According to some intellectuals and their disciples, it is foolish to join the Left or become a Leftist in the 21st century. They sarcastically remind activists that the Berlin Wall already fell in 1989 and it was followed by the disintegration of Soviet Russia in 1991. In response, we should assert that the real foolish act is to be an anti-Left or to spread anti-Left hysteria in the 21st century.
After the breakdown of the Soviet model (we prefer to call it modern revisionism, not socialism), Leftist movements have thrived across the globe in the past two decades. This is also the period when the Left’s critique of capitalism gained greater relevance especially during and after the 2008 financial and housing crisis. Even Karl Marx’s Capital, which was first published in 1867, has been a consistent bestseller during recession years.
Nevertheless, we cannot deny that there remains a constituency that despises and rejects the Left and everything it represents. Even if we dismiss the ranting of reactionary ideologues and political nobodies who earn their living by attacking the Left, there are intelligent people, including friends, who distrust and even mock activists.
Perhaps this is expected in a country where successive governments have successfully integrated Red Scare propaganda in the mainstream opinion-making institutions such as schools, media, and the church. There are anti-Left individuals who think they are being witty and original in ridiculing the national democratic movement when in fact their arguments are merely a rehash and echo of the Red Scare dogma. Some are also misinformed about the Left, which caused them to fear and hate all radicals, either living or dead, even if the latter have done nothing against them. The anti-Left bias is so persuasive that it could even lead a person to think that only Leftists are guilty of espousing an ideology, while misrecognizing his own anti-Left sentiment as devoid of any ideology.
Below are common accusations hurled against the Left; most are irrational but quite popular in convincing many to believe in the supposed irrelevance and wickedness of the Left as a political movement. But even assuming that some points are half valid, we assert that these are not enough to condemn the Left as the supreme embodiment of political evil in society.
The Left promotes a Godless ideology. This is partly true in so far as we consider the Left as a legacy of the Age of Enlightenment when secularism gained widespread following. But not all those who call themselves Atheist can be considered Communist. A person can readily renounce his faith without being a Leftist. Unknown to many, there is a progressive teaching that seeks to merge some ideas inspired by Marxism on one hand, and Christianity on the other; it is known as liberation theology. But doctrine aside, the Church and the Left have proven many times already that they can work together to end injustice, oppression, and inequality without compromising their beliefs. Unfortunately, some religious hardliners are intolerant of the Left. But would they rather work with political personalities who attend church service every Sunday yet violate the other nine commandments of the Lord for the rest of the week? And for the faithful, would they cast aside Leftists for their irreligious views yet tolerate the sinful activities of supposedly pious individuals? The evil is not the Leftist agitator who exhorts the people to resist the exploiters but the preacher who sides with “honorable” thieves and oppressors.
The Left always wants to bring down the government. Curiously, politicians often invoke this argument when they are being criticized by the Left. Perhaps their intent is to discredit their critics by warning the people about the ultimate and ulterior motive of the Left. It is particularly aimed at constituents who desire reforms but disdain radical changes. But isn’t system change the goal of all emergent political forces? Why single out the Left when everybody speaks or writes about the need to overhaul the system every time they feel frustrated with our leaders, or when they become disillusioned with the bureaucracy, or after they experienced a grave injustice? Maybe because it is the Left that is most likely to succeed in remaking the social order as it does not act on mere caprice or surge of emotions. While others are creatively dissing the craziness of the system, it is the Left that has a programmatic approach to change it. And therefore, to prevent the Left from achieving what everybody fantasizes, the pampered defenders of the status quo are aggressively trying to depict the revolution as an undesirable act.
