Sketch of a Synoptic Reconaissance


by E. San Juan, Jr.
Philippines Cultural Studies Center
The history of the Philippines as a colony and neocolony can be divided into three parts. The first designates three hundred years of Spanish domination of the archipelago from 1565 to 1898 after the subjugation of tribal resistance in the main island of Luzon. The second includes about four decades involving the annexation of the islands by the United States following the Spanish-American War of 1898 and its pacification from 1899 to 1935, when it became a Commonwealth up to 1941. The ascendancy of U.S. monopoly capital and finance at the beginning of the twentieth-century replaced that of Spanish merchant capital and its moribund feudal arrangements (Magdoff 1982).

From 1942 to 1945, the Japanese militarily occupied the major regions of the country but left local governance to a “puppet” regime of elite natives. The return of U.S. forces destroyed the Japanese authority and restored the status quo before the war.
In 1946, the Philippines was granted nominal independence but not full sovereignty, given the presence of U.S. military bases and effective control of key political, military and economic institutions by Washington. With recent bilateral agreements such as the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) to buttress military and political dependency, the Philippines’ status as a neocolony of the United States nas been re-confirmed.

Re-visiting Spanish Hegemony

The Philippines came under the formal political authority of Spain in the time of European rivalry over control of trade with Asia and the Americas in the 15-16th centuries. Following Ferdinand Magellan’s discovery of the islands in southeast Asia in 1521,Miguel Lopez de Legaspi claimed the archipelago (named the “Philippines,” after King Philip II of Spain) for Spain in 1565. Lacking any cohesive unity or common loyalties, the indigenous tribes based on subsistence agriculture fell victim to the Spanish strategy of “divide and rule” and its superior weaponry used for pillage, plunder, and killing (Veneracion 1987).
Given the distance from Spain, the islands were ruled from Mexico approximately ten thousand miles away. Few lay Spaniards settled in the Philippines. The pagan natives were christianized by missionaries of the religious orders–the rationale given by the Spanish monarchy to the Pope for taking power–so the Roman Catholic Church virtually ruled territories that yielded foodstuffs, human labor, and timber needed for the galleon trade. This lucrative exchange of Chinese porcelain, Indian textiles, etc. for Mexican gold and silver required the Philippines as a transhipment point between Mexico and China.
The profit gained from the galleon trade offered the main reason for subsidizing the “civilizing mission.” The Church’s evangelical apparatus of catechism and sermons was mobilized to justify appropriation of land and other natural resources extracted via heavy taxation, enforced labor, and assorted tributes. This missionary salvific disccourse portrayed native resistance to Church abuses and government impositions as pagan wickedness, not a legitimate defense against violence (Eadie 2005). Coopting the village chiefs, the missionaries and civil officials reinforced the patron-client system of asymmetrical harmony. Cultural ties of reciprocity and indebtedness to the local leaders were manipulated to insure the regular centralized routine of the accumulation process.
The lack of adequate civilian personnel to maintain ecclesiastical and bureaucratic discipline compelled the State to develop a local agency, the principalia (principal personages), to manage the procedures of taxation, sexual/domestic conduct, civic projects, security and indoctrination to reproduce the feudal-tibutary social relations while producing food, shelter, clothing and other means of survival. This also explains the theocratic dominance of the friars in mediating between the mercantilist State and the natives in the cabeseras (geopolitical town complex) which broke apart the kinship or datu-sacop system of the pre-conquest polity.
Colonial discipline of the native subjects involved coercive and ideological mechanisms to enforce extraction of goods/services for use and others for exchange. Pre-capitalist forms and feudal instrmentalities dovetailed to constitute the political economy of the Spanish possession. Apart from the local chiefs and their extended families and retainers, the natives were thus reduced to serfs or even to virtual slavery. This excluded the Moros or Muslims of the southern islands of Mindanao and Sulu who successfully resisted Spanish military and religious incursions from the time the Muslim chiefs Soliman and Lakandula were subdued in 1572-74.
Despite reformist measures introduced in mid-19th century, Spain never developed the potential for self-suficient agriculture and sustainable industries. The archaic state’s practice of imposing bonded labor for infrastructure projects, as well as the excesses of the friars, led to over 200 revolts of peasants and workers–from Malong’s revolt in Pangasinan (160-61) to the numerous revolts during and after the British occupation of Manila in 1762-64 (Constantino 1975, 112-14).

Crisis of the Mercantilist Dispensation

With the termination of the galleon trade in 1813 and the abolition of government monopolies of tobacco and other export crops, the metropolitan city of Manila was opened to foreign trade in 1835. Liberal ideas entered the islands, a consequence of the exposure of Spain to Enlightenment philosophy before and after the Napoleonic wars (1808-14) and the South American wars of independence. Conflict between the absolutist monarchy and the forces of liberalism led to the republican interlude (from 1868 on) and the appointment of Carlos Maria de la Torre, a prominent liberal (Zafra 1967,157-163). De la Torre exempted from tribute and coerced labor the Filipino workers in the Cavite arsenal who subsequently mutinied when his successor, the conservative Rafael de Izquierdo, restored the status quo. The Cavite revolt of 1872 and the execution of the three secular priests (Burgos, Gomez and Zamora) signalled the resurgence of hitherto inchoate dissidence of urban intelligentsia and guilds in the islands.
Meanwhile, capital accumulation via commercial agriculture and export trade passed into the hands of Anglo-American merchant houses. To these were attached mestizo families, owners of sugar plantations and hacenderos of other cash crops (rice, hemp, tobacco, coconuts). An ilustrado (enlightened) stratum of these families emerged in the 1870s and 1880s; foremost were the “propagandists” (Marcelo del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, Jose Rizal, Isabelo de los Reyes, etc.) who advocated peaceful reforms and representation in the Spanish Cortes (De la Costa 1965). This were all denied and their advocates punished by death, imprisonment, or exile.

Parallel to that assimilationist movement existed a separatist movement of the peasantry and mutual-aid cooperatives of workers and artisans inspired by millennarian agitations and the secularist movement among Filipino priests against the arrogant friars. This was led by Andres Bonifacio and the secret organization, the Katipunan (Association of Sons of the People) inspired by freemasonry and the delayed impact of the ideas of the French and American revolutions. Earlier insurrections, particularly instigated by indigenous cults and seditious anti-clerical groups of uprooted tenant-farmers, converged in the 1896 revolution that led to the establishment of the first Philippine Republic after feuds between the collaborationist elite factions and the grassroots radical-democratic peasant-worker revealed basic contradictions among classes. This explosion of emancipatory desire by the disenfranchised rural folk was undeterred by sustained Catholic proselytizing and the terrorist measures of desperate Spanish governor-generals. The decay of Spanish colonial domination could not be reversed by the end of the nineteenth century.

The Nightmare of Spanish Colonization

The Spanish destruction of the self-sufficient baranganic communities by taxation and forced labor (polos y servicios) disrupted the village economy of kinship-based clans. Population was reduced, farm lands laid waste, including whatever trade and industry flourished. The Spanish historian Antonio de Morga lamented that due to the despotic backward policies, the natives abandoned “their farming, poultry and stock-raising, cotton growing and weaving of blankets” (Agoncillo and Guerrero 1970, 104), From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, Spain exploited the natives to support the galleon trade that enriched the friars and local bureaucrats, the Chinese traders, and native mestizo families.
Whatever changes were carried out in the nineteenth century did not significantly improve the conditions of the majority since the specialization in export crops (controlled by Anglo-American agents) prevented the growth of a diversified economy. The nascent capitalist sector benefited only a few propertied families and foreign merchants. In terms of Christianization, very few Filipinos really understood Catholic doctrine, hence the mixture of miracles, idolatry, veneration of icons and images, superstition and rudimentary Catholic rituals that constituted the belief-system of ordinary christian Filipinos today.
In general, the cultural development of the country reflected the bankruptcy of Spanish political and economic policies. It reflected the decay of the metropolitan order in a grotesque caricatured form. Spanish was not made the lingua franca of the colony, hence a bizarre ethnolinguistic mutiplicity continues to distort Filipino efforts at national self-identification. Hispanization survives only in certain customs and habits (fiestas, family rituals, etc.). The historian John Phelan observes that “although partially Hispanized, the Filipinos never lost that Malaysian stratum which to this day remains the foundation of their culture” (1967, 26). Spanish colonialism, in short, ruined the indigenous life-forms and the supporting economy it encountered, while enriching a few oligarchic sectors and intensifying its own paralysis and decadence.
The American historian Nicholas Cushner concludes his account with the belief that Spain’s “more subtle influence on attitudes and social conventions remains part of the fabric of Philippine society” (1971, 229). However, profound Americanization of the collective Filipino psyche from 1899 to the present may have pronounced the final demise of this influence today despite superficial vestiges now extravagantly commodified for tourist consumption.

The American Conquest

President William McKinley’s proclamation of the U.S. “civilizing mission,” also known as “Benevolent Assimilation,” emerged as part of global inter-imperialist rivalry in the age of monopoly-finance capitalism. U.S. corporate industries and banks needed a market for finished goods and sources of raw materials as well as business for exporting capital. A guaranteed market for commerce and investments was an imperative for competitive capital accumulation. Maritime supremacy was needed to facilitate trade with China and South America and regulation over the U.S. sphere of influence in those hemispheres.
The Philippine conjuncture then was unique because of the appearance of a nascent Filipino nationality in the stage of world-history. When the Spaniards ceded the islands to the United States in 1898, the Filipinos had already defeated the Spaniards everywhere except the fort city of Manila. The army of the first Philipine Republic (proclaimed in June 1899) fought the American invaders from 1899 to July 1902. Apart from guerilla resistance led by peasant-based leaders, the Moros continued to resist until 1913 (Tan 2002).
Given the advanced mode of industrial production and superior technology and human resources, the US demolished the revolutionary forces led by Emilio Aguinaldo. It was the first bloodiest war of imperial subjugation that opened the twentieth century. From positional to mobile tactics to guerilla warfare, the Filipinos suffered enormous casualties. Frustrated by the popular support for the resisters, the US engaged in genocidal destruction of villages and killing of civilian non-combatants. Torture, hamletting or mass detention in concentration camps, and other savage reprisals led to the death of 100,000 people in Batangas province in one campaign (Fast 1973, 75). General Franklin Bell’s estimate of the 600,000 deaths in the island of Luzon alone, added to the other “depopulation” tactics in Samar and Panay where fierce resistance occurred, resulted in over a million deaths (Francisco 1987, 19). On the victor’s side, over $300 million was spent; 4,234 died, 2,818 were wounded, and hundreds of soldiers who returned home to die of service-related diseases such as malaria, dysentery, venereal disease, etc. (Ocampo 1998, 249).
U.S. monopoly capital distinguished itself from old-style colonialism by its systematic planning, its management of time-space coordinates for limitless capital accumulation. Even before the ferocious pacification campaigns were launched, the US already drew schemes for long-term exploitation of the islands. Geological explorations and anthropological surveys were conducted ahead to discover sources of raw materials and manpower. Compilations of immense data on history, ethnolinguistic groups, flora and fauna, etc. provided knowledge for the succeeding colonial administrators in establishing a centralized bureaucracy, civil service and local governments. Unlike Spanish evangelism, the US colonial machinery was geared to using the country for the thorough exploitation of the newly acquired territory, envisaging the eventual expansion of multinational corporations and ultimate global hegemony.

Knowledge-Production for Profit

One example of how knowledge-production functioned to advance imperial hegemony may be found in the US handling of the “Moro problem.” After thorough research and analysis of Moro history, customs and values, the US negotiated with the Sulu sultan and his datus for acceptance of US sovereignty in exchange for preserving the sultanate’s right to collect taxes and sell the local products. A monthly salary of Mexican dollars for the Sultan was also included in the Bates Treaty signed on August 20, 1899 (Agoncillo and Guerrero (1970, 255-56). This neutralized the effective opposition of some Moro elites. But it did not prevent Generals Wood and Pershing, a few years later, from inflicting a scorched-earth retaliation against sporadic intransigence, resulting in the massacre of thousands of Moro men, women and children in the battles of Bud Dajo of March 9, 1906, and Bud Bagsak of June 11, 1913 (Tan 2010, 130).
McKinley’s policy of “Benevolent Assimilation,” translated into civil governor William Howard Taft’s slogan of “the Philippines for Filipinos,” legitimized the physical occupation of the islands as a preparation of the colonized for eventual self-rule. While brute force was used to destroy organized resistance by the Philippine Republic’s army, the United States deployed three non-violent instruments of subjugation.
The colonial program was both traditional and innovative. First, by coopting the ilustrado mestizo class, the proprietors of commercial land and the compradors, by offering them positions in local municipal boards, the military, and the civil service, the U.S. drastically divided the leadership of the revolutionary forces. By promising democracy and gradual independence, the US won the allegiance of this educated minority who fought Spanish absolutism. Aguinaldo himself swore allegiance to the U.S. a month after his capture, followed by his capitulationist generals and advisers.
Second, by imposing a large-scale public education program to train lower-echelon personnel for a bureaucracy headed by American administrators, the U.S. answered the grievances of the peasantry, artisans and workers against the monopolistic, hierarchical practice of the Spanish-dominated Catholic Church. As a pedagogical tool, the learning of English facilitated wider communication among widely scattered communities, transmitting bourgeois values and serving as the key to obtaining privileges and opportunities in careers and jobs. The massive dissemination of American cultural products (books and magazines, music, films, sports, theater, etc.) reinforced the colonial mindset of the indio masses that would last up to today. This included the pensionado system of government-funded scholarships, the forereunner of fellowships funded by Fulbright, the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, and other privately-endowed exchanges promoting the positive side of U.S. “compadre” or philanthropic colonialism.
Third, by propagating through schools and mass media the ideals of liberty, brotherhood, and meritocracy, the US cultivated among the masses the illusion of equal participation in government via elections, social-welfare programs, and token land reform. This synchronized with the democratic ideals expressed by the nationalist propagandists Rizal, Mabini, and others, ideals already embodied in the republican constitution, thus gaining a measure of consent. With the final actualization of these three modes of fashioning the colonial subject of U.S. monopoly capital, the apparatus of the colonial state can now be safely transferred to the mestizo elite and its clientele.
One symptomatic evidence of U.S.-style pedagogical strategy during the war is the incidence of soldier-teachers and hundreds of civilian volunteers from the U.S who fanned out across the islands. Public schools were opened everywhere. The University of the Philippines (established in 1908) and the Bureau of Education spearheaded the training of “Americanized” natives for the professions and the civil service. By 1907 the US established the Philippine Legislature comprised mainly of mestizo elites and token “nationalist” veterans. By 1916 the colonial bureaucracy was in the hands of the comprador and landowning elite, with the American governor general exercising veto power.
The self-proclaimed nationalist leaders Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmena took turns sublimating the nationalist aspirations of the people by leading missions to Washington delivering pleas for immediate indepence. This was a shrewd maneuver to calm down the turbulent peasant insurrections in the twenties and thirties, culminating in the Sakdalista insurrections from 1930 to 1935. The Philippine Commonwealth formed in 1935 with the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Law marked the advent of U.S. neocolonial retrenchment.

Crafting A Neocolonial Strategy

After the hasty proclamation of the end of the Philippine-American War in 1902, the U.S. began constructing its hegemony via popular consensus. Schooling, the civil service, and bureaucracy served as ideological apparatuses to accomplish that aim. Since the U.S., unlike Spain, did not claim to save the souls of savage pagans, its “civilizing mission” inhered in the tutelage of the natives for a market-centered democratic polity (insuring free trade and free labor) suited to the needs of finance-monopoly capitalism.
Even before armed hostilities ceased, President McKinley formed a civil government to replace the military officials who managed pacification. In July 1902, the U.S. Congress passed the first Philippine Organic Act establishing the Philippine legislature as provided for by the 1916 Jones Law which promised eventual independence. But it was the 1909 Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act that guaranteed its export-oriented agricultural economy even after formal independence in 1946. It tied the client Filipino sugar landlords and compradors, together with their political representatives, to serve U.S. imperial goals. The Act eliminated the tariff on sugar and created a captive market for American products. However, not much foreign investment came in because earlier legislation limited the size of land holdings, thus preventing American attempts to initiate plantation production of cash crops. This resulted in the conflict with the U.S. sugar beet industry and American investors in Cuban sugar that led to demands for Philippine independence to eliminate U.S. preference for Philippine sugar.
Beginning in 1924, the Filipino oligarchs had to maneuver and negotiate the terms of independence to insure the preservation of their wealth and privileges. In 1934, the Tydings-McDuffie act was passed restricting the free entry of Philippine sugar while providing for the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth, an interim formation which served as the blueprint for the post-war neocolony. From 1935 to 1941, the Commonwealth and its American stewards faced growing unrest from a politicized peasantry and impoverished urban workers not fully disciplined by the client-patron pattern of political domination.
Class war resurfaced with the 1935 Sakdalista insurrection on the eve of a general referendum on the ratification of the Philippine Constitution. This was a symptom of the failure of US colonial policies in eradicating the fundamental problem of land ownership and feudal practices. In 1903, 81 percent of all land holdings were cultivated directly by their owners; by 1938, the figure had declined to 49 percent, with the polarization increasing in the post-war decade when, by the 1950s, two-thirds of the population were landless, working as sharecroppers (Fast 1973, 76). In short, US colonialism thrived on the social and political exploitation of the countryside where the majority of Filipinos lived, thus nourishing the source of anti-US imperialist insurgency from that time to the present (for more data on structural inequality, see Canlas, Miranda and Putzel 1988).

Interlude: The Japanese Occupation

Japan easily occupied the Philippines in 1942 after the defeat of General Douglas MacArthur’s forces of Americans and Filipinos in Bataan and Corregidor. Historians now agree that MacArthur’s incompetence in failing to prepare for the invasion explains the most humiliating defeat for the U.S. on record (Rutherford 1971, 155; Agoncillo and Guerrero 1970). Japan thus became the third imperial power to subjugate the Philippines in less than half a century. But its mode of subjugating the country in three and a half years of occupation demonstrates significant features of the pattern already manifested in the way the U.S. took over control from the Spanish colonizers.
Since World War II was basically a rivalry between two industrial powers, the role of the Philippines continued to be geopolitical (as a military base) and economic (source of raw materials and manpower), Japan needed vital raw materials such as copper and food for its war effort. Just like the United States, Japan carried out methodical reconaissance of the cultural and sociopolitical condition of the Philippines many years before Pearl Harbor. In the 1930s and 1940s, Japanese military spies posing as workers worked in the construction of roads and bridges to Baguio City, the summer capital of the U.S. administration. They also carried out social investigation of the political loyalties of the mestizo elite as well as the mass organizations opposed to U.S. rule. They succeeded in gaining the support of General Artemio Ricarte, a respected official of the Aguinaldo Republic, and of Benigno Ramos, the intellectual leader of the Sakdalista party, as well as nationalist politicians such as Jose P. Laurel, Claro Recto and others, who served in the puppet government of the Japanese-sponsored Republic.

Liberating Asians for Japan’s Empire

The ideological cover for Japanese occupation was the scheme of the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.” The Philippines would be a member of this grand union of Asian nations all united in emancipating themselves from Western domination, and (in the case of the Philippines) from “the oppression of the United States” (Veneracion 1987, 69). Japan echoed Taft’s slogan of “Philippines for the Filipinos,” and encouraged the use of the vernacular and other indigenous cultural forms of expression.
Although aided by local sympathizers of Spain’s fascism (such as the Catholic Church and mestizo compradors), the puppet Republic confronted the underground resistance of the combined forces of the guerillas of the USAFFE (United States Armed Forces of the Far East) and the far more effective Communist-led Huks (acronym for People’s Army Against the Japanese).

