Saturday, September 17, 2016

With Trotsky in Mexico: A Brief Note on the Life of Lillian Pollak

Lillian Pollak interviewed at home in June, 2016.
Lillian Pollak, who died on August 10, was probably the last person on earth – excepting Trotsky’s grandson Esteban Volkov – with living memories of Leon Trotsky.  Up until the stroke that felled her earlier this summer, Lillian who was 101 years old, was an amazingly vital person whose mind was as sharp as an 18 year old.  I had the privilege of interviewing Lillian at her apartment on the upper West Side of Manhattan just a few weeks before her passing.   I will be presenting some excerpts from that interview subsequently but for now I just want to record a few thoughts about this remarkable woman.

Lillian developed a deep aversion to the status quo from the time she was 10 years old and heard about the pending execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. [Sacco and Vanzetti were finally executed in 1927 despite massive protests around the globe.] Like many other children of poor Jewish immigrants of her generation growing up in New York, she joined the youth movement of the Communist Party, the Young Communist League while still in high school.  A few years later Lillian became disillusioned with the CP after hearing the Trotskyist critique of Stalin’s policies from a follower of James P. Cannon. She was won over to Trotskyism.  Lillian joined the Trotskyist movement in the early 1930’s, shortly after it was launched by Cannon after he broke from the Communist Party in 1928. This was a time before the group of American Trotskyists evolved into the Socialist Workers Party, before they merged with the followers of A.J. Muste and before its members briefly joined the then leftward moving Socialist Party (the so-called “French turn”.)  She was probably the last living person whose roots go back to these earliest years of the American Trotskyist movement.  In later years Lillian had a professional career as a beloved public school teacher and camp counselor, and she earned her master's degree in family counseling when she was 73.

There have already been a number of tributes to Lillian’s remarkable life.  Many of those tributes praise her continuing radicalism and activism at the age of 101.  And it is true that unlike many people with a past in the revolutionary movement, Lillian was not satisfied with sitting on her laurels and recounting the “good old days” to a younger generation.  And she never did reconcile herself to the status quo, the capitalist system and the repressive state apparatus that could send two innocent immigrants to a horrific and senseless death in the electric chair.  Her intransigence and refusal to capitulate to the comforts of retirement cost  her the friendship of many former comrades and friends who were not able to withstand those pressures.

She remained active till the end, participating in marches and demonstrations against war, racism and social injustice.  However, some of the tributes to Lillian miss what was essential to her being – that she was a Trotskyist to the end.  I don’t say that because she belonged to any group or adhered to a “correct” ideological position. [At the time of her death Lillian was active in several organizations fighting against imperialism and social injustice, including the Raging Grannies, the Granny Peace Brigade, and Women in Black.] Lillian maintained her conviction to the end that the only genuine revolutionary current of the last century was the one fought for by Leon Trotsky and his followers.  She always tried to act on the basis of the principles of that tradition as she understood them. And Lillian was also very conscious of the fact she was one of the last living representatives of the early history of that tradition.

In that regard, I think that even more impressive than her activism in the last years of her life was the book she published when she was 93 years old, “The Sweetest Dream: Love Lies and Assassination”. The book is a semi-autobiographical historical novel that recounts the life of its heroine, named “Miriam” in the book, as she grows up in the slums of upper Manhattan in the 1920’s through to the Great Depression and the beginning of the Second World War.  The novel traces Miriam’s revulsion at a very young age, at the injustices she sees around her.  It traces her growing radicalism and attraction to the Communist Party youth movement.  This was followed by her disillusionment with Stalinism thanks to the education she received by one of the original members of the Trotskyist group in New York.  She then joined the Trotskyist movement at a very early age. It follows her experiences during the Depression in New York as an organizer who was also trying to become a dancer while holding down a menial job to make ends meet. The book also recounts the romantic entanglements and conflicts Miriam faced as a young lady.

Parallel to the story of Miriam, the book recounts the chronology of Trotsky’s struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy and his efforts to build the Fourth International. The parallel stories finally come together when Miriam arrives in Coyoacan Mexico and meets Trotsky.  [The real Lillian had in fact made two trips to Coyoacan in the 1930s.] The book ends with the assassination of Trotsky and its immediate aftermath in Mexico and in the U.S.

[Although Lillian was not present in Coyoacan at the time of the assassination, she knew the principals involved intimately. Lillian was a good friend of Sylvia Ageloff, the woman who unknowingly introduced her lover, the assassin, then known as Jacques Mornard, into the Trotsky household. Lillian had met Sylvia with her lover “Mornard” on several occasions.  She told me during our interview that she had an instinctive dislike for this person the first time she met him and thought it was very strange that her friend Sylvia could be attracted to him. She even burst out into the song “Strange Romance” at one point to express her feelings.]

