Thursday, May 31, 2012

Is Truth The First Casualty Of War In Syria?

The Houla massacre was a disgusting crime, but who was responsible for it?
Footage of the Houla massacre's aftermath has sparked waves of revulsion around the world amongst those who have seen the footage. More than a hundred were killed at close range, with children comprising almost half of the victims. Body parts lay scattered about, skull bones were exposed - the cameras captured a scene of true horror. But look what the Syrian government are saying about the incident...

Referring to the activities of the "Free Syrian Army", Qasim Jamal Sleiman, head of the Assad regime's investigation team, told Syrian television that:
"The goal of the armed operation was to completely terminate the presence of the state in the area and to make it one that it is out of the control of the state."
Speaking of those killed at short range, Sleiman declared that:
"All of the martyrs are from peaceful families who refused to stand against the state and have never demonstrated or carried weapons against the state. They were in disagreement with the armed terrorist groups, which confirms that there was a goal and an interest to kill them."
"The place where the massacre was committed is an area where armed terrorist groups are present. The security forces did not enter the area before or after the massacre and the area is far from the checkpoints where the security forces are positioned."
Of course, there are plenty of reason to doubt Sleiman - as an Assad employee he is far from independent. But there is more reason to doubt the word of imperialist warmongers such as Hillary Clinton, who seized on the massacre in an attempt to raise the pressure on global rivals Russia and China.

Assad is commanding a counter-insurgency operation against forces equipped directly and indirectly by the United States of America. The US wants rid of Assad, because they know his Shia-dominated administration is the most powerful regional ally of Iran - which stands as a glittering oil-filled prize for the slavering western dogs of war. In these circumstances, how could it possibly benefit Assad to order the slaughter of children, knowing as must that pictures world be beamed across oceans within seconds, and become such profitable propaganda for American, British and French elites seeking regime change?

There is no doubt that Assad must be removed, for the sake of almost Syrians. But that task falls primarily to the Syrian working class, who could theoretically bring about his downfall without firing a single bullet, much as the Egyptian workers did with their strike wave against the hated tyrant Mubarak. The Libya experience demonstrates that positive change cannot come from the barrel of NATO cannons. And as I have previously stated, the push for war in Syria and Iran could create a conflagration with the potential to engulf the planet.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Many Thousands Defy Draconian New Laws As Quebec Struggle Rapidly Intensifies

Enormous numbers of students and allies are now opposing the government
The hugely militant student movement in the Canadian province of Quebec has been galvanised by a massive state clampdown, and the ruling class now fears this new 'contagion' will spread to the wider working class in neighbouring provinces, as well as the United States to the south. But as new negotiations begin between the government and student associations, the threat of another sell-out remains.

A month ago I reported on the student strike against tuition fee increases equivalent to just over a thousand UK pounds. Even then, the dispute had already rumbling for twelve weeks, and the elite was anxious to stop it with force. I described how:
"The Canadian ruling class senses that a student victory could prove a turning point in class struggle generally, and is determined to hold out. Montreal Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Michel Leblanc declared that Quebec's government "shouldn't give in or make any compromises". In the province's major daily La Presse, a former editor argued that students must be defeated so as "break" the "mold" of "attachment to the status quo…of acquired rights". The current editor was more explicit, spelling out elite fears that "If the Charest government were to follow the advice of the left and wets who, while in favour of the tuition fee hikes, tremble at the sight of a ‘crisis,’ there would no longer be the means to carry out any reform whatsoever in Quebec."
This was fascist talk, and it would soon be followed up by a totalitarian assault on democratic rights. This came when students overwhelmingly rejected a sell-out 'deal' negotiated by the students associations, under which the full increase would have been implemented, with only allowed association members to sit on a committee to find further "savings" - i.e. cuts. When students came out against this, the government suspended the academic year until the autumn, and steamrollered the now notorious Bill 78 through Quebec's National Assembly.

Under the terms of this police state law:
  • Students and their supporters are banned from picketing within 50 metres of university and college buildings
  • Teachers must go against their own collective decision, and make no allowances for striking students
  • Student associations and teachers' trade unions "must employ appropriate means to induce" members to obey the law, or face fines
  • Demonstrations of more than fifty people are illegal unless the police have been given at least eight hours' notice of the planned route, and the police reserve the right to make their own alterations to the route
'Casserole' protests are trending on Twitter and the streets
But students and their supporters immediately raised a middle finger to the law - quite literally, in the protest route map they handed in to cops as it came into effect. There have been demonstrations every night since, with hundreds of thousands from an ever wider range of people coming out in solidarity. Many participants bang pots and pans to rally others, in a conscious re-enactment of tactics first popularised by those resisting Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in Chile. In response, the authorities have arrested more than a thousand engaged in "illegal" demonstrations - but even this huge figure is still a tiny fraction of those taking part.

When 'representatives' from the student associations emerge from this latest round of talks with the government, we can be sure they will come back with another sell-out. After all on Monday, the spokesman from (supposedly the most militant organisation) CLASSE praised the province's premier with conciliatory words: "The presence of Mr Charest shows that the government recognizes the scale of the current crisis. It shows the government's sincere attitude towards the negotiation process." 

This is a distortion. No-one at the talks is there out of any 'sincerity'; each participant is seeking to advance their own individual interests. The crucial question now is how the students - plus the Quebecois and Canadian working class as a whole - will react to further repression once any new deal falls short of student requirements.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Interview With A Revolutionary Filipino Filmmaker (Part Four)

Receiving support from his former lead actor Lito Lapid in 1998
This is the concluding part of my interview with Mauro Gia Samonte. In part one he talked us through his introduction to working class politics as a young man. Part two took us on a journey into a political struggle charged with the constant threat of violence, and part three brought us up to date, with Mauro's analysis of the contemporary Philippines. But at the age of seventy, what ambitions remain?

What are your personal hopes for the future? 
Truly they are too personal indeed. To live long enough to see my darling granddaughter through to college. Gia, the child, is turning only seven this August. So that’s a whole lot of livin’ to do. And as you can glean from the conduct of my past lifetime, beneath every minute of strictly private living, there always is something happening that pushes on and on that most cherished dream we caught once upon a time in our youth and had not let go again since then. To the extent that the best service you can do to the proletariat is championing people’s causes and reaching out to like-minded guys like you the world over through the internet, still I’d continue feeling greatly fulfilled.

Another personal hope is the publication into a book of my novel Shoes of the Traveller, currently running in my blog The Traveller. If I get enough audience, especially in Europe and the US, I intend to make it into a film intended for international audience as well. If it turns out to be the last movie I’ll ever make, then I should be glad that I shall have left something worthwhile before going.

And what are your political hopes?
It is the same, then as now, that one single hope of seeing in my lifetime workers in the Philippines having a real good grab at political power. What worldly possessions I have, I have staked in this – the land, the house, my kids and my grandchildren, their future. Though I’ve got children talented enough to have gained fortune along bourgeois lines, I have not honed them on this, since it is a sin to be bourgeois.

The land I acquired with my earnings from movie making, I never got to be titled, since what’s the use titling a property which would be part of the communal domain eventually anyway. The 625-square-meter house I built on it would seem to be too big for my family’s domicile, but certainly not for the housing and conference requirements of the Party Central Committee, the Politburo and the General Command of the People’s Army.

Imagine how big a loss it has been for me when the Sison Reaffirm campaign brought about my isolation from the Party all for pushing what I thought and believed to be the correct proletarian revolutionary line. I had always stood by the dictum in the Communist Manifesto that the duty of every communist is to organize the proletariat into a class, overthrow bourgeois supremacy and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The Philippine proletariat had been already organized way back in the early 1900s when they took the frontlines in combating American aggression and in 1930 formed themselves into the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) under the leadership of  Crisanto Evangelista. When in line with the American strategy War Plan Orange the US abandoned the Philippines during World War II to focus on the European theatre, the PKP with its army, the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon (People’s Army Against Japan, acronym: HUK), took the brunt of battle against the Japanese invaders. When MacArthur made his famous return to the Philippines in 1945, the PKP was exercising sovereignty over the whole of Central Luzon and could be well on the way to liberating the rest of the country, since the Japanese were frantically retreating to the hinterlands.

The point in all this is that as far as organizing the Philippine proletariat into a class is concerned, it had been a done deal from the time of the American occupation, and what was next to be done according to the communist strategy is to overthrow bourgeois supremacy. This, too, had almost been done with the liberation of Central Luzon from the Japanese invaders, except that the Americans came and turned their guns on the PKP, thus aborting that overthrow.

At any rate, at issue when Sison pretended to the leadership of the proletarian revolutionary struggle beginning from the late sixties: What is “overthrow bourgeois supremacy”? The Sison line said it is a protracted people’s war at the end of which is the establishment of national democracy, whatever that meant.

