Workers' democracy and revolutionary tactics
The BMP has always been very active in the task of defending labour rights. We do recognize this and stress that no socialist activist should forget it. The problem is that the BMP's political leadership when the moment was right took the wrong road to realise the slogan of "change the system". A revolutionary slogan can conquer the masses only when these are willing to write it on their banners and flags.
Then the question we have to ask is: why did the BMP write its slogan on the invisible banner of Chief Justice Davide? The revolutionary programme outlined in the above four points cannot be realized by any "progressive" government. The vanguard has learnt this through its own bitter experience. The workers know that for this kind of programme to be implemented what is needed is a completely different kind of government. What is needed is a workers' government. Only workers' democracy can seriously start to implement this programme. The "Change the system" slogan can conquer the majority of the Filipino masses only if it is translated by a revolutionary party into concrete steps for the struggling masses. Who is to carry out this transformation should be indicated. Which class should lead the struggle should clearly be stated. A new way of organising society should be explained to the workers, students and poor.
Only a vibrant independent workers' movement can propagate these ideas to the broader masses. Every embryo of a barangay council, a factory council or street parliament needs these ideas just as every cell of the body needs its DNA code for its reproduction… But this also is not enough. The building of a new living organism needs oxygen. The BMP campaigned for a workers' government without seriously trying to provide the oxygen. In the case of the 2001 mass movement, this oxygen could have been provided by a general strike.
Why should the BMP have lead a general strike? A general strike would have provided the movement with the means to carry out the slogan of "change the system" as long as this was also based on a concrete programme of demands! The Filipino working class has a great tradition of political struggle and two years ago it clearly revealed its willingness to struggle. The coming together of the economic demands of the movement with the political tasks was a fact. The possibility of giving impetus to this powerful mix with the call for a general strike was clear. The conditions for raising the horizons of the movement were also present.
A first strike on the part of the vanguard of the class would have given an example to, and also inspired the rest of the workers of Metro Manila. The rank and file of the other unions would have been shaken by such a move, forcing their leaders to declare where they stood on the BMP's revolutionary programme. Since the majority of workers are not unionised, the grip of the union confederation bureaucracy would not have been strong enough to stop the workers for long. The most important effect of any big strike is that it raises the workers' consciousness about their own enormous strength.
A general strike at that stage in the development of the struggle would have had a strong effect on the workers. This would have been the oxygen that the workers needed. The oxygen that would have given them the energy, the confidence and the determination to fight. It would have given them the confidence to go to thousands of other workers and get them involved. It would have allowed them to reveal to the rest of the workers that there was a vacuum of power caused by the death agony of the Estrada government and that it was necessary to replace it with real People's power. It would have been a way of exposing the capitalists, the banks, the churches, the judges and the Vice-Presidents who would have acted against the strike.
This would have created a favourable situation in which to campaign for the building of real soviets. Only with the following measures would the factory and barangay councils have been able to seriously to grow and spread:
- Discussion and approval of the revolutionary programme of the strike among
- Coordination between the different councils and the calling of action to be taken in order to strengthen and spread the strike.
- Organising food storage and distribution, together with the setting up of communication networks and fighting funds during the strike.
- Preparing for the take-over of the factories in the case of a lockout or of layoffs on the part of the bosses.
- Organising workers' defence in their barangays.
- Election of council delegates at all levels and for any tasks that need to be carried out within the struggle.
- Constant and direct mass involvement in the decision making process: the only real democracy.
- Extending the council movement to the army ranks in order to frustrate any measures of repression on the part of the state apparatus. Linking the councils to the existing young and progressive elements within the army.
Soviets have never appeared in history without a good reason! And when soviets do appear, all historical experience shows that this happens thanks to the spontaneous initiative of the struggling masses who need them to serve their urgent needs. It is the practical and daily work of the councils that empowers the toiling masses and makes them conscience of the existence of a dual power: the bourgeois state apparatus against the nascent workers' democracy. This is the only school where the masses can learn how to solve the contradiction of this dual power.
