Kapirasong Kritika

Scalice Come, Scalice Go

September 28, 2020

History as collection of anti-Left trivia, political proposals that are trivial – that is Scalice’s lecture.

On August 26, Joseph Scalice, who is introduced as a historian who “specializes in the history of modern revolutionary movements in the Philippines,” delivered his online lecture titled “First as Tragedy, Second as Farce: Marcos, Duterte and the Communist Parties of the Philippines.” The edited transcript of the lecture says he received his Ph.D. in South and Southeast Asian Studies from the University of California-Berkeley.

His lecture is highly critical of the Philippine Left – the revolutionary movement in the country, led by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and the legal democratic movement composed of various progressive, national-democratic organizations.

In the main, Scalice does three things in the lecture. First, he presents evidence of the Philippine Left’s “support” for Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign for the presidency and early presidency, and relates these evidence with its “support” for Diosdado Macapagal’s regime and for Ferdinand Marcos’ presidential campaign in 1965. The Philippine Left’s relations with the said politicians are nothing new for activists and even observers of Philippine politics, Scalice’s elan of dropping bombshells notwithstanding.

Second, Scalice traces the Philippine Left’s alleged support for Duterte to what he calls “Stalinism,” which he defines as the political program of the ruling party bureaucracies in the Soviet Union at first and then in China. In particular, he points to Stalin’s doctrine of “Socialism in One Country (SOC),” which he claims to be the theoretical justification for “not… promoting world socialist revolution but… develop[ing]… the national economy of the USSR.” The Soviet and Chinese ruling bureaucracies, Scalice claims, used for their interest “the cadre of Communist Parties around the globe. They instructed these cadre to ally with a section of the capitalist class. In this way they could negotiate with the ruling class around the globe by bartering with the support of a mass movement.” To facilitate the said “alliance,” Scalice asserts, a theory was invented – that of the “Two-Stage Revolution” (TSR), which states that in underdeveloped countries in the Philippines, the revolution should undergo two stages, national-democratic and socialist. Scalice claims that the theory of TSR is a mere justification for alliances with ruling elites in underdeveloped countries like the Philippines. This purported connection between the Philippine Left’s attitude towards Duterte and the ruling elites on the one hand, and Stalin’s theories on the other, is what is new in Scalice’s lecture.

Third, Scalice presents various criticisms of the Philippine Left. From CPP founder and Left intellectual Jose Maria Sison’s haciendero upbringing to the anti-infiltration purges of the 1980s, from the CPP’s policies on sexual relationships to Mao Zedong kissing Imelda Marcos’ hands – nothing is too unimportant for him to exclude in an online lecture. It is clear from his piece that Scalice is an admirer and follower of Russian revolutionary and intellectual Leon Trotsky and, having seen the evil, the mortal enemy, that is Stalinism at the heart of the Philippine Left, Scalice decides to throw the kitchen sink. All of these, however, are already old hat for activists and observers of Philippine politics.

Scalice does all these as a “scholar,” who claims to be “speaking in defense of civil discourse, of democratic and public discussion, of verifiable evidence, of logical arguments and the defence of democracy and historical truth.” What follows is a response to the central claims of his lecture, a response which, while admittedly critical, seeks to uphold these very principles.

Jose Maria Sison (second from left), presented to then Pres. Ferdinand Marcos (leftmost) and AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian Ver (third from right), after his arrest in 1977. Photo from josemariasison.org

Early in his lecture, Scalice makes the surprising claim that the “political line” of the CPP and the legal democratic organizations in the country, “in the final analysis,… consists of a quest to locate the progressive section of the national bourgeoisie and ally with it.” At one point, he declares that “The first progressive representative of the national bourgeoisie endorsed by the party during Sison’s time in the leadership of the [old Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas] was President Diosdado Macapagal.” At another point, he implies that former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. was also a member of this class. Indeed, there are throughout the edited transcript of his lecture confusing and confused slippages between the national bourgeoisie, even “nationalist bourgeoisie,” and capitalists in general.

The distinction between the comprador bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie, crucial to the Philippine Left and to Scalice’s assertions, appears in his lecture only when he quotes Sison – and even there he follows up the quotes with general statements about the capitalist class and capitalism. The lecture is an unmistakable proof: Scalice does not understand the difference between the comprador bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie. He fixates on the Left’s positive approach to the national bourgeoisie to make the case that its goal is nothing but an alliance with the capitalist class – and, by a sleight of hand, top politicians from Marcos to Duterte are already included in the category.

The distinction between the two types of bourgeoisies is crystal-clear in documents that are most important to the CPP and even the Philippine Left.

According to Amado Guerrero’s Philippine Society and Revolution of 1970, the comprador bourgeoisie is at the peak of the country’s social pyramid, enjoying direct connections with imperialists and the landlord class and owning the biggest businesses in the country. The biggest businessmen and politicians – including Macapagal and Aquino, Marcos and Duterte – hail from this class. The national bourgeoisie, meanwhile, is only third in the hierarchy of classes in the country, second to the landlord class, and is trying to survive on its own in running businesses that are not directly related to the imperialists, compradors and landlords and are smaller than those of the compradors.

Because of this distinction, the revolutionary struggle has different attitudes to the two economic classes. Stating the Philippine Left’s class line, Guerrero says “[T]he motive forces or friends of the Philippine Revolution are the proletariat, the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie and, at certain times and to a limited extent, the national bourgeoisie. They compose the overwhelming majority of the Filipino people who are oppressed and exploited by US imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism. On the other hand, the targets or enemies of the Philippine Revolution are US imperialism and its local lackeys which are the comprador big bourgeoisie, the landlord class and the bureaucrat capitalists. They compose an extremely small minority of the population. They need to be overthrown in order to achieve national freedom and democracy.”

Guerrero points out that the national bourgeoisie has a “dual character,” has a left and a right wing on the basis of connections with the imperialists, compradors and landlords and of corresponding political attitudes. The correct policy, he says, is “to unite with it only to the extent that it supports the revolution at a given time and at the same time to criticize it appropriately for its vacillations or tendency to betray the revolution.”

The landmark CPP document of 1975, “Our Urgent Tasks,” also written by Amado Guerrero, adds a formulation in the revolutionary approach to the two classes: upon the foundation of the basic alliance of the workers and peasants, “we win over the urban petty bourgeoisie principally and the national bourgeoisie secondarily as allies. At the same time, we note well and take advantage of the splits among the reactionaries – the comprador big bourgeoisie and landlords who are now divided between the pro-Marcos and anti-Marcos sides.”

The document of the CPP’s Second Great Rectification Movement, “Reaffirm Our Basic Principles and Rectify Errors,” penned by Armando Liwanag and released in 1992, adds another formulation: “the broadest alliance can be ranged against the narrowest target, the reactionary clique that is ruling or the one most favored by US imperialism. We fight and defeat one most reactionary clique after another and in the process we accumulate revolutionary strength.”

So the Philippine Left’s approach to the national bourgeoisie is winning them over and using a combination of unity and struggle on them. The approach to the comprador bourgeoisie, together with the landlord class, is taking advantage of their contradictions, in a way that isolates “the reactionary clique that is ruling or the most favored by US imperialism” and overthrowing them.

Scalice betrays his misunderstanding of a distinction so basic to the Philippine Left that most ordinary activists can expound on it. He seems to be unaware of the real and distinct existence of these two classes in Philippine society. In particular, he misses the important point that there are relatively small businessmen and women – yes, small capitalists – in the Philippines whom the workers and peasants can and must ally with to strengthen the revolutionary struggle and isolate and weaken their enemies.

It is most likely his failure to grasp Philippine class realities that allows him to see the theory of TSR as a mere excuse for class collaboration and serving the state party bureaucracies in the Soviet Union and China. Waging a TSR in the Philippines is also demanded by the nature and composition of the basic classes and their class enemies and the material conditions in Philippine society at large – which then dictates the revolutionary struggle’s goals and strategy.

The question therefore arises: which one is Scalice criticizing, the approach to the national bourgeoisie or to the comprador bourgeoisie? Most probably both, but judging from his emphasis – nay, fixation – on the Philippine Left’s attitude towards top politicians in the country, he is mainly concerned with the approach to the comprador bourgeoisie – taking advantage of contradictions within its ranks, especially as this takes the form of forging tactical, mostly electoral, alliances with one of its factions. Scalice’s criticism is so muddled that it needs to be unpacked and reformulated before an accurate criticism and response can be made.