I campaigned, albeit in my lonesome, that, the Philippine bourgeoisie having been well in place at political power since 1946, “overthrow bourgeois supremacy” means power grab in the existing bourgeois political order; it does not mean launching armed socialist revolution but rather a proletarian power grab of bourgeois political power; such was the power grab executed by the Bolsheviks when through the simple expedience of arresting the Kerensky cabinet, they seized the bourgeois political power in Russia, only after which did they make the socialist proclamation: “All power to the soviets!”

Fidel Castro was not fighting for socialism when he warred with the Batista dictatorship, he was fighting for the downfall of Batista, not for the crushing of bourgeois power. Only after he had overthrown Batista did Castro proclaim the establishment of a socialist regime in Cuba. Overthrowing bourgeois supremacy means grabbing bourgeois political power. Establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat comes relatively easy after that; in the case of the Bolsheviks and Castro, it had been almost just the formality of proclaiming it.

In the case of Sison, his was a muddle-headed way of revolting against the Marcos dictatorship which effected not really a call for his downfall but for the establishment, already, of socialism. It was fitting a square peg into a round hole; they don’t fit. Hence while the Castro revolt and that of the Bolsheviks took only months to achieve victory, the Sison uprising has been raging over the past four decades and is counting, living quite up to its name of being “protracted”.

No armed struggle has ever won against a non-autocratic bourgeois system. And even under bourgeois authoritarianism, bourgeois political power is grabbed by the proletariat from within, only after which may it be transformed into proletarian political power, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Therefore, in the final analysis, the bourgeois state is not overthrown in order to bring about the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat; only bourgeois supremacy is overthrown, with the new proletarian rule transforming the bourgeois state into the proletarian state.

With the bourgeois rule in the Philippines having been placed on the road to consolidation through the democratic elections of 1992, I finally conceded the restoration of the democratic rule of the bourgeoisie in the country, hence recognized the need to carry on the proletarian struggle within that bourgeois rule. That was what social conditions dictated, and inasmuch as nobody in the Sison national democratic movement would put any premium on this idea, I was pitiably alone when I put the theory into practice.

Spending what little earnings I had from making movies, I ran for mayor of Antipolo in 1995, intending to implement a program of government which I loved to call socialism in one municipality. I laid it out during the campaign that if this program, for being truly pro-people, would be adopted by the other municipalities in the province, then it would be like I were governor of the province; if adopted by all the provinces of the country, then it would be like I were president of the Philippines. Thus by turning one municipality socialist, you effect the establishment of a socialist Philippines.

Of course I never lost sight of the repressive character of the bourgeois state as inhered in laws, so that to my socialist programs, the bourgeois rule would react accordingly. That certainly is given, but the point is that after having tasted what good government really is, the people would object to a taking of that kind of government way from them. Once the powers that be do move to take away that government from the people, autocracy would be back in place and armed struggle would again be the rule of the day. With the big difference, that this time around the people would be very well informed by virtue of direct practice.

What I failed to consider in this political adventure are the imperatives of Philippine electoral process where elective posts, down from the lowliest barrio chairmen all the way up to majors, governors, congressmen, senators and the very President of the land, are up for grab by the highest bidders. Twice I ran for mayor, twice I lost. And my finances had been so depleted that I could no longer run for the third time. For sometime, I had been wont to call myself stupid for having ever attempted those political practice.

But was there any other way? How do you liberate the workers except by wielding political power, but how do you wield political power where the armed struggle had been rendered inutile? By engaging in the electoral process. There is nothing much we can do about the corruption of that process. It is inherent in the bourgeois system. The thing to do is, while living by that corruption for the time being, overcome it thereby putting it to good use for the proletariat. So now to your question, if I succeed in getting my book published and succeed in turning it into a movie and the movie makes good, I’ll use the money to give my electoral adventure one more try – and hope to win the next time around. Unless you’ve got better ideas. I’m listening.

Mauro blogs at KAMAO Punch, and tweets @mauro_gia.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Lessons To Be Learned From Vita Cortex Occupation Victory

Cheers! But tough times lie ahead for the sacked workers...
Jubilant ex-Vita Cortex foam packers finally left their factory last Thursday, bringing their marathon five month workplace occupation to an end. The occupiers declared victory when their former employer - entrepreneur Jack Ronan - finally coughed up an undisclosed sum as compensation for the redundancy he had announced before Christmas.

A fortnight ago, I reposted a celebratory excerpt from the campaign's blog, which lauded the new "Larkins and Connollys" amongst the ex-colleagues - now comrades - and their supporters both in the local community and throughout Ireland.

It is absolutely right that we should toast the Vita Cortex occupiers. Their relentless determination to succeed has won them a significant amount of money, precisely because they took a large measure of control over their own struggle on a non-hierarchical basis, and showed a willingness to take direct action. There can be no doubt that they wouldn't have got a penny had they simply vacated the factory, lobbied MPs, and held a rally here and there. Instead, they took control of one of Ronan's resources, and refused to cash in that bargaining chip until they extracted a ransom from the capitalist.

However, once the immediacy of the victory has worn off, the group will nevertheless have to confront a bleak future. Ronan is estimated to have paid each worker just three weeks of pay for every year in which he has extracted profit from their labour. Those with the longest service record have won more than a year's pay, but it is they who will face the hardest task finding work in a shrinking Irish economy.

According to the World Socialist Website, the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) brokered the deal precisely at the point "when discussions were taking place within the occupation about the need to broaden and expand the protest". This would have caused great alarm within the SIPTU bureaucracy, which has worked hand-in-glove with the government and employers to impose drastic cuts in Ireland over the past few years. When it came, the deal was well short of the occupation's original demands, but it was successful because SIPTU had used their small influence to isolate and wear down the occupiers over the last few months:
"SIPTU’s push to wind up the dispute was in keeping with its role from day one. Union officials combined rhetorical support with seeking at every point to isolate the struggle. When he visited the Cork factory during the first week of the occupation, SIPTU head Jack O’Connor claimed that he would mobilise workers nationally in defence of the laid-off Vita Cortex staff in the new year. But no action was ever taken, or even proposed, by the union. Instead, they directed the workers to focus their efforts on fruitless protests at the local offices of IBEC, the Irish employers’ organisation, as well as protest stunts at the home of Vita Cortex directors. The stated aim of this campaign was to exert moral pressure on the owner, Jack Ronan, to settle the dispute."
The story of Vita Cortex should be spread far and wide. An understanding of the occupation's strengths and weaknesses is vitally important for the planning and execution of future disputes in the UK, Ireland, and around the world.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ten Books Which Shaped My Politics

I'm stealing this idea from the Working Class Self Organisation and Chilli Sauce blogs. Yeah, it's self-indulgent in a way because I'm talking about myself, but you are interested in what I think, otherwise you wouldn't be here. I'm going to talk about them in the order I came across them, so you might be intrigued enough to check out a book you've never read, or you might just be fascinated to see my evolution chronicled before your very eyes.

1. Robert Tressell - The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
"The gloomy shadows enshrouding the streets, concealing for the time their grey and mournful air of poverty and hidden suffering, and the black masses of cloud gathering so menacingly in the tempestuous sky, seemed typical of the Nemesis which was overtaking the Capitalist System. That atrocious system which, having attained to the fullestmeasure of detestable injustice and cruelty, was now fast crumbling into ruin, inevitably doomed to be overwhelmed because it was all so wicked and abominable, inevitably doomed to sink under the blight and curse of senseless and unprofitable selfishness out of existence for ever, its memory universally execrated and abhorred."

I've written about this one before:

"In 1999, an elderly man gave his battered/well-loved copy to his sullen, somewhat detached grandson, who read it in his Wallasey bedroom. Suddenly everything fell into place, and there was no time to waste being sullen and detached when there was class war all around."

Here I am. No more needs to be said.

2. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels - Manifesto of the Communist Party
"The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image."

Number 2 immediately followed Number 1. I was eighteen and desperately hungry to understand the world. The Manifesto introduced me to the materialist conception of history, and once again, it was immediately obvious that this was some kind of uncommon 'common sense'. I was particularly struck by the apparently amazing prediction of the course that economic globalisation would take (written one hundred and fifty years in the past), which therefore explained why the then newish Labour government was disillusioning me in the fullest sense. If the 'race to the bottom' was inevitable, I had to dedicate my life to making the damn revolution come quicker.

3. George Orwell - Nineteen Eighty-Four
"It was curious to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same — everywhere, all over the world, hundreds of thousands of millions of people just like this, people ignorant of one another's existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same — people who had never learned to think but who were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world. If there was hope, it lay in the proles!"

