Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 11, 2021

Nomadland

Filed under: aging,Film,financial crisis,housing,poverty,Travel — louisproyect @ 11:56 pm

Generally, I try to read as little as possible about a film before I watch a screener in order to avoid the possibility that I might be influenced by other critics. All I knew about “Nomadland” is that it starred Frances McDormand as a sixtyish woman, who after losing everything in the 2008 financial crisis, becomes a “nomad”. This means that she travels around the country in a van taking menial jobs like in an Amazon warehouse or scrubbing toilets. With this in mind, I wondered if I was about to see a “Grapes of Wrath” updated for our epoch.

The film begins with a Steinbeckian touch. We see Fern (McDormand) loading her van with her belongings after the only employer in Empire, Nevada—a sheetrock factory—has closed for good. Like the Joads in “Grapes of Wrath” being foreclosed, she is forced by economic circumstances to look for salvation elsewhere. Like the Joads with their loaded jalopy, her road to a better life is filled with potholes. Her first job is working in an Amazon warehouse, where we expect her to end up either injured or too exhausted to keep up with the pace. To my surprise, she and other elderly women lugging cartons onto conveyor belts appear to be holding their own. After work, she retires to her van, eats a rudimentary meal, and prepares for the next day. So, I wondered when was the clash with the capitalist class going to begin.

It turns out that the film had less in common with “Grapes of Wrath” than it does with road movies like “Easy Rider” or “Five Easy Pieces”. The nomads in “Nomadland” are men and women who travel around the country in RVs or vans rather than motorcycles but with the same sense of wanderlust. Since many of you are probably not familiar with “Five Easy Pieces,” this stars Jack Nicholson (who was also in “Easy Rider” as a companion to the two motorcycle road warriors) as a man working on oil rigs in the southwest, who lives in cheap motels, and hangs out in tawdry roadhouses just like other roughnecks. It turns out, however, that this is just an appearance. In reality, Nicholson is from a wealthy family and a trained classical pianist running away from his past.

Shortly, I will explain how this connects with McDormand’s character but first I will point out that director Chloé Zhao never had the slightest interest in agitprop. In a note attached to my DVD screener, she revealed her intentions:

Having grown up in big cities in China and England, I’ve always been deeply drawn to the open road — an idea I find to be quintessentially American — the endless search for what’s beyond the horizon. It’s filled with stories of hardship, perseverance and co-existence — people helping each other, working together to survive when they disagree on almost everything. It was the spirit of the Old West and it’s still the spirit of the road today.

The open road? That’s what Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s characters sought in “Easy Rider”. Instead of horses, they rode Harleys. Likewise, the elderly men and women wandering around the country for dead-end jobs have their own steeds: vans, trailers, and RV’s. In “Easy Rider”, the two heroes stop at a hippie commune to enjoy drugs and sex. As for Zhao’s nomads, including Fern, they end up at a rent-free trailer park where communal meals are shared. No drugs, no sex, but the old folks get by drinking beer and making small talk.

As for the comparison with “Five Easy Pieces”, we learn (spoiler alert) that Fern has a wealthy sister who has invited her numerous times to come live with her. But Fern prefers to live in a tiny van without running water and heat. The closest the film comes to depicting the miseries of being homeless (the nomads like to describe themselves as houseless), we see Fern with an onset of diarrhea that she relieves by crapping into a bucket in her van.

The film is based on a nonfiction work of the same name written by Jessica Bruder in 2017. I have no idea whether Bruder downplayed the miseries of the people she interviewed, but a NY Times review by Arlie Russell Hochschild cannot help but question the lack of a class perspective. Hochschild is the author of a book titled “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right” that tried to get to the bottom of why people in Louisiana voted for rightwing politicians despite being screwed by them through low-paying jobs and exposure to toxic chemicals. Like Bruder, she lived among the people she interviewed and tried to bond with them. This was her perceptive take on something that was missing in the book and, more egregiously so, in the film (the Linda mentioned in the excerpt is a character a lot like Fern):

