Lecture to a Class on Political Mobilization
at the Centre for Conflict Studies, Utrecht University
16 May 2012
By Prof. JOSE MARIA SISON
Chairperson, International League of Peoples’ Struggle
I would like to discuss how the current crisis of global capitalism has affected the long-running revolutionary mass movement in the Philippines. I presume that you can follow my references to my country with the help of the previous lecture I gave on how I participated in the organization of the revolutionary movement. Prof. Fumerton has been kind enough to distribute copies of this to you.
I would also like to give you my reflections on mass movements that have surged in several countries during the last 18 months. I refer to the so-called Arab Spring in North Africa and the Middle East, the movements ignited by austerity measures in Europe and the Occupy Movement, which started as the mass action to occupy Wall Street. I may make quick references to other mass movements but time constraint does not allow me to discuss these at length.
In my discussion of the past and present of the mass movements, I shall take into account the objective conditions and subjective factors that determine the character and course of development of a particular mass movement and that show the similarities and differences of several mass movements. I shall offer, as the last part of my discussion, a general estimate on the future of militant activism and socio-political mobilizations.
Revolutionary Mass Movement in the Philippines
When my fellow students and I organized the Student Cultural Association of the University of the Philippines in 1959, we advocated a patriotic, scientific and pro-people system of culture and education. In that connection, we had the clear intention of developing a mass movement among students in our university as well as in other universities in Manila and nationwide and eventually of linking up with a potential mass movement of workers and peasants against US domination, domestic feudalism and bureaucratic corruption.
We were determined to carry out the immediate objective of raising the level of debate from one between the bourgeois liberals and the religio-sectarians within the university to a higher one between the Filipino people and the few who benefited from the semi-colonial and semi-feudal ruling system. Our overriding objective was to continue the unfinished Philippine revolution of 1896 as well as the armed revolution led by the old Communist Party, which was defeated in 1950-1952.
In our study circles, we adopted a course on the Philippine revolution along the general line of struggle for national liberation and democracy and an additional course on Marxism-Leninism to shed light on socialism as our revolutionary perspective. We sought to learn from the revolutionary teachings and experience of Filipino revolutionaries as well as from the thinkers and leaders of the international communist movement.
We learned from Marx and Engels that the development of industrial capitalism had opened the way for the working class to take power and build socialism. We learned from Lenin that the emergence of monopoly capitalism had ushered in the era of modern imperialism and proletarian revolution and that revolutions in the less developed parts of the world could be led by the working class and could bring about not only democracy but subsequently also socialism.
Lenin pointed out that for a revolution to succeed there must be a revolutionary crisis of the ruling system which prevents the ruling class from ruling in the old way, the broad masses of the people desire revolutionary change and the revolutionary party of the proletariat must be strong enough to lead the revolution. Mao taught us further that the chronic crisis in a semi-colonial and semi-feudal country like China and the Philippines can sustain not only a militant mass movement but also a protracted people’s war for the purpose of achieving the people’s democratic revolution.
The student organization which I chaired held its first big extramural demonstration in 1961. With 5000 students, we rose in defense of academic freedom and in defiance of the Anti-Subversion Law which the reactionary Congress was using to witch hunt professors and students like me who had written anti-imperialist and anti-feudal articles in campus publications.
Subsequently, we linked up with the workers and peasants in mass protest actions for national independence against unequal treaties and agreements with the US, particularly those involving US economic domination and the persistence of US military bases. We also demanded national industrialization and land reform. We, the student activists, found our way into the trade unions and peasant associations, as volunteers in social research, initiators of seminars and participants in strikes and protest actions.
In 1964 we formed the Kabataang Makabayan (Patriotic Youth), a comprehensive organization of students, young workers, young peasants and young professionals. This became practically the spearhead of campaigns to arouse, organize and mobilize the masses. It promoted the national united front against imperialism and local reaction. It helped to pave the way for the reestablishment of the Communist Party of the Philippines under the guidance of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought in December 1968 and the founding of the New People’s Army in March1969. It provided these two revolutionary forces with the nationwide basis for expansion.
The mass protests spearheaded by the Kabataang Makabayan often ranged from 5000 to 20,000 until the First Quarter Storm of 1970. This involved huge marches and rallies of 50,000 to 100,000 people in Manila every week from January to March in 1970 against the Marcos regime on various issues. The protest actions spread to the provinces. We can say that the foundation for the overthrow of the Marcos regime through gigantic mass actions was firmly established in 1970.
