Category Archives: education

Slovak Resentments, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 295-296:

We had hardly said good-bye when a spectacled young man on a bike overtook me and dismounted, with a greeting in Slovak—‘Dobar den,’ I think, instead of ‘jo nápot kivánok’—and asked where I was going. He fell in step beside me [and we conversed in German]. He was a schoolmaster and he enlarged on the past sorrows of Slovakia. It is true that the local villages are Hungarian, but further north they are pure Slovak as far as the Polish border. They had been under the Magyars for a thousand years and always treated as an inferior race, and when any Slovak rose in the world he was promptly seduced into the lesser Magyar nobility—with the result that all local leadership evaporated. Slovak children used to be taken away from their parents and brought up as Magyars. Even when they were fighting the Austrians in defence of their nationality and language, the Hungarians were busy oppressing and Magyarizing their own Slovak subjects. The schoolmaster didn’t seem to like the Czechs much either, though this involved a different kind of resentment. The Czechs, it seems, regard the Slovaks as irredeemable bumpkins, while in Slovak eyes, the Czechs are bossy, petit bourgeois bureaucrats who take unfair advantage of their closeness to the government in Prague. The schoolmaster himself was from northern Slovakia, where—partly thanks to the Hussites, partly to the general spread of the Reformation in east Europe—much of the population is Protestant. I hadn’t realized this. It was touch and go in the Dark Ages whether the Slavs of the North became Catholic or Orthodox. Under the proselytizing influence of SS. Cyril and Methodius—the Byzantine missionaries who invented the Cyrillic script and translated the sacred writings into Old Slavonic—it could easily have been the latter. When I asked why it hadn’t, he laughed and said: “The damned Magyars came!” The link was severed, and the Czechs and Slovaks stuck to Rome and the West.

When he reached his turning he asked me to stay in his village, but I had to press on. He pedalled away with a wave. A nice man.

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Varied Local Responses to the 1918 Flu

From Clara’s Journal and the Story of Two Pandemics, by Vickie Oddino (Dobson St., 2021), pp. 26-28, 123-125:

Halloween was cancelled in 1918 just as it was canceled in 2020. The celebration of Halloween differed from the Halloween we are familiar with today. “In the early 1900’s, towns began the practice of community Halloween celebrations, parades, and parties.” It wasn’t until the 1920s and 1930s that Halloween revelers caused mischief and pulled pranks, and trick-or-treating did not gain popularity until the 1940s and 1950s.

Clara expresses the same frustration and confusion that people, especially 18-year-olds, currently have as announcement follows announcement of cancellations, more often in some states and cities than in others. And in 1918, cancellations and restrictions varied across the country as well.

One example from 1918 comes from Philadelphia and St. Louis, cities that famously handled the outbreak completely differently. Wilmer Krusen, Philadephia’s public health director, assured the city that the flu was isolated to the military and that it would not spread to civilians. Despite reports that contradicted his views of the disease’s spread, Krusen insisted on continuing with plans to host the Liberty Loan parade, which he predicted would raise millions of dollars in war bonds. And indeed, although city officials anticipated 10,000 spectators, the popular parade drew over 200,000.

Three days after the 1918 Philadelphia parade, all the hospitals in Philadelphia were at capacity. And within a week of the parade, 2,600 people had died. In the meantime, St. Louis immediately closed schools and cancelled other public gatherings. As a result, over the course of the pandemic, Philadelphia had more than twice as many deaths per 100,000 people than St. Louis.

According to the South Dakota State Historical Society,

“The Home Guard (the equivalent of today’s National Guard) roamed through the streets of Rapid City, fining and arresting people who were not abiding by the cities [sic] newly created “sanitation laws.” City residents were fined or arrested for “expectorating” (spitting) on the sidewalks of Rapid City. As the local paper noted, “The Guard will be out in full force today to see there is no breaking of the quarantine regulations.” On October 27, 1918, one Rapid City man was charged with “flagrant violation of the anti-spitting ordinance.” Even a Rapid City police officer was arrested by the Home Guard for violating the anti-spitting ordinance and paid the customary fine of $6.”

In 1919, the University of Minnesota shut its doors, the University of Montana held classes outdoors, the University of North Carolina went under quarantine, and Smith College closed down completely. At Stanford University, everyone, including professors, were required to wear masks of risk being fired.

Some cities, mostly in the West, also required masks in public….

