Philippines: critique of Filemon "Ka Popoy" Lagman

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The text that we are publishing below was written by the ICC's section in India, in the context of an ongoing discussion with comrades in the Philippines who have begun to orient their activity towards the defence of the internationalist principles of the Communist Left. During the discussions, the comrades asked us to undertake a theoretical critique of the positions of Filemon "Ka Popoy" Lagman, one of the leading founders of the Partido ng Mangagawang Pilipino (PMP - Filipino Workers' Party), which is one of the main left-wing formations in the Philippines. This party was originally founded in January 1999 as a split from the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines - an organisation which reproduces all the Stalinist and chauvinist practice of its Chinese "big brother", including a policy of bloody guerrilla warfare in the countryside and terrorist attacks in the cities, and a grotesque personality cult centred on its leader-in-exile, Joma Sison. Lagman himself was assassinated in 2001 - quite possibly by the CPP.[1]

The basis of the split with the CPP was Lagman's rejection of the typically Maoist reliance on the peasantry as an armed revolutionary force, in favour of building up a "proletarian" party which would undertake the revolution... in the Philippines. In particular, it is on the basis of Lagman's ideas that the PMP defends the idea of the necessity of a "bourgeois democratic revolution" in the Philippines, an idea which in effect justifies all kinds of electoral and other alliances with what is known as the "elite opposition" (in other words, the openly bourgeois political parties and military opposition movements such as the so-called "military rebels").

The critique of Lagman's writings, which claim to apply "Leninist" theory to the situation of the working class in the Philippines, thus constituted a major hurdle which the comrades felt they had to overcome in abandoning the national, and therefore fundamentally nationalist, outlook of the PMP.

The Philippines: part of an emerging class struggle

There can be no doubt about the importance of the Philippines - a country of 80 million inhabitants (not to mention the far-flung diaspora of Filipino emigrant workers), which includes some of South-East Asia's major industrial zones (around Manila and Cebu in particular) - for the development of the class struggle in Asia, and hence the world. The communist left is still - we are all too well aware - a small and fragile force when we compare it with the immensity of the tasks which we confront. Nonetheless, the emergence of a new internationalist movement in the Philippines, and a growing interest there for the principles of the communist left, together with the recent conference of the marxist left in Korea, are the expression of a profound development in the class struggle: a development which is marked above all by the slow emergence of a process of reflection within the political minorities of the working class - a process of reflection which will be a critical factor, we are convinced, in the more massive struggles which must answer the growing barbarity and pauperisation of a decomposing capitalist society.

As in Korea, one of the most striking features of the emergence of an internationalist milieu in the Philippines is that it has appeared in a country hitherto completely dominated by the ideologies of Maoism or "Leninism". As we wrote in our presentation to the conference in Korea on "revolutionary strategy": "In part, this development of new contacts is thanks to the Internet, but only in part (...) all these comrades share the fundamental principle which has always been the touchstone of the workers' movement: internationalism. They also share two of the most fundamental legacies of the Italian Left: a conviction that the working class is international or that it is nothing, that international contacts are therefore of fundamental importance, and that only through an open and fraternal debate can we prepare the conditions for the future formation of the world communist party, the new International without which the working class will not be able to ‘storm the heavens', overthrow this decadent and barbaric capitalist society and create the new, world wide human community".

This movement is a striking confirmation, in practice, of one of the ICC's founding principles: that in capitalism's decadent phase, there are no "national programmes", there is only one programme possible for workers everywhere - the world wide communist revolution.

A summary of Filemon Lagman's positions and his rejection of the CPP's Maoism

1. On identification of mode of production in general, Philippines in particular:

Lagman gave a very strong effort to counter meaningless theory of Sison the boss of CP of Philippines, the latter stating the particular socio-economic position of Philippines as ‘semi-feudal' and ‘semi colonial'. Lagman wanted to establish that in Philippine what prevails is essentially capitalist mode of production even if there are vestiges of feudalism. He has rejected the theory of Philippine being still dominated by feudalism.

But at the same time quoting Lenin, he has asserted that there is a transition phase in every society, as no hitherto existing production system is replaced by the new one overnight. Thus in this sense only, he has emphasized that Philippine belongs to semi-feudalism owing to her feudal remnants : "present-day Philippine society which is essentially bourgeois and capitalistic in character, and in the context of present-day world capitalist system dominated by imperialism, is what should properly be called "semi-feudalism"".

