Red Web - Blair Coan

From Moscow To Mexico To Montana

Mexico is today, was yesterday, and will be tomorrow the most fertile incubator of Bolshevik revolution on the American continent. For this and one other reason I choose it as the scene for the prologue of this story of an intrigue that had, and still has, for its ultimate goal the overthrow of republican government in the United States of America. The other reason is that it was in Mexico, in the spring time of 1922, that I learned what I know with greater certainty now than then; it was in Mexico that I learned that which, incredible, perhaps, in 1922, became obvious with time and realization.

When I went to Mexico in the spring of 1922, the subject matter of this book, or of this chapter of it, was furthest from my mind. While I had spent some fifteen years of my life as a newspaperman, and had acquired a pretty good knowledge of humankind in general and of men who make governments or endeavor to unmake them, the government of Mexico and the politics of Mexico were merely of incidental interest to me. I was not concerned with newspaper stories that had been written or with any that I might write, and the only investigation I had on my program was of a strictly business character. I went to Mexico as a representative of the Essanay Film Company. The purpose was to find a market for the motion pictures which the Essanay Company was manufacturing. The mission was a failure. There was no market, at any rate no safe or profitable market, for them, and of course the details of the prospective enterprise are of no concern here.

So, although I went to Mexico to get motion picture contracts and came back to the United States empty-handed in that respect, yet I did bring back what I thought was a pretty good newspaper story. For, however far a newspaperman of experience may stray from the profession of his first choosing, he is bound to see newspaper stories along the way even if they are furthest from his intent. The story I got never saw the light of print until two years afterward, my efforts in its behalf with editors of my acquaintance proving of no avail, and I'm obliged to admit that the full import of the story had not percolated my own intellect until those two years had passed.

My story was that the red hand of Moscow was not only concerned with manipulations for control of certain of the big labor organizations of the United States and, with the promotion of strikes, sabotage and various forms of violence for the disruption of industry, but that the intellects controlling it had conceived a way in which to make this same red hand influentially felt in the American congressional elections of 1922. In short, my story was that reds and pinks with red sympathies would be candidates for congressional office in a number of states where radical theories had acquired a foothold of some strength, and that a number of these, masquerading either as Republicans or Democrats, stood a very good show of being elected.

"Somebody has been kidding you," said one Chicago newspaper editor of my acquaintance, when I explained the information I had come upon and sought an arrangement for the publication of an article or a series of articles bearing upon the question.

"And anyway, even if the story is true," another told me, "it would be folly to print it at this time. Nobody would believe it."

He was probably right, as to this last statement. I know well enough now how slowly the truth of it is dawning upon the minds of some very brilliant men in politics, both Democrats and Republicans, even now when every prophetic phase of the story stands forth in the light of subsequent events,

On March 4, 1922, I was in New Orleans, and bound for Mexico. An old friend of mine there was the port captain whom I had known while employed on the staff of the Picayune. It was at his suggestion that I made the trip to Tampico aboard an empty tanker.

"You'll enjoy the experience," he said, and I thought I would—and did, since the port captain arranged for me the luxuries of the captain's cabin aboard ship.

Tampico! The second port in America, second to New York City, it had been, because of the vast shipments of Mexican oil. But what I found upon this visit was little short of an intolerable stench pot. Unless the place has been cleaned up since then, which is not at all likely, it is either the dirtiest hole in the world or in second place for that distinction at any rate.

The odor of Tampico smote my nose before we were within six miles of port. The captain of the tanker laughed at my comments about it, and said:

"The worst is yet to come, son. Wait till you get ashore."

And between then and the time I got ashore I profited by his advice on what to do when we made port.

"There is nothing but graft there," he said. "I know you're no greenhorn, but watch your step or they'll take all you've got away from you before you get to your hotel."

My first trouble was at quarantine. I had my samples of films with me. The customs officer told me the duty on the films would be $180.00.

"For forty pesos ($20.00) I let them in for you duty free," he eagerly informed me, and at once I sensed the itching palm.

