Mexico: revolution takes another step forward

Hundreds of thousands gathered once again in the Zocalo Square in Mexico City on November 20 to celebrate the swearing in of the real winner of the presidential election, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The movement in Mexico is revealing a resilience and determination to go on. All the conditions for revolution exist, if only the leaders would take advantage of these. Despite the bitter cold, hundreds of thousands once again filled the massive Zocalo Square in the Mexican capital on Monday, November 20th. They were there to participate in the ceremony of the swearing in of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), of the left wing PRD, as the legitimate president of Mexico, in a clear act of rejection of the electoral fraud which robbed him of his victory in the July 2nd presidential elections.

This was the continuation of a protest movement which saw millions take to the streets for a period of three months and which culminated in a National Democratic Convention (CND) on September 16th where more than one million delegates decided not to recognise the official results of the presidential elections and to declare AMLO as the only legitimate president of the country.

 The crowd chanted slogans such as, "It is an honour to be with Obrador", "We can hear, we can see, we have a president", as Lopez Obrador received the presidential band from the hands of the veteran social fighter Rosario Ibarra de Piedra.

The very fact that once again the Zocalo square was completely full, particularly after the break in the movement after the lifting of the tent city on September 16, reveals the depth of the movement, which is not only a rejection of electoral fraud, but a rejection of the economic policies introduced in the last 20 years which have massively increased the gap between rich and poor in Mexico.

While the country has been adding a record number of millionaires to the Forbes list of the world's richest, millions have been forced by the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to emigrate to the United States (5 million in the last ten years alone). While half of the population lives below the poverty line, and one fifth lives in extreme poverty, the richest 0.15% of Mexicans account for 30% of the country's wealth. These are some of the deep social causes that underlie this movement.

An older couple from Teoloyucán, quoted in La Jornada, explained the reasons why they were there: "We came to the swearing in of the legitimate president of Mexico, because there must be a change. It is no longer possible to live in this situation in which those who are in power get all the wealth, while for those of us down below things are getting worse and worse. We have had enough. In the past we had something to eat. Feeding our children is becoming increasingly impossible. Before I used to work, now my wife has to work as well." And the husband concluded: "I think there is no other way out than a revolution to put this right".

Lopez Obrador certainly used radical language during the rally. He spoke of a "neofascist oligarchy which has taken over the political institutions of the country and which is determined to maintain and increase its privileges" and he added that "this rapacious minority ... does not care about the destiny of millions of Mexicans who suffer want and survive in poverty conditions". He stressed that "to accept the rules of the current regime, implies not only a betrayal of the people of Mexico, but to indefinitely postpone democratic change, and to powerlessly resign ourselves before the abuses of the economic and political elite".

The Spanish newspaper El País, a faithful representative of Spanish business interests that have re-colonised Latin America over the last decades, is particularly hysterical in its attacks against Obrador and the whole movement against electoral fraud (as well as the revolutionary uprising in Oaxaca). In an editorial published on Monday, November 20, describing the rally in the Zocalo as a "phantom political farce", El Pais states that "if Lopez Obrador has achieved anything with his permanent disregard for the democratic institutions of the State and its decisions, it is the opprobrious fact of having endangered peaceful coexistence and civil peace in that great nation which is Mexico".

Here we can see what El Pais (which, by the way, reveals its ignorance by dating Mexico's 1910 revolution to 1920!) is really worried about: the de-legitimisation of the institutions of bourgeois democracy in the eyes of millions of ordinary working people in Mexico. Lopez Obrador himself seems aware of this, when in his speech he admitted that, "I have been attacked without mercy because I said ‘to hell with the corrupt institutions'."

The movement against electoral fraud also faces its enemies within the PRD structures and bureaucracy. The right wing of the party and those in positions of power in regional and local government are ferociously and publicly opposed to the course of action taken by Lopez Obrador. In the Zocalo, the masses are aware of this and they distinguish sharply between Lopez Obrador, who at least has put himself at the head of the movement, and those PRD leaders who have sabotaged it. A female trade union delegate from a state hospital in Acapulco, quoted by La Jornada, is clear on this point: "I am here only to support Lopez Obrador ... [PRD state governor] Zeferino Torreblanca is a thief and [PRD Acapulco mayor] Felix Salgado is just an idiot".

