Two perspectives on Mexico

Taking democracy to the limit, or

organizing a socialist movement?

By Joseph Green

. This is one of four related articles on Mexico in Communist Voice #13, May 8, 1997 (vol. 3, #2). The other three are 
  • Marxist theory on democracy and socialism in relation to revolutionary work in Mexico, by Joseph Green
  • The fight for democratic demands and the socialist revolution in Mexico, by Anita Jones de Sandoval, first published in the Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal, #12, Feb. 26, 1997
  • Work to form the political organ of the toilers, from El Machete, as translated by the Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal.

. What is the "the relationship between the fight for democratic demands and the process of gathering forces and building organization for a socialist revolution in Mexico"? This is the question addressed by Anita in a polemic against my article "On proletarian tasks in the period of the tottering of the PRI regime?/Once again on peasant socialism". (1) (Her polemic, "The fight for democratic demands and the socialist revolution in Mexico", appeared originally in the latest issue of the Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal (2), and is reprinted on pp. 49-51 of this issue of the Communist Voice. ) She has a diametrically opposite view of the question than I do.

. In my article, I advocated that for the proletariat to take advantage of the tottering of the PRI regime, it not only had to take part in the general movement for democratization, but to recognize this movement's limitations. It had to see through the quasi-socialist colors in which the Chicago Workers' Voice and many Mexican leftists were painting it. Only then would the proletariat and revolutionary activists take up the tasks needed to organize a socialist revolutionary movement, something which the general democratic movement will not do, and only then would the proletariat be in the position to utilize democratic rights for improving its conditions and extending the class struggle. These are the protracted tasks of preparatory work for revolution, protracted as social revolution is not imminent in Mexico and there will be a long period of building up an independent proletarian trend.

. Replying to me, Anita sees the socialist movement as springing from taking democratic demands "to their revolutionary limits". In her view, the socialists are simply the most militant and revolutionary members of the general democratic movement. She is silent on the specific program for socialist work which I set forward. And she herself puts forward few, if any, specific tasks for developing the socialist movement, and instead believes that the socialist forces will arise spontaneously from the growth of militancy in the general democratic movement. She has no idea of what the socialist activists should do to help develop a truly Marxist party, supporting instead a plan by the petty-bourgeois nationalist journal El Machete to build a coalition by taking the consensus of the views of whatever left groupings it can get to join with it in discussions. (Anita's article is in fact mainly an introduction to and defense of El Machete's call for this coalition, a call which is reprinted on page 52 of this issue of CV. )

. Anita pretends that any reference to the limitations of the general democratic movement means not seeing any relationship between the fight for democratic demands and the struggle for socialism. On the contrary, I have not only recognized such a connection, but I have advocated it more consistently than Anita and the CWV have. Anita and the CWV don't see the point of the democratic struggle unless it is immediately revolutionary, and they cannot formulate a correct policy for what to do when revolutionary events are not imminent. So in order to deal with the tottering of the PRI regime, Anita has to paint the current situation as revolutionary, with the perspective of "pushing the democratic demands to their revolutionary (not socialist but revolutionary) limits". She doesn't say what these "revolutionary limits" are, but just creates great expectations. Indeed, she suggests near the end of her article that there is a possibility that this movement might pass to socialism after achieving the revolutionary limits of democracy.

. In fact, Mexico is facing a "democratization" similar in general outline to what has taken place elsewhere around the world in the last decade. There will be exciting events, but this will not inaugurate a social revolution. Moreover the bourgeoisie will ask the masses to pull their belts tighter in gratitude for the democratization. I advocate that despite the limited nature of the likely outcome, the proletariat can and should strive to utilize the crisis to achieve as many rights as it can, establish independent political and economic organizations, and develop a class struggle against the cutbacks and austerity programs of the bourgeoisie. What the workers and other sections of the masses do or don't do in this crisis will affect events for years to come. Anita and the CWV instead dream of the glorious revolution, democratic if not socialist, while all but ignoring the need to establish truly independent proletarian organization, which doesn't yet exist on any large scale. Anita and the CWV pepper their articles with "revolutionary" phrases, but they only sugarcoat what is really happening in Mexico. They want to look revolutionary, but they have no independent program to set before the socialist activists and end up simply urging them to be, in effect, the militant shock troops for the petty-bourgeois democrats and the liberal bourgeoisie. How many times does one see in CWV articles on Mexico the view that the programs of the reformists are interesting and of value, but require revolution to be put into effect!