Lenin (second row, third from left), Stalin (left of Lenin), with other delegates of 8th Congress of the Russian Communist Party in Feb. 1919. Public Domain Photo

Does the Philippine Left’s class line – particularly its approach to the national bourgeoisie and comprador bourgeosie – benefit some ruling party bureaucracy in the Soviet Union or China or both? The CPP, in particular, was reestablished in 1968 and had immediately taken China’s side in the Sino-Soviet split stemming from Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech of 1956. If one is to follow Scalice’s schema, therefore, it could not have served the interest of some ruling party bureaucracy in the Soviet Union.

The CPP’s analysis is that capitalist restoration in China began, or that China stopped being socialist, after Mao Zedong died in 1976. So, if we are to believe Scalice, the CPP’s class line could have served the ruling party bureaucracy in China for eight years. One can even say 24 years, if 1992, the year of the CPP’s Second Great Rectification Movement – when the basic analysis of capitalist restoration in China was cemented after years of confusion – is taken as an end point.

But could the CPP’s class line have served the state party bureaucracy in China from 1992 to present, for a total of 28 years? Could the Maoist CPP have been serving what it considers anti-Maoist party bureaucrats in power in China all along? Only if it is assumed that the ruling party bureaucracy in China and the CPP leadership are capable of such levels of deception and CPP members are capable of such levels of gullibility, ignorance or fanaticism. Scalice’s accusations are therefore absurd and can hold water only with an a priori negative view of the CPP; they already assume what they should have set out to prove. The CPP’s class line could not be serving the interests of the state party bureaucracy in China.

The more important question, however, is: does the CPP’s class line originate from Stalin, particularly from his theory of SOC? The CPP does not hide its respect and admiration for Stalin. In its analysis of the fate of socialism in the former Soviet Union, “Stand for Socialism Against Modern Revisionism” written by Armando Liwanag and released in 1992, the CPP says that “Stalin’s merits within his own period of leadership are principal and his demerits are secondary. He stood on the correct side and won all the great struggles to defend socialism such as those against the Left opposition headed by Trotsky; the Right opposition headed by [Nikolai] Bukharin, the rebellious rich peasants, the bourgeois nationalists, and the forces of fascism headed by [Adolf] Hitler. He was able to unite, consolidate and develop the Soviet state.”

Sison, in a response to Scalice, reiterates this analysis: “[T]he CPP admires Stalin for building socialism in the Soviet Union and defeating fascism among his great achievements” even as “the CPP is critical of Stalin for presuming the end of classes and class struggle in 1935 and for mistakes in the handling of contradictions within socialist society.”

Indeed, Stalin’s Foundation of Leninism of 1924 is an education material in the CPP and other sections of the Philippine Left. In its nine chapters – Historical Roots of Leninism, Method, Theory, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, the Peasant Question, the National Question, Strategy and Tactics, the Party and Style in Work – only one, however, makes mention of splits in the ruling classes, the one on strategy and tactics. Here, making a minor appearance and counted as indirect reserves of the revolution are “the contradictions and conflicts among the non-proletarian classes within the country, which can be utilised… to weaken the enemy.”

In the chapter on Theory, there is a discussion of the theory of TSR, which Stalin attributes to Lenin – as contained in the latter’s Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democractic Revolution of 1905 and other writings – and of Lenin’s opposition to Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, the mortal enemy of the theory of SOC. Here, the explanation for the theory of TSR does not at all hinge upon the contradictions among the exploiting classes, but on the alliance of the workers with the peasants “for the complete liquidation of tsarism and for the transition to the proletarian revolution.” Trotsky and his followers, say the documents, do not trust the revolutionary potential of the peasantry under proletarian leadership.

The other writings of Stalin that are frequent topics in CPP educational discussions – Marxism and the National Question of 1913 and Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR of 1951 – do not tackle the revolutionary class line, particularly in relation to the ruling elites, before the revolution’s victory.

This is why in major CPP documents cited above – and most likely even in the Philippine Left’s voluminous educational materials – the class line is seldom explained in relation to Stalin, or to his theory of SOC. And the class line, because of its immediate political importance, is often reiterated in Left documents, including the CPP’s yearly anniversary statements. The immediate theoretical guidance that is used in explaining it are the writings of Mao Zedong, which are informed by the Chinese revolution’s wealth of experiences in building united fronts. Of course, for Scalice, Mao is also afflicted with Stalinism and the theory of SOC.

The CPP’s class line, particularly the approach to the national and comprador bourgeoisies, however, is traceable to Marxists before Stalin. Having lived during, witnessed and analyzed the era of bourgeois revolutions, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels themselves are familiar with divisions among the exploiting classes and grappled with the necessary tactics and strategy of the proletarian struggle in such contexts.

