The conscience of a radical or how the Left can join parliament and reject opportunism at the same time

QUESTION EVERYTHING
Mong Palatino

bu-op-icons-mong Some academics lauded a partylist legislator who resigned from Congress because of the latter’s inability to faithfully represent and defend the majority position of his political party. In particular, the legislator said he already disagrees with the stand of his party to remain a coalition partner of the president whom he described as inept and callous. The legislator was praised for his principled decision to give up his seat in Congress; further, it was cited as an outstanding example of how party politics should be practiced. Perhaps the reaction of the academics is understandable since everyday politics in the country is dominated by the boorish antics of trapos and spoiled dynasts. They needed something decent to teach our students. But for us who are involved in upholding progressive politics, there’s more to say on this matter. We should not be easily impressed especially since the former legislator and his former party see themselves as activists and Leftists. If we were ordinary politicians, we would have quickly joined others in acknowledging the honorable decision of the former legislator; but as activists and Leftists, what should be our judgment?

It is fine that the so-called democratic Leftist party is exposed by its former representative as a group that continues to support a regime which authored an unconstitutional pork barrel program, masterminded a bungled operation in Mamasapano, and signed an anomalous and lopsided military agreement with the United States. However, these revelations didn’t surprise us anymore since many of us have long been accustomed to seeing the self-declared Leftist party parroting the spin of Malacanang. Isn’t it often referred to by many pundits as the junior partner of the government? Still, the resignation of the intellectual-turned-legislator confirmed what everybody is thinking: that social democrats have been blindly collaborating with the despotic order.

If the preceding line is a bit harsh, it is because in the past five years the haciendero president has been replicating the worst policies and the most abhorrent, anti-people programs of his predecessors yet our Leftist ex-solon and his party chose to be quiet about these. There were attempts to appear critical but in the end they openly flaunted their intimacy with the Yellow Mafia boss. The president may be likeable because he is always smiling and he is related to celebrities but it is not enough to exculpate him from the sins he committed against the people. Even if we assume that he is moral, it does not justify non-action amid the obvious rise of a powerful political faction committed to the preservation of the old order.

Is it really too hard for anyone who claims to be progressive to realize that the new government in 2010 is still hostaged by landlord interest and that it is subservient to the dictates of imperialism?

Reforms can be won even if the Left is expelled from the coalition in power. But if the Left will anchor the success of its goals on its proximity to the Palace, then it will stubbornly cling to the president even if the latter is guilty of many crimes. Damn the mass movement if compromise can persuade the ruling faction. This leads to fatal consequences, politically-speaking. The role of the grassroots in the struggle for reforms is diminished while the president’s noble intentions are exaggerated. It makes people think that what matters is not our commitment to the struggle but our readiness to integrate our demands with the narrow framework of the bureaucracy. It is also presumptuous to assume that the people’s victories in the parliamentary arena were achieved because of one party’s close encounter with the president.

Whose politics are being promoted when we elevate a particular reform as a substantial aspect of governance? For every reform bill passed by Congress, there are dozens of creepy measures and other laws that undermine this initiative. That is why the rallying call should not be made to glorify the sitting president but to inspire the masses to keep on mobilizing not just for one reform, two reforms, or even multiple reforms, but to complete the revolution.

It is one thing to support a presidency, but to christen it as a reform coalition? It misleads the people, it disempowers the poor, and it delays the birth of a genuine alternative.

Waging a struggle for reforms is not wrong but the reformism being practiced by the pseudo Left in the past five years is a horrible case of political sell out. This must be named for what it really is because if we fail to learn from this tragedy, we might end up legitimizing this behavior as an acceptable tactic of the Left. If the cycle is repeated, woe to us who will be forced to be grateful with piecemeal reforms (minus the FOI and land distribution) and we are left with nothing but hope that someday ex-activists in government will remember their conscience.

Can we afford to be more lenient to the ex-legislator by acknowledging that at least he didn’t fully surrender to the dark side of the force? Let us put it this way: a master politician knows when to abandon a sinking ship. He is able to survive but he is still a politician. Is this applicable to our Leftist ex-legislator? Again, let us consider it in another perspective: in hospitals (via The Fault in our Stars), patients are asked about their pain threshold on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 as the most painful. Applied to activists about their tolerance to conservative regimes, a level of 1 is enough to speak out loudly against it but our ex-legislator disowned the incumbent government when the level has almost reached its maximum threshold.

