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Fourth International, February 1942



A Letter from Mexico


From Fourth International, vol.3 No.2, February 1942, pp.60-61.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


Mexico, D.F., January 1, 1942.

Hemispheric front against the Japanese militarists. Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Cuba declare war. Mexico, Columbia break relations with the Axis. In the days that followed the Japanese attack on Hawaii there seemingly followed a wave of pro-Yankee patriotism in Latin America. The Good Neighbor Policy has worked? It might appear so. At least the public figures are “defenders of democracy.” But the question remains of precisely who is so enthusiastic about defending North American “democracy” in South America – and who is not.

The Good Neighbor Policy

It is always dangerous to generalize on the situation in Latin America from personal observations in one country no matter how carefully they are made; but it is even worse to generalize on very scanty observations in many countries as has, for instance, John Gunther. And since Washington has considered Mexico sufficiently important to concentrate much of its “Good Neighborliness” here, perhaps we are justified in arriving at some general conclusions about the policy in it first and most critical test– that of war.

It was pointed out in days long past that practically all the New Deal policies could be shown to be preparations for the change to the War Deal. The agencies for control of production, for planning, for managing large masses of unemployed would be invaluable in organizing the American economy for war. The same can be said for the Good Neighbor Policy; and it can be said with increasing emphasis for the period following the actual outbreak of hostilities in 1939 and the Axis triumphs. Washington’s job in a hostile and Yankee-wise Latin America became the very difficult task of securing as much public support as possible and that falling, to at least insure friendly governments in the principal centers.

It was and is a hard struggle. Mexicans, and Latin Americans in general, harbor a strong dislike for anything that sounds or smells like Gringo. For them the term Yankee is more meaningful than imperialism: Yankee imperialism has significance – Nazi imperialism has not. Thus one sees things that are almost unbelievable. For instance it is not uncommon to see a small swastika banner displayed in a bus by some driver; the basic failure of American propaganda and the greater success of the Nazi is typified in the fact that to many oppressed Mexicans it seems that Hitler and Nazism are fighting a justifiable war against Yankee and British Imperialism! Large masses enjoyed seeing the Japanese strike some hard blows at the US fleet in the opening days of the war. One chap said to me with a hopeful gleam in his eye, “Do you think Japan will win?” The Latin American enjoys seeing some of the conceit taken out of the Gringo and therefore it is clear that the Axis propaganda is able to make demagogic appeals that are much closer to what he wants than are the appeals of the “democracies.”

Middle Class Politics

To understand the political phenomenon of a Latin American country such as Mexico, one must understand the nature and role of middle class politics. Much has been written about the inability of the petty bourgeoisie to have a political program of its own; it must capitulate and follow one of the two main classes in modern society. In Mexico and similar countries where the ruling class is more petty-bourgeois than bourgeois, the politics may best be described as those of capitulation. The trade union leaders capitulate to official policy, the sole party capitulates to the group in power, the latter capitulates to Washington.

Thus it is quite true that there exist “fifth columnists” in Mexico if by this we mean political elements who want Mexico to accept the political program and domination of one of the imperialist camps. But when the union bureaucracy or the government undertakes anti-fifth column measures, they are only serving the Anglo-American bloc against the Axis. The results of such activity are twofold; first under this slogan, working-class elements opposing submission to the “democracies” are classed as fifth columnists and subjected to repressions in the name of defense of democracy; secondly, the pro-Yankee character of the ardent anti-fifth column campaign plus its repressive effects on the working-class opposition create sympathy among the poorer classes for the real Axis agents of whom there is no lack. The trade union leadership thus plays into the hands of those whom it claims to be fighting.

The union movement received its greatest impetus by grace of the Cardenas government. In Mexico we have the paradoxical situation of a country where the tradition of bloody acts against the workers and especially the peasants is very strong; but where the trade union movement during its speediest growth was established not so much through militant struggle as through the initiative of the petty bourgeoisie to be used against foreign capital and some of imperialism’s native representatives. It is no accident that the Stalinist ideology and policy of serving one section of the exploiting class fitted very well into the necessities of a section of the native bourgeoisie. The latter developed so late in Mexico that alone It could not struggle against foreign capital; It was too weak numerically, economically and programmatically. What it needed was a controlled labor movement whose power and program it could pervert and use as a threat against foreign capital.

