The Durango Project



LOS VENCIDOS DE CUENCAMÉ:

THE RISE AND FALL OF ESTATE AGRICULTURE AND AGRARIAN RADICALISM IN EASTERN DURANGO, MEXICO, 1890-1930



Project Description

Essays and Working Papers









PROJECT: PURPOSE SOURCES/METHODS FINDINGS BENCHMARK



A. Purpose/Significance:

The purpose of this project is to generate a book manuscript that will document the rise and fall of a relatively unknown local agrarian movement that originated in a broad, and popular reaction against the expansive rural estates that dominated the economic and political landscape of Eastern Durango until 1910. By publishing this book manuscript and disseminating my analysis of four decades of interaction between modernizing estate owners, hacienda residents, villagers and townspeople, and agents of the Mexican state, within the confines of a defined locality (the ex-Partido of Cuencamé), I intend to rescue and to reconstruct a significant, specific historical experience that generally remains unknown or misunderstood, while also making a substantive contribution to the historiography of Mexico.

Although the body of historical literature on the Mexican Revolution is perhaps the most developed in all the broad field of Latin American history, its coverage is uneven and incomplete. Locales such as Puebla, Guerrero, and Oaxaca are the subject of published regional histories of the Mexican Revolution, yet Durango remains obscure even though this state was a storm center of agrarian revolution, especially in the critical years, 1910 to 1915. Scholars have studied extensively the historically-visible leaders of the Revolution (like Madero, Zapata, Villa, Carranza, and Obregon), but their work usually slights less visible agrarian revolutionaries whose locally-based movements helped to define both the origin and process of the Mexican Revolution. Other researchers have produced detailed studies of Mexican haciendas extending from the colonial period through to the nineteenth century, but have not yet published relevant work on late Porfirian agricultural estates in Northern Mexico, where the Mexican Revolution began in 1910 and where its main thrust originated during most of the revolutionary decade.

A separate issue from historiographical concerns, the continuing implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Mexico, Canada, and the United States gives the study of the process and consequences of the abrupt privatization and commercialization of agriculture in early twentieth-century Mexico extraordinary relevance. NAFTA is linked with the Mexican government's decision to privatize agriculture, ending the system of communal village (ejido) agriculture that has dominated the Mexican countryside since the agrarian reforms of the 1920s and 1930s. Given the parallels between what happened in Durango after the 1890s, and what may happen there after the 1990s, public policy makers need to be cognizant of all of the costs historically associated with a precipitous modernization of rural Mexico, especially in settings like those in Eastern Durango where early in the Twentieth Century locally-based, popular struggles against expansive, large-scale commercial agriculture brought a destructive end to that first attempt at rural privatization.

B. Sources/Methods:

My work on this topic has always been guided by three simple questions. Why and how did rural people in a given locality in Northern Mexico rebel after 1910? What was the relationship between revolutionary struggles and political outcomes at the national level and those that were localized? Why were movements that sought to give rural people more control over local economic and political resources ultimately unsuccessful? Although I am cognizant and appreciative of the body of scholarly literature that explains and analyzes agrarian violence in the context of rural modernization, in writing the history of los vencidos de Cuencamé, I intend to let the subjects and their circumstances tell most of the story, at least in terms of what can be reasonably inferred from large body of historical data I have amassed. While the theoretical work of scholars like James Scott, Samuel Popkin, Jeffrey Paige, or Theda Skocpol does provide useful tools for understanding historically-specific behavior like this, I do not intend to impose or test any theoretical paradigms as I develop this regionally-based case study of the interplay between estate agriculture, agrarian radicalism, and the state. That disclaimer not withstanding, I am struck by the remarkable parallels between my empirical findings in Durango and the body of social theory and the model of agrarian violence assembled and propounded by John Tutino in From Insurrection to Revolution (1986). In my work as well, the alternatives of security or autonomy are essential ingredients in the maintenance of traditional rural social relations. The inability of most of the rural population of late Porfirian Durango to gain assured access to either security or autonomy in a modernizing countryside gave rise to localized agrarian movements like those of Cuencamé that after 1910 did give local people unprecedented economic and political autonomy, at least momentarily. And even when rural folk there did lose their hard-won autonomy to national political consolidation by 1930, they consoled themselves with the security of state paternalism.

