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This paper is part of a larger work in progress, my dissertation, on the influence of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in Latin America, using case studies from Mexico, Peru and Bolivia in addition to doing a broad overview of the continent. In this paper, I’ll use examples from my Mexican case study to talk about the impact of the Cultural Revolution in Latin America. I’ve chosen to focus on Mexico because Mexico is, in my opinion, a good representative example for the development of Maoism in Latin America. It’s not as spectacular as the Peruvian and Colombian experiences, but it’s more representative of the experience of other Latin American countries where a significant Maoist trend developed, but didn’t engender the sort of crises Peru and Colombia experienced.
Maoism First Comes to Mexico Mexico didn’t establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China until 1972, which is around when most Latin American countries switched their diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China to the PRC. But between 1949 and 1972, quite a bit of people’s diplomacy or cultural diplomacy took place. In 1949, Vicente Lombardo Toledano, the leader of Mexico’s People’s Party and a union leader attended the Conference of Workers’ Unions held in China in November. The next year he published a memoir of his trip, which was one of the first Latin American publicity pieces in favor of the PRC. Now, the People’s Party is not the sort of outfit that one would typically assume to have had an enduring relationship with Maoist China. Lombardo Toledano and his party supported what they considered the anti-feudal, national democratic and anti1
imperialist goals of the Mexican Revolution. They saw Mexico’s ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), as basically upholding these goals, and saw their role as that of a loyal opposition which would push for workers’ interests, rapid industrialization, land reform and national economic independence. In viewing themselves as a loyal opposition and ruling out mass struggle except as a pressure tactic against the ruling party, they placed themselves to the right of the Mexican Communist Party (PCM), which itself was very conservative for a Communist Party and wholly accepted Browderite and later Khruschovite ideas of peaceful coexistence and peaceful struggle. But, because the PP was so characterized by its nationalist aspirations for Mexico, its leadership was very inspired by the struggle against semi-feudal conditions, the land reform and industrialization taking place in China. They saw China as breaking out from the domination of imperialism in a way that they thought was very relevant for Mexico. They didn’t see this in terms of a protracted people’s war in order to toss out the imperialists and compradors, but in terms of the policies adopted after the seizure of power. They liked those policies and hoped they could get the Mexican government to adopt and learn from those policies. So, you had this strange situation in Mexico where this really very conservative opposition party was very attracted to Maoist China’s development model. So, in 1957, one of Lombardo Toledano’s lieutenants, an economist named Luis Torres and some other PP people started the Mexico-China Friendship Society. This was a form that the PRC encouraged China solidarity activities to take, which is why all over the world you had these Friendship Societies getting started up, although the PRC took no active part in organizing the Society or its activities in the Mexican and in most other cases. In 1957, when the Mexican society was founded, things were getting complicated in the international communist movement. In 1956 there was Khrushchev’s speech at the 2
20th Congress of the CPSU and the beginning of de-Stalinization there, and by 1963 there were the open polemics between the CPSU and the CCP, and between 1956 and 1963 there was growing tension between the USSR and China that many people who were closely following things could pick up on and be influenced by, one way or another. And during this period, particularly in 1958, there were also major upsurges in Mexico among teachers and railway workers, which were led by the PCM and did not on the surface seem to challenge the overall conservative direction of the communist movement in Mexico. But these upsurges, in combination with the de-Stalinization in the USSR and the brewing dispute between the Chinese and the Soviets, created ferment within the communist movement, which resulted in the emergence of a substantial new set of folks looking to learn from China, which I think can be divided into three loose trends, which I’ll describe: The first of these pro-China trends was grouped around the writer José Revueltas. Revueltas was a long-time maverick communist intellectual. He had been expelled from the PCM in 1943, joined with Lombardo Toledano’s PP from 1946 to the early 1950s, and then rejoined the PCM in 1956. In the context of the debates set in motion by the 20th Congress of the CPSU, he articulated an anarchistic criticism of the democratic centralism and authoritarian practices among socialists, particularly targeting Stalin and so-called ‘Stalinism’ for his criticisms and led a group of supporters out of the PCM in 1959. Despite his criticism of Stalin, and Mao’s position as the foremost defender of Stalin, Revueltas had a strong sympathy for socialist China and a desire to learn from its experience. The fact that the PRC was breaking with the USSR and the received communist orthodoxy was more essential to Revueltas than the formal defense of Stalin. The group he founded, which came to be called the Spartacus Communist League (LCE) (no relation to the Trotskyite cult in the US with the same name), became a home for a variety of heterodox communists outside of the PCM, including many people who could 3
