The overwhelming victory of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), a moderate leftist candidate in the July 2018 Mexican presidential elections is historic; it is the first time in recent history that someone whois not a member of the two a right-wing partés (Revolutionary Institutional Party [PRI] or National Action Party [PAN]) has won. On election day, millions of Mexicans went to the ballot boxes to vote in favor of a change. Many voted for AMLO just to throw out the corrupt politicians who rule our country.
This was AMLO´s third attempt to win the elections. In previous attempts in 2006 and in 2012, AMLO´s victory was blocked by the political and economic elites that AMLO called “la mafia del poder” (the power mafia). In 2006 the political elite rigged the elections by altering the electoral results; he lost to right-wing candidate Felipe Calderon of PAN by a tiny margin of 0.56%. In both 2006 and 2012, the elite launched a dirty campaign against AMLO calling him a “populist” who was a danger for Mexico. They repeatedly compared AMLO to the former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in TV, newspapers, radio and internet campaigns. This time in 2018 however, the dirty campaign did not influence the Mexican population.
During Felipe Calderon´s administration, the problem of cartels, drugs, and violence reached extremes levels, inaugurating the U.S. Prompted “War on Drugs” that led to hundreds being killed and gone missing with little accountability of the armed forces. This process of social decomposition was continued by Enrique Peña Nieto who won the election in 2012. Political corruption and repression against social movements increased. Many corruption scandals came to light: Odebrecht1, the white house2, governors who lead some states into bankruptcy3 etc. Human rights were systematically violated (Tlatlaya4, 43 students of Ayotzinapa disappeared by the government5, etc). Mexico became a particularly dangerous place for journalists, with increasing censorship, persecution and murder (12 journalists were killed only in 2017).
Violence, corruption and poor economic performance have caused tremendous outrage and ferment in Mexican society. In many parts of Mexico local governments collude with cartels. Therefore, many people have lost faith in the government and have chosen to organise themselves into self-defense groups and community police. In other parts of the country, large social mobilisations have emerged: public school teachers led a general strike in 2013 and occupied the Parliament for two weeks to fight against the educational reform6. Relatives and friends of the missing 43 rural students of Ayotzinapa, supported by civil society, protested for months. Women demonstrated in the streets to protest against gender violence where thousands of women have been killed systematically in what is termed “feminicidos”. There have been riots in some parts of the country due to a hike in gasoline prices (“gasolinazos”).
We may understand this crisis of legitimacy of the neoliberal regime in Mexico through what Antonio Gramsci has called crisis of hegemony. With the consensus built by the government coming under increasing attack from most sectors of the population, domination by consent gave way to rule based on coercion. The government began to lose control over framing public opinion, not least because of the rise of internet and social media. This social media filled a vacuum that the mass media had left due to their growing lack of credibility. Many people formed their political opinions by watching YouTubers and following popular tweeters, instead of watching the news on TV.
In this scenario, AMLO's prospects became even stronger as the right-wing political parties got divided. PRI chose to support a terrible candidate (Jose Antonio Meade) who was not in the least bit charismatic. PAN made an alliance with an opportunistic “left-wing” party called the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) that was transforming into an increasingly right wing party. This alliance was to support a very ambitious politician: Ricardo Anaya. Anaya had a public image associated with corruption, a Machiavellian way of doing politics and with a propensity to lie in public. This alliance generated discontent in both parties and many party members quit as a result.
As the government was losing popular support and right-wing parties remained divided, AMLO skyrocketed in polls. He responded to the people´s outrage offering two concrete points in his political agenda: struggle against corruption and the bringing peace to the country that was ridden with violence. These were articulated in a discourse that was very persuasive to different social classes, with different ideological backgrounds, and in different geographies of Mexico. However, AMLO also toned down his discourse this time to appear more "moderate" and avoid being labeled a “furious populist”. He claimed that he will not expropriate anyone's wealth or property. He assured the business sector that he will retain some traditional economic policies (austerity, no fiscal reforms, control of inflation, etc) and will promote the internal market. In his public rallies he wore a necklace and a headband of flowers to create an image of a peaceful politician. In the social media the word “AMLOVE” created memes to support him.
Further, AMLO made pragmatic alliances in order to ensure his victory. He recruited the entrepreneur Alfonso Romo (descendant of the legendary Francisco I. Madero, a leader of the Mexican Revolution) to coordinate a team in charge of elaborating Morena's Project of Nation, including the main policies AMLO´s government would implement if he won the election. Amongst other things, Romo also held meetings with big capitalists to convince them that AMLO is not a danger to their business. He succeeded in dividing the multi-millionares: of the 15 top Mexican businessmen, only six of them were now anti-AMLO , while six supported him and one remained neutral. At the same time, AMLO also promised to raise workers´ wages and reverse the education and energy reforms.
Thus, we can understand AMLO´s success through his ability to articulate a convincing anti-corruption and anti-incumbency discourse and build a new hegemony. In the block of power he is building in his new government, he is attempting to incorporate different, even conflicting, social sections: big entrepreneurs, academics, the middle class, workers (urban and rural), conservative and progressive people, social activists, etc. The new consensus that AMLO has successfully built eroding Morena's hegemony explains not only his electoral victory but also control over the public agenda. Throughout the run up to the elections, it was AMLO who set the agenda and established key electoral issues. According to Gramsci, there are several ways to solve a crisis of hegemony: active revolution, passive revolution and Caesarism. An active revolution occurs when subaltern classes take power though a violent revolution (such as the Soviet o Cuban revolutions). A passive revolution takes place when subaltern classes are in the streets fighting for their rights and elites fear them. Elites then give in to the demands of subaltern classes in order to demobilize them.
