When you are “free” to choose between which business you give your money to so you can survive and work tomorrow for another one, you are not free. You are trapped in an endless hell for the benefit of these few businesses.
By JUSTIN UMALI
Why do people engage in revolution?
The struggle to be free resonates with millions all over the world, and in various forms. General strikes and armed struggles pierce the imperialist chains that bind the world’s oppressed, while democratic unrest consumes the global centers of Empire.
Revolution is the great undercurrent of our time. Lenin’s Imperialism rings truer each passing day, and the world continues to be divided between the exploiting classes and the exploited, and between imperialist nations and the oppressed peoples of the world. Many, faced with the “choice” of living in grief or struggling to break away, choose to swim instead of sink.
Marxism has taught us that there is a science to revolution. Intellectuals will be quick to talk about “antagonistic contradictions” and “the quantitative transforming the qualitative,” but the struggle for real and lasting change can hardly be summarized so dogmatically.
Such an assumption reduces people and living movements to simple reactors. The struggle to be free is more than a reaction to an unjust society, it is the path towards a more human existence.
An incomplete existence
The prevalence of imperialism has created a world ruled by a small class of capitalists that dictate all aspects of production. They determine what needs to be produced, when, and who benefits. Entire societies either benefit from this system, or are exploited by this system, while entire populations exploited by imperialism live lives that are less than complete.
Consider the Philippines. Every day, millions of farmers and workers live bare existences with little hope beyond survival to the next day. Meanwhile, a ruling class of landlords, big businesses, and foreign capitalists control every aspect of the economy, and with it, every aspect of the people’s lives.
Education, work opportunities, healthcare, living conditions, what is and isn’t allowed – all of these and more are regulated by business and industrial interests. No sane metric can call this freedom. When you are “free” to choose between which business you give your money to so you can survive and work tomorrow for another one, you are not free. You are trapped in an endless hell for the benefit of these few businesses.
Marx called this alienation: the incompleteness a person feels because they try to express their humanity through a system that treats them like an instrument. Imperialism has taken more than our natural resources and our freedom; it has taken from us the right to a meaningful existence.
Liberation and humanization
Is it any wonder then, why liberation becomes necessary? The history of the Filipino people is that of constant struggle. From the earliest days of Spanish colonization, to today’s national democratic struggle, we have fought for our democratic rights and our self-determination.
But more than that, we have struggled to assert ourselves as full human beings, capable of changing our world the way we see fit. Our revolutionary experience is a struggle for a more human experience. The struggle to be free takes on many forms, but these forms share similar characteristics.
The mass struggle has taught us what it means to be oppressed: that we have been rendered incomplete. Through struggle, we come to understand that society needs to be transformed for us to achieve our full potential as people, and that we can be complete. Paulo Freire would say that this is the pedagogy of the oppressed: where Objects transform themselves to Subjects.
This occurs because participants to the struggle are not mere reactors. Activists, organizers, and revolutionaries all understand that their role is not to swoop in and save the masses from oppression. That is not liberation, but another form of oppression.
Instead, the mass struggle takes on a liberating character because it is dynamic. It listens to the masses, and provides them with the tools of their own freedom. It is the essence of the mass line: From the masses, towards the masses. The Filipino revolutionary struggle has survived for this long because it has kept this liberating nature, and its leaders have managed to walk alongside the masses in mutual struggle.
And so the mass movement becomes a school for liberation. Revolutionary theory and revolutionary practice mix into the struggle to be free, and with it, the struggle to gain a more human existence. Workers engaging in strikes assert themselves as an oppressed class and not just instruments for capitalist profit. Farmers fighting for land become agents of real change and not simply another statistic.
To revolt is more than justified – it is to become human. Our decades of struggle have taught us hard lessons – the inevitability of armed struggle; that political power grows from the barrel of a gun, among other things. But it has also taught us that a people, united in struggle, will have no other path than victory.
So why do people engage in revolution?
We struggle to assert our rights to land, life, and liberty. We clamor for reforms through parliamentary struggle and the parliament of the streets. Some take up arms, when necessary. These are noble goals.
We struggle for national democracy, land reform, and industrialization. We seek to bring an end to an oppressive system that has kept millions of Filipinos in poverty for generations. This is nothing less than just.
But we struggle, through various means, and using various methods, to bring about a society that gives genuine freedom to its citizens. We provide ourselves the tools for our own freedom, and with these, we break our own chains. This is revolutionary.