But, as we pointed out before, the problem facing Lopez Obrador is that he has put himself at the head of a movement that has challenged the institutions of bourgeois power, but he has not outlined a plan to take power. An editorial in a bourgeois newspaper ironically asked AMLO if he was going to start raising taxes and giving orders to the army, now that he was the "legitimate president" of Mexico. And this is really the crucial point. There cannot be two presidents in one country. The question that should be posed is "how do we get rid of Felipe Calderon", the candidate of the right wing Party of National Action (PAN) that has been recognised as the official winner of the elections? And the answer, at least in part, can be found in the slogan that tens of thousands shouted on Monday, "national strike".

Many went to the Zocalo looking an answer to the question of "what next?" But there was no clear answer. The next key moment for the movement is December 1st, when Felipe Calderon is to be sworn in at the National Assembly. The movement around AMLO has vowed to prevent Calderón from becoming president and the Mexican ruling class is taking the threat very seriously. Congress is now surrounded by high steel fences and hundreds of police patrol the area round the clock.

It is likely that Lopez Obrador will want to limit the movement to some sort of demonstration of peaceful resistance, like a rally in the Zocalo, while PRD MPs try to prevent the swearing in of Calderon inside Congress. This is more or less what happened on September 1st, when outgoing president Fox was supposed to give his state of the nation address. The problem is that this time the ruling class will not be caught unawares. They are firmly committed to making sure this symbolic act of the swearing in of the new president goes ahead. They need the institutions of bourgeois democracy, to have at least an "official" seal of approval.

The comrades of the Mexican Marxist Tendency Militante have been arguing for some time that the next step of the movement, and particularly on December 1st, should be a general strike which would paralyse the country and effectively prevent Calderón from becoming president. There is the very serious danger that the masses become tired of these repeated mass demonstrations in the Zocalo and that the movement, losing focus, recedes. A general strike in itself would not decide the question of power and even less solve it, but it would make the working class aware of its own enormous power.

Oaxaca struggle continues in the face of military intervention

Meanwhile, in Oaxaca, on the same day, a mass demonstration took place in protest against the military occupation of the city, demanding once again the resignation of governor Ulises Ruiz (also known by his initials URO). The demonstration was met with tear gas by the Federal Police which has been occupying the city since October 29.

The struggle in Oaxaca has developed from a struggle for better wages and conditions for the teachers, into a situation of dual power in which the Popular Assembly of the Peoples' of Oaxaca (APPO) has been running most of the state for the last five months (see Mexico: Oaxaca - the Spearhead of the Mexican Revolution). The APPO ‑ a coalition of trade unions, neighbourhood organisations, peasant organisations, student and women groups, local and traditional authorities ‑ declared itself to be the only legitimate authority in this poverty-stricken Southern state of Mexico, set up its own police force (the Policia Magisterial), took over public transportation, controlled the city with 1,000 barricades and physically prevented the state government from operating.

But after many months of struggle, by the end of October there were already signs of tiredness in the movement. A section of the leadership of branch 22 of the teachers' union, which covers Oaxaca and has been the backbone of the movement, decided to accept a number of concessions on the part of the government and put these to the vote in a referendum. But even before the official results of the ballot were known, they were already announcing that the teachers had voted to go back to work. This enraged the rank and file teachers who turned up en masse at a union assembly and forced the reformist leaders to flee. These signs of divisions amongst the teachers' leaders were seen by the national government as a sign of weakness and accelerated the intervention of the Federal Preventative Police (PFP) and the army against the APPO.

The Mexican ruling class could not allow the situation in Oaxaca to last any longer. It was a direct challenge to the institutions of the State in the region and was becoming an example for workers, peasants and youth in struggle nationally. There was yet another reason for their urgency in smashing the APPO: they did not want the movement in Oaxaca to become united with the struggle against electoral fraud, and particularly with the symbolic dates of November 20th and December 1st. They calculated that the movement in Oaxaca was weak and it could be put down before November 20th, thus demoralising the movement around Lopez Obrador. This shows that it is very dangerous for the movement to accept a compromise that implies the demobilisation of its forces before achieving any serious concessions. This will always be used by the class enemy to go on the offensive.

