‘Mexico-the Workers’ Hell’ by Ricardo Flores Magón from Appeal to Reason (Girard). No. 704. May 29, 1909.
IF MORE crimes are necessary to perpetuate slavery in the United States and Mexico, capitalism will perpetrate them. But capitalism holds a two edged sword, and even though it wound the working class it will mortally wound itself also. Our case exemplifies this. Before the Mexican revolutionists were the objects of persecution many American patriots beheld with rejoicing the power American capitalism was accumulating in Mexico. It was a matter of national pride for those sincere citizens that American plutocrats were acquiring the best mines, the richest lands and the most powerful industries in Mexico. The capitalist press has stimulated and nourished this sentiment in a masterly way and points with price to the fact that the capitalists of the great country of George Washington are aggrandizing themselves. They even feel great pride that ht creatures of wealth have eaten everything up. But this famous sword in hurting us has also wounded those who used it.
A spontaneous movement of protest is agitating the American people. It grows stronger day by day, extending from ocean to ocean, demanding the emancipation of the slaves of Mexico. Through our persecution the outrages existing in the southern republic have become known. Mexicans are miners in political matters, because they cannot vote. There, any one who dares to exercise his constitutional right of suffrage pays for it with his life.
A Land Without Freedom.
The right of freedom of speech, press and assemblage was buried thirty-three years ago, and each year the tyrant waters its grave with fresh blood. Porfirio Diaz appoints all officials, though the constitution provides for their election by the people, who are maltreated, exploited and assassinated. While surrounded by officials, rangers and soldiers one fears danger more than in a dense forest where wild beasts may be hidden behind any tree ready to spring on him any moment.
The Mexican official cannot be honest nor hold in his heart any humanitarian sentiments. Porfirio Diaz chooses the most depraved criminals for public officers. Almost all of the governors of the states, judges, magistrates, political chiefs and municipal presidents, have been bandits of the highway, incendiarists and assassins.
The gendarmarias, place for the rangers, is infested with bandits and highwaymen. Diaz shows great tact in selecting his men. He will know those who will not hesitate to execute his orders.
One of these cowards would stab the mother who gave him birth if that would please Diaz, in whose favor he basks.
The civilized are the prey of these bandits, always hungry for women and money. The humble family is frightened when a beautiful girl is born. The boss and officials will take her from her home to a life of prostitution. The husband of a beautiful woman, or her brothers or father have a death sentence hanging over their heads if they be worthy and will not suffer dishonor. Others pay for their refusal in the jails and peonage in Mexican Siberias.
Exploiting Public Office.
No industry is as lucrative as the exploitation of the public offices. Through them public officials become rich in one night. Almost all of the public taxes go into the pockets of employes of the government and when a political chief, municipal president or a governor wishes to revel in intemperance or entertain an honored guest (as when Elisha Root visited Mexico) persons are arrested and required to pay fines. In that way they procure large sums of money in a few hours. Any writer who dared to raise his voice against this outrage has paid for his audacity with his life, with imprisonment, slavery or exile. Orators have suffered the same fate. If they resort to the ballot they are all slaughtered, men women and children.
The Mexican is taught from childhood to see, hear and be silent. Students are not permitted to take part in political matters. No one can speak aloud in that land of death. The people bear in silence, misfortune and shame. Death hovers over the head of all. Horrible tyranny weighs down working man. For the crime of being poor the workingman must work for the authorities without compensation. He works at night while the rich sleep. Though not owning an inch of ground, the poor dig ditches that the water may not destroy the grounds of the rich, and the fields where the cattle range. They have no automobiles, bicycles or horses, still they must repair the roads. All this work they do without remuneration, without even a morsel of bread.
While the slaves sweat for the aggrandizement of the rich their families die of hunger or prostitute themselves.
Life on the Haciendas.
Working men whom the dictator selects are forced to join the army. The army is formed from honest workingmen who are not servile to the authorities, and also from strikers. The condition of the workers of the hacienda farms was described in a masterly way by George Shoaf in a late number of the Appeal to Reason. There they beat not only the men, but also the women. They have refined instruments to torture the peons. Their wages are from 18 to 37 cents a day Mexican money, 9 to 18½ cents American money. They eat meat only when a cow falls down in the field dead. The meat of course is decomposed and is sold to them at a high price, and they are obliged to buy it. No peon can leave the hacienda without permission of the employer. These poor people are born, grow up and die without knowing any other sport than that which they water every day with their sweat. Their education is not provided for. Sad slaves, indeed. Educated, they would have broken their chains long ago. Their wages are too low for them to exist and they go in debt at the hacienda stores, where they are obliged to buy everything at a high price. So they are always in debt, and at death this debt is inherited by the children, making peons of them. Many peons are in debt $1,000.00, though in their whole lives to pay $10.00 would be an impossibility. Real slaves they are from generation to generation. When haciendas are sold the slaves are reckoned in like so many head of cattle. The price ranges according to the number of peons.
