Rizal and socialism (3)

By Elmer Ordonez

UTOPIAN socialism may well have been an influence on Rizal—considering that his close friend Juan Luna enthused over Le socialisme contemporain, described as “a conflation” of various schools of socialist thought from utopians like St. Simon and Robert Owen to Marxist, anarchists and Christian socialists. Rizal could not well have advocated the more radical strains of socialism in his North Borneo (Sandakan) settlement project despite his use of an anarchist character in Simoun in his second novel El Filibusterismo and the fact that his Noli, although devoid of anarchism, was first translated into another European language by anarchists Ramon Sempau and Henri Lucas, whom Isabelo de los Reyes befriended in Montjuich castle prison.

The utopian spirit in fact pervades in the literature of the prime movers of the Philippine revolution like Andres Bonifacio in his “Dapat mabatid ng mga Tagalog” and Emilio Jacinto’s “Kartilya,” both published in the one issue of Kalayaan, the Katipunan publication. Apolinario Mabini in his Decalogue also manifested the moral and ethical foundations of an imagined Filipino community; Rizal’s musings through his characters like PilosopongTasyo and Padre Florentino and his last thoughts of motherland in “Mi Utimo Adios” attest to an idealized national community, an Eden lost (because of colonialism) that must be regained through education and struggle for freedom.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Europe was entering what left writers call “the age of early globalization” marked by social and political unrest, imperialist ventures, and the beginnings of the disintegration of ruling dynasties that culminated in the First World War and its aftermath, revolutions in many countries like the Russian in October 1917.

What Rizal must have sensed during his writing of his second novel Fili (from 1988-1890) found their way into the novel. The terrorist acts of anarchists during the period – bombings and assassinations — were a regular occurrence. Rizal’s death by firing squad, it is argued, must have caused indirectly to the assassination of Spain’s president Canova in 1897. The U.S. annexation of the Philippines in 1899 was followed by the assassination of President McKinley in Buffalo, New York, the following year. Both were assassinations were carried out by anarchists

It would seem that at the time of Rizal’s exile to Dapitan and before the turn of the century the anarchist movement had already decided to bring about radical social change through deeds, to destroy government and raze the cities and build new societies. The age of propaganda through literature had given way to a period of action according to the anarchist vision.

In Rizal’s Fili, Simoun the anarchist had a dual mission, to destroy the colonial establishment that persecuted him and his family and to rescue Maria Clara, Ibarra’s beloved, from the nunnery. His bombing mission failed and no mayhem took place. Simoun as the disguised Ibarra learned too late about the sad fate of his beloved. Simoun was not a failed anarchist terrorist, and so was Conrad’s character Verloc in The Secret Agent (1905) who inveigled his wife’s half-wit brother to blow up Greenwich observatory, symbol of western science, ending up with the bomber blowing himself to bits instead.

It was then deemed doubtful that the anarchists would be interested in also publishing Fili with a failed anarchist character and with personal reasons for carrying out his terrorist project.

Of Rizal’s contemporaries, Isabelo de los Reyes was the one most influenced by anarchist and Marxist socialism by virtue of his close association with the radicals in the notorious Montjuich in Barcelona. He was first brought to this jail after his arrest in the wake of the 1896 revolution; when released he immediately joined in the street fighting in Barcelona, armed with a revolver. Despite his earlier differences with Rizal, Isabelo is believed to be responsible for the posthumous publication of the first translation of Noli in 1898, albeit bowdlerized with its strictures on the friars and the church, toned down. The anarchist publication series was interested in Noli for just depicting a colonial society.

Isabelo de los Reyes managed to return to the country in 1901 lugging with him books by Marx, Proudhon, Bakunin, Zola, Malatesta, and others. He organized the Union Obrero Democratico, but he was arrested later by American authorities for leading workers strikes and marches. He entered politics and won a seat in the city municipal board and later in the Senate. He went to the Senate riding in a caretela, refusing the use of a car because it consumed gasoline sold by big business. He lived in the working class district of Tondo. Poor health forced him to devote his time to the Philippine Independence church which he founded with Gregorio Aglipay.

New leaders took over the union which had changed its name – leaders from both the ilustrado and working class like Dr. Dominador Gomez, Lope K. Santos, Herminigildo Cruz, and Juan Feleo. Santos would write the first socialist novel Banaag At Sikat (1906). It was a matter of time for proletarian leaders, armed with the socialist vision of Marx, Engels and Lenin, to gain ascendancy in worker organizing and national liberation struggles.

Rizal was a trailblazer in this respect.