From the middle of 1935 until the autumn of 1936, the rich cotton-growing area of the Laguna region witnessed a spectacular mobilization of its agricultural labor force. More than twelve months of struggle by newly established unions of agricultural workers culminated in a general strike in August 1936 and a decision by the government of Lázaro Cárdenas to expropriate the cotton haciendas. Throughout their mobilizations the peons on the large estates had received the financial, moral, and organizational support of sections of the urban working class in the nearby cities of Torreón and Gómez Palacio. Both the Mexican Communist party (PCM) and the newly founded Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) played a crucial role in cementing the worker-peasant alliance which was predicated on the need to transcend capitalist social and economic relations in one of the key redoubts of agrarian capitalism in Mexico.

Nevertheless, the manner in which the agrarian demands were resolved in the autumn of 1936 subverted the radical potential of the worker-peasant alliance. Capitalist social relations had traditionally dominated Laguna haciendas. A wage-earning rural proletariat made up of the haciendas’ resident peons (peones acasillados), rather than a smallholding peasantry, was the driving force behind the agrarian mobilization of 1935-36. The proletarian character of the agricultural workers of the cotton estates had led them, therefore, to organize unions (sindicatos) rather than agrarian committees, and to make “proletarian” demands for labor contracts, higher wages, and better working conditions rather than “peasant” calls for land distribution and parcelization.

When President Cárdenas intervened to settle the general strike, however, it was on the basis of an expropriation which divided the cotton estates into ejidos (albeit collective ones) to be cultivated by the former peons. The agricultural workers of the Laguna would henceforth be reabsorbed into the peasantry as ejidatarios, abandoning their proletarianized status as well as their links with the working class. Thus in the Laguna case, and in many others in the 1930s, agrarian reform and the granting of ejidos signified the end of peasant-worker cooperation.

The argument schematically outlined in the opening paragraphs of this paper appears in many studies of twentieth-century Mexican agrarian and political history.1 It is also present in the important (and as yet unpublished) study of the agrarian reform process in the Laguna by Ruth Arboleyda and Luis Vázquez León.2 While writers have understandably, and in my opinion correctly, noted the state’s interest in using agrarian reform to create a loyal constituency of ejidatarios tied to the official party, Arboleyda and Vázquez León also ascribe some of the “blame” for the disintegration of the worker-peasant alliance in the Laguna to the alleged deficiencies of the PCM.

This essay examines the historical background of the Laguna expropriation of 1936 and discusses some of the specific traits of the regions labor force and economy which helped determine the character of agrarian behavior in the 1920s and ’30s. It traces the development of the PCM’s presence in the Laguna, and explores the background of the “tension” between the agrarista and sindicalista strategies/goals of the party. Throughout the discussion, I attempt to establish the extent and nature of workerpeasant collaboration in the Laguna culminating in the reparto of 1936. I will argue that a kind of “worker-peasant alliance” was indeed constructed in 1935-36, and that this alliance was foreshadowed by the significant links which tied agrarian organizations to their urban counterparts in the previous decade. At the same time, I will cast doubt on the extent to which the status, demands, and actions of the Laguna agricultural workers can be neatly classified as peasant/agrarista or proletarian/sindicalista at any point in the period under review (1920-40).

The terms agrarista and sindicalista are, in any case, very difficult to sustain as polar opposites in the context of agrarian labor. Traditionally, sindicalista goals are associated with the proletarianization of the peasantry. The definition of Sidney Mintz has become classic:

A rural proletariat working on modern plantations inevitably becomes culturally and behaviorally distinct from the peasantry. Its members neither have nor (eventually) want land. Their special economic and social circumstances lead them [to] prefer standardized wage minimums, maximum work weeks, adequate medical and educational services, increased buying power, and similar benefits and protections.3

On the other hand, agrarismo was a political practice and ideology associated with the “classic” small-holding peasantry. In Mexico, by the early 1930s, a radicalized agrarismo demanded the decentralization of large properties through the creation of ejidos (i.e., grants of land to peasant villages and rural workers to be allocated not “on the basis of the location or political character of the nucleus of population but on the basis of social and economic need.”)4 While many early agrarista spokesmen anticipated that the ejido would become a “nursery for the small private proprietor of the future,” the depression of the early ’30s led many agraristas into rejecting this explicitly capitalist project and its assumptions about a free market in land.5

The sharp disjuncture between sindicalismo and agrarismo, and between worker and peasant suggested by the definitions sketched above, certainly has a basis in the history of Mexico’s mass organizations. Since the late 1930s, workers and peasants have had separate representation within the corporatist structure that binds such organizations to Mexico’s official party. Indeed, this was a conscious strategy of President Cárdenas when he insisted in February 1936 that the newly established CTM not organize Mexico’s peasants and agricultural workers. Accordingly, when the National Confederation of Peasants (CNC) was founded in 1938, it incorporated not only most of the already existing peasant organizations and agrarian leagues but also the agroindustrial work force (in cotton, sisal, sugar, etc.) which was the only agrarian constituency still affiliated to the CTM.6 This structural separation of the rural and urban laboring masses would generate much tension and conflict in later years.

Peasant-worker tension and intrapeasant conflict did not originate in the 1930s, however. The military confrontation between certain groups of Mexico City workers (members of the Casa del Obrero Mundial) and the Villista and Zapatista peasant movements in 1915-16 has attracted the attention of a number of historians. The alliance between the Casa and the Constitutionalist movement clearly pitted worker against peasant, although its significance is more symbolic than real since all factions clearly drew on the rural poor for military recruits. Moreover, the Red Battalions of 1915 drew principally on the skilled workers and “old” artisan groups of Mexico City, whose links with the rural environment were substantially weaker than those of the miners and industrial workers further to the north.7

More serious and frequent were the occasions when landowners were able to play off industrial wage workers and peones acasillados against “independent” peasant smallholders and villagers in the same or adjacent regions: the case of the sugar estates of Atencingo, in the state of Puebla, is particularly well known.8 The “loyalty” shown to their employers by the acasillados during the first two decades of the revolution has often been noted. This behavior can partly be ascribed to the intense and very tangible social and cultural control enveloping the patron’s relations with his resident labor force. Moreover, agrarian reform legislation before the mid-’30s discouraged cooperation between peasant villagers on the one hand and acasillados and agroindustrial workers on the other. Until the passing of the 1934 Código Agrario, peones acasillados were explicitly denied the right to petition for land. Even after the introduction of the new code, the central government exempted from expropriation large areas cultivated as plantations and processed by machinery (banana, coffee, cacao, fruit trees, henequen, and sugar), and the restriction was only lifted in 1938.9

But the history of the Mexican peasantry and working class in the first two decades of the revolution also shows that it is not possible to make easy generalizations about the extent to which the interests or activities of workers and peasants intersected or clashed. This is largely because the social base of most revolutionary movements, especially in the 1910-20 period, was so mixed. In practice, “pure” peasant movements were very rare. Nowhere was this clearer than in northern Mexico: studies of the Villista and Constitutional presence in Chihuahua, the Laguna, and San Luis Potosí have brought out the multiclass characteristics of these movements which incorporated peasant smallholders, tenant farmers, miners, cowboys, and mobile rural wage workers.10 Even in areas of central Mexico, such as Puebla and Tlaxcala, where an older industrial labor force was in place, “peasant-workers” have been identified as playing a key role in the Mexican Liberal party (PLM)/Madero rebellion during 1910-12.11

When large-scale organization of the peasantry began in certain regions in the late teens and early ’20s, the contributions made by nonpeasants was often significant. In Veracruz, the powerful and radical peasant movement that developed in the 1920s was detonated by forces within the urban labor movement.12 Even in the more conservative state of Jalisco, Ann Craig has shown that much of the initiative in developing agrarian petitioning and organization in Lagos de Moreno came from urban craftsmen, artisans, and laborers.13 Early national-level organizations founded in the 1920s by urban intellectuals and workers (CROM, CGT, and PCM) embraced both worker and peasant constituencies. This was in spite of protests from organizations like the National Agrarian party (PNA), which tried to separate ejidatarios from agricultural wage workers in order to tie the former exclusively to agrarista organizations.

The Laguna

The Laguna region of the states of Coahuila and Durango was a classic early center of agrarian capitalism which was barely touched by the first stages of the agrarian reform (1915-30). In spite of numerous applications for land grants made by agrarian unions, by 1930 there were a mere eleven ejidos in the region, only one of which was located within the fertile irrigated lands of the Laguna proper.14 The region’s landowners managed to retain their holdings intact, giving up only marginal lands outside of the main areas of cultivation—the so-called distritos ejidales.15 This is not to say that the Lagunas population was a passive observer of the political and agrarian struggle unleashed by the Mexican Revolution. On the contrary, the region was the site of considerable activity by the “Precursor” PLM, and the land struggles and political/factional contests of the “Epic Revolution” (maderismo, villismo [especially], zapatismo, and carrancismo) all left their mark in the region.

The basis of the Lagunas prosperity was cotton production which developed rapidly after the 1860s bringing with it the development of railways and mining and the expansion of urban manufacturing centers like Torreón. Labor shortages encouraged immigration from other regions of Mexico: as many as 20,000 landless agricultural workers may have emi-grated to the Laguna in the 25 years immediately preceding the outbreak of the revolution.16

Observers have frequently noted the eminently capitalist nature of social relations dominating Laguna agriculture and the relative absence of precapitalist forms and relations of production.17 Compared with many other areas of central and southern Mexico, the Laguna did not, indeed, contain a dense network of independent peasant villages or pueblos with a history of nonhacienda-dependent agriculture. The indigenous population of the region was also extremely small, although there were a number of free Indian communities, most notably the Ocuilan Indian pueblos of the Cuencamé district of the southwestern Laguna, with a history of stubborn resistance to hacendado encroachment on their lands.18

While references to the capitalist character of Laguna agriculture are not generally incorrect, they tend to oversimplify the regions social structure, assuming a correspondence between structural features (ownership of means of production/labor forms) and the development of particular forms of class identification and consciousness. While trabajos de pequeña parcela were uncommon, there was an important tradition and collective memory of peasant and medium-sized small holdings in certain areas of the Laguna. The best-known case is that of the army veterans of Matamoros and San Pedro and their descendants who had received land grants from the Juárez government in the 1860s in exchange for services rendered in the campaigns against the French occupation. The usurpation of these lands by agricultural companies and their tenants with large holdings during the latifundist explosion of the late nineteenth century had left deep scars in the memory of the Juarista colonos and their descendants who established a long record of continuous armed resistance to landowning authority during the Porfiriato.19 The Matamoros and San Pedro areas would produce more than their share of leaders in the early years of the revolution, and several key figures in the peasant mobilization of 1935-36 (José Zárate, Domingo Sifuentes, Manuel Soria, and Santos Reyes) sprang from this reservoir of small-holding resentment.20

