Reconstructing C.S.PEIRCE’S Pragmaticist Ethics


Peirce’s Ethics:    Problematizing the Conduct of Life

E. San Juan, Jr.

University of Connecticut and Washington State University tapaya_mural

 

abstract

Charles Sanders Peirce’s ethics is based on his pragmaticist theory of meaning elucidated by his phenomenology and its transcoding into practice. An example of how meaning acquires practical effect is cited from Peirce’s lecture on signs and their interpretation. His anti-imperialist stance against U.S. colonization of the Philippines has never been discussed before. This is the first time Peirce’s politics is manifested in conjunction with his anti-nominalist explanation of signs and their ethical implications.

Keywords: Peirce, Ethics, Pragmatism, U.S Colonialization, Politics

MABINI REVIEW| VOLUME 7 (2018): 1-39 © 2018 E. San Juan, Jr. | ISSN 2012-2144

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Introduction

When the famous Moscow Trials (1936-38) against Trotskyists and other alleged enemies of the Soviet Union, pragmatism was still relatively an academic affair. Peirce died in 1914; his collected papers did not appear until 1931. William James’s popularization of Peirce’s ideas, Pragmatism: A New Name for some Old Ways of Thinking, was published in 1907. In 1931, John Dewey traced “The Development of American Pragmatism” in the wake of his major discourses on experimentalism in Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920), Human Nature and Conduct (1922), and Experience and Nature (1925). Not until after World War II will Peirce be acknowledged by Bertrand Russell and others as the United States’ most wide-ranging, innovative and original philosopher. While Peirce could not have predicted and commented on the Moscow Trials, Dewey found the opportunity to intervene and put his mark on the controversy surrounding this memorable turning point in revolutionary politics.

The Moscow Trials, also known as Stalin’s “Great Purge,” exemplified one man’s autocratic rule in a totalitarian state. The defendants were charged with conspiring with Western powers to assassinate Stalin, dismember the Soviet Union, and restore capitalism. They were suspected of exploiting the popular discontent brought about by Stalin’s forced collectivization of the farms and the political crisis of 1928-33 In May 1937, the Commission of Inquiry into the Charges Made Against Leon Trotsky, was set up in the United States by Trotsky’s friends to establish the truth about the trials. Chaired by the now famous philosopher John Dewey, the Commission travelled to Mexico to interview Trotsky and hold hearings from April 10 to April 17, 1937.

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After a thorough examination of evidence, the Dewey Commission found all those condemned innocent of the charges, dismissing the trials as “frame-ups.” Confessions were extracted by torture, blackmail, and terror (for analysis of this period, see (Ulam 1973, 410-33). Nonetheless, radical intellectuals like Langston Hughes, Stuart Davis, Lilian Hellman, Corliss Lamont and others approved if not endorsed the outcome of the horrible events. Millions involved in the trials were imprisoned or executed. Trotsky was assassinated in 1940 by Stalin’s agent. In 1956, Kruschev denounced Stalin’s monstrous crimes and began the rehabilitation of Stalin’s victims such as Bukharin, Zinoviev, etc., as “honest Communists” (Garraty and Gay 1972, 1002-1004). In January 1989, the official newspaper Pravda reported that 25,000 persons had been posthumously rehabilitated.

Leon Trotsky, the chief accused in the Moscow Trials, wrote a defense of his case in 1938 entitled “Their Morals and Ours.” His primary argument deploys the efficacious power of the class struggle in history which serves as the rational basis of individual choices and decisions. He rejects the ascription to Bolshevism of what he calls the Jesuitical maxim of “the end justifying the means”; historically, Trotsky contends, the Jesuits represented the forces of reaction against the progressive Protestants. Eventually, the Jesuits adopted Martin Luther’s opportunism by adapting themselves to “the spirit of bourgeois society” (1969, 14). Ultimately, Trotsky appeals to a universal criterion that can validate the legitimacy of group actions: “From the Marxist point of view, which expresses the historical interest of the proletariat, the end is justified if it leads to increasing the

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power of man over nature and to the abolition of the power of man over man” (1969, 36; see the discritimating critique of instrumentalism by Lukes [1985]; see also Somerville [1967] for an overview of the problem).What Trotsky failed to specify is the historical mission of the proletariat, the privileged class, to advance the humanist project of developing the capacity of society to control the natural environment and adjust social institutions so as to fulfill the needs, spiritual and physical, of the majority of the toiling masses, outlined in Marx and Engels’ “Communist Manifesto” (1968, 31-63). The fundamental premise of Marxist ethics is derived from the persistence of class antagonism (rooted in contradictory modes of production and social formations) as the ultimately conditioning rule or principle determining, historically contingent consequences that can be judged eiher right and wrong, good and evil (Singer 1994, 243-46).

Dewey’s Interpellation

Dewey’s comment on Trotsky’s polemic concerned the putative Marxian gloss on the relation of means and ends in social action. Dewey states: “I hold that the end in the sense of consequences provides the only basis for moral ideas and action, and therefore provides the only justification that can be found for means employed” (1968, 52). Dewey insists on the close interdependence of means and end. He requires actors to perform an “unscrupulous examination of the means that are used, to ascertain what their actual objective consequences will be as far as it is humanly possible to tell—to show that they do ‘really’ lead to the liberation of mankind.” The end in

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view also functions as the means to direct action. But this is not a matter of personal belief, Dewey emphasizes,” but of the objective grounds upon which it is held: namely, the consequences that will actually be produced by them” (1968, 53); see the expositions of Shahakian (1963, 318-40); and Kaplan (1961, 13-52).

Dewey faults Trotsky’s reasoning because it invokes “an alleged law of history,” the historical movement of the class struggle reduced without taking into account what Agnes Heller calls the “ethics of the personality and the good” (1984, 163). Instead of an inductive investigation of the reciprocity of means- consequences, Trotsky’s wrongly deduces results from a “fixed law of social development.” Dewey concludes that “No scientific law can determine a moral end save by deserting the principle of interdependence of means and end,” so “given the liberation of mankind as end, there is free and unprejudiced search for the means by which it can be attained” (1968, 55).

Rational dialogue and intelligent contract/agreement between persons are involved in Dewey’s inquiry. While Dewey’s formulation envisages the intended results of individual actions, which resemble the classic utilitarian consequentialist argument, it also involves an experimental analysis of problematic situations, not single objects. It engages “the contextual whole of experience” which furthers the growth of creative intelligence as ”the only moral end” (Talisse and Aikin 2012, 120). This departs from the orthodox arguments of utilitarianism and its variants, as elaborated in Foot (1967) and in Weinberg and Yandell (1971). On the surface, there is no basic antagonism between Trotsky’s objective of

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systemic change and Dewey’s reconstructive improvement of the system via educational reform. Nonetheless, Bernstein judges Dewey’s program as insufficiently radical because “he underestimates the powerful social, political, and economic forces that distort and corrupt” his ideal of expansive creative intelligence (1971, 228). I think Bernstein’s opinion ignores the nuanced evaluation he made in his earlier introduction to Dewey’s philosophy (1960, ix-xlvii).

The Peircean Difference

How would the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, Dewey’s friend, treat this situation? Peirce’s evaluation of Trotsky’s ethical standard would concur with Dewey’s logic of experimental inquiry in line with the pragmatic maxim of appraising conceivable practical effects (Scheffler 1974). But Peirce’s position would differ in three respects (discussed further below): 1) Knowledge of values (good or bad) depends on mediation via the intersubjectivity of interpreters, or community of inquirers; 2) Hypothetical reasoning is a process mediated through signs oriented to the future, the counterfactual discovery of the coincidence of truth and reality in the long run; and 3) Mediation of the theoretical by the practical is carried out from the horizon of the ‘ethical, as ‘socialist logic,’ by history and commonsense” (Dussel 2013, 162).

The Latin-American philosopher Enrique Dussel affirms a solidarity between Peircean pragmatism and the ethics of liberation gounded in the life of the subject as “the ultimate uncircumventable criterion of truth” (2013, 172). For Peirce, the human subject is the purposive

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community of inquirers cognizant of the role of chance (tychism) in a universe governed by continuous possibilities (synechism). Values cannot be separated from the teleology of active interpretants (Short 2007, 344-47). By way of Peirce’s evolutionary cosmology, the historical field of forces enters the investigation of ideal ends that inform the normative science of ethics. The ethical will of the scientist can unite with evolutionary love, the eros of the universe, in a temporal process of search and discovery (Peirce 1992, 352-71).

Logic and ethics are therefore rooted in a social principle, what Dussel calls “the processual reality of the corporeality of the life of the cultural, historical, and human subject” (2013, 162). Moreover, Peirce’s discourse on “evolutionary love” amplifies the argument for a knowable reality, the liberation of human powers in a future consensus that would witness the fulfillment of the hypothesis of the unity of truth and reality in historical time. Evolution defines the parameter of ethical judgment. The formation of habits or rational conduct (beliefs translated into action) which mediate mind and matter, chance and law, demonstrates the evolutionary tendency of the world toward concrete reasonableness. In this context, the inquiring sensibility manifests a moral character equal to that of the self-sacrificing heroes of revolutionary struggles in history, as Peirce reflects: “At the very lowest, a man must prefer the truth to his own interests and well- being and not merely to his bread and butter, and to his own vanity, too, if he is to do much in science”(CP1.157).

In what follows, I explore the interanimation of Peirce’s ideas of liberty and concrete reasonableness achieved through self-control. The summum bonum is the

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ethical destiny of “the reasoner’s aspirations,” a social good equivalent to the liberation of humanity and the fulfillment of universal physical and spiritual needs. Reasoning, for Peirce, is a form of controlled conduct—the locus of ethical wisdom—whereby a person can “make his life more reasonable. What other distinct idea than that, I should be glad to know, can be attached to the word liberty” (1998a, 248). This encapsulates Peirce’s dialectic of thought and action, theory and praxis. We need to contextualize this theme in terms of how pragmatism has been publicly received and appraised before citing a particular instance of its application.

Clearing the Ground

By consensus, Peirce laid the groundwork for pragmatism as scientific theory, later vulgarized by psychologist William James so that Peirce himself in 1905 rechristened his view “pragmaticism.” In 1878, Peirce proposed a way of ascertaining the meaning of words in propositions. He said: “Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object” (1998a, 135). James, however, misconstrued this as a theory of truth so that ideas prove their truth “just so far as they help us get into satisfactory relations with other parts of our experience,” manifesting their “practical cash value” (1982, 213), and thus converting it into an instrumentalist if not subjectivist, idealist notion. This is how the Soviet Union scholars treated James’s pragmatic

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truth as valid on the basis of practical utility which “understands not confirmation of objective truth by the criterion of practice, but what meets the subjective interests of the individual” (1967, 358). Such a transmogrification of Peirce’s philosophy into a mode of bourgeois instrumentalism speaks volumes about totalitarian state dogmatism (San Juan 2017).

For Peirce, truth can only be legitimately pursued by the cooperative work of inquirers committed to a socially constructive goal, not by isolated individuals. Peirce argues that the private self has no intuitive or introspective faculty allowing access to cognitive insights. “Self” is a hypothesis needed to account for errors, ignorance, inadequacies (Appel 1981). In short, the monadic ego/persona is cognized through mistakes, misconstruals, fallibility. Opposed to philosophies of consciousness (inspired by psychoanalysis or Heideggerian ontology), Peirce posited mind as comprised of the complex articulation of feeling (Firstness), reaction or contradiction (Secondness), and rules of learning or representation connecting the first two (Thirdness). We elucidate further this dialogic hermeneutics of the mind and its ramifications later on.

That banal misconstrual of pragmaticism degrades even a sophisticated survey such as Contemporary European Philosophy by Polish Dominican scholar I.M. Bochenski, an expert on Soviet dialectical materialism. Bochenski opined that pragmatism denied the existence of a “purely theoretical knowledge” since it reduced “the true to the useful” (1969, 114). Following that repeated doxa, pragmatism is considered synonymous with utilitarianism, instrumentalism, even opportunism. In contrast, Peirce’s

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texts insist that both reason and experience are symbiotically operative in pragmaticism. Essentially, Peirce proposed a method for clarifying the differences among ideas through anticipating their conceivable future practical effects, even discordant or incongruous sensible effects that evince practical significance. In “The Fixation of Belief,” Peirce distinguished between belief as action- guiding disposition, and doubt that disrupts usual behavioral patterns but also “stimulates enquiry in the struggle to attain [revised] belief” (Flew 1979, 245). Not action for action’s sake, but deliberate action socially legitimized with rational purport, is what Peirce upheld as a fundamental principle in scientific research.

For a long time, this tendency to foist all kinds of excesses on pragmatism ran wild. Peirce’s notion has been equated with diverse philosophical schools, among them: radical empiricism, irrationalism, meliorism, “apology for bourgeois democracy” (a charge against John Dewey made by mechanical/vulgar Marxists), experimental naturalism, neopositivism, semantic idealism, operationalism, and Hans Vaihinger’s “as-if” conjectures (Wheelwright 1960, 138). Assorted thinkers, aside from James and Dewey, were held complicit: F.C.S. Schiller, Sidney Hook, C.W. Morris, P.W. Bridgman, C.I. Lewis, R. Carnap, W. Quine, etc.

While generally correct in summarizing Peirce’s early view, the famous dissident philosopher Leszek Kolakowski wrongly labels Peirce a positivist, nominalist and scientistic. And so he ascribes to Peirce a rather ascetic, puritanical stance nowhere to be found in Peirce’s rich, wide-ranging speculations: “The world contains no mystery, merely problems to be solved” (1969, 154). But

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this simplification obfuscates rather than illuminates Peirce’s rejection of nominalism, nihilist relativism, and pseudo-pragmatic antifoundationalism (exemplified by Richard Rorty), which all subscribe to absolutizing subjectivity exceeding even the metaphysical thesis of William of Ockham, the historical originator of nominalism (Hookway 1985; Peirce 1997).

Prologue to Intervention

Before delineating Peirce’s dialectical reflections, I want to counter the equally wrongheaded notion that he was politically conservative if not indifferent to social controversy. Of course, being part of the Cambridge elite, Peirce’s family shared the values of intellectuals such as William James, William Dean Howells, Mark Twain, and his friends in the Metaphysical Club (circa 1870-1872). While Peirce shared his father’s prejudiced view on slavery, the father changed his views at the beginning of the Civil War. Louis Menand’s thorough study of this milieu, The Metaphysical Club, argues that Peirce finally opposed economic individualism and determinism, affirming the indeterminacy and intelligibility of the cosmos. While affected by a conservative climate of opinion, Peirce and his associates all defied conventional expectations.

None of the two extant biographies (Brent 1998; Ketner 1998) mentions Peirce’s attitude to the bloody conquest of the Philippines which this essay, for the first time, foregrounds vis-a-vis Peirce’s categorial paradigm. Only James and Twain of the major American intellectuals conscientiously deplored U.S. imperialism and aligned themselves with the plight of the Filipino people at that

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time. Even Peirce’s conformity to the genteel New England morality of his day (or the Emersonian transcendentalism then in vogue) needs to be qualified by his unequivocal dismissal of morality as “essentially conservative” (Collected Papers (afterward CP) 1.50; Liszka 2012). Morality as petrified folkway is contradistinguished from ethics as a study of what we ought to do according to a universal principle, independent of what the status quo obliges or forces one to do.

Contrary to the biographic accounts, Peirce was not totally indifferent to the crises surrounding him. In fact, he characterized his epoch as “the Economical Century; for political economy has more direct relations with all the branches of its activity than has any other science” (CP 6.290). Echoing the oppositional sentiments of writers like Henry James (whose friendship he enjoyed in Paris in 1876), Peirce was nauseated by the rapacious individualism pervading that rapidly industrializing era of Reconstruction. He denounced specifically “the Americanism, the worship of business, the life in which the fertilizing stream of genial sentiment dries up or shrinks to a rill of comic tit-bits, or else on the other hand to monasticism, sleepwalking in this world with no eye nor heart except for the other” (CP 1.673). The prophetic socialist scholar Cornel West concisely sums up Peirce’s anti-Establishment sensibility and world-outlook: “The historic emergence of American pragmatism principally results from Peirce’s profound evasion of ‘the spirit of Cartesianism’ owing to his obsession with the procedures of the scientific community, his loyalty to a Christian doctrine of love, and the lure of community in the midst of anomic Gesellschaften of urban, industrial capitalist

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America” (1989, 49; for its interface with semiotic deonstruction, see Muller and Brent [2000]).

Anti-Monopoly Capitalist Wrath

William James, Peirce’s closest friend, was one of the leading founders of the Anti-Imperialist League. In March 1899, James sent a letter to the newspaper Boston Evening Transcript bewailing the horrible, “unspeakable meanness” of President McKinley’s treatment of Aguinaldo’s government: “Could there be a more damning indictment of that whole blasted idol termed ‘modern civilization’…? Civilization is then, the big, hollow, resounding, corrupting, sophisticating, confusing torrent of mere brutal momentum and irrationality…” (1972, 225). Later on, another progressive member of the League, the novelist Mark Twain followed with an ironic boast that he was now proud of the flag after the slaughter of 900 rebellious Moros (including women and children) in the Battle of Mount Dajo, Philippines, on March 9, 1906 (Zwick 1207, 131). Adding the figure of 500 Muslims killed by General John Pershing in June 1913 at Mount Bagsak in the same province of Sulu, Philippines, the total number of Filipinos killed in the Filipino-American War of 1899- 1913 amounted to over one million (Francisco 1987, 19; for more background, see Hofstadter 1967; Miller 1982).

Peirce joined colleagues, among them, James, Twain, William Dean Howells, Andrew Carnegie, John Dewey, Jane Addams, Samuel Gomper, etc., in denouncing U.S. aggression with a pungent satiric address to his pro- imperialist cousin Senator Henry Cabot Lodge: “All men are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. No

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Phillipino is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Hence, no Phillipino is a man” (quoted in Brent 1998, 266). This mock-syllogistic quip was a decorous understatement of the ongoing carnage in the Pacific rim.

Peirce could not remain indifferent in his retirement years. In 1903, during the bloody pacification of the Philippines, after thousands of Filipinos have been killed, tortured, and starved by the “scorched earth” tactics of technologically superior U.S. troops, Peirce once more expressed his criticism obliquely in a talk explaining generality, Thirdness or mediation. He is referring to a general principle operative in the real world, in which words produce physical effects, such as those of the revolutionary hero Patrick Henry asserting how three million Americans, “armed in the holy cause of Liberty,…are invincible against any force that the enemy can bring against us.” Its generality conformed to the synechistic architectonic of his teleology.

Peirce apprehends in Henry’s words a “general law of nature” transcending the initial circumstances of their making: “it might. for example, have happened that some American schoolboy, sailing as a passenger in the Pacific Ocean, should have idly written down those words on a slip of paper. The paper might have been tossed overboard and might have been picked up by some Tagala on a beach of the island of Luzon; and if he had them translated to him they might easily have passed from mouth to mouth there as they did in this country, and with similar effect” (1991, 245). The “Tagala” on the beach is a trope for migrant possibilities. In Peirce’s speculative guess-work which he calls “abduction”, any prediction of what would happen in any working out of a project or unplanned event

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is enabled by general laws of nature immanent in regularities occurring in life. Consequently, “a true-would- be is as real as an actuality” (1998a, 451). The impossible hypothesis becomes possible, actualizable.

In effect, ideas beget agendas, suggestions, recommendations for vital, aspirational agents. Possibility turns into actualizations and processes of performing experiments. Such actions are a product of self-controlled, deliberate judgment taking a critical position on issues of the day. A more accurate precis of the implied politics in Peirce’s views was offered by Donald McKay: “Instead of elaborating theories about passive “states” of knowledge in a knowing mind, or ‘contents’ of knowledge within its own fixed and immutable ‘forms,’ pragmatism offered a working hypothesis concerning the practice of knowledge in ‘the real business of living’ (1950, 398). For Peirce, meanings and values are discovered through inference, informed guessing, pragmatism as “the logic of abduction” (Brent 1998, 349).

It is clear that Peirce’s theory of meaning, when communication takes place, carries an ethical and political charge, an agenda. Immanent to every hypothesis is a network of “conceivable practical effects,” i.e.,meanings. After describing the interlinked steps in the process of apprehending experience, we will trace the conversion of thought into action in the constellation of logical inferences. Whether this demonstrates a materialist dialectics that approximates Marx’s critique of Hegel’s method, remains to be seen. Hegel’s Geist is basically mediation or generalizability, Peirce’s Thirdness emerging from connectng Firstness and Secondness (Taylor 1975, 104-06). Meanwhile, we need to parse the dynamics of

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Peirce’s phenomenology as the matrix of his triadic theory of signs. Can Peirce’s semiotics be a feasible foundation for a radical politics?

Architectonic of Mediation

Not problem-solving or Cartesian methodical doubting but acquiring knowledge of reality by fallible means, is Peirce’s paramount aim. Peirce refuted Cartesianism as the source of foundational metaphysics in key essays such as “Questions Concenrning Certain Faculties Claimed for Man” and “Some Consequences of Four Incapacities” (1998b. 66-118). To anticipate doubters, truth for Peirce designates knowledge of the real (universals mediated in experienced particulars) in everyday life.

In “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” Peirce formulated a convergence theory of truth/reality: “The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is real” (1998a, 155). Meaning is a thought- experiment, a virtual fruit of the transformation and interpretation of signs in ongoing dialogue. For a Peircean truth-seeker, “every intelligible question” will be answered provided it is “sufficiently investigated by observation and reasoning” resulting in a belief implemented by habitual action, by a future-oriented construction of reasoned discourse and purposive conduct by the participating groups involved.

Our hypothesis about reality, articulated in language/discourse, can converge with the real in the long term, in principle and perhaps in practical terms. This

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fallibilist stance is shared by a community of inquirers, so that the pursuit of knowledge/truth implies a collective, social responsibility (see Appel 1995). Moreover, in contradistinction to James and Dewey who subsumed the scientific quest for truth to the demands of immediate human interests, ideals and problematic situations, Peircean scholastic realism dictates that these knowledge- claims are ultimately controlled by the structure of reality. As Hilary Putnam reminds us, for Peirce, “it is precisely by prescinding from all practical interests that science succeeds” (1992, 74). Reality can prove or disprove hypotheses (inductive, deductive, retroductive) violating laws, observed patterns of regularities, etc. Science confirms possibilities by experiment, testing, inquiry.

Except as ancillary topic (validating truth-claims), my chief aim here is to investigate the presence of a dialectical logic in Peirce’s speculations that can ground a program of political transformation. By dialectic here I refer to the application of a method or process of reasoning to comprehend the material world, its laws and principles, as well as the movement of society/history. In Hegel’s dialectic, the process of cognition occupies center- stage as a “grasping of opposites in their unity or of the positive in the negative” (Findlay 1958, 62).

In this context, categories or forms of consciousness emerge from each other to constitute more inclusive totalities, whereby contradictions are resolved through their incorporation (by sublation) in fuller and more concrete universal conceptual wholes. The truth results from the unfolding of the whole dialectical process, making explicit what is implicit, articulating antagonisms into tense unities. Roy Bhaskar notes that in contrast to

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reflective or analytical thought, Hegelian dialectics “grasps conceptual forms in their systematic interconnections, not just their determinate differences, and conceives each development as the product of a previous less developed phase, whose necessary truth or fulfillment it is; so that there is always a tension, latent irony or incipient surprise between any form and what it is in the process of becoming” (1983,122). Peirce’s pragmatism concretely exemplifies this process of actualization.

We stress the fact that this interpretation rejects the banal, mechanistic notion of a three-step procedure of thesis-antithesis-synthesis which Walter Kaufmann (1972) already refuted a long time ago. Of course, as everyone knows, Marx stood Hegel’s idealism on its head (the epistemic fallacy of reducing being to knowing), purging the mystical shell of the self-motivating kernel, and unsettling the hypostatized, reified or eternalized realm of thought. Marx refuses the Hegelian Absolute, Idea or Spirit in favor of becoming, of an ontological stratification evinced in a complex, concretely articulated material history. Marx also emphasized historically causal, not conceptual, necessity; he also limited teleology to human praxis and its rational explanation. This is not the occasion to elaborate fully on Engel’s version of dialectics as the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society, and thought, elaborated in Anti- Duhring and Dialectics of Nature (on Marx and Engel’s dialectic, see Bhaskar 1993, 87-99).

