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The Great Left Divide

PERSONAL RIFTS aside, differences that later gave substance to demarcations on theoretical and tactical questions among RJ groups were apparent from the very beginning. Such differences, recalls Reyes, revolved revolved around how the RJs looked at the past and how they saw the future.

One side took to the KRMR Counter-Thesis, developed by Lagman, that views the crisis in the revolutionary movement as a crisis of the "Maoist tendency in the Philippines." In general, this castigates the CPP's theoretical line as erroneous from the very start, when the CPP was founded in 1968. It claims that "the CPP is Stalinist-Maoist in orientation, an aberration of real Marxism-Leninism. The Party's understanding of class realities in the Philippines is similarly erroneous in that it overplayed the role of the peasantry and underplayed the role of the working class. Instead of a protracted people's war (PPW), it should have been a working class-based and -led insurrection strategy."

The other was Reyes's formulation. Reyes did not find fault in the national-democratic framework of the revolution, its class analysis, the armed struggle and the working class-peasant alliance. But he took exception to the protracted people's war strategy. In a recent interview with PCIJ, he argued, "My only point is, sometime in the 1980s after the period of experience, and after study, the PPW was no longer appropriate. We might as well shift to a political-military combination strategy. It's a combination of an insurrectional approach in the urban areas and armed struggle for the countryside."

The KRMR counter-thesis held sway over those who do not see the presence of a "revolutionary situation" to merit the primacy of armed struggle at all times as waged by the CPP-NPA-NDF. This, and some other basic positions served as basis for the establishment of Marxist-Leninist parties both clandestine-RPM, Partido ng Manggagawang Pilipino (PMP)-and legal-SPP. Even the 'Bloke', the mainstream KRMR that ousted Lagman, is said to have consolidated its ranks under the politico-military framework, which combines armed and mass struggles.

Set up just this year, the PMP embraces Marxist-Leninist orthodox teachings on the socialist revolution, the working class party and movement. While it acknowledges that the revolution is still in the national democratic stage, the party adheres to a Marxist concept of a continuing revolution that is not dependent on the ND revolution's victory.

To the PMP, a revolutionary movement in a Third World country without an armed force is unimaginable. But while it does not discount the inevitability of the revolution ultimately leading to war, it believes this must happen in context of the developments of the class struggle. Thus, it views the protracted people's war strategy as a vulgarization of the concept of armed revolution, or in Marxist terms, conspiratorial. Says a PMP leader: "They're like alchemists concocting artificial conditions to create a revolution. The artificial condition is the armed struggle. It's like a script, because since 1968 Joma had mapped out how the revolution was going to advance-strategic defensive, strategic stalemate, strategic offensive. Just like a three-act play."

The RPM, for its part, espouses a similar return to orthodox Marxism-Leninism. It views Philippine society as basically capitalist though in a backward or "maldeveloped" stage. The main vehicle of the revolution is the open mass movement and is working class-led. Unlike, PMP, RPM retains an army in the countryside, the merged Revolutionary Proletarian Army-ABB Negros (RPA-ABB) mainly for defense considering that democratic institutions are still very weak.

Reyes eventually abandoned the Party concept and broached the formula for a united front type of organization within the Third Force bloc. "If you look at the RJ, the whole array of forces and individuals who criticized the RA position, they were already developing different frameworks. Setting up a single organization, a more solid one, could wait. If it's going to be a Party, then let it be a Party."

Such a contentious issue spelled the further break-up of the fragile union as majority still favored establishing a clandestine party, whose expression today is the Partido Proletaryo Demokratiko (PPD). Formed in July 1995 during a Third Force bloc assembly initiated by the NUFC, the PPD upholds Marxism-Leninism, criticizes the CCP's "closed door-ism" to Mao and its curtailment of studies on other Marxist trends and schools of thought. Particular emphasis is given to Marxist humanism in its conduct of revolutionary work which holds human beings as the center of development, whose ultimate end is the liberation of human beings from exploitation by their own kind.

Finding no travelling companions in his united front path, Reyes went his own way and helped form the open mass movement Padayon (a Visayan term for 'continue'). "It is ," he says, "a commitment to continue what is good, what is worthwhile, that there is something to be proud about the national democratic struggles." It endeavors to continue waging democratic struggles like land reform and expanding these with the aim of empowering the people.

JUST WHEN it all seemed that disunity and dissolution plagued only the RJ forces, the mainstream RA endured another shakeup in its ranks in August 1997. Majority of the Central Luzon regional party organizations bolted out of the CPP following the expulsion of three Party leaders tagged with having sown "revisionism" and "factionalism" in the region by openly defending the militarist and insurrectionist line of the strategic counteroffensive (SCO). The SCO, an'80s tactical program aimed at a decisive victory against the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship, had been criticized as erroneous in "Reaffirm."

