april theses / blog posts • politics • July 16, 2020
What I've learned from the Philippine revolution
A short post that turned into a book review.
I was a "leftist" for a few years before I internalized how important it is to take up serious study to back up my politics. I even called myself a Marxist, but had difficulty explaining what that meant.
I'm doing a bit better now. I can tell you that by Marxism, I mean the science of the development of societies, most fundamentally via a study of the changing systems of the production and distribution of the things people need to survive and live their lives. Put simply, Marxism is a set of principles used to understand what a society is and how it changes, based on who owns and who works and what they work with in that society.
I've had the privilege of studying these concepts and putting them into practice with different groups, but the most concrete study for me came from Philippine Society and Revolution, written by Amado Guerrero in 1969. Even though I am not Filipino, this book taught me a lot.
PSR is a book that traces the history of the Philippines from the origins of the peoples of the islands, to Spanish colonization, to US colonization, and finally to the current phase of US neo-colonialism.
The book talks about the struggles of the people against their oppression and exploitation from a class lens. When the Spaniards came to the Philippines, they implemented a system of agricultural production that developed into a colonial export powerhouse. They developed a big peasantry - agricultural laborers tied to land - as well as a sellout landowning class of the native peoples.
This system of unequal ownership of land was seized and perfected by the American colonizers when they won the valuable Philippine colony from Spain in 1902. The American colonizers continued to develop the sellout landowning class and built from them the class of bureaucrats to be the official face of neo-colonization in the Philippines. (That's what neo-colonialism is, brown man is president so that he and white man can get rich.)
All the way through, PSR describes how the oppressed and exploited people fought back. The huge majority peasant class and proletariat led hundreds of rebellions. They raised up the revolutionary Katipunan society to fight against the Spaniards. They built a People's Army against the Japanese Colonizers (HUKBALAHAP) during World War 2. And in 1968, they re-formed their Communist Party and in 1969 formed a New People's Army to finally throw off US imperialism once and for all.
If it sounds enraging and exciting, trust me, it is. A Marxist lens on history is exhilarating/agitating because it's so real.
Three Basic Problems
The book synthesizes this history of the Philippines with an analysis. First it lays it out: the Philippines is not free. It is a Semi-Colonial and Semi-Feudal society.
What does that mean? We, next the book describes Three Basic Problems of the Philippines - three fundamental contradictory problems that prevent Philippine society from moving forward. I've talked about them already:
The military, economic, policial, and cultural domination of the Philippines by foreign powers, first and foremost the United States of America - which arises as a necessary feature of capitalism in America reaching a monopoly stage and needing to reach over over borders and overseas to keep expanding.
A system of agricultural production based on unequal ownership of land. The landowning classes in the Philippines profit from land-grabbing, impossible land rent, crop tribute, and other feudal taxation. Less than 1% of the PH use feudal relations to exploit more than 75% of the society who are peasants. That 1% collaborates closely with the imperialists to keep the PH export oriented, import dependent.
The systematic training, arming, pampering, and control of a tiny set of ruling dynasties who are given political power as is convenient and profitable to the US. They are given free reign to operate the government as a business, as long as it keeps in line with the various political, military, economic treaties that formalize the subjugation of the Philippines to the US.
All this comes from a Marxist read of the history and structures of Philippine society. Only a powerful lens can capture these big systems and distill them into three major problems. But the book doesn't stop there - the last chapter is the most important.
People's Democratic Revolution
From the development of the structures in the society to a clear and simple explanation of the Basic Problems, PSR then describes the solutions to those problems.
There are two types of contradictions in a society. One is the kind that can be resolved peacefully, because it's a slight bump in the road. The other is the kind that comes from fundamental, life-or-death opposition of interests.
The book argues that those Three Basic Problems are the second kind. They can only be resolved by a fundamental and complete overhaul of the society, which we call a revolution.
It's a particular kind of revolution, with two important stages. The first, PSR calls a People's Democratic Revolution - a revolution of the working class and peasantry working together to overthrow imperialism and feudalism.
And, without pausing to let the capitalists claw their way back, the people have to fight a second stage, a Socialist Revolution - a revolution against private ownership of land, factories, or other means of producing the necessities of life.
As the book describes, this is the task that the Communist Party of the Philippines has taken upon itself to carry through. From its understanding of history and the struggle of their people, it intends to lead this revolution alongside the millions and millions of the Filipino masses against imperialism and feudalism at first, and ultimately against private property and all oppression and exploitation.
It's a big task, but they have the weapon of Marxism on their side.
Overall, PSR helped me to understand a few things.
First, the revolutionary power of education. PSR is what the revolution in the Philippines uses to educate millions of the poorest people in the world. PSR is taught to those whom the Philippine bureaucrat-capitalist-led government has left behind, even to the illiterate. To me, that reality combats any attempt to claim that Marxism is purely academic or inaccesible.
Second, the revolutionary power of organization. Only a dedicated and hardworking organization can pull off a revolution. And only an organization composed of a huge majority of the people can successfully change a whole society.
And lastly, the necessity of struggle. Not just as a moral or emotional duty, but an unavoidable fact of class society. And not just as a fact of society, but an unstoppable reality.
That's why PSR is one of the most important books I have ever read, even as a non-Filipino.