Monumentalising Revolution

‘. . . we begin to recognise the monuments of the bourgeoisie as ruins even before they have crumbled’ Walter Benjamin

This epigraph from the critical theorist Walter Benjamin prompts a number of reflections about the role of monumental architecture in shaping state-led projects of modernism. Architecture, after all, is a way of defining the ideas of an epoch as well as materially representing state codifications of national politics and identity.

Specifically, this comment provokes a number of thoughts about my current research project on the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City, which I presented at the 48th annual Society for Latin American Studies (SLAS) conference.

My argument is that the Monument to the Revolution is one of the foremost commemorative spatial sites of state power in Mexico City. Completed on 20 November 1938, the monument has served as the stage for official ceremonies remembering and honouring the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) and its heroes ever since. As Thomas Benjamin has argued, the Monument to the Revolution was built to heal the wounds of different factions that divided the revolution and weakened the development of the emerging post-revolutionary institutional political order. Its primary purpose has been and remains the legitimisation of state power and authority.

The site of the Monument to the Revolution was originally proposed in 1897 as the Federal Legislative Palace under the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz (1876-1911). But after years of ‘military Diazpotism’, the construction was abandoned after the outbreak and unfolding of revolution. Following the institutionalisation of the revolution through the state in the 1930s, plans to convert the site and indeed the revolution itself into a monument were proposed and completed.

Subsequently, the site on Plaza de la República in Mexico City has been the location for official ceremonies remembering and honouring revolutionary heroes on 20 November, Revolution Day. Since 1942 the ashes or mortal remains of a pantheon of revolutionary heroes have been interned in the bases of the monument. Venustiano Carranza (1942), Francisco I. Madero (1960), Plutarco Elias Calles (1969), Lazaro Cárdenas (1970), and Francisco ‘Pancho’ Villa (1976) were all transferred to the pillars of the monument. The fetishism of the monument has also included souvenir postcards; a $4 peso stamp was launched with its image in 1934; a $200 peso coin was released in 1985 with the monument as backdrop; and a centenary $100 new peso banknote was released in 2010 with the monument’s logo.

As invaluable as previous scholarship is in terms of tracing the history of the monument, it is important to develop a spatialised view of this commemorative site, meaning a recognition of space as a product of interrelations, the existence of a multiplicity of trajectories that coexist, and a plurality of competing struggles. Also, it is crucial to develop a temporal understanding of struggles over space, meaning awareness of time as overlapping, plural, and coeval rather than as a flat horizon. In this manner the geographer Doreen Massey has referred to the importance of prompting questions about the multiplicity of trajectories in time-space.

I have carried these insights into my new research on the monument based on archival work at the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN) in Mexico City that has produced some 200 plus original documents accessing historical and photographic material as well as new developments linked to the monumental site itself. The above archival image is of anti-riot tanks on the streets on the sixth anniversary of an attack against a demonstration of 10,000 students that marched to the monument, later known as The Corpus Christi Massacre (10 June 1971), which led to some 50 deaths and “disappeared” victims at the hands of a state-financed paramilitary group known as Los Halcones. The impetus for this research flips out of my new book on Revolution and State in Modern Mexico: The Political Economy of Uneven Development (Rowman & Littlefield, 2011).

In particular, my interests are drawn in this research to a little noted insight from Antonio Gramsci on the ‘material structure of ideology’: prompting attention to the role of architecture, street lay-outs, and street names in order to ‘inculcate the habit of assessing the forces of agency in society with greater caution and precision’.

With that in mind, renovations to the monumental site were announced in 2010 with the Mayor of the Government of the Federal District, Marcelo Ebrard, remarking that the recuperation of public space would be accompanied by the remembrance of the great achievements of the Mexican Revolution, including labour rights, agrarian reform, access to education and health, Mexican nationalism, and, of course, the expropriation of petroleum. The Monument to the Revolution and the Plaza de la República – a space of 49,000 square metres – has now been completely renovated. At a cost of around $25 million, the restoration includes a new observation deck (or mirador)—reached via a new glass elevator located in the monument’s central axis—that offers 360° views of Mexico City; new nocturnal illumination; the new “Adelita Café” and gift shop; working water fountains; and the reopening of the National Museum of the Revolution. On 20 November 2010 with the reinauguration of the site, Marcelo Ebrard called for the realisation of a “new revolution” in the country but via a peaceful route based on democratic norms and the retaking of the ideals of the armed struggle that exploded in 1910 for greater social justice. He declared: ‘the new Plaza de la República will soon reunite us to celebrate the triumph of the left and the values advanced in Mexico’.