The most important Mexico City sources developed for use with the book manuscript (this field research was funded by a Social Science Research Council grant in 1983) have been approximately 50,000 documents ranging from administrative reports to casual correspondence generated by the Hacienda Santa Catalina del Alamo's owners and managers in the early twentieth century. For the period up to 1913, the study is strengthened with pertinent documents gleaned from the Porfirio Díaz Collection and the Archivo General de Notarías. Taken together, these materials provide the basis for a thorough reconstruction of developments on the estate prior to the Revolution of 1910. They chronicle the progress of a local agrarian revolution that began in 1911 with scattered armed assaults and land occupations and that culminated in 1913 with the violent destruction and wholesale dismemberment of the estate by disgruntled hacienda workers, renters, and nearby villagers and townspeople. After 1913, the most important sources are ejido files (Archivo de la Secretaria de la Reforma Agraria) and the correspondence (Archivo General de la Nación) of agrarian leaders and estate owners and managers with Presidents Obregon and Calles during the 1920s (Archivo General de la Nación).

I completed most of my field research on Durango sources for this study with funding from an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Fellowship in 1992. In the period between March and September 1992, I accumulated approximately ten thousand photocopies and extracted more than one thousand pages of research notes from documents preserved in the Archivo Histórico del Estado de Durango. These statistically-rich materials provide extraordinary insights into social stratification and occupational distribution. For example, real and personal property inventories derived from tax records can be employed to create a detailed individual or aggregate socio-economic profiles of the rural population in the Cuencamé district with which to measure the social distortions associated with the worsening imbalance between an expanding population and a shrinking subsistence base. Analysis of the distribution of land tenure and rural wealth may also demonstrate the peculiarities of pastoral versus agricultural-based regional economies. In Cuencamé, Durango, in contrast to the much better known case of Anencuilco, Morelos, the core of the agrarian problem was not the loss of arable land for subsistence cultivation of staples such as corn and beans, but access to pastures for the large herds of cattle, sheep, and goats belonging to townspeople in Cuencamé and Peñón Blanco. Unlike Morelos, where agrarian radicalism was mostly confined to those near the bottom of the socio-economic scale, the expansion of highly-capitalized commercial agriculture, and the enclosure of town common lands by modernizing estate owners prejudiced the interests of local elites and middle groups as well as the rural poor. The congruity of shared agrarian interests in Cuencamé helped to overcome its inherent social heterogeneity, in contrast to Zapatista Morelos where traditional village agriculture was always more homogeneous. The argument is developed more fully in "Social Topography" (1998).

Census lists show the arrival of signficant numbers on new immigrants into the region after the 1890s. Individuals named in census and tax records can be cross-matched with lists of agrarian radicals like soldiers, ejiditarios, disgruntled hacienda workers and sharecroppers who helped to dismember the estate during the revolutionary decade or with lists of persons who sided with estate management against agrarian reform during the 1920s. Taken together these kinds of sources and methods reveal that families native to Cuencamé since the Colonial era participated disproportionately in agrarian violence and that virtually every leader of the agrarian bands in Cuencamé had a previous history of stormy relations with political authorities or estate owners and managers before 1910. All in all, there was a remarkable continuity between pre-revolutionary agitation related to issues like land tenure and agrarian politics and what occurred after 1910 in terms of both content and leadership. These materials and others are utilized in "Small Town Politics." (1999)

All of Santa Catalina del Alamo's master account books and ledgers were also microfilmed in 1992. Data from these sources, when combined with other statistical data generated by political officials in their correspondence with state and national authorities, can be used to reconstruct the micro-economy of estate and village agriculture in the late Porfiriato, offering new insights into the many ways in which expanding agri-business in Eastern Durango undermined social and political stability. Especially intriguing is evidence that sharply declining crop yields between 1906 and 1910 led to irreconcilable conflict between sharecroppers and estate owners. These, and other quantitative materials, are also explored in "Social Topography" (1998).

