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writing for godot

Who Won? Democracy at the expense of Capitalism? or Capitalism at the expense of Democracy?: quo-vadis human rights? (Juan Pablo Cardenas)

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Saturday, 22 May 2021 15:28


Human rights: Food for a quo-vadis thought  ‘HR and the politics of democracy’


Human Rights Reader 578


[TLDR (too long didn’t read): This Reader is about the interactions between Capitalism, poverty, democracy and the role of politics, social movements and the Left in the fulfillment of human rights. For a quick overview, just read the bolded text].


1. Capitalism ongoingly ‘creates poverty’ so that, then, due to their powerlessness*, ‘the poor’ keep coming to ask for goods and services from the state. (Daniel Jadue)

*: The neoliberal system blends power with powerlessness. Because of this, any criticism of its ideology is considered a conspiracy against the power within; even a minor critique of the-powers-that-be is considered blasphemy. Power is blindly exercised with arrogance greatly increasing the risk of repeated political disasters for the powerless. (Albino Gomez) Then, about powerlessness, do ponder: If you are small, you cast a short shadow; but if the light is positioned rightly, your shadow will be long… Poor men do have rich ideas (about needed action). (David Baldacci, The Whole Truth)


2. Some movements against capitalism/against neocolonialism indeed exist; but no movements against liberal democracy exist. Socialist parties and most of the trade unions during the first decades of the 20th century were anti-capitalist; this was the key of Democratic Socialism. They struggled against capitalism/colonialism in the name of a more just, more diverse, more egalitarian, respecting social system.  [Human rights (HR) did not come until 1948]. These socialist parties then abandoned their anti-capitalist struggle (in 1959 Germany’s Social Democratic party--the SPD-- broke ranks with Marxism) and started to devote themselves to the tension between liberal democracy and Capitalism based on a new formula: Social Democracy. [The most significant case of an anti-capitalist movement not contrary to liberal democracy was the one headed by Salvador Allende in Chile (1970-73) later neutralized by a brutal military coup panned by the CIA]. During this period, vast middle classes thrived and it was them that helped fuel what we call reformism.


3. In ‘Western’ Europe this materialized in a combination of high levels of social protection with high levels of productivity. This compromise between democracy and Capitalism, combined with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, was what brought about the crash of left-wing anti-capitalist movements. The winner was Capitalism at the expense of democracy. This victory resulted in the birth of a new kind of Capitalism: Neoliberalism (based on the deregulation of the economy, the demonization of the state and of economic, social and cultural and especially labor rights, the total privatization of economic activity and the conversion of the market that became a regulator of the life of the privileged and the non-privileged). Democracy became subordinated to Capitalism and was only able to seek refuge by abiding by the interests of Capitalism, i.e., what was called a Market-friendly Democracy …wither HR.


4. On the Left, the old revolutionary movements became democratic and reformist parties. They therefore, stopped being anti-system and started fighting for ‘progressive’ transformations of the democratic liberal system. Revolutionary movements did not disappear, but stayed outside the system set up by the Left parties. New social actors began springing up: feminist, indigenous, ecological, LGBT, popular economy movements. But because the political system is monopolized by political parties, these movements have, so far, not had a more consistent political influence, neither locally nor globally. Moreover, a ‘Vigilance Capitalism’ has emerged that uses artificial intelligence to more effectively control the activities of organizations and individuals. (Boaventura de Sousa Santos)


So, what then is the Left?


5. For a long time, the Left was conceived as, and credited for, the package of transformative theories and practices that, for the last 150 years, resisted the expansion of Capitalism. But it was also responsible for the transformation of the social, economic, political and cultural relationships that Capitalism brought about.** Ultimately, the Left made us believe in the possibility of a post-capitalist future, of an alternative, more just society (due to the fact that the Left is oriented towards satisfying the real needs of the population centered around their plight for justice and the fulfillment of their HR.

**: To the social and economic injustice of Capitalism, we have to add the techno-racial, the sexual, the historic, the linguistic and other injustices based on cast, religion and other social parameters.


