The fight for democratic demands and the socialist revolution in Mexico

By Anita Jones de Sandoval,
Chicago Workers' Voice

. Note from Communist Voice #13, May 1997:

. The following article, which is reprinted in full, appeared originally in the Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal, #12, Feb. 26, 1997. Some typos have been corrected. This is the latest from CWV in an ongoing debate with us concerning revolutionary work in Mexico. For our answer, see the article "Two perspectives on Mexico" starting on page 28.


. This is the second in a promised series of articles about the mass movement and the political movement in Mexico. The original plan for this article was to discuss the ideological confrontation between reformism and revolution in Mexico. However, a recent article in the Detroit-based journal, Communist Voice,(1) despite its author's polemical hyperbole about "would-be socialists" and "petty-bourgeois nationalists," raise some interesting issues regarding the relationship of the fight for democratic demands and socialist revolution in Mexico and the role of the revolutionary left.

. The Communist Voice author asserts that I and other authors in the CWV [Chicago Workers' Voice] cannot accept that the possibility of change in Mexico is only for "some democratic changes" so we are painting the struggle of the peasantry (i. e. , the EZLN), as socialist. One doesn't have to be very astute to observe that the socialist revolution is not imminent in Mexico and that the fight for democratic demands is not a fight for socialism, but those observations don't equal an analysis of Mexico. It seems that the CV author doesn't understand the indigenous peasant movement, nor the relationship between the fight for democratic demands and the process of gathering forces and building organization for a socialist revolution in Mexico.

. I think that there is a dual nature to revolution in Mexico. The current mass struggles in the countryside and in the cities (of workers, peasants, street vendors, indigenous peoples, et. al. ) are for democratic and often economic demands. It is an irrefutable fact that the workers' movement continues to be weak. Furthermore, there is not a party of the proletariat or even a strong Marxist-Leninist trend. Yet it is capitalism itself which is not satisfying even the basic demands of the toilers in Mexico. In the countryside, the big landowners are a part of the Mexican bourgeoisie, not a separate feudal class, or remnant of a class. Even in southern Mexico where there exists near-feudal exploitation of the indigenous peasantry, the oligarchy is integrated into the bourgeois class.

. The duality of the Mexican revolution is similar to the duality which Lenin talked about in Russia in a number of his writings, but not identical. Lenin noted the duality of the revolution in Russia in explaining the Bolshevik program in the countryside and for the bourgeois-democratic revolution.

".  .  . There is no doubt that in Russia, too, the liberal bourgeoisie .  .  . are betraying and will betray the peasantry, i.e. , will confine themselves to a pseudo-reform and take the side of the landlords in the decisive battle between them and the peasantry. In this struggle only the proletariat is capable of supporting the peasantry to the end. There is no doubt, finally, that in Russia, too, the success of the peasants' struggle, i.e. , the transfer of the whole of the land to the peasantry, will signify a complete democratic revolution, and constitute the social basis of the revolution carried through to its completion, but this will by no means be a socialist revolution. . . . The success of the peasant insurrection, the victory of the democratic revolution will merely clear the way for a genuine and decisive struggle for socialism, on the basis of a democratic republic. In this struggle, the peasantry, as a landowning class, will play the same treacherous, unstable part as is now being played by the bourgeoisie in the struggle for democracy. To forget this is to forget socialism, to deceive oneself and others, regarding the real interests and tasks of the proletariat. . . " (V. I. Lenin, June-July, 1905, LCW, v. 9, p. 136)
. Capitalist development and class differentiation in the countryside are considerably more advanced in Mexico than they were in the Russia of 1905 or even 1917. Furthermore, Mexico underwent a massive bourgeois democratic revolution from 1910 to 1925 in which the peasantry played a major role.

. This revolution was incomplete due to the betrayal of the toilers by the emergent bourgeoisie; the struggle has continued with upsurges and retreats since then. It would be an error to apply Lenin's analysis of European peasantry in the 19th and early 20th century to Mexico now without noting these differences between the democratic struggle in Russia in 1905-1917 and Mexico now. Mexico is a capitalist country with capitalist relations in the city and countryside. It is also a dependent capitalist country, exploited by imperialism. It is a country with a large superexploited indigenous population, and a significant peasantry who are mainly poor peasants and semi-proletarians. Much of the semi-proletariat in the countryside seems very close to being a rural proletariat--they are workers on the plantations and ranches who also own individually or through the ejidos a tiny piece of land which they subsistence farm. In the countryside there are also latifundistas, minilatifundistas, and ranchers ("ganaderos"--small and large). In Chiapas in southern Mexico, even the medium-sized ranchers and landowners are tied securely to the PRI and form part of its local power elite. In the cities there is a large petty-bourgeoisie. This includes unemployed workers and dispossessed peasants who make up the poorest of the poor street vendors, numerous semi-proletariat, shopkeepers and professionals. There also exists an important proletariat working in heavy and light industry and in the service sector.

