Since the Revolution of 1910, Mexican society has undergone a profound transformation, characterized by the disempowerment of the landed aristocracy and the rise of a new ruling class of plutocrats and politicians; the development of a middle class of white-collar professionals; and the upward mobility of formerly disenfranchised Indians who have become urban, working-class Mestizos. Indeed, Mexico's class system today increasingly resembles that of Western industrialized nations, proving that, while further democratic reforms are needed, the Revolution initiated an ongoing process of change that has created a more egalitarian society in Mexico with greater opportunities for social advancement.
This authoritative ethnography examines the transformation of social classes in the Córdoba-Orizaba region during the latter half of the twentieth century to create a model of provincial social stratification in Mexico. Hugo Nutini focuses on the increased social mobility that has affected all classes of society, especially the rural Indians who have taken advantage of education, job opportunities, and contact with the wider world to achieve Mestizo status. He also traces the transfer of power that followed the demise of the hacienda system, as well as the growing importance of the middle class. This description and analysis of the provincial social stratification system complements the work Nutini has done on the national class system, centered in Mexico City, to offer a comprehensive picture of social stratification and mobility in Mexico today.
Introduction. The Mexican Stratification System: Class Formation, Mobility, and the Changing Perspective
Chapter 1. A Combined Structural and Expressive Approach to the Study of Social Stratification
Chapter 2. Córdoba and Its Environs: Historical, Demographic, and Geographic Considerations
Chapter 3. The Superordinate Sector: The Ruling, Political, and Social Classes
Chapter 4. The Middle Strata: The Middle and Lower-Middle Classes and the Working Class
Chapter 5. The Dispossessed: Rural Lumpen, Subsistence Peasants, and the Indian-Mestizo Dichotomy
The social stratification of Mexico has changed greatly since the Mexican Revolution of 1910. It has evolved toward the type of class system associated with developed countries; and today, at least formally, it is not so different from that of the United States. The Mexican Revolution did not bring democracy to the country, as was the earnest expectation of the population, but it did bring about a reorganization of society from top to bottom. (Notably, this was done almost entirely within the framework of civilian rule. After the armed phase of the Revolution, which ended in 1919, the new political class neutralized the armed forces, something that no subsequent revolutionary movement in Latin America was able to do in the twentieth century.) The rural sectors of the country were transformed from being part of an oppressive seigneurialism into a fluid population of free peasants, with hopes of a better existence, hopes that, unfortunately, not even the 1934-1940 land reform was able to fulfill. However, the policy of Indianism fostered by the government, and actively implemented by dedicated personnel in the educational system and by several agencies in various branches of government functioning as cultural brokers, gave rural people pride in their Indian past and new ways to organize their lives.
The urban middle classes, though few in number, increasingly enjoyed better educational and economic opportunities. Freed from the influences and control of the superordinate tradition (undue subservience to and respect for the holders of social, economic, and political power), particularly in provincial cities, they experienced significant mobility and by midcentury had basically acquired the characteristics of the middle classes in industrial societies. The superordinate class, essentially enfranchised in Mexico City, was radically restructured: the aristocracy lost all power and wealth and at the provincial level disappeared as a functioning social class. Revolutionaries with no ties to the old Porfirian regime became the political class of the country. After one term in high office—the result of the paramount slogan of the Revolution, "Sufragio effectivo y no reelección"—Effective suffrage and no reelection (the first part of which was never complied with, whereas the second part was strictly enforced)—they were transformed into entrepreneurial magnates. An assortment of bankers, industrialists, and businessmen became the ruling class of the country, and in the past two decades many became billionaires.
At the state level, essentially the same situation obtained, and countless provincial cities and their surrounding regions became a reflection of the stratification system of Mexico City. Indeed, this bare outline of the evolution of Mexican society may be regarded as a gestalt of the transformation brought about by the first popular revolution of the twentieth century that transformed a seigneurial, backward society and guided its first steps toward a modern industrial country. Flawed in many ways, and unable to fulfill the aspirations of most Mexicans for a more just society, the Revolution nonetheless was a great leap forward. Its significance is most clearly realized when one considers that it took place so early in the century, when there were no models available. The goals and aspirations of revolutionary leaders became those of similar movements that arose more than a generation later in Latin American countries with large Indian populations. The essential significance of the Mexican Revolution was not what it accomplished at home but that it served as a symbol, and to some extent a model, that shaped revolutionary movements in the Western Hemisphere throughout the century.
