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Why Oaxaca Matters March 24, 2007

Posted by raved in Commune, Oaxaca, Spanish Revolution.
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-by James Cooke

 

For anyone interested in social progress, the ‘Oaxaca Commune’ stands out as an event worthy of attention and study. In the Mexican state of Oaxaca the overwhelming majority of people suddenly awoke from political hibernation and became active in shaping social life. In consequence, the old apparatus of the state, dedicated as it was to the interests of the rich, was destroyed, and a new structure, based on direct representation of the many, was established.

[This is clearly incorrect. The old state apparatus was not destroyed. Elements of dual power existed for some months as APPO occupied key parts of Oaxaca city.  A new structure of power is in formation, but the old state exercised its state power and repressed APPO, killing and dissappearing many, and arresting many more. By treating APPO as an alternative power already in existence this article creates illusions in the struggle for power being possible without confronting existing state power.]

The ‘popular assembly’ (APPO) that arose out of the mass movement of Oaxaca was not the first of its kind. History has numerous examples of similar political formations, always birthed amid a revolutionary climate.

 

The first modern example took place in Paris in 1871, when working-class people revolted against the policies of ‘their’ government, and created a new form of social administration to suit the needs of the average person. Like Oaxaca, the ‘Paris Commune’ consisted of delegates from a varying political/social background, working together to enact policies that reflected the demands of the majority, in contrast with the previous government that ruled according to the interests of a tiny elite.

[But unlike APPO, the Paris Commune was an alternative power for some months as it exercised military control of central Paris and drove the bourgeois government out. But as a number of the post below show, the Paris Commune failed to follow through to use its power to destroy the existing state and suffered a massive repression and destruction.]

 

In 1905 Russia, unmistakably similar organizations sprang into existence. These worker’s councils, called ‘Soviets’, were the organizational basis for the failed uprising in 1905, and were reconstructed anew and on a broader level for the successful revolution of 1917. For several years, the coordinated efforts of the nationwide system of Soviets acted as the backbone of organization for the successful civil-war and subsequent reconstruction. Following the successes of Russia, soviet-style organizational methods were constructed throughout Europe in response to the widespread social turbulence caused by World War I. In 1919, the working class of Germany formed soviets of their own, which acted as the foundation for the heroic but failed revolution.

[The critical factor in Russia was that the Soviets won over the majority of workers, poor peasants and soldiers to its program: peace, land, bread. This left the bourgeois government of Kerensky without popular support or armed forces capable of destroying the soviets. Most important, however, the success of the soviets was due to the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, led by Lenin, which fought against an political concessions to Kerensky and maintained the armed independence of the workers, poor peasants and soldiers soviets.]

 

Years later, the Spanish Revolution made good use of the same independent method of organization, where in many towns, all the functions of normal government were revolutionized to an extent that the word ‘government’ seemed hardly applicable. After World War II, ‘worker’s committees’ and militias sprang into existence in Italy and Greece, accompanied by revolutionary upheavals.

[But what is not mentioned here, is that these attempts to form soviets foundered on the betrayals of the stalinists who stabbed the popular movement in the back in order to prop up the bourgeois republican goverment.  This was the equivalent of the period between February and April in Russia, when in Lenin’s  absence, leading Bolsheviks like Stalin were prepared to join in the bourgeois regime to fight for a national democratic revolution. With the arrival of Lenin, the Bolsheviks were forced to recognise that only a socialist revolution could complete the tasks of the national democratic revolution i.e. parliamentary democracy, land reform etc.  In Spain the Stalinists murdered Trotskyists and Anarchists who wanted to form a workers and poor peasants republic independent of the bourgeoisie.]

 

Because of their accomplishments, the above events are the most frequently cited examples of government via ‘popular assembly’, but such occurrences have happened— albeit on a smaller scale— countless times throughout modern history. In times of crisis, the inefficient, bureaucratic methods of the elite-run state become intolerable; people feel compelled to organize their communities themselves. The triggering event can be a variety of things: war, economic depression, a general strike (strike committees are notorious for evolving into ‘popular assemblies’), natural disaster, and in the case of Oaxaca, outrage caused by state repression. In fact, popular assemblies often come into being not because of mere desire, but because the old state has completely crumbled, and people are driven towards activity and cooperation out of necessity.

