Bulletin, 5 December 1989, pp. 62-63.

Post-Confucianist politics are not much conjured with in Paris or Prahran where the discourse cultivated throughout the 80s has been “post-modernist” culture. Yet the topic of “Post-Confucian Societies” is the Japanese Government’s main research project for the social sciences, aiming to anticipate changes throughout East Asia.

Most of the region’s 1.5 billion inhabitants have yet to encounter modernism, let alone begin fretting over the death of post-modernism’s authors. Much the same is true across most of the globe where, in the daily round of making a living, the neighbourhood well continues to hold its own against the TV set as pivot for the outlook of all but a handful.

Twentieth-century capital is still struggling against what in the West is called feudalism, where cultural values and social practices have persisted long after their economic system had been demolished by the socialist and technical process needed for accumulating capital. Yet, the more rapidly that economic transformation is complete, the more lively is there to be a cultural backlash from the majority whose settled lives and beliefs have been smashed or trampled.

Examples drawn from Iran, Arabia, Afghanistan, New Guinea, Australia and Japan in the 80s show both the variety and resilience of this competition between economic-technical change on the one hand and cultural attitudes on the other.

Although Iran’s Islamic revolution growing our of the Shah’s success at modernizing that economy is the mightiest recent example, no society is entirely free form this conflict between post-modern productive systems and feudal attitudes. Saudi Arabia has six-lane highways but women are forbidden to hold drivers’ licences.

Long before the Mudjahadeen will ever have jobs to lose to a roboticised factory, they have learned to operate computer-directed Stinger missiles. Men who kill women for going to school are themselves getting post-graduate proficiency in highly mechanized slaughter.

Japan’s Communist and Buddhist parties each draw large number of their supporters from workers who have been sucked into the conurbations of Tokyo or Osaka and who are looking for a community to replace the lost village. The enormously popular Tora-san movies which appeal to this nostalgic sense of locality are directed by a communist.

On the extreme Right, the campaign to revive traditional Japanese culture has been led by Toshiro Mayzumi, who composes avant-garde Western-style music. The contradictions are embodied in individual as much as they are embedded in societies.

Distinct reactions to differing rates of change are equally evident in West Irian where remoter villagers have been resisting the fact of outside contact while urbanized professionals have sought professionals have sought Irianese roots through the researches of anthropologists such as the late Arnold Ap.

Nor is it surprising that, during a decade when Australia’s economic crises seemed increasingly impossible to manage politically, the environment should be turned to with a so much enthusiasm. As inheritors of one of the few societies without its own pre-capitalist past. Australians have had to step back beyond tradition into nature for some antidote to fast capitalism.

This harnessing of progress to atavism infects scientific thinking where U. S. astronauts promote Creationism. The Pope’s recent acknowledgement of heliocentricity is not matched by widespread understanding of why summer is hotter than winter. Quantum physics has become so difficult that some researchers have trade their slide-rules for Tibetan prayer wheels.

Poets and Geoffrey Blainey cannot conceive their imagery of personal or ethnic inheritance in terms of genes, thereby reconfirming Mephisto’s claim that “blood is quite a special juice”.

In reporting the past decade – a tussle between capital and socialism – media and scholars alike have largely mistaken the vanguard for the baggage train. A more accurate summation would begin by seeing the 80s as another installment in a 600-year tug-of-war between capitalism and feudalism. Failing to recognise the persistence of various pre-capitalist strands in every society means that contemporary experiences are discussed under headings irrelevant to such internal dynamics as the feudal/Confucians social orders possess.

For example, US broadcaster Dan Rather’s June 1989 characterisation of Deng Xiao-ping as a “Maoist” did more than display ignorance of Chinese factional politics since the mismatch of terms highlighted that [p. 63] Stalinist, Revisionist, Marxist and socialism itself are epiphenomena when projected against the great wall of China’s residual Confucian social order. Viewed from that perspective, it might make better sense to refer to Mao as a bandit – a perennial village anarchist who waged war against the heaven from whence come all mandates to rule.

Thus, the Japanese bureaucrats are somewhat premature in their discussion of post-Confucianism since Confucian social orders are doing very nicely in the two Chinas, both Koreas and even in that seemingly most post-modern of society – Japan itself.

When the Japanese communist daily headed its review of Bertolucci’s epic “NOT the last Emperor”. Akahata’s film critic was thinking of Hirohito but the comment applied even more to Deng Xiao-ping and Kim Il Sung. Japan’s communists are interested in abolishing the position of emperor primarily as a means of hastening the demolition of what is known as “the emperor system”, that patter of quasi-Confucian obligations and obedience which aims to keep every Japanese in her or his proper place – working, obeying and nowadays either saving or spending, according to their age group.

