April-May 1997

Militarization, Murderous Feuds in Ruling Party,
Mass Hunger as Guerrillas, Peasant Unrest Spread

Mexico: Regime in Crisis

For Workers Revolution Across the Borders!

Part 2 of 2

The first part of this article, in The Internationalist No. 1 (January-February 1997), discussed the sharp crisis in the Mexican ruling class as well as the appearance of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and other guerrilla groups in various regions. The answer to the drastic impoverishment of the working masses is not peasant-based "armed reformism," we emphasized, but workers revolution. Meanwhile, Wall Street's ravaging of Mexico's economy has been accompanied by a mounting use of the military for internal policing, which is discussed in "Militarization Made in U.S.A.," on page 30 of this issue. In Part 2 of the article we analyze the bonapartist nature of the Mexican regime, emphasizing the key task of breaking its corporatist stranglehold on the working class. In contrast to the political self-liquidation of most of the Mexican left, the central task remains the forging of a Trotskyist party. 

Today the political regime of Mexican capitalism is unravelling under the impact of tremendous domestic and international pressure and its own internal deterioration. Washington is no longer content to let client regimes run its Latin American semi-colonies while raking off huge sums from of state-owned capitalist industries. Under the watchwords of "free trade" and "privatization," U.S. imperialism has been moving to take more direct control of its Western Hemisphere hinterland as it gears up for sharpened economic competition with a German-dominated Europe and a Japan-dominated East Asia. Imperialist rivalries have been behind U.S. economic policies ever since the Wall Street-engineered Mexican bank crisis of 1982. North American capitalists are particularly set on nailing down control of the Mexican financial system following reprivatization of the banks during the sexenio (six year rule) of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, and on carving up PEMEX, Mexico's state oil company, which they have lusted for ever since the nationalization of U.S. and British oil companies in 1938. 

As a condition of Clinton's $20 billion U.S. bailout (of U.S. investors) following the 1994 peso crisis, the revenue from Mexican petroleum exports were to be paid directly to Wall Street--deposited in the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank in New York City as collateral. Now that Zedillo has paid off that extortionate loan with billions sweated out of the labor of the Mexican working people, the oil money no longer goes first to the Fed. (About 70 percent of it still goes to pay off debt to the imperialist banks.) But today a United States Treasury man sits inside the Banco de México offices in Mexico City with access to the government's internal economic information in order to protect the interests of Citibank (the personal bankers for Raúl Salinas, the ex-president's now-jailed brother) and other U.S. fnanciers. The arrangement is not unlike the way National City Bank moved in to take over the Customs House in Haiti in 1915--except that instead of the Marines guarding the vaults, Wall Street and Washington want to have the Mexican Army do their bidding. 

PRI Rule Unravels 

Why is this militarization of Mexico taking place, why this crisis of the regime in Mexico, and why now? Many liberals and pseudo-socialists locate the cause in a "national security state" in the United States. According to this conspiracy theory, the forces of progress could prevail but for the usurpation of democratic institutions by a "military-industrial complex." Yet the anti-Soviet Cold War was supported by the entire U.S. capitalist class, which also upholds its Monroe Doctrine of neo-colonial domination of Latin America no less today than it did in the 19th century. And the Latin American branch-office bourgeoisies fall into line in the greater interests of defending the system of exploitation that fills their coffers by sucking billions in superprofits out of the labor of the millions who toil in the mines, fields and sweatshops. The liberals put the blame on "neo-liberalism," yet the root cause is capitalism. The political forms shift from time to time according to the signals from Washington, from open military dictatorships throughout Latin America in the 1970s to supposed parliamentary democracies today. Yet the latter are under tight military custody, from General Pinochet's constitutional immunity from civilian control in Chile to Fujimori's "self coup" that brought out the tanks to close down the Peruvian parliament in 1990 and replace it with a more compliant legislature. 

Historical experience throughout this century shows that in the imperialist epoch, capitalist rule is incompatible with a stable bourgeois-democratic regime in the countries of belated capitalist development. Because of the weakness of the "national" bourgeoisie in the face of imperialism and the weight of the working class and peasantry, Marxists have noted that capitalist rule in the neo-colonies of Latin America, Asia and Africa typically has a bonapartist character. That is, the political regimes share common characteristics with the French capitalist emperors Napoleon Bonaparte, who ruled from 1804 to 1815, and Louis Napoleon, whose Second Empire lasted from 1852 until its defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. A classically bonapartist regime would be a military-police dictatorship, such as Pinochet's Chile after the 1973 coup, the generals' rule in Brazil from 1964 to 1985, or Argentina under the junta that took power in 1976. But frequently a bonapartist regime may adopt civilian trappings, and at times in neo-colonial capitalist countries under pressure from imperialism, such governments put on more leftist airs and seek the support of the workers. 

In his writings on Mexico, Leon Trotsky, who lived the last years of his exile there until he was murdered by an assassin sent by Stalin in 1940, characterized the bourgeois-nationalist regime of General Lázaro Cárdenas as "bonapartism sui generis" (of a unique kind). Trotsky noted: 

    "In the industrially backward countries foreign capital plays a decisive role. Hence the relative weakness of the national bourgeoisie in relation to the national proletariat. This creates special conditions of state power. The government veers between foreign and domestic capital, between the weak national bourgeoisie and the relatively powerful proletariat. This gives the government a Bonapartist character of a unique type. It raises itself, so to speak, above classes. Actually, it can govern either by making itself the instrument of foreign capitalism and holding the proletariat in the chains of a police dictatorship, or by maneuvering with the proletariat and even going so far as to make concessions to it, thus gaining the possibility of a certain freedom toward the foreign capitalists. The present policy [of the Mexican government] is in the second stage; its greatest conquests are the expropriations of the railroads and the oil industries." 
    --Leon Trotsky, "Nationalized Industry and Workers Management" (May 1939) 
The Mexican government's policy soon veered back to the "first stage," with the election of right-winger General Manuel Avila Camacho as president in 1940. In recent years, the PRI-government has incorporated some parliamentary window-dressing, gradually assuming a semi-bonapartist character. But the presidential regime continues to dominate through an all-powerful state bureaucracy fused with the massive apparatus of the state party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has run Mexico for decades and which in disguised form consumes a huge portion of the government budget. 