Accustomed though it may have been to wage labor and to work on a large-scale and intensely cooperative basis through the cuadrilla system, the Laguna’s rural proletariat was also an extremely volatile and fragile formation. Once again, drawing simple conclusions from an identification of the major structural feature of the regions political economy (proletarianization) can present problems. The seasonal character of cotton cultivation and the fierce ecological constraints of the Laguna made the resident force of wage-earning rural proletarians highly unstable.21 Demand for labor varied according to the level and availability of water supplies from the Nazas and Aguanaval rivers, and control over scarce water supplies had long been at the heart of disputes between large and small landowners (tenants and sharecroppers).22 From 1915 on, cotton pests also began to devastate the cotton harvest, taking up to 25 percent of cotton production in some years.23

The structure of cotton production itself also made employment levels fluctuate violently throughout the year. Between December and April (the dead season) there was little work in the Laguna; this was also the period when agricultural workers could most easily be mobilized.24 Planting of cotton took place in April and May, watering of the land continued in July and August, and the “pick” (pizca), when demand for labor rocketed, took place from late August until the end of the year. The Laguna attracted most of its external labor from July to November.25

Furthermore, violent fluctuations in the demand for labor also affected key areas of Laguna manufacturing, since the processing of vegetable oils, ginning, and soap manufacture were tied to the fate of the cotton crop. The result was a curious combination of periods of labor shortage (a perennial complaint of hacendados) and strong currents of out and in migration.26 Peons responded to unemployment by emigrating to other areas of Mexico and to the United States, and the government occasionally was forced to intervene to move thousands of unemployed peons to other areas of the state of Coahuila.27 In 1924-26, for example, the Mexican government transported 4,000 peons from the Laguna region to the San Carlos hacienda near the U.S. border which it had confiscated after its owner defaulted on a government loan.28 Although the experiment failed, initial peon enthusiasm for the project had been high.

At the same time, the Laguna continued to act as a magnet for agricultural workers attracted by the prospect of high wages paid during the planting and picking seasons.29 During the pizca, landowners hired tens of thousands of these temporary laborers known as bonanceros. Yet, in spite of their limited ties to the Laguna and to its land, many of the bonanceros supported the resident day laborers during the great strikes of 1936, refusing to support the landowners and the several thousand strikebreakers imported in the summer. It has been argued that the immigrant workers adopted this stance perhaps because they came from regions which had already been affected by agrarian legislation and partly because some had already been granted ejidal land (i.e., who were ejidatarios who supplemented their income by working in the Laguna during the harvest).”30

The overall significance of these phenomena cannot be underestimated. The Laguna labor force was certainly proletarianized, but it was an intensely unstable rural proletariat buffeted by extreme fluctuations in employment. This instability deepened between 1927 and 1932 as the region underwent a particularly severe agricultural crisis exacerbated by the world depression and a succession of poor harvests. The area under cotton cultivation fell from 132,000 hectares in 1926 to 43,231 in 1932, creating an exceptionally large pool of unemployed workers (estimated by one author at over 13,000).31 At the end of this period, Laguna agricultural workers were in desperate need of security of employment and income. The sindicalista strategy of seeking higher wages, recognition of agrarian syndicates, and the signing of collective labor contracts may very well have been seen by peons as an inadequate means of addressing many of the structural problems facing the Laguna work force. On the other hand, the securing of direct control over land did meet one of the workers’ most serious problems. Access of land, after all, arguably offered a reasonable guarantee of secure employment.

This same logic has also been noted in other historical and geographical contexts. In the first two years of the Cuban Revolution (1959-60), highly proletarianized sugar cane workers combined demands for improvements in wages and living conditions with petitions for land grants. The Spanish scholar, Juan Martínez Alier, has argued that the demand for land in this case was essentially a call for stability of employment in an agroindustry which was notorious for high levels of seasonal unemployment.32

es ese carácter de las operaciones agrícolas … el que explica que obreros interesados en ganar más y en tener seguridad en el empleo quieran al mismo tiempo que la tierra cambie de manos para así lograr trabajo, pues en el campo siempre lo hay, a su juicio. Por tanto, la proletarización de los obreros agrícolas no impide que tengan radicales opiniones sobre la conveniencia de que los medios de producción—la tierra—cambien de manos.

In Craig’s previously cited study, the workers-turned-agraristas of Lagos saw land reform and the possibility of becoming ejidatarios as a solution to poverty, job losses and instability, and lack of control over the product of their labor as well as an opportunity of maximizing independence.33 So the “surprise” decision in 1936 to opt for an agrarista rather than a sindicalista resolution of the Laguna general strike may have been something more than evidence of state guile and the “historic incapacity” of the PCM to guide its proletarianized constituency toward socialism. Moreover, as we shall see later, the decision to form collective ejidos of the kind introduced after the reparto cannot be viewed simply as an agrarista solution.

Worker-Peasant Shifts and Symbiosis

The Laguna meant more than just cotton cultivation, and the region’s mining and industrial workers had historically significant links with the agricultural labor force throughout the first three decades of this century. There was an important mining sector centered around Mapimí [Durango] and, to a lesser extent, around the old Viesca mines in Coahuila. At Mapimí, for example, there were seven mines operating in 1886 producing gold, silver, lead, and copper, plus a smelter and six foundries. The biggest mines were tied to the important Compañía de Peñoles smelter and furnace plant in Torreón, the Lagunas largest city.34 More importantly, the highly mobile population of the mining areas provided an important source of recruits for the various rebel forces during the “epic revolution.”35 Urban manufacturing was centered in Torreón and Gómez Palacio, and was limited to textile manufacture and cotton-derived processing like soap and oil manufacture. Textile production was centered on two factories—La Constancia (completely destroyed by the forces of Pancho Villa in 1914) and the important La Fe plant, founded in 1898, which employed about 600 workers during most of the period covered by this study.36 There was also an important nucleus of railway workers in Torreón.

The close ties between the labor force in mining and manufacture and the agrarian environment in the Laguna which emerged with particular clarity in 1934-36 are frequently noted by lagunólogos but have never been systematically traced and examined in depth. Biographical data may provide a useful method of verifying the existence of the “worker-peasant” nexus and tracing its contours. A particularly revealing case is that of Dionisio Encina (1907-), a leading PCM activist in the ’30s, one of the leaders of the 1936 general strike and then general secretary of the Communist party from 1940 to 1960.

Dionisio Encina’s family had been miners for many generations in Zacatecas, and his father had worked in small mines in three states (Zacatecas, Durango, and San Luis Potosí). The young Encina’s early biography provides graphic evidence of the fragile and peripatetic existence which many miners were forced to lead. Even in good times miners were often cultivators, growing food on land plots to supplement their income. The civil war inaugurated by the revolution paralyzed mines in Zacatecas, and Encina’s family moved to Torreón in July 1914. After a period in the city, Encina’s father was able to secure work in La Ojuela mine in Mapimí, Durango. The family returned to the mines in Zacatecas between 1920 and 1923, but when work opportunities ended they were forced to return to Torreón. In 1924, Dionisio began three years’ work as a carpenter before becoming a blacksmith and metal worker in a small Torreón workshop. He joined his first union in 1927 while he was living in the Torreón suburb of La Fe, where a number of the city’s most important factories were located. It was there that he made contact with the Communist party, joining in 1929 and quickly becoming the leading figure in the Communist Youth during the PCM’s “illegal” phase.37

Further evidence of the fluid boundaries between the agrarian and industrial worlds is provided by the career of Manuel Murúa, one of the leaders of the June 1935 strike on the Manila hacienda which initiated the campaign to unionize the Laguna rural proletariat, and who later became a PCM activist. Murúa had been a Villista for a while, after which he worked as a miner in ASARCO’s La Ojuela mine in Mapimí, and then as a railwayman. When he lost his position as a result of participation in the national rail strike in 1927, he secured work as a peon on the Manila hacienda.38 Another Laguna Communist, Arturo Orona (leader of the party in the region from 1940 until the early 1970s), had worked as a porter in Torreón for a while before moving into rural work.39

The 1920s Experience: Traditions of Struggle

In the first decade of the Mexican Revolution, it was the Laguna industrial and mining working class rather than the region’s farm workers who took the initiative in labor organization and economic and political action. The coal miners of northern Coahuila were the pioneers. In 1912, they formed the Unión Minera Mexicana which became one of the major industrial bulwarks of Mexico’s first national labor federation, the Mexican Regional Confederation of Workers (CROM), when this body was formed in the Coahuilan capital, Saltillo, in 1918.40 Propagandists of the UMM were active in efforts to form peasant unions north of the Laguna at San Juan de Sabinas and Villa de Abasolo, but it is not clear if the union was also active among the workers of the mining center of Mapimí in the western Laguna who had close ties with cotton peons and with industrial workers and artisans in Torreón.41 In 1917 and 1918, four branches of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) operated in Torreón and Gómez Palacio at the La Fe and La Amistad textile factories and at the metal smelter of the Compañía Metalúrgica de Torreón.42 Railway workers, streetcar operators, and carpenters sent representatives to the founding congress of the CROM in 1918, and the Labor Federation of Torreón reported 13 worker organization affiliates the following year.43

Outside of the towns and mining areas, there was little evidence of significant agitation for radical change even during the occupation of the Laguna by Villa forces in 1913-15. Although there were connections between villismo and earlier traditions of peasant resistance such as that led by Calixto Contreras, it is clear from the research of Friedrich Katz that Villista administration of confiscated hacienda lands was not accompanied by any substantial alteration in social relations of production.44 The few attempts made by old peasant communities to claim recognition as “free villages” as a prelude to securing land grants under Agrarian Law of January 6, 1915 were frustrated by landowner violence and sabotage.45

Around 1919-20 the pace of rural organization and struggle intensified, and links between events in the Laguna and the activities of national trade union and peasant federations became more noticeable. Although it has been argued that the Laguna peasantry embraced a sindicalista strategy from the very beginning of this period, agricultural workers, in fact, embraced several strategies to improve their conditions—forming sindicatos, organizing occupations of state lands on occasion, and, where they were entitled, soliciting land grants under the agrarian legislation of the day. The reasons for the peasants’ choice of particular strategies were extremely complex. They included not only the class location of the peasant “petitioners” (wage worker/sharecropper/free peasant), but also the various strategies being pursued by hacendados, state and federal governments, and local military authorities. Most of the latter were seeking to protect the integrity of the hacienda system and to divert rural energies toward solutions which provided rural workers with land and work on unproductive land situated on the margins of the Laguna’s rich heartland.

