July 30, 2006

Everybody Looks Up

This summer, during the school holiday, I've been working for the school district's landscape crew cleaning up and prettying the district's 65 odd schools and buildings. So, here I am last Friday at the Whitteaker Middle School. My job after the lunch break was to clean up the school's courtyard, which our crew had trimmed and cleaned up during the morning. It is a pretty courtyard, with magnolia trees, rose bushes, rhododendrons, even a resident duck. But lord, this courtyard really did need a cleaning!

After about an hour of picking up and consolidating the debris into nice piles so the next crew could come in and remove the piles, our crew's second-in-charge comes in to ask if I'm almost done.

"Are you almost done?" he said.

"Well, I still have that corner to do, but I'm getting there," I said.

"Well let me know as soon as you're done, I've got some more clean up out front," he said sounding concerned.

"Yup, I'll check in with you when I finish here. But jeez, it's a hell of a mess," as I point to the main pile which is about five feet high and ten feet across.

"Wow!" he says as he looks at the pile, "OK," he says.

Pretty mundane, but the whole conversation struck me as a little odd. We were in the courtyard. The pile I was referring to was smack dab in the middle of the courtyard. The only way you could miss this pile was if you were blind. But our second-in-charge is not blind, even though he didn't see the pile and what really needed to be done.

You see, what our second-in-charge was seeing was not the work that needed to be done; what the project entailed. What he was seeing was the human hierarchy; what the schedule said needed to be done next; the possible displeasure of the crew leader should we get behind in our work.

Not that our crew leader is a slave driver. She knows landscaping well, is conscientious about her crew, but she too worries and gets anxious about projects. She has a boss too and is under a great deal of pressure to get 65 schools cleaned up in roughly 51 days... regardless of the work that needs to be done, which always seems to be secondary to a schedule and the all important operating budget.

Later on Friday, after work, I was having coffee with my best friend, a union organizer at the union where I used to work as an organizer. He's telling me about a series of job actions that had been planned for during the past week. It turns out that the job actions went very unevenly. In some areas, worker participation in the actions was at nearly 100%. However, in the city of Portland where many of the workers work, participation was almost non-existent; as if the workers had never heard about the action at all.

What happened? Well, I used to work for this union and I have a pretty good idea what happened.

The problem came down to this. This was to be a statewide (State of Oregon) action, coordinated by my friend. He was the guy who was posting the plans to fellow organizers throughout the State, where the overall success of the actions was based on the widest possible mass participation.

My friend is not the boss of his fellow organizers; he is an equal, a co-worker. Because my friend's plans for the action came from a co-worker, and were not ordered through the hierarchy of union bosses and supervisors, the action plans were simply ignored by my friend's comrades. Thus, at least as far as Portland went, the actions never filtered down to the worksite leadership, and thus were never disseminated to the rank and file members, and, well, this how one organizes a non-action.

What's a little more galling about the above state of affairs is that the particular union we are talking about says it highly prizes the kind of actions my friend was working on. Yet somehow, the union's rhetoric regarding worksite power got lost in the shuffle. The union's analysis regarding worksite power was completely forgotten, at least in Portland. The organizers' commitment to the cause of workers' power, a key ingredient in any workers' movement, was completely forgotten about because simply, it wasn't ordered through the hierarchy. Union organizers too are trained to only look up is my best guess.

A couple of weeks before, I was talking to another friend who works as an organizer for the same union. We are talking about the recent Mexican Presidential election where the peoples' choice, Andreas Lopez Obrador and the Party of the Democratic Revolution had the election stolen out from under them once again.

"Hey," I said, "Folks are angry and I think they've had enough. Hell, at least a quarter of a million folks in Zocalo Plaza in Mexico City, and the rhetoric sounds angry!" I said to my friend. I was remembering some of the quotes I'd read where some demonstrators were saying it might be time to take up arms.

"Lopez Obrador is toast." My friend said.

"The Mexican and world press are predicting a million protestors next week in Mexico City. I mean this thing could really be escalating!" I said enthusiastically (incidentally, the press was right, a million folks did show).

"He's toast," my friend said and walked off.

Interestingly, my friend said that it was Lopez Obrador who was toast, rather than the 21 or 22 odd million people who voted for Lopez Obrador and the PRD. But that is the rub again. I'm sure that my friend was looking at the Mexican Electoral Court, the Mexican and world media, pressure from the United States, the institutional power of the Mexican political and economic elites, and quite honestly, looking at those factors and discounting the power of a committed people, Lopez Obrador does look like toast.

However, why would a committed and first-class labor activist be so quick to discount the power of the people?

A couple of weeks ago I got a phone call from my current union, the Oregon Education Association. Actually, I didn't get a call from my union. Instead, I got a call from telemarketing firm paid for by my union. It was about the upcoming Oregon Governor's election.

I'm afraid I drove the woman who had to talk to me insane. I didn't mean to, but...

"Which of the below five issues do you think are most important? Jobs and the economy, the environment, education, taxes, or public safety (police)?" she asked.

"Hmm ... Well there's already too many cops, and taxes are too high for the poor and working classes ... Taxes should be raised for corporations. Actually, most of those issues you stated are highly inter-related." I stated.

"Job creation and the economy, the environment, education, taxes, or public safety?" she repeated.

Oh god, I don't know..." I responded.

"Undecided?" she suggested.

"OK," I said.

