National Sections of the L5I:

Mexico: revolution on a knife-edge

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[Editors note]A possible deal may have been brokered between the masses of Oaxaca and the federal government. Even if such an agreement is made it will not remove the hated governor of Oaxaca or solve the underlying problems of Mexican society. Mexico is still in the grip of a revolutionary situation.

After the fraudulent elections returned the right wing’s candidate for President, millions took to the streets, refusing to accept the result. The left wing populist candidate, Luis Obrador, set up what he calls a “rival government”. There have been huge rallies and a series of street clashes.

But it is in Oaxaca state that the struggle has reached its highest level, with the formation of a delegate based assembly - the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO)- which operates as a rival government of the workers and peasants. It is like a Soviet in the early months of the Russian revolution or the Paris Commune of 1871 - indeed, in a direct reference to this, the masses themselves call it the Oaxaca Commune.
However, like the Paris Commune, it faces a huge test: either go forward to organise delegate based councils across the whole country and take all power from the hands of the capitalist state by force, or be bloodily repressed. It is this great political question which will determine whether the Oaxaca Commune ends up like the Paris Commune that was drowned in blood, or like the Russian soviets, which seized power and opened a new era in history.

The revolution in Oaxaca is in danger. The past few days have seen the deployment of more troops, including marines, tanks and helicopters, and aircraft reconnaissance of the city and the popular mobilisations. The notorious Federal Preventive Police have been quartered in the area, alongside the hired thugs of the ruling party in the state, the Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI). As one of the leaders of the APPO said: “Fox (the Mexican president) is going to stain his hands with blood.”

State clampdown
The military are being deployed because the people of Oaxaca have stood firm against the corrupt state governor, Ortiz, and the central government. They have developed their own power in the APPO which is now calling for a country-wide constitutional assembly.

It appears that a clampdown was planned for the 28-29 September to coincide with a two-day shutdown by business in support of governor Ortiz. Flyovers by aircraft and troop deployments were seen. It was rumoured that transportation workers attached to the PRI were meeting to plan attacks on the APPO and its supporters. One taxi driver, who has now gone into hiding, revealed that the plan was to work with plain clothes police to attack protesters while the two-day strike was on. Aguilar Robles, a leader of the PRI’s thugs, told the transport workers “you are all going to co-ordinate with local union leaders [of the PRI] to figure out at what specific time we’ll go in and rip these bastards up.”
However, the strike came to nothing, governor Ortiz ran away, and the federal government backed off. But now they are redoubling their efforts to destroy the rebellion in Oaxaca.

The 200 delegate-strong APPO now controls transport, government buildings and offices, has its own mobile police force and organises barricades and the arming of the workers and peasants against Ortiz and his thugs. It has helped set up local assemblies. It has run the lackeys of the governor, such as officials and police, out of the state and has now banned Ortiz.
That is why the APPO is such a threat to the ruling class - it poses a different way of ruling, one that involves the workers and peasants in controlling their own lives. And the bosses recognise this. That is why they are preparing to smash it. One US reporter expresses the bourgeoisie’s terror perfectly: “Militants with clubs roam Oaxaca, raiding government offices and dragging out employees who refuse to leave. Barricades and torched vehicles block the streets. Police have fled the city and the governor is in hiding.” Worst of all, the wretched tourist adds, “The once-beautiful downtown is covered with revolutionary graffiti.” (Detroit Free Press 17/9/06). Any revolutionary will recognise from this feeble propaganda a city where a revolution is taking place and the masses are taking power into their own hands.

Dangers of negotiations
Hand in hand with the violence go the government’s attempts to negotiate with a “reasonable” section of the leadership of the APPO. Delegates have gone to Mexico City to demand Ortiz’s sacking. A deal attempting to buy off the teachers with a sectoral pay increase was thrown out by the APPO. Attempts to get the government to hand over Ortiz’s powers to the APPO have failed, despite Obrador interceding on behalf of the masses of Oaxaca.

At the end of September, the Senate proposed a deal that promised better pay and a review of governmental structures - but still no removal of Ortiz. This prompted the masses to declare that their “massive and united struggle will continue until Ortiz is gone and all political prisoners released”.

The rules of the constitution mean that, if Ortiz is sacked or resigns (as opposed to just hiding) before 1 December, a new election will be held in which the APPO can stand one of its own as governor. After the 1 December deadline, the government can simply appoint a replacement. President Fox and his successor, president-elect Calderon, need the votes of the PRI to get their legislation through the Senate; so they cannot be seen to sacrifice Ortiz. Meanwhile, by offering a negotiated settlement, the government can bide its time and hand the whole matter over to the interior ministry and its thugs in the police and army.

