xiii 285, £75.00, hb. Journal of Latin American Studies, 51(2), 447-450. doi:10.1017/S0022216X19000397.

“This is a clear, cogent and innovative contribution to the history of post- revolutionary Mexico, offering a plausible, well-evidenced account of how the ruling party eventually came into being, but also reminding us of the many paths not taken in that crucial period of state formation. It is a compelling read with important, frustrating and – in many cases – tragic sub-narratives; highly recommended.”

Hernández Rodríguez, R. (2019). Sobre Sarah Osten, The Mexican Revolution’s Wake. The Making of a Political System, 1920-1929. Historia Mexicana, 70(3). doi:

“El trabajo de Osten es una contribución destacada a la historia política mexicana, por el tema y la metódica investigación, que será muy útil a otros estudios.”

Luis Herrán Ávila (2019). The Mexican Revolution’s Wake: The Making of a Political System, 1920–1929, Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies / Revue canadienne des études latino-américaines et caraïbes, DOI: 10.1080/08263663.2019.1653712

Well-documented, nuanced, and compelling, The Mexican Revolution’s Wake places the “peripheral” south-east at the center of postrevolutionary consolidation and diligently delivers a fresh take on the ambivalent history of south-eastern socialism, suggesting new ways to interpret its achievements and shortcomings in light of the tensions between revolution, reform, and institutionalization.”