The violent abduction and disappearance of 43 students in the state of Guerrero in September has plunged Mexico into a deep social and political crisis. The case of the Ayotzinapa students has brought the masses onto the streets and convulsed the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto. Alan Woods analyses the latest developments in Mexico, which are pregnant with revolutionary implications.
The violent abduction and disappearance of 43 students in the state of Guerrero in September has plunged Mexico into a deep social and political crisis. The case of the Ayotzinapa students has brought the masses onto the streets and convulsed the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto.
This savage crime has horrified Mexicans like no other in recent memory. Although the country has seen many mass killings since the start of the “war on drugs” in the mid-2000s, this was something different. The students, who had absolutely no connection with the drug cartels, were seized by municipal police and handed over to the drug cartels following orders from the mayor of Iguala and his wife, thus exposing the link between the Mexican state and organised crime.
The massive demonstration on Thursday, 20 November, in Mexico City showed to the world that the anger over the missing students is stronger than ever. Far from dying down as the government hoped, the protest movement is growing and spreading. The demonstrations on 20 November were replicated in dozens of cities across the country and around the world, with a total of over 250 protest actions. 114 higher education institutions followed the appeal for a 12, 24 or 72 hour strike by the Inter-University Assembly, which was decided in each university by mass assemblies with thousands of students taking part.
The working class is also participating in the protests. The telecom workers union at Telmex (owned by Carlos Slim the richest man in the world) organised a four-hour work stoppage and marched together with other unions in solidarity with Ayotzinapa on 20 November. Among other unions that participated were: STUNAM (the non-academic university staff union), the union of flight attendants and pilots, Nacional Financiera, College of Bachelors and the nuclear industry. During the day there was a meeting of representatives from students, trade unions and popular organisations at the headquarters of the SME electricians union to coordinate further action, including the call for a 24-hour general strike on December 1st.
Events in Mexico show how quickly a situation, which seems apparently calm on the surface, can turn into its opposite. Until recently everything seemed to be under control. Barely a few weeks ago, at the beginning of September, Peña Nieto appeared to be standing at the head of a strong government, which had crushed all opposition to its wide ranging programme of capitalist counter-reforms and was about to top it all by introducing the “opening up” of the oil industry.
Peña Nieto’s government is dedicated to “reform” – that is to say, to the systematic destruction of all the reforms and conquests of the Mexican Revolution. His programme of counter-reforms met with the unanimous approval of the world bourgeoisie. The capitalist media worldwide sang the praises of Peña Nieto, who was finally “bringing Mexico into the 21st century”. The bankers and capitalists in New York, Paris and London were licking their lips at the prospect of making juicy profits from the looting of the Mexican state. The western “liberal” media praised the Peña government for its economic policies. They were greedy for the huge profits they would derive from the privatisation of Pemex and other key industries.
On 15th November The Economist wrote approvingly:
“Foreign firms are impressed with the speed at which Mr Peña is pushing through reforms that were all but unthinkable just a few years ago, even amid political turmoil. ‘Mexico has really captured the imagination of the world energy sector,’ says Enrique Hidalgo of Exxon Mobil, America’s largest oil company. However, potential bidders are still waiting for details of all the technical and financial requirements they will have to sign up for.”
Since oil provides a large part of state revenue, its privatisation will automatically mean less money for education, health and other social services. But the suffering of the Mexican people is a matter of complete indifference to these sharks.
The prior condition for the plunder of Mexico was the ruthless suppression of all working class and popular resistance. The crushing of the unions earned Peña the enthusiastic applause of the self-styled democrats whose love of democracy is only a hypocritical synonym for their love of plunder. He seemed to have succeeded. But then two apparently accidental events combined to unleash a mass movement that quickly unravelled the whole situation: the Polytechnic Institute strike which started on September 25 and the attack on the Ayotzinapa students on September 26. The movement is now larger than that against fraud in 2012.
AlJazeera commented recently:
“The country is in the midst of a crisis that, up until a few months ago, seemed unlikely. The government was passing structural and constitutional reforms in order to open up the state-owned oil company and to wrest education control from the teachers’ union, by changing the way they were evaluated, among other things. These changes earned widespread international acclaim. The Economist called President Enrique Peña Nieto’s election ‘Mexico’s moment.’ In a cover story earlier this year, Time magazine proclaimed the president was ‘Saving Mexico’.”
A crisis of the regime
In reality, this movement is about much more than the kidnapped students of Ayotzinapa.
