Sunday, October 27, 2013

Defend the Nationalized Energy Industry!-Mexican Government Drives to Privatize Oil

Workers Vanguard No. 1032
18 October 2013

Defend the Nationalized Energy Industry!-Mexican Government Drives to Privatize Oil

The following article was translated and excerpted from Espartaco No. 39 (September 2013). Espartaco is published by the Grupo Espartaquista de México, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).

Since the 1980s, the PRI [currently ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party] and PAN [National Action Party] governments have been set on privatizing anything in state hands that can be soldfrom bicycle and textile factories to strategic industries such as railways and telecommunications. But the real jackpot that the U.S. imperialists (and some domestic magnates) have been waiting for is the oil industry, nationalized by Lázaro Cárdenas in 1938. Although the 2008 energy reform act opened the door to private participation in limited areas of the energy industry, no government had dared, until now, to push for privatization. This is a potentially explosive question, since large masses of Mexican workers and poor regard the oil expropriation as a historic gain, deeply connected with their heartfelt democratic aspirations, particularly national emancipation. Tens of thousands have been taking to the streets in protests initiated by Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the PRD [Party of the Democratic Revolution].

The proposal by [President Enrique] Peña Nieto would essentially open up the whole process related to oil and gas to national and foreign private capital, from the exploration and extraction of fossil fuels and the processing of natural gas to the sale of electricity. Unlike what happens with the service contracts that are currently permitted, this reform would allow private capital to keep the profits (despite not being legal owners of the natural resources). A proposal put forward by the PAN would likewise amount to the privatization of the industry. The government and the PRI claim that its reform is not privatization because [state-owned oil company] Pemex will not be sold “not even a screw.” But basically, all of its operations will be opened for private investment!

As revolutionary Marxists, we defend the nationalized energy industry as an elementary measure of neocolonial Mexico’s defense against imperialism. As Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotskyco-leader with Lenin of the 1917 Russian Revolutionwrote in defense of the oil expropriation against the schemes and attacks of the British imperialists, who were affected the most by the nationalization:

“The oil magnates are not rank-and-file capitalists, not ordinary bourgeoisie. Having seized the richest natural resources of a foreign country, standing on their billions and supported by the military and diplomatic forces of their metropolis, they strive to establish in the subjugated country a regime of imperialistic feudalism, subordinating to themselves legislation, jurisprudence, and administration. Under these conditions expropriation is the only effective means of safeguarding national independence and the elementary conditions of democracy.”

“Mexico and British Imperialism” (June 1938)

For a Workers and Peasants Government!

As Trotsky himself explained, “The expropriation of oil is neither socialism nor communism.” Although it raises an obstacle to imperialist dominance, the nationalization of oil or other strategic industries does not lead, in and of itself, to genuine national emancipation. We Spartacists base ourselves on Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, confirmed by the Russian Revolution, which maintains that the bourgeoisie of backward countries like Mexico, no matter how radical its political representatives might sound, is incapable of solving the historic tasks associated with the bourgeois-democratic revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries. The problems of political democracy, agrarian revolution and independent national development can be solved only under the class rule of the proletariat, through socialist revolution.

The working class in power cannot stop at these democratic tasks but must immediately move forward to the socialist tasksthe expropriation of the bourgeoisie as a class and the establishment of a collectivized, planned economy. The revolution must be extended internationally. The survival of the revolution in Mexico and its subsequent development toward socialism is unthinkable, economically and militarily, without the help of the multiracial U.S. proletariat. A workers revolution in Mexico would give a formidable impulse to revolution north of the Río Bravo. The proletariat in the U.S. must make its power felt in joint class struggle with its Mexican brothers and sisters against the designs of the capitalist rulers.

Break with the Bourgeois Nationalists!

Imperialist penetration has developed a powerful proletariat in Mexico. The national bourgeoisie, fearful of the working class and tied by a thousand threads to its imperialist masters, zigzags between these two poles at different times. As Trotsky explained, to the extent that the capitalist government tries to offer some resistance to excessive imperialist demands, it must lean on the proletariat. This was the case back in the 1930s with Lázaro Cárdenas, who stimulated national capitalist development through some nationalizations and secured the support of workers and peasants in the face of imperialist bullying. On the other hand, the governments in backward countries that consider it unavoidable or more advantageous to walk hand in hand with foreign capital destroy workers organizations and establish more or less totalitarian regimes.