From its inception, the PRI regime has always had a bonapartist character. From the early 1920s to 1946, Mexico's presidents were all generals (Carranza, Obregón, Calles, Cárdenas, Avila Camacho) or their flunkeys, and while thereafter civilians sat in the president's chair, from 1946 to 1964 the heads of the government party were also all generals. The progenitor of the PRI, the National Revolutionary Party (PNR), was formed in 1929 by General Plutarco Elías Calles to put an end to the murderous feuding between the regional caudillos. Calles established a system based on the inclusion of all the fractious generals and parcelling out the fruits of power in exchange for their subordination to a supreme arbiter, namely himself. Ruling as president during 1924-28, and then as de facto jefe máximo (top boss) during the next six years (known as the maximato), Calles managed through a combination of repression and concessions to put the lid on workers' strikes and peasant land seizures, crush a conservative Catholic clericalist rebellion, and establish sufficient "social peace" for profitable capitalist exploitation. 

General Lázaro Cárdenas, in office between 1934 and 1940, did away with the purely military character of the government, renaming the PNR the Party of the Mexican Revolution (PRM). Cárdenas actively sought peasant and worker backing, particularly in the confrontation with British and U.S. imperialist interests over his 1938 nationalization of the railways and petroleum industry. However, he also broke strikes and sought to subordinate the workers and peasants by organizing them into a state- controlled Federation of Mexican Labor (CTM) and as "sectors" of the PRM (which also had a military sector). The state party's politics soon shifted to the right, and to this day the PRI has maintained itself in power in large part through its semi-corporatist control of labor and the brutal suppression of independent unions. 

In its successive incarnations (PNR-PRM-PRI), this regime has presented itself as the "party of the Mexican Revolution." This is an enormous historical falsification. In truth it is the party of the firing squad against the revolution, the party of the northern ranchers who assassinated the radical peasant and plebeian leaders Emiliano Zapata and Francisco Villa, and put an end to the revolution before it could become a full-fledged social revolution. Various pseudo-Marxists who have made a profession out of tailing the PRI and its offshoot, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas (son of former president Lázaro), pretend that the revolution never stopped. This echoes the PRI regime's self-justifying historical lie. Adolfo Gilly, the Cardenista ideologue and now Zapatista advisor who at one time called himself a Trotskyist, wrote a book titled La revolución interrumpida (1971), the "interrupted revolution." In this work, written while he was in jail following the government's 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre, Gilly painted Zapata as a premature Che Guevara, and Guevara as a proletarian revolutionary without a proletariat. Of Lázaro Cárdenas, he wrote: 

    "Cardenism emerged...as the political expression of the second ascending phase of the Mexican Revolution and, once in power, it imposed itself and developed as a revolutionary nationalist and anti-imperialist government faced with the particular form of the capitalist state that emerged from the agrarian revolution of 1910-1920." 
This is contrary to everything Leon Trotsky wrote about the Cárdenas regime. While Trotsky underlined that even Cárdenas' bourgeois nationalization of the railroads and oil industry represented a limited blow against imperialism in semi-colonial Mexico, he emphasized that no capitalist government, including that of Cárdenas, could act in a truly revolutionary fashion against imperialism, because they are all in fact dependent on it. Trotsky made a very different point regarding the nature of bonapartism. In his key pamphlet on Germany, he noted: 
    "The Bonapartist regime can attain a comparatively stable and durable character only in the event that it brings a revolutionary epoch to a close; when the relationship of forces has already been tested in battles; when the revolutionary classes are already spent, but the possessing classes have not yet freed themselves from the fear: will not tomorrow bring new convulsions? Without this basic condition, that is, without a preceding exhaustion of the mass energies in battles, the Bonapartist regime is in no position to develop."
Thus the first Napoleon took power following the period of Thermidor in the French Revolution--when the most revolutionary elements of the petty bourgeoisie were ousted--and clamped down firmly to put an end to the agitated revolutionary period. Louis Napoleon was brought in by the Party of Order following the defeat of the Revolution of 1848, to make sure the revolution stayed defeated. 

The PNM/PRM/PRI regime was installed as a result of the fact that the peasant-based Mexican Revolution was aborted--frustrated, thwarted, blocked and defeated in its attempt to achieve radical agrarian and anti-imperialist demands--precisely because the peasantry was incapable of taking power and reorganizing society. There was no proletarian vanguard which could have given the peasant revolutionaries the firm class leadership they desperately needed. What was required was a workers revolution, supported by the peasant war, that would expropriate the entire bourgeoisie, including the new northern capitalist landowning elite who donned the revolutionary mantle even as they murdered the revolutionaries. It was because of the Mexican bourgeoisie's fear that los de abajo (the downtrodden) would rise up again that it has continued to maintain a bonapartist (now semi-bonapartist) regime, keeping all potential opposition firmly in check for almost seven decades. But now they feel the rigid social controls have outlived their purpose. 

