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Capital and sweat

LODESTAR - Danton Remoto (The Philippine Star) - March 6, 2021 - 12:00am

I am winding up with the English translation of Lope K. Santos’s great novel in Tagalog, “Banaag at Sikat” published in 1906. This novel published in the early days of the American regime is the son of the 19th century didactic novel and the socialism surfacing at the time. Penguin Random House South East Asia has commissioned me to translate the novel as part of its South East Asian Classics series, and I am honored to do so.

At heart a love story between Meni, the daughter of the rich capitalist Don Ramon, and Delfin, the young firebrand, the novel does not blush in its long discussions on ideas and ideology. In translating the novel, I tried to telescope the long and repetitive speeches into shorter sentences, to keep the narrative flowing. After all, the genre of the book is a novel, which mandates action, intention, motivation and narration.

Chapter 3 is entitled “Capital and Sweat.” It could verily be the gist of many inflamed editorials published in the anti-imperialist newspapers of the time, including the famous editorial, “Aves de Rapina” (*Birds of Prey”), published in the Spanish-Tagalog newspaper, El Renacimiento. The newspaper was openly critical of the American regime and was shut down after the publication of this editorial.

The same inflammatory language burns in Chapter 3 of “Banaag at Sikat,” which I have translated as “Radiance and Sunrise.” Here are choice passages of the debate between Don Ramon and Delfin.

*      *      *

Don Ramon was easily irritated like Don Filemon. But his irritation did not sharpen, for there was a dawn of truth in Delfin’s reasoning. Although his wealth had covered his eyes with a layer of darkness, the learning he had acquired also proved useful in such occasions. The sharp thrusts of Delfin’s reasoning wounded him so. Although it was useless to lose one’s cool in such debates.

Who was Delfin compared to his knowledge on economic and social matters? How could Don Ramon who had traveled in Europe lose in a war of words against Delfin, who might not even have sailed past Mariveles?  He who had seen massive workers’ rallies in Barcelona and in some provinces in France, where the worker’s stubbornness only led to nothing, or to the hangman’s noose? He who had read on the Political Economy of Adam Smith, Ricardo, Neumann, Bastiat, and the easy book by P. Liberatore, why would he lose sleep over a mere student?

Oh! He never became a doctor or a lawyer, but his many books at home dealt with workers’ wages and the rights of capitalists regarding labor. But we were not aware if in the enclosure of his library, Don Ramon knew the difference  between tomes and wisdom, for the way one’s stomach was filled with a banquet of food was different from knowledge growing in one’s mind.

The reasoning that Delfin gave him were no longer mere words from a common worker. It was apparent that the young man had already read books on Sociology. Don Ramon rued how easily such books could now enter the country. He told himself: “Ah! We wasted the time of the Spaniards. If this happened during their time, such books now found in the Colon Library, the editorial offices, Manila Philately and V. Castillo, amongst others, would have been burnt.”

His vexation grew and now focused itself not on the workers’ strike in their factory with Don Filemon. Instead, he railed against the bad ideas of the younger man, ideas which, if not scuttled early, would erode the strong foundations of capital in the Philippines.

Delfin! Delfin! He mused to himself in a somewhat fatherly tone. “Go slow, the path is slippery and full of thorns. Our workers are still worlds away from the condition of the workers in lands where the socialists and the anarchists are beginning to grow. The wages and conditions of the Filipino workers are much better than those found even in Germany. Our workers’ conditions are not poor, if you only saw the conditions in which the Spaniards, Russians and the others lived. They’re the ones who could be helped by these socialists and anarchists. But look, Delfin, at how bitter the fruits are! People die in the strikes, thievery and drunkenness happen, women are raped and people die of hunger. Don’t betray our country whose people are easily swayed, stupid enough to be borne away by the strong currents or by winds blowing. If the workers would hear your thoughts, they would only become more lazy than they already are…”

“But do you know why our workers are lazy?” Delfin countered.

“Wait a minute! These things can’t be done through the impulsiveness of the young. Where will you lead the country if young people are allowed to lead? Our workers will constantly ask for their rights and will forget about their responsibilities. They’re still ignorant about many things. Many of them don’t even know how to eat rice, then you’ll teach them these foolish ideas, give them socialist dreams? What do young people know about socialism?”

“That’s why we need to introduce it to them…”

But he just blithely ignored Delfin and faced Don Filemon. He continued speaking: “These young people think that all that glitters is gold. Ha, ha, ha! What good did the American government have in mind when they sent these kids to the United States, supposedly to learn about the realities of life? Too bad, Delfin, that you weren’t able to go to Paris, or even just to Barcelona. You would have seen the thick and bitter fruits of socialism. Even at their worst, the Filipino workers never go hungry, and yet you want to introduce these ideas to them. Is that what you’ve learnt about love of country and love of fellowmen?

*      *      *

Many ideas in this novel are still relevant to the Philippines and to South East Asia in the 21st century. I am happy that Penguin Books have seen fit to have the classics of South East Asia translated for today’s readers.

*      *      *

Email: danton.lodestar@gmail.com Danton Remoto’s “Riverrun, A Novel” has just been published by Penguin Books.

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