Until the 1980s, PRI governments after Cárdenas pursued, to a greater or lesser extent, these nationalist politics. Mexican bourgeois nationalists maintained relative stability in the imperialists’ backyard for half a century through brutal repression against striking workers, the left, union dissidents and rural guerrillas and, at the same time, granting significant concessions to the working class and the peasantry and carrying out some nationalizations. More recently, the Mexican rulers have been impelled by the economic crisis, their own ideological inclinations and certainly the counterrevolutionary destruction of the USSR in 1991-92which removed a global counterweight to U.S. imperialismto open the doors to unbridled plundering of the country by the imperialists. This was done particularly but not exclusively through NAFTA, the treaty for the imperialist rape of Mexico.

If there is something that Mexico’s recent history demonstrates, it is that neoliberalism and populism are but two sides of the same coin. The PRD and Morena [López Obrador’s Movement for National Regeneration] represent a nationalist wing of the bourgeoisie which strives to return to some version of the old PRI populism; these organizations serve the class interests of the Mexican bourgeoisie, and through this agency, the interests of world imperialism.

In any case, the PRD has a lot of gall posing as an opposition to energy privatization. Last year this party, along with the PRI and PAN, signed the “Pact for Mexico,” which includes pushing forward “the necessary reforms to create a competitive environment for the economic activities of refining, petrochemical processing and transportation of fossil fuels”the core of Peña Nieto’s reform. Now the PRD, which also lost face after its support to the sinister education reform, has resurrected Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, son of General Lázaro Cárdenas, to launch a campaign against privatization. [For more on these issues, see “‘Pact for Mexico’: War on Workers, Poor,” WV No. 1019, 8 March.]

Government Hands Off the Oil Workers Union!

Privatization will also mean attacks on the oil workers union and the labor gains of its members. Given the strategic nature of the oil industry and the state monopoly, the oil workers union is the most powerful in the country. The Economist magazine (10 August) declares that one of the problems with Pemex is that “it has never been treated as a profit-making company”; company revenues account for some 40 percent of the government’s income instead of being reinvested. The same article complains that the “bloated and pampered” union is a burden on the company because many workers cannot be fired even when the wells they work have dried up. An article in Letras Libres (September 2008) lamented: “Currently, union members at Pemex enjoy the best contract of all public employees” and “are the only ones with their own health care system, which currently includes dozens of doctors’ offices, 15 clinics and 22 hospitals.” Oil workers are also entitled to a bonus equaling 60 days’ wages as well as significant company support for renting, buying, building, remodeling or repairing a house, among other benefits. These are gains worth defending and extending!

Carlos Romero Deschamps, head of the union and also a PRI senator, has avoided taking a clear position on Peña Nieto’s reform. What he made clear, however, is that the union will “defend its rights through dialogue” and not by mobilizing: “Unionized oil workers will not behave like the teachers in the National Coordination of Education Workers (CNTE) when energy reform is taken up” (El Economista, 21 August).

For the time being, the PRI does not seem keen on going after the union on the eve of the vote on its reform. But neither the PAN nor the PRD nor Morena misses any opportunity to demand state action against the union. PRD head Jesús Zambrano declared that there can be no further development of the oil industry “on the basis of the corruption underlying the quasi-state company’s union” (La Jornada, 19 March). In fact, the demand “Out with Romero Deschamps!” is part of Morena’s “energy proposal.”

Workers must oppose any intervention by the bourgeois state in the unions. Romero Deschamps is undoubtedly a corrupt and gangster-like bureaucrat, but the working class must clean its own house. As shown by the “Quinazo” and the “Elbazo” [referring respectively to the incarceration of a long-serving leader of the oil workers union and, earlier this year, the head of the SNTE teachers union], state intervention in the basic defense organizations of the working class can have no goal other than furthering state control over the unions, if not their outright destruction. The capitalist stateat its core made up of the police, the army, the prisons and the courtsis a machine of systematic repression directed against all the exploited and the oppressed. It operates at the service of the bourgeoisie in order to keep the working class under submission and to secure capitalist class rule. The state cannot be reformed to serve the interests of the working class; it must be destroyed through socialist revolution and replaced by a workers state that defends proletarian class rule.

