John Ackerman’s article in Proceso, “Ludismo Electoral”, demonstrates a profound lack of understanding about the electoral boycott proposed by the Zapatistas for over two decades, and also proposed by the poet and thinker Javier Sicilia. The first misunderstanding is about what a legitimate political party is and how it comes into being. The second misunderstanding is due to his treating corruption and fraud as if they can be divorced from the currently existing political parties. This is compounded by his subsequent confusing of political parties with elections proper, and thus with democracy. His last misunderstanding concerns the idea that with “left” leaning politicians in power, the space opens up for further rebellion, which then makes elections central to struggle, rather than a supporting part.
His misunderstandings are linked to his theoretical apparatus, laid out in works such as Organismos Autónomos y Democracia: El Caso de México, which subsumes informal politics, the politics of social movements, and politics of the periphery, under formal institutionalized politics. That is, Ackerman’s analysis begins with the State, makes it the central motor of struggle, a form of Marxist-Leninism without Ackerman employing such a discourse. If only he had read Dussel or Luxemburg, then this could all have been avoided. Then we could recognize that in Mexico the State is no longer functional in any sense, and that any politics of liberation begins from the outside, from the periphery, from the spontaneity of the people who most marginalized. To want to take over the State at this juncture is to want to take over the rot as a ritual act without much substance.
So, my arguments are that a.) any political party must arise from the masses themselves, that is from outside the formal arena of politics as currently constituted, b.) all current political parties are part of a systemic failure, and thus can only be abstractly cordoned off from fraud and corruption, but are concretely perpetuating it through their very existence, c.) elections are only useful if the system is able to change in a reformist manner, if the system is not completely defunct, and d.) no one, based on the evidence, can think that it would be possible to get enough “leftist” politicians into power at this moment to actually produce the opening up of rebellious space that Ackerman is discussing, which is actually being done by the informal social movements Ackerman would have us make subordinate to the aims of political parties. These arguments are not new, these are, at least in my reading, Sicilia’s argument and in part Zapatista arguments.
On point “a”, we can look at the work done by George Ciccariello-Maher demonstrating the need “of generating an alternative power outside the state capable of transforming, ultimately, abolishing that state” as a major part of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. This decolonial form of politics is in stark contrast to the euro-centric form proposed by Ackerman that tells to not cede a battleground, and thus be forced to vote for the lesser of two (actually, quite a few more in Mexican politics) evils, MORENA. So, instead of the party arising from the movement, the party is already part of the institutionalized formal system of politics, thus maintaining many of the problems Ackerman honestly does wish to ameliorate or put to an end.
On point “b”, as pointed out by Sicilia (see issue no. 1988 of Proceso), even with AMLO in power, Abarca would’ve been mayor of Iguala, and thus the massacres still would’ve been perpetuated. Further, Sicilia points out that this is not a “person” or “individual” problem, but rather a structural one. So, to act as if a different political party, a party made up of functionaries who learned their politics in the existing structure, would change that structure becomes ludicrous. It demonstrates a profound lack of sociological understanding, and ignores that when many of the politicians who make up MORENA were in PRD, there were assassinations in states under their control. As Sicilia says, “sirs, you all lack humility, self-criticism, and analytic profundity.”
On point “c”, the only reason to reform a system is if the system only needs to be tweaked. If a system forces 44.2% of its people to live poverty, if it cannot feed daily 19.7% of its population, if almost a full half of its economy is informal (see Alejandro Portes’ work), if it has mass femicides, disappearances, homicides, kidnappings, rapes, and torture, much of it committed by the state itself, is that system worth reforming? Elect someone new, and how will they then be able to deal with so much rot? This a serious question, reform or revolution, or in the case of Sicilia and Vera, a new popular constitutional assembly. No one is ceding a battlefield, because it is already charred black and smells of burnt flesh.
On point “d”, Ackerman derives his point most likely from the work of sociologist Pablo González Casanova in Democracy in Mexico, in which González Casanova utilizes statistical data on the number of strikes and policy decisions of Mexican Presidents to show a correlation between left-leaning presidents and increased labor action. However, the current moment is not reflective of the 30s to 60s period studied by González Casanova with its rhetoric of revolutionary nationalism, its murals unifying the proletarian, peasant, and indigenous identities, which quickly turned into a paternalistic, authoritarian state, and then into a neoliberal, corrupt, and fraudulent state. This is once more, a problematic point, one that does not recognize the extent of the problem, and incorrectly produces the causal direction. Social movements make the space for their own organic politicians to rise.
So, I think Ackerman should rethink his argument. His analysis is typically powerful and on point. But, he has decided, as have many others in Mexico, including my favorite writer, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, to put their energy behind the vote, the vote for MORENA. This tactical question becomes something much more, it becomes also the future. And, maybe I am wrong, maybe Sicilia is, maybe the Zapatistas are, maybe the parents of the 43 students are wrong for rejecting AMLO and MORENA. I do not think so, not when the evidence seems to be clear, that a fundamental institutional restructuring is necessary. Imagine if Elena Poniatowska called for revolution, instead of a vote for MORENA. Imagine if we left fear of the unknown behind and began to trust in the informal inertia of the Mexican Moment.
To demonstrate my gratitude to Javier Sicilia, who writings have inspired me over the past three years, I would like to repeat his demands:
“the San Andres Accords must be respected, stop the war, free José Manuel Mireles, his self-defense forces, Nestora Salgado, Mario Luna, and all political prisoners, bring justice for the victims of violence, judge the criminal politicians, and boycott the elections.”
Andrew Smolski is a writer.