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© Copyright 2004, From The Wilderness Publications, www.fromthewilderness.com. All Rights Reserved. May be reprinted, distributed or posted on an Internet web site for non-profit purposes only.
[This is a time of peril and opportunity. As the tepid, myopic, gatekeeping left is beaten once more by a resurgent but desperate right wing, mass movements are bestirring themselves throughout Latin America and elsewhere. In the Caribbean, Haiti is a unique crucible of these political dynamics, in which the filthy legacy of white supremacy mixes with intense class rivalries under the predatory gaze of American regional imperialists and reactionary French influence. But as the dollar begins its vertiginous fall, and the mythology of U.S. military omnipotence is discredited (at an horrific cost in Iraqi lives), and Peak Oil transforms everything under the sun, political economy will be twisted into new shapes. The stakes have not been so high, nor the pressures so intense, since 1968. In this bracing two-part series, FTW military editor Stan Goff turns his attention to the crisis in post-Aristide Haiti and its symbolic drama on the world stage. - JAH]
THE HAITIAN INTIFADA
A story of politics from black and white, high and low
November 30, 2004 0800 PDT (FTW) - How about those elections!
We are still watching this peculiar spectacle of American politics, wherein there was an unprecedented voter turnout, in a fight engendered by a mass movement that opposed a war, and in which those who opposed the incumbent and his war backed a candidate who consistently promised to expand that same war, and a campaign that was utterly devoid of any genuine discussion of the true causes and contexts of the war. The other thing we have just witnessed - which has also gone largely without public comment - is an astounding electoral victory delivered by a majority white voting bloc that is consciously but quietly voting what it perceives to be its embattled racial interests.
As military editor for FTW and as a former career soldier who has embraced a politics of resistance to imperialism, a pretty small niche in the current political ecology, I have been preoccupied with the rapidly evolving US military disaster in Southwest Asia - the focal point being Iraq. This region and that war, in my opinion, remain the central but not exclusive drama of a period that history will likely record as both tragedy and farce - as was the election - provided one direct one's attention solely to the abuses, delusions, and failures of the American state's putative leadership.
I think, however, that reducing our period to the judgments of leaders, or even to a description of the decadent irrelevance of American political discourse, is a mistake that further serves to obscure the very real, very promising, yet very dangerous descent of American imperialism. And the paradoxical political and racial cosmologies of American domestic politics are as tightly bound to this global conjuncture as a Gordian knot.
There are many broad developments associated with the perfect storm building in and around the global oil patch, but storms are transient. Once this one passes, and once the world's communities are presented with a fundamentally changed reality, how will they, how will we… adapt? This is a question that the Left and its allies cannot afford to ignore, I don't think, because shifts in power can happen with stunning speed when they do happen, and the power vacuums that appear in these tectonic shifts are filled not by those who have simply held the moral high ground, but by those who can exercise leadership and who are prepared to take and use political power.
Barring some encyclopedic and continually updated grasp of all shifting circumstances in all places at all times, we simply cannot predict exactly what any contingent future might look like. We cannot know what the world system will look like in the next decade or so - which is a mere instant in historical evolution - but we can know that its essence will be influenced yet not determined by the most powerful actors in that system. Some of those actors that get lost in our discourse and our calculations are the great masses of people who are exploited, manipulated, and, more and more, expelled from that system.
I believe that there is one sure tendency that is making its way inexorably through the current din of social collapse and war, and that is not the expansion but the erosion of American power. This implosion of American global hegemony, then American power itself (they are not the same thing), is easy to miss precisely because the most prominent symptom of that structural weakness is the exercise of overwhelming conventional military supremacy.
Military issues have come to the fore in this period not out of some privileging of the military as subject matter, but because as the structural crises that fundamentally define this period increasingly threaten American dominance and the imperial dominant class who wields political authority, the structural weakness of the whole system has forced this dominant class to fall back on the direct and open exercise of military violence.
Hegemony, as it was described by Gramsci, is that more stable exercise of power that is characterized by the consent of the dominated. In the United States, where elections are still seen as the ultimate arbiter of social power and even the 2000 election theft was widely tolerated, there is hegemony.
When Haitians, whom I will talk about extensively further down, are faced with the usurpation of their elected government, they lock the country down with ad hoc roadblocks and raise hell in the streets. We, by contrast, write anodyne columns, fret for a couple of days, and go dutifully back to work. Hegemony.
Hegemony is characterized most fundamentally not just by obedience, but by the internalization of the social and political legitimacy of the dominant class. The failure of hegemony is manifested when the struggle for political power is taken outside the established norms of elections, laws, and other mechanisms of the so-called social contract. This is what we are seeing in Iraq right now in bold relief.
