The Wall and Poverty

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It is easy to forget what the Berlin Wall was, its reality and significance, above all because in Mexico’s ambiance it often seems that the wall is still there. In Mexico, the wall was, and sadly continues to be, a great excuse for not solving the country’s basic problems, but also for justifying them and, in practice, perpetuating them.
The fall of the Berlin Wall entailed enormous symbolism: the West had won a great historic battle that had gestated from the moment that the powers divided Europe at the end of WWII. With the opening, the political geography of the Euro-Asian continent was altered, reestablishing German might and bringing the former Soviet empire to a close. Perhaps of greatest import was that the fall of the Berlin Wall annihilated Marxism as an ideology, although it didn’t disappear, especially outside of Europe.
The impact on the fall of the Wall in Mexico was distinct. The Mexican Left and, in good measure, the Latin-American Left, has preserved Marxism as dogma and a lodestar for action. While throughout history, and from much before Marx, the Left has always been defined by its opposition to an unacceptable status quo (such as poverty, inequality or lack of access to diverse types of satisfiers), its persistent proximity to Marxism is significant and revelatory. Marxism provided a unifying and justifying vehicle for opposition to the status quo and continues to be so. For those of us engaged in our university studies in the seventies, Marxism was the backbone of the social sciences. In some places it was learned as a science or as an analytical tool, in others as dogma, but its penetration was practically universal. With the fall of the Wall, the nature of Marxism changed, and with it the disappearance of the financing source for activists useful to Moscow. However, in Mexico Marxism persisted in part because it supplied an explanation for the social reality, but also for the absence of academic options. This fact had consequences, which can be appreciated directly, as well as indirectly, in the failed attempt at bring pressure to bear for a new presidential election at the end of last year.
Of course, the problem is not Marxism or the fact that well-entrenched nuclei of believers are alive and well in Mexico or in other latitudes. The problem is two-fold: on the one hand, within university ambits something very similar to what took place in the economy, where very often there is no competition either. Competition of ideas is one of the most important sources of advancement and transformation, because that’s how knowledge makes headway. To the degree that are no dissident ideas (because there aren’t any or because the environment does not permit them), knowledge stagnates.
The other problem is that the reality had not changed: as long as poverty exists, in combination with the absence of opportunities of participation for generations of teachers, academicians and students, frustration accumulates and permanent foci of extremism are generated. Much of the radicalism characterizing the country has its origin in real factors that derive from the political structure and the socioeconomic reality. Any political strategy that would aspire to attend to the nation’s sources of radicalism would have to recognize the factors that give it life.
The Ayotzinapa Teachers College, to cite the most apparent example, is known as a source of radicalism and it’s not the only one that shares this characteristic. These past months illustrate the absence (historical) of the understanding of the factors that generate permanent social conflict and that, for example, make Marxism attractive as an ideological source and battle strategy. In the seventies, it was combated by violent means (the so-called dirty war), those same means that did not alter the historical pattern but rather secured it.
The true learning from the fall of the Berlin wall is that there needs to be competition of ideas and conditions must exist that make economic development possible. Above all, the great lesson is that both things –conditions for development and rivalry of ideas- go hand in hand and constitute the essence of progress. To get ahead, Mexico will have to change its way of being: it is not by controlling or oppressing that advancement is achieved but instead by generating options for the population’s participation, all within an environment of competition and freedom. This is as valid for the economy as it is for politics.

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Luis Rubio

Luis Rubio

He is a contributing editor of Reforma and his analyses and opinions often appear in major newspapers and journals in Mexico, the US and Europe (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio).