Lessons and prospects for the Philippine left
By Sonny Melencio and Reihana Mohideen
- Edsa I and Edsa II
- Edsa III
- Assessing Edsa I, II and III
- Limitations and weaknesses of Edsa uprisings
- The people's power strategy
- On coup d'etat and revolution
- The revolutionary and progressive forces
- Our line of march
From January 17 to 20, 2001, the Philippines again filled international headlines with another "Edsa" uprising that culminated in the ouster of President Joseph "Erap" Estrada. The four-day people's uprising was called "Edsa II" in reference to the first revolt that took place at the same site February 21-25, 1986, when the dictator Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown. In less than four months, another upheaval erupted at the same historic Edsa site from April 25 to May 1. Its organisers called it "Edsa III" or the "poor power uprising" to denote the overwhelmingly urban poor composition of its participants. The latest eruption was capped by an "assault" on the gates of Malacañang, the presidential palace, by around 50,000 unarmed demonstrators who marched all the way from the Edsa site to the palace in the early morning of May 1.
Many observed that while it took fifteen years for the second edition of the Edsa people's power uprising to unfold, it took less than four months for the third to follow. Could it be that a fourth Edsa uprising is lurking around the corner?
Before we probe into the phenomenon of Edsa III, let us clarify first the similarities and differences between Edsa I and Edsa II.
Edsa I and Edsa II were undoubtedly people's uprisings. Both were characterised by huge mobilisations of the masses, who trooped to Edsa and stayed for days, determined to press for the ouster of the regime.
The social significance of Edsa I was far greater than that of Edsa II. Edsa I was the crest of a powerful anti-dictatorship struggle. In 1986, during the first Edsa, a dictatorship was overthrown, leading to a scenario which created distinct advantages and greater political possibilities for the progressive and revolutionary forces. The fall of the dictatorship led to the opening up of democratic space and the expansion of the political arena for the left.
Edsa II was mainly focused on a demand to replace a corrupt regime. It did not result in any substantial gains in terms of expansion of democratic space and improved possibilities for the broad working class movement. Right at the start the Edsa II "winner", the current president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA), was clearly a more consistent and reliable ally of imperialist interests in the country. Earlier on she had emerged as a dry economic technocrat whom the IMF-World Bank and other imperialist institutions relied on to implement efficiently their neo-liberal program in the country.
Since Edsa II was not as "politically substantive" as Edsa I—and since, according to some left groups, the struggle was a mere "showdown between the pro-Erap and the anti-Erap factions of the ruling class"—some forces did not even bother to intervene in the upheaval. Those of us who argued for a strong political intervention, including joining the march to the presidential palace on the morning of January 20, did so for the following reasons:
Firstly, the masses were there and were intervening in their millions to show their resistance to the corrupt regime of Estrada. They were demanding the instant resignation or ouster of Erap. The peak mobilisation at Edsa II was estimated to be around 1.4 million on the night of January 19.
Secondly, building the mass mobilisation at Edsa was (and it proved to be) a perfect counterfoil to the plans for a coup d'etat coming from the anti-Estrada forces in the military. We know that there was a coup d'etat being organised by forces in the army close to former president Fidel Ramos. After Edsa II, a government report admitted to a coup plot from at least three groups within the military.
Thirdly, the left's intervention was (and is) needed to further enhance the self-confidence and raise the political consciousness of the masses. This specifically means bolstering the mobilisation with organised forces from the left, clarifying the nature of the crisis and winning support for the left's alternatives to the Estrada regime.
It also means exposing at every turn the vacillation of the anti-Estrada factions of the ruling class, especially when confronted with the militancy of the masses. The anti-Estrada reactionaries, including the church hierarchy headed by Cardinal Sin, wanted a mere prayer rally that would appeal to the remaining forces in the government to desert Estrada and support the next constitutional successor (GMA).
