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PMP-Merger Blazes Trail for Revolutionary Movement in Philippines

by Ramani De Silva

Ramani De Silva is a member of the Central Committee of the Partido ng Manggagawang Pilipino.

CONTENTS

In a historic step forward for the Philippine left, more than a hundred delegates from three revolutionary parties held a unity congress in August 2002 and formed a unified party, after more than a week of congress debates and deliberations.

The Partido ng Manggagawang Pilipino (PMP), the Sosyalistang Partido ng Paggawa (SPP) and the Partido Proletaryo Demokratiko (PPD) merged under a new program and constitution, to form a unified party which is now simply called the Partido ng Manggagawang Pilipino (PMP)-Merger.

The merger of the three parties, coming after almost ten years of disunity and splits, is a trail-blazer for the revolutionary movement. It will result in the strengthening of the revolutionary forces, with the new party now constituting the largest revolutionary cadre force and mass base in the urban centres of the country.

A group of revolutionary socialists from the Bangsa Moro nation of the Mindanao islands, inspired by the merger process, also joined the congress and are now a part of the united party.

The PMP, PPD and the revolutionary socialists from the Bangsa Moro nation were formerly units of the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). They split from the CPP in 1993 against the Stalinist/Maoist method of leadership and argued for a congress to sort out the differences within the party (the CPP has held only one congress—its founding congress in 1968). They subsequently argued for a reappraisal of the CPP's entire program and strategy. The SPP brings together revolutionary forces from the two main revolutionary traditions in the Philippines: the CPP and the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas-1930. (The PKP-1930, which aligned itself with Moscow, was the first revolutionary socialist party in the Philippines. The CPP split from the PKP in 1968, critical of the PKP's class-collaborationist and opportunist politics.)

The merger is a product of some ten years of clarification of the views and line of march of the revolutionary movement after the split from the CPP in 1993.

1990s: Ruling Class Consolidation and Crisis of the Left

Despite a brief period of social upheaval, the Philippine capitalist class managed to consolidate its rule after the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship in February 1986. The administrations of Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos embraced the dictates of the imf-driven neo-liberal economic agenda and united the various factions of the ruling class and the military behind them.

The communist left represented by the CPP was in crisis. Not only had the CPP, which was (and still is) completely mesmerised by its Maoist schema of Protracted People's War, failed to anticipate the unfolding of the urban mass movement as the leadership and heart of the anti-dictatorship movement, and it was unable to reorient to the democratic space that was forced open by this mass movement in the period immediately prior to and after the collapse of the dictatorship. The clearest expression of this was the decision made by the party to boycott the elections in the lead-up to the overthrow of the dictatorship. Nor was the party able to appreciate the changed situation in the aftermath of the collapse of the dictatorship. The CPP leadership simply argued that nothing had changed.

Ignoring a clamour in the party to assess and review its program and strategy in the light of these events, the Central Committee of the CPP put out a position paper reaffirming the Maoist program and strategy of Protracted People's War. The call by several units of the CPP, and some members of its Central Committee, to organise a party congress to discuss and debate the party's strategy was ignored and blocked. Frustrated by its inability to find a forum in the party to express its differences, the urban-based Manila Rizal Regional Committee of the party declared its autonomy from the CPP in 1993. Other units subsequently followed, leading to a full-blown split in the communist movement.

The attempts by the various units that split from the CPP to unite in a single party failed. While personal clashes between various leaders were partly responsible for this, the main reason was the inability to agree on a common critique of the CPP's program and strategy, apart from the lack of democracy within the party. The most comprehensive and far-reaching critique of the CPP was put forward by the Manila Rizal Regional Committee in what came to be known as the "Counter-Thesis".

The thesis critiqued the two main platforms of the CPP program: the characterisation of Philippine capitalism as "semi-colonial and semi-feudal" and its guerrilla warfare strategy of Protracted People's War. The Counter-Thesis argued that the Philippines' economic system was underdeveloped capitalism and argued for the validity of different forms of struggle: mass struggle, parliamentary struggle and military forms of struggle. Within it lay the seeds of Lenin's strategy of insurrection.