But Marcos forestalled his overthrow by engaging in brutal actions and by proclaiming martial law in 1972 in order to impose a fascist dictatorship on the people. The US and the puppet Marcos thought that they could put an end to the mass movement for national liberation and democracy. But the fascist dictatorship unwittingly served to strengthen the armed revolutionary movement. It forced the mass organizations to go underground and many of the mass activists to join the people’s army and spread the people’s war throughout the country.
Ultimately, the Marcos fascist regime fell as a result of sustained mass actions ranging from 50,000 to 500,000 participants repeatedly converging in Manila and thousands more thronging provincial capitals and cities from 1983 onwards. The mass actions peaked to 2 million participants on the EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, in Metro Manila) alone in the days leading to the fall of Marcos. The fascist dictatorship lasted for 14 years because it had the support of the US, most of the bishops in the Catholic Church and most of the big compradors and landlords. The counterrevolutionary forces gave up their support for Marcos out of fear that the entire ruling system might be brought down with his regime by the growing revolutionary mass movement.
So far until now, the US and local reactionary forces have managed to preserve the reactionary ruling system. They always try to dress up all the regimes succeeding the Marcos regime as democratic. But these regimes continue the anti-national, anti-democratic and anti-people policies of Marcos and are hated by the people, because of the ceaseless deterioration of economic, social and political conditions and because of persistent corruption and repression. The militant mass movement succeeded in overthrowing the Estrada regime in 2001 and nearly overthrew the Arroyo regime.
The militant legal mass movement and the armed revolutionary movement have grown in strength, especially since after the CPP undertook its rectification movement from 1992 to 1998 to correct major errors in the !980s and to strengthen the revolutionary forces. The US-instigated neoliberal policy of imperialist globalization and the US-directed campaigns of military suppression have inflicted terrible suffering on the Filipino people and have generated ever more fertile conditions for people’s resistance.
The current grave crisis of the US and the world capitalist system is aggravating the chronic crisis of Philippine society. The reduced US and global demand for the raw-material, semi-manufacture and cheap-labor exports of the Philippines is resulting in huge trade and budgetary crisis and a mounting public debt burden. The people are suffering from massive unemployment, lower incomes, soaring prices of fuel, food and other basic commodities, homelessness, more expensive but deteriorating social services and other maladies that aggravate poverty and misery.
The militant mass movement of the workers, peasants, youth, women and other people is on the upsurge in both urban and rural areas. The New People’s Army led by the Communist Party is intensifying its tactical offensives in order to advance from the strategic defensive to the strategic stalemate in the people’s war. The guerrilla fronts are being increased. The revolutionary organs of democratic political power are displacing the reactionary government in the localities. They are supported by the mass organizations and the broad masses of the people.
Mass Movements in the Last 18 Months Elsewhere
In the last 18 months, militant mass actions have broken out in several continents and in many countries, as if the whole world were on fire. They are reminiscent of the 1960s when the youth and working people worldwide rose up to denounce the US war of aggression in Indochina and raise a wide range of social and political demands. This time the widespread protest mass actions are generated by the crisis of the world capitalist system which has become extremely severe since 2008.
Mass uprisings started in Tunisia on 17 December 2010 and spread to various countries in North Africa and the Middle East in succeeding months. The regimes tried harshly to suppress the uprisings but these persevered and brought down the rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Mass uprisings also broke out in major proportions in Bahrain and Syria. Mass protest actions burst out in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco and elsewhere.
The bourgeois mass media have referred to the mass uprisings as the Arab Spring. They have also given so much credit to the high-tech communication gadgets in the hands of the youth and the internet social networks for the agitation and mobilization of the people. But to look for the causes of the mass uprisings, it is much more important to focus on the objective conditions, especially the socio-economic and political factors.
The worsening crisis of the world capitalist system has brought about the deterioration of national economic, social and political conditions. The young people, the working people, and even the middle class have become discontented with the rising unemployment, decreased incomes, soaring prices of goods and services, and the rampant corruption and repressiveness of the long-running autocratic regimes. The self-immolation of the young man, Mohamed Bouazizi, served to ignite the conflagration in Tunisia and in the other countries.
