Dictator General Porfirio Diaz had ruled Mexico for thirty-five years. This he did with the help of the army, a group of professional bureaucrats and the upper class that possessed huge chunks of land. The shrewd leader used oppression and consensus tactics to rule Mexico. The dictator ensured that the upper class enjoyed privileges that other people only dreamt of to ensure that they continued supporting his leadership. He rewarded them with land while the poor were coerced to support his regime. Modernization was a significant historical period that saw many societies progressively transform and transition from traditional or pre-modern societies to modern ones. Modernization was supposed to be beneficial to every member of the society. However, in many instances, it only benefited some people while a huge number of others suffered. This was the case in Mexico the political class benefited from modernization and lived in cities while the poor and peasants only suffered. The upper class living in the cities enjoyed at the expense of the peasants.
The Mexican president depended on his export-based economic approach to rule the country. As a result of improved transportation and the burgeoning markets that came along with modernization land values in the country skyrocketed. This led to massive land grabbing from the poor and peasants farmers who living in rural Mexico. Political class and massive landowners grabbed land from the poor as the government watched and supported the injustices. Many foreign investors wanted the land to invest their money in leading to and grabbing. As a result of insatiable demand for land in the country, many poor people lost their land to the political and government class without any justice. As the courts were too weak and compromised to protect them. Communal land such as the communally held Indian villages was not spared by the land thirst political class. The poor not only lost their land to the rich but also became a source of cheap labor for them. Their land would be grabbed and they would be forced to go and work for the same people who had grabbed their land. Modernization for the peasant farmers in Mexico was devastating. In 1907 the downturn led to less and less employment opportunities for the poor and the landless which got them to the boiling point.
On the other hand, the downturn also spelt doom for the president and the political class as the president could not afford to pay for cooperation. President Diaz would pay for alliances through jobs, business subsidies, and tax exceptions among others. His leadership had thrived because he could afford to pay for allies but with the depression, it was a difficult time for him. the poor peasants whose land been grabbed under his watch stopped viewing him as a leader who deserved leading them. The rural people did not view modernization as a vital step towards economic growth. To them it was their primary source of pain and that is why they reacted by fighting in the Mexican revolution. Instead of owning land as a result of modernization and benefiting from agricultural practices they ended up losing the land to large landowners and becoming their casual laborers.
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Conversely, as illustrated by Azuela, Mariano in the book The Underdogs it is clear that the men in the novel were not primarily fighting as a result of the injustices they suffered from the government but they fought merely for their own selfish gains. The leaders had their personal selfish objectives which overshadowed the evils of the government of the day. Although the government was evil and corrupt the men in the novel were not fighting solely because of the government injustices. The government under the then president was corrupt, inflexible and ruthless. The dictatorship of the then leader had overseen the extensive and the most rapid economic growth in the Mexican history. However, the expansion came with ruinous consequences such as mass dispossession of peasants for their lands as well as the traditional and communal land rights in villages. The novel follows the protagonist Demetrio Macias a regular peasant who engages in an unreasonable fight with a government soldier sealing his fate as a rebel. Afterwards, he gathers his band of anti-government individuals who now start fighting as a group.
From the novel some of the men just join the war since they thought it was the right thing to do and merely because they were idle and have no primary reason as to why they were fighting. Demetrio and his troops forget and fail to see the lack of humanity in their actions. In the quest to overthrow the government they kill innocent men. Instead of focusing on their primary enemy who is the government they even turn against innocent men and kill them leaving a trail of innocent blood behind them. The killed men live behind families with no one to provide for them. It is common knowledge that in most societies across the world and during modernization many families depended on men as the principal breadwinners. Therefore when they get killed during the war the families left behind would suffer. Moreover, rebels rape women. These men are supposed to be fighting for the weak and helpless in the society against the powerful political and upper class. Instead, they rape women who are helpless instead of protecting them. They do this without thinking about the repercussions of their actions in the lives of the women. For instance, the psychological torment that the women will have to live with for the rest of their lives. Moreover, some of the women might get pregnant and the children will have to grow up without ever knowing their fathers. Moreover, the war led to the destruction of many towns by the rebels.
Furthermore, rebels looted from the towns they came across as they fought. Instead of protecting the towns since most the business owners were just suffering from bad governance just like the rebels instead they chose to loot. The looters did not stop to think what it had cost the owners of the things they were looting from. Moreover, they did not think about the emotional pain and economic turmoil they would cause to the owners. The owners of the businesses had to start all over again and probably they could not afford the capital. Therefore the novel is counterrevolutionary in nature as it has highlighted the evil action portrayed by the men in the novel fighting primarily for their own selfish objectives. The leaders of the troops are just hungry for power. Their aim is to overthrow the government and take the place of the political leaders in power. From the banditry portrayed by the peasants who fought in the Mexican revolution it is clear that they were not fighting because they government corrupt and inflexible. They had hidden motives and the land grabbing injustices by the government were just scapegoat.
- Azuela, Mariano. The Underdogs. Picture and Scenes from the Present Revolution. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 2006. (PDF format in Canvas)
- Cheryl E. Martin and Mark Wasserman, Latin America and Its People. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008, 361-366.