According to the Sacramento Bee,

“In San Francisco, 100 people were arrested in October [1918] – reported in the news as “mask slackers” – and nine of them were sent to jail. In Stockton, California, one policeman apparently found his own father to be a mask slacker, and he arrested him.”

Officials did their best to turn masks into fashion statements. “In October 1918, the Seattle Daily Times carried the headline ‘Influenza Veils Set New Fashion: Seattle Women Wearing Fine Mesh With Chiffon Border to Ward Off Malady.’”

Early in 1919, some people had had enough, so a woman in San Francisco “organized an Anti-Mask League whose purpose was to ‘oppose by lawful means the compulsory wearing of masks.’”

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Rail Tourism on the Santa Fe Railway

From From the River to the Sea: The Untold Story of the Railroad War That Made the West, by John Sedgwick (Avid Reader / Simon & Schuster, 2021), Kindle pp. 192-193:

While both [William Barstow] Strong [of Sante Fe RR] and the General [Palmer of Rio Grande RR] sought a certain elevation in the travel experience, only Palmer associated it with exclusivity. Strong was not trying to appeal to a privileged few, but to a receptive many. His impulse was democratic, a matter of numbers. Strong always trusted volume.

The Santa Fe was not the first railroad to carry tourists, but it was the first to cater to them. The Harvey Houses were the first to develop the postcard for their guests to show off the local scenery to friends back home. Harvey soon added full tourist books that gave the West a romantic gloss for eastern consumption, and organized tours of the nearby countryside playing up the local color.

To enhance a sense of place, he displayed the indigenous architectural styles of the Southwest in his hotels, rather than adopt European standards as Palmer had done. In the city of Santa Fe, for instance, Harvey built La Fonda in the Spanish pueblo tradition, solidifying the adobe character of the city. And he made Native American culture a selling point. At some of his hotels, Harvey organized “Indian Tours” of the nearby Indian lands, where he arranged for natives to be on display, and created in-hotel retail shops to sell the jewelry, artwork, and other artisanal creations of the local tribes. He used an Indian thunderbird emblem for the Harvey House logo, and slapped it on every plate, bowl, and piece of cutlery in his eateries. He also brought in anthropologists to record the traditional ways of these vanishing tribes and encouraged artists and photographers to capture their spirit before it was lost. The movement ultimately brought artists such as Georgia O’Keefe to Taos.

As Strong pushed ever deeper into the West, he gained for his railroad the Harvey House aura of service—reliability and good taste. Advertising “Fred Harvey Meals All the Way,” the Santa Fe made clear it was not just another railroad. And Strong was now poised to take the Santa Fe brand all the way to the sea.

The Far Outliers indulged in a rather luxurious rail-tour vacation around the Canadian Rockies earlier this month, including four days aboard Rocky Mountaineer trains. The first-of-the-season train from Vancouver to Jasper (via busy Whistler and quirky Quesnel) had fewer cars and about 200 passengers; while the train back from Banff to Vancouver (via sprawling Kamloops), had many more cars and about 800 passengers. Pent-up travel demand is swelling passenger counts this season (May to October). We saw lots of fantastic scenery and learned a lot of fascinating history, but the two highlights of our trip were a private nature walk (dodging elk) through the hills above Jasper with multitalented Marie-Pierre Flip0-Bergeron of All Things Wild, and a private sunrise photography tour around Banff with sharp-eyed adventurer Nick Hardinge of Rocky Mountain Photo Adventures. The best of my photographic attempts on the trip can be found on my Flickr site.

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Opium Culture in Qing China

From Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age, by Stephen R. Platt (Knopf, 2018), Kindle pp. 225-229:

It is unclear how many Chinese smokers of opium in the early nineteenth century were what we might call addicts. Some certainly were, but given how much was being imported they could not have been many relative to the size of the empire. By the start of Daoguang’s reign in 1820, the nearly five thousand chests being imported from India each year were enough to support about forty thousand average habitual users empire-wide, or as many as one hundred thousand of the lightest daily smokers, so at most a few hundredths of a percent of the population. Furthermore, most users at this time seem not to have been terribly debilitated by opium—they led productive lives and were not outcasts from their families or professions. Indeed, opium smoking was a generally open, public act and there were many socially encouraged reasons to take part in it. Medicinal reasons aside—and there were dozens of those—businessmen smoked opium to focus their minds and help them make smarter deals (at least they imagined that was the effect). Students smoked it for the clarity it brought, thinking it would help them succeed on the civil service examinations. For the stylish it was a relaxant to be offered to guests after dinner. For the privileged with little to do, like the eunuchs of the Forbidden City or Manchu courtiers with few responsibilities, it was an escape from boredom.

