Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Globalization, Sovereignty and Citizenship…

Globalization, Sovereignty and Citizenship in the Caribbean

by Hilbourne A. Watson

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations
1None3,689,591 (5)None
Recently added byJebSprague

No tags.



Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

No reviews
Toward an Understanding of Transnational Capitalism in the Caribbean

Hilbourne Watson, in Globalization, Sovereignty, and Citizenship in the Caribbean, lays out a nuanced and radical critique of today’s “commonsense” perceptions of the nation- state and associated statuses such as citizenship. By “radical” I mean, as in the Greek definition, “arising from or going to a root or source.” While other contributors to the volume lay out historically grounded arguments, Watson’s first, second, and conclud- ing chapters stand out in challenging traditional nation-state-centric conceptions of political economy. Liberal universalized rights were supposed to promote a new frater- nité, but the rights of citizens have developed through and concomitant with systems of exploitation and repression. As Watson argues, these rights were never meant to extend relative equality to the masses, as is often believed. Hannah Arendt (1966: 267, 298–301) famously made a similar point in her critique of the nation-state and in the context of the “rights of man.”
Watson challenges surface-level understandings of national sovereignty. He argues that sovereignty has come to exist in “soft” and “advanced” forms through different relatively autonomous state apparatuses in the region (and in the context of U.S. impe- rialism) but that have altered their orientations in the global era. Claims about the unchanging nature of nation-states and the paramount importance of national “inter- ests” have been built up through various historical narratives and myths. However, socially constructed spaces, including those of the national state, are not immanent and fixed to capitalism. States do not operate on their own; agents operate through the state, and their agency is not independent of social forces. Rather than reify the state, we need to understand how social groups and classes operate through and around it, altering its makeup and dynamics.
As Watson shows, qualitative changes occurring in the globalization phase of world capitalism have altered the ways in which uneven development occurs. This is because the new dominant class—the transnational capitalist class—operates globally through chains of production and finance that are functionally integrated across borders. Concomitant with this, many state managers have come to promote state policies ben- efiting transnational corporations. The hegemonic policies of major powers such as the United States have sought to create conditions favorable for global capital and, often, particular transnational corporation conglomerates. Watson could have added more about the fact that the labor power of many workers and lower-income people, as well as middle strata, has become inserted into transnational chains of accumulation (Struna, 2009).

The volume unfolds as a question for other Caribbeanists in the humanities and social studies: How does capitalist globalization alter nation-state-centered paradigms of citizenry and sovereignty in the region? Watson’s work poses a challenge to Weberian conceptions of power and to world-systems, poststructuralist, and orthodox Marxian paradigms. He argues we see now the rise of novel dynamics, transnational social and material relations. This does not mean that historic contingencies are not important for conditioning today’s social reproduction, as “Capitalist colonialism and imperialism” set many of the terms under which “different social classes and their racialized ethnic and gendered components” today exist (9). His work here is in line with that of scholars of the “global capitalism school” (Harris, 2016; Liodakis, 2010; Robinson, 2004; 2014; Robinson and Sprague-Silgado, 2018; Sklair, 2001; Sprague, 2015a; 2015b).
In Chapter 3, Alex Dupuy, one of the foremost scholars of contemporary Haitian political economy, discusses the composition of class forces in nineteenth- and early- twentieth-century Haiti. He elaborates upon the way in which the state was used by a statist-military sector of the bourgeoisie to reproduce its power by maintaining top governing positions. He writes that “the Haitian bourgeoisie consists of two factions, “one which accumulates wealth through its private ownership of capital in the means of production and the other which accumulates wealth through its control of the state and its various apparatuses” (70). He explains how a bargaining relationship developed between the two factions. He could have placed more emphasis here on the urban-rural divide—between the landowners in the countryside and the urban-based bourgeoisie, with its monopoly on the ports.
Dupuy makes important points with regard to the capitalist underdevelopment of Haiti’s countryside and the international forces arrayed against its people. He elabo- rates on changing rural social patterns and shows how, with the rise of a landed peas- antry, efforts by the landed bourgeoisie to defeat, expropriate, and proletarianize the population were to some extent stymied. He argues that this limited the ability of local dominant groups to develop national infrastructure and a more diversified economy and led to their procuring wealth primarily by the distribution rather than the produc- tion of goods. Eventually, it was the intensification of foreign capital investment that imposed proletarianization on many of Haiti’s small and subsistence farmers, creating a pool of surplus labor for businesses operating in the cities and compelling many to export their labor abroad.
Dupuy’s chapter is useful for thinking about the historical processes that led up to the Duvalierist regime, when the unproductive statist wing of the petty bourgeoisie reached its zenith, building up its political culture of corruption and repression. Yet Dupuy’s writings on contemporary Haiti (e.g., 2006) say nothing of the novel social and material relations associated with today’s transnational capitalism, as leading Haitian capitalists are becoming transnationally oriented. In my view, however, the greatest contradiction of Dupuy’s approach (similar to the approach of Robert Fatton [2007]) is that, while he undertakes a nuanced class analysis of many historical processes, his explanation of contemporary social conflict attributes authenticity to elite and corpo- rate media portrayals—for instance, in his uncritical reliance on mainstream reports that he uses to support his particular narrative. This includes those of the pro-coup journalist Michael Deibert, who time and again has ignored the proportionality of polit- ical violence and the targeting of Haiti’s pro-democracy grassroots (as in the Port-au- Prince neighborhood of Gran Ravine [see Sprague, 2012: 388]) (Podur, 2006). Building up a narrative of events in Haiti that relies uncritically on mainstream media and offi- cial sources, in my view, Dupuy and Fatton depart from a critical and more accurate examination of objective conditions. Beneath the surface of their approach is a liberal tendency that believes that the popular classes cannot politically mobilize of their own accord.

