legacy of Lazaro Cardenas

Lazaro Cardenas and the Mexican Revolution

Lazaro Cardenas presided over the most radical stage of the Mexican revolution, also known as the second revolution, from the years 1934 to 1940, which is when he served as president of the Mexican nation.

His government supported the demands of industrial workers for better pay, better working circumstances, and many other things while he was in power and under his direction.

He played a key role in the national organization of industrial workers and peasants, incorporating these organizations into the officially recognized government party known as the Pardito de la Revolution Mexicana (PRM).

Lazaro Cardenas significantly increased the distribution of lands to the peasants during his rule, established new welfare programs, nationalized the road and petroleum industries, and inaugurated a program of socialist education in the public schools.

Unlike the previous presidents, he never used his political office for his personal financial gain, and after his term ended, he was not a rich man as many would expect of a president.

He was labeled the greatest political figure produced by the revolution that inspired greatness in his country.

He died in 1970 and was eulogized by the Cardenas.

His reign was carried on by the next president of Mexico, Manuel Avila Camacho, who was known to favor a modernization of the reform process.

We can see that Cardenas here played a decisive role in both proceeding over the radical phase of the revolution and in launching and shaping the relatively constructive post 1940-era.

These radical reforms carried out by Lazaro Cardenas had a lasting impact upon Mexican politics which was conservative rather than radical.

In as much as Lazaro Cardenas had received only six years formal education, he was able to hold strong ideological convictions that revived the Mexican revolution.

Lazaro was also a socialist in the twentieth century where social democratic tradition whose vision was shaped by the liberal and the Marxist ideas.

However, he favored a government of limited powers committed to upholding fundamental civil liberties.

Lazaro used the Marxist concept such as class conflict and class exploitation to be relevant to Mexico's historical situation.

The Myth of the Mexican Revolution

The Mexican revolution began in 1910 and in 2010 when it turned 100, with the predictable spate of commemoration, literature began.

This was slightly different from the one in 1960 which was held when the revolution party PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional: revolutional institutional party) still held a near monopoly political power.

The other commemoration held in 2010 was more respectful of history and less respectful of official ideology.

Analyses show that the fall of PRI was attributed to its abandonment of revolutionary principles and ideas.

It is said that PRI fell because of discursive ammunition that found itself firing blanks.

In simpler terms, the Myth of Mexican Revolution had evaporated and that it no longer conferred legitimacy as it held in the past.

Revolution however is a 'real' historical process that never actually happened.

It is a myth created by the myth making state although it is based on some original raw materials.

When the Mexicans finally realized it was just a myth, they proceeded to vote their president out of office in 2000.

The rise and fall of the Mexican myth has a bundle of ideas, images, icons, slogans, and policies that became associated with the revolution and the regime which gave its birth.

Thomas Benjami states that given the origins and the character of the armed revolution (1910-20), the rise of the myth was slower and more halting than it was often assumed.

Myth making being a communication process that involves the process of reception and successful communication, the myth thus has to be good.

However, the myth was less extensive as it was expected to be and was less crucial.

The myth of the Mexican Revolution therefore fits only within its broad definition of a political myth.

It offers a kind of story that has an emotive past with implications for the recent and the future.

It is not 'true' or its importance necessarily proportional to its truth content, but on the other hand, needs to be believed and has key function of mobilizing support and in measurement and generation of legitimacy.

Lazaro Cardenas' Impact on the Mexican Revolution Myth

Oil Expropriation

Looking at Lazaro Cardenas implementation of oil exploration, one of the biggest challenges to Roosevelt's Good Neighbor policy came in 1938 when the Mexican president Lazaro Cardenas nationalized his oil industry.

It was a gesture seen as an assertion of national sovereignty.

Before this point, the industry had been dominated by the British and US firms, most of which had bought oil fields during the second presidency of Porfilio Diaz (1884-1911), when foreign investment was welcomed.

Mexico's 1917 constitution, however, declared that anything found in the country's subsoil belonged to the nation, and after this point, foreign oil companies had the status of concessionaires.

The 1938 expropriation of foreign holdings inspired a furious reaction from the US oil firms, which tried to organize an embargo of Mexican oil.

