The party was founded in 1929, but its current name was given in 1946. What does the word institutional mean in its name?

Does it mean 'revolutionise the institutions'? Or does it mean 'the institutions are the revolution'? Or what?

  • Added a link to a third party, objective report by Reuters in my piece.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 11:41

3 Answers 3


"Why?" Has two different components.

  1. The intended and revealed meaning.
  2. Reason and cause.

In 1938, President Lázaro Cárdenas reorganized and renamed the party the PRM (the Partido de la Revolución Mexicana or the Party of the Mexican Revolution). The renamed and reorganized party reflected the growing importance of labor and peasant organizations and was composed of four sectors: workers, peasants, the military, and “popular organizations.” In 1946 the party received its current name, indicating the changing political priorities and economic policies of the postwar period.
–– DMC: "Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI)", in: Don M. Coerver Suzanne B. Pasztor, and Robert M. Buffington (Eds): "Mexico! An Encyclopedia of Contemporary Culture and History", ABC-Clio: Santa Barbara, Denver, 2004.

January 18, 1946. The PRM becomes the PRI, marking an end to military presidents.

The name alludes to, promises and claims that the revolution was and continues to be a good thing. That it was not over, but became itself an institution – and not something temporary but the very basis of society and politics, now enshrined into one party, ensuring the continuity of the achievements. In short, it means something like: this party – as an institution – is the revolution. How much of that was or is true is of course another matter. In effect, it meant the opposite, that "the revolution is over" and rollback time was ahead. But the myth of "the revolution" couldn't be touched.

The PRI was founded by former president Plutarco Elías Calles and his followers in a period of conflict with the Roman Catholic Church, rebellion in the military, and disputes with the United States. In effect, the party represented the institutionalization of the new power structure that had emerged as a result of the Mexican Revolution (1910–20), a coalition of regional and local political-military bosses and labour and peasant leaders. This governing coalition sought a more conservative evolution (though often under “revolutionary” guises) and more stability in government. In the new party-state system that emerged, party control came to be concentrated in the Central Executive Committee, whose chief was selected by the president of Mexico and entrusted with the task of approving party nominees for all important elective positions in Mexico except for the presidency. The incumbent president, who under the Mexican constitution could serve only one term, selected his own successor. The Central Executive Committee became responsible for enforcing a common understanding among state and national officials and among the various groups within the party.

The PRI’s establishment shifted power from political-military chieftains to state party units and to those sectors of the party representing peasants, urban labourers, and the military. President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–40) enhanced the authority of the peasant wing of the party and balanced the existing party sectors with a so-called popular sector representing such disparate groups as civil servants, the professions, small businessmen, small farmers, artisans, youth, and women. The Cárdenas-led PRI government also granted asylum to Soviet revolutionary Leon Trotsky. In the early 1940s the party’s military wing was disbanded, and its members were encouraged to join the popular sector, which became the largest in the party. Under Cárdenas’s party reforms, the PRI established a large patronage system that doled out benefits to various groups in return for political support. Cárdenas also attracted support for the party by introducing land reform and nationalizing the oil industry (1930). Although the PRI could count on the enthusiastic support of large segments of the population, when necessary it used repression and, according to its critics, electoral fraud to solidify its position.
–– Institutional Revolutionary Party, Encyclopaedia Britannica, (accessed 2019)

That is semantically a bit like marxist and perhaps even trotzkist "permanent revolution" but adapted under Mexican auspices to Mexican realities.

Ironically, this takes away 'the revolution' from unorganised, spontaneous upheaval from below and transforms it into an 'orderly' fashion. And just like it sounds, this ultimately betrayed the foundations of most revolutions ever so gradually until the PRI turned right-wing from 1940 onwards until firmly so in the 1980s. This political shift began exactly in 1946 with the name-change.

As President Ruiz Cortines confessed at the end of his conservative tenure in 1958, masses of Mexicans had not sufficiently benefited from the economic miracle. They did receive, however, plenty of revolutionary rhetoric — including the change in the party name to Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 1946. Yet too much poverty, illiteracy, and social pain remained. One reason for this was the PRI’s change in dynamics: the peasant and labor organizations had been supplanted in influence by business.
–– Lynn V. Foster: "A Brief History of Mexico", Facts on File: New York, 42010.

