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AMLO’s Dilemma and the Limits of the Pink Tide

It is essential to establish a clear definition of class character to understand AMLO’s government, taking into consideration the particular characteristics of its “progressivism” in its relationship with the mass movement and capital. Otherwise, one could lose one’s way in implementing socialist and revolutionary politics that genuinely express the historical interest of the oppressed and exploited.

Pablo Oprinari

June 21, 2022
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Photograph by Manuel Velasquez / Getty

This article is a contribution to the ongoing discussion on the progressivism of the “Fourth Transformation,” the name given to the political process being led by Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). It presents a critical interpretation of AMLO’s administration, based on analyses published in La Izquierda Diario México and Ideas de Izquierda, and engages in debate the Mexican socialist organizations that have adapted to the government and its party. 

Since AMLO took office, the character of the government of the Fourth Transformation has been the subject of multiple debates that have divided the intelligentsia and the different political and ideological currents on the Left. The true scope and the obvious limits of his self-proclaimed progressivism must be continuously examined in light of the events. This is particularly important considering that different sectors of the self-proclaimed anti-capitalist and socialist Left have effectively renounced one of the cornerstones of Marxist politics: political independence from the governments and parties of the bourgeoisie, whether they be neoliberal or “progressive.”

“Late Progressivism” and Class Character

From the beginning, Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration has been a late example of what has been called “Latin American progressivism.”1This is a reference to the conceptualization of “late progressivism” developed by Massimo Modonesi in July and August 2018 with regard to the AMLO government; see Massimo Modonesi, “México: el gobierno progresista tardío” [Mexico: Its “Latest” Progressive Government], Revista Nueva Sociedad, July–August 2018. The political period in Latin America during which he came to power was very different from the one that marked the first wave of these governments in the Southern Cone — like that of Nestor Kirchner in Argentina or Lula in Brazil — which benefited from the global commodities boom that provided them with sufficient resources to implement limited redistribution policies without affecting the essential interests of the bourgeoisie and imperialism.

AMLO came to power at a time of low economic growth, which later worsened with the start of the pandemic and the subsequent global economic crisis, so his government instead obtained resources for its social programs from the so-called fight against corruption and his “republican austerity” policies — the name AMLO gave to laying off a significant number of public employees, affecting many of those working in highly precarious conditions. 2It is important to note that the region’s governments that are part of the so-called “second wave of progressivism” (like those of Argentina or Bolivia) share with the Mexican government an even more conservative position than their predecessors.

In this context, AMLO’s administration has from the beginning continually walked the line between the expectations and illusions of broad sectors of the masses and a program that protects essential capitalist interests. Gaining and retaining mass support — both in the 2018 election and in the years since — depended on its ability to differentiate itself from the legacy of neoliberalism. Hence the importance of maintaining progressive rhetoric and implementing measures that generate support among the population, such as the minimum wage increase (although it only benefited minimum-wage workers) and social programs.

This has been an essential part of AMLO’s strategy. Its effectiveness in strengthening his social and electoral base had been proven during his years as head of the Mexico City government. As previously discussed here, these mechanisms are used to achieve a relative expansion of certain state functions to build and strengthen hegemony and control over the masses.

The nature of AMLO’s administration and the class interests it represents were not altered by these measures, contrary to the claims of those who label it a “left-wing” or “people’s” government and thus conceal its essential agenda. AMLO’s popularity has been used to maintain fundamental aspects of the policies of his neoliberal predecessors. Often, only the names of these policies are changed to simulate a break with the past that has not actually occurred. Some examples include the creation of the National Guard and the more important role assigned to the Army, euphemistically referred to by AMLO as the “armed people”; the massive projects developed against the will of local communities, such as the “Mayan Train”; and the ongoing job insecurity of workers in the public and private sectors, despite the much-touted regulation of government outsourcing. Some workers in social programs have even begun to struggle against it, such as the workers of Mexico City’s Community Culture Program. AMLO’s government has also failed to address other essential demands, such as the right to free, legal, and safe abortion, as femicides and violence against women increase.

AMLO’s party, Morena, has thus taken on the role of administrator of the capitalist state, despite the fact that some specific measures have created friction with sectors of the upper bourgeoisie that have a less cozy relationship with the government. In most of these instances, the government decided to revise its measures to meet the demands of the capitalist class, as in the case of the outsourcing processes mentioned above, in which the administration ultimately yielded to business interests, and the plan to bring inflation under control.

It is essential to establish a clear definition of class to understand the essence of AMLO’s government, taking into consideration the particular characteristics of its “progressivism” in its relationship with the mass movement and capital. Otherwise, one could lose one’s way in implementing socialist and revolutionary politics that genuinely express the historical interest of the oppressed and exploited.

