The Historic Defeat of the Mexican Right

By raising living standards for working people, the left-wing Morena party triumphed at the polls this month.


Beyond the purely electoral effects — winning the presidency of the Republic, seven of nine state governorships, and a qualified majority to approve constitutional reforms in the legislative branch — the effects of the electoral defeat on the parties of the right, despite all their impudence, their dirty war, and the shameless support of the forces of the international right, have opened the way to promote deeper changes that imply the definitive liquidation of the old PRI [Institutional Revolutionary Party, governing party of Mexico from 1929-2000] regime of domination and neoliberalism, and begin the search for a more just, free, and democratic country.

For the presidency, the progressive candidate, Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, from the Morena party (National Regeneration Movement), in alliance with the Ecologist Green (PVE) and Labor (PT) parties, obtained around 60% of the vote (36 million votes). The candidate of the right, Xóchitl Gálvez, representing the National Action (PAN), Institutional Revolutionary (PRI), and Democratic Revolution (PRD) parties, took 27.5% (16.5 million), while the candidate of the center-right Citizens Movement party (MC), José Álvarez Máynez, obtained 10.3%.

The results for progressivism are notably higher than those obtained in 2018 by Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), when he won with 53% of the vote (30 million votes), indicating a ratification of his government’s policy and confidence in its continuity. In contrast, the right lost 6 million votes compared to 2018.

Citizen participation in the electoral process amounted to 60% of the total population (about 60 million voters), but in Mexico City and other entities it reached 70%. 99.9% of ballot boxes (170,159 out of a total of 170,192) were installed to properly secure them against tampering. The vote of Mexicans abroad also saw exponential growth.

Beyond the Numbers

Although the cold electoral statistics show a clear, forceful, and undeniable political defeat of the traditional right-wing parties — which makes any questioning or judicialization of the electoral process unfeasible — they never manage to accurately reflect the enthusiastic popular participation that was seen in the electoral mobilization.

The growing politicization of a people eager to see an end to an old despotic, authoritarian, corrupt, racist, and classist political class, and the popular fatigue against the right-wing parties (PRI, PAN, and PRD), whom they identify as guilty of more than three decades of low wages, unemployment, corruption, privatization of public companies, job insecurity, and all the other evils of the neoliberal era, were present on election day. Thousands of videos have circulated on social networks with testimonies from people expressing their repudiation of the right-wing candidate and sympathy with the current government and its candidate.

The belligerent and overwhelming campaign of hate, falsifications, and lies by almost all national and even foreign media, conservative intellectuals and artists, important figures of the Catholic clergy, and personalities of the international right against López Obrador (including his family) and Sheinbaum, whom they accused of being accomplices of drug traffickers and called “communists,” did not work. This smear campaign had the opposite effect than expected: it galvanized the people and led them to turn a deaf ear to everything that the right and its communicators said.

The crushing electoral defeat of the right plunged it into a state of shock, disbelief, tears, sudden awareness that they were living outside of reality, and rage against those in their own ranks who have recognized the triumph of Claudia Sheinbaum; mutual recriminations for the unexpected defeat began. Accustomed to the effectiveness of the manipulative power of their media, the possibility of a defeat, much less of such magnitude, did not fit into their heads. It is very illustrative, and even gratifying after so many grievances suffered, to watch the videos of the different commentators on the right, to observe how their state of mind is translated into body language.

“It’s the Economy, Stupid”

It is worth returning to this expression to objectively explain one of the main reasons for Sheinbaum’s triumph. This does not mean that we leave aside the media effectiveness of López Obrador’s daily press conferences (the “mañaneras”), where he used each question to wage the cultural battle against the right. He relied on the history of Mexico to explain the counterrevolutionary and surrendering role of conservatism, denounced the factional and coup-mongering nature of his adversaries, defended his government’s policies, and even called for mass mobilization when the situation required it. His lectures have a huge audience in Mexico and even resonate throughout Latin America.

However, none of this would have been of any use if it had not been accompanied by a palpable improvement in the standard of living of the working class and the economy in general. This is the center of the explanation.

From the beginning of his mandate, AMLO waged a tough fight against corruption. He began by eliminating fuel theft in the PEMEX (Petróleos Mexicanos) gas pipelines, which meant a saving of 1.3 billion pesos through the six-year period. Large companies were charged back taxes and forced to pay their tax obligations on time (since, resorting to accounting maneuvers, they had been paying practically no taxes). Between 2018 and 2022, tax collection from entrepreneurs increased by 40.23%, reaching 1,136 trillion pesos. Even so, in this six-year term, business owners have seen their profits increase like never before, which justifies the urgency of a progressive tax reform.

Another important success of the Lopez Obrador policy was the rescue of PEMEX and CFE (Federal Electricity Commission), which were on the verge of bankruptcy and were transferred to the private sector, and the recovery of energy sovereignty, which was on the verge of falling under the control of transnational companies such as Iberdrola and Repsol. This prevented energy prices from falling prey to speculation and increasing exorbitantly during the pandemic, as happened elsewhere, greatly impacting consumers and the economy in general. Throughout the six-year period, the cost of fuel has remained stable (it barely rises in line with annual inflation), ensuring supply to the entire population and serving as a brake on inflation.

