Lazaro Cardenas & Mexican Populism The Early Years/ The Birth of Populism Lazaro Cardenas del Rio (May 21, 1895 – October 19, 1970) was President of Mexico from 1934 to 1940. From Cardenas plebian roots, in the lower-middle class he eked out a substantial, moving and largely successful leadership role in a reformative Mexico. Born in the village of Jiquilpan, Michoacan, Cardenas supported his widowed mother and seven younger siblings from the age of sixteen. His many professional pursuits included a tax collector, a printer’s devil (apprentice to a printer) and a jail keeper, all by the age of eighteen.
Cardenas had very little formal education, leaving school at eleven to help support his family he often sought opportunities to further his own knowledge, as can be seen by his choices of profession before the age of eighteen, additionally Lazaro Cardenas was a consummate student of history seeking to understand and learn about all the national and international historical underpinnings of Mexico and the world. When Cardenas was young he sought to become a teacher but was fouled in his plan by being drawn fully into the politics and military of Mexico, at a time when Mexico was in serious transition. Wikipedia 2009, “Lazaro Cardenas”) The Mexican Revolution drew Cardenas, as it did many others into service of the new government, after Victoriano Huerta overthrew the former President Francisco Madero. Cardenas was a supporter of Plutarco Elias Calles as the new president of Mexico and was rewarded, after his successful bid, for appointment as the governor of his home province, Michoacan in 1928. (Fallow 2001, 11) His programs were popular and needed as he developed infrastructure with particular emphasis on road building, school building, and education promotion in general, land reform and universal social security.
These days as governor, the acquisition of resources and development of his community, as well as his plebian roots all contributed to his development of populism, later as president. (Bantjes 1998, 11) The definition of Populism, which speaks to Cardenas’ whole career as a politician: …a member of a political party claiming to represent the common people; a member of a … political party … primarily to represent agrarian interests and to advocate the free coinage of silver and government control of monopolies 2: a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the ommon people. (Merriam Webster Dictionary Online 2009, “Populism”) Though, Becker contends that the revolutionary actions of Cardenas do not necessarily hold true to the contention that he was godlike or mythical in his roving meeting and listening to campesinos (peasants) all over Mexico his works and the relationships he slowly forged with these people worked together to build a better Mexico.
A Mexico where land redistribution and other public social security issues answered many questions about the extreme disparity, between the rich and poor, that existed in Mexico prior to this time, and just as importantly the redistribution of power and elimination of much of the political corruption that dominated and plagued the post-revolutionary nation. (Becker 1995, 1-2) Presidential Years/ Populism From Theory to Action
President Calles, who Cardenas had supported in the early post-revolutionary period and whom had supported his bid for the governor of Michoacan, dominated the politics in Mexico even after the close of his presidential career. The administration was largely populated by Calles, controllable cronies. He dominated on who became the successor of two presidential elections, and first supported Manuel Perez Trevino for the presidential candidacy in 1934. Yet, his demands went unheard as the dominant political party supported Cardenas’ candidacy, instead.
Calles eventually capitulated and supported the choice as he felt, that having once held the man’s favor he would be able to influence Cardenas as he had his previous candidate choices. Cardenas proved to be a worthy adversary as he began to make changes and demand a reformation of the cronyism and political corruption that had been abundant following Calles ascension and control of the government. One of the first things that Cardenas did after his successful campaign was to cut his own presidential salary in half, and this was only the beginning.
After he had successfully developed his presidential role he turned against Calles completely and had him and many of his cronies deported to the US, at great popular support of many in the Mexican population who had been victim and seen the destruction that this long held post revolutionary cronyism had upon their once hopeful nation. (Knight 1990) Cardenas also eradicated capital punishment, becoming one of the first nations in the world to do so and certainly one of the first in North nd South America. Cardenas successful presidency, elimination of much of the political cronyism as well as social policy changes also created a reasonable end to the revolutionary skirmishes that were still taking place more than 20 years after the beginning of the Mexican revolution in 1910. His partnership with the dominant political party, PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) helped end a substantial amount of violence and social confusion, almost absent of revolutionary bloodshed. Bantjes 1996, 62-64, 69, 96, 192) Cardenas, also had an almost mythical position as a favorite of the people, as he traversed the nation without the traditional armed guard, and armored cars, further proof of his luck, his popularity and most importantly his success as a leader of men. “This fearlessness generated widespread respect for Cardenas by the electorate. ” (Wikipedia 2009, “Lazaro Cardenas”) Other very popular stands the man took include the repatriation (though largely public) of government resources.
