The Impossible Triangle

Mexico, Soviet Russia, and the United States in the 1920s

The Impossible Triangle

American Encounters/Global Interactions

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Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: 16 b&w photographs, 2 tables Published: February 1999

Author: Daniela Spenser

Contributor: Friedrich Katz

History > European History, Latin American History, U.S. History

During the 1920s, Mexico was caught in a diplomatic struggle between the ideologies of two strong states. In The Impossible Triangle Daniela Spenser explores the tangled relationship between Russia and Mexico in the years following their own dramatic revolutions, as well as the role played by the United States during this turbulent period. Bringing together Mexican, Soviet, and North American (as well as British) perspectives, Spenser shows how the convergence of each country’s domestic and foreign policies precluded them from a harmonious triangular relationship.
Based on documents from the archives of several nations—including reports by former Mexican diplomats in Moscow that have never before been studied—the book analyzes the Mexican government’s motivation for establishing relations with the Soviet Union in the face of continued imperialist pressure and harsh opposition from the United States. After explaining how Mexico established diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union in 1924 in an attempt to broaden the spectrum of its alliances after several years of uneven relations with the United States, Spenser reveals the troubled nature of the relationship that ensued. Soviet policy toward Mexico was characterized by a series of profound contradictions, varying from neglect to strong involvement in Mexican politics and the belief that Mexico could become a center of world revolution. Working to resolve and explain these contradictions, Spenser explores how, despite U.S. objections to Mexico’s relations with the Soviet Union, Mexico continued its association with the Soviets until the United States adopted the Good Neighbor Policy and softened its stance toward Mexico’s revolutionary program after 1927.
With a foreword by Friedrich Katz and illustrated by illuminating photographs, The Impossible Triangle contributes to an understanding of the international dimension of the Mexican revolution. It will interest students and scholars of history, revolutionary theory, political science, diplomacy, and international relations.


The Impossible Triangle is well written. Professional scholars and a lay audience interested in international affairs and Soviet, Mexican, and U.S. foreign policy in the period under investigation will find the work a good read.” — Alvin Magid , Perspectives on Political Science

“[A] fine example of an ambitious international research agenda yielding an authoritative account. The densely interwoven texture of history produced in this fascinating study is the result of a far-flung search for evidence illuminating the foreign policies of three nations, Mexico, the Soviet Union, and the United States, during a tumultuous and pivotal decade. . . . [A]n important contribution to our understanding of Mexico’s tangled post-revolutionary diplomacy and the Soviet Union’s internationalist ambitions during the same period. . . . [T]his book succeeds remarkably well, setting a high standard of globe-trotting historical inquiry that students of foreign relations would do well to emulate.” — Eric Paul Roorda , Hispanic American Historical Review

“[A] valuable study . . . based on impressive archival research . . . . [U]seful . . . .” — David S. Foglesong , Russian Review

“[A] well-balanced approach to the three perspectives involved. . . . Spenser has written an interesting study that succeeds in presenting Mexico as an independent international subject effectively pursuing its goals of revolutionary nationalism.” — Stefan Rinke , Journal of American History

“Spenser uses new documentary evidence to explore why the Russian Revolution did not greatly affect the direction of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. . . . Specialists as well as general readers will find The Impossible Triangle a well-researched and interesting book.” — D. Baldwin , Choice

“Spenser’s lucid and original study is a pioneering effort to incorporate the long hidden dimension of Soviet influence into a broader understanding of the diplomatic and political history of modern Mexico.” — Adrian A. Bantjes , Journal of Latin American Studies

“Spenser’s work is well researched and well written. It does add to the literature on Mexico and its relations with the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1920’s. It is highly recommended reading for the specialist as well as students of American diplomacy and Mexican history.” — Lonnie E. Maness , South Eastern Latin Americanist

“The ‘impossible triangle’ of Daniela Spenser’s title describes the relations between Mexico, Russia, and the anti-Revolutionary United States, a strange three-way dance of dialogue and distrust that left no one side satisfied. . . [I]nnovative.” — John W. Sherman , TLS

“This is a remarkable work of diplomatic history. Daniela Spenser has mined archives in Mexico, Russia, the United States, and elsewhere to write a fascinating study of this diplomatic triangle. She weaves together three stories of bilateral ties into a history that is far more than the sum of its parts. . . . Always lucid, The Impossible Triangle will prove crucial reading for anyone interested in the foreign policies of the Mexican Revolution, the radical left in Mexico, Soviet-Latin American relations, and U.S. policy in Mexico.” — David Sheinin , American Studies International

The Impossible Triange succeeds on many levels, but perhaps none more than in its innovative trilateral approach. The Mexico that emerges from Spenser’s narrative is both object—of the unequal struggle for influence between the United States and the Soviet Union—and subject, capable of dealing with these two ‘courtiers’ on its own terms. This engagingly-told story reminds us of the radical contingencies thrown up by the Bolshevik Revolution and how that revolution permanently altered the conduct of international relations.” — Lewis Siegelbaum, Michigan State University

The Impossible Triangle documents a comedy of errors that tells us how, in similar unforeseen situations, before pursuing reality, every diplomacy pursues its own phantoms.” — Adolfo Gilly, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Daniela Spenser is a Fellow at Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social in Mexico City.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword / Friedrich Katz ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction 1

Part One- The Encounter of Two Revolutions, 1917-1924

1 The United States in Search of Its Mexican Policy 9

2 Mexico in Soviet Calculations 32

3 Soviet Russia in Mexican Politics 51

Part Two- The Revolutions Arrive at Cross-Purposes, 1924-1927

4 The United States Challenges Mexico 75

5 The Soviets Misunderstand Their Meixcan Friend 95

6 Mexico at the Crossroads 113

Part Three- The Revolutions Collide, 1928-1930

7 The United States as Good Neighbor 133

8 The Ideological Excesses of the Comintern 152

9 The Break in relations between Mexico and the USSR 170

Final Reflections 191

Notes 195

Bibliography 231

Index 251
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2289-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2256-6
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