The writing of history, as much as the reading of history, is a class endeavor.
Until now I hold that view, I stand by it. Historical events take place in one’s consciousness accordingly as where he stands in the conflict between, on the one hand, the classes that oppress and exploit and, on the other hand, the classes that are oppressed and exploited.
Specifically, whose side do you take? That of the peasants or that of the landlords in the agrarian conflict; that of the workers or that of the capitalists in modern industry struggle? So long as these conflicts of classes exist, your view, observation, evaluation, appreciation of, and final conclusion on social events are shaped and institutionalized over time as promotion of the interest of the class to which you belong.
Why are there writers who maintain Rizal as the national hero of the Philippines? And why are there others who believe it is Andres Bonifacio? This only shows that until today, Rizal holds sway over a subsisting class of ilustrados which was Rizal’s own class in his time, and that to the present day as well, a class of proletarians whom Bonifacio personified during the Katipunan upheavals continue to exist and hanker for redemption from oppression and exploitation.
Until recently, I had held on to the belief, as it was taught to me early on in my integration into the national democratic movement, that there is this distinct high brand of individuals, like Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao Zedong, who turn traitors to their propertied class in order to embrace the cause of the proletariat. But then, coming down to truly analyzing this phenomenon of high-placed social elements appearing to take up the cudgels for the multitude of the oppressed poor, I come to this rather shocking discovery of their common denominator: an intense passion for leadership by which to wield personal political power. So personal in fact is that passion for political power that once it is achieved, the next best move is to wipe out every perceived opposition to it.
In the case of Lenin, Stalin allegedly beat him to the draw by inducing poison into his drink before the great father of Soviet Union could do him in. In the case of Mao, he caught up with War Minister Lin Piao while enroute to Russia to seek refuge from the wrath of the Chinese leader who had found out Piao’s plan to depose him; Deng Hsiao Peng had the utmost forbearance and circumspection, including calm acceptance of his demotion to the lowest Party ranks, before making his grand move to assume leadership of modern China upon Mao’s demise.
In Marx’s case, no personal political power had come into play for him to plan anything bad against any competitor for power. Yet it is in the case of Marx that the subject matter at hand gets a most lucid elucidation. In Marx, the treatment of history is not like any other. Synthesized by Stalin as dialectical and historical materialism, Marx’s history is a living organism propelled by intrinsic laws of development, the very laws that in his view would lead to the dissolution of social classes and bring about the establishment of a classless society called communism. In his Communist Manifesto, Marx sums it up unequivocally: “All known history is the history of the class struggle.”
Now, a key to understanding the full, real impact of this proposition is this assertion by Mao Zedong in his book, On Contradiction: “The outstanding feature of dialectical and historical materialism is its open avowal of service to the working class.” What is this but an admission that Marx’s treatment of history is a conscious shaping or slanting – or call it by any other name that may connote deliberate interpretation – of historical events in order to make those events serve the avowed political struggle of the working class. Need we say that when we speak about political struggle – especially armed political struggle or revolution – we are necessarily talking about a leader? This being so, we can conveniently arrive at a corollary to the Marxist definition of history, which, to repeat, goes: “All known history is the history of the class struggle.” In this sense, therefore, we can, with a high degree of correctness, proclaim: “Every writing of history is the history of the writer’s passion for political power.”
All the foregoing, by way of an introduction to the topic at hand: How to view the EDSA uprising of 1986?
I deliberately withheld this discussion earlier, specifically on February 25, a Saturday, the day assigned for my column regularly for the week. That happens to be the day of the commemoration of the EDSA uprising in 1986, and I had not wanted to join in the frenzy of writing commemorative pieces of that event. There is nothing I can say about it that I had not already said. In fact, much of what others may still have to say about it now, I have done so long ago already, in blogs, in other outlets in social media, and the more recent ones being in this column.
But there’s precisely this now new-found viewpoint on the writing and reading of history which I have not touched on yet in an elaborate manner in this column. It will interest the reader to note how those who have written about yesterday’s EDSA commemoration event fare in the opening proposition of this piece.
