For a Revolutionary Alternative

Against the Current No. 17, November/December 1988

Manuel Aguilar Mora

PRESIDENT DE LA MADRID’s “modernization” campaign deepened the PRI’s alliance with national and foreign capital. The PRI was on a collision course with its traditional nationalist line of the patriotic, anti-imperialist and democratic alliance. In 1986, this contradiction gave rise to the Democratic Current (DC) led by Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and Porfirio Munoz Ledo, who built the Current claiming it represented the historical continuity of the Mexican Revolution.

The absence of an independent workers movement-combined with a socialist movement lacking the necessary ideological sophistication-tipped the balance toward neo-Cardenism. The convergence of neo-Cardenism with the reformist left attached to the PRI occurred naturally. These satellite parties included the PPS and the ex-PS1; now the PFCRN. The PARM even more strongly embraced the Cardenas candidacy as a means of escaping the near fatal crisis it suffered after 1982, when the PARM lost its status as an officially registered electoral party.

Divisions in the PRI had real effect on these particular proto-PRI parties. Their very reason for being was fading in face of the shameless pro-capitalist tum taken by the “new” PRI of De la Madrid and Salinas.

The Left and Cuauhtemoc Cardenas

The attractive power of the nationalist-reformist alternative presented by the DC reached well beyond those organizations with a history of electoral and conciliationist positions. The majority of the more radical organizations, including groups that as late as 1987 had stridently opposed electoral participation, such as Punto Critic, also gravitated to the DC. Veteran anti-parliamentarists, libertarian anarchists and proponents of “total revolution” were suddenly transformed into vocal Cardenists. Among progressive intellectuals, the intoxication with Cardenas was mind-boggling.

It became apparent that strong ties still bound the so-called independent left to a notion of national liberation conceived as a multi-class alliance under the leadership of the nationalist bourgeoisie. This was true even among those sectors that after 1968 had sought genuine revolutionary socialist answers to the problems of the Mexican class struggle.

After 1968, a new left emerged in which socialist and revolutionary currents were an important component. Groups identified as Castroist, Guevarist, Maoist, Trotskyist and anarchist gained in strength during this period. Twenty years after ’68, with the PRI in severe crisis, it appeared as though this post-’68 process would culminate with an important show of the strength this new left had accrued. Indeed, in the intervening years even the old Mexican Communist Party had been forced to jettison some of its Stalinist traits. And yet, in 1988 the revolutionary left experienced its own crisis, the most severe since 1968.

This watershed for the new left had its source in the old Stalinist party, the Mexican Communist Party, which in 1981 fused with the Mexican Workers Party (PMT) to become the Unified Socialist Party of Mexico (PSUM).Both of the founding components of the PSUM were strongly influenced by Cardenism. They began to emphasize the nationalist, “Mexican” aspects of their program to the detriment of socialist goals, despite the fact that they continued to mount initiatives that were independent of the bourgeoisie.

In 1987, the Mexican Socialist Party (PMS) arose as a product of the unification of the PSUM and the PMT; a populist party influenced by revolutionary socialism. A number of other groups with nationalist, Stalinist and Maoist origins also joined the PMS, uniting around a basically reformist and electoral strategy.

The PMS planned to maintain its independent profile by fielding its own presidential candidate. In November 1987, it nominated Heberto Castillo, an engineer and long-standing leader of the PMT. It was a campaign that had relatively impressive resources.

But when the Democratic Current was forced to leave the PRI, the PMS leadership — conscious of the competition the Current could be — attempted to attract the DC by increasingly emphasizing their nationalism as against their socialism. But Cardenas and Ledo categorically rejected being identified with any kind of socialist project or ideology, even the PMS’s moderate version.

Between December 1987 and May 1988 Heberto Castillo ran an electoral campaign whose success was more a product of media coverage than actual mobilization. The PMS’s “independent” electoral strategy was undermined by the groundswell for Cardenas. The rank and file of the PMS began to see the basic similarity between the program of their party and that of Cardenism. Castillo paved the way for his own disappearance as a candidate by making statements that gave back-handed support to the Cardenists.

