Rise, all of you, as one man! In the hands of all are tranquility [sic], well-being, liberty, the satisfaction of all healthy appetites. But we must not leave ourselves to the guidance of directors. Let each be master of himself. Let all be arranged by the mutual consent of free individualities. Death to slavery! Death to hunger! Long life to “Land and Liberty!”
Mexicans! With hand on heart and with a tranquil conscience we formally and solemnly appeal to you all, men and women alike, to embrace the lofty ideals of the Mexican Liberal Party. As long as there are rich and poor, governors and governed, there will be no peace, nor is it to be desired that there should be; for such a peace would be founded on the political, economic and social inequality of millions of human beings who suffer hunger, outrages, the prison and death, while a small minority enjoys pleasures and liberties of all kinds for doing nothing. On with the struggle! On with expropriation, for the benefit of all and not of the few! This is no war of bandits, but of men and women who desire that all may be brothers and enjoy, as such, the good things to which nature invites us and which the brawn and intelligence of man have created, the one condition being that each should devote himself to truly useful work.
Liberty and well-being are within our grasp. The same effort and the same sacrifices that are required to raise to power a governor — that is to say, a tyrant — will achieve the expropriation of the fortunes the rich keep from you. It is for you, then, to choose. Either a new governor — that is to say, a new yoke — or life-redeeming expropriation and the abolition of all imposition, be that imposition religious, political or of any other kind.
LAND AND LIBERTY!
from the Manifesto of the Mexican Liberal Party, 1911 (libcom.org)
In virtue of the fact that the immense majority of Mexican pueblos and citizens are owners of no more than the land they walk on, suffering the horrors of poverty without being able to improve their social condition in any way or to dedicate themselves to Industry or Agriculture, because lands, timber, and water are monopolized in a few hands, for this cause there will be expropriated the third part of those monopolies from the powerful proprietors of them, with prior indemnification, in order that the pueblos and citizens of Mexico may obtain ejidos [common lands], villages, and the legal foundations for pueblos, or fields for sowing or laboring, and the Mexicans’ lack of prosperity and well-being may improve in all and for all.
Emiliano Zapata, Plan de Ayala (1911-11-28)
The 100th anniversary of the murder of Emiliano Zapata by the Mexican military (10/04/1919) is the occasion to share texts on the country’s revolution (1910-1920), a revolution profoundly marked by anarchist ideals and practices, ideals and practices which very often found expression in much older indigenous social relations, and which have continued to resonate through the history of this land’s peoples.
Aside from two short pieces that summarise the history of events, which include below selections from the writings of Ricardo Flores Magón and Voltairine de Cleyre.
The 1910 Mexican Revolution
While the Russian workers were able to bring Russia to a standstill in October 1905, it was during the 1910 Mexican Revolution that expropriation was first applied on a wide scale by landless peasants and indigenous peoples. Anarchists in Mexico had been advocating that the people seize the land and abolish all government since the late 1860s, when Julio Chavez Lopez declared that what they wanted was “the land in order to plant it in peace and harvest it in tranquility; to leave the system of exploitation and give liberty to all”.
In 1878, the anarchist group La Social advocated the abolition of the Mexican state and capitalism, the creation of autonomous federated communes, equal property holdings for those who worked the land, and the abolition of wage labour. When the government renewed its campaign of expropriation of peasant lands in favour of foreign (primarily U.S.) interests and a tiny group of wealthy landowners, the anarchists urged the peasants to revolt. Anarchist inspired peasant rebellions spread throughout Mexico, lasting from 1878 until 1884 (Hart: 68-69). Another peasant rebellion broke out in Veracruz in 1896, leading to a lengthy insurgency that continued through to the 1910 Mexican Revolution (Hart: 72).
In 1906 and 1908, the anarchist oriented Liberal Party of Mexico (PLM) led several uprisings in the Mexican countryside. On the eve of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, the PLM issued a manifesto, “To Arms! To Arms for Land and Liberty,” written by the anarchist Ricardo Flores Magón (1874-1922). He urged the peasants to take “the Winchester in hand” and seize the land, for the land belongs “to all men and women who, by the very fact that they are living, have a right to share in common, by reason of their toil, all that wealth which the Earth is capable of producing”. The PLM organized the first armed insurrections against the Díaz dictatorship in the late fall of 1910, beginning a revolution that was to last until 1919. Throughout Mexico, the largely indigenous peasantry arose in rebellion, seizing the land and redistributing it among themselves.
Anarchists outside of Mexico regarded this expropriation of the land by the Mexican peasantry as yet another vindication of their ideas. As Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912) put it, “peasants who know nothing about the jargon of the land reformers or of the Socialists” knew better than the “theory spinners of the cities” how to “get back the land… to ignore the machinery of paper landholding (in many instances they have burned the records of the title deeds) and proceed to plough the ground, to sow and plant and gather, and keep the product themselves”. This was the model of the peasant social revolution that Chavez Lopez had tried to instigate in 1869, that Bakunin had advocated during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, and that anarchists in Europe and Latin America had been trying to instigate for years.
The Mexican Revolution – Anarchist Federation
Mexico in 1910 was a land where an emerging working class was adopting radical forms of organisation and struggle, where the indigenous peoples were still continuing their resistance against three hundred years of rule initiated by Spain, and where the bourgeoisie itself was attempting to develop and consolidate its power against the establishment institutions of the old regimes and the Catholic Church.
The regime directed by Porfirio Diaz represented the interests of the small group of rich owners of vast agricultural estates, and in addition served the interests of foreign capital, including that of the USA. It was opposed by various groups within the liberal bourgeoisie who wanted a national revolution to institute bourgeois democracy. This agreement was at first led by Madero and Carranza. In addition Carranza represented a group of landowners in northern Mexico who had been excluded from the regime. In addition there was the movement around the Magon brothers, which was evolving in an increasingly anarchist direction, a workers’ movement to a lesser or greater extent influenced by the Magonistas, and strong rural movements, around Emiliano Zapata in the south and Pancho Villa in the north.
The aging Diaz, in power for 34 years, announced his impending retirement which started off the period of unrest. The bourgeois opposition advanced a candidate to the Presidency and pushed it through, rather than giving in to the customary compromise with the regime that was frequent in Mexico. The opposition turned to mobilisation of the masses to help this come about.
Throughout Mexico conditions were wildly divergent. There were still the free villages based on traditional Indian ways of organising, where land was farmed on a collective basis, there were the labourers on the big estates and in the timber industry in the jungles, who were virtually slaves, there were the cowboys and ranchands and in the north and the small farmers . Discontent had been slowly building long before the bid of Madero for power. The free villages were increasingly under threat, the big estates were expanding, propelled by the development of mills and the development of the sugar cane industry.
Madero was a typical modernising member of the bourgeoisie, whose aims were solely the departure of Diaz and the introduction of democracy. He now made himself popular with a promise of land reform and had the financial backing of several Mexican and American capitalists, as well as relying on his own personal fortune.
The Magon brothers and the PLM
There was the movement led by Ricardo Flores and Jesus Flores Magon, which had a much longer record of opposition to Diaz. They had founded an opposition journal Regeneracion in 1900 and soon formed the Partido Liberal Mexicano ( Mexican Liberal Party) which essentially advanced a programme of civil rights. Gradually, under the influence of Ricardo, this party orientated itself towards the indigeneous free communities and the poor peasants. The Magon brothers were forced into exile in the USA, whilst maintaining contact with PLM members in Mexico.
In exile Ricardo met the American anarchist Emma Goldman and established a friendship with the Spaniard Florencio Bazora, a friend of the Italian anarchist Malatesta. Links were formed with the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The PLM, despite its continuing to retain the same title, started to transform itself into an anarchist communist organisation. The Magonistas began to smuggle Regeneracion into Mexico and massive agitation took place among the workers and peasants.