Much has been said of the low wages of the toilers in the factories, mines, etc., and the long hours they work. While the peons work from fourteen to sixteen hours the working people labor the same length of time. Their wages are from 50 to 75 cents Mexican money, or 25 to 37½ cents American and they are no better off than the peons. They are hounded by the authorities, and with each arrest fined heavily, which reduces their miserable pittance.
Protest is Stifled.
All newspapers not edited by the government are prohibited, further brutalizing the masses. They cannot receive visitors in their homes. This is done to prevent interchange of ideas and expressions and above all the propaganda of the agitators of Mexico. There they read revolutionary papers with doors locked. Surprised by the dictatorship they are imprisoned.
The laborers’ defense, the strike, is suppressed by the hecatombs where men, women and children die. Rangers take men by force to do work unhealthful. They would not voluntarily do it at any price. The Mapimie mine and foundry, the “Negociacim Minea de Penoles,” is so dreadful that poisonous vapors come from it that make the inhabitants of the town turn sick. Animals eating grass in Mapimie die of poison. The unhappy laborers working at the foundry contract stomach troubles and their bodies are covered with sores. No one is willing to work there. The authorities provide the foundry with men.
The rangers go through the streets and plazas and take men by force, paying no attention to their protests. The men know they will die in a few weeks working there. Many men are forced to leave other work and go to this foundry. Their wages are from 18 to 37½ cents, but they rarely receive a cent, because only a few work long enough to be paid. They are taken sick in a day or so and are obliged to leave. They are fined 50 cents each day they are absent and the fine is soon equal to the wages due them. They are searched for by the authorities and if able are taken back to work. When holidays are near, like the 16th of September, Holy Week, and the 5th of May, they are locked up at night and in the morning are taken to their work.
All this has been advertised through the persecution directed against us and has given impetus to the movement for our defense. Five years ago there was five hundred million dollars of American capital in Mexico. This sum has increased to one thousand million dollars. The American capitalist prefers to take his capital to Mexico, because each dollar will pay a peon for eight days work. If this continues the American workingmen will be confronted within ten years with as miserable a condition as that of the Mexican peon.
We are hopeful, however, for the movement in our defense is growing greater day by day. It is not a demand for justice from one person alone, but is a voice of a nation that has awakened on the edge of an abyss. Soothed by the voice of the siren of the old political parties of the United States, the people’s eyes have been closed. They were at the brink of disaster and might have fallen never to rise again had they not been awakened by the clash produced by the injustice of which we have been the objects. Our persecution has been the salvation of the American race. The cause of the workers has profited by our imprisonment, and we must be grateful to the capitalists for it. The movement for our defense has awakened the workers to a consciousness of his class interests. It has contributed to that solidarity that unites the oppressed of the earth. What else besides class consciousness does the laborer need to win?
The Class Conflict.
In our case we have seen how divergent are the interests of capital and labor. The increase of every dollar for the capitalists means a loss of one dollar for the laborer. The American capitalist takes his money to Mexico to enjoy the benefits of cheap labor and the American workingman stands discouraged with empty hands before the closed factory, thinking of the family anxiously awaiting him, hoping he will return with a morsel of bread.
Class consciousness only will unite the working class. It is the only pathway leading to salvation of humanity; the economic liberty of the wage earners through the collective means of production.
Please pardon me, dear comrade, for this long letter. We shall have been imprisoned two years within four months. In that time we have not shaken hands with our friends.
We believe, however, the day of liberty is approaching. That day we shall owe to you and all those like you, who have given themselves to the noble work of fighting for the emancipation of the working class.
Through this letter we sent to those who have helped our sincerest thanks.
I had forgotten something which will make you laugh. Two or three weeks before we were brought to Arizona-on the first day of February-the Mexican consul in Los Angeles, Antonio Loranzo, came to me and invited me to leave a life so full of peril. He said as follows: “The Senor General Diaz has the conviction that you are a sincere man of talent and he would like the pleasure of shaking hands with you.” Loranzo continued, “You could collaborate with General Diaz in the public administration of Mexico and instead of a troubled life you would have a pleasant one which you deserve.”
I answered that nothing, nothing but death, could cause me to lay down the fight against the oppression of the people; so I swore when I was a child.
Accept the affectionate regards of Villarreal and Rivera, and the fraternal regards of your comrade, Ricardo Flores Magon.
The Appeal to Reason was among the most important and widely read left papers in the United States. With a weekly run of over 550,000 copies by 1910, it remains the largest socialist paper in US history. Founded by utopian socialist and Ruskin Colony leader Julius Wayland it was published privately in Girard, Kansas from 1895 until 1922. The paper came from the Midwestern populist tradition to become the leading national voice in support of the Socialist Party of America in 1901. A ‘popular’ paper, the Appeal was Eugene Debs main literary outlet and saw writings by Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Mary “Mother” Jones, Helen Keller and many others.
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/appeal-to-reason/090522-appealtoreason-w703.pdf