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Words and Acts

Guillermo Almeyra
Date Published: 
January 01, 0001

from Memoria

July 13, 2006

The events in San Salvador Atenco compel us to address the issues of what phase the country is in and what the left can and should do in order to be able, first, to defend the margins for democracy and, simultaneously, to prepare an anti-capitalist solution to the crisis which is assailing us. Inflammatory rhetoric is of no use for guidance or for changing anything, since insults and threats do not kill anyone.

Where are we, then? The social movements – which are few in number – are all defensive: like the miners, La Parota, the very combative indigenous campesinos of the Isthmus and the union front which is defending its autonomy. The widespread emigration - from Chiapas, including zapatista areas, to all the rest of the corners of the country - demonstrates, for its part, that the majority of Mexicans are "voting with their feet" in order to seek better integration into the capitalist system. They are even risking their lives for that, and they have no hope of obtaining a social change in the country from which they are fleeing.

There is a social left, as always, but it is more weakened by emigration and unemployment than in the past, and it is, in addition, dispersed and without common objectives. There is, on the other hand, no unified student movement, nor any student activism of real importance. There have, however, and this is extremely important, been various rapprochements between campesinos and workers and ephemeral organizing fronts. Also, the rift between many important unions (including their leadership) and the government is a fait accompli, which has left the government machine with just a handful of discredited "charros." While anti-democratic and corrupt leaders (like Hernández Juárez or Vega Galina) still have weight in the opposition union front, they have been forced to abandon their support of the PRI and the government in order to not lose their bases. They have even had to convene a one hour national strike – an unprecedented event – which mobilized five million workers (who are not, of course, charros, despite the fact that they are still not in a position to throw them out). Thanks to momentum from the SME electrical workers, but with the support of hundreds of social organizations, the third National Dialogue has been held, and the program is being maintained in Querétaro. It is class oriented and has a general nationalist significance, which could be transformed into the foundation for substantive agreements among the various sectors of the exploited.

The left which declares itself anti-capitalist is, for its part, extremely fragmented, and its influence among the exploited is exceedingly weak. In addition, one part of it has turned into the organizational core of the Other Campaign, whose leadership, however, is in the hands of the political group which gives the platform to the EZLN. Meanwhile, another part, somewhat more numerous, is scattered among the PRD election activity, where it has little influence from an organizational viewpoint, as can be seen in that party's list of candidates, as well as in its statements and public positions.

To top it off, the country is a few days from elections which will be much more important than all the previous ones, but in which one must choose between the PRD and two versions of savagely repressive neoliberal policies at the service of large international financial capital and of United States imperialism. They have the liquidation of Pemex in their sights, as well as the privatization of the electrical and water industries, the destruction of those union laws and victories which still survive and the privatization of learning and of cultural resources and institutions.

The PRI (the bureaucratic-reactionary version of that class doctrine) or the PAN (semi-fascist and clerical version of same) are confronting, basically united, the PRD (which is again proposing a vaguely nationalist and distributive capitalist policy, already failed in the 80s and resurrected in order to put itself at the service of an important sector of national capitalists).

In other words, the exploited have to choose between various capitalist policies and wings, and they still do not have their own option, another program for the country. What is at stake is being fought over above them, often with their passive participation as the "electoral infantry" of one of the two blocks which have maintained shared policies in basic problems, such as the anti-indigenous law, the Monsanto law and the Televisa law. It is logical, therefore, that the oppressed, who are electors, continue to think about emigration, have no electoral enthusiasm and, if they do not desert the ballot box, are thinking of voting for a Salvador (Mexican political education involves hoping for a change from the pinnacle of the state pyramid) or for the least malicious. This is what they are doing instead of using the election campaign for discussing what to do in their regions or territories, what the needs are, what the possible solutions are and how to organize themselves in order to impose those solutions directly.

Regarding the Other Campaign, it is exactly that: another election campaign, as its name so indicates, but directed towards the non-voting sector, which is very large because it is made up of those who cannot vote (emigrants, the five million agricultural day laborers dispersed throughout the country, those who are far away from the voting booths or sick or absent), in addition to those who do not feel the need to do so and who do not want to do so because "after all, they're all the same." It is a campaign directed towards making contact with those who cannot express themselves – that is exactly its primary quality - but not a campaign whose objective is organizing or raising the political level of those who participate in their events (which is also organizing). It says that López Obrador is the same as, or worse than, the other candidates, in that way cutting off bridges to those who, fairly, see that it is not like that, but who, incorrectly, limit themselves to working for their candidate's victory, without organizing themselves. Nor does it teach what capitalism is (it only divides society into the "rich" and the "poor"), or about what the State is (they simply say "we have to throw the rich out to Miami", without saying how, nor by what means, nor how the potential expelled and the state forces will react, in addition to the United States). It is not educating politically (it says "we'll take the lands away from them," "we'll expropriate the banks", without even outlining the minimal necessary conditions for being able to do that). It is a campaign of anti-electoral and antiestablishment agitation, but not an organizing anti-capitalist campaign.