The first to be overthrown was Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on 14 January 2011, and followed by President Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2011. Both Ben Ali and Mubarak lost their personal grip on the armed forces under the pressure of the mass uprisings. In Libya, the US and the NATO undertook a bombing campaign and special operations of several months to enable the opposition to finish off the Qadaffi regime in October 2011.
Of the fallen rulers, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh lasted the longest until he quit power on 27 February 2012 under the pressure of the relentless mass actions. Currently, the US and the NATO are collaborating with the local opposition and the so-called Free Syrian Army in Syria in order to overthrow President Bashar al Assad.
In the countries where regime change has occurred, the ruling system persists and the same exploiting classes remain. The imperialist powers retain their dominance and control of the armed forces, whether these are slightly reorganized or drastically reorganized as in Libya. Thus, many people who rose up against the despotic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen are manifesting their desire to continue what they consider as unfinished revolutions. In Libya, many people consider themselves betrayed by the new rulers and robbed of their political independence, oil and financial resources by the imperialist powers.
For a long period of time before the recent mass uprisings, autocratic regimes suppressed revolutionary parties of the proletariat and other Left formations. But despite their limited strength, these have been able to draw benefits from the mass uprisings and the sharpening of contradictions among factions of the reactionary classes. The progressive and revolutionary forces have found a growing space for their political activity.
But certain Islamic forces of various reactionary types (Salafi, Muslim Brotherhood and the like) are also drawing political advantage from the situation more than the secular progressive forces. They are generally regarded by the imperialist powers as less dangerous and more manageable than the categorically anti-imperialist and democratic forces. The complexity of the situation challenges the forces and people who wish to overthrow the ruling system and achieve social revolution.
As a consequence of the crisis of the world capitalist system, the public debt crisis became conspicuous in the Europe in late 2009. The countries most adversely affected were Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain. Their economic conditions became depressed and the rate of unemployment rose beyond 20 per cent and among the youth beyond 40 percent. The European finance ministers decided on creating the European Financial Stability Facility to bail out the distressed governments in exchange for the enactment of austerity measures at the expense of the people.
The communist parties, trade unions, progressive associations of youth, women and professionals, civic associations, communities, anarchists and other groups of people joined the mass movement against the austerity measures, unemployment, reduction of wages and social benefits and the rising costs and deterioration of social services. The austerity measures adopted by the bourgeois ruling class and governments were seen as measures to further shift the burden of the crisis to the people and to aggravate the problems rather than to solve them. I can refer to the mass movements only in Portugal, Spain and Greece because of time constraint.
The people of Portugal registered their opposition to the austerity measures with more than 200,000 marching and rallying on 12 March 2011 in Lisbon and Oporto alone. Protests were also held in all other major cities in Portugal to exert nationwide pressure on the government and the political parties supporting the austerity measures. The prime minister was forced to resign as a result of the failure of parliament to pass the austerity measures.
The people of Spain launched their nationwide series of demonstrations starting on 15 May 2011, with 50,000 people in Madrid. The participants tended to rise from thousands in various Spanish cities in May to hundreds of thousands in July, and to 500,000 to a million in major cities in October. Many of the participants called themselves the indignados (the indignants or the outraged). They contacted each other through the internet social networks and through the Democracia Real Ya website. They counted 200 small associations as their base and prohibited members of political parties from bringing their party banners to the demonstrations.
The so-called Indignant Citizens Movement in Greece started its demonstrations on 25 May and held them in various Greek cities from May to July. It held the biggest one in front of the Greek Parliament on 5 June, with around 500,000. It allowed communists, trade unionist and communist youth to join the demonstrations but not to bring their banners. On their own account, the communist formations and their trade unions and mass organizations of youth, women and professionals launched strikes and street protest actions in various places in Athens and in all the other Greek cities. Affiliates of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle were able to participate in the mass protests.
The protest actions in Greece were much heralded for their militancy because their pressure caused a crisis in government and because they kept on arising up to July, then in October and further in 2012 despite attacks from the police, starting on 29 June 2011 in Athens. The rich tapestry of people’s resistance included all the mass actions in the major cities of Greece and several converging points in every city.
The communist and other Left organizations and their united front Syriza scored high in the recent parliamentary elections because of their consistent opposition to the austerity measures and the troika of the IMF, European Union and the European Central Bank that imposed the measures. These imperialist institutions continue to worry about and maneuver against the progressive political forces and trends in Greece.