Particularly following the destruction of the Soviet Union, the Mexican bourgeoisie and its imperialist overlords have been moving not only to dispense with the empty nationalist trappings of the PRI regime but also to dismantle its formerly heavily state-capitalist economy (some 1,200 state-owned companies were sold off in the space of a few years) and hand it over to private capital. In tandem with this, they are junking the worn-out mechanisms of semi-bonapartist rule which they see as a hindrance to the new policies of unbridled "free market" and "free trade" capitalism, while escalating more "traditional" Latin American-style military repression. As the PRI-government comes apart and its once all-encompassing machinery of rigid social control breaks down, workers, peasants and indigenous peoples have begun to act. The question is not whether an explosion of social unrest is coming--it is whether there will be a leadership to give the necessary internationalist revolutionary direction to the struggle of the Mexican proletariat and its allies, on both sides of the border. 

Forward to Workers Revolution 

It is symptomatic that not only the Zapatistas but the other armed peasant-based formations that have appeared in Mexico in the last several years wrap themselves in the Mexican tricolor flag and the imagery, rhetoric and program of the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1917. (Yet another guerrilla group, a "Revolutionary Army of Popular Insurrection," proclaimed its existence in mid-November, harking back to "the struggle of the Mexicans against the dictatorship of Díaz.") In his analysis of the origins of the French Second Empire, "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte" (1852), Karl Marx noted: 
    "The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when they seem engaged in revolutionising themselves and things, in creating something that has never yet existed, precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honoured disguise and this borrowed language."
In the French bourgeois revolution of 1789 and subsequent years, this awakening of the dead served the purpose of "finding once more the spirit of revolution, not of making its ghost walk about again," Marx wrote. But "from 1848 to 1851 only the ghost of the old revolution walked about." He concluded: 
    "The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot draw its poetry from the past, but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped off all superstition in regard to the past. Earlier revolutions required recollections of past world history in order to drug themselves concerning their own content. In order to arrive at its own content, the revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead."
All the more so for the revolutions of the 20th and 21st centuries! 

Mexico is notable for the fact that it has had no less than three decade-long bourgeois-democratic revolutions--the War of Independence (1810-21) against Spanish colonialism; the war of the Reform (1854-67) against first clerical conservatism and then French imperial military occupation; and the Mexican Revolution (1910-17, with its rearguard struggles extending to 1920). Each of these failed to establish a viable bourgeois democracy, and soon gave way to a new dictatorial regime. Mexico's national heros--Morelos, Guerrero, Zapata, Villa--were all defeated and killed; they are ritually honored today by bourgeois politicians who are the heirs of their assassins. The failure of the bourgeois revolutions, originally reflecting the inadequate development of the productive forces, in this century is centrally due to the heavy weight of imperialist domination and the organic weakness of the local bourgeoisie. This is not some Mexican peculiarity but an expression of a fundamental law of capitalism in its period of decay. 

The Bolshevik revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky elaborated the program and perspective of permanent revolution, generalizing from the development of the three Russian revolutions in the early 20th century (1905, February 1917, October 1917). His central conclusion: in the epoch of imperialism it is no longer possible to achieve the fundamental gains of the great bourgeois-democratic revolutions without the working class taking power, under the leadership of its communist party and backed up by a peasant uprising. The revolutionary proletariat in power would then pass over to socialist tasks, expropriating the bourgeoisie and extending the revoution to the most advanced capitalist countries. Due to the phenomenon of uneven and combined development, the peasant and proletarian working masses are too numerous and the domestic bourgeoisie too weak for the latter to dominate on its own and follow the traditional path of capitalist development: 

    "With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses....  
    "The dictatorship of the proletariat which has risen to power as the leader of the democratic revolution is inevitably and very quickly confronted with tasks, the fulfillment of which is bound up with deep inroads into the rights of bourgeois property. The democratic revolution grows over directly into the socialist revolution and thereby becomes a permanent revolution....  
    "The completion of the socialist revolution within national limits is unthinkable. One of the basic reasons for the crisis in bourgeois society is the fact that the productive forces created by it can no longer be reconciled with the framework of the national state.... The socialist revolution begins on the national arena, it unfolds on the international arena, and is completed on the world arena."  
    --The Permanent Revolution (1930) 
This program of world socialist revolution was that of the 1917 October Revolution and of the Third (Communist) International in its early years. It is the program that was betrayed by Stalin and his successors, with their anti-Marxist dogma of "revolution in stages," ultimately paving the way for counterrevolution. Today the program of permanent revolution is defended by those who fight for an authentically Trotskyist Fourth International. This is the perspective of the future proletarian revolution throughout Latin America and extending to the imperialist centers. As the 1921 call by the Communist International to the workers of the Americas stated: "'The revolution in our country, combined with proletarian revolution in the United States,' that is the slogan of the revolutionary proletariat and poor peasantry of South America." 

Trotsky wrote that "the realization of the revoutionary alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry is conceivable only under the political leadership of the proletarian vanguard, organized in the Communist Party." This was the original watchword of the Comintern as well, corresponding to the Marxist analysis of the incapacity of the peasantry to provide revolutionary leadership. Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of the fact that this intermediate social layer, petty-bourgeois in character, cannot independently reorganize society was seen in the Mexican Revolution when Zapata and Villa entered Mexico City at the end of 1914 at the head of their peasant detachments, the Liberating Army of the South and the Division of the North. A famous photo shows them sitting awkwardly in the presidential palace, unsure what to do now that they had "won." Zapata's Plan de Ayala called for land to the tiller, but did not outline a new social order. The radical Convention of Villista and Zapatista forces debated endlessly but did not pass an agrarian law, nor even a law providing a minimum wage to the workers. After barely two months, the peasant armies withdrew from the capital. 

