PISTOLS AND POLITICS
I met a man in the south of Mexico who was in charge of excavating one of the most exciting ruins in the republic; a modest, competent little man with more than a dash of Indian in him. He was gentle, kind, and seemed the perfect example of quiet government servant. In due course I learned that this man had been a highly placed officer during the Carranza administration. As the president neared the end of his regime, he sought to stave off liquidation by executing his enemies right and left. For some mysterious reason the executions in a certain district failed to eventuate per schedule, the marked men subsequently emerging in the best of health. The difficulty was finally traced to a night telephone operator, a very beautiful girl. She received the fatal orders and for reasons of her own withheld them. She was watched; her dereliction established; she was sentenced to be shot on a given morning-all without her knowledge. My archeologist was ordered from the capital to keep his eye on her through her last night on earth. Next morning neither guard nor prisoner was to be found. They had escaped together through the lines, out of the city, and up into the mountains. Not long after, Carranza fell. Our hero came out of hiding with his beautiful bride, and eventually secured a new government appointment in the department of archeology. Such stories abound in Mexico; the demurest people have the wildest backgrounds. For the last twenty years crisis after crisis has swept the country, and few there are who have not been seared by the flame of revolution.
We left Porfirio Diaz a few chapters back, breaking all speed records to Europe. As he fled, Mexico for the first time in four hundred years turned inward to her Indian tradition, and the only real revolution she had ever known was on. The muse of history has had to sit up nights to keep abreast of Mexico ever since. I shall have to leave the story to the muse; it is too involved to sketch more than a faint outline. I refer the reader to Gruening's definitive account of the major-and the bloodiest-period.
The Indians wanted land and the urban workers wanted relief from intolerable industrial conditions, Under the impulse of these two generative forces, the revolution waxed and waned. Leaders flared up and were shot; dictators arose and fell; factions formed, split and disappeared; laws were passed and forgotten; elections were announced and usually torpedoed; "plans" were formulated and disregarded; wise men limned a path and were pumped full of lead; Tepoztecans fled to the crags above their village; haciendas flamed; priests were thrown from their churches; towns were sacked; railroads dynamited; wild riders came storming over the mountains, Indians in ragged pyjamas at their heels; whole populations, their fields in ruins, turned to banditry as the only means of supporting life. (With fields cultivated again, banditry has lately suffered a grave decline.) Meanwhile the United States, with a billion dollars in jeopardy, stormed at the gates of Vera Cruz and sent General Pershing galloping over Sonora looking for a gentleman named Pancho Villa who could gallop even faster.
Out of this kaleidoscope came two men, two laws, and some of the noblest painting which the world has ever seen. One of the men is dead, and the laws are dyingor at least changing their form. Men are more important than laws in Mexico; generals have a following while principles are soon forgotten. It so happens, however, that these two laws fitted the grievances of the revolution, and had more body behind them than ever had happened before. The men were Alvaro Obregon and Plutarco Elias Calles, and the laws were articles 27 and 123 of the Constitution of 1917. The painting was done chiefly by Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco.
Diaz was ejected in 1910. It took seven years of terror to formulate the basic grievances and adopt drastic remedies-on paper. Carranza sponsored the Constitution of 1917, but it was forced down his throat. It was, and perhaps still is, one of the most enlightened constitutions ever adopted. It has nearly every principle, every political gadget, that a liberal could wish, and many that radicals cannot fail to admire.
This beautiful document remained on beautiful white paper for three more years while the dictators rose and fell and the kaleidoscope whirled ever faster. In 1920, Obregon, a small ranch owner from the north, risen to general in the army and with one arm shot away, assumed the presidency. Note the word assumed; few Mexican presidents have been genuinely elected. (The story runs of one Latin American gentleman, who, when notified that he was to run for president and would certainly be successful, chartered the fastest motor boat on the coast and fled to a British island.)
Obregon proceeded to put the two laws, and various other provisions of the Constitution of 1917, into tangible effect. He had his failings, but he did honestly attempt to give legal sanction to the villagers' cry for land, and labour's cry for protection. It plunged him into boiling water with hacendado, industrialist, Church and foreign capitalist, but he persisted; the free villages behind him, the "red battalions" of industrial workers behind him. The laws began to bite; presently to cut deep into outraged flanks. American oil men roared for armed intervention, the Church groomed likely generals for another revolution; great landowners refused to cultivate. Obregon kept on. In 1924 he was succeeded by General Calles--an ex-school teacher whose power had been growing steadily. Calles hewed to the line. More revolutions were launched and choked. Obregon came back again, and was shot in a Mexico City restaurant. Soon the corrido singers in village markets were strumming a plaintive ballad with unending verses and the refrain
Obregon fue presidente, General y buen ranchero
Y dondequiera la gente Llora con dolor sincero.
