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writing for godot

If You Are Neutral in Times of Injustice, You Have Chosen the Side of the Oppressor. (Desmond Tutu)

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Saturday, 07 November 2020 16:24

Human rights: Food for a not-to-be-dismissed thought  ‘HR and politics’

Human Rights Reader 552

[TLDR (too long didn’t read): This Reader is about much of what you want to reflect on about class, oligarchy, elites, the Left, the Right, ideology, socialism and political arrogance --all at the crossroads of human rights. For a quick overview, just read the bolded text].

-The State is not a class-neutral body that serves the greater good. (Susan Rosenthal)

As Warren Buffet proclaimed, “class struggle exists; we won it!”

1. To state the obvious: An oligarchy is a system in which power is in the hands of a few that belong to a privileged social class. Oligarchy thus is a form of government in which the political power is in the hands of just a few people, generally belonging to the same social class. [Actually, the etymology of the word aristocracy --government by the best-- comes from the Greek aristos (the best) and kratos (force, power)]. (Louis Casado)


2. So, you see? The doctrine of liberalism espoused by the oligarchy is akin to that of the Gospel: many are called, only a few are chosen. (Susan George) And, on the other hand, let us face it, these days, the Left dares no more speaking about class struggle while the Right practices it day-by-day using often opaque or oblique links to paint an all-is-OK-like-this picture.* (Jean-Laurent Lastelle, Renaud Chenu)

*: Currently, we actually see a politics of resentment practiced by the Right that is almost the opposite of the politics of normal more ‘democratic’ periods. This politics of resentment shuns experts, human rights (HR) and, above all, derides scientific evidence. (Jeffrey Sachs)

3. Moreover, the cycle of economic ‘progress’ painted by the Right is finished. Without new productive initiatives, without enforced universal social and HR policies, the so-called progress era has made it clear it never had a real long-term project of its own. And when there is no project to show for, with no social roots whatsoever, much of the era has ended in corruption. Worse still, therefore, is the fact that, all along, ‘the move towards progress’ was politically managed by an elite far removed from any social movement.**

**: The etymology of the word elite comes from the Latin verb eligere (electus) that translates into ‘to extract, to choose’. The elite is thus composed by those that self-designate themselves to-be-in or those that succeed in having themselves being elected to the elite; therefrom comes the idea of a god-given material and symbolic supremacy. The fact that they think of themselves as fair and gentlemanly in all their dealings is the simple self-delusion of all those who oppress humanity. Their arrogance knows no bounds. Despite shared experiences, they never developed what we think of as a political consciousness. They simply cannot reason from their own hurt feelings and remain almost unaware of the unfair design of the social world around them. In their actions, the meaning of the social is relegated to neglect. They are complacent men and women with no sense of history or human dignity. [So, am I a part of the elite because I am the best, or am I the best because I am part of the elite…?] (Louis Casado and E.L. Doctorow in ‘Ragtime’)

4. Yes, the Left is practically silent about class struggle thereby virtually accepting the all-is-quite-OK picture painted by the Right. (…Just make some popular adjustments). The motive is not clear for anybody, but the fact is undeniable. This cannot be dismissed lightly; it is not a controversial fact anymore…

The time has thus come to set the bases of a new Left with a new ‘personality’ and a better sense of the need-to-dos of the current historic moment --human rights included (Manuel Cabieses)

5. In Fidel’s words: “A revolution is a sense of the historical moment it happens-in as it tries to change everything that needs to be changed then and as it vies for full equality and liberty, for everybody being treated as a human being. A revolution allows people to emancipate themselves by themselves; it challenges the powerful dominant elite forces locally and internationally; it defends values that one thinks need to be upheld beyond any possible sacrifice --all this done with modesty, disinterest, altruism, solidarity and heroism. A revolution calls for struggling with audacity, intelligence and realism; it further calls for never lying and never violating ethical principles; it is ultimately based on the profound conviction that there is no force in the world capable of crushing the force of truth and of ideas”. (Fidel Castro)

6. To be in sink with Fidel’s sense of revolution, the Left will thus have to throw overboard a whole bulk of obsolete practices and of short-term visions that make them veer towards political opportunism.***

