Cultural work for the people in the present era

Cultural work for the people in the present era of “free trade globalization” and “new social order”

By Gelacio Guillermo
Prepared for the First International Assembly of the International League of People’s Struggle
25-27 May 2001 in Zutphen, The Netherlands

For writers and artists, journalists and other mass media and cultural workers in the Philippines, the call to orient their work towards serving the people came in the late sixties with the propagation of Mao Zedong’s “Yenan forum on literature and art” (1942) and the public lectures of Jose Maria Sison, including his subsequent messages to founding congresses of cultural organizations, such as “The tasks of cadres in the cultural field” (1971) and the much later “Writer and commitment” (1983) addressed to young writers from the maximum security prison cell where he was detained by the US-Marcos fascist regime as a political prisoner from 1977 to 1986.

For whom?

In a society where literature and art, mass media and other cultural work are predominantly under the sway of big comprador and landlord interests, the question “For whom?” plays a crucial role for serious creative workers to re-evaluate their class stand and the direction of development their art should pursue. Then as now, the new-democratic movement provides the objective ground for resolving this problem of commitment within the context of a semicolonial and semifeudal society and the need for revolutionary social transformation.

From the start, the new-democratic movement established the importance of these cultural activities in terms of tasks addressed to the needs and interests of a new audience. To carry out these tasks entails an ideological and political orientation and a method of work which bring the creative workers closer to the masses in order to know and learn from them before they can truly serve them.

For these creative workers, serving the masses means joining the ranks of the organized forces of the movement in the countryside or cities. A good number of established and young poets, short story writers, essayists, playwrights, screenplay writers, novelists, journalists, stage and movie directors, photographers, etc. has joined and continue to join the movement or help as allies and sympathizers. Some have worked/work as cadres and members of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front or as activists of mass organizations. Or they belong to ARMAS (People’s Writers and Artists), a member organization of the NDF tasked to organize the creative workers from the middle forces, train new writers and artists from the revolutionary forces and basic masses and fight for the rights of the sector. Allies of the new-democratic movement, as well as writers and artists who belong to the anti-imperialist wing of the bourgeois class somehow reflect the spirit of serving the people in their works.

Areas of engagement

Concretely, knowing and serving the people through literature, art, journalism and other forms of mass media and cultural work means for the creative forces to familiarize or fully engage themselves in any of the three areas of revolutionary mass work, namely 1) protracted people’s war, 2) open mass movements, and 3) cultural revolution. These are necessarily interrelated, influencing and affecting each other’s course of development even as they remain distinct from one another in terms of form and content, deployment of forces and resources, stress and outcome of work, etc.

Protracted people’s war as the primary form of struggle under the prevailing conditions dominated by U.S. imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism, covers armed struggle, agrarian revolution and base building. Open mass movements include all mass actions and campaigns directed against long-term problems or burning issues of the day which affect people’s welfare and interests. Cultural revolution is an axiological process which exposes the reactionary character and insidious effects of colonial, feudal and elite ruling class values, opposing these with the national, scientific and mass values in order to subjectively prepare the people for practical struggles and social transformations in the course of the revolution.

In these revolutionary processes, the main function of the creative worker is to unite the hearts and minds of the masses and inspire them to act as one for the common goal. This is largely an educational role, in the radical pedagogical sense of conjoining theory/idea/call with social practice. This role is closely linked with organizational activities with specific objectives. These activities include mass actions and campaigns which involve agitational, organizing and mobilizing work, political education meetings, politico-military training programs, memorial sessions for revolutionary heroes and martyrs, celebrations, literacy education sessions, sharing of experiences, etc. # Types, features

There are at least three types of creative works produced within these processes. The first is directly addressed to the basic masses, especially in consolidation and expansion areas; as broad propaganda work, it contains the general line, forces, strategy and tactics of people’s war, program, socialist perspective and other policies of the new-democratic movement. The second type is popular among the cadres and members of the CPP and NPA and the organized masses, especially in areas where local organs of political power have been established. Works belonging to this type emphasize CPP/NPA principles, ideological remoulding, rectification campaigns, etc. These works, which generally do not circulate widely due to their internal ideological and organizational character, are important to the revolutionaries in improving their work with the masses. The third type, developed in open mass struggles in enemy-controlled town centers and cities during workers strikes, peasant march-rallies and multisectoral mass actions are staunchly anti-imperialist, antifeudal and antibureaucrat capitalist and raise strategic and tactical demands.

Based on the skill, need, time and initiative of writers and artists among the organized forces, creative works may be elementary (usually in the form of a koryo –an arrangement of songs, poetry and mime; adaptation of popular songs and commercial jingles; skits) or complex, in the form of the short story, reportage, autobiography, novel, oil painting, full-length play, documentary or feature film, etc. which integrates a variety of individuated characters, social forces, movement processes, situations, ideas and emotions, and require high artistic and technical skills, material resources, and time.

