ANTONIO GRAMSCI’S THEORY OF THE ‘NATIONAL-POPULAR’
Though in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie… The workingmen have no country. We cannot take from them what they have no got. Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself as the nation, it is so far itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word.
—KARL MARX & FRIEDRICH ENGELS, “Manifesto of the Communist Party” (1848) (1971, 101,109)
Recent political events mark the beginning of a phase in which insurrection has become the sole means for the masses to express their political will.
—ANTONIO GRAMSCI, letter dated Feb. 1925 (1971, lxxviii)
Gramsci has been pronounced “dead” so many times that one suspects the announcement to be unwittingly premature and question-begging (Day 2005). Of all the Western Marxists, Gramsci is exceptional in being the subject of an immensely burgeoning archive of scholarly studies and the object of furious worldwide political debates (Rosengarten 1994). Except for the somewhat opportunist inflection of “subaltern” by the Derridean Gayatri Spivak and the trendy fashion of reinterpreting “hegemony” as pluralist consensus, Gramsci’s thought seems useless for postmodernists, including Establishment postcolonialists. Stuart Hall and the Birmingham School successfully popularized Gramsci as an innovative cultural theorist and founded the academic discipline of mainstream Cultural Studies. It was Gramsci’s resurrection in advanced capitalist formations, the birth of what David Harris (1992) calls “gramscianism.” This followed the Eurocommunist view of Gramsci’s “revolution against Capital”—to quote his famous article of 1917—in which the Italian road to socialism (classless society, socialization of crucial productive means) would be won not through revolutionary violence but through cultural reform—through education and moral/ethical persuasion. Communist parties will thus gain hegemony, that is, domination by consent, peacefully or legally.
Communism or socialism will win without replacing the prevailing “common sense.” Presented as ideals to be aspired for, and naturalized as “common sense,” the belief system of bourgeois society does not require armies or police; only a finely tuned art, schools and mass media, ideological apparatuses that would do the job. Maurice Finnochiaro views the Italian road as the conquest of social institutions whose “control would yield the desired economic and political changes”—a view that eclectically mixes the influences of Croce, Mosca, Machiavelli and Hegel on Gramsci primarily as diverse patterns of thinking (1995, 304). From this prophylactic stance, Gramsci is seen as a precocious neoliberal avant la lettre, committed to “rational persuasion,” political realism, methodological fallibilism, liberal democracy, and pluralism. Something is surely wrong with this picture.
Clearly, history—or, better yet, neoliberal historicism exacted a vengeance on Gramsci’s historicist “good sense.” While reborn as a theoretician of the superstructures, civil society, rule by consent, and non-economistic “open Marxism,” Gramsci became irrelevant to socialist revolution as they were occurring in the “third world.” He had nothing to say to peoples struggling against finance-capitalist imperialism, old-style colonialism that ruled by brute force, or neocolonial rule masquerading as latter-day “mission civilizatrice,” humanitarian intervention. For postcolonial studies, in particular, the obsession with Eurocentrism (the fallacious subsumption of capitalism into an abstract Western modernity) in the case of Edward Said, as Neil Lazarus (2002; see also San Juan 2007) has shown, led soon to the speechless subalterns of Spivak and the sly mimics of Homi Bhabha. Meanwhile, the logocentric discourse of poststructuralism wrought its dire effects on the critique of the nation/nationalism launched by Bhabha and the Australian “high priests” of the discipline, Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin, before and after the fall the of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of “actually existing socialism.” With nations and nation-states abolished or rendered defunct by the “New World Order” and later by triumphalist neoliberal globalization, we are on the way to the heady disjunctures of Arjun Appadurai and the nomadic multitudes of Hardt and Negri’s Empire. Until September 11, 2001 exploded over this academic scenario and overtook our missionary enlighteners/mentors who had attended Gramsci’s redundant burials.