Dupuy also plays down the fact that the anti-Duvalierist pro-democracy Lavalas grassroots in Haiti has continued to have at its core an emancipatory struggle against a historic and immediate threat: the military elite, paramilitary henchmen, and their asso- ciates within segments of the bourgeoisie (Sprague, 2012: 291–294). Following the 1991 and 2004 coups, this military-paramilitary-bourgeoisie grouping has repeatedly worked to recover its impunity and revamp its apparatus (Sprague, 2012). Ignored by many scholars writing on contemporary politics in Haiti, a concerted effort at strengthening and democratizing Haiti’s judiciary occurred during the late 1990s and early 2000s, when a number of these violent rightists faced trials and arrest for the first time in the nation’s history (Concannon, 2000; Sprague, 2012). While Dupuy examines nuances of the military-elite social groups of earlier Haitian history, he fails to observe how in the contemporary era they have attempted to reproduce themselves.
Haiti’s hobbled democratic interregnum, compromised in many ways, was ulti- mately crushed through economic and political destabilization, a paramilitary contra campaign, and the direct intervention of the U.S. Bush regime. Leading dominant groups and their political allies have since sought to solidify their power through the polyarchic political model. Promoted by transnationally oriented elites and policy mak- ers, this model of elite-oriented “demonstration elections” is intended to usher in a hyperconducive climate for global capital, one in which sectors of the country’s local power bloc can smoothly integrate into the new global historic bloc (Robinson, 1996). Harvey (2007) has described neoliberalism as a mechanism for the reconsolidation of power in the hands of leading sectors of the bourgeoisie. New political and economic strategies have been deployed to consolidate power in the hands, this time, of a trans- national bourgeoisie. Policy makers and investors view Haiti, in particular, as an emer- gency situation for which the solution is to deepen the country’s integration into the global capitalist economy. Yet, with much of the country’s population marginalized, Haiti’s popular social and political movements continue to mobilize against their exclu- sion. This has created difficulties for leading dominant groups and their strategies. As this scenario continues to unfold and as powerful foreign states and supranational agencies continue to intervene, it appears only a matter of time until certain elite groups are again mobilizing their paramilitaries (Sprague-Silgado, 2017).
Linden Lewis, another accomplished scholar of contemporary Caribbean studies, looks in Chapter 4 at the “politics of belonging” in the basin. He explains how citizen- ship conferred by birth functions to reproduce the uneven nature of the international system, with certain rights and privileges granted to some and not to others. At the same time, he argues, achieving citizenship in the Caribbean colonial context was long identified with struggles for freedom, from slavery to independence. It meant that local peoples too had rights and a role in determining their lives. Lewis explains that slaves, their descendants, and creole and African-descendent populations more generally were negatively racialized by the colonial social orders. With the postcolonial reshaping of the social systems and new political realities in the region, Lewis argues that these ear- lier relations were channeled through Enlightenment ideas of citizenship and the nation-state. Rights came to be tied to the legitimacy of the national project, but this was replete with contradictions. For example, as Watson points out, local groups tied to the establishment, including elites and some creole and freed descendants of former slaves, have sought to keep in place forms of extreme class exploitation.
Yet in jumping to the contemporary era, Lewis’s observations become less critical. He argues that the “rights of movement” to other parts of the region of the citizens of particular nations manifest themselves unevenly through perceptions of “belonging” and different aspirations. But he needs to go a step farther. He never discusses how capital, the state, and privileged affluent strata in societies have converged in seeking to sustain the reserve armies of labor (with migrant labor in particular exploited). He fails to recognize that throughout recent history and in countries around the world (including the Caribbean) there is a social base that seeks to maintain and intensify flexiblized, superexploited, and coerced migrant and negatively racialized workforces. Here it would be useful for Lewis to look at the work of De Genova (2002) on migrant deportability, observing how ideas on “illegal populations” have been socially con- structed over time. The social construct and the material reality of the migrant worker has served the interests of dominant groups and has been reshaped during the most recent phase of world capitalism, and it is rooted in production. As the volume’s editor says, “Sovereign states institutionalize the right to exploit, which involves forcing labour to produce capital, which is its opposite, as the precondition for labour’s social reproduction” (32).