Among other things, Lillian’s book is remarkable for painting a portrait of the selfless activity that the rank and file of the Communist Party were capable of in its early years. She recounts the CP’s work in organizing the unemployed, in fighting against racism in Harlem, in the organization of rent parties against evictions, etc. Nor does she forget that even years later, when the Communist Party became a tool of Stalin’s counterrevolutionary foreign policy, its rank and file members were for the most part dedicated to the cause of the Russian Revolution even as they were seriously misguided and betrayed by their leadership. Lillian’s book also captures the struggles and difficulties facing the Trotskyists who were far more isolated than the CP’ers and were hounded and persecuted not only by the government but by the Stalinists. Part of her book deals with the Spanish Civil War where the Stalinists murdered many sympathizers of Trotsky.  

As if these historical portraits were not enough, Lillian’s book is very well written. It does not have the feel of many amateur memoirs.  She manages to maintain the reader’s interest in the protagonists and their stories, all the while keeping in mind that many of those stories are dramatizations of real life events and people, including those of Lillian herself.  Lillian captured the spirit of Trotsky in a remarkable passage toward the end of her book. Here she is depicting Miriam’s account of the funeral of Trotsky as his coffin was being transported through the streets of Mexico City.  More than 50,000 spectators lined the streets, the great majority of them poor Mexican workers and peasants.  And this is what Miriam – the narrator – is thinking:

These people know Trotsky although they have not met him. They know his story, because Mexico’s past is full of revolutionary martyrs. Trotsky is the brave revolutionist who fought for the dispossessed, the oppressed. They know him as a man with simple tastes who gathered cactus in the countryside and tended rabbits in his garden. They have heard he was a world-famous leader, a great orator, a fine writer, who fought for truth and humanity with his pen and they know that although he made errors in his lifetime, he never swerved in his fight for truth, for humanity, for socialism and for that, he was killed.

I feel very honored to have known Lillian. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

76th Anniversary of Trotsky's Assassination: Launch of restored biography of Stalin

A new edition of the Trotsky’s last work, his unfinished biography of Stalin, is being introduced today at the Trotsky Museum in Coyoacan, Mexico.  Although we have political differences with the editor of this new edition, Alan Woods, we recognize that his work over a number of years in bringing this edition of the Stalin biography to publication represents an important contribution to Trotsky’s legacy.   We are reprinting below the announcement of the book launching. It is indeed fitting that the 76th anniversary of Trotsky's assassination sees the completion of the book he was working on at the time of his death.  We will comment on the Stalin book in a forthcoming post. [The announcement of the book launch was originally published on the website of the International Marxist Tendency, ] 

Habent sua fata libelli - “Books have their own fate”, a Roman author once wrote. And of no book in history is this more the case than Trotsky’s biography of Joseph Stalin, the newly completed edition of which will be launched next Saturday, 20 August, at the Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky, Mexico City.

Stalin Trotsky front cover cropThis new version of Stalin, which was left unfinished at the time of the author’s death at the hands of a Stalinist agent, includes extensive unpublished material from the Harvard archives. The result is as close as possible to Trotsky’s original intentions for the work, providing a unique perspective on the Russian Revolution, its subsequent isolation and the rise of a bureaucracy expressed in the person of Stalin.
This book will contain 100,000 words of original, never-before-published material by Trotsky – a 30% increase on the 1946 edition. What is more, the previous editor Charles Malamuth’s own additions to Trotsky’s notes have been removed.
World Congress 2012-2Alan WoodsThis highly anticipated publication will be introduced by its editor Alan Woods, the world-renowned Marxist and Russian linguist. His efforts in producing this version included translating some of Trotsky’s writing from Russian into English for the first time. After almost three years of constant, painstaking work alongside a raft of assistants, he is able to present the book in its final form.
Esteban Volkov“The new edition of Stalin has added to and enriched the vast arsenal of Marxist theory left behind by Leon Trotsky,” explains Esteban Volkov, Trotsky’s grandson and Director of the Trotsky House Museum. Volkov has spent most of his life fighting for this work to be restored, against the publication of previous editions, which omitted a considerable amount of Trotsky’s writing contained within this new version.
The venue chosen for this launch event reflects the significance of the work it celebrates. This biography of Stalin will be returning to the place where its author worked on it in the final years of his life. In fact, in the study where his brilliant mind was smashed with an ice pick, Trotsky had left the galley proofs of Stalin on his desk.
trotsky-murder-sceneTrotsky's murder scene with the unfinished manuscript on the desk.Tracing Stalin’s progression from obscurity in rural Georgia to the leading bodies of the Bolshevik Party, and then to the head of a monstrous regime, Trotsky explores the interplay between great historical events and the individuals they shape to a degree rarely found in Marxist literature.
“In making available for the first time the writing that was arbitrarily excluded from Stalin and hidden in dusty boxes for three quarters of a century,” as Woods remarks in his editor’s note, “we are providing a wealth of valuable material to the new generation that is striving to find the ideas to change the world.”