What forces set these nomads in motion? Here I wish Bruder had given us a view from beyond the driver’s seat. For years, stockholders have taken the lion’s share of rising corporate profits, leaving a shrinking share to the middle- and working-class worker. The current administration and Congress aim to cut the nation’s safety net and to loosen regulations on banks, stirring fears of another devastating crash. The stage seems set to leave Americans on their own to travel a potentially bumpy economic road, a scene that would seem to fly in the face of the picket-fence stability and localism bandied about in conservative rhetoric. Republicans like to talk about “freedom,” but the tax reform they’re currently proposing would most likely widen the gap between rich and poor even further, reducing Linda’s freedom to stay put if she wanted to.

As for our own nomads, I recommend Marxmailer Michael Yates’s “Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate: An Economist’s Travelogue”. After retiring from decades of teaching economics, Michael and his wife Karen became nomads for many of the same reasons as the film’s subjects. They enjoyed being footloose and were open to taking low-paying jobs that were often the only kind available in the rugged back country they hoped to see in their peregrinations. Also, they always stayed indoors even if it was in a cheap motel! At Michael’s blog, titled the same as his book, you can read a chapter. From what I’ve read in this book, it would have made for a much more interesting film:

Again in Flagstaff, we were enjoying the exhibits in the Museum of Northern Arizona. We ended our visit with a stop at the museum’s bookstore. We were admiring the Indian-made works of art for sale when an Indian artist came in and showed the manager some of his jewelry and asked if the museum was interested in buying his pieces. Apparently the craftsmanship was good, but the Indian had been drinking and was known to the manager. The manager and his assistant treated this man as if he were a pathetic drunk unworthy of their time. He kept lowering his price, giving up whatever pride he had to these white people with money. A few minutes later, he was dismissed. After he left, the two museum staffers mocked him. The assistant, not realizing her ignorance, said that perhaps it was time for the Indian to join AA. We left the museum with heavy hearts. It was as if the history of white oppression of Indians had been reenacted in microcosm before our eyes.

In Estes Park, people smugly said about a group of shabby riverside shacks not far from our cabin, “Oh, that’s where the Mexicans live.” The local peace group didn’t bother to solicit support from local Mexicans because “They probably wouldn’t be interested. They have to work too hard and wouldn’t have time.” We were talking to a jewelry store owner who, after remarking on how much safer (often a code word for “whiter”) Estes Park was than his former home in Memphis, Tennessee, said that the Estes Park crime report was pretty small and those arrested always had names you couldn’t pronounce. (Those damned Mexicans again.) In the laundromat we met a woman from the Bayview section of Brooklyn, and she said that she had moved here because you couldn’t recognize her Brooklyn neighborhood anymore. She told us, without I think realizing how racist she sounded, that there were so many Arabs there now that locals call it “Bay Root.” “Get it?,” she said, “Bay Root.”

August 26, 2018

Washington, DC tourist notes

Filed under: Travel — louisproyect @ 9:42 pm

My wife and I were in Washington on Thursday and Friday taking in the sights. Although I have been there at least a half-dozen times for protests, this was the first time I came as a tourist. My strong recommendation to my readers: find time to visit the town since it is a historical gold mine.

If, like me, you’ve been to the mall bordered on one side by the Capitol building and on the other by the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, you’ll recognize it as a place where protests are held. The most famous was when MLK Jr. gave his “I have a dream speech” in 1963 that I did not attend mainly because I was apolitical.

It took the Vietnam War to politicize me and to get me on a bus in October 21, 1967 for a protest that the mall that led to a smaller group trying to levitate the Pentagon later that day. I didn’t go because I was too busy selling the Militant newspaper that now describes Donald Trump as improving the lives of American workers and keeping us out of war.

I had no idea at the time (and how could I?) that on either side of the mall were some of the country’s greatest museums. On Friday morning, I headed to the Museum of African-American history close to the Washington Monument and was told that unless you had purchased a pass online the day before, you had to wait to 1pm for general admission. (Keep that in mind if you head down to DC.)

