Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Mexican Revolution” (1911)


A lecture delivered in Chicago October 29, 1911.


THAT a nation of people considering themselves enlightened, informed, alert to the interests of the hour, should be so generally and so profoundly ignorant of a revolution taking place in their backyard, so to speak, as the people of the United States are ignorant of the present revolution in Mexico, can be due only to profoundly and generally acting causes. That people of revolutionary principles and sympathies should be so, is inexcusable.

It is as one of such principles and sympathies that I address you, as one interested in every move the people make to throw off their chains, no matter where, no matter how, though naturally my interest is greatest where the move is such as appears to me to be most in consonance with the general course of progress, where the tyranny attacked is what appears to me the most fundamental, where the method followed is to my thinking most direct and unmistakable. And I add that those of you who have such principles and sympathies are in the logic of your own being bound, first, to inform yourselves concerning so great a matter as the revolt of millions of people what they are struggling for, what they are struggling against, and how the struggle stands from day to day, if possible; if not, from week to week, or month to month, as best you can; and second, to spread this knowledge among others, and endeavor to do what little you can to awaken the consciousness and sympathy of others.

One of the great reasons why the mass of the American people know nothing of the Revolution in Mexico, is, that they have altogether a wrong conception of what “revolution” means. Thus ninety-nine out of a hundred persons to whom you broach the subject will say, “Why, I thought that ended long ago. That ended last May”; and this week the press, even the Daily Socialist, reports, “A new revolution in Mexico.” It isn’t a new revolution at all; it is the same revolution, which did not begin with the armed rebellion of last May, which has been going on steadily ever since then, and before then, and is bound to go on for a long time to come, if the other nations keep their hands off and the Mexican people are allowed to work out their own destiny.

What is a revolution? and what is this revolution?

A revolution means some great and subversive change in the social institutions of a people, whether sexual, religious, political, or economic. The movement of the Reformation was a great religious revolution; a profound alteration in human thought a refashioning of the human mind. The general movement towards political change in Europe and America about the close of the eighteenth century, was a revolution. The American and the French revolutions were only prominent individual incidents in it, culminations of the teachings of the Rights of Man.

The present unrest of the world in its economic relations, as manifested from day to day in the opposing combinations of men and money, in strikes and bread-riots, in literature and movements of all kinds demanding a readjustment of the whole or of parts of our wealth-owning and wealth-distributing system, this unrest is the revolution of our time, the economic revolution, which is seeking social change, and will go on until it is accomplished. We are in it; at any moment of our lives it may invade our own homes with its stern demand for self-sacrifice and suffering. Its more violent manifestations are in Liverpool and London to-day, in Barcelona and Vienna to-morrow, in New York and Chicago the day after. Humanity is a seething, heaving mass of unease, tumbling like surge over a slipping, sliding, shifting bottom; and there will never be any ease until a rock bottom of economic justice is reached.

The Mexican revolution is one of the prominent manifestations of this world-wide economic revolt. It possibly holds as important a place in the present disruption and reconstruction of economic institutions, as the great revolution of France held in the eighteenth century movement. It did not begin with the odious government of Diaz nor end with his downfall, any more than the revolution in France began with the coronation of Louis XVI, or ended with his beheading. It began in the bitter and outraged hearts of the peasants, who for generations have suffered under a ready-made system of exploitation, imported and foisted upon them, by which they have been dispossessed of their homes, compelled to become slave-tenants of those who robbed them ; and under Diaz, in case of rebellion to be deported to a distant province, a killing climate, and hellish labor. It will end only when that bitterness is assuaged by very great alteration in the land-holding system, or until the people have been absolutely crushed into subjection by a strong military power, whether that power be a native or a foreign one.

Now the political overthrow of last May, which was followed by the substitution of one political manager for another, did not at all touch the economic situation. It promised, of course; politicians always promise. It promised to consider measures for altering conditions; in the meantime, proprietors are assured that the new government intends to respect the rights of landlords and capitalists, and exhorts the workers to be patient and—frugal!

Frugal! Yes, that was the exhortation in Madero’s paper to men who, when they are able to get work, make twenty-five cents a day. A man owning 5,000,000 acres of land exhorts the disinherited workers of Mexico to be frugal!

