Saturday, June 30, 2012

Questionable Assertion

From the NY Times, this is an odd way of looking at Mexico's PRI era:
Strangely perhaps, in the past the PRI never actually ruled Mexico. It ran a skilled vote-gathering (or vote-fixing) operation, but the country was run by a political bureaucracy in league with other power centers, such as banks, labor unions, the army, television magnates and industrial moguls. The PRI provided a rubber-stamp Congress and, every six years, the outgoing president picked his successor. 
The most obvious error is that it's not an either-or proposition--i.e. either the banks, et al or the PRI ruled Mexico. Of course, they all did, as is the case in most countries, where any number of power centers play a role in making the system hum.

But beyond that, the PRI may not have run the country, depending on how you define the word, but it indisputably was the primary mechanism around which the country organized itself. The party co-opted all of the above into a system over which the president, a priísta, reigned supreme. The other power centers could throw their substantial weight around and even push back against other purely political actors, but they did so within the confines of the system that the PRI held up. Perhaps the party didn't run Mexico the way that Jobs ran Apple, but getting such a wide range of actors to buy into a common system over which their leader held the most sway seems a pretty close approximation for running a nation. Any other explanation seems like semantic hair-splitting.


Mexfiles said...

I could see some snarky leftist type revising that quote to read "Strangely perhaps, in the past neither the Democrats nor the Republicans actually ruled the United States. They ran skilled vote-gathering (or vote-fixing) operations, but the country was run by a political bureaucracy in league with other power centers, such as banks, labor unions, the army, television magnates and industrial moguls, etc.", but I, of course, could never say such a thing :-)

That's how electoral systems work... them's that gots convince them's that don't to confirm the status quo. Or so the argument goes.

pc said...

Yeah exactly, I had the exact same thought process. If the PRI didn't run Mexico, than no party does, except maybe totalitarian govts.

Michael Lettieri said...

If I don't misread that, what Riding is trying to say (and may have said more eloquently pre-editorial butchering)is something that historians of 20th-C Mexican politics have been saying for about a decade or so now, namely that to refer to national governments 1934-2000 as being controlled by "the PRI" is to miss a lot of nuance. I'm inclined to agree with Alan Knight and others who suggest that the party was an appendage of the state rather than the other way around - the PRI was the party of the President, who was never an active party militant (Rod Camp's work suggests, moreover, that during the PRI period the overall percentage of active party militants in presidential administrations never rose above 45% and mostly hovered around 30%). If what Riding is trying to say is that the PRI, as such, served as an important organizer of political life but not the country's executive branch, then I agree (while pointing out that the party was more than just a steamroller that was fired up at election time and otherwise left to rust). Decisions about governing, I'd argue, tended to travel through non-party channels and arrive more directly at the level of the state, even while those who were involved in the process proclaimed their priista credentials. The party had an important mediating role, but was definitely subordinate. So yes, Riding's claim is a bit of a silly semantic takedown of a convenient prose shortcut, but I don't think he's off in the deep weeds either. I think we, self included, tend to use the term "PRI" as a catchall buzzword for a basket of political cultural practices, norms, and beliefs, in a way that dulls analytical acuity. The real fear with Peña Nieto is that those practices are back in power, rather than just the return of the tricolor logo.

pc said...

So I imagine you're a little more in tune to the debates among Mexican historians, and that's a fair point, but I think that kind of argument loses its value outside of the context of historical's not clear what he's pushing back against. Sure, if the counter argument is a PRI that dominated every other sector of society and exercised totalitarian-type control, that's a fair point. But I personally don't have that in mind when I think of the PRI reign.

pc said...

Also--good to see you Michael!