WHEN MARGINALIZED RATIONALITIES REAR ITS UGLY HEAD: THE MASSES AS HYPEROBJECTS

I.

Agustin Rodriguez wrote, back in 2009, that representing the marginalized will remain problematic as long as we do not recognize that they operate on a different rationality, a reality starkly different from our dominant modes of representing social reality (especially its noticeably Western and cosmopolitan modes of representation). The context behind his observation was the aftermath of the second EDSA People Power Revolution of 2001 which caused the downfall of President Joseph Ejercito “Erap” Estrada, a president who ran on a clear populist platform, claiming his close affinity and genuine concern for the masses.[1] The downfall of President Estrada saw a wave of reactionary protests by supporters of the deposed president who, by then, was facing multiple cases of graft and corruption. Supporters flocked to Erap’s residence to stage a vigil for the deposed president and denounce the prosecution as a vindictive act of selective justice imposed by the political elite against the ally of the masses. This political drama reached its climax when the supporters of the deposed president tried to stage their own EDSA People Power Revolution (mockingly referred to as “EDSA Tres”) and their own storming of Malacañan palace, an event marked by violence when police and security forces fired on the demonstrators. For Rodriguez, the reactionary demonstration at the aftermath of the second EDSA Revolution were attempts by the marginalized to express itself according to its own terms and assert its autonomy from an elite-led dominant mode of social representation.

The political language of the time was filled with appeals to the “masses”. President Estrada is an ally and defender of the masses (despite being part of the social elite and that the only semblance of Erap being a defender of the masses was of him portraying poor people in action movies); his political supporters call themselves the “Puwersa ng Masa” (Power of the People); EDSA Tres was the “EDSA Revolution of the masses”, led by the masses for the masses. The popular appeal of Erap’s presidency owed itself to the populist appropriation of leftist rhetoric. This historical malady became significant because of the reaction from the political mainstream: liberals and social democrats event the communist left denounced the demonstrations and disowned its participants.[2] For Rodriguez, the disparity between the masses who supported Erap and the reactions of the political mainstream prove that the masses by itself have their own modes of thinking—one that is characterized by its repressed outrage against the political system and a distinctively rural conservatism where social relations are built by system of mutual reciprocity and patriarchal and filial patronage. This is a mass totally different from the organized sector of workers, farmers, and urban poor who are part of the progressive and leftist sectors of Filipino politics. I leave it to sociologists and anthropologists to better described the specific details of the ethnic character of the “masses”. My primary concern lies on Rodriguez specific point: the masses, as the wholly Other of our political discourse, operate on a rationality (which in Lacanian terms can be read as a distinct symbolic system) that is different from the one that forms the set of representations of our democratic institutions. This resulted in the masses seeing the state as an intrusive entity that oppresses its daily life with concepts that it could not understand much less participate in.[3]

Between the state and the marginalized masses is an irreconcilable gap, wherein a minimal correlation can only be established by a fragile discursive action based on mutual respect and recognition that the Other could never be fully assimilated within the dominant system. Rodriguez is clearly aware of the place of his theory’s enunciation i.e. as a university discourse trying to produce a discourse of the unknowable and inconsistent entity that stands in clear contrast to dominant forms of political representation. For that reason, he is content with a simple ethical solution that maintains the otherness of the other (that it cannot be totalized) as a political constant.

I find this both problematic and radical at the same time. Rodriguez’s theory of the masses is problematic primarily because it sees the masses as a “hyperobject”. Speculative realists define hyperobjects as objects whose magnitude and properties always exceed human cognition and its structuring abilities (Timothy Morton); objects, therefore, have their own realities and sets of relations acting independently of cognitive and epistemological structures (Graham Harman). The same can be said of the marginalized masses: “a marginalized majority comprehends the world through the optics of its various rationalities.”[4] The masses possess their own cognitive mapping and, thus, have their own object-world, containing its own inside and outside.[5] This implies that we do not merely have multiplicities of rationalities, but multiplicities of technically irreconcilable realities in perpetual contradiction with each other.

Thus, when Rodriguez writes of the state, bureaucracy, and government mechanisms as being alien to the marginalized, he makes a disavowed admission of the contradiction between the marginalized and the democratic institutions that represent them. This is where we can find the radical aspect of Rodriguez’s position. He describes an uncomfortable political reality: we can no longer speak of the masses as the political agent capable of knowing its objective conditions and who can, based on such knowledge, properly express its demands and aspirations. Unfortunately, the masses exhibit a kind of masochistic jouissance that Jean-Francois Lyotard found in the English unemployed. “They enjoyed it, enjoyed the mad destruction of their organic body which was indeed imposed upon them, they enjoyed the decomposition of their personal identity, the identity that the peasant tradition had constructed for them, enjoyed the dissolution of their families and villages, and enjoyed the new monstrous anonymity of the suburbs and the pubs in morning and evening.”[6] Income inequality, precarious labor conditions, and the lack of robust systems of public services have made poverty an inescapable reality for the masses especially in the city and the provinces (intensified by feudal land ownership and primitive accumulation); faced with this grim reality the masses, limited by their cognitive mapping based on popular religiosity, traditional values, and filial patronage, see their condition as a vicious circle of temporary pleasures and constant poverty, a reality enforced by an unwavering faith in spiritual reward or with a fatal nihilism that builds up their repressed outrage against the system finding its expression in anti-social resentment.

For the above reasons, we can no longer ascribe to the masses the privileged political agency of insurrectionary and millenarian justice. The theoretical twist of the 21st century is that the much maligned populist wave gained its political legitimacy from the masses.

II.

            Poverty does not make the masses unaware of the objective conditions of their place in the capitalist economy; on the contrary, they fully know and experience the objective conditions of their situation, but they nonetheless see it as inevitable and unchanging reality that can only be altered by a power beyond themselves.

Thus what we lack is a proper conception of subjectivity. It could not be ascribed to the masses in its present condition, but in what it can be in the face of present political situations. A theory of subjectivity rejects any notion of political spontaneity from the margins. There is more to political agency that the act of intervention into the present state of things, it is a process by which agents, as a community, formulate and assert a conceptual structure for itself, one that it builds in clear contradiction from its present state.

Subjectivity as a technique of conceptual production holds that any act or a program for action, always emerges from the struggle of a community of subjects to build a conceptual notion for itself. Hence, neither an event nor the logic of the non-all can guarantee a subjective position; it is in the difficult struggle to define and maintain a communal stable conceptual notion that they become subjects. Consider the struggle of the urban poor led by members of Kadamay advocating for public housing, the struggle of the organized workers combatting precarious labor, unsafe work conditions, and low wages, or the struggle of the disenfranchised farmers demanding agrarian reform and access to agricultural technology; these struggles are not simply defined by the events that turn them to political subjects or by the mere discovery of their place as part of no part of the neoliberal economy. Their act of struggle by which the transcendental unity of capitalist ideology is destabilized, is formed by their struggle to conceptualize themselves in relation to the changes and conditions of political reality. Moments of failure and small success become points of struggle for subjects to examine and strengthen the conceptual notions of their communal identity.