Then I was on to all the Orwell. Animal Farm sure, Homage To Catalonia certainly, but this one just shook me to the core. I remember sitting on a bus reading this, and literally being scared stiff by the ideas within it. They seemed really appropriate for our era, with all the technological innovations just helping the powers that be to keep a eye on us more efficiently. But what hit me most was Orwellian language - a whole new lexicon with which to describe Bush and Blair as they pushed for war in Iraq.

4. John Steinbeck - The Grapes Of Wrath
"And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need."

My favourite novel of all time. An absolutely stunning piece of work. It took the Marx I'd read and made it poetry, all the while creating and developing amazing characters, and propelling them through a heartbreaking yet beautifully inspiring story. If you don't empathise with the Joads, you're either quite posh or are alienated from your people beyond all recognition.

5. Guy Debord - The Society Of The Spectacle
"Where the real world changes into simple images, the simple images become real beings and effective motivations of hypnotic behavior. The spectacle, as a tendency to make one see the world by means of various specialized mediations (it can no longer be grasped directly), naturally finds vision to be the privileged human sense which the sense of touch was for other epochs; the most abstract, the most mystifiable sense corresponds to the generalized abstraction of present-day society. But the spectacle is not identifiable with mere gazing, even combined with hearing. It is that which escapes the activity of men, that which escapes reconsideration and correction by their work. It is the opposite of dialogue. Wherever there is independent representation, the spectacle reconstitutes itself."

The first time, I found this impenetrable. The second time, I was like 'Oh yeah, I knew that was how capitalism reclaims acts of rebellion and turns them into acts of consumption'. Ironically, this kinda happened to Debord himself.

6. Peter Kropotkin - Mutual Aid: A Factor Of Evolution
"In the practice of mutual aid, which we can retrace to the earliest beginnings of evolution, we thus find the positive and undoubted origin of our ethical conceptions; and we can affirm that in the ethical progress of man, mutual support not mutual struggle-- has had the leading part. In its wide extension, even at the present time, we also see the best guarantee of a still loftier evolution of our race."

You see, it's not 'survival of the fittest', but 'survival of the best adapted to the environment', and in a very large number of cases that means 'survival of the best co-operators'. Heading off the 'intellectual challenge' of eugenicists before they really reared their ugly heads, Kropotkin makes the case that evolution favours working class revolution. And he does it extremely well.

7. Richard Dawkins - The Selfish Gene
"Be warned that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals cooperate generously and unselfishly towards a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature. Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have a chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do."

I was fascinated by the link between selfishness and solidarity after reading Kropotkin, so I read this. And shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit, it was another of those world-stopping moments. From then on my politics has been all about the overlapping of 'selfish' individual interests. In it's way, it is possibly the most radical book in the list, even though I'm sure the liberal Dawkins didn't mean it that way.

8. Emma Goldman - Living My Life
"America had declared war with Spain.... It did not require much political wisdom to see that America's concern was a matter of sugar and had nothing to do with humanitarian feelings. Of course there were plenty of credulous people, not only in the country at large, but even in liberal ranks, who believed in America's claim. I could not join them. I was sure that no one, be it individual or government, engaged in enslaving and exploiting at home, could have the integrity or the desire to free people in other lands."

If you only read one autobiography in your time, make it this one. 'Red Emma' charts her own political and social evolution in thousands of fascinating pages, taking in some of the key events of the late eighteen and early nineteen hundreds. That's a brief summary, but it should be all that's needed.

9. Karl Marx - The Civil War In France
"It was essentially a working class government, the product of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labour."

Though ostensibly it's about a series of events which took place in Paris over a couple of months in 1871, it is actually the nearest Marx got to explaining how he thought the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' would look. Clue: it's not Lenin, Trotsky or Stalin. As I began to think more about precisely how we could reach FULL COMMUNISM, this was a great way of clarifying certain things.

10. Paulo Freire - Pedagogy Of The Oppressed
"Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people--they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress."

Not sure what practical lessons I learned from this one, because I never fully accepted that knowledge or revolutionary ideology could be transmitted hierarchically. Also, I don't think I have quite processed it all yet. Still, you need to read it. There will be a test afterwards!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Interview With A Revolutionary Filipino Filmmaker (Part Three)

In part two of his interview, Philippine revolutionary and filmmaker Mauro Gia Samonte described his fascinating struggles of the 1970s and 80s in some detail. In today's instalment, he offers his perspective on the Philippine situation of today, and how it fits into the imperialist great power game between the United States and China.

What is your analysis of the current socio-political situation in the Philippines?
Mauro on the campaign trail in 1985
I see the Philippines much in the vortex of the American Pacific Century, a strategy for US economic and military conduct worldwide over the next 100 years. In this strategy, which has already been in place with the pullout of American forces from the Middle East, the United States increasingly strengthens its presence in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly the South China Sea over which China has been likewise increasing its assertiveness.

In the East Asian Summit in Indonesia at the close of 2011, US President Obama and China’s Wen Jiabao engaged in not so polite verbal tussle over the issue. To Jiabao’s insistence that the dispute over the Spratly Islands (claimed by China and Asian countries Vietnam, Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines, together with Taiwan) be settled unilaterally between individual claimants, Obama expressed his own intransigence, stating that although the United States is not a claimant to the Spratlys, it is, in his words, “a resident Pacific power, a maritime nation, a trading nation and… a guarantor of security in the Asia Pacific region.” The US Pacific Fleet Commander declared soon after that the situation in the region was “escalatory”; in this context, I see the beginnings of muscle-flexing by China in the launching in South China Sea of its first aircraft carrier middle of last year.

The US has been shoring up its defenses in Asia Pacific since then, strengthening ties with erstwhile adversary Vietnam, gaining docking rights for US navy ships in Singapore and basing rights for some 2,500 marines in Australia. On the minus side, the US had to bow to popular demand for the removal of some 5,000 US forces from Japan, some of which had to be deployed to Guam. Now if you study the map of the Asia Pacific region, you would realize that the Philippines lies in quite a strategic position. It is at the centre of a circular formation consisting of Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar [Burma] to the Northwest, Malaysia, Singapore to the West, Brunei and Indonesia to the Southwest, South and Southeast, Japan and Korea to the Northeast, Taiwan, Macau. Hong Kong and the rest of China to the North. To the East of the Philippines is the Philippine Sea and the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

Economically, the South China Sea is home to rich deposits of oil that could rival that in the Middle East. Add to this the fact that the South China Sea is venue for some three trillion dollars worth of commerce yearly, being the sea lane traversed by commercial vessels from all points in the world. No wonder that US attention has begun shifting to Asia Pacific, with the Syrian bloodbath serving the imperatives of diversionary tactics; Syria is the remaining Soviet missile launching site. One big problem for the US in its Pacific Century strategy is its inability at the moment to maximize use of the Philippines. Although the RP-US Mutual Defense Pact, concluded way back in the 50s, remains in force up to this day, US military bases - by a vote of the Philippine senate - were dismantled in 1991.

The US direly needs to re-establish those bases, which prior to their dismantlement were the largest US military installation outside of America – just the kind of set-up by which to contend with China in an ever-heightening tension in the Asia Pacific region. But given the restrictions in the Philippine Constitution, there appears no way for the US to put up those bases again – unless something is done in order to bring it about. The main stumbling blocks to this end are, first, the Philippine Senate, and, second, the Philippine Supreme Court. The Senate, because it is empowered to disapprove a treaty to that effect. And the Supreme Court, because it can reverse a Senate approval just in case. How do you do away with the Senate and the Supreme Court?

One-man rule. It had been done before, it can be done again. Surely you don’t just impose one-man rule. You need upheavals the likes of the events that precipitated martial law in 1972. Exacerbating internal conflicts can do the trick. One such conflict [is] the do-or-die battle between Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona. The Chief Executive does not hide his utter contempt of the SC Chief Justice. Toward the close of last year, he went on a binge of publicly castigating the chief magistrate, particularly in the Criminal Justice Summit when in full view of the nation on television, he lambasted Corona for what he called the latter’s partiality to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whom Aquino obstinately wishes imprisoned for various charges of graft and corruption.

Many opine that Aquino’s hatred of Corona stems from the latter having (in the President’s view) awarded to the farmer-tenants the 6,000-hectare-plus Hacienda Luisita, Asia’s largest sugar land, owned by the President’s family; actually the award was a collegial decision of the Supreme Court. And then right after that came the Supreme Court temporary restraining order effectively lifting the travel ban on former President Arroyo, who within hours of the issuance of the TRO made an attempt to leave the country.

