Mexico: Opportunism and sectarianism hamper left’s resistance to neoliberalism

"The Zapatistas’ anarchist strategic outlook, with their anti-theory 'no political line' position and their disdainful 'all politics is corrupt' led them to abstain from key struggles against neoliberalism."

By Rachel Evans and Tristan Parish

January 12, 2011 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- This is an examination of Mexico’s social movements, the political parties’ and organisations that lead them, and their tactical and strategic outlooks, as well as the left’s successes and failures in the fight against neoliberalism.

From 1994 onwards, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and the centre-left electoral formation, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), have been the organisations that have led the largest social movements in Mexico. Hence, the effectiveness of their strategies -- Zapatista anarchism and Party of the Democratic Revolution electoralism -- in resisting neoliberalism in Mexico will be examined.

Both the Zapatistas and the PRD are comprised of Trotskyist and ex-Communist Party currents, ex-Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) leaders and members, anarchists, Indigenous activists and progressive lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) groupings. The PRD appeared as a more organised force after the 1988 fraudulent elections. Born out of a movement against electoral deception, the PRD focused on an end to corrupt electoral politics and PRI political domination. It concentrated its efforts on winning parliamentary positions to transform Mexican politics, and this lent to opportunist moves by the PRD, and later a centrist tendency. However, a left-wing current within the PRD organised outside this electoral framework.

The EZLN (Zapatistas, named after peasant Mexican leader Emilio Zapata) appeared from outside the narrow parliamentary framework. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 heralded an “end of history”, “end of ideological extremism” discourse propagated by Francis Fukuyama and other pro-global North ideologues. This discourse left a political-ideological vacuum, filled by courageous acts of resistance by Indigenous and other progressive Mexicans in 1994. Acts of armed struggle by the EZLN raised the issues of Indigenous rights, and opposition to North American neoliberal policy. The Zapatistas took Mexico’s centre-stage and gathered significant international influence. They opened up a significant amount of democratic space and won tangible gains for Chiapas-based Indigenous Mexicans. Their influence lasted for much of the 1990s, but declined when they abstained from anti-privatisation and anti-fraud struggles. Initially revolutionary in their strategic approach, the EZLN developed an anarchist strategic outlook, and withheld support for city-based struggles. These campaigns revealed a hands-off and sectarian approach by the Zapatista movement to other social movements.

Initially the PRD and the EZLN supported each other, while maintaining organisational distance. Divisions between the two left forces deepened in 2001, when PRD senators passed an Indigenous autonomy bill, drafted by the Zapatistas, but modified by the ruling Party of National Action (PAN) and the PRI. The Zapatistas did not support the modified bill. Understandably furious at the PRD as a whole, the Zapatistas distanced themselves from the centre-left party, and tensions between Mexican city and rural resistance solidified.

Abstention from city struggles by the Zapatistas continued into a large campaign against electoral fraud in 2006 led by popular PRD presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador. While the campaign against fraud did not win, the battle better positioned Obrador and his left allies within the PRD – the Workers Party (PT) and Convergence, to stave off the proposed sell-off of Mexico’s state owned oil company. Conversely, within the PRD itself, the centrist parliamentary-focused wing consolidated its hold over the PRD after the anti-fraud campaign. In 2008, right-wing PRD deputies supported the petrol privatisation agenda against left-wing PRD deputies and activists who led the campaign against it. Cravenly pro-privatisation moves by right-wing PRD deputies, contradictory messages from the left and right wings of the party and internal fighting resulted in a reduction in support for the PRD. Obrador and the left parties in the PRD led a fight within the organisation to maintain an extra-parliamentary political approach, but they carried with them a discredited political beast. In the 2009 elections, the PRD suffered a massive decrease in votes.

As long as the strong Indigenous resistance led by the Zapatistas continues with its anarchist strategy and refuses to relate to the city-based trade unions and political parties; and while the PRD continues down an electorally focused path, Mexico’s left will find it hard to make significant gains. Additionally, while Obrador and the left parties that support him remain within the PRD, the left will find it hard to make advances. If Obrador and progressive parties within the PRD extract themselves from the discredited political machine, the left may be in a better position to fight neoliberalism. Additionally, the Zapatistas would have less of a basis to ignore Obrador and the movements he leads.

Part 1: Electoral fraud and the birth of the PRD

In the lead-up to Mexico’s fraudulent 1988 elections, the people were poorer than ever before. The majority of the population suffered from malnutrition (Reding, 1989, p. 26). “Total consumption of beef declined by 45 percent between 1982 and 1988, and consumption of beans—the major source of protein for the poor—fell by 34 percent in the same period” (Reding, p. 26), an extreme injustice when Mexico is the world’s sixth-largest oil producer (Benjamin 2008a, para 5). Mexicans were poor due to the implementation of neoliberal policies. In A Short History of Neoliberalism, writer Susan George explains “the whole point of neoliberalism is that the market mechanism should be allowed to direct the fate of human beings”. George summarises neoliberalism’s core ideals as “the notion of competition -- competition between nations, regions, firms and of course between individuals”, and structural aims consisting of “remunerating capital to the detriment of labour and thus moving wealth from the bottom of society to the top” (George 1999 para 6) She explains:

Another implication of competition as the central value of neoliberalism is that the public sector must be brutally downsized because it does not and cannot obey the basic law of competing for profits or for market share. Privatisation is one of the major economic transformations of the past twenty years. The trend began in Britain and has spread throughout the world (George 1999, para 17).

… neoliberalism is not a force like gravity but a totally artificial construct’ and charts it’s birth – from a tiny embryo at the University of Chicago with the philosopher-economist Friedrich von Hayek and his students like Milton Friedman at its nucleus…the neoliberals and their funders have created a huge international network of foundations, institutes, research centers, publications, scholars, writers and public relations hacks to develop, package and push their ideas and doctrine relentlessly… they have made neoliberalism seem as if it were the natural and normal condition of humankind (George 1999, para 7).

Neoliberal measures such as “liberalizing foreign investment laws, and subsidizing private enterprise with cheap oil, cheap rail rates, irrigation, and tax incentives” began under 1946 Mexico’s President Miguel Alemán, argues World Policy Institute author Andrew Reding (1989, p. 17). President Alemán (1946-1952) reversed the pro-poor policies implemented by “the peoples’ president” Lázaro Cárdenas’s (1934-1940). Cárdenas is a key political figure in Mexico’s left and progressive movements. As president, he proclaimed that Mexico was involved in “a national revolution moving towards a socialist one” (La Botz 2001, para 8). He expropriated Mexican oil from British and United States companies and invested significant state funds in infrastructure projects and “a vast land reform and organized peasants and workers into powerful national unions that succeeded in raising wage levels to an all-time high” (Reding 1989 p. 17). Conversely, President Miguel Alemán consolidated the Mexican elite’s political tool, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The PRI drove Mexico down a pro-business path.

