Fight Arroyo with Workers’ Power!
Riot police chase demonstrators after breaking up attempt to march on “people power” monument
February 24 after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared sate of national emergency.
Photo: Bullit Marquez/AP
Not Another EDSA "People's Power"
Fraud, Fight for Workers Revolution!
Once again the Philippine political landscape reverberated from the noise of police banging up their shields, reminiscent of the martial law years of the 1970s. Once more, tanks and armored personnel carriers rolled through the streets of Manila and lined up outside army headquarters as crowds gathered, recalling the coup d’état that set off the EDSA1 “people power” mobilization and brought down strongman Ferdinand Marcos three decades ago. Except this time only a few thousand civilians came out to join with military “rebels” instead of hundreds of thousands. So Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo managed to wriggle out of it, barely, for now. Meanwhile, government repression continues to escalate.
“GMA” proclaimed a state of emergency on February 24, then lifted it a week later. In the meantime, she claimed, the country grew “stronger,” and the threat of a coup had diminished. More to the point, her masters in Washington let the Philippine president know that her move was not opportune: it undercut the Bush regime’s claim to be promoting “democracy”; it could set off a hornet’s nest of discontent reaching from the poor into the middle class; it was bad for business, and, most importantly, it threatened to exacerbate tensions in the faction-ridden Philippine military. Her hold on the repressive forces was shaky at best, and the 5,000 U.S. troops presently in the Philippines would not be able to put down a popular revolt. One Iraq at a time is more than enough for the Pentagon these days.
Although the government’s aim in proclaiming the state of emergency was “sowing fear” among its opponents, as “Justice Secretary” Raul Gonzalez frankly avowed, it didn’t have the desired intimidating effect. There were protests daily, from Manila to Mindanao. Although relatively small at first, testing the depth of the crackdown, they could mushroom. Maoist guerrillas in the countryside stepped up their actions. Yet the bourgeois opposition, after their coup plotting fizzled, limited itself to legalistic gestures. Five months ago it was calling on the servile Congress to impeach Arroyo; now it “challenged” her emergency decree by appealing to the impotent Supreme Court. And as always the reformist labor misleaders hitched their wagons to various civilian and military factions of the ruling class.
Internationally, there was a slew of protests against Arroyo’s crackdown. Most called for ousting Arroyo with “people power” – i.e., for mass mobilization behind the civilian/military bourgeois opposition such as brought down Marcos (EDSA 1) and Joseph Estrada (EDSA 2), installing another capitalist politician as president (Corazon Aquino in 1986, Arroyo in 2001). The Internationalist Group participated with a very different program in a February 27 picket of the Philippine Consulate in New York called by the Gabriela Network. IG signs called to “Drive the U.S. Out of Iraq and Philippines,” “Not Another ‘People Power’ Fraud, But Workers Revolution!” “No Alliances with Trapos2, AFP3 and Church – Workers to Power!” and “Smash GMA State of Emergency with Workers Power!”
“GMA lifts state of emergency...But crackdown continues,” declared the front page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (4 March). The police are continuing to carry out arrests without warrants, threatening to ban any demonstrations without official permits and are monitoring the media for “sedition.” Six center-left Congressmen are still holed up in the House of Representatives, with cops at the door to arrest them if they step outside. Others on a pick-up list of 59 individuals charged with rebellion are still being sought. Rep. Crispin Beltran is still being held by the Philippine National Police (PNP), who keep switching charges against the leftist former labor leader in order keep “Ka (comrade) Bel” in custody. And union leaders are still being gunned down by what police and military assassins.
In short, the Philippines is undergoing “creeping martial law.” As the government’s isolation deepens, it resorts to increasingly dictatorial measures to cling to office. The question is how to fight it. “GMA” is still in Malakanyang Palace largely because the fractured civilian/military bourgeois/reformist opposition lacks coherence. But the task is not to find a new figurehead to preside over a “reformed” capitalist regime. That would preserve power in the hands of the same reactionary forces that have ruled the republic since the United States granted the Philippines semi-colonial independence in 1946. Rather, proletarian revolutionaries must seek to mobilize the working class, at the head of the urban poor, the peasantry and oppressed ethnic/national minorities, in a fight to “Sweep away GMA – Workers to power!”