Subjectivity as the constant struggle of a community to create and perceive themselves as conceptual artefacts demands more political hard work and competency among political agents. But isn’t the hard work and constant militancy the essence of emancipatory politics?

[1] This political rhetoric worked in 1998 when, during the administration of Fidel Ramos, a policy of privatization of public utilities (like water distribution, power generation and distribution) and economic deregulation led to the enrichment of the both the entrenched oligarchy and the new oligarchs (who emerged wealthy and politically absolved after the Marcos dictatorship) at the expense of the urban poor who face precarious employment and stagnant wages, made worst by weak public services.

[2] Agustin Martin Rodriguez, Governing the Other: Exploring the Discourse of Democracy in a Multiverse of Reason (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila Press, 2009), p. 200.

[3] Rodriguez 2009, 11.

[4] Rodriguez 2009, 42.

[5] Francis Wolff, Dire le Monde, pp. 11-12 quoted from Quentin Meillasoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), p. 6.

[6] Jean-Francois Lyotard, Libidinal Economy, trans. Iain Hamilton-Grant (London: Athlone, 1993), p. 214.

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WHEN MARGINALIZED RATIONALITIES REAR ITS UGLY HEAD: THE MASSES AS HYPEROBJECTS

Žižekian Political Pragmatism: On “The Courage of Hopelessness”

The Pressure of the Political

I just finished Slavoj Žižek’s recent work, The Courage of Hopelessness: Chronicles of a Year of Acting Dangerously (2017);  the subtitle of this book reflects his short book on politics published in 2012 as The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, but deviates from the fundamental spirit that informed his 2012 book. While in the 2012 book he dealt on the wave of protests that erupted in response to the financial crisis and the Arab spring protests that deposed well-entrenched Middle-East dictators, his recent  book on politics reflects the cynicism he always had with explosions of collective outbursts. Even in his The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, he expressed his dismay in the disintegration of the Bolivarian revolution to a caudillo administration, contradicting its grassroots base, and the explosion of new fundamentalisms that followed the Arab spring revolts (ISIS in Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the sectarian division in Libya). In The Courage of Hopelessness, Žižek puts this same cynicism for calls for action against the interesting rise of right-wing populists from Donald Trump to Marine Le Pen.

In combating the “Big Bad Wolf” of politics, the liberal-left is entrenched in making compromises with the establishment just to counteract its perceived enemy. This is embodied in the “Clinton compromise”; where Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is perceived as the only option to combat the vile character of Trump and the values he set against the liberal politically correct politics. Žižek saw this dynamic in the public space as the very deadlock of liberal-leftism that allowed for a figure of Trump to emerged. To put this in perspective, the candidacy of Trump is marked by his opportunism of middle-class woes, taking their problems and presenting them an enemy to blame, while at the same time presenting an economic policy that is moderate by Republican standards (nothing of that anarcho-capitalist pipe dream) from lower taxes to decreased government spending. In contrast, the Clinton compromise took the multi-culturalist and identity politics route and presented it side by side with the interests of Wall Street. Both candidates actually do not propose anything new to the political climate, but it was Trump’s clear pandering of common people’s problems that allowed the fundamental antagonisms in American politics to arise.

The defeat of Bernie Sanders indicates the lack of political imagination within the established Democratic Party, cementing its incapability to organize itself at the grassroots level, opting to make moral platitudes about unity in diversity, instead of embracing the fundamental antagonisms that split American society as a whole. The situation Žižek describes is the difficult situation of being pressured by the political. Sanders and Trump claimed to speak for the common people; while Trump utilized the woes of the common people to catapult his political victory and push for the Republican agenda, Sanders’ campaign synthesized multiculturalism and human rights activism and the basic Leftist stance of economic justice. The appeal of the Sanders campaign is precisely that it vocalized what cannot be said in American politics (if Sanders made such statements in the heyday of McCarthyism, he would’ve been called by the congress and made to admit of his association to the Communist Party and accused as a Soviet spy) i.e. the rift between ordinary Americans and the Wall Street elite that caused the economic collapse in 2008. The Clinton consensus took the multicultural struggle and human rights activism and threw the fundamental antagonism that informed it in Sanders’ campaign; the result was a highly PC discourse aimed at demonizing Trump and his supporters, while at the same time conniving with Wall Street elites and Middle Eastern financiers in a horrible rainbow coalition.

The Clinton compromise was an attempt to reduce the political to a set of struggles opposing the vulgarities of the Trump administration while at the same time retain the same economic structure that rendered more power to the financial elite. Its PC discourse attempts to throw the unhealthy baby of the Trump administration as well as the dirty water of political struggles for economic justice, hoping that pristine democracy can be achieved. However, as the 2016 elections showed, the liberal counterattack failed. Žižek does not mince words when he vehemently criticized the liberal establishment for its incapability to draw from the mass base by embodying its woes and placing it within the struggle for economic justice. Instead, the response from the Democratic party is to hope that everything will renormalize and that Trump is part of a democratic cycle that would eventually allow for more tolerant political climate later on. It is precisely this hope for a renormalization that placed the liberal-left in the quagmire incapable of organizing around a popular base.

Confronted with the emergence of right-wing populists using every opportunistic measure to pander on the common man’s woes, Žižek tries to avoid a lot of the political tendencies that abound both in the enclaves of the liberal and the radical left. While the liberal left hoped to find opportunities in the administration to swing the electorate back to the Democratic party, the radical left (or whatever stands for it in the American left-wing movements) is divided among sectarian lines on how to struggle against the enemy. Explosions of counteroffensive violence, clashing against right-wing nationalists and organizing “Love Trumps Hate” demonstrations do not suffice for an effective approach against the Trump administration. Furthermore, leftist positions oscillate between its cynicism with state mechanisms and its interstitial relationship to it when it comes to moral obligations to accept refugees. Mixed with PC discourse and guilt, the liberal left is causing its own demise, putting itself in the cross-hairs of right-wing propaganda. Given this situation, Žižek’s proposal is highly pragmatic, but surely enough to madden PC sensibilities.

Žižekian Pragmatism: Back to Bureaucratic Socialism

Žižek proposed that a sensible solution to the refugee crisis is to construct an effective bureaucracy to screen and accept refugees, rejecting all forms of humanist blackmail. By removing the status of the refugee as the Levinasian face of the other, he breaks down the only fantasy that sustains the liberal-left’s approach to the refugee crisis. While to PC sentiment a strict immigration and acceptance policy reeks of right-wing demagoguery, the proposal is, at best, the most democratic. The liberal-leftist call for “opening of the borders” is an extra-democratic demand that violates the very principle that bind the nation-state as a concept i.e. the right to defend its borders and internal security. Allowing hapless and victimized refugees inside without screening, one should not be surprised to find among them latent jihadists posing as refugees. While not all refugees are closet jihadists, the possibility of one of them being one is dangerous for the refugees as a whole, submitting them to the unbridled anger of ultra-nationalist gangs. The measure of allowing the refugees to pass through a strict screening process allows for security measures to be done early on.