Opium was, in other words, perfectly acceptable in respected circles. An aesthetic culture of gorgeously wrought pipes and other accessories grew up around its use by the wealthy, the very expense and extravagance of those tools elevating the act of smoking itself. The Chinese fashion for smoking, moreover, was quite profligate in comparison to the eating of the drug that went on in Britain; much was wasted in the process, and a smoker could easily go through an amount of opium in one day that would kill someone who ingested it directly. For those in more humble situations who couldn’t afford to smoke it themselves, employment in the opium trade still provided a chance for income as couriers and petty dealers.

From a purely economic standpoint opium had its advantages. Valuable and easy to carry (it was worth more than three hundred times its weight in rice), foreign opium was a very good business proposition for Chinese merchants in Canton. Being illegal, it could be turned around quickly for a profit in silver—within a few days in most cases, as compared to tea, which involved large cultivation and transportation networks, and generally took half a year or more to produce a return on each year’s investment. Since the Canton traders made more back from their customers inside China than they paid to the foreign suppliers, trading in opium also served as a convenient way for them to increase their own silver stocks, which they could then use to procure tea for sale to the foreigners. And though they had to pay bribes to officials, the illegal trade was otherwise, de facto, free from taxes.

There is no evidence that the moral exhortations of the Daoguang emperor caught on with the general public in any meaningful way. The widespread public opposition to opium on moral and public health grounds for which China would be known in the twentieth century was at this time entirely absent. Though perhaps the public’s resistance to imperial moralizing was only to be expected; in the early seventeenth century, the Ming dynasty had tried to suppress tobacco for reasons very similar to the Qing dynasty’s ban on opium—even to the point of ordering execution for anyone who cultivated or sold it—but they did not succeed. By the time of the Qing dynasty, those prohibitions were long forgotten and tobacco was an accepted staple of daily life in China. There was no reason the Jiaqing or Daoguang emperors’ edicts against opium should have been more likely to find success.

The Chinese of the early nineteenth century are often described as being uniformly insular and scornful of anything foreign, thanks mainly to an overly literal reading of the boilerplate language in Qianlong’s edict to George III where he claimed that he did not value foreign things. But this was not really the case. For wealthy urbanites in China, Western goods were all the rage by the 1820s—furs, glass, intricate clocks, cotton textiles, and other products of the Canton import trade, which were highly sought after by those with sufficient money to buy them. Far from encountering any kind of disdain for foreign objects, Chinese retailers in the early nineteenth century found that attaching the adjective “Western” to their merchandise was in fact the key to a higher selling price.

This consumer fashion for foreign products helps explain why the opium from British India became so popular in China. Against latter-day nationalist claims that the British came and forced opium down the throats of helpless Chinese consumers, there was in fact an existing system of domestic opium production in China already in place to compete with the import market at Canton (especially in the empire’s western and southwestern provinces). There were also separate avenues for importing the drug overland from Central Asia—and opium from all of those sources was much cheaper than the Indian opium the British brought to Canton. But opium was a luxury good, and its wealthy consumers weren’t looking for a bargain; they were looking for status. Fashionable users of the drug in urban China preferred the opium from British India (the Patna, with its East India Company seal of quality) largely because it was “Western” and therefore seen as far more sophisticated to buy and smoke.

By the late eighteenth century, when British traders began carrying Indian opium in meaningful quantities to Canton, they did so because they knew a market was already waiting for them there. They could not force the drug down anyone’s throat—indeed, they couldn’t even get themselves into the country; all they could do was to carry their opium to China’s southern coast and sell it to Chinese agents. Everything from there on into the Qing Empire was entirely in Chinese hands. Moving forward into the nineteenth century, the extensive smoking of opium emerged as an almost uniquely Chinese social custom, the Canton market for the drug growing to become, primarily for domestic reasons, the most demanding in the world. If opium was illegal in name, it was almost never so in practice, a fact as apparent to outsiders calling at Canton as to insiders within the Qing Empire. As one British dealer testified to a government committee in 1830, “Every now and then there is a very strong edict issued against the trade; but, like other Chinese edicts, it is nearly powerless. It imposes a little difficulty perhaps for the moment, and enables the Mandarins to extort from the dealers.”

