Illiberal Democracy: An Economic Analysis and Comparison with the Chicano Movement

Holzner’s article “The End of Clientelism?” (2004) focuses on the city of Oaxaca, Mexico to argue how strong versus weak network ties of political organizations explains why clientelistic relations persisted in the region. He explains that groups such as those who continued to be loyal to the PRI even after democratic reforms did so because their organization leaders controlled their access to information, monitored their voting behavior, and influenced their thinking to discourage them from participating in politics that were against the PRI. He notes that organizations with weaker network ties, such as the ones in the PAN (National Action Party) organization he calls “Solidariedad”, are the ones who promote better access to information, political activism, and encourages community participation.


Institutional Revolutionary Party “transforming Oaxaca”


National Action Party

I would compare this article with Collier’s “New Authoritarianism” (1979) in beginning to explain this divergence in political activity offered by Holzner. Collier analyzes the processes of democratization and shifts in political structure, and focuses on economic development and industrialism and its inherent ties to citizen participation. For example, he explains that due to industrialization, a new class of technocrats rose in Latin American society which created “higher levels of social differentiation” (27). This new group, focused on economic development and frustrated with current economic conditions, is what led the way for bureaucratic-authoritarianism in nations like Chile. He continues in describing this new complex set of relations between technocrats and the popular sector, all created by the motivations and policies toward economic expansion. Seen through this economic lens, we can more effectively analyze the persistent strength of clientelism in nations like Mexico who have developed agriculturally to sustain a modern economy. When we understand that the sector of society who is educated and wants certain economic adjustments differs from what, say, the agricultural sector wants (perhaps lower rates of industrialization), this divergence in political activity described by Holzner makes sense. In this economic rather than electoral participation approach, the divide in society between those loyal to the PRI and those who have defected makes more sense.


Within Holzner’s section on the “Puzzle” of clientelism, he explains that there are instances of strong network ties in successful organizations and social movements which actually promoted political participation and instilled democratic practices in its members. He mentions the American civil rights movement and the Black civil rights movement, which were strong grassroots organizations that built solidarity among members and promoted collective action and mobilization, therefore successful examples of strong network ties that did not fall to clientelism. For me, I see a more salient connection to the emergence of Chicana feminist thought during the U.S. Chicano Movement in the 1960s and 70s on which I concentrate my research. Since Chicanas were situated within the general Chicano movement, they not only fought for equal rights for their ethnicity but also for rights as women of color. Through collective action and strong network ties across the U.S., where we see examples of large conferences held in Texas and California to draft resolutions on Chicanas’ civil rights in the 1970s, this grassroots movement exemplified how strong network ties can sometimes result in successful social movements that have nothing to do with clientelism. Cultural nationalism of chicanismo promoted a spirit of active resistance and collective political consciousness among Chicanas who paralleled the Chicano movement to a fight for rights as women of color (from Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings; García 1997). I see a strong parallel between what Holzner describes as the “critical role” of these grassroots organizations who had a democratizing impact on the societies in which they were situated (Holzner 226).


This image captures the strength and force of women within the Chicano movement.




Group of Chicanas mobilizing in the 1970s.

Group of Chicanas mobilizing in the 1970s.










I would like to end with a critical analysis of the approaches utilized by Holzner in his study and offer alternative suggestions to perhaps create a more compelling argument. Holzner uses Oaxaca in his study of the persistence of clientelism in Mexico, and compares a specific group of land squatters (PAN supporters) in comparison with loyal PRI voters. He goes in to depth with how he conducted interviews with community leaders and observed differences between the groups, but seems to only draw on this specific community to make his argument that it clientelism persists due to strong versus weak ties. Because of this, his argument seems generalized as he makes sweeping claims at the end of the article, and only in the conclusion does he attempt to explain the paradox of poor Mexicans who support the PRI. For scholars of Latin American politics, his argument would seem slightly unsubstantiated unless he conducts more studies similar to this one in Latin American nations near and far. Only then could he begin to make connections between social and political movements that would better support his generalizations. I would recommend that he repeat this study in a Latin American nation with similar political historical development, such as Chile, and its political divergence under Pinochet. It may be helpful to mention other international examples that would put clientelism into perspective to the reader with limited Latin American politics experience as well. Overall, Holzer’s claim and argument are interesting and have strong evidence based on the city he studied, but more research could be done to strengthen them.