The Sovereign Power versus the Christian Power

August 13th, 2012 1:47 pm

Jomar Cuartero

The comeback of nationalist and political leitmotif for Philippine film production takes place in one of the masterpieces of Joel Lamangan entitled Sigwa. Sigwa is about the first-quarter storm movement that is historically known as the precursor of the massive civil unrest that thundered the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos. The film follows the activists of the 1970s who were bound to take the challenge of transforming the semi-colonial and semi-feudal mode of production of the Philippines by virtue of waging a national democratic form of revolution. This means that their struggle is through an incessant pursuit of building people’s organizations that buttresses the people’s war that are concretely operating in the form of armed struggle within the material conditions of the countryside.

The two significant characters in Sigwa are Cita and Oliver. They fall in love because of the struggles and revolutionary aspirations they have shared in the course of their relationship but it is also the same reason for the two to fall out of love since their devotion to one another requires surpassing the struggle that tests their ideological stamina and the depth of their comprehension of what it means to revolt. As this happened, Oliver left the movement and became a spokesperson for the reactionary regime, betraying everything that was his past and the very history he was part of. While Cita, a woman who prevailed amidst the odds and the tragedy during the struggle, continued to practice and remained in fidelity in the revolution. She gave her life; she remained in the movement as the head officer of a unit of the New People’s Army. The New People’s Army is the military detachment of the Communist Party of the Philippines known for advancing the armed resistance and vanguard strategy against the reactionary state because it is classified historically as the highest form of struggle in waging a revolution under the pretext of the Philippine material conditions.

The story of the two activists revolves around the measure of strength to pursue and remain having a heart faithful to the event that is a new Philippine society can emerge by embracing the life that is oppressed, impoverished, a life-world in the bosom of the masses. The movie is not simply a nostalgic view of the past first-quarter storm but it elicits a problem that is posed to our generation and to our contemporary social view: what does it mean to remain in fidelity to the cause of a grand future that has been promised to happen as we wage a revolution where its retaliation is a life placed at the edge of violence and oppression committed by the status quo? What does it mean to remain Christian in the times where the likes of Cita are still left challenged by the state?

Sovereign power of the state has become the ultimate order that is presumed by the current system as seen and spoken by the likes of Oliver who enunciates the logic of global capitalism that activism is already swept by the tides of our history. Discrediting the historical role of activism, the very praxis of the Maoist line “serve the people”, becomes the contemporary war cry of those who surrendered from the struggle that is fueled by profit and exploitation. In the same vein, from the philosopher Slavoj Zizek, known for his militant intervention on psychoanalysis and Marxism, argues the materiality of God as an ontological category for our religious beliefs that has been analyzed for several years. He said,

… He was made man.” What really frightens them is that they will lose the transcendent God guaranteeing the meaning of the universe, God as the hidden master pulling the strings—instead of this, we get a God who abandons this transcendent position and throws himself into his own creation, fully engaging himself in it up to dying, so that we, humans, are left with no higher power watching over us, just with the terrible burden of freedom and responsibility for the fate of divine creation, and thus of God himself (34).

The relevance of Zizek’s argument on the predominant view of God simply reinstates the current mass hysteria of the metropolitan theoretical regimes where the hegemonic view is that the world is under a post-political world, centers have been banished to neuralgic points, interstices of power, and by these conditions, these views affect our world view where they have swept everyone with a mass weight of freedom that are taken as fear of broaching the grand narratives and grand scheme of changing things.

Large questions such as “how to change the society?” are obscured into forms of cultural politics, discourse, and civil society and theory have enlarged its gap away from the practice. Consequently, the material conditions are left to be valued through the capitalist remunerations and our political economy is left with festering wounds of social problems such as poverty, political violence and more. As such, freedom is no longer taken as a challenge to emancipate social classes but freedom as a ground for polemics are simply experiences where human rights, social justice and global peace that become matters of protocol of the gatekeepers of the sovereign; much so, freedom to be duly recognized as consumers of surplus profit. But in this seeming triumph of Fukuyama’s discourse that capitalism is the end of our history, how does one assume power? What is the Christian legacy of which has been kept as a lost cause that is necessary to be defended?

The assumption of power can be seen in both Cita’s life and in Jesus Christ. These two characters, not exactly the same, but parallel within the limits and scope of the state of things. Christ assumed power through his perpetual critique of the political order, fueled by the Roman Empire as that had massive accounts of corruption through heavy imposition of taxation. As an answer, He built his own disciples to mobilize the people in renewing their faith to God. While in the case of Cita in the movie Sigwa, she is part of the New People’s Army where she goes around various communities and they organize the masses to transform their political consciousness and prepare them for their roles in capturing the state power. These characters are parallel on the basis that they have both recognized the necessity of mobilizing people aside from themselves and encouraging them to undergo in a critical pedagogy where their consciousness is hammered down on the anvil of politics of change.