"How would you rate Governor Kulongoski's performance? Highly favorably, favorably, neutral, not favorable, highly not favorable?" she asked me.

"Well, Kulongoski's performance from my point of view has been terrible," I said.

"Highly favorable, favorable, neutral, not favorable, or highly unfavorable," she repeated.

Anticipating the next question, I said, "Well, I guess I'll pick not favorable."

"The Republican candidate, Ron Saxton, has proposed to create jobs through privatizing state services, building a business-friendly environment, improving education, and reducing taxes. How do you view Ron Saxton's candidacy? Highly favorably, favorably, neutral, not favorably, highly unfavorably?" she asked.

"Highly unfavorably," I stated.

"If the Governor's election was tomorrow, would you vote for Democrat Kulongoski, Republican Saxton, or Independent Westlund?' she asked.

"Well, I'm wondering if it's worth voting in this election because none of the candidates are even close to my views, but if I was to vote it would be Kulongoski," I said.

"Should I record Kulongoski? Or undecided?" she asked.

"Oh jeez," I said, "Put down Kulongoski for the time being."

And on we go....

The woman who interviewed me certainly earned her $7.15 per hour spending 20 odd minutes on the phone with me. By the time I was done, however, I had pretty well decided that I was going to sit out this election. After all, why should I dignify a system that has reduced political dialogue to nothing more than a market choice between Dial Soap and Zest Soap?

As for me working in public education and my fellow state employees, I'm thinking maybe our best option is to go back to the old ways, like withholding our labor; what used to be called a strike.

"But, our members won't strike!" I'm hearing the imaginary chorus of one hundred union officials.

I want to respond, "How the hell would you know! You've never had an honest dialogue with any membership in you lives...."

And how the hell would they know? I'm remembering my last six months at the union where I used to work. As a union, we worked like dogs to get Kulongoski elected to his first term. Two days before taking office the guy announced pension cuts and wage freezes for our 21,000 members working in the State system.

"So, what's the union going to do now?" said angry member number one.

"Yeah, good work union! You got us screwed... What is the union brass getting for this? Gonna vote themselves big raises?" said angry member number two.

Angry members number three, four, five and six just stared, looking angry.

"Well guys," I said, "You might very well be right. This idiot Governor might have been one of the worst choices we've made. But it's not over yet. Maybe the best thing we can do now is to start acting like a union. You know, hang together and aim to cause this Governor as much pain as we can. Strike the bastard. Disrupt the guy... Make life as painful as we can for him…

I had a lot of dialogue like the above with a lot of the members I worked with. A funny thing started happening too. These members started showing up at rallies and demonstrations; something that hadn't happened before. This was even noticed by the top union brass, who were pretty free with, "Hey, good work" compliments.

However, no one ever asked why these members were now showing at rallies and demonstrations. And anyway, the direct action/strike formula had been foreclosed within a couple of months of Governor Kulongoski's taking office. With an organizational half-heart, no discussion, no context, no background, sign-up forms went out that said something like, "Sign here if you want to strike."

Few members signed.

No wonder the members didn't want to strike. So instead, for the next three, four and five months members were urged to call their legislators. Organizers were told to go out with cell phones. "Call your legislator," was the plan. And the pension cuts happened, and the wage freeze too.

This article is titled, Everybody Looks Up. And there is a common theme here. What I'm trying to describe, from my life as a landscaper to the continued failures of the American labor movement, to a stolen Mexican election, is a modern form of social pathology.

The pathology is this: people are so in awe and afraid of institutional power, and have such an ingrained sense of powerlessness that perception itself has been altered, even for those who should know better.

How else can I describe it? An experienced landscaper who is so worried about the work schedule that he misses the obviousness of the work that needs to be done right under his nose ... And this guy is a good guy and excellent landscaper.

Or, how about the unions?

One experienced organizer, a guy I greatly respect, has gone entirely cynical about the power of people engaged in concerted activity. Where I see-self activity building to the extent of demonstrations that go from a quarter of a million, to a million, to today, July 30, two million people expected in Mexico City (7/30/06, Prensa Latina), he can only see defeat.

Another organizer puts together a plan that is based on the best traditions of empowering workers and it turns out to be a half effort because it wasn't ordered from above, and maybe because the union itself didn't rate the action worth ordering.

My past and current union have let opportunities go by because when you get right down to it, for them the power is not in the people, instead it's in the elected officials, the institutions, the apparatus, the "big guys."

This is in spite of 150 years of experience that says every bit of social progress has been based on mass activity and organization.

Something here is wrong.

If you asked me what I think the biggest victory of the Left has been in the last year or so, I'd have to say it's the May/June 2005 French and Dutch "No" votes on the corporation designed European Union Constitution.

And there is a lesson here: The European media, governments, every major political party, Europe's corporate elite, kept saying, "Vote for the Constitution, it's good!" When it came to the TV talk shows, there were four advocates saying, "vote yes" for every advocate of the "no" option.

Yet, the Left won in both France and Holland. And decisively too! Not with slogans, attack ads and slick advertising, but instead, with honest dialogue.

In France, roughly 900 collective study groups were formed at municipal and regional levels. These study groups did something really radical, they actually read and dissected the roughly 300 pages of trade agreements and appointed corporate commissions that were the European Constitution; every damned page and every damned footnote.

Instead of slick public manipulation, the Left honored the intelligence of the people by saying simply, "let's look at the details." And thus, the devil was found.