***: Exorcising ghosts from the past will be imperative in this self-criticism. (Jomo Sundaram).

7. From an ideological point of view****, this means it is urgent to do away with old taboos and learn from past mistakes --like the one that confuses socialism with statism. Socialism at the beginning of this decade may well have different characteristics from the socialism of the time of the telegraph and the steam engine…But its engine will always be the concerted mobilization and action of the masses. (M. Cabieses)

****: The concept of ideology has no negative connotation. (Thomas Piketty)

All societies need an ideology to justify their level of inequity and inequality and/or their specific vision about what is good for them. There is no society in history where those rendered rich will say “we are rich, you are poor, end of story”. It would not work. Such a society would immediately crumble. The dominant groups always need to come up with more sophisticated narratives that will say “we are richer than you but, in reality, this is good for the organization of society as a whole, because we bring you order and stability” or “we bring-in more innovation, productivity and growth”. These arguments are clearly biased, of course --a bit hypocritical, if you want. But they have a small percentage of truth in them. If they were completely false, they would not work. Be it as it may, the ideological conflict behind this will continue.

Unfortunately, the Left has not tried hard enough to propose alternatives (T. Piketty)

8. The Left has gone through a long period of disillusionment and lack-of-punch that has not ended up proposing alternatives to change the economic system responsible for ludicrous wealth accumulation and that has benefited only the groups with grater social mobility. The groups of low and middle income have rightfully felt abandoned.

9. Nationalist and xenophobic parties have conversely come up with a very simple message: We are going to protect you within the borders of the nation state; we are going to expel immigrants and we are going to protect your identity as white Europeans or Americans. Of course, this will at the end of all not work! Inequities and inequalities will not decrease, global warming will not stop. But given that there is no alternative discourse, a great chunk of the electorate has veered towards these parties --and an even greater number has decided to stay at home; or they simply do not vote. We have a very minimum level of participation, especially among the lower income groups.

10. Basically, inequality in the ownership of property creates an enormous inequality of opportunities in life. Some have to rent all their lives; others receive rents all their lives. Some can set up enterprises or receive an inheritance from a family enterprise; others never get to have an enterprise, because they do not even have the minimum initial capital to do so.

11. More than anything, it is crucial to realize that the distribution of wealth has stayed unchanged and concentrated in very few hands in our societies. So, we wait for the arrival of economic growth and for greater access to education: without doing anything? No, that is not an option. But this is what we have been doing for a century while the lowest two quartiles in the distribution of income still own nothing. Those who do not have wealth are in a very weak business position.  Ideology is well and alive (and not kicking).  (T. Piketty)

In politics, reason is not always an intelligence that understands, it often is just an ignorance that argues (Aurobindo Ghose, 1872- 1950)

-Political questions do not admit easy answers: monosyllables/spur of the moment improvisations/kneejerk reactions will simply not do it. (Rodrigo Ruiz)

12. There is no way of telling whether the ‘we’ politicians use is in fact the pluralis majestatis --the pompous plural adopted by a world ruler, or the shrewd businessman’s attempt to make his company look bigger than it actually is.

13. The modesty of the social scientists contrasts with the arrogance of the crass ignorance of pompous politicians and of economists (are they social scientists?)*****; the ultimate question is the stubborn pretension of either of foreseeing the future.  What they actually do is to guessingly extrapolate from the present. (L. Casado) “Of tomorrow we know nothing and in the medium term we will all be dead” John Maynard Keynes famously said.

*****: For practical purposes, political economics has been abandoned by the social sciences. (N. Nieftagodien) And this is hardly acceptable since, economy and politics (and HR!) are not separate spheres, but are inevitably joined together, for better or for ill. (Jeffrey Sachs) Yes, in politics, every word has a color. (Mario Benedetti)

Bottom line

14. Only structural reforms deliver a sustainable development that fulfills HR. But the politics needed for these reforms is increasingly losing its primacy over the influence of commerce and industry. All too frequently, non-transparent elections are the barrier to any hope for political renewal.

15. There is a Left without a people and a people without a Left. The question is which group will step into that vacuum. (Carlos Ruiz) Today, the mission of socialism is to ‘liberate’ and reign-in those zombies that wander through the streets with their faces glued to their smart phones.

16. Today, Rosa Luxemburg’s "Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism" acquires renewed force. (M. Cabieses)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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