From PRI to Foxismo

Against the Current, No. 88, September/ October 2000

Guillermo Almeyra

MEXICO ON JULY 2 experienced an alternation of parties in power at the national level. But the more fundamental shift away from the one-party state had begun already with the Salinas administration (1988-1994), when he tried to replace the ruling PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) with his own political and patronage apparatus, “Solidarity.”

This process continued when the right-of-center PAN (National Action Party) won several state governorships, and the left-of-center PRD (Party of Democratic Revolution) won the elections in the Federal District, the country’s capital, in 1997. In the same 1997 elections, the PRI lost its majority in the lower house of parliament, leading to subsequent parliamentary accords between the PRI and the PAN on a number of fundamental matters. In the current Zedillo administration, an important leader of the PAN was also appointed attorney general.

This political alternation, which took place in the context of an essential continuity — policies in the service of financial capital — was made with the aid and complicity not of the PRI, which in the recent elections risked its very existence and power, but of the technocrats who lead the government and who also belonged, just like PAN leader Vicente Fox and his associates, to the group integrated with financial capital.

On July 2, President Zedillo rushed to recognize the unofficial election results to shortcut any possible reaction of the PRI. Before the elections, Zedillo had introduced Fox to the high command of the Mexican armed forces. For his part, even before announcing his cabinet and governmental program, Fox met with the military chiefs to underline the continuity of his regime with the prevailing forces.

Fox’s “Passive Revolution”

In this way, the man who came to power will continue, and take to its logical conclusions, the neoliberal policies of big capital. This is the principal issue at stake and the rest is subordinate.

Nevertheless, the subordinate issues are very important. In effect, Fox triumphed with the support of what Gramsci called a “passive revolution,” a confused social protest that is channeled by the right with demagogic methods.

Such a conservative shift is supported by two pillars. The first and main one is the result of the social, demographic, economic, political and cultural changes of the last twenty years of neoliberal policies. The migrations inside Mexico and to the United States emptied the countryside, tore the social fabric of the communities, transformed identities and views of the world, and dispersed previously homogeneous social sectors.

Unemployment, and the fact that more than one half of the labor force “works” in the “informal” sector, broke the established solidarities, fomented individualism, and prevented the development of a collective view of problems and their solutions, leading to a generalized attitude of looking out for number one.

The transformation of young peasant women into maquiladora workers, with miserable salaries and awful working conditions, created millions of unorganized women workers, ready to work in semislave conditions (which they still experienced as progress), and without any experience of organization or democracy.

The maquiladoras, however, absorb a relatively small part of the total labor force, while NAFTA has provoked massive unemployment in small- and medium-sized  industry, in services and in the countryside.

The reduction of the social welfare role of the state and of the sources of employment must be added to the impact of the huge information and communication media. The latter have replaced the school and collective social action as the educators of Mexican youth, promoting individualism, selfishness and hedonism on a daily basis.

The forced urbanization, as marginal people, of masses of peasants not only diluted communities, but also prevented their integration and the acquisition of a new identity for people who were transformed into social dust, without stable work, hope and future. The decline of the solidarities among communities, genres and ages was combined with the profoun transformation of the intellectual world, which was expressed in the noticeable changes in the university milieu and in the PRD.

As the state weakened, nationalism, its tool of domination, declined along with clientelism and the machineries of mediation (union bureaucracies, parties and the Church). The intellectuals lost their role as national leaders and shapers of public opinion — a role which has been assumed by privately owned television stations — and ceased to function as the bridge between the state of the dominant sectors and the popular sectors.

Most intellectuals came to depend on the market in order to earn a living and, in the process, adopted its ideology. This is an international phenomenon. (What better example of the deterioration of the political role of intellectuals than Susan Sontag and other U.S. intellectuals, along with the majority of French and Italian intellectuals, enthusiastically supporting the massive assassination of Iraqis and Yugoslavians for “reasons of humanitarian intervention” and to “punish Saddam Hussein or Milosevic” whom they identified, in a truly racist manner, with their respective peoples?)

In Mexico, this process assumed some ridiculous features, such as the call by many intellectuals to cast a “useful vote” in the July 2 elections (that is, to vote for Fox and the right … in order to kick the right out of office!).

The Left’s Failure

To these transformations of Mexico’s social classes and electorate (there are almost fifteen million Mexicans in the United States and another seven million Mexicans, who move about in the country in search of a job, who did not participate in the electoral process), one should add the myopic, opportunist and obsolete policies of the so-called left that did everything to destroy any hope of an alternative, thereby reinforcing the weight of the way of thinking and policies of the center-right.

In 1988, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas led the popular mobilization for a change of the political system and won the elections, but didn’t react in any way when the PRI, through shameless fraud and with the aid of the PAN, imposed Carlos Salinas as president.