This proposal is modest and pragmatic. It clearly places the duty of processing in the capacity of the EU and the nations where such centers are to be placed. The immediate criticism that such a position will elicit from liberal leftists (and some in the radical left) is its lack of sharing solidarity with the refugees, submitting them to suspicion through strict screening processes. However, I agree with Žižek here; as someone who experienced lining up to get a US visa and staying for half an hour in the immigration lines just because my name is common to both Latinos and Filipinos, screening is a normal process by which someone proves his innocence to a legal body. Allowing an open border policy to refugees is similar to visa free travel with a huge possibility of wrecking havoc on the host country. At its most basic, Žižek demystifies the refugee, while they are victims of the war, they not innocent victims with pure personalities and attitudes.

Žižek’s demystification of refugees and proposals to systematize the process of accepting refugees reflect the political pragmatism at work in his recent political commentary. One of the crucial sections of his recent book is “A Plea for Bureaucratic Socialism”, what he does is to dispel another leftist mythic alternative to global capitalism i.e. localized politics governed by federal councils instead of a centralized state system. Such position is founded on a fundamental anarchist fantasy: since global capitalism has made nation-states subservient to its cause, an efficient way to combat it would be to abolish the nation-state bureaucracy and give power to a local council to oversee the affairs of different regions. What such position try to do is to transpose the revolutionary role of the multitude to a governing body, hoping that it won’t disintegrate and form another elite body of administrators. Such position reflects its incapability to build from popular political movements to the morning after of political administration. Žižek perceived the left as incapable of dealing with administration, but, at the same time, the moment that it can administer presents a decisive blow to liberal cynicism.

Žižek, in his recent book, echoes a pragmatic approach to political administration. The left is divided within sectarian lines when it comes to the question of the party and the state. While Žižek is critical of vanguardism, one should situate his criticism on vanguardism being merely vanguardist i.e. to simply gather and organize without the goal of administering to those it tries to represent. Žižek challenges all leftists to take the question of administration as part and parcel of the struggle. For all leftists, being drunk on revolutionary fervor leads us to confront the hangover the morning after; the problem with recent left-wing attempts at government is that it thought it can have its cake of leftist administration and eat it with capitalism, only to find themselves being punished by the market. Confronted with the real of the market and its expansive logic of exploitation, the challenge is how should a leftist confront the capitalist real without risking the return towards the old ways within the new.

Ascribing the term “pragmatism” to Žižek’s politics will reek of political and parliamentary reformism, however, it should be clear that for him, the measure of a revolution’s success is not to simply organize the mass base, but to effectively administer to the mass base, changing the coordinates of everyday habits that people do after the revolutionary event has dissipated. The Bolsheviks were aware of this after their victory in the Civil War, knowing well that allowing the proletariat and the farmers to go back to their old ways before the revolution would destroy all the work done before and during the revolution. Lenin expressed this when he wrote in 1918 that the one of the immediate tasks of the Soviet government is to promote open debate in meetings as well as discipline among the ranks of the proletariat and the party. Trotsky reflected on post-revolutionary culture in his article on cinema, vodka, and the church, demanding that in a proletarian state, the cinema presents a higher level of educational culture to replace the cheap entertainment provided by religion and alcohol. Lenin’s pragmatism and Trotsky’s left-wing puritanism resonate the attempt to revolutionize society sponsored by the Soviet government by introducing disciplinary measures and government sponsored forms of amusement (like state-owned theaters). Small measures like this as well as the New Economic Policy (NEP) renewed the Soviet economy after World War I. To Lenin, the NEP was a slow, but necessary, step for the betterment of the Soviet Union.

The modest proposition that the left should be the embodiment of discipline and restraint in contrast to the vulgarity of right-wing nationalist is a strong one and would most likely be rejected by those who see the left as the political spectrum of unbridled freedoms. However, the liberal establishment has already coopted the idea of individual hedonism, with millionaires from Silvio Berlusconi and his orgies and the baller lifestyle of the founders of Uber, making headlines. In such a case, the idea that individual hedonism is set against fascist obsession for order totally misses the point. While the left should fight for individual rights (gender equality and economic justice), such struggles are part and parcel of the leftist administration of the state. Currently, the postmodern left is afraid of the state, content with interstitial distance, hoping the status quo can be coaxed to answer the needs of the majority. However, the Clinton compromise shows us that this is impossible and downright counterproductive.

The ideas of “democratic centralism” and discipline within the party needs to be resuscitated.  Such concepts are widely accepted by the national democratic front. Perhaps, the West has a lot to learn from the party discipline of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Žižekian Political Pragmatism: On “The Courage of Hopelessness”

The Return of the Totalitarian Repressed

            Perhaps, the general symptom of to-day’s political milieu is the emergence of highly divisive polarized political situations. The rise of populist politicians under questionable policies has plagued not only the Philippines but also different parts of the world. However, the recent events leading to the Supreme Court decision to bury Ferdinand Marcos under a hero’s grave demands that we look at it not as an isolated case of historical amnesia but as an overall symptom of our incapability and resistance to admit the inherent contradictions within our post-1986 liberal democracy. At the same time, compromises made under the banner of national unity have divided us more than it has actually united different sectors of society.

 

The Failure of the Post-1986 Liberal Democracy: A Manichaeism

Ken Fuller described in The Lost Vision that despite the promises of reform after the Marcos dictatorship, the Aquino administration bearing the constraints of the large debt left by the previous administration and the demand by different sectors to expedite the recovery of the country’s economy, conceded to the neoliberal policies that its predecessors have applied under the brutal hand of the dictatorship. The Cory administration did not shy away at the number of extra judicial killings, suppression of dissent, and concessions to neoliberal policies and economics. The forced choice borne upon the young democracy of the 1987 constitution paved the way for a wide neoliberal deregulation of the economy.

What it basically introduced or reintroduced is the same brand of cronyism with different names and a different sponsor and protector. The oligarchy continued to reap the benefits of neoliberal deregulation, while those who are affected remained in the same poverty-stricken condition as before. Liberal democracy in this case only allowed the formal freedoms guaranteed by the fundamental rights of man, but it did not allow the resistance to the economic dogmatism that the country will be an obedient child to the market, following its oscillations and trends of speculation.

Aside from the continuity of the Marcos neoliberalism—a neoliberalism a la Pinochet—replaced by an Aquino neoliberalism—neoliberalism with a human and motherly face—, the post-1986 liberalism played one dangerous political tactic: the demonization of the Marcos regime. By positing the dictatorship as the face of pure political evil, the Aquino administration have reduced the 1986 EDSA revolution as a battle between the forces of good and evil and that the unified effort to depose Marcos was the triumph of good versus evil led by an agent of change who singlehandedly led us to freedom and gifted us the present democratic constitution. The 1987 constitution became the Holy Scripture and the Aquino family the Holy family to whom we have the utang na loob for our present democracy.

