Concerning the Communist Party of the Philippines, the philippine revolution and international situation
Interview with Jose Maria Sison
Founding Chairman, Communist Party of the Philippines
By Àngel Marrades
Jose Maria Sison is the founding chairman of the Communist Party of Philippines (CPP). Since 1968 the CPP and its armed branch, the New People’s Army (NPA), have carried a Protracted People’s War against the Philippine State and the US. Sison is a key figure in the development of the party and his historic struggle, which has lasted over 50 years and overthrew the Marco’s Dictatorship in 1986. This interview with Jose Maria Sison concerns the Communist Party of Philippines, the philippine revolution and international situation.
In 1992, as you argue in your texts, the Second Great Rectification Movement was launched to correct errors of the party’s political line and the deviations thereof. Both of a left and right-wing nature. Would you say that the revolutionary movement was strengthened? To what extent were the objectives of the Second Great Rectification Movement achieved for the current revolutionary period?
The Second Great Rectification Movement (SGRM) was launched in 1992 to rectify the subjectivist and opportunist deviations from the CPP’s correct ideological, political and organizations line. The CPP and the revolutionary movement became much stronger as a result of the SGRM). They became more vigorous and more productive.
Mass work was emphasized to make up for the loss of mass base due to the premature formation of NPA companies and neglect of mass work. Increased Party recruitment and expansion of mass organizations also made up for the loss of CPP members and activists who had been punished without due process by the “Left” opportunists when their line was grossly failing from 1985 to 1988.
Where the errors had taken effect, the rectification movement resulted in the reinvigoration of the revolutionary forces and expansion of the mass base. The strong guerrilla fronts helped the guerrilla fronts that had been weakened by the errors. Before 2000, the NPA was able to kill one general in the field and capture another one. And a third general defected to the NPA.
I cite the cases of these generals to indicate that the revolutionary movement became stronger and was successful in both annihilation and disintegration of the enemy. By 2000 and 2001, the CPP was once more able to cause the overthrow of a president, Joseph Estrada, for corruption but also once more could not yet overthrow the entire ruling system.
Because of the SGRM, the revolutionary movement made great strides up to 2005. The CPP membership grew by some tens of thousands. The guerilla fronts increased to more than 120 from about 40 in 1986. The NPA increased by the thousands and exceeded the losses in areas where these resulted from errors.
The underground mass organizations and the local organs of political power continued to gain adherents by the millions. But there was a downside to the emphasis on mass work by the SGRM to combat the purely military viewpoint and the previous premature regularization of NPA forces in the 1980s.
All NPA units were so preoccupied with mass work that they could not respond effectively with counter-offensives against the enemy campaigns of suppression from 2005 onwards. It would take sometime before the decision was made to have one third of every NPA platoon and company on combat duty with short rest periods and two-thirds for mass work.
Combatants are rotated so that everyone has combat experience and contribue to the drive for increasing the arms of the NPA by launching tactical offensives to wipe out enemy units. The long-running plan of the CPP is to raise the armed strength of the NPA from 10,000 high-powered rifles to 25,000 in order to reach the strategic stalemate and launch tactical offensives with companies and battalions.
The NPA promotes the creation of “New Power” and the “People’s government”, what do they consist of and how are they organized? What role does “Remolding” play in this in the last decades?
Building the new power or the people’s democratic government means creating the local organs of political power from the level of villages up to the municipal, district and provincial levels. The people’s government serves to shadow the reactionary government and render services to the people by carrying out land reform, raising production, improving the social infrastructure, providing health, education and other social services, settlement of disputes, internal security and people’s self-defense, disaster relief and environmental protection.
Depending on the circumstances, the Red organs of political power can either fight and supplant the local governments of the reactionary classes or engage them in united front cooperation against the higher level of reactionary government or the entire national reactionary government. The Filipino people are quite experienced in having their own revolutionary system of government against a foreign colonial power or a tyrannical government.