In terms of capturing a spatial-temporal analysis of the Monument to the Revolution, I suggest in my paper a threefold periodisation that makes better sense of its contemporary history. These interconnected conceptions of space and time include the periods of: (1) State Power (1933-1968)—when state space was itself represented in its directly “political” sense at the site; (2) State Crisis (1968-1985)—the apogee of collective social protests and violent suppression; and (3) State Rollback (1982-present)—the era in which the site was almost abandoned in step with the rise of the purely “economic” expression of neoliberal power accompanied by continued redemptive forms of collective resistance.

My aim in writing up the paper for journal publication is to reveal the Monument to the Revolution as a profoundly ambiguous carrier of utopian promise and how the present generation may communicate with the hopes of past generations. The significance of this architecture may then still turn on the effective participation of the present generation in shaping the utopian desires of the oppressed, linked to ongoing past and present social struggles.

Adam David Morton

Rich man, poor man, politician man

The question of voters’ reactions to the personal wealth of politicians is increasingly topical. Even in the United States, where money is generally equated with success, Mitt Romney’s vast fortune (and low tax rate) was used against him in the Republican primaries. In Britain there has been a public debate as to whether politicians should have to publish their tax returns – with candidates for the London Mayoralty (mostly) doing so.  The issue is certainly live, but at present academic research can contribute little to the debate.

To investigate the public’s reactions to wealthy (or not so wealthy) candidates we ran an internet survey experiment where respondents were asked to rate and choose between two hypothetical candidates based on short biographies. We applied two experimental manipulations, one to wealth and the other to occupation.  Splitting the samples, we varied occupation between a self-made businessman and employee of an international finance company, and we also varied the amount that they earned.

The effects – with the headlines reported here – were powerful.  We found that voters preferred the self-made businessman to the financier, but that regardless of occupation they reacted negatively to financial success.  As we increased the amount earned by our hypothetical candidate, so their popularity declined.  Voters did not reward candidates for their financial success, rather they turned against them.

Yet what was also revealing was that voters did not respond homogenously to our experiments.  We found notable differences by both social class and party support.

The experiment used a split sample technique, showing almost identical candidate profiles to respondents but making slight alterations in wording.  It compared two hypothetical candidates – John and George – and measured the differences caused by making slight changes in John’s profile.  We measured three perceived candidate characteristics – approachability, experience, and effectiveness – as well as asking which candidate respondents preferred overall, but for reasons of space, we focus here just on the overall preference figures.

The top half of first table (below) shows the difference in the way respondents chose the candidates when we presented them with John as a businessman who earned some £28,000 (the average male salary).  As is clear, John was preferred over George (who was a solicitor earning £45,000 per year) amongst all groups but especially strongly amongst those in the C2 and DE social groups.

The bottom half of the same table shows the results when we increased John’s income to a cool one million (but kept every other aspect of the profiles the same).  Now George was preferred to John amongst every social class.  One way to look at this is to examine the ‘cost’ of the increase in income – by looking at the change in John’s lead from when he earned £28k to when it was a million.  Amongst ABs, for example, the lead goes from +27 to -19, a change of 46 percentage points.  Amongst C1s, the difference is 54 points. But amongst C2s and DEs, it is 65 points. So everyone is put off by wealthy candidates, but the working class are put off more.  We found exactly the same when we repeated the experiment but with John as a financier instead of a businessman: the total cost of the increased income was 49 points amongst ABs, but 67 amongst DEs.

John’s occupation/income

Social class





















Businessman/1 million

















 The differences by party support were even more striking, as shown in the table below.  Again, as levels of income rose, so John became less attractive to supporters of all three main political parties – but at a very different rate.  Labour voters were especially turned off by the rising income: from favouring John by some 41 points when he earned £28k, if John earned a million they favoured George by 52 points – a massive 93 point transformation.  Lib Dem voters had a similar experience, favouring John by 41 points when he earned £28k but with that transforming into a 26 point deficit once his income increased to a million.

John’s occupation/income


















Businessman/1 million













Conservative voters, however, reacted differently.  The total cost of John’s extra income amongst Conservative voters was a still significant 16 points, but even after John was earning a million per year they still preferred (albeit just) John to George.  (We also showed some respondents a version in which John earned £100,000 – and Conservative voters also preferred that John to George, this time by three points).  There clearly was, therefore, some Conservative respondents who saw John’s financial success as positive and a reason to want him as their representative.