Mauro on set with Isko Moreno, now vice mayor of Manila
In a display of brinkmanship, the President himself, through his Department of Justice Secretary, ordered defiance of the TRO, and then causing the filing of criminal charges against GMA, got a warrant of arrest issued against her, forestalling what threatened to break out into a constitutional crisis; the warrant of arrest rendered the TRO academic. But then the momentum of the Aquino blitzkrieg against Corona had taken off, and precisely in such blitzkrieg fashion got his cohorts in Congress, all 128 of them, preparing in a matter of just 3 hours eight articles of impeachment against Corona and then submitting them to the Senate the next day. Whereupon the Senate constituted itself, according to constitutional provision, into an Impeachment Court, setting the start of the impeachment trial on January 16. Perceptions were rife that Corona, just to save face, would resign. But he swore to stand by the independence of the Judiciary and fight it out to the finish in the impeachment trial.

This posture was strange for a Chief Justice who normally does not enjoy much political clout and so in a skirmish with the President who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Philippine Armed Forces is not expected to put up. But in a show of force in the period of the commemoration of the February 1986 EDSA People Power revolt, Aquino succeeded only in mobilizing hundreds, mainly consisting of government employees, while Corona mobilized, as estimated by thecountry’s leading broadsheet, the Manila Bulletin, two million. Of course, those two million were followers of Iglesia ni Cristo [Church of Christ], one of two of the country’s most powerful religious groups, there for what was billed as Malaking Pamamahayag (Big Declaration), an exposition of Biblical words. But the timing is suspect.

One thing is sure, Corona’s chief counsel in the impeachment trial is former Supreme Court Justice and Secretary of Justice, Serapin Cuevas, a stalwart in the Iglesia ni Cristo, where it is often preached that the words of God are, quote-unquote, made secret in mystery. The impeachment trial has had a break for the whole of April. Hence on the impeachment front there has been calm. But as Bush would always caution, make no mistake. The fight had only just begun. As in the impeachment of Former President Joseph Estrada, the Corona impeachment trial will not be decided in the impeachment court but for the mob to rule on. That’s just the kind of scenario the US needs in getting its design for re-establishing military bases in the country pushed through.

Note these coincidences. November 15, the day the Supreme Court issued the TRO on the GMA travel ban, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives for a two-day working visit. That same day President Barack Obama arrives in Australia for talks on the basing of 2, 500 American soldiers in the continent. The two just came from the APEC meeting in Hawaii, to join each other in the East Asian Summit in Indonesia. November 16, Clinton leads in the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the RP-US Mutual Defense Agreement, the lifetime of which, incidentally, is indefinite. Observers say the holding of the event on the deck of the American missile carrier USS Fitzgerald docked in Manila Bay is symbolic of the maritime conflict of the United States with China. On the occasion, Clinton warned: “We are strongly of the opinion that disputes that exist primarily in the West Philippine Sea between the Philippines and China should be resolved peacefully. Any nation with a claim has a right to exert it, but they do not have a right to pursue it through intimidation or coercion.” Note, Clinton does not call it South China Sea; she calls it West Philippine Sea.

Updating of RP-US military relations were up for discussion between Clinton and the Philippine Foreign Secretary. This was to be followed by another round of talks between representatives from the Foreign Affairs and Defense departments of both countries in Washington come March, with the final talks between the Foreign Affairs and Defense secretaries of both countries to take place again in Washington in May. By the time the Corona impeachment resumes, the renewed Philippine and US military defense relations shall have been embodied in a treaty for approval by the Philippine President. Granting the President approves it, will the Senate ratify? It won’t - to do so would tarnish the heritage of courage and nationalism of the Magnificent 12, the dozen senators who voted to dismantle them in 1991. So a turmoil must be in place such as to render Senate a non-entity. The enmity between Aquino and Corona comes in very handy. Now, that’s as far as getting it approved by the Philippine government is concerned.

As for sites to build new US military bases on, it is another problem. The ones dismantled in 1991 will no longer do, like the Subic Naval Base in Olongapo and the Clark Airbase in Angeles, both in Luzon. Both have been converted into either golf courses, resorts and leisure spots, export and economic zones. Besides, American moves in the country over the years have increasingly betrayed a fascination with Mindanao, the so-called Land of Promise, which aside from its undeniable wealth in natural resources is also reputedly home to the world’s richest deposit of deuterium, that rare material for non-toxic energy, the fuel of the future. It is said that deuterium is in fantastic abundance in the Mindanao Deep. If true, what else is there need for Middle East oil for? 

USAID has poured in a volume of assistance to Mindanao unmatched by any given to other parts of the country. And during the tour of duty of Ambassador Kristie Kinney in 2008, she had become so fond of Mindanao that she had visited it countless times, eventually getting adopted as daughter of Zamboanga City. Before her term ended, she made sure to meet up with Al Haj Murad Ibrahim, head of the insurgent Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), right in the leader’s mountain lair. As a result of that meeting, the MILF agreed to pursue peace talks with the government. Those talks resulted in the adoption of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), providing for the establishment of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) for Muslim Mindanao, virtually a state of its own, with its own government, own Legislature, own Judiciary, own armed forces, with the Philippine government limited to just 25% share in its territory’s natural resources. August 2008, the MOA-AD was ready for signing, but vigilant local executives of the affected areas petitioned the Supreme Court to stop the signing, prompting then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to order a stop to such signing. And the peace process for Muslim Mindanao stopped at that.

But the question which for long I had only allowed to nag me in silence now outs strongly. Circumstances of the current Mindanao peace process clearly show that it came about as a result of US initiative, through Kenney, and it was a splintering of the Philippines which would have been effected had the MOA-AD not been stopped from being signed. Hence, the question: why would the US want to splinter the Philippines? With the assumption of power by President Aquino, the Mindanao peace process has become, by explicit admission of the Secretary for the Peace Process, the centerpiece program of the Aquino government. In this connection, here is another glaring coincidence: right as soon as the Corona impeachment trial began, the Mindanao peace talks hosted by Malaysia entered another round of talks, like well knit segments of a brilliant script. Now that the US and Philippine governments are about to conclude a new military treaty, the Mindanao peace talks are coming to a conclusion. The latest news is that the MILF has budged from its demand for an independent sub-state and has agreed to the concept of a new Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. No announcement has been made as to the final text of the agreement, but bet your bottom penny it will include a piece on accommodating whatever is finally taken up in the Washington new military arrangement talks between the Philippines and the US this May.

Right now, the Philippines and China are on a standoff at the Scarborough Shoal, reefs regarded as rich in oil deposits, well within Philippine territory based on the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (140 nautical miles off Luzon) but claimed by China, invoking prior historical mapping. Utter quiet from the US side on the physical confrontation (two China vessels against one small coastguard patrol boat by the Philippines) is odd, considering Obama’s and Clinton’s pronouncements at year’s end. If these pronouncements were no bluff and now China is assailing Philippine territory, why isn’t the US doing anything? But let’s not speak too soon. Events are unfolding.

How does this relate to what is happening around the world (economic collapse, intensification of imperialist rivalries, etc.)?
First off, I’d like to caution that don’t know economics as probably you and your peers out there in the UK are quite knowledgeable about. Let me just say I am a keen reader of current events and I endeavour to understand what I read to the best of my capacity. Nonetheless, in answering this particular question, what I lay down is not an expert’s opinion but are my layman’s thoughts.

Over the years, China has made big strides in its economy to such an extent that it now threatens to dislodge the US as No. 1 world economic power. US decline in this regard became most pronounced with the Lehman Brothers debacle in 2008, aggravated now by the worsening financial crisis in Europe. In contrast, China has remained relatively stable by keeping the value of the yuan low, effectively making its exports dominate those of the US and other countries in the world market.

Obama has almost to the point of peskiness been pressing China to bring the yuan up and make for a fairer business competition. China won’t, of course, listen. In the past, the US saw wisdom in pursuing a policy of economic democratization toward China on the global scale, seeing it as the more effective way of subverting that country’s political system held by Mao Tse Tung within the strictures of puritan socialism. In other words, encourage China to go capitalist. After Mao Tse Tung’s death, Deng Shiao Peng took over the top leadership of China and seized on precisely that US-sponsored policy of economic democratization. Now that economic democratization had succeeded in creating a behemoth, how else can US check China’s pushing its own drive for world hegemony than through a stab at the heart of Chinese political power? 

America’s Pacific Century is, for all intents and purposes, that stab. And here is where the imminent danger of world conflagration can come in. Steeped in dialectics of warfare that is almost endemic in Chinese culture, the People’s Liberation Army is almost certain to view this US strategy as a desperate attempt to stay its decline as a world power, hence betraying inherent weakness. In the estimate of expert war analysts, such view can make for an occasion for miscalculation – in all cases in history, the ultimate cause of failure in war. So now, after a heated word war with the US, China tests the waters in South China Sea, the West Philippine Sea, by confronting with a display of naval might and thereby preventing Philippine navy authorities from arresting Chinese fishermen who had encroached on the Scarborough reef within Philippine territorial waters. 