The problem with the loss of global hegemony by US elites is not that military power is not efficacious. In many instances, it has worked. But as the world system becomes ever more rationalized, more structurally interfused, then the military as last resort for adjustment to structural crisis must theoretically have a global reach. It does not.
The specific crisis in Iraq is not the crisis of military defeat - which is not, at any rate, ultimately determined by tactical outcomes, but by political outcomes. The US crisis in Iraq is that one goal of that occupation was to demonstrate a fictional US military invincibility - to shock and awe the world. The crisis is not simply the very real tactical crisis that we can smell emanating from the podium of every Pollyanna briefing from Rumsfeld's War Department. The deeper crisis is that the shock-and-awe bluff is being successfully called, and the rest of the world is now alive to the fact that the great power bleeds.
The assault on Fallujah as this is written has only sparked attacks outside Fallujah so extensive that the operation itself has come to be referred to as "squeezing Jell-O."
This development of increasingly open resistance has created a huge dilemma for much of the world's political leadership, including that leadership that exercised various forms of resistance to the specific agenda of the Bush administration, and even that leadership around the world that the masses themselves have thrown up in the face of the more general depredations of neoliberal loan-sharking.
That dilemma is that if the power of those holding political power, and the power of the United States, can be called into question by the masses anywhere and everywhere, then every powerful figure in the status quo - even so-called progressive leaders- will ask themselves, what stops these same masses from calling our power into question, too?
This is a situation analogous to militant labor movements that often prove as alarming to a union bureaucrat as they do to a boss. Faced with truly democratic or grassroots movements that decide to withdraw their recognition of the legitimacy of the system itself, these bureaucrats and brokers who guard the left flank of power will show their true colors and cling to the pant-legs of their bourgeoisie like a frightened child in the face of an angry and abusive guardian.
This process is playing out now in Latin America as we see the first tremors of what will inevitably become a kind of political continental drift away from the American empire.
The imposition of misery by IMF structural adjustment programs, with external dollar-debt as their central feature, has reached its breaking point in places across the continent and throughout the adjacent Caribbean, at the same time that the mask of military invincibility is being torn off the US by the car bombs, IED's, RPG's, and Kalashnikovs of Mesopotamia.
One government after another in Latin America has been thrown into turmoil by popular movements in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and most recently in Uruguay where there was a stunning victory by center-left Encuentro Progresista. The Venezuelan popular democracy of the Chavistas has successfully thrown back one US-engineered coup d'etat, and the Colombian guerrilla movements are withstanding every blow being thrown by the immensely expensive Plan Colombia. Uprisings by popular movements in Mexico are generating a fresh political siege for the Fox government right on George Bush's Texas doorstep, including protests against Wal-Mart's incursions and the draconian Homeland Security measures along the Mexican-American border, as Bush's clique continues to wrestle with the tar baby in Iraq.
Yet in political retrenchments to the right by so-called progressive politicians, we now see de Silva of Brazil, Kirchner of Argentina, and Lagos of Chile committing troops to the UN occupation of Haiti to consolidate a blatant coup d'etat against the constitutional government of Haiti, planned and coordinated by the United States.
Has Argentina's Kirchner forgotten the US's supportive role during the Dirty War? Has Chile's Lagos forgotten 1973 and the CIA attack on Chilean popular sovereignty? And has Brazil's de Silva developed amnesia with regard to Goulart's ouster at the hands of the same CIA in 1964?
Of course they haven't forgotten.
What they are doing is tacking to the right, hoping to be forgiven by the United States for their associations with their own popular bases, thinking they can somehow build the MERCOSUR trading bloc on the sly. Brazil's Workers Party just suffered a set of battering defeats in key municipal elections, not because they are ostensibly still a leftist party, but because they have made so many concessions to neoliberalism. They are brokering now that they are in power, like a trade union bureaucrat. They have become "realistic," like the Democrats who put electable John Kerry forward and watched the most vigorous wing of their own party go to sleep.
I just returned from Haiti, as the last draft of this is written. I have to say that, while I defended and still defend deposed President Aristide from the imperialist attack on Haitian sovereignty, Aristide himself was playing this brokering game, trying to placate the angry Northern giant with talks of peaceful mobilization as a few dozen US-sponsored paramilitaries waged a series of armed attacks that were allowed to reverse the will of eight million people. Aristide was trying to deal, when he should have exercised the power vested in him by the Haitian masses to wage a fight on their behalf, and fed the FRAPHists to the malfini (buzzards) along Route Nacionale.
Hugo Chavez met force with force, and the US coup juggernaut in Venezuela became a busted flush.
I want to digress into Haiti for a bit, because there is an intifada going on there right now that, to me at least, is a very hopeful sign, and I think Haiti can help us understand this crisis of imperialism and not only how it relates to foreign policy. I think Haiti can give us some insight into the continental drift of Latin America, but it can also tell us a few things about how global developments are articulated into that weird domestic politics I alluded to in my opening remarks.
