Assault on Public Education
Students of the Federation of Socialist Peasant Students in front of the campus of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College.
The following article from February 2015 is translated from Revolución Permanente, the newspaper of the Grupo Internacionalista of Mexico.
From the beginning of the mobilizations for Ayotzinapa, we have emphasized that the real motive behind the horrific massacre in Iguala on 26 September 2014 goes far beyond the corruption of a murderous government. Substituting one bourgeois politician for another changes nothing when it is the system that is to blame. Today they chant “Down with [Mexican president Enrique] Peña Nieto!” just as yesterday they were calling in Guerrero for “Down with [state governor Ángel] Aguirre Rivero!” and in 2006 in Oaxaca they kept repeating that “[state governor] Ulises [Ruiz Ortiz] has fallen.” But if a governor or a president is ousted, who replaces him? Ruiz and Aguirre are gone, and their successors Gabino Cué and Rogelio Ortega keep hounding students and teachers, indigenous people, peasants and workers.
As we pointed out four months ago:
“Whatever the immediate cause that triggered the bloodbath of Iguala, the rationale for the slaughter is the demonization of militant students and the commitment of the governments of all the parties to close the rural teacher training institutes. This is part of the privatization offensive against public education ordered by Washington and the global financial institutions.”
–“Mexico: Massacre in Iguala Calls for Mobilization and Workers Revolution!” The Internationalist No. 38, October-November 2014
We might add that Peña Nieto’s attorney general, Jesús Murillo Karam, who declared himself “tired” of the whole affair, only to later invent “historical truths” about the crime of Iguala, when he was governor of the state of Hidalgo in the 1990s slashed enrollment at the rural teachers college of El Mexe, and interior minister (secretary of Gobernación) Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, during his stint as governor of Hidalgo, “finished the job and closed El Mexe, which for a long time served as headquarters of the Federation of Socialist Peasant Students of Mexico (FECSM),” as Arturo Cano noted in La Jornada (8 November 2014).
Thus the top executives of the Peña Nieto regime with regard to the case of Ayotzinapa are sworn enemies of the rural teachers colleges. Along with the FECSM, another of their favorite targets is the dissident teachers of the National Coordinating Committee of Education Workers (la CNTE), squared off against the “institutional” corporatist “National Union of Education Workers” ( el SNTE).1 Last year, Carlos Loret de Mola, the anchor of the morning news program on Televisa (Mexico’s leading TV network), reported that in a meeting behind closed doors at Los Pinos (the presidential residence), it was announced that “we’re going kick the ass of the CNTE crowd” (El Universal, 12 August 2014). The journalist added, “We already know who is going to do it, to whom and when. All that’s left to know is how … they’ll go about it.” So now we know.
Over the last 20 years, if not earlier, there have been
constant attempts to close the rural teachers colleges. In the
case of El Mexe, there was a particular motive for the
persecution: in February 2000, just days after the takeover of
the National University of Mexico (UNAM) by the Federal Police
that put an end to the ten-month strike there, the governor of
Hidalgo ordered state police to take El Mexe by assault and
arrest its 900 students. But instead it backfired. When
hundreds of paramilitary police arrived at the campus and
arrested around 170 students, the neighboring community
mobilized and some 1,500 peasants surrounded them, disarmed
the police and held them until the arrested students were
Riot police captured by the population of de El Mexe, 19 February 2000. The cops were held in the municipal plaza until the arrested students were turned over.
Following the definitive closing and violent eviction of the El Mexe students in 2003, there was the attempt to close down the Mactumactzá teachers college in Chiapas and the Lázaro Cárdenas teachers college in Tenería in Mexico State, as well as the kidnapping and torture of students from the Atequiza teachers college in the state of Jalisco, all in 2008. Then in 2012 there was the simultaneous assault by thousands of police on the teachers colleges in Tiripetío, Cherán and Arteaga in Michoacán in an attempt to break the strike of students protesting against a curriculum “reform” along free-trade lines (replacing the teaching of indigenous languages used in the communities with English instruction). The assault sparked a march of 50,000 people in the state capital Morelia, called by the CNTE.