"Nothing doing," said I. "When I get to Mexico City and show these pictures, the authorities might take them away from me. I'll have to have the regular custom's receipt."

"That cost you 360 pesos, but you may be plenty safe to take these films along with you without any receipt. That cost you only forty pesos."

I refused. I insisted upon a duly executed receipt for $180.00, preferring not to have my films later confiscated and myself, perhaps, lodged in jail on a charge of smuggling. My preference was a source of much chagrin to the grafting customs officer.

The tanker docked about three miles from the passenger docks. For twenty pesos I got my baggage conveyed in a motorboat to the docks for passengers. Aboard the tanker I had been warned,

"Don't attempt to take your own grip to your hotel. If you do, when you get there it will be taken away from you in all likelihood and mutilated if not destroyed. These bolsheviks, who run these Mexican labor unions, tolerate no scabbing against the baggage-smashers."

I went to the Imperial Hotel, a couple of blocks from the docks. My single piece of hand baggage was carried to the hotel by a native for a charge of a peso and a half. Another carried my trunk there for three pesos. That was the union scale of wages, I was informed, and I learned subsequently that it is a rule of the union that baggage carried by the owner thereof shall be and of right ought to be confiscated and destroyed.

Of course these incidents, just referred to, are of small importance so far as this story is concerned, but they are instances of the general condition of petty graft and open robbery in a place where the apostles and disciples of bolshevism and communism hold sway—where, as I learned, agents and tools of the Red Internationale were dominant, both popularly and officially.

It was at the Imperial Hotel that I first met Smith, an American of Scandinavian nativity or extraction. It was a natural acquaintance, because both of us were from "the States". And, of course, we hadn't been together a great while when Mexico became the topic of conversation.

"Who runs things in this town, anyway?" I asked him.

"We do."

We? This was not exactly clear. I pressed him for enlightenment.

"Why, we, the workers—the proletariat," he proclaimed with some show of eloquence.

Ah, how interesting! Here was a reminder of an old newspaper acquaintance of mine in Chicago who required little or no provocation to be sent into flights of oratory about the woes of the proletariat and the wonders of socialism. I wondered if Smith was like that. No, he was not. But I saw soon enough that he wouldn't object to converting me to something if he got the slightest encouragement.

"Of course, I'm a Communist," he informed me with evident pride, and explained that he was engaged in Mexico in the promotion of communism, and that Tampico at the time was virtually controlled by the revolutionists of that faith. He talked a great deal about communist principles, the Russian revolution, the soviet government of Russia, Karl Marx, Lenin, Trotzky, and other popular heroes of the modern world radical movement, not overlooking Debs, Sinclair, Foster, "Big Bill" Dunne, Ruthenberg and sundry others whose names are familiar to the initiated.

This man called Smith had come from Mexico City to Tampico, as he frankly revealed to me, on a mission connected with the organization of railroad workers. Speaking almost as though he thought I ought already to be aware of what was going on in the world along this particular line, he told me about the destruction of the Tampico railway station which had then but recently occurred.

"All the lesser oil operators have been driven out of this section now," he said, "and we'll be getting rid of the big fellows, too, in time. It's already costing them so much to operate they can't make any money that amounts to anything."

Interesting indeed, thought I!—and my new acquaintance was the soul of frankness. He delivered himself so eloquently of the Russian government and of the great organization for propaganda of the Third Internationale, I concluded, with the hope of influencing me toward his millenial hopefulness, but his connection with actual violence there in Tampico seemed to me to be nothing about which to boast so openly.

"Oh, I'm perfectly safe," he told me. "When you belong to the majority, you're safe enough down here. Besides, if they send any troops down here from Mexico City, we'll probably convert them, too."

A new railroad station was in course of construction in Tampico while I was there. Not long after I left, it was destroyed as was the old one, and troops, which Obregon did send there to maintain order, joined the rebels, helped burn the station, and participated in a subsequent celebration of the event.

