ABU SAYYAF & BANGSAMORO STRUGGLE: Background to Mamasapano–E.San Juan, Jr.


THE “INVINCIBLE” ABU SAYYAF AND PERMANENT U.S. INTERVENTION IN THE PHILIPPINES
Reflections on the Bangsamoro Struggle for Self-determination

Moros1
[The 1789 Reign of Terror] is the rule of people who themselves are terror-stricken. Terror implies mostly useless cruelties perpetrated by frightened people in order to reassure themselves.

—Friedrich Engels, letter to March, 4 Sept. 1870 (Marx and Engels 1965)

Beginning January 2002, hundreds of U.S. Special Operations Forces have been stationed in the Southern Philippines as part of the US “global war against terror” after 9/11. This deployment was called “Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines,” part of the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. In October 2004, then President Bush singled out the Philippines as one front (the other two are Iraq and Afghanistan) in the US attempt to assert its hegemony in the Middle East, Asia, and throughout the world (Docena 2008).
Last October 2010, US Ambassador Harry Thomas flexed imperial muscles by demanding that the Philippines must eliminate, not just reduce in size, the Abu Sayyaf (ASG), a self-styled Islamic sect which is always linked to Osama bin Laden and the Indonesian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) responsible for the Bali bombing in 2002 (Bloomberg 2010). In 2001 the ASG beheaded one of three American hostages seized from a Palawan resort, while in 2004 it bombed a passenger ferry on Manila Bay, killing over 100 people. Both groups are always connected with Al Qaeda. Thomas said that “we are at a critical threshold” and the US will continue to send military advisers and aid (such as 25,000 helmets and fast-deploying rubber boats, among others), “as part of its security engagement with Manila” (Agence France-Presse 2010). At the same time, Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin stated that there was no fixed time-table for the presence of US troops in the Philippines involved not only in military campaigns but also in”peace and development,” as verified by US undersecretary of State Wiliam Burns (Siam Daily News 2010). Based on photos taken by Agence France-Press of US troops entering combat zones riding Humvee armored jeeps fully armed, then Makati mayor Jejomar Binay commented that the Arroyo administration was “apparently subcontracting the job of leading the fight against Muslim insurgents to the Americans” (Tribune Online 8/16/2007).
Various websites have confirmed the active participation of the US military (roughly 580-620 members, as of 2009) in combat operations against the ASG and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) where 15 soldiers have already been killed, “including the ten who were lost in a 21002 helicopter crash” (Yon 2009). Civic projects (managed by US-AID and other agencies such as Military Information Support Teams) such as road building, schools, textbook distribution, medical programs, and information outreach, are accessories to the military and police operations, part of the twin policies of drying up the sanctuaries and killing or capturing the hardcore members of ASG.
A month before Thomas’ warning, the US and the Aquino regime staged a demonstration of the threat with the October 21 bombing in Matalam, North Cotabato, attributed to the JIL and a new terrorist sect called Jihadist Ulama intended to replace the ASG. Obviously this recurrent hype about security threats occurs every time there is a move to review the onerous Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a travesty of Philippine sovereignty which has kindled mass outrage. The latest attempt to amplify the panic is the US State Department’s attempt to tag remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) as possible funding sources for the ASG. The Department’s October report cited the group’s appeal for funds via the Internet You Tube video of late ASG leaders Abdurajak and Khadaffy Janjalani (killed in 1998 and 2006, respectively) as its basis. No concrete evidence has been offered to substantiate the suspicion. This provides a ploy or ruse not only to renew the VFA but also for the US to intervene in the formal and informal banking and finance sectors of the country through which billion-dollar remittances are channeled to keep the local economy afloat (Esplanada 2010; Madlos 2010). One should also mention the widely publicized indictment of Filipino citizen Madhatta Haipe, allegedly a founding member of the ASG, in a Washington federal court. Extradited to the US in 2009, Haipe pleaded guilty to four counts of hostage taking in a 1995 abduction of 16 people, including 4 US citizens, near Lake Sebu, southern Mindanao (Inquirer 2010). What this bureaucratic legal exercise is meant to accomplish is clear: the Phiilippines is not a safe refuge for anyone who threatens to challenge the long tentacles of the imperial power of the United States.

US Caught In the Quagmire

A direct U.S. colony for about half a century, the Philippines remains a neocolonial formation, with a client collaborative regime (Petras 2007) subordinate to U.S. interests. This singular status of clientship or subordination is erased in current historiography. Consequently, the fallacy of treating the US and the Philippines as equal partners in inter-state relations results in gross misjudgments and absurd expectations.
The strategic US military bases in Clark and Subic Bay, Philippines, was evicted by the Philippine Senate in 1991. However, by virtue of the anomalous Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) signed by then President Estrada in 1999, the US succeeded in establishing a Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines in Camp Navarro, Zamboanga City, the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Western Mindanao Command. This allows the US to participate in counter-insurgency operations against the Moro fighters in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA), and factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that refused to accept the Arroyo regime. Both the NPA and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) are classified as “terrorist” organizations by the U.S. State Department.
For now, the ASG has become the target of US surveillance by unmanned spy planes (drones); this intelligence gathering directly aids in the AFP’s combat operations. In 2002, for example, a Moro peasant in Basilan suspected to be an ASG follower, Buyong-buyong Isnijal, was shot by US Sgt. Reggie Lane; no serious investigation was made about this incident despite a Congressional resolution. In Feb. 2008, one of the few survivors of the Maimbung massacre in Sulu, Sandrawina Wahid, witnessed US troops engaged in the Philippine military’s assault on the town where eight civilians were killed, including Rowina’s husband, two teenagers, two children, and a three-month pregnant woman. Another incident hit the headlines recently when a Philippine Army captain Javier Ignacio was killed while investigating the previous murder by US military personnel of a Filipino employee Gregan Cardeno. Hired by US company DynCorp International, Cardeno was assigned to the Liaison Coordination Element, a unit of the US military, based in Camp Ranao, Marawi City (Carol Araullo, “Streetwise,” Business World, 11-12 June 2010). The death of Cardeno exposed the clandestine unit engaged in work that appears in violation of Philippine laws and its sovereignty; the activities of DynCorp and other secret companies have likewise not been disclosed, contradicting the US Embassy claim that the US Special Forces are confined to openly conducted civic/humanitarian projects such as building roads, schools, etc.
On September 29, 2009, two American soldiers were killed by a landmine planted by the MNLF in Indanan, Jolo. These two are now considered the first casualties since the Balikatan exercises in 2001, although several US soldiers died in fighting in Sulu three or four years ago. This was a reprisal for the Philippine Marines’ bombing of Muslim devotees in religious rites on September 20 in the same town. A local observer, Prof. Julkipli Wadi noted that the US muted this incident to avoid jeopardizing its humanitarian stance. Wadi cites the October 2009 visit of US embassy officials to the MILF leadership in Sultan Kudarat, Mindanao, where these officials were lectured by the MILF deputy chieftain Ghazali Jaafar; according to Wadi, Jaafar told them that “Washington must help in the resolution of the Mindanao problem by addressing the root cause, which is political, emanating from the grant of US independence to the Philippines,” which “immorally and illegally incorporated the Bangsamoro homeland” (“US Strategic Avoidance,” MindNews, 20 October 2009). Wadi described US soldiers entrenching themselves in many parts of Zamboanga, Basilan, Jolo and parts of Tawi-Tawi, and asks “how long would US authorities pursue the policy of strategic avoidance by hiding under the veneer of counterinsurgency and war on international terrorism while entrenching deeper in the hinterlands and seas of the Sulu Archipelago without being known by the American public?” Obviously, aside from propping up the neocolonial Filipino elite and thus advancing its global geopolitical strategy, the US would like to take advantage of the natural and human resources of Mindanao and Sulu, and its ideal location as a springboard to intervention in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the whole of Indochina as a means of encircling China, their ultimate competitor.
Certainly, U.S. power and legitimacy or cultural authority are at stake. But the preponderant use of military power and logistics undermines any pretense of humanitarian motives. Boston University professor Andrew Bacevich reminds the US public that in 1903, Theodore Roosevelt ordered General Leonard Wood to pacify the Moro province, home to about 250,000 Filipino Muslims then. In March 1906, at Bud Dajo, Jolo, just to cite one incident, the American pacifiers killed 600 Muslims, including many women and children—a “disagreeable” by-product, what is called by the Pentagon “collateral damage” (“Caution: Moral Snares Ahead,” Los Angeles Times, 22 Jan., 2002). It is not just moral snare or hubris that explains this propensity to complacently offer thousands of human lives to the altar of Empire; it is the logic of capitalist expansion, the motor of profit gained from alienated labor/lives, that propels white supremacy and its civilizing mission—the hallmark of US imperial presence in Mindanao and Sulu, an an amoral hegemon whose crimes against humanity elude the MILF leaders, thus their naive plea to Washington to assist their cause by mediating the conflict between them and the Arroyo regime.
But there are other players in the scene, of course. In 1987, the Moro historian Samuel K. Tan expressed his belief that the national community remains divided between the Christian “national community” and what he calls the “cultural communities,” referring to the Moros and the non-Christian Lumads and Cordillera peoples. Is democracy coming to an end in the emergence of “a nation of multiple state-systems”? Tan is critical of the Christian sector’s drive to create a “Christian nation in Asia regardless of the implications to the cultural communities,” as evinced in the program to unite the Philippines on the basis of an ideological secular basis summed up in the slogan “one nation, one spirit” (1987, 72). What Tan ignores is that the secular neocolonial state as it has historically evolved cannot fully exercise its sovereignty over all the communities without the aid of US political, military and diplomatic assistance. It is indeed an instrument to foster global capitalism’s welfare. Moreover, the problem of unequal power is not primarily a question of culture but of control over resources and land, ultimately a question of political leadership and organization. In any case, the fate of the “three communities” is now a matter of international or global concern, as evidenced by the sordid plight of OFWs languishing in jails around the world and by Filipino progressives appealing to the UN Human Rights Council and the World Council of Churches on behalf of thousands of victims of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, and a reign of impunity for crimes against humanity by the U.S.-funded military and police forces of the Arroyo regime and its oligarchic allies. Since the end of the Cold War, the upsurge of counterhegemonic forces against US imperial dominance in Asia, Africa and Latin America cannot be ignored or under-estimated.
At least since the Tripoli Agreement of 1976, the Moro struggle for autonomy or independence has become internationalized. With the entry of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference), the MNLF and MILF have become dependent on the mterial and political support of Islamic countries. The mediating roles of Indonesia and Malaysia as key members of the OIC need no further clarification. The preponderant US role remains ineluctable. What is occurring in the Philippines as an arena of class and national struggles should be analyzed in this historical geopolitical context to understand properly the significance of the Moro people’s struggle for self-determination.
In the last twenty years, particularly after the reinstatement of “elite democracy” with the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, the US re-asserted its total domination of the Philippines with the Aquino-Ramos regime. While Corazon Aquino’s “total war” on the Communist-led New People’s Army continued under U.S. direction (sanctioned by numerous treaties and executive agreements), the power of the nationalist movement since formal independence in 1946 demonstrated its subterranean force in the expulsion of the U.S. military bases in 1992. It was the loss of these bases that confronted US imperial planners, a loss immediately solved by means of the “Visiting Forces Agreement” initiated by Fidel Ramos, a general tutored by the Pentagon. But this agreement required justification or legitimacy, which explains the “Abu Sayyaf” phenomenon and the elaborate overt and covert intervention of the U.S.—directly, this time, via the Pentagon, US State Department (via US Embassy), US Institute of Peace, US-AID, and others (see Chaulia 2009)—in the initially secessionist/separatist insurgency led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The Missing Link: CIA Frankenstein

What is most intriguing is the persistence of the “Abu Sayyaf” (ASG) terrorist group as an integral part of an expanding US military presence in the Philippines. Not a day passes when somewhere a news report of the Abu Sayyaf is found with always a mention of its Al-Qaida link, origin, or connection. For example, the Feb. 2005 BBC “Guide to the Philippine conflict” lists down the MNLF, MILF, the NPA, and the Abu Sayyaf as the “main rebel factions” in Mindanao. It recites the oft-repeated factoids: The ASG split off from the MNLF in 1991 under the leadership of Abdurajik Janjalani (killed in December 1998), succeeded by his less doctrine-driven brother Khadafi Janjalani, whose death in September 2006 precipitated the disintegration of the group into multiple factions. From a thousand combatants in the beginning, it has shrunk to 400 or less members
Given its record of kidnapping-for-ransom, massacres, and bombings (often mentioned is the October 2004 bombing of the Superferry 14 in Manila Bay, with 116 people killed, the ASG has acquired a high-profile “terrorist” aura. The kidnappings in Sipadan, Malaysia, in April 2000 and the May 2001 raid on a Palawan resort and the subsequent rescue of Grace Burnham, catapulted the group into the status of media celebrity. Meanwhile, the Al-Qaida connection has been reinforced by association with the Indonesian group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) noted for the 2002 Bali carnage. The April 13, 2010 raid in Isabela, Basilan, by ASG members disguised as police commandos, led by Puruji Indama, revitalized its 2 decades of deadly mayhem.
All accounts agree about the origin of the ASG in the US Central Intelligence Agency ‘s (CIA) role in training mujahideens from various countries to fight the US proxy war in Aghanistan against the Soviets (1979-1989). In May 2008, Senator Aquilino Pimentel described the ASG a “CIA monster” trained by AFP officers in the southern Philippines and directed by informers/spies such as its former leader Edwin Angeles (Santuario 2009). In his book Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, American and International Terrorism, Jon K. Cooley documented the CIA training and funding of the ASG—freedom-fighters such as Osama bin Laden engaged in jihad against the communist infidel—around 1986 in Peshawar, Pakistan; one of the veterans was Abdurajak Janjalani (Santuario 2009; Bengwayan 2002). Accordingly, Prof. Mahmood Mamdani of Columbia University calls the CIA-created ASG and bin Laden’s followers as “alternatives to secular nationalism,” and fundamentalist terrorism as an integral modern project, for which US imperial aggression around the world is chiefly responsible (2002).
A recent writeup of this “al-Qaida-linked extremist group” now claims that its present leader, Khair Mundus, has been receiving funds from Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. It is alleged that he once transferred these funds to Khadaffy Janjalani in 2001-2003. No less than the US State Department alleges that Mundus, while in police custody in 2004, “confessed to having arranged the transfer of al-Qiada funds to an ASG chief to finance bombings and other attacks” (“Abu Sayyaf faction,” GMANews.TV). The US is offering half-a-million dollars for the arrest of this ideologically inspired agent. The Basilan-based group has supposedly given sanctuary to Dulmatin, a key suspect in the Bali carnage, hence the interest of the US State Department (which explains why he has been reported killed several times). Aside from Mundus and Dulmatin, another Bali bomber Umar Patek has been tagged by the US-funded Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research as operating in Tawi-Tawi province (ABS-CBNNews.com 2010).
Since Abdurajak Janjalani’s death, the group has lost interest in Islamic goals and degenerated into banditry and “high impact terrorist activities.” But Mundus is trying to revive its Islamic evangelism and unite the factions spread out in Basilan, Sulu and Zamboanga, influencing even Puruji Indama, the guerilla blamed for the brutal beheading of 10 marines in a 2007 encounter in Basilan. A clear tendency of the media propaganda machine has emerged to infuse ideological and political substance to the ASG which, since at least 1998, has simply become a criminal outfit for easy containment by the local police, not by the heavily armed US Special Forces with technologically sophisticated spy equipment and drones. The journalists Marites Vitug and Glenda Gloria named Gen. Guillermo Ruiz, former Marine commander and police officials Leandro Mendoza and Rodolfo Mendoza as coddlers/patrons of the ASG (Bengwayan 2002).
Anatomy of a Faction

Clearly, without the presence of this group with its flagrant, highly visible kidnappings and bombings, the rationale for US military intervention would lose credibility. It is not secret that the AFP, so much dependent on US Pentagon logistics and equipment, would not really be able to challenge the NPA, its perennial military target, as long as the political, economic and social conditions warrant its existence. US geopolitical strategy for maintaining hegemony in Asia and around the world requires its presence in the Philippines, hence the need for ASG’s terrorist identity and anti-people behavior.
We can learn more about US ideological rationale from a U.S.Institute of Peace academic expert Zachary Abuza’s recent summing-up in response to the April 13 raid on Isabela City, the capital of the island province of Basilan. Abuza rehearses the founder’s past as an Afghan mujahidin and the founding of the group in 1991 “with al-Qa’ida seed money” (Abuza 2010, 11). Muhammad Jamal Khalifa, an Osama bin Laden connection, and Ramzi Yousef, famous for plotting the bombing of multiple commercial airliners, are mentioned to reinforce its international terrorist standing. ASG orientation changed from being sectarian (1991-1996) to being purely monetary (2000-2001), with over 140 hostages (16 of whom were killed) ranging from Western tourists, school children, priests and ordinary people.
Clearly the ASG will never disappear, if not in reality at least in the media. In 2003-2004, with leaders Abu Sabaya and Ghalib Andang killed (followed by Abu Solaiman in January 2007), ASG is tied with the Indonesian terrorist JI as well as with Malaysian terrorists. It is at this point that the ASG becomes more frequently associated with the MILF which employs the ASG for bombing campaigns and also for infiltrating the Sulu archipelago, mostly controlled by the Tausug-dominaed MNLF. Despite the loss of its leaders (the latest being Albader Parad), the ASG keeps coming back like a hydra-headed monster, almost chameolonic too in adapting to changing environments. Its public face will metamorphose or metastize relative to the two main groups, the MNLF and MILF.
The latest attempt to spread the ASG contagion to other parties in the region may be gleaned from Abuza’s claim that the ASG has recruited new combatants from the MNLF under Habier Malik in March 2007. But the bombings and kidnappings did not subside in 2008-2009, with two US soldiers killed in the 2009 Jolo bombing. Philippine generals and Marine commanders all concur that the ASG has been decapitated and falling apart, even while attacks are continuing. A new line is being established: the Pakistani connection. One Abdulabasit Usman was killed by a U.S. drone attack in Waziristan, the Afghan-Pakistan border. This Usman is suspected to be a member of the MILP, the JI, ASG, and also “an independent gun for hire.” Abuza nonetheless states as a fact that “What is clear is that he worked at times as a bomber and trainer for both the ASG and MILF.” Thus linkages are at first hypothesized, posited, and then simply asserted as a factoid for the record.
The death of Dulmatin occasions the suspicion that al-Qai’da in Malaysia and Aceh are using the ASG and the MILF as channels connecting Arab militants and South Asian (Pakistan and Afghanistan) fighters with southeast Asian organizations. In any case, the ASG and MILF are now interwoven with Al-Qai’da operations in the Indonesian-Malaysian region. The MILF has been accused of harboring Rajah Solaiman (recently labeled “terrorist” by the US State Department), Pentagon Gang and JI terrorist agents. Jihadist violence and criminal kidnapping-for-ransom characterize ASG with close working relations with the MILF and disaffected elements of the MNLF. Abuza concludes that despite its successes, the “Philippine military does not appear to have the capacity nor the will to finish the job militarily, and the government’s refusal to develop a holistic peace process in the southern Philippines….will continue to support the ASG’s ranks” (2010, 13). The unstated implication is that US military intervention to advance its own strategic geopolitical-cum-economic interest, cannot be given up lest the whole battlefront is lost to anti-systemic Islamic-led extremism. Meanwhile, Ibrahim Murad of the IMLF warned last August that US troops’ sojourn in Mindanao “only complicates the situation. They are just simply justifying their presence for terrorist elements” (News Essentials 2010).

Provisional Inventory

What is the situation now after 13 years of GRP-MILF peace talks? Let me provide a drastic schematic framework within which to view the current impasse affecting at least 6-9 million Muslims (10% of the total population) in over 700 villages, mainly within the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The 2008 agreement between the GRP and MILF was scrapped in 2008 as “unconstitutional.” The MNLF is deeply factionalized, with Misuari still in jail. From its official emergence in Nov. 14, 1972, immediately after Marcos’ declaration of martial law, to Dec. 1976, with the signing of the Tripoli Agreement, and its final actualization in the 1996 peace agreement between Fidel Ramos and Nur Misuari, the MNLF (with 30,000 fighters in 1973-75) seems to have wasted its decades of lessons and experience. Misuari’s arrest after the failed Jolo and Zamboanga rebellion in Nov. 2001 may lead to the gradual exodus of his followers into the camps of the MILF, the ASG, or even government fronts. Meanwhile, splitting from the MNLF in 1977, the MILF pursued the armed struggle under Hashim Salamat as “jihad fi sabilillah (struggle in the way of Allah)—a sectarian, fundamentalist trend which runs immanent in the peace negotiations with the Arroyo regime (Klitzsch 2009). The peace agreement signed on May 7, 2002, with Arroyo culminated in the Memorandum of Agreement on “Ancestral Domain” (MOA-AD) and the issue of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (JEC), which was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2008. Now, the March peace talks in Kuala Lumpur witnessed a controversy over the use of the Philippine Constitution and the Republic’s jurisprudence as the existing legal framework (requiring amendment) for a revised peace agreement (Balana 2010; Rosauro 2010). The resort to the internationalist idiom of “self-determination” (with its Wilsonian, not Leninist precedents) does not guarantee actual political/military control over territory and natural resources if it conflicts with the overarching sovereignty of the neocolonial State. Misuari’s experience in administering the ARMN fully bears this out (Dela Cruz 2006).
Given the severely uneven development of the region, diverse class and sectoral interests are involved. The Lumads or indigenous ethnic communities have recently mobilized. The hostility of the Christian landlords, business, comprador, and foreign corporate fronts in Mindanao rests on varied grounds, some diehard and some amenable to compromise. The present regime speaks of course for the US/Washington Consensus, for global capital and transnational corporate interests and their local allies, so that unless the MILF addresses this structural and institutional constraints, the iniquitous status quo will not be altered in any substantial or meaningful way so as to improve the material lives of the Moro masses, not to speak of the Lumads and other indigenous communities.
Meanwhile, notwithstanding the mobilization of 10,000 armed combatants and several thousand partisans, MILF ascendancy remains contested, hence their wobbly diplomatic stance. Overall, the primary cause for persisting armed confrontations is the absence of any hegemonic (intellectual and moral leadership, in Gramsci’s sense) power in Mindanao as a whole, though the MNLF once enjoyed such in the Tausug homeland of Sulu. The MILF has suffered from a marked opportunism, as evidenced in Salamat’s January 2003 letter to George Bush “seeking his good offices,” and the MILF’s assent to allowing the US Institute of Peace (USIP) to intervene. In fact, by June 2003, the US State Department laid down its policies for the GRP-MILF peace negotiations. USIP Philippine Facilitation Project Executive Director Eugene Martin’s explanation for US involvement deserves to be quoted here:

The continued conflict was seen as a source of not only domestic instability but a potential threat regionally and even globally. As such, it became part of the war on terror, although the MILF is not considered a terrorist organization. Increased military assistance to the AFP and joint exercises, like Balikatan, were focused on helping the AFP be more professional and effective against designated terrorist groups such as the NDF and the Abu Sayyaf Group (quoted in Santos 2005, 100).

Martin acknowledges that the conflict cannot be solved “by purely military means,” so he cites the underlying causes—poverty, lack of development and education, and displacement of Muslims from ancestral lands—as the reason why the US is involved. This of course does not overshadow the main concern, “the war on terror.” Unlike other commentators, Martin does not neglect naming the NDF together with the ASG as “terrorist organizations.”
In terms of profit-centered Realpolitik, US interest in the Moro insurgents is designed to coopt this force as much as possible and manipulate it for geopolitical ends. This does not preclude its purpose of serving as a pretext or cover for preparing the ground in suppressing the NDF/NPA as well as the possibly more dangerous Indonesian and Malaysian affiliates of al-Qaida/Osama bin Laden. Aside from USIP ideological and political input, the US has made overtures to the MILF leadership on the possibility of using MILF “ancestral domain” for military bases, to which the MILF leadership replied that “everything is negotiable.” Astrid Tuminez (2008), a USIP operative, confirms the US focus on Mindanao as a new “Mecca of terrorism,” a half-concealed rationale which thus legitimizes the thorough involvement of the US government in the current peace talks as well as the regular “Balikatan” war exercises and civic-action activities of the US military contingent in the Philippines.

Never Again “Benevolent Assimilation”

US dominance, both political, military and ideological, cannot be discounted. Even those who purport to be neutral or well-intentioned observers succumb to the fallacy of believing the US a neutral or benevolent mediator in the conflict. In his book, Dynamics and Directions of the Grp-MILF Peace Negotiations (2005) that Soliman Santos Jr., for example, naively claims “that US clout can play a positive role as guarantor of a just and lasting peace agreement” even as he admits that for the US the global war on terrorism is its chief concern.
Terrorism, die-hard separatism, is not necessarily the polar opposite of compromise and bargaining with the Arroyo regime for temporary concessions. Like the MNLF, the MILG knows that it cannot win solely by military means. With the realization that conventional warfare is not feasible to advance a separatist project of full independence, esp. with the loss of fixed camps (first, the Abubakar camp and then the Buliok Complex) and millions of their followers displaced and reduced to refugees, the MILF has shifted to a pragmatic, if somewhat opportunist, mode of diplomacy. While the aim of Islamization seems to persist as a cultural identity brand, despite the passing of Hashim Salamat and his adherence to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s doctrine of jihadism {Klitzsch has ably documented this genealogy of Salamat’s thinking), I think the present MILF leadership has realized that they cannot deliver immediate benefits to its ranks and the popular base unless some gains in the diplomatic/legal front are achieved. While Islamism (jihadist or merely didactic) appeases those militants vulnerable to the ASG appeal, the need to produce material rewards is urgent lest the mass base turn to the MNLF or, even worse, the traditional Moro oligarchy. The tactical changes may be discerned in the 2004 statement by the MILFG Peace Panel Advisor that the MILF “strives for a ‘political solution’—‘neither full independence nor autonomy, ‘but ‘somewhere in between’ “ (quoted in Klitzsch 2009, 166). Murad Ebrahim was also quoted in saying that the territory they will administer as BJE will be “governed with Islamic precepts” (Robles 2010). Of course, these may just be propaganda ploys or publicity subterfuge.
Varying commentaries on the conflict register as symptoms of disparate theoretical frameworks and axiomatic paradigms. The common error of mainstream academic scholarship, as well as media punditry, in this matter—i.e. the failure to locate the Moro struggle within the US global strategy to maintain its imperial hegemony—stems, of course, from either deliberate advocacy for neoliberal free-market worldview, or from misguided naivete. The shift of the intellectual paradigm from leftist or progressive historicist views to narrow empiricist and even eclectic postmodernist stances may be perceived in a recent volume edited by Patricio N. Abinales and Nathan Gilbert Quimpo. With the single exception of Herbert Docena’s effort to document active U.S. military collaboration in the war against the Moro insurgents, the contributors range from the narrow “all politics is local” stance of Abinales to Quimpo’s endorsement of the view that the situation in the southern Philippines is a product of internal causes, with the US as peripheral or not centrally involved. Quimpo chimes in with Establishment voices that welcome US intervention. Quimpo harps on the bossist, “patrimonial and ethnocratic” Philippine state, as though it had no historical genealogy or political provenance in US colonial and neocolonial control of the country. He even laments that the US has not addressed the corruption endemic to a patrimonial state. Quimpo believes that the USIP is “an independent federal institution” (2008, 189), while the cynical Abinales celebrates “the fading away of the US in the postauthoritarian scene” pervaded by globalization anomie (2008, 199).
In general, the prospect seems bleak to Quimpo and his associates. In his detailed description of the ASG included in the volume, the military-affiliated academic Rommel Banlaoi dismisses the solid, irrefutable findings of the 2002 International Peace Mission published in their report, “Basilan: The Next Afghanistan?” that the ASG is basically the product of local political and social conditions, in a U.S.neocolony. This judgment has been meticulously supported by a rich trove of stories, interviews, and textured accounts of the ASG’s symbiotic ties with the military, local politicians, and government bureaucracy in many books published since the ASG appeared, among them Marites Danguilan Vitug and Glenda Gloria’s Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao (2000).
While recognizing that the ASG and other groups are struggling to solve structural inequity and injustice, as well as cultural discrimination and the loss of sovereignty, Banloai’s recommendation is to improve governance into one “more transparent, accountable, responsive and participatory.” (2008, 145). Meanwhile, Kit Collier rejects the primordialist analysis for a more instrumental, postmodernist approach, which uses an ethnographic phenomenological method similar to the anthropologist Frake’s picture of a contested, ambiguous, invented identity of the ASG combatant (see Frake 1998; and my critique in San Juan 2007). All deflect attention away from the larger global context of US re-tooling of imperial hegemony in the wake of the end of the Cold War and, in particular, the post-9/11 “global war on terrorism” launched by George W. Bush and carried on by Barack Obama.