Although the Mexico City working class initially supported the peasant revolutionaries, soon they were out of work and without food and became disillusioned. The workers were organized, in the Casa del Obrero Mundial (House of the World Worker), but there was no independent proletarian leadership that could forge a worker-peasant alliance. The anarchists withdrew into passive opposition to all sides. General Obregón, meanwhile, wooed the Casa del Obrero on behalf of the mistrusted landowner-general Carranza, demagogically promising labor reforms, passing out money to union bureaucrats, settling strikes in favor of the workers. When Obregón appealed for the formation of Red Battalions of workers to fight Villa, the union bureaucrats finally agreed (despite continued opposition in the ranks). A year later, their job done, Carranza dissolved the battalions and arrested the workers' leaders. The Mexican Revolution was frustrated above all due to the absence of a proletarian vanguard armed with a program for workers revolution--the only way to complete the agrarian revolution and free the country from the imperialist yoke. 

Another important aspect of permanent revolution in Mexico is the question of the liberation of the indigenous population from age-old oppression dating back to colonial times. The Indian question has been highlighted by the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, involving tens of thousands of Maya-speaking Indians. According to the 1990 census, there were 6.4 million Indians in Mexico, roughly 8 percent of the officially tallied population at the time. Speaking some 56 languages, Indians represent up to a third (Oaxaca) or a quarter (Chiapas) of the population in some states. However, despite their relative weight in the population, indigenous peoples have been effectively excluded from political life and political and economic power in Mexico for centuries. Dominated by large landowners and the church up to the time of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, the Indians' communally owned lands (ejidos) were recognized in the Constitution of 1917. However, actual restitution of lands seized from them has taken decades, and Indians have continued to be subjected to grinding poverty, isolation, racist discrimination and systematic abuse by local PRI caudillos (political bosses) and their guardias blancas ("white guard" private armies) together with the heavy-handed apparatus of state repression. 

The EZLN demanded regional and local autonomy for indigenous peoples, and this was agreed to in principle in negotiations with government representatives in February 1996. Among the provisions of the accord was official recognition of local elections held according to traditional custom. However, when a proposed law of Indian autonomy based on those principles was presented to Zedillo in December, the government reneged on its earlier promises, demagogically alleging there was a threat to "national unity," a danger of "Balkanization" of the country, of the formation of "reservations" which would only further isolate the Indian population. Marxists support the right of the native peoples to decide their own fate. For the areas where Indians are concentrated, we join in demanding the right of regional and local autonomy. For this to have any reality, it must include control over natural resources, including land, water and petroleum. This will be strenuously resisted by Mexico's capitalist rulers, as the state of Chiapas--where the Mayan Indians live in pervasive poverty--produces 21 percent of the country's oil output, 47 percent of its natural gas, and 55-60 percent of total electrical production, mainly from hydroelectric stations. 

At the same time, communists support revolutionary struggle for social emancipation within the indigenous peoples as well. The popular-front left has long tended to idealize the village community, ignoring the fact, for instance, that elections by established custom (already being carried out in Oaxaca) have often meant the exclusion of women from the vote. Moreover, regional and local autonomy at the political level will be massively undercut by the operation of the capitalist economy, in which the Indian population already heavily participates. Even largely subsistence farmers are dependent upon outside resources and markets, and most corn, coffee, cacao, sorghum, bananas, honey and animal products are grown for the national market or for export. To the extent that their isolation is overcome, powerful market forces will increasingly break down Indian communities. Effective autonomy for indigenous peoples will only be possible through socialist revolution instituting a planned economy. In fact, the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky wrote into the fundamental laws of Soviet regime the right of national self- determination for all the nations and nationalities of the former tsarist empire. In addition, they provided for regional autonomy for pre-national peoples and ethnic groups, This policy, and the whole concept of a voluntary union of socialist republics--which was sabotaged by Stalin's Great Russian chauvinism--is the only one that holds out the promise of genuine emancipation for indigenous peoples in an egalitarian socialist society. 

The next Mexican Revolution will be not another nationalist peasant uprising, such as failed already in 1910-17, but an internationalist proletarian revolution that must extend across the border to the North (and the South), sparking socialist revolution in the imperialist powerhouse of the United States. Bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalism and all superstition regarding the past must be overcome in order that the working class embrace the program of revolutionary proletarian internationalism. Mexican nationalists repeat the lament of Porfirio Díaz: Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States. Their program of an independent capitalist Mexico is increasingly unreal and unrealizable under the tremendous weight of U.S. capital. In contrast, for proletarian revolutionaries Mexico's location just across a porous border from the citadel of world imperialism is a tremendous strategic advantage. The millions of Mexican workers inside the U.S. can serve as a human bridge to unite the working class and spread revolutionary struggle. Mexico is the weak link of North American imperialism. What is needed is a Trotskyist workers party that knows how to break that chain of imperialist oppression and unite the proletarians of both countries in common struggle. 

Only Revolutionary Leadership Can 
Unchain Mexican Labor from State Control 

The Mexican working class is many millions strong, laboring in all manner of heavy, medium and light manufacturing, in extractive industries of mining and petroleum production, and extending across the line into the United States. Under NAFTA, Mexico's domestic market has become mired in the deepest depression in this century, devastated by Zedillo's brutal austerity policies in order to pay off billions of dollars in debt to Wall Street and Washington. Yet at the same time, concentrated along the northern border with the United States, a huge new industrial belt of maquiladora (free trade) manufacturing for export has grown up. More than 2,300 plants employ some 730,000 workers, overwhelmingly young and predominantly female, producing everything from domestic appliances to auto parts, cars and trucks to electronic chips and computers for the North American market. As we noted in the article, "Mexican Maquiladora Workers Fight for Their Rights," published in our previous issue: "A battle to unionize this new industrial belt is looming, which poses the need for a revolutionary leadership that champions the cause of oppressed women workers." In addition, several million Mexican workers, documented and undocumented, have become an important part of the U.S. workforce. 

