[Marxism] Mexico: Reply to Tony (I)
juliohuato at hotmail.com
Wed May 12 15:21:12 MDT 2004
Tony Abdo wrote:
>Julio Huato has adopted the pose of an outraged defender of Mexican
>nationalism, and refuses to admit the obvious on everything.
I said -- "no nation is beyond shit." All nations, like all individuals,
are mixes of shit and glory. Social structures condition to a varying
extent whether the choices we make collectively and individually are shitty
or glorious, or something in between. That is not a nationalist view. It
is an attempt to look at the issue as a Marxist. Marxism is humanism in
steroids. More on nationalism below.
Let me just note here that your initial argument was that in its diplomatic
conflict with Cuba, Mexico was realigning its position vis-à-vis the U.S.
and the rest of Latin America. I said, there are no conditions for a
strategic realignment of Mexico's foreign policy. It is mainly the
expression of domestic, petty political bickering in Mexico.
The front-page headline in La Jornada yesterday said: "Mexico and Spain
repudiate U.S. Plan against Cuba - Derbez expects face-to-face talks with
Pérez Roque." Also, yesterday, Cuba clarified that Ahumada had in his
possession DVDs with videos. Apparently the videos are related to the
corruption scandals. The office of the attorney general (PGR) denied the
existence of these videos, but today the newspapers say the PGR has admitted
that Cuba was right all along.
Today in La Jornada, front page headline: "Mexico proposes creation of a
'Friends of Havana' group - The economic siege by the U.S. makes no sense:
Derbez." No acknowledgment of this in Granma. But neither is there
anything in Granma's front page on Mexico. As far as I can tell, Cuba is
not escalating the diplomatic conflict -- its focus is on rejecting the U.S.
pressures and making adjustments to face them. With regards to Mexico, the
position may be a "let's wait and see what Mexico is really up to." In any
case, something quite different from the hysteric statement that
>Mexico is somehow or other lost, so to say, for Latin America (which means
>He [Julio Huato] challenges the notions that many Mexicans favor
>"surrendering Mexico's policies to Washington" as he puts it. But they
>already have on multiple matters, even to many being in favor of modeling
>the entire Mexican political structure on the US 2 Party System. But it
>doesn't stop there.
Let's begin with the dramatic proclamation that "Mexico is somehow or other
lost, so to say, for Latin America (which means "for revolution")" that you
agree with. In this cool geopolitical chess game we're playing from our
computers, strategically linked by Marxmail, Mexico is lost beyond hope.
And you are now supplying a laundry list of observations about the condition
of Mexico's political system, the corruption and abuse, the cooperation with
Washington's "war on drugs," the mistreatment of immigrants, the differences
and tensions between "north" and "south," etc. to back up that assertion.
Someone is lost here indeed; but that is not Mexico.
Let me cut to the chase. Your observations have elements of factual truth.
But they are not the whole truth. The trees are not the same as the forest.
So, what is your point? What are you really trying to say here?
If you're trying to drive the point that Mexico is poor and unequal, not
communist, not even socialist, not even fully independent from the U.S.
politically -- not to mention economically or culturally --, with a
political and judicial system plagued by widespread corruption and disregard
for people's rights, with an abusive police, etc., then you're beating a
rotten dead horse.
We cannot measure a complex historical reality against the benchmark of
arbitrary abstractions. I can define "development," "communism," "full
independence," "honesty and transparency in government," etc. as I may wish,
based on criteria pulled from my brain. Then look at this reality to
confirm that it doesn't measure up to my standards. Or I can take another
reality and use it as the standard. Mexico is not acting like Cuba or like
Venezuela or like the Soviet Union when Lenin and Trotsky were around.
Conclusion: Mexico sucks! This may be cool mental gymnastics, but as a
political analysis it is not particularly illuminating -- especially, if we
are trying to change things.
The evolution of Mexico's society, of its economic life, political
institutions, and culture, is a complex, organic "process of natural
history" -- to use Marx's worn phrase. A process of natural history is a
messy process. In the same sweep, humans get uplifted and oppressed,
enabled and alienated, all by conditions and circumstances they reproduce
largely in their spite. It's shit and glory, shit and glory... The
benchmarks to measure this process must emerge from the process itself.