Toward Historical Dialectics

A more serious endeavor to grapple with the vast historical and political landscape into which the Moro struggle is inscribed, is the volume The Moro Reader (2008) published by CENPEG. The volume correctly defines the subordinate role of the Philippine nation-state to the US and its neoliberal program of globalization. What is missing is further elaboration of the concept of “ancestral domain” and the abstract “right of self-determination” within a rigorous historical-materialist analytic. I venture a preliminary clearing of the stage for such an inquiry with a few general propositions/theses.
Only a general review of what is needed can be made here.While I myself (San Juan 2007) have previously endorsed the fundamental imperative of solidarity with the Moro aspiration for independence and separation from the neocolonial domination of the oligarchic landlord-comprador ruling bloc, I would like to reformulate my views in light of the more pronounced MILF ideological doctrine of Islamic evangelical confrontation with the West (deriving either from Egyptian or Saudi Arabian traditions). A theoretical reframing is in order.
Progressive activists need to take into account the primacy given by the MILF and the ASG to Islamization and the project of an Islamic state patterned after Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt and other Arab countries. Unlike the MNLF program, the MILH (to my knowledge) has not come up with a thorough analysis of Manila/Christian colonialism, nor its dependence on the imperial US patron, despite its denunciation of settler greed, injustice, ethnic discrimination, etc. To my knowledge (I stand corrected), the MILF has no anti-systemic (anti-capitalist) policy or operational ideal functioning at present. The marginalization of the secularly-oriented MNLF and the outright rejection of Marxist and other socialist-oriented revolutionary ideas aiming for a class-less society is symptomatic of a retrograde impulse influencing the actual tactics and strategy for autonomy. Some have noted the separatist motivation of the Bangsamoro nation to encourage the development of an autocratic, tributary and highly hierarchical sociopolitical formation. “Self-determination” cannot be an absolute principle but must always be historicized and dialectically apprehended within the manifold determinations of social historical development of specific formations within a global context. Can we envisage a popular, democratic civil society/public sphere flourishing within the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity?
Of course, the everyday practice of Moro militants yields a rich complex of data for formulating hypothesis and theoretical propositions that may engender a socialist-democratic ethos. Since culture is a creative process, such is theoretically possible. But empirical data cannot substitute for a valid theoretical framework. I agree with Kenneth Bauzon (2008) that the current conjuncture has to be read within the framework of a resurgent neoliberal restructuring of global capitalism. This is occurring within the US hegemonic “crusade” against Islamic fundamentalism, or violent extremism, itself framed by the neoconservative Huntingtonian paradigm of the “clash of civilizations.” This culturalist interpretation obviates any structural or systemic critique. This is why the understanding and theorization of terrorism as a political phenomenon is also superficial, misleading, and tendentious. It acquires a life of its own divorced from the analysis of dynamic political forces (for example, the antagonism between capital and labor) and their specific agendas and long-range platforms.
Terrorism becomes a political and moral issue when the political group using it adopts a subjectivist mode of imposing its will on the masses. When Marx objected to the Jacobin use of the guillotine as a tactic to impose bourgeois interests on everyone, instead of developing it within the given conditions, he was objecting to this means of enforcing the interests of a particular group/class on the whole society. In opposing the conspiratorial terrorism of utopian socialists and anarchists, Marx argued his dialectical stand that “socialist revolution must develop from within the given social relations and must be directed to the establishment of universal interests’”(Hansen 1977, 102-103)—the revolutionary process, in short, is not superadded but inheres within the existing nexus of sociopolitical relations. Critical analysis of the interaction between the collective actors and their changing sociopolitical environment is needed, together with constant appraisals of the direction of the changes of both subject and object of the field of conflict, to ascertain what can be changed and what cannot—the possibilities and limits of radical historical transformation in the multi-layered Philippine setting.
In this context, the MILF goal of claiming the sovereign power of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity to rule over “ancestral domain” has been promoted through both conventional war and terrorist tactics (as evidenced by links with Jemaah Islamiya, ASG, and others). Forced to renounce publicly their connections with such groups, Salamat and the MILF leadership has to resort to the OIC and the US to enhance its status as a legitimate political party. Nonetheless, their supreme goal is no longer secession or a separate independent state, but political power over a definite territory and its inhabitants via combination of force and diplomacy. Essentially, it is an attempt to universalize the Will of a political party—the agent of historical change–that claims to represent the whole Moro peoples (across ethnic and class divisions). Now the reality is that any revolutionary party with a democratic-popular orientation has to take into account the social-economic reality and the political alignment of forces both within the Philippines, the southeast Asian region, and within the capitalist world-order (global war on terror by the US-led bloc, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, etc. against Iraq, Aghanistan, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, and other nation-states).
Ultimately, the Moro rebellion has to confront the power of global capital (at present led by the US power bloc) as the enemy of genuine Moro sovereignty, freedom and progress in a planetary habitat of peoples with diverse cultures, religions, histories, and aspirations.

Self-Determination as Means or End-In-Itself?

The ultimate goal of self-determination cannot be attained simply by fiat, of course, but by a revolutionary program of rejecting colonial occupation and imperialist domination. The MILF rejects the Manila/Christian state and its military forces and affirms its subjective identity (as the MNLF did in opposing Marcos and its US patron). However, the MILF does not mediate its self-proclaimed Islamic identity by the otherness (the concrete social context of a secular world of commodity-relations) in which it finds itself. Hence, it imposes on its mass base a view absorbed from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic centers while paying lip-service to the history of the anti-colonial struggles of Moros as a whole. It is thus caught in a unity of contradictions. “Ancestral domain” tends to be fetishized in its purely Islamic heritage. An abstract self-affirmation of Islamic identity (to distinguish it from Christian/Western others) remains subjectivist/voluntarist as well as philosophical/idealist, susceptible to terrorist realization. Its obverse is the positivist or pragmatic dependence on the OIC, the US, and other sponsors that it calculates will advance its self-identified agenda, given the current volatile contingencies.
From a dialectical stance, the only way to resolve the contradiction between the subjectivist/voluntarist Islamic self-identification of the MILF and its objectivist/pragmatist resort to US/OIC determinants, is to analyse the nature of the unity of these abstract opposites. In other words, the way to resolve the contradictions is by way of discovering the universal logic/principle underlying the project of revolutionary action, assuming that the MILF is engaged in a revolutionary project of emancipation of the Moro people’s potential for expressing its full humanity with others in the world. The past and the present will have to coalesce to shape the historical agent of change whose interests are not particular but universal, the interest of all members of the given society. The search for the revolutionary class or agent which, from the beginning, is the necessary condition of the present—that agent which will bring the future to the present because of its past—is not a theoretical problem but a practical one: “It is a problem of the unity of theory and practice, the co-determining conditions of which are in the present because of the past. Consequently, whereas the subjectivist [terrorist] desires the restoration of the past by means of externalizing a particular subjectivity, the revolutionary needs revolution to realize what is already given in the present through the past” (Hansen 1977, 108). Hence the revolutionary agent does not force onto people a particular view because his view is already present (though occluded or suppressed) in the existing reality.

In Quest of Critical Universality

From a radical-democratic standpoint, the crucial question then is: what is in the existing reality that needs to be released or brought to self-realization? What is that emerging universal within the historical present? To answer this, one needs to critique the total situation to move beyond the abstract subjectivist/voluntarist position and the positivist/determinist one. One needs to achieve a concrete dialectical comprehension of the whole global capitalist totality. To grasp the concrete universal immanent in the historical conjuncture, one needs to generalize the unique condition of the Moro peoples so as to get beyond the particularity that imperialism/capitalism has imposed on it. Capitalism is precisely what enables particularism in social relations and conflicts arising from this, so that the elimination of distinctions cannot be carried out by presupposing differences (cultural or religious values, for example) without unity.
One manifestation of such a unity is perhaps what Muslim historian-philosopher Cesar Majul had in mind when, at the end of his scholarly history of the Moro sultanates and the Moro Wars, he proposed that the Muslim struggle should “be considered part of the heritage of the Filipino people in the history of their struggle for freedom…part of the struggle of the entire nation” (1999, 410). If the surveys are to be believed, more Filipinos now than before (63% in 2005, compared to 43% in 2002) are sympathetic to the Moro struggle for their right to govern themselves (Robles 2010).
We are not proposing pluralism or status quo multiculturalism, a bazaar of affective flux and performative gestures, either corporate liberalism or individualist libertarianism, both apparent opposites concretizing the ideology of bourgeois society based on the division of labor and its attendant disparities in the distribution of power and resources. What we are proposing is to free ourselves from this enslaving ideology that teaches the idea that authentic self-expression (or, by extension, national self-determination) depends on an abstract property which guarantees authenticity, freedom, fulfillment. In short, we are searching for the politicized, active mass base of the Moro revolution that will universalize its goals by a thorough critique of global capitalism (led by the US imperial power) and, in the process, forge organic solidarity with the entire Filipino people struggling for democratic socialism. Such a critical universality will resolve the contradictions between subjectivism and objectivism I have outlined earlier.
As of now, such a critical universality is absent. One sign is the lack of a critique of the Moro dynasties and clans and the property relations characterizing the everyday experience of the Moro peasants, women, workers, youth (Wadi 2008), or of the prison conditions afflicting Moros in Camp Bagong Diwa (Vargas 2005), not to speak of taking cognizance of analogous Lumad demands for self-determination over ancestral domains (for Lumad aspirations, see Rodil 1993). A way of revising the deployment of the principle of self-determination is proposed by Talal Asad by distinguishing between the concept of Arab nationalism and a classical Islamism that contains an element of “critical universality” by an implicit critique of the secular bourgeois nation-state. It is necessary to define the narrow bourgeois nation-state parameters into which the Bangsamoro nation is being confined. Asad observes:
The fact that the expression umma ‘arabiyya is used today to denote the “Arab nation” represents a major conceptual transformation by which umma is cut off from the theological predicates that gave it its universalizing power and is made to stand for an imagined community that is equivalent to a total political society, limited and sovereign like other limited and sovereign nations in a secular (social) world. The ummatu-l-muslimin (the Islamic umma) is ideologically not “a society” onto which state, economy, and religion can be mapped. It is neither limited nor sovereign, for unlike Arab nationalism’s notion of al-umma-al-arabiyya, it can and should embrace all of humanity….The main point I underline here is that Islamism’s preoccupation with state power is the result not of its commitment to nationalist ideas but of the modern nation-state’s enforced claim to constitute social identities and arenas (2003, 197-98, 200).

One inspiring sign of “critical universality” may be found in the MNLF’s participation in the 1981 Permanent People’s Tribunal and its solidarity with the NDF and other forces in opposing US imperialism. At present, it is difficult to say whether the MILF recognizes the need to achieve a “critical universality” (Lowy 1998, 78) in its program, policies, and diplomatic positions. In my view, subject to the pressures and exigencies of every phase in its negotiations with the GRP and relations with the OIC and the US, the alternating options of subjectivist/voluntarist and objectivist/pragmatist handling of the struggle distinguish the MILF record so far. With unpredictable dynamic changes in the Islamic world vis-à-vis the US, the internal antagonisms in the OIC and its relations with other blocs (Europe, Russia, China), and the advance of the national-democratic forces in the Philippines, it is not impossible that the succeeding generation of leaders and rank-and-file militants will respond to the need for articulating that critical universality without which the revolutionary project of collective emancipation will remain doomed to repeat the horrors of the past and miseries of the present.

The Prospectt Before Us

The Moro people’s struggle in the Philippines for national self-determination has placed under critical interrogation the hallowed theories of cultural pluralism, liberal tolerance, and muticulturalism that continue to legitimize the domination of diverse ethnic groups under elite control in contemporary Filipino society. Bourgeois political norms and laws have led since colonial times to the severe dispossession, exclusion, and utter impoverishment of the Moro people as a distinct historical community united under Islamic faith and an uninterrupted history of preserving its relative autonomy through various modes (collective, familial, personal) of anticolonial resistance. Since the Spanish (1621-1898) and American colonial period (1899-1946) up to the present Arroyo government’s neocolonial polity subservient to U.S. hegemony, the Moro people have suffered national, class, and religious oppression. The Moro insurgents are labeled “terrorists” and stigmatized daily by the media, schools, Christian churches, and international business. They tend to be lumped with the Abu Sayyaf bandits, wholly a product of gangsterism involving the military, police, local officials, and the central government bureaucracy. It is the obligation of Filipino Marxists and progressive organizations around the world to recognize the Moro people’s right to self-determination and offer solidarity. In my book US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines (2007), I have tried to express this solidarity by a preliminary critique of neoliberal ideology, including sectarian ultra-leftism, that apologizes for, and foments overtly and covertly, the genocidal wars currently raging in the Moro homelands of southern Philippines. This paper is an attempt to explore the theoretical and practical limits of “self-determination” as a political strategy when, in this specific conjuncture, U.S. imperial manipulations are defining this Wilsonian principle for its own hegemonic interests. I propose that a historical-materialist socialist perspective (following Lenin’s use of the principle of the right of nations to self-determination), with modifications as suggested by Talal Asad, be pursued and developed in the light of the singular historical circumstances of the BangsaMoro struggle against local compradors, landlords, and bureaucrat-capitalists allied with the U.S. imperial hegemon and its transnational criminal accomplices. At the least, we need to pursue the ideals of justice and principled solidarity with all oppressed peoples who have long been victimized by global capitalism and the neoliberal market in the name of the global North’s deadly ideas of freedom, democracy, and cosmopolitan progress.

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ABSTRACT: The December 2010 indictment in a Washington federal court of the Filipino citizen Madhatta Haipe, presumed a charter member of the Abu Sayyaf Islamic separatist group in the Philippines, demonstrates the United States’ strategic drive to criminalize the struggle of the Moro peoples. Without analyzing the manifold context of “terrorism” as a socio-historical symptom of injustice and inequality, the U.S. persists in trying to delegitimize the Bangsa Moro demand for self-determination. Working through Filipino neocolonial instrumentalities, the US and its local elite agents attempt to convert age-old class, racial and ethnic conflicts into a discourse of war between civilizational/religious forces (Christianity versus Islam), or a war between extremists and civil society. Mixing propaganda of Cold War vintage and neoliberal globalization rhetoric, the Global North’s hegemonic power finds a way to resolve its accumulation crisis by intensifying ideological schisms that reproduce genocidal oppression and indiscriminate violence. Meanwhile, the Moro people’s struggle for autonomy and sovereignty, for equality and independence, continues to serve as a challenge and crucible for the U.S. reassertion of its imperial “Manifest Destiny” in Southeast Asia. In the context of the renewed negotiations between the government headed by newly-elected President Benigno Aquino Jr. and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, this essay re-examines the concept of self-determination from the viewpoint of critical universality and materialist dialectics.–##

Posted in COMMENTARY ON CURRENT EVENTS, EXTRAPOLATIONS | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

EXCAVATING THE BULOSAN RUINS (reposted from KRITIKA KULTURA 23 (2014)


BulosanEXCAVATING THE BULOSAN RUINS:
WHAT IS AT STAKE IN RE-DISCOVERING THE ANTI-IMPERIALIST WRITER IN THE AGE OF U.S. GLOBAL TERRORISM?

E. San Juan, Jr.,

Professorial Lecturer, Polytechnic University of the Philippines

 

 

Abstract
Based on research in the unpublished papers of Sanora Babb at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, this essay uncovers new information about Bulosan’s relations with Sanora and her sister Dorothy Babb, the two American women who virtually “made” him into a writer. Given his intimacy with both women, active in leftwing and Communist Party activities in Los Angeles during the formative years of Bulosan’s life, as well as his association with leftist union leaders in Seattle, Bulosan’s radical affiliations are no longer in doubt, even without FBI documentation. Apocryphal Bulosan manuscripts such as All the Conspirators are bound to emerge since the whole colonial and neocolonial contexts of Bulosan’s genealogy are usually ignored by those applying an immigrant-success-story framework (practically all would-be Bulosan experts). Hence the need to revalidate shift the focus on his full-length novel The Cry and the Dedication and his links with Amado V. Hernandez and the progressive national-popular movement (Huks) in the Philippines as a U.S. colony and neocolony.

Keywords
Framework of intelligibility for Bulosan’s ethico-political project, Immigrant assimilationist paradigm in Asian American Studies and Ethnic Studies,
Sanora Babb archive – Harry Ransom Center Library at the University of Texas,
U.S.-Philippine colonial and neocolonial relations

About the author
E. San Juan, Jr. is emeritus professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Ethnic Studies from several U.S. universities. He was recently Harry Ransom Center Research Fellow, University of Texas, Austin; previously, he was a fellow of the W.E. B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University; and Fulbright professor of American Studies, Leuven University, Belgium. His recent books are In the Wake of Terror: Class, Race, Nation and Ethnicity in the Postmodern World (Lexington Books); Critique and Social Transformation (Mellen); From Globalization to National Liberation (U of the .Philippines. PressP), and Critical Interventions: From Joyce and Ibsen to C.S. Peirce and Maxine Hong Kingston (Saarbrucken, Germany: Lambert). He just published a revised edition of Sisa’s Vengeance (create-space; amazon.com) and two collections of poetry in Filipino: Ulikba (U of Santo Tomas Pub.lishing House) and Kundiman sa Gitna ng Karimlan (U Uof the .Philippines P. Press).

