Global Crisis, Cuban Realities,
and The Future Of Sovereign Nation States
Dr. Glen T. Martin
(Presented in Havana at the Cuban-North-American Philosopher's Conference, June 2000)
A. Historical Overview: the Nation State and Capitalism
The frenzy of territorial conquest in pursuit of gold and riches precipitated by the voyages of Columbus was a key event in the evolution of the modern world system. As they emerged out of the Medieval Feudal economic and political systems, the European powers were now defining themselves as "sovereign nations states" with relations among them defined as "international law." Within this context they soon formulated the "Doctrine of Discovery" which served as early "international law," guiding the conquest and exploitation of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and elsewhere. This doctrine recognized lands occupied by indigenous peoples as their "sovereign territory" although unoccupied lands could be claimed by the European nations that "discovered" them.
The "sovereignty" of indigenous peoples, however, was inferior to that of the invaders. Their territory was to be respected only on the condition that they (1) traded exclusively with the "discovering" nation, (2) did not use violence to resist economic penetration, and (3) allowed Christian missionaries among them. If the indigenous peoples violated any of these principles of international law, it was deemed "legal" for the Crown to conquer them and confiscate their property as compensation.
The three key components of this early modern system have never been altered down to the present historical moment. First, the greed and exploitation of the developing capitalist system, second, the sovereign nation state system with the more powerful nations promoting capitalism in the search for global markets, labor and resources, and, third, the unenforceable system of so-called "international law" that legitimates and protects the dominant nation states and their capitalist enterprises. Through one ideological justification after another, this system has always devalued the so-called "sovereignty" of the weaker nations and peoples subject to exploitation or conquest. The three components of this system developed through successive and overlapping periods of conquistadors, of mercantilism, of slavery and the slave trade, of colonialism, and into the present period of neo-colonial domination and exploitation. In all cases, the dominant nations recognized their own "sovereignty" as superior and used so-called international law to violate the inferior sovereignty of the dominated and exploited nations and peoples.
The situation today is no different in these respects. The ideology of the white man’s burden has passed, the ideology of cold war necessity has passed, but the new ideology of world order, defense against terrorism, protection of human rights within countries, and economic globalization leaves weaker nations and peoples nearly as vulnerable as the first indigenous peoples encountered by the European conquistadors. Yet the global situation has also changed tremendously in other respects, since the world today faces truly planetary crises undreamed before the 20th century.
B. Today’s Global Crisis
Peoples and nations all over the world today struggling to survive in the face of an increasingly uncertain future. Not only has global poverty continued to increase, with a steady transfer of wealth from the poorest nations on earth to the richest nations over the past several decades, but local and regional economies are steadily giving way to a globalization in which the labor of the poor does not invigorate and enliven the well being of their neighbors but rather serves the profits of rich investors in first world nations. But extreme and growing poverty is only one aspect of the global crisis.
Another aspect is the population explosion. According to some scientists, the earth may be faced with 12 billion people by the year 2025, which, compounded by growing global poverty and misery portends a possible nightmare existence for the majority of the earth’s inhabitants. A third dimension of our global crisis is the planetary breakdown of the environment in its many dimensions: from the destruction of forests, to massive topsoil erosion, to the insertion of unimaginable quantities of toxic waste into the environment, to groundwater contamination, to the depletion of the ozone layer which protects all life from the lethal radiation of the sun. A product of both capitalist exploitation of nature and of the capitalist production of massive poverty and misery, the environmental crisis compounds the crisis of the population explosion and global poverty to give a picture of the future for the entire planet which is indeed bleak.
A fourth aspect of the global crisis faced by the earth’s citizens is world-wide militarism, war, and weapons production at the level of approximately one trillion dollars per year. The development, sale and use of vicious high tech weapons creates ever more suicidal conflicts within states and merciless bombing and destruction of life by the imperialist powers, as the recent fates of Iraq, Sudan, Algeria and Yugoslavia have made clear. Instead of devoting its resources to dealing with the above three global crises, the productive and financial assets of the world are devoted to a militarism which increasingly destroys the social order of entire cultures and nations, leaving the economy in a shambles and society in ruins.
But there is a fifth crisis in the world today that is often referred to by progressives as the "erosion of sovereignty." Both militarily and economically the imperialist powers and their financial institutions have created a climate of opinion and an ideology which justifies military intervention within smaller and weaker nation states and a forms of economic penetration that avoids regulation, control, or even economic benefit for the host government. More and more nations in the third world are losing what little sovereignty and autonomy they had, and find their lives and fates controlled from abroad by the IMF, World Bank, economic blockades, military intervention, or political manipulation from the imperial centers of world power.
