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Workers Vanguard No. 1032

18 October 2013

Defend the Nationalized Energy Industry!

Mexican Government Drives to Privatize Oil

The following article was translated and excerpted from Espartaco No. 39 (September 2013). Espartaco is published by the Grupo Espartaquista de México, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).

Since the 1980s, the PRI [currently ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party] and PAN [National Action Party] governments have been set on privatizing anything in state hands that can be soldfrom bicycle and textile factories to strategic industries such as railways and telecommunications. But the real jackpot that the U.S. imperialists (and some domestic magnates) have been waiting for is the oil industry, nationalized by Lázaro Cárdenas in 1938. Although the 2008 energy reform act opened the door to private participation in limited areas of the energy industry, no government had dared, until now, to push for privatization. This is a potentially explosive question, since large masses of Mexican workers and poor regard the oil expropriation as a historic gain, deeply connected with their heartfelt democratic aspirations, particularly national emancipation. Tens of thousands have been taking to the streets in protests initiated by Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the PRD [Party of the Democratic Revolution].

The proposal by [President Enrique] Peña Nieto would essentially open up the whole process related to oil and gas to national and foreign private capital, from the exploration and extraction of fossil fuels and the processing of natural gas to the sale of electricity. Unlike what happens with the service contracts that are currently permitted, this reform would allow private capital to keep the profits (despite not being legal owners of the natural resources). A proposal put forward by the PAN would likewise amount to the privatization of the industry. The government and the PRI claim that its reform is not privatization because [state-owned oil company] Pemex will not be sold “not even a screw.” But basically, all of its operations will be opened for private investment!

As revolutionary Marxists, we defend the nationalized energy industry as an elementary measure of neocolonial Mexico’s defense against imperialism. As Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotskyco-leader with Lenin of the 1917 Russian Revolutionwrote in defense of the oil expropriation against the schemes and attacks of the British imperialists, who were affected the most by the nationalization:

“The oil magnates are not rank-and-file capitalists, not ordinary bourgeoisie. Having seized the richest natural resources of a foreign country, standing on their billions and supported by the military and diplomatic forces of their metropolis, they strive to establish in the subjugated country a regime of imperialistic feudalism, subordinating to themselves legislation, jurisprudence, and administration. Under these conditions expropriation is the only effective means of safeguarding national independence and the elementary conditions of democracy.”

“Mexico and British Imperialism” (June 1938)

For a Workers and Peasants Government!

As Trotsky himself explained, “The expropriation of oil is neither socialism nor communism.” Although it raises an obstacle to imperialist dominance, the nationalization of oil or other strategic industries does not lead, in and of itself, to genuine national emancipation. We Spartacists base ourselves on Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, confirmed by the Russian Revolution, which maintains that the bourgeoisie of backward countries like Mexico, no matter how radical its political representatives might sound, is incapable of solving the historic tasks associated with the bourgeois-democratic revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries. The problems of political democracy, agrarian revolution and independent national development can be solved only under the class rule of the proletariat, through socialist revolution.

The working class in power cannot stop at these democratic tasks but must immediately move forward to the socialist tasksthe expropriation of the bourgeoisie as a class and the establishment of a collectivized, planned economy. The revolution must be extended internationally. The survival of the revolution in Mexico and its subsequent development toward socialism is unthinkable, economically and militarily, without the help of the multiracial U.S. proletariat. A workers revolution in Mexico would give a formidable impulse to revolution north of the Río Bravo. The proletariat in the U.S. must make its power felt in joint class struggle with its Mexican brothers and sisters against the designs of the capitalist rulers.

Break with the Bourgeois Nationalists!

Imperialist penetration has developed a powerful proletariat in Mexico. The national bourgeoisie, fearful of the working class and tied by a thousand threads to its imperialist masters, zigzags between these two poles at different times. As Trotsky explained, to the extent that the capitalist government tries to offer some resistance to excessive imperialist demands, it must lean on the proletariat. This was the case back in the 1930s with Lázaro Cárdenas, who stimulated national capitalist development through some nationalizations and secured the support of workers and peasants in the face of imperialist bullying. On the other hand, the governments in backward countries that consider it unavoidable or more advantageous to walk hand in hand with foreign capital destroy workers organizations and establish more or less totalitarian regimes.

