Monday, December 26, 2005

Oblation Run 2005

I was in campus on Oblation Run day a couple of weeks back, and no, not because I wanted to see nekkid young men parade their shortcomings. I was there to check out the tiangge stalls they set up around the academic oval. The Oblation Run is an annual ritual which was started in 1977 by the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity to promote the stage play "Hubad na Bayani" (Naked Hero). Because it was hugely popular, the fraternity has since held the event yearly to the delight of both young men and women from UP and the neighboring schools.

I'd seen the run twice in my undergrad days, and on one particular day while I was having an exam, the streakers actually passed by our room thrice. So, yeah, I had my fill. I was sorely disappointed though.

This year was different because a couple of nekkid women stole the limelight from the men. They held a yellow poster saying "Equal Rights For Women." Some speculate that they weren't actually Filipinas but had the skin tone of East Asians. Who knows?

This photo was e-mailed to my boyfriend. Nice boobs. :)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Begging

If Christmas in rich Christian countries is an excuse for unabashed consumerism, in poor Christian countries, it's an excuse for unabashed begging.

On the way home yesterday, a Barangay tanod in his camouflage pants stood guard in front of our gate, a well-creased envelope in hand. Upon spotting our approach he quickly rushed over and knocked on my car window. "Namamasko po. Para lang sa mga tanod." He didn't even have the courtesy to let us get out of the car first. I'd never met him or seen him actually do his job, but what the heck, he expects me to shell out cash to fund their holiday drinking binge nonetheless. Such is the story of the holiday season in Manila. Christmas brings out the beggar in some of us.

As soon as the air is cool and malls start playing Christmas songs, little (and big) boys and girls begin their nightly noise-making. Don't get me wrong, when I was a kid, I went carolling too. But it was all done in fun. My best neighborhood friends in tow, we would wander as far as our parents would allow to serenade houses with our best renditions of Western and Filipino carols. If we made a few bucks, so much the better. But carolling was an adventure. It was an excuse to wander out at night and see brightly-lit houses. It was never about making money.

These days, for kids, and probably because their parents told them, it's all about milking as much moolah as possible from your kapitbahay. If you give a gaggle of kids a few coins, you can expect them to come back again in a few minutes. An original band of four would break in two's or even come separately, to get some more money.

When I was younger, I don't remember kids carolling on the streets. Now they play patintero with cars, sing a few off-key notes, and all to make a few bucks. Their faces, when they sing Joy to the World, hold absolutely no joy. Their faces aren't even expectant, just blank. As if they were merely going through the motions. In recent years, more and more kids seem to do this. There are city ordinances banning such a practice, but parents don't seem to care when they allow their kids to put themselves in harm's way. What the heck, its all in keeping with the logic of siring as many kids as possible to make you money right?

Making themselves as conspicuously visible as possible, Aetas and other indigenous Filipinos also flock to Manila this season. They usually camp out in the Camachile area near the North Express way tollgate. They would set camp on the islands near the Balintawak cloverleaf for a couple of weeks or more. What for, I have no clue. Maybe they're waiting for manna to fall from heaven. Some wander as far as the South Triangle area. Yesterday we saw some sitting on a sidewalk near Timog. They just sat there, waiting. For guilty middle class folks to take pity on them? Perhaps. A few appropriately dressed "taong-grasa" began sleeping next to our rice store about 2 weeks ago. We didn't have the heart to shoo them away. They obviously waited for soft-hearted customers to give them cash or some rice.

Today, Christmas morning, there are kids wandering the streets to howl "Namamasko po!" at each house. I asked my boyfriend if such a practice was done in Nueva Ecija, where he and his family usually spent their Christmas. He said no. So I wonder where and when this practice of Christmas begging began. Maybe it's a symptom of a worsening social condition. Maybe people these days are more liable to "eat their pride" than eat dust. They're more likely to shame themselves to make ends meet. They're more likely to forgo honor than starve. But why is there a sense of entitlement, like Christmas owes them? And why is poverty always an excuse?