La Jornada reports

The publication of this book has aroused considerable interest in circles far beyond those of revolutionary militants. In its issue of Monday 8th August La Jornada, the most important Mexican daily paper wrote a lengthy article on this meeting. In it we read the following:
“On the 76th anniversary of his murder, a biography of Joseph Stalin written by Trotsky will be presented as part of the activities to commemorate the controversial Russian revolutionary who lived out his last years in exile in Mexico, announced his grandson Esteban Volkov, director of the house museum dedicated to the communist leader.
'The book of a thousand pages, which is for now only available in English, is the work of British Marxist historian Alan Woods”, he said. 'Woods, an expert on the ideas of Trotsky, was able to create a genuine version of the last book that Trotsky wrote - the biography of Stalin,' Volkov explained.
“This book has a lot of history. Contrary to what many think, Trotsky did not write it in order to express his fury and resentment against Stalin, nothing could be further from the truth. He had no interest in writing this biography. His most passionate desire was to finish the second part of a book on the life of Lenin that he had already started.
“But he was obliged to change his plan for economic reasons. Volkov points out that we 'lived in conditions of extreme hardship, so when an American publisher came up with a pretty attractive offer to commission a biography of Stalin, he threw himself into this work, gathering a lot of material, reports and data.'

“'He began a serious and detailed work, but unfortunately was murdered before he could finish it. Being more moved by commercial interests than ideological considerations, the American publishers handed the task of publication of the book to the translator Professor Charles Malamuth the translator. He practically destroyed the work, filling it with annotations of his own invention, while leaving out 30 or 40 percent of very interesting material written by Trotsky.'
“Volkov explained how a group of followers of Leon Trotsky and the historian Alan Woods took on the task of complementing the work. The first thing they did was to get rid of Malamuth’s annotations. Then, Woods ordered and classified the book in a logical and ideological sense, in accordance with the ideas of Trotsky, including all those documents and manuscripts that had not been published.
“Thus you arrive to this corrected and enlarged edition, containing 40 percent more of the text of Stalin, which will be presented by Woods himself on August 20 at 7 p.m in the house-museum named after the Communist leader .
“In Woods’ opinion, Volkov said, this work may be considered as one of the most important that Trotsky wrote. And in a way it hastened his assassination, because Stalin was determined to stop it being published.”
In these words there is no hint of exaggeration. It is known that Stalin had on his desk every morning the latest writings of Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition. He was informed of the fact that his enemy was writing a biography that would contain a great deal of compromising information about the life and role of the dictator in the Kremlin. Like every criminal, Stalin was determined to eliminate all the witnesses to his crimes – especially the most important one in faraway Coyoacan.

