While agitating for the Mexican Revolution in exile in the United States, Ricardo Flores Magón also took up the issues of racism against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. The speech “The Intervention and the Prisoners of Texas,” given May 31, 1914, shows how he connected the struggles on both sides of the border. In it, he denounces the recent US military intervention and occupation of Veracruz. At the same time, he shows himself to stand on the far left wing of the revolution, supporting his comrades in Texas who tried to march over the border to join the revolution. The Texas Rangers attacked the radicals, killing several and throwing others in prison, charging them with crimes punishable by death. He ends the speech with a plea for solidarity with the prisoners, citing the long record of racism against Mexicans in Texas. We reprint a translation of “The Intervention and the Prisoners of Texas” that appeared in Dreams of Freedom: A Ricardo Flores Magón Reader, edited by Chaz Bufe and Mitchell Cowen Verter (Oakland, Calif: AK Press, 2005), translation by Chaz Bufe. The ISR thanks AK Press for granting permission to reproduce the speech here.
Let my words resound as a condemnation of the powerful of the Earth; let my words rise angrily and fearlessly to announce to the exploiters of the people that there is a will greater than that of the tyrants, that there is a force more powerful than the fist of the despot, and that this will and this force reside in us, those on the bottom, among those contemptuously dismissed by those who exploit us, among those who with our arms and intelligence construct the buildings and with our sweat and blood cultivate the fields, maintain the railways, drill the tunnels, draw the useful minerals from the bosom of the Earth, and who, when hopelessness fills our breasts, with the same hands that create the wealth, will raise the barricade and fire the gun.
The necessities of the moment are truth and valor. It is necessary to speak the truth, whatever the cost. If US forces have planted the stars and stripes on the coast of Mexico, it hasn’t been to satisfy a worthy desire for benevolence and justice. This banner has been planted in Veracruz like a dagger in the breast of justice; this banner did not appear on those beaches as a luminous symbol of civilization and culture, but as the black rag that covers the face of crime while it empties the pockets of its victim. This banner is the mask of all the great bandits of industry, commerce, and finance of all countries whose interest it is that the Mexican worker remain a slave. This banner is the knife and the whip, the chain and the noose. It doesn’t shine as an insignia of redemption and progress; rather, it floats in the breeze like a shroud blown in the night by the winds of death.
What noble impulse impelled this rag to land on the beaches of Mexico? What friendly breeze dragged it toward these lands? What noble idea is represented by it, flying above a city taken by surprise? Fear and greed: this is what is at the bottom of this farce which will end in tragedy—the fear that all the oppressors and all the exploiters of humanity feel before the unmistakable awakening of the enslaved masses who struggle to break their chains. If the Mexican Revolution were a movement which had as its object the unseating of a president in order to put another in his place, the exploiters of the people would laugh, because such a movement wouldn’t threaten them, because the social system that allows them to become rich and powerful at the expense of the suffering of the workers would remain intact. But this is not what is occurring in Mexico. Before the frightened eyes of the international bourgeoisie and the governments of the world, one of the most stirring and sublime dramas in the history of the peoples of the world is unfolding in that beautiful country. There is being disputed, with guns in hand, the right of all human beings to live; there the workers tear to shreds the property titles of the rich, and showing to the astonished world, with their hands, what tradition and the law call sacrilege, they emit this heroic cry: “No more titles sanctioned by the law! From today forward, in order to live and enjoy the wealth, there will be no other titles to property than the calluses on the hands.”
The international bourgeoisie and all governments fear that the spark which glows in Mexico will be the beginning of a formidable conflagration which, sooner or later, will turn the world into a single flame which will reduce the capitalist system to ashes when the worker puts down his tools, which serve only to enrich the owner, and takes up the banner of Land and Liberty. Because example is contagious, the hungry in the United States, the French outcast, the Russian slave, the British serf, the disinherited of all countries could take a lesson from their brother, the Mexican worker and, undertaking on their own count that task of winning their liberty and well-being, could apply the torch and dynamite to political and monetary power, which is the only means left to the poor man to rid himself of his exploiters.
Fear and greed were the trembling hands, which brought the stars and stripes to Mexico. The fear of the oppressors and exploiters of the entire world is that their respective flocks will imitate the Mexican worker and will wave, in every land, the red banner of Land and Liberty. The fear is that the Mexican worker, having taken possession of the land, and free by that sole act, will refuse to rent his arms to enrich the parasites. The US forces did not come to Mexico in the name of civilization and benevolence; these forces came to murder Mexicans to benefit the bandits of finance and the principle of authority. These forces have been pushed by capitalism to kill the workers who don’t want bosses, who want to be free, who no longer supplicate, who do not ask anymore, and who, resolved, noble, and virile, pluck from the chest of the rich the black heart that never contracted when faced with the pain of the humble.