Until the 1980s, PRI governments after Cárdenas pursued, to a greater or lesser extent, these nationalist politics. Mexican bourgeois nationalists maintained relative stability in the imperialists’ backyard for half a century through brutal repression against striking workers, the left, union dissidents and rural guerrillas and, at the same time, granting significant concessions to the working class and the peasantry and carrying out some nationalizations. More recently, the Mexican rulers have been impelled by the economic crisis, their own ideological inclinations and certainly the counterrevolutionary destruction of the USSR in 1991-92which removed a global counterweight to U.S. imperialismto open the doors to unbridled plundering of the country by the imperialists. This was done particularly but not exclusively through NAFTA, the treaty for the imperialist rape of Mexico.

If there is something that Mexico’s recent history demonstrates, it is that neoliberalism and populism are but two sides of the same coin. The PRD and Morena [López Obrador’s Movement for National Regeneration] represent a nationalist wing of the bourgeoisie which strives to return to some version of the old PRI populism; these organizations serve the class interests of the Mexican bourgeoisie, and through this agency, the interests of world imperialism.

In any case, the PRD has a lot of gall posing as an opposition to energy privatization. Last year this party, along with the PRI and PAN, signed the “Pact for Mexico,” which includes pushing forward “the necessary reforms to create a competitive environment for the economic activities of refining, petrochemical processing and transportation of fossil fuels”the core of Peña Nieto’s reform. Now the PRD, which also lost face after its support to the sinister education reform, has resurrected Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, son of General Lázaro Cárdenas, to launch a campaign against privatization. [For more on these issues, see “‘Pact for Mexico’: War on Workers, Poor,” WV No. 1019, 8 March.]

Government Hands Off the Oil Workers Union!

Privatization will also mean attacks on the oil workers union and the labor gains of its members. Given the strategic nature of the oil industry and the state monopoly, the oil workers union is the most powerful in the country. The Economist magazine (10 August) declares that one of the problems with Pemex is that “it has never been treated as a profit-making company”; company revenues account for some 40 percent of the government’s income instead of being reinvested. The same article complains that the “bloated and pampered” union is a burden on the company because many workers cannot be fired even when the wells they work have dried up. An article in Letras Libres (September 2008) lamented: “Currently, union members at Pemex enjoy the best contract of all public employees” and “are the only ones with their own health care system, which currently includes dozens of doctors’ offices, 15 clinics and 22 hospitals.” Oil workers are also entitled to a bonus equaling 60 days’ wages as well as significant company support for renting, buying, building, remodeling or repairing a house, among other benefits. These are gains worth defending and extending!

Carlos Romero Deschamps, head of the union and also a PRI senator, has avoided taking a clear position on Peña Nieto’s reform. What he made clear, however, is that the union will “defend its rights through dialogue” and not by mobilizing: “Unionized oil workers will not behave like the teachers in the National Coordination of Education Workers (CNTE) when energy reform is taken up” (El Economista, 21 August).

For the time being, the PRI does not seem keen on going after the union on the eve of the vote on its reform. But neither the PAN nor the PRD nor Morena misses any opportunity to demand state action against the union. PRD head Jesús Zambrano declared that there can be no further development of the oil industry “on the basis of the corruption underlying the quasi-state company’s union” (La Jornada, 19 March). In fact, the demand “Out with Romero Deschamps!” is part of Morena’s “energy proposal.”

Workers must oppose any intervention by the bourgeois state in the unions. Romero Deschamps is undoubtedly a corrupt and gangster-like bureaucrat, but the working class must clean its own house. As shown by the “Quinazo” and the “Elbazo” [referring respectively to the incarceration of a long-serving leader of the oil workers union and, earlier this year, the head of the SNTE teachers union], state intervention in the basic defense organizations of the working class can have no goal other than furthering state control over the unions, if not their outright destruction. The capitalist stateat its core made up of the police, the army, the prisons and the courtsis a machine of systematic repression directed against all the exploited and the oppressed. It operates at the service of the bourgeoisie in order to keep the working class under submission and to secure capitalist class rule. The state cannot be reformed to serve the interests of the working class; it must be destroyed through socialist revolution and replaced by a workers state that defends proletarian class rule.

The oil workers union, like other unions, is led by a pro-capitalist bureaucracy that acts to defend its own privileges. The bureaucracies that support the PRI generally stave off the membership through the fist of repression, while those loyal to the PRD more often resort to nationalist ideology to push class collaboration and illusions in the state. But whatever their ideology or political differences, all of these bureaucracies beg the state to be their protector and, frequently, their arbiter.

Trotsky’s program of permanent revolution is the alternative to trusting in fantasies that the backward Mexican bourgeoisie, lackey of imperialism, will be a vehicle for liberation. As communists, the Grupo Espartaquista de México, together with our comrades throughout the International Communist League, fight for an international socialist economy through new October Revolutions around the world in order to end imperialism and every form of exploitation and oppression.


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