10 Theses Concerning the PRI Defeat

Mexico City July 6, 2000.

2000 (10 Theses Concerning the PRI Defeat)

Sergio Rodri'guez Lascano

"As someone who has lived in this century, 'our patria in time,' I cannot manage to see any valid reasons for the sadness, desolation and uncertainty which has claimed so many socialists. Have they forgotten how much is now behind us?" (Adolfo Gilly: 1998)

1. - On July 2, 2000, the PRI political regime was finally defeated at the polls. There is nothing to be nostalgic about. The repression against the miners of Nueva Rosita, against the railroad workers, teachers and doctors, the Tlatelolco massacre, the bloody repression of San Cosme, the more than 500 detained-disappeared, the massacres of Acteal and Aguas Blancas, the subjugation of society through corporatism, clientelismo, caciquismo, the existence of one sole party which for decades prevented the "free play of parties" and the existence of representative democracy, the corruption which made government the source of capital accumulation. Impunity in the exercise of power which allowed the oligarchization of justice, contempt for any kind of autonomous demonstration by citizens, always seeking to criminalize social organizations and their representatives. The destruction of central aspects of the social and national fabric, the 66 million poor. These are all the consequences of PRIismo. At 11:30 at night on the 2nd of July, the panorama in the esplanade of the central plaza of the PRI was one of desolation. I would imagine that the feelings that existed in the offices of that horrible building were not very different from those which were felt in the Stasi, in East Germany.

2. - The PRI regime had been condemned to death for several years now. The economic restructuring from above, begun in 1982, signified not just a fragmentation of labor relations, in the urban as well as in the rural arena, which permitted the fragmentation of all social pacts, especially the great social pact emanating from the Mexican revolution. It also signified the beginning of the end of the four essential pillars of the PRI political regime: the ideological hegemony which allowed the justification that, while, in other countries a revolution was required, this had already taken place in Mexico, and it had been converted into an institution which promoted social development (the so-called "ideology of the Mexican revolution."). Political hegemony based on the incorporation of society in the state, or, to be more precise, the destruction of society and of its classes and sectors as autonomous subjects. The regulating character it had in relation to the social classes, especially in the legal arena, where it sought to appear as an independent arbiter between the various social and economic interests. The existence of a political party which was the only organizing mechanism of society, insofar as it consciously impeded unity between workers and campesinos and the unity of the Mexican working class itself.

Once again, modifications in economic relationships (the methods of appropriating the means of production) brought as a consequence the destruction of everything in their path, including political and social relationships which, in the eyes of many analysts, had seemed completely solid. The PRI became a corpse which passed before the incredulous eyes of a large number of Mexicans. As time passed, it was given a holy burial, the crisis of the regime, which some nai:ve people confused with "transition to democracy," and it took on a gruesome nature.

3. - It would, however, be unwitting to think that it was only the economic restructuring which provoked the fading crisis of the PRI regime. The crisis of the Mexican political regime has been a long and contradictory process, full of chiaroscuro, marked by Mexican civil society's impulse to build a more democratic, free and just Mexico. 1968 was, without a doubt, the pivotal year in this long and winding path towards the end of the PRI regime. A very modern sector, a product of the stabilizing development, the "privileged" ones in the building of post-revolutionary Mexico, rebelled against the Mexican political system, against the current real anti-democracy, as part of a world rebellion against the closed, hierarchical and bureaucratic world to which the various political regimes had arrived who acted under various ideological alibis, whether called "communism," "welfare state" or "populist state." Twenty years later, the Engineer Cuauhte'moc Ca'rdenas led a struggle for democracy which broke the omnipotent power of the PRI. This struggle signified two fundamental things: the party in power entered into a mortal crisis, a product of a part of its members becoming aware of the profound significance of the definitive abandonment by the "regime of the Mexican revolution" of the great national tasks. These tasks were the defense of national sovereignty, defense of state sovereignty in relation to the groups with economic power and protection of the most defenseless part of the population. At the same time, the Mexican left - always marginal - became a significant force in the institutional and electoral arenas. And 1988 did not end in a PRI defeat, - in one of those events which will be registered as an unresolved historical crossroads. Whenever I hear the people of Nexos and Vuelta praise Ca'rdenas for his behavior in 1988, doubts always arise concerning the correctness of that decision. Salinismo signified an acceleration of the process of dismantling community relationships and the moral economy (retaking Thompson's categories) of the population. At the same time, Mexico's repositioning within the context of the global economy, the Free Trade Agreement, definitively changed the country. 1994 represented the rebellion which came from those who were located lower than low, those who were living in the country's basement. Society's response definitively altered its relationship with the powers, with the parties and with society itself (once again understanding this as a contradictory process). Even in the institutional arena, the reforms to the Federal Election Code, and participation by citizens in the Federal Election Institute, are daughters, one might say, of the zapatista rebellion. Therefore, the beginning of the regime's crisis, its development and its maturation, were the acts of society and citizens, always tied to a leftist way of thought and practice. It was not they, however, who capitalized on, and found a solution to, the crisis of the Mexican political regime.

