What is today considered the National Democratic Movement of the Philippines consists of a variety of underground movements as well as (semi-)legal political parties and organizations with a strong leftist, Maoist signature. Nevertheless, its historic base can be found in the revolutionary figure of Andrés Bonifacio (1863–1897), who in 1896 declared Filipino independence from the Spanish who had occupied the country since the sixteenth century. Backed by the American promise of an independent Filipino republic, his successor Emilio Aguinaldo called to arms the Filipino resistance forces during the Spanish- American War of 1898. The United States, however, did not keep its promise and ignited the Filipino-American War of 1899–1902. The US occupied the country until 1946, after which it continued to instrumentalize its “independent” governments in the Philippines.
The National Democratic Movement gained its strength during the period of the US-backed Marcos dictatorship, from 1972 to 1986, as the Communist Party of the Philippines (founded in 1968) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (founded in 1969), rose to power in many localities throughout the country by mobilizing the peasant and worker populations by means of guerrilla tactics. The Vietnam War had further fueled anger towards the ongoing colonial policies of the Americans who, despite the formal independence of the Philippines in 1946, continued to control the country by supporting puppet regimes.
It was around 1960 that Professor Jose Maria Sison, cofounder of both the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, joined the call of Senator Claro Mayo Recto for a Second Propaganda Movement, a cultural uprising demanding independence. The First Propaganda Movement had manifested itself against the Spanish under the leadership of nationalists and revolutionaries, writers and journalists, among whom José Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar, and Graciano López Jaena were central figures. The second movement was directed against the Marcos regime and its foreign backing. It is in the context of this second movement that the figure of the artist as cultural worker emerged, a figure central to understanding the role of art within the National Democratic Movement.
The cultural worker continues to exist today against the background of an ongoing guerrilla struggle in defense of landless peasants and the urban poor, who are still deprived of their right to self-determination. Since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, subsequent governments have continued to sell off land to foreign investors and their private militias, thus characterizing Filipino politics, in Sison’s words, as a “semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system under US imperialist control,” with the “comprador big bourgeoisie, landlords, and bureaucrat capitalists” as the ruling classes.1
The Second Propaganda Movement declares the figure of the cultural worker to be the embodiment of the Filipino people’s right to self-determination, continuing to inscribe through his or her words and images the collective symbolic universe that would otherwise have been an independent state. The cultural worker uses the tools of art to uphold the narratives and convictions of those who are marginalized, dispossessed, and persecuted through the militarized state. He or she is at once the educator, agitator, and organizer who continues to enact and perform the symbolic universe of the unacknowledged state, which functions not so much as an administrative entity, but as a collective condition.
This first reader of New World Academy (NWA) explores the figure of the cultural worker and the notion of a people’s culture. Professor Jose Maria Sison’s contribution, Cultural Imperialism in the Philippines, discusses occupation in the form of cultural imperialism in relation to which the cultural worker organizes his or her counter-state resistance. Mao Tse-tung’s Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art provide the theoretical basis from which the notion of the cultural worker has emerged, and insist on the importance of visual literacy and the demand that artists also be educated by the masses, with the artwork becoming a tool through which the two might be synthesized. The section devoted to poetry combines several key works written by Sison during his imprisonment from 1977–1986 under the Marcos regime with the writings of Ericson Acosta, who was also imprisoned from 2011–2013 after carrying out research on human rights abuses on the island of Samar, Philippines. Acosta further reflects on his time in prison, the commitment of art and artists to political struggle, as well as his work with the Concerned Artists of the Philippines in the interview I Am a Cultural Worker. Beatrice de Graaf’s Terrorist Trials as a Stage: Some Notes on Performativity engages with the specific role that Sison played within the theatrical staging of so-called “counterterrorist” state strategies and pleads for a radical theatricalization of the law in order to make visible various conflicting notions of justice. Lisa Ito’s Protest Puppetry: An Update on the Aesthetics and Production of Effigy-Making, 2005–2012 offers an introduction to her research by historicizing the effigy in the Philippines as a form of protest puppetry first introduced by the Spaniards and then adopted by the Filipino people as a tool with which to mock and criticize corrupt leaders—a tradition that has largely been ignored by academia. Finally, Alice G. Guillermo’s Definition of Terms presents a theoretical framework for protest and revolutionary culture and traces the development of Social Realism in the Philippines by providing the reader with a compact set of definitions unique to the different practices located within the National Democratic Movement.
On behalf of NWA, I would like to thank all of the contributors to this reader for their warm generosity and rigorous insights—without their combined enthusiasm and support, this reader would not have taken shape. I would also like to thank Professor Sison, as well as his many allies both in the Netherlands and in the Philippines, for the unparalleled hospitality and patience with which they have introduced me to the broad and different cultural practices developed in the course of the political struggle for Filipino independence.
Last but certainly not least, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Maria Hlavajova and her team at BAK— Arjan van Meeuwen, Gwen Parry, Merel Somhorst, and Ivo Verburg—for their incredible commitment in co-establishing NWA. Further, my special gratitude goes out to BAK’s editor, Seyma Bayram, for her tireless and precise work. It is an honor for NWA host this movement and its political and cultural representatives, all of whom I believe will be able to engage participants and readers in rethinking the specific ideological criteria through which we evaluate socially engaged art.