It came like a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky, but now that is here it is not going away, anytime soon. I am talking about the #Yosoy132 movement here, which has mobilised tens of thousands of youth (and not only youth) all over Mexico in opposition to Enrique Peña Nieto of the bourgeois authoritarian Party of Institutionalized Revolution (PRI), the lead bourgeois candidate in the coming Presidential Elections of July 1.
[For an account of the beginning of the movement, read our previous article, Mexican “I am 132” (yosoy132) youth uprising against the capitalist candidates – Eyewitness account]
Once again, the raw and fresh energy of the masses has surprised all the cynical commentators and political “experts” who just a few weeks ago still saw nothing but passivity in Mexican society and among Mexican youth. Now, #YoSoy132 is like a clap of thunder that cannot be ignored any more. Everywhere people are talking about it - in taxis and in the ever-present taco stands, on buses and on campuses. I even witnessed it in the magnificent Aztec Stadium last week, when thousands of supporters of Peña Nieto were bussed in from the neighbouring State of Mexico (the current governor of which is Peña Nieto) to fill the stadium in Mexico’s game against Guyana, where they were met with a spontaneous swarm of supporters of Morena and YoSoy132 who booed them off the Azteca.
Last Sunday, nearly 100,000 marched on the streets of Central Mexico City in the second grand march against Peña Nieto. The march started from the Zocalo, Mexico City’s main square and one of the largest of its kind in the world. High noon on a Sunday is usually hardly a very active time in the urban life of Mexico City, but this was a different time as energy bristled from every corner of the Zocalo which was almost full, shortly after 12’o clock.
As I took the Metro from my residence in Coyoacán (Southern Mexico City) to reach the rally in the centre of town, everywhere along the way you could see dozens of people getting ready to join the protest. Here you can feel the real and fresh taste of a massmovement in its initial phase. All kinds of people come with all kinds of message, with a YoSoy132 T-shirt or a sign calling for Democracy; a face painted with the Mexican flag or wearing masks of Hacker group Anonymous. The nearer we get to the Zocalo, the more concentrated the demonstrators become and, of course, they let everybody know by constant chants that fill every Metro station on the way.
What goal does the movement have?
Just as the wind blows the tops of the tree first, it was the youth who started the movement. In the absence of a mass organization of the working class with a socialist leadership, it is no wonder that the movement started ‘spontaneously’, just like the Indignados in Spain or Occupy in North America, both of which are points of reference for the youth of YoSoy132. Except that this absence is even more glaring in Mexico. If in a lot of countries we can complain about the reformist leadership of the trade unions and/or student unions, here many of the so-called ‘trade unions’ are corporatist institutions, absolutely corrupt and directly wed to sections of the ruling class (with some honourable exception of democratic unions) while student unions were all destroyed by the ruling PRI (the very same Party of Peña Nieto) in the aftermath of 1968 massacre.
Like many of the contemporary movements, and many other times in the history, it was an accident that started the movement: The presence of Peña Nieto in a university, his being booed by students and gross misrepresentation of the event in the bourgeois media monopoly [more detailed account in our previous article]. Thus, the initial goals and purpose of the movement were also related to the same themes that started the movement: Opposition to Peña Nieto and to the monopoly of Televisa and TV Azetca in the media.
But like similar movements around the world, as time passes, the movement strengthens itself by recruiting wider sections of society and with this come new demands. Every frustration of the workers and youth at the status quo of Mexican society will surface. The capitalist media likes to call this a show of confusion and irrelevancy. It is, however, but the natural first steps of any movement.
It is true that the second general assembly of the movement had adopted no less than 250 declarations, proposals and demands (some of which put forward by supporters of the International Marxist Tendency, gathered around the paper La Izquierda Socialista, LIS, calling on workers to join the movement.) But a cursory look at the development of the movement shows how it matures (and radicalizes) day by day.
The latest video issued by YoSoy132 has a clearly more left-wing tinge to it. It connects itself to the struggles of 1968 and 1971 and the struggle against the CIA-backed “Dirty War” in the region. It speaks of the power that big corporations hold in the country and how an ‘authentic democracy’ would be impossible without tackling this.
While the movement has officially called for an ‘informed vote’, its direction against all the three capitalist candidates (and thus for the only candidate of the masses, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador) is clear. On the Sunday March, there were chants not only against Peña Nieto but also against Josefina Vazquez Mota, candidate of the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) and also against Gordillo, the ex-PRIsta corrupt head of SNTE, a ‘union’ that backs the insignificant candidacy of Quadri.
There were also not only many chants directly in support of AMLO but many people with spontaneous signs or figures that showed support for him. This is even more significant because many of the activists of Morena, the organization that AMLO started, who were present in the march had decided not to bring official Morena Flags or AMLO signs so as to respect the movement’s call. But as the question of ‘what should we do in the elections?’ is posed directly, the masses of youth in the movement are understanding the absurdity of the sectarian call for ‘boycotts’ and are moving toward clear support for AMLO.
