How do you explain the presence of communist rebels in the country’s forest frontiers? Interestingly, the last remaining green spaces in the boondocks are strongholds of the New People’s Army. So who really should rejoice every time a province is declared NPA-free? The masses or the extractive industry? To preserve the richness of the country’s biodiversity, it seems we need to deploy more green warriors like the NPA. The reds are probably the greens’ most reliable, albeit unmentionable ally. It is the people and their resistance which keep the hills alive, and their collaborator is the NPA.
But the narrative of the struggle is incomplete without mentioning the reason why the NPA troops are basing in the countryside. Aren’t they supposed to be grabbing power in the city center? Perhaps they will in the future, but in the meantime they are building organs of political power in the countryside. This is the Maoist legacy in the Philippines.
Since the 1960s, Maoism has become a ‘material force’ in Philippine society. Politics became more fun after a Maoist-inspired Communist Party was re-established in 1968, a Maoist guerrilla army was founded in 1969, and Maoist student activists celebrated the coming revolution in 1970. Soon after, Maoist categories became popular such as semi-feudalism, mass line, serve the people, and protracted people’s war. These terms gained nationwide relevance during the anti-dictatorship struggle in the 1970s.
However, Mao and Maoism are often lampooned in the mainstream press today. There are Marxist academics, but Maoists? There are Leftists who will proudly identify themselves as anti-Stalin and anti-Mao. It doesn’t help that the Chinese government today is behaving like a superbad of the globe. Will it help if we clarify that China’s politburo has already renounced the core teachings of Mao when Deng Xiaoping gained power in 1978?
Succeeding generations grew up without properly understanding Mao’s colossal impact on the modern history of the world when he led the Chinese people in the struggle against foreign domination during the Second World War; and subsequently, during the national liberation in 1949. One fourth of humanity “have stood up” to end feudal oppression and imperialist plunder. Even if we use today’s cynical standards, Mao deserves to be called a true patriot and hero for leading the Chinese revolution.
But alas, thanks to Cold War propaganda, Mao is quickly dismissed by many as a fat dictator obsessed only with power, ideology, and opium.
This is really unfortunate since Mao had many useful teachings that can benefit the global 99 percent. Let the well-funded researchers bombard the cyberspace with real or manufactured proofs of Mao’s personal demons; but for students of history like us and those who wanted to learn from the victorious Chinese revolution, our task is to read beyond the anti-communist rhetoric and systematically study the meaning of Mao and Maoism even if it will neither lead to academic promotion nor profitable writing career.
So what can Mao and Maoism offer us? What endeared him to young activists and revolutionaries in the 1950s and 1960s? How did he inspire the anti-colonial struggle during the early years of the Cold War era? Did Maoism distort or enrich Marxism?
Maoism, according to its detractors, entails a defense of Stalinism. Indeed, Mao upheld the legacy of Stalin; but he was also critical of Stalin’s viewpoints. For example, he rejected Stalin’s statement that there were no more classes and class struggle in the Soviet Union. Mao warned that the remnants of the old elite and the poisonous ideology of the old order are still influential even if a proletarian party is in power. Mao added that the contradictions between the old and new ideas exist within the leadership of the Communist Party.
Studying the experience of the Soviet Union, Mao concluded in the 1950s that it isn’t enough to confiscate and develop the mode of production, there must be a corresponding change too in the superstructure. In other words, the revolution is only half-complete if ownership of the economy is socialized. This must be sustained by radicalizing the beliefs, institutions, and attitudes of the people. Stalin, according to Mao, focused too much on the economic base and ignored the other equally-important aspect of the revolution, which meant struggle in the realm of ideas and culture. Hence, the need for a ‘cultural revolution.’
Mao acknowledged Stalin’s errors but he castigated the new leaders of the Soviet Union for dismissing the positive legacies of Stalin. This sparked a schism in the Communist bloc which we came to know as the ‘great debate’. The ideological struggle became more serious when Mao warned that modern revisionists have grabbed the leadership of the Soviet Union. He said that capitalist restoration is a real possibility if the initial victory of the revolution is not consolidated. He proved he was serious when he mobilized the Chinese masses to support the ‘Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution’ in 1966.
