by Ramani De Silva
Ramani De Silva is a member of the Central Committee of the Partido ng Manggagawang Pilipino.
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
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
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
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),
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
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 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). 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
No doubt the "old" debates could flare up again, not around
abstract programmatic positions, but around the concrete developments in the
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
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
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
2. Lenin polemicised against Martov's position in "Two Tactics of Social
Democracy in the Democratic Revolution".