Thursday, April 2, 2015
Ka Dodong on 'preparing for the storm'
In December 2012, this former Western Thought student of Dr. Nemenzo (the required general education subject was called that in the mid-'70s; I think it's now Political Science 14) attended a dialogue on "Redefining Common Ground Among DemLeft Groups" at Ateneo de Manila University Social Development Complex Hall.
I went there not as a participant but as an interested observer. I was happy to renew ties with Ricardo Reyes, widower of Rosalind "Roz" Galang. His arm was in a cast from a motorcycle accident. Behn Cervantes was in the same forum--it was the second to the last time I saw him; the last was on the 40th day to mark the death of artist Jerusalino "Jerry" Araos Jr. I lost touch with both Ric and Behn.
When it was time for Ka Dodong to speak, he announced that he would deliver his paper in Filipino. I sat at the edge of my seat. My anxiety was due to the knowledge that Filipino is not his first or even third language. Cebuano is. English may be his second language, French third in this mixed-up order. So I found myself inhaling deeply, exhaling with the same effort as I closed my eyes now and then to listen to the tortured reading of his translated prose.
And because my own mis-education and colegiala upbringing have made Filipino also hard to understand once the words come in more than three syllables (how do you say "neo-liberalism" or a phrase like "austerity measures" in the mother tongue unless you twist your tongue further to say marahas na paraang pagtitipid?), I had no recourse but to ask for a copy of Doc Nemenzo's paper in English. He didn't have it with him. He promised that he'd email me a copy, then quickly forgot about it. My next recourse was to ask my favorite Marxist royalty (no contradiction in terms there), his wife Princess Nemenzo, to nag her husband about it. He emailed me a copy which I was able to read at leisure.
This is a long aside before I get to my point. When I opened Ka Dodong's attachment, I let out an LOL (that's laugh out loud, not short for LOLarga) because his manuscript's title "Preparing for the Storm" was set in the sans serif font Comic Sans MS (I expected the universally used Times New Roman or Garamond at least), but Comic Sans? The manuscript's body was set in Verdana, 10 points, and if you, like me, write or read with the viewing set to 125 percent, you don't mind a sans serif font.
I've digressed too much.
Those following news developments on our friends from the Left heard and read about Ka Dodong's long stay at the Philippine General Hospital Intensive Care Unit beginning Dec. 29 with a team of physicians attending to him led by Agnes D. Mejia, dean of the UP College of Medicine. He was ill with bacterial meningitis. One of his close buddies Linc Drilon, who's also our family friend, issued a text brigade message calling for prayers during the Christmas season of 2014.
Before long, friends also requested help for the rising medical and medical supply bills. If you plant good seeds like Ka Dodong has done for much of his life and career as a political scientist (okay, ideologue for some), professor, university president, friend, you sow the harvest at a certain point in your life.
If you visit him at the University Infirmary in the Diliman campus, where he has since been moved to a private room, do have wife Princess by your side to tell you all about how the illness began (it's a cautionary tale for senior citizens on maintenance meds). It's also a tale of how miraculous the human body works in protecting the brain. After the brain scans and all, Ka Dodong's brain is intact. He's recovering his speech and motor movements, but as Princess said, they (husband, wife, doctors, therapists) take it a day at a time in "baby steps."
Otherwise, he's fine. I know he is because on March 1, 2015, at 12:15 a.m., he woke up and called out to "Mama" (Princess) to tell her, while she took down notes on a one fourth sheet of pad paper, of his plan once he's up and about. This was his complete sentence: "I will collaborate with other faculty members in writing the Industrial History of the Philippines from feudalism to capitalism."
Now tell me if that isn't as good as it gets. According to Princess, the first word Ka Dodong uttered after he came out of his stupor, not coma, was: "NATION."
His note to me from Dec. 12, 2012, read simply:
Here is the paper I promised. Sorry, I didn't have time to edit it. I had so much to do in the last few days. The editor of the working papers series of the City University of Hong Kong has been pressuring me to send a paper before Christmas.
It is well within your soul, Ka Dodong. That to me is the best Easter present I can ask for. Following is his paper in English, good reading before another literal storm hits this country in the guise of Chedeng. Some may disagree with his views (on many points I do, particularly the very thought of hitchhiking on the Noynoy bandwagon, but remember, this paper was written in 2012). Ka Dodong himself will tell you that as UP alumni, we all always agree to disagree.
