Mexico: Ayotzinapa, Emblem of the Twenty-First Century Social Order

Ayotzinapa is the end result of a bundle of interconnected events. These, with greater or lesser density and visibility, are part of the essence of Twenty-First Century capitalism, not limited to Mexico but spreading, whether surreptitiously or scandalously, throughout the whole world.


Source: Latin American in Movement

For Julio César Mondragón, In memoriam

Ayotzinapa is an ominous emblem of the atrocities generated by contemporary capitalism. Ayotzinapa is anywhere in our world where a dissident voice has been raised, a demand, a sign of rebellion in the face of the devastating dispossession and plunder on which the accumulation of capital is based, as well as the networks of power that sustain it.

Ayotzinapa is the end result of a bundle of interconnected events. These, with greater or lesser density and visibility, are part of the essence of Twenty-First Century capitalism, not limited to Mexico but spreading, whether surreptitiously or scandalously, throughout the whole world.

Twenty-First Century capitalism

It is increasingly clear that today’s capitalism runs on two tracks. On the one hand, we have the formally recognized society, with its economy, its organization and confrontation, its morality; and on the other the accelerating growth of a parallel society, whose economy is generically qualified as illegal, that works with a morality, organization and disciplinary methods that are quite different.

There are places in this world, such as Mexico, where the crises of neoliberalism, in addition to provoking substantial changes in their position in the international division of labour, in the definition of their productive activities and in the usage of their territory, have generated a social fracture that grows deeper over time. One of the central issues is that young people have lost their perspectives and a space to occupy. A society has been created with few possibilities for absorbing them, a society in which the chances of work or incorporation have disappeared, in which the horizons have faded out. It no longer had room for many existing workers, and much less so for those arriving on the scene. Some have called this Generation X, a generation that does not know where it is going because it has nowhere to go. The current phase of capitalist concentration has eliminated spaces even as it extends its power. Land, domestic activities, even entertainment were taken over, but growing sectors of the population were eliminated from the benefits, being left on the edge or becoming pariahs.

Given the depth and characteristics of this process, it is no longer possible to speak of a social order.  The existing conditions are rather those of disorder, rupture, decomposition, breakups. That is to say, this new order appeals to authoritarianism, as the only visible way to sustain it.

The militarization of the planet, especially in everyday affairs, has begun to impose itself as the general pattern of the whole process. Stability for this system not only demanded the “open and free market” of the neo-liberals, but the force that can guarantee its functioning. This is a militarized market, whose hands are not only visible, but also armed. This was the path taken by formal capitalism, that which is recognized and, paradoxically, “legal”.

However, the fractures this society has opened up, as if it had been subjected to fracking, have found cover in the development of a parallel society. This society occupied the small niches of the old one, but ended up invading it. It is a society that adopted the hidden trash the old one had -hypocritically- rejected, and made it into a business, an opportunity for accumulation and power.

All forms of illicit trade moved there: the illegal arms trade, drug production and traffic, human traffic, trafficking in valuable and rare species and a great number of variations on these that are the most profitable dealings – in part because they are not taxed – but that established morality is obliged to deny.

Here, the game of mutual confrontation took off, fuelling the arms trade, and above all, the practice of extortion, blackmail, kidnapping or any variants on these.

Yet capital accumulation feeds on both sectors. The losers are the marginalized sectors: those economically, socially, politically or culturally excluded – excluded from business at different levels, or from power.

This is where a generous opening for young people came into play: their incorporation into the police or the armed forces provided them with conditions that no productive sector could offer them, and also gave some small recognition and a little power to those who had been categorized as socially useless. At the same time, there were openings in the supposedly contrary ranks. Drug dealers or businessmen engaged in illegal activities also needed their armies of servants or thugs. And these have provided employment over the last two or three decades, creating a new culture: the culture of the mercenary, of arbitrary power, of plunder by extortion.

As the “legal” economy entered a state of crisis, the dark side of the economy grew, operating in some of the same sectors as the “legal” economy, but in ways that are more profitable.

One example is that of undeclared mining operations, that even involve several forms of slavery in their work force. Whether in Africa or Mexico, there are mines operating with forced labour of children or adolescents, who are often kidnapped for this work and guarded by armed bodies, that might be either the army or mercenaries. The mining products are extracted almost without cost because the workers are not paid, without taxes because the products are undeclared and are exported with the complicity of mining consortia and their home States, as well as that of local authorities that take part of the profits for looking the other way or actively protecting the industry.

This kind of two-edged capitalism is thus able not only to survive the crisis, but also to engage in a double exploitation of the population through slave or semi-slave labour, different kinds of extortion, expulsion from land, outright robbery of their property and similar tactics. The key to all this is the exercise of ruthless violence.

Under these circumstances, the State becomes part of the process and society is subjected to warlike conditions in daily life. Violence is installed as social discipline and becomes generalized. In a public-private game those in charge of social control come together around the real sources of gain, be these legal or illegal, and around the configuration of local powers invested through their ability to impose a social order corresponding to these modalities of accumulation.