The oil workers union, like other unions, is led by a pro-capitalist bureaucracy that acts to defend its own privileges. The bureaucracies that support the PRI generally stave off the membership through the fist of repression, while those loyal to the PRD more often resort to nationalist ideology to push class collaboration and illusions in the state. But whatever their ideology or political differences, all of these bureaucracies beg the state to be their protector and, frequently, their arbiter.

Trotsky’s program of permanent revolution is the alternative to trusting in fantasies that the backward Mexican bourgeoisie, lackey of imperialism, will be a vehicle for liberation. As communists, the Grupo Espartaquista de México, together with our comrades throughout the International Communist League, fight for an international socialist economy through new October Revolutions around the world in order to end imperialism and every form of exploitation and oppression.


Leon Trotsky

The Mexican Oil Expropriations

A Challenge to the British Labour Party

(April 1938)

Written: April 23, 1938.
First published: Forward, 7 May 1938.
Source: Socialist Appeal [New York], 14 May 1938, from the collection at the Holt Labor Library.
Translated: Daily Herald [London].
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive ( 2004. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

The Editor,
Daily Herald,
Dear Sir:
In the vocabulary of all civilized nations there exists the word “cynicism.” As a classic example of brazen cynicism, the British government’ s defense of the interests of a clique of capitalist exploiters should be introduced into all encyclopedias. I am therefore not mistaken if I say that world public opinion awaits the voice of the British Labour Party regarding the scandalous role of British diplomacy in the question of the expropriation of the Eagle joint-stock oil company by the Mexican government.
The juridical side of the question is clear to a child. With the aim of exploiting the natural wealth of Mexico, the British capitalists placed themselves under the protection and at the same time under the control of Mexican laws and the Mexican authorities. No one compelled Messrs. Capitalists to do this, either by military force or through diplomatic notes. They acted entirely voluntarily and consciously. Now Mr. Chamberlain and Lord Halifax wish to force mankind into believing that the British capitalists have pledged themselves to recognize Mexican laws only within those limits where they find it necessary. Moreover, it accidentally occurs that the completely “impartial” interpretation of the Mexican laws by Chamberlain-Halifax coincides exactly with the interpretation of the interested capitalists.
The British government cannot, however, deny that only the Mexican government and the Supreme Court of the country are competent to interpret the laws of Mexico. To Lord Halifax, who nourishes warm sympathies for the laws and courts of Hitler, the Mexican laws and courts may seem unjust. But who gave the British government the right to control the inner politics and legal procedure of an independent state? This question already contains part of the answer: the British government, accustomed to command hundreds of millions of colonial slaves and semislaves, is trying to fit those same methods also to Mexico. Having encountered courageous resistance, it instructs its lawyers hurriedly to invent arguments in which juridical logic is replaced by imperialist cynicism.
The economic and social side of the problem is as clear as its juridical side. The executive committee of your party would, in my opinion, act correctly if it created a special commission for studying what British, and in general foreign, capital has contributed to Mexico and what it has extracted. Such a commission could within a short period present to the British public the stunning balance sheet of imperialist exploitation!
A small clique of foreign magnates, in the full sense of the word, pumps out the living sap of Mexico as well as of a series of other backward or weak countries. The solemn speeches about foreign capital contributing “civilization,” about its assisting in the development of national economy, and so forth, are the sheerest Pharisaism. The question, in actuality, concerns plunder-ing the natural wealth of the country. Nature required many millions of years in order to deposit gold, silver, and oil in the subsoil of Mexico. The foreign imperialists wish to plunder these riches in the shortest possible time, making use of cheap labor power and the protection of their diplomacy and their fleet.
Visit any center of the mining industry: hundreds of millions of dollars, extracted by foreign capital from the earth, have given nothing, nothing whatever, to the culture of the country; neither highways nor buildings nor good development of the cities. Even the premises of the companies themselves often resemble barracks. Why, indeed, should one spend Mexican oil, Mexican gold, Mexican silver on the needs of faraway and alien Mexico, when with the profits obtained it is possible to build palaces, museums, theaters in London or in Monaco? Such are the civilizers! In the place of historical riches they leave shafts in the Mexican soil and ill health among the Mexican workers.
The notes of the British government refer to “international law.” Even irony powerlessly drops its hands in the face of this argument. About what kind of international law are we talking? Evidently about the law which triumphed in Ethiopia and to which the British government is now preparing to give its sanction. Evidently about that same law which the airplanes and tanks of Mussolini and Hitler are already announcing in Spain for the second year with the British government’ s invariable support.
The latter held endless conversations about the evacuation of foreign “volunteers” from Spain. Naive public opinion long thought this meant the halting of intervention by the foreign fascist bandits. Actually the British government demanded of Mussolini only one thing: that he remove his armies from Spain only after he guaranteed the victory of Franco. In this case, as in all others, the problem consisted not in defending “international law” or “democracy” but in safeguarding the interests of British capitalists in the Spanish mining industry from possible attempts on the part of Italy.
In Mexico, the British government carries on basically the same politics as in Spain – passively in relation to Spain, actively in Mexico. We are now witnessing the first steps of this activity. What will be its further development? No one can yet foretell. Chamberlain himself does not yet know. One thing we can affirm with assurance: the further development of the attempts of British imperialism against the independence of Mexico will to a great degree depend upon the conduct of the British working class. Here it is impossible to evade the issue by resort to indefinite formulas. Firm resoluteness is necessary to paralyze the criminal hand of imperialist violence. I therefore finish as I began: world public opinion awaits the firm voice of the British Labour Party!
L. Trotsky
P.S. – Several imperialist newspapers have attempted to represent me ... as the initiator of the expropriation. Such nonsense does not even deserve refutation. I, a private person, enjoying the hospitality of this country, have learned only from the papers all the stages of the struggle of the foreign capitalists against the Mexican laws. But this was completely sufficient to form an opinion. To state this opinion aloud is the elementary duty of every participant in the liberating struggle of the proletariat.