On October 28th a number of provocations took place on the barricades in Oaxaca, with members of the local police and thugs from the PRI (the party of state governor Ulises Ruiz) firing on APPO militants. Four people were killed, including New York Indymedia journalist Brad Will (see the video of his last footage here: This was the prelude for the entry of the Army and Federal Police into Oaxaca on October 29th. A direct confrontation with the government forces (which used Army helicopters, bulldozers and assault rifles) would have probably ended in a bloodbath. The APPO decided to organise a massive demonstration in which hundreds of thousands marched through the city centre, but did not defend most of the barricades, and moved the tent city from the Oaxaca Zocalo to the nearby square of Santo Domingo. The end result was that although Oaxaca was now under military occupation, the government forces were mainly in the Zocalo, while the movement had not been smashed and was still defiant and in control of some of its radio stations.francotiradores.jpg

The situation in Oaxaca is also putting the PAN-PRI alliance under severe strain. Both parties are representatives of the ruling class and they are united against the movement of workers and peasants. But while the PRI has control of local government in Oaxaca, the PAN is in power at national level. Some in the PAN leadership were trying to get Ulises Ruiz to resign ‑ for them he is just an expendable pawn ‑ in the hope that this would defuse the revolutionary situation in Oaxaca. But for the PRI leaders the situation is a bit different, since it is their pawn that is being asked to be sacrificed, and they warned that if URO were to be removed that would be seen as a victory by the movement and would further endanger the chances of Calderon becoming president. In a sense they are both right.

The military occupation of Oaxaca was not enough for the ruling class; they need to smash the movement once and for all. Thus on Thursday November 2nd the PFP tried to take over the campus of the Benito Juarez University of Oaxaca (UABJO) which had been occupied by the APPO for months and it was from there that one of the main radio stations of the movement, Radio Universidad, operated. But this time, the activists, aware that their eviction from the campus would have meant a serious defeat for the movement, resisted. For 6 hours an all-out battle took place between the heavily armed forces of the PFP and tens of thousands of APPO activists, with the university students at the forefront of the clashes. Armed with sticks and stones, defending makeshift barricades with Molotov cocktails and homemade rocket launchers they finally managed to defeat the forces of the police that had to withdraw from the University campus.

The images of wounded PFP officers being taken away in Army helicopters, and the PFP defeated withdrawing from the UABJO were broadcast throughout Mexico (see this video of the Battle for Radio Universidad ) and were seen as a major defeat for the government which emboldened the movement even further. This is the second time this year that the repressive forces of the state have been defeated in an open confrontation. The previous one was in April when PFP forces were defeated and chased out of the Sircatsa steel mill in Lazaro Cardenas by striking steel workers. It is an indication of the level the class struggle has reached in Mexico.

mega_marcha.jpgDuring the struggle in Oaxaca the movement has had a conscious orientation to appeal to ordinary rank and file soldiers and even police officers not to allow themselves to be used against the people. In some cases soldiers have broken down in tears when confronted with militant women appealing to them to side with the people and not that of a repressive government which wants to sell off the country to the multinationals for peanuts. The Federation of Retired Army Officers has also participated officially in the demonstrations against electoral fraud. The repressive forces of the state apparatus in Mexico are still strong, but these small examples are indications of what could be possible if there were a serious revolutionary appeal to the ranks of the army backed with massive strike action on the part of the working class.

 After the defeat of the PFP in the battle at the University, yet another massive march took place in Oaxaca on Sunday, November 5, with up to one million participants, some of them from outside the state. This was a most impressive show of defiance in a city under military occupation, with police on every street corner, barricaded behind barbed wire and with snipers on rooftops along the route of the march. (see video of the march).

barbed_wire.jpgClearly the movement is defiant, has not been defeated, and repression has only strengthened its resolve. The APPO has now given itself clear structures at a congress which took place on November 10-12, which was made up of representatives from trade unions, social organisations, villages and towns from across the state and also delegates from the barricades. This congress also revealed the emergence of divisions within the movement between a left wing and a right wing. Many feel that some of the leading figures of the movement are too moderate. A left wing is being created, particularly around the activists in Radio Universidad who coordinated the defence of the UABJO campus on November 2. One of the main weaknesses of the current leadership of the APPO is that it limits itself to demands for political change, including the setting up of a Constituent Assembly in Oaxaca. Important as these demands are, they need to be clearly linked to demands to solve the immediate needs of the masses (jobs, food, land, trade union rights, wages, education and health).