In the heat of the march
The march is too huge for one to be able to get a clear picture of the whole thing. I move around the massive Zocalo, often caught in the swarms of people, happy to see comrades holding La Izquierda Socialista as part of the different contingents or blocks around the square.
This formation of ‘contingent’ is very important in these marches. For while the demonstrations were started by the ‘spontaneous’ call of the youth, they have been enthusiastically endorsed by organizations best known for their history of militancy and struggle. There are different democratic trade unions present and most important of all, the heroic SME (Electrical Workers Union), which had most of its members made unemployed after the outsourcing of the state electricity company in 2009 (which led to some of the most massive confrontations in recent Mexican history.)
I march with the SME together with some other comrades. The militancy of the SME workers and its proletarian feeling is readily on display. Many workers march with their entire family which gives it a much more ‘mass’ feeling as well. One particular rabble-rouser family seems to have brought every single member along. I count Mother, Father, Aunts, Cousins, Grandchildren (some as young as 3 years old), daughter-in-law… around 15 or 20 in total (3 of whom are comrades of the IMT.) Two sisters are particularly good at starting chains of racy chants that enthuse the crowds who ask for ‘otra vez’ (one more time.)
Then there are different university contingents, many of whom are heir to great revolutionary traditions. The National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), where I study, is the most famous one due to its long history of left-wing activism and its central role in 1968. But I feel there is an injustice done here to the less-famous National Polytechnic Institute (IPN), students of which are not from the humanities and social sciences, unlike most of those from UNAM. This is the same student body that in 1968 conducted armed self-defence against the invasion by the government and heroically resisted the occupation of the campus for more than 12 hours, when at least 15 students were martyred. (I hope to soon write another article about IPN or Poli, its popular short-hand, and its traditions of struggle).
There is quite nothing like marching under the purple flags of the IPN. The sheer energy that the Poli contingent bristles with is hard to describe. It moves quite quickly and has some special gimmicks of its own. For instance, everybody sits on the ground when a call is issued and then they count. When you reach 9, they all start to run like a lion is chasing the group and this is how they move among the crowded masses that have closed down La Reforma, principal avenue of Central Mexico City. This physical energy is also matched with a thirst for ideas, as everywhere around it you can hear vibrant discussions about the way forward. It is not a coincidence that Marxists of La Izquierda Socialista have built a respectable presence on the campus as well and that many of the leading IPN activists are supporters of the Marxist Tendency.
The presence of battle-hardened contingents like those of the SME, UNAM and IPN in these rallies is significant. Of course, they don’t exist in an island and have played an important part in fertilizing the movement with their ideas. Here we see a similar trend with the movements in many other countries: While a bunch of academics might become so enthused with the ‘direction-less’ or ‘leader-less’ nature of the movement (which is natural at its beginning), in reality every movement matures by turning to different ideas and traditions present in society… and picking those which it finds most useful for the pursuit of its fundamental goals.
Thirst for Marxist ideas
There could be no better demonstration of this thirst for ideas than a public event that I attended on Saturday, June 10, one day before the march. Organized by La Izquierda Socialista and held on a building of Section 9 of the democratic teachers’ union CNTE in the centre of the town, the event featured a talk on the direction and future of the YoSoy132 movement and its relation to the coming elections. The speaker was a comrade of LIS, who was also a militant from the IPN campus.
Now, I think every Marxist has been to his or her share of meetings where even a small room is barely filled and the speaker personally knows every person in the room. But this is a period where our ideas are being sought on a mass scale in many countries and the event on June 10 was an indication of this.
Shortly after it started, the room was filled with more than 100 people, almost all youth and almost all ‘new faces’ who were attending a Marxist event for the first time. Some were supporters of Morena from all over the humongous Mexico City and neighbouring states who were in the city for a Pro-AMLO march. Others, perhaps the majority, were from YoSoy132. Not only the room was filled but so were the hallways, where different comrades were preparing placards and banners, as every single chair was taken and people could hardly enter the hall. One could only imagine how powerful this movement would become when it was fertilized with Marxist ideas, like those present in that room.
Also on display was international solidarity. Some of the placards being made expressed solidarity with the student movement in Quebec which has caught the attention of many here (I’ve seen at least three people with Red Squares on their lapel). A letter started out by comrades of the IMT in English Canada, to express support for extending the Quebec movement to the rest of the country, was read out in Spanish in the meeting and approved by a unanimous vote of those present.
Who will win the elections?
While the YoSoy132 movement has started to attract the attention of many in the region and around the world, there seems to be contrary reporting on what its effect will be on the historical presidential elections that are to take place on July 1.