This became very clear early on the morning of January 20, when the Edsa forces were gearing up for a march to lay siege to the Malacañang palace. Cardinal Sin appealed on radio for "sobriety" and a stop to the march. But the left speakers addressed the crowd, arguing that people should march to Malacañang, surround it and force Estrada to resign. Left leaders started the chant, "Mendiola, Mendiola (to the palace site), and the chant was taken up by the crowd. The left forces then decided to march. The intervention by right-wing church leaders such as Sin greatly affected the number of marchers, because a substantial number stayed at Edsa. At noon on that day, while the progressive and left forces were battling it out with the pro-Erap "loyalists" at Mendiola, GMA was sworn in to office at the Edsa shrine before Cardinal Sin and the remaining masses.
The newly installed Arroyo regime was not alone in being shocked by the Edsa III upheaval. Even the revolutionary political blocs were bewildered by the sight of an increasing mass of poor people trooping to the Edsa shrine for several days (April 25-30), and launching an unarmed "assault" on Malacañang palace from early morning until the late afternoon of May 1.
Why is it that a large number of the poor still believe in Estrada despite indisputable proofs of his regime's high-handed corruption? Was it really a "poor power uprising" or was it just a "poorer version" of the earlier Edsas? Was it a revolt of some segments of the poor, or mere "hakot power" (i.e., paid hacks transported to the shrine by pro-Estrada politicians)?
The Philippine left needs to assess its attitude to the Edsa III uprising along the following lines:
Firstly, tens of thousands of people trooped to and stayed at the Edsa shrine for five days belying the claim that they were merely a "hakot force". Even in the base communities of the Sosyalistang Partido ng Paggawa (Socialist Party of Labour—SPP), we monitored large numbers of poor people spontaneously joining the rally at the shrine. Some pro-Estrada politicians did provide transport to urban poor participants. But the progressive forces also follow this practice when mobilising people for rallies. The fact that the Edsa III "rebels" were not mercenaries was again proven during the "assault" on Malacañang. These people would not have risked their lives if they were there only for money.
Secondly, the scale of the Edsa III mobilisation was almost on a par with that of Edsa II. The multitudes at Edsa III were reported to have peaked at more than a million. The mainstays at Edsa III (those who stayed at the shrine for successive days) were also more numerous than those at Edsa II. This was attributed to the composition of the participants, who were overwhelmingly poor and not as mobile as the middle classes. While Edsa II forces did not come entirely from the middle class, they were more noticeable than at the Edsa III uprising. The bulk of the Edsa II participants were students (many from working-class families), while the bulk of the Edsa III participants were from the urban poor, the unemployed and the marginalised sectors of society—the poorest of the poor, or the "basement poor" according to some quarters.
A progressive columnist in a major daily remarked that he always refers to Edsa III in quotation marks to differentiate it from the other Edsas. According to him, this is because the goal of Edsa III (restoring Erap to the presidency) was not as ennobling as those of the earlier two.
But it's hard to dismiss Edsa III as a fluke among a series of Edsa risings. It was as legitimate an uprising as the other two. A continuous stream of poor people trooped to the shrine from April 25 to May 1 for a myriad of reasons. But these were ultimately the result of the exasperation of the poor with a regime perceived as highly elitist and which has done nothing to relieve them of their increasing misery. The overwhelming number of Edsa III forces tended to be more anti-Gloria than pro-Erap. Edsa III should be read as a signal of the gathering disenchantment and disgust of the poor over their miserable situation rather than a mere demand for the reinstatement of an ousted president.
In hindsight, what should have been the response of the left to Edsa III?
It is worth noting that some sections of the so-called progressive forces (calling themselves "civil society") adopted a hostile attitude towards the Edsa III forces and mobilised in support of the beleaguered GMA regime. While it is politically expedient to isolate the anti-GMA trapos (traditional politicians) who were instigating the crowd to demand the return of Erap and inciting them to "assault" Malacañang, we should not dismiss the crowd as mere riff-raff totally beholden to these trapos. We have enough proof that a large number of the participants in Edsa III had a genuine and healthy hatred for the elitist GMA regime.