As a scientist-philosopher, Peirce was concerned not just with an adequate theory of meaning, the signification of ideas, for the terminology of conceptual thinking. He was grappling with the validity of scientific

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laws for which the nature of potentiality, possibility, is central in proving hypotheses. This demanded a whole metaphysics of being, of reality, and the status of universals, which would ground his pragmaticism. Thus, he would be engaged in the formulation of categories necessary for substantiating science and knowledge.

Peirce’s ultimate position on the controversy between nominalism and realism is a moderate realist one. From this angle, general concepts found in our grasp of meaning are real, with a counterpart in the percept, the equivalent in consciousness of a Firstness present in the perceived object. Peirce was neither a realist nor idealist in the orthodox sense, for he neither focused on hypothesis as solely deduction (rationalism), nor hypothesis as solely induction (empiricism). His pragmaticism was a fallibilist inquiry via abduction or inferential reasoning, in a world evolving lawfully in a sea of contingencies (Russell 1959, 277). But this is to proceed ahead of our exposition, so let us review Peirce’s categories.

Syncopation and Dissonance

In December 1897, Peirce wrote to James about the Cambridge lectures he would deliver in which he mentions that his Categories—Quality, Reaction, Representation or Mediation—will show “wherein my objective logic differs from that of Hegel” (1992, 24). Peirce agreed with Hegel that the science of phenomenology is basic to the foundation of the normative sciences (logic, ethics, aesthetics). But Hegel’s “fatally narrow spirit” gave it the nominalistic and “pragmatoidal” character, dismissing the irrational qualities

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and recalcitrant contingencies in experience. This is what Theodor Adorno (2017) criticizes as Hegel’s obsession with systematizing totality, Spirit’s absolute identity and reconciliation of subject/object in Absolute Knowledge. Peirce adds that Hegel overlooked or forgot that “there is a real world with real actions and reactions” (CP 1.368). To my knowledge, Peirce has not read Marx’s critique of Hegel, but his theory of mediation (the triadic process of logic as semiotics) concurs with Marx’s thesis that “the question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. In practice, man must prove the truth, that is, the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking” (1968, 28).

We intend to mark the dialectical passage of thought via Peirce’s triadic schema of classifying domains of experience. Thought or understanding, by its nature, begets contradiction and is therefore dialectical, Hegel asserts. Not only thought but everything surrounding us: “We are aware that everything finite, instead of being stable and ultimate, is rather changeable and transient; and this is exactly what we mean by that Dialectic of the finite, by which the finite, is. Implicitly other than what it is, it is forced beyond its own immediate or natural being to turn suddenly into its opposite” (Hegel 1904, 150).

Analogously, Peirce’s dialectics is the movement of thought (inferential reasoning) from the first immediate content of observation that is posited only to be differentiated into a subject and predicate of judgment, this mediation in turn sublated or integrated in a concluding belief (Mure 1940). All three stages of reflection, while analytically discriminated as discrete moments, are present

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simultaneously at the end of the pragmatic process of abduction which is an articulated, self-moving totality. It includes the transition from theory to practice, ideas to actions.

Peirce declared that his phenomenology will not just analyze experience but “extend it to describing all the features that are common to whatever is experienced or might conceivably be experienced or become an object of study in any way direct or indirect” (1998a, 143). Potentiality and the virtual future occupy center-stage. Peirce claims that he arrived at his universal categories independently, although in his contempt for Hegelianism, the German philosopher might have exercised an “occult influence” on him. Indeed, Peirce admits that Hegel’s three stages of thought as “roughly speaking, the correct list of Universal Categories” (1998a, 148). Peirce also claimed that his categories differ from those of Aristotle, Kant and Hegel in that they never paid serious examination to what can be observed in phenomena (phanerons), universally applying to anything we can think of (the possible, the utopian, the variegated cosmos of phantasy). Hence Peirce’s pragmatism is more inclusive.

Parsing Peirce’s Dialectics

We summarize here Peirce’s revised theory of categories of experience, and phases of thinking linked to them, in his late period (1903-1914): Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness as “phaneroscopic categories” (Peirce 1998a, 145-169). The internal relations among these three, the process of their unfolding, parallel the Hegelian “self- supersession of the finite determinations of the

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Understanding” (Findlay 1958, 60). However, the central movements of contradiction and sublation in the dialectic are governed by logical criteria and empirical constraints; hence, the labors of negation and mediation are not representations of Hegel’s Absolute Spirit, of Substance as Subject (Hegel 1977, 14), but the activities of cooperative participants reasoning about the validity of inferences and hypotheses, the community of calculating experimenters. In short, there is a world out there heedless of what you, I, or any other person thinks about it which is our field of inquiry.

Firstness is “quality of feeling,” which is “the true psychical representative of the first category of the immediate as it is in its immediacy, of the present in its direct positive presentness” (1988a, 149-50; CP 8.328). The idea here is not actual but potential, a possibility. It cannot be compared to Plato’s hypostatized Forms, but it is not a thought in some mind; it is between a mere nothing and an existent, therefore a possibility to become actual when it enters the mind by virtue of experience. For example, a possible sense experience such as a color sensation, “blueness,” or sensation such as a toothache—possibilities that may become actual. The process of actualization transpires in the attention given to the sequence of the embodiment of qualities apprehended by the experient. Hegel dismissed the irrationality of Firstness, the indefinite possibilities in the future implied by chance happenings in experience, as an aspect of Firstness.

Firstness as Presentness includes the irreducible variety and plurality of things, both actual and virtual. In Peirce’s comment on the U.S. colonial incursion across the Pacific Ocean, the scenario of Patrick Henry’s words

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appearing on a piece of paper and then thrown into the sea functions as part of Firstness, which is what it is. Its floating on the sea, its fortuitous salvaging by a Tagala, its transfer to translators, and its hermeneutic application, can be treated separately as elements of Firstness. Each transient feeling shades off into another, producting Reaction (Secondness). However, as Peirce notes, “that one is logically two as part of its conception” (quoted by de Waal 2013, 41). One divides into two. In Hegelian dialectics, this one-sided determination of the finite is immanently transcended in its negation: the debris is negated as something opposed to it, something not wasted, now appropriated. Possibilities (feelings, qualities) populate Firstness.

Secondness is briefly reaction, brute force, struggle or conflict as dyadic relation. It is “the Idea of that which is such as it is as being Second to some First, regardless of anything else and in particular regardless of any law, although it may conform to a law,… Reaction as an element of the Phenomenon” (CP 8.328). An example of Secondness is the existing object, the embodiment of qualities (Firstness)—not yet actualized until experienced by some mind, whereby the qualities become percepts, an image or feeling. This process of actualization (the Tagala’s discovery of Patrick Henry’s signs and thei subsequent interpretation and dissemination) is complex and the topic of ongoing psychological inquiry.

Hegel discounted this level of the immediate “hic et nunc of sense perception” by subsuming it to general concepts in the transition from the doctrine of Being to the doctrine of the Notion. By doing so, Peirce contends that Hegel valorized for philosophy “only the world of

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completed facts, the past, and not the real possibilities of things, esse in futuro” (Peirce 1998a, 358-59). For Peirce, the future as event or sequence of realization of what is intended, based on past discoveries and current habits, is what matters most in carrying out scientific research.

Secondness is the realm of contingency, the accidentally actual and unconditional necessity, the reign of brute force (Gallie 1952, 197). In the case of Peirce’s piece of paper floating in the ocean (thrown out or blown by accident from a ship), Secondness involves reaction— whirled into the ocean as debris, then its discovery by a Tagala in a Philippine beach, seemingly occasioned by “a blind force.” Existence of this object goes through struggle and competition for recognition.

Meanwhile, unexpected otherness enters the scene. Opposites interpenetrate, leading to some kind of temporary reconciliation (Ollman 2003). Everything finite is what it is by its negation, by its sublation: debris becomes the vehicle of a message in its eventual Thirdness. An adventuring Tagala encounters that floating debris. That paper with Henry’s words then becomes translated/interpreted, an instance of mediation or Thirdness. The iconic object becomes, for the interpretant, an index of a historic event parallel to the Filipino resistance to barbaric colonialism. Something from the U.S. historical archive or memory is grasped as contrary to what the Empire’s troops are doing in the Philippines, the antithesis of Henry’s idea of the American people’s will to self-determination against the British empire (Zinn 1980; Kolko 1984).

Surely, this hypothetical narrative drawn from Peirce’s lecture does not imply that the American patriot is

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the only source of the idea of liberty, of the struggle for national sovereignty. It is a hypothetical intervention. What is conveyed is the irony of the ideals of the American revolution presumably giving support to the Filipino resistance against U.S. aggression. Possibilities are diverse: either the signs fail to induce purposive conduct, or stay dormant until future use, or incite urgent mobilization. What the Filipinos will do if they examine thoughtfully Henry’s words concerning the popular struggle for liberation is what really matters. If interpretation of signs leads to conceivable purposive praxis, then one progressive step in the evolution of concrete reasonableness in the world is accomplished. Entire communities stand to benefit from this continuum of dialogue and exchange of serviceable, utilizable ideas.

Hermeneutics of Praxis

We now approach the moment of sublation, Hegel’s Aufhebung or self-transcendence, a movement in thought which negates one part, preserves another part, and synthesizes them in a new standpoint. Thirdness is the “Idea of that which is such as being a Third, or Medium, between a Second and its First….Representation as an element of the Phenomenon,” containing the concept of “True Continuity.” (Peirce 1998b,150,160). Thirdness designates a general concept, the universal idea abstracted from the percept found in the first and second moments, which Peirce also calls “generals.” According to Richard Robin, “Peirce’s metaphysical realism, then, consists in his view that the general concepts that go to make up meanings are real…They have a real external counterpart

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in the percept—which is the equivalent in consciousness of a firstness present in the perceived object” (1998b, 11). Every concept (Thirdness) refers to a sense-percept (Secondness) to bear some meaning (the real, the conceivable practical effect or consequence).

No concept is meaningful unless it refers to sense- experience, which is subjected to attention and abstracting elements from the percept to generate concepts expressed in a judgement, such as “This orchid is crimson.” “Crimson” is not a fiction of the imagination but a quality possessed by things in the world. “Crimson” can be predicated of many other things, hence it is a real general, that is, the crimson of an orchid is not identical with the crimson of blood, but they are similar. As long as there is something in the physical world that exemplifies particular qualities (not all of the particularizing determinations of generic and specific qualities ascribed to objects), the concept containing them is a real concept. This refutes all allegations that Peirce reduced everything to mind or rationality. These three modes of reality, categories of being or three universes of experience, provide the coordinates for Peirce’s epistemology as well as his singular theory of pragmaticism.

Applied to that salvaged piece of paper with Patrick Henry’s statement, we have an instance of mediation when the words are translated and made intelligible. The power of that piece of paper to represent a historic event (the American revolution and its justification) is expressed as a transaction between object (signifier or representamen) and the message (signified) by the interpretant—the discoverer/translator, which stands for a transindividual/collective agency. There are various

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modes of interpretants conforming to plural historic contexts and empirical situations. The experience of Thirdness is the encounter with the intelligible, “concrete reasonableness,” which for Peirce, becomes the ground for humans taking action to change what is irrational, illogical, and inhumane. This is an example of Peirce’s political intervention into that crucial juncture of U.S-Philippines relations.

Toward Alternative Transformations

What is the relevance and applicability of Peirce’s categories to the understanding of political or social change? How is pragmatism connected to the normative sciences of logic, ethics, and aesthetics? Cheryl Misak and Richard Bernstein have speculated on Peirce’s implicit ethical and political outlook based on his pragmaticist principles. They both quote Peirce’s propositions: “Thinking is a kind of action, and reasoning is a kind of deliberate action; and to call an argument illogical, or a proposition false, is a special kind of moral judgment,” and “He who would not sacrifice his own soul to save the whole world, is illogical in all his inferences, collectively” (cited in Misak 2004, 170, 173). Everyone commends Peirce’s final affirmation of “concrete reasonableness” as the highest good that all our intentions, projects, and acts should strive for. In short, ethics and politics are, in reciprocal interchange with Peirce’s epistemology, realized in an evolving semiotics.

Peirce’s cognitivism, in the larger context of his metaphysics, is based on his evolutionary cosmology in which chance and necessity coalesce. No doubt, thought

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controlled by rational experimental logic is what Peirce valued in the conduct of marshalling evidence and argument for fallible but workable beliefs. No doubt also, Peirce rejected Cartesian intuitionism and James’s and Dewey’s psychologizing of his pragmatic maxim in favor of self-control and self-criticism (Bernstein 2010). Anarchic individualism is also ruled out because public deliberation and consensus are needed for effective social changes in habits and modes of thinking of citizens. In short, genuine revolution is a totalizing process.

Lest readers again impute individualistic bias to Peirce, we emphasize that reflexivity can only take place within a definite community of persons engaged in critical inquiry, a “community without definite limits,” which functions as a regulative ideal in pragmaticism. Bernstein asserts that the social character of the individual is defined by the forms of participation in community life, citing Peirce’s insight: “A person is not absolutely an individual. His thoughts are what he is ‘saying to himself,’ that is, is saying to that other self that is just coming to life in the flow of time. When one reasons, it is that critical self that one is trying to persuade; and all thought whatsoever is a sign, and is mostly of the nature of language” (Bernstein 1971, 190). We are confronted here not just with deliberative pluralist exchange, discursive debate or communication, but also with collective programs for institutional changes toward genuine participatory democracy.

What is indisputable is the gravity of Peirce’s civic- minded or communalist sympathies. In the final analysis, the mobilized community of inquirers—activists in performing critical self-control and realistic orientation of

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behavior—is the chief protagonist in Peirce’s political world-view. This protagonist is the transindividual organic intellectual in Antonio Gramsci’s (1971) politics and the proletarian party in George Lukacs’ (1971) dialectics. Reason as Aristotelian energy engenders the action imitated by discourse.

We cannot elaborate here on Peirce’s theory of evolutionary change, on synechism and tychism in which the role of chance or accident functions as the matrix of innovation, radical transformation, and the pursuit of concrete universality requiring the “absence of self- conceit” (West 1989, 51; Smith 1966). That remains for another occasion, but a brief summary is appropriate here. For Peirce, the development of Reason is the fundamental motivation behind social progress, the aesthetic ideal governing ethics and logic: “The one thing whose admirableness is not due to an ulterior reason is Reason itself comprehended in all its fulness as far as we can comprehend it….The ideal of conduct will be to execute our little function in the operation of the creation by giving a hand toward rendering the world more reasonable whenever, as the slang is, it is “up to us” to do so” (1998a, 255).

The Responsibility of Intellectuals

In the context of intellectual exchanges, there is a plausible danger of fetishizing Reason and idealistic rationalism. Or jettisoning it in favor of nominalistic anti- foundationalism such as that of Richard Rorty. But Peirce’s belief in a world outside of our minds, his scholastic realism, prevents this extremism. Concepts without

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experienced material are vacuous; sense-data without concepts are blind. Rational activity connected to social interests entails action which, Dewey reflects, serves as an intermediary, modifying existence, “in that process of evolution whereby the existent comes more and more to embody generals’; in other words, “the process whereby the existent becomes, with the aid of action, a body of rational tendencies or of habits generalized as much as possible” (Dewey 1982, 25).

Moreover, Peirce’s revolutionary slogan, “Do not block the road of inquiry,” warrants also sanctioning “the one ordinance of Play, the law of liberty” (1998a, 436). It is this perspective that John Dewey (1969) applied to his critique of Leon Trotsky by stressing the indeterminacy of means in relation to ends previously agreed upon. Concrete historical situations overdetermine the means-ends nexus (Hook 2002, 152-53). Peirce’s stress on consequences, rational purport coordinated with universal principles, and the purposive bearings of any inquiry, testifies to his conviction in the feasibility of a transformed, ameliorated future.

As already discussed, Peirce did not engage in any sustained reflection on ethics or politics except for a few remarks on the normative sciences. Only Roberta Kevelson has speculated on the reciprocal interaction between Peirce’s Existential Graphs and utopic propositions dealing with political economy, in particular the modal graphs of possibility. Kevelson observes that “a cut of a graph may be an instance of a possible universe, or, in other words, a graph-replica in a kind of utopic representation, a possible of a figment of a possible” (1999, 113). Space-time continuum, for Peirce, signifies lawful

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evolution of knowledge analogous to evolution in nature which is characterized by the intrusion of chance breaks and accidental ruptures (as theorized by Peirce’s synechism and tychism (on synechism and science, see Haack 2008). Virtualities in the realm of potentiality supervene over actualities. Not everything is possible, but some are contingent on historical specificities and collective protagonists/personalities involved.

It bears repeating that the radicalism of Peirce’s realist dialectic is fully evinced in his repudiation of nominalism (exemplified in positivism, radical empiricism, deconstruction, etc.) which reduces the abstract to the sensory, the general to the individual. Peirce’s inaugural vision is contained in his critique of Berkeley. It addresses the rugged individualism prevalent in the 1870s when the utilitarian economics of Bentham and Marshall based on Ockham’s denial of universals and the positivist’s denial of religion and metaphysics (Murphey 1993, 100): “The question whether the genus homo has any existence except as individuals, is the question whether there is anything of any more dignity, worth and importance than individual happiness, individual aspirations, and individual life. Whether men really have anything in common, so that the community is to be considered as an end in itself, and if so, what the relative value of the two factors is, is the most fundamental practical question in regard to every public institutions the constitution of which we have it in our power to influence” (1992, 105).

We cannot over-emphasize Peirce’s socialist commitment. The individual mind, for Peirce, signifies fallibility: “The individual man, since his separate existence is manifested only by ignorance and error, so far as he is

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anything apart from his fellows, and from what he and they are to be, only a negation” (quoted in Murphey 1993, 175; see also Ketner 1998, 325; Colapietro 1989). This negation, however, can be a powerful matrix for affirmation, as witness the mutable occasions featuring Patrick Henry’s words which, if decoded properly by a scientifically- minded collective agency, are capable of stoking the fires of revolutionary struggle across the oceans.

In the context of the search for concrete universals in ordinary experience, Peirce’s humanistic communalism proves to be an open-ended, imaginatively creative approach to analyzing sociopolitical problems. His methodology of “critical commonsensism,” combined with meaning-critical realism, rooted in a community of interpreters serves an emancipatory socialist-oriented goal (Apel 1981). Peirce subscribes to the Enlightenment principle of autonomy and self-controlled conduct. It affirms an earlier anti-Cartesian insight that there are no intuitive cognitions, and all hypothetical propositions are tentative and fallible. In this context, freedom is possible only in an objective inquiry into an impersonal truth about nature and society whose institutions and processes are always under construction.

Modern science has no self-authenticating, a priori foundations, only the quest for methods of discovery and proof. Likewise, nothing is self-authenticating for Peirce as he muses on the constellation of self, nature, and law; and thus, “the dialectic of moral life is set up, between inclinations rooted in flesh and moral duty grounded in reason. Freedom depends both on there being that dialectic and on our choosing morality over inclination. But this depends on the moral law not being arbitrary”

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(Short 2007, 346). Peirce also held that “By the ‘practical,’ I mean everything that is possible through freedom” (Murphey 1993, 177). Scientists may be at sea, but not for long. Land, the harbor, looms ahead. Just as that piece of paper with Patrick Henry’s words on liberty was not self- authenticating until it passed into the zones of Secondness and Thirdness, Peirce’s philosophy remains to be investigated in the same spirit of risky adventure that he expressed in his 1905 letter to William James, who initially introduced Peirce’s pragmaticism into the world with all its unpredictable consequences (note the sea metaphor recalling our specimen of Peirce’s intervention): “There is nothing, however, more wholesome for us than to find problems that quite transcend our powers and I must say, too, that it imparts a delicious sense of being cradled in the waters of the deep—a feeling I always have at sea” (quoted in Short 2007, 347). Terra incognita, “concrete reasonableness” as utopia, remains to be discovered, understood, and fully appreciated.

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About the Author

E. SAN JUAN, JR. graduated in 1958 as an A.B. magna cum laude from the University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City. On Fulbright fellowship, he obtained his PhD degree from Harvard University in 1965. He was a professor of comparative literature, ethnic studies and cultural studies in the following universities: University of California at Davis, University of Connecticut at Storrs, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, Washington State University, Wesleyan University, University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila, Bowling Green State University, Leuven University in Belgium, and National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. He was a professorial lecturer in cultural studies at Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

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PEIRCE’S ETHICS: A Reconstruction


CHARLES SANDERS PEIRCE’S ETHICS: 

Dialectics of Pragmaticism and History

 

By E. San Juan, Jr.

Philippines Studies Center, Washington DC,USA

DSC_0405 [Desktop Resolution]

When the famous Moscow Trials (1936-38) against Trotskyists and other alleged enemies of the Soviet Union, pragmatism was still relatively an academic affair. Peirce died in 1914; his collected papers did not appear until 1931. William James’s popularization of Peirce’s ideas, Pragmatism: A New Name for some Old Ways of Thinking, was published in 1907. In 1931, John Dewey traced “The Development of American Pragmatism” in the wake of his major discourses on experimentalism in Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920), Human Nature and Conduct (1922), and Experience and Nature (1925). Not until after World War II will Peirce be acknowledged by Bertrand Russell and others as the United States’ most wide-ranging, innovative and original philosopher. While Peirce  could not have predicted and commented on the Moscow Trials, Dewey found the opportunity to intervene and put his mark on the controversy surrounding this memorable turning point in revolutionary politics..

The Moscow Trials, also known as Stalin’s “Great Purge,” exemplified one man’s autocratic rule in a totalitarian state. The defendants were charged with conspiring with  Western powers to assassinate Stalin, dismember the Soviet Union, and restore capitalism. They were suspected of exploiting the popular discontent brought about by Stalin’s forced collectivization of the farms and the political crisis of 1928-33  In May 1937, the Commission of Inquiry into the Charges Made Against Leon Trotsky, was set up in the United States by Trotsky’s friends to establish the truth about the trials. Chaired by the now famous philosopher John Dewey, the Commission travelled to Mexico to interview Trotsky and hold hearings from April 10 to April 17, 1937.

After a thorough examination of evidence, the Dewey Commission found all those condemned innocent of the charges, dismissing the trials as “frame-ups.”  Confessions were extracted by torture, blackmail, and terror (for analysis of this period, see Ulam 1973, 410-33). Nonetheless, radical intellectuals like Langston Hughes, Stuart Davis, Lilian Hellman, Corliss Lamont and others approved if not endorsed the outcome of the horrible events. Millions involved in the trials were imprisoned or executed. Trotsky was assassinated in 1940 by Stalin’s agent. In 1956, Kruschev denounced Stalin’s monstrous crimes and began the rehabilitation of Stalin’s victims such as Bukharin, Zinoviev, etc., as “honest Communists” (Garraty and Gay 1972, 1002-1004). In January 1989, the official newspaper Pravda reported that 25,000 persons had been posthumously rehabilitated.

Leon Trotsky, the chief accused in the Moscow Trials, wrote a defense of his case in 1938 entitled “Their Morals and Ours.”  His primary argument deploys the efficacious power of the class struggle in history which serves as the rational basis of individual choices and decisions. He rejects the ascription to Bolshevism of what he calls the Jesuitical maxim of “the end justifying the means”; historically, Trotsky contends, the Jesuits represented the forces of reaction against the progressive Protestants. Eventually, the Jesuits adopted Martin Luther’s opportunism by adapting themselves to “the spirit of bourgeois society” (1969, 14). Ultimately, Trotsky appeals to a universal criterion that can validate the legitimacy of group actions: “From the Marxist point of view, which expresses the historical interest of the proletariat, the end is justified if it leads to increasing the power of man over nature and to the abolition of the power of man over man” (1969, 36). What Trotsky failed to specify is the historical mission of the proletariat, the privileged class, to advance the humanist project of developing the capacity of society to control the natural environment and adjust social institutions so as to fulfill the needs, spiritual and physical, of the majority of the toiling masses, outlined in Marx and Engels’ “Communist Manifesto” (1968, 31-63).

