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The Crisis in Mexico

ISSUE:  Summer 1940

Mexico is today going through its most serious crisis of recent years, perhaps the most serious of its history. Those who think that what is currently taking place in our country is simply a presidential election, accompanied by its natural incidents, are profoundly mistaken. The forces in conflict are present on a scale never before seen and the issues to be decided are likewise of an unprecedented nature. Nothing less than the destiny of the Mexican Revolution itself is at stake. This means that the interests of the people, for which throughout several decades a bloody and tragic struggle has been fought in Mexico, today hang in the balance. The question is whether the country is to be forced back to a social regime analogous to that of the conservative regimes of the past century or whether, on the contrary, the gains registered after thirty years of revolution, and in particular those of the last five years, are to be consolidated and carried forward. This in brief is the essence of the present situation.

The controversy has now reached an acute stage. Forming part of it are political themes which are today exercising a decisive influence over the masses of the people, themes which the Mexican formerly was either not aware of or gave scant interest to. The problems of the agrarian reform, the rights of organized labor, the national independence, and the role of Mexico on the contemporary international stage constitute, with the natural change of focus arising from the opposite points of view, the platform of the antagonistic parties.

In reality there are only two parties: that of the advanced and progressive forces who uphold the program of the revolution and wish to see it neither halted nor diluted; and that of the reactionary and conservative forces who, although they may call themselves “moderate revolutionaries,” are striving in practice for a complete reversal of all that the revolution has accomplished.

The dilemma was posed in this form from the very beginnings of the electoral campaign: either to continue the revolutionary program or to retreat from it. More concretely: to continue the development of the work carried out by Cardenas or to “correct” him. The progressive forces, speaking through their outstanding leaders, thus explained in advance the content of the struggle and the conservative and reactionary elements were very soon obliged to accept this definition. Continuation of the revolution means: continuation of the granting of lands, water, credit, and tools to the peasants who need them; a struggle without quarter to eradicate Mexican feudalism, marked by landlordism and its consequences, poverty and peonage; full guarantees to the working class for its independent organizations, its complete unity, its immediate improvement, and its legal participation in the political life of the country; consolidation and development of the nationalist movement to recover for Mexico the enjoyment of its natural wealth for the construction of an independent economy; the economic and social liberation of the Indian masses, still subject to many forms of exploitation and discrimination; the enforcement of the democratic rights of freedom of press, speech, and assembly for the masses; development of a national educational program on the scientific and progressive basis provided for by Article Three of the Constitution; the maintenance of the friendly relations of Mexico with all peoples of the world and particularly with those whose independence and territorial integrity are threatened by imperialism; a determination to aid an international program of active struggle for peace.

On the other hand, the opposition groups began to speak, at first timidly and gradually with greater frankness, of “rectifications.” This word in the current language of Mexican politics means: no more lands, water, or credit for the peasant masses; protection for the landlord regime, suspension of the agrarian reform; curtailment or suppression of the rights of the labor movement, the destruction of its independent organizations, the prohibition of strikes, the removal of labor’s present leaders and replacement by leaders acceptable to the employer class and to a right-wing government; the restriction of the democratic rights of the people; the suspension of the policy of national economic recovery, with return to foreign capital of the enterprises which have been expropriated for reasons of public utility; repeal of Article Three of the Constitution and the reestablishment of the religious education abolished almost a century ago by the reform under Benito Juarez; the non-intervention of Mexico in the international defense of peace and in the struggle against imperialism; friendly relations with dictatorial and reactionary regimes.

These are the opposed programs, described almost verbatim.

In order to defend the democratic program of the revolution a great union of the popular forces has been formed. This union has taken the form of the P.R.M. (Party of the Mexican Revolution), founded by President Cardenas with the aid of the fundamental national groups: the most important trade union central, the C.T.M. (Confederation of Mexican Workers); the Federation of Government Employees; the Union of Miners and Metal Workers; the Mexican Union of Electricians; the anti-Morones wing of the C.R.O.M. (Mexican Regional Labor Federation); and the C.G.T. (General Confederation of Workers); the peasant group represented by the National Peasant Confederation; the so-called “popular sector,” composed of middle class groups, organizations of women, and the youth movement; and finally, the national army, which had its origin in the revolution.

Under the banner of “rectification” of the revolutionary program, there has accumulated a series of parties, groups, and sub-groups, the majority of them recently founded, who draw their following from the classes traditionally hostile to the labor and peasant movement and to the revolutionary movement in general. These groups have adopted the most varied and improvised names and designations: “Revolutionary Anti-Communist Party,” “Revolutionary Party of National Unification,” “Party of National Action,” et cetera. They may be counted by the dozen, although it has thus far been impossible for them to achieve a true unification or structural solidity. The opposition parties further include a number of old politicians, many of them prominent actors during the prolonged process of the revolution and removed from power one or more times as a result of the constant factional struggle which in the past was characteristic of the country’s political life.

