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Errors still unrectified: a brief historical outline of the Philippine Left (with commentaries)

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“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” –Karl Marx–

Today marks the 41st founding anniversary of the reestablished Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) of José María Sison, a leftist writer and former university professor who is now on self-exile in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

On 26 December 1968, Sison, together with other leaders of the Philippine left, convened in a rural area in Pangasinán province to integrate the principles of Marxism-Leninism to that of Mao Tse-Tung’s, creating the said political party in the process. The following year, the CPP launched its armed wing: the New People’s Army (NPA). The landscape of our country’s progressive political thought — not excluding security and order — has never been the same since.

Sison’s CPP actually traces its origins from the old Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP, or CPP in English) of Crisanto Evangelista. PKP was organized on 26 August 1930, but was officially proclaimed on 7 November of the same year (at the height of the American Occupation). The two dates, August 26 and November 7, are significant to Filipino Communists: August 26 of that year was actually the 34th anniversary of the Katipunan’s Cry of Pugad Lawin (Nick Joaquín contends that it happened on 23 August 1896 in Balintawak — I believe him); 7 November 1930 was the 13th anniversary of the Russian Revolution (October 25 in the old Russian calendar). Wrote Novo Ecijano Alfredo Saulo in his groundbreaking book Communism in the Philippines: An Introduction (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1990):

The Philippine Revolution was a nationalist revolution, the first in Asia, while the Russian Revolution was a communist-led working class revolution, the first in the history of mankind.

In trying to bridge the two revolutions, the CPP would seem to emphasize both the nationalist and proletarian character of its revolutionary struggle.

It is significant to note that the party was organized in the Templo del Trabajo (literally Temple of Labor), doubtless the most important gathering place for labor elements in the city in the early thirties. It was proclaimed at Plaza Moriones, Tondo, the heartland of Manila’s working-class district.

PKP, on the other hand, claims to carry on the “unfinished struggle” of the Filipino masses led by Andrés Bonifacio, erroneously designated with the title “The Great Plebeian”. For one, Bonifacio may not have been rich, but he was not from the lowliest of economic classes: he used to work as a business agent in a British firm — what’s proletarian about that? And besides, he joined Freemasonry in 1892 (Taliba Lodge No. 165). Despite claims of espousing the ideals of liberté, égalité, et fraternité, the world’s oldest (and mysterious) fraternal group usually recruit well-off members of the community –at least in the Philippines during Spanish times. Bonifacio couldn’t have been a Mason if he was purely plebeian. And one more thing: the Philippine Revolution of 1896 were the brains of the elite, not of the masses alone, as carelessly claimed by the late historian Teodoro Agoncillo.

But these historical divulgations are to be tackled in the future.

Speaking of the elite, the PKP wouldn’t have survived the prying eyes of Imperialist US if not for the help of an ilustrado by the name of Isabelo de los Reyes, the direct founder of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. He was then serving a prison sentence in Spain for his ties with the Philippine Revolution. During his incarceration, he was able to meet Francisco Ferrer y Guardia, the infamous anarchist and free-thinker who had a hand in the sacking and burning of about 400 Spanish Catholic churches (Saulo wrote that de los Reyes got the idea of founding the Iglesia Filipina Independiente from him although it is unlikely due to his anarchist background). Upon de los Reyes’ return to the Philippines in July 1901, he brought with him the first batch of socialist literature to have ever reached the archipelago.

Socialism vs Communism

Saulo brilliantly observed that de los Reyes’ “socialist literature must have had such a tremendous impact on local labor circles…”

…that hardly two years later (circa 1903) Lope K. Santos, a young journalist and labor leader, started the publication of Banaag at Sikat (‘Ray and Sunrise’) his social novel, in the daily newspaper Muling Pagsilang (‘The Rebirth’) which he also edited.

Published in book form in 1906, Banaag at Sikat was the first literary work by a Filipino to expound the principles of socialism in the Philippines. This novel antedated by almost a generation the birth in 1932 of the Socialist Party of the Philippines (SPP) founded by Pedro Abad Santos.

