The Mexican Comrades at McNeils

[Ricardo Flores Magon, Enrique Flores Magon, Librado Rivera and Anselmo L. Figueroa of the PLM (Partido Liberal Mexicano) were tried in Los Angeles for conspiracy (resulting from the 1911 Magonist Baja California campaign) from 4th-25th June 1912. They served their sentence at McNeil Island Federal Prison, Washington and were freed on 19th January 1914.]

They stood before us in prison garb. One could have singled them out from thousands, for unlike other inmates, the long confinement has not broken their spirit, nor the prison discipline crushed any fibre of their healthy manhood. The light in their eyes shone forth with purpose and determination; their bearing even betrayed a touch of latent defiance, Nor could the close scrutiny and straining ear of the suspicious warden, stem the expression of righteous revolt against the wretched surroundings. “Yes, we have five months, and ten days more to serve,” they told us. They need not have said any more, for in those few words they expressed their innermost yearning – to be free, and with renewed hope and energy hurl themselves in the midst of the struggle, to resume the prime object of their lives – the liberation of the Mexican people from the yoke of their oppressors. Freedom! Magic word. Therein lies the salvation of the human race. The smug, the respectable, the dilettante may scoff at the word; some may even wonder if after all is it worth the price to be paid; or whether its champions are not tainted with an exalted idea which may sound lofty and poetic in books, yet unattainable and impractical in real life; its significance may even escape those who prudently follow the beaten paths and have never known the joy of independent thought and action; yet, while we are thusly philosophizing, while we are delving into our minds to seek a plausible excuse for our cowardly reticence and apathy, men of different tongues, in various climes, but whose hearts are beating in unison with the same lofty ideal, are offering their hearts to the spears.

Like all men actuated by noble motives, they felt inspired. They spoke, and in words of unmistakable conviction, they told us of the vicissitudes of the Mexican people. It might have been the history of toiling humanity, for their struggle embodies the same causes and called forth the same tragic effects. The spoliation of the Mexican people, unlike that of his European brethren, is of comparatively recent date. It began in this very age; they saw land wrested from them by force of arms, under their very eyes, under various pretenses, mainly because force was on the other side. The land and the tools were their only asset, the only available means of securing a livelihood. The very buccaneers who are now ruling their country with an iron hand, are directly responsible for their misery, for their slavery. The peon knows full well that while countless numbers are thusly deprived of their right to a comfortable existence there cannot be peace but war, relentless war. Living close to nature, the people are not contaminated by the germs of political education; the panaceas so dear to the heart of the American reformer are not alluring to them. They have no patience with wishy-washy palliatives which are always converted to the benefit of public-spirited bunco-steerers. No half measures, no compromise, no insignificant side issues. No, they do not emulate our yellow and apologetic attitude towards the powers that be. They entertain no illusion; they see in those who pretend to rule and govern for the common good, shrewd, sleek guys who are trying to hand them a gold brick; sons of seacooks who are seeking an opportunity to live off their back. They are natural men, whose inborn social instinct makes them accept work and life in common, with equals. Their love for good fellowship their only bond, their only code of ethics; the lawyer’s jargon, the politician’s oily tongue only arouses their suspicion and is an indication of evil forebodings.

Their revolutionary slogan is “Land and Liberty,” for they fully realize that liberty is a word devoid of meaning unless it conveys and implies the opportunity to live fully and satisfy their needs without paying a toll in exertion and blood to men and institutions. This is what the Magon brothers, Figueroa and Rivera stand for; this is why they are expiating at McNeil’s the “heinous” offense of loving freedom for themselves and others; this is why they have been hounded and persecuted by the hirelings of the American investor. They recoiled at the thought of ease and personal comfort while myriads of their brothers are offering their life’s blood to the cause of human emancipation; while their comrades of misery and toil are contesting inch by inch, rifle in hand, for the inalienable right to gain an undisputed foothold upon mother earth. These four men are prisoners of the class war, and are to be judged by the standards of the future; their personalities tower above the commonplace, above the trivialities of everyday life, above the sordid and mercenary tendencies of this mockery we call civilization. WHY? having in common with the Mexicans at McNeil’s both aims and ideals, cannot but join them in hailing the Revolution that is rising Phoenix-like from the blood-stained soil of the Sierra Madre.

From: Why? v.1, n.9 September 1913.