In many parts of the world, especially in Europe, where socialist and communist parties are part of the mainstream and discussions of Marxism-Leninism do not cause some members of the upper and middle classes to cringe in fright that they would be pounded and slashed to kingdom come by the hammer and sickle, the Democratic Left (DemLeft) has defaulted. It has failed to engage in governance and has conceded this to the elites and technocrats there.
Sabyte Lacson-Paguio quoted this earlier assessment by Brid Brennan, fellow of the Transnational Institute and member of the Global Campaign on Dismantling Corporate Power, at the dialogue on "Redefining Common Ground Among DemLeft Groups" at Ateneo de Manila University's Social Development Complex Hall.
This kind of focus on issues, instead of an overarching one grounded on social justice, has weakened many democracies, she echoed him.
Akbayan Party-list Rep. Walden Bello, an ideologue of the Global Left, said the DemLeft in the Philippines could follow the examples of international progressives in Asian countries where an armed struggle was "the center of gravity in the countryside, and the strategic offensive was to bring down [an oppressive] regime to usher the way for a socialist state."
He cited the histories of China and Vietnam that have since grown "to accommodate capitalism." He said the Philippines could be considered a liberal democracy. The DemLeft's role was to "use its spaces and contradictions to build up the party in a parliamentary kind of struggle," he advised.
He said the DemLeft must ally itself with President Aquino in his anti-poverty and anti-corruption drives but oppose him in the cyber-crime law some of whose provisions are wrong, including that of libel.
He warned Aquino not to drag his feet in carrying out the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Law, saying the DemLeft's role is to push for CARP's full completion, adding that "there are more struggles ahead. Close to a million hectares of land have not been distributed. We don't know how long the Akbayan alliance with Aquino will last. If our goals are not met, we must rethink our position vis a vis the government. We must sort out points of unity, points of disagreement."
He said old socialist models have failed, but "what we are fighting for is an economic system where different kinds of markets co-exist like state and private ownership. This system can include transnational corporations in private enterprise, but we must have popular controls like labor unions. While state agencies must project the development process, there is no substitute for a good progressive state that leads in the development process and enjoys the people's democratic voice."
Under such a state, he said, civil society has a decision-making role. There will be a mixed economy whose feature is more democracy, less state control. He said, "The key thing is democratic control from top to bottom," adding that if this is truly socialist or not, "I leave it to those who like to do combat in definition[s]."
He stressed that the market has a role to play, and it couldn't be abolished "to give way to central planning. It didn't work for the Soviet Union." He has seen the flaws of a capitalist market system in the financial collapse of the US and many parts of Europe with hundreds of thousands, even millions, left jobless and under-employed.
Bello questioned the soundness of making business process outsourcing the centerpiece of economic growth in a mainly agricultural country. He said it follows that the government must shift its focus on agriculture as the center of economic growth.
He said it is to the DemLeft's advantage to be part of a "democracy that is expanding with state technocrats receding." He cited the issue of climate change, saying, that it has proven that the dominant capitalist model has "transformed the loving of Nature into dead products. In the interim, there is a grand battle between the US and China to cut down on [carbon dioxide] emissions."
He challenged the DemLeft to support a "benign relationship between Nature and production" that emphasizes regionalization and reinvigorates local markets.
Bello said in a situation where "capitalism is moving to a more democratic economic focus and with a de-globalized economy, do we leave it to the capitalist elites or to popular groups to take over?"
He said it was time to accept that "globalization is a thing of the past." Regional cooperation and integration with progressive forces will usher in a new era.
He said, "These are exciting times, a time for experimentation, a time for breaking away from neo-liberalism and old Left models. We are groping in an exciting way, feeling our way. Our goal: how to grow in harmony with other people and with Nature."--Text and photos by Elizabeth Lolarga