"Chicago Workers' Voice" continues to abandon anti-revisionism:

Peasant socialism or proletarian politics?

by Mark, CVO, Detroit
(from Communist Voice #5, Nov. 1995)


Will better ejidos eliminate peasant pauperization?
The EZLN and Cardenismo
Ideological problems and EZLN's political impasse
Downplaying the struggle against opportunism

. One of the central issues in Mexican politics is the question of what attitude to take to land reform in general and the history of ejido development, the specific form of Mexican land reform consisting of small farms on state-owned land, which received its main impetus under the regime of Lazaro Cardenas in the mid-1930's. The Chicago Workers' Voice has been conciliating radical petty-bourgeois nationalist trends in Mexico which promote illusions in the ejido system. The Zapatistas, for example, deserve credit for organizing the Chiapas uprising and articulating certain peasant demands. But their overall program seeks to reconcile all classes and political parties while their social program does not go beyond what is essentially an improved ejido program that they imagine will solve all the problems of the peasant masses. Meanwhile, the El Machete newspaper implies that ejido co-ops are something akin to communism. The CWV's never-ending apologies for these trends is connected to their own difficulties in evaluating the significance of ejido land reform and dealing with the relationship of certain democratic demands to the class struggle.

. In the Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal #8 of October 8, 1995 Oleg defends the CWV approach. He says that Joseph, editor of Communist Voice, concocts "wild charges" when he notes that "the CWV has trouble differentiating itself from the program of Lazaro Cardenas" and "the CWV continues to sugarcoat the politics of the EZLN. "(1) But Oleg's "defense" manages the amazing feat of avoiding any reply to the specific ways in which Joseph shows that the CWV and EZLN positions resemble those of Lazaro Cardenas. Instead Oleg tries to dismiss the whole issue as irrelevant in various ways. He complains that exposing Cardenas-like views among the radical left is a diversion from criticizing Cardenas himself. He holds that because the basic tenets of Cardenismo are found in many trends, they are no big deal when they appear among the Zapatistas. He dismisses the question of whether a trend shares many important tenets of Cardenas' views on the grounds that on other matters there are differences. In short, Oleg will raise any sort of nonsense to avoid coming to grips with the actual stands being criticized by Joseph. So let's proceed directly to the issues actually raised by Joseph.

Will better ejidos eliminate peasant pauperization?

. According to CWV member Julie, ejidos with more government assistance can eliminate landlessness and pauperization among the peasantry. She argues that large-scale production under capitalism can be achieved without the ruination of the mass of small peasant farmers. In Julie's words,

"assistance to the ejidos in such a way that the peasantry working there can make the transition to large-scale agriculture without being driven off the land" and "a planning of large-scale agriculture in such a way that the peasantry is not pauperized"(2)

is the solution to the peasants' problems. This is in direct contradiction to world experience, an experience summed up in Marxist theory. Marxism teaches that small peasant production engenders capitalism. It holds that small farming leads to class differentiation. Communist theory shows how even if small farms pools their resources in co-ops of various types, this may bring important benefits for a time, but it won't stop class differentiation and the eventual ruin of the mass of peasants. Large-scale production cannot exist without the mass destruction of the small farms, as the petty-producers lack the resources and advantages of the large producers and are therefore crushed in marketplace competition. Marxism teaches that to imagine that somehow, each small peasant producer can avail themselves of the resources necessary to guarantee their survival, is a utopian dream.

. Such views of Marx, Engels and Lenin have been brilliantly confirmed in Mexico. The large-scale ejido program begun under L. Cardenas did improve the conditions of many peasants for a while, but within the ejidos, class differentiation developed over time, and a small class of exploiting peasants grew alongside of an army of landless and ruined peasants. I will not go into all the details here because this process has been extensively chronicled in several articles in Communist Voice,(3) some of which Oleg read, but whose lessons he deeply buries. Oleg lectures about "serious research" he has done, allegedly unlike Joseph, such as reading a book by James Cockcroft on Mexico. But he fails to mention how Cockcroft chronicles such things as "a sixfold increase in ejidos' hiring of wage labor (often other ejidatarios) in the 1960s,"(4) a clear indication of the class divisions that grow up in the ejidos, or Cockcroft's statistics on class structure in the countryside which (even if they may be somewhat overstated) show that despite the vast spread of ejidos, huge numbers of small peasant producers have been reduced to landlessness or hold their small plot as a mere supplement to their income as wage-laborers.