However, how do we proceed from the critique of Terry Eagleton in his essay entitled “Jesus Christ: Bolshevik or Messiah?” wherein Eagleton asks,

Was Jesus, then, a revolutionary? Not in any sense that Lenin or Trotsky would have recognized. But is this because he was less of a revolutionary than they were, or more so? Less, certainly, in that he did not advocate the overthrow of the power structure that he confronted. But this was, among other reasons, because he expected it to be soon swept away by a form of existence more perfected in its justice, peace, comradeship and exuberance of spirit than even Lenin and Trotsky could have imagined. Perhaps the answer, then, is not that Jesus was more or less a revolutionary, but that he was both more and less.

What Eagleton shows in his essay is that Jesus Christ is criticized using the same categories and theoretical frames in evaluating and rationalizing the validity and relevance of Lenin or Trotsky as revolutionaries or anti-imperialists. As a consequence, Christ in the end becomes a “both more and less” of everything which arguably as problematic. Christ would definitely be weighed lesser as compared to Lenin or Trotsky in matters of their struggles and theory on changing the social order but to compare the two figures as equally the same arbiters of history would definitely be grounds for becoming a culprit of making history anachronistic. Christ definitely would miss the logic of a proletarian revolution that is articulated in the traditions of Marx, Engels and Lenin but it is also impossible for Him to even imagine the possibilities of a proletarian dictatorship as his political consciousness is limited by the same historical and material reality where the entire Roman Civilization is bound by the agrarian production.

As Marx had argued, “the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life” and this argument extrapolates that economics is supported by the various elements under the superstructure such as classes, institutions and the struggle among the people (760). It is then where Marx proclaims that “we make our history ourselves, but, in the first place, under very definite assumptions and conditions” (761). Subsequently, Christ as a figure who was crucified must be understood that his participation within the resistance against the colonial politics that is in operation through massive conquest of territories and corruption as seen in the large building projects, heavy taxations and grand banquets while people were suffering from starvation and repression as seen in the policies by the king, is also the same way to assume power. The crucifixion of Christ that is understood as his suffering to bring salvation for the humanity clearly enunciates that salvation of the human race will only happen through a violent and bloody process. Thus, to place Christ on the same range with Marx or Lenin would absolutely efface the historical material reality because Christ’s existence finds its relevance upon our truthful recognition of the life-world He operates. What then beholds for Cita in this matter?

Parallel to Christ, Cita’s struggle for salvation has totally shifted into a larger measure which is now the class struggle. This simply means that the character Cita encapsulates the very shift of the mode of life where the material reality has pushed the same people to conceive a new mode of struggle and this means continuing the legacy of the Maoist tradition of waging a national democratic revolution.  Cita’s assumption within the power discourse becomes concrete through her volition to resist against the order by the virtue of joining the protracted people’s war and persisting to dispense her politics within the rapid exchange of profit and oppression despite coming from an experience of torture, betrayal, destroyed relationships, rejection, suffering and pain. She has treated her past as history where one can unearth lessons that will fuel her agitation and intense passion to wage a war against a decaying system.

Cita advances and assumes power not simply by carrying a rifle for protection but by the same strategy of Christ where she builds organizations that marks a sense of discipleship of the masses and teaches them how to free their class. The notion of power then comes from the Maoist line “the power comes in the barrel of the gun” where it enunciates the position of the carrier within the emerging people’s war that is subservient to the cause of a revolutionary movement. Cita and Christ are both figures who have taken their powers in their hands, a Christian power for they have given themselves in the cause where most of the people have secularized our society into disbelief of an order where an empire and class are in obsolescence. She embodies the fidelity to the Christian faith. More than a sheer plaintive cry of the name of the God, Cita appears as the material social practice of the very tradition, principles and legacy of Christianity. That by proclaiming Christianity, it is by submitting thy self into a struggle and questions bigger than oneself and by living in a world where one carries the cross of history.

Sigwa ends with a scene where Cita once again reunited with Oliver but not with compassion, or any liberal gestures but with courage to elucidate further one’s politics. Oliver is surprised to see a squad wearing a camouflage that he believes to be the reactionary soldiers but he is even more surprised more to see Cita walking towards him with the guerilla fighters. Cita walks with bravery and she is greeted by Oliver who utters her name. She responds to him nothing but silence which is the loudest sound anyone could hear.

Jomar Cuartero is a fresh graduate from the University of the Philippines – Diliman where he finished his degree in Comparative Literature and is currently teaching history and politics classes in college. He has been actively participating in various political campaigns, advocacies and projects that call for the liberation of the people from the cancer of their political system. Someday he wants to go to the countryside and be a peasant volunteer.

References

Terry Eagleton. “Jesus Christ: Messiah or Bolshevik?” (Guardian.co.uk., 4 December 2007)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/dec/04/jesusmessiahorbolshevik

Mao Tse-Tung. On Practice and Contradiction. (London & New York: Verso P, 2007).

Robert Tucker (Ed.). The Marx-Engels Reader. 2nd Ed.(New York & London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978).

Slavoj Zizek & John Milbank. “The Dialectical Clarity versus the Misty Conceit of Paradox” The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic? (Cambridge & London: MIT P, 2009).

Joel Lamangan. Dir. Sigwa. Perf. Zsa Zsa Padilla and Tirso Cruz III. Cinemalay, 2010. Film.

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