It is striking that in the face of the increasing integration of Mexico into the dominant North American capitalist economy, the Mexican petty-bourgeois left directs its attention and energies mainly to the peasantry. It virtually ignores the bulk of the working class, which for decades has been under the iron control of the PRI's "labor" machinery. This focus is not accidental. Politically, the various components of the Mexican left are subordinated, directly or indirectly, to Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas' bourgeois Party of the Democratic Revolution. Mexican steel workers in Michoacán, auto workers in Puebla, electronics assemblers in Tijuana and construction workers in Orange County, California, will not be liberated by dreaming of new Zapatas. They will find the road to liberation in the program of the Trotskyists, which alone corresponds to the international character and revolutionary interests of the working class. 

While the attention of the left and the media has been focused on peasant guerrilla groups, the working class has been far from quiescent. Although hard hit by the more than 2 million layoffs following the December 1994 devaluation, and consequently reluctant to engage in economic strikes, Mexican workers have repeatedly mobilized in large numbers against the vicious austerity program of the government. 

On May Day 1995, for the first time in decades, the PRI's Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) and the PRI-controlled Congress of Labor (CT) umbrella group called off the official celebration of the international workers holiday. The 96-year-old CTM patriarch Fidel Velázquez openly admitted that this was out of fear that the workers' anger over Zedillo's draconian austerity could boil over and lead to a riot in front of the presidential palace. So instead of the usual one million workers parading past to salute the president on the balcony, hundreds of thousands of workers and supporters of the Zapatista rebels jammed into the capital's main square, the Zócalo. It was the first May Day celebration since the 1930s that was not controlled by the government. Then once again on May Day 1996, upwards of 250,000 workers marched to express their opposition to the regime and its economic policies. While politically dominated by nationalism rather than socialism--the band of the nuclear workers union, SUTIN, played the Mexican national anthem instead of the The Internationale, as it had on past May Days--the march represented a significant break in PRI control. For the first time, some of the CT unions disobeyed their federation and joined the protest. 

Over a huge photo of the march, La Jornada (2 May 1996) headlined, "Watershed in the Labor Movement." For almost seven decades, the PRI-government has rested on its rigid state control of the workers. It is crucial to understand that the CTM and CT are not working-class organizations but a corporatist straitjacket for government regimentation of labor in the interests of Mexican capital (and by extension, of its imperialist patrons). The CTM is officially part of the state party, and all members of CTM unions are automatically enrolled as PRI members. Over the decades, the PRI/CTM has had an effective two-pronged program for frustrating independent union organization: cooptation, which produced several semi-PRI federations such as the CROC and the COR, and led in the late 1970s to the formation of the CT as an umbrella group to keep breakaway unions under control; or brutal repression, such as the jailing of hundreds of railroad strikers and their leaders in 1958, many of whom were still in jail when the students revolted in 1968. Now that rigid system is breaking down, and this presents an important opportunity for intervention by proletarian revolutionaries. 

In his 1940 essay, "Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay," Trotsky noted: "In Mexico the trade unions have been transformed by law into semistate institutions and have, in the nature of things, assumed a semitotalitarian character." Mexico's Federal Labor Code, implementing Article 123 of the 1917 Constitution, establishes an elaborate system of state and federal Arbitration and Conciliation Boards which have the authority to recognize and minutely supervise unions, union elections and leaderships. If the government wants to crush a strike, it simply declares it "nonexistent." Union elections are rigged, opposition victories are routinely rejected and oppositionists are beaten bloody by PRI/CTM thugs. When Salinas decided in 1989 to break the power of the Oil Workers union, he sent the army to storm the house of union leader Joaquín Hernández Galicia (La Quina), arresting him on trumped-up charges of arms possession and throwing him in prison where he remains eight years later. When Zedillo decided to try his hand at union-busting, going after the militant Mexico City Ruta-100 bus drivers, he simply dissolved the company, fired all 14,000 workers and arrested eleven leaders of their union, SUTAUR-100. They were kept in jail for a year (negotiations were conducted inside the prison) before a deal was reached. Now the former union has been given a few outlying bus lines to run as a cooperative, in exchange for which several hundred former SUTAUR members joined the PRI! 

The semi-bonapartist regime is now in deep crisis. The elaborate system of state control of labor, one of the key pillars of PRI rule, is on the verge of collapse. In large part, this is a result of anger over the terrible beating workers have taken. For the past 17 years, the CTM has signed annual pacts with the government and bosses to hold wages in check while prices soared. As a result, the purchasing power of the minimum wage (adjusted for inflation), which is received by about half the workers, has fallen by an incredible 76 percent since 1979; it is now almost 50 percent below the level of 1939 (NACLA Report on the Americas, January/February 1997). This is no statistical trick: most Mexican working people are significantly worse off than half a century ago. Look at Luis Buñuel's 1950 film Los Olvidados (The Forgotten Ones): the impoverished Mexico City working-class family portrayed there lives substantially better than a typical family in the slums of Naucalpan or Nezahualcóyotl today (for one thing, they had a metal bed instead of sleeping on the floor). 