The Huk guerilla army emerged from the peasantry’s experience of dispossession and recalcitrance during the first three decades of U.S. rule. They opposed the Japanese confiscation of rice harvests, administered local governments which distributed land and food, and punished collaborators. When MacArthur returned in 1944-45, however, despite their substantial help in crippling the Japanese defense and liberating large areas of the country, the Huks were disarmed, arrested and even massacred (Pomeroy 1992).
The war was the most horrendous experience for the Filipinos. Aside from Manila being entirely destroyed by American bombing and Japanese atrocities, the country suffered over a million deaths, second to the number of casualties during the Philippine-American War. Fifty percent of Filipino prisoners died while the number of civilians killed in the capital city of Manila exceeded those killed by the Japanese in Nanking, China. If the United States did not give priority to the war in Europe, the Philippines would have been freed from the Japanese much earlier. The people were told to wait for U.S. relief, chanelling all their hopes in the promise of MacArthur to redeem them from suffering. The brutality experienced by Filipinos from Japanese military reprisals, helped by long years of colonial education and tutelage, allowed the majority to welcome MacArthur as “the liberator.” It also tended to glamorize the subordinate position of Filipinos as part of “U.S.-Philippines” special relations. MacArthur immediately promoted the representatives of the pre-war oligarchy to crucial positions, endorsing Manuel Roxas, a former collaborator, as president and installing pro-American bureaucrats and military personnel in charge of the State apparatuses.

Colonialism Refurbished

Under the Tydings-McDuffie law which created the Philippine Commonwealth, the war-devastated Philippines was granted formal independence. But certain conditions defined the limits of nominal sovereignty. The first condition required the Philippine Congress to accept the terms of the 1946 Philippine Trade Act which provided some rehabilitation money to repair the war-damaged economy. More crucially, the Act required an amendment to the Philippine Constitution that gave U.S. citizens equal rights in the exploitation of natural resources and ownership of public utilities and other businesses.
In effect, the colonizers retained their old privileged status. What was more decisive was the revival of the oligarchy’s sugar industry via tariff allowances and quotas, the abrogation of control over import tariffs on U.S. goods, prohibition of interference with foreign exchange (pegging the local currency to the dollar), and unlimited remittance of profits for U.S. corporations. Free trade guaranteed the status of the former possession as a market for finished commodities and investments as well as a source of cheap agricultural products and raw materials. The Act was rammed through Congress by expelling left-wing legislators in line with the CIA-directed military campaign against the Huks (Woddis 1967, 38-40).
The second condition was the approval of the 1947 U.S.-Philippines Treaty of General Relations which empowered the U.S. to exercise supreme authority over extensive military bases. It also guaranteed the property rights of U.S. corporations and citizens, thus nullifying the sovereignty of the new republic. This was followed by the 1947 Military Bases Agreement that guaranteed the U.S. occupation of extensive military bases for 99 years. This included the two major facilities, Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base, used as strategic springboards for intervention in Asia and the Middle East during the Korean War, Vietnam War, and the Iraq wars. The Agreement also prohibited the Philippines from granting extra-territorial rights to any other country, and placed no restrictions on the uses to which the bases can be harnessed, nor the types of weapons that can be deployed in them (Labor Research Association 1958).
To reinforce its political and military ascendancy, the U.S. also imposed the 1947 U.S.-Philippines Military Assistance Pact to provide military assistance. Together with this, a US military advisory group (JUSMAG) was assigned to the Philipine armed forces that would exercise direct control by supervising staff planning, intelligence personnel training and logistics. All military hardware and financial backing must be cleared through JUSMAG. Meanwhile, the US AID Public Safety Division managed the tutelage of local police agencies. US-supplied weapons, training and logistics were immediately used in the counter-insurgency campaign against the Huks in the early fifties, and later on, to support the parasitic elite and Marcos’ authoritarian regime in the sixties, seventies and eighties.
In a revealing testimony to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1969, Lt. General Robert Warren clarified the role of the U.S. military in the Philppines: “”To provide advice and assistance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the form of training material and services as necessary to assure protection of US interests in the Philippines and to promote US foreign policy objectives in the area” (US Senate 1969, 242).
In 1954, the terms of free trade that worsened Philippine dependency were modified in the 1954 Laurel-Langley Trade Agreement which extended parity rights to Americans for all kinds of enterprises. Tariff rules were readjusted, thus shifting U.S. leverage to direct private investments into manufacturing instead of raw material production. Due to import controls imposed by the Philippines, the U.S. established assembly and packaging plants to produce consumer goods, thus competing with local industries. This was the refinement of the elaborate apparatus of the multinational or transnational corporations that would dominate post-World War II international trade. Meanwhile, the Philippine economy continued to rely on the U.S. for selling raw materials and buying more expensive technology. In 1970, the U.S. controlled 80% of foreign investments in the country, approximately one-third of all the total equity capital of the 900 largest corporations. This represented 60% of U.S. investments in south-east Asia at that time (Bayani 1976, 18).

Crisis of the Neocolonial Order

At the height of the Cold War, with the U.S. bogged down in the IndoChina war, the Philippines underwent severe economic and social blockages that destabilized the Marcos regime, an instrument of U.S. Cold War strategy but an ironic comment on the role of the Philippines as a traditional showcase for democracy and freedom in Asia.
Marcos dispatched 2,000 troops to Vietnam at the request of Washington. But his economic base had been deteriorating since he won the presidency in the sixties. Intense foreign stranglehold of the economy led to unchecked flow of capital, acute inflation, devaluation and rise of external debt. Exchange control was lifted in 1962, leading to capital outflow: repatriation of profits exceeded overseas investment. The overdependence on basic exports–lumber, sugar, copper, coconuts, and other extracted products–of low value relative to imported finished goods led to a trade deficit of $302 million in 1969 (Fast 1973, 89). In addition, the failure of the “Green Revolution” and the alleged “miracle rice” varieties (developed by the Rockefeller-funded International Rice Research Institute) aggravated the chronic shortage of rice as staple food, renewing the specter of famine and unrest.
Meanwhile, the social contradictions between the oligarchic state and the majority of pauperized peasants sharpened. Although the Huks (renamed People’s Army of Liberation) were violently suppressed by the CIA-backed Magsaysay regime in the fifties, they enjoyed popular support in the extremely polarized countryside. Crippled by the arrest of its leaders in 1950, the Huks evolved into the New People’s Army (NPA) when the Communist Party was reorganized in 1969 by Maoist partisans who matured during the resurgence of the nationalist, anti-imperialist movement evinced in massive student demonstrations, peasant and workers’ strikes, and agitation among professionals such as teachers, journalists, lay and religious workers, women, urban poor, and so on.
One of Marcos’ justifications for declaring martial law in 1972 was the threat of a communist takeover. In actuality, it was an outgrowth of Cold War geopolitics and US attempt to re-assert its hegemony in Asia after its Vietnam debacle. Increased U.S. military and political support for the Marcos dictatorship was insured when Marcos’ guaranteed American business 100% profit remittance as well as opportunities to exploit the country’s natural resources, and also engage in banking, shipping, domestic fishing, and so on (Javate-De Dios, Daroy and Tirol 1988). Later investigations revealed that the bulk of U.S. aid ended up in the foreign bank accounts of the Marcos family and their sycophantic cronies (Bonner 1987).
Total US military aid for the Marcos regime exceeded all those given to Africa or to those for Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, or Chile. Napalm and fragmentation bombs, among others, were supplied through JUSMAG to be used against NPA and Moro insurgents in Mindanao fighting the dictatorship. US AID officials trained police in advanced techniques of riot control, interrogation, and torture tactics applied to political prisoners and detained suspects.
US “Special Forces” were also directly involved in counterinsurgency operations disguised as civic action activities, operations which are still maintained under the terms of the VFA and, more recently, under those of EDCA. These two agreements have virtually legitimized the return of U.S. troops despite the dismantling of all U.S. bases in 1992. One can conclude that “US imperialism, with its economic and military stake in the Philippines, is the instigator and mastermind of the Marcos fascist dictatorship” (Bayani 1976, 38). And it continues to mastermind the human-rights violations, extrajudicial killings and torture, of the succeeding administrations, from those of Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos to Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and Benigno Aquino III.

Aftermath of the 1986 February Revolution

President Corazon Aquino’s regime (1986-1990) was marked by the 1987 massacre of 18 farmers in a peaceful demonstration and by numerous human rights violations through hamletting, “salvaging” (extra-judicial killings), torture, etc. (Maglipon 1987). Both Aquino and her successor, General Fidel Ramos, had the approval of Washington in maintaining a stable market for business and U.S. geopolitical maneuvers in the Middle East. After Ramos, both Presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo pursued the “Washington Consensus” of abiding by the structural conditionalities of the World Bank-International Monetary Fund in its neoliberal program of deregulation, privatization and dismantling of any large-scale social-service programs for the impoverished and marginalized majority of citizens (Eadie 2005; San Juan 2008). All land-reform programs initiated since 1946 have failed to resolve the age-old problem of landless farmers and iniquitous semi-feudal relatons between landlords and rural workers (Putzel 1992).
In 1992, the Philippine Senate voted to dismantle the U.S. military bases, but did not touch the other Agreements that maintained U.S. supervision of the military and police agencies. The end of the Cold War did not witness a decrease in U.S. military intervention. In 2002, after the 9/11 Al Qaida attacks, the US State Dept declared the Philippines to be the second front in the war against global terrorism (Tuazon et al, 2002) and so required special supervision and surveillance.
Secretary of State Powell categorized the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA as terrorist organizations (Fletcher 2013). While the major Moro groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), were not stigmatized as terrorist, the U.S. singled out the Abu Sayyaf splinter group as a reason for justifying the 1999 VFA and the 2002 Mutual Logistics Support Agreement that allowed the initial troop deployment of 600 Special Operations forces to assist the Philippine military in counter-insurgency operations. The killing of a Filipino transgender in October 2014 by US Marine Private Joseph Scott Pemberton called attention once again to the impunity of U.S. personnel in numerous criminal cases. The VFA gives extra-territorial and extra-judicial rights to visiting American troops, an exceptional condition banned by the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Thus the Philippines could not detain the suspected killer, undermining its national sovereignty and its system of justice (Ayroso 2014).
Meanwhile the MILF is in the process of negotiating a peace agreement with President Aquino under the auspices of the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Malaysian government, while the MNLF has fragmented into various camps since the 1996 accord with the government, a conclusion to the 1976 Tripoli Agreement between the MNLF and Marcos (Graf, Kreuzer and Werning 2009). The government’s dialogue with the National Democratic Front-Philippines remains frozen while the Aquino regime is plagued with corruption, disaster relief, energy shortages, and the stalemate with China over the Scarborough Shoal and Spratley Islands confrontation in which the U.S. Navy and Air Force presence figure prominently (Heydarian 2013).

From Cold War to War on Terror

Since 2002, the joint annual military exercises called “Philippine-US Bilateral Exercises” have been held allegedly to give humanitarian assistance during natural disasters to victimized provinces. They also offer weapons, logistics and other support to the government campaigns to secure peace and order in war zones, or in vital metropolitan areas (as in the 2012 exercise around the National Capitol Region). Just like the Civic Action programs refined during the anti-Huk drives of the fifties, these exercises supplement violent repression with psywar and other unconventional techniques to win “hearts and minds,” closely following the U.S. Counterinsurgency Guide of 2009 and its associated field manuals.
President Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya and President Benigno Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan are updated versions of the counterinsurgency strategy and tactics applied by the U.S. in Vietnam, El Salvador, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. They combine intensive military operations, intelligence and civic action or triad operations, conventional warfare methods, and counterguerilla tactics. The U.S. learned as much from its tutelage of its colonial subjects as Filipinos did through a cross-fertilization of security and espionage practices. The historian Alfred McCoy concludes his inventory of such practices with the remark: “Empire has been a reciprocal process, shaping state formation in Manila and Washington while moving both nations into a mutually implicated postcolonial world” (2009, 522).
The 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty continues to legitimize U.S. “low intensity warfare,” such as the sustained anti-NPA drives during President Corazon Aquino’s tenure (Bello 1989). During the Arroyo presidency, the U.S. maintained official headquarters of the U.S.-Philippine Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTF-P) inside the Camp Navarro of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Mindanao Comnmand in Zamboanga City where Moro insurgents are active. Drones and other sophisticated equipment are handled by U.S. Special Forces against the Abu Sayyaf now valorized as an Al Qaida offshoot, with linkages to other recent terrorist groups such as the Jemaah Islamiyah and the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.
To supplement JUSMAG, a new agency called Defense Policy Board was created to handle issues of international terrorism, maritime safety, transnational crime, natural disasters, pandemic outbreaks, etc. Other “cooperative security locations” (as these facilities are euphemistically called) are found in Clark, Subic, Mactan International Airport, and in other clandestine areas (Klare 2005). It is in these areas occupied by U.S. advisers and staff where torture, enforced disappearances, and extra-judicial killings occur. One recent case is that of American health worker Melissa Roxas who was kidnapped and tortured by military agents in 2009. Documenting the accelerated kidnappings and extra-judicial murders of activists already publicized by Amnesty International and UN rapporteurs such as Philip Alston, the Filipino group KARAPATAN noted the 1,111 percent increase of military assistance to the Arroyo regime beginning 2001 when the first Balikatan exercise was held (Lefebvre 2010). This aid continues indiscrimiinately with horrendous consequences.

Provisional Coda

In March 2007, the Permanent People’s Tribunal based in Europe heard witnesses about government abuses and judged Presidents Bush and Arroyo guilty of crimes against humanity” (San Juan 2007, Appendix C). The verdict reviews the U.S. imposition of virtual colonial status on the Philippines via numerous military and security agreements that insured domination over the economy, State apparatus, and internal security.
Under the guise of the global “war on terror” against extremists, the U.S. continues to deploy and station thousands of troops, at any one time, in the Philippines. They participate in combat operations against local insurgents–a gross violation of Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Tribunal observed that “because of its strategic location, the Philippines is vital for the U.S. projection of military force in East Asia and as far away as the Middle East,” serving as transit points and refueling stations in its wars of aggression against the people of Afghanistan and of Iraq, as well as the people of the Philippines. President Bush was an accomplice of President Arroyo in the systematic violation of the rights of the Filipino people, which are also crimes of humanity. U.S. mperialism was indicted as an international scourge.
From the sixteenth century to the present, imperialism, whether in the mode of Spanish old-style colonialism, Japanese militarism, and U.S. tutelage in modernization/developmentalism, represents one of the worst manifestations of an oppressive system of exploitation of peoples that have been outlawed by the United Nations Charter and its Declaration of Human Rights. Nonetheless, it persists today in the Philippines where a people’s national-democratic, socialist-oriented revolution, with a long and durable tradition, thrives in a collective project to eradicate this historic legacy (San Juan 2008) The history of the Philippines may be read as one long chronicle of the people’s struggle against colonialism and imperialism for the sake of affirming human dignity and universal justice.

Agoncillo, Teodoro and Milagros Guerrero. 1970. History of the Filipino People. Quezon City: R.P. Garcia Pubishing Co.

Ayroso, Dee. 2014. “Makabayan bloc files House resolution to terminate US-PH Visiting Forces Agreement.” Bulatlat (October 17). <http://bulatlat.com/main/204/10/17&gt; Accessed 19 December 2014.

Bayani, Samuel. 1976. What’s Happening in the Philippines. New York: Far East Reporter/Maud Russell.

Bello, Walden. 1989. “Counterinsurgency’s Proving Ground: Low-Intensity Warfare in the Philippines.” In Low Intensity Warfare, ed. Michael Klare and Peter Kornbluh, 158-82. Quezon City: Ken Incorporated.

Bonner, Raymond. 1987. Waltzing with a Dictator. New York: Times Books.

Canlas,Mamerto, Mariano Miranda Jr., and James Putzel. 1988. Land, Poverty and Politics in the Philippines. London: Catholic Institute for International Relatons.

Constantino, Renato. 1975. The Philippines: A Past Revisited. Quezon City: Tala Publishing Services.

Cushner, Nicholas. 1971. Spain in the Philippines. Quezon City: Institute of Philippine Culture, Ateneo de Manila University.

De la Costa, Horacio. 1965. Readings in Philippine History. Manila: Bookmark.

Eadie, Pauline. 2005. Poverty and the Critical Security Agenda. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

Fast, Jonathan. 1973. “Imperialism and Bourgeois Dictatorship in the Philippines.” New Left Review 28 (March-April 1973): 69-96.

Fletcher, Bill. 2013. “Shattered Peace Talks and Grinding Conflict: How U.S. Support Bolsters the Philippines’ War on Dissidents.” AlterNet (June 14). <http://www.alternet.org&gt; Accessed 7 December 2014.

Francisco, Luzviminda. 1987. “The Philippine-American War.” In The Philippines Reader, ed. Daniel Schirmer and Stephen Shalom, 8-19. Boston: South End Press.

Graf, Arndt, Peter Kreuzer and Richard Werning, eds. 2009. Conflict in Moro Land: Prospects for Peace? Pulau Pinang: Penerbit Uni versity Sains Malaysia.

Heydarian, Richard Javad. 2013. “More US boots on Philippine Soil.” Asia Times (September 9). <http://www.atimes.com/atimes/ Southeast_Asia/SEA-01-090913.html> Accessed 1 December 1014.

Javata-De Dios, Aurora, Petronilo Daroy, and Lorna Kalaw-Tirol. 1988. Dictatorship and Revolution: Roots of People’s Power. MetroManila: Conspectus.

Klare, Michael. 2005. “Imperial Reach.” The Nation (April 25): 7-9.

Labor Research Association. 1958. U.S. and the Philippines. New York: International Publishers.

Magdoff, Harry. 1982. “Imperialism: A Historical Survey.” In Introduction to the Sociology of “Developing Societies,” ed. Hamza Alavi and Theodor Shanin, pp. 11-28. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Maglipon, Jo-Ann. 1987. A Smouldering Land: The Mendiola Tragedy. Quezon City:National Council of Churches in the Philippines.

McCoy, Alfred. 2009. Policing America’s Empire. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Ocampo, Ambeth. 1998. The Centennial Countdown. Manila: Anvil.

Phelan, John Leddy. 1959. The Hispanization of the Philippines. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Pomeroy, William. 1992. The Philippines: Colonialism, Collaboration and Resistance! New York: International Publishers.

Putzel, James. 1992. A Captive Land: The Politics of Agrarian Reform in the Philippines. London: The Catholic Institute of International Relations.

Rutherford, Ward. 1971. Fall of the Philippines. New York: Ballantine Books.

San Juan, E. 2007. U.S. Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines. New York: Palgrave.

—–. 2008. From Globalization to National Lliberation. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.

Tan, Samuel K. 2002. The Filipino-American War, 1899-1913. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.

—-. 2010. The Muslim South and Beyond. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.

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Veneracion, Jaime. 1987. Agos ng Dugong Kayumanggi. Quezon City: Education Forum.

Weeks, John. 1983. “Imperial and World Market.” In A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, ed, Tom Bottomore, 223-27. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

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Zafra, Nicolas. 1967. Philippine History Through Selected Sources. Quezon City: Alemar-Phoenix Publishing House.


Avant-Garde Poetry in the Time of Crisis and Resistance: Ambil by E. San Juan Jr.

Originally posted on Hello.Lenin!:

Reduced Dover AMBIL

If E. San Juan, Jr. has continued to write poetry on subjects that many would deem radical or even subversive, it is because the essential conditions of exploitation and oppression that he has written about in his younger years have remained basically unchanged up to the present. The world capitalist system continues to wreak havoc on the workers, peasants, and oppressed people around the world who suffer from rising levels of inequality, unemployment, and hunger.