On the Origins of Third World Revolutions

An excerpt of John Foran's new book Taking Power: On the Origins of Third World Revolutions

Introduction

The twentieth century, as much as any before it, must be judged an age of revolutions. The locus of these revolutions, with the important exceptions of Russia in 1917 and the startling events in Eastern Europe in 1989, has been firmly rooted in the Third World, on the continents of Latin America, Asia, and Africa. The record of these revolutions is highly mixed: almost all have started as popular movements which generated wide hope and optimism both internally and internationally, yet have ended at some later point in time, in economic crisis, political repression, or social failure.

The present study is one not of tragic ends, however, but of hopeful origins. It seeks to extend previous work by myself and others on the causes of successful social revolutions to a consideration of why so few revolutions have earned the label “social” revolutions, while so many have fallen short of the sorts of deep economic, political, and social change that could justify this claim.

This book will survey the causes of a wide variety of Third World revolutions, from cases of successful outcomes (measured in terms of taking and holding state power long enough to engage in a project of social transformation) to their close relations among the anti-colonial social revolutions, comparing and contrasting these with cases that have resulted in short-lived success followed by abrupt reversal, attempted revolutions, political revolutions, and the absence of revolutionary attempts where we might otherwise have expected them to occur.

This work is still unfinished. I have sacrificed some of the depth I initially wanted to bring to it to gain the breadth of scope to test a theory. As Jeff Goodwin noted at the start of his book on comparative revolutions, “There is . . . no ‘new’ historical data in the pages that follow.” Or as Theda Skocpol has put it: “Some books present fresh evidence; other works make arguments that urge the reader to see old problems in a new light. This work is decidedly of the latter sort.” I share the aspirations of both of my predecessors in these pages. I imagine that the results will not satisfy many of the historians of the cases touched on here, whose work nevertheless has provided most of the evidence on which I have drawn. Rather, my aim is sociological: to discern distinctive analytic patterns among these revolutionary upsurges, and my hope is to convince readers that there are recurring causal combinations in the historical record. The factors to be tested derive from a multi-faceted theoretical model of the origins of Third World social revolutions that I have been elaborating for the past fifteen (!) years, to which we may now turn.

Perspectives

1 Theorizing revolutions

. . . there are real difficulties in grouping revolutions or, for that matter, any major historical phenomena.

Barrington Moore, Jr.

. . . successful revolutions always have been, and always will be, unique.

Alberto Flores Galindo

Revolutions powerfully shaped the twentieth-century world we have left, and promise to continue to do so on into the new millennium. The revolutionary events of the past generation in both the Third World from Iran and Nicaragua in 1979 to China and Eastern Europe in 1989 and Chiapas today, pose again old puzzles for social theory even as they herald the new situation of a post-cold war world. Alexis de Tocqueville’s dual observation on the French revolution rings just as true for any of these more contemporary upheavals: “never was any such event, stemming from factors far back in the past, so inevitable yet so completely unforeseen.” Virtually all of these social movements took analysts by surprise, and send us back to our theories to detect those distant factors that, in some sense, caused them.

The present study aims to shed new light on a set of transformational struggles that may be clustered under the rubric of “Third World revolutions.” Part Two looks closely at successes in Mexico between 1910 and 1920, China in the 1940s, Cuba in the late 1950s and Iran and Nicaragua at the end of the 1970s, as well as their close relations, the thorough-going anti-colonial revolutions in Algeria in the 1950s, and Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Angola, all in the 1970s, and at shorter-lived revolutions such as Guatemala under Arévalo and Arbenz from 1944 to 1954, Iran’s oil nationalization period of the early 1950s, Bolivia’s experience from 1952 to the early 1960s, Allende’s Chile between 1970 and 1973, Michael Manley’s democratic socialism in Jamaica in the 1970s, and Maurice Bishop’s New Jewel Movement in Grenada from 1979 to 1983. By “success,” I mean coming to power and holding it long enough to initiate a process of deep structural transformation; I am not here passing judgment on the long and somewhat disappointing history of such bold experiments in change, important as such a balance sheet would be.