However, when we changed John’s occupation to that of a financier rather than a businessman, we did not find the same effect.  Conservative respondents were still relatively more positive towards John than George, but the cost of John’s extra income increased to some 37 points even amongst Conservatives, and they no longer preferred John to George.  In other words, Conservative-inclined respondents were less put off by candidates with higher levels of income and they made a sharper distinction between money earned by someone who had set up their own business and that earned from a multi-national company than did other respondents.

So wealth could be a negative factor for all candidates, but it is likely to be an especial negative for Labour and Lib Dem candidates.


Rosie Campbell is Senior Lecturer in Politics at Birkbeck, University of London; Philip Cowley is Professor of Parliamentary Government at the University of Nottingham.


NOTE: Fieldwork using the YouGov Plc UK panel (350,000+ adults who have agreed to take part in such surveys) was undertaken on 10-11 April 2012 (sample of 1,727 people) and 11-12 April 2012 (sample of 1,686 people). Figures have been weighted to be representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). All text is solely the opinion of the authors.

The surprise in France was … there were no (real) surprises

The results of the first round of the French presidential elections conformed entirely to expectations. There were no surprises, only minor adjustments. We would therefore fully expect François Hollande to enter the Elysée in a fortnight’s time.

These seem like shocking claims given the coverage of the results. According to the media, and a number of independent commentators, there were surprises:

  1. Nicolas Sarkozy was the first incumbent president not to win the first round of a Presidential election.
  2. Marine Le Pen won a record number of votes, easily beating her father’s performance in 2002
  3. Jean-Luc Mélenchon performed much worse than expected.
  4. Turnout was one of the highest in recent memory, despite concerns in the latter days of the campaign that abstention would be significant.

For surprises (1) and (4), we need to be careful of the ‘small n trap’. Only four incumbents have ever stood for re-election. 1 in 5 is not a headline proportion. Given the parlous state of Sarkozy’s polls only weeks ago, that he managed to come second with only a shortfall of less than 1.5 per cent on Hollande is impressive, and more likely to merit the label ‘surprise’. That he is in second place as a highly unpopular and divisive incumbent is no surprise.

Similarly the level of turnout is high but within a small number of percentage points of the majority of presidential races (2002 excluded), and is actually almost exactly the average turnout for all Fifth Republic first-round ballots. An inkling of low turnout only manifested itself in the latter days of the campaign, and has proved to be false. As with many ‘truths’ manifested in polling, the unsurprising counter-factual has proved to be the case.

Surprise (2) is perhaps the most contentious. Our reservations would first come from the fact that our own long-range model predicted 17.4 per cent. Having been announced at 20 per cent at the beginning of the evening – a calamitous failure of polling estimates which we deal with elsewhere – her score fell to 17.9 per cent. A 2.1 per cent over-estimate perhaps seems forgivable, pollsters will no doubt say.

However, for a candidature as controversial as Marine Le Pen’s, to place it above the psychological bar of 20 per cent is a watershed moment. A number of other polling institutes provided much more accurate estimates for Le Pen as the polling booths closed. CSA, for instance estimated 18.2%, Harris 18.5%. It is embarrassing that the company chosen by French state media to announce the outcome turned out to have the most wayward forecast.

That a surge in support for the FN candidate has manifested in this election is undeniable, and comes in striking contrast with the outcome of the 2007 election where the party was left almost moribund. The raw numbers are also many digits superior to Le Pen 2002 – 6.4 million voters chose Le Pen fille compared with 4.8 million ten years ago but so were turnout and the actual pool of registered voters. Whilst there is no getting away from her having performed remarkably well, it would have been absurd to expect that the ‘additional’ votes above and beyond 2002 would not have boosted the raw number.

Looking at scores based on registered voters helps nuance the current assessment of a ‘massive wave’ of enthusiasm behind the new FN passionaria: she polled 13.9 per cent, compared with an average of about 11.5 per cent for her father across the 1988 (11.5), 1995 (11.4) and 2002 (11.7) elections. The actual percentage difference was of the order of 2 per cent – very similar to the combined Extreme Right score in 2002 of 13.3 per cent of the registered voters. Beside the personality effect, some of Marine Le Pen’s bonus could well be due to her capacity to bring in former MNR voters from the cold.

