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LibreOrganize 0.6.0 - Documentation

AMLO’s Presidency Has Been a Success

from the Oct. 25, 2023 Bulletin

Edwin Ackerman is an expert on how political identities are formed, articulated, and put into operation, and is the author of The Origins of the Mass Party. At Syracuse University, he’s an Assistant Professor of Sociology and a senior researcher in the Program on Latin America and the Caribbean.

NICOLAS ALLEN: How do you think AMLOs government will be remembered historically: as a new political formation struggling to be born from the ashes of the old Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) one-party system, or something else altogether?


EDWIN F. ACKERMAN: The period beginning in 2000 with Vicente Fox’s election ended 70 years of authoritarian rule under the PRI, and was the start of of neoliberal reforms under the guise of increasing democracy. 


AMLOs 2018 victory came, on the one hand, with the decline of the PRI; and on the other, with neoliberalisms declining legitimacy and then collapse, which manifested itself in the complete decay of the party infrastructure associated with the governing elite. From 2000 to 2018, each successive government was rocked by scandals connected to revelations of massive corruption.


After 2012, when AMLO lost the election on the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) ticket for a second time, PRD leadership decided to sever its ties because they felt that he was weighing them down. They went on to close ranks with Mexicos neoliberal bloc (the PRI and PAN) under the slogan Izquierda Responsable or responsible left. It was meant to distinguish itself from AMLO and signal, We are polite social democrats. Were not interested in taking the streets or aligning with some of the radical elements of the Pink Tide.”


The problem was, by the time 2018 came around, the ruling class to which it had attached itself had been largely discredited. AMLO and his new party achieved victory with a thirty-point lead over his closest competitor in a four-way race. He completely demolished a teetering party system.

The conservative coalition, “Broad Front for Mexico”, PRI, PAN and PRD. Photo: Daniel Augusto / Cuartoscuro.com)

So López Obrador is right in calling his government a new regime” rather than a new government.” His point is that the party infrastructure and the party system have been completely transformed for the foreseeable future. Thats because all of the mainstream parties of the neoliberal period — the PRI, the PAN, the PRD — suddenly were reduced to tiny formations that on their own could only garner at best 15 percent of the national vote; the only way for those parties to remain competitive is to establish formal coalitions and agree to share power for the sake of winning any elections.

In that sense, the post-2018 party landscape is completely different from what came before: AMLO represents a rupture. 


Ideologically, AMLO is a throwback to what in the twentieth century was known as national revolutionary ideology: a sort of Keynesianism focused on national sovereignty and autonomy from US imperialism, of which Lázaro Cárdenas was the prime example. So AMLO also represents a resurgence of elements from Mexicos history of national revolutionary Keynesianism.


NA: Morena has a strong relationship to the informal workers that line Mexico’s streets, but as small entrepreneurs, they often have been pulled to the right by business interests, right?

EA: AMLO has channeled the interest of low-income business owners into a left-wing project. Look how he protects the public character of the electric company. Big businesses like Oxxo (the Mexican equivalent of 7-Eleven) are in every corner of the country and received subsidized electricity before AMLO. At the same time, the state electricity company was by law forced to buy a certain amount of electricity from the private sector, so essentially, they were using the state to funnel money toward the upper classes.


AMLO says to the small entrepreneurs: In your little corner store, you have to turn off your refrigerator at certain hours of the day. Meanwhile, the 7-Eleven is selling super cold drinks thanks to subsidized electricity. The subsidies to the upper class need to end, and the public electric company must be strengthened to do that.” By reasserting state control of the energy sector, AMLO is able to make a left-wing project appeal to the small shop owner.

NA:  What about his support among middle class progressives?


EA:  If you compare the composition of the constituency that brought him into power in 2018 and the constituency that supports AMLO now, theres been a big transformation. To the degree that AMLO has lost support, it has been from the credentials class,” (those with professional degrees), which was a large base of support in 2018.


In 2018, working-class voting patterns were scattered throughout the different parties. The dispersion of the working-class vote had a lot to do with the legacy of clientelist networks, particularly those connected to the PRI.


In the past years, there has been an increasing base of support for Morena candidates coming from the working classes. The highest levels of support comes from campesinos, the informal sector, and employees, while the lowest levels come from the business sector and people with university degrees.

This is the effect of a wave of pro-worker reforms, from easier rules for forming unions, more mandated vacation days, increases in the minimum wage, direct cash transfer programs, and other things, resulting in increases in the spending capacity of the lowest income earners.


The alienation of the credential class has made for all sorts of odd bedfellows: a big chunk of the self-proclaimed progressive intelligentsia is for all practical purposes being folded into the neoliberal bloc. 

Photo: Edgar Negrete Lira / cuartoscuro.com

For example, this type of Mexican progressive will attack AMLO for his environmental record, taking aim at so-called mega-projects like the Tren Maya. The construction of that project has to go through the rainforest, so theres a clear environmental impact. But then, as a progressive, you would also want a strong state doing public infrastructure and transportation works. These dilemmas are rising to the surface under AMLO, and as they emerge, progressive priorities” are starting to split along class lines.

NA:  Debates on the Mexican left have always had their own peculiarities. The Left is very sharply split between pro- and anti-statist camps.


EA: The challenge of understanding that divide is really about understanding  the history of the PRI: the party was born as the heir of a radical social revolution while, at the same time, the party was in power for decades in a context in which there was a  general 

consensus around Keynesianism. So, there are sectors of the Left that either felt comfortable with the PRI or saw a benefit to having a relationship with the PRI.


Meanwhile, throughout the twentieth century, there were other parts of the Mexican left that developed communal anarchist tendencies. The Zapatistas in Chiapas would be a perfect recent example of that branch of the Left.


While that dispute continues, I would say there is now a third type of Left: a sort of cosmopolitan middle-class left that dreams of a polite, European-like social democratic party. That group feels orphaned by both the national populist left and the rural anarchist left. These are the people who are fixated on false equivalences between Donald Trump and AMLO.

NA: On balance, would you say AMLO’s presidency has been a success for the left? 


EA: I would. There are a couple of things that AMLO has done that are relevant to how the Latin American left might think about its larger project.

Ex-Tamaulipas PRI state governor Eugenio Hernandes Flores, arrested for money-laundering.

One, in particular, is how López Obrador has been able to instrumentalize anti-corruption politics in a progressive direction. Anti-corruption politics has tended to be something promoted by the neoliberal right and strongly supported by the Latin American middle classes. AMLO has figured out a way to use anti-corruption so that it has mass appeal and does not turn into anti-statism or anti-politics.

In fact, AMLO has found a way to use anti-corruption discourse to re-legitimize the state and advance a project against neoliberalism. The way that hes done this is by redefining neoliberalism: neoliberalism wasnt the contraction of the state, as is normally assumed. Instead, neoliberalism was the instrumentalization of the state in the service of the upper class. 

So, the discussion is not about small government versus big government — Mexico was run by big government” during neoliberalism, but it was always in the service of the upper class in all sorts of legal and illegal ways.


In other words, for AMLO, neoliberalism is corruption. Neoliberalism wasnt the separation of the state and market; it was actually their coming together as part of an elite class project.


This holds lessons for the Left at large. Too often, the Left finds itself forced by the historical conjuncture into doing the job of the bourgeoisie, that is, advocating for the separation of the state from the market. But its not really a separation of market and state that were after. We want the subordination of the market to the state, and in his best moments, AMLO has achieved that.