From 1929 to 2000, Mexico was ruled by a single party, the PRI, which not only won all presidential elections, but also dominated both houses of the legislature, controlled all the state houses, named the judiciary, controlled the press, and ran the education system. So complete was PRI’s hegemony that knowing exactly where the party ended and the government began was difficult (Levy, Walton 2009 p. 311).

The PRI’s President Miguel de la Madrid (1982-1988) was in power in the lead-up to the fraudulent 1988 elections. He was an ardent neoliberal. He believed the best “strategy for rescuing Mexico from economic woe was to follow the strict, orthodox economic guidelines recommended by the International Monetary Fund: reduced government expenditures and impose controls on salaries, prices, and inflation” (Camp, 1999 p. 229). Consequently, Mexico’s workers were poorer than ten years earlier. “In 1988, the minimum salary in real terms in Mexico City was 46% below its 1980 levels” (Dominiquez, McCann 1995, p. 36). Adding to the PRI’s crisis of political legitimacy and Mexico’s economic pain, Mexico City was the scene of a big earthquake in 1985, which resulted in 10,000 deaths. According to an editor of daily newspaper La Jornada’s sexuality supplement, Letra S, Antonio Medina, “After this quake there was a huge rise in social activism. All types of social activism, women’s civil groups rallied around the crisis” (2009, personal communication, March 14)

The 1988 elections – breaking with the PRI machine

This level of poverty, the rise in social activism and corresponding low levels of political confidence in the PRI were the backdrop to the 1988 elections. The PRI’s 1988 presidential candidate – Carlos Salinas de Gortari – offered only more of the same neoliberal medicine (1989, Reding p. 22). In opposition, former president Lázaro Cárdenas’s son -- Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas -- formed the centre-left National Democratic Front (FDN) to contest the elections. The Mexican people were offered a real choice between a neoliberal program and a pro-Mexican, protectionist program. Prior to the elections, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas noted that “this administration has been letting foreigners take over our fundamental decisions. It has not acted in the interests of the country but of the foreigners who are against Mexico… It is a rationality that has made many Mexicans poor, that leaves important economic decisions to foreigners, that closes the channels of democratic expression” (Dominiquez, McCann 1995, p. 36). The FDN began to lead the polls. Faced with a massive swing to the FDN, the PRI stole the July 6, 1988, elections.

The ruling party shut down the computerized vote tabulation system on election day…when early returns showed returns showed Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas…leading in the race for the presidency. Independent counts based on tally sheets from 55% of polling locations where opposition parties were able to maintain poll watchers showed Cárdenas leading Salinas by 40 to 36 percent, and that the government has steadfastly refused to disclose results from the remaining 45 percent of polling locations. From incomplete and aggregate data released by the PRI-controlled Federal Electoral Commission, however, a team of statisticians has since been able to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the government resorted to wholesale inflation of its electoral totals in order to steal the election from Cárdenas (Reding 1989 p. 2).

Cárdenas did not lead a national resistance movement against the fraud, arguing “to do so would lead to a bloodbath” (La Botz 2001, para 20). A more resolute political character, Manuel Obrador, would lead a mass movement against fraud, eight years later. However, Cárdenas did re-organise the disunited left-wing forces within the FDN to form the more cohesive Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD). A project to ameliorate divisions among the left, the PRD was “a party dedicated to the democratization of Mexican politics and society, it was to set an example itself through internal democracy… Like the society it aimed for, it would be explicitly pluralistic, inviting the participation of `democrats and nationalists, socialists and Christians, liberals and ecologists’” (Reding 1989 p. 7). The party articulated an “explicit commitment to eradicating corporatism” (Reding 1989 p. 7). The PRD was an historic break from the PRI machine, centre-left in its program and contained many left militants and social movement leaders within its ranks. However, focusing on electoral fraud and vying for more positions in the corrupt electoral system, while attempting to be a party of the social movements placed the PRD in a contradiction.

Patria Jiménez, a PRD and Trotskyist PRT candidate for the 1997 elections elucidated the tensions within the new party.

The PRD’s birth, in May 1989, culminated in a fusion of the social movements. Many PRD leaders were expelled from the PRI. They broke with the PRI, but also conformed with power politics. Others saw the PRD as a democratic front… Within and around the PRD was the peasant movement, workers movement, gay, lesbian and feminist movement, petrol workers… Some Marxists are within the PRD. (2009, personal communication, April 3).

José Ayala, a leader of “probably the most democratic and independent of the public sector worker unions” (Levy, Walton 2009 p. 188) – the Mexican Electricity Union (SME) -- said of PRD’s failings, “The PRD is a product of the PRI… From this, the PRD has a weakness in that it is very electoral” (2009, personal communication, July 6). An electoral strategy led the PRD down an opportunist, class-collaborationist path. Marxist Jonathan Strauss defines opportunism as “its identification of a relatively privileged stratum in the working class as a social basis within the working class for class-collaborationist politics” (Strauss para 17). Mexico is rich in natural resources, and profits from their exploitation provide the material basis for centre-left political leaders to renounce rank-and-file objectives and support a neoliberal agenda.

Neoliberal triumphalism

While the end of the 1990s saw a historic break with the PRI and a reorganisation of the Mexican left forces around the PRD, internationally the fight against neoliberalism was under significant attack. In 1989, the Stalinist states of Eastern Europe and the USSR collapsed. With this setback for the socialist bloc, market ideology crowed its victory. “At the end of the twentieth century, capitalism was the only model of development” (Servin, Reina, Tutino, 2007 p. 275). Co-founder of conservative journal The American Interest, Francis Fukuyama, proclaimed the victory of the capitalist model with The End of History and the Last Man: “The triumph of the West – of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systemic alternatives to Western liberalism (1989 Fukuyama, p. 1)”. Moreover, Fukuyama asserted “we may be witnessing not just the end of the Cold War, or passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such ... the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government” (Fukuyama, 1989 p. 1).

