The major obstacle for broad front politics
Wikipedia defines determinism as a philosophy stating that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given those conditions, nothing else could happen. It aptly describes the philosophy behind a great part of the Puerto Rican Left. You might be thinking I’m going to talk about the economic determinism of orthodox Marxists, or something of the sort. Actually, it’s the other way around. It is in the nationalist Left where we are finding determinism; specifically, status determinism! Let me explain.
As Puerto Rico is still a United States territory in a classical colonial fashion, most of the island’s politics revolve around the future status of the island. On the table, Puerto Ricans have four options: become the 51st state of the union and fully annex to the United States, sign a free association compact with the United States as a sovereign nation, declare complete independence from the United States, or stay in the current colonial territorial status. The Left has historically supported independence, although now a large number of activists have supported the free association compact with the United States as an acceptable alternative also.
Now, the largest progressive organization on the island is the Puerto Rican Independence Party, which recognizes itself as a social-democratic party. In practice however, they seem to base most of their campaigning on nationalist sentiments instead of the issues one would usually associate with social democrats. Their nationalism has also become an obstacle for the development of broad front politics as they are developing in other parts of the world. The main issue is that broad front politics, for these leaders, only make sense in independent nations. They argue that while Puerto Rico is a US colony, any type of broad front progressive politics is reformist, if not colonialist and pro-status quo.
In other words, a front that encompasses unions, marginalized communities, LGBT activists, along with socialists and independence activists, for the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), should only be constructed if and only if it is also advocating in favor of total independence (and by the way, if it openly calls for voting for them would be nice too). 95% of Puerto Ricans openly declare themselves against independence. So, basically, according to the Independence Party, we can’t seem to do any kind of electoral politics with 95% of the working class and other oppressed sectors simply because they are still not in favor of independence. Sure! We will piquet with them! Sure! We will send press releases supporting them! And sure, if you vote for us, we will write progressive bills in favor of them (although they will not be passed anyway). But!! Any kind of broad electoral politics that unites these sectors under a front that is not openly for independence (and voting for us), that’s unacceptable! That’s basically the idea.
Obviously independence is indispensable for any kind of radical transformation in Puerto Rico. Therefore, any type of broad front must eventually become a national liberation movement, as well as a socialist movement, for it to truly be revolutionary. However, the Independence Party is putting the cart before the horse.
How in the world are Puerto Ricans going to develop a National Liberation movement that unites most of the working class and other oppressed sectors, if they are opposing actually working with these sectors until they are convinced of independence? As Rosa Luxemburg said, “Those who don’t move do not feel their chains.” Socialists are obviously aware that they can’t presume a worker’s movement will be openly and unquestionably for socialism from day one. That’s part of the struggle. Radicalizing and organizing workers has to be the starting point, even if at that starting point they are not yet totally convinced for socialism. Nationalist independence activists seem to be unable to grasp this dynamic. From day one, they require workers, gays, lesbians, community activists, etc to be totally in favor of independence; otherwise, we can work together sometimes but not organically in a movement.
In this sense, it is with great sorrow, that we have to conclude the Puerto Rican Independence Party is actually becoming a reactionary force. Their conservatism has certainly affected their support. From more than 100,000 votes in the 2000 elections (5%) they have decreased to below 40,000 votes in 2008 (less than 3%).
Meanwhile, the recently founded Working People’s Party, which originated from the socialist movement, is seeking to fill the void the Independence Party has created. The Working People’s Party is not openly for independence or for socialism. Why? Because it is trying to develop precisely the broad front politics we have been talking about. It wants to unite in practice, workers and all other oppressed sectors to struggle against neoliberalism. These sectors are mostly not yet in favor of independence or socialism. But, as Rosa Luxemburg says, once they start moving, they will hopefully feel their chains. In any case, organizing workers and oppressed sectors is a precondition for revolutionary struggle. So, even if they are not from day one, in favor of total independence and socialism, organizing these sectors, empowering these sectors, is without a doubt, a stepping-stone toward revolution.