Ever debatable how accurate Moderately left-wing in the following quote is, it highlights the pupose of the institution:

The PRI, generally considered moderately left-wing, maintained its political dominance for 68 years by weakening any resolve for a political coup by appeasing the middle and lower classes with political opportunities and favors in exchange for votes. Electoral fraud, ballot tampering, violence and bribery were also used.
–– Aileen S. Yoo: "The Rise and Fall of Mexican Politics", Washington Post, August 1998.

Compared to

How the Ruling Party Brought Crisis to Mexico actually begins in the early 1950s, when the Mexican political elite resolved a perilous internecine struggle over the presidency and consolidated what the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa called “the perfect dictatorship.” For two decades it was a remarkably stable political system—no mean accomplishment in a nation not yet ready for democracy. The old Mexican regime outlived all other authoritarian regimes of the twentieth century except the Soviet Union, and although it occasionally resorted to repression, it was not a police state. The Mexican economic “miracle” of sustained, rapid economic growth was spoken of in the same terms as South Korea’s economy in the 1980s or China’s in the 2000s.
–– Jonathan Schlefer: "Palace Politics. How the Ruling Party Brought Crisis to Mexico", University of Texas Press: Austin, 2008.

It's essential to observe that the PRI wasn't inherently left-wing to begin with:

The PRI was created by military elites clinging to power after winning the Mexican Revolution. 1928, Revolutionary leader Alvaro Obregon was assassinated. General Plutarco Elias Calles came into power, and in 1929, he created the PRI’s predecessor, the National Revolutionary Party or PNR.

Historian Lorenzo Meyer said since the party’s birth, it was designed to exercise the power Calles inherited. “That’s how the PRI was born in 1929. The party was not born to compete for power. It already had power,” he said.

In 1934, Calles named his successor, another revolutionary General, Lazaro Cardenas. In 1938, Cardenas nationalized the oil sector, creating the state-owned oil monopoly, PEMEX. He said he did it for the benefit of the nation: “This is a clear and evident case. It obligates the Government to apply the Law of Expropriation, because they’ve broken labor contracts with their workers.”
–– Franc Contreras: "PRI: A history of Mexico’s ruling party", CGTN Amrica, June 2018.

An older account explained it

The Mexican state is a "balancing act" because it is based on a constantly renewed political bargain among several ruling groups and interests representing a broad range of ideological tendencies and social bases. To a greater degree than in most stable and mature modern states, the political bargain is at the forefront of Mexican politics and of the administrative decision-making process. The politics of daily renewal takes precedence over politics-as-usual. Those who do play politics-as-usual must be constantly aware of their interest in holding together the fragile association upon which their power is based.

In a sense, every new state represents a political bargain. Over time, the bargain is transformed into a series of institutions which, if they work, make all but the most historically minded political participant forget its original terms. The institutions, in other words, develop a life of their own.

The Mexican state is unique, however, in that it has never evolved from its original bargain into an institutionalized entity in the above sense. The bargain through which political stability was achieved in the 1930s was struck between the representatives of lower-class revolu- tionaries and middle-class revolutionaries. It was and remains an agree- ment to share power among proponents of quite different interests and constituencies. The system is held together not by institutions, but by the rigid discipline of the elites in not overstepping the bounds of the bargain. It is therefore less a set of institutionalized structures (though structures like the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party [PRI] are there to trap the unwary observer) than a complex of well-established, even ritualized, strategies and tactics appropriate to political, bureaucratic, and private interaction throughoutthe system. More than anything else, the Mexican political system is a set of ways of doing things. The mechanisms for constantly renewing the political bargain neces- sary to keep diverse elements together account for the unusual mixture of authoritarianism and negotiation observed in Mexican politics.

