THE DECLINE OF MEXICAN CIVILIZATION. II
OVER the Mexican border in Guatemala, in Maya - Quiche territory, Franz Blom and Oliver La Farge not long ago discovered a church, theoretically Catholic, in charge of twenty men. These men were in fact priests of the old Maya cult, keeping the ancient calendar with red seeds, and starting the new year count in the spring. They met in a secret cave, and here initiated new members.
This is probably an extreme case of pagan survival, but it serves to accent the strange and anomalous position of the Catholic Church in Mexico. At Taxco, where Borda built his baroque but lovely cathedral, I saw the famous tiger dance. It was performed in the courtyard of a hillside chapel by a group of Indians arrayed in masks and special costumes, to the music of drum and pipe played simultaneously by a single musician. For hours the pipe wove its primitive tune, the drum thumped its stirring, monotonous rhythm, and the dancers, surrounded by a dense ring of enchanted Indians, stamped out the long and involved story of the tiger hunt. (By tigers Mexicans mean jaguars; there are of course no genuine wild tigers in the Western Hemisphere.) At its conclusion, dancers and spectators filed into the chapel and listened to a priest perform mass, while little boys in the towers turned the great bells over and over. The mass finished, everybody repaired to the churchyard again, ate and drank at little booths which had sprung up like mushrooms, discharged fireworks, listened to the village band, gambled with grains of corn on pictures, and watched itinerant acrobats perform on bars and wires strung to the church wall itself. I tried with no success to picture such a scene in front of any Catholic church I had ever seen. Aztec dance, Roman mass, itinerant circus, all enacted in the same holy precincts, and in a fairly sophisticated town as Mexican towns go.
In Tepoztlan the victories of the ancient god are celebrated by a dance in the churchyard. At Guadalupe - and nearly every big fiesta - the ferris wheel is stationed squarely in front of the church, as close to the building as possible. In Oaxaca I saw the solemn procession of the banners and lanterns of Our Lady of the Soledad inaugurated by two old Indians with pipe and drum, while the marchers themselves sang a weird, primitive chant which sent chills up one's spine. Nor was the procession from gate to church door concluded before two gentlemen appeared in the courtyard, clothed completely in fireworks, and proceeded to fight the most luridly comic battle imaginable. They leaped into the air like game cocks, the rockets, pinwheels, bombs and Roman candles attached to their persons exploding in all directions. The combatants were protected by an asbestos undergarment, but the delighted spectators were not so fortunate.
Cornfields need divine protection in a maize civilization. The chances of finding an idol as against a cross guaranteeing that protection are, considering all of Mexico, perhaps about equal. In Michoacan the idol is away ahead. Even when the cross is used, it may be surrounded by offerings of rum, cocoposole, candles, incense or a freshly killed chicken. Idols are called "santos" by the Indians today. A saint or a god, what is the difference? There is a headless idol on a hill in Chiapas. In front of it are clay bowls with burned copal, candlesticks, coloured paper, and festoons of pine needles. At Chakalchib is an ancient pyramid surmounted by a cross. Religious ceremonies are conducted here, but not by a Christian priest. At Mitla not only is the principal church built upon a half-ruined pyramid, but a higher pyramid is crowned with an unattended shrine containing three crosses and many incense-burners for the dead; the name Mitla means "city of the dead." Gruening reproduces a photograph of an idol, presumably of the Aztec rain god, in a cloister of a church at Milpa Alta, within twenty miles of Mexico City. Flowers are always growing in this cloister and in no other. Idols have been found buried under crosses, used as corner-stones of churches, hidden in bouquets of flowers for priests to bless. In Cuilapan I saw a magnificent great church and convent partially destroyed by earthquake. In the wall above the crumbling altar, two stones have recently been inserted. Upon them are carved dates in the old Zapotec calendar.
Dr. Manuel Gamio, studying this phenomenon in the shadow of the great pyramids at Teotihuacan, goes so far as to make a clean division between "pagan-Catholic" and "Roman Catholic" congregations. Personally I feel that the two streams are so hopelessly intermingled that classification is impossible. Where idol stops and the trinity begins is beyond exact determination. Anita Brenner's book, Idols behind Altars, is full of more evidence of the confusion.