Numerous Filipino-American organizations in California celebrated the signing of Assembly Bill 123 by Governor Jerry Brown on 2 Oct. 2,ober 2013. Sponsored by Rep. Rob Bonta, the bill required the State curriculum to include the contributions of Filipino-Americans to the labor movement. Without legislative action, the role of Filipino farmworkers in social change would languish in oblivion. Rep. Bonta’s gesture is one sign of the attempt to remedy the historical amnesia suffered by the whole community since the demise of the anti-U.S.-Marcos dictatorship movement (1972-1986) and, coeval with the civil-rights crusade, the triumph of white-supremacist neoconservatism and authoritarian neoliberalism.
Few survivors of that epoch can recall the unswerving itinerary of racial and national awakening. One decisive event resurrected the “forgotten” Manongs. Led by Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, the 1965 Delano Grape Strike sparked the radicalization of young Filipino-Americans first mobilized by the civil-rights and anti-Vietnam war struggles. By the early seventies, the second generation of Filipinos born before and after World War II had discovered the writings of Carlos Bulosan. In turn Bulosan led them to Andres Bonifacio, Rizal and the 1896 revolution against Spain up to Macario Sakay, the Colorums and Sakdalistas, Luis Taruc and the Huk rebellion. In the process they encountered the essays of Renato Constantino and Jose Maria Sison, and the works of Amado V. Hernandez and other “subversive” artists.
In due course, Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart, long out of print since 1946, was reprinted in 1973 with a memorable introduction by Carey McWilliams, a friend of Bulosan and a well-known labor historian. It has since become a canonical “required reading” in literature courses. The first substantial collection of Bulosan’s writings appeared as a special issue of Amerasia Journal (Vol.ume 6, No. 1) in May 1979, followed in 1995 by my edition of the writings in On Becoming Filipino and the major novel The Cry and the Dedication, both published by Temple University Press. A collection of hitherto unpublished stories by Bulosan which I edited, entitled The Philippines Is in the Heart, was published by New Day Publishers, Quezon City, in 1978 (soon to be reissued by University of San Agustin Press, Iloilo, Philippines).
Over 41 years now have passed since my book Carlos Bulosan and the Imagination of the Class Struggle was published in 1972 by the University of the Philippines Press, a few weeks before Marcos declared martial law. It escaped the dictator’s censorship, blessed by the patronage of Dr. Salvador P. Lopez, then president of the University of the Philippines. Lopez is by consensus the major progressive critic of the Philippine Commonwealth and the prime moving spirit behind the Philippine Writers League. Since then, the major scholarly commentary on Bulosan that helped substantiate the generic legitimacy and ethico-political cogency of Bulosan’s achievement is Michael Denning’s The Cultural Front (1997). Denning’s intervention relocated Bulosan from the limited, claustrophic precinct of ethnic testimony into the site of popular-democratic/socialist culture with profound global, cross-cultural implications.
This is not to say that Bulosan’s discovery as an ethnic “minority” author was cooptative or even reactionary. Its historical context preserved the dialectical-materialist vitality of its national/local roots. Aside from the strategic use of Bulosan made by political groups and cultural activists such as the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP), Revolutionary Union, West End Press, and others, the dissemination of his writings by academics (via ther UCLA Asian American Studies Center, among other channels) raised the civic and political consciousness of the larger community. For example, the anthology Letters in Exile (1976), edited by Jesse Quinsaat, Henry Empeno, Vince Nafarrete, Lourdes Pammit, Jaime Geaga and Casimiro Tolentino, connected scholarly inquiries with ongoing communal projects such as the cooperative building of Agbayani Village for retired “Manongs” and the emerging controversy surrounding the International Hotel in San Francisco, California.
Directly inspired by the Bulosan rediscovery, Letters in Exile rectified the recurrent “post-colonial” tabula rasa. Its inclusion of the path-breaking essay on “The First Vietnam: The Philippine-American War of 1899-1902” by Luzviminda Francisco was an index of the deeper understanding that the Philippines was for a long time a violently subjugated colony of the United States, and then a genuine neocolony since nominal independence in 1946. Celebrated “Filipino” fugitives from the Spanish galleon trade who settled in French Louisiana were colonized Indios, not migrant Filipinos, contrary to Fil-Am nativists.
Filipinos from 1899 up to 1946 were colonial subjects or wards, not citizens, and even though, in 1934, the physical transplanting of these colonized subalterns was restricted to fifty bodies per year, the Philippine Commonwealth remained a full-fledged US colony with U.S. troops stationed in numerous military bases (Clark and Subic bases were closed only in 1992). Nonetheless, neocolonialism survived and is thriving well in the islands (thanks to the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement recently signed between the U.S. and the Aquino regime) that Bulosan fled from in 1930 and tried to return to via prophecy and remembrance.
Subjugation Unspeakable and Invisible
Generations of scholars have labored to convert the colonized subjects into immigrants resembling the conventional type of Irish, Swedish, Italian, German, Russian, and other European groups. Scholars such as H. Brett Melendy, Emory S. Bogardus, Bruno Lasker, up to Antonio Pido, Ronald Takaki, Elaine Kim, Barbara Posadas, Yen Le Espiritu and others, have foisted the idea that Filipinos were immigrants from the time they were recruited to the Hawaii plantations up to the granting of nominal independence to the Philippines in 1946 (this framework vitiates such books as The Filipino Americans edited by Maria P. Root; and publications by the Filipino American National Historical Society). Such formulaic distortions remain the staple themes of Filipino-American celebrations to reaffirm the virtue of their 200% Americanization.
The obsessive fix on pacified Filipino “wards” as bonafide immigrants persists, perhaps in the hope that we might be given “preferential treatment.” After all, we’ve been here before other Asians (such as the Chinese coolies recruited by antebellum Southern plantation slave-owners). What’s more ridiculous is that some argue that Filipinos who escaped from the Spanish galleons and settled in Louisiana between 1565 and 1811 were the first Filipino immigrants to the U.S. (see De la Cruz and Baluyut 33; on Lafcadio Hearn’s account of Filipinos in Louisiana, see San Juan, “Internationalizing the US Ethnic Canon” 322-24). It may be instructive to remind them that Louisiana was not part of the United States until that territory to which it belonged was purchased in 1803; and Louisiana was not admitted to the Union until 1812. If Filipinos were indeed bonafide immigrants, then they would have suffered the immigration restrictions such as the one imposed on the Japanese by the Gentleman’s Agreement of 1908 and the Oriental Exclusion Act of 1924 (Reimers 6-7). But they were not. In truth, they were subjugated indigenes natives of the annexed territory of the Philippine islands formerly “owned” by Spain but sold to the United States for twenty million dollars in 1898.
Colonialism’s profound impact involves not only those directly interpellated by its ideological state apparatus, but also those intending to interrogate and challenge it. Even the skeptics ironically reinforce the stereotype. This failure to understand why the Filipino is not an immigrant to the U.S. national territory until 1946 explains the habitual reflex of putting Bulosan in the same category as John Okada, Hisaye Yamamoto, Theresa Cha, Ronyoung Kim, Maxine Hong Kingston – archetypal models of immigrant success. The chief culprit might be the popular anthology, Aiiieeee! (first published in 1974 and reprinted several times), which lumped Bulosan together with icons of successful assimilation or adaptation.
Even a sympathetic critic such as Sam Solberg fell into this trap, although he discerned already the problematic resolution of contradictions (between democratic ideals and racist reality) in Manuel Buaken’s I Have Lived with the American People published two years after Bulosan’s allegorized testimonial chronicle of Filipino lives. Solberg’s hope of Filipino writers (such as Jose Garcia Villa, Bienvenido Santos, N.V.M. Gonzales, etc.) joining others in weaving the “heroic epic” of the search for Filipino in Filipino-American experience virtually privilegeds the American scene over the colonial experience as foundational and definitive for the colonized/neocolonized artist (58).
Examples of the immigrant paradigm’s disabling impact may be cited here. The American critic Leonard Casper opined that Bulosan “is more likely to be remembered exclusively as a teller of comic tales” (68), (if not as an alleged plagiarist or leftist sympathizer.” (68). Even the aspiring Bulosan expert Licerio Lagda (1990), who has been coaxed into becoming the purveyor of dubious manuscripts, could not cannot hide his sense of superiority over Bulosan’s messy life. And when Lagda endorseds P.C. Morantte’s philistine scorn for pedantic Marxists presumably belaboring the humor in The Laughter of My Father, we know the enemy can sport friendly masks. In contrast to those patronizing attitudes, Leigh Bristol-Kagan is exceptional. She hopes that Bulosan’s project of empowering Filipinos to learn from their singular colonial ordeal of suffering and resistance can engage Americans themselves to understand “what might be needed to change the course of our own history” (10-11).
We confront the revenge of the rejected metanarrative even before postmodernism has fully taken over. The immigrant-assimilationist paradigm becomes the Procrustean bed into which Bulosan’s texts are forced, thus producing symptoms of incoherence, dissonance, and duplicity. The equivocating narrative voice or shifting point of view in America Is in the Heart attracts the most complaint, as repeated by Marilyn Alquizola and Lane Hirabayashi in their 2014 introduction to a reprinting of the book. Such aberrations could have been resolved beforehand by learning from the lesson of Denning’s critical strategy of foregrounding the generic latitude of “popular-front” discourse which allows for such dialogism, as already anticipated by W.E. B. Du Bois’s famous trope of double-voiced personas in The Souls of Black Folk and other slave narratives of education and collective identity-transformation.recognition. Dialogism entails a dynamic interface among authorial voice, narrative focalizer, and ironic ventriloquist.
Unravelling the Contradictions
The existence of ambiguities, sudden mutations of focalizers stances and registers, and paradoxical mix of subversion and affirmation of “Americanism” pervade Bulosan’s texts. Some have tried to elucidate these discordant traits (including Bulosan’s uneasy attitude to women) as due to feudal practices of clientelism, reciprocity, the influence of the pasyon and other historic legacies. There is partial validity to these claims. On the whole, the colonized psyche (as Fanon, Memmi and others have noted) manifests symptoms of the schizoid, disintegrated psyche. Those features have been noticed long ago by Petronilo Daroy who judged that Bulosan’s work “lacks formal coherence” and confidence because of the “social conflict of which Bulosan was a participant” (206). But if Bulosan’s texts simply mirrored their empirical conditions of possibility, they would all be perfectly understandable on first reading and would require no additional gloss or metacommentary.
The problem of such misconstruals stems from the complex articulation of aesthetics and politics in literary practice. Assuming then that the textual ideology attempts to resolve real contradictions in any imaginary way (Balibar and Macherey 1996), this intent is due to the peculiar mode in which Bulosan’s language and its formal models interpellate the individual readers/audience into subjects for a popular-front (not socialist or purely Marxist) subjects. In short, Bulosan’s textual praxis cannot but produce the effects traceable to the dynamic convergence of multidimensional contradictions at every conjuncture of the class struggle (Lecercle 2009). What we discover in both formal structure of the texts and the variable reader-response or reception experience cannot be accounted for simply by psychological or sociological speculation, but by an elucidation of the dialectical manner in which the text, ultimately the entire Bulosan corpus of texts, registers the sociopolitical contradictions and endeavors to resolve them successfully or not in the formal architectonics of his art. This mode of dialectical analysis might help mediate the usual ambiguities into intelligible patterns of conduct, the goal of hermeneutic inquiry.
Framing the Ethico-Political Project
To be sure, Bulosan was not trying to mystify his readers. He provided a glimpse of his writerly strategy in the essay “How My Stories Were Written” (included as an appendix to my 1972 book). He fabricated composite characters and mixed happenings so as to produce a kind of pastiche, an orchestration of heterogeneous voices: “. . . …I humanized my legendary and folktale characters, so that reading them, it would be impossible to determine which is fact and which is the flight of imagination” (“Carlos Bulosan” 139). We can also detect the style of simply recording events serially, capturing discordant impulses and incompatible moods and tonalities, as witness the phantasmagoric scenes in “The Time of Our Lives” (1979, 127-32) and “To a God of Stone” (1979, 61-68); and in the kaleidoscopic sequence in “Life and Death of a Filipino in America” (1982, 50-54). The gallery of acquaintances named in his correspondence, as well as the topics addressed in the letters (in Dolores Feria’”s collection, “The Sound of Falling Light”) provide an idea of Bulosan’s horizon of experience (both actual and vicarious) that might help disabuse us of the imputed peasant naivete and the hypothesized decline of his powers in the decade before his death on Sept.ember 11, 1956.
A foretaste of this quandary may be found in the rich, densely textured history of Filipino transplantation into the West Coast and Hawaii by Carey McWilliams in his 1942 book Brothers Under the Skin. McWilliams describes the convulsive reshaping of the Filipino collective psyche under American colonial rule, a recasting whose depth and scale practically all the elite scholars are unable to fathom. Even though gestures acknowledging colonial and imperialist “brainwashing” abound in Takaki’s or Sucheng Chan’s history, or in Yen Le Espiritu’s’ recent study of Filipino identity formation, the blind-spot of the immigrant paradigm remains. For example, Le Espiritu’s concluding observations confirm my suspicion that U.S. imperial domination of the neocolony has been erased by the sly shift to privileging “relations within racially-defined groups,” so that even the proliferation of organizations in the Filipino community serve to promote “multiple levels of solidarity” (43). This shift sidetracks the fact of Filipino national subordination to the imperial metanarrative and its white-supremacist imposition of structures and mentalities on the colonized life-world.
What’s more reprehensible is the hegemonic erasure of power inequality and ethical disjunction. At the expense of subjection by nationality, race or ethnicity, the elements of class (narrowly defined in an economistic sense) and diasporic status serve not only to disguise the asymmetric relation between US hegemony and Philippine neocolonial position, but also assert their equality or parity. In short, the Philippines is a sovereign nation-state with rights or powers equal to those of the United States, or to Japan, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, and so on (for examples, see Lowe 1991; Okamura 2003). By this technique of deconstructive heterogenizing of the group, the ethnic/national subject becomes metaphysical, close to Maria Root’s stunning performative decolonizing of the Filipino-American as “a state of mind rather than of legality or geography” (xiv). Wild psychological speculation finally trumps historical inventory and empirical fallibilist discrimination.
In a rigorous accounting, Filipinos were not immigrants (in the strict sense of citizens from genuinely sovereign nation-states) when they worked in the Hawaiian plantations as recruits, or joined the U.S. Navy. Nor were they immigrants servicing the Alaskan canneries or West Coast agribusiness. Strictly speaking, they They became colonial migrants in 1934, and then later as neocolonialized migrants in 1946. To circumvent the racializing irony of extolling Bulosan as an ethnic and even diasporic author of recalcitrant texts, we can call him an exile or expatriate. This is Oscar Campomanes’s (and other scholars’) mode of compromise, enabling them to connect Bulosan with refugees from the Marcos dictatorship such as N.V.M. Gonzales, Bienvenido Santos, Ninotchka Rosca, and others (curiously, Jessica Hagedorn is not included is their his list). But there is the implied belief that colonizer and colonized can mutually aid each other in a transnational exchange, assuming a symbiotic relationship that can grasp fully “the whole spectacle of their transhistorical movements and displacements” (72). No need to question the supremacy of English or the literary/artistic canons of the profit-centered marketplace. The Filipinos in the United States are flourishing with their exilic sensibility and horizontal comradeships, as Benedict Anderson suggests, profiting from the blessings of the pluralist neoliberal marketplace.
This twist in academic prejudice revives the metaphysics of cultural pluralism as an apology for empire. It may explain the popularity of the theatrical staging of Bulosan’s story, “The Romance of Magno Rubio” (as I noted in my 2008 re-appraisal of the Bulosan canon and critical responses so far in the post-9/11, post-Cold War atmosphere.); Indeed, racial and ethnic misunderstandings have become pretexts for delightful reclamation of cultural pluralism, the good old slogans of the Popular Front. At least, however, this may remedy the sidetracking of Bulosan for the recent voguish appeals of Hagedorn, Apostol, and other mass-media celebrities hawking commodified spectacles.
From Exile to Transmigrants and Planetary Citizens?
At this juncture, we may be past the threshold of postmodernist theories of transnational migrants, cosmopolitan cyborgs, and other weird disguises of the postcolonial subaltern released from metanarratives, totality, identity politics, national liberation struggles, and antiglobal capitalism tout court. Indeed, we have entered the millennium of total surveillance, the shock doctrine of torture, drone killings, and other technocratic digitalized folkways. We have entered the stage of nascent barbarism and ecological meltdown.
Meanwhile, we owe it to our colleagues Marilyn Alquizola and Lane Hirabayashi that we now have a new Carlos Bulosan to spend long academic conversations: the FBI suspect, the would-be communist fellow-traveler or Oriental terrorist. The FBI files sent to our colleagues were heavily censored and blacked out. However, a few facts are clear: the FBI spied on Bulosan during the last five years of his life, from 1951 to 1956, during the height of McCarthy witchhunting against suspected members of the Communist Party USA, their fronts and sympathizers.
Based on doubtful inferences, Alquizola and Hirabayashi conclude that Bulosan became an FBI informant, in other words, he voluntarily gave information about himself because “given that Bulosan knew the FBI was looking into the matter, and given that as a Filipino national he could be deported back to the Islands if it was determined that he was a bona fide Party member, Bulosan himself wanted to be on the record denying that he had ever been a member of the Party” (45). This is an inference worth pondering, symptomatic less about Bulosan than about our academic anxieties and idiosyncrasies.
It is doubtful that Bulosan did what he was alleged to have done, in my view, for the following reasons. We all know that Bulosan expressed several times in writing that he was not afraid of being accused as a Marxist, subversive or radical writer. He worked closely with left-wing friends of Sanora Babb in Los Angeles in the thirties up to the end of his life. In a letter dated Dec.ember 7, 1935 to Sanora, he wrote: “I have become a communist” (Babb 1928-2005), a statement which, however, does not prove that he enlisted in any communist party.
It is clear in his letter to Florentino Valeros (dated 17 Jan. 17,uary 1955) that Bulosan was confident that the ILWU Local 37 and its lawyers would be able to successfully fight the Walter-McCarren Act. He already reported that “Filipinos are not deportable, no matter what crime they have committed, so long as they came to this country as permanent residents before the passage of the Philippine Independent Act” (1960, 271). In the ILWU Yearbook for 1952, Bulosan openly attacked the Philippine government for its repression of the left-wing poet Amado V. Hernandez and editorialized on the neocolonial State’s terrorist response to the Huk rebellion. He did not conceal his commitment to socialist, proletarian principles.
It is possible that Bulosan met Hernandez during Hernandez’s visit to the United States in 1948 (Torres-Yu 1986 xxx) to confer with American trade union leaders. Bulosan might have discussed with Hernandez the release of Luis Taruc’s book, Born of the People (published in 1953 by International Publishers, not Monthly Review Press). Together with W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson (who wrote the “Foreword”) and other Communist Party members or affiliates, Bulosan signed a letter soliciting support for the publication of Taruc’s book (later revealed as written by the American William Pomeroy, a key intellectual functionary of the Philippine Communist Party at that time). This and other facts too numerous to include here indicate that Bulosan was not so isolated or frightened that he had to mollify the FBI so as to function effectively and fulfill his union and civic responsibilities. He worked intimately with Ernesto Mangaong and Chris Mensalvas (an old friend since the thirties), the two union officials seriously threatened with imprisonment and deportation for their alleged communist leanings (de Vera 1994 1-25). Bulosan never squealed nor renounced his socialist convictions and proletarian allegiance. If anything at all, the FBI files on Bulosan reveal the indiscriminate way the agency stigmatized and threatened ordinary civilians who were either active in the legal union struggles or supported movements to protect immigrants and the foreign-born.
Fellow-Travelling and Other Journeys
Since about 1935, Bulosan was exposed to Communist Party activities in close association with the Babb sisters, Dorothy and Sanora. Last Nov.ember 2013 I was able to access the files of the late Sanora Babb in the Harry Ransom Center Library, University of Texas, and found unpublished letters and writings of Carlos Bulosan as well as Sanora Babb’s notes on Bulosan’s life and works. They all attest to Bulosan’s intellectual involvement with leftists and possibly communist party operatives in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
One letter of Bulosan to Sanora Babb, dated Oct.ober 28, 1954, typed on the ILWU Local 37 stationary, expressed his disillusionment with some union leaders and officers who were “vicious, cruel, power mad people.” But he remained hopeful amid the carnage of war and violence everywhere because “there will always be love, beauty, dignity, decency, compassion, pity among men and women and children.” Since he resigned from the union and was awaiting his unemployment compensation checks, he asked Sanora to lend him $40.00 which he promised to re-pay later by installment. He also repeated some of the facts about the Walter McCarran Act that he had already communicated to Valeros.
In a memorandum dated Nov.ember 13, 1959, to Dolores Feria, who was then occupied with editing “The Sound of Falling Light,” the major compilation of Bulosan letters, Sanora Babb dissuaded Feria from writing a full biography without necessary and lengthy research. She warned Feria not to lend legitimacy to rumors and hearsay about Bulosan’s life. This includes the muddled plagiarism case (publicized without legal documentation by the McCarthyist columnist I.P. Soliongco), alcoholism, vagrancy, communist fellow-travelling if not communist behavior, and other innuendoes cast by Filipino-American academics eager to put the icon down. Babb assured Feria that the violation of copyright suit was definitely won (as I’ve already reviewed in San Juan, “Balikbayang Sinta”). As for his relations with women (Carlos was really in love with Sanora, as demonstrated by dozens of his letters in the Babb files), Sanora states: “This idea of Carlos being parasitic on women as mother substitutes or otherwise is completely false . . . …Easy psychological judgments won’t hold up. . . …. [Carlos] was a very complex man.” Finally, Sanora also asserted that “No manuscripts were found in his room in Seattle after his death[.]….”
But the world of fallible humans constantly offers surprises. We thus wonder why, aside from wrong-headed attacks on Bulosan’s purported misogynism, alcolholism, decline, etc., we are gifted with recently discovered manuscripts of Bulosan such as the novel All the Conspirators. The title is borrowed from the first novel of Christopher Isherwood published in 1928, an antiheroic pastiche pivoting around a mother-son conflict. As noted earlier, Lagda served as the transmission belt for Josephine Patrick’s bequeathal of unauthenticated Bulosan typescripts. We should be grateful to Caroline Hau and Benedict Anderson for stirring up troubled waters by providing this “photographic negative” of The Cry and the Dedication – if it is, indeed, by Bulosan. We have a pretext to conduct another reconnaissance of the Bulosan ruins.
Analysis of style, idiom, characterology, and narrative texture and plotting of the Lagda novel demonstrates its immense difference from Bulosan’s characteristic signature. Bulosan’s meditative mode of narration is clearly displayed in America, The Laughter of My Father, The Cry and the Dedication, the stories in The Philippines Is in the Heart, and in Lagda’s edited volume, The Power of Money. The breathless and often colloquial narrative speed of All the Conspirators belies its imputed genealogy. Moreover, Hau and Anderson’s ascription of psychological motives to Bulosan as an ambitious celebrity-seeker undermines their other more ideological polemics: “For Bulosan faced both racial and political discrimination in pursuit of his literary ambitions in America. If he initially made his name as a Filipino writer, his identity as such tended to ghettoize him. His leftwing politics made it necessary for him to write under an ‘American’ nom de plume, yet at the same time it gave him an opportunity to write as if he were a white man” (xvi). Are Filipinos to blame for ghettoizing themselves as Filipino writers? We are back to the question of power relations, hegemony, subalternity, and the whole problem of grasping what racism/racialism in the United States signifies since the invention of the “white race” or white supremacy in the early Puritan colonies. Once again, Bulosan has become a victim of the assimilationist paradigm of his putative benefactors.
The Angel of History Beholds the Rubble
In the context of this inventory of the critical archive, more than literary or aesthetic questions are involved. No amount of arguing that Dunstan Peyton is really Bulosan, or his alter ego; and that this novel, is the one mentioned in his letters (the main evidence is the letter to Valeros dated Apr.il 8, 1955), can justify a patronizing assignment of authorial responsibility. Biographers have noted numerous friends of Bulosan who helped revise and even rewrite many of his manuscripts, chief of whom was Dorothy Babb and Sanora Babb. But other women writers were accomplices or accessories, among them Ann Dionisio, Mary Gibson-Hatten, Jean Gundlach, Mary Allen, Marjorie Patton, Josephine Patrick, Grace F. Cunningham, together with their assistants or confidants. Perhaps two or more of these friends collaborated to fabricate the Lagda novel.
My suspicion is that “Dunstan Peyton” (only one of Bulosan’s many pseudonyms) or the author of All the Conspirators is Grace F. Cunningham, then residing in Iowa, who has already published stories set in the Philippines. (The name “Dunstan Peyton” appears in the Internet as the name of an African-American soldier in Virginia circa 1870-1879.). Two are still mentioned in the Internet under Cunningham’s pseudonym, Lysle Carveth: Jungle Boy (1945) and Moro Boy (1949), both published by Longmans, Green and Company. Bulosan’s many letters to Cunningham (in the Feria anthology) also evince their close working partnership and consultation on various matters that demonstrate Bulosan’s dependency on her opinions. Someday we will have enough materials to ascertain if Grace F. Cunningham deserves the honor of reclaiming her artifice, currently ascribed to her Filipino “co-conspirator.”
We leave this affair of attribution open for now. Until a thorough research and inquiry into the authorship of the Bulosan papers in the University of Washington archive has been accomplished, we cannot in good conscience pronounce a verdict on this case. As a provisional conclusion, allow me to quote Sanora Babb’s parting advice to Feria: “Carlos is dead. All that remains of him is his work. That is more than most can leave. And some of that work is beautiful, some delightful, etc. and in this sense it adds to the reader. That is what art does, and when it does, the personality traits are not important except in a serious examination of life as related to art” (Babb 1928-2005).

Works Cited
Alquizola, Marilyn and Lane Hirabayashi. “Carlos Bulosan’s Final Defiant Acts: Achievements During the McCarthy Era.” Amerasia Journal 38.3 (2012): 29-51. Print.
Babb, Sanora. Sanora Babb Papers 1928-2005. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University U of Texas, Austin. Series V. Print.
Balibar, Etienne and Pierre Macherey. “On Literature as an Ideological Form.” Marxist Literary Theory: A Reader. Eds. Terry Eagleton and Drew Milne. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996. 275-295. Print.
Bristol-Kagan, Leigh. “Introduction.” If You Want to Know What We Are: A Carlos Bulosan Reader. Minneapolis MN: West End Press, 1983. 5-11. Print.
Bulosan, Carlos. America Is in the Heart. Seattle: U of Washington PressP, 1972. Reprint Rpt. of 1946 original edition.
—. The Philippines Is in the Heart. Ed. E. San Juan, Jr. Quezon City: New Day Press, 1978. Print.
—. Selected Works and Letters. Eds. E. San Juan, Jr. and Ninotchka Rosca. Honolulu, Hawaii: Friends of the Filipino People, 1982. Print.
—. On Becoming Filipino: Selected Writings of Carlos Bulosan. Ed. E. San Juan, Jr. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1995. Print.
—. The Cry and the Dedication. Ed. E. San Juan, Jr. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1995. Print.
Campomanes, Oscar. “Filipinos in the United States and Their Literature of Exile.” Reading the Literatures of Asian America. Ed. Shirley Geok-lin Lim and Amy Ling. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1992. 49-78. Print.
Casper, Leonard. New Writing from the Philippines. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1966. Print.
Chin, Frank, Jeffery Paul Chan, Lawson Inada and Shawn Wong, eds. Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian-American Writers. New York: Penguin, 1974. Print.
Daroy, Petronilo. “Carlos Bulosan: The Politics of Literature.” Saint Louis Quarterly 6.2 (June 1968): 193-206. Print.
De la Cruz, Enrique and Pearlie Rose Baluyut, eds. Confrontations, Crossings and Convergence. Los Angeles: The UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 1998. Print.
Denning, Michael. The Cultural Front. London: Verso, 1997. Print.
De Vera, Arleen. “Without Parallel: The Local 7 Deportation Cases, 1949-1955.” Amerasia Journal 20:2 (1994): 1-25. Print
Feria, Dolores, ed. “The Sound of Falling Light.” The Diliman Review (Jan.uary-Sept.tember 1960): 185-278. Print.
Hau, Caroline and Benedict Anderson. “Introduction.” All the Conspirators by Carlos Bulosan. MetroManila: Anvil Publishing Co., 1998. vii-xxvii. Print.
Lagda, Licerio. “Introduction.” The Power of Money and Other Stories by Carlos Bulosan. Manila: Kaikasan Press, 1990. 7-16. Print.
Le Espiritu, Yen. “Colonial Oppression, Labour Importation and Group Formation: Filipinos in the United States.” Ethnic and Racial Studies, 19.1 (January 1996): 29-48. Print.
Lecercle, Jean-Jacques. A Marxist Philosophy of Language. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2009. Print.
Lowe, Lisa. “Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Marking Asian American Differences.” Diaspora 1 (1991): 24-44. Print.
McWilliams, Carey. Brothers Under the Skin. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1964. Print.
Okamura, Jonathan. “Asian American Studies in the Age of Transnationalism: Diaspora, Race, Community.” Amerasia Journal 29.2 (2003): 171-194. Print.
Quinsaat, Jesse et al, eds. Letters in Exile. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 1976. Print.
Reimers, David M. Still the Golden Door: The Third World Comes to America. New York: Columbia UP, 1992. Print.
Root, Maria, ed. Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1997. Print.
San Juan, E. Carlos Bulosan and the Imagination of the Class Struggle. Quezon City: U of the Philippines PressP, 1972. Print.
—. “Internationalizing the US Ethnic Canon: Revisiting Carlos Bulosan.” Comparative American Studies 6.2 (June 2008): 123-43. Print.
—. Balikbayang Sinta: An E. San Juan Reader. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila U P, 2008. Print.
Solberg, Sam. “An Introduction to Filipino American Literature.” Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian-American Writers. Eds. Frank Chin et al. New York: A Mentorr Book, 1991. 39-58. Print.
Takaki, Ronald. Strangers from a Different Shore. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1989. Print.
Torres-Yu, Rose. “Amado V. Hernandez: Ang Pakikibaka ng Manunulat na Pilipino Para sa Lipunang Makatao.” Amado V. Hernandez: Tula at Tudling. Ed. Rose Torres-Yu. Quezon City: U of the Philippines PressP, 1986. xxiii-lxiii. Print.

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CULTURAL POLITICS IN THE PHILIPPINES –A retrospective–by E. San Juan, Jr.


Reduced Dover AMBILCULTURAL POLITICS IN THE PHILIPPINES
by E. San Juan, Jr. Saturday, Nov. 13, 2004 at 11:38 AM
philcsc@netscape.com,

Various strategies of consciousness-raising and political education in the national-democratic movement are possible in theory, but they should all be discussed, analyzed and contextualized in the concrete historical conditions of our society. This essay explores the tensions and possibilities, the objective and subjective poles, in this field of cultural politics.

PROBLEMS OF CULTURAL POLITICS IN VIGILANTE TERRITORY

By E. SAN JUAN, Jr.

The little horsecarts with gilt decorations
And the pink sleeves of the matrons
In the alleys of doomed Manila
The fugitive beheld with joy.