In his survey of Marx and Engels’ writings on politics, historian Eric Hobsbawm summarizes the two’s reading of the French revolution of 1848: “The proletariat had taken part in the revolution as a subaltern but important member of a class alliance ranging leftwards from sections of the liberal bourgeoisie.” In the aftermath of the revolution, “The major task of the proletariat was therefore the radicalisation of the next revolution from which, once the liberal bourgeoisie had gone over to the ‘party of order’, the more radical ‘democratic party’ was likely to emerge as victor” [“Marx, Engels and Politics,” in How to Change the World: Reflections on Marx and Marxism, 2011].

At the end of the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engels criticize “German or ‘true’ socialism” for bringing into Germany the socialist literature of France. While the bourgeoisie was already dominant in France, it had, in Germany, “just begun its contest with feudal absolutism.” French socialist literature in the German context therefore redounds to the benefit of the feudal ruling class, which should be the main target of the struggle.

Lenin has an even firmer appreciation of this writing of Marx and Engels’ classic. Outlining “The Tasks of the Social Democrats” or the Russian Communists in 1897, before victory, Lenin writes: “The attitude of the working class, as a fighter against the autocracy, towards all the other social classes and groups in the political opposition is very precisely determined by the basic principles of Social-Democracy expounded in the famous Communist Manifesto. The Social-Democrats support the progressive social classes against the reactionary classes, the bourgeoisie against the representatives of privileged landowning estate and the bureaucracy, the big bourgeoisie against the reactionary strivings of the petty bourgeoisie.”

He continues, “This support does not presuppose, nor does it call for, any compromise with non-Social-Democratic programmes and principles – it is support given to an ally against a particular enemy. Moreover, the Social-Democrats render this support in order to expedite the fall of the common enemy, but expect nothing for themselves from these temporary allies, and concede nothing to them.” Clearly, Lenin the socialist revolutionary leader has an infinitely more nuanced understanding of reality than the academic Scalice.

And perhaps it was Lenin who raised taking advantage of rifts among the ruling classes into an important tactic, even to the level of principle. Summarizing the lessons of the 1917 Russian Revolution for various countries in his “Left-wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder of 1920, a staple of Philippine Left education program, he says: “The more powerful enemy can be vanquished only by exerting the utmost effort, and by the most thorough, careful, attentive, skilful and obligatory use of any, even the smallest, rift between the enemies, any conflict of interests among the bourgeoisie of the various countries and among the various groups or types of bourgeoisie within the various countries, and also by taking advantage of any, even the smallest, opportunity of winning a mass ally, even though this ally is temporary, vacillating, unstable, unreliable and conditional.”

He continues, “Those who do not understand this reveal a failure to understand even the smallest grain of Marxism, of modern scientific socialism in general. Those who have not proved in practice, over a fairly considerable period of time and in fairly varied political situations, their ability to apply this truth in practice have not yet learned to help the revolutionary class in its struggle to emancipate all toiling humanity from the exploiters. And this applies equally to the period before and after the proletariat has won political power.”

In “Stand for Socialism Against Modern Revisionism,” Liwanag says that attacks against Stalin often end up being attacks against Lenin himself. With regard to Scalice’s attack on Stalin’s supposed class line, Liwanag’s claim is true – it ended up as an attack on Lenin’s statements on the matter. In fact, in attacking the CPP’s class line, Scalice criticizes only the ghost of Stalin and in reality criticizes Lenin’s teachings on the matter.

A copy of Mao Zedong’s “Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society”. Image from Amazon.co.uk

While it is to Scalice’s eyes, hopelessly influenced by Stalin and Stalinism, particularly Stalin’s theory of SOC, Mao’s explanation for the class line of the Chinese revolution is instructive. With the wisdom of a Marxist revolutionary and the simplicity of a teacher of peasants, he writes, “Who are our enemies? Who are our friends? This is a question of the first importance for the revolution… [W]e must pay attention to uniting with our real friends in order to attack our real enemies” [“Analysis of Classes in Chinese Society,” 1926].

This formulation indexes the affinities of the class lines of the Chinese and Philippine revolutions with even non-Marxist thought. One is reminded, for example, of Nazi and reactionary philosopher Carl Schmitt, one aspect of whose political philosophy revolves around the friend-enemy distinction. Marxist intellectual Fredric Jameson comments that “Schmitt’s definition of ‘politics’ is… in reality merely a distorted apprehension of revolution as such” [“Lenin as Political Thinker,” Valences of the Dialectic, 2009].