The Church baptized every Indian, not too far up the mountains to be reached, between the Isthmus and the Rio Grande. In 1537, Indians, by a specific bull of the pope, were declared to be human beings with souls, susceptible to conversion. Hardy and perspiring fathers toiled over mountain passes, tearing down temples, holding mass baptisms (15,000 in one day in Xochimilco), building churches and monasteries. Presently they claimed some 9,000,000 converts, a number, Prescott remarks, "probably exceeding the population of the country." But the holy water - like vaccination serum in certain blood streams - simply did not take. The Indian would accept the Church only on his own terms, while the Church, it must be admitted, made compromise after compromise to bring him into the fold. Did the Aztecs worship their gods with religious dances? The dances were supplied with Christian scenarios and symbols, while the steps and music remained unchanged. Did they fast for forty days before the fiestas to their rain god and their god of war? They might go on fasting for forty days before Easter, which fortunately arrived near the beginning of the rainy season. Had they the habit of worshipping at certain sacred spots where they built their pyramids? The same sites remained sacred when churches were built on the ruined foundations. With these numerous concessions and fundamental parallels, it should not have surprised the holy fathers that the Indians, while accepting the Catholic saints as so many new gods, showed a disposition to keep their old ones even within the Christian calendar. For four centuries the Church has been trying to make good Christians of its Mexican congregations, and they remain stubbornly more than half pagan. This does not refer to the urban population or to the upper economic classes. It does refer emphatically to the village Indians, who are most of Mexico.
The Spaniards built - or better, directed the Indians to build - some 10,000 churches, almost all of them of stone, constructed for the ages. Although some villages supported as many as thirty clergy, others never had a resident priest. Indians would trim the altars and keep the candles burning. Once in so often, perhaps on only one day in the year, an itinerant father would come over the mountains on mule-back to perform mass. For a time in 1927 and 1928, the revolutionary government forced priests from the churches altogether. Did they close? No indeed. The native altar-tenders conducted their business as usual; old Indian women dropped upon their knees before their favourite santo, the candles and ribbons gleamed, the incense smoked at fiesta time (the same copal gum that had honoured Quetzalcoatl) ; the "Moors and the Christians" danced their old dance, Christian symbolism overlaid on pagan, in the church courtyard.
Terry reports in 1845, after several revolutions had tried to break the power of the colonial Church, but before Juarez' reform laws finally succeeded in shaking it, 7,200 clericals in Mexico - 2,000 nuns, 1,700 monks, 3,500 secular clergy. This is not a large number in a population of upwards of 7,000,000 at the time; say one to 1,000. Their wealth, however, was out of all proportion to their numbers. The nuns alone owned fifty-eight estates with a floating capital of 4,500,000 pesos. It has been estimated that in its great days the Church owned one-half of all landed wealth. It was the nation's chief banker, floating the loans which financed the haciendas, and lending to the government at five per cent. Its vast estates were farmed by the Indians in much the same manner as the haciendas were farmed. Indeed the two systems interlocked at every turn - feudal lord and Church - even as they did in the middle ages. Both were rich, arrogant, materialistic; both conspired to keep the peon in subjection.
As for the colonial state, it was practically married to the Church. Ten of the thirty archbishops of Mexico ultimately became viceroys. The Church was responsible not to the pope, but to the king of Spain. It had its own courts; the government helped it collect tithes, enforce monastic vows, maintain censorship and the index expurgatorius. Vows of celibacy, however, were discreetly forgotten. In one remote village I was told of the visit of a bishop not so many years ago. Among his other duties, he baptized thirty children of the local priest by seven mothers.
"Neither Church nor state alone," says Gruening, "could have made the common sources of income . . . so productive." Carrying out its side of the bargain the Church excommunicated civil offenders - contrabandists, adulterators of pulque, and other such criminals. The Inquisition, while relatively mild in Mexico in respect to life, freely confiscated the property of well-to-do "heretics." Church power was at the disposal of the law as long as it saw eye to eye with the law. After independence, and particularly after its property rights were undermined, the Church turned anarchist. For 300 odd years the high clergy of Mexico enjoyed an exhilarating and profitable time, living like princes. The income of the archbishop, in Mexico City, was $130,000 a year. We have to look to old Russia to find a parallel. The underlying population in both countries defrayed the costs.
