Workers Vanguard No. 1055

31 October 2014


Self-Defense vs. Vigilantism

Mexico: Community Police and the War on Drugs

For the Decriminalization of Drugs!

The following article is translated from Espartaco No. 38 (June 2013), newspaper of the Grupo Espartaquista de México, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).

During the last year [2012-13], various “self-defense” groups or “community police” have emerged in rural areas, mainly in the states of Guerrero and Michoacán. These groups model themselves after the Regional Coordinating Committee of Community Authorities-Community Police (CRAC) of Guerrero, founded in 1995 by overwhelmingly indigenous communities in Guerrero’s La Montaña and Costa Chica areas. The embrace of such “alternative security” schemes by nearly all of the left is rooted in a sub-reformist liberal perspective. Far from fighting for the destruction of the bourgeois state through workers revolution and the building of a workers state, these leftists seek to paint a democratic gloss on the bosses’ state. As long as capitalism is not overthrown, any group dedicated to “fighting crime” will act as an auxiliary of the capitalist state and will have, in the final analysis, a fundamentally reactionary character.

Drug Violence, Misery and Oppression

The spread of these groups in poor and mostly rural and indigenous communities is a desperate response to the violence of the drug cartels, police/military brutality under the “war on drugs” and the overall criminality associated with growing misery. This “war on drugs”—which as of last year had cost the lives of some 60,000 people—has nothing to do with “protecting” the population. The police, the army, the courts and the prisons—the core of the capitalist state—exist to uphold the dictatorship of capital. And everybody knows that the Mexican capitalist state apparatus, from the state ministries down to the beat cops, is deeply interpenetrated with the drug cartels. The main goal of the “war on drugs” is to strengthen the repressive powers of the capitalist state. Although the occasional raid on some big-time dealer’s mansion might grab the headlines, the “war on drugs” means sowing terror in the barrios and poor villages throughout the entire country, from Baja California to Chiapas and Yucatán.

In Guerrero over the past 50 years, the daily brutality of the capitalist state’s repressive forces has targeted indigenous communities, militant teachers and normalistas [teachers-in-training] and various leftist guerrilla groups. Historically dominated by a particularly savage and retrograde mafia of latifundistas [wealthy landowners], corrupt bourgeois politicians and businessmen, Guerrero epitomizes the race and class bias of backward Mexican capitalism. The over half a million indigenous people in the state—Nahuas, Mixtecs (ñuu savi), Tlapanecos (me’phaa), Amuzgos (suljaa’)—as well as a significant black population, live in utmost destitution. Neighboring Cochoapa el Grande and Metlatónoc, in La Montaña, have the highest percentages of people living in extreme poverty in the country: 82.6 and 77 percent, respectively. According to figures from the last decade, 46 percent of Guerrero’s indigenous people 15 years of age and older had no income, half the indigenous population was illiterate and 97 percent of those living in the Montaña had no sewage system. Less than half of Guerrero’s population had electricity and 96 percent of the indigenous population had no access to health services. For the Mexican bourgeoisie, the indigenous peasants, especially in Guerrero’s Montaña, are simply surplus population. Thus, the broader context for the emergence of “self-defense” groups is not just the relatively recent “war on drugs” but also age-old extreme misery and violence.

Down With Vigilantism!

The desperation of these communities in the face of a new wave of violence is understandable. Communists are not bleeding-heart liberals who preach “Christian concern” for the downtrodden lumpen criminals marauding in the streets, killing, maiming, raping and robbing hapless citizens. However, to patrol territory to hunt down alleged criminals is not self-defense, but vigilantism. While we uphold the right of individuals to genuinely defend themselves, we sharply oppose any kind of vigilantism. We do not call upon the working masses to implement the bosses’ and latifundistas’ racist “law and order.”

Ultimately, the solution to out-of-control crime rates is the abolition of the capitalist system that breeds misery and crime. In the meantime, it is elementary that the whole population should have access to firearms, i.e., not just the rich, cops and criminals, to protect itself from this odious and irrational social order. And it is equally elementary to call for the decriminalization of drugs. By eliminating the superprofits derived from the illegal and underground nature of the drug trade, decriminalization would also reduce crime and its related social pathologies.

The criminalization of everything drug-related has given rise to the formation of brutal mafias. Everyone knows that thousands of poor peasants throughout the country plant marijuana and poppies, which they then sell to the kingpins. However, for the CRAC community police, not only planting and selling marijuana but even consuming it “is a harshly penalized crime” (María Teresa Sierra, “Construyendo seguridad y justicia en los márgenes del Estado: La experiencia de la policía comunitaria de Guerrero, México,” August 2010, on the CRAC’s website The group also punishes the simple possession of drugs as well as drug addiction.

Autonomy and “Security”

While trying to co-opt the CRAC, the bourgeois state views it with suspicion. Although the CRAC collaborates with the state, it is still an armed group of indigenous, poor peasants that does not necessarily function under state authority. The community police have arrested ordinary cops who infringe on their territory, and have mobilized against government and mining company plans to drive them off their meager land. More recently, a section of the CRAC mobilized with the Guerrero teachers’ union local in the struggle against the education “reform” [enacted in 2013].

