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Book Excerpt Mexico Before the World

During Calles' term as president, relations between Mexico and the United States cooled significantly. One of the reasons was a suspicion among Americans that Mexico was harboring communist tendencies.

Mexico and Bolshevism

Russian system impossible there, for president points out that capitalism is firmly implanted in southern republic
(From The New York Times, November 27, 1927)

 

El General: Calles with Coolidge at the White House

President Calles and President Calvin Coolidge in the White House gardens after a meeting. Photo courtesy Fideicomiso Archivos Plutarco Elías Calles y Fernando Torreblanca

I am now quite used to being called a Bolshevik by those who are opposed to my political views. But then, here in Mexico, every one whose politics are progressive is termed a Bolshevik. The mere fact that I have placed myself at the head of that powerful section of my countrymen which seeks to remove all that is antiquated and out of date from our present system of government does not in the slightest degree justify my opponents in designating me as an extremist. It simply amounts to this: My enemies do not realize what is actually taking place in the world of today! The social changes going on before our very eyes are radical in the extreme; they are to be noted in every corner of the globe. And herein lies my duty as I conceive it to do what is within my power to direct and hold this turbulent current of shifting opinion in check, so that instead of bringing destruction in its train it will bring prosperity.

In any case, it is still too early to pronounce judgment on the Russian Soviet system. We in Mexico must govern in accordance with the Constitution of 1917. That is why the Soviet as a system of government interests us only in so far as it represents a new philosophy and a new social standpoint in other words, we are interested in its theory, not in its practice.

THE TREND TOWARD INDIVIDUALISM

I have adopted this attitude of moderation not only because my personal inclinations lie that way but because I am convinced that any revolutionary movement here in Mexico which threatens the authority of capital is bound to fail, for the simple reason that such a radical change would be contrary to the Mexican viewpoint. There is in Mexico a pronounced trend in favor of individualism, and this can only be satisfied within the limits set up by the present so-called capitalist system. For this reason the Government will do everything in its power to safeguard the interests of foreign capitalists who invest money in Mexico.

Above and below the surface of the Mexican soil there lie untold treasures. These enormous sources of wealth, however, are of no use to us unless we are in a position to exploit them. Every enterprise bringing capital to exploit these hitherto untapped sources will enjoy the full protection of our laws. On the other hand, capitalists must abide by these laws, too. They must not treat them with contempt or expect to be granted special privileges which would set them above the law. And least of all must they expect to be allowed to make slaves of the Mexicans, rewarding the latter for their toil with nothing more than a miserly wage. If they derive profit from the land, they are expected to benefit the country in return.

WANTS ALL ALIENS NATURALIZED

Every capitalist who comes here should feel himself a Mexican; he should take root here and build up an estate with the idea of remaining here and becoming naturalized. We do not want persons to come over with the idea of making a fortune in the shortest possible time and then leave the country and spend that fortune elsewhere. We must put a stop to that sort of thing without, however, committing the grave error of striking at the liberty of the subject for we pride ourselves on the freedom which the individual citizen enjoys.

We should make it our object to see that every foreigner who comes here takes out his naturalization papers. Thus we shall be following the example set by the United States. For in the States they are expert in assembling those forces necessary to build up the economic structure of the country; these forces are concentrated; they are not allowed to disperse. Hence the rapid progress made by the United States in the last decade. The tendency today is for the States to widen the sphere of their political influence; this is a result of their productive capacity. It arises from surplus energy, and their object is to extend their influence over the whole continent.

But the United States is not composed of a people of robbers, but of producers; they need markets for their manufactured goods and raw material for their industries. Their imperialism, of which the other States of America are afraid, is kept within bounds if it were not, then the hostility of the Latin States would be immediately aroused. If the United States intervenes in the affairs of Latin America, for any reason whatsoever, the consequence will be that the whole of Spanish-speaking America will be alienated.

