January-February 1997  
Mexico: Regime in Crisis
Militarization, Murderous Feuds in Ruling Party,
Mass Hunger as Guerrillas, Peasant Unrest Spread

Part 1 of 2

Mexico is lurching toward a social explosion. Almost a decade and a half of brutal "free market" austerity dictated by Washington and Wall Street and enforced by the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), in power since 1929, have built up vast amounts of tinder. Countless thousands of peasants have been thrown off their lands in the last two years by government troops, paramilitary police units and "white guard" private armies. Millions of impoverished agricultural producers find themselves ruined by low international coffee prices and the competition of cheap corn imported from the United States under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). At least two guerrilla armies are active in the largely Indian regions of the South and West, with clear mass sympathy and support. And as more armed groups are proclaimed in press releases and reported by the army, Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo vows to crush them with "the full force of the state."

In recent months, Mexico has come under the military boot as never before in recent decades. Since 1994, more than 40,000 government troops have encircled the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) stronghold of the Lacandon rain forest area of the southernmost state of Chiapas. Another 12,000 soldiers are cordoning off the north of the state to put down mass peasant unrest. In addition, a reported 23,000 counterinsurgency troops and police are now combing the mountainous state of Guerrero on the Pacific Coast, while thousands more are patrolling Oaxaca and the Huasteca Sierra covering five states on the eastern side of the country, looking for the Revolutionary People's Army (EPR) which appeared on June 28. This is not just a reaction to the new guerrilla group: according to the Mexican Defense Secretariat, Mexico's military forces increased from 170,000 in 1992 (a figure still cited in the U.S. press) to 236,000 in 1996 (Proceso, 1 December 1996).

In the cities as well, the huge and hugely corrupt police forces have increasingly been put under military command. In the capital, the former army commander of Guerrero took over the Mexico City police force, installing 20 more generals and ten colonels in key positions. At least 400 commissioned army officers have been placed in attorney generals offices around the country. Meanwhile, in the name of fighting street crime, a new security law was rammed through Congress in the spring which legally sanctioned wiretapping, requiring modifications to five articles of the Constitution. This massive militarization has been sponsored by the U.S. government, as the Pentagon has been pouring in counterinsurgency equipment, including more than 200 helicopters, as well as hundreds of tanks and armored personnel carriers. Supposedly this is for fighting the phony "war on drugs," but you don't burn a marijuana field with tanks. The Mexican military and their Pentagon advisors are clearly preparing to crush urban unrest.

For while peasant-based guerrillas get the international headlines, Mexico's working class is growing increasingly fed up with the regime. Harvard-trained economist-president Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León was elected on the program of "prosperity for your family," yet within three weeks of taking office Zedillo, faced with a financial crisis, ordered the disastrous December 1994 peso devaluation. This together with the subsequent austerity measures threw two million workers out of their jobs and slashed real wages by more than 40 percent. Today the purchasing power of the minimum wage (adjusted for inflation) has fallen below the level of 1940. Meanwhile, large sectors of the middle class have been devastated by the ruinous interest rates that have led to the shutting down of thousands of small businesses and wiped out years of savings.

This semi-bonapartist regime­in which the massive state and PRI bureaucracies are fused together, papered over by the barest semblance of parliamentary "democracy"­has maintained itself in power for the last 67 years in good part through the iron control it has exercised over the workers movement. The instrument has been a corporatist "union" movement, dominated by the Mexican Workers Federation (CTM) and the Congress of Labor (CT), that chains labor directly to the state party. For decades, huge contingents of workers were trooped through Mexico City's huge Zócalo plaza on May Day to "salute" the president as he reviewed the parade from the balcony of the presidential palace. In 1995, for the first time, the CTM chief, 96-year-old Fidel Velázquez, canceled the official May Day celebration out of fear of "disorders." Instead, hundreds of thousands marched in a huge anti-government protest. Last year again, the CTM canceled its parade, and instead upwards of 250,000 workers marched, including dissident sections of the CT, protesting government privatization plans and their plummeting incomes.

The regime which as recently as 1990 was described by the right-wing Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa as "the perfect dictatorship" is unravelling. In state and municipal elections last October, the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) and the "center-left" Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) gained control of the huge working-class and middle-class suburbs in the state of Mexico surrounding the capital. This foreshadows the possibility of a defeat for the PRI in the nerve center of the republic in first-ever elections for mayor of the Federal District, scheduled for next year. In a panicked response to their defeat at the polls, the "dinosaurs" (old-line PRI party bosses) in Congress put an end to negotiations over reform of the electoral system and four days later rammed through a gutted political "reform" bill they hope will guarantee their victory in the 1997 elections. Opposition legislators and editorialists are muttering that this puts an end to the hopes for a "negotiated transition to democracy."