The third part of the book investigates a wide ranging set of contrasting cases, starting with the reversal of the seven short-lived revolutions above, the attempts at revolution between 1975 and the present in Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru, the Philippines, China, Algeria, and Chiapas, and moving to a set of political revolutions: China in 1911, Haiti and the Philippines in 1986, and Zaire and South Africa in the 1990s.

The central question we will ask of each is what were the causes of the events? What sets of economic, political, and cultural factors were at work, and in what combinations? What role was played by external factors in each case, what role by internal forces? In the end, we shall seek to discern deep patterns across cases, thereby taking up the challenge posed by Barrington Moore, Jr. and Alberto Flores Galindo, who feel that revolutions are so unique that finding a pattern among them is difficult, if not impossible.

The puzzle at the heart of this book is: Why are social revolutions such rare events? And why have so few succeeded and so many failed? The present chapter will lay the basis for the answers suggested by the subsequent case studies in two ways – by briefly introducing the history of theorizing about social revolutions, and by proposing an original model of the origins of Third World revolutions to use as a guide for comparative-historical investigation.

Defining revolution

The study of revolution is marked by fundamental theoretical and political controversy, beginning with the definition of the term itself. An influential definition of what he calls the “great revolutions” was offered by political scientist Samuel Huntington some four decades ago:

rapid, fundamental, and violent domestic change in the dominant values and myths of a society, in its political institutions, social structure, leadership, and governmental activity and policies. Revolutions are thus to be distinguished from insurrections, rebellions, revolts, coups and wars of independence.

This points to the numerous dimensions of social transformation that revolutions unleash, but substitutes violence for the seizure of state power and/or mass participation. A better definition of social revolution has been provided by sociologist Theda Skocpol, who takes up some of Huntington’s criteria while moving fruitfully beyond them:

Social revolutions are rapid, basic transformations of a society’s state and class structures; and they are accompanied and in part carried through by class-based revolts from below . . .

What is unique to social revolution is that basic changes in social structure and in political structure occur together in a mutually reinforcing fashion. And these changes occur through intense sociopolitical conflicts in which class struggles play a key role.

This definition, which I shall adopt in full as my own, represents an advance in linking political and social changes and in identifying the importance of large-scale participation. In this we find an echo of Trotsky’s famous formulation: “The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historic events . . . The history of a revolution is for us first of all a history of the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny.” The salience of these three factors – political change, structural transformation, and mass participation – allows us to dissociate revolution from violence per se and to explore the revolutionary potential of such strongly reformist democratic movements as those of Juan José Arévalo and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, Michael Manley in Jamaica, and Salvador Allende in Chile, each of whom aimed at serious transformation of their society.

Skocpol’s definition has the drawback of not telling us how much political and social transformation is required to qualify a case as a social revolution; nor does it define “rapid”; nor, finally, does it stipulate how long a revolutionary government must remain in power to constitute a “successful” case. These are judgments for which observers will have different answers. My sustained case studies of “success” include Mexico, where the most radical forces were defeated; Nicaragua, in which power was held only eleven years; and Iran, where socio-economic change may not have been fundamental. Only Cuba and China now seem entirely uncontroversial on this list. I acknowledge these difficulties, and will attempt to defend my decisions at the appropriate points. The definition does have the great merit, however, of throwing into relief what the successful cases have in common with each other, and how they vary from other sets of cases. Anti-colonial revolutions, I will argue, are closest in kind to the five principal cases of success, both in meeting Skocpol’s three criteria, and in the patterning of causality. In fact, they differ mainly in that the government overthrown is not an indigenous one but a foreign one. Reversed revolutions are cases where revolutionaries came to power – sometimes by non-violent means – but failed to hold it long enough to fulfill Skocpol’s requirement of basic transformation. In my view they represent significant cases of incipient revolutionary transformation; taking them seriously, as cases of both success and failure, is a novel feature of the present study.

