Socialists Should Not Support AMLO

This Sunday, midterm elections are taking place in Mexico. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, better known as AMLO, has been governing the country for three years. Despite his progressive image, he was a close ally of Trump. Certain socialists are nonetheless supporting AMLO.
  • Óscar Fernández and Nathaniel Flakin | 
  • June 5, 2021
Photo: Bloomberg

This Sunday, midterm elections are taking place in Mexico to elect the Chamber of Deputies. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, better known as AMLO, is halfway through his six-year term. His National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) came to power promising an end to militarization and neoliberalism. But in office, even his moderate promises of the “Fourth Transformation” have not amounted to much. AMLO is maintaining Mexico’s economic model of subordination to U.S. imperialism.  

None of this is unexpected. Despite occasionally lofty rhetoric, AMLO always promised “to promote development through private and social initiatives, promoting competition.” He never talked about socialism. Before winning the presidency, AMLO had served as the head of government in the Federal District (Mexico City), where he combined a few democratic reforms (such as the legalization of aborition) with reliable administration for the capitalists.

It should come as no surprise that social democrats such as the editors at Jacobin magazine are supporting AMLO. In an article outlining that support, they list a few reforms that AMLO passed — while somehow forgetting altogether to mention his conciliatory relationship with Trump! AMLO was a close ally of Trump, founding a new National Guard to block immigrants from Central America at both the northern and southern borders. Recently, teachers in training (called normalistas) in Chiapas, a state governed by MORENA, were beaten, attacked with tear gas, and jailed for demanding that their admission exams take place in person — many have no internet connections at home. Jacobin’s article completely ignores MORENA’s real record — which is totally consistent with its “lesser evil” politics to get socialists to support capitalist politicians such as Joe Biden.

In Mexico, a number of socialist groups that claim the heritage of Leon Trotsky are also backing MORENA. Groups such as the Coordinadora Socialista Revolucionaria (CSR), linked to the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, and Izquierda Socialista (IS), part of the International Marxist Tendency of Alan Woods, are calling on workers to support MORENA. Apparently rather embarrassed to call directly for a vote for a bourgeois party in government, they tend to formulate the slogan as a “negative”: “Not one vote for the Right!” But the fine print makes clear that workers should vote critically for AMLO while at the same time demanding that his party and his government break with capitalism.

One wonders: couldn’t these groups, following the same method, call on workers to support the Democratic Party in the United States, while demanding that the party break with capitalism? Any socialist would reject such a silly perspective. Marxists have rejected the idea of transforming bourgeois parties into instruments for socialist revolution since as far back as 1850.

In Mexico, however, the IMT section is calling for MORENA “to transform itself into a revolutionary organization with class independence.” It believes that the rank and file of MORENA, which contains numerous workers, peasants, and poor people, can take over the party from its bourgeois leadership. The IMT thus sees MORENA as existing in a  sort of quantum state, as a party that is neither proletarian nor bourgeois.

A Two-Class Party?

The idea of a party that fluctuates between different class interests, however, is totally alien to Marxism. The IMT’s category is eerily reminiscent of the definition that Nikolai Bukharin and Joseph Stalin made of the Chinese National Party (the KMT or Kuomintang) in the 1920s. They argued that while the party was led by the Chinese bourgeoisie, the majority of the members were workers and peasants — and that communists should support the party and help the lower classes take over the reins. Trotsky responded:

The necessity for the Communist Party of China to enter the Kuomintang was defended on the ground that in its social composition the Kuomintang is a party of workers and peasants, that nine-tenths of the Kuomintang … belonged to the revolutionary tendency and were ready to march hand in hand with the communist party.

Trotsky rejected the idea of “‘two-class’ parties preached by Stalin,” saying this “throws us far behind not only the program of the CPSU of 1919, but also of the Communist Manifesto of 1847.” He explained:

Bourgeois society, as is known, is so constructed that the propertyless, discontented, and deceived masses are at the bottom and the contented fakers remain on top. Every bourgeois party, if it is a real party, that is, if it embraces considerable masses, is built on the self-same principle. The exploiters, fakers, and despots compose the minority in class society. Every capitalist party is therefore compelled in its internal relations, in one way or another, to reproduce and reflect the relations in bourgeois society as a whole. In every mass bourgeois party the lower ranks are therefore more democratic and further to the “Left” than the tops.

Trotsky rejected the Bukharinist-Stalinist idea that the bourgeois leadership of the KMT was “something secondary, accidental, and temporary.” Rather, for Trotsky, this was “the soul of the Kuomintang, its social essence.” He left no doubts about the impossibility of transforming its class character:

To consider the Kuomintang not as a bourgeois party, but as a neutral arena of struggle for the masses, to play with words about nine-tenths of the Left rank and file in order to mask the question as to who is the real master, meant to add to the strength and power of the summit … Basing themselves on the reactionary idea of the two-class party, Stalin and Bukharin imagined … that by means of ordinary elections at Kuomintang Congresses power would pass from the hands of the bourgeoisie to the proletariat. Can one conceive of a more touching and idealistic idolization of “party democracy” … in a bourgeois party? For indeed, the army, the bureaucracy, the press, the capital are all in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Precisely because of this and this alone it stands at the helm of the ruling party. The bourgeois “summit” tolerates or tolerated “nine-tenths” of the Lefts (and Lefts of this sort), only in so far as they did not venture against the army, the bureaucracy, the press, and against capital. By these powerful means the bourgeois summit kept in subjection not only the so-called nine-tenths of the “Left” party members, but also the masses as a whole.

Or a Popular Front Party?

IMT comrades might respond to such criticism by arguing that MORENA is a bourgeois workers’ party, similar to the Labour Party in Britain, in which a pro-capitalist bureaucracy leads a working-class base. But this ignores two things. First of all, MORENA has, since its inception, been an organic representation of the middle and small bourgeoisie in Mexico. As head of government in Mexico City, AMLO developed a long record of working with the big bourgeoisie, such as billionaire Carlos Slim, one of the richest capitalists on the planet.  Secondly, the Labour Party was created by the British trade unions, and its inner structure remains organically linked to the workers’ movement. This has never been the case with MORENA.

MORENA is a bourgeois party, plain and simple. Some movements of the oppressed support the party, but it goes on to repress its own supporters when it administers the capitalist state. There are parallels to the Democratic Party in the United States. MORENA is a mere shadow of radical bourgeois parties in the 20th century that offered profound reforms, such as the Party of the Mexican Revolution. Trotsky defined these kind of bourgeois parties in 1938:

The Kuomintang in China, the PRM in Mexico, and the APRA in Peru are very similar organizations. It is the People’s Front in the form of a party.

A traditional popular front was based on workers’ parties forming an alliance with the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie. The Stalinists formed such fronts in different countries in the 1930s, with disastrous results. But in China, rather than taking the form of an alliance between parties, the popular front was compressed into a single organization.

Trotsky did not limit this analysis to the KMT. He was explicit that parties in Latin America have the same fundamental class character.

The PRM or the APRA were qualitatively more radical than MORENA is today. MORENA has, at most, weak elements of Bonapartism or popular frontism. Did Trotsky call for any kind of support, no matter how critical, for these bourgeois parties? No. He said clearly that “our organization doesn’t participate in the APRA, Kuomintang, or PRM”:

For some time it was difficult for me to get a clear picture of the program of the APRA. … It is a People’s Front party. A People’s Front is included in the party, as in every combination of such nature. Direction is in the hands of the bourgeoisie, and the bourgeoisie fears its own workers. … Of course, we cannot enter such a party; but we can create a nucleus in it in order to win the workers and separate them from the bourgeoisie. But under no circumstances can we repeat the Stalinist idiocy with the Kuomintang in China.

It is particularly relevant for this discussion that Trotsky mentions the PRM, the Party of the Mexican Revolution, here. The party came to power in 1929 as the National Revolutionary Party. When Lázaro Cárdenas became president in 1934, he changed the party’s name to PRM. In 1938, Cárdenas nationalized the imperialist oil companies without compensation. Trotsky, while recognizing Cárdenas’s personal courage, made clear that communists could give zero support to this bourgeois politician, stating that “never and under no circumstances may the party of the proletariat enter into a party of another class or merge with it organizationally. An absolutely independent party of the proletariat is a first and decisive condition for communist politics.”

AMLO, of course, has taken not a single bold step to confront imperialism. The IMT has nonetheless given systematic support to AMLO in 2006, 2010, 2012, 2016, 2018, and now again. Before there was MORENA, it supported the bourgeois Party of the Democratic Revolution, which was responsible for repressing students (as in the 1999 strike at the National Autonomous University of Mexico). Izquierda Socialista writes: “We cannot be sectarian and distance ourselves from the rank and file and the left organisations that have confidence in AMLO.” This is, of course, the same argument that reformists in the United States use to justify support for the Democratic Party.

Marxist Theory in Latin America

Unfortunately, while Trotsky’s Escritos Latinoamericanos [Writings on Latin American] are well known to socialists on the continent, having gone through numerous editions in recent years, such a collection is currently unavailable in English (even though most of the texts are available in Trotsky’s Writings).

Trotsky developed the term Bonapartism sui generis to define the Cárdenas government in Mexico. This describes a government that balances between the imperialist bourgeoisie on the one hand and the local workers and peasants on the other, thus appearing to be independent of either. This offers a Marxist explanation for different governments in Latin American countries across the 20th century, from Juan Perón in Argentina in the 1940s and 1950s to Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in the 2000s. When such governments tilt to the left in order to escape from the overwhelming pressure of imperialism, they need to mobilize the masses, and sometimes employ radical rhetoric to that end. But their historical project is to defend the national bourgeoisie. 

Alan Woods of the IMT, in contrast, has been very vocal about his support for such left Bonapartist parties over the years, such as the MAS in Bolivia and the PSUV in Venezuela. In an essay in which he attempts to provide a theoretical background for this kind of popular frontism, he rejects Trotsky’s category as “sectarian,” writing that using such a definition “would immediately cut us off, not just from the masses, who are firmly behind Chavez, but also from the activists, most of whom remain loyal to Chavez, even if they have growing doubts and criticisms.” Woods doesn’t say the analysis is wrong — only that it would be too difficult to get the working class to understand a Marxist position. 

Trotsky made no secret of the bourgeois character of Cárdenas’s government, despite its bold reforms. Chávez, on the other hand, carried out “expropriations,” paying market prices, and never even once stopped paying Venezuela’s foreign debt. Yet Woods wants us to see that government as “socialist” or “revolutionary”? In his essay, Woods makes not a single reference to any concrete policy ever advocated by Trotsky. Instead, he writes vaguely that “Lenin and Trotsky explained that in colonial and semi-colonial countries it was an absolute obligation of the Marxists to support anti-imperialist movements.” That is indisputable — but does it translate into political support for bourgeois parties such as the KMT, the APRA, the PRM, the PSUV, the MAS, or MORENA?

For Class Independence!

Some socialists might argue that it is absolutely necessary to support MORENA in order to remain in touch with the masses of workers and poor people who support the party and the government. But there is a simple empirical test: Trotskyist groups in Mexico that support MORENA — this includes not just the aforementioned CSR and IS, but also other groups that follow the tradition of Ted Grant, such as Alternativa Socialista (connected to Socialist Alternative in the United States) and Izquierda Revolucionaria — are much smaller than those that are fighting to build up an independent workers’ party. A number of groups united to form an Anticapitalist Left Front (FIA) and contest the elections.

This was ultimately impossible in these elections because the National Electoral Institute demanded that signatures for independent candidates be collected while Mexico City was at its peak of infections and in the middle of a red-alert lockdown. Notwithstanding this setback, this project provides hope that socialist forces can raise their banner.

More hopeful signs come from Chile, where revolutionary workers joined the election battle as revolutionary socialists and won more than 50,000 votes. In Antofagasta, the country’s most important mining center, a Trotskyist leader won 13 percent of the vote.

Woods once called on workers in Argentina to support the “progressive” bourgeois government of Cristina Kirchner. But the country’s main Trotskyist groups rejected this advice, and instead worked to build up a political pole on the basis of class independence. The resulting Workers Left Front — Unity (FIT-U) has won more than a million votes in national elections. Trotskyist politicians are in the country’s congress and take part in presidential debates, but also are able to provide leadership to important workers’ struggles.

This shows the successes that Trotskyists can have by raising an independent banner. It would be a step forward for Mexico if the CSR, IS, AS, IR and other groups would stop supporting a bourgeois government party and instead join with larger socialist groups to build an independent pole. There is a debate going on in the international Left about the need for class independence. Growing forces in the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) in France, for example, are rejecting the leadership’s plan to support the social-chauvinist party of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and are fighting to create a revolutionary workers’ party. In Mexico and the United States as well, Marxists should be fighting to create a revolutionary party independent of bourgeois and reformist politicians. 

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Óscar Fernández

Óscar Fernández

Óscar is a member of the Socialist Workers' Movement (MTS) in Mexico and a graduate of political science at the Universidad Iberoamericana. He is a Left Voice correspondant in Mexico City and a member of the editorial staff of our sister site La Izquierda Diario México as well as the magazine Ideas de Izquierda México.
Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from New York City. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which appeared last year in German and this year in English. He is on the autism spectrum.

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