As the PRI machine begins to come apart, a bloody settling of accounts has been unleashed among the competing camarillas, cliques and caciques (local political bosses or chiefs) who cohabit under the initials of the PRI. First, the party's presidential candidate was assassinated in Tijuana in March 1994, then the head of the party was gunned down in the center of the capital six months later. All signs indicate that feuding factions in the ruling party are behind the murders, possibly including former president Carlos Salinas and his brother Raúl, now in jail in the high-security Almoloya prison. In August, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Mexico wrote: "The resources used to carry out the crime, but especially the way it was handled afterward, make it clear that...the mastermind was in the highest circles of power."

As the PRI regime decays from within, any number of events could set things off. But an explosion of mass unrest is not the same thing as a revolution. Poverty in the urban areas is so extreme that the stage is set for hunger riots. Already, crowds of hundreds of urban and and rural poor have repeatedly set upon trains to empty them of food supplies. In mid-May, peasants in Chihuahua fell upon a CONASUPO (state food agency) warehouse and made off with 271 tons of beans. Two weeks later, in San Nicolás de Garza, a working-class suburb of Monterrey, residents stopped a freight train by putting ties across the tracks, then some 400 people, mostly women and children, swarmed over the box cars, carrying away 50 tons of corn being imported from the U.S. According to the police chief, everyone in the neighborhood took some of the grain home, in order to "have tortillas at least" to eat. In June, peasants in Durango emptied a freight car of wheat, and in July a rail car of bottled water was "liberated" (see La Jornada, 31 May and John Ross, México Bárbaro, 3 September 1996).

The Mexican working people are being plagued by unemployment, wage cuts, hunger and literal starvation. In the short run, such conditions have dampened social struggle and the number of strikes has declined as workers fear for their jobs. At the same time, there is a rapidly growing proletariat in the maquiladora (free-trade zone) plants, particularly along the northern border with the U.S. While output in industries producing for the Mexican market has fallen sharply due to the brutal austerity, the number of workers in the maquiladora plants has increased by one-fifth in the last couple of years, to over 600,000. And while their wages are miserable (as low as US$50 a month, or 20 cents an hour) and they work under conditions of police-state control, this extremely young workforce can potentially wield real power against their employers, who include most major U.S. and Japanese corporations. With companies eager to keep production and profits flowing, in 1995 for the first time in many years several wildcat strikes in the free-trade zone plants won recognition for dissident workers groups.

The scope of the intertwining of the Mexican and U.S. economies is vast. Televisions, computers and most household appliances are now manufactured in huge industrial parks with thousands of workers each from Tijuana to Nogales to Ciudad Juárez, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros. In a trend accelerated by NAFTA, Mexican auto workers now produce not only seat belts and electrical harnesses but engine blocks and entire autos and trucks for the North American market. Mexico is now one of the U.S.' three biggest trading partners, with 81 percent of its exports consisting of manufactured goods, and most of that trade consisting of exchanges between different units of the same company. This means that a strike by auto workers against General Motors or Ford in Ohio or in Ontario, Canada is quickly felt in Hermosillo and San Luis Potosí, and vice versa. But this tremendous potential for international struggle will not be led by the current misleaders of labor; it urgently requires the building of an internationalist leadership with the program and determination to wage such struggles.

While NAFTA has accelerated the potential for cross-border labor action, it has led to a wholesale imperialist assault on the lucrative parts of Mexico's economy. U.S. financiers are seeking to buy up railroads, telecommunications lines and their biggest target: the oil industry nationalized by General Lázaro Cárdenas in 1938. Protests by workers and peasants in the oil-producing states and a revolt by PRI legislators this fall forced Zedillo to pare back plans for petrochemical privatizations. But the U.S. has already seized financial control of PEMEX (the state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos), as the $20-billion "bailout" engineered by Clinton to protect American investments required that receipts from Mexico's oil sales be deposited in an account in the Federal Reserve Bank in New York as collateral! Meanwhile, the scope of U.S. investment in the northern half of Mexico has become so extensive that regionalist sentiment is growing among the local bourgeoisie, leading in several states to moves for autonomy from financial control by Mexico City.

Wall Street's grab for the Mexican economy will produce a backlash of nationalist sentiment. Yet to effectively fight the massive onslaught against the Mexican working and poor people requires an internationalist fight against the Yankee imperialists and their junior partners, the neocolonial bourgeois rulers of Mexico. Marxists defend Mexico against the U.S. attempts to buy up the country as we fight for workers revolution on both sides of the 2,000-mile border. In this struggle, the several million Mexican workers in the U.S. can be a key link in uniting the working class in combat against the common enemy.

Today the economic crisis lashing Mexico and the political crisis of the PRI-government machine are producing a parallel crisis in its machinery for control of labor. This poses the urgent need to break from the bourgeoisie. Marxists must use this important opening to fight for the class independence of labor through the formation of elected workers committees, independent of the control of the state and any of the bourgeois parties. This can only be done through a militant mobilization of the workers' power, including sit-down strikes and plant occupations, with the formation of workers defense groups to combat the CTM goons. And as Leon Trotsky emphasized almost half a century ago, writing of the universal tendency toward state control of the unions, there can be no genuine independence of labor without a revolutionary leadership.