Finally, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, largely a product of media hype. His final score of 11.1 per cent was indeed disappointing for his many supporters, but hardly a surprise. In an election manifesting a bolstering of the extremes in polls and broader coverage, and resembling the 2002 race in its competitive dynamics, a performance slightly below that of Laguiller, Besancenot, Hue and Gluckstein appeared a reasonable estimate: together with the small Trotskyite candidates, the radical left has polled 12.8 per cent of the votes this year compared with 13.8 per cent in both the 1995 and 2002 elections. The surprise would have been the Front de gauche candidate realising anything similar to Le Pen’s performance. That this seemed reasonable to expect derived both from a media fascination with a compelling tribun riding a wave of populist support – but not popular support; and by far the most professional and adept social media campaign of any of the candidates. In the end, the style outweighed the substance.

What of François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy? After a frenetic but relatively short campaign, Nicolas Sarkozy pulled back much of the space between him and the Socialist, but not quite sufficient to win. Hollande, for his part, capitalised on an excessively long campaign, and held firm to win the first round with a stable, sober programme and candidacy. He enters the second round as clear favourite, but with a challenging fortnight ahead of him. It would be difficult to unearth any manner of surprise here.

The second round now lines up in predictable fashion. Neither Le Pen nor Bayrou have given any indication of a preference between the two candidates. Bayrou will give one in due course. Given her strong –and to date consistent anti-system– position, Le Pen seems much more unlikely to recommend either Hollande or Sarkozy when she delivers the traditional FN speech on 1st May.

With the legislatives on the horizon, the temptation for Bayrou to try to ensure some safe parliamentary seats may be compelling after no less than a decade of political isolation. The FN, which has enjoyed a seat desert for many years, seems to be betting instead on the implosion of the mainstream right following Sarkozy’s defeat. Locally, UMP candidates under the threat of the FN might indeed decide to enter strategic talks with the far right, in what could be a replication of the tactical alliances that took place in the 1998 regionals.

On the left, Mélenchon has not called for his voters to move to Hollande, but he has called on them to defeat Sarkozy. In a two-candidate race, options are therefore limited. Joly, for her 2.3 per cent, has indicated similarly. Poutou and Arthaud voters are also likely to move en masse (if their combined electorates of 1.71 per cent constitute une masse to Hollande.

Two key variables remain, then. Firstly, does Sarkozy court Le Pen or Bayrou voters? Le Pen has twice as many to court, but they are less predictable. Bayrou’s voters would require concessions to the centre by the incumbent, but if so instructed, would be likely to follow their leader’s instructions. It will be impossible to court both: social liberals and authoritarian Right are not electorates with anything in common, even a dislike of a Leftist candidate like Hollande. In one sense, however, the choice is moot. Whichever way Sarkozy turns, the maths simply do not add up. The only possibility would be for Sarkozy to win back some additional support in the first few days of second-round campaigning, trounce Hollande in the debate(s) still to come, and then rely upon essentially stochastic elements to secure a hairline victory. That is not plannable, only serendipity (at least, for the candidate concerned). In the end, Hollande must win.

Perhaps the biggest shock, however, came from the village of Donzy, in the centre of France. Fêted as ‘the village which predicts elections’, having placed presidential candidates in the national order since 1981, Donzy’s run of luck finally came to an end, with the village placing Sarkozy well ahead of Hollande. It could be that, in two weeks’ time, as the removal vans leave empty from the Elysée forecourt, we may well realise that Donzy was right ahead of time, for once – it was the rest of France that was wrong.

But perhaps not.


Professor Jocelyn Evans and Dr Gilles Ivaldi – our guest bloggers from 500 Signatures

Another April Surprise? The French Polls on Election Night

Now that the official results of the first round are known, it is time to reflect on how accurate voting intention polls have been — both in an absolute sense and as compared with their performances in 2007. Did pollsters do better or worse than in 2007?

Five years ago, the horse race polls conducted in the final days of the campaign correctly predicted the exact order of the four main candidates (Sarkozy, Royal, Bayrou, Le Pen). Together with the absence of a ‘huge surprise’ –such as Le Pen in 2002 or Balladur in 1995–, this ‘superfecta’ forecast led many to consider that the 2007 polls had been reasonably good. Yet, this view must be nuanced.

First, the polls largely missed the margin between Sarkozy and Royal, mainly because the former’s score was underestimated by 3 per cent on average. Second, pollsters proved yet again unable to forecast accurately the FN vote: learning from the lessons of 2002, most of them adjusted Le Pen’s numbers upwards, which led to an overestimate of over 3 per cent.

