Mexico: Oaxaca - the Spearhead of the Mexican Revolution

Thursday, 31 August 2006
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Weeks after the Mexican elections the mass movement against electoral fraud is giving no sign of receding. On the contrary, it is spreading and becoming stronger with each passing day. The situation in Oaxaca is of revolutionary proportions. The workers and peasants could actually take power. Revolution has reached the very borders of the most powerful capitalist country in the world, the USA.

The situation in Mexico is explosive - revolution is once again on the agenda in the land of Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. Not since the massive student movements of 1968 or perhaps even since the Mexican Revolution in the first years of the 20th century has the situation been this combustible. The main issue convulsing the entire country is the question of the presidential elections. But this is only the tip of the iceberg, the "straw that broke the camel's back", which has unleashed decades of pent up contradictions and frustrated aspirations for a better life.

Electoral Fraud

Despite the "official" pronouncements in favor of the conservative candidate Felipe Calderon of the ruling National Action Party (PAN), millions of Mexican workers, peasants, and youth see things differently. There is overwhelming evidence that the real winner of the July 2nd elections is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). After decades (centuries!) of corruption, fraud, and deception, the Mexican masses have had enough, and simply are not going to take it any more. They see AMLO as a genuine alternative to the candidates of misery and privatization, as someone who will fight in their interests and really improve their conditions of life.

This is what has inspired them to mobilize by the millions to defend his victory, just as they mobilized to stop the desafuero last year, an attempt to prevent him from even presenting himself as a candidate. The Mexican ruling class and imperialism have moved might and main to keep AMLO from coming to power - not so much because of the left-reformism of Obrador himself, but because of the millions of workers and peasants that would be massively pressuring his government for real change. After nearly 80 years of right-wing PRI and PAN governments, even the modest reforms he proposes are seen as something worth fighting for. By attacking first his candidacy and now his electoral victory, the ruling class has succeeded only in radicalizing the masses even further, and things are rapidly getting out of their control.

The Fox government goes on the offensive

The pre-electoral period was marked by extreme polarization, including ferment in the trade unions and student movement, and a series of violent attacks by the state: against the steel workers in the city of Lazaro Cardenas in the state of Michoacan; the repression of supporters of the EZLN in San Salvador Atenco; and raids against an encampment of striking teachers in the city of Oaxaca.

These attacks were part of an overall strategy on behalf of the ruling class to take on and defeat some of the most combative sectors in Mexican society before the elections. They wanted to create an atmosphere of violence and insecurity, so as to present Calderon as the candidate who could restore "order and stability". The attacks were also intended to justify in advance the repression of the inevitable protests against the electoral fraud, which was planned and prepared for long before July 2. But none of these attacks had the desired effect: the masses' mood was not dampened, and opposition to the electoral fraud was far greater than the ruling class had expected. Once again, their shortsighted strategy backfired and served only to strengthen the resolve of the Mexican workers, peasants, and youth. The masses instinctively understand that six more years of the PAN will mean six more years of cuts, privatizations, unemployment, forced economic emigration, corruption, falling living standards, inflation, and repression.

The government's strategy has been to wear out and tire the masses, using the media and the high clergy of the Catholic Church to throw cold water on the movement. But contrary to what the mainstream media reports, the movement against the electoral fraud is steadily growing, not subsiding. The mass protest demonstrations that converged on Mexico City increased in size as the weeks went on: 700,000, 2 million, then 3 million. Then the Zocalo, the massive central plaza in Mexico City, was occupied by a permanent encampment that stretches for six miles up the principal thoroughfare of the Mexican capital. For several weeks now, AMLO has held daily mass meetings and the mood of radicalization has deepened.

Ulises, the rat One by one, the allegedly "impartial" institutions of the state: the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), the Electoral Tribunal, the courts, etc., have been exposed as active participants in the fraud. The frustration of the masses at the lack of genuine democracy has been converted into rage and the realization that they can trust only their own forces and organization.