Where now for Luis Obrador?
On Sunday 16 September, nearly two million people (including a million people who were registered as delegates over a two month campaign!) assembled in the centre of Mexico City in support of Luis Obrador for president. President Fox failed to close down the meeting and could not deliver his traditional Independence Day speech within the capital.

The rally declared Obrador president and shouted down those members of his party, the Party of Democratic Revolution, (PRD) who tried to stop the vote taking place with cries of “traitor, traitor”. Sections of the PRD are already trying to sell out Obrador in return for cabinet posts.

The National Democratic Convention (as the rally was called) set out a plan of resistance including a day of action against the privatisation of energy and a week of action for defence of education in October. The convention also supported the creation of a legitimate Obrador government on 20 November and mass mobilisations against Calderon when he takes power on 1 December.
However, all this is inadequate, it is limited by the populism of Obrador and his desire to get into the presidential office. As such it will lead the masses to defeat and snatch away a historic opportunity to take power into their own hands. Struggles are taking place in other parts of Mexico, as well as in Oaxaca. Workers are striking in their thousands against neo-liberalism. Mexican farmers have, along with their poor Southern US counterparts, come out against the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is destroying their livelihoods as the agri-businesses enrich themselves.

The convention should be linking up all these struggles in a mass campaign of a general strike and the occupation of lands and factories. Such a campaign should set out to paralyse Mexico and rid it of Fox/Calderon and put in their place a workers’ government supported by the poor farmers and peasants, based on delegate councils like the APPO, with recallable representatives directly elected by the workers and peasants themselves.

If the plan for the convention is inadequate, even worse are the actions of the post-modernist Zapistista guerrilla movement and its leader sub commandante Marcos, who has now earned the nickname Sub-Comedian Marcos for the irrelevance of his so-called “other campaign”. Marcos has said that the Zapatitistas are “not here to talk to the millions but to listen to those who are not heard”. Thus, in one sentence, he has condemned his movement to being bystanders while millions make history. He has gone further and said that: “Those above us are discovering that the government is shit and institutions are lousy.” - And those below are discovering the same thing about the Zapatistas.

If they are not willing to involve themselves in the struggles and the fights of the masses they should hand over their weapons. On the 1 October, 2,000 Zapatistas met in Mexico, Marcos said Oaxaca was an inspiration for all. But what did the Zapatistas decide? To carry on with their 54-day tour of the north. The post-modern notion of “changing the world without taking power” has condemned itself as a harmful delusion.

What needs to be done
The masses of Oaxaca have shown great ingenuity and courage in fighting Ortiz and his police and creating the APPO. But that is not enough. Soon the struggle will come to a head and the APPO must make sure that it is the workers and peasants who win.

The APPO should immediately demand of Luis Obrador that he support the people of Oaxaca in actions, not just words. The march from Oaxaca has arrived in Mexico. Obrador and all his supporters should go out onto the streets in their millions to occupy the capital, greet the marchers and join the call for a constitutional assembly. Whether he does this or not, the APPO should issue the call directly to the masses itself. Bring Mexico City to a standstill and replicate this throughout the cities and towns of Mexico.

The APPO should immediately begin to expropriate private property: the factories, ranches and banks etc. Journalists in the APPO have already called for the nationalisation of the media: This should be done now and must be followed up with similar measures across industry and farming. Give the land to the peasants and let the workers control and operate the factories.
The APPO must call for a general strike in defence of the rebellion in Oaxaca and against the government of Fox/Calderon. The workers should take control of the strike out of the hands of the leaders, set up strike and factory committees, control the unions themselves and help build a mass movement against Fox/Calderon and to prevent a sell-out by the likes of Obrador.

The APPO must immediately arm the workers in Oaxaca. Already it has set up its own police force and popular militias and begun arming them. It must continue to do this and plan the defence of the city, the people and the state, set up barricades, take over strategic points in the city and towns. It should also call on support from other states, and carry out agitation in the army to break the rank and file soldiers from their officers and the rule of the bosses.

The Zapatistas should either go and defend Oaxaca or hand their weapons over to people who are willing to use them in defence of revolution.

The armed workers and peasants should prepare an insurrection to take over the state before the army crushes them. It is the only way to defend their struggle and the APPO and to convene a Constituent Assembly under the control of the masses.

In effect, the APPO must organise an insurrection to defeat the capitalists before the army and police clampdown and begin to kill people in their thousands.

These measures would give the masses of Oaxaca a breathing space in their fight against the local state and the central government and inspire similar actions throughout Mexico. But to oust Fox/Calderon and expropriate the bosses needs a mass revolutionary party. A successful rising and assumption of power by the workers will not happen spontaneously. Only an organised political force, campaigning within the mass assemblies for this perspective, can lead the workers and peasants to victory. A revolutionary party can generalise the lessons of Oaxaca, overthrow capitalism and its state in Mexico and open the road to social revolution across the whole of Latin America.