Diffuse and asymmetric wars

The conditions of concentration of wealth and power in today’s capitalism, associated with growing instability in a broad range of social groups, have driven the system into a state of risk, manifest in permanent conflicts and confrontations that are asymmetric in character, to use the terminology of the Pentagon. Contemporary wars increasingly adopt the notion of a diffuse enemy and take on the character of preventive wars that for the most part are undeclared.

Operations of destabilization and imposition of discipline, episodes of violence unleashed in specific places or of violence metered out over broad areas, are the preferred mechanisms of unspecified wars against diffuse enemies. At the same time, they are ideal mechanisms to open the way for the looting of resources in many regions of the planet, creating confusion that makes social organization very difficult.  The controlled supply of weapons and the provocation of violent situations are allies sought by contemporary capitalism.

There are no declared wars. There are no wars between equals. There is corrosion. A spreading stain of violence accompanies the capitalism of the beginnings of the Twenty-First Century. The institutions responsible for discipline and security of States have been inadequate in the face of the high level of appropriation and dispossession that marks today’s capitalism.  These institutions are reproduced on a local and private level as often as they are needed. “Islamic states”, “private guards”, “cartels” or “gangs” of so-called organized crime, appear as needed, to protect and broaden or deepen the sources of gain, of accumulation, and as such, complement the institutions that are officially recognized for these purposes.  Just as markets required military support, the institutional forces of social disciplining, given the level of appropriation and dispossession, require de-institutionalized support capable of exercising a level and a kind of violence that changes the patterns of social contention.  These are “irregular” forces that, like the state of exception, come into existence to remain in place.  They have become part of the regular forces that make the system function.

Ayotzinapa as the limit

Colombia was in a state of internal war when Plan Colombia was introduced and, in spite of the changed intensity in the violence and the direct and obvious intromission of the United States in the conduct of the conflict, the change in other areas was maybe less visible.  On the contrary, Mexico was celebrated as an emblem of discipline in democracy before the Merida Initiative began.

In less than ten years, the axis of discipline passed from the Institutional Revolutionary Party – the PRI – to the perpetrators of violence, in both State and private hands. The key was in the factors of corrosion that marked the way and in the disproportion of the corrective means employed. Violence exists in all societies, but the scope and methods introduced here imposed a new social logic. In this period, Mexican society had to get used to beheadings, mutilations, burned bodies, repeated disappearances, common graves and the ostentatious complicity of elements responsible for the security and justice of the State.

Estimates already surpass some one hundred thousand disappeared people and news reports start at twenty deaths daily. Mexico has become a cemetery for the poor and for migrants who are extorted, kidnapped for slave labour, savagely murdered in order to terrify and discipline others, or killed en masse. The relation of these actions with the control of migration to the United States is a matter of speculation, but there is no doubt as to the results. What is evident is the takeover of land, of business, of resources and of power that take place because of this. Every day there are more displaced people, more dispossessed people who dare not even complain for fear of reprisal and because there are no institutions of justice that will protect them.

In less than ten years and after much pain, society has been transformed. It is corroded, with clear signs of Balkanization, with growth of local power centres that make their own laws and negotiate with the federal authorities.  Fear has taken root through repeated and explicit savagery, although, through its much repetition, it is beginning to generate the opposite.

Ayotzinapa is the mountain peak. In Ayotzinapa the limits were overreached. With complete impunity, ostentatious force and total complicity between the State and organized crime, they went against the most vulnerable members of society: poor young people from devastated rural areas, students in teacher training, children of the people known for their joy of living, desiring to change the world, that world that no one wants to accept. In addition, Ayotzinapa is the peak of a mountain of insult, defencelessness and anger. It is the accumulated conscience of ignominy and indignity.  It is the limit, the situation that brought back the energy, vitality, courage and dignity of the people of Mexico and drove them into the streets.  “They have taken so much from us that they have even taken away our fear” was one of the first posters raised by young people everywhere. Julio César Mondragón, a young man who had just entered the Teacher Training School of Ayotzinapa, already a father of a few months, and victim of the most savage tortures that we have seen, because of his pain has become the involuntary detonator of the recovery of strength, hope and decision on the part of the people of Mexico, mobilized today as they have not been for a long time.

Ayotzinapa is a symbol. It is the peak of the iceberg or a cleavage.

Ayotzinapa is the symbol of the wars of the Twenty-First Century and of the new patterns of social discipline that accompany the processes of looting and dispossession in the whole planet. In just ten years, Mexico, that had not experienced the dark night of the Latin American dictatorships, even though it had known dirty wars and massacres, has become a land of pain and common graves. The problem is not “the narco”; the problem is capitalism.

Ayotzinapa is a two-way mirror: that of the path of power is obvious, visible and overwhelming; that of the call to defend life is pallid and discreet, but it will certainly leave footprints.

(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop).

– Ana Esther Ceceña is Coordinator of the Observatorio Latinoamericano de Geopolítica, Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. She is a member of the Council of ALAI.

*The original text is part of ALAI’s Spanish language magazine América Latina en Movimiento, No.500, November-December, 2014, titled “América Latina: Cuestiones de fondo” (Latin America: basic issues).