The PLM attempted two insurrections, in 1906 and 1908, both repressed. For their part, the USA interned some of the PLM leadership in 107 for conspiracy and violation of the laws of neutrality between Mexico and the USA. When Madero called for an uprising against Diaz on 20th November 1911 the PLM mobilised its forces for an uprising. They were in favour of a tactical alliance on the ground with the Madero forces against Diaz, but were categorically against a political alliance with them. Indeed, the PLM hoped to win elements of the Maderistas over to more radical positions. Unfortunately the Maero uprising failed, and it was only in late December that the movement renewed itself. PLM forces under Praxedis Guerrero crossed the border and marched through the state of Chihuahua. The PLM rose up in nine other states in Mexico, orchestrating joint military activity with the Maderistas and inflicting big defeats on the old regime. In Baja California (see the separate article) the PLM seized Mexicali and this deeply disturbed the regime. The PLM hoped in the long run to expropriate the big landowners there, but in the meantime, forced them to hand over large sums of money. The PLM , in addition, hoped to use Baja California as a base from which to support other PLM units.
PLM units gained many victories, in contrast with the poor military record of the Maderistas. Support internationally began to grow for the PLM, with many socialists, syndicalists and anarchists supporting their cause.
Thanks to Silva, a PLM guerrilla commander, Madero returned to Mexico from the States , but on the following day, declared himself commander in chief of the insurgent forces, and after another PLM commander came over to his side, arrested Silva for refusing to recognise his authority. The situation was compounded by the split between the leadership in exile in the States , clearly anarchist communist, and some of the PLM membership in Mexico, not as politically developed, and leading to compromises with Madero. For his part Madero denounced PLM militants to both the US and Mexican governments, and profited from lack of communication to peddle the myth that the two movements were in alliance. This destroyed PLM unity, leading to splits towards Madero. Madero had 8 leading Magonistas arrested in Chihuahua and 147 members of their units were disarmed. At the same time a campaign of slander began against the PLM on both sides of the border. On the American side they were portrayed as mere bandits, on the Mexican side they were portrayed as tools of American interests. This situation was facilitated by the large number of American volunteers swelling PLM ranks, be they socialists, anarchists or IWW.
Victory over Diaz
Madero finally came to power on 21st May, signing a treaty with Diaz. Officially, the Revolution was over , and everyone should lay down their arms. The PLM refused this, and saw that a social revolution was continuing within Mexico. However, many insurgents now thought that the Madero regime would lead progressively towards greater social justice. The American Socialist Party withdrew its support from the PLM, and transferred it to Madero. Only a section of the IWW and the anarchists continued to support the PLM.
Despite these setbacks Regeneracion released a new manifesto to replace that of 1906, calling for struggle against authority, the Church and capitalism, and for the establishment of a free society. However , some influential members of the PLM , including Jesus Flores Magon, had rallied to Madero. And, in June 1912, Ricardo and other important PLM militants were arrested by the US government and sentenced to 23 months in jail for breaking the neutrality laws.
Peace only lasted a few weeks after the signing of the treaty and several movements, including that of Zapata, took up the cry of Land and Liberty. Madero himself was murdered by the reactionaries and a new phase of unrest began. When Ricardo Flores Magon came out of jail in January 1914 he renewed his agitation. Criticising the successive regimes, he denounced the manipulation of the masses by the different factions of the bourgeoisie. He castigated Pancho Villa for acting as their servant, but praised the Zapatistas for maintaining their principles and behaving as anarchists whilst not using this title.
However repression was falling more and more upon the PLM. Ricardo and LIbrado Rivera were again arrested by the US government and sentenced respectively to 20 and 15 years in jail!! In 1922 Ricardo died in prison, with strong indications that he had been murdered by the US authorities. Released in 1923 Rivera returned to Mexico where he was a leading light in the anarchist group Hermanos Rojos),maintaining his convictions until his death in 1932.
In the south Emiliano Zapata organised armed bands to take back communal lands seized by the estates, spurred on by the bid by Madero to challenge the old regime. He represented a new generation willing to fight and the village elders accepted this situation, standing aside to let them take over the village councils. The movement around Zapata were distinguished by their determination to restore communal land . As a result they increased from a small band to a large movement. They forced the Madero regime to talk about widespread land reforms. The Zapatistas established the Plan of Ayala calling for the return of seized lands, and further that a third of land owned by the estates be distributed to the landless. This was drafted by Zapata and a local anarchist teacher, Ottilio E. Montano. After Huerta, representing the old regime, seized power and murdered Madero, many Magonistas and syndicalists fled south and made contact with the Zapatista movement. Among these were Octavio Jahn, a French anarchist communist, and the brothers Ignacio and Antonio Diaz Soto y Gama.
The Huerta coup meant that opposition was coming from the liberal bourgeoisie, the workers’ movement and the rural movements. In the north the movement of cowboys and ranch hands around Villa adopted the Plan of Ayala, effectively uniting the movements in the countryside. Huerta was defeated. In the process the peasant groups dismantled many big estates and killed or expelled many officials of the old regime. The Zapatistas fought a classic guerrilla campaign, making sudden appearances, and then disappearing away. The movement built up to include tens of thousands. When Huerta was smashed the Zapatistas controlled the south. The Convention of Aguascalientes in September 1914 where the different forces involved in the smashing of Huerta met up. Peasants and workers from the revolutionary units forced through the Plan of Ayala. Carranza and his group refused to accept this and set up their own government. He the Carranzistas now began to co-opt insurgent leaders. One of these, a Zapatista leader called Jose Rouaix, who had become governor of Durango, joined Carranza and together they set up a committee on agrarian reform. At the same time Carranza sought to buy off the workers’ movement by promising labour legislation and organising rights (see the separate article A Grave Error).
The Carranzistas smashed Villa in the north and in the south isolated the Zapatistas. The intelligentsia and many workers’ leaders made their peace with Carranza. The Zapatista movement continued in the south , with Zapata issuing many denunciations of the new regime, but by now he had lost most of his intellectual supporters some of the insurgent leaders who had been won over by promises of non-interference in Zapatista territory.
On April 9th, 1919 Zapata was lured into a trap and gunned down.
The final phase of the revolution took place when some of Carranza’s generals, who represented a more radical approach of a section of the bourgeoisie, revolted and in the following hostilities, finally defeated him. In this conflict the new contender for power, General Obregon, received the support of many remaining Zapatistas and those who had earlier joined Carranza.
The triumph of Obregon meant the institutionalisation of the revolution reflected in the title of the new ruling party, The Institutional Revolutionary Party. The hopes and aspirations of workers and peasants had been dashed.
Why Was The Revolution Defeated?
The PLM put the military and insurrectional question before the political education of its militants. As a result there was a lack of ideological unity, as seen in the succession of splits and defections. The 1906 and 1908 insurrections had resulted in the deaths or imprisonment of many of the most active and politically advanced militants. The PLM in its progression towards anarchism, began to accentuate the importance of the working class over that of the peasantry. However, the working class in Mexico was still in development and too weak and numerically small to have a decisive influence. For its part propagation of PLM ideas among the peasants was hindered to a certain extent by widespread illiteracy. Recruitment to the PLM had been difficult, and the influx of foreign volunteers had distorted the situation. The leading lights in the PLM had in the main remained in Los Angeles when they should have been on the ground in Mexico. They had believed that the production of Regeneracion, enabled by being in the States, was of first importance. This removal from the scene clouded their judgement and their lack of clarity led to a debate on the international level as to whether or not they were truly anarchist, ( they certainly were) robbing them of a certain amount of international solidarity. The PLM suffered from lack of finances, whereas Madero, for example, was able to call on millions of dollars.
Finally, to end positively on the PLM, they had influenced the struggles of both workers and peasants with their anti-authoritarian ideas, radicalising them from the Zapatistas in the suth to the formation of unions heavily under the influences of anarchism. Today still in Oaxaca, the PLM has inspired the present-day Magonistas.
As to the Zapatista movement, whilst most effective in its military activity and its land occupations, it failed to actively form an alliance with urban workers, only gaining the support of a small number of anarchist workers and intellectuals. Like the PLM , its lack of political education, led to the defection of people like Rouaix and others. When the forces of Villa and Zapata arrived in Mexico City they failed to take the initiative. They failed to form an effective and lasting alliance among themselves, failed to establish links of solidarity with urban workers, and failed to confront Carranza and to attempt to dismantle State power. Nevertheless the influence of the Zapatistas echoes down to the present day.
