From passive revolution to silent revolution: class forces and the production of state, space and scale in modern Mexico.

Author:Hesketh, Chris
Position::Company overview - Report


Drawing on Antonio Gramsci's key concepts of passive revolution and hegemony, this article seeks to provide an insight into how specific spatial configurations have been historically produced in Mexico within the conditions of worldwide capitalist development. It offers an explanation of the contradictory character of this accumulation process, highlighting the class strategies involved, whilst giving due attention to the process of contestation and the potential for change. One should rightly be wary of using political theory indiscriminately across disparate cases. However, as Gramsci (1971: 108-9, Q15[section]11) argues, 'since similar situations almost always arise in every historical development, one should see if it is not possible to draw from this some general principle of political science'. Furthermore as Cox (1983: 167) has pointed out, for peripheral, industrialising countries, the concept of passive revolution has particular purchase. The empirical case for such an assertion will be made in the course of this argument.

The term 'passive revolution' was employed by Gramsci to refer to instances in which the state plays the leading role in fundamentally reorganising social relations so as maintain or restore class dominance, while diffusing subaltern pressure. Contrary to Callinicos in this issue, it will be argued that the concept has particular utility as a recurring theme of Mexican history in the 20th century. The reason for this lies in the unresolved class contradictions inscribed in capitalist development, which result in periodic crises and restructuring. Passive revolution, although an important class stratagem for the maintenance of control, ultimately therefore cannot overcome the fundamental cleavages within capitalist society. As Gramsci (1971: 114, Q15 [section]62) puts it, 'the concept remains a dialectical one--in other words, presupposes, indeed postulates as necessary a vigorous antithesis which can present intransigently all its potentialities for development'. The scope for recurrence is thus immanent to the concept itself.

In order to fully understand and operationalise Gramsci's concepts, it is important to be attentive to questions of the spatial and the scalar. An important interlocutor here is Henri Lefebvre (1991: 26), who argues that space must be understood as a social product that, once produced, serves as a tool both for thought and social action, as well as a means of production and social control. It is vital, therefore, to understand how space and scale were produced in Mexico, and for what purpose. As David Harvey (1990: 218) counsels, 'Any project to transform society must grasp the transformation of spatial and temporal conceptions and practices.'

Mexico represents an intriguing case study, since it was the only country in Latin America before 1950 to undergo a profound, protracted and bloody revolution, and yet in spite of this, it has also been the Latin American country which has most vigorously pursued the path of capitalist development (Hansen 1971: 95; Weinert 1981: 115). This was further enhanced by the signing of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, signalling most clearly the commitment to a neoliberal accumulation strategy. Moreover--and of necessity related to this--the country has produced some of the most visible and vibrant resistance movements that have sought to contest and remake political space. Through an analysis of changing state formation and the spaces and scales associated with this, this article aims to illuminate the key contradictions of capitalist development that have augured the recurrence of passive revolutions. The argument will be set out as follows. First, Mexico will be historically situated within the world economy in order to explore the antecedents of its Revolution. Second, the idea of the Mexican Revolution as an instance of passive revolution will be explicated and the importance of the bourgeois state-form made clear. Third, Mexico's development trajectory will be outlined with reference to the particular scales and spaces upon which it was founded, before (fourth) these contradictions are explored. Fifth, the rise of neoliberalism as a political and economic response to these contradictions will be explained as a second instance of passive revolution; then finally the unresolved antagonisms of this transition will be briefly discussed.

Situating Mexico within the world economy

How, then, should one approach the problematic of state, space and scalar development? Morton (2007a: 599) has argued that Gramscian theory offers us a 'history of state formation and thus social development within the "national" that are linked internally to the casual conditioning and wider geopolitical dynamics of "the international"'. Womack (1978: 97) takes this argument further, claiming that explanations for Mexico's development trajectory need to be located within the world economy rather than in Mexico itself. However, one should to be wary of reifying and dehistoricising the world system itself (Cox, 1981). A more fruitful approach is found in that of McMichael's (1990: 391) method of 'incorporated comparison', within which 'totality' is viewed as being 'a conceptual procedure rather than an empirical premise. It is an imminent rather than prima facie property in which the whole is discovered through an analysis of the mutual conditioning parts' (see also Morton, 2010).