Still up for some museum visits, I walked to the other end of the mall to check out the Museum of the American Indian, a place that I was eager to see. Architecturally, the museum looks a lot like the Guggenheim once you are inside and on the ground floor but the different levels are connected by stairs rather than a continuous ramp:

The exhibits are to be found on the fourth and third floor. The fourth floor appeared to be a permanent exhibition of various tribes (until a better word comes along to describe societies based on blood ties, this will have to do) with a combination of artwork, clothing, tools, etc. interspersed with videos featuring elders, and written commentary on their history.

The most interesting section was devoted to the Yuroks whose reservation in California consists of 84 square miles, inhabited by 5,000 enrolled members. The Yuroks were heavy into water-based fishing and hunting, either fresh water like salmon and eels, or seals in the coastal waters. For centuries, they celebrated yearly rituals on the Klamath River where most of their food originated but when it was re-engineered by whites, the canoes could not navigate the waters. As is typical in these “modernization” projects, the ecological costs were substantial. Starting in the 18th century, logging, farming, dam construction all led to degradation of the Klamath River ecosystem. At some point, a return to the past will benefit both native peoples and society as a whole.

The third floor has an outstanding exhibition on the Inkas (the curator’s preferred spelling) that was a real eye-opener to me. With extensive written commentary on both this empire’s achievements and depredations, as well as displays of Inkan art and architecture, there is enough to keep you engaged for hours even though I could only devote a half-hour. It turns out that the Inkas built a 24,000 mile road that connected all the regions that were part of their empire.

That empire was their glory as well as their undoing. When Pizarro’s gangsters came, they destroyed much of the road and left the capital city Cusco in ruins. I learned about Pedro de Cieza de Leon, a conquistador who wrote a memoir about his experiences in Peru, from a quote on the wall. You can read the entire book here but will leave you with this astonishing confession:

The said Yncas governed in such a way that in all the land neither a thief, nor a vicious man, nor a bad dishonest woman was known. The men all had honest and profitable employment. The woods, and mines, and all kinds of property were so divided that each man knew what belonged to him, and there were no law suits. The Yncas were feared, obeyed, and respected by their subjects, as a race very capable of governing ; but we took away their land, and placed it under the crown of Spain, and made them subjects. Your Majesty must understand that my reason for making this statement is to relieve my conscience, for we have destroyed this people by our bad examples. Crimes were once so little known among them, that an Indian with one hundred thousand pieces of gold and silver in his house, left it open, only placing a little stick across the door, as the sign that the master was out, and nobody went in. But when they saw that we placed locks and keys on our doors, they understood that it was from fear of thieves, and when they saw that we had thieves amongst us they despised us. All this I tell your Majesty, to discharge my conscience of a weight, that I may no longer be a party to these things. And I pray God to pardon me, for I am the last to die of all the discoverers and conquerors, as it is notorious that there are none left but me, in this land or out of it, and therefore I now do what 1 can to relieve my conscience.

When I got back to the Museum of African-American History, there were about 300 people lined up to buy a ticket. So, maybe next time… In any case, if you want to see this museum, you’d better buy a pass the day before.

Undeterred and with another half-hour to spare before I hooked up with my wife, I hit the first museum next to the Museum of African-American History, which appropriately enough was the Museum of American History. Expecting the usual patriotic gore, even more so by entering the gallery devoted to the American military, I was pleasantly surprised by the strong political edge on how an empire was built that put the Inkas to shame.

