The Internationalist  
  May 1997  

The ICL's New Line in Mexico

To Fight the Popular Front
You Have to Recognize That It Exists

Open Letter to the Grupo Espartaquista de México and the Juventud Espartaquista

The following is a translation of a leaflet issued by the Internationalist Group in Mexico on 5 May 1997.

Dear Comrades:

The Grupo Espartaquista de México (GEM) was founded in struggle against the Cardenista popular front. In this struggle, we applied to Mexico the program of the Spartacist tendency (now the Internationalist Communist League) of intransigent proletarian opposition to all popular fronts, which subordinate the exploited and oppressed to the politicians and institutions of the bourgeoisie.

But now, as part of the right turn of the ICL leadership, the GEM denies the existence in Mexico of a popular front, a class-collaborationist coalition. This revision of fundamental conceptions on Mexico can only disorient those who seek to fight against the subordination of the exploited and oppressed to the bourgeois "opposition." Without such a struggle, it is impossible to forge the Trotskyist party which is needed to lead the socialist revolution.

The Internationalist Group, formed by leading cadres of the ICL expelled last year, has noted that the recent events in the ICL have their own logic. The bureaucratic expulsions paved the way for a betrayal in Brazil. The ICL had correctly encouraged the struggle of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil/Luta Metalúrgica to throw police out of the Volta Redonda municipal workers union. But when the struggle heated up, the "new I.S." (International Secretariat) of the ICL decided it posed "unacceptable risks to the vanguard" and called on the LQB to abandon the struggle, dissociate itself publicly from the union leadership and even get out of town. When the Brazilian comrades did not agree to act in this irresponsible and treacherous way, the ICL handed them a sealed envelope with a letter breaking fraternal relations with the LQB--one day before the 19 June 1996 union meeting where the disaffiliation of the cops was scheduled to be voted. The I.S. attempted to cover its flight from this important class battle by heaping one slander after another on top of the Brazilian comrades.

In our publications we have shown that the ICL's turn has been accompanied, as is the historical norm in these cases, by the revision of basic conceptions held by the organization for many years. The effective defense of an immigrant hostel in Berlin, carried out in 1993, was renounced. A new line was "discovered" on the capitalist reunification of Germany: During the intervention in the German events of 1989-90, the most important intervention in its history, the ICL stressed that the Western bourgeoisie used the Social Democracy as its "spearhead" and "Trojan horse" for counterrevolution, while the Stalinists capitulated and sold out the bureaucratically deformed workers state. But now the new line says that the Stalinists not only played a counterrevolutionary role (which is correct) but that they literally led the counterrevolution (which is false and disorienting). (For more details, see issue No. 2 of The Internationalist.)

Now the conceptions which the ICL put forward on Mexico since before the foundation of the GEM are being revised, conceptions that were expressed not only in the first seven issues of Espartaco [newspaper of the GEM], but in the ICL's other publications as well. We had already noted that starting with issue No. 8, Espartaco stopped referring to the semi-bonapartist nature of the PRI [Institutional Revolutionary Party]/government regime, which for decades has rested largely on the corporatist structures of the CTM [the state-controlled Federation of Mexican Labor], and which is now in crisis. The same is the case with Workers Vanguard, newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.: the articles on Mexico published in issues No. 647 (7 June 1996), No. 658 (27 December 1996) and No. 664 (21 March 1997) do not refer to the semi-bonapartist nature of the PRI regime, nor to the serious political crisis it confronts today, nor do they put forward transitional demands for proletarian struggle.

Espartaco No. 9 (Spring-Summer 1997) recently came out, and it struck us that while it correctly denounces the bourgeois character of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, it makes no reference to the popular front. Nevertheless, we did not want to jump to conclusions. Nor did we want to launch a phony polemic such as the one put forward by the ICL when it absurdly and dishonestly accuses us of "disappearing" the theory of permanent revolution, when anyone who reads our publications can see that the permanent revolution is an essential part of our program. So we decided to check it out.

At a student protest we asked the editor of Espartaco, and he told us that, sure enough, they had changed the line and they now hold that there is no popular front in Mexico. Then, during the May Day march we asked several GEM comrades, who confirmed that this is the new line and that the formulations in the new issue were "carefully" written. However, Espartaco has changed its line without explaining this change to its readers, who since the publication was founded had read that there is a popular front in this country. Meanwhile, we were told the fairy tale that "before," Espartaco used to talk about the existence of a popular front in Mexico due to the nefarious influence of its previous editor, who was one of the comrades purged last year.

Origin and Function of the Cardenista Popular Front

In response to a wave of workers' strikes, student protests and unrest in the countryside, a new popular front arose in Mexico in 1987-88 under the leadership of long-time PRI politicians Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and Porfirio Muñoz Ledo. Passing through a series of forms and incarnations, this popular front has always had the same function: to tie the exploited to the exploiters and channel their discontent toward a "recycled" bourgeois alternative, given the crisis of the semi-bonapartist PRI/government regime.

