Reaffirmist–Rejectionist Schism

The Great Left Divide ​​


Written by: Alecks P. Pabico;
Published: April–June 1999 issue of i, The Investigative Reporting Magazine, Vol. V No. 2;
Source: Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism;
Markup: Simoun Magsalin;

A SPECTER is haunting the revolutionary movement in the Philippines — the specter of seemingly interminable splits.

In the seven years since Armando Liwanag issued his “Reaffirm our Basic Principles and Rectify Errors” document, the Left — or more appropriately, the Left of the national democratic (ND) tradition — has gone through an unprecedented period of metastasis. The once monolithic movement that at its peak in the mid-1980s commanded 35,000 Party members, 60 guerrilla fronts, two battalions and 37 company formations, and foisted ideological and organizational hegemony in the progressive politics during the Marcos dictatorship is now history. Out of it have emerged fragments of disparate groups — eight at least — that continue to wage “revolution” in similarly disparate forms.

Not since the “re-establishment” of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) under the banner of Mao Zedong Thought by Amado Guerrero (nom de guerre of Jose Ma.'Joma' Sison) has there been a serious split in the revolutionary movement. In 1968, Guerrero broke away from the Jesus Lava-led Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas, or PKP, over ideological differences, criticizing its abandonment of armed struggle and its shift to nonviolent legal and parliamentary means in pursuing the socialist revolution. In turn, the Lava leadership expelled him from the party on charges of “left adventurism.”

Three decades later, Guerrero (now believed to be Liwanag) would find his dominion stirred by a similar storm, this time whipped up by his “Reaffirm” document. Reminiscent of the Lava act, he had also charged the “splittists” with Left opportunist sins such as “urban insurrectionism,” “military adventurism,” and “gangsterism.”

While internal in nature, the crisis in the ND movement has not been insulated from the shock waves generated by the dramatic dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of most communist party governments of Eastern Europe. Though he dismissed the USSR and Eastern Europe's ruling parties as revisionist regimes, Liwanag himself admitted in “Reaffirm” the serious setbacks suffered by the local revolutionary movement with the onslaught of Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost ideas espousing “liberalism, populism and social democracy.”

Ideological responses to the crisis of existing socialism and its repercussions on its constituencies worldwide have been varied. Liwanag's own antidote is the so-called “Second Great Rectification Movement,” which the mainstream ND bloc he leads continues to undergo to firm up adherence to the principles laid down in 1968. Basically, that means upholding the theory and practice of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. That is to say:

In so doing, Liwanag has drawn a sharp dividing line between those who agree with these views (the “revolutionaries” ) and those who don't (“ counterrevolutionaries” ). In more popular Left parlance, those who abide by the Liwanag document are the “reaffirmists” (RAs), while those who aren't into its “sweeping” conclusions are “rejectionists” (RJs).

Declaring themselves the “democratic opposition,” the RJs — among them regional party committees of Metro Manila-Rizal, Central Mindanao, Western Mindanao, the Visayas Commission (VisCom), National United Front Commission (NUFC), Home Bureau of the International Liaison Department and the National Peasant Secretariat (NPS) — initially rejected only the “bogus” 10th Plenum that approved “Reaffirm” since it did not have the required quorum. But they soon realized that the Party leadership had not the slightest intention to be conciliatory.

The petition calling either for the reconvening of the 10th Plenum or holding a new one to discuss “Reaffirm” signed by 15 CPP Central Committee members was rejected, as were calls to hold the long-overdue Party Congress. Insisting the plenum was legitimate, the leadership instead began expelling members and dissolving units identified with the RJ bloc, ushering in the Left's own days of disquiet and nights of rage.

MORE OFTEN than not, personal antagonisms have helped shape the contours of the splits and dictated the ever-shifting alliances as much as the interplay of ideological, political and organizational differences. At times, personal differences were garbed in ideological clothing. At other time, the rifts were reduced to sheer clashes of personalities.

Former Ang Bayan editor Ricardo Reyes laments the way the “Reaffirm” document glossed over the ideological and political debate with character attacks and past mistakes. Himself tagged by Liwanag as “counterrevolutionary,” Reyes thinks internal matters such as “mistakes, errors in the past for which we should be held responsible one way or another” should have been addressed in a different forum.

''In the first place, the Party's leadership is collective,” he says. “It's very rare that an error, especially a big one, was committed by one person. Second, these errors have long been committed. There have already been judgments on those either in the form of censure discipline or punishment.”

No sooner had different opposition groups joined ranks, though, the RJ camp itself fell into personality-driven feuds. An initial falling out on how to handle the “Reaffirm” debate served to polarize the RJ groups as a majority did not take to the brand of polemics of Felimon 'Popoy' Lagman, ex-secretary of the CPP's Komiteng Rehiyon ng Metro Manila-Rizal (KRMR) and now working aboveground as Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) chair.