Legendary revolutionist Luis Taruc used to be the right-hand man of Abad Santos who is the brother of the 5th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court José Abad Santos. Although Taruc, who died a few years ago, claimed that Abad Santos’ SPP was founded in 1932, others contend that the socialist organization was founded in 1929 or 1933. A few years later, some of SPP’s members who had communist leanings supported then Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon’s social justice program, a move which is frowned upon by many communists who believed that the left should not in anyway “support” the capitalist/imperialist establishment. Meanwhile, more trade unions have been organized following the organization of both the PKP/CPP and SPP (but there were already trade unions which preceded both militant groups such as the Unión de Impresores de Filipinas which was founded in 1906). Labor strikes were rampant (notable was the one which happened in Fábrica, Negros Occidental — about 15,000 walked out from the Insular Lumber Mills company). The Great Depression happening in the US was being felt in the archipelago, much like what had happened in the recent US financial crisis.

Both PKP and SPP, of course, had various differences, particularly in ideology. The PKP is strictly communist: they advocate a social structure in which societal classes must be abolished and that private property should be publicly owned. And like most communist groups, the PKP believed that only a proletarian revolution will help them achieve their goals. Abad Santos’ SPP is, of course, rallying for socialism. But the difference between both progressive ideologies are a bit blurry especially since both groups share the same objectives: a classless society. Many social scientists say that socialism allows some free market economy –a familiar feature in capitalist societies– to exist. An individual is also allotted resources depending on their needs. Unfortunately for communists, especially those who look down to socialists, socialism is in fact based in the theories of Karl Marx, the oft-mentioned German philosopher who laid the foundations of modern communist thought through his famous pamphlet Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei (commonly known in English as The Communist Manifesto) and his extensive book Das Kapital: Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (Capital). Bolshevik Leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin finally concluded that socialism is actually a transitional stage between capitalism and communism (this brought forth the popular Marxist-Leninist school of communism).

Hukbalahap

Japanese aggression during World War II compelled both PKP and SPP to submit themselves to an “unholy alliance” to secure a more effective and meaningful struggle against the enemy. However, many of their leaders, including Abad Santos and Evangelista, were arrested by the dreaded Japanese kempetai. It was a disastrous blow to the Philippine left, but it launched its “Second Front” under the leadership of Dr. Vicente Lava. Eleven days before the dramatic fall of Bataán, the PKP launched the now legendary breed of Filipino guerilleros called the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa mga Hapon, commonly known as the Hukbalahap, on 29 March 1942.

After the war, Hukbalahap members fought the government, especially when Manuel Roxas was being groomed by Imperialist US to become the first president of the “independent” Republic of the Philippines. The Huks didn’t trust him, for he was a Japanese collaborator. This disturbing fact was divulged by no less than General Douglas MacArthur’s contact with the Philippine underground movement against the Japanese: Commander Charles Parsons. This was mentioned in the book Cross-Currents in the Philippines (Institute of Pacific Relations, New York, 1946) by Bernard Seeman and Laurence Salisbury: “Roxas didn’t collaborate actively. He was really a passive collaborator,” said Parsons. But dirty politics and a vile US economic policy toward war-shamed Japan made Roxas the US’ main man in the Philippines. And so the hatred between him and the Hukbalahap members commenced.

It can be said that the Hukbalahap is the precursor to today’s NPA.

Rectifying errors

It has been over three decades, but the communist movement hasn’t had any stronghold in local Philippine political philosophy.

Several setbacks forced a beleaguered PKP to go underground, and then later on to join Philippine politics, albeit apathetically. Several blunders in its central committee resulted into petty bickerings, malcontents, and other dissidents. One of them was a young nationalist by the name of José María Sison who was a big fan of Filipinist Senator Claro M. Recto.