The CRAC community police are broadly perceived as a guarantor of regional autonomy in the face of racist oppression and constant state abuse, and they seem to have significant support among communities in the region. We oppose any attack or encroachment on these indigenous communities by the bourgeois state in its attempts to assert control over the area. But a regional autonomous police force—whether official or de facto—is still a police force subordinated to the rule of capital.

At the same time that we demand the bourgeois state respect the agreements and orders granting autonomy to some communities, we do not raise the demand for autonomy, given that it is ultimately utopian under capitalism. The autonomous regions, with limited rights to the land, frequently come into conflict with landowners and prospective industrial enterprises, as is the case in Guerrero. What is needed is a workers and peasants government—the dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the peasantry, in which workers and peasants would direct the future of society through soviets, or councils. Only such a government can grant and guarantee true autonomy for indigenous communities as part of a conscious and planned effort to eliminate age-old rural misery and the divide between the city and the countryside.

We understand, more fundamentally, that the peasantry on its own is incapable of putting forward an alternative to the capitalist system of exploitation. The peasantry is a heterogeneous petty-bourgeois stratum; its objective interests as a social stratum lie in private ownership of land. As such, the peasantry—and the petty-bourgeoisie as a whole—cannot present its own revolutionary program. It always trails behind one of the two fundamental classes in society: the proletariat or the bourgeoisie.

The Left and the Reactionary Fraud of “Citizens’ Security”

The CRAC embodies the program of Catholic theologian Javier Sicilia, whose bourgeois-liberal movement from a few years ago focused on providing the capitalist state with a “new strategy for citizens’ security” in order to “confront the root cause of organized crime” (see Espartaco No. 34, Autumn 2011). And the bulk of the left tails the liberal bourgeoisie. Just like back when the pseudo-Trotskyist Liga de Trabajadores por el Socialismo (LTS, League of Workers for Socialism) hailed Sicilia’s movement as a “great democratic movement,” today it enthuses over the new “self-defense” groups that it sees as “people’s security organizations,” which “directly question the State” (“Sobre las policías comunitarias y los ‘grupos de autodefensa’,” Estrategia Obrera, 4 April 2013). On the other hand, the LTS complains that the community police “have the limitation that they restrict themselves to the framework of the law.”

The fundamental problem with the CRAC and similar groups is not that they limit themselves “to the framework of the law,” but that their very reason for existing is to implement the “law and order” of the bourgeois state. It is false that the community police “directly question the State”—the only thing these groups question is the state’s effectiveness in “fighting crime.” Even though the CRAC has had a rocky relationship with the state and has denounced competing “self-defense” groups for taking payment from the government, the fact is that from the get-go the CRAC has tried time and again to obtain state patronage as an autonomous police force—and it has often succeeded. In the late ’90s, Guerrero’s then-interim governor Aguirre Rivero handed arms and a vehicle over to the CRAC (Verónica Oikión Solano, et al., Movimientos armados en México, siglo XX [2008]). A year ago, as the elected Party of the Democratic Revolution [PRD] governor Aguirre Rivero enthusiastically praised the CRAC and promised to deliver over 200 AR-15 assault rifles (which apparently he never delivered), radios and uniforms (Milenio, 29 May 2012). This year, he gave the community police a million and a half pesos [about $110,000], 1,200 uniforms and four trucks (La Jornada Guerrero, 22 January 2013).

Last April, the teachers union local formed an alliance with the Tixtla CRAC that gave rise to the Guerrero Popular Movement. We oppose this type of bloc: the CRAC, though it has contradictions (in fact, there is an overlap between the CRAC and the teachers union) is a police-vigilante force entirely alien to the workers movement. It should be elementary for the workers movement to distance itself from organizations whose express goal is “fighting crime.” But this alliance provoked a renewed conflict between the CRAC and the state. In the face of this conflict, it was the CRAC who broke the bloc: a few weeks later, three out of the four CRAC “Houses of Justice” disassociated themselves from the Guerrero Popular Movement and the teachers union “until new agreements are made” (La Jornada Guerrero, 1 May 2013).

Soon after, Governor Aguirre Rivero met with CRAC authorities to mend fences. The governor declared, in reference to the failed alliance between the CRAC and the teachers union, that “those who want to do politics, let them go to a political party, but let them not contaminate the CRAC [which] was born with noble purposes.” Thereupon, he handed over three ambulances, announced the construction of four houses of justice for the CRAC—each at a cost, he said, of 5.7 million pesos—and promised: “I’m going to raise your subsidy from 500,000 to a million pesos.” A CRAC coordinator limited himself to demanding “a security plan with your government, jointly with the Secretary of National Defense through the Ninth Military Region” (La Jornada, 17 May 2013). So much for their “directly questioning the state”—and their “refusal” to take money from the government!

