What are the Prospects for a New Mexican Revolution?

Mexico’s political metabolism incubates insurrection every 100 years. Revolutions tend to rise in the tenth year of the century – 1810 (the war of liberation from Spain) and 1910 (the Mexican Revolution) – a calendar that excites speculation about what might be on this not-so-distant neighbor nation’s plate for 2010.

Further inciting expectations of upheaval is the impending demise of the Mayan life cycle – Mayan day keepers calculate that closure will occur in late 2011 or early 2012 when a new life cycle will kick in. This death and renewal of a predominant Meso-American culture is in itself a profoundly revolutionary conceit.

It is perhaps pertinent to note that revolutionary change only takes flight under this timeline. The fuse for liberation from Spain was lit in 1810 but it took years to achieve independence. Similarly, 1910 was only the first act of a Mexican Revolution that a decade later finally dissipated in myth and the death of more than a million Mexicans.

Although mythification is an essential incubus for revolutionary spirit, the nuts and bolts of revolutionary possibilities must be measured by the fulcrum of social forces and their “coyuntura” or coming together at more or less the same moment.

Revolutions are indeed made by the convergence of “objective” and “subjective” tensions. To the revolutionist mindset, “subjective” forces are simply themselves – what they and their allies across class and race boundaries can do to bring about revolution: taking initiative and pushing back, resistance (inevitably followed by repression), revolts, rebellions, and the revolutionary overthrow of existing class structures. “Objective” forces are just about everything else over which the revolutionists have little or no control – capitalist greed, economic collapse, even natural disasters. The Sandinistas could never have taken power in Nicaragua without an earthquake to set the fuse to social instability.

Within the Mexican equation, subjective forces can roughly be delineated between the organized left and the more volatile entity sometimes dubbed “the masses” or the “civil society” or just “El Pueblo” (The People.)

The organized sector encompasses both the electoral and the armed left. Mexico’s electoral left is currently represented by the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), now sharply split between its legislative representatives, elected officials, and party honchos on one hand and the bases of support for former presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who seems to be building his own left party from the bottom up. While both branches of this electoral left promote the illusion that change can come through the ballot box, a corrupt election system, so blatantly manifested in the stealing of the 2006 vote-taking from Lopez Obrador, is a clear illustration of the nexus between foiled reformism and the prospects for a new Mexican revolution.

In 2007, only three years away from a much-contemplated watershed, the armed option, which rejects voting as a means of bringing the underclass to power, is fragmented and regionally isolated. “Moribund”, “impotent”, and “marginalized” are some of the descriptives that can be applied. This part of the “subjective” forces so necessary to making a new Mexican Revolution is personified by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) and their allied constructs.

After 14 years on public display, the Zapatista communities in eastern Chiapas have become a model for anarchist visions of revolution but the EZLN’s on-going rebellion against the “mal gobierno” (bad government) has not had near the impact in Mexico as it has had in Europe and, to a lesser extent, in the U.S. Indeed, the further one gets from the actualities of the Zapatista rebellion, the more of a model it seems to become.

Nonetheless, homegrown Zapatismo has achieved a kind of revolutionary autonomy by getting off the mal gobierno’s grid and constructing an infrastructure grounded in communalism that serves the people and builds peoples’ democracy where the Zapatistas live. One reason for such success is that rebel communities are homogenous. The Zapatistas are Mayans who share a common culture and similar language systems.

But when the EZLN has sought to spread its way of making revolution outside of its zone of influence, such as in the ill-fated “Other Campaign”, the rebels have been able to attract little support from anywhere except an intensely sectarian fringe. The Other Campaign is admittedly a slow grow and its prospects for leading a new Mexican revolution by 2010 are slight.

The Popular Revolutionary Army and related “focos” espouse the revolutionary violence the EZLN eschews and are organized along classic Marxist-Leninist lines to take state power. In reality, the EPR, rather than the EZLN, more closely fits Mexico’s centuries-old guerrilla tradition. Drawing inspiration from the 1970s guerrilla band of Lucio Cabanas in Guerrero state, the Popular Revolutionary Army sustains a rich continuum of rebellion that began long before the Mexican Revolution – Cabanas’s grandfather was himself a general in Emiliano Zapata’s Liberating Army of the South.