The second decade of the revolution began with a month-long strike in 1920 (June 21-July 26). Ten thousand Laguna peons on 35 haciendas demanded a daily wage of three pesos, a reduction in work hours, and (according to one source) employer recognition of their unions. Although most of these demands were not met, attempts to import strikebreakers from outside the region were frustrated by the central government of the day.46 Most of the early efforts at union organization among Laguna agricultural workers were directed by a national labor organization, CROM, whose strong historic ties to Coahuila have already been noted.47 One of its first peasant affiliates was a Federation of Workers and Peasants based around the wealthy Tlahualilo cotton estates. In this case, the Tlahualilo Land Company in league with the state governor of Durango responded to the sindicalista demands of its laborers by arranging for 500 families to be provided with land on the old hacienda de Pinos. The experiment was a failure by April 1922, and most of the peasants abandoned the hacienda.48

By 1923, legally recognized agrarian sindicatos, affiliated to the CROM and with a total membership of 2,450, were in operation at 35 haciendas in the Gómez Palacio area.49 These unions formed the nucleus of the Federación de Sindicatos de Obreros y Campesinos de la Región Lagunera (FSOCRL). By 1925, the FSOCRL had 50 sindicatos and 12 agrarian committees.50 In the Matamoros and San Pedro districts there were also Local Federations of Lahor (Federaciones Locales del Trabajo) which combined agrarista and sindicalista strategies. The CROM, in particular, seems to have been involved simultaneously in aiding communities to solicit dotaciones and in organizing agricultural peons in unions around “proletarian” demands.51 An example of the former was the provisional grant of land in Colonia Vicente Nava by the Obregón government in 1923.

On several occasions in the 1920s, groups of Laguna peasants occupied hacienda and public lands, even though the federal governments of Alvaro Obregón and Plutarco Elías Calles (1920-28) attempted to exclude the hacienda and its labor system from the threat of expropriation. In November 1922, a circular of the National Agrarian Commission was interpreted by certain Durango peasants as an authorization to proceed to immediate occupation of hacienda lands. The vecinos of Gómez Palacio seized land belonging to the Compañía Algodonera as well as several haciendas of the Lavín jurisdiction; by the end of December, 60 villages in Durango had launched land invasions.52 President Obregón, under pressure from foreign governments and owners, abruptly forced the villagers to return land.

At the end of 1923, jobless agricultural workers in the Laguna attempted to execute a degree of August 2, 1923 which authorized the immediate occupation and colonization of unoccupied public lands (tierras baldías) provided they were not private property and were not ejidos and stated that title to these lands was to be granted after occupation and cultivation for two years. Three hundred peasants in the municipalities of Matamoros and Torreón occupied land on the banks of the Nazas and Aguanaval rivers (Vega del Caracol) but were soon chased off by soldiers and landowners. On April 17, 1924, a number of peasants involved were arrested and imprisoned for 72 hours in Matamoros; they included Felipe Zárate (a short while later a founding member of the Communist party in the region), Isaac Guereca, Ruperto Alvarado, Francisco Sifuentes, and Arnulfo Moreno.53

By the middle of the decade, therefore, the aspirations of important segments of the Laguna’s agricultural population had been aroused. Sindicatos had been formed by both hacienda-based, wage-earning peons and by those members of old peasant settlements (such as the Matamoros residents involved in the land seizures of 1923-24) who had some hope of acquiring the status of free town residents and therefore an opportunity to solicit ejidal land grants. Membership in a sindicato, moreover, did not necessarily imply a clear preference for an exclusive sindicalista strategy. This was hardly surprising, given the agrarian legislation’s effective blocking of hacienda peons’ rights to solicit land grants; by 1928 there were only six ejidos established on the entire Laguna region, all of them granted to peasants with residence in congregaciones, pueblos, villas, and even cities.54 Nor was there a unified stratum of rural proletarians. While many hacienda peons formed combative unions, other resident wage workers on Laguna haciendas were attacked by agrarista peasants for their policies of collaboration with their employers, a familiar complaint in other regions of Mexico.55 In the few cases in which peasant communities had secured provisional land grants, hacendados fought back by flooding peasant lands and destroying or stealing crops. In the face of such aggression, peasants were easily demoralized and divided, and many returned to their former patronos.56 By the mid-’20s, though, a new historical actor, the Mexican Communist party, had made its appearance in the region providing a vehicle for the politicization of a small, but important, group of peasants.

Mexican Communism and the Peasantry

The influence of the Mexican Communist party in its first ten years of existence was much greater than its small membership (1500 in 1929) might indicate. Of all the young Latin American Communist parties, the PCM was the first to develop strong roots within the peasantry. Within five years of its foundation (late 1919), it had made connections with a number of the country’s most combative regional peasant movements, particularly the peasant leagues of Veracruz and Michoacán. At the end of 1926, it took a leading part in the formation of an umbrella organization of the “red” peasant leagues, the National Peasant League (LNC). In practice, organizational, financial, and theoretical weaknesses forced the PCM to subordinate its peasant work to the activities of the LNC during the second half of the 1920s.57

The LNC called for the establishment of cooperative ejidos and the eventual socialization of all means of production. Drawing on the already well-established radicalism of the Veracruz peasant movement, it advocated proletarian revolution and the formation of a worker-peasant movement as the key to a global agrarian transformation.58 At the end of the decade (1929), though, with the turn to the left in the Comintern and a growth in sectarian attitudes toward noncommunist revolutionary nationalists, the PCM broke with the LNC and its national leader Úrsulo Galván, and the party’s peasant base and influence were severely reduced.

The PCM was initially hostile to the concept of land grants (reparto) to peasants and to any policy which envisaged the expansion of private property (pequeñas propiedades) in peasant hands. At its first congress in December 1921, it proposed a resolution calling on the party to “hacer comprender al proletariado rural la inutilidad del fraccionamiento de la tierra en parcelas, recomendando tomarla si es dable y laborarla en común.” The same document recommended drawing on the cultivators’ "tendencias a labrar la tierra en común.”59 It also contrasted Mexican peasants’ aspirations with those of European peasants who (allegedly) were addicted to small land plots. In Mexico, however, small parcels had been a failure, the PCM argued, and many peasants rejected them. The party attacked the slowness of the provisional dotation procedure and the policy of granting poor-quality state land to peasant solicitants. Following the slogan “todo hombre tiene derecho a toda la tierra que pueda trabajar,” it called on peasants to seize and occupy lands and not to limit their actions to legal channels. Where peasants had received arms during the course of the revolution, they should keep them and resist disarming.

The PCM recognized its predicament in a 1924 statement: how to respond to “a petty bourgeois, workerist (obrerista) government with socialist tendencies” which was dividing up the land but not resolving the agrarian problem.

Combatimos el reparto de tierras en pequeñas parcelas, encaminado a formar la propiedad privada. Insistimos en vista de la naturaleza de la tierra en México, de la pobreza del campesino, de la falta de agua, de la necesidad de instrumentos de labranza en grande escala y de la ideología del comunismo primitivo que todavía persiste entre los indios en que las grandes haciendas deben entregarse a los peones para su trabajo en común y en grande escala.60 [emphasis added]

It is interesting to note that this analysis of the Mexican peasantry pays more attention to the independent peasant communities and to the indigenous population than it does to agricultural wage workers. This may be connected with the particular characteristics of the areas and peasantries intersected by the PCM in the 1920s. Its major successes occurred in Michoacán, Veracruz, and Puebla, i.e., in western and eastern areas of central Mexico—the oldest, most densely populated axis of settlement and colonization in which large-scale hacienda agriculture coexisted with “free” independent peasant villages and a still vigorous regime of peasant small property (minifundistas and tenant farmers).61 The PCM had much less contact with the newer, more mobile and itinerant rural strata of the north, or with wage-earning agricultural laborers of the kind it would encounter in the Laguna, parts of Michoacán, and northern Sinaloa (Los Mochis) etc. in the 1930s.

In 1927, the PCM introduced some important changes to its policy. It repeated its traditional demands for: 1) the complete dissolution of latifundios and their distribution without compensation to poor peasants; 2) the introduction of a progressive tax to build an investment fund for peasants; and 3) the establishment of fairer relative prices between agricultural and industrial production. For the first time, however, the party also admitted that the enormous backwardness of agricultural production in Mexico, and the government’s limited technical and financial resources, made it necessary to adopt as a transitional measure “the creation and development of individual peasant landholdings (pequeña propiedad) in line with 1, 2, and 3 above.”62

This brief experiment with pragmatism, however, was quickly terminated by the shift to the left initiated by the “class against class” policy of the Comintern in 1928. Over the next five years, the PCM radicalized its agrarian policy, bitterly denouncing all forms of bourgeois agrarian reform, demanding peasant seizures of land and calling for expropriation without compensation. The party’s slogan became “Toda la tierra para el que trabaja sin pago ni indemnización a los terratenientes—por la revolución agraria y anti-imperialista a la toma del poder.”63 At the same time (late 1928), the PCM founded its own national labor and peasant organization, the United Trade Union Confederation of Mexico (CSUM), an act which signaled the party’s virtual declaration of war on the “reformist” organizations in which its members had worked throughout the ’20s.64

The PCM in the Laguna

The PCM’s first involvement in the Laguna cannot be dated with any precision. One authority refers to a “communist nucleus” in Matamoros in 1920, but the first documented mention of communists in the Laguna comes in May 1922.65 In interviews with José Santos Valdés and me, José Dolores Zárate Ibarra, one of the few surviving figures of the party in the region, recalled beginning work with the PCM in 1922 in Matamoros.66 The PCM’s few surviving records dealing with the Laguna note that Epifanio Huitrón Mascorro, later an ejidatario of Santa Ana del Pilar, joined the party in 1924.67

Certainly, the PCM seems to have established strong roots in Matamoros, a municipality with a long tradition of agrarian militancy spearheaded by descendants of the Juarista colonos of the previous century. It may have organized an early union which recruited eventuales and agricultural laborers on haciendas in the region. Two of the earliest peasant recruits to the PCM, Basilio Reyes and “Lolo” Zárate, were definitely among the men and women who occupied land on the Vega del Caracol and Chojos in December 1923.68 The “Matamoros connection” was strengthened later in the ’20s by the incorporation in the PCM of over 50 peasants including Alejandro Adame and another member of the Zárate family, Felipe.69 By the late ’20s, the PCM’s presence had grown considerably, judging by the circulation figures for the party’s newspaper El Machete. In March 1928, 780 copies were sold in the two states of Coahuila and Durango (Coahuila 485 copies and Durango 295), making the region the third most important area after the Federal District and Jalisco.70

At least one of the Laguna’s agrarian organizations joined the PCM-influenced National Peasant League (LNC). The Sindicato de Campesinos Agraristas del Estado de Durango which represented independent peasant communities joined the LNC in 1926, and José Guadalupe Rodríguez, a rural school teacher and one of the Durango body’s leading figures, was elected to the LNC’s Executive Committee. In 1927, Rodríguez was sent to the Soviet Union by the LNC to participate in the tenth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.71

The Depression

The Great Depression of 1928-34 hit Laguna agriculture hard, with prices and demand plummeting badly, although the fortunes of the cotton industry had already begun to decline in 1926. Hacienda owners responded to the crisis in a variety of ways—increasing mechanization in an attempt to reduce labor costs, renting out more of their properties to well-off tenants (a practice already well entrenched in the ’20s), selling properties where possible, or even abandoning production completely.72 One writer has gone so far as to suggest that the Cárdenas government intervened in 1936 to expropriate a bankrupt cotton industry. The impact of the crisis on the cotton work force was devastating. Cotton workers, as we have seen, had long been accustomed to a violently unpredictable pattern of demand for their labor. Now there was much less work, even in the pizca season, and the resident acanillados still faced competition from the immigrant workers who kept coming to the Laguna in desperate search of work.