Imperialism and Progressivism

In Latin America, the attitude of governments, regimes, and political parties toward imperialist domination is decisive in defining their character. While the so-called progressive governments of Latin America have had varying degrees of autonomy (and, in some cases, a tense relationship with the White House), it is important to note that they have always respected the fundamental commitments made by previous governments in the context of national subordination — such as the payment of the foreign debt — and maintained their economic structures as dependent capitalist countries. This has ultimately defined the political and social character of these governments.

AMLO’s government has been no different. His administration completed negotiations on the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Treaty (USMCA), the successor of NAFTA. It is the broadest dependency and semi-colonization agreement ever signed between a Latin American country and the powerful neighbor to the north, done in the framework of Trump’s America First policy.

In foreign policy, the government has sought a regional leadership role, adopting a moderate progressivism and distancing itself from Washington and other imperialist governments in certain aspects. For example, it maintains a close relationship with Díaz Canel’s government in Cuba and has experienced some diplomatic tensions with the European Parliament. More recently, it has engaged in a dispute with the U.S. government over the Summit of the Americas. AMLO made his attendance conditional on the participation of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, thus jeopardizing the outcome of a meeting that the White House considered important to its diplomatic relationships with Latin America and the Caribbean.

On crucial issues such as migration, national security, and the fight against drug trafficking, the government has aligned itself with the United States, playing a key role for Washington in relation to the rest of Latin America. On immigration, Mexico acts as a true buffer state, using its National Guard to patrol the border south of the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande) — having accepted the implementation of the Stay in Mexico program to keep migrants on the Mexican side of the border. Even with some of its progressive proposals, AMLO’s government — rather than breaking with the U.S. administration — attempts to pressure the White House and “create awareness,” such as by encouraging U.S. participation in the Central American social program Sembrando Vida (Sowing Life).

So, AMLO’s government maintains Mexico’s subordination to U.S. imperialism in economic matters and other crucial aspects, such as immigration, while never breaking with the White House on foreign policy — even if it sometimes aims for some limits in the region and seeks more room for maneuvering. All this unfolds as it upholds the imperialist order of dependency and plunder of Mexico and the region.

Demobilization and Mass Movements

Large sectors of the Latin American Left (particularly populists and reformists) have maintained over the past 20 years that Latin American progressives share an identity and interests with the processes of mass mobilization that preceded them. Those who support the most extreme versions of this theory claim that the mass movements came to power through these governments.

Clearly, the political shift in the region cannot be understood without considering the processes of class struggle that — at different levels and to different degrees — created profound crises in the region’s political regimes and in the relationship between mass movements and the old ruling parties. Far from sharing an identity with them, however, the various progressive groups actually played an important role in demobilizing the masses, effectively neutralizing the region’s most advanced class struggles. AMLO was no exception.

As discussed in other articles, the emergence of the movement in response to the disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa in 2014 marked the beginning of a profound organic crisis. This was expressed in the slogan that blamed the Mexican government — “It was the state!”— and the repudiation of what had for decades been Mexico’s hegemonic political parties:  the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), the PAN (National Action Party), and the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), which had signed the “Pact for Mexico” under the auspices of former president Enrique Peña Nieto.3This movement was preceded both by #yosoy132 in 2012 and by youth mobilizations against war and militarization in previous years. Four years later, this profound delegitimization of the institutions of the so-called “democratic transition” and their political representatives led to the electoral defeat of the parties that the masses identified with the legacy of neoliberalism.

Morena was able to capitalize on this crisis. After a meteoric rise, it presented itself as opposed to the parties of the “Pact for Mexico,” winning the presidential elections and channeling mass social discontent into support for the changes its candidate promised. This aborted the potential for a continuation of the social mobilizations of 2014 and the movement of sectors of workers and teachers who had been the main agents of social protest throughout those years. Sectors of the Mexican bourgeoisie saw in AMLO a way out of the crisis of representation. To a certain extent, they viewed his election — given the political and social circumstances — as the most acceptable solution.

Since then, AMLO’s government has developed Bonapartist characteristics, expressed by its position with respect to both the mass movement as well as the bourgeoisie and imperialism. These characteristics have been discussed extensively on other occasions: 

AMLO benefits from a degree of popularity and institutional strength that is directly proportional to the crisis of the old parties. The new “strong man” of Mexico, his legitimacy and his party, which practically dominates both legislative chambers, are a guarantee of stability after decades of rule by the discredited PRI and PAN. While enjoying a broad consensus, López Obrador assigned a new role to the armed forces, in keeping with his Bonapartist politics.

