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Voices from the Collective

Letters from readers about past articles.
The Bad Subjects Collective

Issue #16, October 1994

The following posts remain unedited, appearing as they did on the Internet.

From: Nathan Newman <>
Thu, 15 Sep 1994 22:18:28 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: The Left Should Support Haiti Invasion

I wrote this for another list, but I thought it would be appropriate for the Haiti thread.

Hi all,

I am curious where everyone comes down on the imminent invasion of Haiti.

What we have is an invasion supported by nations around the world, including surrounding Caribbean countries, against one of the most violent, ruthless dictatorships in the world in order to restore to power a leftist populist priest elected by overwhelming majority of Haiti's population. Daily, children and the democratic movement in Haiti are murdered and tens of thousands of Haitians live in such terror that they flee to the sea rather than face their oppressors.

Opposing the invasion are Strom Thurmond, John McCain, George Will and every right-winger imaginable, including the CIA which spent the last three years seeking to discredit Aristide. Supporting the invasion are some of the most left members of Congress, mostly centered around the Congressional Black Caucus.

So what is the position of most of the movement left? It seems to be against the invasion and I have heard some of the reasons articulated (best in Z MAGAZINE): the US can't invade without violence, it sets a bad precedent, it's all for the sake of US power, etc.

Now, I usually go with the belief that 'it can always get worse' but in the case of Haiti, it's hard to see how. Whatever violence people fear from the US army, it can hardly compare with the violence of the Haitian death squads and the slow deaths due to starvation and disease due to sanctions.

I distrust the army, but if Aristide is restored, there is some chance of the popular movement being able to come aboveground and build for the future. Elections are not nirvana but they are a step forward if they can be promoted, especially in a country like Haiti which has only know the grip of dictators for decades, which, of course, were supported by past administration in the US.

But the Cold War is past and foreign policy goals are re-orienting themselves across the spectrum, with many conservatives moving to a 'no intervention' position because it serves their purposes of promoting as little cross-government cooperation as possible.

It is time that the left reconsidered the merits of collective security, because the alternative is not peace but the rule by local militias and violence cloaked in nationalism. Bosnia, Rwanda, Angola — these are the continuing killing fields of today that are likely to multiply if some system of just intervention is not established.

Self-determination is only the destruction of even smaller groups rights be local imperialists and bullies. It is hardly morally more right for Serbs to destroy the self-determination of Bosnian muslims than for the UN to collectively try to impose a just resolution. And it is hardly more violent for the Haitian military to suppress and murder dissenters in Haiti than for a multi-national force, sanctioned by the UN, to invade and restore elections.

This does not mean that the Left should not continue a skeptical attitude towards most military interventions, just as we have skepticism towards most government actions. But since we support government violence to collect taxes to support social programs and I assume that most people on the list support the imprisonment and prosecution of bankers who defraud the public, why should we not be able to mobilize and fight for the right interventions and against the ones we see as opposed to progressive goals?

So I support the invasion of Haiti, opposed the invasion of Panama, Grenada, and the Gulf, and will oppose any attempt to invade Cuba.

The Right has no problem choosing which interventions to support and which ones to oppose. So we end up with interventions that the Right supports, yet the Left leaves its allies without arms or military support. There is no Soviet Union (however problematic its actions or motivations) that can offer military protection or support to regimes representing left movements. So that leaves mobilization of world forces to fight the same mobilization by the Right.

So the left needs to promote some form of collective security as an alternative to the selective unilateral intervention by the US to serve corporate and right-wing interests.

Haiti is a good place to start the precedent of interventions in support of democratic movements, rather in opposition to them. It will not be easy to sustain that goal and the right will try to subvert it, but the continuation of the Cedras regime is what the right wants, so no invasion is a win for the right-wing and a loss for the Haitian people.

So I hope the left will mobilize not in opposition to invasion but in support of a real and just peace after the invasion.

It's a harder slogan than 'US Out of Everywhere' but we need to move beyond 'No Blood For Oil' — which merely meant no US blood for oil in the end — and promote less bloodshed across the world. As Rwanda, Bosnia and Angola show, the absence of US troops does not mean the absence of death and dying. So we need a new slogan and a new program for foreign policy for a new world after the Cold War.