In 1997, the most politicized and educated electorate of the country, that of the country’s capital, massively elected Cardenas as Mexico City mayor in order to bring about change. Everything continued to be the same, with the relatively important exception that low- and mid-level-local government functionaries stole less, and top local government leaders didn’t steal at all.

To top it all, thinking that he was engaging in a deft political maneuver, Cardenas proposed to Fox and the PAN a joint presidential slate for the July 2000 elections, expecting Fox and the PAN to reject the idea thereby publicly exposing them as sectarian allies of the PRI. Skillfully, Fox and the PAN said neither yes or no. The PRD negotiated with the PAN for months, while Fox — but not Cardenas — actively campaigned for the presidency.

It was only when Fox pulled ahead in the polls that Cardenas “discovered” the obvious, that the PRD and the PAN had opposite projects. Cardenas suddenly called “fascist” the very person whom the day before he had legitimated and seen as a potential ally.

If that weren’t enough, while Fox spoke about change and throwing out the PRI, the leadership of the PRD sunk itself in a series of internal scandals, disputing positions in the future parliament (before winning them) and sabotaging Cardenas’ campaign (which belatedly began to differentiate itself from the PAN), expecting to reach agreement to distribute among themselves more patronage positions.

As far as the PRD social program is concerned, it was and continues to be a barely revised version of the old distributive nationalism which had already failed by the end of the seventies. This program, seasoned with abundant verbal nationalism, is incapable of mobilizing a youth that doesn’t even know who the heroes of the PRD’s political discourses are.

In addition, the PRD, searching for votes, incorporated every PRI member it could find, no matter how discredited, and made them into candidates at the expense of the PRD activists, thereby creating ethical and political conflicts within its base.

The PRD also used the same methods as the PRI in its internal election of candidates and leaders (vote buying, paying people to show up at demonstrations, etc.). It closed its slates to representatives of peasant movements, workers, ecologists and women, in order to have more positions available for candidates, for deputies and senators, for the corrupt cliques who were disputing among themselves the internal control of the party.

It was thus not surprising that the PRD lost 60% of its positions in parliament (from 126 to 52), and provided almost 700,000 of its own voters to Fox. In other words, these PRD voters voted in favor of a right wing that made change and throwing out the PRI seem possible, while the PRD appeared to many of them as a PRI #2.

Fox’s triumph was based not on the PAN, but on the social, political and cultural transformations resulting from globalization, and on the skillful utilization of the impotence of the PRD and Cardenismo, the two components of the Mexican center-left that calls itself the left.

Fox insists that he won without the PAN and above the PAN because he carried out his campaign through “Friends of Fox,” a group behind which were hidden big capitalists from both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border.

Fox also won because of his direct contact with the electorate, with big capital, and with the Catholic Church. His July electoral base far surpasses that of the traditional classic PAN voters.

This electorate did not vote as much for the PAN as it did against the PRI, and sooner or later will present its political bill of sale to Fox.

Most of the capitalists abandoned their support for the PRI in order to carry out with Fox the same policies of the PRI, but with more popular support and with lower costs to be obtained from lesser corruption and from an end to the PRI’s links with the corporativist machineries of mediation with workers and peasants.

Finally, the Catholic Church, which had benefited a great deal from the Salinas administration, now appears as a fundamental instrument for domination, especially in light of a dreadful reality that encourages other-wordly beliefs.

The Parties

The great loser, the PRD, has also lost its political ideology, its chief and its credibility. The PRD’s political ideology was that of the “democratic revolution” (meaning getting rid of the PRI, which has been carried out by Foxismo). The so-called revolutionary nationalism or Cardenismo has lost its relevance, if it still had any. Among the youth and urban workers, the great majority voted for Fox, with the PRD obtaining only 13% of that vote (the 35% rate of abstention was, by Mexican standards, low).

As far as Cuauhtemoc Cardenas is concerned, he has been defeated three times in eighteen years in his attempts to obtain the presidency of the republic. He has been relegated, as the French say, “to the reserve of the Republic,” and is in a minority in his own party. Although he still has the support of almost 20% of the electorate, he is not seen as a means to an alternative, but as a mere stronghold of a desperate resistance.

To top it all, many of the PRD’s national, parliamentary and regional leaders are for sale, expecting offers from Fox. Or, in another scenario, they may be expecting a miracle which would be deadly for the PRD: a massive rupture in the PRI that would bring to the PRD a good part of the PRI’s cadres and members.

Inside the PRD leadership there isn’t even the shadow of an attempt to draw a balance sheet or to engage in self-criticism. On the contrary, knives are being sharpened for an internal settlement of accounts, to sever their dependence on Cardenas (whom they see as a caudillo) and to take over the party’s machinery to play a role in the parliamentary game and sell support to the PRI or to Fox.

