In 1938, the Mexican government under Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated the Anglo-American oil corporations. Cárdenas had room for maneuver due to the antagonism between the U.S. and British imperialists, the imminence of World War II and, particularly, the intensification of the class struggle in the U.S. that had led to the CIO’s formation. In the article excerpted below, Leon Trotsky polemicizes against Latin American populists who argued that unification of the region and nationalization of foreign-owned companies could be achieved with the blessing of U.S. imperialism. In opposition to this reliance on “democratic” imperialism under the liberal Franklin D. Roosevelt regime, Trotsky stressed the need for revolutionary collaboration between the U.S. proletariat and the oppressed Latin American peoples against their common enemy: U.S. imperialism.
It would be radically erroneous to draw the conclusion from what has been said that the policy of the United States will continue to unfold in the same direction in the future without interruption, thus opening ever greater possibilities for peaceful emancipation to the Latin American people. On the contrary, it can be predicted with full certainty that the “New Deal” and “Good Neighbor” policy [of FDR], which didn’t solve any question or satisfy anyone, will only arouse the needs and aggressive spirit of the North American proletariat and Latin American peoples. The intensification of the class struggle engendered the “New Deal”; a further intensification of the class struggle will kill the “New Deal,” giving rise and preponderance within the ranks of the bourgeoisie to the most reactionary, aggressive, and fascist tendencies. The “Good Neighbor” policy will inevitably be replaced, and probably in the very near future, by the policy of the “threatening fist” which might be raised first of all against Mexico. Only the blind or petty-bourgeois phraseologists of the [reformist Mexican union leader] Lombardo Toledano or [Peruvian populist] Vegas Leon type can close their eyes to those perspectives. A year sooner or later, the question will be presented in a very acute form: Who is master on this continent? The imperialists of the United States or the working masses who people all the nations of America?
This question, by its very essence, can only be resolved by an open conflict of forces, that is to say by revolution, or more exactly, a series of revolutions. In those struggles against imperialism will participate, on the one hand, the American proletariat, in the interests of its own defense; and on the other hand, the Latin American peoples, who are struggling for their emancipation, and who precisely for that reason will support the struggle of the American proletariat....
Naturally, this doesn’t mean to say that [CIO head John L.] Lewis and [AFL head William] Green will become outstanding advocates of the Socialist Federation of the American continent. No, they will remain in the camp of imperialism until the very end. It also will not mean that the whole proletariat will learn to see that in the liberation of the Latin American peoples lies its own emancipation. Nor will the entire Latin American people comprehend that a community of interests exists between them and the American working class. But the very fact that a parallel struggle goes on will signify that an objective alliance exists between them; perhaps not a formal alliance, but, indeed, a very active one. The sooner the American proletarian vanguard in North, Central, and South America understands the necessity for a closer revolutionary collaboration in the struggle against the common enemy, the more tangible and fruitful that alliance will be. To clarify, illustrate, and organize that struggle—herein lies one of the most important tasks of the Fourth International.
— Leon Trotsky, “Ignorance Is Not a Revolutionary Instrument” (January 1939)