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Twelve years after the fall of the Bastille, Napoleon, who was ruling France under the title of First Consul, remarked that "the devolution is back where it began. It is ended." The statement was broader than the situation deserved, for the Revolution had altered profoundly the social and political structure of France. But if today Plutarco Elias Calles were to utter the same about his own country, if he were to say that Mexican revolution had ended and was back where it began, the statement could hardly be denied by anyone who has watched the country slowly revert to those days which preceded Porfirio Diaz's exile.
Mexico has washed her hands of the revolution, however altered the social structure of Mexico may be, it is an undeniable fact that the country is repudiating Indianism, communal landholding and doctrine in favor of the old economic doctrines of Europe and Diaz. For the moment, the old and the new hang in the balance, the regime is marking time with all that lack of courage and imagination which has characterized the administration of President Hoover.Though the still important figure of Calles overshadows them all, three political-economic groups— the only three which remain important after years of violence and bloodshed—can be discerned amid the chaotic social life of the country.
First and most important is the Joaquin Amaro army group. Too much credit cannot be given for organizing and disciplining the Mexican the Mexican army, but the ultimate social implications of this may not prove so happy. The original military nucleus of the revolution was based on the Yaqui Indians of Sonora; today the center has shifted to the more representative Indians of the South, especially the state of Michoacán. Amaro is a pure-blooded Tarascan from that state. President Ortiz Rubio claims descent from the last of the Tarascan kings. The official political bureau, the National party, sustained from the public forced collections of seven days' pay a year from all government employees, is also largely in the hands of the military party; its head is General Lazaro Cardenas, from the same state of Michoacán, an intimate confidant of Amaro.
The second group derives from the more capalist psychology of the northern states of Nuevo Leon and Coahuila, around Monterrey, the budding steel and factory center of the republic, strongly influenced by American methods. This group is composed of such men as Aarón Saenz, Minister of Industry, Commerce and Labor; Perez Trevino, Minister of Agriculture; General Juan Andereiu Alamazan, Minister of Communications; and Puig Casauranc, Minister of Education. These men still mouth the revolutionary phrase of the movement which brought them into power, but their ideals, in a modified form, are those of the older Diaz regime—friendliness to foreign capital and the new Mexican bourgeoisie to which they now belong.
The third group, now on the fringe of political control, consists of regional caciques or political bosses, imbued with pale-pink doctrines of reform. These Indian and mestizan demagogues are still attempting to reconcile in a feeble way Indianism with dilute proletarian doctrines—and therefore are now out of the main superstate regime. Those most concerned with this outlook are ex-President Portes Gil, political boss of Tamaulipas; Governor Adalberto Tejeda of Vera Cruz; Governor Tomas Garrido of Tabasco; and General Saturnino Cedillo, commandant of San Luis Potosi. They are all from tropical states on or near the Mexican Gulf. Other similar leaders, such as Luis Leon, from northern Chihuahua, and other politicos from Jalisco, are struggling for local control; but in general this social-demagogic group has a curious geographic consistency. Thus the country is divided, not only ideologically, but geographically. The army and Indianism in the south-central part of the republic; incipient capitalist industrialism in the North; agrarian and social reform, plus Indianism, about the east Gulf.
The Portes Gil group is on the downgrade; the real contest lies between the other two. The Portes Gil group, because of provincial and regional outlook and because of unbridled personal ambitions, helped destroy part of its normal support, namely the labor movement. Its hold on the peasant movement is also growing more fragmentary and more local. Both peasant and labor forces have ceased to be impressive political factors.
The maximum expression of the revolution occurred in 1926 under Calles. During the second half of his administration, a gradual and accelerating recession began, coinciding with the arrival of Ambassador Morrow, whose kindness helped the process of dissolution. The first blows were given at the proletarian groups. Calles threw overboard the Regional Confederation of Labor (CROM) to save himself during the tense situation following upon the heels of the assassination of Obregon. The Mexican Unitarian Trade Union Confederation (CSUM) was smashed and its leaders jailed. The National Peasants' League was destroyed; the National Agrarian party disrupted; strikers were shipped to all political dissidents into the criminal class, with jury trial abolished. All political activities are now controlled by the official bureau, the so-called National Revolutionary party; every other expression is persecuted. Ali popular autonomous groups having been put hors de combat, it now remains to be seen which of two tendencies—military or industrialist or both—will come into final control of the State.
