Jean Jaurès 1900

Preface to “Aguinaldo and the Philippines”

Source: Henri Turot, Aguinaldo et les Philippins. Paris, Librairie Léopold Cerf, 1900;
Translated: by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2010

Turot’s substantial and lively book comes just at the right moment. Just when American opinion is called upon to settle the destiny of the Philippines, it is good that in every country public awareness be accurately informed of the Philippine people’s magnificent striving for independence. It is certain that the imperialist passion and power of capitalist interests in the United State will not surrender before the wishes of the enlightened human conscience of the sincere friends of peace and right. Nevertheless, there is today a moral solidarity among peoples, and from one country to another there are inevitable repercussions on opinion and sentiment. It is not in the least paradoxical to say that the defeated Filipinos will be treated better if all civilized countries know and admire their heroic combat for freedom.

Turot has studied this drama in the documents, and what is more, he went to the Philippines during the struggle. A quiver of immediate sympathy and pained anger are mixed in with his tale.

How can one not be moved by this drama, by the terrible disappointment of a people who in its very striving for freedom seem to have found a new and definitive subjection? For centuries this intelligent and proud people, who have many traits in common with the Japanese, were placed under the stifling domination of Spanish monks and generals. Spied upon in the most secret movements of their thoughts, systematically turned away by their educators from precise and living science and lost in theological subtleties, their masters hoped to make use of the disquiet of their spirits. Subject to a regime of perpetual inquisition, torture, and terror, despoiled by prevaricating functionaries of almost all the fruit of their labors, they have not ceased, especially for the past century, to demonstrate the energy of their interior lives through heroic uprisings. The wealthiest among the young went to Europe or the great ports of China, where European thought had already penetrated, and they returned to the Philippines with the passionate desire to spread freedom and right on that ardent land, sterilized by the shadow of the monk. The life and death of Rizal are certainly one of the most touching episodes in human history. In Europe he fills himself with all of modern science; he returns to the Philippines not to raise it in revolt, but to attempt by a supreme effort to open their master’s spirit to the new necessities. But he is seized, judged, and executed, and before dying, on the night preceding his final agony, while his fiancée cries as she kneels at his cell door, he writes an admirable poem where the love of freedom is mixed with a kind of pantheistic adoration for the earth and the heavens. Turot was right to give us the details of this drama: the life and death of Rizal sends a sacred shiver into our souls, and it is impossible that the people who aroused such devotion will not finally be free.

But what cruel irony in the events! War breaks out between the United States and Spain because of Cuba. The Filipinos believe that the moment has come for their national independence. At first the United States seems to encourage them. But the Filipinos soon see that the United States simply intends to substitute their domination for that of Spain. And they are forced to admit with despair that they are going to remain subjects, and that what is more they were duped by those who claimed to liberate them. To be delivered from Spain and yet not to be free: the prophet who would have announced this strange destiny to the Filipinos would have wounded every fiber of their hearts.

Turot has profound sympathy for the Filipino leader Aguinaldo who, after having fought Spanish tyranny, is fighting American disloyalty. Perhaps this elevated sympathy hides from him some of the errors committed by Aguinaldo. It appears that he recklessly trusted the United States. He demanded no written commitment and took no precautions. He should have known that capitalist interests govern the politics of the United States and that powerful sugar syndicates demanded annexation. It is perhaps also the case that Aguinaldo, in the proposed provisional constitution he formulated, gives himself too openly dictatorial a role, which lends itself to the polemics of the American press.

But these reservations cannot diminish the admiration owed to courage. And they can in no way diminish the wrongs committed by the United States.

It would be vain to hope that at this hour American public opinion will be brought to a more just policy. Even if Mr. Bryan’s candidacy were to triumph, it is not complete independence that would be granted to the Philippines, but a conditional and limited autonomy. In the world there is not a single man conscious of human rights who doesn’t hope that the United States won’t abuse its power. They can repair many things by assuring the Philippines a regime of civil liberty and political freedom by developing education, science, and economic activity among them.

Will blind and selfish capitalism allow this?