The idea that such a condition can be dealt with by the immemorial remedy offered by tyrants to slaves, is like the idea of sweeping out the sea with a broom. And unless that frugality, or in other words, starvation, is forced upon the people by more bayonets and more strategy than appear to be at the government’s command, the Mexican revolution will go on to the solution of Mexico’s land question with a rapidity and directness of purpose not witnessed in any previous upheaval.

For it must be understood that the main revolt is a revolt against the system of land tenure. The industrial revolution of the cities, while it is far from being silent, is not to compare with the agrarian revolt.

Let us understand why. Mexico consists of twenty-seven states, two territories and a federal district about the capital city. Its population totals about 15,000,000. Of these, 4,000,000 are of unmixed Indian descent, people somewhat similar in character to the Pueblos of our own southwestern states, primitively agricultural for an immemorial period, communistic in many of their social customs, and like all Indians, invincible haters of authority. These Indians are scattered throughout the rural districts of Mexico, one particularly well-known and much talked of tribe, the Yaquis, having had its fatherland in the rich northern state of Sonora, a very valuable agricultural country.

The Indian population—especially the Yaquis and the Moquis—have always disputed the usurpations of the invaders’ government, from the days of the early conquest until now, and will undoubtedly continue to dispute them as long as there is an Indian left, or until their right to use the soil out of which they sprang without paying tribute in any shape is freely recognized.

The communistic customs of these people are very interesting, and very instructive too; they have gone on practising them all these hundreds of years, in spite of the foreign civilization that was being grafted upon Mexico (grafted in all senses of the word); and it was not until forty years ago (indeed the worst of it not till twenty-five years ago), that the increasing power of the government made it possible to destroy this ancient life of the people.

By them, the woods, the waters, and the lands were held in common. Any one might cut wood from the forest to build his cabin, make use of the rivers to irrigate his field or garden patch (and this is a right whose acknowledgment none but those who know the aridity of the southwest can fully appreciate the imperative necessity for). Tillable lands were allotted by mutual agreement before sowing, and reverted to the tribe after harvesting, for reallotment. Pasturage, the right to collect fuel, were for all. The habits of mutual aid which always arise among sparsely settled communities were instinctive with them. Neighbor assisted neighbor to build his cabin, to plough his ground, to gather and store this crop.

No legal machinery existed—no tax-gatherer, no justice, no jailer. All that they had to do with the hated foreign civilization was to pay the periodical rent-collector, and to get out of the way of the recruiting officer when he came around. Those two personages they regarded with spite and dread; but as the major portion of their lives was not in immediate contact with them, they could still keep on in their old way of life in the main.

With the development of the Diaz regime, which came into power in 1876 (and when I say the Diaz regime I do not especially mean the man Diaz, for I think he has been both overcursed and overpraised, but the whole force which has steadily developed centralized power from then on, and the whole policy of “civilizing Mexico,” which was the Diaz boast), with its development, I say, this Indian life has been broken up, violated with as ruthless a hand as ever tore up a people by the roots and cast them out as weeds to wither in the sun.

Historians relate with horror the iron deeds of William the Conqueror, who in the eleventh century created the New Forest by laying waste the farms of England, de- stroying the homes of the people to make room for the deer. But his edicts were mercy compared with the action of the Mexican government toward the Indians. In order to introduce “progressive civilization” the Diaz regime granted away immense concessions of land, to native and foreign capitalists—chiefly foreign, indeed, though there were enough of native sharks as well. Mostly these concessions were granted to capitalistic combinations, which were to build railroads (and in some cases did so in a most uncalled for and uneconomic way), “develop” mineral resources, or establish “modern industries.”

The government took no note of the ancient tribal rights or customs, and those who received the concessions proceeded to enforce their property rights. They introduced the unheard of crime of “trespass.” They forbade the cutting of a tree, the breaking of a branch, the gathering of the fallen wood in the forests. They claimed the watercourses, forbidding their free use to the people; and it was as if one had forbidden to us the rains of heaven. The unoccupied land was theirs; no hand might drive a plow into the soil without first obtaining permission from a distant master—a permission granted on the condition that the product be the landlord’s, a small, pitifully small, wage, the worker’s.