Here was a leader who wanted his constituents to seize control of the bureaucracy. Naturally, Mao would be seen by the Western world as a madman attempting a self-coup.
But Mao proved to be correct when capitalism was eventually restored in Russia and China courtesy of the ‘modern revisionists’ in the politburo of the two countries.
Mao provided us with the essential Marxist lesson of the last half of the 20th century: The dictatorship of the proletariat can always relapse into the former rule of the bourgeoisie. Therefore, in order to decisively defeat modern revisionism, the masses must continuously mobilize and defend the revolution.
But Mao’s strategy to win the revolution is more interesting and applicable for the Philippines. His analysis that Russia’s Bolshevik model is unsuited to the prevailing conditions of semi-feudal and semi-colonial China was adopted too by Filipino revolutionaries in the 1960s. Instead of an urban insurrection led by workers, Mao theorized that the Chinese revolution can first succeed via a people’s war. The forces of reaction are strong and seemingly invincible in the cities but they are weak in the countryside. Mao argued that a people’s army can build strength in these remote regions, establish and consolidate the political rural base of the Party, and capture the cities when the mass movement is able to accumulate enough strength. Mao emphasized that the people’s army will enjoy mass support if it fights feudalism in the provinces. To win over the peasant masses, the people’s army must therefore make land reform its principal agenda. This revolution will fight for genuine independence and democracy but it will be sustained by the socialist construction of society. This is the essence of the national democratic revolution with a socialist perspective.
If this is familiar, it is because the NPA subscribes to this model. The NPA was patterned after China’s liberation army. The major difference is that the NPA is waging war in an archipelago. But the end goal is the same: Surround the cities from the countryside where red political power can exist.
Mao’s legacy in the Philippines is not limited to the NPA. Activists translated several articles of Mao which enriched the country’s political discourse. When we say ‘learn from the masses’, it reflects the enduring power of Maoist quotations. China’s Red Book summarized Mao’s teachings but its essential contents were amplified through the Struggle for National Democracy and Philippine Society and Revolution, the country’s most popular textbooks on Communism.
Mao’s ‘Talks at the Yenan Forum’ which discussed proletarian art and literature, proved highly significant in radicalizing numerous artists and writers in the 1970s. It also set the framework on how to merge aesthetics and politics which challenged the dominant conservative perspectives in the academe.
Philosophy students can enhance their knowledge on Hegelian dialectics by reading Mao’s ‘On Practice, On Contradiction.’ Another essay by Mao, ‘On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People’, is an impressive example of using his philosophy to study the political situation.
Mao had consistently fought to bridge the gap between the rural and urban. He sought to erase the division between manual and mental labor. He ridiculed abstract knowledge divorced from practice. He discouraged excessive theorizing. He called on young people and the intellectuals to live with peasants and workers.
China’s spectacular economic growth is often credited to the market reforms initiated by Deng after 1978. But the fundamentals of the strong Chinese economy were established during the phase of socialist construction under the leadership of Mao.
Mao in the 21st Century
How long will China’s leadership keep up the false claim that it continues to honor the radical legacy of Mao? Will the Chinese people rise up again to fight a new revolution?
Mao is dead but Maoism has survived in the 21st century. What kept it alive all these years despite the betrayal at the China front? A new generation of activists is rediscovering the original and daring ideas of Mao. Revolutionaries all over the world are embracing and affirming the validity of Maoism. The remote corners of the so-called Third World are alive with the people’s struggles. And here in the Philippines, Mao’s teachings on the united front, his leadership during the long march, his theories on guerrilla warfare, his polemics against pseudo-revolutionaries, and even his foreign policies are enthusiastically being discussed in various study sessions from the countryside to the cities.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org