These sets of successful cases by our criteria can be clearly contrasted with such types as attempted social revolutions where revolutionaries never came to power at all, but where the movements were prepared to carry out the deep social transformation in question (obviously, such judgments are based on historical counter-factualizing); and political revolutions, which possess a mass character and alter the outlines of the state, but fail to make deep changes in social structure. In this way one can see Iran as a social revolution, and the Philippines as a political one, or Chile as a social revolution, however short-lived, versus South Africa as an enduring, but only political revolution. I exclude from this analysis movements which lacked mass participation even where significant social transformation arguably occurred, as in the “movement” which toppled Haile Selassie in Ethiopia in 1974, the Afghan revolution of 1978, or the horrific events in Khmer Rouge Cambodia in the 1970s, while including the events in Grenada in 1979 also carried out by a small group, for the society itself was much smaller and embraced the change in power with immediate enthusiasm. These are important distinctions, if difficult judgments, to make, possible only if we take Skocpol’s very useful definitional work seriously. This allows us to focus on the conjunction of human agency and structural change, to isolate the causes of those events where people, in large numbers, came together to remake society. I do not pretend to cover the entire universe of relevant cases here, although I have tackled a good part of that universe.

Historical perspectives on revolutions

This study is about the origins of such events. Social science models of the causes of revolutions date back to the 1920s and 1930s. Comparative historians such as L. P. Edwards in The Natural History of Revolution (1927), Crane Brinton in The Anatomy of Revolution (1938), and G. S. Pettee in The Process of Revolution (1938) engaged in a search for common patterns among such major revolutions as the French, American, English, and Russian cases. According to Jack Goldstone, the findings of this first-generation “Natural History of Revolution” school included:

1. Prior to revolutions, intellectuals cease to support the regime.
2. Prior to revolutions, the state undertakes reforms.
3. Outbreaks have more to do with a state crisis than active opposition.
4. After taking power, conflicts arise within the revolutionary coalition.
5. The first group to seize power is moderate reformers.
6. The revolution then radicalizes because moderates fail to go far enough.
7. The radicals then bring about organizational and ideological changes, taking extreme measures to deal with problems and secure power.
8. Radicals impose coercive order (“the terror”) to implement their program in the midst of social dislocation.
9. Military leaders such as Cromwell, Washington, Napoleon, and Trotsky often emerge.
10. “Eventually things settle down and pragmatic moderates regain power.”

The critique commonly aimed at these pioneers of theory is that they merely describe the process of revolution, they do not explain why revolutions occur. With respect to more recent Third World social revolutions, it must be noted that many other considerations enter into their causation that were not available to these pre-World War 2 theorists of revolutions among the great world powers, as we shall see. And yet, as description, this list is not at all bad, as some of our case studies – Iran, for example – bear out.

A second generation of somewhat disparate American social scientists in the 1960s tried to explain why and when revolutions arise, using either social psychological or structural-functional approaches to collective behavior, which Rod Aya refers to generically (and dismissively) as the “volcanic model” of revolution. Ted Robert Gurr and James Davies developed theories of political violence based on aggregate psychological states, notably relative deprivation. Davies proposed a “J-curve” – “a period of growing prosperity that raises people’s expectations for a better life, followed by a sharp economic downturn that dashes those recently raised expectations” – as a recipe for revolt. Within the then popular modernization paradigm derived from Parsonian structural-functionalism, Neil Smelser and Chalmers Johnson looked for imbalances in the subsystems of a society which disoriented people and made them more prone to embrace radical ideologies. Smelser, in his Theory of Collective Behavior (1962) provides a prescient set of factors including structural conduciveness, strain, new beliefs, precipitants, mobilization, and social control. The critique that is generally advanced of all of these approaches hinges on the difficulty of observing and measuring aggregate psychological states and societal disequilibrium, and the corresponding danger of sliding into tautology – a difficulty and danger for all who would theorize revolutions. As Davies himself remarked of Chalmers Johnson: “If one tells an automobile mechanic that the car’s engine is dysfunctional, it is just about as clear and true as when one says it about an old society.” It is also true that these models have a hard time explaining why revolutions have been so rare (as the types of change initiating the pattern have been widespread), and there is here no mechanism to explain the outcomes of revolution (as the earlier Natural History school did). Goldstone tasks them further with being too “purposive,” i.e. seeking to explain revolutions in terms of the rise of oppositional actors in society. However, in my view this emphasis, along with the attendant concern for the values, beliefs, and ideologies of those involved, is a strength of these otherwise not too convincing theories, and in its way compares favorably with the more one-sidedly structural theories that would constitute the third generation.