Presently Mr. Dwight Morrow arrived and to the vast surprise of everybody, except possibly himself, captured the goodwill of the Mexican government and threw strong support to a practical interpretation of the two laws. He advised modification, but he did not question the soundness of underlying principles. He insisted-in the teeth of the American colony-that Mexico was for Mexicans and not a happy hunting ground for Yankee dollars, and he filled his house at Cuernavaca with native handicraft products. I was able to find hardly a Mexican who distrusted him, or an American businessman who had a good word for him-thus establishing beyond cavil his point of view.
Calles has not returned to the presidency since 1928, but with the death of Obregon he became-and remains -the strong man of Mexico. At the thought of a bullet finding him, there is a universal and doleful shaking of heads. The bullet would have to turn several sharp corners, for seldom has a man been better guarded.
In 1917, Russia and Mexico were proposing, with roughly equal relative vociferation, a new heaven and a new earth. Mexico's constitution, moreover, was born nine months before Russia's. The peasant and the worker, the sickle and the hammer, were on the march. But Russia had the better organization, the better temperament for concentrated effort, the better background for leadership. Today her revolutionary engines are developing ever greater horsepower-while Mexico chokes her throttle. Communism is dead or in exile, and official socialism has paled to a faint pink. The revolution as a dramatic and dynamic force has passed to a slower tempo, but in passing it has deposited by-products of profound importance. Indians have land-14,000,000 acres of it -trade unionists have legal status and protection, the old hacienda system is hopelessly smashed, a vigorous rural education movement is in process, the Church has moved down from its pedestal, and an artistic renaissance born of the Indian revival has thrown up perhaps the world's two greatest living painters.
Here was Zapata, the most indomitable figure of the Revolution, who set our friends in Tepoztlan to climbing crags. A boy in a free village in Morelos, he was driven to desperation as the enclosure acts of Diaz crowded that village almost out of existence. In Mexico City as hostler boy, he tended horses housed in marble stables. He wanted the land and the dignity of his people restored,
and in 1910 put himself at the head of a ragged army. He razed nearly every hacienda in Morelos, and once came marching into Mexico City, to its infinite terror. He never enriched himself, contrary to every precedent. He mistrusted and fought each shifting central government until he was killed in 1919. When Carranza was spending millions to destroy him, his soldiers, dressed as peons, would come into the capital, sell trinkets in the market, and depart with a load of cartridges. Their wives would make the federal soldiers drunk and steal their guns. Rivera has his portrait on a white horse among the glittering new frescoes at Cuernavaca-Cortez at one end, Zapata at the other, four hundred years of history between them. This village boy was no intellectual gianthe never learned to read until he became a generalbut he embodied the fundamental spirit of the revolution. His single aim, to quote Tannenbaum, was "to redeem the forgotten mountain race, making it feel master of the land on which it treads, creating a nation of dignified human beings." His grave is now a sacred shrine among the Indians of all southern Mexico.
Here again was General Saturnino Cedillo, who kept the railroad between San Luis Potosi and Tampico blocked for six years, a terror to the region. Obregon sent a messenger to ask what, specifically, he wanted. "I want land. I want ammunition so that I can protect my land. I want ploughs and I want schools for my children, and I want teachers, and I want books and pencils and blackboards and roads. And I want moving pictures for my people too. And I don't want any church or any saloon. That's all." He got his land and his blackboards, and the railroad was open again. The line between a bandit and a forthright revolutionist is very fine.
Of the two laws which sought to give expression to the revolution, one dealt with land, the other with labour, but as Mexico is an agricultural not an industrial nation, the former is by far the more important. At certain points, however, the two overlap. The "red battalions" of trade unionists demanded official recognition and they received it unreservedly in article 123. The law provided an eight-hour day, one day's rest in seven, rest periods for working mothers to nurse their babies, six hours a day for children under sixteen, no overtime for women and children. It directed employers to provide sanitary dwellings for their mine and plantation workers at a rental not to exceed one half of one per cent a month on the assessed value of the property; to provide schools, health stations, a market space (the Indian touch), and a playground; and not to provide saloons or gambling houses.