In this regard, Reader Hermen says a mouthful as commentary on Bobi Tiglao’s article, EDSA and its celebrations have severely weakened Philippine nationalism, in his Manila Times column Friday, February 24, 2016:
“After reading your column, I read Rene Saguisag’s. His diary made me think back to your soliloquy. Personal presence is the big difference. Rene wins hands down. Where were you when it happened? Your location would say a lot. Scientific certitude seems to be what you rely on. You labeled as “dogmas” in one of your columns Communism’s ideological stands; “dogma” is primarily applicable to religious doctrines that necessarily elude scientific parameters. ‘Propaganda’ would be more like it. Whenever you cannot avoid touching on the religious aspect of an event like EDSA, your tone suggests communistic propaganda: religion is superstition. Not opium? Your location with reference to that milestone could be anywhere; but your frame of mind is definitely a “location” from which you saw what happened and what followed. Nationalism viewed from the commune is way different from that viewed from the “shining city on the hill” which is what all the journeying leads to.”
Reader Hermen means Rene’s account is more credible than that of Bobi, the former senator’s piece being a first-hand narrative of the transpirations, depicting the former senator’s actual role in the event. According to the reader, Bobi’s location at the time speaks much of the credibility of his own narrative.
In other words, one’s being in the EDSA uprising attests to the credibility of his narrative of the event and would result in similar assertions as that of the former senator. This is non-sequitur, with all due respect. I was in the midst of that uprising. And I was eyewitness to how truly peaceful that upheaval by, according to reports, two million warm bodies. If Mao Zedong would wish to see a counterpoint to his admonition: “Revolution is not a picnic,” then EDSA 1986 was it: the “rebels” in leisurely pace, sauntering at Luneta under the moonlight while munching tsitsaron or green mango with bagoong, or otherwise just sipping bottled drinks or juice in cardboard containers. But I was eyewitness, too, to the television coverage of that Malacañang press conference in which, over the frantic urging by AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian Ver to use tanks and guns to disperse the EDSA crowd, President Ferdinand E. Marcos ordered the use of water cannons instead.
The memory of that Marcos intransigence in not using guns against the EDSA revolt would prompt me years ago to write an article, Syrian Civil War: Marcos In Retrospect, which was published by the Blog Get Real Post. The opening paragraphs of that article read:
“Given the turmoil obtaining in Syria at this hour, Marcos could be the kindest president the Philippines has ever had. What the Philippines was during those four days, February 22 to 25, in 1986 was what had Syria become first quarter of 2011. Decades-old regimes had begun falling across the Middle East either as a result of sheer civil unrest, as in Egypt where mass protests on the streets forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign, or where demos and rallies proved insufficient to force the perceived dictators to step down, a certain degree of armed action became necessary as in Libya where it needed a civil war to topple Muammar Gaddafi and get him killed. Certainly the gravest of all these downfalls was that of Sadam Hussein which required the costly Iraqi war, both in terms of destructions to infrastructure and human casualties, to bring about.”
“If, then, Assad were at the helm of the Philippine nation in those four days of February 1986, the country could have been reduced to shambles as many parts of Syria have since the civil unrest early 2011 escalated into a civil war. With Assad’s intransigence in clinging to power, there is no visible end to the bloodshed and devastation that are getting worse in Syria every day.”
“Looking back now, I ask if it was not to the country’s fortune that Marcos did not have that much intransigence. The nation saw on television how then Defense Secretary Fabian Ver was urging President Marcos to have tanks moving in and disperse the thousands that had already massed on EDSA — certainly implying firepower. But President Marcos cut him short, ordering instead to use water hoses or any some such method, but never guns.”
“And thus did the EDSA uprising of 1986 go down in history as a peaceful people power revolt. It would be the height of political naiveté to believe so.”
“The EDSA uprising turned peaceful because Marcos refused to use guns.”
With this recollection, Reader Hermen is given one more perspective within which to view the EDSA Event. For him to figure out which viewpoint is correct would for him be a good exercise in futility.
In all instances, historical accounts will tend to clash as many times as there are writers of history viewing it from varying class standpoints. History is never a question of right or wrong. Rather it is a question of who benefits from it and who is hurt by it.
For the Aquinos, EDSA 1986 was manna from heaven. It signaled the family’s triumph at long last against Marcos in a two-decade war waged by their patriarch Ninoy and never won. For the Marcoses, it signified the frustration of their own patriarch’s motiveto “make this nation great again.” For the CPP/NPA, it demonstrated the muddle-headed conduct of what was preached to be a proletarian revolutionary struggle, resulting in a success just the same anyway at a forever protracted people’s war.
In all historical events, after all, only the leaders win. The people always lose.