Sunday, October 08, 2006

Can the Oaxaca Commune Survive?

The Oaxaca Commune is rapidly becoming the focal point of the world class struggle. It has pushed the Zapatistas 'other campaign' off the map, even though Chiapas is right next door to Oaxaca. The Zapatisas model of revolution from below in which indigneous peasants would lead the backward workers has backfired.

The Fox government repression of Atenco, just outside of Mexico City back in May showed that small traders, gutsy and determined as they were, cannot stop the state machine without the help of the organised working class. It was not the flower sellers of Atenco who lost this argument, but Delegate Zero (subcombatant Marcos) who came out Zero by refusing to unite the traders with striking steel and mine workers.

What the struggle in Oaxaca shows is that the trendy Western pacifism of power-shifting - without-taking-power is exploded by the Oaxaca Commune. This Commune did not arise from an indigenous or peasant rebellion (and Oaxaca has around half of the indigenous people in Mexico). It arose out of a long strike by the poor teachers of Oaxaca fighting for better pay and conditions. The Teachers Union is Mexico wide and cripplingly bureaucratic - like most unions in Mexico that have been part of the PRI state machine that lives off the prestige of the 'frozen' Mexican revolution and the 1917 Constitution.

But in Oaxaca a minority inside the Teachers' Union won support for their strike and this has built into a hugely popular insurrection involving mass marches of over 1,000,000 and the ongoing occcupation of the city of Oaxaca and several radio and TV stations.

This shows that in Mexico as in the rest of Latin America, it is the organised working class like the radical teachers union, that can and must form the leadership of the mass movement which can meet the demands of the peasantry, indigenous movements, and unemployed workers. It proves, against all those who say that that the working class is dead, and that social movements have taken over the anti-capitalist fight, that the working class lives!

It proves yet again, that it is the working class that will lead the fight for democracy and against imperialism, and carry through the national revolution to go all the way to defeat NAFTA and imperialism, and defeat the national bourgeois, completing the national revolution as a socialist revolution.

The original demand of the strike to get rid of the state governor, Ulises Ruiz, who is part of the PRI party machine and responsible for numerous killings of militants, has issued a direct challenge to Fox's successor Calderon, the 'winner' of the rigged Presidential election. That election of course has been challenged by the loser Obrador, or AMLO as he is called after all of his initials. Massive demonstrations and occupations of the center of Mexico City by AMLOs supporters led to the calling of a national 'democratic' congress of the parliamentary left in September, the CND, which declared AMLO as the 'alternative President'. But, apart from offering his body as a symbolic shield against the repression of the Commune, AMLO's CND does not propose to rally the Mexican masses in the real defence of the Commune. That would lift the lid of Pandora's Box and along with the rest of the capitalist system AMLO would be history.

Meanwhile, Fox has sworn to remove the Oaxaca Commune before he hands over to Calderon on December 1. Troops are massing in Oaxaca, thousands of PRI paramilitaries are preparing to smash the Commune, and what to do becomes the order of the day. Most of the 'left' is hoping that some deal can be made, so that the Governor goes, some extra spending on education gives the teachers something to go home with, and everything goes back to almost normal. They cannot envisage an all out struggle winning, and the price of more deaths at this stage cannot be justified.

For revolutionaries the answer is like ABC. Already the Commune has built Barricades, and formed rudimentary Armed self-defence committees. They are not going to go home with any compromise deal. But this is minimal stuff. A few small arms from police stations, clubs and molotov cocktails are no match for the might of the paramilitaries armed with AK 47s let alone the Mexican army.

The Commune needs to be armed inside to resist military assault, but more even more important, armed outside, to undermine the state's ability to deploy its armed forces. The masses who occupied the centre of Mexico city to protest AMLO's 'defeat' by electoral fraud, have to say that the PRD needs more than a symbolic few bodies on the barricades in Oaxaca.
These workers need to flood to Oaxaca to boost the barricades. They need to call on all workers in unions to strike, independently of the PRI and union bureaucracy, to generalise their strikes into a general strike, and to set up barricades and road blocks. The long history of militant struggle in the mines and heavy industry shows that the rank and file of Mexico's huge working class can respond in crises with great solidarity.