We note, for instance, the Codex of San Juan Teotihuacan, reproduced for us by Dr. Gamio. It is a document presented to the king of Spain in Aztec picture-writing, prepared by the Indians who were building the convent of Acolman. It depicts corpulent monks whipping and kicking Indians; bleeding Indians led yoked and shackled in long lines; Indians in the stocks; Indians exposed to tortures suggestive of the Inquisition; Indians not only coming from long distances to work without food or pay, but paying tribute as well, in hewn lumber, cut stones, foodstuffs. It is not a pretty picture, but one fears it was all too common as the walls of the 10,000 holy buildings rose. Dr. Gamin as a result of his studies is forced to conclude that, by and large, the Church was animated by a persistent commercial spirit which made it the national banker on the one hand, and set exorbitant rates for marriage services, baptisms, burials, saints' day collections, tithes and so forth, on the other. For its intake it failed to return anything substantial in the way of education, care of the sick and needy, genuine solace for the soul. That there were outstanding exceptions to this broad conclusion goes without saying. Willa Cather in Death Comes to the Archbishop has told the poignant story of one of them. The old records show scores of devoted men, trying to understand the Indians, learning their dialects, writing down their histories, organizing their handicrafts, teaching their children. But the basic policy of the Church, as an institution, lay in a more worldly direction.
One of Mexico's labour leaders, sprung from the loins of the recent revolution, was haranguing, under a sputtering torchlight, a vast gathering of Maya Indians in Yucatan. "In the name of God who is called love, you have been beaten, kicked, wounded, killed; in the name of Jesus, the humble, you have been oppressed, enslaved, robbed of your houses and your lands; in the name of Mary the mother of God your wives have been dishonoured, your sisters and your daughters have been raped. But now in the name of the devil [the revolution] you have your houses, you have your lands, you have your families. . . ." As one man the multitude forgot its catechism and responded: "Viva el diablo! Viva el diablo!"
Today the Church owns no property in Mexico. The government has taken title to the 10,000 edifices and their lands. The commercial spirit has been scotched, though marriage fees are still too high for most Indians to pay-more than five times the cost of building a cottage. With the problem of corruption largely solved, some attention may be paid to a less dramatic question, the effect of church teaching on public health. It is amusing to us to think of pasting a plaster which the priest has blessed on the chest to cure a cough, but multiply it by thousands and one begins to understand why pneumonia and tuberculosis take a heavy toll in Mexico. It is quaint to see in the market little' silver images called "miracles," representing arms and legs, heads and hearts, to be hung on a saint's image so that the saint will cure these ailing members. But when you see four walls of a church solidly plated with such milagros - I estimated 50,000 in the Chapel of the Divino Rostro in Mexico City - it means that many thousands of sick people have been encouraged by their priests to substitute these pathetic offerings for common medical care It is not uncommon for priests to disparage the efforts of doctors, and suggest instead a pilgrimage to some distant shrine. At Patzcuaro I saw invalids walking on their knees to the church of the Virgin of the Salubridad - Our Lady of Health.
Meanwhile to this day priests and Indians still carry on their ancient compromise of idols flanking altars, perhaps the strangest and the most colourful religion in the world.
THE LEGACY OF SPAIN
In the 300 years of Spanish domination, sixty-one viceroys were appointed by the king. Scholars have listed some thirteen of them as decent men. It was the era of the man on horseback, of a feudalism more absolute than that of the middle ages in Europe. Hacienda, mine, and Church drained Mexico of her wealth and gave little in the way of tangible service in return. Economic initiative being blocked by the mother country, enterprising Mexicans found the only outlet to wealth and success in office holding. It was indeed the sole career. A sheriff ship might cost 120,000 pesos, but its perquisites made good the capital outlay in a remarkably short time. Judgeships were traded in as briskly as in modern Tammany Hall. The tradition was laid down that only saps work; a gentleman obtains his living by peculation if he has no Indians to exploit directly. It is this tradition, stamped in, generation after generation, which curses Mexican political life today, a cultural lag which the windy speeches and the violent deeds of the revolution have not effaced. The economic policy of Spain in respect to her colonies is thus chiefly responsible for the deplorable standards of integrity found in current statesmanship.
