By Robert Franco, a third-year PhD student in the History Department

While the bulk of my research on the Mexican Left involves the post-1968 period, I find myself needing to move continuously backwards in time in order to historicize the seemingly enduring divide between sexuality and leftist revolutionary struggle. Particularly after the 1930s, if sexual politics were not dismissed as “bourgeois decadences” then they were attacked as imperialist imports threatening to divide men and women and distract them from issues of more pressing concern: labor rights, wealth inequality, and capitalist imperialism. Nevertheless, the political foundations for the Left’s hostilities need to be historicized to bring attention to the contingencies, their performative dimensions, and the deeper meanings behind such posturing. Take, for example, the Mexican Communist Party’s early attacks on sexual education.

Here we see a flyer from 1934 that demands free meals for elementary school students, free education, free books and study materials, and demands “all this before sexual education.” What we know of this period is that the Communist Party was reeling from some of its heaviest years of repression after the Mexican government’s break in diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1929 and official banning of the Communist Party. Ephemera from this period, just as the PCM was experiencing a real revival in terms of numbers and state permission to organize, give us a fairly accurate representation of the Party’s attempts at outreach just as it was gaining political force. This means that the PCM wanted this position on sexual education publicly known.

Now we can first read this statement as the usual attack on sex education as unnecessary to proletariat struggle – a sort of zero sum game where any gains in sexual education means a loss for economic justice. However, if we further unpack this case by examining it in the context of the rest of the battles of the 1930s, we can begin to see another picture. From other materials I’ve examined, it seems that during these years there was also major struggle occurring between students, the revolutionary government, and leftists over university autonomy and secular education. The 1934 strike in particular was initiated by Comité de Huelga de la Escuela, but it gained PCM support. Why? Well, another piece of ephemera held by the Communist Party of Mexico, an April 1934 article from the student newspaper Rebeldia, may explain this odd alliance of conservative family groups and the PCM.

The article recounts a protest held by Mothers Against Sexual Education, which took place near the Faculty of Medicine and Law in Mexico City. Police allegedly opened fire on the protesters, who were then given aid by medical students, who were, in turn, also attacked by police. The article then goes on to call for more university and school autonomy from government intervention. Is it possible, then, that the PCM’s vocal attack on sexual education came about due to police violence? Did the PCM strategically sacrifice sexual education to gain allies and make a case for the defense of school autonomy under a discourse of protecting mothers? It is certainly possible that the PCM decided to ally with these more conservative sectors of parents for reasons beyond sexual education. Rather, perhaps the bigger fish was government repression and corruption, with sexual education being seen as an easy scapegoat to abandon in the broader struggle. Also, this was right before the PCM had committed fully to supporting the regime of Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940) and its wariness toward the Mexican government is evident. Either way, cases such as these make me consider the strategic, performative, and contingent dimensions of sexual politics – how they wax and wane as areas of concern – and it makes me question why they were seen as impossible to amend with other political demands throughout the century. Why couldn’t students have sexual education and free textbooks?