be characterized as Guevarists, Trotskyites and Maoists. Although Revueltas, who continued developing in a direction away from communism, was expelled from the LCE in 1963, the eclectic forces he had grouped together continued as one of the main proChina tendencies. The second new pro-China trend developed within the Mexico-China Friendship Society. Initially, as I have said, this association was the project of a very conservative trend within the Mexican communist movement, which was inspired by China’s socialist development model. But as the polemics between China and the USSR got underway, a major political dispute arose within the association about what the main task of the association should be. Should they continue to mainly do propaganda work promoting China’s economic and cultural advances. Or, should they mainly try and spread the revolutionary lessons coming out of China, and concentrate on doing propaganda work about the relevance of Maoism to making revolution in Mexico? This conflict resulted in the radicals being expelled in 1963 and forming their own Mexico-China Friendship Society. Both of these groups operated out of small buildings where they sold books and held meetings and film showings. They concentrated on propaganda activities, distributing Peking Review, China Reconstructs, books by Foreign Languages Press and other literature emanating from the PRC. They also organized periodic visits to China. The more conservative group concentrated on sending notable political figures, artists and professionals to visit China. The more radical group organized delegations of workers and revolutionaries. The third pro-China trend to emerge were sections of the PCM who were attracted to China because they could not stomach the new criticisms of Stalin coming out of the USSR and saw China as the main defender of Stalin’s legacy. This trend consisted of a number of cells and individuals who left the PCM in the wake of the 20th Congress of the CPSU. Some of these folks drifted into the LCE and others tried to start their own 4
organizations, but universally failed to form a nationwide party. Perhaps the most significant of these forces was the Revolutionary Party of the Proletariat (PRP), based in Cuernavaca. So, to sum up, the first sprouts of Maoism as a new ideology began to pop up in the wake of the 20th Congress of the CPSU and especially with the beginnings of polemics between the Chinese and Soviet parties. This happened in the context of an upswing in the people’s movements in Mexico, beginning with major railway workers and teachers movements in 1958 and an upsurge in the student movement in the early 1960s. These first pro-China communist forces emerged as three trends: one which was eclectic and was checking out all the different Marxist thinkers that were critical of the USSR, especially Mao, Guevara and Trotsky; second, a trend that emerged among those working in solidarity with China and had more of a sense of Maoism as a coherent body of ideas; and third those who mainly liked China because it upheld Stalin’s legacy. These were the three initial seeds for what would become Maoism in Mexico. The Cultural Revolution, together with the movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s in Mexico itself, would forge a much larger and more significant Maoist trend out of these initial forces.
The GPCR, the Student Movement and Armed Struggle in the Countryside In the late 1960s, a powerful student movement erupted in Mexico, as in many other parts of the world, culminating in a 1968 massacre in Mexico City. One salient characteristic of the Mexican student movement, which it shared with the youth movement taking place in many other parts of the world in 1968, was a rejection of the conservative form that the mainstream of the communist movement had taken. Now, the 1968 student movement could not be characterized, overall, as a communist movement. However, there were strong socialist currents within it, and these currents by and large 5
rejected the PCM and were not attracted to the USSR as a socialist model. China, however, was perceived by many as different, and in particular the youth movement of the GPCR was seen as reflecting a new and exciting approach to socialism. This perception was quite widespread among communist-inclined students, and was often held by people who had no intention of studying Chinese politics in any substantial depth. (I say this not to denigrate the conclusions that these students had drawn regarding the GPCR, but rather to indicate the widespread character of this perception of what was happening in China, and Mexican students’ perception of the relevance of the GPCR to their own struggle.) The October 1968 massacre of protesting students changed the character of the movement. On the one hand, many students were scared by the repression and the movement become much smaller and weaker as a result. On the other hand, the massacre had a radicalizing effect, and had the result that many students turned to communism and revolution. The appeal of communism and the GPCR to those students who continued fighting after the massacre found expression in the name they gave their protest encampment in Mexico City’s University City area, the Cultural Revolution Encampment. A section of these radicalized students gravitated toward Maoism, and played a key role in the most developed Maoist experience in Mexico, the guerrilla force led by Florencio Medrano. Florencio Medrano was not a student. He was a poor peasant and a veteran of peasant struggles from earlier in the 1960s. After taking up peasant organizing tasks with the Revolutionary Party of the Proletariat (PRP), he went on a six-month trip to China with a number of other PRP cadre, where they traveled the country, visiting a number of people’s communes and industrial workplaces, and were given courses on Marxism and guerrilla warfare. Upon his return, Medrano was the lead organizer in a squatter movements on the outskirts of Cuernavaca, which was the center of the PRP’s activity. In 6
the early 1970s there was a large squatters movement in Mexico, due to the total inadequacy of urban space to accommodate the large numbers of poor peasants flooding into Mexican cities. But the land take-over led by Medrano was fundamentally different from other squatter struggles going on at the same time in Mexico, mainly because it was launched and led with the express purpose of creating a base area for a Maoist protracted people’s war. The way in which the Colonia Rubén Jaramillo was run reflected important themes of the GPCR that Medrano absorbed while in China. For example: • In general, moral incentives were emphasized over material incentives in the collective production organized within the settlement. • Ideology was seen as an important tool in carrying out the difficult production tasks within the settlement. In organizing production in the settlement, the squatters were urged to see the ‘courage that we carry within’ as their main building material. • Red Sundays were organized where everyone in the settlement joined in on collective labor, and were joined by idealistic youths who came from Cuernavaca and Mexico City to participate in the collective labor. • A collective hospital was established, named after Norman Bethune. • The schools organized in the settlement emphasized the need for education to be connected with the life of the people.