Planet without a Visa

Expelled from the USSR by Stalin, for the man who created the Red Army and whose role in the victory of the October Revolution was second only to that of Lenin there was no refuge and no safe resting place on earth. One after another the door was slammed firmly shut. Those states that called themselves democracies and liked to compare themselves favourably with the Bolshevik “dictators” showed no more tolerance than all the others.
Britain, which had earlier given refuge to Marx, Lenin and Trotsky himself, now under a Labour government, refused him entry. France and Norway behaved, in essence, no differently, placing such restrictions on Trotsky’s movements and activities that “sanctuary” became indistinguishable from imprisonment. Finally, Trotsky and his faithful companion Natalia Sedova found refuge in Mexico under the government of the progressive bourgeois Lazar Cardenas.
Even in Mexico, Trotsky was not safe. The arm of the GPU was long. By raising his voice against the Kremlin clique, Trotsky remained a mortal danger to Stalin, who, it has now been demonstrated, ordered all Trotsky’s writings to be placed on his desk each morning. He extracted a terrible revenge on his opponent. As long ago as the 1920s, Zinoviev and Kamenev had warned Trotsky: “You think Stalin will answer your ideas. But Stalin will strike at your head!”
In the years prior to his assassination, Trotsky had witnessed the assassination of one of his sons and the disappearance of the other; the suicide of his daughter, the massacre of his friends and collaborators inside and outside the USSR, and the destruction of the political gains of the October revolution. Trotsky’s daughter Zinaida committed suicide as a result of Stalin’s persecution.
After the suicide of his daughter, his first wife, Alexandra Sokolovskaya, an extraordinary woman who perished in Stalin’s camps, wrote a despairing letter to Trotsky: “Our children were doomed. I do not believe in life any more. I do not believe that they will grow up. All the time I am expecting some new disaster.’ And she concludes: “It has been difficult for me to write and mail this letter. Excuse my cruelty towards you, but you should know everything about our kith and kin.” (Quoted by Deutscher, op. cit. p. 198.)
Leon Sedov, Trotsky’s eldest son, who played a key role in the International Left Opposition, was murdered while recovering from an operation in a Paris clinic in February 1938. Two of his European secretaries, Rudolf Klement and Erwin Wolff, were also killed. Ignace Reiss, an officer of the GPU who publicly broke with Stalin and declared in favour of Trotsky, was yet another victim of Stalin’s murder machine, gunned down by a GPU agent in Switzerland.
The most painful blow came with the arrest of Trotsky’s younger son Sergei, who had stayed behind in Russia, believing that, as he was not politically active, he would be safe. Vain hope! Unable to take his revenge on the father, Stalin resorted to that most refined torture—applying pressure on parents through their children. No-one can imagine what torments were suffered at this time by Trotsky and Nataliya Sedova. Only in recent years did it emerge that Trotsky even contemplated suicide, as a possible way of saving his son. But he realised that such an act would not save Sergei and would give Stalin just what he wanted. Trotsky was not wrong. Sergei was already dead, shot it seems in secret in 1938, having steadfastly refused to denounce his father.
One by one, Trotsky’s old collaborators had fallen victim to Stalin’s Terror. Those who refused to recant were physically liquidated. But even capitulation did not save the lives of those who surrendered. They were executed anyway. The last of the leading figures of the Opposition inside the USSR who had held out was the great Balkan Marxist and veteran revolutionary Christian Rakovsky. When Trotsky heard of Rakovsky’s capitulations he wrote the following passage in his diary:
“Rakovsky was virtually my last contact with the old revolutionary generation. After his capitulation there is nobody left. Even though my correspondence with Rakovsky stopped, for reasons of censorship, at the time of my deportation, nevertheless the image of Rakovsky has remained a symbolic link with my old comrades-in-arms. Now nobody remains. For a long time now I have not been able to satisfy my need to exchange ideas and discuss problems with someone else. I am reduced to carrying on a dialogue with the newspapers, or rather through the newspapers with facts and opinions.
“And still I think that the work in which I am engaged now, despite its extremely insufficient and fragmentary nature, is the most important work of my life—more important than 1917, more important than the period of the Civil War or any other.
“For the sake of clarity I would put it this way. Had I not been present in 1917 in Petersburg, the October Revolution would still have taken place—on the condition that Lenin was present and in command. If neither Lenin nor I had been present in Petersburg, there would have been no October Revolution: the leadership of the Bolshevik Party would have prevented it from occurring—of this I have not the slightest doubt! If Lenin had not been in Petersburg, I doubt whether I could have managed to conquer the resistance of the Bolshevik leaders. The struggle with ‘Trotskyism’ (i.e., with the proletarian revolution) would have commenced in May, 1917, and the outcome of the revolution would have been in question. But I repeat, granted the presence of Lenin the October Revolution would have been victorious anyway. The same could by and large be said of the Civil War, although in its first period, especially at the time of the fall of Simbirsk and Kazan, Lenin wavered and was beset by doubts. But this was undoubtedly a passing mood which he probably never even admitted to anyone but me.
“Thus I cannot speak of the ‘indispensability’ of my work, even about the period from 1917 to 1921. But now my work is ‘indispensable’ in the full sense of the word. There is no arrogance in this claim at all. The collapse of the two Internationals has posed a problem which none of the leaders of these Internationals is at all equipped to solve. The vicissitudes of my personal fate have confronted me with this problem and armed me with important experience in dealing with it. There is now no one except me to carry out the mission of arming a new generation with the revolutionary method over the heads of the leaders of the Second and Third International. And I am in a complete agreement with Lenin (or rather Turgenev) that the worst vice is to be more than 55 years old! I need at least about five more years of uninterrupted work to ensure the succession.” (Trotsky, Diary In Exile, pp. 53-4.)
But Trotsky was not to be granted his wish. After various attempts, the GPU finally managed to put an end to Trotsky’s life on 20th August 1940.

