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Ethnicity and Class Conflict in Rural Mexico

Ethnicity and Class Conflict in Rural Mexico

Frans J. Schryer
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 382
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  • Book Info
    Ethnicity and Class Conflict in Rural Mexico
    Book Description:

    In this case study of a recent peasant uprising in an ethnically diverse region of Mexico, Frans Schryer addresses an important issue in the cultural history of Latin America: what is the relationship of class to ethnicity, and how do these two elements of cultural perception and social hierarchy reinforce or contradict each other? Examining the interaction between commercial cattle raisers and subsistence agricultural workers in both Nahua and Mestizo villages, Schryer focuses on how ethnic identities and administrative structures affect the form and outcome of agrarian struggles. He shows that class, culture, and social organization are interconnected but vary independently and demonstrates that communal land tenure and corporate structures are compatible with class differentiation and even overt class conflict within peasant communities. Schryer's data is based on archival research, direct observation, and extensive interviews with key actors involved in the conflict. His book traces the origins of local variations in legal status and ethnic relations back to the development of Indian republics, haciendas, and ranchos. By considering competing interpretations of more recent history, especially the CNBrdenas era, the author also provides insights into the mentality of protagonists involved in both ideological confrontations and armed encounters. What emerges is a detailed, comprehensive study that places as much emphasis on culture and discourse as on economic structures and political forces.

    Originally published in 1990.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6094-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-14)

    The northern part of the state of Hidalgo, called the Huasteca of Hidalgo (or Huasteca Hidalguense), is one of the most politically unstable and turmoilridden parts of rural Mexico. This geographical region is also ethnically diverse; about half of the approximately 250,000 people who live in the valleys and mountains of the sixteen municipios of the Huasteca Hidalguense and its immediate fringe speak Nahuatl¹ (the same language spoken by the Aztecs) and can be distinguished as an ethnic minority, distinct from the Spanishspeaking Mestizos who also inhabit this region.² Prior to 1970, the Huasteca Hidalguense, like the rest of the...

  7. Part One Ethnic Relations, Class Structure and the Peasant Community in Mesoamerica

    • Chapter 1 Ethnicity and Class: Class Conflict in Plural Societies
      (pp. 17-26)

      The complex relationship between class and ethnicity presents an intellectual challenge to scholars, especially those using a Marxist framework of analysis. Some researchers simply avoid this challenge by disregarding the phenomenon of ethnicity altogether. Others only look at ethnicity as a negative factor, which hinders or retards the development of class consciousness necessary for class struggles. Still others (see Nnoli 1977) equate ethnicity and class whenever ethnic groups are overrepresented or underrepresented in different economic classes. According to this interpretation, ethnic or racial strife is an expression of class conflict whenever different ethnic groups are unequally ranked and where it...

    • Chapter 2 The Closed Corporate Peasant Community: Indian Identity and the Peasant Economy
      (pp. 27-49)

      The model or concept of the closed corporate peasant community was introduced by Eric Wolf twenty-five years ago. In his classic articles, cited by every anthropologist or historian writing about Indian communities in rural Mexico, Wolf (1955; 1957) described the closed corporate community as one that is egalitarian, with effective leveling mechanisms that prevent or at least attenuate the emergence of significant wealth differences or internal exploitation. This model quickly became accepted by both social scientists and historians doing research in Mesoamerica,¹ although Eric Wolf (1986, 325) himself has recently stated that his original papers “now seem overly schematic and...

    • Chapter 3 A Region of Diversity: Huejutla
      (pp. 50-72)

      The region of Huejutla, located in the northeastern part of the state of Hidalgo, forms an identifiable social, economic and political unit that sets it apart from neighboring regions in the same state. The region, whose inhabitants share a common identity and who also live within fairly well-defined geographical boundaries, gravitates around the city of Huejutla. This city (the only urban center with over ten thousand inhabitants) has the only full-service gasoline station and the only banks, hotels and movie theaters of the region. It also houses numerous government departments, including the regional offices of the Land Reform Ministry and...

  8. Part Two Historical Background

    • Chapter 4 The Colonial Heritage: From Conquest to Independence
      (pp. 75-87)

      In chapter 1 I suggested that differences in administrative structures, forms of land tenure and ethnicity would shape the form of class struggles. This was very much the case in Huejutla, where land invasions were conducted in a different manner in each of the various subregions. These differences in social organization and traditions—especially the contrasts between the northern and southern zones—emerged as early as the sixteenth century, with the imposition of Spanish colonial rule. The Spanish conquest gave rise to two distinct socioeconomic systems: the Indian pueblo (or república de indio) and the hacienda. The cultural imprints left...