C. Cuban Realities
As a small nation of eleven million people Cuba experiences many of these crises directly. From attempted military invasions to assassination attempts to sabotage of its crops to the effects of poverty, Cuba must deal with crisis on a first hand, day to day basis. Life is tenuous, insecure, and the future does not look bright. Even if the vicious economic blockade were ended, the imperialist attempts at destruction of its socialism would certainly never end, since successful socialism is a living disproof of the lies and distortions about capitalism promoted by the capitalist media worldwide. Global capitalism cannot live with socialist neighbors and we have seen the imperial powers overthrow or destroy one nation or movement after another that promised the blessings of a socialized existence to their populations. Currently the US is escalating its military involvement in Columbia to prevent just such a revolution at all costs.
Cuba has defended itself against 40 years of aggression with vigor, courage, and wisdom. And part of its defense has involved repeated assertions of its sovereignty as a nation state in the UN and within other forums. But the attack on the sovereignty of nations continues unabated worldwide, pointing towards a future world where national sovereignty may have little meaning and Cuban defense of its national sovereignty will have less and less force.
Well known progressive activist Diana Johnstone, writing in Covert Action Quarterly, decries this global attack on national sovereignty with which even many progressives are involved. She argues that the "internationalism" of progressives has been "disoriented by the collapse of any discernable socialist alternative to capitalism" who now lack a "clear analysis of the contemporary world" and see "the nation-state as the cause of war, oppression, and violations of human rights." "The irony," she writes, "is that many well-intentioned idealists are unwittingly helping to advance this project by eagerly promoting its moralistic cover: a theoretical global democracy that should replace attempts to strengthen democracy at the supposedly obsolete nation-state level":
The shift of decision-making power away from elected governments, which is an essential aspect of this particular "economic globalization" is being accompanied by an ideological assault on the nation-state as a political community exercising authority over a defined territory. For all its shortcomings, the nation-state is still the political level most apt to protect citizens’ welfare and the environment from the destructive expansion of global markets. Dismissing the nation-state as an anachronism or condemning it as a mere expression of "nationalist" exclusivism, overlooks and undermines its long-standing legitimacy as the focal point of democratic development, in which citizens can organize to define and defend their interests.... In the enthusiasm for an envisaged global utopia, certain crucial questions are being neglected, notably: Who will pay for all this? How? Who will enforce the decisions? Until such practical matters are cleared up, brave new institutions such as the ICC [International Criminal Court] risk being no more than further instruments of selective intervention against weaker countries."
For most of the 20th century, progressive revolutions within nation states have been battered, blockaded, invaded or subverted by the dominant capitalist powers of the world, from the cold war to the overthrow of Chilean socialism to the current intervention in Columbia. For as we have seen, the nation state system has been used from the beginning by the capitalist powers for conquest, genocide, slavery, colonialism, or hegemonic exploitation, according primary sovereignty to themselves and a derivative, secondary sovereignty to the exploited periphery. The two systems, global capitalism and sovereign nation-states, developed in tandem in the early modern world. With the fall of the Soviet Union as countervailing superpower, the nation state as a defense of progressive democracy is today tenuous and Quixotic at best.
D. The Future of the Nation State
For Marx, the socialist revolution would necessarily be a global phenomenon. He did not envisage socialist nation-states but a democratic socialist world order. What Diana Johnstone ultimately shares with those progressive "idealists" she criticizes is lack of revolutionary imagination. Progressives are so battered by the fragmentation and repeated defeats of their movement that they have lost a truly global, revolutionary vision. They can do no better than cling to a Quixotic defense of local autonomy for pockets of progressive democracy, like Cuba, by defending the very regressive and outmoded nation-state system that has always been linked with global capitalism in its world-wide drive for exploitation of people and resources.
A truly visionary revolutionary praxis does not struggle merely in terms of a piece-meal defense of isolated freedoms and pockets of progressive community. Marxist democratic socialism is the vision of a world-historical transformation of our human economic and political reality. It is fundamentally dialectical, that is, revolutionary, involving the negation of the so-called world order of the capitalist era, bringing forward whatever is of value into a higher synthesis that transforms the entire framework of society and economy. It is also fundamentally global, since socialism cannot easily exist within a framework of international capitalist markets and financial institutions, nor within the system of supposedly sovereign nation-states that protects and legitimates global hegemony and exploitation. What we are struggling for is a new human reality, a collective movement to a new level of existence. Only naive liberalism believes that a system premised on exploitation of people and nature can possibly be "reformed" in the direction of justice, human rights, human dignity or freedom.