As to the workers movement, lack of experience and numerical weakness does not excuse an inability to link up with the agrarian movements, and the support given to Carranza against those movements. Revolutionaries, both in Mexico and elsewhere, need to reflect on all these mistakes, and be prepared to fight against cooption and compromise in future social struggles.
(Libcom.org: this article originally appeared in Organise! Nº 77, magazine of the Anarchist Federation).
Selection of writings by Ricardo Flores Magón, 1873-1922 …
To want bosses and at the same time to want to be free is to want the impossible. It is necessary to choose once and for all between two things: either to be free, completely free, refusing all authority, or to be enslaved perpetuating the power of man over man.
The boss or government is necessary only under a system of economic inequality. If I have more than Pedro, I naturally fear that Pedro will grab me by the neck and will take from me what he needs. In this case, I need a government or a supervisor to protect me against the possible attacks of Pedro; but if Pedro and I are economic equals; if we both have the same opportunity to profit from the riches of nature, such as land, water forests, mines, and everything else, just as the riches created by the hand of man, like the machineries, houses, railroads, and the thousand and one manufacturers, reason says that it would be impossible that Pedro and I would grab each other by the hair to dispute the things that we both profit from equally and in this case there is no need to have bosses.
To talk of bosses between equals is a contradiction, unless we speak of equals in servitude, brothers in chains, as we workers are now.
There are many who say that it is impossible to live without bosses or government; if it is the bourgeois that say such things, I admit they are right in their reasoning because they fear that the poor will seize them by the neck and will snatch away their riches that they have amassed by making the worker sweat; but for what do the poor need bosses or government?
In Mexico, we have had and have hundreds of proofs that humankind does not need bosses or government if not in the case of economic inequality. In the rural villages and communities, the people have not felt it necessary to have a government. Until recently, the land, forests, water, and fields have been common property of the people of the region. When government is spoken of to those simple people, they start to tremble because for them government is the same as an executioner; it signifies the same as tyranny. They live happily in their freedom, without knowing, in many cases, the name of the President of the Republic, and they only know of the existence of a government when the military chiefs pass through the region looking for men to convert into soldiers, or when the federal tax collector comes to collect taxes. The government was, then, to a large part of the Mexican population, the tyrant that pulled the working men out of their homes to convert them into soldiers, or to savagely exploit that they would snatch away the tax in the name of the tax authority.
Would these populations feel the need to have government? They needed it for nothing and they could live in that way for hundreds of years, until the natural riches were snatched away for the benefit of the neighboring landholders. They did not eat one another, the way that those who have only known the capitalist system feared would happen; a system in which each man has to compete with everyone else to put a piece of bread in his mouth; the strong do not exert tyranny over the weak, as happens under a capitalist civilization, in which the most idle, greedy, and clever rule over the honest and good. All were brothers in these communities; they all helped out, and sensing equality, the way it really was, they did not need authorities to watch over the interests of those who had them, fearing possible attacks of those who did not have.
In these moments, for what do the free communities of the Yaqui of Durango, of the South of Mexico and so many other areas in which the people have taken possession of the land, need government? From the moment that they consider themselves equals, with the same right to the Mother Earth, they do not need a boss to protect the privileged against those without privileges, because all are privileged.
Let us open our eyes, proletarians: the government should only exist when there is economic inequality. Adopt then, as a moral guide, the Manifesto of September 23, 1911.
There are people, who in good faith ask this question: how would it be possible to live without government? And they conclude saying that a supreme chief, a crowd of officials, large and small, such as ministers, judges, magistrates, legislators, soldiers, jailers, policemen, and executioners, are necessary.
These good people believe that without authority we would all turn ourselves over to excesses, the result being that the weak would always be the victim of the strong.
This could happen only in this case: that the revolutionaries, through a weakness of the guillotine, would leave afoot social inequality. Social inequality is the fountain of all the antisocial acts that the law and the bourgeois consider crimes with theft being the most common of those crimes. Well, when all mankind will have the opportunity to work the land or to dedicate itself, without the need to work for salary, to be able to survive, who will take theft as a profession the way it is seen now? In the society that the libertarians long for, land and all methods of production will no longer be objects of speculation for a determined number of proprietors instead they will be the common property of the workers and as before there will be only one class: that of the workers with the right of all to produce and consume in common, what need would there be to steal?
It will be said that there are persons given to idleness and that they would take advantage of another’s work to live instead of working. I have lived in different prisons; I have spoken with many thieves, with hundreds of thieves; almost all of them have stolen out of necessity. There is no constant work: salaries are meager, the working day of laborers is truly exhausting; the scorn of the proprietary class for the proletariat class is irritating; the example of living in idleness, luxury, abundance, in the vice of doing nothing useful that the capitalist class gives to the working class, all of this causes some workers, out of starvation, indignation, or as an individual protest against the plunder of the bourgeois, to rob and they become criminals, to the point of murder, to take what is necessary to live.
The profession of theft is definitely not one of the happiest. It requires great activity and waste of energy on the part of the thief, major activity and major energy that in many cases is required to recover some task; so to complete a theft, the thief has to stake out his victim, study his practices, be careful of policemen, plan a map, risk his life or freedom, in continued anxiety, without limit in this case of work, and assume that a man does not come to him for happiness, but instead forced by necessity or the anger of seeing himself in misery, when the rich pass by his side intoxicated by wine, luxury, his mouth twisted with the hiccups of satiation, dressed in suedes and fine clothes, enveloping in one scornful look the poor people who sacrifice in the workshop, the factory, the mine, the furrow . . .
The immense majority of the jail population is composed of individuals who have committed a misdemeanor against property: theft, swindling, fraud, falsification, etcetera, while in a small minority of delinquents, prisoners with crimes against people, are found. Once private property is abolished, when one will have all of the means to choose a job of one’s liking, but beneficial to the community; humanizing the work in a virtue that will not effect the patron and make him rich, but to satisfy necessities; returning to the industry the thousands and thousands of day laborers that today corner the government in its offices, in the districts, and the prisons themselves; all will be put to work to gain sustenance, with the powerful help of machinery of all kinds, it will be necessary to work only some two or three hours daily to have everything in abundance. Would there then be those who prefer theft to be able to live? Man, although the most perverse, always likes to attract the esteem of all. This can be observed today, although the way in which humanity lives weakens the best instincts of the species, and if it is so, why not admit that man would be better in the cavity of a free society?
In referring to the crimes against people, the major part is the product of the sickness in which we live. Man lives in a constant state of nervous over excitement; the misery, the insecurity of winning the bread of the next morning; the offenses of authority; the certainty that he is victim of political tyranny and capitalist exploitation; the desperation of seeing the child without clothes, education, future; the spectacle, nothing constructed of the struggle of all against all, that is born specifically of the right of private property, that facilitates the shrewd and the malicious to accumulate capital by exploiting the workers; all of that and much more fills the heart of man with bitterness, makes him violent, angry, and nudges him to take out a revolver or dagger to attack, many times for trivial issues. No society exists in which savage rivalry between human beings satisfies all necessities, soothes sufferings, softens tempers, and strengthens in them the instincts of sociability and solidarity. All of which are so strong that, in spite of worldly disputes of all against all, they have not died in human beings.
No, there is no need to fear life without government; we long for it with all of our hearts. There would be, naturally, some individuals given to criminal instincts; but politics would take charge of attending to them, as ill as they are, because those poor people are victims of [atavismos], illnesses inherited of inclinations born of anger from the injustice and brutality of the environment.
Mexicans: remember how the rural populations of Mexico have lived. Communism has been practiced in the rural huts; authority has not been missed; before, to the contrary, when it was known that an agent of authority was coming near, the men would flee to the forest because authority is only present when men are needed for the barracks or for contributions to maintain the parasites of the government and nevertheless life was more tranquil in those places where laws were not known nor the threat of the gendearme with his club.
Authority is not missed except to maintain social inequality.
Mexicans: Death to Authority!
Long Live Land and Liberty!
The Right to Property
Among all of the absurdities that man reveres, this is one of the greatest and one of the most revered.
The right of property is ancient, as ancient as man’s stupidity and blindness; but just the antiquity of a right can not give it the “right” to survive. If it is an absurd right, it is necessary to abolish it without giving importance to its birth at the time when man covered his nakedness with the animal skins.
