Friday, May 22, 2009

Sovereignty Beyond the State as an Actor

Translated by Zinnia Cintrón

Some advocates of independence, define sovereignty in light of international relations as the authority that a state has to govern itself. Therefore, to achieve sovereignty, there can not be an external force subordinating the state as it pleases. A country is independent when it is not subordinated to another authority and a colony when it has to surrender itself to another power.

This mental picture of sovereignty, untangles the foul-ups caused by the “Populares” colonialists in relation to what it means to have sovereignty. We are not sovereign and we will not be as long as the USA submits Puerto Rico to its institutions. We could also argue that we are not and will not be sovereign if we are subordinated to the dictates of the international capitalist market or the transnational companies.

However, to limit ourselves to see the state as an actor that directs itself is dangerous. We can not loose perspective of the fact that the ones that actually act and control themselves (through the state), are human beings. First of all, if we only see the state, we will uncritically assume the privileged position of the powerful groups for whom the concrete problems of the people are unimportant and the priority lies on what they can do with the state for their own benefit. To develop our own strategy (i.e. an anti-colonial strategy) becomes impossible. If we limit ourselves to see the state without the social relations that comprises it, we miss that there are states which – irrespectively of them being submitted to an external power or not – are constituted in such a fashion that, being human creations, ultimately dominate them instead of being at their service. They become authorities internally external. If we reduce the sovereignty problem to the state that governs itself, we consequently facilitate the mental image of an international community with individuals in equal conditions, also hiding the fundamental problem of interdependence based on power relations, not only due to the US hegemony that submits what are supposed to be sovereign countries to its institutions, but also because of the transnational capital that subordinates even the powerful USA to its necessities.

We, the independence advocates, need for our concept of sovereignty to take into account these problems in order to be able to fight for a genuine sovereignty by attacking the multiple dimensions of colonialism. We must conceptualize the state as an actor to be able to understand international relations, but this concept can not hide the way that individuals, using the state's powers as well as those of structures beyond the state to solve their problems, give them life.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The New Status Plebiscites: What is the Problem?

According to the press, in the next few days the Resident Commissioner in Washington, Pedro Pierluisi, will present to Congress a bill that would allow for the celebration of a new plebiscite on the status of Puerto Rico. In contrast to previous plebiscites, the proposed legislation would require two different electoral processes. In the first one, electors would be asked whether they desire (or not) to continue the current territorial status. However, if the current status is rejected, a second plebiscite in which electors would choose among the alternatives recognized by the United Nations (integration, free association, and independence), would take place.

We are already familiar with the most obvious critiques to this proposal: that Pierluisi does not have the required votes in Congress; that the U.S. would never commit to respect the result of a process in which statehood is one of the alternatives; that plesbicites are not the right mechanism to deal with the status issue; that this plebiscite is an electoral ambush designed to eliminate the commonwealth option from the ballot in order to create an artificial majority in favor of statehood. The fundamental problem with Pierluisi's proposal, however, is that it assumes that colonialism is a legitimate political option.

In other words, the proposal recognizes the right of the people to decide 'freely and democratically' if they want to continue a colonial relationship (to remain as a territory). Such a position contradicts both freedom and democracy: both concepts, in addition to being incompatible with colonialism, find their limit in their own negation. By way of explanation, the concept of 'freedom' does not include the right to decide not to be free, because that right supposes the negation of liberty; to reject self-government through voting does not constitute a democratic exercise because it would result in democracy's abolition. Furthermore, an electoral process in which colonialism appears as a valid alternative, as one of the options that would be 'respected' by the empire, could hardly be characterized as part of an exercise of decolonization.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Is Free Association Superior to Independence?