This strike action must be generalised so that the solidarity actions are not isolated and open to repression. Self-defence committees need to be coordinated nationally as the basis of a people's army. This would put pressure on the ranks of the armed forces to disobey orders and to support the strike rather than kill the insurgents. By means of a general strike that brings the country to a halt, uniting the organisations of the working class, forming armed 'communes everywhere', the workers will create an alternative, or 'dual power' structure. By winning over the ranks of the military and defeating the paramiltary thugs, the question of state power is posed and the possibility of a revolutionary seizure of power put at the top of the agenda.

The Oaxaca commune can become the first revolutionary commune to follow in the footsteps of the Russian soviets and prove that the working class can 'storm heaven' as did the workers of Paris in 1871, but more than that, take the power at the head of the oppressed and exploited masses to build a new society as the members of the soviets did in 1917. But for this to happen, the vital ingredient that Paris lacked but Petrograd had, is the revolutionary party of the workers.

As Trotsky explains in his analysis of the Paris commune, comparing it to the Russian revolution, the mass movement has strong points and weak points. Its strength is it militancy and heroism. But its weakness is its absence of revolutionary leadership. Leadership cannot be simply responding to events willy nilly, but must condense the lessons of the history of workers struggles to know in advance what to do and what not to do. Without this leadership the strengths of the workers movements are dissipated by their weaknesses and lost.

In Paris 1871, the lack of a revolutionary leadership with the knowledge and will to unite and organise the struggle led to petty bourgeois leaders vacillating and opting for compromises with the enemy. The Commune did not seize power when it could have, but rather let it slip away in defeat. In Russia, by contrast, the Bolsheviks had decades of experience to draw on, and could guide the masses through the months in preparation for insurrection, without making fatal mistakes, until they were ready to seize power.

In Oaxaca the militancy and heroism of the masses are evident, but insufficient for victory. The majority of teachers are not yet revolutionary and are exposed to various competing political currents vying for leadership. Those who think that Obrador and the PRD can form the leadership will find that they are wrong, but at what cost? It is necessary to break the masses who have illusions in Obrador from the PRD. The revolutionary left is small, but does have a critical role to play. Some like the Militant tendency which is inside the PRD, puts its hopes in creating a split in the party. Others like the FT tendency reject working inside the PRD when its politicians are openly siding with Fox to defeat the Oaxaca commune. The main demand of the FT is to call for a 'revolutionary Constituent Assembly' outside the existing political constitutional structure.

Yet, working inside the existing constitution, or calling for a new even 'revolutionary' constitution, are both confining workers to the existing bourgeois power structures where individual electors vote for political representatives in the bourgeois/capitalist state. That is, all individuals or all classes get the right to vote. But the Oaxaca Commune is already creating an alternative power based on mass solidarity in which political representation is of the working class and other oppressed classes. The bosses and their petty bourgeois lackeys and goons are not represented, nor will they ever be. The military defence of the commune is therefore the start of any revolutionary program.

The revolutionary party in Oaxaca and Mexico must start from the lessons of the past communes - their successes and failures. The alternative power of the working class is the only basis on which the interests of the workers and oppressed peoples can be resolved. The program must be for a general strike to defend the Oaxaca commune; to create 'communes everywhere', armed and coordinated across the whole country, with workers and peasants militias to smash the paramilitaries and defend themselves against the state forces; to break from the state apparatus and the statised bureaucracy and their political parties; appealing to the ranks of the armed forces to refuse orders to suppress the Commune; and ultimately for a government of the workers and peasants that can expropriate the imperialists and the national bourgeosie and implement a planned socialist economy, as part of a federation of workers republics of the Americas.

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