The SPP proposed to other left groups that we attempt to reach out to the Edsa III forces. Since we could not do that by joining their mobilisation at the shrine (they regarded the left as pro-GMA), the best way to do this was for some of our forces to attend the rally at the shrine and circulate our propaganda. We also proposed that a statement clarifying our "Neither Erap nor Gloria, establish a government of the poor" line be circulated in urban poor communities. We found these activities and mass meetings in slum areas effective ways of explaining our position and winning people over.
There are numerous ways to bridge the gap between the revolutionary forces and the insurgent masses who are being led astray by the trapo forces. But the revolutionary forces need to examine first whether they have a correct understanding of the underlying nature of the Edsa III events.
We should take into consideration a number of striking similarities among Edsa I, II and III.
Firstly, they were all people's power uprisings. They constituted direct action by a sizeable and growing number of masses who mobilised for days on end to press for the overthrow of an incumbent regime perceived as oppressive and unjust.
Edsa I in February 1986 was a direct action of the masses aimed at overthrowing the much hated Marcos dictatorship. Edsa II in January 2001 was aimed at ousting the unabashedly corrupt Estrada regime. Edsa III in April-May 2001 was also a direct-action mobilisation of mostly poor people aimed at ousting the elitist regime of GMA (but favouring the return to power of the ousted Estrada).
Secondly, these uprisings were all led by factions of the Philippine ruling class. Edsa I installed the Cory Aquino faction in power. Edsa II inaugurated the GMA faction, and Edsa III was led by the pro-Estrada faction conspiring to bring Erap back to power. Therefore, it should not be surprising that after these new leaders had been installed in power (at least in Edsa I and II), they immediately demobilised and dispersed "people's power". For them, "people's power" had served its purpose (i.e., to put them in power) and the new regime had no more need for it.
This is why the term "people's power revolution" or "Edsa Revolution" is a misnomer. None of the Edsa risings led to a genuine revolution in which the old ruling system and the old ruling class were overthrown by another class representing a new socioeconomic order. On the contrary, the Edsa risings were merely a changing of the guard in the main institutions of the capitalist state (which remained intact). As they say: new dogs, old collars.
This is not "people's power" in the sense that power had passed into the hands of the people. The term "people's power" here is merely an adjective denoting the mass character of the Edsa uprisings (as in "people's power uprising"). While a great mass of people have mobilised and have risen up against the old government, at the end of the day, these masses remain nameless and are excluded from even any superficial power-sharing arrangement in the new government.
On the other hand, there is a major difference between Edsa III and the first two Edsas. While Edsa I and Edsa II were "successful", Edsa III failed to reinstall the Estrada regime in power. It failed to split or even neutralise the military, which rallied behind GMA, although a bit dispiritedly. Nonetheless, Edsa III could not be written off. It was similar to the previous Edsa uprisings in that it was also based on the direct action and mobilisation of the masses, and led by a faction of the ruling elite in order to implement its own agenda.
The call to assault the presidential palace was a putschist undertaking. It was doomed from the start due to the lack of overwhelming support from the masses and the absence of the necessary conditions for the neutralisation of the military—two factors deemed crucial for a successful uprising. It was clear that the pro-Estrada trapos, who were absent from the Malacañang "assault" despite having instigated it, only used the masses as cannon fodder in their vain attempt to drive a wedge into the military.
Edsa III ended up with scores of demonstrators killed and hundreds arrested. Some fought fiercely with the police, using stones, clubs and anything else they could lay their hands on. This provided the excuse for the GMA regime to unleash a terror scare against the insurgent masses that lasted for several weeks even after the palace "assault" was quelled. The so-called liberal regime declared a state of rebellion that allowed it to undertake warrantless arrests, set up checkpoints all over the city and stage police raids in slums and depressed communities.
Once effect of the Edsa III failure was to send a negative signal to the masses on the viability of mass mobilisation and mass struggle. The success of Edsa I and II had instilled among the masses a very positive and healthy attitude towards mass mobilisation and struggle. More than that, the Edsa I and II experiences raised the self-confidence of two generations of Filipino people, i.e., confidence emanating from the revolutionary idea that people can unite to overthrow any tyrant who oppresses and shames them. The failure of Edsa III tended to undermine this self-confidence and optimism among the masses.