Sectors of the PMS publicly urged their candidate to step down so that they could back Cardenas. And Castillo did in fact withdraw his candidacy barely a month before the July elections. This union of the PMS with Cardenism was a serious blow to the movement for an independent, revolutionary, and socialist alternative.

Only the Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT) persisted in posing a socialist and class alternative in face of the crisis and division of the PRI. Although it was founded in a process of regroupment of the revolutionary left only ten years ago, the PRT’s roots go back to Trotskyist groups active in the 1960s.

In preparation for the 1988 elections, the PRT had advocated a coalition of socialist, revolutionary, and independent forces that would draw up a program of Popular Unity. It sought an alliance with socialist organizations from Maoist origins, like the Organization of the Revolutionary Left (OIR), with nationalists evolving toward socialism, like the National Revolutionary Civic Association (ACNR), as well as with other groups who considered themselves socialists. In this crucial moment for the PRI and the bourgeoisie, the PRT saw the need to define an independent revolutionary political course in the presidential elections. But given the pronounced weakness of the Mexican left, the project was too ambitious.

The PRT program came under attack. Pressure built for the PRT to withdraw its presidential candidate, Rosario Ibarra, as the PMS had done and jump on the Cardenist bandwagon. It looked as though in 1988 the socialist position of working-class independence from the bourgeoisie would disappear completely from the Mexican political landscape. The thinking of practically all the left was clouded by the intense hatred of the PRI, the struggle against the government and the desire to defeat its official candidate, Salinas de Gortari.

The socialist agenda was subordinated to anti-PRIism. The reality of Cardenism — a faction of the PRI seeking the reform of the party and not its overthrow — was just glossed over. All that mattered was building a movement strong enough to defeat Salinas and the PRI in the elections.

The PRT was the only progressive left party that stood firm on an independent socialist program. And even the PRT suffered a split when a group headed by Adolfo Gilly and three parliamentary deputies left the PRT to go over to the Cardenist movement Along with other groups (Punto Critico, OIR and student fractions from the CEU) they formed the Movement to Socialism (MAS), which has a jumbled and eclectic political platform.

The fundamental dispute between the PRT and the comrades of the MAS centered on differing assessments of what neo-Cardenism represented. For the MAS, the mass movement generated by Cardenas is the starting point for the revolutionary party needed in Mexico now. For them, Cardenas is a leader capable of transforming the nationalist consciousness of the masses into socialist consciousness. Thus the MAS had to become an integral part of the broader Cardenist project and use its influence and energy to move it toward socialism.

It is obvious that this plan is completely illusory. The MAS, and the much more powerful and influential PMS, remain completely subordinate to the leadership of the Democratic Current. There is no discussion and no real democratic interchange among the various components of Cardenism. The electoral formation of the FDN is still not a sufficiently homogenous movement to be able to “socialistically” influence the rather spontaneous mass movement of today. After all the PPS, PFCRN, PARM and PMS all have their own leaderships and strategies.

The MAS has very little room for maneuver in this situation. In fact, it hasn’t really acted as a party. Rather, because its members include talented intellectuals and student leaders who are accepted because Cardenas respects their advice, the MAS has primarily played the role of advisor to Cardenas. Thus the MAS is strictly a bridge by which these socialists cross over to the Cardenist camp.

The crisis of the PRI and the growing discontent of the masses provided fertile ground for the socialist left, which could have played a central role in the 1988 elections. lf the PMS and the PRT had been able to forge a united campaign, drawing in other socialist and independent organizations, there would have been an anti-capitalist working-class pole that could have attracted millions of people and become a powerful force.

But the blindness of the majority of the Mexican left and its tail-ending of bourgeois nationalists prevented discontent from being channeled into an independent alternative. Instead neo-Cardenism walked away with the electoral rebellion of July 6 in its hip pocket.