4. - During the current election campaign, we saw how the Fox phenomena snowballed. Fox's candidacy was originally designed and aimed at the media, as the instrument for checking Cuauhte'moc Ca'rdenas' ascendancy, immediately after he achieved the huge triumph of 1997. That is why the Zedillo government publicized the decision by the governor of Guanajuato to campaign for the "big prize" one day after Ca'rdenas had so overwhelmingly won the head of the Mexico City government. In the beginning it looked like a good joke to the entire world. Soon it would be seen how mistaken that contempt was.

A few months ago the Proceso magazine published an internal document from Fox's most inner circle, "Project Millenium." According to this document, the strategy would be based on the following: "Continue to challenge the system, take away the social banner from the left, make it clear that he would never "do as he pleases" unless the PAN advocated it, exploit the female attraction he aroused in women and maintain discretion in his intimate life." Regardless of the fact that Fox denied that document's existence, no one can deny that these have been the campaign's strong points. The first two were especially successful. The ideas of change and of opposition to the PRI were identified with Fox's candidacy, leaving aside the PRDs tremendous ineffectiveness in counteracting this phenomena. In the interest of not appearing as the party of violence, of negation and of criticism, they left an opening which they had won in 1988 and with which they won in 1997: representing the hope of the citizenry for change, of being the institutional means for doing away with the Mexican political regime.

Fox's campaign was the most aggressive against the PRI. The ads which appeared on television were directly connected to what people thought of the PRI. References to Acteal, corruption and organized crime were voiced day after day on television, with the idea that all this would change by throwing the PRI out of Los Pinos and securing change. Fox embodied the hope of ending the PRI regime, in the same way this had occurred with Ca'rdenas in 1988. This kind of campaign demonstrated the fallacy that the citizenry wanted a positive and civilized campaign: the people wanted to humiliate the PRI, and Fox understood that. While he joked and characterized PRI archetypes in his ads, the PRD - or whomever - was constantly showing Ca'rdenas at demonstrations, repeating, ad nauseum: "We're for Mexico," which lent itself to more than one interpretation. The other point, however, which was concealed, but which was also clearly being applied, was the exploitation of his distance in relation to "his" party.

In sum, we can note that Fox's campaign demonstrated three main areas of strength: Stripping Ca'rdenas of his monopoly on the image of change, attacking the PRI with everything, and subordinating the PAN to his logic. In the light of what happened, it is necessary to point out that he more than achieved his objectives. Fox's campaign was not directed by the PAN leadership, but by a heterogeneous group, a kind of "General Staff" who envisaged this campaign as a war on three fronts: weakening Ca'rdenas, attacking the PRI and keeping a "safe distance" from the PAN. This "General Staff" is at the point of delivering a new blow: marginalizing the PAN in the formation of the new government.

Fox's program and his "general staff" want to be long lived, it is above the parties and existing old political groups. It is not, as some superfluous Ca'rdenas supporting analysts are saying, a step towards the 19th century. Nor is it a rebirth of Hitler or Mussolini or the return of the cristeros ["Supporters of a rebellion against secular laws introduced after the Revolution"] from the heights of Jalisco. What it is is completing the work begun by Miguel de la Madrid and which Carlos Salinas de Gortari basically defined: Mexico's integration, subordinated to globalization. The destruction of state sovereignty, its recreation into an instrument of regulation among the various groups of financial capital, national as well as international. Continuity in the fragmentation of community ties. The PRI was an obstacle to achieving greater success in that task. In order to achieve this, it was necessary to create the image that the "transition to democracy" phase had ended, and that we were now entering into the "democratic normality" phase. It is, neither more nor less, the lending of democratic legitimacy to this project of depredation against Mexico's poor. Whether or not they achieve it is another matter.