The partial defeat suffered by the left in 1986, the successful consolidation of capitalist rule after the overthrow of the dictatorship and the debates that took place in attempting to clarify an alternative program and strategy to that of the CPP led to ten years of "soul searching" in the revolutionary movement outside the CPP. This led to further divisions and splits, including further splits from within the CPP.

The latest split from the CPP took place in 1997, when another entire regional unit of the party, based in the Central Luzon region, bolted from the leadership. These forces subsequently formed the Marxist-Leninist Party of the Philippines (mlpp). The mlpp, while going through its own process of rethinking, hasn't junked the Protracted People's War strategy or the accompanying Maoist characterisation of Philippine capitalism as "semi-feudal and semi-colonial".

In the last ten years, there were splits within the Manila-Rizal forces. But this dynamic has now come to an end. The PMP-Merger represents this turning point and marks a clear trend towards further rapprochement and the reunification of large units of the former CPP. It also blazes a trail toward a new type of party, one that is actively non-sectarian and that consciously attempts to work with various revolutionary and progressive forces.

Asian economic crisis opens a new period

The 1997-1998 Asian economic crisis rattled Philippine capitalism. While its impact on the Philippines was not as spectacular as on its neighbours Indonesia and Thailand (the Philippines economy, never truly having got far off the ground, did not have so far to fall), the peso tumbled against the US dollar (from around 30 to 1 to 50 to1, from which it has never recovered) and the manufacturing sector suffered a major blow, factory closures resulting in tens of thousands of workers losing their jobs. The economic crisis set the stage for the opening of a new period of deepening political and social crisis.

The mass movement picked up steam as it campaigned against the policies of President Joseph Estrada, elected in 1998 in a landslide victory in which over ninety per cent of the population participated. The new administration had a brief honeymoon period of just over one year.

The corrupt plunder of the national coffers by the Estrada family and a handful of cronies alarmed the rest of the handful of more established ruling-class families, who felt they were being marginalised. They ganged up against the Estrada administration and plotted to force him out of office, initially by preserving bourgeois legality through impeachment. However, as the mass movement gained momentum, they opted to support and control the mass mobilisations, resulting in a changing of the guard through "people's power".

Unity in struggle

A key factor contributing to the eventual merger was the unity in struggle achieved in the campaign to bring down the Estrada administration, which was finally ousted in January 2001. There were essentially two positions that emerged in the campaign against the Estrada administration.

The position of the ruling-class forces, the majority of whom lined up against the Estrada government, was to back Vice-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to replace Estrada, thus achieving a relatively controlled transition of power. Some of the key figures in this bloc were former president Cory Aquino and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church led by Cardinal Sin. The social democrats and the Communist Party of the Philippines also supported this position: the former on the basis of their thoroughly reformist agenda and the latter on the basis of a call for a government of national unity that would unite Arroyo, the CPP and other nationalist forces. The social democrats were the foot soldiers for the pro-Arroyo movement, and were subsequently well rewarded with cabinet positions and top placements in the government bureaucracy. The CPP, while supporting Arroyo and organising mass rallies which provided a platform for the pro-Arroyo forces, subsequently maintained its political independence by switching to a position of critical support and refusing positions in the Arroyo administration.

The former PMP, SPP and PPD forces took the position of "down with Estrada, but no to gma". The Anti-Trapo Movement ("trapo" is shorten for "traditional politicians") was formed, expressing the unity of the independent class position put forward by the revolutionary left forces. Common tactics were discussed and joint actions organised.

The groups that make up the PMP-Merger also had a common response to the urban poor uprising that took place in May 2001 (known as Edsa Three[1]), a few months after the installation of the Arroyo presidency. Edsa Three is described as "poor people's power" by its participants, a mobilisation of mainly urban poor masses who marched to Malacanang Palace on May 1, attempting to split the military and overthrow the Arroyo regime. The uprising was a failure, resulting in the killing of scores of urban poor marchers in front of the palace gates.