The legal revision of the revolution followed promptly upon the heels of the destruction of popular organization: compromise on the oil question, the Church-State settlement, a halting of the agrarian program, the drafting of a more modified labor code.
The latest agrarian law protects large sugarcane, coffee and other estates, and provides that no further communal lands be granted except for cash payment. This is in many ways a wise bill; but it was dictated by the betrayal of the forces which brought the present regime into existence, not by any vision of sound national economy or necessary planning for agricultural development. Both Ortiz Rubio and Calles have declared that the system of ejidos, or communal lands, has been a colossal failure.
In 1910, 9,600,000 peasants lived on haciendas in serfdom. Today over two-thirds of these have left the haciendas and live in free towns. If, as Calles asserts, the ejido system is a failure, then close to seven million people—nearly half of the Mexican population—have been hurled into a more precarious economic situation than before the revolution. As a matter of fact, the ejido system has never been given an adequate trial. First of all, the peasants, for the most part, have not received sufficient lands or good cultivable lands. No provision has been made for population growth. The free villagers are not in a position to sustain themselves properly, even if they had been given the knowledge, tools and necessary seed.
Second, the land program was detailed by corruption. Frequently land distribution was converted into a vote-getting mechanism. Bosses have distributed lands to supporters. Labor and peasant organizations, when in control, excluded all but their own members. The army built its own machine similarly. In Ameca, Jalisco, prominent storekeepers and politicians received lands. In Paracho, Michoacán, a local leader of the peasant Social Defense had received the best plots. In Asompa, Oaxaca, the epdos belong to the three richest men in the village. On the other hand, hundreds of wealthy landowners have paid big graft to agrarian commissions, to peasant leaders and army officers, to stave off expropriation.
A further reason for the new agrarian shift: the higher-ups of the regime, such as Calles, Amaro, Aarón Sáenz, Perez Trevino, Almazan and others, have joined the ranks of the large landholders of the country by acquiring for a song haciendas ruined by the revolution. Many of the large irrigation projects, costing the government hundreds of millions, were to benefit arid lands owned by, Calles and other ministers. Naturally, the high chiefs oppose further extension of the ejido system and the peasant movement which so recently raised them to power.
Nor could the ejido system succeed without concurrent promotion of other forms of agrarian production. The ejido was a political and military stopgap. It was suitable for uneven land; for certain types of communities with long traditions; and particularly for the production of beans and corn. It destroyed serfdom and fortified the new villages. But the process of making it universally applicable doomed it to failure and cut the larger cities off from a cheap supply of more diversified products.
The real agricultural wealth of Mexico resides in the cultivation of tropical and subtropical products— bananas, henequen, sugar cane, tobacco, coffee. But the establishment and operation of tropical farms require capital, often years of waiting, and technical knowledge. The revolution subjected this type of agriculture to destruction by ejido grants, thus undermining the ejido system where it might well have been used.
The result is failure of the Mexican agrarian revolution on its constructive side. Though peonage has been abolished, there is a large dislocation of the population and a muddled situation which can be kept in hand only by armed force. The new agrarian law helps to permit a resumption of large-scale tropical farming; but at the same time blocks any solution for the free villagers and leaves them high and dry where they cannot sustain themselves except by drifting back to the hacienda or going into industry. At the present moment, the Mexican government, with all the major industries—oil, mining, henequen—badly shattered, is only unable to advance money for lands for the peasants, but is unable to provide proper rural credits and rural education.
Undoubtedly the large hacienda will soon become once more the dominant factor in rural production. In spite of the great dislocation, the larger haciendas, though temporarily put out of business, have remained essentially intact. In twenty-nine states (excluding the Federal District and Quintana Roo), nearly 60 percent of the land privately held is still comprised in haciendas of over 2,500 acres; 48 percent in haciendas of 10,000 acres; nearly 20 percent in haciendas over 250,000 acres.
Mexico has washed her hands of the revolution social organization of the country profoundly altered by some law of destiny than revolutions or governments; but the programs of the revolution have been quietly buried. The struggles of the immediate future, peaceful or otherwise, will merely be to determine which industrialist or military clique controls the superstate.
This article originally appeared in the July 22, 1931 issue of the magazine.