We owe it to Benita Parry’s appraisal of the historical-political contexts surrounding the disciplinary formation of postcolonial studies that we can begin to appreciate Gramsci’s relevance to “third world” social transformations. Parry’s argument on the centrality of Marxist principles (internationalism, permanent revolution) in liberation theory actualized in anticolonial revolutions, is salutary. The erasure of socialism and an anti-capitalist modernity in postcolonial discourse coincides with the refusal of a national-democratic stage in anti-colonial revolutions led by a historic bloc of anticapitalist forces. What kind of nation-state do postcolonialists have in mind? Certainly not the Italian nation of 1861 that witnessed the colonization/annexation of the South by the subjugation of the insurgent peasant masses, and produced the “Southern question” that Gramsci considered decisive in carrying out a socialist revolution in the twentieth century (Verdicchio 1992). Postcolonialists erase the ugly fact of neocolonized nation-states (the Philippines, Haiti, Colombia, etc.) resistant to their fantasy of a world-system of hybrid social formations equal in power and wealth, all inhabited by transnational consumer-citizens.
The asymmetry of uneven and combined development distinguishes the structure of nation-states born in the shadow of finance-capitalist imperialism. Archaic, feudal, and modern sectors coexist in these societies. The Althusserian idiom of Bhabha is revealing when he problematizes the “ambivalent temporalities of the nation space.” Bhabha puzzles himself over the “disjunctive representation of the social, in this double-time of the nation” which is hidden by homogeneity, literacy and anonymity. Nation as narration, for Bhabha, testifies to the “teleology of progress tipping over into the ‘timeless’ discourse of irrationality,” which in turn leads to “the archaic body of the despotic or totalitarian mass” (177). In short, nationalism is fascism tout court. Based on the experience of racial nationalist violence in Europe (Nazi racist nationalism, in particular), Bhabha sees only the “archaic ambivalence” undermining the progressive contemporaneity of existing nation-states. Ultimately, the culprit is “that progressive metaphor of modern social cohesion—the many as one—“ and so, Marxist theories of culture and community, of nations, defined as holistic, expressive social totalities should be repudiated. Unity, solidarity, the multitude envisaged by Gramsci as “national-popular” collective will (Jessop 1982) are all anathema, contaminated by bourgeois universalism and other archaic irrationalities.
Following Partha Chatterjee, Bhabha believes national sovereignty is impossible, given “the contingency and arbitrary signs and symbols that signify the effective life of the national culture.” Hypostatizing the dynamic process of signification—of making meaning and sense— in everyday life, Bhabha thus creates for his discourse the untenable modernity of the unified nation, of national belonging. For her part, Spivak rejects anticolonial revolutions as hopelessly controlled and manipulated by a native bourgeoisie. The colonized subaltern is made not only speechless but immune to experience. Parry’s comment applies a Gramscian optic to this subalternist self-erasure: “[I]t dismisses the experiential transformation of the ‘subalterns’ through their participation, and disregards situations where an organic relationship was forged between masses and leaders sharing the same class interests and revolutionary goals—there is after all no essential and invariable correlation between objective class position and ideological belief or political stance” (2002, 144). In short, history as a dialectic of subject-object is denied by academic postcolonialists.
With the formalization of canonical postcolonial studies as an academic discipline, a reconciliatory attitude seems to have emerged. Stuart Hall’s inflection of this fetishism of ambivalence or difference is only symptomatic: anti-imperialist opposition, for Hall, must be conceived iin terms of “transculturation” or cultural translation “destined to trouble the here/there cultural binaries for ever” (1996, 247). This postmodernist bias against binarism, telos and hierarchy, as we have seen, returns us to the question of agency and the role of the subaltern in a revolutionary disruption of the colonial predicament. But, as Parry notes, this impulse to find a middle ground between domination and oppression, to describe colonialism as “generically ambivalent,” the site of dialogue and cultural assimilation, is both historically mendacious and “morally vacant” (2002, 144). This applies to the tendentious genealogy of nation/nationalism offered by Ashcroft, Griffith and Tiffin (1998; see my critique in San Juan 2001). In effect, the nation (and its attendant set of beliefs called “nationalism”) is a foul ideological invention, a dangerous myth of exclusivism, homogeneity, and naturalness. It refuses internal heterogeneities and differences. It informs the violence of the nation-state (such as the Stalinist Soviet Union, as well as European imperialism as “an extension of the ideology of a ‘national’ formation) against those who are different, thus making the cause of national liberation for oppressed colonies suspect if not hopelessly tainted. Throughout their account, however, Ashcroft, Griffith and Tiffin are silent on the capitalist foundation of these nation-states, much less of U.S. chauvinism and Eurocentric white supremacy. They mix capitalism, socialism and other alternatives, thus inventing a utopian fiction of plurality and multiculturalism that exists neither here nor there, except of course in a homogenizing global capitalism which supposedly nullifies boundaries and identities.