Global capitalism condemns ever widening sections of humanity to poverty and misery even as the ruling classes who own the means of producing the material wealth of society become richer than ever. The unabated crisis of this system has meant the intensifying exploitation and plunder of Philippine cheap labor and natural resources by the monopoly capitalists and financial oligarchs living the life in the United States, European Union, and Japan, among others.

The dominant culture…

View original 1,421 more words




by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.

Fellow, Center for the Humanities, Wesleyan University

It has become axiomatic for postmodernist thinkers to condemn the nation and its corollary terms, “nationalism” and “nation-state,” as the classic evils of modern industrial society. The nation-state, its reality if not its concept, has become a kind of malignant paradox if not a sinister conundrum. It is often linked to violence and the terror of “ethnic cleansing.” Despite this the United Nations and the interstate system still function as seemingly viable institutions of everyday life. How do we explain this development?

Let us review the inventory of charges made against the nation-state. Typically described in normative terms as a vital necessity of modern life, the nation-state has employed violence to accomplish questionable ends. Its disciplinary apparatus is indicted for committing unprecedented barbarism. Examples of disasters brought about by the nation-state are the extermination of indigenous peoples in colonized territories by “civilizing” nations, the Nazi genocidal “holocaust” of Jews, and most recently the “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslavia, Ruwanda, East Timor, and so on. Echoing Elie Kedourie, Partha Chatterjee, and others, Alfred Cobban (1994) believes that the theory of nationalism has proved one of the most potent agencies of destruction in the modern world. In certain cases, nationalism mobilized by states competing against other states has become synonymous with totalitarianism and fascism. Charles Tilly (1975), Michael Howard (1991), and other historians concur in the the opinion that war and the military machine are principal determinants in the shaping of nation states. . In The Nation-State and Violence, Anthony Giddens defines nationalism as “the cultural sensibility of sovereignty” (note the fusion of culture and politics) that unleashes administrative power within a clearly demarcated territory, “the bounded nation-state” (1985, 219). Although it is allegedly becoming obsolete under the pressure of globalization (for qualifications, see Sassen (1998), the nation-state is considered by “legal modernists” (Berman 1995) as the prime source of violence against citizens and entire peoples.

Postmodernist critiques of the nation (often sutured with the colonialist/imperialist state) locate the evil in its ideological nature. This primarily concerns the nation as the source of identity for modern individuals via citizenship or national belonging, converting natal filiation (kinship) into political affiliation. Identity implies definition by negation, inclusion based on exclusion underwritten by a positivist logic of representation (Balibar and Wallerstein 1991). But these critiques seem to forget that the nation is a creation of the modern capitalist state, that is, a historical artifice or invention.

It is a truism that nation and its corollary problematic, nationalism, presupposes the imperative of hierarchization and asymmetry of power in a political economy of commodity-exchange. Founded on socially constructed myths or traditions, the nation is posited by its proponents as a normal state of affairs used to legitimize the control and domination of one group over others. Such ideology has to be deconstructed and exposed as contingent on the changing grid of social relations. Postcolonial theory claims to expose the artificial and arbitrary nature of the nation: “This myth of nationhood, masked by ideology, perpetuates nationalism, in which specific identifiers are employed to create exclusive and homogeneous conceptions of national traditions” (Ashcroft et al 1998, 150). Such signifiers of homogeneity not only fail to represent the diversity of the actual “nation” but also serves to impose the interests of a section of the community as the general interest. But this is not all. In the effort to make this universalizing intent prevail, the instrumentalities of state power–the military and police, religious and educational institutions, judiciary and legal apparatuses)–are deployed. Hence, from this orthodox postcolonial perspective, the nation-state and its ideology of nationalism are alleged to have become the chief source of violence and conflict since the French Revolution.

Mainstream social science regards violence as a species of force which violates, breaks, or destroys a normative state of affairs. It is coercion tout court. Violence is often used to designate power devoid of legitimacy or legally sanctioned authority. Should violence as an expression of physical force always be justified by political reason in order to be meaningful and therefore acceptable? If such a force is used by a state, an inherited political organ legitimized by “the people” or “the nation,” should we not distinguish between state-defined purposes and in what specific way nationalism or nation-making identity is involved in those state actions? State violence and assertion of national identity need not be automatically conflated so as to implicate nationalism–whose nationalism?– in all class/state actions in every historical period, for such a move would be an absolutist censure of violence bereft of intentionality–in order words, violence construed as merely physical force akin to tidal waves, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and so on.

Violence, in my view, signifies a political force that demands dialectical triangulation in order to grasp how nation and state are implicated in it. A historical-materialist historicization of this phenomenon is needed to determine the complicity of individual states and nations in specific outbreaks of violence. But postcolonialists like Homi Bhabha (1990) resort to a questionable use of the discursive performativity of language to ascribe a semiotic indeterminacy to the nation, reducing to a formula of hybridity and liminality the multifarious narratives of nations/peoples. History is reduced to the ambiguities of culture and the play of textualities, ruling out critique and political intervention.

In this light, what makes the postcolonialist argument flawed becomes clear in the fallacies of its non-sequitur reasoning. It is perhaps easy to expose the contingent nature of the nation once its historical condition of possibility is pointed out. But it is more difficult to contend that once its socially contrived scaffolding is revealed, then the nation-state and its capacity to mobilize and apply the means of violence can be restricted if not curtailed.

We can pose this question at this point: Can one seriously claim that once the British state is shown to rest on the myth of the Magna Carta or the United States government on the covenant of the Founding Fathers to uphold the interests of every citizen–except of course African slaves and other non-white peoples, then one has undermined the power of the British or American nation-state? Not that this is an otiose and naive task. Debunking has been the classic move of those protesting against an unjust status quo purporting to be the permanent and transcendental condition for everyone.

But the weapon of criticism, as Marx once said, needs to be reinforced by the principled criticism of weapons. If we want to guard against committing the same absolutism or essentialism of the imperial nationalists, we need a historicizing strategy of ascertaining how force–the energy of social collectivities–turns into violence for the creation or destruction of social orders and singular life-forms. Understood as embodying “the pathos of an elemental force,” the insurrectionary movements of nationalities has been deemed the source of a vital and primordial energy that feeds “the legal Modernist composite of primitivism and experimentalism,” a fusion of “radical discontinuity and reciprocal facilitation” (Berman 1995, 238).

The question of the violence of the nation-state thus hinges on the linkage between the two categories, “nation” and “state.” A prior distinction perhaps needs to be made between “nation” and “society”; while the former “may be ordered, the [latter] orders itself” (Brown 1986). Most historical accounts remind us that the modern nation-state has a beginning–and consequently, it is often forgotten–and an ending. But the analytic and structural distinction between the referents of nation (local groups, community, domicile or belonging) and state (governance, machinery of sanctioning laws, disciplinary codes, military) is often elided because the force of nationalism is often conflated with the violence of the state apparatuses, an error compounded by ignoring the social classes involved in each sphere. This is the lesson of Marx and Lenin’s necessary discrimination between oppressor and oppressed nations–a nation that oppresses another cannot really claim to be free. Often the symptom of this fundamental error is indexed by the formula of counterpointing the state to civil society, obfuscating the symbiosis and synergy between them. This error may be traced partly to the Hobbesian conflation of state and society in order to regulate the anarchy of the market and of brutish individualism violating civil contracts (Ollman 1993).

It may be useful to recall the metaphysics of the origin of the nation elaborated in Ernest Renan’s 1882 lecture, “What is a nation?” This may be considered one of the originary locus of nationalism conceived as a primitivist revolt against the centralized authority of modernizing industrial states. While Renan emphasized a community founded on acts of sacrifice and their memorialization, this focus does not abolish the fact that the rise of the merchant bourgeoisie marked the start of the entrenchment of national boundaries first drawn in the age of monarchical absolutism. The establishment of the market coincided with the introduction of taxation, customs, tariffs, etc. underlined by the assertion of linguistic distinctions among the inhabitants of Europe. M. Polanyi’s thesis of The Great Transformation (1957) urges us to attend to the complexities in the evolution of the nation-state in the world system of commodity exchange. We also need to attend to Ernest Gellner’s (1983) argument that cultural and linguistic homogeneity has served from the outset as a functional imperative for states administering a commodity-centered economy and its class-determining division of social labor.

Postcolonialists subscribe to a post-structuralist hermeneutic of nationalism as a primordial destabilizing force devoid of rationality. And so while the formation of the nation-state in the centuries of profound social upheavals did not follow an undisturbed linear trajectory–we have only to remember the untypical origins of the German and Italian nation-states, not to speak of the national formations of Greece, Turkey, and the colonized peoples–that is not enough reason to ascribe an intrinsic instability and belligerency to the nation as such. States may rise and fall, as the absolute monarchs and dynasties did, but sentiments and practices constituting the nation follow another rhythm or temporality not easily dissolved into the vicissitudes of the modern expansive state. Nor does this mean that nations, whether in the North or the South, exert a stabilizing and conservative influence on social movements working for radical changes in the distribution of power and resources.

In pursuing a historical analysis of violence, we need to avoid collapsing the distinction between the concept of the “nation-state” and “nationalism.” Whence originates the will to exclude, to dominate? According to Anthony Giddens, “what makes the ‘nation’ integral to the nation-state…is not the existence of sentiments of nationalism but the unification of an administrative apparatus over precisely defined territorial boundaries in a complex of other nation-states” (1987, 172). That is why the rise of nation-states coincided with wars and the establishment of the military bureaucratic machine. In this construal, the state refers to the political institution with centralized authority and monopoly of coercive agencies coeval with the rise of global capitalism, while nationalism denotes the diverse configuration of peoples based on the commonality of symbols, beliefs, traditions, and so on.

In addition, we need to guard against confusing historical periods and categories. Imagining the nation unified on the basis of secular citizenship and self-representation, as Benedict Anderson (1991) has shown, was only possible when print capitalism arose in conjunction with the expansive state. But that in turn was possible when the trading bourgeoisie developed the means of communication under pressure of competition and hegemonic exigencies. Moreover, the dissemination of the Bible in different vernaculars did not translate into a monopoly of violence by the national churches. It is obvious that the sense of national belonging, whether based on clan or tribal customs, language, religion, etc., certainly has a historical origin and localizing motivation different from the emergence of the capitalist state as an agency to rally the populace to serve the needs of the commercial class and the goal of accumulation.

Given the rejection of a materialist analysis of the contradictions in any social formation, postcolonial critics in particular find themselves utterly at a loss in making coherent sense when dealing with nationalism. Representations of the historicity of the nation in the modern period give way to a Nietzschean will to invent reality as polysemic discourse, a product of enunciatory and performative acts. Postcolonialism resorts to a pluralist if not equivocating stance. It sees nationalism as “an extremely contentious site” in which notions of self-determination and identity collide with notions of domination and exclusion. Such oppositions, however, prove unmanageable indeed if a mechanical idealist perspective is employed. Such a view in fact leads to an irresolvable muddle in which nation-states as instruments for the extraction of surplus value (profit) and “free” exchange of commodities also become violent agencies preventing “free” action in a global marketplace that crosses national boundaries. Averse to empirical grounding, postcolonialism regards nationalist ideology as the cause of individual and state competition for goods and resources in the “free market,” with this market conceived as a creation of ideology. I cite one postcolonial authority that attributes violence to the nation-state on one hand and liberal disposition to the nation on the other:

The complex and powerful operation of the idea of a nation can be seen also in the great twentieth-century phenomenon of global capitalism, where the “free market” between nations, epitomized in the emergence of multinational companies, maintains a complex, problematic relationship with the idea of nations as natural and immutable formations based on shared collective values. Modern nations such as the United States, with their multi-ethnic composition, require the acceptance of an overarching national ideology (in pluribus unum). But global capitalism also requires that the individual be free to act in an economic realm that crosses and nullifies these boundaries and identities (Ashcroft et al, 1998, 151).It is misleading and foolish then to label the slogan “one in many” as the U.S. national ideology. Officially the consensual ideology of the U.S. is neoliberal pluralism, or possessive individualism with a pragmatic orientation. Utilitarian doctrine underwrites an acquisitive, entrepreneurial individualism that fits perfectly with mass consumerism and the gospel of the unregulated market. It is within this framework that we can comprehend how the ruling bourgeoisie of each sovereign state utilizes nationalist sentiment and the violence of the state apparatuses to impose their will. Consequently, the belief that the nation-state simultaneously prohibits economic freedom and promotes multinational companies actually occludes the source of political and juridical violence–for example, the war against Serbia by the NATO (an expedient coalition of nation-states led by the United States), or the stigmatization of rogue and “terrorist” states (North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan) by the normative standards of hegemonic capitalism. The source of political violence–and I am speaking of that kind where collective energy and intentionality are involved–is the competitive drive for accumulation in the world market system where the propertied class is the key actor mobilizing its symbolic capital made up of ethnic loyalties and nationalist imaginaries.

We have now moved from the formalistic definition of the nation as a historic construct to the nation as a character in the narrative of capitalist development and colonialism. What role this protagonist has played and will play is now the topic of controversy. It is not enough to simply ascribe to the trading or commercial class the shaping of a new political form, the nation, to replace city states, leagues, municipal kingdoms, and oligarchic republics. Why such “imagined communities” should serve as a more efficacious political instrument for the hegemonic bloc of property-owners, is the question.

One approach to this question is to apply dialectical analysis to the materialist anatomy of the nation sketched thus far. Historians have described the crafting of state power for the new bourgeoisie nations in Enlightenment philosophy. Earlier Jean Bodin and Hugo Grotius theorized the sovereignty of the nation as the pivot of centralized authority and coercive power (Bowle 1947). The French Revolution posited the “people,” the universal rights of man, as the foundation of legitimacy for the state; the people as nation, a historical act of constituting the polity, gradually acquires libidinal investment enough to inspire movements of anticolonial liberation across national boundaries. Its influence on the U.S. Constitution as well as on personalities like Sun Yat-Sen, Jose Rizal, and other “third world” radical democrats has given the principle of popular sovereignty a “transnational” if not universal status (on Filipino nationalism, see San Juan 2000a). Within the system of nation-states, for Marxists, “recognition of national rights is an essential condition for international solidarity” (Lowy 1998, 59) in the worldwide fight for socialism and communism.

Now this universal principle of people’s rights is generally considered to be the basis of state power for the modern nation, “the empowerment, through this bureaucracy, of the interests of the state conceived as an abstraction rather than as a personal fiefdom” (Ashcroft et al 1998, 153). A serious mistake occurs when the nation and its legitimating principle of popular sovereignty becomes confused with the state bureaucracy construed either as an organ transcending the interest of any single class, or as the “executive committee” of the bourgeoisie. A mechanical, not dialectical, method underlies this failure to connect the ideology, politics, and economics of the bourgeois revolution. This quasi-Hegelian interpretation posits the popular will of the post-Renaissance nation-states as the motor of world expansion, of 19th-century colonialism. Instead of the substance of the “civilizing mission” being informed by the gospel of universal human rights, according to postcolonial orthodoxy, it is the ideology of national glory tied to “the unifying signifiers of language and race” that now impels the colonial enterprise.

So nationalism, the need to superimpose the unifying myths of the imperial nation-state, is not only generated by the bourgeois agenda of controlling and regulating the space of its market, but also by the imperative of seizing markets and resources outside territories and peoples. Nationalism is then interpreted by postcolonial theorists as equivalent to colonialism; the nation is an instrument of imperialist aggrandizement, so that if newly liberated ex-colonies employ nationalist discourse and principles, they will only be replicating the European model whose myths, sentiments, and traditions justified the violent suppression of “internal heterogeneities and differences.” The decolonizing nation is thus an oxymoron, a rhetorical if not actual impossibility.

Lacking any historical anchorage, the argument of postcolonial theory generates inconsistencies due to an exorbitant culturalism. Because they disregard the historical genealogy of the nation-state discussed by Gellner, Anderson, Smith (1971), among others, postcolonial critics uphold the sphere of culture as the decisive force in configuring social formations. Not that culture is irrelevant in explaining political antagonisms. Rather, it is erroneous when such antagonisms are translated into nothing but the tensions of cultural differences. The dogma of cultural difference (for Charles Taylor, the need and demand for recognition in a modern politics of identity; more later) becomes then the key to explaining colonialism, racism, and postcolonial society. Ambivalence, hybridity, and interstitial or liminal space become privileged signifiers over against homogenizing symbols and icons whose “authority of cultural synthesis” is the target of attack. Ideology and discursive performances serve as the primary field of analysis over against “localized materialism” and vulgar Marxism.

Violence in postcolonial discourse is thus located in ideas and cultural forces that unify, synthesize or generalize a range of experiences; such forces suppress difference or negate multiple “others” not subsumed within totalities such as nation, class, gender, etc. While some culturalist critics allow for different versions of the historic form of the nation, the reductive dualism of their thinking manifests a distinct bias for a liberal framework of analysis: the choice is either a nation based on an exclusionary myth of national unity centered on abstractions such as race, religion or ethnic singularity; or a nation upholding plurality and multiculturalism (for example, Canada or the United States). This fashionable vogue of pluralism and culturalism has already been proved inutile in confronting inequalities of class, gender, and “race.” Moreover, it cannot explain the appeal of nationalism as a means of reconciling the antagonistic needs for order and for autonomy (Smith 1979) in the face of mechanistic bureaucratism and the anarchic market of atomized consumers.

The most flagrant evidence of the constrained parameters of this culturalist diagnosis of nation/nationalism may be found in its construal of racist ideology as “the construction and naturalization of an unequal form of intercultural relations” (Ashcroft et al 1998, 46). If racism occurs only or chiefly on the level of “intercultural relations,” from this constricted optic, the other parts of a given social formation (political, economic) become superfluous and marginal. Politics is then reduced to an epiphenomenal manifestation of discourse and language-games.

A virtuoso application of a culturalist contextualism may be illustrated by the legal scholar Rosemary Coombe who defends the right of the Canadian First Nations to claim “ownership” rights to certain cultural property. Coombe correctly rejects the standard procedure of universalizing the Lockean concept of property and its rationale, possessive individualism, which underlies the Western idea of authorship and authentic artefacts. She writes: “By representing cultures in the image of the undivided possessive individual, we obscure people’s historical agency and transformations, their internal differences, the productivity of intercultural contact, and the ability of peoples to culturally express their position in a wider world” (1995, 264). Although Coombe calls attention to structures of power and the systemic legacies of exclusion, the call remains abstract and consequently trivializing. Above all, it obscures the reality and effect of material inequities. The postmodernist leitmotif of domination and exclusion mystifies the operations of corporate capitalism and its current political suppression of the indigenous struggles for self-determination. Coombe ignores precisely those “internal differences” and their contradictory motion that give concrete specificity to the experiences of embattled groups such as the First Nations. Here ironically the postmodernist inflection of the nation evokes the strategy of bourgeois nationalism to erase class, gender, and other differences ostensibly in the name of contextual nuances and refined distinctions.

Notwithstanding her partisanship for the oppressed, Coombe condemns “cultural nationalism” as an expression of possessive individualism and its idealist metaphysics. But her method of empiricist contextualism contradicts any emancipatory move by the First Nations at self-determination. It hides the global asymmetry of power, the dynamics of exploitative production relations, and the hierarchy of states in the geopolitical struggle for world hegemony. We have not transcended identity politics and the injustice of cultural appropriation because the strategy of contextualism reproduces the condition for refusing to attack the causes of class exploitation and racial violence. Despite gestures of repudiating domination and exclusion, postmodernist contextualism mimics the moralizing rhetoric of United Nations humanitarianism that cannot, for the present, move beyond reformism since it continues to operate within the framework of the transnational corporate globalized market. Such a framework is never subjected to critical interrogation.

