Mexican History: Revolution--Social Structure

rancheros
Figure 1.--Am American in Mexico during the Revolution took this AZO postcard back snapshot which he labeled only as 'Mexican Children During Mexican War 1914'. The children look Spanish so we are guessingthat they are the children of a small-scale ranchero."

The Mexican Revolution was at its heart was based on the country's failure as a nation. Mexico like much of Latin America had failed to create societies that either brought a decent standrd of life to its people or generated any spark of learning leading to economic or scientific advance. In sharp contrast Mexico found itself located next to th greatst industrial powergouse of the world and one that was rapidly rising--the United States. The question becomes, why had Mexico and the rest of Latin America failed so badly. The Marxist explanation of this is American and European exploitation. hee is in fact little evidence of this. In fact, the countries most involved in intenational tradewere for the most part the most advanced. And the both Spain an Portugal failed to develop into prosperous advanced countries. New Spain was founded about a century before the first English colony and even in the colonial era, Mexico showed no indication of developing a modern society. What is more likely the cause is the country's social structure. The structure of the upper middle and lower class all acted to prevent the development of a modern, prosperous country. The Porfiriato made some progress in modenizing Mexico's infrastructure, but not progress in creating a modern society. And much of the benefit of the Porfiriato flowed to groups whose interets lay in maintaiong the existing docial Structure. The upper-class controlled much of the country's wealth. And a relatively small middle-class saw its intererts laid as primarily with supporting the upper-class an existing social structure.

Importance

The Mexican Revolution was at its heart was based on the country's failure as a nation. Mexico like much of Latin America had failed to create societies that either brought a decent standrd of life to its people or generated any spark of learning leading to economic or scientific advance. In sharp contrast Mexico found itself located next to th greatst industrial powergouse of the world and one that was rapidly rising--the United States. The question becomes, why had Mexico and the rest of Latin America failed so badly. The Marxist explanation of this is American and European exploitation. hee is in fact little evidence of this. In fact, the countries most involved in intenational tradewere for the most part the most advanced. And the both Spain an Portugal failed to develop into prosperous advanced countries. New Spain was founded about a century before the first English colony and even in the colonial era, Mexico showed no indication of developing a modern society. What is more likely the cause is the country's social structure.

Structure

The structure of the upper middle and lower class all acted to prevent the development of a modern, prosperous country. The Porfiriato made some progress in modenizing Mexico's infrastructure, but not progress in creating a modern society. And much of the benefit of the Porfiriato flowed to groups whose interets lay in maintaiong the existing docial Structure. The upper-class controlled much of the country's wealth. And a relatively small middle-class saw its intererts laid as primarily with supporting the upper-class an existing social structure.

Upper Class

The Mexican upper class consisted of families which had accumulated great wealth, primarily based on land holdings. It was essentilly a landed aristocracy. Some of the families date back to the Conquistadires that defeated the Aztecs and other Native American peoples. Other has more recent Mexican histories. The establishment began with the granting of land to the Conquistadores--encomiendas. Often the holdings were built over time by encroaching on the lands of small propriters, in many cases Native american communities. With their vast holdings, the hcenddos lived in a near regal style on vast hacienda estates. During the Porfiriato and steps toward modernizing exico, the upper class became even richer, able to manipulate the legal system and invest in the new industries being created. The upper class was not limited to the hacendados, although they domintd the system. there were also mine owners, the upper-echelon of the bureaucracy, and the most important figure in the rising business class.

Middle class

The Mexivan middle-class was very small, as was was the case throughout Latin America. Only in contries that had begun to modernize and industrialize do we see the rise of the middle class. The Mexican middle-class was described by one historian as, "A bureaycratic class living with its eyes trained on the upper class, depising mannual labor and always anxious to improve its position by legitimate or illegitimate means as as to be able in greater security and greater luxury ..." [Handman, p. 207.] lso included in the middle class was the very conservative clergy. Mexico was, however changing, in part because of the Porfiriato. Therewas a new generation of rising young men, fired wirh idealism. Francisco Madero was one of them. Rhey believed in la and thar elections should be elections. And into this mix came foreigners. Mex with technical knowledge needed by the railroads and new industries. They came from countries enjoying the rule of law. Another group forming the lrural ower middle-class group were the larger rural rancheros as well as foremen and supervisors on the large estatespolitical overseers, and perhaps some of higher-class personal servants. Much of the middle class accordin to one source, "... lived in constant fear of a rainly day. The lower middle class barely made both ends meet." [Handman, p. 208.]