We always emphasized that the struggle against this popular front is key to the construction of a Trotskyist party in Mexico. After the Mexico station of the international Spartacist tendency was founded in 1988, one of its founders made a public declaration at a meeting called by the Mandelite PRT (and attended by Ernest Mandel and Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas) at the Leon Trotsky Museum. The Spartacist representative emphasized:

    "Today in Mexico a new popular front has been formed. Trotsky defined the popular front as a class-collaborationist alliance subordinating the proletariat to a sector of the exploiters. . . . Against the popular front, and against the apologists for the popular front, Trotsky founded the Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution. It is necessary to reforge that Bolshevik-Leninist Fourth International of Trotsky."

This declaration is reproduced in the Spanish-language edition of Spartacist No. 21 (October 1988), together with an article explaining the crisis of "the semi-bonapartist regime in Mexico, now in full decay" and the role of the "corporatist, gangster-buttressed CTM union bureaucracy which to this day enforces PRI control of the labor and peasant movements." Under the subtitle, "Cárdenas and the New Popular Front," another article in the same issue explained the origins of this popular front and how it was joined by countless leaders of "independent" unions, fake leftists, former guerrillaists, etc. [These two articles were adapted from the English versions published in Workers Vanguard Nos. 456 and 457 (1 and 15 July 1988).]

But the popular front and its malignant role in the subordination of the workers and peasants, as well as of discontented youth, did not cease to exist after the elections held on 6 July 1988. The first leaflet published by the Grupo Espartaquista de México, on the national strike carried out in 1989 by half a million dissident teachers, stressed: "The key is a Trotskyist workers party, forged on the basis of the program of the permanent revolution, which fights not only against the PRI government but also against the 'back-up option' of the Mexican (and international) bourgeoisie: the Cardenista popular front."

A leaflet against the Mexican Mandelites, "The PRT in the Cárdenas Popular Front" (30 October 1989) explained that Cárdenas' new bourgeois party, the PRD was leading a popular front and that the latter was not only of an electoral nature:

    "The PRT leadership maintains that it is not convenient to make an 'electoral' front with the bourgeois PRD, but that it is fine to swear loyalty to the bourgeois state as part of a 'patriotic front' with the PRD. Surprising as it may be to parliamentary cretins, history has known many 'non-electoral' popular fronts, from China in 1927, Spain through three years of civil war and the support of the Stalinist CPs to 'democratic' imperialism in the Second World War, to the 'clandestine' popular fronts formed in Bolivia, Chile and other countries."

In June 1990, the fusion bulletin of the GEM and the Trotskyist Faction expelled by the Morenoites (Del morenismo al trotskismo: La Cuestión Rusa a quemarropa) referred to the "popular front of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas," and the fight against this class-collaborationist alliance was a central point in "What is Espartaco and What Does it Want," the article which introduced the GEM's publication, which resulted from this fusion. Another article from Espartaco No. 1 (Winter 1990-91) gave a detailed explanation of our principled policy against this popular front. The same conceptions were expressed in each of the subsequent issues of Espartaco; in the joint declaration against the North American Free Trade Agreement by the Canadian U.S. and Mexican sections of the ICL; in the founding declaration of the Juventud Espartaquista (Spartacist Youth; see Espartaco No. 7, Winter 1995-96) and all the other key documents.

But is it true that the profusion of references to the popular front in the Mexican Spartacist press was due to some kind of diabolical conspiracy? This theory is absurd on the face of it, as absurd as the many other accusations of the same kind that have been made. But if anyone takes it seriously, all they have to do is consult the other publications of the ICL, from Workers Vanguard and Women and Revolution (see No. 38, Winter 1990-91) to Spartacist, organ of the ICL. In fact, the document of the ICL's Second International Conference contains a section on Mexico which begins:

    "Mexico City Station was established by implantation in 1988, at a time of considerable labor and political turmoil. It was the first Spartacist group functioning in Latin America. In the face of nationalist left support for the bourgeois presidential candidacy of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, including indirectly from the Mandelites and Morenoites, our tiny group has been unique in its unflinching proletarian opposition to this popular-frontism and its exposure of the leftís capitulation to it. While support for the Cardenista popular front crested in the '88 elections and has since considerably ebbed, it has played a key role in derailing class struggle."
    --"For the Communism of Lenin and Trotsky!" Spartacist No. 47-48 (Winter 1992-93)

How could it derail the class struggle if it did not exist? The point is that it did exist and it continues to exist. (As for the Mandelite party, it liquidated so as to better submerge itself in the popular front, while each of the spectrum of Morenoite groups capitulates to the popular front in its own way.)

Implications of the New Line

This is not an academic discussion. If you do not understand the functions and the crisis of the semi- bonapartist structure in Mexico, it is impossible to programmatically orient the Mexican proletariat to break the corporatist stranglehold and build the revolutionary, internationalist workers party which is indispensable for the socialist revolution. If you do not understand the question of the popular front, that means being disoriented in the struggle for the political independence of the working class. When Salvador Allende formed the Unidad Popular in 1970 in Chile, the Morenoites denied that the UP was a popular front, because they wanted to capitulate to this class-collaborationist front. In Mexico, the "ex-Morenoite" Liga de Trabajadores por el Socialismo denies the existence of an "organic" popular front. This line served them when it came to sowing illusions in the National Democratic Convention (CND) and other popular-frontist groupings.