The crisis over the missing students has exposed not only the cruel, corrupt and oppressive character of the Mexican ruling class. It has also exposed the stinking hypocrisy of the self-styled western democrats and liberals.
A panicky editorial in the Washington Post demanded quick action from Peña Nieto as “the future of his economic reforms is at stake.” But reform in Mexico (like everywhere else) is only a code word for the enrichment of a tiny handful of wealthy parasites at the cost of a sharp deterioration of the economic conditions of the overwhelming majority.
All the boasting about the Mexican economy was completely hollow. In what ought to be a prosperous country, more than half the people live in poverty. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America, poverty fell from 48.4 percent in 1990 to 27.9 percent in 2013 for all of Latin America. In Mexico, where it stood at 52.4 percent in 1994, the poverty rate dropped to as low as 42.7 percent in 2006; but by 2012, it had risen again to 51.3 percent.
The vast and growing abysm separating rich from poor has created an unbridgeable rift that is tearing society apart. Like a monstrous, unstoppable bulldozer, the monstrous programme of counter-reforms shells out attack after attack. Indignation and anger grows and turns into fury. The resistance grows and seeks an expression. In reality the present situation is an expression of a crisis of the whole regime which has been maturing for a long time.
The PRI (Peña Nieto ‘s party) was in power for 70 years and the PAN ruled for 12 years. Both parties are widely discredited. But the PRD has also been fully exposed by recent events. All three of these parties had signed the Pacto por Mexico, agreeing to the whole package of counter-reforms. Moreover, the mayor of Iguala and the governor of Guerrero, where the students were kidnapped, were both PRD members. The people of Mexico have therefore had plenty of experience of the existing parties and there is widespread revulsion, not only against the current ruling party but of the whole party system – a rejection not only of the PAN and PRI but also of the PRD, which is rightly seen as part of the same corrupt establishment ruling for the rich and powerful.
The corrupt nature of the regime was further exposed by the scandal involving the house of Peña Nieto’s wife. It seems that this palatial residence was built to measure for her and her husband in one of the most exclusive districts of Mexico City. This humble abode is said to have cost seven million dollars. At a time when most Mexicans are struggling to pay their bills or even find a home, such obscene extravagance looks like a provocation. But the matter does not end there.
It was revealed that the house that president shares with his family belongs to a businessman who is linked to a controversial $3.75 billion railway construction project. This house is still owned by a subsidiary of a company with a long history of obtaining lucrative contracts from Peña Nieto administrations, dating back to his term as governor of the state of Mexico. Most Mexicans will simply shrug their shoulders at these revelations. They are just another example of the corruption that has been gnawing at the entrails of Mexican political life for decades.
A fraudulent “democracy”
The great American writer Gore Vidal told the truth about democracy in the USA when he wrote: “Our Republic has only one party, the Party of Property, with two right wings.” The so-called democracy that exists in the USA and Europe is only a fig-leaf to disguise the reality of the dictatorship of the banks and big business. The only difference with Mexico is that those countries are richer and the bankers and capitalists have had longer to perfect the mechanism for deceiving the masses with the illusion of democracy and the “rule of law”.
The Mexican bourgeoisie is cruder, more cynical and brazen in the way it rules society. A few years ago I had the occasion to meet the Mexican ambassador at a reception in the Venezuelan embassy in London. That was shortly after the 2006 elections when the Left PRD candidate Lopez Obrador was cheated out of victory by a swindle. I remarked to the ambassador that electoral fraud in Mexico was the national sport, as normal as drinking tequila. For some reason, he was not amused!
For many years the Mexican ruling class has successfully used a fake democracy to hold onto power. But now there is a problem. The revolt is growing and the forces of the Mexican state are insufficient to control this revolt, which is threatening to assume insurrectionary proportions. It was necessary to call in the help of additional forces, auxiliaries that would not be bound even by the meagre protection granted to Mexican citizens by what is jokingly called the “rule of law”.
In Mexico, as in other countries, there is a large under-class of declassed and demoralised elements drawn from the ranks of the poorest and most desperate elements: impoverished youths who for a few pesos are prepared to sell themselves to the local drug baron and carry out his dirty work: kidnapping, torture, rape, murder and massacres – these are all in a normal day’s work for these degenerates. Others are forcibly recruited into the criminal gangs by threats and intimidation. But they do not act on their own.
In Mexico everybody knows (and they have known it for years) that there is close collusion between the state and what is known as organised crime. The very word “democracy” has an ironic ring in a country where election fraud is the rule and where politicians, judges and police chiefs are bought and sold as regularly as beer and tortillas. Nowadays nobody can say where organised crime ends and the state begins.
