Mexico and British Imperialism

In the 1930s Mexican president Cardenas came into conflict with imperialism because of several measures he introduced, including land reform and the nationalisation of the oil industry. In this conflict Trotsky emphasised that it was the duty of workers, especially in countries like Britain, to side with the Mexican people against the imperialists.

Lazaro Cardenas was president of Mexico between 1934 and 1940. His administration introduced measures of land reform, industrial modernisation, curbs on the power of the Roman Catholic Church, and in 1938, nationalised the foreign-owned (mainly British) oil companies. Cardenas' Mexico was the only country in the world that was prepared to grant asylum to Leon Trotsky.

Following the expropriations, there was an international campaign against Mexico orchestrated in London and Washington, including a boycott of Mexican oil by Britain. The imperialists went as far as to back an attempted coup by General Cedillo against President Cardenas.

In June 1938 Trotsky wrote the following article in defence of the Mexican Revolution, expressly stating: "The cause of Mexico, like the cause of Spain, like the cause of China, is the cause of the international working class." It was essential for workers, especially in Britain, "to take an irreconcilable position against the imperialist robbers, their diplomacy, their press, and their fascist hirelings."

Clearly, there are parallels with today and the attacks of imperialism on the unfolding Venezuelan Revolution. However, unlike Cardenas, Hugo Chavez has gone further in some ways, not only in his stand against imperialism, but his stand in favour of world socialism. We are therefore making this piece by Trotsky available once again as it is extremely relevant to today’s situation - Editor

The international campaign which imperialist circles are waging over the expropriation of Mexican oil enterprises by the Mexican government has been distinguished by all the features of imperialism's propagandistic bacchanalias   combining impudence, deceitfulness, speculation in ignorance, with cocksureness in its own impunity.

The signal for this campaign was given by the British government when it declared a boycott of Mexican oil. Boycott, as is known, always involves self-boycott, and is therefore accompanied by great sacrifices on the part of the boycotter. Great Britain was until recently the largest consumer of Mexican oil; naturally not out of sympathy for the Mexican people, but out of consideration for her own advantage.

Heaviest consumer of oil in Great Britain itself is the state, with its gigantic navy and rapidly growing air force. A boycott of Mexican oil by the British government signifies, therefore, a simultaneous boycott not only of British industry but also of national defence. Mr. Chamberlain's government has shown with unusual frankness that the profits of Britain's capitalist robbers loom above state interests themselves. Oppressed classes and oppressed peoples must thoroughly learn this fundamental conclusion.

Both chronologically and logically the uprising of General Cedillo grew out of Chamberlain's policy. The Monroe Doctrine prevents the British admiralty from applying a military-naval blockade of the Mexican coast. They must act through internal agents, who, it is true, do not openly fly the British flag, yet serve the same interests as Chamberlain   the interests of a clique of oil magnates. In the White Book issued by British diplomacy just a few days ago we may be sure that the negotiations of its agents with General Cedillo are not included. Imperialist diplomacy carries on its major business under cover of secrecy.

Ignorance and Deceit

In order to compromise the expropriation in the eyes of bourgeois public opinion, they represent it as a "Communist" measure. Historical ignorance combines here with conscious deceit. Semi-colonial Mexico is fighting for its national independence, political and economic. This is the basic meaning of the Mexican revolution at this stage. The oil magnates are not rank-and-file capitalists, not ordinary bourgeoisie. Having seized the richest natural resources of a foreign country, standing on their billions and supported by the military and diplomatic forces of their metropolis, they strive to establish in the subjugated country a regime of imperialistic feudalism, subordinating to themselves legislation, jurisprudence, and administration. Under these conditions expropriation is the only effective means of safeguarding national independence and the elementary conditions of democracy.

What direction the further economic development of Mexico may take depends decisively upon factors of an international character. But this is a question of the future. The Mexican revolution is now carrying out the same work as, for instance, the United States of America accomplished in three-quarters of a century, beginning with the Revolutionary War for independence and finishing with the Civil War for the abolition of slavery and for national unification. The British government not only did everything at the end of the eighteenth century to retain the United States under the status of a colony, but later, in the years of the Civil War, supported the slaveholders of the South against the abolitionists of the North, striving for the sake of its imperialist interests to thrust the young republic into a state of economic backwardness and national disunity.