Scaling down the problem, in these introductory remarks I wish to put in historical perspective how the Mexican Revolution was instrumental in transforming the stratification system of the city of Córdoba and its surrounding region in the second half of the century. First, it is of paramount importance to understand the realignment of classes that took place after the institutional structure of the ancien régime ceased to have dominance and a more egalitarian context came into being. Thus the following remarks focus on the consequences of the restructuring that the local superordinate sector has undergone and on the changes in social mobility and economic fluidity that affected the middle and lower sectors of society.
The Conjoined Effect of the Political and Ruling Classes
Probably for ideological reasons, twentieth-century social scientists have paid little attention to what I have termed superordinate stratification. In the case of Mexico, to be sure, sociologists and historians, and occasionally anthropologists, have written about the plutocracy (usually referred to as oligarchy, which, in a Marxist view, has a distinctly deprecatory connotation), the political class, and the "burguesía" (bourgeoisie, denoting essentially the haute bourgeoisie), a hopelessly imprecise term. About the aristocracy, the moribund sector of the superordinate class, little has been written by social scientists that is sociologically sound and divested of ideological bias. The sole exception, as far as I am aware, is Takie Sugiyama Lebra's (1993) ethnography of the contemporary Japanese aristocracy. When social scientists must necessarily refer to or inevitably discuss superordinate groups, they do it reluctantly and with a tinge of antipathy, a latent manifestation of antagonism toward any group that is or has been in a position of exploitation of another segment of society. Considerable numbers of historians are the exception; rising above personal beliefs and ideological considerations, they have given unbiased accounts of superordinate groups (e.g., Schama 1989).
In my historical and ethnographic studies of the Mexican aristocracy (Nutini 1995, 2004), one of the basic analytical premises was that to understand and explain a social stratification system, it is necessary to have detailed knowledge of the superordinate class. The rationale is simple. As the holders of most power and wealth and occupying the most exalted social positions, the perceptions they engender among the middle and lower classes and the influence they exercise affect the structure of society from top to bottom. From this perspective, one could no more understand the stratification of nineteenth-century Mexico without reference to the aristocracy and the hacienda system than one could comprehend the contemporary class system of Mexico without reference to the plutocracy and the ruling political party of the country. The justification for this stance has a necessary structural and a sufficient expressive component that complement each other.
Elsewhere (Nutini 1995), I defined the concept of superordinate class as being composed of three main sectors: the aristocracy, the plutocracy, and the political class. For the structural analysis of the Mexican stratification system today, the aristocracy is only tangentially significant historically. Until the Revolution, the aristocracy played an important role in provincial stratification, as it controlled many of the largest cities and surrounding regions where its haciendas were located. Its influence lingered on until the 1934-1940 land reform, but from then on most aristocratic hacendados, who were the main factor in the organization of the social and, to a significant extent, the economic life of many regions of the country, quickly vanished from the local scene. By the early 1950s provincial aristocrats had almost entirely concentrated in Mexico City, and their influence in regional affairs was essentially to have created a vacuum that was filled by new social and economic superordinate groups. Thus the new plutocracy and political class of revolutionary origin was composed of the two superordinate sectors that were most instrumental in creating the class system with which this study is concerned.
Throughout most of the century, the political class that began to emerge immediately after the Revolution and came to fruition in the late 1920s never lost sight of transforming Mexico into a more fluid and equitable society. Many politicians throughout the country worked to improve the lot of the dispossessed; they were dedicated social revolutionaries. Despite the personal and collective corruption that came to characterize the political class, from the highest levels of the federal system (the executive and legislative branches) to manifold positions in local state government, most of its members worked toward promoting opportunities for the disadvantaged and creating an atmosphere of positive expectation. For nearly forty years (from the early 1930s to the late 1960s), the country made great improvements in education, social security, health, transportation, and communication, creating the basic infrastructure for a modern industrial complex. However, the ruling party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, the embodiment of the political class, around which a vast system of patronage evolved), was never able to foster political democracy; thus from the local community to the highest levels of the federal government, the country was a benevolent civil dictatorship. The PRI brooked no political dissent, and either by bribing or co-opting dissenters into the party, it reigned supreme. Only at the lowest village level was there a measure of democracy, but as one ascended to levels of increasing demographic complexity (to town, city, state, and nation), the system became more oppressive.
