Modern Mexico was built partly on a socialistic foundation. The Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled that country for most of the 20th century, allowed rural Mexicans to control precious farmland through communal ownership, and protect it from the greedy hands of the millionaire class. Every village had perpetual control over its farmland and distributed it to resident families for them to farm as they needed it. On this basis, most of Mexico’s tens of millions of peasants lived in relative peace and economic security for decades.
Deb Bennett and I lived in Pustunich, a Yucatecan village, during the summer of 1970, when I went there to do some research on Maya identity. While there, our friend, Armando, told us a story about how the poor peasants of Pustunich organized a kind of “Occupy Pustunich” rebellion against the local “One Percenters.” (The peasants didn’t refer to their rich neighbors as “One Percenters,” of course, that’s my editorializing. They just called them the ranchers.)
The conflict began because the ranchers, who owned thousands of head of cattle, refused to fence their herds in, and the cattle began to wander onto the village lands and devour the crops there. The villagers pleaded with the cattle barons to put up fences, but the ranchers refused to act. When the peasants went to the local government to complain, the government, being in the pocket of the rich, did nothing.
So the village men got together and decided to kill the cattle that were on their land. They were all part-time hunters, so they were well enough armed to take down all the straying cattle and they acted quickly to do so. They vowed not to take any of the meat of the cattle for their households, to avoid being accused of selfish motives, and then they sent a message to the local government saying, “If you come to arrest any of us, you will have to arrest all of us, and if you try to do that, we will resist.”
Within a matter of days, fencing went up around the cattle ranchers’ pastureland. End of problem.
Our constitution guarantees us the right to bear arms solely for the purpose of organizing a local militia, and, in effect, this is what the Pustunich villagers were doing in their 1960s uprising. For them, the essence of their freedom was not in the murderous power of the guns, to which they rarely referred (and which, not being gun nuts, they didn’t glorify). Their freedom and their economic security were based on their capacity for collective action, and that’s what they emphasized when they recounted their story.
Socialism is a kind of patriotism – patriotism being a matter of our looking out for each other in our community and our nation. It does, in fact, take a village to properly raise a child, but the people in that village need to see each other as rooting for the home team – as the Pustunicheros did.
Our men and women in uniform, in fact, are part of a kind of socialistic organization. The overriding principle in the U.S. Army, for example, is concern for the group as a whole. The individual who acts for his or her own profit or glory is a lousy soldier. That’s socialism.
I wouldn’t actually call myself a socialist, but I would certainly like to see socialism treated with more honesty in our media and in our culture generally. But the vast right-wing conspiracy that dominates our media has sold us a bill of goods on its nature. Americans have been trained, like Pavlovian dogs, to react with hostility to anything or anyone that can be labeled as “socialist,” even though socialism offers real potential for the promotion of freedom and justice. The people of Pustunich knew this, but we in the U.S. have been trained to think otherwise.
On a lighter note, here are some pictures from Pustunich and other sites in Linda Mexico that Darla and I took during our 1990 stay in Merida.
Pustunich Hatmaker with His Family
Backyard Vegetable Garden
In Pustunich, everyone sleeps in hammocks - and they often make their own: Hammock-Making Rack.
Turkeys would sometimes wander into homes in Pustunich. Revenge for the humans came in the form of turkey tacos - a Yucatan staple.
Pustunich Family Livestock
In the City of Merida: The Municipio or Local Government
Mexico Loves Its Children. A Children's Parade in Which the Youngsters Are Dressed Up in Local Garb.
Little Guerita Grace Watches the Parade on Dad's Shoulders
In 1990 Darla and I saw many welcoming signs in which the folks in the city affectionately referred to Americans as "gringos."
Adios, my fellow gringos.