In the fashionable discourse of postmodernists, nation and nationalism are made complicit with the conduct of Western colonialism and imperialism. They become anathema to deconstructionists hostile to any revolutionary project in the “third world” inspired by emancipatory goals. This is the reason why postcolonial critics have a difficult time dealing with Fanon and his engagement with decolonizing violence as a strategic response of subjugated peoples to the inhumane violence of colonial racism and imperial subjugation. Fanon’s conceptualization of a national culture is the direct antithesis to any culturalist syndrome, in fact an antidote to it, because he emphasizes the organic integration of cultural action with a systematic program of subverting colonialism: “A national culture is the whole body of efforts made by a people in the sphere of thought to describe, justify and praise the action through which that people has created itself and keeps itself in existence” (1961, 155). Discourse and power are articulated by Fanon in the dialectics of practice inscribed in the specific historical conditions of their effectivity. Fanon’s universalist-critical theory of national liberation proves itself a true “concrete universal” in that it incorporates via a dialectical sublation the richness of the particulars embodied in the Algerian revolution.

Given his historicizing method, Fanon refuses any demarcation of culture from politics and economics. Liberation is always tied to the question of property relations, the social division of labor, and the process of social reproduction–all these transvalued by the imperative of the revolutionary transformation of colonial relations. Opposed to Fanon’s denunciation of “abstract populism,” Said and Bhabha fetishize an abstract “people” on liminal, borderline spaces. Such recuperation of colonial hegemony via a “third space” or contrapuntal passage of negotiation reveals the comprador character of postcolonial theories of translation and cultural exchange. Transcultural syncretism devised to abolish the nation substitutes for anti-imperialist revolution a pragmatic modus vivendi of opportunist compromises.

An analogous charge can be levelled at Edward Said’s reading of Fanon’s “liberationist” critique. Said locates violence in nationalist movements (unless it is “critical”) since they deny the heterogeneity of pre-colonial societies by romanticizing the past. For Said, a liberationist populism is preferable to nativism and the fanatical cult of “minor differences.” Said presents us a hypothetical dilemma: “Fanon’s] notion was that unless national consciousness at its moment of success was somehow changed into social consciousness, the future would not hold liberation but an extension of imperialism” (1993, 323). Said thus posits a spurious antithesis between the project of national self-determination and a vague notion of social liberation. For Said, nationalism is always a tool of the hegemonic oppressor and holds no socially emancipatory potential. Said’s answer evacuates Fanon’s popular-democratic nationalism of all social content, postulating an entirely abstract divide between a nationalist program and a socially radical one. For Said, the violence of anticolonial movements becomes symptomatic of a profound colonial malaise.

National liberation and social justice via class struggle are interdependent. As Leopoldo Marmora observes, “While classes, in order to become predominant, have to constitute themselves as national classes, the nation arises from class struggle” (1984, 113). The popular-democratic aspiration for self-determination contains both national and social dimensions. In “On Violence,” Fanon invoked the ideal of decolonizing freedom as the legitimizing rationale of mass popular revolution. It is force deployed to accomplish the political agenda of overthrowing colonial domination and bourgeois property relations. Violence here becomes intelligible as an expression of subaltern agency and its creative potential. Its meaning is crystallized in the will of the collective agent, in the movement of seizing the historical moment to realize the human potential (Lukacs 2000). If rights are violated and the violence of the violator (for example, the state) held responsible, can the concept of rights be associated with peoples and their national identities? Or is the authority of the state to exercise violence derived from the nation/people? Here we need to ascertain the distinction between the state as an instrument of class interest and the nation/people as the matrix of sovereignty. The authority of the state as regulative juridical organ and administrative apparatus with a monopoly of coercive force derives from its historical origin in enforcing bourgeois rights of freedom and equality against the absolutist monarchy. National identity is used by the state to legitimize its actions within a delimited territory, to insure mobilization and coordination of policy (Held 1992). Formally structured as a Rechststaat, the bourgeois nation-state functions to insure the self-reproduction of capital through market forces and the continuous commodification of labor power (Jessop 1982). Fanon understands that national liberation challenges the global conditions guaranteeing valorization and realization of capital, conditions in which the internationalization and nationalization of the circuits of capital are enforced by hegemonic nation-states.

We are thus faced with the notion of structural violence attached to the bourgeois state as opposed to the intentionalist mode of violence as an expression of subject/agency such as the collectivity of the people. Violence is thus inscribed in the dialectic of identity and Otherness, with the bourgeois state’s coherence depending on the subordination (if not consent) of workers and other subalterns.

We can resolve the initial paradox of the nation, a Janus-faced phenomenon (Nairn 1977), by considering the following historical background. The idea of state-initiated violence (as opposed to communal ethnic-motivated violence) performs a heuristic role in the task of historicizing any existing state authority and questioning the peaceful normalcy of the status quo. The prevailing social order is then exposed as artificial and contingent; what is deemed normal or natural reveals itself as an instrument of partial interests. But the relative permanence of certain institutional bodies and their effects need to be acknowledged in calculating political strategies. The long duration of collective and individual memories exerts its influence through the mediation of what Pierre Bourdieu calls “habitus” (1993). We begin to understand that the state’s hierarchical structure is made possible because of the institutionalized violence that privileges the hegemony (moral and intellectual leadership crafted via negotiating compromises) of a bloc of classes over competing blocs and their alternative programs. Hegemony is always underwritten by coercion (open or covert, subtle or crude) in varying proportions and contingencies. The demarcated territory claimed by a state in rivalry with other states becomes for Max Weber one major pretext for the state monopoly of legitimate violence in order to defend private property and promote the overseas interests of the domestic business class (Krader 1968).

Georges Sorel argued for the demystificatory use of violence in his Reflections on Violence (1908; 1972). Sorel believed that the only way to expose the illusion of a peaceful and just bourgeois order is to propagate the myth of the general strike. Through strategic, organized violence, the proletariat is bound to succeed in releasing vast social energies hitherto repressed and directing them to the project of radical social transformation. This is still confined within the boundaries of the national entity. Open violence or war purges the body politic of hatred, prejudice, deceptions, and so on. Proletarian violence destroys bourgeois mystification and the nationalist ethos affiliated with it. Sorel’s syndicalist politics of violence tries to convert force as a means to a political and social end, the process of the general strike. This politics of organized mass violence appeals to a utopian vision that displaces the means-ends rationality of bourgeois society in the fusion of force with pleasure realizable in a just, egalitarian order.

The classical Marxist view of violence rejects the mechanical calculation of means-ends that undermines the logic of Blanquist and Sorelian conceptions of social change. Marx disavowed utopian socialism in favor of the overthrow of the bourgeoisie through a combination of violent and peaceful means. Instrumentalism is subordinated to a narrative of emancipation from class bondage. The objective of emancipating labor associated with the laboring nation/people requires the exposure of commodity-fetishism and the ideology of equal exchange of values in the market. Reification and alienation in social relations account for the bourgeois state’s ascendancy. Where the state bureaucracy supporting the bourgeoisie and the standing army do not dominate the state apparatus completely (a rare case) or has been weakened, as in the case of the monarchy and the Russian bourgeoisie at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the working class might attain their goal of class liberation by peaceful means; but in most cases,”the lever of the revolution will have to be force” harnessed by the masses unified by class consciousness and popular solidarity.

Based on their historical investigations, Marx and Engels understood the role of violence as the midwife in the birth of a new social order within the old framework of the nation-state. In his later years Engels speculated that with the changes in the ideological situation of the classes in any national territory, “a real victory of an insurrection over the military in street fighting is one of the rarest exceptions.” In an unusual historic conjuncture, however, the Bolshevik revolution mobilized mass strikes and thus disproved Engels. Nevertheless, Marx’s “analytical universality,” to use John Dunn’s (1979, 78) phrase, remains valid in deploying the concept of totality to comprehend the nexus of state, class and nation. We can rehearse here the issues that need to be examined from the viewpoint of totality: Was Lenin’s “dictatorship of the proletariat” an imposition of state violence, or the coercive rule of the people against the class enemy? If it is an instrumental means of the new proletarian state, did it implicate the nation? Is violence here both structured into the state system of apparatuses and inscribed in the collective agency of the working masses cognized as the nation? Is the political authority invoked by the proletarian state embodied in the class interest of all those exploited by capital (in both periphery and center) ascendant over all? Marxists critical of the Leninist interpretation denounce the use of state violence as an anarchist deviation, an arbitrary application of force. They affirm instead the law-governed historical process that will inevitably transform capitalism into socialism, whatever the subjective intentions of the political protagonists involved. Such fatalism, however, rules out the intervention of a class-for-itself freed from ideological blinders and uniting all the oppressed with its moral-intellectual leadership, the cardinal axiom of socialist revolution.

Rationalist thinkers for their part reject violence as an end in itself while accepting the force of the market as normal and natural. This is epitomized by legal thinkers who contend that primordial nationalist claims should be regulated by autonomous international law, “the domain of the metajuridique” (Berman 1995). By identifying nationalism as a primitive elemental force outside the jurisdiction of positive law, the modernist legal scholar is alleged to be receptive to its experimental creativity so that new legal techniques are devised to regulate the destabilization of Europe–and, for that matter, its colonial empires–by “separatist nationalisms.” The aim is to pacify the subalterns and oppressed classes by juridical and culturalist prophylactic.

As I have noted above in dealing with Fanon’s work, the nature of violence in the process of decolonization cannot be grasped by such dualistic metaphysics epitomized in the binarism of passion-versus-law. What is needed is the application of a historical materialist critique to the complex problem of national self-determination. Marxists like Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, despite their differences, stress the combination of knowledge and practice in analyzing the balance of political forces. They contend that class struggle is a form of knowledge/action, the civil war of political groups, which can synthesize wars of position (legal, peaceful reforms) and the war of maneuver (organized frontal assault by armed masses, to use Gramsci’s terminology) in the transformation of social relations in any particular nation. Violence itself can become a creative force insofar as it reveals the class bias of the bourgeois/colonial state and serves to accelerate the emergence of class consciousness and organized popular solidarity. Insofar as the force of nation/national identity distracts and prohibits the development of class consciousness, then it becomes useless for socialist transformation. In colonized societies, however, nationalism coincides with the converging class consciousness of workers, peasants, and the masses of subjugated natives that constitute the political force par excellence in harnessing violence for emancipatory goals.

From the historical-materialist perspective then, violence cannot be identified with the nation or nation-state per se under all circumstances. We need to distinguish between the two positions–the postmodern one of indiscriminate attack on all totalities (such as class, nation, etc.) premised on a syllogistic Kantian means-ends rationality, and the historical-materialist one where means/ends are dialectically calibrated in historically inventive modalities–so as to illuminate the problem of violence in this new millennium. The impasse between these two positions reflects the relation of unceasing antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the nationalities they exploit in the world system of commodity-exchange and accumulation.

On another level, the impasse may be viewed as a theoretical crux. It signifies the antinomy between agency and structure, the intentionalist-nominalist pragmatism of liberals and the structuralist views of historical materialists. The former looks at the nation as always implicated in the state while the latter considers the nation as historically separate and contingent on the vicissitudes of the class warfare. One way of trying to elucidate this contradiction is by examining Walter Benjamin’s argument in “Critique of Violence” (1978).

Taking Sorel as one point of departure, Benjamin considers the use of violence as a means for establishing governance. Law is opposed to divine violence grasped as fate and the providential reign of justice. Bound up with violence, law is cognized as power, a power considered as a means of establishing order within a national boundary. The abolition of state power is the aim of revolutionary violence which operates beyond the reach of law-making force, an aspiration for justice that would spell the end of class society. Proletarian revolution resolves the means-ends instrumentalism of bourgeois politics. Violence becomes problematic when fate/justice, once deemed providential, eludes our grasp with the Babel of differences blocking communication and also aggrandizing particularisms found below the level of the nation-form and its international, not to say cosmopolitan, possibilities.

Violence is only physical force divorced from its juridical potency. Benjamin’s thesis may be more unequivocal than the academically fashionable Foucauldian view of subsuming violence in power relations. It takes a more scrupulous appraisal of the sectarian limitations as well as empowering possibilities of violence in the context of class antagonisms. While the issue of nationalist violence is not explicitly addressed in his essay, Benjamin seeks to explore the function of violence as a creator and preserver of law, a factor intricately involved in the substance of normative processes. Benjamin writes: “Lawmaking is powermaking, and, to that extent, an immediate manifestation of violence. Justice is the principle of all divine end making, power the principle of all mythical lawmaking” (1978, 295). Lawmaking mythical violence can be contested only by divine power, which today, according to Benjamin, is manifested in “educative power, which in its perfected form stands outside the law.” Benjamin is not entirely clear about this “educative power,” but I think it can only designate the influence of the family and other agencies in civil society not regulated by the traditional state apparatuses. In another sense, Benjamin alludes to “the proper sphere of understanding, language,” which makes possible the peaceful resolution of conflicts. Since language is intimately linked with the national community, national consciousness contradicts the disruptive effects of violence in its capacity to resolve antagonisms.

Benjamin goes on to investigate violence embodied in the state (as contradistinguished from the national community) through a process of demystification. Critique begins by disclosing the idea of its development, its trajectory of ruptures and mutations, which in turn exposes the fact that all social contract depends on a lie, on fiction. “Justice, the criterion of ends,” supersedes legality, “the criterion of means.” Justice is the reign of communication which, because it excludes lying, excludes violence. In effect, violence is the mediation that enables state power to prevail. It cannot be eliminated by counter-violence that simply inverts it. Only the educative power of language, communication associated with the national collectivity, can do away with the need to lie. But since the social contract displaces justice as the end of life with legality connected with the state, and law is required as an instrument to enforce the contract, violence continues to be a recurrent phenomenon in a commodity-centered society.

Benjamin is silent about the nation and the efficacy of popular sovereignty in this text. His realism seeks to clarify the historic collusion between law, violence, and the state. He wants to resolve the philosophical dualism of means and ends that has bedevilled liberal rationalism and its inheritors, pragmatism and assorted postmodernist nominalisms. His realism strives to subordinate the instrumentality of violence to law, but eventually he dismisses law as incapable of realizing justice. But we may ask: how can justice–the quest for identity without exclusion/inclusion, without alterity–be achieved in history if it becomes some kind of intervention by a transcendent power into the secular domain of class struggle? How can justice be attained as an ideal effect of communication? Perhaps through language as mediated in the nation-form, in the web of discourse configuring the nation as a community of speakers (San Juan 2000b), the nation as the performance of groups unified under the aegis of struggle against oppression and exploitation?

Benjamin’s speculation on the reconciling charisma of language seems utopian in the pejorative sense. Peoples speaking the same language (e.g., Northern Ireland, Colombia, North and South Korea) continue to be locked in internecine conflict. If violence is inescapable in the present milieu of reification and commodity-fetishism, how can we use it to promote dialogue and enhance the resources of the oppressed for liberation? In a seminal essay on “Nationalism and Modernity,” Charles Taylor underscores the modernity of nationalism in opposition to those who condemn it as atavistic tribalism or a regression to primordial barbarism. In the context of modernization, Taylor resituates violence in the framework of the struggle for recognition–nationalism “as a call to difference,…lived in the register of threatened dignity, and constructing a new, categorical identity as the bearer of that dignity” (1999, 240).

What needs to be stressed here is the philosophical underpinning of the struggle for recognition and recovery of dignity. It invokes clearly the Hegelian paradigm of the relation between lord and bondsman in The Phenomenology of Mind. In this struggle, the possibility of violence mediates the individual’s discovery of his finite and limited existence, his vulnerability, and his need for community. Piotr Hoffman’s gloss underlines the Hegelian motif of freedom as risk: “Violence …is the necessary condition of my emergence as a universal, communal being…for I can find common ground with the other only insofar as both of us can endure the mortal danger of the struggle and can thus think independently of a blind attachment to our particular selves” (1989, 145). Since the nation evokes sacrifice, the warrior’s death on the battlefield, honor, self-transcendence, destiny, the state seeks to mobilize such nation-centered feelings and emotions to legitimize itself as a wider, more inclusive, and less artificial reality to attain its own accumulative goals. Weber reminds us: “For the state is the highest power organization on earth, it has power over life and death…. A mistake comes in, however, when one speaks of the state alone and not of the nation” (quoted in Poggi 1978, 101).

The nationalist struggle for recognition and the violence of anticolonial revolutions thus acquire a substantial complexity in the context of modernity, the fact of uneven development, and the vicissitudes of capitalist crisis. In any case, whatever the moral puzzles entailed by the plural genealogies of the nation-state, it is clear that a dogmatic pacifism is no answer to an effective comprehension of the real world and purposeful intervention in it. Given the continued existence of nation-states amidst the increasing power of transnational corporations in a geopolitical arena of sharpening rivalry, can we choose between a “just” and an “unjust” war when nuclear weapons that can destroy the whole planet are involved? Violence on such a scale obviously requires the dialectical transcendence of the system of nation-states in the interest of planetary justice and survival.

Overall, the question of violence cannot be answered within the framework of the Realpolitik of the past but only within the framework of nation-states living in mutual reciprocity. Causality, however, has to be ascertained and responsibility assigned even if the nation is construed as “an interpretive construct” (Arnason 1990, 230). My view is that the hegemonic bloc of classes using the capitalist state machinery is the crux of the problem. If nations have been manipulated by states dominated by possessive/acquisitive classes that have undertaken and continue to undertake colonial and imperial conquests, then the future of humanity and all living organisms on earth can be insured only by eliminating those classes that are the origin of state violence. The nation-form can then be reconstituted and transcended to insure that it will not generate reasons or opportunities for state-violence to recur. That will be the challenge for future revolutionaries.


Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined Communities. Verso: London.

Arnason, Johann. 1990. “Nationalism, Globalization and Modernity.” In Global Culture. Ed. Mike Featherstone. London: Sage Publications.

Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. 1998. Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies. New York: Routledge.

Balibar, Etienne and Immanuel Wallerstein. 1991. Race, Nation, Class. London Verso.

Benjamin, Walter. 1978. Reflections. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Berman, Nathaniel. 1995. “Modernism, Nationalism and the Rhetoric of Reconstruction.” In After Identity. New York: Routledge.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1993. The Field of Cultural Production. New York: Columbia University Press.

Bowle, John. 1947. Western Political Thought. London: Methuen.

Brown, Michael. 1986. The Production of Society. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield.

Coombe, Rosemary. 1995. “The Properties of Culture and the Politics of Possessing Identity: Native Claims in the Cultural Appropriation Controversy.” In After Identity. Ed. Dan Danielsen and Karen Engle. New York: Routledge.

Dunn, John. 1979. Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Fanon, Frantz. 1961. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press.

Gellner, Ernest. 1983. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Giddens, Anthony. 1985. The Nation-State and Violence. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

—. 1987. Social Theory and Modern Society. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Held, David. 1992. “The Development of the Modern State.” In Formations of Modernity. Ed. Stuart Hall and Bram Gieben. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Hoffman, Piotr. 1989. Violence in Modern Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Howard, Michael. 1991. The Lessons of History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jessop, Bob. 1982. The Capitalist State.

Krader, Lawrence. 1968. Formation of the State. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

Lukacs, Georg. 2000. In Defense of History and Class Consciousness. London: Verso.

Marmora, Leopoldo. 1984. “Is There a Marxist Theory of Nation?” In Rethinking Marx. Ed. Sakari Hanninen and Leena Paldan. New York: International General.

Ollman, Bertell. 1993. Dialectical Investigations. New York: Routledge.

Poggi, Gianfranco. 1978. The Development of the Modern State. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

Polanyi, Karl. 1957. The Great Transformation. Boston: Beacon Press.

Said, Edward. 1993. Culture and Imperialism. London: Chatto & Windus.