A stand off on the issue continues. The Chinese ambassador to the Philippines declared in no uncertain terms that those waters are Chinese territory. The Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary appeared pathetic as he appealed to world leaders for sympathy in upholding Philippine sovereignty. This happens at a time when the US must be prompted by the bloodbath in Syria into resuming active engagement in the Arab world. But the US could not bite at the prompting. The real war up for fighting now is in the Asia Pacific region. That the US is completely quiet is no strange thing. The lull before the storm.

Mauro was writing at the end of April. In the time since then, the Scarborough reef clash intensified, before China appeared to back away from a confrontation with the US.

Mauro blogs at KAMAO Punch, and tweets @mauro_gia.

The interview concludes here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Corrosion of Conformity - Corrosion of Conformity

This is Corrosion of Conformity alright, but it's a lineup which hadn't recorded together since Animosity came out in 1985, when I was four. Grizzled veterans they may well be, but they all still know how to craft great deep southern rock, and the lyrical themes show they are far more in touch with everyday concerns than almost all of the kids promoted by the labels.

This is a brooding, moody and bluesy album, which blatantly worships at the altar of Sabbath, but mixes things up with breakneck hardcore worthy of the band's punky roots. Woody Weatherman (gotta love that name) on lead guitar puts in a career best performance, and there's a raw imperfection about Mike Dean's vocal delivery which drips authenticity.

It isn't all great. Leeches and What You Despise Is What You've Become should probably have been cut at the demo stage, but when this release hits its plentiful peaks, there's not a band in the world who could match this sound. Psychic Vampire catches the listener unawares right at the beginning, with its choppy changes of pace and discordant sound. The words capture the essence of the album - assailing the powers that be fucking up our lives ("From the pulpit the puppet's mouth is infested with suggestion").

Your Tomorrow swings from...well...something like swing to angry, bitter rant at those who "brought this world of sorrow" and yes, "sold your tomorrow", while standout track The Moneychangers sticks it to the bankers ("They'll tap your labor and your light") with a vituperative elegance, and the brilliant video (below) is well worth watching.

There isn't really much hope to be found amongst the ashes of the society as described on this album, and though some of that will be essential for the ultimate austerity era album, it would almost be strange if a band like Corrosion of Conformity offered us much at this stage. But listening to this eponymous effort is like listening to an evocation of all that is bad in the world right a good way. When I listen to the best bands I often wonder what it would be like to get drunk with them, and I'm sure I'd enjoy setting the world to rights over a long summer evening and a few jars with these guys.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Why We Need Collective Action, Not 'Collective Action'

The obligatory People's Front of Judea reference
This May Day, a group of comrades issued a founding statement for their new group, Collective Action. Titled 'Where We Stand: Formation of a new Anarchist Communist project in the UK', it took the form of a rather dispiriting summary of where the organisation feel the class struggle is going in this country, followed by an outline of their project's position moving forward. I have a number of problems with both their diagnosis and their prescription, and I'll discuss some of them here. But more fundamentally, I want to ask why we need so many organisations.

As I say, Collective Action's outlook seems bleak. And there's nothing wrong with saying the glass is largely empty, but still, you must recognise the few drops which are there.

The statement begins by declaring - incontestably - that:
"This generation is faced with crippling austerity measures begun by the former Labour government and now accelerated by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. The economic crisis has provided political elites with a practical justification for ideologically motivated attacks on the working class. Efforts to “bring down the deficit” at all costs have provided the state with the necessary camouflage to manoeuvre into savage Thatcherite cuts to the public sector, education and social welfare, while also creating an incremental process of privatisation of the National Health Service, greater tax breaks for millionaires, tax cuts for businesses, as well as strengthening attacks on workplace organising rights."
But Collective Action believe that:
"The anti-austerity movement seems content to seek only a defence of the concessions won by older generations, rather than using the economic crisis and a renewed interest in radical ideas as a means to agitate and fight for a fundamentally different society."
There is a problem here. I take this to mean those in unionised work, as opposed to the "economic sectors that are unorganised and casualised, or soon to be unorganised and casualised" referred to elsewhere. And a large proportion of organised workers do exist in the state sector. But why set up such a distinction? After all, people who work in all sectors and none depend on workers in the state sector - to heal them when they are ill, to look after and teach their children etc.

So far, the 'anti-cuts movement' - to the extent that such a movement can be said to exist - has indeed been largely restricted to workers in the state sector. But surely, if they were winning, there would be no cause for complaint! The real issue from a working class perspective is that they are losing, and losing badly! We have to ask ourselves why this is, rather than blaming or writing off the victims.

This error is compounded later on, when again, people who work in such workplaces and are organised in such unions are described as being "in privileged economic positions". Yes, they often have a certain "privilege" compared to more "precarious" workers, but this "privilege" was indeed won by previous generations of militant workers, through struggle. We should be levelling up, not levelling down, and we should be looking at levelling up to the comforts enjoyed by the elite, not to someone working in the civil service for around £20,000 a year, who is facing increased pension contributions on top of threatened redundancy!

Once more, when praising the "glimmer of hope" shone by the "brief but bright struggles of the youth and students", the statement sets up another division between that "generation" and "the comfortable futures of even their older siblings". It seems absurd to me that any working class person in the UK could be described as having a "comfortable future" ahead of them. Everyone in a job - a shrinking percentage of the population - is being made to work far harder for less (or relatively less, inflation-adjusted) reward! Where is this "comfortable future" and just who is living it?

Though I'm sure it can't be true in real life, the whole tone of the first part suggests to me that Collective Action is only for the absolutely most marginalised, through all the intersecting systems of the kyriarchy. Certainly, an effort needs to be made to organise such layers, but to the exclusion of all others? Well, that's my inference of Collective Action's position from their statement.

Collective Action propose:
"[...] to actively participate in current struggles with the long term objective of building towards the recreation of a relevant and viable anarchist movement that is able to insert itself into social struggles, winning the leadership of ideas and fostering the cultures of resistance. We believe that this process of regroupment is essential to that objective."
They trace their roots back to "the federalist, anti-authoritarian sections of the First International", and "In contemporary terms we believe this particular tradition to be best represented by the specifist conception of social anarchism."

They summarise specifism as meaning:
  • The need for specifically anarchist organisation built around a unity of ideas and praxis.
  • The use of the specifically anarchist organization to theorise and develop strategic political and organisational work.
  • Active participation in and building of autonomous and popular social movements via involvement and influence ("social insertion")
However, the ideas and praxis around which they intend to build are not outlined. Perhaps this is to come from the "process of regroupment".

In conclusion, it is difficult to discern precisely what Collective Action are bringing to the table, apart from a focus on specifically marginalised sections of the proletariat.

Having said all this, however, I would happily be in the same organisation as the people who wrote that statement. Clearly, we envision the same form of society down the road, and want to organise non-hierarchically to get there. We should be in the same organisation, a new International. And so should the comrades in Solidarity Federation, the Anarchist Federation, the IWW, Liberty & Solidarity, The Commune, and all the non-aligned libertarian communists out there. So long as we agree on communism and non-hierarchical organising, why should we be organisationally separated by tactical nuances? Surely, together we are stronger?

You see, we are right, collectively. Capitalism is shit and destroying our lives and our planet. We can't fight back through the left parties, because they are a) authoritarian and b) tied to the same reactionary trade union bureaucracy that stifles and sabotages things like the public sector pensions struggle.

Every day, the fact that we're collectively correct becomes all the more obvious. The Sparks electricians won because they took the initiative from the dead hands of the union tops. The Vita Cortex factory occupation in Ireland won because direct action gets the goods, and we all agree on that, so why are we now erecting yet more barriers between comrades? Why can't we all just be different tendencies within the same organisation?

The UK seems to be on the verge of an explosive class war fightback. When it comes to unionised, public sector workplace and not-even-really-heard-of-unions private sector workplace alike, it will of necessity be non-hierarchical, orientated towards direct action, and outside of bureaucratic control. When that happens, 'what works' will dictate the structure of our revolutionary organisation, and these minor ideological squabbles - more based on what books we've read than divergent class interests - will surely fade from the memory.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Vita Cortex Workers Celebrate Historic Victory

Spring has brought blossom and victory to Pearse Road
Thirty-two former foam packers in Cork, Ireland, after finally winning redundancy payments from the businessman who had sacked them without compensation. In February, I reported how they had:
"[...]been fully occupying their factory ever since [mid-December], in protest at management's claims that there was "no money" for any redundancy payments. Vita Cortex is just one of a twenty-nine businesses owned by Tipperary entrepreneur Jack Ronan, who has fingers in pies of the retail park, stud farms, fertiliser and even supermarket industries, and whose personal wealth is estimated at many millions."
Now, after one hundred and fifty days, the occupation is coming to an end, as union reps have agreed undisclosed terms for the payment. Yet more proof that direct action gets the goods, because without it the workers wouldn't have had a bargaining chip. Also, the support they have received from other workers and their community as a whole has been outstanding.