International setbacks in this period weakened Mexican left projects. Moreover, after Salinas stole the 1988 election, democratic space became curtailed and the Mexican left faced increased repression. “By the end of January, the FDN had reported 34 political murders of its members and supporters in the first two months of the Salinas presidency, a number comparable to the total for the entire previous year (Reding 1989, p. 19). International attacks against a revolutionary project (“the West has won”), the success of the right wing in stealing the 1988 elections and repression against the left were the background to the birth of the PRD and explain its political liberalism and minimalist electoral strategic outlook. The PRD’s electoralism was born out of a fight against electoral fraud and the lack of confidence in a revolutionary project within the left of the PRD in trying international and local contexts. In spite of repressive local conditions and an offensive against the revolutionary project internationally, a few years later, in 1994, while the Salinas government was tying Mexico into an unfair free trade agreement, the EZLN rose and transformed Mexican and international politics.

Part 2: Indigenous resistance: birth of the Zapatistas

On New Years’ Day in 1994, a small, Indigenous-led band of armed rebels rose up in Chiapas, a southern state of Mexico, and “declared war on the Mexican army, launching an insurrection and briefly taking control of the city of San Cristobal de las Casas and five Chiapas towns” (Klein 2001, para 7). The Zapatistas’ response to the “West has won” thesis was to prove it wrong. They sent out a communiqué explaining “that Nafta [North American Free Trade Agreement]…would be a `summary execution’ for four million indigenous Mexicans in Chiapas, the countries poorest province” (Klein 2001, para 9). The Zapatistas’ actions spearheaded a modern Indigenous rights movement and reenergised left political discussion and organisation within Mexico and internationally. Sergio Rodríguez, editor of Zapatista magazine Revista Rebelde explained, “In 1994, the Zapatistas surprised even the most militant across the country... In Chiapas, they had nothing and from nothing they took control of six municipalities and replanted a left wing and indigenous rights vision” (2009, personal communication, June 4).

Resource rich, people impoverished

Chiapas is a oil- and uranium-rich Mexican state, with strategic importance. Rodríguez reveals that “Chiapas has a hydroelectricity system which accounts for 80% of the country’s needs. Thirty-eight per cent of people within the state are Indigenous. Only the more northern state of Oaxaca has more Indigenous peoples, where 48% of the people are Indigenous” (2009, personal communication, June 4).

Chiapas’s Indigenous people were disproportionately poorer than other Mexicans at the time of the uprising, as evidenced by a World Bank map of Mexico’s spread of poverty (World Bank 2002). In January 1994, the Mexican government deepened its neoliberal offensive when President Carlos Salinas signed the neoliberal North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Salinas said it “would help make Mexico a first world country” (Gomez 2009). NAFTA was an agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico that reduced tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade and investment and opened Mexico up to the products of the stronger North American agricultural and multinational companies. It destroyed Mexico’s agriculture and banned subsidies to Indigenous farm cooperatives (Klein 2000, para 5).

Peter Gellert, journalist and Cuba Solidarity activist in Mexico, explained that before NAFTA “Mexico was sustainable, but now we have 40% of food imported (2009, personal communication, January 28). Instead of rising to First World status, NAFTA precipitated an economic crisis. By 2002, half of Mexico was living in poverty and one-fifth was living in extreme poverty (World Bank Group 2009). Neoliberal privatisations carried out in the 1990s were highly unpopular. In April 1995 ... only 28.1% were in favour of privatisation, 35.7% were against it, and 36.2% were against it (Levy, Walton 2009, p. 181).

With Mexico’s “first-world status” contradicting the reality of Indigenous and agricultural life in Chiapas, the Zapatistas rose up. In response to the new revolutionaries, the Salinas government sent troops and paramilitaries to quell them. Unfortunately, for Salinas, a massive show of support in all Mexican cities erupted. Rodríguez noted:

The non-Indigenous population wanted the army to stop killing Chiapans. So 500,000 people marched in Federal District [Mexico City] on January 12, 1994, and elsewhere, to demand the government stop the killings. In response, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) – the armed wing of the Zapatistas – took the high moral ground and said “we won’t fight with arms… Salinas was president at this time and the Zapatistas used the historic rebellion of the Mayas to win people to their cause… No one wanted the government to kill the descendants of the Mayas. Then Salinas’ government declared an amnesty with the EZLN and within that pardoned members of EZLN (2009, personal communication, June 4).

Furthermore, international support flooded in, as evidenced the Zapatistas’ web popularity. In 2001, author Naomi Klein wrote, “By conservative estimates, there are now 45,000 Zapatista-related websites, based in 26 countries. [Subcommandante] Marcos’s communiqués are available in at least 14 languages” (Klein 2001, para 16). While starting as an armed uprising, Rodríguez said the Zapatistas “finished their armed component very soon after the armed uprising … because armed tactics don’t work very well in Latin America” (2009, personal communication, June 4). While retreating from the armed tactic, the EZLN moved on to debate and discussion through “intergalactic” conferences in the middle of the forest, with intellectuals, union leaders, movement leaders and political leaders such as the PRD’s presidential candidate Cárdenas.

Revolution and state power

Initially, the Zapatistas advocated a revolutionary strategy. They called for taking political power and aimed to become politically dominant. Edgar Sánchez, a leader of Trotskyist PRT, recalled:

The context of this uprising demanded revolution. First, they talked revolution; second, they wanted to throw the Salinas government out. They did not want to reform it. Third, they wanted to take power: and fourth, they would give the orders to the military. The Zapatistas said in DF [Mexico City] , that they would install provisional government law, to increase autonomy (2009, personal communication, July 20).

However, according to Rodríguez, while the Zapatistas began “discussions about armed groups, taking power, popular war, concepts of exploitation and their keys to uprisings” (2009, personal communication, June 4), early clarity gave way to transcendental political sloganeering. “So the EZLN opened a dialogue, assessed the political position of the government. There was a beautiful meeting, in the forest where we asked what was the political line? And Marcos’s response was that the line was there was no line, and that you should form your political line. This was new and strange” (Rodríguez 2009, personal communication, June 4). In December 2007, Marcos said “It is impossible to understand what we say, do and will do, if you do not feel our word” (2007, para 50). In addressing a question around the formation of the Zapatistas Marcos said, “We [non-Indigenous leaders] had a very fixed notion of reality, but when we ran up against it, our ideas were turned over... So, when they ask me: what are you people? Marxists, Leninists, Castroists, Maoists, or what?, I answer that that I don’t know. I really don’t know. We are the product of a hybrid, of a confrontation, of a collision in which, luckily, I believe, we lost” (Marcos 2007, cited by Harvey, p. 176; Martin 2005, p.14).