Quickly leaving aside the histrionic-folkloric aspects (Marcos' motorcycle tour with his chicken mascot in the back), the journey never became anything more than making contact with sectors in struggle or those marginalized by the actions of the parties (which is undoubtedly very important, but it is also not sufficient). It sounded out their level of understanding, listened to their demands, saw their level of organization and decision-making, but they did not propose anything, even autonomy and self-management (fundamental victories of the chiapaneco zapatistas), nor did they discuss anything or present a program for the country (or the basic problems which it must confront) or organize. In addition to their sectarianism in relation to the PRD - and the false identification of the millions of their voters, their hundreds of thousands of members with their leadership - they also incorporated sectarianism in their response to those workers' and campesino social movements not affiliated with the Other Campaign. They refused to recognize the National Dialogue, in which thousands of worker, campesino and popular organizations participated, saying it was an election maneuver by a group of "charros". They ignored the national strike of five million workers and the miners' strike over repression in Sicartsa and the repudiation of the governor's naming of the secretary of their union. He said "we don't have to look towards Bolivia." In addition, by appearing not to accept the fact that López Obrador, even though he is a capitalist candidate, is not the same as the others - not to the government, nor to the exploiting classes - because he did not come from them, and he is supported by "the hoi polloi". Nor are they even confronting the "strategy of tension" (assassinations, blows against the unions, repression in Atenco, slander and political lynching of the opposition), the general repressive strategy that is being directed not only against the PRD, but also against all the oppressed and exploited.

The need for a battle of ideas

Rebellion against capitalism is provoked by exploitation, dispossession, oppression, racism, by the specific way capitalism functions in Mexico. But the building of an alternative to capitalism requires slow, tortuous work in the theoretical elaboration of the practical experiences of class struggles. It requires reflection, discussion, conclusions which benefit from errors as well as triumphs; the study of history and, in particular, of the history of past struggles of the exploited classes; an analysis of the building of the State in this country and of its roots in popular consciousness. This is intellectual work which is not dependent just on intellectuals. On the contrary, it is the fruit of the operation of collective intellect, of education-learning in the struggle and in discussion, treating theoretically what emerges from experiences and providing those experiences with the contribution of those conclusions.

The Other Campaign, however, talks of an "other theory", but it understands that objective as mere empirical verification of exploitation and, above all, it excludes the history of its analysis. It is not possible to make an anti-capitalist "other theory" without making an assessment of previous theories without running the risk of maintaining terrible confusion. For example, the Other Campaign displays huge portraits of Stalin everywhere. They are not "official", but rather the expression of the ignorance of a group which calls itself "communist" and which is active in the organization of the trip. Tolerance in the face of that aberration is a demonstration of paternalism ("they have the right to be ignorant."), but also of a total lack of concern for ideas and for the fact that Stalin's portrait is, in large measure, a tacit program. It indicates, if not a policy presented as a model, at least a lack of repudiation of disastrous and counterrevolutionary policies which destroyed the October Revolution and created a powerful bureaucracy with capitalistic values, which gave rise to the mafia government and to the current Russian neo-capitalists. It warded off and sabotaged the world struggle against capitalists, buried revolutions, killed millions of campesinos in the Soviet Union, inoculated other millions of workers against socialism and emasculated Marxist thought. Pragmatism without principles ("everyone come, as long as you accept our leadership"), far from organizing, pushes away those people who think and seek. Yes, we must work together with everyone possible, but not at the cost of principles or by wallowing in the rubbish bin of history.