Beginning in the 1960s and increasingly in the 1970s, a series of structural macro-sociologies of revolution were elaborated, identifying actors and themes ranging from the state, dominant elites, and armies to international pressures and peasant mobilization as the keys to understanding social revolution. An obvious influential precursor was Karl Marx, who stressed the role played by class struggles as structured by the mode of production (unequal social relations based upon a particular labor process) found in societies undergoing economic transition. De Tocqueville, too, in a more ad hoc fashion, noted the importance of the state and elites, village autonomy, and ideology in bringing about the French revolution. Structural theories of revolution in contemporary social science were pioneered in 1966 by Barrington Moore Jr.’s path-breaking comparative study, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. Moore identified the vulnerable moment as that of the transition to capitalist agriculture and the changing relations among peasants, the state (usually a monarchy), landlords, and a nascent bourgeoisie in this period. Variations in the relative strength of these social groups produced peasant revolution in China, democracy in France, England, and the United States, and fascism in Japan and Germany. He argued that successful commercialization of agriculture undercuts peasant revolution, that peasants must possess certain solidarity structures to rebel, and that they need allies to make a revolution. Eric Wolf’s 1969 survey of six “peasant wars” (by which he really means “revolutions in an agrarian society”) confirms the utility of much of Moore’s schema with a look at Third World cases. Though he insists that each revolution has unique historical determinants, patterns do emerge – the commercialization of agriculture threatens peasants’ access to land, middle peasants are best placed to rebel, allies must be found among the urban classes, and armed force is necessary to seize the state. Jeffery Paige’s 1975 book on Third World peasant movements specifies that revolution occurs only where landed classes depend on the land itself (not capital, machinery, and technology) for their income and peasants are amenable to organization in their capacity as sharecroppers or migrant laborers. Of these three theorists, Paige is the most single-minded in focusing on the peasantry at the expense of urban sectors, the state, and almost all else.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

On Global Food Fights

"Free trade is destroying the lives of rice and corn growers. People in my village earn just $20 a month and use traditional methods ... How can they compete with rich international businesses?"

--Tri-Heru Wardoya, a Sumatran farmer

The Sacred Become Profane

Until 2001, virtually all goods and services crossing national borders dance to the tune set by the world's single governing body of trade relations. That is, all, except for food.

There has always been a tacit agreement among the shapers of the Post-World War II era to leave Agriculture out of "free" trade. Each nation can set tariffs and provide subsidies for local
farmers in order to protect not only the domestic agriculture sector but as a matter of national security. After all, hunger kills just as as guns and ammos do.

In 1994, when the the World Trade Organization (which I fondly call Whores That Offer) was established to enforce trade agreements on goods, services, (including finance) and intellectual property, the need to regulate trade in food products was recognized. The Agreement on Agriculture or AoA was included, although largely set aside. Until 2001, in what has been called the "Doha Round" of WTO talks.

For the first time in the last 60 years, the previously untouched, but perenially controversial trade in Agriculture has captured the world's attention in ways talks on banking secrecy or copyright infringement never had. After all, who cares anything about financial matters or enforcement of intellectual property rights but those whose profit margins are threatened? But WE, all of us, need to eat to survive. More importantly, 2/3 of the world's nations depend heavily on income derived from agriculture export.

