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Too Stupid to Defend Themselves?


Commoners, Politics and Resistance
by Niklas Reese Abstract:
The poor are considered to be non-political, short-sighted, lacking self-confidence(Franz Walter) and atomized. Their actions in public are often classified as merely non-political coping strategies. In mainstream political theory nowadays the middle classes and the bourgeoisie are usually the ones considered to be the actors of political change and democratization. It seems the middle class is claiming a monopoly on political (even cosmopolitical) activity, employing this cultural capital as distinctional gain in relation to the locals who remain limited to their horizon. The subaltern turns to be the negative (Negativfolie), from which the bourgeois can set off themselves. The article questions these assumptions which have been eternalized in the concept of a culture of the poverty; by drawing on James Scott and others and by cross-examining its hypothesis on the basis of empirical evidence from Philippine class society. Are the terms political and resistance defined in a broader manner? The everyday behavior of the lower classes is highly political and resistant as well. Where subsistence mobilizations develop to social movements, the middle class must give up its claims on the monopoly over being an agent of political change. The original was pubished in German Language: Niklas Reese: Zu dumm sich zu wehren? Die gemeinen Menschen, die Politik und der Widerstand. In: Claudio Altenhain et al. (Ed.): Von "Neuer Unterschicht" und Prekariat. Gesellschaftliche Verhltnisse und Kategorien im Umbruch, Bielefeld, 2008, pp.195-216.

o revolt in sight , argues the political scientist Franz Walter (DER SPIEGEL, May 7 2006). There is little evidence (...) that the humiliated but atomized underclasses, lacking networks and self-confidence resist their marginalization with stamina and firm will. (...) The new underclasses of the redundant miss a collective sense of belonging, self-confidence, an idea of themselves and they lack potentials for organizing, political projects and for disciplined, longterm actions. While mainstream theory has mostly considered common men (Ivan Illich)1 as passive and non1

political, the old left often idealized them as potential revolutionary subjects. When the marginalized in the global south are described this dichotomy completely degenerates into clich. These people are presented to us as ailing in refugee camps or next to garbage dumps and completely inept to act, or in contrary we are presented with revolutionary icons such as Che Guevara or the long-time idealized liberation movements. In my opinion both clichs are only half-truths. People whose lives are shaped by social insecurity are usually neither merely fatalistic nor stand-by revolutionaries.
there the normality (cf. Illich 1982). But Illichs term common men might be unfamiliar for most readers. Therefore I will in the following use the more familiar terms alternatively (especially the more common term commoners - supplemented by the Filipino term common tao which is sort of a exact equivalent of common man but again is not known to people from outside the Philippines.

Ivan Illich calls those common men , who are classified as under- or subclass, poor, marginalized (pushed to the edge), subaltern (inferior or oppressed), or simply the masses i.e. those with lesser income, power and life chances and most disadvantaged and marginalized.

With Illich I consider the often-used term marginalized et al. as inadequate especially when talking and writing about societies in the global south. Marginalized implies describing the verges of societal normality. Common men however are

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Why are the lower classes considered to be non-political?


One may outline five reasons usually encountered when arguing why simple people are to be considered non-political. a) They lack political consciousness, as they do not connect their personal situation to the general social structures restricting their chances in life. Economic problems are understood as individual problems and therefore individual survival strategies are pursued. (cf. Rescher n.d.: 35, Happe/Schmitt 2003) b) Where the subclasses have developed a consciousness of society, it is a false consciousness, in which the status quo is considered as natural, lacking alternatives or even God-given . The objectively' oppressive system controls their heads and often their hearts as well. Most accept reality the way it is defined in the dominant discourse and do not transgress the limits of what may be said or even imagined. The government (Foucault) seems thus to sit firmly in the drivers seat following one of the central assumptions of the theories of Antonio Gramsci or Paolo Freire that injustice works best where the disadvantaged regard it as natural. c) Even where the commoners consider the social structures as unjust, they do not expect that it is within their might to change them; those up there do what they like anyway, so they have no option other than to work the system.2 Filipin@s are considered to be pragmatic, flexible and adaptive, masters in organizing and in beating a path (diskarte). Individual strategies (on a personal basis or within small groups like family or personal networks) are considered more promising - for example by investing into education,
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which enjoys a large reputation in all layers of Philippine society (cf. Author 2007). d) Only the better off can be the ones to change the political circumstances. Commoners seem to get used to the fact that others decide for them and they would rather wait for a messiah than seek strength in collective action, as the Filipino sociologist Randy David (2004a) states (likewise Rescher n.d.: 30). The left avant-garde has often acted like a prince kissing the lower classes, politically awakening them by freeing them from an orientation towards the present, pragmatism and an orientation of unassumingness. (c.f. Jung 1982: 85ff.) At the same time the lower class was often not considered to be able of politics in the first person. This view one can often encountered in everyday mindset of people affined to the left, but there are traces of it amongst left classics as well. In regard to the peasantry Marx (1869: 199) for instance stated that they cannot represent themselves, they have to be represented (though in regard to the working class he declared that the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class themselves) Lenin was convinced that the working class would remain in a mindset of trade unionism and not strive for a revolution of the dominant conditions (but again changed this assumption after World War I). Bourdieu finally assumed that people from the underclass dream of better times, but despite this are afraid of change, because they do not know how to deal with new situations as their Habitus can only slowly accustom to unusual conditions a phenomenon he named hysteresis effect (Bourdieu 1982: 238). e) Where all these reasons do no longer take effect and people think about resisting the dominant circumstances, the ones in power threaten them with repression. This again scares off especially those who get politically active whose staff of life is insecure. Safety first! Both features are prominent in the Philippines: The concern for the staff of life here is joined by the fear of repression: by the goons and private armies of the landlords, by police and the military. There have been more than 1200 political killings recorded in the Philippines since 2001; amongst others trade unionists, journalists, land reform - and other political activists were killed.