However, more importantly, he gives the importance not on the ‘transition' but on the question of transformation of the mode of production towards the new: "More specifically, the imperative is to determine which of the two systems is eliminating the other under the influence of the whole course of economic evolution. The task is not just to merely declare it a transitional period for it is something obvious and apparent, static and meaningless, but to understand its laws of development and its inevitable evolution. Marx, Engels and Lenin witnessed these transitional periods of history. But never with false pride did they simply announce that the world is in transition. They declared outright how it would transform." Thus it seems to us that Lagman was of the view that Philippine society is undergoing a process of transformation from feudalism to capitalism where the dominant aspect is utterly capitalist in nature. But for him in Philippines, capitalism is not decadent.

In fact, Sison's semi-feudalism, according to Lagman, is based on the consideration that Philippines is basically feudal with capitalism in urban industrial centers whereas Lagman's ‘semi-feudalism' is based on the concept of capitalism in Philippines being the dominant mode of production with some feudal remnants. So for Lagman focus for class struggle is on urban and rural proletariat while for Sison the same is on ‘peasant masses'.

He opposed Sison as the latter wants to say that semi-feudalism itself is a mode of production which is nothing but a stupidity and absurdity.

Sison often used ‘imperialism' of USA to establish the semi-colonial and semi-feudal character of Philippines, which Lagman negated with several arguments; he asserted that "Sison's anti-imperialism is basically bourgeois-democratic, patriotism and nationalism, driven by self-determinism and the desire for political democracy."

In the course of his analyses of ‘the prevailing mode of production' in Philippines, he used several data starting from the time of Marx and finally put forward the position of Lenin as follows: "The point is, according to Lenin: "Why judge the ‘mission of capitalism' by the number of factory workers, when the ‘mission' is fulfilled by the development of capitalism and the socialization of labor in general, by the development of a proletariat in general, in relation to which the factory workers play the role only of front-rankers, the vanguard. There is of course, no doubt that the revolutionary movement of the proletariat depends on the number of these workers, on their concentration, on the degree of their development, etc.; but all these does not give us the slightest right to equate the ‘unifying significance' of capitalism with the number of factory workers. To do so would be to narrow down Marx's idea impossibly.""

Thus Lagman focused on the proletariat as the determining force in revolutionary struggles in Philippines in spite of their relative numerical position in society.

He has also drawn attention to the assertion of Lenin that, "The socialization of labor by capitalist production does not at all consist in people working under one roof (that is only a small part of the process), but in the concentration of capital being accompanied by the specialization of social labor, by a decrease in the number of capitalists in each given branch of industry and an increase in the number of separate branches of industry - in many separate production processes being merged into one social production process." (This is actually from an 1894 text: What the "Friends of the People" Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats).

Considering the nature of the agricultural sector, he says that "The peasant produces not for him but for the market and has become totally dependent on the market. The industrial centers provide the means of production and the means of consumption of the agricultural sector while the latter provides the raw materials needed by industry and the agricultural consumable products needed by the towns and urban areas.

"The development of the social division of labor and the supremacy of commodity economy in the entire society inevitably leads to our second point - the growth of the urban, industrial population at the expense of the rural, agricultural population."

2. On the question of nature of revolution in Philippines

Thus finally, Lagman comes to the conclusion that Philippines is a semi-feudal and semi-colonial state with capitalist mode of production in both agricultural and industrial sector, in both urban and rural part of the state; but owing to the vestiges of feudalism, it has yet to wipe out feudal remnants in a revolutionary manner for capitalist development for the aim of communist revolution. There is no qualitative difference with the theory of the CPP boss Sison; rather Lagman has strengthened the same belief of ‘Democratic Revolution' as a step towards final socialist revolution. Lagman said: "We participate and strive to assume the leading role in the bourgeois-democratic revolution because the proletariat needs political democracy, because the proletariat needs social progress, even bourgeois progress, for it to develop as a class and create the conditions for socialist struggle".

For Lagman, unlike Sison who focused on the rural peasant mass as the revolutionary force, it is absolutely necessary to identify the real revolutionary force of the day, the proletariat as the only force under the leadership of which the bourgeois democratic revolution should be performed. Lagman has made serious efforts to show that the class analyses of Maoist type in Philippine is obsolete and revolutionaries need to understand that in the rural agricultural sector the production relation is essentially bourgeois even if it does not fit with the classical characteristics of capitalism. Lagman, first of all pointed out that "In Sison's class analysis, he differentiates the peasantry into rich, middle and poor peasants, and even includes them in the basic categories of rural bourgeoisie, rural petty bourgeoisie and semi-proletariat, respectively. But he does not explain the socio-economic phenomenon of the differentiation of the peasantry, its inherent connection with the socio-economic evolution of society, and its significance and direction of development in the transition and transformation of the mode of production."