Funny enough (or, if you've a serious disposition, absolutely tragic), even those whose agriculture sectors are dwarfed by income from other sources are surprisingly the main opponents in trade talks.

Battle of the Titans

The United States and the European Union are the two largest food exporters in the world, their farmers among the richest.

Considering the not significant income derived from food trade (as compared to manufactured exports or services), one wonders why in heavens they bother to point fingers at each other as to whom is the greater Food Bully.

In a time where "Free Trade" is as sacred as the Koran and Holy Bible, these two are the greatest violators of their own trade principles.

Europe's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

The CAP played a significant role in forging the European Community after the devastation of the Second World War. The introduction of agriculture in the common economic policy was a necessary step to integrate the economies of the member states. It was also seen as an integrating mechanism and social welfare policy for farmers who were most susceptible to fascist tendencies during the war period.

In the last half a century the CAP protected a progressively shrinking number of pampered farmers from external competition by erecting tariffs. Small land-owners eking away a living were pressured to give way to technologically advanced farming industries.

While many Europeans themselves see the unfair advantage given to these companies as well as the tax burden they themselves must shoulder, CAP remains essential to keeping the peace in an "Enlarged" EU. The 15 new members from Central and Eastern Europe are primarily agriculture producers and they expect their own farmers to receive subsidies and protection as their Western counteparts. For these reasons and for many more I have absolutely no desire to explain in excruciatingly technical detail, the CAP is never going away.

The perenially overblown CAP budget will continue to burst the European Commission's belt at the seams. The Commission allocates roughly 40 billion Euros which will actually increase to 50 billion in eight years (EU Commission CAP Mid-term Review 2003).

Despite the EU's claims to the contrary, and despite internal calls for reform, CAP remains a thorn on European taxpayers' side and an incontrovertible fortress designed to keep Third World produce at bay.

The US Farm Bill

On the other side of the Atlantic, the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (Farm Bill) has been criticized by the EU as an even more "trade-distorting" (meaning in violation of the Doha principle of abolishing subsidies). One mechanism of the new Farm Bill is the Market Access Promotion Program which allocates $200 million to expand markets overseas. It has been suggested that it was no coincidence that George W. Bush, a Republican, whose traditional electoral bastions have been the agriculture-producing states in the Heartland, had promised this bill to US farmers during his campaign.

The US Farm Bill minces no words in its policy agenda, at least until its expiry on 2008. Trade expansion is critical. Markets outside of the country must be found.

Most growth in food demand will be in developing countries, where populations are also seen to increase. Prospective importing countries (in order) are China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, Thailand, Philippines, Korea, Turkey and Egypt. The EU and the Cairns Group, a bargaining body of Third World countries and of which the Philippines is a member, have been identified as the US’ main competitors. The trade agenda for the 21st century: continue liberalization of trade in agriculture, enhance competitiveness, ensure proper tools and an maintain an ambitious global marketing strategy.

The Food Fight Could Turn Ugly

What is clear among economists, NGOs and academics is that the AoA divides winners and losers among industrialized and developing countries.

It is said that should “complete” liberalization and removal of tariffs, domestic support and export subsidies take place, these will trigger an increase in agricultural commodity prices in the world market, making farming more profitable for all.

This will seem a miracle, however, since the trend in the last few decades has seen the drop of almost all agricultural goods. It takes more and more bananas to buy those Nokia units. One must plant more and more coffee to purchase non-fat caramel macchiattos.

The “projected” rise in prices should induce countries to better improve their output for export. Certainly the Philippines, whose agricultural goods only comprise 6% of total exports but employs 40% of our labor, might be enjoined to reform domestic policies in order to offensively; take advantage of these forecasts and defensively; shelter our own rural producers and laborers and domestic consumers.

Some are doubtful however that the should the AoA come in full effect, any substantial rise in prices will actually occur. Some are even doubtful that AoA compliance will actually reduce domestic subsidies of both US and EU.

