Monday, September 21, 2015

CULTURE AND REVOLUTION


Culture and Revolution


By E. San Juan Jr.




As this century of wars and revolutions comes to a close, Mark Twain's "person sitting in dark-ness" is bound to experience a lightning shock of recognition. Those dark-skinned natives in southeast Asia, conquered by the brute force of "Manifest Destiny" soon after the occupation of the homelands of the American Indi-an nations, have now stood up by expelling US military bases from their sovereign territory.
The event may come as a surprise to western observers. But not to the countless martyrs from Macario Sakay, Salud Al-gabre, and Crisanto Evangelista to the nameless victims of Mal-iwalu, Escalante, Lupao and of other still undiscovered sites of anti-communist barbarism; and surely not to Maria Lorena Bar-ros, Macli-ing Dulag, Rolando Olalia, and thousands more who have sacrificed their lives so that the Filipino masses can achieve a measure of autonomy, justice, and equality . Such, indeed, has been the destiny of the "White Men’s Burden" in the Philippines after the 1986 revolution against Spain and the protracted resist-ance against the invading power of the United States.
It has taken almost a centu-ry for us to appreciate the vi-sionary force of what our com-patriot Jose Rizal prophesied in "The Philippines A Century Hence": the people's struggle for national liberation, though suppressed many times, will overcome in the end. Amid the triumphalism of a hierarchical "New World Order," one harks back to the enduring truth of Marx's statement in 1870 with reference to the British colonial subjugation of Ireland: "The peo-ple that oppresses another peo-ple forge their own chains." Qualified accordingly, Marx's insight applies to the United States where today a social-dem-ocratic brand of nationalism is being propagated throughout the whole society at the expense of the peoples of Puerto Rico, the Philippines and the "internal colonies" (inhabited by millions of African Americans, Ameri-can Indian nations, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, and Asian Amer-icans) whose mass mobilizations constitute the cutting edge of modern emancipatory and life politics in late capitalism.

Today, in the periphery of the "New World Order," the domination of the human species by commodity fet-ishism and the alienating power of the cash-nexus encompasses all spheres of private and public life. Even the negative can be coopted if not neutralized. The celebration of Columbus's "dis-covery" of the New World by the northern centers of privilege is symptomatic of a new theoretical program to constitute the field of "the postcolonial" as a regulated mode of discourse, another disci-plinary regime for elaborating theories of difference, alterity, and positional identity.
The fashionable signs for this strategy of recuperation are "multiculturalism," pluralism, and literacy. In Philippine Stud-ies administered by American scholars, for example, this rec-olonizing move is exemplified by the ascription of responsibil-ity for domination to the victims themselves, under the guise of liberal objectivity and the post-modern vogue of relativized power in a consensual norma-tive order. Even paradigms like "Third World" or "underdevel-opment" are stigmatized as to-talizing and therefore totalitari-an. Only a micropolitics of local pragmatism and deconstructive cosmopolitanism (or self-serving op-portunism?) seem tolerable to academic pundits and would-be public intellectuals. In brief, as Raymond Williams points out in The Year 2000, global transnationalism can ar-ticulate for its own interest the emancipatory politics of oppo-sitional forces - the struggle for fully active social identities and for egalitarian self-governance within the market parameters of exchange value and profit that continue to inform the "ration-al" discourse of the social sci-ences and humanities in the Unit-ed States and Europe at this his-torical conjuncture.

Within this overdeter-mined field consti-tuted by the still per-vasive cultural authority of the west, voices are exploding from the margins, traversing borders and boundaries, challenging this discourse of universal postcoloniality and transnationalist interdependency. This layered, heterogeneous zone of conflict is what Fredric Jameson calls "cultural revolution" after the Chinese experience of the sixties and seventies.  But a more precise figuration of this dialectic of the new evolving from the old can be gleaned from C.L.R. James's homage to the Rastafari's culture of subversive exuberance (quoted in Paul Buhle's excellent biography C.L.F James: The Artist as Revolutionary): "Their world is just beginning .... The colossal stupidities, the insanities of the Rastafari are consciously motivated by their acute consciousness of the filth in which they live, their conscious refusal to accept the fictions that pour in upon them from every side. These passions and forces are the "classic human virtues." As long as they express themselves, the form may be absurd, but the life itself is not absurd."
We confront the dialectics of form and content, the universal and the historically specific. What is fundamental here is the perception that form cannot be essentialized and valorize in itself, that forms of cultural expression as well as of political allegory and social representa-tion need to be grounded in the complex of historical antago-nism in a world system whose relational dynamics has deter-mined the configuration of na-tional, class, gender, and racial forces in our contemporary mi-lieux. What commands priority is the mode of production and the social relations in which culture, ideology, beliefs, and purposes are inscribed.
In the triumphalist celebra-tion of neoliberal, technocratic modernization through racial, gender and class divisions amid widespread ecological disasters, it is important to note that the current ascendancy of the capi-talist market together with the legitimacy of the bureaucratic welfare-state is only a moment in a world-historical process that began with the genocidal ex-ploitation of the Indians in the Americas and the triangular slave trade. US imperial hegemony is thus built on the cadavers and skulls of its victims.
One moment of that process is of course the Spanish-Amer-ican War of 1898 which led to the US colonization of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines. But how long can the oppression and exploitation of people of color go on? Almost everyone anticipates massive problems reproducing and intensifying the crisis of global capitalism: un-employment, homelessness, ru-ral exodus, corruption, inflation, worsening social inequalities, decline in health care and other social services, aggravated ra-cial and ethnic conflicts, ram-pant criminality, subordination of national economies to the mul-tinational banks, unmitigated ex-ploitation of migrant labor (spe-cially women of color), height-ened sexist violence, moral decay and general decadence.
In this context, Henri Lefe-bvre, the great philosopher of la quotidienne, reminds us that the all-inclusive agenda of Marx-ism, that of changing life itself, remains unsurpassed: "Marx en-visaged a total person of the future, being deployed as a body, as a relation between the senses, as thought. What remains to be thought now? Marx certainly thought the world in which he lived, but the modern world has not yet begun to think Marx-ism." As Sartre and others have reminded us, Marxism is still the unsurpassable philosophy of our time.

