By Kiki Makandal
November 18, 2015
Since 1986, after the popular uprising that led to the ouster of Baby Doc Duvalier and ended the 29-year Duvalier totalitarian regime, there has been, at times, a widely held position in “left” political tendencies in Haiti that elections under imperialist domination should be denounced and opposed because they could only serve to impose a pro-imperialist political solution to the political crisis in Haiti. Even Aristide and the Lavalas movement once held those positions. But, as election dates have drawn closer, inevitably, this consensus has fallen apart as populism and opportunism have teamed up to engulf the majority of these “left” political tendencies.
2015 is no different, although anyone with any sense of objectivity could easily draw conclusions from the failures of earlier attempts and realize that the objective conditions are even worse this time around. This time, the ruling faction in power is openly taking its directive from the American embassy, it has managed to gain control of the electoral apparatus, particularly in terms of vote counting and tabulation, and its armed thugs are brazenly beating down and killing political opponents. Never mind that the OAS, the “Core Group” (US, Canada, France, Brazil, Spain and the EU) and the UN MINUSTAH occupation forces have the final say in validating election results (that they have financed).
With a voter turnout maxing out at about 25% and rampant brazen ballot stuffing, only those completely sold out can lend any legitimacy to this masquerade. The low voter turnout makes the manipulation of results even easier.
It is not hard to understand how “left” populist opportunism predictably makes a recurring resurgence around election time, particularly in Haiti. With about 70% unemployment, job opportunities for petty-bourgeois intellectuals are limited mostly to NGOs and government jobs. Elections are like a desperate mating ritual for the few available positions of political patronage that depend on personal connections to winning candidates. How many so-called “left” militants have we seen jump ship to take on government positions, from minister to president? This is a class phenomenon of political opportunism, and government jobs are one-time opportunities to make a racket.
The Haitian popular masses have paid for their election lessons in blood: in 1988 massacres put an end to the first attempt at elections after the ouster of Baby Doc. In 1991 a violent coup and subsequent massacres put an end to the first Aristide populist government. In 2005, the popular masses once again showed their ability to thwart the most openly right wing pro-imperialist candidates by voting in Préval, only to see this Préval government enact the same neo-liberal reforms they had voted against… The 25% voter turnout shows how much disdain the Haitian masses have learned from these experiences of massacre and deception.
But it serves little or no purpose to criticize the candidates, their complete lack of programs, their subservience to imperialism and the ruling classes, and the corruption and perversion that exists at all levels. If we stop there, this only reinforces the myth that there could be “good candidates” or “good elections”. Instead we must focus on debunking the nature of the state.
Since around 2009, there is another political position that has taken root in Haiti, in political tendencies that have taken part in autonomous mass struggles, drawing from those experiences. Every time we have organized and waged struggles to defend our rights, the state has intervened on the side of the exploiting ruling classes to squash our struggles and our organizations. The lesson that has been learned at this mass level is that the only way to win justice for our cause is to take down this rotten state and replace it with a new popular state of our own making. And this cannot be achieved through elections. While this is not yet a widely held class position, it is however rooted in segments of our class-consciousness and it is a part of our first-hand acquired knowledge. The thousands of workers who took to the streets in 2009 and in 2014 to demand a living minimum wage and who were brutally repressed by the combined repressive forces of the Haitian state and UN occupation forces, the peasants who organized to demand land reform and access to state land and were repressed by state thugs, the day-laborers who mobilized for land and living wages, the poor urban communities who mobilized against their expulsion, the countless unions organized and broken up by bosses with the open collaboration of the Department of Labor… these struggles have taught us valuable lessons. This rotten state and the “opposition” politicians who have repeatedly sold us out are just two sides of the same rotten alternative.
In Haiti, the working class has staked a leadership position in autonomous popular struggles and has engaged in the process of building the alliance of exploited and dominated classes, the popular camp. These struggles have enabled the class positions of autonomous struggle, led by working class positions, to establish a foothold that we can build on. This is by no means an automatic process, and our struggles face constant hardships and obstacles, starting from a minority position, but this political line has led us to stake out two positions at two different levels:
At the mass popular level, in the midst of our mobilizations and organization-building within our autonomous struggles, we strive to build local struggles and weave them into regional campaigns, and then build national platforms around these concrete mobilizations, based our mass political line: develop autonomous popular struggles, with laborers as the pillars and under working class leadership. An example of this is the platform for a living minimum wage and the national mobilization it has led, built from the organizational process in local factories throughout Haiti. This is the level of concrete struggles that is essential to drive forward our organizational development.
At the level of general political intervention within the popular mass level, we strive to draw upon the lessons learned from our struggles to push forward the agenda of concrete popular demands in all areas of life. We denounce and expose the complicity of the rotten state, the “opposition”, and the occupation forces, aligned with the ruling classes and imperialism. We rely on our mass line to push forward this agenda and radicalize struggles around our demands. This becomes the basis for spreading the call for a popular democratic uprising that can take advantage of the current disarray to initiate wider and more organized struggles that can seize on this historical opportunity to spread and radicalize toward a revolutionary process. An embryonic, stillborn example of this was the “Dechoukay” (uprooting) campaign that accompanied the ouster of Baby Doc (there was very minimal organized capacity at the time to propel these struggles further).
It important to understand that the level of concrete autonomous mass struggles determines and predetermines the efficacy of general political interventions, because it predetermines our ability to organize at this level, based on our interventions, and to build broader alliances and higher-level organizations. Without concrete autonomous struggles and organizations, general political interventions at the mass level, “politically correct” as they may be, can be just “shouts in the dark” that might just get lost or be easily recuperated.
Interwoven in this process must be the leadership role of the working class and the building of its proletarian revolutionary organization through the practice of agitation, mobilization, and organization at all levels: the mass level, the intermediate level and the revolutionary level.