What if Edsa III had succeeded in replacing the GMA regime with an Erap regime? Would this have been detrimental to the left and the mass movement? In other words, was the GMA regime a lesser evil that the left had the responsibility to support in the face of the threat by the Erap camp?
The SPP's view is that, in this instance, the question of the lesser evil does not apply. It is not the same as in the case of Edsa I, where an Aquino administration was clearly a lesser evil in comparison to the dictatorship of Marcos. This is why we adopted the position of "Neither Erap nor Gloria"—a line calling for the independent positioning of the progressive and revolutionary forces.
Each of the three Edsa uprisings constitutes an unfinished revolution that could not be concluded due to a number of objective and subjective factors.
An objective limitation of all the Edsa uprisings was that their aims were limited to the overthrow of individuals in power. They did not pose any comprehensive alternative to the rotten capitalist regime. All the Edsa uprisings were led by factions of the bourgeoisie who wanted to grab power from the incumbent faction mainly by directly mobilising the masses.
This limitation emanates from the low level of political or class-consciousness of the masses who participated in the uprisings. It cannot be denied that in all the Edsa uprisings, the masses were cheering as heroes many representatives of the ruling class and trapos.
In Edsa I, for instance, the people cheered the likes of Cory (Aquino), Enrile (then the head of Marcos' department of national defence) and Ramos (Marcos' army chief) as heroes. In Edsa II, the loudest cheers were reserved for the confessed gambling lord Chavit Singson (a close friend of Estrada's who first blew the whistle against the former president) and the senators who resisted Estrada. In Edsa III, the mostly urban poor crowd applauded as their leaders and heroes a number of pro-Erap cronies and trapos—belying the organisers' claim that the participants were more "class conscious" in their "poor power" slogan.
Another objective factor—which is related to the low level of political consciousness of the Edsa masses—is the level of working-class struggle in the country. While the broad working class (industrial workers, urban poor, rural workers and the rural poor) participated in the Edsa uprisings, the dominant and overwhelming force was from the so-called urban middle classes (except at Edsa III). Their dominating presence, coupled with a leadership coming from factions of the ruling elite or the big bourgeoisie, swayed the direction of the uprising towards a compromising middle ground. The prayer-rally style of the mobilisation itself was a compromise with the church hierarchy and the calculating trapos.
Organised working-class participation was always lacking, such as a successful general strike in conjunction with the mass mobilisation and rallies. During Edsa I and II, workers' unions threatened to stage a general strike but it did not materialise due to the unpreparedness of the workers' organisations.
The Edsa uprisings, which were largely urban-based eruptions, failed to kindle even an urban poor revolt in any part of the metropolis (which in the past has taken the form of street barricades). The attack on the Edsa III marchers by the military forces did lead to rioting in the Mendiola area that lasted till late afternoon of May 1. It was reminiscent of the First Quarter Storm's (the student uprising against Marcos in 1970s) battle of Mendiola. However, while that battle led to widespread rallies and skirmishes in the urban areas that gradually built up into a powerful revolutionary movement, Edsa III collapsed and puffed out of existence in an instant.
All of the above points to the low level of political consciousness and preparedness of the working-class masses to seize the opportunity and embark on a heightened struggle against their class oppressors. No wonder, then, that all the Edsa uprisings easily fell under the leadership of various factions of the ruling elite.
To paraphrase a revolutionary theorist (Leon Trotsky in The History of the Russian Revolution), the bourgeoisie may win political power not because it is revolutionary but because it is bourgeois. It has in its possession property, education, the press, a network of strategic positions and hierarchy of institutions. Quite otherwise with the working class. Deprived in the nature of things of all social advantages, the insurrectionary poor can count only on their numbers, their solidarity, their cadres and their organisation.
This brings us to the central and crucial subjective factor that was missing during the successive Edsa risings—the absence of revolutionary leadership.