This leadership must be forged in combat against not only the charro bureaucrats of the corporatist "union" federations but also the neo-charro dissident bureaucrats. To build such a class-struggle leadership requires a break with the Mexican nationalism that poses a false unity of the workers with their "national" bosses, and a fight for international workers revolution. A revolutionary workers party is the indispensable instrument to lead the daily struggle of the Mexican working people to a fight for a workers and peasants government, and for extension of the revolution across the border to embrace the powerful U.S. working class. Such parties must be built in Mexico and the U.S. as part of the struggle to reforge an authentically Trotskyist Fourth International.

Murderous Intrigue at the Top: The Old Regime Totters

After almost seven decades in power, the PRI-government is showing all the social pathology of a regime in an advanced stage of decay. The deadly feuding and chaos are most pronounced at the top. As a French Marxist historian noted of the ruling circles in the period leading up to the fall of the monarchy in 1789, "The dominant class of the Ancien Régime was no longer united in defence of the system that guaranteed its dominance" (Albert Soboul, The French Revolution, 1787-1799 [1974]). The triumph of the bourgeoisie was preceded by the revolt of the aristocracy, deeply in debt to the bankers and deathly afraid that its prebends and luxuries would soon be cut off. In their last throes, the royalty and nobility engaged in orgies of ostentation and swirling intrigue.

A similar spectacle was provided by the Romanov dynasty as the tsarist regime was on its last legs. Writing of the sybaritic, demented ruling family, its murderous diviner Rasputin and "the whole greedy, insolent and universally hated pack of grand dukes and grand duchesses," Leon Trotsky in his History of the Russian Revolution (1930) notes: "Against the purple background of the war, with the roar of the underground tremors clearly audible, the privileged did not for one moment renounce the joys of life; on the contrary, they devoured them greedily. Yet more and more often a skeleton would appear at their banquets and shake the little bones of its fingers." In Mexico today, the skeletons are literally being dug up on the estates of the former ruling families, and the masses are demanding that the Mexican Rasputins be put on trial for the orgy of looting and murder they have unleashed.

In France and Russia, the old regime was an autocratic monarchy, whose rule clashed with the growth of the productive forces, giving rise to a bourgeois revolution in the first case, a workers revolution in the second. The incrusted governing apparatus of Mexico today is a different social formation, an ossified layer derived from the northern landowners who aborted the Mexican Revolution of 1910-17, murdered its most radical leaders, Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, and then held state power for decades in the name of the revolution they had thwarted. Although its origins are distinct, today this "Institutional Revolutionary" governing caste is giving off the same "fin de régime" (end of the regime) odor as the aristocratic parasites of the old regime in France and Russia.

The top layers of the state party have increasingly become an ingrown social layer. Traditionally, the PRI maintained its rule through a combination of severe repression of independent worker/peasant movements and cooptation of the leaders to head off any serious challenge to its domination. This also rejuvenated the apparatus with new forces. But as this caste has become more ingrown (the various "families" of the PRI have literally become the second and third generations of the same families) and with the shift to ultra-"free market" economic policies, cutting down on the availability of positions and subsidies to be distributed through state-owned enterprises, this has meant that the regime has increasingly relied simply on repression. Yet the heavy-handed tactics that worked a generation ago are sometimes counterproductive today.

Meanwhile, the PRI suffered severe setbacks in last November's elections in the state of Mexico, getting only 37 percent of the votes and losing the sprawling "suburban" cities ringing the capital to the opposition (Nezahualcóyotl and Ecatepec to the PRD, Tlalnepantla and Naucalpan to the PAN). In response to this electoral debacle, four days later PRI deputies and senators voted an electoral "reform" law in the national congress over the objections of all the opposition parties. This new law provides for government financing of parties for the next Mexican presidential election to the tune of 2.3 billion pesos (US$300 million), more than four times the amount doled out to parties in the recent U.S. presidential vote. This is obscene in a country where the masses are living a miserable existence, unable to obtain even the basic necessities of food, shelter and transportation.

The purpose of the whole operation is to buy enough votes for the PRI to maintain its control of the state machinery, despite a predictable decline in its fortunes at the polls. Thus in order to ensure "governability," the new electoral law provides that the two largest parties will get a larger number of congressional seats than their vote shares­an obvious pitch to the right-wing PAN to maintain its de facto coalition with the PRI. And, in fact, the PAN leaders have been notably quiet over this election law­perhaps figuring that if they score well they will want to reap the benefits.