The revenge of history

Optimized-FrontCoverFor more information about the publication itself please contact Wellred BooksWhen the Stalinist agent Ramon Mercader brought his pickaxe crashing down on the skull of his defenseless victim, Stalin’s wish appeared to have been granted. It is in fact a very easy thing to terminate the life of an individual. The human animal is a frail and fragile thing. It can be easily killed by a knife, a bullet or an ice pick. But it is not possible to murder an idea whose time has come.
The fight for the ideas of Leon Trotsky – the ideas of Leninism, of Bolshevism and of the October Revolution – did not end on 20 August 1940. On the contrary, that struggle continues unabated to the present day. The memory of Leon Trotsky continues to be celebrated by class conscious workers and revolutionary youth all over the world. That of Stalin, the gravedigger of the October Revolution, is reviled as that of Cain who murdered his brother in order to usurp his inheritance.
In spite of everything, right up to the end, Trotsky remained absolutely firm in his revolutionary ideas. His testament reveals enormous optimism in the socialist future of humanity. But his real testament is to be found in his books and other writings, which continue to be a treasure-house of Marxist ideas for the new generation of revolutionaries. The fact that nowadays, the spectre of “Trotskyism” continues to haunt the bourgeois, reformist and Stalinist leaders is sufficient proof of the resilience of the ideas of Bolshevism-Leninism. For that, essentially, is what “Trotskyism” signifies.
After the delay of almost eight decades, Trotsky’s biography of Stalin has been reborn. In its pages the revolutionary workers and youth of today will find a treasure trove of Marxist theory and ideas, a mine of information about the history of Bolshevism and the Russian revolution and an answer to the question of how the greatest revolution in history degenerated into a monstrous totalitarian and bureaucratic regime.
The very fact that the launching of the book, which at the moment is only available in English (a Spanish translation is in preparation) is taking place in Mexico, in the house where Trotsky lived, worked and died the death of a revolutionary martyr, is a fitting monument to that great revolutionary internationalist. It is the final revenge of history against Stalin and Stalinism and a living confirmation of the vitality of the ideas of Marxism.
Please find the details about the launch event here

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

NOCHIXTLAN and the Mexican Teachers' struggle again: What is at stake?