    • Chapter 5 Indians, Rancheros and Hacienda Owners: The Changing Class Structure
      (pp. 88-107)

      During the nineteenth century, the Huasteca became a frontier area that attracted numerous settlers from other parts of Mexico, and new mule trails were built to connect the temperate highlands with the tropical lowlands.¹ This process of immigration was similar to that in the neighboring Sierra de Jacala region, which I have already described in some detail in my book on Pisaflores (Schryer 1980, 26–36). Like the Sierra de Jacala region, Huejutla was “invaded” by Mestizo settlers from the highland plateau and the Sierra Alta, the mountainous region just to the southwest of the district of Huejutla. A combination...

    • Chapter 6 Peasant Quiescence: Ecology, Relations of Production and Factional Politics
      (pp. 108-116)

      Why were there no peasant uprisings (i.e., overt class conflicts) in the region of Huejutla during the entire one-hundred-year period from 1870 to 1970, despite the existence of inequalities in economic and political power as well as ethnic discrimination? The answer to this question requires an investigation of the ecological and demographic factors that shaped the agrarian structure of the Huasteca of Hidalgo.

      During most of the nineteenth and at least the first half of the twentieth centuries, the system of production in both the northern and southern halves of Huejutla was based on the stable coexistence of subsistence cultivation...

    • Chapter 7 The Mexican Revolution: An Interlude
      (pp. 117-126)

      Between 1910 and 1924, the chaotic period of civil war known as the Mexican Revolution, politically active rancheros gradually displaced hacienda owners as the regional political elite, although hacendados continued to wield considerable economic power. After 1924, local rancheros further consolidated their class position through a combination of armed force and their continued manipulation of the institutions and values of Nahua communities. However, despite a high level of intra-elite factional struggles and even the occasional extraction of forced labor, the peasants still did not rebel.

      When Francisco Madero called for the armed overthrow of the government of Porfirio Díaz in...

    • Chapter 8 Caciquismo and Agrarianism: The Cacicazgo of Juvencio Nochebuena
      (pp. 127-151)

      Between 1934, the year that Lázaro Cárdenas became president of Mexico, and i960, the system of land tenure and the political structure of Huejutla were radically altered. These three decades of social change coincided with the career of General Juvencio Nochebuena. A leading ranchero from the small Mestizo town of Atlapexco, Nochebuena became an important politician on both the national and state levels. His social origins, political rise and subsequent decline (including his failure to become governor of Hidalgo) epitomize the ranchero caciquismo that came out of the revolution. Although there were no overt class struggles either during or immediately...

    • Chapter 9 The Impact of Modernization: The Expansion of Modern Cattle Production
      (pp. 152-174)

      Despite a great deal of rhetoric about self-sufficiency and socialist independence, the Mexican government has over the past few decades promoted the rapid growth of commercial agriculture run by a private sector largely dependent on foreign technology (see Lanfranco 1981; Hewitt 1976; Anderson 1986). In the Huasteca, this development had mainly taken the form of modern cattle production on cultivated pastures. This strategy has become a topic of debate among developmental experts who disagree about the potential benefits of this type of economic development.

      In a report on a ranch development program started in 1968, Vern Harnapp (1972, I) of...

  9. Part Three Peasant Revolt in a Nahua Region

    • Chapter 10 From Quiescence to Militancy: A Crisis in the “Moral Economy”
      (pp. 177-192)

      Despite the increasing polarization of the economic class structure of Huejutla throughout the second half of the twentieth century, ranchero politicians, who still acted as patrons and protectors, were able to use the rhetoric of the “moral economy” to ensure general peasant quiescence. This same moral economy ethic also provided the ideological underpinnings for peasant unrest, as pointed out by Edward Thompson (1971) and George Rudé (1980). Such unrest, however, was usually channeled into purely factional struggles. By the sixties, many poor peasants in Huejutla were getting desperate in the face of the economic catastrophe described in the last chapter....

    • Chapter 11 Agrarian Revolt in Huejutla: Peasant Leaders and Political Organizations
      (pp. 193-213)

      By the time Echeverría became president of Mexico, peasant leaders in Huejutla were struggling for access to more land, the right to have their own jueces and build their own schools and, in some cases, to practice their own religion. The overwhelming issue, however, was land. The way in which these separate issues congealed in a peasant movement (transcending the village level) can only be understood by examining the interaction among peasant leaders, urban-based politicians and the Mexican state. Such an analysis, which requires a broad, overall sweep of the major political events that occurred in the region, will inevitably...