Preparing for the Storm*
Francisco Nemenzo Jr.
Lenin likened the revolution to the ocean tide: it flows and ebbs. The revolutionary movement today is definitely at an ebb. This is not the end of history, Fukuyama imagined, but a temporary respite.
With a popular President at the helm, rallies against the regime which used to involve tens of thousands now attract only small crowds (from a handful to a few hundreds). Activists of the First Quarter Storm generation are aging; many are exhausted, some have crawled to the top of bourgeois society. The youth are generally career-oriented, many aspire only for overseas jobs. Most intellectuals have embraced neo-liberalism or some fashionable rehash of Marxism (like post-modernism) to rationalize their retreat to apathy.
For those still holding the fort, this is no time to go on the offensive, but neither is it time for rest. What, then, should preoccupy in this period?
Reflection and renewal
Three projects must be undertaken to keep the movement from dying of lethargy: study, recruit, and experiment. All three are important, but I will discuss the third at great length, especially the issue of how “progressives in government” should conduct themselves and how they should relate to the movement outside; this issue is hotly debated on the Democratic Left in the Philippines.
The first two are continuing projects that we should undertaken whether or not the revolution is at an ebb. I only have three points regarding the first:
1) Transcend parochialism, be a real internationalist. Looking only at the Philippines while ignoring the rest of the world impoverishes the movement. In a revolutionary ebb, this deliberately narrow view can be quite depressing because nothing dramatic seems to be happening. But beyond the Philippines there is ferment. In the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America – even in the United States – people are out in the streets protesting the austerity measures aimed to place the burden of economic recovery on the common people. Early signs of this global crisis are already emerging in the Philippines. But the worst is still to come.
2) Study neo-liberalism. Unless we know its strongest arguments, we cannot refute them convincingly. We have to meet its ideologues head on. For this purpose, we should also read Das Kapital anew because it is more relevant now than in the days of the Welfare State, when beleaguered capitalism replaced laissez-faire with Keynesian economics.
3) Learn Marxism from Marx. Encourage the reading of the “classics,” the original works of Marx and Engels, instead of relying on the textbooks of Maurice Cornforth, Maurice Dobb, Otto Kuusinen, Mao Zedong, etc. Das Kapital is notoriously incomprehensible, although it remains the best analysis of how the free market system works. The Communist Manifesto and Socialism: Utopian and Scientific are easy to understand; they are the best introductions to Marxism.
On the second project, I only have one suggestion: The recruitment of new activists is urgent because the cadres of the Democratic Left are getting old. It is therefore imperative to draw in more young people, especially the students. If the movement can no longer attract new elements, it will become senile.
After Noynoy Aquino won the 2010 presidential election, a comrade proposed that we immediately raise the call for his ouster so as to beat the RAs to the draw. He argued that the Noynoy government will be no different from GMA’s because both are capitalist. This is the instinctive response of the Left. It considers the class character of whatever regime exists but ignores its concrete characteristics. Experience has taught us that it has resulted in the movement’s isolation.
True, fundamental changes cannot be expected under Noynoy, for as long as he remains a captive of the system. The conservative orientation of his government is reflected in his choice of economic managers; all are neo-liberal technocrats. His most daring moves – the prosecution of GMA, the impeachment of Corona, the banning of wang-wang, and the conditional cash transfer – are reforms that may improve the mode of governance, but not change the social system. The laws and institutions he has inherited prevent him from resolutely tackling the basic problems of the nation. Even if he succeeds in making the government less oppressive, oppression will continue unabated in the private sector. Within the framework of capitalism, oppression is the norm not only in government, but also, and in a more pernicious form, in the private sector.
The overthrow of this exploitative system is the strategic goal of all Left forces, but the nuances of the present situation should be considered in identifying our tactical goals. We cannot be on the offensive at all times. We may have to take a few steps back or make a detour, but never losing sight of the strategic goal.
It is self-destructive to go on the offensive against a government that enjoys the people’s trust. The surveys of Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia confirm the Noynoy’s high trust rating, an unusual phenomenon in a country where Presidents enjoy only a few months honeymoon period. But if he makes a fatal error, his popularity will slump, then it will make sense to call for his ouster.