6. Soon, popular movements realized that the political divisions in many countries did not manifest themselves through the Left/Right dichotomy***. Their expansion brought new challenges to the Left. It became necessary to distinguish between important and urgent struggles. Proposals from the Left began to emerge on community-based initiatives, on anti-extractivism, on the self-determination of peoples, on pluri-nationality… The struggles of the Left then (and thus) became more fragmented and weak instead of more articulated. Behind these difficulties was the mega-difficulty that arose from the growing divergence between development-and-extractivism and buen vivir-and-the-rights-of-nature. The new Lefts the world over thus needed to consider engaging more on democratic participatory processes, on HR, on ethnic and cultural diversity and on the rights of nature, as well as on the anticolonial and antipatriarchal struggle. They did this unevenly and poorly; the paradigm was not really replaced. So, what would be needed to do better? you may rightfully ask. First and foremost, it must be understood that the struggle is eminently political. The apolitical approaches by NGOs have (and do) ultimately disarm(ed) popular movements(!) …otherwise, they would not be funded by the countries of the global North. Elemental Watson! (B. de Sousa Santos)

***: Actually, both political extremes do not touch each other anymore, simply because there now is only one extreme, the extreme right… (B. de Sousa Santos)


So, what then is Populism?


7. Populism is an empty concept in fashion --primarily used to disqualify (y)our adversaries. Populism is not a concept that clarifies, but confuses, the identity of a given regime. Anybody can be catalogued as a populist; this is why there are populisms of the Right and populisms of the Left. (Alain Rouquié)


8. There is not a unanimously accepted definition of populism in the political sciences. Nevertheless, it is clear that a more precise definition is agreed-to when a growing distancing between the political class (the ruling elite) and the citizenry occurs. In such situations, the prevailing system becomes delegitimized creating what we know as a power vacuum. At that point comes-in the daring, charismatic leader that tells everybody he interprets the popular feeling, their dreams, their aspirations and proceeds to promise ending with all abuses, with all corruption, with all bad politicians and promises to devote himself to the beloved people. With this done, he becomes a captivating character that begins to be followed by the masses. (Fernando Ayala) …wither HR.


So, what then populist politicians?

9. Interestingly, Oscar Wilde, I found, had a somber and sour opinion of these politicians. In no particular order, here is his take:

  • Politicians have certainly been through fire --and what fire does not destroy, it hardens.
  • All good reputations are made out of nothing. Every effect politicians produce gives them an enemy. To be popular one must be a mediocrity.
  • The value of a political statement by a politician often has little to do with the sincerity of the person who expresses it.
  • Is sincerity such a terrible thing? I think not. It is merely a method by which politicians can multiply their personalities. What sort of life do these characters who pose as being moral lead themselves? We cannot forget that we live in the native land of the hypocrite.
  • Like so many of their class, many a politician is under the impression that inordinate joviality can atone for an entire lack of ideas.
  • Whenever a politician does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.
  • There is a fatality about good resolutions --they are always made too late. Good resolutions give politicians some of those luxurious sterile emotions that have a certain charm for the masses; they are simply checks that they draw on a bank where they have no account. (Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray)


10. Other thinkers have further reminded us that:

  • In politics, private vices can never bring about virtues. So, let us not confuse the sociability of a politician with what is part of his/her culture. (A. Gomez)
  • In politics, that what is rigid, tears; that what is flexible, resists. (Ignacio Ramonet)
  • Any society not illustrated/illuminated by philosophers is prone to be cheated by charlatans. (Marquis de Condorcet)
  • There is no good faith; neither between men nor between nations. Treaties are but pieces of paper, constitutions but pamphlets, elections but combats, liberty but anarchy and life but a torment. Those who have fought revolutions have sowed in the ocean. We invariably fall into the hands of petti tyrants of all colors and races who devour us with their crimes. (Simón Bolívar, 1783-1830) …and
  • Beware: After an election, the correlation of forces has not yet changed at all beyond just the campaign promises and all that electoral political wrangling! (Nestor Restivo)


So, Quo-vadis human rights?


11.Our own political and ideological (re)commitment must not abandon the everlasting principles of humanism, of HR, of equality, of social justice and of the need for a social and political struggle to reach those principles. (J. P. Cardenas) We do not have eternal allies and we do not have perpetual enemies. Our interests are to be principled and long-term --and our obligation is to uphold them. (Lord Palmerstone, 1784-1865)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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