WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH THE HUMAN RIGHTS DISCOURSE THAT IT HAS SO FAR BEEN UNABLE TO BECOME AN AUTHENTIC MASS RENEWAL MOVEMENT?

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Food for an alternative thought to follow

 

Human Rights Reader 262

 

A contemporary philosopher asked himself: Is it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism?

1. According to the same philosopher, we tend to ignore existing social conflicts and contradictions thus avoiding a political mobilization against the excesses of capitalism. In this vision, human rights (HR) are too often presented as a (carefully depoliticized) global-humanitarian-cause disjointed from the existing critical political and ecological discourse, and not as our best current alternative to follow that covers that discourse.

2. It is argued that, in order to fix the  shortcomings of capitalism, one has to acknowledge that it is technological transformations that are necessary –and this is deemed beyond questioning. We have, of course, to change this attitude radically. The global social threat of epic proportions we face affects not only a few, but everybody. That alone calls for global actions carried out in many little places at the same time.

3. The notion of humanity, of a global-human-subject, is a fiction, because it presents to us social actors without serious contradictions, without conflict. It negates very real serious antagonisms. In a true democratic environment, it is these internal contradictions that are at the center of not recognizing there are social groups with different, social, cconomic, political and environmental interests to defend.

4. Ignoring this, leads to avoiding the questioning of ultimate interests of the ruling class and, in so doing, ignoring the needed transformation of the socioeconomic and political order. Conversely, it leads to asking the rulers to implement actions that allow the situation to basically continue unchanged.

 

5. Under such circumstances, any HR movement risks being apolitical and reactionary. Current political leaders respond to calls from their constituencies by assuring them that capitalism can solve the HR problems just “by doing some course corrections” over what has been done for the last 200 years in development work: “A couple technological innovations and management measures should do…”  Within such a vision, they only create an illusion that we are moving forward only to stay put in the same place with the HR problems remaining unresolved.

 

6. The underlying assumption is that HR and capitalism can both be achieved by developing and introducing such new technologies and applying stricter management standards. Political action is thus negated and instead replaced by a better-management-logic where decisions are, more and more, considered the business of experts that position themselves strictly outside the political domain.  Can one then honestly say that HR-projects-thus-structured can lead to a better, more just, society?

 

7. Seen another way, political-decision-making, confrontation-of-opposing-views or projects-for-a-different-social-order are discounted as legitimate democratic objectives by the elites. They are replaced by ‘the administration of the possible’, meaning that confrontation is placed in the realm of existing mercantile relationships. Consensus then really means crashing dissent, i.e., reaching ‘agreement’ without negotiation.

 

8. Moreover, we have to be aware that the strategy of seeking a consensus by instilling fear about any confrontation, is also part of the capitalist discourse. In this discourse, ideological confrontation, divergences and class struggle, as said, are replaced by techno-administrative planning processes that stay aloof of conflicts and disagreements.

 

9. The result of all of this is a world that shies away or represses public confrontation and liberty of expression of anything that is not part of the consensus. A ‘deal’ with civil society organizations, trade unions, popular political parties, community organizations, student unions, women’s organizations is out of the question. Instead, deals are struck with state agencies, experts, sympathetic NGOs, charity and interest groups –as long as they back the neoliberal order. Otherwise, discussions and disputes are recognized as democratic rights only as long as they do not question the prevailing system.

10. As a result, radical disagreement, political criticism and class conflicts are extricated from the political arena and equated with terrorism, criminal activity and illegal violence.

11. It is the raising consciousness about this scenario that explains a part of the HR movement rise in the last decade. I ask, have we not all preferred participating in policy negotiations centered on patch solutions rather than sticking to our principle of organized action, of militant disagreement centered around an alternative social vision? Some may ask, so what? Anything wrong with that? What is wrong is that negotiation of a non-political consensus rests on the idea that social problems that we face today are collateral, external effects and not something inherent to the economic relationships of capitalism.

12. In the capitalist paradigm, humanity and nature are elevated to the realm of a universal order. This then closes the space for social groups and social classes to contest the ‘universal order’. The obstacle that we are supposed to overcome, because it is constantly threatening us, remains unnamed, empty,  vague, external and can only be dealt-with through a consensual, depoliticized dialogue within a socioeconomic order for which humanity has, so far, been incapable of providing a better alternative…

13. Our HR movement can be transformed into a reactionary movement that turns its back to new socioeconomic alternatives. The idea of a society with respect for HR without modifying the capitalist order remains a neoliberal project that only is a fiction at best or a swindle at worst.

14. We need a different narrative. A sequence of events capable of mobilizing and seeking the compromise of claim holders to make the HR narrative come true. The current HR debate is the opportunity we have to transform the narrative, to foster debate about democracy and its deeper meaning; a democracy where contradictions can be expressed and class conflicts and disagreements can lead us to a better world.

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

cschuftan@phmovement.org

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Adapted from an article by Nieves y Miro Fuenzalida.

 

 

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