Most reputable bourgeois media outlets dish out super shallow analysis that regards the movement as being limited to ‘educated’ or ‘privileged’ students or to Mexico City alone, without offering any facts that could point to this.
These media keep reporting about Peña Nieto not having lost his lead despite the movement. For instance, Associated Press’s generally balanced report reads: “Among young voters, Peña Nieto is still the preferred candidate with 33 percent in favour, 8 points ahead of leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.” But this poll, which is virtually the only one used by almost all international media was carried out by the firm Mitofsky, whose notorious links to PRI were outed by the British newspaper The Guardian last week. In this bizarre Orwellian world of Media monopoly in Mexico, The Guardian’s report, based on some Wikileaks document that showed US concern about links of Peña Nieto and Televisa, was only mentioned in independent newspaper La Jornada (and, briefly, in bourgeois La Reforma) while the main TV channels and other newspapers stayed quiet. It is, however, strange that most of the foreign media still bases itself and its analysis on the bogus polls of Consulta Mitofsky. (While The New York Times report not only does this but generally seems like a PR piece written by the PRI campaign.)
Independent work of a group of political scientists from UNAM has shown how ridiculous the polls that show a massive lead for Peña Nieto are. Using some solid methods they show that there basically is a statistical tie between Lopez Obrador and Peña Nieto (http://aristeguinoticias.com/los-mitos-que-rompe-la-encuesta-de-berumen-y-asociados/) with large sections of the electorate still undecided. This statistical tie, however, does not represent the real balance of forces in society.
The working class is overwhelmingly dominant in Mexico. More than 76.5% of the population lives in urban areas and just the five most populous federal entities alone (State of Mexico, Federal District, Veracruz, Jalisco and Puebla) contain about 40.7% of the overall population (2005 statistics), with thus a great concentration of workers in the centre of the country (three of these entities are neighbours while the other two are also relatively close.)
The elections have very much polarized society with the bourgeoisie and upper sections of the middle classes coming out strongly against AMLO and mostly gathering around Peña Nieto, while massive sections of the working class are either for AMLO or not yet into the electoral fray.
Interviews that I had with the students from the Mexico City campus of the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (known as Tec De Monterrey) is a case in point. Most of the interviewees on this private and expensive college stood for PAN or PRI. Many said they were undecided but they were sure of something: no vote for ‘radical’ AMLO who would turn Mexico into another Venezuela or Cuba. When asked about which ‘radical’ policies of AMLO they opposed, none of them could actually point to one that existed! (‘he wants to nationalize everything’, being a claim that is, alas, not true.) This shows the general hysteria created against AMLO.
The dirty campaign that the ruling class and media monopoly, linked by a thousand threads to PRI, is running against Lopez Obrador could hardly be exaggerated. There are no dirty tactics that they hesitate to use. Even the London-based Economist (which, as some Tec de Monterrey students cheerfully recalled, has endorsed the PRI) has complained about this. For instance, the massive march on Sunday received only a passing reference in the news on Televisa with shots being shown of isolated protesters and not the mass of nearly 100,000 people who had filled La Reforma avenue. Even more mind blowing was one of the PRI attack ads on AMLO that is regularly aired.
Now, we are used to attack ads that manipulate facts but one that directly fabricates a quote by a candidate is quite extraordinary. In this ad, Lopez Obrador is shown in his recent speech in Tlatelolco square mentioning the ‘armed way’ as a possible way forward. But as anybody who was present in that gathering, like this correspondent, can attest, AMLO, for better or worse, spoke of the ‘armed way’ as NOT being a way forward. The ad simply cut the Spanish prefix of ‘no’ out to scare people away from AMLO, whom they describe as a ‘danger for Mexico.’ (A comrade aptly described this as akin to the Stalinist erasure of Trotsky from old photos.)
The bourgeois have good reasons to be scared from a possible AMLO victory in Mexico. It is not so much that they are afraid of the man or his programme, but of the mass base and the energy it could receive from the first defeat of all the capitalist candidates in modern Mexican history. Even simply imagining a left-wing president backed by a mass movement, in the 11th most populous country in the world and right on the borders of United States, is scary for them.
If there is anything lacking from AMLO, however, it is a socialist programme that could energize a mass movement, without which defeating the bourgeoisie will be impossible. Like many other candidates in a similar position, AMLO receives pressure from two sides: The establishment that keeps warning him about the consequences of taking on their positions; and the masses who demand a clear-cut struggle against the status quo.
This pressure could be seen in every action of AMLO. In the second televised presidential debate, last Sunday, for instance, AMLO started out by assuring everybody that he will be a president ‘for everybody, for rich and the poor’, but went on to offer some important promises, from a minimum wage to pensions, to revitalizing the railway industry (which was sold off and privatized by President Salinas of the PRI and as a result of which, Mexico has about zero passenger train services today.)
