Clashing Views on Modernization and Socio-economic Rights: Mexican Reception of Frank Tannenbaum’s Mexico: The Struggle for Peace and Bread

Heather Dewey, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne &
Richard Weiner, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne:

The Alliance for Progress was not the only Cold War era ideological vision emanating from North America to critique existing conditions in Latin America and promote alternative models of economic and social development. Nor was the Alliance for Progress the only development discourse that met resistance south of the border. Focusing on Frank Tannenbaum’s Mexico: The Struggle for Peace and Bread (1950) and Mexican commentary on it, this essay examines an earlier North American critique of Latin American social and economic development, informed by a distinct perspective and set of concerns, as well as Latin American reception of North American “wisdom.” A famous author and friend of Mexican President Cárdenas, Tannenbaum was arguably the most prominent foreign supporter and ideologue of the Mexican Revolution, particularly its agrarian component. Peace and Bread was Tannenbaum’s critique of the new developmental vision that emerged in Mexico (and much of Latin America) in the 1940s: industrialism. Tannenbaum argued that insufficient industrial resources and inequalities generated by the industrial model—deteriorating conditions for industrial workers and the rural majority—meant that industrialism was doomed to failure and should be abandoned. He advocated a radically different “philosophy of small things,” in which Mexico would return to its agrarian focus and develop small-scale crafts industries. Tannenbaum’s book was very poorly received in Mexico and he turned from hero to villain. Along with refutations in Mexican dailies, an entire issue of the prestigious Problemas Agrícolas e Industriales de México attacked his book. The Tannenbaum Controversy provides a window into a foreign socio-economic critique of Mexican modernization and a Mexican counterargument, grounded in the nation’s revolutionary legacy of social justice, that championed the simultaneous advance of economic modernization and socio-economic rights. By comparing Peace and Bread and Tannenbaum’s subsequent writings at the onset of the Cuban Revolution, the final section of this essay considers the relevance of the debate over Peace and Bread to later discussions of rights and development in the age of the Alliance for Progress.

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