Nor was this enough: in 1894 was passed “The Law of Unappropriated Lands.” By that law, not only were the great stretches of vacant, in the old time common, land appropriated, but the occupied lands themselves to which the occupants could not show a legal title were to be “denounced”; that is, the educated and the powerful, who were able to keep up with the doings of the government, went to the courts and said that there was no legal title to such and such land, and put in a claim for it. And the usual hocus-pocus of legality being complied with (the actual occupant of the land being all the time blissfully unconscious of the law, in the innocence of his barbarism supposing that the working of the ground by his generations of forbears was title all-sufficient) one fine day the sheriff comes upon this hapless dweller on the heath and drives him from his ancient habitat to wander an outcast.

Such are the blessings of education. Mankind invents a written sign to aid its intercommunication; and forthwith all manner of miracles are wrought with the sign. Even such a miracle as that a part of the solid earth passes under the mastery of an impotent sheet of paper; and a distant bit of animated flesh which never even saw the ground, acquires the power to expel hundreds, thousands, of like bits of flesh, though they grew upon that ground as the trees grow, labored it with their hands, and fertilized it with their bones for a thousand years.

“This law of unappropriated lands,” says William Archer, “has covered the country with Naboth’s Vineyards.” I think it would require a Biblical prophet to describe the “abomination of desolation” it has made.

It was to become lords of this desolation that the men who play the game landlords who are at the same time governors and magistrates, enterprising capitalists seeking investments connived at the iniquities of the Diaz regime; I will go further and say devised them.

The Madero family alone owns some 8,000 square miles of territory; more than the entire state of New Jersey. The Terrazas family, in the state of Chihuahua, owns 25,000 square miles; rather more than the entire state of West Virginia, nearly one-half the size of Illinois. What was the plantation owning of our southern states in chattel slavery days, compared with this? And the peon’s share for his toil upon these great estates is hardly more than was the chattel slave’s wretched housing, wretched food, and wretched clothing.

It is to slaves like these that Madero appeals to be “frugal.”

It is of men who have thus been disinherited that our complacent fellow-citizens of Anglo-Saxon origin, say: “Mexicans! What do you know about Mexicans? Their whole idea of life is to lean up against a fence and smoke cigarettes.” And pray, what idea of life should a people have whose means of life in their own way have been taken from them? Should they be so mighty anxious to convert their strength into wealth for some other man to loll in?

It reminds me very much of the answer given by a negro employee on the works at Fortress Monroe to a companion of mine who questioned him good-humoredly on his easy idleness when the foreman’s back was turned. “Ah ain’t goin’ to do no white man’s work, fo’ Ah don’ get no white man’s pay.”

But for the Yaquis, there was worse than this. Not only were their lands seized, but they were ordered, a few years since, to be deported to Yucatan. Now Sonora, as I said, is a northern state, and Yucatan one of the southernmost. Yucatan hemp is famous, and so is Yucatan fever, and Yucatan slavery on the hemp plantations. It was to that fever and that slavery that the Yaquis were deported, in droves of hundreds at a time, men, women and children droves like cattle droves, driven and beaten like cattle. They died there, like flies, as it was meant they should. Sonora was desolated of her rebellious people, and the land became “pacific” in the hands of the new landowners. Too pacific in spots. They had not left people enough to reap the harvests.

Then the government suspended the deportation act, but with the provision that for every crime committed by a Yaqui, five hundred of his people be deported. This statement is made in Madero’s own book.

Now what in all conscience would any one with decent human feeling expect a Yaqui to do? Fight! As long as there was powder and bullet to be begged, borrowed, or stolen; as long as there is a garden to plunder, or a hole in the hills to hide in!

When the revolution burst out, the Yaquis and other Indian peoples, said to the revolutionists: “Promise us our lands back, and we will fight with you.” And they are keeping their word, magnificently. All during the summer they have kept up the warfare. Early in September, the Chihuahua papers reported a band of 1,000 Yaquis in Sonora about to attack El Anil; a week later 500 Yaquis had seized the former quarters of the federal troops at Pitahaya. This week it is reported that federal troops are dispatched to Ponoitlan, a town in Jalisco, to quell the Indians who have risen in revolt again because their delusion that the Maderist government was to re- store their land has been dispelled. ‘Like reports from Sinaloa. In the terrible state of Yucatan, the Mayas are in active rebellion; the reports say that “the authorities and leading citizens of various towns have been seized by the malcontents and put in prison.” What is more interesting is, that the peons have seized not only “the leading citizens,” but still more to the purpose have seized the plantations, parceled them, and are already gathering the crops for themselves.