The Manichaean discourse failed miserably as the incompetence of the subsequent administrations proves that the promised democracy did not actually work for the rest of the poverty afflicted people. The obscene effect is not the legitimization of our present liberal democracy, but the nostalgia of the way things were, a return to the old order of things.

 

Nostalgia: Where Authoritarianism Breeds

Authoritarianism is not born out of the non-existence of liberal democracy, but of its fundamental failure to surpass the bureaucratic regime where consensus is constructed among a few members of an elite cadre of policy makers. Furthermore, liberal democracy tried to dispel political passions by placing it within the legal boundaries of the state and the communicative acts that follow from it. What is so radically different in our local liberal democracy is the perpetual authority of the illustrado class, the same dynasties have ruled the country with little to no benefit of the citizens.

As liberal democracy projects are bound to fail as it engages in a Manichaean struggle against the forces of evil, the plan backfires and people, disillusioned with to-day’s political status, turn to the past, looking for a pristine moment that has to be restored. The logic therefore of totalitarianism i.e. right-wing conservative fascism, is the establishment of a mythopoeic conception of the past that in the progression of history and the inevitable changes that will occur, something must be kept in permanent place that must never change, positing an external obstacle that constantly watches the progress of events, prohibiting the renaissance of the golden age. Nostalgia is the emotion that arises out of the authoritarian vision; a justification for everything can be constructed out of one’s romantic relation with the past. The agents and ideologues of fascism thrive in constructing their public discourse on the exemplification of the past and the assertion of an internal unity of society. One should be reminded that the word fascism was derived from fasces, the symbol of power that binds together all of the castes of society and upheld by the legal authorities. Fascism, given such etymology, is far less than the cooptation of revolutionary consciousness, but the combination of cooptation and the re-legitimization of old social relations that was supposed to have been suppressed by liberalism. While the contemporary right-wing populist is against liberals and the values of liberalism, he can only achieve his aims through the mechanisms of liberal democracy, pandering on its logic, system of suffrage, and construction of public opinion. The greatest of fascists, Hitler and Mussolini, did not engage in insurrectionary revolution, but were voted into power through national parliamentary elections. They were presidents in every legal sense of the term, but whose campaign runs under the unity of the people to heal the wounds of the past (in the case of Nazi Germany, to unite the Germans against the wounds of the Versailles treaty and world Jewry).

 

Unity under Dutertismo

We can read President Duterte’s speeches on different occasions in the same manner. When asked by a journalist what he will do after the violent dispersion at the US embassy. Duterte remarked “I’ll call the police and the activists together…there is no left and right. We are all Filipinos.” What is wrong with this remark? Duterte showed not the attitude of a stereotypical authoritarian leader, but the stereotypical liberal who abhors the polarized political situation and demands the unity of the citizens. But, unity for what purpose or goal? Behind the appearance of a liberal lies the fascist core, echoing Marx’s jibe against the party of order in Eighteenth Brumaire of Luis Napoleon, liberals act like liberals, but profess fascist ideology among themselves. Authentic fascism in our current time is not entirely the madness of the extremists or the obnoxious presence of trolls on the internet to silence dissenting opinion, but the voice of people who call for unity simply by the sheer mythology of the nation and the perceived obsolescence of old ways of resistance and partisan politics. We should not see authoritarian leaders as the people who are greedy for power, ready to devour the country with its vitriolic speeches. Rather, they are people who see themselves as part of a wide project of restoring a country to its pristine condition. Marcos did not declare martial law and cracked down on communists and activists simply because who was against communism; rather, he saw himself as part of a greater mission to preserve order and unity. The declaration of Martial law was conjured within Marcos’ spiritual exercises asking God for a sign and rid the country of the un-orderly influences and permissiveness.

The difference between the leftist and a believer in right-wing demagoguery is not between passionate revolutionary and the traditionalist or the vulgar populist and the rational liberal; the fundamental difference lies in how both the left and the right deal with struggle. The left sees contradiction everywhere; the most fundamental relationship between things is not the unity of opposites, but that the struggle of opposites is absolute and in constant opposition.[1] The rightist on the other hand sees conflict and opposition within the current political situation, but what must occur at the end of it is not to fight a constant internal struggle and study the class contradictions in society, but that behind the conflict lies an identity that will unite all walks of life. Hence, the struggle of the left and the right is not between the multitudes versus the universal rationality of the right. What we have is the struggle between two universalities. The universality of the right is that of the unity of all social hierarchies, of everything has its proper place, repressing the struggle of opposites for the sake of what is supposed to bind us together as a nation.

 

[1] Mao Tsetung, “On Contradiction,” in Selected Readings from the Works of Mao Tsetung (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1971), pp. 124-125.

The Return of the Totalitarian Repressed

Against Spirituality

The Specter of Psychology and its Theological Vicissitudes

From someone who has spent an entire college education in a Catholic seminary, following the Augustinian tradition, one of the most repeated words is that of being able to live a spiritual life. It means a life of prayer, contemplation and to construct a spirituality based on a reflection of God’s plan to oneself. We could define spirituality as a form of devotion and discipline, aimed at making any person live a fruitful and faithful life in grace. However, what I find rather difficult in spirituality is how susceptible it is to naively engage with popular fads in psychology, while at the same time condemn the greed of to-day’s technological society. Outside of Christianity, spirituality is sought after as a discipline and a technique of meditation, seen as a counteraction against to-day’s demands and busy lifestyle. It is more popularly associated with new age theosophy and the burgeoning popularity of guided meditative techniques, yoga, oriental medicine, and so on. There is a great market among young people for a less ritualistic and less theologically dogmatic religion that gives the same spiritual benefits. Its current usage is usually tied with a rejection of religious dogmatism and an acceptance of its metaphysical elements that promise a balanced life away from the stress of to-day’s society.

In a Christian (and I can say Catholic) sense, spirituality can be seen as a response to to-day’s fads, given that the words has only seen popular use among Christian of the present generation. At this point, it is necessary to introduce the dichotomy between spirituality and religion and that Christian spirituality must be seen as a response to that growing trend as part of the failure to realize its own ideals and succumb to the ethos presented by popular psychological fads. Let us look into how Christian spirituality is defined apropos of spirituality in general

Spirituality gets traced back to the letters of Paul in which he uses the word pneuma to signal a life in alignment with God’s spirit. Christian spirituality presumes through God’s grace, a human desire and capacity for growing in union with the triune God.[1]