Minimum wage boards were to be established in local areas, not only to define wages but to go into the matter of profit sharing. There must be no sex discrimination in wage rates, no private labour exchanges, not more than one month's wages in any year withheld to liquidate a debt to an employer--a solar plexus blow at hacienda debt bondage--and double pay for overtime. All workers' debts to 1917 were summarily discharged; the slate wiped clean. Labour insurance was accepted in principle--old age, accident, compensation, unemployment. The right to organize unions was thrown wide open. Arbitration boards were set up for labour disputes. If an employer discharged a workman for joining a union or a legal strike (public utility workers were enjoined from striking without due notice to the arbitration board), he
must either reinstate the worker at once or pay him three months' wages-at the option of the worker. Employers were liable for accidents and occupational diseases "arising from work." Provision was made against "inhuman work," wages paid in company script, obligatory purchasing at company stores. Finally, the document veered strongly in the direction of compulsory trade unionism.
Article 123 was, in brief, a bill of particulars to make rugged individualism foam at the mouth. The American colony did and does. A good fraction of the law's provisions remained strictly on paper, but Obregon and Calles put enough into effect to give Mexican labour an entirely new status. It is to the credit of the late Samuel Gompers that he threw all the influence he could bring to bear-the American Federation of Labor was a power then-to strengthen this new movement across the Rio Grande. At present the tendency is toward a less stringent interpretation, but the basic principles hold.
If the villages were to have their ancestral lands, present owners must cede the area. This meant the partitioning of the haciendas, which meant a revision of the going concept of private property, which meant undermining the property claims of all foreign investors in Mexico. Here was a pretty kettle of fish. Obviously the Indians could not be satisfied without creating the bitterest dissatisfaction in the $1,500,000,000 or so of alien capital. The Indians, I believe, would never have advanced farther than the wind which went into their battle cries, if the outside world at the moment--1917--had not been too busy attempting harikari to give Mexico any concentrated attention. There is this small credit item on the profit-and-loss account of the World War. It gave Mexico an unprecedented opportunity to clean house without the kind of aid and comfort normally vouchsafed her by outside parties.
Mexico put the land law on the statute books, though the protests and lamentations-particularly from American oil interests-were piteous to hear. Two interlocking problems faced her: the legal delimitation of property, the actual distribution of land. Article 27 begins boldly with the first. It lays down the principle that the physical territory of Mexico belongs at long last to the nation. Its subsoil and waters can never be alienated to private ownership, but only exploited by limited concession. The nation retains rights and powers over the surface of the land even when passed to private title, including specifically condemnation for public-utility purposes. The lands of the free villages are adjudged a public utility. What is or is not a public utility is a matter for government to determine, not subject to review by the courts. Ownership of lands, waters, and rights to concession shall be enjoyed by citizens of Mexico only. Foreigners may acquire such rights only on condition that they agree to act as though they were citizens, powerless to invoke the protection of their governments. Churches of whatever creed may not hold real property, the title shall vest in the nation which in turn may lease to the church organization. Stock companies may not hold agricultural property or administer the same-a thrust, and I think a fair one, at absentee, irresponsible ownership. Banks may not hold real property except their own premises and except temporarily in execution proceedings. Villages may hold land communally, but the law looks towards an ultimate division to the individual. In Tepoztlan, we remember, land is held under individual title, but the administration of the milpas themselves is communal-a happy compromise.
The specific formula proposed by article 27 for the solution of the agrarian problem-for the prime grievance of the Revolution-is short and sweet. All alienation of village lands subsequent to June 25, 1856, is null and void. Villages which cannot establish title shall be given such lands and waters (irrigation waters primarily) as they need. The state governments shall administer the partitioning of the haciendas and the restoration of village lands. Hacienda owners--mark this provision--shall be compensated for their property so condemned, in the form of twenty year, five per cent government bonds. Land they must give up at a price beyond their control, but government bonds they shall receive. Mexican bonds to be sure are not instruments before which one has hitherto stood in awe. We must remember, however, that the haciendas secured their lands in the first place by calmly enclosing them, the only compensation in the premises being the enslavement of the villagers. In Aztec times to move a boundary post was a capital crime. The Spaniards turned it into a virtue, leaving the Indians no redress short of banditry. The present law, in comparison, is mild revenge and only partial reversion to the ancient tradition.
The formula for land distribution had to comprehend a wide front, reaching from a roving Indian tribe with no conception of legal ownership, to a modern high-speed corporation. Generally speaking, article 27 favoured the small owner against the large, the native against the foreigner, the individual against the corporation; but provided a place, however modest, for all. It certainly could not be classed as socialism or communism. We might term it an agrarian status quo ante, plus a move in the direction of rural individualism.