Postcolonialists cannot face the truth of sustained colonial legacies and their insidious resonance in everyday lives. As to the notion of the “subaltern,” Ashcroft et al cannot but invoke Gramsci’s terminology but not the political project that motivates it. They elide the whole issue of hegemony (consent armored by coercion) and replace Gramsci’s framework with the entirely disparate paradigm of the Indian historians’ Subaltern Group (with which Spivak is affiliated). This Group’s primary preocupation is the criticism of elites and elite culture in India whose anti-British nationalism worsened the oppression of the landless peasantry. Consequently, they criticize Marxist class analysis which to them ignore the “politics of the people,” and by implication Gramsci’s notion of the popular as a transcendence of economic-corporatist position, and a national-popular culture as a crystallization of the diverse interests/sectors constituting the nation (Gramsci 1985, 203-212). Their concern with power and authority, with governability (a variant of Foucault’s governmentality), displaces the question of sovereignty vis-à-vis the occupying colonial power. While Gramsci envisioned the “national popular” as a process of lay intellectuals expanding and elaborating a secular “humanism” attuned to the grassroots, for the Subaltern Studies Group, an implacable fissure exists between the nation represented by the native elite and the people, specifically the peasantry. Gramsci is accused of essentialism, though it is unclear how the Indian historians can be credible when they themselves postulate a rigid distinction between the elite and the subaltern, subject-positions which are constituted by converging and diverging lines of differences. Again, difference becomes fetishized or reified when Spivak claims to establish a fixed incommensurability between elite and subaltern, even canceling the at least relational category of dominant/subordinate groups in structural-functionalist sociology. Since the categories of nation and class are rejected, subalternity becomes mystified or trivialized as all or any kind of subordination removed from any revolutionary socialist telos.
The habitual imposition of a monolithic grid of differance in postcolonial methodology sets it apart from a historical-materialist analysis such as that subtending Gramsci’s “Notes on Italian History” (1934-35) in Prison Notebooks. It accords with a nihilistic and even cynical skepticism toward any emancipatory project of overthrowing capitalist social relations of production. For those desiring to change the impoverished and exploited condition of what is now called the global “South,” it is better to forego Establishment postcolonial studies and go straight to Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks. The twin issues of the peasantry and national sovereignty constitute the blind spot that defines the limit of postcolonial critique.
In Quest of Gramsci
“A new way of being Gramscian”—to quote Pasolini’s (1982) slogan—is to apply his dialectical-materialist (not homological) approach to the task of popular democratic mobilization against finance capital in specific national settings. I am not interested in deriving axiomatic truths or formulas from Gramsci’s texts. Nor am I interested in ascertaining which text represents the ‘real’ Gramsci among the multiple Gramscis now available (Holub 1992), including the ‘rightist’ Gramsci quoted by neoconservatives. My task here is circumscribed: to see how we can deploy or adapt certain modes of analysis initiated first in Gramsci’s historical studies. I would locate Gramsci’s usefulness today in the application of precisely the speculative tools he devised earlier in his vocation as a radical activist. One key concept is the “national-popular” and its resonance with the conceptual archive of alliances, anti-corporativism, blocs, ensembles, etc. Following Richard Bellamy’s contention that Gramsci’s most seminal ideas were formed in his analysis of Italian social history, I would argue that Gramsci’s dialectical analysis of historical process, especially the stratified divisions of epochal and conjunctural sequences, would prove most useful in elucidating what is involved in the theory of combined and uneven development first formulated by Lenin and Trotsky and explored by activists in the Marxist tradition. Gramsci is, as Derek Boothman (1995, liii) aptly puts it, “the theorist of the historical bloc” engaged in a concrete analysis of relations/articulations of social forces in a given country at specific conjunctures or periods for the purpose of calibrating at which exact point human agency can produce the most decisive transformative effects.