Leon Trotsky

Mexico And British Imperialism

(June 1938)

Written: 5 June 1938.
Source: Socialist Appeal [New York], 25 June 1938, from the collection at the Holt Labor Library.
Translated: Socialist Appeal.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive ( 2004. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

The international campaign which imperialist circles are waging over the expropriation of Mexican oil enterprises by the Mexican government has been distinguished by all the features of imperialism’s propagandistic bacchanalias – combining impu-dence, deceitfulness, speculation in ignorance, with cocksureness in its own impunity.
The signal for this campaign was given by the British government when it declared a boycott of Mexican oil. Boycott, as is known, always involves self-boycott, and is therefore accom-panied by great sacrifices on the part of the boycotter. Great Britain was until recently the largest consumer of Mexican oil; naturally not out of sympathy for the Mexican people, but out of consideration for her own advantage.

Britain and Cedillo

Heaviest consumer of oil in Great Britain itself is the state, with its gigantic navy and rapidly growing air force. A boycott of Mexican oil by the British government signifies, therefore, a simultaneous boycott not only of British industry but also of national defense. Mr. Chamberlain’s government has shown with unusual frankness that the profits of Britain’s capitalist robbers loom above state interests themselves. Oppressed classes and oppressed peoples must thoroughly learn this fundamental conclusion.
Both chronologically and logically the uprising of General Cedillo grew out of Chamberlain’s policy. The Monroe Doctrine prevents the British admiralty from applying a military-naval blockade of the Mexican coast. They must act through internal agents, who, it is true, do not openly fly the British flag, yet serve the same interests as Chamberlain – the interests of a clique of oil magnates. In the White Book issued by British diplomacy just a few days ago we may be sure that the negotiations of its agents with General Cedillo are not included. Imperialist diplomacy carries on its major business under cover of secrecy.

Ignorance and Deceit

In order to compromise the expropriation in the eyes of bourgeois public opinion, they represent it as a “Communist” measure. Historical ignorance combines here with conscious deceit. Semi-colonial Mexico is fighting for its national independence, political and economic. This is the basic meaning of the Mexican revolution at this stage. The oil magnates are not rank-and-file capitalists, not ordinary bourgeoisie. Having seized the richest natural resources of a foreign country, standing on their billions and supported by the military and diplomatic forces of their metropolis, they strive to establish in the subjugated country a regime of imperialistic feudalism, subordinating to themselves legislation, jurisprudence, and administration. Under these conditions expropriation is the only effective means of safeguarding national independence and the elementary conditions of democracy.
What direction the further economic development of Mexico may take depends decisively upon factors of an international character. But this is a question of the future. The Mexican revolution is now carrying out the same work as, for instance, the United States of America accomplished in three-quarters of a century, beginning with the Revolutionary War for independence and finishing with the Civil War for the abolition of slavery and for national unification. The British government not only did everything at the end of the eighteenth century to retain the United States under the status of a colony, but later, in the years of the Civil War, supported the slaveholders of the South against the abolitionists of the North, striving for the sake of its imperialist interests to thrust the young republic into a state of economic backwardness and national disunity.