For years, the vote-rigging techniques of the PRI-government have been legendary: the carusel (professional voters going around to many different polling stations); operación tortilla (free breakfasts and transportation on the day of the election); hundreds of millions of pesos doled out by government programs like Solidaridad and Procampo just before the voting; mobilizing the worker and peasant unions affiliated to the PRI to bus their members to election rallies and the polls; stuffing ballot boxes in PRI districts, losing ballot boxes in opposition areas and then through creative vote counting by the alquimistas after the polls close, a solid PRI majority would be returned for every post in every district (known as the carro completo, or full car). When the vote counting was computerized in 1988, a new technique was added: on election night, after early returns show the opposition gaining, the computers mysteriously crash and after anywhere from several hours to several days of silence, the government obtains a bare majority. The content of the new election laws is that what was accomplished before by corruption and skullduggery in the dead of night is now to be done through the "free market" of buying votes at massive public expense.

But it could backfire badly, as the PRI's last attempt at electoral "reform" did. In 1993, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari decided that he would get around all the complaints over the PRI's traditional campaign practices by getting a kickback from the billionaires whose sudden wealth sprang from the sell-off at bargain prices of the multitude of government and "para-state" enterprises privatized during Salinas' regime. As a result of this largesse, by that year Forbes magazine listed 24 Mexican billionaires in its ranking of the world's richest men, virtually every one of them a beneficiary of Salinas' handouts. So in order to raise funds for the '94 elections, the PRI money men organized a dinner of a dozen top tycoons, at which the assembled plutocrats made pledges averaging US$25 million each. When word of this gold-plated soirée leaked out it caused an explosion of popular outrage.

The recent book by Miami Herald correspondent Andrés Oppenheimer, Bordering on Chaos: Guerrillas, Stockbrokers, Politicians and Mexico's Road to Prosperity (Little, Brown, 1996), gives a course-by-course account of this $25-million-a-plate dinner. But while it reads like a breathless "Lifestyles of Mexico's Rich and Famous," Oppenheimer does capture the flavor of a party which calls itself revolutionary and is a consultative member of the "Socialist (Second) International" at the same time as its leaders are in several cases themselves literally billionaires. Oppenheimer recounts how one of the PRI's old-line bosses (the dinosaurios), Manuel Garza of Tamaulipas, entertained an American correspondent by ordering a goat killed in the morning on one of his ranches in that border state and then having it flown by private jet to Mexico City in time to be prepared for dinner in the afternoon. Another of the PRI leaders in the state, Ernesto Gómez Liera, the mayor of Reynosa, owns more than 100,000 hectares. These are some of the leaders of the PRI's jurásicos­the "Jurassic Park" wing of the party. They may well soon be extinct, but the process could be cataclysmic.

Already, the feuding in the upper echelons of the governing apparatus has turned bloody. The March 1994 assassination of the PRI candidate for president, Luis Donaldo Colosio, was the first political assassination of a top government figure since former president Alvaro Obregón was slain in 1928. Moreover, it was almost certainly engineered within the party-government apparatus, possibly in response to Colosio's vow in a speech a few weeks earlier to end "authoritarianism" in the government. Key police officials involved in providing security for Colosio or investigating the killing were themselves later gunned down (the latest one, the fifth so far, was of the special investigator in Baja California, at the beginning of January 1997) or mysteriously disappeared. Indications suggested the PRI dinosaurios were behind the crime, while much of the population points to former president Salinas himself.

Then, in October 1994, the general secretary of the PRI, José Francisco Ruiz Massieu, was gunned down on the street right in front of the massive party headquarters, an area crawling with cops. There was overwhelming evidence that a PRI mafia, including federal senators and deputies, was behind the shooting. Ruiz Massieu's brother Mario was appointed as special investigator to pursue the case, then quit claiming inquiries were being blocked by top PRI officials. Thereupon, the next special investigator accused Mario Ruiz Massieu of covering up the complicity of Carlos Salinas' older brother Raúl in the murder of Mario's older brother, José Francisco. Raúl Salinas was imprisoned as the alleged mastermind. Now both Raúl Salinas and Mario Ruiz are being investigated for illicit enrichment, a clear sign that a political vendetta is under way, since this could be proved about every PRI government or party official in the country.

The murderous goings-on and financial shenanigans at the top levels of power are the mortal signs of a state apparatus coming apart. Again, the parallels to other dying regimes are striking. From the beginning the main reason for existence of the PRI and its predecessors from the point of view of Mexican capital and its U.S. imperialist backers was that it provided the social peace necessary for profitable exploitation. When it no longer serves this function, the usefulness of this party-government machinery of social control for the ruling class will be at an end. Washington and Wall Street now find Mexican government arbitrariness inconvenient, and a New York Times (1 October 1996) editorial on "Mexican Justice" sternly reprimanded Zedillo, lecturing that "unless the rule of law is applied equally to all Mexicans, neither democracy nor free and transparent markets can take root."

The Times sudden concern for justice remains highly selective: the main victims of the PRI-government's murder machinery have always been the opposition, even if only slightly to the left. When more than 500 left-wing youth and peasants were killed or "disappeared" during Mexico's "dirty war" against guerrillas in the 1970s, U.S. counterinsurgency advisors helped organize this slaughter. More recently, there hasn't been a peep from Washington about the continual murders of members of the "center-left" Party of the Democratic Revolution: over 350 party members were killed during Salinas' reign and 150 so far in Zedillo's first two years, according to PRD leader Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas (La Jornada, 19 November 1996).