It is easy in the United States to ignore Haiti. We have been inoculated against Haiti by powerful and easy impressions. Voodoo. The Serpent and the Rainbow. The de rigueur journalistic reference to Haiti as, "Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere."
Or… haitithepoorestnationinthewesternhemisphere… inseparable, like a new name.
The modern habit of impression ingestion, of incorporating these bold and simple symbolic snapshots into a menu of judgments, allows us to file Haiti away. We all know what we need to know, so there's no reason to spend much time masochistically formulating critical questions about the ugly impressions we see beamed out of Haiti. It's that way because it's Haiti - voodoo backward, anarchic, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere… an embarrassment to those here who make essentialist arguments against racism, because it is a black nation that seems for the life of us to be somehow fundamentally deviant and incapable of self-governance without the caricatured barbarism of a Papa Doc.
This embarrassment about Haiti is particularly powerful among the African-American petit bourgeoisie who continue to labor under the banner of Equality instead of Self-Determination.
So to at least raise some provocative questions - because I don't have a crystal ball - about Haiti and the crisis of imperialism, I will begin with the reaction of US Black politicians to the current situation in Haiti. This can shed some light on the forces that are trying to apply the brakes to the first stages of a fresh attack on imperial power by mass movements in this hemisphere.
The Congressional Black Caucus was very vocal in sounding the alarm before the February 29 coup against Aristide, a coup orchestrated by the Department of State's hatchet man, former Jesse Helms aid Roger Noriega. Headed by Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters, the perennial gadflies of the CBC, the CBC sent a delegation to visit Aristide as the first military incursions were launched by former Haitian death-squads and ex-militaries across the Dominican border.
(I know this because I spoke in March with a retired Dominican General who confirmed that these former soldiers and FRAPH death-squaders, led by former FRAPH leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain and cocaine smuggling cop Guy Philippe, were trained with the knowledge of the US Embassy in Santo Domingo, at the Constanza military base.)
The CBC called for intervention to protect Aristide (when in fact it was US intervention that was smashing through police stations with machineguns from Ouanaminthe to St. Marc), who had won the 2000 elections in a legitimate and overwhelming landslide, and who would win today if elections were held again. Protection of Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas government, said the CBC, was a question of the US's basic commitment to democracy. Note the appeal here to the American political mythology and to chauvinism.
(It's a pity, really, when the one bright spot on the whole 2004 electoral horizon was African American Cynthia McKinney's return to Congress after challenging Democrat Party orthodoxy on the question of Palestine. The reason many continue to vote the milquetoast center is because that's all they are ever offered… and as Jim Hightower said, "There's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.")
At any rate, as Aristide continued to call for peaceful mobilizations, US Marines entered his Tabarre residence with a prepared "resignation" for him to sign and the option to get on their privately chartered jet to Destination Unknown or remain and die with his family at the hands of approaching US-supported paramilitaries. Under these circumstances, Colin Powell had the temerity to call this a "voluntary resignation."
This coup had been in the works since the 2000 election, with a combination of political destabilization paid for by the covert-operations front foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy, and an embargo of half a billion dollars in entitlements and loans to cripple the Lavalas government's ability to deliver basic services.
The reason it surprised both the Congressional Black Caucus and many American progressives was that they did not then nor do they now understand (or acknowledge) the class dynamics of Haiti. The struggle in Haiti has always been a class struggle first and foremost.
The generically-described violence in Haiti now is not the manifestation of some primitive energy, but a very well-understood - in Haiti at least - general rebellion. And it is a rebellion that neither the de facto government of Gerard Latortue nor the sycophant forces of the UN International Mission to Stabilize Haiti (called MINUSTAH) have proven able to stop or control.
The initial call by the Congressional Black Caucus, however, for Aristide's return as Haiti's legitimate chief of state, and for the reinstatement of his Party, Fanmi Lavalas - most of whom have now been hounded into hiding or jail on trumped up charges - has now been dropped by the CBC.
The Black Caucus is calling now on the UN, which co-signed the coup with sponsorship of the post-coup military occupation, and on the de facto Latortue government, to accelerate the program to hold new elections. The CBC is asking for stability through the electoral legitimation of some new authority. There again is that alarm at the specter of grassroots rebellion and the apparently indestructible fetish of managed elections.
The CBC is obviously not directly at risk from the Haitian intifada. But they are fearful, for several reasons, of the necessary violence inhering in this kind of rebellion, which they fail to understand - again - because they themselves fail to comprehend, or are reluctant to acknowledge, the class content of it. The class position of the CBC itself might contribute to that reluctance, which then defaults to consideration of Haitians as a kind of undifferentiated mass, subject to the pros and cons of American racial essentialism - the essentialism that underwrites both American racism and the demand for "racial" equality.