Complete liberalization of trade in agriculture will also mean that those who are the clear dominant producers will have an advantage over countries like the Philippines in a free-for-all competition for markets world-wide.

No doubt, both the US and EU will continue to balance domestic farm interests and their commitments to the WTO, placating the thousands of protesters (including those that strip and jump into icy cold seas) with jargon-filled and booby-trapped compromises.

The implications seem rather daunting and from the Philippine point of view, the room for maneuver seems miniscule. Meanwhile our government officials, pun intended, are still "sleeping in the kangkungan."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Competing Views on the Problem of Iraq

In the past few months the US occupation of an Iraq in "transition" has become increasingly unpopular. The voices urging the Bush administration to finally eliminate Saddam and his "weapons of mass destruction" have now changed their tune to pull out. The question is not if, but when this will happen.

After doing their best to "secure" the Middle East and wipe out terrorists, the US is keen on cutting their losses and getting out before things get truly ugly. In the meanwhile, Iraq is closer to civil war than stability.

Iraq’s instability stems from the massive political, social, cultural and economic reordering being undertaken at the moment. It’s doubly problematic in that this reordering is ensconced in a multitude of interests at the domestic and international levels. It touches on national politics, on regional politics and on superpower whims. Increasingly it is even made into a matter (or, depending on one’s ideological proclivity, a “problem”) of culture. From the view of political economists it is a source of the world economy’s instability of oil production and the consequent sky-rocketing of fuel prices impacting on each and every human being on the planet. Increasingly, it may be seen that Iraq’s struggle is also the world’s struggle.

View Number One might very well argue that the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime was crucial in the revitalized “policing” power of the lone superpower. The uncertainties of the post-Cold War era seemed to have suddenly been replaced by the intractable US engagement in world security soon after its domestic territory was breached by sowers of terror in September 11, 2001. While scholars of View Number Two persuasion were busy dreaming of a world were there is no longer a monopoly of power, that fateful day seemed to have demonstrated the need for a hegemon to maintain stability. This awesome power was abundantly demonstrated in the US’ single-minded bypassing of the UN Security Council mandate despite objectives from many quarters. Multilateralism seemed to have failed in view of the superpower’s national interest.

Indeed Iraq’s stability, sovereignty, its very statehood seemed to have been sacrificed in the altar of US hegemony, the US need to rid the world of internationally-organized terrorism and once again show its supremacy.

View Number Three would claim that Iraq was not sacrificed on the altar of the might US State, but on the altar of the mighty American capitalist class. They would view the Bush administration as captive of the American oil industry’s interests in securing access to the world’s second largest holder of oil reserves. The war in Iraq could also have serviced the business interest o the US military-industrial complex. Indeed, upon closer inspection of key personnel in the Bush administration, including Bush himself, once cannot help but entertain these ideas. The US invasion of Iraq not only brought profits to Bush’s capitalist cronies but also brought legitimacy to his government and presidency plagued by accusations of election fraud and ineptness.

The issue of transplanting a liberal democracy on Iraqi soil is as problematic an issue as the ones we’ve mentioned so far. Democracy today has been pretty much equated to the liberal democratic model posed by a few select Western countries. Democracy (i.e. liberal democracy) today is widely seen as a common good, a universal value that all of the world’s nation-stats must aspire to achieve. Indeed the process of democratization itself has in the past few decades engendered a sizeable number of literature, attested to by the success of certain authors writing about democracy and the multitude of journals worldwide.

So, already in contention is whether there is indeed a universally apt kind of democracy that can fit the needs of any State. Is this kind of liberal democracy, the kind the United States has attempted to instill in many parts of e world, including the Philippines, the right model for Iraq? It is testament to the American hegemonic power (in the Gramscian sense) that it has managed to impose its own definition of democracy on the concept of Democracy itself. At the core, liberal democracy is the right to representation, the assurance of free and regular elections as well as civil and political rights. Many scholars argue that liberal democracy does not ensure economic and social rights.

