Commentary on Jose Maria Sison’s “The Need for a Cultural Revolution” (Part 2)

Part 1 here

Just as revolution is inevitable in politico-economic relations, revolution is inevitable in culture. A cultural revolution, as a matter of fact, is a necessary aspect of the politico-economic revolution.

In the history of mankind, it can easily be seen that even before the full development of the politico-economic power of an ascendant social class, a cultural revolution provides it with the thoughts and motives that serve as the effective guide to action and further action. A rising class achieves what we call its class consciousness before it actually establishes its own state power and replaces the old state power and its vestiges.

Long before the liberal revolution of Europe dealt the most effective political blows against feudal power in the 17th and 18th century, a cultural revolution took shape in the Renaissance which asserted secular thinking and freedom of thought. The men of the Renaissance questioned the clerical hegemony over culture and learning and they clarified the ideals and values that were still to become truly dominant later when the unity of church and state was to be broken and replaced by the modern bourgeois state.

The successful revolution of the bourgeoisie in the West was prepared and guided by a cultural revolution.

The relationship between the base and the superstructure carries over the effect of one over the other. Revolutions as happening in the politico-economic sphere may also bring about revolutions in the cultural sphere. But mostly, as stated by the second paragraph cited above, these cultural changes are mostly dependent on politico-economic relations that are already-existing in a particular historical phase of a society. I’m quite doubtful of the necessity of a ‘cultural revolution’ to politico-economic revolution, that is to say, I’m doubtful when Sison mentioned that it was a “necessary aspect” of politico-economic revolution. Than, say, that a cultural revolution is often a contingency rather than a fixed necessity.

What was noted in the 2nd paragraph cited above is the existence of class struggle between the two highest classes in a particular historical point. Say, for example, the feudal classes and the rising bourgeois class in the transition between the exclusively monarchic-feudal mode of production to the early periods of the capitalist mode of production. What was not mentioned in the 2nd paragraph cited above is the source of what Sison calls “class consciousness”: that it is the experiences and realities of relationships in mode of production that gave rise to such consciousness. The cited “renaissance” above are brought about by the so-called “Scientific Revolution” with the publication of Nicolaus Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium as the first suspect to spark it. What was also unmentioned in the last sentence – the surfacing of Copernicus’ book – is the popularization of print technology, which development can never be possible without the burgeoning of merchant classes which later on, became the rising bourgeois class.

The rising development of machines to assist development in mass production has aligned with then scientists’ focus on physics (that also assisted their field of studies not just on mathematics but also on astronomy). The scientific revolution and the renaissance were contingent on the rising industrial revolution which peaked in the 18th century. As we can remember with Immanuel Kant’s fascination with the sciences (the sciences which by themselves attained autonomy from feudal thought), what later on happened with the development of secular and liberal thought are merely contingent, if not an after-thought, of what was already going on in the economic base.

The synthesis that was formed was what the bourgeois capitalist ideology in its first formations as secular and liberal thought (i.e. the then ideology of the enlightenment). While it promotes “scientific” and rational thinking, the very ideology itself is not scientific as such, as we can witness later on with the Enlightenment’s founding of what they call the “public sphere” (accurately “bourgeois public sphere” as Alexander Kluge and Oskar Negt insists) which promotes seemingly “universal” categories in thought and action.

But such “unscientific-ness” is the limit of then bourgeois classes. What really followed the enlightenment is that they are more guided by a moral philosophy that is based on private property interest and capitalist relations than, to say that the revolutions back then was guided and prepared by such a cultural revolution. While it’s true that the renaissance brought about significant assistance to then liberalist revolutions back in the 17th and 18th century, they were never really “guided” by the cultural developments back then. Rather, it may be the spirit of the times, the revolutionary spirit, that has guided cultural developments. The success of the bourgeois revolution back then, in the end, was really guided by the revolutionaries themselves, and by the very ripe conditions in the political and economic spheres that made the revolution possible.

Why is anti-secularism a thing? Because development in the early capitalist mode of production made people realize that the value of what they do reside on their own power and not because the King or the Feudal Lord said what the value was, as evidenced by early modes of merchant commodity exchanges. The King, as often depicted in popular tales, are proxies to gods, and defiance to the King, as anointed by the church, counts as defiance to the gods. This has been quite a culture ever since the earlier forms of slavery. Merchant commodity exchange exposes how little of this god is true: that value for merchants are often on the things produced by the workers alone (the usefulness of such things) and not due to some divine coda. This is the reason why travelling merchants are often figures of suspicion in popular medieval stories: they often get demonized due to their practice of evaluating things “as they are” and not as they are seen by the kingdom.