Three hundred years of slow decline in civilization. But the record is not all black. If it was a period of stagnation and decay it was also one of comparative peace. As the observing traveller goes about Mexico it is only too evident that the tales of unmitigated horror, exploitation, brutality, charged by some historians to viceroy, hacendado and priest, must be heavily discounted, when considering the country as a whole. If they had been half as rigorous as painted, the Indians would have been wiped out; their culture, like that of their cousins north of the Rio Grande, obliterated. But as a matter of cold fact, I repeat that Mexico is an Indian country, its pre-conquest traditions surviving with unbelievable vitality. Many of the mores were profoundly modified, but the Spaniards, for all their horrendous deeds in this locality and that, did not, or could not, eradicate the Indian way of life. Look at Tepoztlan; look at thousands of other towns and villages today. The Church as we have seen compromised right and left with the plumed serpent. Even the hacendados, if their annual surplus was forthcoming, were mostly too lazy to interfere seriously with the traditions of their subservient villages, especially the play traditions. Says Wallace Thompson, analyzing The Mexican Mind for American employers, with considerable impatience and an occasional flash of understanding: "The Indians . . . desire nothing so much as to be left alone. . . . Spain discovered early that the easiest way to rule the Indians was to leave the communes to themselves, and to allow their only contact to be with the paternal Church and the paternal landlord. The viceroys early adopted this easiest way, with effects of which we are only today reaping the full fruits. ;ailed. feudal age was dead in Europe when Columbus sailed. . . . But feudalism was revived in Latin America, and that far less because of Spanish cupidity than because of the immovable mountain of Indian tradition and the inertia of Indian psychology."
Straight down from the Mayas and Aztecs, accordingly, comes a flood of colour: dances, costumes, music, pottery, weaving, masks, toys, flower-culture; colour which sings and vibrates all over modern Mexico. Conquerors who let such a rainbow through were not wholly vicious.
Again, we must admit that however impressive were the pyramids, temples and towers which the Spaniards pulled down, they made at least partial restitution in decorating the country with an extraordinarily impressive architecture of their own design. The Indians built it, but Spain laid out the pattern. Mexico would lose a great fraction of its charm without these crumbling cathedrals, these arched and patioed palaces, these stout hacienda walls, these tiled domes raised against the profiles of glittering volcanoes. I for one would exchange them all for a quarter of the monuments of the old civilization restored and shining on their oriented hill tops, but the new (not so new as our own early American architecture) is a far from unworthy substitute.
We have noted how from the fusion of idol and cross came a new religion. The conclusion can be pushed further to cover nearly every phase of Mexican life, save where high mountains and deep jungles cut off the Spanish influence altogether. What we have in Mexico today is a culture neither Indian nor Spanish. Four hundred years of interaction have created a synthesis, a mosaic which is Mexico herself. She has modified Castilian Spanish to her own softer tongue, even as the Yankee has modified the king's English. She has worked out her own diet, her own piquant cookery; she has combined church and market into her own inimitable fiesta; she has adapted Spanish ballads to the guitar-threaded corrido, full of news and satire. The culture is drenched with Aztec survivals and with Spanish importations, but a chemical reaction has taken place; a totally new compound is in the making.
Finally, it is not altogether unreasonable to suppose that Mexico, one of the last stands of the handicraft age, bears a large share of responsibility for the coming of the machine. It was the gold and silver of her mines which in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries created fluid capital in Europe. Out of that capital, thrifty merchants set aside their profits, the early factories were built, Watt began his tinkering, and the industrial revolution was born. Without the metal of Mexico, the machine age might have been indefinitely postponed.