If any faction of the Democratic Left is unwilling to wait, we should not reproach them for adventurism. We should keep our minds open to the possibility that they might be proven right. Let every tendency within the Democratic Left pursue the path they deem correct. At this particular, tactical diversity is permissible and should even be encouraged. The issue over tactics cannot be resolved through debate. Only the outcomes of various approaches will decide. History is the ultimate judge. To bind all tendencies to a particular line will needlessly divide the movement. All that is needed now is for leaders of divergent tendencies to hold fraternal dialogues to “compare notes” and assess which line is contributing to the revitalization of the whole movement.
This is why I do not want to regroup Laban ng Masa or set up a new umbrella organization that will define a line of march. Perhaps a few comrades will recall my speech at the conference in Silang, Cavite, early in 2005. Because I thought at that time that we were still in a revolutionary ebb, I put forward the concept of “pluralism of the Left.” I opposed the formation of a central decision- making organ. I only favored the setting up of lines of communication among the Democratic Left groups, and move towards a unitary organization when a revolutionary crisis already calls for it.
The crisis came earlier than I expected. The Hello Garci tapes heated up the political situation all of a sudden. GMA’s minions – the Hyatt Ten – started jumping off like rats from a sinking ship. There was growing unrest in the military. Former President Cory Aquino broke away from GMA and apologized to Erap for supporting the coup that installed GMA in Malacanang. An impeachment case was filed in the House of Representatives; had this prospered, it was almost certain that the Senate, now held by the opposition, would have convicted her. These developments convinced me of the feasibility of forming a unitary organization. I therefore accepted the chairmanship of Laban ng Masa.
But I never thought of Laban ng Masa as a party of the Leninist type, governed by the principle of democratic centralism and held together by iron discipline. Painfully aware of the lingering differences among the affiliated political blocs, I was afraid that such a party structure would split rather than deepen the precarious unity. I could not forget how the earlier attempts at unification – Siglaya and Alternatiba – collapsed due to mutual suspicion that the stronger political blocs were out to impose their line on the rest.
Thus, when the crisis subsided in 2007 and the election fever afflicted some Democratic Left groups, Laban ng Masa lost its reason for being.
Rather than maintain an artificial unity in the period of revolutionary ebb, the better course of wisdom is to let the various political blocs experiment with different modes of struggle. All we need are occasional meetings, like what we are having now.
The more relaxed situation in a revolutionary ebb allows us to explore new arenas and experiment with various modes of struggle. This is no time to crack the whip and get everybody into the “correct line.” In the complex process of system change, alternative tactical lines present themselves and we do not know which is “correct” until they have been tested and their results evaluated. Let us refrain from the usual practice of the non-democratic Left of branding comrades as “capitulationists” and “adventurists” for deviating from what the central leadership deems “correct.” It is permissible in a period of revolutionary ebb to follow different paths, as long as we unite when the revolutionary crisis comes, as we did in 2005.
Yesterday Comrade Brid Brennan gave us a vivid description of how neo-liberalism has devastated some European countries and how the people are fighting back. Although this crisis has yet to strike us with full force, we must already prepare since it is likely to strike in two to three years.
Today the government leaders, technocrats, bankers, and businessmen are rejoicing over statistics which they interpret as signs of progress. In his SONA last July, Noynoy boasted of a 6.4% annual GDP growth rate, supposedly the highest in Southeast Asia and second only to China. Last week NEDA reported a 7.1 growth rate in the third quarter of 2012, surpassing their own projections. Ironically, around the same time, the SWS reported a marked increase of respondents who feel more miserable than before.
The irony is not at all surprising. In the capitalist system, the lives of the working people tend to worsen when the investment climate improves. We have never seen any evidence of the so-called “trickle down effect.” It is a blatant lie that increased foreign investments will benefit everyone.
Given the neo-liberal structure of our economy, this statistical growth cannot be sustained. The new foreign investments represent capital that is temporarily parked in our financial institutions while the American and European banks are in deep trouble. If by a miracle the American and European economies recover soon, foreign capital will start flowing out of the country; but worse if the recession continues – that will drastically slash the value of these investments.
Is the Democratic Left prepared for the crisis? Do we have the strength and capability to turn it to advantage? If we are unprepared, the crisis will not to a socialist revolution; on the contrary, it can give rise to a fascist counter-revolution. When the Left is weak, divided and confused, it is fascism that will take utmost advantage of the crisis.