When Obregon proceeded to an actual enforcement of this piece of parchment, the local hacendados yelped, to be silenced by superior force, but foreign capital turned like a wolf at bay. It called on all its gods, all its sacred rights of property, all its navies and armies. The phrase most in evidence was "inalienable rights." But, as Gruening lucidly points out, property concepts of Nordic and Mexican are two different things. Inalienable rights never had standing in Mexico, revolution or no revolution. Mexico was not a Spanish colony but a patrimony of the kings of Castile and Aragon. Grants of property to vassals were in the nature of revocable concessions, and the great encomiendas (land allotments) were commonly given for "two lives" only. The enormous properties of the Jesuits had been blandly revoked in 1798; indeed revocations were reasonably common. After independence the same flexible conception dominated Mexican thought and practice-the state merely replaced the king. Diaz never hesitated to confiscate-from his own nationals.
Battle was joined. The United States, on behalf of its billion dollars, argued that Mexico could not expropriate the property of Americans, referring specifically to plantations, oil lands, mining lands and citing the sanctity of property in international law. Mexico argued that a nation always has a right to adjust its internal property, otherwise its sovereignty is a myth; if the United States pursued its own argument in internal affairs it would find itself a government without sovereignty, incapable of protecting anything. Whether Seņor Obregon pointed to the Eighteenth Amendment, I do not know, but it would have been an apt citation.
Certain Americans sensed the inner drift of the Mexican argument. I append a quotation from Mr. Amos Pinchot
It is perfectly all right for me to take my dollar to Mexico or any other place and get all I can out of it by every decent means. But for me-after subjecting my dollar to the larger and
fully anticipated risk for the sake of the larger and fully anticipated return-to come running to the American tax payer the moment the risk materializes and the return does not, demanding
that he, who has never invested a cent in Mexico, shall send his son and his money southward to get my hazarded dollar out of trouble, is obviously a performance which requires diplomatic description lest it be called by its correct and disagreeable name.
Mr. Morrow, given the task of adjusting the deadlock, saw the problem in its proper historical and national setting. He allowed, according to Tannenbaum, most of the Mexican case. "The only compromise of any significance on the Mexican side has been to convert a fee simple into a perpetual concession. In theory and in the long run, as matters now stand, rights in subsoil acquired before 1917 are retained by their present owners only by accepting their conversion into a concession." Fortunately Nature, as well as Mr. Morrow, contributed to the settlement. By sending salt water into the oil fields she greatly diminished the American investment and, with it, opportunity for international bitterness.
So much for concepts of property and armed intervention. The matter is for the moment adjusted, thanks to Nature and Mr. Morrow, nor have I heard any proposal, however delicate, to take our minds off our present economic difficulties by inaugurating a war with Mexico. A senator has indeed proposed to buy a pair of border states, only to be met by counter proposals from, the Chamber of Deputies that Mexico buy back Texas and California. Far more important at the present writing is the other aspect of article 27: How much land have the villages actually received, what use are they making of it, and have their revolutionary impulses at last been satisfied?
In 1910, when the Revolution broke, government lands had shrunk to twelve per cent of all land in the republic, so prodigal was Diaz of his property. By 1925 some 35,000,000 acres had been reclaimed, mainly under article 27, sending the government holdings to nineteen per cent of all. The condemned acreage, however, was to a large extent poor or desert land. By 1927, 2,246 villages had actually received their ejidos, or land distribution under the law. This is only seventeen per cent of the 13,388 villages which have an ascertained right to such distribution. Up to that year, five per cent of the total rural population had received some three per cent of the total land of the republic-not an impressive transfer. Conditions varied greatly in different regions. In Morelos, Zapata's stronghold, hacienda lands were cut squarely in half; the free villages now own (or better, have perpetual use of) seventy per cent of all land in the state, including communal mountain areas, and the haciendas only thirty per cent. In Colima, on the other hand, land concentration has actually increased since 1910. One hundred and fourteen persons still own a quarter of all the land of Mexico. In 1910, haciendas of more than 12,000 acres accounted for just half the land of the republic; by 1927 the proportion had shrunk to forty per cent. In Zacatecas, 16o persons in the 12,000-acre class own ninety-three per cent of all private rural land; in Coahuila, 282 persons own eighty-eight per cent. But in Puebla there are only twelve estates of more than 12,000 acres, accounting for about four per cent of the
state's territory. And so it goes. Excessive concentration has been dented but far from eliminated.
To 1931, the latest government figures show 14,000,000 acres distributed in ejidos. The more piercing outcries are quieted, but it would be ridiculous to suppose that satisfaction has been achieved. In another direction, however, more progress can be recorded. There has been a heavy shift of population from hacienda to free village. Hacienda population declined from 5,500,000 in 1910 to 3,900,000 in 1927. Ten thousand hacienda villages have completely disappeared. The free village population has increased from fifty-one per cent of all Mexico to fifty-eight per cent. Agricultural labourers are declining, and independent farmers gaining. There are today some 400,000 heads of rural families entitled to free use of land, marking a very large gain over 1910.