. Thus Anita does not see that the general democratic movement is inevitably a bourgeois-democratic movement, in which the class alignments are different from what takes place in the struggle for socialism, nor does she tell the truth about what type of change is imminent in Mexico. Instead of centering her attention on how the Mexican proletariat can break the chains that subordinate its organizations to the bourgeoisie, she pretends that these chains have already been broken on a local level.

. Our difference on whether to go beyond the general democratic movement also appears in the analysis of the peasant movement. I advocated in my article that the proletariat, while supporting the peasant revolts, must simultaneously take a critical stand toward the views set forward by the Zapatistas and similar movements. The CWV, not just Anita but Jack Hill and Sarah, instead glorify the Zapatista program and present the ejido (Mexican agrarian co-ops with small-scale peasant agriculture) as quasi-socialist.

. Thus on the agrarian question, the CWV puts a "revolutionary" gloss on the current struggles. It considers that the Zapatistas will in fact be taking the democratic demands to their "revolutionary limits" if only they stop supporting the bourgeois reformist party (the PRD, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas's Party of the Democratic Revolution). Here again, the CWV is unable to support a struggle without painting it in flaming red colors. Instead of articulating an independent proletariat stand on the countryside, they become the left fringe of the Zapatista leadership. While Anita and the CWV pin their hopes for socialism on moving the Zapatistas to the left, I on the contrary advocate that the proletariat and socialist activists must recognize the petty-bourgeois character of the general peasant movement. Such peasant movements generally can't see beyond more aid to small-scale peasant farming, don't recognize the reasons for the ongoing decay of the ejido, and don't take notice of the exploitation of the poor peasants by their richer neighbors inside the ejido (talking only of their exploitation by forces outside the ejido). So to build a socialist movement in the countryside, the urban proletariat and socialist activists have to do more than support the general peasant revolts. They must also encourage the rural workers and poor peasants to unite in their own class organizations in defense against the rich peasants (as well as other exploiters) and to recognize the poverty for the majority that is inherent in small-scale peasant farming.

. Anita replies to these points by saying that "the CV author doesn't understand the indigenous peasant movement". Yet, although the CV has published a good deal of material on what's happening in the ejidos, Anita refuses to give her views on this question. In her article, she resolutely closes her eyes to the class differences developing within the ejidos and agrarian communities and among the peasants; she talks only of the class differentiation in the countryside between the ejidos and poor peasantry on one side and the various ranchers and capitalist exploiters outside the ejido. She continues the CWV policy of going beyond support of the peasant uprisings to idealizing them, saying that the ejidos and indigenous agrarian communities in the Lacandona Jungle (where the EZLN is based) are different from those elsewhere. Indeed, she implies that in southern Mexico, and perhaps throughout Mexico, the peasant movement is already a movement of poor peasants and rural laborers in their own interests, thus ignoring the real character of the general peasant movement and overlooking the varying stands taken by politically-active peasants. Indeed, she even claims that there isn't much class difference between the peasants and workers. On the question of whether the ejidos and agrarian communities are socialist or near-socialist institutions, she avoids any direct discussion of the theories set forward previously by other authors in CWV and by El Machete.

How Anita presents our differences

. Anita however sums up the differences between us differently. She pretends that I am disparaging socialist work and stand only for "some democratic changes". She writes that:

. "The Communist Voice author asserts that I and other authors in the CWV cannot accept that the possibility of change in Mexico is only for 'some democratic changes' so we are painting the struggle of the masses (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. 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. "
. From this, a reader might imagine that I had opposed carrying out socialist work in the name of realism. One might be confused about who it is who says that the current perspective should focus solely on "democratic demands", and imagine that Anita is defending the need to work for socialism even at present. In actual fact, far from advocating that the only "possibility of change" in Mexico is some democratic tinkering, I have advocated that the activists should seek to build a socialist movement and take up protracted work for socialist revolution. I have pointed out the limited nature of the ongoing changes in Mexico not in order to restrain the activists to bourgeois "realism", but in order to encourage them to go beyond such "realism" and to see what is necessary to build a truly radical movement, one devoted to the class interests of the proletariat. Such a movement, while seeking to achieve the maximum in democratic liberties for the masses, will also seek to develop the class struggle against exploitation.

. And Anita? When one ponders the rest of her article, it turns out that it is she who presents the overall task as simply taking the "democratic demands" to "their revolutionary limits". She creates revolutionary expectations while limiting the framework of all revolutionary work to "democratic demands". Instead of dealing with how to utilize the current Mexican crises to develop a mass independent proletarian movement, which would be a real revolutionary change that would electrify the world working class movement, she talks of pushing the overall situation in Mexico to "revolutionary limits" and about an ongoing "Mexican revolution" which is supposedly analogous in some ways to the democratic revolution in Russia in 1905. This shows that she can't deal with the reality of protracted work in a situation where the revolution is far off, and doesn't know how to carry out socialist work while democratization is going on.