Did pollsters pop open bottles of champagne last night? Like in 2007, their last week forecasts have predicted the final order of the five main contenders across the finish line. Taking the average of the seven polls published in the campaign’s final week gives a very accurate picture of the balance of forces between the two frontrunners with a 0.8-point variation in both Hollande and Sarkozy. This year the main source of error is found in the two peripheral ‘protest’ candidates: Mélenchon (-2.7) and Le Pen (+2.1).

 Final week polls and official results

Overall, a ‘crude’ measurement of polling error can be taken from the sum of absolute errors for all candidates: in 2007, the total of errors was 12.2 across all twelve contenders. This year the same calculation gives an eight-point error for the ten candidates in the presidential race. In sum, the global performance by France’s pollsters has improved compared with 2007. Pollsters could –and will– legitimately claim that even the largest differences are within the margin of error.


The Marine Le Pen vote

Key to this year’s election was of course the ability by pollsters to give an accurate estimate for Marine Le Pen: after nearly 40 years of reign, her father finally stepped down from party leadership in early 2011. There have been speculations about the electoral impact of the so-called ‘de-demonization’ strategy pursued by his daughter. During the campaign, pollsters made no secret of the fact that their raw data had less of the ‘social desirability bias’ traditionally associated with the FN vote in France.

This is corroborated by the election returns: whilst Marine Le Pen has fallen short of replicating the 2002 political ‘coup’ of progressing to the run-off, she has achieved the best score ever for the extreme right in France, surpassing even the total number of votes won by her father in the second round of the 2002 election (6.4 million votes in 2012 compared with 5.5 million ten years ago).

With an average score of 15.8 per cent in the final week, polls have failed to measure the exact level of support for the FN leader, as have in fact most commentators. The symbolic significance of this is hardly debatable and was probably further amplified by some pollsters unwisely giving Le Pen up to 20 per cent of the vote in their early evening estimates. From a methodological perspective, however, the final week polls have managed to reduce the level of uncertainty in predicting the extreme right: in absolute terms, their average 2012 error (2.1) is smaller than both their 2002  and 2007 misforecasts (respectively 3.3 and 3.4).



In a previous post we provided some empirical evidence for a consistent bias in internet polls (CAWI) relative to telephone polls (CATI). An updated analysis of all 119 horse race polls published since June 2011, controlling for the time-period in which they took place, confirmed that Hollande tended to score around 2 per cent less in internet polls, and Marine Le Pen 1.7 points higher

One first observation is that internet polling seems to help break the ‘spiral of silence’ that prevents voters to disclose their preferences for protest or extreme political forces. In yet another plea for transparency, pollsters should agree to publish their raw data to allow for a more scientific assessment of such effects which are anything but trivial. In the light of the massive overestimation of Marine Le Pen’s vote by some of the first exit polls of the evening, most polling organisations are hardly in a position to argue that their reticence about releasing their adjustments serves a public good.

Differences have been waning in the most recent surveys –probably due to pollsters looking at each other’s forecasts to smooth their own numbers. Such differences have become negligible in the final week, with the exception of the numbers given for the two finalists: in anticipating a Hollande / Sarkozy tie, internet polls have failed to show the real margin between the frontrunners, mostly because of their underestimating the PS candidate (1.3).


Predicting the left / right balance of forces

Finally, contrary to 2002, the left versus right balance was almost perfectly estimated in 2007 (less than half a percentage point for the left bloc as a whole). This year, polls were anticipating a surge in electoral support for the left: in the final week, the forecast for the total score of the five candidates representing the left camp was up to an average 46 per cent.

The final results show that such wave of popular enthusiasm was overestimated (-2.2), mostly because of the amplification of the Mélenchon phenomenon in the polls.


Professor Jocelyn Evans and Gilles Ivaldi: guest bloggers from 500 signatures

Enrique Semo and the Limits of Neoliberalism II

In the second and final part of his essay entitled ‘Los límites del neoliberalism’ in the Mexican weekly magazine Proceso (14 April), the historian Enrique Semo has delivered an excoriating critique of the iniquities of capitalism.

As detailed in my earlier blog entry, Semo has crafted the rise of neoliberalism in Mexico as the latest in a series of revolutions from above or, drawing from the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, as successive passive revolutions that have shaped Mexican state formation. Instances of passive revolution involve a contradictory combination of forces – merging processes of revolution and restoration – to result ultimately in the continuation of the old political order and, commonly, the furtherance of capitalist accumulation processes.

