Trotsky, Cárdenas and Chávez (6) - oil expropriation

Posted in PaulHampton's blog on Wed, 14/02/2007 - 16:27,

Trotsky’s attitude towards the oil expropriations

Trotsky publicly supported Cárdenas’ expropriation of the oil industry. On 23 April 1938 he wrote to the Daily Herald in Britain, pointing to the hypocrisy of the Chamberlain government and defending the move of the grounds of national economic development and independence. He argued that the Labour Party should set up a commission to investigate how much of the “living sap of Mexico” and been “plundered” by British capital. (The Mexican oil expropriations: a challenge to the British Labour Party, Writings 1937-38 p.324)

He followed this with an article on 5 June 1938 in Socialist Appeal, linking the Chamberlain government’s policy breaking diplomatic relations and boycotting Mexican oil with the uprising of General Cedillo in May.

He characterised the expropriation as a matter of self-determination. He wrote: “Semi-colonial Mexico is fighting for its national independence, political and economic. This is the basic meaning of the Mexican revolution at this stage… expropriation is the only effective means of safeguarding national independence and the elementary conditions of democracy.” (Mexico And British Imperialism, Writings 1937-38 p.359)

He compared “this courageous and progressive measure of the Mexican government” to the work of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in the United States, adding 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”. (ibid p.360)

He summed up his attitude thus: “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.”

He reiterated his support, without losing sight of the character of the Mexican government: “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.” (Writings 1937-38 p.361)

This was the height of Trotsky’s praise for Cárdenas and his government. He wrote to Rosmer on 12 June 1938: “I really have the impression that that the only valiant and honest government of this epoch of the government of Cárdenas.” (Gall 1991 p.227)

He reiterated a similar attitude again in his Open letter to Senator Allen (2 December 1938), published in his own name in the Mexican newspaper Hoy. Allen had visited Trotsky and then misquoted him in the American press. Trotsky corrected him, remarking that: “Although Stalin bears the title Communist, in reality he is carrying out reactionary policies; the Mexican government, which is not the least Communist, is carrying out progressive policies.” (Writings 1938-39 p.139)

He compared the Mexican stage of development with the period in US history between independence in 1783 and the civil war in 1861. (ibid p.139)

Marxist Theory and History
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