The ruling class faced with a national movement

The worst possible situation for the ruling class has now become a reality: they have not managed to smash the Oaxaca Commune and this struggle has now linked up with the struggle against electoral fraud. AMLO was reluctant to get too involved with the struggle in Oaxaca and no serious action was taken to defend the Oaxaca Commune before the intervention of the Army. At the same time some within the APPO did not want to be linked to the struggle against electoral fraud; initially they said they would not participate in the National Democratic Convention and also had a tendency to limit the struggle to the borders of Oaxaca.

But the healthy instincts of the rank and file in both movements for unity against the common enemy, the Mexican oligarchy, have prevailed. AMLO has now come out publicly in support of the struggle of Oaxaca and the APPO, and the APPO has now adopted more of a national approach with a call for similar Popular Assemblies to be set up in other states. Both struggles are now united in a call for a massive protest against Calderón on December 1st, and the APPO is planning a massive one million strong march in Oaxaca. This is precisely what the ruling class wanted to avoid at all costs.

There are still some on the left who seem not to understand this and they are trying to create an artificial Chinese Wall between the struggle against fraud (a "political struggle" based on "leaders") and the struggle in Oaxaca (a "rank and file struggle" from "below"). In doing so they are unwittingly doing the ruling class a favour, but they also reveal very little understanding of the way the masses move and of the history of the Mexican Revolution itself. The millions who have participated in the marches and plantones (tent cities) in Mexico DF against electoral fraud are expressing a profound and revolutionary desire for fundamental change, not only on the question of democracy, but also the defence of natural resources, acquired rights, free education. And they understand they can only get these through struggle. Their demands go beyond the limits of capitalism, particularly beyond the limits of Mexican capitalism today, and objectively set the movement on a collision course with the Mexican ruling class and imperialism. As the couple from Teolocuyán told La Jornada's journalist "there is no other way out than a revolution to put this right".

They support AMLO because he has provided the struggle with a channel through which to express itself, because he is a leading figure who has dared to send all the institutions to hell. Certainly AMLO is a reformist politician, and as such, tends towards compromise, and does not wish to take the struggle beyond certain limits. But so far, in the eyes of the masses that are entering into political life for the first time, he has played a positive role, calling for action and channelling the movement, and he has done it in such a way that it seems to have been successful, so far. This is a necessary stage in the political education of hundreds of thousands of ordinary working people. But even at this early stage, support for Obrador is not unconditional. At the National Democratic Convention on September 16th, some of the people proposed by AMLO to be in the leadership of the movement were booed by the crowd because they were seen as being more moderate or even tainted with corruption.


The duty of revolutionaries is not to abstain from such a movement, but rather to participate in it fully, while at the same time pointing out the methods and programme that the movement should adopt in order to go forward, engaging in a discussion with ordinary working people, instead of sneering from the sidelines. The leadership of the EZLN has made a number of important mistakes during this process. First they said the elections were of no importance, when it was clear that millions saw the July 2 elections as a way of expressing their desire for fundamental change. Then the ruling class organised fraud, proving that for them too the elections were crucial. Marcos and the EZLN leadership abstained as millions marched on the streets of Mexico and filled the Zocalo square many times. When he finally issued a statement, it was one that could not connect with the movement, because although it denounced electoral fraud it still insisted that AMLO "is our enemy".

In relation to Oaxaca the position of the EZLN leaders was also very timid, when they said they would observe the movement taking place there, in order to learn, but that they would not participate in it directly. It seems that now their attitude has changed, as they have started to organise solidarity nationally through the Other Campaign, and they even called for a national strike on November 20 (though the Other Campaign really has a negligible influence within the trade union movement and November 20 is a national holiday in Mexico anyway). The main problem here is the very sectarian attitude towards the movement against electoral fraud and the PRD in general, without understanding that the PRD leadership is one thing, but the millions who are starting on a potentially revolutionary path under the banners of AMLO and the PRD are something completely different. Thus in a meeting in Nuevo Leon, on September 16, subcomandante Marcos ridiculed a worker from the Marxist Tendency Militante for proposing a united front between the APPO, the CND and the Other Campaign in the struggle against the swearing in of Calderón on December 1. Reality however is stubborn, and we can confidently predict that the EZLN leaders will be forced to participate in the movement on December 1, or risk being ignored by the millions from the CND, the PRD, the APPO and the unions who will certainly be there.