Such is the motive for the intervention, and on this black page of international politics, like the serpent that slithers noiselessly through the weeds to strike the heel of his victim, two reptiles drag themselves, two reptiles who it will eventually be necessary to crush: Villa and Carranza, two sons of Judas. The plan forged in the shadows is simple: with the aid of the US forces, Villa and Carranza will be able to arrive in Mexico City, seat themselves in power, and deliver the Mexican worker, tied hand and foot, to capitalist exploitation. The threat from the US forces in Veracruz to Mexico City is no other thing than a move in a military game that has for its entertaining object the tying up of the Mexican forces which oppose the invasion, while Carranza and Villa can advance with no real obstacles toward the heart of the country. Santa-Anna died, but he has been reincarnated in these two bandits: Carranza and Villa. These are the men who invite US capitalism to invade Mexico; these are the vultures who hope that American arms give the coup de grace to Mexican liberties, so that they can seat themselves and then devour the cadaver.
Without the consent of Villa and Carranza, US capitalism wouldn’t have dared to invade Mexican territory, and this lesson, like so many others, should serve to show the workers that they should entrust to no one the resolution of their affairs, because while the proletarians, deaf to the voice of reason, blind to the light of experience, entrust to one or a number of individuals the mission of giving them their liberty and of making them happy, the chains of slavery will continue to be their prize for their good faith and their trust. The proletarians who follow Carranza and Villa do not follow them, certainly, for the pleasure of changing bosses, nor to permit themselves the luxury of exchanging yokes, but in their simplicity they believe even yet that somebody can give them liberty and well-being, when, hear it well proletarians, liberty is not a thing to be given, but a conquest taken by the oppressed for themselves, and liberty, understand it well, cannot exist side by side with misery, but rather is a direct, logical, natural product of one thing: the satisfaction of all human needs, without depending on anyone to deliver them.
A man is free, truly free, when he doesn’t need to rent out his arms to anyone in order to lift a piece of bread to his mouth, and this liberty is obtained solely in one manner: taking resolutely, without fear, the lands, the machinery, and the means of transport so that they will be the property of all, men and women alike.
This will not be gained by elevating anyone to the presidency of the republic, because the government, whatever its form—republican or monarchical—can never be on the side of the people. The government’s mission is to guard the interests of the rich. In thousands of years, there has not been a single case in which a government has put its hands upon the property of the rich to deliver it to the poor. On the contrary, wherever government has been seen and wherever it is seen, the government makes use of force to repress any attempt of the poor to better their situation. Remember Rio Blanco, remember Cananea, where the bullets from the government soldiers smothered in blood, in the throats of the proletarians, the voices that asked for bread; remember Papantla, remember Juchitán, remember the Yaqui, where the machine guns and rifles of the government decimated the energetic inhabitants who refused to deliver to the rich the lands which gave them subsistence.&n
These experiences should serve to show you never to entrust to anyone the task of delivering your liberty and wellbeing. Learn from the noble proletarians of the south of Mexico. They do not aspire to elevate a new tyrant so that their hunger will be mitigated. Valiant and noble, they don’t ask; they take. Before the women and children who ask for bread, they don’t wait for a Carranza or a Villa to rise to the presidency and to give them what they need; rather, valiantly and nobly, with gun in hand, in the thunder of combat and the flashes of the incendiary, they yank from the haughty capitalist his life and riches.
They do not wait for a caudillo to rise up who will give them something to eat. Intelligent and dignified, they destroyed the titles to property, tore down the fences, and put their productive hands upon the earth. To ask is for cowards; to take is the work of men. On our knees we can arrive at death, not life. Let us rise.
Let us rise, and with the shovel that now serves to pile up gold for our masters, let us split their skulls in two, and with the sickle that weakly cuts off ears of corn, let us cut off the heads of the bourgeoisie and the tyrants. And above the smoldering embers of this damned system, let us plant our banner, the banner of the poor, to the cry of Land and Liberty!
Let us no longer elevate anyone; let us all rise! Let us no longer hang medals or crosses on the chests of our leaders; if they want to be decorated, let us decorate them with our fists. Whoever is an inch above us is a tyrant; let us topple him! The hour of justice has arrived, and in place of the ancient cry, the terror of the rich, “Your money or your life!” let us substitute this cry: “Your money and your life!” Because if we leave a single member of the bourgeoisie alive, he will know how to arrange things so that sooner or later he’ll have his foot on our necks.
