Review: ‘Struggle Against Terrorism and Tyranny’ by Jose Ma. Sison

(Volume 1, January-July 2018)
By Sonny Africa, Executive Director, IBON Research Foundation, June 23, 2019

The indefatigable Jose Ma. Sison opens his latest collection of writings with a shocker. He has battled not just the oppressive and exploitative capitalist system, imperialist powers like the United States (US) whose government has declared him a ‘terrorist’, and dictator-wannabee Pres. Rodrigo Duterte who has a death wish for him – he has also battled, and overcome, “life- threatening illnesses”. At 80 the man, the revolutionary, is non-stop.

Volume 1 of “Struggle Against Terrorism and Tyranny” puts together some 140 pieces written between January and July 2018 spanning a huge range of topics. This is just a speck in a huge mass of decades of writing by unarguably the Philippines’ leading Marxist thinker and practitioner, and certainly among the world’s most important. Sison’s thoughts and the revolutionary practice they guide – not dictate as detractors thoughtlessly insist – are testament to the enduring vitality of Marxism to understand and to change the world.How else to explain why President Rodrigo Duterte, speaking before the 8th infantry division of the Philippine Army in Catbalogan, Samar just last Wednesday, once again felt compelled to twit the “outdated ideology” embraced not just by the Maoist guerillas of the New People’s Army (NPA) but of Leftist progressives of varied struggles around the world. The epithet would have more traction if it was not uttered surrounded by government soldiers frustrated in trying to penetrate one of the many rural strongholds of the NPA nationwide.

Most of the book’s pieces provide a running commentary on current events. The choice of topics is an exercise in how to pick out what’s important from among the myriad current affairs and mundanities so readily at hand in the digital era. They are seen in terms of a society not just needing to be changed radically but actually in the process of being radically changed. One also suspects that they reflect how Sison, a Friendster then Facebook user as soon as these each came out, has gone for a more aggressive on-line presence in recent years.

The frequency of writing reveals Sison’s boundless energy and their variety the nimbleness of his mind. Their regularity shows his constant engagement with today’s issues globally and in the Philippines despite being forced into exile for over three decades. What really sets them apart though is their political sharpness made possible by a lifetime of constant study and relentless reflection.

The pieces are written a decade after the intensified economic and financial turmoil of 2008/09. The protracted crisis of the global economy is disrupting the geopolitical landscape and stirring protest in the imperialist countries, neocolonies and virtually everywhere that capitalism’s contradictions have reached.

About a fifth of the pieces are about the international situation. The book’s opening piece, written on January 1, 2018 while many were still nursing hangovers, has Sison reflecting on the US’s strategic decline and the struggles of workers, peasants, youth, women, professionals, cultural workers, and others around the world against imperialism and all reaction.

About a fifth of the book is about international issues. Sison analyzes US imperialism shaken by the rise of new imperialist powers China and Russia. He does clarify that while China is no longer Socialist it is not yet a full imperialist power from still refraining to use aggression to grab economic and political territory.

A number of pieces raise the impact on labour and production of globalization-era factors: wider investment liberalization; labour flexibilization and global subcontracting; massive labour migration; and the adoption of higher technologies especially for information and communication. These have driven the world into a period of transition of greater inter- imperialist contradictions and escalating currents of revolution and counter-revolution.

The statements of solidarity and support underscore the rich struggles of revolutionary movements, mass struggles, progressives and even some governments for a better and more humane world – but also the criminal attacks on these. There are the struggles for national and self-determination in Kurdistan, Myanmar, Palestine, and India – and massive aggression against the people of Yemen and Syria. Sison takes “special notice” of the Korean people’s aspiration for national reunification and how nuclear-armed North Korea was able to get agreements from superpower US.

Around half of the pieces are about the Philippine situation. Two years into the Duterte administration, Sison puts together a profile of the regime’s demagoguery. He was the first prominent national figure to call out Duterte as a “narco-president” or the country’s “highest drug lord” for allowing the illegal drug operations of his son, son-in-law, and close friends to flourish.

But Sison also tracked Duterte’s other crimes: the extrajudicial killing of tens of thousands in his war on drugs; the destruction and neglect of Marawi City; ceding West Philippine Sea areas to China and selling-out its natural resources; and worsening pork barrel corruption. Sison also takes note of the colossal joblessness, deplorably low wages and incomes, regressive taxes, and bloating debt from unrepentant neoliberal policies. A longish article on US imperialism in the Philippine is a timely reminder of its hegemony over the Philippines despite the conspicuous rise of China.

The book has a substantial running account of the peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Philippine government. As the NDFP’s chief political consultant, Sison was at the heart of it all and on the frontlines of verbal sparring with Duterte. The months covered by the volume are significant in coming in the wake of the faltering process in 2017 and in including their ending with finality, for all intents and purposes, in 2018. Sison highlights progress towards a substantial peace accord including landmark agreements on social and economic reforms. Yet despite the efforts of the NDFP, this ran aground on the apparent obsession by the Duterte government for mere capitulation and pacification of the revolutionary forces.

Sison’s tributes to a few close to him who have passed on are memorable. We are touched by their contributions, inspired by their sacrifices, talent and ability, and humbled that it takes so many working for so long to build the future humanity deservesThere is outstanding proletarian revolutionary Ka Pepe Luneta. Aside from his contributions over decades of struggle in the Philippines and abroad, we discover that he is the “master singer” who encouraged Sison to sing which he does with gusto to this day. There is also the brilliant scholar and teacher of revolutionary aesthetics Alice Guillermo. Sison also remembers the well- loved and gracious Inday de la Paz as well Sister Mary Radcliffe of the Columban Sisters. The most interesting narrative arc in the book accounts for about another fifth of its articles.

Although not chronological there is a clear link between the pieces on the fundamentals and development of Marxism produced around the 200th birth anniversary of Marx, those taking up key historical events Philippine history such as the First Quarter Storm and EDSA uprising, and those about strengthening the organizations of workers, youth and migrants, the broad united front, and the People’s Democratic Government. Sison here shares his inimitable revolutionary wisdom.

This is not the book for Sison’s major theoretical contributions on Socialist reversals, revisionism, and imperialist crisis. For that he has at least 15 books worth of selected writings in just the last 10 years – on top of some truly towering works on Philippine society, revolution, and people’s war. But this is not to detract from the value of this volume.

For the short period it covers, the book is a master class in how to see the world as it develops around us. The world is in an era of rapidly intensifying crisis and, indeed, rightist and increasingly reactionary politics – as if things couldn’t get worse. When talking about specific events, Sison the philosopher helps us understand their underlying logic and class dynamics. The writing is much more than this though and, always, Sison the revolutionary boldly and relentlessly calls for and pushes to change the world.

It’s an understatement to say that Sison’s thinking and writing have been extremely influential in mobilizing social forces for real and meaningful change. His presence in the modern history of the Philippines is assured and can only become more permanent as he continues to write and as the all-important movements for radical change here continue to strengthen and advance. They are, like Sison, non-stop. ###

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