by Dr. Maria Alicia Vetter
“They ask us to proceed with caution. What we demand is intelligence” (“Nos piden prudencia. Nosotros demandamos inteligencia”) is one of the slogans of the Mexican movement today, which started with the disappearance of 43 students from a Normal School that trains teachers in the state of Guerrero. It is one of the most interesting slogans, I believe, to come out of this struggle, and it points to the clear understanding people in this massive movement have of their own power, of the power of the State, and of things coming to a head. The cautionary tale here is, as always, that one side has the power of force, and the other the numbers. And in Latin America we all know how that stand off is usually resolved. So, “prudence” is what the government and the moderate sectors ask from an enraged people who “are tired” and “will not take it anymore” (“Ya me cansé”).
More interesting is what the Movement says it demands. Why “intelligence” above all else? Thinking in Hegelian terms, the first thing that comes to mind is that the slave knows himself/herself and knows the master, while the master can never know the slave, let alone resolve the contradiction. Ultimately what the Mexican masses are demanding is that the State do the intelligent thing, which the State by its very nature of being a master State cannot do.
This matter of intelligence was one of the questions to come up at our reading group meeting last night in the context of the presentation on “Hegel’s Master/Slave narrative” as it is presented in the film “The Last Supper”, in which a plantation owner gives a dinner for twelve of his slaves during Holy Week in 1760 Cuba. The film is based on a real event, in which a Spanish plantation owner, pretending to embody Jesus Christ for a night, offers to humble himself in front of his Black slaves in commemoration of the Last Supper. In other words, he pretends to reverse the roles temporarily in imitation of Christ. Although it is clear that the slaves are more intelligent than the master and understand that the relationship has not been overturned, they play along. When a few of them try to escape taking advantage of the situation, the master resorts to all the brutish force that he can will in his position. The master can resolve the inherent contradiction (that he needs a recognition by the slaves which the slaves are temporarily denying him) by punishing them and killing them, so as to make the subversive an example to the rest of the slaves.
In the case of the struggle of the adjuncts for a union, my question has always been: Why doesn’t the administration do the intelligent thing? The intelligent thing has never been to fight against the efforts to unionize. The intelligent thing is not to set up committees and taskforces to defeat the unionizing efforts. Any person in the adjunct situation can clearly see through these divisionary tactics, which are very much like the Easter Dinner for a chosen twelve, whose heads will be on pikes by morning.
In a world with a vision, the intelligent thing is to recognize when there is time for a change. But, the question remains: Is the master equipped to do the intelligent thing?