The “Southern Question” epitomized for Gramsci the problem of uneven, disarticulated, non-synchronous development carried out by the bourgeois liberal State. Before Gramsci became a socialist around 1913, he was a Sardinian nationalist, alienated as he was by the industrial North’s subjugation of the predominantly rural South. Even when Gramsci became an active socialist intent on constructing a proletarian-led State within the fabric of civil society, he never stopped insisting on the need to concentrate on the specificity of the Italian situation, its “particular, national characteristics,” compelling the party to assume “a specific function, a particular responsibility in Italian life” (1994, 4). The premise here is the forced unification of Italy by the Northern bourgeoisie’s subjugation of the Southern peasantry and the unresolved issue of landed property. What this implies is an active program to counter the transformist politics of the liberal State which maintained the fragmented social reality of Italy characterized by divergent regional traditions, polarized classes and economic disparities. The material inequalities were reflected, and in turn sustained by, the ideological/cultural incompatibilities between a popular culture of the quasi-feudal, rural areas and the elite culture of the caste of cosmopolitan intellectuals. To mobilize the masses, a whole program of education and organization of the entire populace was needed, a pedagogical mobilization led by a political party of the proletariat and its organic intellectuals. New values and ideals were needed to generate a critical consciousness—“unitary” and “coherent” thinking, as he put it—of the social situation, together with the ethico-moral imperative for organized collective action.
Gramsci had in mind a national-democratic liberation project based on the protagonism or participatory mobilization of the people that would constitute the nation. What was needed is a mass movement to emancipate the proletariat, together with the peasantry, and the establishment of a communist society, the precondition for the full liberation of the individual. This fundamental Marxist belief Gramsci enunciated in his articles of 1914 and 1916, “An Active and Functional Neutrality,” and “Socialism and Culture.” It was specifically in the 1917 article “The Revolution Against Capital” that Gramsci expressed for the first time his distinctive Marxist conviction that without organized political will and social consciousness of the people, even the most favorable objective conditions of crisis will not lead to revolutionary change. A highly disciplined political party, “homogeneous, compact and self-aware,” (1971, 185) was needed to lead by universalizing the demands of the proletariat. This is not voluntarism. Change requires the right structural situation, but the opportunities it offers have to be seized and worked on by the masses who can develop the capacity to know, analyze, and exploit the potential offered by ongoing historical situations/events. Economic statistics do not mechanically determine politics; it was necessary for people “to understand […] and to assess them, and to control them with their will, until this collective will becomes the driving force of the economy, the force which shapes reality itself” (1994, 40). In colonial and peripheral societies, historically sedimented divisions of class, race, religion, nationality, and so on present more formidable obstacles to mass mobilization. The appeal of national self-determination in such colonial formations as India in the 1920s-1930s led Gramsci to conceptualize the “national-popular” movement as a powerful agent of revolutionary change (Bocock 1986). The centrality of organic intellectuals and the pedagogical strategy of mobilizing the masses is immediately relevant to peripheral societies (such as the Philippines) where bureaucratic and authoritarian institutions support and are reproduced by patronage, clientelist politics, reinforced by police-military coercion and para-military gangsterism and warlordism.