San Juan, E. 2000a. After Postcolonialism. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

—–. 2000b. “Bakhtin: Uttering the ‘(Into)nation of the Nation/People.” In Bakhtin and the Nation. Ed. San Diego Bakhtin Circle. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press.

Sassen, Saskia. 1998. Globalization and Its Discontents. New York: The New Press.

Smith, Anthony. 1971. Theories of Nationalism. New York: Harper.

—–. 1979. Nationalism in the Twentieth Century. New York: New York University Press.

Sorel, Georges. 1906 (1972). Reflections on Violence. New York: Macmillan.

Taylor, Charles. 1999. “Nationalism and Modernity.” In Theorizing Nationalism. Ed. Ronald Beiner. New York: SUNY Press.

Tilly, Charles. 1975. “Western State-Making and Theories of Political Transformation.” In The Formation of National States in Western Europe. Ed. Charles Tilly. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.



JURAMENTADO! tula ni E. San Juan, Jr.



Sabi ng mga magulang natin, takbo pag nakakita ng Moro–juramentado iyon!
Hadji Kamlon–takbo!
Dumarating sina Nur Misuari & Hashim Salamat–Hura? Huramentado?
Tapos si Marcos, tapos si Cory Aquino, dumating ang Al-Qaeda
O sige, bumaba sa Bud Dajo at Bud “Weiser” ang Abu Sayyaf–
Abdurarajak Janjalani–Khadaffy Janjalani–takbo!
Baka Taliban, takbo!
Pirata sa Palawan, takbo!

Dumating ang US Special Forcs & drone, todas na ang Abu Sayyaf–
Napatay ng AFP si Zulfik bin Abdulhim alyas Marwan
Pero nabuhay raw muli–takbo na naman!
Saksi ang midya, walang duda, ibinigay sa AFP ang 1.5 milyong dolyar–
Iusod ang siwang ng sepulkro sa Camp Abubakar, nabuhay raw muli!
Takbo muli! Aswang ng Abu Sayyaf? Kulam ni Osama bin laden?
Jihad ni Ampatuan?
Hura! Hura! Huramentado!

Nagtampisaw si Marwan sa lagusang masikip sa gubat ni Florante’t Aladin
Nanlilimahid ang bakas ng balakyot na “terorista”
Ibinurol si Zulfik, sayang–kailan babangon muli?
Saan, sinong pumuslit ng 1.5 milyong dolyar?
Bakas at bakat, tiyak na babalik habang umaakyat sa Bud Bagsak….
Nabubulok ang mga pinugutang bangkay ng AFP sa Basilan at Sulu….

Di naglao’y nagkapuwang si Marwan, magaling yumari ng bomba–
Tugisin ang pork-barrel ng USA, takbo!
Takbo, mabuhay si Zulfik!
Takbo, aswang o mangkukulam ng Jemaah Islamiyah, mabuhay!
Takbo, nariyan si Obamang may suhol na dolyar para sa AFP–
Huramentado ni BS Aquino at mga heneral ng AFP?
Juramentado ng trapo’t burokrata kapitalista?
Masaker nina Hen. John Pershing at Leonard Wood? Ulit na naman?
Sa gubat ng Sabah o Zamboanga? Ampat, ampatin ang dugo….

Alahu Akbar,
Tiyak ang resureksiyon nina Zulfik at mga kasama–
Hanggang may salapi, walang patid ang takbuhan at patayan–
Ikaw na Kristyanong mambabasa, kapatid ng mga heneral at trapo,
Di biro, hindi ba huramentado ka rin? –##


AMBIL, a book of art and poetry in Filipino, by E. San Juan, Jr.

Reduced Dover AMBIL
AMBIL, E. San Juan’s new book of cultural provocations, now available

Departing from his last neoconceptualist poetry collection, Mendiola Masaker (2014), U.S.-based author E. San Juan, Jr. crafted this new offering of anti-poems, experimental graphic word-art, and “unexpressive” writing. AMBIL , the book’s title, signifies irony, ambiguity, subversive or iconoclastic meanings.

San Juan’s point of departure is conceptualist art inspired by dadaist, surrealist avantgarde modes initiated by Duchamp, Schwitters, and postconceptualist artists. In one project. the poet seeks to renew or resituate conventional proverbs and banalities by using satiric and parodic techniques to defamiliarize orthodox conventions. In doing so, AMBIL rejects institutionalized art validated with prizes, honors, awards. Instead of commodified spectacles, it seeks to provoke critical resistance to consumerized culture and the narcotic fetishistic spectacles saturating the corporate mass media and the neoliberal public sphere.

In line with his previous critiques of traditional Filipino poetics, San Juan extends his inventions or installations found in Alay sa Paglikha ng BukangLiwayway (Ateneo U Press, 2000). This new work elaborates the experiments in three subsequent volumes: Sapagkat Iniibig Kita (UP Press, 2004). Ulikba (UST Publishing House 2012) and Kundiman sa Gitna ng Karimlan (2014). Ultimately, AMBIL seeks to disrupt the status quo and provoke the emergence of the new in situations and events that violate orthodoxies and conformisms.

Emeritus professor of English, Comparative Literature and Ethnic Studies, San Juan was previously a fellow of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University; and of the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas. He has taught at the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, Leuven University (Belgium), Tamkang University (Taiwan), University of Trento (Italy), Brooklyn College, Wesleyan University, and Washington State University. His recent books are In the Wake of Terror (Lexington), Critique and Social Transformation (Mellen), US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines (Palgrave), Toward Filipino Self-determination (SUNY), Critical Interventions (Lambert), and Between Empire and Insurgency: the Philippines in the New Millennium (U.P. Press, 2015).–#
[Now available from amazon.com ] For more info, contact <philcsc@gmail.com>

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RE-VISITING CARLOS BULOSAN’S LIFE AND WORKS (during Filipino-American History Month)

by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.

Numerous Filipino-American organizations in California celebrated the signing of Assembly Bill 123 by Governor Jerry Brown on 2 October 2013. Sponsored by Rep. Rob Bonta, the bill required the State curriculum to include the contributions of Filipino-Americans to the labor movement. Without legislative action, the role of Filipino farmworkers in social change would languish in oblivion. Rep. Bonta’s gesture is one sign of the attempt to remedy the historical amnesia suffered by the whole community since the demise of the anti-U.S.-Marcos dictatorship movement (1972-1986) and, coeval with the civil-rights crusade, the triumph of white-supremacist neoconservatism and authoritarian neoliberalism.

Few survivors of that epoch can recall the unswerving itinerary of racial and national awakening. One decisive event resurrected the “forgotten” Manongs. Led by Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, the 1965 Delano Grape Strike sparked the radicalization of young Filipino-Americans first mobilized by the civil-rights and anti-Vietnam war struggles. By the early seventies, the second generation of Filipinos born before and after World War II had discovered the writings of Carlos Bulosan. In turn Bulosan led them to Andres Bonifacio, Rizal and the 1896 revolution against Spain up to Macario Sakay, the Colorums and Sakdalistas, Luis Taruc and the Huk rebellion. In the process they encountered the essays of Renato Constantino and Jose Maria Sison, and the works of Amado V. Hernandez and other “subversive” artists.

In due course, Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart, long out of print since 1946, was reprinted in 1973 with a memorable introduction by Carey McWilliams, a friend of Bulosan and well-known labor historian. It has since become a canonical “required reading” in literature courses. The first substantial collection of Bulosan’s writings appeared as a special issue of Amerasia Journal (Volume 6, No. 1) in May 1979, followed in 1995 by my edition of the writings in On Becoming Filipino and the major novel The Cry and the Dedication, both published by Temple University Press. A collection of hitherto unpublished stories by Bulosan which I edited, entitled The Philippines Is in the Heart, was published by New Day Publishers, Quezon City, in 1978 (soon to be reissued by University of San Agustin Press, Iloilo, Philipppines).

Over 41 years now have passed since my book Carlos Bulosan and the Imagination of the Class Struggle was published in 1972 by the University of the Philippines Press, a few weeks before Marcos declared martial law. It escaped the dictator’s censorship, blessed by the patronage of Dr. Salvador P. Lopez, then president of the University of the Philippines. Lopez is by consensus the major progressive critic of the Philippine Commonwealth and the prime moving spirit behind the Philippine Writers League. Since then, the major scholarly commentary on Bulosan that helped substantiate the generic legitimacy and ethico-political cogency of Bulosan’s achievement is Michael Denning’s The Cultural Front (1997). Denning’s intervention relocated Bulosan from the limited, claustrophic precinct of ethnic testimony into the site of popular-democratic/socialist culture with profound global, cross-cultural implications.

This is not to say that Bulosan’s discovery as an ethnic “minority” author was cooptative or even reactionary. Its historical context preserved the dialectical-materialist vitality of its national/local roots. Aside from the strategic use of Bulosan made by political groups and cultural activists such as the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP), Revolutionary Union, West End Press, and others, the dissemination of his writings by academics (via ther UCLA Asian American Studies Center, among other channels) raised the civic and political consciousness of the larger community. For example, the anthology Letters in Exile (1976), edited by Jesse Quinsaat, Henry Empeno, Vince Nafarrete, Lourdes Pammit, Jaime Geaga and Casimiro Tolentino, connected scholarly inquiries with ongoing communal projects such as the cooperative building of Agbayani Village for retired “Manongs” and the emerging controversy surrounding the International Hotel in San Francisco, California.

Directly inspired by the Bulosan rediscovery, Letters in Exile rectified the recurrent “post-colonial” tabula rasa. Its inclusion of the pathbreaking essay on “The First Vietnam: The Philippine-American War of 1899-1902” by Luzviminda Francisco was an index of the deeper understanding that the Philippines was for a long time a violently subjugated colony of the United States, and then a genuine neocolony since nominal independence in 1946. Celebrated “Filipino” fugitives from the Spanish galleon trade who settled in French Louisiana were colonized Indios, not Filipinos, contrary to Fil-Am nativists.

Filipinos from 1899 up to 1946 were colonial subjects or wards, not citizens, And even though, in 1934, the physical transplanting of these colonized subalterns was restricted to fifty bodies per year, the Philippine Commonwealth remained a full-fledged US colony with U.S. troops stationed in numerous military bases (Clark and Subic bases were closed only in 1992). Nonetheless, neocolonialism survived and is thriving well in the islands that Bulosan fled from in 1930 and tried to return to via prophecy and remembrance.
Subjugation Unspeakable and Invisible

Generations of scholars have labored to convert the colonized subjects into immigrants resembling the conventional type of Irish, Swedish, Italian, German, Russian, and other European groups. Scholars such as H. Brett Melendy, Emory S. Bogardus, Bruno Lasker, up to Antonio Pido, Ronald Takaki, Elaine Kim, Barbara Posadas, Yen Le Espiritu and others, have foisted the idea that Filipinos were immigrants from the time they were recruited to the Hawaii plantations up to the granting of nominal independence to the Philippines in 1946 (this framework vitiates such books as The Filipino Americans edited by Maria P. Root; and publications by the Filipino American National Historical Society). Such formulaic distortions remain the staple themes of Filipino-American celebrations to reaffirm the virtue of their 200% Americanization.

The obsessive fix on pacified Filipino “wards” as bonafide immigrants persists, perhaps in the hope that we might be given “preferential treatment.” After all, we’ve been here before other Asians (such as the Chinese coolies recruited by antebellum Southern plantation slave-owners). What’s more ridiculous is that some argue that Filipinos who escaped from the Spanish galleons and settled in Louisiana between 1565 and 1811 were the first Filipino immigrants to the U.S. (see De la Cruz and Baluyut 1998, 33; on Lafcadio Hearn’s account of Filipinos in Louisiana, see San Juan 2008, 322-24). It may be instructive to remind them that Louisiana was not part of the United States until that territory to which it belonged was purchased in 1803; and Louisiana was not admitted to the Union until 1812. If Filipinos were indeed bonafide immigrants, then they would have suffered the immigration restrictions such as the one imposed on the Japanese by the Gentleman’s Agreement of 1908 and the Oriental Exclusion Act of 1924 (Reimers 1992, 6-7). But they were not. In truth, they were subjugated natives of the annexed territory of the Philippine islands formerly “owned” by Spain but sold to the United States for twenty million dollars in 1898.

Colonialism’s profound impact involves not only those directly interpellated by its ideological state apparatus, but also those intending to interrogate and challenge it. Even the skeptics ironically reinforce the stereotype. This failure to understand why the Filipino is not an immigrant to the U.S. national territory until 1946 explains the habitual reflex of putting Bulosan in the same category as John Okada, Hisaye Yamamoto, Theresa Cha, Ronyoung Kim, Maxine Hong Kingston–archetypal models of immigrant success. The chief culprit might be the popular anthology, Aiiieeee! (first published in 1974 and reprinted several times), which lumped Bulosan together with icons of successful assimilation or adaptation.

Even a sympathetic critic such as Sam Solberg fell into this trap, although he discerned already the problematic resolution of contradictions (between democratic ideals and racist reality) in Manuel Buaken’s I Have Lived with the American People published two years after Bulosan’s allegorized testimonial chronicle of Filipino lives. Solberg’s hope of Filipino writers (such as Jose Garcia Villa, Bienvenido Santos, NVM Gonzales, etc.) joining others in weaving the “heroic epic” of the search for Filipino in Filipino-American experience virtually privileges the American scene over the colonial experience as foundational and definitive for the colonized/neocolonized artist (1991, 58).

Examples of the immigrant paradigm’s disabling impact may be cited here. The American critic Leonard Casper opined that Bulosan “is more likely to be remembered exclusively as a teller of comic tales (if not as an alleged plagiarist or leftist sympathizer” (1966, 68). Even the aspiring Bulosan expert Licerio Lagda (1990), who has been coaxed into becoming the purveyor of dubious manuscripts, cannot hide his sense of superiority over Bulosan’s messy life. And when Lagda endorses P.C. Morantte’s philistine scorn for pedantic Marxists presumably belaboring the humor in The Laughter of My Father, we know the enemy can sport friendly masks. In contrast to those patronizing attitudes, Leigh Bristol-Kagan is exceptional. She hopes that Bulosan’s project of empowering Filipinos to learn from their singular colonial ordeal of suffering and resistance can engage Americans themselves to understand “what might be needed to change the course of our own history” (1983, 10-11).

We confront the revenge of the rejected metanarrative even before postmodernism has fully taken over. The immigrant-assimilationist paradigm becomes the Procrustean bed into which Bulosan’s texts are forced, thus producing symptoms of incoherence, dissonance, and duplicity. The equivocating narrative voice or shifting point of view in America Is in the Heart attracts the most complaint, as repeated by Marilyn Alquizola and Lane Hirabayashi in their 2014 introduction to a reprinting of the book. Such aberrations could have been resolved beforehand by learning from the lesson of Denning’s critical strategy of foregrounding the generic latitude of “popular-front” discourse which allows for such dialogism, as already anticipated by W.E. B. Du Bois’ famous trope of double-voiced personaes in The Souls of Black Folk and other slave narratives of education and collective identity-recognition.

Unravelling the Contradictions

The existence of ambiguities, sudden mutations of stances and registers, and paradoxical mix of subversion and affirmation of “Americanism” pervade Bulosan’s texts. Some have tried to elucidate these discordant traits (including Bulosan’s uneasy attitude to women) as due to feudal practices of clientelism, reciprocity, the influence of the pasyon and other historic legacies. There is partial validity to these claims. On the whole, the colonized psyche (as Fanon, Memmi and others have noted) manifests symptoms of the schizoid, disintegrated psyche. Those features have been noticed long ago by Petronilo Daroy who judged that Bulosan’s work “lacks formal coherence” and confidence because of the “social conflict of which Bulosan was a participant” (1968, 206). But if Bulosan’s texts simply mirrored their empirical conditions of possibility, they would all be perfectly understandable on first reading and would require no additional gloss or metacommentary.

The problem of such misconstruals stems from the complex articulation of aesthetics and politics in literary practice. Assuming then that the textual ideology attempts to resole real contradictions in any imaginary way (Balibar and Macherey, 1996), this is due to the peculiar mode in which Bulosan’s language and its formal models interpellate the individual readers/audience into subjects for a popular-front (not socialist or purely Marxist) subjects. In short, Bulosan’s textual praxis cannot but produce the effects traceable to the dynamic convergence of multidimensional contradictions at every conjuncture of the class struggle (Lecercle 2009). What we discover in both formal structure of the texts and the variable reader-response or reception experience cannot be accounted for simply by psychological or sociological speculation, but by an elucidation of the dialectical manner in which the text, ultimately the entire Bulosan corpus of texts, registers the sociopolitical contradictions and endeavors to resolve successfully or not in the formal architectonics of his art. This mode of dialectical analysis might help mediate the usual ambiguities into intelligible patterns of conduct, the goal of hermeneutic inquiry.

Framing the Ethico-Political Project

To be sure, Bulosan was not trying to mystify his readers. He provided a glimpse of his writerly strategy in the essay “How My Stories Were Written” (included as an appendix to my 1972 book). He fabricated composite characters and mixed happenings so as to produce a kind of pastiche, an orchestration of heterogeneous voices: “….I humanized my legendary and folktale characters, so that reading them, it would be impossible to determine which is fact and which is the flight of imagination” (1972, 139). We can also detect the style of simply recording events serially, capturing discordant impulses and incompatible moods and tonalities, as witness the phantasmagoric scenes in “The Time of Our Lives” (1979, 127-32) and “To a God of Stone” (1979, 61-68); in the kaleidoscopic sequence in “Life and Death of a Filipino in America” (1982, 50-54). The gallery of acquaintances named in his correspondence, as well as the topics addressed in the letters (in Dolores Feria’s collection, “The Sound of Falling Light”) provide an idea of Bulosan’s horizon of experience (both actual and vicarious) that might help disabuse us of the imputed peasant naivete and the hypothesized decline of his powers in the decade before his death on September 11, 1956.

A foretaste of this quandary may be found in the rich, densely textured history of Filipino transplantation into the West Coast and Hawaii by Carey McWilliams in his 1942 book Brothers Under the Skin. McWilliams describes the convulsive reshaping of the Filipino collective psyche under American colonial rule, a recasting whose depth and scale practically all the elite scholars are unable to fathom. Even though gestures acknowledging colonial and imperialist “brainwashing” abound in Takaki’s or Sucheng Chan’s history, or in Yen Le Espiritus’ recent study of Filipino identity formation, the blind-spot of the immigrant paradigm remains. For example, Le Espiritu’s concluding observations confirm my suspicion that U.S. imperial domination of the neocolony has been erased by the sly shift to privileging “relations within racially-defined groups,” so that even the proliferation of organizations in the Filipino community serve to promote “multiple levels of solidarity” (1996, 43). This shift sidetracks the fact of Filipino national subordination to the imperial metanarrative and its white-supremacist imposition of structures and mentalities on the colonized life-world.

What’s more reprehensible is the hegemonic erasure of power inequality and ethical disjunction. At the expense of subjection by nationality, race or ethnicity, the elements of class (narrowly defined in an economistic sense) and diasporic status serve not only to disguise the asymmetric relation between US hegemony and Philippine neocolonial position, but also assert their equality or parity. In short, the Philippines is a sovereign nation-state with rights or powers equal to those of the United States, or to Japan, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, and so on (for examples, see Lowe 1991; Okamura 2003). By this technique of deconstructive heterogenizing of the group, the ethnic/national subject becomes metaphysical, close to Maria Root’s stunning performative decolonizing of the Filipino-American as “a state of mind rather than of legality or geography” (1997, xiv). Wild psychological speculation finally trumps historical inventory and empirical discrimination.

