(eng) mexico, civil society, neoliberalism [1/2]

transmis par counter@francenet.fr (Mneillft@aol.com)
Sat, 8 Jun 1996 12:34:31 +0200

Mexico: February 1995 -- Some Excerpts from a Political Diary

by Monty Neill

I journeyed to Mexico in February 1995 as a combined vacation, visit with old
friends, and opportunity to make some political contacts and have discussions
in the wake of the EZLN offensive. The day I traveled to Mexico City was the
day after Zedillo and the army launched its offensive against the EZLN. Thus,
my discussions were framed by that particular context, and by the massive
demonstrations and outpouring of support for the Zapatistas. I took
extensive notes, and on my return I wrote up a "Political Diary," intending
it to be printed in the next Midnight Notes (of which I am a member). That
printing has been delayed (we hope next fall), but I think some of the
political diary is relevant to considerations, in Mexico and more widely, of
"civil society" and organizing against "neoliberalism." Thus, I present this
edited version of the diary to aut-op-sy. The sections below focus on
discussions of class and political composition. For their protection, I use
letters to stand for key people with whom I had extended discussions.

Feb. 10: The political landscape of the left: an introduction.

A., a univerity professor, and B., a researcher, are old friends. They spent
some time filling me in on the politics of the left in Mexico. There are two
major areas, the Convencion Nacional Democratica (CND or Convention), and the
Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD). The CND was organized over
several months by a variety of groups, including the Chiapas umbrella peasant
organization, CEOIC; a non-governmental organization (ONG) representing other
ONGs; a PRD group; and the Caravana de Caravanas, a coalition of various
Leninist groups; as well as the EZLN. It is national in scope, with
representatives from all Mexico's states attending its meetings. It's first
public appearance was at an August 1994 Convention hosted by the EZLN in
Aguascalientes, Chiapas (named after Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes, where
Zapata hosted a meeting to extablish unity among Mexican revolutionaries).

The plan was to unite the left in Mexico. The fate of the EZLN, said Marcos,
was in the hands of the Convention, which would be the political leadership
of change at the national level. Indeed, the organizing of the Convention
precipitated a huge outpouring of political energy, reworking relationships
within the left and rethinking how to do politics. The Convention has
attempted to work out plans for a transition to a democratic regime. But it
has been divided.

An important debate within the CND, as it long has been in the Mexican left,
is whether to participate in elections. This debate surfaced at the August
convention. While the CND itself does not participate in elections, the
final statement at the convention agreed to a consensus on making way for
electoral politics and participating in them.

The PRD is of course a party contesting elections at all levels. It came into
being around the 1988 presidential campaign of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas. Yet the
PRD is also a coalition with internal divisions, including over whether to
join the CND, which it has not, though many PRD members are in the CND also.

In both the PRD and the Convention are groups sometimes labelled "ultras"
(sometimes a term used by reformists to criticize confrontational tactics).
They have been critical of the Zapatista's, charging that they are too
social democratic, The ultra's generally have Leninist roots.

But who, I wonder, is defined as the "class" by the Leninists? And while I
can see the social democracy in the public formulations of the EZLN demands,
it seems to me that their's is a class project and it cannot be reduced to
social democracy. A. and B. concur. A. says that what confronts the left are
the problems of how to change the state and how to advance a class project.

There remain multi-way divisions within and between the two major areas on
the left; and the consequence has been a political inability to move, an
inability that led Marco to express bitter disappointment and that probably
contributed greatly to the unexpectedly poor showing of Cardenas, the PRD
candidate, in the August election. While he almost certainly won the 1988
election, which was stolen by the ruling Partido Revolucionara
Institucionaliizada (PRI) through fraud, thus installing Salinas, Cardenas
fell to under 20% of the vote and a third-place finish in August 1994, an
election Zedillo clearly won.

The Zapatistas more recently have called for a national liberation strategy
involving nearly the whole people. While the Zapatistas have attempted to
unite the left, the left remains divided over how to carry out a national
liberation project, the divisions being the same as before.

Feb. 12: Continuing the discussion.