The system worked reasonably well until the late 1960s, and undoubtedly the majority of the population supported the ruling party, regardless of the corruption about which most fairly well educated citizens were aware. Indeed, up to that point, the postrevolutionary political class had done a very creditable job of transforming the country from semifeudal conditions into reasonably modern ones, and the oppressive and occasionally tyrannical methods it employed could perhaps be justified. Largely as a result of policies that promoted education and economic development that the PRI genuinely promoted, the system began to falter as the population at large became more politically conscious and no longer willing to overlook the rampant corruption. Had the PRI begun to liberalize and promote political pluralism, as it appeared to be doing during the presidency of Adolfo López Mateos (1958-1964), it would have been a tremendous achievement, and the majority of the population would have forgiven and forgotten the oppression and corruption it had taken to bring the country to the verge of being a modern industrial nation. Unfortunately, it is rarely the case that individuals or groups give up power voluntarily. Mexico had to endure another thirty-five years of political chicanery, and the ruling party fought democratic reform by all available means whenever it was challenged. On the whole, for many years, the PRI served the country well, and the very success of the policies it espoused was the source of its decline as the undisputed ruling party, leading ultimately to a democratization of the political system that has not yet been entirely achieved.
But how was the political class of the country instrumental in causing the realignment of classes that has significantly modified the stratification system? Before answering this question, let me specify who are the members of the political class at the national, state, and local (urban) levels.
Directly until the late 1930s and indirectly since then, the new political class has enjoyed undisputed political power since 1929, when the PRI came into existence. At any one time, it includes living past presidents, cabinet members, some prominent members of congress (senators, diputados, or congressmen), most state governors, and assorted high office holders. The political class during President Miguel Valdéz Alemán's tenure (1946-1952) had about 1,500 members, and it has grown at the rate of roughly 150 every six-year administration, leading to close to 3,000 by the administration of President Ernesto Ponce de León Zedillo (1994-2000). Given the principle of no-reelection instituted by the Revolution, a politician's career culminated in a high office to which he could not be reelected. After holding high office, members of this circle have continued to have influence, and for nearly three generations, a fairly permanent nucleus has guaranteed the continuity and stability of the political class. Perhaps more significant is that the Revolution did not change the tradition, dating back to colonial times, of high political office as an important source of enrichment. In the twentieth century some of the largest fortunes in Mexico have had their origins in politics. The result of this form of nearly institutionalized corruption is that sooner or later politicians become plutocrats and members of the ruling class.
Corruption enriches not only the individual office holder but also the many families related to him or her by ties of kinship, compadrazgo, and friendship. Indeed, in every administration since President Alemán's, at least five thousand families have been the recipients of the profits of political corruption and have joined the lower and middle ranks of the plutocracy. Thus, at the national or local level, these members become part of the ruling class. As ruling party control is coming to an end and the political system is becoming more representative and democratic, politics as a source of wealth is being curtailed; but the role of the political class in the formation of the ruling class cannot be underestimated. It must be noted, however, that the effect of politicians as they are transformed into members of the ruling class is realized differently. Officials at the federal level and governors of the richest states have the greatest effect as members of the ruling class, as almost invariably they join the richest plutocratic groups. By contrast, at the state and local levels (cities and municipios), politicians are more effective as members of the political class than as plutocrats of lower stature. (Implicit in this categorization is the popular belief, well documented by evidence, that the higher the political office, the more there is to plunder and the richer politicians become.) By "effect," as I discuss more fully below, I mean the direct or indirect influence of the political-ruling class on the population at large in fostering mobility and a more egalitarian society, which ironically is the result of corruption. Be this as it may, the local political-ruling class is a mirror image of the national model, and only the scale of power and corruption is different (see Chapter 3).