To put into practice the ideals of supreme justice, the ideals of the Partido Liberal Mexicano, a group of workers began a march one day in the month of September last year in the state of Texas. These men had a grand mission. The revolutionary movement of northern Mexico having been corrupted by the heads of the movement, they went overflowing with noble ideas to inject new energy into the spirit of rebellion that had quickly degenerated in this region into the spirit of discipline and subordination to leaders. These men went to establish a tie between the revolutionary elements in southern and central Mexico and the elements that had remained pure in the north. You know well what the fortunes were of these workers: Juan Rincón and Silvestre Lomas fell dead after being shot by thugs employed by the state of Texas before reaching Mexico, and the rest, Rangel, Alzalde, Cisneros and eleven more find themselves prisoners in that state, some of them sentenced to long prison terms, others to life imprisonment, while Rangel, Alzalde, Cisneros and others are going to fall victim to the death penalty. All of these honest workers are innocent of the crime imputed to them. It happened that one night during their journey to Mexico a Texas sheriff named Candelario Ortiz died, and they dumped the responsibility onto the fourteen revolutionaries. Who witnessed the act? No one! Our comrades were found at a great distance from where the thug’s body was found. Nonetheless, they tried to throw the responsibility for the death of this dog of the capitalists upon them, for the simple reason that our prisoner brothers in Texas are poor and are rebels. It was enough that they were members of the working class and that they had the intention of crossing the border to fight for the interests of their class, for North American capitalism to pile on top of them trying to avenge the loss of its businesses in Mexico. If our comrades had been partisans of Villa or Carranza, if they had had the intention of going to Mexico to put a Villa or Carranza in the presidential seat, so that these men could direct business to the North Americans, nothing would have been done to them; on the contrary, the US authorities would have protected them. But as they are noble men who want to see the Mexican worker completely free, the US bourgeoisie discharged its anger upon them and asked for the death penalty as a compensation for the losses to its businesses it’s suffering in the proletarian revolution.
In contrast, the murderers of Rincón and Lomas are free. The same US bourgeoisie, which asks for the death of Rangel and his comrades, heaps honors and distinctions upon the felons who took the life of two honorable men. We have here, proletarians, bourgeois justice. The worker can die like a dog, but don’t touch the thug who did it! Here and everywhere the worker is of no value. Those who are valued are those who do nothing! The bees kill the drones that eat in the hive, but who don’t produce anything. The humans, less intelligent than the bees, kill the workers—who produce everything—so that the rich, the rulers, the cops, and the soldiers, who are the drones in the social hive, can live comfortably without producing anything useful.
This is bourgeois justice. This is the accursed “justice” that we revolutionaries must destroy, let it pain whomever it pains, and let fall whomever will fall.
Mexicans: the moment is solemn. The time to count ourselves has arrived: we are millions and the exploiters are only a few. Let us claim our brothers who are prisoners in Texas from the hands of bourgeois justice. We cannot permit that the hands of the hangman put the rope of the noose around those noble necks. Contribute money toward the defense of these martyrs; agitate to shift opinion in their favor.
Enough with the crimes committed against persons of our race! The ashes of Antonio Rodríguez haven’t even been spread by the wind yet; on the plains of Texas the blood of the Mexicans murdered by the white savages is still drying. Let us raise our arms to impede the new crime that the North American bourgeoisie is preparing against Rangel and his comrades.
Mexicans: if you have blood in your veins, unite to save our prisoner brothers in Texas. By saving them you’ll save not only Rangel, Alzalde, Cisneros and the other workers, you’ll save yourselves, because your actions will earn you respect. Who of you hasn’t been the victim of an outrage in this country for the sole reason of being Mexican? Who of you hasn’t heard daily of crimes committed against our race? Don’t you know that in the south of this country that Mexicans are not permitted to sit by the side with North Americans in restaurants? Haven’t you entered a barbershop where you’ve been told, while they look you up and down, “We don’t serve Mexicans here”? Don’t you know that the prisons in the United States are full of Mexicans? And haven’t you even counted the number of Mexicans who have been lynched or burned alive by brutal mobs of whites?
If you know all this, help in saving our racial brothers who are prisoners in Texas. Contribute with your money and with your minds to saving them. Let us agitate for them. Let us declare ourselves on strike for a day as a demonstration of protest against the persecution of those martyrs, and if protests and legal defenses don’t serve, if agitation and strikes don’t produce the desired effect of putting the fourteen prisoners at complete liberty, then rise up, rise up in arms against injustice with the barricade and dynamite. Let us count ourselves—we are millions.
Long live Land and Liberty!