The “Earthquake” of July 6

On the morning of July 6 long but orderly lines of voters appeared at the more than 54,000 polling places throughout the country. Nothing like this had ever been seen in Mexico before, not even in the 1930s or’40s. The population saw the vote as means of protesting De la Madrid’s policies and flocked to the polling booths to punish the PRI for its brutal six-year assault on their living standards. Although the electoral law stipulated that polling places should close at 7:00 p.m., people continued to vote until 9-10 p.m.

By nightfall the drama intensified. The three oppositional candidates for president-Cardenas, Manuel Clouthier from the right-wing nationalist party, PAN, and Rosario Ibarra from the PRT, met to evaluate the situation. The government had announced that by 10 p.m. it would have preliminary results of the voting tabulated by a brand new computer system purchased for the occasion.

Precisely at 10 p.m., the three candidates, accompanied by a crowd of more than 1,000, approached the secretary of the FRI-dominated Federal Election Commission (CFE). They called on the government not to precipitate a crisis by announcing fraudulent figures making the PRI candidate, Salinas de Gortari, the winner. The election board then announced a “systems breakdown” of the computers, meaning no figures could be released.

This action by the three oppositional candidates was an audacious move that caught the PRI off guard. Every six years the PRI has announced on election night that it was the winner without any trouble or challenge. It threw a real damper on the “victory” fiesta at PRI headquarters, leaving the PRI’s president, De la Vega Dominguez, to announce their “legal and decisive” triumph without a single figure to support the claim. At 3 am. the secretary of the commission appeared on national radio and television to refute and reject accusations of fraud, again without any results to report.

The PRI-ists were in a state of complete confusion for days after the election. The opposition forces redoubled their mobilizations. The slowness with which the computers were churning out results proved that the PRI high command was having trouble dodging the charges of fraud. It took the government more than a week to doctor up some figures for public release.

These bogus results made Salinas the winner, with 9,641,329 votes, or 50.36% of the total. Cardenas got 5,956,988 or 31.12%; Clouthier 3,267,159 (17.07%); Gumersindo Magana, 199,484 (1.04%); and Rosario Ibarra 80,052 (0.42%).

Among the deputies from 300 districts that were directly elected by majority vote, the PRI won 249, PAN 31, the electoral front that backed Cardenas (FON), 20. With the distribution of the remaining 200 deputies indirectly elected by proportional representation, the new Chamber of Deputies had approximately 260 deputies for the PRI-ist majority and 240 for the opposition (100 for the PAN and 140 for the FDN).

The biggest surprise in these figures was an incredible abstention rate of 48.2%. Only 19 million of the 38 million registered voters had participated. Yet both the government and the PRI had repeatedly stated that the 1988 elections had the biggest voter turnout in history. How, then, could the 1988 abstention rate possibly surpass that of earlier years? Little by little, the concrete mechanisms of fraud were coming to light.

Changes in the Opposition

The results of July 6 clearly showed that the country is moving to the left. They provided striking confirmation for those who have been insisting that the large votes the PAN had been getting did not mean the Mexican population was turning to the right. Rather, the PAN’s strong electoral showings in the past reflected the profound discontent with the PRI and the desire for democratization.

The July 6 elections seriously affected the PAN, as well as the PRI. For fifty years, the PAN had played the role of the chief loyal opposition to the right of the PRI and had looked forward to a big showing in the 1988 elections to secure its place as the most credible electoral alternative.

The outpouring for Cardenas destroyed these dreams. The PAN, coming in third behind Cardenas and Salinas, was suddenly shoved out of its privileged position. Since July 6, the PAN has had to change its strategy and appeal. Although in an erratic and contradictory way, the PAN is seeking to become the privileged interlocutor for the PR! inside the opposition, to be the bourgeois opposition par excellence.

The capitalist sectors support the PAN’s tum toward more moderate forms of opposition. The explosion of Cardenism is threatening to them. They feel trapped by the PRI and its accursed populist tradition. They look to the PAN to give them some room for maneuver in a situation where a powerful left current has developed that emphasizes all the themes rejected by the PAN: return to the welfare state; more firmness in dealings with imperialism; making concessions to the masses, and so on. The virulent anti-Cardenism of some in the PAN indicates that the PAN will turn to the right in the near future.