Above all, 6,000,000 peons have been freed from serfdom. Dignity, if not unlimited land, has been won back. They come and go from the haciendas as free men, while wages have risen from twenty-five centavos a day to seventy-five centavos or more. Hours of rural labour have decreased to not more than ten a day, in many cases eight. Two millions have joined agricultural unions. The poor peon's mule, so often spared by revolutionary armies, can now be rented out to the hacendado--whose draft animals were killed or driven away.
Americans, up to January, 1931, had lost just 300,567 hectares--750,000 acres--by virtue of article 27. The largest single expropriation was in Chihuahua, totalling 50,000 acres. Altogether, 261 Americans were ordered to give up their fees simple, representing some six per cent of the 14,000,000 acres expropriated. The law provided, we remember, that owners who lost their lands were entitled to five per cent, twenty year bonds. The bond business has not been flourishing. Many owners, both foreign and native, refused to take bonds, holding that to do so validated their retirement. Of 50,000,000 pesos' worth of bonds actually authorized, only 8,ooo,00o have been issued. Interest is being paid on the nail, but the instruments are in such poor esteem that they are quoted at fifteen per cent of par value. In property-loving America, however, brewers and distillers received no bonds at all.
Mr. Morrow did not like these bonds. He advocated setting aside a flat amount, say 6,000,000 pesos, out of each annual budget and paying cash for condemned land--a sounder fiscal procedure, provided 6,000,000 pesos could be squeezed out of a Mexican budget, always a dubious operation. For the moment the question is academic, for actual land distribution has now, May, 1931, come to a standstill. No more applications are being allowed. Certain grave difficulties have arisen which need more thought and probably a drastic amendment of the law. Where lands have gone to villages still close to the communal tradition, distribution has worked well enough, but where they have gone to villages corrupted by the haciendas over centuries, the distribution has worked badly. Proper use has not been made of them because communal habit patterns had broken down. Land these villages received, but no seeds, fertilizers, credit, above all, no agricultural education wherewith to cultivate effectively. As a result the acreage has been grown to corn where other crops were more advisable; irrigation has been badly managed; soils have been leeched, production per acre has drastically declined. Hacendados were models of inefficiency, but hacienda villagers on their own are frequently even worse.
Here, for instance, is a hacienda in the state of Mexico four hours from the capital. It was valued at $500,000 before the revolution, raising wheat, cattle and sheep, Ejidos took the cream of the land, leaving the owner with a small strip of poor soil and no dependable water supply. Into the good soil, the Indians have run an excess of water from the irrigation dam, leeching it badly. No fertilizer is available to make good the potassium shortage which characterizes the soil. Corn has displaced wheat, and stalks which a few years ago were eight feet high have shrunk to four. The villagers have been actually forced to import corn. The land is ruined, the owner is ruined, a splendid irrigation system lies useless, the Indians are losing self-sufficiency. In this case everybody loses-nation, worker, hacendado. A friend of mine, an agricultural expert, would reclaim the land with alfalfa, and breed 25,000 cattle on it. He would preserve the Indians' freedom and dignity and rehouse them. The property is readily capable of being made the basis for a rich and flourishing community, without the feudalism of Diaz, and without the handicaps of ignorance. Along some such approach as this, the ejido system must be revised.
Theoretically it is sad that the Indians for the moment have ceased to receive land; practically it is not so mournful. This is the more true, alas, because of the very considerable acreage delivered not to Indians but to politicos, many of them sometime fiery revolutionists. It recalls strongly the outcome of the war for independence when revolutionary creoles stepped into the shoes and haciendas of retiring Spaniards. And this brings us face to face with the white, educated Mexican. We have discussed Mexican Indians hitherto, but the small class of preponderantly Spanish blood, which speaks officially for
the nation, deserves a word. I wish it might be kinder than it is going to be.
White Mexicans tend to live in houses filled with plush, gilt, crayon portraits of ferocious gentlemen with mustachios, and a black plaster sambo holding out a card tray. Their taste in house decoration is indescribably bad, worse than old Timothy Forsyte's. Their taste in European clothing, which they generally affect, is dubious. In the open, to be sure, the gentlemen run to picturesque costumes, in which a cartridge belt and a huge pistol or two figure prominently. The story runs of two deputies lately embracing each other in an anteroom of the national chamber-the classic Mexican embrace where A puts his arms around B and slaps him affectionately down the rear, while B performs similarly. A slapped the trigger of B's Sixshooter, discharging it harmlessly but noisily down the leg of his trousers. Instantly, according to my informant, the seated chamber to a man arose and drew a gun, ready for whatever might develop.