Three Days in February
On Friday, February 24, Arroyo issued Presidential Proclamation No. 1017, decreeing a state of emergency throughout the country. Her General Order No. 5 implemented this by outlawing “actions ... obstructing governance, including hindering the growth of the economy and sabotaging the people’s confidence in government, and their faith in the future of this country.” Arroyo authorized military and police to make arrests without warrants, ban demonstrations and gatherings, take over newspapers and broadcast media, and generally “prevent or suppress ... any act of insurrection or rebellion, and to enforce obedience to all ... decrees, orders and regulations promulgated by me personally or upon my direction.”
Group/League for the Fourth International at February 27 New York City
protest against Philippines state of emergency. (Internationalist photo)
Ironically, this blueprint for personal dictatorship was proclaimed on the 20th anniversary of the downfall of Marcos, who had established martial law 14 years earlier. The date was no accident. Arroyo claimed that a coup d’état was being prepared by an unholy alliance of communists and military officers, to be carried out during February 24 demonstrations marking the 1986 “people’s power” revolt. Coup plot or not, a big turnout at these demonstrations would certainly have shaken the GMA government, which has long lacked “the people’s confidence,” for sure since proof surfaced last year that the gang in Malakanyang (the presidential palace) brazenly stole the 2004 election4.
Arroyo’s PP 1017 was easily confused with Marcos’ infamous Proclamation 1081 that established martial law in 1972. Indeed, in briefing the press, AFP chief of staff general Generoso Senga twice referred to Arroyo’s decree as “1081.” With the authority of General Order 5, police occupied the offices of the Daily Tribune, a paper that had championed “Oust Gloria” protests, seizing the Saturday edition. At least nine newspapers were shut down, radio and television broadcasting stations occupied and opposition figures ordered to be arrested, as was a University of the Philippines (UP) professor and newspaper columnist.
The February 24 demonstrations proceeded anyway, turning into protests against the government crackdown. After school classes were canceled and rally permits revoked, Arroyo declared the State of National Emergency at 1 p.m., The first demonstration to be attacked was that of Laban ng Masa (Masses’ Fight), with about 5,000 to 7,000 participants. After the three main leaders of the social-democratic Akbayan (Citizens’ Action Party) were seized, the march was broken up by police batons and water cannon; 62 were arrested, including a six-year-old and eleven other minors, charged with inciting to sedition! An announcer on radio station DZMM asked, “How can a 6-year-old kid incite sedition when he is still sucking milk from a bottle?”
By late afternoon, some 10,000 to 12,000 demonstrators in the larger “national democratic” (ND) bloc, associated with the Stalinists, massed in the Makati business district, but were blocked by police from linking up with the “civil society” groups led by ex-president Corazon Aquino. That third march (of the bourgeois opposition) was allowed to proceed to lay a wreath the shrine for the former president’s husband, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, murdered by Marcos’ agents in 1983. By 6 p.m., the police proceeded to brutally disperse the ND bloc.
On Saturday, a list was issued of 59 individuals charged with “rebellion.” First to be seized was Crispin Beltran, a member of Congress and spokesman for the Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) party list. At a loss for any other pretext, “Ka (comrade) Bel” was arrested on a warrant from the Marcos regime (on charges of inciting rebellion) in 1985 (!) when Beltran was an official of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU – May 1st Movement) union group. Several other leftist legislators, including Satur Ocampo of the Bayan Muna (People First) and Lisa Maza of the Gabriela women’s party lists escaped arrest and were put under detention in the House of Representatives. Retired Philippine Constabulary chief Gen. Ramon Montano was seized on a golf course.
Also on the government’s arrest list was former president Joseph (“Erap”) Estrada, accused of financing the “coup plot,” who barricaded himself inside a hospital room; Senator Gregorio (“Gringo”) Honasan, the former colonel and commando leader reputedly involved in every coup and attempted coup in the past two decades, who has not been located so far; Jose Maria Sison, the founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), now in exile in the Netherlands where writes as a political advisor to the National Democratic Front (NDF); Gregorio (“Ka Roger”) Rosal, leader of the New People’s Army (NPA); plus other leftists, some in exile or already in jail.