One may object that our characterization of Mexican politics as a clearly defined set of ways of doing things is precisely what is meant by the term institutionalization. That is true at one level. Institutions in this very general sense, however, differ widely in the degree to whicl they are structured and formalized. At one extreme are political struc tures (whether legally or constitutionally defined or not) such as legis latures, executive branches, or parties. At the other extreme are the very loose, informal institutions constituted by social conventions gov erning most (and even some of the minutest) aspects of daily life Somewhere in between are social institutions such as marriage. Mar. riage is governed and delimited by formal and legal rules, but in es sence its content is worked out and negotiated through prolonged anc intimate face-to-face interaction. Today, in the United States at least there is nothing inevitable about the maintenance of the marriag( "bargain"; its fate depends on the constant efforts and sensitivity of the partners. It is at this latter level of the meaning of institution that we shall explore the nature of the Mexican state.

Let us cite but one example of the problem confronting a formal institutional approach: Samuel Huntington uses Mexico as a major illustration of an institutionalized system that he contrasts with the praetorianism of most of the Third World.' His analysis suggests that, whereas institutionalized systems can be analyzed in terms of the adaptiveness and flexibility of their (structured) institutions (particularly political parties), praetorian systems can be understood (since they lack viable institutions) in terms of common political tactics that include direct action by social forces, corruption, and the political leaders' "sell-out" of their followers. However, some of these praetorian tactics are not only commonly used in Mexico - indeed, are "institutionalized" - but a strong argument can be made that they contribute in a very basic way to the stability of the system.'
–– Susan Kaufman Purcell & John F. H. Purcell: "State and Society in Mexico: Must a Stable Polity Be Institutionalized?", 32 WORLD POL. 194 (1980).

The re-organisation took on the form of symbolism:

In early 1946, his last year in office, Ávila Camacho presided over the reorganization of the official party, which was renamed the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI). The reorganization resulted in the labor, peasant, and popular sectors having a reduced role. Power was further concentrated in the hands of the president and the party’s National Executive Committee. As occurred with the founding of the National Revolutionary Party (PNR) and the PRM, decisions concerning the formation of the PRI were made from the top down. In one day, the party’s convention agreed on an already-drafted declaration of principles, program of action, and statutes. Ejidatarios and trade union members continued to become automatic party members.

At the time, this was hailed as a way to prevent local bosses with no commitment to democracy from perpetuating fraud. What was not mentioned was that this centralization of authority simply nationalized fraud management. As was intended by its drafters, this legislation discouraged electoral opposition. In 1946 the average number of congressional candidates per district was 5.3, while by 1949 it had declined to 2.0.

Ávila Camacho’s choice of his Interior Secretary Miguel Alemán to be the first PRI presidential candidate signaled a continuation of the conservative trend in government. Alemán had resigned his governorship of Veracruz to manage Ávila Camacho’s presidential campaign. In his speech accepting the PRI nomination, Alemán emphasized agricultural and industrial development. Alemán, a career civilian bureaucrat, was the first of a string of professional politicians who would dominate Mexican political life for the rest of the century.

The outlines of a new Mexican political system were clearly visible by the end of Ávila Camacho’s term. He established cordial relations with the Church and the United States. Presidential power had greatly increased, accumulated on the pretext of war emergency but retained after the end of the war. The government and business began a close alliance that over the course of the next thirty years was to transform Mexico socially and economically. Foreign business interests became active participants in this alliance. Workers and peasants were left leaderless as their nominal leaders looked increasingly to the government rather than their base. Ávila Camacho and his successors, rather than admitting a change in direction, extolled economic nationalism and industrialization, all of which was cloaked in the symbolism of the Mexican Revolution.

Alemán is arguably the most important president in 20th-century Mexican history. He profoundly changed the nation’s course by allying the state with moneyed interests, wooing foreign capital, accelerating industrialization, and undoing or mitigating many of the reforms promulgated by Cárdenas.
–– John W. Sherman, 2000

Many welcomed Alemán as a charismatic young leader with something of a playboy image. The average age of his cabinet members, who were largely civilian university graduates like the president himself, was forty-four—the first cabinet formed by the generation that had grown up under the Revolution. Military men headed only the secretaries of national defense and navy. Alemán’s rise to the presidency made it clear that the military no longer provided entry into the political establishment. Graduation from the National University and a career in government had become the route to the presidency.