We owe it to David Forgac’s review of its historical context that Gramsci’s concept of the “national popular” has been foregrounded into a site of controversy and revaluation. While textually faithful in his reconstruction of its genealogy, Forgac’s renovation is qualified by the British/European political and ideological milieu of the eighties—the rise of neoconservatism in the UK, North America and the industrialized nation-states. Like Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe (against the background of the Althusser/Poulantzas/Foucault orbit of dissonance), Forgac’s chief concern lies in using Gramsci’s idea to transcend economistic Marxism and assert that there is no necessary correlation or link between class and ideology. Forgacs is correct in appraising Gramsci’s concept as integral, fusing the political and cultural, but at the expense of the economic—a term misconstrued as a separate, independent sphere usually isolated to the “base” in the misleading couplet “base-superstructure.” Removing “popular-national” from the underlying historically specific relations of production in any given society, Forgacs concludes:
It recognizes the specificity of national conditions and traditions. It valorizes civil society as a key site of struggle. It emphasizes the role of ideological reorganization and struggle. It identifies struggles common to more than one social class, fraction or group which can be strategically linked together. It recognizes that different social elements can, and do, act in terms not only of economic or ideological self-interest but also in terms of shared interests. (1993, 219; compare Hall 1981)
In effect, Forgacs has re-inscribed Gramsci’s idea in the process of “passive revolution,” transformism, at the same time as he marginalizes the role of the state. By detaching the “national-popular” from its Gramscian framework of socialist transformation, its link with the abolition of private property and class inequality, in short, an expansive proletarian hegemony, Forgacs confuses himself and others in wondering how a class alliance can contain a collective will, and how such an alliance can become reorganized by bourgeois hegemony. Of course, once a national-popular alliance no longer operates as a method or guide for socialist transformation, it will be a tool for the Thatcherite-Reaganite apparatus to resolve the capitalist crisis at the expense of the majority. In fact, the logical mistake is to use the term “alliance” for a group that has no will, no purposive direction. Once a collective will is defined as non-class (in the functionalist sense) since it has transcended narrow corporatist class interests, then it is impossible to fashion a collective will lacking goals that are defined as simultaneously national and popular. Nation and people (both the discourses and institutional practices associated with these terms) are class-stratified and acquire coherence by articulation into a hegemonized nation-people. Hegemoy is not only ethico-political but also economic, given “its basis in the decisive function exercised by the leading group in the decisive core of economic activity” (Boothman 1995, li). Why this is so from Gramsci’s perspective, can be explained by his own singular understanding of “collective will.”
Two earlier texts may illuminate the political condition of possibility for the theory of the “national-popular” will. The first is the 1916 article “Socialism and Culture.” Here Gramsci defines culture as a creation of humans as products of history, not natural evolution. Culture is “the organization, the disciplining of one’s inner self; the mastery of one’s personality; the attainment of a higher awareness, through which we can come to understand our value and place within history, our proper function in life, our rights and duties.” This inventory and ordering of the layers/aspects of one’s self becomes the staging-ground of class consciousness. Change occurs gradually, through “intelligent reflection” of a few, then of a whole class. “Which means that every revolution has been preceded by a long process of intense critical activity, of new cultural insight and the spread of ideas through groups of men initially resistant to them, wrapped up in the process of solving their own immediate economic and political problems, and lacking any bonds of solidarity with others in the same position.” Revolutionary change comes about through critical reflection and enlargement of one’s awareness via solidarity or collective mobilization of the people constituted as nationwide directing agency (Jones 2006).
The formation of a socialist collective will thus results from “a critique of capitalist civilization.” Gramsci emphasizes the growth of a collective will through critique, through the discovery of the self as an inventory of traces inscribed by history. Gramsci focuses on the objective or goal pursued through discipline and order: “Discovery of the self as it measures itself against others, as it differentiates itself from others and, having once created an objective for itself, comes to judge facts and events not only for what they signify in themselves, but also according to whether or not they bring that objective nearer. To know oneself means to be oneself, to be master of oneself, to assert one’s own identity, to emerge from chaos and become an agent of order, but of one’s own order, one’s own disciplined dedication to an ideal. And one cannot achieve this without knowing others, knowing their history, the succession of efforts they have made to be what they are, to create the civilization they have created, and which we are seeking to replace with our own” (compare Mao’s idea in Buci-Glucksmann 1980, 348-49). The labor of acquiring self-knowledge is key to grasping the nation/people as a site of constituting oneself as an agent of change. The dialectical interface of nation/people found in self-understanding—a form of cognitive appropriation of the world—leads to the integral state, thus abolishing the liberal distinction between civil society and state: “State = political society + civil society, in other words hegemony protected by the armour of coercion” (1971, 263; Williams 1980). Learning has an ultimate emancipatory drive: “If it is true that history is a chain of efforts man has made to free himself from privileges, prejudice and idolatry, then there is no reason why the proletariat, as it seeks to add one more link to that chain, should not know how and why and by whom it has been preceded, and how useful that knowledge can prove” (1994, 11-12).