This portrays how his oil expropriation contributed to the Mexican revolution myth.

Roosevelt, however, decided that maintaining an amicable relationship with Mexico was more important than restoring the oil companies' property.

A joint US-Mexican commission was set up to determine the amount of compensation that was to be paid, and in 1942 Mexico paid the oil companies for their seized assets.

During the oil expropriation, the oil industry had about ten thousand workers who belonged to 19 separate labor organizations.

Encouraged by the working class, the petroleros, they forged a single union in 1935.

The union of workers of the Mexican republic acted to protect and improve the economic state of its members.

The oil companies responded to the aggressively to the expropriation decree whose legality was held by the Mexican Supreme court in December 1939.

Mexico appeared vulnerable to pressure because it had petroleum, 60 percent of which was exported, that earned the country a significant quantity of foreign exchange.

Lazaro Cardenas oil expropriation contributes to the myth such that after 1940, some of the companies such as Sinclair broke the united front of expropriated firms and negotiated for a separate settlement with the Mexican government.

Also, the developed proprietary view of the industry commitment to syndicalism that is a belief that workers employed in the petroleum sector should have their right to operate it through their labor organization.

With the nationalization of main roads, Cardenas rejected this approach and established a public corporation that operated jointly by labor and government but controlled the latter.

Indirectly, the oil expropriation becomes a myth.

Land Reform

Lazaro Cardenas' land reforms contributed to the myth of the Mexican Revolution in the following ways.

The Mexican revolution left a paradoxical legacy that only lasted in the 1930s.

Lazaro distributed land to the peasants than all other previous Mexican presidents.

There were approximately 3000000 peasant families in Mexico, and President Lazaro intended to distribute up to 50 acres of land to each family.

He was trying to promote the agrarian revolution by also improving the condition of agricultural population works of irrigation and up-to-date methods of agriculture.

He evidently intended to counter the objections of those who say that the peasants' situation has not improved by the land distributions.

It is however claimed that the peasants who were the beneficiaries of the land distribution policy have changed masters since the land was not given to the peasants as their own properties but to the rural communities by which it is tilled on a communal system.

The critics of the system were near the truth and almost forced the president of the Cardenas to take official cognizance of them to extract a promise from him.

This proves the myth of the Mexican truths since the land was given to them but the peasants are not really the owners of the land since it is communal-based.

Critics argued that something was to be done to redress the situation.

Education Reform

Lazaro Cardenas' education reform also contributes to the myth of the Mexican revolution.

A focus on the formative decades of the 1930s to 1950s, including the education reform by Lazaro, helps us place more famous episodes of state violence in the 1960s and 1970s and the militarization of domestic security.

Most historians argue that the reformist president, Lazaro Cardenas, laid the foundations of the revolution regime stability (1934-40).

In the 90s however, 'post-revisionist' historians have painted a far more nuanced, dynamic picture of the political conflicts of the 1930s and a complex dialogue between diverse regional societies and the national state.

Scholars were encouraged to explore how state institutions and policies were selectively contested, appropriated or rejected by the different groups in society.

Using Gramscian theories of hegemony, scholars have explored the cultural and discursive aspects of state building and focusing more so on public education.

Reforms such as one on education was directed to favor the economic stabilities.

This official shift towards economic modernization gave the legislative priority to industrial development at the expense of various social reforms that were perceived fundamental goals of the Mexican revolution.

The government, however, continued to identify itself with the populist and collective myth of the revolution cultivating the image through the official patronage of the social realist murals as well as through the manipulation of mass media by the newly established department of press and Publicity (1937).


Lazaro Cardenas’ political legacy is therefore marked as a striking paradox.

Under his leadership, he introduced reforms such as education reforms, oil expropriation, and land reforms.

The land reforms were based on the settlement of the peasants, the oil expropriation was based on the nationalization of Oil Companies from foreign companies, while education reforms were based on offering public education to the Cardenas.

His revolution contributes to the myth in that the people within the reign benefited from it, but not directly, so it tends to be a hidden truth, e.g. land given to peasants that were actually communally tilled.


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