There was a strong condemnation of the Mexican War that included Ulysses S. Grant’s observations in his Memoir as a veteran of the land grab of Texas and much else:

Generally the officers of the army were indifferent whether the annexation was consummated or not; but not so all of them. For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory. Texas was originally a state belonging to the republic of Mexico. It extended from the Sabine River on the east to the Rio Grande on the west, and from the Gulf of Mexico on the south and east to the territory of the United States and New Mexico—another Mexican state at that time—on the north and west. An empire in territory, it had but a very sparse population, until settled by Americans who had received authority from Mexico to colonize. These colonists paid very little attention to the supreme government, and introduced slavery into the state almost from the start, though the constitution of Mexico did not, nor does it now, sanction that institution. Soon they set up an independent government of their own, and war existed, between Texas and Mexico, in name from that time until 1836, when active hostilities very nearly ceased upon the capture of Santa Anna, the Mexican President. Before long, however, the same people—who with permission of Mexico had colonized Texas, and afterwards set up slavery there, and then seceded as soon as they felt strong enough to do so—offered themselves and the State to the United States, and in 1845 their offer was accepted. The occupation, separation and annexation were, from the inception of the movement to its final consummation, a conspiracy to acquire territory out of which slave states might be formed for the American Union.

Since my wife and I both love looking at old townhouses, including the ones on the side streets near our high-rise on 91st and Third, we made a point of going out to Georgetown that actually predates the construction of Washington the city. This is a fabulous walkabout place, where each side street reveals amazing old homes in perfect condition as my wife’s iPhone reveals:

The only other thing worth mentioning is the class divide in Washington that might be even more extreme than in New York City. Like NYC, Washington is bustling with new construction projects. You can’t walk five blocks without seeing a high-rise or office building under construction.

At the same time you see beggars everywhere, all African-American, as opposed to the whites who dominate NYC’s sidewalks bearing signs about their plight (often accompanied by a pet dog or cat to gain sympathy.) I imagine that many of these white kids in NYC are genuinely homeless but their chances of getting paid are much better than Washington’s poor who are not even visible on the Metro.

We walked up to the rear end of the White House to check out if any protests were going on. There were but only mounted by cranks. Who knows. If the left can get it together to organize a national protest against Trump on the mall, I might return.

June 7, 2013

Mexico and the left

Filed under: Mexico,Travel — louisproyect @ 9:35 pm

Whenever my wife and I (is it permissible to speak of her that way?) take a vacation, we like to bring back the typical souvenirs: baseball caps, T-shirts, refrigerator magnets and the like. In addition, I always put together my own souvenir, a kind of Marxist analysis of the spot we have just visited. I had no idea that a visit to Mexico City would yield such a rich vein.

My eyes were opened primarily through long conversations with Peter Gellert, who now goes as Pedro and who has lived in Mexico City since 1976. I had a brief conversation with Peter about 3 years ago when he was in NY for a visit but this time we had plenty of time to talk about our ill-spent Trotskyist youth and what we have done with our lives since departing from the church. Peter’s political life seems to have taken off once he left the Houston branch in 1976 and “transferred” to the Mexican section of the Fourth International, the Workers Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores).

I was surprised to learn from Wikipedia (I assume that it is based on facts) that the PRT was formed as a merger of two tendencies, the Mandelistas and Morenoites. It was around this time (my memory is a bit fuzzy) that the SWP of the USA had formed a bloc with Nahuel Moreno of Argentina against Ernest Mandel and his followers. We called ourselves the Leninist-Trotskyist Faction, defending “orthodoxy” against guerrilla warfare tendencies running amok in the Mandelista groups, particularly in Argentina where the Combatiente group was hijacking meat trucks and dispensing the goods to poor people or kidnapping American businessmen. Of course, within a few years after a bloc was formed with Moreno, there was a split with him who despite being opposed to urban guerrilla warfare was not pliant enough for the SWP leadership.

In 1973, I had transferred to the Houston branch to lead a faction fight against the Mandelistas in the branch who were led by John Barzman, the son of blacklisted screenwriters. Since Peter was a member of their grouping, I never had much to say to him. Life in the SWP involved a lot of “shunning”. If you made the mistake of opposing the “geniuses” in our national office, you’d become an “unperson” as far as the majority was concerned.