–BERTOLT BRECHT, “Landscape of Exile” (1940)

In September 1987 I was invited to give a talk on contemporary trends in critical theory at a colloquium sponsored by the research office of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. After summarizing recent philosophical and aesthetic developments in the West, and focusing on reader-response (Rezeptionsaesthetik) theory in particular, I was suddenly plunged into what I discovered later on as an ongoing shouting match on the topic of whether we should junk Rizal or not in our curriculum. The upshot of it was that it was as if I never spoke at all. In the melee I became a pretext for continuing the factional squabble among the faculty, the “always already” situation I found myself in. All my refined discriminations about historical specification of any text or discursive practice, about the multiple and dispersed readings possible from the readers’ interactions with a given text–all the rhetoric of scrupulous qualifications and reservations quickly evaporated. The fundamental lesson of the cultural materialism which I emphasized, namely, the historically concrete contextualization of any social practice like writing, as well as
the dialectical exchange of reader’s and text’s repertoires in the production of meaning–or, more precisely, the conditions of possibility of meanings–seemed to have gotten lost in the babel of opinions and slogans. In brief, the scene became a veritable marketplace of laissez-faire protagonists for which one can only venture the warning: “Caveat emptor!”
It was, to say the least, extremely instructive. Little did I know that I would now write about it here as a prime exhibit of the post-structuralist thesis that everything is, indeed, always already given or inscribed before one has even written or said anything. One cannot begin from a clean blank slate, as Locke thought. Unfortunately, there is no longer any innocent speaker, writer, or reader anywhere.
Fortunately, however, one young faculty member who graduated from the University of the Philippines had read Toward a People’s Literature and asked me if I still subscribed to my unorthodox view of Rizal which was elaborated in one chapter of my book (San Juan 1984, 1997). To which I replied yes, with minor qualifications. I reiterated again the value of the strategic intervention of the reader’s will (itself a collective agenda embedded in a specific existential situation) which can map the possibilities of articulating Rizal’s texts, in particular the novels, to achieve nationalist, democratic goals. Other strategies can be pursued, depending on the constraints and susceptibilities of a given position.
For those who insisted on an either-or dualistic position, it was difficult to refuse the seduction of a mechanical materialism which either totally condemned Rizal as counter-revolutionary temporizer and thus abandoned his writings (and the example of his deeds) to the reactionaries, or supported a Rizal cult which only glorified the elite dispensation. I switched tactics and offered a parable: Assuming that in your factory, a union has been formed which, later on, members discovered was actually led by “yellow” leaders, what would you do? Would you as a militant worker bolt out and form another union consisting of a handful of believers, thus isolating yourself effectively from the majority, and as compensation boast of your vanguard role? Or would you remain in the “yellow” union and patiently try to win over honest members through education and persuasion and example so that you could generate changes, even though gradually and incrementally? This was offered as an on-the-spot analogy chiefly to provoke a process of dialectical reflection. But I am afraid that nobody then seemed to grasp what I was trying to communicate. Now, in retrospect, I am skeptical whether I did the right thing or not instead of withdrawing from the partisan fray and assuming the proverbial academic detachment of the bourgeoise philosopher.
Since it is a truism that the terrain of political consciousness at any given time is uneven, highly stratified, and suffer unpredictable mutations–cracks and fissures suddenly appear, altering contours and boundaries–the strategy of dual unionism poses the twin dangers of sectarianism and left opportunism. But this truism seems to have escaped our local super-revolutionaries inured to a style of dogmatic self-righteousness. What the “theology of liberation” in Latin America has done, or our Filipino version of “theology of struggle” has so far accomplished in its reading and performance of Biblical texts, should already have provided an invaluable lesson to those stricken with what Lenin called “leftwing infantilism.” But all those lessons seemed also to have been lost, or have not yet been assimilated. What I would suggest therefore is the learning of those lessons and their concrete application to our specific conjuncture, not separatism or vanguardism, if we don’t want to re-invent the upturned wheel of Hegelian dialectics over again.
This, I now suspect, functioned as my first learning situation, an initiating rite which can serve as an emblem to configure the archeology of a milieu and spell out later on the genealogy of an unfolding critique. But let me recall, following this allegorical mapping of our discourse, another incident whose testimonial value will, I hope, become exemplary toward the end of this commentary.
Last August 27, I gave a lecture on the theme of Third World Cultural Revolution in a program sponsored by the University of the Philippines Creative Writing Center and the Department of History (San Juan 1988). On that occasion I emphasized how “writing is a kind of complex social practice involving a specific point of view on selected materials.” In short, writing is a profoundly powerful mode of ideological practice. Writing–conceived in the large sense of the differential narrativizing of experience in time/space–cannot be divorced from the concrete historical conditions of its enactment, its embeddedness in the thickness of discriminations involving gender, race, class, region, and so forth, which ultimately constitute the enabling condition that makes writing, all art, possible. For her part the reader performs a rewriting of the text and thereby releases the play of semiotic difference. Because writer, text (as a form of social practice imbricated in fixed codes and mutable conventions), and reader are all historically interpellated or subjected–i.e., transformed into subjects, writing/reading cannot but be an ideological act par excellence. It is an action, a strategic will intervening in the world, deploying the power of Desire, marshalling the forces of the Unconscious and Tradition, unleashing unsuspected energies that then proceed to catalyze and precipitate changes all around.
Writing is a form of practice, of labor: what Macherey, following Althusser, designates as a process of production. What the imagination works on is the general repertoire of beliefs, assumptions, values, rituals–the ideological itself–from which it fashions its singular repertoire called “the text.” In this connection, I quoted Franz Kafka on the necessarily political complicity of writers, especially those engaged in a “minor practice of a major language” (Deleuze and Guattari 1975). This fits perfectly the predicament of Filipino writers who use English–even English “of a sort” (as Senator Jose Diokno used to refer to our urban vernacular). Kafka argued: “What each author says individually already constitutes a common action, and what he or she says or does is necessarily political.” What a remarkable statement coming from the classic artist-hero worshipped by bourgeois modernists as the high priest of mystification, avatar of the transcendental Absurd. It’s a blanket indictment of all our postmodernizing aesthetes.

Dialogic Confrontations

During the open forum, one professor of English asked whether a writer needs an ideology to be revolutionary. I answered that a writer need not be conscious of operating with an ideology or any idea at all (recall what Henry James said of the artist’s mind: it’s too fine to be violated by ideas), although one can be a Tolstoy who was quite convinced of the moral imperatives of Christian activist pacifism from which part of the didactic and thematic repertoire of his narrative material derives. But, on second thought, I missed the real point of the question.
Perhaps because a previous speaker equated “ideology” (a contentious and problematic term if not defined as concretely as possible, with all its determinations) with national democratic politics, particularly with the creed of the National Democratic Front, the term was then interpreted as a codeword for “communist” or “Marxist” and therefore became pejorative. More precisely, it became a euphemism for everything bad, negative, repulsive. In such an already staged arena, a persisting legacy of Cold War politics still endemic in our society, one has to backtrack and maneuver to clear the ground, so to speak, as already prefigured in my first anecdote.
What I was trying to emphasize at great length–the inscription of writer/reader in a historical palimpsest not of any individual’s making–was completely lost to the articulate members of the audience more interested in questions of “how to,” techniques, methods, instrumentalities–although I must confess that some listeners told me they understood exactly what I was trying to say. Shades of “elective affinities”? In any case I felt that because of the peripheral or utilitarian thrust of the inquiries, it seemed that the basic theoretical questions had already been answered for them (maybe in the latest issue of Ang Bayan, or in the latest pronouncement from Establishment ideologues or mass media pundits) so that all we need to do now, after heaving a sigh of relief, is to act as the proverbial “transmission belts” if not functionaries to implement the latest shift of the party line. Or else we are ostracized, shunned, ignored.
A trivializing and marginalizing modus operandi and its effects may be discerned in this not untypical situation. Minds and bodies conduct themselves to devise formulas and “get-rich-quick-schemes” to implement directives, codes, instructions that are never quite understood, much less questioned or criticized. It cannot all be attributed to hiya, or the presumed “non-confrontational” style of Filipinos. In public forums and exchanges, I have noticed a recurrent syndrome. While some speakers may broach questions of first principles and thus succeed in elevating the exchange to a level of theoretical concreteness, the participants (mostly from the intelligentsia defined loosely in the Philippine context) display a consciousness that operates strictly within the realm of the empirical, the impressionistic and anecdotal level. This is not a shortcoming in itself, as long as it is taken simply as a heuristic point of departure. But the inadequacy of empiricism soon reveals itself. Even when policies or conceptual frameworks informing an administrative decision happen by chance to be introduced for review, people interject with grievances on particular matters (such as allocation of money, incidents illustrating bureaucratic neglect or departmental inefficiency, minutiae of official abuses) as though all those items are equally important, flattened onto one dimension of significance. Somehow the majority of participants are not able to question the rationale of the institution itself, to distance themselves from their involvement so as to critique the structure of power and interrogate its exercise in promoting or eroding the ends of justice, freedom and equality. In brief, it seems that there is a customary, unspoken habitus (to use Bourdieu’s term; Bourdieu 2000) of avoiding conflict over fundamentals, of shirking the challenge of wrestling with the basic inescapable contradictions. Is this the fabled phenomenon of “smooth interpersonal relations” beloved by our sociologists and psychologists?
I venture to suggest that my two anecdotes (I plead complicity in this habit) can be construed in such a way as to betray the symptom of a general impoverishment of ideas, a condition grounded in the hierarchic and patriarchal reification of our neocolonized society, the powerlessness of the majority (including the organic intellectuals of the dispossessed classes) excluded from the crucial decision-making processes, the willing subservience of the masses to the elite whose charisma and weapons depend chiefly on U.S. patronage–a moribund contradictory system accountable to centuries of colonial conditioning whereby attitudes and behavior, “structures of feeling,” are reproduced daily in habitual practices, traditional rituals, in the routine patterns of everyday life. Witness the interplay here of “commodity aesthetics” (to use Haug’s phrase; Haug 1986) purveyed by the transnational corporations, machismo, religion, and the psychology of ressentiment.
I am not just referring here to the result of imperialist subject-ion and manipulation, although that is the context of this somewhat banal diagnosis of our putatively “damaged” culture. If one explains the lack of a climate of serious, open-ended, and informed public exchanges whether in the universities, mass media and other civic forums, by invoking the formula of “colonial mentality,” one is sure to trigger a violent nativist or xenophobic response. (If you happen to be an exiled Filipino or a migrant intellectual who ventures to speak her mind, you are bound to be condemned as an intruder meddling in local affairs, a pariah who knows nothing of local circumstances.) This reflex defensive gesture then immediately prides itself on our self-acclaimed, ingratiating virtues of pakikisama, bayanihan (the Marcos regime was quite skillful in exploiting the resonance and libidinal charge of these populist motifs)–precisely those practices that continue to reproduce the repressive harmony of the terrain our culturalist scholars inhabit. A claim of authentic immediacy–“I know the personalities involved,” “I have inside information,” “I was there and went through it all….”–is made to compensate for lack of intelligence, honesty, tact or simple prudence. Reproducing ways of acting and thinking sanctified by time and the supernatural, the hegemonic culture of the propertied classes cannot foster critical thinking but only consolidate mindless routine. Its hierarchical and authoritarian paradigm will never generate the consciousness and will for popular democratic transformations, for releasing the potential of each individual within the framework of a truly independent nation by guaranteeing (within the constraints of our underdevelopment) the freedom and material security of all.
Lest I be misinterpreted, I hasten to add that there have been significant and perhaps irreversible changes since the Magsaysay period, certainly since the First Quarter Storm. Whatever vicissitudes the popular democratic movement has suffered since February 1986, those mutations of sensibility have been registered deeply enough to generate prophetic reverberations, delayed reactions, nomadic adventures, even nostalgic recuperations. Changes there certainly will be in the coming decades; the urgent question is, who will direct these changes and for whose benefit?
I hazard to state that from Rizal’s time to the present, the nationalist movement has succeeded in introducing the elements of a historical materialist orientation to our cultural life. They may be discerned in mixed plebeian manifestations of opposition and resistance to U.S. hegemonic values and elite mimicries, from the millenial sects to the parodic allegories in comic books, games and jokes, including a variety of satiric and utopian expressions dramatized in folk and popular culture. Owing to various exigencies not to be easily wished away, however, the tendency has led to a one-sided emphasis on the crudely material or economic factors conceived in a deterministic fashion. This tendency to vulgarization–part of the carnivalesque disruption of monologic official culture, as Bakhtin (in his work on Rabelais, for example) has documented for medieval Europe–may have been made necessary by the need to counter the heavy indoctrination of our people with obscurantist metaphysics and religious superstition during the long ascendancy of Spain. This in turn was reinforced by a disciplinary regime of empirical, positivist thinking propagated by U.S. educators and bureaucrats at the time when social Darwinism and racist “common sense” gripped U.S. society at the turn of the century, a miasma of servile habits, petty chicanery, schizoid resentment, and business gangsterism that since then have corrupted the fabric of our psychic life.
In the process of decolonization begun by the Propagandists, however, errors have been committed for the sake of rapid mobilization. The politicization of the Seventies may have been impressively swift but it proved shallow and ephemeral, as the instructive and somewhat tragic plight of the Partido ng Bayan testifies. Formulas and slogans have been memorized, manuals and handbooks produced and disseminated; but the habit of critical thinking has not been instilled despite the skeptical materialist thrust of propaganda. Thus we see mirrored in the actions of people who mouth Marxist or left slogans merely a transmogrification, an unintended mirror-image, of the old ways: feudal patronage disguised in bureaucratic and commandist ways have ruined any attempt at inventing genuine coalitions or trustworthy alliances. Dogmatism and empiricism have replaced dialectics, breeding caricatures of elite machinations without even any pretense of mimicking hypocritical “good taste.” It is too easy to say that all these are caused by Stalinism, our convenient bogeyman, proofs of the excesses of Maoism. Such “bad faith” accusations, however, cannot be condoned. All these have to be analyzed in a concrete historical manner as the result of a dynamic interaction of actors and objectively limiting situations, of intentions and contexts, of creative wills and circumscribing boundaries. This is not meant to excuse or explain away mistakes and perversions. Here I am submitting a modest proposal to initiate a surveying of the field of conjunctural politics and the forces involved to find out why such symptoms recur, a foregrounding of ideology and culture as pivotal mediations at the crux of the problem.
As a reaction to mechanical materialist thinking and its variants diffused in the left, among technocrats, and in that compound of half-truths and superstition that we call the “common sense” of the ordinary citizen, a trend to correct the imbalance has emerged in the wake of the February 1986 insurrection. “Culture” has now become the magic watchword. There are notable scholarly advances in this field, particularly by historians and critics of the theater like Tiongson and Mojares. Such works are meant to supplement and rectify the still prevailing prejudice (born of that famous but misleading base-superstructure metaphor which Marx used only once) that culture is an epiphenomenal outgrowth, a simple reflection of the more important activities in the sphere of economic production. A misreading fortuitously begot the prejudice. This productivist schematism has not only reduced culture and ideology, the kernel of politics, to second rank, but has also distorted Marx and Engels’ conception of the overdetermined structured totality of any society, that is, the indivisibility of the production and reproduction of social life.

Notes from the Underground

From a dialectical perspective, all individuals are social, that is, humanized in society. The measure of what is human is social and implies a “species-being” correlated to work, sensuous practice, which functions as the key to judging the freedom and integrity of any society. This central insight stems from the dialectics of thought and action, of consciousness and the body, signified by the term “praxis.” I should like to stress here the concept of reproduction which involves the vital regions of gender, family, sexual division of labor, religious practices, age, and other determinants not usually comprehended under the category of class. Western socialists, as well as the revolutionaries of Cuba, Nicaragua and other Third World countries, are now re-evaluating the traditional Marxist problematic to take into account the salutary if controversial interventions of Althusser and Gramsci, among others, in particular the latter’s theorizing of hegemony and the decisive function of intellectuals. [I add that especially after the unprecedented changes in Eastern Europe in 1989, this rethinking has now become more urgent and obligatory for Filipino progressives who aim to rediscover, revitalize and enrich our own indigenous socialist tradition; San Juan 1989, 1990, 2000]
We have now proceeded to the point where we can detect in this revisionist trend the opposite error that can be denominated “culturalism.” In order to explain the EDSA upheaval, commentators like Nick Joaquin (otherwise a technological determinist in his apologetics for the long-buried Spanish empire) emphasize the notion of a kapit-bisig custom in a society which has not yet fully evolved from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft (to use Tonnies’ terms). One can appreciate this mode of explanation as a reaction to the economistic approach. But by itself it can only regurgitate a formalist and idealist mode of thinking which replicates the platitudes of a doctrinaire functionalist sociology–unless the historical contextualization of such a practice is properly articulated.
Allow me to cite, as an example, one essay exploring “the culture of revolution” which illustrates the limits of the culturalist response to the purely economistic approach. The author employs as her coordinates the functionalist notions of pakikisama and kapitbisig and other symptoms of client-patron relations in a pre-capitalist mode of production. This not only begs the question, but also vitiates the emphasis on culture by conceiving it as a positivistic phenomenon. Consider such observations:

The culture of Philippine revolution is the culture of the countryside, of the agricultural community…. The culture of revolution, Philippine style, is the culture of sharing, of pakikisama and tulungan rather than of ideology….

The counter-positioning of “culture” to “ideology” not only muddles the problem, but creates the impression that “culture” is the pure, honorific term whereas “ideology” connotes something negative, derogatory, un-Filipino. This ultimately atavistic usage can only authorize a mystique of cultural practice based on the problematic of a unified, homogeneous community (elaborated by the Lynch-Hollnsteiner group and acutely criticized by Virgilio Enriquez) that eliminates other categories (like class, gender, etc.) and therefore any dis-integrative contradiction. It invents the myth of a harmoniously functioning, homeostatic society beloved by Parsons, Merton and their followers. It works in the service of the existing repressive law and order. It renders obeisance to normative integration. It pays homage to authority and hierarchy, bows down to patriarchy. It offers easy rationalization for the continued hegemony of the dominant classes in control of the state ideological apparatuses (schools, media, bureaucracy) and the ascendancy of the institutional church, a lynchpin of the status quo.
What is ironic for our liberal culturalists–and I consider the quote only as a symptom of a general drift–is their unwitting emasculation of the complex term “culture” (whose historical provenance Raymond Williams has so fully substantiated), its reduction to a set of practices which are neither dominant nor emergent, but actually residual (the tributary or feudal mode of reproduction), thus transforming otherwise conflict-ridden individuals into one-dimensional subjects conforming to the universalizing norms of the dominant elite. The “culture of tradition” cannot be isolated and bracketed as identical to the subalterns’ acceptance of their position, as consensus, for this cancels out the oppositional impulse defining their ambivalent subordination to their masters; moreover, that tradition is imposed from above and normalized by years of conformity. In due time, given the uneven and non-synchronized mutation of co-existing but divergent modes of production, those “picturesque” habits of pakikisama or the rituals of the pasyon can be articulated to serve as vehicles for resistance. But it is simplistic to identify the “culture of tradition” as the determinant practice of a monolithic and homogeneous society which makes it somehow “revolutionary.” This culture is precisely what enabled conservative and reactionary forces to dominate Congress and the bureaucracy once again, entrenching themselves there on the pretext of having participated in one way or another in overthrowing the tyranny of the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship. Instead of taking into account the diversity, multiplicity and heterogeneity of the social formation, this deployment of a static notion of culture proves to be not only as reductivist but also brutally instrumentalist, perpetrating the error it seeks to remedy in the first place. Such reductionism becomes clearly obfuscating when, for example, “women power” is inferred from the proposition that “the culture of the agricultural community” produces “strong women” who participate in production, etc. This mystique of peasant vitality and female fertility, one might recall, occupies center stage in German fascist doctrine and in the program of any reactionary irrationalism that glorifies “blood and soil,” Fuhrerprinzip, the organic ties of community, family, and mystical hierarchy.
The term “ideology” is indeed one of those contentious words that have been made equivalent, under the current repressive climate, to everything reprehensible and demonic and therefore anti-Filipino. I have noted this usage proliferate in many scholarly and polemical tracts. This is demonstrated, for example, in Gemino Abad’s conclusion to his introduction to a forthcoming anthology of Filipino poetry in English. He writes: “Their sensibility [the poets from 1905 to 1955], which loves freedom above all, is inherently anti-ideological even against the very grain of thought.” Again, ideology becomes the scapegoat, the stigmata of the accursed and untouchable. To emancipate oneself from ideology, Filipino poets (according to Abad) have to master the nuances and potential of the English language: “Through poetry, after the mastery of its medium and its tradition, the Filipino writer in English has his revenge as it were on the ideology, the very way of thinking and feeling, which the adopted language secretes. English in Filipino hands, under the pressure of his own milieu and sensibility, becomes not English but Filipino. If he is at first possessed, he comes also in time to possess both the medium and the message in his own way, by the language of his own blood.” Notice how the use of “language” suffers slippage into metaphor, a naked ideological maneuver if ever there is one.
While Abad considers “formalism” a trap, just like Romanticism and Populism (which is wrongly equated with “proletarian”), that prevents the poet to “break and create meanings,” and while he does acknowledge language as “the most powerful of ideological machines,” he believes the Filipino poet can transform the machine of language to “a point of crisis, of break-up and judgment.” By postulating the binary opposition of poetry (good) versus ideology (bad), the strategy of ideological resolution in favor of one of the terms is easily carried out.
One can detect in this modified neoAristotelianism the influence of a mystification of language inspired by Heidegger, the privileging of language as combined “medium and message” with demiurgic powers. Just like the hackneyed aestheticism of the “founding father” Jose Garcia Villa and his epigones, this latter-day valorization of the poet as the magical manipulator of the language-machine entraps the critic, and the poet, alas, in what turns out to be the “prison-house of language” (Nietzsche).
A similar fascination for this prison-house afflicts the argument of Resil Mojares in his 1986 lecture “Imagining the Nation: Language and Politics Today.” Invoking this time not Heidegger but Orwell, darling of end-of-ideology prophets and ideologist of 1984 par excellence, Mojares pontificates:

With the expansion of media, the writer appears today in more guises than in Rizal’s time. It is still he, however, who is the keeper of language, the one whose life-interest it is to keep watch over language, preserving that clarity, precision, power, and rootedness in our social and moral life that language must possess if it must continue to define for us both our nationality and humanity.

Here, taking a cue from Pound and Eliot, the critic openly espouses the fetishism of a language which once exorcised of worldly pollution becomes the magic cure for the national wasteland. The Flaubertian ideal of the artist, a reaction to the bourgeois commodification of culture in 19th century industrial capitalism, surfaces–but anachronistically, in a consumerist neocolonial society where this erstwhile “virginal” language is slowly exchanged into petty cash, devalued counters floating in the infinite circulation of simulacra and computer debris, not to speak of the noises issuing from Malacanang and the pandemonium of coups and Congressional blabbering. One doubts whether the writer for Mojares speaks in Taglish, or one of the vernaculars which the writers are still unable to master, let alone keep watch over.
We are confronted with a particular recurrent conjuncture. The privileging of the aesthetic as the space of authentic human value has been analyzed rigorously by Marcuse and other Frankfurt critical theorists and exposed as a symptom of the capitalist reduction of culture to a noumenal, transcendental realm. Commodification and exchange value turns the aesthetic into an anaesthetic. Given the dominance of the culture industry of Hollywood and Madison avenue, this fetishizing of the aesthetic is the inaugurating premise of New Critical essentialism. If ideology were not so stigmatized as demonic and our local critics were more open to the vast horizon of materialist hermeneutics enabled by the renaissance of a creative Marxism and its interface with other postmodernist explorations, in particular structuralist linguistics and deconstructive psychoanalysis, it is possible that they could have avoided such pitfalls that, in the first place, they have been trying to evade. They could have employed such categories as “linguistic work” or “symbolic capital” introduced by thinkers like Ferrucio Rossi-Landi (1983) and Pierre Bourdieu (1991). They could also have availed of the seminal discoveries of Bakhtin whose reading of how “the sign becomes an arena of the class struggle” opens up an immense field of possibilities for constructing a materialist semiotics under the aegis of an emancipatory cultural politics.
All these are telltale signs that we have not even begun to understand the insidious legacy of colonialism–three centuries of feudal indoctrination, about ninety years of U.S. “tutelage” in the self-aggrandizing hubris of entrepreneurial liberalism. We have not really grasped the effects of reification and “commodity aesthetics” in mass consumer society so as to be able to critique and dialectically transcend it in counter-hegemonic praxis. Hence versions of functionalism, positivism, and empiricism persist in crippling the sensibility of otherwise well-meaning scholars, exacerbating the schizoid mentality of those affected by them, and at the same time propagating the illusion that we are enjoying full freedom to write and create what we want, freely able to partake in the postmodernist sublimity of the U.S.-Japanese-European supermall.
Part of the problem, of course, is fear of “ideology” and radical thought as an imperialist trick, an imposition by the alien outsider. A more intractable bias is the notion that the activity of theoretical analysis is an ivory-tower luxury completely removed from social practice, and practice itself is seen as day-to-day activity devoid of any conceptual underpinning. This dichotomy of theory and practice is in fact a product of what Lukacs calls bourgeois reification. Without a theorizing of, or second-degree reflection on, the contingencies of lived experience, such experience remains unintelligible. Experience as mechanical action or instinctual response remains locked within the most rigid biological and environmental determinism, the antithesis of what revolutionaries call “praxis.” Without a critical theorizing of the whole process, Mao’s pear-eater (in On Practice) remains an abstract enigma, neither here nor there–another Chinese conundrum.
In my view, the practice of theoretical criticism is the contextualizing of action in history, the endeavor to control our environment (including ourselves) by understanding and grasping the concepts and categories that will guide action toward humanly intelligible ends and purposes. This fear of critical understanding which I have remarked above may explain the paucity of focused intellectual exchange in our society, the lack of healthy supra-personal debate on ideas, ethics, and alternative visions of society. Dissent evolves according to cliches and conspiratorial fiat. Because our intelligentsia cannot separate ideas from personalities, so enmeshed are they with self-reproducing tribal decorums, familial piety and honor, etc., they continue to stagnate in self-congratulating coteries, incestuous barkadas, and mutual admiration clubs. This apprentice milieu is a peculiar byproduct of our peripheral or dependent formation, an outgrowth of the articulation of discordant modes of production with temporalities of the archaic, modern, and futuristic all mixed in one incandescent brew.
I suggest that we conceive theoretical practice for the moment as a critical reflection on the agendas of diverse cultural politics representing a plurality of sectors, constituencies, classes. This plurality of inscriptions falls under the rubric of conjuncture or milieu. By “milieu” here I don’t mean merely a geographical setting or environment but, more importantly, the categories which allow us to comprehend individual phenomena as part of a network of differences, of institutions, belief-systems, socially-defined practices (habitus, in Bourdieu’s terminology). Milieu is thus best understood as a dialectical interaction between contradictory forces, between what one projects in the mind and what the given stage of development of society and its constraints allow to be accomplished. Here I would like to enter a parenthesis–a brief but not irrelevant comment on the recently published second volume of Writers and Their Milieu.

Interventions

This collaboration of Doreen Fernandez and Eddie Alegre is highly commendable in preserving the memories of our writers in English most of whom are now in an advanced stage of being completely forgotten. I confine my remarks here to the question of milieu, the level of social consciousness and ethico-political commitment of writers in English. With the first generation of writers that included Villa, Lopez and Bienvenido Santos, one can perceive the signs of innovative albeit limited experimentation and rudiments of a critical interrogation of society which are starkly absent in the second generation. This of course can be historically understood in a figural sense as the delayed effects of the 1896 revolution, specifically the fierce mass resistance against U.S. genocidal barbarism in its first Vietnam.
With a few exceptions, the succeeding generation which includes Gonzalez and Arcellana, perhaps as an Oedipal rebellion against their progenitors, manifests a certain self-satisfied fascination with art as a self-sufficient craft. Their outlook is, in general, characterized by the narrow calculations of an artisanal mentality that aborted the rise of any critical awareness of the colonial parameters determining the subordinate status of their writing practice. We know that this can be partly elucidated by the influence of Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, and the gratifications offered by a technically-oriented New Criticism.
Part of the explanation foregrounds the artist’s social position in the pacified imperial outpost of the Commonwealth. While the writers in English withdrew into their private workshops, the vernacular writers (with the exception of S. P. Lopez and his colleagues) surpassed their provincialism and acquired global awareness as they registered in their class-conflicted texts the international discourse of resistance against capitalist decay and fascist insurgence in Europe and Asia. One can observe how the younger contemporaries of Arcellana and Gonzalez, like the Tiempos, visibly suffered from the stifling domination of mentors like Paul Engle and the sterility of New Critical formalism during the Cold War period. Its sequel, postcolonial deconstruction and other postalities, has severely damaged the sensibility of Filipino academics since the late seventies up to the present (for the U.S. scene, see Zavarzadeh and Morton 1991). We don’t even find any trace of a naive, parochial nativism, any hint of the virile pastoral realism that once flickered in Arguilla, Laya and Javellana. Except for outright apologists like E. Aguilar Cruz, who pathetically wants to forget the whole sad affair of his collaboration with the Marcos machine of corruption and brutality, the second generation testifies to a loss of that elan or expansive pioneering spirit that its predecessors flaunted even if only to impress their U.S. tutors. Because of limited space, I cannot elaborate here on the complex overdetermining contexts of these generational shifts. Just to give a token of the undiagnosed malaise afflicting the Cold War writers, consider this exchange between the interviewer and Demetillo:

DGF: What is your wife’s role with regards to your being a poet? Does she read your poetry and discuss it with you?
RD: Well, I discuss my books with her a little, but I think the virtue of my wife is that she leaves me largely alone, and does not talk too much of this and that. She’s very faithful in the kitchen and in the dining room, and she is more practical than I am….She is the better man in the family.