It is significant to remember that previous to the rise of YoSoy132 not much optimism existed around AMLO’s campaign. Many people were disgusted by Peña Nieto and other capitalist candidates but were basically not enthused enough to take part in the campaign or even contemplate voting at all. What Mario Luna Perez, a 27-year old father from the suburbs of Mexico City, told the Associated Press reporter was and is a sentiment shared by many: “Now you don’t even know who to root for, it’s all the same, no matter who the president is.” Dozens of people I interviewed on the Metro and in Taxis, told me the same thing.
These feelings of apathy among the working class have evaporated more and more as the result of the spectacular rise of YoSoy132, but AMLO needs to put forward a clear program with socialist demands that would assure those like Mario who they should ‘root for.’ Right now, there is more disgust against Peña Nieto than a positive feeling towards AMLO. It is telling that the pro-AMLO march on Saturday, which included bussing many supporters in from nearby cities, was attended by a much smaller number of people compared to the YoSoy132 march the day after.
An energized mass movement around the country would be critical to defeating PRI and PAN not only in the ballot box but on the streets. It is a well-known fact that AMLO was robbed of his victory in 2006 by electoral fraud. The same institutions are holding the elections this time around and it is doubtful that they would allow an AMLO victory at the polls, no matter what the actual results are.
In 2006, the masses showed that there is no end to sacrifices they are ready to make. The Zocalo was filled with up to 500,000 people at times and, way before Cairo’s Tahrir Square became known for such actions, was the scene of a massive blockade. Similar actions happened around the country. To his credit, Obrador questioned the very legitimacy of the institutions with his famed quote: “Devil take your institutions” (Al diablo con sus instituciones”) and has never officially accepted the legitimacy of Calderon, current President from PAN.
Denying legitimacy to the capitalist state and its fraudulent institutions is, however, one thing in words and quite another in action. What was desperately needed in 2006 was a general strike of workers that would have made the assumption of the presidency by Calderon literally impossible. Failure to show a decisive lead by AMLO (plus ultra-left sectarian and/or reformist direction of some of the mass leaders in movements around the country) meant that such a prospect was not realized in 2006.
In the last six years, the Mexican masses have, quite literally, paid with their blood for that failure. Thousands more have been killed in the Drug War, which the Calderon government contributed to accelerating and worsening, are merely most apparent manifestations of the sad state that the Mexican masses find themselves in today. Massive poverty and unemployment are now much worse than six years ago.
Precisely for this reason, this time the masses cannot afford to give up their victory. There is no doubt that the capitalist state would try to stop AMLO’s victory again. In order to stop that, Morena, the democratic trade unions, student contingents and YoSoy132 branches need to organize ‘brigades’ (already organized by Morena in some locals) around the country, in every neighbourhood and factory, that would observe the elections and prevent fraud but also be ready for mass actions in case the state attempted fraud again. Only grassroots and mass action can assure the defeat of Peña Nieto and other capitalist candidates. Such mobilisation would prepare the stage for dismantling the oppressive machinery of the capitalist state and the organization of a truly democratic government of workers and peasants in Mexico.
The Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920 was among the most spectacular of the 20th century which inspired millions around the world. Despite achieving many of its goals and giving the world some of its greatest political, literary and cultural heritage (perhaps best known by masterpieces of Mexican painting by those like Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and José Clemente Orozoco), it was stopped in its tracks by the lack of a revolutionary working class leadership. In the years since, the Mexican Republic has seen many presidents, some of them courageous bourgeois democrats like Lazaro Cardenas who nationalized the oil industry. It has, however, never gone beyond capitalism which is, today, the root of all miseries in Mexican society. But the days of Cardenas ended long ago and in the last half a century or so nothing but right-wing economic policies, coupled with brutal repression of the youth, workers and peasants necessary to drive them through, have been offered. The changing of government from PRI to PAN changed nothing in this regard and giving it back to PRI would not change the situation either.
The Mexican masses have a historic opportunity to take a hold of their own destiny, once and for all. A defeat for capitalist candidates and a victory for AMLO, through the power of a mass movement, would be just the beginning. Such an outcome is being strongly resisted, not only by the Mexican ruling class but also by its class brothers in Washington to London. However, once the millions-strong force of Mexican masses moves, no force on the planet will be able to stop it.
The upcoming Mexican Revolution, in a country that unlike a century ago is overwhelmingly composed of working-class elements, will be even more massive and the effects of which be felt even more around the world. Its achievements could easily dwarf not only those of the 1910-1920 Revolution but anything else that we’ve ever seen also.
[For many of the insights in this article, I am indebted to comrade Alfredo Elizondo, an activist of La Izquierda Socislita and Morena Branch in Santo Domingo, Coyoacán; and other countless comrades]
Coyoacán, Mexico City, 14 June 2012