The wallet of a petty-bourgeois, but…

“He has the wallet of a petty-bourgeois, but the mindset of a big comprador-landlord.” I first encountered this terse comment about a person’s politics back in the early 1970’s, when Joma Sison was still CPP chair.

Being a prolific writer with an opinion on all topics under the sun, with a rapier wit that flashed into action as needed, he simply had to explain the materialist dialectics and class basis of the “Kit Tatad phenomenon” at the start of martial law. Or was that jibe directed at Sal Panelo? I always forget.

Poverty disappears
And his butler adds: “I agree, sir. I may have the wallet of a petty-bourgeois, but at least I no longer see as much poverty as before.”


This Tatad phenomenon is found among many young intellectuals and professionals who, because of their low-income family origins, had to really make good at school and to eke out a living for their college tuition, or become somebody’s scholar if they’re lucky enough.

If and when they succeed enough to land a good-paying job—with a decent salary to pay the bills, raise a family, and start climbing the social ladder, but not enough for them to become landlords or capitalists—they are impelled to display their excellent talents and abilities as befits their profession (whether as a journalist, lawyer, academic, doctor, engineer, or whatever).

This isn’t bad. In fact, success stories such as these help ennoble us. A decent wage or salary is the right of every working-age person, and it could serve as a good incentive (on top of the fundamental ethic) for maintaining high standards of public service.

Problem is, the predominant petty-bourgeois ideology persuades many of these achievers to over-value their intellectual work, to define their success mostly in terms of income, and thus to seek employment from whoever can offer them the highest salary and biggest perks in the labor market.

Now, it just so happens that in our society, the people and institutions that can offer them such salaries and perks are those that belong to the rapacious ruling classes.

Huwag na tayong magbolahan. The Philippine ruling classes, today as 100 years ago, are the big landlords, the big compradors, and the big bureaucrats—many of them scions of 19th century cacique families. They have been so ingrained with the rapacious predator ideology of US imperialism that they wear their dog collar like it was a glamorous and timeless fashion statement.

Now your typical petty-bourgeois intellectual, once he gets employed by the ruling class, still has a wide range of choices—too many to list them all here. But I’ll just mention three  typical choices.

At one pole, you have the radicalized petty-bourgeois who admit that they have to work within the system in order to survive, while fighting its inequities. They often join unions (even organize one if there isn’t any) with its concomitant risks. They resist employer abuses even as they see their work as serving the masses in their own small way, often beyond the call of duty.

At the middle, you have the typical unpoliticized petty-bourgeois, who are mostly quiet (except during videoke), meek and obedient—although they will also fight back if pushed to the wall. (“Because it isn’t easy to find a job today, you know, I have three mouths to feed, one going to college next year, installments on my car and house, and my padrino would be disappointed if I’m reported as a troublemaker at work. But I’ll let you know if I do decide to join.”)

Finally, at the other end of the pole, you have the next generation of aspiring Kit Tatads (and Sal Panelos). They are the ones that, in the most unexpected moment, explode into the brilliance of a thousand shining stars, suddenly get juicy job offers and glamorous awards here and there, accept fellowships from CIA-funded institutions, become members of the Opus Dei, and so on—not because they are 100x better than you and I, but simply because they have mastered the art of sucking the right butt-holes. In just the right places, and with just the right amount of panache. (“Would you mind pressing down a bit harder please, Sir? My tongue can’t quite reach yet, although the surrounding rolls of fat look lovely.”)

And in the national bureaucracy, as well as in certain corporate firms, there is a well-defined hierarchy of butt-holes ready for the sucking by those who clamber up through the lower rungs.

These are the kind of journalists who, if given the chance, will do an obscenely, absolutely frontal Tatad on prime-time national TV.

Only a handful of them are given such chances at any one time, however. So their other colleagues are content with joining the Hallelujah chorus for now, while jostling each other for their own chance at the really big-time.

(Nota Bene: Why must I focus on journalists? In some other article, I might be talking about lawyers like Panelo. In other instances, I might rant about certain academics, especially those who tend to congregate at the UP School of Ergonomics—you which school I mean.* At other times, my peeve of the day would be a whole taxonomy of legislators and mayors. But now I’m alluding to journalists with certain mindsets and thickness of wallet. So there: take it or leave it.)

These are the kind of journalists who will complain when a big group of urban poor households organized by the militant KADAMAY organization occupies a near-abandoned government housing project, because their only other option is to sleep on the sidewalk after having their homes demolished again and again and again.

But you won’t hear any squawk of complaint from these journalists—not one tiny peep!—when giant mining firms tear up a mountain together with its indigenous inhabitants, bleed it to death, and turn rivers and coastlines into a sickening red.

These are the kind of people that make me think up 10,000 ways of being creative with duct tape and dildo. (Think Lisbeth with the dragon tattoo.) But only in certain cases, mind you: that is, when such a person fiercely defends his pro-landlord-comprador, anti-urban poor, anti-union, anti-jeepney-driver, anti-sidewalk-vendor, anti-landless-tiller mindset, as he quietly tends to his well-fattened bourgeois wallet, and worst of all, while he continues to inflict us with his trademark, horribly grating style, 7 dias 24 oras. #

*The UP School of Ergonomics is a world-famous school of comfortable-armchair economics.

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