The second text for elucidation is the 1917 article, “The Revolution Against Capital.” Here Gramsci spells out the versatile diagnostic power of historical materialism, “the real, undying Marxist thought” purged of positivist, naturalist incrustations. This Marxism upholds, as the most important factor in history “not crude, economic facts but rather men themselves, and the societies they create, as they learn to live with one another and understand one another; as, out of these contacts (civilization), they forge a social, collective will.” Giovanni Battista Vico’s discovery of truth (verum/factum) as historical creation informs Gramsci’s historicism. This collective will understands and controls facts, becoming “the driving force of the economy, the force which shapes reality itself, so that objective reality becomes a living, breathing force, like a current of molten lava, which can be channeled wherever and however the will directs” (1994, 40). Knowledge, will, and practice/action all coalesce in the collective transformation of social life in a determinate historical milieu.
In Russia, Gramsci holds that the “popular collective will” was forged by socialist propaganda. It emerged slowly, fusing a vast range of class experiences, “in the normal course of events,” in which humans are organized “first externally, into corporations and leagues; then internally, in their thought, in their will, in an endless continuity and multiplicity of external stimuli.” Amid the turmoil and chaos of class struggles, the Russian people experienced “in thought” the entire history of capitalist society going through crisis, determined to establish the necessary pre-condition for the collectivism that Marx considered a requirement for the transition to socialism. For Gramsci, “The revolutionaries will themselves create the conditions needed to realize their ideal fully and completely” (1994, 42). But this creation is not ex nihilo but a creative harnessing/cultivation of potentials in the given changing situation. The transition to socialism in Russia, bypassing the stage of industrial capitalism, is not a voluntarist accomplishment but rather a dialectical leap of political action—the war of maneuver succeeding a long complex process of ideological-political struggles—demanded by the conditions, both subjective and objective, in which the Russian revolutionaries found themselves. The national-popular collective will actualized in the actions of Lenin and the Bolsheviks responded not only to the readiness of the masses to change the system but also to their knowledge of “the experiences of other proletariats”—in short, to a solidarity with international revolutionary movements.
Beyond being a united front tactic, the project of a national-popular ensemble is the project of the proletarian party constructing hegemony—moral-intellectual leadership—as it confronts “the problems of national life.” Gramsci’s collective will arising from historically determined “popular forces” is premised on “the great mass of peasant farmers” bursting “into political life” (1971, 132). This event will materialize through a Jacobinist strategy: when the working class overcomes its “narrow economic-corporative” outlook and incorporates the interests of the peasantry and urban artisans into its own program and praxis. In the “Notes on the Southern Problem,” Gramsci predicates the capacity of the proletariat to govern as a class on its success in shedding “every residue of corporatism, every syndicalist prejudice or incrustation” (1995, 27). While this may be described as an educative, universalizing and expansive alliance, the strategy does not abandon class—does not break the connection between ideology and class, as Forgacs, Laclau and Mouffe (1985) insist. Rather, the class ideology used to dominate the peasantry and other intermediate strata is thoroughly analyzed (as witness the meticulous anatomy of traditional, pettybourgeois intellectuals, their ethos and world-views). Gramsci thus asserts that aside from getting rid of inherited prejudices and sectarian egoism, they have to take one more step forward: they have to think like workers who are members of a class that aims to lead peasants and middle classes into a collective project of releasing human potential for the benefit of all; “members of a class which can win and build socialism only if it is helped and followed by the large majority of these social strata” (1995, 28)—the majority—whose subsumption by bourgeois leadership serves as the chief obstacle to socialist reconstruction. This process of a generating directed consensus through organic intellectuals who will synthesize the cultural traditions of the whole people is a process not only of education but of organization for class war. This raises questions regarding the purpose of a national-popular alliance and the the goal of constructing a national-popular will?