The Left seeks to achieve its goals by fomenting chaos and violence. In the beginning there was peace and harmony in society. And then the Leftists came to disrupt our way of life. War and conflict ensued. – According to this myth, the Left is responsible for exacerbating the social ills that bedevil our everyday lives such as cyclical poverty and ghettoization of our communities. Politicians would add that the Left incites violence to provoke the poor who are subsequently recruited to fight the democratically-elected government. The fatal defect of this reasoning is that it refuses to name the system for what it really is: a violent behemoth that is rotten to the core. It has many names yet at the same time it cannot be named. It is colonialism, imperialism, feudalism, bureaucrat capitalism, neoliberalism, and yet it is more. Plus it is invisible. What is visible is the people resisting the system: Workers on strike, farmers occupying haciendas, students protesting against corruption, and indigenous peoples driving away loggers and miners. Unfortunately, the resistance of the people is denigrated as an act of violence. Every action of the Left is deemed violent, every little act of resistance is exaggerated and demonized, every uprising is equated with mob terrorism. Politicians in power and their apologists want us to discuss, debate and disown the so-called political violence perpetrated by Leftists while ignoring the violence of the system and the institutionalized violence of those who are rabidly defending this system.
The Left offers no alternatives as it is obsessed in merely criticizing the government. Anti-Leftists are uncritically repeating this tried and tired tirade without bothering to check some of these downloadable facts: If we talk about the extreme Left, the National Democratic Front has a 12-point revolutionary program in establishing a People’s Democratic Republic. As for the legal Left, all mass organizations have general and specific programs of action. For those who are not impressed with activist jargon, they can study the legislative agenda of Leftist partylist groups. Still, they claim to be disappointed with the simplistic slogans they see in rallies. But what do they expect to read in the placards during rallies; a Wikipedia article of what activists are fighting for? But even if the solutions offered by Leftists are not evident, it does not invalidate their criticism of government policies. Sometimes the right solutions can be found by asking the right questions. Prudens quaestio dimidium scientiae. (To ask the proper question is half of knowing). Democracy will decay without dissent; and dictatorship will flourish if we discourage the people to question what our politicians are saying and doing. History is not made by praising those in power; and change cannot be realized by simply being polite to those who hold public office. It is the reactionaries and their academics-for-hire who are obsessed with dismissing the Left while offering no alternative to the Leftist Cause other than to prettify the pathetic present with petty and pitiful reforms.
The Left is a lost cause. Young people are often reminded that supporting the Left will ruin their family, their career, and their bright future. They are warned that the protracted struggle will be a waste of time since the Left is already a dying if not a dead movement. Instead of pursuing a dead end dream, they are enticed to embrace pragmatic ideals. Living in a time of instant gratification and creepy individualism, the advice to shun the Left resonates among the youth. But is it true that the Left is already a defeated promise? It is no surprise that reactionaries would magnify every adverse situation encountered by the Left and they are desperately hoping for the eventual collapse of the Left as an idea and a movement. They seem to suffer from a case of anti-communist fetishism. But contrary to their expectations, the Left is stubbornly alive and even resurgent in many places. We should reject the facile thinking that a political movement is worthy of support only if it provides material gain, individual promotion, and popular recognition. One enduring appeal of the Left is that it seeks to uplift the conditions of the many through collective mobilization. The individual finds solace and fulfillment in the struggle for liberation. The activist perseveres not simply because he knows the struggle will succeed but also because he believes he is doing the right thing. He is creating history, he is inventing a new future, and he is joined by many others who will continue the quest. This makes the Left truly unbeatable. And in their heart of hearts, reactionaries are aware and afraid of this naked truth, which explains their ruthlessness in dealing with the Left.
The anti-Left will retort: But the revolution devours its own children. Indeed, the Left reflects the contradictions of society. It is an imperfect movement. But the Philippine Left did something that was unprecedented in the country’s political history. It apologized not only for the political blunders it made in the 1980s but also for the excesses, errors and other crimes committed by its members. Here is a movement that is open, transparent, and accountable. Here is a political force that enjoins and empowers the masses to fight for authentic liberation. Here is a personal and collective undertaking that destroys the old so that we can build a new and better world. But alas, the anti-Left claims he does not want his purity tainted by a flawed movement. What then is his alternative? Tragically, he reverts back to the reigning social order. He rejects the imperfect Left to support the moribund ruling system. It is already 2014 and he still believes the system of mass poverty, exploitation, and oppression can be reformed? What kind of black magic superstition is this!
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org