Drug Wars: Mexico – the gangsterisation of the state

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From Revolución Mundial No. 118, the ICC’s publication in Mexico

The growth of the political and economic power of drug gangs in Mexico has led the US bourgeoisie to express concern about the possibility of “contagion”, leading it to put pressure on the Mexican government. James Mattis of the US Navy stated in February 2009 that Mexico is a “failed state.” According to the US military there are similarities between Mexico and Pakistan, these states are losing control of their political and economic apparatus: in Mexico because of drugs, in Pakistan because of the tensions with India and the continued attacks by the Taliban.

This argument reveals that there certainly is a greater involvement of the mafia in the life of the bourgeoisie, but the denunciation mystifies reality, making it harder to see that the state is an instrument of the ruling class which synthesizes the interests of all factions of the bourgeoisie. These interests include those of the mafia. Their interests and practices have become unified, the ‘lawful’ activities of the state have become mixed and confused with regard to drug trafficking. But at the same time, the gangsterisation of the ruling class encourages and increases the conflicts within the state itself, which undoubtedly makes it difficult for the bourgeoisie to control all the aspects of its political life. However, this doesn’t imply that the state has lost power.

The unity of government and drug traffickers... advancing decomposition

Some commentators have said that the mafia has become a “real power” through its military action, financial corruption and the submission of the judiciary to the drug cartels in effect blocking the action of the State, that these mafia groups now act as a “parallel state.” This idea is consistent only if we stick to the bourgeois definition of the modern state, which is conceived as an institution that ensures compliance with the “social contract”, organises the nation, creating an indivisible unity with its citizens. If you follow this line of argument then the state is a neutral entity, one that, as Weber theorised, has a monopoly of force, but which tries on a “rational-legal” basis to legitimise its power through popular representation. So, if the mafia practices terror, not only through its paramilitary apparatus, but even using the repressive forces of the State, the “accepted” image of the state is weakened and you can be held up as an example of a “failed state”.

But this approach has no basis if we go to the heart of the problem. First it is necessary to have a materialist explanation of the modern state. As Lenin said in State and Revolution, “The state is a machine for one class to suppress another, a machine for subjecting another class...” The state is not a “neutral” structure whose primary function is the protection of its “citizens”. Its primary function is to ensure the rule of capital. If there are internal disputes within the bourgeoisie, with terror being inflicted on the whole population, the state ‘fails’ to fulfil its function, to ensure the control and subjection of the exploited. On the contrary, the actions of the mafia have been cleverly manipulated by the government to intimidate and prevent the working class from struggling. In regions such as Sinaloa, Michoacan and Guerrero, where the workers have a tradition of militancy, the actions of the mafia have - to the delight of the whole bourgeoisie! - intimidated and inhibited mobilisations of discontent.

So, there is no doubt that the presence of the Mafia dominates all aspects of the life of the bourgeoisie, exposing it to fierce in-fighting, tearing apart the political parties and business relationships that make up the government structures... but the question is: where have the internal struggles within the ruling class made it impossible for it to perform its real role? So far, the state still acts with impunity against the working class, even more so, as was stated above, by making it harder for workers to struggle for improvements in their living and working conditions. Assuming otherwise would lead us to forget that drug gangs are not outside the realm of the state, but a part of the ruling class, placed squarely within it.

The mafia and the drug cartels have had an important place in the life of the bourgeoisie for decades. In recent times capitalism has undergone a process of decomposition, characterised by a difficulty of the bourgeoisie to build stable, lasting relationships, which means domestic disputes turn into wars of “each against all”. It’s this weakness that makes it difficult to control the impetuosity of youth gangs. This breakdown of the social fabric within the bourgeoisie, of “gangster” style behaviour, leads to hails of bullets that not only kill other mafiosi and the army (who are in reality cannon fodder) but also civilians who cross their paths (which the government classifies as “collateral damage”), and even those higher up in the bourgeoisie involved in politics. However serious this may seem, it doesn’t call into question the state’s ability to fulfil its primary function: it only demonstrates the difficulty the bourgeoisie has in maintaining order within its ranks.

The gangsterisation of the State

Life in Mexico shows decomposition in the raw, as identified in our ‘Theses on Decomposition’ (published in International Review 62): “it is more and more difficult to distinguish the government apparatus from gangland”.

For the bourgeoisie a drug operation is a business just like any other, and as in every branch of production experiences fierce competition (also accelerated by the worsening of the economic crisis), the only difference being that protection from an opponent requires bloody operations. The existence of the bourgeoisie’s mafia-style practices can be seen in states such as Russia, and although there is a different government, it still finds it difficult to discipline its forces.

In the 60’s and 70’s the ‘fight’ against drug plantations in the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca was combined with the pursuit of the guerrillas, so the drug trade was used as a kind of compensation to the military who met resistance head on. In this framework, the drug gangs were placed under the command of governors, such as Raul Caballero Aburto, Ruben Figueroa (both governors of Guerrero between 1957-61 and 1975-81 respectively), or military officers such as Acosta Chaparro. The relationship of the gangs to Figueroa was taken for granted. In the case of Acosta, he was dismissed from the military and jailed for 5 years for working with groups of drug traffickers (and killing 22 people during the “dirty war”). But in 2007 he was freed, exonerated from blame, returned to the ranks, and in 2008 was even given a new award for 45 years of service with “patriotism, loyalty, devotion, dedication and service to Mexico and its institutions.”

In “Operation Condor” (1977-1987), carried out in the “golden triangle” (consisting of the areas of Durango, Sinaloa and Chihuahua), the military operation against drugs also hid persecution of the guerrillas. It was no coincidence that these tasks were designated to General Hernández Toledo (whose troops lead the slaughter of Tlatelolco in 1968). With this type of operation the government can organise the interests that are created around the drug trade, dishing out privileges to the governors and military commanders. A remarkable fact is that since these operations began 10 years ago not a single mafia leader has been stopped. On the contrary, they have been given power to extend their domain to Jalisco.

In earlier decades when there were conflicts within the bourgeoisie they bonded together as a “revolutionary family” (and mostly represented in the PRI), the bourgeoisie had the ability to impose discipline. For example, in 1947 groups around Cárdenas publicly accused General Pablo Macías. However, this is not possible in the current situation, not only because the ruling party is now the PAN, but also because the struggles are also taking place in states governed by the PRI. There is also the risk that struggles will even extend into the federal government, which the fractures in the tissue of the state will widen even further. After all, as the ICC has stated: “Amongst the major characteristics of capitalist society’s decomposition, we should emphasise the bourgeoisie’s growing difficulty in controlling the evolution of the political situation” (Thesis 9).

In short, it is possible to see that certain powerful groups within the state are linked to a mafia group, collaborating with them if not merging, that allows them to work with impunity. Even if the various actors know which mafia gang is linked to their neighbour or opponent, at least they can live together to a certain extent. The limit is the intersection of interests, so the state has the difficult task of controlling the activity all of them and preventing the explosion of conflicts. In this sense the placement of the military in the first row of the conflict is a demonstration of the position of strength of the group in power, but the army itself is fractured: not even the protection it is afforded to act with impunity ensures its discipline. But while the bourgeoisie has trouble controlling itself, it can still push the most harmful effects of its decomposition onto the workers.

Tatlin, August 2010.