While the former PMP, SPP and PPD attacked and exposed the efforts of the pro-Estrada elite forces to lead and control the uprising in May, they also understood the potential of the mass uprising to expose the political bankruptcy of the newly installed Arroyo regime. Efforts were made to link up with the uprising and direct it towards a conscious expression of the interests of the urban poor masses.

The CPP, the left-reformist Akbayan (which includes former CPP leaders who have given up Marxism and class politics for the line of "popular democracy") and the social democratic groupings called for the defence of Malacanang Palace (to "defend the gains of Edsa Two") and actually prepared for a struggle against the poor masses. They retreated when they realised that the Edsa Three forces were tens of thousands strong (some reports estimated that one million urban poor marched on the palace).

The merger process

In February 2001, the revolutionary movement suffered another blow, when one of its central leaders, Filemon "Popoy" Lagman or Ka Popoy, was felled by assassins' bullets. Ka Popoy was a central leader of the PMP and for several decades a close comrade in arms of key leaders of the SPP and the PPD prior to the various splits and divisions that led to the existence of the three parties. The new merged party continues the name PMP in remembrance of Ka Popoy, who was officially recognised at the merger congress as a martyr of the Philippine revolution, along with other revolutionary giants such as Crisanto Evangelista and Lean Alejandro.

The assassination of Ka Popoy had the effect of pushing these wings of the movement to close ranks and explore ways of strengthening unity and merging their forces.

The merger process was coordinated by a Pre-Congress Committee (pcc) which was set up in August 2001.Through these initial discussions, the leaders of the respective parties made the political judgment that the differences were not grave enough to prevent compromises and that there was substantial unity on key programmatic positions, as well as the key political questions and tactics of the day facing the revolutionary movement.

Areas of disagreement were identified and a period of internal discussion opened up for party members to discuss and debate these differences. A joint internal discussion bulletin was established for written discussions and debates. Meanwhile, the leaders in the pcc went ahead with the drafting of a unity program and unity constitution to be presented to the merger congress.

The basis for the merger was stated in a pcc statement announcing the beginning of the merger talks. There was unity on ideological questions in the framework of Marxism-Leninism and a high level of political unity. It was emphasised that it was a political imperative for the revolutionary forces to unite and lead the major upheavals which would inevitably result from the social and political crisis facing the country.

A period of more than twelve months of rich pre-congress discussion and debates followed. Several days of the congress continued to discuss, debate and clarify the remaining differences. In some cases, the differences were narrowed. The debates sharpened members' political understanding of long-held principles and positively challenged the political basis of long-established positions. Overall, it was a massive educational experience for the party forces and heightened their political consciousness. Paradoxically, it helped strengthen the political unity of the members in the new party. The process of political discussion and debate through which the new party emerged is perhaps unparalleled in the history of the Philippine left.

The differences

The differences within the party are described as "outstanding issues". These issues will be discussed and debated in a united party as they are not of a nature to prevent the fusion from taking place.

One of the outstanding issues is the nature of the transition to socialism. The debate was over the "theoretical possibility" of the revolutionary democratic stage being outstripped by a long "evolutionary" process of full capitalist development, resulting in the revolutionary process in the Philippines being a long period of preparation for the socialist revolution (which became known as the "Martov line" in the debate[2]). However, there was agreement that this did not apply to the Philippines today and that the revolutionary process in the Philippines would follow Lenin's theory of a two-stage uninterrupted revolution.

There were debates on the agrarian question, especially focused on the key programmatic demands of the party on the land question: "land to the tiller" or "nationalisation". The final position adopted in the program was that the party actively campaigns for the nationalisation of land and for "land to the tiller" or land distribution if the peasant masses demand it.

There were also debates on how to characterise the strategy of the party: "people's power", "mass struggle", "party building" etc. A unified position was adopted to describe the key components of the party's strategy as consisting of mass actions and struggles, propaganda and party building.

There were also debates on the open versus underground character of the party, the military question etc.

One year later: key lessons

Almost one year after the unity congress, the merger of the three parties has been consolidated. The merger is now a historical fact. The differences discussed at the congress have no immediate or practical bearing on the day-to-day work of the party or the new discussions and debates that have arisen.

