The Mexican pseudo-left and the anti-gasolinazo protests

By Eric London
14 January 2017

The explosive spontaneous protests, which broke out across Mexico at the start of the new year in response to the government’s gas subsidy cut, laid bare the discontent shared by broad sections of the population against inequality, corruption, and the rising cost of living.

But despite the hostility to the government’s measures among the working class and sections of the middle class, the spontaneous protests have dwindled as the trade unions and leading parties have used a combination of lies, empty promises and police repression to force through this frontal attack on living standards.

The pseudo-left Socialist Workers Movement (MTS) is providing a “left” cover for this process by tying workers and youth to the pro-capitalist, nationalist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) and its leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO).

The traditional parties of the Mexican ruling class face an unprecedented crisis of legitimacy. President Enrique Peña Nieto is the most unpopular in modern Mexican history with an approval rating below 25 percent. From 70 to 80 percent of voters distrust the ruling PRI, as well as the main bourgeois opposition parties, the PAN (Party of National Action) and PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution).

In ramming through the gasolinazo and repressing the protests, the Mexican ruling class is seeking to prove to the incoming Trump administration that the country will remain a source of cheap labor and resources for exploitation by American banks and corporations.

As a recent publication from the US Director of National Intelligence put it: “Major reforms, such as opening Mexico’s oil industry to foreign investment, take time to bear fruit, but antigovernment protests could escalate if the disappointments remain more apparent than the benefits in the next several years.” The report reads, “Concerns about violence and social order will become increasingly salient…”

The political line of the MTS is directed at preventing the development of an independent movement of the working class. The MTS is the Mexican section of the Trotskyist Fraction—Fourth International (FT-CI), a Morenoite tendency whose flagship party is the Argentine Socialist Workers Party (PTS).

Uncritically noting that AMLO has called for “national unity” in response to the protests, MTS leader Sergio Moissen told the organization’s web site Izquierda Diario on January 7 that Morena must “coordinate, extend, and strengthen the fight for an independent politics that allows the working people to confront the government and its plans.”

On January 11, MTS issued a statement titled “Lopez Obrador and Morena face the gasolinazo .” The statement credited AMLO with “insisting that the problem in the country is corruption and the ‘mafia in power,’” while “at the same time” criticizing him for claiming that demonstrators must wait until 2018 to bring down the Peña government.

MTS’s criticisms of Morena are of a tactical and not a political character. It criticizes Morena’s electoral self-promotion but issues a call for “demonstrations” aimed at achieving the same pro-capitalist goals: “A government made up of popular organizations and workers organizations [i.e. trade unions]” can “definitively do away with the corrupt, murderous ‘political caste’ that lives on the public dime and takes the national resources.” The statement concludes by proposing that “the Morena membership demand of their leaders that their party join the massive, united demonstrations without any maliciousness.”

Significantly, the MTS makes no mention whatsoever of AMLO’s own denunciation of the demonstrators for employing “fascist strategies” and his affirmation of Morena’s desire to “put order in the chaos.”

Lopez Obrador is expected to perform well in the 2018 presidential elections, with many bourgeois commentators claiming he is favored to win. MTS views the possibility of an AMLO presidency as an opportunity to create a political space in which it can build legitimacy and acquire access to the resources of the Mexican state.

AMLO is by no means an unknown quantity in Mexico, and his base is largely in the privileged upper-middle class. His support in the working class is very limited. After the rigged 2006 election, he lost in 2012 by a significant margin and left the PRD later that year, transforming Morena from a non-profit associated with his campaign into a formal political party.

In January 2016, Morena won a plurality of seats in elections for the Mexico City legislature, doubling the total combined vote of the PAN and PRI. Shortly after, AMLO announced his candidacy for president.

The political program of Morena and AMLO can only be described as “left” in the vaguest sense. “To be left-wing is to be sensible and honest,” AMLO told the press after announcing his presidential run. “To be left-wing is to have good sentiments and to be honest; corrupt people cannot be left-wing.”

The program of AMLO and Morena consists of similar empty banalities paired with calls for “reform,” a fight against “corruption,” and a “moral and cultural revolution” against the “mafia of power.” Morena’s Declaration of Principles and its official program make no reference to “imperialism” or “capitalism” but call for an alliance of “Mexicans from all social classes.”

Morena is solidly in the tradition of the more nationalist-oriented wing of the Mexican bourgeoisie, which advocates for a policy of industrial development based on the direct exploitation of the Mexican workers and poor peasants by the Mexican ruling class, with an important but subordinate role played by foreign capital.

Its official program calls for “cooperative development” with US businesses and calls for “higher competition internally and competitiveness externally, where the state promotes the national economy.” Its Declaration of Principles includes an opaque but unmistakably hostile reference to socialism and the class struggle: “We are not moved by hatred, only by love for our neighbors and for our country.”

MTS’s proposal that Morena—a pro-capitalist, anti-working class organization—take charge of the demonstrations is the product not of a political mistake, but of this pseudo-left organization’s fundamental class outlook. MTS speaks for a section of the privileged upper-middle class whose material interests are hostile to those of the broad masses of the Mexican toiling masses.

In Mexico, the chasm that separates the wealthiest 10 percent of the population from the working class and peasantry is even more vast than in the United States. A 2014 Credit Suisse report found that the top 10 percent controls 64.4 percent of the wealth. A similar study on the share of national income by the top 10 percent shows an increase of nearly 10 percent since 1992.

The concentration of wealth among the very wealthy is even sharper. A study from 2012 showed that the top 1 percent controls over 20 percent of national income, the highest of any country. The wealth of Mexico’s four wealthiest individuals equals 9 percent of GDP. Meanwhile, poverty rates have risen by 10 percent in the last decade as more than half of Mexicans live under the official poverty line. Only the top 20 percent are considered “not vulnerable” to immediately falling into poverty.

MTS’s politics flow from their upper-middle-class position in this highly stratified society. They view the masses of workers as a threat to the wealth and privilege of the social strata to which they are oriented and fear the consequences of workers breaking from the trade union functionaries, university professors, and demagogic politicos who comprise Morena’s social base.

The development of a genuinely independent movement against inequality and US imperialism will be forged in opposition to MTS, Morena, and all those who seek to substitute nationalism and “left” populism for the independence of the working class based on a perspective of revolutionary international socialism.

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