To this end, action and education committees have been formed in thousands of neighborhoods throughout the capital and around the country. These committees are organizing not only against the electoral fraud, but also around concrete questions affecting the community such as clean water, gang violence, etc. As such, they have the potential to become embryos of an alternative form of workers' power. There is also pressure mounting within the unions to call a general strike as the only way to stop the electoral theft. University students are organizing and mobilizing in defense of public education for all. A pre-revolutionary situation is developing in Mexico, and events can change dramatically from one day to the next.

There are several key dates in the coming weeks, which will almost certainly mark points of inflection in the struggle:

1)      September 1 - Current President Vicente Fox's final State of the Union Address

A massive demonstration is planned outside the Congress, and PRD representatives plan to disrupt the speech from within. The Presidential Guard has been preparing to repress the protests for weeks now, with thousands of anti-riot police, massive walls, water cannon trucks, and even armored personnel carriers encircling the building. The potential for violence on behalf of the state is tremendous - but it could quickly get out of their control.

2)      September 6 - The deadline for formally declaring the winner of the elections

By this date, the Federal Electoral Tribunal must formally validate the winner. In practice, they have already declared Calderon the new president, as they have rejected the vast majority of the evidence of electoral fraud, after a recount of less than 10 percent of the voting stations. Massive protests are planned against this usurpation of the genuine will of the people.

3)      September 16 - Mexican Independence Day

A massive "National Democratic Convention" is being called by AMLO, with over one million delegates from around the country expected to attend. This meeting will decide how to proceed, with the declaration of a parallel government of the people not ruled out.

In the coming weeks, things will reach the boiling point in the capital. But already, things have gone far beyond this in the state of Oaxaca, where the crisis has already taken on an insurrectionary character, calling into question the very legitimacy of the bourgeois state.

Oaxaca: the Opening Shots of the Mexican Revolution

Oaxaca, located in the far south of the country to the west of Chiapas, is one of Mexico's poorest states, with a large indigenous population, and long traditions of struggle. Benito Juarez, Mexico's first indigenous president and the leader of the struggle to end the French imperial occupation of Mexico in the 1860s, was born in Oaxaca. In recent years, community and labor organizations as well as indigenous and peasant social movements in Oaxaca have been growing by leaps and bounds, as it became clear that the federal and local governments were not able or willing to improve their dire conditions of life. At the forefront of these movements have been the teachers.

Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca
 For more pictures see www.asambleapopulardeoaxaca.com

For many years, the 40,000-strong teachers' union of Oaxaca - Section 21 of the National Education Workers' Union (SNTE) - has fought for better wages and conditions, proper funding for schools, supplies, uniforms, and increased student grants, which currently amount to less than $40 a month (unable to afford school uniforms or supplies, and compelled to bring more money into the household, thousands of children drop out of school at an early age in order to work and never receive even a primary education).

Like most Mexicans, the teachers of Oaxaca were sick and tired of a government more interested in back-room political deals and looting the treasury than combating poverty. They were sick of a government that sat idly by while torrential floods swept away entire villages. They were sick of a government that turned a blind eye to the rampant murders of community activists. They were sick of a government that spent millions on un-necessary projects (contracted out to political cronies), while basic services were neglected or non-existent. Above all, they were sick of Oaxaca's Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortega, the personification of this rotten system. Ruiz is a classic specimen of an old-guard PRI party boss - a corrupt and violent thug with close ties to big business and drug traffickers - which in Mexico are often one and the same.

In an effort to take the struggle for their basic demands to the next level, the teachers of SNTE began a permanent occupation of the City of Oaxaca's central plaza, the Zocalo, on May 15th. The plantón, as the encampment is known, covers 56 city blocks and is barricaded every night, controlling all access to the center of the city. But the teachers' immediate economic demands rapidly took on a political character after the state government responded to their encampment with brutal repression.

