Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

New International, August 1935


Jean Mendez

The Anti-Calles Drive in Mexico

From New International, Vol. II No. 5, August 1935, p. 170.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE SELF-PERPETUATING political machine for dictatorship headed by General Plutarco Elias Calles and manned by his clique of new-rich Mexican business men has suddenly, surprisingly collapsed. It has collapsed because of the tacit alliance, on the single issue of Exit Calles, of the following:

  1. Three generals of considerable military power and varying popularity: Cardenas, Almazan, and Cedillo.
  2. One politician master-puppeteer, with a strong political machine of his own: Emilio Portes Gil.
  3. One “insurrectionary” anti-clerical peasant leader: Jose Adalberto Tejeda.
  4. Assorted politicians, leaderlets and minor messiahs nursing personal anti-Calles or anti-Callista grudges.
  5. Assorted intellectuals and others who feel the Mexican revolution has been betrayed, and dream of sneaking it in by way of advanced legislation and government support.
  6. The clergy and Catholic aristocracy, who bank on Cedillo’s friendliness – assumed for anti-Calles political purposes.
  7. The majority of trade union leaders.
  8. The communist party.

This list is an easy key to the widespread popular pressure that in reality unseated Calles. And this pressure springs from four major sources. First, and most overwhelmingly important, the peasants are still, with minor exceptions, waiting for the land which has been repeatedly promised. The process of rapid industrialization that is now going on in Mexico, tending to raise labor wages and the prices of some commodities, brings out in intolerable contrast the coolie wages and conditions still mainly prevalent in the fields. The 1910–1920 revolution, bringing a new class to political power, has nevertheless not destroyed the old economic relationships on the land. The landowners, in alliance with the Church, are still fighting to maintain these relationships and to recover political power. The new capitalist class, represented by Calles, while struggling against the land-owners and the Church, and while advocating higher wages in order to have a market for their products, are at the same time landowners themselves, producing for export, and hence interested in maintaining the semi-colonial land situation. Hence, the paralysis of land reform, and hence the fruitfulness of the peasant question for Cardenas, and his petty bourgeois, landless followers.

The industrialization of Mexico, brought about almost entirely by American capital, weighs heavily on the petty bourgeoisie. They are the small manufacturers, artisans and store-keepers forced out of business by the cheaper and more efficient production of monopolies under Calles – example, the sugar trust controlled by him – and Cardenas can count on the support of this class on the basis of anti-Americanism, “nationalization” of resources, cooperatives, and the whole vague collection of cotton-wool arguments devised to protect native capitalism while fighting imperialism.

The trade unions, having forced through a considerable body of advanced legislation – minimum wage-laws, insurance, pension, and laws pulling labor disputes out of the regular courts and under the jurisdiction of labor boards supposed to defend labor interests, found the functioning of these laws hamstrung chiefly because of the weight and power of foreign capital. Callismo, its representative, destroyed the powerful CROM, erased civil liberties, outlawed the communist party, and made all activity outside of the official Partido National Revolutionario and its trade unions and peasant blocs, practically illegal; certainly dangerous. It was as regards labor a kind of incipient Fascism. Therefore Cardenas could be sure, if not of labor support, at least of neutrality in the struggle between himself and the Jefe Maximo.

These three forces: the peasants, the trade unions, and the petty bourgeoisie, mean in Mexico pressure to the Left, because their most visible enemy is imperialist capital. The Church and the landowners, who constitute power No. 4 in the anti-Calles drive, simply hoped to take advantage of the struggle, on the assumption that once Calles was out of the way, they could proceed more easily to dispose of Cardenas.

Given the lineup, it is quite clear that struggle is bound to break out among the Cardenistas as soon as the job of wrecking the Calles machine has been accomplished. Wrecker No. 1, and the shrewdest manipulator in the whole combine, is Emilio Portes Gil. His power is based on agrarian blocs and communities in the North, organized by him and working land distributed when he was governor of Tamaulipas; and on the port workers of Tampico, controlled by the dock-workers’ “cooperative”, a strong ex-cooperative capitalist enterprise in the hands of conservative trade unionists.

Since Mexican sources of production are now about 70% in foreign hands, and this includes a considerable portion of the best lands, the rock on which the Cardenas ship is sure to founder is imperialism. The history of the Obregon-Calles regimes, both of which also began by an apparent move to the Left foreshadows the same development for Cardenismo, of course notwithstanding Cardenas’ own idealistic Leftism and personal honesty.

In other words, the Cardenas triumph is analogous to a triumph of social democracy, though there are no political labels to indicate it. The men now in power can be compared to the Rooseveltians, with the difference that imperialist pressure pushes them farther toward the Left – much farther, in speech; a little farther, in action. Nevertheless they provide the opportunity for organization and struggle, and for victory in immediate gains, true of a social democratic regime. In this sense the exit of Calles constitutes a step forward for the Mexican working class; not, as CP theorists assert, the prelude to Fascism.

However, obviously the thing called Callismo, which is big capital in alliance with imperialism, cannot be expected to swallow its temporary defeat and digest it quietly.

Nor can the landowners and the Church remain satisfied with a negative victory. At the same time the native capitalist elements in the Cardenas blocs are already becoming alarmed at the possible consequences of Cardenas’ demagoguery – which, taken seriously, has brought hundreds of peasants to the capital demanding land, and has unleashed a series of strikes to enforce labor legislation and raise wages.

The Calles-Cardenas duel came out into the open because some of these strikes involved powerful foreign concerns. The same issue will bring the latent struggle within the Cardenas group to a head, and will also give shape to the truly Fascist embryos now engaged in small-time strike-breaking, financed by Callistas. The working class needs to keep its eye on that danger, and on two extremely likely candidates for dictatorship: Morones, the ex-trade union leader being financed by Calles to fight the Leftward pushing workers in the Toledano unions; and Portes Gil, operating under his own steam towards a personal goal that certainly is not socialism.

To meet the day when these struggles reach a climax, the Mexican workers and peasants need an essential instrument which they now lack: a militant working class revolutionary party. The Right wing of the Partido National Revolutionario belongs to the big bourgeoisie. The Left wing to the petty bourgeoisie, with peasant and some labor support. Tejeda has a small, confused, semi-anarchist troop called the Workers’ and Peasants’ Bloc. The Communist Party is small and apparently impotent; completely misunderstanding the historical moment, it advocates the overthrow of Cardenas, to be replaced by a confused something that it calls “agrarian anti-imperialist revolution”; it talks patriotism, makes united fronts with the clerical pro-feudal students, and singles out for vitriolic attack the most Leftward trade union body, Toledano’s Confederation General de Obreros y Campesinos.

If no revolutionary, disciplined party is organized urgently soon, to take the leadership of the new phase of the Mexican revolution, then communist party theorists are right: the Cardenas régime is a prelude to Fascism. The stresses and strains within American capitalism, breaking out first as they must, in its colonial extensions, puts revolution in Mexico – as in Cuba and the Caribbean countries – on the calendar as the first parts of the American revolution. A party that understands this, and acts militantly upon it, signifies that the Cardenas regime is indeed a prelude. But a prelude to socialism.

Top of page

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 26 February 2016