Spartan Socialism or the Formation of a New Socialist Leisure Class

Socialist dystopias portray the reality of socialism in bleak images: a totalitarian surveillance society, post-war nuclear fallouts, the depressing situation of the everyday man lining up for bread, and so on. But what they portray with bleak images serve to advance a point where the individual man resists against all the mechanisms of the state. The underlying liberal politics of these dystopias tries to warn its audiences about the dangers of aspiring to build a utopia based on the ideas of a perfect society of fairness and economic equality. In their own right, dystopias prefigured Fukuyama’s end of history that by depicting an impossible future, history has already reached its pinnacle in the Anglo-American ethos of individual freedoms and market society.

A few dystopian novels depict a multivalent socialist reality. Andrei Platonov and Alexander Bogdanov’s sci-fi utopias slowly gain the attention of contemporary theorists (Mckenzie Wark most prominent among them), because of their depiction of a socialist utopia as a struggle for the creation of a new collective culture and a new relation to the Earth. However, it is in Platonov’s Happy Moscow that we find the disjointedness of socialist life as the gap between the utopian aspirations of Stalin’s USSR and the actual life of everyday Muscovites. The comedic aspect in Platonov’s story is the ambiguous character of Moscow Chestnova who embodies the aspiration of Stalin’s vision of a new socialist people and culture and the remnants of the old Muscovite pre-Soviet cosmopolitanism.

Satire and sci-fi often portray reality far accurately than anything Socialist realism has portrayed. The latter often creates myth out of economic miracles and collective actions; the depiction of men and women moving in synchrony directed by the march of history in a divine ballet, epitomized in the Maoist Cultural Revolution cinematic operas, depict the singular body of the proletariat in a unified cultural and utopian goal. However, it is in the disjointed and satirical language that the gap between the fantasy of a unified proletariat under socialism and the attempt to satisfy the gaze of the big Other arises in the theatrical performance of collectivity.[1]

I mention these examples from sci-fi because of how the reality of really existing socialism’s failure is portrayed without the accompanied apologia for liberalism. We can still see the dialectical progress of the socialist vision, as a struggle to imagine a new culture for a new society and not just a state. This issue brings us to an interesting development in socialist administration.

One can argue all day whether Chinese market socialism reaffirms the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought or a lapse to a rightist revisionism within the party. Whatever course of action the Chinese communists have taken, the progress of Chinese socialism has led us to another development in socialist culture different from the collectivism of Leninism and Maoism. Roland Boer, optimistic about the developments of Chinese socialism, noted how the 19th Party Congress generated a renewed socialist culture: lessons on Marx and Mao were popular, the use of the word “comrade” reappeared in common use, and so on. In addition, the documents of the 19th Party Congress and the articulation of Xi-Jinping thought expressed the orientation of the Chinese government towards the free development of all (echoing Marx’s Manifesto), generating equal opportunities for its citizens. While the economic reforms generated a huge wealth gap between the new tycoons and the rest of the nation, the second decade of the 21st century saw that wealth gap slowly being bridged. This was achieved by raising the general populace to the middle class, concentrated in the urban centers. This generates a debate whether any state which takes the word “socialism” as its system should be oriented in the enrichment of its citizens or to the generation of an egalitarian culture (similar to Cuba and Venezuela). Whatever theoretical case we might take regarding this issue, it is necessary that we see it as a way of redefining what the proletariat means after the revolution.

In the case of China, while the party spoke of harmony, the Xiaokang society (小康社会), or “socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era”, one cannot deny that Chinese socialism is leading towards its own Spartan society, a Spartan socialism. Economic prosperity has lifted the lives of the Chinese people, building on the foundations laid down by Mao up to Xi; the market was simply an instrument by which other sectors of economic and social life can be improved and to boost the productivity of Chinese industry. The improvement of the lives of Chinese citizens however is a product of global market society. Production concentrated on Chinese factories, boosted by its discipline is aided by a new culture of consumerism in Japan and in the West reaping the rewards of the bubble economy, raising the demand for commodities. As the contradictions of the market society worsen and populisms in the West are pushing for economic protectionism, China has become the beacon of globalization, defending the well-oiled system of international production and exchange. But what it defends as the strong interconnection of the different potentialities of different nations obscures the fact that Chinese capitalism, in its dependence on African oil and minerals and production outsourcing in the third world, strengthens the Spartan mode of production that sustain its own Spartan egalitarian society.