Anarchist outlook

Later strategic pronouncements from the EZLN indicated less interest in revolution, or taking state power. Sergio Rodríguez clarified that “the EZLN do not want to take power, in our democracy within our autonomous regions in Chiapas -- each two months, we change government representatives. This is less efficient, perhaps, but this is more democratic” (2009, personal communication, June 4). This political transformation indicated an anarchist strategic outlook. As a political theory and strategy, anarchism was espoused by early philosophers William Godwin (1756-1836), Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-65) and Mikhail Bakunin (1814-76). “Although anarchism is a diverse phenomenon, rejection of the use of state power is common to all its variants” (Soudakoff 2001, p. 8). Furthermore, anarchism “does not distinguish between a bourgeois state and a workers’ state” (Soudakoff 2001, p. 21). Renowned Marxist Frederick Engels analysed another component of anarchist philosophical thought – an anti-political stance:

… the state is the chief evil, it is above all the state which must be done away with and then capitalism will go to blazes itself…Now then, inasmuch as to Bakunin the state is the main evil, nothing must be done which can keep the state – that is, any state, whether it be a republic, a monarchy or anything else – alive. Hence complete abstention from all politics (italics in original). To commit a political act, especially to take part in an election, would be a betrayal of principle (Engels 2001, p. 28).

In line with an anarchist outlook, the EZLN did not want state power, did not want to take part in elections and derided concepts of leadership. “They did not demand taking Mexican state power, without finding the power of their own communities” (Wallerstein 2005, para 6) In accordance with an anarchist strategy, Sergio Rodríguez articulated an anti-leadership position and downplayed the role of workers within a revolutionary process.

The Zapatistas rejected implicitly the concept of a vanguard and the overemphasis of the subject of revolutions, the workers. It is correct that class differences have always existed but those differences haven’t always been manifest. The question of relationship of Indigenous people is not a salaried capitalist relationship, it’s a self-sufficient relationship. It’s not about selling… We think the concept of leader is ugly. It is not a democratic concept. (2009, personal communication, June 4).

The Zapatista’s cynicism to “all politics” was confirmed by Edgar Sánchez, leader of Trotskyist PRT group, who recalled that Marcos said “we are not going to participate in any politics – all is corrupt” (2009, personal communication, July 20). Sánchez was a key figure in supporting the EZLN-led 2006 ‘‘Other Campaign’’ and argued that the Zapatistas retreated from a revolutionary position.

[From advocating revolution] then they proclaimed they had to change their thinking. They took on [academic] John Holloway’s ideas – “no to power, no to arms, no to politics/or the political paradigm”. This was a backtrack for the Zapatistas, because originally they said to take power was a good thing. That revolution was a good thing to do too, and it can be combined with electoral campaigning. Reclaim the people, through unions, wages, services, urban and otherwise, and that the fight for students is good too. That these demands would change political thinking. But then, they say it’s impossible to take power (2009, personal communication, July 20).

Edgar Sánchez recalled a 2001 interview in the Mexican magazine El Proceso in which the leader of the Zapatistas, Subcomandante Marcos, was asked “Are you a revolutionary or a rebel?”:

And he said, I am a rebel, because rebels make power from the ground up. Whereas revolutionaries take power from above. And I am from below. This thinking of Marcos comes from an influence of Stalinism – that all revolutionaries are brutal dictators. But of course in Russia 1917, as the April Thesis spells out – all power to the Soviets – the people are organised from below. Marcos’s concept about the process of revolution was Stalinist… There is no coup d’états in a revolution. Also, Marcos was changing his position. He said, “There is no participation electoral, or within unions. No one should take official positions.” That was not a Zapatista position in the early stages (2009, personal communication, July 20).

Dan La Botz, author and academic, characterises the Zapatista strategic outlook as anarchist-pacifist. He criticised it, saying “gradual secession from the state, demonstrates all of the problems of utopian anarchist pacifism – laid over a history of an initial guerrilla uprising…” (La Botz 2009a, para 25).

EZLN’s composition

Political positions such as “the only line is there is no line” and confusing changes in the Zapatistas’ strategic outlook -- take state power/don’t take state power – may stem from their eclectic political composition. According to José Ayala, a leader of the militant Mexican Electricity Union (SME), a socialist and former Zapatista activist,

After the 1968 crackdown on students at the Plaza of Three Cultures, and facing severe repression, some student groups took up arms. This armed student grouping then moved to Chiapas to ferment change in the southern states. The Zapatistas are made up of a combination of these formerly armed student groups, Stalinists, anarchist forces and ultra-sectarian Trotskyists (2009, personal communication, July 6).

To their credit, the Zapatistas mobilised enough support to halt military incursions in Zapatista-controlled Indigenous communities. According to Sergio Rodriquez, ”the Mexican government signed the San Andrés Accords -- there would be no paramilitaries in Chiapas areas”, (2009, personal communication, June 4). Importantly, the Zapatistas continued to control six Indigenous autonomous areas in Chiapas. Prominent anti-corporate author Naomi Klein summarised the EZLN’s gains:

During the 1994 struggle, the EZLN claimed large stretches of land and collectivised them, its most tangible victory. In the San Andrés Accords, the right to territory was recognised, but the Mexican government has refused to fully ratify the accords. After failing to enshrine these rights, the Zapatistas decided to turn them into facts on the ground. They formed their own government structures – called good-government councils – and stepped up the building of autonomous schools and clinics … expand (ing) their role as the de facto government in large areas of Chiapas (Klein 2008 para 7).

Dan La Botz says the Zapatista uprising forced a recall of “the Mexican Army to barracks and a release of Zapatista political prisoners” (La Botz 2001, para 27). However, neoliberal attacks, poverty and repression existed outside Chiapas – and the Zapatistas proved unwilling to challenge them.

PRT leader Edgar Sánchez explained the limits in the Zapatistas’ perspective: “Lenin said there can be no socialism in one country. But there can neither be socialism in seven indigenous communities in Chiapas” (2009, personal communication, July 20). While criticising the limits of the Zapatistas, in a non-sectarian manner, José Ayala articulated the importance of defending the autonomous space the Zapatistas won:

Indigenous rights, well we united to help better their conditions in Chiapas. We must defend what they have managed to achieve, which is many better things … if there is a fight to repress them, we will defend them. The fight that they represent is good. It’s historic, the government … invaded their territory. But we will help fight off any repression (2009, personal communication, July 6).

Initially, relations between the two major left forces – the PRD and the Zapatistas -- were positive. Unity prevailed between the resistance in the south and the new left-of-centre political party. Lance Selfa, commentator on Mexican politics, wrote: “Three weeks before the 1994 national election, the EZLN hosted the National Democratic Convention (CND)… At the CND, the EZLN attempted to shift Mexican politics to the left by urging a vote against the right-wing PAN and PRI – a tacit endorsement of populist Cuahtémoc Cárdenas of the PRD” (Selfa 2005, para 19).

