Tragedy and Farse

Luis Rubio

The old Soviet Union maintained cohesiveness due to the ideological monopoly that the Communist Party exercised during an era in which access to information was totally controlled by the government. In fact, says David Satter,* “the imaginary world of Marxist–Leninist ideology never really went away because the issue was never its validity but rather its political effectiveness. Mentally subjugated individuals can be treated as raw material for the purposes of the state, the reason why an ideology is so useful.” The pretention of the Mexican President to return to revolutionary nationalism obeys the same rationality.

But it was Marx himself who stated that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and later as farse. In contemporary Russia, ideological control has returned, but, as Marx anticipated, this time without believers, unadulterated authoritarian accommodation: a farse. There are no grounds to think that something different will be the result of a government dedicated to permanent manipulation without producing a sole positive outcome.

Lopez Obrador’s plan consisted of restoring power to the outdated presidency of the XX century and employing it to implement economic rectorship. To that end, the President has committed himself to eliminating any vestige of counterweights that could curtail his power. In the economic arena, he has dismantled the strategy of the development of the oil and electric industry that the previous administration had put together, with the express purpose of converting two unproductive and overly indebted companies into the main demand sources in the economy.

The restorer project is nearly concluded, and the result is a tragedy. Rather than a thriving economy, Mexicans have a moribund country, much more dependent today on the U.S. economy through exports than was observed during the past four decades, which the president vilifies so much. Investment, public and private, conspicuous by its absence; the old trade unionism is being replaced by a “new” unionism that is the same as the old one: corrupt and cacique-ridden, but this one dependent on the current president. Same song, different tune.

Civil liberties deteriorate by the day; the Supreme Court is impeded in exercising its function as counterweight, its justices silent in the face of abuses as monumental as those of eminent domain, preventive imprisonment and the extrajudicial faculties granted to diverse Executive entities. The old bosses (caciques in Spanish) of the education system carry on untouched, working at the service of the political control, thus denying present-day and future generations the opportunity of incorporating themselves into the development. In a word, instead of improving the lives of the poor (campaign slogan, “First the Poor”), reactivating the economy or truncating corruption, the government has recreated a farse of the idyllic world of the seventies that was never remarkable to begin with.

Should these trends persist, the present government will deliver a worse than pathetic result: a retracted economy, incapable of satisfying the needs of the population or the opportunities that the international world entails (starting with the U.S.–China trade conflict), exacerbated levels of unemployment (which translate into hundreds of thousands of migrants traveling headlong toward the U.S.), and burgeoning political conflict. Marx would say that it is a tragedy. Few Mexicans would contradict him.

The sought-after return to revolutionary nationalism is a farse because it entails an illusion: the belief that the world can adapt to a governor’s deliria. That era ended in crisis not (solely) because it spent in excess, but because the economic (and political) model that the president so craves ceased being viable in an open world in which information is ubiquitous. The president is trying to put the toothpaste back into a tube of reverie: one cannot return to the past, but one can indeed destroy the capacity of the country to develop itself and generate conditions for each and every Mexican to prosper.

The world of the last decades was replete with imperfections from which one administration after another fled, giving rise to an ambiance ripe for the arrival to power of a president whose only purpose was to return to the past: something different from which Mexicans had experienced but undefined, imprecise, thus attractive to many.

Three years later the evidence is overwhelming: the president has no plan other than that of elevating himself to be the country’s most powerful person, a myth in the making. To achieve this, he has destroyed rather than created and built, obstructed instead of promoted, and polarized rather than united. Tragedy or farse? Both: tragedy because he has impoverished the country and, especially, the poorest and most vulnerable population; and farse because he never had an alternative plan. It was all a caricature.

The Russia that Satter describes passed from the ideological control of Stalinist totalitarianism to the failed opening of Gorbachev, to the lustfulness of nineties criminality and now to the authoritarianism of Putin. Mexico’s president has demonstrated an absolute disgust for learning, heightening the risk of replicating the old authoritarianism without any of its benefits. Mexicans need effective counterweights.

*Never Speak to Strangers
a quick-translation of this article can be found at