The Economist, which only yesterday was praising Peña Nieto to the sky, is now wailing: “However impressive Mr Peña’s economic reforms, Mexico will never manage to achieve its considerable potential without an honest, efficient criminal-justice system. Its democracy will lose legitimacy if its politicians continue to tolerate graft.”
But to expect this government of corrupt gangsters to wage a serious fight against corruption and gangsterism is like asking foxes to stand guard over the chicken farm. The only way to clean up the cesspit that is Mexican politics and the state is by the complete overthrow of the government and the rotten and unjust system on which it stands. That can only be achieved by the revolutionary action of the Mexican people, and above all by the working class.
Drugs are big business
In reality the drug cartels are big capitalist enterprises which could not operate without the collaboration of the “legal” institutions of the capitalist state. Take for instance money laundering: this is done through big banks – including the big US banks. Bank of America, Wells Fargo and HSBC have all been fined for their part in this criminal activity – $1.9bn in the case of HSBC alone.
The plunder of Mexico it is not just related to drugs. Canadian mining companies have been aggressively intervening in Mexico, forcing their way into protected land and using private armed guards to attack local communities. This is one of the reasons the people have set up their own armed self-defence committees in Guerrero and other Southern and South Eastern states.
Journals like The Economist poured praised upon Peña Nieto for his “free market economics”. A big part of this “freedom” consisted in the freedom of the capitalists, both Mexican and foreign, to plunder the assets of the Mexican people. But are the drug barons not also dedicated advocates of free market economics? They are also dedicated to the search after profits. They are working hard to supply a growing market (in the United States). And the gunmen they employ to eliminate rivals, are they not also simply employees who are also working for the cause of profits and free markets in their own modest way?
What is the difference between these drug barons and, say, the owners of the big US banks and corporations? They are also engaged in plunder, but on an immeasurably greater scale. They also use violence to dispose of their rivals on a world scale, and they have at their disposal far more terrible weapons of destruction, for which the US taxpayer spends about 800 billion dollars every year. Utilising the state (which as Marx explained is merely the executive committee for the bourgeoisie as a whole), they can impose their will, invade countries and overthrow governments. They also buy and sell politicians, congressmen and senators and even the one who sits in the White House. By comparison the Mexican drug barons are small fry!
It is futile to imagine that a bourgeois regime can eradicate crime and corruption, since the capitalist system is built upon crime and corruption. Justice itself is part of the free market economy, as every Mexican knows. The policeman receives his “little bite”, while the judges and politicians demand a far larger fee for services rendered. But in the end they are all up for sale. So the rich and powerful can get away with murder, while the poor must always pay the price in full.
“We are determined to change this country”
Just as the mighty waves that sweep across the Atlantic are a surface manifestation of deep and powerful currents, so the waves of angry mass protests over the disappeared students are only the most visible symptoms of a seething discontent that is building up beneath the surface of Mexican society. Such is the state of ferment and unrest that the official November 20 Mexican Revolution parade had to be cancelled.
After the failure of his initial attempts to shrug off the case of the missing students, Peña Nieto is now frantically trying to give the impression that he is doing something. He has sought to regain control of the situation with the arrest of the mayor of Iguala and his wife. The big sharks are always willing to sacrifice the small sharks in order to save their own skin. But this is too little and too late. The demands of the movement are becoming more radical by the day.
Lenin was very fond of a Russian proverb: Life teaches. In every country the masses do not learn from books but through their own experience of life and the class struggle. And there is no doubt that the people of Mexico are learning very fast and drawing some very important conclusions. At the mass meeting that closed the 20 November demonstration Felipe de la Cruz, father of one of the missing students who had been touring the country in three different columns, said:
“We are determined to change this country once and for all. We are willing to chuck out the institutions because they no longer serve any purpose. We believe in peaceful means, but you cannot talk about peace when 43 our young people are still missing. You cannot talk about governance when sending their provocateurs and police to repress the people. And that must change.
“Today we want to tell you that, thanks to our march we have realised that there are mass graves and missing people all over the country, not just in Guerrero. Today we are not celebrating the 104th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. If we are standing here, it is because the rulers have twisted our Constitution to their advantage and to justify their actions.
“Although it may have been the drug dealers who carried out the executions, the ones who are really responsible are those who are governing the country, who have led us into an unbearable situation in which poverty, lack of opportunity to have a decent job and the systematic destruction of the right to an education has forced tens of thousands of men and women to migrate and move away from their communities”.