In the Philippines this attitude is known as Bahala na (Gods wants it like that). This phrase is usually translated exclusively and with it inappropriately - as fatalism. If bahala na is this way considered as being resigned to ones fate (unimportant whether one submits to Gods will or to social structures), it must indeed be seen in opposition to activating features like swerte (luck) and diskarte ( i.e.: to manage or to fight through). But bahala na can also be understood as activating in the sense of divine providence or taking advantage of certain principles. To believe in ones own swerte can also make people daring, thus subjectively opening arenas for action on the ground of an unshakable belief that whatever may come, we will make it.

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When does the subaltern protest?


There is lots of evidence supporting the outlined explanations for a lack of political action by the subaltern. Nevertheless I consider it premature to deduce from a lacking visibility of behavior acknowledged as political that the subaltern are haunted by fatalism or even consent. This would add insult to misery and be a kind of double victimization turning the marginalized into perpetrators and culprits of their marginalization. In contrast, James Scott (1990: 74ff.) not only doubts that usually the hegemonic definition of reality (thick version of false consciousness ) is accepted, but he even doubts the thin version , i.e. the belief in the lack of alternatives to the system. Putting up with the status quo is not the same as accepting it. The will to change and to get active does not evolve automatically from an objectively miserable situation of exploitation, inequality and poverty, as the immiseration thesis suggests. A set of studies on food riots triggered by structural adjustment programs in the last quarter of the 20th century came to the result that there was no close interrelation between the incidence of riots and national incidences of dearth and distress. () Repeated inquiries have shown that riots do not occur in regions of the greatest sufferings, at the depths of economical slumps or at the highest price levels. (Walton / Seddon 1994:31) The lack of approval of the status quo (far more common than pure fatalism) is not a sufficient cause for getting active either. Niels Mulder comments on the Philippines: The sense of being disgusted with the current political situation is pervasive. Such feelings though are not necessarily a stimulant to seeking positive change. They may also promote cynism, escapism, sectarianism, indifference, consumer culture, or just dogged individualism and sheer survival orientation in an impoverished environment. Mulder 2004:91; cf. as well Author 2007)

tional rights and customs(ibid: 15). Thompson calls this consciousness moral economy. Nowadays we also could call it a sense of entitlement. James Scott observed a similar moral economy amongst farmers (and other groups) in Malaysia and all over the world (cf. Scott 1976 par.). Piven and Cloward express likewise in their classic Poor Peoples Movements (1986: 33). And according to Barrington Moore (1978) the will to change and political activity develops when inequality is perceived as arbitrary and unjust. Protests develop when injustice is felt, when the powerful go too far and do not adhere to the implicit social contract (cf. below). That can be observed in Latin America (Ya basta!), the Philippines (Sobra na!) as well as in Germany: Jetzt reichts! Enough is enough!3