The popular support that sustains the PAN can no longer be discounted as a factor. Despite the powerful forces for conciliation now operating within it, in the coming months the PAN will continue to actively oppose the PR! and will be an obstacle to a rapid and effortless stabilization of the political situation.

Paradoxically, the shift in the electoral balance toward center-left has had a negative impact on the socialist left The electoral fraud no doubt contributes to the shrinkage of the left’s voting base. In reality, the totals (even more deflated by the electoral college) attributed by the CFE to both left and right parties traditionally identified as oppositional to the PR! are very contradictory. In this election, the three parties “historically” in opposition to the PRI los the equivalent of 17% of the votes they received in 1982.

1982 Vote 1988 Vote
Party (in 1,000s) (in 1,000s) Difference
PAN 3,700 3,276 -12%
PMS 822* 684** -18%
PRT 416 80 -81%

• 1982 vote of PSUM
•• 1988 vote of PSUM plus PMT, now merged as PMS

Gabriel Zaid, a moderate liberal intellectual, has remarked that these results are incredible in light of the fact that the PRI faced the most opposition in this election than at any other time in its history. Yet the historical anti-PRI opposition actually lost votes instead of gaining in strength. (Proceso, August 29, 1988)

The fraud was especially harmful to the two independent socialist parties. The PMS barely got 3% of the total vote, less than what the PSUM alone got in 1982. The PRT was the hardest hit. It failed to get one-fifth of its 1982 total and lost its registration as a party with sufficient support to merit representation in parliament. The explanation for this irony resides in the Cardenist movement But not entirely. The government took its revenge on the PMS as well as the PR’I On the PMS because the withdrawal of their Castillo candidacy only a month before the election made for an unstoppable momentum for Cardenas that would devastate the PR! at the polls. On the PRT because of the radical and uncompromising campaign of its candidate, Rosario Ibarra. The government was also not about to overlook the infamous night of July 6, when Ibarra joined with Cardenas and Clouthier in denouncing the electoral fraud before a live national and international media audience.

Anti-Fraud Mobilization

On September 14, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas was the only speaker at a magnificent rally of 200-250,000, the second of that size in Jess than two months to gather in the Zocalo, the grand plaza in the heart of Mexico City. Cardenas delivered a lengthy speech in which he laid out the strategy of the major forces united in the fight against electoral fraud.

In view of the fraudulent results, which were the basis on which the PRI declared Salinas the president-elect, Cardenas demanded that Salinas “step down as president-election order to open the road to a restoration of legality and constitutional legitimacy.” He recalled the violence, never investigated by the authorities, which has resulted in the assassination of democratic and revolutionary militants. Cardenas declared that the government authorities were “acting outside the limits of the constitution and were solely responsible for the violation of the popular will and the inviolate right of the people to elect their representatives by peaceful, constitutional means.”

Cardenas affirmed that the struggle could be long, “but we cannot and will not wait six years, or even three…. Victory must come as soon as possible.” He repeatedly emphasized the peaceful, legal character of these efforts. But he also said: “More years of the same sell-out policies and insensitivity to the suffering of the people would be an unacceptable sacrifice.”

The first step in the new strategy would come on December 1, the day that the president-elect would be inaugurated. “Maybe he’ll succeed in taking office, and maybe he won’t.”

To accomplish the goals, Cardenas proposed “the formation of rank and file committees throughout the country” to educate and organize the population. “We are the majority and right now the majority has a responsibility to organize the party that was born on July 6, when we won the election, and chart the course this country must take.”

This call was something new for Cardenas – “to organize the majority party of July 6.” What form would this new organization take? Cardenas praises the FON, but he also recognizes its limitations, its inability to subordinate its particular interests to the common clamor for justice on the part of all the diverse candidates for deputy, senator, governor and city council president Clearly, another organizational form was needed. But Cardenas did not spell out clearly what it would be. He simply left the door open for various alternatives: “a coalition, a federation, or a political party.”