Dewey’s Intervention

Dewey’s comment on Trotsky’s polemic concerned the putative Marxian gloss on the relation of means and ends in social action. Dewey states: “I hold that the end in the sense of consequences provides the only basis for moral ideas and action, and therefore provides the only justification that can be found for means employed” (1968, 52). Dewey insists on the close interdependence of means and end. He requires actors to perform an “unscrupulous examination of the means that are used, to ascertain what their actual objective consequences will be as far as it is humanly possible to tell—to show that they do ‘really’ lead to the liberation of mankind.” The end in view also functions as the means to direct action. But this is not a matter of personal belief, Dewey emphasizes,” but of the objective grounds upon which it is held: namely, the consequences that will actually be produced by them” (1968, 53).

Dewey faults Trotsky’s reasoning because it invokes “an alleged law of history,” the historical movement of the class struggle. Instead of an inductive investigation of the reciprocity of means-consequences, Trotsky’s wrongly deduces results from a “fixed law of social development.” Dewey concludes that “No scientific law can determine a moral end save by deserting the principle of interdependence of means and end,” so “given the liberation of mankind as end, there is free and unprejudiced search for the means by which it can be attained” (1968, 55). While Dewey’s formulation envisages the intended results of individual actions, which resemble the classic utilitarian consequentialist argument, it also involves an experimental analysis of problematic situations, not single objects. It engages “the contextual whole of experience” which furthers the growth of creative intelligence as ”the only moral end” (Talisse and Aikin 2012, 120). On the surface, there is no basic antagonism between Trotsky’s objective of systemic change and Dewey’s reconstructive improvement of the system via educational reform. Nonetheless, Bernstein judges Dewey’s program as insufficiently radical because “he underestimates the powerful social, political, and economic forces that distort and corrupt” his ideal of expansive creative intelligence (1971, 228).

How would the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, Dewey’s friend, treat this situation? Peirce’s evaluation of Trotsky’s ethical standard would concur with Dewey’s logic of experimental inquiry in line with the pragmatic maxim of appraising conceivable practical effects. But Peirce’s position would differ in three respects (discussed further below): 1) Knowledge of values (good or bad) depends on mediation via the intersubjectivity of interpreters, or community of inquirers; 2) Hypothetical reasoning is a process mediated through signs oriented to the future, the counterfactual discovery of the coincidence of truth and reality in the long run; and 3) Mediation of the theoretical by the practical is carried out from the horizon of the ‘ethical, as ‘socialist logic,’ by history and commonsense” (Dussel 2013, 162).  By way of Peirce’s evolutionary cosmology, the historical field of forces enters the investigation of ideal ends that inform the normative science of ethics. The ethical will of the scientist can unite with evolutionary love, the eros of the universe, in a temporal process of search and discovery (Peirce 1992, 352-71).

Logic and ethics are therefore rooted in a social principle, what Enrique Dussel calls “the processual reality of the corporeality of the life of the cultural, historical, and human subject” (2013, 162). Moreover, Peirce’s discourse on “evolutionary love” amplifies the argument for a knowable reality, the liberation of human powers in a future consensus that would witness the fulfillment of the hypothesis of the unity of truth and reality in historical time. Evolution defines the parameter of ethical judgment. The formation of habits or rational conduct (beliefs translated into action) which mediate mind and matter, chance and law, demonstrates the evolutionary tendency of the world toward concrete reasonableness. In this context, the inquiring sensibility manifests a moral character equal to that of the self-sacrificing heroes of revolutionary struggles in history, as Peirce reflects: “At the very lowest, a man must prefer the truth to his own interests and well-being and not merely to his bread and butter, and to his own vanity, too, if he is to do much in science”(CP1.157).

In what follows, I explore the interanimation of Peirce’s ideas of liberty and concrete reasonableness achieved through self-control. The summum bonum is the ethical destiny of “the reasoner’s aspirations,” a social good equivalent to the liberation of humanity and the fulfillment of universal physical and spiritual needs. Reasoning, for Peirce, is a form of controlled conduct—the locus of ethical wisdom—whereby a person can “make his life more reasonable.What other distinct idea than that, I should be glad to know, can be attached to the word liberty” (1998a, 248). We need to contextualize this theme in terms of how pragmatism has been publicly received and appraised before citing a particular instance of its application.

Clearing the Ground

By consensus, Peirce laid the groundwork for pragmatism as  scientific theory, later vulgarized by psychologist William James so that Peirce himself in 1905 rechristened his view “pragmaticism.” In 1878, Peirce proposed a way of ascertaining the meaning of words in propositions. He said: “Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object” (1998a, 135).  James, however, misconstrued this as a theory of truth so that ideas prove their truth “just so far as they help us get into satisfactory relations with other parts of our experience,” manifesting their “practical cash value” (1982, 213), and thus converting it into an instrumentalist if not subjectivist, idealist notion. This is how the Soviet Union scholars treated James’s pragmatic truth as valid on the basis of practical utiity which “understands not confirmation of objective truth by the criterion of practice, but what meets the subjective interests of the individual” (1967, 358). Such a transmogrification of Peirce’s philosophy speaks volumes about totalitarian State dogmatism (San Juan 2017).

            For Peirce, truth can only be legitimately pursued by the cooperative work of inquirers committed to a socially constructive goal, not by isolated individuals. Peirce argues that the private self has no intuitive or introspective faculty allowing access to cognitive insights. “Self” is a hypothesis needed to account for errors, ignorance, inadequacies (Appel 1981). Opposed to philosophies of consciousness (inspired by psychoanalysis or Heideggerian ontology), Peirce posited mind as comprised of the complex articulation of feeling (Firstness), reaction or contradiction (Secondness), and rules of learning or representation connecting the first two (Thirdness). We elucidate further this dialogic hermeneutics of the mind and its ramifications later on.

That banal misconstrual of pragmaticism degrades even a sophisticated survey such as Contemporary European Philosophy by Polish Dominican scholar I.M. Bochenski, an expert on Soviet dialectical materialism. Bochenski opined that pragmatism denied the existence of a “purely theoretical knowledge” since it reduced “the true to the useful” (1969, 114). Following that repeated doxa, pragmatism is considered synonymous with utilitarianism, instrumentalism, even opportunism. In contrast, Peirce’s texts insist that both reason and experience are symbiotically operative in pragmaticism. Essentially, Peirce proposed a method for clarifying the differences among ideas through anticipating their conceivable future practical effects, even discordant or incongruous sensible effects that evince practical significance. In “The Fixation of Belief,” Peirce distinguished between belief as action-guiding disposition, and doubt that disrupts usual behavioral patterns but also “stimulates enquiry in the struggle to attain [revised] belief” (Flew 1979, 245). Not action for action’s sake, but deliberate action socially legitimized with rational purport, is what Peirce upheld as a fundamental principle in scientific research.

For a long time, this tendency to foist all kinds of excesses on pragmatism ran wild. Peirce’s notion has been equated with diverse philosophical schools, among them: radical empiricism, irrationalism, meliorism, “apology for bourgeois democracy” (a charge against John Dewey made by orthodox Marxists), experimental naturalism, neopositivism, semantic idealism, operationalism,  and Hans Vaihinger’s “as-if” conjectures (Wheelwright 1960, 138).   Assorted thinkers, aside from James and Dewey, were held complicit: F.C.S. Schiller, Sidney Hook, C.W. Morris, P.W. Bridgman, C.I. Lewis, R. Carnap, W. Quine, etc.

While generally correct in summarizing Peirce’s early view, the famous dissident philosopher Leszek Kolakowski wrongly labels Peirce a positivist, nominalist and scientistic. And so he ascribes to Peirce a rather ascetic, puritanical stance nowhere to be found in Peirce’s rich, wide-ranging speculations: “The world contains no mystery, merely problems to be solved” (1969, 154). But this simplification obfuscates rather than illuminates Peirce’s rejection of nominalism, nihilist relativism, and pseudo-pragmatic antifoundationalism (exemplified by Richard Rorty), which all subscribe to absolutizing subjectivity exceeding even the metaphysical thesis of William of Ockham, the historical originator of nominalism.

Prologue to Intervention

Before delineating Peirce’s dialectical reflections, I want to counter the equally wrongheaded notion that he was politically conservative if not indifferent to social controversy. Of course, being part of the Cambridge elite, Peirce’s family shared the values of intellectuals such as William James, William Dean Howells, Mark Twain, and his friends in the Metaphysical Club (circa 1870-1872). While Peirce shared his father’s prejudiced view on slavery, the father changed his views at the beginning of the Civil War. Louis Menand’s thorough study of this milieu, The Metaphysical Club, argues that Peirce finally opposed economic individualism and determinism, affirming the indeterminacy and intelligibility of the comos. While affected by a conservative climate of opinion, Peirce and his associates all defied conventional expectations.

None of the two extant biographies (Brent 1998; Ketner 1998) mention Peirce’s attitude to the bloody conquest of the Philippines which this essay, for the first time, foregrounds vis-a-vis Peirce’s categorial paradigm. Only James and Twain of the major American intellectuals conscientiously deplored U.S. imperialism and aligned themselves with the plight of the Filipino people at that time. Even Perice’s conformity to the genteel New England morality of his day (or the Emersonian transcendentalism then in vogue) needs to be qualified by his unequivocal dismissal of morality as “essentially conservative” (Collected Papers (afterward CP) 1.50; Liszka 2012 ). Morality as petrified folkway is contradistinguished from ethics as a study of what we ought to do according to a universal principle, independent of what the status quo obliges or forces one to do.

Contrary to the biographic accounts, Peirce was not totally indifferent to the crises surrounding him, for he characterized his epoch as “the Economical Century; for political economy has more direct relations with all the branches of its activity than has any other science” (CP 6.290). Echoing the oppositional sentiments of writers like Henry James (whose friendship he enjoyed in Paris in 1876), Peirce was nauseated by the rapacious individualism pervading that rapidly industrializing era of Reconstruction. He denounced specifically “the Americanism, the worship of business, the life in which the fertilizing stream of genial sentiment dries up or shrinks to a rill of comic tit-bits, or else on the other hand to monasticism, sleepwalking in this world with no eye nor heart except for the other” (CP 1.673). The prophetic socialist scholar Cornel West concisely sums up Peirce’s anti-Establishment sensibility and world-outlook: “The historic emergence of American pragmatism principally results from Peirce’s profound evasion of ‘the spirit of Cartesianism’ owing to his obsession with the procedures of the scientific community, his loyalty to a Christian doctrine of love, and the lure of community in the midst of anomic Gesellschaften of urban, industrial capitalist America” (1989, 49).

Anti-Monopoly Capitalist Wrath

William James, Peirce’s closest friend, was one of the leading founders of the Anti-Imperialist League. In March 1899, James sent a letter to the newspaper Boston Evening Transcript bewailing the horrible, “unspeakable meanness” of President McKinley’s treatment of Aguinaldo’s government: “Could there be a more damning indictment of that whole blasted idol termed ‘modern civilization’…? Civilization is. then, the big, hollow, resounding, corrupting, sophisticating, confusing torrent of mere brutal momentum and irrationality…” (1972, 225). Later on, another progressive member of the League, the novelist Mark Twain followed with an ironic boast that he was now proud of the flag after the slaughter of 900 rebellious Moros (including women and children) in the Battle of Mount Dajo, Philippines, on March 9, 1906 (Zwick 1207, 131). Adding the figure of 500 Muslims killed by General John Pershing in June 1913 at Mount Bagsak in the same province of Sulu, Philippines, the total number of Filipinos killed in the Filipino-American War of 1899-1913 amounted to over one million (Francisco 1987, 19).

Peirce joined colleagues like James, Twain, William Dean Howells, Andrew Carnegie, John Dewey, Jane Addams, Samuel Gomper, etc., in denouncing U.S. aggression with a pungent satiric address to his pro-imperialist cousin Senator Henry Cabot Lodge: “All men are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. No Phillipino is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Hence, no Phillipino is a man” (quoted in Brent 1998, 266).

Peirce could not remain indifferent in his retirement years. In 1903, during the bloody pacification of the Philippines, after thousands of Filipinos have been killed, tortured, and starved by the “scorched earth” tactics of technologically superior U.S. troops, Peirce once more expressed his criticism obliquely in a talk explaining generality, Thirdness or mediation. He is referring to a general principle operative in the real world, in which words produce physical effects, such as those of the revolutionary hero Patrick Henry asserting how three million Americans, “armed in the holy cause of Liberty,…are invincible against any force that the enemy can bring against us.”

Peirce apprehends in Henry’s words a “general law of nature” transcending the initial circumstances of their making: “it might. for example, have happened that some American schoolboy, sailing as a passenger in the Pacific Ocean, should have idly written down those words on a slip of paper. The paper might have been tossed overboard and might have been picked up by some Tagala on a beach of the island of Luzon; and if he had them translated to him they might easily have passed from mouth to mouth there as they did in this country, and with similar effect” (1991, 245). In Peirce’s speculative guess-work which he calls “abduction”, any prediction of what would happen in any working out of a project or unplanned event is enabled by general laws of nature immanent in regularities occurring in life. Consequently, “a true-would-be is as real as an actuality” (1998a, 451).

This hypothetical scenario engages Peirce’s semiotic reflections as a critique of U.S. imperial violence. We note the accidental passage of the iconic sign turned into an index of conflict and symbol of shared ideals or principles. The signifiers in that floating piece of paper, once retrieved and performed, acquire an interpretant that then socially recodes the signs as instructions on what could be done, depending on local circumstances and conditions. Ideas beget agendas, suggestions, recommendations for vital, aspirational agents. Possibility turns into actualizations and processes of peforming experiments. Such actions are a product of self-controlled, deliberate judgment taking a critical position on issues of the day. A more accurate precis of the implied politics in Peirce’s views was offered by Donald McKay: “Instead of elaborating theories about passive “states” of knowledge in a knowing mind, or ‘contents’ of knowledge within its own fixed and immutable ‘forms,’ pragmatism offered a working hypothesis concerning the practice of knowledge in ‘the real business of living’ (1950, 398).

It is clear that Peirce’s theory of meaning, when communication takes place, carries an ethical and political charge, an agenda. After describing the interlinked steps in the process of apprehending experience, we will trace the conversion of thought into action in the constellation of logical inferences. Whether this demonstrates a materialist dialectics that approximates Marx’s critique of Hegel’s method, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, we need to parse the dynamics of Peirce’s phenomenology as the matrix of his triadic theory of signs. Can Peirce’s semiotics be a feasible foundation for a radical politics?

Architectonic of Mediation

Not problem-solving or Cartesian methodical doubting but acquiring knowledge of reality by fallible means, is Peirce’s paramount aim. To anticipate doubters, truth for Peirce designates knowledge of the real in everyday life. In “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” Peirce formulated a convergence theory of truth/reality: “The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is real” (1998a, 155). Meaning is a thought-experiment, a virtual fruit of the transformation and interpretation of signs in ongoing dialogue. For a Peircean truth-seeker, “every intellligible question” will be answered provided it is “sufficiently investigated by observation and reasoning” resulting in a belief implemented by habitual action, by a future-oriented construction of reasoned discourse and purposive conduct by the groups involved.

Our hypothesis about reality, articulated in language/discourse, can converge with the real in the long term, in principle and perhaps in practical terms. This fallibilist stance is shared by a community of inquirers, so that the pursuit of knowledge/truth implies a collective, social responsibility (see Appel 1995). Moreover, in contradistinction to James and Dewey who subsumed the scientific quest for truth to the demands of human interests, ideals and problematic situations, Peircean scholastic realism dictates that these knowledge-claims are ultimately controlled by the structure of reality. As Hilary Putnam reminds us, for Peirce, “it is precisely by prescinding from all practical interests that science succeeds” (1992, 74). Reality can prove or disprove hypotheses (inductive, deductive, retroductive) violating laws, observed patterns of regularities, etc.

Except as ancillary topic (validating truth-claims), my chief aim here is to investigate the presence of a dialectical logic in Peirce’s speculations that can ground a program of political transformation. By dialetic here I refer to the application of a method or process of reasoning to comprehend the material world, its laws and principles, as well as the movement of society/history. In Hegel’s dialectic, the process of cognition occupies center-stage as a “grasping of opposites in their unity or of the positive in the negative” (Findlay 1958, 62). In this context, categories or forms of consciousness emerge from each other to constitute more inclusive totalities, whereby contradictions are resolved through their incorporation (by sublation) in fuller and more concrete universal conceptual wholes. The truth results from the unfolding of the whole dialectical process, making explicit what is implicit, articulating antagonisms into tense unities. Roy Bhaskar notes that in contrast to reflective or analytical thought, Hegelian dialectics “grasps conceptual forms in their systematic interconnections, not just their determinate differences, and conceives each development as the product of a preious less developed phase, whose necessary truth or fulfillment it is; so that thereis always a tension, latent irony or incipient surprise between any form and what it is in the process of becoming” (1983,122).

We stress the fact that this interpretation rejects the banal, mechanistic notion of a three-step procedure of thesis-antithesis-synthesis which Walter Kaufmann (1972) already refuted a long time ago. Of course, as everyone knows, Marx stood Hegel’s idealism on its head (the epistemic fallacy of reducing being to knowing), purging the mystical shell of the self-motivating kernel, and unsettling the hypostatized, reified or eternalized realm of thought. Marx refuses the Hegelian Absolute, Idea or Spirit in favor of becoming, of an ontological stratification evinced in a complex, concretely articulated material history. Marx also emphasized historically causal, not conceptual, necessity; he also limited teleology to human praxis and its rational explanation. This is not the occasion to elaborate fully on  Engel’s version of dialectics as the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society, and thought, elaborated in Anti-Duhring and Dialectics of Nature (on Marx and Engel’s dialectic, see Bhaskar 1993, 87-99).

As a scientist-philosopher, Peirce was concerned not just with an adequate theory of meaning, the signification of ideas, for the terminology of conceptual thinking. He was grappling with the validity of scientific laws for which the nature of potentiality, possibility, is central in proving hypotheses. This demanded a whole metaphysics of being, of reality, and the status of universals, which would ground his pragmaticism. Thus he would be engaged in the formulation of categories necessary for substantiating science and knowledge.  His ultimate position on the controversy between nominalism and realism is a moderate realist one in which general concepts found in our grasp of meaning are real, with a counterpart in the percept, the equivalent in consciousness of a Firstness present in the perceived object. Peirce was neither a realist nor idealist in the orthodox sense, for he neither focused on hypothesis as solely deduction (rationalism), nor hypothesis as solely induction (empiricism).  His pragmaticism was a fallibilist inquiry via abduction or inferential reasoning, in a world evolving lawfully in a sea of contingencies (Russell 1959, 277).  But this is to proceed ahead of our exposition, so let us review Peirce’s categories.

Syncopations and Dissonance

In December 1897, Peirce wrote to James about the Cambridge lectures he would deliver in which he mentions that his Categories—Quality, Reaction, Representation or Mediation—will show “wherein my objective logic differs from that of Hegel” (1992, 24). Peirce agreed with Hegel that the science of phenomenology is basic to the foundation of the normative sciences (logic, ethics, aesthetics). But Hegel’s “fatally narrow spirit” gave it the nominalistic and “pragmatoidal” character, dismissing the irrational qualities and recalcitrant contingencies in experience. This is what Theodor Adorno (2017) criticizes as Hegel’s obsession with systematizing totality, Spirit’s absolute identity and reconciliation of subject/object in Absolute Knowledge. Peirce adds that Hegel overlooked or forgot that “there is a real world with real actions and reactions” (CP 1.368). To my knowledge, Peirce has not read Marx’s critique of Hegel, but his theory of mediation (the triadic process of logic as semiotics) concurs with Marx’s thesis that “the question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. In practice, man must prove the truth, that is, the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking” (1968, 28).

We intend to mark the dialectical passage of thought via Peirce’s triadic schema of classifying domains of experience. Thought or understanding, by its nature, begets contradiction and is therefore dialectical, Hegel asserts. Not only thought but everything surrounding us: “We are aware that everything finite, instead of being stable and ultimate, is rather changeable and transient; and this is exactly what we mean by that Dialectic of the finite, by which the finite, as. Implicitly other than what it is, is forced beyond its own immediate or natural being to turn suddenly into its opposite” (Hegel 1904, 150). Analogously, Peirce’s dialectics is the movement of thought (inferential reasoning) from the first immediate content of observation that is posited only to be differentiated into a subject and predicate of judgment, this mediation in turn sublated or integrated in a concluding belief (Mure 1940). All three stages of reflection, while analytically discriminated as discrete moments, are present simultaneously at the end of the pragmatic process of abduction which is an articulated, self-moving totality.

Peirce declared that his phenomenology will not just analyze experience but “extend it to describing all the features that are common to whatever is experienced or might conceivably be experienced or become an object of study in any way direct or indirect” (1998a, 143). Potentiality and the virtual future occupy center-stage. Peirce claims that he arrived at his universal categories independently, although in his contempt for Hegelianism, the German philosopher might have exercised an “occult influence” on him. Indeed, Peirce admits that Hegel’s three stages of thought as “roughly speaking, the correct list of Universal Categories” (1998a, 148). Peirce also claimed that his categories differ from those of Aristotle, Kant and Hegel in that they never paid serious examination to what can be observed in phenomena (phanerons), universally applying to anything we can think of (the possible, the utopian, the variegated cosmos of phantasy).

Parsing Peirce’s Dialectics

We summarize here Peirce’s revised theory of categories of experience, and phases of thinking linked to them, in his late period (1903-1914): Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness as “phaneroscopic categories” (Peirce 1998a, 145-169). The internal relations among these three, the process of their unfolding, parallel the Hegelian “self-supersession of the finite determinations of the Understanding” (Findlay 1958, 60). However, the central movements of contradiction and sublation in the dialectic are governed by logical criteria and empirical constraints; hence, the labors of negation and mediation are not representations of Hegel’s Absolute Spirit, of Substance as Subject (Hegel 1977, 14), but the activities of cooperative participants reasoning about the validity of inferences and hypotheses, the community of calculating experimenters. In short, there is a world out there heedless of what you, I, or any other person thinks about it which is our field of inquiry.

Firstness is “quality of feeling,” which is “the true psychical representative of the first category of the immediate as it is in its immediacy, of the present in its direct positive presentness” (1988a, 149-50; CP 8.328). The idea here is not actual but potential, a possibility. It cannot be compared to Plato’s hypostatized Forms, but it is not a thought in some mind; it is between a mere nothing and an existent, therefore a possibility to become actual when it enters the mind by virtue of experience. For example, a possible sense experience such as a color sensation, “blueness,” or sensation such as a toothache—possibilities that may become actual. The process of actualization transpires in the attention given to the sequence of the embodiment of qualities apprehended by the experient. Hegel dismissed the irrationality of Firstness, the indefinite possibilities in the future implied by chance happenings in experience, as an aspect of Firstness.

Firstness as Presentness includes the irreducible variety and plurality of things, both actual and virtual. In Peirce’s comment on the U.S. colonial incursion across the Pacific Ocean, the scenario of Patrick Henry’s words appearing on a piece of paper and then thrown into the sea functions as part of Firstness, which is what it is. Its floating on the sea, its fortuitous salvaging by a Tagala, its transfer to translators, and its hermeneutic application, can be treated separately as elements of Firstness.  Each transient feeling shades off into another. However, as Peirce notes, “that one logically involves  two as part of its conception” (quoted by de Waal 2013, 41). One divides into two. In Hegelian dialectics, this one-sided determination of the finite is immanently transcended in its negation: the debris is negated as something opposed to it, something not wasted, now appropriated. Possibilities (feelings, qualities) populate Firstness.

Secondness is briefly reaction, brute force, struggle or conflict as dyadic relation. It is “the Idea of that which is such as it is as being Second to some First, regardless of anything else and in particular regardless of any law, although it may conform to a law,…Reaction as an element of the Phenomenon” (CP 8.328).  An example of Secondness is the existing object, the embodiment of qualities (Firstness)—not yet actualized until experienced by some mind, whereby the qualities become percepts, an image or feeling. This process of actualization is complex and the topic of ongoing psychological inquiry. Hegel discounted this level of the immediate “hic et nunc of sense perception” by subsuming it to general concepts in the transition from the doctrine of Being to the doctrine of the Notion. By doing so, Peirce contends that Hegel valorized for philosophy “only the world of completed facts, the past, and not the real possibilities of things, esse in futuro” (Peirce 1998a, 358-59). For Peirce, the future as event or sequence of realization of what is intended, based on past discoveries and current habits, is what matters most in carrying out scientific research.

