August 1999  
Mobilize the Working Class to Win 
Key Fight Against Capitalist Offensive

The Battle for UNAM
Student Strike Under Siege

                 Student strikers outside School of Medicine.

Break with the Cárdenas Popular Front --
Forge a Revolutionary Workers Party!

Part 2 of 2

For Part 1 of this article go to The Battle for UNAM, Part I.

III.   For a Class-Struggle Program!
To a large extent, the current UNAM strike is following the same outline as earlier student struggles in 1968 and 1987. Today they have raised a six-point list of demands, as was the case in ’68; students are demanding public dialogue, again as in ’68. The strike also reflects that from 1986 on, the university bureaucracy has repeatedly attempted, without success, to impose fees in order to block access to the National University of an ever greater number of applicants. Thus the organization and demands of this strike have a certain "traditional" character, and reflect a general democratic (bourgeois) program. This corresponds to the petty-bourgeois character of students overall, and the "democratizing" policies of the left in the face of the decay of the semi-bonapartist PRI regime. The fact that the democratic demands of the strike don’t go beyond capitalist limits means that they cannot solve the underlying problems.

It is absurd to propose that a "university that serves the people" should be achieved through a democratic university congress, even if you add "constituent" or "decisive" to its name, and much less when this is done in negotiations with Barnés and his PRI patrons. An education in the service of the population in general will only be possible when social classes have been abolished, that is to say, under socialism; even then, it would not be for a national "people" but in a society with global economic planning. "Education first for the sons and daughters of the workers, education later for the sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie" (a popular strike chant) poses a redistribution of services which will never place so long as capitalist exploitation persists. Even in the 1930s when President Lázaro Cárdenas wrote "socialist education" into the Mexican constitution, education went first to the offspring of the bourgeoisie…and the basic proposition of this "socialist" education was to train the working class for capitalist exploitation. 

There is a long history of illusions about education associated with cardenismo, which are reflected in current calls for a "popular and democratic" university. As we fight against populist-reformist utopian conceptions, revolutionary communists put forward a series of demands which point to the fundamental need to carry out a socialist revolution.

The present university strike originated in opposition to a "fee" increase. The Strike General Council has also demanded cancellation of the 1997 "reforms" and reestablishment of the "automatic pass" for students graduating from the CCHs and preparatory schools linked to the UNAM. We support these demands at the same time as we point to their limited character. The Grupo Internacionalista calls for abolishing student fees (tuition) in their entirety, and for the establishment of free and open admission for all, not only from the schools of the UNAM system. Even so, for students with limited family resources and for the large number who must work while studying, a quality university education will not really be within their reach for economic reasons due to capitalist exploitation. Thus we demand a living stipend for all students which will permit them to dedicate themselves to their studies.

The list of demands of the Strike General Council proposes "dismantling the repressive apparatus implemented by Rector Barnés de Castro." We demand the expulsion from all the schools of any kind of cops, guards and porros, and we urge STUNAM to throw out of its ranks the professional thugs of Auxilio UNAM. The strike’s demands also include the call for a university congress to "democratize" the National University. The administration rejects this demand out of hand, as an attack on its "legality." But the various formulations of this demand all include the university bureaucracy, and some even call upon the rector to organize such a congress. The Grupo Internacionalista calls for abolition of the Rectorate (university administration) and for the establishment of student-worler-teacher control of the university

Some pseudo-Trotskyists like the ex-Morenoites of the Liga de Trabajadores por el Socialismo (Socialist Workers League) and the youth group it leads, ContraCorriente (Against the Current), raise a slogan that might seem similar, calling for a "democratic, tripartite government" based on "delegates of the workers, teachers and with a student majority." The LTS has clearly formulated this as an extension of the CGH’s list of demands, fighting for (bourgeois) democracy. Moreover, in calling for a student majority it expresses a petty-bourgeois disdain for the workers who make the university facilities function. Even more notable in this respect, Pablo Gómez, a former Communist Party student leader in 1968 and today the coordinator of the PRD parliamentary fraction in Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies, has introduced a bill which envisions a UNAM governing body with ample representation of professors, students, researchers and the university administrative hierarchy, but with only one representative of the workers. The CGH has expressed its support for this disgustingly antiworker proposal.

