Address Of Enrique Flores Magon In The Federal Court, Los Angeles, June 22, 1916
north america / mexico |
history of anarchism |
opinion / analysis
Wednesday January 27, 2016 05:04 by Enrique Flores Magon
Powerful address by the Mexican anarchist-communist revolutionary, Enrique Flores Magon, brother to fellow anarchist-communist militants Jesus and Ricardo Flores Magon. This address was given to a US court, defending the brothers' fight for "the emancipation of the downtrodden, particularly of the Mexican proletarians, and of the disinherited all over the world in general." It defends the then-ongoing Mexican Revolution against imperialism and capitalism, argues for anarchist-communism, and makes an internationalist appeal to the American working class for joint struggle against tyrants and exploiters, stressing common class realities.
The brothers Enrique and Ricardo Flores Magon were at the time in exile, in the USA, conducting revolutionary work. They were arrested several times, this speech being given during the trial that followed their arrest in 1916 for distributing "indecent materials" (both were found guilty). Ricardo was again arrested in 1918 for sedition, given 20 years, and died in a US prison in 1922. Enrique was released in 1923 and returned to Mexico.
ADDRESS OF ENRIQUE FLORES MAGON IN THE FEDERAL COURT, LOS ANGELES, JUNE 22, 1916
SOURCE: "Mother Earth," volume 11, no. 6 (August 1916), pp. 570-578.
(Digitised by Leroy Maisiri, ZACF, South Africa).
On account of my brother's sickness, which prevents his addressing this Court, I shall speak in his behalf as well as my own.
I am taking the opportunity given me of addressing the Court because I want to make clear the causes behind our prosecution, for it appears that Court procedure was delighted to conceal the facts underlying such cases as this. The records of this trial show that the Magon brothers were tried and convicted, but the records do not show that the case at bar here is the age-long fight of the downtrodden and the disinherited against the tyranny, the superstition and the oppression which overburdens mankind.
It is not merely the Magons who are convicted in this Court, but all liberty and justice loving people; for we, the Magon brothers, have been convicted by the technicalities of man-made laws, for our activities in behalf of the emancipation of the downtrodden, particularly of the Mexican proletarians, and of the disinherited all over the world in general, as shown by our writings, which are a part of the record in this case.
With the Magons you have convicted the world's red-blooded men and women who are striving to halt the piracy and the oppression of the rapacious plutocracy and its natural allies, Authority and the Church. With us you have condemned all of the men and women who think and who feel the anguish and the sorrows of the dispossessed, the tortures of the oppressed, the wailing and the tears of the millions of human beings who have the misfortune of being born at a time when all of the means of life have been appropriated by the land-sharks and the money-grabbers; of the millions of proletarians who are condemned at birth to a life of incessant toil and actual chattel slavery, without hope of any reward other than slow death from starvation and exposure.
After studying these conditions many men and women have come to the conclusion that the only way out of this slavery is the way we pointed out in our Manifesto of September 23rd, 1911. As we set forth in that document, we aim to establish the common ownership of the land, of the machinery and the means of production and distribution, for the common use and benefit of all human beings, so as to enable them to work and earn their own living and to enjoy the honest pleasures which nature intended for them.
These ideals are destructive to the present institutions, as properly remarked here by the prosecution and this Court, and are, therefore, antagonistic to man-made laws that uphold Capitalism, but this does not mean that they are not founded on sound principles of Justice and Freedom. We are asked what we have to say why sentence should not be passed on us. This Court should not pass sentence on us, for it would mean to deny to us Mexican people the perfect right we have to revolt against the unbearable conditions that have kept us in slavery through long, long years; conditions under which we found ourselves stripped of all our belongings, our lands, our forests, our rivers, our mines and everything else that we once owned in common or individually since time immemorial.
We saw all our belongings being taken from us by Porfirio Diaz by means of violence through his soldiery and legal machinery. Diaz robbed the Mexican people in order that he might grant concessions to the Otises, Hearsts, Rockefellers, Morgans, Guggenheims, Pearsons and other foreign interests. And these concessions were granted for a mere song in order to perpetuate the Diaz regime.
After we were dispossessed of our natural heritage, we found ourselves held in bondage, in real chattel-slavery, forced to work our own Iands, lands that were now no longer ours; we were forced to work 16 and 18 hours a day for from 18 to 37 cents Mexican money, that is equal to from 9 to 18 cents American money. We were compelled to trade with the "tiende de rava," which is the same as the commissaries of your mining and lumber camps, where everything was sold to us at exorbitant prices. Under such conditions we gradually found ourselves in perpetual debt to our masters and without the liberty of moving from their domain. In case we succeeded in evading the vigilance of the hacienda bosses and escaped from our bondage, we were caught by the authorities and once more returned to slavery.