OUT OF THE FRYING PAN
One morning in the year 1810 the bells of the parish church in the little town of Dolores began to toll. The Indians flocked to the call of a man they respected and loved, Father Hidalgo, the parish priest. He had established or, better, recalled the arts of pottery, leatherwork, and weaving in the village. In defiance of the crown, he had encouraged silk and wine culture. He had declared his allegiance to the Indian Virgin of Guadalupe, that most miraculous of all the Virgins of Mexico, disclosed to a peon, and enshrined on the site of a pyramid to Tonantzin, mother of the Aztec gods. Best of all, he was in open rebellion against the Spanish domination which often lay so heavy upon his Indians. He was in rebellion against the practices of his own Church. Whitehaired and earnest he faced his congregation:
My children, this day comes to us a new dispensation. Are you ready to receive it? Will you be free? Will you make the effort to recover from the hated Spaniards the lands stolen from your forefathers three hundred years ago?
This was the "cry from Dolores," the Patrick Henry speech that inaugurated the revolt from Spain. It was delivered by one of the gentlest men who ever lived. The independence of Mexico became inevitable, according to Gruening, when Napoleon crossed the Pyrenees in 1808. We can well believe him. It was the signal for the dissolution of the Spanish Empire. Men of the breed of Cortez and Cervantes had ceased to inhabit the Iberian peninsula. Its vitality was gone, sapped in part by that very gold which Cortez set sail to find. Montezuma at last was revenged.
Three distinct classes were to be found in Mexico in 1810:
(I) The small ruling class of Spaniards, called by the natives gachupines, a word which means "wearers of spurs."
(2) The White Mexicans, or creoles. They were of Spanish blood, but born in the country had a Mexican rather than a Spanish point of view. They could hardly be called patriots, however, except in a highly personal sense. They wanted the prerogatives of the gachupines. Their numbers were relatively few.
(3) The underlying population, Indian and mestizo; the third estate for whom Father Hidalgo spoke. They numbered perhaps 5,000,000, a greater population than that found in the revolting American colonies in 1776.
At this time Mexico was in area the fourth largest country in the world, surpassed only by Brazil, Russia and China. Under Hidalgo the Indians rose, other leaders, notably Morelos and Guerrero (for whom adjoining states are now named) joining with them. The land of peace became a land of blood. Step by step for the next ten years the gachupines were driven from stronghold to stronghold, until finally only the prison fortress of San Juan de Ulloa in the harbour of Vera Cruz remained to them.
So far so good. At this point the revolution took a turn to the right which was to defeat the inspired dream of Father Hidalgo for 100 years. (The good man was executed shortly after the first uprising.) The creoles captured the movement, and forced the third estate back into its place. The first champion was a precious rascal named Iturbide. He promptly proclaimed himself emperor in 1821, with Napoleonic trimmings. He was shot and succeeded by a beautiful paper constitution, based on a combination of French and American models. General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna took exclusive charge of this instrument for thirty years. When not president himself he usually managed to pick his presidents. Despite the loss of Texas and the humiliation of the war with the United States in 1846, he dominated Mexico for a generation, wooden leg and all. Hacienda and Church remained substantially unchanged. The creoles took over the work of exploitation from the gachupines: different and no better masters for identical institutions of hacienda, mine, Church. In some respects they were distinctly worse. As a last resort from local bedevilment the Indians could, during the colonial period, appeal to the crown. Sometimes the crown actually interposed in their behalf. A number of royal clemencies are on record, both as to lands and as to persons. Now they had nobody to appeal to; the supreme court had been abolished.
Matters went from bad to worse until 1857, when a Zapotec Indian appeared to take up the task which Father Hidalgo had laid down. His name was Benito Juarez, and it is perhaps the greatest name in Mexican history. His statue stands in scores of plazas, and he has been compared not unfavourably by historians to his contemporary, Abraham Lincoln. Juarez, as president, actually undermined the financial power of the Church, and inaugurated a series of energetic reforms designed to aid the Indian. His enemies multiplied; his friends were largely inarticulate. In 1859, the value of Church real estate, not including buildings, was estimated at $125,000,000. This Juarez tried to restore to the nation by ordering it sold at a fair return to the clerics.