The restoration of oligar-chic rule in the Philip-pines in 1986 ushered a new stage of retrogression, a time for the retooling of the neocoloni-al apparatuses of domination which today are mediated through the World Bank/International Monetary Fund, various interna-tional agencies and foundations, including fundamentalist sects. The myth of the United States' redemptive mission in the Philip-pines, its almost unlimited poten-tial for self-aggrandizement, has been given a new lease on life with the recuperation of "people power" for preserving inequities in all sectors.
But while bourgeois elitist values saturating the mass me-dia persist, a praxis of national liberation in art and literature has emerged on the face of Pen-tagon-sponsored "low intensity warfare" and globalized mass consumer-ism. Ideas, styles, conventions of feeling and conduct, artistic forms - all have become sites of ethical, political, and ideologi-cal contestation which implicates authors, texts and audiences alike. What is at stake? Not so much the fate of reading or writ-ing as such, but rather the mate-rial and spiritual life chances of nearly seventy million Filipinos - people of color whose voices have been silenced for a long time, but whose labor has virtu-ally enabled artists and writers (including their western coun-terparts) to survive and fulfill themselves.
Grounded in the struggles of women, tribal and ethnic na-tionalities, workers and peas-ants, youth, and people of the church, a culture of resistance has emerged to interrogate the status quo, forge new subjectiv-ities as collective agents of em-powerment, and unfold possi-bilities of alliances among vari-ous groups sharing common memories of being victims and
of revolt. New initiatives for intervention by the marginal-ized, the excluded and subordi-nated, have sparked creative acts speaking truth to power. Within the space demarcated by the ero-sion of traditional client-patron politics and the bankruptcy of oligarchic-comprador revival of election rituals, one can discern new structures of self-govern-ing communal life particularly among women's collectives and in peasant villages of the liberat-ed zones.

Hermeneutics is thus political in its grounding and effects. The process of "reading" western hegemony gen-erates its complemen-tary act of "writing" by the subju-gated native as creative reappro-priation, a reorientation of old forms given new content or sub-stance by this catastrophe of bond-age, witness to transgression and deliverance. These two dimen-sions of cultural interaction are integral parts of the Third World experience, polarities of one his-torical event. When Filipino writers began to “read” the culture and ideological practices of US power, imperial authority exposes the limits of its legitimacy, its transcendentally mystified but ul-timately historical truth.
A phenomenology of mas-ter and slave is necessarily in-scribed in East-West confronta-tions, given the unequal and un-even development of the world system. In such an inquiry, the "critique of weapons" can yield the weapon of criticism for those already convinced that what is needed is not merely to interpret but also to transform the social texts of our everyday reality. "Change your lives!" - such is the calling, the vocation, of the Third World artist in her embat-tled situation.
The resurgence of revolu-tionary nationalism in the Phil-ippines in the last two decades can be viewed as a response to this necessity. In the genealogy of subaltern intransigence, even the writing and career of a die-hard aestheticist like Jose Garcia Villa can be interpreted as a mode of dissonant and sublimat-ed articulation of protest. The cunning of Caliban's dissent/dis-sidence against the Ariels of capital - art's goal of metamor-phosing the real - is as protean and resourceful as the ruses of imperial pacification. Every artistic work is ideological and utopian at the same time; every poem is both a document of culture as well as of barbarism.
In the variations of this transition from past to future, what this critique of symbolic exchange hopes to convey is that Marxism is (in Lenin's phrase, "concrete analysis of concrete conditions") the principle of hope in action. It is a sense of the beginning of a long-range jour-ney of socialist reconstruction; the play of utopian energies in-vesting the counter hegemonic art of the everyday life with value. This process becomes actualized by Fili-pino activists in cities and coun-tryside where the crisis of neo-colonial dependency, indeed the claims of "Manifest Destiny" recycled today by the apologists of transnational capital, will be finally resolved.

[From:  Conjuncture Vol. V Number 5  May 1992]


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