Whenever we went on strike for better conditions and wages, as in Rio Blanco and Cananca, we were shot down en masse by the trained murderers of Diaz, his soldiers, his policeman and rangers. If we still held a small piece of land that excited the greed of the authorities, the rich or the clergy, it was taken from us by hook or crook. They even resorted to cold blooded murder.
Our freedom was trampled upon. 0ur speakers were arrested and shot in the dark of the night. Our papers were suppressed and the writers imprisoned, often vanishing from the face of the earth. Many of our brothers were sold for $200 per head to the slave drivers of Yucatan and the Valle Nacional. They were sold into actual slavery and there forced to work under such horrible conditions that their health was soon broken, and when they no longer could stand on their feet they were often buried alive in order to save brother and medical expenses. It was a common sight to see our brothers beaten to death for the slightest provocation.
We endured those conditions for thirty-six years, which proves that we are peace-loving people. But we found ourselves so cornered and driven against the wall, that we finally had to revolt against damnable conditions in order to save ourselves and gain Bread, Land and Liberty for All.
This was the cause and the source of the Social and Economic Revolution which has for over five years shaken Mexico; the revolution of the down-trodden masses against their oppressors and exploiters; the revolution that chiefly aims to get control in common of the land and, thereby, aims to free the Mexican people. These purposes and aspirations are set forth in condensed form in our battle cry of "Land and Liberty!"
We Mexicans are striving to get back the land, because we know that the land is the source of all social wealth and, therefore, that he who owns the land owns all and, hence, becomes economically free. A people who enjoy economic freedom are free socially and politically as well; that is to say, economic freedom is the mother of all freedom.
Against the outrageous conditions that I have here roughly outlined, we Mexicans revolted; and now two of us, Ricardo and myself, are facing sentence here for our activity in that rebellion and for striking to gain our political, social and economic emancipation.
We therefore think that, as a principle of Justice, this Court should not impose a sentence on us, for such a sentence would mean a flat denial that the Mexican people have 'a right to fight their own battles and to fight them in their own way. Our revolutionary methods may not meet with the approval of the "peace-at-any-price" gentlemen, but they have the sanction of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "We cannot expect to pass from Despotism to Liberty on a feather bed."
The institutions springing from Private Property are the source and cause of all slavery, vice and crime. It is on account of Private Property that a large majority of human beings are slaves; producing all the wealth, they go destitute. It is on account of Private Property, which deprives men and women of the just reward of their labor, that our women prostitute themselves, our children grow weak and consumptive in the mills of Capitalism, our men become drunkards, dope-fiends, thieves, suicides, insane and murderers.
That is why we hate Private Property and fight for its abolition, and strive to implant Communist Anarchism wherein the land, the machinery and all the means of production and transportation shall be owned in common, so that all may have an equal chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; so that all being supplied in their needs and on an equal social, political and economic standing, ignorance, vice and crime shall vanish, naturally and automatically, for their source, Private Property, will have been abolished forever. We are opposed to the Church for the reason heretofore given; for it upholds the evil called Private Property and keeps submerged in ignorance and superstition the human mind.
We are opposed to Government because it is the staunch upholder of Private Property and because Government means imposition, tyranny, oppression and violence. We agree with Thomas Jefferson when he says: "History in general informs us how bad Government is." While quoting Jefferson, I should like to remark that he was twice President of the United States, and, therefore, he knew what he was talking about. And on the 12th of this month, this Court agreed with us when it said. "It is the duty of Government to preserve itself." That means that Government is not "of the people, by the people and for the people," but that it is in fact an institution alien to the people, and against whose interests it shall preserve itself. And we are duly grateful to this Court for that acknowledgment.
Striving as we are through our revolutionary activities to gain Justice, Freedom, Plenty and Happiness for all Human Beings, we believe that, as a matter of Justice, this Court has no right to impose a sentence on us. You may have the power, but you have not the right to do so. The prosecution charged us with inciting to revolution in this country. The charge is baseless as well as illogical. Revolutions cannot be incited.
I have often compared the present conditions in this country with the conditions which confronted the Mexican people under the Diaz regime, and I have found them very similar in many instances. The American workingmen, as a whole, are often forced to work at wages on which no man can decently live, just as the Mexican peons were forced to do.