From: Javier Santiago Lucerna <J_SANTIAGO@UPR1.UPR.CLU.EDU>
Fri, 16 Sep 94 22:45 AST
Subject: Re: The Left Should Support Haiti Invasion

As a native of the Caribbean Basin, I find the comments of those supporting the military invasion of Haiti by the United States of America quite disgusting.

What is the state of the U.S. left when somebody who participates in it relinquishes in the official business of a clear imperialistic foreign policy just for the sake of a 'just (?) cause'? Where is your memory of recent history? No, I am not talking about Granada, Panama or Kuwait! Do you have to talk about democracy when the democratic rights of the Cuban people and government are violated on the most natural basis: the denial of food! I mean all of this happened just last week!! When the Cuban government tried to put on the table the Embargo as part of the immigrations talks, what did Clinton's adviser did? They went for Pizza!

Invasion for the sake of human rights? For democracy? For the end of the dictatorship? Where the fuck were the democrats during the heydays of Duvalier, when at least a Haitian died every single day during his dictatorship? They surely did a helluva job, sending an airplane and putting the bastard in safe ground in France, where he still lives with all the money he stole from the poor!

Even the leftist-to-be of the black caucus cannot deny the ultimate truth. As a female member of the black caucus said on C-Span earlier today, 'democracy will bring business, free markets to the people of Haiti.' Tell me something!

The bottom line: Why invade? Well, Haiti, as Cuba is the paradise for any transnational company that dreams with loads of unskilled cheap labor. That's why republicans are against it, because they will see more and more companies pack their bags and head for the ultimate paradise, which I think will not be the shinning star of the Caribbean; that is, Puerto Rico.

But then, probably the U.S. left will be happy for one thing: more cheap labor more proletarians in the world, closer the revolution. I guess that's the conclusion that can be reached from a country whose only real invasion occurred in a movie: Red Dawn.

Javier, who is looking forward for the fucking one hundredth anniversary of the United States invasion of Puerto Rico in 1998.

[P.S.: If you still feel you should celebrate this tragedy, excuse me, invasion keep it private please, of at least out of the sight of those who still suffers in an everyday basis the struggle of been invaded in the 'name of democracy']

From: (Stephen Arod Shirreffs)
Sat, 17 Sep 1994 16:38:30 -0800
Subject: Re: Haiti, Neocolonialism, the Responsibility of the 1st World

Pursuant to Jonathan Sterne's comments, who wrote:

>One person wrote that 'shit happens and then we talk about it'

That is a perhaps legitimate paraphrase for a set of purposes, but it is out of the context in which I issued it. I was opposing the notion that anyone has the 'right' to squelch debate. What I said was, 'Shit happens, man, and we get to talk about it.' There is no 'then' there. The 'we' is inclusive, not exclusive.

I hold that among the most serious problems in the present left are proprietorial claims which, a priori, close debates based not upon what is said but upon who might say it. My commitment to this notion is NEVER swayed by emotion, including when I feel within myself a desire to 'own' a discussion of some matter that bears directly upon myself. For me to accept the manifest 'know nothingism' of Javier's coda to his piece would have been dishonest and, moreover, patronizing. I am against those qualities!

re Haiti itself:

>I'll begin by clarifying my own position: I am profoundly ambivalent about
>the whole endeavor.

While I have, so far, opposed the invasion, I too am profoundly ambivalent about it. What might be of some utility in the forum which we have (i.e., this list which is not, thank god, a democratic centralist organization) is to examine some of the background of this ambivalence and what it says about the present state of radical thought in particular and in general.

>The problem, as always, is history. This is where I found Javier's
>post most accurate — and I think his rage clarifies rather than
>obfuscates the position — there is no such thing as an innocent
>American intervention in the Caribbean.

I, on the contrary, found Javier's post most definitely obfuscating, precisely because it fails to account for political movement within Latin America. Here is where I am decidedly not an expert ... nonetheless, the categories of American intervention today are not as they were even a short decade ago. Again, I think this is an interesting topic, one with considerably greater penetrating powers than anti-American anger directed at a bunch of radicals. Who in Latin America does support US intervention in Haiti?