Of course, it is not the pure Indians alone who form the peon class of Mexico. Rather more than double the number of Indians are mixed breeds; that is, about 8,000,000, leaving less than 3,000,000 of pure white stock. The mestiza, or mixed breed population, have followed the communistic instincts and customs of their Indian forbears; while from the Latin side of their make-up, they have certain tendencies which work well together with their Indian hatred of authority.

The mestiza, as well as the Indians, are mostly ignorant in book-knowledge, only about sixteen per cent, of the whole population of Mexico being able to read and write. It was not within the program of the “civilizing” regime to spend money in putting the weapon of learning in the people’s hands. But to conclude that people are necessarily unintelligent because they are illiterate, is in itself a rather unintelligent proceeding.

Moreover, a people habituated to the communal customs of an ancient agricultural life do not need books or papers to tell them that the soil is the source of wealth, and they must “get back to the land,” even if their intelligence is limited.

Accordingly, they have got back to the land. In the state of Morelos, which is a small, south-central state, but a very important one being next to the Federal District, and by consequence to the city of Mexico there has been a remarkable land revolution. General Zapata, whose name has figured elusively in newspaper reports now as having made peace with Madero, then as breaking faith, next wounded and killed, and again resurrected and in hiding, then anew on the warpath and proclaimed by the provisional government the arch-rebel who must surrender unconditionally and be tried by court-martial; who has seized the strategic points on both the railroads running through Morelos, and who just a few days ago broke into the federal district, sacked a town, fought successfully at two or three points, with the federals, blew out two railroad bridges and so frightened the deputies in Mexico City that they are clamoring for all kinds of action ; this Zapata, the fires of whose military camps are springing up now in Guerrero, Oaxaca and Puebla as well, is an Indian with a long score to pay, and all an Indian’s satisfaction in paying it. He appears to be a fighter of the style of our revolutionary Marion and Sumter; the country in which he is operating is mountainous, and guerilla bands are exceedingly difficult of capture; even when they are defeated, they have usually succeeded in inflicting more damage than they have received, and they always get away.

Zapata has divided up the great estates of Morelos from end to end, telling the peasants to take possession. They have done so. They are in possession, and have already harvested their crops. Morelos has a population of some 212,000.

In Puebla reports in September told us that eighty leading citizens had waited on the governor to protest against the taking possession of the land by the peasantry. The troops were deserting, taking horses and arms with them. It is they no doubt who are now fighting with Zapata. In Chihuahua, one of the largest states, prisons have been thrown open and the prisoners recruited as rebels; a great hacienda was attacked and the horses run off, whereupon the peons rose and joined the attacking party. In Sinaloa, a rich northern state famous in the southwestern United States some years ago as the field of a great co-operative experiment in which Mr. C. B. Hoffman, one of the former editors of The Chicago Daily Socialist, was a leading spirit this week’s paper reports that the former revolutionary general, Juan Banderas, is heading an insurrection second in importance only to that led by Zapata.

In the southern border state of Chiapas, the taxes in many places could not be collected. Last week news items said that the present government had sent General Paz there, with federal troops, to remedy that state of affairs. In Tabasco, the peons refused to harvest the crops for their masters; let us hope they have imitated their brothers in Morelos and gathered them for them- selves.

The Maderists have announced that a stiff repressive campaign will be inaugurated at once; if we are to believe the papers, we are to believe Madero guilty of the imbecility of saying, “Five days after my inauguration the rebellion will be crushed.” Just why the crushing has to wait till five days after the inauguration does not appear. I conceive there must have been some snickering among the reactionary deputies if such an announcement was really made; and some astonished query among his followers.

What are we to conclude from all these reports? That the Mexican people are satisfied? That it’s all good and settled? What should we think if we read that the people, not of Lower but of Upper, California had turned out the ranch owners, had started to gather in the field products for themselves and that the Secretary of War had sent United States troops to attack some thousands of armed men (Zapata has had 3,000 under arms the whole summer and that force is now greatly increased) who were defending that expropriation? if we read that in the state of Illinois the farmers had driven off the tax collector? that the coast states were talking of secession and forming an independent combination? that in Pennsylvania a division of the federal army was to be dispatched to overpower a rebel force of fifteen hundred armed men doing guerilla work from the mountains? that the prison doors of Maryland, within hailing distance of Washington City, were being thrown open by armed revoltees? Should we call it a condition of peace? Regard it a proof that the people were appeased? We would not: we would say that revolution was in full swing. And the reason you have thought it was all over in Mexico, from last May till now, is that the Chicago press, like the eastern, northern, and central press in general, has said nothing about this steady march of revolt. Even The Socialist has been silent. Now that the flame has shot up more spectacularly for the moment, they call it “a new revolution.”