In a rigorous accounting, Filipinos were not immigrants (in the strict sense of citizens fom genuinely sovereign nation-states) when they worked in the Hawaiian plantations as recruits, or joined the U.S. Navy. Nor were they immigrants servicing the Alaskan canneries or West Coast agribusiness. They became colonial migrants in 1934, and then later as neocolonialized migrants in 1946. To circumvent the racializing irony of extolling Bulosan as an ethnic and even diasporic author of recalcitrant texts, we can call him an exile or expatriate. This is Oscar Campomanes’ (and other scholars’) mode of compromise, enabling them to connect Bulosan with refugees from the Marcos dictatorship such as N.V.M. Gonzales, Bienvenido Santos, Ninotchka Rosca, and others (curiously, Jessica Hagedorn is not included is his list). But there is the implied belief that colonizer and colonized can mutually aid each other in a transnational exchange, assuming a symbiotic relationship that can grasp fully “the whole spectacle of their transhistorical movements and displacements” (1992, 72). No need to question the supremacy of English or the literary/artistic canons of the profit-centered marketplace. The Filipinos in the United States are flourishing with their exilic sensibility and horizontal comradeships, as Benedict Anderson suggests.

This twist in academic prejudice revives the metaphysics of cultural pluralism as an apology for empire. It may explain the popularity of the theatrical staging of Bulosan’s story, “The Romance of Magno Rubio” (as I noted in my 2008 re-appraisal of the Bulosan canon and critical responses so far in the post-9/11, postCold War atmosphere); racial and ethnic misunderstandings have become pretexts for delightful reclamation of cultural pluralism, the good old slogans of the Popular Front. At least, however, this may remedy the sidetracking of Bulosan for the recent voguish appeals of Hagedorn, Apostol, and other mass-media celebrities hawking commodified spectacles.

From Exile to Transmigrants and Planetary Citizens?

At this juncture, we may be past the threshold of postmodernist theories of transnational migrants, cosmopolitan cyborgs, and other weird disguises of the postcolonial subaltern released from metanarratives, totality, identity politics, national liberation struggles, and antiglobal capitalism tout court. Indeed, we have entered the millennium of total surveillance, the shock doctrine of torture, drone killings, and other technocratic digitalized folkways. We have entered the stage of nascent barbarism and ecological meltdown.

Meanwhile, we owe it to our colleagues Marilyn Alquizola and Lane Hirabayashi that we now have a new Carlos Bulosan to spend long academic conversations: the FBI suspect, the would[-be communist fellow-traveler or Oriental terrorist. The FBI files sent to our colleagues were heavily censored and blacked out. However, a few facts are clear: the FBI spied on Bulosan during the last five years of his life, from 1951 to 1956, during the height of McCarthy witchhunting against suspected members of the Communist Party USA, their fronts and sympathizers.

Based on doubtful inferences, Alquizola and Hirabayashi conclude that Bulosan became an FBI informant, in other words, he voluntarily gave information about himself because “given that Bulosan knew the FBI was looking into the matter, and given that as a Filipino national he could be deported back to the Islands if it was determined that he was a bona fide Party member, Bulosan himself wanted to be on the record denying that he had ever been a member of the Party” (2012, 45). This is an inference worth pondering, symptomatic less about Bulosan than about our academic anxieties and idiosyncrasies.

It is doubtful that Bulosan did what he was alleged to have done, in my view, for the following reasons. We all know that Bulosan expressed several times in writing that he was not afraid of being accused as a Marxist, subversive or radical writer. He worked closely with left-wing friends of Sanora Babb in Los Angeles in the thirties up to the end of his life. In a letter dated December 7, 1935 to Sanora, he wrote: “I have become a communist” (Babb 1928-2005), a statement which, however, does not prove that he enlisted in any communist party.

It is clear in his letter to Florentino Valeros (dated 17 January 1955) that Bulosan was confident that the ILWU Local 37 and its lawyers would be able to successfully fight the Walter-McCarren Act. He already reported that “Filipinos are not deportable, no matter what crime they have committed, so long as they came to this country as permanent residents before the passage of the Philippine Independent Act” (1960, 271). In the ILWU Yearbook for 1952, Bulosan openly attacked the Philippine government for its repression of the left-wing poet Amado V. Hernandez and editorialized on the neocolonial State’s terrorist response to the Huk rebellion. He did not conceal his commitment to socialist, proletarian principles.

It is possible that Bulosan met Hernandez during Hernandez’s visit to the United States in 1948 (Torres-Yu 1986, xxx) to confer with American trade union leaders. Bulosan might have discussed with Hernandez the re;ease of Luis Taruc’s book, Born of the People (published in 1953 by International Publishers, not Monthly Review Press). Together with W.E. Bois, Paul Robeson (who wrote the “Foreword”) and other Communist Party members or affiliates, Bulosan signed a letter soliciting support for the publication of Taruc’s book (later revealed as written by the American William Pomeroy, a key intellectual functionary of the Philippine Communist Party at that time). This and other facts too numerous to include here indicate that Bulosan was not so isolated or frightened that he had to mollify the FBI so as to function effectively and fulfill his union and civic responsibilities. He worked intimately with Ernesto Mangaong and Chris Mensalvas (an old friend since the thirties), the two union officials seriously threatened with imprisonment and deportation for their alleged communist leanings (de Vera 1994). Bulosan never squealed nor renounced his socialist convictions and proletarian allegiance. If anything at all, the FBI files on Bulosan reveal the indiscriminate way the agency stigmatized and threatened ordinary civilians who were either active in the union struggles or supported movements to protect immigrants and the foreign-born.

Fellow-Travelling and Other Journeys

Since about 1935, Bulosan was exposed to Communist Party activities in close association with the Babb sisters, Dorothy and Sanora. Last November 2013 I was able to access the files of the late Sanora Babb in the Harry Ransom Center Library, University of Texas, and found unpublished letters and writings of Carlos Bulosan as well as Sanora Babb’s notes on Bulosan’s life and works. They all attest to Bulosan’s intellectual involvement with leftists and possibly communist party operatives in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

One letter of Bulosan to Sanora Babb, dated October 28, 1954, typed on the ILWU Local 37 stationary, expressed his disillusionment with some union leaders and officers who were “vicious, cruel, power mad people.” But he remained hopeful amid the carnage of war and violence everywhere because “there will always be love, beauty, dignity, decency, compassion, pity among men and women and children.” Since he resigned from the union and was awaiting his unemployment compensation checks, he asked Sanora to lend him $40.00 which he promised to re-pay later by installment. He also repeated some of the facts about the Walter McCarran Act that he had already communicated to Valeros.

In a memorandum dated November 13, 1959, to Dolores Feria, who was then occupied with editing “The Sound of Falling Light,” the major compilation of Bulosan letters, Sanora Babb dissuaded Feria from writing a full biography without necessary and lengthy research. She warned Feria not to lend legitimacy to rumors and hearsay about Bulosan’s life. This includes the muddled plagiarism case (publicized without legal documentation by the McCarthyist columnist I.P. Soliongco), alcoholism, vagrancy, communist fellow-travelling if not communist behavior, and other innuendoes cast by Filipino-American academics eager to put the icon down. Babb assured Feria that the violation of copyright suit was definitely won (as I’ve already reviewed in San Juan 2008). As for his relations with women (Carlos was really in love with Sanora, as demonstrated by dozens of his letters in the Babb files), Sanora states: “This idea of Carlos being parasitic on women as mother substitutes or otherwise is completely false…Easy psychological judgments won’t hold up…. [Carlos] ws a very complex man.” Finally, Sanora also asserted that “No manuscripts were found in his room in Seattle after his death….”

But the world of fallible humans constantly offers suprises. We thus wonder why, aside from wrong-headed attacks on Bulosan’s purported misogynism, alcolholism, decline, etc., we are gifted with recently discovered manuscripts of Bulosan such as the novel All the Conspirators. The title is borrowed from the first novel of Christopher Isherwood published in 1928, an antiheroic pastiche pivoting around a mother-son conflict. As noted earlier, Lagda served as the transmission belt for Josephine Patrick’s bequeathal of unauthenticated Bulosan typescripts. We should be grateful to Caroline Hau and Benedict Anderson for stirring up troubled waters by providing this “photographic negative” of The Cry and the Dedication–if it is, indeed, by Bulosan. We have a pretext to conduct another reconnaissance of the Bulosan ruins.

Analysis of style, idiom, characterology, and narrative texture and plotting of the Lagda novel demonstrates its immense difference from Bulosan’s characteristic signature. Bulosan’s meditative mode of narration is clearly displayed in America, The Laughter of My Father, The Cry and the Dedication, the stories in The Philippines Is in the Heart, and in Lagda’s edited volume, The Power of Money. The breathless and often colloquial narrative speed of All The Conspirators belies its imputed genealogy. Moreover, Hau and Anderson’s ascription of psychological motives to Bulosan as an ambitious celebrity-seeker undermines their other more ideological polemics: “For Bulosan faced both racial and political discrimination in pursuit of his literary ambitions in America. If he initially made his name as a Filipino writer, his identity as such tended to ghettoize him. His leftwing politics made it necessary for him to write under an ‘American’ nom de plume, yet at the same time it gave him an opportunity to write as if he were a white man” (1998, xvi). Are Filipinos to blame for ghettoizing themselves as Filipino writers? We are back to the question of power relations, hegemony, subalternity, and the whole problem of grasping what racism/racialism in the United States signifies since the invention of the “white race” or white supremacy in the early Puritan colonies. Once again, Bulosan has become a victim of the assimilationist paradigm of his putative benefactors.

The Angel of History Beholds the Rubble

In the context of this inventory of the critical archive, more than literary or aesthetic questions are involved. No amount of arguing that Dunstan Peyton is really Bulosan, or his alter ego; and that this novel is the one mentioned in his letters (the main evidence is the letter to Valeros dated April 8, 1955). Biographers have noted numerous friends of Bulosan who helped revise and even rewrite many of his manuscripts, chief of whom was Dorothy Babb and Sanora Babb. But other women writers were accomplices or accessories, among them Ann Dionisio, Mary Gibson-Hatten, Jean Gundlach, Mary Allen, Marjorie Patton, Josephine Patrick, Grace F. Cunningham, together with their assistants or confidants. Perhaps two or more of these friends collaborated to fabricate the Lagda novel.

My suspicion is that “Dunstan Peyton” (only one of Bulosan’s many pseudonyms) or the author of All the Conspirators is Grace F. Cunningham, then residing in Iowa, who has already published stories set in the Philippines. (The name “Dunstan Peyton” appears in the Internet as the name of an African-American soldier in Virginia circa 1870-1879). Two are still mentioned in the Internet under Cunningham’s pseudonym, Lysle Carveth: Jungle Boy (1945) and Moro Boy (1949), both published by Longmans, Green and Company. Bulosan’s many letters to Cunningham (in the Feria anthology) also evince their close working partnership and consultation on various matters that demonstrate Bulosan’s dependency on her opinions. Someday we will have enough materials to ascertain if Grace F. Cunningham deserves the honor of reclaiming her artifice, currently ascribed to her Filipino “co-conspirator.”

We leave this affair of attribution open for now. Until a thorough research and inquiry into the authorship of the Bulosan papers in the University of Washington archive has been accomplished, we cannot in good conscience pronounce a verdict on this case. As a provisional conclusion, allow me to quote Sanora Babb’s parting advice to Feria: “Carlos is dead. All that remains of him is his work. That is more than most can leave. And some of that work is beautiful, some delightful, etc. and in this sense it adds to the reader. That is what art does, and when it does, the personality traits are not important except in a serious examination of life as related to art” (Babb 1928-2005).

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Bulosan, Carlos. America Is in the Heart. Seattle: U of Washington Press, 1972. Reprint of 1946 original edition.
—-. The Philippines Is in the Heart. Ed. E. San Juan Jr. Quezon City: New Day Press, 1978.
——. Selected Works and Letters. Ed. E. San Juan and Ninotchka Rosca. Honolulu, Hawaii: Friends of the Filipino People, 1982.
—-. On Becoming Filipino: Selected Writings of Carlos Bulosan. Ed. E. San Juan, Jr. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1995.
—-. The Cry and the Dedication. Ed. E. San Juan, Jr. Phildelphia: Temple UP, 1995.
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SPINOZA’S PHILOSOPHY: The Body, Race, Freedom by E.San Juan, Jr.

Spinoza and the War of Racial TerrorismIgorots


E. San Juan, Jr.


A free man thinks of nothing less than of death, and his wisdom is a meditation on life, not on death…. If men were born free, they would form no concept of good and evil so long as they remained free. — Benedict de Spinoza

Well, my view is very prejudiced and personal, I’m afraid. I’ve no religion. I was born a Jew, but I’m an atheist. I believe we are totally responsible for ourselves.— Nadine Gordimer [Response to a question about a “clash of religions” behind the Sept. 11 attack]


Disrupting the brief multiculturalist interregnum in the North between the fall of the Berlin Wall and September 11, 2001, the current war on terrorism has exposed the roots of the irreversible crisis of global capitalism. Ploughshares have been re-shaped into swords. U.S. “national security” agenda fuels a more aggressive intervention against perceived enemies, a “humanitarian” crusade legitimized by the rationale of the “clash of civilizations” and a politics of invidious cultural difference. Resurgent nationalism everywhere targets immigrants and non-western aliens who threaten free-market operations. Liberal racism, covertly if not openly based on white supremacy, has refurbished the old Manichean ideology of the benevolent “Free World” and the demonized “terrorists” reminiscent of Cold War triumphalism, a symptom of the bourgeoisie’s world-historic decline.

Let us revisit the time when the bourgeoisie as a historic class, though soaked in the blood and sweat of slaves and colonized peasants, still harbored the seeds of future progress and liberation. The seventeenth-century thinker Benedict de Spinoza easily comes to mind, universally celebrated as the prophet of free thought and reasoned dissent. In the frenzy of military irrationalism, Spinoza’s philosophy of freedom can be redeployed as an intellectual weapon for the victims of imperial power, a resource of hope against nihilism and fatalistic commodification. Spinoza’s principle of the inalienability of human rights can renew the impulse for reaffirming the ideal of radical, popular democracy and the self-determination of communities and nations. Defined by conatus, the principle which impels every organism to persevere and strive to increase its effectivity, Spinoza’s free rational subject can become the agency for social liberation. His ideas and historic example may help clarify and resolve the predicament of Asian Americans and, by extension, all exploited and oppressed peoples long ravaged by institutional racism and predatory capitalism in the metropolitan centers and in the war zones of the borderlands.

In the sedimented chronicle of past class wars, we discover the exemplary combat between critical reason and superstition. Spinoza’s thought fusing mind and nature (deus sive natura) interrupts the postmodernist narrative with its seductive deployment of contingency and difference. Why Spinoza? The quite surprising fascination, at least in academic circles, with Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s treatise, Empire (2000), may have reinforced the suspicion that Spinoza is behind (to appropriate Negri’s phrase) this not-so-savage “anomaly.” Mistakenly idolized as a mystic, arch heretic and atheist of his time, Spinoza himself continues to be a provocative enigma.

The rehabilitation of this “god-drunk” mystic strikes the genteel crowd as a risky peremptory wager. Empire’s invocation of Spinoza’s philosophy for the goal of cosmopolitical liberation runs through this manifesto of post-revolutionary anarchism. Hardt and Negri ascribes to Spinoza’s intransigent naturalism, its horizon of immanence, the discovery of the omnipresent “creative and prophetic power of the multitude” (2000, 65). This power of singularity realized by “the democracy of the multitude as the absolute form of politics” requires, for Hardt and Negri, no external mediation by any organization or party; the multitude’s constituent power somehow will by itself actualize desire in action in a possible form of direct democracy as the absolute form of government. Spinoza’s critique of modern sovereignty, according to Empire, originates from this primary goal: “the ontological development of the unity of true knowledge and the powerful body along with the absolute construction of singular and collective immanence” (2000, 186). While Spinoza repudiated all teleological speculation, he affirmed the identity of reason and virtue, virtue and blessedness, as the path to freedom.

This fin-de-siecle revival of interest in Spinoza was sparked by French thinkers like Louis Althusser and Etienne Balibar, who in turn inspired Negri and some American academics to reappropriate this baroque response to Cartesian dualism. Consigned to oblivion is the achievement of formidable Russian scholars led by A.M. Deborin who have celebrated Spinoza as one of the precursors of dialectical materialism (Kline 1952). This “new Spinoza” deviates from the traditional pantheist of European romanticism (idealized by Goethe) and from the complaisant saintly thinker of Bertrand Russell and Lewis Feuer. Feuer’s book Spinoza and the Rise of Liberalism (1958) reconfirmed the traditional prestige of Spinoza as the torchbearer of the European Enlightenment, the apostle of ego-centered liberalism, albeit a diehard materialist who formulated certain disturbing propositions about the barbaric masses. We don’t need to recapitulate this well-trodden path. My interest in Spinoza is, for this occasion, limited to what ideas about citizenship and the power of racial/ethnic difference we can extrapolate from his philosophy. Racial supremacy, it seems, has nothing to fear from secularism, monistic naturalism, immanence, nor from the multitudes who are for now its chief support. Does Spinoza have anything to say to people of color besieged by the resurgence of neoconservative, more precisely neoManichean, nationalism consonant with the rise of a racializing program of free-market civilization? Can Spinoza be counted with the party of order or with the guerillas of liberation?

Given Spinoza’s reputation as a radical democrat, for some even an anarchist-libertarian, I am particularly intrigued by the way he has been recast as a proponent of conformity to the “common culture” straitjacket. Was Spinoza an assimilationist in spite of himself, a model minority conformist ahead of his time? I have in mind Steven B. Smith’s book Spinoza, Liberalism and the Question of Jewish Identity (1997). Smith enrolls Spinoza into the ranks of the defenders of the status quo based on the erasure of differential particularisms. He imputes to Spinoza the ideology of a “civic ethos” premised on what a later scholar (George Lipsitz) would call “the possessive investment in whiteness”:

Spinoza’s solution to the theologico-political problem can be summarized in a single word: assimilation. The assimilation he has in mind does not mean conversion to Christianity or any of the revealed faiths but assimilation to a secular society that is, formally, neither Christian nor Jewish but liberal. The idea of the fides universalis, the common civil faith, seems to embody the liberal idea of the “melting pot,” where all the old religious and ethnic particularities of a people are refined in order to produce a new universal human identity. This new identity can trace its beginnings back to the early modern wars of religion and the need to put an end to the continual conflict between the contending sects of Christian Europe. Thus it was not uncommon to find the framers of liberal democracy arguing that allegiance to a common creed was necessary to both ensure civil peace and guarantee religious freedom. The purpose of such a creed was to find a common ground for a shared civic identity while still allowing ample room within which individual and group differences could be given free expression. Inevitably, the kind of culture that came to dominate took on a largely Protestant hue. America may not have been a Christian nation, but it was a nation composed overwhelmingly of Christians, as has been noted by the most astute observer of our civil creed. The image of the melting pot, though in principle open to all, was far from neutral. An amalgam of liberal political institutions and cultural Protestantism virtually defined the uniquely American version of this civic ethos well into this century (1997, 200).

Spinoza the “outsider” has become a zealous booster for the Establishment. Oversimplifying the record drastically, Smith recruits the excommunicated Marrano into the fold of those who condemn “identity politics” for imposing “narrow orthodoxies and conformity.” Rejecting the “tyranny of group differences,” which allegedly destroys “the values of individual freedom and intellectual independence,” Smith ascribes to Spinoza the espousal of “the universalistic norms and principles of the liberal state,” more precisely, a civic republicanism which rejects cultural pluralism. Is this plausible?