The lack of the subjective factor
Does this mean that we are saying that a general strike would have eventually lead the 2001 movement to the workers taking power in the Philippines? Nobody can say that this was absolutely guaranteed, of course. But what we are saying is that all the conditions for revolution were present and if there had been a sufficiently strong revolutionary party with roots in all the major factories and workers' districts then the taking of power was perfectly feasible.
The mass movement is a living organism whose dynamics make the final outcome of any struggle difficult to predict in advance. The living variables within the process are many and their interactions make the final result difficult to foresee. Marxism sees life as well as the revolutionary process as a succession of a great number of unstable equilibria within an overall process that is going in a definite direction. The overall direction a process will take depends on the prevalence of one force over another, at each stage.
The subjective factor (the revolutionary leadership which is conscious of its tasks) is the decisive variable in both the revolutionary and pre-revolutionary periods. Its presence or absence means everything for the working class. It is the difference between the movement knowing and not knowing where it is going.
The BMP has declared its intention to become the subjective factor within the Philippine revolution in the next, coming period. In order for it to achieve this, we believe it is of vital importance to analyse the role that the ‘subjective factor' played during the past mass movements. No serious progress can be made in the future without a correct understanding of the successes or mistakes of the past.
Immediately after the Edsa II movement had peaked, on January 20, 2001 GMA became President. The BMP took the right decision and called for a ‘Labour Consultative Assembly' in the city of Baguio. The BMP leadership went back to the working class. More than 600 trade union leaders from the most important industrial areas of the Philippines gathered together. They declared a firm opposition to GMA because of her pro-IMF and anti-labour stance. The President was invited, but of course she didn't go. She had other things to do rather than listen to the workers' demands.
The Assembly discussed the situation and decided to: 1) spread the opposition to the new President and Government, 2) fight against labour law violations, 3) struggle for improving working conditions, 4) demand the withdrawal of all anti-labour legislation, 5) create local bodies of the Assembly wherever this was possible.
Unfortunately, no mass actions were called to support this platform. There were no immediate plans of struggle. Of course, we accept that after the installation of the new President a new point of equilibrium had been established and the situation was no longer as favourable for the working class. However, as we will see, it wasn't at all a stable solution.
The main reason why the BMP leadership did not call for a strike was, according to its own leaders, the lack of organisation of the working class. These comrades say they did not have enough time to organise the number of workers that was needed for the launching of such an offensive against the capitalist system and its politicians. Three months after this Labour Assembly had taken place, the Edsa III events demonstrated that the GMA regime was not as stable as the BMP leaders had judged after January 20.
Edsa III, the revolt of the poorest
No bourgeois newspaper outside of the Philippines bothered to analyse the events of the Edsa III revolt. No left leader around the world tried to understand the significance of those events. What happened is that from April 25 to May 1, 2001, for seven days, the poorest masses of Metro Manila took to the streets and mobilised against the GMA bourgeois government. At its peak the Edsa III movement actually brought more people out onto the streets than the Edsa II had done previously. And the masses stayed out on the streets for almost twice the amount of time than they did during the Edsa II uprising. They were met with bullets and brutal repression. The problem was that by the time they had conquered the streets, the organised working class and the students had already cooled off. No mass organization was there to connect with them. They were simply left to themselves. They did not see any trade union federation striking out boldly against the government. They did not see any organized action of the working class that they could have followed and joined.
The bourgeois mass media described these masses in revolt as a mob of ignorant hooligans hired by the Estrada cronies and gangsters. Cardinal Jaime Sin is one of the prime EDSA II hijackers who led this campaign of sneering and revealed just how elitist the tops of the Catholic Church have become. He claimed that the EDSA Shrine was "church property" and accused the Edsa III masses of "desecrating the area".