Much of these works circulates within a district, province or region, or from one region to another, or from the countryside to the cities and vise-versa, through publications, performances, translations, adaptations, etc. These works exhibit common features, such as the use of local languages, the revitalization of traditional cultural forms, and establishing the masses as heroes.

The movement upholds the widespread use and development of Pilipino as the national language and makes it a point to have its central documents and publications written in Pilipino or translated from English to Pilipino. It is a fact, however, that effective communication with the masses in the regions, especially in the hinterlands, is possible only with the use of the local languages or dialects. This has a salutary effect on these languages as they begin to absorb movement terms representing new concepts, processes and values. The national language itself is enriched by the entry of terms, expressions, meanings, phonic values, etc. intrinsic to these local languages/dialects. By using the language of the masses, the organized forces bring themselves, and thus their art and literature, closer to the people.

Second, through social investigations on the culture of the masses in the countryside, the organized forces come to know and use certain traditional forms which have remained part of their community life and are now undergoing transformations to reflect the changes brought about by their participation in the revolutionary movement. In the highlands of northern Luzon, these are the salidum-ay and el-la-lay (choral song forms), ading and fetad (chant). In the Visayas, these are the composo (ballad song form), ismayling (poetic debate in song form accompanied by dance movements and strumming of guitar), sugilanon (story form), etc. In Mindanao, these are the baleleng (ballad song form) and epic oral narratives of the lumad (non-Muslim indigenous peoples). All these, alongside cultural forms popular in the urban centers, are continually infused with the experiences, ideas, feelings and aspirations of the masses in struggle and truly speak of an awakened people after centuries of economic, political and cultural exploitation of the ruling classes both foreign and local.

And third, by working close with the masses, the writers and artists are able to depict their heroism as exemplified in their work, struggle, education and internal remoulding. The so-called great unwashed, unshod and unlettered whom bourgeois and petibourgeois writers and artists love to scorn, ridicule or romanticize and put their own individualistic kind in the limelight finally find their place as embodiments of new collective values treasured by the revolutionary movement. This regard for the masses as heroes of the literature and art of the movement does not blind the writers and artists from the negative elements among the masses who betray their own class interests by taking the side of the enemy.

All these factors conduce to the practice and development of an aesthetics which is founded on affinity with the masses, a Leninist view on literature and art (“Party organization and Party literature”, 1905) which guides the writings of later Marxist-Leninist leaders on the subject. This partisanship with worker and peasant masses is decisive in weaning away writers and artists from the stranglehold of big compradors and landlords, the local emissaries of US imperialism.


Through the more than three decades, creative work has flourished on the basis of serving the people in the countryside and cities. Much of this work is oral, impromptu and unrecorded; nevertheless, publications abound which form a body of accomplishments in this field.

The popular songs of the movement have been made available in cassette tapes for faster and wider dissemination. Mga kanta ng rebolusyong Pilipino (1984) gathers together songs from the different guerrilla fronts in the country, including songs from the 1896 Revolution, the old merger party, and the First Revolutionary Storm of 1970. Later song cassettes include Balligi [Strength] (1989), songs enjoining the indigenous peoples of Cordillera in Northern Luzon to support the provisional revolutionary government in their areas; Dakilang Hamon [Great Challenge] (1996), songs on the 2nd Party-wide rectification campaign launched in 1992; and Martsa kan Bikolandia [Marches from Bicol] (1998). Individual collections by singer-composers include Pantasya at iba pang mga awitin ni Ka Arting [Fantasy and other songs by Comrade Arting] (n.d), originally composed and popularized in the guerrilla zones in Northern Luzon; and Paalam, Uncle Sam [Good riddance, Uncle Sam] (1991) songs by Chicoy Pura of the Jerks, Grupong Pendong, Patatag, Gary Granada, etc. against the U.S. military bases.

Poetry anthologies such as Mga tula ng rebolusyong Pilipino [Poems of the Philippine revolution] (1982) and STR [Sa tagumpay ng rebolusyon/For the triumph of the revolution] (1989) represent the works of organized workers and peasants, Party cadres and members, Red fighters and NDF members, and political prisoners. Their works depict a variety of struggles in the countryside and cities from 1972 onwards.