In 1986, the biggest left formation—the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) with its mass organisations—was completely marginalised in the people's power uprising due to its militarist Maoist schema of protracted people's war and its sectarian approach towards the anti-dictatorship struggle. From their ultra-left stance in Edsa I, they swung to an opportunist line during Edsa II. During Edsa II, the CPP organisations were part of the "civil society" (a term now used by Philippine NGOs and social democratic groups to denote the participants of Edsa II) that initiated the mobilisation, but there was nothing revolutionary in their uncritical endorsement of GMA as a replacement for the Estrada regime. In Edsa III, the socialist and progressive blocs as a whole were nowhere to be found.
All these major limitations and weaknesses account for the defects of the Edsa uprisings. The Edsa struggles constitute unfinished revolutions that could not be concluded due to the low level political and class consciousness of their participants, the low level of working-class struggles, and the absence of a revolutionary leadership.
Until we are able to solve these inherent limitations and weaknesses, until we are able to raise the level of political and class consciousness of the masses, raise the preparedness and capacity of the working class to deal crippling blows against their oppressors, and overcome the continuing divisions among the ranks of the progressive movement that restrict its capacity to lead the struggle—these people's power uprisings will remain confined to the mere changing of the guard rather than the changing of the whole unjust and rotten system.
The series of people's power uprisings has not only posed the strategy question for the left, but has also led to the further concretisation of the character of the revolution in the country.
Before the Edsa uprisings, questions of strategy for the Philippine revolution were often debated in the context of revolutionary models in other countries. The most prominent was the protracted people's war strategy (PPW), which is eternally affirmed by the Maoist CPP as the only road to victory. Later on, the Vietnamese model and the Latin American revolutionary experience (Nicaragua, El Salvador) led to the coinage of the so-called politico-military strategy, which was seen by some as a more appropriate strategy for the Philippines.
The successes, albeit limited, of people's power uprisings have helped concretise the path to revolution in today's context. The impact of these uprisings cannot be disregarded. Today, two generations have experienced the liberating dynamics of two Edsa uprisings—the generation of 1986 and the generation of 2001.
Compare this with the 32 years of the PPW strategy (a strategy of prolonged and escalating guerrilla warfare that encircles the cities from the countryside) by the CPP—with no victory in sight. This is also the case with the so-called pol-mil strategy, which has led to the weakening and eventual disbanding of most urban guerrilla groups organised around it.
While the PPW and pol-mil schemas have failed to deliver, people's power uprisings have erupted leading to the overthrow of two unpopular regimes over a period of 15 years. (The period of course is unimportant, since uprisings can never be scheduled but are the result of the escalation of class struggle to a higher or revolutionary level.) However, due to the limitations and weaknesses of the Edsa uprisings, they have never reached revolutionary proportions.
This means that the people's power strategy (PPS) lays the basis for building a viable strategy for revolutionary change in the Philippines. The SPP has referred to PPS previously as the mass struggle strategy, a strategy of direct mobilisation of the masses, as opposed to the Maoist PPW strategy, a strategy of direct mobilisation of the masses, as opposed to the Maoist PPW strategy or the confused politico-military strategy of a number of party formations. (Or as opposed to the parliamentarist strategy, such as the "civil society strategy" of social democratic and popular democratic groups.) People's power uprisings have been discovered by the Filipino masses, through concrete experience, as the most effective method of mass struggle.
How do we develop this people's power strategy towards a successful revolutionary conclusion?
there are three major components of such a strategy. One is the mass mobilisation itself, which is the most crucial factor. Next is the establishment of people's power councils, which constitute the organs of self-rule by the revolutionary masses. This will have to develop to the stage of arming the masses through self-defence units, militias and ultimately a people's army.
Third is the military component which takes the form of neutralisation of the reactionary military institution. Neutralisation here ranges from paralysing the capacity of the army and the police to strike at the revolution to splitting the military, with a wing of it going over to the insurrection, i.e., the disintegration of the army.
This means that the character of the revolution is insurrectionary as opposed to PPW or any other form of guerrilla warfare military strategy. ("Ah, the insurrectionists! Didn't we tell you so?", we can imagine the CPP leaders commenting.)
