The New Stage and the Democratic Current

Against the Current No. 16, September-October 1988

Arturo Anguiano

MEXICO HAS BEEN hard-hit by the capitalist crisis. A widespread economic crisis has gone hand in hand with an equally widespread political crisis. The favorable conditions of capital accumulation which allowed the country to transform itself in the ’60s at an accelerated tempo are disappearing, as are the political conditions other and both mutually condition a common process that has opened a period of political and social instability in Mexico.

The crisis has determined the policies of Miguel de la Madrid’s six-year presidency, a black period for society with respect to the living standards of the people, their capacity for action, and their freedom to exercise their rights.

The government has sought to bring the economy back to health by striking at the root of the crisis through a thoroughgoing economic restructuring designed to create the conditions for a new period of capital accumulation, and for sustained growth of the economy and of profits. It has tried to adapt Mexico to the new conditions of the world market and to the new international division of labor:

“Specifically, it has implemented a plan of integration of the Mexican economy-itself ever more internationalized-into the U.S. economy, so as to develop in Mexico an economy centered on the export of a number of industrial products. The government is trying to put an end to the deep crisis of the Mexican economy by orienting the productive resources of the country to meet the needs of the United States.”

Austerity and restructuring have hit the masses as hard if not harder than the corrosive impact of the prolonged economic crisis itself. Massive unemployment and underemployment, deskilling, decline in living standards owing to cutbacks in social spending by the state, constant decline in wages, unstable and insecure employment, concession bargaining-these have all influenced the course of the crisis and of economic restructuring.

Indeed to foster the productive integration of the Mexican economy into the U.S. economy, state and capital are trying completely to recast labor relations in Mexico by dismantling the historic conquests of the Mexican revolution, conquests repeatedly defended by worker mobilizations ever since the revolution. They are seeking to take away the freedom of action of workers despite the workers’ own organizations, the unions, being controlled by corrupt, state-dependent bureaucracies. Above all, the restructuring offensive has combined with the economic crisis to undermine the collective power of the workers, the exercise of which throughout the ’70s had been able, by the beginning of the ’80s, to redress the balance of class forces in favor of labor.

Not only have the state and the bourgeoisie implemented policies to overcome the tenacious crisis of the Mexican economy, they have also put into effect various measures to strengthen the forms of their political domination in the country. But the rhythm at which they are implementing economic measures to get the country out of crisis does not coincide with the rhythm of equally necessary and urgent measures of political reconversion or, as it is often called nowadays, political “modernization.” The decline of the old political regime of the state, often labelled social or populist, and of its official Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), whose basis of support is centered in strongly and semi-corporately integrated sectors of society, continues apace in the face of changes in the economy and in the social classes of the country which are being restructured and modernized. The state and bourgeoisie are creating a deeper and wider chasm between, on the one hand, an economy in transformation and classes in increasingly sharp and irreconcilable conflict and, on the other hand, an anachronistic political regime, whose several components cease ever more to fulfill the functions of integration and control indispensable to the state. Among its effects:

1) struggles between different fractions of the organized transnational bourgeoisie to alter the role of the state in the economy by demanding a greater voice in policy-making organs of the state;

2) the veiled use of the National Action Party (PAN) as an instrument of pressure against the PRI and the government by certain factions of the bourgeoisie;

3) the increasingly insoluble contradictions between the workers’ sector of the PRI, especially the Mexican Confederation of Workers (CTM), central pillar of the old form of domination, and the government which is looking for a way-without however finding it-to modify and modernize its control over the work force in conformity with the exigencies of capitalist restructuring;

4) the grave political crisis of the PRI signaled by the split from it of the Democratic Bloc, led by Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, a current which represents the last redoubt of social forces wanting to identify with the nationalist revolutionary policies of the government.

Indeed, the split influences and conditions every other aspect of the political crisis. The split of the Democratic Current occurred at the very moment when the government chose Carlos Salinas de Gortari to succeed Miguel de la Madrid, thereby signaling the government’s intention to continue the capitalist “modernization” of the country.

The state is trying to advance roughshod over contradictions arising on its own, political, terrain in order to realize the indispensable recomposition of its class domination. The exigencies of its economic project are requiring the state to enforce a stricter discipline in factories and enterprises, in public administration and in education, so as to rationalize the processes of production and give a qualitative boost to labor productivity, the Achilles heel of the Mexican economy. In this way, it is trying to extend its reach, via specific institutional forms, to society as a whole, to the commons, the barrios, the cities.

Parallel to these processes taking place below are state-initiated processes of political reform above. The state is opening new, limited, channels of political participation to coax social movements toward electoral forms of activity. However, insofar as the electoral aspect of these reforms is in direct contradiction with what is happening in the depths of society, these political reforms will be unable to halt the processes of reorganization and resistance taking place in the workers’ movement at the workplace, in the community, and in other areas of political-social activity. The domination imposed in drastic form at the enterprise level, at the base, does not find its complement at the top, at the level of politics and society. This attests to the insufficient and contradictory character of the political reform.

One of the decisive expressions of the current political crisis is the crisis of the trade-union bureaucracy, a crisis which demonstrates clearly the decline of the old form of national-bourgeois domination.