Mexico, like the rest of Latin America, had its identity indelibly stamped by the experience of colonialism. Spatial production was thus from the outset heavily conditioned by international forces. As Hamilton (1982: 18) states,

between the sixteenth and nineteenth century, through the world market, as well as through more direct means of colonisation and conquest, the core states succeeded in imposing on the rest of the world a division of labour in which the latter functioned to provide certain types of commodities, as well as markets needed by the core. The social function of the space of Mexico is thus an important point, and one that needs to be borne in mind when we consider the changing dynamics of capital accumulation.

As Mexico became unevenly inserted into the world economy, the model of 'development' adopted was based on the intense exploitation of cheap labour and extraction of natural resources. The growth of European capitalism shaped the landscape of Mexico, with the construction of railroads being necessary in order to facilitate the exportation of mineral wealth, the growth of urban centres necessitated by the enclave economy, and the expansion of the export-oriented hacienda at the expense of the communal Indian village (Glade, 1963: 14; Hansen, 1971: 17; Cockcroft, 1983: 30-31). Nascent capitalist relations began to be developed through European colonial expansion, and Mexico evolved to become a focal point for inter-imperialist rivalries in the latter part of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries (see Lenin, 1987). International forces were thus instrumental in informing the national conditions of class struggle. As Cockcroft (1983: 44) puts it, the colonial period 'dialectically established in Mexico an embryonic dependent capitalism and the impoverishment and blocked opportunities that were to generate the repeated uprisings that ultimately broke out'. Gilly (1983: 30-36) contends that it was the construction of railway infrastructure under Porfirio Diaz (1876-1880, 1884-1911) that facilitated the expansion of capitalist social relations of production, helping reshape space and the organisation of work, leading to the 'proletarianisation' of the country and exposing the contradictions of the old political order by provoking new challenges that were to coalesce with the revolutionary upheavals that began in 1910. (1) The growth of railways, as well as facilitating the extraction of natural resources, also allowed for the beginnings of a domestic market, with commodities beginning to circulate more freely as well as increasing the centralised power of the state (Hamilton, 1982: 43-44, Katz, 1986: 37). Mexico's transition to modernity therefore took place through the dialectic of national and international development. However, while there is undoubtedly some truth in the claim that productive forces were coming into contradiction with old forms of property relations, we should proceed with caution in claiming that pre-revolutionary Mexico was in fact a fully capitalist country. Although proletarianisation of the country had no doubt increased during this period, it had done so in a highly uneven manner, predominating overwhelmingly in the north of the country (Katz, 1986: 59). Glade (1963: 53, emphasis added) thus concludes,

Despite incipient industrialisation and the spectacular achievements of various mineral enclaves, pre-revolutionary Mexico was basically an agrarian nation, not only in terms of the overwhelming preponderance of the population in agriculture and the share of the national product originating in the agricultural sector, but also in the tone of national life. In keeping with much of Latin America, the agro-export oligarchy dominated both economic and political power, which was reinforced through patterns of global investment. Under Diaz, foreign influence had increased dramatically in economic activity, providing resources that endogenous capital could not. The growth of US capital was especially marked, with investment in Mexico greater than in any other area of the world. By 1911, this investment was exceeding that of the domestic bourgeoisie and amounted to more than twice that of other foreign investors (Cockcroft, 1998: 85). Furthermore, foreign capital was diversified, dominating not only mineral resources but also electrical and communications systems, furthering the growth of wage labour. By the end of the Porfiriato, more than half the country's wealth was foreign owned (Glade, 1963:...

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