On the Election of Lopez Obrador

Insurgent Notes is publishing the following letter, not because we necessarily endorse the politics, but as a very rich description of the social and political situation in Mexico leading up to the recent electoral earthquake there.

Today, I’m writing to confess my sins. I acted like a vile democrat, participating in elections and calling for a vote for amlo1 and Morena2… I’ve never voted until now; this is the second time in my life that I have voted (the first time was three years ago, also for Morena). I threw all my Marxism overboard. In effect, amlo-Morena is a frontist movement, Social Democratic, nationalist, Keynesian…and all that mixed in with a solid dose of neo-liberalism!

There can be no doubt about this and amlo has been, at least, completely coherent. He never called for anything that might appear as socialist or left-wing; he was a militant of the pri and his outlook has always been clear: nationalism, and his theoretical references have been Lázaro Cardenas,3 Benito Juárez4 and Madero. Never in his life has he mentioned Marx, Lenin, Trotsky or Luxemburg. They never interested him. amlo was not even a typical left-wing militant who “matured” with age.

You know the rest: in Mexico, as a subordinate country, to express reformist nationalism comes across as a revolutionary risk unacceptable to the elites, who are more closely identified with their foreign masters than with any role as the “national” bourgeoisie. Thus, since 1988, we have witnessed fraud, manipulation and intimidation to prevent the “left” from coming to power through elections. In 1988, by way of 1994, 2006 and 2012, we saw the most scandalous cases in the electoral mega-frauds of 1988 (against Cuauhtémoc Cardenas5 and the prd6) and then in 2006 (against Lopez Obrador and the prd). On the current occasion, amlo, at the head of Morena (the party he created barely four years ago as a break with the corrupt and neo-liberal prd), took power in an unstoppable way. It was a massive vote of rejection against the so-called prian (the alternating governments cooked up by the pri7 and the pan,8 along with their lackey the prd). I refer to decades of privatizations and the commercial opening of the country, presented as necessary medicine, and to their flip side of unemployment, immiseration, the migration of millions of people to the United States, ecological disaster, new diseases arising from new types of consumption and, in its most acute phase, the “war on the drug trade” which has killed more than 200,000 people in twelve years, with clandestine graves throughout the country, thousands of “disappeared” and families destroyed by kidnapping at all social levels. All this came to the breaking point in 2018 (of course, in the year of the 50th anniversary of the massacre of university students by army troops in the Plaza de Tlatelolco9 in October 1968).

The bill has come due on the effects of this long-term disaster. History has placed in amlo’s hands a country filled with despair, frustration and tremendous anger. For his part, amlo’s tenacity, caudillismo10 and, most recently, his mysticism, have made him the repository of hope for tens of millions of people from all social classes, from the very poor, by way of the middle classes, to some sectors of small business. It was an electoral tsunami. amlo got more than 50 percent of the vote and won both houses of Congress for his new party. For its part, the pri cranked up its fraud machine (buying votes, manipulation of the media, intimidation, assassinations of political leaders, control of the central voting boards, and many more traps). The pan did its part, being the party with greater legitimacy and ideological credibility, representing the historical right in this country, with its religious, traditionalist, classist and racist baggage. Together, the pri and the pan blared their propaganda, spreading fear about the growth of Chavismo11 and the loss of freedom.

Against this, amlo skillfully and tactically put himself forward with a “centrist” program and a discourse calculated to avoid nationalism, in alliance with a very small and ultra-conservative evangelical party, and with new supporters coming from the pri and the pan, as well as with business people who had been part of the so-called “mafia of power.”

This clash of forces seemed to portend disaster. Many of us thought that the government would again resort to electoral fraud, which would have to be of monumental proportions. The result was unprecedented. amlo won with a solid majority, quite beyond the expectations of both his supporters and his enemies. Most surprising of all was that Peña Nieto, the president, José Antonio Meade, the candidate of the pri, and Ricardo Anaya, the candidate of the pan, all acknowledged amlo’s victory on the very day of the election. Hours later the big boss, the United States president, did the same. The moment was and is historic.

While full explanations are still up for grabs, one reason for all this is clear: the neo-liberal disaster. But it is not clear why the pri and the pan did not join forces and present a simulated common front, as they have done on previous occasions, such as having the candidate trailing in the polls step aside, so that the more favored candidate could guarantee a win against the left, and also use their fraudulent methods to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the necessities in play. This time was in fact different. The pure “neo-liberal” front was divided.