Given the ultimate fission of the political and ruling classes, particularly during the past thirty years due primarily to the increasing democratization of society, it is best to analyze these superordinate classes as a single sector and point out differences and similarities when necessary. During the period of gestation of Mexico's twentieth-century plutocracy, roughly from 1920 to 1940, the early great fortunes were made by politicians, and just a few years later, in fact, President Alemán became the first plutocratic magnate to emerge after the Revolution. Soon after, diversification took place and plutocrats of nonpolitical extraction amassed the largest fortunes and became increasingly powerful. At this point, no later than the late 1950s, one may speak of a ruling class of plutocratic magnates essentially independent from the political class. This is the basic realignment of classes that took place essentially at the superordinate level, which since then has been extended to the middle and lower sectors of society. Building on the foundations provided by the Revolution for nearly two generations (promoting education, pride in acknowledging the Indian component of being Mexican, and in general fostering an open society), the restructuring of the superordinate sector has become instrumental in realigning all classes of society, most notably at the state and local levels.
In the capital and the largest urban centers, where are concentrated the best-educated and politically conscious segments of the country's population, the model of upward mobility and economic aspiration was the plutocratic magnate who, by dint of ability, hard work, and foresight, has inspired the middle sectors of society to become entrepreneurs, dedicated followers of capitalism, and desirous of improving their social position. The fluidity of modern Mexico after midcentury provided, of course, the structural conditions for the actualization of this model, but the immediate sources of its realization were successful, visible plutocrats. The tremendous proliferation of fairly wealthy merchants, manufacturers, small- to medium-scale industrialists, and all sorts of middle-class entrepreneurs during the past generation are the vicarious emulators of plutocratic magnates, rightly perceived as emerging from similar class positions to great wealth and high social standing. To put it differently, social and economic mobility, from the lower to the middle rungs of society and on to the superordinate sector, has been the result of the confluence of modernization fostered by the Revolution and a capitalist model that it never contemplated obliterating. Small as the middle class of the country is compared with that of industrial nations, it is an important factor in the restructuring of stratification in the second half of the century, which in feedback fashion became instrumental in the overall fluidity of Mexican society. By contrast, politicians do not elicit the same vicarious emulation; they are unremittingly resented, given that the middle classes are the most politically conscious sector of the population. Nevertheless, the entrepreneurial success of the middle class served as a model for the bulk of the urban working classes (excluding the professional sector, which is perceived as another avenue of upward social and economic mobility).
Over the past twenty years, the political class, traditionally the PRI, has come to include the opposition parties (most prominently, the Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN, and the Partido de la Revolución Democratica, PRD). These opposition parties have similarly affected a different segment of the population, mostly the less educated working-class sectors, at the state and local levels, particularly in small and medium-size cities.
This different mode of vicarious emulation has two sources. First, most members of the political class (important, visible politicians) are of humbler origin than plutocratic magnates, and the working class is more likely to identify with the former than with the latter. Being less aware of the aura of corruption that politicians elicit among the more educated, or simply caring less, they identify with politicians, not infrequently bordering on hero worship. This syndrome can be traced back to colonial times. It may be defined as a kind of sociopsychological caciquismo, that is, a strong attachment to a leader as a patron and as a source of economic well-being. This is a deeply ingrained Mexican trait that affects many public domains of behavior. For example, it explains the identification of hacienda peons with former landowners, despite the exploitation that bound them. Caciquismo, so defined, is still strongly present among the working classes and lower orders of society. In my opinion, it has created a psychological dependency that fosters an inability to think and behave independently, resulting in grave consequences for the development of the concept of citizen, which is a necessary condition for the organization of a modern nation. Time and again in my research in urban environments in central Mexico, I have encountered this dependency on specific members of the political class, which brings us to the second source of emulation, exemplified by the American notion of the local boy who made good, that justifies and reinforces the first, as follows.
Most politicians are well known locally and serve as a source of patronage before ultimately becoming members of the political class; even if they remain only locally prominent, they fulfill the same function. Indeed, it is in this kind of subsidiary role that politicians are most effective as models of mobility and as influencing the dispossessed to strive for social and economic improvement. Subliminally, this is the perception that local politicians project, with little perception of the corruption and opportunism that the more educated public (always the minority) attributes to them. Innumerable times I have heard the following expression about a politician who leaves office with a reputation for fiscal honesty: "!Que pendejo, estuvo en el poder y no robó nada!" (What a fool, he did not steal while in office!). This, of course, says a great deal about the subject and object of this popular expression—the insidiousness of institutionalized corruption and the willingness of the dispossessed to identify themselves with leaders regardless of ethical considerations.