Nevertheless, the PRD continues to have dedicated peasant members and some strength, particularly in the south of the country (Guerrero, Oaxaca, Tabasco and Chiapas) and in the state of Michoacan (Cardenas’ home state). In the capital, where it won the elections by a narrow margin, the PRD still has some credibility and intellectual members.

But the principal strength of the PRD is that it is still the only significant opposition to neoliberalism.

If an international economic crisis, or a financial crisis in the United States, hindered Fox’s plans to insure a minimum annual economic growth of 4 to 7%, the PRD could still capitalize on the disillusioned voters “lent” to Fox as well as on part of those voters who went to the PRI to stop Fox. This latter group might find itself in a crisis if the PRI goes into a state of decomposition.

One would have to see if Cardenas learns anything from the new defeat, and if the corrupt and bureaucratic groups currently fighting to control the battered PRD can achieve an accommodation that maintains the PRD in opposition. One would also have to see if there is a reconstitution of a left that looks to the social movements and not to institutional positions, and that while including Cardenismo within its ranks, is able to go beyond it, towards a socialist, democratic and internationalist politics and the construction of a party with ethics and principles.

Fox, not the PAN, has the support of big capital and the Church. It is not the PAN but Fox’s people that will govern (this includes former members of the PRI and some independents who are not too independent such as Jorge Castaneda, linked to Washington to be rewarded as a prominent advocate of the “useful vote.”

Even though Fox doesn’t have a majority either in the Chamber of Deputies or in the Senate, he will achieve it by buying members of parliament from the PRI, the PRD and the PAN itself, because he has to build a Foxista majority in the service of world financial capital, and not a Panista majority consisting of Catholic fundamentalists, conservatives, and middle-class people, who look back to a colonial or imperial past.

Part of the conservative middle class that traditionally votes for the PAN will then observe in horror the salinista-zedillista-foxista continuity, and will protest against a Fox who will be even more compelled to create his own political base.

PRI in Decomposition?

The PRI is itself was never an homogeneous group. It was born as the National Revolutionary Party as the result of an accord among fifty-six regional parties and various caudillos in 1929.

Later, with Lazaro Cardenas (president from 1934 to 1940), it transformed itself into the Party of the Mexican Revolution, a bureaucratic, nationalist-socialist party. Then, it became the PRI, nationalist and bourgeois developmentalist until Salinas. With Salinas it became liberal-solidarist, and was weakened by Salinas’ reliance on the apparatus of his own clientelist organization.

For many decades, the majority of the Mexican social left found a home within the PRI. The 1988 rupture of the Democratic Current, led by Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, former PRI governor of Michoacan, was not sufficient to completely deprive the PRI of the support of the masses in many regions.

Meanwhile, in the last twenty years, a tendency developed among the Mexican capitalists and inside the PRI that forms part of international financial capital, functions in its service in all fields, including the government, and has strong links with its equivalents inside the PAN and with Fox. This explains the complicity of the military and Zedillo with Fox, the former president of Coca Cola for Latin America, and the “soft” manner in which power passed from the PRI’s neoliberal group to the Foxista one.

By losing the presidency of the Republic, the PRI has lost a chief and a mediator, the first among equals. But it doesn’t completely lose the government, because it still has twenty-one state governors (out of a total of thirty-one states plus the capital’s Federal District), the corporatist bureaucracies, a large and varied number of institutions and positions, in addition to the majority (for the time being) in the Senate and a large representation in the national Chamber of Deputies and in local chambers, where it is often the majority.

Fox will survive even if he has to buy much of his support in parliament and elsewhere. First, because the union and pseudo-peasant corporate machineries are supported by vested interests and also because of the depolitization and lack of democratic experience of their members.

Fox will need these bureaucracies in order to control the members they supposedly represent, even as he tries to weaken and tame them, especially in the countryside. This is also true for the union bureaucracies, even as he tries to get rid of them and crush them through a rewriting of labor legislation.

It is likely that the PRI will cling on to the local governmental machineries to confront the federal government and reorganize its base, but Fox could provide funds to some local authorities and not to others, thus dividing and coopting them, expecting the classic political transformism to provide him with state majorities in the midterm elections to be held in 2003.

It is very unlikely that Fox will undertake a war to the death with the PRI, denouncing its crimes and violations of the law, not only because the PAN has been an accomplice of many of these (in the 1988 electoral fraud, in FOBAPROA [bank rescue program], in the repression in Chiapas and Guerrero, in the militarization of the country, etc.), but also because he needs a sufficiently solid PRI to make agreements with the PAN in both houses of parliament, to change the Constitution to continue with the privatization of the electrical energy, petrochemical and oil industries, to make agreements with the Church, and even to impose the right of re-election for members of parliament and for the president (although this would provoke a great deal of popular resistance and would be very difficult to bring about).