. But the CWV's Julie thinks the conversion to large-scale agriculture can coincide with the preservation of all the small peasant farms or co-ops, with vast masses of peasants not being driven off their land. Not only has this not happened in Mexico, it has not happened in any country where capitalist relations among the agricultural producers became dominant. Only the revolutionary overthrow of Mexican capitalism and the elimination of market relations under socialism can prevent the agony of the peasant masses.

. So how does Oleg defend Julie against the evil Joseph? Does he attempt to prove that radical land reform measures can abolish pauperization among the peasantry? No. Does he challenge Joseph's views that Julie's statements mean

"promoting capitalist illusions, as Lenin and Engels and Marx thought it was, to hold that peasant agriculture can be transformed into large-scale production, with all the peasants reaping the benefits, prior to the achievement of socialism?"(5)

No. He says nothing about what the development of ejido co-ops lead to, even ejido co-ops with lots more aid. And from his standpoint, it's wise to avoid this matter. That's because the facts are that even when some ejido farmers get more aid, or when more money comes to them from other sources, it actually leads to further class division among the peasants. Even some analysts who are favorable to ejidos and supportive of Zapatista ideas admit this. For instance, a book published by the liberal Food First Institute notes that the increased use of fertilizers

"contributed to the gap that had begun to distinguish well-off from poor Zinacantecos [in Chiapas -- ed. ] during the development boom. "(6)

Of course, one could construct a scenario where government aid will be distributed completely even-handedly, where this aid would be so immense it would insure the prosperity of every peasant farm, where all land and all other conditions would be equal, etc. Anything is possible in the imagination -- but not under capitalism.

. While falling silent about the actual content of the criticism of Julie's confusion of better ejidos with socialism, Oleg insists on criticizing Joseph's statement that

"the most radical democratic measures in the countryside, measures that eliminate the marginalization of the indigenous people, provide maximum state aid to the countryside, etc. would in the long run accelerate capitalist development among the peasantry even faster than now. "(7)

According to Oleg, such views suggest opposition to having "any general program of political and economic demands in relation to the struggle of the peasantry,"(8) except the direct fight for socialism. Oleg, on the other hand, says he is for immediate assistance to the peasants "without abandoning the struggle to organize for socialist revolution. "(9) Well, we're all very cheered by Oleg's support for relief for the peasants plus socialism. The issue is why does Oleg think that clarifying that radical land reform accelerates capitalist development among the peasantry contradicts being for peasant demands?

. Article after article in Communist Voice by Joseph and others supports measures for immediate relief for the peasants, supports the uprising for such things in Chiapas, etc. (10) But evidently Oleg feels his opponents can't really be for the peasantry if they persist in noting how radical land reform accelerates capitalist relations. Oleg feels queasy about the notion of demands which accelerate capitalist development, wrongly assuming that since peasant demands are directed against a capitalist government and big landowners, they must necessarily have nothing to do with spreading capitalist relations themselves. So if he is for more aid to the ejidos, he must deny that this will further develop capitalist relations among the peasantry. He must ignore what the results of 60 years of ejido development in Mexico prove. But, irrespective of one's intent, denying that radical land reform creates a broader field for the development of capitalist relations among the peasantry means prettifying such reforms as somehow outside of capitalist relations, as perhaps something sort of socialist, just as L. Cardenas and all those in the Mexican left who want a variation of Cardenismo do. Such illusions are at the heart of peasant socialism, not Marxist socialism.

. The importance of having a correct appraisal of the limits of land reform is not to discredit peasant land demands. It is necessary to establish a foundation for a communist program of economic and political demands for the peasantry. A Marxist approach supports radical measures in favor of the peasantry. But while supporting such bourgeois-democratic measures, communist theory calls attention to the fact that the creation of the best conditions for small peasant farming inevitably hastens capitalist relations among the peasantry. Communism supports the immediate needs of the peasants, but combats the peasant ideology.