Since Cárdenas left the PRI to run in the 1988 presidential elections, the PRD has served as the linchpin for a "popular front" whose purpose is to subordinate mass discontent among the workers, peasants and middle class to this bourgeois party. In preparation for the 1997 elections, last summer the PRD elected as its leader the former gubernatorial candidate in the state of Tabasco, Andrés López Obrador, who in 1995 led a march on the capital demanding annulment of the fradulent state election and last year led peasant sit-ins at the Pemex installations in the Gulf Coast oil state. Speaking at a November 20 celebration of the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution in the newly PRD-governed city of Nezahualcóyotl, López Obrador said the party would campaign for wage increases, jobs and social justice, denouncing the PRI as "anti-nationalist" and "neo-liberal." But at the same time as its leader was mouthing populist phrases, the PRD leadership offered to form a "broad opposition front" with the rightist PAN (La Jornada, 30 November 1996). During December, a series of state PRI leaders went over to the PRD and were promptly named as candidates. This wave of switchovers underlines the character of the PRD as a new PRI.

Peasant Guerillas Spread

January 1 was the third anniversary of the uprising led by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in the poor southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The Zapatistas "Declaration of the Lacandon Forest" proclaimed they were fighting to "depose the dictator" Salinas and against "a dictatorship of more than 70 years duration headed by a camarilla of traitors." Their goals were "jobs, land, housing, food, health, education, independence, democracy, justice and peace." Based on initial statements to the press by EZLN spokesman Subcomandante Marcos, the rebellion was widely portrayed as a revolt against the North American Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect the same day. The rebels published a series of "revolutionary laws" to be imposed in liberated territories, including a Revolutionary Agrarian Law calling for the seizure and distribution of all landholdings over 50 hectares to the landless peasantry and agricultural laborers, to be worked collectively (EZLN: Documentos y comunicados, Ediciones Era, 1994).

The Zapatista revolt sent shock waves throughout Mexico and around the world. It was a blow against a U.S.-dominated New World Order, and awakened tremendous sympathy among the workers, peasants and sectors of the petty bourgeoisie who had been reeling for a dozen years under the austerity policies imposed by Wall Street banks and implemented by Harvard-trained economists, which produced fabulous wealth for a handful of Salinas cronies and misery for millions. The bloody slaughter by the army in the ten days of fighting caused mass revulsion, as hundreds were killed, a number of them executed in classic death squad style with their thumbs tied behind their backs. Hundreds of thousands poured into the streets marching for "peace," leading Salinas to order a ceasefire rather than risk a social eruption throughout the country.

The conditions the Mayan Indian peasants rebelled against were and still are horrific. Salinas' agrarian counterreform has already led to tens of thousands of peasants losing their land, while several million have fled the countryside to the cities desperately seeking work. As a result, Mexico's food production has fallen drastically. In 1995, Mexico imported roughly 14 million tons of basic grains. This amount represents almost half of Mexico's food consumption, in an agricultural country which until recently was largely self-sufficient in basic foods and a major exporter of agricultural produce to the U.S. With price supports for corn removed, most small peasants cannot afford to produce the food that has been the country's basic staple since before the Spanish conquest. Last year six million tons were imported from the U.S., much of it low-grade fodder which is then sold to humans.

In addition, due to falling real incomes, in the year and a half following the December 1994 peso devaluation, the actual consumption of basic foods in Mexico fell by a staggering 29 percent, even as the population continued to rise. Today, one out of every two Mexicans consumes less than the 2,430 calories a day minimum established by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization. Every year, roughly 158,000 Mexican children under five die of illnesses related to undernourishment. Malnutrition has become outright hunger.

The Mexican countryside is seething with discontent. Conditions have become so explosive that the head of the pro-government union of agricultural workers, Alvaro López Ríos, recently stated that the combination of NAFTA with Salinas' agrarian counterreform under which modern latifundios are buying up agricultural land wholesale is provoking "a peasant insurrection similar to that which occurred at the time of Porfirio Díaz" i.e., at the time of the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1917. López Ríos noted "the appearance of an increasing number of armed groups of peasants who in desperation are staking everything on guerrilla action." He reports that peasants have had it with the government, and "if more Subcomandante Marcoses would appear, this country would embark on a new Revolution. And although I don't think this is right, perhaps it is necessary" (Proceso, 29 December 1995).

The international press has focused on the Zapatista Indian uprising in Chiapas, but the unrest extends far beyond the rain-forest regions in the ravines along the border with Guatemala. In the rest of this state, the poorest in Mexico, there have been numerous land invasions. Some have been led by the Emiliano Zapata Proletarian Peasant Organization (OCPEZ), others by the Independent Federation of Agricultural Workers and Peasants (CIOAC), and some by traditionally PRI-dominated peasant groups like the OCEZ. In the fall, thousands of peasants belonging to the relatively better-off Corn Producers Association blocked highways in Chiapas for a week to protest prices so low they can't afford to plant. The federal army has now been dispatched to the Chiapas Highlands region and the northern part of the state, and during the summer and fall there were almost daily reports of peasants killed by joint actions of the federal army, state judicial police and the landowners "white guards."

