It is with a deep sense of honor and gratitude that I deliver my response to a tough problematique raised by the organizers of this book launch: a rejoinder to the first volume of Jose Ma. Sison’s selected essays from 1968-1972 that is based on the impact of this body of work on the post-70s generation of youth and students. Four years ago in 2009, I committed myself to a similar task and spoke on the vitality of Marxism in 21st century for an international gathering of workers unions. To speak of the vitality of Marxism at the onset of the financial crisis was not as complicated as speaking against the much-vaunted “trickle down effect” of globalization as the ratification of the GATT-WTO was under way back in the 90s when we were all more or less twenty years younger.
I mention this to highlight a very personal yet political sense of validation derived from a decision made in one’s youth: that of holding fast to the idea of dialectical thinking against the fragmenting logic of capital, of class struggle against capitalist triumphalism, of social revolution against reaction, of partisan reality against relativism, and why not say it, of communism against a crisis-ridden capitalist system which has proven itself hostile toward human life.
In a provisional way, I speak before you tonight on the work of Jose Ma. Sison no longer feeling weighed down or defeated by the so-called failure of the socialist experiment, and much less by this congratulatory handshake to the White House raised to level of political philosophy by Francis Fukuyama who once announced that capitalism is the end of history. Yet by no means do I stand before you with an absolute sense of victory.
Rather, I carry with me the imperative weight of the social order still skewed to the interest of landlords, big bourgeois compradors, and bureaucrat capitalists whose control over state and economy is all for the preservation of unbridled private property. Nonetheless, there can be no other kind of heaviness more unassailable than my generation’s collective remembrance of contemporaries who dared to struggle in the protracted people’s war for national liberation toward socialism. They who, up to their last breath, defied the path of least resistance—the bleakest way to live, the road to listless self-implosion .
The post-70s generation, the Martial Law babies who are now in their thirties or early forties, those among us who grew up under fascist rule and its own deprave cultural trajectories, had to choose between activism or self-implosion sometime in our late teens, and within the context of being young scholars in the university. But there was a larger, more transfixing context than that of being young, smart, and almost always awkward. Something was happening. Mainstream media, most of our professors, and a few more pundits called it the failure of socialism. And little did I know that my attraction toward the student movement –the ways in which I initially lingered and gravitated around it like some wishful and clingy fan—would count me as one of the children of the Second Great Rectification Movement.
In many ways, it was difficult to be an activist in the 90s. Not only did we have to defy our parents’ wishes. We also had to explain to our fellow students and professors why it was still necessary to be an activist amidst the so-called failure of socialism, the splintering of the Philippine Left, the promise of globalization, and then President Fidel V. Ramos’ openness to the Peace Negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
The rest of what I would like to share with you revolves around our generation’s tarrying with and traversing failure, as it were.
The first of five volumes of Jose Ma.Sison’s works engages the problem of “failure” within the context of the dialectical progression of history through various modes of production. This progression is by no means peaceful. This progression is fraught with contradictions, and is vulnerable to regression. The first essay which was drafted by Jose Ma. Sison and finalized by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines is entitled “Rectify our Errors and Rebuild the Party (1966).” Immediately, the book invites the reader to deploy the logic of error in historicizing the Philippine revolution.
Knowledge production is a process that results from the concrete analysis of concrete conditions, and actual engagement with and intervention into these conditions whose resulting errors enable a much informed, if not a higher state of knowledge, intervention, and engagement. With much urgency informed by comprehensive assessments, marked by a scientific disposition to build on past errors, this document pushes the political value of owning up to failure to its logical conclusion: the call to begin again; and here, we are called upon to begin with the idea of communism through party building.
This repetition is posited as an imperative and a scientific alternative to the internal contradictions that had caused the Party to fail at a particular historical juncture. To conceive of this repetition as an exercise in political dogmatism is a hasty abandonment of the logic of error which fuels the scientific production of knowledge about the world and the ways in which we live in it.
Building on past errors, the ruling class of the capitalist system has since the crisis of advance capitalism in the turn of the century through the 21st century have had imposed various ways of saving the system, from imperialist expansion to bank bailouts. But this act of imperialist rebuilding has proven futile against the continued crisis of the system which rests on the logic of profit accumulation. Both revolutionary and reactionary forces recognize that rebuilding and rectification are integral part of mounting hegemony. There is no outside in the struggle between hegemony and counter-hegemony.