Below I repost in full a recent article from the Support The Vita Cortex Workers website, which sentimentally but accurately described the awesome power of solidarity:

Our Larkins and Connollys have made history……

From the beginning of the sit-in people calling in to the factory or at the marches would say to us

“Larkin and Connolly would be proud of ye lads.

We would smile and shrug it off knowing there was no comparison. 
“Go away out of that!” I remember saying to Ann Piggott many evenings, “They were great men, legends in any time, we are just standing up for ourselves and our families in our corner of the world.”

“I don’t know Greg,” she would say to me, “If Larkin and Connolly were alive they would be in this canteen with you, be sure of it.”

For many of the Celtic Tiger cubs, until the last couple of years, the images of Ireland in 1913 would be unfathomable. Low wages, casual work only, unprecedented corruption, 30,000 families living in 15,000 tenements in Dublin alone, no healthcare and emigration to England at Famine-era rates. The class-divide between rich and poor added an explosive element to the mix, the country was like a volcano with trouble bubbling below the surface and the government turned a blind eye. But by the time 2011 came around, we could certainly relate to the shortage of jobs, class-divide and political indifference and like 1913 we all just felt powerless to do anything.

In 1913, by August 26th James Larkin had had enough. He had spent the previous years fighting for the rights of un-skilled workers. On the Day of the Dublin Horse Show, a prestigious event in Ireland even then, Larkin lead the tram drivers in a strike that would result in the most severe industrial dispute in Ireland’s history. Employers in Dublin engaged in a lockout of their workers, bringing workers from Britain and elsewhere in Ireland. Dublin’s workers, among the poorest in Europe continued to fight their cause in poverty until January 18th of 1914.

Darren rang me last night. He has a knack for remembering things at exactly the right moment.

“Greg, how many days is it from August 26th to January 18th?” he asked.
“I don’t know boy,” I replied wondering if it was another one of his riddles.
“It’s 146,” he answered quietly, “Tomorrow you will be on the sit-in as long as the workers were locked out. You guys haven’t just made history symbolically, on Thursday you will actually make history.”

His words hung there for a second, like neither of us could speak to the significance of it. We hung up, not really knowing what else to do but it stayed in my mind all night.
I played it over and over in my head. How could we make history? We are just ordinary people? Not like those heroes of old. But 146 days ago, we decided to fight for justice. When we stood up to fight we had no way how it would end, or how we would survive like those 1913 workers. But they were different to us, they had great men like James Larkin and James Connolly to light the way, to be their heroes, we were on our own in those first few days and we certainly could have used some inspiration from big Jim.
But as word of our occupation and our “lock-in” spread, as the Facebook page and Twitter gained momentum and the media covered the story, our Larkins and Connollys emerged from Ballyphehane, from the wider Cork community, from across Ireland and indeed across the seas.
Our Larkins and Connollys brought food, sent mass cards, wrote poems, drew pictures and lit candles. They marched the streets, wrote to their politicians, brought torches to vigils and held us in their thoughts and prayers. For 146 days like those great leaders of old they did not give up, and I know that if it had lasted 146 more they would still be there standing with us. They lead us to victory and like the great leaders in 1913, they have been our rock, our reason to keep fighting.

In his poem about the Lockout, September 1913 W.B. Yeats wrote,
 “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave” .

Mrs Cross, Der O’ Callaghan, Pat Manning, Martha Dennehy, Kieran O Connell, Eleanor Murphy and every other person on here, too many to name, have shown that in 2012 this is not the case. You are our Larkins and Connollys and now, on Day 146, you have all made history. I remember Ann Piggott’s words “If Larkin and Connolly were alive they would be in this canteen with you, be sure of it.” She was right. They were there in every card, every box of chocolates, every prayer. They were in your visits, kind messages and support. They were here all along.
“Comrades – We are living in momentous times.”
James Larkin
Greg Marshall worked at Vita Cortex for 37 years, he writes on Day 146.

My Chat With A Small Capitalist

Meanwhile, in the City of London...
Following the LOLs and learning that accompanied my chat with a Casuals United 'angel' a couple of months back, I thought I'd let you in on a Twitter... discussion(?) I had with a self-confessed capitalist last night. Not that he revealed himself to be a parasite at first. No, he just seemed like any fascist idiot, such as I've seen so much recently on the North West Infidels (Liverpool and Wirral) Facebook page.

It all began when cops were doing this to Occupy demonstrators in London. Me and about thirty others were watching the brutality on a live stream, feeling impotent rage. What was even more annoying to some of us was that #TheVoiceUK was trending. Call us snobbish if you will, but we were just really angry that more people weren't getting to see "what democracy looks like", as the state violence-accompanying chant goes.

So I decided to use the spectacle against itself, and troll The Voice's hashtag. I tweeted "While you watch people singing, cops are beating the shit out of people in London, for crime of protesting #thevoiceuk". I almost immediately got maybe fifty retweets, and hundreds clicked the link. But I also got some abuse from fans of The Voice. "you're a toilet mate" said one. "Wait, you're telling me the #Occupy assclowns are still polluting public spaces? Glad they're being removed." For the price of hundreds seeing some reality beyond 'reality TV', it was a price well worth paying.

But another individual, one @DannySwingRight (the clue's in the name really) rocked up with "Good!! Should shoot them as well, put them out of their misery." I couldn't really let that stand, so I came back with "Shoot the cops? I'd never advocate that! It's illegal!"

He'd didn't get the joke though:

DSR:  I'm talking about the protesters
Me: Oh really? ;)
DSR: Well no one would care would they!
Me: Yeah, their friends, family, fellow concerned citizens of the UK. The image of the UK abroad would go down. Etc., etc.
DSR: Yeah hardly any.

I clearly wasn't going to convince him of anything, and I was trying to keep an eye on the pigs, which became even more infuriating as he was basically implying they were being far too lenient. Still, something told me we could get an interesting conversation going yet:

Me: The overwhelming majority of people in this country would be appalled if that happened to non-violent protesters.
DSR:  Really? You sure? :)
Me: Certain. There would be quite a lot of idiots like you who would support it, but I would say 95% at least.

It was then he went off on one, insulting me in the third person:

DSR: It's funny how left leaners like to kid themselves! They are a bunch of annoying twats who will achieve sod all! 
Me: Are you enjoying your weekend? Good! Lots of love, striking workers of the past!
DSR:  Well done to the strikers of the past! Put your employer out of business that's clever! Where's your jobs now?

He was outright supporting a race to the bottom of working class living conditions. Either he was utterly brainwashed by ideology, or he was a capitalist himself:

Me: Well if you really believe that, go and donate your time to multi-national corporations for free.
DSR: No need to work for free, just get what is deserve, if you're shit you lose your job. When people don't fear, productivity go

Use of the p-word confirmed it. Now to draw it out:

Me: Well you're shit, do you have a job?
DSR: Haha come on don't make yourself out to be an idiot so soon! I employ 50 people, paid 350k in tax last year across board
Me: Which pretty much explains all your own views as stated in this discussion. No wonder you want people to work harder to make money for you then. You are part of the enemy.
DSR: That's the problem with you socialists you assume anyone in business is evil, you forget that they are creating jobs for people, and not all treat people badly, you're kind have no idea of what it takes to run businesses and employ people it seems to be the common perception from your kind that any corporation is evil

Ah, "creating jobs" and "evil". Those old chestnuts:

Me:  I don't assume you're evil on a person [sic] level. You come across as a bit crass, but 'evil' is a strong term. However, you do not 'create' jobs. On the contrary, you make your money from the labour of others.
DSR:  So the employees don't benefit?
Me: The employees benefit from the wage, but that is a small proportion of the wealth they create for the business.

Marx's theory of surplus value. He didn't try to deny it. Rather he tried to put it on me not being 'well-adjusted' to neoliberal times:

DSR: Look mate, I bet u r some northerner that hasn't got over the thatcher times yet, do itself a favour and move on
Me: Is that an argument or some kind of attempt an insult? I'm happy to move on from our discussion though. Because of our respective class positions, neither will convince the other
DSR: It's an observation, are you?
Me: I'm from Merseyside, yeah.
DSR: How did I know that! Listen mate generalisations are always a bad thing
Me: Generalisations are always a bad thing, except when it comes to material interests of conflicting classes.
DSR:  All you northerners are born with a chip! Lol anyway I'm off, have a good night and keep up the good work!
Me: Haha! Will do!

So, what did I learn from this experience? Well...not a lot. Small business type is a bit of a fascist isn't exactly a shocking revelation. Although, perhaps, I got an insight into how in the mind of the capitalist it's perfectly possible to have doublethink going on where the origin of the profits is concerned - i.e. 'yes I'm getting rich off the backs of others, but I'm entitled to it'.