Britain and Slavery

To the Chamberlains of that time, too, the expropriation of the slaveholders seemed a diabolical "Bolshevik" measure. In reality the historic task of the Northerners consisted in clearing the arena for the independent democratic development of bourgeois society. Precisely this task is being solved at this stage by the government of Mexico. General Cardenas stands among those statesmen of his country who have been fulfilling work comparable to that of Washington, Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and General Grant. And, of course, it is not accidental that the British government, in this case, too, finds itself on the other side of the historic trench.

The world press, in particular the French, preposterous as it may seem, continues to drag my name into the question of the expropriation of the oil industry. If I have already refuted this nonsense once it is not at all because I fear "responsibility," as was insinuated by one talkative agent of the GPU. On the contrary, I would consider it an honour to carry even a part of the responsibility for this courageous and progressive measure of the Mexican government. But I do not have the least basis for it. I first learned of the decree of expropriation from the newspapers. But, naturally, this is not the question.

Two Aims Pursued

Two aims are pursued in interjecting my name. First, the organizers of the campaign wish to impart to the expropriation a "Bolshevik" coloration. Second, they are attempting to strike a blow at the national self-respect of Mexico. The imperialists are endeavouring to represent the affair as if Mexico's statesmen were incapable of determining their own road. A wretched and ignoble hereditary slaveholders' psychology! Precisely because Mexico today still belongs to those backward nations which are only now impelled to fight for their independence, greater audacity of thought is engendered among its statesmen than is granted to the conservative dregs of a great past. We have witnessed similar phenomena in history more than once!

The French weekly Marianne, a notorious organ of the French People's Front, even asserts that on the oil question the government of General Cardenas acted not only as one with Trotsky but also... in the interests of Hitler. It is a question, you see, of depriving the great-hearted "democracies" of oil in case of war and, contrariwise, of supplying Germany and other fascist nations. This is not one whit more clever than the Moscow trials. Humanity learns, not without amazement, that Great Britain is being deprived of Mexican oil because of the ill-will of General Cardenas and not because of Chamberlain's self-boycott. But then the "democracies" possess a simple way of paralysing this "fascist" plot: let them buy Mexican oil, once more Mexican oil, and again Mexican oil! To every honest and sensible person it is now beyond all doubt that if Mexico should find itself forced to sell liquid gold to fascist countries, the responsibility for this act would fall fully and completely upon the governments of the imperialist "democracies."

Prompting from Moscow

Behind the back of Marianne and its ilk stand the Moscow prompters. At first glance this seems preposterous, since other prompters of the same school use diametrically opposed librettos. But the whole secret consists in the fact that the friends of the GPU adapt their views to geographic gradations of latitude and longitude. If some of them promise support to Mexico, others picture General Cardenas as an ally of Hitler. From the latter point of view, Cedillo's oil rebellion should be viewed, it would seem, as a struggle in the interests of world democracy. Let us, however, leave the clowns and intriguers to their own fate. We do not have them in mind, but the class-conscious workers of the entire world. Without succumbing to illusions and without fear of slander, the advanced workers will completely support the Mexican people in their struggle against the imperialists. The expropriation of oil is neither socialism nor communism. But it is a highly progressive measure of national self-defence. Marx did not, of course, consider Abraham Lincoln a communist; this did not, however, prevent Marx from entertaining the deepest sympathy for the struggle that Lincoln headed. The First International sent the Civil War president a message of greeting, and Lincoln in his answer greatly appreciated this moral support.

Workers, Support Mexico

The international proletariat has no reason to identify its programme with the programme of the Mexican government. Revolutionists have no need of changing colour, adapting themselves, and rendering flattery in the manner of the GPU school of courtiers, who in a moment of danger will sell out and betray the weaker side. Without giving up its own identity, every honest working class organisation of the entire world, and first of all in Great Britain, is duty-bound-to take an irreconcilable position against the imperialist robbers, their diplomacy, their press, and their fascist hirelings. The cause of Mexico, like the cause of Spain, like the cause of China, is the cause of the international working class. The struggle over Mexican oil is only one of the advance-line skirmishes of future battles between the oppressors and the oppressed.