Again, Gramsci directs our attention to the shifting balance (equilibrium/disequilibrium) of political forces. Given the situation of the South as “a social disintegration,” and the peasants inability “to give a centralized expression to their aspirations and needs,” Gramsci notes, the landlords and their intellectuals (Croce, for example) dominate the political and ideological field. Likewise, the proletariat as a class “lacks in organizing elements,” just as it lacks its own stratum of intellectuals with a left tendency “oriented toward the revolutionary proletariat.” With the mediation of intellectuals as organizers, the proletarian party will facilitate the alliance between peasant masses and the workers prepared to “destroy the Southern agrarian bloc.” The party needs to organize the masses of poor peasants “into autonomous and independent formations” free from the stranglehold of the “intellectual bloc that is the flexible but very resistant armature of the agrarian bloc” (1995, 47). Thus the people, not the bourgeoisie nor the Church and its cosmopolitan intelligentsia, will proceed to constitute the nation by releasing the productive forces needed for a more humane civilizational project, a new social order.
While the educational-pedagogical task seems a pre-requisite, Gramsci does not envision an ideological-moral reform as an end in itself, a continuous “war of position” regardless of changed circumstances. Nor does it have anything to do with the numerical weakness of the proletariat nor of the fascist monopoly of military reserves and logistics. Rather, the problem Gramsci faced then was historically dictated by the deleterious moral-intellectual leadership of the fascist bloc enabled by the continuing political and economic subordination of the peasantry and the failure of the workers and their party in mobilizing them. For Gramsci, one of the ways (specific to Italy but not to all social formations) in building a counter-hegemonic bloc is the cultivation of organic intellectuals that can help shape a genuinely democratic national unity (the Italian nation as a legal, formal entity had no real cultural unity rooted in the people’s lives) on the basis of a unified struggle with the popular forces (peasantry, middle elements).
Before applying Gramsci’s theory of the national-popular strategy to the Philippines as a model neocolonial formation, I want to summarize its fundamental elements:
1) A national life and field of action is needed for the proletariat to settle first with its bourgeoisie, as Marx and Engels stipulated in the Manifesto, and a synthesizing historical program based on commonalty of experiences will be used to unify, activate and lead the majority of the population;
2) For socialist revolutionaries to defeat the capitalist bloc, the party of the proletariat needs to move beyond sectarianism, that is, beyond corporatist/syndicalist tendencies and win the consent of the peasantry and middle elements by including their interests/demands in a common program/platform of action through concessions/compromises without abandoning their humanist, secular principles and the goal of a classless society;
3) To build such an alliance or historic bloc of subaltern masses under the leadership of the party of the working class, organic intellectuals are needed for organizing the nation-people, and to supervise the inculcation of discipline in thinking and action; these tasks aim to generate a collective will informed by a knowledge of the totality of social relations that is its condition of effectivity;
4) The field of political mobilization involves civil society and the state institutions, without any predetermined approach (whether through frontal assault in a war of maneuver, or normal political-legal actions in a war of position); the tactics of mass actions will depend on the concrete situation and the alignment and balance of political forces in any specific conjuncture.
5) The national-popular has a socialist orientation based on internationalist solidarity, aimed at utilizing the scientific and progressive achievements of all of humanity to improve the material and spiritual well-being of all communities and national formations.
