Trotsky, Cárdenas and Chávez (9) - Cárdenas regime

Posted in PaulHampton's blog on Wed, 14/02/2007 - 16:31,

Trotsky on the nature of the Cárdenas regime

Trotsky made few remarks on the nature of the Mexican regime in the first eighteen months of his asylum, and when he did, these were brief allusions. For example in the article on the freedom of the press in August 1938 he described Mexico’s democracy as “anaemic” and to Lombardo’s “wretched Bonapartist pretensions” – the first mention of what would the mainstay of his conception. (Writings 1937-38 p.419, p.420)

The first elaboration of his view was set out to his close collaborators Charles Curtiss, Sol Lankin and “Robinson” in a discussion on 4 November 1938.

He argued that “ a semi-democratic, semi-Bonapartist state as now exists in every country in Latin America, with inclinations towards the masses”, adding that, “in these semi-Bonapartistic-democratic governments the state needs the support of the peasants and through the weight of the peasants disciplines the workers. That is more or less the situation in Mexico”. (Latin American problems: a transcript, Writings supplement 1934-40, pp.784-785)

What did Trotsky mean by Bonapartism? He had employed the concept to understand the regime in Germany before Hitler and to describe the situation in France in the mid-1930s. He summed it up succinctly in March 1935: “By Bonapartism we mean a regime in which the economically dominant class, having the qualities necessary for democratic methods of government, finds itself compelled to tolerate – in order to preserve its possessions – the uncontrolled command of a military and police apparatus over it, of a crowned ‘saviour’. This kind of situation is created in periods when the class contradictions have become particularly acute; the aim of Bonapartism is to prevent explosions.” (Again on the question of Bonapartism, in Writings 1934-35 pp.206-07)

In his discussion with comrades in November 1938, he explained: “We see in Mexico and the other Latin American countries that they skipped over most stages of development. It began in Mexico directly by incorporating the trade unions in the state. In Mexico we have a double domination. That is, foreign capital and the national bourgeoisie, or as Diego Rivera formulated it, a ‘sub-bourgeoisie’ – a stratum which is controlled by foreign capital and at the same time opposed to the workers; in Mexico a semi-Bonapartist regime between foreign capital and national capital, foreign capital and the workers... They create a state capitalism which has nothing to do with socialism. It is the purest form of state capitalism.” (Latin American problems: a transcript, Writings supplement 1934-40, pp.790-791)

Discussing the ruling party’s second six year plan in March 1939, (which had been endorsed by the CTM), Trotsky described how “the government defends the vital resources of the country, but at the same time it can grant industrial concessions, above all in the form of mixed corporations, i.e. enterprises in which the government participates (holding 10%, 25%, 51% of the stock, according to the circumstances) and writes into the contracts the option of buying out the rest after a certain period of time”.

Summing up he wrote: “The authors of the programme [i.e. the plan] wish to completely construct state capitalism within a period of six years. But nationalisation of existing enterprises is one thing; creating new ones is another… The country we repeat is poor. Under such conditions it would be almost suicidal to close the doors to foreign capital. To construct state capitalism, capital is necessary.” (Writings 1938-39 pp.226-227)

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