Secondness is the realm of contingency, the accidentally actual and unconditional necessity, the reign of brute force (Gallie 1952, 197). In the case of Peirce’s piece of paper floating in the ocean (thrown out or blown by accident from a ship), Secondness involves reaction—whirled into the ocean as debris, then its discovery by a Tagala in a Philippine beach, seemingly occasioned by “a blind force.” Existence of this object goes through struggle and competition for recognition.

Meanwhile, unexpected otherness enters the scene. Opposites interpenetrate, leading to some kind of temporary reconciliation (Ollman 2003). Everything finite is what it is by its negation, by its sublation: debris becomes the vehicle of a message in its eventual Thirdness. An adventuring Tagala encounters that floating debris. That paper with Henry’s words then becomes translated/interpreted, an instance of mediation or Thirdness. The iconic object becomes, for the interpretant, an index of an historic event parallel to the Filipino resistance to barbaric colonialism. Something from the U.S. historical archive or memory is grasped as contrary to what the Empire’s troops are doing in the Philippines, the antithesis of Henry’s idea of the American people’s will to self-determination against the British empire.

Surely, this hypothetical narrative drawn from Peirce’s lecture does not imply that the American patriot is the only source of the idea of liberty, of the struggle for national sovereignty. What is conveyed is the irony of the ideals of the American revolution presumably giving support to the Filipino resistance against U.S. aggression.  Possibilities are diverse: either the signs fail to induce purposive conduct, or stay dormant until future use, or incite urgent mobilization. What the Filipinos will do if they examine thoughtfully Henry’s words concerning the popular struggle for liberation is what really matters.  If interpretation of signs leads to conceivable purposive praxis, then one progressive step in the evolution of concrete reasonableness in the world is accomplished. Entire communities stand to benefit from this continuum of dialogue and exchange of serviceable, utilizable ideas.

Hermeneutics of Praxis

We now approach the moment of sublation, Hegel’s Aufhebung or self-transcendence, a movement in thought which negates one part, preserves another part, and synthesizes them in a new standpoint. Thirdness is the “Idea of that which is such as being a Third, or Medium, between a Second and its First….Representation as an element of the Phenomenon,”  containing the concept of “True Continuity.”  (Peirce 1998b,150,160). Thirdness designates a general concept, the universal idea abstracted from the percept found in the first and second moments, which Peirce also calls “generals.” According to Richard Robin, “Peirce’s metaphysical realism, then, consists in his view that the general concepts that go to make up meanings are real…They have a real external counterpart in the percept—which is the equivalent in consciousness of a firstness present in the perceive object” (1998b, 11). Every concept (Thirdness) refers to a sense-percept (Secondness) to bear some meaning (the real).

No concept is meaningful unless it refers to sense-experience, which is subjected to attention and abstracting elements from the percept to generate concepts expressed in a judgement, such as “This orchid is crimson.” “Crimson” is not a fiction of the imagination but a quality possessed by things in the world. “Crimson” can be predicated of many other things, hence it is a real general, that is, the crimson of an orchid is not identical with the crimson of blood, but they are similar. As long as there is something in the physical world that exemplifies particular qualities (not all of the particularizing determinations of generic and specific qualities ascribed to objects), the concept containing them is a real concept. This refutes all allegations that Peirce reduced everything to mind or rationality.  These three modes of reality, categories of being or three universes of experience, provide the coordinates for Peirce’s epistemology as well as his singular theory of pragmaticism.

Applied to that salvaged piece of paper with Patrick Henry’s statement, we have an instance of mediation when the words are translated and made intelligible. The power of that piece of paper to represent a historic event (the American revolution and its justification) is expressed as a transaction between object (signifier or representamen) and the message (signified) by the interpretant—the discoverer/translator, which stands for a transindividual/collective agency. The experience of Thirdness is the encounter with the intelligible, “concrete reasonableness,” which for Peirce, becomes the ground for humans taking action to change what is irrational, illogical, and inhumane. This is an example of Peirce’s political intervention into that crucial juncture of U.S-Philippines relations.

Toward Alternative Transformation

What is the relevance and applicability of Peirce’s categories to the understanding of political or social change? How is pragmatism connected to the normative sciences of logic, ethics, and aesthetics?  Cheryl Misak and Richard Bernstein have speculated on Peirce’s implicit ethical and political outlook based on his pragmaticist principles. They both quote Peirce’s propositions: “Thinking is a kind of action, and reasoning is a kind of deliberate action; and to call an argument illogical, or a proposition false, is a special kind of moral judgment,” and “He who would not sacrifice his own soul to save the whole world, is illogical in all his inferences, collectively” (cited in Misak 2004, 170, 173).  Everyone commends Peirce’s final affirmation of “concrete reasonableness” as the highest good that all our intentions, projects, and acts should strive for. In short, ethics and politics are in reciprocal interchange with  Peirce’s epistemology realized in an evolving semiotics.

Peirce’s cognitivism, in the larger context of his metaphysics, is based on his evolutionary cosmology in which chance and necessity coalesce. No doubt, thought controlled by rational experimental logic is what Peirce valued in the conduct of marshalling evidence and argument for fallible but workable beliefs. No doubt also, Peirce rejected Cartesian intuitionism and James’s and Dewey’s  psychologizing of his pragmatic maxim in favor of self-control and self-criticism (Bernstein 2010). Anarchic individualism is also ruled out because public deliberation and consensus are needed for effective social changes in habits and modes of thinking of citizens.

Lest readers again impute individualistic bias to Peirce, we emphasize that reflexivity can only take place within a definite community of persons engaged in critical inquiry, a “community without definite limits,” which functions as a regulative ideal in pragmaticism. Bernstein asserts that the social character of the individual is defined by the forms of participation in community life, citing Peirce’s insight: “A person is not absolutely an individual. His thoughts are what he is ‘saying to himself,’ that is, is saying to that other self that is just coming to life in the flow of time. When one reasons, it is that critical self that one is trying to persuade; and all thought whatsoever is a sign, and is mostly of the nature of language” (Bernstein 1971, 190). We are confronted here not just with deliberative pluralist exchange, discursive debate or communication, but also with collective programs for institutional changes toward genuine participatory democracy.

What is indisputable is the gravity of Peirce’s civic-minded or communalist sympathies. In the final analysis, the mobilized community of inquirers—activists in performing critical self-control and realistic orientation of behavior—is the chief protagonist in Peirce’s political world-view. This protagonist is the transindividual organic intellectual in Antonio Gramsci’s (1971) politics and the proletarian party in George Lukacs’ (1971) dialectics. Reason as Aristotelian energy engenders the action imitated by discourse. We cannot elaborate here on Peirce’s theory of evolutionary change, on synechism and tychism in which the role of chance or accident functions as the matrix of innovation, radical transformation, and the pursuit of concrete universality requiring the “absence of self-conceit” (West 1989, 51; Smith 1966).  For Peirce, the development of Reason is the fundamental motivation behind social progress, the aesthetic ideal governing ethics and logic: “The one thing whose admirableness is not due to an ulterior reason is Reason itself comprehended in all its fulness as far as we can comprehend it….The ideal of conduct will be to execute our little function in the operation of the creation by giving a hand toward rendering the world more reasonable whenever, as the slang is, it is “up to us” to do so” (1998a, 255).

The Responsibility of Intellectuals

      In the context of intellectual exchanges, there is a plausible danger of fetishizing Reason and idealistic rationalism. Or jettisoning it in favor of nominalistic anti-foundationalism such as that of Richard Rorty. But Peirce’s belief in a world outside of our minds, his scholastic realism, prevents this extremism. Concepts without experienced material are vacuous; sense-data without concepts are blind. Rational activity connected to social interests entails action which, John Dewey reflects, serves as an intermediary, modifying existence, “in that process of evolution whereby the existent comes more and more to embody generals’; in other words, “the process whereby the existent becomes, with the aid of action, a body of rational tendencies or of habits generalized as much as possible” (Dewey 1982, 25).

Moreover, Peirce’s revolutionary slogan, “Do not block the road of inquiry,” warrants also sanctioning “the one ordinance of Play, the law of liberty” (1998a, 436). It is this perspective that John Dewey (1969) applied to his critique of Leon Trotsky by stressing the indeterminacy of means in relation to ends previously agreed upon. Concrete historical situations overdetermine the means-ends nexus (Hook 2002, 152-53). Peirce’s stress on consequences, rational purport coordinated with universal principles, and the purposive bearings of any inquiry, testifies to his conviction in the feasibility of a transformed, ameliorated future.

As already discussed, Peirce did not engage in any sustained reflection on ethics or politics except for a few remarks on the normative sciences. Only Roberta Kevelson has speculated on the reciprocal interaction between Peirce’s Existential Graphs and utopic propositions dealing with political economy, in particular the modal graphs of possibility. Kevelson observes that “a cut of a graph may be an instance of a possible universe, or, in other words, a graph-replica in a kind of utopic representation, a posible of a figment of a possible” (1999, 113). Space-time continuum, for Peirce, signifies lawful evolution of knowledge analogous to evolution in nature which is characterized by the intrusion of chance breaks and accidental ruptures (as theorized by Peirce’s synechism and tychism (on synechism and science, see Haack 2008). Virtualities in the realm of potentiality supervene over actualities.

It bears repeating that the radicalism of Peirce’s realist dialectic is fully evinced in his repudiation of nominalism (exemplified in positivism, radical empiricism, deconstruction, etc.) which reduce the abstract to the sensory, the general to the individual. Peirce’s foundational vision is contained in his critique of Berkeley. It addresses the rugged individualism prevalent in the 1870s when the utilitarian economics of Bentham and Marshall based on Ockham’s denial of universals and the positivist’s denial of religion and metaphysics (Murphey 1993, 100): “The question whether the genus homo has any existence except as individuals, is the question whether there is anything of any more dignity, worth and importance than individual happiness, individual aspirations, and individual life. Whether men really have anything in common, so that the community is to be considered as an end in itself, and if so, what the relative value of the two factors is, is the most fundamental practical question in regard to every public institutions the constitution of which we have it in our power to influence” (1992, 105). The individual mind, for Peirce, signifies fallibility: “The individual man, since his separate existence is manifested only by ignorance and error, so far as he is anything apart from his fellows,and from what he and they are to be, only a negation” (quoted in Murphey 1993, 175; see also Ketner 1998, 325; Colapietro 1989). This negation, however, can be a powerful matrix for affirmation, as witness the mutable occasions featuring Patrick Henry’s words which, if decoded properly by a scientifically-minded collective agency, are capable of stoking the fires of revolutionary struggle across the oceans.

In the context of the search for concrete universals in ordinary experience, Peirce’s humanistic communalism proves to be an open-ended, imaginatively creative approach to analyzing sociopolitical problems. His methodology of “critical commonsensism,” combined with meaning-critical realism, rooted in a community of interpreters serves an emancipatory socialist-oriented goal (Apel 1981). Peirce subscribes to the Enlightenment principle of autonomy and self-controlled conduct. It affirms an earlier anti-Cartesian insight that there are no intuitive cognitions, and all hypothetical propositions are tentative and fallible. In this context, freedom is possible only in an objective inquiry into an impersonal truth about nature and society whose institutions and processes are always be under construction.

Modern science has no self-authenticating, apriori foundations, only the quest for methods of discovery and proof. Likewise, nothing is self-authenticating for Peirce as he muses on the constellation of self, nature, and law; and thus, “the dialectic of moral life is set up, between inclinations rooted in flesh and moral duty grounded in reason.  Freedom depends both on there being that dialectic and on our choosing morality over inclination. But this depends on the moral law not being arbitrary” (Short 2007, 346).  Peirce also held that “By the ‘practical,’ I mean everything that is possible through freedom” (Murphey 1993, 177). Scientists may be at sea, but not for long. Land, the harbor, looms ahead. Just as that piece of paper with Patrick Henry’s words on liberty was not self-authenticating until it passed into the zones of Secondness and Thirdness, Peirce’s philosophy remains to be investigated in the same spirit of risky adventure that he expressed in his 1905 letter to William James, who intially introduced Peirce’s pragmaticism into the world with all its unpredictable consequences (note the sea metaphor recalling our specimen of Peirce’s intervention): “There is nothing, however, more wholesome for us than to find problems that quite transcend our powers and I must say, too, that it imparts a delicious sense of being cradled in the waters of the deep—a feeling I always have at sea” (quoted in Short 2007, 347).

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Feibleman, James. 1969. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Charles S. Peirce.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS

Notes on Marxist Aesthetics


MARXIST AESTHETICS REVISITED:

From Lenin,Caudwell,and Brecht to Gramsci

by E. San Juan, Jr. Dept of English & Comparative Literature, University of the Philippines

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` In Sotheby’s contemporary art auction last November 2013, avant-garde art confirmed its absorption by the market with the $104.5 million sale of Andy Warhol’s  1963 “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster).” In 2007, his “Green Car Crash” sold for $1.7 million, proof that the aura of the name dictates market value, with the subject or content of the art work adding enough differentia specifica to mark its historical period or milieu.. In the past, Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucien Freud” sold for $142.4 million while Gerhard Richert’s abstract “A.B. Courbet” sold for $26.4 million and Cy Twombly’s “Poems to the Sea” (1959 drawings) sold for $21.6 million (New York Times 2013).

Commodification seems to have climaxed in a species of postmodern aesthetics designated “conceptual” and “post-conceptual. Exchange-value (embodied in money as cause) has displaced use-value (now conceived as effect). At the outset, the term “conceptual” art offers a conundrum since it is not clear what concept is referred to, or whether the term designates the artist’s intention. A metalepsis seems to have occurred. Art generates the concept (telos; universal significance) instead of the concept (vision or intuition) engendering the performative discursive practice.

Postmodern Conceptualism

As early as 1970, Mel Bochner, one of the practitioners of “conceptual art,” questioned the epithet’s ambiguity and lack of precision. In any case, the rubric “conceptual art” has been used to cover the works created by artists such as Sol Lewitt, Robert Smithson, Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner, Bruce Naumann and others during its apogee and crisis in the years 1966-72 (Godfrey 1998). While Kosuth proposed that conceptual art defines itself by questioning the nature of art, Lewitt posited its essence to  be found in “the idea or concept” which becomes “a machine that makes the art” (1967), the concept itself subsuming the planning and decisions that enable the execution of the art-work.

Lewitt’s pronouncements have become so scriptural that a popular Dictionary of Theories ascribes conceptual art as a “cerebral approach” championed by Lewitt in 1967 as a reaction against post-war formalistic art. Since the concept or idea becomes paramount in the artistic process, “the planning and concept are decided beforehand, but the end result is intuitive and without recognizable purpose” (Bothamley 1993, 108-09).

Before venturing further into nomenclature and examples, it might be illuminating to review the field of aesthetics and, with it, the theory of art. Art and aesthetics need to be differentiated, the former dealing with the object produced or created and the latter with the experience and knowledge of the art-object. Ultimately, however, with the postmodern interrogation of the concept of art (in both the ontological and phenomenological senses), the two coalesce in the conceptualist revision. Whether such a result is helpful in clarifying both remains to be resolved. Meanwhile, a historical investigation into the status of the art-object as a distinctive category might be useful in this brief inquiry.

Schematizing the Beautiful

      Foregoing a complete history of the origin of aesthetics from classical antiquity up to the Renaissance, we may begin with German philosophical idealism. Aesthetics (from the Greek aisthesis, “perception, sensation”), aesthetics was first theorized by Alexander G. Baumgarten in 1750 as “the science of sensory knowledge or cognition,” whose aim is beauty, not truth. It was later elaborated by Kant as “the science of the rules of sensibility in general” concerned with the a priori principles of sensible experience.  In Thomistic aesthetics, the intuitive knowledge of the sensible is grounded in intellectual judgment as a knowledge of the universal. The artistic criteria of integritas, consonantia, and claritas are abstract ideas mediating the comprehension of the sensibles (Eco 1988).

In his Critique of Judgment (1790), Kant posited aesthetics as involved with the subjective feeling of pleasure and pain, hence aesthetic judgments pertain to the subject, not the object represented. What is beautiful is tied with disinterested pleasure, a judgment of taste based on immediate intuition without a concept. Kant argues that “Beauty is the formal aspect of purposiveness, insofar as it is perceived in the objectified wituout the representation of purpose…[T]hat which is generally pleasing, without a concept, is beautiful” (quoted by Guttman 1963, 18). Formal purposiveness without purpose–this axiom established the privileged autonomy of art which prevailed up to Clement Greenberg’s pontifications on abstract expressionism.

Two additions to Kant may be cited here. First, Schelling proposed the romantic theme of beauty as “the Infinite infinitely presented,” while Hegel is said to have summed up the classic traditional thinking in his view that Beauty equals Idea, beauty as the sensuous manifestation of the Idea. However, the beautiful is nothing unless it is externalized or mediated in the work of art in which the beholder and the artist’s mind encounter each other. The idea then is the content of the art-work in its dynamic historical evolution. In the nineteenth century, the psychological approach dominated the investigations of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Herbart and Fechner, the latter inaugurating the empirical-experimental approach to aesthetics.. This was followed by Theodor Lipps notion of empathy, with esthetic enjoyment conceived as “objectivized self-enjoyment,” an inner imitation of artistic creation. With Benedetto Croce, this idealist line of speculation culminates in art as intuitive activity, an expression of inwardness, eluding the screen of formal mediation.

Hegel emphasized the philosophical function of art as a vehicle of reason in quest of universals realized in history.  While Hegel believed art to furnish “the sensuous semblance of the idea,” for Croce, universals and history disappear. Croce reduces art to lyrical intuition, separated from the phenomenal contingent world, pure intuition whose modes of expression exist in the artist’s mind. The actualization of this intuition is secondary; expression and communication do not affect the value of the unreflected intuition. Unconcerned with the play of imagination or the immediacies of feeling, Croce absolutized intuition as a complex blend of idea, image and expression whose singularity, however, resists philosophical generalization (Richter 1994, 145). Croce’s expression theory complements the formalist stress on essential form in Clive Bell, Roger Fry, I.A. Richards, and their American counterparts in the New Criticism. Whether the naturalism of John Dewey’s theory of art as intense experience can be reconciled with Croce, is still a debatable proposition.

      Aesthetics as an inquiry into normative concepts and values regarding beauty may have given way to modern interest in a descriptive and factual approach to the phenomena of art (production and reception) and aesthetic experience.  Beauty is now construed as an effect of form, of discursive signifying practice. One can mention Charles Morris’ idea of art as iconic symbol of value, as well as Susanne Langer’s conception of art is the symbol or expressive form whereby emotions are rendered apprehensible in their formal embodiments or styles.

Aside from the phenomenological approach deployed by Martin Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and others, the dominant aesthetic stance in the United States for a long time has been exemplified by the eclectic Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism which welcomes all forms of scientific, descriptive, or critical-historical treatment of questions concerning art.

Historicizing Form

      Together with beauty and the sublime, the ideal of autonomy and artistic genius dissolved with the age of mechanical reproduction. Walter Benjamin dealt a fatal blow to the norm of authenticity; the Here and Now of the original is constantly being destroyed by capitalism. Besides the formal properties that authenticate the art-work, the contents of art (idealistic content-aesthetics) have suffered the impact of contingency, chance or accident, entropy, the inexorable incursions of the unpredictable. Art is not timeless but changeable, subject to the process of becoming. Hegel’s “bad conscience” implies that art is never for itself but requires, in fact demands, the exegesis and interpretation of others outside the artist. Art’s truth-content cannot be fully exhausted by any single hermeneutic organon. Since interpretations are open and endless, all art is subject to historicity and the mutability of standards and criteria of judgment.

In this new catastrophic period of triumphalist globalism, the issue of materialist aesthetics appears not only anachronistic but also a perverse joke. Except those fashioned for immediate use-value (for therapy, etc.), all art in capitalism has become a commodity (exchange-value). And since Marxist revolutionaries have become obsolete if not rare today, aesthetics has become the preserve of museum curators, academic experts/shamans, and theologians attached to art galleries and auction houses. Except for Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, John Berger, and the late Polish philosopher Stefan Morawski, no serious Marxist thinker has devoted a wholesale engagement with the theory of art, with aesthetic criticism and inquiry. 

Indeed, in a 1983 international conference on “Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture,” Michelle Barrett bewailed the lack of adequate discussion of aesthetic pleasure and value. Given the vogue of poststructuralist textualism and postmodernist nominalism, aesthetics was overshadowed by or subsumed in discourses on ideology, representation, and the deconstruction of the subject. Nature and objective reality have been cancelled out to give room to the floating signifier, difference, aporia and contingency. Henceforth the “free play” of the liberated signifier would call the shots. Subjectivity, or subject-positions, become reduced to simulacra, aporia, or undecidables vulnerable to infinite semiosis,that is,

interminable sequence of interpretations.

But this chaos did not discourage Barrett from giving self-confident judgments. She nonchalantly dismissed vulgar concerns about art’s “truth” and social relevance because the meanings of art works are not immanent but constructed “in the consumption of the work” (1988, 702). Readers/spectators actively co-create the meaning and significance of the art-work.  Contrary to the orthodox ideas about typical characters and organic form, Barrett holds that ideological content and political implications are not given in the art-work but are effects or constructions by readers/audiences, an assertion justified within the framework of a reader-response/reception aesthetics. This position is clearly symptomatic of the move of Barrett’s cohort toward a more open-ended, adventurist, innovative stance, rejecting not only reflectionist theory (Lukacs; Goldman) but also interventionist approaches (Gramsci; Sartre). But what exactly do we mean by a Marxist approach to aesthetics or theory of art?

Revisiting Marxist Aesthetics

     In the wake of the post-structuralist transvaluation of texts as the ceaseless play of differance, of the unchoreographable dance of signifiers, which one may interpret as a historically specific reaction in the Western milieu to dogmatist leftism in its various manifestations–economistic, sectarian, mechanical, empiricist, etc.–I would like to reaffirm once more the occluded yet irrepressible matrix of art in the Marxist concept of praxis and political struggle.  Enunciated by Marx in Theses on Feuerbach and The Eighteenth Brumaire in particular, this inscription of the aesthetic in transformative action I would call the “Leninist moment,” the hegemonic or ethico-political crux in Marxist critical theory.

     In The Aesthetic Dimension, Herbert Marcuse attempts to posit and validate the crucial divorce between aesthetics and politics in late monopoly capitalism by suggesting that Lenin, and the Bolshevik revolutionary tradition originating from Marxism-Leninism, rejected the transcendental and liberating “truth of art” (1978, 56-57). From within a revisionist perspective. the Polish aesthetician Stefan Morawski distorts Lenin’s dialectical conception of art by defining it as narrowly concerned with “the popularization of culture,” and guilty of “Utilitarianism” (1974,

261). Even for the sophisticated British critic Terry Eagleton, Lenin’s “epistemological theory of reflection” generates more problems than it solves. In sum, the putative reflection theory ascribed to Lenin and orthodox Marxists has become the favorite whipping horse of bourgeois theoreticians ranging from academic Marxologists like Peter Demetz (1967) to liberal commentators like Edmund Wilson (1948) and George Steiner (1967).

Lessons from Lenin

     With the renaissance of Marxist critical theory in the late Sixties, especially the recovery of certain fundamental insights into the constitution of the subject by ideology facilitated by Althusser’s “structuralist readings,” it seems appropriate to re-situate the necessary task of Marxist critical theory on artistic production within a revolutionary dialectical strategy of cultural politics.  This strategy would not simply be a deconstructive scholastic reading of texts to disclose their metaphysical fallacies or rhetorical virtues, a practice inspired by leftist followers of Derrida and Foucault.  It would also not be a revival of a utopian or prophetic strain in Marxism as an alternative to bureaucratic conservatism or social-democratic opportunism, an approach exemplified by Maynard Solomon’s instructive anthology Marxism and Art (1973). What this strategy hopes to encourage is the active intervention of the critic or theoretician in the social practices of everyday life.

     In Lenin’s critical practice of deciphering texts, particularly in his appraisal of Tolstoy’s works, we can discern the model of an interrogatory hermeneutic praxis. Lenin focuses on the organic yet mediated linkage between knowledge and action, cognition and organized will–a new radical conception of textuality and signifying practice which would be elaborated later on by Christopher Caudwell, deepened by Antonio Gramsci, and actualized by the Lehrstucke of Bertolt Brecht.

