Originally published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translated by irlandesa
[The following are two op-ed pieces which appeared recently in La Jornada. As you will see, there is some relation between the two, the second in some ways a response to the first. The respective authors, and their histories, will be quite familiar to many, but here they bring special light to specific issues which have been recently debated - at higher decibel and perhaps with less light - in other arenas]
Thursday, May 18, 2006.
There are many people in Mexico who are still skeptical about electoral democracy. Gradual changes exasperate them, they mistrust the secret vote and they spurn reasoned discourse for stridency or the ease of insult. The brain made viscera, they react furiously to political differences, they reject debate because they consider it a dangerous weapon, which it is, especially for those who have no recourse other than so-called dignified silence or verbal violence. Since they fear the discussion of ideas and of diverse political proposals, they implicitly discredit it as if it were illegitimate.
In 1999 the CGH – the vulgar minority which paralyzed activities at UNAM for a year – embodies, in an infantile and brutal manner, the victory of attitudes over ideas. Nonetheless, there are more than a few political actors these days who are proving that Mosh and his partying compañeros imposed a style of doing politics which has met with nothing more than tolerance. Many of these attitudes are the framework of action of those – leaders and followers – who have raised in recent weeks what could turn into a powerful challenge for our electoral institutions.
The union mobilizations – provoked, it’s true, by the stubbornness of officials – and the machetes of Atenco, which also seem to be those of Los Altos of Chiapas, are weighing like a Damocles sword above the upcoming election of July 2, and, even worse, above the more than 20 years of work and resources invested by everyone in the building of an inclusive political system in which politics would not be a chain of mechanical acts or repetition of clichés.
Many of those nowadays who, voluntarily or involuntarily, are calling into question the power of elections as an instrument of change, do not accept the profound political transformations of the last two decades which are proof that we have overcome the authoritarian past. They are determined to stop the democratic creation, and they are trying “…to get their poetry from the past..” instead of looking to the future, as Marx wrote regarding the bourgeois revolutionaries of 1851, the same ones who established the dictatorial power bases for Napoleon III.
The organizers of the Other Campaign, but also those candidates who – for logical consistency I imagine – would be This Campaign, for example, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Roberto Madrazo, seem to be determined to undermine the credibility of the July 2 election, and they want to take us back “…to an extinct epoch…” and then “…the old dates, the old names reappear…” (Karl Marx, El 18 brumario de Luis Bonaparte), and they talk about the State election and about the dirty war as if Luis Echeverría were still president, and they act as if the multi-party system which has been so laboriously constructed since 1979 and the Federal Election Institution Institute did not exist.
Some of them are threatening violent confrontation, worse still, they are offering it as if it were a valid promise of the future, and is if their history in Mexico had not been a history of failures, of betrayals and of costly errors, and not just of repression. Those who are questioning the validity of the vote and the legitimacy of elections these days want to make us forget what the country was like when the parties were hardly representative, political participation was limited and it wasn’t possible to choose among different options in the elections. With their actions and their statements they are denying the political plurality of society which is reflected in the very contest for the positions of political representation, in the newspapers, among the editorialists, news announcers, observers, citizens.
Casting the shadow of doubt on the electoral institutions is the equivalent of denying the validity of political pluralism, which is one of the great achievements of Mexican democracy. The formula “Todos somos Atenco” has lost that sense of solidarity which inspired its birth in the 19th century to defend, with another name, the universality of suffrage, and it has taken on the intolerable authoritarian resonance which comes from the concept of democracy as unanimity.
It remains to be said that the same thing is happening with the different invocations with which a formula is used which has lost its greatness because it has been used for such diverse and not always honorable causes, some of them outright trivial. The worst of all is that in many cases it only serves to hide poverty of language, as happens with the responses of the politicians who resort to palabrotas as a substitute for argument. They might make us laugh, but they do not invite us to think. That is probably what they are seeking: to trivialize politics in order to conceal their own triviality.
Defending the July 2 election is a challenge not just for the IFE – which appears spineless and confused – it is an obligation for parties and candidates, and for everyone else it is the most secure and efficient instrument for guaranteeing the survival of our status as citizens.
Monday, May 22, 2006.