They cannot be arbitrary. Pre-existing and co-existing historical
conditions impose certain "logic" to the process, and that is the logic we
need to grasp. Yes, we need the process to move forward, but if it is ever
to move forward, then it's going to do it according to its own inner logic.
Not to our caprice. We need grounding in the reality of the process, not in
"History with a capital 'H' does not exist. History does nothing, it owns
no immense wealth, it wages no battles. It is people, real living people,
who do it all, who own and fight, 'History' is not a person apart that uses
people as a means for its own particular aims; history -- with a lower case
'h' -- is the activity of concrete people pursuing their own aims." (Marx
and Engels, Holy Family.) So, amen.
The usual leftist analysis goes this way. The factotum of everything that
happens in Mexico (and the rest of the world) is "Imperialism," where
Imperialism means something vague and encompassing. It's an old Hegelian
trick: everything can be easily explained as the manifestation of
"Imperialism." A "theory" like this is irrefutable. And the practical
conclusions are straightforward -- no need to think: "yes to Imperialism,"
bad. "no to Imperialism," good.
Except that "Imperialism" really does nothing, it is "concrete people
pursuing their own aims." Their aims are conditioned -- restricted or
assisted -- by pre-existing and co-existing social structures. Conditioned,
not dictated. And different social structures have different degrees of
rigidity to immediate individual and collective action. Compelled by
circumstances, people clash and cooperate. And what some concrete people do
in pursuit of their aims may or may not befit the interests of others, say,
the interests of an imperialist bourgeoisie.
We may focus on how everything in Mexico is an expression of Imperialist
domination. I guess that'll give us the sense that we're looking at some
big computer screen, where everything fits our neat plot. But if we want to
do something real, we need to focus on the aims and actions of concrete
people, the way they arise from the shifting conditions in which people live
Every analogy has limits, but this (imperialism, Mexico's evolution, the
workers' movement in Mexico) is reminding me much of some parents who
believe they are the driving force in the evolution of their children.
They're dead wrong. It doesn't matter how much children depend on the
parents for survival (and what greater dependence is there than dependence
for survival?), how much parents can mechanically force them to do or not do
something (usually at a high cost for the parental-filial relation),
parenting is most effective -- and often, only effective -- when the child
does *freely* what the parents want them to do. That's quite a paradox.
When parents resort to overt coercion to make them conform, the normal
parental interaction has failed. The patient needs surgery; medical science
as such has failed.
Once Marx told Paul Lafargue that "children must conduct the education of
their parents." This doesn't mean that good parents are to let their kids
do as they please. It just means that, if the parents want to help, then
they need to be respectful and mindful of the child's evolution, because it
is fundamentally a self-driven process! A very humbling, non-patronizing
experience. The function of parents is gradually self-effacing: to assist
the child to become an independent, judicious, responsible individual, so
that she doesn't need parenting anymore, so that she is capable of
contributing to the broader good. If the process succeeds, it ends itself.
The imperialist bourgeoisie is no benevolent parent -- it's more like a wild
predator, a T-Rex. But, even the interaction between a predator and its
prey is a mix of conflict and interdependence. Forget Marx's Capital. Too
tedious to study in these times of video games and Internet. Ever heard of
the Lotka-Volterra models that environmental scientists developed to predict
the interdependent behavior of populations of a predator and its prey? When
the predator pushes it too far and depletes the prey, it backfires, a
self-correcting dynamic cycle emerges. Point is, "Imperialism" cannot
dictate the aims of millions of people at a whim. Imperialism is just some
people trying to make other people do certain things for them, but all
people in the game are just "pursuing their own aims." It's not that
simple. People have minds of their own.
Just ten years ago, the pundits announced that the U.S. (290 million people,
9 million sq kms) was the undisputed center of a unipolar universe. The
Soviet Union overthrown and fragmented, communism in Eastern Europe
dismantled. But history (with a lower case 'h') is concrete people, with
minds of their own, pursuing their own aims. So it plays ironies.
