The Maximato was a period in the historical and political development of Mexico from 1928 to 1934. Named after former president Plutarco Elías Calles's sobriquet "el Jefe Máximo" (the maximum leader), the Maximato was the period when Calles continued to exercise power, but did not hold the presidential office. The six-year period was the term that president-elect Alvaro Obregón would have served had he not been assassinated right after the July 1928 elections. There needed to be some kind of political solution to the presidential succession crisis. Calles could not hold the presidency again, due to restrictions on re-election without an interval out of power, but he remained the dominant figure in Mexico.
There were two solutions to the crisis, first was to have an interim president followed by new elections. Second, Calles also created an enduring political institution, the Partido Nacional Revolucionario (PNR) that ensured a managed transfer of power from 1929 to 2000.
The interim presidency of Emilio Portes Gil lasted from 1 December 1928 – 4 February 1930. He was passed over as candidate for the newly formed PNR in favor of a political unknown, Pascual Ortiz Rubio. Ortiz Rubio resigned in September 1932, in protest over Calles's continued wielding of power. He was succeeded by Abelardo L. Rodríguez, who served out the rest of term which ended with the 1934 election. That election was won by former revolutionary general Lázaro Cárdenas, who was Calles's chosen candidate for the PNR. Following the election, Calles attempted to control Cárdenas the same way he had with the three "puppet presidents," but Cárdenas out-maneuvered Calles politically and in 1936 expelled him from the country.
The Maximato was a transitional period of personal power for Calles, but the institutionalization of political power in the party structure was a major achievement in Mexican history.
Enshrined in the ideology of the Mexican Revolution was the idea of no re-election, since a hallmark of the regime of Porfirio Díaz (1876-1911) was continuous re-election. Revolutionary generals from the northwest state of Sonora, Adolfo de la Huerta, Alvaro Obregón, and Plutarco Elías Calles dominated Mexican politics in the 1920s. President Venustiano Carranza, whose term ended in 1920, attempted to install a puppet president, Ignacio Bonillas to succeed himself. The three Sonoran generals revolted and issued the Plan of Agua Prieta to justify their action. De la Huerta served as interim president for six months from June to November 1920, when Obregón ran and won the 1920 election, serving a four-year term 1920-24. In the 1924 elections, Obregón backed Calles over De la Huerta, who led failed revolt and fled to the United States. Calles won the presidency and served from 1924-1928. Obregón remained a powerful presence behind the Calles presidency, and Calles pushed through constitutional change that allowed for a non-consecutive presidential re-election. That would allow Obregón to run for re-election in 1928, and potentially Calles to run in the election after that. In 1928 Álvaro Obregón was elected as Elías Calles's successor, but he was assassinated in July by José de León Toral, a Catholic militant, before he could take office. Public reaction to the assassination was "surprise, confusion, [and] sometimes hysteria," with Calles allowing the anger of Obregón's supporters to flow and deflected it elsewhere. One was to the labor leader Luis N. Morones of the powerful Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers (CROM), who might have been responsible for the assassination to gain power himself, and the other toward the assassin, Toral. Toral's interrogation was left to Obregón's supporters.
Establishing the Maximato and the PNR
Since Calles could not succeed himself in the presidency but wished to retain power, he sought a political solution. The long-term solution he conceived was momentous for Mexican politics. In his final informe or report to congress on 1 September 1928, a little more than a month after Obregón's assassination, he declared that "There is no personality of indisputable stature, with a firm hold on public opinion and enough personal and political force to merit general confidence through is mere name and prestige." He went on to call for "the peaceful evolutionary development of Mexico as an institutional country, in which men may become, as they should be, mere accidents with no real importance beside the perpetual and august serenity of institutions and laws."
Calles had already called on thirty prominent generals, who might have vied for power in the wake of Obregón's assassination, to agree to a civilian as interim president until new elections could take place. Emilio Portes Gil became interim president, taking office 1 December 1928 and serving until 5 February 1930. Calles retained power, despite his having said that "never, for any motivation and in no circumstances will the current president of the Republic of Mexico come to occupy that position again." That declaration was a repudiation of the constitutional change that had allowed re-election of previous president and forestalled any president in the future from seeking re-election.