It is one of the paradoxes of the Mexican Revolution that the political and ruling classes it ultimately forged entailed a strange mixture of capitalist and socialist ideas. On the one hand, there is a continuation of the old nineteenth-century entente that characterized the relationship between the ruling and political class (the unspoken agreement to rule in the economic and the political domain respectively without interference); on the other hand, basic social, economic, and material reforms have been implemented that were not necessarily advantageous to the economic interests of the rich and powerful in a developing capitalist system. This has essentially been the dilemma that has characterized the role of the ruling and political classes in Mexico in the postrevolutionary period. Although irrational and inherently flawed, the single or joint effect of ruling-political action has been determinant in transforming Mexico for nearly ninety years.
Fluidity of the Stratification System during the Past Generation and the Realignment of Classes
The transformation that the Mexican middle classes have been undergoing for most of the century has been paralleled in the lower sectors of society. This has been most significant in the passage from Indian to Mestizo status. At the onset of the Revolution of 1910, the Indian population was about 40 percent of the total population of Mexico; by 1950 it had been reduced to about 20 percent; today, it stands at less than 10 percent. This dramatic transformation, unparalleled among Latin American countries with similar demographic composition (Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay), bears witness to the Revolution's success in modernizing the country and creating the ambience, if not necessarily the most propitious conditions, for upward socioeconomic mobility, which in this context inevitably means the ultimate disappearance of the Indian as a distinct ethnic category (Nutini 1997). My focus here, however, is on the great rural and urban masses that are the direct result of this ethnic transformation of the country.
A ninety-two-year-old, well-educated lawyer and former city official described the contrast between the 1910s and 1990s as follows:
Me acuero muy bien lo cerrada que era la sociedad cordobesa durante la revolución. Un pequeño grupo de familias de seis o siete hacendados, con un séquito de una veintena de familias que dominaban el comercio de la ciudad, controlaban la vida social y ecónomica de la región. Unos cuantos profesionales, médicos y abogados, que les rendian pleitesía, constituian lo que hoy día se llama la clase media. Casi toda la población la constituian los obreros urbanos y las grandes masas rurales de peones, en su mayor parte indígenas de las haciendas, pequeñas propiedades, y comunidades independientes de la región. En tales condiciones de total dominación, las diferencias existentes entre las masas campesinas y urbanas no se podian considerar como diferentes clases sociales. !Que diferencia de como estan las cosas hoy día! En primer lugar, las comunidades indígenas que hasta la revolución casi llegaban hasta la periferia de la ciudad, entonces con cerca de 35,000 habitantes, ya no existen; han dejado de hablar Náhuatl; y fuera de algunas costumbres que todavía persistent, se han totalmente transformado. En Córdoba, ahora con más de 350,000 habitantes, como igualmente Orizaba, las oportunidades de todo tipo han atraido a muchísima gente de toda la región. El crecimiento de la ciudad se ha debido principalmente a los muchos negocios que se han venido estableciendo desde principios de los años 50 por hombre de negocios locales, españoles, libaneses, palestinos, y mexicanos de Puebla y México. Creo yo que esta es la razón principal de la fluidez económica y social que ha experimentado la ciudad. Sin las trabas y prejuicios tradicionals que caracterizaban a la sociedad mexicana, que en su mayor parte eliminó la revolución, la sociedad cordobesa ha evolucionado hasta el punto en que cualquier individuo, sin importanr su origen social o étnico, puede aspirar a una mejor vida si está dispuesto a trabajar y comportarse debidamente.