One can immediately see how new age cosmology is at play like how being one with the harmony of the cosmos is replaced with the “growing in union with the triune God.” The only fundamental difference is that while new age spirituality emphasizes the individual effort of a person to attain union with nature, Christian spirituality is an emphasis on one’s alignment with grace. In one of the most divisive debates in Christianity (as divisive as Arianism) i.e. between the Pelagians and the supporters of Augustine, grace, sin, and the nature of free-will were highly contested; the pelagians had a the most optimistic psychology, emphasizing the effort of a believer to attain salvation by himself, making them one of the most ascetic groups during the 5th century, gaining the admiration of a lot of observers including Augustine himself. Hence, even with one of the most optimistic psychology, the effect was of a strict spiritual discipline; Augustinianism on the other hand has a totally pessimistic psychology to the point of being misanthropic. In order to reject the Manichaean dualistic ontology, Augustine emphasized that beings (and subsequently human beings) are created with a fundamental lack in their being, a privation boni as an inevitable consequence of creation. Humanity has a lack that made it possible for him to seek God or choose evil; embodied and capable of liberum arbitrium (translates literally to “freedom to choose” or “free choice of the will” instead of free-will). The post-lapsus made man a being fully identified in the crossroads of good and evil eternally condemned to free difficult choices unless he lives under grace. Here is where Augustine fully employs the dichotomy between libertas (freedom) and liberum arbitrium (free choice of the will) as the pinnacle of human life where freedom is gained through the self-abandonment of free will to the good. Through its surrender to grace, man accepts the incapability to save himself because of the lack it inherently has.[2] Anti-pelagianism entailed a fatalistic psychology, grounded on the importance of the fall and the transfer of Adam’s sin to all men who although individually created by God is inevitably born in the world of sin. This debate is so divisive that although both Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches condemn pelagian teachings only Catholic theology went far with Augustine’s theology of grace and fully integrating it into the doctrinal body of the church (Orthodox Christians do not believe in original sin and have a doctrine of grace radically different from Augustine). The psychological consequence of Augustine’s theology of graced in Catholic and Protestant theology is the fundamental role of inherent guilt and sinfulness of man in the face of God, requiring total surrender to grace. From the downright pessimistic psychology of Augustine emerged his spirituality based on eternally internal turths, expressed in a famous quotation from De Libero Arbitrio: Noli foras ire, in te redi in interiore homine habitat veritas (do not go out, truth lies on the interior man).

Truth lies internally when we search for it from within our heart and discover that it is the one that connects us with God. With Augustine, we see something that resembled a spirituality in the modern sense of the term, but we nonetheless have a picture of two strands of spirituality that present itself to all religious seekers: one, the new age spirituality currently trending on the market; second, Christian spirituality based on the union with God and the attainment of proper spiritual discipline for the salvation of souls. Both options are seen as disciplines, emphasizing prayer life and constant meditation to aid the person in making wise decisions in life as well as being faithful to the a certain set of values. The unsettling fact with both new age spirituality and a Christian response is that both new ageism and Christianity agree on the goal of spirituality as a union with God or the cosmos. I claim—on the accusation of being presumptuous—that Christianity and Judaism are two religions of the book that does not engage with spirituality or does not contain a spiritual tradition or has gone against the attempt of making a spiritual practice out of its religious beliefs.

 

Job: the Proto-Critique of Ideology

Current theoretical works have seen a ray of light in the Book of Job and its uncomfortable place within the body of work of the late Hebraic prophets of the Old Testament. The interesting point raised by contemporary theorists (of whom Slavoj Žižek is included in countless citations) is how the narrative of Job is radically different from other stories of the Old Testament. Instead of the picture of Job as a patient sufferer open to the might of God, the Job we read is that of a cynic who refused all attempts to interpret his predicament to a religio-spiritual values. The discourses of the three friends can be described as a defense of Yahweh’s omnipotence, justice, and wisdom, three pillars upon which Jewish theology is grounded and form the standard stereotype of Hebraic imagination as a having an angry God. In all of these discourses, Job can be read as retorting strongly against their suggestions, giving absurd reasons and violent replies; for example in a reply to Zophar, Job said

Anyone becomes a laughing-stock to his friends if he cries to God and expects an answer. People laugh at anyone who has integrity and is upright. Add insult to injury,’ think the prosperous, ‘strike the fellow now that he is staggering! And yet the tents of brigands are left in peace: those who provoke God dwell secure and so does anyone who makes a god of his fist! (Job 12: 4-6 NJB).

One can imagine this simply as a rant of desperation and utter madness; however, instead of accepting Job’s faith as an exemplar of the faithful (as can be seen later in the gospels where Jesus would make countless statements about exemplary men and women), Yahweh instead enters into a show of force akin to anyone who only wants to make a show, while at the same time unconfident about oneself. What is different in the Book of Job aside from Yahweh’s exhibitionism and Job’s cynicism is the role of the devil at the beginning of the book. Unlike the usual portrayal of Satan as the horned one, tempting Jesus or Eve with wisdom, food and all the fine pleasures of life, the devil in the Book of Job acts as the jester. Here the full conversation deserves full quotation.

One day when the sons of God came to attend on Yahweh, among them came Satan. So Yahweh said to Satan, ‘Where have you been?’ ‘Prowling about on earth,’ he answered, ‘roaming around there.’ So Yahweh asked him, ‘Did you pay any attention to my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth: a sound and honest man who fears God and shuns evil.’ ‘Yes,’ Satan said, ‘but Job is not God-fearing for nothing, is he? Have you not put a wall round him and his house and all his domain? You have blessed all he undertakes, and his flocks throng the countryside. But stretch out your hand and lay a finger on his possessions: then, I warrant you, he will curse you to your face.  ‘Very well,’ Yahweh said to Satan, ‘all he has is in your power. But keep your hands off his person.’ So Satan left the presence of Yahweh. (Job 1: 6-12 NJB)

Instead of a person being tempted, it was Yahweh who was tempted. The whole scenario looked like a royal court where the jester would make absurd observations that would give him a lot of ridicule from the court but sets the plot progression of the whole story. Take for example three of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai movies notably Kagemusha (1980), Ran (1985), and Seven Samurai (1954), in all three films, the fool knows more than the other characters the absurdity of any pre-determined set of values that most of the characters have. For example, Kikuchyo, from Seven Samurai, acted more like a samurai than the samurais themselves (who for the most part are ronin, masterless samurai), going on suicidal missions and at one part of the film rouse the villagers when defeat was almost certain. Kyoami acts as the stereotypical jester in Ran (since the film is an indirect adaptation of King Lear), making absurd comments about Lord Ichimonji’s attempts at wise administration of his feudal domain (like giving his sons de facto rule over the castles) blind at his own ruthless seizure of power. The role of the jester coincides with the Lacanian lesion of the big Other’s ignorance, provoking through sarcastic remarks the leader’s body, making him show his nakedness to everyone.