Argues Reyes: “Perhaps he (Lagman) has his own justifications but I don't think we should reply in kind to the RAs. His attacks are just like Joma's. He'd hit Joma, saying, here are your mistakes. And he'd employ character attacks, too.”

Lagman himself finds it laughable that the reason behind the splits were not about principles. “It's always Popoy is just like Joma. Any discussion is always about the 'five little pigs and the big bad wolf,'” Lagman says, he being the wolf, of course. He says it politically immature of Left leaders to dwell more on his character or style.

The truth is, Lagman is not exactly the opposite of his nemesis Sison, burdened as he is by accusations of being “ruthless,” “dictatorial” and “utilitarian.” In 1993, his “arrogance” abetted the crumbling of the loose foundation on which RJ groups stood. Before an ideological summit to discuss theoretical and political positions could be held, and a national coordinating body to discuss the building up of a party formed, a split had ensued between the groups that collectively called themselves the “Third Force” on one side and Lagman's KRMR on the other. Using the KRMR Counter-Thesis, Lagman was adamant about meeting Liwanag's theoretical and tactical positions head-on, even if the group had not been through with the collective review of Marxism-Leninism.

There is also the precarious KRMR-VisCom formation, which materalized in January 1994 when VisCom chief Arturo Tabara made a surprise shift to KRMR's side, splitting the VisCom in the process. Three years later, it was KRMR's (now Komiteng Rebolusyonaryo ng Metro Manila-Rizal) turn to fragment. Lagman was expelled for acts violating the basic principles of collective leadership and democratic centralism. His character was also said to be unbecoming of a “proletarian revolutionary.” The rift, Lagman says, arose from his perceived “liquidationist” attitude — for his refusal to help in the Party congress preparations.

In the wake of Lagman's expulsion, KRMR split into two bitter factions. Lagman claims to have the support of majority of the party branches. The rest of KRMR, now under the name of Metro Manila Rizal Regional Party Committee (MRRPC) and occasionally referred to as 'Bloke,' consisted of the bulk of the region's underground cadres, including the Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB). The 'Bloke' later decided to disengage from the pre-party formation of the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa (RPM), which was established in May 1998, citing that its party building efforts ended in “an organizational project without resolving ideological unity or coming up with any party program.” Only the former ABB chief and a few followers remained with the RPM.

The Lagman faction suffered yet another split when one of Lagman's closest lieutenants, Sonny Melencio and forces from the “Progresibo” (Progressive) tendency within the pre-split KRMR, bolted out to form the Liga Sosyalista in 1998. An open socialist organization, the Liga deplored the continuing drift of the Lagman group's politics to the right. Eventually, it merged with the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Proletaryo (RPP), the revitalized left-wing faction of the 1930 PKP, to give rise to the pre-party formation of Sosyalistang Partido ng Paggawa (SPP).

Melencio's “Left Unity” project, which anticipates the formation of a legal socialist party in the tradition of Australia's Democratic Socialist Party, has drawn varied reactions from other Left groups. Joel Rocamora of Akbayan finds the recruits to the “Left Unity” a very strange ideological mix — PKP, a small group from the Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas (PDSP), social democrats, the left-wing group of the discredited Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA). Others are open to such a unity project as part of tactical considerations, which thus implies a propitious element to it. Only that now is just not the right time.

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 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 says the CPP's theoretical line was 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 th 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 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 sans an armed force is unimaginable. But while it doesn't discount the inevitability of the revolution leading to war, it believes this must happen in the 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. Says a PMP leader: “They're like the 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 the PMP, though, 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 CPP'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 that 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 (Visayan for “continue” ). “It is,” says Reyes, “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 wage democratic struggles like land reform and expanding these to empower 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 wrong in “Reaffirm.”

Cadres of the pre-party formation 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 most 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.

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 toward open mass struggles. The KPD, for instance, recognizes these to be crucial and 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, because they treated sectoral struggles as a matter of propaganda, waged only “pana-panahon” (occasionally), “pili” (selectively) and are “lokalisado” (localized), and their legal organizations as mere mouthpieces. But RA sources dispute this, saying 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.

“THE OLD is not yet dead, the new is not yet born,” says Ronald Llamas of the socialist Bukluran para sa Ikauunlad ng Sosyalistang Isip at Gawa (BISIG), describing the current state of the Philippine Left. “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 has 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. “Let's study first, 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 of dominant status over the others.

Despite the vanguardist and totalistic claims of some parties, Reyes says the makeup of the Left has 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 one group, its estranged theoretical sibling, the KPD, has 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),” he says, “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.”