The initiators launched the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US in September 2011. They were imaginative at choosing the Zucotti Park to put up their tents and raise the issues against the financial oligarchy and against the growing disparity of incomes between the overwhelming majority of the people and the tiny elite. They proclaimed that they stood for the 99 percent against the 1 percent of the population who use the banks and corporations to exploit the people and accumulate wealth and power. As in the “Arab Spring” and in the case of the Indignados, they availed of the high tech gadgets and the social networks to broadcast their cause and communicate with each other.
Because they made good propaganda, hitting the mark against the most exploitative and aggressive tip of the US social pyramid, the progressive forces of the youth, the workers, and various sections of the population supported the Occupy Wall Street movement and joined in spreading the Occupy movement to hundreds of US cities. They did not pay much attention to the prating of the anarchists about leaderless movements and nonviolent resistance. The important thing to them was that urgent social issues were being taken up against the US ruling system, and that the methods of occupying public places and setting up tents were good tactics.
The influence of the Occupy movement spread fast in the US and worldwide, far beyond the control of the few anarchists who in the first place had proclaimed that they were averse to forming vertical organizational structures and that they were for horizontal participatory democracy. The movement was quite open and did not ban the participation of any group interested in raising the issues and demands. Thus, the International League of Peoples’ Struggle, which I chair, decided to contribute to the undertaking of mass actions under the name of the Occupy movement in many US cities and countries of the world.
The Indignados Movement and Occupy Movement reached their highest peak in October 2011. Since then, they have tended to subside. They are not as militant and as sharp as the mass uprisings of the so-called Arab Spring which have sought to overthrow anti-democratic regimes and have been subjected to the ferocious reaction of the rulers. Nevertheless, the police have harassed, disrupted and dispersed the Occupy activists,. The winter also discouraged camping in tents. The initiators of the Indignados and Occupy movements have been trying to revive their movements since March this year.
Left formations in the US like the United National Antiwar Coalition and the ad hoc Coalition against NATO and G8 have been planning and preparing mass protest actions against the G8 and NATO in Chicago this May. The various Communist formations and other Left groups in Europe have been able to form alliances and launch militant workers’ strikes and protest mass actions against the governments responsible for the public debt crisis and the austerity measures, especially in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. The recent big demonstrations of the Indignados in Spain to celebrate the first anniversary of their mass movement show its continuing high potential.
The various Communist formations competing for the role of the revolutionary party of the proletariat in the imperialist countries still suffer from the limitations and weaknesses that developed during the decades of the Cold War, the spread of revisionist ideas, the neoliberal economic policy and other kinds of imperialist offensives. The imperialist states in Europe are still shielded from the Communist challenge by a panoply of parties, including the Christian democrats, the liberals, the social democrats, and the greens, and by the see-saw of public sentiment between the relative Left and the absolute Right in electoral contests. The polarization of political forces will continue as the socio-economic conditions deteriorate.
The bankruptcy of the neoliberal economic policy has brought imperialist countries to the worst economic and social crisis since the Great Depression. This crisis is becoming worse. And the imperialist powers and the business magnates cannot solve it because they cling dogmatically to the policy that has brought it about in the first place. Upon the prolongation and worsening of the crisis, the revolutionary parties of the proletariat and the revolutionary mass organizations of workers, women, youth, professionals and other people have the chance to strengthen themselves in the course of the struggle against those who exploit and oppress them.
In the third word countries, the anti-imperialist and democratic mass movements are becoming more militant and stronger in response to the escalating exploitation and oppression by the imperialists and local reactionaries. The peoples being subjected to imperialist wars of aggression, intervention and occupation are becoming more ferocious in fighting back and in trying to win back their national independence. The armed revolutionary mass movements for national liberation and democracy are increasing.
The Future of Militant Activism and Socio-Political Mobilization
The severity of the crisis of global capitalism is now generating and will continue to generate, militant activism and socio-political mobilization. The aggrieved working people and the youth have no choice but to protest and fight against the dire social conditions of rising unemployment, decreasing incomes, soaring costs of living, homelessness, reduced social benefits and deteriorating social services, and to demand respect for their rights, dignity and well-being. They will continue to struggle for democracy and aim for socialism. They will fight back even more as the monopoly capitalists and all kinds of reactionaries engage in actions to suppress or derail the mass movement of the people.