The right of property is an absurd right because it had its origins in crime, fraud, and abuse of power. In the beginning, the individual’s right of territorial property did not exist. Land was worked in common, forests provided firewood to the hearths of all, harvests were distributed among the members of the community according to their needs. Examples of this nature can still be seen in some primitive tribes, and even in Mexico this custom thrived in indigenous communities in the era of Spanish domination, and lived until relatively recently, being the attempted act of despotism to take away the lands of those indigenous tribes, lands that they had cultivated in common for many centuries the cause of the Yaqui Wars in Sonora and of the Mayas in the Yucatan.
The individual’s right of territorial property was born of the attempt of the first ambitious person that brought war on a neighboring tribe to commit it into the servitude, the land that the tribe cultivated in common coming under the power of the conqueror and his captains. Thus through the means of violence, through the means of force was born private, territorial property. Speculation, fraud, theft — more or less legal, but still theft — are other origins of private, territorial property. Then the first thieves having seized the land, they themselves created laws to defend what they called and still call in this century a “right”, that is, the right they gave themselves to use the lands that they had stolen and to enjoy the product of them without anyone bothering them. It is important to note that the displaced were not the ones to give those thieves the right of property; it was not the people of any country who gave the power to confiscate that resource, to which all humankind has the right. It was the thieves themselves, who protected by the force, wrote the law that would protect their crimes and hold in check the displaced from possible revenge.
This so-called right has been passed from fathers to sons through inheritance, so that resources which should be common, have remained in the command of a social caste only with obvious prejudice of the rest of humanity whose members were born when land was already divided among the few shirkers.
The origin of territorial property has been violence, through violence it is still maintained; since if someone wants to use a piece of land without the consent of the so-called owner, he must go to jail, taken into custody precisely by the henchmen that are maintained not by the landowners but by the common worker, although the contributions apparently come from the coffers of the rich, they are very skillful at finding ways to reimburse themselves by paying starving wages to the farmers and selling them articles of primary necessity at high prices. Then in that way then the people, with their work, maintain the henchmen that deprive them from taking what belongs to them.
And if this is the origin of territorial property, if the right of property is nothing more than the legal consecration of crime, why lift arms to heaven when it is known that the Mexican Liberal Party works to expropriate the land that the rich monopolize, that is, the descendants of the thieves that had taken possession through crime, to turn it over to the natural owner, that is, the people, that is all the citizens of Mexico?
Some Maderistas sympathize with the idea of turning the land over to the people; but conservatives in the end, they want the act to reflect a legal solemnity, that is, they want a congress to decree the expropriation. I have written much on this topic, and I am amazed that there are still those who cannot understand what I have said, because I presume that I have spoken with complete clarity. “No congress, I have said, would dare to decree the expropriation of land, because the Congressional seats will not go to the workers but to the bosses; they will not go to the uneducated and the poor, but to the intellectuals and the rich.” That is to say, in Congress the so-called ruling classes: the rich, intellectuals, scientists, professionals will be represented; but it would not permit any worker of pick and shovel, any unskilled laborer, any workman to sneak in and if through a true miracle any worker was to freely obtain the threshold of the dwelling-place of the law, how could he struggle against men practiced in the art of verbal debate? How could he have his ideas considered if he lacked the scientific knowledge that the bourgeois possessed in abundance? But one could say that the working people would send competent people to Congress to represent them. Throughout the world the so-called representatives of labor in the parliaments have been discredited. They are as much bourgeois as any other representative. What have the workers’ representatives of the English people done in the House of Commons? What objective gain have the workers’ representatives obtained in the French Parliament? In the German Parliament there are a large number of workers’ representatives and what have they accomplished in favor of the economic freedom of the workers? The Austrian-Hungarian Parliament is noted or the enlarged number of workers’ representatives that sit on its boards and nevertheless the problem of hunger in Austria- Hungary is unresolved, just as in any other country where there are no representatives of labor in Congress.
There is, then, the need to let go of the illusion. The expropriation of the land possessed by the rich, should be realized during the present insurrection. We liberals will not be committing a crime by turning over the land to the working people, because it belongs to them, the people; it is the land that their most distant ancestors lived on and watered with their sweat; the land that the Spaniards robbed by force from our Indian fathers; the land that those Spaniards gave as inheritance to their descendants, who are the ones that actually possess them. That land belongs to all Mexicans by natural law. Some of them might have bought it; but where did they get the money to make the purchase if not from the work of the Mexican unskilled workers and laborers? Others took that land denouncing it as wasteland; but if it was wasteland, it belongs to the people and no one had the right to give it to whomever offered a few dollars for it. Others might have acquired the land by taking advantage of their friendship with government men to obtain it without it costing them a cent if it were wasteland, or through judicial dealings if it belonged to an enemy of the dictatorship or a person of no influence or money. Others still acquired the land by giving loans with high interest to the small farmers that ended up compelled to leave the land in the hands of the hired assasins, unable to pay the debt.
Compañeros: All who hold the conviction that the action the Liberal Party is going to take is humanitarian, endeavor to convince those who still adore capital and revere this so- called right of property, that the Liberal Party is in the right, that their work will be a work of justice and that the Mexican people will be truly great when they can reap the benefits of land and liberty without obstacles.
Revolution approaches! With angered eyes, and flaming hair, her trembling hands knock anxiously on the doors of our nation. Let us welcome her with serenity, for although she carries death in her breast, she is the announcement of life, the herald of hope. She will destroy and create at the same time; she will raze and build. Her fists are the invincible fists of a people in rebellion. She does not offer roses or caresses; she offers an axe and a torch.
Interrupting the millennial feast of the content, sedition raises her head, and the prophecy of Balthasar has with time become a clenched fist hanging over the heads of the so-called ruling class. Revolution approaches! Her mission will ignite the flames in which privilege and injustice will burn. Compañeras, do not fear the revolution. You constitute one-half of the human species and what affects humanity affects you as an integral part of it. If men are slaves, you are too. Bondage does not recognize sex; the infamy that degrades men equally degrades you. You cannot escape the shame of oppression. The same forces which conquer men strangle you.
We must stand in solidarity in the grand conquest for freedom and happiness. Are you mothers? Are you wives? Are you sisters? Are you daughters? Your duty is to help man; to be there to encourage him when he vacillates; stand by his side when he suffers; to lighten his sorrow; to laugh and to sing with him when victory smiles. You don’t understand politics? This is not a question of politics; this is a matter of life or death. Man’s bondage is yours and perhaps yours is more sorrowful, more sinister, and more infamous.
Are you a worker? Because you are a woman you are paid less than men, and made to work harder. You must suffer the impertinence of the foreman or proprietor; and if you are attractive, the bosses will make advances. Should you weaken, they would rob you of your virtue in the same cowardly manner as you are robbed of the product of your labor.
Under this regime of social injustice which corrupts humanity, the existence of women wavers in the wretchedness of a destiny which fades away either in the blackness of fatigue and hunger or in the obscurity of marriage and prostitution.
In order to fully appreciate women’s part in universal suffering, it is necessary to study page by page this somber book called Life, which like so many thorns strips away the flesh of humanity.
So ancient is women’s misfortune that its origins are lost in the obscurity of legend. In the infancy of mankind, the birth of a female child was considered a disgrace to the tribe. Women toiled the land, carried firewood from the forest and water from the stream, tended the livestock, constructed shelters, wove cloth, cooked food, and cared for the sick and the young. The filthiest work was done by women. Should an ox die of fatigue, the women took its place pulling the plow, and when war broke out between rivaling tribes, the women merely changed masters, and continued under the lash of the new owners, carrying out their tasks as beasts of burden.
Later, under the influence of Greek civilization, women were elevated one step in the esteem of men. No longer were they beasts of burden as in the primitive clan, nor did they lead secluded lives as in oriental societies. If they belonged to a free class, their role was one of procreators of citizens for the state; if they were slaves, they provided workers for the fields.