Militarized Federal Police confronting demonstrators in Nochixtlan
Nochixtlan is now a name that has gone down in popular memory along with Ayotzinapa.  Nochixtlan is the name of a small community in the State of Oaxaca where, on Sunday, June 19, a group of demonstrators composed of striking teachers, parents and their supporters, were blocking a major highway leading in and of out of Oaxaca City, the capital of the State of Oaxaca, when they were fired upon by elements of the Federal Police and the newly formed police unit called the “Gendarmaria”. At least nine people were killed and scores of others were injured. There is no evidence that the teachers, who responded to the aggression with rocks and Molotov cocktails, were armed or engaged in any of the shooting. This naked act of aggression on the part of the Peña Nieto regime against unarmed civilians has met with outrage and indignation by certain sectors of society within Mexico and around the world including the American Federation of Teachers affiliated to the AFL-CIO. [1]
The Mexican teachers, who are members of the rebellious Section XXII of the National Coordinator of Education Workers, (CNTE) form a dissident faction of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE), one of the largest unions in Latin America. The Oaxaca teachers and other sections of the CNTE in other states including Guerrero, Michoacán and Chiapas, which are among the most economically undeveloped regions of the country (and more recently teachers in Nuevo Leon, Veracruz , Sinaloa, Chihuahua and other states), have been on strike since May 15, 2016 as the continuation of the battle against the Education Reform Law that was secretly adopted and imposed as part of the “Pacto por Mexico” by a national coalition composed of the reigning Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the rightwing National Action Party (PAN),  and the so called leftist Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD), all now part of the grand coalition that rules Mexico.  The Pacto por Mexico, which was concretized behind closed doors by the three major parties before Peña Neto came to office in December, 2012 consisted of an Energy Reform Law, by which the nationalized oil company, PEMEX, was dismantled; a Tax Reform Law; and the Education Reform Law. The “reforms” were pushed through the national congress during Peña Nieto’s first year in office in 2013 over much public opposition.
The Education Reform Law has been actively opposed by the CNTE from its inception.  In protest, the CNTE teachers have gone on strike, and have boycotted and disrupted administration of the teachers’ evaluations, which the law mandates, in various states. One of the CNTE’s major demands is the repeal of the law. For a more detailed account of the dissident teachers’ struggle and demands I refer the reader to earlier articles in this series posted on this website. [2]
The massacre of teachers in Nochixtlan is a reprise of the concerted attack on 43 students in Cuatla, Guerrero in September, 2014, in which several people were killed and 43 students from Ayotzinapa simply disappeared after being attacked by drug cartels, the local police and, some speculate, elements of the local military units stationed in the area. The attacks in Nochixtlan and Ayotzinapa form part of a longer list of recent attacks by military and police on civilians as part of repressive policies in the drug war initiated by Felipe Calderon (PAN) during his term as president (2006 – 2012). There have also been what appear to be summary executions of civilians in Tlatlaya, Puebla in which over twenty people were apparently shot at point black range and a supposed “shoot out” on a ranch in Tancaro, Michoacán in which over forty people allegedly associated with drug trafficking were killed. Again, evidence suggests that the victims were summarily executed. Even the New York Times called attention to the suspicious nature of these “confrontations” as they were described in the press in which the alleged drug traffickers were all efficiently killed with only few or no casualties on the part of the military. (New York Times May 26, 2016)[3]  The Mexican government felt obliged to respond to the article saying that there was no evidence to support the Times’ allegations. All of these recent incidents that have occurred in Peña Nieto’s term of office suggest that there is a concerted campaign of state terror being directed against indigenous populations under cover of and in the name of continuing Calderon’s War on Drugs which by some estimates may have claimed as many as 60,000 lives. Peña Nieto’s government is rapidly earning a reputation for being a ruthless and despotic dictator in its application of repressive force to intimidate and stifle popular dissent.
Peña Nieto’s handling of the CNTE teachers’ revolt is no different. The head of the Education Department (Aurelio Nuño) and the head of Gobernación (Osorio Chung) have steadfastly refused to negotiate with the CNTE teachers on the grounds that the law has already been passed and cannot be repealed. After the massacre at Nochixtlan, however, Osorio Chung relented and agreed to meet with CNTE delegates but without putting the teachers’ principal demand for repeal of the law on the agenda. As of this writing the fourth round of talks have begun and the agenda has been expanded to include educational issues. 
The strategy of the CNTE at this point is to continue their social agitation, engage in negotiations with the government and to gather as much popular support for their cause as they can from parents, members of the local communities, civil rights groups and civic organizations, and other unions including the Mexican Electrical Workers Union, (SME), members of the PEMEX workers union, the Telephone Workers Union (SUTERM), a popular coalition of unions called the OPT and other popular civic organizations.  On June 26, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), head of his own recently created electoral party, MORENA, on whose ticket he plans to run for president in 2018, also showed support for the CNTE by organizing a march and demonstration in the capital in which it is reported that participation was possibly in the hundreds of thousands. At this march AMLO gave a speech to his followers in which he publicly offered to negotiate with the Peña Nieto regime to provide some kind of peaceful transition of the national government to his own party in 2018. This suggests that maintaining the peace while harnessing the anger and discontent of the masses continues to play an important part of AMLO’s populist strategy.
With very few exceptions, the reaction of the corporate media to the teachers’ struggle and MORENA has fallen perfectly in line with the government’s smear campaign and is opposed to every aspect of the teachers’ movement. Just as in 2006, when members of CNTE occupied the center of the capital city of Oaxaca with the support of other popular organizations such as APPO (Asociación Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca) for several weeks, and when AMLO and his followers occupied the center of Mexico City for weeks to protest the fraudulent presidential elections, the press has made every effort to disparage, stigmatize and demonize the teachers and AMLO as nothing more than common criminals and political opportunists by using unfounded accusations and innuendos to discredit the teachers and their movement. In the last few weeks as part of the governments’ smear campaign it has apprehended and incarcerated several members of the CNTE’s executive committee accusing them of disturbing the peace, the destruction of property and money laundering.
Much, in fact, has been made in the media by the opponents of the teachers’ movement, of the CNTE’s illegal tactics such as destroying government and private (usually corporate) property, physically attacking and detaining opponents, blocking highways and snarling up traffic in the cities with demonstrations and marches. This proves, according to the movement's opponents, that the dissident teachers are “violent people”, common criminals and gangsters who are depriving the rest of the citizenry of their constitutional right to free transit, private property and personal security. These accusations are obviously politically motivated and have the intended effect of dehumanizing the teachers and discrediting their movement and their justifiable grievances as if these latter were of little or no importance.  There is also an undertone of racism to the criticisms of the movement’s opponents.
But the matter of tactics is indeed an important issue and there are several considerations to take into account. Firstly, it is not clear how many incidents of violence are actually the work of the CNTE itself and how many incidents are perhaps the work of fringe elements for whom the CNTE cannot assume responsibility or are simply the work of provocateurs (government or otherwise) who are seeking to discredit the movement in the eyes of public opinion. Secondly, to criticize the legality of the teachers’ tactics is to take a hypocritically legalistic and intentionally obtuse approach to the problem since it is precisely the legality and legitimacy of the law and a corrupt authoritarian government that is in question. (One thinks here of the actions of civil disobedience of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.)  It is only in a totalitarian society that the law is beyond the citizens’ power to challenge.  Thirdly, the fact that the conflict has degenerated into acts of violence and borders on being an all out war is not entirely the fault of the teachers since part of the blame must rest with the intransigence of the government and its refusal to negotiate. The question of legality, in other words, is simply an effort to criminalize any kind of dissent that disturbs the peace. There have, in fact, been efforts by rightwing political parties in the nation’s capital to outlaw any demonstrations of public protest and measures have been implemented to limit this right. But while it must be conceded that acts of gratuitous violence may do harm to the dissident teachers’ movement, it is also true that if the movement deserves support it is not because of their more extreme tactics but rather in spite of them.
In the narrowest sense, what is at stake in the Mexican Teachers’ struggle against the Education Reform Law is the future of public education, the existence of teachers’ unions, the working conditions of teachers and the content and nature of the curriculum. This is similar to a struggle that is going on in the U.S. against so called “Charter Schools”, the privatization of public education, the destruction of teachers’ unions and the corporate control over curriculum being advocated by billionaires such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among others, and the OECD’s plan to standardize testing.[4]
But in the broader context the struggle of the CNTE for their rights also involves the struggle of indigenous peoples to preserve their cultural heritage, their language and their historical memory as well as their native territory.  It is a struggle for Democracy and democratic rights and the return of national sovereignty that is taking place all over Mexico.  As journalist and legal scholar John Ackerman points out in his recently published book El Mito de La Transición Democrática [5], the rise of the opposition party PAN in the 2000 elections when Vicente Fox came into office, did not mark any real democratic opening in the Mexican political system, as is usually believed, but rather signaled a broadening and deepening of the undemocratic and corrupt policies of the traditional PRI. The rise of a new supposedly “leftist” PRD party in 1988, on whose ticket AMLO first ran for president in 2006, has now been thoroughly discredited and completely co-opted by the ruling parties’ corrupt and repressive coalition. Since then, AMLO has formed his own party, the Movimiento por la Renovación Nacional (MORENA).  The return of the PRI to power in 2012, according to Ackerman, is just further proof that an electoral dictatorship has strengthened and consolidated its grip on Mexico.
But Mr. Ackerman believes that the imperial presidency in Mexico is coming to an end because the great masses of people are realizing that the king has no clothes. The Peña Nieto government like the Calderon government that preceded it, lacks legitimacy. It cannot negotiate because it has no solutions to offer. Its response to dissent and accusations of tyranny and dictatorship is force, violence, and the threat of violence.  Ackerman believes that some kind of synergy can be provided by a spontaneous movement which consists of the different varied interests of civil society, workers, peasants, indigenous peoples, environmental activists, cultural minorities etc. against the government’s authoritarianism which will force the government to recognize the democratic rights that were enshrined in the Mexican Constitution of 1917 after the Mexican Revolution. Among such rights are not only the right to free public education, but also to housing, food, health services and gainful employment. According to Ackerman, it is only up to the Mexican poor and oppressed to rise up and demand what is already rightfully theirs according to their own constitution. Mr. Ackerman supports the electoral strategy of AMLO and MORENA in this struggle.