These conclusions are a thousand times correct.
It is clear that the present situation has become absolutely intolerable for the great majority of the Mexican people. The anger that has been building up for years found a focal point with the issue of the missing students. At bottom this is a class question: a struggle between a small group of super rich oligarchs and the great majority of Mexicans. Even The Economist had to admit that: “For many Mexicans, Iguala was a reminder of the gap between justice for the poor and for the rich.”
On 15 November The Los Angeles Times drew a parallel between the present situation and the Mexican Revolution of 1910: “The violent disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers college in Guerrero state has caused a political earthquake the likes of which Mexico has not seen in generations — perhaps even since the revolution of 1910.”
This parallel is quite correct. There are insurrectionary elements in the situation. In Guerrero, and also in Michoacan, the people have armed themselves (Policias Comunitarias in Guerrero, Autodefensas in Michoacán) in order to defend themselves from the state and the drug cartels – in many towns and villages they have now taken over the local town halls. In Guerrero, the local communities, the teachers’ union CETEG and the students and relatives of the disappeared have created the Asamblea Nacional Popular which has called for “a government of honest workers and peasants”.
What is needed is a leadership that is capable of uniting the movement on a national level. Morena presents itself as a left alternative to the PRD, but it has failed to give any real leadership to the movement. Calling for one mass demonstration after another without any clear plan seems to have been a purely electoral strategy. But the movement has already gone far beyond the narrow limits of bourgeois parliamentarism. The timidity of the Morena leadership is self-defeating from every point of view.
Fortunately, the masses are not afraid to fight. And that is a thousand times truer of the youth, which knows that it is fighting for its future, for its right to work and to live a dignified human existence. The Mexican students are fighting in the vanguard. They are fighting fearlessly, risking everything they have, their freedom, their careers and their very lives. That is the tradition of the Mexican students. Many paid for their lives in 1968, and many are paying with their lives right now.
The movement is advancing with gigantic strides. It has shaken the Establishment to the core. But it is still far from having won its objectives, even the most basic objectives such as a clarification of the fate of the missing youngsters and punishment of everyone involved in their abduction. But there are dangers in the situation. If there is no leadership and coordination on a national level, the movement could end up in a series of local uprisings that can be crushed, one by one. A layer of the youth, in desperation, might take the road of “guerrillaism”, resorting to acts of individual terror. The history of Latin America shows that this can only lead to further bloody defeats.
The movement is still on the ascent, gaining strength and support by the day and has widened its scope into a movement against the whole regime with a clear demand: Down with Peña Nieto and his government! But how is this to be achieved?
The only force that can overthrow the Mexican oligarchy is the working class and its natural allies, the poor peasants and urban poor, the women and the revolutionary youth. No force on earth can defeat the Mexican working class, once it is organised and mobilised to change society. In order that the movement should find the necessary strength and cohesion to achieve this, the next step must necessarily be the involvement of the working class as a whole.
As a result the failure of the Morena leaders, the mass movement has been expressed through other channels: the students have organized themselves in a democratic strike committee at the IPN (Asamblea General Politécnica) and established a national coordination committee (Asamblea Inter-Universitaria).
The struggle of the Polytechnic students played a key role in the movement and it has not yet finished (they have been on strike since September 25). To their credit, the first ones to say that the movement should spread beyond the IPN (Polytechnic) and link up with the Ayotzinapa protests were the comrades from the CLEP and the Marxists of La Izquierda Socialista. The role of the Mexican Marxists will be central to the success of the movement. Armed with a revolutionary programme and the ideas of Marxism, it will be invincible.
A 24-hour strike has been called for December 1st. That is a great step forward but it is only the first step. What is needed is an all-out general strike with the aim of overthrowing the government. Action committees should be set up to organise the struggle and linked up on a local, city, regional and national level. In this way a power can be established that can challenge the old, corrupt, degenerate bourgeois state and prepare the way for a new Mexican revolution that will shake the world.
What is happening in Mexico is yet another reflection of the general wave of discontent and anger against the political system, growing inequality, etc., which we’ve seen elsewhere with revolutionary implications. With all our heart and soul we are with the workers, peasants, students and the revolutionary youth of Mexico.
- Full support to the Ayotzinapa movement!
- Students and workers unite!
- Down with the Peña Nieto government!
- For work, bread and homes!
- Long live the Mexican Revolution!