5. - The campaigns by the PRD and Ca'rdenas were marked by a series of factors which weakened them. The simplest vision would be to blame the media, insofar as they had carried out a general offensive against Ca'rdenas since December of 1997. This undoubtedly took place, but it was impossible to have expected anything else. Even in the case of Televisa, the treatment was not as dirty as it had been in previous years. The fundamental problem is that Ca'rdenas' government in Mexico City was a failure. Not because he had been unable to change the distressing economic situation of the majority of the population: he could not do that. But because it did not signify any substantive change regarding the relationship between the governed and those governing them. There was no substantial difference in the way he governed from the ways in which the PRI or PAN governments had acted. The people continued to perceive the government as something external, distant. The worst was the Law of Citizens' Participation, which will remain as the most obvious proof of their contempt for true social participation. Because of that, the election of the neighborhood committees (a true fiesta of the corporate groups of the PRD and the PRI) was a categorical failure (obviously in this kind of election, citizens with ties to the PAN had an inordinate vote, a year and a half later they swept the majority of the districts).

They gave citizens free concerts in the Zo'calo and nothing more. The "City for Everyone" became a city in which "everyone" could not find a means of participating. An opportunity was lost to demonstrate that one could govern with other methods and mechanisms, opening the way for people to not only have opinions (which will still be very important), but also to take into their own hands control of central aspects of government. From then on they were not able to confront the offensives in the media, nor the constant offensives coming from Zedillo. In this manner, the people were simply spectators, while the federal government haggled over financial support to the City government, without their being even minimally involved.

Behind this was the strategy of "swimming unto death" or that "Ca'rdenas is the Republic," and the Republic does not go about talking all the time. Either version was poison for what would become the engineer's presidential candidacy. The icing on the cake was when Ca'rdenas stepped down as Chief of Government in order to become a presidential candidate, and he went to say goodbye to Zedillo. The image was incredible. What was the sense in going to Los Pinos to say goodbye? What the image reflected was that he had governed without great problems and that he had reached the end in peace and tranquillity. Fox resigned also, but he did not go and say goodbye to Zedillo. This in spite of the fact that Fox, from an ideological point of view, is one of the persons closest to Zedillo.

Then came the erratic position concerning the alliance with the PAN. The campaign could not be ended noting that the program of Fox and the PAN represent a danger for the patria and that the its very existence was in danger with them, while forgetting that, just a few months previously, he had reached agreements with them concerning the platform, the declaration of principles and statutes and the methodology for resolving points in conflict. If the alliance was not made concrete, it was because there had been no agreement concerning the mechanism for selecting the candidate, and nothing else. And, finally, Ca'rdenas' candidacy never took on the form of representing an alternative to the PRI.

6. - If things did not happen the way they were supposed to happen, then we have to seek an explanation. A very simple one is the one that victimizes the victims: society turned to the right or became conservative. The problem with this vision is that it immediately confronts the problem of fixing the time period. When did this process begin? In 1991? 1994? 1997? 1999? Some say it was the legacy of Salinismo and a consequence of the structural changes the country has suffered. But then how does one explain the zapatista insurrection and the response of the citizens to it? Or how does one explain Ca'rdenas' runaway victory in 1997 and the PRI defeat when it lost its parliamentary majority that same year? It would appear that society becomes reactionary, rightwing or conservative when it does not vote for Ca'rdenas, and it carries out "citizens' insurrections" when it does vote for him. I believe the matter is more complex.

When society rebels against the existing power, it does not do so with a preconceived plan. The part of society that voted for Fox, at least the majority of them, did not do so out of agreement with the Fox program, but rather because they understood him to be the most useful tool for defeating the PRI. This is not the first time this has happened. Even further, that is what lends sense to party programs or the caudillos who struggle for power by definition.

In Russia, Germany or Czechoslovakia we would have liked other political forces to have been seen as instruments for defeating the "red" mandarins who had usurped power from the working people, but it was not so. The fact that that did not take place should not lead us to say that those peoples turned to the right or became conservative. In the first place, because they are not to blame for "good" programs not being possible, or, if they were, such as in the case of Mexico, they were squandered with such impunity. Society wanted to get out from under the PRI, it achieved that, and because of that there is general joy. Understanding that sentiment is key in order to establish a dialogue with those citizens (at least the majority of them), who are not longing (and who do not even know who they were) for Miguel Miramo'n, Toma's Meji'a or Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, but who threw out the PRI in order to be able to make progress in the arena of citizens' democracy. This is opening a new arena, which goes further than what the party machinery and Fox himself wants. A dark chapter in the country's history was closed. Thwarting Fox's program - which, as we have noted, seeks to guarantee what was begun by De la Madrid and especially by Salinas - depends on revising the programs and practices of the Mexican left (of the PRD and, from there, beyond the PRD). The other alternative is to continue acting like the victims of 2000.