VALUE OF TRADES UNIONS

Nothing is further from my mind than to interrupt the peaceful economic development of Mexico or to interfere with the present economic system. But I must emphasize the fact that I consider the trade unions to be absolutely indispensable to this capitalist system. For the trade unions serve a two-fold purpose: They keep the growing might of capitalism in check on the one hand; and in the event of an attack being launched on the capitalist ranks the unions serve as a barricade. The trade unions stand or fall by capitalism. But they should never intervene in political matters. Their sphere is purely economic, and once they meddle in politics they lose their character and their significance.

But that does not mean that the individuals of which the trade unions are composed should not take part in politics if they so wish that is their right of citizenship, nay, more than their right, it is their duty. And in any case they will be doing no harm; for the leaders of the Mexican Labor Party have repeatedly shown that they are possessed of a strong sense of responsibility and that they attach more importance to what is likely to benefit the State than to the furtherance of their own ambitions.

I have expressly added the clause "here in Mexico" to my remarks, for I cannot overemphasize the fact that our internal political conditions are in no ways to be compared with those obtaining in the States of Western Europe. And I am absolutely convinced that in carrying out my political plans I can count on the firm support of the middle classes. I have done everything I could to arouse them from their former apathy toward political and social questions, so that now they are ready to take a prominent part in the renaissance which is just beginning. They will in time accept with alacrity the civic responsibilities which they will be asked to assume and for which they are already well fitted.

ATTITUDE OF THE MIDDLE CLASS

The middle classes have answered my call with enthusiasm, and I am certain they will take a decisive part in the further development of the Mexican democracy and in the eventual solution of our social problems.

My friendly feeling for the middle class can in part be ascribed to the fact that I am doing everything in my power to create a class of small peasant proprietors. It is my ambition to see the peasants own the land on which they work. For to make every peasant a proprietor is the best way of avoiding revolution and political unrest. Thus is created a substantial personal, and perhaps in a measure selfish, interest in supporting the existing order of things. Capital can play its part too in the founding of land banks, insurance companies, and so forth. In this way the bonds between capital and labor are strengthened.

But it is not the intention of the Government to split up large estates for this purpose. The voluntary cooperation of the present landed proprietors is sought, so that the acquisition by the peasants of small portions of land will be rendered possible. Under these circumstances, too, common land that is to say land held in common by villages will also be divided up into small holdings. But special laws will have to be formulated in order to prevent big stretches of this common land being controlled by one person.

It is my firm conviction that land held in common and worked in common offers no advantages to the peasants; it only gives rise to unnecessary disputes between neighbors. And when this system of small holdings has become an accomplished fact the means of production will be considerably increased. New railways will be built in districts which have not hitherto been opened up. Great tracts of country, as for instance the States of Coahuila and Durango, will come under the plough and cultivation will be carried out in accordance with the most modern methods. Our plateaus can be reforested in the manner of the Argentine pampas, with the result that our climatic conditions will be bettered.

Once this system has been established we shall be able to encourage the immigration to Mexico of farm laborers from Europe. But if this is to be on the same scale as the immigration to the United States and the Argentine, then the farm laborers in Mexico must be better paid than they are at present.

Up to now industry, agriculture and mining here have been carried on at the expense of the underpaid worker, so that laborers from Europe could never compete with Mexican labor unless wages were raised. But if we make it our business to better the conditions of the people in general, immigration from Europe will be a sources of great wealth, so that in a few decades our population will have doubled.

 

El General - Mexico and Bolshevism pdf Excerpt from: Calles, Plutarco E. Mexico Before the World. Trans. Robert H. Murray. New York: The Academy Press, 1927. 193-198 Download the PDF (352 kb)






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For seven years General Plutarco Elías Calles has loomed indestructible in the Mexican picture, like a Toltec pyramid — huge, harsh, mysterious. His name adds naturally to the list of dictatorial gladiators that the world watches with mixed feelings. . . . He has been called a Mexican Mussolini, an Indian von Hindenburg, a Latin American Lenin.”

— Anita Brenner,
The New York Times, 1937

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