The EZLN opened up considerable democratic space, raised standards of living for Indigenous people in Chiapas and established collectivised, autonomous areas in the places they controlled. Originally advocating revolution and taking state power, their anarchist strategic outlook became more explicit later in their struggle. Their abstentionist approach became more apparent in the next battle against neoliberalism in Mexico -- the battle against electricity privatisation in 1999.

Part 3: Electricity privatisation attempts

The pro-corporate government of Ernesto Zedillo attempted to privatise electricity in February 1999. According to Mexican political commentator Lance Selfa and SME leader José Ayala, this was when formal relations broke down between the EZLN and the PRD. “Between 1994 and 1999 the EZLN and PRD maintained both verbal and written agreements that committed the PRD to supporting Indigenous rights in the Mexican Congress” (Selfa 2005, para 20). José Ayala was the electricity representative in the Frente Zapatista during the 1990s, which was a delegated committee of the Zapatista collectives that existed throughout Mexico City. He commented on Zapatista abstention in the anti-privatisation campaign:

The SME, of course, led many big mobilisations against this privatisation proposal. There was total opposition to this proposal by unions, students, intellectuals. There was a front against the privatisation -- the National Front of Resistance Against Electricity Privatization (FNRCPE) with many different groups in this front -- the PRT [Revolutionary Workers Party], left unions, students, more conservative unions, some PRI activists. We wanted millions of signatures against the privatisation. Unfortunately, the Zapatistas did not want to be involved in FNRCPE because some PRI people and right-wing unions were involved. But we needed anyone and everyone to be involved… To win the campaign, it needed to be broad. This issue was a huge debate in Mexico. It was …fundamental -- the people would not accept it. But, unfortunately, the Zapatistas would not participate -- because the FNRCPE included “charros sindicalistas” (government supporting unions). They would not sign any petitions, nor go to any of our marches (2009, personal communication, July 6).

In the early stages of the campaign to support the Zapatistas, the SME was very involved in solidarity actions with the Indigenous communities.

In Chiapas, many of these communities did not have running water, or electricity. So (after the 1994 uprising) the SME sent more than 1000 engineers and technicians to help build electricity cables. It was very impressive, how many people helped. We took scraps from businesses that did not want to use them, and took them to Chiapas to build infrastructure... So, there was a massive amount of support for the Zapatistas, and SME did a lot we could to support them (2009, personal communication, July 6).

While not supported by the Zapatistas, the campaign against electricity privatisation won. This victory came on the back of the successful privatisation of Mexico’s banks and telecommunications sector. During the 1990s many billionaires were created. The campaign against electricity privatisation laid the basis for an historic moment in Mexico’s political evolution. The PRI lost the 2000 election to PAN, the first time the PRI had lost presidential elections since its inception. The Mexican people voted “with a wide plurality for Vicente Fox, the former Coca-Cola executive and candidate of the conservative PAN” (La Botz 2001, para 10). The EZLN led the next battle against the neoliberal agenda, but did not succeed, in large part, due to opportunism within the PRD.

Part 4: Indigenous changes to Mexico’s constitution

The Zapatistas led a campaign in 2001, for an “Indigenous Bill of Rights” -- a bill for Indigenous autonomy. “In March 2001, Subcomandante Marcos and a busload of Zapatista commandants followed a circuitous route to Mexico City to press the Mexican Congress to legislate the San Andrés Accords” (Stephen 2002, p. 86). The Zapatistas marched for a month and a half, with thousands of people, to Mexico City in a “Zapatour”. Indigenous autonomy was part of the campaign against private, corporate control of land. Sergio Rodríguez explained “all this uranium, gold, silver, petrol is under Indigenous land. If you control the land, the indigenous territory, the oil companies cannot begin to exploit. They cannot make profits” (2009, personal communication, June 4). Included in the Zapatour “were road blockades in five Chiapas regions, within thirty-nine autonomous municipalities”. (2009, personal communication, June 4). It was an indication of the democratic space the Zapatista’s had won, that President Vicente Fox “had to support and encourage the Zapatour and the Zapatista appearance before Congress, despite the opposition of his own party…” (La Botz 2001, para 27). On March 2001, with thousands within Mexico City’s main plaza – the Zóloco -- supporting her:

a Mayan Indian woman, Commandante Ester of the EZLN, took the podium in the Mexican legislature. She spoke to the nation’s representatives and its people calling for peace in Chiapas and indigenous rights law that would grant autonomy to Indian communities. (La Botz 2001, para 2).

The law the Zapatistas placed into Congress did not pass. SME organiser José Ayala commented, “This movement was a positive experience, but also negative because final result was that PRI, PAN and a section of the PRD voted for a changed law, which was not the law the Zapatistas were proposing. It was not a good law” (2009, personal communication, July 6). Sergio Rodríguez, revealed:

The PRD did not properly support this (autonomy) law… So the PRD did not push for this Zapatista-initiated Indigenous law in Congress, and it never reflected on this and said “an error was made”… Both PRD presidential candidates -- Cárdenas and Obrador -- did not permit discussion around this Indigenous autonomy law. In fact, in regard to discussion around this autonomous law, Obrador was worse than Cárdenas (2009, personal communication, June 4).

Lance Selfa concurs: “[The] PRD senators stabbed the EZLN in the back in 2001, when they joined with PRI and PAN members to vote down a Zapatista-backed legislation for indigenous autonomy in Chiapas” (Selfa 2005, para 20). Justifiably disheartened at the PRD’s betrayal, the Zapatistas returned to their communities and implemented autonomy in Zapatista communities unilaterally. The electoralism and opportunism of the PRD had won out over support for Zapatistas’ courageous campaign. Relations between the PRD and the EZLN appeared irrevocably ruined.

Part 5: Fraud, legitimate presidents, people’s power

Andrés Manuel López Obrador represented the PRD in the Mexico City mayoral elections, and won in 2000. To control Mexico City gave the PRD a significant boost. Peter Gellert noted that, “Mexico City … is the political centre of Mexico. Mexico City holds one quarter of Mexico's entire population”. (2009, personal communication, January 29). From 2000-05 Obrador implemented popular social welfare programs like universal pensions and job programs. He adopted as his slogan “Put the Poor First” and ameliorated effects of previous neoliberal measures by creating “welfare programs to the elderly, new high schools for the youth, a women’s institute with programs for single women heads of households, and construction projects creating jobs building new freeways” (La Botz 2001, para 14). Obrador stood up to sections of Mexico’s rich.

