Autonomous Struggle Vs the Political Party Machine

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In a recent op-ed piece in the Mexican liberal newspaper, La Jornada, professor at the College of Mexico, Soledad Loaeza, writes that, “History teaches us that political regimes without parties quickly become dictatorships that pervert the principles of participation and representation, and promote an artificial simplification and impoverishment of politics. For us, for my generation, that carry with us the long history of a party that lived for decades basically as the single party, life without parties is a bad dream all too familiar. Thus, we celebrate with enthusiasm the passage to a multi-party regime, because we know how things are without parties”.[i]

In contrast to the liberal democratic discourse of Soledad Loaeza, it is clear that political parties don’t facilitate democracy, at least in its more direct or participatory interpretation, but rather interfere, disrupt and repress movements of self-organization and autonomy. That is, they direct all political energy and organization into the political party model, directed into the structure and logic of the state. With that, political parties’ interests are the state’s interests. And as we know in Mexico, the state’s interests are to repress struggles for self-organization and territorial defense, to construct a landscape favorable to capital accumulation. If we assume the presence of the liberal democratic nation-state, as does Loaeza, we might argue for a diversity of parties to represent a diversity of interests. However, if we take the perspective of Indigenous and campesino communities, anarchists, libertarian Marxists, radical feminists, and other active currents of autonomous politics in Mexico, we see that political parties are the enemy of autonomous self-organization.

The subject of political parties gets at the heart of autonomous struggles in Mexico, and is worth a deeper reflection here. This is particularly important at the contemporary historical juncture in Mexico, with a so-called progressive political party recently elected and taking overwhelming control of the lower house of the congress of the union, the chamber of deputies. With 247 representatives, the Morena party will be the largest parliamentary group in power since the PRI in 1994.[ii] For many liberals, this is seen as a win for the liberal left, and a win for democracy. For others, those engaged in struggles for self-determination, the state and capital are the issue, no matter what political party flag they are wrapped in.

Indigenous communities and municipalities throughout Mexico have long been in struggle for self-organization against the logics of the nation-state and capital. Strengthening their resistance, during the recent election on July 1st of this year, various communities and municipalities refused to participate, even denying the entrance of voting booths into their communities. These included: the P’urhépecha community of Cherán in Michoacán and various communities that make up the Supreme Indigenous Council of Michoacán; Ayutla de los Libres, Guerrero; the Tzeltal municipality of Oxchuc, Chiapas; the municipal seat of the Tila, Chiapas; the Wixárika communities of San Sebastián Teponahuaxtlán and Tuxpan de Bolaños, Jalisco; among others. This rejection of the electoral process in the name of autonomy is just one moment of ongoing historical struggles for self-determination engaging in processes of self-organization such as community assemblies as maximum authorities of decision-making, free media radio and media, community police and self-defense forces, self-organized healthcare clinics, autonomous schools and education, etc.

On August 27th, 2018, the Community Police of the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities of the Founding Communities (CRAC-PC-PF) celebrated their four-year anniversary in the community of Alcozacán, municipality of Chilapa, Guerrero. The CRAC-PC-PF was founded from a split with the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities—Community Police (CRAC-PC) who have been organizing in the coast-mountain region of Guerrero since 1995. The CRAC-PC, as a community system of justice and reeducation, derived from a context of insecurity and violence in the coast-mountain region of Guerrero. With the lack of state response, and often times state complicity in the violence, the communities in this region of Guerrero took up arms in self-defense, eventually developing a more integral system of justice and reeducation based on traditional forms of social organization. While the CRAC-PC have long maintained an autonomous and anti-political party character, recent developments have forced their community system to respond to the political party machine.

In a communique released from their 4th anniversary, the CRAC-PC-PF write: “Our community system of security and justice was divided in 2013, by government agencies with interests foreign to our communities, to take control of our institutions. That year, it became very clear that those who divided us with lies, slander and money from the bad governments, shamelessly entered into political party campaigns principally of the MORENA party where now some occupy political positions…”.[iii] The communique speaks specifically of Nestora Salgado, ex-political prisoner of the CRAC-PC, who abandoned its autonomous mission and ran and won the senate seat with the political party MORENA. The CRAC-PC was forced to respond to Nestora Salgado on the ballot for the political party MORENA, while their internal rules as a community system disallow the participation of council members and authorities to actively participate in political party politics.

In February of this year, Gonzalo Molino González, political prisoner of the CRAC-PC since 2013, accused Nestora Salgado of betraying the historical principles of the CRAC-PC by throwing her hat into the electoral political ring. He explained clearly from prison that, “…the pathway for change is not through political parties, but by means of organization, where the Indigenous peoples name their representatives through an assembly”.[iv] With community and regional assemblies as the foundation of the CRAC-PC community system of justice and reeducation, the participation of Nestora Salgado in the election with the MORENA political party was indeed a betrayal of the community system, and a divisive influence on the community system itself.