     As Pierre Macherey has pointed out in his A Theory of Literary Production (1966), Lenin demonstrated the internal contradictions in Tolstoy’s writings between the critical-realistic protest embodied in the texts and the quietist reactionary doctrines thematized by the allegorizing tendencies in narrative.  He pointed out how these contradictions spring from the ideological position of the artist himself and the inherent limitations of such a position.  While defining the limits of his ideology through narrative form, Tolstoy’s art distances itself from its intrinsic ideology by foregrounding the principle of conflict. Such distancing or decentering opens up the space for critical intervention, an opening seized by Lenin. This can be illustrated by Lenin’s remark in “Leo Tolstoy as the Mirror of the Russian Revolution”(1908): “But the contradictions in Tolstoy’s views and doctrines are not accidental; they express the contradictory conditions of Russian life in the last third of the nineteenth century.  The patriarchal countryside, only recently emancipated from serfdom, was literally given over to the capitalist and the tax collector to be fleeced and plundered…”(1967, 30). Tolstoy’s views, Lenin urged, should be appraised from the standpoint of democratic protest against advancing capitalism, a protest embodied in non-violent religious language permeating the consciousness of Russian peasants and landlords “at the time the bourgeois revolution was approaching mankind.”  Further, “Tolstoy is original, because the sum total of his views, taken as a whole, happens to express the specific features of our revolution as a peasant bourgeois revolution” (1967, 30; also 48-62).

     Tolstoy’s landlord/patriarchal ideology, characterized by a sharp awareness of conjunctural class conflict and a specific resolution proposed for this conflict, finds itself objectified     

and interrogated by the structure of his texts which metamorphoses illusions (enabled by ideology) into visible objects and practices. In this process, the ideology is internally displaced or redoubled, thereby exposing its limits and inadequacies (for example, the social framework of beliefs informing the protagonists in Anna Karenina). For these limits, silences or absences to reveal their presence, a dialectical reading is required.  In Lenin’s reading, we see the analysis of the historical contradictions in Tolstoy’s class position vis-a-vis the 1905 bourgeois democratic revolution manifest as the preaching of Christian quietism, an ethico-political position which hides the complex totality of the material contradictions. In the same breath, the intrinsic lack in the text expresses the historical deficiency or insufficiency of the historical situation, namely, the ambiguous role of the peasantry in the emerging socialist revolution.  One can perceive this problematic of Tolstoy’s ideology being interrogated and demystified (its false claims to totality and naturalness exposed) in a narrative like “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” where the existential anguish suffered by Ivan exceeds the social corruption afflicting his petty bourgeois stratum. At the same time, his predicament erases the subjectivities of women and the servant Gerasim–not erases but rather neutralizes them in conformity with the pietist or moralizing closure of the text.

Symptomatic Beginnings

     While the symptomatic diagnosis which Macherey (1978, 105-135) recommends tends to privilege the text as a displacing mechanism that reveals the incongruities and dissonances marking the limits of ideological incorporation, I would like to stress here that Lenin’s own critical practice operates within and outside the text-bound, purely hermeneutical method. By situating Tolstoy’s texts at the conjuncture of class alignments (Gramsci’s relation of historic forces) and focusing on the problematic role of the peasantry in the revolutionary process as a whole, Lenin anatomizes the contingencies of literary form itself.  In other words, the text is articulated by multiple determinations, not just by the purely linguistic or rhetorical.  In effect Lenin decentered the organic formal unity of texts, elucidating their “political unconscious” (Jameson, 1981) in the conflicted historical totality subsuming them.

     This argument concerning the textual production of meaning, the discursive process of signification as a dialectical transaction in which ideology is cognized as a social practice, not a transcribed “false consciousness,” is not Lenin’s innovation–his intervention takes the form of articulating a conjunctural theory of revolutionary strategy and tactics outlined in What is to be done? It is actually Marx’s, specifically in his critique of religion where the notion of what Lukacs later on calls “reification” as derived from commodity-fetishism is first formulated (Lukacs 1971, 83-222). In general, religion as an “inverted world-consciousness” provides the heuristic model for the unity-in-conflict of the real and the illusory.  Marx associates praxis with discourse in The German Ideology and in his critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right:

Religion is, in fact, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet gained himself or has lost himself again….It is the fantastic realization of the human being because the human being has attained no true reality….The wretchedness of religion is at once an expression of and a protest against real wretchedness. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions.  It is the opium of the people.

     The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is a demand for their true happiness. The call to abandon illusions about their conditions is the call to abandon a condition which requires illusions.  Thus, the critique of religion is the critique in embryo of the vale of tears of which religion is the halo…(1970, 131).

Here Marx grasps the superstructure (religion) not as epiphenomena but as an integral element of an all pervasive social practice. In conceptualizing the contradictory relation between intellectual objectification and social reality, Marx laid the groundwork for the active, dynamic and creative intervention of transformative agents. Such agency, relative to varying historical sites, can be instanced by Lenin’s bolshevik party, Gramsci’s “organic intellectuals” functioning in the ideological apparatuses of civil society. Or it can assume the guise of Brecht’s avant-garde epic gesture aimed at destroying the habit of organic idealist thinking and its roots in the Kantian fetishism of categories.

Interventions by Caudwell

It would also be instructive to review here Christopher Caudwell’s argument in Illusion and Reality (1937) that poetry, art in general, is a specific mode of production of “historically necessary forms of social consciousness,” in short, of literature as politically defined signifying practice.  Caudwell’s controlling insight that the concept of bourgeois freedom is premised on the ignorance of social relations–an instance of the working of commodity-fetishism–stems from his thesis of the dialectical unity of subject and object. This thesis is an epistemological axiom implied in Marx’s concept of the subject as sensuous-practical activity, “theory as the outcome of practice on the object” (1978, 143; also 113-114, 117-118).

Marxist theory is oriented toward “concrete living,” toward the realization of freedom (development or fulfillment of man’s species-being) by society, collective or associated producers, mastering and directing the forces of nature. Engels conceived of freedom as lived in the appreciation of the necessary inscription of humans in nature and society. What is relevant for us in this context is Caudwell’s articulation of the aesthetic function, his view that art is not just a mere transcription of subjectivity (as in formalist idealism) nor a representation of objective reality (as in mimetic naturalism) but a production of a “mock world” where the “I,” the transindividual subject of culturally determinate discourse (not the self-present “I” of phenomenology)–the “I” as a socially constituted ego of the “common affective world”–actualizes itself in comprehending and transforming the real world. “Poetry is…the sweat of man’s struggle with Nature” conducted in history: “the phantasy of poetry is a social image” (1937, 130, 194; see also Duparc and Margolies 1986, 27).

Brecht’s Scenario

It remained for Brecht, in his decisive contestation with Lukacs in the Thirties over the methodology for achieving the goal of socialist realism, to elucidate not so much the objective moment–the historicity of phenomena, commodities as frozen or “dead” labor; life as “human sensuous activity” or praxis–as the subject moment or pole of the dialectic. In the context of a historical materialism challenged by fascist violence, Brecht theorized the mental and perceptual categories through which, in the art-work and in the audience, the social totality is mediated and the opportunity for action drawn. In the meantime, the mode of nineteenth-century realism valorized by Plekhanov, Mehring and early Marxist critics prevented the exploration of other alternatives to register the subtle mutations of middle-class consciousness in the post-World War I era.

     How can a revolutionary practice of writing combat the lure of bourgeois ideology and what Lukacs calls “reification” if it employs the mode of classic expressive realism? The tendency of such realism is precisely to conceal the historical specificity of the production of meaning and the reality-effect of prevailing codes of representation. Realism generates the notion of a subject as a given presence without history, self-identical, free and homogeneous: the bourgeois illusion Caudwell tried to exorcise. If subjectivity is a discursive construct, as Caudwell may be read to imply, and the forms of discourse vary relative to specific formations and class positions, then the key to producing politically effective art lies in a critical/creative practice where the signifying process is foregrounded and interrogated. Is the code of realism itself an immutable formal criterion?  Or are the means of unfolding social totality and enabling access to it a matter of conventions determined by concrete historical conjunctures–the convergence of ideological, political and economic instances to which Althusser called attention? Is there just one realist style or form?  Or is realism the epistemological and cognitive perspective within which a variety of forms (semiotic styles, signifying practices) can operate?

     While it is obligatory to contextualize the famous Brecht-Lukacs debate in order to account for Lukacs’ privileging of the “intensive totality” of critical realism (evinced in Thomas Mann) and Aristotelian catharsis (Lukacs 1970, 25-88), and for Brecht’s dialectical conceptualizing of realism, it would be instructive to rehearse the nodal theoretical points in this exchange.  At the outset, I would express my partiality for Brecht’s arguments in the light of my commitment to Third World anti-imperialist struggles where aesthetic problems and cultural tasks are overdetermined by strategic political needs. On the other hand, my work on Lukacs (San Juan 1973) testifies to his enduring value as a heuristic guide to renewing the immense creative potential of Marxism in a time when the old paradigms and formulas can no longer elucidate postmodern reality.

Precisely in focusing on contradiction as the dynamic motivation behind any materialist theory of reflection, Brecht rejects the contemplative and utopian (in the pejorative sense) thrust of Lukacs’ cognitive rationalism (see Lovell 1980, 68-76; Jameson 1971, 160-205). Brecht follows Lenin in situating the text (literary form, technique, genre) within the practical exigences of the class struggle. In a totalizing view, he takes “into account the degree of education and the class background of their public as well as the condition of the class conflicts” (Lang and Williams 1972, 227).

     While the contemporary poststructuralist critic may discount Brecht’s preoccupation with alienation-effect as merely an offshoot of his project of unfolding the causal nexus, “the network of social relationships,” constituting any event, Brecht cannot be classified simply as an exponent of “epistemological conventionalism.” He certainly does not subscribe to the tenet of the undecidability of meaning premised on the alleged disappearance of the referent. Brecht’s aesthetics includes a rhetorical or pragmatic moment within the cognitive: because what is represented in theater is not empirical montage of phenomena but the laws of social motion, to accomplish this task successfully it is necessary to enforce a critical distance, to remove the plausible and familiar elements in life which hide the possibilities for change in the nexus of events and actors (Brecht 1964, 91-99, 179-205). The knowledge induced by this syncopated or stylized realism involves the recipient’s perception of such possibilities, a perception indistinguishable from a learning process where pleasure coincides with the critical questioning of reality. This critical response entails a desire to play or experiment and thus transform the given situation according to the dictates of the “collective phantasy,” to use Caudwell’s evocative phrase (Brecht 1964, 69-76).

     It is clear that Brecht’s overriding purpose is to mobilize individual energies for collective intervention in changing society, a goal to which the choice of forms or technical means is subordinate.  Revealing the historicity of social relations, disclosing forms and ideas as constructs informed by alterity and difference, requires the will to subvert one-dimensional homogenizing thought.  It implies the production of meaning through the act of demythologizing public consensus and demystifying received norms.  Historicizing texts–making visible the dynamics of ideological production in shaping them–demonstrates and confirms the capacity of humans to collectively shape their world and realize man’s unique species-being.  Brecht’s materialism re-inscribes the reader or spectator as potential revolutionary agency in the interstices of a conflicted totality, a society in process of change.

In an article dated 12 August 1953, “Cultural Policy and Academy of Arts,” Brecht reiterates his demand for art’s “broad intelligibility,” its harnessing of the progressive elements in a national tradition, and its project of socialist realism as “a deeply human, earth-oriented art which will liberate every human capacity.” Polemicizing against dogmatic and bureaucratic pontifications issued by party officials, Brecht summed up his conception of socialist realism with which I am broadly in agreement. Socialist realism embraces two central themes: first, socialist realist works reveal characters and events as contradictory, historical and alterable, laying bare “the dialectical laws of movement of the social mechanism” so that the “mastering of man’s fate” is made easier; and second, socialist realist works provoke “pleasure at the possibility of society’s mastering man’s fate,” pleasure confluent with “socialist impulses.”  Underlying this second proposition is the primacy of a working-class viewpoint that strives “to raise human productivity to an undreamt-of extent by transforming society and abolishing exploitation” (Lang and Williams 1972, 226-227).

     What Brecht adds to Caudwell’s notion of the genotype (the collective impulse of human desire) and to Lukacs’ axiom of typicality is a more thorough dialectical grasp of dissonance or conflict as the driving force behind social processes (see in particular number 45 of “A Short Organon for the Theater”).  He also exhibits an unprecedented emphasis on socially shared pleasure which transposes the utopian or prophetic vision that Bloch and Benjamin appreciated in Marx–the “becoming” and “disappearance” of contradictions–into a sensuous, “earthly” performance. Brecht seems to re-articulate in his own language Lenin’s hermeneutic discovery of the lacunae and discrepancies in Tolstoy’s texts when Brecht foregrounds the pleasure-yielding effect of learning solidarity and struggle, as suggested in the concluding passage of his “Organon”:

   …our representations must take second place to what is represented, men’s life together in society; and the pleasure felt in their perfection must be converted into the higher pleasure felt when the rules emerging from this life in society are treated as imperfect and provisional.  In this way the theater leaves its spectators productively disposed even after the spectacle is over.  Let us hope that their theatre may allow them to enjoy as entertainment that terrible and never-ending labor which should ensure their maintenance, together with the terror of their unceasing transformation.  Let them here produce their own lives in the simplest way, for the simplest way of living is in art (Brecht 1964, 77; see Arvon 1973, 104-112).

     

     The antinomies of form and content, style and theme, the popular and the realistic qualities in art-works, which took center stage in the debate between Lukacs and Brecht in the Thirties, can be traced in the fractured and unresolved texts of Marxist cultural politics–from Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution (1936) to Mao’s influential Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art (1942). Questions about which has primacy–form or content, authorial will or audience reception, political correctness or technical efficacy–can perhaps be clarified by examining next Gramsci’s theory of hegemony as a political-ideological strategy founded on a recovery of the authentic Marxist conception of praxis (Gramsci 1957).

     Let us recall that in Theses on Feuerbach Marx not only stressed the centrality of “human sensuous activity, practice,” which defines the substance of social life; he also pointed out that “the human essence is not an abstraction inherent in each single individual” but is in fact indivisible from “the ensemble of social relations.”  Further Marx underscored in Thesis X that “the standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or socialized humanity.”  Contrary to the one-sided culturalist reading of Gramsci’s thought which privileges the sphere of ideology outside the political, I submit that the site of hegemony is not just civil society but the totality of social relations where production and the state, economic base and ideological superstructure, constitute an ongoing process of changing power relations: class subordination and dominance (Boelhower 1981).

Gramsci’s Reminders

The problem of conceptual art as the reinscription of immediacy via disursive practice involves the position of the artist in hegemonic society, Gramsci may provide a useful analytic optic in elucidating this issue. By contextualizing the individual artist in a historically specific milieu, Gramsci qualifies all aesthetic questions as ultimately political in character insofar as they are inscribed in culture grasped as a lived process of experience, not an abstract or simply functional institution.   Raymond Williams provides us with the most precise description of what in Gramsci involves a whole range of ethico-political activities. For Williams, the hegemony of posmodernist art should be comprehended as “a whole body of practices and expectations, over the whole of living: our senses and assignments of energy, our shaping perceptions of ourselves and our world.  It is a lived system of meanings and values–constitutive and constituting–which as they are experienced as practices appear as reciprocally confirming” (Williams 1977, 110).

     From this point it is only a short step to reconceptualizing the dialectical linkage between form and content in conceptual art by their thorough historical grounding in specific conjunctures. The metaphysical problematic of Kant, Hegel and Croce is thereby displaced or re-situated in concrete social predicaments. Gramsci contends for a dialectical interpretation of the polarity: “Can one speak of a priority of content over form?  One can in this sense: the work of art is a process and changes of content are also changes of form….Therefore, ‘form’ and ‘content’ have a ‘historical’ meaning besides an ‘aesthetic’ one.  ‘Historical’ form means a specific language, just as ‘content’ indicates a specific way of thinking that is not only historical…”(Boelhower 1981, 586).

What unfolds in Gramsci’s reflection is a materialist contextualization of the content-form duality in a process of discursive production: “historical form signifies a determinate language, while ‘content’ signifies a determinate way of thinking” (Dombroski 1984, 52).  For Gramsci, then, the objectification or historicization of what is imagined (phantasy activity, for Caudwell) not only proceeds in the mind but, more decisively, coincides with the “forming” process (poiesis, in Greek) which necessarily operates with material, sensorily apprehensible media, channels, devices, etc.  Not only are forms of thinking already structured by socially determinate values, but forms of expression or representation are also given beforehand, that is, before creative appropriation begins.  This is because techniques and other linguistic or formal elements are not pure schemata or empty categories but are in fact constituted by functional, culture-bound semantic values. In short, form is ideological in essence and thus political in its wider implication.  For Gramsci, however, content is not the experience but the writer’s attitude to it, an attitude which ultimately shapes style: “…’technical’ stands for the means by which the moral content, the moral conflict of the novel, the poem, or the drama is made comprehensible in the most immediate and dramatic way possible” (Gramsci 1975, 943).

Gramsci historicized the Kantian “beautiful” in the concrete conctradictions of society: “The battlefield for the creation of a new civilization is…absolutely mysterious, absolutely characterized by the unforeseeable and the unexpected. Having passed from capitalist power to workers’ power, the factory will continue to produce the same material things that it produces today.  But in what way and under what forms will poetry, drama, the novel, music, painting and moral and linguistic works be born?  It is not a material factory that produces these works. It cannot be reorganized by a workers’ power according to a plan. One cannot establish its rate of production for the satisfaction of immediate needs, to be controlled and determined statistically.  Nothing in this field is foreseeable except for this general hypothesis: there will be a proletarian culture (a civilization) totally different from the bourgeois one and in this field too class distinctions will be shattered…. The Futurists [in our time, the conceptualists or postmodernists]  have carried out this task in the field of bourgeois culture….[The Futurists] have grasped sharply and clearly that our age, the age of big industry, of the large proletarian city and of intense and tumultuous life, was in need of new forms of art, philosophy, behavior and language.  This sharply revolutionary and absolutely Marxist idea came to them when the Socialists were not even vaguely interested in such a question…. In their field, the field of culture, the Futurists are revolutionaries (Gramsci 1985, 50-51).

Prelude to a Postscript

One conclusion emerges from this brief survey of the nodal stages in the vicissitudes of Marxist critical theorizing on the politics of aesthetics: without the focus on the moment of praxis–the artist’s or critic’s intervention in the concrete arena of political struggle for hegemony, any reflection on the nature of art and its function will compulsively repeat the metaphysical idealism (Kant, Hegel, Croce) it seeks to overcome. It is in the arena of political and ideological conflict that consciousness is grasped in its overdetermined trajectory as a complex of material practices functioning in conserving or distintegrating a determinate conjuncture, a lived situation. Without positing this moment of rupture or opening for intervention, we shall reproduce the predicament of the bourgeois intellectual  which Caudwell and Lukacs (in History and Class Consciousness) acutely diagnosed: the division of mental and manual labor; the antinomy between subject and object, society and individual, nature and history, which revolutionary socialist practice hopes to gradually and eventually resolve, despite setbacks and mistakes in the itinerary of struggle.

One way of blocking this compulsion to repeat mechanical or essentializing practices is to compose a totalizing, more or less coherent narrative, a space (cognitive and pragmatic at the same time) where values/meanings compete; where a kind of Marxist self-recognition of its authentic vision may crystallize in the struggle of antagonistic interpretations consonant with the concrete ideological problems ushered by the era of glasnost and the collapse of “actually existing socialism” in Eastern Europe.  Such a task commands priority in the agenda of progressive intellectuals everywhere.

REFERENCES

Arvon, Henri. 1973.  Marxist Esthetics. Ithaca: Cornell.

Barrett, Michele. 1988. “The Place of Aesthetics in Marxist Criticism.”  In Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Eds. Lawrence Grossberg and Cary Nelson.  Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Boelhower, William.   1981.  “Antonio Gramsci’s Sociology of Literature.” Contemporary Literature, XXII: 580-595.

Bothamley, Jennifer.  1993.  Dictionary of Theories.  London: Gale Research International Ltd.

Bloch, Ernst et al.  1977.  Aesthetics and Politics.  London: Verso.

Brecht, Bertolt.   1964.   On Theater. New York: Hill & Wang.

Caudwell, Christopher.  1937.  Illusion and Reality. New York: International.

——.  1971. Studies and Further Studies in a Dying Culture.  New York: Monthly Review.

Craig, David, ed. 1975.   Marxists on Literature.  London: Penguin.

Demetz, Peter.   1967.   Marx, Engels and the Poets. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Duparc, Jean and David Margolies, eds. 1986.  Christopher Caudwell  Scenes and Actions. London: Routledge.

Eco, Umberto. 1988.  The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Godfrey, Tony.  1988.  Conceptual Art.  London: Phaidon.

Gramsci, Antonio.  1957.  The Modern Prince and Other Writings.  New York: International.

————.  1985.  Selections from Cultural Writings.  Cambridge, Mass: Harvard.

————.  1971.  Selections from Prison Notebooks.  New York: International.

Guttmann, James, ed.  1963. Philosophy A to Z.  New York: Grosset & Dunlap.

Jameson, Fredric.  1971.  Marxism and Form.  Princeton: Princeton University.

Lang, Berel and Forrest Williams, eds. 1972.   Marxism and Art. New York: Putnam.

Lenin, V. I.  1967.  On Literature and Art. Moscow: Progress.

Lukacs, Georg.   1980.  Essays on Realism.  Cambridge, Mass: MIT.

———–.  1971.  History and Class Consciousness.  London: Merlin.

———–.  1970.  Writer and Critic.  London: Merlin.

Macherey, Pierre.  1978.  A Theory of Literary Production.  London: Routledge.

Marcuse, Herbert.  1978.  The Aesthetic Dimension. Boston: Beacon.

Margolies, David N. 1969.  The Function of Literature.  New York: International.

Marx, Karl. 1970,  Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Tr. Joseph O’Malley.  Chicago: U of Chicago Press.

—–.  1978. The Marx-Engels Reader. Ed. Robert Tucker.  New York: Norton.

Mittenzwei, Werner.  1973.  “The Brecht-Lukacs Debate.” In Preserve and Create. Ed. Ursula Beitz and Gaylord Leroy. New York: Humanities.

Morawski, Stefan.  1974.  Inquiries into the Fundamentals of Aesthetics.  Cambridge, Mass.: MIT.

Mulhern, Francis.  1974.  “The Marxist Aesthetics of Christopher Caudwell.” New Left Review, No. 85 (May 1974): 37-58.

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Richter, David H.  1994.  “Croce, Benedetto.”  In The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 174-176.

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Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS

Critique of Neoliberal Cultural Pluralism by E. San Juan, Jr.


RE-VISITING THE POLITICS OF RECOGNITION AND THE PARADOX OF NEOLIBERAL  PLURALISM IN LATE CAPITALIST FORMATIONS

by E. SAN JUAN, Jr., Emeritus Prof of Comparative Cultures, Washington State University

One approach to disentangling the aporia of equal recognition of unequal cultures, of assigning comparable worth to a multiplicity of singular and incommensurable forms of life, would be to consider this dilemma as a symptom of the failure to grasp the paradigmatic sociality constituting individuals. Individuality equals, as Marx noted, the “totality of social relations” in specific concrete conjunctures.

This sociality of differential valuation, however, is historically specific to late capitalism. So it is necessary in the process of ethical and political judgment to grasp the ways in which the concept of value and its forms is theorized in the political economy of commodity production. Consider the market as an epistemological framework in assaying the worth of cultures.  The usual point of departure is Marx’s comment on the fetishism of commodities in the first book of Capital:

A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labor appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labor; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labor is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labor. This is the reason why the products of labor become commodities, social things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses.”

Commodity fetishism is the key to grasping comparative value. It occurs when definite social relations assume “the fantastic form of a relation between things,” when products of labor become commodities. What is crucial to elucidate is the “value relation” which in the process of exchange both reveals and hides the human content, the concrete labor embodied in commodities. That escapes quantification. Marx’s analysis of the forms of value may help clarify the antinomies found in theories justifying the toleration of cultural pluralism, or liberal policies/programs espousing multiculturalism..

Marx begins with the simplest accidental commodity-form instanced in the exchange of any two commmodities of given amounts:

x commodity A = [is worth] y commodity B

In effect, if A is worth B, then B expresses the value of A. So then, by analogy for example, if Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is worth Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, then the African novel expresses the value of Tolstoy’s work.