The reason for this crusade against the rural teachers colleges is not simply the hatred of the bourgeois rulers for radicalized students. As with just about everything having to do with education in Mexico, the government’s actions were in response to the dictates of the imperialist financial institutions. The article on “Fight ‘Maquilazation’ of the University,”3 in Marxism and the Battle Over Education (special supplement to The Internationalist 2d. edition,January 2008) quotes documents from the World Bank which advocate a “market orientation for tertiary [higher] education,” including imposing tuition, reduction in the size of the study body of public universities, an increase in private universities, weakening unions, as well as having “fewer and/or different faculty” and “the closure of inefficient or ineffective institutions.”
On the latter, the imperialist efficiency “experts” made very specific recommendations. In September 2002, a World Bank mission prepared a detailed report, “Program Support for the State of Chiapas” (adorned with the inscriptions “confidential” and “official use only”), which “recommended” eliminating the reservation of teaching positions for graduates of the teachers colleges and “the conversion of state teachers colleges” (quoted in Proceso, 30 August 2003). Based on this report, Chiapas governor Pablo Salazar announced his intention to “convert the Mactumactzá rural teachers college into a polytechnical university.” This set off furious student protests, to which the police responded with deadly gunfire.
In recent years, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has taken the lead in promoting “market-oriented education reform.” We should point out that this educational counterreform, which was the first undertaking of the Pact for Mexico coalition formed by the main bourgeois parties (PRI, PAN and PRD), was based on an Agreement for Mexico-OECD Cooperation to Improve the Quality of Education in Mexican Schools (2010 [in Spanish]) to “establish a national selection exam and other tools of evaluation” for hiring and firing teachers and professors. It also proposed introducing a system of “pay for performance.”
It is against this plan to make education conform to the requirements of capital and destroy educators’ rights that the teachers of Guerrero, Oaxaca and other sections of the CNTE rebelled, throwing the country into turmoil for months, for which Los Pinos now wants to “kick their ass.” As for the rural teachers colleges, a bulletin titled Analysis of Policies Concerning Basic Education Teachers in Mexico (OECD, October 2009 [in Spanish]) speaks quite openly:
“The rural teachers colleges, for their part, are often bastions of radical groups, present a high level of conflictivity and have a very important mobilizing potential; for the most part, they are anachronistic institutions, which no longer correspond to the current needs of educating teaching cadres….”
Its conclusion: “the possibility should be considered of turning around of some of the campuses to devote them to fulfilling other educational needs.” They cite the case of El Mexe as a “paradigm” for having eliminated its “redundant” student body.
We quote these texts to show that references to imperialist dictates as being behind the offensive against the rural teachers colleges, radical students and militant teachers are in no way speculation. As submissive administrators of a semi-colony, Mexican rulers respect and carry out4 the orders of their imperialist overlords. And not only concerning education. The privatization of the oil industry via the recent “energy reform” is one more example, within the framework of the North American Free Trade Agreement. With these free-trade policies, the country has been turned into a giant maquiladora for U.S. industry, in addition to ruining Mexican agriculture.
This latter factor directly affects the onslaught against Ayotzinapa. Obviously, for peasant communities who make their living from planting and harvesting crops, the teachers from the rural teacher colleges are hardly “redundant.” But if the peasant producer disappears from the market, all that will be left is agribusness – with its technologically advanced machinery, genetically modified seeds, freezing plants – and imports. That’s what we are seeing today as peasant production falls. Currently 35% of the corn consumed in Mexico, the country where this basic foodstuff originated, is imported, as is more than 50% of the wheat and 75% of the rice. Meanwhile, the countryside is being depopulated, above all of young people.