The (traditional) social contract


Where such conceptions of legitimacy are shared collectively, they are particularly effective. Such common sense gets established over decades and centuries and acquires virtually the character of a contract (comparable to social contracts which populate the political philosophy since the times of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau or John Rawls in our times). For Germany this contract might include what the renown research center Allensbach Institut has identified as center of society(Frankfuter Allgemeine Zeitung Feb 22, 2008); amongst others it consists of: support of equal educational chances, mitigation of social inequalities, support of young families plus a tax policy making achievement orientation worthwhile. In surveys the value of social justice is continuously attributed high importance despite all the neoliberal attempts go delegitimize it. Next to this, people in particular expect from the government to facilitate the creation of (acceptable) jobs. This German social contract spells out for a (wage) labor society, what is considered the first and primary criterion of justice (Scott 1976:33) in traditional social contracts (which are usually rooted within agrarian societies) the right to sufficient means, which are enough for living (subsistence). Scott distinguishes two versions of such a contract: The minimal formulation was that elites must not invade the subsistence reserve of poor
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In his classic The Making of the English Working Class, Edward Thompson shows on the basis of the hunger unrests in 18th century England that the protests at that time were not merely rebellions of the stomach. They rather took place within a context of a popular consent on what is legitimate or illegitimate on the market, in the mill, in the baking room and so on(Thompson 1987:16). People acted in consciousness (...) to defend tradiCommoners, Politics, Resistance.doc

The Philippine political scientist Joel Rocamora (1998: 24) believes that in Philippine culture (...) social justice does not manifest itself in class struggle but in a limitation what the upper classes may exert form the poor. Enrichment is considered as too much when one no longer cares only for oneself (a positive act), but when it is considered corrupt', a negative act. (In a similar way: Scott 1976: 7)

people; its maximal formulation was that elites had a positive moral obligation to provide for the maintenance needs of their subjects in time of dearth. [ibid.].4 According to Scott the traditional social contract features furthermore a social obligation of property: When we look closely at the charges the poor make against the rich, they are almost without exception arguments for the social use of property. (Scott 1985: 308)5 Thirdly, the social contract requires respect too; amor proprio, as one says in the Philippines. Scott believes that resistance originates not simply from material appropriation but from the pattern of personal humiliation that characterize that exploitation (Scott 1990: 111f). According to Beverly Silver, worker unrests can be attributed to a large part to the fact that the notion that labor is a deemed commodity and each attempt to treat humans as goods like any other inevitably leads to deep grudge(Silver 2005:34f.). Especially consciousness of ones own dignity might be the crucial reason for the fact that the oppressed not become active only once they know which alternative they fight for and only once their struggle has a realistic chance to be successful - for which the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943 is a concrete example.6
The social contract thus provides for a kind of proto-welfare state that however in its minimal version offers not much beyond a basic provision - a prevention of starvation, advocated for by the World Bank as well. (cf. Gsnger 2001) The unequal distribution of resources and means of production is thereby not considered unfair from the start (cf. footnote 14). Linking the affluence of some to the poverty (or the lesser affluence) of others is (in the case of Europe) an achievement by the workers' movement and their conscious raising activities on the collective dimension of the production of affluence in a economy based on the division of labor. (Though at the same time this workers' movement has only seldom made it a problem that workers in the global north i.e. the core of an neocolonial world system have appropriated lots of surplus value from the global south, i.e. the periphery. The feeling of injustice is further instilled, if one is able to blame a group or a person for the own situation, a clear perception of responsible agents (Walton/Seddon 1994: 52). This fact took a murderous twist in European anti-Semitism (as well as in the anti-Chinese pogroms in Southeast Asia). The reason for resorting to a scapegoat might be that: people experience deprivation and oppression within a concrete setting, not as the end product of large and abstract processes, and it is the concrete experience that moulds their discontent into specific grievances against specific targets (Piven/Cloward 1986: 20). Thus the Jews respectively the Chinese were made responsible in person for capitalism and modernization.

Social unrest particularly arises when traditional production set-ups are modified during situations of upheaval, as especially in such situations the social contract is attacked and undermined. This maybe also ascribed to the fact that in such situations disenfranchisement and intensified exploitation hit many commoners at the same time. (Scott 1976:193)7