The key ingredient here is putting the trust in the people, an honest dialogue, a set of values, and the notion that it is this tradition that constitutes what democracy really means.

If we who call ourselves the Left in the United States could ever start looking down and putting our trust in actual human beings, in each other and what human beings can be, we might actually get someplace. But first, we would have to cure ourselves of the pathology of always looking up and seeing all-powerful gods where there is only false advertising and clever smoke and mirror games.

July 27, 2006

todo el poder al pueblo

"All power to the people. " See photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/72025498@N00/.

A young woman from the NW who was in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Palestine (where Rachel Corrie was living/working when killed) to do solidarity work is now in Mexico with the intention to volunteer in the indigenous communities in Chiapas and beyond, to the south. Rochelle: "What is occurring in Latin America today truly gives me hope as the resistance to neoliberalism is growing, from the Zapatistas in Mexico, the MST inBrazil, and other popular movements throughout Latin America." To get updates during her travels, send email to rochelle@riseup.net.

July 19, 2006

News And Views From The Communist Party

Here are two links to discussions underway in the Communist Party USA. We should discuss these issues as a movement and better define our perspectives and tasks.



July 17, 2006

Slovenian Communists, Yugoslavia & Spain

We received this from the Communist Party of Slovenia:

NO PASARAN 1936 - 2006!
The Spanish were the first nation in Europe to be attacked by the forces of the fascist and nazi axis. It was there that, Hitler and Mussolini tested their new arms, especially their airforce and artillery, later used in other countries as well, including Jugoslavija. For us, Jugoslavs, who took up arms in occupied Europe, during second world war and were first people to form a regular anti-fascist partisan forces, the example of the Spanish republican army was very significant. This was the first army in Europe composed of uncompromising anti-fascist forces. The source of its strength were the Popular Front of the Spanish People and all democratis and patriotic elements in Spain. In the spring of 1936, the coalition of progressive, leftist parties won the general elections in Spain. The government of the Popular Front, after its victory, began to distribute land to the peasants and to carry out other democratic and social reforms. The reactionary forces of Spain, the landholders, the wealthy bourgeoise and the Catholic church, soon started to prepare a counterblow. Reactionary scum, with Hitler and Mussolini support, rebelled against the government of the Popular Front - against the LEGAL government of Spain! This was in the night between July 17 and 18, of 1936.
The workers, peasants and democratic citizens rose to the defense of the Republic! 35,000 volunteers from 55 countrys fought in international brigades.
There is another reason why we remember the war in Spain this year. It is the fact that a large number of Jugoslovanov, mostly young people, rushed to Spain, fought in the ranks of Spanish Republican Army, and shed their blood for the freedom of the Spanish people. During the Spanish war, the Central Committee of the Jugoslav Communist Party mobilized the working masses of Jugoslavija for aid to the Spanish Republic by sending volunteers and supplies. The CK KPJ also took care of the political work among the Jugoslav volunteers. This and the support of the whole communist movement,played an important role in the creation of the high morale, which was characteristical for Jugoslav volunteers throughout the war. They were always among the best, among the most courageous. Out of 1300 Jugoslav volunteers 670 remained forever in Spain! They gave their lives for freedom of Spanish people. Those of them who, after the end of Spanish war, in 1941 returned to occupied Jugoslavija - brought with them from Spain rich military and political experiences. Our "SPANCI" as people called them, were among the first military advisers in the organs of Communist Party of Jugoslavija, among the first organizers of our uprising, the first soldiers, commanders and commissare of the first Partisan units, among the most popular heroes! Just as in our country, the former volunteers in Spain were among the best fighters against the fascist oppressor, among the best organizers of armed uprising and participants in guerilla actions in many other European countries: in France, Italy, Poland. World War II ended with victory of the world democratic coalition. All nations were freed from fascist tyranny, all but one, the Spanish nation. This historical injustice is even greater in wiew of the fact that this is the nation, which fought the first battle against fascism, the first to shed rivers of blood in this battle, badly armed and betrayed by the Western capitalist states. Fight and sacrifices of Spanish Repubica and foregin volunteers are built into the foundations of the future world! The world of PEACE, FREEDOM and BROTHERHOOD AMONG NATIONS!
Association of Spanish fighters and their descendant in Jugoslavija will honouring 70th anniversary of Spanish antifascist war with EXHIBITION in MUZEJ JUGOSLAVIJE, 14th September 2006 in Belgrade-Srbija ex capital of Jugoslavija.
Rudolf Baloh

July 10, 2006

A Little Socialism--Part Two

Melvin Little's short piece (see below) deserves a response if only because it reveals certain strains of thought current in social-democratic circles and because it extends to others the means of replying and helping to clarify socialist thought. I hope that our readers will respond in this discussion.

We should begin by noting that a relatively small number of socialists debating the alleged differences between socialism and communism in 2006 might be an exercise in futility, something like debating the finest points of gnostic theology, and that the further we are removed from working class and popular movements the more meaningless and futile these debates become. It is Little's responsibility, then, to work out what the main contradictions of our historic moment are and to tell us about the movements he is actively engaged in which seek to transform this moment into something democratic or, if you will, into something revolutionary. What is the practical activity to which Little's essay responds?

