BLOOD RUSH | Edel Garcellano’s Decolonial Project*

Edel Garcellano’s decolonial project demonstrates how the “marketplace of ideas” does not include all sides of the story. This situation is not ironic but is precisely a feature of an imperialist system’s academic component.

In August 2008, Garcellano published an essay entitled “The Philippines as Yugoslavia Revisited.” He combines the approaches of cultural studies, geopolitics and political economy in critiquing scholasticism, US imperialist war, the Philippine client state and the China Syndrome. Instead of constructing horizons of discursive containment, Garcellano uses a holistic approach that connects intellectual currents and histories with a global analysis that is keen on the national question, which, in turn, is shaped by class analysis.

Furthermore, Garcellano is known for defining thinking as only thinking against the grain. Otherwise, it is just complicity. From this normative principle, Garcellano works through a crystallization of academic freedom. Anyone who reads Garcellano or reads with Garcellano cannot but ask this question: What possible claims can we make based on academic freedom, the kind that is shaped by a freedom to change the world?

Garcellano’s intellectual project is a sustained and transformative rejection of coloniality. His approach to colonialism in all its contemporary forms is itself a critique of the academe’s so-called decolonial project. His metacritique of “anti-colonial critique” lays down a viable foundation for a materialist intellectual history of Philippine Studies.

The decolonial current is more attuned to the vibe of idealist thought as shown in energetic academic ads like “decolonize the mind,” “decolonize the syllabus,” “decolonize the curriculum.” These calls are by no means random or baseless. They follow a dominant strand of decolonial thought—which Moosavi critiques yet upholds—that actively distinguishes itself from decolonization, a process that “reclaims control of the state apparatus” .

This decolonial current is not invested in the praxis of peoples’ mass movements for national liberation and against imperialism. This dominant strand of decoloniality is more invested in asserting “epistemic disobedience,” “border thinking,” or as Walter Mignolo succinctly puts it, decoloniality is a reclaiming of “one’s whole existence.” A selfie for the pluriverse, anyone?

Meanwhile, Garcellano’s tremendous contribution to Philippine letters is seen in his straight-up dialectical and historical materialist approach to a social scientific understanding of the 70s up to the first two decades of 21st century. His interventions expose the ideological limits of at least two dominant modes of academic critique: Cultural Studies and the approach of Geopolitics.

How so? Garcellano’s historical and dialectical materialist critique and theorizing is founded on an analytical framing of the current moment within the rubric of value, more particularly, the drain of value from the Global South to the Global North. It is in within this critical frame that Garcellano produces a space for his class-based and anti-imperialist critique.

Cultural Studies as taught and engaged in the academe largely functions as a doctrine of containment. The separation of culture from any analysis of capital, global value chains, and imperialist circuits of finance capital is cultural studies proper.

If only Edel were with us in what seems to be an endless Corona season, he would have delivered an impassioned lecture today, noting how everyone, including the mainstream media, IMF-WB and tenured professors at the University of the Philippines, particularly, are raising their voices against authoritarianism being the official government response to COVID 19. They are not incorrect. But Edel Garcellano will certainly express his dismay at their silence on the US monopoly of medical technology as well as the monopoly on vaccines. Why? Because getting at the bottom of the problem of monopoly is beyond textual and discursive analyses of Duterte’s speeches and 4-pillar socio-economic strategy for Covid 19. Do not ever cross the cultural-textual-discursive line. It has to be perpetually circular, Cultural Studies for Cultural Studies.

Geopolitics has earned a radical reputation for providing an analytical tool for mapping the earth and the power that circulates around it. From this perspective, one acquires a general understanding of international relations, foreign policy and variables of geographical import. It provides a picture of the fraught relationships between poor and rich nations; and how this unevenness influences diplomacy, multilateral and financial institutions and access to serviceable goods based on geographical space and political power. The
geopolitical approach, however, has recently ran into one of the more enigmatic “geopolitical issues” of the 21st century: What of the rivalry between the US and China? Bereft of the history of the Cold War, an insight in global wage arbitrage and global supply chains, in other words, class analysis, some general and non-empirical statements can be said about this trade war: “The world is currently witnessing a war between two superpowers.”

Garcellano’s “The Philippines As Yugoslavia Revisited” wields academic freedom as a tool to crystallize the best aspects of so-called competing paradigms. But this is less an affirmation of the “marketplace of ideas,” a faux heterodoxy that has no other function but to fragment and marginalize in the name of pluralism than Garcellano’s thoughtful engagement with dialectical thought and totality. Ironically, for all his polemical and combative flair, Garcellano embraced a genuinely catholic, i.e. inclusive approach, one of his urgent yet oft-ignored message is to always build basic unities and subsequently, higher levels of unity as we struggle against the most powerful of enemies.