There were allegedly non-stop debates within the so-called Leftist party about its relationship with the government. So while working within the Liberal-led coalition, they were purportedly arguing against each other about political tactics. If only their political activities were restricted to these matters, we could have given a more positive judgment. But what really happened in the past five years? They lent the prestige of their identity as a Leftist force to deodorize the image of an unabashedly bourgeois government, they used Leftist vocabulary to justify the implementation of elitist policies, they mimicked the Palace in badmouthing the political rivals of the Liberal party, and they joined other conservatives in demonizing national democratic activists and revolutionaries. They were hardly the dedicated group of activists fighting for social transformation; they degenerated into a cabal of loyal partisans of the Yellows. They busied themselves protecting the public image of their political ally even if it already contravenes the fundamental principles of all shades of the Left. They acted not as heirs of the noble tradition of the Left but as pathetic minions of the reactionary regime. They didn’t fight their class enemies; instead, they used the resources of their class enemies to wage war against other political forces. When one of their senior members in government felt threatened, he kept AK-47 and M-16 rifles in his car. Non-violence my foot!

This Leftist party is preachy about pluralism yet it abandons it in practice. So what is wrong if their principal representative in Congress has a different opinion? It should be tolerated in the name of pluralism. Still, they forced him many times to keep silent and conform to the majority opinion. This is not wrong because it is a democratic principle but it shows the limits of pluralism. We can debate ceaselessly but at the end of the day, it is politics which must prevail. Political decisions must be made favoring a specific perspective. When they practice it, they call it democratic pluralism. But when National Democrats do it, they ridicule it as dogmatic Stalinism.

Years from now, the Left’s participation in Congress will be interpreted in many ways. As an active participant of this strategy, my views are inevitably biased. But let me say that I derive a humble pride in the fact that I entered and left parliament without flirting with opportunism, collaborationism, and other ghastly tendencies that seduce activists in government. For others who sought to regain their political integrity, severing ties with the ruling faction is not enough. Conscience? What about radical ethics? Will there be political atonement? ()

Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email: mongpalatino@gmail.com

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  1. WB deserves praise, among other things, for his contributions in disassembling the onerous burden of foreign debt, as well as his participation in the Battle in Seattle (1999) WTO conference, where many protesters were teargassed and assaulted by police. I don’t know the exact reasons why WB collaborated for so long with the BS Aquino admin. My guess is that it had to do with the tendency (?) to believe in the possibility of “social reforms from above.” In contrast to the concept of self-emancipation, reforms from the ruling class are, IMHO, merely a strategy of self-preservation, in the guise of adhering to faux democratic principles.

    Marx used a very unique term to describe the misguided hopes of reforms from above. From “The Civil War in France, First Draft, Writings on the Paris Commune, 126,” Marx wrote:
    “In both countries (referring to Napoleon’s France and the Czar’s Russia) the social daring reform was fettered and limited in its character because it was octroyed from the throne and not conquered by the people.”

    “Octroyed.” Hal Draper defines the term in his seminal work “Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Vol II, The Politics of Social Classes, p 165.” According to Draper, “octroy” reeks of handing down of largess from the master, imposition of change from on high, from the savior to his sheep, from the lord to his lackeys. So much so that “Octroyal revolution” is revolution from above, polar opposite of self emancipation. Draper proposes the phrase “Octroyal Socialism” as a generic term for “many varieties of radicalism that have looked for an elite band to hand down their new social order to a suitably grateful and docile people.”

    So yes, I agree that some brands of leftism can be quite backward and harmful to the real aspirations of the working class for genuine emancipation.

    1. Correction: The two countries Marx was referring to were: Prussia and Russia.
      In 1807, after Napoleon’s famed Grande Armee swept through Europe, conquering vast territories, the Prussian king was forced to give up half of Prussia’s territories to Napoleon Bonaparte’s France. Thanks.

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