The lessons of insurrection

By Sam Marcy (Jan. 13, 1994)
"All history is the history of class struggles," says the opening sentence of the Communist Manifesto.

No, no, say the bourgeoisie. It is not classes who lead society, it is important, heroic and illustrious individuals everywhere who lead the masses.

Then why is it, asks the working class, that you select as leaders only those heroic personages who serve the cause of the bourgeoisie? Why is it that you lie, slander, undermine and, in the final analysis, also assassinate leaders of the oppressed, of the working class?

Why leaders are so important

The relationship between the leaders and the led is of singular significance in understanding how the modern capitalist class retains such a strong hold on the masses. Not for a moment do they ever think of conceding leadership of society to a class other than themselves. This not only applies to the home front but becomes conspicuously true when it concerns leaders in oppressed countries.

Take nearby Mexico, for instance. The ruling monopolies of the U.S. have, in the course of their long-overdrawn stay in Mexico, learned how to manipulate a constant stream of leaders who, according to them, have to be made to understand the true friendly relations between Mexico and the U.S.

Public opinion in the U.S. for many decades has been molded to expect that whoever the Mexican leader may be, that person's role is to serve both Mexico and the United States.

The best-known political name in Mexico is Cardenás. Gen. Lazaro Cardenás was president of Mexico from 1934 to 1940. During that time he gained popularity with the masses by nationalizing the foreign-owned oil industry and speeding up the distribution of land to the peasants.

Today he may be best known to progressives in the U.S. for the assistance he gave to a group of Cuban revolutionaries, led by Fidel Castro, who sailed from Mexico in 1956 on the yacht Granma and launched the guerrilla struggle against the Batista dictatorship.

Cuauhtemoc Cardenás, the general's son, today heads the National Democratic Front, a progressive bourgeois coalition party that ran for the first time in the 1988 election and was clearly the people's choice. Charges that the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) rigged the vote were so widespread that nearly half a million people marched in protest in Mexico City after the government announced that Salinas de Gortari had won over Cardenás.

Cardenás senior and junior are identified with progressivism. But neither has stood for the revolutionary seizure of power by the masses.

Over the years, the imperialist monopolies, which hold a special place in Mexican economic if not political life, have gathered strength on the basis of knowing how to "do business during alterations." The Clinton administration, while in office for only a year, is not likely to disregard the teachings of its predecessors about Mexico or anywhere else. One must, however, await developments.

Chiapas and NAFTA

The insurrection that has occurred in Chiapas has surely thrown a monkey wrench into the finely-tuned relationship among Mexico, Canada and the U.S. That relationship is bound to undergo a considerable revision if the insurrection gathers strength and momentum, as all progressives must hope. Any problems that the NAFTA partnership among the U.S. monopolists, Canada and Mexico has created for the progressive and especially the anti-imperialist movement should be erased by this development.

The insurrection speaks louder than hundreds of resolutions and pronouncements by political leaders in both the U.S. and Mexico. It shows how a seemingly cozy agreement that binds the masses hand and foot can be upset and put into jeopardy when the masses themselves have spoken. This is the truly historic way in which the fundamental relationship between oppressors and oppressed is made and unmade.

In the U.S., the name of Cardenás has stood for Mexico's political system, and that is seen as a relation of amity between oppressors and oppressed. What this insurrection shows is that the most oppressed, the most exploited, and indeed perhaps all of Mexico's workers and peasants see it quite differently.

In one big swoop, the reputation of Cardenás and hundreds of other politicians has been diminished. An insurrection, as distinguished from a slow parliamentary operation of a bourgeois democracy, not only accelerates development--it fundamentally changes the very relations on which the class structure of society rests.

However, it would be wrong at this point to read too much into this insurrection, which is now only a few days old. Yet this uprising in the southernmost area of Mexico will undoubtedly find echoes wherever there are peasants and workers, wherever the oppressed are struggling against the bourgeoisie and the landlords.

At this early stage, it would be foolish to predict its course of development. We can only guess how the imperialists are evaluating the situation in their inner circles.

The present governing group in Mexico has unquestionably been devalued in the eyes of the imperialists. There are reactionaries to the right of the government, but the imperialist bourgeoisie is not likely to jump the gun and embrace them.

Most of all, the insurrection should open up a new perspective in Mexico for proletarian revolutionaries.

Limits of bourgeois democrats

Historic analogies are never too accurate a guide for current history, especially in the area of tactics and strategy. Nevertheless, much can be learned from them if they are not approached from the confines of dogmatism or schematism.

What comes to mind is the 1905 revolution in Russia. During the birth of the workers' movement in Russia, beginning in the late 1890s up to 1905, the Marxists in particular got much out of a coalition with the bourgeois democrats, earning valuable contacts and funds as well. But that collaboration ended with the insurrection of the workers. It frightened the liberal bourgeoisie. They could scarcely run fast enough into the arms of bourgeois reaction.

How similar is the situation in Mexico?

For many decades now, the workers' movement has collaborated with the bourgeoisie in government as though it were a never-ending process, the only changes being in personalities. Sometimes there were peripheral disagreements that seemed on the verge of breaking up the coalition, but collaboration between the classes was always resumed--if not exactly as it had been, then with certain modifications as the workers' movement grew and developed.

It was a period of peaceful development, if one subtracts an unknown number of assassinations, the suppression of peasants and students, and the frequent breakup of strike struggles. Notwithstanding all this, the collaboration lasted. Some would call it due to the cowardice of the workers' leaders, to their congenital tendency to compromise and not take an independent class road.

The prospect that the workers' parties would make a broad political decision to break with the bourgeois democrats always lurked in the background. But that was never seriously undertaken by the elected, authorized leaders.

Now comes the insurrection in Chiapas. It has done what decades more of compromise and struggle could not have accomplished. Its leaders have broken with the bourgeoisie. It is now the pole of attraction for revolutionary militants, and possibly for a revolutionary regroupment of the working-class movement as a whole.

Inherent in the whole situation is a renaissance of militant, working-class struggle. It is vastly encouraging for all in the international working-class movement to see such a development at last, and to be in a position to encourage and to help.

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