For the first time in the history of Mexico—and this is definitely a feature throwing light on the significant, unique character of the present struggle—an electoral campaign is taking place in which the contestants themselves, although they are of unquestionable importance, do not occupy the center of attention.

It is true that there are profound differences between the two men who are today leading the Mexican masses in the struggle for power. Avila Camacho is a veteran of the revolutionary army; he has remained in it without hesitance and compromises for the past twenty-five years, with a clean and honorable record. Of exceptional honesty and conviction, he is personally both prudent and modest. He comes from the group of the finest soldiers of the revolution, with a deep sense of honor and loyalty to its democratic institutions. In contrast, almost no one in Mexico, not even his own followers, would, in my opinion, dare make the same claim for Almazan’s past. Having entered the revolutionary struggle at the beginning, he later fought under Victoriano de la Huerta, who engineered the revolt against Francisco I. Madero, the apostle of Mexican democracy; subsequently he returned to the revolutionary army, where he remained in cautious silence until early in 1939, engaged principally in his own large business enterprises. To be a “Huertista” in Mexico is considered even by the conservatives as a mark of shame to be carefully hidden from the eyes of the people. This explains why the most violent attacks which have been made against Almazan are based on the fact of his participation in that fateful uprising.

But the two men, aside from everything which may be said about them, are above all a symbol of the forces following them. Avila Camacho has united around him the democratic, advanced, and revolutionary groups; Almazan is the center of the forces who are working not merely for a pause but for a retreat which the popular masses are prepared, at the cost of any sacrifice, to prevent.

A general staff of leaders accompanies both men. With the candidate of the P.R.M. and progressive forces are the leaders of the labor, peasant, and popular organizations, of whom the most outstanding is doubtless Vicente Lombardo Toledano, General Secretary of the C.T.M. and a person who by his activities and his own capacity has succeeded in attracting the most widespread publicity so far known in Mexico. Within the Avila Camacho party, Lombardo Toledano represents the vigorous voice of the labor movement.

General Almazan has united a series of leaders who stem, for the most part, from the past—rehabilitated leaders whom Lombardo once characterized, in a piece of sarcasm which has become famous, as “exploded cartridges.” Among these men, the best known are of “Callista” origin and form the circle of friends of the ex-President and ex-dictator of Mexico, ousted by the tide which carried Cardenas to power; of this group the most energetic is General Amaro, a militarist in the Prussian manner who is thoroughly hated for his despotism and his acts of barbarism. The rest of the Almazan leaders are minor figures who are scarcely worth mentioning.

The strategy of the counter-revolutionary elements has consisted of an attempt to divide the popular forces and to create a state of alarm. Through this campaign it is clear that they are trying to organize an armed uprising which will carry them to power. But the struggle to divide the workers, the peasants, and the other groups composing the population has not had the success which its authors expected. The C.T.M., which is the strongest column of the popular movement, has suffered and continues to suffer violent assaults, but it remains intact in spite of the internal activities of certain insignificant divisionist groups.

The same cannot be said, however, of the reactionary efforts to create a state of alarm in the country. Finding support above all in the daily press, which is almost exclusively controlled by the oppositionist groups, a widespread campaign of slander has been launched. All the acts of the government and of the popular organizations are twisted and presented to the public in distorted form. Censure and criticism conceived in extremely violent terms and often based on nothing but simple calumny have far overreached the normal limitations imposed by the country’s laws.

The slogans under which this torrent of propaganda is being carried on are clumsy and would make very little impression, were it not for the fact that they are ceaselessly repeated on every occasion. They are based on the tactic of accusing the Cardenas government, which is no more than progressive, democratic, and profoundly nationalist, of being “Communist” and “in the service of Moscow”; all workers and peasants and all leaders of popular organizations are labeled “Communist” and “Stalinist”; every act based on a policy of simple liberalism is criticized as “Bolshevik.” At the same time, and in spite of the contradiction, with no other purpose than to spread confusion, the Cardenas government is also called Fascist by its enemies. It is with these scarecrows that certain sections of the Mexican people are being deliberately and wantonly deceived.

The state of alarm is being further developed by other and more dangerous means. The privileged classes of the country are conspiring to sabotage and disrupt the economic life of Mexico, artificially increasing its difficulties and throwing ever new burdens on the back of the working people. Independently of the causes which in all countries are producing economic crisis, in Mexico the prices of articles of primary necessity have been systematically inflated for years, in order to attribute to the government and to the popular movement the responsibility for poverty and hunger.