This is an accidental exchange–no regularity or frequency is implied, given the lack of the political, geographical, and other economic factors to sustain regular trade between two groups, societies, or continents.

In the elementary form of value which comes about when trade becomes a regular practice of various societies, the value of commodity A in the process of exchange is expressed or manifested in commodity B. Commodity A is called “the relative value form” because its value is expressed in B, called the “equivalent form” whose material or corporeal use-value provides the phenomenal form of appearance for the value of A.

Here the two sides of the actual exchange process, the relative value form and the equivalent value form. are opposed but united in a contradictory totality. There are different use values in A and B, the only common feature in them is the abstract value that each embodies in their differing use values. Here the various concrete labor that shaped A and B are reduced to abstraction due to capital’s social division of labor and the logic of exchange.

One commodity which embodies concrete labor is substituted for another commodity. A’s value can be manifested only through its reflective mediation in B; B’s otherness expresses one single aspect of A, namely, the abstraction to which human labor can be reduced. It is in this phase of exchange that liberal democracy posits the equality of citizen-subjects mediated through the market and the bourgeois state apparatus.

Consider the trajectory of this mode of reasoning. The relative value form of culture A (African Americans) incorporating the expenditure of energies by millions can be apprehended only if submitted to an equation (which parallels exchange); its equivalent form, from Taylor’s point of view, would be European culture which would select an aspect of African American culture that it can embody or express: for example, rational argumentation, male supremacy, etc. In other words, the relative form of African American culture can only be appraised or valorized by the equivalent form (here the dominant system of individual rights) the reveals its value.

While value is evidently a social relation, the equivalent form functions enigmatically to hide this contingency by making it appear that it naturally expresses the value of the other. In the primordial stage of exchange, African American culture would simply be worth Western culture in an accidental way: its use value is as good as any other for advancing the saleability of one’s labor-power. In this elementary stage, however, we enter a domain where commodity production is generalized, humans are defined as owners of commodities (labor power) that they can dispose of, and the exchange of commodities predominate. This embraces the historical period from petty commodity production to booty capitalism, soon to be followed by the colonial expansion of Europe in the conquest of territories and the subjugation of peoples (African slaves, aboriginal Indians, etc.) up to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

So far Marx posits value not as an eternal or natural form of social production but as the objectification of abstract labor that undergoes a historical metamorphosis. Value is not intrinsic to a single commodity; it reflects the division of labor of independent producers “the social nature of whose labor is only revealed in the act of exchange” (Bottomore 1983, 509).

While commodities are embodiments of quantities of labor, their value-form derives from a relation: the value of commodity A cannot be identical to its natural self; it acquires objective existence in the physical form of commodity B which then becomes the value form of A. This expression of equivalence between various commodities demonstrates the specific quality of value-creating labor; the process of exchange reveals the general or common labor that has produced all those commodities.

Concerning the equivalent form of value, Marx identifies its three peculiarities thus: first, commodity B, its material body, objectifies abstract labor in expressing the value of commodity A; second, the concrete labor which produced commodity B becomes the form of appearance of abstract labor so that the particular processes of individual work which fashioned it becomes identical with other kinds of labor; and third, private labor assumes directly the form of social labor.

So “while a commodity is both a use value and a value, it only appears in this dual role when its value possesses a form of appearance independent of and distinct from its use value form. This independent form of expression is exchange value” (Bottomore 510). Because the elementary form of value does not fully reflect the universality of exchange value, the multiplicity of commodities circulating in the market, we move to the expanded form of value–the analogue to cultural pluralism, or benign multiculturalism. Here commodity A not only exchanges with commodity B but also with commodities C, D, E, ad infinitum; the equivalent form of value is indifferent vis-a-vis the relative form. Here commodity A is configured within a whole world of commodity production, the social totality.

At this point we begin to understand that it is not exchange which regulates the magnitude of value but rather the magnitude of the value of commodities that regulates the proportion in which they are exchanged. Since here various useful labors are equalized, the series of representations or equivalent forms of the value of A is limitless, fragmentary, and lacks internal unity.

Eventually a stage is reached when one single commodity is chosen to represent the values of all commodities, setting aside the use values of particular commodities and expressing what is common to all of them; this “universal equivalent” belongs to the general form of value. The natural form of this universal equivalent serves as the value form of all other commodities, that is, exchange value, which erases both abstract labor and the socially necessary labor time that measures it. The form of value then appears in the money form and its quantitative measure.

Marx writes: “From the contradiction between the general character of value and its material existence in a particular commodity, etc….arises the category of money.’ In the transition from the general form to the money form of value as universal equivalent, the determinations of the prior forms of value remains: the contradictory unity and reflexive relations between the relative form and the equivalent form in the simple form, the totality and  infinitude brought out in the expanded form, and the mediated character in the general form.

Thus, in the general and money forms of value, the relative value-form of all commodities are gathered at the same time and expressed in the universal equivalent fixed by custom (money). In this stage, all social relations and with it use values are convertible into money relations. In this context, the price-form is a process in which use value, produced by concrete labor, becomes a product of that universal tool controlled by capital: the laborer, labor-power. Price equates an object with all other commodities, its labor with all others, thus rendering it abstract. As Harry Cleaver notes, “The qualitative equality of work has been affirmed and the quantity set socially. Money shows to the commodity that it is a product of abstract labor–a value” (1979, 164).

Anticipating charges of idealism, Marx contends that economic categories are not a priori constructions, they reflect human activities in history. The mode of analyzing the commodity form of value is based on the reality of the process of exchange whereby products of labor are commensurated in capitalism; the process of exchange demonstrates the sociality of production, connects independent producers, and guarantees that the value realized in exchange is the form of appearance of that labor socially necessary to the production of the commodity in question. From this one can elaborate on the law of value (how value is determined by socially necessary labor time) in terms of the categories of capital and its accumulation, the dominance of money relations, and the inversion of social relations of production (commodity fetishism) and its registration in consciousness (ideology).

Viewed from the genealogy of the forms of value summarized here, the multiculturalist Imaginary at first glance remains in the stage of the expanded form of value. Believing in the unrepeatable authenticity of use values embodied in art and other cultural practices, the tribune of multiculturalist nonetheless submits to a process of endless substitutions in the hope that this will do away with hierarchy, with domination and subordination. Both the relative forms of value and equivalent forms are shifting, fragmentary, heterogeneous; their contradictory relation obscures their totalizing and mediating effect.

Amid this instability, or “bad infinity,” Taylor enters the scene and while being appreciative of the range of differences and their dialectical motion, the irreplaceable nature of cultural groups and their right to survival, he doubts if his empathy for those deprived and suffering the injustice of the status quo can really be a trustworthy measure of their relative worth. In short, he doubts if a universal equivalent–the fusion of horizons in a heremeneutic transaction–can be found, a symbolic totalizing intuition or act that can genuinely extinguish Eurocentric bias (liberal theory of rights, the Hegelian concept, etc.) and enable parity of all competing parties, groups, cultures.

Unfortunately, this search for a universal equivalent form of value can lead only into the complete reign of commodity-fetishism–the money form of value–which equalizes everything in abstraction: the liberal banalities that all cultural groups share common concerns, dreams, anxieties, ideals, etc. We are faced here with the allegory of the Zulu Tolstoy negotiating his identity in the sphere of the Lacanian Imaginary, unaware of the lack that would resolve his crisis into a semblance of Symbolic plenitude.

Meanwhile, the Lacanian Real insists on the necessity of recognizing that “socially necessary labor time” mystified, perverted, obfuscated by exchange of vernaculars, polyphonic dialogue, interpellation, by ludic speech and “hyperreal” communication. In “Symbolic Economies,” Jean Joseph Goux has traced the history of the connection between exchange value and the symbolic leading to the exclusion of “the surplus of meaning” in capitalist society, this “deficiency of meaning” arising from the reduction of everything into the quantitative universal equivalent, the money form of value.

This is the milieu of market liberalism where free and equal subjects can exchange ideas despite disparities in resources, opportunities, communal notions of the good. Liberal multiculturalism can perhaps thrive here so long as the roots and sources of culture in concrete practices are not submitted to translation or transposition into the value form. But this is inescapable since multiculturalism implies comparison, translation, critical discriminations of all sorts.

But what is at stake in proposing this return to what may probably be dismissed as traditional and oldfashioned thinking?

In the conclusion to his ambitious work now recently published as American Civilization, CLR James envisioned an “integrated humanism” evolving from the multicultural environment of the United States, one that will make politics “an expression of universal man and a totally integrated human existence.” Such a belief, almost utopian and even naive, in the capacity of the masses to absorb the whole of civilization and radically transform society is almost impossible for anyone who would ignore the reality of commodity exchange, its contradictory nature, and the possibilities of its overcoming. Partisans of multiculturalism can help in this overcoming by a more radical critique of its own formation and a historical sensitivity to the reality of labor, modes of production, and the material underpinnings of culture itself in its largest definition as social praxis.—###

CONTACT AUTHOR:

<philcsc@gmail.com>

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS

U.S. GENOCIDE IN THE PHILIPPINES


U.S. GENOCIDE IN THE PHILIPPINES AND THE URGENT NEED TO PREVENT ITS REPETITION 

by E. San Juan, Jr.,Washington State University & University of the Philippines

 

OFWsembracing

 

Lest people forget, the U.S. ruling class today, since the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the Gulf War, has been deeply mired in an unconscionable, self-destructive war against people of color in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Colombia, Nepal, Mexico, Sudan, Somalia, and, of course, the Philippines. With over 446,000 troops abroad in over 725 bases worldwide, the U.S. is now transferring thousands of troops from its Okinawa base to Luzon. Over 40 US Special Forces have been involved in the raging battles in Mindanao and Sulu against Muslim insurgents; in Cotabato, the US has been constructing a naval/air base larger than Clark and Subic combined. Under the pretext of the “Balikatan” exercises since 9/11, the Arroyo regime has allowed US troops to participate in counter-insurgency maneuvers, some under “humanitarian” cover in the flood-stricken provinces of Aurora and Quezon. It is only a matter of time when full-blown US intervention against forces of the New People’s Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is bound to result in the killing of thousands of Filipinos—a horrific if preventable repetition of US genocide against the revolutionary forces of the first Philippine Republic.

Revisiting the Carnage

     Except during the sixties when the Filipino-American War of 1899-1902 was referred to as “the first Vietnam,” the death of 1.4 million Filipinos has been usually accounted for as either collateral damage or victims of insurrection against the imperial authority of the United States. The first Filipino scholar to make a thorough documentation of the carnage is the late Luzviminda Francisco in her contribution to The Philippines: The End of An Illusion (London, 1973).

     This fact is not even mentioned in the tiny paragraph or so in most U.S. history textbooks. Stanley Karnow’s In Our Image (1989), the acclaimed history of this intervention, quotes the figure of 200,000 Filipinos killed in outright fighting. Among historians, only Howard Zinn and Gabriel Kolko have dwelt on the “genocidal” character of the catastrophe. Kolko, in his magisterial Main Currents in Modern American History (1976), reflects on the context of the mass murder: “Violence reached a crescendo against the Indian after the Civil War and found a yet bloodier manifestation during the protracted conquest of the Philippines from 1898 until well into the next decade, when anywhere from 200,000 to 600,000 Filipinos were killed in an orgy of racist slaughter that evoked much congratulation and approval….” Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (1980) cites 300,000 Filipinos killed in Batangas alone, while William Pomeroy’s American Neo-Colonialism (1970) cites 600,000 Filipinos dead in Luzon alone by 1902. The actual figure of 1.4 million covers the period from 1899 to 1905 when resistance by the Filipino revolutionary forces mutated from outright combat in battle to guerilla skirmishes; it doesn’t include the thousands of Moros (Filipino Muslims) killed in the first two decades of U.S. colonial domination.

     The first Philippine Republic led by General Emilio Aguinaldo, which had already waged a successful war against the Spanish colonizers, mounted a determined nationwide opposition against U.S. invading forces. It continued for two more decades after Aguinaldo’s capture in 1901. Several provinces resisted to the point where the U.S. had to employ  scorched-earth tactics, and hamletting or “reconcentration” to quarantine the populace from the guerillas, resulting in widespread torture, disease, and mass starvation. In The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective (2003), Prof. Gavan McCormack argues that the outright counterguerilla operations launched by the U.S. against the Filipinos, an integral part of its violent pacification program, constitutes genocide. He refers to Jean Paul Sartre’s contention that as in Vietnam, “the only anti-guerilla strategy which will be effective is the destruction of the people, in other words, the civilians, women and children.” That is what happened in the Philippines in the first half of the bloody twentieth century.

Civilizing Holocaust

     As defined by the UN 1948 “ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” genocide means acts “committed with intention to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” It is clear that the U.S. colonial conquest of the Philippines deliberately sought to destroy the national sovereignty of the Filipinos. The intent of the U.S. perpetrators included the dissolution of the ethnic identity of the Filipinos manifest in the rhetoric, policies, and disciplinary regimes enunciated and executed by legislators, politicians, military personnel, and other apparatuses. The original proponents of the UN document on genocide conceived of genocide as including acts or policies aimed at “preventing the preservation or development” of “racial, national, linguistic, religious, or political groups.” That would include “all forms of propaganda tending by their systematic and hateful character to provoke genocide, or tending to make it appear as a necessary, legitimate, or excusable act.” What the UN had in mind, namely, genocide as cultural or social death of targeted groups, was purged from the final document due to the political interests of the nation-states that then dominated the world body.

     What was deleted in the original draft of the UN document are practices considered genocidal in their collective effect. Some of them were carried out in the Philippines by the United States from 1899 up to 1946 when the country was finally granted formal independence.  As with the American Indians, U.S. colonization involved, among others, the “destruction of the specific character of a persecuted group by forced transfer of children, forced exile, prohibition of the use of the national language, destruction of books, documents, monuments, and objects of historical, artistic or religious value.” The goal of all colonialism is the cultural and social death of the conquered natives, in effect, genocide.

     In a recent article, “Genocide and America” (New York Review of Books, March 14, 2002), Samantha Power observes that US officials “had genuine difficulty

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distinguishing the deliberate massacre of civilians from the casualties incurred in conventional conflict.” It is precisely the blurring of this distinction in colonial wars through racializing discourses and practices that proves how genocide cannot be fully grasped without analyzing the way the victimizer (the colonizing state power) categorizes the victims (target populations) in totalizing and naturalizing modes unique perhaps to the civilizational drives of  modernity. Within the modern period, in particular, the messianic impulse to genocide springs from the imperative of capital accumulation—the imperative to reduce humans to commodified labor-power, to saleable goods/services. U.S. “primitive accumulation” began with the early colonies in New England and Virginia, and culminated in the 19th century with the conquest and annexation of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam, Hawaii, and the Philippines.With the historical background of the U.S. campaigns against the American Indians in particular, and the treatment of African slaves and Chicanos in general, there is a need for future scholars and researchers to concretize this idea of genocide (as byproduct of imperial expansion) by exemplary illustrations from the U.S. colonial adventure in the Philippines.

Historical Amnesia

     

When U.S. occupation troops in Iraq continued to suffer casualties every day after the war officially ended, academics and journalists began in haste to supply capsule histories comparing their situation with those of troops in the Philippines during the Filipino-American War (1899-1902). A New York Times essay summed up the lesson in its title, “In 1901 Philippines, Peace Cost More Lives Than Were Lost in War” (2 July 2003, B1)), while an article in the Los Angeles Times contrasted the  simplicity of McKinley’s “easy” goal of annexation (though at the cost of 4,234 U.S. soldiers killed and 3,000 wounded) with George W. Bush’s ambition to “create a new working democracy as soon as possible” (20 July 2003, M2).  Reviewing the past is instructive, of course, but we should always place it in the context of present circumstances in the Philippines and in the international arena. What is the real connection between the Philippines and the current U.S. war against terrorism?

  With the death of Martin Burnham, the hostage held by Muslim kidnappers called the “Abu Sayyaf” in Mindanao,  the southern island of the Philippines, one would expect more than 1,200 American troops (including FBI and CIA personnel) training Filipinos for that rescue mission to be heading for home in late 2002. Instead of being recalled, reinforcements have been brought in and more joint military exercises announced in the future.  Since September 11, 2001, U.S. media and Filipino government organs have dilated on the Abu Sayyaf’s tenuous links with Osama bin Laden. A criminal gang that uses Islamic slogans to hide its kidnapping-for-ransom activities, the Abu Sayyaf  is a splinter group born out of the U.S. war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and used by the government to sow discord among the insurgent partisans of the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Protected by local politicians and military officials, the Abu Sayyaf’s persistence betokens the complicated history of the centuries-long struggle of more than ten million Muslims in the Philippines for dignity, justice, and self-determination.

              What is behind the return of the former colonizer to what was once called its “insular territory” administered then by the Bureau of Indian Affairs? With Secretary Colin Powell’s decision to stigmatize as “terrorist” the major insurgent groups that have been fighting for forty years for popular democracy and independence—the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, part of a coalition called the National Democratic Front, the introduction of thousands of U.S. troops, weapons, logistics, and supporting personnel has become legitimate. More is involved than simply converting the archipelago to instant military bases and facilities for the U.S. military—a bargain exchange for the strategic outposts Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base that were scrapped by a resurgent Filipino nationalism a decade ago. With the military officials practically managing the executive branch of government, the Philippine nation-state will prove to be more an appendage of the Pentagon than a humdrum neocolony administered by oligarchic compradors (a “cacique democracy,” in the words of Benedict Anderson), which it has been since nominal independence in 1946.  On the whole, Powell’s stigmatizing act is part of the New American Century Project to reaffirm a new pax Americana after the Cold War

Killing Fields After Afghanistan

Immediately after the proclaimed defeat of the Taliban and the rout of Osama bin Laden’s forces in Afghanistan, the Philippines became the second front in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Raymond Bonner, author of Waltzing with Dictators (1987), argues that the reason for this second front is “the desire for a quick victory over terrorism,… the wish to reassert American power in Southeast Asia….If Washington’s objective is to wipe out the international terrorist organizations that pose a threat to world stability, the Islamic terrorist groups operating in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir would seem to be a higher priority than Abu Sayyaf” (New York Times, 10 June 2002). Or those in Indonesia, a far richer and promising region in terms of oil and other abundant natural resources. As in the past, during the Huk rebellion in the Philippines in the Cold War years, the U.S. acted as “the world’s policemen,” aiding the local military in “civic action” projects to win “hearts and minds,” a rehearsal for Vietnam. The Stratfor Research Group believes that Washington is using the Abu Sayyaf as a cover for establishing a “forward logistics and operation base” in southeast Asia in order to be able to conduct swift pre-emptive strikes against enemies in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, and elsewhere.

Overall, however, the intervention of U.S. Special Forces in solving a local problem inflamed Filipino sensibilities, its collective memory still recovering from the nightmare of the U.S.-supported brutal Marcos dictatorship. What disturbed everyone was the Cold-War practice of “Joint Combined Exchange Training” exercises. In South America and Africa, such U.S. foreign policy initiatives merged with counter-insurgency operations that chanelled  military logistics and equipment to favored regimes notorious for flagrant human rights violations. In Indonesia during the Suharto regime, for example, U.S. Special Operations  Forces trained government troops accused by Amnesty International of kidnapping and torture of activists, especially in East Timor and elsewhere. In El Salvador, Colombia and Guatemala, the U.S. role in organizing death squads began with Special Operations Forces advisers who set up “intelligence networks” ostensibly against the narcotics trade but also against leftist insurgents and nationalists. During the Huk uprising in the Philippines, Col. Edward Lansdale, who later masterminded the Phoenix atrocities in Vietnam, rehearsed similar counter-insurgency techniques combined with other anticommunist tricks of the trade. Now U.S. soldiers in active combat side by side with Filipinos will pursue the “terrorists” defined by the U.S. State Department—guerillas of the New People’s Army, Moro resistance fighters, and other progressive sectors of Filipino society.

Return of the Anglo-Saxon Conquistadors

Are we seeing American troops in the boondocks (bundok, in the original Tagalog, means “mountain”) again?  Are we experiencing a traumatic attack of déjà vu?   A moment of reflection returns us to what Bernard Fall called “the first Vietnam,” the Filipino-American War of 1899-1902, in which at least 1.4 million Filipinos. The campaign to conquer the Philippines was designed in accordance with President McKinley’s policy of “Benevolent Assimilation” of the uncivilized and unchristian natives, a “civilizing mission” that Mark Twain considered worthy of the Puritan settlers and the pioneers in the proverbial “virgin land.” In Twain’s classic prose: “Thirty thousand killed a million. It seems a pity that the historian let that get out; it is really a most embarrassing circumstance.”  This was a realization of the barbarism that Henry Adams feared before Admiral George Dewey entered Manila Bay on 1 May 1898: “I turn green in bed at midnight if I think of the horror of a year’s warfare in the Philippines where…we must slaughter a million or two of foolish Malays in order to give them the comforts of flannel petticoats and electric trailways.”

In “Benevolent Assimilation”: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903 (1982),  Stuart Creighton Miller recounts the U.S. military’s “scorched earth” tactics in Samar and Batangas, atrocities from “search and destroy” missions reminiscent of Song My and My Lai in Vietnam. This episode in the glorious history of Empire  is usually accorded a marginal footnote, or a token  paragraph in school textbooks.  Miller only mentions in passing the U.S. attempt to subjugate the unhispanized Moros, the Muslim Filipinos in Mindanao and Sulu islands. On March 9, 1906, four years after President Theodore Roosevelt declared the war over, Major General Leonard Wood, commanding five hundred and forty soldiers, killed a beleaguered group of  six hundred Muslim men, women and children in the battle of Mount Dajo. A less publicized but horrific battle occurred on June 13, 1913, when the Muslim sultanate of Sulu mobilized about 5,000 followers (men, women and children) against the American troops led by Capt. John Pershing. The battle of Mount Bagsak, 25 kilometers east of Jolo City, ended with the death of  340 Americans and of 2,000 (some say 3000) Moro defenders. Pershing was true to form—earlier he had left a path of destruction in Lanao, Samal Island, and other towns where local residents fought his incursions. Anyone who resisted U.S. aggression was either a “brigand” or seditious bandit. The carnage continued up to the “anti-brigandage” campaigns of the first three decades which suppressed numerous peasant revolts and workers’ strikes against the colonial state and its local agencies.

With the help of the U.S. sugar-beet lobby, the Philippine Commonwealth of 1935 was established,  constituted with a compromise mix of laws and regulations then being tried in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Hawaii. Eventually the islands became a model of a pacified neocolony. Except perhaps for Miller’s aforementioned book and assorted studies, nothing much about the revealing effects of that process of subjugation of Filipinos have registered in the American Studies archive. This is usually explained by the theory that the U.S. did not follow the old path of European colonialism, and its war against Spain was pursued to liberate the natives from Spanish tyranny. If so, that war now rescued from the dustbin of history signaled the advent of a globalizing U.S. interventionism whose latest manifestation, in a different historical register, is Bush’s “National Security Strategy” of “exercising self-defense [of the Homeland] by acting preemptively,” assuming that might is right.

Revival of People’s War

          The revolutionary upsurge in the Philippines against the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986) stirred up dogmatic Cold War complacency. With the inauguration of a new stage in Cultural Studies in the nineties, the historical reality of U.S. imperialism  (the genocide of Native Americans is replayed in the subjugation of the inhabitants of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Cuba) is finally being excavated and re-appraised. But this is, of course, a phenomenon brought about by a confluence of multifarious events, among them: the demise of the Soviet Union as a challenger to U.S. hegemony;  the sublation of the Sixties in both Fukuyama’s “end of history” and the interminable “culture wars,” the Palestininan intifadas; the Zapatista revolt against NAFTA; the heralding of current anti-terrorism by the Gulf War; and the fabled “clash of civilizations.”  Despite these changes, the old frames of intelligibility have not been modified or reconfigured to understand how nationalist revolutions in the colonized territories cannot be confused with the nationalist patriotism of the dominant or hegemonic metropoles, or how the mode of U.S. imperial rule in the twentieth century differs in form and content from those of the British or French in the nineteenth century. The received consensus of a progressive modernizing influence from the advanced industrial powers remains deeply entrenched. Even postcolonial and postmodern thinkers commit the mistake of censuring the decolonizing projects of the subalternized peoples because these projects (in the superior gaze of these thinkers) have been damaged, or are bound to become perverted into despotic postcolonial regimes, like those in Ghana, Algeria, Vietnam, the Philippines, and elsewhere. The only alternative, it seems, is to give assent to the process of globalization under the aegis of the World Bank/IMF/WTO, and hope for a kind of “benevolent assimilation.”