7. - The massive rallies with which Ca'rdenas' campaign ended created a self-intoxication. The hundreds of thousands of participants represent that part of Mexican society which has kept up an heroic resistance against the restructuring offensive. The problem is that is that it is old sectors of society: electrical workers, oil workers, teachers, ejiditarios from some states in the country, etcetera. They represent those sectors where the Cardenista ideology has significant weight. The campaign, however, had nothing new in response to the Mexico which has already changed and which is developing in important parts of the country. There is no bridge which joins those who have resisted the changes which the country has suffered and those who are already living under new norms, rules and cultures. It is not that the latter are happily experiencing the changes which have occurred, but that they have not found the paths for resistance. They are anti-PRI, but they do not identify with an old worn-out discourse. An interesting fact to know would be how the workers in the maquiladoras of the northern border voted. I believe the majority voted for Fox.

One of the most significant statistics in the voting for Ca'rdenas is that the majority were citizens older than 35 and the majority were men. The lack of bridges with youth is reflected in the mobilizations, in the same way in which Cardenismo and the PRD are completely insignificant in the new enclaves of industrial exploitation. The problem is, if those bridges are not found, the old sectors of resistance will be more and more reduced and have less social and cultural weight, and the new sectors, which are the victims of neoliberalism, could be deceived by boorish and demagogic adventurers like Vicente Fox.

Some old militants of the left will, of course, reach the conclusion that, in order to renew the PRD discourse, it will be necessary to seize upon social democratic ideology. Unfortunately, for them, they will not find the signs of identity there that will allow them to win over those new sectors. In fact, the only thing that will be achieved by that is the creation of the conditions for advancing resignation concerning the inevitability of the current phase of capitalism.

8. - And, however, it is not possible to develop a program for reorganizing the thinking, practice and program of resistance which does not start with the existence of those old sectors who have opposed the breaking down of the ties of community identity. It would be initiating a process of redefining all those elements in order to be able to find the new paths of resistance. That has to do with Ca'rdenas himself. Those who want him to resign now are mistaken. He embodies a significant part of the resistance (beyond his own weaknesses and those of his party). Without him, and without what he represents, the reconstruction of the resistance would be impossible, at list in the midterm.

The other great aspect of this process is zapatismo (the EZLN). Given their concrete position of being under the most incredible military siege, zapatismo was not able to play a more active role in the present circumstances. They explained it, speaking a truth (the electoral time is not their time), but the context opening up in the country with Fox's victory will undoubtedly hasten the times. What is at stake is not the fate of a party or of a caudillo, but the possibility that the neoliberal capitalist program (the one Salinas said was going to take 25 years to be consolidated) will enter a phase of legitimacy (which is what Fox's election signifies for this model). If this is not fought with imagination, we will wake up one day to the fact that we are living in a different country and with absurd foci of resistance. That will not mean that society has become conservative again, but that the left was incapable of raising an alternative of rebuilding the ties of social and community identity. Zapatismo did indeed know how to create those bridges of identity between the old sectors who are resisting and the new ones who are simply surviving the economic restructuring. But it is not a political party which fights for power, nor has it taken on the task of seeking to organize society politically. Zapatismo has been, first and foremost, a political force which has sought to open spaces for people to relate to each other and for movements not being isolated by the power's politics.

It is now about opening a new space, which will prevent the old sectors who are struggling and resisting from becoming ever more isolated, and for those who are surviving economic restructuring because there are no other kinds of life possible, to find new paths of resistance.

9. - From now until Fox takes office a police of "damage control" will be put in place, in order to prevent a plunge into instability. These months, then, are key for taking the first steps in reorganizing the resistance. It is true that there are many factors against it, but it is not impossible. Afterwards, Fox will be confronting the great definitions: peace in Chiapas, privatization of the electric industry, privatization of PEMEX, the Fobaproa lists, the 66 million poor, free education, the power of drug trafficking, the millions of Mexicans who are surviving in marginalization, the million and a half workers in the maquiladoras who see their most elemental rights being violated day after day, and a society which voted for change and which will not remain impassive when they see themselves being handed the same prescription as the one from the old regime.

10. - Fox's victory represents an open page of a new chapter. It gives me enormous pleasure to know that Mexicans born from here on, and the children who are not yet participating politically, are not going to be living under the control of the PRI. This blank page can be written in different ways, but it is not inevitable that it will be written by those of above. We are facing a new panorama. Sadness or nostalgia, in the face of this situation, is profoundly reactionary. The Patria is not in danger because Fox has won. It was already in danger when the PRI was governing. The difference is that Fox's victory represents, at least in some part, a social energy for change. It does not signify the end of the illusory "transition to democracy," even less the beginning of "democratic normality," but rather its deterioration.

Originally published in Spanish by the FZLN 
Translated by irlandesa

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