Chronology of a Revolutionary Situation

Late on the night of June 14, the government launched a raid on the Zocalo in an effort to dislodge the encampment. The center of Oaxaca City looked and sounded like a war zone. Unwilling to back down in the face of this state repression, the determination of the teachers and the community as a whole was strengthened, and the events of the following days took on a logic of their own. Just as the pent-up frustration of decades has set in motion a national struggle that transcends the immediate issue of the electoral fraud, the teachers' strike in Oaxaca has become the spearhead of the struggle for the whole of Oaxacan society - with important implications for the entire country.

Confronted by an intransigent and repressive government, the teachers' struggle for economic demands was transformed almost overnight into a community-wide effort to overthrow the Ruiz administration. In the days and weeks that followed, the people of Oaxaca began to question the very legitimacy of bourgeois democracy itself. After all, if even the most modest demands of the working class cannot be met within the limits of the existing system, then the system has no right to continue.

Demonstration demanding the resignation of Ruiz Ortega
 Demonstration demanding the resignation of Ruiz Ortega

The masses responded magnificently to the attack, by re-taking the Zocalo on the following day, setting up barricades across the city, blockading highways, and convening a massive march demanding the resignation of governor Ruiz. Other sectors of the working class as well as students, peasants, and indigenous peoples' movements rallied behind the teachers, giving the movement a truly mass character. On the 16th of June, 300,000 marched along a 10 km route, again demanding the fall of Ruiz' government. Other mega-marches have followed in the last few weeks, steadily growing in size and militancy. By some accounts, 1,000,000 of the City of Oaxaca's 4,000,000 inhabitants participated in the largest of these demonstrations.

By the 19th of June, negotiations between the teachers' union and the government were broken off, several municipal government offices were occupied, and the highways shut down.

Also on the 19th, a mass assembly of the people voted to form the "Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca" (APPO). This was a qualitative step forward in the revolutionary process and reflects the infinite creative and combative power of the working class. The APPO has emerged as an alternative and genuinely popular power - the first seed of workers' power in Oaxaca and Mexico. Representatives to the neighborhood assemblies are elected in every street, which in turn elect representatives to the APPO. These elected and recallable representatives are responsible for security and for ensuring the smooth running of day-to-day life in the neighborhoods and the city.

To this end, the APPO has formed a "teachers' police" which has evolved into a highly disciplined, efficient, and popularly controlled self-defense force, capable of going on the offensive if necessary. In addition, classes were resumed so the children would not lose an entire school year, and so as to avoid the pressure to end the struggle from parents worried about the effects all of this would have on their children's education.

Pupils in solidarity with their teachers

 
 Pupils in solidarity with their teachers

Several community radio stations have been set up, including Radio Plantón, which constantly transmits the latest information, sending out alerts and calls to action and defense. These stations have been a vital tool for communicating with and organizing the entire community. Several other stations have been occupied, including the radio at the University, further increasing the communicative power of the APPO.

Fed up with the lies and distortions of the government, thousands of women marched through the streets on August 1st and occupied the Oaxaca state government radio and television stations. They transmitted their demands and plans of action for future mobilizations for several hours. The building remains occupied and transmitting to this day.

In another example of the revolutionary instincts of the masses, the APPO launched an aggressive campaign in the days before the elections to mobilize the vote for the PRD. Hundreds of APPO representatives traveled around the state to explain that what was needed was a "punishment" vote against the PAN and PRI - but by no means offering a blank check to the PRD. This resulted in a crushing defeat of the PRI, and to a PRD victory in Oaxaca, thus tying the local situation even more closely with the national struggle against the electoral fraud.

Violent repression and the response of the masses

APPO activists protesting against the repression
 APPO activists protesting against the repression

In the past few weeks, several activists have been attacked, murdered and kidnapped by the government and its lumpen thugs, which are sent to harass and attack the encampment almost every night, seeking to cause as much destruction and confusion as possible. But the APPO self-defense force has played an admirable role in resisting provocations and defending the plantón.

When the University radio station was raided by a gang of some 50 paramilitaries armed with automatic weapons, the radio kept transmitting during the shooting, as the comrades called for help and reinforcements. This attack was repelled with no major injuries reported. In another incident in which a leader of the movement was arrested by the police, hundreds of APPO supporters "rescued" the detainee and destroyed the police station in the process.