I raise again to A. the issue of the "ultra's" claim that the EZLN is social
democratic, that the EZLN does not have a "class project." Yes, says A.,
there is a social democratic aspect to the EZLN proposals, but there is a
great deal more as well, something new.

How, in any event, to define class? What about the so-called
micro-entrepreneurs, the venders and small service providers? They really own
almost nothing; what appeals to them? And what about the unwaged? What do
they want, what are they in struggle for, how do they relate to the Zapatista
movement, to potential revolution in Mexico?

The "ultras" says A. have a Leninist-Stalinist conception of class. This is
part of the problem, that they can't see the class project in the Zapatista

I am reminded of a piece I read some time ago about Mozambique, about how
farmers with a history of cooperative activity resisted having state farms
imposed on them, resisted in fact being proletarianized. No one, I suggest,
really wants to be a proletarian, except as an alternative to starvation. A.
says the micro-entrepreneurs in Mexico are always failing and starting again
-- anything to avoid wage-labor and having the immediate boss. Yet their
supposed non-proletarian being is almost entirely formal, they own so little.

If the class project is not the Stalinist one of constructing the
proletariat, then can there not be room for the micro-entrepreneur? Clearly
the relations have to be different, non-capitalist. But is there any
worthwhile evidence that turning everyone into a formal proletarian under the
state- as-capitalist makes communism closer? Eastern Europe and the ex-USSR
would suggest it is not so. It may be that the Zapatista's are opening up
space for new thinking in Mexico on these issues -- who is the class, what is
it doing, what is class democracy, socialism, communism? Will the left in
Mexico be able to see this, to move ahead?

A. also talked about the Cardenas campaign in the last election. He had
thought that if Cardenas had done well -- he did not believe Cardenas would
win -- it would open up a lot of space. That space could be used by the
Convention; indeed, he thought the Convention was the only formation that
could use it. But it, too, had fallen into old traps; the various movements
had not coalesced; the seemingly-growing revolt stagnated; Cardenas failed
badly. A. thought the in-fighting in the left had turned many off, people who
voted for the devil they knew very well, the PRI, rather than the left that
did not have its act together. Cardenas, he thought, was a great man. He was
probably the only person who could lead a transition government, which was a
developing demand and strategy from the Zapatistas, who had asked Cardenas to
lead a national liberation effort (which Cardenas had not said he would).
But it is often hard to see what Cardenas is doing, he contradicts himself
-- for example, now condemning the banks and NAFTA, now appeasing them.

So things stagnate on the left, while the state and the national economy
slide deeper into crisis.

Feb. 13. reading papers and talking.

Today in La Jornada, communiques from the EZLN, dated from 9, 10, 11 of Feb.
In one, they say that the basic issue in Chiapas is control over natural
resources, especially oil, and that decisions are made in the U.S., not

Indeed, if the Mexican state is pledging oil revenues as security for
billions in loans, then the lenders will surely want to know if the Mexican
state can in fact produce the oil, much of which comes from Chiapas. But I
think the issue is also broader, that strong control by the state over
society is a condition for investments and loans, and such control is most
threatened, directly and indirectly, by the Zapatistas. The growing
impoverishment, sure to be escalated by the collapse of the peso and the
"bailout" deals, requires strong control. But Zedillo is also -- he says --
aiming to lessen the autocratic, centralized power of the presidency and the
PRI. The army, it would appear, is at least partially filling in the power
vacuum. And both control over oil and general social control require
eliminating the EZLN.

A. says that Mexico appears to have no future as a nation. In the past, he
thought it did; now he suspects not. No bailout means economic death, but the
bailout is simply a slower death. There are, he says, many who say it is
ultimately better not to take the bailout.

The EZLN also have charged the government with conducting a genocidal war.
They have from their first public communiques argued that Salinas-style
"development" in Chiapas, as envisioned in NAFTA, was the death of the
Chiapan people and their culture. The war says that such death is indeed the
intent of the government. It is the government, not the EZLN, that has
negotiated dishonestly, and Zedillo's claims are rebutted point by point as a
pack of lies.

