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Rizal, Bonifacio and the ‘masa’ myth

JOSE RIZAL’S death anniversary today and Ceres Doyo’s reference in a recent column to a book titled “The Masses are Messiah” present a good opportunity to discuss the mythicizing in our country of the concept of the “masses.”

It was the historian Teodoro Agoncillo who popularized the myth of the masses with his biography of Andres Bonifacio, “Revolt of the Masses.” Agoncillo claimed that the Katipunan revolutionaries were the masses’ representatives: “despairing spirits, the oppressed, the downtrodden,” from the “lowest stratum of society.” Other writers would expand Agoncillo’s thesis by contrasting the “elite” Rizal against the “proletarian” Bonifacio. Leftist activists have even been brainwashed to hate Rizal and to believe that it was the Americans who just invented him to be our national hero, since he didn’t advocate armed revolution.

However, more up-to-date historians, especially those who mined the archives of the Spanish military, paint an entirely different picture of Bonifacio and the Katipuneros. (See http://kasaysayan-kkk.info).

British historian Jim Richardson examined the dossiers of over 200 leaders of the Katipunan, and concluded that they were not poor laborers but mostly white-collar employees and what we may call the intelligentsia, the petty bourgeoisie. Yes, Bonifacio was a bodeguero, but this didn’t refer to a downtrodden laborer carrying heavy stuff on his shoulder. Bonifacio was the employee in a German-owned company who made sure that the contents of the warehouse matched the company’s books. In that listing of 200 Katipuneros, only one was identified as a laborer.

This actually is the characteristic of the Katipunan’s model itself, the French Revolution, which was a lower- middle class revolution. It is probably the pattern of all revolutions. Mao Zedong, Chou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping came from the landlord class, Pol Pot from a wealthy family who could afford to send him to Paris, and of course Jose Ma. Sison from the landlord class.

There is furthermore a distinctly elite dimension to the Katipunan, the opposite of being masa. The single most common characteristic among the leaders of the Katipunan was their membership in a secret elite group: Freemasonry. Stripped of its abracadabra, Freemasonry was based on the pillars of the power of rationality and individual freedom, as against the superstition and blind obedience to the Catholic Church in the 17th to 19th centuries. The Katipunan’s original core group—Bonifacio, Deodato Arellano, Valentin Diaz, Teodoro Plata, Ladislao Diwa and Jose Dizon—as well as 16 other officers were all Freemasons.

Bonifacio and Rizal were actually comrades: they were both Freemasons. This provided them with the necessary world-view to defy Catholicism which was the nearly overpowering ideological base of Spanish colonialism. Rizal was recruited to Freemasonry during his stay in Madrid starting 1882, when the society in Spain had a renaissance of sorts after many years of persecution. Bonifacio joined Freemasonry much later, in 1892, at the Taliba Lodge No. 165.

The Left’s narrative has been that Rizal’s Liga Filipina was the reformist group while the Katipunan was Bonifacio’s armed revolutionary organization. This is false. The Liga was in fact swiftly established by Rizal upon his return from Spain since he utilized his network of Masonic lodges. Many Katipunan leaders were also members of the Liga.

The Katipunan, an organization of Freemasons and petty-bourgeois intellectuals, led the revolution, with the masses—as always—constituting the warm bodies, and sadly the cannon fodder.

It has been mainly communist parties, especially Mao’s—based on Marx’s Hegelian notion of the proletariat becoming conscious of its destiny—which have propagated the notion that the masses have an intrinsic wisdom that civilization’s vanguards don’t have. In terms of political philosophy, the masa myth is the antithesis of representative democracy.

Indeed, “masses” got to be translated to “masa” only in the 1970s when Maoists had to translate Mao’s works, which are replete with the word “masses”—with real workers even ridiculing it as meaning “dough” in Tagalog. On the other hand, with their penchant for mythicizing, and with the very wrong notion that Jesus was a laborer, liberation-theology Christians substituted the Deity for “Masses,” quite obvious in that line from Atenean Eman Lacaba’s poem, “The Masses are Messiah.”

The myth of the masses is a very dangerous one. Academics and professionals were sent to China’s hinterlands—many to die or be killed—“to learn from the masses” in the disastrous Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s which resulted in five million Chinese killed and utter political and economic chaos. College graduates were either massacred in the Khmer Rouge’s killing fields, or sent to rural areas to be “re-educated by the masses.” The myth of the masses has even wormed its way into Philippine political thinking as opinion

polls (which by definition is what the masses feel at a point in time) are taken to be moral imperatives to violate representative democracy. The masa myth nearly hijacked the spirit of the Edsa 1986 Revolution in “Edsa 3” and the several attempts at fake “people power” movements in the past several years.

It is a dangerous myth that rabble-rousers and totalitarians cultivate since it easy to claim that one speaks for the faceless masses—as New People’s Army spokesmen always do. The Masses are Messiah? It was the masses that asked for Jesus’ head on that fateful day.
From the Philippine Daily Inquirer