It is true that some senators who were supporting Estrada, together with some of his gangsters, had tried to whip up the poor in an attempt to use the mass movement for their own purposes. But the former President Estrada had already understood that he was in no position to get back into power and did not really expect that he would get another chance.
No manoeuvre in the world could ever explain the magnitude of that week of mobilisation; no mercenary would risk his life for a few pesos in the march on the presidential palace of May 1. The truth is that the lowest sections of the working class together with the urban poor saw no difference between Estrada and GMA. Their situation had become so desperate that they decided that enough was enough after just three months of the new government. They felt betrayed by the hijackers of Edsa II movement and instinctively rose up like they had never done before in Metro Manila. This gut feeling of the masses reflected (and still reflects) the true situation they were in. These people live in conditions similar to those that Engels once described in his essay on "The housing question". Just take some time to look at the picture by the Filipino painter Jeho Bitancor.
As if all this were not enough, the urban poor were also betrayed by the CPP. The Stalinists went as far as defending the Malacañang Palace from the May Day assault on the part of 50,000 poor people! However, when the CPP activists who had been called to defend the Palace saw the size of the demonstration marching against the new GMA government, they immediately left their barricades and hid inside a nearby church! The Stalinists will for ever have to bear the shame of having politically supported for several weeks the savage police and military repression of the Edsa III rebellion.
This desperate battle of May 1 lasted for ten hours and saw the Edsa III rebellion drowned in blood. All the poor people had were sticks and stones against all the bourgeois media, the Church, big business… and the police guns and armoured vehicles. Dozens were killed on the streets and hundreds were injured. Large numbers were randomly arrested. The "State of rebellion" declared by GMA meant that checkpoints were set up everywhere throughout the capital, police raids were carried out in the areas where the urban poor lived and a wave of indiscriminate arrests were carried out, all with the clear intention of terrorising the masses. This was the inauguration of GMA's "strong republic".
Edsa II and III were serious warnings to the capitalist class of the Philippines and of the whole of the East Asian region. They showed that the patience of the masses, of every sector of the toiling masses and also of the lower layers of the petty bourgeoisie, has reached its limits. We can say without any shred of doubt that the Edsa II and III movements were the first chapters in the Philippines revolution, which has already begun. That is why a discussion on the perspectives for the Philippine revolution is today an urgent task for every Filipino internationalist.
Preparing for power
After a long, but weak upturn world capitalism is now in a slump. The present cyclical crisis of capitalism had already been anticipated by the 1997 Asian financial crash. Since then in the Philippines we have witnessed the gradual worsening of the workers' conditions. Imperialist wars and the present global instability can easily open the road to a prolonged impasse of the productive forces. There can be no other prospects under the present situation where we see the division of the world into separate trading blocs, with a growing tendency towards protectionism and open hostility.
The working class and youth have already started to actively oppose the attacks of the bourgeoisie on an international scale. Workers everywhere instinctively understand that war against Iraq will bring nothing of any good for them. They are beginning to see the connections between wars and trade disputes between the major economic blocs. Day after day, the masses feel they are being forced by capitalism into a blind alley. Everywhere in the world the bourgeoisie is attacking the living standards of the workers. This is also the concrete experience of the Filipino workers and youth.
The young Filipino working class has entered this global epoch of wars, and of revolution and counterrevolution, with two mass uprisings in the space of just a few months. Big business circles cynically exploited the mass movement for their own manoeuvres and then smashed it. Does this mean there has been a heavy defeat that will paralyse the workers for a long period to come? Not at all. If anything, the opposite is true. The first conflict between the classes has provided the workers with a precious lesson. Their forces are still intact. Furthermore, they have only just started to become aware of the power of their own mobilisations. The revolution has only just begun in the Philippines, as is the case in Indonesia. We can draw a parallel between the 1998 Indonesian uprising against Suharto and the 2001 "People's power" movement in the Philippines. In both cases, the bourgeoisie managed to hold onto power. But it did so at a high price. It has suffered an important reduction in its margins of manoeuvre. The next time the mass movement flares up it can reach a far higher degree of intensity and can last far longer because of the dramatic increase in working class dissatisfaction.