The month after he was inaugurated, Alemán declared in a widely publicized speech: “Each Mexican should be a soldier in the great battle for the industrial growth of Mexico. That is the only way we can combat the high cost of living and strengthen our economic independence.”17 By 1950, the PRI had become a smoothly functioning political machine. That year the party adopted new statutes, a declaration of principles, and a plan of action. The 1,066 delegates at the PRI convention unanimously approved drafts of these documents in two days of sessions. The degree to which the PRI had become subordinated to the president was indicated by this overblown resolution passed by the 1951 General Assembly of the PRI:

We consider the political ideas expressed by President Alemán to be doctrine of such congruence, profundity, and precision that it can serve as an official source to stimulate our thinking and our will . . . This Assembly resolves to increase its reliance on the political thinking of MIGUEL ALEMÁN and the Party’s Declaration of Principles so that they may constantly guide the Party’s actions.18 Alemán forced all elements of the government to accept his ideological position. Alemán-like political clones replaced the center-left to center-right coalition that had existed under Cárdenas. During his first eight months in office, Alemán removed ten governors who were unwilling to follow his policies or who were closely associated with other strong political figures. Alemán further marginalized the military, which for the first time since the Revolution was allocated less than 10 percent of the federal budget.

Even though Alemán began his administration with a pledge to fight corruption, graft became more firmly entrenched than ever in the Mexican political system. By one estimate, during his term Alemán and his associates “plundered” $800,000,000. Lesser officials followed Alemán’s example, noting: “Alemán led and we followed.”
–– Philip L. Russell: "The History of Mexico. From Pre-Conquest to Present", Routledge, New York, 2010.

Overall, the shift is remarkably clear in itself, but difficult to label:

The revolutionaries who crafted programs that represented the needs and concerns of their people also demonstrated a receptivity toward foreign programs of reform that had succeeded. Revolutionary representatives traveled widely, in both official and unofficial capacities, in search of programs, institutions, and organizations that worked for the betterment of people. This openness makes Mexicans stand out among other revolutionaries of the century.

Many of the achievements of the revolution were obscured by events beginning in 1946, when a second generation of revolutionaries came to power. Renamed the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution, the party and government administration would go on to cynically practice political manipulation, engage in corrupt financial deals, and oversee repression and injustice for the rest of the century, as society experienced a growing disparity of wealth. These failures do not dismiss the successes of the revolutionary generation that successfully established a regime and carried out revolutionary policies from 1910 to 1946. The emergence of a government held responsible for positive change for ordinary citizens underpins legitimacy. The people demanded respect across the board, radical change, and positive action to make life better both in the short and long run. They demanded economic security, expressed in demands for land and village improvements, and subsequently labor protection and safety-net institutions, such as social security and public health programs. The transformation of the countryside resulted in the creation of a fluid rural population better able to contend with demands on its land and labor. For example, government credit agencies broke the monopoly of local money leaders for the first time. Those able to use the rails and new roads had much-improved economic possibilities, with the option of moving to the cities. Rural isolation gave way to national inclusion. Children learned to read and write in modest schools, beginning a process that would eventually take their children and grandchildren to secondary schools, professional institutes, and universities. Social stratification underwent fundamental changes leading to a class system, with the possibility of upward mobility. The displacement of the elites during the revolution opened political positions at the national and state level to a generation of revolutionaries, largely from the middle and lower classes. Closely coupled with social change, the revolution proudly elevated Indian Mexico to be a part of the national uniqueness. The revolutionary ideal rested on the national culture cleansed of its negative elements. Respect and pride made it possible to use nationalism to bind the republic and classes together.

The revolution did not resolve all the problems that confronted the people in 1910. Moreover it faced new problems as the nation became more industrial and moved further away from subsistence agriculture. These difficulties resulted in the challenges of the second half of the twentieth century. Typical of popular movements, the revolutionary institutions—the government and the party—that had done so much from 1910 to 1946, became the obstacles to the resolution of the new challenges from 1946 to 2000. What the revolutionary party and government became after 1946 cannot diminish the fact that a generation of everyday Mexican citizens made the world’s first social revolution.