We don't know how the 1990s will look in retrospect ten years from now, but
if we exclude that decade, the edge in productivity and average standard of
living the U.S. had with respect to other countries has declined
precipitously in the last 50 years. Even Latin America, which had a very
rough 1980s decade and a less than OK 1990s, with some exceptions,
maintained its distance from the U.S. Brazil (180 million people, 8.5
million sq kms) reduced it slightly, measuring this in terms of GDP per
capita (a flawed measure of social well-being). Africa and the Arab world
remain stuck. Africa is still sorting out the aftermath of its partial
political de-colonization. And the Middle East is too complex for me to
describe in one sentence.
But the most remarkable phenomena in the last half a century is not the
postwar recovery of Europe and the recent formation of the EU (500 million
people, 4 million sq kms). Nor was it the emergence of Japan (125 million
people, 0.4 million sq kms) as the second economy in the world and the quick
industrialization of the Asian tigers (Taiwan, Hong Kong, S. Korea &
Singapore, 83 million people, 135 thousand sq kms) from the 1960s on.
The biggest deal is the emergence of China (1.3 billion people, almost 10
million sq kms) and India (1 billion people, 3 million sq kms) in the last
25 years as significant economic powers. Their development is uneven and
disruptions will occur as they move forward, but we are talking about one
third of the human race! Add Russia (150 million people, 17 million sq
kms), which is in the process of rebuilding an economy with features that --
at least in the large cities where most people live -- resemble more Europe
or Scandinavia than the U.S. And remember, the EU, Russia, China, and India
are all nuclear powers.
Everybody is watching -- except the left, it seems.
Cuba (11 million people, 111 thousand sq kms), with a struggling economy,
besieged like no other country, 90 miles away from the Florida, has resisted
successfully 45 years of continuous attempts of "regime change" from the
outside backed up if not designed and implemented by the most powerful
country in the world. On top of that, Iraq, an Arab nation of 25 million
people, living in less than half a million square kilometers, mostly desert
and mountains; a nation battered by years and years of wars, sanctions,
bombings, economic disarray, etc., with educational levels, structures of
popular organization and political participation that cannot be compared to
those in Cuba. Still, the richest country in the world, with the mightiest
military, the most technologically sophisticated state, etc., after invading
and occupying the country, cannot impose its will on it. It can't.
And everybody is watching. Including the Mexicans...
People in the left are tempted to measure these events against abstractions.
They don't have much patience for a process of natural history. Marx
wrote that capitalist production continuously revolutionizes the conditions
of production and life. And by this he meant to emphasize its progressive
aspects. That was the "historical justification" for the capitalist mode of
production. But "Imperialism" changes everything, we're told. In the left,
the focus now seems to be not on how revolutionary a historical process
really is, but on how revolutionary it looks or sounds. Of course a process
of natural history is always messy. Shit and glory, shit and glory... You
can point to the shit and ignore the glory. Everything sucks, let's just
get drunk. But if we really want to help, we need to kneel down and put the
ear to the ground.
Let's talk about nation formation and class formation. Fundamentally these
are self-driven processes. The role of Marxists, socialists, or communists
is like parenting. But if that sounds too patronizing, think of sisterhood
or brotherhood. The older sis helping the younger bro grow up by sharing
insights and experiences with him, giving perspective to the young man
questions. Marxists are sisters and brothers of the workers, helping them
form their class as a politically independent force.
It's a self-driven process. The ear to the ground...
The process of nation and class formation in Mexico is constrained by its
history. Mexico is next door to the richest country on Earth. That's
geography, and a nasty history behind it. Half Mexico's territory was
snatched by the U.S. in the 19th century. That's an open wound, people
don't forget, although they prioritize and pursue their aims. The lesson is
the U.S. does because it can. The rationalization comes later, even if it
is as farfetched as "God" or "Manifest Destiny" or whatever "made me do it."
Mexico has 100 million people living in 2 million sq kms, plus 15 or 20
million living in the U.S. In the last 50 years, Mexico largely shared the
fate of many other Latin American countries. In spite of rapid demographic
growth and brutal initial inequality, up to the 1970s, the average standard
of living grew fast, narrowing the gap with the U.S. Inequality decreased.