. Marxism-Leninism emphasizes that capitalist development is accompanied by great suffering, and helps ruin the mass of small agricultural producers. But this process also accelerates the class struggle in the town and countryside and swells the ranks of the proletariat and semi-proletariat, helping create the class forces necessary to overthrow capitalism. Marxism teaches that salvation lies in the class struggle and socialism, not the peasant plot. It emphasizes the class distinctions among the peasantry and the distinct class demands and organization of the rural proletariat and semi-proletariat. But for the downtrodden peasants to be guided along this path, the Mexican working class must reorganize itself, re-establishing its revolutionary party on the basis of anti-revisionist communism.

. As for detailed demands for the immediate peasant movement, there are various just concerns that have been raised by the peasants: land, various forms of aid to small farmers, social programs, measures against terror and for expansion of democratic rights, etc. , and other issues could be added to the list. The precise formulation of particular demands is not the question under dispute, however. Oleg's challenge was whether such a program of economic and political demands dealing with the peasants' concerns was possible while recognizing certain demands accelerated capitalist development. The answer is "yes. " The above-mentioned orientation certainly provides a basis for a program of communist work among the peasantry. And far from opposing demands for relief for the peasantry, a communist orientation emphasizes how the EZLN ideas of class reconciliation undermine the fight for the immediate concerns of the peasant masses.

. But in fact, it is the CWV that has been vacillating on such basic immediate demands as democratization. For example, when the EZLN raises the slogan of "democracy," Oleg supports it as part of a revolutionary program. At such times, Oleg ignores that the EZLN program creates the illusion that a democratic electoral process assures that the social demands of the poor are satisfied. But elsewhere CWV members talk about democratization as if it was merely a "bourgeois scheme," as something diverting the masses from their true interests. For various CWV members, democratic political reform must either be glamorized as what it is not, or simply dismissed.

. Joseph, on the other hand, has supported the demand of democratization(11) despite recognizing that, under present conditions, a breakup of the PRI political domination will not lead to some parties of the masses coming to power, but an increase in the influence of the right-wing PAN and the bourgeois reformist PRD. Thus, he notes, the Zapatistas have calculated wrongly when they paint panaceas about democratic electoral reform as itself ushering in great gains for the masses. Joseph's sober evaluation of democratic political reforms holds that they can be utilized as a means to help organize the masses for the class struggle, but not be a substitute for it.

The EZLN and Cardenismo

. The views of members of the CWV group on the peasant struggle and the tasks facing the Mexican revolution are connected to their efforts to glorify the petty-bourgeois stand of the EZLN leadership. Oleg correctly notes that a big problem in the Mexican left is support for "a return to the basic policies of Lazaro Cardenas or some improved variation of them. "(12) But Oleg wants to pretend the EZLN is inoculated against this plague. What is remarkable is that while Oleg is quite sure EZLN and Cardenas have nothing important in common, when Joseph asserts that the EZLN's agrarian demands, nationalism, and vision of a national consensus are essentially an idealization of L. Cardenas' program, Oleg actually concedes that these points are common to both!(13) For Oleg, however, merely sharing an agrarian program, nationalism and a vision of national consensus doesn't mean EZLN's program is, to use his words, "some improved variation" of the Cardenas program.

. Oleg tries to rescue EZLN politics by raising that "he has not seen any EZLN statements praising Lazaro Cardenas or saying that their program is based on his. "(14) Why the Zapatistas have to declare they support Lazaro Cardenas or his program to share basic features with it is beyond me. But in fact the Zapatistas anointed Cardenas' son, Cuauhtemoc, as leader of their "national liberation movement. " And Cuauhtemoc's politics are based in the same tradition as his father. True the son has adapted somewhat to the fashionable neo-conservative PRI politics of today. But Oleg himself writes that the younger Cardenas "benefits enormously because his father has come to symbolize government support for the peasants and protection of workers' rights. "(15) If C. Cardenas' views are slightly to the right of his father, it merely shows how the EZLN will wheel and deal with most anyone. Indeed, EZLN attempts at national consensus even includes trying to woo the right-wing party, PAN, to help chart out a new Mexico at their Democratic National Convention.

