Community police forces and Autodefensas (self-defence forces) have appeared in eleven Mexican states, in what has been not only an important national event but also an international event. Not every day do people decide to arm themselves. Much less do armed citizens pursue criminals for months on end with the hope of liberating territories from organised criminals and drug traffickers as they have done in Michoacán, Mexico. These groups have shown that their will and organisation can achieve much more than the capitalist State.
The State, previously led by Calderón’s PAN and now led by Peña’s PRI, has failed dismally in Michoacán, first alongside the PRD and then under the PRI. In Guerrero, meanwhile, the PRD government has also failed to provide its citizens with protection from criminal activity. The brave, organised masses, however, have managed to push organised criminals back, risking their own lives in the process.
Speaking from Michoacán, José Gil Olmos, of the magazine Proceso, told Carmen Aristegui that what had most surprised him most was the presence of a majority of youngsters between 18 and 20 years of age in the state’s Autodefensas. Many of them seem to be agricultural workers who pick lemons and avocados. Others are students or are unemployed. What could confuse the essential nature of this phenomenon, however, is that some businessmen give money to the Autodefensas.
There are already examples in the history books of Mexican masses organising and arming themselves, with many of these coming from 1910 with the start of the Mexican Revolution. Instead, however, let’s look at one much further away, in the China of 1947 to 1949. Here, we can find some parallels that help us to explain what is happening in Mexico today.
Firstly, let’s remember that insecurity and crime also affect the Mexican bourgeoisie, although they have their own means of combatting it if the State fails to protect them. For example, they can pay one of hundreds of private security agencies that have sprung up with the rising insecurity in the nation in recent years. In such a system, the rule seems to be that those who have money have security, and those who don’t, well, tough luck for them!
Looking at the Chinese example, the nation was invaded by the Japanese Empire and Chinese General Chiang Kai Shek led the resistance. Chinese peasants were organised and armed in the process, and eventually the Japanese forces were pushed out. Real success was not achieved by the Chinese Army, but by the unified action of the peasant masses alongside the national army of the bourgeois State. Once organised and victorious, the landless and exploited peasants decided not to return the liberated land to the bourgeois landowners who had previously controlled it. So they first liberated their nation from imperial control and then, independently, led an Agrarian Revolution. After the Chinese Revolution, however, Mao chose to nationalise this land from the peasants.
Back in Mexico, President Peña Nieto, the PAN, the PRD, AMLO, and other players on the bourgeois political scene fear an organised, independently armed people. For that reason, it is important for them to ensure the Autodefensas are disarmed or ‘incorporated’ into the State’s defence infrastructure. The defeat of criminal gangs seems to interest them less, which explains the disgusting events in which the Army murdered four sympathisers of the Autodefensas in the Antúnez municipality when they finally decided to enter into Michoacán earlier this month (see https://ososabiouk.wordpress.com/2014/01/14/mexico-army-attacks-Autodefensas-13-01-14/). Autodefensa members were not intimidated by these events, though, and have shown their commitment to fight until no criminal gangs remain in their communities. According to José Gil Olmos, people are actually continuing to join the ranks of these groups. As a result, the political establishment has begun the process of accommodation with the Autodefensas, pretending to be on the side of the people.
In Guerrero, meanwhile, the PRD governor, together with the federal government, continues to repress the community police forces. In days to come, the Autodefensas of Michoacán will likely be repressed too, if they fail to be corrupted or institutionalised.
It is indeed possible that there are sectors of the bourgeoisie who support the Autodefensas, though that doesn’t take away their subversive character within the ‘capitalist order’. However, if the Autodefensas are not financed by members of the proletariat, their independence cannot be guaranteed. At the moment, the groups are given food, water, protection, and vehicles by the poor, but their possible funding by the federal government (see https://ososabiouk.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/mexico-Autodefensas-sign-agreement-with-government/) may compromise their independence.
It is also important that the Autodefensas maintain a strong internal democracy that prevents the domination or impunity of individuals. They must also make sure that their arming is permanent and autonomous, and not just until the criminal gangs are pushed out of their communities. The municipal, state, and federal police are plagued by corruption, and are infiltrated by organised criminals. And politicians are usually no better! Until the whole system is reformed, Mexico will continue to be a narco-state, where impunity and injustice reign.
In order to see such change in Mexico, there must be unity between the armed masses and groups like the teachers of the CNTE, who have been courageously resisting educational ‘reforms’ in recent months. Up to this point, however, teachers in Michoacán and Guerrero have not demonstrated their solidarity with these groups. At the same time, we must all demand the freedom of Nestora Salgado, the commander of the community police of Olinalá, along with all of her imprisoned comrades.
Translated and adapted from a communiqué written by Cuauhtémoc Ruiz on January 22nd 2014