In 1993 and 1994 I completed field research on United States and British sources for the book manuscript at the U.S. National Archives (USNA) and the British Public Record Office (PRO), respectively. Although proportionally only a small part of the overall body of research materials developed for the book manuscript, these USNA and PRO materials are invaluable sources for insights into the period 1913 to 1916, especially as these deal substantively with the military and political aspects of agrarianism in Villista and Carrancista Durango. These sources are employed in several essay, especially in "Villista Legacy" (1997)

My combined field research materials collected since 1983 have been condensed into 4 megabytes of text notes (WordPerfect) equivalent to more than four thousand conventional note cards), approximately two dozen spreadsheet files (Lotus 1-2-3) occupying 3.5 megabytes, and 30 megabytes of relational database files (Lotus Approach) encompassing approximately 25,000 distinct records.

C. Tentative Findings:

The material basis for a powerful local agrarian movement that sought the dismemberment of the Great Estates of Cuencamé is examined in "Social Topography" (1998). Efforts by the owners and managers of the Great Estates to manipulate local politics and the administration of justice provoked a rupture in the traditional network of paternalistic politics that bound local functionaries to the state and national governments. Consequently, the local political establishment embraced the Madero Revolution and the local triumph of agrarian radicals. The underlying political culture, paternalistic and authoritarian in nature, was not transformed, but was reinforced by the victory of Carrancismo over Villismo after 1915. These topics are explored in great deatil in "Small Town Politics" (1999). "Homegrown Revolution" (1992) demonstrated that the rapid modernization of social and property relations on Santa Catalina del Alamo in the period 1898 to 1911 earned excellent profits for the estate's absentee owner, but generated massive discontent across a broad spectrum of the rural population of Eastern Durango. Protracted struggles between political elites at the national level after 1910 created an opening that hacienda workers, sharecroppers, and displaced townspeople used to make an agrarian revolution on and around the Great Estates of Eastern Durango. These local movements, not the larger and more visible power struggles by strongmen such as Carranza, Villa, or Obregon, destroyed large-scale commercial estate agriculture here. "Villista Legacy" documents the flowering of agrarian radicalism in 1914 and 1915 as well its eventual defeat within the context of a protracted military and political struggle lasting from 1915 until 1929.

Although the defeat of Pancho Villa by his rival Venustiano Carranza precluded the most radical and populist application of the Durango experience to the nation at large, the legacy of agrarian revolution in Durango contributed the ideology and the instruments for the agrarian program of the Constitutionalists and Carrancistas in 1914-15 and beyond. Out of the collapse of successive state governments in Durango between 1911 and 1913, politicians, and eventually even estate owners, came to understand the usefulness of agrarian reform as a mechanism not to promote social justice or to enforce a social equilibrium between the classes, but as a tool with which to pacify the countryside. The political pacification and subordination of rural Durango is explored in "Tarnished Dreams" (1997) and "Conveniencia Social" (1998). In the end, agrarian radicalism in Durango, as elsewhere in Revolutionary Mexico, was suffocated not just by brute force, but by the selective imposition of agrarian reform from above. As part of the same process, the spontaneous, indigenous, and localized agrarian movements that had erupted so violently in the early years of the revolution were gradually suppressed and supplanted by an officially sanctioned and state-sponsored agrarianism.

Did the efforts by rural people in Durango to gain access to local economic and political resources produce lasting change? In one sense, the answer is clearly no. The localized revolution that began in the towns and villages and large estates of Cuencamé was undone by the outcome of the other, larger Mexican Revolution and by the innate political centrifugalism and parochialism of the agrarian movements themselves. By 1930, the rural people of eastern Durango had lost the political and economic autonomy gained between 1910 and 1915. In another sense, however, the answer to this question about the lasting economic and political changes wrought by the Revolution in Durango is more ambiguous. Although it was unwilling to share real political or economic power with the rural masses, the Mexican state that emerged after the Revolution was obliged to assume the clientelistic and paternalistic roles that modernizing landowners in Northern Mexico could not or would not fulfill. The relative importance of security as a most desirable commodity in traditional rural communities, as opposed to more modern and abstract notions like political freedom or economic autonomy should not be underestimated, as is plainly demonstrated in Tutino's important study of the origins of agrarian violence in Mexico.

Finally, in assessing the lasting significance of the agrarian uprisings in Eastern Durango, one should appreciate that if revolutionaries there were not clear winners, neither were they the only losers. Despite the persistent use of clever and sophisticated stratagems to recover their properties, estate owners were unable reconstitute their latifundios or to revive the regimen of large-scale commercial agriculture that once had dominated the region. If it if did nothing else, the explosion of agrarian radicalism in settings such as Eastern Durango, curbed the unrestricted development of the countryside and made it possible for Mexico to enjoy the longest period of rural peace and political stability experienced in all of twentieth-century Latin America. Indeed, it is now only in the 1990s, a full century after rural estate owners and their managers boldly set out to modernize rural Durango, that the government in Mexico City has once again fully reversed public policy so as to encourage privatization and commercialization of the Durango countryside on a grand scale.

D. Project Benchmark

The completion of this book manuscript represents the final phase of a broader research plan begun as a graduate student at the Masters' level in the mid-1970s. My M.A. Thesis (1976), from which my article "Porfirian Labor Politics" (1981) was extracted, demonstrated the essential continuity of state-labor relations before and after the Mexican Revolution. While working towards my doctorate, my professional interest and attention shifted away from a focus on industrial workers and labor politics in the late Nineteenth Century towards a new appreciation of the problems faced by factory owners, merchants, and entrepreneurs in early national Mexico. My doctoral dissertation (1981), my article "Business As Usual" (1984), and my book Kinship, Business, and Politics (1987) used the study of family and entrepreneurship as a vehicle to explain the causes of Mexico's economic and political failures in the first half of the nineteenth century. Given my broad interest in the social and economic history of Mexico, it was only natural that I should eventually turn away from the study of industrial workers and urban entrepreneurs to learn more about their rural counterparts. As was true in my previous studies, I found that the history of rural groups and classes, even in a setting as provincial as rural Durango, could not be divorced from an appreciation of the larger structures and circumstances that governed relations between state and society in a modernizing Mexico. Hence, in terms of its principal themes and interests--the history of classes and groups and the interplay of state and society within the context of political and economic modernization--my present project is bound irrevocably to all of my scholarly past.

It is fitting, and more than a little ironic, that my position in the History Department at Michigan State University is the same one previously held by Charles Cumberland, a pioneering scholar of the Mexican Revolution, and author of the widely-read survey text, Mexico: The Struggle for Modernity. This was the textbook that I read as an undergraduate in my first course in Mexican history in 1973. Now after all this time, after devoting myself professionally to the pursuit of this theme for most of the past quarter century, I am still mesmerized by the complexity and contradictions of that same, seemingly endless, and irreconcilable struggle for (and against) modernity in Mexico.....

ESSAYS AND WORKING PAPERS

ABSTRACTS ESSAYS (HTML)



Abstracts Social Topography Small Town Politics Homegrown Revolution Maderista Military Villista Legacy Tarnished Dreams Conveniencia Social



SOCIAL TOPOGRAPHY: A lengthy, detailed quantitative and qualitative study of the micro-economy of Cuencamé between 1895 and 1910. It examines the material basis for the powerful agrarian movement that originated here. Ultimately, the economic survival of a majority of property owners (especially the pastoralists) in the region required a radical restructuring of land tenure in the region, accomplished through a violent dismembering of the Great Estates of Cuencamé.

SMALL TOWN POLITICS: This paper explores the evolution of local politics in the small towns and villages of the ex-Partido of Cuencamé in the decades immediately before and after the Mexican Revolution. It reconstructs, in as much detail as possible, the content and structure of rural politics from the 1890s through the 1920s.. In particular, this paper seeks to identify individual political actors as well as the various groups and factions that struggled to participate in or to control local political processes. Although there were significant changes, the essential qualities of local politics in settings such as Cuencamé were not fundamentally altered during or immediately after the Mexican Revolution, even though Cuencamé itself was the setting for a series of intense agrarian uprisings between 1911 and 1913 that devastated and destroyed the Great Estates here. Revolutionary violence brought immediate and radical changes in land tenure and in the distribution of rural wealth, but political culture in the towns and villages of rural Cuencamé was more resilient. Even though the Revolution created new political openings and opportunities for individual office holders and political appointees, for the whole of this period between 1895 and 1930, there was as much continuity as there was change. There were some structural adjustments in local politics, but, in terms of its authoritarian content, the changes in local politics that Cuencamé experienced between 1895 and 1930 were unremarkable..