Those who are willing to defend free association and the "delegation of competences" to the United States have not explained why free association is superior to independence. It is not enough to say, as many do, that free association represents "a better reflection of the historical aspirations of our people". That response not only cannot be considered an argument in favor of the convenience of free association, but does not take into account that those "historical aspirations' (assuming they are actually consistent with a claim to free association), are not developed in a vacuum, but result from a series of complex relationships that include colonialism itself as well as the positions of political leaders that people have trusted at certain moments. The fact that in electoral terms free association is more viable than independence is merely the enunciation of an empirical fact, of something that appears to be that way, but does not say anything in favor of that political alternative. For instance, if at some point in our history, it becomes obvious that a considerable part of the people aspire to a military dictatorship, that would not be a reason for us to support dictatorship nor to say that dictatorship is superior to democracy. On the contrary, it would be an urgent reason to, via work at a grassroot level, attempt to mobilize the population toward other political positions. And of course, that should be the priority of the independence movement.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Workers and their Situation this 1st of May, Part 2

The capitalist crisis and the reform; everything changes but the subordination of work

Note: This article consists of three parts. Part 1 can be found below this article.
Translated by Zinnia Cintrón

Crisis arrive when the fashion in which capital organizes the conditions to exploit workers becomes ineffective; the same necessities that workers keep creating, forces the system to handle too many problems as to maintain capitalists' profits This is a typical problem of any imperial system as it tries to superimpose the necessities of one over the necessities of many and this position cannot be kept intact for a long time. The one in the power position becomes careless to the necessities of the majority which, simultaneously, grow and become more complex. Consequently, reforms need to be done periodically. Work (subordinated to the capitalist market as salable labor power), progressively achieves political and technological developments in accordance to capitalism's requirements. However, as time goes by, unavoidable problems arise which have no effective solution within the fashion in which capital organized society originally. At those times, capitalists have to engineer a reorganization of society without altering the foundation of capitalism: for workers to be forced to sell their labor and to buy everything that she needs in such a way that capitalists can employ them, pay them for the cost to reproduce her labor power and keep the total value of what is produced (refer to the last paragraph of Part I).

The wear and tear of the ways in which capitalists organize global production becomes more complex as capitalists find a way to reproduce capital (take the accumulated money, buy tools, materials and labor for production, and sell to have even more money) as fast as possible and, frequently, accumulated capital has no exit, especially if they have managed to impoverish workers to the point that they cannot buy even a negligible part of all the wealth produced. They then find, within financial, risky acrobatics, a way to stay in the reign of money and to avoid dealing with what pertains to this world, to work, specially with workers that sweat, get tired, get sick; that want other things besides merely making money; that refuse to march to the monotonous sound that money plays.

Under the usual rhythm of life within capitalism, given that production is achieved primarily to increase capital, noxious necessities arise and people lead lives full of frustration and dissatisfaction. In their daily lives as waged sworkers, workers cannot be creative in their work, learn almost nothing, and harm themselves. Furthermore, they usually cannot buy what they produced; if they can buy it, it is usually of poor quality, and, if at a certain moment they can get what they could not buy, they produced more wealth that (at this point) they cannot afford. Being that they are not able to control what they are creating, but still have the necessity of creating, they frequently find obsessive distractions. Many of these are packed and sold by capitalism sooner than later. When crisis detonate, capitalists demand more and bigger sacrifices from workers and, in the worst case scenarios, they fire these people and close their factories and shops for the sake of saving their capital until the situation improves. Because workers cannot buy, it is senseless for any capitalist to put their capital “into production”. In the meantime, the things that workers need are not being produced and the ones that are already produced (including the tools and materials to produce) are kept under lock while workers go through extreme misery.

At this point, capitalists do not waste any time to mobilize the rest of society to come to their rescue. This is not too difficult when, indeed, the immense majority needs capital to circulate. It cannot be forgotten that, under this arrangement, the only way to satisfy personal necessities is by satisfying the necessities of capital itself. For this reason, intellectual reformists have almost all the work done since people notice that if capital does not circulate to employ them, their quality of life will worsen.

Reformists that are more empathic towards workers and that are aware of the system's logic, recognize at this point that even when capitalism exploits people and leads us to another crisis, we need to save it because we cannot achieve a dramatically different society if the immediate problems are not solved beforehand. Certainly, but the way to attack the immediate problems cannot rely entirely on capital exploiting us. We need to solve the immediate problems by establishing basic conditions that imply the society that we want: one where work is not subordinated to its creations. The same applies for any project. For example, if one wants to build a round table, one does not collect the tools, materials, techniques, and plans that would be used to build a bench and then say: “at least we can eat on it”. If the conditions available provide only the means to do the usual things, one must modify them to fit the purpose pursued.