"Windows of opportunity
To feel to be right however is usually not sufficient; the decision to rebel follows furthermore mostly a consideration of chances and hazards. Material conditions often make it more reasonable in large and small to conform, not to annoy those who control the resources and put yourself on good terms with them. Take the example of patron-client-relationships, an unequal exchange mode which is prevalent not only in the rural Philippines: For many clients it is the most rational of all options from the point of survival ethics and in a culture of fear and silence which has been carved into society over centuries. The sense of injustice has to be accompanied by an opening of political space which subjectively is perceived as an increase in ones own political opportunities. For that a protest movement develops out of the traumata of everyday life, say Piven and Cloward (1986: 36), the disadvantages and disorders experienced by people must be considered as unjust as well as alterable. Such a subjectively perceived change of political opportunities can crop up with the collapse of societal institutions (as preceding the Russian revolution[s] in 1917) or with a reconstitution of political power schemes (like 1988 in the Philippines by the adoption of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program [CARP]; cf. Author 2006a). Contradictions and conflicts within the elite also take effect in this sense. Where subaltern have the prospect on convincing problem solutions (respectively they are offered such), it becomes more probable for them to get politically active. The imagination of power has always been an important source of real force of labor. (Silver 2005:34) Successful struggles trigger a snowball effect as in the case of the struggle for land at Catulin (Bondoc Peninsula) (cf. Author
The enemies are not impersonal historical forces but real people. (Scott 1985: 347)
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Piven and Cloward assume in addition that in times of fast economic and social changes () it is more difficult for politicians to ignore unrests or resort to punitive measures. (Piven/Cloward 1986:51)

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2006a). In consequence of victorious struggles like the one at Catulin a sense of own strength evolved; people, who up to then considered themselves as weak, developed the belief that they can take their fate into their own hands (see Author 2006a). Apart from this feeling of ones own strength for leading a social and political struggle material resources are required as well: Money as to survive the conflict, access to decision making structures, and above all: Time!8 Factors such as population concentration (densely populated areas), the degree of organizing on which new movements can draw et al. as well play a role for the emergence of protest movements (cf. Walton/Seddon 1994).

To answer this we first need to ask: From which point on can action be considered as political and resistant? Usually one speaks of protest, resistance and political activity only once these are practiced visibly and collectively: in demonstrations, strikes, rebellions or revolutions. The private is (still) not considered as political to most. James Scott, however, operates in his three fundamental works (Scott 1976; 1985; 1990) with a term of being political and resistance, which takes off far before the actions mentioned above happen. Much of the active political life of subordinate groups has been ignored because it takes place at a level we rarely recognize as political. (Scott 1990: 198) Even within the left discourse political is often equated with the intention to influence political institutions and culture(s) and change structures. Where this is even required to happen out of unselfish reasons, struggles of commoners are in fact disqualified as pre- respectively non-political as there struggles often involve material struggles for means of subsistence and consumer goods, struggles called by Velasco subsistence mobilizations (Velasco 2006:110). Often these sections are merely classified as coping strategies only aiming to secure basic needs. To fight in an unselfish way for the public good embodies the self concept of the liberal (mainly middle class) citizenry. Where political action is defined in this way, it can be regarded as a distinction strategy of the middle class. Political (or even cosmopolitical) activity becomes their cultural capital and their distinctional gain in relation to the locals who remain limited to their horizon. The subaltern turns to be the negative (Negativfolie), from which the bourgeois can set off themselves.9 Furthermore Daines and Seddon (1994: 63f.) state: The sharp distinction between defensive survival struggles, which focus on adaptation and coping () and offensive strategies, which aim at extending the room for maneuver and enhance livelihood security through development of social networks and mutual empowerment, is somewhat misleading. The tapping of water and electricity is coping as well as protest and resistance, as one is helping oneself to something from which one believes that one is due to it. This way the concept of absolute property pillar of bourgeois society is not recognized. Ignoring legal property rights is
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The poor dont only organize when they are asked and trained to do so by so-called community organizers. Poverty is not a hindrance to building a community, as the Philippine political scientist Djorina Velasco summarizes her experiences with organizations of urban poor in Metro Manila (2006: 110). And the political scientist Jennifer Franco observed in the course of her co-operation for many years with land reform activists in the Philippines: In the peripheries of the periphery, people are also articulating fragile new orders of difference and possibility. (Franco/ Borras 2006: 4)

When does activity turn political and resistant?


From when on is a behavior political?
There are many possibilities to react to poverty and social insecurity. Many of them are individualistic (fending for oneself) or group-egoistic (restricted to family and other personal networks). I have dealt with these survival techniques in detail elsewhere (Author 2007). In the following I would like to concentrate on the question: Under which circumstances do collective actions of subaltern involve, resisting on a political scale and altering society?
Time is one of the scarcest and most precious goods for many poor, as Berner and Philipps (2004) point out, in particular for women. Procuring a livelihood and thinking about saving time and resources occupies the largest part of their lifetime. Something similar can generally be said about lives under the conditions of social insecurity. Often the jobs are tiring, they strain bodies and psyche and therefore rob the affected of their energy.