Xi-Jinping thought pushes for harmony, not just among its own peoples and its state apparatus but also in the market, eliminating risky financial speculations and promoting the development of its neighbors. Chinese investments on agro-industrial technology, infrastructure, technology, and others boost its interests of maintaining the social harmony among its citizens. The new Chinese middle class is the new leisure class of global capitalism, a development in the conception of the proletariat that Marx and Engels have not envisioned. Communism, in theory, would make us more human, more ethical, and responsible for the collective development of our comrades. The Chinese middle class maintains that collective spirit, but in the collective pursuit of enjoyment and individual fulfillment. To maintain the middle class and its sense of fulfillment is the primary objective of the state. And to achieve this, it depends on a new class of helots from the global peripheries. Its domestic policy of equality and prosperity for all meets its obscene underside in the state’s economic attitudes with the rest of the world.

[1]It is an interesting reality that even Mao Zedong himself tries to out-Mao himself in the cultural revolution, while the leftist party apparatchik tried in a similar way to out-Mao Mao Zedong

Spartan Socialism or the Formation of a New Socialist Leisure Class

Filipino Nationalism(s) Under Dutertismo: An Urgent Warning

Those who read this blog know perfectly well that I have written and will continue to write essays on the concept of Dutertismo. Since the concept itself is problematic, defies strict definitions, and difficult to pin down on the left-right political spectrum, my position has been to assert that Dutertismo embodies the class tensions in Filipino society, ranging from cooperation among different elements of the classes, complete apathy sustained by postmodern capitalist ideals, and open class struggle goaded by the inherent contradictions generated by the late capitalist mode of production (from outsourced production to extraction of intellectual work through the digital service sector). Class tensions in Filipino society are either openly antagonistic or non-antagonistic. I hold that the former is repressed and the latter is sustained by different ideological discourses and processes that fill the void that obfuscates class struggles and expresses it in different forms. Such form is expressed in different concepts: ruralism (which is synonymous to traditionalism), nationalisms, and liberalism. All three are responses to the postcolonial situation and attempts to define the contours of Filipino identity in response to globalization and the syncretism of culture that marked Filipino consumerism and everyday life. Moreover, all three are reactive in the pure Nietzschean sense of the term that sought to express the resentment of many at the face of its own failures as a nation that embodies the agenda of the masses.

Ruralism is an idea formed by a nostalgia. City life, especially in Metro Manila where everything seems to be out of joint, creates a nostalgia for the good old times where food is a matter of going to the local market or asking people what they have to share. Ruralism is a nostalgia in response to the perceived decadence of urban life. When confronted with the apathy between neighbors in a gated subdivision, one dreams of a time when neighbors are close by and intimately known. One dreams and desires what one does not have or have lost; ruralism, however, is not a desire for something we have lost, but something we do not possess in the first place. Hence, ruralism is a reactive term inasmuch as it supplied us an ideal that is neither past nor future. It occurs only as a an exercise of thought, a fatal abstraction from attempts at subtraction from the currently perceived decadence of urban life. When urban life becomes too alienating, when the very idea of community is an amalgamation of houses and nothing more, we strive for something that was in the past, untainted by the demands of city life. As a reactive concept, ruralism thrives on the dichotomy between the urban and the rural, where the urban is an actual material reality and the rural a name for a loss that was never there, standing only as a placeholder for what the urban is not. It is an expression emerging from a melancholy.