Instead, Little tells us that the alleged difference between socialism and communism is "Democracy." He does not define the term or, more importantly, tell us whose "Democracy"and rights are at stake. We are left with an abstract "Democracy" which we might recognize by its opposite, by what it is not, because this opposite "...is just as non-appealing as the command economy, one party system, and the micro-management of the individual that existed in the former Soviet Union." This must be a "Democracy" which does not belong to a class and does not reflect a certain means of production and distribution--an abstract "Democracy," then, and one which has never existed.

What the argument lacks in specificity--whose "Democracy" and rights are at stake? what are the specific characteristics of this "Democracy"?--it also lacks in scholarship. In a few lines Little gives his version of what the USSR was like. Recent and non-apologetic scholarship of the USSR provides very different insights into daily life and the class nature of the USSR. Indeed, it was always a society engaged in internal struggles and so criticism must be pointed to specific time periods, specific trends and specific forces. Absent such specificity, Little is weaving, or reweaving, a cold war fable.

What catches my attention is Little's use of the term "command economy" and I suspect that in this is the source of my disagreements with him and many of the errors we see in socialist and social democratic circles.

Every economy is indeed a "command economy" and the remaining questions concern who commands and how that command is organized and carried out. The "unseen hand" of capitalism is certainly a commanding force and the worker understands very well, if only instinctively, that our golden rule is that "he who has the gold makes the rules." In a socialist society the commanding forces may exist as a mobilized working class or as planning commissions and bureaus. In the syndicalist utopia it is the general convention or assembly of the syndicate or industrial union. These are the means, real or imagined or hoped for, through which classes exercise their will, or commands.

And so it is that Little's conflation of the social democracies and socialism says more about the present day confusion among social democrats than it does about any historic fact or process. It is good that Little qualifies this with "Well to me..." but he is too modest here: he speaks for a broader "socialist" constituency which is essentially made up of militant liberals.

Is it true, as Little says, that "powers tend to moderate in democracies" and that "a mixed economy works?" If "powers" did indeed "moderate in democracies" then Little could have no complaint. The American Constitution provides for a democratic government and it would only be a matter of adhering to certain principles in order to find that moderation which would produce enough rights and power for all. And it would be a relatively simple matter, then, for countries with enlightened and democratic constitutions to impose their enlightenment and democracy upon others.

But just the opposite occurs. Those who control the economic relations which underpin society and a nation's military and judicial might have only limited interest in democracy and moderation. The limits of their interest extend to the point that their power may be threatened. They impose upon their own societies and other countries those economic and political relationships which benefit them. "Democratic rights" may inded have been the inspiring call and banner of past revolutions, but those revolutions have run their historic course. We now confront questions of class power and these questions occur in the context of a permanent arms and war economy under the aegis of the American empire.

Just so, we turn to the question of the "mixed economy." Little is obligated to tell us where and how such a "mixed economy" works if this is his model. We have examples of states managing social and vital services alongside of consumer cooperatives and capitalist enterprises, but nowhere have we seen such arrangements exist peacefully and productively over a long period of time. There have come decisive moments in every society during which struggles have erupted over how property is prioritized and how the power which comes with owning and controlling property may or may not be circumscribed; this is unavoidable. And we seen in recent times that the social democracies, allegedly built on such "mixed economies," have been used by the capitalists to carry the social costs of reproducing labor power. Now some of these social democracies--and some of the social democratic parties which give them political coherence--are among the first to support the American empire in its adventures or privatize or actually defeat working class power. Little should show us where this is not the case.

It is instructive that when the USSR sought to create in some fashion a mixed economy the small capitalists necessary for such an economy found a political voice and the means of crushing their rivals. They won their "mixed economy" and, not satisfied, overthrew the existing order and instituted gangster and careerist capitalism. Such is the class struggle.

Little objects to the use of "force" and wants "*socialism* in its purest sense through democratic means." I do not pretend to know what is "pure" in life, and much less in the class struggle. Workers move forward and backward, often simultaneously, and our revolutions interrupt themselves with self-criticism, idealism, looking backwards and purges. And we face the full might of the state, wars and the appropriation of our struggles by those who are basically hostile to us. There is nothing "pure" here.

But Little counterposes "force" and "democratic means" as if they are eternally opposite. It is a kind of theology, you know--an eternal good and bad at war with one another. If Little believes that "If any movement...tries to implement their ideas through force, then their movement loses the right to call itself 'democratic'" then Little is opposed to feminism or the civil rights movement or strikes--all use "force" to gain our objectives; all act, with "force," as militant minoirity movements within the confines of larger and hostile societies.

Little says that he wants something more than social democracies provide or promise. He wants "greater participation" for workers and the regulation of corporations and a "living wage job" for everyone and he wants this through a "mixed economy" with cooperatives. This has been the social democratic agenda for five generations and it certainly provides for a better life than what we have now in the USA--but it is not enough and it is not realistic.

Little says that he wants more than the agenda he is arguing for. We do not hear in this vision what means of production and distribution these cooperatives will appropriate or how cooperatively held property will exist in relationship to privately held property--only that a worker will have some security there. We do not hear how these social gains will be protected from hostile forces without the use of state power-- that is, force--or how such a state can exist without the use of force and still be democratic. These unresolved questions mark a curious set of contradictions in social democratic thinking.

I hope that we will hear from others in this discussion.

