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Revolutionary Communist Organization, Mexico:
“We need to overthrow this system, not try to ‘democratize’ it”
25 May 2018. A World to Win News Service. Following are abridged excerpts from an extensive pamphlet put out by the Revolutionary Communist Organization (OCR), Mexico, in view of the national general elections to be held in July. The entire text in Spanish is available at aurora-roja.blogspot.com. The explanations in brackets are by AWTWNS.
Much of the pamphlet is an exposure of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, long the standard-bearer of the traditional left and now considered the leading candidate, who promises to “democratize” a state that has earned widespread and intense discredit and hatred. It also explains how the electoral system serves to legitimate the rule of the big capitalists and landlords and Mexico’s domination by imperialism. These excerpts focus on the polemic against the Zapatistas, who led an armed peasant uprising in the southern state of Chiapas in 1994 before entering into an uneasy coexistence with Mexico’s governments since then. We made this choice because of the international influence of that trend and the thinking it represents among radical-minded people in many countries. [Official Zapatista website: enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx]
We live in a world of unjust wars that kill and dislocate millions of people. Half of humanity is submerged in crushing poverty. Women are cruelly oppressed and subjected to male supremacy. Inequality is becoming increasingly abominable. The ecosystems that sustain life on our planet are being destroyed. Mexico and other countries are facing capitalist and imperialist projects to expand mining, pipelines, fracking, tourist development and luxury condominiums that lead to the expulsion of indigenous peoples, peasants and the poor in general, and devastate the environment. The Mexican state commits and covers up murder and disappearances. It tortures and unjustly imprisons hundreds of thousands of people, especially people at the bottom of society and those who oppose this system’s crimes.
How can we struggle against these horrors? How can we put an end to all this unjust and unnecessary suffering? How can society be changed? Should we “take power” in the existing state, as some people argue, or “change the world” without taking power, as others claim? Or will it take a real revolution?
Partisans of “taking power” from within or “changing the government” say that the existing state can be “democratized” and political and economic reforms achieved by changing the person and party or group heading the state. This argument is mainly associated with those seeking the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) and candidates of his Movement for National Renewal (MORENA).
Other people, like the leadership of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), assert that instead of “taking power” what’s needed is to organize autonomous or alternative projects “from below” to achieve “good governance” and political and economic reforms. They argue that those who “rise to power” become oppressors of the people. Under the current state, they have a point, as can be seen in the many cases of people, some originally with good intentions, who by joining the state apparatus became part of the problem, not the solution.
Supporters of AMLO and MORENA answer that those who don’t seek to “take power” only contribute to everything staying the same and can’t change anything important in society, and they, too, have a point. If the state is left as it is now, it will continue killing, disappearing, torturing and oppressing the people, among other horrendous crimes.
What these two positions have in common is the terms of the argument: whether or not to come to power within the existing state. Neither talks about the need to destroy the existing reactionary state. Neither talks about overthrowing the existing predominantly capitalist system. Both seek change within the present economic system.
This is more obvious in the case of AMLO and MORENA, which have assured the big Mexican and imperialist capitalists that they will respect and promote their interests. Despite its somewhat “anti-capitalist” rhetoric, however, the EZLN’s position of not struggling to put an end to the current state would also necessarily mean not putting an end to the economic and social relations that this state maintains and protects. It seeks to pressure the capitalist state not only “from below” by expanding and spreading “autonomous or alternative projects” but also “from above” through alliances meant to force the state to tolerate their existence and grant reforms within the deadly current system without a fundamental change in the situation of the immense majority of people.
Further, it’s a farce and a trick to proclaim yourself “anti-capitalist”, as the EZLN has done for more than a decade, when in reality you are struggling to reform and not end the capitalist system. The only real “anti-capitalism” is to struggle to abolish all capitalist economic relations. This struggle also requires struggling to overcome the division of society into classes, along with all the corresponding social relations (like the oppression of women, the division of the world into oppressed and oppressor nations, the split between manual and mental labour, etc.) and the corresponding ideas (male chauvinism, national chauvinism, the “me first” outlook, etc.).