He built and moved into a much more subtle and less costly presidential home (Los Pinos); retiring the former glorious palace that previous president’s had lived in (Chapultepec Castle) and turned it into the National Museum of History. (Wikipedia 2009, “Lazaro Cardenas”) He also readily welcomed the exiled Russian, Leon Trotsky, though posthumously it is claimed that he did so to counter rumors that he was a Stalinist, he also was well known for his take on the fact that the labor unions and unionism in general were essential aspects of real change and support for his control of the nation.
Yet, in this same tone he also eradicated politically controlled and top heavy unions, replacing them with unions that were more responsive to the worker, and less reflective of the political cronyism of his predecessors. His policies were not as extreme as Trotsky’s and other left-wing political philosophers, and in fact were much more middle of the road with regard to private industry and worker control.
Though his program of populism fell short of socialism, Trotsky was purported to once describe Cardenas’ government as the only honest government in the world. Cardenas in fact involved Mexico in a great deal of international relations, supporting the Republican government in the Spanish Civil war, supporting the protection its exiles when the war was lost by the Republicans. Some of these deportees came to Mexico or were protected diplomatically by other nations in Europe at the bequest of Cardenas and Mexico.
Many of these intellectuals furthered the intellectual shape of Mexico and helped it further the populism stand taken by Cardenas. (Bantjes, 1996, p. xii) Another populism standard involved the secularization of institutions, moving away from the idea that the Catholic Church as a dominant foreign and domestic power in government, Cardenas, supported and practiced a separation in government decision making and in the dominance of the church, despite the cultural dominance of the church in the lives of many.
This cultural dominance was largely associated with nominal involvement in church activities and mainly, at this point the planning and implementation of personal tradition and ceremony, with many self-labeling as Catholic and planning baptisms and weddings according to these traditions. (Knight 1990, 233) Cardenas, in a very popular move also expropriated the oil industry in Mexico. (Werner 1997, 868) The industry was a dominant player in the energy game, providing a good deal of the domestic oil to the US and selling oil all over the world in the 1920s.
The Mexican government, with Cardenas at its head, wished to demand more profitability for the people, as part of the populism plan and in doing so failed to sway the oil companies, who had been getting fat off oil profits. Changes in Cardenas political policies recast the whole of the position of Mexico in the world, as well as developing within the Mexican government a reasonable demonstration of deference to positions, other than the dictatorial one of the president.
The Mexican Foreign Ministry reacted to these changes by recasting itself as an effective foreign economic and political intelligence service in the early 1930s. More importantly, other government agencies joined the rise of Mexican bureaucracies as important foreign-relations players as they sought foreign markets for Mexico’s agricultural and petroleum products. The Mexican oil expropriation of 1938 and the next great international war — World War II — reinforced these trends.
By the end of Cardenas’s presidency, the structure of Mexican foreign relations had become diverse and its focus market-oriented, ready to exploit the expected opportunities of international war. The Mexican president was no longer the alpha and omega of Mexican foreign relations. The technical and economic expertise needed to run a state in the middle of the twentieth century had elevated technocrats and bureaucrats as influential players in foreign relations. (Schuler 1998, 5) The popularity of Cardenas policies are extolled in Mexican history, creating a serious odern demand for research and scholarship on the subject, which has recently created a great deal of revisionist literature that challenges the “official” deification of Cardenas, whose plans were grand but did not always meet the ideals of his populism ideologies. An excellent example of such scholarship is Fallow, who claims as a main thesis in his exhaustive work that “Cardenas Compromised” and frequently was found lacking in his petition for the workers, both urban and rural in his bid for complete change.