For the Communist party, the economic depression coincided with the ultraleftism and sectarianism of the Comintern’s Third Period. These were years during which the party experienced a self-imposed isolation from most Mexican labor and peasant movements and suffered wave upon wave of state repression. The PCM, on paper at least, denounced all forms of bourgeois agrarian reform, backing away from the greater openness to pequeña propiedad announced in 1927, and calling for peasant seizure of land and the immediate expropriation of large property.73 It was during this period that the party turned much of its limited human resources and energy to the task of organizing rural proletarians, with patchy results in areas of capitalist agriculture in Michoacán (Nueva Lombardia), but with much more substantial success in the Laguna.

The period opened with a trial by fire for the Communists of Matamoros, Torreón, and other areas of the Laguna. In line with the PCM’s national policy, the Laguna Communists had participated in the 1929 presidential campaign of General Pedro Rodríguez Triana, a Laguna personality and candidate of the National Workers and Peasants Bloc which had been established by the PCM in late 1928.74 A wave of arrests and imprisonments followed, paralyzing the party and its worker-peasant organization, the CSUM, and placing the party heavily on the defensive in 1929 and 1930.75 On June 29, 1930, the state rural police attacked a demonstration by members of the Matamoros branch of the PCM-directed International Red Aid (Socorro Rojo) demanding land, the release of political prisoners, an eight-hour workday, and wage increases; 21 demonstrators were killed.76 During the year and a half following the Matamoros massacre, many Laguna Communists were picked up and imprisoned for weeks in Mexico City and elsewhere.77

By the middle of 1931, the Communist party in the Laguna had recovered sufficiently to begin serious organizing work. Judging from letters to the party’s underground paper published in July and August 1931, there were PCM sympathizers or Machete readers in at least two haciendas, El Jaboncillo in Coahuila and La Joya (Torreón district). By September, the first Regional Communist Conference in the Laguna reported the existence of five hacienda cells (one of them made up of ejidatarios and the other four consisting of agricultural laborers) with a total of 40 members.78 At the same time, the Torreón party local had organized a cell in a soap factory and reported contacts for two more cells in the city’s metal plant and the La Fe textile factory.79 The party’s total membership in Coahuila (located entirely in the Torreón and Matamoros areas) was 75, which represented exactly 7.5 percent of the total PCM membership at the end of 1931.

Eight months later, at the Third Regional Conference of the PCM in the Laguna in April 1932, there were delegates from six areas—Matamoros, Sacrificio, Coyote, Santa Ana, San Pedro, and Gómez Palacio.80 By July 1933, Machete referred to the reorganization of 4 agricultural cells in Santa Ana, 3 existing cells in Matamoros, 5 agricultural and 2 neighborhood cells in Gómez Palacio, and 2 neighborhood cells in San Pedro.81 To put these figures in perspective, we should note that at the beginning of 1932 there were only 27 agricultural cells (7 hacienda [i.e., peon based] and 20 pueblo [described as “peasant” based]) in the entire country.82 Small and poorly organized though they may have been, the Laguna agricultural cells represented the most important agrarian constituency within the Mexican Communist party.83

As the economic crisis in the Laguna deepened, Machete noted the deterioration in the conditions of the rural poor and began publishing detailed accounts of life on a number of haciendas in the region (including Santo Niño and Hidalgo in San Pedro, and El Salvador, El Cántabro, and El Perú).84Machete also recognized that the depression opened up new opportunities for the party’s organizers. Commenting on a bourgeois press account of the 30,000 unemployed peasants living up in the San Pedro municipality in March 1932, the PCM asked its members, “¿Qué esperan los comunistas y obreros unitarios de la Laguna para organizar y movilizar a las decenas de miles de peones desocupados? De nosotros depende que olviden su ‘bondad innata’ y ‘todo principio de disciplina’ para emprender la lucha resuelta no por un mendrugo de pan’ sino por pan y salario suficientes.”85

The Grand Struggle Begins: 1935

Beginning in mid-June 1935, there was a noticeable acceleration in the rhythm of agrarian organization and struggle in the Laguna, a development which was closely related to a radical shift in the direction of the Mexican Revolution at the national level. As Nora Hamilton put it:

… the increased (though still fragmented) mobilization of peasants and workers due to frustration at the detention of agrarian reform and dislocations resulting from the depression, and a coalescence of groups within the state opposed to the dominant clique—enabled progressive state factions to take control of the government party and ultimately, through the promulgation of the six-year plan and the presidential candidacy of Lázaro Cárdenas, of the government.86

During the course of the struggle to consolidate the new “progressive alliance” built around the Cárdenas presidency and to defend it from reactionary attack, many of the isolated fragments of the Mexican labor and peasant movement unified their actions to form new organizations which pressed for a radical deepening of the action of the state in labor-capital conflicts and agrarian matters. The most important of the proletarian mobilizations was centered around the formation of the National Committee for the Defense of the Proletariat (CNDP) on May 15, 1935. The CNDP, which drew on the worker and peasant constituencies of the Lombardo Toledano-led General Confederation of Workers and Peasants (CGOCM) and the Communist CSUM, not only rallied the nation against the threat posed by former president Calles but began preparation for the calling of a National Worker Peasant Congress to forge the unification of the Mexican proletariat.87 The CTM emerged from this congress in 1936, although, as we shall see, the new national labor organization’s hopes of incorporating ejidatarios and agricultural workers were soon dashed by governmental opposition.

The drive for labor unification and greater worker militancy observed at the national level substantially influenced developments in the Laguna. At the end of June 1935, local affiliates of the CSUM, the left wing of the Liga Socialista (affiliated with the official National Revolutionary Party [PNR]) and the Sindicato Progresista de Obreros Metalúrgicos de Torreón formed the Federación Sindical Revolucionaria de Obreros y Campesinos (FSR). It is significant that the FSR, although almost exclusively an organization of skilled and semiskilled urban workers in the metal, textile, and building industries, made a clear commitment to the organization of agricultural workers.88

The spark which detonated the agrarian mobilizations of the second half of 1935 was a strike on the Manila hacienda in the Gómez Palacio municipality fought by the Libardo Rivera sindicato which was affiliated not to the PCM-led CSUM but to the Federación de Sindicatos Obreros y Campesinos (FSOC) of Durango. The peons of the Manila hacienda demanded a labor contract. Although their strike was declared illegal, it received support from an impressive array of worker and peasant organizations, including the railwaymen of section 9 (Gómez Palacio) of the National Railworkers Union (STFRM) and the FSOC itself, which announced a solidarity strike with the Manila struggle throughout the entire municipio of Gómez Palacio beginning on July 8th. After striking for 32 days, the Manila peons secured a large number of their economic demands,89 The action at Manila gave a great impetus to unionization throughout the Laguna, and agrarian syndicates were formed on a number of haciendas in the Matamoros area. Labor contracts were won at Linares and San Ignacio, and the fight was extended to agricultural unions on the Los Angeles, Santa Ana del Pilar, and El Fresno de Arriba haciendas.90

On September 22, 1935, the rural unionization drive in the Laguna developed ties to the larger theme of mobilization in defense of the Cárdenas government with the formation of a Laguna region branch of the National Committee for the Defense of the Proletariat (CNDP), incorporating federations of workers and peasants throughout the region. Significantly, it was the metalworkers union in Torreón which provided the meeting place at which the new organization was formed. The executive of the Regional Committee for Defense of the Proletariat (CRDP) incorporated both industrial and craft workers (Dionisio Encina as general secretary, Domingo Garibaldi as interior secretary), as well as some key agrarian activists, including the recently bloodied hero of the Manila struggle, Manuel Murúa (secretary of organization and propaganda).91 The organization claimed a total membership of 4,188, and represented most of the key urban industrial unions (in the metal trades, textiles, and soap manufacture), as well as 18 sindicatos of agricultural laborers.92

The unionization of the cotton estates gathered pace in the fall and early winter of 1935, with the new unions receiving the active support of urban workers from Gómez Palacio and Torreón who were also enmeshed in a series of major strikes in November and December.93 In the majority of cases, the hacienda unions established in this period were sindicatos de obreros y campesinos which neatly captured the ambiguous nature of the rural work force’s class identification. Their demands centered around “proletarian" issues (observance of labor contracts, regular payment of wages, clean housing, medical services) but also included calls (as at the hacienda Concordia) for the granting of pasture rights for workers’ animals.94

Where hacendado resistance was strong, the sindicatos initiated strikes, seizing control of the landowners’ ca,sa grande and engaging in battle with the tame “white unions” (sindicatos blancos) created by some hacendados to combat the growth of “red” unionism.95 Local army detachments frequently intervened to break the rural strikes, but the aid provided by industrial workers helped balance the situation somewhat. Thus, when the peasants of San Lorenzo hacienda were confronted by a hostile army squad, they received the support of striking textile workers employed at the La Fe plant as well as of workers from the Peñoles plant and from the La Unión soap factory.96 Shortly afterwards, the rural laborers of CRDP reciprocated by declaring hacienda strikes in solidarity with the textile workers and in demand of a minimum agricultural wage of three pesos.97 Sporadic strike action continued on haciendas and ranchos right through the long and bitter La Fe strike culminating in a three-hour stop-page on 113 haciendas organized on January 11, 1936, by the Federación Sindical Revolucionaria.98 The last episode in this particular cycle of worker-peasant solidarity action was a demonstration of textile workers on January 12 protesting the imprisonment of Arturo Orona, a Communist peasant leader from Jimulco who would become the key figure in Laguna communism over the next three decades.99

With the formation of the CTM in Mexico City on February 21, 1936, the most militant sectors of the Laguna’s labor force could count on the backing of a new national labor organization committed, at least on paper, to the forging of a “classless society.” The CTM attracted a large number of affiliations from organizations of agricultural workers and peasants, and from the very beginning its national committee contained a peasant affairs portfolio; the first holder of this position was a Communist, Pedro Morales. The CTM’s determination to enroll rural workers was, however, resolutely opposed not only by the official pary (PNR), but also by the most important of the national peasant organizations, the Mexican Peasant Confederation (CCM) of Graciano Sánchez, which also warned its affiliates against sending delegates to the founding CTM congress. Cárdenas himself argued against the CTM’s plans to convoke a convention of peasants. The CTM continued organizing agricultural workers in a number of regions including the Laguna; the proposed convention, however, was never called.100

The tension between the CTM and the CCM nationally was reflected at the local level in growing conflicts between CTM-affiliated unions of agricultural workers and the Ligas de Comunidades Agrarias, most of which were already tied to the official party and to state political networks embracing governors, presidentes municipales, and local power brokers. Although the conflict was motivated in part by competing efforts at securing new clienteles and by the differing sociological constituencies of the two organizations (peasant smallholders and ejidatarios versus proletarianized urban and rural workers), the rivalry between the CTM affiliates and the leagues Increasingly took on an ideological tone, with the leagues and their allies in the federal labor inspectorate denouncing the work of “communists” on the haciendas. In spite of a series of “non-aggression pacts ” signed in January and March 1936, hostility between the two forces continued to grow, fueled by efforts of the deputy minister of the interior, Agustín Arroyo Ch., and labor inspector, Rodolfo López España, to pressure sindicatos de obreros agrícolas to leave the CTM and join the Ligas de Comunidades Agrarias.