Indeed, the idea of isolating the enemy and winning over friends and potential friends, which animates the Philippine Left’s class line, draws its validity not only from the theories of Mao alone, or even the broader field of Marxism, but even from feudal and bourgeois thinking on political struggles and even wars.

The claim to news-worthiness and contemporary relevance of Scalice’s lecture is the Philippine Left’s supposed alliance with Duterte the presidential candidate and Duterte the new president. Indeed, he marshalls many evidence to prove his claim that the Left supported Duterte – repeatedly contrasting these with Sison’s statement that the assertion that the CPP supported Duterte is “an outright lie.”

Many people have already written on the Philippine Left’s previous relations with Duterte – from Sison himself to activist leaders Raymond Palatino and Teddy Casiño, both in essays published online and in lengthy social media posts. It is clear from their writings that Duterte the presidential candidate and early president actively tried to woo the support of the Philippine Left with various statements, promises and actions. They all showed how the Left both welcomed-pushed for Duterte’s pro-people statements and moves and criticized his anti-people pronouncements, policies and measures. This author has also written an essay that seeks to place the Philippine Left’s previous approach to Duterte the candidate in the context of the support of foreign powers, political elites and ruling regimes.

One of the latest additions to the discussion is scholars Jayson Lamchek and Emerson Sanchez’ essay “Friends and Foes: Human Rights, the Philippine Left and Duterte, 2016-2017.” Looking back at the previous relations between the Left and the Duterte regime, the authors claim that the Left pursued a “dual strategy,” treating the regime as both a friend and a foe, pursuing cooperation in some areas while engaging in contention in others. In their conclusion, they say that “it is an exaggeration to argue that Duterte simply subordinated the left as a political force. The left continued contentious actions against neoliberal economic policies and at various times tested the boundaries of the alliance to actualise Duterte’s promises of progressive reforms.”

This is not, however, a mere reading and explanation after the fact; it is the result of a conscious approach that was pursued by the Philippine Left. Such an approach was present in many statements of and within the Philippine Left, even some of those which Scalice cites in his lecture.

Scalice for example says that “Sison delivered a particularly vile speech on June 10, 2016, in an address to assembled youth leaders drawn from a wide range of organizations.” He focused on assertions in that speech about Duterte’s record of upholding women’s rights as Davao City mayor – which of course provide openings, albeit limited, for asserting women’s rights but did not age well.

Adelberto Silva, a peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, long-time mass movement activist, and currently political detainee under the Duterte regime, taught many activists about finding what he calls “policy statements” in documents of the Philippine Left that present conjunctural analyses. While one should seriously read the entirety of these documents, one must not fixate on details, on particular statements, especially if these are pertaining to certain events and circumstances, as these only serve to support the policy statement. One should instead look for and remember the framework that is being presented for handling the issues being discussed.

The Sison speech which Scalice refers to is “Prospects Under the Duterte Administration and Tasks of the Filipino Youth,” delivered early in the Duterte regime, which proved to be the heyday of Duterte’s efforts to win over the Left. It does not take much effort to find out the policy statement – for lack of a better term, as Sison has repeatedly denied giving orders to the Philippine Left – in that speech, which clearly goes against Scalice’s accusation against the Left in relating with Duterte.

According to Sison, “I urge the Filipino youth to continue all their efforts to unite the people for the overthrow of the semicolonial and semifeudal system through a people’s war and for the completion of the national democratic revolution. This task is validated by the lack of any final peace agreement that is satisfactory to the people. Even when and if there is already such agreement, the contracting parties and the people must still be ready to uphold, defend and advance the basic reforms agreed upon.”

Even in the most optimistic scenario of an alliance, Sison says “Any truce and alliance with the Duterte presidency should be justifiable in terms of serving the national and democratic rights and interests of the Filipino people. So long as such presidency is moving ahead along this line, any of its self-contradiction, imperfection or inadequacy by acts of commission and omission may be the subject of critical analysis and constructive proposal. The patriotic and progressive forces maintain their independence and initiative. A balance of unity and struggle must be maintained, with the latter always standing on just and reasonable grounds, with the objective of improving or strengthening the alliance.”