There are legal immunities for capital in Mexico, and labor disputes develop normally as in any democratic country. Nevertheless, the opposition—politicians, business men, and the press in their control—loses no opportunity to shed tears over the crisis, the loss of credit and the lack of “guarantees,” and to blame the present political regime for the situation. On the basis of this monstrous falsehood, certain groups of men and women in Mexico are being obliged to believe that perhaps it would be best to overthrow Cardenas at any price and to carry Almazan to the presidency.

There is finally another means of spreading alarm—that of provocation. In the countryside and in the cities, the Almazan followers are engaged in a campaign of vicious insults and violent provocations. Labor and peasant leaders are being attacked and many of them have already been killed. Public demonstrations made up by small groups, but directed by responsible agitators, come out into the streets to insult the government, General Avila Camacho, the C.T.M., and all the progressive forces. As a result of this, even in Mexico City itself regrettable incidents have occurred, with their toll of dead and wounded.

All these tactics lead or are intended to lead to a concrete end, that of breaking the country’s peace and of unleashing a bloody struggle beside which Mexico’s civil wars of the past would seem insignificant. The atmosphere has been charged with dynamite and the existing tension can only be defined as pre-war. The steps leading towards rebellion are taken almost in full public view. It is unquestionable that the Al-mazanistas have organized combat groups and that arms have been smuggled into the country at various points, especially along the northern border. If something more powerful than these conspiracies does not block the path—that is to say, a compact and disciplined force which can be no other than all the organized masses supporting the regime—a convulsion of extraordinary scope and of lamentable consequences will occur in Mexico.


In the great struggle which is today developing in Mexico there exists the intervention of more than the purely national factors. The political atmosphere is saturated with foreign motives alien to the will of the Mexican people and dependent upon foreign forces. It is this feature which is exercising a decisive influence on the course of the battle, the legal decision of which will be given by the election next July.

It is well known that a large amount of foreign capital is invested in Mexico and that a great part of it is held by American citizens and companies. From these investments arises the foreign political influence which has traditionally played so important a part in the life of Mexico. To safeguard its sovereignty the nation has been obliged to suffer major struggles, including wars like that of 1847, from which it emerged with its territory mutilated; and that of 1857-62, with the French imperialists in alliance with native traitors, from which the patriots led by Juarez emerged victorious. But Mexico has never ceased being the field of foreign influences, particularly Anglo-American influences. In the course of the revolution, lands and properties belonging to citizens of these countries were expropriated in order to meet the necessities of the social liberation of great masses of Mexican workers. Frequent discussions have arisen from these expropriations and Mexico is at present paying heavy sums in the way of compensation.

But since March 18, 1938 one question has been all important in the relations between Mexico and other countries, particularly between Mexico and the United States—the question of oil. The petroleum industry of the country, which was controlled by companies made up of foreign citizens, principally English and American, was expropriated by the Cardenas government as the result of a sensational labor dispute in which the companies refused first to accede to elementary demands for the improvement of working conditions and subsequently declared themselves in open rebellion against the courts and legislation of the country, threatening to paralyze the economic life of Mexico. Since then a bitter controversy has been carried on. The companies, which by their own will and in accordance with Mexican law had renounced any appeal to foreign protection in the event of disputes which should be decided by the courts of the country, have gone abroad to open a struggle to death against Mexico, its institutions, its government, and its present way of life. Because of the action of the companies, the country has suffered international calumny, economic sabotage, and political intrigues without number. The oil question has become the theme and the central motive of the political situation.

In May 1938, General Cedillo led an uprising against the Cardenas government with the declared intention of establishing an extreme rightist regime; in his proclamations of rebellion appeared the magic word petroleum and a promise to return the industry to the expropriated companies. The Mexican people, since the day of the expropriation, have greeted the oil policy of the Cardenas government with enormous enthusiasm, seeing in it the importance of compelling respect for the sovereignty of the country and of recovering its national wealth; but the political groups hostile to the revolution and to the present government have taken upon themselves, shamefully and by stealth, the defense of the companies, even to the point of converting themselves into their agents and of connecting themselves closely with a movement aiming to overthrow a regime which has dared to defy the powerful international oil trusts. Present Mexican politics thus has a pronounced smell of oil. The Mexican people are defending their petroleum, but a minority subsidized by foreign forces advocates a return to the companies and the capitulation of Mexico to imperialism. President Cardenas, who decreed the expropriation and has maintained his position in spite of all insinuations and illegal pressure against it, has for this reason commanded the respect and veneration of the great majority of the people; for the same reason he is considered an authentic national representative rather than simply a leader of a political faction.

