Cardenismo – History, causes, consequences and characteristics

We explain what Cardenismo was, its causes, consequences and characteristics. Also, who was Lázaro Cárdenas del Río.

Lazaro de Cárdenas maximato
Lázaro Cárdenas was president of Mexico between 1934 and 1940.

What was cardenismo?

In contemporary political history, cardenismo is called the time during which Mexico was ruled by the Mexican politician and military Lázaro Cárdenas del Río (1895-1970), as well as the nationalist and popular ideology consolidated during that period, from 1934 to 1940.

The “cardenista six-year term” or cardenato (this last term was used by his detractors) It is considered today as one of the most outstanding moments in Mexican history after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917).

Its importance was due to the profound reforms in agrarian and labor matters, which were being sought by progressive Mexican sectors since the years of the Revolution, and which indirectly led to the confrontation between Mexico and numerous European powers.

Cardenismo began in 1934 with the rise of Cárdenas to the presidency of Mexico, led by the National Revolutionary Party (PNR), heir to the revolutionary faction led by Plutarco Elías Calles (1877-1945). This party was transformed by Cárdenas himself into the Party of the Mexican Revolution (PRM) in 1938, predecessor of the current Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), born in turn in a later reform.

The Cárdenas government it was a time of confrontations and a lot of conflict. Curiously, he was accused of both a communist and a fascist, depending on who his detractors were. Its end came in 1940 after the presidential election of Manuel Ávila Camacho (1897-1955) and a notorious shift to the right in the country’s government, despite the fact that Cárdenas served as Secretary of Defense until 1945.

Also: Oil expropriation in Mexico

Characteristics of cardenismo

Cardenismo, in a general sense, was characterized by the following:

  • A strong state openly supported by the military sector, from which Cárdenas came, who intervened abundantly in the economy and in society.
  • An important set of reforms was carried out in the agricultural sector (agrarian reform), responsible for the largest distribution of land in the history of Mexico, handing over to the peasants the ownership of the lands they cultivated and openly attacking the large estates.
  • An economic development model different from that of the large capitalist countries was proposed, whose ideal was to go beyond Keynesianism and fascism, without reaching the Soviet model. Their priority was always production and not capital.
  • Public spending expanded (around 40% in credits, communications and agricultural development) and the appearance of the ejido was promoted, to combat rural unemployment.
  • It was attended and unified the labor movement, promoting the creation of centralized union groups. This was particularly important in the railway sector and in the oil sector, in which there were already previous tensions and which ended up unleashing the expropriation of both industries.
  • He expelled his predecessor Plutarco Elías Calles from the country, and distanced himself from his project through the application of the Sexennial Plan (that is, a six-year plan) that aspired to encourage urban, industrial and agricultural growth in Mexico.
  • Free, secular and compulsory education was introduced up to fifteen years of age.
  • Huge refugee migration was received Spaniards fleeing the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent Franco dictatorship.

Causes of cardenismo

cardenismo popularity
Cardenismo was very popular for responding to the economic and social demands of the people.

The causes of the rise of Cárdenas to the presidency of Mexico can be summarized as:

  • The Great Depression of 1930, which hit the whole world, and substantially worsened the quality of life in Mexico, rekindling the discontent of the popular classes.
  • Opposition to Plutarco Elías Calles, whose government (and subsequent puppet governments) were militaristic in nature, by a movement more focused on the working class and democracy, headed by Cárdenas himself. These tendencies ended up being confronted in the elections of 1933.
  • The failure of post-revolutionary governments for meeting the social and economic demands of the Mexican people, most of which were long-standing and had been claimed for decades.
  • The conflict in the oil industry, whose workers demanded better wages from European transnational companies, but did not count, during the so-called “Maximato” by Plutarco Elías Calles, with greater support from the State.

Consequences of cardenismo

For its part, the most notorious consequences of Cardenismo were the following:

  • Agrarian reform that gave around 18 million hectares in the north of the country to small peasant productive units, to break with the traditional latifundist agricultural model, inherited by Mexico from the colonial era.
  • The modernization of education through intense campaigns to combat fanaticism, superstition and prejudice, in what was called a modern “socialist education”. This in many cases implied an anticlericalist preaching.
  • The diplomatic confrontation with Europe and the United States, as a result of the forced nationalization of the oil industry that occurred in 1938, and the demand of many of the foreign nations to be compensated not only for the machinery and goods seized, but also for the unextracted oil, which the Mexican State considered of its exclusive property. This led to an international blockade and many diplomatic tensions that, however, lost all their force when the Second World War broke out.
  • The popularity of Cárdenas, considered the only president who did not get rich during his term, and whose ideals were temporarily revived by the Cardenista Front for National Reconstruction Party between 1987 and 1997.

Biography of Lázaro Cárdenas del Río

Lázaro Cárdenas del Río was born in Michoacán on May 21, 1895, the oldest male child of seven siblings. At the age of eighteen he began his military career, joining the revolutionary ranks of General Martín Castrejón, achieving the rank of general with just 25 years in the middle of the Civil War.

Subsequently He went on to exercise politics, as Governor of Michoacán in 1928 and Secretary of the Interior of Pascual Ortiz Rubio, as well as leader of the National Revolutionary Party (PNR).

He was president of Mexico between 1934 and 1940, and In the government of his successor he served as Secretary of Defense, until 1945. He had three children: Alicia Cárdenas, Palmira Cárdenas Solórzano and Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano, the latter also dedicated to politics.

Finally, in October 1970, he died a victim of cancer in Mexico City. His remains were deposited in the Monument to the Revolution, along with those of many other Mexican revolutionary personalities.