Thoughts from Hawaii on Mauna Kea and Puerto Rico

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Comrade Motopu
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Jul 23 2019 01:13
Thoughts from Hawaii on Mauna Kea and Puerto Rico

I'm posting this as a forum topic because it's not developed enough to be a blog post and I was kind of hoping others had thoughts on these topics. Constructive criticism also welcome.

Attempt to write down some thoughts on the current connections between the Puerto Rico and Hawaii protests.

Protests in Puerto Rico over the last several decades have been more about workers' issues, ballooning student tuitions, massive cuts in social services and physical infrastructure, protesting murderous austerity, and 100 plus years of forced debt taken out by neoliberal governments but paid for by the population. PR teachers’ unions had to fight against their corrupt US based internationals who were demanding they accept massive give backs and cuts in pay and benefits. Puerto Rico has always ranked 51 in the US as far as economic and social well being of its people, behind the poorest Southern states, mostly as the result of wealth extracting and autonomy destroying colonial capitalist dominance. They literally have a US implemented austerity enforcing board controlling their economy favoring big business and destroying social and public infrastructure to pay off corporate debts. It's called the Fiscal Control Board, created through the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) in 2016. This is the well established practice of strong states enforcing economic "structural adjustment" on the weaker ones, to the benefit of the global capitalist class, or their own national capitalist class.

While both Hawaii and Puerto Rico were taken under US control in the 1890s, and people in both places push back against military and corporate dominance and brutality, the current cultural protests in Hawaii are different from the PR ones. They’re not so much class uprisings against capital as they are directed by cultural practitioners, academics, life long activists, Hawaiian nationalists, pro-monarchists, and NGO board members. They seem to me to be less about direct class confrontations and more about class collaboration against cartoonish notions of the West, with the small focus on "capitalism" referring to non-local big business, and tacked on to give the sheen of serious resistance.

Many of the cultural demands contain a racial component, which while understandable given the nature of the US overthrow and attacks on Hawaiian culture, is nonetheless a limiting factor in organizing that could benefit the entire working class as opposed to just one ethnic group, especially the Professional Managerial Class of that ethnic group. While there should be specific programs targeted to reverse the legacy of colonialism as it affects Native Hawaiians, there also need to be universal fight backs that draw the entire class in. The leadership envisions a revival of ancient and sacred ways, even the Kapu system, which in the Hawaiian islands was the most rigid caste hierarchy in the Pacific. Even though many claim the intent is to enact a modernized "Kapu Aloha" it's a weak demand for the 21st century or the 18th.

It really simplifies the movements in Puerto Rico to talk about solidarity between Hawaii and PR if we're just talking about imperialism. Of course imperialism is bad, but the form the resistance takes matters. The last few years of resistance in Hawaii seem to be about padding important political and academic leaders resumes, establishing their authenticity as culturally aware. There is also cheap populism based on romanticizing local culture devoid of any kind of class analysis, as if people in Hawaii are exploited because there is foreign presence, not a capitalist system in place. Are the Mauna Kea protectors making any substantive demands on the Hawaiian or US ruling classes, or engaging in any kind of long term organizing of the working class to attain power to leverage against capitalists?

If people are mobilizing demonstrations without the goal of creating a movement that can actually challenge capitalist power, I think many are going to be disappointed, and we can look forward to another 100 years of cultural demands and bitterness with no substantive gains.

Nymphalis Antiopa
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Jul 29 2019 06:43
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Protests in Puerto Rico over the last several decades have been more about workers' issues, ballooning student tuitions, massive cuts in social services and physical infrastructure, protesting murderous austerity, and 100 plus years of forced debt taken out by neoliberal governments but paid for by the population.

Not the recent ones at all (even if such obviously economic issues are unexplicit factors in the current protests).

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we can look forward to another 100 years of cultural demands and bitterness with no substantive gains.

Unless you're 1 year old, this "we" hasn't even the remotest chance of looking forward to another 100 years of anything. And besides, you really think the vast majority of humanity,, and maybe even the whole of it, will exist in 100 years?

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the goal of creating a movement that can actually challenge capitalist power

certainly involves attacking indigenous culture, with all its falsifications, as much as any other culture other than a 'culture' of challenging capitalist power, but generalised critiques such as these don't help unravel the falsified ethnic histories churned out by

Quote:
the Professional Managerial Class of that ethnic group

Being more precise about what this class do, say and write in PR and Hawaii would make this useful and more of a basis for a discussion, but as it is your text hardly inspires a desire to develop or research such things since what you write could be more or less said about any situation anywhere in the world where "ethnic" questions as an ideological support for a professional career contribute to distracting from the class struggle, however 'correct' your comment is. Which, I suspect, is why no-one's taken up your desire to develop these notes.

