Legs severed at the shinbone, arms cut off above the elbow, baseball cap (worn backwards a la mexicana) flying off a severed head, blood gushing out the side, the Mexican Worker, already sacrificed, runs as fast as she can just to stay in one place.
Artist El Fisgón has drawn the cover image for this issue, and entitled it “Sacrifice of a Worker.” It is a pastiche of the Aztec moon goddess Coyolxauhqui, just before her dismembered head is thrown into heaven by her half-brother and assassin, Huitzilopochtli, to become the moon.
In the Aztec myth, Coyolxauhqui, the daughter of the earth goddess Coatlicue, and a powerful goddess in her own right, plans to kill her mother after finding out that she has become mysteriously pregnant. Ashamed of her mother’s sexuality, Coyolxauhqui recruits her 400 brothers—the stars in the heavens—to kill her. As they plan their attack, Coatlicue gives birth to an armed, full-grown son, Huitzilopochtli, who is destined to become the Aztec god of war and conquest.
Huitzilopochtli rescues and avenges his mother by killing all her would-be murderers, his half-brothers and sister. He kills Coyolxauhqui last, dismembering her, and sending her body parts to the heavens where her head becomes the moon, allowing her mother to see her reenact the lunar cycle of birth, growth, and death every 30 days.
Huitzilopochtli, who will inspire the Aztecs to military glory, is born on the same mountaintop on which he will kill his half sister. It is on this mountaintop, Coatepec (in real Aztec history now) that the hearts of warriors captured in battle were cut out, and their bodies thrown from the temple. At the bottom of the hill, near a stone dedicated to Coyolxauhqui, the warriors’ bodies were decapitated and dismembered. Sacrifice has moved from myth to ritual.
Sacrifice can be the fuel for the creation and legitimation of a particular set of social relations. It is often at the center of myths evoking the founding of new social orders with new dominant classes. Sometimes individual sacrifice is voluntary—even enthusiastic—sometimes not.
In present-day Mexico, sacrifice of a different sort has moved from ritual to everyday reality. El Fisgón may have chosen this sacrificial image to illustrate the condition of “The Worker” because that worker has been ordered to sacrifice her well being for the greater good of Mexico—or of certain classes in Mexico. The growth of the Mexican economy, as with many economies in these neoliberal times, has become predicated on the sacrifice of an insecure working class.
The orders to sacrifice have not been quickly obeyed; struggle and resistance have grown alongside the growth of discipline. Fisgón’s “Worker,” sacrificed on a regular basis, rises up again and again—just like Coyolxauhqui every 30 days—to regain her prominence in the heavens.
No one in either of these scenarios volunteers to be sacrificed—not Coyolxauhqui, not “The Worker.” But sacrifice is meant to pave the way: in the first scenario to strength and conquest; in the second, to prosperity and growth.
This is not a story that is peculiar to Mexico, but the combination of vengeful gods and rapacious bureaucrats make it a very Mexican story. Nor is it a story peculiar to a capitalist political economy. Slaves and serfs have been sacrificed for the good of the motherland in a much more open fashion. The subterfuge, however, is particular to capitalism. Necessity appears as free choice on a free market.
Sacrificial capitalism is not the only kind of capitalism. For years, a measure of social security combined with increased working-class purchasing power provided a motor force of growth, stability and (up to a point) inclusion. But social security has been undermined by the need of the dominant classes for greater social discipline, just as growing working class resistance will surely undermine that discipline.
And for now, the disciplined Mexican worker, already sacrificed, runs as fast as she can in her airtight bubble. And when she dies, like the moon goddess, she will go to Heaven.
Fred Rosen is editor of NACLA.
Read the rest of NACLA's 2014 Spring issue: "Mexico: The State Against the Working Class"