Now I think the problem of evoking less than what might have been disclosed from the writers’ answers by a different strategy of questioning lies in the theoretical narrowness of the concept of “milieu” which informs the framework and implicit methodology of the interviewers. While information about such sociological data like schooling, family, influences of writers, travels abroad, etc. are interesting for future biographers and curiosity-seekers, they subsist on the level of raw empirical data (the one on Jacinto is a model of triviality and trivialization) lacking a more rigorous and sophisticated critical theorizing of codes, both literary and social. What is lacking is the failure to consistently connect the writer’s work (themes, forms, genres) with the major social concerns of the nation and the world (for example, the Huk problem, Cold War politics)–an avoidance of ideology similar to those pointed out earlier, or simply its marginalization. There is scarcely any deliberate investigation of the ethical and moral issues affecting the practice of individual writers, not to speak of the political role some of them played. Such issues, I would like to insist here, are urgently crucial to the task of clarifying the function of literature in a colonial society such as the Philippines, a nation distinguished by a living tradition of revolutionary struggle against imperial oppression.
That, I suggest, is the most serious inadequacy of the interviews, a lacuna which in turn induces a complacency and misplaced pride in the really meager, somewhat dilettantish productions of such highly-touted and bemedalled artisans like Carlos Angeles, among others. (We wonder why some writers who have not really written anything worthwhile were included; meanwhile, a whole generation of truly incomparable writers in Pilipino and other vernacular tongues have passed and are passing away without benefit of tape-recorder and video.) Perhaps the nullity of their accomplishment is made up by their gossipy, congenial manner of confession, which of course doesn’t in the least compensate for the failure to intuit, much less comprehend, the large sociohistoric forces that have shaped and determined the contour of their writing lives. The pathos of this generation of writers can perhaps be epitomized by the touching disclosure of Manuel Viray, the only one who insinuates the power of the “political unconscious” which renders inutile the bulk of the writings alluded to: “I don’t know why I went into it [literary criticism]. This literary criticism, does it have any validity?” Responding to Alegre’s sympathetic urging that Viray continue to write, Viray says: “No, that is not enough. That is not enough.” Could this admonition not be taken both as a summing-up of the unresolved predicament of Filipino writers in their Babylonian captivity to the language of the colonizer, and as a much delayed stirring of their uneasy conscience?
I would like to suggest, at this juncture, that the origin of left and right opportunisms–whether the crude mechanical materialism of the traditional left, or the voluntarist and wrongheaded culturalism of those reacting against the former–may be traced to the theoretical roots of economism: the misleading base-superstructure analogy. That analogy or metaphor privileges invariably the economic base (in the narrow sense) and reduces everything to class. Every other category–gender, race, ethnicity, religious belief, etc.–is subsumed in the totalizing concept of class defined in relation to the ownership or control of the means of production. From this reckoning, ideology and politics, all culture in general, are conceived as a directly or immediately reflected superstructure and thus labelled “false consciousness,” deprived of any autonomous effectivity. To conceal this dogmatism, qualifications are entered. But these token gestures–for example, the superstructure (art or literature) reacts on the base–only re-validate the primacy of the economic instance construed in the most crude empirical fashion, always asserting itself “in the last analysis.” Not even Althusser (in Lenin and Philosophy) was able to escape the fallacy of “determination in the last instance”–one reading is that this instance never comes, never arrives; it is the absent cause that enables the structure in dominance to produce its effects. In any case, we witness progressive cultural groups who, unaware of the fatal blindness of economist assumptions so ingrained in their everyday conduct, treat official documents from above as sacred scriptures, thus reproducing all the reductionist one-sidedness, fatalist resignation to objective determinations, apotheosis of the wisdom of the organization’s elite, and corporatist self-righteousness and apologetics which have historically characterized the oppositional movement since its inception. From this follows defeats, betrayals, setbacks, and demoralization–unless a demand for rectification from the “unlettered masses” and recalcitrant critics interposes to save the faithful. Does this indigenous sound and fury signify anything?
These symptoms of the fate that this Western import–the philosophy of historical materialism–suffers particularly in a Third World formation like the Philippines can be transcoded to signify the peculiarities of the conjuncture we are living in/through. In his Prison Notebooks, Gramsci has acutely analyzed the hetrogeneous and overdetermined nature of any conjuncture. He writes: “…the philosophy of a period cannot be any one individual or tendentious system; it is the totality of all the individual or tendentious philosophies, plus scientific opinions, plus religion and plus common sense.” Now, in the Philippines unlike Italy where Crocean idealism prevailed as the dominant current of thought side by side with Catholicism, the ascendant tendency in the majority of Filipino intellectuals (whether progressive or reactionary) is bourgeois empiricism and pragmatism sanctioned by the authority and prestige of U.S. cultural institutions and ideological apparatuses represented by our subservient economy and politics, cultural exchanges, scientific publications, doctorates gained in U.S. universities, etc. This constellation of ideas, attitudes and sensibility, a habitus reinforced by disciplinary regimes and collective practices of everyday life, continues to exercise a powerful influence on the intelligentsia and the middle strata as well as on the general population. It is the hegemonic ideology which underwrites property relations, the alienated nature of work, the iniquitous distribution of wealth, manipulated political representation, etc. This hegemony, as I’ve discussed earlier, exists precisely because it is able to accomodate the crude materialism of folk-religion, Christian rituals, libertarian impulses, reformist programs, and metaphysics of all kinds. It promotes individualist competition above all and allows certain forms of communal ownership so long as it does not threaten or outlaw the elite’s (and foreign corporate’s) extraction of surplus value from the working people.
In the case of the national democratic movement, we have observed that every political impulse or intellectual trend is subordinated to the class-oriented program of the basic masses (workers and peasants). It may be that of late there has been some revision of this formula for public consumption. At any rate, this prioritizing obstructs precisely that hegemony (moral-intellectual consent as the matrix of leadership voluntarily given) which the political party of the proletariat can win only by sacrificing its narrow corporate interests for the sake of a national-popular, broadly based consensus identified with a historic social bloc that transcends any one class interest and succeeds in articulating all interests (specifically gender, race, ethnic and religious ones) under one nationwide program. I submit that this program can only be the project of attaining genuine independence from foreign (in particular U. S.) domination. In struggling for self-determination, the participating masses become consciously transformed as a historic agency into a sovereign, autonomous nation [see Part Two of this book]. So far this hegemony, as an ongoing project, remains still utopian despite heroic efforts to construct it which was inspired in the past decades by, among others, Claro Recto, Lorenzo Tanada, and Jose Diokno.
One other evidence I might cite here of vulgar materialism in its pragmatic-empiricist version is the knee-jerk attitude of cadres and even some “responsible” leaders that you don’t need to do any theoretical study–“those are only for academic pettybourgeois individuals not fit for ‘the long march’ in the countryside”–or engage in discussions over philosophical categories and methods. In fact all you need to do, if you don’t want to be chided as an ivory-tower intellectual or unreconstructed book-worshipper, is to plunge into the slums, immerse yourself in the life of the basic masses in factories, plantations, guerilla zones, so that you can get the necessary practice that will earn you the honorific title of “revolutionary.” Here, obviously, theory and practice are conceived in the metaphysical dichotomizing fashion as two separate realms in contrast to the concept of “praxis” in Theses on Feuerbach. Of course this should be diagnosed and criticized as “expressions of historical development,” as Gramsci advises. The cardinal Marxist principle of historical specification and its dialectical concretization (spelled out, for example, by Lukacs and Korsch) must be pursued if we are going to correct the distortions in the drawing up of strategy and tactics. In this connection Gramsci acutely perceived our unresolved dilemma: that “remnants of mechanicalism still persist, since theory is spoken of as a ‘complement,’ an accessory of practice, as an ancillary of practice.” Although formulated for the political situation in Italy of the early Thirties, these remarks target the roots of corporatism and sectarianism that still characterizes segments of the radical left today. This charge of “mechanicalism” may explain why, conversely, for intellectuals who are entrenched in Establishment circles, the term “ideologue” and “ideology” remain derogatory and pejorative while “pure theory” (formerly the preserve of the experts) has now, caught in the antagonisms of the moment, been irretrievably sullied by the hands of “dirty” practical interests.
It would take a long treatise to anatomize in detail the sociohistorical determinations of economism in the left (dating back to Crisanto Evangelista’s workerist orientation to the opportunist pragmatism of the Lavas and Tarucs). But a step toward carrying out that task can begin by taking seriously this insight from Gramsci’s instructive essay “Marxism and Modern Culture” where the need for organic intellectuals of the proletariat is addressed. These intellectuals (not all party hacks or frontmen) take on the challenge of evolving and elaborating a coherent, systematic philosophy that will sublate (that is, cancel, preserve and elevate–aufheben) remnants of both materialism and idealism in society into a hegemonic culture representing a new historic bloc of popular forces capable of articulating the emerging identity of the Filipino nation. Gramsci writes:

Marxism was confronted with two tasks: to combat modern ideologies in their most refined form in order to create its own core of independent intellectuals; and to educate the masses of the people whose level of culture was medieval. Given the nature of the new philosophy the second and basic task absorbed all its strength, both quantitatively and qualitatively. For “didactic” reasons the new philosophy developed in a cultural form only slightly higher than the popular average (which was very low), and as such was absolutely inadequate for overcoming the ideology of the educated classes, despite the fact that the new philosophy had been expressly created to supersede the highest cultural manifestation of the period, classical German philosophy, and in order to recruit into the new social class whose world view it was a group of intellectuals of its own. On the other hand, modern culture, particularly the idealist, has been unable to elaborate a popular culture and has failed to provide a moral and scientific content to its own educational programmes, which still remain abstract and theoretical schemes. It is still the culture of a narrow intellectual aristocracy which is able to attract the youth only when it becomes immediately and topically political (Gramsci 1957, 85).

This mode of grounding thought in concrete social reality, the axiomatic desideratum of historicizing the object of analysis required by dialectical thinking, may also provide a clue to answering why, in general, the majority of our intellectuals (note that generalizations like this must always be qualified) remain marginal in the current struggles. But they prove in effect to be unwitting agents of re-colonization because of their uncritical parroting of received ideas (sanctified by years of military and economic coercion) and what passes for “common sense,” a brew of myths and mystifications like “Philippine society is matriarchal” or “The Filipino is essentially this and that….” This superfluous and peripheral status of the intellectual may also be taken as an index of the dogmatism and sectarianism afflicting the progressive movement which has been unable to remold and educate them. Despite claims of opening up, democratization, etc., the problem persists especially among the ranks of those who abstractly privilege armed struggle as the principal or primary path of radical social transformation, and among those who conversely cry peace at any price.
So far the now legendary “democratic space” has been evenly divided into these two camps while Fr. Ed de la Torre and others keep busy eluding vigilante death squads. We are still caught between the horns of the dilemma outlined by Gramsci, still in the interregnum between the old dying order and the new struggling painfully to be born, an interlude when morbid symptoms continue to torment and haunt our waking hours.
To conclude provisionally these “low intensity” notes on the cultural battlefront, allow me to recount finally one last incident which took place last year in Metro Manila. I had (in retrospect) the misfortune of having been invited again for the second time by a woman’s group to participate in a forum on “feminism.” Today, of course, it is no longer permissible to have a male (however sympathetic his fellow-travelling may be) represent women–Filipinas today can and do represent themselves. Let there be no doubt about this. However, the woman (biologically speaking) invited to react or oppose me–a “female” writer whose reputation as an aggressive hustler and self-promoter now based in Manhattan is exceeded only by her arrogant claim to be the sole trusted representative of the party–exhibited a paleolithic mentality when, unable to grasp what I was saying, puzzled angrily and maliciously over my simple statement that “gender is a social construct.” This notorious party flunkey typifies the froth of bohemia once patronized by the Marcos cultural commissars, born-again opportunists to whom revolution is also grist to the egocentric mill. This anti-feminist female’s mentality is admittedly a notch above the usual ilustrado personalities gracing the panel of WOMANWATCH, but certainly an embarrassment to Maria Lorena Barros and others who have struggled and died not just to glamorize themselves. The mainly feminist audience saw nothing wrong with this egotism or its inverted machismo. Feminists, beware of saboteurs in the fold. I cite this incident only for its value as a symptomatic index that even so-called progressive comrades cannot escape the reductionism of the movement bureaucrats and their offensive elitist style, with all its horrible political consequences. Is class struggle nothing but an elaborate power game or ego trip, a mirror image of traditional clientele politics? Well, then, in this game who can match Cory and Gringo? Or Cardinal Sin with the Church’s heritage of thousands of years of gorgeous theatrical hallucinations, epic carnivals of miracles, luxuriant visions, phantasmagoric arabesques, transgressive thrills of catharsis, kaleidoscopes spinning pleasures–deaths and resurrections and transfigurations!–ecstasies exploding beyond the reach of any mortal’s fantastic dreams!
_____________________________________
E. SAN JUAN is co-director of Philippine Forum, New York City, and heads the Philippine Cultural Studies Center in Connecticut, USA He is at present visiting professor of literature and cultural studies at the National Tsing Hua University and Academia Sinica fellow in Taiwan. He was 2003 professor of American Studies at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. Among his recent books are RACISM AND CULTURAL STUDIES (Duke University Press) and WORKING THROUGH THE CONTRADICTIONS (Bucknell University Press). Two books in Filipino were launched last July: HIMAGSIK (De La Salle University Press) and TINIK SA KALULUWA (Anvil).

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ON THE MAMASAPANO CARNAGE AND CRISIS IN THE NEOCOLONY


DemoTUNGKOL SA KRISIS NG BANSA AT SAGUPAAN SA MAMASAPANO:
Ilang Kuro-kuro sa Pagsasakonteksto ng mga Pangyayari

Dr. E.SAN JUAN, Jr.
Professorial Lecturer, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Manila

Buhat nang sakupin tayo ng imperyalismong Yangki, walang patid na krisis ang lumukob sa buong sangkapuluan. Mahigit isang milyong Filipino ang pinaslang ng tropa ng Estados Unidos noong giyerang halos di nababanggit sa mga teksbuk: ang Filipino-American War (1899-1913).

Sa sangkaterbang sakuna’t kapahamakang tinamo ng sambayanang Moro, tumatambad ang masaker sa Bud Dajo (1906) at Bud Bagsak (1913) na sinapit sa kamay ng barbarismong Yangki. Kasangkot sa mga biktima ang mga babae, ina’t mga anak, halos buong komunidad. Huwag na nating balik-tanawin ang mahabang pagtatangka ng kolonyalismong Espanyol na supilin ang mga katutubo sa apat na siglo ng kanilang pandarambong.

Danga’t hindi nagapi o nagsugpo, mataimtim at matibay na hangad ng sambayanang Moro ang makamit ang tunay na kasarinlan at kalayaan. Sa pakiwari ko, ang tunay na kasarinlan ay matatamo lamang sa pagwasak sa my istrukturang neokolonyal, sa sistemang umiiral na nagsisilbi sa mga dayuhang korporasyon at IMF-WB ng Estados Unidos. Hanggang sa ngayon, sa gitna ng mga kabiguan, mula nang magkasundo sina Misuari ng MNLF at Ramos ng RP noong nakaraang dekada, at pagkabuki ng Memorandum on Ancestral Domain ni Arroyo nitong 2009, patuloy hanggang sa kasalukuyang usapan nina BS Aquino at MILF.

Paano maipapaliwanag ang krisis ngayong kapaligid ng patayan sa Mamasapano?

Isakonteksto sa Kasaysayan ang mga Pangyayari

Anumang pangyayari sa mundo ay maipapahalagahan at maipapakahulugan lamang kung ilulugar sa konteksto ng kasaysayan. Sa lugar at panahon ng sistemang global. At sa partikular, sa kasaysayan ng kolonyalismo’t neokolonyalismo sa Filipinas sa ilalaim ng kapangyarihan ng Estados Unidos.

Simula sa pagpawi ng Unyon Sobyet noong huling dako ng nakaraang siglo 20, iginiit ng Estados Unidos ang paghahari nito bilang “sole superpower” sa buong mundo. Bagamat natapos ang Cold War, hinalinhan ito ng digmaan sa papanatili ng hegemonya, ng malawak na paghahari, ng Estados Unidos. Walang humamon dito–hanggang Setyembre 11, 2001.

Ang paghahari ng sistemang batay sa kapitalismong monopolyo’t pampinansiyal ay di panatag, marupok, laging alanganin. Buhat nang umakyat sa antas ng imperyalismo, naranasan ng sistemang ito ang sunod-sunod na krisis. Ang malubhang krisis ng 1929 ay nalutas lamang sa World War II at pamumuno ng US sa tinaguriang “Free World” laban sa katunggaling “Iron Curtain” ng USSR at Tsina. Naligtas ang mga ito sa rebolusyong radikal nina Lenin at Mao Tsetung. Simula dekada 70, laluna pagkatapos ng matinding pagkatalo ng Amerika sa Biyetnam, lumubha ang krisis ng sistemang ito. Ang paglusob at pagsakop sa Iraq at ngayon sa Aghanistan ay sintomas lamang ng lumalalang krisis ng sistemang kapitalismong global.

Kinailangan ng US ang isang kalabang ideolohikal upang pag-isahin ang mga bansang kaalyado nito, ang Global North (kasama ang Hapon). Napunan ito ng mga extremistang Muslim ng Al-Qaeda na pinagbintangang responsable sa 9/11. Sa malas, ang mga base ng bagong karibal ay mga Arabong bayan ng Iraq at Afghanistan–sa kalaunan, nasangkot ang Libya ni Khadaffy. Lahat ng bayang may langis, siyang pinakaimportanteng sangkap ng enerhiya para sa mga industriyalisadong bansa, mga bansa tulad ng Venezuela, Indonesia, Malaysia, atbp, ay target ng lakas-militar ng USA. Yaon namang walang langis, tulad ng Cuba at Norte Korea, Bolivia, Ecuador, atbp., ay kaaway rin sapagkat may makasarili’t makatwirang paninindigan.

Daluyong ng Binansagang Ekstremista

Sa yugtong ito sumulpot ang teroristang Abu Sayyaf. Kaalinsabay
nito, ang Jemaah Islamiyah nina Marwan at Usman. Anumang pangyayari sa Mindanao at Sulu buhat noong nakaraang dekada–koro ng midyang pangmadla–ay kagagawan ng mga terorista. Ang bansag na “terorista” ay inilapat ni Sec. Colin Powell sa NPA at Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas sa panahong ginamit ang VFA upang ipasok ang ilandaang US Special Forces dito sa pretext o talukbong ng taunang Balikatan Exercises.

Dumating ang 2008, sintomas muli ng malubhang krisis ng sistema.
Krisis din ng US sa harap ng matinding oposisyon ng Taliban sa Aghanistan at sa harap ng mapanganib na hamon ng ibang bansa tulad ng Tsina.
Paano maipapanatili ang pamumuno’t pamamayani ng US sa buong mundo kung halos lahat–maliban sa Cuba at North Korea–ay kasapi na sa sistemang kapitalista kung saan madugo ang walang lubay na sigalot at tunggalian ng mga bloke o pangkat ng mga mapagsamantala?

Kailangan ng kalaban, ang terrorista. Pumapapel ngayon dito ang Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyah, NPA, at iba pang puwedeng gumanap ng punksiyong magpapakatwiran sa drone warfare, sa dahas militar, sa barbarismo ng mga korporasyong transnasyonal na nagsasamantala sa likas na yaman at lakas-paggawa ng mga sambayanang dominado, tulad ng Pilipinas. Mas mabisa ang mga grupong tinaguriang Muslim na tatak di-binyagan, ethnikong kaiba, kakilakilabot, na nakaugat sa ilang siglong panggigipit at pagduhagi sa kanila.

Bagamat taglay ang pormal na paghihiwalay ng Filipinas sa dating kolonyalistang Amerika, suko pa rin tayo ng kapangyarihan ng US, katibayan ang ganap na kontrol ng puwersang militar, AFP at PNP sa iba’t ibang kasunduan buhat pa noong 1946. Huwag na nating banggitin ang ekonomya, kultura, patakarang pangdiplomasya, atbp.

Mindanao: Larangan ng Digmaan ng mga Uri’t Bansa

Ang Mindanao ay isang teritoryong mayaman sa mineral, lakas-paggawa ng mahigit 10 milyong Moro at Lumad, at espasyong laan sa base militar ng US
upang gamitin sa estratehiyang geopolitical sa buong Asya, laluna laban sa Tsina
o sinumang magtangkang humamon sa poder ng kapitalismong global, ng NorteAmerikanong bloke ng mga bansa.

Bilang neokolonya ng US, ginagampanan ng gobyerno ni BS Aquino ngayon ang ginampanan ni Magsaysay noong panahon ng digmaan sa Korea ng dekada 1950 at ni Marcos noong panahon ng digmaan sa Biyetnam noond dekada 1960 at 1970. Higit na mahigpit ang kontrol ngayon sa bisa ng VFA at EDCA, at sa masahol na pagkaparasitiko ng AFP at PNP sa aparatong ideolohikal at pang-estado ng US. Bukod dito, nakasalig ang ekonomya ng bansa sa remitans ng mahigit 12 milyong OFW at ilang call centers, kaya walang lakas na tumutol sa dikta ng mga konsortiyum ng mga bangko sa liderato ng US.

Ano ang Dapat Gawin?

Ang sagupaan sa Mamasapano ay sintomas ng krisis ng neokolonyang Filipinas kaakibat ng lumulubhang salot at pagkasira ng hegemonya ng US. Nais ipamalas ng US na hindi maaring pahintulutan ang mga terorista saan mang lupalop ng mundo, gaano man kalaki ang “collateral damage” o kapinsalaang magaganap upang maisakatuparan ang pagpapatuloy ng paglaki ng tubo, ng kita, ng mga negosyo o kalakalan ng mga korporasyong transnasyonal. Sa gayon, ang mga sundalong nasawi ay maituturing na “canon fodder,” pambala sa kanyon, sa giyerang naibunsod ng mga magkakawin na krisis ng tinalakay rito.

Sa lenteng masaklaw na ito, at sa partikular na kasayaysan ng Filipinas lamang, masinsinang mahihimay at makikilates ang kahulugan ng Mamasapano. Gayumpaman, ang krisis ay sabayang panganib at pagkakataon: Anong pagkakataon ang inihahain nito sa mulat at mapanuring sambayanan? Ito ang dapat nating suriin, pag-aralan at sikaping paghandaan, sa kolektibo’t makaugnayang paraan.

(Rebisadong teksto ng panayam na binigkas sa U.P. College of Mass Communications, 5 Marso 2015, sa programang “Mamasapano: Media at Wika ng Digmaan.)

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Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS

C.L. R. JAMES: BEYOND POST-COLONIAL THEORY


spolarium1
Beyond Postcolonial Theory: The Mass Line in C. L. R. James’s Works

 

BY E. SAN JUAN, Jr.
One of the many facets of the career of Mzee C. L. R. James is precisely the awareness that African freedom will not be won without building on the positive elements in the history of Mankind.

–Walter Rodney
C. L. R. James is a great West Indian of complex spirit…a unique Marxist thinker whose dialectic is attuned, it seems to me, to necessity for individual originality as much as it is involved in analyses of historical process in the life of the people or the body-politic.

–Wilson Harris

Migrating from the academic periphery to the center, the current orthodoxy of postcolonial studies has advanced to the point at which certain doctrines concerning hybridity, syncretism, ambivalence, and so on, mimic ironically what they are supposed to denounce: the master discourses of hegemonic Europe and North America. To rectify this tendency, the authors of the influential textbook The Empire Writes Back proclaim that imperial suppressions work “through as well as upon individuals and societies” and transcend “the egregious classification of ‘First’ and ‘Third’ World,” thus claiming all space/time as its field of investigation. In The Post-Colonial Studies Reader, the same authors–Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin–proceed to revise the old “civilizing mission” of the West by mandating the desideratum of concentrating on lineages. Consequently, the study of settler colony cultures becomes paradigmatic: “Settler colonies, precisely because their filiative metaphors of connection problematise the idea of resistance as a simple binarism, articulate the ambivalent, complex and processual nature of all imperial relations” (1995: 3-4). 1 Following the poststructuralist tenets of Derrida, Foucault, and Lyotard, the discursive
practices of the colonizer are assumed to limit opposition peremptorily so that all resistance is fated to be complicit in domination, and all we can hope for is what postcolonial guru Homi Bhabha (1995) calls the “Third Space of enunciation,” the “in-between” of Derrida’s ecriture, of translation and interstitial negotiation, the “discontinuous intertextual temporality of cultural difference.” 2
I want to argue here that to the disjuncture between postcolonial undecidability, ethnic/nationalist essentialism, and what Paul Gilroy (1992) hypothesizes as a “black Atlantic” transcendence of boundaries can be counterposed the practice of the diasporic thinker C.L.R. James. His is neither a third way nor a reconciliation of opposites. His body of work illustrates how the political and artistic engagements of a decolonizing subject can refunction the master discourse of “dialectical materialism” without being complicit in restoring or recuperating domination. Such a discourse (the legacy of the European Enlightenment from Spinoza and Hegel to Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky) is not just enunciated by the subaltern but remolded to speak to/about circumstances and protagonists beyond those addressed by its originary theoreticians. What James accomplished is not just the invention of a counterdiscourse, a dialogic performance, suitable for “flexible” accumulation. It is a reaffirmation of the theme of “universality” against Cold War bipolarity and the pervasive fragmentation and reification of life in late capitalism. In the wake of the demise of Soviet “state capitalism” and globalized capitalism’s commodification of the whole planet (Magdoff 1992), James’s reconstruction of the materialist dialectic valorizes three motifs in his analysis of culture and society: contradiction as the basis of historical motion, the agency of the masses as creative and transformative force, and the practice of freedom as the embodiment of universality. Of these three, the agency of the masses and how it negates the need for mediation (by the party, bureaucrats, etc.) becomes pivotal to James’s cultural politics. It informs the narrative of complex dynamic forces in The Black Jacobins (1938). It enables James to avoid the perils of economism, class reductionism, voluntarism/sectarianism, and empirical determinism when he reflects on the Cold War conjuncture in the posthumously published American Civilization (1995).
The question of mass agency is linked to a controlling principle that governs James’s project of subverting state capitalism whether Stalinist or liberal: the centrality of movement in everything, in particular the dialectical transition from the old to the new. Transcontinental imperialism cannot be overcome without grasping motion in space and time. Disjunctions or distances in space becomes intelligible when the process of becoming (the ec-stases of human temporality) is reinscribed in the historicist organon that James distills in a sentence: “We can orient for the future only by comprehension of the present in the light of the past” (1994: 168). It took him almost half a century to realize this diasporic orientation in his life and thought, that “it is not quality of goods and utility which matter, but movement; not where you are or what you have, but where you have come from, where you are going, and the rate at which you are getting there” (Paget and Buhle 1992: 39).