    • Chapter 12 Class Conflict and Factional Politics: Cliques, Violence and Kinship
      (pp. 214-227)

      The people who became involved in the peasant movement in the seventies had a variety of backgrounds and motives. Political leaders, together with their followers, also became involved with other types of conflicts which were still lingering from the past. In this way class conflicts became intertwined with other types of social cleavages. To understand fully what happened on the local level, it is necessary to look at some specific case studies and examine the conflict over land in the context of a violent history of factional disputes and family vendettas going back to the twenties and thirties. Recent political...

    • Chapter 13 Class Conflict and the Peasant Community: The Struggle over Land Tenure and Village Administration
      (pp. 228-244)

      A combination of bitter factional disputes and class conflict erupted in most, although not all, communities in Huejutla.¹ However, internal strife did not take the same form in all villages, nor did it always lead to the same outcome. What can this variation in internal conflict tell one about such issues as the differences between “open” and “closed” peasant communities? And was the process of internal class opposition different in Mestizo as opposed to Indian villages? To answer these questions requires an examination of the complex and dynamic interactions among the larger economy, the peasant community, ethnic differences and the...

    • Chapter 14 Class Conflict and Ethnicity: Image and Reality
      (pp. 245-256)

      Most scholars who have written about the peasant movement in Huejutla on the regional level have commented on the role played by the ethnic factor. For example, Agustín Avila (1986, 34–35) argues that, in the seventies, formerly captive Nahua communities took charge of their own cultural values and forms of government necessary to maintain a unique way of life. Avila also equates the class struggle in the Huasteca with an ethnic strife involving the revival of ethnic pride on the part of the Indian peasants. This dichotomous view is also apparent in newspaper articles written by left-wing journalists who...

  10. Part Four The Forging of a New Hegemony

    • Chapter 15 Reform, Co-option and Repression: A Decade of Contrived Land Invasions
      (pp. 259-281)

      Rojo Lugo, who is remembered by most peasants in Huejutla as a “bad” governor for his suppression of militant peasants, became governor of Hidalgo while Luís Echeverría (self-styled left-wing champion of the third world) was still in office. Six years later, the more moderate, “business-like” López Portillo was in charge on the national level. No one was surprised when López Portillo picked the state minister of tourism, architect Guillermo Rossell de la Lama, as official candidate for the governor of Hidalgo in 1980. Radical intellectuals in Mexico City predicted that Rossell, a multimillionaire from Pachuca and “a friend of the...

    • Chapter 16 The Politics of Rural Development: New Structures of Class Mediation
      (pp. 282-302)

      Rossell de la Lama’s approach to the economic development of Huejutla was quite different from that of previous governors who had always seen privately owned cattle ranches as the essence of the Huasteca. Rossell’s vision of the Huasteca of Hidalgo was that of a region of highly productive, collective ejidos, closely tied into the state sector. During his period in office, rural development programs gradually helped to mold a new class structure in which members of peasant communities became economically as well as politically dependent on government bureaucrats. Relations with this new economic class, composed of outsiders or the offspring...

    • Chapter 17 Huejutla in a Nutshell: Ethnicity and Politics in Jaltocan
      (pp. 303-316)

      Jaltocan, the smallest municipio of the district of Huejutla, is in many ways the most typical of the region of Huejutla, with all of its diversity and variations. Political trends in Jaltocan can also serve as a barometer of the political temperature of the Huasteca Hidalguense as a whole. The municipio of Jaltocan saw both the first and the most recent land invasions of the Huasteca of Hidalgo. Jaltocan has also seen every other possible type of political conflict. The agrarian conflicts that took place within the boundaries of this municipio in the seventies took the form of an ethnic...

  11. Conclusions
    (pp. 317-324)

    In a previous study (Schryer 1980, 3–9), I criticized the simplistic view of prerevolutionary Mexico as a country where a handful of absentee landowners (hacendados) ruled over a mass of equally downtrodden sharecroppers, smallholders and peons. My central thesis was that rural Mexico had a much more complex class structure, in which rancheros (previously thought to be “family farmers” of little economic or political importance) constituted a significant segment of the rural elite. My case study of Huejutla, which is an ethnically diverse region, has led me to debunk another dichotomous bi-polar model, that of Mestizo rancheros exploiting poor Indian...

  12. Postscript
    (pp. 325-325)

    No dramatic new developments have taken place since the time this book was written. During the 1988 presidential campaign, the PST in Huejutla jumped on the Cardenista bandwagon and changed its name to the Partido Frente Cardenista para la Reconstruccion Nacional. Some former caciques also supported Cuauhtemoc Cardenas on the national level, and according to the official count, they received about 20 percent of the popular vote in Huejutla. The internal split within the URECHH between Modesto Hernández and Margarita Hernández continues, but they both gave their support to the Salinas de Gortari, the official PRI candidate who ended up...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 326-342)
  14. Index
    (pp. 343-363)