The Trade Unions

But the time has come for the native rulers to come to terms with the “Good Neighbor” to the north. And precisely because of its inherent policy of coming to terms with its strongest class enemy, Stalinism has prepared the labor movement for its new role of supporting the native bourgeoisie’s agreement with Washington. This does not mean that the Stalinized leaders may not be purged in the process. Having done their job well of deceiving the working class as to the true nature of the Mexican petty-bourgeois “revolutionist,” the Stalinits now find themselves being pushed aside by the reactionary wave that is accompanying the progress of the Good Neighbor Policy. Already they have been very much cleaned out of the Education Department, a former stronghold; in addition they have had to run for cover in the Department of Public Works since Maximino Avila Camacho, the president’s reactionary and ruthless brother, was appointed chief.

On the one hand, then, although the working class tends to oppose aid to the Yankee war effort, it is a working class organized in extremely bureaucratic unions where it has nothing to say; it is disgusted and greatly demoralized by the corruption of its leaders, disillusioned about the values of unionism and unable to orient itself in the midst of the wave of reactionary acts that is rapidly engulfing it. Those sections that recognize the danger of a fascist reaction at home do not know how to combat it and are quite terrified – to the point of fearing for their lives if they open their mouths against the official government and trade union policy.

The leadership of the CTM (Confederation of Mexican Workers), on the other hand, has been demanding a break of diplomatic relations with the Axis countries for some time and greets the Mexican action with glee. It has been demanding action against all whom it calls “Fifth Columnists.” Shortly after the beginning of the Pacific War, this leadership offered to supply 300,000 men for military purposes. Just how closely such policies coincide with mass public opinion is seen by placing in contrast the reaction to the recent rumor that levy was being carried out again. Levy was the method used during the revolutions of forcing young men into one of the armies. A false rumor that this practice had been reinstituted by the government was sufficient to cause deserted streets and cabarets in the early evening. The situation was serious enough to necessitate a formal statement by the chief of police in the Federal District to the effect that there was no danger, that the rumors were false and that anyone circulating such a rumor would be prosecuted as an enemy of the people.

It must be clearly understood, however, that the immediate effect of combined government-union propaganda and repressive actions will be to paralyze the expression of any mass opposition to participation in the war.

Washington’s Gains

Next to enthusiastic mass support, which it cannot hope for, Washington could not ask for a more advantageous situation. If it can assure itself of political support in the present battle to expel its German – and English – rivals from Latin American life, Washington has won its difficult struggle in creating what Trotsky called its “springboard” to world domination. This is the explanation for its present policy of economic encouragement to strong pro-”democratic” governments In Latin America. This encouragement may mean economic concessions that are unsatisfactory to some sections of the American bourgeoisie. But ‘those sections, as for instance the oil compsni,es who protested against the agreement on the expropriated oil properties, must give way to this broader imperialist policy. The agreement was signed during the deadlock in the US-Japanese negotiations, less than a week before the US ultimatum note of November 26 was delivered to Japan. In other words, when the US government knew that war was upon it. In exchange for this concession, Washington got more than value received in the form of enthusiastic support from official Mexico, from the Mexican union leaders, and laid the basis for propaganda in all of Latin America about the “change” in United States policies under Roosevelt.

As an auxiliary to the Mexican trade union policy and as an instrument in an attempt to spread its pro-democratic war policy throughout Latin America, the CTAL (Confederation of Latin American Workers) was organized with former CTM leader Lombardo Toledano as its president. This thoroughly Stalinized, self-styled “leader of the Latin American proletariat” continues to be the most publicized labor figure in Mexico, in spite of the fact that he ostensibly ceased his control of the CTM in the last Congress when he relinquished the presidency to Fidel Velazquez. Less than a month before the outbreak of the US-Japanese war, the CTAL held its second Congress here in Mexleo City.

It sent a message of greeting to Roosevelt. In his report to the Congress, Toledano said: “Roosevelt, as the leader of his country, represents a new international, and above all Latin American, policy whose fruits we will not allow to be lost when Roosevelt leaves power.” And, significant of what he considers the CTAL’s contribution to be, Toledano added: “We must help this man to defeat those who oppose the intervention of the United States in favor of those who fight against fascism in Europe ...”