On several occasions, the government has attempted to re-establish control, arresting prominent leaders of the movement, and calling on the national government to send in federal anti-riot police. When three people were murdered within 48 hours, the masses again responded by intensifying their efforts to topple the government, once again occupying several municipal government buildings, shutting down the highways, and threatening to occupy all municipal government buildings in the state. The self-defense force succeeded in detaining the majority of the murderers.

Then, on the 22nd of August, the government raised the stakes even further by characterizing the APPO as an "urban guerrilla" organization. This is a clear attempt to prepare public opinion for even greater repression.

But these attacks and threats are signs of weakness, not of strength. The federal government of Vicente Fox has been paralyzed by the massive movement, and has refused to send federal troops, claiming that it is the responsibility of the state government of Oaxaca to resolve the crisis. They understand that a bloody confrontation between federal forces and the Oaxacan workers could send things spiraling completely out of their control.

Remember, the PAN and PRI's intention was to defeat this movement well before the elections in order to dampen the mood of the masses and facilitate the fraud. Instead, they have turned Oaxaca into a point of reference for the whole of the country. As was the case during the coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in April, 2002, the "whip of counter-revolution" has served only to strengthen the resolve of the masses and push them into more militant and decisive action.

Elements of Dual Power

"The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at any time. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class... The police, which until then had been the instrument of the Government, was at once stripped of its political attributes, and turned into the responsible, and at all times revocable, agent of the Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workmen's wages. The privileges and the representation allowances of the high dignitaries of state disappeared along with the high dignitaries themselves.... Having once got rid of the standing army and the police, the instruments of physical force of the old government, the Commune proceeded at once to break the instrument of spiritual suppression, the power of the priests... The judicial functionaries lost that sham independence... they were thenceforward to be elective, responsible, and revocable."

- Karl Marx on the experience of the Paris Commune of 1871 in The Civil War in France

The ruling class condemns the situation in Oaxaca as "chaos". But for the working class, it is nothing of the sort - it is the birth pangs of a new social order. These are the convulsions of a socialist revolution, of a monumental effort by the Oaxacan working class to overthrow their exploiters and end the system that enslaves them once and for all. This is an inspiring movement, full of marvelous lessons for all working people. It is a classic example of just how quickly consciousness can be transformed on the basis of changing conditions; of how under certain conditions, a "routine" teachers' strike can be converted into an all-out struggle for workers' power.

There are in effect two governments in Oaxaca: the "shadow" government of Ulises Ruiz, supported by a handful of local big businessmen and the corrupt national ruling class, and the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, supported by hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants. Few are willing or able to defend the old state. Many local police and private security guards have already declared that they support the APPO and should not be considered enemies of the people - they have even called on the APPO to occupy their buildings, as they too are sick and tired of the present government. As the comrades of Militante in the City of Oaxaca point out, the traffic lights are just about the only aspect of the old state apparatus that is still functioning as before. For the vast majority of Oaxacans, the APPO is the only legitimate government in the state. It is the embryo of genuine workers' power and must be strengthened, extended, and linked up throughout the state and the country.

For their part, the business owners' association in Oaxaca has threatened a lockout if the conflict isn't resolved soon. They claim that they are "impartial" in the conflict, and seek only a return to "order". But this is a clear attack on the struggle of the workers and peasants: a shut down of industry would serve to deprive those conducting the struggle for basic necessities. With this threat, they seek to frighten the movement and bring about a speedy resolution to the conflict - in favor of the government and the capitalist system. The business owners simply cannot imagine a society without bosses, a society without the repressive machinery of the bourgeois state - a society run by and for the workers and peasants of Mexico.

If the bosses go ahead with this lockout, the only option for the Oaxacan workers would be to occupy the factories and businesses and run them under the democratic control of workers' committees elected in every workplace, in overall coordination with the APPO. This would deal a double blow to the enemies of the movement. It would prevent them from depriving the workers of basic necessities, and would also be a giant step forward in developing the struggle along socialist lines. In this way, the workers would have direct democratic control over production, distribution, and exchange, coordinated through a democratically elected and accountable workers' government - the APPO.

