Workers Vanguard No. 1057
28 November 2014
Mexico Erupts Over Massacre of Rural Students
Unions Must Mobilize Against State Repression!
The September 26 kidnapping and disappearance of 43 young normalistas (teachers-in-training) from a rural college in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, has unleashed fury and a wave of protests across Mexico. In one of the largest demonstrations in years, on the November 20 anniversary of the start of the 1910-20 Mexican Revolution, tens of thousands marched in Mexico City calling for justice and demanding the resignation of PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) president Enrique Peña Nieto.
The uncovering of multiple mass graves last month was a sign that the missing normalistas, who attended a school with a long tradition of leftist activism, were likely butchered. The 43 were part of a larger group of normalistas attacked by municipal police and armed thugs in Iguala, Guerrero, in an ambush that left six people dead. Shortly afterward, one student was found with his eyes gouged out and skin peeled from his face. After several weeks of ducking the issue, the government announced that three detained gang hit men allegedly confessed to killing and incinerating the 43 students, tossing the remains into a river.
The slayings in Guerrero—one of Mexico’s poorest states, with a large indigenous population—have captured the world’s attention and touched a nerve across a wide swath of the Mexican population. People from different social strata and political perspectives have come out in protest, from sections of the well-off petty bourgeoisie to rural students and teachers, from workers to machete-brandishing peasants. The most popular slogans include: “We are all Ayotzinapa,” “We want them back alive” and “It was the state!”
Last week’s rallies followed two months of social upheaval over the disappearances, with demonstrators across the country blocking highways and airports, shutting down universities and torching government buildings and political party headquarters. Fretting over the current turmoil, an editorial in La Jornada (17 November) asserted that “the stability and social peace of the country are in a state of precariousness without precedent in decades.”
At one of the November 20 protests, riot police attacked hundreds of students trying to block access to the Mexico City airport. Youth fought back with rocks and Molotov cocktails. Many were beaten and 16 were arrested. At the main Zócalo square, where an effigy of the president was set ablaze, hundreds of riot police tear-gassed and assaulted protesters and arrested at least 15 others. Eleven of those arrested have been slammed with outrageous charges, including attempted murder. Free them all! Drop all charges!
Peña Nieto and his ruling gang have threatened more state repression while the Mexican bourgeoisie’s media mouthpieces rant against “violent anarchists.” At the protests, many have echoed this violence-baiting by denouncing encapuchados (activists wearing hoods or face masks). Others have shown petty-bourgeois disdain for working-class and poor youth by referring to them with the racist epithet nacos.
The Mexican capitalist rulers are longtime practitioners of the art of aristocratic contempt for the urban and rural masses. Attorney General Murillo Karam’s attempt to cut short questions about the disappearance of the students with his now notorious comment, “Ya me cansé” (I’ve had enough), gave protesters a rallying cry. People have had enough of not only narco-violence and state repression but also the desperate economic situation, cutbacks to basic services and attacks on students and the labor movement alike. Adding insult to injury is the extravagant wealth flaunted by corrupt government officials. Now the president and his wife are embroiled in a scandal involving a massive high-speed rail contract and a multimillion-dollar mansion.
It is in the direct interest of the urban industrial proletariat to throw its social weight behind the protests. The attacks on the normalistas come on top of an ongoing capitalist offensive against the organized working class, including the destruction of the SME electrical workers union in 2009 and the on-and-off push to dismantle the oil workers union, still the most powerful in the country. The working class, uniquely positioned as the producers of society’s wealth, can withdraw its labor and cut off the flow of profits, paralyzing the entire economy. It is that power that needs to be mobilized in the struggle against bloody state repression.
Capitalist Brutality and the Bourgeois Parties
The savagery of the Guerrero massacre graphically highlights the deep interpenetration of bourgeois politicians and the police with the drug cartels. The slogan “Que se vayan todos!” (Throw them all out!) captures the massive distrust of the three leading capitalist parties in Mexico: the ruling PRI, which previously lorded it over the country for seven decades, the clerical reactionaries of the PAN (National Action Party) and the left-talking bourgeois-nationalist PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution).
The PRI’s Peña Nieto was elected two years ago after 12 years of neoliberal austerity under the right-wing PAN. Ever since, he has tried to make the country more attractive to U.S. capital, winning laurels from the U.S. media for “saving Mexico.” His administration pushed through the “Pact for Mexico”—with support from the PAN and initially the PRD—which aims to smash the unions and ram through privatizations (see “‘Pact for Mexico’: War on Workers, Poor,” WV No. 1019, 8 March 2013).