. Even if EZLN had never promoted C. Cardenas, it would not change the fact that basic features of their program are an idealized echo of Cardenas, the elder. No, the EZLN would not be in favor of the times L. Cardenas put down peasant uprisings. And they don't like the one-party stranglehold that the party L. Cardenas built has over the political system. But in his haste to prove what "wild charges" Joseph hurls, Oleg ignores the actual points on which Joseph criticizes the EZLN views as idealized versions of the Cardenas program. Joseph calls attention to how on the issues of agrarian reform, nationalism, and national consensus, the EZLN presents notions quite similar to L. Cardenas, but made to sound more glorious. This doesn't mean the Zapatistas agree with every move made by L. Cardenas, but that they take essential features of the Cardenas program and attempt to strip them of any unpleasant features that inevitably reveal themselves whenever the program is implemented.

. Take the question of the ejidos. The EZLN program calls for any number of changes it would make in the present ejido system. They want more land, better land, more aid to ejido farmers, more emphasis on co-ops than individual plots, etc. Lazaro Cardenas did not just have rhetorical talk about doing this, he actually carried out a massive increase in land reform, government aid, and developed collective ejidos. So what the EZLN wants is essentially no more than a better version of this. The problem isn't that the EZLN calls for various improvements to help the poor peasants, but that they imagine it is possible to create a ejido program so good that the peasants' suffering will go away under capitalism.

. L. Cardenas did not allow the peasant struggle to break out in full force. At times he egged it on and even armed it against the most backward landowners, but he had no intention of letting it expropriate the bulk of the big farms. His repression of peasant uprisings was disgraceful, but can anyone expect a capitalist regime to stand by and let the poor peasants seize all the land they want? The EZLN can. In their "Revolutionary Agrarian Law" issued in December 1993, they talk about redistributing the land and resources of the big capitalist farms to the landless peasants and ejidos. But the expropriation of the rich farmers and agribusinesses is highly improbable without a powerful upsurge of the class struggle across Mexico. The EZLN, however, imagines that if only there is a more open political system, the need for the class struggle will be mitigated and the peasants' needs can be satisfied through accommodation with the capitalist rulers. Thus, they dream of an expropriation without fierce resistance by the bourgeoisie. Once again, we see an idealized notion of ejido land reform.

. This brings us to the question of national consensus. Oleg quotes Cockcroft to the effect that L. Cardenas'

"populist and corporativist strategy. . . . was a broad appeal to almost all social classes and groups, particularly those with any kind of real or potential power, in order to bring them under state regulation. "(16)

Now look at what the Zapatistas say. They write:

. As noted earlier, the Convention has been an attempt to unite all class forces, from the radical masses to the right-wing bourgeoisie as the architects of the new democratic system in Mexico. The EZLN echoes the all-class alliance of L. Cardenas, only fantasizing that this time the exploiters and exploited will create a paradise together.

. As for the question of nationalism, both Lazaro Cardenas and the Zapatistas make extensive use of patriotic appeals which obscure the class contradictions in society. True, elevating national interests over class interests was not invented by L. Cardenas. But, largely based on his nationalization of U.S. oil interests, pitching plans for strengthening the Mexican capitalists as a mighty blow to imperialism became a hallmark of government policy. For their part, the EZLN leaders paint every demand as part of the "patriotic" or "national liberation" struggle, ignoring that the class struggle against the Mexican bourgeoisie is on the agenda. The nationalism of the Cardenas regime was an important weapon in keeping the class struggle in check in Mexico just as the EZLN's nationalism blunts class consciousness today.

Ideological problems and EZLN's political impasse

. Of course it's nothing new for CWV members to glorify EZLN's views. In May 1994, several CWV members were lauding the EZLN as making great advances in revolutionary theory. (20) In January 1995, Oleg wrote in praise of what he considered the clear-sighted policy of the Zapatistas to the PRD, the reformist party founded by C. Cardenas. (21) Oh yes, Oleg, how clear-sighted to promote a reformist deceiver of the masses to lead the masses to victory! Now he raises a big stink that raising the similarities between the views of L. Cardenas and the Zapatistas is "an unjustifiable stretch. " Whenever some clarity about the true political features of the EZLN comes to light, Oleg will be there to turn the lights off.