It is necessary to provide an international framework for the struggle, but the CGH has not made an effort to seek support of students and workers of other countries. All its manifestos are addressed to "the people of Mexico." This nationalist and popular-frontist orientation limits the influence of the strike, to the point that there has been almost no coverage outside of Mexico. Our comrades of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil were able to get a motion passed by the congress of the União Nacional de Estudantes (Brazilian National Students Congress) calling for actions in solidarity with the strike at UNAM, the largest university in Latin America. The pseudo-Trotskyist LTS claims that the UNAM strike represents the "Vanguard of a New Student Movement in Latin America" (Estrategia Internacional, July-August 1999). Contrary to this vision of a petty-bourgeois "new vanguard," what’s clear is the potential of uniting students with powerful workers mobilizations. In May there were impressive student and worker protests in Argentina which forced the Menem government to back down on its budget cuts against the universities. But in order to achieve a united struggle of students and workers against capital, what is needed is a proletarian, revolutionary and internationalist leadership and program.

IV.    Extend the Strike, Mobilize the Working Class!
Aside from the strike’s demands, it is necessary to extend it beyond the university campuses. Already there are student propaganda brigades going out to the poor and working-class neighborhoods; union donations of food and money to the strikers; joint participation of student strikers, militant teachers and electircal workers in demonstrations; a limited solidarity walkout by workers at the Metropolitan University, and many calls for the unity of workers and students. But all of this is far from sufficient. Mario Benítez of En Lucha claims that what has prevented the strike from being broken by police force was "the invisible barricades of the people." On the contrary, it was the very visible defense brigades of the SME electrical workers and STUNAM university workers which blocked an attack on the occupied facilities. In order to counter anti-strike repression, the working class has strategic positions in mass transit and public services, as well as the capacity to mobilize on a mass scale, which would make it possible to shut down the capital. Once again, what is lacking is the leadership.

The struggle to extend the strike to important sections of the working class cannot be an isolated event. It must be a part of the fight for the class independence of the proletariat. We Trotskyists fight to form workers committees to break the corporatist stranglehold of the CTM and other pseudo-union federations (CROC, CROM, CT) which have acted as a straitjacket to control Mexican workers for six decades. For their part, the various "democratic" unions and opposition groups within them criticize the corporatism of the old-line charros ("cowboys," referring to the bosses of the government-controlled "unions") of the CTM and denounce the PRI. But at the same time they promote class collaboration with the bourgeois-nationalist PRD. Rather than "democratic" oppositions which accept the capitalist framework, communists seek to build a class-struggle and revolutionary opposition in the unions. It is necessary to sweep out the bureaucrats and fight for a revolutionary workers party to carry forward the class struggle to the final burial of this system of exploitation and poverty, through international socialist revolution.

One of the most important cases of the subordination of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie is that of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union. Following Zedillo’s announcement of the privatization of the electrical sector, the SME carried out a number of mobilizations against the government policies. The first student marches in February and March had heavy participation of electrical workers. Student and worker contingents marched behind banners proclaiming "UNAM-SME, united we will win."  Nevertheless, following the formation of the "Front of Resistance Against Privatization of the Electrical Sector" at the end of February and the annual March 18 demonstration celebrating the 1938 nationalization of oil by Lázaro Cárdenas, the SME leadership began systematically demobilizing its ranks. It obviously fears being outflanked by the membership and a joint struggle with the students. In fact, the main component of its "front," aside from the SME itself, is the bourgeois PRD. In addition to Cárdenas’ party, it even includes the Renewal Tendency of the ruling PRI. In this way the electrical workers’ discontent has been diverted into the sterile channels of bourgeois parliamentarism by cardenismo.

La Jornada

Turn calls for student-worker unity into joint strike action. Banner
in 5 March 1999 student demonstration proclaims, "UNAM-SME
Will Win!"

The SME bureaucracy spreads illusions among its membership that a Cárdenas government would not strike as hard against the proletariat because, in some sense, it would be a government of friends of the proletariat. Yet Cárdenas has gone out of his way to assure imperialist investors who want to swallow the electrical industry that his is their friend, as he emphasized on his visit to Wall Street in 1997. Zedillo’s plans for privatizing electricity will not be defeated by appealing to Cárdenas, or to PRI candidates Bartlett or Madrazo, nor by swearing fealty to national sovereignty. As in the case of the student fee hikes at UNAM, this project is the result of commitments entered into by the Mexican government with the World Bank, which has imposed similar privatization plans in many countries of Latin America.

In order to smash this, class-conscious electrical workers must undertake a proletarian and internationalist struggle instead of following a bourgeois nationalist course. Against the management sabotage of the state-owned Luz y Fuerza del Centro (Central Region Light and Power), which has special deals with big companies and government offices to not cut off energy supplies even when they own millions in unpaid bills, it is necessary to impose workers control of the production and distribution of electrical energy. And above all it is urgent to go out now in a joint strike with the UNAM students.

