Zygmunt Bauman’s conclusion in “Zizek and Morin on monotheism” (from “On Education”) smacks of an intelligently ironic distance which I feel we must adopt more as we find rooms for critique in a neoliberal system touted to be encompassing.
Bauman’s advice: “take the status quo… at its word and so confront it with the full volume of the ambitions it inspires… and endorses—a volume which far exceeds its powers to support it. And so the demands… are bound to accomplish a truly revolutionary feat: to discredit the status quo, lay bare its impotence, and thereby prompts its collapse.”
I was thinking about the resumption of classes and the customary Brigada Eskwela weeks before it when I recall Bauman. Weeks ago, my tita from my mother’s side—one that is dominantly composed of teachers—posted pictures of her and her colleagues doing the typical work done during Brigada. They were designing the classroom, arranging cabinets and chairs, posting class schedules on the doors. My tita used captioned the pictures with #bayanihan, referring to that Filipino value of helping one another and the context of community living.
My initial reaction I would describe now as a bit too pessimistic, if not cynical. I was clutching on a familiar reading: the Brigada Eskwela week only acts as symptom of the inadequacies of the government, proof of the oft-cited faults in our education system. I completely dismissed the positive Bayanihan spirit that was at work in the pictures and is activated in general during Brigada Eskwela.
Before going back to Bauman, let me cite Henri Lefebvre, whose “The Sociology of Marx,” I am currently reading and which also helped me to arrive at these ruminations. In the last major part of the book, “Political Sociology: Theory of the State,” Lefebvre reaffirms and belabours the familiar—and I think insufficiently understood—Marxist proposal of abolishing the state. Lefebvre laments the privileging of “political practice,” represented by the bureaucratic state at the expense of “social practice.” The possibilities for the members of society to assert their agency are thwarted as the state gains this “seemingly autonomous power,” to use Marx’s phrase. The construction of society then—its laws, institutions, norms, accepted behaviours among others—is left mainly at the hands of the bureaucratic state, “under the name of the ‘general’ interest, subordinating the actual interest of society to the interests of ruling groups and government bodies” (157). Contra this, the Marxist alternative, to put it in very general terms, is democratizing the venues for determining the needs of society and the ways by which these needs can be fulfilled.
Do we not see in Brigada Eskwela an actual execution of a promising, some would say ideal, setup developed by the Marxists? Not only: the state is useless. But: the state is useless so why is it still there, why do we still yield to it? Can we not hail the practice of Brigada Eskwela as an exponent of that “self-management” Lefebvre was talking about in relation to the long-term program of rendering the state useless?
And to end, we go back to Bauman: the practice of Brigada Eskwela confronts, even mimics the way things are at present. Annual talks about the national budget never fail to highlight how the education sector gets the highest budget [but only among social services] and thus obscures the fact that debt servicing and the military are the ones really prioritized. And even granting that the sector of education get these billions of billions of funds, how can we explain the shortages—classrooms, textbooks, qualified teachers and so on and on and on…—that still persist and become news fodder every June?
Let us heed Bauman: let us take the status quo and the bureaucratic state which protects it at its word (education sector gets the highest budget blah blah blah) and then take actually existing practices (i.e. Brigada Eskwela, which unsurprisingly can be tied to some of the ‘ideals’ of Marxist visions) to reveal how limited and impotent it is.
The bureaucratic state is too high and mighty and rotten and we know it; we are not really part of it and it hardly ever represented our interests. Always, it is time to do a collective brigade—for our schools, our hospitals, our gardens and farms, and everything that is dear and important to our shared lives.