Arroyo denounced the political opposition of conspiring with “authoritarians of the extreme Left represented by the NDF-CPP-NPA and the extreme Right, represented by military adventurists” who are “now in a tactical alliance” and “a concerted and systematic conspiracy” to “bring down the duly constituted government elected in May 2004” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 25 February). This claim elicited general hilarity. The Philippines has been convulsed by months of demonstrations following the leak of tape recordings showing that those elections were stolen by GMA working together with top generals. And it was well-known that discontent was rife in the military over rampant corruption and the way top officers had proffered their services to Arroyo. The government claimed to have uncovered an “Operation Hackle” in mid-February.
On Sunday, February 26 came the showdown with the military, which turned into a comic opera scene. First, Col. Ariel Querubin marched his 1st Marine Brigade into Marine headquarters to protest the sacking of the corp’s commandant. He was accompanied by lawyers and civilian supporters of the RAM and Laban ng Masa. Tanks, V-150 armored personnel carriers and Simba light armored tanks lined up outside. Querubin called on people to mass outside the base to “protect the Marines.” But this never materialized, as police surrounded the whole of Fort Bonifacio (HQ of the Philippine Army and Marines). Who did show up were various trapos, former president Aquino and Imee Marcos, daughter of the dictator, but they were denied entry as well. By 11 p.m. Querubin announced, to the consternation of his civilian backers, that it was all over and the Marines would follow orders of the chain of command.
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo chats with Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, head of Scout
Rangers special forces regiment on January 31. Three weeks later Lim
was arrested for rebellion. (Photo:
There is no doubt that various clans in the faction-ridden officer corps were talking about booting out Arroyo, among them veterans of previous coup attempts. This included the Revolutionary Patriotic Alliance (RAM, led by Honasan, who harks back to the group that overthrew Marcos in 1986); the Young Officers Union (YOU, which in 1989 tried to overthrow the Aquino government), including Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, head of the elite Scout Rangers regiment, and Marine Col. Querubin; the Soldiers of the Filipino People (Marcos loyalists led by Gen. Zumel), who in 1995 together with the RAM and YOU was amnestied by the government of President (former AFP chief of staff) Fidel Ramos; and the Magdalo group of young officers who in July 2003 staged a mutiny against Macapagal Arroyo by holding an “armed press conference” in the Oakwood luxury hotel5.
It is also clear that the military plotters were in contact with business leaders and bourgeois politicians. Time Asia (24 February) reported on a meeting in the home of Jose Cojuangco, brother of ex-president Corazon Cojuangoco Aquino and a leading capitalist. In a “you are there” account, the magazine noted that “plans were being hatched for what one of the ringleaders called a ‘withdrawal of support’ from President Arroyo” by military chiefs. One of the businessmen phoned “a person he identified as an American official in Washington, assuring him that the post-coup regime would still be friendly to the U.S.” Later, they spoke with General Lim, and “over the speaker phone, Lim confirmed that it was ‘all systems go’ for the planned movement against Arroyo.” At the EDSA memorial, “they would be met by a contingent of Catholic bishops,” and a Marine general would read a statement disavowing Arroyo.
But it was not to be. General Lim was arrested a few hours later.
“Creeping Martial Law”
This was the second time in recent months that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo managed to escape shipwreck in a political storm. But despite her statement in proclaiming the state of emergency – “As commander-in-chief, I control the situation” – that is far from the case. What is true is that her regime has become increasingly bonapartist6, with a steady drumbeat of dictatorial actions. Immediately after issuing Presidential Proclamation 1021 lifting PP1017, the government said that the left-wing legislators would be seized if they set foot outside the Philippine Congress and the individuals for whom arrest orders had been issued were still being sought. On March 8, an International Women’s Day march of some 10,000 demonstrators was brutally dispersed by the police, who clobbered marchers with their batons and arrested Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) secretary-general Josua Mata.