That is in the far south. Just to the north, in Oaxaca, the army was put on red alert a year ago, intensively patrolling the Zapotec Indian regions of the sierra along the Pacific coast and the Mixtec areas along the border with the state of Guerrero. This was months before the Revolutionary People's Army (EPR) came down from the hills at the end of August to attack a town near the tourist area of Huatulco. Meanwhile, in the mountainous Huasteca region of the central states of Veracruz, Puebla, Hidalgo and San Luis Potosí, militants of the Emiliano Zapata Democratic Eastern Front (FEDOMEZ) have been subjected to heavy persecution by army units occupying at least 20 municipalities in the eastern cordillera. The army claims that FEDOMEZ and other peasant groups are simply fronts for guerrillas active in the area.

But the biggest recent army deployment has been in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero, where the Revolutionary People's Army announced its existence last summer. On June 28 an armed detachment of uniformed EPR guerrillas attended a ceremony in the hamlet of Aguas Blancas honoring the 17 peasant supporters of the Peasant Organization of the South Sierra (OCSS) who were ambushed and assassinated there the year before by the state police. Arriving just as Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas was leaving the platform, the guerrillas read their "Declaration of Aguas Blancas," fired off 17 shots before the TV cameras, and headed back into the hills. When Cárdenas referred to the guerrillas armed propaganda action as a "pantomine," this description was repeated by government spokesmen. But at the end of August, EPR guerrillas struck simultaneously against police and army outposts and electrical power installations in at least six states. In response, the army arrested virtually the entire male population of the town of San Agustín Loxicha in rural Oaxaca.

With the Zedillo government nervous about its international image and wary of cracking down heavily for fear of an explosion of opposition in the capital, the EPR guerrillas have been able to stage low-level attacks on police stations, isolated military vehicles and the like, as well as holding clandestine press conferences in several locations, including the capital. In the propaganda war, the government has been painting the new guerrilla group as a front for the PROCUP (Clandestine Revolutionary Workers Party-Union of the People), a shadowy Maoist-derived group that has been around since the 1970s and which during the '80s staged a series of bombings in Mexico City, some against banks but others against middle-class restaurants. The latter indiscriminate, nationalist terror actions, and the kidnapping in the mid-1980s of the head of the Mexican United Socialist Party by the PROCUP-allied Party of the Poor, left over from Lucio Cabañas 1960s guerrilla group in Guerrero, are utterly indefensible acts in no way directed against the capitalist ruling class or imperialism.

But even the army's "counterinsurgency" experts and their U.S. advisors are well aware that a guerrilla group would not have been able to undertake repeated harassing actions and sustain itself for months without a significant degree of local support. The government's immediate response to the Aguas Blancas action by the EPR in June was to arrest most of the leaders of the OCSS, which has a mass base in that region, while in the Huastecas the army has gone after the FEDOMEZ. Moreover, the previous year the magazine Proceso (7 August 1995) published a miliitary intelligence report on the activities of a number of "subversive" groups in the state of Guerrero. Among them were, in addition to PROCUP, the Army of Liberation of the Southern Sierra, the Revolutionary Popular Movement, the Chilpancingo Insurgent Army, the Clandestine Armed Forces, and the Southern Liberation Army, each with different areas of influence. The EPR describes itself as the armed wing of a Popular Democratic Revolutionary Party (PDPR) formed by 14 groups.

The EZLN, meanwhile, has a genuine mass base among the various indigenous peoples of Chiapas, with representatives of the Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Chole and other Mayan groups. Even a critical account based on police and military intelligence reports, Carlos Tello Díaz' book, La rebelión de las Cañadas (Cal y Arena, 1995), makes it clear that the January 1994 uprising involved thousands of Indian peasants who had been forced from their lands years earlier by PRI-connected landlords, and was the product of more than a decade of organizing activities by former members of one of the failed "Marxist-Leninist" guerrilla groups of the 1970s. Marxists defend the leftist guerrillas against government repression, demanding that all accused supporters of the EPR and EZLN as well as the arrested peasant leaders be freed, while at the same time warning that the petty-bourgeois strategy of guerrillaism is a dead end.

There is a great variety of guerrilla strategies---the Guevarist foco (focal point), which held that a small group of determined fighters from the outside could spark a conflagration; the Maoist "prolonged people's war," modeled on the peasant-based Chinese Red Army of the 1930s; the Vietnamese combination of regular army and guerrilla forces; various "national liberation" struggles in the 1960s; "peasant republics" in Colombia, isolated pockets that have existed sometimes for decades; "urban guerrillas" such as the Uruguayan Tupamaros and in Brazil; the examples of Nicaragua and El Salvador in the 1970s and '80s, where guerrilla groups were linked to peasant-based mass organizations at the same time as they made popular-front alliances with dissident bourgeois sectors. But all these variants share a number of features in common.