The claim that “Another world is possible” advanced by advocates of new social movements whose claim to politics rests on a witting or unwitting rejection of redistributive justice, and the struggle that it entails; the same kind of politics which lays monopolistic claims on changed aspirations and new grievances fails to bridge an argument toward that possible world by ignoring two highly organized forces that actually continue to shape global struggles: the globalizing ruling elite of capitalism versus the mounting resistance of communist forces which have influenced radical social movements in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Southeast Asia, and South Asia. The Occupy Movement in North America and the Europe, have pushed the communist forces to engage in a revitalized international solidarity work which perhaps accounts for the resurgence of the idea of communism in the academe and other institutionalized formations such as unions, research and advocacy centers, etc.
Rebuilding the Party is a step enabled less by dogmatism than an act of owning up to the Party’s failure to hold fast to its basic principles, principles which were not proven ineffective or wrong, only betrayed. This is the context in which this first volume of Jose Maria Sison’s work proves to be a significant contribution to sustain political movement in different spheres of activity, and in ways that are mutually enabling. Beyond engaging the problem of failure, this first volume is also dedicated to a tough and thoughtful accounting of lessons from past failed endeavours as it makes straightforward the complicated history of the beginnings of the introduction of the dictatorship of the proletariat to the unfinished Philippine Revolution led by Andres Bonifacio.
This volume interestingly contains the “Constitution of the CPP;” the “Declaration of the NPA;” the “Summing Up Of Our Experience After Three Years;” and the “Revolutionary Guide to Land Reform.” The inclusion of these documents, to my mind, is by no means an attempt to make a manual out of a book of selected works. They were selected precisely for this volume to stress that another world must be constructed; that change happens where we are at; and both everyday and strategic interventions must be carefully guided by basic principles if these were to push our history toward a much progressive path. Most significantly, this first volume’s emphasis on rectification and rebuilding, reinforced by selected essays that cull the most relevant and astounding historical events in France, Vietnam, and our very own experience of the Martial Law period, makes for the movement’s continued commitment to what is apparently a very reasonable and noble fundamental aim: for the Philippine revolutionary movement to be ever ready to assume social command of its operations. Social command takes in all aspects of revolutionary transformation—political, military, economic –primarily to enjoin the most oppressed and exploited in Philippine society:
“In the countryside the people’s army should be constantly built up from among the exploited peasantry under the leadership of the proletariat and the Party. A program of agrarian revolution should be implemented in order to fulfil the main content of the people’s democratic revolution. To make possible and protect the aims of the agrarian revolution, the Party should develop rural bases and direct a wide range of fighting areas, from stable base areas to guerrilla zones.”
Sison’s essay on the Paris Commune spells an integrative struggle buttressed by the valorization of labor, and its most urgent stakes in the revolution:
“Against the anarchist tenets of Blanqui, the workers of Paris did not only destroy the bourgeois state machine but established the dictatorship of the proletariat; it was not a mere handful of intellectuals that made revolutionary triumph possible but the great mass of workers in the course of class struggle.”
With much revolutionary optimism based on rigorous social investigation and revolutionary historical understanding, Sison concludes his essay work on the Paris Commune and its inspiration to the Communist Party of the Philippines:
“In honor of the revolutionary masses, we will even dare to say that their armed struggle after WW II is the general rehearsal for the seizure of power that is still to come in our country.”
Let me end by once again evoking what is supposed to be the main point of this rejoinder to the first volume of JMS’ selected essays from 1968-1972: A sharing of the impact of this body of work on the post-70s generation of youth and students. This body of work has gone beyond just being an opus. This body of what is actually a collective work of a generation who wanted revolution and actually pushed it is by now a way of living practiced by thousands upon thousands of Filipinos. I daresay that my generation is not only learning from this way of living. My generation, the children of the Second Great Rectification Movement, is waging this revolution as we speak. And we are proudly responsible to wage this revolution on all fronts.
Thank you and good evening.
20 July 2013
Great Eastern Hotel, Quezon Avenue, Philippines
To Aklat ng Bayan and the organizers of the book launch, thank you so much for my free copy! Great listening to the responses and presentations of Jaqueline Eroles, Deputy Secretary General, Anakbayan on the same theme that I discussed but focused on her generation (much younger); Rep. Satur Ocampo on the Historical Context and Significance of the 5-volume Series; Dr. Dante Simbulan on his review of the book; Jonas Staal, Dr. Charlie Veric, and Paloma Palo on the international significance of the works of Jose Ma. Sison.