It is common to hear some scholars complain about the Left’s lack of vigor and creativity. They follow this up with an unsolicited advice urging the Left to change its paradigms, replace its language, and overhaul its methods. These condescending but hopefully well-meaning suggestions have become formulaic and are often repeated by mainstream analysts and their followers in other opinion-making institutions.
This is a subtle attack on the politics of the Left. It is not a new thinking but those who articulate these points in roundtable meetings, conferences, and social media platforms seem confident in believing that what they are espousing are original perspectives.
Since the rise of the so-called New Left, which coincided with the mainstreaming of postmodernism in the academe, vilifying the language and narrative of the Left has become a recurring theme of self-proclaimed progressives and non-partisan academics (read: secret Establishment acolytes).
They feign concern about the Left suffering from irrelevance because of its supposedly archaic slogans, dogmatic propaganda, and inflexible politics. To reverse the waning popularity of the Left, they propose a rebranding of its image and the adoption of innovative tactics.
Let’s be more specific. The National Democratic Philippine Left is unfairly criticized for its commitment to fight for its beliefs. It is also inaccurately depicted as a stubborn movement which refuses to review its founding principles and strategies.
Critics of the NatDem Left are miserably obsessed in demanding the repudiation of the movement’s politics. They advocate an ‘alternative’ politics by denigrating the NatDem point of view.
They have repeatedly invoked the tired old arguments against the Left, and ridiculed the legacy of dead and living Leftists. It is their way of proving the imagined obsolete impact and absurd existence of the Natdem Left in the country’s politics.
No one is prevented from criticizing the Natdem Left. In fact, the arguments against the NatDem movement have become the standard media and academic reference in discussing its past and present record.
They had their fun already.
It is time to ask why is it that the NatDem Left is the only political force which is sternly admonished to reexamine its principles. Why not demand the same responsibility and show similar treatment to other Leftist movements? Why is the NatDem Left being compelled to continually correct its worldview but not its ideological rivals? Why is the valid demand to make political parties more relevant and accountable to society directed mainly to the Communist Party and not to other Leftist coalitions and even bourgeois formations?
Then we have scholars who reject the Left’s clear and sharp political program in favor of abstract and playful concepts. They want to enthrall the public instead of organizing the masses to join and lead the revolution. And if the Left is reluctant or slow in participating in the postmodern language games, they are quick to dismiss it as a sterile and inept movement.
But in the hierarchy of evil deeds in the world of politics, is it really supremely horrific that the NatDem Left has chosen to use the word imperialism rather than empire? That it mobilizes the masses through rallies and other militant actions instead of organizing ‘peaceful’ citizen assemblies and tripartite meetings? But aren’t rallies the embodiment of pure democracy?
Those who dismiss the traditional practices of the Left offer moderation and reformism as superior alternatives to the protracted revolution. They are quite aggressive in emphasizing that the Left’s tactics are no longer working. But they have been deliberately silent about the real impact of their ‘alternatives’. They only wanted to discuss the ‘failure’ of the NatDem movement to establish a socialist state but not about the viability and unimpressive reach of their anti-Stalinist political organizing.
Indeed, they succeeded in demonizing the National Democrats but the best they can offer as a showcase of ‘democratic’ Leftist politics is an uncritical collaboration with conservative ruling parties.
What the critics of the NatDem Left refuse to acknowledge is that the movement has always been self-critical about its politics and how it leads the revolution in the country. The NatDem revival was done through a rectification movement in the 1960s which led to the re-establishment of the CPP and the founding of the NPA. It creatively adopted Maoist teachings to the specific conditions of the country.
In the 1990s, another rectification movement generated a major split in the Left. The NatDem publicly apologized for its excesses and blunders while affirming its commitment to continue the people’s war for national liberation.
But it is not true that the NatDem Left is obstinate in implementing a single track in achieving its political agenda. It is directly involved in electoral politics, it is engaged in peace negotiations with the Manila-based government, and since last year it nominated prominent mass leaders to join the Duterte Cabinet. The NatDem Left joining the bureaucracy is quite unthinkable a few years ago but today its electoral and legal political machineries are in place across the country.
The NatDem Left’s priority is the mass movement. For more than five decades, it has developed various forms of collective actions, printed and digital propaganda materials, and urban or rural-based mass organizations with nationwide following. It waged small and big campaigns that produced immediate and long-term victories for the benefit of the masses.
The NatDem movement is always experimenting with its propaganda work, recalibrating its tactics, initiating sector-specific and class-based struggles, and boosting its influence through continuous grassroots organizing. Meanwhile, other Left factions are still fixated over the vocabulary and Maoist bias of the NatDem movement.
When the obvious flexibility of the NatDem Left is mentioned, a scholar retorted by arguing that the essence of the movement’s politics remains unchanged. This is true. And the Left is unapologetic about it because the essence of its politics and its ultimate aim is people’s democracy. Those who want to change this are like anti-Left politicians who nitpick against the movement’s weaknesses but whose real intent is to invalidate the need for waging a revolution.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is a sharp critique of the NatDem left of a very different sort from the type outlined here. It is not an academic criticism, but a socialist one.