According to Semo, neoliberalism is the latest epoch of passive revolution in the history of Mexico (1982-2012), following the eighteenth century era of Bourbon reforms from 1780 to 1810; and the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz in the years 1880 to 1910. ‘Like in the past’, Semo writes, ‘Mexico continues to be a dependent country in which the great impulses of change do not come from its internal reality, but are subordinate to the movements whose epicentre is the developed countries’. Perhaps there is an echo here of Gramsci’s own comment in the Prison Notebooks on the condition of passive revolution as a situation when ‘the impetus of progress is not tightly linked to a vast local economic development . . . but is instead the reflection of international developments which transmit their ideological currents to the periphery – currents born of the productive development of the more advanced countries’.

The criticisms proffered by Semo on the limits of neoliberalism are wide-ranging and incisive. The present period is witness to the indisputable worldwide hegemony of financial capital; the dominance of transnational corporations and the increased power of capital vis-à-vis labour; global networks of criminality and drug trafficking; an informal economy that has acquired a structural character – transformed into a ‘hallucinating chronic surplus of workers’ – with some 50 per cent of the Mexican workforce located in precarious conditions; and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has signalled the death knell to collective land rights and the end to agrarian reform. Mexico has been put up for sale and sold to transnational capital; something graphically captured in the cartoon accompanying Semo’s second essay in Proceso – reproduced above – of the statue of the Angel of Independence in Mexico City (completed in 1910) ignominiously bundled into a contemporary shopping trolley.

Just as Stuart Hall recently relayed and demolished the geopolitical and country-specific long march of the ‘neoliberal revolution’ in the UK, then Semo has equally presented with both skill and sophistication the main contours and injustices of neoliberalism in Mexico.

For Semo, one of the main challenges to this revolution from above called neoliberalism is the popular expression of democracy, despite massive electoral fraud in Mexico in 1988 and 2006. Indeed, one of the key findings in my book Revolution and State in Modern Mexico: The Political Economy of Uneven Development (Rowman & Littlefield, 2011) which also raises the relevance of passive revolution, is that so-called “democratic transition” is actually a specific expression of passive revolution, linked to the organisation and reproduction of dominant class practices. What is Mexico’s pathway out of the stalemate between its neoliberal technocrats and popular sectors?

On this conundrum radical politics becomes somewhat diluted. For Semo, progressive change through the electoral route is advocated by supporting the presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador and initiating widespread social mobilisation before and/or after the July 2012 elections. ‘A Left that is as heterogeneous at present as that in Mexico or Latin America’, Semo writes, ‘cannot go beyond modifying the functions of capitalism’. According to this view, fighting neoliberalism does not mean transcending capitalism.

In a region in which Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and her administration announced on 16 April the nationalisation of YPF, the former state oil firm, Semo sketches similar populist and leftist policies. Corruption and clientelism are to be restrained; a new agrarian politics based on food sovereignty is to be ensured; fiscal exemptions for large corporations are to be reduced; social welfare policies are to be introduced; the reform of NAFTA is advocated; and the free movement of migration is proposed.

But as David Ruccio, one of the leading heterodox economists on Latin American development and globalisation has summarised, what needs to be put on the agenda more explicitly is the simple idea that those who actually produce the surplus of capitalism should be allowed to take control of the appropriation and distribution of that surplus.

As the backbone of my book on Mexico attests, radical social movements propelling new cycles of class struggle are at the forefront of urban and rural resistance contesting state power in Mexico and Latin America. Yet little attention is cast to these forms of class struggle in Semo’s synopsis. A resulting perilous oversight is that the radical populism of leftist governments in Mexico and Latin America might actually result in new restorative strategies of passive revolution rather than the creation of non-capitalism or socialism.

It is, therefore, to creating new ways out of the historical structure of passive revolution by conceiving and putting into practice anti-capitalist social organisations in concrete sites and spaces of struggle that attention should now turn.

Adam David Morton

London Matters for the BNP, But Prospects Look Bleak

This post first appeared over at Dr Matt Goodwin’s personal blog.

For the British National Party and Nick Griffin, the forthcoming elections in London mark an opportunity to stage a comeback. Taking place against the backdrop of withering electoral fortunes, and a recurring bout of factionalism, the elections signal a chance to put the bad blood to one side and begin focusing on the not-too-distant campaign to save at least one of two seats in the European Parliament. They might not admit it, but the London elections mean a lot to the fledgling party.

As Griffin will be all too aware, signs of an electoral revival (whatever its magnitude) would provide him with ammunition to throw at internal dissenters (of which there are now many). For the party a successful campaign would help reignite morale among weary and pessimistic foot soldiers, and perhaps give voters the impression that the thirty year-old party is not quite yet a busted flush.

