The celebration of Cinco de Mayo, commemorating the May 5, 1862, victory of the Mexican people’s army over French intervention in the battle of Puebla, has much significance for the U.S. people this election year.
Celebrating Cinco de Mayo this year can deepen our appreciation of how weaker peoples can sustain resistance to predatory occupation until the alignment of forces is favorable to their liberation. The May 5 victory encouraged the Mexican people to sustain their struggle for five more years until the democratic government of the Liberal Party led by Benito Juarez was restored in 1867.
A review of the history surrounding Cinco de Mayo also can remind us of the importance of the separation of church and state, the contradictions between representative democracy and militarism, the role of racism and national oppression as an underpinning of other reactionary policies, and the roles of international finance and the international working class in foreign policy.
The Liberals became part of the Mexican government in 1855 and its dominant force in 1857 when a constitution was established that eliminated the privileged position of the church and military, established elections and introduced other reforms. They ended the political monopoly of the Creoles (Europeans born in Mexico). Juarez himself was a full-blooded Zapotec.
But the reactionaries, using funds from usurious European loans, plunged the country into civil war that lasted until 1861. When the Liberals won control, President Juarez repudiated some of the debt. Then international plots thickened.
Karl Marx exposed many of these plots in U.S. and European newspapers from November 1861 to July 1862. He focused on the role of England, where he resided and was politically active. He showed how France, England and Spain were developing the strategy and tactics of intervening in Mexico using pretenses like collecting debts, protecting the lives and property of their own nationals, restoring stable government for the Mexican people – to cover for outright greed, and even as a lever to benefit from the Civil War in the U.S.
“The contemplated intervention in Mexico … is one of the most monstrous enterprises ever chronicled in the annals of international history,” Marx wrote in the New York Daily News in November 1861.
Marx helped build opposition to English intervention among democratic forces, including an increasingly active working class, which also opposed British government support for the U.S. Confederacy. This helped Juarez secure a separate agreement with England who then pulled out of the intervention.
Marx then opposed the continued French intervention. In an article in the Austrian paper Die Presse written a week before the May 5 battle, he brought to light how, after the reactionary party lost control of the capital, Mexico City, they tripled Mexico’s debt, with relatives and financial backers of French Emperor Napoleon III holding the paper. Juarez would not pay these debts, so the French marched inland to install Austrian noble Maximilian as their puppet Emperor of Mexico.
Marx’s study of these intrigues, and the ability of English workers to influence British foreign policy toward Mexico and the U.S. Civil War, helped form the basis of the approach to international affairs he developed in 1864 in the Inaugural Address of The Workingmen’s International Association, where he noted:
“The working classes have the duty to master … international politics…” to “vindicate the simple laws of morals and justice, which ought to characterize the relations of private individuals, as the rules paramount of the intercourse of nations. The fight for such a foreign policy forms part of the general struggle for the emancipation of the working classes.”
The actions of working people as part of the worldwide democratic forces opposing intervention in Mexico helped inspire the vision of liberal democrat Benito Juarez. He noted, after driving out the occupiers in 1867, “Among individuals as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.”
Celebrating Cinco de Mayo should remind us of just how reactionary are the Bush policies of preemptive intervention, mixing church and state, militarism, and contempt for democracy – they are as reactionary as Napoleon III and Maximilian.
This Cinco de Mayo we should keep in mind the U.S. intervention in Haiti and its meaning for Cuba, Brazil and Venezuela in particular and Latin America in general. Not only that, Bush’s policies threaten the whole planet.
Que viva el Cinco de Mayo! Afuera con Bush!
Rosalio Muñoz is organizer for the Southern California district of the Communist Party USA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.