. For some years the main contradiction around which political struggle has polarized is the struggle against the PRI regime--against its political machine, corruption, caciques, and the extreme forms of exploitation it has inflicted on the masses of working people. Struggle has broken out for democratization across a fairly broad spectrum of society, including some sectors of the bourgeoisie who want the PRI to share power with other political parties. For the poor toilers the struggle has centered on basic democratic and economic demands (jobs, wages, housing, education, social services, food, health care, land, political rights and end to repression, etc. ) Part of the struggle of the toilers includes the fight being waged by the indigenous peoples for all those basic demands, plus the return of lands stolen from them and some form of autonomy. The indigenous peoples' fight for land, economic and political rights is a part of the peasant movement itself, especially in southern Mexico.

. For many years, there has existed, in many forms, an alliance between the proletariat, the urban poor, and the poor peasantry around economic and democratic demands. This is another difference between the peasant movement in Mexico and in Russia in 1905. As the quote from Lenin notes, the Russian peasant movement centered on the demand of the transfer of all the land to the peasantry. The peasant movement in Mexico has raised a series of demands which go beyond land distribution, many of which are the same as the demands of the workers and urban poor (e. g. , healthcare, education, justice, democracy, etc. ).

. As well, not since the presidency of Lazaro Cardenas (1934-1940) has there been a section of the bourgeoisie who could actually claim the label "liberal" in the sense it is used by Lenin to discuss a democratic, nationalist bourgeoisie who supported the peasants' struggle for land. It has to be noted that Cardenas represented the section of the landowners and capitalists who were integrating into the PRI (then called the Partido Nacional Revolucionario) and were still in conflict with remnants of the older landowning class and with U. S. and British imperialism.

. Coming out of the Mexican Revolution, the original program of the PNR and then the PRI defined itself as a class alliance of the peasantry, the workers and the political class. The Cardenas reforms and nationalizations were aimed at allowing the Mexican bourgeoisie, through the PNR, to consolidate itself and to develop the capitalist economy. Step by step, as the bourgeoisie grew stronger, the interests of the toilers were betrayed. For the peasantry, this betrayal was codified by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari with the changes in the land reform article of the Mexican Constitution tied to the NAFTA negotiations.

. In recent years, the PRD has claimed to support the peasants and indigenous peoples in their struggles against the PRIista machine. The PRD politically represented a merger of petty-bourgeois social democracy (the Second International), reformist Marxism (the Partido Socialista Unificado de Mexico), and the liberal "political class" (i. e. , bourgeois politicians such as Cuauhtemoc Cardenas). The support it can give to the peasants is severely limited by the fact that the PRD leadership will fight with the PRI, but only to a point. It will not go against its own capitalist class, and it works to restrict and control the mass movement.

The EZLN and the peasant movement in Southern Mexico

. The current crises of the PRI regime actually goes back into the 1980's when the PRI was first challenged seriously by bourgeois forces (PRD, PAN) of which the PRD, in particular, has a mass base among the petty-bourgeoisie, some peasantry and some workers. The independent mass movements of workers and urban poor remained active and strong in their areas, but nationally very fragmented and weak. Although the EZLN is not the only militant peasant organization in Chiapas, the uprising led by the EZLN marked the entrance into the arena of struggle of the poorest of the poor peasants, the indigenous peoples of southern Mexico. The mass base of the EZLN are the indigenous peasants whose families were peons on the plantations (fincas) of the Chiapan Priista oligarchy, and who live on ejidos in the Lacandona jungle. The indigenous lands have been stolen repeatedly over the course of 500 years of subjugation, and the communities forced ever deeper into desperation.

. The ejidos of the Lacandona are not the ejidos formed by the PRI as part of the land reforms of earlier epochs. These ejidos were created by indigenous peons who fled the fincas to the jungle, and cleared land for their ejidos. Sometimes their ejidos have been legally recognized and sometimes not. These ejidos are subsistence villages, whose residents are exploited as rural workers, as woodcutters, as cheap, indebted labor by the latifundistas, the ranchers and the rest of the oligarchy.