Two recent biographers—Gullan-Whur (1998) and Nadler (1999)—underscore Spinoza’s intransigent free-thinking. While it is true that during Spinoza’s time, the believer had been transformed into a creditor, it strains credulity to imagine Spinoza insisting on rational-choice theory, or espousing the methodological individualism of Rawls and Rorty. We need to re-establish our historical bearings. This doctrine of a late-capitalist dispensation in crisis cannot surely be ascribed to the bourgeoisie in the stage of primitive accumulation, to the rule of booty merchants whose power derived from the phenomenal harvest of profits in the slave trade. Let us review Spinoza’s fundamental principles of political philosophy to ascertain his true position on the question of identity, power, and representation.

Right Equals Power

One of the most scandalous propositions to have been invented by Spinoza is the equivalence or co-extensiveness of right (jus) and power (potentia). Spinoza conflates right with power: “Every individual has sovereign right to do all that he can; in other words, the rights of an individual extend to the utmost limits of his power as it has been conditioned. Now it is the sovereign law and right of nature that each individual should endeavor to preserve itself as it is…; therefore this sovereign law and right belongs to every individual, namely, to exist and act according to its natural conditions… Whatsoever an individual does by the laws of its nature it has a sovereign right to do, inasmuch as it acts as it was conditioned by nature, and cannot act otherwise…” (Theologico-Political Treatise, afterwards TPT, 1951, 200-01). Moreover, each individual who is “conditioned by nature, so as to live and act in a given way,” possesses natural rights as part of nature; nature’s rights “is co-extensive with her power.”

While each person acts according to his or her own nature, humans “are liable to emotions which far exceed human power” (Ethics IV37S2), hence conflicts occur. Under the laws of nature, only such things that no one desires and no one can attain are prohibited; otherwise, strife, hatred, anger, deceit and the other effects of passion/desire prevail. Nature is clearly not bounded by human reason which still fails to comprehend “the order and interdependence of nature as a whole.” But for the sake of preserving life, and avoiding the misery brought about by fear, hatred, enmity, anger and deceit, humans have judged it best to use reason and resort to mutual aid “if they are to enjoy as a whole the rights which naturally belong to them as individuals.” Hence the social covenant—not an originary or foundational myth but an a posteriori effect—whereby the force and desire of individuals are displaced by “the power and will of the whole body,” of the state, civitas, imperium. This replaces the multiplicity of desires and its anarchic operation with the dictates of reason so as to prevent “any desire which is injurious to a man’s fellows,” and insure that people “defend their neighbor’s rights as their own” (TPT XVI; 1951, 200-201).

All human beings are born ignorant and “are not naturally conditioned” to act according to the laws and rules of reason. Based on piety (doing good according to reason) and friendship, Spinoza posits the necessity of solidarity and community: “The principle of seeking what is useful to us teaches us the necessity of uniting with men” (Ethics IV37S1). Humans agree to build a commonwealth for its utility, as dictated by reason. Unlike Hobbes, who assumed that hatred and envy will make life “nasty, brutish and short” and thus we surrender our right of self-defense to a sovereign, Spinoza believed that humans retain their power but authorizes the regime or government to use them in the name of the democratic conatus—the immanent cause of any state (Matheron 1997). By uniting, humans “have jointly more power and consequently more right over nature than each of them separately.” Therefore, “the more there be that join in alliance, the more right they will collectively possess” (PT II13; afterwards PT). Mutual aid tempers narrow private egoism. Spinoza’s naturalistic concept of the socius, entails a realistic view that not all are guided by reason, so people can act deceitfully and break promises and agreements unless “restrained by the hope of some greater good, or the fear of some greater evil.” When humans authorize the sovereign to use their natural rights (right of self-defense), their powers are also ceded, but this authorization can always be revoked (in contrast to the contractarian theory of Hobbes, Grotius and Rousseau) by the multitude.

Experience shows that “men have never surrendered their right and transferred their power to others so completely that they ceased to be feared by the very rulers who received their right and power, and, although deprived of their natural right, became less dangerous to the state as citizens than its external enemies…” (This may explain why John Walker Lindh, as an example to citizens, is more fearsome than the hundreds of Taliban/Al Qaeda prisoners in Guantanamo.) The right to rebel against tyrannical and oppressive government can never be outlawed. Whether the individual’s right produces an effect or is of no consequence, depends on the balance of political forces in a condition of precarious and unstable equilibrium (Curley 1996).

In a democratic polity, Spinoza argues, the aim is to bring all under the control of reason to insure peace and harmony. Obedience to rational commands does not make individuals into slaves if the object of the action is the welfare of the whole people, the common interest; they are made into subjects. In a democratic regime, which Spinoza considers “the most natural and the most consonant with individual liberty,” “no one transfers his natural right so absolutely that he has no further voice in affairs, he only hands it over to the majority of society, whereof he is a unit. Thus all men remain, as they were in a state of nature, equals” (1951, 206-07). An effective government exists when the state exercises absolute authority over its citizens, that is, when its right extends as far as its power. In this case, the state enjoys obedience from its subjects who seek to preserve their lives and pursue their personal advantage under the law, which is the rational thing to do; only within this law-governed space can justice or injustice make sense. But no matter how absolute the sovereign, the individual’s natural right remains intact: “In a free state, everyone is permitted to think what he wishes and to say what he thinks.”

In the Political Treatise, Spinoza elaborates on the theme that the right of every subject extends as far as his power does under the rule of reason: “Just as in the state of nature the man who is guided by reason is most powerful and most fully possessed of his own right… so also the commonwealth which is based on and directed by reason will be most powerful and most fully possessed of its own right” (III7; 1951, 303). Right is coextensive with power, both subserve the conatus of every individual who seek his/her own good. In striving to persevere and increase one’s capabilities of affecting other bodies, Spinoza observes, “No one will promise to give up the right he has to all things…” and “no one will stand by his promises unless he fears a greater evil or hopes for a greater good.” If hope and fear dominate instead of reason, the right/power of each individual is nullified. Assimilation may be one of the greater good, or lesser evil, if the state adopts a policy that everyone should give up her/his cultural particularities in order to be full-fledged citizens. But a commonwealth that relies on civic unity would not demand such a sacrifice, so long as the ethnic subject follows just and fair laws—laws that would not discriminate, or apply exclusiveness and selective bias. Spinoza considered the Netherlands Republic his “homeland” without ceasing to be identified as a “Jew” and to some extent an alien, as Yovel observes (1989, 173).

Empire of Reason

Spinoza’s teaching thus affirms the inviolable singularity of each person within the domain of a civil society ordered according to rational principles. In this setup, right translates into power and the right to self-preservation is made concrete or determinate in “an organized community” or polity. Notions of wrong and right are conceivable only within the polity. Laws need to enable the practice of justice—giving every person his/her lawful due—and charity; those administering the laws “are bound to show no respect of persons, but to account all men equal, and to defend every man’s right equally, neither envying the rich nor despising the poor.” Spinoza adds that those who follow desire, not reason, and who live by sovereign natural right outside the polity, are still enjoined to practice “love of one’s neighbor, and not do injury to anyone, since all are equally bound to the “divine” command—”divine” here being a shorthand for natural necessity.

Seven years after the anonymous publication of the Theological-Political Treatise in 1670, and the killing of Spinoza’s patron, Johan de Witt, by a politically motivated mob, Spinoza reaffirms his equation of power with right: “every natural thing has by nature as much right, as it has power to exist and operate.” What is notable at this point in Spinoza’s life is his recognition of the power of the masses, the multitude, which determines the general right called “dominion” or sovereignty. Earlier Spinoza stressed the value of mutual help to establish the conditions for the cultivation of the mind and exercise of reason. Now, in the Political Treatise, he envisages “general rights” of the community “to defend the possession of the lands they inhabit and cultivate, to protect themselves, to repel all violence, and to live according to the general judgment of all” (297).

A democratic society materializes, according to Spinoza, “without any violation of natural right” when individuals cede their “power of self-defence” as reason and necessity demand. Reason, that is, the imperative of preserving one’s life and enhancing one’s capabilities, dictates choosing to join others in the civitas and authorize the state to act on our behalf. The state or sovereign can compel men by force and threats, or by deploying an array of incentives and deterrents. Spinoza reminds us that based on historical experience, rulers know that if they imposed irrational commands without “consulting the public good and acting according to the dictates of reason,” their tyranny will be short-lived.

Rights thus prove their efficacy through rational collective activities. According to Deleuze, the thrust of Spinozan politics inheres in the “art of organizing encounters” leading to useful and composable relationships or assemblages (Hardt 1993, 110). These assemblages are mediated through “common notions” (Deleuze 1988). The “common notions” or general ideas that Spinoza associates with the interactions of bodies (humans as finite modes) are effective because of the historical conditions that define civil society and its articulation with the state, a pivotal linkage that gives rise to the contradictions in a market-centered system: “Now to achieve these things the powers of each man would hardly be sufficient if men did not help one another. But money has provided a convenient instrument for acquiring all these aids. That is why its image usually occupies the mind of the multitude more than anything else. For they can imagine hardly any species of joy without the accompanying idea of money as its cause (Ethics IV, Appendix 28; Spinoza 1994, 243). What an insight! Spinoza discerned the cash-nexus as the cause of reification and alienated labor long before Marx and Engels anatomized that mysterious object, the commodity, especially the individual’s labor-power.

Collectivities endowed with general rights, not individuals, are the real actors in the ever mutable field of political forces envisaged by Spinoza. They are composed by the interaction and encounter of singular individuals; from this conjuncture springs networks of individuals who have been constituted by past experiences and customary dispositions. Warren Montag points to the historical concreteness of groups: “The conjunctural agreement of complex elements that defines the specific ‘character’ or complexion of an individual (Spinoza emphasizes the Latin term ingenium) is found on a larger scale in the collective forms of human existence: couples, masses, nations all have a specific ingenium that makes them what they are and no other” (1999, 69). What defines the character of a people (ingenio gentis) are those specific historical features that distinguish them relative to others: language, religion, customs, etc. Nature comprehends this variety of embodied rights/powers exemplified, for example, in national-liberation movements discussed in Part Two of this book.

Sovereignty, or the power/right of the state to command, is measured by the power not of each individual but of the multitude in its various forms, among them, ethnic groups, racialized peoples, indigenous communities. These groups cannot simply be dissolved or liquidated in the “melting pot” of liberal pluralism, as official additive multiculturalism would have it, without risks of dissension and revolt. If the chief purpose of the state is freedom—principally, freedom of thought and its expression—which enables the formulation of a common will and the definition of the common good among citizens, then every group—while ceding its natural right (that is, power) to the state—needs to be recognized and treated as a distinct entity with its peculiar customs, rituals, traditions, aspirations, and so on.

Without the heterogeneity of singular subjects in constant exchange and communication, as the Ethics urges, the ideal of freedom as augmented power of the mind and body cannot be achieved: “Whatever so disposes the human body that it can be affected in a great many ways, or renders it capable of affecting external bodies in a great many ways, is useful to man; the more it renders the body capable of being affected in a great many ways, or of affecting other bodies, the more useful it is; on the other hand, what renders the body less capable of these things is harmful” (IV, P38). The richer these social exchanges and contacts, the greater the power of the mind to comprehend the order of nature through adequate ideas. Since the mind’s aptitude increases in proportion to the number of ways in which the body can be disposed, the thinking body graduates to the universal plane when it becomes an active link in the endless chain of causal relations in the totality of Nature. As E.V. Ilyenkov puts it, “the specific form of the activity of a thinking body consists in universality,” the attainment of intuitive knowledge as the rational understanding of the laws of its own actions within the totality of nature (1977, 46, 61).

Politics of Recognition

How then was the dialectic of unitary commonwealth and the plurality of thinking bodies realized in Spinoza’s historical situation?

A good example of how the Jewish community—mainly, exiles and refugees from Portugal—interacted with the Dutch may be cited here. In the beginning, each group regarded each other with suspicion: the European hosts did not formally recognize the Jews as a religious community until 1615 when the States General of the United Provinces allowed residents to practice their religion. Amsterdam forbade public worship. In 1616, the municipal authorities ordered the Jews to avoid criticizing Christianity, refrain from converting Christians to Judaism, and stop having sexual relations with Christian women. Clearly the local Calvinists placed a limit on tolerance. In 1619, however, the city council officially granted the Jews the right to practice their religion, though various restrictions on economic and political rights continued (Nadler 1999, 10-12). Only in 1657, fifty-seven years after Spinoza’s family arrived in Amsterdam and two years after Spinoza himself was banished from the Jewish community, did the Dutch republic grant citizenship to the Jews. They ceased to be foreigners when the sovereignty of the Dutch Republic was finally recognized by Spain, the former colonizer, at the Treaty of Munster in 1648.

A compromise was reached, but there was no assimilation or surrender of group integrity. Though economically prosperous, they remained insecure. No doubt, the behavior of this recently “naturalized” community cannot be understood without taking into account the ascendancy of the conservative faction of the Dutch Reformed Church. The religious leaders had to constantly reassure their Dutch rulers that they were able to safeguard their community and maintain orthodoxy by internal disciplinary measures. Spinoza’s excommunication was thus meant to prove to the Dutch authorities that the Jews, in conformity with the conditions of their settlement, “tolerated no breaches in proper Jewish conduct or doctrine” (Nadler 1999, 150). They enforced voluntary segregation. The lesson Spinoza derived here was clearly not the virtues of liberalism, nor was it the evil of “groupthink” which Smith condemns without qualification.

Over and above geopolitical origin or location, religious belief and practice defined the ethnic particularity of the Jewish community. Spinoza’s family belonged to the group of marranos who fled religious persecution from Spain and Portugal and joined the Sephardim community in Amsterdam which thrived as merchants and brokers in the flourishing foreign commerce from Portugal, Spain, and Brazil. They became relatively wealthy, even though restricted from the retail trade and craft guilds; they were allowed to engage in diamond cutting and polishing, tobacco spinning, silkweaving, and clandestine refining of sugar. Although Jewish merchants could purchase non-transferrable citizenship, that did not entitle them to burgher rights. An Amsterdam ordinance of 1632 stipulated that “Jews be granted citizenship for the sake of trade…” In general, the Jewish community was not isolated or quarantined so that in less than three decades since they arrived, they succeeded in recreating on the banks of the Amstel “the rich, cosmopolitan but distinctly Jewish culture” they left 140 years earlier (Nadler 1999, 26).

Singularity germinated from the confluence and mixture of peoples. It was the influx of Jews from Poland, Sweden, Russia and Germany, survivors of pogroms, that precipitated Spinoza’s rigorous affirmation of “common claims” against eccentric particularisms. The “racial discrimination” against these “children of Jacob” not only for their inferior lineage but more precisely for their menial occupations may have reinforced an equivocation: aliens not welcome to a hitherto foreign enclave. Margaret Gullan-Whur describes a complex realignment of collectivities that, assuming that “mind is the idea of the body,” may have registered in Spinoza’s reflection on his own “extension” or placing as a finite mode of Nature:

The work ethic of Jews was well-known: neither ‘Portuguese’ nor ‘German’ had proved criminal or wanted Dutch charity… But their strictures over ritual upset social harmony by inflaming Gentile imaginations… As early as 1616 a rabbi had warned that ‘each may freely follow his own beliefs but may not openly show that he is of a different faith from the inhabitants of the city… While Spinoza’s later writings poignantly addresses the question of racial oppression, it also sternly upholds, on grounds of logical necessity, the Dutch precept that racial and religious differences must not be paraded. Any religious or racial concept that applied only to one section of society could not, by definition, he said, be universally true… (1998, 45)

In TPT, Spinoza emphasized the historical specificity of Mosaic law and its value for defining Jewish nationality as an imaginary construct. But that level of social cohesion based on obedience to rational precept derived from Old Testament revelation should not be confused with a polity or civitas founded on philosophical reason. Reason urges tolerance where pietas or devotion is manifested through deeds rather than profession of dogmas which, if allowed to dictate government policy, only foments religious conflicts and persecution (Hampshire 1961). Hence Spinoza conceived of a rational state as one committed to fostering freedom, where “every man may think what he likes, and say what he thinks.” The purpose of the state is “to enable men to exercise their mental and physical powers in safety, and to use their reason freely, and to prevent them from fighting and quarreling through hatred, anger, bad faith, and mutual malice.” Consequently, “the real disturbers of the peace are those who, in a free state, seek to curtail the liberty of judgment which they are unable to tyrannize over” (TPT XX). We are reminded of Spinoza’s expulsion from the synagogue, his friendship with dissidents like the Collegiants, the free-thinker Van den Enden, and other liberal-republicans, well as the fate of the radical philosopher Adriaan Koerbagh, arrested by the city authorities for blasphemy at the instigation of the Calvinist consistory and executed (Nadler 1999, 170).

We now confront the problem of citizenship and historical belonging. If Spinoza upholds the rationality of the state as coinciding with its devotion to freedom, does this freedom to think and speak arise from consensus, from adherence to a “common culture”? In short, does the giving up of one’s rights—not all–preclude the recognition of one’s identity as different? Is the government or state justified in using its power to make everyone conform to a monolithic standard of values, a majoritarian ideology? Den Uyl argues that Spinoza does not use the language of individual rights when he expounds on the political value of reason, for what is involved in the establishment of a free state is a desirable communal order, norms of community action, that would prove useful in promoting peace and security for everyone. Granted the norms of the communal order, can the ethnic and racialized minority exercise free speech and free rational judgment?

Judging from Spinoza’s own example, we can say that such freedoms are guaranteed within limits. Yovel (1989) has convincingly argued that Spinoza was the first secular Jew of Renaissance modernity. Spinoza was free to think and write in opposition to the traditional consensus. What is problematic are actions or deeds that destroy the precarious equilibrium of political-social forces subtending the peace and safety of citizens in the commonwealth. Right (jus) is contingent on utility (utile), but this utility depends on who is in command, who formulates and implements rational decisions for the state agencies. For Spinoza, a subject of a mercantile polity founded on capitalist principles of accumulation, private ownership of the means of production, and the sale of “free” labor-power, the disjunction between the ethical (private, personal) and the political (public) realms serves as the condition of possibility for the equivocation about natural rights and the shifting boundary between the prescriptive/normative and the descriptive modes of elucidating power relations (Den Uyl 1983). What rights the ethnic group or cultural minority may enjoy in private, they do not have as individual citizens in the public realm—liberalism mixed with totalitarian or authoritarian attitudes. This explains the enigmatic duplicity over the role of the multitude in Spinoza’s political discourse.

This enigma cannot be resolved by an anarchist reading (Hardt and Negri) or a conformist liberal interpretation (Smith). The concept of the multitude, which Negri defines as a contradictory social practice of singularities in pietas and therefore “the foundation of tolerance and universal freedom” (1997, 236), is unable to bridge the gap between private self and political identity in modern bourgeois society. The ambiguity of the person in a society of commodity-exchange can only be clarified by a historical-materialist optic that can illuminate the paradox of citizenship, assimilation, model minority myth, and pluralist democracy as the framework of white supremacy or racial polity. Marx’s critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right provides the most cogent historical framework in which to situate the freedom/authority dialectic in Spinoza. But of more relevance is the short preliminary study entitled “On the Jewish Question” (composed in the same year when Marx published his critique of Hegel). We need to recall that Marx admired Spinoza, copying verbatim the TPT with his signature on it.

Dialectical Inquiry

We need to recall Spinoza’s major philosophical breakthrough in solving the classic dualism of mind/body by positing Substance with the twin attributes of thought and extension. Within this monistic framework, Spinoza urged us to consider the essence of the mind as consisting in the idea of an actually existing body. Marx performed an analogous diagnosis of modern alienation. In “On the Jewish Question,” Marx showed the aporia of dualistic and mechanical thinking about individual and society, minority and majority interests, the ethnic group and the nation-state. The antithesis between “political society” as a spiritual or heavenly commonwealth and “civil society” as a fragmented domain of private interests and egoistic drives warring against each other is the locus of the problem. In a free state, Marx argues, citizens live a double life: the real life of isolated, private persons in civil society, and the imaginary life of the citizen in a political sphere (state; civitas). Civil society is characterized by the pursuit of money and self-interest, the real world of everyday affairs, where humans function as means, “a plaything of alien powers”; while in the state, individuals are integrated and unified as citizens. Can these two halves be comprehended as aspects of a totality?