But the teachers’ movement must, as they themselves are well aware, also fight against the domination of global finance capital in the form of “neoliberalism”, the “Washington consensus” and “Globalization”, a struggle that takes the form of Mexico’s re-assertion of its independence not just from its Northern neighbor but from global capital.  It is becoming apparent that the capitalist model of globalization that has predominated since the fall of the USSR in 1989 is crumbling. While the CNTE teachers were demanding negotiations with the government, Peña Nieto was in Canada for a meeting with other leaders of the so called North American Union, Barak Obama and Justin Trudeau, urging further integration of the political/economic union of the three North American countries that was begun with NAFTA in 1995.  Peña Nieto was also in Latin America meeting with leaders of other signatory countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (Peru and Chile) and other Latin American countries.  For decades, the Mexican government has been opening the country up to foreign investment, especially investment seeking to exploit the country’s vast mineral wealth and cheap labor force, and steadily privatizing the country’s nationalized industries (“para-estatales”), an effort that was begun under President Miguel de la Madrid (1982-1988), was accelerated in the term of President Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) and continues to the present day.  The dismantling of the national oil company PEMEX under the Energy Reform Law passed by the Peña Nieto regime as part of the Pacto por Mexico and the return of the big oil companies to Mexican territory is the one of the clearest indications of Mexico’s transformation into a neocolonial state. 
In any case, the unrest and discontent of broad sectors of civil society epitomized by the dissident teachers’ movement appear to be heading on a collision course with the government. With the massacre of Nochixtlan on June 19, the conflict between the two reached a tense and explosive standoff.  Now that negotiations have begun, however, the question that arises is what outcome the teachers’ struggle can possibly have. Can a solution to the teachers’ demands be found? Can a broad spontaneous popular movement which consists of the different varied interests of civil society bring about real structural change and institute a lasting alternative to the antidemocratic authoritarianism that has held Mexico in its grip for the better part of its history?  What are the hopes that AMLO’s MORENA, which is offering an electoral alternative and is making gains on the state and local levels of government, can bring about such change?
As to the latter question, AMLO and MORENA’s bid for political power is deeply divisive. The private sector and middle classes view him with the same suspicion and class hatred with which they view the Chavistas of Venezuela with whom he is often associated and compared. AMLO’s election to the presidency would probably only intensify the political polarization and instability within the country and his populist strategy to harness the discontent of the poor and working classes while placating Mexico’s foreign masters could very well backfire leading to greater instability and conflict within the country and precisely the kind of violence and bloodshed that he seeks to avoid. This is why President Peña Nieto publicly declared recently that populism was one of the gravest dangers facing the country today.
But Mexico’s problems cannot be resolved within the borders of Mexico alone. The struggle for basic democratic rights in Mexico is being played out in other areas of the world as well. This struggle is evident in the U.S. which is seeing the erosion of democratic rights as part of a phony “war on terror” and is entering a political crisis in an election year where the electoral process has failed to provide presidential candidates that a majority of voters can support while the country is embroiled in foreign wars and occupations. The struggle for democracy is also evident in Europe where the European Union is on the verge of disintegration as evidenced by the recent decision of the UK to leave the union and the crisis caused by the ‘NO’ vote in the referendum in Greece last year and an immigration crisis caused in part by the EU’s and NATO’s aggressive foreign policies.  The world is in the throes of political convulsions dominated by a wave of reaction in which democracy, national sovereignty and the capitalist model of globalization are all being called into question. There is also the ever growing danger of world war on the one hand and the rise of reactionary, national-chauvinist, fascistic parties on the other. All of the political struggles being waged in Mexico today, however isolated, local or chaotic they may seem, are part of a much broader movement in Mexico and around the world for democracy, against the barbaric conditions being imposed on the working class as Mexico is forced to conform to the iron laws of globalization and neo-liberalism, the form that capitalism has taken on today. 

