How authentic is Mexican “democracy”? What is the role of political parties in the Mexican political system? What is the nature of the political reforms introduced under Echeverría and López Portillo? What possibilities exist for the development of a truly democratic political system, responsive to the needs of the masses? These are among the questions addressed in three books recently published in Mexico.

In assessing the role of political parties and the reforms of the 1970s, two of the books argue that parties in Mexico have served primarily to organize and dominate political participation in a way that legitimizes and supports the existing distribution of economic and political power. Moreover, they view the recent political reforms as measures designed to maintain the stability of the PRI-dominated system. Octavio Rodríguez Araujo, in La reforma política y los partidos en México, presents a Marxist perspective on the development of parties in Mexico since the Revolution of 1910, linking this history to the interests of a domestic dominant class that has been closely allied with foreign imperialists. Political reforms that are presented under the guise of representing more fully the rights and interests of the working classes are, in reality, means of “institutionalizing inconformity . . . offering options for electoral participation in order to circumvent direct confrontations between classes by means of restricted participation in the representative institutions” (p. 243). In short, the political reforms provide the Mexican regime with yet another mechanism for coopting dissidence. But, after developing this argument and presenting an analysis of thirteen political parties, the author suggests that workers seeking changes in the country’s social, political, and economic structures can take advantage of the reforms to express themselves and to move the regime closer to an authentic redistribution of power.

According to Manlio Fabio Murillo Soberanis, in La reforma política mexicana y el sistema pluripartidista, Mexico’s political system is characterized as a unique multiparty system, sustained by a dominant party (PRI) and three minor opposition parties (PAN, PPS, PARM) whose purpose is to provide national unity, legitimacy, and stability. He links the development of political parties to conditions of underdevelopment and suggests that in Mexico, as in other Third World countries, authentic democracy is impossible because of the lack of economic, political, and social development, which contributes to low levels of “participatory consciousness.” He analyzes the development of parties in the country and presidential elections since 1958, arguing that the PRI has become a tool of the state with little capacity for autonomous action. Other parties, because they have little potential for coming to power, have taken on characteristics of pressure groups and are manipulated by the regime against each other. Nevertheless, Murillo Soberanis sees reason for hope that the reforms introduced under López Portillo will lead to greater political and economic pressures toward democracy.

Industrialización, burguesía y clase obrera en México, by Menno Vellinga, is a well-researched and comprehensive discussion of mechanisms of control that maintain the Mexican system, evaluated through a case study of economic and political development in Monterrey. Taking a Marxist perspective, he presents a concise overview of Mexican economic and political development, emphasizing the role of political institutions in creating and maintaining a system characterized by extreme inequity in the distribution of income. He presents a history of the development of Monterrey, a case of successful autonomous industrialization in which the working class, through “an elaborate system of cooptation and control,” becomes incapable of expressing its demands on the political and economic systems. A well-designed survey of workers at four levels of industrial production is reported, leading the author to discuss the systemic constraints on individuals that limit their capacity to understand and to change economic and political inequities. This, in turn, is related to the role of unions and the failure to develop class consciousness among the workers. A sophisticated and fruitful analysis of the limits of working-class radicalism, this book offers considerable insight into the “success” of the Mexican system, and can be recommended for its careful research and analysis. All three books present sobering perspectives on possibilities for opposition within the system and for moving the state toward a more equitable form of economic and political development.