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First Englishman in Lhasa

From Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age, by Stephen R. Platt (Knopf, 2018), Kindle pp. 146-147:

Manning was the first Englishman ever to lay eyes on the city (and the last for the remainder of the nineteenth century). His only European predecessors were a pair of Catholic missionaries who had reached the city two hundred years earlier. From a distance, at least, it was the Shangri-La of fables. The grand Potala Palace where the Dalai Lama lived loomed high and white on a hill above the city, visible from miles off, more magnificent in appearance than he had even imagined it could be. But some of the magic was lost on approach. A ceremonial gate they passed through on the road to the city had gilt decorations that caught the sun from afar, but up close the ornaments seemed imbalanced and off-kilter to Manning, reminding him of “pastry work” or “gingerbread architecture.” The blindingly white palace itself was like a hive, swarming with monks in gorgeous robes of deep maroon, but the city below it was poor and rough. The houses were “begrimed with smut and dirt.” Wild dogs with mangy and ulcerated skin ran freely in the streets, growling and digging about for food. In spite of himself, Manning sensed a deep strangeness to the place, an unreality. “Even the mirth and laughter of the inhabitants I thought dreamy and ghostly,” he recalled. “The dreaminess no doubt was in my mind, but I never could get rid of the idea.”

On the advice of his munshi [secretary and translator], Manning pretended to be a Buddhist lama from India, one who happened to be versed in medicine. He hid the fact that he could speak or read Chinese, since it would make the presence of an interpreter suspicious. He also hid that he could speak English, so the two of them only communicated openly in Latin (in which both were fluent, it being the confluence of Manning’s Cambridge education and the munshi’s childhood training by a Roman Catholic missionary). This led to a long chain of interpretation when Manning spoke to Tibetans: someone would first have to translate from Tibetan into Chinese, then Manning’s munshi would translate the Chinese into Latin for him, and he would have to respond in Latin, back along the chain. To avoid standing out—and because he decided he liked it—he performed the kowtow before Chinese and Manchu officials whenever he was asked (a lesser version than that reserved for the emperor, touching the head to the ground three times rather than nine). In fact, he said, he found it so restful to kneel down to the ground after all the walking he had to do that he tried to kowtow as much as possible—including in front of high-ranking Tibetans (which offended his munshi, who said no Chinese would ever do that).

Manning was granted an audience with the Dalai Lama on December 17, 1811. To get to it, he had to climb up hundreds of steps carved into the side of the mountain on which the Potala Palace was built, steps that gave way in time to ladders on which he continued climbing up through the nine floors of the palace, its air rich with the smoke of incense and yak-butter lamps, to reach the high roof with its breathtaking view over the city and the broad, vast plain to the deep blue-white mountains in the distance. A monk escorted him into a smooth-floored reception hall built onto the roof, walls hung with tapestries and its ceiling held up by high, strong pillars. Sunshine streamed down through a skylight. In the middle of the hall, on a throne supported by carved lions, he found a young boy in maroon robes and a pointed saffron hood who appeared to be about seven years old (he had, in fact, just turned six). Manning knelt down before the Dalai Lama and performed the kowtow.

Manning still had his beard, but he had shaved the top of his head in preparation for the audience, so that the boy could lay hands on him. The normally impish Englishman was quieted in the lama’s presence. “His face was, I thought, poetically and effectingly beautiful,” wrote Manning. “He was of a gay and cheerful disposition; his beautiful mouth perpetually unbending into a graceful smile, which illuminated his whole countenance. Sometimes, particularly when he had looked at me, his smile almost approached to a gentle laugh.” They made polite small talk. The Dalai Lama asked about his journey. Manning asked for Tibetan Buddhist books, and asked if someone who spoke Chinese could teach him their contents, though he was gently rebuffed. It wasn’t the conversation that mattered, though, but simply the fact of being in the Dalai Lama’s presence. Unlike Macartney’s audience with Qianlong, there was no power relationship in play, no hidden challenge, no posturing. Just curiosity. And friendliness. All of Manning’s playful cynicism vanished. “I could have wept through strangeness of sensation,” he wrote afterward. “I was absorbed in reflections when I got home.”