[There is much more involved than and elite repressing the people of Oaxaca. Mexico is a semi-colony of the US and not only is the Mexican state still functioning in repressing popular movements, it is backed up by the US state. The limits of the Oaxaca Commune are that it did not succeed in turning a strong alliance between the teachers of Section 22, the indigenous rural communities, and the working class population of Oaxaca, into a national movement that included the major unions to challenge the inauguration of Calderon in December last year. But to do that it would have had to advance a program for the taking of state power, and created APPOs every in the soviet style i.e. mobilising the majority of workers, poor peasants and winning over the rank and file of the military. However, this could not have materialised out of thin air. Revolutionary Marxists who are active in Oaxaca have to win the majority support for a revolutionary program to break out of the current impasse.]

 

The events of Oaxaca have proved, once again, that there is a better alternative to the type government we have always been taught is greatest. In any society were vast inequality prevails, the political structure that upholds the status quo inevitably gets separated from the wants of the average person. The wealthy and privileged steer government to meet their own interests by whatever means necessary— media, campaign financing, ballot restrictions, long election terms and consequent unaccountability, the police, voter disenfranchisement (especially minorities and the poor), intimidation, assassination, etc. Wherever far-reaching social progress has been achieved, the state as we know it, with its endless connections to the upper-classes, has been razed and then resurrected on a different, more democratic foundation.

[This is hardly a Marxist analysis of the seizure of state power. Rather it is a watered down concept of a peaceful transition to an ‘equal’ society that doesnt even mention the word socialism.  I guess it is directed at what SA regards as ‘backward’ US workers who run a mile at the mention of the word ‘socialism’. Running scared of this word means that SA is hardly going to build support for a socialist revolution.]

 

Like its organizational ancestors, Oaxaca’s Popular Assembly worked to overcome the above barriers and shorten the distance between voters and delegate. Unlike the modern, accepted form of democracy, where representatives are free to back-track on their promises the minute after being elected, the Popular Assembly model relies on direct democracy, i.e., delegates must do as expected, or else they are immediately removed. This is possible because voting is done not by region, where people from vast un-connected distances come together once every couple years, but instead, democratic discussion happens in local workplaces, organizations, or neighborhoods, followed by a binding vote. In this way, people are able to respond to events quickly and decide the best way to react; rather than sitting on their hands until the next election hoping that their new ‘representative’ will listen to them instead of the oligarchy.

[Of course workers democracy of this sort is a necessary condition of socialist revolution; but it is not sufficient. Missing in this discussion is any reference to a revolutionary party, program, and the arming of the independent organisations of workers and peasants i.e. workers’ militias such as existed in Paris and Russia.]

 

Such a system is practical on a national and even international level because the majority of people in the world have similar interests. Most of the earth’s population consists of working people who desire the same things: peace, good wages and working conditions, education, health care, a decent standard of living, etc. Those opposing the more-democratic ‘popular assembly’ model of organization are the tiny minority who benefit from the current, vastly unequal system. Indeed, it is the predatory upper classes that ruthlessly squash all independent modes of organization, as they continue to do now in Oaxaca.

 

There are numerous elements of the Oaxacan movement that have international significance— people in nearly every country can relate to oppressive governments, institutionalized poverty, and barbaric dictators; Oaxaca has merely destroyed the myth that no alternative exists.

 

A revolution is democratic or it is nothing. The ‘popular assembly’ method of government lays the very foundation for a wider revolutionary process, where masses of people are drawn into social life and given the opportunity to actively participate. It is this element that the upper-classes fear most, and why they strive to destroy it whenever it rears its head.

[At last, some reference to the the fact that the capitalist state survives and is still repressing APPO! The formation of APPO defence squads or militias is absolutely vital. But this requires a consciousness that the old state backed by the US will not fall over by itself. Unlike the EZLN and other advocates of social change without taking state power, the failure to arm itself and win over the rank and file of the military, guarantees the continued military repression of the popular movement.]

 

In consequence, the elite-controlled international media has deemed the events in Oaxaca un-newsworthy. The task, therefore, of spreading the word about the still-evolving events in Oaxaca— as well as similar manifestations in Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, and Bolivia— falls onto those genuinely interested in democracy and equality.

From Socialist Perspectives

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