In the case of the devil in the Book of Job, his temptation of Yahweh is a word of provocation, arguing with him about Job’s faith; perhaps, the devil knows that Job would nonetheless keep his faith even with everything taken away from him. The discourse between Yahweh and the devil is not about Job as such, but about Yahweh’s relation to Job. In the end, the result is one of the strangest exchanges between Yahweh and anyone. While everyone from the previous books of the Old Testament saw Yahweh in his absolute omnipotence and wisdom (e.g. the wrestling match with Jacob, the burning bush, the discourse between Yahweh and Moses in Mount Sinai, the discourses on the Books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy and so on); the dialogue between Yahweh and Job is different. Here, we see God not as the wise figure that Freud would later on label as the figurehead of the primal father, but here he sounds like a nagger, telling Job about how he is absent when everything was created. In the face of Job, God acts like the Filipino politician who had to print his names on every corner and every government project just to announce that he is working and that the trust and faith of his constituents is not put into waste.[3] By nagging at Job, Yahweh is fully shown in his impotence; but to save the big Other’s ignorance, Job replies to Yahweh:

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be hindered. I have dealt with things that I do not understand things too wonderful for me which I cannot know. I had heard of you by word of mouth but now my eye has seen you. Therefore, I disown what I said and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42: 2-6 NAB)

The end of the book does not describe what happened to Job after this event only that he was reinstated to his former position of wealth and influence. However, it is certain that Job did not ascend to some higher form of spiritual understanding or an attainment of greater wisdom. Rather, Job’s final answer to Yahweh cannot be a final affirmation of God’s omnipotence, but simply Job affirming that between him and God is an irreconcilable distance. Here Slavoj Žižek reads the relation between Job and Yahweh as that of the knowledge of the big Other’s non-existence and that his show of force to Job shows his impotence to the faithful Job. Apropos of Chesterton’s comment from Orthodoxy, God in his monologue appears as an atheist, since he himself does not believe in himself and requires the hapless other to recognize his own power. Job’s answer to God should be read as a fetishistic disavowal, an “I know precisely well but…” It is not Job who is engaging a proto-critique of ideology, it is the text that engages in a critique of (spiritual) ideology, showing the vanity of wisdom and spirituality and at the same time that vulgar denial is insufficient in giving an alternative.

In to-day’s discussion, one always finds the sporadic comments about religious devotees and how Filipino religious devotions have laudable devotions to certain religious traditions, but lacked the capacity to transform them into a spirituality that would give them the proper way of life. Sociologists debate about the characteristic of Filipino devotees and are often stuck with dichotomies or a syncretism between Christian baptism and a repressed paganism. One should here take the fetishistic disavowal to its theoretical limit; consider the common Tagalog truism Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa (in God there is mercy, in man there is action), the believer has the unwavering belief in God’s capacity for mercy, but it is supplemented by man’s action. In relation, consider the Jesuit axiom of believing that your success is independent of God…but nonetheless work as if everything depends on God.[4] At this point, spirituality as seen as a body of spiritual and faith based disciplines is rendered irrelevant.

 

The Commune of God is with you, and with thy Spirit!

The conflict between naïve universality (i.e. when everything is united in one consiciousness) which forms around the concept of Nirvana—the liberation from suffering—and the Christian universality—that of inherent conflict, a universality of struggle with the commune of believers—is best demonstrated in the final two episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion, forming the film version The End of Evangelion (1997). In the famous final sequences of the film when Third Impact was initiated by the mysterious organization SEELE (comparable to the Illuminati), as starting point of the “Human Instrumentality Project” ( a sci-fi expression for Nirvana and the universalization of human consciousness into one), Shinki Ikari, the series main protagonist who is undoubtedly an Oedipal subject deprived by the father, was given a choice by Rei Ayanami (who by that time was completely united with Adam and Lilith) either to end everything and reduce annihilate everything to end all the pain of existence or endure the pain through a rejection of instrumentality. One has to remember that the intention of instrumentality was to artificially generate mankind’s final evolutionary moment through the unification of everyone within a single being; to achieve that a sacrificial lamb must be slain in the “ego of Eva-01,” Shinji’s evangelion unit. With Rei/Adam/Lilith, only through Shinji’s decision can instrumentality be successful. He chose to endure the pain of consciousness, after a long dialogue between him and Rei, recounting every painful and pleasurable memory; his refusal of instrumentality forms around the dialogue where he is fully immersed in instrumentality (Shinji and Rei floating around the primordial soup), given a choice either to accept it and experience the suffering of consciousness.

Shinji: I don’t know where to find happiness.

Rei: So, you only find happiness in your dreams.

S: Then, this is not reality, this world where no one exists.

R: No, it’s only a dream.

S: Then, I don’t exist here either.

R: This convenient fabrication is your attempt to change reality.

S: is that wrong?

R: You were using fantasy to escape reality.

S: why can’t I dream that I’m alone?

R: That is not a dream. That’s a substitute for reality.

S: But where is my reality?

R: It is at the end of your dream.[5]

When Shinji makes his final decision to endure everything, he was given assurance that everyone would eventually return to their former selves as long as their consciousness is capable of reclaiming themselves. Instrumentality was denied and the film ends with Shinki choking Asuka Langley, with no explanations as to why.

What was denied is instrumentality is a naïve version of universality that everything in the end will unite in a single consciousness, ending all suffering and reach the apex of human evolution. This goal is where occidental and oriental cosmologies converge; both Gnosticism and Buddhism aim at the unification of humanity within the one (which provoked Elaine Pagels to conclude that Gnosticism and Buddhism shared a common ground and even influenced a few gnostic groups). Shinji’s “no” can be seen as a refusal to end the pain; the psychoanalytical lesson here is that Shinji tries go beyond the pleasure principle, fully accepting pain as part of any pleasure seeking activity. In the end, everything does not return to normal and the Earth is reduced in a sea of LCL (the primordial soup), with Rei/Adam/Lilith gigantic body in ruins overwhelming the background. We can describe him as occupying the same place as Job by the end of the Book of Job. Both Job and Shinji witnessed the big Other in its purity—to the point of being too close to it. However, Shinji and Job diverge when it comes to reacting to the show omnipotence. While Job distanced himself from the belief in the other, fetishistically disavowing it and is rewarded for keeping the image, Shinji makes a radical choice by refusing to believe in the other. He fully realizes the non-existence of the big Other and that what we have on Earth is the hopes and dreams of everybody the capacity to realize them despite the enduring the pain of desire. The film engages in a critique of spirituality by showing Shinji’s obstinate attitude towards his superiors, refusing to pilot Eva-01, denying his part in a bigger plan for humanity. Furthermore, through such obstinate attitude, he was able to avert SEELE’s plan to initiate instrumentality. It was this group through their obsession to force the evolution of man through a spiritual sublimation through the unification of all beings into one that we get into the gist of the film’s criticism of spirituality.

There is a small boundary between the burgeoning popularity of exotic spiritual practices and the interests of big businesses. William Davies points out how at a 2014 meeting of the World Economic Forum, aside from the usual attendees (billionaires, bankers, corporation big shots etc.) a Buddhist monk was one of the guests, offering meditative and relaxation techniques. Furthermore, the forum was filled with discussions on mindfulness, where twenty five sessions were about mindfulness and holistic wellness.[6] The big business interest in various spiritual traditions made a large demand for oriental gurus and certified yoga instructors. The appeal of oriental spirituality and syncretic versions of Christianity can be related to the demand by big business companies to have a dynamic workplace ethic. It is necessary to point out that both Christian and Oriental “spiritualties” are two sides of the same coin, providing an individualist trickle down spirituality—improve oneself through this and that and everything follows—; its egotistical element is retained and a banal cosmo-theology in place.

