Necropolitical Capitalism and Ayotzinapa

(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)

Ayotzinapa evokes Auschwitz. This powerful formulation, expressed by Elena Poniatowska, states a parallel that is not an allegory. It should not be taken lightly. Ayotzinapa is not simply Ayotzinapa; it is the window to an era. It reveals, in all its horror, in the murder of 43 college students, the new configuration that is traversing Mexico: necropolítical capitalism. It discloses the politics of death as the basis for accelerated and decadent forms of accumulation by dispossession. Ayotzinapa has awakened a peculiar protest: the first national struggle against necropolítical capitalism.

If one critically periodizes Mexico’s history in recent decades, it emerges that this is the outcome of a trajectory that has passed through the stages of cynical capitalism and narcopolítical capitalism.

Late last century, capitalist globalization said farewell to the liberal state, which had operated in both the global South and global North, striving to control what Wallerstein calls the “dangerous classes” by means of the rise in living standards and the promotion of national sovereignty.

Between 1982 and 1988, Mexico was part of a new trend, by taking the same approach that had been unleashed a bit earlier in Argentina through its military dictatorship: accumulation by dispossession of the wages of the nation as a source of tribute to pay foreign debt. In less than six years, decades of social development were harshly reversed. By 1987, the real minimum wage was at its lowest level since 1951. Huge masses of wealth that had originally constituted the social consumption fund were now redirected into the capitalist accumulation fund. A configuration of capitalism emerged that cannot be called “neoliberal,” but rather cynical. The establishment of the policy of accumulation by dispossession jettisoned the promise of progress for all. Instead, the market became defined in terms of the wounded and the dead.

Between 1988 and 2006, the criminal economy, which has always been present in the history of capitalism, grew through an increasingly wide range of modalities to set up linkages between various elements of the political class and the criminal economy: narcopolítical capitalism emerged. In the beginning, in some places, it engaged in activities such as building schools or roads – activities that had been abandoned by the state. As the UN had reported in the early 2000s, Mexico imported ephedrine in such magnitude that all Mexicans must have been sick with the flu all year. The truth began to crystallize by 2005, when the Mexican criminal economy already had factories and contracts in Asia.

From 2006 onwards, the shift to necropolítical capitalism occurred. The transition, germinated over previous decades, was consolidated. The politics of death as the basis for new forms of accumulation by dispossession expanded: the enslavement of migrants on the southern border, the trafficking in white slavery, the depopulation followed by repopulation with more docile communities in areas with strategic natural resources – or, as in Michoacán, the imposition of tribute for movement of goods, tribute for movement of persons and tribute per square meter of household, became multiple sources of a new type of income: criminal income (la renta criminal). A tremendous concentration of private wealth, impossible if not for the violent establishment of accumulation by dispossession, has been based on necropolitics. This has been given a more sordid expression: The country is full of graves.

The criminal economy had never before been as significant in the structual corridors for national and global accumulation. Its scope is such that Edgardo Buscaglia has estimated that the clusters of capital income derived from criminal rent, intersecting with legal businesses, correspond to 40 percent of national GDP and move into the world economy through a network operating in 47 countries. The criminal economy operating from Mexico is among the most powerful in the 21st century.

Ayotzinapa has enabled a struggle, unprecedented in national history, to have an international impact. Its pain reflects an ominous and unacceptable time. The growing, historic bloc which it summons could change the future.

The movement around Ayotzinapa is highly pluralistic. It represents an open convergence of the most diverse groups: students from public and private universities, workers, peasants, artists, feminists, Catholics, nuns, Hare Krishnas, agnostics and indigenous peoples. Its just claim has motivated demonstrations in dozens of cities in Europe, South America and Europe. Parents of Ayotzinapa have counterparts in Argentina and Bolivia. Remember the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. The struggle must be peaceful to maintain cohesion and the ongoing development of the historic bloc that is emerging in opposition to necropolítical capitalism. Bolivia has already shown that peaceful demonstrations can transform the political system. The Mexico of the 21st century story deserves an historical alternative; it is calling for democratization of the country and its institutions.

This is an original translation by Gordon Welty of an article that first appeared in Rebelión (November 28, 2014).