According to Marx, “Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of the interrelations of the relations with which these individuals stand.” Mexican society has been thwarted in its opportunity to express itself as a society because the logic of the political system always entailed controlling it. That is beginning to change: the opinion surveys show that the society equally falls all over itself before a candidate decidedly at a given moment, changes its mind, rebuking the candidate, two years later.*
More importantly, there start to arise all sorts of organizations and initiatives that evidence a society willing to assume the leading role that the old political system consistently denied them.
The paradox of the present political moment lies in that, precisely when the government is devoting itself to recentralizing the power, society is organizing itself to limit the damage that this concentration could represent and, perhaps, to become the crucial factor marking the future course of the country. This vital function that permits the country to grow and bear fruit, that which de Tocqueville discovered in the American society of the XIX century, begins to be born in Mexico. The great question mark is how the interaction will ensue between a government that repels (and disqualifies) anything appearing to be independent, and a society preparing to head a transformative process but that, at the same time, has yet to part with that tradition of control not only social, but above with all of its values, ways of thinking and, especially, of acting.
A Minister of the Interior of the era of the old system once summed up for me the official philosophy on freedom of expression: “In Mexico one can think anything, one can say some things and one can write the least possible.” If this is the way it was for the opinion pages, the latter relatively little read, what can one expect of the organization of a society as a springboard to action? The limits to free expression were real and they created a reticence, if not a fear (well earned), for society to organize itself in independently.
The challenge is not a paltry one. However much recent presidents bitterly protest the criticism observed by part of the national press, the phenomenon is one of only the last decades. In contrast with the freedom of expression that unfailingly existed in many South-American societies, even in the midst of dictatorships and authoritarian governments, in Mexico the old system constructed an unreserved form of subjugating minds that had the effect of devising official truths, a discourse of the acceptable (and the unacceptable), reprehensible ideas and a very peculiar notion of good and evil. The media -electronic and print- were instruments of power and served to advance the government’s purposes in exchange, of course, for direct benefits, usually cash, contracts or permits: those were negotiations with and for power. Those practices, still in our days, distort the exercise of freedom and the organization of society, as well as the media companies themselves, which are never far from the business of extortion.
The old system began to weaken in terms of its legitimacy and capacity of control at the end of the sixties, but it has taken two or three generations to rid it of all of that historical muck and mire, making it possible for the Mexican society to awaken, but now without the ideological fetters of yesteryear. Once this process takes shape, it will be unstoppable and, simultaneously, diverse and disperse, as is geography and the society itself: without rules, with a capricious and manipulatable Rule of Law and in the presence of endless conflicting interests.
There is an excess of examples and they are of the most diverse order: women who due to their need to find their desaparecidos, missing loved ones, in the end forged organizations dedicated to the search for anonymous graves; workers in the countryside marshalled together to defend their lands from criminals who raze their forests and appropriate their patrimony; entrepreneurs who come together to address problems that the government ignores, such as the brutal demand shock produced by the pandemic; political parties that begin to listen to the citizenry, instead of attempting to impose themselves, in order to regain their trust; analytical organizations that propose solutions to domestic problems; religious entities that defend human rights; groups within the governmental party that assemble to advance their agendas, separately from the president.
The point is very simple: moments of crisis, recession, polarization and conflict are natural breeding grounds for the rise of social initiatives and organizations. Each is distinct: some are Right-, others Left-leaning; some propose solutions, others demand answers; some are deeply reactionary –of any color- often inducing to illegal acts. Taken together, the ensemble illustrates a society that is waking up and that is decided upon impeding its future from remaining in the hands of bureaucrats and politicians with agendas having nothing to do with the society’s interest, whether particular or collective.
Complex times are coming during which the interest in winning elections at any price will be in opposition to the needs and demands of a society increasingly more disposed to sticking its neck out. The winner will be the one that prioritizes the future above their immediate interest.
*GEA-ISA Survey, July 2020.