Finally, although there are other progressive measures that have been beneficial for economic stability, it is necessary to mention the importance of the social programs. A line misunderstood by the Mexican ultra-left, which disdainfully refers to them as “clientelars” [clientelistic tactics], these have actually been shown to have great civilizing relevance and to be an important factor for the strengthening of the internal market.

I am referring mainly to the universal pension for adults over 65 years of age (there are also scholarship programs for students or the disabled), which now amounts to 3,000 pesos per month ($180). This universal pension enables, at least, the food security of 12,101,111 people and means an expense, for this year, of 465,049 million pesos. More than as an “expense,” socialists must defend this program as the human right to a dignified old age and, therefore, it must be increased annually to fully meet its objective. This pension also means relief to many families who previously provided solidarity support for their elderly adults. Furthermore, most of this money is dedicated to the personal expenses of the beneficiaries, which results in a strengthening of the internal market.

The minimum wage has increased by almost 300%. Although it is not much for one of the most depressed salaries in the world, it has served as a reference to push up contractual salaries and reduce extreme poverty which, between 2018 and 2022, declined from 14% to 12.1% of the population.

This policy as a whole explains macroeconomic stability: in 2023, GDP grew by 3.2%, inflation was reduced to 3.8% annually, the unemployment rate reached 2.4% in the first quarter of this year, and, in an unusual phenomenon in our history, the Mexican peso has appreciated 13% against the dollar.

The recovery of the state’s leadership in energy matters, the generation of jobs in emblematic works — such as the Isthmus train and the Maya Train, the construction of 100 new hospitals and the new airport for Mexico City, the advances in democratic life, and a modest improvement in the standard of living outweigh the major problems that remain to be solved (including security) and are the factors that explain the electoral earthquake that benefited Sheinbaum’s candidacy.

Despite all this, we cannot fail to point out that Obradorist progressivism suffers from severe limits, contradictions, and inconsistencies in various political and social aspects, especially in its relationship with the working class. Let us mention the lack of solution to the mining strikes in Cananea, Sombrerete, and Taxco (which have been going on for 18 years); the reintegration of the workers of the Mexican Union of Electrical Workers (with 15 years of resistance), where their union autonomy was violated by encouraging a right-wing opposition to try to impose a docile leadership; the need to totally cancel the neoliberal education reform for education workers; the need to end the private pension system and the return to the solidarity system; the condescending treatment toward union charrísimo and the disdain toward democratic unionism; and the maintenance of salary caps for workers under a collective contract. In another article we will expand on this topic.

A New Type of Political Regime

The defeat of the neoliberal right is more than a purely electoral phenomenon. It is destabilizing the right-wing parties and will force them to reinvent themselves in order to continue existing as a political alternative. The old PRI regime of domination, along with its political parties, is mortally wounded and something new is being born. It is not a finished model, nor is it what we as socialists would like, but, for the moment, it contains some interesting elements.

In the last 30 years, the different governments have been mere instruments executing the dictates of an all-powerful oligarchy. There is now relative autonomy of the federal government with respect to the various power elites, for the benefit of the capitalist system as a whole. Its class character continues to be bourgeois, but with the capacity to implement policies that go against neoliberal orthodoxy.

The new party in power does not rely on corporatist control of social organizations (even, in the case of Obrador, it is rather hostile to any process of self-organization of the masses). Its relationship with the social is reduced to considering the movements as simple voters, in an individualized manner. Consequently, Morena is not a political party in strict terms: it is a simple apparatus for electoral participation. It does not have a territorial structure for the organization and discussion of its hundreds of thousands of members, it is controlled vertically by a bureaucratic caste that defines the appointment of its leaders and their candidacies, and now it is the refuge of thousands of turncoats (chapulines or grasshoppers) from right-wing parties.

But the above does not mean that Morena no longer has any hope. There is a latent conflict, in a truce due to the electoral process, between sectors of the left — which still has weight and hopes to make Morena a democratic party, committed to social struggles and led by those who represent the original liberatory ideology — and a right-wing bureaucracy that seeks to maintain control of the apparatus and subject it to the designs of the governments in power. An updated reissue of a state party. We will see how this conflict is resolved.

Unlike other countries in Latin America, where the emergence of progressive governments was a product of the push of social movements, in Mexico social movements are much weakened. They suffered various defeats and setbacks that left them divided and unable to be subjects with their own weight in the current process of change. Despite various attempts, to date we have not been able to build an alternative social pole. However, we have made modest progress with the recovery of various unions in the automotive and maquila industries and dozens of strikes have broken out to achieve better wages and working conditions. That’s all, or almost all.

Nonetheless, it is important to point out that there is no Chinese wall between the eruption of the masses in the electoral field to oust the bosses’ parties from power and taking advantage of the new political scenario to build authentic unions and promote the fight in defense of water, land, and the environment, achieve food sovereignty, and reactivate the countryside as a producer of organic foods without agrotoxins. After all, these are two versions of the same struggle, that are present amongst the citizenry or among social classes. The task of Mexican socialists is to build a bridge between the two.

Republished and translated from Jacobin América Latina

José Luis Hernández Ayala is a delegate of the Mexican Union of Electrical Workers (SME) and a member of the National Executive of the New Trade Union Center (NCT).