The state of emergency was only a continuation of the escalating repression of recent months. As of December 2005, the human rights organization Karapatan reported that roughly 3,500 people had been victimized by the government during the previous eleven months. This includes bombings, indiscriminate fire on demonstrators, and salvagings (summary executions). Following the assassination of Nestlé union president Diosdado “Ka Fort” Fortuna in September7, Ricardo Ramos, the president of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) at Hacienda Luisita was murdered in October. Hacienda Luisita, owned by the Cojuangcos, was the site of a massacre of up to 14 people in November 20048 during a bitter strike that lasted an entire year. And on March 17, Tirso Cruz, a member of board of directors of the United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU) was shot and killed by gunmen on a motorcycle.
In addition, there are the army massacres of peasants suspected of being sympathizers of the Maoist NPA, such as the killing of ten unarmed civilians at Palo, Leyte in November. From February to August, at least 56 people were killed or missing in Samar while it was under the boot of Gen. Jovito Palparan (now in Tarlac). In Mindanao, where there is a continuing war for secession and independence of the Moro people, there have also been hundreds of reported attacks by the military on the civilian population affecting tens of thousands of people. Church workers and journalists have been targeted in this wave of repression. According to the May 2005 report, Marked for Death, by the Committee to Protect Journalists, “the Philippines is the most murderous country of all,” with far more media workers killed than even in Iraq. While the anti-communist CPJ reports 22 Filipino journalists murdered since 1980, Philippine human rights groups report 39 killed since Arroyo took office in 2001, with 12 assassinated last year alone.
Since the defeat in Congress of the drive to impeach President Macapagal Arroyo last September9, the government has multiplied its repressive measures. Among these are the “Calibrated Preemptive Response” (CPR) policy codified in Executive Order 464, allowing the police to ban all kinds of rallies and protests that “continue to subvert the economy and peace and order of the country,” as GMA spokesman Ignacio Bunye put it. Where previously demonstrations were given a few minutes to disperse, under CPR the police immediately start indiscriminately attacking. The most prominent of these attacks was last October 15 when water cannon were sent to disperse several hundred marchers headed by a former vice president and three Roman Catholic bishops. EO 464 also prohibits any government, military or police official from attending Congressional inquiries without authorization from the president herself.
When Malakanyang refused to let cabinet officials testify in budget hearings, Congress retaliated by passing a one-peso budget for those departments whose secretaries did not show up. The administration’s response was to embrace proposals for “Charter Change” (“Cha-Cha”). When put forward by former president Fidel Ramos amid calls for Arroyo’s resignation last July, this plan for a parliamentary system was claimed to be more democratic than a presidential system, by making the head of government responsible to Congress. Instead, GMA wants to use it to discipline Congress. To drive the point home, Arroyo set up a Consultative Commission (“Con Com”) which concocted a plan to cancel the 2007 legislative and local elections (“No-El”), to prevent an opposition sweep. This would have let the president stay on until 2010 when she could run for parliament and become prime minister, thus perpetuating her grip on power.
The “No-El” scheme elicited shrieks of protest from the trapos, fearing for their sinecures, and was shelved, at least temporarily. Arroyo’s next ploy was the state of emergency, which her administration had been working on since last September at least. As she was forced to retreat on that as well, the government is making a push to ram through an “anti-terrorism” bill that was bogged down in committee. This would define “terrorism” as “the premeditated, threatened [or] actual use of violence, force, or by any other means of destruction perpetrated against person/s, property/ies...with the intention of creating or sowing a state of danger, panic, fear, or chaos to the general public, group of persons or particular person....” This elastic definition could outlaw everything from a rally to a strike, or even calling for or talking about a strike. The government brought in a United Nations delegation to bolster its call for an “anti-terror” law.
Popular Front Dead End
This brief survey of the government’s latest moves demonstrates what the League for the Fourth International has been saying for some time: that Arroyo, who has campaigned under the slogan for a “strong republic,” is relentlessly pushing to shore up her shaky rule with bonapartist measures. For Marxists, pointing to the danger of a police state, military dictatorship or other form of a bourgeois “strong state” underscores the need for workers revolution. Trotskyists stress that the tendency to restrict and do away with even the most basic bourgeois “democratic” rights is inherent in capitalism in this period of imperialist decay, going hand in hand with the full-scale assault on workers’ gains. We point out that the overthrow of the original bonapartist regime, the French Second Empire of Louis Napoleón, led to the Paris Commune, the first workers government in history10.
