A review of Walden Bello’s 'Counterrevolution'
MANILA, Philippines – Dr. Walden Bello’s latest book Counterrevolution can be compared to a leisurely and fulfilling 9-course degustacion dinner. The book is laid out in exactly the same manner: one small, signature dish after another; one short, exemplary chapter after another.
In fact, after reading the book, I couldn’t decide which chapter was my favorite. Much like how one feels after a degustacion dinner: parang masarap lahat, from the appetizer to the dessert. Ganoon ang pakiramdam ko sa libro ni Walden: parang ang galing ng lahat ng chapters. From the introductory chapter to the chapters on Italy, Indonesia, Chile, Thailand, India, Philippines, and the North (US and Europe), to the concluding chapter – the narratives were very clear and thought-provoking. Even Dr. Jojo Abinales’ foreword at the beginning of the book was thought-provoking and inviting.
Walden's focus on “Right-Left” configurations across country experiences and throughout recent history gives the book its distinct flavor. A number of books about the Far Right and authoritarian populism have surfaced lately but I don’t think I’ve read a book about the Right quite like this one – with this kind of focus (i.e class-based politics) and this kind of approach (i.e historical and comparative).
That the book has been nominated for the 2020 Barrington Moore, Jr, award for Best Book in Comparative and Historical Sociology is not at all suprising.
Perhaps the most important chapter in the book – especially for students and observers of global politics – is Chapter 9, the concluding chapter on the “origins, dynamics and consequences of Counterrevolution.” I think this chapter drives home the point that there is a connection between class-based politics and the rise of the Far Right but that some nuancing has to be made between a counterrevolution against an insurgent underclass (as in the cases of Italy, Indonesia, Chile, and Thailand) and a counterrevolution against liberal democratic arrangements (as in the cases of the Philippines, India, and the US and Europe).
The concluding chapter is very interesting also because it talks about possible ways forward – on how to counter counterrevolutions. I believe this is the most important question in many readers’ minds: how do we stop this madness?
Walden offers 6 propositions and a sort of concluding statement: “The times, in short, call for a progressive politics that goes beyond calling for a return to the old discredited elite democracy, where equality was purely formal, and mobilizes the citizenry behind a national popular program that has at its centerpiece the achievement of genuine economic and social equality, whether one calls this socialism or post-capitalism.”
I agree totally with Walden’s normative propositions. What I think may be lacking is a discussion of realpolitik. Because even as Walden is correct in saying that elite democracy has been discredited, the fact of the matter is, the institutions of this discredited elite democracy are really still the only tools that we have to challenge the fascists and populists: elections, courts, Parliaments, Parliaments of the street, political parties, trade unions, peasant movements, youth movements, feminist movements, civil society organizations, mainstream media, social media. (READ: Constitution making as a revolutionary process)
Perhaps the only other tool would be an armed revolution that would bypass all these liberal democratic institutions, but that would mean even more violence – in addition to the already violent environment created by counterrevolutions. Do progressives really want more violence? Can our nations really afford more violence?
As for Walden’s take on Duterte and the counterrevolution in the Philippines, here are my comments. I agree with practically all of his propositions in this chapter, except perhaps for two things. Firstly, on Duterte as a “fascist original.” While Duterte ticks all the boxes of what it means to be a fascist, I honestly don’t believe that there is an originality to his fascism. I agree with Walden that Duterte does not simply seek to reproduce the Marcosian past or preserve the liberal democratic status quo and that his trajectory is an authoritarian future, but I think Walden may have failed to mention that what Duterte may actually want is just a reproduction of his governance of Davao City. (READ: Bello: Philippines in 'brave new world' of politics under Duterte)
I honestly don’t believe that Duterte has a political project or a development project. I do not see any evidence that he has such a project. I think he just wants to make a mark or leave a legacy behind – never mind if that legacy involves killing 27,000 people in 3 years. To say that there is a rationality to Duterte’s fascism other than his quest to carve a distinctive place in history may be an overestimation of Duterte.
Secondly, I need to point out that Walden could have elaborated on Duterte’s misogyny. Especially since he has a section on Duterte’s carino brutal in his chapter on the Philippines, and in the concluding chapter, he claims that “right wing parties and personalities are strongly misogynistic.” Duterte’s misogyny needs to be described because it could explain a sub-phenomenon within the Duterte phenomenon, i.e that Duterte does not hate all women, he only hates the likes of Leila de Lima and Leni Robredo and Risa Hontiveros, and that is exactly what misogyny is. Only the women who dare break the patriarchal code or challenge the sexist script will be punished. Had Walden elaborated on this, he may also have arrived at the conclusion that gender-based movements and not just class-based movements may be crucial in countering counterrevolutions.
I have to say, though, that I really like Walden’s last sentence in his chapter on the Philippines: “Duterte has played geopolitics with skill, recognizing the shift in power in the East Asian region from China to the United States, while also using US-rhetoric to burnish his nationalist credentials. He may also see himself as part of an authoritarian regional alliance that is geared to deliver effective government.” It seems to me that this notion of an “authoritarian regional alliance” is another book waiting to be written. I hope Walden considers writing such a book. – Rappler.com
The author teaches political science at the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU). She presented this review at the launch of Bello’s book on January 20, 2020 at the UP-CIDS, UP-Diliman. The Philippine edition of Bello’s book is published by the Ateneo University Press.