A telling example for this is the joke which has been on beat after May 2001 in the Philippines amongst middle class people: "Edsa 1: free the nation from a dictator. Edsa 2: free the nation from a thief. Edsa 3: free lunch, dinner, breakfast and snacks too ... let's go!"

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not regarded as theft. The Philippine political scientist Frances Lo (2007) calls this pockets of resistance.10 When individual strategies are not recognized as political even if they happen on a massive scale, one misses that individual and even secret initiatives are more successful - and thus more rational than collective resistance. Instead of provoking openly by occupying a piece of land, it can be more promising to gradually set up one shanty after the other. Scott calls this behavior piecemeal squatting (1990: 199).

fed up of you 11? What holds true for the blog likewise does for everyday discourse : The less its contents are picked up publicly (for instance in mass media), the more private and thus more ineffective they remain. Thousand upon thousands of such petty acts of resistance have dramatic economic and political effects, writes Scott (1990: 192). 12 Massive tax evasion threatens the state, just work to rule threatens productivity. But as likeable it may be to consider the persons concerned not only as victims of domination but as resourceful agents or as survivors as well: Open resistance is usually more effective and the change caused thereby more sustainable. But at the same time it is also more dangerous for the subaltern to tear down the political cordon sanitaire between the hidden and the public transcript(Scott 1990:18). 13 As public refusal [constitutes] an act of defiance (Scott 1990:203), it may be reasonable to let a declared refusal to comply appear as a practical failure to comply (ibid). Many forms of authority can tolerate a remarkably high level of practical nonconformity, so long as it does not actually tear the public fabric of hegemony. (ibid: 204). At the same time a broad definition of resistance involves the risk of romancing resistance (Groves /Chang 2002). As open resistance became (more) rare, some leftists are inclined to glorify almost
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What about resistance?


Is it that only such acts of resistance contribute to renewal and transition, which are widely spread [and] collectively and intentionally exercised as Silver (2005: 230) presupposes for a classification as workers unrest? Or does the power of defecting and the exodus already undermine the Empire, as Hardt and Negri think? Is migration already a resistant social, even political movement, as Rmhild (2007) is postulating? Are finally all practices politically resistant once they have the effect of gravel in the gearbox of the ruling governementality, no matter whether they are intended to be so? Are shoplifting or hanging out at shopping malls (unexpressed) resistance nowadays (cf. Hartmann/Schlaak 2006: 169ff.)? The concept of the everyday resistance, which Scott regards as a Weapon of the Weak (Scott 1985), locates resistance already at a very low level. Scott regards the spreading of rumors as well as jokes and Schadenfreude (gloating over someones misfortune) already as everyday resistance (passim) especially when happening in the hidden. Groves and Chang consider everyday resistance as small, seemingly trivial daily acts through which subordinate individuals or groups undermine - rather than overthrow - oppressive relations of power (Groves/Chang 2002: 316). Scott speaks of infrapolitics (1990: 19) taking place within a hidden transcript behind the scenes; which Scott distinguishes from an open transcript. It seems to me that the middle class usually only considers the latter as political. Which implies: Only those who express themselves in the open (in form of rallies, petitions, strikes or party politics), may rightfully call themselves political, neglecting that the open word is a privilege of those, who have little to fear (likewise Scott 1990:92). Who can afford to say, Fuck off, capital! We are
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This is what John Holloway demands (2002: 9). But at the same time he also acknowledges everyday resistance. People command a myriad of ways to say No. The driving force behind it is not only insubordination, the open and aggressive rejection of capital, but as well nonsubordination, the more difficult perceptible and more confusing restraint to comply. Frequently the No is expressed in such a personal manner (to color the hair green, to commit suicide, to go crazy) that it seems as if it had no political effects. (ibid: 236) Scott even considers this a social movement: Being a diverse class (), scattered across the countryside, often lacking the discipline and leadership that would encourage opposition of a more organized sort, the peasantry is best suited to extended guerrilla-style campaigns of attrition that require little or no coordination. () Seen in the light of a supportive subculture and the knowledge that the risk to any single resister is generally reduced to the extent that the whole community is involved, it becomes plausible to speak of a social movement. Curiously, however, this is a social movement with no formal organization, no formal leaders, no manifestoes, no dues, no name, and no banner. (1985: 35) Scott distinguishes four variants of political discourse among dominated groups: a) to confront the powerful with their own words, b) the hidden transcript, c) politics of disguise and anonymity and finally d) the rupture of the political cordon sanitaire between that hidden and the public transcript (Scott 1990:18).