     What remains to be carefully considered, above all, is the historical specificity or singularity of each of these projects of national liberation, their class composition, historical roots, programs, ideological tendencies, and political agendas within the context of colonial/imperial domination. It is not possible to pronounce summary judgments on the character and fate of nationalist movements in the peripheral formations without focusing on the complex manifold relations between colonizer and colonized, the dialectical interaction between their forces as well as others caught in the conflict. Otherwise, the result would be a disingenuous ethical utopianism such as that found in U.S. postnationalist and postcolonialist discourse which, in the final analysis, functions as an apology for the ascendancy of the  transnational corporate powers embedded in the nation-states of the North, and for the hegemonic rule of the only remaining superpower claiming to act in the name of freedom and democracy.

There Is No Alternative to the National Democratic Struggle

    The case of the national-democratic struggle in the Philippines may be taken as an example of one historic singularity. Because of the historical specificity of the Philippines’ emergence as a dependent nation-state controlled by the United States in the twentieth century, nationalism as a mass movement has always been defined by events of anti-imperialist rebellion. U.S. conquest entailed long and sustained violent suppression of the Filipino revolutionary forces for decades. The central founding “event” (as the philosopher Alain Badiou would define the term) is the 1896 revolution against Spain and its sequel, the Filipino-American war of 1899-1902, and the Moro resistance up to 1914 against U.S. colonization. Another political sequence of events is the Sakdal uprising in the thirties during the Commonwealth period followed by the Huk uprising in the forties and fifties—a sequence that is renewed in the First Quarter Storm of 1970 against the neocolonial state. While the feudal oligarchy and the comprador class under U.S. patronage utilized elements of the nationalist tradition formed in 1896-1898 as their ideological weapon for establishing moral-intellectual leadership, their attempts have never been successful. Propped by the Pentagon-supported military, the Arroyo administration today, for example, uses the U.S. slogan of democracy against terrorism and the fantasies of the neoliberal free market to legitimize its continued exploitation of workers, peasants, women and ethnic minorities. Following a long and tested tradition of grassroots mobilization, Filipino nationalism has always remained centered on the peasantry’s demand for land closely tied to the popular-democratic demand for equality and genuine sovereignty.

          For over a century now, U.S.-backed developmentalism and modernization have utterly failed in the Philippines. The resistance against globalized capital and its neoliberal extortions is spearheaded today by a national-democratic mass movement of various ideological persuasions. There is also a durable Marxist-led insurgency that seeks to articulate the “unfinished revolution” of 1896 in its demand for national independence against U.S. control and social justice for the majority of citizens (80 million) ten percent of whom are now migrant workers abroad. Meanwhile, the Muslim community  in the southern part of the Philippines initiated its armed struggle for self-determination during the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986) and continues today as a broadly based movement for autonomy, despite the Islamic ideology of its teacher-militants. Recalling the genocidal U.S. campaigns cited above, BangsaMoro nationalism cannot forget its Muslim singularity which is universalized in the principles of equality, justice, and the right to self-determination. In the wake of past defeats of peasant revolts, the Filipino culture of nationalism constantly renews its anti-imperialist vocation by mobilizing new forces (women and church people in the sixties, and the indigenous or ethnic minorities in the seventies and eighties). It is organically embedded in emancipatory social and political movements whose origin evokes in part the Enlightenment narrative of sovereignty as mediated by third-world nationalist movements (Gandhi, Ho Chi Minh, Mao) but whose sites of actualization are the local events of mass insurgency against continued U.S.  hegemony. The Philippines as an “imagined” and actually experienced ensemble of communities, or multiplicities in motion, remains in the process of being constructed primarily through modes of political and social resistance against corporate transnationalism (or globalization, in the trendy parlance) and its technologically mediated ideologies, fashioning thereby the appropriate cultural forms of dissent, resistance, and subversion worthy of its people’s history and its collective vision.

E. SAN JUAN, Jr.  was recently Fulbright Professor of American Studies at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, and 2009 fellow of the W.E. B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University. His recent scholarship may be sampled in RACISM AND CULTURAL STUDIES (Duke U Press), WORKING THROUGH THE CONTRADICTIONS (Bucknell U Press), US IMPERIALISM AND REVOLUTION IN THE PHILIPPINES (Palgrave), TOWARD FILIPINO SELF-DETERMINATION (SUNY Press), and CRITIQUE AND SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION (The Edwin Mellen Press). His recent books are FILIPINAS EVERYWHERE (Sussex Academic Press/De La Salle University Publing House)< LEARNING FROM THE FILIPINO DIASPORA (U.S.T. Press), KONTRA-MODERNIDAD (University of the Philippines Press), and CARLOS BULOSAN: REVOLUTIONARY FILIPINO WRITER IN THE UNITED STATES (Peter Lang, New York)..

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS

RE-VISITING DILIMAN SOUVENIRS by E. San Juan, Jr.


Re-Visiting Diliman Souvenirs: Peirce’s Semiotics and the Return of the Suppressed

E. SAN JUAN, JR.

philcsc@gmail.com

ABSTRACT

In the July 1957 issue of The Philippine Collegian appeared a poem entitled “Man is a Political Animal,” a translation of Aristotle’s famous definition of human beings. It was written by an English major, E. San Juan, Jr., who became president of the U.P. Writers Club in 1958 and an instructor in the Department of English, U.P. (1958-60). The poem, a dramatic monologue, was modeled after the Vorticist style of the British avant- garde artist Wyndham Lewis. Objections were then raised by the Dean of the College of Music Ramon Tapales, writer Amador Daguio, and others, who persuaded the U.P. administration to suspend the author from being published. In 2018, the author was awarded a visiting professorship in the U.P. English Department. The institution seems unchanged, but the cultural landscape has incalculably altered. The current president uses foul language (not just “four-letter” words) in public pronouncements with impunity. This essay reflects on that experience sixty-one years later on the failure of communication, providing sociological- biographical context and using Peirce’s semiotics to approach possible ways of responding to the speech- act or utterance entitled “Man is a Political Animal” performed at a specific time and place in our history. In this postmodern era, is it self-indulgent to reflect on the complex intertextuality of a literary text to tease out its wider sociopolitical lessons drawn from comparing disparate viewpoints and contexts?

KEYWORDS

interpretant, subject, author, meaning, identity, signifierMe-GreenShirt

 

It was not terra incognita. Returning to the

University of the Philippines, Diliman, in January

to March 2018 as a visiting professor of English

and Comparative Literature has been not only

deja vu but also deja connu. Not entirely, though.

One can never return home again. You can never

step into the same river again, said Heraclitus,

but you can recall or capture the initial shock of

recognition enough to hear the water swirling

again in its unimpeded turbulence. Perhaps

this reminiscence will register a sociohistorical

resonance beyond its merely personal or merely

local import about controversies regarding

language use, reader-response, and ideology-

critique.

Teaching again in U.P. has become
a re-baptism in the archives first explored in
my undergraduate days in the 1950s. Just like
my Fulbright lectureship in 1987-88 in U.P.,
this occasion has been a learning experience
for me, as we (teachers and students) re-read Saussure, Jakobson, Lacan, Barthes, Irigaray, Derrida, Said, Foucault, among others in a Literary Theory seminar taught by Professor Ruth Pison. I volunteered to help shepherd the class through the semantic wilderness, hence this note on this experience in relation to an earlier stage of my engagement with readers who were panicked by a poem using “f**k” now a staple
of Hollywood conversation, a sign of quotidian modernity, notwithstanding Duterte’s unspeakable misogynism (Espina Varona).

Our Western gurus or idols have given us the scriptural idiom for discussing literary matters. These “monsters” or masters of theory have provoked, alarmed, or bewildered our smart co-learners—one of them coming all the way

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PERSONAL ESSAY

from Nueva Ecija to attend our Wednesday sessions. If I use the personal pronoun here, please consider it also as an allegorical stand-in for the generation that grew up after Liberation, from 1945 to 1965. We were post WW2/Cold War children exposed to Huk guerilla encounters, McCarthyite witch-hunts, Red Scare epidemic, etc. Maybe post-millennials now, subaltern cyborgs obsessed with Facebook inventorizing, may consider those days quaint, antiquarian, obsolete despite the scandalous red-tagging of academics today.

From Monologue to Colloquy

Of course, the speaking subject here—the “I’ as balikbayan OFW, for instance, cannot be enclosed in that time-space warp. So it is puzzling who is speaking, who is addressing whom, from the viewpoint of the postmodern hermeneutics of suspicion. One suspects that every act of remembering, especially one linked to institutional memory, like attempts at translation, is an act of betrayal of sorts. As a preface to the event I will recount below, I submit that the concept of the subject/subjectivity
here is the central problem in reading and interpreting of any text/speech-act. In contrast to the dominant Cartesian notion of subjectivity that underwrites bourgeois individualism, the self has been “de-constructed” by thinkers ranging from Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Levi-Strauss, and others. The entrepreneurial subject of the capitalist era, eroded by massive forces of alienation and commodity- fetishism, has become a specter haunting the disenchanted halls/groves of the academy, its authority evaporated. In speculating on the end of inquiry, given the loss of belief in substance or intuition, the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce discovered the solitary self as nothing else but ignorance, so that only a community of inquirers can reach truth or agreement on what is real or true. When appearances are taken as facts, valid only for one private self, “error appears … explained only by supposing a self which is fallible…Ignorance and error are all that distinguish our private selves from the absolute ego of pure apperception” (20; see also de Waal 154).

In this context, the “I” here, or any commentator on experience, can only be a sign of an ensemble of participants in the narrative of creating values, meanings, significance. It is already a truism that society is not a collection of egos or floating psyches; it is the dynamic totality of social relations. Thus the narrator of this sequence of events is always a supra-individual entity, a collective subject, not the monadic ego of psychoanalysis. I subscribe to the historical-materialist tradition that posits the subject, “the active and structured unity which makes possible a significant account of the actions of men or of the nature and meaning of the [artistic] work, is not an individual but a super- individual reality, a human group” (Goldmann 135). So, in this essay, the “I’ that attempts to narrate events in his life actually signifies a group, say, the petit bourgeois stratum in the Philippine neocolonial formation during the Cold War. We hear the voice of a class-representative mediating the proletariat/ peasantry and the comprador/ilustrado/landlord bloc, a figure aspiring to join the elite but also repelled by its hypocrisy and insipidity, and affirming its rebellious, nonconformist, anarchistic stance. One can discern lineaments of this character in the persona speaking in the poem on exhibit here, “Man is a Political Animal.”

Historicizing from the Dustbin

This is not the first time I have engaged in teaching in the U.P. English Department. After I graduated in 1958, the patriarchs of the Department Professors Cristino Jamias and Leopoldo Yabes hired me as an instructor from 1958 to 1960. In due time, the patriarchal order was fortuitously changed; my contemporaries Pete Daroy, Ernie Manalo, Max Ramos Jr., and others departed long ago for the other shore; and so too, mentors like Ricardo Pascual, Alfredo Lagmay, Cesar Majul, Francisco Arcellana, N.V.M. Gonzalez amongst others. After finishing graduate school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I taught again in 1966-67 when world-famous Carlos P. Romulo was president (for a summation of my U.S. experience, see San Juan 3-4). I taught again here in 1987-88 as a Fulbright teaching fellow, and in 2008 shepherded the theory seminar with Professor Preachy Legasto. This may be my last stint, a memorable one, accompanied with our bequest to the U.P. Foundation for the

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joint Aguilar-San Juan scholarship awards for deserving majors in the Department of English and Comparative Literature. This is only a slight gesture of acknowledging our indebtedness to the people who actualized the potential of this neocolonial institution.

Just a few snapshots of the fifties may supply part of the context. My first teachers in English 1 were Professor Elmer Ordoñez whose memorable assignment was for us to comment on Ivan Bunin’s classic story “The Gentleman from San Francisco” included in the old WW2 pocketbook collection of short stories; and Professor Franz Arcellana, who wrote slowly on the blackboard, with his left hand, the definition of “precis” taken from the big Harry Shaw textbook in Freshman English. Visitors Bienvenido Santos, Hortense Calisher, William Faulkner, and other famous authors came and said goodbye. We politely signaled our appreciation.

But there is no doubt that it was the textbook Approach to Literature by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren, the archpriests of American New Criticism, which made a lasting impact on us
as English majors then. After that, I switched my interest to philosophy (Alfred Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic and Bertrand Russell’s works became our treasured indices of wisdom, which did not prevent us from reading Sartre, Camus, Kierkegaard, Malraux, and others), having made friends with habitués in the Department of Philosophy, in particular Armando Bonifacio, Gerry Acay, and other heretics, whose periodical Inquiry published Franz’s comment on my poem which I will refer to later (see San Juan, Toward a People’s Literature.).

A short parenthesis: my textbook memories have faded, but one lesson that stuck may be instructive. It was the occasion when N.V.M. Gonzalez (whose creative writing course was dominated by one single book, Herbert Read’s English Prose Style) took members of the class to attend the Manila Trial Court in City Hall to witness the drama of the libel suit against Estrella Alfon for the obscenity of her story, “Fairy Tale of the City.” That excursion outside the classroom conveyed to me the undeniable entanglement of art, disciplinary institutions (aside from the classroom), and the sociopolitical regime affecting human conduct. Later on, when I wrote a somewhat satiric review of Signatures (edited by colleagues Alex Hufana and Rony Diaz) at Franz’s request, I was threatened with a lawsuit filed by the poet Oscar de Zuñiga who was offended by my unkindly comments. (Later on, Ricaredo Demetillo
and Leonard Casper would violently denounce me as a diehard Maoist, communist, etc.) That episode somehow put an end to my imitations of Mark Twain, Henry Mencken, and George Bernard Shaw.

One scenario sticks out from our years of sitting at the table at the far end of the Department: Professor Pascual Capiz, perched at the opposite end, always finding the opportunity to advise me: “Read Spinoza, Sonny, don’t forget Spinoza.” Four decades after, I read a paper on “What we can learn about racism from Benedict Spinoza” to an audience at the University of Texas, Austin, in 2002 (see San Juan, Spinoza and the Terror of Racism). I did not follow his advice until the revival of Spinoza in the sixties and seventies in Europe, Spinoza’s monism (adapted by Deleuze/Negri) utilized as antidote to variants of Hegel-Marx’s dialectics (Marcuse, Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh) in the vicissitudes of Cold War strategy.

Interlude

What intervened after my apprenticeship with formalist New Criticism may be recounted quickly as an effect of indoctrination in the New Criticism. My book on Oscar Wilde, despite the philological-historicist bent of my advisers Jerome Buckley and Douglas Bush, is basically formalist,
not really contextualized in the gender wars then brewing in the early sixties–anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements culminating in May 1968–as well as the First Quarter Storm, the Diliman Commune, and the imposition of the Marcos dictatorship in 1972. This was followed by my translation into English of Amado V. Hernandez’s poems, Rice Grains, Balagtas: Art and Revolution, and The Radical Tradition in Philippine Literature.

The social upheavals worldwide in the sixties may account for my editing of Georg Lukac’s cultural criticism in Marxism and Human Liberation (Dell). Despite this, my first U.P. Press book, Carlos Bulosan and the Imagination of the Class Struggle (released a day or two before Marcos declared martial law),

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was still largely a formalist commentary. I had not yet fully understood Lukac’s historical materialist approach. Notwithstanding the title of the Bulosan commentary, it was a symptom of a cultural lag, typical of our backward or underdeveloped social formation, unsynchronized with the structuralist and post-structuralist tide that swept the Western academy from 1968 to 1986 (see my new book on Bulosan). Nothing strange for the mute subaltern of the neocolony, not postcolony, experiencing the turbulence of the crisis of global capitalism via the Marcos authoritarian interlude and the implacable toxic plague of the Cold War.

What happened? The influence of the changes that occurred, in particular the revision of the canon, and the transformation of critical frameworks/paradigms–the eruption of feminist, ethnic, and subaltern/people-of-color agencies in the social text–overlaid/reconfigured my previous New Critical horizon. I did not jettison my formalist training–how could one do that? One’s consciousness is determined by one’s social conditioning. The “I” is a fictional synapse of historical contradictions. Adjustments had to be made, resulting into a palimpsest of texts that requires an inventory (to heed Gramsci’s advice), of which this is the latest attempt.

To recapitulate Peirce’s caveat: the private self is nothing but error and ignorance. One’s identity is always the site of an intertextuality traversing the dialectic of base and superstructure,
often overshooting it. Marks of its effect may be found in the much-attacked book from left and right, Subversions of Desire: Prolegomena to Nick Joaquin in 1988. Unbeknownst to the public, it was recently reprinted by the Dominicans of the University of Santo Tomas, since the Jesuits are no longer interested in the unorthodox, difficult and eclectic discourse filled with references to Lacan, Foucault, Benjamin, Jameson, Deleuze-Guattari and Kristeva. They prefer the Nazi sympathizer Heidegger
and the Jewish mystic Emmanuel Levinas. This will be my excuse, at this juncture, to transit to the problem of semiotics based on the Saussurean premise that orients both structuralist and postmodernist thinking (including postcolonial criticism) so fashionable still, though Derrida has been replaced by Butler, Ranciere, Badiou, Agamben and other European imports to the metropole of the declining
but still ferocious American Leviathan of the Trump era. Peircean semiotics remains on the margins
of academic discourse, despite the popularity of Richard Rorty, Cornel West, and Robert Brandom, among others. Harold Bloom is dead; long live Zizek,
Twitter, Instagram, Facebook!

Signifiers Galore

We are near the final reckoning. Even before May 1968, the deluge of the dancing signifiers had begun to wreak havoc on the conservative bastions of putatively higher humanistic learning.
As everyone knows, a crucial event was the 1967 Johns Hopkins Conference on “The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man,” where the archpriests of poststructuralism (Lacan, Derrida, Barthes, Goldman, Todorov, and others) entered the scene, literary theory and criticism suffered a sea- change, as it were.

New Criticism has become old-fashioned, “auf-hebunged.” In After Theory, Terry Eagleton summed up the historic contexts of 1965-1980–”the age of civil rights and student insurgency, national liberation fronts, anti-war and anti-nuclear campaigns, the emergence of the women’s movement, and the heyday of cultural liberation,” in which the sensibility of society had “shifted from the earnest, self-disciplined and submissive to the cool, hedonistic and insubordinate. If there was widespread disaffection, there was also visionary hope” (83) in consumerist, narcissistic society of the spectacle. The expletive “f**k” is now only a cute mannerism, a phatic performance.

The present conjuncture seemed then “the herald of a new future, the portal to a land of boundless possibility”–until 1989, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, shock therapy for the Soviet system, followed closely by the Iraq War, 9 /11 and the global war on terrorism, and the erosion of the Neoliberal dispensation from the 2008 global capitalist earthquake and the explosions in Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria and the entire Middle East. We are still living the aftershock of those events. For

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some, the age of identity politics aka the culture of neoconservative reaction began, overshadowing the fall of the Berlin Wall, demise of the Soviet Union, Tiananmen Square, 9/11, the 2008 neoliberal capitalist meltdown, and the election of Trump and his neofascist “America First” agenda.

To understand this re-arrangement of the furniture in the landscape, I urged our graduate students to review Saussure’s foundational remarks on the dyadic structure of the sign, and the larger frame of Roman Jakobson’s six functions of language in communication. What has become salient
is the arbitrary nature of the signifier-signified nexus, with the inference that meaning is produced by systematic differences. Its divorce from objective reality seems assumed, though parole/speech thrives somewhere out there defying lawful order and any fixed rule. The Russian Marxist Mikhail Bakhtin was unheard of, and Jakobson forgotten. Meanwhile, the enigmatic influence of Lacan signaled the advent of deconstruction, with signifiers shifting over the signified, meaning not only deferred or undecidable, but virtually impossible to pin down. For Lacan, actually, the Name-of-the-Father terminates the sliding of signifiers, thus his infamous phallocentrism overheard in chic salon conversations.

Another parenthesis: when I took a class with I.A. Richards in poetics in my first year at Harvard in 1960–I recall Ching Dadufalza exulting over her acquaintance with the founder of close formalist reading–he of course assigned his book Coleridge on Imagination, as expected. But what surprised me was his strong recommendation that we study carefully Jakobson’s 1958 landmark essay, “Linguistics and Poetics,” given at a conference in Indiana University, but only published later in 1960 in the book Style in Language, which Richards also assigned. Contrary to the canonical views, Richards was not really a formalist but a neo-Hegelian pedagogue informed by the entire Western heritage and enriched by borrowings from Mencius and then current behavior psychology.

I reminded our students not to forget Jakobson’s linguistic analysis. If Jakobson’s diagram on the functions of language were absorbed and popularized, it would have exerted some brake on the prevalence of Nietzschean theorizing applied by Derrida, De Man, Hartman, Spivak, and their huge academic following. Jakobson’s formula on the axis of similarity (metaphor) imposed on the axis of contiguity (metonymy), remains unexplored. To quote Jakobson: “The poetic function projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection into the axis of combination” (303). But instead
of this linguistic knowledge used by critics, it is Lacan’s “floating signifiers” that have ruled the day ever since it was given in 1957 and publicized in translation in 1966. Students’ perplexity over Lacan persists, despite Jakobson and the salutary warnings of the American pragmaticist Peirce.

Mis-recognizing the Speaker

It is no longer news to learn of the author’s demise (announced by Roland Barthes) in between the interstitial locus of differance. By author, Barthes referred to the empiricist and rationalist conception of the individual origin of the text, its final signified. This classical idea of the author presumably encloses the text within a single meaning enshrined in the author’s biography, instead of allowing
its intertextuality to induce a variety of readers to produce multiple readings. From the modernist, avant-garde perspective, the texts of Mallarme, Joyce, and others are considered the occasions of language, the circuit of signifiers speaking; they are not the author’s psyche, or a representation of its subjectivity, its interiority. Presumably the narrators of Proust’s novel, or of Ulysses, are generated by the textual machine without anyone programming it–its DNA is the differential logic operating within it. Conceptual art and its sequel, post-conceptualism, thrives on this axiom.

In “What is an Author?” Michel Foucault has also informed us that the author-function is historically variable. It is defined by a variety of discourses and institutions (for example, copyright laws). Ancient epics or medieval romances do not have authors in the modern construal of individual originators or artificers. Foucault’s argument is tied to the death of the human subject, the Cartesian ego, determined not by conscience but by historically specific structures circumscribing its socio-political existence. Thus writing is not something that can be completed and appropriated but an interminable practice, a postmodern theme epitomized by Samuel Beckett’s character saying: “What does it matter

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who is speaking,” someone said, what does it matter who is speaking?” (Foucault 123). Peirce had anticipated this in the 1870s with his anti-Cartesian critique and the inauguration of a triadic theory of language, in contrast to the dualistic one by Saussure and epigones.

On second thought, it matters who is being addressed, who is listening or overhearing these utterances. For now, I will quickly summarize Peirce’s semiotic triad so as to get to the prime exhibit for today, the censored poem “Man is a Political Animal” reproduced below from the Philippine Collegian (see San Juan, Balikbayan Sinta: An E. San Juan Reader, 249-252).

For Peirce, meaning is produced by the triad of signifier (representamen), the object signified, and the interpretant, which connects signifier and signified (Peirce; San Juan). The representamen is something which stands to somebody for something; it addresses someone and creates in the mind
an equivalent sign, the interpretant of the first sign, and this too stands for something, namely, the object or idea of that first sign. Communication is the result of the interplay between representamen,

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interpretant, and object/idea. This mediating item in Peirce’s theory of signification, or meaning- production, namely, the interpretant, is missing or invisible in the Saussurean dyadic scheme. Without this interpretant, it is impossible to figure out what connects the signifier and the hypothetical signified. Robert Scholes remarks that, following Saussure, signs do not refer to things, “they signify concept, concepts are aspects of thought, not of reality.” We move then into the realm of thought.

