Bonifacio’s own lower middle class origins may be gleaned from his biography. His mother was a Spanish mestiza who used to work as a cabecilla in a cigarette factory. His father, a tailor, had served as a teniente mayor of Tondo.26 Bonifacio was born in Tondo in 1863. The early death of his parents forced him to quit school in order to support his brothers and sisters. Bonifacio first earned his livelihood by making walking canes and paper fans which he himself peddled. Later, he worked as a messenger for Fleming and Co. and as a salesman of tar and other goods sold by the same firm. His last job before the Revolution was a bodeguero or warehouseman for Fressell and Company.
Poverty prevented him from going beyond the second year of high school but he was an avid reader, especially on the subject of revolution. When because of his revolutionary activities the Guardia Civil Veterana of Manila searched his home, they found among his papers copies of revolutionary speeches, masonic documents, a collection of La Solidaridad, and letters of Luna, del Pilar, and Rizal. Among his books were: Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and The Wandering Jew by Eugene Sue. He also had biographies of presidents of the United States, books on the French Revolution, on international law, and on religion.27
Influence of Plaridel
The ideas of Marcelo H. del Pilar exerted a strong influence on Bonifacio. Among the propagandists, it was del Pilar who ultimately saw the futility of fighting for reforms and was veering toward revolution. His chosen style of work, proof of his understanding of the masses, made this development possible. His experience in mass propaganda before he was forced to leave the country made him regard the reformists’ work in Spain only as a first stage. He intended to return in a year or two to work on what he called the second phase of the propaganda.28 While he did not specify what this would entail, in one of his letters he did refer to the expulsion of the friars as a task the Filipinos themselves must undertake.29 Unlike Rizal, del Pilar was sympathetic toward the Revolution. He declared himself in favor of insurrection as a “last remedy,” especially if the people no longer believed that peaceful means would suffice.30 Had he been in the country, his pen would have been
just right for the Katipunan. Desperately poor, he died in Spain in 1896.
Bonifacio prized del Pilar’s sympathy and support and used his letters as guides to his thinking and action. Bonifacio submitted to del Pilar for his approval the by-laws of the KKK and made use of del Pilar’s letter approving of the organization of the revolutionary society to recruit more adherents. The Katipunan organ, the Kalayaan, carried del Pilar’s name as editor-in-chief, a ploy to throw off the authorities; this had del Pilar’s sanction.31 So great was Bonifacio’s admiration for del Pilar that he painstakingly copied the letters del Pilar had written to his brother-in-law, Deodato Arellano. Bonifacio treasured these letters and the ones he himself received as sacred relics of the Revolution and was guided by them.32
Coming as they did from the lower echelons of the middle class, Bonifacio and his companions instinctively identified with the masses. Although the early leadership of the Katipunan was essentially middle class, many members of this class could be considered almost plebeian in social status, for in the evolving society of that time, class differentiation was not very marked in the lower levels. Thus it was possible for a bodeguero like Bonifacio or a book binder like Aguedo del Rosario or court clerks and other small employees like the others to feel an instinctive affinity for the workingmen in the cities and for the peasants in the countryside. It was therefore possible for this middle-class organization to become the triggering force that would galvanize the masses into action because it expressed the masses’ own demands for freedom from Spanish colonialism and friar despotism.
Historic Initiative of the Masses
The Katipunan emerged as the natural heir of the revolutionary tradition of the people, a tradition which had manifested itself in uprising after uprising throughout three centuries of Spanish rule. However, these were fragmented struggles characterized by a spontaneity devoid of ideology. They were the instinctual reactions of a people that could not as yet articulate its thoughts and its goals on a national scale. But this spontaneity flowed into the voids and the gaps of society giving rise to an initiative which though negative in nature already delineated, if vaguely, the positive reconstruction of the body politic. Each resistance was both a negative reaction to reality and a positive, if unarticulated attempt, to change the existing
order. Each revolt was a search for an alternative as yet inchoate in the mind, but deeply felt. When the material basis for a national consciousness emerged, it became possible to work on a national scale for an alternative to the colonial condition.
From its inception, the Katipunan set itself the task of arousing national feeling and working for the deliverance of the Filipino people as a whole from Spanish oppression and friar despotism. Believing that only a united people could achieve its own redemption, the Katipunan sought to lay the basis for this unity by fostering a stronger love of country and encouraging mutual aid. It saw all Filipinos as “equals and brothers" regardless of economic status.
The fact that Bonifacio and the other leaders belonged to intermediate classes made them susceptible to a view of society which blunted the conflict between classes, although Bonifacio himself voiced his resentment against those among the rich who were not sympathetic to the movement. The Katipunan’s approach was racial and anti-colonial. The anti-colonial basis of its principles led the leaders to the inescapable goal of independence.
Because for them the motive force of the Revolution was simply a common grievance of all social strata against a common enemy, they sought to strengthen national unity by emphasizing the need for brotherhood. This is the explanation for their preoccupation with ethical behavior among the members of their organization.