Simply put, as Lenin patiently explained to his own party's central committee, insurrection is the armed uprising of the advanced masses aimed at the seizure of power:
To be successful, insurrection must rely not upon conspiracy [here Lenin was differentiating Marxism from Blanquism]... but upon the advanced class. That is the first point. Insurrection must rely upon a revolutionary upsurge of the people. That is the second point. Insurrection must rely upon that turning-point in the history of the growing revolution when the activity of the advanced ranks of the people is at its height, and when the vacillations of the ranks of the enemy ... are strongest. That is the third point.1
Most importantly for us today, Lenin also stressed that if the revolutionary party "has not on its side the sympathy of the majority of the people, as proved by objective facts", then insurrection is out of the question.
The people's power strategy envisions the spread of the revolutionary conflagration to various corners of the country (a people's power uprising that erupts into a revolution will never be confined to Edsa!). The people's power council (or whatever name history may attach to it) organises and consolidates the revolution by building the alternative institutions and structures to the reactionary state (which will have to be smashed and replaced by these institutions). The paralysis, mutiny or splitting of the military ensures the final blow that clinches the victory of the insurrection.
It is not the intent of this paper to elaborate on the components of the people's power strategy. Suffice it to say that the overall strategy builds on the concrete character and dynamics of class struggle as it has evolved in the Philippines over the years. It should also be emphasised at once that the people's power strategy is based on the existence of a revolutionary socialist party that will organise and direct the development of the strategy's various components. We shall return to this topic.
There are groups—mainly the revolutionary section of the Young Officers Union (YOU), a nationalist formation within the military—that articulate a strategy called "coup d'etat cum revolution" or "coup cum uprising". The problem with this strategy is that coup d'etat and revolution are two contradictory concepts. In the history of the Philippine struggle, coups have been engineered by the military to counter the rise of to frustrate the advance of the revolution.
A revolutionary period is characterised by a situation in which the ruling class cannot rule in the old way and the masses do not want to be ruled in the old way. The relationship is not only causal (i.e., one factor causes the rise of the other factor), but the two factors should coexist in a dialectical manner.
For instance, Edsa I was a situation in which a military rebellion was said to have spurred the uprising. But prior to this, there was a series of convulsions that were building up the revolutionary climate (massive rallies, noise barrage, widespread riots). Both the uprising and the military rebellion were in fact simmering even before the official Edsa I period (February 20-25). The point, however, is that the military rebellion showcased the deep split among the ruling class ("cannot rule in the old way") and the uprising pointed to the masses not wanting to be chained to the dictatorship any more ("would not want to be ruled in the old way").
Edsa II was similar. The regime had collapsed even before Estrada fled the palace. Some called this the regime's "crisis of governance", but in precise Marxist terms it was the paralysis of the state machinery, from the executive and legislature to the military. Like Edsa I, the main dynamic here was the continuously growing mobilisation at the Edsa shrine (preceded by ubiquitous anti-Erap rallies that went on daily) and the march to Mendiola on January 25 that led to Erap fleeing Malacañang palace.
On the other hand, a coup d'etat is a military solution staged from above by the top brass or the military hierarchy and is purely conspiratorial. A coup, in the Philippine experience, has always been part of the arsenal of the ruling class to resolve a festering political crisis. If the aim of people's power is a mere changing of guard or removing an unpopular and unstable president, a coup d'etat suffices. This limited aim accounts for the peaceful character of the upheaval. The question of arms will be posed only should the aim of the uprising go beyond this, i.e., develop toward insurrection—the smashing of the reactionary bourgeois state and its replacement with a people's power government or a government of the insurgent masses.
In a revolutionary situation, the insurgent masses themselves will demand arms to implement sweeping and radical changes and to protect their gains in the uprising (the main gain of course will be the proto-governmental bodies that they will set up in place of the collapsing bourgeois state structure). Sections of the military joining the uprising will constitute detachments of the revolutionary people's army that will have to be built among the insurgent masses.