All along, the Cardenas appeal has draped itself with the banner of “the ideas of the Mexican Revolution,” claiming that the process of 1910-1917 “is continuing and is a real force through which the popular masses carry on the nationalist, populist Mexican tradition.” Cardenas announced that a group of Mexican political figures” would soon call for the formation of a new organization. In this way, Cardenas was seeking to orient the movement toward an organization that would be expressly limited to his strategy of pressuring the present and future Mexican government.

Although vague, the Cardenist response is not a step backward. Yet the big questions that will be posed in the near future were left unanswered: how to struggle against the usurpation that would take place on December 1; what were the deputies and senators supposed to do in the event that Salinas came to power? The PARM and the PFCRN, which had won 30 and 45 deputies respectively, had already said that they saw advantages to continuing as independent organizations. The PPS, the other FON affiliate which had greatly benefited from the Cardenas groundswell, had declared in favor of a unified party. These parties have a reformist line of alliance with the PRI that makes it impossible for them to take any kind of independent action.

The PMS, which fared the worst in terms of elected deputies (19), responded enthusiastically to Cardenas’ call and placed its legal status as a party at the service of the new party in formation. A dozen assorted parties without legal status which had provided Cardenas with his most loyal base quickly followed the PMS’s lead.

Obviously the basic leadership nucleus in which Cardenas has the greatest confidence is the Democratic Current, of which Munoz Ledo, a senator from Mexico City, is the leading figure. This formation is the main force in the ideology and strategy of neo-Cardenism. And the DC gained in deputy strength through the other parties that joined the FDN.

For the socialist left, which the PRT is practically alone in representing, the proof of events is dear. The crisis of the PRI, and the capitalist crisis it expresses, is the motor force for generalized discontent A fundamentally reactive mobilization has arisen that is basically democratic in character and sentiment In Mexico, a powerful democratic movement has arisen that has spilled over the limits imposed by a crumbling dominant system. In a situation such as this, the task of revolutionary socialists is dear: to became a part of the popular democratic agitation.

However, the unfolding mass process has a dual character and cannot be confined to democratic goals. All of the questions that define a genuine revolutionary strategy are now being posed: an analysis of imperialism and the subjugation of dependent countries; permanent revolution or revolution in stages; whether the bourgeoisie plays a reactionary or progressive role in underdeveloped countries; the necessity for class independence of the proletariat in the fulfillment of its role as chief protagonist in the revolutionary process.

The independent revolutionary left has major responsibilities in the present conjuncture. The PRT in particular was subjected to one of its biggest tests in the 12 years of its existence. It came under tremendous pressure to withdraw its candidate, Rosario Ibarra. As already mentioned, the PRT paid a price for the immense pressure to make Cardenas the sole candidate of the left. It lost a section of its leadership, one which had little support in the ranks of the party but got a lot of public attention largely because it included three parliamentary deputies of the PRT and Adolfo Gilly, a well-known intellectual and author.

For the most part, the left exhibited its political weakness, its inability to go beyond its historic position as an appendage of bourgeois nationalism and a stagist conception of the revolutionary process. For this left, which has its origins in Stalinism, the democratic stage must precede the ever more distant socialist stage. The socialist stage in Mexico? Presumably, it’s not on the agenda right now. Maybe it will be considered feasible or useful to raise socialist ideas sometime well into the 21st century.

No legitimate Marxist analysis of the devastating capitalist crisis now enveloping the Mexican people can support this illusory view. Tactics that failed in the 1930s and ’40s-the concept of a national liberation struggle in a patriotic united block of the popular masses with the progressive national bourgeoisie cannot possibly triumph in the 1980s and lay the basis for a Mexican national-democratic upsurge in the ’90s.