When Mexico City millionaires’ homes encroached on Chapultepec Park, he sent bulldozers to drive them out. Meanwhile, the Mayor continued to live a modest apartment, to drive a sub-compact car, and to work long hours, beginning at 5 am, and holding a daily press conference at 6:30 am (La Botz 2001, para 15).

On national issues, Obrador advocated reversing neoliberal measures such as “prosecutions of banks that swindle billions from the country during the 1995 peso collapse, re-negotiating NAFTA, opposing privatisation of Mexico’s oil” (Selfa 2005 para 12). José Ayala explains Obrador’s mass support: “He led the social movements against poverty in his region, Tabasco. He was fighting from below, for the people. These fights radicalised him over ten years” (2009, personal communication, July 6).

He also opposed President Fox’s regressive tax, and privatisation of electricity. Obrador stated:

Mexico … has the resources to provide security for all Mexicans from the cradle to the grave … The government should assure the Constitutional rights to a job, a living wage, health, education, culture, housing and food. This is what we mean when we talk about a country for all, a country for all the poor, the dispossessed and the humiliated of our country (Cited in La Botz 2001, para 14)

Social movement leader Patria Jiménez noted Obrador’s importance to Mexican politics: “There is no social movement without Obrador, and frankly, no party PRD without him either. Obrador is crucial to the politics of Mexico” (2009, personal communication, April 3). Therefore, when Obrador retired in July 2005 to run in the 2006 presidential election, both the corporate parties -- PRI and PAN -- were worried. PAN tried to strip Obrador of his rights to contest the presidential election with “an obscure charge of ignoring a judicial order barring the construction of an access road to a hospital” (Selfa 2005, para 15). Obrador called out his supporters and more than 1.2 million mobilised on April 24, 2005, (La Botz 2005, para 3) to repel the anti-democratic move. The campaign won, PAN backed down and Obrador was the PRD’s presidential candidate in the 2006 election. More proof of Obrador’s anti-corporate principles was the campaign by transnational and national companies against him. They financed months of advertisements that “labelled leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador ‘a danger for Mexico’”. (Ross 2006, para 3). Like the 1988 election, there was widespread fraud for the July 2, 2006, election. PAN and its presidential candidate Felipe Calderón claimed victory with a razor-thin 0.6% margin.

A partial counting of 9% of the country’s 131,000 polling stations showed … in 43% of the sample, Calderón had been accredited with more votes than he actually received… Discrepancies involved 120,000 ballots … 30% of the supposedly sealed ballot boxes had been opened after the elections, raising the spectre that their contents were altered (Gellert 2006, para 3).

The Mexican people were convinced of the fraud – “a poll by … Reforma indicated that 65% of Mexico City residents feel fraud was committed and that all votes should be recounted” (Gellert, para 7). Obrador and the PRD set up a coalition, For The Good of All, that included “the social sectors and mass organisations of most of the left and progressive movements” (Gellert 2006, para 3) to organise a mass campaign demanding a recount of the votes and “organised the largest political demonstrations in the history of the republic” (Ross 2006, para 17). Peter Gellert explained:

In response to these stolen elections, there were the biggest mobilisations in Mexico's history. Obrador was popularly known as the legitimate president. He led the National Democratic Convention, which declared a shadow, legitimate government. At one stage 2.5 million people marched against electoral fraud. For 40 days there was a seven-kilometre occupation of the major road in Mexico City. This road was occupied 24 hours a day. Traffic had to go elsewhere as the city was broken in two. In working-class neighbourhoods Obrador had overwhelming support, as well as some support in middle-class areas … Support for the PRD and Obrador was immense. For example, in the working-class neighbourhoods adjacent to where I live, the PRD beat Calderón 8 to 1 (2009, personal communication, January 29).

Obrador initiated an alternative government structure – the “legitimate government”. On September 1, 2006, after the PRI- and PAN-dominated Electoral Commission verified PAN’s electoral victory, Obrador addressed hundreds of thousands of people assembled in the Zócolo: “We are going to create our own government, now that we don’t accept the false Republic, we are going to establish a Republic that is representative and truly of the people” (cited in La Botz, 2006, para 7). This established two Mexican governments – the pro-corporate Calderón government and pro-poor government led by Obrador. Commentators speculated over a pre-revolutionary, dual-power situation. Gellert recalled that, “in reality, the shadow, legitimate government that Obrador initiated could not do much. In fact, to a certain extent, it has been overshadowed by the campaign to defend the government-owned oil industry, headed up by Obrador” (2009, personal communication, January 29).

Hampered by a lack of union support, the Obrador-led campaign against electoral fraud could not unseat Calderón. The PRD had never been able to break PRI’s hold over large sections of the trade unions.

While the PRD at times came to a working relationship with the National Union of Workers (UNT), it has never been able to give leadership to the working class … and López Obrador has not had a labour program. The PRD does have a significant following among working people and the poor of the central and southern state (La Botz 2006 para 22).

Another factor in the campaign’s lack of success was the divisions between the Zapatistas and the PRD. The Zapatistas opposed Obrador’s candidacy for president and abstained from the anti-fraud campaign. “The EZLN vehemently opposed López Obrador during the campaign” (La Botz, 2006, para 13).

Divisions between the EZLN and the PRD

Instead of endorsing Obrador, the EZLN and Subcommandante Marcos “spearheaded an opposing ‘Other Campaign’, in 2006, holding rallies that called attention to issues ignored by the major candidates” (Klein 2008, para 5). Antagonism from EZLN leader Subcommandante Marcos towards Obrador was very public. Marcos equated Obrador’s politics with that of the right-wing PRI. Lance Selfa quotes Marcos: “We’re not going to remain quiet, not only because the return of the PRI can be already seen in the higher ranks and circle around Obrador, and because the right today dresses in black and yellow [the PRD’s colours]” (Selfa 2005, para 3). Sergio Rodríguez attempted to justify the Zapatista’s reasons for abstaining from the anti-fraud campaign:

We did not participate in this movement against fraud… There are three reasons why, 1) Justice – it was not at all new within Mexico that fraud had taken place. 2) This was a fight led by Obrador. 3) We did not want to be foot soldiers within this movement … led by Obrador… The PRD deputies, in the house of Calderón, spoke out against his proposals, but voted behind closed doors. For the PRD it is all a show. They speak out, but then they vote. You know that it was in 1988 that PRD was born, but they were born out of a split with the PRI. From this stems many of their problems (2009, personal communication, June 4).

Peter Gellert explained:

Subcomandante Marcos, while condemning the fraud, has abstained from the mass demonstrations. During the election campaign, the “Other Campaign” centred most of its fire on AMLO [Obrador] and the obvious deficiencies in the PRD’s program and methods. Some organisations that participated in the “Other Campaign” are, however, involved in the anti-fraud protests (Gellert 2006 para 3).