An ample selection of narratives in different forms –autobiography, diary, reportage, interview, memorial, short story, fable, novel– published by the movement press from 1972 to 1997 are gathered together (some as excerpts) in Muog [Bastion] (1998). Individual narrative collections include Days of disquiet, nights of rage (1982) by Jose Lacaba, an extended reportage on the First Revolutionary Storm of 1970; Gera [War] (1991) by Ruth Firmeza, a novel depicting the history of the CPP/NPA and the mass movement in Northern Luzon from 1975 to 1979; Sa tungki ng ilong ng kaaway [At the tip of the nose of the enemy] (1988) an autobiography by the veteran revolutionary Cesar Hernandez Lacara (1910-2000); and Kung saan ako pupunta [Where I’m going] (1993) by Zelda Soriano, short stories and vignettes on revolutionary work in Southern Luzon from the point of view of a young woman cadre.

Stage plays from the urban centers, including a few skits from the guerrilla fronts, performed from 1967 to 1996 are collected in Bangon, antholohiya ng mga dulang mapanghimagsik [Arise, an anthology of revolutionary plays] (1998).

Photography is represented by such collections as Depth of field (1987), documenting the conditions and struggles of the basic sectors during the US.-Marcos dictatorship; and A people rising (1990) which highlights the advances in the NDF-led areas for self-governance.

Video documentaries, especially on the land question and peasant campaigns for a genuine land reform, were produced by AsiaVision.

Among comics publications, Breaktime and Gapas komiks enjoyed popularity among the workers and peasants, respectively. A comicbook version (1981, 1998) of Philippine Society and Revolution by Amado Guerrero serves as supplementary study material in political education meetings for the basic masses. This seminal work has also been rendered into a video documentary entitled Sa liwanag ng libong sulo [Light from a thousand torches] (1995).

In the movie scene, breakthroughs were made with the public screening, not without struggle with the authorities, of such feature films as Sakada (1976) on the life and struggles of the seasonal sugar cane field workers in Negros island in the Visayas; Sister Stella L (1984) on the participation of the religious in the workers’ strike movement; Orapronobis/Fight for us (1989) on the desaparecidos during the Marcos and Aquino regimes; and The Story of Flor Contemplacion (1995) on the inability of the government to protect its citizens based in foreign countries as migrant workers.

The visual artists are specially active in the urban centers, particularly in Metro Manila. It was they who developed the giant murals in the late sixties and early seventies and are now doing giant effigies which served as rallying points during the massive demonstrations against the Visiting Forces Agreement (1998-9) and against President Joseph Estrada 2000-1), which ousted him from office. People’s struggles are central to these artists’ gallery paintings, posters, postcards, magazine and book illustrations, calendars, performance and installation art and other forms of popular and street art.

The people’s journalists spearheaded the establishment of a people’s news agency with its news bulletin Balita ng Malayang Pilipinas [News from the free Philippines] and the publication of national and regional mass newspapers in the different parts of the country during the Marcos regime. Some of the regional publications such as Dangadang [Struggle] (Ilocos/Cordillera), Himagsik [Struggle] (Central Luzon), Kalatas [Message] (Southern Tagalog), Silyab [Flame] (Bicol), Larab [Flame] (Samar) and Pasa-bilis [Pass it on] (Mindanao) have resumed publication after the second rectification campaign.

Since the People Power uprising in 1986, journalists in the legal mass media (print, radio, tv) and electronic media have pushed their struggle to be able to represent people’s concerns. Organizations such as the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) fight for freedom of the press in campuses and in the mass media industry. The National Union of Journalists and Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility come to the defense of journalists and other media workers who are subjected to harassments and other abuses by public officials, industry magnates, church leaders, etc.

For the revolutionary literary writers and visual artists, Ulos remains their central publication since the last quarter of 1972, after the imposition of martial law. This magazine, published by ARMAS and the CPP, contains short stories, poetry, songs, essays, illustrations, etc. which depict the people’s war.

These accomplishments in the cultural field cannot be separated from the advances in the revolutionary mass movements. People’s creative workers underwent/undergo the same travails as the masses whom they serve under a succession of ruling class regimes intent on decimating the revolutionary forces and inflicting untold hardships on the people through martial rule, total war, and the current program of imperialist globalization.

Culture and imperialist globalization

Culture is a particular target under this imperialist globalization scheme. The so-called moral recovery program, which was part of the medium-term development program devised by the Ramos government in 1992 under the dictates of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, is a ploy to keep workers and peasants docile in the face of rampant violation of their labor rights, seizure and conversion of their communities into industrial estates and golf courses for the multinational corporations, etc. Under the present Macapagal-Arroyo government, this program was invoked by the president herself in withdrawing the feature film Live Show from further public exhibition on the ground that it was pornographic, a charge which a section of the movie industry and the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) refuted and condemned as blatant censorship of the artist’s right to free expression. This case has exposed the intervention of Cardinal Sin and the “moral terrorists” of the dominant church in government decision-making.