Marx scientifically demonstrated, and experience since his time has confirmed, that the only way to achieve this is through communist revolution whose goal is the establishment of socialism as a transition and the advance of the world revolution until achieving communism, a worldwide society without classes and exploitation and oppression of any kind. It’s true that such a struggle is difficult, especially in today’s world situation, but this is the standard by which we should judge the EZLN and all political forces.
The problem with the EZLN position is not autonomous projects in themselves but the idea that their proliferation can lead to basic change without the need to overthrow the reactionary state, confiscate the property of the ruling classes and establish socialism as a transition to communism. The Zapatista project for an autonomous Chiapas and autonomous municipalities such as Cheran in the state of Michoacan, and community guards and police in Ostula, Michoacan, and the mountains of Guerrero, among others, have arisen from the righteous resistance of indigenous people and peasants, their need to defend themselves from the attacks of the system just to stay alive. They have taken back some land, curbed the cutting down of some forests and resisted and stopped (or postponed) some attempts by big capital to dispossess communities and destroy the environment. They have defended themselves, to some extent, from organized crime and the forces of the state, and not let themselves be smashed by the war of extermination capitalism-imperialism is waging against the original peoples. These struggles are brave and provide important lessons, and insofar as they continue struggling against the ravages and injustices of this system they should be supported by all those who hate oppression and want radical change.
Nevertheless, wrenching some autonomy on the local level under this system is not a solution. Self-government projects will not make the predominantly capitalist system disappear. It will continue assaulting indigenous peoples. It will continue killing and destroying until it is overthrown. Any autonomy that effects the interests of the system and the ruling classes will be attacked by them, and they won’t stop until that autonomy is disrupted and made to serve their needs, or forcibly destroyed. The state and its paramilitary gangs have unleashed murder, imprisonment and continuous harassment against the autonomous municipalities and police forces. For example, in Ostula, in 2010 and 2011, organized crime working in collusion with the state murdered an average of one community member every two weeks.
It’s very good to organize self-defence and self-government when the conditions make it possible to do so as part of resisting the system, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking it would be possible to spread “self-government” throughout the country until the fall of the state and the disappearance of the capitalist system of exploitation. The capitalists, imperialists and big landlords will never give up their property and power peacefully, and the state, which is their instrument of repression, can never be reformed to take the side of the people.
In addition to being under military siege, the autonomous municipalities are politically and economically “bombarded” by the system that has them surrounded. Very few changes can be implemented as long as capitalism continues to dominate the whole country. The main means of production remain in the hands of the capitalists, who continue exploiting and destroying, dominating everyone with their political and military power. Oppressive relationships and the capitalist ideology continues to predominate in society in general. Under these conditions autonomous projects can only involve very small sections of the people. As they try to keep their footing in the sea of capitalist exploitation in which they exist, the state uses coercion to force them to cooperate in some way and not “cross red lines” by fighting against the system.
Since shortly after the 1994 uprising, there has been an agreement, at least tacitly, between the EZLN and the government. Without granting them official recognition, the government tolerates the Zapatistas’ Good Government Boards in return for the EZLN restricting itself to “civil and peaceful struggle”. This doesn’t meant that they are no longer a target of state harassment. The state has continued to attack them in various ways, such as giving more benefits to surrounding communities, and arming, training and stoking paramilitary bands to attack and murder Zapatistas.
The EZLN, for its part, works with the reactionary state in matters such as organizing elections, reporting or turning over “criminals” to the state, and turning in “people smugglers” who fail to heed a first warning. (The Zapatistas label “people smuggling” a “crime against humanity”.) In 2016 the EZLN organized a National Indigenous Congress and convinced it to participate in the 2018 presidential elections with an indigenous woman as its independent candidate. They declared their aim is not to “come to power” but to generate “a process of combative reorganization, not only of original peoples but also workers, peasants, employees, tenant farmers, teachers and students, all the people whose silence and paralysis is synonymous not with apathy but the lack of a call to action… There could be generated a movement in which all the downtrodden converge, a great movement that will shake up the whole political system.”
Why call on “all the downtrodden” to participate in elections instead of organizing to expose and resist the atrocities committed by this system, independently of and in opposition to the electoral process? Why aim to “shake up the whole political system” instead of unmasking and resisting the whole capitalist economic and political system in struggle that is independent of the system’s institutions, struggle that contributes to forging the consciousness, organization, combativeness and leadership necessary for both strengthening the independent resistance and making the necessary preparations for a real revolution?