My acquaintance with Smith was resumed and improved later on in Mexico City. His "mission" to Tampico had not been concluded when I left there. Upon my taking leave of him, he gave me a bit of advice on traveling. It was to this effect:

An upper berth is rather to be chosen in a sleeping car in Mexico than a lower berth. Bullets are too frequently penetrating the glass windows, before which the lower berths are laid out. It's much safer in an upper berth.

So, taking Smith's tip, I traveled to Mexico City in an upper. There were two day coaches, a sleeper and a special car for soldiers escorting the train. From Tampico to Mexico City was a 48-hour run. The speed limit was 12 miles an hour. It was one of the trains on one of Mexico's government owned, government operated railways.

Arriving in Mexico City I found a station porter already firmly attached to my hand luggage. My trunk, roped and sealed by a government agent, I ordered sent to the Regis hotel. The porter tossed my grip into a taxicab and directed me peremptorily to enter. I did so and was driven to the hotel—by two taxi drivers.

Curious thing about these taxicabs, I found out, in Mexico City. They are all Fords, but that is not the curious thing. It is this: Each cab has a driver and an assistant driver. This makes robbery of a visiting foreigner so much more simple. Driving foreigners out upon the plateau to rob them, and not infrequently to murder them, appears to have been a flourishing side-line in the "union" of taxicab drivers. At any rate, when I was there protests had been received by the Obregon government from foreign countries whose subjects had been robbed, murdered, or both, so the Mexican president decreed the taxicab drivers and their assistants would be required to register with the police. They refused, and announced there would be a "general strike" (favorite bolshevik weapon) if any attempt was made to enforce the decree. The decree was withdrawn, and a new one issued. Under its terms, the drivers must obtain "good conduct cards," have their pictures taken for identification purposes and make solemn pledges not to engage in lawlessness. Again refusal by the drivers. Obregon insisted. Defiance from the taxicab banditti.

The Mexican congress was in session. Obregon was making a speech to the congress. The taxicab drivers and assistant taxicab drivers, 400 or 500 in number, marched in a body to the capitol, tore up cobblestones from the street and proceeded to hurl them through the windows. The legislators did not seem to mind this so very much, but when one of the stones hit Obregon on the nose it incensed him and a squad of soldiers under command of a sergeant was dispatched to disperse the rioters. An attempt was made by the troopers to disperse the crowd without the use of firearms, but this failed, and one of the taxicab drivers was shot. Then there was a real riot, and the soldiers came out second best, with the commanding sergeant placed under arrest on a charge of murder. He was awaiting trial on the charge when I left Mexico City.

The funeral of the dead "comrade" was a spectacular event. He was given full bolshevik honors. Carried to the grave on a truck, his casket was draped with a red flag, and his comrades marched in a long and noisy procession, with shouts of "Long live Lenin and Trotzky! Long live the Communist Internationale!" Down the Avenue de Juarez went the procession until the headquarters of the governor of the federal district was reached. Here a halt was called. The governor was called upon to make a speech of eulogy of the dead. He refused. But he was dragged from his office to the street in short order and made the speech, whether he liked it or not.

By order of the chiefs of the taxicab drivers' organization, traffic was commanded to be suspended during the funeral, but somehow traffic seemed not to halt, and 200 policemen were detailed to stop the procession instead. This move was equally unsuccessful, for the police got the worst of it, and the dead "comrade's" funeral cortege proceeded, not peacefully but victoriously,

Most of the facts here stated I got from Olson himself.

Olson? Yes. His name was Smith in Tampico, but in Mexico City it was Olson.

I had been in Mexico City but a few days when I was stricken with a fever and confined to the hotel. The food in that insanitary hole, Tampico, had evidently knocked me out—as it had many another foreigner who has tarried there. I ran into Smith in the Regis hotel while I was convalescing. He now told me his name was Olson. To some of his "comrades" he introduced me, and I made mental note of the fact that sometimes he was referred to by them as neither Smith nor Olson, but Redfern. Of course, as I have found out since, this was not a mere isolated case of bolshevik use of several names for one individual. Among the comrades it is an accepted part of the system of operation, and a great convenience—for use of one name indicates one thing, use of another something else, and use of another something else again. At the time, I made no attempt to get from my acquaintance an explanation of his abundance in nomenclature. It was my impression that such curiosity might not be considered good form. So, in Mexico City we shall know him as Olson—the name he gave me on better acquaintance, and probably the name he was born with.

