Psychological operations (PSYOP) are organized operations to modify behavior, influence reasoning, emotions or motives and make sure they align to the power structure. PSYOPs may be sppackaged as an educational campaign anchored on some academic disciplines and civil military operations such as humanitarian aid managed by legitimate armed troops in cooperation with NGOs, so-called non-profits and funding institutions “helping” embattled regions to recover from wars and/or terrorist attacks.
A week ago, soon after Duterte’s official declaration on the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New Peoples Army (NPA) being terrorist organizations, and its supporters as agents of terrorism, Professor of History, Lisandro Leloy Claudio, PhD of De La Salle University supplements this presidential announcement with yet another sound bite: “communists are morons.”
While he was quick to add that communists are not terrorists, we all know that a private school history professor is not in any position to dictate upon the president. There has been a strong push back from the mass movement on the labeling of their organizations as “communist fronts.” For progressive activists, this is an act of political vilification enacted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that justifies extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearance, torture, warrantless arrests, and the criminalization of political dissent.
Political dissent in the Philippines culls invaluable lessons from its own fraught yet remarkable history-making. For example, the above-ground character of Crisanto Evangelista’s Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (1930) and the subsequent crackdown and liquidation of its members and sympathizers, including Evangelista himself, impart significant lessons on the role of mass movement building in mustering a strong and popular counter-hegemonic force against oligarchic rule and imperialism.
The mass character of political dissent is crucial in building a truly democratic movement against elite democracy and imperialism. Therefore, the reinforcement of the AFP’s counter-insurgency program that is aimed at crushing dissent by targeting legal organizations which they expose as communist front is in fact an attack on the ways in which people organize themselves into alternative organs of political power based on the lessons learned from weaknesses of past endeavors.
So when Claudio claims that the uproar against his labeling of progressive mass organizations as communist fronts is misplaced as the AFP is already aware of this on account of its intelligence operations, he in fact misses the point entirely. The criticism launched against his parroting of progressive mass organizations as communist fronts is actually less an exposé on these mass organizations than a revelation of his right-wing sensibility. Claudio, like the AFP and other state agents do not bother to understand the hows and whys of mass uprisings, civil unrest, and political dissent. According to this mindset, the point is to quell dissent and liquidate all who are galvanized into action by an alternative vision of society.
Claudio further claims that communists are not only terrorists – an idea that has acquired the force of law and is therefore final, binding, and executory- they are morons, too. This makes the lives of communists super disposable as terrorists and morons. Claudio paints a picture not so much of the enemies of the state but of his own reactionary incapacity in trying to comprehend communists.
I also took the time to watch his “educational” video that aims to discredit people who are mobilizing against the current fascist regime in the Philippines. His main argument is that it is wrong to call Duterte a fascist president because he is not like Mussolini. Claudio avers that the confrontation between the people and the repressive state apparatus in the Philippine is not the same as what actually took place in Italy under Mussolini.
This history professor must be kidding. In any case, his Eurocentric notion of fascism fails to see how it operates in national and regional contexts. Fascism is a global phenomenon with historically acquired Asian, South and North American, European, African distinctions. In the same video, he tries to distinguish between fascism and populism by saying that the latter is a “rhetorical style.” Such ineloquence.
Yet I prefer to understand this very strange claim by making a generous inference: He must be referring to an approach to populism that focuses on its performative aspect. If that were the case, then it is disturbing how he can only deploy performative approaches to studying a powerful person’s rhetorical style while discrediting a people’s movement completely and properly mobilized around and organized against what it’s now calling “US-Duterte fascist regime.” Performance Studies is definitely better than this.
A few days ago, he comes out with an essay explaining why he is anti-communist. He says he basically does not prefer violence. In other words, Claudio reduces all history of the confrontation between reaction and revolution to a question of one’s likes and dislikes. Worse, he reduces the stakes of the revolution to an enactment of violence. That the revolution is something of a spectacle to be contemplated from a distance according to one’s enthusiasms and quaint indignations is turning a concrete and historical struggle into a perspectival affair. This is an unfortunate academic stance because regardless of what bourgeois intellectuals think about the revolution, it rages on, worldwide.
Now this is the situation: Amidst Martial Law in Mindanao, the war on drugs has killed thousands of young and poor people, the crackdown on development workers, extra-judicial killings of human rights defenders, a history professor, with all his muddled ideas, thinks it’s showtime and high time for some attacks on the anti-imperialist and anti-fascist movement for national liberation in the Philippines.
In case this sounds familiar, it is because those of us who have been around long enough to live through the Marcos dictatorship and the subsequent pseudo-liberal democratic regimes know how state propaganda works. The whole structure maintains its monolithic national agenda that is attuned only to local and foreign oligarchic interests by criminalizing those who challenge the validity of state-sponsored national agenda.
The criminalization of organized dissent is the force of state terror against a shared communist vision of the world among the popular classes : the peasant-worker alliance, petit bourgeoisie, national bourgeoisie and special sectors such as women, church people, LGBTQA+, fisherfolk, informal workers, slum dwellers, church people, etc). This very act of state terror fails to signal that anti-communism is the zeitgeist or the spirit of the times. What it signals is that communism in fact is the spirit of the times that the 1% aims to exorcise.
Meanwhile, Claudio is teaching people how to hate communists and communism. And by doing so, he is actually teaching a lesson that is crucial to this regime’s survival. This is Claudio’s lesson: The commies are to be blamed for everything violent and moronic. And why is this a crucial lesson? Because once Duterte’s crackdown on anti-fascist citizens goes full scale, we can all be ready to say that “it’s all the commies fault, long live Duterte!”
Sarah Raymundo teaches at the University of the Philippine Diliman-Center for International Studies. She is the Chairperson of the Philippines-Venezuela Bolivarian Friendship Association. She also chairs the International Committee of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT). She is also the External Vice Chair of the Philippine Anti-Imperialist Studies (PAIS) and a member of the Editorial Board of Interface: A Journal for Social Movements.