Adopting a Weberian framework, Lewis recognizes “forms of exclusion, xenophobia and non-belonging” (105) but considers them not to be rooted in class relations of exploitation. He describes the “day-to-day limitations of the ideas of Caribbean unity and the sense of belonging” (105). While he is correct in pointing out that social and political exclusion marginalizes populations, this occurs more fundamentally through social alienation rooted in the productive forces and the relations of production of an era. Furthermore, the state systems that Lewis discusses are historically determined and contingent structures.
Anton L. Allahar argues in Chapter 5 that the repressive and racialized conditioning of the colonial past now exists only as “holdover” that can be confronted by the new sovereign independent nations, with their citizens as protagonists. Discounting the material (economic) and social relations underpinning the formation of the state, he misses the fact that exploitive class relations operate throughout society and institu- tions become constitutive of these relations. Instead, seeking to understand how a sort of Durkheimian social solidarity has come to function, he recognizes “tensions” in Caribbean societies but argues that primordialism and feelings of attachment, invented symbols, and internalized myths lead to feelings of community and unity. He looks in particular at the sport of cricket, which has developed through specific colonial his- torical circumstances of domination to become an implanted cultural artifact with potent symbolism and meaning for the Anglophone Caribbean. He argues that whereas in the past “ ‘markers’ of class, race, and color were used to divide and control the sub- ordinate population during colonial rule,” they now often manifest themselves differ- ently in music, sport, and other areas. He frames people’s connection to society as taking place through historicized feelings and symbols.
Allahar argues that racialization is an issue of “political consciousness” (127), in which perceptions of skin color hinder people’s upward mobility. If we want a more efficient capitalist system, removing these barriers to upward mobility will help improve social solidarity between different groups, helping make peace between exploiter and exploited. Political mobilizations, state policies, and political cultures need to supplant the holdovers of past systems. Contrary to this, as Watson points out, racialization is a constitutive element of capitalism, and exploitation exists among its relations. Allahar’s uncritical approach is reflected in his concluding idea that for glo- balization to be successfully utilized for the “greater good of all” we must look to “the citizens of the region and its discrete countries” (134)—a suggestion that completely ignores the changing structural conditions of the reproduction of capital-labor relations transnationally. Caribbean nationhood has not provided a panacea for confronting capitalism’s dehumanizing nature. Sovereignty does not guarantee self-determination, especially in a global era in which state functionaries increasingly seek to promote a marketization of citizenship and senses of belonging through remittance flows (con- trolled by transnational corporations), labor exportation, and “national champions” in a global arena. Many Caribbean elites now present their homelands as businesses—competitive junctures and way stations on a global battlefield of markets. Targeting Jamaicans and the Jamaican diaspora, for instance, there is constant corporate promo- tion of “Brand Jamaica.”
The other chapters in the volume provide case studies of populations and institu- tions in the region in a liminal state between current or one-time colonial powers and their local peculiarities. Aarón Gamaliel Ramos provides in Chapter 6 a historical over- view of the changing dynamics of citizenship and belonging in some of the last quasi- colonial holdings in the Caribbean, in particular U.S. Puerto Rico and the Dutch Antilles. Justin Daniel’s Chapter 7 shows that the French metropole’s policies of integration (or lack thereof) have led to the unequal treatment, integration, and representation of its Caribbean citizens. They have become a political football in the metropole, with the country’s right wing castigating Caribbean officials as corrupt and inefficient (while these same right-wing forces ignore the historical role of colonialism and world capital- ism). Sean Gill’s Chapter 8 looks at migration, citizenship, and belonging in the Cayman Islands. While these chapters lay out specific and historically contingent processes in the Caribbean, they do not link these particularities with the deep social and material changes now occurring through capitalist globalization.
Watson, in his bookends, decloaks the traditional state-centric approach, instead encouraging readers to understand that social production is more determinant than uneven geographic development. “Myths are produced when we treat the institutions human create for the purpose of social reproduction as extensions of natural law, in the process emptying history of any social content” (218). He finds that the “formal (jurid- ical) equality” associated with citizenship and sovereignty exists without “a way to transcend class inequality and the racialization of social relations under capitalism.” A focus on people’s feelings of belonging and the various countries’ institutional histories ignores the way in which structures of domination are reproduced. People may feel they belong precisely because they have been conditioned to see themselves as an equal part of a greater whole, the nation’s “body politic,” but states have always functioned to institutionalize unequal power relations. Watson explains the historical importance of the development of the state for capitalism. Institutionalizing the right to exploit (32), it is indispensable for “providing the infrastructure of capitalism by levying and collect- ing taxes; funding or subsidizing research and development activities; building or financing the construction of public projects like ports, roads, highways, and defense and military security programmes; providing education and supporting the arts and other cultural activities” (11).