I don't quite understand what you mean by 'the 'natural' aspects of the 'so-called primitive accumulation' underlying capitalism.' Also, what is 'poco theory'? poco = post-colonial?? (I, for one, believe that the more appropriate word at this point in most places would be post-post-colonial. I base this largely on my experience in Southeast Asia where the popoco states make exactly that claim themselves ... but this is better explored elsewhere.)

>Gayatri Spivak, in response to a question regarding what '1st world
>people should do' in light of poco theory, suggests that we (meaning
>myself and anyone else who identifies as part of the 1st world) at
>least try to be 'other' for awhile. We should give up the universal in
>order to learn a little bit about our own positionality. Sobeit. And
>being 'other' in this case means listening to voices from very
>different places saying unpleasant things. A neocolonialist maneuver
>by any other name still smells like shit. I don't have any clear
>answers on this one. Seems my confusion here may be a privilege of

This stuff makes me so damned nervous. What a sure, un-nuanced grip Ms. Spivak reveals over such concepts as 'other' and 'universal'! Meanwhile, here I am, writing a dissertation on, as I might say according to what argument I am making, the relationship between local and universal in the (pre-colonial) Malay Court textual tradition, which tradition considers itself as decidedly 'universal' and hardly 'marginal'. So, I find that Islam therein is acknowledged as the universal and simultaneously domesticated as the merely foreign whose very form is made to conform to the shape of Malay kingship (kerajaan: literally, the state of being en-king-ed, sometimes inaccurately tr'ed as kingdom). Meanwhile, the Spivakians would argue that such literature, despite its conceit (meant technically), is decidedly marginal and 'other', not universal at all ... and poor ole' me is some kind of 'non-other' expropriating the treasures of the margins. I call that, at best, teleology.

I raise the point because I consider the Spivakian stance you have outlined to be precisely a form of dismissal, a kind of bureaucratic response which *requires* a training exercise before admission to the great Club des Margines. Moreover, it is a position which derives part of its longevity from perpetuating a distinction which the present world economy is eroding. Thus, the mere act of listening to unpleasant voices while maintaining silence is postulated as legitimizing. But, lo, I have heard many unpleasant voices (both from the 'margins' and from the 'center') have held my tongue and spoken out by turns. Thanks, Gayatri, for the advice, but no thanks.

The word privilege functions in much the same fashion. Look at it this way. I thought Javier used his self-confessed (let us call it) 'privilege of closeness' rather unwisely. I said so. He chose to curse rather than enlighten, to muddle up matters in the name of an anger which he did not delineate to utility, rather than to explain the factors which make up his analysis. But if I view this from a hierarchy of privilege, as you seem to suggest, then I must artificially credit him on account of his 'privilege of closeness' and discount my own thoughts because of a postulated and un-examined 'privilege of distance'. What a curiously mechanical turn of mind! Moreover, I am asked to grant him a kind of literary unassailability; in short, I am asked to patronize him. No, I will not.

Mere proximity/distance does not explain anything. Cedras is very, very close. The rawest recruit to the Ton-tons (I continually misplace their present name) is even 'closer', and of the class most deleteriously affected by the 2 centuries of American adventurism in the Caribbean. Does this grant their views 'privilege'? Must I be silenced by their closeness? Must I patiently, like some disgraced cadre in the Cultural Revolution, listen to their 'shit' the more to be enlightened. Sorry, I just don't buy that. Now, on the other hand, Mandela (taken as a random example) is very far away. Does that mean that his perspective would be utterly useless, necessarily dismissed out of hand before even listening? Maybe, given the man's manifest wisdom even through the terror and dissembling of 'being there', he might have something valuable to add to a discussion of ambivalence or the utility of intervention. Must I a priori dismiss him by reason of miles?

So, concluding, I think this particular quote from Spivak amounts to an insult to one's intelligence. She's free to do that, and I'm free to ignore her ... just as Javier is quite free to ignore my beseechingness.

— Stephen, who should be preparing a lecture on the basics of Buddhism

If one believes with Gramsci that an intellectual vocation is socially possible as well as desirable, then it is an inadmissable contradiction at the same time to build analyses of historical experience around exclusions ... that stipulate, for instance, that only women can understand feminine experience, only Jews can understand Jewish suffering, only formerly colonial subjects can understand colonial experience.'
Edward Said in Culture and Imperialism

Copyright © 1994 by the Bad Subjects Collective. All rights reserved.