Debates, even sharp debates, still continue. But they relate to the range of tactical questions that the party needs to address as it attempts to move the struggle forward. While the party constitution protects the rights of minority tendencies to organise and put forward their positions, in the new discussions and debates, the "old" line-ups no longer apply. People take positions based on the concrete issues and debates at hand; the "old" line-ups have very little political relevance. Permanent tendencies based on the former parties no longer exist.

No doubt the "old" debates could flare up again, not around abstract programmatic positions, but around the concrete developments in the class struggle.

The lessons are contained in the long road travelled and in the story itself. Historically, the Philippine revolutionary movement has been marked by a very high level of political homogeneity and organisational unity. Two revolutionary parties dominated the movement for most of its existence in the last hundred years: the PKP and the CPP. The revolutionary socialist movement was never completely crushed, as happened in Indonesia after Suharto's coup in 1965. It suffered intense persecution and was driven underground, but despite its Stalinist and Maoist distortions, there was revolutionary continuity. The split in 1968 was the first major split of its kind, and despite the CPP's embracing Maoism, it was a necessary split.

The split in 1993 from the CPP was also necessary. There are those in the movement who argue that if this split had come earlier, based on a clear critique of the CPP's program, the 1986 people's power uprising might have resulted in a revolutionary outcome. But today this is a historical debate.

It took ten long, but perhaps necessary, years for the movement to clarify its perspective in the course of the struggle before the merger was achieved in 2002.

Perhaps a key lesson of the merger is that it can be done—a simple lesson, but a very valuable one, hard learned. It can be done, if you keep your nerve and your eye on the bigger picture. And it became very clear, especially after the outcome of Edsa Two, when the People's Power upsurge was once again manipulated and hijacked by the ruling class, that the unity of the revolutionary left is an imperative. It's a practical necessity, as much as, or even more so than any other immediate demand. Revolutionary unity was a necessary step to move the struggle forward.

The line of march

The new party does not view the unity project as completed. It is still open to exploring unity, at various levels, with other revolutionary forces. As for the CPP, despite the sharp differences, the PMP views the CPP as part of the revolutionary movement. It is open to working and uniting with the CPP around the main campaigns of the day.

The economic and social crisis in the country is deepening. It's an open secret that the government is bankrupt. Public servants in some government departments are owed several months' wages. The government's war against the Moro liberation movement and the people of Mindanao is relentless, with the army now being aided by us troops. The Arroyo administration has backed the us drive for global hegemony, code-named the "war on terrorism", and is one of the most servile pro-us regimes in the region. The economy stumbles along due to lines of credit still available to the government from imperialist financial institutions.

National elections are due in March 2004, but if the ruling class cannot contain the anger of the masses in an electoral framework, a social upheaval in the form of another People's Power upsurge cannot be ruled out in the near future. The challenge facing the Philippine left is to position itself for such an outcome.

Notes

 

1. Edsa is a main highway that runs through the capital Manila. The mass upsurge that overthrew the Marcos dictatorship also took place in Edsa and is known as Edsa One. The upsurge that overthrew the Estrada regime is known as Edsa Two.

 

2. Lenin polemicised against Martov's position in "Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution".

Comments

Philippines splits

i really admire the efforts of those people who wanted to take the right path in pursuing a genuine nationalist and democratic philippines. I am affiliated to the splits from Central Luzon.Actually we are now positioned all over the philippines. i am based here in northern luzon and we are aiming for the reunification of the whole left movement as well, with the correct thinking of a genuine revolutionary cadre.

we look forward for the reunification,we wanted to collectively analyzed what happened,why we reach the point of splitting up from our former party. I believed that we do have our own deep and world turning moments that makes us unable to cope up with what is going on with the party. I believed that we heavily took the decision to split-up due to the reason that the party is not acting accdg to principle anymore. In order for us to take the right path and correct the misdeeds of our former colleagues, therefore it is neccessary that we take ourselves out of the wrong direction and find the right one. However we are branded by our former comrades as reformist/trotskyites and traitors for that action..I believed that we are taking the right way and the reunification of all genuine revolutionaries is the moment of all our goals.. i hope to get in touch with you guys

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