Independence and initiative, unity and struggle. Scalice, clearly, chooses to ignore the struggle aspect of the Left’s previous relations with the Duterte regime, highlighting the unity aspect alone. This is a striking aberration, as those who seek to become Marxists are called upon to be dialectical thinkers, capable of understanding both aspects of a contradiction – in this case, the aspects of what was a contradictory regime which the Left saw fit to approach with tactics of “unity and struggle.”

The Left did not one-sidedly support the Duterte regime; it also struggled with the latter. Scalice’s statement that the CPP – which does not even participate in what it calls “reactionary elections” – supported Duterte is a half-truth that is uttered by a hostile observer, maligns the political group, and most possibly before an audience that is already highly critical of it. Sison had every reason to say that Scalice’s statement is a lie.

Screen image of wsws.org page with Scalice’s edited lecture.

From the foregoing analysis of Scalice’s main points in his lecture, it can be established that:

(1) Scalice grossly misunderstands the Philippine Left’s class line, especially the latter’s aspect pertaining to the economic and political elites in the country. He fails to discern the difference between the comprador bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie and instead conflates them into one class. He denies the Philippine Left’s different approaches to these classes and instead reduces these to alliance-building. Finally, he denies the Philippine Left’s approaches to various classes and compresses all these to building alliances with the supposed “progressive section of the national bourgeoisie” – and further reduces this to tactical alliances during elections.

(2) Scalice misunderstands the origins of the Philippine Left’s class line in Mao primarily, Lenin secondarily, and Stalin and Marx – especially as their ideas have been applied to Philippine realities; instead, he traces the class line solely to Stalin, and not to a careful reading of Stalin’s writings, but to his understanding of how the ruling party bureaucracy in the Soviet Union and China supposedly used the theory of SOC to mobilize Communist Parties and mass movements in underdeveloped countries for its own benefit.

(3) Scalice misunderstands the Philippine Left’s unite-and-struggle attitude towards Duterte the presidential candidate and new president; instead, he one-sidedly insists that the attitude was one of mere support and even alliance. Among Philippine presidents, Duterte is unique in going the farthest in actively courting the Philippine Left’s support. Yet, he was not able to contain or coopt the political group, and this can be attributed to its clear class line concretized in its approach to Duterte. Scalice, however, chooses to ignore all this.

Scalice writes as if the Philippine Left is such a simple affair; and it is thus that his simplistic mind is betrayed. He often mistakes the part for the whole – and he makes the gravest overblown conclusions on the basis of his misunderstandings.

In this lecture, Scalice does not provide sufficient evidence for his claim that the Philippine Left’s “political line… in the final analysis, consists of a quest to locate the progressive section of the national bourgeoisie and ally with it.” The Philippine Left’s history of taking advantage of contradictions among the reactionary classes does not mean that this tactic is the end-all and be-all of its revolutionary struggle. It will take much, much more than what Scalice has done, an examination of the “contemporary written record” – even if judicious – to establish this.

What Scalice does provide, unwittingly, is the Philippine Left’s generally hostile relations with ruling regimes in the country, despite, in some cases, fleeting moments of unity and struggle. The Philippine Left’s previous and present relations with the Duterte regime – even its criticisms of Macapagal and Marcos, which are its main approach to the two to this day – show that, overall, it is antagonistic, not sympathetic, to these factions of the ruling elite.

Scalice’s one-sidededness is also reflected in the potshots he made in his lecture against the Philippine Left. Yes, Mao kissed the hands of Imelda Marcos, but he sent two ship-loads of weapons and ammunitions a few years before to help the Communist-led New People’s Army – the immediate target of which would have been the Marcos dictatorship. Yes, the CPP has rules on sexual relationships that criticizes female members for engaging in premarital sex, but it also criticizes male members who do so, and the CPP is still the only political entity in the country that implements divorce and same-sex marriage within its ranks.

Yes, the anti-infiltration purges did happen, but they happened under a particular context and in a small segment of the CPP’s long history, errors have been identified and accepted by the movement, those personally and mainly responsible were criticized, and more importantly, lessons have been learned that have for many years prevented the same crime from happening again. These crimes, furthermore, were committed when leaders of the CPP veered away from the very principles that Scalice is criticizing. The Philippine Left is not a force for democracy? Given its outstanding and consistent record in fighting colonialism, neo-colonialism, fascism and repressive regimes and in upholding the rule of the people in various ways – even at the risk of its members’ death, torture and imprisonment – Scalice will find it difficult to prove this simplistic claim.