The EPR is regionally based with active cadre in Guerrero and Oaxaca but has recently claimed responsibility for actions in central Mexico and as far south as Veracruz and Chiapas. Thought to be out of business after a deadly mid-90s spree of attacks on military and police installations, and weakened by internal splits, the EPR sprang to life last May after the forced disappearance of two of its historic leaders and launched a series of bombings of pipelines maintained by the nationalized petroleum conglomerate PEMEX that shut down hundreds – if not thousands – of transnationally-owned factories, a threat to foreign investors headlined in a recent front page report in the Wall Street Journal. Because PEMEX is at the heart of the Mexican economy, any assault on its infrastructures strikes close to power.

Although the EZLN and the EPR have long been bitter rivals, the Zapatistas’ quixotic spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos has expressed solidarity with the Popular Revolutionary Army’s demands for “the presentation with life” of its disappeared leaders, leading to speculation that rapprochement between Mexico’s two most prominent guerrilla formations is in the wings.

But more relevant to prospects for a new Mexican revolution is a non-ideological and seemingly unorganized Left, which doesn’t follow – and even rejects – the vanguardism of the EZLN and EPR. The enormous power of “El Pueblo” was underscored by the millions of Mexicans who rose in mostly peaceful resistance after the stealing of the 2006 elections from AMLO, and the prolonged battles on the barricades of Oaxaca to dethrone the state’s hated governor, Ulises Ruiz.

Both these explosions of popular resentment have diminished throughout 2007 but they have not been extinguished. In Mexico, the ebb and flow of revolutionary energies is the stuff of history. Uprising is met with repression and dives underground to regroup where it incubates in subterranean caverns only to explode in great unexpected exhalations much like the volcanoes that surround the capital. Nature is often congruent with such an explosive political metabolism – the eruptions of Popocateptl, the smoking giant just south of Mexico City, can presage social upheaval.

The timing of such exhalations depends upon the organization of the subjective forces to respond to worsening objective conditions. If 2010 is the dateline for such convergence, it must be expected that the world will be in even more awful shape than it is today. While the globalization of greed tightens its chokehold on the laboring classes and economies teeter and collapse, objective realities will invoke revolutionary ones. Climatic catastrophe will bring this Armageddon one step closer. As the oil runs out, riot, rapine, and perhaps revolution will rise the world over.

Here in Mexico, the oil is running out faster than it can be pumped from the ground. By 2010, the country will have only eight more years of provable reserves before it becomes a net oil importer – and by then there will be none to import. PEMEX accounts for 70per cent of the nation’s social budget without which the 73 million Mexicans living in and around the poverty line cannot survive.

Much as back in 1910, when the dictator Diaz spent the entire education budget to build monuments to the first centennial of a questionable independence, El Pueblo will not be much amused watching its social budget washed down the tubes on tributes to a long-dead revolution in 2010.

Meanwhile, the battered U.S. economy upon which Mexico is hopelessly hooked will no longer be able to respond to its neighbor’s needs. The plummeting job market will stir increased lynch mob mentality north of the Rio Bravo and even more draconian anti-immigrant legislation. Remittances from migrant workers, Mexico’s second source of income behind $100 a barrel oil, will shrivel. The billions sent home by workers support not just their families and villages but whole regions, often those where revolutionary violence is endemic, and constitute the country’s real anti-poverty program.

The sealing of the northern border by U.S. Homeland Security will prevent young, unemployed workers from escaping this pressure cooker – out-migration has always been a “safety valve” against class upheaval – and they will be locked into a social cauldron in which revolution is a feasible option. Will the “subjective” forces – the Left in all its avatars – be ready to receive them?

The prospects for renewed revolution in 2010 are shrouded. Above all, the Left will have to have its ducks in order. Revolutions are regional in Mexico so organization must be in place across the social landscape from border to border. The ERPs and the EZLNs must learn how to backtrack from vanguardism and reintegrate their talents in El Pueblo. It won’t be easy to meet the 2010 deadline. Above all, propinquity makes a new Mexican revolution problematic. Rising in revolutionary struggle on the border of the empire, right next door to a sinking imperialist power, seems an improbable scenario.

Yet it has happened before just like clockwork on the tenth year of the new century. Those who believe another world is possible believe also that another revolution is possible. The Mayans, anticipating the rebirth of their life cycle, have the right idea.

“Eye on Mexico” (parts one and two) is drawn from a talk of the same name delivered by JOHN ROSS in San Francisco this November at a benefit to buy the author a new eye. Contact johnross@igc.org if you have further information.




JOHN ROSS’s El Monstruo – Dread & Redemption in Mexico City is now available at your local independent bookseller. Ross is plotting a monster book tour in 2010 – readers should direct possible venues to johnross@igc.org