The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Haiti:
The State in decomposition

Sep 27, 2004

The following article was excerpted and translated from an article appearing in the July 2004 issue of "Voix des Travailleurs" (Workers Voice), a publication of the Organization of Revolutionary Workers in Haiti. It gives a picture of the deteriorating situation in Haiti following the forced departure of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile. The social and political chaos described herein only added to the disaster left by hurricane Jeanne that hit in September.

While politicians maneuver and settle accounts with each other inside the State apparatus put in place by this year's U.S. military intervention, the State itself is rapidly disintegrating.

For some time now, the State has abandoned all its public service functions, like hospitals and garbage pickups. The State doesn't even repair the roads, which become impassable. Electricity is on only randomly, even in the capital. And there are no public health facilities.

For decades, the Haitian State apparatus has been corrupt from top to bottom. Those with power try only to enrich themselves as quickly as possible, stealing from the State and selling their influence when they have nothing else to sell.

Any State, even the most democratic, is in the last resort an apparatus of oppression against the poor in the service of the bourgeois ruling class. But in Haiti, where those in power have long used their control of the State to personally get rich, the situation of the poor is particularly dire....

Today, Haiti has been turned over to the law of rival armed bands. There are official armed bands of police, who are incapable of assuring public safety. Unofficial armed bands of the old Armed Forces of Haiti parade and demand that the army Aristide had dissolved be reconstituted. There are private armed bands in the service of the rich. Bands of hoodlums called "chimeres" fight each other for power in working class neighborhoods over the right to pillage, steal and rape with impunity....

Workers' neighborhoods become unlivable. Hoodlums on the loose open fire to punish those who encroach on their territory. Women and children have been raped in the middle of the street or in their homes. In Port-au-Prince, the capital, the poor are kidnaped in order to be raped. Confrontations between armed bands cause more victims in the population than among the gangs. Certain nights are transformed into nightmares, and many workers go out to work in the morning after a sleepless night....

Workers' neighborhoods get no protection from the police, when the police themselves aren't part of the attacking gangs. The authorities leave the workers' neighborhoods to the law of armed gangs. The "international protective force," set up to protect the airport, official buildings, and the industrial zone, isn't there to protect the population.

The damage isn't only material. There also is a degradation of the collective behaviors that had developed in the population. Confronted by poverty and exploitation, the poor population for years cared for and looked out for each other in ways that very often protected them from the powerful and the authorities.

But today, the recent violence isn't calling forth such collective reactions. Fear pushes people to withdraw into their own corner, isolating the victims from one another, making it easy for those with a revolver or knife, who live as parasites.

And yet, hope for the working population is in collective reaction. An act of isolated banditry can be prevented by unarmed people, on condition that they act collectively, on condition that they don't leave anyone alone with their fear to face their aggressor. A woman who is molested must be able to count on everyone else reacting violently toward the rapist. The hoodlums, even armed, will hesitate before taking on a neighborhood where they know the inhabitants are ready to aid one another.

That appears difficult today, when the rot of society and the decomposition of the State have disrupted social life and undermined collective reactions. The only place where there is any collective organization is in the industrial zones where the necessities of capitalist production regroup an important part of the poor population. Organizing among workers to defend themselves in front of the boss is already a big step toward forging a collective will. Establishing links between workers of different enterprises, who often know each other, would be another step. If the workers learn to organize themselves in the industrial zone to defend their collective interests, they will know how to organize themselves in their neighborhoods. They will be able to link themselves with others – small merchants who are shaken down, women who are attacked, youth, the unemployed and casual workers who, though poor, haven't become bandits. And when people are organized and capable of a collective will, they also find the means to neutralize the arms of their enemies, the big and little parasites.

Today, does this seem to be difficult even to imagine? Undoubtedly. Nevertheless, life leaves us only one way: substituting for the faltering power of the rich another power, our power, that of workers conscious of their interests and the interest of all the exploited classes.