Remoulding means ideological, political and moral remoulding. The proletarian revolutionaries of whatever class origin should take the proletarian class stand by grasping the basic concepts of Marxism-Leninism not only by reading books and attending formal courses of study but having close relations with the toiling masses, learning from them through social investigation and class analysis, engaging in mass work to arouse, organize and mobilize them and joining them the struggles to advance the revolution.
One of the main questions which the revolutionary movement must address concerns the entry in urban centres. This seems to be a military question and the way in which guerrilla should work and the strategy to pursue. Nonetheless, it could also be linked to the relationship between the Party and the people and how both connect. In this way, what efforts are being undertaken to achieve the aforementioned aims?
Prior to the resumption of the armed revolution in 1969, there was nearly a decade of developing the legal anti-imperialist and anti-feudal or national democratic movement. The legal forces of this movement prepared the ideological, political and organizational factors for resuming the armed revolution. Even when Marcos outlawed them when he proclaimed martial law in 1972, the aforesaid forces went underground and facilitated the integration of thousands of mass activists in the armed revolutionary movement.
In the specific conditions of the Philippines, encircling the cities from the countryside in the protracted people’s war, involves a certain class line. It means that the revolutionary party of the proletariat must base itself among the peasant masses as the basic revolutionary ally of the proletariat. The great number of peasants and the vast scale of the countryside provide the wide social and physical terrain for maneuver in order to preserve the people’s army, fight the enemy and accumulate arms seized from the enemy through ambushes and raids.
At the current strategic defensive stage of the people’s war in the Philippines, the CPP has stressed waging intensive and extensive guerrilla warfare on the basis of an ever widening and deepening mass base. The CPP hopes to produce from the guerrilla warfare squads, platoons and companies in the maturation of the strategic defensive the companies and battalions that shall carry out regular mobile warfare in the strategic stalemate.
While the revolutionary armed struggle is mainly in the countryside in the Philippines, the NPA has also the armed city partisans and commando units to carry out certain types of offensives in urban areas, highways and centers of logging, plantations and mining operations. These are areas relatively well-guarded by the enemy but they are isolated and vulnerable. With mass support, the NPA can learn how to approach and attack these targets. Tactical offensives against valuable sites of the enemy compels him to take defensive positions and have less forces for offensives against the NPA in the countryside.
How has the NPA developed its relations with the native people? How does the NPA manage to respect native culture with the idea of building a new society?
Since the years of developing the national democratic movement in the 1960s and since the resumption of the reestablishment of the CPP in 1968, serious attention has been paid by the revolutionary movement to indigenous people who are some 15 per cent of the population but occupy large parts of the Philippine territory, which are in the hilly and mountainous regions and are favorable for people’s war. It was of the highest social concern of the CPP that their oppression and exploitation must be solved, that they exercise their right to national self-determination, wage revolution for their national and social liberation, enjoy respect for their previous roles in the revolutionary struggles against colonialism and imperialism and for their cultural heritage and avail of their terrain which is exceedingly favorable for people’s war.
The CPP, NPA, NDFP and the mass organizations gave the highest priority to the political education and organization of the workers, peasants, students, teachers and other professionals from the indigenous communities. Thus, since the beginning, they have played a major role in the people’s democratic revolution through protracted people’s war. Many of them have become leading cadres in the central and regional organs of all revolutionary forces. And their peoples enjoy self-determination, autonomy and self-government in their communities. Where the local communities are mixed in border areas, the rule of proportionate representation is followed in order to allow their participation in discussing issues and making decisions.
The Program of People’s Democratic evolution which is being implemented by the CPP, NPA, NDFP, the mass organizations and the local organs of political power criticizes the oppression and exploitation of the indigenous people and other national minorities in the following terms: “National minorities in the Philippines have been abused and grossly neglected. U.S. imperialism, the local reactionary government and the Christian churches have too long regarded the national minorities as mere objects of bourgeois charity and Christian proselytization. The four-million people belonging to the national minorities, especially those of Mindanao and the mountain provinces, can be powerful participants in the revolutionary overthrow of U.S. imperialism and feudalism. The bourgeois government, reactionary scholars and Christian chauvinists talk loud about national integration but they stand in reality for the exploiting classes that are the main sources of abuse and oppression”.