. Oleg tries to dismiss the ideological problems of the Zapatistas as no big deal. If the EZLN fights the government, what else matters, he implies. And indeed, the Zapatista leaders have in the past pledged never to give up the mass struggle and armed actions. But glossing over the problems with the EZLN's theories only hurts the development of the revolutionary movement. The Zapatistas have been in a tough situation and are having great difficulties trying to figure out what to do. How the EZLN responds has a lot to do with their theories. In rough outline, they have gone through several policy zigzags. First, they talked about the Zapatista army storming into Mexico City, liberating the country along the way. Even at that point, the EZLN was banking on the bourgeois reformists, like the PRD, to come to power. But such a military campaign proved impossible and the government terror campaign soon threatened them in their strongholds in Chiapas. In this situation, the Zapatistas founded the "Convention" and talked about their hopes for peaceful change. They built up a lot of expectation in the 1994 national elections, hoping that the bourgeois reformist forces would make big advances and implement the EZLN demands. The elections did not go the way the EZLN hoped though, as the right-wing PAN gained strength, but not the reformist PRD. Upset at the election results, the Zapatistas then struck a more militant-looking stance. They declared that the "national liberation struggle" was the order of the day, and called on the craven reformist C. Cardenas to lead it. The election fiasco had led to fiercer words from EZLN, but the underlying illusions in the bourgeois reformists and in transforming Mexico without a revolution remained.

. Now it appears that the EZLN is considering the possibility of completely integrating its own organization into the present political system. It is reported that they have completed a referendum in Chiapas which asks:

"Should the EZLN unite with other forces and organizations and form a new political organization?" and "Should the EZLN be converted to a new political organization?" which should unite with "different democratizing forces . . . in a broad-based opposition front . . ."(22)

Since the survey doesn't ask if these new organizations should be oriented toward mass struggle, uprisings, land takeovers, or armed actions, this suggests the EZLN is talking about converting into a parliamentary opposition, or a civic organization that backs other electoral parties. That the EZLN considers just about every political formation except the PRI to be a democratizing force, gives one an idea of the rotten political character of the broad front they are considering. It is also reported that the majority of the referendum's respondents voted in favor of these measures, and the EZLN claims it obeys the results of its surveys of mass opinion. Whether or not the Zapatistas become a respectable reformist opposition working within the system or not, this shows that Oleg is whistling in the dark when he downplays the importance of the Zapatistas' view on national consensus.

Downplaying the struggle against opportunism

. "I am not carrying out agitation in the countryside of Mexico so I can't do much about trying to clarify to the Mexican peasants that there is no permanent cure for their problems outside of getting rid of capitalism,"

writes Oleg. (23) That's interesting. The CWV group has for many years based much of its work among the Mexican immigrant community in Chicago. Everyone knows these immigrants have a keen interest in Mexican political affairs and that immigrants come and go from Mexico all the time. If the issue is really that the CWV group isn't based in the Mexican countryside and so can't do much, why has CWV bothered agitating on Mexican affairs among the immigrants for all these years?

. Of course it's true that CWV members themselves write about some political issues in Mexico despite the "sin" of not living there. Apparently it's only certain political-ideological issues that are not worth bothering with. Today, Oleg wants to avoid the unpleasantries of exposing the illusions of petty-bourgeois democracy among the peasants. Yesterday, he proclaimed

"I don't feel like giving much advice to Mexican activists on the need for a Marxist-Leninist party in Mexico. "(24)

And the day before yesterday, Oleg argued that criticizing the petty-bourgeois nationalism of El Machete means trying to prove that group "is shit. "(25) Oleg revives this last criticism in his CWVTJ #8 article, telling his readers that if Joseph dares to prove Oleg wrong with a written reply, Joseph is guilty of avoiding "a serious study of a general political issue," he is against "real analysis", and treats anyone who writes in CWVTJ as a "worthless scumbag. " In place of a serious fight against opportunism, Oleg offers his own moral purity. He, personally, is for a revolutionary stand, a communist party, etc. But when it comes to dealing with another trend that has some militant features, he casts aspersions on fighting on these issues.