Years later Camejo told me a funny story about the fallout of this faction fight in Nicaragua where he was assigned by the SWP to organize the party’s work on behalf of the Sandinistas. He was at some very high-level function where he was introduced to one of the FSLN leaders as a “Trotskyist”. The guy gave him a hearty embrace and told him how much our “support” had meant to them. It turns out he was not referring to our stupid sectarian articles about how the FSLN was going to sell out the revolution but the money and arms that the Mandelista youth had funneled to the FSLN when it was up in the mountains. Just goes to show you…

Compared to the PRT, the SWP was small potatoes even though we thought we were the god’s gift to the working class. At its height, the PRT had 3000 members, the equivalent of which would amount to 9000 in the USA. Not only were they a lot bigger than us, they had a substantial base in the peasantry. Peter told me that they broke with SWP-type sectarianism almost at the outset, particularly the ritualized taking of positions on international questions that had so often led to splits in our movement. He said that it would have been idiotic to make a big deal out of what the “correct” line was for Solidarity in Poland when a branch primarily made up of peasants was totally preoccupied with how to prevent death squads from driving them off their land.

Despite its obvious ability to root itself in the mass movement and take advantage of openings in the class struggle, the PRT eventually imploded. According to Peter, a number of problems led to its collapse. Among them was their refusal to back the presidential campaign of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas in 1988 that was widely backed by the Mexican left. Cárdenas, the son of the Mexican president who gave asylum to Leon Trotsky in the 1930s, was not without his flaws but one gathers that his candidacy provided an opening for the far left in the way that SYRIZA does today in Greece. When such opportunities are presented, it is imperative to jump on them.

As is with the case with the American SWP that also imploded but for a different set of reasons, the former members of the PRT remain very involved with the mass movement in Mexico including Peter who lives in a state-subsidized housing project in Tlatelolco that has been a base of support for the left for many years.

One afternoon Peter accompanied my wife and I to the Zócalo, the huge plaza facing the main government buildings, where the teachers union was camped out in tents protesting the crackdown on their union, justified mainly as an attack on the corrupt leader. Like the Kennedy administration’s attack on Jimmy Hoffa, there was obviously as much of an interest in weakening the union.

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Here’s Peter and I standing in front of the teachers’ tents. In a moment or two we ran into the president of the electrical workers union, who was about Peter’s age and a former member of the PRT. As I said, the ex-PRT is probably the largest group on the left in Mexico. His union was part of a combined effort to put the neoliberal bastards running the government on the defensive. The electrical workers were facing attacks on their pensions, just as you would expect from a president who as governor presided over a brutal attack on poor peasants protesting against their imminent eviction to make room for an airport expansion. The leader of the nonviolent movement was sentenced to a 150 year prison term and many of the 200 arrested peasants were tortured.

As some of you may know, Elba Gordillo, the head of the teachers union was pretty awful. The NY Times reported on February 26th:

In the current case, the prosecutor, Jesús Murillo Karam, said in a televised statement that the arrest had stemmed from the suspicious transfer of $200 million from the National Union of Education Workers, which has 1.5 million members, into the private accounts of three individuals. He said Ms. Gordillo had then used the accounts, in American and Swiss banks, to pay for credit cards; two houses in Coronado, Calif., near San Diego; unspecified art; plastic surgery; and other personal expenses.

He said that the transactions occurred between 2008 and 2012, including the transfer of about $2.1 million to an account at a Neiman Marcus department store in San Diego between March 2009 and January 2012, and that as many as 80 union accounts were being examined for irregularities.