The second generation of revolutionaries came to power with the election of Miguel Alemán in 1946. These sons and daughters of the veterans of revolutionary battles had come of age in entirely different circumstances. A sweeping generalization about the generation of revolutionaries identifies their rough-hewn, self-made character. Generally they lacked much schooling and they relied on the education of practical experience and learning gained by surviving violence. Even the most successful of them retained small-town, provincial values. They had attempted to educate the young of their families and nation to be revolutionaries.

Some of the heirs of the revolutionary veterans lived the improved life that their predecessors wanted for them, although many did not. Generally the new revolutionary generation had been reared in affluence, received extensive schooling, and been encouraged into the professions. Living in large cities, many in the capital itself, they had an urban orientation with both a disregard for the countryside and an apprehension about city life that appeared in the popular arts and media. Although they knew the myths and rhetoric of their parents’ achievements, once they took charge of the nation they acted — in many ways — as strangers in the land of revolution.
–– William H.Beezley & Colin M. Maclachlan: "Mexicans in Revolution 1910–1946. An Introduction", University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln, London, 2009.

Apart from these semantic and strategic reasons, there is also a historical contingency to observe. Late in 1945 was an election and as it corrupt as ever, some upheavals took place, most impactful in León.

With the installation of Mayor Quiróz on New Year's Day of 1946, tensions ran high. The UCL held a protest rally, not in the zócalo, but in Hidalgo Park, some three kilometers away from the central square. About two thousand people, primarily from the town, attended the rally. Colonel Pablo Cano Martínez, chief of the General Staff of the military forces in Guanajuato, personally led a force of about one hundred soldiers into Hidalgo Park. With a machine gun in hand, Cano Martínez led his troops with fixed bayonets into the crowd and broke up the demonstration; many people were beaten and wounded. In the latter stages, others were run over by the cavalry. What the government's own investigator privately described as a "scandalous show of force" resulted in the death of a pregnant woman a few days later.

That such force had been used against unarmed civilians, in defense of an illegitimate electionand against urban people at thatconvinced shopkeepers to close virtually all of the town's businesses by noon on January 2. As crowds milled around the square, leaders of the Unión Civica Leonesa tried to negotiate with the government. Pressure was also great on Dr. Quiróz to resign his post. By evening the crowd had returned, and a group of young boys, between ages twelve and sixteen, carried a coffin around the plaza with the twin signs saying "Quiróz" and "PRM." Their initiative was received warmly by the crowd. […]

And from there is only got worse

Clearly the government troops had acted with inexcusable violence when faced with a peaceful protest against the imposition of the official candidate over the real victor in León. There was not much of a case to be made in defense of the government, and even CTM members on the scene in León were appalled. Labor leaders like Lombardo Toledano hurt their credibility enormously by trying to rationalize away the government's behavior. So great had been the public consternation over these events that it had nearly become necessary for the government to postpone the PRM convention at which Miguel Alemán was selected to be the next president of the republic.

It is notable that the massacre in León, which approached in scale the Tlaltelolco massacre of 1968, has been forgotten to history. The taint of association with the Sinarquista tradition converted the fallen into unworthy victims. The view from the ground, in which local grievances predominated, was quickly lost in the face of official amnesia from the governing party and its media allies. It is little wonder that the PRM decided that it was a fitting moment to change its name.

The political situation was tense as a result of a series of electoral impositionsmost significantly in Monterreyand the massacre at León on January 2, 1946. The legitimacy of the PRM was being questioned more seriously than at any moment since the election of 1940. President Avila Camacho saw the spirit of wartime collaboration dissipating as his powers inevitably slipped away. Based upon his intimate daily contact with the president, Ambassador Messersmith concluded that "perhaps one of the unhappiest men in Mexico in the last half of the year has been the President of Mexico, who is really a very fine and serene, wise and constructive man."