In a strange sort of way, the BNP has now come full circle. It was born in London, and it was in the capital where the party spent most of its youth attempting to achieve the elusive breakthrough. But today, the party finds itself putting all of its remaining chips on a region of the country that has since become one of its weakest, and which the party had largely abandoned as something of a lost cause. Following the election of Griffin as BNP Chairman in 1999, and the subsequent announcement that votes were the new priority, the party moved its quest for votes northward, toward areas such as West Yorkshire and Pennine Lancashire. As we showed in an academic study of the BNP electorate, whereas the 1970s National Front (NF) had been strongest in London (notably the inner East End), support for its successor did move decisively north in line with this strategy. At the same time, activists and organisers from the inner East End began to decamp to areas in the outer-east, such as Barking, Bexley, Broxbourne, Dagenham, Epping Forest and Loughton. Even Griffin confessed to me during one interview that inner London was practically ‘out of bounds’ for his activists, who could no longer leaflet safely in areas such as Tower Hamlets.

For these reasons, it is interesting that the BNP is now counting on London for its electoral resuscitation. At the coming elections, the party is delivering its usual message to foot soldiers. ‘The people are waking up at last!’, exclaims one e-mail to supporters. ‘Now is our time to lead!’ Donations from these weary supporters have, the party claims, funded half a million special edition newspapers, over 500,000 ‘I Love London leaflets’, the running costs of the BNP’s ‘truth truck’ that has been touring key areas, activist teams and other literature that is being used to promote the BNP Mayoral candidate, Carlos Cortiglia, and offer voters a more ‘positive’ combination of policies. The target, it explains, is to ‘hit a total of one million voters in our best London wards’.

So, exactly what would a BNP-run London look like? Increased powers for the GLA. The ending of the congestion charge. No more residential permits. Reduced taxation. More staff for the Underground (and free travel on it during weekends). Free bus and train passes for  pensioners. No runway at Heathrow. Zero-tolerance approaches to anti-social behaviour, gang culture and violent crime. Five-year sentences at a minimum for knife crime. No ‘politically correct interference’ in policing . Raised intellectual and physical requirements for police recruitment. Improved recycling facilities. Introduction of more solar panels; and more housing. Anyone notice anything? At least in its public outward-facing message, the BNP is clearly attempting to focus on more voter-friendly and positive themes. It is only halfway through its manifesto that the ‘I’ issue crops up (‘we’ll shut the door!’). 

Do voters seem attracted by the offerings? No, not really. As I demonstrated in a book last year, unlike the far more successful radical right brand on the continent, the BNP has consistently failed to attract a broad and stable coalition of supporters. Instead, it fell dependent on a dwindling base of older, working class men who lack formal educational qualifications – hardly the stuff of an enduring electoral base. And, according to the most recent YouGov poll on the Mayoral contest the BNP’s prospects have not improved. And that is despite a financial crisis, cuts to local services, continued public concern over immigration and enduring dissatisfaction with the main parties. 

According to YouGov, the BNP is currently polling around 1%, which is a drop of 4 points on its standing at the time of the last elections in 2008, and would mean no representation on the GLA. Moreover, unlike 2008 the BNP has found the wind taken out of its sails by a declining membership, competition from the EDL, lingering financial worries and a seemingly revitalised UKIP, the latter of which has even got some serious voices on the centre-right talking-up its electoral prospects. 

As Griffin is no doubt aware, failure would almost certainly fuel his grassroots rebels who argue he can no longer deliver success. This will mean that more activists may jump ship to rival groups like the English Democrats (even Griffin has been forced to remind supporters that the EDL is actually a proscribed party), the EDL or withdraw from political activism altogether. But one thing is clear: without signs of an electoral revival Griffin is captaining a sinking ship. If the BNP steps out of these elections without representation, which in my view is likely, then it may well continue to downplay its once-heavy focus on the ballot box strategy. Within the BNP (and indeed Griffin himself), there has always been a school of thought that has prioritised street-based confrontation over electoral campaigns. If the London campaign fails, it may be that we will begin to see more of this ‘direct action’ (think EDL-style demonstrations, albeit with significantly fewer followers). Bizarrely enough, this might happen just at the moment that the EDL begins to move toward elections.

