week 8

Week 8 – Signs of Crisis in a Gilded Age

This week, we looked at how the export boom and economic progress affected Latin American societies, particularly Mexico. The readings point out how fragmented the social classes were as a reflection of how the wealth from the boom was distributed between groups: the profits were concentrated in the hands of the urban elites and landowners, and the working class was not heaping the benefits of its labour. Unions, strikes, or anything that undermined the order of the factory was seen as immoral, therefore making it impossible for the workers to gain any sort of leverage in negotiating a better position for themselves.

This concept of fragmentation is very interesting, and Dawson points out how it’s still a reality in the continent. In what he calls “hybrid culture”, we observe the “ultra-modern” (visible in the urban landscape of big capitals such as Mexico City, Buenos Aires and São Paulo) and the “deeply traditional” (especially evident in the social aspect of Latin American life I’d say, when we look at the reactionary wave in politics and the vast influence Catholic values have on politics). For the discussion, it’d be interesting to analyze in which other ways we can observe this inconsistency throughout Latin America.

Dawson points out how, along with the fragmentary society, came violence, especially in the countryside. Under Díaz’s rule in Mexico, peasant’s lands were taken away under dubious legal basis, and the author outlines the options left for the rural people: migrate to the cities, work for the big landowner’s estates, or fight.

After political shakeups involving Díaz and the fixing of the election in his favour, the revolution started in 1910. Dawson call attention to the fact the Mexican Revolution is many revolutions in one, as there were divisions within the revolutionaries, as evidenced by the subsequent break between Madero, who eventually became president, and the Zapatistas.

In Plan de Ayala, Emiliano Zapata outlines how Madero hadn’t delivered on his promises, instead turning to violence and making alliances with landlords. An interesting aspect of the document is how he doesn’t target the United States and their influence on the region, a grievance very present within Latin America at that time (and still to this day). He instead focuses on which Mexicans were benefitting from the export boom – the landowners and latifundiarios, and stresses the importance of land redistribution and of the right to local authority.

These divisions within the Revolution are representative of the overall fragmentation within the Mexican (and Latin American in general) society, and how different groups with different goals shaped a complex and nuanced narrative of rebellion.


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