Cárdenas Carries the
Revolution to the Left
The many Mexicans impatient with the progress of the Revolution in 1934 were delighted with the election of Lázaro Cárdenas to the presidency in that year. His revolutionary career was typical of many who worked their way rapidly through the military ranks, ultimately reaching the grade of brigadier general by the end of the first violent decade. But Cárdenas was a civilian at heart. Not an imposing figure physically, he was attractive as a pensive, methodical man of principle and deep conviction. An avid reader, he was intensely interested in social reform and had that special charismatic quality of evoking passionate enthusiasm among many and strong dislike among some. And he was no run-of-the-mill politician. Supporting first Obregón and then Calles, be became, in the 1920s, a dominant force in his home state of Michoacán.
Cárdenas’s governorship in Michoacán from 1928 to 1932 offered Mexicans a preview of what they might expect. The governor allowed himself to be confronted by the people and listened more than he spoke. He actually made important policy decisions, not on the advice of his confidants, but on the direct information received from the public. During years when the national government was shirking its educational responsibilities, Cárdenas opened a hundred new rural schools in Michoacán, inspected many classrooms personally, and made sure that the teachers received their salaries on time. He also encouraged the growth of labor and peasant organizations and even managed a modest redistribution of land at the state level. Throughout it all he continued to live modestly.
As the presidential elections of 1934 approached, Calles decided to throw his support behind Cárdenas, fully believing that the forty-yearold governor would be puppet number four. With the official endorsement of the Jefe Máximo, Cárdenas carried the 1933 PNR con