Sison was a very belligerent young member of the PKP, which was then led by the Lava brothers (Sison later on sarcastically called the group the “Lava clique”. His virulent ideology always placed him on the party’s critical side. Highly disenchanted with the party’s seeming failures, he prepared a treatise which took him two years to write: Rectify Errors and Rebuild the Party. In the said document, Sison, using the nom de guerre Amado Guerrero which means “beloved warrior”, criticized the political blunders made by the PKP throughout its history and struggle for political existence. Sison/Guerrero assiduously enumerated the errors he thought were committed by the party. He also took time to inject Mao Tse-Tung’s political theories into his faction which he called the “reestablished” PKP, renaming it in English as the the Communist Party of the Philippines, Marxist-Leninist/Mao Tse-tung Thought, or simply as the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP):

The main ideological weakness of all previous leaderships of the Communist Party of the Philippines has been subjectivism, appearing in the form of dogmatism and empiricism, and resulting in Right and “Left” opportunist lines. The Philippines, being a semi-colonial and semi-feudal country, has a large petty bourgeoisie which serves as the historical and social basis for subjectivism. Since the Party exists in this kind of society, it is liable to reflect subjectivist trends from without and from within if it is not alert and careful in its Marxist-Leninist ideological building which is the first requirement in Party building.

The Party could be penetrated by a considerable number of Party members of petty-bourgeois orientation (middle peasants, intellectuals, handicraftsmen and other petty producers) who fail to remould their world outlook and methods of thinking in accordance with Marxism-Leninism and who fail to integrate revolutionary practice with dialectical materialism and historical materialism.

Although the first Party members were mainly from the working class represented by Comrade Crisanto Evangelista, the Party leadership erroneously put much reliance on open, legal, parliamentary and urban political activity which resulted in the paralyzation of the Communist Party of the Philippines once it was outlawed by the US imperialists and their running dogs. A revolutionary and thoroughgoing proletarian world outlook would have made the Party recognize the dialectics of the whole Philippine situation and would have enabled it to adopt the correct methods of legal and illegal struggle.

Sison, upon reestablishing (some say it was somewhat a “schismatic” move) the Communist Party of the Philippines 41 years ago today, went on with a barrage of angry accusations of political carelessness against the old PKP. He also played the role of a psychological observer to the leaders of the PKP, saying that there was an “overconcentration on urban political work because of the subjectivist and opportunist desire to compete or collaborate with bourgeois parties and groups” and that “subjectivism of the dogmatist type prevailed during the first two years of the José Lava leadership and the first five years of the Jesús Lava leadership”.

Right opportunism and “Left” opportunism have been committed in the history of the Communist Party of the Philippines. These political errors have emanated from the subjectivist world outlook. They have restricted the building of a Marxist-Leninist party that is firmly and closely linked with the masses on a national scale, that has a correct style of work and conducts criticism and self-criticism, that implements a programme of agrarian revolution and that makes use of the national united front to broaden its influence and support in its struggle against US imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism.

The urban, parliamentary and open character of the Communist Party of the Philippines during the early months of its existence in 1930 and 1931 was mainly responsible for the political disaster and difficulties that it soon suffered. During this early period, the Party leadership was given to the use of “Left” language in public against the entire bourgeoisie, and illegal work was not effectively carried out together with legal work.

The Party did not arouse and mobilize the peasantry as the main force of the revolution. Even when the principal leaders of the Party and its mass organizations were banished to different provinces, they were not conscious of the significance of planting the seeds of the new democratic revolution in the countryside. The idea of the national united front was not also immediately taken up and adopted. Even the urban petty bourgeoisie was not given serious attention as a class ally and as a source of cadres.

Current analysis

Sison also cited some military and organizational errors which he sought to rectify in the reestablished CPP. But looking at the CPP today, it seemed that the reestablishment which he did also ended up in failure. There is no more need to engage Sison in an ideological debate, nor to imitate his wont for flowery words. The very fact that he lives comfortably in Utrecht while his comrades here suffer a pitiful plight in various malaria-infested Philippine mountains and in garbage-laden urban jungles demonstrates the juvenile adventurism which he viciously hurled against the PKP.

To reiterate: his reestablishment is a total failure.

My wife has an uncle who used to be an NPA member in their hometown of Abra de Ilog, Mindoro Occidental. I’ve engaged this uncle in numerous conversations about his past life with the left. But he knew nothing about the ideology. We also had an elderly household helper who also joined the NPA in the mountains, all because of agrarian unrest. But her knowledge about what the movement is all about is zero.

I’ve also heard stories of NPA members who are as young as 15 years old! What do these kids know about capitalism, right opportunism, the deeper roots of agrarian unrest, León Trotsky, and other leftist terminologies and thought?