So with the contentious concept of democracy itself, we turn to the question of Iraq’s prospects of “operating within a democratic system.” What are the prospects of Iraq’s successful transition to democracy?

Before US intervention Iraq has been an authoritarian regime for the last two decades. It also has its share of social divisions by way of Sunni and Shi’ite rivalry as well as the Kurdish minority. By way of social solidarity, democratization by representation may very well exacerbate social divisions. The US as the intervening external power as been accused of taking advantage of this fissure in order to further its own interests.

In terms of economic development, Iraq plays the role of key owner of a vital economic resource; petroleum. It has been incorporated into the world economy as a primary supplier of this strategic resource. State ownership of oil resources will certainly make state officialdom a lucrative endeavor. In this particular setting it is difficult to see State-sponsored development where there is little need for the State to distribute economic gains to the rest of the population. Or indeed, where the State does not need monetary contribution (by way of taxes) for the government machinery to function. An elite-controlled and driven “democratically-elected” Iraqi government does not bode well for making the state truly responsive to its constituents.

While there are the domestic issues of class alliances and divisions, the consolidation of power of the political and economic elites, the prospects for the formation of a vibrant civil society, the assurance and protection of civic and political rights of individuals, the nascent Iraqi state must also somehow address the external issues of continued US intervention, the role it plays in the conflicts of the Middle East region, the role it plays in world oil politics on top of safeguarding its very own existence.

From the looks of it, Iraq has a very long way to go before it can be consolidated as a State fashioned in the image of the US and a longer way still for it to be truly democratic.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Ang Pagdadalaga ng Pelikulang Pilipino

Tulad ng mumunting bulaklak na nagpupumilit umusbong sa dagat ng basura at dumi, ang kwento ng Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros ay pinagpunyagiang ibahagi ng dalawang manlilikha ng pelikula sa kabila ng kakulangan ng pondo, ng karanasan at ng kawalang lingap ng industriya ng pelikulang Pilipino. May mangilan-ngilan, tulad ng Cinemalaya, na nagbibigay buhay sa patay na nga ay naghihingalo pa.

Ang angking talino ng mga manlilikhang ito'y 'di maikubli ng malabong rehistro ng digital camera sa telon o ang pangit na tunog. Kung minsa'y 'di mawari ang dialog, ang bawat kuha naman, ang bawat imahe ay nangungusap na rin. Basurang lumulutang sa ilog, ang mga talulot ng orchid, ang kutitap ng krismas lights, ang lasenggong nagpupumilit tumugtog ng kanyang obra sa sira at sintonadong piano.

Tulad ni Maxi na lugmok sa kahirapan, na pinalilibutan ng tila'y gabundok na mga balakid, ang pelikulang Pilipino ay pilit na muling bumabangon at lumalago. Suportahan natin ang ating dalaginding 'di dahil tayo'y obligado o kinukunsesya kundi dahil siya'y tunay na magaling.

Ito'y kwento ni Maxi, kwento natin, kwento ng pelikulang Pilipino. Maghandang humalakhak, magngitngit, maawa, tumangis. Maghandang mamangha. Manood kayo.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Never Say Never

I pride myself in (almost never) jumping on bandwagons. The whole Japanimé mania completely flew over my head growing up. The only pc games I've ever really played are Final Fantasy VII because I was good in it and The Sims because its fun building and decorating houses and playing god. I've never been interested in playing any online game. I refused to watch Titanic because billions of people all over the world had seen it. I've never wanted to play badminton because everyone else does. I caught one episode of Meteor Garden and didn't really like it. I've never been a fan of any Chino/Koreanovela.

But in the past few weeks I've seen two Korean movies My Little Bride and April Snow and I am hooked. Ugh. And for reasons I know have entirely to do with the lead actors Kim Rae Won and Bae Yong Jun. Asian men were never ever attractive to me. Fair skin and almond-shaped eyes are a no-no. But these two have bucked my trend. With millions of women all over Asia swooning over them, I am human after all in that I am not immune. Shoot me now.