At a precipitous time in the history of Mexico, is the left finally getting its act together and forming a viable alternative?
Certainly Mexico is a state in crisis. Economically, it is suffering from the first wave of shocks as the oil price has slumped over the last six months. With oil a vital source of government revenue, both borrowing and debt are up and social welfare programmes under more pressure.
The economic malaise is much deeper. For three decades Mexico has been in the vanguard of neoliberal policy in Latin America. Since the debt crisis of the 1980s, the Mexican state has unleashed wave after wave of neoliberal policies — privatisations of most of the previously state-owned industry, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the maquiladora sweatshops, cuts in welfare subsidies and countless social services.
As a result Mexico is now a deeply unequal society. At the top, 27 billionaires rule the roost, among the highest number of any state anywhere across the globe. At the bottom, average wages are now lower than China, and over 50 million people (out of 120 million) living in poverty. An estimated 10% of Mexicans live in the US, a safety valve in Mexican society that is now being substantially reduced by the US state.
But Mexico is above all in political crisis. The ruling party, the PRI, was the longest serving party dictatorship in the world from the 1920s until 2000, when it lost the presidency. However two terms of the Catholic PAN and the PRI won back power in 2012. President Enrique Peña Nieto appeared to successfully press on with the neoliberal agenda in his first 18 months in office, but the veneer came off with a vengeance last year.
First, in September 2014 police apparently cooperating with drug dealers kidnapped and killed 43 students in the town of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. Protest demonstrations demanding that the students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College be returned alive, led by parents, students and teachers quickly spread to Mexico City and around the country. International solidarity saw demonstrations at embassies in several countries, including London.
At about the same time, it was revealed that the president and his wife Angélica Rivera occupied a home that was owned by a major government contractor, while Secretary of Finance Luis Videgaray had similarly bought a home from a contractor. As Dan La Botz puts it in Mexico Labor News & Analysis, these events — the killings, the role of the police, and the corruption at the highest levels of government — has also created an international preoccupation with the Mexican situation.
The crisis encompasses all the mainstream parties in Mexico. The bourgeois nationalist PRD, which split from the PRI in 1988, has been damaged because the local officials in Guerrero state involved in the kidnappings and killings were members of its organisation. Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, the PRD’s founder and long-time presidential candidate has left the party. Two years ago another high profile PRD leader, Andrés Manuel López Obrador left to form a new party, MORENA.
The Mexican working class has been savagely exploited, and for decades for decades it has effectively been “un proletariado sin cabeza” (a proletariat without a head), in the words of writer José Revueltas. However, there are some optimistic signs that the revolutionary left is at last getting its act together.
According to a report in Australian socialist journal Links, the Organización Política del Pueblo y los Trabajadores, OPT (People’s and Worker’s Political Organisation) held its first national congress in Mexico City on 12-13 December 2014. Founded in 2011, the party now has local branches registered in 16 of Mexico’s 32 states. According to organisers, 200 members attended the convention held in the headquarters of the militant Mexican Electricians Trade Union (SME). The SME’s secretary general and OPT national committee member Martín Esparza Flores gave the opening address.
The OPT programme roundly denounces the PRI, the PAN and the PRD as conspirators in passing the laws that have gutted the constitution. This is important because in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Fourth International-led PRT, which had six MPs and thousands of members, squandered its independence by backing the PRD. This led to splits and its dissolution into fragments.
However some delegates expressed contrasting positions on OPT’s electoral stance, ranging from tactical alliances with the PRD or Morena where possible, to total abstention from the electoral arena. Mexican undemocratic federal laws requires parties to enrol tens of thousands of members spread over a majority of the states, making it difficult for them to develop. However it has been done before by the PRT, utilising whatever space including elections) to organise for working class political representation.
The congress put forward three campaigns around which the OPT proposes unity on the left. These are: the boycott of payment of fees to the new electricity company; continue building a new workers’ confederation; and to participate in the left unity congress called for later this month.
Elsewhere, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), remains the most significant organisation on the far left in Mexico. On 8 October last year, the EZLN mobilised 20,000 supporters to march in San Cristóbal de las Casas in support of the Ayotzinapa students. While the Zapatistas are strong in Chiapas, they do not play a significant role in the wider social and labour movements in Mexico. There are an estimated 40 armed guerrilla organizations in Mexico, notably the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) and the Popular Revolutionary Front (FPR). According to Dan La Botz, there are several other Trotskyist, Maoist and Guevarist guerrilla groups, but none seemed to play a major role in the new wave of demonstrations over the Ayotzinapa students.
However the present crisis presents the Mexican left with an opportunity to thrive. Workers in North America and Europe should continue to make solidarity and direct links with these militants and activists.
• More information: Mexican Labor News & Analysis