For years, discontent with the PRI’s repressive and corrupt rule was co-opted by the PRD, a populist opposition party that emerged out of the PRI some 25 years ago. But now its own bloody dagger has been revealed to all. It was under the orders of the (now arrested) PRD mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, that police and the local drug cartel Guerreros Unidos—to which Abarca has family ties—carried out the kidnapping and massacre of the Ayotzinapa normalistas. Last year, Abarca was accused of shooting a kidnapped activist in the face. The widely reviled PRD governor of Guerrero, Ángel Aguirre, who recently stepped down amid the outrage over the disappeared students, is reportedly tied to the notorious Beltrán Leyva drug cartel. In 2011, Aguirre unleashed state terror against a protest by Ayotzinapa normalistas, leaving two dead.
With the PRD facing the worst crisis in its history, party founder Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas issued an open letter to members lamenting the loss of its “credibility,” “broad militant base” and “moral authority.” The discrediting of the PRD will in all likelihood work to the advantage of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (commonly known as AMLO), who left the party after the last national elections to form the Movement for National Regeneration (Morena). Today, López Obrador is calling for a truth commission and has joined forces with those calling for Peña Nieto’s resignation. AMLO, who began his political career in the PRI, personifies the “left” strain of Mexican bourgeois nationalism. His role is to keep social discontent within the bounds of bourgeois politics, promoting hope in a “regenerated” capitalist Mexico.
Many believe that protest and reform can clean out official corruption and make the government accountable. But the government is only ever going to be accountable to the capitalist class it serves. No matter whether the PRI, PAN, PRD or Morena is in charge, the capitalist state is an instrument for organized violence and brutality dedicated to maintaining the profit system. It cannot be reformed to serve the interests of the exploited and oppressed.
We solidarize with the students and families of the victims of state terror who demand to know the truth about the disappeared normalistas. However, we warn that government investigations serve to deflect justified anger while whitewashing the crimes of the capitalist state. Our comrades of the Grupo Espartaquista de México stress the need to mobilize the working class, linking the defense of the victims of state terror with the cause of all the downtrodden. This must be part of a fight to shatter the capitalist order and its repressive machinery and establish a workers and peasants government.
Normales, Rural Misery and State Repression
The Ayotzinapa students were ambushed while on a caravan to raise money to join October 2 rallies commemorating the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre of militant student protesters in Mexico City. The calculated, wanton slaughter in Tlatelolco plaza came at the hands of army troops, police and undercover agents, who killed hundreds and locked away thousands in prison. The attack was then covered up for years through official denial and a media blackout.
The slaughter at Tlatelolco, along with the infamous 1971 “Corpus Christi” massacre of student protesters, occurred during Mexico’s guerra sucia (dirty war), which lasted until the early 1980s. The disappearances, killings and torture of thousands of leftists, militant workers and peasants are not forgotten pages in Mexican history, and many are now drawing analogies between Tlatelolco then and Ayotzinapa now. In the late ’60s, murderous state repression and right-wing violence against student militants, carried out under the rule of the PRI, were aimed at putting down convulsive social struggle. This was unfolding against an international backdrop of the radicalizing Vietnam antiwar movement and a general strike in France in May 1968 that threw that country into a prerevolutionary situation.
One factor in the widespread tumult today over the Ayotzinapa massacre is the bourgeoisie’s decades-long war on free public education. The capitalist rulers strip education to a bare minimum, especially for poor peasants and indigenous people, who are deemed a mere surplus population. But the Mexican masses keenly feel the need for education and have confronted state forces in struggle over this basic right. Last year, government education “reform” aimed primarily at destroying the largest teachers union in Latin America, the SNTE/CNTE, met with considerable mobilizations on the part of teachers and their allies. The bourgeoisie no doubt wants to “teach a lesson” to the normalistas, intimidating and vilifying them before they go on to join the ranks of the union.
Rural teachers colleges emerged out of the social reforms that followed the Mexican Revolution, particularly in the 1930s around the populist-nationalist regime of Lázaro Cárdenas. In addition to such progressive acts as expropriating the petroleum industry and carrying out some land distribution, Cárdenas enshrined so-called “socialist” education in the 1934 constitution. These measures were broadly popular among the masses, helping in turn to seal their support for the ruling party (predecessor to the PRI) as it consolidated the state’s corporatist structure. For the bourgeoisie, these measures had the effect of quelling peasant unrest and furthering the interests of Mexican capitalism, including by training the working class to be more productive wage slaves.