Before examining this principle of becoming and the themes of universality and contradiction in James’s texts, a biographical parenthesis may be useful. A product of British Caribbean colonial education, James’s love of English literature and his devotion to cricket as an art combined with his involvement in Trinidad’s organized labor movement. His first book, The Life of Captain Cipriani (1932), also laid claim to the foundations of West Indian nationalism in the interwar period. When he moved in 1932 to England, he was exposed to the Trotskyist movement and became an independent socialist critical of Stalisnism and the Comintern, as shown in his book World Revolution (1938). In essence, his critique of authoritarian forms of rule centered on the notion of a vanguard party that would substitute for the revolutionary creative energies of the people and of the popular forces of the left around the world. What complicates James’s Trotskyism is his pan-Africanism: his collaboration with George Padmore, Paul Robeson, and the Guyanese activist Ras Makonnen linked him to a historical process begun by W.E.B.DuBois and the Pan-African Congress and by Marcus Garvey; through this James exerted influence on Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah. James’s play Toussaint L’Ouverture was sponsored by the League for the Protection of Ethiopia.
Transported to the metropolis, the West Indian colonial subject discovers the African subtext in the palimpsest of world proletarian revolution. James’s book The Black Jacobins (1938) demonstrates his historical-materialist breadth of vision by connecting the French Revolution and the slave uprising in Haiti with the history of the Central African peoples on which the Atlantic slave trade depended. The Trotskyist concept of Bonapartism is applied to L’Ouverture, according to Stuart Hall, so that the Haitian revolution is read “as a mass uprising in which the leader became trapped in bureaucracy and was slowly transformed into a self-effacing dictator who capitulated, contained, and defused the popular revolution” (1992: 9). Hall’s description is not entirely correct; the Haitian masses completed the war of independence by destroying all the whites in the island.3
Imprisoned in Ellis Island at the height of McCarthyism in 1953, James completed his study of Herman Melville, Mariners, Renegades and Castaways. He read Moby Dick as an allegory of power relations, and expounded on how the ship symbolized the social relations of production at a certain period of U.S. history. Like his later work Beyond a Boundary, where cricket assumes the status of an emblematic game in which nature is reshaped into an dramatic artifice and given historical substance by the anti-imperialist struggle, Mariners can be read as a postcolonial discourse in which complicity and resistance dovetail. On the other hand, James’s obsessive concern with the tension between leadership, intellectuals, and masses (between Ahab, Ishmael, and the crew of the Pequod) derives from his preoccupation with historical motion, universality, and contradiction. In his engagement with American popular culture, with sports, carnival and West Indian politics, James applied a totalizing intellect to discern how a cultural practice crystallized the manifold historical forces at work in any given period. Whether it was the rise of the bourgeoisie during Shakespeare’s time, or the emergence of new productive forces at the moment when Melville and Whitman wrote or when Picasso painted Guernica; or the appearance of new mobilized energies of whole peoples, as in Haiti or the Gold Coast of Africa, James had an intuitive sense of the triangular play between historical moment, masses, and artist/intellectual. One might say that he privileged the totality of the revolutionary process of change, the sublation of the old into the new. He valued above all the resourceful, spontaneous, and creative force of the masses, the political energies of the working people, of a collective power mobilized during periods of crisis–this, I think, is the kernel of James’s dialectical materialism. Was this simply appropriated from the Hegelian-Marxist tradition? Is the privileging of mass agency (reminiscent of Rosa Luxemburg’s critique of centralized, bureaucratic leadership) a mere abrogation of Hegelian statism and vulgar Marxist technicist instrumentalism?

The Incarnation of Dialectics

Such questions can be understood better if we see their rearticulation in James’s magisterial review of world history in the 1947 essay, “Dialectical Materialism and the Fate of Humanity,” and its foregrounding of the telos of universality. Here James rearticulates Hegelianized Marxian themes toward what I would call a “mass line” orientation, which would later on find its historical crucible and incarnation in the 1962 discourse, “From Toussaint L’Ouverture to Fidel Castro.”
Echoing the Communist Manifesto, the 1947 essay begins with the collapse of capitalist civilization and the bankruptcy of bourgeois thought, humanity finally freed from illusions and faced now with “the real conditions of life.” Not only do Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia personify barbarism, but so do the victorious Allies presumably safeguarding the legacy of Western civilization. Dialectics enables James to grasp the fundamental contradiction between the abundant “possibilities of living” and the increasing “terror of mass annihilation” with the onset of the Cold War. Illustrating the law of the change from quantity to quality, James evokes the antithesis to counterrevolutionary barbarism: “the readiness for sacrifice, the democratic instincts and creative power of the great masses of the people” (1992: 159). Philosophy has not only become worldly but the world faced by either barbarism or socialism has become philosophical–that is, humanity posits freedom and happiness as conceivable only in the integrity of its struggle to transcend its subjection to nature and achieve a truly concrete universality. Such universality is prefigured in Marx’s notion of “species-being” in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.
James reviews the worldwide failure to realize the potential of “species-being” from the time of Christianity to the Protestant Reformation. He holds that the dialectic of concrete and abstract embedded in the logical principle of universality has been short-circuited by Hegel’s idea of “mediation.” These mediations are symptoms of the failure to grasp truth as the whole: not only in human actions but also in people’s needs and aspirations. It was Marx who succeeded in theorizing absence and negativity by a historical-materialist method, that is, by resolving the problem of mediation with the intervention of praxis. For Marx, James asserts, “these concrete revolutionary stages are the work of the great masses of the people forever seeking the concretion of universality as the development of the productive forces creates the objective circumstances and the subjective desires which move them” (1992: 166).
Productive forces–are we then caught in a productivist trope or paradigm? No, because James reinscribes development within the orbit of social praxis moving between abstract possibility and concrete necessity. In tracing the development of Western civilization from primitive Christianity through Renaissance humanism to the rise of merchant capitalism, he focuses on slave revolts, peasant insurrections, the agitation of free workers in the medieval guilds, all of which culminated in the establishment of humanism and the national state of the absolute monarchy: “mediations of the mass proletarian desire for universality no longer in heaven but on earth.” This triumph of bourgeois liberalism, however, only sharpened the contradictions in the “mass quest for universality in action and in life,” for James “the moving force of history” (1992: 170). Discerning the contradiction between abstract and concrete in the English Civil War and the French Revolution, James underscores the rupture that suspends the need for mediation (the vanguard party, elite, charismatic intellectuals): “If out of the individual’s responsibility for his own salvation, there had leapt democracy, out of his political freedom, there leapt communism” (1992: 171).
The last mediation to be surpassed is the Hegelian State, Weberian bureaucracy, and the illusion of pluralist/liberal representative democracy under the aegis of capital. James exposes here Hegel’s limitations and the teleological idealism of Absolute Spirit. He opts for Marx’s mode of conceptualizing the “objective movement” in the process of production, an approach that is not “productivist” in the positivistic sense but one that coincides with “the quest for universality in the need for the free and full development of all the inherent and acquired characteristics of the individual in productive and intellectual labour.” Such a process of socialized labor would also abolish the fateful division between manual and intellectual labor, the theoretical foundation of postcolonial notions of interjacency, hybridity, etc. James is uncompromising in affirming that “the quest for universality, embodied in the masses, constituting the great mass of the nation, forbids any mediation” (1992: 173-74). Does this then imply that the subject can no longer be viewed as an effect of difference, whether linguistic or ontological?
Difference as contradiction still exists amid globalization, but the point is to rearticulate it within a differentiated concrete totality. James cites a passage from Marx and Engels’s The German Ideology, written a hundred years ago: “Only with this universal development of productive forces is a universal intercourse between men established which produces in all nations simultaneously the phenomenon of the ‘propertyless’ mass (universal competition), makes each nation dependent on the revolutions of the others, and finally has put world-historical, empirically universal individuals in place of local ones” (1992: 179). If revolutionary politics, for James, requires linking the “needs of the objective situation” with the state of development of the masses, what is needed to renew the “vast wreck of the modern world” is the “total mobilization of all forces in society.”
Facing the vast wreckage of imperialism fifteen years after, James, in “From Toussaint to Fidel Castro,” pursues the antinomy between concrete universality and its geopolitical mediations in the specific region of the Caribbean.4 Here Castro’s revolution epitomizes the “ultimate stage of a Caribbean quest for national identity” (1992: 296). The two poles of the antithesis in Caribbean history, the sugar plantation and Negro slavery, become figures in a constellation (to use Walter Benjamin’s term) for the traditional colonial order and for modernity respectively. The Haitian revolution was a mediation whose ambivalence disappeared in 1914 when the U.S. invasion ushered in the need for “Negritude,” a moment in the quest for universality. The rediscovery of Vodun in Haiti marked Negritude as a peculiar West Indian contribution, one supplemented by the invention of Cubanidad after the Platt Amendment subordinated Cuba to U.S. supremacy. In the interwar period, James presents four figures whose mediations embodied the struggle of the West Indian masses for independence: Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, Aime Cesaire, and Arthur Cipriani. It was Cesaire’s poem Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (1939) that exploded the axiom of linear, uniform evolution and introduced the dialectical leap: “that salvation for the West Indies lies in Africa, the original home and ancestry of the West Indian people” (1992: 302).5 Marx’s vision of the beginning of the “real history of humanity” is expressed in Cesaire as the convergence of African and Western worlds and the past and future of mankind, this convergence springing from (in James’s words) “the self-generated and independent being and motion” of the Africans themselves.
While James credits “Negritude” as the key mediation between Africa and the West Indian masses, Africa itself (contingently personified in the persons of Nkrumah, Kenyatta, Lumumba, Nyerere, and others) becomes integrated into West Indian life through the vehicle of mass communication: “There was therefore in West Indian society an inherent antagonism between the consciousness of the black masses and the reality of their lives, inherent in that it was constantly produced and reproduced not by agitators but by the very conditions of the society itself. It is the modern media of mass communication which have made essence into existence” (1992: 307). In effect, it is finance capitalism and the world market that provide the conditions of possibility for the West Indian national community to emerge, for West Indian artists like George Lamming and Wilson Harris to accept “complete responsibility for the West Indies.” James concludes by celebrating popular culture as the incarnation of the new things. In James’s planetary view, West Indians, emerging from “the pass and fell incensed points/Of mighty opposites” that define the Cold War, will contribute to the comity of nations: “In dance, in the innovation in musical instruments, in popular ballad singing unrivalled anywhere in the world, the mass of the people are not seeking a national identity, they are expressing one” (1992: 314). By counterpointing Western imperial barbarism with the rebellious subjectivity of the colonies in Africa and the Caribbean, James rediscovers the germinal Marxist concept of the “people” immanent in “empirically universal individuals.”
Contrary to Sylvia Wynter’s claim that James’s poiesis is exhaustively distilled by a multicultural Caliban who rejects the nationalitarian paradigm or nation model, James himself posits the historical specificity of West Indian revolutions (symbolized by Toussaint, Castro, the struggle against the Chaguaramas U.S. base in Trinidad) as necessary for comprehending the notion of universality. I would argue that the articulation of West Indian identity with global capitalism–eloquently enunciated in the 1966 lecture “The Making of the Caribbean People”–is the move James makes to recover the national-popular (to borrow Gramsci’s terminology) from its subsumption in elite vanguardism and the putative “labor-centric categories of orthodox Marxism.”6 But to delegitimate capital accumulation and its privileging of instrumental rationality over the autonomy of the body, we need to inquire not only into disciplinary regimes of power/knowledge but also more crucially into commodity-fetishism and the ideological apparatus of reification and postcolonial mystification. I think it is untenable to ascribe to James the epistemological presuppositions of Foucault and poststructuralist thought in general. Bourgeois power based on consumption and circulation of goods doesn’t spring primarily from the head/body opposition, just as the tension between the categories of race and class cannot be so easily dissolved by the mediations of jazz, calypso, and the reggae of Rastafarianism. Mass consumerism cannot so facilely displace the labor-centered paradigm Wynter rejects, despite the consensus on the protean virtues of James’s intelligence and the “pluridefined social totem pole” of Trinidad.
Engaging with Heideggerian deconstruction and the translations of alterity in response to the normative texts of Eurocentric “Orientalism,” critics like Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak, and their followers all privilege the peculiar intimacy between colonizer and colonized. It is instructive to counterpose James’s unabashed totalizing of ethnic difference and contingent diversity immanent in his historiographical practice. I do not mean by this the counterdiscourse of “marvellous realism” (originally broached by the Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier as “real maravilloso” in El Reine de este Mundo) proposed by Jacques Stephen Alexis, Michael Dash, and others, or the creolized differend of Commonwealth artists. Rather, the deconstruction of European master-narratives is performed through shifting the concern on limits–how human freedom in making history is “limited by the necessities of environment and conjuncture of circumstances.”

Triangulating New Worlds

At this juncture, I would like to call attention to an interview of James in the mid-seventies in which the crucial themes of mass agency and universality are staged conjuncturally. James the historian conceived of his role as studying the struggle of classes (a political, not an economistic, category), which is indivisible with the mass movements–“the emotions, activities, and experiences of the great mass of the population”–from an international perspective. Just as the sliding of signifiers cannot go on forever, the power of the individual, no matter how great, is strictly limited. The Black Jacobins opened the field of inquiry into the subsumption of individuals into race/class within imperialism. James’s point of departure in analyzing the Haitian revolution was his belief that “the center of the Black revolution was Africa, not the Caribbean” (1983: 267). A certain “native” intransigence saved James from succumbing to the temptation of “parliamentarism”; his association with George Padmore and his activities in the International African Service Bureau enabled him to make connections with African nationalists. Anti-imperialist solidarity allowed him to appreciate Cesaire’s “Negritude” as “not only a revolt against assimilation, but a poetical assertion of an African civilization” (1983: 270), analogous to the emancipatory projects of Marcus Garvey and Frantz Fanon.
What James stresses in the African context is not the antiracist or separatist cultural nationalism of the natives but rather the way British capitalism introduced slavery in the sugar plantations and how it brought its own “gravediggers” into its heartland. He insists that it is not economic relations that generate social movements but “the relations between classes,” so that West Indians living in Britain attack bourgeois society not because they are West Indians but because this particular society “trained them to act in the most advanced possible way.” In short, black people in the imperialist metropole have “succeeded in posing the question of the revolution” (1983: 272-73). James can unreservedly take this stance because of his conviction that the Haitian Revolution played a “decisive” role in the destruction of mercantilism and the abolition of the capitalist slave trade. He compares his task of demonstrating the role blacks played in the creation of modern Europe with DuBois’ endeavor to show how black people helped create modern America. In prophesying that capitalism was coming to an end, James might have exceeded the limits of his vocation as historian.
But I think the lesson he was trying to communicate is that the postcolonial strategy of deconstructing subjectivity concedes too much to the schematism of ideological texts and neglects the dynamics of transition whose understanding hinges on an analytic method that he derives from Marx’s Capital: “We learned that when something new takes place, if you want to understand it, you must begin from the highest peak of the previous form” (1983: 271). I think this presupposes again the problem of working through and beyond mediations in order to grasp the imperative of universality. This is the methodological axiom underlying James’s prolegomenon to his study of American civilization, the 1944 essay entitled “The American People in ‘One World’: An Essay in Dialectical Materialism.”
Is James guilty of a populist/demagogic fetishizing of the masses and thus instigating a cult of anarchic spontaneity? I do not think so. In The Black Jacobins, James describes the “remarkable liveliness of intellect and vivacity of spirit” that characterized the slaves in the eighteenth century. But without the leadership of those “who have been able to profit by the cultural advantages of the system” (such as Toussaint, Christophe, Dessalines), their revolt would have suffered the same fate as the Mackandal rebellion and other aborted uprisings. James analyzes not so much the economic status of slaves and plantation aristocrats but rather the changing alignment and disposition of various forces in Haiti at the time before the outbreak of the French Revolution. What he was unfolding was a plot of education in which the slaves learned “how liberty and equality were won or lost” (1963: 82) through mistakes, failures, and the ineluctable pressure of circumstances. James takes into account not just the racial conflicts but the specific maneuvers in which participants registered the limits and possibilities of their actions: “Political treachery is not a monopoly of the white race, and this abominable betrayal so soon after the insurrections shows that political leadership is a matter of programme, strategy and tactics, and not the colour of those who lead it” (1963: 106). Overall James charted the oscillating, complex interactions between leaders and masses, between black slaves and mulattos and their French masters, between the colonial administrators and the bureaucrats in Paris; this triangulation becomes the midwife to the birth of the people, the praxis of universality. What I want to highlight here is James’s all-sided, tactfully calculated, dramatic representation of Toussaint’s character, its weakness and strength, in Chapter XI of The Black Jacobins. The class or socioeconomic determinants of Toussaint’s personality are drawn with nuanced deliberation, taking care neither to glorify nor understate. After examining Toussaint’s correspondence, James offers his judgment: Toussaint’s “vision of precisely what is required is unerring, his taste is faultless, and the constantly varying approach is always suffused with revolutionary passion, a large humanity and a never-failing distinction” (1963: 253). But this seemingly static portrait and attributes are then set into motion when Toussaint makes the wrong judgment to execute Moise, his nephew and leader of several insurrections, for his sympathy with the black slaves in the North Province. Toussaint’s rationale then was to assure the French plantatocracy and Bonaparte that he would keep the blacks and mulattos in line. James sharpens the contrast between Moise and Toussaint by transcribing their voices. Moise first:

Whatever my old uncle may do, I cannot bring myself to be the executioner of my colour. It is always in the interests of the metropolis that he scolds me; but these interests are those of the whites, and I shall only love them when they have given me back the eye that they made me lose in battle. (1963: 275)

Toussaint replies to a notable creole of San Domingo:

I took up arms for the freedom of my colour, which France alone proclaimed, but which she has no right to nullify. Our liberty is no longer in her hands: it is in our own. We will defend it or perish. (1963: 281)

James notes the “strange duality” starkly displayed here, the loyalty to France coexisting with the assertion of autonomy and self-sufficiency–an emblem of the law of “uneven and combined development.”
But in the following remarks, we see James again grappling with the drive for universality and how the strategy for national liberation of the colonized has to somehow mediate between class, ethnicity (emergent nationality), and race. James praises Toussaint’s long-range perspective: he is “one of those few men for whom power is a means to an end, the development of civilization, the betterment of his fellow creatures,” a power committed to realizing the full potential of species-being. And yet his disregard of the masses and their level of consciousness, his authoritarian and aristocratic habitus, his failure to critique the abstract universality of the ideals of the French bourgeois revolution, his naivete about Napoleon–all constitute a flaw not tragic enough but still lethal in its consequence:

[Toussaint] could not admit to himself and to his people that it was easier to find decency, gratitude, justice, and humanity in a cage of starving tigers than in the councils of imperialism…. It was in method, and not in principle, that Toussaint failed. The race question is subsidiary to the class question in politics, and to think of imperialism in terms of race is disastrous. But to neglect the racial factor as merely incidental is an error only less grave than to make it fundamental (1963: 282-83)

But the irony is that in the last chapter of The Black Jacobins, entitled “The War of Independence,” the error became Toussaint’s grave. This statement of Toussaint’s habit from hindsight becomes double-edged: “in the hour of danger Toussaint, uninstructed as he was, could find the language and accent of Diderot, Rousseau and Raynal, of Mirabeau, Robespierre and Danton” (1963: 198). That constituted both his virtue and his blindness–his blindness to what was emergent, growing, fighting to be born. Only by seizing race, nationality, and class as “unity of opposites” and rallying the masses of black people (including the mulattos) against the slaveowners and the French Empire could Dessalines and Christophe succeed in liberating the country. And for that it was necessary that Toussaint, the hybrid transcultural mediation, be removed from the scene.
At this juncture, we see that the allegory of The Black Jacobins functions as the residual subtext of both the two aforementioned essays whose purpose is to show the quest for universality immanent in historical experience. Within James’s Marxist framework, “universality” can be concretized only in communism won by a permanent world revolution. While it is true that James (like most postcolonial intellectuals) worked within the Western cultural orbit and expressed the adversarial consciousness of subjugated people of color, it is not quite correct to say, as Edward Said does, that James unqualifiedly identified Europe as his own world, even if James himself stated that “fundamentally we are a people whose literacy and aesthetic past is rooted in Western European civilization” (quoted in Said 1993: 248). James precisely urged their antinomic conjunction; the symbiosis or synergesis of the West Indian and European was, for James, always fraught and contentious, without any guaranteed closure. And contrary to Said’s allegation that James “saw the central pattern of politics and history in linear terms” (253), one has to emphasize the interruptions and returns, a syncopation of unpredictable breaks that precisely rendered unnecessary the mediations by enigmatic, free-floating signifiers or the iron cage of administrators.
A turning point in James’s cultural politics occurred when he broke away from the mainstream American Trotskyist movement in 1950 and, together with Raya Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee, formed the Johnson-Forest Tendency. From James’s experience in the independence movement of Trinidad, the struggles of African Americans in the southern states and in the factories of Detroit evolved the Tendency’s emphasis on workers’ self-activity; their autonomous rank-and-file revolts made the prerequisite of a vanguard party superfluous. In State Capitalism and World Revolution, James considered the Ford assembly line as “the prototype of production relations in fascist Germany and Stalinist Russia” (Cleaver 1979: 46). The Soviet Union was not just a degenerate worker’s state but thoroughly state capitalist, its bureaucracy nothing else but “American bureaucracy carried to its ultimate and logical conclusion.”
Linking his vision of mass insurrection in Haiti that overtook any conscious design of the leaders or intellectuals to a quasi-anarchosyndicalist trend, James substituted the “disciplined spontaneity” of workers for the mediation of a vanguard party: “The proletariat always breaks up the old organization by impulse, a leap…. The new organization, the new organism will begin with spontaneity, i.e., free creative activity, as its necessity” (Cleaver 1979: 47). This was a drastic revision of the fundamental proposition found in Notes on Dialectics: “The Universal of socialism is the free proletariat” (1980: 152). In a letter to Constance Webb in 1944 while he was studying Hegel, James wrote: “The Marxist prepares the workers subjectively for what history prepares them objectively” (1996: 148). In Modern Politics ten years later, James again privileged the self-activity of the “great masses of people,” participatory radical democracy in action (1960: 42). The sociologist Kevin Anderson points out that in the 1948 study of Hegel, James synthesized Lenin’s ideas on organization and the “spontaneous activity and self-movement” or “free creative activity of the proletariat” within their own mass formations (1995, 200-01). Universality, in James’s hermeneutics, epitomizes the kernel of dialectics, the interpenetration of opposites, multileveled contradictions as the impetus of historical motion (Ollman1993). The search for universality begins and ends with the collective praxis of the people, popular energies unified and harnessed to explode commodity-fetishism and the legitimacy of unequal property/power relations (on “universality” from a critical-realist perspective, see Bhaskar 1993).
By the end of World War II, James traced the genealogy of United States imperialism from its beginning, the break with the “triangular trade of mercantilism,” through its intervention in Asia and Latin America, up to its victory against fascist barbarism. The profoundly synthesizing reach of the essay “The American People in ‘One World'” (1944) affords us a foretaste of the prescience invested in the 1947 discourse on “Dialectical Materialism.” It also foreshadows what James speculated as the impending apocalypse of world capitalism rehearsed in the 1962 Appendix to The Black Jacobins, which juxtaposes the figures of Toussaint and Fidel Castro embedded in the tradition of capital’s “gravediggers.” I would like to quote a lengthy passage trom this 1944 essay to illustrate the antipostcolonial unequivocality typical of James’s intellect:

American imperialism there becomes the chief bulwark of the capitalist system as a whole…. The colossal power of American imperialism is the apex of a process–the rise, maturity and decline of the capitalist world market. In the eighteenth century, “our country,” in the triumph of its industrial bourgeoisie, released the great political potentialities of the European proletariat, the mortal enemy of the European bourgeoisie. Today “our country” can release nothing. Driven by the contradictions of its own capitalistic development and of capitalism as a whole, it is now the enemy of hundreds of millions of people everythwere. The appearance of liberator of peoples is a necessary disguise for the essential reality of American imperialism, epitome of decadent capitalism, mobilized for the defense of privilege and property against a world crying to be free.
The laws of dialectics are to be traced not in metaphysical abstractions such as 168 years of “our country,” but in economic development and the rise, maturity, and decline of different social classes within the expansion and construction of the capitalist world market. The greatest progressive force in the eighteenth century, the nationalism of “our country,” is in the twentieth century the greatest of obstacles to social progress. In accordance with a fundamental dialectical law, the progressive “nationalism” of eighteenth-century America is transformed into its opposite, the reactionary “internationalism” of American imperialism…. American imperialism cannot escape its entanglements in foreign class struggles even if it would…. In our compact world, successful revolt in any area will sound the tocsin for the center more violently than the American revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth century shook metropolitan Europe. And the social crisis in America must bring onto the scene the American proletariat. (1994: 175-76)

