This week is anniversaries of two historic events in Mexico. September 26 is the 4th anniversary of the disappearances of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa rural school in the state of Guerrero, Mexico in 2014. October 2nd is the 50th anniversary of the Tlatelolco massacre in Mexico City in 1968. These two events are interconnected in their history, and its remembrance of an alumni from Ayotzinapa, guerrilla leader Lucio Cabañas. It also shows the need for historical materialist analysis in looking at these events.
The incident happened because of the Tlatelolco massacre in 1968. Students from the teachers school in Ayotzinapa were appropriating buses to transport others to an anniversary march that year for the commemoration of the Tlatelolco massacre. They were stopped by state security forces in the city of Iguala, where they were fired upon and six students were murdered. The remaining 43 students were taken and disappeared. The official story put out by the government was they were handed over to a drug cartel and murdered by them. But this story has not been accepted by the people. The mayor of Iguala and his wife were linked to the disappearances. Other links to federal authorities have been shown.
The disappearances of the 43 students galvanized Mexico like nothing else in recent years, exposing the contradictions of this society imposed by neoliberalism. It also brought international attention to Mexico, and solidarity rallies around the world happened. A violent drug war has left hundreds of thousands dead in the past decade, and up to 30,000 disappearances. What was notable about these disappearances is that the searches done by the state, under pressure, brought up several other mass graves, but none of the 43 students. The involvement of state security forces and drug cartels in collaboration exposed the corrupt underbelly of the comprador Mexican government and state. They became symbols also for the hope that they were still alive. The slogan raised was “Alive they were taken, alive we want them back.”
Four years later the families of the 43 students are still fighting for justice. But these students will not be forgotten anytime soon. While the world is more likely to know about Ayotzinapa, lesser known is the history of the Normal School the students came from and another revolutionary alumni that came from there, Lucio Cabañas.
Lucio Cabañas was a teacher from the Ayotzinapa rural teachers school who became a guerrilla leader. He attended the same school as the 43, and images of him and other revolutionaries are painted on murals there. These schools, called Normal Schools, were created after the Mexican Revolution as a concession to the people. The students, called normalistas, have always had a history of revolutionary and communist organizing.
The 1968 massacre in Tlatelolco began the Dirty War by the Mexican state against popular movements, and turned many on the left to armed struggle. Cabañas turned to guerrilla warfare after the increased violence visited upon them by state forces, in one particular instance a massacre of peaceful protesters in Guerrero. Cabanas founded El Partido de Los Pobres (The Party of the Poor), which built a base among the impoverished communities in the mountains of Guerrero. It became a top threat to the Mexican state and the ruling class, and received official attention from the CIA and American military. The military response to a rise in guerrilla movements was a brutal counterinsurgency. Cabañas was assassinated during an attempted expropriation in 1974.
The documentary “The Guerrilla and the Hope: Lucio Cabañas”, documents this period of history in Mexico and the life of Lucio Cabañas. It is made up of oral histories of scholars and participants of the events of that time. This film was made before 2014, and it takes on a whole new meaning in looking at the similarities in the conditions. Images from the Dirty War show protests with posters and banners of black and white photos of the disappeared by the military. The same images show up in protests in 2014 and in other protests of those disappeared up to today.
Karl Marx once wrote in the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, the key work of historical materialism:
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. “
The Mexican people are waging their struggle in many fronts. They fight their own bourgeoisie as well as Amerikan imperialism. One overall theme is the struggles in the Third World are more intense, being where those who have nothing to lose but their chains reside. As with this those in struggle in the oppressor nations should look to struggles in oppressed nations for leadership. In the United States its policies are driving the recent violence, with pressure from the drug war and direct military and policing aid given to state security forces. The violence in Mexico and Central America fanned by U.S. policies are also a major driver of migration. For Chicanos we must see the struggle in Mexico as linked with ours. The more militant parts of the Chicano Movement attempted to make links with radicals and revolutionaries in Mexico, a history that is all but hidden. The struggles in Mexico as well as other places throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America are the vanguard of the world revolutionary struggle against capitalism, colonialism and imperialism. As the popular slogan goes, La Lucha Sigue (The Struggle Continues). It must continue until victory.