New left unity in the PhilippinesBy Reihana Mohideen
MANILA — The "State of the Nation" address is an important day in the Philippine left's calendar, demonstrations being held outside the opening of Congress in the new financial year. On July 27, around 12,000 workers, urban poor, students and peasants rallied against the policies of the newly elected administration of President Joseph Estrada.
This year, however, there was a united mobilisation of several left political blocs which in past years have held separate demonstrations.
The organisations which united on the day include the socialist organisation BISIG and several forces that had their roots in the pro-Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP): the MR, a section of the Manila-Rizal regional leadership which split from the CPP in 1993, and the Movement for National Democracy (KPD), which includes the CPP's central Luzon leadership and base, who opposed the party's sectarian politics and left it this year.
A new addition to the united left contingent was Liga Sosyalista (Socialist League), a revolutionary socialist organisation formed on July 19, four months after launching the newspaper Progresibo. Since March, the forces of the Liga had been the "Progresibo tendency" within the Komiteng Rebolusyonaryo ng Manila-Rizal (KRMR) headed by Popoy Lagman.
Socialist LeagueAccording to a founding member of Liga Sosyalista, Sonny Melencio, "The Liga groups together organisations and individuals who have resigned or declared independence from the KRMR. They include the revolutionary council of the socialist youth organisation Kamalayan, and individuals from the various front organisations of KRMR, such as the broad democratic front Sanlakas, the labour group BMP and the urban poor group KPML. In recent weeks, the Liga has also joined individuals outside the KRMR grouping.
"The formation of Liga Sosyalista was the culmination of a period of intense debates and struggles within the KRMR group. The debates centred on the Stalinist and sectarian policies being implemented by the Lagman group and the continuing drift of its politics [called 'pragmatic politics' by Lagman] towards the right."
Melencio said, "The Lagman group has a stated position against the unity of the socialist forces in the Philippines. They refuse even to participate in tactical unity efforts with others on the left. Their view is that they are the only true revolutionaries.
"Given the fragmentation that has racked the left, this is not only very sectarian, but also an absurd position to have. We need to understand that ... no one organisation encompasses all of the class-conscious vanguard forces. This is the starting point of the Liga's position on the urgent need to unite the left forces in the country."
Melencio says that the Liga considers itself as only one of the pre-party working-class formations in the Philippines. "It aims to push for the unification of the Philippine left through a socialist front to be composed of revolutionary socialist groups and individuals. One of the reasons for its 'split' from the KRMR is to be able to free itself from the sectarianism of the Popoy Lagman group."
Discussions are now under way amongst BISIG, MR, Liga Sosyalista and the revolutionary forces in the KED on the formation of a socialist front. The aim is to unite the left blocs around a political platform, at the centre of which is a common analysis of the political situation in the Philippines and the tasks of the left.
The editorial board of Progresibo has been opened up to include other left groups, an important step in the unity process. There is also agreement on the need to set up a Marxist-Leninist school for the socialist front's members.
Economic and social crisisThis unity process has also been driven by economic and social factors. The economic crisis is taking its toll. Large sections of industry have collapsed (in manufacturing and agriculture), and manufacturing output is down by 50%. In agriculture, the crisis is threatening food security.
Unemployment is soaring to unprecedented levels (according to government data, around 10 million people are unemployed and 15 million are underemployed).
The number of urban poor is exploding as more and more unemployed rural workers move to the cities looking for work. Criminality is rampant. Young people cannot find jobs, and many end up victims of drug abuse and prostitution.
The middle class is also suffering. Many have joined the ranks of the unemployed and the working class. The number of students is dwindling as the cost of education increases.
The economic crisis has led to increased social unrest. The number of strikes is growing as companies resort to closures and lockouts.
Urban poor communities facing demolition threats are pitching tents in front of government offices and setting up barricades (in some instances armed) around their communities. Mass actions are staging a comeback, a series of demonstrations, rallies, pickets and other protest actions taking place in the last few months.
The ruling class remains united around its program to "solve" the economic crisis. The new government's economic program is no different from those of previous regimes.
It is the same neo-liberalism, carried out according to the dictates of the International Monetary Fund and the big foreign banks. Its hallmarks are continuing trade liberalisation, privatisation of government corporations and assets, and deregulation of local industries and the finance sector.
Estrada has already declared his government bankrupt. The government forecasts a P70 billion deficit this year. Foreign debt has reached P1.9 trillion (US$45.6 billion), while domestic debt is P2.3 trillion.
The government candidly admits there are no solutions in sight, no way of halting the slowdown, the double-digit inflation, the rising interest rates, the free-falling peso or even deeper economic depression.
The government is taking unpopular measures to raise revenue, including settlement of the "frozen assets" of the Marcos family and the soon-to-be signed Visiting Forces Agreement, which opens the way for US bases in the Philippines. The incapacity of the regime to solve the economic crisis and to deliver on its "pro-poor" program will only fan the mass unrest.
According to Melencio, "An intensification of the class struggle is inevitable. The situation demands that the left unite its forces and maximise its striking capacity. A socialist front will enable us to achieve this in the short term."
The July 27 rally also included a large youth contingent organised by the broad youth and student coalition Youth Arise. The main forces behind the Youth Arise contingent were Kamalayan and the BISIG youth organisation, MASP.
The rally was some 7000 strong. The Lagman-controlled BMP and the CPP held separate rallies numbering around 2500 each.