But even if one does not seek to capitulate to the popular front, it is difficult to fight it if you deny its existence!

The question of the CND is a good example. To deny the existence of the popular front would have blunted the revolutionary edge of the Trotskyist position on this assembly, which was called two years ago by the EZLN. While defending the Zapatistas against repression by the bourgeois state, the GEM correctly wrote, in a front-page article highlighting the slogans "Break with the Popular Front! Forge a Revolutionary Workers Party!":

    "Thus this petty-bourgeois nationalist movement used its moral and political authority to strengthen the bourgeois popular front led by the PRD, calling on Cárdenas to head up a 'movement of national liberation,' a (bourgeois) transition government, etc. This was the programmatic basis for the calls on 'civil society' with the 'National Democratic Convention' and the 'consultation' carried out this summer, after which Marcos called for a 'National Dialogue among all patriotic forces'."
    --Espartaco No. 7 (Winter 1995-96)

The EZLN then united with a range of forces to form the Frente Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, which in reality serves as another instrument to "unofficially" subordinate rebellious sectors to the bourgeois party of Cárdenas, the PRD.

And what about today? According to the new line of the GEM, how can one understand the subordination to the PRD of a whole range of trade-union, peasant, student, slum dwellers', women's and other organizations which do not form an organic part of that party? Do you believe that a popular front cannot exist unless it has an "official" name and an "organic" structure? The writings of Trotsky, as well as more than years of Spartacist publications, amply show that this is not the case.

A few days ago, on May Day, we saw the popular front in action. In the Zócalo (Mexico City's central plaza) there were two rallies. In front of the cathedral were the "dissident" charros [pro-government "union" bureaucrats] from the Congress of Labor (CT) grouped in the Labor Forum. In front of City Hall was the platform of the Intersindical (Union Coordinating Committee) that is, the popular-frontist opposition to the PRI "unionism" of the CTM and CT. There were speeches by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, the PRD's candidate for Mexico City mayor, and by Benito Mirón Lince, lawyer for the SUTAUR bus drivers' union and now a PRD "non-member candidate" for federal deputy and member of the FAC-MLN (Broad Front for the Construction of a National Liberation Movement), an extra-parliamentary component of the Cardenista popular front. Of the several union speakers, the spokesman for the La Jornada newspaper workers union ìstated that the economic changes demanded by the working class must first be political changes--in other words, a scarcely veiled call to vote for the bourgeois opposition in the upcoming elections.

It is very likely that Cárdenas may win the election, with explicit or tacit support from innumerable organizations that are not an organic part of the bourgeois PRD. In La Jornada (2 May) we read the following:

    "Yesterday the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) released the final list of its nationwide candidates for the parliamentary elections, made up of leaders of university unions, the SNTE [teachers union] and FAT [Authentic Labor Front]; also of peasant organizations such as the CIOAC, UNTA and CODUC, ex-members of the CNC [pro- government peasant federation], the UCD; leaders and activists from the El Barzón [debtors movement] and slum dwellers' organizations.... In the first places on the list, more than 50 per cent of the candidates were not members [of the PRD]."

Yes, there is a popular front in Mexico! Due to the crisis of the semi-bonapartist PRI regime, the bourgeoisie needs the popular front as a bourgeois "alternative." To deny its existence is hazardous to the Trotskyist program.

The fight for genuine class independence, which is possible only under revolutionary leadership, is an urgent and basic task. It is necessary to fight to break the control over the proletariat exercised not only by the PRI but by the bourgeoisie as a whole. Above and beyond the disputes dividing the various union tops, there is a common effort to subordinate the working class to "the historic alliance between the workers of Mexico and the Mexican state," as president Zedillo put it in his speech to the CTM/CT officials who shut themselves inside the National Auditorium. The [CT dissidents'] Labor Forum wants to take the place of the worn-out apparatus of Fidel Velázquez [head of the CTM] as the main instrument for regimenting the workers. For their part, the popular frontists seek to reformulate this "alliance," in reality a straitjacket for the exploited, through the victory of that neo-PRI, the PRD.

But if you deny the existence of the popular front, you cannot fight for the unions to break from it. If the proletariat does not break from the Cardenista popular front, it cannot fight for power, for a workers and peasants government and the extension of socialist revolution to the south and above all to the imperialist metropolis, the U.S. In denying even the existence of the popular front, the leadership of the GEM and the ICL shows they are not interested in fighting for revolutionary leadership of the working class.

The recent publications and behavior of the ICL give the impression of an organization which has lost its political moorings. This is not surprising. First the conceptions on what occurred in Germany were revised. Then came the purge in Mexico, the bureaucratic expulsions and the betrayal in Brazil. Now basic conceptions on Mexico are thrown overboard. What next?


The Internationalist Group
5 May 1997