The lumber camps of Louisiana, the mines of Colorado and West Virginia and other places are practically the same as the hell-holes of Yucatan and the Valle Nacional. Here also you have the "commissary" which is the counterpart of our "tienda de raya." Our massacres of Rio Blanco and Cananea have their parallel in Ludlow, Coeur D'Alene and West Virginia. The suppression of our papers by Diaz is similar to the suppression here of "The Woman Rebel," "Revolt," "The Alarm," Voluntad," "The Blast,'' and finally, our "Regeneracion." Free speech, free assemblage and free press, as well as freedom of thought, are dealt with in this country *ala* Porfirio Diaz.
On the other hand, you have here, as reported by the Commission on Industrial Relations, 5 per cent, of the population owning 65 per cent, of the wealth, just as we had in Mexico. And as in Mexico, the multitude of producers are living either in pauperism or very close to actual want.
Here, too, you have your large land owners, and the number of your tenant farmers is ever increasing. American people, as the Mexican, are learning that the very earth under their feet has been taken away by the land-sharks and by huge land grants to special interests. Your mines and your forests are going the same way into the same hands that the mines and forests of Mexico went. The liberties of the American people have gradually been encroached upon just as they were in Mexico.
As like causes produce like results; it does not require a great deal of wisdom to see the trend of events of this country. Revolution is breeding, but it is coming from "above" and not from the workers, for it is only when the conditions of the proletariat become unbearable that they rise in revolt. Unless present conditions change, you American people of the present generations will have to face the bloodiest revolution in the annals of history.
Jefferson, who was the Anarchist of his time, and who is acknowledged a great patriot and thinker, saw the necessity of revolution and justified its drastic measures. He said, "I hold that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical." At another time he said, "The spirit of resistance is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it always to be kept alive.'' And once more hear what Jefferson said: "Let these (the people) take arms. What signify a few lives in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."
In answer to the able argument for a new trial, made on the 12th of this month by our honest and courageous counsel, Mr. Ryckman, the Court said: "These men have no right to seek refuge in this country." We hold that we do have such right, not only as a principle of justice and civilization, but your Constitution specifically grants us the right of asylum as political refugees.
Jefferson, Paine and Franklin, during the American Revolution, not only acted as agents of the American rebels in France, but they actually secured the assistance of France in their revolt against England. From this we can see that one hundred and fifty years ago the French people recognized a principle of humanity which this Court now denies us.
The Court has spoken of us as aliens to this country and its people. The Court is in error. We are aliens to no country, nor are we aliens to any people on earth. The world is our country and all men are our countrymen. It is true that, by birth, we are Mexicans, but our minds are not so narrow, our vision not so pitifully small as to regard as aliens or enemies those who have been born under other skies.
The Court suggested that it would be more becoming for us to go to Mexico to shoulder a musket and fight for our rights. If the Mexican revolution were an attempt of one set of politicians to oust or overthrow another set of office-holders, then the Court's suggestion would be very apt. The revolution in Mexico is, however, not a political but a Social and Economic Revolution and it is necessary to educate the people, to teach them the real causes of their misery and slavery, and to point out to them the way to Freedom, Fraternity and Equality.
That is why our hands, instead of being armed with muskets are armed with pens; a weapon more formidable and far more feared by tyrants and exploiters. I believe that it was Emerson who said that "Whenever a thinker is turned loose, tyrants tremble." And it is because it is acknowledged that we are thinkers as well as fighters, that we have spent over seven years out of the twelve that we have been here in the jails and prisons of this land of the "free."
We are not asking this Court for Mercy; we are demanding Justice. If, however, this Court is to be actuated by man-made laws instead of fundamental Justice and, therefore, insists on sending us to the penitentiary, you may do so without hesitation.
A penitentiary sentence to us will likely mean our graves, for we are both sick men. We alone know how our health has been undermined. We know that another penitentiary sentence, no matter how light it may be, will be a death sentence. We feel that we shaI1 not come out of the penitentiary alive.
However, it does not matter to us personally; from the beginning of our struggle, twenty-four years ago, we dedicated our lives to the cause of Freedom. Since that time we have suffered a long chain of persecution and conspiracy, of which this case is but another link, but we still hoId to our original purpose of doing our duty to our fellow-men, no matter what the result to us personally.
History is watching us from her throne, and she is registering in her annals the Social Drama that is now being enacted in this court. We appeal to her with a clean conscience and with our hearts normally beating and with our brains dreaming of a Future Society, wherein there will be Happiness, Freedom and Justice for all Mankind. The Court may choose between Law and Justice. If you send us to our graves and brand us once more with the stigma of felons, we are sure that History will reverse the sentence. She will mark indelibly the forehead of the Cain.
Let the Court speak! History watches!