Another feature of the cultural program of the Ramos regime which the present government implements is the revival of traditional cultural forms meant to please foreign investors/tourists with their exotic qualities on the one hand, and on the other to keep the people continually bound to superstition and other forms of cultural backwardness, and exploitation by traditional local leaders. For instance, the establishment of a cultural center for Kalinga dance and music and the resuscitation of the social position of the Ifugao mumbaki (native priest/medicine man) in the Cordillera answer both objectives.

The U.S. Embassy in Manila is initiating two projects this year. The first is the centennial celebration of the coming of the Thomasites (named after the United States battleship), the first batch of American teachers in 1901 to teach the English language and spread the virtues of American “free trade” and “democracy” to a colonized people. The second is the United Nations-sponsored Year of Volunteerism. What are the implications of these projects on culture? The first comes in the wake of renewed assertiveness of the United States government to keep the dominant position of the English language in Philippine colleges and universities, installing American Studies program in the academe, and sending professionals to the United States to learn from their counterparts, especially those engaged in small business, local community work, and cultural management. All these for the purpose of imbibing the American values of “free trade” and “democracy”. The second project aims to orient volunteerism within the terms of so-called tripartite cooperation of government, big business and civil society (usually represented by dubious NGOs) in solving social problems. The objective of this project is to obscure the irreconcilable interests of the ruling classes and the people and to discredit revolutionary options for social change. This is a line propagated in the works of most US-trained cultural figures.

At the University of the Philippines, the present administrators dream of turning the state university into a “world class university” with its own mini-Silicon Valley right on the campus grounds. They take pride in having an English Department dubbed as the “center of excellence in the teaching of the English language” and renege from the responsibility to develop and encourage wider use of the national language in all the university campuses. Scholars in the natural sciences, social sciences and arts and humanities who get published in the journals of the world’s richest countries recognized by the U.S.-based Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) are honored, while those who do researches which answer the needs of the people and the country are ignored. As to the dominant position of Western scholars (mainly from the United States) in these journals, the head of ISI, Eugene Garfield, admits that “International science requires cultural as well as economic imperialism.” At the creative writing center, new writers are trained according to the Cold War norms of the New Criticism in an attempt to discourage a generation of writers from developing their art in close touch with people and society in ferment. These administrators are setting up models of so-called world class cultural works by awarding the title of International Artists to professor/artists based mainly in the Diliman campus.

The present thrust of the ruling classes in the cultural field is renewed intensification of neocolonial and feudal culture as ideological props for “free trade globalization” even as the latter only exacerbates the economic crisis of the world’s imperialist centers, particularly the United States and Japan, and devastates the dependent economies of Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. More, this culture is directed against the revolutionary movement and its program for fundamental social transformation.

Carry out tasks, fight for rights

Given this situation, movement writers and artists, journalists and other cultural workers must all the more carry on their tasks which help advance revolutionary mass work on all fronts. This is their responsibility to the people whom they serve. At the same time, they must wage struggles against measures by the ruling classes to restrict their rights as creative and mass media workers and to impose upon them cult figures who have nothing to offer the masses except their fancies if not outright counter-revolutionary diatribes. Their victories will tear down ruling class walls that estrange the creative forces from the people as the source of their new creativity and open wider spaces for their practice.


The new-democratic movement is the matrix of the new literature and art, mass media and other cultural work which serve the people in their struggle for democracy and national liberation. Without this mass movement, it is hardly possible for the serious creative workers to solve in a practical way the question of committing themselves to the class and sectoral needs and interests of workers and peasants, youth, women and children, the indigenous peoples, and other revolutionary and progressive forces in Philippine society who are now up in arms against centuries-old iniquities of the ruling social system.

The protractedness of this mass movement, the internal weaknesses and grave errors committed by the movement itself, the relentless campaigns of the ruling classes to decimate the revolutionary forces and foil people’s just demands, etc. — all these have not deterred the creative workers from being at one with the people. These are the creative forces among the ranks of the revolutionaries and the people who never lose sight of the necessity and correctness of the new-democratic revolution and the victory that lies ahead. After more than 30 years of this struggle, the triumph of the revolution is “soon” to come, in the eternally optimistic interpretation of the word by Mao Zedong.

That will end the tasks of writers, artists, etc. for this historical period. And the new tasks for socialist construction will begin. The creative forces, in the service of the people in that more difficult task of building a new society, will be part of it. That is, their literature and art, etc., the best that can be, will be part of the society the people will create in accord with their dreams.

In the meantime, in this period of struggle against imperialist globalization, the songs, the poems, the stories, the plays, the dances, the films, the news, the photos, are wherever the people are, to keep up the warmth and the fire.

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