In Bonifacio’s compendium of rules of conduct for Katipunan members entitled "The Duties of the Sons of the People," and in the Kartilla or primer for the Katipunan written by Emilio Jacinto, close associate of Bonifacio and editor of the Katipunan paper, Kalayaan, we find many admonitions regarding the proper attitude towards women and regarding brotherly cooperation, and many suggestions for good behavior.33
The Katipunan was in effect substituting its strictures for the preachment of the friars, with the important difference that this time the admonitions were for equals. The exhortations were addressed to rich and poor alike. There was no class approach. One might classify the aggrupation as a primitive form of a united front welded together by a common desire for independence.
Bonifacio -- a Synthesis
While the early revolts were movements without theory, the ilustrados were the exponents of theory without a movement. It took a Bonifacio to synthesize the two, for Bonifacio, though he came from the lower middle class, had the instincts of the masses. It is characteristic of the middle class that its members have latent inclinations toward both the upper and the lower class. To his credit, Bonifacio resolved this ambivalence decisively in favor of the masses whereas other leaders of similar economic status would later opt for absorption into the upper class, thus abandoning the people.34
Bonifacio and his companions had enough education to be able to imbibe the liberal ideas of the time and transmit them to the people in their own writings. They were, therefore, able to articulate the desires of the people. But unlike the ilustrados, they were incapable of abstractions. Thus their writings voiced the raw ideas of the people.
The ilustrados on the other hand, having acquired more education, could articulate their demands with greater facility and skill; they had a greater mastery of the liberal ideas that could be projected and put to use in the struggles of their compatriots.
But these ilustrados were already acquiring a vested interest in the status quo, hence their aspirations were limited to asking for better accommodation within the system. Although they resented the lack of equality with the Spaniards, they were reaping some of the benefits accruing to the ruling class. Their struggles were therefore based on the preservation of the colonial relation; their goal was to become Spaniards. Although the country was in a revolutionary ferment and many of them were later drawn into the Revolution -- particularly when it looked as if the Revolution might succeed -- their participation was generally characterized by the prudence of men who from the start were ready for a retreat.
The ideas of Bonifacio did not have a solid ideological content. His was a primitive ideology based more or less on the dignity of man. But the great advance that must be credited to him and to his organization is that they raised the banner of separatism and saw clearly that revolution was the only way to achieve their goal.
The Katipunan ideology was the articulation of a people just discovering themselves. It was the inchoate ideology of a people that had just become a nation. It was a call for struggle, for separation. While it was a cry for independence, it was also a demand for democracy. And this democracy which took the most elementary form of a vague equality was the answer to the lack of democracy among the Filipinos because they were not the equals of the Spaniards.
In this primitive form, the people under Bonifacio’s leadership had already seen the connection between anti-colonialism and democracy. But it was an imperfect view, for while the leaders identified themselves with the masses, they still had the residue of hierarchism which was a legacy from Spain. The masses, too, while now becoming conscious of their power, still looked up to leaders who came from a higher stratum.
In the early days of the Revolution it seemed as if the idealist goal of universal equality was within reach and all the revolutionists shared a common identification as Filipinos. The sincere leaders like Bonifacio failed to see the dangers of ilustrado ambition while the masses, despite their new-found dignity, trustingly followed the ilustrado leadership in their respective provinces.
The Katipunan failed to detect the fundamental bifurcation within its ranks which would soon erupt in a struggle for leadership.
It was a beginning for the masses; it was also a beginning for the emerging leadership. Although the Supreme Council was a shadow government and the popular and town councils acted as governing bodies, the Katipunan’s ideas of the government that would replace the existing one after the triumph of the Revolution were still vague.
The inchoate desires of the people were responsible for the inchoate declarations of Bonifacio. It took the ilustrados to give these desires more explicit form; at the same time they took care that the resulting creation would carry their imprint. Eventually, the Revolution became a people’s war under elite leadership.
26. Esteban de Ocampo, "The Life and Achievements of Bonifacio," Philippine Historical Bulletin (December, 1966), pp. 23-39. Leopoldo Serrano, "Mga Pangyayayri sa Buhay ni Andres Bonifacio," Historical Bulletin (September, 1960), pp. 90-99.
27. T.M. Kalaw, Revolution…, pp. 21-22. For more biographical data on Bonifacio, see Epifanio de los Santos, Marcelo H. del Pilar.
28. "Letter to Rizal, May 24, 1889," Epistolario de del Pilar, Vol. I, pp. 130-131.
29. "Letter to Icasiano, May 3, 1889," in Ibid., p. 112.
30. Agoncillo and Guerrero, History…, pp. 147-148.
31. Arturo Ma. Misa, "Del Pilar and the Katipunan," Philippine Free Press, July 4, 1959, pp. 34-35.
32. Leon Ma. Guerrero, "Del Pilar," Philippines Free Press, December 13, 1952, pp. 10-11, 98-99.
33. For the decalogue and Kartilla of the KKK, see T.M. Kalaw, Revolution…, pp. 6-7, 21-22.
34. Another discussion of the same theme can be found in Constantino, "Roots of Subservience" and "Veneration…," in Dissent…