The CRAC-PC were cornered in a difficult position with the participation of the ex-commander and ex-political prisoner Nestora Salgado in the electoral process as candidate for senator. Initially, the community system made clear their respect for the role Salgado played in the CRAC-PC community system, and for her commitment in the struggle of Indigenous peoples. However, they stated in a communique: “We want to express that the community system doesn’t support any political party, or proselytize, that citizens who participate from the integrating communities of the CRAC-PC are free to vote for candidates or parties of their preference, promote themselves for some public office with respect to our internal regulations, because what brings us together to all the community, are the common needs and problems which we try to solve with organization, consciousness, the promotion of values regarding our culture and the exercise of our autonomy as Indigenous peoples”. The internal regulations of the CRAC-PC community system make clear, that if someone wants to seek governmental authority, they must renounce their role in the CRAC-PC.

During the height of the presidential electoral campaigns, the candidate for the PRI party, Antonio Meade, in the second presidential debate, called Nestora Salgado a kidnapper, referencing one of the crimes in which she was charged and imprisoned in her position as commander of the community police. The CRAC-PC as a community system responded to this attack on Nestora Salgado as an attack more generally on the community system and the autonomy of Indigenous communities to organize their own forms of security and justice. While defending the community system and the important role Nestora Salgado has historically played in it, they again distanced themselves from political party politics.

While the intention here is not to take sides in a conflict between the CRAC-PC and the CRAC-PC-PF, which is no doubt historical, entrenched in local politics and highly complex, the take away point is the influence of political parties in rupturing self-organized community systems. A fundamental goal of political parties is to integrate themselves into the social fabric of communities and regions, making political and economic promises, and tearing apart the community fabric in the process. This is exactly what political parties and state representatives have done in the systems of community police, justice and reeducation in the coast-mountain of Guerrero. Nestora Salgado’s election as a senator for the political party MORENA, rather than serving as an institutional force in defense of Indigenous communities and the CRAC-PC community system, has led to further division and confusion within the community system that in theory maintains an autonomous mission.

On September 3rd, 2018, students from the Colleges of Sciences and Humanities (CCH) of Azcapotzalco, Naucalpan, Oriente, Sur, along with other university and high school students, marched on University Campus (UNAM) to submit a series of demands to the university rectory. Students from the CCH Azcapotzalco led the contingent, having already maintained five days of strike on their campus, achieving the resignation of the director of the school. The movement at CCH Azcapotzalco arose from various factors, including the administrations erasure of murals painted four year ago in solidarity with the disappeared Normalista students of Ayotzinapa, the lack of professors and facilities for all the classes, and a newly-instituted registration fee for the students. The contingent of students were accompanied by the mothers of three students killed on university campuses in Mexico City: Lesvy Berlin Osorio, Carlos Sinue and Miranda Mendoza.

Amidst the meeting in front of the rectory, students were violently attacked by a group of porros, or hired opposition meant to smash up student mobilizations and student organization on university campuses. In the aftermath, three students were sent to the hospital with serious injuries, including stab wounds and broken bones. Following the porro attack, nearly fifty schools went on strike from anywhere between 48-96 hours, while others have maintained their strikes up to this moment. A mega-march took place on September 5th with over 30,000 students marching from the faculty of political and social sciences to the rectory on the UNAM campus. The energy was palpable, with dignified rage bellowing from the stomachs and hearts of the students.

Following the march, the universities have continued to organize. While various departments and campuses have returned to classes, some universities have maintained on strike, even taking complete control of various universities. A series of inter-university assemblies have taken place with student representatives from schools across the nation. Furthermore, a women’s inter-university assembly took place to address issues specific to women, including the violence women face on university campuses, and the ongoing employment of professors and university authorities with histories of sexual harassment against women.