More than a decade ago, Hugo Aboites, an educational researcher, currently rector of the Autonomous University of Mexico City and author of the book Viento del Norte: TLC y privatización de la educación superior en México (Northwind: NAFTA and the Privatization of Higher Education in Mexico), noted that the attack on rural teachers colleges:
“shows that the future of the Mexican countryside no longer goes through peasant communities, nor indigenous groups, nor the ejidos5, nor cooperatives or rural organizations, but through agroindustry, through big capital which are turning the Mexican countryside into a maquiladora.
“There is a plan for Mexican agriculture behind the elimination of the rural teachers colleges. It is the same plan that points to eliminating agronomy and veterinary schools. It is a plan in which these institutions no longer have a place, because it is no longer based on the peasant and worker masses but on capital, and a capital which needs technicians.”
–“The Hour of the Rural Teachers Colleges” [in Spanish], Contralínea, October 2003
Correct, and precisely because the very existence of the rural teacher training schools goes against the project of “technifying” the countryside for the profit of the big monopolies, they cannot be defended within the framework of Mexican capitalism. The same is true of the free-market “reform” of public education in general. As Aboites remarked:
“An educational model which offers free education and which even pays young people to study is a model that turns out to be subversive of the very idea of privatizing education….
“Unfortunately, the economic question and the globalization of the countryside are the principal causes of the clash of the state governments with the students, as a result of which the authorities will be implacable.”
Thus one cannot defend the rural teacher schools with a nationalist program seeking to preserve institutions which, despite their rhetoric of “socialist education,” were part of the corporatist capitalist regime established by [Mexican presidents] Plutarco Calles and Lázaro Cárdenas in the 1930s. The governments of the misnamed “democratic transition” – of the PRI, the PAN and (at the state level) the PRD – since 2000 have been unable to do without the pseudo-unions of the CTM, CROC and SNTE in order to maintain a corporatist police control of the workers in key sectors. But the highly statified capitalist system is gone. Hence a successful defense of the rural teachers colleges is only possible on the basis of a revolutionary and internationalist program.
The combative teachers college students of the FECSM have managed to resist for more than a decade, but in the end their marches and occupations are insufficient to defeat Mexican capitalism and imperialism. The attack on the rights of Mexican students and teachers is the same as that being experienced by educators in the imperialist countries, where governments, industrialists, bankers and stock market speculators are also demanding “pay for performance” according to the “value added” by the teachers, and where they seek to eliminate any vestige of trade-union defense of teachers’ rights, where they seek to close “inefficient” schools and to privatize or turn the public schools and universities into profit platforms.
To crush the offensive which seeks to regiment and privatize public education, it is necessary to mobilize the only social power capable of defeating the bourgeoisie, that of the working class, on a worldwide level. In this struggle against the capitalist offensive, battle-hardened Mexican students and teachers have much to contribute, with their steadfast defense of the rural teachers colleges, their boycotts of standardized tests, their work stoppages and occupations. But petty-bourgeois layers such as students and professors do not produce value and profits for the capitalists. In order to prevail in this genuine class war, it is not enough to take over a few turnpike toll booths and sit down in the central plazas of the state capitals. It is necessary to shut down key sectors of industry, commerce and transportation.
For that reason, the Grupo Internacionalista has called from the outset for a national strike against the murderous government to prepare the struggle for a workers and peasants government that would begin the socialist revolution. Only in this way can we sweep away the learned “experts” who seek to “reform” public education by destroying it at gunpoint. Only in this way can we avenge our comrades of Ayotzinapa who have fallen in the struggle. ■
- 1. For a fuller discussion about the nature of corporatist pseudo-unions in Mexico, see “SL on Corporatism in Mexico: Games Centrists Play,” The Internationalist, July 2013.
- 2. See “El Mexe: Rebellion in Hidalgo,” in Mexico: The UNAM Strike and the Fight for Workers Revolution, special supplement of The Internationalist (March 2000).
- 3. I.e., transforming universities into an educational version of maquiladoras, the highly exploitative free trade zone factories.
- 4. A reference to a classic phrase of Spanish imperial officials in Latin America who would “respect but not carry out” (acato pero no cumplo) their instructions from Madrid.
- 5. Communally owned land.