Ironically, the corruption of the Mexican unions is inextricably linked up with unsolved problems of the nation’s revolution of 1910, which I first learned about from Casey Butcher who provided an overview at the Brecht Forum on Monday night. It seems that Obregon, an elite figure in the leadership of the revolution, pulled together a powerful army largely made up of urban workers, many of who were quite radical. In exchange for subduing the peasant militias of Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, their rights to form a union would be guaranteed. It was a pact with the devil as James Cockcroft points out in a brief (120 pages) but indispensable MR book titled “Mexico’s Revolution Then and Now”:

As many historians have noted, an incipient unity between left-wing urban workers and the rural proletariat collapsed in 1915 when future President Alvaro Obregón signed a pact with Mexico City’s Casa del Obrero Mundial (House of the World Worker) and its 50,000 members, who were suffering food shortages at the time. The pact created “red battalions” of militant workers to fight and help defeat Francisco “Pancho” Villa’s northern army of workers, small landholders, and jornaleros (day laborers) and weaken Emiliano Zapata’s southern peasant army. It tied the organized labor movement to the emergent “constitutionalist” state led by Venustiano Carranza and Obregon. And it generated a corrupt labor bureaucracy that usually sided with capitalist bosses and only occasionally benefitted the workers. The end result would be a poorly paid labor force dependent on an authoritarian and increasingly technocratic corporatist state. Three years after the signing of the pact, the Confederacion Regional Obrera Mexicana (CROM), a predecessor of today’s “official” state-recognized unions, was founded. Its 90,000 members were led by Luis Morones, famous for his ostentatious displays of wealth. Thus started the tradition of charrismo—corrupt trade union bossism that uses violence to guarantee “labor peace” and converts labor bureaucrats into capitalists. Today, 90 percent of union contracts are “protection contracts” that union members have often not even seen, arranged between the charros and the employers.

I must also mention Casey was joined by Christina Heatherton who spoke on the connections between the Mexican revolution and the emerging communist movement of the early 20th century, something I knew little about. I was astounded to discover that M.N. Roy, the founder of the Indian Communist Party, was also a founder of the Mexican Communist Party! And even more importantly, the experience he derived in studying the class struggle in Mexico was instrumental in helping him to formulate an approach to national liberation struggles that was adopted by the early Comintern. Wikipedia reports:

During his stay in Palo Alto, a period of about two months, Roy met his future wife, a young Stanford University graduate named Evelyn Trent. The pair fell in love and journeyed together across the country to New York City.

It was in the New York City public library that Roy began to develop his interest in Marxism. His socialist transition under Lala owed much to Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s essays on communism and Vivekananda’s message of serving the proletariat. Bothered by British spies, Roy fled to Mexico in July 1917 with Evelyn. German military authorities, on the spot, gave him large amounts of money.

The Mexican president Venustiano Carranza and other liberal thinkers appreciated Roy’s writings for El Pueblo. The Socialist Party he founded (December 1917), was converted into the Communist Party of Mexico, the first Communist Party outside Russia.

Given Mexico City’s deep respect for its past (as opposed to the brazen philistines running Istanbul), it is of some interest that M.N. Roy’s house in Mexico has been preserved, albeit in the form of a nightclub!

The outside of the house is left completely unaltered, concealing the nightclub where a textured timber pyramid envelops a double-height dance floor and DJ booth.

Inside the M.N. Roy nightclub

Speaking of revolutionary household preservation, a trip to Trotsky’s home in Coyoacán was at the top of my agenda. Although I have spoken derisively about the tendencies of Trotskyist sectarians to issue proclamations as if “from Coyoacán”, it is another thing entirely to visit this shrine to one of the 20th century’s great revolutionaries.

There were a couple of photos there that really captured my imagination. One was Leon Trotsky dressed to the nines, in knickers no less. I remember reading Deutscher’s biography in 1968 or so and getting a big kick out of his description of Trotsky as a “dandy”. Since so much of the Marxist movement, and Trotskyism in particular, is tied to a hair shirt sensibility, I always found it gratifying to see a snazzy Leon Trotsky.

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Then there’s this photo of the Trotsky’s and Farrell Dobbs and his wife Marvel Scholl, who were in their early 60s when I joined the movement. After taking over the SWP leadership from James P. Cannon, Dobbs steered it toward its greatest successes in the 1960s. As fate would have it, he also sealed its doom by anointing Jack Barnes to replace him. Unlike Dobbs, who had helped to build the Teamsters union into a militant powerhouse in the late 30s, Barnes had only a very modest record in the mass movement. Despite this, he now puts himself on the same level as Leon Trotsky, V.I. Lenin—and Napoleon Bonaparte for all I know. And like most people who walk around with such delusions of grandeur, medication and rest are what’s prescribed.