(I remember very well how close Córdoba's society was during [the armed phase of] the Revolution. A small group of six or seven hacendado families, with a retinue of 20 or so families which dominated the city's commerce, controlled the social and economic life of the region. A few professionals, physicians and lawyers, socially subservient to them, constituted what today is called the middle class. Almost the entire population was composed of urban workers and the great rural masses of peons, mostly Indians, in the haciendas, smallholdings, and independent communities of the region. Under such conditions of total domination, the differences between the peasants and urban masses could not be considered different social classes. What a difference considering how things are today! In the first place, the Indian communities that until the Revolution were located almost at the periphery of the city, then with about 35,000 inhabitants, no longer exist; they do not speak Nahuatl anymore and except for some customs that still survive, have been totally transformed. In Córdoba, now with more than 350,000 inhabitants, as well as Orizaba [15 miles away], opportunities of all kinds have attracted a great many people from all over the region. The growth of the city has been due mainly to the many enterprises that have steadily been established since the early fifties by local businessmen, Spaniards, Lebanese, Palestinians, and Mexicans from Puebla and Mexico City. I believe this is the main reason for the economic and social fluidity that the city has experienced. Without the traditional impediments and prejudices that characterized Mexican society, which were mostly eliminated by the Revolution, Córdoba's society has evolved to the point that any individual, regardless of social and ethnic origin, may aspire to a better life if he is willing to work and behave properly.)
I have elicited similar assessments from other elderly informants in cities in the states of Tlaxcala, Puebla, Hidalgo, and Mexico; with some variations, it applies to most city-regions of the country. In addition, this informant's perceptive statement was confirmed by hundreds of interviews conducted in Córdoba, Orizaba, and Fortin. It highlights three basic points. First, a large segment of the population has moved from Indian to Mestizo status. Those who subsequently migrate to the city, in turn, become an influence in rural environments and ultimately are reconstituted as the matrix for the global realignment of classes. Second, the rigidity of traditional Mexican society—dominance of a small group of aristocrats, a budding plutocracy of merchants, a minuscule middle class of professionals, and the overwhelming majority of the population that constitutes an undifferentiated class—determined the stratification of the city. Third, the tendency toward a more open society fostered by the Revolution resulted in the second part of the century in a class system approaching that of modern nations.
Fundamentally, Mexican social stratification has evolved into a fluid, mobile system that to a significant degree parallels that of the United States, as it has been described and analyzed by sociologists. This generalization needs to be qualified, however. It is not only that the Revolution unfettered a society mired in the traditions of an estatelike system, but, as inadequately as the political class has performed, it promoted economic development and the general industrialization of the country. Thus it is the case that sufficient liberalization of the social system was conditioned by necessary economic development and that this became the context in which a fluid, mobile class has developed. Since the leadership of the Revolution and its successors never envisioned a socialist, classless state but implicitly condoned the creation of a capitalist society, the class system that Mexico developed (along with most Latin American countries and many others throughout the world as they emerged from colonialism) is an inevitable result. By asserting that the stratification system of Mexico parallels that of the United States, I mean that the forms but not necessarily the content and actualization of social classes are similar. While one may speak of middle and lower classes in Mexico, their configurations are not the same as those of the United States in terms of comparative affluence, opportunity for mobility, and consciousness of kind. Essentially the differences rest on economic affluence, industrialization, and degree of political democracy. Assuming that the United States and all democratic industrialized countries in the world have essentially the same class system, it may be asked, at what point of democratization and industrialization has a developing country, like Mexico, achieved the same class system? Below I address elements of this question.
By any standard, and probably since the middle of the century, Mexico has had the infrastructure of a modern nation: a well-organized banking system, an effective industrial complex, a good system of communication and transportation, an up-to-date educational establishment, a social security system (that on paper is as good and humane as the best of any industrial nation), and, on the whole, all the institutional structure of an advanced nation-state. In addition, Mexico is a country rich in natural resources. Why, then, has Mexico not achieved the status of a modern industrial nation, with a corresponding class system? The easy answer is to blame it all on lack of political democracy and the corruption of the political class. In my estimation, there are three other factors that are seldom mentioned by historians and political scientists. The first is the deeply ingrained trait in Mexican society that beyond the categories of kinsman, ritual kinsman, neighbor, and friend, no other significant tie is recognized as effectively binding people together. This is part of the colonial inheritance that continued after Independence under the seigneurialism that characterized Mexican society in the nineteenth century, which has been instrumental in retarding the development of citizenship as the primary building block of a modern nation. The second is that citizenship takes many generations to create; with the sole exception of Japan, it took at least five generations to develop in the modern industrial nations of the world. It is thus not surprising that in Mexico (and in most countries with a colonial past), where several aspects of the estate system survived until the twentieth century, the concept of citizenship has taken so long to develop. The third factor is the broad pattern of corruption that goes beyond the political domain and permeates much of Mexican society. Corruption permeates most domains of public interaction, it is taken as a necessary given to get things done, and nobody tries to stop corruption where this might be possible.