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Comrade Motopu
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Jul 29 2019 08:09

Thank you for those comments and suggestions on what might garner more interest in my notes.

I'm not for attacking indigenous culture. Critiquing it is fair game for sure, and I think that's what you suggested. I'm wondering about the possibility that people who are living the very real legacy of colonialism, one which leaves large numbers of Native Hawaiians incarcerated, homeless, or very poor, could develop that same sort of cross ethnic solidarity seen on the plantations and docks in the strike waves that overturned an apartheid system in Hawaii. And of course the economic and social problems are not limited to "Kanaka Maoli" (native Hawaiians).

I had written with a bit more detail about Hawaii here, and this may go to your suggestion of providing more detail on what the PMC/academics do: https://libcom.org/blog/hawaii-class-militancy-or-cultural-patriotism-28...

Hawaii is a unique place as any. For one thing, there is a "white" minority, which historian Gerald Horne wrote probably has something to do with the failure of Republican politics, McCarthyism, and the higher union density.

Currently there is an ongoing resurgence in preserving and carrying forward traditional Hawaiian culture/lifeways, and there are a lot of good aspects to that. On the other hand, when I ask students if any of them have heard of Harry Kamoku, an important labor leader of Hawaiian ancestry, none of them have. The Hawaiian studies programs, from what I can see, focus more on pre-contact life and as I said, a romanticized version of what life was like for the Maka'ainana (common people/people of the land). I think there is a possibility the struggles over the sacred could overlap with class struggle, and in some ways they already do, but they also seem like a great diversion into projects led by professionals, with no definite goals regarding gaining power for the working class.

Regarding the economic aspects of the current wave of protests against the now resigning Ricardo Rosselló, I've seen news reports mentioning abolishing the PROMESA Financial Oversight Board (austerity board) was a common demand.

Nymphalis Antiopa
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Jul 30 2019 06:41
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.

I'm not for attacking indigenous culture. Critiquing it is fair game for sure, and I think that's what you suggested.

Sure - I meant "critiquing". But much of the time Leftist, libertarian, liberal or other ideologists ignore or even justify the hierarchical division of labour between men and women in the vast majority of indigenous cultures. This hierarchy may have had more of a material basis in pre-class society tribal societies, but within capitalism not critiquing it is just a reactive cop-out, It's reactive in the sense of just thinking because dominant white culture attacks these earlier types of culture, therefore we should support them. Often this comes from a guilty conscience on the part of those whites who support uncritically these ethnic cultures, a guilty conscience that implies they still think some reform of this mass-murdering torture-machine society is desirable, a guilty conscience that still somehow identifies with the dominant world, a bit like those who criticise Trump because he's an embarassment to the USA. Just as those who feel embarassed by Trump still think of the USA as "their" country and identify with it, those whites who have a guilty conscience about white domination/destruction &/or touristification of indigenous culture still think of themselves within identiy-definitions as white rather than as in conflict with this society, rather than as proletarians .

What do you mean by " gaining power for the working class. "?

And from the little I've read about Harry Kamoku, I can't see the relevance of such trade unionism for today. On the contrary, even if such unions are rank and file controlled, they inevitably end up producing paid representatives, budding bureaucrats, who inevitably compromise unnecessarily with capital and the bosses they negotiate with.

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Jul 30 2019 18:40

If you read the piece on Hawaii I linked to you'd see I already cover much of what you mention above, but I know it's a long article.

As far as Harry Kamoku, I mentioned him to indicate that for the most part, there is little or no coverage of the rich history of strikes in 20th century Hawaii in the Hawaiian Studies focus, which is more cultural. You might think a native Hawaiian labor hero would be an important inclusion in the history of Hawaiian culture, but it's more about, as I said, a romanticized past. To be fair, there are aspects of Hawaiian culture that have been brought out with deeper studies, and the existence of ethnic studies was itself the result of demands made in the US in 1968 by various ethnic groups who correctly cited Eurocentrism as a problem. Given the general purge of Universities of a lot of class struggle centered analysis over the last 50 years, the cultural part is on the rise, and at it's worst it falls into that "retreat from class" category that Ellen Meiksins Wood described.

The UNITE-HERE Local 5 union is pretty decent for many workers here. They carry out nation wide simultaneous negotiations at the hotels they've organized, which is a solid strategy in many ways. I mention this in the article. Hawaii has the highest union density in the U.S. at 23.1%. I understand that doesn't tell you the quality of the union, but it is one indicator of organizing ability, that it can keep workers unionized.