Social Sciences and Democracy in Mexico (what I actually said)
Pablo González Casanova
A few days ago a roundtable was organized at the Social Research Institute of UNAM on Democracy in Mexico. At the end, they invited me to say a few words, whose principle theses did not appear in the news article. As it might be of interest for them to be known, below I will make a brief summary in an attempt to rectify the disinformation. I will say what I said:
ONE: Today, more than ever, the social sciences have to confront the problem of knowledge of the truth, the problem of critiquing the lie and the problem of speaking what one thinks and of thinking about what one doesn’t even want to think about.
It is necessary to see what is novel in such old problems: for example, the importance which has accrued to those lies which are not made in order to deceive, but in order to seek accomplices, lies whose art has so enriched international bodies and neoliberal governments. And another example: the importance which rudeness has gained, more than as insults, as crude expressions and angry responses as a substitute for critical thought in the explication of controversial issues which should be clarified.
TWO: The social sciences have to start from highly probable hypotheses, like those which are noted below, and be elucidated with all scientific resources and “narrated experiences,” taking care not to substitute reasoning with rationalization or justification, and using rhetoric as the art of persuasion which can help one in science and also in conscience.
THREE: It is false to assert that “we have moved closer to democracy, and the authoritarian regime ruled Mexico has been done away with.”
FOUR: The presidentialist regime continues, although now the final decision and the limits of freedom of action, and of the “politically correct” measures and offers, are no longer established by the President of the Republic, but rather by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the mega-businesses and the business and military complexes of the “Empire” and their native partners.
FIVE: The “separation of powers” is not in play in the primary mechanisms of the privatizing and de-nationalizing neoliberal politics in which the Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial share in the “decision-making,” palabras mas, palabras menos.
SIX: The struggle of the parties disappears in concepts, vocabulary, programs, purportedly alternative to neoliberal politics, all lacking in concrete measures and in organized and articulated social foundations which would make them credible. Today the State party seems to have transformed itself into three different parties and one single truth. Fights take place between parties which were previously fought inside the PRI, and even in the PRM, as when there was discussion about whether it would be better to choose Mújica or Avila Camacho. The fights take place within the parties and between the parties, and the alliances of individuals and clients are established in order to prevail in the selection of government elites and in the distribution of public positions.
SEVEN: The constitutional reforms approved by all the parties in the “government of change” are three in number: 1st – The one which denied the rights of the Indian peoples and even deprived them of some rights which came from the colonial period. 2nd – The one which handed the mass media over to Televisa and TV Azteca. 3rd – The one which handed over ownership of archeological and cultural sites of the national heritage to the federal government, for a purpose similar to Salinas de Gortari’s when he did away with ejidal ownership and commercialized the lands of poor campesinos. Now Mexico’s cultural heritage is marketable, or it’s coming very close to being so.
EIGHT: Facing that panorama – precisely! – is a very important and positive, creative, fact – democracy has become part of the Mexican culture and of the ideals of government. The Mexican people have not “become disillusioned with democracy,” in general, as the reports of some “experts” maintain. People are increasingly critical of that so-called democracy which is neither representative nor participatory, but rather “supplantive.” In many base organizations there tends to prevail a culture in which reasoned discourse can be heard, political dialogue with clear statements, sometimes quite original, respect for beliefs and ideas, autonomy and the dignity of individuals and communities. If our authoritarian culture is still a serious problem in the alternative formations themselves and in democratic practices - and in the compliance of the majority when there is no consensus - there is still a culture of coordinated, plural and democratic collective organization which has been increasingly able to express itself among the poor of our land and among those who are with them. As for me, as all of you know, I am with the Other Campaign.
A few words in conclusion: In our country and in our university there are highly qualified personnel in the social sciences, with many international-level researchers and professors, who are in the forefront in this Latin American region, who are in the forefront in the world. Perhaps this is because we came from conquering peoples and rebels conquered to the yoke, many of whose leaders have gone to universities and colleges which neoliberalism has vainly tried to privatize and denationalize, and which have provided postgraduate studies and residencies on the campuses of the best universities in the world and on the campuses of Mexico and Latin America.
When I entered the Institute here as a research assistant, more than half a century ago, the university had not attained the high level it now has, although it was already playing that critical role, and was autonomous from the power of the State, which, with contradictions, is so important for the emancipation of the peoples. Today I am sure that it has even more possibilities and much more personnel able to link the social sciences with the theory and practice of democracy in Mexico. And then I added a few words of thanks.