Dr. Rizal, The Revolutionary Anarchist and Madman

(This article is a product of creative thinking and analysis)

“A spectre is haunting Europe- the spectre of communism, all the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.”

These were the words written by the German philosopher Karl Marx as he described the rise of a political party and a system of social organisation that would challenge the power of the bourgeoisie, in which the latter had just recently gained power after making peace with the absolutists of the old order and had quickly abandoned their revolutionary roots. Why was this important to Rizal, the Ilustrados and the development of the Philippine Revolution? Because these “Indios” were able to study in Europe and had been exposed to the political events which had unfolded decades after which the French Revolution and the wars of Napoleon made Europe a battle ground of political ideas, including the concept of anarchism. Rizal had personified these ideas through Ibarra the idealist and Simoun the anarchist, in which the latter was convinced that only the assassination of the leaders of the State and the Church would dawn a new independent nation born out of the ashes of a bloody revolution.

Why did Rizal thought of writing the character of Simoun who was described by Nick Joaquin as a sorcerer and enchanter? Who were his models on developing his personality, his convictions and his motivations? It is easy enough to pinpoint Rizal’s two novels as a key to answer these questions, but most people didn’t know the background behind the novels and the main intention of the author. Rizal was an Ilustrado, he was a son of a relatively affluent family, he studied in Europe and he was known to travel to numerous countries including Germany.

The Second German Empire at the time of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was a hotbed of political upheavals, you had the Socialists which had been successfully elected to represent their views on the Imperial Diet, you had the so called Kulturkampf which aimed to destroy the power of the Church in Germany, you had labour strikes, you had philosophers with the likes of Marx, Engels and Nietzsche and you had these lots of political exiles, veterans of the Paris Commune and emigrants from the Russian Empire fleeing from the secret police’s crackdown on political dissidents and the Jewish pogroms instituted as the consequences following the assassination of the liberal Tsar Aleksandr II by the members of the Narodnaya Volya ( it is interesting to note that one of its members was a relative of Vladimir Ulyanov, which would be later known to the world as Lenin) in 1881.

One could inquire where Jose Rizal derived the idea of exterminating the entire colonial elite by igniting the nitroglycerine hidden in a lamp from? Rizal was influenced by anarchist concepts due to the fact that he based Simoun on the revolutionary anarchists of the period such as Ravachol and their attempts to incite a revolution against the State through the Propaganda of the Deed and the theories of education espoused by anarcho-syndicalists such as Ferrer I Guardia as a way to raise the national consciousness of the people and he put these anarchist principles to the test by building a model community in Dapitan where he used his skills as a land surveyor (there was even the time that Rizal had planned to acquire a colony on Sabah).

It was also interesting to note that almost all of the Ilustrados were familiar about the history of the short-lived First Spanish Republic, in which one of its Presidents, Francisco Pi Y Margall, an early anarchist influenced by Pierre Joseph Proudhon had attempted to introduce the Proudhonian concepts of organisation into Spanish politics and society, especially the concept of federalism which would had included Spain’s colonies such as the Philippines. It is also interesting to note that Rizal’s death was avenged when Spanish Prime Minister Antonio Canovas del Castillo was assassinated by first and foremost, an anarchist by the name of Michele Angiolillo.

Still, Rizal was just one of the Ilustrados who were influenced by the Age of Enlightenment especially the concept of nationalism and those ideas were still irrelevant until Isabelo De Los Reyes brought the works of Marx to the attention of the elite and the wider public. Although Rizal might be interested and he possibly borrowed heavily from anarchist concepts, he was first and foremost, a nationalist interested on creating a nation, although he preferred the reformist stance of Spain granting it on a gradual rather than a revolutionary process. This separated Rizal from Bonifacio who was influenced by the French Revolution and later Del Pilar, who later in his life had planned to return to the Philippines to organise an armed revolution and there are sources which stated that he had played a major role on the foundation of the Katipunan because of his Masonic ties.

Interestingly enough, was Rizal a madman? Authors including Jun Cruz Reyes who is planning to write a book about his life has speculated that Rizal had a bipolar personality disorder possibly because of his personal experiences throughout his life which included alienation and rejection, and he was described by writer Miguel Unamuno as the “Tagalog Hamlet” as a man of contradictions, “a soul that dreads the revolution although deep down desires it. He pivots between fear and hope, between faith and despair.”

Indeed, it might be true that Rizal was a man of contradictions, and he managed to translate his character flaws in both of his novels, one which held both the idealism and cynicism of his intentions. Rizal, like most Ilustrados in Europe had suffered from a “cultural schizophrenia”, a concept in which contradicted themselves between supporting and condemning the colonial authorities, and he was known to support an armed revolution against Spain as a last resort but at the very same time detested it because the people in his opinion were not yet ready to shed blood. The psychological turmoils and the rapid succession of events he possibly experienced had led to his conclusion at the very end of his life that although he denounced the revolution being led by Bonifacio, he finally made peace on his last poem by stating that his impending execution and the people dying in battle are fundamentally the same, because both are dying for their country. His last poem  “Mi Ultimo Adios” has been widely translated into several foreign languages and his memory being used by the Indonesian, Chinese and the Vietnamese revolutionaries on their struggle to free themselves from the yoke of colonialism and foreign imperialism in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries.

We have always seem to pretend that we already knew the life of Dr. Rizal through our mandatory Rizal subjects and his two novels being poorly translated and heavily summarised to satisfy our appetite for having a short attention span, and our heroes who have fought and died for the nation, but we don’t really know about their stories behind the narratives imposed by the educational system in an attempt to sanitise our history to form a national identity which has been proven as a tragedy and farce. The study of history is boring for us, and this is one of the reasons why we can’t move forward unless we re-evaluate our knowledge in our own history which is full of misconceptions and contradictions being only accessible to either academics or to people who would bother to search for these facts to unveil the truth that our history is written based on a perspective that it would prevent the rise of our national consciousness and thus legitimised the very existence of the authority of the current order to justify their existence in our society. But as of this moment, the authority we have is gradually losing its self-evident legitimacy, and now the field is open for prospective revolutionaries who might change and guide our country to achieve the three words popularised by the French Revolution: that of liberty, of equality and of fraternity.

I want to end this article with a quotation from a stanza of the Greek poem Thourios written which inspired the people of Greece to rise against the Ottoman Empire written by the Greek nationalist Rigas Feraois:

“An hour’s time of living free,
is better than forty years of prison and slavery.”


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