As a class, white Mexicans know very little about their own country, but cleave to the cities. They strain every resource to be educated abroad; they value only imported goods, buying nothing if they can help it of native manufacture. They have little use for Indians. They are lazy and self-indulgent above the average Nordic. They are unsure of themselves in the presence of westerners, whom they at once admire, emulate, and bitterly hate-sure index of an inferiority complex. At the same time courtesy and hospitality are cardinal elements of their natures. "My house is yours," they say,
and if you admire any personal possession, "It is yours." This courtesy is part formula and part a very authentic warmth of temperament. They give marvellous parties, surrounding the guest in a glow of human kindliness as well as alcohol and spiced sauce.
They are given to flights of rhetoric which would put even a senator from Alabama in second place, while their indifference to cold facts and figures is profound. They are emotional, undisciplined, reasonably ignorant, and often charming. I was invited to climb Popocatepetl by a young art student. He spoke with sincere feeling. "We will climb Popo together. Ah, it will be beautiful, the white snow, the silver ice. It is the dream of my life. I have never climbed a mountain. Perhaps I am not able to climb. If not I come back to Mexico and shoot myself. But it is the ambition of my life." We were to arrange the details at a subsequent dinner, but he never appeared.
Nobody ever thinks of being less than half an hour late to an appointment, and the traveller must learn to excuse complete non-appearance. Mexicans, like Russians, have no time-sense, but go on doing what they are doing so long as it amuses them. While they lack acquaintance with exact fact they have a fairly acute sense of reality. They can undergo the most gruelling discomfort without complaint, and have no difficulty in vacillating between glittering opulence and the starkest and plainest of fare and travel. (They travel, normally, with fourteen bundles per person including infants, most of the inanimate parcels done up in baskets, mats, wrapping paper, or coloured gauze.) They never, as it were, complain to the management, but take life as it comes, and thus share something of the Indian's philosophy. A hundred white Mexicans--I refer to men--are more individual, unique, and, on the whole, human, than a hundred members of the Rotary Club of Zenith. But they are not so dependable. And they are capable, on occasion, of a cruelty which Zenith with its Red Cross and its community chest has long outgrown.
There is a group of Mexicans, normally with more white blood than Indian, known as rancheros. They are independent farmers and cattlemen, occupying the wide ground between hacendado and village Indian. They are to be seen in the smaller cities and towns, and many still affect the picturesque charro costume-wide felt sombrero, short embroidered jacket, skin-tight trousers with buttons like flute keys down the side. They do not suffer from feelings of inferiority at all, and are a joy to look at. They ride like centaurs, and adorn their sturdy little ponies with costumes as gay and lavish as their own. One feels, somehow, as if all white Mexicans ought to be like this-fearless, self-reliant, intelligent (within reason), and beautifully accoutred.
They are not. As a class I prefer the Indian. There are twenty Indians to every one of them; they float, a thin olive deposit, on an ocean of brown. If they should be obliterated overnight, Mexico would still function, and save for the cities, look about the same. For all I know it might develop leaders-statesmen, philosophers, artists, who would serve the nation better than it is now served. Juarez was an Indian, and so was Felipe Carrillo. Five hundred years ago, great statesmen, artists, philosophers and mathematicians were coming from this brown soil. If the Indians were obliterated, Mexico would cease to be. I should look for annexation within a year; Chambers of Commerce, skyscrapers, Antique Shoppes, unemployment queues, the year following.
We might divide white Mexicans into three classes the normal bourgeois, the gun toter, the genuinely civilized. The former is the largest and the least interesting group. It is vulgar, kindly and dull, sharing with the American colony the Diaz reflex. It has been markedly impoverished by the Revolution but does not propose to do anything about it except continue the customary lamentations. I grew reasonably weary of those lamentations; weary of the pictures of viceroys, governors, archbishops, and ambassadors to France in the family album. These people hark back to their ancestors as persistently as a resident of Charleston.
