In reading Simon Bolivar’s “Letter from Jamaica: Kingston” from 1815, I was struck by the line “We are still in a position lower than slavery, and therefore it is more difficult for us to rise to the enjoyment of freedom…” (Dawson 23). For whatever reason, this stood out as being a particularly entitled thing to say. He goes on to explain why it is he feels enslaved, but it’s the end of the sentence that I’d like to focus on. On one hand, the juxtaposition between freedom and slavery is something that strikes me as lazy writing. As Dawson established; freedom means a myriad of things depending on who is describing it, and often freedom for one is oppression for another. Considering this, Bolivar is saying to be free is to not be enslaved, which in his words means to be living under Spanish rule. While there is certainly a case to be made that living under an oppressive system is akin to slavery, there is an implicit elitism in Bolivar’s language.
He argues that he is unable to enjoy freedom. In the video, we established that being marginalized politically limited the economic freedoms of an aristocrat like Bolivar, despite the elevated and elite status he would have enjoyed over the rest of those subjected by the Spanish. We also established that this lack of political freedom would have hindered the ability of his social class to maintain themselves when challenged. This is quite picky when it comes down to it; Bolivar’s rhetoric appeals to the potential revolutionary impulses of all those who are subjected to an oppressive power system, however he is only one step removed from that tier of the system, and enjoys a role that has historically been used to perpetuate it. The implication being that someone who is from Latin America (despite being educated in Europe) is more apt to have a monopoly on power than someone who is from elsewhere. While the appeal of this is understandable, it strikes me as extremely short sighted, and as a way for the ruling elites to maintain their position at a time when it’s clear that the winds of change are blowing.
Ultimately this strikes me as a revolutionary tale we’ve heard many times throughout history; those who have the most to gain lay down their lives, succeed, and find that their struggles have been forgotten by the new system. What is the nature of revolution? Peter Kropotkin would argue that a revolution doesn’t occur until those who have the most to gain, gain something meaningful. Others might argue that a mere changing of the guard is inherently revolutionary. I’d appreciate your thoughts, cheers.