. These are two issues: first, the EZLN is not a socialist organization and its demands are not socialist. Certainly the demands of the indigenous peoples for the return of their lands, for autonomy, and for economic assistance and more social services, etc. , are theoretically possible through reforms. The EZLN in its program originally called for the satisfaction of the eleven basic demands of the "faceless, nameless" oppressed Indian masses, an end to the PRI government, a new coalition government (coalition of opposition, non-PRI forces), and a new constitution. In other words, for radical democratization perhaps even a democratic insurrection, but certainly not for socialism. Since the 1994 uprising, the EZLN has moved away from its more radical positions, shifting towards the reformist PRD, and even declaring themselves not to be in a struggle for "political power" according to Subcommandante Marcos. However, the EZLN has not completely given up its arms and organization. It continues to maintain strong support in Chiapas and to be able to hold out politically against the PRI. The EPR (Ejercito Popular Revolucionario) in Guerrero does have a program which calls for a fight for political power, however this is also within the framework of a democratic revolution.

. So do I think the peasant movement in southern Mexico, the EZLN, the EPR, are socialist? Absolutely not. I do think that the existing struggle of the masses of peasants, indigenous peoples, workers and oppressed is where revolutionaries must fight to define a revolutionary proletarian trend, and to develop and deepen the revolutionary movement and gather forces under the leadership of that trend. The extent of class differentiation in the countryside and the extent of the poor peasantry and semi-proletariat does mean that there is a real potential for the proletariat to pull this movement away from reformism, pushing the democratic demands to their revolutionary (not socialist but revolutionary) limits and clearing away obstacles to the socialist revolution. As to the future of the alliance between the proletariat and peasantry, I don't think it is inevitable (depending on how the democratic struggle develops) that the poor peasantry and semi-proletariat in the countryside will "betray the proletariat". The question of the ideology of the small proprietor is a serious one. It is possible that if the small peasantry and the indigenous peoples win some of their demands for land, they will be hostile to the demands of socialism for the abolition of private enterprise. It may also be possible, that given the reality of Mexico, the poor peasants and indigenous communities will remain poor and in struggle, that capitalism cannot satisfy their basic needs and that this will continue to push them toward the proletariat. It is worth noting that the problem of petty-bourgeois ideology, is not restricted to the peasantry. In Mexico, many workers have been so completely devastated economically, that in order to survive, they are engaging in "petty-bourgeois" economic activities. Neither is this problem restricted to the dependent or underdeveloped countries. In the developed capitalist countries, it's not unusual for industrial proletarians to own property and make income from rents, or to operate small businesses on the side and even to employ labor in those businesses. It may be that the poor peasants in Mexico who own a piece of land and a house, and are exploited by the plantation owners, ranchers, and local capitalists, have more interests in common with the workers (who may own their little house and garden but are exploited by the capitalists), than they have with the petty-bourgeois and bourgeois ranchers.

The revolutionary movement and democratic revolutions

. "But even if our revolution is bourgeois in its economic content (this cannot be doubted), the conclusion must not be drawn from it that the leading role in our revolution is played by the bourgeoisie, that the bourgeoisie is its motive force. . . . The leader of the bourgeois revolution may be either the liberal landlord together with the factory-owner, merchant, lawyer, etc. , or the proletariat together with the peasant masses. . . . From this, the Bolsheviks deduce the basic tactics of the socialist proletariat in the bourgeois revolution -- to carry with them the democratic petty bourgeoisie, especially the peasant petty bourgeoisie, draw them away from the liberals, paralyze the instability of the liberal bourgeoisie, and develop the struggle of the masses for the complete abolition of all traces of serfdom, including landed proprietorship. " (V. I. Lenin, "The Bolsheviks and the Petty Bourgeoisie", February 25, 1907, LCW, Vol. 12, pp. 181-182, [italics added by Anita, underlining represents emphasis by Lenin--CV])
. This brings us to the other basic question raised by the CV. What program does the revolutionary proletariat have? The mass struggle requires alliances with different class forces. The development of a socialist movement requires differentiation between the bourgeoisie, the petty-bourgeoisie and the workers' organizations and interests. There is no "wall" between the democratic struggles and the socialist struggle. How far the revolutionary movement can go depends on what class force wins leadership of the movement--on the strength of the proletariat in the fight. The fact is, in Mexico, in the midst of the mass upsurges and retreats, the repression and the political crises, tentative steps are being taken to forge this trend. The forces around El Machete are a part of this attempt. What is their program? To strengthen the unity of the most revolutionary elements and organizations in the mass movement, to develop a program to push the limits of the democratic struggles, and to begin the process to form an independent proletarian organization. This process is very fragile and under tremendous pressure. I believe that it should be supported by socialists, in word and in deed.

. The next article in this series will discuss this process of consolidating and nurturing of the left wing of the mass movement, and of the socialist forces in the workers' movement. <>


(1) Communist Voice, Dec. 15, 1996, "Mexico and Peasant Socialism". Available from P. O. Box 13261, Harper Station, Detroit, MI 48213. (Return to text)

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