Questions from A Worker Who Reads

While checking our library for old issues of Datos (Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research’s magazine), I stumbled into a 1991 issue containing messages of solidarity for EILER’s 10th anniversary. One of the messages was from a journalist named Karl Rossel based in Cologne, Germany. Rossel, a member of journalists’ collective Rheiniches Journalisten Buro, included some parts of Bertolt Bretcht’s beautiful poem “Questions of a Well-Read Worker” in his message to illustrate how the ruling class obliterates the role which workers and the masses played in the progress of empires and societies.

Who built the ancient city of Theben with its seven gates?

The books only mention the names of kings.

But did the kings carry along all the stones?

Where – in the golden city of Lima  – were the houses of craftsmen?

On the evening, when the Chinese wall was finished, where did the bricklayers go?


When Alexander conquered India, was he alone?…

Did he not even take a cook with him?

Philipp of Spain weeped, when his fleet was gone down?

Did nobody else cry?…

Every few years another famous man.

Who paid the costs?

So many reports

So many questions.”

Rossel said “people of EILER and the workers – well-read or not – ask questions like this,” adding that Filipino workers could have framed the questions in this way:

When the coconut and sugar plantation of landlords were built,

were there no Philippine peasants around?

When Mac Arthur “liberated” Manila in 1945, did no Filipino help him?

When Aquino talked about people’s power,

did she stop the military at Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo by herself?

How — in the  city where Malacanang Palace stands — do the workers live

and where are the houses of those who cannot even find work?

Every few years another president.

But who pays the costs?

So many reports.

So many questions.

How Brecht’s poem was localized by Rossel could not be any more better. Indeed, the role of the people in history’s progression is consistently stricken off from the books, to give more space for the exaggerated heroism of a select few. Such is the myopic and bourgeois perspective of history that looks at individuals rather than on throngs of people turning the wheels of change.

This is the same lopsided historical perspective which the Aquino government – and all other previous regimes – is guilty of. 

Every few years another president, another episode of deception, corruption, and economic sabotage. The people pays the costs. 



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