I keep silent every time I am tagged a communist. It’s not embarrassment but more of disbelief that in this day and age, a red baiter still thinks that this kind of witch hunt is politically legitimate or even persuasive. How dangerous it is to live in a society where people are condemned simply for thinking and acting differently. It seems not enough to criticize a radical cause, one must also learn to hate the advocates of the cause. Calling an activist a commie in the Philippines is meant to be an insult. It is intended to harm the reputation of a progressive thinker. It is a demonization technique in the propaganda playbook of the anti-Left.
But the communist tag could easily lead to fatal consequences. Hundreds of activists have been disappeared or killed already after being branded by state forces as communist members or sympathizers. Despite their legal credentials, these activists were listed in the notorious Order of Battle of the Armed Forces of the Philippines for their alleged involvement with “communist-terrorist” activities. This is the principal reason why some activists refuse to be called communists.
Let us agree, however, that the term communist has more than one connotation. A communist can be a member of a Communist Party, she can be an activist passionately upholding the teachings of Marx and Lenin, or she can be a Marxist intellectual involved in some radical initiatives; and finally, she can be a dedicated and selfless revolutionary in an underground cell.
Today it is no longer a crime to profess membership in a Communist Party but only a fool or an apostate will do that in the Philippines. Because in the eyes of the state, a communist is a psychotic subversive who fanatically targets the overthrow of the established order. A communist is an NPA combatant.
A government blindly protecting the interests of the cacique class becomes a paranoid state which sees communists lurking everywhere. The specter of communism is exaggerated as a threat that must be vanquished; an abnormal presence that has no right to exist in our civilized society. Mainstream Philippine politics suffers from this pathological refusal to integrate communist philosophy in everyday discourse.
The political field has built-in mechanisms that ruthlessly expel communists or communist-leaning politicians. It welcomes politicians who steal, cheat, and lie with impunity or dynasts who equate their family history with the national interest; but it abhors politicians who articulate Leftist issues. More so, a Leftist is forced to explain first to everybody as to why it is necessary to express a political standpoint. In other words, politicians are judged approvingly not because of their commitment to defend their principles but their willingness to compromise.
Rightists or Centrists are labels which do not figure prominently in the local political vocabulary. Traditional politicians are not called for who or what they really are. As for Leftists, they are presented to the public as malicious rabble-rousers who should act more sincerely, speak more convincingly, and provide more goodwill gestures as if they are criminals who should be grateful for being allowed to exercise their rights in the political arena.
In other countries, citizens are informed about their leaders who belong to the Right, Center, and Left. In the Philippines, it is only the Leftists who are branded for espousing an ideological version of politics. This politics is no other than communist politics. Contrast this to the purportedly dogma-free politics offered by bourgeois parties. No wonder even the so-called freethinkers and mavericks of Philippine politics are hesitant to be known as ideological allies of the Left.
The tragedy is not the failure of the Left to reinvent itself but our adherence to a narrow definition of what it means to be a communist. The greater tragedy is our uncritical rejection of everything that communism stands for. Because even if we adopt the distorted perspective of the state, the idea of communism continues to be a powerful ideological weapon of the working classes. The vicious tirades against communism didn’t erode its spectral power. Then and now, a communist shows class bias in favor of the weak and downtrodden. He is a destroyer of the old world, an enemy of oppressors, a builder of a new world order, someone who has demonstrated “fidelity to the Event.” A communist intervenes in the “history of Eternity” to realize the early arrival of the future.
In the Philippines, the communists were among those who fought foreign aggressors during World War II. They were the most formidable opposition during the Martial Law regime. They have consistently advocated and fought for the upliftment of the lives of workers and farmers. Some of their demands were initially unpopular (because these were new) but they persevered until their agenda for social transformation became the most comprehensive blueprint in completing the unfinished revolution of the Katipunan.
Will the anti-Left ranting stop if we emphasize that the most abominable acts of inhumanity that caused wanton suffering in the country were not done by communists? Who steals the people’s money? Who profits from logging and mining concessions? Who refuses to distribute hacienda lands to small farmers? Who perpetuates impunity in killings, enforced disappearances and human rights violations? Who begs for American patronage? The Left, the bad communists, didn’t commit these horrible crimes of the century.
Yet we treat the Left as if it is a diabolical force that must be stopped before it wreaks havoc on our lives. At the same time, we poke fun at its inability to overthrow the repressive state. We ridicule the protracted character of the revolution.
But communists, they say, are stubborn as they continue to block the so-called ‘progress’ in the country. Who are they to stop the entry of mining companies in our watersheds? Why are they campaigning against foreign-funded development aggression projects in the ancestral domains of indigenous peoples? What is their motive in resisting the government’s corporate privatization schemes?
Communists are not always right, but when it comes to upholding human rights, they are our most reliable allies. Rightists uphold property rights while communists are more interested in equitable distribution and social justice. The bourgeois class prefers peace of the graveyard while communists are fighting for peace based on justice and real democracy.
There is another reason why I keep silent every time I am called a communist. I am quietly rejoicing because despite my petty bourgeois background and my decision to remain in the urban while the people’s war is raging the countryside, I am still seen by an adversary as a political subject worthy to be called a communist. The silence hides a proud smile and a longing to proclaim that yes, I am a communist, I am not alone, we are many and we have a world to win.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org