That the papers pursue this course is partly due to the generally acting causes that produce our northern indifference, which I shall presently try to explain, and partly to the settled policy of capitalized interest in controlling its mouthpieces in such a manner as to give their present henchmen, the Maderists, a chance to pull their chestnuts out of the fire. They invested some $10,000,000 in this bunch, in the hope that they may be able to accomplish the double feat of keeping capitalist possessions intact and at the same time pacifying the people with specious promises. They want to lend them all the countenance they can, till the experiment is well tried; so they deliberately suppress revolutionary news.

Among the later items of interest reported by the Los Angeles Times are those which announce an influx of ex-officials and many-millioned landlords of Mexico, who are hereafter to be residents of Los Angeles. What is the meaning of it? Simply that life in Mexico is not such a safe and comfortable proposition as it was, and that for the present they prefer to get such income as their agents can collect without themselves running the risk of actual residence.

Of course it is understood that some of this notable efflux (the supporters of Reyes, for example, who have their own little rebellions in Tabasco and San Luis Potosi this week) are political reactionists, scheming to get back the political loaves and fishes into their own hands. But most are simply those who know that their property right is safe enough to be respected by the Maderist government, but that the said government is not strong enough to put down the innumerable manifestations of popular hatred which are likely to terminate fatally to themselves if they remain there.

Nor is all of this fighting revolutionary; not by any means. Some is reactionary, some probably the satisfaction of personal grudge, much, no doubt, the expression of general turbulency of a very unconscious nature. But granting all that may be thrown in the balance, the main thing, the mighty thing, the regenerative revolution is the eeappropriation of the land by the peasants. Thousands upon thousands of them are doing it.

Ignorant peasants: peasants who know nothing about the jargon of land reformers or of Socialists. Yes: that’s just the glory of it! Just the fact that it is done by ignorant people; that is, people ignorant of book theories; but not ignorant, not so ignorant by half, of life on the land, as the theory-spinners of the cities. Their minds are simple and direct; they act accordingly. For them, there is one way to “get back to the land”; i. e., to ignore the machinery of paper land-holding (in many instances they have burned the records of the title-deeds) and proceed to plough the ground, to sow and plant and gather, and keep the product themselves.

Economists, of course, will say that these ignorant people, with their primitive institutions and methods, will not develop the agricultural resources of Mexico, and that they must give way before those who will so develop its resources; that such is the law of human development.

In the first place, the abominable political combination, which gave away, as recklessly as a handful of soap-bubbles, the agricultural resources of Mexico gave them away to the millionaire speculators who were to develop the country were the educated men of Mexico. And this is what they saw fit to do with their higher intelligence and education. So the ignorant may well distrust the good intentions of educated men who talk about improvements in land development.

In the second place, capitalistic land-ownership, so far from developing the land in such a manner as to support a denser population, has depopulated whole districts, immense districts.

In the third place, what the economists do not say is, that the only justification for intense cultivation of the land is, that the product of such cultivation may build up the bodies of men (by consequence their souls) to richer and fuller manhood. It is not merely to pile up figures of so many million bushels of wheat and corn produced in a season; but that this wheat and corn shall first go into the stomachs of those who planted it and in abundance; to build up the brawn and sinew of the arms that work the ground, not meanly maintaining them in a half-starved condition. And second, to build up the strength of the rest of the nation who are willing to give needed labor in exchange. But never to increase the fortunes of idlers who dissipate it. This is the purpose, and the only purpose, of tilling soil; and the working of it for any other purpose is waste, waste both of land and of men.

In the fourth place, no change ever was, or ever can be, worked out in any society, except by the mass of the people. Theories may be propounded by educated people, and set down in books, and discussed in libraries, sitting-rooms and lecture-halls; but they will remain barren, unless the people in mass work them out. If the change proposed is such that it is not adaptable to the minds of the people for whose ills it is supposed to be a remedy, then it will remain what it was, a barren theory.