A Little Socialism--Part One

Melvin Little recently wrote a piece entitled "Melvin Little Explains Socialism (for ages 10 to 70)" and this has appeared in a few Socialist Party bulletins. I am copying the article below and will be writing a response. Readers are encouraged to respond as well. Our copy comes from the Oregon Socialist (http://www.thesocialistparty.org/).

Little writes...

DARREN LYLE WRITES: If a ten year old child asked you to explain socialism and communism, how would you do it?

MELVIN LITTLE REPLIES: If a 10 year old, a 45 year old, or a 70 year old asked me to explain the difference between*socialism* and *communism*, I would tell them that the difference can be summed up in one word. Democracy. By democracy, I am not talking about the "false democracy" that exists in America. A society where trade unions are almost non-existent, with the absence of a universal healthcare system, the ongoing practice of the death penalty, and a one party state pretending to be a two party state does not appeal to me one bit. It is just as non-appealing as the command economy, one party system, and the micro-management of the individual that existed in the former Soviet Union. As a *socialist*, neither the American capitalist nor the Soviet communist model appeal to me.

I usually refer to the center left governments as *socialist* governments. Some would contradict me and say that places like Sweden, Spain, and New Zealand are *social democracies* and not *socialist* countries. Well to me, *social democracy* and *socialism* mean the same thing. No matter how pure any movement is, powers tend to moderate in democracies. If any movement comes in and tries to implement their ideas through force, then their movement loses the right to call itself "democratic."

*Socialism* should go further than strong trade unions, socialized medicine, the welfare state, and civil liberties; there should be a fundamental commitment to make all these societies with center left governments bring about *socialism* in its purest sense through democratic means. When it is done by force, I repeat that it ceases to be democratic. Does that commitment mean that *socialists* should evolutionarily create a "command economy?" The answer is no. A mixed economy works, and there should be structures set up whereby workers get a greater participation and more democratic say. This can be done through both cooperatives and regulation of private corporations. As long as EVERYONE is entitled to a living wage job, then *socialism* becomes more of a reality.

For Bread, Red Roses, and Peaceful Revolutions!

Melvin Little
Democratic Socialists of America
American Civil Liberties Union
United Food & Commercial Workers

"I would never trade one form of tyranny for another."

--Tommy Douglas

July 9, 2006

Rantings on the Mexican Election

Mexico and the U.S. of A. Similarities and Differences

One should have no doubt about it -- the on-going mess that is the Mexican presidential election represents the importation of the worst sort of American political manipulation. The only difference is that Mexicans might care too much about their democracy, unlike us in the U.S., who will pretty much accept anything as long as it is packaged right.

What I'm writing about is the pretty much no-holds-barred attempt on the part of the Mexican power establishment to make sure presidential candidate Andreas Lopez Obrador is not elected president. What is particularly American about this election is its combination of bought mass-media advertising and what appears to be a pretty slick and very technically sophisticated manipulation of the electoral process. Anybody who is interested in the mechanics of this technical manipulation should read the article below by John Ross of the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

A lot of the technically sophisticated electoral manipulations used in the Mexican vote count are those techniques that were so talked about in the American presidential elections of 2000 and 2004. We are talking about creating local nuisances to keep certain voters away from the polls. We are talking too about how we count the votes, and instead of the old and crude stuffing the ballot box, we are talking about electronic cyber management where the desired trends are amplified and where the non-desired voters' ballots disappear into cyber space.

Take this kind of slick ballot manipulation, and combine it with a media blitzkrieg of sound-bite lies, intentional misrepresentations and the stretching of half-truths, and jeez, it sounds just like an American election...

The only problem is this. Unlike us in the U.S. of A., many, many Mexicans might actually care about their democracy, the meaning and impact of the political choices in front of them, and have some kind of an inane belief in social justice and the power of political change.

Of course, one key difference between Mexican and American politics is that a meaningful choice does exist in the current Mexican presidential election. Andreas Lopez Obrador; his party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution; Lopez Obrador's predecessor, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas; all have been willing to talk about and make center stage a political dialogue around subjects such as class, poverty, social justice, the improvement of living conditions for those who work in industry and grow the crops, etc.

This is in sharp contrast to Felipe Calderon and his party, the National Action Party, who are talking the usual neo-liberal rap of free trade, Mexican competitiveness in the global economy, the need for political and economic stability, and the further growth of the Mexican economy -- without reference to how real Mexicans are living.

This Mexican political dynamic is quite a bit different from the U.S. of A. where both the Democrats and Republicans vie to sound the same, where both parties seem to be involved in a silent compact never to talk about class, social justice, the incredibly and infinitely growing gap between the rich and most of the population, or the dominance of corporate social and political power.

Another difference too is that while Lopez Obrador and the Party of the Democratic Revolution are willing to fight on against a manipulated election with the backing of large segments of Mexico's poor and dispossessed, Democratic candidates Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 couldn't wait to concede defeat, in spite of some pretty shady and anything-but-transparent electoral practices, with a fair dose of systematic politic disenfranchisement added.

But this is America. The differences in the parties are not substantive; instead they're about who gets the spoils and how the corporate agenda gets packaged and implemented. In so quickly conceding defeat, the Democrats have placed the stability of the system ahead of all else. But what's new? Both parties value the same priorities; Wall Street loved Bill Clinton as much as it has loved any Republican Administration.

Mexico and the Global Class War

I'm a Marxist and a Socialist. I can't help but look at the current Mexican presidential election within the context of the last 15 or so years of global historical development.