Edgar Sánchez, leader of the Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT), said: “Marcos had a sectarian approach to the campaign against fraud” (2009, personal communication, July 20). José Ayala’s assessment of the Zapatistas’ public criticism of Obrador was that, “Marcos was jealous of Obrador’s popularity. People did not understand and at this time there were caricatures of Marcos in the paper, against him for his comments against Obrador” (2009, personal communication, July 6). In an article by Lance Selfa author Elena Poniatowska states: “What Marcos is doing is dividing the left, which seems absurd to me” (2005, para 2). However, the EZLN’s refusal to back Obrador did not stop support from the Mexico’s south for his campaign. “Calderón won the industrial north, López Obrador [won] the highly indigenous, resource-rich south” (Ross 2006 para 14)..

The right wing gains control of PRD

An opportunist wing of the PRD consolidated control over the PRD after the anti-fraud campaign, and formalised its hold. This wing, called the New Left “emerged in the guise of a ‘self-criticism’ of the PRD’s conduct in the 2006 presidential election” (Kearney 2008, para 3). A battle was won by Jesús Ortega for the leadership of the PRD, in a key vote on March 16, 2008, and lost by Alejandro Encinas, a “staunch supporter” of Obrador (Llana 2008, para 6). PRT leader Edgar Sánchez noted that “in 2006 Obrador had no conciliation with Calderón, but the other line [within the PRD] led by José Ortega was more conciliatory… There was an internal tension between the right wing within the PRD – the Ortega camp and the base that was fighting for democracy” (2009, personal communication, July 20). Journalist Sara Llana analysis was that “Ortega appeals to the more moderate party members; Mr. Encinas, who came onto the political scene with the Communist Party, is considered more radical... Encinas is [Obrador’s] clear collaborator in opposition to the government, while Ortega is seen as distancing himself with appeals for greater negotiation” (2008, para 6). By July 2007, the New Left were reported to have “won 80 percent of key party positions … and at the PRD’s 10th national congress one month later, the [New Left] exhibited its newfound strength by forcing through a mandate to officially recognize Felipe Calderón as Mexico’s legitimate president” (Kearney 2008, para 4). The PRD, led by the centre-right of the party, suffered a significant reduction in support. “The PRD … peaked in popularity during the July 2006 election … [but] fell from a high of 23% during the 2006 elections to just 11% last month, according to a survey by Ipsos-Bimsa” (Llana 2008, para 11).

Dan La Botz analysed the PRD’s reduction in support:

The PRD spent months in vicious internal struggles between its left- and right-wing factions, with López Obrador supported by the left. In the end, the right-wing faction won and López Obrador distanced himself from the party, taking with him his Legitimate Government – his shadow cabinet, state and local organisations – dedicating his time to support the candidates of two of the PRD’s allied left parties, Convergence and the PT (La Botz 2009b, para 6).

Part 6: Oil privatisation

The illegitimate president Calderón proposed privatising Mexico’s oil to the Mexican Congress on April 6, 2008. This was a bold and risky move by Mexico’s elite. Nationalised oil is a great source of wealth and pride for the Mexican people. Article 27 of the Mexican constitution states the oil belongs to the people of Mexico (Poole 2009, para 16). Oil was nationalised by the pro-poor President Lázaro Cárdenas in 1938 “and when he expropriated foreign oil company equipment, people responded with hour-long celebrations in the street” (Poole 2009, para 17). Ordinary Mexicans, rich women, poor families, donated jewellery to a National Solidarity Fund that was used to compensate the expropriated companies (Poole, para 8). Oil revenues from the state-owned oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), are vital for Mexico’s social programs. They fund 40% of the government’s budget (Benjamin 2008a, para 5). Thinking a re-package may be the way to pass the unpopular measures, Calderón touted the privatisation attempt as a “reform package” and called for “forging strategic alliances with private oil companies and opening 37 of PEMEX’s 41 divisions to private subcontractors” (Pupovac 2008, para 4).. The privatisation measures proposed by Calderón were significant. “PEMEX already subcontracts limited operations to outside companies, Halliburton being chief among them. But currently, these subcontractors can do little more than sell their labour, technology and expertise to PEMEX at a fixed price” (Pupovac 2008, para 4). The neoliberal attack met steep resistance.

López Obrador, the Movement in Defence of Mexico’s Oil Resources (MNDP), a group of progressive lawmakers and dissident PRD members – the “Broad Progressive Front” -- began pushing for more public involvement on the day Calderón announced the “reform package”.

The lawmakers took over both houses of the Mexican Congress for more than two weeks, camping out in pup tents by night, leading massive rallies by day, and standing guard in shifts so that their conservative colleagues couldn’t sneak in and push forward a vote. On April 25, they secured an assurance that the reforms will be debated for at least 71 days, beginning on May 13 (Pupovac 2008, para 8).

Jesús Ortega, centrist president of the PRD, condemned the acts of dissident PRD members in Congress.

There will be no more Congressional takeovers”, Ortega stated, referring to the 18-day takeover in April by dissident PRD legislators of both houses of Congress to prevent the fast-track vote on Calderón's energy package. “We will not participate in any further acts of civil disobedience... Now it is time for a vote to be taken by the elected representatives of the Mexican people (Benjamin 2008b, para 14).

More acts of treachery from the centrist leadership of the PRD occurred when it negotiated with the PRI and PAN over the privatisation package. “A brief joint statement was issued by the three political parties announcing that ‘great progress [had] been made to come up with an energy reform plan that unites the country’” (Benjamin 2008b, para 11). Obrador condemned PRD treachery. “The Beltrones-PRI so-called alternative plan is a carbon copy of the PAN proposals. The plan is unacceptable in any form. The so-called ‘differences’ are of no significance; it is an alternative that would do the same thing as the Calderón plan -- that is, turn our oil resources over to private, mainly foreign, interests” (cited in Benjamin 2008b, para 12).