Christianity aggravated the situation of women with its contempt for the flesh. The founding fathers of the Church vented their outbursts of rage against feminine qualities. St. Augustine, St. Thomas, and other saints, before whose statues women now kneel, referred to women as daughters of the devil, vessels of impurity, and condemned them to the tortures of hell.
Women’s position in this century varies according to their social stature; but in spite of the refinements of customs and the progress of philosophy, women continue subordinated to men by tradition and laws. Women are perpetually treated as minors when the law places the wife under the custody of the husband. She cannot vote or be elected, and to enter into civil contracts she must own a sizeable fortune.
Throughout history women have been considered inferior to men, not only by law but also by custom. From this erroneous and unjust concept derives the misfortune which she has suffered since humanity differentiated itself from lower animal forms by the use of fire and tools.
Humiliated, degraded, bound by chains of tradition to an irrational inferiority, indoctrinated in the affairs of heaven by clerics, but totally ignorant of world problems, she is suddenly caught in the whirlwind of industrial production which above all requires cheap labor to sustain the competition created by the voracious “princes of capital” who exploit her circumstances. She is not as prepared as men for the industrial struggle, nor is she organized with the women of her class to fight alongside her brother workers against the rapacity of capitalism.
For this reason, though women work more than men, they are paid less, and misery, mistreatment, and insult are today as yesterday the bitter harvest for a whole existence of sacrifice. So meager are women’s salaries that frequently they must prostitute themselves to meet their families’ basic needs, especially when in the marketplace of marriage they do not find a husband. When it is motivated by economic security instead of love, marriage is but another form of prostitution, sanctioned by the law and authorized by public officials. That is, a wife sells her body for food exactly as does a prostitute; this occurs in the majority of marriages. And what could be said of the vast army of women who do not succeed in finding a husband? The increasing cost of life’s basic necessities; the displacement of human labor by the perfection of machinery; the ever-decreasing price of human laborÃ³all contribute to the burden of supporting a family. The compulsory draft tears strong and healthy young men from the bosom of a society and lessens the number eligible for marriage. Migration of workers, caused by economic and political phenomena, also reduces the number of men capable of marriage. Alcoholism, gambling and other ills of society further reduce the number of available men. Consequently, the number of single women grows alarmingly. Since their situation is so precarious, they swell the ranks of prostitution, accelerating the degeneration of the human race by this debasement of body and spirit.
Compañeras: This is the frightful picture offered by modern society. In it you see men and women alike suffering the tyranny of a political and social environment in complete discord with the progress of civilization and the advances of philosophy. In times of anguish, however, do not look up to the heavens for solutions and explanations because in that lies the greatest contribution to your eternal bondage. The solution is here on earth! That solution is rebellion.
Demand that your husbands, brothers, fathers, sons and friends pick up the gun. Spit in the face of those who refuse to pick up a weapon against oppression.
Revolution approaches! Jimenez and Acayucan, Palomas, Viesca, Las Vacuous and Valladolid are the first gust of the inevitable wind. A tragic paradox: freedom, which is life, is gained by imparting death!
The Mexican Revolution (1911)
Voltairine de Cleyre
That a nation of people considering themselves enlightened, informed, alert to the interests of the hour, should be so generally and so profoundly ignorant of a revolution taking place in their backyard, so to speak, as the people of the United States are ignorant of the present revolution in Mexico, can be due only to profoundly and generally acting causes. That people of revolutionary principles and sympathies should be so, is inexcusable.
It is as one of such principles and sympathies that I address you, as one interested in every move the people make to throw off their chains, no matter where, no matter how, though naturally my interest is greatest where the move is such as appears to me to be most in consonance with the general course of progress, where the tyranny attacked is what appears to me the most fundamental, where the method followed is to my thinking most direct and unmistakable. And I add that those of you who have such principles and sympathies are in the logic of your own being bound, first, to inform yourselves concerning so great a matter as the revolt of millions of people what they are struggling for, what they are struggling against, and how the struggle stands from day to day, if possible; if not, from week to week, or month to month, as best you can; and second, to spread this knowledge among others, and endeavor to do what little you can to awaken the consciousness and sympathy of others.
One of the great reasons why the mass of the American people know nothing of the Revolution in Mexico, is, that they have altogether a wrong conception of what “revolution” means. Thus ninety-nine out of a hundred persons to whom you broach the subject will say, “Why, I thought that ended long ago. That ended last May”; and this week the press, even the Daily Socialist, reports, “A new revolution in Mexico.” It isn’t a new revolution at all; it is the same revolution, which did not begin with the armed rebellion of last May, which has been going on steadily ever since then, and before then, and is bound to go on for a long time to come, if the other nations keep their hands off and the Mexican people are allowed to work out their own destiny.
What is a revolution? and what is this revolution?
A revolution means some great and subversive change in the social institutions of a people, whether sexual, religious, political, or economic. The movement of the Reformation was a great religious revolution; a profound alteration in human thought a refashioning of the human mind. The general movement towards political change in Europe and America about the close of the eighteenth century, was a revolution. The American and the French revolutions were only prominent individual incidents in it, culminations of the teachings of the Rights of Man.
The present unrest of the world in its economic relations, as manifested from day to day in the opposing combinations of men and money, in strikes and bread-riots, in literature and movements of all kinds demanding a readjustment of the whole or of parts of our wealth-owning and wealth-distributing system, this unrest is the revolution of our time, the economic revolution, which is seeking social change, and will go on until it is accomplished. We are in it; at any moment of our lives it may invade our own homes with its stern demand for self-sacrifice and suffering. Its more violent manifestations are in Liverpool and London to-day, in Barcelona and Vienna to-morrow, in New York and Chicago the day after. Humanity is a seething, heaving mass of unease, tumbling like surge over a slipping, sliding, shifting bottom; and there will never be any ease until a rock bottom of economic justice is reached.
The Mexican revolution is one of the prominent manifestations of this world-wide economic revolt. It possibly holds as important a place in the present disruption and reconstruction of economic institutions, as the great revolution of France held in the eighteenth century movement. It did not begin with the odious government of Diaz nor end with his downfall, any more than the revolution in France began with the coronation of Louis XVI, or ended with his beheading. It began in the bitter and outraged hearts of the peasants, who for generations have suffered under a ready-made system of exploitation, imported and foisted upon them, by which they have been dispossessed of their homes, compelled to become slave-tenants of those who robbed them ; and under Diaz, in case of rebellion to be deported to a distant province, a killing climate, and hellish labor. It will end only when that bitterness is assuaged by very great alteration in the land-holding system, or until the people have been absolutely crushed into subjection by a strong military power, whether that power be a native or a foreign one.
Now the political overthrow of last May, which was followed by the substitution of one political manager for another, did not at all touch the economic situation. It promised, of course; politicians always promise. It promised to consider measures for altering conditions; in the meantime, proprietors are assured that the new government intends to respect the rights of landlords and capitalists, and exhorts the workers to be patient and—frugal!
Frugal! Yes, that was the exhortation in Madero’s paper to men who, when they are able to get work, make twenty-five cents a day. A man owning 5,000,000 acres of land exhorts the disinherited workers of Mexico to be frugal!
The idea that such a condition can be dealt with by the immemorial remedy offered by tyrants to slaves, is like the idea of sweeping out the sea with a broom. And unless that frugality, or in other words, starvation, is forced upon the people by more bayonets and more strategy than appear to be at the government’s command, the Mexican revolution will go on to the solution of Mexico’s land question with a rapidity and directness of purpose not witnessed in any previous upheaval.
For it must be understood that the main revolt is a revolt against the system of land tenure. The industrial revolution of the cities, while it is far from being silent, is not to compare with the agrarian revolt.
Let us understand why. Mexico consists of twenty-seven states, two territories and a federal district about the capital city. Its population totals about 15,000,000. Of these, 4,000,000 are of unmixed Indian descent, people somewhat similar in character to the Pueblos of our own southwestern states, primitively agricultural for an immemorial period, communistic in many of their social customs, and like all Indians, invincible haters of authority. These Indians are scattered throughout the rural districts of Mexico, one particularly well-known and much talked of tribe, the Yaquis, having had its fatherland in the rich northern state of Sonora, a very valuable agricultural country.
