By Mong Palatino
Some reactionaries in the bureaucracy erroneously assume that their activism in the past makes them intellectually and even morally superior over the present generation of change advocates. Some probably misjudged their bohemian lifestyle as activism or they could have lied about their political record. But there are really existing apostates in various agencies of the government. Some are quiet about their renegade years, some continued to espouse progressive views, but some are disturbingly wicked and unabashedly repressive. Some are more fascist than the fascists; or in the Philippine context, more Marcosian than Marcos, and more Imeldific than Imelda. Worse, they arrogantly insist that they cannot be accused of ignoring the plight of the common tao since they are still guided by activist principles. Scary!
Even scarier is the claim of these former radicals that their new brand of activism deserves state approval. But they easily appear pathetic when compared to the anti-Establishment cause. Perhaps to redeem their political credibility, they often invoke the glorious activism of their yesteryears. There are 50 shades of ‘walking dead’ radicals turned reactionaries but they use almost similar arguments in their ideological battle against their former comrades. For example, they loudly and repeatedly proclaim that activism is already irrelevant, or that it was useful and necessary in the past but no longer valid today. They caricature activists as a pitiful bunch of angry young persons who were indoctrinated or bought to join a lost cause.
Some are tactful in dissing the Left. They recognize the role of activism in politics but they also quickly dismiss it by demonizing the struggle, and tilting the discussion towards the other supposedly superior forms of political engagement. They usually cite the positive legacy of activism in their lives, and some are exhorting the public to respect activists, but they always emphasize the futility of perpetual dissent. According to them, activism is a commitment that must be immediately discarded or diluted to make a concrete impact on real politics. Suddenly, political compromise is elevated as the ethic worth fighting for.
This is a classic case of arrogance and conceit. They really think that other people, most especially the young, are incapable of making rational decisions. That when they became activists, they were motivated by genuine feelings of patriotism, but those who succeeded them were already insincere. From their point of view, history stopped when they abandoned the cause. It means political resistance is already obsolete. How convenient for them to declare the end of an era which coincided with their political conversion. Is it political luck that they happened to be activists when it was still the vogue; and after they renounced their political beliefs, activism also lost its mojo?
Ex-activists who consumed too many perks in the pork-controlled bureaucracy are naturally the rabid defenders of the status quo; hence they cannot be expected to be objective or believable when they sing praises for mainstream politics.
But there are those who climbed the ladder of the bureaucracy because of merit; and those who maintained their integrity and progressive vision while holding enviable positions in high society. Do their life stories invalidate activism? It is dangerous to equate individual advancement with social change. A flourishing career of a single person doesn’t translate into prosperity for the rest of society. There is no evil in desiring success but once you attained your dreams, why stop others from uplifting the conditions of the marginalized? Activism will not deprive you of the chance to gain more opportunities. Activism promises to democratize wealth creation and political participation.
Unfortunately, activism is perceived as a threat by those who wanted to monopolize power and the riches of this world. Even former activists could not tolerate the spread of radicalism since this might disrupt their profiting schemes and the flow of goods in their money-operated world. And so they are aggressively discrediting activism to discourage people from fighting for a better and new world. They wanted to preserve the existing order even if they once championed its dissolution. For them activism is something they can brag to everyone while isolating those who speak and act like activists. And they are ready to decorate the most despotic policies of the party in power with progressive trappings. Opportunistic collaboration seems inadequate to describe their behavior.
Nostalgic activism is a special and powerful act of remembering. It should be promoted to create ripples and waves of solidarity across society. But if it’s used to serve the selfish interests of the elite or to block the forward march of the people’s movement, then it mutates into a monstrous political sentiment. It is activism that disempowers the poor, a defanged activism that looks substantial on paper but actually empty in real life.
“However, ex-activists have the right to argue that they cannot remain in a movement which they perceive to be grossly impure, imperfect, and error-prone. They could have stayed, though, and work or struggle with others in strengthening the people’s movement. Instead, they offered their so-called pure hearts and innocent minds in the service of the incorruptible bureaucracy. They couldn’t accept the alleged excesses and shortcomings of the people’s movement and so they chose to become highly paid operators and glorified underlings of saintly trapos and bourgeois political parties.
They gave up eternity in favor of convenience. They succumbed to the ephemeral “servicing of goods” instead of building an entirely new world founded on the principle of just distribution of goods. What they possess are a few overrated tangibles that have little value in making life more meaningful. They wanted to reclaim the activism of their youth; but how can they do that without severing ties with the oppressive state machinery?