Such logic is present also with Immanuel Kant’s thought in his introduction of the thing-in-itself, coming some years after the first merchants arrived in Europe. There’s much semblance in a merchant’s appraisal of a thing based on its own properties and with Kant’s noumenal inquiry of the thing-in-itself. Such thought of course, influenced how much secularism departed from religious-inclined ideology. The public sphere then founded, and later on was assimilated in the bourgeois democracy, to implement a politics which has the similar way of analyzing things along with a broader application of the categorical imperative in moral philosophy.

In our country, there had to be a propaganda movement—the assertion of new ideas and values—before there developed the actual beginnings of the Philippine revolution that fell under the class leadership of the ilustrados or the liberal bourgeoisie that surrounded Aguinaldo.

In this Propaganda Movement, Dr. Jose Rizal made patriotic annotations on Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas with the view of demonstrating that before the coming of Spanish colonialism there was an indigenous culture that the indios could be proud of. This was clearly an anticolonial attempt not only to show up the racial arrogance of those who belittled our people but also to develop an awareness of a national culture.

Not to be carried away by chauvinism, Dr. Jose Rizal further presented the crisis of colonial culture in the Philippines and the prospects of a national culture in terms of the liberal ideas and values of Europe which he believed could be applied in the concrete experience of his people, in as much as there was already the emergence of the ilustrados like Crisostomo Ibarra and businessmen like Capitan Tiago.

The two novels, Noli and Fili, and his essays, the “Indolence of the Filipinos” and “The Philippines A Century Hence,” were written in furtherance of a national democratic cultural revolution. It was a revolution in the sense that it contraposed national culture to the colonial culture of which the friars were the chief defenders.

It was in this same spirit that the participants of the Propaganda Movement wrote as Marcelo H. del Pilar did, orated as Graciano Lopez Jaena did and painted as Juan Luna did.

All of them exposed the exploitation and brutalization of our people, thus paving the way for the clear call for separation from Spain by the Katipunan.

The Katipunan, which was a vigorously separatist movement and which served as the nucleus of a new national political community carried forward into revolutionary action the aspiration for a national democratic culture, integrating democratic concepts with the indigenous conditions.

From Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto to Apolinario Mabini and Antonio Luna, the fire of cultural revolution rose higher and higher and shone with the political ideas that guided the Philippine Revolution of 1896.

The same principles of moral philosophy learned by the Illustrados of the Propaganda Movement are the ones being imported by them in the country at the latter phase of the 19th century. Again, this is an understandable limit of their class origin: if we are to look at their vantage point, this may seem like cultural revolution influencing Filipino resistance, but on the contrary, the very fact that what was captured by the Illustrados are merely the moral-political aspects of the Enlightenment speaks a lot about how this cultural understanding is less “revolutionary” on the end of the Illustrados, but more as an exposition of their class origin.

Of course, this was helpful in making sense in documenting what ills the country. However, as past revolutions before Rizal will prove, this seeming “cultural revolution” of the propaganda movement was less an influence to the actual Philippine revolution but a note that helped shape later synthesis. The Spanish colonies, as will tell us, have already brought about some of the newer developments in infrastructure in the Philippines such as the railways. But what was unique in the context of our country then and now is how development is unevenly distributed geographically in accordance to the needs of the ruling classes.

The propagandistas, particularly Rizal, saw corruption merely as the source of the problem that ills the country. He was partly right, partly because he never really mentioned particularly what was the source of this corruption that has led to uneven development. He merely suggests (in his essay, “The Philippines: a Century Hence”) a change of guards to those who can “understand” deeply the nation. He exclusively suggests annexation, as we already know.

Rizal feared Katipunan’s brand of revolution. Rizal attempted to warn Spain of the consequences if his reforms were not met, that the violence of the Katipunan would rage upon everyone including him. Such fear exposes Rizal’s class limitations as a protector of his own interest (regardless of how small their properties are, they are still properties to be protected).

Bonifacio understood the value of liberalism and of Rizal that he tried to woo Rizal into joining them. Rizal will answer once and for all in a manifesto that he’s willing to have his offices, and even his life, to be used against Bonifacio’s revolution. Here we can recognize how much of Sison’s valuation of the propaganda movement seems to not really reflect the nuances of the relationship between the merely “cultural” movement of Rizal and the actual revolution. Sison was right however, that the revolution fell under the hands of the liberal bourgeoisie but he should have noted that this fall already started with Rizal, not with Aguinaldo, and it was this contradiction that Bonifacio and the Katipunan have to live with during their time. 

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