Learn from the Masses

Originally posted in my Facebook on April 29, 2009.

This picture was taken at the 1970 UP University Graduation. Since then, the theme “Graduates, Learn from the Masses” has always been present in UP graduation ceremonies.

A lot of college students and graduates, especially if they are from the UP or Ateneo, are notorious for believing that their college education has equipped them in solving the problems of our society. Conversely, they belittle the capacity of the group of people termed as “masa”, “masses”, “the poor”, and “basic sectors”. To this, we reply, LEARN FROM THE MASSES.

LEARN FROM THE MASSES means taking into account ACTUAL social realities. Nothing we learn from a book or class can ever substitute good ole reality. For example, some of us are fond of blaming the values of poor people as the root of their poverty. They waste their money on vices like alcohol and gambling, we say.

Yet, we interpret our isolated personal experiences as general truths, such as the statement above. Just because we know poor people who are alcoholics and “sugaleros”, we dismissed the poor in general as being such.

Following the line of thought of the said statement, the rich do not have such vices, or do not have vices in general. Which we all know, of course, is totally false. If this is not so, then we must make a social analysis. We could analyze the lives of peasants and see that under the terms with which they work in the “haciendas” of landlords put them perpetually in debt. With the “kasama” system, they only get a very small share of their harvest. And to tide them over until the next harvest, they must borrow money from the landlord. And since he is the only one the peasant can borrow from, he has no choice to but accept usurious interest rates.

This is one meaning of LEARN FROM THE MASSES. Any theory in changing society must be based on social reality, and social reality can only be found by totally integrating oneself with the masses, wherever they may be.

Also, LEARN FROM THE MASSES means taking into account the experience of the masses in struggling for their various rights, and for a truly just and better society. We all too often dismiss the masses as “stupid” and incapable of helping themselves. But any half-baked study of history is enough to show that it very much the opposite.

Our very own grandfathers, especially those from the peasant class, took on the original bad guy in our country, the Spanish colonial government and their friars. Unknown to many of our generation, Bonifacio’s program of action included the confiscation of friar lands and its free distribution to poor farmers, possibly the first genuine land reform program in our country’s history.

Of course, let’s not forget how the Russian workers and peasants overthrew a 20th century antique, the Russian tsardom, and replaced it with the first ever State that was truly for the poor. This State gave land to the peasants for free, and had the workers and peasants themselves own, control, and benefit from the fruits of their own labor. They even defended this State from invasions of several countries we thought were civilized, such as England.

Same goes for the Chinese workers and peasants who followed suit around three decades later. And the Cubans. And the Vietnamese. (Of course, they were betrayed by later leaders, but that is another story all together)

To sum it all up, LEARN FROM THE MASSES is a challenge and a guide. It is a challenge to every member of the so-called “intelligentsia”, or, the “intelligent” class. Students, graduates, doctors, lawyers, civil servants, teachers, and other professionals, are of this class. It is also a guide for such members of the class who sincerely wish to change society.

In the first few instances in mankind’s history where a truly just and democratic society was achieved, it was not the “intelligentsia” who led the way. It was the workers and peasants, primarily, along with other basic sectors such as indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, urban poor, etc. Those from the middle class who were part, did so not like the typical middle class, but as a member of the middle class who embraced working with those who have been unjustly termed as the “lower” class.

While we extol middle-class intellectuals like Jose Rizal, V.I Lenin, Che Guevara, Mao Zedong, etc., it was the Bonifacios who made Revolution possible.

P.S Farmers from Central and Southern Luzon have been camping out of the House of Representatives since the first week of April to pressure lawmakers into passing the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill, and will do so until June 6. We all know how difficult that is from a middle-class background, imagine how difficult it is to do so when you are poor. We in ANAKBAYAN invite you to take part in conducting a relief and solicitation drive in your school, community, church, org, or wherever. Thanks

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