This process of demobilization cannot be understood without the actions of the union and social leaders who first supported AMLO as the opposition candidate and then, with greater enthusiasm, as president. From the moment it came to power, Morena has sought to strengthen its position by subordinating and aligning workers’ and mass organizations, including unions run by the old pro-business bureaucracy (such as the SNTE, the National Union of Education Workers) and former opponents in the Mining Workers’ Union and the National Union of Workers. The aim was to recreate, under new conditions, a central characteristic of the old PRI regime — the subordination of mass organizations under government control — while also working toward establishing trade union federations that are linked organically to the ruling party. This explains the current truce between the unions and the government, despite the attacks against some sectors of workers.

This dynamic of political cooptation has led representatives of workers’ and social organizations to participate in the Morena government and run as candidates on its electoral lists. These include several leaders that had been part of the movements that emerged in the last eight years. We have previously defined this phenomenon as “transformism,” using the term coined by Antonio Gramsci. 4See, for example, Bárbara Funes and Pablo Oprinari, “Los socialistas ante la propuesta de reforma reforma eléctrica del Gobierno mexicano” [Socialists before the Mexican government’s proposed electrical reform], Ideas de Izquierda, December 27, 2021. The demobilizing role played by AMLO’s government and the subordination of union and political leaderships of the mass movement have been essential characteristics of Mexican politics in recent years.

The Left and the AMLO Government: A Scandalous Adaptation

In an earlier article, we debated with some Mexican groups that call themselves socialist, including the Coordinadora Socialista Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Socialist Coordinating Committee), Izquierda Socialista (Socialist Left), and Izquierda Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Left). These groups have, with different nuances, combined the slogan “Not one vote for the Right” with the call for a “critical” vote for candidates from workers’ and grassroots movements on the Morena lists — in effect, calling for a vote for AMLO’s party.

Months later, they actively involved themselves in AMLO’s consultations regarding the trial of former presidents, which AMLO used to strengthen his image as an “anti-neoliberal” promoter of “participatory democracy.” He proved this to be his actual political objective when he opposed the trial and punishment of those responsible for implementing neoliberal policies. Also later, several of these organizations, along with Grupo de Acción Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Action Group),5This organization has been linked to the Workers’ Party of Argentina for several years. enthusiastically supported AMLO’s proposed initiative to reform the electricity sector.

The reform, which was challenged by U.S. officials and attacked by the right-wing opposition (which ultimately prevented it from being approved in Congress), aimed to limit the share of private capital in the sector to 46 percent and strengthen state control, which had been weakened by a 2013 reform. It was nowhere near an attempt to nationalize the electricity sector or expropriate the imperialist multinationals and Mexican capitalists — a pretense the government itself maintained from the beginning.

Despite this, the organizations mentioned above have promoted a front to defend the electricity sector reform, together with Morena, which they justified by claiming that the government’s proposal was a step forward in the fight for sovereignty in the energy sector. They put forth no meaningful criticism of AMLO’s policy.

Their participation in this front is no minor matter. It is not a united front with workers’ and grassroots organizations to advance the struggle; Morena is not a left-wing political force and does not promote class struggle. It is the opposite: a political agreement with the party that rules the country and manages capitalist interests, with a bourgeois program and politics — regardless of its progressive rhetoric and its social base.6It is worth noting, in case there are any doubts among the members of these groups, that as Marxists we do not define the character of a political force only by its social base, just as we do not consider the PRI (or its predecessors PRM or PNR) to have been “workers” because of the support they enjoyed for decades among actual workers. 

It is unsurprising that these populist and reformist forces, which have historically adapted to the “progressive” sectors of the bourgeoisie (first the PRD and then AMLO), have conveniently ignored this. It is clear that the political proximity of these socialists groups to populism and the pressures of government progressivism have played an important role in their gradual abandonment of a revolutionary perspective. Their participation in a front to defend AMLO’s reform, led by Morena itself, constitutes a renunciation of class independence. It confirms the adaptation and subordination of these “socialist” organizations to the ruling party. Despite the (albeit limited) rhetoric in their publications, where they claim to favor renationalizing the sector, they cannot conceal what has effectively been the basis of their politics — their membership in the front and participation in forums and actions organized with Morena to defend the government’s reform.