I see ruralism as an expression of alienation. The demands of capitalist production are embodied by the city; consumerism is a temporary respite from the demands of capital that contains a double demand: spend and consume to relax, but work in the next day and pay for your credit bills and so on. City life is a matter of dealing with abstract and bureaucratic life, organized by strict time frames and production quotas to achieve. Even with the emergence and proliferation of the digital information industry, the mode of production simply moves to a more abstract level that cannot be simply molded to the Marxist labor theory of value, since intellectual labor fully exploits creativity through precarization. To sustain this dynamic, late capitalism is marked by its capability to morph and adjust to the cultural demands of its nodes.

The duality of Western postmodern capitalism and Asian-values capitalism revolves around two distinctly polar tendencies: the permissive Western capitalist dynamic and the traditional and highly exploitative capitalism with Asian values embodied by the state of Singapore and China. Clearly, Filipino capitalism does not fall exclusively to either tendency. Hence, I will go so far as to argue that Filipino capitalism is an Asian values capitalism sustained by the illusion of abiding by a Western spirit of capitalism (a similar ideal was prevalent in the Sonno joi movement during the Japanese Bakumatsu  period where in order to maintain Japanese tradition and Western development rallied under the slogan: “Japanese Spirit, Western technology”). By the “illusion of abiding by a Western spirit of capitalism”, it implies that our economy is fully open to the agendas of the globalized system of capitalist production. The effort of all post-1986 governments has been to force the country’s participation in the global market, allowing as much liberties to global transnational companies to exert their demands upon the Filipino economy. Such a globalizing project is rife with contradictions and it entails the precarization of different labor sectors to provide ample opportunities for transnational companies to maintain its foothold. Hence, as an Asian values capitalism, the effort to remain within the global capitalist network is to assert traditional values, expressed a national identity. It is not surprising that the effort to liberalize the economy is also accompanied by highly conservative Catholic and Protestant law makers who argue for open economies on the left and strict moral family codes on the right. Communism is the name for the disturbance in the national body.

Days before Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law, he underwent a so-called “spiritual exercises”. In his diary entry of 29 March 1972, he writes “The permissiveness of society must be balanced by authoritativeness. The two poles must be given weight and equal importance…And the permissiveness of our society has spawned the many evils that will wreck our Republic. It must now be balanced with authoritativeness and that is martial law. However, I put as a condition the occurrence of massive terrorism which would alarm the people as well as the authorities.” (cited from Manuel Quezon, III, “Martial Law and Parental Guilt” available here ). What then is the permissiveness he sought to counteract? In 1972, it collectively meant “Communism” under which long-haired hippies, drug addicts, rebellious students, and Voltes V belong. Hence, speaking at a national conference on the children and the youth, Marcos wrote: “This requires a national effort. This requires the effort of everyone whether in government or outside government. There will be a great need for the resources and services of agencies and organizations outside the government. There will be a need to mobilize free and voluntary services dedicated to the welfare and development of the youth. Unfortunately, many of the parents must answer for some, if not many, of the ills of our society. Many of our parents think that after they have sent the children to school their responsibility is finished. This is not true and many regrettable mistakes in our society are due to the fact that the parents have failed in many instances in performing their role in society. And yet we blame the young. We keep on blaming the young. When we speak of drug addiction and we speak of the waywardness of the young, we have an inclination and a tendency to point to them and say, they belong to this drug-addicted generation. Perhaps, we should look inward and into ourselves and ask ourselves how far have we as parents fallen on our job. I speak as a parent. As President I am a busy man. I sometimes work up to 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and yet, I have a feeling that notwithstanding the fact that we may be very busy there are certain obligations you and I cannot shy away from and they have to do with the care of our children. When my children were here, even if I was very tired or very occupied, I always tried to see them before they went to bed. When they were working on their lessons or when they were whiling away their time I tried to talk to them even for just a few minutes. I am certain that many of those who are drug addicts among our children will say, will tell us, that it was because we the older generation didn’t care enough that they turned out that way.” (Ibid) Communism was the name of an external conflict, an invader accompanied by the rabid permissiveness of radicals, posed against the values of the nation embodied in the family. Drug addiction, rebellion, and radicalism can be resisted by the simple time a parent can give to his children, properly honing them to the values of the nation.