Having now become quite chummy with Olson, arguing with him to draw him out, conceding to him by way of encouragement to his confidence, I seemed to have inspired him to discuss things with me in ever greater frankness than he had down in Tampico. He told me the new railway station at Tampico had been destroyed, that the railroad workers' organization had been responsible for it, that he had been in Tampico in the interests of that organization and that the organization was controlled by the Communists and that they and he were well supplied with funds which came to them from Russia.

The Communists were belaboring the Obregon government on every occasion. Olson told me the railroad strikes were financed with money from Moscow.

"It is only a question of a few months when de la Huerta will have control of this government," are almost the exact words of Olson.

"But," I said, "how did you induce the railroad workers and the waterworks employes to strike so you would get this hold upon the country you were aiming at?"

"Easy enough," was the reply. "We promised them more money, and kept the promise by giving it to them." He laughed, and said in a half-confidential manner: "Let the poor fish have the money for a while. We'll take it away from them."

I suppose I must have had at least twenty conversations with Olson. He had no hesitancy about telling me he was one of the many agents of the Moscow government in Mexico, regularly employed and well paid. Russia, in seeking recognition of foreign governments, lays a great deal of stress upon the claim that the soviet government should not be confused with the Third Internationale—that what the Third Internationale does the soviet government of Russia can not be held accountable for. But the personnel of the two are the same, and anyone who knows anything at all about either is aware that the difference between them is a sham and a pretense.

"We've got this country now," this agent of Moscow told me, referring to Mexico. "It's only a question of time, and maybe the time is not so remote, either, when we'll have the same control, in effect, across the Rio Grande. We're going into the elections this year in the United States for all we're worth. We've got to get the right sort of representatives elected to Congress."

Remember this was in March, of 1922, a congressional election year.

"Our campaign is in the Western states," he said, "where we can work on the farmers as well as on the industrial workers. Montana is an especially promising state. We are going to get men into Congress, if we can, with the courage to show up the conditions in the government under the capitalist system."

Now, I was not at all familiar with Montana politics, and Olson's particular mention of Montana carried no special meaning to me at the time. Had he mentioned names of prospective candidates they would have meant little to me then. Had he mentioned any other state than Montana, it would have had as much meaning to me then. But the point is, he did mention Montana particularly, and the significance of that statement becomes vivid in the light of a prophecy later bearing the appearance of having been realized.

Olson told me there already were a number of men in the American Congress favorable to "the cause"; that whenever and wherever possible, "the cause" was being carried into the American labor organizations, the pacifist groups, the universities, the women's clubs, the churches and the schools; that a great fund was available for the promotion of "the revolution" among the youth of the nation and for the conduct of schools for spreading the communist doctrine among children; that the program of operation was of Russian origin, and that the financial support for it came in no small measure from Moscow.

Now, I could tell you a lot about my personal experiences in Mexico, of personal views of revolutionary outbreaks, of conditions prevailing in this land of chaos, but adventures of travelers in Mexico are more or less passe. I've told what is of present importance—these prophetic confidences of my communist friend, Olson, alias Smith, alias Redfern.

There was a direct connection between those prophetic confidences and subsequent history both in Mexico and in the United States. Olson predicted the overthrow of the Obregon government, and the ascendancy of de la Huerta. The prediction, from the bolshevik viewpoint, was a bit over-optimistic. But Huerta's revolutionary coup, although a failure, did take place only two years later. And when Huerta's success became evidently impossible, the reds, including the Moscow agents, turned to Calles, and Calles became president of Mexico. The attempted crucifixion of Calles by the bolsheviks who helped to place him at the head of the Mexican government is current history.