While the United States, immersed in the Civil War, was too busy to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, the infuriated Church and hacendados succeeded in inducing Maximilian of Austria, supported by the troops of France, to invade Mexico. I climbed a mountain road above the town of Orizaba which the French Zouaves built in one night, dragging their cannon up to shell the city. Juarez' forces won one considerable battle near Puebla, giving occasion for every other street in Mexico to be called the Cinco de Mayo (Fifth of May), but the French returned to the attack and placed Maximilian and the indefatigable Carlotta in Chapultepec Castle, emperor and empress of Mexico. The amiable pair lasted until the Civil War was over, the carpetbaggers began to drift south, and the United States had leisure to recall the exact wording of the Monroe Doctrine. The Zouaves tumbled over each other to reach Vera Cruz, Carlotta went to throw herself at the feet of the pope begging assistance, and poor befuddled Maximilian was promptly tried and executed, his chief contribution to Mexican life being an inundation of quite ghastly Empire and Victorian furnishings, which still clutter the houses of the well-to-do. It was a romantic and, on the whole, an unimportant interlude.
THE INDUSTRIAL INVASION OF DON PORFIRIO
One of the generals who helped execute Maximilian was Porfirio Diaz, a young and ambitious mestizo born in Oaxaca, not far from the birthplace of Juarez. He bided his time while Juarez came back to the presidency. When the liberator died-strangely enough in his bedDiaz overthrew his successor and, like Santa Anna, became dictator of Mexico for a generation. Statistically this was altogether the most progressive period in Mexican history. Humanly, as I have hinted, it probably marked the lowest point to which the third estate had ever fallen. But let us give Don Porfirio his due.
In the thirty-five years, from 1875 to 1910, during which Diaz ruled Mexico, railroad lines increased from 691 kilometers to 24,17. The production of silver rose from 523,000 kilos to 2,417,000, and of gold from 1,636 to 41,400 kilos. The total value of exports and imports increased almost tenfold. Internal customs duties - that bane of feudalism - were abolished. The gold standard was introduced. Banditry was suppressed, and Mexico became one of the safest countries for tourist traffic in the world. The budget was balanced; obligations on account of foreign loans were paid on the nail. Free schools were established in many communities-an unheard-of innovation. The great drainage canal begun in the seventeenth century was pushed to completion, freeing Mexico City from the plague of floods - "easily the most spectacular modern engineering feat from the Roosevelt Dam to the Panama Canal." Ports were developed with breakwaters, lighthouses and modern loading equipment. Public buildings were erected by the score, each more flamboyantly rococo than the last. Cast iron bandstands were to be found in every village plaza - and still are. Statues, memorial columns, winged victories, shot skyward. Mexico City was converted from a quaint colonial town to a leading metropolis numbering close to 1,000,000 people.
It would be almost impossible to cite any commercial or financial index that did not show an advance during the Diaz regime. In 1910, Mexico easily led all Spanish America, in the opinion of foreign bankers. A few months later, seemingly without warning, Porfirio Diaz, an old man but still sturdy, was fleeing for his life, the political edifice that he had reared so patiently and apparently so well collapsing in utter chaos behind him. Wall Street scratched its head, dumbfounded. The statisticians and the professors of economics, looking at their thirty-five-year graphs, like so many Popocatepetls, doubtless declared that prosperity was not dead but sleeping, and that Mexico could not be sold short. But all the king's horses and all the king's men could not put Humpty Dumpty back on his wall. Indeed there has been nothing more surprising in this century than the collapse of Diaz and his system, unless it be the collapse of American prosperity in 1929.
Systems, either in Mexico or in the United States, do not collapse without a reason. After twenty years it is fairly clear why the Diaz formula, despite its soaring statistics and its substantial material contributions to Mexican life, was headed for disaster. Indeed the reason is prettily demonstrated in the architecture of the period. Study the buildings of the Diaz epoch. What do they look like; what do they represent? They look like Versailles in a state of nervous collapse, and they represent an attempt to make a third-rate Europe out of Mexico. Not one of them is grounded in the country's soil - that rich soil blended from Aztec and Spanish elements. In short, the Diaz policy turned its back on the Mexican inheritance and faced an alien culture; welcomed foreign capital, foreign industrialism, foreign immigration, foreign art. The machine was to be embraced; Mexico was to be modernized, commercialized, cosmopolitanized, made property conscious, brought up to date.