But then the flaws of the development strategy kicked in -- its rigidity,
the vested interests it created, and the inability to hedge against external
risk -- and the oil and debt binge in the late 1970s-early 1980s leading to
a long, debilitating crisis. Gradually the economy recovered. Then the
Tequila crisis in 1994-1995. Unemployment and inequality went up, the
poverty indices went up and remained stuck even after the economy recovered.
On the plus side, in spite of all the bad things happening in the 1980s and
1990s, the average gap between Mexico and the U.S. didn't go back to early
20th century levels. Still the asymmetry is brutal: With monetary measures
that inflate U.S. GDP per capita and productivity (PWT 6.1), Mexico's
per-capita GDP is about 1/3 of the U.S.'s and the average labor productivity
is about 40% of the U.S.'s, where workers are much better equipped.
Mexicans don't even enjoy the average standard of living of people in
Argentina now. But by its size, Mexico's economy is ranked 10th or 11th in
the world, the second or third source of imports for the U.S. Obviously,
the ability of U.S. imperialism to project its power and impose its will on
Mexico is finite, which is to say, costly.
The process of national and working class formation takes place in an
international context where the might of the U.S. state -- its resources,
its military, its people and productivity -- is a big factor. But this
might is finite. Everybody knows that. To a larger extent than people
imagine, the finiteness arises because the U.S. people are not the malleable
dough the left likes to believe it is. (To differentiate themselves,
leftist love to shock others, show how radical their views are against the
mediocre background of the crowd. The sectarian spirit. Meanwhile, the
crowd is pursuing their aims. If the ongoing anti-war movement and electoral
activism don't prove that the crowd is alive and aware, then nothing does.)
The violence and damage U.S. power can inflict on others is only the "ultima
ratio," as the Romans used to say. If it fails, everything fails. The U.S.
military power is nothing to sneer at, but it's far from omnipotent.
But under the circumstances, the U.S. power is effectively exercised in
Mexico by playing the self-interest of Mexicans, particularly the
self-interest of the ruling elites (the bourgeoisie, the "political class,"
the bureaucracies). But not only, as I'll try to show next. The elites
want wealth, which is to say the social power to accumulate more wealth. It
was the elites' attempt to speed up industrialization (and through it, of
course, their capital accumulation) in the 1970s, which led the government
to leverage its oil resources in the international credit markets. The
accumulation of Mexican assets by U.S. interests became the lever by which
these U.S. interests influence Mexico's economic policies, sometimes
decisively. The control Treasury has on the IMF and the World Bank, sources
of credit whose okay is required for Mexico to access new or roll over old
commercial debt, gives the U.S. influence on the measures of economic
Why do Mexicans allow for the U.S. to have such influence on Mexico's
economic and political affairs? Well, not all Mexicans have the same say.
Consider the ruling elites. Their reasons all boil down to self-interest.
In their circumstances, it is the most profitable thing to do. If we look
at the evolution of Mexico's economy as a "process of natural history" where
"concrete people are pursuing their own aims," then the U.S.' influence on
Mexico -- not in general, but this particular level of influence and
meddling -- is the result, not of NAFTA or the recent economic reforms, but
of the partial failure of the industrialization strategy (its inflexibility
and inability to hedge external risk), as revealed in the oil and debt binge
of 1976-1982. And then the peso crisis of 1994-1995 came to worsen things.
Because the integration of Mexico with the U.S., particularly the border
areas, is not a process that began with NAFTA. It is old -- it began at
least in the late 19th century, with ups and downs. It is geography,
demography, and economics. The recent economic reforms only sped up this
But why have Mexican workers not overthrown the elites (the bourgeoisie, the
PRI, etc.), take over the country, and make a complete different set of
choices? A myriad of historical reasons. I could rant forever about the
errors of the left, the corruption of the union leadership, bad luck, etc.
It's all that. The fact is, we're here now. What can we do now with what
To begin with, what do the working people in Mexico really want?
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