Similarly in the case of STUNAM, although many university workers have participated in guard duty in defense of the strike, and even though the University Workers have made financial donations of tens of thousands of pesos, the fact is that the union, as such, has sunk into an appalling inactivity. To cover this up one way or another, STUNAM leader Agustín Rodríguez keeps repeating that the union stands with the student compañeros on strike, and at the same time he pretends that making the fees imposed by Barnés "voluntary" is somehow a step toward solution of the conflict. While the STUNAM secretary general has come out against police repression of the strike, at the same time he calls on the CGH to accept the proposal of some retired professors which does not resolve a single one of the strike demands. 

For the bourgeoisie, keeping the UNAM workers from uniting with the students is a fundamental question. Reforma (14 June) summarizes a document leaked from the Cisen, the federal government’s intelligence service, evaluating the course of the student strike:

"…the conflict risks taking on proportions of national security, in the face of a growing radicalization which which could unleash uncontrollable instability….
"…[the Cisen document] proposes orchestrating a strategy of immediate discussions, fragmenting [the strikers] and intending to fragment them, aimed at those groups inside the CGH who are increasingly distant from the dominant radical groups within it….
"At the same time, it proposes early negotiations with the STUNAM in order to keep it on the sidelines of the conflict, giving it some sinecures in the next contract negotiations." 
The decision of the union to cancel vacations and form brigades to defend the strike is a step of fundamental importance. But to win this battle it is necessary to mobilize the 28,000 members of STUNAM in a joint strike with the students.

The Independent Union of Workers of the Metropolitan Autonomous University (SITUAM) laid out what is at stake in this strike. On July 1, its General Delegates Assembly decided to carry out the eleven-hour strike in solidarity with UNAM, showing its organizing capacity and strength by shutting down the three campuses in a matter of hours. In the motions passed by this meeting, SITUAM denounced "the exclusionary logic which introduces the social Darwinism of the dictates of the World Bank and the OECD," and noted that the purpose of the UNAM reforms was to "prevent access to the sons and daughters of the working people in order to preserve the liberal professions for the sons and daughters of the governing class." They also decided to consider making a second donation to the strike, which was subsequently done, and to consider "the formation of brigades to support the strike guards" at UNAM, in which they are participating. But here as well, it is urgent that SITUAM not only support but join the strike.

V.    Break with the Cárdenas Popular Front – 
Forge a Revolutionary Workers Party!
The big obstacle to extending the UNAM strike is the Cárdenas popular front. The popular front is a class-collaborationist coalition which the bourgeoisie resorts to in moments of social crisis to tie working-class organizations (parties, unions) to an alliance with the political representatives of capital. Thus it serves to hold back the waves of rebelliousness and to keep the workers, peasants, rebellious youth and poor people under the domination of the class enemy. During the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, in Indonesia in 1965, in Chile under Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular at the beginning of the 1970s, the popular front constituted a giant brake to prevent a revolutionary uprising by the working masses, thereby opening the gates to the victory of reaction. As Leon Trotsky wrote in July 1939 about the Spanish experience, "There is no greater crime than coalition with the bourgeoisie in a period of socialist revolution." 

The Mexican bourgeoisie and its imperialist masters pretend that the "danger" of revolution no longer exists; according to them, communism is dead. The present leadership of the ïndependent"unions and the left-wing currents inside the CGH assure the ruling class that they don’t even think of obstructing capitalism. But those who watch over the interests of Mexican capitalism, when they are speaking among themselves, admit that the UNAM strike affects their "national security" and they worry that radicalization could produce "uncontrollable instability." After 70 years of semibonapartist PRI rule, today the PRI as well as the PAN and PRD speak of a "democratic transition" in order to avoid such "instability" at all costs. At the same time, Stalinist groups with their stagist policies as well as various pseudo-Trotskyists have taken up the banner of a "democratic revolution." But today, as Trotsky wrote about Spain in the ’30s:

"The ‘democratic’ revolution and the socialist revolution are on opposite sides of the barricades… The socialist revolution is yet to be made in uncompromising struggle against the ‘democratic’ revolution and its Popular Front." 
– L.D. Trotsky, "Tasks of the Fourth International in Spain" (April 1936)
While bourgeois and reformist ideologues maintain that communism is dead, the class struggle continues. In Mexico, class polarization is increasingly accentuated. In this country, according to official figures, the personal fortunes of seven billionaires (totaling US$20.4 billion) on the Forbes list of the richest capitalists on earth approximates the annual income of the entire population (US$22 million). This is a country where 40 million live in desperate poverty; where workers have suffered a continual fall in their real wages for more than two decades, to the point where today the minimum wage is below the level of the late 1930s; where there have been large-scale closures of basic industry, throwing tens of thousands of steel workers, railroad workers and many others into unemployment; where agriculture is in ruins, while millions of former peasants migrate to the cities in search of work, without any possibility of finding it. One-tenth of the entire population of Mexico, some ten million people, has left for the United States desperately trying to make a living.

