Why do Social Democrats do what they do?

October 05, 2009


Jose Rizal, Hero of the Philippines


A review essay of two new books by Filipino scholar E. San Juan, Jr.: US IMPERIALISM AND REVOLUTION IN THE PHILIPPINES (Palgrave Macmillan) and IN THE WAKE OF TERROR: Class, Race, Nation, Ethnicity in the Postmodern World (Lexington Books)--provocative and challenging critiques of academic orthodoxies and conventional wisdom apologizing for the neoliberal globalized capitalism in crisis.

The “Filipinization” of Critical Pedagogy


A review essay on:

San Juan, E., In the Wake of Terror: Class, Race, Nation, Ethnicity in the Postmodern World (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007).

San Juan, E., U.S. Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

“The oppressor elaborates his theory of action without the people, for he stands against them. Nor can the people – as long as they are crushed and oppressed, internalizing the image of the oppressor – construct by themselves the theory of their liberating action. Only in the encounter of the people with the revolutionary leaders – in their communion, in their praxis – can this theory be built” (Freire 1989: pg. 183)

In his renowned book, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire contends that the fundamental theme of our epoch is one of domination. As a radical intellectual, he came to this conclusion in his engagement with the barbaric realities of state terrorism, impoverishment, and forced disappearances throughout Latin America during the 1960s and 1970s. His pedagogical approach takes the standpoint of the marginalized, in the belief that such groups have both the insight and the motivation to challenge their oppression. In the words of Terry Eagleton (quoted by San Juan), “In a condition in which the powerful run insanely rampant, only the powerless can provide an image of that humanity which must in its turn come to power, and in doing so transfigure the very meaning of that term” (pg. 65).
The multidisciplinary writings of Filipino cultural and literary theorist Epifanio San Juan, Jr., continue the Freirian project. Using an internationalist and historical analysis of the conditions facing Filipinos, San Juan argues that it is only in struggle that racialized groups can see beneath the surface of unjust social relations. In the Filipino struggle for national liberation (a project dating back, at the very least, to the Filipino-American War in 1898), emancipatory forms of knowledge production are evolving. However, an authentic education that seeks to maximize human potential – as opposed to the profit of a few – can only be realized in transcending the social relations of capitalist production (McLaren 2005). For San Juan, this enormous task is not possible without a critical understanding of social class as a relation of ownership over land and labor.
San Juan’s latest writings, which interweave an analysis of nationalism, culture, class, race, and history, have important implications for critical pedagogy. His work offers the discipline of education a needed internationalist framework to address the globalization of racism or what Manning Marable calls “global apartheid.” Under global apartheid today, the logic of a master race (Herrenvolk) is embedded in unequal political and economic exchanges that impoverish the vast majority of people in countries of the Global South (Marable 2004). The Philippines is one such country. The two books under review allow us to “filipinize” critical pedagogy: to link critical pedagogy with the transformative activities of Filipinos in a global diaspora. Such an approach can help counter the shallow strategies of multiculturalism in the United States and the unbridled racism most evident in U.S. “wars of terrorism” (Roy 2003) that haunt people of color throughout the world.
In the Wake of Terror provides a powerful assessment of various mainstream theorists who speak to the issue of ‘race.’ The book is an important resource to understand how academic understandings of ‘race’ have become consumed in interstitial alibis and nuanced enigmas. San Juan argues that if intellectuals continue to turn their backs on the historical specificity of racialization and the role it plays in sustaining capitalism, academia will be nothing more than a site for generating sophisticated projects that have no practical impact. He urges “that we focus our attention on … the ensemble of economic and political contradictions that underlie the racializing process in society” (pg. 145.) He reminds us that although relations between cultures are often theorized as reciprocal, in reality the social, political, and economic relations between the people of such cultures are anything but equal.
San Juan points out that the mainstream understandings of “culture” and “identity” ignore the asymmetrical power relations that plague communities of color throughout the United States. The resulting strategies of multiculturalism in urban schools cannot address racism and ethnic conflict. The fight for a genuine multiculturalism, where one ethnic group or culture does not predominate, is an important political project. But can such a vision be pursued within the present economic system? San Juan insists that we interrogate the totality of capitalism and the contradictions of history. Yet, with the marriage of multiculturalism and neoliberalism the reality of racial oppression is replaced by celebratory lipservice to the ideas of identity and difference. The brutality of history evident in the genocide committed against Native Americans; the enslavement of African Americans; the colonization of territory from the peoples of Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines; and the systematic appropriation of Asian labor is disconnected from the social realities of the present.
The current educational debate in Arizona demonstrates that the benevolent language associated with neoliberal multiculturalism might no longer be relevant for a society mired in crisis. In April 2008, Arizona Republican Russell Pearce introduced into the state Senate a bill (SB 1108) that would prohibit public schools from teaching course material deemed counter to “American values and the teachings of Western civilization.” Furthermore, this xenophobic legislation would prohibit public schools, community colleges, and universities from allowing student groups to operate if their mission, in any way, organized around criteria of ‘race.’ Republican John Kavanagh, was reported as saying that he hopes this measure would return cultural studies in Arizona to a “melting pot” model where various ethnic groups “adopt American values.” In the Wake of Terror calls on critical pedagogy to confront the escalation of such policies intended to pacify unruly subalterns here at home. For San Juan, such an analytical confrontation requires linking racism in tandem with the social structures that set such ideology in motion: capital accumulation and class rule.
One of the most important essays in In the Wake of Terror is “From Racism to Class Struggle.” Here, San Juan engages the concerns of Richard Delgado, one of the architects of Critical Race Theory (CRT), who observes, however, that “the younger crop of CRT theorists are enamored by the easy arm-chair task of writing about race in the word and not race in the world.… A new movement is needed” (quoted in Cole 2007, pg. 117). After reviewing the historical context of CRT’s formation (the 1970s and 1980s), San Juan argues that a transformative movement is feasible through CRT’s incorporation of a Marxist understanding of class. While adamant that not all individual instances of racism are reducible to the economy, he argues:
A study of racist practices and institutions, divorced from the underlying determinant structure of capital accumulation and class rule that allow such practices and institutions to exercise their naturalizing force, can only perpetuate an abstract metaphysics of race and a discourse of power that would reinforce the continuing reification of social relations in everyday life. (pg. 101)