This is the background behind the education “reforms” against which the Mexican teachers are struggling. It is a movement with which Marxist socialists must actively engage. They must support the teachers’ struggle. They must not set themselves apart or remain aloof on the sidelines of this struggle secure in the truth of their dogma, unwilling to commit themselves or compromise the purity of their principles, waiting for the day when revolution comes knocking on their door asking for leadership…a day which may well never arrive.  But it also important to note that while engaging in this struggle Marxists must insist that there is no national or capitalist solution to the problems faced by the Mexican working class and peasantry. The illusion that it is possible to solve the social and economic problems of Mexico through an appeal to Mexican nationalism has been the ideological cement used by the Mexican bourgeoisie for decades to prevent the emergence of an independent working class and socialist movement and it is this appeal to nationalism that epitomizes the error of AMLO’s populist movement.  While the struggle of the Mexican teachers begins on a national level, it can only be resolved through the struggle for the United Socialist Federation of North America. It may not be clear yet where the teachers’ struggle and the larger struggle of which it is part are leading or will end, but the dissident teachers of Oaxaca are making a beginning and showing the way.

--Ramon Rodriguez  G. July 13, 2016

Mural commenting on the Nochixtlan massacre

[1] Sindicato magisterial de EU, contra represión a profesores mexicanos Por David Brooks, corresponsal in La Jornada dom, 26 jun 2016 19:37


[3]  The New York Times, Mexican Military Runs Up Body Count in Drug War By AZAM AHMED and ERIC SCHMITT MAY 26, 2016

[5]  El Mito De La Transicion Democratica: Nuevas Coordenadas Para La Transformacion Del Regimen Mexicano by John M. Ackerman  Ediciones Temas De Hoy 2015