Prepare a General Strike!

Along with the demand for the resignation of Governor Ruiz (who has currently gone "underground"), the movement in Oaxaca needs to find ways to link up more closely with the national struggle against the electoral fraud. Building a united front with all the other sectors in struggle in the country would be the best way to defend the workers of Oaxaca, stop the electoral fraud, end the oppression of indigenous communities, combat the anti-worker policies of the Fox government, and extend the struggle for socialism.

The Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) should be replicated on a national level. The National Democratic Convention called by AMLO for September 16 should follow the example of the APPO and form a workers' government of Mexico, linked up through Revolutionary Committees across the country. Given the current relation of forces, support for this would be overwhelming.

To lay the ground for this, immediate preparations should be made for a 24-hour general strike, by making a clear class appeal to all the workers, peasants, and youth of Oaxaca and Mexico. The best way to prepare for a general strike is by forming revolutionary committees of struggle and information in every workplace, marketplace, and school. This would lay the basis for the democratic and efficient convening of the strike and ultimately, for the running of Mexican society by the working masses themselves. This would not only ensure the fall of governor Ruiz, but would also strike directly at the root of all the problems of the Oaxacan and Mexican masses: the corrupt federal government and above all, the capitalist system itself.

The masses of Oaxaca cannot remain in a state of ferment forever. There are only two options: either the victory of the Oaxacan workers and peasants, which must spread to the rest of the country, or the restoration of some variant of the former regime, if not that of Ulises Ruiz himself.

The Fox government now hopes to sow confusion and wear out the movement, and may indeed offer some concessions to try and calm things down. But one thing is clear: they will defend governor Ulises Ruiz to the last possible moment. His fall would be a tremendous and inspiring victory for the masses, spurring them on to fight even more determinedly against the electoral fraud and the Fox regime itself.

The comrades of Militante are appealing to the Mexican trade unions to call a one-day nationwide General Strike as the only way to stop the fraud, to prevent the repression of the Oaxacan masses, and to show in practice who really controls society - the workers or the bosses. Not a single wheel turns or light shines without the labor of the working class! If a one-day general strike does not suffice, then an indefinite general strike is the only solution, which in the current situation would have an insurrectionary character and would directly pose the question of power on a national scale.

World Revolution

In the context of the revolutionary wave sweeping the whole of Latin America, Mexico is in a key position: on the frontier of the world's most powerful imperialist power. Revolutions do not respect borders, and with millions of Mexicans and other Latin Americans living within the United States, the American ruling class is preparing for a showdown. The recent militarization of the US-Mexico border in response to a so-called "illegal immigration emergency" is not an accident. The Border Patrol has recently increased the number of SWAT-style troops on the frontier, and the US Navy is guarding Mexican oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

If Lopez Obrador comes to power on the basis of the tremendous mobilizations we have witnessed in recent weeks, the pressure to push through significant social reforms will be overwhelming. If Calderon is installed as President, his government would be paralyzed by crisis from day one - it would be virtually impossible that he last his full six-year term.

The events in Oaxaca are just the beginning of the Mexican Socialist Revolution. There are piles of combustible material in every corner of the country which will be lit up in the coming period. The situation is changing rapidly and we must be prepared at a moment's notice to support the workers and peasants of Oaxaca and Mexico in the event of further state repression.

The comrades of Militante in Mexico are on the front lines of this struggle. They have recently come under attack by the bourgeois press, which only goes to show that they are having an effect. For regular updates on the situation in Mexico (in Spanish), you can visit their website www.militante.org, where you can also sign a petition of support for the workers and peasants of Oaxaca: http://www.militante.org/index.php?option=com_facileforms&Itemid=72

Stay tuned to Marxist.com for the latest developments and for a solidarity campaign against the calumnies of El Universal, which are intended to prepare public opinion for the violent repression of the movement and the comrades of Militante.


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