The need for a socialist revolution and the raw materials for it are more than evident. Under the tremendous pressure of U.S. (and to a lesser degree Canadian) imperialism, now intensified in the framework of the disastrous Free Trade Agreement, Mexico’s public and private foreign debt exceeds US$160 billion. In addition to debts to the imperialist bankers, some US$80 billion has been spent to "rescue" banks which were denationalized at the beginning of the decade by the Salinas government, while another US$20 billion has been handed over to "rescue" the owners of bankrupt toll roads. And in the midst of this sumptuous banquet for the bankers, they are seeking to smash a students strike protesting the imposition of fees that wouldn’t even total 1/100th of 1 percent of the fabulous sums bestowed on the financiers.

Frida Hartz/La Jornada

EZLN supporters face off against Military Police in Chiapas forest, August 18.

In Mexico on the eve of the year 2000, an Indian rebellion has arisen in Chiapas, led by the EZLN, and there are at least 15 different guerrilla or armed groups operating in the southern, western and eastern states.  In order to hold off a social explosion in the countryside and to maintain control of the large cities, the Mexican Army has increased its ranks by more than 40 percent since 1994, while in the last two years it has increased its arms purchases from the Pentagon by 600 percent. Currently the army has blockaded the state of Chiapas with military checkpoints, supposedly for "ecological reasons" to protect the biosphere of the Montes Azules against lumber cutters and in the name of the "war on drugs." In reality they are out to annihilate the EZLN. It is quite evident that the government has adopted the same tactic of wearing down the UNAM strike as it has used against the Zapatistas. Thus the workers mobilizations necessary to win the UNAM strike must also raise the call for withdrawal of the army from Chiapas and an end to the repression in Oaxaca and Guerrero.

The national-reformist leftists who inveigh against "neoliberalism" call on the rich to pay for the economic crisis and for there to be a moratorium, or at most that the foreign debt be repudiated. It is a vain illusion to think that there can be an equitable capitalism, or that it would be possible to escape from imperialist domination through reformist measures. Even during the long period of development of state-owned companies in Mexico under the PRI, such as the oil company PEMEX, or the CFE and LFC state electrical companies, this only served to accumulate capital for a weak bourgeoisie, which now wants to carve up the spoils among itself and its masters on Wall Street in order to compete internationally. Communists insist that it is necessary to fight for expropriation of industry, commerce and finance by a workers and peasants government resulting from an internationalist socialist revoution. Only this will make it possible to cancel the imperialist debt. Any attempt to build "socialism in one country," as in the case of the Castro-Stalinist regime in Cuba, cannot escape from the imperialist stranglehold which will evently lead to its defeat, as in the case of the USSR and East Europe, if the revolution is not extended to the strongest imperialist countries.

The revolutionary struggle in Mexico must be guided by the program of permanent revolution. This perspective developed by Leon Trotsky was realized in the Russian Revolution of October 1917. It determined that in the semicolonial and late developing capitalist countries the tasks historically associated with the bourgeois revolution cannot be resolved without the taking of power by the working class, supported by the poor peasants, in order to begin the socialist revolution. This revolution by its very nature will be international in scope, extending to the countries of Central and South America and to the imperialist fortress of the United States. The millions of immigrant workers in the North constitute a human bridge of fundamental importance in the coming proletarian revolution, both in Mexico and the United States and the entire world. The fundamental requirement for this is the construction of a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party.

The Grupo Internacionalista and our comrades of the other sections of the League for the Fourth International (LFI) struggle to forge the nucleus of this party, both in Mexico and internationally. With their tenacious struggle, the UNAM students and thousands of workers who support them have resisted the constant attempts to isolate and divide them. It is possible to win this battle, on the condition that it goes beyond the limits of a strictly student struggle on a national-reformist program and that the strike becomes part of an escalating working-class offensive. Students and intellectuals who break with their class origins to dedicate themselves to the proletarian cause can play a key role in the construction of the Bolshevik party necessary to lead this revolutionary fight. This is how the most conscious young strikers can make their best contribution to fight for the emancipation of all the oppressed. n

For Part 1 of this article go to The Battle for UNAM, Part I.

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