In these statements, facts are abstracted from their immediate contexts and are used to derive a simplistic conclusion: the Philippine Left is bad and must be avoided by the working people, any individual and even all political formations. These statements are so intemperate and impervious to critical analysis that they will be met by applause only in meetings of Trotskyist groupuscules – and yes, possibly in military indoctrination seminars.

Painting by Parts Bagani

In his lecture, Scalice seems to seek to paint the old PKP and the CPP in the same light, as “Stalinist” parties, claiming that “both parties facilitated the imposition of martial law.” This conflation renders his category of Stalinism most problematic.

In the Sino-Soviet split, the PKP sided with Moscow, while the CPP sided with China. The PKP allied itself with the Marcos dictatorship while the CPP doggedly fought the latter, especially in its leadership of its armed wing, the NPA. The dictatorship coddled the PKP while it brutally attacked the CPP. Under Marcos’ martial law, the PKP made itself politically insignificant and irrelevant while CPP built a formidable national movement that served as the backbone of the struggle against the dictatorship.

Now, the PKP is a negligible political entity, which cannot seem to muster 30 people in a protest rally. The CPP remains a significant political force in the country, is considered by the Duterte regime and previous regimes as the No. 1 enemy of the state, leads the longest-running armed insurgency in Asia, and is capable of mobilizing thousands if not tens of thousands in activities in guerrilla fronts.

The level of conclusions drawn by Scalice in his lecture on the Philippine Left can only be reached through an accurate and comprehensive study of the said political group – which is a big and complex movement with a long and complex history.

Such a study must be based on an honest and serious appraisal of, at the very least, the Philippine Left’s basic principles, analyses and summing up of its experiences. Luckily for scholars and observers, the Philippine Left has the practice and tradition of coming up with national and central documents that contain these content. Many of these documents – some of which were cited in the foregoing sections – are made available to members, observers and the general public, and are used as educational materials by generations after generations of members.

Scalice, however, says that in researching for his Ph.D. thesis, from which he derives his lecture, he perused the “contemporary written record.” He said he made a conscious decision to avoid doing interviews, as this has been done by earlier scholars. The said record, he says, “is diverse: it is leaflets, it is fliers, pamphlets, manifestos and newsletters,” as well as newspapers and newsweeklies. Was he waylaid – and badly at that – by his reading of these documents?

The “contemporary written record” definitely has its uses, but must be counterposed with the more important documents. And these are only at the level of documents; much more needs to be done to understand a living movement. Jumping right into the materials Scalice used would lead to seeing parts and not the whole. Scalice provides an object lesson in the perils of this approach.

The problem, however, goes deeper than Scalice’s dependence on these materials. As shown by many instances above, he tends to cherry-pick quotes that would suit his objective. One of the most hilarious instances is the following: “In 1965,… Sison delivered a speech in front of the US embassy in which… he told his audience: ‘We are siding with Filipino capitalists’.” He fails to explain the context of Sison’s statement, but immediately follows this up with an astounding claim: “This was his fundamental perspective.”

After this, he presents a reading of an obscure Sison essay in which the national bourgeoisie is mentioned, and which he interpreted as saying that “The fundamental task for workers and peasants… was not to fight for their own independent interests but to win over the… the nationalist bourgeoisie.” Sison has written countless essays about how the workers and peasants should fight for their interests, even at the expense of small landlorsd and capitalists. This is research in search of slippages and loose formulations, ignoring many, many more important documents with clearer and tighter formulations.

The narrative that emerges from Scalice’s use of the “contemporary written record” is therefore extremely one-sided and the conclusions he draws from these are extreme and hostile to the Philippine Left. It appears that his use of his sources did not waylay him. One can make the case that he chose to use the contemporary written record because it would be perfect for the goal he had in mind: to do a hatchet job on the Philippine Left – which turned out to be a hack job after all.

It must also be said that while Scalice is highly selective in quoting from sources coming from the Philippine Left, he is highly uncritical in quoting from US intelligence sources. He immediately believes the claim that labor leader Ignacio Lacsina is “a regular informant for a representative of the [Central Intelligence Agency] housed at the US embassy.”

More glaringly problematic, however, is that Scalice seized on a memorandum of the US embassy, dated shortly before the declaration of Martial Law in 1972, about a supposed conversation between then senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. and embassy officials. That memorandum says that Aquino would support Marcos if the latter declares martial law and that he himself would resort to such measures had he been president, to counter the “growing threat from the dissidents, the worsening law and order problem.”