What is most serious is that, in a mostly conservative country, which is still hoping for changes within the system, in an unfavorable relationship of forces, without great social movements, marked by massive migration, the Other Campaign is not concerned about elevating the level of comprehension of those people who come to it. It does not try to present an anti-capitalist project for the country, nor does it talk about the country's great problems (how to replace the hydrocarbon reserves which are running out, how to reorganize land and water resources, how to create work, how to elevate the level of popular consumption). Loudmouthed and empty rhetoric ("we're going to expropriate the banks," "we're going to throw the rich out to Miami," "the factories will be ours") substitutes for a lack of programs and projects, without the slightest reference as to how to join forces, make alliances and build class fronts, in order to make real those promises flung into the air. Nor do they take at all into consideration the real correlation of forces or the elemental fact that power is in the hands of the exploiters and of imperialism, and that they also act and react when they see their interests in danger. The Other Campaign cannot organize because it does politics in a sectarian and primitive way, and it seeks power, but by inadequate methods like simple agitation against "the rich." It does not teach, taking advantage, for example, of the Bolivian experience, in order to demonstrate what can be done legally, how to combine social movements and the struggle within them, how to make alliances. On the contrary, he says "we don't have to look at Bolivia" and the same as the Bolivian and South American ultra-left, trying to weaken the government of Evo Morales and keeping a tight hold on aid while the Bolivian right and all the forces of capitalism are trying to defeat it. He doesn't teach doing politics, showing the divisions in the combination of opposition forces, explaining over what, and to what extent, López Obrador has clashed with the other candidates, and which sectors are supporting which and what their plans are and their effects on the country and on the oppressed. When Marcos exclaims "screw the correlation of forces!", he is teaching vulgar voluntarismo to his followers, who are ignorant of what battle is being unleashed, of what the enemy's methods are, of how there is consensus on those methods in certain sectors, and this leads them to a lack of organizational and political preparation. By replacing reason and considered commitment with rage and improvisation, he leads them to disastrous adventures, as in Atenco.

The Other Campaign is, it is true, fighting against capitalism's lack of ethics and its agents (the rapes, assassinations, dispossessions, the terrible exploitation, racism), but it does not present an opposing ethic. That is why it has no problem accepting the portraits of Stalin, whose system assassinated millions of workers and campesinos, raped en masse, built inhuman labor and extermination camps, collaborated with the nazis during the Molotov-Ribentropp Pact, destroyed all democratic rights and physically annihilated their opponents. It tacitly accepts the principle that the ends justify the means, and thus legitimate hate towards the police who repress in order to preserve the system culminates, as in San Salvador Atenco, in brutalities against a prostrate policeman, savagely beaten when he could not have been a danger to anyone. The Vietnamese and Cuban revolutionaries condemned the mistreatment of prisoners and torture. They did not practice them even when the enemy resorted to those methods. Where, on the other hand, are Marcos' condemnations of the lynching of a defenseless policeman which provided a pretext for the ferocity of the repression against the people of Atenco? Is he afraid that by condemning it he would be justifying the police barbarity, when that barbarity is typical of the system but is "justified" against the most deprived sectors by the pretexts shown by the victims' barbarism. Would not realistic objectivity involve dividing the policemen who refuse to carry out any criminal orders of the assassins and rapists, and not uniting them? If Marcos says "screw the correlation of forces," then why did he agree to an interview on Televisa with Loret de Mola, settling in on a sofa, smoking calmly, as if he were in his own house and not in hostile territory, and let De Mola conduct the interview without even trying to say anything? Could it be that he does not understand that TV – which he did not say anything against during his interview – is part of the adverse "correlation of forces" and he wanted to make himself cute, tolerable, so that at least a lot of people would see him.

The Other Campaign's big problem is that it is dependent on the political preparation of just Marcos and of a small handful of assistants. The immense majority of those who support zapatismo, especially among intellectuals, are afraid to posit "buts" (let alone constructive criticism) out of fear, first of all, of helping the "enemy" (and also, although to a lesser degree, since they are not cowards, but mistakenly accountable, of being attacked or condemned in a sectarian response). In Chiapas, Marcos is subject to the control and influence of the communities' good sense. During his tour, on the other hand, that is not happening, and he is using the blank check they have given, and are giving him, with disastrous results. The general situation is increasingly complicated, and the task he has undertaken, decisively and courageously, far exceeds his abilities, and it demands reflection, maturity, international political vision and a policy of alliances.

If the Other Campaign contributes – as it seems to be doing, through its acts and through its deficiencies – to the victory of the government's candidate, PANista Felipe Calderón, we will not have long to wait for the offensive by the right and by imperialism and the subsequent repression, because they will have to strike while the iron is hot. The reorganization of popular forces will take place amidst confusion, and it will take time. The defeat of the PRD will mark, of course, for the midterm, its destruction and the emergence, in order to fill the vacuum, of a leftist party, which will develop amid political confusion. Large sectors who will be voting for López Obrador, hoping for a change, will retain general support of zapatismo, especially if it is attacked, as the right desires, which says the truce is no longer justified, but those sectors will have accounts to settle with Marcos and with the Other Campaign. Will they have the maturity to seek, with them, a single defensive front and to begin to do politics, to have a program, ethics, pluralism and theoretical rigor? That is not dependent just on the Other Campaign, but also on those who, conquering their fear of making constructive criticism, understand that that is precisely the duty of friends, of compañeros, who cannot, nor should not, accept the role of Greek chorus in the drama.


Twenty Questions for Big Al, the Other Campaign, and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation
by John Ross

Time and Urgency: Reflections on the Politics of Listening in the Other Campaign, A Defense and a Critique by John Gibler