Laying the Groundwork for the Reparto

By the end of March 1936, the first stage of the agrarian struggle on the Laguna cotton estates had concluded. The labor force of the largest haciendas had been unionized through the auspices of the Revolutionary Union Federation (FSR) in Coahuila and the Federation of Worker and Peasant Unions (FSOC) in Durango, as well as the Regional Committee for Defense of the Proletariat, and with the help of the Mexican Communist party, although we still lack detailed information on the presence of the PCM on particular estates.101 The organization of peones acasillados had been supported by key unions of urban industrial workers with the leading role being taken by metal and textile unions which had ties to the PCM. There had also been progress in securing the acceptance of labor contracts by many hacienda proprietors, although the work of the “red” syndicates was often hindered by the landowners’ dismissal of unionized workers and their strategy of dividing the labor force through the creation of rival “white” unions.

The direction, pace, and timing of the key developments in the first stage of the agrarian mobilization had been strongly influenced by structural variables of a political, legal, and economic nature. The mediation of the state, political parties, and nationally organized labor movements (PCM, CNDP, CTM) was crucial in directing the development of sindicatos de peones. The Great Depression sharpened social tensions, exposed even more brutally the fragility of peons’ existence within a framework dominated by wage labor, and weakened the resolve of an increasingly hard-pressed hacendado class. Finally, the new Agrarian Code of 1934 removed many of the legal impediments inhibiting access by peones acasillados to agrarian reform.

By May 1936, the scope of the demands made by the agrarian syndicates began to broaden to include calls for firm government action on tackling unemployment and, interestingly, land distribution in the Laguna. The first mention of the desirability of the division of large properties had come at the end of March during a visit made to Mexico City by a commission of the Laguna CRDP headed by the PCM’s Jorge Fernández Anaya.102 A call for land grants to peons also figured among the long list of demands filed by the CRDP and allied organizations in May, although the bulk of the points raised in the pliego de peticiones dealt with labor conditions on haciendas (demands for 50 percent wage increases, construction of schools and worker housing, and for the reinstatement of dismissed peons).103

The May demands were backed up by the threat of a regional general strike involving nearly 100 haciendas, as well as textile and metallurgical plants in Torreón. The employers responded with a stalling game designed to secure the postponement of the proposed general strike. They agreed (during negotiations held in Mexico City) to sign a new agreement on collective labor contracts, to reinstate fired workers and to abandon company unions, but they failed to implement their promises on the ground in the Laguna.104 At the same time, hacendados began to contract a larger than normal number of bonanceros in preparation for the general strike which was now scheduled for June 15th.105

In protest at the extreme intransigence shown by employers and the delay in implementing the agreement signed in Mexico City, the CRDP held a brief work stoppage on 109 haciendas and at the La Fe and the Metalúrgica on June 2.106 The paro was successful except at two haciendas where rival unions forced peons to return to work.107 At one of these haciendas, El Consuelo (in Matamoros district), workers from factories in Torreón and the town of Matamoros arrived to help the peons of Nicolás Lenine syndicate resume their strike, setting off a battle between the “red” peasants and a contingent of federal troops whose intervention helped the white forces break the strike once more.108 Worker-peasant collaboration was further cemented on June 8th, when metal workers at the Peñoles plant in Torreón announced their intention to support the June 15th general strike with paros of six hours per day distributed throughout the three daily work shifts.109

On June 15th, however, the strike was postponed once again for a further 45 days on condition that all parts of the proposed labor contract be implemented right away.110 It now seemed clear that the fate of the Laguna problem was being decided in Mexico City at CTM national headquarters and at the presidential palace far away from the fields of the Laguna. According to Dionisio Encina, there was little communication between negotiators in Mexico City and the region, and there were growing signs of impatience within the CRDP and a number of agrarian sindicatos.111 The uneasy truce on the Laguna haciendas was threatened on July 9th by a CRDP decision to carry out strikes at two haciendas, San Ignacio and Santa Lucrecia, where employers refused to reinstate workers and continued to violate collective labor contracts.112

At the beginning of August, the much-postponed general strike, scheduled for the 10th, was put off for another week due in part to the lukewarm response of some local organizations. Support for the agrarian action among the bulk of the industrial labor force of the region, however, continued to consolidate. On August 10th, Section 74 of the National Union of Metal Workers and Miners in Torreón pledged the substantial aid of 1,000 pesos a week for the rural strikers, and six days later the Federación de Trabajadores de la Comarca Lagunera, the newly established affiliate of CTM, threw its full support behind the coming general strike.113

The general strike finally broke out on August 19th. Initially, 20,000 peons on 104 haciendas in Coahuila and Durango were involved, although by the end of the strike more than 150 estates were affected. The principal demands made by the strike committee were for a minimum daily wage of two and a half pesos, houses, drinking water supplies and medical attention, and once again the provision of plots of land (lotes de tierra) for agricultural laborers to work.114 It is unclear, however, what the reference to “lotes de tierra” (not a new demand as we have seen) signified. Was the demand simply a recognition of the traditional practice under which wage workers cultivated food for domestic consumption on small plots adjoining their homes (a practice inherited from the days when many peons had been sharecroppers or aparceros) or was it an indicator that “proletarian” and “agrarista” demands could go side by side?115

An answer to this question is made more difficult by the fact that for several weeks before the strike commenced, the Laguna had been swept by rumors that Cárdenas was planning to divide the great cotton estates.116 Moreover, in spite of the emphasis given by both the PCM and the CTM to the theme of unionization and proletarian struggle, the eventual decision to solve the Laguna problem through a dramatic reparto may not have come as such a surprise to them. A year earlier, in June 1935, Lombardo Toledano had already published an article on the Laguna problem (“La Comarca de la Laguna en cifras”) calling for a division of the haciendas into lots no larger than 200 hectares, the granting of ejidos to agrarian communities and peones acasillados, and the issuing of a collective labor contract with a minimum wage of three pesos—i.e., a mix of agrarista and proletarian demands.117 According to an internal party document of 1946, in early 1936 the PCM also supported the idea of grants of parcelas individuales to agricultural workers.118

The strike lasted for ten days, until August 28th, when work resumed on 11 haciendas. On the following day, President Cárdenas informed the Laguna strike committee (which included Encina and Mario Pavón Flores, both of the PCM) and Lombardo Toledano that he would authorize the division of the cotton haciendas among 15,000 eligible peons on condition that the strike was formally lifted.119 On August 31, the Federación de Trabajadores de la Región Lagunera ordered peasants to resume work, officially terminating the strike.120

In the interval between these events and the official declaration of the reparto in October, the Laguna’s landowners and wealthy tenant farmers, in cahoots with the military, rushed to decapitalize their estates by removing equipment, wasting valuable waters of the Río Nazas, harassing the peon sindicatos, and conniving at the arrest of activist workers121. Interestingly, at this stage the resident agricultural worker wanted the bonanceros and other temporary workers to leave the region, as they were being used by the employers to harass permanent workers.122 This makes it all the more remarkable that the benefits of the reparto were soon extended to precisely these groups. For when the land division was formally declared on October 6th, it benefited many more workers than Cárdenas had anticipated in late August. In addition to the 15-16,000 peones acasillados, some 10,000 eventuales and 15,000 bonanceros secured ejidal rights.123

In the end, the settlement of the Laguna problem was shaped as much by the interests of the state as by the concerns of the historical actors in the region. There were many strands to the logic of the state’s action, including the need to preserve intact a crucial area of capitalist agriculture threatened by the intransigence and insolvency of the hacendado class. “Repeasantizing” the agricultural workers also made it more likely that the region’s labor force would eventually he incorporated into national peasant organizations rather than the powerful and socialist-leaning CTM. At the same time, however, it would he wrong to reduce the complexities of the Laguna settlement to the operation of a single factor like the rise of an all-powerful, all-seeing, postrevolutionary state. The action of the Cardenista state in the Laguna and in many other cases was preceded by impressive mobilizations of popular forces which established the possibilities and the limits of state intervention. The Communist party alone did not direct the agrarian and labor mobilizations of the 1934-36 period, but it equipped them with experienced cadres, and provided a network of rural-urban contacts which had been forged with growing success ever since the mid-1920s.