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Likewise Marx has considered the theft of wood as form of class struggle (cf. Scott 1990: 195).

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everything as resistance (for instance Hartmann/Schlaak 2006:169ff.), as they need resistance seemingly as much as they need air to breathe. Resistance is part of the lifestyles of (a fraction of) the middle class. (Weidner 2007). 14 But who is involved into a daily struggle of survival probably is tired of fighting. We often care more for the violence of the poor than for their peace as Illich (1982: 116) objects.

Fighting for a better situation


Silver differentiates two forms of worker unrests. Those, which push for higher wages, better working conditions and more comprehensive worker rights(2005: 212) and such which as selfprotection movements react to transformations which undermine the habits and means of life(2005: 167). Both are a protest against proletarianization and commodification, but while the self-protection movements, formed by farmers as well as craftspeople or professionals of all kinds, resist their displacement (i.e. precarization), workers have already been set free. Thus self-protection movements fight primarily against social insecurity - and less for an appropriate share of the surplus value, as this is common for worker unrests that are mostly looked at. The formers crucial problem is uncertainty or rather the right to the necessities of life, but neither equality nor independence. The test for the peasant is more likely to be What is left? than How much is taken? (Scott 1976: 7)15. Probably a similar modesty can be identified in the Habitus of necessity Pierre Bourdieu (1979) described as typical for the French underclass. Scott expects that the stabilization of real income for those close to subsistence may be a more powerful goal than achieving a higher average income; it indicates that we may learn more about the politics of peasants by asking not merely how poor they are but how precarious their livelihood is.
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(1976: 34). For the meantime their objective is neither the whole cake let alone the whole fucking bakery (perhaps even in order to change the recipe) and often we see people exchange their (uncertain) independence for security that comes with dependence (cf. Scott 1976:40 and Mollat 1984:184). Self-protection movements therefore rather take shape as consumer protests, which center on resisting eviction and for an affordable access to water, and do not center on higher wages and labor as producer protests - e.g. the struggles of wage laborers - do. (Karaos 2006:94).16

Velasco considers such subsistence mobilizations to be the typical manner of how the poor become politically active. These mobilizations aim for short-term solutions to urgent problems of communities, but dont surpass the local level and do not form a qualitative break in the kind how public authorities deal with marginalized people. When organizations develop from these mobilizations, they have practical interests as for instance to prevent the demolition of illegalized settlements or enforce other concrete demands. Such struggles are an expression of short-term oriented survival strategies and usually stop as soon as the concrete goal is reached. As they are a matter of existential problems and concerns these struggles are pragmatic, i.e. oriented towards altering the present situation and for the time are hardly being visionary. The struggles of these local organizations cannot be characterized as a rage against the system, says Velasco (2006: 115). Their struggle is not a push for a radical alternative, but an effort at taking part in the mainstream. Becoming legal is a widespread aspiration, (ibid) - probably also because becoming legal is considered as an effective instrument against (social) uncertainty. At the same time these struggles are not a mere No but equally a positive project creating something new. These remarks do not intend to discredit struggles for a more equal distribution of the whole cake or question the desire for a new recipe. But sight
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Anselm Weidner reports on the new middle class-based democracy movements in Eastern Europe: For color revolutionaries revolution is an easy going and trendy lifestyle, as the Otpor-veteran Iwan Marowi explained: You live resistance; thats a lifestyle! (...) Why shouldnt we also have fun in doing so and wear pretty T-shirts? (2007: 1101) In this way social equality is far less a value in the Philippines that culturally evolved as agrarian society than it is in Europe. Social inequality is an everyday characteristic and has a long tradition. The subaltern aim less to climb socially and economically (much less probable in a pronounced class society anyway) but primarily strive to reduce their immediate poverty and to satisfy their needs as promptly as possible.

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Furthermore subsistence mobilizations put into perspective the classical paradigm of workplace-based class struggles and this out of two reasons. Firstly for people in precarious occupations an organization rooted in the community is far more promising than a model, which relies of the positional power of workers in the production process (Silver 2005:140). And secondly mobilizations cannot be traced back only to the social situation or the class position of its participants. The networks of relatives and friends play as much a role as cultural and ethnic belonging like common descendance, language or religion (Scott 1985:43).