This essay, written at the height of political killings under the US-Macapagal Arroyo regime and the Financial Crisis, begins with a tough yet thoughtful critique of scholasticism as seen in the ways in which historians insist on contemporaneity or history being able to capture what goes on. But instead of working through contemporaneity, well known historians like Ambeth Ocampo and Zeus Salazar dropped the problem and focused on the appropriate naming of what we are calling history.

For Ocampo, the Cebuano word kaagi is more apt than the Spanish historia as it “literally means ‘the way or path we have passed.’ Salazar prefers kasaysayan over historya as it combines the senses of story or salaysay and saysay or meaning. Garcellano quips that for ordinary people, history is what happened in the past.

Here lies Garcellano’s critique of the scholastic disposition that blurs contemporaneity. The question of contemporaneity is urgent and has been various ways. Garcellano cites Eagleton: “Every epoch suffers from the disability of being contemporaneous with itself, and of having no idea where it might lead.” He also paraphrases Zizek: “Do we know what’s going on?”

Why insist on contemporaneity?

Garcellano confronts this problem by first exposing how the pivot to language is not just a matter of naming a discipline but a form of ideological foreclosure. This foreclosure, I argue, results in essentialism and narrow nationalism, two observable components of the logic of fragmentation-in-globalization. According to this logic, one can acquire a cosmopolitanism made up of cultural sensitivity and a sense of place without tracing global value chains or more precisely, the unequal exchange governed by an imperialist system where the ruling class of dominant nations work closely with the ruling class of client states.

A few questions are in order in relation to this structure that is based on accumulation on a world scale: How do the processes of de-peasantization and semi-proletarianization on account of multinational agribusiness land grabs bring together the underclass of this segmented world system into a global anti-imperialist movement? How can this movement succeed in fighting fascism and building class power and democracy? These are historical questions, a continuing past that shape humanity’s future. However, any discussion of building and taking back power is not the problem of scholasticized decolonial endeavors.

It was, however, Garcellano’s problem. For him, “historical texts… cannot afford a closure: Ocampo, Salazar et al, can only presume a historical & historicized position that is subject to contestation – the choice of the language of narration merely a scholastic posture.” What is needed here and now is not closure but a careful demonstration of the contested nature of historical texts.

Garcellano does so when he makes a connection between the case of Yugoslavia, in particular, the trial of Radovan Karadzic and the aborted MOA between the MILF and the Macapagal-Arroyo regime. The fate of these separate events were signed by Pax Americana.

Drawing heavily from Belgian journalist Michael Collon, Garcellano demonstrates the travesty of US interventionsim:

“Milosevic has been attacked not for crimes he might have committed but because he resisted the IMF and the multinationals that wanted to control his country… The most important dimension of this trial [is] Bush is threatening more and more countries that are rebellious: [North] Korea, Iraq, even Iran, [guerillas] in Colombia, Philippines [underscoring mine], and tomorrow still others. The goal of this trial is to intimidate all the other Third World leaders who follow a course of resistance to multinationals… It is a trial of intimidation.”

And in his own words, Garcellano continues:

“Obama, for all his agit-prop of change vis-a-avis Bush, is supportive of Israel, with his eyes on the powerful Jewish lobby. & Hillary Clinton’s remark that she would make use of nuclear deterrence if Israel is attacked, merely shows more of the same of the Republican policy that the Democrats would pursue, anyway, in a more sophisticated ploy, anyway – the “blackening” of America has never been so real, this time couched in the language of motherhood & capitalist revivalism…The rest is bloody history.”

Garcellano’s materialist decolonial critique of world politics allowed him a prescient analysis of the so-called conflict between the U.S. and China. After all, nothing else shakes American Peace than a former socialist state currently building influence in different regions of the world. It is the same state that brokers its usable territories and workers as sources of cheap labor and raw materials to be exported worldwide, but primarily to the United States. Garcellano begins with one of the favorite object of Cultural Studies:

“There is a deafening buzz about Chinese restrictions on media reportage – but this is true. Even the journalist from one local daily was barred from entering the Bird’s Nest Stadium, & had to content himself with the official press hand-outs.

Yes, the internet is gagged. But it is preposterous for the West to remonstrate: its embedded journalists gave the world a lopsided view of Iraq war & the Yugoslavian partition.

Bush telling off the Chinese about human rights? It’s the kettle calling the pot black.