Significance of the Reparto for the Worker-Peasant Alliance: A Conclusion

Arboleyda and Vázquez León argue that the reparto was only a half victory, and that the PCM has to carry some of the blame for this outcome. Its local leaders and militants were politically unsophisticated, and the possibility of nationalizing the land and means of production, which would then be exploited collectively in socialized enterprises, “nunca cruzó por sus mentes.” The PCM was unfamiliar with the mechanics of ejidos and cooperatives, “and the collective ejido was accepted simply because it did not disturb the collective work practices of the former peons and because there was no political consciousness of the long-term interests of the rural masses.”124

But this is too simplistic a portrait and involves the teleological assumption that because the erosion of the collective ejidos’ strength and unity occurred in the ’40s and ’50s, the development was inevitable and foreshadowed from the very start. First, the collective ejido was not simply a peasant plot—the former peons and their advisors demanded and obtained a series of reforms which went far beyond a peasant view of how land should be administered. The ejido colectivo did envisage collective ownership and management of the means of production, although circumstances (a rightward shift in the central government, the official encouragement of divisions within ejidos, and the weakening of peasant control over administration, technology, and resources) quickly eroded this possibility.125

Therefore, PCM tactics in the period of the reparto must not be separated from an analysis of the events of the next four years (1936-40) in which the collective ejidos greatly expanded their sphere of influence and control. The PCM played a crucial role in this expansion process, beginning with the creation in 1937 of consultative committees which gave ejidatarios an important say in the administrative functions of the Banco de Crédito Ejidal, a move which was strongly opposed by the “official” agraristas organized in the Ligas de Comunidades Agrarias. The PCM also provided a large proportion of the “natural leadership” of the successors of the consultative committees known as the Unions of Ejidal Credit Societies (organized in each of the main ejidal zones) and of the movement’s “high command,” the Central Union.126

This was the material basis on which the PCM built its substantial membership in the Laguna: by December 1939, there were 135 party cells in Durango and Coahuila, with a total membership of 1,761.127 Clearly, though, the reason why a large number of the party’s peasant militantes (and certainly many members of the PCM-influenced Central Union) identified with the Communist party and its impeccably hard-working and honest leading cadres had as much to do with the PCM’s skills in political brokerage and in distribution of resources as it had with questions of class consciousness and formal ideology.128

Secondly, the shift in the PCM’s stance from advocacy of union building (1932-36) toward acceptance of an agrarista option in the late summer of 1936 cannot be explained simply as a result of the party’s ideological flabbiness and its capitulation to the global project of the Cardenista state. The party’s original concentration on the sindicato and sindicalista tactics was perfectly logical in view of the fact that acasillados were not entitled to receive land before the Agrarian Code of 1934; if petitioning for land was not viable, then syndical organization was a more appropriate tactic. Coincidentally, the left phase of the PCM (1928-35) also led to a sharpening of emphasis on class against class and proletarian tactics, and to an aggressive dismissal of the “fake” agrarismo of peasant organizations allied to the official party. However, the party’s behavior and the preferences of its Laguna members should not be read off mechanically from the formal ideology articulated by national leadership.

Nevertheless, it is abundantly clear that the reparto did cause PCM to move from being the focus of a worker-peasant alliance (before 1936) to becoming the center of a much narrower constituency based on the collective ejidos. It now limited itself in practice to a concern with the corporate interests of the reconstituted peasantry formed out of the former agricultural laborers.129 These interests (production, credit, distribution) of the ejidos and the drive to increase production through policies of “socialist emulation” came to dominate the life and preoccupations of the entire PCM structure in the Laguna for several decades.130 In the process the ejidatarios and their concerns displaced virtually all the other social actors from the center of the PCM’s attention. Much the same kind of development occurred on the collectivized estates of the sugar industry in northern Sinaloa, where the PCM also enjoyed a significant (albeit much more short-lived) presence.131 From the late 1930s until 1960, the weight of the Laguna ejidatarios within the overall PCM structure was considerable. The personal authority of Encina was bolstered by the presence of many Laguna figures in the Politbureau and Central Committee, and the party’s symbiotic relationship with the Central Union gave it access to much needed financial resources.

Cooperation between ejidatarios and industrial workers also declined drastically after 1936. A party conference in 1938 concluded that it had been “nonexistent,” and called on workers to form propaganda brigades to help with the revolutionary education of the ejidatarios, training them in bookkeeping, in the operation and maintenance of agricultural machinery, and providing loans and where necessary work brigades to help with urgent agricultural tasks.132 The decline in worker-peasant contacts, however, was also a development encouraged by the agraristas of the Liga de Comunidades Agrarias and by the Coahuilan state government which attacked “undue interference by workers in agrarian problems.”133

After the reparto, therefore, the PCM was unable or unwilling to pay much attention to the interests of those Laguna peasants who did not obtain ejidatario status or to the needs of the significant number of workers (3,000 in 1939) who continued to work as wage laborers on the surviving private properties in the region. In spite of the Coahuila state government’s move in 1938 to prohibit the registration of all sindicatos agrícolas, a number of strikes were declared by peons. But this time there was little sign of the regionwide solidarity demonstrated in 1936, and the episode marked the effective end of agricultural unionism in the Laguna.134

The growing anticommunism of the CTM and the new National Peasant Confederation (CNC) after 1938 also played a role in weakening the Communist party’s ability to influence workers who were outside the ejidal sector. Moreover, the PCM’s uncritical acceptance of the Popular Front credentials of Lázaro Cárdenas, which was accentuated by the party’s adoption of the “Unity at All Cost” slogan of 1937, further debilitated its credibility and reputation for independence.135 It was not surprising, therefore, that in 1938 the PCM ordered its ejidatario affiliates to join the CNC, thereby tacitly accepting the institutional separation of rural and urban workers.

Only in late 1946 and 1947 did the party recognize the consequences of its neglect of the (by then considerable) pool of agricultural proletarians outside of the ejidal sector. In March 1947, the Communist party ordered the Central Union to leave the CNC and rejoin the CTM in an attempt to “rebuild the worker-peasant alliance.” By this stage, it was unfortunately too late.


See, for example, Rosa Elena Montes de Oca, “The State and the Peasants” in Authoritarianism in Mexico, José Luis Reyna and Richard S. Weinert, eds. (Philadelphia, 1977), 52; Nora Hamilton, The Limits of State Autonomy: Post-Revolutionary Mexico (Princeton, 1982), 179-180; Ann Craig, The First Agraristas: An Oral History of a Mexican Agrarian Reform Movement (Berkeley, 1983), 242; Tomás Martínez Saldaña, El costo social de un éxito político: La política expansionista del estado mexicano en el agro lagunero (Chapingo, 1980), 22-31.


Ruth Arboleyda and Luis Vázquez León, “El colectivismo ejidal y la cuestión agraria en México: El caso de la Laguna, un estudio de antropología política” (Licenciatura thesis, Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City, 1978), ch. 3. This is also the only Laguna study which devotes more than token space to examining the role of the Communist party in the region before the reparto.


Sidney Mintz, foreword to Ramiro Guerra’s Sugar and Society in the Caribbean (New Haven, 1964), xxvii.


Eyler N. Simpson, The Ejido: Mexico’s Way Out (Chapel Hill, 1937), 443-451.


Collective and collectivist/cooperative forms of the ejido had been demanded and in some cases achieved (e.g., in Veracruz, home of a PCM-dominated peasant league until 1929). The National Peasant League foresaw the cooperative ejido as one stage in the eventual goal of socializing all means of production and even the government’s National Agrarian Commission in 1922 had issued a circular (no. 51) proposing that large estates should be passed to ejidos intact and farmed communally in order to maximize technical efficiency, etc.


For a while, at least, CTM’s peasant branches maintained a dual membership, entering CNC en bloc while continuing to pay dues to CTM. Dorothy W. Douglas, “Land and Labor in Mexico,” Science anti Society, 4:1 (Spring 1940), 142.


Barry Carr, “The Casa del Obrero Mundial, Constitutionalism and the Pact of February 1915” in El trabajo y los trabajadores en la historia de México, Elsa Cecilia Frost, Michael C. Meyer, and Josefina Zoraida Vázquez, comps. (Mexico City, 1977), 603-632; Jean Meyer, “Los obreros en la Revolución Mexicana: Los Batallones Rojos,” Historia Mexicana, 21:81 (July-Sept. 1971); Ramón Eduardo Ruiz, Labor and the Ambivalent Revolutionaries: Mexico, 1911-1923 (Baltimore, 1976).


David Ronfeldt, Atencingo: The Politics of Agrarian Struggle in a Mexican Ejido (Stanford, 1973).


Simpson, The Ejido, 461; Roberto Gallaga, “La historia del trabajo de los campesinos cañeros en el siglo XX” in Frost et al., El trabajo, 575.


William Meyers, “Popular Movements and the State in the Comarca Lagunera,” paper presented to LASA meeting, Mexico City, Sept. 1983; Friedrich Katz, The Secret War in Mexico: Europe, the United States and the Mexican Revolution (Chicago, 1981), 279-287; Romana Falcón, Revolución y caciquismo. San Luis Potosí, 1910-1938 (Mexico City, 1984).


Raymond Buve, “Protesta de obreros y campesinos durante el porfiriato: Unas consideraciones sobre su desarrollo e interrelaciones en el este de México central, Boletín de Estudios Latinoamericanos (Amsterdam), 13 (Dec. 1972), 1-20.


Heather Salamini, Agrarian Radicalism in Veracruz, 1920-1938 (Lincoln, 1978).


Craig, The First Agraristas, 60-61, 140-176.


Liga de Agrónomos Socialistas, El colectivismo agrario en México: La comarca lagunera (Mexico City, 1940), 34.


Ibid., 37.


Ildefonso Villarelo Vélez, Historia de la Revolución Mexicana en Coahuila (Mexico City, 1970), 35-36; Meyers, “Popular Movements,” 3.


Judith Adler Hellman, “Capitalist Agriculture and Rural Protest: The Case of the Laguna Region, Mexico,” Labour Capital and Society, 14:2 (Nov. 1981), 30-46. Hellman also notes (p. 32) the striking absence of studies on the historical evolution of class relations in the Laguna in spite of the availability of a large literature on agrarian reform after the 1930s.


Meyers, “La Comarca Lagunera: Work, Protest and Popular Mobilization in North Central Mexico” in Other Mexicos: Essays on Regional Mexican History, 1876-1911, Thomas Benjamin and William McNellie, eds. (Norman, 1984), 235; Alan Knight, The Mexican Revolution, Vol. I, Porfirians, Liberals and Peasants (Cambridge, 1986), 179-180, 280.


María Vargas-Lobsinger, La hacienda de “La Concha": Una empresa algodonera de la Laguna 1883-1917 (Mexico City, 1984), 18-20; Meyers, La Comarca Lagunera, 251-254; Meyers, “Interest Conflicts and Popular Discontent; The Origins of the Revolution in the Laguna, 1880-1910” (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1979), 32-33, 77.


Martínez Saldaña, “El costo social, 87.


For comments on the links between employment and ecology see Department of State Records on the Internal Affairs of Mexico, National Archives, Record Group 59, Washington, D.C. (hereafter NA RG 59), 812.00/21178, Homer Caen to secretary of state, Aug. 4, 1917; 812.00/21297, Philip Hanna to secretary of state, Sept. 21, 1917; 812.6132/36, Bartley Yost to secretary of state, Feb. 5, 1926.


Ramón Eduardo Ruiz, The Great Rebellion: Mexico, 1905-1924 (New York, 1980), 84-91.


Clarence Senior, “Land Reform and Democracy” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1955), 247-248.


Meyers, “Popular Movements,” 5.


Despertar lagunero. Libro que relata la lucha y triunfo de la revolución en la comarca lagunera (Mexico City, 1937), 48-49.


For landowner complaints of shortage of labor in 1921 see the anguished report of the Cámara Agrícola Nacional, Nov. 23, 1921, in Archivo General de la Nación (Mexico City), Ramo del Trabajo, Secretaría de Industria, Comercio y Trabajo, 32-6-6-47.


For comments on migration to the United States and its impact on the supply of labor see (for 1920) Cummins despatch, Dec. 11, 1920, enclosing letter from Vice-Consul Graham in Durango, Public Record Office (London), FO 371 A56/56/26, and (for 1924) Bartley F. Yost to secretary of state, Apr. 2, 1924, NA RG 59, 812.61331/21.