Going back to 1990 or so, the significant event is the collapse of the Soviet Union. Thus we have a phenomena called by neo-con philosopher Francis Fukuyama, "The End of History."

Fukuyama's "End of History" was the apparent triumph of the neo-liberal capitalist paradigm on a global scale. With this historically significant triumph in its back pocket, the capitalist world -- through the World Bank, through the IMF, through a thousand and one corporate boardrooms and the governments they made -- went forth into the world demanding third world nations decimate their social programs, privatize state industries, and open themselves to any and all kinds of external corporate investment and interference.

This recipe of privatization and decimation was applied globally, in the old socialist nations as well as in the third world. And in return, the capitalist world, through its neo-liberal philosophers and politicians, promised democracy, liberty and prosperity on a global scale never seen before.

The reality was a bit different, however:

Everywhere the recipe was applied, in Latin America, in the old socialist world, in the center of global capitalism itself, like Europe and the U.S, pensions and social benefits were eliminated, trade union rights were increasingly limited, vast segments of the population were thrown into unemployment and grinding poverty, economic growth occurred to the detriment of most peoples' living conditions, democracy became the rule of those who are known in Russia as the "Oligarchs," and local oligarchs everywhere became increasingly linked with global capitalist institutions at the expense of the needs of local populations.

By 2000, the veneer of the neo-liberal agenda was starting to wear thin. In some parts of the world, the neo-liberal agenda was under attack. In other parts of the world, a popular revolt against the dictates of the market was under way.

Here, I am referring to the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, Argentina's election of a populist government and its desire to be rid of the IMF, the election of Lulu de Silva in Brazil, the continuation of a moderately left regime in Chile, the election of Evo Morales in Bolivia, French and Dutch rejection of a corporate-designed united European constitution, the consolidation of a meaningful left opposition in Germany, Belarus thumbing its nose at the U.S. and European Union by re-electing Alexander Lukashenko, and an increasingly independent Russia willing to tweak international capital in its own national interests.

Back to Mexico:

It is within the context of the neo-liberal global economy that the current Mexican presidential election is occurring. Andreas Lopez Obrador is not that radical; he is not challenging the course of the world capitalist economy; his aims aren't that high and he's said so. But he and his party's agenda have clearly identified the neo-liberal agenda as being responsible for throwing the majority of Mexicans into grinding poverty, and has clearly stated that its policies will be based on putting Mexico's vast army of the poor ahead of the dictates of the global market place.

That Lopez Obrador and the Party of the Democratic Revolution's message resonates was made clear early in the presidential campaign where Lopez Obrador had an overwhelming lead in all the polls. It is at this point that the Mexican power establishment panicked and turned to the US for help. And they found it with a bunch of high-priced election consultants who moved forward with an aggressive American style political campaign based on disinformation, scare tactics, personality attacks, the systematic violation of the best parts of Mexico's democratic tradition (which is extensive), and an intentional avoidance of all issues around the global economy.

All the same, Lopez Obrador and many, many Mexicans think Lopez Obrador did indeed win the election ... that is if you count all of the ballots, which is what the Mexican power establishment wants to avoid at all costs.

So here I sit. According to my trusty Google news page, a few hours ago somewhere between 150,000 to 290,000 people packed Mexico City's Zocalo Plaza calling for an honest and democratic election. Every indication too says that there are more and possibly bigger protests to come, and by Monday July 10th, Lopez Obrador's complaints of electoral fraud will be put before a national elections tribunal.

Meanwhile, George Bush has called Felipe Calderon to congratulate him on his victory, the American press worries about stability and the effects of electoral uncertainty on the Mexican stock market while also predicting the end of the recent turn to the left in Latin American politics, and the real political pundits are suggesting that Lopez Obrador find a way to gracefully back down so, they say, he can improve his chances for the 2012 election.

I guess we'll see ...

July 8, 2006

Mexico; Another Stolen Election?

The following article was written by John Ross and appeared in the July 7th online edition of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. The significance of the article comes down to this:

After reading reams and reams of reports on the recent Mexican Presidential election, primarily from the U.S. press and English language European press, this is the only article which specifically delves the complaints of electoral manipulation made by moderate leftist Presidential candidate, Andreas Lopez Obrador and his Party of the Democratic Revolution. Folks who have followed the specifics of a couple of recent Presidential campaigns in the U.S. might see some similiarities with this current Mexican election.

Anatomy of a scandal foretold

How was the Mexican election stolen? Let us count the ways


MEXICO CITY (July 7th) -- Mexican elections are stolen before, during, and after Election Day. Just look at what happened in the days leading up to the tightest presidential election in the nation's history this past July 2nd.

By law, the parties and their candidates close down their campaigns three days before Election Day. On Wednesday night June 28th, as the legal limit hove into sight, a team of crack investigators from the Attorney General's organized crime unit descended on the maximum security lock-up at La Palma in Mexico state where former Mexico City Finance Secretary Guillermo Ponce awaits trial on charges of misuse of public funds “ much of which he appears to have left on Las Vegas crap tables.

During his nearly six years in office, outgoing president Vicente Fox has often used his attorney general's office against leftist front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to counter his growing popularity, including a failed effort to bar the former Mexico City mayor from the ballot and even imprison him.

