Drug trafficking and the decomposition of capitalism

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It has been calculated that between December 2006 and April 2011 the “war on drugs” cost more than 40 thousand deaths (amongst drug dealers, military and civilians). The cost in torture and robbery is incalculable. This is a war waged as much by the politicians and military as the mafia gangs. The bourgeoisie tries to pretend that this is a problem outside of its system, but the truth is that the spread of drugs and crime stems from the same root as any war around capitalist competition to win markets. At the same time it shows the difficulty of the ruling class to act in a coherent, unified manner.  The bourgeoisie’s lack of political control, the growing conflicts within the ruling class itself, brutally and clearly express the advance of capitalism’s decomposition.

 The weight of decomposition has certainly taken on growing dimensions in the least developed countries, where the bourgeoisie is less able to control its differences. Thus we see in countries such as Colombia, Russia or Mexico that the mafia has merged into the structures of government in such a way that each mafia group is associated with some sector of the bourgeoisie and defends its interests in confrontations with other fractions, using state structures as their battlegrounds. This exacerbates the whole struggle of “each against all” and accelerates the rot in the social atmosphere.

This does not mean that the more industrialised countries are immune to the process of decomposition. Although the bourgeoisie in these countries, for the moment, can to a large extent push some aspects of decomposition onto the periphery and act in a relatively more orderly way to damp down its differences, it is not exempt from this dominant tendency. If the specter of drug trafficking has not become a dead weight for them, there are other aspects of the advance of decomposition that effect them, for example terrorism. It is important to understand that the advance of decomposition, even though it dominates the whole capitalist system, does not unfold in a homogeneous way. Nonetheless, given the circumstances affecting the whole world, we can still affirm that the social disintegration we are seeing in countries like Mexico is the horizon towards which the rest of the world is heading.

Without a doubt it is the advance of barbarism that dominates the present world situation. This is deeply connected to the impoverishment that is being accelerated by the crisis.

The advance of capitalism’s decomposition

At the beginning of the 90s we said: “Amongst the most important characteristics of the decomposition of capitalist society, it is necessary to underline the bourgeoisie’s growing difficulty in controlling the evolution of the situation at the political level”.[1]The reason for this lies in the difficulty that the ruling class is having in ensuring its political unity. The diverse fractions into which the bourgeoisie is divided are confronting each other, not only at the level of economic competition, but also (and fundamentally) politically. Faced with the drawn out economic crisis, there are some unifying tendencies, which are mediated by the state; but they only take place around short-term economic aims. At the level of political leadership, the worsening of competition caused by the crisis provokes the widespread dispersal of the bourgeoisie’s forces. On the international scale there is a growing tendency towards the struggle of “each against all”, a generalised lack of discipline at the political level, which prevents the imposition of the order that the old imperialist blocs were able to maintain during the Cold War. The atmosphere of “every man for himself” which defines the international situation is repeated in the activity of the bourgeoisie in each country. It is only in this framework that we can explain the enormous growth in drug trafficking.

Decomposition did not begin on this or that day, but is a series of phenomena that were already present in the previous phases of capitalist development and which have increased during the period of capitalism’s decadence. But it is in the last decades of the 20th century that they were magnified and became dominant. Drug trafficking is a graphic example of this “progress”.

 In the middle of the 19th century, during the phase of the ascendancy of capitalism, the business of drug trafficking had an impact. The trade in opium created political difficulties that led to wars, but in these cases the state was directly involved and the ruling class was not threatened by any resulting instability. The “Opium Wars” directed by the British state are a historical reference point, but were not in themselves a dominant element during that period.

The importance of drugs and the formation of mafia groups with an underground life (with connections of the state, but secret ones) has taken on increasing importance during the decadent phase of capitalism, although at the beginning it did not have the same dimensions it has today. In the first decades of the 20th century the bourgeoisie certainly tried to limit and control through laws and regulation the cultivation, preparation and traffic of certain drugs, but only because it wanted to gain better control of these commodities.

If you think that “drug dealing” is something that the bourgeoisie and its state repudiate, you would be wrong. It is this class that has encouraged the spread of drugs and has made good use of them. Methamphetamine, for example, was developed in Japan in 1919, but it was in the Second World War that its production and use expanded as the Allied and Japanese armies used it to hype up their soldiers and to exacerbate aggressive attitudes.

Until the last quarter of the 20th century the state did not have too many problems controlling drugs. But in the 60s, with the war in Vietnam, some derivatives of cocaine were given to attack-dogs, and then heroin was distributed amongst the troops to placate demoralisation and to make use of the ferocity that it can awaken. With this use Uncle Sam incubated a demand for the drug, and it was the same North American government which encouraged drug production in the countries of the periphery, even supplying its own laboratories.

And although the effect of social degradation began to spread in the US, this still did not worry the bourgeoisie very much. President Nixon did declare the “War on Drugs” in 1971 but he knew that most drug production and sale was still under the direct or indirect control of the US state and of the states that were allied to the bloc under its command.

The states in control of drugs

In the middle of the 20th century in Mexico, the production and distribution of drugs was still not important. Nevertheless it was strictly controlled by part of the state. Not only did the police guard and protect the incipient mafia (as was the case of “Lola La Chata” famous drug dealer in the Federal District during the 40s), but there was a whole confusion between state structures and the mafias. For example, a character like Mazario Ortiz, who stood in as the governor of Coahuila and was a founding member of the PNR and Secretary of Agriculture, made good use of his “investiture” in order to freely distribute opium. The DFS (Direccion Federal de Seguridad, which functioned as a political police) began life headed by military men who controlled drugs as personal businesses.