Cadres of the pre-party formastion of the Marxist-Leninist Party of the Philippines (MLPP) claim to also repudiate the SCO. But they say they only raised the validity of regular, mobile warfare-now no longer part of the strategic defensive stage-in its present conduct of the protracted war. What proved brazenly unacceptable, the cadres say, was that political and organizational questions relating to the PPW strategy merited them charges of an ideological nature-that of carrying a two-line struggle-when they were not enemies in the first place.

It is also an open secret that two centers exist in the mainstream RA bloc-one foreign, in Utrecht (Sison) and another local, (the Tiamsons). Both are said to be at loggerheads with each other.

In the aftermath of the CL split, an open mass movement, the Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya (KPD) emerged. Although it abides by the "Reaffirm" document, the KPD departs from the mainstream RAs on certain organizational and tactical questions. Much of the reason for the disaffiliation revolves around the attitude towards open mass struggles. For one, KPD recognizes these to be not only important but also indispensable-that they should go hand-in-hand with the armed struggle.

If the mainstream RAs are "deteriorating," Primo Amparo of the KPD labor arm Manggagawa para sa Kalayaan (Makabayan) says, they have only themselves to blame for treating sectoral struggles as a matter of propaganda, waged only "pana-panahon" (occasionally), "pili" (selectively) and are "lokalisado" (localized); their legal organizations as mere mouthpieces. But RA sources dispute this, claiming that the ND movement remains responsible for the strong legal mass movement in the country. Internal documents also continue to stress the role of legal mass organizations.

NO DOUBT, the Philippine Left is in a state of transition, or what Italian Marxist theoretician Antonio Gramsci calls interregnum. BISIG's Ronald Llamas described it aptly in Gramscian terms: "The old is not yet dead, the new is not yet born. That's this moment. There are intimations of the new, there is consolidation among the old. In between, there is a transition. Here, a lot will be formed. But many of those formed will be morbid."

Whether what has so far emerged of the fractured ND movement are morbid expressions, or mutations, only history will determine. But for all the viciousness that attended the splintering of the Left, there is an incredible optimism among Left groups themselves.

Francisco Nemenzo, also of BISIG, believes the fragmentation is borne out of an expressed desire to come to grips with present realities in the Philippines. A democratic space, though how limited it gets by the day in Erap's time, allows a lot of room for trying out different ways of doing things. "Let's study, search for a new paradigm, try out different methods," he advises, trustful that there is always the potential for the right situation that they can get their acts together.

One distinct aspect many in the Left would like to emphasize in the major upheavals in their ranks is that intense as they are, the ideological fights have not reached the level of physical violence that characterized the splits in the PKP. At this, it helps that no group presently has an ascendant or dominant status over the others.

Despite the vanguardist and totalistic claims of some parties, Reyes is pleased that the makeup of the Left has now become pluralistic. By his reckoning, the broad Left formation should also include socialist groups of the non-ND mold like BISIG, Akbayan and Pandayan. And the sooner all other forces in the Left accept this, he says, the better.

Even Lagman has had a change of heart, finding it irrelevant to claim correctness of one's social praxis. His present concern is where hopes are high for the revolutionary movement's revival. And he sees it in the working class. His positive attitude toward the other Left groups has likewise defined for all a division of labor in organizing their respective sectors-for them, the urban workers and rural farm workers; the RAs, the peasantry in the countryside; and the others, the petty-bourgeoisie.

At this stage, only the mainstream RAs claim ideological certainty. By affirming that waging revolution is not the monopoly of any single group, its estranged theoretical sibling, the KPD, has learned to shed off the sectarianism of old to become more open to tactical alliances with the other political blocs. But the Ras act as if the 1986 People Power revolution never happened, and maintain such rigid framework for political work that has only isolated them from the rest.

The reason for this attitude towards other groups in the Left is best understood in the way one RA leader put it. "The 'Contras' (the RJs) are no more than mere obstructions in the revolutionary course of the masses. Having lost faith in the revolutionary principles, with their wrong analyses, they only confuse the masses instead of arming them to wage revolution."

In the face of fierce globalization, it makes it imperative for the broad Left not to be burdened by grand narratives or ideological formulas. Groups as diverse from each other as PMP and BISIG have similarly issued calls for the progressive forces to work out unified efforts to focus their energies on projects that will help workers cope with their increasing marginalization. The increasing globalization of the market has continuously increased labor productivity at the expense of cheapening labor costs.

Besides, most in the Left continue to be seized by capitalism's final prophetic overthrow as envisioned by Marx. Only that now they have found divergent paths to traverse on the road to revolution.

Indeed, the proletarians have nothing to lose in this but their chains. The thing is, with a fragmented Left, will they still have a world to win?

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A less lengthy version of this report first appeared in the April-June issue of i magazine, PCIJís investigative reporting quarterly.