The Indian population—especially the Yaquis and the Moquis—have always disputed the usurpations of the invaders’ government, from the days of the early conquest until now, and will undoubtedly continue to dispute them as long as there is an Indian left, or until their right to use the soil out of which they sprang without paying tribute in any shape is freely recognized.
The communistic customs of these people are very interesting, and very instructive too; they have gone on practising them all these hundreds of years, in spite of the foreign civilization that was being grafted upon Mexico (grafted in all senses of the word); and it was not until forty years ago (indeed the worst of it not till twenty-five years ago), that the increasing power of the government made it possible to destroy this ancient life of the people.
By them, the woods, the waters, and the lands were held in common. Any one might cut wood from the forest to build his cabin, make use of the rivers to irrigate his field or garden patch (and this is a right whose acknowledgment none but those who know the aridity of the southwest can fully appreciate the imperative necessity for). Tillable lands were allotted by mutual agreement before sowing, and reverted to the tribe after harvesting, for reallotment. Pasturage, the right to collect fuel, were for all. The habits of mutual aid which always arise among sparsely settled communities were instinctive with them. Neighbor assisted neighbor to build his cabin, to plough his ground, to gather and store this crop.
No legal machinery existed—no tax-gatherer, no justice, no jailer. All that they had to do with the hated foreign civilization was to pay the periodical rent-collector, and to get out of the way of the recruiting officer when he came around. Those two personages they regarded with spite and dread; but as the major portion of their lives was not in immediate contact with them, they could still keep on in their old way of life in the main.
With the development of the Diaz regime, which came into power in 1876 (and when I say the Diaz regime I do not especially mean the man Diaz, for I think he has been both overcursed and overpraised, but the whole force which has steadily developed centralized power from then on, and the whole policy of “civilizing Mexico,” which was the Diaz boast), with its development, I say, this Indian life has been broken up, violated with as ruthless a hand as ever tore up a people by the roots and cast them out as weeds to wither in the sun.
Historians relate with horror the iron deeds of William the Conqueror, who in the eleventh century created the New Forest by laying waste the farms of England, de- stroying the homes of the people to make room for the deer. But his edicts were mercy compared with the action of the Mexican government toward the Indians. In order to introduce “progressive civilization” the Diaz regime granted away immense concessions of land, to native and foreign capitalists—chiefly foreign, indeed, though there were enough of native sharks as well. Mostly these concessions were granted to capitalistic combinations, which were to build railroads (and in some cases did so in a most uncalled for and uneconomic way), “develop” mineral resources, or establish “modern industries.”
The government took no note of the ancient tribal rights or customs, and those who received the concessions proceeded to enforce their property rights. They introduced the unheard of crime of “trespass.” They forbade the cutting of a tree, the breaking of a branch, the gathering of the fallen wood in the forests. They claimed the watercourses, forbidding their free use to the people; and it was as if one had forbidden to us the rains of heaven. The unoccupied land was theirs; no hand might drive a plow into the soil without first obtaining permission from a distant master—a permission granted on the condition that the product be the landlord’s, a small, pitifully small, wage, the worker’s.
Nor was this enough: in 1894 was passed “The Law of Unappropriated Lands.” By that law, not only were the great stretches of vacant, in the old time common, land appropriated, but the occupied lands themselves to which the occupants could not show a legal title were to be “denounced”; that is, the educated and the powerful, who were able to keep up with the doings of the government, went to the courts and said that there was no legal title to such and such land, and put in a claim for it. And the usual hocus-pocus of legality being complied with (the actual occupant of the land being all the time blissfully unconscious of the law, in the innocence of his barbarism supposing that the working of the ground by his generations of forbears was title all-sufficient) one fine day the sheriff comes upon this hapless dweller on the heath and drives him from his ancient habitat to wander an outcast.
Such are the blessings of education. Mankind invents a written sign to aid its intercommunication; and forthwith all manner of miracles are wrought with the sign. Even such a miracle as that a part of the solid earth passes under the mastery of an impotent sheet of paper; and a distant bit of animated flesh which never even saw the ground, acquires the power to expel hundreds, thousands, of like bits of flesh, though they grew upon that ground as the trees grow, labored it with their hands, and fertilized it with their bones for a thousand years.
“This law of unappropriated lands,” says William Archer, “has covered the country with Naboth’s Vineyards.” I think it would require a Biblical prophet to describe the “abomination of desolation” it has made.
It was to become lords of this desolation that the men who play the game landlords who are at the same time governors and magistrates, enterprising capitalists seeking investments connived at the iniquities of the Diaz regime; I will go further and say devised them.
The Madero family alone owns some 8,000 square miles of territory; more than the entire state of New Jersey. The Terrazas family, in the state of Chihuahua, owns 25,000 square miles; rather more than the entire state of West Virginia, nearly one-half the size of Illinois. What was the plantation owning of our southern states in chattel slavery days, compared with this? And the peon’s share for his toil upon these great estates is hardly more than was the chattel slave’s wretched housing, wretched food, and wretched clothing.
It is to slaves like these that Madero appeals to be “frugal.”
It is of men who have thus been disinherited that our complacent fellow-citizens of Anglo-Saxon origin, say: “Mexicans! What do you know about Mexicans? Their whole idea of life is to lean up against a fence and smoke cigarettes.” And pray, what idea of life should a people have whose means of life in their own way have been taken from them? Should they be so mighty anxious to convert their strength into wealth for some other man to loll in?
It reminds me very much of the answer given by a negro employee on the works at Fortress Monroe to a companion of mine who questioned him good-humoredly on his easy idleness when the foreman’s back was turned. “Ah ain’t goin’ to do no white man’s work, fo’ Ah don’ get no white man’s pay.”
But for the Yaquis, there was worse than this. Not only were their lands seized, but they were ordered, a few years since, to be deported to Yucatan. Now Sonora, as I said, is a northern state, and Yucatan one of the southernmost. Yucatan hemp is famous, and so is Yucatan fever, and Yucatan slavery on the hemp plantations. It was to that fever and that slavery that the Yaquis were deported, in droves of hundreds at a time, men, women and children droves like cattle droves, driven and beaten like cattle. They died there, like flies, as it was meant they should. Sonora was desolated of her rebellious people, and the land became “pacific” in the hands of the new landowners. Too pacific in spots. They had not left people enough to reap the harvests.
Then the government suspended the deportation act, but with the provision that for every crime committed by a Yaqui, five hundred of his people be deported. This statement is made in Madero’s own book.
Now what in all conscience would any one with decent human feeling expect a Yaqui to do? Fight! As long as there was powder and bullet to be begged, borrowed, or stolen; as long as there is a garden to plunder, or a hole in the hills to hide in!
When the revolution burst out, the Yaquis and other Indian peoples, said to the revolutionists: “Promise us our lands back, and we will fight with you.” And they are keeping their word, magnificently. All during the summer they have kept up the warfare. Early in September, the Chihuahua papers reported a band of 1,000 Yaquis in Sonora about to attack El Anil; a week later 500 Yaquis had seized the former quarters of the federal troops at Pitahaya. This week it is reported that federal troops are dispatched to Ponoitlan, a town in Jalisco, to quell the Indians who have risen in revolt again because their delusion that the Maderist government was to re- store their land has been dispelled. ‘Like reports from Sinaloa. In the terrible state of Yucatan, the Mayas are in active rebellion; the reports say that “the authorities and leading citizens of various towns have been seized by the malcontents and put in prison.” What is more interesting is, that the peons have seized not only “the leading citizens,” but still more to the purpose have seized the plantations, parceled them, and are already gathering the crops for themselves.
Of course, it is not the pure Indians alone who form the peon class of Mexico. Rather more than double the number of Indians are mixed breeds; that is, about 8,000,000, leaving less than 3,000,000 of pure white stock. The mestiza, or mixed breed population, have followed the communistic instincts and customs of their Indian forbears; while from the Latin side of their make-up, they have certain tendencies which work well together with their Indian hatred of authority.
The mestiza, as well as the Indians, are mostly ignorant in book-knowledge, only about sixteen per cent, of the whole population of Mexico being able to read and write. It was not within the program of the “civilizing” regime to spend money in putting the weapon of learning in the people’s hands. But to conclude that people are necessarily unintelligent because they are illiterate, is in itself a rather unintelligent proceeding.