It is noteworthy that the LTS enthuses over the spread of “new self-defense groups with more radical methods than those of the CRAC, who caused the death of people at their checkpoints.” The LTS explains that “the CRAC has disassociated itself [from these new groups] by saying that [those groups] are loyal to the politics of Aguirre Rivero and may even be linked to criminal groups.” The LTS concludes: “Without denying the possibility that these or other groups may eventually be co-opted, what we see today is that they are more determined to fend off the attacks of drug traffickers in their communities.” The LTS does not bother to explain which groups they are referring to or who was killed. But in any case, their position is the height of reformist idiocy, a veiled call for lynchings, and an example of vicarious bloodthirstiness—something easy to write from an office in Mexico City.

Here’s an example of this kind of “radicalism”: last January, a “Citizens Movement” in Atliaca, Guerrero, killed a young driver, Benito García Hernández, who was never proven to have committed a crime. García Hernández was detained at a checkpoint and, according to these self-styled “community police,” was killed—with three shots, one to the temple—because “he tried to escape” (La Jornada Guerrero, 25 January 2013). A “radical” fight against “crime,” indeed. In its vigilante zeal, the LTS of course omits any mention of its formal position for the “legalization of drugs” from its article.

The Oppression of Women and “Customs and Traditions”

Favorable writings on the CRAC highlight the concept of “customs and traditions” that provides the foundation for its decisions. According to reports, the CRAC has implemented a judicial system based on “reeducation” in contrast to the “eye for an eye” of bourgeois “justice.” Perhaps. But this does not preclude the arbitrariness of its decisions or the reactionary character of peasant backwardness. The concept of “customs and traditions” includes, among other retrograde elements, a tacit endorsement of the oppression of women as essentially the property of husbands, fathers or brothers. Whereas the condition of women in the more advanced capitalist countries demonstrates the limits of freedom and social progress under capitalism, in countries of belated capitalist development such as Mexico, the acute oppression and degradation of women is deeply rooted in precapitalist “tradition” and religious obscurantism. This oppression reaches simply grotesque levels in the countryside. In Cochoapa el Grande, 90 percent of women are sold into marriage; in Metlatónoc, the figure reaches 40 percent. According to the PRD municipal president of Cochoapa, “the selling of girls in this community...[takes place] by custom and social consent” (La Jornada, 3 December 2011). And the selling of wives is not just unique to Guerrero.

Already a few years ago, a women’s assembly demanded that the CRAC ban the selling of wives. We do not know whether the CRAC has accepted this proposal. What we do know is that among the “offenses” that it punishes with “reeducation” is “disrespecting parents” (Jesús Antonio de la Torre Rangel, “Sistema comunitario de justicia de la Montaña de Guerrero. Una historia actual de derecho antiguo” [2006], What will the CRAC do when a woman refuses to be sold, thus “disrespecting” her parents? What will the CRAC do when a woman “disrespects” her husband? Adultery, prostitution, abortion? We have no answers to these questions, but we have just as few illusions in peasant “justice” as we have in bourgeois justice. Even according to one of the few CRAC apologists who pays attention to the subject, “community justice continues to be a justice that does not provide for, in practice, the rights of women” (María Teresa Sierra, “Las mujeres indígenas ante la justicia comunitaria. Perspectivas desde la interculturalidad y los derechos,” Desacatos No. 31, September-December 2009).

We communists decisively oppose this concept of “customs and traditions,” which glorifies peasant backwardness. Revolutionaries are the most consistent champions of the elementary democratic rights of women, such as legal, free abortion and “equal pay for equal work.” At the same time, we understand that the oppression of women is rooted in the capitalist system and propagated through the family, the church and the state. We fight for the liberation of women through socialist revolution.

For a Workers and Peasants Government!

The elimination of rural misery and the age-old special oppression of indigenous people requires a socialist revolution that destroys the bourgeois state and builds a state dedicated to the defense of the proletariat as a new ruling class. It requires the expropriation of the expropriators for the economy to no longer be run for the profits of the few, but rather for the needs of the many. Because of its relationship to the means of production, the working class is the only class with the historic interest and the social power to lead the oppressed masses in the struggle for socialist revolution. We Spartacists fight to bring this consciousness to the working class and to forge a Leninist-Trotskyist workers party capable of leading an alliance of the urban industrial proletariat and the poor peasantry.

But in order for the proletarian revolution to survive when confronted by the imperialists and to effectively begin to eliminate poverty in the countryside and in the city, it is necessary to extend the revolution internationally, especially to the colossal power to the north. Only in the context of an international planned economy can industrial development comparable to that of the advanced countries be achieved. Only in that way can the isolation of the countryside be stamped out, and all advances—technological, cultural and other—be made available to the urban and rural working masses.

In the event of a revolutionary upsurge—a dual-power situation—ethnically integrated workers and poor peasants militias, with recognized authority among the masses of the barrios and indigenous villages, would certainly deal firmly and justly with lumpen violence. In the meantime, the “citizens’ security” schemes are a liberal fraud that can only divert the working and oppressed masses away from the perspective of taking their destiny in their own hands through proletarian revolution.