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China Envy in Late 1700s

From Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age, by Stephen R. Platt (Knopf, 2018), Kindle pp. 9-11:

There were good reasons why the East India Company did not do anything else that might put their little foothold in China at risk. In the eyes of Europeans in the late eighteenth century, the empire of the Qing dynasty was an unequaled vision of power, order, and prosperity. It had long been, as Adam Smith described it in 1776 in The Wealth of Nations, “one of the richest, that is, one of the most fertile, best cultivated, most industrious, and most populous countries in the world.” Smith believed China to have been at a stable climax of development for eons—at least as far back as Marco Polo’s visit in the thirteenth century—which meant that although it did not have the capacity to develop any further (an advantage he reserved largely for Europe), it nevertheless showed no signs of retreating from its pinnacle of prosperity. “Though it may perhaps stand still,” he insisted, “[China] does not seem to go backwards.”

Enlightenment champions of reason saw in China the model of a moral and well-governed state that needed no church—a secular empire, founded on rational texts and ruled by scholars. “Confucius,” wrote Voltaire with admiration in his Philosophical Dictionary of 1765, “had no interest in falsehood; he did not pretend to be a prophet; he claimed no inspiration; he taught no new religion; he used no delusions.” In reading extracts from Confucius’s works, Voltaire concluded, “I have found in them nothing but the purest morality, without the slightest tinge of charlatanism.” The state that had been founded on those works was, he believed, the oldest and most enduring in the world. “There is no house in Europe,” he observed, “the antiquity of which is so well proved as that of the Empire of China.”

China’s political unity in the later eighteenth century was dazzling not just to British economists and French philosophers but to Americans as well, once they began to emerge as a nation of their own. In 1794, a U.S. citizen of Dutch descent, who had served as interpreter for an embassy from the Netherlands to China, dedicated the published account of his voyage to George Washington, celebrating in particular “the virtues which in your Excellency afford so striking a resemblance between Asia and America.” China was for him the standard by which Western countries could be measured: Washington was virtuous because he exhibited some of the qualities of a Qing dynasty emperor. The highest hope that the writer could muster for the future of his new nation was that Washington, in his “principles and sentiments,” might procure for the United States “a duration equal to the Chinese Empire.”

These were not just Western fantasies. China in the eighteenth century was not only the most populous and politically unified empire on earth, but also the most prosperous. The standard of living in its wealthy eastern and southern cities was easily a match for the companion regions of western Europe, as was life expectancy. To measure by the consumption of luxury goods such as sugar and tea, the quality of life in eastern China in the 1700s appears to have left Europe behind. At the same time, however, due to the Qing government’s tight strictures on foreign trade and residence, China was also seen from outside as impossibly guarded and remote, “the only civilised nation in the world,” as one British writer put it, “whose jealous laws forbid the intrusion of any other people.” The immense riches of the empire were—to the eternal frustration of westerners—always just out of reach.

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Qianlong Emperor’s Achievements

From Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age, by Stephen R. Platt (Knopf, 2018), Kindle pp. 49-50:

Qianlong was enthroned in 1735 at the age of twenty-four and would rule longer than any Chinese emperor ever had, or ever would again. He presided over massive frontier wars in Central Asia and sponsored cultural projects of a scale unimaginable in the West. (At a time when there were more book titles in China than in the rest of the world combined, he oversaw the compilation of a literary encyclopedia that ran to more than thirty-six thousand volumes in length and would fill a large room.) He was an accomplished and prolific classical poet and a renowned practitioner of calligraphy, and with a firm hand for government and a taste for over-the-top displays of power and beneficence he guided the empire to its apex of prosperity.

The first Qing rulers had begun the work of carving out their empire’s borders after the conquest of Beijing from the Ming dynasty in 1644. Over generations they expanded westward into Central Asia, beyond the original heartland of the fallen Ming, assimilating new territories in the southwest and the island of Taiwan to the east. But it was not until Qianlong’s reign in the eighteenth century that the Qing Empire reached its fullest flower, largely setting the boundaries for the Chinese state that exists today. At its peak under Qianlong, the empire reached all the way from Manchuria in the northeast to the provinces of Guangxi and Yunnan in the southwest, and from Taiwan off the eastern coast deep into Central Asia with the territories of Xinjiang and Tibet in the far west. It was an empire of four and a half million square miles, larger than all of Europe put together.