Bourgeois civil society and the state are dialectical opposites in unity. This bifurcation explains why political emancipation in terms of citizenship does not coincide with real, human emancipation—which is not a religious but a secular question. As Marx emphasizes: “A state can be a free state without man himself being a free man” (1975, 218). This is because freedom involves the species-life of humans (the subject as citizen) as opposed to the material, egoistic life of the bourgeois individual. In the state, however, when religion, language and other particularistic cultural properties have been confined to the sphere of private law, the individual remains “an imaginary member of a fictitious sovereignty, filled with unreal universality”—the free rational subject in Spinoza’s Ethics.

The bourgeois revolution in France (translated into jurisprudence and political principles by the American version), according to Marx, demonstrates a dialectic of opposites. The idealism of the state coincides with the materialism of civil society, with egoistic man in the latter as the foundation or presupposition of the former. In history, the bourgeois state emerged from the dissolution of feudal society into independent individuals, the world of atoms, in the theories of Locke, Mill, Rawls, Rorty, and assorted nominalists inspired by Kant and Foucault. I would like to quote this extended passage from Marx’s 1843 essay for its bearing on the topic of rights and power:

The rights of man [with the triumph of the bourgeoisie] appear as natural rights, for self-conscious activity is concentrated upon the political act. Egoistic man is the passive and merely given result of the society which has been dissolved, an object of immediate certainty, and for that reason a natural object. The political revolution dissolves civil society into its component parts without revolutionizing these parts and subjecting them to criticism. It regards civil society, the world of needs, of labour, of private interests and of civil law, as the foundation of its existence, as a presupposition which needs no further grounding, and therefore as its natural basis. Finally, man as he is a member of civil society is taken to be the real man, man as distinct from citizen, since he is man in his sensuous, individual and immediate existence, whereas political man is simply abstract, artificial man, man as an allegorical, moral person. Actual man is acknowledged only in the form of the egoistic individual and true man only in the form of the abstract citizen… Political emancipation is the reduction of man on the one hand to the member of civil society, the egoistic, independent individual, and on the other to the citizen, the moral person… Only when real, individual man resumes the abstract citizen into himself and as an individual man has become a species-being in his empirical life, his individual work and his individual relationships, only when man has recognized and organized his forces propres as social forces so that social force is no longer separated from him in the form of political force, only then will human emancipation be completed (1975, 233-34).

What divides state and civil society is the alienation of laboring bodies. Once freed from private ownership, this cooperative labor (the collective body of producers) functions as the social subject of thinking and action—in effect, Spinoza’s wise man who orders the affections of the body according to the order of the intellect. The current debate over citizenship as the site of transcendence—the point where the formal or abstract dimension of citizenship is supposedly fleshed by the social and cultural dimensions (Glenn 2000, Rosaldo 1999)—may have missed the crucial interface or reciprocity of the private and public aspects.

To recapitulate Marx’s thesis: in the world of alienated labor and commodity exchange where competing private interests dominate, the general interest embodied in the civitas or commonwealth can only be realized in a formal way, via abstraction. Thus the basis and substance of the political organism we call state, sovereignty or commonwealth remains civil society with its class divisions and internecine warfare. In fact, the unified state sanctions and legitimizes the unequal economic relations and other differences that constitute civil society. In order to overcome those actual differences, like religion, the hypostatized idealized state—the modern representative democracy with its liberal, tolerant ethos–has to acknowledge the limitations of the profane world, that is, it has to reinstate and confirm the crass materialism of bourgeois society. Estrangement and unsociability inform the very nature of the polity, the state; hence, uncritical idealism or spiritualism coexists with uncritical positivism and crude, vulgar materialism.

Citizenship in a liberal democratic order is necessarily premised on difference. The citizen is an abstraction, a formal product of a “thoroughgoing transubstantiation” of all the particular qualities, elements, and processes that are synthesized in the constitution of the modern liberal state. But this constitution is nothing else but the exaltation of private property, in short, the sanctification and legitimation of the basis of the disintegration of the state. Everything is turned upside down: the ideal of equality is praised in order to defend the cause of inequality, private property, as fundamental and absolute. From this perspective, what becomes evident is the fact that it is not the separate but consonant categories of normative and descriptive languages in Spinoza that explains the ambiguous co-presence of liberal and authoritarian tendencies; rather, it is the essence of the contradictions in the development of the capitalist mode of production and its ideological-political forms of reproduction. Spinoza’s libertarian heretical impulse concurs with his appreciation of necessity and finitude.

Historicizing the Thinking Body

We find in Spinoza’s thought a mediating expression and symbol of “the most systematically commercialized economy” in 17th-century Europe. We discern in Spinoza’s achievement a reflection of the civic virtues, intelligence and enterprise that the bourgeoisie were “ideally capable of” together with the limitations of the social relations that sustained and reproduced those qualities (Muller 1963, 225). Deborin stressed the dialectical kernel of Spinoza’s thought in positing the reciprocal interaction of all finite things within the “absolutely positive determinations” of Nature as a whole (1952, 110). This also enabled Spinoza to craft a realistic anatomy of the multitude as vulnerable to passions, external causes, and infirmities for which the Ethics was designed, even while he assured us that bondage can be remedied and freedom gained. Amid the wars and dissensions of his time, Spinoza urged men of reason to work for humanist conviviality: “To man, then, there is nothing more useful than man. Man, I say, can wish for nothing more helpful to the preservation of his being than that all should so agree in all things that the minds and bodies of all would compose, as it were, one mind and one body; that all should strive together, as far as they can, to preserve their being; and that all, together, should seek for themselves the common advantage of all” (1994, 209-10).

Caute,” be careful or take care, was the emblem on Spinoza’s ring. Yirmihayu Yovel contends that Spinoza’s dual language was his response to the existential realities of Marrano life in seventeenth-century Netherlands: the ever-present danger of the Inquisition, Spinoza’s status as a dissenter within the Jewish community and (after his excommunication) as a freethinker and reputed atheist in Calvinist Holland. Aside from this, another factor sheds light on the ambivalence in Spinoza’s discourse: his belief that the vulgus or multitude cannot liberate itself from the bondage of the sad passions and the lure of the imagination. Inadequate ideas makes the body vulnerable to external causes whose power over the finite mode of humanity proves itself in confused passivity, hence the superstition of prejudice: “If someone has been affected with joy or sadness by someone of a class, or nation, different from his own, and this joy or sadness is accompanied by the idea of that person as its cause, under the universal name of the class or nation, he will love or hate, not only that person, but everyone of the same class or nation” (PIII46). Human beings are generally prone to envy and vengeance than compassion, Spinoza observes, so it requires “a singular power of mind to deal with each according to his own understanding.”

Spinoza’s fundamental principle inheres in the conatus or endeavor of each person, in so far as he is in himself, to preserve his rationality and persevere in living within the realm of necessity that Nature ordains (Parkinson 1975). But this standard of exercising one’s agency can not be maintained by the majority. Only a few can attain the grade of the scientia intuitiva, the third kind of knowledge, without which freedom and personal salvation are meaningless. Nonetheless, the apparatus of the liberal state and rationalized universal religion may help convert “the activity of the imagination into an external imitation of reason, using the power of authority and obedience” (Yovel 1989, 32), mobilizing the masses to cooperate in the constitutional state’s task of implementing a program of justice and charity.

Despite the psychologizing tendency of the conatus doctrine, Spinoza’s materialism (on this feature, see Curley 1988) allowed him to grasp the determining pressure of social relations on individual conduct. He certainly did not view society as an aggregate of atomized individuals calculating the varying ratios of pleasure and pain. Assessing the dialectics of substance and its attributes in Ethics, Genevieve Lloyd discerns a revealing movement: “From a dynamic physics of bodies emerges a new naturalization of collective social power” (1996, 142). Smith’s portrait of Spinoza as the consummate liberal which I noted earlier will not survive the evidence of Spinoza’s inclination for cooperative endeavor. His “democratic” state is also interventionist and paternalistic. Perhaps this is peculiar to Spinoza’s reaction to the Jewish situation and the political alignment of forces in 17th-century Netherlands, as well as to his longing for a more solid republican hegemony against the menace of an intolerant monarchist absolutism.

Let us revisit Marx’s provocative insights into the “Jewish Question” from another angle. Michael Walzer recounts how the French revolutionaries debated the issue of the emancipation of the Jews in 1790-91. One centrist deputy then declared: “One must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation, and give everything to the Jews as individuals… It would be repugnant to have…a nation within a nation.” And so Jews as individuals with rights were recognized; they could be regenerated by becoming citizens in political society (as Marx extrapolated from experience) while sustaining their corporate existence in civil society. Thus, “the price of emancipation was assimilation” (Walzer 2000, 192-93). Smith would go along with that process. In which case we are reminded of what Jean-Paul Sartre cautioned us sometime ago, in his memorable essay Anti-Semite and Jew, about the democrat who is the only friend of the Jews, who tirelessly dialogues with the anti-Semite with whom he shares the penchant for resolving “all collectivities into individual elements and making an individual the incarnation of universal human nature (1965, 55). Here, the utopian kernel of Spinoza’s view of an inalienable right disappears into the “melting pot” of consumption and laissez-faire negotiation. Forgotten is Spinoza’s axiom that “no one has yet determined what the body can do” for the body, “simply from the laws of its own nature, can do many things which its mind wonders at” (1994, 155-56). Meanwhile, racism and ethnic exclusion acquire new life and virulence in the “New World Order” of globalized finance capital and its terrorist dispensation.

Specter of United States Nationalism

What advice then can Spinoza give to Asians Americans who are today beleaguered, nay besieged, by law enforcement agencies implementing the Patriot Act in the war against stipulated terrorism? How can the “Marrano of reason” assist the stigmatized pariahs of this moribund cosmopolitanism?

An inventory of incidents can scarcely register the pain inflicted by neoliberal fascism. We’ve read of the hate backlash after September 11, 2001, among others: Balbir Singh Sodhi, 49, an Indian-American immigrant in Mesa, Arizona, was murdered without much fanfare; Saad Saad, 35, of Scottsdale, Arizona, was shot by Frank Roque who shouted as he was handcuffed: “I stand for America all the way.” In Arcadia, California, Adel Karas, 48, an Egyptian American mistaken for a Muslim, was killed pointblank at the International Market, a store he owned. The list is endless. Nameless hundreds, maybe thousands—the Justice Dept and Attorney General are keeping it secret—are now detained on mere suspicion, despite challenges by Federal Court judges; many, including those held in Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba, will undergo secret trials before a military tribunal. The early incidents featuring Vincent Chin, or the killing of the Filipino postal worker Joseph Ileto by a white supremacist in 1999, pale in comparison with recent outrages. The latest is the firing of tenured professor Sami Al-Arian from the University of South Florida (Walsh 2002). We cannot speak anymore of toleration, fairness, charity nor justice; war against what the hegemonic power elite considers “terrorism” justifies such extreme measures, some say a “just” and measured response, to defend U.S. sovereignty.

The “repressed” now returns in the strange mix of vigilantism and utopianism. In the last two decades, the “model minority myth” has seduced most Asian Americans into believing that they have finally lived through the period when the country needed an “indispensable enemy” (to use the historian Alexander Saxton’s epithet)—everyone has made it, almost. In fact, testimonies like Eric Liu’s The Accidental Asian, or more recently, Helen Zia’s Asian American Dreams (a vulgarized rendition of Ronald Takaki’s Strangers from a Different Shore), are symptomatic of what Spinoza diagnosed as the state’s power to encroach into the psyche. The state not only rules by coercion or by fear, but employs all means “since it is not the motive for obedience which makes a man a subject, but the will to obey.” Spinoza contends that “obedience is less a matter of the outward action than of the mind’s inner activity, so that the man who wholeheartedly decides to obey all the commands of another is most completely under his rule; and in consequence he who rules in the hearts of the subjects holds sovereignty as much as possible” (TPT, Ch. 20). It is certainly not amor dei intellectualis that motivates Helen Zia to extol Asian American dynamism (personified by her extended family) as the distinctive quality of this heterogenous assemblage of “American people.” Zia concludes that Asian Americans, by pulling their bootstraps, have already become fully acculturated or melted; what is lacking is their acceptance by the larger society. The pathos of this anxiety evokes the sad passions in Spinoza’s Ethics, an affect of mimicry determined by external forces, the appetite of the “model minority.”

Rationality now translates into the entrepreneur’s war strategy. “Turning American” for Zia means moving away from stereotypes, from tales of campaign donations and espionage, to reciting the litany of “model” successes in politics, business, mass media, and so on. Meanwhile, Dr. Wen Ho Lee, the Chinese-American scientist formerly employed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and recently acquitted of the charge of espionage, has just published his account of his arrest and trial, My Country Versus Me. The title ominously captures the prudential strategy Spinoza deployed in his work, but without the drive for joyful wisdom. Lee reflects during his 278 days of solitary confinement without benefit of trial: “I sometimes felt like I must have made a mistake and should not have come to America in 1964 for my Ph.D. I must have done something terrible to have ended up like this. As I sat in jail, I had to conclude that no matter how smart you are, no matter how hard you work, a Chinese person, an Asian person like me, will never be accepted. We always will be foreigners” (2002, 37). Too late a discovery, it seems.

And so, in these days of Enron/WorldCom corporate orgies, we will witness more media scandals of secret campaign contributions, espionage, human rights violations, and so on. It is probably because of the re-invention of the “indispensable enemy” (not Al Qaeda but Saddam Hussein and his doubles) to serve the ongoing US national identity formation, not so much because of the Los Angeles riots, that the genre of the initiation-cum-spy thriller novel, exemplified by Chang Rae-Lee’s Native Speaker, will be the most appropriate vehicle to register our current predicament. All talk of postcolonial hybridity, “double consciousness” performed by transnationals or transmigrants, globalized knowledge-production, deconstruction of binary epistemologies and essentialist discourses, and so on that we read in anthologies like Orientations (Chuh and Shimakawa 2001), becomes complicit with “cynical reason” if it does not confront the racial polity and its ideological state apparatuses operating in the international arena. This exceeds the objective of the disciplinary Kulturkritik of Establishment Cultural Studies and the cosmopolitan populism of high-salaried “public intellectuals” (Mulhern 2000). What is needed is political recharging of both the pessimistic intellect and the optimistic will which Gramsci invoked during times of revolutionary retreat and regrouping.

The “Inscrutable”Enemy

Espionage becomes the theater for discriminating enemies and friends. The reporter from Newsweek who interviewed Lee describes this Chinese-American intellectual as clueless, and despite Lee’s acquittal not entirely blameless for his predicament. Who is responsible for such cruel procedures? “Washington politics and government overreaching,” the Feds’ “over-the-top tactics,” say the pundits; the “unfair manner” of the executive branch, according to the Judge who acquitted Lee. Citizenship rights seem otiose, irrelevant here, even though Lee claims he was innocent. In medias res, Lee subsists in a condition of duality, suspended on that divide between naïve, obedient citizen and a suspect, recalling his life before he was “branded a spy and an enemy agent—a disloyal, lying traitor, one of the most base and awful labels imaginable” (2002, 37). Where are the impartial jurors who can countervail against the premeditated judgment of the fixed majoritarian gaze?

Let us be generous in reviewing the case. We can conjecture that Lee not only practiced a cunning ratio but also carefully tried, in his memoir, to devise a method of reaching the “third kind of knowledge,” the knowledge of necessity, even though mediated by a journalistic narrative. This knowledge concerns not so much the causal order of the universe but the logical operations of the government to which he has sworn loyalty, its Realpolitik, its pragmatic modus operandi in enforcing its commands. He has not surrendered his right to pursue his own advantage, to demand that the social contract be properly carried out; however, his knowledge is inadequate because it assumes that the national-security state plays fair and only commits minor errors. Superstition has gotten the better of the scientist’s mind. His understanding is inadequate because it does not examine the nature of the racial polity of what is now called “homeland,” its long and substantial record of inferiorizing and subordinating the historically differentiated Other, and its mode of idealizing or abstracting those differences and alterities in order to claim moral ascendancy and spiritual superiority.

Despite these reservations, it is clear that insight of acute significance has been registered by the break between Lee’s past life as Federal employee and his present effort to vindicate his honor. What Lee’s case has dramatized most poignantly is the problematic articulation of pact and law, the tension between what Balibar calls “the physics of individual conatus or powers and the metajuridical form of the social contract” (1997, 171). For Lee, unwittingly perhaps, has proved Spinoza’s thesis that “no one transfers his natural right to another so completely that he is never consulted again, but each transfers it to a majority of the entire society of which he has a member. In this way all remain equal, as they were before in the state of nature” (TPT, Ch. 17). It is this freedom which guarantees the strength and security of the state: “Peace is not freedom from war but a virtue, which springs from strength of mind” (Jaspers 1966, 72).

The contradictions of bourgeois society sharpen as the crisis worsens. What cannot be elided over, despite such ruses and subtle legalisms, is the truth that exploitation and oppression thrives on those very same principles of liberal democracy, individual liberties tied to property, and market-determined civilization on which Western hegemony continues to ride roughshod over all of nature and humanity—a paradox which Spinoza tried to unravel and demystify. As noted earlier, Marx succeeded in casting light on the interdependency of bourgeois liberty and private property. Cultural pluralism thrives on inequity. Multiculturalism is the cultural logic of globalized neoliberal capitalism as it seeks to conceal class antagonisms behind the cover of abstract individual liberties. So it is quite possible that the terror of racism which Spinoza envisaged will continue to haunt us in this new millennium as long as the material conditions that produce and reproduce class relations, in effect the material-ideological armature of the U.S. racial polity, remain the sine qua non for the reproduction and legitimation of the dominant social structures and institutional practices of everyday life.

Social contradictions persist everywhere. Given the recalcitrance of citizens in the racial polity, the right of the state—even what claims to be an imperium democraticum—-is not identical, nor co-extensive, with its power in the case of the unruly, oppositional subaltern. Spinoza argued that such states are irrational and deserve to be overthrown. So long as the power of the individual, in this case the conatus immanent in natural right, remains his own within the respublica, it subverts the “society effect,” the production of obedience which validates the effective unity or sovereignty of the imperium. One can counterpose to this proto-fascist legality and military tribunals the Enlightenment solidarity of “progressive humanism” (Palumbo Liu 2002); but such humanism, I fear, has already been thoroughly incorporated into the constitution of the racial polity.

Social justice, the recognition and validation of people’s singular identities and worth, remains the goal of popular mobilization. Not everything is foreclosed. For despite the liberal state’s pragmatic politics of incorporation, and its power to command and enforce its commands, the collective subjects of this racial polity continue to exercise their right to dissent, protest, and rebel not just out of self-interest (“self” here read as a “common notion”)—but precisely for the sake of affirming self-determination, rational autonomy, and communal dignity. What is ultimately at stake, the survival of the planet, inheres in the conatus of every living creature. As Ethics IV, 37, proposes: “Every individual has a sovereign right to everything which is in his power.” In reminding us of this inalienable right of resistance lies, I submit, the permanent resourcefulness and value of Spinoza’s political teaching for people of color, in this period of barbaric anti-terrorism.


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E. San Juan Jr. was a Fulbright Lecturer in American Studies at the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium in the Spring of 2003. His recent books include:Beyond Postcolonial Theory (Palgrave), After Postcolonialism (Powman and Littlefield), and Racism and Cultural Studies (Duke University Press).