Now, in a desperate last-minute electoral ploy by Fox's right-wing National Action or PAN party to boost the fortunes of its lagging candidate Felipe Calderon, the agents tried to pressure Ponce into testifying that AMLO and his PRD party had used city revenues to finance his presidential campaign but Ponce proved a stand-up guy and ultimately rebuffed the government men.

The imprisoned finance secretary's refusal to talk greatly disappointed both Televisa and TV Azteca, Mexico's two-headed television monopoly that has waged an unrelenting dirty war against Lopez Obrador for months and even years. Indeed, TV crews were stationed out in the La Palma parking lot to record Ponce's thwarted confession for primetime news and both networks had reserved time blocks on their evening broadcasting, forcing the anchors to scramble to fill in the gap.

That was Wednesday night. On Thursday June 29th, Lopez Obrador's people awoke to discover that the candidate's electronic page had been hacked and a phony message purportedly signed by AMLO posted there calling upon his supporters to hit the streets "if the results do not favor us." Although officials of Lopez Obrador's party, the PRD, immediately proved the letter to be a hoax, the pro-Calderon media broadcast the story for hours as if it were the gospel truth, eventually forcing the PRD and its allies to reaffirm that AMLO would abide by results released by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), the nation's maximum electoral authority, even if the IFE's numbers did not favor the candidate.

The PRD pledge was a reiteration of a "pact of civility" that Televisa had browbeat PRD president Lionel Cota into signing in early June. "Hackergate," as the scandal quickly became known, was designed to prevent Lopez Obrador's supporters from protesting the fraud that the electoral authorities were already preparing.

That was Thursday. On Friday, June 30th, after more than five years of false starts, Fox's special prosecutor for political crimes placed former president Luis Echeverria under house arrest for his role in student massacres in 1968 and 1971. Not only was the long overdue arrest portrayed by big media as a feather in Fox's -- and therefore, Calderon's – cap, but it also put the much-hated Echeverria, a pseudo-leftist with whom Calderon has often compared Lopez Obrador, back on the front pages. Since Echeverria is an emeritus member of the PRI, the bust killed two birds with one very opportunist stone.

That was Friday. On Saturday June 1st, two PRD poll watchers in conflictive Guerrero state were gunned down by unknowns, invoking the memory of hundreds of party supporters who were slaughtered in political violence after the 1988 presidential election was stolen from party founder Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, up until now Mexico's most conspicuous electoral fraud.

That was Saturday. On Sunday, July 2nd, Felipe Calderon and the PAN, aided and abetted by the connivance of the Federal Electoral Institute, Mexico's maximum electoral authority, stole the presidential election before the nation's eyes.

As mentioned above, Mexican elections are stolen before, during, and after the votes are cast. During the run-up to July 2nd, the IFE, under the direction of Calderon partisan Luis Carlos Ugalde, systematically tried to cripple Lopez Obrador's campaign. Venomous television spots that labeled AMLO "a danger" to Mexico were allowed to run, sometimes four to a single commercial break, for months on Televisa and TV Azteca despite an indignant outcry from Lopez Obrador's supporters. The IFE only pulled the plug on the hit pieces under court order.

In a similar display of crystal clear bias, Ugalde and the IFE winked at Vicente Fox's shameless, unprecedented, and unconstitutional campaigning for Calderon, and refused to intervene despite AMLO's pleas for the president to remove himself from the election.

One of the IFE's more notorious accomplishments in this year's presidential elections was to engineer the non-vote of Mexicans in the United States, an effort that resulted in the disenfranchisement of millions of "paisanos" living north of the Rio Bravo. Undocumented workers were denied absentee ballot applications at consulates and embassies and more than a million eligible voters were barred from casting a ballot because their voter registration cards were not up to date and the IFE refused to update them outside of Mexico. Untold numbers of undocumented workers who could not risk returning to Mexico for a minimum 25 days to renew their credential were denied the franchise the IFE was sworn to defend. The PRD insists that the majority of undocumented Mexicans in the U.S. would have cast a ballot for Lopez Obrador.

The left-center party has considerable strength in Los Angeles and Chicago, the two most important concentrations of Mexicans in the U.S. When thousands of legal Mexican residents from Los Angeles caravanned to Tijuana to cast a ballot for Lopez Obrador, they found the special polling places for citizens in transit had no ballots. The 750 ballots allocated to the special "casillas" had already been taken by members of the Mexican police and military.

In Mexico City, when voters in transit lined up at one special polling place, according to noted writer Elena Poniatowska, hundreds of nuns presumably voting for the rightwing Calderon displaced them and were given the last of the ballots.

Back in the bad old days when the long-ruling (71 years) Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) stole elections with impunity, most of the larceny took place in the polling stations --stolen or stuffed ballot boxes, multiple voting, altered vote counts -- but since national and international observers like the San Francisco-based Global Exchange became a regular feature of the electoral landscape here, such overt fraud has diminished and the cumulative number of anomalies recorded in 130,000 casillas July 2nd seemed insignificant when compared to the size of the victory Calderon was already claiming the morning after -- i.e. the John Kerry Syndrome, named in memory of the Democratic Party candidate's sudden capitulation in Ohio in 2004 for much the same reason.

Nonetheless, this "fraude de hormiga" (fraud of the ants) which steals five to 10 votes a ballot box, when combined with the disappearance of voters from precinct lists ("razarados" or the razored ones) can fabricate an electoral majority: The long-ruling PRI (which failed to win a single state July 2nd) was a master of this sort of "alquemia" (alchemy) during seven decades of defrauding Mexican voters.