First, they are all fundamentally based on petty-bourgeois layers, primarily the peasantry. Second, they consist of the organization of armed units separate from mass movements of the working people. Third, they have a bonapartist internal organization along military lines. Despite the frequent references to Marxism-Leninism, such movements are necessarily fundamentally counterposed to the program of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, which looks to the organization of the proletariat, as a class conscious of its historic interests, under the leadership of its revolutionary party, to wage the battles of the class struggle through to a socialist revolution.

Peasant-based guerrillaism is a petty-bourgeois strategy incompatible with the class organization of the workers. The fundamental source of strength of the proletariat is its strategic position at the heart of the capitalist economy. While guerrilla tactics can be a subordinate element in a civil war, this cannot be a strategy for socialist revolution. Marxists seek to organize the workers' class struggle culminating in a mass proletarian-led insurrection, drawing in other oppressed sectors (such as the peasant and urban poor) behind the working class led by its revolutionary party.

The program of many leftist-tinged guerrilla groups is often derived from the Stalinist conception of a "revolution in stages": first (bourgeois) democracy, later (never) for socialism. This "democratic," non-socialist program is aimed at winning over a peasant and urban petty-bourgeois base, whose fundamental aspiration is not for a collectivized economy but to themselves become property owners. Yet the peasants oppression is not some offshoot of feudalism, as the Stalinists claim, but a direct product of capitalism in the economically backward countries. Key factors in the EZLN uprising, for example, were the falling prices on the world coffee market, together with the government's land "reform" policies, etc.

In this respect, it is curious to note that a recent issue of Workers Vanguard (No. 657, 6 December 1996), the newspaper of the Spartacist League, in a polemic directed against the Internationalist Group, twice claims that Latin American peasants are subjected to the remnants of feudalism. The article refers to the need for "the destruction of feudal peonage in the countryside which continue[s] to plague the countries of Latin America." Yet peonage in the vast majority of the continent has been the product of the capitalist economy. Moreover, the WV article's reference to "the inheritance of Spanish feudal colonialism" in Latin America also reveals a fundamental misunderstanding. Spanish colonialism was from the outset marked by a combined character, in which feudal and even pre-feudal forms of servitude were used in the interests of production for the capitalist market, just as slavery in the American South (producing "King Cotton" largely for export) was an instrument in building a capitalist economy. The myth of Latin American "feudalism," now repeated by the Spartacist League, was invented by the Stalinized Communist parties to justify their stagist politics.

The intermittent popularity of guerrillaism on the Latin American left and elsewhere in the economically backward capitalist countries in past decades is a reflection of the destructive impact of Stalinism in undermining and perverting the Leninist program of international socialist revolution. Stalinism was the ideology of the petty-bourgeois bureaucratic layer which usurped political power from the Soviet working class and its Bolshevik Party in 1923-24, betrayed the internationalist program of the October Revolution and ultimately prepared the way for the social counterrevolution that swept away the Soviet bloc degenerated and deformed workers states in 1989-92. Stalin's conservative nationalist dogma of "socialism in one country" was a denial of the basic Marxist understanding that socialism can only be international in scope, including the most advanced capitalist countries. It made into a program the mood of defeat produced by the failure of the German Revolution of 1923 and the national isolation of the young Soviet workers state.

Stalinism reflected a fundamental lack of confidence in the revolutionary capacity of the proletariat, the hallmark of all anti-Marxist revisionism. In desperately searching for petty-bourgeois and ultimately bourgeois allies, it was entirely within the logic of Stalinism that some of its variants could embrace peasant-based guerrillaism, giving a "militant" flavor to what is really a program of defeatism. The multiplicity of "M-L" guerrilla groups in the 1960s was a corollary of the belief that the working class in the imperialist countries was "bought off," or otherwise incapable of revolutionary action­a view that was powerfully refuted by the French May 1968. It is also characteristic that when a revisionist current, Pabloism, made deep inroads in the Trotskyist movement in the 1950s, leading to the destruction of the Fourth International, it eventually hailed petty-bourgeois guerrilla movements in Cuba, Algeria and Vietnam as "new vanguards," a substitute for the necessary proletarian vanguard party.