Haiti's status vis-à-vis the United States is a race question, in this essentialized version, and a question of Haiti Entire, not Haiti colonized and polarized by class.
The CBC and other class-blind Black equality advocates have a very well-founded fear that the Haitian intifada will throw gas on the fire of American white supremacy, and that racists will happily retransmit the images of "irrational anarchy" to buttress that most basic of white shibboleths, black debility of self-control.
This is not an unjustified fear. This particular portrayal of Haiti has long served white supremacy - but this pernicious ideology does not support mere inequality. It is the reflection of a colonial relation, as Penny M. Von Eschen's superlative book, Race Against Empire, documents - an account of the systematic and intentional elevation of Black leadership during the Cold War that dropped its critique of colonialism and the marginalization and persecution of anti-colonial and pan-Africanist Black leadership like W. E. B. Dubois and Paul Robeson.
Much of the current Black political leadership has inherited the Walter White, we-are-all-Americans, NAACP legacy, and they are severely circumscribed by that legacy and their entrapment inside the Democratic Party. This line and this legacy requires "race" to be de-classed and the national oppression of African America to be characterized as mere "inequality."
The class analysis of Haiti's current intifada (and of Haiti generally) creates a great deal of discomfort for many in positions of African American social and political leadership precisely because of the United States' shared history with Haiti. There are disquieting similarities between the neocolonial relationship of imperial elites and Haiti, and the neocolonial relationship which those same imperial elites enjoy with the "internal colony" of African America. Bear with me on this business of colonization, at least as an analytical strategy.
Black leadership that is currently articulated into the structures of American power is granted its place within those structures based on its own tacit recognition of the myth of integration and its embrace of American chauvinism. The notion is that African America suffers mere "inequality," a quantitative measure, and not - as revolutionary Black nationalists have repeatedly pointed out - a structurally colonial form of subjugation, a qualitative separation that can only be resolved by the struggle for independence and self-determination.
Acknowledgement of the colonial features of African America's situation, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the situation in Haiti, does not bode well for the continuation of hegemonic influence in Black communities by most current Black leadership.
http://www.blackcommentator.com, a web site I highly recommend, recently ran a commentary that detailed how the Black electorate was abandoned in mid-sentence by the Democratic Party to chase after George Soros and his ilk. In an editorial entitled "Black Anger, White Money - A Crisis for Black Leadership," the October 14 issue of BC wrote:
Whatever happens on November 2, traditional African American leadership faces a crisis of historic proportions, a day of reckoning that has been approaching for more than three decades. Having virtually shut down the activist wing of the Civil Rights/Black Power Movement in favor of electoral and broker politics at the dawn of the Seventies, Black leadership now finds itself blackballed from the $200 million-plus soft money Democratic campaign feast. Essentially, they have been sidelined from the only mass action game they chose to play.
Instead, 527 outfits jump-started by super-rich, Bush-averse benefactors like George Soros (net worth: $8 billion) dominate the street action in Black precincts throughout the 17 campaign "battleground" states. Paying $8 to $12 an hour for door-to-door canvassers, the New Jack 527s have supplanted (usurped might be a better word) the electoral functions previously performed by mainstream Black organizations such as the 84-member National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP), chaired by Patricia A. Ford. "The people who are doing the work are the community - only they are working for 527s," said Ford, the former executive vice president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
With more than $80 million in funding, the Soros-backed voter mobilization 527 America Coming Together (ACT) has assumed leadership of the African American electoral army. The de facto commander is ACT CEO Steve Rosenthal, former AFL-CIO Political Director.
On the mass communications front, political messages are crafted and paid for through the Media Fund, which has raised and spent about $28 million dollars as of October 10. The brainchild of former top Clinton aid Harold Ickes, the Media Fund is currently in the middle of a $5 million advertising campaign centered on Black-oriented radio. The fund's president, Erik Smith, is a former aid to Missouri Democratic Congressman Richard Gephardt. Although selected African American individuals, consultants and public relations and media firms have been recruited to the ACT and Media Fund voter mobilization and media projects, the white folks are firmly in charge of the methodology and the message.
Patricia Ford's NCBCP, with a 28-year history of electoral organizing including Operation Big Vote and Black Youth Vote, was left out in the cold. Its modest goal to raise $8 million dollars for "voter protection" - ensuring that citizens who show up at the polls are allowed to cast their ballots - now seems beyond reach and out of time. As a result, said Ford, "the election is in peril."
Full at http://www.blackcommentator.com/109/109_cover_campaign.html
And she was exactly right, as we are now seeing very convincing evidence from across the nation that Black voters were widely intimidated and disfranchised, yet again, in 2004. The Democratic Party's response? "Let's begin a period of healing."
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