As movements transition from opposition to governing parties, there are always those who challenge their credibility and truthfulness to the cause. Preferring serious analysis over intellectual posturing, this essay makes the case that the 4T is still on the main path forward for the Mexican Left.
More than any political family, the Left has historically been prone to infighting and defection. While the 4T has consolidated its support with the working class since the 2018 victory, a steady stream of people voiced concerns that ‘los de Morena’ are not the ‘real’ Left. Various factors play into these considerations: the nationwide inclusion of candidates with a past in different parties; austerity measures because of the health crisis; impatience with the slow advance of identity politics and environmentalism; etc. While these topics are interesting to reflect on, they can also blur our vision. This essay will make the straightforward case that AMLO’s 4T is still on the path to a true Left transformation.
We will not take the easy route by pointing out that: a) many of the ‘true’ progressive critics either directly or indirectly support the comeback of the conservative Right. The subconscious realization of this simply truth can fuel aggressive projection (“I’m not the traitor, they are!”); b) there simply is no plausible Left alternative to Morena/PT for the next electoral cycles. We will instead focus on the harder route of making a positive case for the essential role of the 4T in the long term development of the Mexican Left. The argument will focus on three points: the historical context, the relation to class consciousness, and the interests of the working class.
What is the Left? This toxic question has by itself derailed various progressive movements. Not falling for this trap, we will start by recognizing that there are various political theories that can make valid claims on belonging to the ‘Left’ spectrum (communism, socialism, anarchism, etc.).
Given we are talking about mainstream politics, I will focus on socialism, broadly understood as a movement that seeks to redistribute power and resources from capitalists elites towards the working class majority, and use the state to solve collective problems. While broad, this definition already helps to filter out some lost liberals or ‘progressive’ pretenders with no concern for the working class. Within this spectrum variation exists and there is no denial that the 4T is on the ‘lighter’ side of this – but this is exactly where it needs to be to be truly socially transformative.
1. We start with the
sober truth that the main danger to Left projects in Latin America has been
aggression from imperialism and/or local capitalists elites. From Honduras to
Brazil, roughly two in three socialist parties saw their project challenged or
ended by coups or interventions. The 2019 coup in Bolivia serves as a reminder
that this is not an abstract danger. The Right on the American continent is
inherently coup-hungry, and any left wing party needs to move strategically if
it wants to survive long enough to make an impact. This has multiple
To start with, it underscores the importance of independence and the avoidance of destabilizing factors such as debt. Foreign debt (to the IMF) and U.S. foreign policy has been the motor behind neoliberal reforms across Latin America (and Africa & Southern Europe for that matter). While nationalism and austerity are indeed not classic socialist recipes (although many cuts were to private initiatives that the government replaced with state ones), it makes much strategic sense in the Mexican context. The same can be argued for the securing of resources and energy/fuel supply.
Additionally, in the initial phases of the transformation one must create a broad front with actors from other movements to avoid destabilization and neutralize the (golpista) opposition. Similarly, anti-socialist propaganda is so strong in North America, that direct association is dangerous. Especially those on the radical left should do well to read their own classics before judging Morena/PT for seeking alliances, as authors from Marx to Lenin (or if you want a Latino: Castro) all at one point endorsed broad (electoral) alliances to achieve key transformations.
The fact that the 4T is such a transformation is evident from the fact that the capitalist elite (Copermex) has literally, explicitly and openly united the classic opposition into a single block under the flag of Va por Mexico. This in addition to the nigh-united media and judiciary opposition. While the left might be confused about it’s rivals, the right is never.
2. The second major obstacle to the advance of the left in Latin America is the lack of confidence and consciousness in the broad working class. Especially in Mexico fatalism is widespread, as people have been exposed to such abandonment, manipulation, simulation and surrealist levels of corruption that many stopped considering politics as a means to defend their interests. While members of the working class might have been incorporated via patronage into other parties before, Morena is the first genuine articulation of the voice of the working class to find electoral success.
People often compare AMLO to Bernie Sanders when discussing the ‘real left’ in North America, with Sanders serving as the example of a true socialist, amongst others for having a stronger position on taxes and redistribution. There are indeed many differences between both, but the most important one is that AMLO won by uniting an actual working class coalition of urban workers and farmers, something Bernie never achieved. The simple truth that you need to win to transform, has always been particularly hard to swallow for the fringe elements of the Left who are more concerned with their intellectual virginity (it impresses students I guess?) than actually realizing socialism.
However, the real historical relevance and necessity of the 4T is not in their one-time victory, but in the fact that they kept their word on nearly all their policy promises. It is an empirical fact that AMLO delivered on policy – although we will soon discuss why your Tia might not think so. While longer lists are available, a simply reference are the ten proposals of the November 2018 Consultancy. From raising the pensions or the minimum wage, to the Tren Maya or creating 400.000 jobs by planting trees: all these things were – despite the pandemic – either realized or initiated. I do not mention this as a cheap or trivial sales point. The reality that people voted for a candidate that literally carried out his program that resulted in direct material changes for 70% of the population is nothing less than historical, and not just within a Mexican context. The simple feedback of voting (or protesting) and seeing consequences is a crucial element of establishing class consciousness and thus a foundation of ANY left wing project in Mexico.