When Macartney came to pay his respects, Qianlong was just turning eighty-two. He was a sturdy man with drooping eyes, slight jowls, and a long mustache. His reign had been long enough that he was the same ruler who sat on the throne at the time of James Flint, the same who had originally ordered British trade confined to Canton. By the time of the Macartney embassy, Qianlong had ruled China for nearly fifty-eight years. He was not alone in his longevity either, for his grandfather Kangxi had reigned for sixty-one years, from 1661 to 1722, the two of them forming the backbone of one of the most powerful dynasties in China’s long history.

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Chinese Civil Service System in late 1700s

From Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age, by Stephen R. Platt (Knopf, 2018), Kindle pp. 54-55:

For all the admiration of the Chinese examinations by outsiders, however, by the late eighteenth century the system was beginning to fail. It had always been extremely difficult to pass the exams, but as the population expanded in the Qianlong reign there were far more candidates than before who wanted to take part in the competition, and proportionally fewer government jobs with which to reward them. The competition became more and more fierce, and great numbers of talented candidates were left behind, creating a glut of highly educated men with few career prospects. They generally found unsatisfying work as tutors, secretaries, and bureaucratic underlings, unreliable jobs that required a high level of literacy and education but were transient and depended entirely on the patronage of their individual employers. These men were failures in the eyes of their parents, many of whom had spent lavish sums on their sons’ educations in hopes of their becoming officials and bringing power and prestige to the family.

Furthermore, even those scholars who did manage to pass the examinations might still have to wait ten or twenty years before a position in the imperial bureaucracy opened up to them through normal channels. By consequence, the system of civil appointments became fertile ground for bribery schemes. Those who controlled the appointments demanded huge fees from qualified candidates before they would give them a position—in essence, forcing them to purchase their jobs, and then often making them pay yearly sums to hold on to them. As the practice spread, great numbers of officials began their careers in heavy financial debt to their superiors—debts they were expected to make up for by squeezing bribes from their own inferiors or finding other ways (such as embezzlement) to supplement their meager salaries and pay for the fees and gifts that were required of them.

At the lowest levels, where the vast imperial governing apparatus reached the level of the common people, this pyramid of graft resulted in widespread petty oppression and outright cruelty by minor officials towards the populations they governed—especially the peasants and those on the margins of society, who were most vulnerable to their extortions. Such victims had little or no effective legal recourse if they were harassed or beaten or had their meager property taken by greedy officials. All they could really do, if they were desperate enough, was to revolt.

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Cuban Revolution of 1933

From The Penguin History Of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson (Penguin, 2003), Kindle pp. 441-443:

The election to the presidency of the Liberal Gerardo Machado in 1924 at first promised an end to the graft of the previous administration. Enjoying widespread popularity, Machado embarked on a programme of public works and measures to diversify the economy. But the fall in sugar prices of the late 1920s led him to repress strikes and protests, and when he got a controlled congress to grant him a further six-year term in 1928, he faced an explosion of anger from the student movement. As Machado’s rule became increasingly repressive, students and middle-class intellectuals took to violence and terrorism. The students formed a Directorio Estudiantil, which was to play a continuing oppositional role in the island’s politics. In 1931 there appeared a secret organization calling itself the ABC, whose members were young middle- and upper-class nationalists inspired by the Peruvian Haya de la Torre’s APRA movement. ABC pistoleros resorted to assassinations and shoot-outs in the streets with Machado’s brutal police. The unrest spread as labour unions joined the opposition to the dictator.

Reluctant to send in troops as in the past because of the nationalist agitation, Washington used its ambassador, Sumner Welles, to negotiate an end to Machado’s rule. But the nationalists resented Welles’s intervention and called a general strike in August 1933 (the Communist Party, fearing a US invasion, withdrew its support for the strike and tried to do a deal with Machado, which discredited it in the eyes of students and nationalists). Machado finally bowed to the pressure and went into exile. There followed an upsurge of revolutionary activity – occupations of factories and sugar mills by workers, looting of wealthy districts, and mob attacks on collaborators with the dictatorship.

The moderate government of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, installed by the army in concert with Sumner Welles, was unable to control the situation. In September 1933 a revolt of non-commissioned officers – among whose leaders was a Sergeant Fulgencio Batista – unseated Céspedes and handed over power to a five-man committee chosen by the Directorio Estudiantil. The Havana students had succeeded in creating a nationalist revolution and, after some confusion, they chose one of their professors, the patrician Dr Ramón Grau San Martín, as provisional president. Workers now occupied sugar mills, in some cases demanding wage rises at gunpoint; strikes, riots and gun battles broke out all over the island. Grau’s government passed a number of radical measures, such as the expropriation of a small number of US-owned sugar mills, some redistribution of land, the limitation of the working day to eight hours, restrictions on the employment of cheap non-Cuban labour from other Caribbean islands and the extension of the franchise to women.