Marxists have always described as prior conditions for revolution the following:
- The masses becoming actively involved in political life and their
willingness to fight for better conditions. This has already started in the
Philippines, no matter how long the temporary period of lull in the movement
- The radicalisation of the lower middle classes and especially the student sector that see no future within the framework of the status quo. The small Filipino middle class layers will be hit hard by the recession, and this will force them to question the present system.
- The general sensation that the present capitalist system cannot solve any serious problem facing the masses, or, worse, that it is driving them into the blind alley of misery and instability. The growing mass movement against the war, together with the revolution in Latin America, and soon again throughout Asia, will affect the whole of Philippine society.
- The opening up of splits right at the top of society, among the ruling class itself.
- The ousting of Estrada did not solve the problem of the Filipino bourgeoisie's own weakness. This will cause, as it always has done in the past, new divisions and opportunities for the workers to strike more blows.
However, one more condition is required for the success of the socialist revolution:
- The presence of the subjective factor: a revolutionary Marxist tendency of cadres rooted in the working class. This condition is the most difficult to create. But there are great possibilities for this to be developed among the Filipino workers. Because of the deep crisis that the traditional Stalinist and Maoist workers' leadership have entered into, possibilities have now opened up for the development of genuine Marxism. The great traditions of the Philippines working class will provide the basis for the development of a healthy and strong Bolshevik tendency.
The great traditions of the Filipino working class
The present deep crisis of capitalism will force the great majority of the Filipinos to fight. A few economic figures will help to clarify the situation. Between 2001 and 2002 the country experienced a 45% fall in investments, from US$2.34 to 1.28 billions. The destruction of the productive forces that is taking place globally is causing huge damage to the country's industry. This is going to lead to a further increase in the 5 million urban poor that live in Metro Manila, which is one third of the country's total. The contradictions inside the metropolis are growing daily by leaps and bounds: one third of the Filipino population lives in one of the four major cities (Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao and Baguio). So, it is no wonder that the theatre of the coming revolution will once more be Edsa. We will not see simply a "People's power IV", but we will see many more.
The presence of US troops in the south of the archipelago is provoking increasing tension not only between the capitalist state and the Muslim minority in Mindanao, but also between the local puppets of imperialism and the Filipino working class. Imperialism is deliberately provoking terrorist actions so as to be able to use these as an excuse to intervene and increase its military presence in this highly strategic region. But the workers will fight back with their class methods: strikes and mass demonstrations. Let us not forget the lessons of 1991, when the US troops were driven out of the country. What was the factor that forced the congress to deny permission to the US military to have bases on Filipino soil? It was a wave of industrial and rural workers' mobilisations. Just as in the past, the workers will see that the presence of imperialist troops only brings misery, crime and prostitution.
There is the real concrete possibility of massive explosions on the part of the workers over the next few years. This is true in spite of the low number of strikes in 2002. What will the bourgeoisie do next time round, once the workers have got tired of the president's manoeuvres? The capitalist class may well be forced to adopt different tactics from those it used during Edsa II. This will all depend on the level of organisation and determination of the toiling masses. We cannot rule out the possibility that the bourgeoisie may use the trick of the Constituent Convention (or Assembly). This could become a possibility if no traditional politician (or actor) can be found who will be acceptable to the working class. This can happen sooner rather than later. Filipino revolutionaries have to be prepared and have to discuss the experiences of the working class internationally, starting with the tactics of the Bolsheviks during the 1917 revolution. Both Edsa II and III have shown that the patience of the Filipino workers and youth is running out.