The 1 percent that have the most wealth and power insist on maintaining the capitalist system and in particular the neoliberal economic policy which has resulted in the crisis comparable to the Great Depression of the 1930s in terms of gravity and global scope in the destruction of productive forces. They know no bounds for engaging in debt financing, increasing the public debt and aggravating the public debt crisis; and for adopting austerity measures to further shift the burden of crisis to the people. To protect their narrow interests, they whip up ultra-reactionary currents like chauvinism, racial discrimination, religious bigotry and fascism, and they engage in repression, state terrorism and wars of aggression.
At the root of the crisis is the internal law of motion of capitalism that drives the owners of capital to maximize their profits and further accumulate capital by minimizing the wages of the workers. This leads to the crisis of overproduction, as the real producers of wealth cannot afford to buy their own products. In their attempt to overcome the crisis of overproduction and the tendency of the profit rate to fall, the monopoly capitalist class has resorted to the abusive expansion of the money supply, credit, and all kinds of financial derivatives in order to raise their profits and overvalue their assets. All these maneuvers have led to the catastrophic financial and economic crisis which confronts us now and in more time to come.
The adoption of high technology means higher productivity. But in the capitalist system this has served to accelerate the private accumulation of capital by a few, the reduction of wage incomes, and the rapid recurrence and aggravation of the crisis of overproduction. Those who strive to constantly expand the market ultimately shrink it. High technology has been used to accelerate the creation of one big financial bubble after another, to speed up superprofit-taking from the underdeveloped countries, to make the mass media more effective as weapons of mass distraction, and to produce the deadliest of the weapons of mass destruction.
The use of high technology by the monopoly bourgeoisie and the financial oligarchy has brought about terrible suffering to the people. But this also drives the people to wage mass resistance. And they can make use of some of this technology, especially in the field of communications, in order to aid and accelerate their own mass movement against their exploiters and oppressors.
They have now in their hands the means of communication that can broadcast revolutionary ideas and information in a matter of seconds to the whole world, and that can facilitate the mobilization of people for political action. Their fighting spirit is also raised high by the hope that someday they shall be in control of the high technology for the purpose of producing goods and services to serve the needs of the people and not to serve the profit-making by a few.
The struggle between labor and capital will sharpen in the years to come, as the structural crisis of capitalism and imperialism worsens. We see only the beginnings of a powerful mass movement in the widespread workers strikes and people’s protests in capitalist countries like France, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain; in the mass actions for jobs, in defense of migrants, and against wars of aggression as in the US; and in the militant protests of the unemployed youth, in the student strikes for the right to education, and against rising tuition fees and decreased state support for education as in the US, Canada, United Kingdom and other countries. The phenomena of mass protests are increasing. The workers and the rest of the people cannot accept the painful paradox of rising productivity resulting in mass lay-offs, less income and impoverishment
The global depression involves the reduction of demand from the developed countries for the raw material and semi-manufacture exports of the underdeveloped countries. This is resulting in the massive destruction of productive forces and the aggravation of poverty in the underdeveloped countries. Social discontent is widespread and deep-going. It is fuelling mass protest actions, unprecedented mass uprisings, and the growth of armed revolutionary movements for national and social liberation led by revolutionary parties of the working class and in the context of the revolutionary united front. Social unrest and people’s resistance are growing in big countries like China, India, Russia and Brazil previously praised by the imperialists as partners in the exploitation of cheap labor and cheap raw materials under the neoliberal policy of globalization.
Beset by internal economic and financial crisis and by the crisis of the world capitalist system, the imperialist powers are still trying to keep their unity and cooperation at the expense of the underdeveloped countries, even as they are tending towards protectionism and intensifying competition with each other economically and politically. A struggle for a re-division of the world among the imperialist powers is becoming conspicuous as they compete for sources of fuel and raw materials, markets, fields of investment, and spheres of influence.
The escalation of military expenditures for war production and wars of aggression, and the rise of such ultra-reactionary currents as chauvinism, anti-migrants, racism, religious bigotry, and fascism challenge the people in imperialist countries and in the whole world to be vigilant and militant in upholding, defending and promoting their democratic rights and their struggle for a fundamentally new and better world of greater freedom, democracy, social justice, all-round development, international solidarity and peace.