Lower class

Most of the rural popoulation very poor and fell into two destinct an uneven groups. The first managed to live in at or just above the poverty, but with some basic dignity. This included independent farmers with small land holdings, too small to support aecent life style. They were also under pressurof Grandes always eager to acquire more land. And many of the rurl lower-middle class was poor enpigh to crosscover the border element into the lower class. The great bulk of the lower class and rural population was the landless agrucultural labor. The lower class continued the miserable existence that had beenthe case since the Conquest and colonial times. The Porfiriato had introduced industry, but the growing urban wirk force while brought unto the money economy, continued to exist at very low levels. One author provides a concise picture of the Mexican lower classes. "The city proletariat lived from hand to mouth. The ranchero lived in dread in dread of of the lage landowner's [hacendados) machinations to deprive him of his landwhile himself was constantly scheming how to deprive the Indian who happened to possess apatch of ground. The large mass of agricultural laborers [peones] were either managing to eke out a miserable existence by means of that very path of ground with the additional labor on the land of the large landowner (peon eventual), or living under a modifued serom (peon acasillado) on the land of the hacendado, fed on nothing but corn cakes [tortillas] spiced with chile, a semi-occasional allowance of beans, an occasional allowance of meat, but a reasonably steady flow of pulque [moonshine tequilla]." [Handman, p. 208.] The level of supression an exploitation os difficult to measure in quantative terms. This is because much of the rural poor were barely involved in the monied economy. Ans since especially the Indians hgardly involved at all. And even if involved, wages are an imperfect measuring tool. This is because exchnge rates fluctuate and high wages may nor be a valid indicator independent of prices. One researcher using adult heights provides insights as to how thevlower clasess fared during the Porforito. He found that the benefits of industrialization fomented dyrin the Díaz regime 'did not have a favorable impact on the wellbeing of the laboring population.' [Lopez-Alonso]

The Porfiriato System

The Porfiriato introduced change in Mexicco's beinning the modernizatio of the country through limited industrialization. This created an urbn proleterit for the first time, but did nothing to broaden the welfare of the lower lss, Instead the benefits flowed mostly to the upper-class which supoorted the regime. Mexican society was essentially aowder keg and the addition of an urban proleteit added a new source of instability to the rising resentment on the countryside. Porfirio Diaz and his cientificos led by José Yves Limantour, ecretary of Finance, promoted industrial development and kept the system in place for 30 years, but only by ruling with an iron hand. There were two basic methods. The first nergid od the Porfirato was the iron hand, developing an essentially lawless police state. According to one observer, "Diaz's method was a quick, direct, and immediately effective one. It consisted in using a devoted bureaucracy for the purpose of meting out death and destuctionto any opposition whatsoever, in gading the press and in otherwise stifling any attempt at the expresion of an independent opinion which might be interpretd as sunversive pf the existing order of things." [Handman, p. 208.] Díaz also sought to incorporate some usenters into the Porfirato, usually by expnding the beauracracy. This was, however, a destabiling effort because as the bureaucracy increased in size. so did Díaz's ability to pay attractive salaries. The second metod of controling the country was developed by Limantour, the acknowledgd captain of the cientificos and posible sucessor to Díaz. Limantour developed a more benign approach based on a a racial and sociological assessment of Mexican society. He concluded mass of the Indian and Mestizo agricultural population was essentialy iredeemable in terms of higher culture and was essentilly doomed by nature to be the slave or serf of Mexicans of European orgins. Limantour wa birn in Mexico but dscended from a French family and his cultural ties were with Frabce, not Mexico. His felt that his assessment of the rural poor assessments of the rural poor was safe despite their huge share of the population. He believed the rural msses would not revolt despite their poverty unless led by urban leadees. His policies werethus aimed at keeping the urban population contented by providing bread--relatively low cost food. As to afford this he sought to make Mexico a safe nd profutavke place for foreign invesment. The draw wasMexico's mineral resources. Foreign investment would create jobs for the urban proleterit and increasing incok fir the state through both taxes and trade duties (imports and exports). The income could maintain both the army and increasing number of bureaucrats need ed to un the Porfiriato. [Handman, p. 209.] An American observer describes the ynamic that maintaind the Pofiriato in power for three decades. "The two systems worked hand in hand. The first guaranteed the peace necessary for capital known traditionlly to be timid; the second guaranteed the capital for the maintaining of that peace of supression and incorportion. A working class hat was cowed and afraid, a bureaucratic class standing under the cirnucopia dhower of the treasury and upper class sharing with foreign cpitalthe blessings of investment nd dividends in imines nd public utilities why could not the peace be kept, and the status quo prolonged indefinitely?" [Handman, p. 209.]

Sources

Handman, Max Sylvius. "The Mexican Revolution and the standard of living," The Southwestern Political Science Quarterly Vol. I, No. 3 (December 1920), pp. 207-18.

Lpez-Alonso, Moramay. "Growth with inequality: Living standards in Mexico, 1850-1950," .Journl of Latin American Studies Vol. 39 (Cammbridge University Press: United Kingdom, 2007), pp. 81-101. The author used data on the height of Federal and militua recruits and on pas port applications. Height is a oroxy for living stndards and showed no benefit to laboring classes, but imprivments among elites. The data also showed benrfits to the lnoring clss of the wek=lfre prograns of the PRI duting the Cárdenas administration.







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Created: 9:09 AM 1/24/2016
Last updated: 9:09 AM 1/24/2016