Fallow sites many losses Cardenas faced with regard to supporting change, in nationalizing oil, the rail system, repatriating land and other fundamental aspects of his change policy, focusing mainly on Cardenas’ ignoring of positions and needs of workers al over the nation. (2001) In contrast to Fallow’s works Bantjes, follows Cardenas’ early years and leaves the reader with a greater understanding of the fundamental changes, many of which endure today with regard to alliances and voice recognition for the poor and the worker in Mexico, as well as the lasting legacy of land reform begun and enacted almost exclusively by Cardenas. 1998, 60, 96, 123, 134-35) Britton, also adamantly demonstrates that though Cardenas may not have been perfect and completely responsive to his ideology of populism he did more than any other post-revolutionary president to attempt to reconcile the class system in Mexico and build systems and standards that were responsive to the needs of the worker and the poor in the nation, it is the focus of 4 chapters in his larger work on the Mexican Revolution and its precursors and effects. (1995, 3-4) Cardenas is considered by many historians to be the creator of a political system that lasted in Mexico until the end of the 1980s.
Central to this project was the organization of corporatist structures for trade unions, campesino (peasant) organizations, and middle-class professionals and office workers within the reorganized ruling party, now renamed the Party of the Mexican Revolution (PRM). During Cardenas’s presidency, the government expropriated and redistributed millions of acres of hacienda land to peasants, and urban and industrial workers gained unprecedented unionization rights and wage increases. The railway Ferrocarriles Nacionales de Mexico was nationalized in 1938 and put under a “workers administration”. Wikipedia 2009, “Lazaro Cardenas”) This is also not to say that Cardenas was ultimately and universally responsive to the cause of populism, as he existed not in a vacuum but within a largely corrupt political system, a system he had inherited but nonetheless had to control and maneuver within. The central tool in this new strategy was the creation of so-called Popular Fronts. These political coalitions joined communist, bourgeois, and social democratic parties in a national alliance.
Soon after the Moscow conference, the Mexican Communist Party ( PCM) president, Hernan Laborde, announced the new course to the Mexican Communist Party. Whereas the party had previously opposed Cardenas’s policies “as a policy of alliance and submission to imperialism,”95Laborde now issued the call for a united front with the followers of President Cardenas who were in the Partido Nacional Revolucionario ( PNR) with the hope that once the government party had been cleansed of “reactionary” elements, the United Front could be extended to the PNR as a whole. 6Compared to similar efforts in France and Chile, however, the Popular Front tactics in Mexico remained ineffective. As Robert Scott pointed out, the concept of the Popular Front had been designed as a political device for countries with an existing institutionalized multiparty system and therefore did not fit into the Mexican institutionalized revolutionary context. In addition, the party leadership around Laborde lacked a clear-cut policy during the early years of the Popular Frontera.
At the same time, Cardenas himself tried to reorganize the Mexican political system into a state-controlled alliance. His reorganization of the PNR into a party of workers, peasants, military personnel, and professionals constituted the formation of a genuine Mexican front in its own right. (Schuler 1998, 60) Cardenas hopes for the populism ideologies frequently fell short of his desires; such was the case in 1940 when Cardenas refused to endorse the PRM nominee and instead called for open and fair elections.
His hopes were dashed as the elections were publicly and oppressively rigged to favor the PRM candidate The campaign was peppered with violent incidents and on Election Day, the opposing parties hijacked numerous polling places and each issued their own “election results”. After “official” results declared Avila (PRM Candidate) as winner, Andreu threatened revolt then attempted to set up a parallel government and congress, nevertheless, Avila assumed office, his inauguration attended by US Vice President Henry A. Wallace. Wikipedia 2009, “Lazaro Cardenas”) Cardenas’ policies, regardless of their popularity and marginal success often angered foreign governments, his dealings with oil expropriation, in particular were the seeds of many international disputes as well as much international business community strife. (Wikipedia 2009, “Lazaro Cardenas”) The UK in particular was very concerned about his expatriation of the oil refineries, fearing that the Mexican government and its workers did not have the skill needed to run the industry and that all of its private and public investment into it would go to waste.