Drew Linard to secretary of state, May 15, 1924, NA RG 59, 812.52/1207.


See Craig, The First Agraristas, 207, for the case of one such immigrant from Jalisco, Juan Oliva.


Cynthia Hewitt and Henry Landsberger, Peasant Organizations in the Laguna, Mexico: History, Structure, Member Participation, Effectiveness (CIDA Research Paper No. 17, Washington, Nov. 1970). 5.


Arboleyda and Vázquez León, “El colectivismo ejidal," 308.


Juan Martínez. Alier, Cuba: Economía y sociedad (Paris, 1972), 109-208. The quotation is from p. 206. Knight, Mexican Revolution, I, 87, has made the same point.


Craig, The First Agraristas, 61-67, 154, 183.


Senior, “Land Reform,” 262-263; Meyers, “Interest Conflicts,” 173-179.


Meyers, "Popular Movements," 8. The important coal mining areas of northern Coahuila (Sabinas, La Rosita, Palau, and Cloete) also had ties with the Laguna region.


Manuel Plana, Il regno del cotone in Messico. La struttura agraria de la Laguna (1885-1910) (Milan, 1984), 223-224.


“Entrevista con Dionisio Encina’s [sic].” in Historia Obrera, 19 (May 1980), 6-14. Other sources date Encina’s involvement with the Communist Youth from 1925; Encina, Fuera el imperialismo y sus agentes (Mexico City, 1940), xii-xiv.


Arholeyda and Vázquez León, “El colectivismo ejidal,” 387, n. 56.


Hewitt and Landsberger, Peasant Organizations, 14.


Carr’s interview with Sr. Casiano Campos, Mexico City, Nov. 7, 1969. There is, unfortunately, no published history of UMM. On miners in general, see Federico Besserer, Victoria Novelo, and Juan Luis Sariego, El sindicalismo minero en México 1900-1952 (Mexico City, 1983). UMM abandoned its links with CROM in 1923. Carr, El movimiento obrero y la política en México (Mexico City, 1981), 210-211.


On the agrarian work of branch 8 of UMM in Palau, see Trabajo y Producción (Chihuahua), Mar. 25, 1917.


On the IWW in Torreón see Trabajo y Produccióm, Apr. 29, 1917; Luz. Mar. 20, 1918, p. 2.


Lucha Social (Saltillo), May 5, 1918, p. 2; Libertario, May 20, 1919, p. 2.


Calixto Contreras had led the peasants of San Pedro Ocuila in 1905 in a struggle to fight the expropriation of their lands by the Sombreretillo hacienda. Pablo Machula Macías, La revolución en una ciudad del norte (Mexico City, 1977), 68, cited in Katz, The Secret War, 262. On agrarian reform under Villa, see Katz, "Pancho Villa, Peasant Movements and Agrarian Reform in Northern Mexico” in Caudillo and Peasant in the Mexican Revolution, David Brading, ed. (Cambridge, 1980).


Arboleyda and Vázquez León, “El colectivismo ejidal,” 315 notes the cases of the haciendas of Sacramento, Santa Teresa, California, Lucero, San Lorenzo, and Concordia.


Paco Ignacio Taibó, II, “Estadística: Las huelgas en el interinato de Adolfo de la Huerta (1 Junio-3 Noviembre 1920),” Historia Obrera, 20 (Sept. 1980), 10; Carlton Beals and Roberto Haberman, “Mexican Labor and the Mexican Government,” The Liberator, 3:10 (Oct. 1920), 20, 22.


The peak of CROM’s power in the state came during the governorship of Manuel Pérez Treviño with whom the organization signed a (not very successful) mutual aid pact.


Alfonso Porfirio Hernández, ¿La explotación colectiva en la Comarca Lagunera es un fracaso? (Mexico City, 1975), 56-58, based on an interview with Juan Moreno, a Durangan peasant.


See the interesting account of J. Cruz Chacón Sifuentes in Hewitt and Landsberger. Peasant Organizations, 127-128; Arboleyda and Vázquez León, “El colectivismo ejidal,” 316.


Arboleyda and Vázquez León, “El colectivismo ejidal,” 316, citing Hewitt and Landsberger, 129-134 and José Santos Valdés, Matamoros, ciudad lagunera (Mexico City, 1973), 314. Rocío Guadarrama provides a list of agrarian organizations in Coahuila and Durango which joined CROM between 1925 and 1928. Guadarrama, Los sindicatos y la política en México: La CROM 1918-1928 (Mexico City, 1981), 193–197, 203-204.


See the massive correspondence from peasant syndicates in the San Pedro district in 1921 requesting distribution of ejidal lands. Archivo General de la Nación, Ramo de Trabajo, 32-6-6-47.


El Demócrata, Dec. 13, 21, 1922.


The imprisoned peasants were defended by Jesús Caballero, secretary general of the Federation of Workers and Peasants of the Laguna Region. Hernández, La explotación colectiva, 66-68; Ruiz, Great Rebellion, 317-320; and Santos Valdés, Matamoros, 341-345.


Arboleyda and Vázquez Leon, “El colectivismo ejidal,” 315.


Sindicato de Campesinos Agraristas del Estado de Durango, Informe que rinde el Lic. Alberto Terrones Benítez, presidente del consejo ejecutivo, ante el quinto congreso agrarista del estado de Durango, 1 de enero 1925, 47.


Hewitt and Landsberger, Peasant Organizations, 129.


PCM III Congreso: Programa y acuerdos (Mexico City, 1925), 4, 40-41 notes the rapid turnover of the party’s secretaries of agrarian matters in 1924-25, as well as the poverty and ignorance of the holders of the office.


Salamini, Agrarian Radicalism, 51-54.


El Obrero Comunista, Jan. 11, 1922.


El Machete, Sept. 4-11, 1924. p. 3. This is basically the position adopted by Bertram Wolfe as PCM representative at the Fifth Comintern Congress in July 1924; see NA RC 59. 812.00B/195. See also Luis Monzón, Algunos puntos sobre el comunismo (Mexico City, 1924), 33-37.


See Katz, “Labor Conditions on Haciendas in Porfirian Mexico: Some Trends and Tendencies,” HAHR, 54: 1 (Feb. 1974), 1-47.


Resolución del PC de México sobre la situación actual y las tareas del partido (Mexico City, Aug. 19, 1927), 7-8. The same document insisted on the crucial role played by agriculture in the transition to socialism: “… sin la resolución del problema agrario, resulta completamente inútil hablar de la creación de una industria nacional. Sólo el aumento constante del poder adquisitivo de las masas campesinas podrá asentar la base indispensable para el establecimiento de la industria nacional.”


El Machete, 219 (Feb. 20/29-Mar. 10. 1932) reporting the recent (Feb. 1932) Conferencia Nacional del Partido.


Arnaldo Cordova, En una época de crisis (1928-1934), Vol. IX of Im clase obrera en la historia de México (Mexico City, 1980), 66-76.


The Matamoros reference is in Arboleyda and Vázquez León, “El colectivismo ejidal," 316. An article in El Obrero Comunista, 1 : 20 (May 1922) refers to “some peasants of the Laguna Communist party” and talks optimistically about peasant disillusionment with the results of the division (reparto) of the San Carlos hacienda among 203 peasants.


Carr interview with Zárate, Matamoros, Nov. 1984; Santos Valdés, Matamoros, 470-474.


Coahuila, Canje de carnets del PCM 1959-1960, in Centro de Estudios del Movimiento Obrero Socialista (hereafter CEMOS), Archivo del PCM, Caja 36, f.6. After the 1936 expropriations, Huitrón became a leading PCM figure in the collective ejido structure and was one of the eight people elected to the Comité Consultivo Central de Ejidatarios; Sergio Alcántara Ferrer, La organización colectivista ejidal en la comarca lagunera (Torreón, 1967), 45.


Santos Valdés, Matamoros, 474. At the time of the battles over the Vega del Caracol, Zárate was secretary-treasurer of the local Federation of Workers and Peasants.


Felipe Zárate, an agrarian guerrillero and cotton peon, joined PCM in 1928; he died in Aug. 1932 at the age of 35. See El Machete Ilegal, 238 (Sept. 20, 1932), 2. A list of the founding members of PCM in the Laguna (alongside the party’s members who were killed in the Matamoros massacre of 1930) is appended in a letter to the Politburo of PCM (undated but must be Oct. or Nov. 1943). Among the founders were: Alejandro Adame, Pablo Rivera, Pablo Valles, Epifanio Huitrón, Pedro Castro, Benito Medina, Magdalena Delgado, Anacleto Aguilera, J. Nieves Vega, Priscilla Huereca, Josefa Escobedo, J. Dolores Zárate, Julián Adame, and Pedro Murillo. CEMOS/Archivo Carlos Sánchez Cárdenas, Carpeta Roja 2.


El Machete, Mar. 17, 1928, p. 5. There is, unfortunately, no breakdown (by sub-region) for circulation in the two states, and some of the 780 copies presumably circulated outside of the comarca lagunera in Saltillo, for example, and in the mining region of northern Coahuila.


Judith Adler, “The Politics of Land Reform in Mexico with Special Reference to the Comarca Lagunera (1935-1967)” (M.A. thesis, London School of Economics, 1970), 66. Two years later, on May 14, 1929, Rodríguez, then a member of the Central Committee of PCM, was executed during the Ecobarista revolt after being accused of inciting armed agraristas to a communist uprising. The PCM, while hostile to the Portes Gil government, encouraged the formation of peasant and worker militias to combat the Escobar revolt, and Rodríguez and Ricardo López were leaders of two important Coahuila contingents. See Julio Cuadros Calda, El comunismo criollo (Puebla., 1930), 15-19.


Raymond Wilkie, San Miguel: A Mexican Collective Ejido (Stanford, 1971), 18; Martínez. Saldaña, "El costo social,” 29.


See the summary of discussion on agrarian questions at the PCM’s National Conference in Feb. 1932, "Nuestra política en el campo,” published in El Machete Ilegal, 219 (Feb. 20/29-Mar. 10, 1932), 3.


Rodríguez Triana was born in San Pedro de las Colonias in 1890 of a poor peasant family which had emigrated to the Laguna from Zacatecas. His politico-military career involved stints as a PLM activist (taking part in the Viesca and Las Vacas uprisings) and as a Zapatista. After 1917 he advised peasants in Coahuila on filing claims for donation and restitution of lands. See the detailed biographical sketches published in El Machete, 149 (Jan. 26, 1929). 1; 151 (Feb. 9, 1929). 1.


For examples of attacks on the PCM, Socorro Rojo, CSUM, etc. see El Machete Ilegal, 188 (Dec. 1930), 1, 4; 189 (Jan. 1931), 1, 3; 193 (primera quincena de marzo de 1931), 1; 194 (segunda quincena de marzo de 1931), 1.