However, it should be clear that Marcos’ nationalism accommodated itself to outbursts of nationalisms. Back then, the Marcos dictatorship is a nationalist reaction with a populist appeal; today, the nostalgia for the Martial law years reverberates in the outbursts of nationalisms that decry the decadence of contemporary cosmopolitan life. Disobedience to authority, rebelliousness, apathy, consumerism and so on are highlighted as repulsive values of the urban life. To counteract this, nationalism(s) revolve around the mystification of the past of rural Filipinos who cooperated with their leaders for the betterment of society, regardless of political color. In this case, market society offers a level playing ground upon which traditional values must inform the relations between people while at the same maintaining a highly permissive workplace. Hence, one can complain about work and at the same time obey with commitment. The organic unity of society is sustained by perceivable enemies: drug addicts, drug pushers, rebellious students, decadent bourgeois thinking and so on are seen as external bodies that disturb the harmonious flow of the organic body, the removal of which guarantees the continued healthy lifestyle.

Confronted with latent and all-out outbursts of nationalisms, liberalism sought to a middle ground. Provide a Filipino democracy founded on good values of cooperation and kindness. One can live a highly opulent and occidental lifestyle, but contribute to charity and make acts of philanthropy. Liberalize the economy to such an extent that the oligarchy becomes more wealthy, but make time for progressive programs. A totally ridiculous example of this can be seen in how SM justifies its prolific building of malls; in an advertisement, a clip of a storm hit town was shown in all its brutality. After which, the ad goes to successive pictures of a SM mall and its built-in flood control structure, accompanied by interviews from locals thanking SM malls for the project. This is Filipino capitalism at its most elementary: unfettered free market sustained by nationalistic tendencies and traditional morality. Liberalism panders on both tendencies, attempting a balancing act between allowing nationalistic outbursts or promoting an economy for global capital.

Dutertismo and the recently termed “Dutertenomics” (which echoes Reaganomics) shows that liberalism is waning at its own weight unable to control the contradictions inherent to the economy, politics, and society. Here, nationalisms are directly accommodated and named as a form of nationalism (or Duterte’s use of the word “Filipino”).  At the same time, here the law is taken to its full inherent transgression, providing the police and the army a free reign to inflict their policies under the guidance of the enforcement of the law. In the political arena, dissent is seen as a violation of national stability; destabilization emerges with disobedience and rebellious attitude.

Dutertismo now stands as a politics for the lost ideal. Nationalisms aim at trying to assert the lost ideal as a political category. The debate between supporters and detractors of Martial law were reduced to a matter of regional affiliation. Nationalistic tendencies played on either side as one stand for national stability and close ties to cultural roots and the other for the protection of civil liberties against the encroachment of a new authoritarianism. What the debate on the notion of nationalisms tell us is the untenability of  a post-colonial politics that relies on unraveling marginalized rationalities that seek to inform dominant rationalities, seen to be more dynamic and tolerant of cultural difference.

The way out of this deadlock is to assert a politics of universality. In this case, there is no authentic regional ethnic roots to fight for whether Taglog, Visayan, or Mindanaoan.  No true regional culture to stay true to. Of course, this does not mean an abolition of culture and the imposition of universal values by force. A politics of universality is a politics of universal struggle. Such a politics was apparent in the Lumad crises, different tribes from the North to the South converged in Manila not to celebrate their being a tribe, but to fight for the simple right of land and a dignified sense of self-sufficiency. In a joint statement, their leaders denounced transnational companies that played on tribal antagonisms to further its exploitation of the land. They were not content with simple ethnic recognition as such. This is universalism at its finest.


Filipino Nationalism(s) Under Dutertismo: An Urgent Warning