In Unisan, Quezon, my auntie’s sari-sari store, as well as other business establishments, were regularly visited by communist cadres to demand “revolutionary taxes”. Nonpayment would mean further harassment and scare tactics. Big businesses in rural areas bear much of the brunt of communist rage. Their establishments are either bombed or burned or looted.

When I was in elementary school, me, my brother, and some cousins were on a bicycle stroll outside the población of Unisan (we were on summer vacation). We were visiting a nearby hillside forest outside town. Little did we know that the whole town was in panic mode because of a skirmish between the NPA and local police. Virtually all the houses closed down their doors and windows in broad daylight. The whole town went silent after the firefight. Our family members were desperately looking for us in fright. My mom even claimed to have seen NPA members escaping the town.

When we got back, the action was over. The NPA were gone. Two policemen were killed. And our butts received generous amounts of spanking for something that we didn’t understand and wasn’t our fault.

Later on, I learned that the two policemen who were killed by the NPA in cold blood were former communists who returned to the government. That is why it is difficult for me not to believe the political purgings and mass killings that were hurled against Sison et al.

When the CPP-NPA was declared as a terrorist organization by the US and Philippine governments, they cried foul. But what do they call the recent activities of their group in far-flung provinces?

Even my friend, San Pedro, La Laguna Mayor Calixto Catáquiz, dreads going home to his father’s hometown of Unisan, Quezon for fear of being visited by money-hungry NPAs who might ask him for revolutionary taxes, whatever that meant.

I used to be a member of the progressive movement, that’s why it saddens me to occasionally hear bad news about the left whose main goal is to eradicate poverty –and ultimately, evil itself– once and for all. I even had the privilege of joining an underground meeting with members of the Sosyalistang Partido ng Manggagawa (SPP) led by its leader, Sonny Melencio, many years ago somewhere in Quezon City (I was then a passive member of its youth wing, the Liga ng Sosyalistang Kabataan). One of my comrades, Danilo Balao (an Ybanag) even confided to me that Melencio also helped Sison in drafting Rectify Errors and Rebuild the Party. But realizing that the psychosocial elements inherent in the movement are no different to those found in organized religion (continuously fragmenting and splitting), I gave up hope on hope itself, eventually becoming a cynical atheist prone to suicide.

I am confident that I wasn’t alone in this kind of disenchantment. Even Sison himself felt the same way. But he reestablished the group; I desisted.

The recent US financial crisis didn’t lead to capitalism’s self-destruction, as predicted even by Marx himself. Or is it because there was inaction? Or too much dependency on economic theorems?

Then and now

Years later after that, I was able to watch a televised interview of Sison in Utrecht. He may be faraway from the dangers of local politics, but he’s not really living a life of luxury (this was before his group was declared as a terrorist group). Politically speaking, he’s free to move, free to write down his thoughts. He was all smiles in the interview. It appears that he has given up hope when, in parting, he said that even if he wouldn’t be able to witness the fruits of his labor, others will continue it for him. Isn’t this line of thinking in a way be considered as adventurism itself? It seems that age has mellowed down a once angry and dissident Amado Guerrero. Or perhaps disenchantment from members –and a stubborn government pursuit of NPA members)– forced too much inactivity from him and from his comrades. The controversial yet harmless ballroom dance that he had with actress Ara Mina a few years ago signalled the end, wittingly or unwittingly, of his militancy’s self-armistice. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism has just died right then and there.

The late journalist Máximo Solivén was right when he mentioned that communism is virtually utopia, paradise on earth. It is something that has always fascinated the youth who is prone to militancy and adventurism, thus paving the way to ideological pride and stubborness of spirit. Those who never outgrew this kind of youthful character ended up as lonely

I live in a capitalist environment. The fabric of this society is woven with evil threads. But I choose to live my life to the fullest. That doesn’t mean, however, that I have succumbed to the perils and temptations of materialism. I have never –and will never– become one of this reality’s seamsters.

“Our main problem in this country is the problem of social justice,” wrote the late historian-priest, Fr. Horacio de la Costa, S.J. Sadly, Sison wasn’t able to address that glaring problem despite rectifying errors here and there.

Communism isn’t the answer, after all. Or perhaps it isn’t just that…

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