Santos Valdés, Matamoros, 293-340.


On Nov. 2, 1930, for example, Encina, Guadalupe Saucedo, Federico Reyes, and Aurelio Andrade were arrested in Torreón and transported to Mexico City. They were only released in late January of the following year. El Machete ilegal, 188 (Dec. 1930), 1; 191 (primera quincena de febrero de 1931), 4.


El Machete Ilegal, 209 (Sept. 20, 1931), 1-2.


A PCM cell was definitely established at La Fe by the end of 1931. See Espártaco, 28 (Jan. 1932), 4.


El Machete Ilegal, 226 (May 20, 1932), 2.


El Machete Ilegal, 265 (July 20, 1933), 1. In the same month, El Machete noted that 300 copies of the paper were sent to Torreón (compared with 480 in Tampico, 350 in D.F., 500 in Monterrey, and 800 in Veracruz).


El Machete Ilegal, 223 (Apr. 20, 1932), 2.


Detailed research on this question is still urgently needed. In an interview with me, Jorge Fernández Anaya, organization secretary of the PSUM’s peasant and worker front (CSUM), has stated that there were no sindicatos de peones in CSUM when he visited the Laguna in mid-1935. Interview with Jorge Fernández Anaya, Mexico City, Nov. 1984.


El Machete Ilegal, 273 (Oct. 10, 1933), 2; 275 (Nov. 10, 193,3), 2.


El Machete Ilegal, 221 (Mar. 30, 1922), 3. Wages on Santo Niño were 35-50 centavos a day. On the San Pedro hacienda it was noted that most agricultural workers were young, chosen because of their strength and limited willingness to stand up for rights. In El Fresno, agricultural workers who attempted to create a cooperative store to compete with the tienda de raya met with violent opposition from the landowners’ rural guard.


Hamilton, Limits of State Autonomy, 273.


Chassen de López, Lombardo Toledano y el movimiento obrero mexicano, 1917-1940 (Mexico City, 1977), 175; Arboleyda and Vázquez León, “El colectivismo ejidal,” 317.


Liga de Agrónomos Socialistas, El colectivismo agrario, 39.


Arboleyda and Vázquez León, “El colectivismo ejidal," 318; Liga de Agrónomos Socialistas, El colectivismo agrario, 40.


Arboleyda and Vázquez León, “El colectivismo ejidal,” 318; La Opinión, Sept. 18, 1935, p. 1. The Sindicato de Campesinos “Julio Antonio Mella” at Santa Ana del Pilar was affiliated to the FSROC.


The organizations which were affiliated to the CNDP included the Federación de Sindicatos de Obreros y Campesinos de Gómez Palacio, Federación Sindical Revolucionaria de Obreros y Campesinos de Torreón, Federación de Sindicatos de Obreros y Campesinos de Matamoros, and the Federación de Sindicatos de Obreros y Campesinos de San Pedro. La Opinión, Sept. 23, 1935, p. 1. The CNDP’s treasurer was José Haul Tapia and its youth secretary was Juan Manuel Pinto.


El Machete, 358 (Oct. 5, 1935), 2.


Author’s interview with Jorge Fernández Anaya, Mexico City, Oct. 31, 1984; La Opinión, Oct. 13, 1935, p. 2. A strike at the Peñoles metal plant on Nov. 8 For higher wages involved 800 workers receiving support From CSUM and From the rail union. The workers won a minimum wage of three pesos and a general increase 0f 75 percent. La Opinión, Nov. 9, p. 4 and El Machete, 365 (Nov. 16). On Dec. 5, the textile workers of La Fe announced that they would strike—600 workers were involved. The strike was declared inexistente on Dec. 16. La Opinión, Dec. 5 and 6. Both strikes received assistance From Mario Pavón Flores, chief labor lawyer and strategist of PCM and CSUM.


La Opinión, Sept. 24, 1935, p. 1.


See the account of the struggle on the La Perla, San Luis, and La Joya haciendas in La Opinión, Oct. 19, 1935, p. 1. The struggle of red and white unions to win over the peones acasillados frequently produced two or more rival unions on particular haciendas. There were struggles between the unions affiliated to CRDP, FSROC, etc. and the General Workers Confederation (CGT), which still had some unions, to win support of the peones acasillados. At San José de la Niña hacienda, the white union (affiliated to the once anarchist-influenced CGT) won out. La Opinión, Oct. 8, 1935, p. 1. For the competing unions on Hidalgo and El Perú haciendas, see La Opinión, Nov. 2, 1935, pp. 1 and 4 and Nov. 9, 1935, p. 1.


La Opinión, Dec. 7, 1935, p. 1.


La Opinión, Dec. 19, 1935, p. 1. A 15-minute stoppage occurred on Dec. 21.


La Opinión, Jan. 7 and 11, 1936, p. 1. The La Fe strike ended on Jan. 13 and 14 with what looked like a defeat for the workers.


La Opinión, Jan. 13, 1936, p. 1.


Chassen de López, Lombardo Toledano, 212-213; Valentín Campa, Mi testimonio: Memorias de un comunista mexicano (Mexico City, 1978), 111-112.


Encina was secretary of the interior of one of the Laguna’s two main umbrella organizations of workers and peasants—the Federación Sindical Revolucionaria de Obreros y Campesinos de la Laguna.


El Machete, 396 (Apr. 1, 1936).


El Machete, 410 (May 27, 1936), 1.


La Opinión. May 16, 17, 21, 22, 1936; El Machete, 410 (May 27, 1936), 1.


Liga de Agrónomos Socialistas, El colectivismo agrario, 43.


La Opinión, June 3, 1936, p. 1.


La Opinión, June 4, 1936, p. 1.


El Machete, 414 (June 10, 1936), 2.


La Opinión, June 9, 1936, p. 4.


La Opinión, June 15, 1936, p. 1.


La Opinión, June 23, 1936, p. 1.


La Opinión, July 10, p. 1; July 17, p. 1; July 20, 1936, p. 4.


La Opinión, Aug. 11, 1936. p. 1; El Machete, 433 (Aug. 22, 1936).


El Machete, 432 (Aug. 15, 1936). The provision of small garden plots had been recommended by a Mexican government commission which investigated conditions in the region in 1927 and 1928. Enrique Nájera, Informe general Je la Comisión de Estudios de la Comarca Lagunera (Mexico City, 1930), 115-116.


For a discussion of aparcería practices in the late Porfiriato see Vargas-Lobsinger, La hacienda de “La Concha," 110-114. See also Meyers, "Interest Conflicts," 154–155, 164-165.


La Opinión, Aug. 2, 1936, p. 1.


CTM 1936-1941, 123-124, cited by Chassen de López, Lombardo Toledano, 206; Joe C. Ashby, Organized Labor and the Mexican Revolution under Cárdenas (Chapel Hill, 1963), 162-163.


Resolución Agraria de la Laguna, Dec. 28-30, 1946, in Carpeta 19, Materiales diversos, CEMOS/Archivo de Carlos Sánchez Cárdenas.


El Machete, 435 (Sept. 2, 1936); Liga de Agrónomos Socialistas, El colectivismo agrario, 44.


La Opinión, Sept. 1, 1936, p. 1.


For full details of landowner sabotage see El Machete, 435 (Sept. 2, 1936); 438 (Sept. 16, 1936); 439 (Sept. 30, 1936).


El Machete, 438 (Sept. 16, 1936).


Liga de Agrónomos Socialistas, El colectivismo agrario, 45-49.


Arboleyda and Vázquez León, “El colectivismo ejidal," 324.


There is a large literature tracing the subsequent history of the ejidos colectivos. See Adler. "The Politics of Land Reform,” 99-151; Martínez Saldaña, El costo social, 31-43; Salomón Eckstein and Iván Restrepo, La explotación colectiva en México: El caso de la Comarca Lagunera (Mexico City, 1975).


At the second convention of the Sociedades de Crédito Ejidal held in 1939, delegates elected Dolores Zarate as president of the convention, Zárate, now an ejidatario in the Sacrificio ejido, was a member of the PCM’s central committee. Another Communist ejidatario, Francisco Torres (from Tlahualilo), was elected secretary of the convention. Miguel Angel Velasco, “Balance de la Segunda Convención de Sociedades de Crédito Ejidal en la Laguna," La Voz de México, May 11, 1939. The term “natural peasant leadership" is taken from Adler, “The Politics,” 102.


“Los censos hasta el 15 de diciembre de 1939,” La Voz de México, Jan. 1, 1940, p. 2.


This point is well brought out in the following statement by a long-time ejidatario member of the Central Union: “In this ejido we have always been with Orona (Arturo Orona, the dominant figure within the union). We gave him support in everything. We participated in caravanas but we were never Communist. Just Orona and a few of the leaders were. We liked the collectivism that Orona always pushed and we went along with the rest—with solidarity campaigns, with support for the Soviet Union—out of respect for him, even though we were persecuted as a consequence.” (Adler, “The Hole of Ideology in Peasant Politics; Peasant Mobilization and Demobilization in the Laguna Region," Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, 25:1 [Feb. 1983], 27, n. 10).


See the comments of Martínez Saldaña, “Los mismos líderes ‘rojos’ o disidentes se vieron envueltos en la demagogia y en la vorágine del cambio: todos a producir para probar a los ‘ricos’ que los pobres también pueden producir.” Martínez Saldaña, El costo social, 31.


El campesino lagunero en la producción colectiva. Resolución de la Conferencia de Delegados de Células Campesinas de la Región Lagunera aprobada por el Comité Regional del Partido Comunista (Mexico City, 1938), 7-12.


Luisa Paré and Jorge Morrett, “La lucha de los obreros azucareros en la región de Los Mochis, Sin., 1914-1937,” in Memorias del encuentro sobre historia del movimiento obrero (Puebla. 1981), II, 28-30.


El campesino lagunero, 13.


Arboleyda and Vázquez León, “El colectivismo ejidal,’’ 328. The Liga strengthened its influence in the Laguna after 1937 winning control of many municipios and promoting divisions within the collective ejidos. The Liga also worked hard at dislodging CTM from the state in order to consolidate the hegemony of CNC whose state affiliate it became after the national organization was established in 1938. Ironically, PCM decided to support the individual affiliation of its members to CNC in spite of the fact that the only national-level position of influence which the collectivized agricultural workers still possessed was CTM, which had a secretary of peasant affairs until the late 1940s.


This is the view of Arboleyda and Vázquez León, “El colectivismo,” 329.


On the Communist party’s experiences in the last years of the Cárdenas sexenio see Carr, "Crisis in Mexican Communism: The Extraordinary Congress of the Mexican Communist Party,” published in two parts in Science and Society, 50:4 (Winter 1987) and 51:1 (Spring 1987).