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Central America in the Age of Tyrants, c. 1930–1960  

David Díaz-Arias

During the 1930s, the worldwide economic crisis, local social unrest, the political legacy of the 19th century, and local elites’ fears of Indigenous and organized-workers mobilizations were the perfect combination for the rise of new dictatorships in Central America. Military caudillos appeared in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, substituting a short period of democratic experience in these countries during the 1920s. Only in Costa Rica did democratic development remain, despite a bitter dictatorship from 1917 to 1919. By the end of the 1930s, strongmen who admired European fascism ruled with an iron fist and counted on the US State Department’s approbation and collaboration. National guards in El Salvador and Nicaragua and the army in Guatemala became the foundations of fierce regimes. But World War II and the Allies’ victory gave opportunities for internal opposition to contest dictators. In Guatemala and El Salvador, coup d’états occurred in 1944, bringing about new democratic scenarios for progressive politicians. Central America saw the rise of social democracy between 1948 and 1949. In 1948, a brief civil war in Costa Rica worked to consolidate social reforms that took place from 1940 to 1943, and in 1949, the reformists took power in Honduras. Even in Anastasio Somoza’s Nicaragua, a political opening occurred when the dictator supported organized labor and began to work with his political opposition. But the years of change did not last. Guatemala’s democratic experiment was abruptly canceled by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1954; in Nicaragua, the killing of Somoza in 1956 carried the country into a new, bloody regime; and in El Salvador, military officers overthrew the president in 1960.

Article

Lombardo Toledano’s Struggles in the World of Labor  

Daniela Spenser

Vicente Lombardo Toledano was born into a prosperous family in 1894 in Teziutlán, Puebla, and died in Mexico City in 1968. His life is a window into the history of the 20th century: the rise and fall of the old regime; the Mexican Revolution and the transformations that the revolution made in society; the intellectual and social reconstruction of the country under new parameters that included the rise of the labor movement to political prominence as well as the intervention of the trade unions in the construction and consolidation of the state; the dispute over the course of the nation in the tumultuous 1930s; and the configuration of the political and ideological left in Mexico. Lombardo Toledano’s life and work illustrate Mexico’s connections with the world during the Second World War and the Cold War. Lombardo Toledano belonged to the intellectual elite of men and women who considered themselves progressives, Marxists, and socialists; they believed in a bright future for humanity. He viewed himself as the conscious reflection of the unconscious movement of the masses. With unbridled energy and ideological fervor, he founded unions, parties, and newspapers. During the course of his life, he adhered to various beliefs, from Christianity to Marxism, raising dialectical materialism to the level of a theory of knowledge of absolute proportions in the same fashion that he previously did with idealism. In life, he aroused feelings of love and hate; he was the object of royal welcomes and the target of several attacks; national and international espionage agencies did not let him out of their sight. He was detained in and expelled from several countries and prevented from visiting others. Those who knew him still evoke his incendiary oratorical style, which others remember as soporific. His admirers praise him as the helmsman of Mexican and Latin American workers; others scorn the means he used to achieve his goals as opportunist. Lombardo Toledano believed that the Soviet Union had achieved a future that Mexico could not aspire to imitate. Mexico was a semifeudal and semicolonial country, hindered by imperialism in its economic development and the creation of a national bourgeoisie, without which it could not pass on to the next stage in the evolution of mankind and without which the working class and peasantry were doomed to underdevelopment. In his interpretation of history, the autonomy of the subordinate classes did not enter into the picture; rather it was the intellectual elites allied with the state who had the task of instilling class consciousness in them. No matter how prominent a personality he was in his time, today few remember the maestro Vicente Lombardo Toledano, despite the many streets and schools named after him. However, the story of his life reveals the vivid and contradictory history of the 20th century, with traces that remain in contemporary Mexico.