The Program declares the following course of action: “The main concern of the national minorities is land; the abuses of landlords, loggers and landgrabbers; and exploitation in mines and plantations. A new type of leadership, a revolutionary one must be encouraged to rise among them so as to supplant the traditional leadership that has failed to protect them and has merely contributed to and participated in their exploitation. With regard to naturalized Filipinos and foreign nationals, the class approach must be firmly taken so as to do away with “Malay” racism and chauvinism”.
I would like to focus on the affective relationships between individuals who live within the New Power bases created by the NPA, where it is assumed that a couple’s matters affect those involved the community or corresponding unit. Seeing that in the stages leading to socialism there is a coexistence of elements belonging to the classist society and those representing the new society that is to come, can marriage be explained as ascribed to an institution product of a classist society?
The CPP has promulgated a Code on Family Relations for Party members and the masses. When a Party member intends to court someone, he or she must inform his or her Party branch. If the other party in the courtship is not a Party member, efforts are exerted to develop him or her at least a Party candidate-member before the marriage is approved and realized so that the couple will be helpful to each other in revolutionary work. The couple are required to remould themselves and develop as proletarian revolutionaries.
There is the assumption of romantic or sexual attraction between the parties in the courtship but the relations must be developed and raised to the level of proletarian class love and revolutionary partnership. Marriage among Party members is monogamous. And there is a recourse to divorce if incompatibility, infidelity or political betrayal by the offending party is proven. Care of the children if any is taken into account.
Among the masses in the guerrilla fronts, the most responsible official of the people’s democratic government, the CPP, NPA or any of the mass organizations concerned can approve the marriage and be the officiating officer. But the partners may also get married upon the approval of their religious organization of choice. They may step out of the guerrilla front to hold the marriage ceremony officiated by an official of the reactionary government or religious organization, as a matter of social custom, a matter of united font policy and a matter of letting as many relatives and friends as possible of the couple to attend the marriage ceremony.
All couples, whether they belong to the CPP or not , are required to follow the policies, laws and regulations that govern family relations and all matters pertaining to good social relations for the benefit of the community. Good social relations involve respect for fundamental freedoms and democratic rights and cooperation to realize social, economic, political and cultural reforms for attaining social justice and better conditions of life.
In 2016, Duterte’s election victory was welcomed as an opportunity to relaunch the peace negotiations and as a president who could be progressive against US imperialism. How do you assess those positions? Were they correct?
Duterte had a long record of being a bureaucrat capitalist and an unreliable and unstable ally of the NDFP in Southern Mindanao in a number of struggles against the common enemies, including the reactionary military and other bureaucrat capitalists. One more point: he was a former student of mine in political science and became a member of the Kabataang Makabayan.
When he became presidential candidate, he offered to form a coalition government with the NDFP if elected and unconditionally to amnesty and release all political prisoners even before the start of the peace negotiations. Still the electoral parties of the legal democratic movement, the Makabayan Bloc, did not support him but Grace Poe. Even then, Duterte offered peace negotiations when he became president.
He did not issue any general amnesty for all political prisoners but offered to appoint to his cabinet four communists to entrap the CPP in the position of capitulation. But I told him publicly to appoint people on their individual merits because there was yet no peace agreement. Instead of amnesty for all political prisoners, only 19 of them were released and he tried to obtain indefinite protracted ceasefire in exchange. We rebuffed him. Thus, the peace negotiations practically died in the water in April 2017 although there were actions and statements from both sides manifesting both break down of the peace negotiations and attempts to revive the peace negotiations.
In undertaking peace negotiations, the CPP and NDFP have to be guided united front policy and tactics. They could not just dismiss the Duterte’s offer peace negotiations without exposing him first as being actually hostile to peace negotiations. To reject outright Duterte’s offer of peace negotiations would have made the CPP and NDFP appear as the bellicose party and they would thus be offending the broad range of peace advocates and millions of people.