For Lagman, Sison actually copied Mao on class analyses because: "he did not deal with this question as the historical disintegration of the peasantry as a class but as "simple differentiation", not its split and break-up as a class as both a basis and a consequence of a developing new mode of production but simply as the emergence of "property inequality" but still under the old mode of feudal production".

Lagman continued that the rural bourgeoisie cannot seem to take-off from the simple reproduction of capital "due not only to the vestiges of feudalism in the countryside but also to monopoly capitalism which stunts the growth of national capitalism in the Philippines. But the failure of the rural bourgeoisie to decisively accumulate capital in a continuing way does not mean that they are still within the bounds of a feudal mode or a pre-capitalist stage of development just as it is ridiculous to conclude that the Philippines is still pre-capitalist or non-capitalist, basically feudal in mode, because it cannot reach the more advanced stage of capitalism -- its national industrialization."

Lagman said "From the standpoint of the basic ideas of Marxism, only one thing stands higher than the interest of the proletariat -- and it is none other than the interests of social development, the interests of social progress. Scientific socialism represents the interests not only of the working class, but all social progress.

"The working class must actively participate and strive to take the leading role in the democratic revolution in the interest of its socialist struggle and in the interest of social progress as a whole. And not primarily because the proletariat stands for the interests of the peasantry as a class or stands for the interests of the people regardless of its class composition.

"The proletariat stands for the struggle of the peasants and the struggle of the whole people insofar as it corresponds to the interest of its socialist class struggle and to social progress as a whole. Support for the democratic demands of the peasantry that serve social progress and the class struggle certainly does not mean support of the petty bourgeoisie just as support for liberal demands does not mean support of the national bourgeoisie.

"This is basic, a most fundamental question for a Marxist-Leninist who knows his theory of class struggle. Now, how can the Filipino working class correctly understand this "people's democratic revolution" when, instead of presenting it from the strict class view of the proletariat, from its socialist perspective, it is presented exclusively from the national and democratic interest of the people? Is the working class supposed to participate and take a leading role in such a revolution, and put aside its own class struggle, because it understands the democratic and national interest of the people?

(...) The class conscious Filipino proletariat will be a vanguard fighter for freedom and democracy, not primarily because of a deep sense of patriotism and democratism (of which they have plenty) but mainly because only through political liberty can its class and its class struggle develop to the full and advance more freely towards socialism."

In sum, contrary to two step theory, Lagman's concept of proletarian revolution is one of ‘continuous' revolution, begun from democratic revolution and will be continued unceasingly until socialist revolution is accomplished. For him this stands against the Mao ‘thought' and fully in line with ‘Marxism-Leninism'.

3. On Tactics of revolution:

Third point of his attention was to attack the tactics of democratic revolution as CPP boss thinks. Here in brief, Lagman believes that:

a) Theory of ‘protracted war' as put forward by Mao only at certain stage of development of class struggle in China, is not compatible in Philippine;

b) Lenin said "the choice of method depends on a future we cannot precisely determine", while for Sison, "there is only one road, and it is the path of armed struggle". Thus Lagman said that it is only the revolutionary situation which can affirm the means of struggle and how to wage it. He concluded "In short, it is a dynamic, creative process following closely the continuing alignment and antagonism of class forces in society, its concrete and exact forms and means of struggle forged and "manufactured" by the masses themselves in the process of their revolutionary awakening, and not only by their conscious, vanguard elements in their plenary meetings."

Lagman put the thing as "For Sison, it is the armed struggle that makes a revolution, it is the revolution. But for Lenin, it is the revolution that leads to armed struggle, the class struggle developing to its sharpest form."

c) By shifting attention from the working class to the peasant mass, the Party abandons the road of class struggle and the question of leadership of the proletariat and CPP. For Lagman, day to day struggle of oppressed mass for their demands culminates ultimately into revolutionary upsurge; in first place we have to organize day to day class struggles with the political aim of their development into ‘continuous revolution' with the leading and only revolutionary force, the proletariat as the central axis.

d) Party cannot substitute itself for the whole working class and peasantry, though it must be the vanguard of the bourgeois demo revolution because this revolution is essentially led for the purpose of attaining the political and economical conditions for the socialist revolution.

e) The working class should constitute its ‘independent' class organ to fight for its historical mission, in Philippines, mission being first of all the bourgeois democratic revolution. Lagman actually wanted to relate the day to day struggle of the working class with the mission of demo revolution. Lagman said: "What should be the essence of the program of a proletarian revolutionary party?