Accumulating pressure from below against this massive impoverishment over the last decade and a half is now beginning to produce fractures in the corporatist structure of union control. But they are only the first fissures. The dissident groups which broke with the CT to march on May Day, notably the huge Federation of Workers in the Service of the State (FSTSS), are just as corporatist as those of the CTM, if not more so. Their leaders sit in the administrative and advisory councils of the Social Security Institute, the Education Ministry and various health and social welfare agencies. The "union" bureaucrats are paid by the state, plus they get rakeoffs from running a huge social service and medical system of their own financed by members' dues and government subsidies. The head of the telephone workers union, Francisco Hernández Juárez, is now being heavily financed by the American AFL-CIO, traditionally a funnel for U.S. government dollars (and CIA agents) to control and keep "reds" out of Latin American unions. Elba Esther Gordillo, today the head of the Foro Sindical (Trade-Union Forum), the grouping of dissident CT unions, was the loyal lieutenant installed at the head of the SNTE teachers union by Carlos Jonguitud, the long-time San Luis Potosí PRI boss and archetype of a charro bureaucrat (literally "cowboy," after the government flunkey installed in the railroad workers union to bring it to heel in the late 1940s). 

The neo-charros of the Foro Sindical like Gordillo and Hernández Juárez are just as much agents of state control as those who still follow the dictates of "Don Fidel" Velázquez. The program of the Foro was to "push for agreement to a new social pact." Moreover, sensing an opportunity, the PRD under its new party leader Andrés López Obrador, is trying to supplant the PRI in the bureaucratic machinery of the CTM/CT "unions." As we have said of the PRD since its formation, it seeks to be a second PRI. Cárdenas Jr. merely wants to cloak this system with a pale reflection of the more "progressive" policies of Cárdenas Sr. rather than the openly anti-labor policies of Salinas, Zedillo & Co. 

During the campaign leading up to the 1988 elections, when Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas first broke with the PRI (he had been governor of the state of Michoacán), the relatively few left-led "independent" unions squelched a growing strike movement in order to support this breakaway bourgeois candidacy. Cárdenas left the PRI because he saw that the ruling party's decrepit dinosaurios were losing the capacity to control worker and peasant discontent. A new form had to be brought into being to fulfill the old functions. The Cárdenas movement and the PRD that grew out of it were the pole of attraction for a popular front, headed by long-time capitalist politicians, which has served as the final resting place for a series of left organizations in the process of liquidation and as an instrument to rein in the movement for independent unions. The PRD seeks to gain influence or control in the present corporatist "union" structure in order to rejuvenate the system of state domination. 

It will require the intervention of Marxist revolutionaries to fight for unions that are genuinely free of control by the capitalists and their state. As Trotsky wrote in 1940, "the independence of the trade unions in the class sense, in their relations to the bourgeois state, can, in the present conditions, be assured only by a completely revolutionary leadership, that is, the leadership of the Fourth International." Thus Trotskyists put forward a program of transitional demands to broaden the fight against PRI control of labor into a fight to mobilize the working class against capitalism: 

Neither neo-charros nor a neo-PRI! It is urgent to fight to break the bureaucratic/state stranglehold over labor to form elected workers committees, independent of control by the state or any of the bourgeois parties. 

There must be a fight to break the wage controls and unleash a vast movement of the proletariat against the savage reduction in the masses' buying power, which endangers the very existence of the proletariat. Quadruple the minimum wage and establish a sliding scale of wages to defend the workers against the ravages of inflation. 

Because the government statistics on price increases are notoriously inaccurate and vastly understated, it is necessary to form neighborhood committees in conjunction with the workers movement to monitor and control prices. 

Against sabotage by the bosses, workers control of production! In response to mass unemployment, there must be a fight for a shorter workweek with no loss in pay, for a sliding scale of hours to provide jobs for all. 

Against the employers' attacks, sit-down strikes and plant occupations, with the formation of factory committees and workers self-defense groups to defend against the CTM goons. 

These are the kind of demands needed to wage a serious class struggle at Ford Cuautitlán, for example, where union dissidents have been repeatedly beaten bloody and even murdered, or in the numerous strikes by the dissident teachers union tendency, CNTE, or against the government's union-busting assault on the SUTAUR-100 workers. To implement this perspective, it is necessary above all to build a revolutionary workers party. 

Only a transitional program for workers revolution can arouse the working people to the kind of determined struggles it will take to break the death grip of the PRI-government, stop the reactionary clericalist Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) and defeat the PRD's attempts to shackle the workers and peasants through the popular front. It is with a bold program of class struggle, not the small change of electoral maneuvering, that an independent workers movement could draw in its wake the ruined petty bourgeois, who have swelled the ranks of the El Barzón debtors' movement. A revolutionary-led workers movement could mobilize pent-up peasant discontent by calling for agrarian revolution: not a timid reform administered by the capitalist state with its murderous federal army, judicial police and "white guards," but the peasant and Indian masses seizing the large estates with the support of workers and peasant militias. 

Not through isolated guerrilla actions, not through popular-front alliances and bourgeois electoral politics, but only through mass working-class struggle led by a revolutionary workers party can the demands of Zapata and his peasant revolutionaries be realized, in establishing a workers and peasants government, that is, the dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the poor peasants, in a new October Revolution, crossing the line to el gran Norte

Build a Trotskyist Party in Mexico! 

Forging the Leninist vanguard party needed to lead this fight--a party of professional revolutionaries, governed by democratic centralism and built on the Trotskyist program of permanent revolution--is the central task facing revolutionaries today in Mexico, a country where conditions cry out for workers revolution. This struggle must be waged against the legacy of Stalinism, not only that of the Mexican Communist Party (PCM) and its successors (PSUM, PMS), which for decades helped cover the left flank of the PRI, but also against the Maoist and Castroist currents historically associated with guerrillaism. Today, all these Stalinist remnants are to be found in or around the bourgeois PRD of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. The PRD can hardly be called a rotten bloc, as they all agree on the program of a "democratic revolution," which, of course, will be neither democratic nor revolutionary, for that is impossible under present-day capitalism. Carrying the class-collaborationist logic of Stalinist popular-frontism to its logical conclusion, putting the seal on its nationalist reformism, after having long ago dropped any lip service to communism, most of what's left of the Mexican left is deeply buried in this capitalist party that seeks to be the new PRI. 