Calderón refused to conduct a nationwide, binding referendum, so Obrador and the Movement in Defence of Mexico’s Oil Resources carried it out. On July 27, 2008, more than 2 million people in Mexico City and nine states in Mexico's central region cast their votes in a nationwide referendum. A resounding "no" to privatisation resulted – with 84.7% of the voters saying "no" to support having private companies participate in the exploitation, distribution, storage and refining of Mexico's oil production and 82.9% opposed the energy reform proposals submitted by Felipe Calderón to the Mexican Congress on April 6, 2008 (Benjamin 2008b, para 15). The campaign to defeat oil privatisation, explained Peter Gellert, involved “thousands of ‘grassroots brigades’ or campaign units in local areas of Mexico – with the campaign mobilising thousands” (2009, personal communication, January 29). Edgar Sánchez recalled another tactic utilised by the movement: “1 million people put a lawsuit against petrol privatisation” (2009, personal communication, July 20). The momentum was too strong – Calderón retreated and “only approved light reforms to PEMEX at the end of October 2008” (Bricker 2008, para 1). The new laws “gave cash incentives to companies, helping PEMEX pump out more oil but did not allow companies to buy equity stakes in any of the fields or take any oil in return for compensation. It also kept PEMEX’s other operations, such as refining, closed to foreign investment or ownership” (Poole 2009, para 15).

While successful in winning a reprieve from oil privatisation, the left forces did not consolidate significant support. In March 2009, an uneasy truce was reached between New Left and Obrador in which:

[Obrador] would get to name his candidates in Mexico City and his native Tabasco state and Ortega's New Left could have the rest of the country. Focused on preserving a vehicle that he can ride onto the 2012 presidential ballot, [Obrador ], rather than supporting PRD candidates that were not of his choosing, would endorse and campaign for the nominees of two tiny satellite parties -- the Party of Labor (PT) and Democratic Convergence, both of which needed to corral 2 per cent of the popular vote this July 5 to maintain their registration. The PT and Convergencia are seen as a hedge for a spot on the 2012 ballot should Lopez Obrador be expelled from the PRD, not an unlikely post-July 5 scenario (Ross 2009, para 7).

Because of their opportunist moves over oil privatisation, public arguments between the left and right factions, and a lack of unified action, the PRD suffered a massive decrease in its vote in the July 2009 elections. Obrador’s “break” with but support of the PRD was confusing. “Obrador’s apparent abandonment of his party – the party which he claims won the last election with him as its candidate – must be utterly confusing and demoralising” (La Botz 2009b, para 8).

Mexicans punished the PRD in the July 2009 elections. The PRD only won “12% of the vote, to PRI’s 37% and PAN’s 28%. In terms of total votes cast, the PRI received over 12.5 million, the PAN over 9.5 million, and the PRD just a little over 4 million” (La Botz 2009c, para 4). La Botz remarked, “The PRD stands in danger of being virtually eliminated from Mexican politics in the 2012 elections, while the PRI foresees winning the presidency in three years” (La Botz 2009c, para 4).

After the disastrous July 2009 poll, calls went out for right-wing PRD president Jesús Ortega’s resignation. Ortega refused. Obrador’s support of the left parties within the PRD gathered minimal results. The Party of Labor won 3.7% of the vote and Convergence 2.5%. The PT won one seat in the Chamber of Deputies; the PT-PRD-Convergence coalition won three (La Botz 2009c, para 4).


In examining Mexico’s social movements and the political parties that lead them, it is clear that the EZLN and the left of the PRD are the main organised left forces in Mexico. This article examined their strategies for resisting neoliberalism: the Zapatistas’ anarchist perspectives and the PRD’s electoralism.

A balance sheet of the success of the Zapatista’s strategy in combating neoliberalism has to acknowledge the success of their six collectivised, autonomous and Indigenous-controlled regions in the southern state of Chiapas. The Zapatistas have won these tangible victories against a corporate agenda. However, the fight against neoliberalism cannot only be limited to six regions in a southern state of Mexico. The Zapatistas’ anarchist strategic outlook, with their anti-theory “no political line” position and their disdainful “all politics is corrupt” led them to abstain from key struggles against neoliberalism. From the defence of publicly owned electricity in 1999, to the massive anti-fraud campaign of 2006, to the fight against oil privatisation of 2008, the Zapatistas withheld support. Worse, during the 2006 campaign, they actively discouraged the population from participating in the campaign, by criticising the legitimate president Obrador. With this attack on the most popular resistance leader, the EZLN divided the left – between themselves, and those affiliated with the PRD. These attacks, divisions and abstentions greatly hindered the Zapatistas’ success in resisting neoliberalism and weakened the social movements.

Nevertheless, some of the charges made by the EZLN against the PRD hold true. The PRD was born out of a campaign against electoral corruption. Its orientation to electoral victories as a strategy for resisting neoliberalism led it down opportunistic paths. Consequently, the PRD betrayed the EZLN and the social movements. Voting for a watered-down Indigenous bill, not supported by the EZLN, in 2001 is one case in point. However, an important distinction has to be made between the right wing of the PRD, led by Jesús Ortega, and the left of the PRD, led by López Obrador and containing the Party of Labor (PT) and Democratic Convergence. Ortega campaigned for, and won, the leadership of the PRD in 2008, and attacked Obrador and dissident PRD deputies for civil disobedience actions against privatisation in 2008. Obrador and the left parties in the PRD led a mass anti-fraud campaign, and a dynamic, successful campaign against oil privatisation, while campaigning against pro-privatisation right-wing, PRD leaders. The EZLN’s criticism of the PRD did not distinguish between the left and right of the party. The Zapatistas did not support Obrador, or the mass campaigns he led.

Additionally, divisions within the PRD and opportunist moves by PRD deputies discredited the PRD as a whole. Support for the PRD declined significantly, and it was almost “wiped out” in the July 2009 elections. Obrador “broke” with the PRD and campaigned specifically with Party of Labor (PT) and Democratic Convergence candidates for the 2009 elections, but few low votes.

On balance, from 1994, neoliberalism in Mexico has suffered significant setbacks. The elite has not been able to destroy the EZLN’s six autonomous regions. They did manage to ride out the mass democracy movement and install an illegitimate government led by Calderón in 2006, but Mexico’s elite had lost every major privatisation battle from 1999 onwards. However, it is clear that the divisions in the left, between the strong Indigenous resistance led by the Zapatistas and the left of the PRD – Obrador, PT and Convergence – weaken Mexico’s left and the struggle against neoliberalism.

Moreover, while Obrador and the left parties have distanced themselves from the PRD, the break is not decisive. If Obrador and progressive parties within the PRD extracted themselves properly from the discredited electoralist machine, the left would be in a better position to fight neoliberalism. Additionally, the Zapatistas would have fewer reasons to ignore Obrador and the movements he leads.

In conclusion, divisions between the EZLN and the Indigenous rural resistance and the PRD left weaken the resistance against neoliberalism. A clearer break by Obrador and the left parties from the PRD and its electoral strategy would strengthen the left in the medium to long term. This, combined with more unified action from the EZLN, would greatly assist the resistance against neoliberalism in Mexico.


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