For reformist socialists, however, pointing to the bonapartist character of a regime is used as an excuse for advocating a coalition with “democratic” sectors of the bourgeoisie. Typically, such a government is termed “fascist,” although it lacks the mass base of enraged petty bourgeois that characterized the European fascist movements, resting instead on the military and police apparatus. And the revisionists’ response is to call for a “popular front” to combat it on the political terrain of bourgeois democracy, rather than fighting for workers revolution. As in Sukarno’s Indonesia in 1965 or Allende’s Chile in the early ’70s, popular-frontism is paid for in workers’ blood, paving the way for fascist and bonapartist reaction by acting as a roadblock to proletarian revolution.
In the Philippines today, the policy of virtually the entire left in the “Oust Gloria” movement is to make common cause with the bourgeois civilian/military opposition. In the immediate aftermath of Arroyo’s proclamation of a state of emergency, NDF “chief political consultant” Jose Maria Sison issued a February 25 statement declaring, “To oust the Arroyo regime, it suffices for the legal patriotic, progressive and other anti-Arroyo forces and their allies among the active and retired military and police forces to do their best in mustering their own respective following and in drawing the broad masses of the people to gigantic mass actions.” Sison added that “among the opposition parties, the legal forces of the national democratic movement and the ranks of retired and active anti-Arroyo military and police officers in the broad united front there is a growing common desire to form a transition council” to negotiate peace with the NDF.
The Communist Party of the Philippines put out a special issue of its publication, Ang Bayan (27 February), headlined “Resist Gloria Arroyo's new fascist dictatorship,” and calling for NPA units to “coordinate with the anti-Arroyo and other friendly units within the AFP and PNP.” In another issue of Ang Bayan (12 March), Sison suggests formation of a “Roundtable Council of Advisors” to include “former presidents” and other leading figures, and a “Unified Command” to include “major groups of retired and active military and police officers.” This is in line with the CPP’s Stalinist policy of “two-stage revolution,” the first stage being (bourgeois) “democratic” and later (never) for socialism. Sison claims the “united front” between Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Chiang Kai-shek’s Guomindang against the Japanese as a precedent for allying with “anti-Arroyo military and police officers.” But Mao’s call for a “united front” was a dead letter, as Chiang always concentrated his fire against the Communists.
While the CPP/NDF/NPA and their “national democratic” camp looked to “major groups” of military officers and “former presidents” (Ramos?), various social-democratic left and not-so-left groups sought a civilian-dominated “transition council” to replace Arroyo. According to Bulatlat (19 March), this included the “Solidarity Movement” headed by former “defense” secretary Renato de Villa along with Bayan Muna (People First), Bayan (New Patriotic Alliance) and other popular-frontist groups; as well as Laban ng Masa (People’s Fight) headed by former University of the Philippines president Francisco Nemenzo. The Arroyo government has dreamt up an elaborate “right-left” coup plot in order to justify arresting a broad array of opponents. But the “evidence” it presents points only to initial contacts of civilian oppositionists, dissident military officers and leftist leaders. What it comes down to is they did what Arroyo herself did during EDSA 2, which put her in the presidential chair.More important than how far they had advanced on this road is the fact that the reformist Philippines left sought an alliance with bourgeois opposition forces, civilian and/or military – as it has for decades. This is what “people power” was all about in EDSA 1 and 2, and for the last nine months all the left groups have been seeking another EDSA revolt. This is what last year’s “oust Gloria” drive came down to. Had they achieved their aim, it would have represented not a victory but another setback for the working people, saddling them with yet another capitalist government which in the name of “reform” would tighten the screws of exploitation and intensify repression.
Following the (predictable) defeat of impeachment in the House of Representatives in September, the response of the nat-dems was to call for a “people’s court” to try Arroyo. This sarsuela (a folk dance of love and hate) – initiated by Bayan Muna, Bayan and the KMU – was empty political theater. The purpose of the “Citizens’ Congress for Truth and Accountability” was “submitting the evidences to the people that have not been heard during the impeachment trial,” as former vice president Guingona put it (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 26 October) – in other words, a pretend impeachment. After a couple of hearings, the play-acting impeachment predictably fell apart as well.