Now the conditions in Mexico have been and are so desperate that some change is imperative. The action of the peasants proves it. Even if a strong military dictator shall arise, he will have to allow some provision going towards peasant proprietorship. These unlettered, but determined, people must be dealt with now; there is no such thing as “waiting till they are educated up to it.” Therefore the wisdom of the economists is wisdom out of place rather, relative unwisdom. The people never can be educated, if their conditions are to remain what they were under the Diaz regime. Bodies and minds are both too impoverished to be able to profit by a spread of theoretical education, even if it did not require unavailable money and indefinite time to prepare such a spread. Whatever economic change is wrought, then, must be such as the people in their present state of comprehension can understand and make use of. And we see by the reports what they understand. They understand they have a right upon the soil, a right to use it for themselves, a right to drive off the invader who has robbed them, to destroy landmarks and title-deeds, to ignore the tax-gatherer and his demands.

And however primitive their agricultural methods may be, one thing is sure; that they are more economical than any system which heaps up fortunes by destroying men.

Moreover, who is to say how they may develop their methods once they have a free opportunity to do so? It is a common belief of the Anglo-Saxon that the Indian is essentially lazy. The reasons for his thinking so are two: under the various tyrannies and robberies which white men in general, and Anglo-Saxons in particular (they have even gone beyond the Spaniard) have inflicted upon Indians, there is no possible reason why an Indian should want to work, save the idiotic one that work in itself is a virtuous and exalted thing, even if by it the worker increases the power of his tyrant. As William Archer says: “If there are men, and this is not denied, who work for no wage, and with no prospect or hope of any reward, it would be curious to know by what motive other than the lash or the fear of the lash, they are induced to go forth to their labor in the morning.” The second reason is, that an Indian really has a different idea of what he is alive for than an Anglo-Saxon has. And so have the Latin peoples. This different idea is what I meant when I said that the mestiza have certain tendencies inherited from the Latin side of their make-up which work well together with their Indian hatred of authority. The Indian likes to live; to be his own master; to work when he pleases and stop when he pleases. He does not crave many things, but he craves the enjoyment of the things that he has. He feels himself more a part of nature than a white man does. All his legends are of wanderings with nature, of forests, fields, streams, plants, animals. He wants to live with the same liberty as the other children of earth. His philosophy of work is, Work so as to live care-free. This is not laziness; this is sense to the person who has that sort of make-up.

Your Latin, on the other hand, also wants to live; and having artistic impulses in him, his idea of living is very much in gratifying them. He likes music and song and dance, picture-making, carving, and decorating. He doesn’t like to be forced to create his fancies in a hurry; he likes to fashion them, and admire them, and improve and refashion them, and admire again; and all for the fun of it. If he is ordered to create a certain design or a number of objects at a fixed price in a given time, he loses his inspiration ; the play becomes work, and hateful work. So he, too, does not want to work, except what is requisite to maintain himself in a position to do those things that he likes better.

Your Anglo-Saxon’s idea of life, however, is to create the useful and the profitable whether he has any use or profit out of it or not and to keep busy, busy; to bestir himself “like the Devil in a holy water font.” Like all other people, he makes a special virtue of his own natural tendencies, and wants all the world to “get busy”; it doesn’t so much matter to what end this business is to be conducted, provided the individual scrabbles. Whenever a true Anglo-Saxon seeks to enjoy himself, he makes work out of that too, after the manner of a certain venerable English shopkeeper who in company with his son visited the Louvre. Being tired out with walking from room to room, consulting his catalogue, and reading artists’ names, he dropped down to rest; but after a few moments rose resolutely and faced the next room, saying, “Well, Alfred, we’d better be getting through our work.”

There is much question as to the origin of the various instincts. Most people have the impression that the chief source of variation lies in the difference in the amount of sunlight received in the native countries inhabited of the various races. Whatever the origin is, these are the broadly marked tendencies of the people. And “Business” seems bent not only upon fulfilling its own fore- ordained destiny, but upon making all the others fulfill it too. Which is both unjust and stupid. There is room enough in the world for the races to try out their several tendencies and make their independent contributions to the achievements of humanity, without imposing them on those who revolt at them.