. Oleg wants support for the Mexican struggle. He wants solidarity between the workers in the U.S. and Mexico. And such solidarity is sorely needed. But for a proletarian revolutionary, this must include as a top priority, supporting the development of an anti-revisionist working class trend in that country. This requires a staunch fight against the fashionable views in the left, even among those forces that carry on a fight against the establishment. Oleg's excuses to avoid fighting opportunism run contrary to true proletarian internationalism. And it is not merely the influence of communist views in the Mexican countryside that is at stake. The revolutionary education of the workers and activists in the U.S. who want to unite with the Mexican toilers requires a discussion of the stand of the various political trends and important issues in the Mexican movement.


(1)CWVTJ #8,"Does the CWV support Cardenismo?", p. 13, referring to Communist Voice, vol. 1, #3, p. 23. (Return to text)

(2) CWVTJ #7, p. 15, col. 3. (Text)

(3) See for example, "Ejido co-ops and capitalist development in Mexican agriculture," Communist Voice, vol. 1, #4, pp. 26-31. Also see the historical studies in Communist Voice, vol. 1 #3, pp. 5-11. (Text)

(4) Mexico: Class formation, capital accumulation, and the state, James D. Cockcroft, p. 171. (Text)

(5) Communist Voice, vol. 1, #3, p. 24, col. 1. (Text)

(6) Basta: Land and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas, George A. Collier, p. 102. (Text)

(7) Communist Voice vol. 1, #3, p. 25, col. 1. (Text)

(8) Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal, #8, "Does the CWV support Cardenismo?", p. 14, col. 2. (Text)

(9) Ibid. , col. 2-3. (Text)

(10) See for example page 2 of Joseph's article "Communism as a science" in Communist Voice, vol. 1, #3. (Text)

(11) Ibid. (Text)

(12) CWVTJ #7, "Crisis in Mexico," p. 8, col. 2. (Text)

(13) CWVTJ #8, "Does the CWV support Cardenismo?", p. 14, col. 1, where Oleg's reply to the EZLN and Cardenas sharing these views is that "These programmatic points are much too general to be made the specific property of Cardenas. " (Text)

(14) Ibid. (Text)

(15) Ibid. , p. 15, col. 1. (Text)

(16) Ibid. , p. 16, col. 2, which cites Cockcroft, p. 130. (Text)

(17) Voice of Fire: Communiques and Interviews from the Zapatista National Liberation Army, edited by Ben Clarke and Clifton Ross, New Earth Publications, Berkeley, CA 1994, p. 117. This can also be found in CV vol. 1, #2, which reprints the three Zapatista "Declarations from the Lacandona Jungle", p. 29, col. 2. (Text)

(18) Ibid. ,"Ski Masks and Other Masks", a communiqué by Subcomandante Marcos, p. 58. (Text)

(19) Ibid. , p. 120, or CV vol. 1, #2, "Second Declaration of the Lacandona Jungle," p. 31, col. 1. (Text)

(20) For more on this see Communist Voice, vol. 1, #2, "Denigrating anti-revisionism and glorifying Zapatista theories", pp.  36-37. (Text)

(21) Ibid. , p. 37, col. 2, originally from Oleg's letter of January 4, 1995 (mistakenly dated by Oleg as 1994) circulated to former Marxist-Leninist Party circles known informally as the "minority. " (Text)

(22) All quotes from the Zapatista referendum appear in MIM Notes, October, 1995, p. 5. It also has referendum results taken from a mass organization called Alianza Civica. (Text)

(23) CWVTJ, #8, p. 14, col. 3. (Text)

(24) CWVTJ, #7, p. 11, col. 3. (Text)

(25) Oleg's letter of January 25, 1995, reprinted in the CWVTJ Special Issue, March 7, 1995, p. 35. (Text)

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