The submerged narrative line of this essay follows the twists and turns found in the 1938 masterpiece, The Black Jacobins. I would like to emphasize three paramount theses enunciated here. First, the rise of the world market converts the whole world into an arena of revolutionary struggle so that the challenge in the periphery immediately registers in the metropolitan center. Second, the mode of imperial accumulation has generated the American proletariat which inherits the international revolutionary tradition and also utilizes “the great American tradition of the past” in the struggle for socialism. Third, the agencies of transformative politics aim for concrete specific objects that eventually generate worldwide repercussions: “The farmers, mechanics and artisans, the workers and Negro slaves, pursued strictly immediate and concrete aims and made world history” (1994, 177). The cunning of Reason becomes immanent in quotidian events, rendering even defeats and reversals stepping-stones in the oppressed people’s quest for universality, i.e., for freedom and happiness.
The universality we confront daily in the twentieth century is that of the world market which has compressed time/space through mass communications and technological innovations in travel. For James, however, that signifies the universality of commodity-fetishism and the totalitarian state. All the same, the phenomenon is constituted by multiple contradictions. James’s unfinished project, American Civilization, is precisely the endeavor to anatomize the universality known as United States imperialism, its essence (only grasped through theoretical practice) and appearances, the phenomenology of everyday life.
The fundamental thrust of American Civilization is “the creation of an integral human being.” This is predicated on the idea of the good life associated with freedom and happiness as revolutionary goals. Closely identified with African Americans and women as social forces, those goals have been compromised, mocked, postponed, sidetracked, or even negated by capitalist “mass production” and its drift toward barbarism. The original ideals of liberty, pursuit of happiness, and free individuality have now been shipwrecked in the economic and social realities of the Depression in the thirties and the relentless barbarism of the Cold War.
In assessing the impotence of American intellectuals, James arrived at the only force that can resist the worldwide barbarism: “the instinctive rebelliousness and creative force of the modern masses” (1993, 226). Unlike Weber and the resort to charismatic leaders, James pits the masses against a world-system of bureaucratic state structures. What climaxes James’s analytic of the contradiction between aspirations and realities is the chapter on “Popular Arts and Modern Society,” in which modern film, newspaper, comic strip, jazz, and radio are seen as “an expression of mass response to society, crises, and the nature and limitations of that response” (1993: 122). This contradiction is embodied in the figure of the gangster, “the persistent symbol of the national past which has no meaning–the past in which energy, determination, bravery were certain to get a man somewhere in the line of opportunity… [The] gangster who displays all the old heroic qualities in the only way he can display them, is the derisive symbol of the contrast between ideals and reality” (1993: 127). The rage and violence one finds in popular film constitute an index of “the mass exposing…its desire to smash the impasse in which it finds itself”–in short, a cathartic release of the repression of the masses by a disciplinary, surveillance system, what Henri Lefebvre (1971) calls the “bureaucratic society of controlled consumption.”
In 1960, James turned to the dynamics of the revolution in the Gold Coast of Africa and reinstated the conceptual primacy of the term “people” in the lexicon of socialist political theory (1971: 133; on James’s views on Ghana’s Nkrumah, see Marable 1986). Thus when he invokes the American “people” in his brand of reception-aesthetics, James returns to the guiding insight of The Black Jacobins derived from Lenin and Michelet in which the dialectic between leaders and masses is calibrated with astute realism. The dialectical method is premised on the “concrete analysis” of material conditions that determine the limits and possibilities of action. James’s analysis of popular association and mass organizing together with their symbolic expression is thus able to imbue the “national-popular” striving for revolutionary hegemony with the intractable “thickness” of historicity.
But historicism in American Civilization is neither antiquarian nor monumental because it is oriented to present imperatives and agendas. It acquires a prophetic thrust when James underscores its utopian telos: happiness. What distinguishes his socioanalytic of the American character is an abundant faith in its potential: “[The American people] combine an excessive individualism, a sense of the primary value of their own individual personality, with an equally remarkable need, desire and capacity for social cooperative action” (1993: 273). Because this volatile, aggressive individualism has been suppressed by technocratic corporate statism, a profound social crisis has ripened: anger and fear “irresistibly explode in private life.” Such explosions are registered not in refined intellectual exchanges but in popular culture. The twin drive for autonomy and for association, for asserting a distinctive personality and for “intimate communion with his fellows,” cannot be fulfilled within the regime of commodity-fetishism or mass consumerism, hence the crisis and its symptoms in gangster movies, in the private lives of women, blacks, and intellectuals.
In Mariners, Renegades and Castaways (1953), James pointed out how Melville captured in Ahab’s predicament the crisis of transition, the tension between the masses “seeking a new basis for a sense of community” and the eruption of “the most boundlessly egotistical individual personalities” in the political arena (130). But as always, James finds a resolution to all this crisis in his argument about the overriding importance of “the struggle for happiness” and for self-fulfillment in social reciprocity.7 By “happiness” is meant the integration between individual personality and the larger community, the synthesis of public commitment and private interest, in short, the political life defined and elaborated by James in Modern Politics (1960) and Every Cook Can Govern (1956).
The theoretical framework deployed in this ambitious cognitive mapping of the United States as a “civilization,” its contradictory trends and aleatory tendencies, is what we have already encountered in The Black Jacobins. It is an invention of the diasporic sensibility that apprehends the manifold links between national and the international, the local and global, the singular and the universal. I designate it the triangulation of universality in the capitalist world-system.8 One illustration can be adduced here. In the last chapter of The Black Jacobins, James traced the race war and carnage in Haiti as due to “the greed of the French bourgeoisie” (355). From this he concludes that in contrast to nineteenth-century Haiti, the “blacks in Africa [in mid-twentieth century] are more advanced” in their pursuit of freedom:

From the people heaving in action will come the leaders; not the isolated blacks at Guys’ Hospital or the Sorbonne, the dabblers in surrealisme or the lawyers, but the quiet recruits in a black police force, the sergeant in the French native army or British police, familiarising himself with military tactics and strategy, reading a stray pamphlet of Lenin or Trostsky as Toussaint read the Abbe Raynal. (1963: 377)

What sutures the diverse materials in The Black Jacobins, American Civilization, and Mariners, Renegades and Castaways is a singular theme of universality, this time cognized as the spontaneous, self-directed, inexhaustible power of the masses.
James reworked his Eurocentric education and redefined his identity as “a Man of the Caribbean” by triangulating the regions that configured the African diaspora: Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe.9 Colonialism and the slave trade established the necessity of the Caribbean as a vital, irreplaceable link in primitive capital accumulation. With his adventurous intuition, James could encompass distant points in space that would otherwise remain isolated fragments, enabling him to render not syncretic pastiches or bricolage of semiotic utopia but the actual process of decolonization: “All problems today, particularly the emancipation of the underdeveloped countries, are matters in which the world in general is involved; and at the centre of African emancipation, particularly in the development of ideas and international strategy, are the urban blacks of America” (1992: 376). This passion of the islander for cognitive and geopolitical mapping–an index of the masses’ self-activity and drive for collective self-representation–explains why he considers “Negroes” as Americans, not a separate ethnic community, whose combined segregation and integration epitomize the national crisis, the “modern Americanism, a profoundly social passion of frustration and violence” that distinguishes the United States in the midst of the Cold War.

Socialism or Barbaric Capitalist Racism

A decisive turn in James’s itinerary as an authentic dialectical-materialist thinker occurred in his re-examination of the “Negro question” or the articulation of the categories of race and class in social critique. He had already confronted the race-class nexus in the early thirties in united-front campaigns in support of Abyssinian resistance to Italian imperialism and the campaign for West Indian self-government. Before he returned to the United States by way of New Orleans after his fateful meeting with Trotsky in Mexico in 1939, James invariably subsumed the fact of “racism” in the master-code of class struggle. The encounter with “race”–the recent volume C.L.R. James on the “Negro Question” edited by Scott McLemee documents this fateful encounter–reconfigured his whole way of thinking and generated the praxis of what became the “mass line” in “Third World” people’s war in Vietnam, Nicaragua, the Philippines, and elsewhere.
In 1938, towards the end of The Black Jacobins, C. L. R James reflected on the dialectic between the categories of race and class that framed his narrative of the first black slave uprising in the world: “The race question is subsidiary to the class question in politics, and to think of imperialism in terms of race is disastrous. But to neglect the racial factor as merely incidental is an error only less grave than to make it fundamental” (1963: 283). The reason for the internationalist focus on the class question, according to Paul Buhle (1988), lies in the Trotskyist principle of transcending national specifics for the sake of a grand epic of solidarity between the European proletariat and the “black Jacobins” of the colonies.
James at that time had never paid attention to the condition of the African Americans in the United States, but before his trip he had already been involved in the pan-African movement in England, particularly in the campaign for Abyssinian independence against European imperialism. And yet this concern of people of color for national self-determination of African colonies, and later of Caribbean societies, allegedly did not change his view that the class question predominates over the race question. In a useful review, Tony Martin reiterated this position: “Even when accepting the applicability of Lenin’s ideas on national minorities to the movement for self-determination among Afro-Americans, for example, or when appearing to condone the rhetoric of Black Power, he has never deviated from his view that race is subordinate to class” (1972: 186).
Is it correct to affirm the argument that James never deviated from his 1938 conviction of the priority of class over race? I contend that it is not correct. In the aforementioned collection of writings by James on the “Negro Question” (1996), Scott McLemee also concurs with the idea that James’s final word on the race/class antithesis may be found in the resolution James authored for the Socialist Workers’ Party Convention of 1948. The document entitled “The Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problem in the United States” indeed synthesizes scattered thoughts and reflections on the situation of African Americans in the United States that James expressed in voluminous writings. But this synthesis does not indicate the easy, automatic subsumption of race into class. In fact, the trajectory of the argument here implies a move toward a concrete dialectic negotiation of the claims of these two categories.
What is striking here, compared to his previous writings on the “Negro question,” is James’s insistence that the vitality and validity of the independent Negro struggle for democratic right “is in itself a constituent part of the struggle for socialism.” It has deep historic roots that entitle it to autonomous and integral identity. While James emphasizes that blacks “approach the conclusions of Marxism,” the problematic aspect is the relation between the organized labor movement and the African American demand for equality. James denies that this is “merely a class question,” even though he states that what is involved is “a question of the reorganization of the whole agricultural system” of the country. He invokes Lenin to resolve this impasse: Lenin says “that the dialectic of history is such that small independent nations, small nationalities, which are powerless… in this struggle against imperialism nevertheless can act as one of the ferments, one of the bacilli, which can bring onto the scene the real power against imperialism–the socialist proletariat” (182). So the black struggle can become the catalyst for the emergence of the socialist proletariat. But it does not mean that because the oppressed minorities, or nationalities, are powerless, therefore they proletariat has got to lead them and that “they cannot do anything until the proletariat actually comes forward to lead them. [Lenin] says exactly the opposite is the case” (182).
James reviews history and concludes: “Such is the situation of the masses of the Negro people and their readiness to revolt at the slightest opportunity, that as far back as the Civil War, in relation to the American bourgeoisie, they formed a force which initiated and stimulated and acted as a ferment “(183). The metaphor of ferment or bacilli is revealing but loaded also with dissonant connotations. But if the function of the oppressed nationalities is to initiate the proletariat into the scene by their agitation and resistance, are they therefore to be incorporated into the revolutionary proletariat and forfeit their autonomy? The evidence of black participation in the War of Independence and more crucially in the Civil War, as well as in the Populist movement, all demonstrate the need for a leadership that will not betray their cause. Except for the Garvey movement, all previous social movements failed to acknowledge their demand for emancipation from “capitalist humiliation and from capitalist oppression” (184).
James then posits the independent character of the African American struggle within the social crisis of the political formation. But this independence is distinguished for being attuned to the progressive forces at any historical conjuncture. Before it was the bourgeoisie and now it is the proletariat. Based on their response to the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) organizing efforts, James concludes that “the Negro movement logically and historically and concretely is headed for the proletariat” (185). This movement of the blacks “toward the revolutionary forces” is, James notes, “stronger today than ever before” in the context of the decay of capitalism and the resurgence of the labor movement (185). James observes that “a substantial number of Negroes” have been placed in “a position of primacy in the struggle against capitalism,” but this place in the vanguard of the proletarian movement coincides with their postion in the Negro community–a decisive intersection or confluence of the democratic and anticapitalist impulses. James does not collapse the two. He reserves an integral place for the bacilli in his concluding, prophetic statement: “Let us not forget that in the Negro people, there sleep and are now awakening passions of a violence exceeding, perhaps, as far as these things can be compared, anytning among the tremendous forces that capitalism has created…. [A]lthough their social force may not be able to compare with the social force of a corresponding number of organized workers, the hatred of bourgeois society and the readiness to destroy it when the opportunity should present itself, rests among them to a degree greater than in any other section of the population in the United States” (187).
It is in this light that James can be justly regarded as the innovative theoretician of black self-emancipation. The African American scholar Sundiata Cha-Jua (1996) historicizes James’s exploration of the race-class nexus that led to the crafting of a “neo-Marxist diasporan historiography” and proposes the view that “what began as a progressive project to fill theoretical gaps in Marxism regarding race, by the late 1940s had evolved into a theory recognizing the autonomous activity of all socially constructed groups, by the late 1950s ended as a renouncement of the proletariat’s historical agency.” There is no doubt that James abandoned a sclerotic vanguardism after 1958 and became preoccupied with the problem of mass agency, although I think his populist strain did not completely displace a class analysis, as evidenced by talks like “Black Power” (1967), “Black Studies and the Contemporary Student” (1969), and “Black People in the Urban Areas of the United States” (1970). The praxis of popular-democratic radical transformation for him still pivoted around the slogan “socialism or barbarism” (Glaberman 1995).

Power to the People

James’s rich and complex body of work cannot of course be reduced to the topic of black self-emancipation or antipostcoloniality. But this is one way of estimating its worth, its usefulness for the exploited and oppressed. It is also part of a project of shaping an epistemology of the revolutionary subject, of collective agency. “Knowing one’s self” is, in Gramsci’s famous phrase, an affair of trying to sort out the infinity of traces deposited in us by a historical process that unfortunately forgot to supply us with an inventory. Such traces are not just discursive palimpsests or tropological language games, as postcolonial theory insists. Knowing C.L.R. James is a matter of constructing the inventory of engagements that he has partly provided in Beyond a Boundary, Mariners, Renegades and Castaways, American Civilization, and voluminous tracts and essays. There is much in James’s geopolitical hermeneutics of cricket that reveals the trajectory of his quest for universality; but the indigenization of cricket could have been realized only through the mediation of a rich and complex Marxist tradition (albeit from the Trotskyist archive), through American literature exemplified by the prophetic art of Melville, and through a series of antiimperialist struggles in Africa and Asia, including the African American insurrections of the sixties and seventies.
James was one of the first Marxist-Leninists to appreciate the symptomatic value of mass media culture. But his dialectical brand of cultural criticism can be reappropriated by the fashionable trend in Cultural Studies only at the risk of positivist vulgarization. In an astute essay, Neil Larsen demonstrates that for James it is the “negativity” in popular culture, the promises of freedom and happiness that it intimates but cannot supply, its transgressive meanings that need appraisal, not its formal popularity; this negativity “makes popular culture into a potentially ‘popular art,’ that makes it a progressive moment relative to the elite culture whose negation it posits” (1996: 99). This application of a “negative dialectics” to mass culture actually originates from the moment James in exile experienced the discordance between the schemas of received theory and the recalcitrance of lived experience.
In a sense, James’s exile conforms to Said’s contrapuntal version of it: “Exile is predicated on the existence of, love for, and a real bond with one’s native place; the universal truth of exile is not that one has lost that love or home, but that inherent in each is an unexpected, unwelcome loss” (1993: 336). Such unwelcome loss is not James’s but the hegemonic elite in the United States and other oppositional activists in the American hemisphere who never recognized or acknowledged his substantial contribution to the critical assessment of what he calls “American civilization.”
When he was about to write his book on Melville, James was sent to Ellis Island in June 1952. He compared the immigration quarters there to Melville’s Pequod, microcosm of world civilization; he was an alien, however, and told that he “could always leave and go to Trinidad, where I was born, and drink my papaya juice” (1985: 146). But it was not this contemptible treatment that James sought to register in the memoirs of his captivity; rather, it was his encounter with M, a Communist Party member, whose instructive help may have neutralized his residual Trotskyism; 10 and the numerous prisoners, sailors, and members of an entire diasporic assemblage whose comprehension of global events was enabled and sustained by their aboriginal roots, their nativist loyalties. This brief incarceration exhibits not postcolonial aporia, liminal indeterminacy, or even creolized signification but rather the cunning and versatility of a praxis-oriented (in contrast to pragmatic) imagination that can sum up heterogenous materials in a way capable of moving and inducing action:

This then is the crowning irony of the little cross-section of the whole world that is Ellis Island. That while the United States Department of Justice is grimly pursuing a venomous anti-alien policy, and in the course of doing so disrupting and demoralizing its own employees desperately trying to live up to their principles, the despised aliens, however fiercely nationalistic, are profoundly conscious of themselves as citizens of the world. (1985: 161-62)

Provisionally I suggest that James’s belief in permanent world revolution ultimately committed him to a radical-popular democracy almost anarchic and utopian in temper and motivation. Not so much a DuBoisean “double consciousness” but an unabashedly totalizing reconnaissance of polarities and their nexus of mutations characterizes James application of historical materialism. Like Fanon, he did not dispense with the nation or nationalitarian longings as a moment in the liberation struggle. He was of course a victim of the Cold War. But what made him transcend this victimage is the narrative of his itinerary as diasporic intellectual, from the time of his departure from the West Indies in 1932 to his political and scholarly engagements while in Britain, to his grass-roots work in the United States, and finally to August 1952 and his indictment as a writer equal to Lenin and Marx as founders of revolutionary organizations–the government’s main brief.
In summing up his lifework in Beyond a Boundary, James invoked the anticipatory figure of Shakespeare’s antihero in The Tempest: “To establish his own identity, Caliban, after three centuries, must himself pioneer into regions Caesar never knew” (1993b: 166). James was a pioneering revolutionary writer, indeed, who preoccupied himself with the inescapable choice confronting humanity–between socialist humanism/universalism or Eurocentric capitalist barbarism–whether in diasporic motion (immigrants, refugees, “castaways”) or in entrenched fortresslike habitats. Caribbean scholars today attribute this concern to his Trinidad background, to a peculiar West Indian cosmopolitanism, its unique mode of cultural resistance (cricket, carnival, calypso, and reggae), its gift of looking outward, the genius of its passion for universality.
Whatever the weight of primordial influences, the fact is that it was Marxism, at first with a Trotskyite orientation and later with a diasporic or “Third World” inflection, that was always susceptible to global happenings (for example, the emergence of “workers’ councils in the Hungarian revolution), that allowed James to articulate his intellectual and moral responsibility toward the West Indian community with what Hazel Carby calls “historical readings of the international significance of cultural production.” When he made the dialectical leap from the doctrinaire idea of “proletarian literature” (1988: 42) to the notion of “revolutionary literature” that coalesced individual, class, and national dimensions, James had already superseded the postcolonial obsession with difference and its “politics of recognition” (see Taylor 1994) and transvalued this phase of the “Unhappy Consciousness” for the strategic tasks of worldwide popular emancipation. And for us engaged in those tasks, that is what makes the necessary difference.

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SPOORS OF IMPERIALISM AND COLONIALISM IN THE PHILIPPINES: An Outline History


united-frontSPOORS OF IMPERIALISM & NEOCOLONIALISM IN THE PHILIPPINES:
Sketch of a Synoptic Reconaissance

 

by E. San Juan, Jr.
Philippines Cultural Studies Center
The history of the Philippines as a colony and neocolony can be divided into three parts. The first designates three hundred years of Spanish domination of the archipelago from 1565 to 1898 after the subjugation of tribal resistance in the main island of Luzon. The second includes about four decades involving the annexation of the islands by the United States following the Spanish-American War of 1898 and its pacification from 1899 to 1935, when it became a Commonwealth up to 1941. The ascendancy of U.S. monopoly capital and finance at the beginning of the twentieth-century replaced that of Spanish merchant capital and its moribund feudal arrangements (Magdoff 1982).

From 1942 to 1945, the Japanese militarily occupied the major regions of the country but left local governance to a “puppet” regime of elite natives. The return of U.S. forces destroyed the Japanese authority and restored the status quo before the war.
In 1946, the Philippines was granted nominal independence but not full sovereignty, given the presence of U.S. military bases and effective control of key political, military and economic institutions by Washington. With recent bilateral agreements such as the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) to buttress military and political dependency, the Philippines’ status as a neocolony of the United States nas been re-confirmed.

Re-visiting Spanish Hegemony

The Philippines came under the formal political authority of Spain in the time of European rivalry over control of trade with Asia and the Americas in the 15-16th centuries. Following Ferdinand Magellan’s discovery of the islands in southeast Asia in 1521,Miguel Lopez de Legaspi claimed the archipelago (named the “Philippines,” after King Philip II of Spain) for Spain in 1565. Lacking any cohesive unity or common loyalties, the indigenous tribes based on subsistence agriculture fell victim to the Spanish strategy of “divide and rule” and its superior weaponry used for pillage, plunder, and killing (Veneracion 1987).
Given the distance from Spain, the islands were ruled from Mexico approximately ten thousand miles away. Few lay Spaniards settled in the Philippines. The pagan natives were christianized by missionaries of the religious orders–the rationale given by the Spanish monarchy to the Pope for taking power–so the Roman Catholic Church virtually ruled territories that yielded foodstuffs, human labor, and timber needed for the galleon trade. This lucrative exchange of Chinese porcelain, Indian textiles, etc. for Mexican gold and silver required the Philippines as a transhipment point between Mexico and China.
The profit gained from the galleon trade offered the main reason for subsidizing the “civilizing mission.” The Church’s evangelical apparatus of catechism and sermons was mobilized to justify appropriation of land and other natural resources extracted via heavy taxation, enforced labor, and assorted tributes. This missionary salvific disccourse portrayed native resistance to Church abuses and government impositions as pagan wickedness, not a legitimate defense against violence (Eadie 2005). Coopting the village chiefs, the missionaries and civil officials reinforced the patron-client system of asymmetrical harmony. Cultural ties of reciprocity and indebtedness to the local leaders were manipulated to insure the regular centralized routine of the accumulation process.
The lack of adequate civilian personnel to maintain ecclesiastical and bureaucratic discipline compelled the State to develop a local agency, the principalia (principal personages), to manage the procedures of taxation, sexual/domestic conduct, civic projects, security and indoctrination to reproduce the feudal-tibutary social relations while producing food, shelter, clothing and other means of survival. This also explains the theocratic dominance of the friars in mediating between the mercantilist State and the natives in the cabeseras (geopolitical town complex) which broke apart the kinship or datu-sacop system of the pre-conquest polity.
Colonial discipline of the native subjects involved coercive and ideological mechanisms to enforce extraction of goods/services for use and others for exchange. Pre-capitalist forms and feudal instrmentalities dovetailed to constitute the political economy of the Spanish possession. Apart from the local chiefs and their extended families and retainers, the natives were thus reduced to serfs or even to virtual slavery. This excluded the Moros or Muslims of the southern islands of Mindanao and Sulu who successfully resisted Spanish military and religious incursions from the time the Muslim chiefs Soliman and Lakandula were subdued in 1572-74.
Despite reformist measures introduced in mid-19th century, Spain never developed the potential for self-suficient agriculture and sustainable industries. The archaic state’s practice of imposing bonded labor for infrastructure projects, as well as the excesses of the friars, led to over 200 revolts of peasants and workers–from Malong’s revolt in Pangasinan (160-61) to the numerous revolts during and after the British occupation of Manila in 1762-64 (Constantino 1975, 112-14).

Crisis of the Mercantilist Dispensation

With the termination of the galleon trade in 1813 and the abolition of government monopolies of tobacco and other export crops, the metropolitan city of Manila was opened to foreign trade in 1835. Liberal ideas entered the islands, a consequence of the exposure of Spain to Enlightenment philosophy before and after the Napoleonic wars (1808-14) and the South American wars of independence. Conflict between the absolutist monarchy and the forces of liberalism led to the republican interlude (from 1868 on) and the appointment of Carlos Maria de la Torre, a prominent liberal (Zafra 1967,157-163). De la Torre exempted from tribute and coerced labor the Filipino workers in the Cavite arsenal who subsequently mutinied when his successor, the conservative Rafael de Izquierdo, restored the status quo. The Cavite revolt of 1872 and the execution of the three secular priests (Burgos, Gomez and Zamora) signalled the resurgence of hitherto inchoate dissidence of urban intelligentsia and guilds in the islands.
Meanwhile, capital accumulation via commercial agriculture and export trade passed into the hands of Anglo-American merchant houses. To these were attached mestizo families, owners of sugar plantations and hacenderos of other cash crops (rice, hemp, tobacco, coconuts). An ilustrado (enlightened) stratum of these families emerged in the 1870s and 1880s; foremost were the “propagandists” (Marcelo del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, Jose Rizal, Isabelo de los Reyes, etc.) who advocated peaceful reforms and representation in the Spanish Cortes (De la Costa 1965). This were all denied and their advocates punished by death, imprisonment, or exile.

Parallel to that assimilationist movement existed a separatist movement of the peasantry and mutual-aid cooperatives of workers and artisans inspired by millennarian agitations and the secularist movement among Filipino priests against the arrogant friars. This was led by Andres Bonifacio and the secret organization, the Katipunan (Association of Sons of the People) inspired by freemasonry and the delayed impact of the ideas of the French and American revolutions. Earlier insurrections, particularly instigated by indigenous cults and seditious anti-clerical groups of uprooted tenant-farmers, converged in the 1896 revolution that led to the establishment of the first Philippine Republic after feuds between the collaborationist elite factions and the grassroots radical-democratic peasant-worker revealed basic contradictions among classes. This explosion of emancipatory desire by the disenfranchised rural folk was undeterred by sustained Catholic proselytizing and the terrorist measures of desperate Spanish governor-generals. The decay of Spanish colonial domination could not be reversed by the end of the nineteenth century.

The Nightmare of Spanish Colonization

The Spanish destruction of the self-sufficient baranganic communities by taxation and forced labor (polos y servicios) disrupted the village economy of kinship-based clans. Population was reduced, farm lands laid waste, including whatever trade and industry flourished. The Spanish historian Antonio de Morga lamented that due to the despotic backward policies, the natives abandoned “their farming, poultry and stock-raising, cotton growing and weaving of blankets” (Agoncillo and Guerrero 1970, 104), From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, Spain exploited the natives to support the galleon trade that enriched the friars and local bureaucrats, the Chinese traders, and native mestizo families.
Whatever changes were carried out in the nineteenth century did not significantly improve the conditions of the majority since the specialization in export crops (controlled by Anglo-American agents) prevented the growth of a diversified economy. The nascent capitalist sector benefited only a few propertied families and foreign merchants. In terms of Christianization, very few Filipinos really understood Catholic doctrine, hence the mixture of miracles, idolatry, veneration of icons and images, superstition and rudimentary Catholic rituals that constituted the belief-system of ordinary christian Filipinos today.
In general, the cultural development of the country reflected the bankruptcy of Spanish political and economic policies. It reflected the decay of the metropolitan order in a grotesque caricatured form. Spanish was not made the lingua franca of the colony, hence a bizarre ethnolinguistic mutiplicity continues to distort Filipino efforts at national self-identification. Hispanization survives only in certain customs and habits (fiestas, family rituals, etc.). The historian John Phelan observes that “although partially Hispanized, the Filipinos never lost that Malaysian stratum which to this day remains the foundation of their culture” (1967, 26). Spanish colonialism, in short, ruined the indigenous life-forms and the supporting economy it encountered, while enriching a few oligarchic sectors and intensifying its own paralysis and decadence.
The American historian Nicholas Cushner concludes his account with the belief that Spain’s “more subtle influence on attitudes and social conventions remains part of the fabric of Philippine society” (1971, 229). However, profound Americanization of the collective Filipino psyche from 1899 to the present may have pronounced the final demise of this influence today despite superficial vestiges now extravagantly commodified for tourist consumption.