San Juan observes that because CRT leaves relations of production untouched it is unable to adequately come to grips with pressing issues worldwide. Such issues include perpetual “wars on terror” and a globalized racism (i.e. Islamophobia) that keep the U.S. populace compliant to ruling class agendas of global profiteering.
In U.S. Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines, San Juan shows that a vibrant critical pedagogy can be found among a people seeking national liberation. The military repression, forced disappearances, and widespread impoverishment that pervaded Latin America in the last generation have been recreated in the Philippines in the present. Imperialism and Revolution is invaluable not only for shedding light on the consequent atrocities but also to demystify what binds the project of U.S. Empire.
Various critical theorists have argued that the mainstream preoccupation with postmodernism in academia serves as an ideological support for global capitalism and the New Imperialism (Wood 1997; Harvey 2005; McLaren 2005). San Juan builds upon their arguments with a particular focus on the Philippines as a contested site for “globalization.” He notes that “the Philippines remains a tell-tale gap or omission in the public understanding of world affairs.” (pg. xxi) He maintains that the limited attention to Philippine history in U.S. academia has been characterized by triviality and mysticism, allowing white supremacy and exploitation to become acceptable points of view. Using a class-based analysis, San Juan’s essays foreground important issues such as language, indigenous struggle, and nationalism as useful sites for a project of humanization in the Philippines. He rejects the reductionist stereotype of historical materialism, arguing that “the whole or totality of history is an ideal but it does not necessarily dictate a necessary future – the future depends on what we do at present to realize it.” (pg. 125)
Imperialism and Revolution notes the important task for scholars to critique the neoliberal state, which institutionalizes the pilfering of a country’s natural resources. But corrupt presidential leadership is not the sole cause of Philippine injustice and deprivation. Without an understanding of workings of U.S. Imperialism and its inbuilt tendency for growth and spatial expansion, blame can be directed towards a nascent Filipino nationalism and a supposedly sovereign populace for their inability to elect moral leadership. San Juan contends that because power has been widely accepted as diffuse and virtually independent of class struggle and politics, “post-al” theories run the risk of regurgitating a “white-supremacist triumphalism.” (pg. xxvii)
The case of the Burgos family exemplifies the historical atrocities confronting a Filipino polity and the role theory must play in elucidating such conditions. Edith Burgos is the widow of José Burgos, a journalist who spearheaded the launching of opposition newspapers at the height of Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship. In 1982, the Philippine police detained José in an effort to suppress and intimidate dissident voices. Despite threats to his life, José survived and would later receive the 1986 International Journalism Award of the Inter Press Service for his dedication to the ideals of press freedom. In his acceptance speech, he said: “If I had my way, I would rather that this award should go to each and every one of the Filipino media men who were killed or who vanished during those years of unspeakable oppression.” Twenty-two years later, José’s wife, Edith Burgos is alone in search for her son, Jonas, a present-day desaparecido. Jonas Burgos is an agriculturist who advocated for farmers’ rights in the Philippines. He was reported abducted by elements of the Philippine military in April 2007. His situation is one of the highest profile cases of the more than 300 forced disappearances and over 890 Filipino victims of extrajudicial killings since the U.S.-supported Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took office in 2001. Such atrocities are not some discursive aberration; they must be understood historically, as the logical consequence of an economic order and its political manifestations.
Critical pedagogy has much to learn from the long history of liberatory praxis in the Philippines. The activities of Filipinos in a global diaspora, who are learning about the world not simply by reflecting upon it but by changing it, offer an invaluable resource to augment critical pedagogy from the ground up. The “filipinization” of critical pedagogy provides educators with an archive of practice and theory that they “can dare use, test, enrich, and appropriate for a future waiting to be born” (pg. 154).

Works Cited

Cole, M. (2008). Marxism and educational theory: Origins and issues. London ; New
York: Routledge.

Constantino, R., & Constantino, L. R. (1975). The Philippines : A past revisited. Quezon
City: Renato Constantino

Foster, J. B. (2006). Naked imperialism: The U.S. pursuit of global dominance. New
York: Monthly Review Press.

Freire, P. (1989). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Harvey, D. (2005). The new imperialism. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University

McLaren, P., & Farahmandpur, R. (2005). Teaching against global capitalism and
the new imperialism : A critical pedagogy. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Roy, A. (2003). War talk (1st ed.). Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Wood, E. M., & Foster, J. B. (1997). In defense of history : Marxism and the
postmodern agenda. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Michael Viola
University of California at Los Angeles
mviola [at] ucla.edu

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