This happened in Germany in what was called the “Great Depression” of 1929-1933. (I don’t see what is great about a depression!) The German Social Democratic Party was utterly discredited for its too close identification with the Weimar Republic, while the German Communist Party had isolated itself by pursuing an ultra-sectarian line. Eventually, in 1933, the desperate German people rallied behind the Nazi alternative, no matter how crazy it was. Imagine the catastrophe if in the Philippines the crisis will put the likes of Norberto Gonzalez, Archie Intengan, Pastor Alcover, and Jovito Palparan in power!
We should utilize this period to rectify the mistakes that have kept us at margin of power. I have no sympathy for those who insist that to sustain the revolutionary spirit, we must remain in perpetual opposition, heckling from the sidelines. I therefore endorse the decision of Akbayan to hitchhike in Noynoy’s bandwagon; thus, gaining some minor posts in the executive department.
Participation in parliamentary struggle is not new to the Philippine Left, but its small victories in this arena were easily cancelled out because the mass movement was not strong enough to defend these small victories. In 1946 the Democratic Alliance won in six congressional districts, but the elected congressmen were not allowed to take their seats. In 1987 two congressional candidates of Partido ng Bayan won, but one defected before being sworn in and the one who stayed on hardly spoke.
The party list elections opened up a wider space for the Left in the House of Representatives. About ten Leftwing representatives were elected, but their voices are drowned out by the noise of two hundred conservatives and reactionaries.
What I consider a new and welcome development is the opening up of the executive department to the Left. But its value depends on how the so-called “progressives in government” conduct themselves.
For whatever they are worth, let me give some advise and warnings to those involved in the parliamentary struggle and “progressives in government.”
Do not foster the illusion that fundamental change can be achieved through elections. Perhaps they themselves harbor no such illusions, but in the course of the electoral campaign, in the course of gathering votes, they inadvertently induce the electorate to believe that voting for Noynoy’s candidates is the beginning of change ("ito ang simula").
Progressives in government and the activists outside the government should make a concerted effort to debunk the bourgeois myth that the electoral process is the hallmark of democracy. Even if we enact an anti-dynasty law, even if we cleanse the entire COMELEC of manipulators, even if computerized voting will eliminate frauds, elections in the context of a capitalist system are nothing but a façade, a mask for elite rule.
Elections can only be truly democratic, they can only be an instrument for fundamental reforms if the big bourgeoisie are stripped of the power to finance the trapo electoral machines and deceive the people through the mass media which they own and control.
The appointment of some comrades to executive positions in the bourgeois government is positive if they know how to use what little power they have to strengthen the mass movement. After all, it is not they but the movement in the workplaces and the streets that are the critical factors in the process of system change. When the global crisis of capitalism arrives, initiating a revolutionary flow, it is the mass organizations that will make a difference.
Therefore, the “progressives in government” should not delude themselves that they are the saviors of the masses. As Marx said, it is “the class with radical chains to break” that will emancipate society. In other words, the liberation of the working class is the job of the workers themselves.
In the previous regime some persons with a progressive background sneaked into the power circle: Rigoberto Tiglao, Mike Defensor, Ed Pamintuan, Gary Olivar, etc. But because they detached themselves from the movement to earn the confidence of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, they ended up in the dustbin of history. Perhaps, at first they thought they could make a difference, but by keeping a distance from the mass movement, they were eventually swallowed by the system. I would like to believe that Ronald (Llamas), Joel (Rocamora), Etta (Rosales), etc. are made of different stuff.
In the past public opinion induced candidates to espouse worthy causes. But in this epoch of mass communication, public opinion no longer reflect the true interests of the masses because they are molded and warped by media which are owned and controlled by the ruling class. It ought to be the task of progressive politicians to straighten out this false consciousness. If they neglect this task in response to public opinion, they are no different from the trapos.
For example, in the dispute over South China Sea (or West Philippine Sea), the most convenient stance is to support the foreign policy of Secretary Albert del Rosario. But if we study the issue carefully, we realize that this policy will push the country into the American trap. The conflict between the Philippines and China is only a surface manifestation of the real conflict between China and the United States. Del Rosario’s aim to repair our so-called “special relations” that were damaged by the expulsion of the US military bases will make our country once again a frontline in America’s current “pivot to Asia” strategy.