Now why does what I just wrote feels false to some of you? This has probably to do with one of four factors: a) you confuse not liking the (implementation of) promises with them not being kept; b) you are disappointed about things the government didn’t do, but also never promised in their program; c) It happened, but you missed it due to media blackout, for example making equal pay for man and woman law; d) you confuse policy change with present outcomes, and expect short term results of long term plans. An example of the latter is people complaining about instability in the oil prices, while the plans to achieve this (building a refinery, reforming the market) are not completed yet. And even if this would fail, it does not mean the promised policies were not attempted. What matters for the sake of our argument is that the working class does know, and is consolidating around this program with passion.
3) A third risk to the left is losing touch with its working class base. I will first explain how the 4T passes this test, and later how it could be misunderstood. So far we have seen a very clear policy preference for the workers and other humble groups, in general the bottom 70% of the population. This translates itself not just in signaling humility and respect, but in very concrete things: income support for working mothers; cash transfers to poor families with children in school; a universal pension (8.000.000+ elderly) that also people who still work or worked informally will receive; overall raises in pensions; substantial minimum wage increases; increased money for people with disabilities; direct payments to 420.000 farmers; massive youth employment programs (350.000 people); and a focus on public investment in poorer states and communities, just to name a few. This in tandem with other changes that benefit similar groups, such as for example the regulation of outsourcing, the fight against service costs in banks, or the decriminalization of soft drugs. These measures are clear choices: in times of crisis this is what the government focusses on while it saves on other things, mostly itself.
Yet to some, these type of changes don’t really count as proper Left. In some cases, it is because these ‘progressive’ actors (modeled after Denisse Dresser) simply never cared for or even registered the difference such social policies make. Fifi at heart, many progressives regard the base of Morena with silent contempt, a mass of ignorant brutes that just deserved a better master than they had in the past. For a while they were ‘allies of convenience’ who almost by accident ended on the left because they wanted to stand out or be respected as critical in the times of the PRIAN. Unfortunately, many farsantes with decorative bookracks were never socialists at heart, rather wanna-be-Europeans.
Additionally, some wealthier people might genuinely have a hard time valuating these changes, since they look insignificant to them. This has largely to do with an underestimation of the depth of poverty, and not understanding which difference 1000 pesos can make for people who can’t afford breakfast. According to CONEVAL, as of March 2021 extreme poverty meant having less income than 1326 peso in rural areas, and 1741 in cities (per month!). Income poverty meant having less than 2606 in the country and 3717 peso in the city. One can now understand the major impact the for example almost quadrupling of the minimum pension can have on people who lived with less. The increase of the minimum wage might not look like much compared to what you earn, but such amounts look much bigger when looked at from below. Of course there is much room for improvement (and I will keep writing proposals to do so), as the 4T does miss some key social policies. However, this must be evaluated within the context of budgetary constraints and the need to first build enough power to achieve more redistribution or new taxes without evoking a coup.
Lastly, the fact that AMLO so faithfully sticks to his promises, is the very reason he can appear unprogressive. The attention for working class policies does draw resources away from other areas. In terms of education for example, the focus is clearly on making sure millions more children make it through high school, rather than expanding postgraduate programs. In other areas, for example ecology, this can lead to genuine controversies with other progressive actors. Probably the hardest obstacle to move further left is the presidents promise not to raise taxes, which admittedly limits the scope of this transformation. Yet none of the above should lead to the conclusion that the 4T is not left.
Similarly, the populist sensitivity to the concerns and culture of the working class places certain breaks on how fast the 4T can pass a ‘progressive’ cultural and ethical agenda. While this agenda and it’s results gets underplayed by the media – for example in the improvement of the position of woman – it does not go as fast as especially young people would like. We are culturally indeed not Denmark, nor are we heading there fast. Once again our analysis must be structural: it is strategically necessary to avoid drifting into a progressive cultural elitism that splits the Left into a hipster and a proletarian part. Progressive changes should be fought for, but always on the social substance, rather than as cultural demands – but that topic is for another time.
To conclude: the fourth transformation has walked the path that a left mass movement that is serious about its long term effectiveness must walk. Certainly, it can easily get outflanked from the left by various movements, ideologies and proposals (including mine). True, this comes with concessions, detours, pragmatism or flat out blunders, but the movement is no less sincere in its historical mission of opening the door to Leftist politics. Without demonstrating the ability to achieve change through mobilization, without building genuine rapport with the majority, and without to first securing a position of strength versus a united opposition, ANY left wing project is chanceless in North America. If you don’t have the spine to support the only successful Left project in a century during difficult times, what will you do when real class warfare starts?