Cardenas’ policies and plans placed the nation in peril when during WWII it sought to export oil to the German Nazi government, as a result of UK and US boycotts on Mexican oil. It was only then that these two governments were forced to lift these lasting boycotts and to begin again importing Mexican oil. (Wikipedia 2009, “Lazaro Cardenas”) In short Cardenas was frequently placed in a position of being between a rock and a hard place with regard to massive social, economic and political reform.
Conclusion His post presidential career was marked with a fundamental individual development of personal goals to express and live his populism ideology. He served as the Secretary of Defense until 1945 and then unlike his predecessors retired to a modest home near Lake Patzcuaro. From this home he continued to advocate for universal and rural medical care access, supporting the development of irrigation projects, and most importantly advocating for universal education of the poor in Mexico.
Cardenas post presidential career includes a great deal of philanthropic works including speaking and advocating for international political change that should include greater democracy and improved human rights in Latin America and elsewhere. Now that my term of office is drawing to a close, and with the authority derived from my being a friend to you workers, I wish to beg you to spare no effort toward the elimination of personal animosities. Terminate your quarrels no matter how deep-seated they may be.
Do not let your efforts cease until you have attained the complete unification of the proletariat of Mexico. Until this unification is attained, the cause of nationalism cannot advance…. As the Revolution desires the maximum of happiness for all Mexicans, it is logical and just that as fast as laborers obtain for themselves greater economic, cultural, and political power, their responsibility to themselves and to the nation is likewise increased. The urning over to them of sources and means of production should carry with it in like degree the obligation to do their part to increase production so that all the inhabitants of Mexico may live better and do away with the wretched conditions that as a millstone have hindered the forward surge of our land. Every worker with an opportunity to produce, who does not throw all his effort and capacity into his work, or who gives himself over to vice or parasitic practices, is evading his responsibility. He is a traitor to his class and an enemy of Mexico’s re-vindicating movement. Townsend 1952, 346) The ideal of populism lives on in Mexico and Cardenas continues to be a voice in the ideology of improved social and political development. The immediate past and future of the nation are demonstratively challenged and Cardenas’ name and even his descendants serve as an ideal that when built upon effectively could assist in the desire to bring economic disparity and poverty to an end in Mexico. Resources Bantjes, Adrian A. As if Jesus Walked on Earth: Cardenismo, Sonora, and the Mexican Revolution, Wilmington, Scholarly Resources, 1998. Becker, Marjorie.
Setting the Virgin on Fire: Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan Peasants, and the Redemption of the Mexican Revolution, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995. Britton, John A. Revolution and Ideology: Images of the Mexican Revolution in the United States, Lexington, The University Press of Kentucky, 1995. Fallaw, Ben. Cardenas Compromised: The Failure of Reform in Postrevolutionary Yucatan, Durham, Duke University Press, 2001. Knight, Alan, “ Revolutionary Project, Recalcitrant People ,”? in The Revolutionary Process in Mexico: Essays on Political and Social Change, 1880-1940, ed. by Jaime E. Rodriguez O. Los Angeles, UCLA Latin American Center Publications, 1990, 227-264. Merriam-Webster Online. Definition of Populism, http://www. m-w. com Schuler, Friedrich E. 1998. Mexico between Hitler and Roosevelt: Mexican Foreign Relations in the Age of Lasaro Cardenas, 1934-1940. 1st ed. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. Townsend, William Cameron. Lazaro Cardenas, Mexican Democrat. Ann Arbor, G. Wahr Publishers, 1952. Werner, Michael S. , ed. 1997. History, Society & Culture History, Society & Culture. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. Wikipedia, Lazaro Cardenas, 5, from http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/lazaro_cardenas .