The fight for a Bolshevik-Leninist party must also be waged against those who have besmirched the name of Trotskyism in Mexico, in particular those who used the name of the great Bolshevik revolutionary to peddle a line of reformist parliamentary cretinism. This is the "contribution" of the followers of the late Ernest Mandel's United Secretariat (USec), for many years organized in the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores (PRT--Revolutionary Workers Party). Living off the government subsidies provided to its few deputies, when these were cut off after its poor showing in the 1992 elections, the PRT disappeared from the scene. It has since divided "definitively" (for now) into those following Edgard Sánchez, who was elected as a deputy to the federal congress in 1994 on the ticket of Cárdenas' PRD, and the former majority, which tried to position itself ever so slightly to the left by endorsing the PRD and Cárdenas from the outside. The ex-majority changed its name last fall to "Democracia Radical," and then, a few months later, announced it was dissolving in order to join the Zapatista National Liberation Front (FZLN) formed by Subcomandante Marcos' EZLN. 

From its start two decades ago, the PRT was wedded to the program of Pabloism, the endless search for non-proletarian forces to chase after rather than waging the hard fight to forge a Trotskyist party to lead the working class in a revolutionary fight for power. After tailing the Moscow Stalinists in the early 1950s, Mandel & Co. embraced Castroite guerrillaism in the '60s, and searching for a "new mass vanguard" in Europe they landed in the '70s in the camp of pro-imperialist social democracy, such as Mitterrand in France and Felipe González in Spain. In Mexico, the PRT has been an electoral party from the moment PRI strategist Jesús Reyes Heroles designed the "political opening" of the regime in 1978, allowing a kept "opposition" to have a few deputies and a lot of government money. It was by acting as a pressure group on the PRI regime that the PRT managed to get a certain amount of peasant support in the 1980s. Much of this evaporated in the '90s when its top peasant leader, Margarito Montes, was absorbed by Salinas' Solidaridad program and signed the government's agrarian manifesto for the liquidation of the ejidos! Now, well-trained by Mandel in Pabloism, all wings of the PRT have carried this liquidationist program to its logical consequences. 

Currently the ex-Mandelites' central point of reference is the EZLN and its political front, the Zapatista National Liberation Front (FZLN). In February 1996, the United Secretariat's magazine International Viewpoint published a rather strange article by Sergio Rodríguez Lascano, leader of Democracia Radical, which is described as "the Mexican section of the Fourth International," i.e., of the USec. The article hails the EZLN's January 1996 Fourth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, which calls to build the FZLN as a "political force as a new type" that doesn't participate in elections. Discarding any pretense of Trotskyism or Marxism, Rodríguez presents a magical mystery tour of the world from the standpoint of classless "democracy." Instead of a transitional program to act as a bridge to international socialist revolution, he calls for a "multicolored rainbow" to serve as a bridge to Mexico's future. Where it touches earth, this "rainbow" is nothing but the tricolor banner of Mexican bourgeois nationalism. 

Two months later, International Viewpoint (April 1996) published a letter from Democracia Radical explaining why they had dissolved their organization and disaffiliated from the USec in order to join the FZLN. It notes that "our peasant work was always weighed down with aid paternalism which ended up developing into corruption and an adaptation to the modernising ideology of the Mexican state." How delicately put, considering that the government literally bought the head of the PRT's peasant work. According to the DR letter, most of the PRT's peasant leaders and much of the party's leadership itself opposed fighting against the Salinas government's amendment of Article 27 of the Constitution, which abolished the prohibition on buying ejido property, preparing the way for a giant sell-off of peasant lands. The PRT, they say, was "the victim of a process of institutionalisation on the part of the state and of a growing pragmatism," traits that were true of the Mandelite party since its inception. 

The same issue contains a second article on the FZLN, this one by Edgard Sánchez, who heads a rump PRT, which by default is now acting as the USec's group in Mexico. The Cardenista parliamentary deputy Sánchez mildly objects to the FZLN's opposition to electoral participation, and expresses disappointment that Marcos didn't call for the formation of a new alternative party that the PRT could join. Sánchez also politely dissents from the "shocking" statement in the Fourth Declaration that the Zapatistas don't struggle for power. Defending the good name of the EZLN, he says "it would be a mistake to equate Zapatismo with a pressure group to achieve some changes" or "sectional or corporate demands." That is, in fact, exactly how the EZLN has acted. 

Sánchez writes, "We need...a revolution that will make possible the Revolution." The first stage of this explicitly stagist conception is "the struggle for democracy and the end of the party-state system." That is a ticket for joining forces not only with the PRD but also with the right-wing PAN. When these reformists talk of putting an end to the regime of the state party, the PRI, it is in order to justify a program of "two-stage" revolution and an alliance with bourgeois parties in the "democratic" stage. For Trotskyists, in contrast, the fight against capitalist bonapartism must have as its goal a workers revolution, not the myth of a democratic capitalism. 

In an account of its "refoundation congress" last summer (La Bola, 1 October 1996), the PRT claims 5,655 members, although it doesn't even have a regular newspaper or journal. Its activity consists essentially of peasant-based electoralism (they control two largely Indian rural municipalities in the state of Guerrero) combined with lobbying of government agencies by the UGOCP (Worker-Peasant-People's General Union) National Coordinating Committee, in which the PRT is dominant. 

