- Interview by
- Adrián Gerardo Rodríguez Sánchez
With his electoral victory of last year, Andrés Manuel López Obrador assumed the Mexican presidency and his political platform, MORENA, obtained an overwhelming majority in the federal legislative branch as well as important positions in several state and municipal governments. Thus began the so-called “Fourth Transformation.” Building on a series of historical transformations — National Independence, Liberal Reform, Revolution — AMLO’s fledgling national project seeks to move beyond those popular conquests that over the years have come to define the basic features of Mexican society as a sovereign nation.
AMLO’s government says that in order to achieve this transformation, it aims to renovate the mechanisms of political decision-making. In short, to reinvent the nation’s political institutions. This ambition is all more striking since it is taking place in one of the world’s most corrupt and violent countries, where few could have anticipated that the Mexican state would become a site of contention for the construction of a more just society.
Having been approved and formally recognized by the party within which it operates, MORENA’s Institute for Political Instruction (IFP) is a key piece in the much-vaunted transformation. In recognition of its vital importance, the Institute will receive 50 percent of party funds in order to carry out activities and organizational tasks.
At the helm of the project is Rafael Barajas, popularly known as “el Fisgón,” a renowned political cartoonist, scholar, founder of leftwing publications and the recipient of the National Prize for Journalism. Barajas, who currently serves as director of the Institute, has also been a longtime companion of AMLO.
Adrián Gerardo Rodríguez Sánchez spoke with “el Fisgón” during his visit to the state of Aguascalientes, where Barajas was busy organizing a series of training sessions in order to prepare MORENA candidates to compete for local popular elections. Their conversation centered around the Institute’s larger mission, and the national and international challenges that AMLO’s government will be facing in the years to come.
MORENA’s Institute for Political Instruction came into existence after the party’s creation — to be precise, after the successful elections of July 2018. To an outside observer that might seem strange. It seems like the logic of such an organization would be to serve as a launching pad for a party, for creating its cadres and militants. Hence my first question: what was the decision process behind the formation of IFP and why did it only take place after the successful elections of last year?
It is odd, because the idea for a project of political instruction was already on the table in 2006, as part of the struggle to combat electoral fraud committed against Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The idea began there to form study groups, and those groups have been an important part of the movement ever since. Of course, they’ve had their ups and downs, but they’ve played an important part in the movement’s success. I think of the current IFP as an extension of that earlier effort to form study groups.
It is important to understand something: the Movement for National Regeneration is essentially a party-movement. And the purpose of the IFP is to maintain MORENA as just that, a party-movement. In other words, the IFP is concerned specifically with internal issues related to party structure — promoting activism, developing candidates — but the ultimate goal of the Institute is to speak to the entire population and serve the nation.
In that sense, the IFP is a vital tool for the movement. There is another important aspect to bear in mind: the movement behind López Obrador cannot be sustained unless we continue to nurture the political base. I’m convinced that for a peaceful, nonviolent movement to stay in power it will be necessary to carry out a truly large-scale process of political instruction.
Did you draw on the example of any other movements or institutions, nationally or internationally, when forming the IFP?
Of course, there are many historical precedents for this type of organization. I believe that large-scale revolutionary processes are only consolidated when new ideas are successfully communicated and given a mass appeal. These are complex ideological processes, and in the West the institutions that have communicated and disseminated knowledge on a mass scale have been indispensable for large social movements.
The Mexican Revolution and other twentieth-century revolutions could not have taken place without socialist study circles. In the case of Mexico, these were the Magonista [from Ricardo Flores Magón] and anarchist study circles. In Russia it was the socialist circles that brought knowledge to the masses and served to disseminate ideas.
It is true though; this is the first time that such an institute has been launched by a party after it won elections. In that sense, the IFP is something new.
What are the basic tasks that the IFP looks to work on?
There are basically six points. We want to develop a series of networks — territorial and sectorial networks. We want to develop a serious program for political instruction, above all for candidates competing in popular elections. We want to have a press and work on propaganda. We also want to develop an instruction program for Mexicans abroad and we want to begin the process of instruction for potential candidates, from the moment they enlist in the party.
Noteworthy intellectuals like David Harvey, Immanuel Wallerstein, and Juan Pablo Monedero of Podemos have participated in the IFP. How important is it that the IFP maintain connections with global progressive movements, parties and figures?
The debates we are trying to hold need to be expanded and made as large as possible, on a national and international scale. When we secure the kind of funds to do so, we need to promote these kinds of international connections.
How would the type of education offered by the IFP differ from that in the university?
If we look back on the twentieth century, especially in the early part of the century, we find that there are two great sources for creating knowledge and ideas. One of those is the university, naturally. The other were the kind of instruments used by the Left for political instruction. These were a constant source of education.
In fact, it would be better to speak in general about movements and political instruction, because the Right also has its history. The Right had its own reservoir of ideas, but the Left specifically had its political debates. For example, at the beginning of the twentieth century socialist groups carried out a process of instruction outside the university, and the debates taking place there were of an extraordinarily high level — discussions of Kautsky, Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, and Trotsky. Therein lies the fundamental difference: universities have a logic for creating knowledge that is entirely different from political institutions.