The gun toter--specifically the militarist and swaggering politico-is the curse of Mexico. He runs to fancy uniforms, fancy women, Rolls Royces, unbridled arrogance, peculation to give a Tammany politician pause, and a complete and sublime indifference to the welfare of his country. He stems, I suspect, directly from Cortez. Wherever one goes in Mexico, one sees the black, ugly headed zopilote, half crow, half vulture, wheeling to drop on carrion. These birds always put me in mind of gun-toting politicos, soaring and plundering their own people and their own land. But the simile is not altogether apt: zopilotes have a scavenging function of some utility; militarists are pure parasite. Carleton Beals has given us the portrait of General Barragan, Carranza's chief of staff. He was under thirty, good looking, a dude, a braggart and a sadist. He affected a gold-headed English cane and foreign mistresses--note the imported goods. He had condemned and seized a string of mansions on the Avenida de la Reforma, the finest in the capital. He was superior to all traffic regulations and tore through the streets in a great yellow car, his feet on the windshield. . . . Such is the general style. The species may be observed in full flower at the Regis bar on any afternoon.
There is normally one general to every 350 soldiers in the Mexican army. The fleet, three ancient gunboats, almost too decrepit to leave their anchorages, had at last accounts 603 men and 555 officers. At least four commodores were tried for treason last year, and acquitted. Mexico, of course, needs no army whatsoever. The only power she could pick a fight with is the United States; which is absurd. She could not reach Cuba or South America, and the Monroe doctrine prevents the Eastern Hemisphere from reaching her. If she were foolish enough to want to swallow a Central American "power," she might mobilize her traffic officers. She needs an internal police force and that is all. It may be objected that the army protects the nation against revolution. It does precisely the opposite. It incites revolution. Its minor generals are forever fomenting revolts that they may become major generals, and its rank and file is always ready to desert by divisions to the revolutionists; an accredited fact upon which every incipient revolution bases its whole strategy. Where else, pray, would it get its arms and munitions?
My private formula for keeping revolutions at a minimum is compounded of 10,000 national police, a picked, well paid and efficient force; and a fleet of one hundred airplanes, half of them bombers. Nothing discourages a bandido centre like a few well placed bombs. No mountain headquarters, however remote, is safe from airplanes. (On the whole I am glad my formula was not in effect in Zapata's time.) Fortunately for Mexico, the generals have not had things all their own way under Obregon and Calles. General Amaro, the present chief of staff, is actually reducing the army, and the huge outlays for military expenditure. He is said to be honest and efficient, and a harsh disciplinarian. He has, however,
a grotesque and ghastly tradition to combat in his officers, and, for all I know, in his own soul.
Peculation reaches its finest flowering among military gentlemen and gun toters generally, but alas, it is not confined to them. It is manifest throughout all classes of white Mexicans. It is even more the normal course of business, if you can believe it, than in the municipal governments of Chicago or New York. With a few honourable exceptions, everybody who has opportunity grafts. It is part of the perquisites of public office. It goes back to colonial days when the only opening for an ambitious creole was to buy a sheriffship or judgeship, Spain having closed all other careers. Never a day went by in Mexico City that I did not hear from one to ten specific accounts of haciendas annexed, mines alienated, commissions received for awarding government contracts, town houses condemned, water rights purloined, new businesses blackjacked, even hotels pilfered from their builders. Discount these stories as you please, and I discounted them heavily, there is no escaping the plain fact that land laws, labour laws, the entire administration of national, state and local governments are honeycombed with peculation-most of it petty, some of it gigantic, all of it deplorable. I am convinced that the Revolution has made inroads in the custom, particularly in recent years, but only a romantic deaf-mute could believe that it had been stopped. Mexicans graft the way Americans drink, in easy and conscience-free disregard of the laws against both. We may amend our law and make ourselves honest men once more, but Mexico has no such easy exit. She must break the zopilote habit if she is ever again to become a great nation. Indians do not graft unless first corrupted by white Mexicans.
This is all reasonably discouraging. It would be perfectly possible of course to gather statistics of assorted peculations, say in New York City in the year 1930, which, ranged row on row, would put a Mexican general to shame, in gross receipts if not in daring. It would be possible to call the roll of Chicago racketeers to the same end. This, however, is but the vulgar argumelt of kettle against pot. In terms of relative wealth, the bill for graft in Mexico is certainly heavier than in the United States, but even if it were lighter, the situation is not one to be condoned by exclaiming "You're another."
Turning to the other side of the ledger, there is reason to believe that never before in her history have there been so many able, idealistic and genuinely patriotic white Mexicans. At intervals, during the revolutionary turmoil since 1910, they have actually controlled the ship of state. They dictated the Constitution of 1917, they have forced reform after reform, they crystallized the movement which led away from Europe and back to the Indian. They have fought-and died-for rural education, for public health, for the destruction of serfdom, for the economic independence of the village, for the restoration of dignity among their fellow citizens, for the cultural unity of Mexico. The group has been small, but it has been select. Its leadership and its tangible achievement have been far in advance of any kindred group in the world, barring Russia, during the past two decades. Mexico, in I910 a feudal state, with a few Victorian trimmings, has blocked out, and partially achieved, programmes in labour legislation, education, land reform, stimulation of the arts, national economic planning, as progressive as they are daring.