Now, according to an account in the February 1997 Socialist Action, a new Mandelite group has been formed in Mexico, the Liga de Unidad Socialista (LUS), which criticized the PRT's dependence on government funding and look to labor. The various elements in this heterogeneous lash-up claimed to oppose the policy of voting for Cárdenas, which is what both halves of the PRT did repeatedly. Yet the reporter on this subject at the LUS' founding convention, long-time PRT leader Manuel Aguilar Mora, neglected to mention this in his report. Although upon being challenged he said this policy was a mistake, he added that in "exceptional circumstances" it was all right to support "community candidates" endorsed by the bourgeois parties. However, genuine Trotskyists oppose not only any vote for a bourgeois party but also for any left or workers party that joins class-collaborationist alliances, for by doing so they negate and suppress the fundamental principle of working-class political independence. 

The other substantial current of Mexican pseudo-Trotskyism in the past, the followers of the late Argentine Nahuel Moreno, has also undergone repeated splits in recent years. Moreno was notorious for his rapid shifts of political line over the years--he was a quick-change artist whom we satirized as "the Cantínflas of pseudo-Trotskyism." The main Morenoite grouping in Mexico, the Partido Obrero Socialista (POS--Socialist Workers Party), is now putting on laborite airs, so that it is currently tailing after the dissident PRI union bureaucrats in the Foro Sindical and particularly the May 1st Trade Union Coordinating Committee (Intersindical), which includes the university unions and other traditionally more leftist unions allied with Cárdenas' PRD. Urging these neo-charros and Cardenistas to form an "independent union federation that puts an end to corporatism and defeats the economic plans of the regime" (El Socialista, February 1997), the POS participated in meetings in January of both the Foro and the Intersindical. While the Morenoites tried to put a left face on the bureaucrats, it had to admit that there were quite a few in the Intersindical who wanted a "broad front" with bourgeois parties. The Foro Sindical, meanwhile, actually voted last November for the Zedillo governmentís wage-gouging "pact for growth" together with the CTM/CT. 

The various Mandelite and Morenoite currents are united in their Pabloist outlook, always on the lookout for some "new mass vanguard" that would "roughly outline a revolutionary orientation," preferring such a "blunted instrument" over the painstaking struggle to forge an independent Trotskyist vanguard of the proletariat. Their differences are mainly over which non-proletarian force to bestow their opportunist affections on; when they talk of labor, it is only to capitulate to the petty-bourgeois labor bureaucracy. Over the last eight years, the Grupo Espartaquista de México, section of the International Communist League, counterposed to this tailism the building of a Trotskyist fighting propaganda group, which would seek to build a revolutionary vanguard party. Yet over the last year the GEM has undergone two purges of leading cadres, which has been accompanied by a noticeable shift in the orientation of the dwindling Mexican section of the ICL. 

The expulsions were carried out in conjunction with the ICL's flight from a key class battle in Brazil, a fight which it had encouraged to oust police from the Municipal Workers Union of the steel city of Volta Redonda (see our July 1996 bulletin, From a Drift Toward Abstentionism to Desertion from the Class Struggle). The abstentionist policies codified in that fight are now being translated onto other terrains. An article on Mexico in Workers Vanguard No. 647 (7 June 1996) said not a word about the semi-bonapartist nature of the PRI regime, nor about the current sharp political crisis, and raised no transitional demands for working-class struggle. The same is true of an article in WV No. 658 (27 December 1996) on increasing U.S. military intervention in Mexico, and of an article in WV No. 664 (21 March) on Washington's "drug war." The ICL's recent propaganda is primarily U.S.-centered, and provides no focus for intervention in the class struggle in Mexico. But a genuinely Bolshevik party cannot simply be proclaimed; the Trotskyist Fourth International can only be reforged in a fight for leadership of the working class, providing revolutionary direction to its struggles. 

Noting that the minimum wage had lost half of its purchasing power since 1982, economist José Luis Calva wrote last fall, "Mexico will reach the 21st century with Porfirian patterns of income distribution," alluding to the liberal dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz that was brought down by the Mexican Revolution (Proceso, 25 November 1996). The parallels between the Díaz regime a century ago and the recent PRI regimes are striking. Both invited massive foreign investment, both sought to free up the sale of Indian land to large capitalist landowners, both combined superficial "modernization" for the capitalist elite with abject poverty for los de abajo. Díaz built a national railroad system, while Salinas in his sexenio built thousands of kilometers of superhighways while making a couple dozen of his cronies into billionaires. And where Díaz' rule of supposedly enlightened despotism was organized by the científicos, a core of technocratic advisers, that role is played today by the arrogant Harvard boys who are shamelessly looting the Mexican economy. This development was inherent in the post-revolution capitalist regime from the start. Already in the 1920s, General Alvaro Obregón remarked: "We'll be the científicos of tomorrow." 

As the PRI-government totters, it is crucial that a revolutionary party be formed that fights against the popular front that would once again subordinate the Mexican working masses to the "democratic" (and not so democratic) bourgeoisie. Cárdenas may ultimately be no more able to keep the lid on social struggle than Madero was, but as the aborted Mexican Revolution of 1910-17 dramatically showed, a revolutionary leadership of the proletariat is the key requirement for victory. The Mexican workers revolution will not be carried out under the 1910 watchword of "effective suffrage, no re-election" but of "all power to the soviets." Not another nationalist bourgeois revolution, doomed to failure, but an internationalist proletarian revolution that can take the struggle to the U.S. workers in the imperialist heartland: laying the groundwork for this is the task facing revolutionaries today, on both sides of the border. 

For workers revolution across the borders!  
Reforge the Fourth International!