The Revolutionary Tendency of the Socialist Workers Party in the U.S. in the early 1960s summed up the fight against this anti-Trotskyist revisionism in a series of theses titled, "Toward Rebirth of the Fourth International" (June 1963), which stated in part:

"Experience since the Second World War has demonstrated that peasant-based guerrilla warfare under petit-bourgeois leadership can in itself lead to nothing more than an anti-working-class bureaucratic regime. The creation of such regimes has come about under the conditions of decay of imperialism, the demoralization and disorientation caused by Stalinist betrayals, and the absence of revolutionary Marxist leadership of the working class. Colonial revolution can have an unequivocally progressive significance only under such leadership of the revolutionary proletariat. For Trotskyists to incorporate into their strategy revisionism on the proletarian leadership in the revolution is a profound negation of Marxism-Leninism, no matter what pious wish may be concurrently expressed for 'building revolutionary Marxist parties in colonial countries.' Marxists must resolutely oppose any adventurist acceptance of the peasant-guerrrilla road to socialism­historically akin to the Social Revolutionary program on tactics that Lenin fought. This alternative would be a suicidal course for the socialist goals of the movement, and perhaps physically for the adventurers."

The RT's struggle for authentic Trotskyism led to the formation of the international Spartacist tendency, later the International Communist League, a struggle the Internationalist Group continues today.

Guerrillaism has always been a defeatist program, but in the 1990s, under the impact of the destruction of the Soviet Union, its proponents and practitioners don't even pretend to call for socialism, only for (bourgeois) democracy. EZLN spokesman Marcos is explicit about this, commenting in one interview:

"The directorate of our army has never spoken about Cuban or Soviet socialism. We have always spoken about the basic rights of the human: education, housing health, food, land, good pay for our work, democracy. All of our thoughts about the workers and campesinos and the revolution are taken from the Mexican revolutionary heroes Flores Magón, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata."

­quoted in Philip L. Russel, The Chiapas Rebellion (Mexico Resource Center, 1995)

Mexican essayist and liberal political Scientist Jorge Castañeda has described the EZLN idiology as armed reformism, for they accept the capitalist market as the dominant economic institution. This is incontrovertibly ture. Indeed, many of those who have hailed the Zapatistas as the harbinger of "progressive" movements of the '90s make this into a positivie virtue. Thus various trendy academic authors have called the EZLN uprising "the first post-modern rebellion," meaning that it does not call for social revolution and confines itself to reforms.

Moreover, even the talk of reforms is disappearing as the EZLN's on-again, off-again "negotiations" with the government have gone nowhere. The Zapatista leaders have whittled down their initial propositions, and are functioning as an armed pressure group. So far they have only obtained the abstract agreement of the government team to a statute of "autonomy" for the indigenous peoples, which under the rule of capitalism cannot stop the continued destruction of the Indian communities through the relentless pressure of market forces. The Zapatistas' "revolutionary agrarian law" is long forgotten.

Instead, the EZLN leaders are looking for political "confluence" with various bourgeois forces, dubbed "civil society," embracing Cárdenas and the PRD, signing on various liberal intellectuals from the well-off San Angel restaurant set as Zapatista advisors, proclaiming unity with the small businessmen and farmers of the El Barzón debtors' movement. The EZLN stages Woodstock-like "happenings" in the rain forest for Zapatourists: intercontinental conferences against "neo-liberalism," gatherings for Indian rights, round table discussions on "reform of the state," all starring the ultimate showman, el sup Marcos with his signature ski mask and pipe.

After various false starts in setting up a civilian front (the National Democratic Convention, the National Liberation Movement), it is now proposing to dissolve its forces into a Zapatista National Liberation Front (FZLN) that will operate exclusively on the terrain of bourgeois pressure politics. Thus the EZLN's "Fourth Declaration of the Lacandon Forest" calls for a "civilian and peaceful political force, independent and democratic, Mexican and national, that fights for democracy, freedom and justice." It proclaims the intention of building "a political force which does not struggle to take political power."

The Zapatistas' frank statement of sub-reformist intent, their willing subordination to the exigencies of empty discussions with the government and signing of "agreements" devoid of substance has led to some discontent among their urban supporters. So what of the EPR, which the government is now portraying as the "bad guerrillas" as opposed to the "good guerrillas" of the EZLN? "We are seeking power. We will not dialogue with a a government of killers," said EPR commander José Arturo in an interview with reporters (La Jornada, 9 August 1996). Yet the EPR leader "studiously avoided the word 'socialism' during the interview," as Mexico-based radical journalist John Ross noted (México Bárbaro, 15 August 1996). The EPR/PDPR's program is a hodge-podge of, at most, radical-democratic demands (cancelation of the foreign debt, nationalization of major U.S. corporations), calls for alliances with "progressive and democratic personalities, to unite all forms of struggle in the revolutionary democratic struggle," culminating in a change of the present "anti-social" economic policy and a "people's democratic republic," defined as "the establishment of a new government essentially distinct from that which today holds power" (from the EPR "Manifesto of Aguas Blancas").

Decked out with more traditional leftist rhetoric than the EZLN and a "no negotiations" posture, that could nevertheless be the program of a bourgeois party a bit to the left of Cárdenas' and López Obrador's Party of the Democratic Revolution. This is counterposed to the liberation of the working class and oppressed Indians, peasants and urban poor who suffer not only under an "anti-social" or "neo-liberal" economic policy, but under the ravishes of the capitalist system which lives off exploitation of their toil. n

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com