There is a clear trend to identify Duterte’s government and Marcos’ dictatorship. It is explicit the former is undertaking a repressive policy against the Filipino people which might be similar to Marcos’ rule. How may this strategy be, when addressed by the Party, advantageous for the revolutionary movement taking into account the experience of the so-called “EDSA Revolution”? What can the revolutionary movement expect from an eventual fall of Duterte?
As you observe, it is positive or beneficial for the revolutionary movement to stress the similarity of the Marcos and Duterte regimes for taking a repressive policy against the Filipino people. Indeed, they are similar in engagin in the open rule of terror. Duterte has signed into law his state terrorism law in the name of anti-terrorism. And he openly idolizes Marcos and emulates him in butchery and plunder.
If Duterte were to fall before or soon after 2022, it will be because of gigantic mass actions and the consequent withdrawal of support from him by the pro-US reactionary military officers. These pro-US military officers will still be able to transfer power to the Vice President or the opposition presidential candidate in 2022 in a way similar to the instalment of Cory Aquino as president in 1986. The legal forces of the national democratic movement have the capacity to mobilize people for gigantic mass actions. But the NPA does not yet have enough armed strength to seize power in Manila.
In the meantime, it is best for the NPA to accumulate armed strength in the countryside and help the people’s government to strengthen itself there. All efforts are exerted to strengthen the worker-peasant alliance, win over the middle social strata and take advantage of the splits among the reactionaries. The best thing that can happen by way of taking advantage of the splits among the reactionaries is when they fight each other violently. But that is not yet going to happen soon.
What is the current situation in Philippines after the pandemic? How has been this situation managed by the Filipino Revolutionary Movement and which work or task has been set with regard to the Filipino People?
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis of the ruling system had become worse than ever before. Since the pandemic lockdowns, Duterte has used his emergency powers to apply more repressive measures against the people and steal the public money promised to support the medical fight against the pandemic and to provide economic assistance to the people who have been deprived of their jobs and other means of livelihood. The people are hungry and exceedingly angry against the Duterte regime.
The legal forces of the national democratic movement are using the social media and webinars to take up issues against the regime and encourage the arousal, organization and mobilization of the people in all possible ways despite the lockdowns implemented by the military and police.
In the countryside, the revolutionary forces have more freedom of action because of lessened number of troops as a result of their preoccupation with enforcing the lockdowns. But in a number of areas in the countryside, the military are engaged in so-called focused military operations. But the space is wide in the countryside for maneuver by the NPA for the purpose of evasion, defense or offense.
Amid a global pandemic, toward which direction does Duterte’s bourgeois foreign policy point to? Is it still favourable towards the USA or do you think it is shifting in favour of China?
Duterte has always remained loyal to US imperialism. He has retained all treaties, agreements and arrangements that make the US still dominant over the Philippine economy, politics, culture and the military. And the big deal between the US and Duterte is for the latter to eliminate the armed revolution and give the US unlimited ownership of land, natural resources, public utilities and all businesses.
The big deal between the Duterte and China is for the latter to deliver the promised high interest loans amounting to USD 24 billion for overpriced infrastructure projects. But China has been slow on fulfilling its promise because it wants Duterte first to surrender in an outright and flagrant manner Philippine sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea. Duterte is getting more Chinese money from the Chinese criminal triads smuggling in illegal drugs and operating casinos in the Philippines.
Serving two imperialist powers that are now conflicting can become a big problem for Duterte. He has allowed China to build and militarize seven artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea, to own 40 percent of the national power grid and worst of all to have China Telcom erect cell towers in military camps and assist the military and police in improving their communications system. At the same time, the US maintains personnel and facilities in these military camps under the Visiting Forces Agreement and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
What is the position adopted by the CPP as to the existing rivalry between China and the USA, currently materialised by a trade war?
The CPP condemns the US and China as imperialist powers because of their respective violations of Philippine national sovereignty. The US and China were the two main partners in the propagation of the neoliberal policy in the last four decades. But now they are increasingly in conflict with each other because the US policy makers have come to the conclusion that China has taken advantage of its two-tiered economy (state capitalism and private capitalism) to achieve strategic economic and military goals, has manipulated trade and currency policies to gain undue advantage, has used its export surplus and foreign exchange reserves to export capital and take over markets and has stolen US technology from US subsidiaries in China and research laboratories in the US.
