Book review of Joma’s “Building People’s Power”

By Malu Villañueva

When I agreed to do the review of Joma’s latest book, I did not know what I had gotten myself into. When I got a copy of the book, to my horror, it contained 474 pages with 105 articles on all sorts of topics under the sun. What to focus on would be a nightmare. But since the author says that the thread running through this motley collection of articles is about “building people’s power”, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Indeed if you read the book you will see that thread. So buy the book.

As Joma explains in the preface, “Every year I am asked by various legal mass organizations in the Philippines to give messages of solidarity. I am presumed to know political work intimately due to my having been a mass activist, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and currently being the chief political consultant of the National Democratic of the Philippines.” We must also add as Chairperson of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS).

According to him, “Building People’s Power is a comprehensive and richly concrete book on arousing, organizing and mobilizing the broad masses of the people against US imperialism and local reaction in the Philippines and in many other countries.”

And building people’s power in a sense is what revolution is really all about. Revolution is really empowering the people to change the world and for them to become masters of their own destiny.

Mao said that the masses are the real heroes and the real makers of history. But in order for the masses to be able to perform their historic mission they have to acquire political consciousness. The masses do not attain that consciousness spontaneously. According to Lenin it is the role of the proletarian party to bring that consciousness to them from without.

In many of the articles, you will find the expression “arouse, organize and mobilize” or AOM for short. Every comrade in the Philippine movement is familiar with AOM. It means arouse, organize and mobilize the masses. Comrades are aware that AOM is the duty of every Party member and activist of the national democratic movement in the Philippines. Arouse in order to educate and bring awareness. Organize to unite in revolutionary mass organizations. Mobilize to act. Actually, these are the basic means by which we build people’s power.

Need for a strong proletarian party

The dialectical relation between the Party that leads and the masses who must act to fulfill their historic mission is a fundamental question in any revolutionary undertaking. This theme runs through many of the articles in the book.

From the so-called “Arab spring” that succeeded in toppling the repressive regimes in Tunisia and Egypt to the upsurge in mass protests in the US and Europe that produced the “Occupy Wall Street” and “Indignados” over the austerity measures imposed on the working people as a result of the global crisis of capitalism that erupted in 2008 and continues to the present, Joma congratulates the people for exercising and asserting their sovereign right and power to change society. At the same time, he is acutely aware of the limits of what spontaneous movements can accomplish.

In the article, “Perspective on the Peoples’ Uprisings against Autocratic Regimes in North Africa and the Middle East” he writes: At the same time, the ILPS is keenly aware that the overthrow of a dictator by a rapid spontaneous surge of the masses does not necessarily result in the revolutionary overthrow of the ruling system. In the absence of a strong revolutionary party of the proletariat and revolutionary mass organizations, the imperialist powers and their puppets among the competing political and military factions of the local exploiting classes can arrange a new regime that pretends to be better than the previous one.”

We saw in Tunisia how Ben Ali was replaced by another ruler acceptable to the imperialists and local ruling classes and the lot of the people has not basically changed. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party was catapulted into power after the ouster of Mubarak but was eventually eased out by a pro-US military cabal composed of officers from the old regime.

In the developed capitalist countries, the “Occupy Wall Street” and “Indignados” that emerged from the mass movements against austerity eventually faded away because they had no definite direction and organization. The working people in these countries have developed a deep distrust for all political parties both of the monopoly bourgeoisie and of the Left.

Even as conditions are not yet ripe for a successful revolution which is the situation in many countries today, Joma says that, “Communist parties have the opportunity to strengthen themselves in an all-round way: ideologically, politically and organizationally. The ever-worsening crisis exposes the bankruptcy and rottenness of the entire world capitalist system and points to the necessity of revolutionary struggles for national liberation, democracy and socialism under the leadership of the proletariat and its revolutionary party.”

Revolutionary optimism

In many of the articles, Joma displays his characteristic revolutionary optimism.

“There is no end in sight to the crisis of the world capitalist system. Legal anti-imperialist mass movements will continue to expand and intensify. So will the revolutionary armed struggles. More governments in underdeveloped countries that assert national independence can arise as a result of the legal anti-imperialist mass movements and the revolutionary armed struggles.

In the imperialist countries, the current of fascism is becoming stronger. But the progressive forces of the proletariat and the people are resurgent. In the underdeveloped countries, mass movements are paving the way for national and social liberation.

Whatever are the temporary arrangements that can be made by the imperialists and their reactionary agents, the revolutionary energy and forces already released by the peoples’ uprisings will find fertile ground to grow in strength and advance against the crisis-stricken world capitalist system and the local ruling system.

…through perseverance in revolutionary struggle in the long course of history the people can develop their own strength to realize their national and social liberation.”

Joma is an experienced veteran revolutionary and he has learned to be patient. He has learned to think in terms of decades and whole historical periods. But I am a lesser mortal and am more impatient and impulsive. And I have grown to be very critical of some workers parties in Europe that despite the excellent objective conditions for revolution seem not to be able to take advantage of those excellent conditions to strengthen themselves in a big way.

Many of them are long on theory but short on practice. Some of them love to engage in long debates about who carries the correct ideological line and attack others for opportunism, pragmatism, etc. but they themselves cannot develop any significant following among the masses.

In my opinion, their biggest problem is their inability to establish close links with the broad masses of the working people. They can certainly make use of this book in order to and we quote Joma once again “strengthen themselves in an all-round way: ideologically, politically and organizationally.”

Before I end, I must mention Joma’s tributes to “exemplary individuals, who to their last breath did their best to serve the people and the cause of justice, like the following: the leader of Filipino transport workers Medardo Roda, the labor leader Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran, the CPP national spokesman Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal and the revolutionary cadre Eliseo Cadiang, the Indian Maoist leaders Azad and Hem Pandey, Chairman Ludo Martens of the Belgian Workers’ Party, the American human rights lawyer Leonard Weinglass and the American communist and labor leader Philip Koritz.” They were exemplary because in their own unique ways they contributed to the revolutionary struggle of the people in the particular situation they found themselves in. And they remained true to the end.

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