Granting that the population of Mexico, if freed from this foreign “busy” idea which the government imported from the north and imposed on them with such severity in the last forty years, would not immediately adopt improved methods of cultivation, even when they should have free opportunity to do so, still we have no reason to conclude that they would not adopt so much of it as would fit their idea of what a man is alive for; and if that actually proved good, it would introduce still further development. So that there would be a natural, and therefore solid, economic growth which would stick; while a forced development of it through the devastation of the people is no true growth. The only way to make it go, is to kill out the Indians altogether, and transport the “busy” crowd there, and then keep on transporting for several generations, to fill up the ravages the climate will make on such an imported population.

The Indian population of our states was in fact dealt with in this murderous manner. I do not know how grateful the reflection may be to those who materially profited by its extermination; but no one who looks forward to the final unification and liberation of man, to the incorporation of the several goodnesses of the various races in the one universal race, can ever read those pages of our history without burning shame and fathomless regret.

I have spoken of the meaning of revolution in general; of the meaning of the Mexican revolution chiefly an agrarian one; of its present condition. I think it should be apparent to you that in spite of the electoral victory of the now ruling power, it has not put an end even to the armed rebellion, and cannot, until it proposes some plan of land restoration; and that it not only has no inward disposition to do, but probably would not dare to do, in view of the fact that immense capital financed it into power.

As to what amount of popular sentiment was actually voiced in the election, it is impossible to say. The dailies informed us that in the Federal District where there are 1,000,000 voters, the actual vote was less than 450,000. They offered no explanation. It is impossible to explain it on the ground that we explain a light vote in our own communities, that the people are indifferent to public questions; for the people of Mexico are not now indifferent, whatever else they may be. Two explanations are possible: the first, and most probable, that of govern- mental intimidation; the second, that the people are convinced of the uselessness of voting as a means of settling their troubles. In the less thickly populated agricultural states, this is very largely the case; they are relying upon direct revolutionary action. But although there was guerrilla warfare in the Federal District, even before the election, I find it unlikely that more than half the voting population there abstained from voting out of conviction, though I should be glad to be able to believe they did.

However, Madero and his aids are in, as was expected; the question is, how will they stay in? As Diaz did, and in no other way if they succeed in developing Diaz’s sometime ability; which so far they are wide from having done, though they are resorting to the most vindictive and spiteful tactics in their persecution of the genuine revolutionists, wherever such come near their clutch.

To this whole turbulent situation three outcomes are possible:

1. A military dictator must arise, with sense enough to make some substantial concessions, and ability enough to pursue the crushing policy ably; or

2. The United States must intervene in the interests of American capitalists and landholders, in case the peasant revolt is not put down by the Maderist power. And that will be the worst thing that can possibly happen, and against which every worker in the United States should protest with all his might; or

3. The Mexican peasantry will be successful, and freedom in land become an actual fact. And that means the death-knell of great landholding in this country also, for what people is going to see its neighbor enjoy so great a triumph, and sit on tamely itself under landlordism?

Whatever the outcome be, one thing is certain: it is a great movement, which all the people of the world should be eagerly watching. Yet as I said at the beginning, the majority of our population know no more about it than of a revolt on the planet Jupiter. First because they are so, so, busy; they scarcely have time to look over the baseball score and the wrestling match; how could they read up on a revolution! Second, they are supremely egotistic and concerned in their own big country with its big deeds such as divorce scandals, vice-grafting, and auto races. Third, they do not read Spanish, and they have an ancient hostility to all that smells Spanish. Fourth, from our cradles we were told that whatever happened in Mexico was a joke. Revolutions, or rather rebellions, came and went, about like April showers, and they never meant anything serious. And in this indeed there was only too much truth it was usually an excuse for one place-hunter to get another one’s scalp. And lastly, as I have said, the majority of our people do not know that a revolution means a fundamental change in social life, and not a spectacular display of armies.

It is not much a few can do to remove this mountain of indifference; but to me it seems that every reformer, of whatever school, should wish to watch this movement with the most intense interest, as a practical manifestation of a wakening of the land-workers themselves to the recognition of what all schools of revolutionary economics admit to be the primal necessity the social repossession of the land.

And whether they be victorious or defeated, I, for one, bow my head to those heroic strugglers, no matter how ignorant they are, who have raised the cry Land and Liberty, and planted the blood-red banner on the burning soil of Mexico.

Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Mexican Revolution,” Mother Earth 6 no. 10 (December 1911): 301-306; 6 no. 11 (January 1912): 335-341; 6 no. 12 (February 1912): 374-380.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.