For their part, the Partido ng Manggagawa (PM – Workers Party) and allied groups (BMP, Sanlakas, Akbayan, Laban ng Masa) organized a “working people’s summit” in mid-October, which called for strike action against the regime. The summit set a national day of protest “to call for President Arroyo’s removal and to express their opposition to the expanded value-added tax law” (Manila Times, 10 November 2005). The EVAT plan, raising the sales tax from 10 percent to 12 percent, was adopted at the urging of the International Monetary Fund. But while using a more “workerist” or laborite language than the Stalinists and national democrats, this bloc is also angling for a popular front. The aim of their welgang bayan (people’s strike) is to install a “transitional revolutionary government” with sections of the bourgeoisie.
PM legislator Rene Magtubo says that a “TRG” should foster “the basic interest of the working people: just trade, a just debt [!], a democratization of the resources,” etc. But in an article in the PM’s paper Obrero (July 2005), Sonny Melencio admitted that such a transitional government would include “representatives of the bourgeois opposition.” During February 24 protests against the state of emergency, Melencio, speaking for Laban ng Masa, declared that, “We call for a ‘Transitional Revolutionary Government’ which may just put people in power who don’t want to go any further, but that is the next step.” Moreover, Laban ng Masa leader Nemenzo was reportedly in touch with the high-ranking AFP officers who planned to “withdraw support” from Arroyo, and even organized a “backup” crowd at the UP campus to join with the Marines (Newsbreak, 14 March).
The PM/BMP/Sanlakas/Akbayan/Laban milieu was influenced by the late Filemon “Popoy” Lagman, shot to death in 2001, who broke from CPP in 1994 after rejecting the peasant-based “people’s war” thesis of the Sisonites, which accorded the urban working class at most an auxiliary role. But Lagman did not break with the Stalinist dogma of a “two-stage revolution.” The Lagmanites’ calls for workers action are invariably linked to calls for parliamentary “struggle” and for popular-front alliances with the bourgeois opposition. They tack on demands against the EVAT to demonstrations for a transitional “revolutionary” government including businessmen, big landowners, trapos and generals. In reality, they are calling for another capitalist government to provide the illusion of pro-worker policies while stepping up anti-worker repression and “reforms,” as both the Aquino and Arroyo governments have done.
For Permanent Revolution! Build a Trotskyist Nucleus in the Philippines!
Trotskyists, in contrast, insist that to fight the escalating repression unleashed by the Arroyo government it is necessary to mobilize the working class, impoverished peasantry and urban poor on a class basis, to fight for socialist revolution.
February 24 being the 20th anniversary of the 1986 EDSA “people power” revolt against the Marcos dictatorship, there were a host of articles in the press recalling that signal event of the last half century of Philippine history. Much of the discussion turned on how the left, and the Communist Party in particular, after dominating the anti-Marcos struggle for years, was pushed aside at the crucial moment by the bourgeois opposition that coalesced around Cory Aquino. Answering charges that the CPP was “caught flatfooted” because of its Maoist strategy which dismissed the perspective of an urban insurrection, Sison responded defensively, saying that a “convergence of various forces” were responsible for bringing down Marcos (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 24 February). But the fact is that, after boycotting the “snap election,” the CPP flip-flopped and supported the military officers movement led by Gen. Fidel Ramos and Defense Minister Ponce Enrile.
Despite its pick-up-the-gun rhetoric and decades of guerrilla warfare, the CPP’s strategy from the outset has been guided by the Stalinist program of popular-frontism – that is, of class collaboration with sectors of the capitalist class. They have sought not just to win individuals from the Philippine military (such as then Lt. Col. Victor Corpus, who after a stint with the NPA returned to the AFP to become a leading military intelligence official) but to ally with “major groups” in the bourgeois officer corps. The CPP’s guerrillaist politics amount to “armed reformism,” based on the petty-bourgeois peasantry rather than the proletariat and intended to pressure the ruling class. From “Ninoy” and Corazon Aquino to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the Sisonites have repeatedly sought political alliances with the bourgeois “opposition,” which is why they are constantly playing second fiddle to some new ruling-class politician. In the aftermath of the recent “state of emergency,” Sison writes, in a March 15 statement:
“In the absence of a civilian political opposition strong enough to replace the Arroyo regime with a new civilian government, the conditions become more than ever fertile for the growth of the people’s armed revolutionary movement and likewise for a military coup by military and police officers who calculate that they need to remove the stinking Arroyo regime to save the ruling system from the armed revolution.”