I notice that my capitalist friend has just moaned to Labour MP Chuka Umunna that "I lost 25k last year to two ex employees, I did nothing wron [sic]" due to "the strangling labour laws". It's ironic he was even talking to Umunna, considering "It's shit! Go to a hospital, school, anything that's free and you will be the only white man there".

Sounds like he'd get on well with Mr Pete Tierney...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Interview With A Revolutionary Filipino Filmmaker (Part Two)

Fighting has been more than a pose for Samonte
Last time we heard from Mauro Gia Samonte, he was describing his extraordinary introduction to militant class struggle, through his organising of workers at the Makabayan Publishing Corporation during a period of great upheaval, and he spoke of "learning a lesson from the failed strike". I asked him more about that 'education', plus how he managed to maintain a writing and directing career through the turbulence of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. Read on and prepare to be amazed by tales of violent picket line confrontation, an escape from torture, grenades and much more...

How did you put those political lessons into practice as the Marcos regime continued throughout the seventies and the eighties?
I think crucial to the issue is the timeline. It varies according to the particularity of each period in the entire two decades you cited. From the time KAMAO abandoned the picket line at the Makabayan Publishing Corporation, that was in August 1971, by no choice to pursue the fight on the legal front, up to the declaration of Martial Law on September 21, 1972, we are counting only one year. 

While my lawyers - among them now the sitting Vice President of the Philippines, Jejomar Binay - were pursuing the fight in court, I immersed myself deeply into the political activities of the Katipunan ng mga Samahan ng mga Manggagawa (KASAMA, this acronym, a translation of 'comrade', the full name translating to 'Society of Workers’ Associations'), the national federation of labor unions that formed the labour sector of the Movement for Democratic Philippines (MDP), umbrella organization of various progressive groups opposing the imminent Marcos dictatorship, among them the Kabataang Makabayan (KM – Nationalist Youth), the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK – Youth Democratic Association), mainly forming the youth sector; Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan (MAKIBAKA), the acronym translating into 'fight' or 'struggle', forming the women sector; a host of other mass organizations dubbed 'Natdems', for 'National Democrats', bannering the Jose Maria Sison line of 'Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse Tung Thought' on the ideological plane and 'protracted people’s war' on the political plane by which to achieve a political system called 'National Democracy'.

Eventual deeper study of the concept would reveal that it is a copy-cat of Mao’s thesis that a semi-feudal and semi-colonial society dominated by foreign powers cannot proceed direct to socialism but must take the necessary transition route of liberating itself first from foreign domination, in the case of the Philippines, “US imperialism and Soviet Social imperialism.” At any rate, I was far off from a honing on politics that would enable me to perceive the ramifications of a line that while proclaiming imperialism – by Lenin, the highest stage of capitalism – as its main enemy, it nonetheless welcomed into its fold what it called national bourgeoisie, promoted to mean nationalist capitalists. 

No stretch of imagination would convince me even at that stage of my infantile Marxism that I could ever be comradely with a capitalist, nationalist or not. The irreconcilability of this standpoint with the overall political line of the national democratic movement did not at all offer a hindrance to my practice of revolutionary politics, for the simple reason that I did not entertain any other line but proletarian. I was with KASAMA, focused on organizing trade unions, educating workers on proletarian politics, and hardly found occasion to make apologias for capitalists, who either must already be "in" as the Lichaucos and the Del Rosarios or still being wooed. Soon after turning full-time with KASAMA, I was nominated Candidate Member of the Communist Party of the Philippines, designated as the Education Department Head of the Secretariat of the National Party Group in the labor federation. As such, together with my staff, I acted as the door-opener for political work among the workers – ever the first step in organizing workers into a union. 

Beginning from an orientation session with core groups, prospective unionists underwent a crash course on trade unionism, which I had to devise since the only material existing for organizing anybody in the movement was Sison’s mimeographed pamphlet entitled Struggle for National Democracy. After my initial stints on the job, I realized workers were finding the material alien to their immediate and truly urgent concerns: low wages, security of tenure, non-remittance by employers of the social security system payments withheld from employees, fringe benefits, holiday pays, long working hours, etc. 

For situating the workers into the fiber of nationalism, I focused on stressing the proletarian direction of the Revolution of 1896 that led to the downfall of Spanish colonialism in the Philippines. For political economy, I gave myself a crash learning as well of the theory of surplus value which I sought to impart to workers in the most simple manner I could do to make it understood. It fattened my heart when workers, at each end of the subject matter, instantly resolved to unionize – invariably already asking for pillbox bombs by which to slam capitalists. Only after workers had gone through the study sessions would the OD (Organization Department) come in and formalize their organization into unions, thenceforth exercising administrative control over them for the federation.

Sometime middle of 1972, in a general assembly of KASAMA, I was elected secretary general of the federation. The period truly witnessed the flowering of militant trade unionism in the country. Workers' strikes were the rule of the day. I remember the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines already taking the stand that the Workers’ Strike Movement is the revolutionary component of the people’s war in the cities. In my personal case, it was a truly feel-good period for being able to do my bit in advancing the spirit of "serving the people". In addition to organizing unions and regularly conducting education work among workers, I minded media propaganda for the strike movement, including presentation of stage plays depicting workers’ strike, shown to be increasingly making the shift to armed struggle under the aegis of the New People’s Army (NPA). 

Against advice by comrades in the KASAMA Party Group, I took the frontlines with workers in their strikes, and in one incident, I slammed the haughty general manager of a big cigarette factory with a placard as he led in a strike-breaking push. Other picketers followed suit, swinging their own placards at the strike-breaking force, forcing it to withdraw. But soon came a big contingent from the Philippine Constabulary. Against the M16 rifles of the soldiers, the picketers’ placards were utterly no match; the strikers were arrested en masse, loaded into a big constabulary bus to be hailed to the municipal jail. I was loaded singly into the lead vehicle of the constabulary arresting contingent, to be brought to nowhere I knew; 'salvaging', as extra-judicial killing had already come to be known at the time, was a scenario I braced myself for. So I had the presence of mind to grab a phone at the desk of the municipal prison to inform comrades of my situation, and when the arresting contingent head, a Master Sergeant, asked who I was talking to, I told a lie, saying it was my friends from media. That must have done the trick, because instead of the salvage scenario, I was merely brought for interrogation at the PC headquarters. From there I was rescued by the head of the LD (Legal Department), a lawyer, of the National Party Group in the labor federation. 

From then on, the Party Group decided that I should go UG (underground), meaning no longer visible in the legal operations of KASAMA, though there was no restriction in my handling of the education requirements of the federation. Two noteworthy occasions can be cited that happened during this period. One was a protest rally at the United States Embassy (it must be the commemoration of the Philippine-US Friendship Day); the other, the May 1 rally of 1972. By this time, I had already been elevated to full-fledged membership of the Communist Party and being groomed, albeit unknown to me, for greater tasks. 

On the first occasion, I was surreptitiously handed a grenade with the info that it was the same type as the ones that blasted the Liberal Party political rally on August 21, 1971. My job: explode the grenade at the Manila Police barricading the approach to the US embassy. When the policemen charged at the rallyists – the signal for me to explode the grenade – I made a quick decision to join the protesters in scampering to safety; I sought refuge in the perimeters of the Rizal monument guarded by two Marine soldiers 24/7 standing in attention and where pursuit of anybody even by policemen was taboo. It went without saying that I failed whatever baptism of fire that must have been meant for me on that occasion. 

The second occasion was the May 1 Labor Day commemoration of 1972. All of a sudden I found myself sitting as secretary general of what was called the May Day Revolutionary Committee, with the leader of the biggest peasant organization in the country as Chairman and the President of the Philippine College of Commerce, hotbed of student activism at the time, as vice chairman. What great thing could turn out in the event, I gleaned from the explicit instructions from the higher-up that somebody must always stick behind me to guard my person. Surely I sensed danger and honestly I got the creeps as I had not in all those past instances when without thought I just found myself throwing my body to stop the onrush of a strike-breaking vehicle, or face up to Armalite-wielding constabulary soldiers who for not being able to get the guts to fire just got content with bruising your ribs with the nozzles of their M16s. 

But there, as we converged in our thousands at the very gates of Malacanang, and the main speaker of the rally, the soft-spoken president of the KASAMA, could not deliver the needed verbiage to fire the multitude into bursting into whatever tumult that was that had been programmed for the occasion, and the lady secretary general of the Movement for a Democratic Philippines was frantically pressing me, albeit in a hush, to speak up, and elements in the frontlines whom I recognized to be the elite combatants from the National Trade Union Bureau were giving me frantic eye signals for me to make that one final call to arms and they would explode their concealed grenades – I kept my cool. Indications were that I was the signal fire for the battle meant to keep the bloody tradition of May Day. I didn’t make the signal fire. No battle took place. And the otherwise belligerent thousands went away from perhaps the coolest May Day celebration in the Philippines in recent memory. 

