There is a regular gathering of anti-Marcos activists which briefly unites various shades of the Left. This was impossible to organize in the mid-1990s during the ‘great split’ within the Philippine Left, but today it happens several times a year. Perhaps the passing of time inspired these fierce ideological rivals to set aside their political differences so that they can meet their former friends and comrades in the struggle against the dictatorship.
That they can socialize and reminisce together is a reminder that they once fought for the same Cause. They shared a common experience of spending the formative years of their lives building the people’s resistance against imperialism and other social evils. Regardless of what they are doing today, it cannot be denied that there was a time when they were all part of the militant Left, the national democratic Left.
Unfortunately, we cannot bestow the same recognition to activists who became members of the so-called moderate Left in the 1990s up to the present. Understandably, their views about the Natdem movement are colored by ideological bias. They became avowed Leftists by consciously denigrating the Natdem brand of politics.
But they seemed unaware of how peculiar they appear when they brag about their Leftist credentials. Consider these formulaic soundbites of how they introduce themselves in public: We are activists but we don’t just join rallies and shout slogans; we use intelligent and creative forms of protests. We do not simply condemn the government; we lobby for reforms in the bureaucracy. We are not dogmatic, we believe in pluralism. We advocate non-violence as opposed to militant rah-rah activists who spread mayhem in society. We are the democratic, inclusive Left.
If these words are no longer strange, it is because this way of thinking is precisely what the ruling order prescribes. We can resist but it must be legal, peaceful, and disciplined. Both the moderate Leftists and politicians want an activism emptied of its radical, disruptive essence.
The non-stop clarification about being Left minus the noisy militancy of the Natdem reflects a mindset that desperately seeks recognition and praise from the Establishment (as if it is the real aim of progressive politics).
Maybe the moderate Leftists simply wanted to differentiate themselves from the Natdem but by overemphasizing the small and cute interventions of polite dissenters, they misrepresent these as the only effective and innovative acts of politics. They undermine and reject the efficacy and necessity of collective mass actions. Didn’t they know that the Left survived the brutal retaliation of reactionary forces not by begging for piecemeal reforms or agreeing to speak in behalf of the state among the grassroots but by advocating revolutionary demands and militantly advancing the struggle with the masses?
The moderate Leftist introduces his politics not by denouncing the oppressive system but by demonizing the methods of the Natdem. She speaks about the historic legacy of the Left but is quick to dismiss the role and relevance of the Natdem. He spends more time ridiculing Natdem personalities than resisting the corrosive influence of the imperialist, corrupt bureaucrats, and greedy landlords in society.
The young moderate Leftist is brainwashed into believing that the great scourge of politics is the annoying existence of Maoists and Stalinists in schools, communities, offices, and churches. Thus the ruthless machinations to silence and isolate Natdem activists by invoking the institutional powers and resources of the state. They accuse Natdems of using underhanded ‘Stalinist’ tactics but fail to recognize their undemocratic and arrogant behavior toward individuals who think differently from them.
Consider this example: During some community congregations or small caucuses of various groups and individuals, there is always a self-assured young moderate Leftist who will warn against totalitarianism and the presence of dogmatic groups which found a way to infiltrate the assembly and subvert the non-partisan character of the institution. Then, she will preach about the tired, old strategies of the Natdem Left and the need for a rethinking of political perspectives. She will most likely offer unoriginal but respectful ways to express the sentiments of the group in public. Aside from monopolizing the floor, she ends up imposing her ‘democratic’ and ‘pluralist’ views on others. Nothing wrong really since it’s group dynamics at work but when a Natdem behaves this way, he will be accused of Stalinism, whatever it means.
The young moderate Leftist is an unusual Leftist since he claims to know the situation of the man on the street but is squeamish about the use of street tactics in politics. But can we blame her when she was systematically schooled to distrust the power of the mob. Indeed, she read about the First Quarter Storm and People Power, but she also read that this kind of activism is already obsolete.
Instead of persevering in the militant mass movement, she was told that the new Left must learn to compromise its principles if it wants to succeed in realpolitik. Change can be realized by influencing the agencies of the state. Thus, the bad word collaborationism was repackaged in the vocabulary of the moderate Left as an acceptable and even superior form of political tendency.
It has been 20 years since moderate Leftists and civil society started bragging about the concrete gains of diluting the subversive aims of revolution in favor of compromise and bureaucratic lobbying. During the same period, they never stopped mocking the protracted character of the people’s revolution in the countryside.
Yet they can only boast about some token reforms in some sectors while the overall situation of Philippine society has fundamentally remained the same. Inequality persists, poverty has worsened, landlordism continues to stalk the land, and foreign meddling is embraced as a valid political solution.
Despite the horrific conditions in the country, the moderate Left refuses to sever ties with the ruling party and resume the militant political struggle. Tragic that the moderate Left is an accomplice of reactionaries and conservatives in oppressing our people.
Ah, but such is the arrogance and ignorance of young moderate Leftists as they continue to portray the Natdem Left as the hopelessly stubborn and undemocratic Left.
When there’s an upsurge of reactionary thinking and disturbing political cynicism in society, trust the moderate Left for quickly putting the blame against the Natdem for the latter’s supposedly outmoded and boring politics. They ridicule the fighting capabilities of the Natdem while they join forces with the reactionary state; but they keep on identifying themselves in global civil society meetings as victims of imaginary Stalinist crimes. When asked about the status of the Philippine Left by foreign academics, they exaggerate their political influence while maliciously accusing the Natdem of losing popular support.
Perhaps it is no use being kind anymore (in the name of alliance building) and instead an activist should be more aggressive in correcting the vicious propaganda of both the anti-Left and moderate Left against the militant section of the Left which is being put to task for asserting and affirming the need for revolution.
To young moderate Leftists, even a partylist representative and leader of the ‘democratic’ Left couldn’t stomach the horrendous consequences of uncritical collaboration. Isn’t this a cautionary sign about the bankrupt and rotten character of real existing moderate Left in Philippine politics? There is a better way of serving the people, the Natdem way. It’s time to have more fun and join the mass movement.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org