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I came out of this trip to Mexico with a determination to find out much more about the country. My plans are to read James Cockcroft’s “Mexico: Class Formation, Capital Accumulation, and the State”—perfect beach reading—and Adolfo Gilly’s “The Mexican Revolution”. Gilly was a leading theoretician of the PRT and remains one of Mexico’s most respected Marxist thinkers. Unlike Vivek Chibber, who warns that Subaltern Studies is leading the youth astray, Gilly counts Ranajit Guha and Partha Chatterjee, two of the tendency’s leading lights, as major influences. So much for their disorienting effects…

In addition to getting up to speed on theoretical matters, I plan to pay close attention to the movement being built by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who had the 2006 election stolen away by PRI candidate Felipe Calderón. López Obrador has launched something called the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) that Peter is involved with, as I would imagine that other Marxists are as well. While I can understand why the American left’s attention is riveted on SYRIZA, I would urge it to begin paying much more attention to MORENA and other developments on the Mexican left. Here’s James Cockcroft on the implications of López Obrador’s breach to the left (my strong advice is to bookmark his website http://www.jamescockcroft.com):

Available evidence suggests that López Obrador received from half a million to two million more votes than Calderón, the “official” winner by a bare margin of 0.58 percent, and that the Mexican bourgeoisie and US imperialism will continue to try to prevent a Mexico governed by López Obrador or those who think like him. There are now plans to burn all the ballots, as was done in 1988, instead of recount them!

Consequently, incipient forms of “dual power” have emerged. A peaceful and disciplined civic resistance movement has sought to avoid a repeat of the notorious 1988 stolen presidential election by defending the legitimate new presidency of López Obrador, whom the movement plans to inaugurate on the “Day of the Revolution,” November 20, the historic starting date for the 1910 Mexican Revolution. This new movement, smeared or ignored by the deceitful mass media, also vows to protest and block the “official” presidential inauguration of Calderón on December 1 and other public appearances of the illegitimate “president” of Mexico. Just as in the 1910 Mexican Revolution when Francisco I. Madero’s slogan was “Effective Suffrage, No Re-election,” so this movement’s slogan is “Effective Suffrage, No Imposition.” Citing Article 39 of the 1917 Constitution that assigns to the people the nation’s sovereignty and the inalienable right to change the form of government, it calls for the founding of a new republic and full national sovereignty.

Mexico’s movement for a new republic is a product of more than two decades of social protests against neoliberalism and the delivery of much of the nation’s economy to foreign banking and corporate interests, especially after the implementation of NAFTA (TLC) and the Zapatista uprising of January 1, 1994. Since July 2, 2006, there have occurred three mega-marches, the last of which on July 30 drew at least 2.5 million, or 1 out of every 40 Mexicans. There also has taken place a seven-week-long, around-the-clock “popular assembly and vigil” of 47 encampments in 7 miles of downtown streets of the world’s largest metropolis, Mexico City, joined by López Obrador himself, whose political party PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática) governs the city. Countless other peaceful encampments and protests have occurred nationwide, including the “conservative” North where the PRD increased its percentage of the vote while predictably losing to the PAN. The protestors’ main demand of a recount of all the ballots was refused by the corrupted national Electoral Court (Tribunal Electoral) and Supreme Court.

June 3, 2013

Welcome to Mexico City

Filed under: Mexico,Travel — louisproyect @ 6:13 pm

Like most of my readers I imagine, the idea of taking a Club Med or Carnival Cruise vacation is the last thing that would occur to me. So when my wife proposed that we spend 5 days in Mexico City en route to her conference in Costa Rica, I said sure, why not.