There are many reasons why the US embassy would release such a memorandum and why Aquino would say such things. In another part of the lecture, Scalice agrees with the claim that Aquino facilitated Sison’s meeting with Bernabe “Ka Dante” Buscayno of the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan. Sison has denied this claim, but many sources show that Aquino worked with the underground Left before martial law.

From these two “facts” – the US embassy memo and his relations with the Left – Aquino emerges as a Filipino traditional politician, who is capable of saying or doing what his audience wants him to say or do. And there are reasons to believe that Aquino is just that before martial law was declared. He was trying to get the support of political forces that he happens to be talking to: he talks to the US embassy and tells it what it wants to hear; he talks to the Left…; and so on.

Aquino’s letters and speeches show that he underwent a profound soul-searching experience and change of heart when he was imprisoned, his hopes of becoming president dashed to pieces. Some would claim the experience changed him and made him a principled man, a left-liberal, a social democrat. There are of course reasons to doubt this, and believe that what he did afterwards was just for selfish reasons.

Whatever the analysis, one thing is for sure: Aquino fought the dictatorship and died in the process of fighting it. He was objectively against open fascist rule and worked for the return of elite democracy, however limited that may be. This point is more important for the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship then and for historical evaluation now than Scalice’s uncritical statement that “Aquino was not an opponent of martial law” and that “Aquino was not a democratic figure” – all on the basis of one US embassy memo.

At the end of his lecture, Scalice was asked about practical proposals for politics, particularly “the ongoing demise of the liberal state and the surge in populist tides.”

Scalice’s response was simplistic. While paying lip service to the country’s “proud heritage of revolutionary struggle,” from which “any new movement builds off… [and] learns from,” he wants Filipinos to take a “global perspective.” He proposes “a profound interaction between people around the globe, workers, scholars, etc., in defence of truth and in opposition to the rise of authoritarianism. He says “you start from the existing movement of workers around the world” and “anyone in the Philippines looking to build a new movement should be looking to their brothers and sisters around the world for their political ideas, for their organization. That’s what you build off of.”

This is where Scalice ends up: looking for ideas and organizations of the working classes of other countries. While such an effort is necessary, Scalice’s suggestion betrays his extremely low regard for the long and rich history of struggle of the Filipino people; he actually finds nothing meaningful or useful in the latter. He cannot seem to find anything worth salvaging from the long history of the Philippine Left, at the center of which is the more than 90-year history of Philippine Communism. Leery of going into details about the history of the Philippine Left, he ends up with an undialectical and arrogantly dismissive view of Philippine history itself.

Maoist philosopher Joshua Moufawad-Paul says that “Trotskyism is one of the most Eurocentric expressions of Marxism” that “has been unsuccessful in launching a revolutionary struggle anywhere.” He warns against Trotskyist proposals to internationalize the revolutionary party: “Most often this type of ‘internationalism’ ends up being a rearticulation of imperialist chauvinism where the ‘more advanced’ elements of these international parties (i. e. the party members in the US or Britain) dictate the theoretical analysis and behavior to their party counterparts in a third-world country, failing to realize that a revolutionary movement in these regions can only proceed from a concrete analysis of a concrete situation rather than the imposition of an alien analysis connected to other regions” [Continuity and Rupture: Philosophy in the Maoist Terrain, 2016].

Marxism is not a dogma, said Lenin, but a guide to action. And history, if it is Marxist, should not be about painting a long-standing and outstanding mass movement as utterly black and without a single virtue, but about getting lessons for the revolutionary struggle. Scalice’s “First as Tragedy, Second as Farce” is not the CPP’s “Rectify Errors and Rebuild the Party” of 1968, which sought to draw lessons from the experience of the old PKP; far from it. Scalice’s lecture is a collection of trivias and potshots against the Philippine Left that is more useful for the military than to the Philippine Left, even to the would-be Trotskyist group in the Philippines that he is dreaming of.

History as collection of anti-Left trivia, political proposals that are trivial – that is Scalice’s lecture. Despite the new facts presented and the Trotskyist discourse employed, which is something new in anti-Left polemics in the country, Scalice’s critique of the Philippine Left largely misses the target. It fails as an intellectual effort, but would surely please the powers that be and their butchers in the country.

28 September 2020

Teo S. Marasigan

Teo S. Marasigan

Si Teo S. Marasigan ay isang kolumnista na tumatalakay sa progesibong pulitika at popular na kultura.