Together with other ASEAN states (except Cambodia which has become a puppet of China), the better course of wisdom is to negotiate with China as a bloc for declaring the South China Sea as a zone of neutrality and a zone for common utilization of resources as envisioned in the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNLCOS) and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea of 2002. Del Rosario professes to aim for this as well, but this cannot be achieved if we identify with America’s strategy. Contrary to what some of our media commentators think, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia are wary of involving the US in the South China Sea.
China had honored the above-mentioned agreements until America enunciated the “pivot to Asia” strategy, which naturally reminds the Chinese of “containment” during the Cold War. By behaving like a Trojan horse of America, we are perceived by China also as a threat.
To assert their independence in the ruling coalition, the “progressives in government” should raise their critical voices on this issue, instead of pandering to the latent Sinophobia of the Filipino electorate.
In a coalition, a party is a major partner or a junior partner. The NP of Villar and the NPC of Danding are major partners in relation to the LP of Noynoy. They can demand for slots in the senatorial slate and a say in executive appointments. This is because they have the capacity to deliver command votes, and billions of pesos for the campaign.
The junior partners cannot demand, they can only plead. From the standpoint of the major partners, they are dispensable. They are invited into a coalition as a counter-balance to the other major partners, and because they have personalities who are popular in their own right or who possess skills necessary for governance.
Akbayan clearly belongs to the category of junior partners. It cannot be otherwise because it does not have enough command votes, and even less campaign funds. But if they play their cards well, they can be of immense help in enhancing mass support for the Democratic Left.
Bereft of creativity and imagination, the conservatives and reactionaries appropriate the banal tricks of red-baiting to discredit the Leftwing politicians and “progressives in government.”
Instead of facing their charges head-on, the latter sometimes take a defensive position. They vehemently deny they are Leftists, and seek refuge in such ambiguous labels as “mere nationalists and reformists.” I don’t think this posture helps to banish the anathema and project the Left as a legitimate force in a civilized society.
When Republic Act 1700 (the Anti-Subversion Law) was in force, it would have been foolhardy to admit on the Left, as that would have elicited penalties ranging from six years imprisonment to death. But since that repressive law has been repealed, what is the point of hiding our political conviction? The more we conceal it, the more we raise the suspicion of having a hidden agenda; we make ourselves look like criminals; it gives the impression of mendacity.
Participating in elections and entering the bureaucracy is useful only if it serves the political struggle. Political struggle is not synonymous to armed struggle; armed struggle is a form of political struggle that becomes necessary if the democratic space is entirely closed and those striving for system change are persecuted. The revolutionary attitude was succinctly expressed by Eugene Debs in his famous slogan: “Peacefully if we can, violently if we must.”
In the present situation the political struggle takes the forms of protest demonstrations, workers’ strikes, resistance to demolition, propaganda campaigns, etc. These unarmed forms of political struggle should be undertaken even if we are allowed to participate in electoral exercises. If the masses’ political rights are limited only to the act of voting, the government will only listen to the lobby groups representing the bourgeoisie. The masses have to be militant to be heard in the corridors of power.
The “progressives in government” ought to know this because this is where they came from. They should not even try to rein in the masses now that they are up there. The masses should not be tamed just because there are “progressives in government.” They should even regard the restiveness of the masses as a support for them in dealing with their colleagues in bureaucracy. If their competitors in the bureaucracy get to know that they are losing touch with their mass base, the likes of Dinky Soliman and Butch Abad will not hesitate to steal their projects. Let their colleagues and superiors in government understand that the masses will always fight back if the government pursues anti-people policies.
In bourgeois politics, programs are of little consequence. Ghost writers compose platforms based on what they reckon the public wants to hear, but these are ignored after the elections. Elected politicians are not bound by their campaign promises.
But a program is all important to the Left. It is our rallying point, the basis of our unity. We should hammer out a realistic and inspiring program in this period of revolutionary ebb so that when a crisis happens, we can convince the people that we know what is to be done and the road forward is very clear to us. As the crisis deepens, neo-liberalism will be utterly discredited. It will be easy to demonstrate the essential bankruptcy of capitalism. What is difficult is to demonstrate to the people that we have a well thought-out alternative. That will be the time to go on the offensive, and call for the destruction of the system in order to build a genuinely new social order.
*English version of the paper in Tagalog prepared for a dialogue on the problems and prospects of the Democratic Left, 4 December 2012, Ateneo Social Development Center. Photo of Ka Dodong by Babeth Lolarga