I propose no alternative here and I will not attempt to come up with a “materialist spirituality” to supplement a dialectical materialist theory. With a rejection of spirituality, I am emphasizing the communal aspect that bound Christians in its early days. What they have is not a system of spirituality, but a theology of militant anticipation of the parousia. When Paul tells the church at Ephesus to put on the armor of God, loins girded in truth, the breastplate of righteousness and so on[7], Paul is not telling the Christians at Ephesus that they can already have a cake and eat it; rather, the recourse to martial metaphors is Paul’s reminder that the faith entails a struggle far more difficulty that philosophical and religious ones. Without being nostalgic, to-day’s religious atmosphere has the wonderment at what lies beyond knowledge and the seeming inherent unity of all things. However, one must maintain that the very failure to understand what is out there is inherent in the object being grasped. The Lacanian lesson of the Book of Job and Neon Genesis Evangelion is that when we are face to face with the traumatic real of what is in front of us, realizing how it is void of all value, we either keep appearances and go on or create another reality outside of what has been fetishized. When Christianity only had an appeal with slaves, women, the illiterate and others who are marginalized by the (multi-cultural avant la lettre) Empire, it never kept appearances; instead, their writings were preoccupied with an anticipation of the end, the apocalypse of Imperial domination. The legacy left by the Early Christians is that they left a memory of militancy and communal living. In our neoliberal age, when communal living means exercising identity politics, perhaps, only the religious militant gesture (without being fundamentalist) can provide a proper theoretical stance against to-day’s ideological struggles.

 

[1] Colleen M. Griffith, “Catholic Spirituality in Practice,” C21 Resources (Spring 2009): 1.

[2] Augustine’s debates with Pelagianism spans over a great number of his major writings, sermons, and letters; to start, De Libero Arbitrio (On the Free Choice of the Will), De Natura et Gratia (On Nature and Grace), etc. for a comprehensive source see Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed Philipp Schaff (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Ethreal Library, 1886)

[3] However, there are cases when politicians have to blame government bureaucracy to escape the blame from their constituents. For example, in one of the cities of Metro Manila, numerous word works, causing heavy traffic, bore the signs “DPWH [Department of Public Works and Highways] project NOT the City of _____ so that public blame would fall on the bureaucracy of the DPWH and not the City officials who are elected.

[4] Slavoj Zizek, On Belief (London: Routledge, 2002) p. 125.

[5] I am quoting from the English subtitles of the Japanese original.

[6] William Davies, The Happiness Industry: How Government and Big Business Sold us Well Being (London: Verso, 2015), pp. 1-3.

[7] Cf. Eph 6: 13-17.

Against Spirituality

Where do we Stand? Responding to Slavoj Zizek’s Remarks on the Failure of the Left

 

From the rise to power of right-wing groups in Europe, the defeat and co-opting of Bernie Sanders in the status quo of the Democratic party and the rising tensions in the West Philippine Sea, such current events will push anyone to ask “where were the leftist movements that passionately fought for everything?” or “why the left continues to fail at its struggles only for far more worse events to take place?”, Slavoj Zizek’s comments on the failure of the left should not be taken as a reactionary jab at current left-wing struggles, but a clear and present practice of criticism and self-criticism. With such a wide ranging movement that the term “left” means, one gets lost in the quagmire of different opinions that contain either a dialectical or un-dialectical understanding of our current situation. The fall of the Soviet Union along with the dissolution of other communist states goaded some leftists the opportunity to re-write and re-consider some of the old ideological stances and replace them with more inclusive theories and affirm the necessity of remaining within the logic of liberal democracy.

Capitalism, in the understanding of a grand system of labor relations and private ownership controlling the flow of commodities and raw materials, is no longer the theoretical bogeyman; the words US Imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism are discredited as merely slogans of a passé passionate politics that have to give way to “rational” liberal democracy. Leftist theory (from the agonistics of Chantal Mouffe to discourse theory of the postmodern and post-colonial left) is less preoccupied with alternatives but with reforming the democratic system to become more “deliberative”, rational and open. The struggles of old make way for cooperation within the cozy offices of the Parliament building and organization of various civil sectors relegated to valid party-list groups or non-government organizations that would function outside of the state system or even function as a gap-filler to what the state lacked. Such a move is justified as a way to integrate the excluded ones into a supposedly more inclusive democracy. To allow such to happen is it not necessary to reject the cliché in the guise of the communists, the last remnants of a bygone era? What is to be affirmed and held with rigor is the multiplicities of reason, various narratives that unfold simultaneously to each other and functioning within a currently established liberal democracy. The enemy in this case is vague; to the post-colonialist, it is Western hegemony; to the identity politician, it is the hegemonic discourse that prevents peoples to exercise their chosen identities (be it Patriarchy or the dominant scientific rationality). It is enough to say that in the dominant reason there is a singularization and an enforcement of certain cultural norms, repressing the uniqueness of one’s own reason. There is no class conflict here, just the struggle against the dominant and the imperative to openness and dialogue, acting as a medicine to our monologue society.

What is wrong with this theory is precisely its mystification of multiplicities; this way we lose sight of what really causes the global phenomena of exploitation under global capitalism. While the proposed alternative is to return to our post-colonial ethos and relation to the earth (recall how our liberal academicians would love to cite Heidegger), seeing ourselves within an immense universe in the great chain of being with a proper place on earth; it fails to see itself within the ideological coordinates of global capitalism. Its attachment to the system of liberal democracy only serves to demonstrate that our current (supposed) left-wing academic theory “wants to have a cake and eat it,” without realizing that any attempt at radically changing our current predicament requires a lot of risks, examination of current conditions, and the courage to organize and resist, while at the same time rejecting obvious alternatives. While conscious of past mistakes, a communist knows that the struggle requires a constant experience of failure and failing better until a successful alternative is achieved. Our current liberal intelligentsia sees the search for an alternative as a futile attempt at achieving a desired utopian end, settling for the vicious circle of democracy’s oscillation. It is evident that with the almost unfettered rise of the right-wing quasi fascist movements, we can no longer rely on the democratic system to decide the fate of nation-states. From a more theoretical level, we can no longer systematically accept the postmodern discourse, rejecting a singular unfolding of narrative. Rather, our singular narrative is contained in the universal struggle of the exploited from the exploiter; at the end of this struggle is the toppling of the very system that allows poverty and exploitation to occur. Global capitalism thrives in multi-culturalism and nationalism, seeing that the attempt to de-colonize our culture keeps the intelligentsia in check i.e. to remain in the universities, exchanging witty philosophical remarks, barking at each other over who can make a more rigorous noise, while pandering on radicals, seen as nostalgically attached to the passé ideologies of old. That is one of the risks being an avowed Marxist-Leninist in the university. When forming the party is seen as militantism and a theory based on class struggle as un-dialogical, closed to the myriads of options out there. Perhaps, being closed and loyal to the convictions of the cause is better than engaging in speechifying sophistry of academically accepted ways of theoretical resistance.