Still, the revolution of 1933 was primarily the work of student agitation and, apart from the expected hostility of the USA and the Cuban business community, it was opposed by the Communists, the ABC nationalists and by ousted army officers, who staged a number of revolts. Four months later Grau’s government was overthrown by a coup led by Fulgencio Batista, who effectively became the strongman of Cuba for the next decade, ruling at first through presidential stooges and then, from 1940, in his own right.

Batista was a military populist, a mulatto from a very humble background who had risen from the ranks and whose core constituency remained the enlisted men of the armed forces. As befitted a Latin American leader of the 1930s, he presented himself as a benefactor of the people, using the resources of the state for nationalist and redistributive ends. In 1934 the Platt Amendment was at last annulled, and a larger US quota for sugar helped raise production from the doldrums of the 1920s and early 1930s. Although Batista had the backing of US and Cuban business interests, he took steps to cultivate the trade unions, passing social welfare legislation, building houses for workers and creating employment through large public works programmes. A new labour confederation, controlled by a Communist leadership, was incorporated into the strongman’s political machine. In the countryside, Batista redistributed some land and, following the example of the Mexican Revolution, initiated a programme of rural education, often staffed by army personnel.

Dismayed by the failure of the 1933 revolution, the students and radical nationalists formed a new party in memory of José Martí, the Partido Revolucionario Cubano-Auténtico, which became the principal opposition to Batista. Terrorism continued to be a habitual feature of political life, but by the late 1930s Batista felt secure enough to permit elections for a constituent assembly. In 1940 a new nationalist, social-democratic constitution was passed by a Batista-dominated assembly, which included universal suffrage, state rights over the subsoil, state ‘orientation’ of the economy and labour rights such as a minimum wage, pensions, social insurance and an eight-hour day.

The constitution of 1940 ushered in a period of legitimate democratic governments, though there was no weakening of the Cuban tradition of political gangsterism and corruption. Batista won a clean election in 1940 and continued to implement his populist programme in the improved economic climate fostered by the war and the consequent US aid. Yet radical nationalism reasserted itself in 1944; Batista lost the election – having forborne from rigging it – to Dr Grau of the Auténticos, and retired to the USA a wealthy man.

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Elite Unity of Portugal and Brazil

From The Penguin History Of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson (Penguin, 2003), Kindle pp. 208-209:

It was generally recognized in Portugal that Brazil was the engine of the imperial economy. Though Portugal might have reversed her trade deficit with Britain, it was only because she was herself in chronic deficit with her largest colony. The imbalance, however, did not lead to political frustration in Brazil. The Portuguese had been conspicuously successful in creating a unitary sense of empire in which the colonial élites could strongly identify with the mother country. In contrast to Spanish America, there was no great resentment against peninsular Portuguese: there existed little by way of a separate Brazilian culture for the élite; the involvement of sugar planters in the export-economy made for a common interest with Portuguese merchants, slave-traders and royal officials; finally, the massive presence of Africans and mulattos reinforced the identification of white Brazilians with their European cousins (family ties were, indeed, close).

The political value of this unitary sense of empire was well understood by Portuguese statesmen. Pombal, for instance, was careful not to alienate the Brazilian élites by his reforms. Posts in the bureaucracy and in the newly founded militias were open to Brazilians; local oligarchies were allowed to invest in the monopoly companies; the introduction of new crops into hitherto unsettled areas and the general expansion and liberalization of trade were designed to favour American as much as European Portuguese. Even the expulsion of the Jesuits, who had always opposed the white settlers’ Indian slaving and occupation of native lands, met with Brazilian approval – the large, well-managed estates of the Jesuits, as well as the Indian labour released by the destruction of the missions, provided excellent economic opportunities for wealthy merchants and planters. Brazil was considered to be fully a part of Portugal, even though it happened to be situated on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean; so much so, that the possibility of transferring the imperial court to Brazil in a time of peril had been mooted in Lisbon as early as the middle of the seventeenth century.

The American and French revolutions were to plunge all of Europe, Portugal included, into ideological and military turmoil.

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