Partisan and personal conflicts, within the parties and between them, are a first explanation. But I think that the most important reason is Trump. The probable breakup of nafta12 represents the end of the main bet of the Mexican elite. Trump has orphaned his most servile employees. The blow has been devastating. Other analysts argue that the division between the pri and the pan is an extension of the confrontation between Trump and Soros.

Without doubt, the rise of amlo is part of the worldwide tendency beginning with Brexit, Trump, Putin, Erdogan and other nationalisms: i.e., the protectionism and nationalism fitting for a period of recession and war scares. At the level of class struggle, the situation is even more serious. amlo’s victory seals the absence and inhibition of any independent struggle of the proletariat. For now, the latter does not exist and has no expression. Movements of the class disappeared some time ago, and remain limited to confused local stirrings; the most important class movement of recent years, that of the teachers, sees its perspective realized in amlo’s electoral triumph. Nonetheless, nothing else could be expected after years of assassinations, justified as a war against “organized delinquency,” and in a country that has sunk into terror, anxiety and despair.

Such were the motives that pushed me to give up my rejection of all electoral activity and any support for bourgeois parties, to shut my mouth and retrace my steps, uniting with those whom I had so strongly criticized for their reformist illusions and bourgeois nationalism. This was one lesson from life which had made me value even more those such as the militants and revolutionaries who lived through fascism and war in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s while maintaining their convictions. This was not my case and, still more importantly and seriously, I do not think it “viable” for a communist organization to maintain a rigid anti-electoral posture in a situation such as the current one. Whatever the case, what has happened has happened, and now come tremendous challenges.

Certainly, the only critical voice heard at all since amlo’s resounding triumph has been that of the Zapatistas (ezln, Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional) from its hidden base in the southern state of Chiapas; their intervention is full of historical resonances, since amlo as well has said that he was inspired by Francisco Madero, the liberal politician who launched the struggle against the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz in 1910. Emiliano Zapata was the guerrilla leader who, together with Pancho Villa, put the demands of the peasantry on the agenda, thereby converting the supposed regime change into a social revolution. However, neo-Zapatism is more isolated than ever and its political intervention in elections has been very unfortunate. The experiment with indigenous agrarian communes does not seem to inspire the proletarianized urban masses, not to mention the lumpenproletariat; on the other hand, the supposed radical left represented by Zapatismo suffers from the confusion arising from the collapse of “real existing socialism.” Further, it has never clarified its politics, between its original Maoism, its current “anarcho-alternative” ideology and its references to Cuba and Venezuela.

Fortunately I do not belong to any communist organization, for surely I would be called to account and expelled today. That said, I’d appreciate your critical comments. At least help me to understand what is happening; I do think that many of the keys to the situation are outside Mexico and in the United States!

  1. The universal tag for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

  2. Morena, contraction of Movement for National Regeneration, the party built in recent years by amlo.

  3. Lazaro Cardenas was president of Mexico from 1934 to 1940, remembered for the 1938 nationalization of foreign oil investments and his general reform program in those years.

  4. Benito Juárez was a liberal bourgeois leader in Mexico in the nineteenth century.

  5. Cuahtémoc Cardenas, the son of Lazaro Cardenas, ran for president of Mexico in 1988 on a left-reformist ticket and was defeated in an election widely regarded as stolen.

  6. Partido Revolucionario Democratico, a left reformist party.

  7. Partido Revolucionario Institucional, which ruled Mexico from 1930 to 2000, and then returned to power in the 2000s.

  8. Partido de Acción Nacional, traditional right-wing party.

  9. The Mexico City site of a massacre of hundreds of demonstrating student militants just prior to the 1968 Olympics, held in Mexico City.

  10. From “caudillo,” roughly “strongman.”

  11. From Chavez, leader of the “Bolivarian Revolution” in Venezuela.

  12. North American Free Trade Agreement of 1993, which liberalized trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico.


2 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Schalken,

    The tl;dr version: “I know AMLO offers nothing to the working class, but I voted for him anyway, and I think other communists should behave similarly. I can’t explain why. P.S. I really feel bad about it and want to be criticized. Please make me feel like a real revolutionary martyr because I voted!”

  2. John Garvey,

    A response to Schalken from the author:

    I have only one explanation to justify my vote for AMLO: to try to stop the repression, assassinations and the criminal wave promoted by government in order to intimidate and destroying the class organization. I know that this hope is only temporary. In fact, this dilemma (vote or not to vote in this moment) has divided some militants and leftist organizations in México (I don’t believe we have a representative and significant communist organization in México). In my case, I believe you are right: I have to change religions!!! If marxists answer to real issues like you, I prefer to be a liberal thinker, sorry! ”


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