By the end of 1973 the dangerous experiment of an armed, self-governing area on the border of a major city was too much for the Mexican government to take, and the army invaded the settlement. Medrano and the core of his armed force escaped and made their way to rural areas in the south of the country, where they continued trying to adapt Mao’s military and political teachings to Mexican conditions. For five years, until his death in combat, Medrano and his forces tried to form a base area in a border region between two Mexican states. The one thing that most distinguishes Medrano’s approach from that of the various Guevarist guerrillas in Mexico at this time was the importance he attached to using his guerrilla force as an armed expression of popular struggles of the masses. He formed mass organizations, among timber workers and peasants in the areas he operated in, and criticized the Guevarists for not doing this sort of political work. However, due to his inability to form any sort of relatively stable base area, his party was never able to pass over from being a roving guerrilla band to being a force more deeply rooted among the masses.
The GPCR and the Creation of Maoism So, what does this brief sketch of Maoist history in Mexico tell us about the effect of the Cultural Revolution internationally? We can see that, starting with the Sino-Soviet polemics, China became attractive to some of the more radical elements in the communist movement in Mexico. During the Cultural Revolution, these disparate pro-China elements formed the basis for the creation of a political trend which took up Mao’s Thought as a coherent and self-contained ideology, and functioned as an initial organizational core for recruiting from the social movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s into the Maoist tendency. With the widespread study of Mao’s works and the practice of the Chinese Revolution during the period of the GPCR, we see a lot of specifically Maoist concepts, 8
such as protracted people’s war; the mass line; his particular way of explaining and thinking about dialectics; the emphasis on the importance of ideology in political struggle and economic construction; two-line struggle; and the idea of capitalist-roaders within the communist party becoming central organizing concepts for the newly emergent Maoist trend. But perhaps because Maoism became an international political ideology during the GPCR, the historical lessons of the Chinese Revolution and Mao’s works were mainly read and absorbed through the lens of the Cultural Revolution. Thus, one of the most salient features of the international Maoism that emerged at this time was an overestimation of the power of human will-power and ideological correctness. In the Mexican case, this idealism was a fundamental feature of Medrano’s guerrilla effort. While trying to creatively apply the lessons of the Chinese Revolution, Medrano drew on the Cultural Revolution in a number of ways that negatively impacted his enterprise. Drawing on the strong anti-intellectualist strain in the GPCR and the tendency to see Mao quotes as applicable to any problems that could possibly arise, he constantly studied Mao’s works, but neglected the sort of broader study that would be necessary to truly comprehend the nature of Mexican society in the 1970s. He saw the bold action of the masses on the basis of Mao’s theories as all that was necessary in order to make revolution, that somehow, by ‘daring to struggle’ he would not only ‘dare to win’, but would inevitably win. (Which brings to mind the unfortunate phrase of Abimael Guzmán, who liked to say that the Peruvian Communist Party-Shining Path was ‘condemned to victory’.) This led him to downplay the importance of the Party (although not in comparison to Mexico’s Guevarists) and to mainly see the need for mass struggles and an armed vanguard. That is, he built the nucleus of an army and a united front, but did not grasp the role of the Party in any Maoist sense. And this was not only the case in Mexico. Throughout Latin America, Maoist parties were born with the birthmarks of the Cultural Revolution. The event that inspired 9
and energized the formation of Maoist parties and guerrilla forces also often hindered their ability to deal with the world as it really is. In every country the particular ways in which local communists adapted Maoism to their own particular conditions depended on their national particularities, and so there were a wide variety of particular forms that Maoism took in Latin America. But, the Cultural Revolution was universally the catalyst for the development of Maoism as an integral ideology, and so everywhere in Latin America, the lessons of the Chinese Revolution of the 1920s onward were understood through the prism of the Cultural Revolution. And many of those who articulated the various particular national Maoisms of Latin America incorporated their own understandings of their own experiences of living in and traveling in Cultural Revolution China into their own localized forms of Maoism.
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