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is lost that the whole cake is not the goal, on which the struggle is focus at first, though some get more radical in the process, become more comprehensive and finally aim for the whole cake. For commoners struggles, for all of it is not an end in itself and seldom part of their identity. This little tradition characterized by pragmatism and concreteness and behind many subsistence mobilizations is quickly ridiculed and dismissed as non-political.

the NPA or the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) in Mindanao. The time comes when patience finds its end, because we bake our tortillas not with patience, but with corn, as the Mexican revolutionary Emilio Zapata tells President Diaz in the film Viva Zapata. Rebellions are not the first option as there is much at stake for the subaltern; generally at the end the poor are the ones out in the rain. Mollat has established that in the Middle Ages the poor were used as maneuvering mass in efforts they considered as their own according to statements of the demagogues(Mollat: 170f.). It was the middle class triggering and initiating the protests but the poor who finally had to carry the brunt. After failed rebellions they were not only met with repression by the authorities but additionally with contempt by their middle class-leaders. (Mollat: 172f.; also Scott, 1985:29) Other than the middle class the subaltern can hardly hope to be part of the new elite after a rebellion or a revolution. Being aware of this may be why middle class people more likely call for a revolution and the collective subaltern consciousness is rather hesitant to do so. Where new opportunities arise like in consequence of the CARP in the Philippines (cf. Author 2006a), the landless appreciate that they can materialize their right (to subsistence), without having to put all they have at stake. Even a few hectares of distributed land can mean much. Where agrarian reform has been implemented and the beneficiaries can avail of support the face of the area changes. The productivity of the land substantially increases (up to 80 per cent), most profit remains now with those, who till the land. Farmers can provide their children with higher education, have a balanced diet three times a day, cover their health expenses and can even spend some money on leisure activities. The few attempts of a revolutionary land reform, which the New Peoples Army implemented in areas controlled by them, mainly failed - among others as the NPA could not provide support services (credit, market access, training et al.) and too as these moves often led to increased militarization of the area and triggered repression. Usually the sense of entitlement (claiming rights) broadened in the course of a land struggle transcending the concrete right for enough towards the abstract and to be codified right that those tilling the land should also be the ones owning it (land to the tiller!) Typically what is crucial for peasants is the right to subsistence living from the produce of the land, not a legal claim in itself. () Landlords should pay a fair share of the agricultu-

And what about the revolution?


The desire for legalizing must not be confused with agreeing to the status quo. Legalism, says Eric Hobsbawn does not hold back farmers from starting a revolution. This is because they are inclined to reject also constitutional laws as immoral and unnatural should they take them away their commons. (Hobsbawn 1998:217) Pragmatism and limited goals, one may even say the reformism of the commoners, does not foreclose that they occasionally employ revolutionary means. In Spanish colonial times in the Philippines there were more than 400 rebellions. Fighting for independence against the Spaniards was strongly connected to social reformism within the Katipunan movement. In the 20th century there were several revolutionary movements - for instance the anti-imperial Hukbalahap (for short Huk) against the Japanese from the 1930s to 1950s. And since 1969 the New Peoples Army (NPA) fights against semi-feudalism and semi-capitalism. All these armed struggles were and are usually connected with struggles for land struggles for land, which seemed not winnable otherwise. The people finally viewed taking up arms as the only viable option to improve their living conditions and to terminate exploitation and the violation of their rights through so-called development programs. Thus: Revolution, if the other options are exhausted. Long before they rebelled, peasants tried variety of ways to cope with the drastically changing agrarian condition and to demand reforms. Rebellion was a last resort after other efforts had failed. (Kerkvliet 1979: 256) The Huk developed as a farmer movement challenging the introduction of a capitalistic logic in the rural economy. That many landlords then considered the peasants no longer as clients they are obliged to in a (though unequal) social contract but simply merely as a production factor, which they tried to employ to the lowest cost possible to maximize their profits, has been one of the crucial reasons for the emergence of the Huk. Likewise one could explain the readiness nowadays to join

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ral expenses; landlords should provide tenants with minimum subsistence, and so on. But nothing in their tradition justified taking land for themselves. (Kerkvliet on farmers in Central Luzon in the 1930s; 1979: 255) Again I am not implying that the more realistic is necessarily the more desirable. There are valid reasons for demanding an agrarian revolution in the Philippines i.e. a redistribution of land and support services without compensating those who have exploited the peasants over decades or even centuries. With the above explanations I simply wish to provide for a better understanding why the subaltern might not be excited to call for an agrarian revolution (right away) - instead of blaming them for a (at first) reformist attitude.