At first the president tried to dismiss the incident as being entirely local in significance.6 However, the episode was rapidly expanding in the national consciousness. Rumor had it that the Permanent Committee of the Congress might investigate and that the PAN was already petitioning the Supreme Court to do so. The Mexican Bar Association called for justice. By coincidence, Ambassador Messersmith dined with President Avila Camacho on the very evening, January 7, on which the president implicitly accepted the illegitimate nature of the imposition in León by declaring the governorship to be vacant. Messersmith described the president as greatly relieved that he was doing the right thing in condemning his own political machine. By removing the governor and two military commanders and also by allowing the Supreme Court to send a delegation to investigate, President Avila Camacho was reining in the PRM and effectively admitting official culpability. Indeed, [newspapers] all reported rumors that the party's public relations specialists were mooting a name change for the governing PRM in an attempt to divert public rage away from candidate Alemán.

It is noteworthy that by this stage Beteta was arguing in private correspondence with U.S. diplomats that the election of Padilla would mean "the elimination of 35 years of the Mexican Revolution." This written correspondence also provided the first word to the U.S. diplomats that the events at León were behind the PRM's decision to change its name to the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).

President Avila Camacho had unleashed a conservative assault upon the program of the Mexican Revolution that would continue to intensify until it became a veritable counterrevolution under his successor. Thus, it is somehow appropriate that a government that set out to change the program of the Mexican Revolution so dramatically would end its term of office by changing the name of its own party. Whatever an institutionalized revolution might be, it was clear that it would be profoundly different from the dominant currents of Cardenismo.

–– Stephen R. Niblo: "Mexico in the 1940s . Modernity, Politics, and Corruption", SR Books, Wilmongton, 1999.



The Institutional Revolutionary Party is described by some scholars as a "state party", a term which captures both the non-competitive history and character of the party itself, and the inextricable connection between the party and the Mexican nation-state for much of the 20th century. Institutionalism in Mexico is a concept that is based in the non-morphological character of consolidated human organizations, having the particular feature of belonging to its determined legal field and settled as the highest manifestation of social common issues, as well as people use to go in and outside the objective legal field. In its origins, it was determined that institutionalism would be the only way to solve social problems as humans establish their differences and common similarities. The PRI held power for 71 years ...

IOW, it is "Revolutionary" as a reminder of the Mexican Revolution and it is "Institutional" because it operates in such terms as "L'état, C'est Moi" or "What's good for General Motors is good for the America" (both quotes false!) In other words, it is "Партия власти", i.e., the party whose function is not so much to express and represent certain political views but to support the state. In a way, such a party becomes a state institution. Historically, CPSU and NSDAP were other such examples (no, I do not consider PRI to be a criminal organization, unlike CPSU and NSDAP).

  • 2
    clear as mud :/
    – Ne Mo
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 23:41
  • the wiki quote may be confusing, but I am sure my explanation is lucid enough.
    – sds
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 23:52
  • The wiki doesn't cite a contemporary source for this, so this is just some wiki editor guessing a vaguely plausible explanation, which I can do myself.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 10:39
  • Makes sense to me (+1), but some may not be as familiar with that French phrase and its significance. You may consider either translating it, elaborating, or at least linking to a definition.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 8, 2015 at 11:12

First, the Mexican "Revolution" (of the 1910s) was more like a civil war. It should not be confused with the Guerra por la Indepedencia (War of Independence) 1810-21, which is what Americans would call the "Revolution."

Having been the "gang" that won the (de facto) civil war, the PRI wrapped itself in the "flag" of the "revolution." The acronym refers to the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, which means "Institutional Revolution Party." In effect, the PRI named itself as the "Establishment" Party. This was to distinguish itself from its right-wing predecessor, the PRN, the National Revolutionary Party, and its left wing offshoot, the PRD, the (social) Democratic Revolutionary Party.

Put another way, the PRI is the "Bolshevik" ("big" revolutionary) party of Mexico. By thus claiming "legitimacy," it was able to hold onto power for longer than its political merits might have implied.

I lived and worked in Mexico in 1994, and attended a number of meetings led by PRI officials who explained the above to me.

  • The Mexican Revolution was 1910-1920, not 1917 only!
    – C Monsour
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 11:13
  • @CMonsour: OK, changed that to "the 1910s:. Thanks for your help.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 11:22

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