The US government has to blame China in order mislead the American public about the crisis of overproduction in the world capitalist system, to obfuscate the fact that the US government had committed the folly of overspending for US military forces abroad and for wars of aggression and making concessions to China such as outsourcing manufacturing to it (to avail of cheaper Chinese labor at the expense of employment in the US), increasing US investments in China after the mass uprisings of 1989 in scores of Chinese cities and allowing China to enjoy large trade surpluses and to undertake ambitious projects like the Belt and Road Initiative.
The crisis of overproduction in the world capitalist system has become so bad that the inter-imperialist contradictions are worsening and the service sector and public debt bubbles are already in the process of implosion. The inter-imperialist contradictions of the US and China have taken center stage because they are now the biggest economies and the US finds convenient as well as necessary to oppose China as its chief economic rival capable of reproducing and rebranding products that used to carry US brands and as its main political rival with hightech military weapons.
Given the current situation characterised by an increase of global tensions and struggle among imperialist powers, how do you assess the current international situation? Is there any country which might bolster the Philippine Revolution? What is your opinion about countries such as Cuba, North Korea, or Venezuela?
Neoliberalism is unravelling. It has served to aggravate the crisis of overproduction. The inter-imperialist contradictions are intensifying. The US and China are now cutting each other down. We can expect that the imperialist powers become more engrossed with their own internal problems even as they are at the same time entangled in inter-imperialist contradictions and they overextend themselves in so many other countries in acts of aggression.
The worsening crisis of the word capitalist system is generating conditions favorable to the Philippine revolution. Being in an archipelago, the Filipino people have to be self-reliant in waging revolutionary struggle. In their history, they were able to defeat Spanish colonialism and were the very Asian people to defeat a Western power and then they were able to give a good fight against the rising imperialist power of the US from 1899 onwards.
I admire the anti-imperialist forces and peoples of Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and in other countries for standing up against US imperialism and waging struggles against it and its lackeys. Their just struggles serve to support the Philippine revolution. In turn, the Philippine revolution supports their own struggles.
Good if the US gets tied down in its own home ground and in many other countries so that it has less force to focus on the Philippines. It is also good if any revolutionary force in another country can extend moral support and concrete assistance to help the Filipino people in their revolutionary struggle. But it is best that the Filipino people rely on themselves and not to become dependent on foreign assistance even when it materializes.
The ongoing people’s democratic revolution in the Philippines has proven that it can grow in strength and advance even as the the big socialist countries are gone and no foreign country of whatever kind has extended any kind of assistance for the armed revolution. The Filipino people are confident that they will be making greater strides on their own as the crisis of the world capitalist system worsens and the imperialist powers and the local reactionary classes find themselves in a worse situation than ever before.
In one of your documents, “On the question of People’s War in Industrial Capitalist countries”, you deny any chance of waging a People’s War in an imperialist centre. Can you elaborate on this? What should be the role played by revolutionaries in these countries? How can the revolutionary proletariat get constituted as ruling class if it is not by the way of the tenets of the People’s War?
To be precise, I have stated that the protracted people’s war that is possible and viable in a semi-colonial and semifeudal society like pre-1949 China and current India and Philippines cannot be universally doable in any imperialist country at any time. Under conditions of direct inter-imperialist war like World War II, without the use of nuclear weapons, it was still possible to do partisan or guerrilla warfare for a number of years in both the urban and rural areas of Western Europe.
Right now, the farm population in the imperialist countries has become quite small. In both the US and Norway where a few infantile Maoists are blabbering about carrying out a protracted people’s war, the farm population is around two per cent of the national population and consists of both monopoly farm capitalists and rich farmers, using a great deal of mechanization, unlike the traditional landlords of China exploiting a great mass of poor and middle peasants using primitive tools of agriculture.