But after buying a tour book for Mexico City, trepidations set in. It warned that you’d better not go out after dark and that if you needed a cab, you’d better have the hotel call one for you. It seems that from time to time some thug hijacks a cab and then picks up an unsuspecting fare that is driven to an ATM machine in some remote location and forced at gunpoint to withdraw oodles of cash. But even if you have the hotel call a cab for you, how are you supposed to get back? All in all, it sounded like that Denzil Washington movie “Man on Fire” that pitted our plucky hero against an army of narcotraficante kidnappers in Mexico City. Every street in that movie seemed to harbor a bunch of bad guys with hand grenades in each pocket and a willingness to use them against 3 year olds. Since Malcolm X’s grandson had been killed in Mexico City shortly after we booked our reservations, my anxiety deepened.

Of course anybody who has lived in New York City in the worst of times, as I did in the 60s and 70s, would realize how stupid my fears were. Not only was Mexico City much safer than Avenue C after dark; it was one of my most rewarding experiences as a traveler ever. Since my interest in touring is much more about picturesque architecture than scuba diving, this city was made to order. Unlike Istanbul, another mega-city that has grown like Topsy from the inpouring of impoverished rural folk, Mexico City is utterly dedicated to the preservation of the city’s indigenous and colonial past—even as they were mortal enemies. Spread throughout the city is 500-year-old churches and Aztec ruins that take your breath away. I suppose if the AKP were in charge of Mexico City, the Aztec ruins would be carted away to make room for a shopping mall.

Furthermore, you really don’t need a cab to get around. Mexico City has a subway system that is second to none (even if the cars are not air-conditioned.) It costs 3 pesos to get on a train. Since the exchange rate is just under 13 pesos per dollar, the fare amounts to 23 cents!

We ended up staying at the Sheraton Maria Isabela Hotel on Paseo de la Reforma, one of the city’s major thoroughfares and along a stretch of blocks that amounted to Embassy Row. This is basically a four-star hotel that cost us about $150 per night. The hotel was located near Zona Rosa, the city’s burgeoning gay and bohemian neighborhood. We were located a block from the famous “El Angel” monument and pleased to see male couples making out on its steps. As you may know, Mexico City legalized gay marriage in 2009, something that befits the city’s progressive traditions.

For decades now, there has been a leftist Mayor in power. This gives the city a great vibe as you can see evidence of its effects everywhere, from free bikes (as opposed to Bloomberg’s that cost $95) to low-cost subways. The city also pays for yearly check-ups for its citizens.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Everywhere you look there are signs of the city’s radical and indigenous roots. Streets are named after Aztec rulers or objects, or after well-known figures of its own revolutionary past or that of Latin America as a whole. Even longer than Paseo de la Reforma is Avenida de las Insurgentes, the second longest street in Latin America (the first is in Buenos Aires.) The “Insurgentes” is a reference to the insurgent army that fought for Mexican independence from 1810 to 1821.

Besides the metro (cabs are also cheap), restaurants are bargains as well. On our first night an old friend from my Trotskyist youth accompanied us to a Uruguayan steakhouse that he heard good things about. I had a skirt steak for $10 that was far better than the $35 steak I ate at Ben and Jack’s a year or so ago. All in all, your money goes a long way in Mexico City.
If you are looking for an inexpensive but vastly rewarding place to take a vacation this year or next, I can’t recommend Mexico City highly enough.

I have a couple of more posts on my visit pending. The first will deal with the organized left in Mexico City and the country as a whole based on my discussions with my old friend and comrade Peter Gellert mentioned above. After that I will post about the Aztecs, getting into the thorny question of human sacrifice. And finally there will be a review of Adolfo Gilly’s history of the Mexican revolution. Gilly and Peter belonged to the PRT, the Mexican section of the Fourth International, which at its height had 3000 members, many of whom were peasants. If the USA had a group comparable in size, that would amount to 9000 members. Back in 1975 we in the SWP thought we were hot shit because we had 2000 member. What self-important idiots we were. I have to mention, however, that the PRT no longer exists so there’s something that needs to be taken into account about its particular problems as well. More anon.

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