The very existence of sovereign nation-states violates the universalism of revolutionary praxis. Every human being on the planet has the right to a decent, secure life, free of both economic exploitation and political oppression, not simply those within certain countries. These principles are universal and the progressive revolutionary vision is universal. That is precisely why the oppressors and exploiters see us as their mortal enemy, since we cannot, in the nature of the case, leave them alone without criticism or without a praxis interfering with their exploitation of people and nature.
Diana Johnstone is surely right that we do not want to further weaken the nation-state with out answering the questions "Who will pay for all this? How? Who will enforce the decisions?" We need wise, concrete praxis as well as an authentic revolutionary vision. However, for 40 years an international movement has been growing around just such a concrete vehicle for global transformation beyond our current nightmare of a world system – the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. This Constitution effectively addresses all these questions and much more. It has been the collective work of hundreds of global citizens, many of them progressives, during four Constituent Assemblies from 1968 to 1991. It was written to consciously address the five global crises outlined above and create a new framework for humanity which is concrete, practical, and rapidly realizable. It replaces the fragmented sovereignty of territorial nation-states with the sovereignty of the people of the earth, which is ultimately the only legitimate form sovereignty, since sovereignty (the source of all legitimate authority) is there to protect the universal rights, freedoms, and dignities belonging to all human beings.
By abolishing the contradiction between attempts at local, territorial protection of universal human rights and freedoms, the Constitution can be understood on analogy with a Lockean social contract theory of the state. For Locke, people in the state of nature must locally protect their own universal rights, making life insecure at best. Hence, with the social contract, they voluntarily delegate some of their collective force over to a government instituted to protect their universal natural rights. But history has proven that the nation-state system is incapable of protecting or implementing universal human rights. International economics, imperialism, war, subversion and rivalry have left us nothing but a history of human misery and degradation. At the dawn of the 21st century, many global citizens realize that a new social contract is necessary. The nation-state system is akin to a war-like state of nature in which people must locally attempt to protect universal human rights, making life for most citizens of the planet insecure at best. At this historical moment, the nation-states must voluntarily give over some of their collective force to a non-military, democratic world government instituted to protect both economic and political universal natural rights. It is now recognized that the only legitimate sovereignty is that of the people of the earth, and the only truly legitimate government is non-military democratic world government that represents sovereignty of all.
The Constitution does not abolish nations but only the spurious notion of the absolute sovereignty of nations in order to protect the integrity of nations and individuals through enforceable, democratically legislated world law. The Constitution abolishes all weapons of war and mass destruction among all nations, including for world government itself. It finances the initial stages of world government by having nations join the federation while disarming (under the supervision of the World Disarmament Commission), and giving half of their annual military budget to the Federation while retaining the other half for civic purposes. The Constitution does not mandate any universal economic system but rather allows each nation to choose its own economic system consistent with universal human economic and political rights. The Constitution institutes a World Ombudsmus to protect human rights, a non-military World Police to enforce the law, a World Court System to peacefully handle disputes between nations and individuals and a World Executive to address the global crises of the population explosion, global poverty, environmental destruction, and insecurity among nations and peoples.
All these agencies, including the World Executive, are under the democratic control of the World Parliament which includes a House of Nations (roughly akin to the US Senate) and a House of Peoples (roughly akin to the US House of Representatives). Within this new framework, small nation-states like Cuba will be secure within a demilitarized world and protected by the enforceable rule of law and world courts. No one could create an economic blockade against Cuba, no one could attempt an invasion. Instances of harassment could be taken to the courts and their perpetrators could not hide within another so-called "sovereign" nation for protection of their terrorist activities. The World Police would have the authority to find and arrest them.
Dialectically changing the entire framework does not weaken the nation-state but protects and strengthens it with the collective force of the sovereignty of the earth’s people. At the same time it eliminates from all nation-states the power of imperialism, war, subversion, and exploitation. The present world framework is a chaos of fragmented forces reinforced by the spurious notion of the absolute sovereignty of nation states. Through a new global social contract, in which we recognize the legitimate sovereignty of the people of earth, human beings achieve for the first time the collective force to protect universal economic and political rights and freedoms. To be revolutionary is to have a vision of substantive change in the very premises and framework by which the world operates. It is to understand that incremental reform of the present historically outmoded framework and its premises is in principle impossible. The most practical, and yet truly visionary, revolutionary praxis today is precisely this – to work for the ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth by the nations and peoples of the earth.
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