. Anita doesn't grasp that revolutionary work under the difficult condition of proletarian disorganization doesn't consist of presenting the present as already very revolutionary, or hoping that democratization--if only it is taken to its limits--will transcend the boundaries of bourgeois democracy and start to merge with socialism. Both in Mexico and the U. S. , real revolutionary work requires not just hoping for a growth in the size and militancy of the general movement, but encouraging a change in the nature of the movement, the repudiation of old practices and the building up of a anti-revisionist communist trend, different from the political trends now influential among the progressive activists. Anita recoils from this task, preferring popularity in the left-wing movement at the price of embracing petty-bourgeois illusions, and abandoning the struggle to build an anti-revisionist Marxist trend devoted to proletarian reorganization.

. So Anita glosses over the problems of the current movement. I on the contrary advocate that real solidarity with the Mexican workers, poor peasants and activists means joining with them to develop a truly revolutionary path that rejects the fashionable theories and practices that have dominated and hamstrung the movements for so long. Instead of patronizing the movement as Anita and the CWV does, revolutionary solidarity means doing our fraternal duty of encouraging the formation of a anti-revisionist communist trend in Mexico.

Going beyond the general movement against the PRI's regime

. In my article, I had pointed to a number of tasks that a real socialist program of action for Mexico should include today. These included taking part in the struggle to topple the PRI regime. In fact, a real socialist program is more consistent on the democratic issues than the CWV, because Marxism doesn't have to pretend that this struggle will have a very revolutionary outcome in order to recognize the importance for the proletariat of fighting for democratic rights. But the socialist program isn't the democratic program taken "to its revolutionary limits", as many petty-bourgeois socialists think, but goes far beyond the limits of the general democratization movement. For example:

. Implementing such a program would not only help prepare the proletariat for its long-range program of socialist revolution, but would give the proletariat the greatest chance to win some social gains during the ongoing struggle over the form of government in Mexico. It would help frustrate the bourgeois plan--seen in the wave of democratizations of the last few years that has embraced a number of countries throughout the world--that the masses should tighten their belts as the price of some democratic rights. And far from meaning that the working class should withdraw into itself and ignore the struggles of other working people, the existence of independent proletarian organization is the only way the working class can exercise significant influence on the peasantry, the urban petty-bourgeoisie, the indigenous peoples, etc. and step forward as the leader of all the oppressed masses in Mexico.

Anita's theory of spontaneity

. Neither Anita nor the CWV in general promote any of these tasks needed to carry out socialist work at the present time. Instead, Anita's article puts forward one theory after another to reinforce the idea that the struggle for socialism springs spontaneously from the struggle for democratic demands. She ends up obscuring or playing down many of the key class contradictions in Mexico.

. Among the notable features of her theory of revolution are the following:

. All these theses suggest that the democratic movement will develop of itself into a socialist movement, and negate the need for specific socialist work. They also gloss over today's widespread confusion over the path of struggle, and denigrate the struggle against long-standing but mistaken views. Instead Anita and El Machete present a glorified picture of the present movement, painting it in socialist or near-socialist colors. If the socialist activists follow such theories, they will end up simply the militant or "revolutionary" or fighting wing of a general democratic movement which doesn't go beyond liberal bourgeois aims.

. In an accompanying article I deal with the theoretical arguments given by Anita for these positions, and contrast them to the Marxist stand on the development of the socialist movement. I also point out the lack of content in her revolutionary slogans and their inability to deal with the realities of Mexico today or with the Cardenista ideology stemming from Lazaro Cardenas's reforms of the late 1930s.


(1) In Communist Voice, vol. 2, #6, issue #11, Dec. 15, 199. (Return to text)

(2) CWVTJ, issue #12, Feb. 26, 1997. (Text)

(3) Indeed, one of the writers in the CWVTJ, who is not from the CWV but an allied group, the Los Angeles Workers Voice, is a "left communist" who regards any struggle that isn't directly for socialism as treason to the proletariat and, on that basis, denounces all the national liberation and bourgeois-democratic struggles of the 20th century. Presumably if he felt that the CWV really supported a bourgeois-democratic struggle, he would denounce them as strongly as he denounces national liberation. If the CWV regards his mistake as minor, and if he can live with their support of "democratic struggles", it is presumably because the CWV only supports a glorified kind of democratic struggle that, in their mind, is far beyond bourgeois-democracy. (Text)

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