The mass movements of 2001, given the international crisis of capitalism, should be seen as the first stage of a new revolutionary period in the Philippines. The working class can draw many lessons from this experience. For instance, the majority of the unorganised workers that we have spoken to in Metro Manila have told us that "People's Power" is just a way of fooling the common people if all it does is just bring a new president to power. One of these workers, a seaman who had never even joined a union before, told us that he remembers the life of the Filipino working class hero Andrés Bonifacio, one of the leaders of the Katipunan Party in the 1890s.
When we asked him about the ideas and the programme of this worker's leader, the seaman replied: "His programme was fight, fight and fight again. The other Filipino hero, Aguinaldo, wanted to reach a deal with the Spanish rulers for the sake of the Filipino middle classes, but Bonifacio did not accept this and kept on fighting with his workers behind him". And he then added that "we Filipino workers like to live in peace and work very hard to improve the life of our families. Our problem is that the capitalists and politicians take away from us everything we earn with our sacrifices. This is what they also did to Bonifacio".
November 30 is the anniversary of Bonifacio's death. He was shot in the back on the order of that son of the middle class, Aguinaldo, who is unfortunately considered a national hero. Last year in Manila more that 12,000 demonstrated on November 30 and 25,000 on May 1. The great majority of those taking part in these demonstrations were workers and comrades that had split from the CPP and consider themselves internationalists and anti-Stalinists. In the past the CPP used to celebrate Bonifacio from a nationalist standpoint. Times have changed for the better and the Filipino working class has not forgotten its best traditions. The first real meaning that lies behind the Andrés Bonifacio tradition is it embodies the memory of that class independence that the workers had lost for many decades under the leadership of the Stalinist PKP and the Maoist CPP. This tradition is also full of meaning because Bonifacio is the only real proletarian revolutionary in the Filipino pantheon of national heroes. That is why the workers consider November 30 to be just as important as May 1!
The tasks facing Filipino socialists
Protracted guerrilla warfare failed to deliver its promises of freedom to the toiling masses. The two stages theory has also failed. The policies of the GMA government reveal, more than those of any of its predecessors, the correctness of Trotsky's theory of the "Permanent Revolution". After the 2001 events, it has become evident to the majority of the workers in the Philippines that a thousand threads connect imperialism to the local Filipino ruling class. No progressive role can be assigned to this corrupt clique. Trotsky explained long ago that the golden age of the international bourgeoisie had already been closed at the end of the nineteenth century. That was the era of Bonifacio. That was the time when the bourgeoisie started to play an openly reactionary role everywhere. With that went the betrayal of the working class and a slavish submission of the local bourgeoisie to imperialism. On the basis of the theory of two stages, and the idea that there was a progressive bourgeoisie, in the 1960s, the Stalinist and Maoist workers' leadership allowed the Filipino bourgeoisie to survive right up until now, despite the magnificent struggles of the working class.
Now, the Stalinist bureaucratic caricature of communism has lost any appeal that it may have had in the past for the majority of the workers and students. The task of genuine socialists in the Philippines is to revive the revolutionary traditions and programme of the Bolshevik party and of the first few years of the Third International before the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet Union had set in. The Filipino working class is a thousand times stronger than the Russian working class in 1917, both in numbers and in its organisation. It is a young working class, thirsting for internationalist ideas and willing to learn from the international experience of the working class.
The Filipino workers and students deserve a full explanation of what communism really is and also what it is not. The propaganda and the practical activity of the CPP-KMU-Bayan in the past presented them with a false idea of socialist revolution. They have been given the wrong image of communism.