That Diaz was reasonably honest I, for one, do not doubt. That he had tremendous gifts as a leader and administrator, nobody can doubt. The trouble lay in his policy. It was wrong for two cardinal reasons. He tried to set up Western Civilization in the midst of a land stubbornly devoted to handicraft economy; and far worse, he tried to do it by head-on rather than flank attack. He would force Mexico to accept the West; he set himself to break down and stamp out the Indian way of life. His career furnishes us with a sublime example of how not to introduce the machine.
The haciendas in the Diaz period were not broken up, they grew more swollen and bloated than ever before. Huge foreign concessions were granted, together with levies of peons to work them, until a full quarter of the country was in the hands of aliens, who came, like Cortez, seeking only a quick return. Whole areas were depopulated en masse and forced into slavery. One of the most heart-rending odysseys I know is the march of the Yaqui Indians from the haciendas of Yucatan back across all Mexico to their beloved northern mountains. They had been sold into slavery at sixty-five dollars a head; they had been chained, whipped, branded, in a low, hot land utterly alien to their peaks and precipices. They broke their chains and left that land, passing over one of the most dangerous and God-forsaken swamp areas on earth. The survivors had tramped and fought for 2,000 miles when they reached their villages in Sonora.
Wages in the new factories were kept at starvation levels, and working conditions were unspeakable. Food prices rose, while hacienda owners put up tariffs against cheap American grains. The standard of living of the third estate went down. The free villages were further stripped of their lands, which were added to those of the haciendas - much after the fashion of the Enclosure Acts in eighteenth century England. Debt bondage reached its apex. J. Russell Smith tells of an American hacendado who kept a ledger account with each peon, and instructed his bookkeeper to add the date, 1899, to the debit column every time he turned a page! The Indian, in the name of the survival of the fittest - this was the age when Darwin was most grossly misinterpreted - was treated as a biological inferior, marked for ultimate extinction and replacement by foreign immigration.
Worst of all, to my mind, Diaz ruthlessly sought to break down the conception of communal property and community responsibility which the villages had inherited; to replace the spirit of cooperation with unrestrained and greedy individualism. He tried to make each villager stake off his own land, trade in it, buy and sell it, irrespective of the needs and desires of the community about him. Individualism in this sense was-and thank God still is-incomprehensible to the Indian. He was willing to sell "his" land for a peso or a drink of tequila, simply because alienation was unthinkable. Unscrupulous land speculators, the rurales at their heels, took full advantage of this rooted philosophy. Thus the villager was defrauded at once spiritually and materially.
In the United States today, the bankruptcy of the farmer is on every tongue. How shall he be saved? Many of the most conservative statesmen and bankers, as well as informed economists, are agreed that cooperative societies furnish the only ultimate solution. Very good.
But American farmers by and large find it exceedingly difficult to co-operate. They have been steeped in the tradition of every man for himself. They will not hold to agreements for restricting crop acreage. It will take years, decades, to unlearn these habits, and form the new ones which alone may rescue them economically. Yet here were thousands of Mexican villages ripe and ready for cooperation. It was the only way they knew how to live. They had been taking it in with their mothers' milk for 1,000 years. And Diaz tried to shatter it; to force them painfully to unlearn that which they must some day inevitably learn again if agriculture is to go forward in Mexico. Fortunately he did not succeed.
No. Rural Mexico seethed as it realized the plunder of its lands, its precious ejidos-and that meant most of Mexico. The new industrial worker was miserable in his factory, his mine, his plantation - and that meant the rest of Mexico. A handful of politicians, generals, hacendados, priests, and concessionaires were doing very nicely, thank you, and when was the new 5,000,000 peso marble opera house to open? It never opened. Still-born, it rears its crazy bulk at the end of the Alameda in the capital city. The only real revolution Mexico ever had began when she swung on her heel and faced inward to her own brown people. At that moment the decline of Mexican civilization came to an end.
FROM INDEPENDENCE TO REAL REVOLUTION
NOTE: I include political mileposts from 1910 onward to bring the record down to date. A more intensive examination of this period will be forthcoming in a later chapter, where we shall attempt to get modern politics into focus.