The people's power strategy is basically a revolutionary strategy It means revolution in the basic sense of direct action of the masses to overthrow the existing order and build a new social system that solves their problems. While the "military factor" looms in the equation, it should not becloud the point that any military undertaking or military struggle remains subordinated to and merely a direct outcome of the revolution, i.e., part and parcel of the mass struggle and the direct action of the masses.
Leadership of the revolutionary forces in a people's power uprising is the crucial factor in developing the struggle towards a revolutionary conclusion. However, in the Philippines today, the revolutionary vanguard is dispersed around a number of groups and party formations. Worse, the biggest or most influential section of the revolutionary left—the CPP through its open "national democratic" (natdem) organisations such as Bayan Muna, Bayan and KMU—has adopted the line of "critical support" for the GMA regime.
On May 1, the CPP group—together with the social democratic (socdem) forces mostly grouped around Kompil II (Congress of Filipino People; the first Kompil was an alliance formed during the anti-Marcos struggle) and also the party-list Akbayan (an electoral coalition composed mostly of the "popdems" and the "demsocs" such as Bisig)—called for the defence of Malacañang palace and the GMA regime from the assault of the Edsa III forces. These groupings actually set up their own barricades at Mendiola to defend the Malacañang perimeter. They later dismantled the barricades and huddled inside a nearby church upon hearing that the pro-Erap forces marching from Edsa were far bigger in number.
The call for the defence of Malacañang palace was purportedly to defend the so-called gains of Edsa II. What they fail to grasp is the fact that the GMA regime constitutes the main loss of Edsa II. On the other hand, the undeniable gain of Edsa II (or the other Edsas) was the uprising itself, the direct mobilisation of millions. The CPP's pathetic mobilisation on May 1 in support of the GMA regime was merely a culmination of its opportunist line that began even during the period of the anti-Erap struggles—a line of uncritical support for GMA's ascension to power.
The main division within the ruling class today is between the pro-Erap camp and the camp supporting GMA. Among the so-called civil society forces, those supporting GMA include the CPP through open mass organisations like Bayan, Bayan Muna, KMU, Gabriela, and others (although the CPP now claims to be supporting the GMA regime "critically"). Their line is no different from, or is an extension of, the socdem line that supports the liberal GMA regime in order to advance its "social reform agenda".
Among the socdem groups, "critical collaboration" with the GMA regime is a classic example of the utterly reformist and opportunist line of these forces. They clearly lack a revolutionary perspective and have never been part of the revolutionary socialist forces. Today, they allow themselves to hold whatever posts the GMA regime provides them under its reactionary dispensation (socdem leaders hold cabinet positions and top positions in the state bureaucracy). Because of their conscious support and defence of the GMA revime—now the main promoter of pro-imperialist, pro-ruling class and anti-poor interests in the country—we cannot expect the socdem groups to be part of any revolutionary united front.
Our task now is to build an independent political counter-pole against the pro-Erap and the pro-Gloria forces. It means adopting a "Neither Erap nor Gloria" line, and putting forward a genuinely pro-masses line. That was what we did during the May 1 "assault" on Malacañang. We did not join the natdems' and socdems' defence of the palace, nor did we support the "return Erap line of the Edsa III forces. We mobilised calling for a government of the poor as the alternative to elite rule.
The backbone of this political counter-pole can only be built by the revolutionary forces and groups themselves. The revolutionary groups can ensure that the struggle will develop in a radical and revolutionary manner and not in the reformist and useless manner that the socdems stand for.
And if there is a broader progressive front or alliance that should be built today, it can be built only in the framework of exposing and isolating the GMA regime, which is now the main pillar of support for imperialist and ruling-class interests.
The political spectrum has clearly changed since Edsa II. Then the main focus of mass struggle was the corrupt regime of Estrada, and all the groups that banded together in the growing anti-Erap rallies would undeniably be part of the progressive ranks. Today, when Erap has been deposed and the GMA regime becomes the main focus of struggle, those who insist on "critically supporting" the new regime are falling into the class-collaborationist and reformist socdem claptrap of merely pushing for "social reforms" within the rotten system. The "critical collaboration" line is clearly a line that confuses, distorts and dilutes the character of the class struggle today. It is our task to expose this line and all those who uphold it.