It is not by pure chance that inside the CPP some activists were executed by their own comrades because they were caught studying such Marxist classics as Trotsky's "History of the Russian Revolution" or "The Revolution Betrayed". A very large number of ordinary workers and youth still have an image of communists as foolish people who are devoted to crime and senseless warfare in the countryside, something which is seen as very distant from the real needs of the common people. The bourgeoisie constantly takes advantage of these distorted Stalinist ideas in order to attack working conditions, by using the so-called "war on terror" and by scaring people with the "red threat". This means that patience and clarity of ideas on the part of today's socialist cadres are key conditions for the success of the revolution. They have to show not only that they have made a clear break with the past misconceptions of Stalinism, but also that they have a clear analysis of the situation today in the Philippines and of the worldwide decay of capitalism. A genuine socialist leadership must invest energy in the political education of its cadres. It has to provide them with the best of the Marxist literature in order that they may fully comprehend the method of Marxism. They must read Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. They must absorb the history of the movement. We would also advise them to read the theoretical works of our own tendency, the works on the In Defence of Marxism web site and also the writings of Ted Grant that go back to the 1930s and 1940s.
The first task of genuine revolutionaries today is the development of worker cadres. This can only be achieved through the creation of a tendency which would promote discussion of these ideas within the existing workers' and left organisations, above all within the organisations that have split from the CPP. The tasks of such a tendency would be the regular theoretical discussion of the issues that arise from the Philippine and world revolution; organised propaganda among workers for the programme of workers' democracy, differentiating it from the bogus "democracy" of any bourgeois government and the bureaucratic and reformist outlook of the CPP-KMU-Bayan; the establishment of the closest possible links with the struggles of workers throughout the world, and the international Marxist movement. These are the urgent tasks of the day in the Philippines.
It is necessary to go back to and to discuss the basic programme of workers' democracy as outlined by Lenin in his work State and Revolution and which was carried out by the Bolsheviks in 1917. Those same ideas are as relevant today as they were then and they perfectly fit the needs of the Philippine revolution:
No standing army but the armed people!
Rotation of administrative duties among the working people!
No official to receive a wage higher than that of the average skilled worker!
Rule through Soviets: councils of industrial and agricultural workers' deputies elected from the workplaces and subject to immediate recall!
In the barbaric conditions facing Russia at the end of the civil war, with the revolution defeated or betrayed in the more advanced countries of Europe, the revolutionary generation of October, and with it the heritage of genuine workers' democracy, were wiped out by the Stalinist political counter-revolution. This cleared the way for unlimited bureaucratic privilege to develop. The genuine programme of Bolshevism was kept alive by Trotsky and the Left Opposition in the darkest days of bureaucratic reaction.
By taking up this programme, the energies of the Filipino workers and peasants could be harnessed around a clear, conscious, Socialist and internationalist programme. If the proletariat can rise to its historic task today - and that can only be achieved through the building of a genuine Marxist tendency which can rapidly train worker cadres - then the next chapter of the Philippine revolution will end not in the distorted and bureaucratised abortion of Stalinism and Maoism, but in a conscious mass uprising to carry out the programme of workers' democracy, and the worldwide socialist revolution. In doing this the Filipino workers would have to make an international appeal, firstly to the workers of the South East Asian and Pacific region, and above all to the workers of Pakistan and Indonesia, of Japan, China and Australia. They would call on them to take power in their own countries and to link up with the Philippine workers and peasants to establish an Asian Socialist Federation, the first step towards the World Socialist Federation.
We are fully confident that the working class will make good use of the lessons that flow from the struggles of the past. The Filipino proletariat has shown its power by getting rid of two presidents (Marcos and Estrada) and removing several US military bases over the last seventeen years. All these struggles, together with the experience of over a century of working class struggles, represent a precious tradition, full of lessons for today's revolutionaries who want to learn. This living tradition is the main source for the enormous confidence that we place in the Filipino working class, students and poor. The day that a genuine Marxist tendency starts to work seriously on the basis of these ideas, no force on earth will be able to stop the programme of genuine workers' democracy from reaching the masses. The first thing the Filipino workers need to do is to believe in their own potential strength. If the Filipino socialists adopt the right methods, tactics, programme and perspectives, if they set about the serious task of helping the Filipino working class become aware of what is possible, then the days of landlordism and capitalism will be numbered on this beautiful and wonderful archipelago.