Mexico in the 1930’s

With the assumption of General Lázaro Cárdenas as President of the Republic on 30 November 1934, the United States of Mexico entered a new phase of its history. And this is because even though the Cárdenas came to power as an exponent of the national revolutionary party, behind which was General Plutarco Elías Calles (who was president of the republic from 1924 to 1928 and the arbiter of Mexican political life from 1928 to 1934, during the provisional presidencies of Emilio Portes Gil, P. Ortiz Rubio and Abelardo Rodríguez), he then definitively cut off the system of political corruption and personal favoritism that Calles had set up; and consequently began a policy that in its essential lines detaches itself from the easy opportunism that Calles, especially in recent years, he had preferred. And it is particularly interesting to note that this upheaval took place within the framework of the old political organization, within the program of the national revolutionary party itself. Especially the Cárdenas brought forward the realization of the Plan Sexennal del Partido Nacional Revolucionario according to the lines conceived prior to his rise to power, as the six-year plan constituted the social economic program of the aforementioned party for the presidential legislation from 1934 to 1940, which was to aim at the realization of the ” grandeza económica de Mexico bajo el amparo de la justicia social “.

The ideology of this party is clearly characterized in its outward features by its kinship with an approximate and second-hand Marxist preaching (which explains the reddening attitudes of Mexican politics in recent years) while in practice it pursues a policy of strict national regeneration, to strongly nationalist and autarchic tints. This party has an important function in the life of the Mexican state, since, at present, Mexico stands by its constitutional physiognomy within the framework of one-party states, and, in short, the position of the Mexican national revolutionary party is configured the same. for his attributions to that of the National Fascist Party in Italy and the National Socialist Party in Germany.

The Cárdenas before his election, in accordance with the directives of the party, advocated the promotion of nationalism, political democracy, agrarian reform, popular education and the limitation of the powers of the Church. During the administration of the Cárdenas these trends did not remain a dead letter and led to quite radical transformations of Mexican economic and social life, so much so that they characterize the current position of Mexican politics and its development tendencies quite precisely.

The sector in which the Cárdenas acted most decisively and in which he brought the greatest changes was the agricultural sector, with the continuation of the agrarian reform.

Which finds its legislative basis in the constitution of 1917, which contains precise provisions for the division of the large estates into small properties of the direct farmer or for the establishment of ejidos, that is, of the collective properties of the village. By the end of 1934, 8,197,023 hectares of land had been distributed to peasant communities and 806,058 heads of families had benefited from it. At that time it was estimated that 1,200,000 rural household heads still had to benefit from the provision of the law, so that what had been done appeared very little to what remained to be done. Consequently, according to the party’s electoral promises, the Cárdenas continued the agrarian reform, instead of the system of direct distribution of the land to the peasants, it followed the system of the ejido, which differs substantially from that of small properties. In fact the title of ownership of the ejido it does not belong to the farmer household but to the village on which he depends and the land is inalienable. The fertile portion of the village’s land is divided into small, roughly equal plots, which are allotted to all the working agricultural household heads, who are called the ejidatarios. L ‘ ejidatario he has the right to keep his lot during his natural life and to pass it on to the heirs upon his death, but he loses all rights to it when he abandons its cultivation for two consecutive years. He has no right to take out mortgages or to transfer possession of them in any way. Between 1935 and 1936 6,334,266 hectares of land were distributed to 412,798 heads of households, that is, in two years the Cárdenas regime distributed three quarters of land than had been distributed in twenty years by previous governments. Parallel to this work of social transformation (which continued to a greater extent in 1937) the government undertook the construction of large public land reclamation works, especially for the diffusion of irrigation systems: in fact, in recent years 37 artificial lakes, including the large El Palmito dam, for the irrigation of 250,000 hectares of grain land. And in order to facilitate the successful implementation of the great reform undertaken, the government has stimulated the formation of agricultural production and consumption cooperatives and has helped the formation of an adequate agricultural credit system. The Agricultural Credit Bank, which has been transformed within the lines of the new social trends, and the National Credit Bank of ejidos, which due to its complex organization should be able to fulfill the function of anticipating the necessary means of sustenance to the ejidatarios before the harvest.

In the other sectors of the economy, the government of Cárdenas favors the formation of a state socialism. It has created the necessary legislative bases for this purpose.

For example, the law on expropriations that went back to 1857 was radically changed; with the law of 23 November 1936 instead of talking about the reason of “public necessity” for the justification of expropriation, a much broader formula was adopted which recognizes the reason for expropriation in the consideration of the reason for “public and social welfare”. It was under the provisions of this new law that on 23 June 1937 a presidential decree ordered the nationalization of the railways. And, again in June 1937, another presidential decree laid the foundations for government regulation of the production, distribution and sale of agricultural and industrial products.

But the meeting point of the social and nationalist political needs of the Cárdenas regime can be seen in its attitude towards foreign oil companies. The nationalization of oil mines is provided for by art. 27 of the 1917 constitution, but the realization of this cornerstone of the fundamental law of the state has been postponed due to the pressure of the foreign states concerned, in particular that of the United States. And it was precisely as a result of the pressure of the United States ambassador that a law of 1925, which, in order to get closer to the implementation of that postulate, set the limit of 50 years on oil concessions, was repealed by a law of Calles of 1928. In the November 1937 some facilities of the Cárdenas to the Mexican Eagle Company presumed a more liberal orientation of his government towards foreign oil companies, and indeed on that occasion the Cárdenas declared that he would use the higher revenues from the oil concessions for the rapid implementation of the national economic reconstruction program. Therefore, the news arrived rather unexpectedly that with a measure of March 19, 1938, the Cárdenas had decided to expropriate the companies that owned oil fields.

The reason for the expropriation was considered the refusal of the oil companies to submit to the decisions of the Junta de Conciliación y de Arbitrage which, regarding a dispute between the employees of this industry and the concessionary companies, had issued a sentence that condemned the companies to pay the arrears., to adopt a 40-hour weekly schedule and other provisions in favor of workers. The expropriation decree establishes the companies’ right to compensation which will be paid to them in 10 years.

Mexico in the 1930's