Of course, there is a ring of truth in Bush’s spiel, but it is a case of the singer, not the song.
Malacañang does that with impunity too, having learned from the masters of doubletalk.”

As for the an approach to the China Syndrome (a subheading to the same article), Garcellano sticks to a historical dialectical materialist analysis based on China’s historic victory against imperialism and its socialist construction under Mao Zedong and the role of China in the current global value chain, which geopolitical and cultural analyses bar from their respective discussions:

Garcellano, citing Mobo Gao (The Battle for China’s Past), insists upon a class analysis of the figure of Deng Xiaoping and his clique. They “were not really Marxist, but basically revolutionary nationalists who wanted to see China on equal terms with great global powers. They were primarily nationalists and they participated in the Communist revolution because that was the only viable route they could find to Chinese nationalism.”

Garcellano continues with fascinating clarity that wields the power of class analysis that should inform today’s so-called bigger yet blurry picture provided by the approach of geopolitics:

“Technically, therefore, the Politburo never betrayed the Communist ideals because the current crop of backroom boys has never been Marxist. That they behave like any capitalist landlord is par for the course, as it were, since they have always fashioned themselves as on equal footing with Western moneybags. After all, they crow about their reserves which are basically the lifeline of US economy. If Chinese wheeler-dealers ink pacts with the Arroyo government & its cronies, it is simply the cold, statistical reasons of exchange-value – & never mind the fate of the Filipino proletariat who must suffer from the graft-ridden deals.
The demonization of Mao Zedong in gross biographical sketches holds sway among the misinformed generation who is oblivious of the recent history that, in the words of Robbie Kwan Laurel, “the current rapid economic growth of China and its being transformed as the darling of capitalism are only possible because of the efforts towards industrialization, accessible health care, and extensive public education during the era of Mao.”
Mao never deviated from his vision.”

The problem of decoloniality, for Garcellano, is the Euro-American import of left melancholy or the pining for a lost revolution and the grief that comes with an assumption that a vision has failed.

“The sign is up: The world be reconciled along different lines, where the individual is now placed on the podium, his rights/freedom reexamined against he light of discredited isms (45:2002).” Here Garcellano traces the colonial and Eurocentric origins of the “marketplace of ideas,” the mantra of neoliberal academia.

The so-called failure of the Philippine Left, in Garcellano’s reading and re-reading, has two versions: 1)the Communist Party of the Philippine’s assessment of its failures and its resolution to reaffirm its basic principles and rectify its errors and the (2) the Philippine academe’s notion of rupture from a socialist project is borrowed from the subjectivity of Eastern European practitioners** whose “discourses stem from the conceived specificity of their disenchantment with the collectivist practice that was bureaucratized and consequently hierachichized…In this sense, collectivism must now be shunted aside as a failure, and the liberal humanist individualist proposition be re-considered because it is full again of possibilities —although this assumption, if transported into our neocolonial context would merely reinforce anarchic dispersal, warlordism.” (45:2002)

Speaking of dispersal, for Garcellano, the problem of decoloniality is not Wallerstein’s World Systems Theory as Walter Mignolo and his disciples insist. The decolonial critique of so-called northerncentric approach of theories of dependency is just another form of essentialism that proposes a correspondence between place and politics. Such essentialist formulations of decoloniality coupled with Mignolo’s liberal humanist call for a reclaiming of one’s whole existence are affiliate ideas of the fragmentary logic of capital that wishes away the materiality of imperialism in what is supposed to be a decolonial project.

Meanwhile, Garcellano’s decoloniality demands the rigors of a materialist approach to history that may begin but certainly not stop at this current version of academic decolonial incrementalism via syllabi construction within the current imperialist system.

Garcellano’s basic unity with his colleagues is an insistence on contemporaneity based on a decolonial, anti-imperialist historicizing. Don’t make unity and struggle so difficult for the rest of us who are in need of both revolutionary thought and revolutionary movement. (

Sarah Raymundo is a full-time faculty at the University of the Philippines-Diliman Center for International Studies. She is engaged in activist work in BAYAN (The New Patriotic Alliance), the International League of Peoples’ Struggles, and Chair of the Philippines-Bolivarian Venezuela Friendship Association. She is a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal for Labor and Society (LANDS) and Interface: Journal of/and for Social Movements.

*Presented at the Kritika Kultura Lecture Series in honor of Edel E. Garcellano, May 4, 2021 (Edel’s birth anniversary)

**Of these, Garcellano cites “the likes of Toni Negri and Felix Guattari [who] have influenced the Filipino reading of his world.”(44)

Share This Post