We have a tendency to downplay the impact that these centers of left-wing debate have had on global thought. These debates included figures like Lenin, Trotsky, and Luxemburg, but also figures like Walter Benjamin. Of course they are different from the university, but that does not mean that they can’t maintain a high level of intellectual debate while being purposeful in their discussions. For example, if you look at Noam Chomsky’s background, he comes from that same tradition of debate.
Who are the figures in Mexico that have emerged from that tradition? José Revueltas and Carlos Mosiváis are prime examples. These are remarkable thinkers that have made lasting contributions to Mexican culture.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party [PRI], which held power in Mexico for seventy-one years, maintained a peculiar relationship with the intellectual class. Some have described the intellectual under the PRI as forming a kind of “courtesan relationship” with the state. What type of intellectual does MORENA hope to create for the type of Mexican society it looks to achieve?
For a long time in Mexico the public intellectual played a prominent role, as did it in the United States. But even more so in Mexico, the great historical intellectuals have been what were called public intellectuals. From the time of Independence with Fray Servando, to the period of Reform with liberal intellectuals like Melchor Campo, Francisco Zarco, Guillermo Preto, and especially Ignacio Ramirez.
During the Revolution figures like Librado Rivera, the Flores Magón brothers, and Camilo Arriaga played the role of public intellectuals. Later in the twentieth century José Revueltas assumed that position, as did Octavio Paz at times. These were all a specific type of intellectual: public intellectuals.
A curious thing happened during the neoliberal era: we began to see the flourishing of we might call “media intellectuals,” the so-called “telectuals” that enjoyed widespread exposure in the media. But these intellectuals were deeply attached to groups in power, and often with those controlling the mass media.
We might say that these were intellectuals completely divorced from the interests of the people and the debates that most concerned them.
That’s correct. During the twentieth century, Mexico had important public intellectuals: figures like Carlos Monsiváis, Elena Poniatowska, Fernando del Paso, all of whom made important intellectual contributions. Take the example of Monsiváis: he would issue a public letter whenever a given debate reached an impasse; he would publish his text and everyone would respond “Right, of course, that’s how things are . . .” and a new path for discussion would be opened up. Luis Pazos did similarly: he published a poem in the newspaper La Jornada that spoke out in favor of adoption for same-sex partnerships. It was a brutal poem, a kind of prayer that managed to question a number of commonly held ideas.
I’d like to ask you about the broader international context. Bolsonaro’s government in Brazil can be read as a general threat to progressive governments and movements across the region. In fact, Mexico finds itself sandwiched between these threats: you have Trump to the north, and to the south there is Bolsonaro, Argentina’s Macri, Colombia’s Duque, and so on. How should MORENA navigate in such an adverse geopolitical climate, and what is their strategic outlook on a continental level?
Between 1998 and 2008, there was a cycle of regional revolutions in Latin America. This was incredibly important insofar as it announced the end of the neoliberal counterrevolution of earlier decades. Mexico also took part in these large social movements of the early twenty-first century, and only by committing electoral fraud against AMLO’s movement was it possible to maintain the neoliberal model in Mexico. I’m talking about systematic fraud: in 2006, in 2012, and again in 2018.
But it wasn’t successful. So AMLO’s triumph in Mexico is part of the progressive cycle, and, in fact, that cycle began in 1988 with the beginning of the Cardenista movement in Mexico. One can date the beginning of the progressive cycle to that year in Mexico as well as in Latin America.
As soon as the neoliberal cycle began, the opposition began to form.
And in the same way that the anti-neoliberal cycle started to gain in strength, the counteroffensive began to take shape. Historically, things always tend to work that way.
So what specifically is MORENA’s and the IFP’s biggest challenge in the current climate?
The challenge for the time being is to hold on. But I believe that the revolutionary movements of Latin America will not let up, not so long as neoliberalism continues to reveal its brutality. Whoever thinks that Mauricio Macri has a permanent grip on Argentina is sorely mistaken. There is a very real movement of popular resistance in that country, as is there in Brazil, in Venezuela, or in Ecuador. In other words, everything is up for grabs in those countries. I’m not convinced that the Brazilian people will be able to endure much more of Bolsonaro. There is a resistance there waiting to take shape.
Finally, looking further north: do you have any specific thoughts or expectations regarding a possible victory for Bernie Sanders in the United States?
I would say it’s more than possible; it’s much closer to being a reality than we might believe. We have to remember that revolutionary cycles tend to be contagious. I am convinced that the radicalization of movements in Mexico can have an impact in the United States. I think it already has. When in the history of the United States have we ever seen a presidential candidate return for a second campaign after having been forced out of the electoral contest? Sanders is a striking case.
You mean to say that what Sanders has done recalls what AMLO did?
There is a similarity. I would also remind you: Bernie Sanders at one point used the slogan “We will make history,” which sounds very similar to AMLO’s “Together we will make history” [Juntos haremos historia]. It is all part of a common process: there are so many layers of society that are fed up with the neoliberal model and are now saying “enough is enough.”