During the build-up to July 2nd, independent reporters here uncovered what appeared to be IFE preparations for cybernetic fraud. One columnist at the left national daily La Jornada discovered parallel lists of "razarados" on the IFE electronic page; one of the lists contained multiples of the other. While the columnist, Julio Hernandez, made a phone call to the IFE to question this phenomenon, the list containing the multiples vanished from his computer screen.

Similarly, radio reporter Carmen Aristegui was able to access the list of all registered voters through one of Felipe Calderon's web pages, and the list had been crossed with one containing the personal data of all recipients of government social development program benefits. Former social development secretary (SEDESO) Josefina Vazquez Mota, is Calderon's right hand woman and the PAN candidate's brother-in-law Diego Zavala, a data processing tycoon, designed programs for both the IFE and the SEDESO. Utilizing voter registration rolls and lists of beneficiaries of government programs is considered an electoral crime here.

AMLO's people went into July 2nd fearing a repeat of 1988 when the "system" purportedly "collapsed" on election night and did not come back up for ten days. When results were finally announced, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas has been despoiled of victory and the PRI's Carlos Salinas was declared the winner.

Lopez Obrador's fears were not unwarranted.

When on July 2nd AMLO's voters turned out in record-breaking numbers, Interior Secretary officials urged major media not to release exit poll results that heralded a Lopez Obrador victory. Ugalde himself took to national television to declare the preliminary vote count too close to call, and Mexicans went to bed without knowing whom their next president might be.

Preliminary results culled from the casillas (PREP) that ran erratically all night and all day Monday showed Calderon with a 200,000 to 400,000-vote lead, activating suspicions that cybernetic flimflam was in the works. When the PREP was finally shut down Monday night, the right winger enjoyed a commanding lead and Televisa and TV Azteca proclaimed him a virtual winner. U.S newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and Chicago Tribune followed suit, and the White House was poised to celebrate a Calderon victory.

But there was one fly in the IFE's ointment: 42 million Mexicans had voted July 2nd, but only the votes of 39 million appeared in the PREP and Lopez Obrador demanded to know what had happened to the missing 3,000,000 voters. Then on a Tuesday morning news interview with Televisa, Luis Carlos Ugalde admitted that the missing votes had been abstracted from the PREP because of "inconsistencies". Indeed, 13,000 casillas -- 10% of the total -- had been removed from the preliminary count, apparently to create the illusion that Calderon had won the presidency.

Meanwhile all day Monday and into Tuesday, AMLO supporters throughout Mexico recorded thousands of instances of manipulation of the vote count. A ballot box in Mexico state registered 188 votes for Lopez Obrador but only 88 were recorded in the PREP. Another Mexico state ballot box was listed 20 times in the preliminary count. Whereas voters in states where the PAN rules the roost, cast more ballots for president than for senators and congressional representatives, voters in southern states where the PRD carried the day cast more ballots for congress than for the presidential candidates. Among the PRD states that purportedly followed this surreal pattern was Tabasco, the home state of two out of the three major party presidential candidates, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and the PRI's Roberto Madrazo.

On Wednesday morning, with the tension mounting to the breaking point and demonstrators already massing in the street, a final vote count began in Mexico's 300 electoral districts. Although the tabulation of the votes was programmed to finish Sunday, IFE officials pushed the recount ahead at breakneck speed. As the day progressed, PAN and PRI electoral officials, charging Lopez Obrador's people with trying to obstruct the process, repeatedly rejected PRD demands to open the ballot boxes and recount the votes inside one by one in instances where Lopez Obrador's tally sheets did not coincide with numbers in the PREP or were different from the sheets attached to the ballot box. When a recount was allowed such as in one Veracruz district, Lopez Obrador sometimes recouped as many as a thousand votes.

Surprisingly, by early afternoon, AMLO had accumulated a 2.6% lead over Calderon -- and his supporters were dancing in the streets of Mexico City. And then, inexplicably, for the next 24 hours, his numbers went into the tank, never to rise again -- at the same time that the right-winger's started to increase incrementally. By late evening, AMLO was reduced to single digit advantage and a little after 4 AM Thursday morning, Calderon inched ahead. It had taken 12 hours to count the last 10% of the votes and still there were districts that had not reported.

When Lopez Obrador addressed the press at 8:30, he condemned "the spectacle of the dance of numbers" and announced that the PRD and its political allies would impugn the election -- he had proof of anomalies in 40,000 polling places (a third of the total) and would present them to the "TRIFE", the supreme electoral tribunal with powers to annul whole districts and states, within the 72 hours dictated by the law.

Then, in his typically hesitating, Peter Falk-like way of saying things, AMLO called for the second election -- the one that takes place in the street -- beginning at 5 PM Saturday in the great Zocalo plaza at the political heart of this bruised nation.

Although Lopez Obrador's words were perhaps the culminating moment of this long strange journey, Mexico's two-headed TV monster chose to ignore them - Televisa was otherwise occupied with "entertainment" news, and soon after the screens filled up with game shows and telenovelas (soap operas.) Although it had not yet concluded, the telenovela of the vote count disappeared into the ether of morning television.

This chronicle of a fraud foretold is an excerpt from John Ross's forthcoming "Making Another World Possible: Zapatista Chronicles 2000-2006" to be published this October by Nation Books.