Anders Breivik and the Far Right

Last summer, 32 year-old Anders Behring Breivik committed the worst atrocity in post-war Norway when he murdered over 80 of his fellow Norwegians. Though Breivik was quickly branded a ‘lone wolf’, the reality was that he was well embedded within a much broader European far right milieu that spanned from his earlier participation in the radical right-wing Norwegian Progress Party, to his support for prominent far right blogs such as Gates of Vienna. Today, and having been declared sane, the trial of Breivik begins. To provide context for the trial, we are publishing an interview that the Economist held with Dr Matthew Goodwin shortly following the attacks last June.

Enrique Semo and the Limits of Neoliberalism


The renowned historian Enrique Semo recently published an intriguing essay in the Mexican magazine Proceso entitled ‘Los límites del neoliberalism’ (8 April 2012). The text is a summary of a conference presentation he delivered on 27 March 2012 organised by the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), led by Andrés Manual López Obrador who is also the 2012 Mexican presidential candidate of the centre-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Semo’s argument is that both the past history and the current period in Mexico can be defined by resorting to the concept of passive revolution developed by the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci.

According to Semo, a passive revolution is a form of “revolution from above” in which social and economic change is designated by ‘the authoritarian intent of a strongman, dictator or king, supported by a dominant bureaucracy and sectors of a hegemonic class’. The result is the introduction of reforms in a “backward” country—with this term referring to a sociological designation of backwardness—in an attempt to induce a form of economic catch up comparable to the levels of “developed” countries.

Semo’s hypothesis is that there have been three periods that mark the history of passive revolution in Mexico: (1) the eighteenth century era of Bourbon reforms from 1780 to 1810; (2) the fin de siècle dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz in the years 1880 to 1910; and (3) the ill-fated era of neoliberalism from 1982 to 2012. His brief excursus on the relevance of passive revolution to Mexican historiography updates his 1997 essay ‘Revoluciones pasivas en México’, which has the same periodisation.

What is common to all ‘three’ passive revolutions, following his argument, is a form of modernisation from above linked to the expansion of capitalism. In the first two cases, the processes of modernisation from above finished in ‘waves’ of social revolution. Of course, we do not yet know who will be the gravediggers of neoliberalism. Overall, Semo is perhaps trying to capture here Gramsci’s comment in the Prison Notebooks that in Europe the birth of modern states proceeded by ‘“successive waves” [that] were made up of a combination of social struggles, interventions from above of the enlightened monarchy type, and national wars [so] . . . restoration becomes the first policy whereby social struggles find sufficiently elastic frameworks to allow the bourgeoisie to gain power without dramatic upheavals’.

However, as I argue in my book Revolution and State in Modern Mexico: The Political Economy of Uneven Development (Rowman & Littlefield, 2011) there is potentially a serious problem with Semo’s transhistorical extension of passive revolution beyond modern capitalist relations of production. This is because stretching the concept from the eighteenth century to the present runs the risk of asserting a law-like generalisation, which then stands outside of, or prior to, history held as valid across all circumstances irrespective of time, place, or space differences. It is this transhistorical dimension that is captured in graphic form by the cartoon accompanying Semo’s essay in Proceso—reproduced above—depicting former Mexican president Carlos Salinas, the arch neoliberal Prince in the era of globalisation, contemplating his reflection as Carlos III, King of Spain, in the age of absolutism.

Yet, rather than as some transhistorical affirmation, the relevance of passive revolution to the study of state formation in Mexico is asserted in my book within historically specific limits encompassing the twentieth century transition to and transformation of modern capitalist political space that was partly the outcome of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). As I note in my book, if one heeds Eric Wolf’s opinion, in Europe and the People Without History, that ‘there is no such thing as mercantile or merchant capitalism’ and that ‘capitalism, to be capitalism, must be capitalism-in-production’, then quite simply there are serious limits to jumbling together different eras and periods that have distinct social relations of production. Outside of modern capitalist relations of production can such different historical eras all be considered as connected forms of passive revolution?

My view is that it is better to assert the continuum of passive revolution in a his­torically specific sense in relation to transitions to and transformations of the social relations of the capitalist production process, and not as some transhistorical affirmation.

Rather than a transhistorical generalisation, then, instances of passive revolution in Mexico or elsewhere should be understood and analysed as distinct moments within a singular phenomenon that is the world-historical process of capitalism. And it is the latter that is taken to refer to the historical condition in which the owners of the means of production meet in the market with “free” labourers who only have their labour power to sell. It is therefore the passive revolution of capital marking state formation processes and the modern state in twentieth century Mexico (or elsewhere) that should be the central subject of study.

Adam David Morton