In the 80s it was the North American State, once again, which wanted to increase the production and consumption of drugs. In the “Irangate” affair (1986) it came to light that the Reagan government, facing limitations on the  budget for aid to the military opposition groups in Nicaragua (known as the “contras”), used resources provided by the sale of arms to Iran, but above all, by CIA funds derived from the sale of drugs. In this tangle, the US government pushed the Colombian mafias to increase production, at the same time assuring material and logistical support from the governments of Panama, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and Guatemala. The same government, in order to “expand the market”, produced “derivatives” of cocaine that were cheaper and therefore easier to sale, though more destructive.

This is what the big boss did in order to bankroll similar adventures in the rest of Latin America. In Mexico the US was behind the “dirty war”, which was the war of extermination that the state carried out during the 70s and 80s against the guerrillas, led by the army and paramilitary groups, who were given carte blanche to kill, kidnap and torture. Much of this was funded by money from drugs. Projects such as “Operation Condor”, presented as operations against drugs production, were used in order to attack the guerrillas and protect the cultivators. During this period, according to figures obtained by Anabel Hernandaz, it was the same army and Federal Police who, in association with the mafia groups, controlled the operations to do with drugs[2].

As the above demonstrates the production and distribution of drugs has been constantly under the control of states: what has changed though is that there have been a quantitative and qualitative growth in the indiscipline amongst the different bourgeois groups that have been integrated into the state apparatus. In Mexico the period of the Cold War was associated with the monolithic power of the PRI, which from its foundation (1929) had the task of holding together the “revolutionary family” by distributing sinecures and fragments of power in order to ensure harmony between bourgeois fractions. With the ending of the Cold War, the breakdown of the alliances of the various imperialist powers has been replicated within each country (with their specificities). In Mexico’s case this has been generally expressed through open disputes between fractions of the bourgeoisie. In order to try and overcome this situation there was a change of the governing party and the “decentralisation” of the reins of power. This meant that the state governors and municipal presidents consolidated their own regional power bases, and according to their interests, each of them linked up with one of the mafia gangs, leading to the growth of these groups and at the same time feeding the confrontations between them.

Is there a solution to capitalism’s decomposition?

The acceleration of the barbarity that marks drugs trafficking and the “war” associated with it, which brings death and suffering to the many and higher profits to the few has been generated by capitalism. The entire ruling class is undoubtedly involved in this conflict, which does not mean that it suffers the consequences. However it does know that the worst effects fall upon the workers and it is more than willing to use this in order to assure its control over the exploited. Thus it is the exploited masses that are being killed or are abandoning the land due to fear or direct threats. The bourgeois uses this atmosphere to spread fear, to paralyse all discontent or push it towards desperate actions.

The bourgeoisie, cosseted in its own mystified world, believes that the existence of this problem can find a solution through political action and strategies against drugs. An example of this is the “Global Commission on Drugs Policy” which criticises the policies sponsored by the USA since the 70s, and instead proposes as a solution the revision and reform of the classification of drugs, with the aim of legalising the use of some drugs and ensuring better control of their production and distribution. There are other proposals, even put forwards by sections of the non-exploiting classes, such as the peace movement led by Javier Sicilia[3], which although reflecting real discontent and a rejection of the present barbarity, also expresses a dead-end desperation. Javier’s 4th June declaration exemplifies this, talking about the need... “to reach out and touch the head of the political class, those of the criminals and to get them to transform their lives into ones of human beings in our service. They have the possibility of change if they change their hearts”. Thus despite the reality of Javier’s pain and discontent, as that of many of those who participate in his caravan, this approach ends up placing confidence in the bourgeoisie’s ability to carry out compassionate actions and to solve the system’s growing putrefaction

In reality, the only solution open to the bourgeoisie in seeking to limit the further explosion of barbarism is to cohere around one of the mafia groups and thus to marginalise the rest. This is what happened in Colombia where the crimes and outrages were reduced. The bourgeoisie, through the government, backed the dominance of one of the cartels in order to gain a better control of the situation. This did not mean a solution to the barbarity, only that it was pushed into a region which the state did not control and onto other countries. In Mexico’s case, the bourgeoisie will try to find a conciliation of interests, but in the context of the approaching elections (2012), which will produce even greater struggles over economic and political control at the national level, these differences and the struggle of “each against all” will only get worse, there is no possibility that the bourgeoisie will find a solution to the growing decomposition and corrosion of its system. only the revolutionary activity of the working class can put an end to the nightmare we are living in. what engels (1892) said about the choice facing HUMANITY - “socialism or barbarism” - IS truer than ever.

Tatlin 6/11 (First published in Revolución Mundial 123, the ICC’s publication in Mexico).



[1] ‘Decomposition: the final phase of capitalism’s decadence’, point 9, International Review no 62, 1990

[2] Los
Señores del narco
, Editorial Grijalbo, 2010.

[3]Javier Sicilia is a famous Mexican poet, novelist, and journalist whose son Juan was killed, with six other people, by a drugs gang in March 2011. In response Sicilia has led a protest movement in many Mexican cities called “We have had it”, which has mobilised 10.000s of people in demonstrations calling for the end of the “the war on drugs”, the removal of the military from the streets, the legalisation of drugs and the sacking of President Felipe Calderón.


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