I have said that the group has had to fight. Listen to one of its members
I would have resigned from office a dozen times had it not been that one can feel the hope of the nation centred in our department. (That of Education.) We have had to fight for money; we have to criticize others for spending on things that are not educational ; in some instances we have had to take the attitude of the "Anti-foreigners" because we opposed the spending of money in propaganda when we needed it so much for real work... . The millions spent in the celebration of the centennial broke up our budget and actually stopped some of our construction work on school buildings. Our worst enemy is politics. Another serious drawback is the army. While one hundred million pesos are spent in maintaining a military establishment that is' useless for all purposes of progress, a really fundamental work cannot be undertaken in either public works or education. . . . More thought given to the future of the race and less to selfish present-day interests would go further than all the propaganda printed about our achievements. The work of education must be continued if Mexico is to come out of medievalism--not only that, but it must be increased at the expense of personal sacrifice.
The utopia of which these leaders caught a glimpse has not been achieved. Indeed they have been forced time and again to retreat from outposts already captured. Their ranks have been enfiladed by fire from militarist, politician, hacendado, cleric, foreign capitalist. What they hoped to do in 1920 is decimated in 1931. The curve of the revolution is slowing down, but even
if it comes to a dead level it will remain far above the Diaz bench mark.
The government itself is compounded of black and white strands-the gun toter and the idealist. The latter is more articulate, speaking for Mexico on outstanding issues; the former is more active, lowering the whole character of the administration on a hundred fronts. Democracy, as we have hinted more than once, is an empty phrase. There are no well-organized blocs in Mexico--farmers, workers, "corn belt," even associations of business men, to whom the politician is responsible. He goes his own prima-donna way. The explanation of a political manoeuvre may be discovered only after long searching, and it consists of answers to such questions as: Whose nephew are you? Whom did his brother's niece marry? Who is so-and-so's mistress?
Lord Bryce has given us four outstanding reasons why democracy has failed in Latin American countries, to which J. Russell Smith has added a fifth:
The lack of racial unity
The lack of a middle class of small property owners
The lack of transportation and communication facilities by which ideas may be interchanged
The lack of experience in self-government, such as
the American colonies enjoyed before 1787
The lack of popular education
Rural education is today the most hopeful feature in the political and social scene. Here the idealists are concentrating their efforts, with encouraging results. Nothing, of course, is more fundamental. There are some 2,500 village schools in 703 circuits, supported by the federal government. They are for adults as well as children, and the average attendance records show one grown-up to every two youngsters. I visited a number of these federal schools and was excited by them. They tend to grip the imagination of the whole community.
One goes in a whitewashed doorway to hear little Indian girls reading from a Spanish primer in soft voices; one emerges presently to the strains of the village band. It has appeared from nowhere to welcome the visitor and show him how well it can play. Here comes the presidente--in pyjamas and sandals like anybody else--to make a little speech about the village, its crops, water rights and problems. A boy is tugging us by the hand to see his blooded fowls in an immaculate runway in the school courtyard, and another, with enormous enthusiasm, begins to belabour a small hand pump that we may view the new shower-bath in action. The teacher proudly leads us through the new casita campesina, model country house, explaining the advantages of plumbing, real windows and three separate rooms. Two teams of mature youths are giving an exhibition basketball game. By this time the entire village has congregated in the plaza, and the high mountain air is stirring with enthusiasm, interest, pride in achievement. We gravely shake hands with every pupil in the school-thirty children or so-and most of the town besides, and depart, filled with an unreasoning affection for these people; convinced that there is no limit to their possibilities.
The Obregon-Calles regime, men who led the revolution, and who listened, if they did not belong, to the idealists, are still weaving in and out of office. No powerful reactionary group has seized the central power. Education is progressing with more vitality than ever before. Health work is moving slowly forward. The political power of the Church has been broken, perhaps for all time. Labour unions are losing ground, but the industrial worker is still protected by the most advanced labour code extant outside of Russia. Foreign capitalists are making no headway in reclaiming the happy hunting grounds provided by Diaz. Land distribution has come to a full stop, the accent on agrarian reform shifting to rural education. One is not sure that it should not stop, to catch its breath. The acid test will lie in the figures of land concentration. If concentration gains year after year, agrarianism is defeated. . . . And that means another revolution from the bottom, against which no army, no police, no airplanes will ultimately prevail.