Moreover, a people habituated to the communal customs of an ancient agricultural life do not need books or papers to tell them that the soil is the source of wealth, and they must “get back to the land,” even if their intelligence is limited.
Accordingly, they have got back to the land. In the state of Morelos, which is a small, south-central state, but a very important one being next to the Federal District, and by consequence to the city of Mexico there has been a remarkable land revolution. General Zapata, whose name has figured elusively in newspaper reports now as having made peace with Madero, then as breaking faith, next wounded and killed, and again resurrected and in hiding, then anew on the warpath and proclaimed by the provisional government the arch-rebel who must surrender unconditionally and be tried by court-martial; who has seized the strategic points on both the railroads running through Morelos, and who just a few days ago broke into the federal district, sacked a town, fought successfully at two or three points, with the federals, blew out two railroad bridges and so frightened the deputies in Mexico City that they are clamoring for all kinds of action ; this Zapata, the fires of whose military camps are springing up now in Guerrero, Oaxaca and Puebla as well, is an Indian with a long score to pay, and all an Indian’s satisfaction in paying it. He appears to be a fighter of the style of our revolutionary Marion and Sumter; the country in which he is operating is mountainous, and guerilla bands are exceedingly difficult of capture; even when they are defeated, they have usually succeeded in inflicting more damage than they have received, and they always get away.
Zapata has divided up the great estates of Morelos from end to end, telling the peasants to take possession. They have done so. They are in possession, and have already harvested their crops. Morelos has a population of some 212,000.
In Puebla reports in September told us that eighty leading citizens had waited on the governor to protest against the taking possession of the land by the peasantry. The troops were deserting, taking horses and arms with them. It is they no doubt who are now fighting with Zapata. In Chihuahua, one of the largest states, prisons have been thrown open and the prisoners recruited as rebels; a great hacienda was attacked and the horses run off, whereupon the peons rose and joined the attacking party. In Sinaloa, a rich northern state famous in the southwestern United States some years ago as the field of a great co-operative experiment in which Mr. C. B. Hoffman, one of the former editors of The Chicago Daily Socialist, was a leading spirit this week’s paper reports that the former revolutionary general, Juan Banderas, is heading an insurrection second in importance only to that led by Zapata.
In the southern border state of Chiapas, the taxes in many places could not be collected. Last week news items said that the present government had sent General Paz there, with federal troops, to remedy that state of affairs. In Tabasco, the peons refused to harvest the crops for their masters; let us hope they have imitated their brothers in Morelos and gathered them for them- selves.
The Maderists have announced that a stiff repressive campaign will be inaugurated at once; if we are to believe the papers, we are to believe Madero guilty of the imbecility of saying, “Five days after my inauguration the rebellion will be crushed.” Just why the crushing has to wait till five days after the inauguration does not appear. I conceive there must have been some snickering among the reactionary deputies if such an announcement was really made; and some astonished query among his followers.
What are we to conclude from all these reports? That the Mexican people are satisfied? That it’s all good and settled? What should we think if we read that the people, not of Lower but of Upper, California had turned out the ranch owners, had started to gather in the field products for themselves and that the Secretary of War had sent United States troops to attack some thousands of armed men (Zapata has had 3,000 under arms the whole summer and that force is now greatly increased) who were defending that expropriation? if we read that in the state of Illinois the farmers had driven off the tax collector? that the coast states were talking of secession and forming an independent combination? that in Pennsylvania a division of the federal army was to be dispatched to overpower a rebel force of fifteen hundred armed men doing guerilla work from the mountains? that the prison doors of Maryland, within hailing distance of Washington City, were being thrown open by armed revoltees? Should we call it a condition of peace? Regard it a proof that the people were appeased? We would not: we would say that revolution was in full swing. And the reason you have thought it was all over in Mexico, from last May till now, is that the Chicago press, like the eastern, northern, and central press in general, has said nothing about this steady march of revolt. Even The Socialist has been silent. Now that the flame has shot up more spectacularly for the moment, they call it “a new revolution.”
That the papers pursue this course is partly due to the generally acting causes that produce our northern indifference, which I shall presently try to explain, and partly to the settled policy of capitalized interest in controlling its mouthpieces in such a manner as to give their present henchmen, the Maderists, a chance to pull their chestnuts out of the fire. They invested some $10,000,000 in this bunch, in the hope that they may be able to accomplish the double feat of keeping capitalist possessions intact and at the same time pacifying the people with specious promises. They want to lend them all the countenance they can, till the experiment is well tried; so they deliberately suppress revolutionary news.
Among the later items of interest reported by the Los Angeles Times are those which announce an influx of ex-officials and many-millioned landlords of Mexico, who are hereafter to be residents of Los Angeles. What is the meaning of it? Simply that life in Mexico is not such a safe and comfortable proposition as it was, and that for the present they prefer to get such income as their agents can collect without themselves running the risk of actual residence.
Of course it is understood that some of this notable efflux (the supporters of Reyes, for example, who have their own little rebellions in Tabasco and San Luis Potosi this week) are political reactionists, scheming to get back the political loaves and fishes into their own hands. But most are simply those who know that their property right is safe enough to be respected by the Maderist government, but that the said government is not strong enough to put down the innumerable manifestations of popular hatred which are likely to terminate fatally to themselves if they remain there.
Nor is all of this fighting revolutionary; not by any means. Some is reactionary, some probably the satisfaction of personal grudge, much, no doubt, the expression of general turbulency of a very unconscious nature. But granting all that may be thrown in the balance, the main thing, the mighty thing, the regenerative revolution is the eeappropriation of the land by the peasants. Thousands upon thousands of them are doing it.
Ignorant peasants: peasants who know nothing about the jargon of land reformers or of Socialists. Yes: that’s just the glory of it! Just the fact that it is done by ignorant people; that is, people ignorant of book theories; but not ignorant, not so ignorant by half, of life on the land, as the theory-spinners of the cities. Their minds are simple and direct; they act accordingly. For them, there is one way to “get back to the land”; i. e., to ignore the machinery of paper land-holding (in many instances they have burned the records of the title-deeds) and proceed to plough the ground, to sow and plant and gather, and keep the product themselves.
Economists, of course, will say that these ignorant people, with their primitive institutions and methods, will not develop the agricultural resources of Mexico, and that they must give way before those who will so develop its resources; that such is the law of human development.
In the first place, the abominable political combination, which gave away, as recklessly as a handful of soap-bubbles, the agricultural resources of Mexico gave them away to the millionaire speculators who were to develop the country were the educated men of Mexico. And this is what they saw fit to do with their higher intelligence and education. So the ignorant may well distrust the good intentions of educated men who talk about improvements in land development.
In the second place, capitalistic land-ownership, so far from developing the land in such a manner as to support a denser population, has depopulated whole districts, immense districts.
In the third place, what the economists do not say is, that the only justification for intense cultivation of the land is, that the product of such cultivation may build up the bodies of men (by consequence their souls) to richer and fuller manhood. It is not merely to pile up figures of so many million bushels of wheat and corn produced in a season; but that this wheat and corn shall first go into the stomachs of those who planted it and in abundance; to build up the brawn and sinew of the arms that work the ground, not meanly maintaining them in a half-starved condition. And second, to build up the strength of the rest of the nation who are willing to give needed labor in exchange. But never to increase the fortunes of idlers who dissipate it. This is the purpose, and the only purpose, of tilling soil; and the working of it for any other purpose is waste, waste both of land and of men.
In the fourth place, no change ever was, or ever can be, worked out in any society, except by the mass of the people. Theories may be propounded by educated people, and set down in books, and discussed in libraries, sitting-rooms and lecture-halls; but they will remain barren, unless the people in mass work them out. If the change proposed is such that it is not adaptable to the minds of the people for whose ills it is supposed to be a remedy, then it will remain what it was, a barren theory.