Yet Sison’s “armed revolutionary movement” is not aiming at a revolutionary overthrow of Philippine capitalism; rather it seeks to negotiate a role for the CPP within that system.
And this the CPP’s outlook not only in the Philippines. Thus an article in Ang Bayan (21 December 2005) on “A united front against the Nepalese monarchy” praises the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) for dropping its “sectarian” policy toward the bourgeois opposition:
“Previously, the CPN(M) was too ‘Left’ in relating to the parliamentary parties. The CPN(M) one-sidedly regarded them as opportunists and refused to maintain relations with them. On the eve of the continuing march of the CPN(M) to victory, the party realized that that was an incorrect policy. It has rectified this sectarianism.”
So according to Sison & Co., the Nepalese Maoists were ultra-left sectarians for failing to make a political alliance with the bourgeois parliamentary parties, an “error” that has been “rectified.” In fact, in both Nepal and the Philippines, the Maoists’ armed struggle has for years been aimed at allying with capitalist sectors. The CPN(M) was earlier in a bloc with the bourgeois opposition until the latter pushed it out, while the CPP supported the ascension of Aquino and Arroyo. Now they are preparing to repeat this betrayal.
The question of how to combat bonapartist regimes in semi-colonial countries like the Philippines and Nepal is not a new issue. The so-called “Third World” abounds in tin-pot dictators. This has been so ever since the colonialist powers granted political independence to their former colonies while keeping them economically subjugated and politically dominated by imperialism. In fighting against these dictatorships, the Stalinists typically align themselves politically with those who portray themselves as democrats. But because the tendency toward bonapartist rule in the semi-colonies is inherent in the imperialist system, from China in the 1920s to Chile in the 1970s, the bourgeois “democrats” repeatedly turn out to be butchers, turning on their left “allies” or else opening the way to a bloodbath against the workers and peasants. Thus the Stalinist program of “stages,” borrowed from the Menshevik social democrats, turns into a recipe for bloody defeat.
Leon Trotsky, co-leader together with V.I. Lenin of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in tsarist Russia, emphasized the inability of the weak bourgeoisies of the economically backward capitalist countries to carry out even the basic tasks of the democratic revolution, notably democracy, agrarian revolution and national liberation. This was why Trotsky insisted, in his theses on permanent revolution, on the need for the proletariat, supported by the peasantry and led by a communist party, to take power in order to achieve democratic demands and proceed to undertake socialist tasks, expropriating the bourgeoisie and extending the revolution internationally. This was the program of the Russian October Revolution, which is diametrically opposed to Stalin’s twin policies of building “socialism in one country” and “revolution in stages” elsewhere, which translated into the formation of “popular fronts” with out-of-power bourgeois forces. As this produced one disaster after another in the 1930s, from Germany to Spain and France, Stalin earned the bitter sobriquet of being the “great organizer of defeats.”
In his last essay, which lay incomplete on his desk when he was murdered by a Stalinist agent, Trotsky noted:
“[T]he governments of those backward countries which consider inescapable or more profitable for themselves to march shoulder to shoulder with foreign capital, destroy the labor organizations and institute a more or less totalitarian regime. Thus, the feebleness of the national bourgeoisie..., the pressure of foreign capitalism and the relatively rapid growth of the proletariat, cut the ground from under any kind of stable democratic regime. The governments of backward, i.e., colonial and semi-colonial countries, by and large assume a Bonapartist or semi-Bonapartist character; and differ from one another in this, that some try to orient in a democratic direction, seeking support among workers and peasants, while others install a form close to military-police dictatorship.”
–Leon Trotsky, “Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay” (August 1940)
The government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo undoubtedly belongs to variant of semi-bonapartist regimes heading toward naked military-police rule. What, then, should be the policy of the proletariat toward such regimes? It must be the program of permanent revolution, of the struggle for workers revolution which alone can spark a thorough-going agrarian revolution against the large capitalist landowners who oppress the peasantry; which alone can break the yoke of imperialism and achieve national liberation; which alone can break the cycle of imperialist-imposed petty tyrants who enslave the impoverished masses.