Implicit here is the concept of civic society, which Antonio Gramsci coined to refer to public and implicitly organized social life that is noneconomic and nongovernmental, for which he has not received proper credit, as Robson (2000, 14) points out. It is in this denotation that the concept of civic society frames the weak sense of citizenship exhibited by most Mexicans of all social classes and by many social scientists since the early 1930s (Martin 1998, 65-73). The chapters that follow illustrate Gramsci's notion that there are two distinguishing features of the state and social forces within it, namely, civil needs and governmental ideological domination. This often creates tension and does not result in societal benefits.
In manifold forms and contexts, these factors affect the realization of a de jure equitable socioeconomic, political system. It allows for the undue concentration of power and wealth to a degree intolerable in a democratic industrial state; it creates an atmosphere of impotence and resignation that impedes effective political action and curtails economic access to resources. Those who have been fortunate to make it into the middle classes have become complacent and passively accept the state of affairs of everyone else. Most damaging, this state of affairs leads to numerous forms of exploitation of the working classes, from factory workers and farmworkers to domestic help and store clerks. The great majority of the population, those struggling to rise on the economic scale and the dispossessed, wait for leadership that would redeem them. This may appear to be a reification, but it characterizes much of the politicoeconomic ambience of the country. However, as the people are becoming politically more aware and economically knowledgeable about managing the system, this traditional state of affairs is receding rather rapidly, and people at all levels of society are actively participating in the more open society of Mexico that has been evolving during the past decade.
What does the new realignment of classes mean? Essentially, during the past forty years, there has been significant upward socioeconomic mobility from the lower ranks of society to the lower end of the middle sector. The dispossessed are increasingly entering the specialized working class (as factory workers and various kinds of technical shop owners) and the service industry (as small shop owners, barbers, and tailors and in the innumerable occupations that are intrinsic to the urbanization that has occurred over the past fifty years). What has not happened is that the professional classes (from physicians, lawyers, and engineers to all other occupations requiring a university education) are not proportionally increasing the ranks of the affluent middle class, and, structurally and expressively, many of them remain members of the working class. University students are the most educated and socially and politically aware sector of the population, but they also become the most frustrated when, on graduation, their aspirations for a better life are thwarted by not finding the appropriate job in industry or commerce. So far this has been the most serious failure of the public and private sectors of the economy, particularly when, at the end of President Luis Echeverría Alvarez's administration (1970-1976), the government forecasted unprecedented prosperity. This has not come to pass, and the middle class, as the most affected by the downturn of the economy, has remained stagnant. Thus social mobility has been uneven.
What, then, has propelled upward mobility in the lower sectors of society? This is a difficult question to answer, but in my opinion two factors have certainly had a significant effect: secondary education and permanent migration to the city. The expansion of secondary education, both in urban and in rural environments, has been determined by providing the underclasses with a modicum of knowledge concerning the form and context of the industrial-mercantile world as the main source of making a living, not to mention the rudiments of science and technology that this process entails. Without this educational background, the transition from rural to urban life would have been more difficult, and not nearly as many people would have achieved economically rewarding working-class status. Thus education provided the necessary conditions for upward mobility, whereas urban migration constitutes the sufficient conditions for the realization of this phenomenon. The spectacular growth of urbanization—as much as a four- or fivefold increase in the population of many cities in less than forty years, has facilitated the growth of the economy; more significantly, it has become a model of expectations for the poorest rural populations. In the city the majority prospered, but many remained dispossessed, particularly in Mexico City, living in deplorable slum conditions not infrequently worse than those they left behind.
Perhaps more significant has been the effect of urbanization on rural communities, from traditional Indian to secularized Mestizo villages. The main factor in this transformation has been community-centered labor migration. In the Tlaxcala-Pueblan Valley, for example, hundreds of villages since the early 1950s have become extensions of the city and their populations transformed from peasantry to a proletariat working class. The same may probably be documented for many regions, which, together with permanent migration to the city (particularly Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Ciudad Júarez, Tijuana, and Puebla), accounts for the great working-class transformation of Mexico. Only a few of the most isolated areas, so-called regions of refuge (Chiapas, the Sierra de Puebla, the Huasteca Potosina, and a few others), have remained relatively unaffected.