Now the conditions in Mexico have been and are so desperate that some change is imperative. The action of the peasants proves it. Even if a strong military dictator shall arise, he will have to allow some provision going towards peasant proprietorship. These unlettered, but determined, people must be dealt with now; there is no such thing as “waiting till they are educated up to it.” Therefore the wisdom of the economists is wisdom out of place rather, relative unwisdom. The people never can be educated, if their conditions are to remain what they were under the Diaz regime. Bodies and minds are both too impoverished to be able to profit by a spread of theoretical education, even if it did not require unavailable money and indefinite time to prepare such a spread. Whatever economic change is wrought, then, must be such as the people in their present state of comprehension can understand and make use of. And we see by the reports what they understand. They understand they have a right upon the soil, a right to use it for themselves, a right to drive off the invader who has robbed them, to destroy landmarks and title-deeds, to ignore the tax-gatherer and his demands.
And however primitive their agricultural methods may be, one thing is sure; that they are more economical than any system which heaps up fortunes by destroying men.
Moreover, who is to say how they may develop their methods once they have a free opportunity to do so? It is a common belief of the Anglo-Saxon that the Indian is essentially lazy. The reasons for his thinking so are two: under the various tyrannies and robberies which white men in general, and Anglo-Saxons in particular (they have even gone beyond the Spaniard) have inflicted upon Indians, there is no possible reason why an Indian should want to work, save the idiotic one that work in itself is a virtuous and exalted thing, even if by it the worker increases the power of his tyrant. As William Archer says: “If there are men, and this is not denied, who work for no wage, and with no prospect or hope of any reward, it would be curious to know by what motive other than the lash or the fear of the lash, they are induced to go forth to their labor in the morning.” The second reason is, that an Indian really has a different idea of what he is alive for than an Anglo-Saxon has. And so have the Latin peoples. This different idea is what I meant when I said that the mestiza have certain tendencies inherited from the Latin side of their make-up which work well together with their Indian hatred of authority. The Indian likes to live; to be his own master; to work when he pleases and stop when he pleases. He does not crave many things, but he craves the enjoyment of the things that he has. He feels himself more a part of nature than a white man does. All his legends are of wanderings with nature, of forests, fields, streams, plants, animals. He wants to live with the same liberty as the other children of earth. His philosophy of work is, Work so as to live care-free. This is not laziness; this is sense to the person who has that sort of make-up.
Your Latin, on the other hand, also wants to live; and having artistic impulses in him, his idea of living is very much in gratifying them. He likes music and song and dance, picture-making, carving, and decorating. He doesn’t like to be forced to create his fancies in a hurry; he likes to fashion them, and admire them, and improve and refashion them, and admire again; and all for the fun of it. If he is ordered to create a certain design or a number of objects at a fixed price in a given time, he loses his inspiration ; the play becomes work, and hateful work. So he, too, does not want to work, except what is requisite to maintain himself in a position to do those things that he likes better.
Your Anglo-Saxon’s idea of life, however, is to create the useful and the profitable whether he has any use or profit out of it or not and to keep busy, busy; to bestir himself “like the Devil in a holy water font.” Like all other people, he makes a special virtue of his own natural tendencies, and wants all the world to “get busy”; it doesn’t so much matter to what end this business is to be conducted, provided the individual scrabbles. Whenever a true Anglo-Saxon seeks to enjoy himself, he makes work out of that too, after the manner of a certain venerable English shopkeeper who in company with his son visited the Louvre. Being tired out with walking from room to room, consulting his catalogue, and reading artists’ names, he dropped down to rest; but after a few moments rose resolutely and faced the next room, saying, “Well, Alfred, we’d better be getting through our work.”
There is much question as to the origin of the various instincts. Most people have the impression that the chief source of variation lies in the difference in the amount of sunlight received in the native countries inhabited of the various races. Whatever the origin is, these are the broadly marked tendencies of the people. And “Business” seems bent not only upon fulfilling its own fore- ordained destiny, but upon making all the others fulfill it too. Which is both unjust and stupid. There is room enough in the world for the races to try out their several tendencies and make their independent contributions to the achievements of humanity, without imposing them on those who revolt at them.
Granting that the population of Mexico, if freed from this foreign “busy” idea which the government imported from the north and imposed on them with such severity in the last forty years, would not immediately adopt improved methods of cultivation, even when they should have free opportunity to do so, still we have no reason to conclude that they would not adopt so much of it as would fit their idea of what a man is alive for; and if that actually proved good, it would introduce still further development. So that there would be a natural, and therefore solid, economic growth which would stick; while a forced development of it through the devastation of the people is no true growth. The only way to make it go, is to kill out the Indians altogether, and transport the “busy” crowd there, and then keep on transporting for several generations, to fill up the ravages the climate will make on such an imported population.
The Indian population of our states was in fact dealt with in this murderous manner. I do not know how grateful the reflection may be to those who materially profited by its extermination; but no one who looks forward to the final unification and liberation of man, to the incorporation of the several goodnesses of the various races in the one universal race, can ever read those pages of our history without burning shame and fathomless regret.
I have spoken of the meaning of revolution in general; of the meaning of the Mexican revolution chiefly an agrarian one; of its present condition. I think it should be apparent to you that in spite of the electoral victory of the now ruling power, it has not put an end even to the armed rebellion, and cannot, until it proposes some plan of land restoration; and that it not only has no inward disposition to do, but probably would not dare to do, in view of the fact that immense capital financed it into power.
As to what amount of popular sentiment was actually voiced in the election, it is impossible to say. The dailies informed us that in the Federal District where there are 1,000,000 voters, the actual vote was less than 450,000. They offered no explanation. It is impossible to explain it on the ground that we explain a light vote in our own communities, that the people are indifferent to public questions; for the people of Mexico are not now indifferent, whatever else they may be. Two explanations are possible: the first, and most probable, that of govern- mental intimidation; the second, that the people are convinced of the uselessness of voting as a means of settling their troubles. In the less thickly populated agricultural states, this is very largely the case; they are relying upon direct revolutionary action. But although there was guerrilla warfare in the Federal District, even before the election, I find it unlikely that more than half the voting population there abstained from voting out of conviction, though I should be glad to be able to believe they did.
However, Madero and his aids are in, as was expected; the question is, how will they stay in? As Diaz did, and in no other way if they succeed in developing Diaz’s sometime ability; which so far they are wide from having done, though they are resorting to the most vindictive and spiteful tactics in their persecution of the genuine revolutionists, wherever such come near their clutch.
To this whole turbulent situation three outcomes are possible:
1. A military dictator must arise, with sense enough to make some substantial concessions, and ability enough to pursue the crushing policy ably; or
2. The United States must intervene in the interests of American capitalists and landholders, in case the peasant revolt is not put down by the Maderist power. And that will be the worst thing that can possibly happen, and against which every worker in the United States should protest with all his might; or
3. The Mexican peasantry will be successful, and freedom in land become an actual fact. And that means the death-knell of great landholding in this country also, for what people is going to see its neighbor enjoy so great a triumph, and sit on tamely itself under landlordism?
Whatever the outcome be, one thing is certain: it is a great movement, which all the people of the world should be eagerly watching. Yet as I said at the beginning, the majority of our population know no more about it than of a revolt on the planet Jupiter. First because they are so, so, busy; they scarcely have time to look over the baseball score and the wrestling match; how could they read up on a revolution! Second, they are supremely egotistic and concerned in their own big country with its big deeds such as divorce scandals, vice-grafting, and auto races. Third, they do not read Spanish, and they have an ancient hostility to all that smells Spanish. Fourth, from our cradles we were told that whatever happened in Mexico was a joke. Revolutions, or rather rebellions, came and went, about like April showers, and they never meant anything serious. And in this indeed there was only too much truth it was usually an excuse for one place-hunter to get another one’s scalp. And lastly, as I have said, the majority of our people do not know that a revolution means a fundamental change in social life, and not a spectacular display of armies.
It is not much a few can do to remove this mountain of indifference; but to me it seems that every reformer, of whatever school, should wish to watch this movement with the most intense interest, as a practical manifestation of a wakening of the land-workers themselves to the recognition of what all schools of revolutionary economics admit to be the primal necessity the social repossession of the land.
And whether they be victorious or defeated, I, for one, bow my head to those heroic strugglers, no matter how ignorant they are, who have raised the cry Land and Liberty, and planted the blood-red banner on the burning soil of Mexico.
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