A. says that the key point is that the EZLN wants to reconstruct the state,
but the state cannot negotiate this. The government could, he thought,
concede the rest of the demands. I question this -- the state cannot afford
to do so, it is too much money. Perhaps, says A., but the key issue is not
the money, it is the power of the state. Perhaps, say I, but if the state
spends the money, which it could only do by reorganizing its income, it would
instantly make itself vulnerable to the same demands across all of Mexico. If
the Chiapanecans earned the North American-level wages the EZLN demands,
capital would leave anyway. It comes, we sense, to the same thing: the
Zapatista demands cannot be met by this state; the "economic" and the
"political" intertwine.

El Financiero today is mostly filled with discussions of privatization. A
cartoon depicts an octopus wrapping its arms around ports, accompanying
articles on privatization and modernization plans for ports; another piece
describes the prerequisites for privatizing airports; and hotel owners want
legalized casinos.

February 14, Meeting with a Feminist.

I met briefly with a feminist activist who works with household workers. The
overwhelming majority of waged women in Mexico are household workers. She
works with a core of about 15 women who have decided not to try to become a
union but instead be a mutual aid society. In Cuernavaca, a similar and
connected group decided to unionize, but the state denied them the right to
file papers. She says in her academic work, she is often denied the right to
interview union members. The official unions are part of the PRI and
therefore the state. Hence, controls over talking with union people and
obstacles to forming potentially independent unions. (See Las Costureras in
Midnight Notes #9).

February 15, Meetings and demonstrations.

There is to be another major demonstration later in the day. But before then,
my friend B. has arranged a meeting with a small group. Her friend, C., has
been wanting to meet with various folks to raise issues around re-thinking
class strategy: who is the class, what is its project, what is socialism or
communism, what is democracy? So I am to be the pretext for the meeting. I'll
talk a bit about Midnight Notes, they'll talk about themselves and their work
and political views, and we'll dialogue for a while. B. will translate.

The meeting, at a local university, is with three others, men and women, who
are part of the same group; several invitees can't come.

C., introducing himself, he is in a group with a mix of political
perspectives, some shades of Leninism, some of autonomism, a few Maoists.

D., our host, is a Marxist economist from, he said, the generation of '68
(the year of the student uprising and the massacre). He was involved in a
project in northern Mexico that was part of a popular movement with strong
student, union and colonias (urban working class communities) participation.
More recently, he's been in Mexico City. The group has a workshop studying
the impact of modernization on work, studying what wages will buy, the social
wage, and employment. They are just beginning some ties with the US and

Another in the group, E., is a part-time lawyer and works on the groups'
paper. F., who teaches mathematics, discussed the group's work of
interviewing workers as a process of recovering and documenting history.
Their group has been repressed a lot.

D. says that Mexico is tied to globalization via subordination to US capital
and its modernizing plans: auto assembly, some chemicals and manufacturing,
with the rest of industry in Mexico disappearing or fusing with US capital,
some European or Japanese capital. The strong Mexican capitalist groups are
those with ties to the US. Mexican finance capital has been reorganizing
since 1982 and the declaration of the inability to pay its international
debt. Prior to that, it was state-driven accumulation, now it is more
private, and small industry is disappearing. Some micro-businesses survive,
pay no taxes, use family labor, have low productivity.

The official labor organizations do not represent labor. The few efforts they
make are useless. The 1987 salary freeze and the subsequent series of pacts
by government, business and labor have acted to hold wages down.

There are, he said, "precarious" labor and small businesses, which may be
formal or informal. The formal/informal distinction is not useful; his group
uses "precarious." He thinks that soon laws providing guarantees to workers
will change to allow for pay by the hour rather than salaries, which change
will be used to further lower wages and increase insecurity. Mexican wages
have recently dropped from a 1:8 ratio to US wages to a 1:10 ratio, and with
devaluation would be falling more.

There are local struggles -- they break out one by one and are defeated one
by one. There are a lot of layoffs, followed by restructuring and rehiring.

Auto assembly used to be concentrated around Mexico City. The unions would
negotiate benefits above the minimums guaranteed in law. In the
<maquilladora> plants along the border with the US, benefits are held below
the legal minimums and the wages are lower. In short, the labor movement in
Mexico is weak. In Chiapas, people have been even more marginalized.

The myth of economic growth that followed NAFTA (which A. had said was widely