Rizal and socialism (2)

28 August 2011

By Elmer Ordonez

MY earlier column (8/7) dwelt on the influence of socialist ideas on Rizal and his fellow propagandists in Europe. I noted that of the two contending strains of socialism in late 19th century, Marxist and anarchist, the latter had more impact on Rizal and Juan Luna, judging by their literary and art works. El Fili-busterismo has an “anarchist and putschist” for main character, Simoun, while Luna has paintings depicting the underclass of France.

Luna also has a letter to Rizal describing the pitiful conditions of workers in a Paris iron foundry and enthusing over Contemporary Socialism. (I recall my own encounter with Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station in the 50s, tracing the concept from Saint-Simoun, Owen and Fourier, Proudhon, Bakunin, Marx and Engels to Lenin.) If Luna had lived to the 20th century would he have developed into a full-blown proletarian artist?   

Rizal’s close friend Trinidad Pardo de Tavera had taken in two young Russian women who were in Paris as political refugees because of their nihilist views (nihilism is a variant of anarchism). Epifanio San Juan, Jr. surmises that the two women radicals could have been introduced by de Tavera to Rizal. However there is no mention of this in Rizal’s correspondence nor of any reply to Luna’s letter about his visit to the Parisian iron foundry. Nor is there any reference to radicals or their work except to Max Havelaar, the anti-Dutch colonial book written by the Dutch-Indonesian mestizo Edward Douwes Dekker using the pseudonym, Multatuli. At the time Rizal was annotating Morga’s Sucesos in the British Museum where he must have come across Max Havelaar and become interested in Philippine studies and Malay resistance to colonialism in the region. . (cf. John Nery, Revolutionary Spirit: Jose Rizal in Southeast Asia).

In 1898 ilustrado nationalist Isabelo de los Reyes met all kinds of socialists/radicals during his detention at the Montjuich castle prison, where Rizal two years earlier was confined for several hours before being shipped back to Manila to face trial for treason and the firing squad. De los Reyes as a deported filibustero in 1896 participated in violent street protests in Barcelona. Since then Filipino intellectuals (like Dr. Dominador Gomez, Aurelio Tolentino, Lope K. Santos, Faustino Aguilar, Herminigildo Cruz) and other labor leaders had been exposed to socialist books, here or abroad. In the 20s Marxism-Leninism arrived in Manila and labor groups, armed with this ideology, formed the Communist Party (1930).

Reader Alvin F. pointed out that utopian socialism was also an influence on Rizal, citing Dapitan as a manifestation. Indeed, In that quiet Mindanao town, Rizal, using his immense skills, tried to build a model community with progressive education, organic farming and cash crop cultivation, a waterworks system benefiting the whole town, free medicine for the poor, among other social services.

Having given up propaganda work with La Solidaridad, Rizal returned to Manila via Hongkong with his Tagalog translation of The Rights of Man and his agenda to organize the indios as a national polity toward their social and economic development and mutual protection, preparing them for self-government and ultimate liberation. These from the objectives of La Liga Filipina.

The Liga had a short life because of Rizal’s deportation to Dapitan. In his exile, he transformed the land that he bought along the coast into a mini-colony of students, some members of his family including his sisters, and his common-law wife, and the locals who work on the agricultural and livestock farms.

Rizal would have done these and more in the 6,000 acres made available to Rizal by the British authorities for his proposed Filipino colony in Sabah. Rizal’s proposal was rejected by the Spanish governor-general who would not spare Filipinos in a country already short of labor. He probably meant shortage of compulsory labor because the indios, disaffected for centuries, were fleeing from “bajo la campana” (under the bell) to the countryside or hinterlands where they were at risk of being branded tulisanes.

Rizal had for some time thought about a Filipino colony since the dispossession by the friars of Rizal’s family and other inquilinos and their tenants in the Calamba hacienda. If the Sabah project had materialized under progressive-minded Rizal it would have shown up Spanish governance.

Building ideal or model communities is the essence of utopian socialism. The term “utopian” is derived from Thomas More’s Utopia (1516); its precedents are Plato’s ideal Republic and St. Augustine’s City of God. In the first half of the 19th century, in the wake of the French revolution, socialism and communism (coined by anarchist Etienne Cabet) became current, with Karl Marx and Frederic Engels using the term in the 1848 “Communist Manifesto“ in a metaphorical way as “the specter haunting Europe” to scare the ruling classes beset with social upheavals.

Marx and Engels used “scientific socialism” as opposed to the “utopian” concepts of communitarian living of Saint-Simon, Robert Owen, and Charles Fourier who had anarchist ideas from the start like cooperatives, credit unions, mutual support, labor reform, and women rights (Fourier). In 1892 after the death of his comrade, Engels issued his Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. That year Rizal returned to Manila.

To be continued.

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