On September 18th, 2018, the Mexican newspaper Sin Embargo published an article making clear what was already well-known, the direct connection between porros and political authorities, including of course, political parties. The article explains, “Porro university groups have had all types of support from the PRI and PRD in the last 20 years, from free alcohol and food, to cash payments that oscillate between 5,000 and 10,000 pesos for each meeting that they attend…”.[v] In this particular case, camera footage and eyewitness testimony show the clear coordination between campus security and the porro groups. Furthermore, the newspaper Regeneración published an article linking the specific porro groups that carried out this attack to the political party PRI.[vi]

The porro attack in coordination with campus security and political and university authorities is all the more troublesome within the context of recent changes on the UNAM campus. After various violent acts on the UNAM campus, including the femicide of Lesvy Berlin Osorio, the university authorities have moved toward a zero-tolerance policy on campus, justifying their repression of the autonomous character of the university with the violent actions that have taken place. As police officially aren’t allowed on the “autonomous” universities in Mexico, the campus and state authorities have used the UNAM security as a para-police force, to administer the political atmosphere they find beneficial to their own interests. The coordination between campus security and porros during the September 3rd attack, make clear that the zero-tolerance policy being implemented by campus authorities isn’t meant to provide safety to students, but rather to interfere in the autonomous character of the public universities in Mexico. Thus, the liberal calls for more campus security, are nothing more than the call for more repression and control of university self-organization and autonomy.

And on September 28th, the final hearing in the case of the anarchist political prisoner Miguel Peralta Betanzos will take place in Huautla de Jimenez, Oaxaca. Miguel is one of seven Indigenous Mazateco political prisoners from the community of Eloxochitlán de Flores Magón, Oaxaca. Their imprisonment arose from a conflict derivative of political party influence in an Indigenous community that has traditionally organized according to their uses and customs, grounded in the community assembly as the decision-making body in the municipality. In 2010, against these traditional forms of community organization, a cacique family in the community, backed by political party money, began to coerce votes with economic and political incentives. Betraying the tradition of an integrated municipal government, Manuel Zepeda Cortez took sole power of the municipality, using his political position to serve the interests of himself and his family, including buying up land and extracting rock and sand from the river that runs through the municipal seat.

Following a very tense six years in Eloxochitlán de Flores Magón, the daughter of Manuel Zepeda, Elisa Zepeda Lagunas, took power in Eloxochitlán de Flores Magón in 2016. Then, in 2018, she ran as candidate for local representative of the political party MORENA. A position which she won in the election on July 1st, 2018. The influence of political parties in Eloxochitlán de Flores Magón, in support of the cacique Zepeda family, is just one example of many, of the divisive, exploitative and repressive role political parties play against movements for community self-organization and municipal autonomy. While seven members of the community assembly sit in jail—those who have struggled against political parties in the community of Eloxochitlán de Flores Magón—Elisa Zepeda is scaling the political system with the backing of the political party MORENA.

These recent developments in so-called Mexico, reinforce a fundamental point in relation to movements for self-organization and autonomy; that is, political parties play an oppositional role against these movements. Interpretations of the role of political parties in so-called Mexico are grounded in one’s political ideology or political perspective. For those like Soledad Loaeza, the formation and function of a multitude of political parties strengthens plurality and democratic competition, in a liberal democratic state. For community struggles seeking autonomous self-organization, political parties serve as repressive and divisive forces, meant only to rupture community struggle, and maintain the stranglehold of the state and capital on communities. By dividing communities and community struggles, political parties are able produce the necessary conditions to facilitate territorial plunder and resource extraction to bolster the accumulation of capital.

Upcoming Dates of Resistance in Mexico:

September 26th: Four-year anniversary of the disappearance of the 43 students of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teacher’s College. While the crimes remain largely unpunished, the parents of the families have maintained steadfast in their resistance against state impunity.

September 28th: Final court appearance of anarchist political prisoner Miguel Peralta Betanzos in the district court of Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca. This date marks the beginning of the judge’s examination of the evidence finals, and what we hope to be a quick process of determining a verdict in the case.

October 2nd: The 50-year anniversary of the state killing of students in Tlatelolco, Mexico City. Hundreds were killed in an attempt to squash a burgeoning student movement and wide-spread revolt in Mexican society.

[i] https://www.jornada.com.mx/2018/09/20/opinion/025a2pol

[ii] https://www.jornada.com.mx/2018/08/30/politica/003n1pol

[iii] https://radiozapote.org/2018/08/29/comunicado-de-la-crac-pc-pf-4to-aniversario-mpio-de-chilapa/

[iv] http://voicesinmovement.org/nestora-salgado-betrays-the-principles-of-the-crac-pc-by-joining-morena-gonzalo-molina/

[v] http://www.sinembargo.mx/18-09-2018/3473001

[vi] https://regeneracion.mx/porros-ligados-al-pri-responsables-del-ataque-en-la-unam/


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Voices in Movement
Voices in Movement publishes translations and analysis – both contemporary and historical – to share strategy, solidarity and histories of resistance across imaginary divisions of nations and borders, drawing insight from struggles of below and to the left, where the heart is. They also author Revuelta Comunitaria, a semi-regular column on It's Going Down addressing social struggles and political repression in the territory of so-called Mexico.