In a non-sectarian way, the PRT placed itself in the forefront of the broad front for democracy and against fraud without losing its political identity and socialist profile. The PRT is convinced that the national struggle in Mexico today has automatic international repercussions that render obsolete and reactionary any attempt to limit the democratic struggle to a single nation without integrating this struggle with those of all the Latin American peoples. The struggle against the debt, for national sovereignty and against imperialism cannot be simply “nationalist.”

The Mexican bourgeoisie is well aware that it plays a subordinate role to imperialism. Their acceptance of this role places concrete limits on the ability of any minority bourgeois current, such as Cardenism, to wage a consistent struggle against imperialism.

By Way of Conclusion

The somber economic prognosis for Mexico is glaringly apparent in the daily press. The bourgeois spokesmen-some in, but most outside the government-are convinced that the Pact of Economic Solidarity (PSE) imposed in December 1987 has since this September succeeded in lowering inflation, but only at the cost of a deep recession.

In the first five months of 1988, productive investment fell by 5%. It is predicted that it will continue to fall in the second half of the year. Concamin, the national industrial federation, foresees “the recession continuing into the first six months of 1989.” (El Financiero, August 20, 1988). This policy of recession brings with it the inevitably co-policy of austerity, whose chief aim is to satisfy Mexico’s imperialist masters.

The Inter-American Development Bank (BID) affirmed that Mexico is in first place in all of Latin America when it comes to paying interest on its foreign debt This waste of resources, currently estimated at 63.3% of Mexico’s total expenditures, has risen from the 1.7% of the gross national product it represented in 1980 to 19.5% in 1987.

International conditions combine with national ones to bolster the conclusion that a bleak economic future is inevitable for Mexico. Oil prices are still falling (a Iitt1e less than $13 a barrel in September), one of a number of signs that an international recession is coming in 1989. The director of the BID continues to assert that the five principal Latin American countries — Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela and Peru – will turn in the worst economic performance in 1988.

Social conditions continue to worsen. Ramon Dan­ zos, a peasant leader and member of the PMS, calculates that unemployment grew lo 2million in the countryside from 1982 to 1988, a figure that represents one quarter of the economically active rural population.

In industry, the process of destructuration is proceeding unabated. From 1983 to 1988, a policy has been followed that threatens to destroy everything that has been achieved in the last thirty years, reducing Mexican national industry to a marginal position in relation to foreign manufacture.

Finally, the current political instability in the country can worsen the economic deterioration. In November and December, key months just before and after a change in the presidency, political events could occur that would precipitate decisive economic transformation. Capital flight, devaluation of the peso, rising inflation, a breakdown of the economic pact (PSE), inflation combined with stagnation, difficulty paying the foreign debt because of a continued drop in oil prices — a combination of these factors could provoke a major economic crisis on the scale of the one in 1982.

However, this article cannot reach definitive conclusions. A fluid process is unfolding in which there are many possibilities. On July 6, the Mexican people provoked a situation whose consequences remain to be seen.

For the first time in its history, the PRI is discredited in international public opinion, much more so than in 1968. Then, the imperialist bourgeoisie covered for the PRI and helped it escape condemnation for the Tlatelolco massacres, which took place on the eve of the Olympic games. But not today. The entire world witnessed the testimony about electoral fraud and the consequent crisis of the PRI. The government couldn’t stop the hundreds of journalists covering events surrounding the elections from telling the real story.

Reagan immediately rushed to recoup some of the losses by recognizing Salinas as the legitimate winner. Much to their disgrace, the governments of Cuba and Nicaragua followed suit The three oppositional presidential candidates (Ibarra, Cardenas and Clouthier) then sent letters to Havana and Managua protesting this action, inasmuch as Salinas wasn’t officially declared the victor until September 10.

The processes opened by July 6 are now in full swing. Mexico is undergoing a crisis which will remake the country. International solidarity from the world’s democratic forces is vital to the people of Mexico. Above all, a victory for the Mexican people will benefit all the peoples of the world. It would radically shift the relationship of forces against world capitalism and imperialism.

November-December 1988, ATC 17

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