In previous years, when they were opposition parties, some of these organizations had maintained a policy of adaptation and subordination first to the PRD and then to Morena. Since then, their political support for the ruling party has taken a qualitative leap. One predictable, but no less shameful, consequence of this is their participation in the administration of the Fourth Transformation (4T). One of the leaders of the Revolutionary Action Group, serving as general director of Clean Energies of the Federal Secretariat of Energy has become a staunch public defender of AMLO’s policy — an example of the “transformism” mentioned above. It is part of a process of political subordination to a bourgeois government and party that has culminated in their participation in it and their defense of its politics from the “inside.”7Similarly, in the first years of AMLO’s term, two leaders of the Revolutionary Workers’ Party served for eight months as officials of the government’s National Human Rights Commission, with the aim of transforming it “into a fully autonomous body.” 

This brings us to the discussion of “ministerialism” within Marxist groups, and inevitably brings to mind the writings of Rosa Luxemburg, where she criticized the self-described socialist “who sought to introduce the same social reforms as a member of the government, i.e. at the same time supporting the bourgeois State” — which “in fact reduces his socialism (at the very best) to a bourgeois democratism or to a bourgeois workers’ policy.” In the contemporary case addressed here, this involves defending government policy and becoming “4T socialists.” 8See Diego Lotito, “¿Ministros ‘comunistas’ en los gobiernos capitalistas? El marxismo contra el ‘ministerialismo’ (“Communist” Ministers in Capitalist Governments: Marxism versus “Ministerialism”], Izquierda Diario (Spanish State), November 19, 2019.

This adaptation is all the more condemnable considering that the government has been completely hostile in conflicts with workers and the masses, even resorting to repression — as in  recent attacks against students and teachers. These demonstrations of how the government’s “progressivism” responds to workers’ struggles have not, unfortunately, altered the politics of these 4T “socialists” in the least.

A Socialist and Revolutionary Strategy against the 4T

The differences between some of AMLO’s measures and those of previous PRI or PAN administrations — such as the energy reform — do not mean his administration’s class limitations can be ignored. It is necessary to set forth a clearly independent perspective for the workers’ and people’s movement like the one we propose here, and for socialists to maintain political independence.

In his writings on Mexico and Cardenismo, Trotsky maintained that “during the struggle for democratic tasks, we oppose the proletariat to the bourgeoisie. The independence of the proletariat, even in the beginning of this movement, is absolutely necessary.”9Leon Trotsky, “Latin American Problems: A Transcript,” November 4, 1938. He also stated that it was essential to maintain the independence of the organization and its program, precisely to promote that perspective within the working class. He was referring not only to independence in organizational terms, but to the political independence of revolutionary Marxists, which should be expressed in independent politics for the working class, through which “we oppose the proletariat to the bourgeoisie.”

The groups mentioned above have not adopted a position of political independence and fought for it in the labor movement. Far from it. They have joined a front alongside the ruling party, have become uncritical defenders of its policy and, in some cases, have even joined the “transformist” movement as government officials.

This adaptation and political capitulation seems to be the result of both the pressure of AMLO’s progressivism and a misguided search for shortcuts in the process of growing their organizations. It is impossible, though, to connect with sectors of the masses in a revolutionary manner when you are acting as the Left wing of the 4T government.

What is needed now is to join with sectors such as the teachers, state workers, and cultural workers who have gone through experiences with AMLO’s government and are fighting layoffs and government repression — as well as those who are adopting critical political positions with regard to the 4T as they begin to learn and disseminate the lessons they have drawn about the limits and the true character of AMLO’s progressivism. The purpose is to promote politics that are clearly independent, both from the government and from the Right.

There are no shortcuts that go through subordination to Morena and lead to revolutionary politics and organization. That path can lead only to a repeat — as a new farce — of the sad experiences of organizations that have previously ended up dissolving into the ranks of the PRD or into Zapatismo itself.10Such has been the case of the PRT since the late 80s. Unfortunately, the Revolutionary Socialist Coordinating Committee, from the same PRT, has announced it will merge with the populist organization ONPP — thus heading down the same path.

Building a great revolutionary socialist party requires a political orientation to the vanguard of workers and youth, sharing a common experience with them in the class struggle, and organizing it under the banner of Marxism. This means debating the politics of AMLO’s progressivism and his “national project,” which does not challenge imperialist oppression and capitalist exploitation, and counterposing a strategy for achieving a workers’ and socialist revolution in Mexico and a society without exploiters or exploited. That is the perspective we in the Movement of Socialist Workers promote in the class struggle, in the political and union groups we are building together with independent workers and students, and through the international network La Izquierda Diario.

First published in Spanish on May 22 in Ideas de Izquierda – Mexico.

Translation by Marisela Trevin


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Pablo Oprinari

Pablo is a sociologist from Mexico City and a leader of the Socialist Workers Movement (MTS).


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