The socdems have followed an openly class-collaborationist line by membership in the capitalist cabinet. They have become the chief implementers of the regime's neo-liberal capitalist program. (at least the natdems, who have not taken cabinet positions or leading positions in the bureaucracy, have not yet collapsed into this outright class-collaborationist line. Even this early, we see the CPP grouping increasingly taking an anti-GMA stance in its actions and pronouncements.) Therefore, the socdems have ceased to be "progressives". Come Edsa IV, they will be on the enemy's side of the social barricades, and it would take a twisted political sense to classify them as still a part of the progressive ranks.
It is also wrong to categorise the socdems who belong to the GMA administration as part of "civil society". The term "civil society" has been used to narrow or limit the role of the mass organisations to that of mere "watchdogs" against the reactionary state. In an instant, this definition negates the main role of mass organisations (which is self-organisation of the masses independently of the capitalist class and its institutions) as pillars of the independent mass movement that uncompromisingly fights for the people's interests. This is clearly an insidious attempt to co-opt the mass movement and cripple it.
Moreover, we cannot regard even the main socdem leaders and their organisations today as part of the abovementioned definition of civil society. They are not even "watchdogs", but more the lap dogs of the reactionary state!
The main task of the revolutionary socialist forces in the Philippines today is to build the revolutionary leadership that will direct the next upsurge towards a revolutionary conclusion. This means regrouping the scattered social vanguard or politically conscious forces under a single revolutionary party formation.
Efforts are under way to push for the merger of major revolutionary socialist party formations. The SPP takes the initiative in opening merger discussions with some revolutionary socialist groups because we believe that the vanguard's dispersal has become untenable when the prospect of another upsurge looms on the near horizon. In this situation, to split and form more party or pre-party formations would be retrogression and might even spell the collapse of the revolutionary socialist movement (either a collapse to the right or a physical collapse and disintegration).
The political situation demands that the revolutionary vanguard regroup and reunite its ranks by dropping all sectarian posturing.
In the political field, the task of the revolutionary and socialist forces today is to build a counter-pole to the pro-Erap and pro-Gloria forces. It can be advanced through the formation of a united front of revolutionary groups (what we call the revolutionary united front or RUF). In the broader sense, this RUF can include even non-socialist groups that uphold the revolutionary perspective, i.e., the overthrow of the present regime and the establishment of a revolutionary-democratic government.
On this basis, we should open talks even with groups like the YOU and the PMAP (the urban poor base of the so-called pro-Erap forces) to probe the possibility of uniting around a political line that espouses the overthrow of the reactionary GMA regime and the establishment of a government of the poor (or a revolutionary-democratic government).
The revolutionary united front can unite around a political platform that highlights basic and transitional demands that can be undertaken by a revolutionary government of the poor—demands such as jobs and a living wage for all, free land to the tillers, socialised housing for the poor, free education and free health care for all.
Meeting these demands will require actions that go beyond bourgeois rule, such as the nationalisation of the main financial institutions; the expropriation and confiscation of assets of drug lords, gambling lords and cronies (including the assets of the Marcoses); massive land redistribution; and repudiation of the debt to imperialist institutions. This points to the need for a democratic revolution based on the state power of the workers, urban poor, rural poor and the petty bourgeoisie.
In advancing the campaign around these demands, we should continue the propaganda for a genuine alternative to the current regime—a genuine government of the poor, a people's power government, a revolutionary-democratic government.
In other words, the line of march of the revolutionary and socialist forces in the Philippines today is towards their regroupment around a single party formation, the establishment of a broad revolutionary united front, and the widespread mobilisation of the masses against the pro-imperialist and pro-elite character of the GMA regime.
It means the persistent and unceasing exposure and isolation of this regime in order to mobilise the masses for the nest edition of people's power uprising—this time an uprising that completes its job and leads to a revolutionary conclusion. It also means exposing and isolating from the masses all those who maintain a policy of critical support and collaboration with this regime.
1. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 26, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972, pp. 22-3.