Watson seeks to turn our gaze to the way these relations are being reproduced in the global era. While many of the state’s previous operations persist, there has been a shift in the objective and subjective orientations of state policy makers associated with the rise of a globalist power bloc. The rise of global capitalism has occurred as development planning has fragmented and markets have become integrated into new transnational circuits of accumulation. Policy makers are abandoning or being forced to abandon domestic development and “national goals” and moving toward elite-oriented trans- national engagement and the construction of a climate conducive to global investment. The state as a political organ, with all its repressive and ideological forces, is being tasked, as Watson writes, with “reconfiguring sovereignty to meet challenges and demands that stem from relentless global market integration to strengthen and broaden global capital accumulation” (10).
This has had a vicious side in the form of the containment of surplus populations, from the UN and Haitian paramilitary assaults in Cité Soleil and other popular neigh- borhoods of Port-au-Prince (Sprague, 2012) and the Jamaican police and army assault in Tivoli Gardens (backed by U.S. recon aircraft) to the Dominican state’s repression of migrants (sponsored by the United States and the European Union) and the massive role of U.S. immigration agencies, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and various “security” agencies in the region. Yet while the labor mobility of poor populations is “managed” by state elites, transnational capitalists do not want governments to hinder their capital and trade mobility (11). New supranational treaties, molded by transna- tionally oriented groups, have helped to facilitate capital mobility.
Meanwhile, migration has become a fundamental part of the global economy and linked communities in new and contradictory ways (Robinson, 2003: 272). The racial- ized scapegoating and militarized patrolling of migrants has become a clarion call for resurgent rightist forces. These sectors, not just in the “global North” but in parts of the Caribbean as well, have sought to mystify the economic forces that drive migration and seize upon negatively racialized class relations to mobilize reaction from local privileged strata (from the United States to Barbados to the Dominican Republic), diverting attention from the exploitation of other human beings. Transnational capital now relies heavily on the exploitation of women workers. This occurs as right-wing groups continue their attacks on women’s reproductive rights and evangelical and other reactionary organizations launch their anti-LGBTI cam- paigns. Some socially conservative ideas have also long crept into the agendas of left groups in the region. While the volume could have been more illuminating on these key dynamics, Watson does point out that dominant groups have sought to exploit nationalism, patriarchy, and citizenship to forward policies of transnational capital- ist accumulation.
At times it appears as though Watson had abandoned the struggle over the state and the locations where power congeals. When he writes that the state is necessarily medi- ated by force and domination (33), he could have emphasized the role of consent forma- tion in achieving this domination, as part of the dual areas of hegemony of which Gramsci (1971) writes. An emphasis on the overpowering nature of today’s power rela- tions leads him to play down the importance of struggles over the state and progressive reform campaigns chipping away at the power of dominant groups. I do agree with him, however, that the long-term goal is “to look beyond the sovereign state for solu- tions to problems and challenges humans face, with a view to pursing human emanci- pation” (30). I also agree with him that we humans find ourselves in extremely difficult circumstances for seeking out structural alternatives. It is useful here to recall that Marx supported struggles during his life; he not only advocated emancipatory structural alternatives to capitalism (such as the revolutionary project of the communards de Paris) but also radical abolitionism and supported reforms that moved in a progressive direction, ranging from campaigns for a shorter working day to support for migrant workers and the Northern cause in the U.S. Civil War (Anderson, 2010). Here it is important to critically examine historical processes and constantly reevaluate condi- tions on the ground, considering what is possible.
With the long history of defeats of the Caribbean left and with U.S. militarism ever present, Watson understandably foregrounds the region’s intensely negative structural conditions. Today’s intensified social alienation and culture/ideology of consumerism can make the future appear bleak, but human society and its future are what we make of it. By understanding social and class relations in the global era and their condensa- tion through states and institutions, we can develop valuable tools for organic intel- lectuals and movements struggling for liberatory alternatives and progressive reforms.