Seeking to have an independent candidate on the ballot and participating in the presidential election is sending the ruling classes a clear message that the EZLN continues to commit itself to staying within the system’s rules of the game for “political struggle”. This is why the ruling classes welcomed the EZLN’s campaign.
Under certain exceptional circumstances, at times it can be necessary to participate in bourgeois elections as a subordinated part of exposing the falseness of bourgeois democracy and the need to overthrow the whole system. This is what the Bolsheviks did at certain points in the Russian revolution, for instance, when the 1905 revolution had been defeated and elections were instituted for the first time in the country’s history. There is no such necessity to participate in the 2018 elections at a time when broad sections of the people are repudiating all of the bourgeois parties.
At times the organized struggle of the people can wrench certain concessions from the class enemy. One example is the physical, non-violent defence of Atenco [a small community near Mexico City whose members waged a mass struggle to stop the expropriation of their lands to build an airport in 2002]. That struggle won broad support throughout society and was able to halt the airport project, an important victory. But before long the combined forces of the three levels of the state took vengeance, killing two people and raping two dozen women, and now they’re coming back with a new airport plan. Even if an attack in one particular place is beaten back, the system continues driving an enormous number of peasants and indigenous people from their land in other places.
As many people have pointed out, the situation for indigenous peoples is worse now than in 1994 [at the time of the Zapatista uprising]. Big capital, organized crime and the state’s armed forces are intensifying the plunder of natural resources and the expulsion of the peoples from their land, and autonomous projects face brutal repression. This is the truth. It’s indispensable to organize and strengthen the resistance, but if that’s done based on reformist illusions, that only disarms the people,weakens their capacity to resist and leads to demoralization.
If the resistance is going to really strengthen the struggle for emancipation, it must be guided by the simple truth that “The state isn’t negligent, it’s criminal” [in opposition to the claim that the state should be pressured to assume the responsibilities it is now neglecting, like protecting people’s lives] and casting off the illusion that somehow the state can be made to obey the people [as stated by the Zapatista slogan that the state should “rule while obeying”]. Instead of begging the ruling classes to “show us respect”, we should be driven by and spread the spirit of “fuck the whole system”. What’s needed is resistance that is really independent and aimed at the system and its state. Revolutionary communists should work to clearly explain to everyone just why the state is committing and covering up these crimes, and how they are rooted in the nature and functioning of the capitalist system. Such resistance can win partial and temporary victories, it can inspire and educate the people and create much better conditions for revolution, but it can’t bring an end to all this system’s horrors. We have to tell the people the truth, and explain that it is possible to stop all these atrocities if and only if there is a communist revolution. That’s why we say, “Fight the power and transform the people for revolution.”
In the real world, it’s impossible to put an end to repression and all the other horrors we experience and build a new economic and political system without exploitation without destroying the old system ruling over us. Only a revolutionary people’s war can liberate the people and lay the foundation for a new liberating society that would be a base area for the world revolution. Subcomandante Galeano [the Zapatista leader formerly known as Marco] calls anyone who says this “dogmatic” and “sectarian”, but it’s the truth, and it’s what we all have to do if we want real emancipation for the oppressed and ultimately all of humanity.
This is an arduous and difficult struggle, but in it we have the advantage of the new communism developed by Bob Avakian on the basis of summing up the great positive lessons as well as the errors of the past socialist revolutions, analysing new conditions and learning from other spheres of knowledge to achieve a qualitative advance in the scientific method and approach for making revolution and emancipating humanity, laying the basis for a new stage in the communist revolution that is so urgently needed by the oppressed masses.
The Revolutionary Communist Organization, Mexico, is struggling to apply this new communism and has established the strategic orientation and initial basic programme for the liberating revolution Mexico needs.
It’s time to cast off the illusion that it’s possible to democratize and reform this outmoded and inhuman capitalist-imperialist system system whether by working inside or outside the bourgeois state. What’s needed is to dedicate ourselves to the urgent and most basic need of the oppressed masses, a real revolution to sweep away this system and finally contribute to the emancipation of all humanity.