The Stalinists and social democrats refer to Arroyo as an imperialist puppet, and so she is. But what does that mean in practice? That another, independent, nationalist bourgeois leader could be installed in her place? Who among the endlessly squabbling capitalist politicians and eternally coup-plotting military officers could stand up to the imperialist puppet masters and its thousands of troops in the Philippines? None of them, clearly. Another bourgeois leader in Malakanyang Palace would inevitably be one more puppet of Washington and Wall Street until the imperialist stranglehold is broken, which requires proletarian revolution from the semi-colonies to the bastions of world capitalism. Trotsky wrote in his “Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and The Proletarian World Revolution” (May 1940):
“[T]the Fourth International knows in advance and openly warns the backward nations that their belated national states can no longer count upon an independent democratic development. Surrounded by decaying capitalism and enmeshed in the imperialist contradictions, the independence of a backward state inevitably will be semi fictitious, and its political regime, under the influence of internal class contradictions and external pressure, will unavoidably fall into dictatorship against the people.... The struggle for the national independence of the colonies is, from the standpoint of the revolutionary proletariat, only a transitional stage on the road toward drawing the backward countries into the international socialist revolution.”
In the Philippines today, the relentless march toward a bonapartist “strong state” regime can only be stopped by a revolutionary mobilization of the working class, backed up by the impoverished peasantry and millions of urban poor. Such a display of power would attract the support of sections of the wavering middle classes who fear chaos and a new Marcos-like regime or military junta. Playing political games with the bourgeois opposition and conspiring officers, as the reformist left has done in the “oust Gloria” and impeachment campaign, can only undercut that struggle. It may even open the door for U.S. imperialism to engineer a “change of control” in its Philippine subsidiary, as Washington did by replacing Marcos with Aquino.
The power of the proletariat should be mobilized in the streets and in strike action against every attack on democratic rights and every blow against the livelihoods of the masses. A campaign based on the working class should be waged to drive the U.S. troops and agents out of the Philippines. An international campaign should be waged to free Crispin Beltran and other prisoners of the Arroyo regime. Above all, the nucleus of a Trotskyist party must be built, exposing the bourgeois politics of the several competing mini-popular fronts and politically challenging the hegemony of the Stalinist and social-democratic reformist politics on the left.
League for the Fourth International declares that if the Filipino
people are to sweep away the bottomless corruption and brutal
bourgeois rule and put an end to the mass misery produced by capitalist
exploitation, they require a revolutionary-internationalist,
Leninist-Trotskyist workers party to lead that fight, not only in the
Philippines but throughout Southeast Asia and in the centers of world
1 Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) is the ring highway encircling central Manila, on which Fort Bonifacio, the HQ of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is located and where crowds gathered in response to appeals by Catholic Cardinal Sin and in support of military mutineers who brought down Marcos in 1986.
2 “Trapos” = traditional politicians, also means dirty rags in Philipino.
3 Armed Forces of the Philippines.
4 See “Presidential Crisis in the Philippines: Workers Should Sweep Out Arroyo and All the Bourgeois Politicians,” in The Internationalist No. 22, September-October 2005.
5 See “Soap Opera ‘Coup Attempt’ in the Philippines,” The Internationalist No. 17, October-November 2003.
6 After Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, who after finishing off the 1848 Revolution in France had himself proclaimed president and then emperor, imitating the First Empire of his uncle, Napoleón Bonaparte. Karl Marx coined the term “bonapartist” to signify a “strong state” using dictatorial or police measures to ensure its existence.
7 See “Filipino Working-Class Fighter Murdered,” The Internationalist No. 22, September-October 2005.
8 See “Massacre of Sugar Plantation Workers in the Philippines,” The Internationalist No. 21, Summer 2005.
9 See “Arroyo Impeachment Dead, ‘People Power’ Pop Front Goes On,” The Internationalist No. 22.
10 See the Internationalist Group Class Readings pamphlet, Marxism vs. Bonapartism (September 2004).
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