Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Lean Alejandro (1960-87)

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"The socialist man must know how to compute the distance of the stars, how to differentiate a fish from a shark, a mammal from a reptile. He must know how to distill wine into liquor and how to arrive at e=mc^2. He must know how to cook bacon, butcher a pig and roast a lamb. He must be capable of leading armies into battle. He must know how to follow orders, give orders and he must know when to disobey them. He must be able at debate, at lobbying, at open struggle. He must know how to analyze difficult political situations, how to get out of one and how to convince others that they must do the same. He must know how to sail a ship, dig a latrine, construct a pigsty, wash clothes, wash dishes, plan an offensive, plan a retreat, mix martinis, drink martinis, differentiate brandy from whisky, keep quiet, participate, take care of babies, manage a state bureaucracy, soothe pain, comfort the sorrowful, maintain his composure in hot water, when to watch, when to participate, repair appliances, maintain a car, purge revisionists, ride a horse, run from a bull, swim, play tennis, drown gracefully, sink with his ship with honor along with the mice, discuss Mao, debunk Zinoviev, ridicule Stalin, appreciate a beehive, raise chickens, cook chickens, play boogle (respectably), correctly read Mabini, recruit members into the movement, motivate members to struggle, host a party, play at least one musical instrument, be critical, self-critical, honest... The socialist man is the total man. Specialization is for ants." - Lean Alejandro (July 10, 1960 - September 19, 1987)


Remembering Lean
Antoinette R. Raquiza
19 September 2012
Club Filipino

It is a pleasure to be with old friends and was a real pleasure to read through many of the essays that the Foundation has compiled for the anthology.  A few of the tributes were written fairly recently—but the vast majority of the 36 short pieces were written almost 25 years ago, when some of Lean’s good friends, still mourning his death, were moved to set pen to paper and commemorate their fallen comrade.

The anthology, which we hope to publish next year, is a long overdue synthesis of such works.  Many were published in newspapers now defunct; almost all, therefore, surely fated to be lost had they not been tucked away, and safeguarded for years.  It is appropriate that these writings be preserved in a book, in the same way that Lidy and some of Lean’s closest friends and colleagues thought it was appropriate, all those years ago, to establish a foundation in Lean’s name, dedicated to preserving his memory, advancing his work, and cherishing the flame of freedom and justice that he tried to keep lit.

But this collection will be more than a commemoration.  It will also be a bit of a time capsule, memorializing the thoughts and predications of so many young activists, so long ago.  Who were the people who wrote down these tributes and what was the relationship between their lives, Lean’s and the time they lived in?  I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on these matters as a way of introducing this book project—and a good way to begin is by recalling where we stood at the time when Lean was gunned down and assessing where we now stand.

We are, today, marking the 40th year anniversary of the declaration of martial law, an event that long served as a benchmark on the chronology of the Marcos dictatorship—a chronology by which so many of us measured our lives. We know, of course, of the First Quarter Storm, and the generation it spawned: young women and men who began the fight against Marcos: a cadre of activists that Lean and his generation—my generation—grew up admiring, emulating, and sometimes challenging.

We of course—and Lean maybe most of all—came from a different activist generation.  By the late 1970s, the movement had begun to experiment with political struggles and united fronts.  The universities, long a recruitment ground for what we then called higher forms of struggle, began to serve more as stable sites of struggle, and to recruit activists who were better positioned to negotiate the broader spans of the united front as well as of the urban mass protest.

Lean was perhaps the definitive figure in that generation—a compelling speaker, a committed activist—but also someone who grasped the urbane and increasingly cosmopolitan place that Manila was becoming.  He found hundreds of ways to say that revolution should be compatible with a good life—with art, with culture, with accomplishment.  And in this way, he was different from the First Quarter storm-ers, the generation of activists who pursued revolution by going to the countryside, attempting to live like peasants, and in many cases, turning their backs on the urban milieu that Lean thrived in and in which so many of us have thrived. Lean was made for the united front, for the television interview, for the necessary task of moving mainstream society toward progressive politics and activism, and toward a better world.

But what about the generation from which many of the writers in this book came? What did we think, 25 years ago?  We were – remember - less than a year into the post-Marcos period: something we hoped for and probably feared a little bit.  In 1987, we were still on the cusp of things—the first post-Marcos presidential election was still before us. Many of us felt that, with critical rethinking, we would improve on and consolidate a revolutionary strategy for the new dispensation. and that things would be better. We were, in an important sense, politically young—or maybe felt young again.

Lean, when he was killed, was—like the movement he rose from--both young and old. He had experience, had established his capacity to lead and inspire, had made choices—but he was also impossibly, tragically young. Going over the articles for this book, one is powerfully struck, again and again, by the sense of loss and anger, of the huge waste in his potential.  Writer after writer describe as well their unshakable conviction that Lean’s death would not be in vain, that he would inspire others to become relevant, that the movement would redeem his sacrifice.

Those are haunting words to read twenty five years later.  Lean, on these pages, remains the young activist and idealist, a leader in a time that needed leaders, and found them.  A young man with a future before him and work to do, killed--this collection reminds us--in a movement with a future before it, and work to do.  And the movement has progressed, and tackled issues, and drawn in new activists, and made some more progress.  But it is an older movement than the movement that Lean helped built—a movement with stretch marks, a bald patch or two, a movement that sometimes tells the same stories, and every now and then, after a big meal, falls asleep at the table.

The beauty of a hero who dies young—and this is cold comfort to those who loved him, and wish that he too could fall asleep at the table—is that he will always be, in our mind’s eye, fresh, and new, and leaning into a future full of promise.  The tragedy of that promise when it is cut short has a mirror image: the gift of a youth preserved.

This anthology will do us the great favor of reminding a new generation—and those of us who have been around for a while—what Lean was like, and how deeply he inspired people.  But it also provides a chance to measure our politics against the politics of a young martyr, a rising mass movement, and the optimistic activists who, shouldering the burden of their grief at the time of Lean’s death, were sure that hundreds would rise to take his place.

The world, and our politics, are more complicated than that, of course.  Those of us who stuck around learned hard lessons, suffered setbacks and half victories, and watched a tarnish creep across the once bright vision of our future.

This collection will open a window that we all would do well to look through. It seeks to provide a window that certainly opens onto Lean and his life.  But it also opens onto our younger, perhaps braver selves, and reminds us of a time when we thought anything was possible, and in so thinking, made it so.  And that may be enough to encourage us to look, as we did all those years ago, for our next Lean, and to fan the embers he once set aglow in the hearts of those who loved him.


Mark said...

Base on his quote, Lean Alejandro sounds like an awfully naive man. No matter how smart you are there will always be someone just as smart if not smarter. And if that person decides to spend more time devoted in his/her field of expertise, he/she will likely be more productive.

Specialization is the bedrock of every developed country's wealth and higher standard of living for everyone.

jamesmiraflor said...

Hi Mark,

I am sure Lean did not mean that we should be abolishing all professional distinction. He was rhetorically emphasizing the need to be holistic in our approach to human development. One can specialize, of course (one needs to, in fact), but still having the breadth that allows one to enjoy both arts and the sciences, calculus of variation and post-impressionist sculpture, Tchaikovsky and Darwin.

Besides, we are already facing the stage in the development of our civilization that most specialized activities - even mental ones - are closed to being automated. The strength of human beings vis-a-viz the machines is thus apparent. It is not in specialization that human being will be relevant, but rather in our capacity to mesh disciplines together and create new ones.