Years later, into the period of martial law, that lady secretary general of the MDP, who on various occasions postured herself as a staunch advocate of Jose Maria Sison’s line of national democracy and who on the occasion of the 1972 May Day celebration was egging me to start battle, would be uncovered as a deep penetration agent of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the revolutionary movement; from my personal knowledge of her activities then, I’d say that her reaches in the national democratic movement had gone far and wide. 

Until this day, I’m at a loss as to what would I have accomplished if I did perfectly as I was being programmed to do on the cited occasions. Possible answers are many. One, I could have contributed to the widespread damning of Marcos. But then again, so what if Marcos were damned? Would that have liberated the workers for which I immersed myself in the movement in the first place? Two, I could have helped deter Marcos from proclaiming martial law. But then still again, truly violent incidents had happened in the past (the First Quarter Storm, highlighted by the University of the Philippines Commune, the January 26Confrontation, the Battle of Mendiola, and the Plaza Miranda Massacre, etc.) that would have sufficed Marcos’ reason for declaring martial law earlier, and yet he did not. 

What immediately prompted Marcos into declaring martial law was his discovery of a huge arms shipment from China by the Communist Party of the Philippines. Wrangling in the inner circle of the CPP had led to the bungling of the shipment, much of which fell into government hands. With glaring proof of armed rebellion, Marcos found justification in his declaration of martial law. There was nothing but pointlessness in my assigned tasks on those two occasions – save for the fact that by not doing them I surely saved a lot of lives. To repeat, I joined the movement fired solely by a desire to help achieve workers’ liberation. Everything I did was toward this end; otherwise I didn’t do it. And so it was for me, in the period from the KAMAO strike to the declaration of martial law. 

But your question touches on political work I did in the period beyond and all the way to the eighties. Crucial this time is my standpoint on the Jose Maria Sison line. According to Sison, the Philippines was a semi-feudal, semi-colonial society which imperialism, i.e. US, would not allow to develop into capitalism; the country was being maintained as a supplier of raw materials for capitalistic enterprises, particularly US. My take is that the Philippines had gone capitalism the minute the country’s bourgeoisie gained political power in 1946. We know the mode of production is determined by the relations of production. In the Philippines in the seventies were industries with a character of mass manufacture, as in steel, textile, garment, cement, ceramics, and even car manufacture. In all these, the forces of production are workers and capitalists and the relations of production is private expropriation of the social character of labor, the hallmark of capitalism. And if, as Sison argues, US imperialism dominates Philippine society, all the more does it validate the stand that capitalism is dominant in the country – a cog in the whole monstrous machine of world capitalism, what else but by Lenin’s assertion, imperialism? That a large component of Philippine economy was agricultural in nature does not make for a semi-feudal economy, agricultural production being the handiwork of the very people who are in control of the capitalistic industries. And that the Philippines hosts large US military bases does not make the country any more a US colony than Spain and Japan which were sites as well of large US military installations. 

Further readings of the five volumes of Mao Tse Tung Thoughts revealed to me a most condemnable affront to the great leader: Philippine Society and Revolution by Jose Maria Sison which he passed off as a concrete analysis of concrete Philippine condition is a shameless virtual verbatim copy-cat of Mao’s analysis of Chinese society back in the twenties when China was parceled off by imperialist powers among themselves, the ruling dynasty at their mercy, with no central political power, with warlords contending against one another for control of the countrysides. This was not the Philippines during the seventies, when a strong central government had been well in place, whose sovereignty placed in doubt by no one in the world, and whose foreign relations were conducted on mutual respect with equals. In my conduct of political education among workers and in inner study circles of the Party, I had not even for once budged from this position. 

Knowledge of this must have gone all the way to the Party sovereign so that when, getting everybody caught unawares, martial law was declared and the order was issued for party units to retreat to the countryside, the order was not meant for me as well. I was, literally speaking, left out in the cold. Compartmentalization was so strictly adhered to in the party organization such that you did not get to communicate with elements outside of your unit. When our party unit was plucked out of the city, I was left with no one to integrate with. So I turned to the ever-welcoming masses, organizing discussion groups in which I formalized my call for a shift in strategy in advancing the proletarian revolutionary line. Small, discreet discussion groups were what was possible to hold in the circumstance of martial law. This move prospered up to an extent. But when my organizing work reached that point – as it always did –  in which the organized force asked for arms, I had to bow to my utter helplessness. Precisely the kind of bowing I did when I joined the Sison movement for the opportunity of advancing the workers’ struggle the way I saw fit – the way I saw best for the proletariat.

Mauro standing for election in 1998
I think I have this incorrigible affliction with naivete in dealing with people: that they can take me in good faith the way I take them in good faith – as I, not knowing you from Adam, take you in sheer good faith now. Hence in a Party that proclaimed adherence to democratic centralism and the principle of criticism-self-criticism, I had this pure belief that my criticism of the Sison line would be well taken and that a changing of the Party’s strategy could be undertaken for pushing the class liberation of the proletariat. My isolation, albeit undeclared, by the Party upon the declaration of martial law, proved me, indeed, that naïve. It was during that period that the tune and lyrics of the song I emailed to you [Reach For The Apex Of Great Proletarian Service] began taking shape in my mind. In my lonesome, I never lost hope that someday the Party would realize that for all my unflinching resolve to combat the Sison line, I had never been remiss in my dedication to serve the working class. Jobless, politically isolated, and  seeing not much opportunity in a restricted press.

What difficulties did you encounter in putting across your political perspective in writing amidst dictatorship?

Curiously enough, none whatsoever. But let me set it straight early on. If you are referring to writing in publications, like magazines or newspapers, I hardly made any political writing. Remember, I was a movie journalist, a glamorized term for entertainment writer. I was writing articles on movie stars, entertainment celebrities, and movie reviews. That was on the media surface. And I maintained that identity all the way to the toppling of the Marcos dictatorship. But precisely because my writing was being made to make-do with the ersatz of journalism, from time to time I’d long for release of my purely political thoughts, as very private manuscripts or when the desire for audience became unbearable, as subject matters of my movies , i.e. Isla Sto. Nino (Island of Sto. Nino ), an anti-US imperialist piece, Walang Panginoon (Without Master), on the life inside the NPA, and Ibilanggo si Neneng Magtanggol (Imprison Neneng Magtanggol), a call to arms veiled in symbolism, and, of course, Daluyong At Habagat (Winds Easterly and Westerly), on oppression and exploitation of workers during the post-war period. 

Not so many compared to the bulk of my credits which number more than fifty. Sort of putting that my service to the working class has been better done than said. But surely, other writers suffered restrictions from martial law as you want to hear from me, some of them my friends even. 

Which brings us to a point. Martial law curtailment of press freedom was evidently selective. It targeted those who were obstinate not in defense of people’s liberties but in calling for the ouster of Marcos. These are two different matters, defending people’s liberties and ouster of Marcos. The bottom line is to ask the question: 'was Marcos martial law repressive of the people?' I’d put the question on the scale of war: on the one hand the oligarchs, deprived of their decades-old control over Philippine politics and economy, on the other Marcos, determined to perpetuate that dismantlement. By taking over Meralco and ABS-CBN, for instance, and making them government-owned, was that repressive of the people? Definitely, I say no. By condemning Marcos for that take-over and calling it in your writing as a crime against the people, are you justified in writing so? Again, I say no. And what does that make of you if Marcos jails you for doing that kind of writing? Suits you fine. 

In the main, that was how Marcos was pictured as an enemy of the people, by being a staunch enemy of the oligarchs. Marcos waskidnapped by the American government and forced into exile in order to give way for Cory [Corazon Aquino] to the presidency of the land. What were Cory’s first acts upon assuming the presidency? She ordered the release from prison of Jose Maria Sison and Kumander Dante along with the return of Meralco and ABS-CBN to the oligarch Lopezes. To those who claimed repression for being imprisoned under martial law, search deep into your conscience. Had I in that incident when I was singly brought to Camp Crame been kept in jail and made to rot there, would I have raised a hoot? I would have blamed it on my stupidity of getting caught. 

Frankly, Adam, my great concern at the time, which remains to this day, went far beyond ideas of crushing  the Marcos dictatorship. It was the crushing of capitalism. On the eve of the EDSA happening, when it became clear to me that the Americans were ready to replace Marcos – the Seventh Fleet was at Manila Bay; international media, billeted at the Manila Hotel, was preparing for something big – I proposed a linking up with Marcos in an alliance against US imperialism. Under the circumstances, Marcos was the potential great ally of the movement. It would have been bloody, yes. But then what revolution had been without blood?

Mauro blogs at KAMAO Punch, and tweets @mauro_gia.

The interview continues here.

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