Much to no one’s surprise, Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon was elected President of Mexico this past August. There were the usual cries of foul both from the opposition parties and from citizens’ groups monitoring the election: insufficient ballots were provided to certain polling places where the opposition was strong, so it was said, and government employees were brought in early to exhaust the supply; secrecy was inadequate, a serious problem in a country where a majority of the population receives its income from the government. There were, in addition, the usual reports of intimidation and ballot-stuffing, but these were mild and scattered cases that did little to dim the luster of the ruling party’s victory. Zedillo’s handsome lead in the pre-election polls was confirmed by the results, and that was enough to convince the New York Times that the election—”the cleanest on record for Mexico”—was another step in that nation’s progress toward North American democracy.
A prudent man with any knowledge of politics would conclude just the opposite. That a party in power for 65 years, and one so manifestly corrupt as the Institutional Revolutionary Party, should win another landslide victory is evidence of nothing more than the plain fact that most Mexicans are still not ready for self-government. Mexico is, as much as the old U.S.S.R., a party state, and the fact that there are opposition parties means exactly nothing. In communist Poland, the communists tolerated, even encouraged opposition parties because—as one of the leaders of the Liberals once told me—such parties were useful window-dressing for the regime. But, like dummies in the window, they could only wear the uniform or strike the proper attitude. They could do nothing.
What a curious name, the Institutional Revolutionary Party. On the logic of the cliche that a successful revolution is betrayed the moment it succeeds, one would have thought that to institutionalize a revolution was to betray it. Revolutions are meant to break up the logjam of decadent institutions, and the moment that revolutionary leaders begin to consolidate their principles, they have created a regime as corrupt or even more corrupt than its predecessor. Mao knew this very well and called in the unlettered students and peasants to wage unceasing war upon the intellectuals and technocrats who enjoyed all their privileges in the name of the people. (Zedillo was trained in economics at Yale.) As frightening and destructive as Mao’s cultural revolution must have been, it was a very sensible, even necessary device to prevent the revolution from becoming institutionalized.
The enemies of the revolution always come from the ranks of its leadership. Robespierre knew this, in putting down the only slightly less sanguinary Girondists, who seemed more disposed to exercise power by governing than by stoking the flames of revolution; so did Hitler, when he rounded up Ernst Rohm and his squads of jackbooted Ganymedes. (Hitler’s puritanism obviously contributed to his distaste for Rohm, but the effect of his coup was to eliminate an entrenched source of potential opposition.)
Stalin, among the most Machiavellian of modern politicians, systematically executed or interned nearly every major Bolshevik leader he could lay his hands on. Like Hitler, Stalin had complex motives; his personal hatred of Jews and foreigners obviously rang a bell with the Russian people, and it would be a mistake to minimize Stalin’s (or Hitler’s) megalomania. But the effect of the purges and the terrors was to delay the bureaucratic ossification that set in after Stalin’s death. I remember reading a Russian defector’s explanation of Gorbachev. Here was a man who had failed at everything, but on the strength of personal charm and the party’s old-boy network he made his way to the top, where he proceeded to bungle the entire Soviet Empire. In making death or imprisonment the penalty for incompetence and corruption, Stalin got rid of the Gorbachevs before they could do much damage.
How much of Stalin’s persecution was policy, how much instinct or mere malice, remains a subject of debate among pathologists who continue to study Soviet history. Khrushchev apparently thought Stalin knew what he was doing, and in his secret speech he observed that:
Stalin was convinced that it was necessary for the defense of the interests of the working class against the plotting of the enemies and against the attack of the imperialist camp. . . . We cannot say that these were the deeds of a giddy despot. He considered that this should be done in the interests of the Party, of the working masses, in the name of defense of the revolution’s gains. In this lies the whole tragedy.
Eugenio Corti, in his great play The Trial and Death of Stalin, has Stalin explain to his successors that the only way he had of keeping the revolution pure was to terrorize not just the nation but the party, including its most loyal members. “What did you want,” he asks Khrushchev and Molotov, “to be Antichrists to everyone else but Christians among ourselves?”
The logic of Stalin is only the anti-Christian counterpart to the reasoning that all Republicans since Machiavelli have employed. Thomas Jefferson knew, from the very beginning, that America needed a little revolution now and then, and instead of panicking at Shays’ Rebellion, he was pleased that the ruling class was getting a gentle reminder of the source from which their power derived. Jefferson was the least bloodthirsty of the American Flounders, but it was he who proclaimed—in a sentence I never tire of quoting—that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time by the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
Americans like to say that the events of 1776 did not lead to anything like a revolution, that our ancestors were merely seceding from the authority of the Crown. In one sense this is clearly the case. Despite the presence of crackpot foreigners like Lafayette and Paine, ours was no Jacobin revolution aimed at destroying the old world and making all things new, (Admittedly, the Novus Ordo Seclorum on the dollar bill is disquieting.) On the other hand, our ancestors—or at least the best of them—were equally determined not to reproduce the corrupt political system devised by Robert Walpole for the Hanoverian boors the British were (and are) pleased to call kings. The British system, for all its many virtues, was corruption through and through, and the king’s ministers were able to control Parliament by the simple expedient of buying members and their votes. That this corruption allowed the emergence of such statesmen as the Pitts, Charles Fox, and Edmund Burke in no way palliates its viciousness. England and Scotland (even Ireland) had produced considerable statesmen in more honest times, and a less corrupt regime might have avoided the excesses of reform that ultimately destroyed the British character.