In April of this year there was published the note of the j American State Department, signed by Secretary Hull, which proposed to the Cardenas government that the solution of the petroleum dispute be submitted to international arbitration, even though the question has already been decided by the courts of Mexico in accordance with the country’s laws. Mr. Hull’s note, which is expressed in courteous terms which do not lessen its violence, has produced an enormous sensation and considerable indignation in the Mexican people. It is considered proof that the government of the United States has abandoned the “Good Neighbor” policy. Mexico, as its government has repeatedly said, is prepared to compensate the companies. But the truth is, and Mr. Hull’s note does not mention this, that the companies have done and are doing everything possible to prevent the completion of the indispensable legal procedure necessary to make this compensation effective. They have refused to take part in the evaluation of their properties undertaken by the Mexican authorities. It is clear that they do not want to be compensated but wish to provoke a nullification of the expropriation itself. But this will not be permitted by the people or by the government of Mexico, and it is necessary to understand that the highest interests and the honor of the nation are involved in the question. Apart from this, the proposal of arbitration seems to be no more than a refusal to recognize the legality and justice of Mexican laws and courts—and this likewise implies a question of principle. The country must command respect for its sovereignty; it cannot agree to subject questions decided by its own Supreme Court to the consideration of foreign courts, which, moreover, do not merit its confidence. It is obvious that the international influence of the oil companies and of the government of the United States is much more capable of carrying weight with international commissions such as that which is proposed than Mexco could bring to bear.

In Mexico it is generally thought that Mr. Hull does not merely wish to settle the oil question in his own way without consideration of the respect due to a country which sincerely practices good neighborliness, but that he is also seeking to bring pressure on the Cardenas government and on the forces supporting it, in order to alter radically various aspects of Mexican policy. In his note the Secretary of State speaks of “other pending questions” and even insinuates, in a friendly manner, that it would be better to settle this problem peacefully in view of the fact that it is customary today, in many parts of the world, to settle them by force.

The American note undoubtedly constitutes a weapon in the hands of the opposition in Mexico, who would be willing to cooperate in a defeat of the country at the hands of foreign forces if they might thus crush the revolutionary movement. The Hull note has the character of a weapon of political pressure on Mexico on the eve of elections and a possible civil war. Paralleling the offensive of certain American politicians who have adopted the custom of making every sort of proposal which might annoy Mexico, including that of obtaining Lower California in lieu of compensation for the expropriated petroleum companies, the Mexican reactionaries have redoubled their activities and have given them a still more provocative and violent tone. Aggression is breaking out on all sides and the uncertainty as to coming events is becoming intolerable.

Any calculation based on the hypothesis that the Mexican people will meekly surrender their conquests is completely mistaken. The Mexican people are fighting and will continue to fight. In reply to Mr. Hull’s note, an unprecedented demonstration of support for the Cardenas government immediately arose, The popular organizations are tightening their ranks. The progressive forces are ready to defend the present regime in any way that may be necessary.

As a contributing factor to the aggravation of the situation and making it still more confusing, another American, Mr. Martin Dies, has launched a poisoned bomb consisting of the charge of supposed and fantastic “Nazi-Communist” conspiracies, the object of which is to overthrow Cardenas and install a puppet government of Berlin and Moscow, hostile to the United States, This charge is ridiculous if it is remembered that those who are visibly preparing a rebellion are all the reactionary groups who also call themselves anti-Communists, that the Mexican Communist Party, a very small minority, supports the Cardenas government and that the people, as a whole, are for the completion of the program of the Mexican Revolution.

The fantastic charges of Mr. Dies—who is from Texas, an oil state—are seconded by political groups and Mexican newspapers whose connections with the oil companies are well known, for which reason it is believed that the American Congressman is simply doing his part to increase the tension of the situation, in order to bring pressure on the Mexican government and to prepare the way for serious future events.

But whatever may be the outcome of all this, the Mexican, people will not yield; they propose to settle on a friendly basis the questions pending with its great neighbor to the north, whose people merit the deepest respect and affection from Mexico. The Mexican people hope to see their sovereignty guaranteed. They likewise hope to preserve their internal peace and to carry on, under a democratic and progressive regime, the struggle for their future. They are confident of the legitimate triumph of the candidate of the P.R.M. in the July elections. That legal victory is assured. But if the country’s reactionaries, in alliance with foreign enemies, break the peace and launch an armed movement, whatever the sacrifice which the Mexican land may be obliged to undergo once more, the Mexican Revolution will continue its progressive march and will triumph in the establishment of its own program.


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