It can not have any other essence but to organize the class struggle of the proletariat and to lead this struggle, the ultimate aim of which is the conquest of political power by the proletariat and the establishment of a socialist society. This class struggle of the proletariat, this emancipation of the workers must be the act of the working class itself."

On the question of Party programme, he also believed in minimum and maximum programme. But unlike CPP which, according to Lagman, reduced the question of ousting capitalism to the question of people's power through the democratic revolution and thus made the maximum programme merely a phrase, the main focus should be opposite: it is the maximum programme which is the motor force of minimum program.

Our assessment of Lagman's positions

There are several arguments and dissections of the position of CPP made by Lagman to put forward his own position. We have not taken all the reflections in detail because this text will remain a summary no more; on the contrary, we have only tried to pick up the most essential elements which help us have a clear idea of the essence of the positions of Lagman.

Here we have a man who seems to be living in the 19th century.

After going through his writings, we have felt that:

1. Lagman seems to have the earnest desire to understand the problem of Philippines from a Marxist framework; in fact, for him, the first objection towards Sison, the head of CPP, was the lack of coherence and precision in Sison's theoretical position. Lagman tried to find a coherent framework which will enable the working class of Philippines to understand their task today on the basis of the particular socio-economic and political situation of Philippines and general imperialist condition of the world. Though he has shown intellectual capacity in trying to identify the actual mode of production of Philippines which is according to him capitalist in nature, he has failed to interrelate the particular state of development of capitalism in Philippines as an integrated part of global historical condition of capitalism; and Lagman is obsessed with imperialism of US and not concerned with imperialism in general.

2. For Lagman, the basic framework is completely localized within the horizon of the Filipino archipelago, adhering implicitly to the counter-revolutionary ideologies of ‘Socialism in one country', and most significantly his framework is deprived of any link with the real evolution of the dynamics of world capitalism on the one hand and on the other hand the real form, content and means of class struggle of the working class today. He seems to be little bothered about the most fundamental question of evolution of capitalism as a global phenomenon and how this determines evolution of capitalism in Philippines also. Rather it follows from his assertions that in the era of imperialism (which we would describe as the era of decadence of global capitalism, since it is important to distinguish between the period at the end of the 19th century which saw the great rush of the imperialist powers to seize the last remaining unoccupied territories, and the period opened up by World War I when the imperialist powers could only expand at the expense of their rivals - which marked capitalism's entry into decadence) it is still possible for capitalism to be progressive in a region like the Philippines although at the same time he discovers the cause of handicapped conditions of capitalist development in Philippines in the imposition of US imperialism and the remnants of feudalism. To him unhindered capitalist progress is simply dependent on the political act of democratic revolution led by the proletariat irrespective of the material conditions of global capitalism.

3. Lagman has failed to grasp the coherent Marxist framework for understanding the global historical conditions of capitalism and class struggle, the nature and means of struggle, the role of communist organisation etc and thus he has been unable to situate himself in the indispensable international framework. Proletarian revolution is an international phenomenon and has to be understood on the basis of a single, coherent global framework from which alone we can get the necessary explanations, strategy and tactics for successfully carrying out that revolution and the political positions to defend at a particular historical period and conditions in any part of the world today. Otherwise the proletarian cause will not at all be served in any way but on the contrary will be harmed in every way even if we consider that Lagman tried his best with proletarian spirit and sincerity to resolve the problems of proletarian revolution on the basis of his attempt to understand the Marxist framework. He seems to be light years away from the internationalist position which must be the most important constituent of the foundation of the proletarian political organization today as was correctly emphasized by Lenin in his famous April Theses.

4. He has often quoted from Marx, Engels and Lenin but pays little attention to the real context of those assertions, taking them as unconditional truth independent of the historical phase of capitalism and class struggle - and this despite the fact that he asserts that nothing is to be taken as Bible. He has also paid little heed to the process of further deepening of the vanguard revolutionaries themselves.