Peirce is recognized as the founder of pragmaticism, not the psychologistic version of pragmatism popularized by his friend William James, or the postmodern version of antifoundationalism propagated by Richard Rorty. Peirce’s maxim or principle was first formulated in his 1878 essay “How to Make Our Ideas Clear”: “In order to ascertain the meaning of an intellectual conception we should consider what practical consequences might conceivably result by necessity from the truth of that conception; and the sum of these consequences will constitute the entire meaning of the conception” (146; see also Short, Peirce’s Theory of Signs). Peirce explained that the “sum of these consequences”
is equivalent to a process of rational conduct open to fallibilistic inquiry. The early Peirce may have speculated on infinite semiosis, as Eco and Derrida supposed. Later on Peirce concluded that we should strive for a “concrete reasonableness” and its embodiment in a community of inquirers open to the impact of experience, the intractable factuality of an objective world, the historicity of life, and the influence of traditions” (95).

To go back to the connection between the signifier and the signified, namely, the interpretant, Peirce enumerates three possible forms of interpretant (in his “Letters to Lady Welby”): “the interpretant as represented or meant to be understood, its interpretant as it is produced; and its interpretant in itself” (Peirce 404-06). There are two main kinds of interpretants: the dynamic interpretant, and immediate interpretant. Later in his life, Peirce speculated on the third kind of interpretant, the logical or final interpretant that would sum up the findings of the first two. The dynamic interpretant can treat the sign/signifiers as something the reasonableness of which will be acknowledged; or as an act of insistence; or something for contemplation. Meanwhile, the immediate interpretant considers the signifiers into three kinds: 1) those interpretable in thoughts or other signs of the same kind in infinite series; 2) those which are interpretable in actual experiences; and 3) those which are interpretable in qualities or feelings (for further elaboration, see essays on the interpretant in Muller and Brent).

Examine the varieties of interpretants drawn from the published reactions to the poem in question. If we look at the three interpretants you have, those by Amador Daguio, Ramon Tapales, and Franz Arcellana, the first two can be classified as examples of immediate interpretants: they translate the poem into actual experiences that are morally censurable, invoking convention and disciplinary codes or instruments of punishment. They are limited and inadequate. Meanwhile, the third would exemplify the dynamic interpretant that treat the poem as something reasonable, but would judge its performance as lacking in qualities or feelings–not actual experiences–ascribable to an accomplished work of art. It would invoke the institution of like-minded arbiters of taste. In short, the first two interpretants draw inferences outside the parameter of aesthetics, while the third confines itself to the value of the signifiers/representamen as inadequate to expressing a hypothetical idea of art implied by the critic.

What is decisive, then, in the formulation of interpretants is the sociopolitical purpose framing them and the historical conjuncture underlying the purpose. Contextualizing the act of reading/ interpreting is thus imperative to arrive at a wide-ranging, judicious, and dynamic appreciation of a text/speech-act. Otherwise, it would be a prejudiced, polemical or tactically instrumental reading and evaluation of the event/text/utterance—ultimately, a flawed comprehension for a limited audience or community of inquirers.

Differences, however, need not supersede comparison and prohibit judgment. I would like
to recommend to readers my earlier reflection on this incident in my book Balikbayang Sinta: An E. San Juan Reader (249-252) as one more proof that the subject is indeed constructed through differences. Or, if not bifurcated, the subject-in-question (always identified as error or ignorance) is pluralized by time-

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space mutations. The subject speaking/writing in 2008 differs from the subject performing as author/ speaker in 1957. Likewise, the subject now speaking today, March 13, 2018, in this lecture for a visiting professor—the original pretext and matrix for this essay—is different from the author revising this text before you.

However, despite these disjunctions and equivocations, this does not imply that meaning
is forever deferred. The ultimate interpretant awaits, even though the context is unstable, unfixed, relational, or essentially undecidable. Indeed, one may discern an aporia in the rhetoric of the
poem, the rubric “political animal” of Aristotelian origin clashing with the Browningesque dramatic monologue imitated from model poetic patterns of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, editor of avant- garde publications like BLAST in the London milieu of the first two decades of last century. Of all the reactors, Franz Arcellana, who never really censored the poem as adviser of the Collegian then, was the most disingenuously ironic. Incidentally, Franz confessed to me in 1987 that he was a “fall guy” during that time, as if to exonerate himself from some dilemma. To be sure, I would assert here that he was not responsible for the proscription of the author from publishing for a year; I refrained from putting him and the editors in endless predicaments.

Provisional Epilogue

The event may be trivial for many now except as a means of reviving nostalgia for the presence of Arcellana and Gonzalez in the U.P. faculty. Allow me then to add a footnote here by saying that I am grateful to Franz Arcellana for encouraging me during my undergraduate days, and as a token of this esteem I wrote the commentary on his short story about Christmas, and on “The Yellow Shawl” in the concluding pages of Toward a People’s Literature (170-173). Personally I did not associate him at all with my suspension–there was no written statement from the UP administration, except a verbal notice from the Editor that they would not print anything from me for a while–because this whole incident was symptomatic of the religious-secular conflict in the University at that time arising from the role of Father John Delaney and Prof. J.D. Constantino charging Professor Ricardo Pascual and his cohort of agnostics and atheists of Communistic leanings. This is a whole historic period before Martial Law that I cannot review here (see the excellent analysis by Preciosa de Joya). There are other historic pressures one can infer from this complex conjuncture if one considers the institutional function of college newspapers, the selection of their editors and staff, their funding and distribution by an ideological state apparatus such as the University of the Philippines.

In retrospect, the whole affair was a repercussion of the Cold War and McCarthyism particularized in the neocolonial situation of the Philippines during the regimes of Magsaysay and its successors. Indeed, from 1954 to 1960, the Cold War and its local manifestations (the Huk uprising, local McCarthyism, the internecine bloodletting among local oligarchs, the endemic corruption, extra- judicial killings, gangsterism everywhere) constitute the condition of possibility for the poem and its programmed reactions (for a historical overview, see Constantino, The Philippines: The Continuing Past, 226-345; Abaya, The Making of a Subversive).

One can perhaps locate somewhere the lesson of this incident in this abstract of the talk: With the death of the “author,” the subject-position framed in postmodern critical theory becomes a field
of contestation. The linguistic turn in literary studies has made even this subject precarious, reputed
to be a victim of the perpetual sliding of the Lacanian signifier. As a performing subject of this public discourse, I hope to recover the position of the “author” by recollection of my U.P. experience in
the fifties, specifically as the suspended student-writer of a controversial poem. The narration of this event is mediated through various interpretants. With a slight detour through Peirce’s triadic theory of signs, this brief intervention hopes to rescue the protagonists of that field, temporarily stabilized here, from being swallowed forever in the “vertiginous abyss” of socio-cultural “underdevelopment.” As
for the identity of the subject-in-process, or subject-on-trial, as Julia Kristeva would put it, I seek your indulgence in ending this paper with reference to my 1986 comment on the now historic document,

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“Declaration of the Coalition of Writers and Artists for Freedom and Democracy” signed by Filipino writers, intellectuals, and bureaucrats allied to the then moribund Marcos dictatorship, a document destined for the fabled “dustbin of history” (for my comment, see San Juan, Commentary: What Shall We Do with All of Marcos’ Hacks? ).

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—— . Subversions of Desire: Prolegomena to Nick Joaquin. Quezon City: Ateneo University Press, 1988. ——. Spinoza and the Terror of Racism. Sheffield: Sheffield Hallam University Press, 2002.
Short, T, L. Peirce’s Theory of Signs. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. ___________________

E. SAN JUAN, Jr. is emeritus professor of English, Ethnic Studies and Comparative Literature, University of Connecticut & Washington State University; professorial lecturer, Polytechnic University of the Philippines; previously fellow of W.E.B. Institute, Harvard University, and Fulbright professor of American Studies, Leuven University, Belgium; recent books include: U.S. Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines (Palgrave MacMillan), Filipinas Everywhere (Sussex Academic Press), Carlos Bulosan: Revolutionary Filipino Writer in the U.S. (Peter Lang), and Between Empire and Insurgency, and Kontra-Modernidad (U.P. Press).

44 PHILIPPINE HUMANITIES REVIEW VOLUME 20 ISSUE 1 (2018)

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS

Foreword to Jose Maria Sison, REFLECTIONS (2019)


FOREWORD TO JOSE MARIA SISON’S REFLECTIONS

by E. San Juan, Jr.DSC_0405 [Desktop Resolution]

 

Writing for the Madrid journal La Solidaridad in 1889, a decade before the United States occupied the Philippines as its new possession, Jose Rizal surmised in his essay “Filipinas dentro de cien anos”: “Perhaps the great American Republic, whose interests lie in the Pacific and who has no hand in the spoliation of Africa may some day dream of foreign possession….” But if she did, even contrary to her tradition, the European powers would forbid it, and if the United States tried to, “Very likely the Philippines will defend with inexpressible valor the liberty secured at the price of so much blood and sacrifice.” (1972, 127). Rizal’s uncanny presentiment was a warning: the natives resisted McKinley’s “Benevolent Assimilation” and U.S. “tutelage” from 1898 on. They persevered up to the Sakdal and Huk uprisings, and the ongoing resistance of the National Democratic Front and its national-popular combatants. 

Under the aegis of global capitalism’s “war against terrorism,” the carnage has worsened in the longest-held U.S. neocolony in Asia since its annexation at the turn of the last century..  After 9/11, U.S. imperial subjugation of the Philippines intensified with successive counterinsurgency schemes dating back to the Cold War. Beyond the three million Filipinos killed by U.S. troops in the Filipino-American War (1899-1913, dubbed the “first Vietnam”), thousands died in the bloody years of the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986) supported by Washington and the Pentagon (Ahmad 1971; Zinn 1984).

We are witness to current U.S. interventions via the Visiting Forces Agreement, EDCA, Operation Pacific Eagle-Philippines, and other bilateral transactions to preserve its neocolonial domination. This includes supply of weaponry, logistics, and supervision over the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). This was recently demonstrated by the U.S. participation in the devastation of Marawi City in 2017. Without U.S. stranglehold of key ideological-state apparatuses implementing IMF/World Bank/WTO regulations, the local oligarchy of landlords, compradors, and bureaucrat-capitalists from 1899 to 1972—as Jose Maria Sison has expounded in Philippine Society and Revolution (PSR)— would not survive.

Sison is universally recognized as a pertinacious radical leader of the Filipino contingent challenging U.S. imperialism. His signal accomplishment, in my view, is his cogent re-telling of the narrative of the Filipino national-liberation odyssey in PSR, updated in 1986. Of exceeding importance is Julieta De Lima’s perspicuous thematic inquiry of this narrative in “Jose Maria Sison on the Mode of Production” (Sison and De Lima 1988). Earlier attempts have been made by Apolinario Mabini, Claro Recto, Teodoro Agoncilo, Renato Constantino, among others. But only with PSR did the Filipino masses finally acquire a counter-hegemonic voice, freeing the energies of its long-repressed incarnate Geist, and enabling the rekindling of revolutionary agency. Of course, world events, in particular the 1955 Bandung Conference, the Cuban Revolution, the 1965-68 Cultural Revolution in China, the Civil Rights struggle in the U.S. coinciding with worldwide resistance against U.S. aggression in Vietnam, and the resurgence of the nationalist movement in the 1970 “First Quarter Storm,” etc.—all these and more provided fertile ground for its germination.

In 1968, Sison broke away from the old Soviet-inspired Communist Party  initially led by Crisanto Evangelista and Pedro Abad Santos. Its caretakers (the Lava brothers, etc.) easily succumbed to the Marcos regime. Humans make history but not under circumstances of their choosing.  Sison undertook the necessary critical inventory and launched a rectification campaign that led to the re-establishment of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) by Sison and his comrades in 1968. It was preceded by his formation of Kabataang Makabayan in November 1964. The concept of united front in the national-democratic, anti-imperialist campaign acquired saliency, accompanied by a regeneration of commitment to the ideals of emancipatory praxis. The new CPP was inspired by Mao’s vision of conducting people’s war in a non-European setting. What was at stake was not a set of dogmas or personality-cult but a model of guidelines or methods for testing hypotheses and applying Marxist-Leninist principles on the historical specificities of the Philippine socio-economic formation  (see “Programme for a People’s Democratic Revolution in the Philippines” (Saulo 1990, 196-209; San Juan 2015)

Curiously enough, the U.S. State Dept 1950 report on the Huk insurgency concurs with Sison’s re-emphasis on the central role of the peasantry in elucidating the feudal/landlord problem (1987). Just as Mao renewed Marxist dialectics in his 1927 investigation of the Hunan peasant movement, Sison’s re-appraisal of the diverse political forces involved in the unremitting class struggle from Spanish times to the present revitalized historical-materialist thinking applied to Philippine reality. He tested Lenin’s methodology of concrete analysis of historically dynamic situations,  focused on “the weak links,” which led to Lenin’s insight into the decisive role of national-liberation struggles in catalyzing the Western proletariat’s internationalist mission (1968).  He examined the historical particularities of crucial conjunctures in the saga of our uneven development. What proved to be decisive was the revaluation of the strategy and tactics of the class struggle with the founding of the New People’s Army on March 29, 1969, and the application of Mao Zedong’s theory of  protracted war pursuing various interlocking stages of the revolutionary process (Ch’en 1965; Rossanda 1970).

The next historic milestone in Sison’s contribution to the Marxist archive is the 1974 discourse on Specific Characteristics of People’s War in the Philippines. Sison was arrested by the Marcos regime in 1977 and endured torture and other indignities until its overthrow in February 1986. He has described this ordeal and its aftermath in his poems, letters, interviews, and other essays collected in Cotinuing the Struggle for National and Social Liberation (2015). After the U.S. debacle in Vietnam and at the height of the Cultural Revolution in China, the gains of the CPP and New People’s Army made possible the reaffirmation of the Filipino struggle as part of the radical democratic-socialist transformations around the world initiated by the 1917 Russian revolution.

Historians have argued that Instead of homogenizing the planet, capitalism generates zones of differences, asymmetrical or disaggregated networks of actions and motivations that defy synthesis. Unity and conflict of opposites prevail. While the 1930 Depression stimulated union organizing among migrant workers of Bulosan’s generation, the Japanese Occupation taught the peasants the various modes of guerilla warfare and collective mobilization. The Cold War from the Fifties to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 ushered the need for an uninterrupted, all-encompassing Cultural Revolution. What is original in Sison’s 1974 discourse is the re-articulation of the country’s historical peculiarities in line with the national-democratic program: the mountainous archipelagic terrain, the dialectic of rural and urban zones, and in particular the contours of strategic defensive-tsalemate-offensive stages in the uninterreupted transition from a feudal-bourgeois to a new-democratic formation. Following this trajectory, the National Democratic Front Philippines, founded in 1973, issued the 10-Point (later 12-Point) program, which informs the ultimate agenda of the peace talks.

In 1988, Dr. Rainer Werning conducted a wide-ranging series of interviews with Sison in The Philippine Revolution: The Leader’s View. Sison’s travels around the world interacting with various progressive organizations afforded him opportunities to connect the Philippine project with other third-world and European solidarity movements. Before that, in 1980, we were able to arrange the publication of Sison’s other writings in the volume Victory to Our People’s War released in Quebec, Canada.

With the next historic intervention in 1992, “Reaffirm our Basic Principles and Rectify Errors,” Sison demonstrated once again his grasp of a dialectical analysis of the interaction of strategy and tactics, fallibilistic hypotheses and contingencies, enabling a grasp of the multi-layered contradictions in the vicissitudes of the national-democratic endeavor. By refusing the empiricist or eclectic position of his critics, Sison has applied the concept of the unity of opposites as the fundamental law of dialectical materialism, a concept which Mao first addressed in the classic 1937 discourse, “On Contradiction” (elaborated further in the 1957 talk, “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People” (1977, 384-419; see Knight 1997, 104). Failure to recognize the unity and antagonism of opposites has led to various left and right opportunisms (pacifism, revisionist compromises, etc.), including collusion with reactionary security agencies and CIA counterinsurgency schemes (Distor 1977). The bankruptcy of such deviations has been evidenced in the spectacle of former leftists functioning as apologists of U.S. neoliberal policies, with assorted NGOs set up to serve the corrupt oligarchy (landlords, compradors) managing the neocolonial State bureaucracy.

Sison’s vocation as a Fiipino advocate for national sovereignty and human rights in the diaspora has opened a new field of internationalist contestation. Over ten million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are scattered today around the world, forcing candidates for office to campaign in Hong Kong, Singapore, in the Middle East, etc. Their remittances are significant in relieving the Philippine foreign debt as well as intensifying commodity-fetishism, alienation, and consumerist decadence. Meanwhile, Filipino activists are politicizing these communities in the U.S., Europe, and in the Netherlands where Sison has been a political refugee since 1988. Apart from his imprisonment by the Marcos regime, his detention by the Dutch government in August 28, 2007 until September  13, 2007, for unsubstantiated charges has made Sison a symbol of all the thousands victimized by the U.S. imperial “war on terror.” Since 2001 he has guided the International League of People’s Struggles, the biggest international united front of people’s organizations along the anti-imperialist and democratic line.

One of the most instructive sections of these interviews is Sison’s insightful critique of the neocolonial administrations since the fall of Marcos up to the current fascist Duterte regime. His discussion of the impact of global changes on the Philippine system, in particular the capitalist restoration in the former Soviet Union and in China, as well as the decline of U.S. global hegemony, gives us the framework for speculations on the prospects of the Philippine revolution amidst a worldwide socialist resurgence. Again, the focus is on the exploited and oppressed, the community of victims, workers and peasants whose narratives remain to be written. With the assassination of NDFP consultant Felix Malayao and the arrest of other progressive activists at the behest of U.S. imperialist agencies, Sison believes a peace agreement is unikely—unless the revolutionary mass movement unleashes its counter-hegemonic force against Duterte’s murderous regime, with its horrendous record of extra-judicial killings and betrayal of the nation’s patrimony and sovereignty.

Equally fascinating in this volume is Sison’s reflections on diverse topics as a Filipino patriot, chief political consultant of the NDFP, and as an intransigent Marxist public intellectual. Sison invokes his descent from the first Filipino socialist agitator, Isabelo de Los Reyes, who organized the first labor unions and also co-founded the nationalistic Iglesia Filipino Independiente. Sison pays homage to the Enlightenment tradition of de los Reyes, Rizal, Mabini and others which the Chinese patriot Sun Yat-sen had the sagacity to admire.  Sison sums up his legacy “in the form of theoretical and political writings needed for the reestablishment and development of the CCP as a revolutionary party of the proletariat and for the creation and growth of all other necessary revolutionary forces, including the NPA, the NDFP, the mass organizations and the people’s democratic government from the village level upward.” Indeed, this legacy today continues to be a powerful challenge to predatory capitalism worldwide, a “disintegrated capitalism” wreaking havoc on the environment and mutilating the lives of millions, unable to resolve the contradictions inherent in the system and therefore destined to either destroy the planet or be thoroughly replaced by a socialist/communist alternative (Harvey 2014).

Overall, this volume contains the most important record of Sison’s life based on his prodigious memory and ability to contextualize the most significant events shaping his thoughts and actions. It contributes substantial information on his education, political inquiries, and the scope and depth of his artistic creativity. It also documents his timely interventions into the most pivotal moments of our history. It gives a nuanced orchestration to his dialogue with his European interviewer.  I am sure it will furnish material for future biographies and commentaries on the symbiosis of human will and objective circumstances. However, to anticipate the chances that the reader may miss the historic resonance of these interviews, I would like to add a personal note. We (if I may speak for our group of militants in the East Coast circa 1965-80) read Marx, Lenin, Mao, Luxemburg, Fanon, Lukacs, Che Guevarra, and others before we encountered PSR. We were then trying to mobilize the “brainwashed” Filipino community in the U.S. against Marcos’ barbaric rule, his violation of human rights, his opening the country to foreign corporate plunder, etc. It was difficult until PSR provided a clue to arousing the historical consciousness of young Pinoys/Pinays. And so we began to retell the story of Lapu-Lapu, Gabriela Silang, Gomburza, Bonifacio, Sakay, Salud Algabre, Teresa Magbanua, Maria Lorena Barros, and countless heroic protagonists of our history.

“Only connect,” as the saying goes. We thus succeeded in organizing rallies and learning/teaching seminars, lobbying legislators to cut off military aid to Marcos, supporting multiethnic farmworkers exploited by the same corporations pillaging their homeland, and other activities. We also used Carlos Bulosan’s works together with the testimonies of Filipino unionists who spearheaded dangerous strikes in the fields of Hawaii and California.  For us, PSR then afforded us an excellent pedagogical instrument which sparked the conscientization (Paulo Freire’s term) of almost two generations of activists in the U.S. and elsewhere. PSR is now a legendary document that, contextualized in its milieu and with reference to Sison’s whole career, can be more justly appreciated as a contribution to the advance of counter-hegemonic, national-popular movements around the world.

The Filipino people today, with Its long durable tradition of anti-colonial and anti-feudal resistance, finds itself at a crossroad. The moribund system in its convulsive death-pangs eviscerates both victims and victimizers. The global crisis is worsening every day. Profit accumulation by finance capital signifies prolonging and aggravating underdevelopment—the povery and misery of millions—particularly in the non-industrialized, neocolonized regions such as the Philippines. The Permanent People’s Tribunal held in the Hague in 2007, which I attended, pronounced the U.S.-Arroyo regime guilty of massive crimes, among them untold cases of extra-judicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, barbaric brutalities with impunity —commnities destroyed or dispersed, millions of lives wasted (for Marcos’ crimes, see McCoy 2011). The verdict declared that the systematic violations of the rights of the Filpino people, its sovereignty and integrity, by the Bush and Arroyo governments are crimes against humanity. The Tribunal also condemned those powers that “under the pretext of the so-called ‘war on terrorism’ and in the mantle of “market- and profit-driven globalization’—deprive the marginalized of a life in justice, dignity, and peace” (San Juan 2007, 252-53).

History unfortunately seems to repeat itself. On 19 September 2018, this same Tribunal after days of sifting the evidence and hearing oral testimonies, arrived at a verdict sounding much the same as the 2007 one, this time the defendants on trial were Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and U.S, President Donald Trump. They were found guilty of “gross and systematic violations of human rights—civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights—in particular, “the rights of the people to national self-determination and development, the people’s right to liberation” (Cohn 2019). Whether these outrages will continue for the next decades or so, barring ecological cataclysms, are the urgent questions to which Sison’s interviews here can provide the answers if not the heuristic orientation necessary in clarifying what needs to be done.   As we celebrate the golden anniversary of the founding of the New People’s Army, and the 80th birthday of its founder, we forge our passage through the “labor of the negative,” expressing here the travails and hopes of the proletarianized masses in the long march not to a proverbial utopia but to a sense of fulfillment in having affirmed our people’s dignity, integrity, and inexhaustible creativity.

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Ch’en, Jerome.  1965.  Mao and the Chinese Revolution.  New York: Oxford

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Cohn, Marjorie. 2019.  “Tribunal Declares Trump and Duterte Guilty of Crimes 

Against Humanity.”  Truthout (March 14). <hhtp://truthout.org>

Communist Party of the Philippines.  1990. “Programme for a People’s 

Democratic Revolution in the Philippines.” In Communism in the 

Philippines : An Introduction by Alfredo Saulo.  Quezon City: Ateneo de 

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Distor, Emerita Dionisio. 1977.  “Maoism and the Development of the Communist

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Knight, Nick. 1977.  “The Laws of Dialectical Materialism in Mao Zedong’s

Thought: The Question of ‘Orthodoxy’.” In Critical Perspectives on Mao

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Lanin, Vladimir.  1968.  National Liberation, Socialism and Imperialism: Selected 

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People.”  Selected Works of MaoTsetung. Volume V.  Peking: Foreign

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McCoy, Alfred. 2011. “Dark Legacy: Human Rights under the Marcos Regime.” 

Memory, Truth Telling and the Pursuit of Justice: A Conference on the 

Legacies of the Marcos Dictatorship. Ateneo de Manila University: Office

of Research and Publications,pp. 129-144.

Rizal, Jose. 1979. “The Philippines A Century Hence”(Derbyshire translation). In 

     Jose Rizal.  Manila: National Historical Institute, pp. 96-129.

Rossanda, Rossana. 1971. “Mao’s Marxism.” Sociallist Register : 53-80.

San Juan, E.  2007.  U.S. Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines. New 

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Philippines Press.

Sison, Jose Maria [Amado Guerrero, pseudonym]. 1971.  Philippine Society and

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