Ricardo was born on 16 September 1874, in San Antonio Eloxochitlán, Oaxaca, an indigenous Mazatec community. His father, Teodoro Flores, was a Zapotec Indian and his mother, Margarita Magón was a Mestiza. The couple met each other in 1863 during the Siege of Puebla when both were carrying munitions to the Mexican troops.
Magón explored the writings and ideas of many early anarchists, such as Mikhail Bakunin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, but was also influenced by anarchist contemporaries Élisée Reclus, Charles Malato, Errico Malatesta, Anselmo Lorenzo, Emma Goldman, and Fernando Tarrida del Mármol. He was most influenced by Peter Kropotkin. He also read from the works of Karl Marx and Henrik Ibsen.
He was one of the major thinkers of the Mexican Revolution and the Mexican revolutionary movement in the Partido Liberal Mexicano. Flores Magón organised with the Wobblies (IWW) and edited the Mexican anarchist newspaper Regeneración, which aroused the workers against the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz.
Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread, which Flores Magón considered a kind of anarchist bible, served as basis for the short-lived revolutionary communes in Baja California during the “Magonista” Revolt of 1911. From 1904, Magón remained in the USA. Half this period he was in prison. His last arrest was in 1918, when he received a 20-year sentence for “obstructing the war effort”, a violation of the Espionage Act of 1917. The Wilson administration conducted what were called the Palmer Raids, a wholesale crackdown on war dissidents and leftists that also swept up notable socialists such as Eugene V. Debs. He died at Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas.
Flores Magón’s movement fired the imagination of both American and Mexican anarchists. In 1945, his remains were repatriated to Mexico and were interred in the Rotonda de los Hombres Ilustres in Mexico City. In Mexico, the Flores Magón brothers are considered left-wing political icons nearly as notable as Emiliano Zapata; numerous streets, public schools, towns and neighborhoods are named for them.
In 1997, an organization of indigenous peoples of Mexico in the state of Oaxaca formed the Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca “Ricardo Flores Magón” (Consejo Indígena Popular de Oaxaca “Ricardo Flores Magón”, or CIPO-RFM), based on the philosophy of Magón.
Quotes: (from Dreams of Freedom: A Ricardo Flores Magón Reader)
- “Let us rise, and with the shovel that now serves to pile up gold for our masters, let us split their skulls in two, and with the sickle that weakly cuts off ears of corn, let us cut off the heads of the bourgeoisie and the tyrants. And above the smoldering embers of this damned system, let us plant our banner, the banner of the poor, to the cry of Land and Liberty! Let us no longer elevate anyone; let us all rise! Let us no longer hang medals or crosses on the chests of our leaders; if they want to be decorated, let us decorate them with our fists. The hour of justice has arrived, and in place of the ancient cry, the terror of the rich, “Your money or your life!” let us substitute this cry: “Your money and your life!” (217 “The Intervention and the Prisoners of Texas”)
- “Between bandit and bandit, I prefer the one who, dagger in hand and with a resolute spirit, jumps out from some thicket by the road shouting “Your money or your life!” I prefer this one, I insist, to the bandit who, sitting down at his desk, coldly, quietly, calmly drinks the blood of his workers.” (243 “Bandits!”)
- “How far is the ideal, how far! A mirage in the desert, a phantasm of the steppes, the twinkling image of a star reflected in a lake. First was the bottomless abyss separating humanity from the promised land. How to fill this abyss? How to plug it? How to reach the inviting beach that we divine is on the far shore? Defending the abyss are prejudices, traditions, religious fanaticism, the law. In order to be able to cross this abyss, one must vanquish its defenders until the abyss is filled with blood and then sail over this new red sea.” (190 “Liberty Equality Fraternity”)
- “Let’s suppose that the number lost in this evil war [WWI] is a million; this would signify that a million families find themselves without protection because their men were so stupid that they preferred to march to the slaughterhouse to defend the interests of their exploiters rather than to go to war in defense of the interests of their class. That such lambs die is a good thing. There’s no lack of men who are obstacles to the desire for liberty of the other individuals of their class. That means we’ll encounter fewer obstacles in our struggle for the destruction of the present system.” (295 “The World War”)