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The political legacy of the Filipino Sixty-Eighters

The political legacy of the Filipino Sixty-Eighters
New People’s Army fighters walk before their movement’s standards as they take their positions for the start of the Communist Party’s anniversary celebrations. (Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte)


Mention the year 1968 and what comes to mind are the youth uprisings across the world. The year of student strikes, anti-war rallies, and Chinese Red Guards bombarding the headquarters. In the Philippines, the political landscape during that time was dominated by Marcos. But another political event was the reestablishment of the Communist Party (CPP).

When people discuss the anti-Marcos struggle, the popular view highlights the impact of Senator Ninoy Aquino’s assassination in 1983. Meanwhile, the alternative perspective rightfully underscores the substantial role of the First Quarter Storm (FQS) of 1970 and the growth of the Maoist-inspired New People’s Army (NPA).

Indeed, the CPP-NPA gained nationwide following during the Martial Law years. Analysts attribute this to the emergence of the Left as the most consistent and formidable political force opposing the Marcos dictatorship.

But the CPP-NPA continued the fight after 1986 when Martial Law was already defeated and a so-called democratic space was offered by post-Edsa regimes. Because of this, mainstream commentators previously sympathetic to the Left accused the CPP-NPA of being a recalcitrant and dogmatic movement, a political nuisance which refused to acknowledge that Edsa brought change in society.

Three decades later, the CPP-NPA is still thriving and even resurgent in many islands of the country. If the communist opposition movements in neighboring countries are either defunct or defeated, the CPP remains a relevant political force in the Philippines. This cannot be explained by merely accusing the CPP of being stubborn and doctrinaire. What is the secret to the longevity of the CPP?

To answer this question, we must go back to 1968. Marcos was not yet a dictator, the Philippines was a model democracy in the Asia-Pacific, and businesses (read: oligarchs and cronies) were booming.

The CPP was founded not simply because it wanted to oust Marcos; its principal political aim was the smashing of the semi-feudal and semi-colonial system. It named imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism as the three basic ills afflicting society. To get rid of these social evils, no less than a people’s revolution is required for a protracted period of time.

This is the radical legacy of the sixty-eighters, the pioneer generation of revolutionaries who defended and continues to defend the principles of the national democratic movement.

Through the sixty-eighters, we understood what it means to wage a revolution even at a time when the political situation seems stable. We grasped the urgency to expose the sham democracy and the systemic exploitation of the people even as the ruling elite insists and boasts that things are normal and progressing for everybody. We realized that revolutionaries should not hesitate in naming the political moment as ripe for seizing, and more importantly, they should be aggressive in organizing.

The sixty-eighters have the reputation of being grim and determined revolutionaries. This is a compliment, although some academicians think it is a vulgarity.

There were numerous Marxist groups before the sixty-eighters but many of them were intellectuals with little or no experience of organizing among the workers and peasants. In contrast, the sixty-eighters excelled in praxis, as they resumed the unfinished work of earlier Philippine revolutionaries.

The FQS was a massive broadcast of the revolutionary political line, and its program, strategy, and tactics were already defined in 1968. The NPA was a powerful resistance weapon against Martial Law and US imperialism but the necessity of conducting an armed revolution in an archipelagic country like the Philippines was already invoked in 1968.

The enduring legacy of the sixty-eighters is hope. The communist party was almost an obscure entity in the 1950s and early 1960s before the sixty-eighters launched a rectification movement which paved the way for the revival of the proletarian party. Before 1968, the people had no army, the oppressed had no party, and resistance was limited to holding scattered and sporadic rallies. The sixty-eighters changed the course of the country’s history by making revolution a practical reality.
Thus, the annual festive celebration of the CPP’s re-establishment. Both activists and CPP cadres use this occasion to review the status of the national democratic struggle, analyze the local and global political situation, and renew the fighting tasks of the revolution. This is the day when we are reminded about the historic decision of the sixty-eighters to lead the struggle for national liberation and socialist construction.

Joining the commemoration are the organized masses who recognize the political symbolism of 1968 and its subversive potential to change and create history. They know that 1968 is more than just a CPP anniversary; that it is a crucial moment in Philippine history, and that it links the anti-colonial revolt of the Katipunan and the modern proletarian revolution.

Thus, the state-led demonization of the CPP, the use of terror and fascist tactics to crush CPP-led dissent, and the formulaic attack against the politics of the CPP.

Contemporary Philippine politics may make us depressed and angry, but we have the militancy of the sixty-eighters as a constant source of inspiration.

And also of lessons: that even if despotic politicians reign supreme, there exists a group of revolutionaries who are fiercely committed to end injustice and inequality. That even if some prefer compromise to win instant reforms, the sixty-eighters have already succeeded in establishing the validity of militant collective action – and even armed struggle – as a viable revolutionary path. That political victory in the 21st century cannot be achieved by ignoring the legacy of 1968.

At a time when moderation is glorified in mainstream society, we should be more assertive in embracing the radicalness of the sixty-eighters.