The course that the reorganization of the crisis will take or even if it will be successful (or not), will depend on how well organized workers are. As soon as their intellectual leaders limit themselves to use the plan based on capitalism, it will not matter how well organized they are; it will only be an issue of getting concessions – that the leaders generally enjoy more than anybody – and then wait for the empire's time, the cyclic movement, the return of the pendulum or the eternal return that will supposedly bring another advance. This story is told in every crisis and here we are again. If there are pendulums, cyclic movements, and eternal returns, it is mostly because of the implementation of those stories. When, on the contrary, leaders and intellectuals who take very seriously the plan for a new society develop – a plan that having work at its core, is not monolythic as capital is, but dynamic –, not only concessions that solve the immediate problems are granted, but also the structures that announce a new society commence to emerge

Monday, May 4, 2009

Workers and their Situation this May Day, Part I

Note: This article consists of three parts which will be published during the rest of the week.

The importance of work

For many people, May 1st or the International Worker's Day, represents an angry shout of protest against the brutal inequities and atrocities that come from a system in which benefiting the majority is not important. Instead, priority is given to the accumulation of profits for a minority that has control (directly or indirectly) over the means that we need to satisfy our necessities. Since its original vision in 1886, founded on reducing the working day to eight hours, up until now with the pro-immigrants assertions in the United States or the strike against the privatization projects that Luis Fortuño's Government is planning to implement in Puerto Rico, this day symbolizes a flag for the diverse international groups and organizations that are aware of the exploitation, domination, and oppression that, in one way or another, become present in their lives under the actual socioeconomic regime.

One of these forms of oppression is the fact that the importance of work is not recognized. Some people (the most reactionary supporters of capitalism), disregard that work creates, reproduces, and increases wealth. They also ignore that work also creates the means and conditions necessary for capitalism to exist. The reformists, on the other hand, simply limit the work possibilities: it becomes solely a mental activity within a universe of ideas; an activity that establishes norms, contracts, and institutions in an already institutionalized universe; an activity that creates signs and language in a “textual” world. What they all elude is that human beings must satisfy their natural necessities and that, by working with the means and conditions that they have created, they generate within themselves the strength, intelligence, craftsmanship, technique, and knowledge that exposes them to new necessities. Human nature is not based on being rational, selfish or an absolute “other”; it is founded instead on the fact that, by working, humans create their own nature.

Currently, capitalism is undergoing its most precarious crisis since the thirties but the most conservative versions have kept quiet. Discussions of reformist tendencies have reappeared to discuss the issues of saving, fixing or regulating the system. However, what is really imperative is to analyze profoundly the necessity and desirability of the capitalist system and its logic. To do so, we must position ourselves within the perspective of the workers.

Within capitalism, work unravels fundamentally under the market conditions that were previously established. Once the means and necessity for expropriation were developed, the workers lost their properties (certainly becoming “free” considering that they lacked the support as well as the responsibilities of their previous relations) and had no other alternative but to sell their labor power in the market. Consequently, the one with the work tools and materials, employs workers who produce society's wealth, but instead of receiving the value of their production, they are only compensated with the market value of those things that they need to reproduce their labor power (housing, provisions, education, entertainment, etc.). In other words, workers get paid only to ensure their capability to return to work the next day under the same conditions. Capitalists increase their wealth by employing workers to sell what the workers produced, they pay their debt, and keep the remaining quantity. As a result of the control that they have over the means of production (that in this case consist of merchandise that only capitalists can buy and organize to produce), they dictate to workers what to produce and how to produce it so as to when society's wealth increases, capital increases as well. Moreover, this explains the blindness of the most fanatic defenders of capital as they envision everything from the equal market realm; overlooking the unfairness that exists in work issues. It also explains the reformists' insistence to create jobs and even jobs that pay more or the fair wage, as this does not affect the origin of the problem itself at all.