The entire massive apparatus of domination built by the trade-union bureaucracies as part of the state is tending to break down before the strengthening of the social power of the workers, a social power which, given the capitalist crisis, can no longer be incorporated into society through the cement of material concessions. In the last few years the bureaucratized trade-unions have been losing control; consensual legitimacy of the official leaderships is eroding as they reveal their impotence and their quasi-non-interference in the enforcement of collective contracts and in labor conflicts, both increasingly determined by state policies imposed from above. The power of the bureaucracy is being undermined at different tempos and at different levels, but it is real and the overall tendency-stimulated by the government­ is toward greater weakness. At bottom, what is at stake is state restoration of the powers of this bureaucracy and of the role of the trade unions themselves in society.

Of course this state of affairs means weakened control over workers. But the latter nevertheless are having difficulty strengthening themselves to take advantage of the current situation to not only cast off state tutelage which limits the freedom of action of workers, but to curb the devastating effects of the economic crisis on workers as well.

Such a complex and contradictory process, with its many ups and downs, began in the early 1970s and has its own rhythm of development in the context of the long-term capitalist crisis.

The strengthening of the PAN is part of the political crisis of the regime. A number of entrepreneurial sec­ tors are supporting the PAN, by various means and at various times, so as to put pressure on the PRI and the government Even though the PAN is a regional phenomenon, centered in the northern states of the country, this party has undoubtedly increased its influence among certain layers of the masses, especially in the urban areas. Its loud and forthright democratic discourse, its attacks on corruption especially, have helped the PAN become the mouthpiece of an important segment of society. After the federal elections of 1985 and especially the state elections of 1986, the PAN began pushing hard for a two-party system, a political project which many considered valid.

As the second electoral political force in the country, albeit far behind the PRI according to official figures, the PAN nevertheless did not satisfy many of the hopes it had raised. In the electoral campaign it was able to mobilize supporters only in a few areas, in the Federal District [Mexico City] and Guadalajara, but was not able to do as well as it had in the past in Sonora, Chihuahua and Monterrey.

In truth the PAN is rapidly evolving toward becoming a bourgeois political alternative, even if to some it does not appear to compete with the PRI because both, at bottom, resemble one another, their basic political projects coinciding instead of clashing. The PAN is becoming a party of the current regime, even if not part of the state. It is more an instrument of negotiation with the state, rather than an effective alternative to the present governing team.

The Split in the PRI

But what is new, what represents a qualitative change in the political crisis and creates the conditions for a reshuffling of the political cards, is the crisis of the PRI, accelerated by the loosening of the Democratic Bloc and the rapid evolution toward a political rupture by Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and the popular nationalist current he represents.

The Democratic Bloc defined itself as the defender of the original traditions of the Mexican revolution and, initially, presented itself as the “true PRI,” as the representative of the continuity of a political regime perfected in the ’30s. But these positions, situated at the margin of its popular nationalist political project, and above all, the dynamic of its political action, constitute in reality a genuine rupture with actual regime and its policies of restructuring and modernizing the state and capitalism in Mexico.

The different elements of the program of the Democratic Bloc, especially those synthesized by Cardenas at the beginning of his electoral campaign on November 29, 1987, represent a radical nationalist and democratic politics in clear opposition to the prevailing project of modernization. The logic of the latter has no room for meeting the basic needs of the masses, even if reproduces much of the “populist” aspects typical of state policies of days gone by.

What is significant is that once Cardenas and the Democratic Bloc split with the PRI, they turned to the political and social left hoping to unite all democratic forces in support of a single presidential candidate to strike a fatal blow to the PRI regime. The radical nationalism of the Mexican revolution sought to strengthen itself by tying itself to the anticapitalist and anti-imperialist nationalism of the socialists and certain advanced layers of the masses.

The contradictory character of the split of the Democratic Bloc was overcome in practice in the course of Cardenas’ electoral campaign. Cardenas radicalized and hardened his political positions under the impact of the torrent of social discontent unleashed throughout the county. He deepened his split from the regime by attacking some of its defining constitutive bases: corporatism and presidentialism. More, he broke one of the golden rules of the Mexican system: bargaining. This, in the language of the PRI-istas, means compromise or mouthwash, and that the government rewrites electoral results to conform more to the government’s desires and less to the actual voting.

Nevertheless, one must highlight one of the elements which created the most confusion around the split of Cardenas and the Democratic Bloc. This was the entry first of the PARM [Paritido Autentico de la Revolution Mexicana] and later the formation of the Democratic National Front composed mainly of that party, the PFCRN [Partido del Frente Cardenista de Reconstruccion Nadonal] (ex-PST) [Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores] and the Lombardist PPS [Partido Popular Socialista, Lombardista]. All three parties are commonly recognized by the left and public opinion generally to be satellite parties. What is not taken into consideration here is that the government, which had fed and sustained them, was about to eliminate them on orders of Miguel de la Madrid as part of a restructuring of the party-system in Mexico designed to reduce the legalized political options available while retaining the illusion of competition.

The satellite parties, doubtless fearful of being sacrificed for the sake of “political modernization,” rebelled against the PRI and the government to defend their existence. Other than contributing their income as legally registered parties to Cardenas’ electoral campaign, they have not in any way played a substantial role in it nor in developing the mass movement around Cardenas’ presidential candidacy. [to be continued in ATC 17]

September-October 1988, ATC 16

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