For some time, the rural normales have been under siege, starved for funds and regularly targeted by the police. Before 1969, 29 such schools were in operation; only 17 are open today. Painted as “Bolshevik kindergartens” and “seedbeds for guerrillas,” they are condemned for providing education to the poorest of Mexico’s poor. Normalistas have a history of political radicalism, and many leftists in the 1970s, like guerrilla leader Lucio Cabañas, began their activism at the teachers colleges. For the dispossessed villagers, becoming a teacher is a step up from a life of peasant toil. Rural teachers also see the dissemination of knowledge and teaching youth to read and write in both indigenous languages and Spanish as a social obligation to their impoverished communities. Although they do not have a direct relationship to the means of production, teachers constitute an important link between the countryside and the urban proletariat.
The indigenous population in Mexico lives in miserable destitution marked by starvation, high rates of illiteracy and the lack of basic services. Twenty years of NAFTA imperialist free trade have devastated the Mexican countryside. U.S.-produced corn and beans, mainstays of the diet of the poor, took over the market. With millions of peasants pushed into the cities, urban poverty skyrocketed, as did the numbers of those emigrating to el norte. Unable to compete with U.S. agribusiness, many peasants remaining on the land have had to rely on drug cultivation for their livelihood.
In Guerrero, poppies have become an important cash crop, accounting for 60 percent of the country’s opium cultivation. The region is seen as the epicenter of “lawlessness” in a ruthless collision of abysmal poverty with state militarization under the “war on drugs.” Gruesome torture and shootouts between competing drug cartels and their police adjuncts are commonplace. In a state long known for murderous repression against leftists, indigenous communities and militant teachers, there is an ominous shadow of the guerra sucia in the government’s so-called war against narco-violence. In fact, the massive deployment of the military has nothing to do with protecting the population but rather bolsters the capitalist state’s repressive powers against the volatile, impoverished masses.
Since 2006, over 100,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in the country. While Washington politicians decry the chaos of Mexico’s drug wars, the imperialist economic domination of Mexico imposed the wretched conditions that are the breeding ground for the spiraling violence. In the name of combating drug trafficking, the U.S. since 2008 has drastically increased military aid to Mexico under the Merida Initiative, a total of $3 billion to date. Under that initiative, the U.S. Department of Defense pours resources into training the Mexican police and armed forces, who in turn intensify repression of the working class and urban and rural poor.
The Wall Street Journal (22 November) has now revealed that U.S. marshals are covertly working directly alongside Mexican marines in drug raids. Mexico’s booming drug trade mainly supplies the U.S. market, particularly the demand for heroin and marijuana. We call for the decriminalization of drugs, which by taking the superprofits out of the drug trade would reduce the crime associated with it. Down with the Merida Initiative and all U.S. military aid to Mexico!
For Workers Revolution on Both Sides of the Border!
The killing of the Ayotzinapa students was the last straw for the multitudes fed up with poverty, austerity and repression. But the hunger for jobs, housing, education and a decent life cannot be satisfied under capitalism. The ICL bases itself on Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution for countries of belated development like Mexico: to eradicate the poverty of the countryside, emancipate the country from the yoke of imperialism and resolve other burning social problems, it is necessary to overthrow capitalist rule. This is the historic task of the powerful and combative industrial working class, standing at the head of the poor peasantry and all the oppressed.
The liberation of the working class and the oppressed in Mexico is thoroughly bound up with that of workers in the U.S. A proletarian revolution in Mexico could not survive without its extension to the north. Conversely, a proletarian revolution in the U.S. would draw heavily on the millions of immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere who make up a key component of the multiracial working class. It is incumbent on labor in the imperialist behemoth to champion full citizenship rights for all immigrants as part of advancing the unity in struggle of the working class on both sides of the border.
As the ICL’s Mexican section, the GEM stresses that the major political obstacle to overcome is the illusion that Mexicans of all social classes share a common interest. This fundamental tenet of nationalism serves to tie the working class and the poor to the capitalist order. To wage a revolutionary struggle against the bourgeoisie and its political parties, the Mexican proletariat requires a Trotskyist vanguard party. Such a party would also attract militants, including student radicals, looking for a way out. The needs of the bulk of the population can only be met through a socialist revolution that expropriates the bourgeoisie and establishes a collectivized, planned economy. And only then can we avenge the martyrs of Tlatelolco, Ayotzinapa and beyond.