By Jean Dupont
On December 26, the Revolutionary Workers Party of the Philippines (RPMP) and the government of president Joseph Estrada agreed to peace negotiations.
The RPMP controls about one-third of the communist guerillas in the southern regions of Mindanao and the Visayas islands. It regroups most of the revolutionary Marxists who split from the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in the early 1990s.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the CPP's New People's Army (NPA) are already engaged in separate peace talks.
The MILF may follow a similar path to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which ended its armed revolt in exchange for very limited autonomy measures, and jobs in the police and administration. In Mindanao and the Cordillera region of the northern island of Luzon, ex-guerillas have helped police track down and eradicate those of their former comrades who have not abandoned the armed struggle.
For the CPP-NPA, peace talks are a public relations exercise. They remain committed to a Maoist strategy of "protracted people's war". The RPMP has a very different motivation for seeking peace talks. The party is convinced that, in current conditions, the Philippines revolution is best served by open mass work, rather than a military struggle.
Since the split from the CPP-NPA in the early 1990s, party leaders have been re-evaluating fundamental strategic questions. According to Flor Siato, a journalist sympathetic to the RPMP, "Entering a peace agreement can be a valuable revolutionary tactic. If the balance of forces does not permit the forces of revolution to win the war against their enemies, it may be better to negotiate a peace.
"This provides respite for the revolutionary forces, in order to avoid worse losses and consolidate their successes. A peace agreement could allow many RPMP cadre to come out of hiding and devote their considerable experience to open forms of mass struggle.
"Will peace give people the impression that imperialism is being legitimised? Perhaps. But revolutions develop as class antagonisms sharpen. They cannot be 'pushed' by declaring war on the capitalist state. Armed struggle is not obligatory under all conditions and at all times."
The Moro people continue to struggle for self-determination. But the MILF and MNLF have pursued different directions of struggle. The MNLF has demobilised in exchange for illusory "autonomy" measures and partial incorporation of their leaders into the ruling elite.
The MILF may follow the same path. The MILF's progressive leadership is struggling to maintain hegemony — Islamic fundamentalists now control about 40% of the organisation.
The RPMP has completely rejected the "protracted people's war" strategy it followed as part of the CPP. Since the split, it has maintained its armed forces, but not launched a revolutionary war against the state.
The main role of the RPMP's armed units is to play a support role to the working-class movement. Military actions should only be carried out to defend the interests of the workers' movement, and repulse specific enemy attacks against the revolutionary movement, the party now believes.
The RPMP argues that peace negotiations must be evaluated in terms of the transitional program for socialist struggle. In the present situation, it seems possible to obtain, through peace talks, real concessions and reforms that will benefit the masses and the revolutionary forces. The correctness and success of the party's new tactics will be measured on this basis, it believes.
The RPMP will designate a national panel to conduct the negotiations, under the supervision of the party leadership. It is still unclear how other left forces, and "civil society", will be associated with and informed about the negotiations.
[Abridged from International Viewpoint, the magazine of the Fourth International, <www.internationalen.se/sp/ivp.htm>.]