The CTAL Congress declared that the Good Neighbor Policy was “the first step for commercial relations of the countries of the continent.” In recognition of the mistrust that all Latin Americans feel for Yankee champions of “democracy,” the CTAL was forced in the same breath to add that in the economic field, there must be avoided “the brutal exploitation that the financial trusts and their partners exercise over the peoples of Latin America.” The Congress approved the granting of military and naval bases ‘to the American army and navy and promised to fight so that these bases do not “place in danger the sovereignty of the Latin American peoples”!

One of the problems that will have to be given serious consideration by the South American workers’ movement is thalt of military training. Evidence of the imperative need for a proletarian military policy, similar to that undertaken by the Socialist Workers Party for the United States, Is the vague and distorted proposals of the CTAL and especially of the CTM in Mexico. The CPAL congress declared itself “in favor of military preparation of the working class in democratic form.” No elaboration was made on this declaration. In Speeches, Fidel Velazquez spoke of the national proletariat constituting itself “into an army that is a more efficient auxiliary to the National Army”; Toledano spoke of augmenting “the units of the National Army Itself.” In its manifesto on the war, December 17th, the CTM proclaimed: “The cooperation of the proletariat and of all the people of Mexico in the military defense of our country lies essentially in the military preparation of all able individuals in order to collaborate with the Army of the Republic in the form that the Government lietermines.” Such statements which comprise the sum total of the treatment of so important a problem reveal the burning need for a carefully thought out and elaborated policy for Military training of the workers under their own control.

The nub of the question is meticulously avoided in the official trade union statements. If it be true that the army officer caste of France was incapable of conducting or even permitting a defense by the French people, if it be true that in the United States the officers corps is com- posed of reactionary officials sympathetic to fascist methods of crushing working-class organizations and rights, how much more is this true in Mexico and in all of Latin America! The officer caste In this country is largely the group of landowners or would-be landowners who rose to influence during the revolution. They have only fear and hate for the workers as a class and resent the efforts to draw the farmer-workers closer to their city brothers. (Even the liberal Cardenas took care to separate farm and factory workers into two separate union federations.) These army leaders are utterly unable to take even the preliminary steps – military or social – to defend the workers and their organizations against fascism. As a matter of fact, it is precisely these officer circles that form the nucleus of domestic fascism. The contempt that this caste holds for the worker’s life and organization was tragically illustrated in the slaughter of an undisclosed number of demonstrators before President Camacho’s house last September; nothing more is beard of the “investigation” being made of this shameful affair.

In a country possessing such a corrupt and inept military leadership, in a country which is extremely backward as are most Latin American nations – so backward, that no hope of technically advanced machines of war can be hoped for – in such a country the class and political instruments of defense of the working class assume perhaps even more Importance than in an industrial nation such as the United States. But not a hint of direction is given the young proletariat of these lands. On the contrary’ the statements by the responsible leaders pretend that the only problem is “augmenting” and “cooperating” with the existing officers corps.

The Correct Policy

Thus there is an immediate and special need for a correct military policy for the Latin American workers. In Mexico the official trade union movement has called for universal military training of workers and this policy will no doubt be followed in other parts of Latin America, for the CTAL has promised to advocate a similar policy in other sections; indeed, in Mexico, many unions have militias which are drilled and probably also slightly trained in weapons. The propaganda of Fourth International groups must center around two points: first, the trained workers must not be looked upon as “auxiliaries” designed to “cooperate” with the reactionary officers of the army. Secondly, and even more important, it must be made very clear to the Latin American masses that our proposals are not offered as a better method of cooperating with Roosevelt’s Hemisphere Defense schemes. Any revolutionary movement that hopes for a future in Latin America must teach the workers what will come after a victory by either capitalist camp in this war. The same fascist, semi-feudal officer caste would be called upon to smash the inevitable rebellion against total war’s disastrous effects in colonial countries; the same corrupt petty-bourgeois, would-be bourgeois, “ruling class,” i.e., ruling for Washington or Berlin, would serve the strong victor as it now serves the strong neighbor. Only the Fourth Internationalists can, and must, put forward a policy of defense against domination by either the “democratic” or the Axis imperialists.

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Last updated on 13.9.2008