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Left, right?

8 August 2011

Via Patrick Corcoran (Ganchoblog) comes an intriguing question that I thought might just be an outlier in political discussions, until I also heard it discussed on  Televisa’s political press chat-show, “Tercer Grado” (“The Third Degree) — which means the talking heads are talking:

In response to reports that Ebrard said he was not a leftist a little over a decade ago, Jorge Fernández Menéndez says neither is AMLO, and that it doesn’t really matter anyway:

Who cares if Marcelo Ebrard is of the left of the center? Furthermore, who can identify today where the left, center, and right are located in the political spectrum? Personally I have always believed, for exampled, that Andrés Manuel López Obrador is a conservative reactionary: his discourse can be very nationalistic; his opposition to the government, very loud; his denunciations of “the mafia that stole power from us”, insistent, but that doesn’t make him a man of the left, much less that he sympathizes with the Cuban regime or Hugo Chávez, [both of whom are] as authoritarian as the Tabascan.

You could say that being of the left or not is defined by the attitude toward private capital. It’s partially true and Ebrard recognizes that he wants an open economy, but continuing with our comparison, it’s not that AMLO hasn’t don’t business with the private sector: he denounce the “mafia” as a group of economic power group, but he has worked a great deal with other groups. I remember, in his registration as a presidential candidate in 2006, how in the first row of guests were the construction executives that did so much business with the DF government then.

For what it’s worth, Ebrard is also far more socially liberal than AMLO.

Two things:  while Patrick is correct that “Ebrard is… more socially liberal” — in the sense of pushing same-gender marriage and less restrictive abortion laws in the Federal District — I’m not sure “social liberalism” is particularly relevant to Mexican leftism.

Although in the United States, “liberal” is as close  to “leftist” as you can get in a country with two liberal capitalist parties (and no others of any significance), they are not necessarily the same thing in Mexico.

Without getting into Mexican liberalism (Benito Juarez’ political ideology, and in the modern form, neo-liberalism, something generally associated with globalization and the market theories of the Chicago School… in other words, U.S. conservatism) Liberalism — in the U.S. sense —  isn’t always seen as essential to Mexican leftism.  U.S. liberals are assumed to favor individual rights.  In Mexico, individualism is, when not seen as sinful (as it is by many Catholics for whom putting personal desires above communal values is the sin of Pride… the deadliest of the seven deadly sins), seen — in traditionalist communities — as a modernist threat.  Reactionary Catholics are unlikely to be leftists (though there are plenty of leftist Catholics in Mexico) and, in a country where “traditional values” include “leftist” ideas like cooperative agriculture and communitarian self-governance, social conservatives are very often economic leftists.

Think of the Zapatistas, or of Emiliano Zapata himself, harking back to an agrarian communalist world and rejecting globalization, and the modern centralized state.  And one can be nationalist and leftist without any problem:  exhibit A being Lazaro Cardenas.

I think it’s a bit eccentric of Fernández Menéndez to view AMLO as a conservative reactionary (and a bit late for him to say so… where was he when the conservative reactionaries in this country were claiming AMLO was the Mexican Kim Il-jung?) .  Both Ebrard and AMLO, as practical urban executives, of course worked with their city’s capitalists (notably Carlos Slim) and other power brokers (in AMLO’s case, even Cardinal Rivera was pulled in to lend support for a few projects), their differences being more of background than anything else.

AMLO, having grown up in a Tabasco grocery store, and making his political mark through social work among indigenous peoples and union organizing, naturally has a more “traditional” leftist base.    Ebrard is an exemplar of the Chilango middle-class:  the son of an architect, educated in France, and working his way up the political ladder as an administrator.  His “liberalism” is nothing you wouldn’t find in any urban executive anywhere (except maybe the United States).  I suspect Ebrard, being more the type of “leftist” the foreign powers consider normal, and not speaking in nationalist terms, has the edge with the foreign commentariat.  We are used to urban social liberals, not rural communitarians.  Who has the greater clout within the party (or parties, as it’s likely to shake out) is not altogether clear to me… although naturally I expect Ebrard is getting the better press, and — given his social background —  more likely to be seen as an “acceptable” Mexican leader to the foreigners than a nationalist like AMLO, who may for all we know, actually have the most national support.

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