A cliché in Japanese society is to accept an unwelcome decision by muttering a phrase the meaning of which ranges from the inconsequential “It can’t be helped” to the fatalistic “there is no way out”.

Women are the primary victims of the emperor system although their patience, persistence and endurance are finding limits – as was evidenced in the July election results, best understood as a cultural volcano cracking the social crust rather than as a direct challenged to Japan’s one-party state. In such roundabout ways is the old order transformed.

Whig historians have been lampooned for always finding a rising gentry to provide the socio-economic base for cultural and political change. Rather than dismiss the Whig contention, we should ask why the gentry is always having to rise? And against whom? The 80s have provided another wagon-load of evidence that the bourgeoisie has had to keep on rising because the pre-capitalist social orders have never been obliterated.

Many bourgeois inheritors of the French Revolution were uncertain what to make of their bicentenary in July. Margaret Thatcher thought that the Greeks and Magna Carta had done more for democracy. Clive James ridiculed the idea of regicide in England since the Windsors were better shots than the Trots.

Neither Thatcher nor James had heard of Oliver Cromwell and King Charles’s head which cleared the way for the 300 social order at the price of compromise with the landed aristocracy. Thatcher’s own revolution is but one instance of modernizing capitalism’s battle against the ancient regime. Instead of representing the landed estates, her Tories represent the real estate agents.

This year’s favourite academic game has been to show that the French Revolution did not happen. Recent discussions of the Russian and Chinese revolutions have not gone so far as to suggest that they were figments of Whigish imaginations. Instead, what happened in 1917 and in the run up to 1949 is contrasted unfavourably with an imagined alternative in which “democracy” was prevented by the intervention of Leninist cadres.

On the contrary: it is more likely that, had Lenin and Mao failed, their places would have been taken by right-wing dictatorships which – like the Meiji oligarchs, Mussolini or Hitler – would have combined economic rationalization with more primitive forms of ideological irrationality.

One way to explain the role of socialist revolutions throughout this century is to recognise that sate and corporate power had to be concentrated to break down village gates, often at the expense of re-enforcing defensive village mentalities.

The Czar’s proclamation freeing the serfs could hardly alter their actual living situation, which required World War I to shake loose enough of the old social order to let the Bolsheviks launch a further installment in the struggle against serfdom.

Stalin became a statist modernizer, like Hitler and Mussolini. Communist parties in colonies such as Korea and Indo-China engaged in nation building – first as independence fighters and then, if they won state power, as modernizers through a primitive accumulation of capital by expropriating the peasantries.

It seems that only a cadre committed in overthrowing the whole system could establish state machineries implacable enough to break down the village gates in Russia and China (thus confirming the Hungarian joke which defines socialism as the shortest road to capitalism.)

Each step forward requires at least one step sideways, so that the renovation of the Soviet economy is being attempted through a resurgence of Russia’s emperor system around the reforming czar Mikhail.

Much of the old guards’ rigidities throughout Eastern Europe has been a rejection of modernity. In this outlook they found support among the church hierarchy. The West German Right enjoyed visiting the East because its polite orderliness was like their Germany was before consumerist capitalism made everything go so much faster after 1960.

Poland seems headed for a mixed marriage between social democracy and theocracy of the John Paul II mould. In addition, capital might yet need a Romanian-style autocracy to break Solidarity-led strikes against the austerity measures essential to collect the interest on national debts.

If the comedians who brew up editorials for the Wall Street Journal took time to read that paper’s in-depth reports, they could appreciate why their delight in the 80s as the decade which saw the triumph of market forces and bourgeois democracy is shortsighted. Ten years before, Brezhnev looked back on the 70s as proof that the Soviets would dominate the world by the year 2000. Ten years earlier still, hippies had been doing it their way around Woodstock. In this era of fast capitalism, today’s historic victories are tomorrow’s vain bonfires.

More importantly, the self-proclaimed victory by market forces over centrality planned economies is secondary for as long as the battle around most of the globe remains one between feudalism-cum-Confucianism and capitalism.

Though that struggle will again assume fresh forms, of one continuity we can be certain: resistance from the feudal/Confucian systems is not about to disappear any more than the pace forced by the revolutionary needs of fast capitalism is going to slacken.

Far from drawing to a close during the 80s, human history – with its attendant ideologies – is warming up for another round in which capitalism must once more escape from its part as successfully as it has eluded one of its possible futures.