The American system of government was designed so as to preserve all the best qualities inherent in the English constitution, while purging it of the vices that polluted it. Unfortunately, as Jefferson knew all too well, republican government requires an honorable and vigilant nation. While the many are content to go about their business and take little interest in the public affairs in which their stake can only be very small, the few can concentrate all their efforts on constructing the engines of exploitation and oppression: national banks, federal courts, transcontinental railroads, land giveaways, and what Eisenhower’s speechwriters taught us to call the military-industrial complex.
The process of consolidation began m the Washington administration. The Federalists, whose leaders were originally good and honest men, were not slow to prove themselves the worthy ancestors of the Republicans, by cozying up to bankers and red-baiting their opponents, whom they described as rabble-rousing Jacobins. (Some of the mud they slung still clings to Jefferson’s reputation.) Jefferson regarded the election of 1800 as a second revolution to restore the principles of the first.
The defeated Federalists, as Jefferson complained, soon joined the victorious party, where “under the pseudo-republican mask” they renewed their drive to power. The Jeffersonians themselves—and some would say their leader—soon institutionalized their own revolution, and the corrupt bargain that put John Quincy Adams—whose character is proof that greatness is not hereditary—in power invited the Jacksonian outburst that poured into Washington, only to prepare the way for that cunning rogue Martin Van Buren, who created the first formal party in America, and so it has gone in the endless see-saw described by Bob Whitaker in his book A Plague on Both Your Houses. Generation after generation of institution-busting and-rebuilding, until Franklin Roosevelt—the modern Walpole—created the un-American Empire, this time not with the king’s money but with the people’s.
Any hope that the Republican Party, conceived as it was in sin, might serve as a source of opposition ended with the nominations of Wilkie, Dewey, and Eisenhower, and since the 1930’s America has been a two-party state in the same way that Italy has been a five- or six-party state and the Soviet Union a one-party state. Small wonder that the New York Times is satisfied with the results in Mexico, where victory goes to a candidate handpicked by the outgoing president and representing the party that pays most of the voters and controls the media, the schools, and the economy. If the PRI had two wings, called Democrats and Republicans, it would be a mirror image of our own partitocrazia.
For years Americans have been smug, looking down their noses at the Banana Republics of Central America, pointing our schoolmarmish fingers at apartheid in South Africa, excoriating the Chinese for refusing to tolerate a Woodstock revolution in Tiananmen Square, where the rioters’ ultimate object was the right to wear jeans and drink Coke. But the time for smugness is gone. There is no insult or indignity we as a nation will not put up with so long as our rulers continue to bribe us with promises of “free” health care and added police protection. If there were any conservatives left in the Congress, one would have expected a filibuster against the mere idea of a federal crime bill. From whom do we need protection, if not from the feds? The idea that armed gangs of blacks are roaming the suburbs stealing Volvos and molesting pom-pom girls is a fiction created to justify the police state that is under construction. But what were the grounds of the failed conservative opposition? They wanted a federal crime bill, insisted the Minority Whip, just not this one. When the conservatives declare that big government is here to stay, what do they mean except that they have joined the institutionalized revolution and forfeited their right to be taken seriously—not just as conservatives but as any kind of political force.
Well, one of them will say, this is a democracy, and if you think you have a better plan, all you have to do is to get down into the marketplace of ideas and causes and sell your wares, but the failure of third parties proves that by and large the American people are satisfied with the two-party system, which allows the formation of broad coalitions and the alternation of parties . . . blah, blah, blah. This is the style of Stalinist pamphlets and public school civics texts.
Supposing one did form a third party, the obstacles constructed by the regime are enormous. The Democrat-Republicans have seen to it that ballot access is very limited in most of the 50 states, that tax dollars go to already existing political parties to strengthen their power. They own the government, which serves as paymaster to its corporate clients, the multinational corporations that survive on government contracts and monopolies, and to its individual dependents, both state and federal employees and the vast welfare class that they can use as voting blocs. They also own virtually all the big newspapers, the television networks, the movie studios, and the public schools. So many Americans have, however, dimly grasped these facts that fewer and fewer of us even bother to exercise the illusory privilege of the franchise. “Don’t vote,” goes my favorite bumper sticker, “It only encourages them.” Every vote for an Establishment politician only feeds the federal monkey, which has sunk its claws deep into the backs of the American people, and the so-called leftists, who claim to be radical and revolutionary, are only well-curried stalking horses for the party state. Real leftist opposition died in the 1930’s when they sold out to Stalin and Roosevelt.
Now it is time to hear from our friends on the far right, who will tell me it is really the communists or the queers or the Jews who own everything. So long as reactionaries allow themselves to be distracted by their paranoia, they will always miss the point. We live under a revolutionary regime that is owned lock, stock, and barrel by a stupid and corrupt master class that could be overthrown peacefully, if even a fourth of the men in this country would tear up their Social Security cards, boycott all the big corporations, and vote for anyone but a Democrat or Republican. In the current circumstances, the only opposition our party state is facing comes from the world government they are selling us out to. As a Banana Republic, it is only fitting that the United States find themselves subject to international conventions. At the very least, the international community ought to send in U.N. observers to monitor American elections.