The Distribution Of Wealth In Mexico
By Bill Dean
The Distribution of Wealth in Mexico is a relatively obscure essay published in 1940. Its author, Federico Bach, was a Mexican economist and lecturer. He has been described as a known Marxist who at one time was expelled from Mexico as a “Communist agitator.” That may be, but his piece on Mexico’s wealth is worth reading.
Bach writes that Mexico’s natural “wealth” was exaggerated from the start: the Cortés expedition was essentially a “for profit” venture financed in large part by investors whom Cortés needed to keep in an optimistic frame of mind by overstating the riches to be gained; the wealth of the mines and farms could only have been profitably extracted if the hard work was done on the backs of virtually enslaved poor people. Bach argues that Mexico was never very rich to begin with, that the wealth that did exist was distributed inequitably, and that any hope for Mexico depends on realignment of its wealth.
About the time Bach was publishing his essay, a person of international renown, who was very much absorbed in the subject of wealth distribution, got axed in the head while living in Mexico. His name was Leon Trotsky, a Communist leader and writer who had been instrumental in the 1917 Russian Revolution, but who was detested by his boss, Joseph Stalin. The feeling between them was mutual. Trotsky was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1929. He tried living in Turkey, then in France and Norway, but Stalin kept the pressure on those countries to oust Trotsky. Trotsky did not appear to be welcome anywhere until Diego Rivera, the noted Mexican muralist, came to his rescue.
When Diego Rivera was not painting murals portraying the plight of the poor and disadvantaged, he was out mingling with Communists. One of his murals, Man at the Crossroads, was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller for the ground floor of New York City’s Rockefeller Center. Diego seized an opportunity to use the Rockefeller fortunes to impart a message dear to Diego’s heart: he painted the face of Lenin on a part of the mural. Mr. Rockefeller was not amused, but that is another story.
Trotsky and Rivera were friends; so, too, were Rivera and Mexico’s President Lázaro Cárdenas. You have read that Cárdenas was a champion of the poor. He aggressively redistributed land (ejidos), advanced education, reformed labor unions, and nationalized the nation’s oil. Trotsky described Cárdenas as the greatest leader of the world but mused that he was not far enough to the left.
Rivera persuaded President Cárdenas to allow Trotsky and his wife, Natalia, to live in Mexico. So Trotsky slipped out of Norway on a freighter headed for Tampico, Mexico. There, Trotsky and his wife were transported by a special train to Mexico City, where the Trotskys moved in with Diego Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo.
Frida Kahlo was a renowned artist in her own right. She, like her husband, was active in Communist circles. Her family home (and the home in which she and Diego from time to time lived, and the home in which Frida died) was called Casa Azul (Blue House). It was (and still is) located in a fashionable tree-shaded neighborhood of Mexico City known as Coyoacán.
Trotsky was a prolific writer and extremely critical of Stalin – a dangerous stand to take despite the ocean between them. Books were loaded on window sills to absorb gunfire. Diego bought the house next door for additional protection. The Trotskys then moved to a more secure and heavily guarded home in Coyoacán. The better security didn’t pay off. On August 20, 1940, an undercover agent for Stalin managed to gain entry into Trotsky’s study where he delivered a fatal blow to Trotsky with an ice axe. The blow was poorly delivered and Trotsky managed to live long enough to say: “Stalin has finally accomplished the task he attempted unsuccessfully before.”1
Fedrico Bach, Leon and Natalia Trotsky, Diego Rivera, and Frida Kahlo could hardly be described as “peas in the same pod,” but they all shared some common notions of economic and social justice which they expressed in very different ways. No doubt, if they were living today, there would be more essays to write and more murals to paint.
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