HOMEGROWN REVOLUTION: The rapid modernization of social and property relations on Santa Catalina del Alamo in the period 1898 to 1911 earned excellent profits for the estate's absentee owner, but generated massive discontent across a broad spectrum of the rural population of Eastern Durango. Protracted struggles between political elites at the national level after 1910 created an opening that hacienda workers, sharecroppers, and displaced townspeople used to make an agrarian revolution on and around the Great Estates of Eastern Durango. These local movements, not the larger and more visible power struggles by strongmen such as Carranza, Villa, or Obregon, destroyed large-scale commercial estate agriculture here.

MADERISTA MILITARY: A broad examination of the military aspects of the earliest phase of the agrarian insurrection in the partido of Cuencamé during the Maderista Revolt, this essay analyzes and describes essential elements of that military effort related to recruitment; weapons, tactics and strategies; strength, disposition, and movements of opposing forces; and logistics.

VILLISTA LEGACY: Explores in detail the massive agrarian mobilization that occurred in this region between 1911 and 1913. It also documents the triumph of agrarian radicalism and Villismo in Cuencamé during 1914 and 1915, as well its eventual defeat within the context of a protracted military and political struggle lasting from 1915 until 1929.

TARNISHED DREAMS: This essay highlights the interaction between revolutionary politics and the state-building process at the national level with local and regional politics, especially those associated with government sponsored, 'official' agrarian organizations that eventually triumphed over the 'authentic' localized agrarian movements that constituted the Mexican Revolution in Durango after 1910. Although the military defeat of authentic revolutionaries like Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata precluded the most radical and popular application of the Durango experience to the nation at large, the legacy of agrarian revolution in Durango contributed the ideology and the instruments for the agrarian program of both state and national regimes in post-revolutionary Mexico. Reform-minded politicians, and eventually even landowners, came to understand the usefulness of agrarian reform as a mechanism not to promote social justice or to enforce a social equilibrium between the classes, but as a tool with which to pacify the countryside. In the end, agrarian radicalism in Durango in the 1920s, as elsewhere in post-revolutionary Mexico, was suffocated not just by brute force, but by the selective imposition of agrarian reform from above. In this process, the spontaneous, indigenous, and localized agrarian movements that had erupted so violently in Durango during the early years of the revolution were gradually suppressed and supplanted by an officially sanctioned and state-sponsored agrarianism. This essay focuses primarily on the era 1916 to 1924.

CONVENIENCIA SOCIAL: This essay continues the study of revolutionary politics and the state-building process begun in "Tarnished Dreams" It documents the seemingly inevitable and tragic demise of localized agrarian radicalism during the Calles Years.

ESSAYS and WORKING PAPERS (html format)

"Una Gran Familia.....": The Social Topography of Cuencamé, Durango, Mexico, 1890-1930

Small Town Politics: Continuity and Change in Cuencamé, Durango, 1895-1930

"Nunca hemos sidos rebeldes...": The administration of Justice and the Origins of Agrarian Insurrection in Cuencamé, 1895-1910

Home-grown Revolution: The Hacienda Santa Catalina Del Alamo y Anexas And Agrarian Protest in Eastern Durango, Mexico, 1897-1913

"It Is Mostly History, Now"--Military Aspects of the Maderista Insurgency in Cuencamé, Durango, Mexico, 1910-1911

'Y hay que quedar conform porque a nadie se le puede exiguir nada': The Villista Legacy & Agrarian Radicalism In Eastern Durango, Mexico: 1913-1930

Tarnished Dreams: Agrarian 'Reform' and Corporatism in Post-Revolutionary Durango, Mexico, 1920-1930

"Por Conveniencia Social....": The Demise of Agrarian Radicalism in Cuencamé, Durango, 1924-1930