But these social demands are so important that in social history it appears as if a revolution happened (such as formation of the welfare-states). Ceasarism takes place when a strong and charismatic leader emerges as a savior of a country that is in danger due to an external or internal threat. This new leader restores the consensus amongst the people, re-instilling their faith in government and institutions, and defeats the decadent elite.
In Mexico, AMLO may be seen as the personification of Cesarism. He is not involved in an active revolution because he is not destroying the elites (he is making deals with them), and he is not leading a passive revolution because he is taking power, not leading demonstrations on the streets. AMLO is building hegemony. He has identified key “empty signifiers” that, according to Ernesto Laclau, are symbols without content, but are important to articulate discourses that are able to unify different sectors of the society. The fight against corruption and the demand for peace are examples. In Mexico everybody agrees with that, but AMLO has articulated these issues in a credible agenda. At the same time, AMLO is becoming an empty signifier; most people see in him not only a leader, but the personification of the people itself (such as Juan Peron was in Argentina), and this symbol is creating unity among different social classes.
According to Gramsci, there are two types of Caesarism: progressive and reactionary. A reactionary Caesarism is when the leader builds a “we-people” against an “other” that is not an elite but an “internal enemy” (an ethnic or a racial minority). Fortunately, AMLO is not doing that in Mexico, He didn´t articulate a discourse against “communists” or immigrants but against a “mafia”, an elite. This makes AMLO a progressive Cesarist who has created a discourse of “we-people” in opposition to a “they-elite”. This has the potential to open up a historical opportunity for social movements to fight for getting back some of the social rights that neoliberalism has taken away from the working class.
It is possible to reverse some of the neoliberal reforms, but it is very important that social movements push AMLO in social-justice direction. Even while recognizing the contradictions of bringing together divergent classes, the current moment needs to be understood as one that is pregnant with possibilities for social movements. AMLOS´s win was hailed as a victory for left/progressive forces. However, it will be incorrect to think that the government will introduce radical changes. Instead, this electoral victory needs to be understood as the opening up of a space where working class movements and movements of marginalised populations can mobilise to put pressure on the new Mexican government will be subjected to the typical class struggle of capitalism, and the balance of power between the elites and the people the direction that AMLO´s policies will take in the coming years. It is claimed that AMLO has agreed that his government will consult big businessmen every trimester. If this is true, then we must insist that he meets with social movements every month as well. This is the only way it will be possible to counter the bourgeois agenda. All of this assumes, firstly, that the struggle is not over, and secondly, that it must be fought both in the streets, as well as in institutional spaces.
1 Odebrecht is a Brazilian firm that admitted the expense of 800 millions of dollars in the whole Latin American region to bribed many politicians from different countries to obtain profitable public contracts. In Mexico, they bribed some politicians but the investigation of this scandal was stopped by Peña Nieto administration
2 Angelica Rivera, the president´s wife, purchased a multimillion-dollar house from government contractors in one of the most exclusives areas of Mexico City. The transaction was criticized because is not credible that Rivera had enough money to obtain the house. A possible conflict of interest was investigated. But the investigation was stopped by the government and the journalist who was reporting this scandal (Carmen Aristegui, one of the most popular journalists in Mexico) was fired by the company were she used to work (MVS Noticias).
3 In Mexico 16 former governors of local federal states are investigated for corruption. The most exaggerated case among them is Javier Duarte, a former governor of the State of Veracruz. Duarte stole 3 billion of dollars by laundering state funds through phantom companies. Also, he was involved in forced disappearances of journalists and human right defenders. He is in jail now, but he may be released because the government retired the charge of organized crime for supposed “lack of evidence”.
4 In June 2014 some Mexican soldiers shooted 22 unarmed civilians in the municipality of Tlatlaya, in the State of Guerrero. This is a massacre that human right advocacy groups have asked the government to investigate. But until now the facts remain unclear.
5 On September 26, 2014, a tragedy occurred in Iguala, in the State of Guerrero: 43 rural students from the “Normal Isidro Burgos”, were kidnapped by the Mexican police after a car chase (the students were in a demonstration). Then, the police take them to the Cartel “Guerreros Unidos” and after that, the students were disappeared. Until now we don´t know what happened to them, whether they were murdered (by whom? Where are their bodies?) or whether they still alive (where are they now? Under what conditions?). The parents of the disappeared leaded several demonstrations to push the government to answer their questions. They were backed by civil society. Until now Peña Nieto administration was not able to make clear the facts. They fabricated a “historical truth” claiming that the students were killed by Guerreros Unidos and their bodies were buried in a garbage place. But this version of facts is not credible because the same day of the supposed massive burn a storm fall in the garbage place, This fact made impossible the version of the government. Also, an alternative group was investigating the facts but the government stopped the investigation.
6 The “educational reform” wasn´t about contents, infrastructure or improvement in teacher and children material conditions. This reform had as a goal the evaluation of the teachers through a single exam in the whole country were students that didn´t learn the topics the government wants would have as a consequence the dismissed of the teacher in charge. This was actually, a labour reform disguised as educational reforms because the consequence is the increase of the precariousness of the teacher´s labour conditions, not the improvement of children education