Political Strains and Enduring Loyalties: The Friendship of Frank Tannenbaum and Lázaro Cárdenas

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 2:10 PM
Wabash Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Barbara Weinstein, New York University
Frank Tannenbaum (1893-1969), a former anarchist agitator and Wobbly militant, whose first two books dealt with labor unions and prison conditions, began visiting Mexico on a regular basis in 1922. In the early 1920s, soon after the end of the revolution and before the “enormous vogue of things Mexican,” a US visitor such as Tannenbaum, with radical credentials and pro-revolutionary sympathies, was likely to encounter a warm reception from Mexican officials, artists, and intellectuals. Tannenbaum formed a number of important friendships with prominent Mexicans during these years, but perhaps his most significant relationship would be with Lázaro Cárdenas (1895-1970), a former revolutionary general and president of Mexico from 1934 to 1940. Widely regarded as the most radical of the post-revolutionary leaders, Cárdenas oversaw the peak period of the Mexican agrarian reform, and his years in office also saw significant victories for labor unions as well as the expropriation of the holdings of US oil companies. Drawing on the documentation in the Tannenbaum papers at Columbia and the recent scholarship on the transnational aspects of the post-revolutionary period in Mexico, my paper will discuss the ways in which this friendship facilitated intellectual and policy exchanges between a Mexico undergoing significant reforms and New Deal circles in the US. I will also consider what allowed their friendship and personal loyalties to survive the strains produced by the postwar shift to Cold War, as Tannenbaum moved to the right and Cárdenas moved to the left.