5. Communist Party of Philippines is constituted in 1930 and since birth it has been firmly situated in the Stalinist and Maoist counter-revolutionary current which swept away the masses of the working class all over the world as the consequence of the historic defeat of the international wave of proletarian revolutionary struggles. In spite of profound revolutionary urge, spirit and commitment to socialism Lagman has also fallen victim of this. For him also, there exists some entity like Leninism which is, as we know, a term that was coined by Stalin and has been effectively used as the powerful political ideological weapon of counterrevolution. The position of democratic revolution under the leadership of proletariat, the question of national liberation and self-determination of nations follows from this political ideological basis. From Stalin and Mao he has inherited the theory of united front and ‘people's war'.

6. So far as the question of class struggle is concerned, the theory of Lagman will have the most harmful impact on the process of coming to consciousness as he calls on the working class to struggle for political democracy in the phase of decadent capitalism. He has the false expectation that establishment of a new democratic set up (most probably like the Mao brand of new democracy in China in essence) will be helpful for the proletariat in the way of organizing and preparing itself for the proletarian revolution. Thus there is little fundamental difference between the political theoretical positions of Sison and those of Lagman though Lagman has directed the spearhead of his political theoretical critique against Sison. Thus the whole critique and debate seems to be in the same counterrevolutionary terrain as the so called "great debate" during the 1950s and early 1960s between the Russian line and the Chinese line in the Communist Parties in various parts of the world all of whom had definitively gone over to the camp of counterrevolution long ago.

7. Though Lagman defends the position that the party will not substitute itself for the whole class, he nonetheless believes that the role of party will be to organize the working class and other exploited strata for class struggle even in this historical period of capitalism and class struggle. According to him there should still be permanent mass front organizations of a communist party. He has no idea about the material conditions of class struggle in which Communist party comes into being and the material conditions in which this ceases to exist as party. For him, the communist party will have to use the parliamentary apparatus, trade unions and in all this the working class will have to adhere to ‘independent' class character. But the concrete political theoretical aspects which are indispensable for determining the independent class character in this historical period, has not been dealt with by Lagman and thus this assertion of independence remains very vague, and in the actual practice of Lagman's PMP has ended up becoming completely meaningless.

8. The understanding of imperialism by Lagman leads him to the position of some developed capitalist countries being imperialist and other backward countries like Philippines being subjugated and exploited by the former in various ways. The Marxist conception of imperialism being the highest stage of global capitalism signifying the beginning of the phase of decadence of the same is not clear to him. It is not at all clear to him that each and every national fraction of capital in the well integrated global capitalist system can not but be inseparable part of the whole decadent system and thus imperialist. His unhistorical and thus incorrect understanding of imperialism leads him to very dangerous positions pushing the working class in the counter-revolutionary terrain whether he likes it or not. His position is not fundamentally different from the position of the all sundry leftists.

9. Lagman says that in Marxism "only one thing stands higher than the interest of the proletariat: the interest of social progress as a whole", and citing this logic he wants proletariat to fight for ‘democratic revolution'. The problem is, however, that in this epoch "the interest of the proletariat" cannot be separated from "the interest of social progress as a whole": on the contrary, social progress is today dependent on the victory of the international proletarian revolution.

As a whole the notion of the invariance of Marxism has firmly gripped him and this has kept him entrapped in the Stalinist, Maoist counterrevolutionary framework in spite of his declared aim of getting out of it and moving towards the proletarian revolutionary terrain. He seems to have further strengthened the purely leftist and thus counterrevolutionary positions of Sison with better political theoretical argumentation and justification in spite of his earnest desire to play an active role in the process of the weakening of the grip of counterrevolutionary ideology of Sison over the working class in Philippines. Thus wholly contrary to his political will, commitment and aim, in reality and essence he has turned out to be a better Sison, a better social democrat and consequently (we can not but assert in spite of our regards for his intellectual capacity, revolutionary zeal and passionate efforts for grasping the Marxist framework) his activities have only strengthened the forces of counterrevolution though he despised it wholeheartedly and sincerely worked for the victory of revolution.


ICC, 20/07/2006

[1] In the same year the PMP entered into discussions with two other splinter groups from the CPP, the "Socialist Party of the Philippines" and the "Partido Proletaryo Demokratiko", discussions which led to the merger of the three organisations in 2002. The name PMP was carried over in honour of Filemon Lagman whom many consider as one of the few who really fought for the formation of a real working class party.