What I have outlined is essentially the emergence of a lower-middle class as described by sociologists in the United States, including the distinction between white- and blue-collar workers. This is a diagnostic point that warrants more discussion.
Let me begin by saying that the overall realignment of classes of Mexican society since the Revolution of 1910 must be focused, as it has by social scientists in the United States, on both the so-called objective and subjective approaches to stratification. The first is exemplified by the Lynd and Lynd study, Middletown, USA (1937), in which the criteria of classification are power, wealth, education, residence, occupation, and so on, and the emphasis is on the differential attribution of these criteria in a changing society. The second, as exemplified by Warner's Yankee City (1942, 1963) series, stresses the behavioral and expressive attributes of class, where lineage, heredity, local prominence, and appropriate breeding play significant roles. These contrasting approaches are not exclusive; on the contrary, they must be differentially employed. The closed, seigneurial-like stratification system of Mexico before the Revolution is best exemplified by the subjective approach, as expressive behavior, lineage, and heredity were of paramount importance in classifying people in the upper and middle sectors of society and in keeping the great masses of the population under control. This does not mean that some objective criteria were not at work, such as political domination, economic exploitation, and lack of access to education for the majority. By contrast, the open, more fluid stratification system that emerged after the Revolution must be explained in terms of the objective approach, given that the subjective criteria's constraints have been greatly diminished even as some subjective criteria remain in place. A few examples can clarify the matter.
First, white-collar workers rank higher than blue-collar workers in the class scale, posited on the notion that nonmanual work is more prestigious and reputable than manual work. Thus office workers and nurses are ranked higher than mechanics and factory workers, even though the latter make significantly more money than the former. This is a pervasive syndrome that structures many domains of social interaction in the lower sectors of society and shapes the configuration of mobility. Second, caciquismo and the relationship of dependence it creates are still very much a part of the sociopolitical process in the lower sectors of society. This form of the patron-client relationship implicitly asserts that there are individuals who are inherently to be regarded as superordinately placed, to whom the subordinately placed must attach themselves in order to get on in the world. It also lends itself to exploitation, which the dispossessed implicitly accept in order to gain some, mostly minimal, benefice. Third, there is an old saying that illustrates an important principle of Mexican social interaction: "Juntos pero no revueltos." Essentially, the saying states that people may gather together but must maintain social barriers and distinctions. This syndrome (a survival of the estatelike organization of society before the Revolution) continues to structure much of the interaction of people at all levels of society and perpetuates traditional patterns of interaction in terms of positions of superiority and inferiority, leading to the fostering of unwarranted respect for persons in superordinate social positions.3 All three are diagnostic examples of the survival of the subjective criteria that characterize Mexico's new class structure in the second half of the century. I shall have much more to say about these matters in the next chapter.
In conclusion, we may characterize the stratification system of Mexico in the second half of the century as evolving toward a class realignment similar to that of modern industrial nations. The transformation has been uneven: great at the bottom, slow in the middle, and perceptibly different but static at the top. Structurally, the main impediment for more mobility into the middle classes has been the lack of economic opportunities, while the dispossessed continue to move into the working classes as the result of the increasing industrialization of the country, which provides jobs better remunerated than mere subsistence. The superordinate class, it goes without saying, is the most similar to that of industrialized countries. With the exception of the superordinate sector, class consciousness has been slow in developing, and the lower the social scale, the less developed it is. This is understandable, as the same phenomenon obtained in the transition from estate to class in Europe after the demise of the ancien régime until the second half of the nineteenth century, by which time a class system was solidly in place. Quite often in the working sector of the population there is ambivalence about class membership, particularly among those who have been recently co-opted and those who are on the verge of making the transition to the middle classes. There are evidently regional variations, but as far as I have been able to determine, this ambivalence increases as one moves from the great urban centers to provincial city environments.
This is the general environment that characterizes the social stratification system of the city of Córdoba, which is typical of many medium-size cities in central Mexico.
By Hugo G. Nutini
Hugo G. Nutini is University Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh.
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