It is ironic that the leaders of a movement which claims allegiance to the great Mexican peasant revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata, forget that the 1910-17 Mexican revolution actually began as the struggle against electoral fraud committed against Francisco Madero. Emiliano Zapata was certainly part of that movement which had revolutionary implications and which went much further than the struggle for democracy.

The Mexican revolution has begun

The situation that has opened up in Mexico has clear revolutionary characteristics. The masses are not prepared to be ruled in the old way any longer and they are challenging not just this or that bourgeois political figure or party but the whole of the system. They have deep-seated economic demands which clash directly with the interests of the ruling class and imperialism. They are confident in their own forces, having won a number of partial victories in the recent period. In the case of Oaxaca they have set up their own independent organisations leading the struggle. The armed forces of the state have not been able to decisively crush any of these movements so far (and in the case of Oaxaca have already been defeated once). The ruling class is divided and can no longer rule in the old manner. These are all ingredients of a revolutionary situation.

If this has not yet gone any further, it is because of the weakness of the revolutionary leadership. There is no doubt that if AMLO had called for a general strike in July or August, when millions were on the streets, the question of power would have been directly posed. For those who may still doubt this, we can quote the right wing daily Reforma, that published an opinion poll where it asked people how far they were prepared to go in the struggle against fraud. Many said they would participate in marches and demonstrations, in acts of civil disobedience, etc. But 11% said they would be prepared to participate in an uprising, an insurrection. This was at a time when the issue of an insurrection had not been posed by anyone, had not been discussed publicly anywhere. That means that more than 11 million people, even before a call was issued, were prepared to participate in an insurrection!

December 1st will be yet another turning point in this developing movement. Again, if a serious call for a national general strike were issued, the swearing in of Calderon could be prevented and the situation would reach a higher level. However, taking into account the vacillations of AMLO, it is possible that Calderón may, in one way or another, be successfully installed as the president of Mexico. But, what are the perspectives for a Calderon government? The previous PAN government of Fox was in essence a weak government. It got elected mainly as a reaction against 70 years of rule by the PRI, so it had, at the beginning, a certain level of popular support. However, it was unable to carry out the main counter-reforms demanded by the Mexican oligarchy and its Washington masters. Every time it tried to reform the labour law, the social security system, to privatise electricity, to limit access to higher education, it was faced with a mass movement which stopped it in its tracks.

The government of Calderon intends to follow exactly the same path. On November 15th it already announced economic measures which are an attack on the poor, including the increase in the prices of subsidised milk, bread and fuel (which have a knock-on effect on other basic products). The day after the rally that declared AMLO as the legitimate president, Calderon announced the composition of his Cabinet. Agustin Carstens, a University of Chicago trained economist and former IMF official, was appointed as finance minister. He is to be part of an economic team, which the LA Times euphemistically describes as "endorsing free-market policies as the solution to Mexico's ills". This includes to "keep government spending in check" (read cuts in social spending), to "pass legislation helping Mexico's economy grow faster" (read further attacks on workers' rights and collective bargaining), and to "modernize Mexico's state-dominated energy sector" (read privatisation of oil and electricity). "This is exactly what Wall Street was asking for," said Alberto Bernal-Leon, an analyst at global investment bank Bear, Sterns and Co. quoted by the LA Times.

If Fox could not implement such a programme, it is completely unthinkable that Calderon will be able to pass the same measures. This is a finished recipe for class struggle. The revolutionary hurricane that has shaken Latin America during the last few years has now arrived in Mexico, on the border with the United States. The masses will return to the best traditions of the 1910-17 revolution. We should note, however, that at that time Mexico was mainly a peasant country, and when the peasant armies of Zapata and Villa took over Mexico City they did not find a revolutionary working class to ally themselves with. In the last 100 years Mexico has been fundamentally transformed, with 75% of the population living in urban areas and 10 million workers organised in trade unions. The conditions are much more favourable for social revolution. Therefore the workers and peasants of Mexico need a revolutionary socialist leadership which is able to channel the struggle, which is already taking place, in the direction of the socialist transformation of society.

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