The American Conquest

President William McKinley’s proclamation of the U.S. “civilizing mission,” also known as “Benevolent Assimilation,” emerged as part of global inter-imperialist rivalry in the age of monopoly-finance capitalism. U.S. corporate industries and banks needed a market for finished goods and sources of raw materials as well as business for exporting capital. A guaranteed market for commerce and investments was an imperative for competitive capital accumulation. Maritime supremacy was needed to facilitate trade with China and South America and regulation over the U.S. sphere of influence in those hemispheres.
The Philippine conjuncture then was unique because of the appearance of a nascent Filipino nationality in the stage of world-history. When the Spaniards ceded the islands to the United States in 1898, the Filipinos had already defeated the Spaniards everywhere except the fort city of Manila. The army of the first Philipine Republic (proclaimed in June 1899) fought the American invaders from 1899 to July 1902. Apart from guerilla resistance led by peasant-based leaders, the Moros continued to resist until 1913 (Tan 2002).
Given the advanced mode of industrial production and superior technology and human resources, the US demolished the revolutionary forces led by Emilio Aguinaldo. It was the first bloodiest war of imperial subjugation that opened the twentieth century. From positional to mobile tactics to guerilla warfare, the Filipinos suffered enormous casualties. Frustrated by the popular support for the resisters, the US engaged in genocidal destruction of villages and killing of civilian non-combatants. Torture, hamletting or mass detention in concentration camps, and other savage reprisals led to the death of 100,000 people in Batangas province in one campaign (Fast 1973, 75). General Franklin Bell’s estimate of the 600,000 deaths in the island of Luzon alone, added to the other “depopulation” tactics in Samar and Panay where fierce resistance occurred, resulted in over a million deaths (Francisco 1987, 19). On the victor’s side, over $300 million was spent; 4,234 died, 2,818 were wounded, and hundreds of soldiers who returned home to die of service-related diseases such as malaria, dysentery, venereal disease, etc. (Ocampo 1998, 249).
U.S. monopoly capital distinguished itself from old-style colonialism by its systematic planning, its management of time-space coordinates for limitless capital accumulation. Even before the ferocious pacification campaigns were launched, the US already drew schemes for long-term exploitation of the islands. Geological explorations and anthropological surveys were conducted ahead to discover sources of raw materials and manpower. Compilations of immense data on history, ethnolinguistic groups, flora and fauna, etc. provided knowledge for the succeeding colonial administrators in establishing a centralized bureaucracy, civil service and local governments. Unlike Spanish evangelism, the US colonial machinery was geared to using the country for the thorough exploitation of the newly acquired territory, envisaging the eventual expansion of multinational corporations and ultimate global hegemony.

Knowledge-Production for Profit

One example of how knowledge-production functioned to advance imperial hegemony may be found in the US handling of the “Moro problem.” After thorough research and analysis of Moro history, customs and values, the US negotiated with the Sulu sultan and his datus for acceptance of US sovereignty in exchange for preserving the sultanate’s right to collect taxes and sell the local products. A monthly salary of Mexican dollars for the Sultan was also included in the Bates Treaty signed on August 20, 1899 (Agoncillo and Guerrero (1970, 255-56). This neutralized the effective opposition of some Moro elites. But it did not prevent Generals Wood and Pershing, a few years later, from inflicting a scorched-earth retaliation against sporadic intransigence, resulting in the massacre of thousands of Moro men, women and children in the battles of Bud Dajo of March 9, 1906, and Bud Bagsak of June 11, 1913 (Tan 2010, 130).
McKinley’s policy of “Benevolent Assimilation,” translated into civil governor William Howard Taft’s slogan of “the Philippines for Filipinos,” legitimized the physical occupation of the islands as a preparation of the colonized for eventual self-rule. While brute force was used to destroy organized resistance by the Philippine Republic’s army, the United States deployed three non-violent instruments of subjugation.
The colonial program was both traditional and innovative. First, by coopting the ilustrado mestizo class, the proprietors of commercial land and the compradors, by offering them positions in local municipal boards, the military, and the civil service, the U.S. drastically divided the leadership of the revolutionary forces. By promising democracy and gradual independence, the US won the allegiance of this educated minority who fought Spanish absolutism. Aguinaldo himself swore allegiance to the U.S. a month after his capture, followed by his capitulationist generals and advisers.
Second, by imposing a large-scale public education program to train lower-echelon personnel for a bureaucracy headed by American administrators, the U.S. answered the grievances of the peasantry, artisans and workers against the monopolistic, hierarchical practice of the Spanish-dominated Catholic Church. As a pedagogical tool, the learning of English facilitated wider communication among widely scattered communities, transmitting bourgeois values and serving as the key to obtaining privileges and opportunities in careers and jobs. The massive dissemination of American cultural products (books and magazines, music, films, sports, theater, etc.) reinforced the colonial mindset of the indio masses that would last up to today. This included the pensionado system of government-funded scholarships, the forereunner of fellowships funded by Fulbright, the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, and other privately-endowed exchanges promoting the positive side of U.S. “compadre” or philanthropic colonialism.
Third, by propagating through schools and mass media the ideals of liberty, brotherhood, and meritocracy, the US cultivated among the masses the illusion of equal participation in government via elections, social-welfare programs, and token land reform. This synchronized with the democratic ideals expressed by the nationalist propagandists Rizal, Mabini, and others, ideals already embodied in the republican constitution, thus gaining a measure of consent. With the final actualization of these three modes of fashioning the colonial subject of U.S. monopoly capital, the apparatus of the colonial state can now be safely transferred to the mestizo elite and its clientele.
One symptomatic evidence of U.S.-style pedagogical strategy during the war is the incidence of soldier-teachers and hundreds of civilian volunteers from the U.S who fanned out across the islands. Public schools were opened everywhere. The University of the Philippines (established in 1908) and the Bureau of Education spearheaded the training of “Americanized” natives for the professions and the civil service. By 1907 the US established the Philippine Legislature comprised mainly of mestizo elites and token “nationalist” veterans. By 1916 the colonial bureaucracy was in the hands of the comprador and landowning elite, with the American governor general exercising veto power.
The self-proclaimed nationalist leaders Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmena took turns sublimating the nationalist aspirations of the people by leading missions to Washington delivering pleas for immediate indepence. This was a shrewd maneuver to calm down the turbulent peasant insurrections in the twenties and thirties, culminating in the Sakdalista insurrections from 1930 to 1935. The Philippine Commonwealth formed in 1935 with the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Law marked the advent of U.S. neocolonial retrenchment.

Crafting A Neocolonial Strategy

After the hasty proclamation of the end of the Philippine-American War in 1902, the U.S. began constructing its hegemony via popular consensus. Schooling, the civil service, and bureaucracy served as ideological apparatuses to accomplish that aim. Since the U.S., unlike Spain, did not claim to save the souls of savage pagans, its “civilizing mission” inhered in the tutelage of the natives for a market-centered democratic polity (insuring free trade and free labor) suited to the needs of finance-monopoly capitalism.
Even before armed hostilities ceased, President McKinley formed a civil government to replace the military officials who managed pacification. In July 1902, the U.S. Congress passed the first Philippine Organic Act establishing the Philippine legislature as provided for by the 1916 Jones Law which promised eventual independence. But it was the 1909 Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act that guaranteed its export-oriented agricultural economy even after formal independence in 1946. It tied the client Filipino sugar landlords and compradors, together with their political representatives, to serve U.S. imperial goals. The Act eliminated the tariff on sugar and created a captive market for American products. However, not much foreign investment came in because earlier legislation limited the size of land holdings, thus preventing American attempts to initiate plantation production of cash crops. This resulted in the conflict with the U.S. sugar beet industry and American investors in Cuban sugar that led to demands for Philippine independence to eliminate U.S. preference for Philippine sugar.
Beginning in 1924, the Filipino oligarchs had to maneuver and negotiate the terms of independence to insure the preservation of their wealth and privileges. In 1934, the Tydings-McDuffie act was passed restricting the free entry of Philippine sugar while providing for the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth, an interim formation which served as the blueprint for the post-war neocolony. From 1935 to 1941, the Commonwealth and its American stewards faced growing unrest from a politicized peasantry and impoverished urban workers not fully disciplined by the client-patron pattern of political domination.
Class war resurfaced with the 1935 Sakdalista insurrection on the eve of a general referendum on the ratification of the Philippine Constitution. This was a symptom of the failure of US colonial policies in eradicating the fundamental problem of land ownership and feudal practices. In 1903, 81 percent of all land holdings were cultivated directly by their owners; by 1938, the figure had declined to 49 percent, with the polarization increasing in the post-war decade when, by the 1950s, two-thirds of the population were landless, working as sharecroppers (Fast 1973, 76). In short, US colonialism thrived on the social and political exploitation of the countryside where the majority of Filipinos lived, thus nourishing the source of anti-US imperialist insurgency from that time to the present (for more data on structural inequality, see Canlas, Miranda and Putzel 1988).

Interlude: The Japanese Occupation

Japan easily occupied the Philippines in 1942 after the defeat of General Douglas MacArthur’s forces of Americans and Filipinos in Bataan and Corregidor. Historians now agree that MacArthur’s incompetence in failing to prepare for the invasion explains the most humiliating defeat for the U.S. on record (Rutherford 1971, 155; Agoncillo and Guerrero 1970). Japan thus became the third imperial power to subjugate the Philippines in less than half a century. But its mode of subjugating the country in three and a half years of occupation demonstrates significant features of the pattern already manifested in the way the U.S. took over control from the Spanish colonizers.
Since World War II was basically a rivalry between two industrial powers, the role of the Philippines continued to be geopolitical (as a military base) and economic (source of raw materials and manpower), Japan needed vital raw materials such as copper and food for its war effort. Just like the United States, Japan carried out methodical reconaissance of the cultural and sociopolitical condition of the Philippines many years before Pearl Harbor. In the 1930s and 1940s, Japanese military spies posing as workers worked in the construction of roads and bridges to Baguio City, the summer capital of the U.S. administration. They also carried out social investigation of the political loyalties of the mestizo elite as well as the mass organizations opposed to U.S. rule. They succeeded in gaining the support of General Artemio Ricarte, a respected official of the Aguinaldo Republic, and of Benigno Ramos, the intellectual leader of the Sakdalista party, as well as nationalist politicians such as Jose P. Laurel, Claro Recto and others, who served in the puppet government of the Japanese-sponsored Republic.

Liberating Asians for Japan’s Empire

The ideological cover for Japanese occupation was the scheme of the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.” The Philippines would be a member of this grand union of Asian nations all united in emancipating themselves from Western domination, and (in the case of the Philippines) from “the oppression of the United States” (Veneracion 1987, 69). Japan echoed Taft’s slogan of “Philippines for the Filipinos,” and encouraged the use of the vernacular and other indigenous cultural forms of expression.
Although aided by local sympathizers of Spain’s fascism (such as the Catholic Church and mestizo compradors), the puppet Republic confronted the underground resistance of the combined forces of the guerillas of the USAFFE (United States Armed Forces of the Far East) and the far more effective Communist-led Huks (acronym for People’s Army Against the Japanese).

The Huk guerilla army emerged from the peasantry’s experience of dispossession and recalcitrance during the first three decades of U.S. rule. They opposed the Japanese confiscation of rice harvests, administered local governments which distributed land and food, and punished collaborators. When MacArthur returned in 1944-45, however, despite their substantial help in crippling the Japanese defense and liberating large areas of the country, the Huks were disarmed, arrested and even massacred (Pomeroy 1992).
The war was the most horrendous experience for the Filipinos. Aside from Manila being entirely destroyed by American bombing and Japanese atrocities, the country suffered over a million deaths, second to the number of casualties during the Philippine-American War. Fifty percent of Filipino prisoners died while the number of civilians killed in the capital city of Manila exceeded those killed by the Japanese in Nanking, China. If the United States did not give priority to the war in Europe, the Philippines would have been freed from the Japanese much earlier. The people were told to wait for U.S. relief, chanelling all their hopes in the promise of MacArthur to redeem them from suffering. The brutality experienced by Filipinos from Japanese military reprisals, helped by long years of colonial education and tutelage, allowed the majority to welcome MacArthur as “the liberator.” It also tended to glamorize the subordinate position of Filipinos as part of “U.S.-Philippines” special relations. MacArthur immediately promoted the representatives of the pre-war oligarchy to crucial positions, endorsing Manuel Roxas, a former collaborator, as president and installing pro-American bureaucrats and military personnel in charge of the State apparatuses.

Colonialism Refurbished

Under the Tydings-McDuffie law which created the Philippine Commonwealth, the war-devastated Philippines was granted formal independence. But certain conditions defined the limits of nominal sovereignty. The first condition required the Philippine Congress to accept the terms of the 1946 Philippine Trade Act which provided some rehabilitation money to repair the war-damaged economy. More crucially, the Act required an amendment to the Philippine Constitution that gave U.S. citizens equal rights in the exploitation of natural resources and ownership of public utilities and other businesses.
In effect, the colonizers retained their old privileged status. What was more decisive was the revival of the oligarchy’s sugar industry via tariff allowances and quotas, the abrogation of control over import tariffs on U.S. goods, prohibition of interference with foreign exchange (pegging the local currency to the dollar), and unlimited remittance of profits for U.S. corporations. Free trade guaranteed the status of the former possession as a market for finished commodities and investments as well as a source of cheap agricultural products and raw materials. The Act was rammed through Congress by expelling left-wing legislators in line with the CIA-directed military campaign against the Huks (Woddis 1967, 38-40).
The second condition was the approval of the 1947 U.S.-Philippines Treaty of General Relations which empowered the U.S. to exercise supreme authority over extensive military bases. It also guaranteed the property rights of U.S. corporations and citizens, thus nullifying the sovereignty of the new republic. This was followed by the 1947 Military Bases Agreement that guaranteed the U.S. occupation of extensive military bases for 99 years. This included the two major facilities, Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base, used as strategic springboards for intervention in Asia and the Middle East during the Korean War, Vietnam War, and the Iraq wars. The Agreement also prohibited the Philippines from granting extra-territorial rights to any other country, and placed no restrictions on the uses to which the bases can be harnessed, nor the types of weapons that can be deployed in them (Labor Research Association 1958).
To reinforce its political and military ascendancy, the U.S. also imposed the 1947 U.S.-Philippines Military Assistance Pact to provide military assistance. Together with this, a US military advisory group (JUSMAG) was assigned to the Philipine armed forces that would exercise direct control by supervising staff planning, intelligence personnel training and logistics. All military hardware and financial backing must be cleared through JUSMAG. Meanwhile, the US AID Public Safety Division managed the tutelage of local police agencies. US-supplied weapons, training and logistics were immediately used in the counter-insurgency campaign against the Huks in the early fifties, and later on, to support the parasitic elite and Marcos’ authoritarian regime in the sixties, seventies and eighties.
In a revealing testimony to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1969, Lt. General Robert Warren clarified the role of the U.S. military in the Philppines: “”To provide advice and assistance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the form of training material and services as necessary to assure protection of US interests in the Philippines and to promote US foreign policy objectives in the area” (US Senate 1969, 242).
In 1954, the terms of free trade that worsened Philippine dependency were modified in the 1954 Laurel-Langley Trade Agreement which extended parity rights to Americans for all kinds of enterprises. Tariff rules were readjusted, thus shifting U.S. leverage to direct private investments into manufacturing instead of raw material production. Due to import controls imposed by the Philippines, the U.S. established assembly and packaging plants to produce consumer goods, thus competing with local industries. This was the refinement of the elaborate apparatus of the multinational or transnational corporations that would dominate post-World War II international trade. Meanwhile, the Philippine economy continued to rely on the U.S. for selling raw materials and buying more expensive technology. In 1970, the U.S. controlled 80% of foreign investments in the country, approximately one-third of all the total equity capital of the 900 largest corporations. This represented 60% of U.S. investments in south-east Asia at that time (Bayani 1976, 18).

Crisis of the Neocolonial Order

At the height of the Cold War, with the U.S. bogged down in the IndoChina war, the Philippines underwent severe economic and social blockages that destabilized the Marcos regime, an instrument of U.S. Cold War strategy but an ironic comment on the role of the Philippines as a traditional showcase for democracy and freedom in Asia.
Marcos dispatched 2,000 troops to Vietnam at the request of Washington. But his economic base had been deteriorating since he won the presidency in the sixties. Intense foreign stranglehold of the economy led to unchecked flow of capital, acute inflation, devaluation and rise of external debt. Exchange control was lifted in 1962, leading to capital outflow: repatriation of profits exceeded overseas investment. The overdependence on basic exports–lumber, sugar, copper, coconuts, and other extracted products–of low value relative to imported finished goods led to a trade deficit of $302 million in 1969 (Fast 1973, 89). In addition, the failure of the “Green Revolution” and the alleged “miracle rice” varieties (developed by the Rockefeller-funded International Rice Research Institute) aggravated the chronic shortage of rice as staple food, renewing the specter of famine and unrest.
Meanwhile, the social contradictions between the oligarchic state and the majority of pauperized peasants sharpened. Although the Huks (renamed People’s Army of Liberation) were violently suppressed by the CIA-backed Magsaysay regime in the fifties, they enjoyed popular support in the extremely polarized countryside. Crippled by the arrest of its leaders in 1950, the Huks evolved into the New People’s Army (NPA) when the Communist Party was reorganized in 1969 by Maoist partisans who matured during the resurgence of the nationalist, anti-imperialist movement evinced in massive student demonstrations, peasant and workers’ strikes, and agitation among professionals such as teachers, journalists, lay and religious workers, women, urban poor, and so on.
One of Marcos’ justifications for declaring martial law in 1972 was the threat of a communist takeover. In actuality, it was an outgrowth of Cold War geopolitics and US attempt to re-assert its hegemony in Asia after its Vietnam debacle. Increased U.S. military and political support for the Marcos dictatorship was insured when Marcos’ guaranteed American business 100% profit remittance as well as opportunities to exploit the country’s natural resources, and also engage in banking, shipping, domestic fishing, and so on (Javate-De Dios, Daroy and Tirol 1988). Later investigations revealed that the bulk of U.S. aid ended up in the foreign bank accounts of the Marcos family and their sycophantic cronies (Bonner 1987).
Total US military aid for the Marcos regime exceeded all those given to Africa or to those for Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, or Chile. Napalm and fragmentation bombs, among others, were supplied through JUSMAG to be used against NPA and Moro insurgents in Mindanao fighting the dictatorship. US AID officials trained police in advanced techniques of riot control, interrogation, and torture tactics applied to political prisoners and detained suspects.
US “Special Forces” were also directly involved in counterinsurgency operations disguised as civic action activities, operations which are still maintained under the terms of the VFA and, more recently, under those of EDCA. These two agreements have virtually legitimized the return of U.S. troops despite the dismantling of all U.S. bases in 1992. One can conclude that “US imperialism, with its economic and military stake in the Philippines, is the instigator and mastermind of the Marcos fascist dictatorship” (Bayani 1976, 38). And it continues to mastermind the human-rights violations, extrajudicial killings and torture, of the succeeding administrations, from those of Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos to Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and Benigno Aquino III.

Aftermath of the 1986 February Revolution

President Corazon Aquino’s regime (1986-1990) was marked by the 1987 massacre of 18 farmers in a peaceful demonstration and by numerous human rights violations through hamletting, “salvaging” (extra-judicial killings), torture, etc. (Maglipon 1987). Both Aquino and her successor, General Fidel Ramos, had the approval of Washington in maintaining a stable market for business and U.S. geopolitical maneuvers in the Middle East. After Ramos, both Presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo pursued the “Washington Consensus” of abiding by the structural conditionalities of the World Bank-International Monetary Fund in its neoliberal program of deregulation, privatization and dismantling of any large-scale social-service programs for the impoverished and marginalized majority of citizens (Eadie 2005; San Juan 2008). All land-reform programs initiated since 1946 have failed to resolve the age-old problem of landless farmers and iniquitous semi-feudal relatons between landlords and rural workers (Putzel 1992).
In 1992, the Philippine Senate voted to dismantle the U.S. military bases, but did not touch the other Agreements that maintained U.S. supervision of the military and police agencies. The end of the Cold War did not witness a decrease in U.S. military intervention. In 2002, after the 9/11 Al Qaida attacks, the US State Dept declared the Philippines to be the second front in the war against global terrorism (Tuazon et al, 2002) and so required special supervision and surveillance.
Secretary of State Powell categorized the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA as terrorist organizations (Fletcher 2013). While the major Moro groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), were not stigmatized as terrorist, the U.S. singled out the Abu Sayyaf splinter group as a reason for justifying the 1999 VFA and the 2002 Mutual Logistics Support Agreement that allowed the initial troop deployment of 600 Special Operations forces to assist the Philippine military in counter-insurgency operations. The killing of a Filipino transgender in October 2014 by US Marine Private Joseph Scott Pemberton called attention once again to the impunity of U.S. personnel in numerous criminal cases. The VFA gives extra-territorial and extra-judicial rights to visiting American troops, an exceptional condition banned by the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Thus the Philippines could not detain the suspected killer, undermining its national sovereignty and its system of justice (Ayroso 2014).
Meanwhile the MILF is in the process of negotiating a peace agreement with President Aquino under the auspices of the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Malaysian government, while the MNLF has fragmented into various camps since the 1996 accord with the government, a conclusion to the 1976 Tripoli Agreement between the MNLF and Marcos (Graf, Kreuzer and Werning 2009). The government’s dialogue with the National Democratic Front-Philippines remains frozen while the Aquino regime is plagued with corruption, disaster relief, energy shortages, and the stalemate with China over the Scarborough Shoal and Spratley Islands confrontation in which the U.S. Navy and Air Force presence figure prominently (Heydarian 2013).

From Cold War to War on Terror

Since 2002, the joint annual military exercises called “Philippine-US Bilateral Exercises” have been held allegedly to give humanitarian assistance during natural disasters to victimized provinces. They also offer weapons, logistics and other support to the government campaigns to secure peace and order in war zones, or in vital metropolitan areas (as in the 2012 exercise around the National Capitol Region). Just like the Civic Action programs refined during the anti-Huk drives of the fifties, these exercises supplement violent repression with psywar and other unconventional techniques to win “hearts and minds,” closely following the U.S. Counterinsurgency Guide of 2009 and its associated field manuals.
President Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya and President Benigno Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan are updated versions of the counterinsurgency strategy and tactics applied by the U.S. in Vietnam, El Salvador, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. They combine intensive military operations, intelligence and civic action or triad operations, conventional warfare methods, and counterguerilla tactics. The U.S. learned as much from its tutelage of its colonial subjects as Filipinos did through a cross-fertilization of security and espionage practices. The historian Alfred McCoy concludes his inventory of such practices with the remark: “Empire has been a reciprocal process, shaping state formation in Manila and Washington while moving both nations into a mutually implicated postcolonial world” (2009, 522).
The 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty continues to legitimize U.S. “low intensity warfare,” such as the sustained anti-NPA drives during President Corazon Aquino’s tenure (Bello 1989). During the Arroyo presidency, the U.S. maintained official headquarters of the U.S.-Philippine Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTF-P) inside the Camp Navarro of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Mindanao Comnmand in Zamboanga City where Moro insurgents are active. Drones and other sophisticated equipment are handled by U.S. Special Forces against the Abu Sayyaf now valorized as an Al Qaida offshoot, with linkages to other recent terrorist groups such as the Jemaah Islamiyah and the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.
To supplement JUSMAG, a new agency called Defense Policy Board was created to handle issues of international terrorism, maritime safety, transnational crime, natural disasters, pandemic outbreaks, etc. Other “cooperative security locations” (as these facilities are euphemistically called) are found in Clark, Subic, Mactan International Airport, and in other clandestine areas (Klare 2005). It is in these areas occupied by U.S. advisers and staff where torture, enforced disappearances, and extra-judicial killings occur. One recent case is that of American health worker Melissa Roxas who was kidnapped and tortured by military agents in 2009. Documenting the accelerated kidnappings and extra-judicial murders of activists already publicized by Amnesty International and UN rapporteurs such as Philip Alston, the Filipino group KARAPATAN noted the 1,111 percent increase of military assistance to the Arroyo regime beginning 2001 when the first Balikatan exercise was held (Lefebvre 2010). This aid continues indiscrimiinately with horrendous consequences.

Provisional Coda

In March 2007, the Permanent People’s Tribunal based in Europe heard witnesses about government abuses and judged Presidents Bush and Arroyo guilty of crimes against humanity” (San Juan 2007, Appendix C). The verdict reviews the U.S. imposition of virtual colonial status on the Philippines via numerous military and security agreements that insured domination over the economy, State apparatus, and internal security.
Under the guise of the global “war on terror” against extremists, the U.S. continues to deploy and station thousands of troops, at any one time, in the Philippines. They participate in combat operations against local insurgents–a gross violation of Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Tribunal observed that “because of its strategic location, the Philippines is vital for the U.S. projection of military force in East Asia and as far away as the Middle East,” serving as transit points and refueling stations in its wars of aggression against the people of Afghanistan and of Iraq, as well as the people of the Philippines. President Bush was an accomplice of President Arroyo in the systematic violation of the rights of the Filipino people, which are also crimes of humanity. U.S. mperialism was indicted as an international scourge.
From the sixteenth century to the present, imperialism, whether in the mode of Spanish old-style colonialism, Japanese militarism, and U.S. tutelage in modernization/developmentalism, represents one of the worst manifestations of an oppressive system of exploitation of peoples that have been outlawed by the United Nations Charter and its Declaration of Human Rights. Nonetheless, it persists today in the Philippines where a people’s national-democratic, socialist-oriented revolution, with a long and durable tradition, thrives in a collective project to eradicate this historic legacy (San Juan 2008) The history of the Philippines may be read as one long chronicle of the people’s struggle against colonialism and imperialism for the sake of affirming human dignity and universal justice.
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Avant-Garde Poetry in the Time of Crisis and Resistance: Ambil by E. San Juan Jr.


Bombard the Headquarters!

Reduced Dover AMBIL

If E. San Juan, Jr. has continued to write poetry on subjects that many would deem radical or even subversive, it is because the essential conditions of exploitation and oppression that he has written about in his younger years have remained basically unchanged up to the present. The world capitalist system continues to wreak havoc on the workers, peasants, and oppressed people around the world who suffer from rising levels of inequality, unemployment, and hunger.

Global capitalism condemns ever widening sections of humanity to poverty and misery even as the ruling classes who own the means of producing the material wealth of society become richer than ever. The unabated crisis of this system has meant the intensifying exploitation and plunder of Philippine cheap labor and natural resources by the monopoly capitalists and financial oligarchs living the life in the United States, European Union, and Japan, among others.

The dominant culture…

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Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS