Statement of the International Committee of the Fourth International
Globalization and the International Working Class

The Mexican crisis: Marxism vs. petty-bourgeois nationalism

The Spartacists directly oppose this perspective. Much of their attack on the Socialist Equality Party centers on the 1994-1995 crisis in Mexico and the refusal of the SEP to subordinate itself to petty-bourgeois nationalism in general and the Zapatista rebellion, led by Subcomandante Marcos, in particular.

Thus, it attacks a statement published in The International Workers Bulletin which declared: “The events in Mexico demonstrate once again that the only way forward for the working class in the oppressed countries is to unite with their class brothers and sisters in the imperialist centers in a common struggle for the overthrow of capitalist exploitation and the establishment of socialism.” [1]

In reply Spartacist writes: “But what do the Northites tell the Mexican workers to do until the mass of workers in the US move to overthrow the capitalist system? The answer is effectively nothing. By counterposing an abstract conception of socialist internationalism to the actual struggles of the workers, rural toilers and oppressed peoples, the Northite tendency inexorably puts forward a defeatist line toward these struggles...” [2]

This line of argumentation is the hallmark of the middle class ex-radical opportunists. The working class is not immediately engaged in revolutionary struggle and therefore the perspective of socialist internationalism is “abstract” and unrealizable. A more “concrete” solution must be found in the “actual struggles” of other class forces.

Of course, revolutionary struggles will unfold within different countries at different tempos and the revolutionary party must respond to them with concrete policies and programs. There is every potential for a socialist revolution developing in Mexico before it does in the US, though the reverse is also possible.The decisive question is how these developments are understood and on what basis the revolutionary party’s response is elaborated.

The class struggle in any country can only be understood to the extent that it is seen within an international context and approached on the basis of an international strategy, founded on the building of the world party of the working class. Spartacist begins exclusively from the confines of the national state framework, and consequently its political line invariably lines up with the class interests of the petty-bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie.

In the case of Mexico, the more “concrete” force discovered by Spartacist was the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). That a petty-bourgeois nationalist tendency like Spartacist should line up with the Zapatistas is only natural. Workers Vanguard writes breathlessly about the events in Chiapas in 1994: “This unexpected leftist-led revolt gripped the world’s attention. But not the Northites.” [3]

The article makes no class characterization of this movement, nor does it review the record of similar movements throughout Latin America.

The Latin American workers movement has gone through four decades of experience with guerrillaism. It has paid a terrible price for the perspective that the heroic actions of small groups of armed men, mobilizing sections of the peasantry behind them, can substitute for the conscious socialist struggle of the working class.

Whether it is Comandante Che or Subcomandante Marcos, the bankruptcy of guerrillaism has been well established. Scores of these guerrilla movements cropped up in Central and South America following the Cuban revolution. Regardless of the individual courage of those who join the guerrillas, these organizations do not express the revolutionary socialist struggle of the working class. On the contrary, they are founded on the explicit rejection of a proletarian perspective.

The middle class left’s enduring infatuation with this type of movement has a definite class basis. What they see in this form of struggle is the possibility of the petty-bourgeoisie dominating the working class and playing a seemingly independent role. The guerrillaist perspective denies the necessity of turning to the working class and waging the difficult and protracted struggle for the development of socialist consciousness against the existing bureaucracies. Rather, it maintains that petty bourgeois guerrillas can revolutionize society through their own spontaneous activity. The appeal of such an outlook to the former student radicals and middle class protesters in an organization like Spartacist is undeniable.

Thousands of Latin American workers, youth and peasants lost their lives in suicidal adventures organized by these movements. Their principal political effect has been to divert any struggle to resolve the crisis of revolutionary leadership in the working class and thereby bolster the grip of the Stalinists and other bureaucratic leaderships that tied the workers movement to the state. Guerrillaism thereby played a key role in paving the way for the right-wing military dictatorships which dominated the continent for decades.

In the more recent period, one after another of these movements has made its accommodation with imperialism. In Venezuela, the former leader of the guerrillas became the minister in charge of implementing IMF austerity policies. In Colombia, the M-19 group gave up the armed struggle in a settlement which provided its leaders with political posts and its members with small business loans. Others have continued an armed struggle driven neither by political program nor ideology, but financial motives, becoming bodyguards for drug traffickers and raising cash through kidnappings and extortion. In Central America all of the guerrilla organizations—the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, El Salvador’s FMLN and the URNG of Guatemala—accepted settlements which abandoned the demands of the masses, protected the military and police assassins and provided parliamentary seats for the guerrilla leadership.

A careful examination of the politics of such organizations always reveals, behind the scenes, the hand of one or another section of the national bourgeoisie, or even this or that imperialist power. Subcomandante Marcos bases himself not on the independent power of the working class, but on a section of the exploited peasantry. But even more significant is his ability to leverage his support among sections of the bourgeoisie, both within Mexico and internationally.

“Dialogue” between the EZLN and the Mexican state became institutionalized through the formation of definite state institutions. The vague demands of Marcos for democratization, decentralization and an end to corruption were embraced by the petty-bourgeois left, sections of the ruling PRI, and even the right-wing opposition party, the PAN. The “leftist-led revolt” in Chiapas, rather than providing a way forward for Mexico’s workers and oppressed, became yet another instrument for settling accounts within the Mexican ruling class.

A similar tendency was expressed in the seizure of the Japanese embassy in Lima by the MRTA guerrillas, an action which also elicited the enthusiastic praise of Spartacist. This action was not aimed at striking a revolutionary blow against capitalism in Peru, but rather at pressuring Japanese imperialism to use its influence with the Fujimori regime in order to soften its policies. It ended in an inevitable debacle.

There has been far too much experience with guerrillaism, far too many defeats and betrayals organized on this basis, for the Marxist movement to take an indulgent attitude toward such organizations. The Trotskyist movement is not at all loath to tell the harsh truth about these types of petty-bourgeois movements. The answer to the problems of the Mexican people will not be found through armed struggles organized on the basis of the peasantry, but rather through the construction of an independent political movement of the working class.

Mexico’s entire history, including the original Zapatista rebellion of 1912-14, clearly demonstrates this. The movements led by Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa embraced masses of armed peasants. While they were able to conquer Mexico City, based as they were upon the parochial concerns of the peasantry, Zapata in the South and Villa in the North, they were incapable of providing an alternative to the existing state. In the end the revolution was suppressed and power consolidated in the hands of the national bourgeoisie.

In terms of its political program and perspectives, Subcomandante Marcos’ movement offers nothing new. Its evolution has only demonstrated once again, albeit on a far smaller scale, the inability of the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry to play an independent revolutionary role.

The task before the Mexican working class is the establishment of an independent political party capable of rallying the oppressed rural masses behind it in a socialist revolution. This party must be formed in alliance with and as part of the class movement of the North American and the entire Latin American working class. This requires the building of a section of the International Committee in Mexico.


The International Workers Bulletin, January 16, 1995


Workers Vanguard, March 21, 1997


Workers Vanguard, March 21, 1997