What is basically wrong with the left? It has transformed itself mainly as a university discourse, producing variations on any allowed theme but as long as it remains within the production of essays and commentaries. For that reason, even among bourgeois students of philosophy Karl Marx is admired only by the scope of his research and the applicability of his thought in various research endeavors. However, if we move outside of the production of essays to the actual work of doing theory (i.e. not merely as writing an essay but the actual analysis of material conditions within the exploitative nature of capitalism) in light of informing current revolutionary movements, they are ready to cast it aside as a futile political project. If they (and ourselves included if need be) remain within the confines of their academism, perhaps Zizek is right to reprimand us of our complacency.

Where do we Stand? Responding to Slavoj Zizek’s Remarks on the Failure of the Left

The Revisionism of the Post-Soviet Left

It is commonplace among those who claim that they have abandoned the tactics of the far left to decry how much was wasted in the left’s dogmatic assertion and affirmation of old tactics (the importance of the vanguard party, the armed struggle and so on). In an article written for rappler.com, the criticism of the administration implies at the same time a criticism of the left. The goal is to come up with a vibrant left-wing movement, deserving of the people’s representation. What should this vibrant, new, progressive left stand for? It is the rejection of “undemocratic and instrumentalist practices.” This for our well meaning “leftist” should be replaced by a more democratic and state oriented left, something that is similar to Akbayan policy, entailing close collaboration with the administration. One could entertain the fact that it demands the reconstruction of the party to more Democratic Socialist lines of thinking; something already done by the Communist parties of the United States, Italy, France and (to a limited extent) the Russian Federation. The dismantling of the armed wing, the softening of the theories of imperialism (abandoning its usual slogan against Imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism), and the docility to accept market oriented reforms (with a strong sense of Keynesian Welfare state system rather than the National Democratic Front’s programs of National Industrialization) are but the many demands in order to be considered democratic and relevant for to-day’s political discourse.

This is blatant revisionism, taking advantage of the radical left’s shortcomings as a pre-requisite to soften-up its position, abandoning its militancy and wear the garb of an enlightened liberal, singing praises to Fukuyama’s declaration of capitalist universality and the pragmatic tone of adjusting one’s cause to the “real” order of things. This is an obvious breach in conviction of turning leftist politics to a mere role of a counterweight to the status quo, instead of an actually transforming it, opposing it. Indeed, Akbayan merely dusts the balls of those in power (licks them further on), just to maintain its self-image of being democratic, choosing to play the safe game of justifying government policy than actively opposing its neoliberal agenda. They are not even the counterweight they could conceive themselves to be, but the very gloves to the administration, tamping on the welfare of the farmers, workers and the common man.

The courage to remain in one’s conviction and identify with the cause even at the sight of its past failures and shortcomings is fundamentally lacking in our so-called democratic socialist blocs. The attempt to be (supposedly) more democratic has made current leftist movements a mere academic exercise in criticism, bereft of any active opposittion to the very principles they stand against. If Euro-Communism descended into mere party power play and coddling with the status quo, the post-Soviet left slowly descends into an obvious reformism and revisionism. The seriousness of this change of colors for the sake of inclusion within our democratic practice implies a loss of credibility; for once they consider our enemies as our partners and colleagues (of who one can disagree or agree with), they have become the partners of those who disenfranchise our comrades.

I would claim that even the radical left has some short-comings of its own; but that would test its capability to engage in criticism and self-criticism. However, it does not imply an abandonment of the general principles that established its identity as a cause with an orientation to the transformation of the state and society. Our current situation though different from the social upheavals of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, are (dialectical) variations of old problems. Inasmuch as workers were exploited half a century ago, they are still being exploited to-day and made to enjoy it with the mechanisms of neoliberal capital. Such conditions demand new theoretizations, but what is as important as theory is the unwavering conviction to retain one’s position, one’s dedication to the cause, even at the strong temptation of revisionism. In the end, what would define the left would not be its pragmatism nor its capacity to co-exist with the status quo but the way it has introduced a challenge to the status quo and transformed the coordinates of our political life.

The Revisionism of the Post-Soviet Left

The Opportunism of the Middle Way

The moral outrage is in place and the political lines are already drawn (obviously they have been there already). Between a moral outrage and a political conviction, it seems that the former is taken along with a reasonably pragmatic tone, trusting the government to be able to do its job and at the same time condemn the ideologues for their meddling with the affairs of the farmers. Such perspective however is untenable and not simply coming from a privileged positions of enunciation, but of plain opportunism and reactionism, taking advantage of the situation to redeem the government (whatever the “liberal democratic state” stands for) from its position and defend the legitimacy of the status quo. This is our accusation to those who remain neutral, prepared to listen to all sides (not simply are they coming from their privileged positions of enunciation).

Hence, the issue: can we remain neutral at such a time or should we take the road of mesothes and find a compromise between the farmers and the state? Based on available reports, the Local Government Units of North Cotabato has offered a meagre 3kg of rice as assistance to drought stricken farmers; but what is not highlighted in this report is that they have to undergo a bureaucratic process to even be deemed “qualified” for assistance. The clarity of this systemic disenfranchisement is not so much that the farmers are going to starve; but a double tap to the farmers themselves, being subjected to the (long) qualification process, SYSTEMIC DISENFRANCHISEMENT PAR EXCELLANCE! Is neutrality or even a pragmatism even a choice here? Hence, one must take a religious leap of faith that to support the farmers entails that one is capable of believing solely their side and constructing from there the solutions herein. Along with a total support for the farmers is the affirmation that the state is incapable to work for the welfare of the workers, being ruled by an elite few.

Fascism is not simply a dictatorship of one man over the masses. One learns from the films of Costa-Gavras that fascism is equal to to the rule of a bureaucracy that the state is ruled by a few, working behind closed doors, dictating the destiny of the nation. Here, one immediately sees that our country is ruled by the feudal elite landowners and the bureaucratic elite (legitimized by the manipulation of the democratic process), forming the oligarchy, dictating the policies of the state and always ready to put the blame on those who resist (the activists and mass groups). The red tape involved in what can be considered the Philippine welfare system exists to make welfare a commodity akin to insurance policies rather than actually being welfare (earning from them of course) or setting the imperative to one’s submission to cheap (almost slave) labor in the guise of DSWD’s “Cash for work system.”

Systemic disenfranchisement contains not only of the incapability of being assisted but also of subjecting the poor to the bureaucratic order, forcing them to conform to the demands of the state that does not work for them. The farmers demand something simple that would only cost 30 million pesos (compare that the billions in subsidies given to private companies to run the PPP projects). What we see in this crisis is that the state is already incapable of serving the agendas of the poor, the workers, and the farmers, even systematically ensuring their poverty through the policies it makes for the sake of the elite few. It is now necessary to demand a democracy for the worker, the farmer, and the common people.

With a state that is obviously ruled by a fascist dictatorship of an elite bureaucracy that controls the nation’s finance, industry and economy, neutrality is a “silent” yes to the status quo, a faint affirmation of support to the few who rule the country and profit from its strife.

The Opportunism of the Middle Way