Calles took the lead in founding the Partido Nacional Revolucionario or PNR, the predecessor of today's Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). It was the institutionalized way for Calles's faction to control presidential succession. It succeeded as a party by bringing in a number of different elements, including regional and local political organizations, organized labor, organized peasants, and professionals such as government bureaucrats and teachers. The party gained secure revenue and organizational strength by requiring members of constituent organization be dues-paying members of the party. It became a national party, designed to exist as an institution rather than a coalition that came into being only during elections, and was successful in elections for local, state, and national offices.
Officially, after 1929, Calles served as minister of war, as he continued to suppress the rebellion of the Cristero War, but a few months later after the intervention of the United States ambassador Dwight Morrow the Mexican government and the Cristeros signed a peace treaty. PNR candidate Pascual Ortiz Rubio won the controversial 1929 election, in which he defeated the philosopher José Vasconcelos of the National Antireelectionist Party (PNA), whose campaign was supported mainly by university students, and Pedro Rodríguez Triana of the Mexican Communist Party (PCM).
The election was marred by violence and fraud, however, and Vasconcelos refused to accept the result. Dozens of antireelectionists were killed, and Vasconcelos decided to leave the country.
Course of the Maximato
Once the conflict-ridden 1929 election was over, Ortiz Rubio was inaugurated on 5 February 1930, but not without lingering acrimony. During his inauguration ceremony, Ortiz Rubio was wounded in an assassination attempt by an antireelectionist student, Daniel Flores, who was tried and received the death penalty.
During the Maximato, Calles became increasingly authoritarian. After a large demonstration in 1930 the Mexican Communist Party was banned, Mexico stopped its support for the rebels of César Sandino in Nicaragua, strikes were no longer tolerated, and the government ceased redistributing lands among poorer peasants. Calles had once been the candidate of the workers and at one point had used Communist unions in his campaign against competing labor organizers but later, having acquired wealth and engaging in finance, suppressed Communism. Overall the Maximato was characterized by growing polarization and radicalization on both sides of the political spectrum, with left-wing and right-wing groups often fighting against each other in the streets of Mexico's cities.
In 1932, Calles forced Ortiz Rubio to step down because of the latter's appointment of several anti-callists in public functions. Ortiz Rubio was succeeded by Abelardo L. Rodríguez. Although another puppet of Calles, Rodríguez was also known for his progressive reforms. Under his presidency social legislation promised by the Mexican constitution of 1917 was introduced for the first time, including a minimum wage and the 8-hour working day. Rodríguez also repealed the constitutional amendment that allowed for reelection and extended the president's term to six years.
Rodríguez' secretary of education Narciso Bassols tried to implement a system of "socialist education", and the constitution was amended for this purpose, although its provisions which sought to suppress religion were removed from the constitution in 1946. The introduction of sex education proved to be very controversial, and after the protestations of conservative parents, Bassols was forced to step down and socialist education was abandoned.
End of the Maximato
In 1934, Calles selected his old wartime subordinate Lázaro Cárdenas as presidential candidate, on the assumption he could control Cárdenas as he had controlled his predecessors. Soon after his inauguration however, conflicts between Calles and Cárdenas started to arise. Calles opposed Cárdenas's support for labor unions, especially his tolerance and support for strikes, while Cárdenas opposed Calles's violent methods and his closeness to fascist organizations, most notably the Gold Shirts of general Nicolás Rodríguez Carrasco, which harassed communists, Jews and Chinese.
Cárdenas started to isolate Calles politically, removing the callistas from political posts and exiling his most powerful allies: Tomás Garrido Canabal, Fausto Topete, Emilio Portes Gil, Saturnino Cedillo, Aarón Sáenz and finally Calles himself. Calles and Luis Napoleon Morones, one of the last remaining influential callistas, were charged with conspiring to blow up a railroad and placed under arrest under the order of President Cárdenas and deported on April 9, 1936 to the United States. At the time of his arrest, he was reportedly reading a Spanish translation of Mein Kampf.
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- Krauze, Biography of Power, p. 426
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