Brtain and Slavery

To the Chamberlains of that time, too, the expropriation of the slaveholders seemed a diabolical “Bolshevik” measure. In reality the historic task of the Northerners consisted in clearing the arena for the independent democratic development of bourgeois society. Precisely this task is being solved at this stage by the government of Mexico. General Cardenas stands among those statesmen of his country who have been fulfilling work comparable to that of Washington, Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and General Grant. And, of course, it is not accidental that the British government, in this case, too, finds itself on the other side of the historic trench.
The world press, in particular the French, preposterous as it may seem, continues to drag my name into the question of the expropriation of the oil industry. If I have already refuted this nonsense once it is not at all because I fear “responsibility,” as was insinuated by one talkative agent of the GPU. On the contrary, I would consider it an honor to carry even a part of the responsibility for this courageous and progressive measure of the Mexican government. But I do not have the least basis for it. I first learned of the decree of expropriation from the newspapers. But, naturally, this is not the question.

Two Aims Pursued

Two aims are pursued in interjecting my name. First, the organizers of the campaign wish to impart to the expropriation a “Bolshevik” coloration. Second, they are attempting to strike a blow at the national self-respect of Mexico. The imperialists are endeavoring to represent the affair as if Mexico’s statesmen were incapable of determining their own road. A wretched and ignoble hereditary slaveholders’ psychology! Precisely because Mexico today still belongs to those backward nations which are only now impelled to fight for their independence, greater audacity of thought is engendered among its statesmen than is granted to the conservative dregs of a great past. We have witnessed similar phenomena in history more than once!
The French weekly Marianne, a notorious organ of the French People’s Front, even asserts that on the oil question the government of General Cardenas acted not only as one with Trotsky but also ... in the interests of Hitler. It is a question, you see, of depriving the great-hearted “democracies” of oil in case of war and, contrariwise, of supplying Germany and other fascist nations. This is not one whit more clever than the Moscow trials. Humanity learns, not without amazement, that Great Britain is being deprived of Mexican oil because of the ill-will of General Cardenas and not because of Chamberlain’s self-boycott. But then the “democracies” possess a simple way of paralyzing this “fascist” plot: let them buy Mexican oil, once more Mexican oil, and again Mexican oil! To every honest and sensible person it is now beyond all doubt that if Mexico should find itself forced to sell liquid gold to fascist countries, the responsibility for this act would fall fully and completely upon the governments of the imperialist “democracies.”

Prompting from Moscow

Behind the back of Marianne and its ilk stand the Moscow prompters. At first glance this seems preposterous, since other prompters of the same school use diametrically opposed librettos. But the whole secret consists in the fact that the friends of the GPU adapt their views to geographic gradations of latitude and longitude. If some of them promise support to Mexico, others picture General Cardenas as an ally of Hitler. From the latter point of view, Cedillo’s oil rebellion should be viewed, it would seem, as a struggle in the interests of world democracy.
Let us, however, leave the clowns and intriguers to their own fate. We do not have them in mind, but the class-conscious workers of the entire world. Without succumbing to illusions and without fear of slander, the advanced workers will completely support the Mexican people in their struggle against the imperialists. The expropriation of oil is neither socialism nor communism. But it is a highly progressive measure of national self-defense. Marx did not, of course, consider Abraham Lincoln a communist; this did not, however, prevent Marx from entertain-ing the deepest sympathy for the struggle that Lincoln headed. The First International sent the Civil War president a message of greeting, and Lincoln in his answer greatly appreciated this moral support.

Workers, Support Mexico

The international proletariat has no reason to identify its program with the program of the Mexican government. Revolutionists have no need of changing color, adapting themselves, and rendering flattery in the manner of the GPU school of courtiers, who in a moment of danger will sell out and betray the weaker side. Without giving up its own identity, every honest working class organization of the entire world, and first of all in Great Britain, is duty-bound – to take an irreconcilable position against the imperialist robbers, their diplomacy, their press, and their fascist hirelings. The cause of Mexico, like the cause of Spain, like the cause of China, is the cause of the international working class. The struggle over Mexican oil is only one of the advance-line skirmishes of future battles between the oppressors and the oppressed.

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