The Struggles for Human Dignity

by Marcos Roitman Rosenmann

That which has been achieved by the exploited classes is preceded by the conscious sacrifice of thousands of lives. It doesn’t matter if by bullets, concentration camps, jails or torture. Dignity has been the touchstone. Courage, integrity, defense of the common good, and effort. Peter Bieri, in his essay Human Dignity, underscores: She/he who fails in autonomy and stumbles for lack of overall vision is not lacking dignity. One can mistake the path and get lost; it can be too demanding. This does not bury dignity. It is lost only when one loses sight of autonomy as a criteria, or if it is lacking from the beginning. It is the lack of effort, not the failed effort that is undignified.

There have been many battles for dignity. Few remember that the right to strike to improve working conditions was preceded by repression, massacres, firings and death. The practice [of striking] has not been a concession of employers, who wield violence in order to criminalize the exercise. The strike in Egypt under the government of Pharaoh Ramses III serves as an example; it ran the entire year of 1152. The artesans employed in the Valley of the Kings denounced corruption, punishments and unpaid wages. They were sculptors, painters, scribes and masons. They stated this: we are hungry; 18 days of this month have passed; we have come here driven by hunger and by thirst; we have no clothes, no fats, no fish and no vegetables. They occupied temples, held a sit-it, built a protest platform and triumphed.

In the same way, the struggle of the slaves for their freedom is full of heroism and dignity. One in particular which has passed into history is that of Spartacus, who swore to never again to serve Rome. He fled with less than 200 comrades and forged an army of 60 thousand combatants. He won battles such as Vesubio; later came defeat. However, the plutocracy’s fear forced them to improve the living conditions of the slaves. His body was never found. The history was related by Howard Fast who in 1951 published his novel with his own funds.

In Haiti the slave rebellion was the beginning of the liberation movement in Latin America. Toussaint Louverture, Jean Jaque Dessalines were its leaders. The struggles for the civil rights of the African American population or against apartheid in South Africa are associated with Martin Luther King Jr. and Mandela. In Nicaragua, the free man’s general Augusto César Sandino confronted the United States invasion. Not to mention the feminist struggles in Latin America that recall Micaela Bastidas in Peru, strategist of the Túpac Amaru rebellion; Juana Azurduy, today recognized as the general of the liberating armies; Mexican Elena Arizmendi, president of the first International League of Latin American Women in 1920; and Ecuatorian Matilde Hidalgo, who fought for women’s right to vote. In the twentieth century, Chilean Gabriel Mistral, Cuban Haydée Santamaría, the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the Comandanta Ramona of the EZLN and the Chilean writer Monica Echeverría, whose struggle against the dictatorship is worthy of recognition.

In this century, struggles for dignity persist. The just ones, those inevitable struggles whose horizons are human rights, equality, denouncing machismo and the patriarchy. All of them, without exception, drink from those who have watered the path of dignity, paraphrasing the poem of Violeta Parra, dedicated to Julián Grimau, the Spanish communist militant shot by Franco’s regime in 1963.

Dignity understood as a decision to act. Dignity as a way of understanding life. Is this not the message of the EZLN? “We talked amongst ourselves, we looked inward and we looked at our history […] we saw that not everything had been taken from us, that we had the most valuable thing, that which made us live, that which made our footsteps rise above plants and animals, and we saw,  sisters and brothers that it was dignity that we had, and we saw that the shame at having forgotten it was great, and we saw that dignity was good, so that men could be men again[sic].” The little or nothing that has been gained, that in perspective is a lot, is sown with dignity, which the unworthy and cowardly plutocracies lack. They kill and murder.

We show up to the battles against the megaprojects, against neoliberalism. These are struggles for dignity. Today lives of union leaders are claimed, like Berta Cáceres en Honduras, Zapatista militatn José Luis Solís López, Galeano, in Chiapas. Camilo Catrilanca o Matías Catrileo Quezada, members of the Mapuche people. Journalists who expose corruption are riddled with bullets; teachers, campesinos, students, youth of our América, water the path of dignity with their effort, courage and blood. Meanwhile the transnationals and the mercenary governments, create and finance the actions of the paramilitary groups, militarize and send the trained armed forces to murder in the name of power and money. However, they have not achieved their objective: to humiliate, denigrate, and destroy the struggle for dignity and a meaningful life.

This article was published in Spanish in La Jornada on March 11th, 2020. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2021/03/11/opinion/020a1pol This English interpretation has been published by Schools for Chiapas.