Mao’s strategic line of encircling the cities from the countryside in protracted people’s war works in countries where the peasants are the majority of the national population and the semi-feudal economy is in chronic crisis. Mao himself said that protracted people’s war, which could be done in China, cannot be done in any imperialist country with a highly unified and centralized economy and system of communications and with a paucity of poor and middle peasants.
Let the infantile Maoists start armed struggle now in the countryside of the US or Norway. They will be wiped out in less than 30 minutes by SWAT teams of the local police. Until now, no group advocating protracted people’s war has started it in any imperialist country. Small conspiratorial armed groups with no wide mass base among the workers or in an oppressed national community can go far within an imperialist country, as soon as the shooting starts.
There should be no confusion between Mao’s practice of protracted people’s war in semicolonial and semifeudal China as a particular form of warfare and the general Marxist concept of the proletariat overthrowing the bourgeois state by armed force as taught since a long time ago by the Communist Manifesto. Especially when a group calls itself Maoist, it should understand why protracted peoples war was possible in China and why since then we have not seen such type of warfare occurring and succeeding in the imperialist countries.
Revolutionaries in imperialist countries can propagate the line in the Communist Manifesto, Civil War in France and in Lenin’s State and Revolution for the proletariat to establish its class dictatorship by overthrowing the bourgeois state. Towards that goal, the communists can develop a strong working class movement through effective ideological, political and organizational work attuned to the worsening crisis of the capitalist system and prepared to fight the desperate effort of the monopoly bourgeoisie to use fascism against the working class.
It is easily conceivable, based on historical experience and current circumstances, that politico-military preparations can be made for the overthrow of the monopoly bourgeoisie, such as exercises in mobilizing the people for mass protests and blockades against the class enemy, the formation and training of self-defense units in trade unions and other mass organizations as well as in communities, Bolshevik-style work within the imperialist army for future mass defections of the troops to the revolutionary side, discreet accumulation of weapons in the hands of the revolutionaries, and so on and forth.
Has the CPP ever intended to reconstitute the Communist International? What do you think of the International Party and its role? Formerly, within the Maoist movement itself, there have been some attempts, where the Revolutionary International Movement can be highlighted. What is your opinion on this matter?
I do not speak for the CPP in this interview. And I am not aware of any intention of the CPP to reconstitute the Communist International. But I think that it makes more sense for the CPP to do its best in leading the Philippine revolution for the time being in order to make significant advances and thus make a significant contribution to the worldwide anti-imperialist struggle and to the resurgence of the world proletarian revolution.
Those communist parties with more resources and with more political space can try to bring together communist delegations from various countries for conferences or seminars. But I do not think that it is wise and workable for any party or group of parties to constitute any international party that puts various CPs under the principle of democratic centralism as the RIM tried to do. RIM got into deep trouble over issues like Gonzalo’s reported desire for peace negotiations and then Avakian’s new synthesis.
Since the dissolution of the Third International in 1943 due to the conditions of World War II, the concept of an international communist party treating communist parties of various countries as national sections has become outmoded. The principle and practice have been for communist parties of various countries to be equal and independent and respect each other as such, whether they are in power or not or whether they are big or small. They are responsible for the application of Marxism-Leninism in their respective countries, while they are bound by the spirit and principle of proletarian internationalism.
How can the Philippine Revolutionary Movement contribute to the International Communist Movement? Is the Philippine Revolutionary Movement the current ideological vanguard within the International Communist Movement?
At the moment, the CPP can make a significant contribution to the international communist movement by leading the Philippine revolution and in the process by growing in strength and making advances in the struggle. When it wins the Philippine revolution, then it shall have the resources and political space to host international conferences or seminars in the Philippines. What the CPP can do now is to share its revolutionary experience and views on domestic and international issues with other communist parties through publications, conferences and seminars.
In the meantime, the International Department of the CPP can facilitate the participation of CPP delegations in international anti-imperialist and conferences and seminars. The CPP is convinced that it takes the correct position on national and international events and issue. But I do not think that the CPP is inclined to proclaim itself immodestly as the ideological vanguard of the International Communist Movement. That is best proven by revolutionary practice rather than by any self-proclamation.