terested in short term goals, but they simply consider pursuing limited, concrete goals as more realistic - more than that must become imaginable first. Concrete struggles can contribute to the development of conflict skills. In summarizing four studies on survival and social conflict Denyse Harari and Jorge Garcia Bouza come to the conclusion that survival issues can become the root of future political activities(Harari/Garcia Bouza 1982:80).18

Successful struggles
Successful struggles though also rely on networking with other grassroots organizations and movements as networking usually leads to a broadening of perspectives, which enables an approach beyond merely instrumental negotiation strategies. By participating in such networks grassroots organizations can realize that their local problems are quite common and they may connect their locally bound issues with national and even global developments (Daines/Seddon 1994:61). This way the common personalization of injustice (the evil boss or the greedy Chinese/Jew) may be transcended and by that it is preventable that political protest simply functions after the beggar thy neighborprinciple. Additionally it needs strength and courage to withstand repression and weaseling out consent (Author 2006b) as usually police, military and private armies step in where subaltern try to organize themselves or the ruling forces and business, respectively, try to split them by divide and rule
created the space to reclaim them post factum. In this sense the revolution happened at the border of the conceivable.(Troulliot 2002:95; likewise Scott 1990:225)
18

Do subsistence mobilizations lead to social and political movements?


It is always like this: At first the immediate struggles are against those instances and effects of power which are close-by as Hartmann and Schlaak believe (2005: 169). But immediate struggles alone do not change the structures keeping the commoners poor and oppressed; this is an insight often resulting from politicization, which happens during subsistence mobilizations. Should social movements which are supporting and fighting for political ends, whereby political in this regard is understood as focusing on the structures, be supported or rather be constituted by subaltern, they must take off from their immediate - lives, troubles and aspirations. Then exists the chance to change society from the (grass)roots. What applies to the hidden transcript, applies to subsistence mobilizations as well. They precede the political, i.e. they are not yet political, but they are often an important requirement that issues will be advanced in public. But they are certainly not antidotal to the political as the term non-political suggests. During subsistence mobilizations rights are discovered, political latitude is realized, forms of resistance are given a try and by that readiness for conflict is created. Fields of possibilities develop, which overcome the limitations of the think- and the say-able and trigger an inflation of demands.17 Commoners are not generally only in17

Michel Rolf Trouillot writes about the Haitian revolution: The revolution has been neither accompanied nor been prepared by an explicit intellectual discourse. (...) The demands of the revolution have been too radical to have been formulated ahead of the achievement. Only the victorious practice

Organizations however are no panaceas. Apart from that individual initiatives are often more successful - and therefore more rational - than collective resistance (see above), for people without market-, organizational or production power (terms following Silver 2005:30) riots represent often a particularly successful form of anonymous, direct and collective action. Hobsbawn (1998: 28) speaks of destroying machines [as] collective bargaining by the means of riots . Piven and Cloward (1977) consider the incitement of revolt and chaos as a successful weapon of socio-economically marginalized groups. Often it is the fear of chaos and revolution, which moves the rulers to make concessions, as Piven/Cloward say (1986: 50). Political influence of the poor develops by mobilization and not by organizing say Piven and Cloward. The latter, they argue, even diverts them from mobilizing and often even leads to cooptation and the cushioning of rebelliousness (cf. the preface by Stefan Leibfried and Wolf Dieter Narr for the German translation of Piven/Cloward 1982: I-XL).

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strategies or with the help of bribery [carrot politics] (cf. Author 2006b).19 The commitment of the middle classes should indeed be critically analyzed; but not every solidari19

Karaos though observed that the divide and rule also takes place to the benefit of the poor.: The fragmentary character of urban poor formations has not necessarily been disadvantageous to the urban poor, since it has allowed them to gain concessions from the state. Although there have been number of cases of collective action staged by the urban poor around supra-local concerns and numerous attempts at coalitionbuilding, these have not led to greater unity. In fact, urban poor communities have been competing with or even fighting against each other in trying to maneuver within the spaces provided by political conjunctures. (Karaos 2006: 50)

ty with the subaltern by the better-off (for instance with the help of NGOs) is mere philanthropism. They can in fact act as support in the struggles of the poor when providing access to material and intellectual resources or provide contacts and function as brokers(Hilhorst 2003) to political decision makers. Niklas Reese is a researcher at the University of Bonn and a lecturer for South East Asian Studies at the University of Passau in Germany. For over a decade he is a staff of the philippinenbro, a socio-political information center on the Philippines for the German speaking countries.

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