How can an alternative globalization from below occur? How can popular and leftist movements and parties push for progressive reforms and radical and structural alterna- tives? Watson describes the revolutionary Cuban project as showing the “contingent nature of state sovereignty and of hegemony,” illuminating an alternative path for sov- ereignty, but he also observes that this has elicited constant attacks by the U.S. empire’s workshops. Furthermore, Cuban state socialism and its viability came out of a distinct and historically contingent international phase of world capitalism, and Cuba, too, is adapting and facing new contradictions as it becomes part of the global capitalist econ- omy. Even under the ruling classes’ means for achieving hegemonic consent and coer- cion, movements from below continue to percolate in the region. These are societies that have developed along different paths but whose populations are now becoming inserted into networks of transnational capitalist accumulation. Yet alongside this inte- gration and the role of growing diaspora communities, Caribbean peoples exist in exploitation and many in conditions of marginalization.
Watson is correct when he observes that the advancing forms of exploitation and integration of global capitalism are creating a dialectical foundation for transcending the relations and processes it has created. While working and lower-income popula- tions are exploited by transnational capital, they also become functionally integrated across borders through their productive relations, remittance networks, global com- munications, and other dynamics. Working and popular classes in the Caribbean and worldwide must move toward new transnational forms of organizing. Yet what of those structurally marginalized communities, the populations facing today’s harshest forms of repression? The struggle of these subaltern forces in a globalizing world remains the open-ended challenge for the coming century. Social forces in the region, while condi- tioned in many ways by the past, are entering a qualitatively new era of transnational integration and inequality.
Anderson, Kevin B.
2010 Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Arendt, Hannah
1966 The Origins of Totalitarianism. San Diego: Harcourt Brace and World.
Concannon, Brian
2000 “Beyond complementarity: the international criminal court and national prosecutions, a view from Haiti.” Columbia Human Rights Law Review 32 (1): 201–250.
De Genova, Nicholas P.
2002 “Migrant ‘illegality’ and deportability in everyday life.” Annual Review of Anthropology 31: 419–447.
Dupuy, Alex
2006 The Prophet and Power: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the International Community, and Haiti. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.
Fatton, Robert
2007 Roots of Haitian Despotism. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Gramsci, Antonio
1971 Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New York: International Publishers.
Harris, Jerry
2016 Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Democracy. Atlanta, GA: Clarity Press.
Harvey, David
2007 A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Liodakis, George
2010 Totalitarian Capitalism and Beyond. Famham, UK: Ashgate.
Podur, Justin
2006 “A dishonest case for a coup.” Znet. https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/a-dishon... est-case-for-a-coup-by-justin-podur/ (accessed on November 28, 2016).
Robinson, William I.
1996 Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, U.S. Intervention, and Hegemony. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2003 Transnational Conflicts: Central America, Social Change and Globalization. London: Verso.
2004 A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class, and the State in a Transnational World. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.
2014 Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Robinson, William I. and Jeb Sprague-Silgado
2018 “The transnational capitalist class: origin and evolution of a concept,” in Mark Juergensmeyer, Manfred Steger, Saskia Sassen, and Victor Faesse (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Global Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sklair, Leslie
2001 The Transnational Capitalist Class. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.
Sprague, Jeb
2012 Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti. New York: Monthly Review Press. 2015a “The Caribbean and global capitalism.” Ph.D. diss., University of California, Santa Barbara.
Sprague, Jeb (ed.).
2015b Globalization and Transnational Capitalism in Asia and Oceania. London: Routledge.
Sprague-Silgado, Jeb
2017 “Transnationally oriented elites and the flexibilization of paramilitarism in Haiti,” in Anne Garland Mahler and Joshua Lund (eds.), Men with Guns: Cultures of Paramilitarism in the Modern Americas. Forthcoming.
Struna, Jason
2009 “Toward a theory of global proletarian fractions.” Perspectives on Global Development and Technology 8: 230–260.
added by JebSprague | editLatin American Perspectives, Jeb Sprague-Silgado (Jan 10, 2017)
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
First words
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English


Book description
Haiku summary

No descriptions found.

No library descriptions found.

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (5)
5 1

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 123,745,042 books! | Top bar: Always visible