In effect, the policies of big capital require the restriction of democratic spaces to continue and deepen the neoliberal offensive. Today Fox needs the Castanedas and even a Porfirio Munoz Ledo [former PRI and PRD leader who left the PRD and eventually supported Fox’s candidacy]. But tomorrow he will have to count on the armed forces and the bankers as his first line of defense.

It is therefore possible that a PRI sector, especially in the rural areas, may be radicalized and come close to the PRD, if this party maintains itself as a social and political opposition. The possibility that the middle cadres of the PRI will join the PRD are nil, unless the PRD completes its evolution towards PRI-type politics.

Social Movements and the Future

Fox won the presidency at the lowest point in Mexico’s class and ideological struggle of the last thirty years. During the very long presidential campaign, a very important social movement was agonizing: the UNAM student strike, which lasted more than one year.

This movement was sunk as a result of the blindness of the PRD (which withdrew its best student militants from the UNAM to incorporate them into the city administration, left the strike adrift and then tried to sabotage it, fearing that it would lose them votes among the capital’s population).

The strike was also sunk because of the profound depolitization and demoralization of the small sector of the student body that supported the ultraleft political tendencies (Maoists, supporters of Albanian Stalinism, pro-Shining Path and others of the same type) who expropriated and sectarianized the strike. The strike, which begun as a popular movement among the students and the people at large, eventually alienated the immense majority of the students.

A good part of the responsibility for this failure must also be attributed to the professors and intellectuals. A few followed the ultraleft in all its twists and turns, and believed they were winning when they were in fact losing, and also tended to see the PRD municipal government as their only enemy. Others, who were in the majority, abandoned their role as mentors and insulated themselves from the conflict. There were even some who in the name of the trampled Order, supported the army’s intervention against the strikers.

The members of the small left groups and of the FZLN (Zapatista Front of National Liberation) opposed the stupidities of the ultrasectarian General Strike Council, but were incapable of providing a political alternative or offering a viable conclusion to the movement. In addition, the FZLN elements in the university were incapable of thinking on their own and spent the months-long strike fruitlessly seeking a political line from the Lacandona jungle in Chiapas.

Another important movement, the resistance to the privatization of the electrical energy industry, stagnated because the bureaucratic leadership of the union was waiting for the election’s results in order to negotiate with the winners. While defending the state ownership of the enterprise, its corporativist orientation prevented it from taking measures to reduce the cost and increase the efficiency of the electrical supply, as demanded by the consumers.

The peasant movements, whose members were hard hit by the rural policies of the Zedillo administration (like eliminating credits and subsidies, massive importation of food even above the quotas established by NAFTA, supporting the usurious bankers), were abandoned by the PRD, which was only interested in their electoral support.

The most important of all the social movements — that of the indigenous peoples<197>also became stagnant. The National Indigenous Congress no longer offers a point of reference as was the case two years ago, and each ethnic group presents its demands without an attempt to unite with each other into a single program.

The EZLN, surrounded by the military, have been unable to break out from their political encirclement. They weakly and indirectly supported the candidacy of Cardenas when it no longer made a difference. Fox will probably attempt to strike a new blow against the Zapatistas by, for example, recognizing the San Andres accords, which were supported by the EZLN and the PRD, and were also signed but then ignored by Zedillo.

Fox will probably send these accords to the two houses of parliament knowing that they will be modified and drained of any substance. Even so, a watered down accord could still deprive the Zapatistas of a justification for their armed uprising.

However, a victory of the opposition to the PRI in the state elections scheduled to take place in Chiapas on August 20 could possibly open the road for negotiations between Fox and the EZLN. [The opposition coalition indeed won the Chiapas election –ed.]

The negotiations would take place under conditions unfavorable to the EZLN, and with the mediation of two prominent people who are currently Fox supporters: Bishop Samuel Ruiz and Pablo Salazar Mendiguchia, the new governor supported by both the PAN and the PRD.

It is possible that once the honeymoon period with Fox is over (this could be as early as March of 2001, four months after his taking office), and once the effects of his economic policies are felt and the continuity with the Zedillo and Salinas regimes becomes evident, new social movements could develop, with the support of a wing of the PRD and perhaps even a wing of the PRI.

In the middle term, if the brakes [higher interest rates –ed.] are applied to the U.S. economy and it cools down, Fox would lose much of his own prospects and popular support.

Such a scenario would provide some time and space for the organization of the great absentee, the Mexican left. If, on the contrary, Mexican capital can count on a two- or three-year long bonanza and social and political advances devoid of significant resistance — and this depends on the social oppositions and on the PRD — then we will have Foxismo for a long while.

ATC 88, September-October 2000