I will now summarize briefly the political history of the Philippines and sketch the most crucial problems of neocolonial development in the epoch of globalized capitalism and the U.S.-led “war on terror” gripping the whole planet. This exercise is intended simply to illustrate the usefulness of Gramsci’s thesis on the imperative of a “national-popular” will applied to a colonial/neocolonial formation. While Italy and the Philippines belong to sharply disparate temporal and spatial regions and scales, with incommensurable singularities, one can discern rough similarities. The principal difference, of course, is that the Philippines were colonized by theocratic feudal Spain for three hundred years and by the industrialized capitalist United States for nearly a century. U.S. colonial rule preserved the feudal infrastructure, heightened ethnic divisions (principally between Christian and Muslim), and deepened class inequality by supporting a comprador-merchant class and an army of bureaucratic intelligentsia. After forcibly subjugating the revolutionary forces of the first Philippine Republic, it used a transformist “passive revolution” to win the subaltern intelligentsia and thus incorporate the peasantry into a colonial order and eventually a neocolonial setup. It suppressed the birth of a Filipino national-popular will.
The parameters of revolutionary socialist change in the Philippines are clearly drawn by the legacy of its colonial history, first by Spain and then by the United States. This resulted in the continuing fragmentation of the country in terms of class, language, and religion with deadly consequences (instanced by the undefeatable Moro separatist struggle). Spain used the Philippines primarily as a trading post for the galleon trade with China, using natural and human resources it found, until primitive mercantilism took over in the nineteenth century. The Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan was killed in the Philippines as a result of tribal conflicts which the Spanish civil authority resolved by mainly by force and partly by concessions to the local chieftains. Unable to occupy the Muslim territories with its limited resources and personnel, the Spanish colonial administration used this conflict to heighten insecurity and legitimize their authority. They relied mainly on the friars of the religious orders to extract tribute from the Christianized inhabitants who were reduced to serfhood or abject slavery. The encomienda system generated a stratum of Spanish landlords who, together with the Catholic Church, maintained a tributary system in which only a few selected natives functioned as petty administrators and bureaucrats. So Spanish hegemony was tenuous, obtained mainly through the disciplinary regime of religious practices and institutions. When the children of Chinese and Filipino creoles or mestizos succeeded in acquiring formal education in schools administered by the religious orders, and also in Europe, they absorbed liberal ideas that formed the basis for the nationalist movement which began in the 1870s and ripened in the 1898 revolution. But this consciousness of Filipino nationality was confined mainly to the artisans and professions led by the ilustrado gentry class. It was not shared by the peasantry who were mobilized in terms of kinship or traditional loyalty to their village elders; or in terms of affiliation with millenary, chiliastic sects. In time, because of the organizing efforts of the Propagandists (reformist intellectuals, ilustrados, from the classes of rich farmers, artisans and petty traders) with their ideals of Enlightenment rationalism and autonomy, and the recruitment of the petty landlords-merchants, a hegemonic social bloc of anticolonialists emerged: the Malolos Republic led by General Emilio Aguinaldo. This signaled the emergence of a Filipino national-popular intelligence and sensibility.
A sense of Filipino nationhood founded by the cosmopolitanized pettybourgeoisie with allies in the merchant and small landlord class was aborted when the United States suppressed the young Republic in the 1899-1903 Filipino-American War. The formal republican institutions built on the ruins of Spanish theocracy collapsed when the ilustrado leadership surrendered to the U.S. colonial authority. While the Spaniards used violence armored by Christian evangelization, the United States occupied the islands with brutal force armored by diplomatic propaganda, the promise of “Benevolent Assimilation” and eventual independence. Using scorched earth-tactics, torture and mass imprisonment, the U.S. killed 1.4 million Filipinos, ten percent of the population. Unable to defeat the Moros (Filipino Muslims) despite a series of massacres, the U.S. deployed a combination of diplomatic chicanery, subterfuge and “bribery” to pacify them. Up to the present, U.S. Special Forces are still battling the Moros (Muslims living in the Philippines) in the form of the “Abu Sayyaf” terrorist bandit group, a proxy for the massive and more formidable Moro insurgency forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and disaffected sections of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) (San Juan 2007) who refused to cooperate with the current U.S.-subservient administration.
One can summarize the fifty years of direct U.S. colonial rule as an illustration of hegemony won through initially through military power and stabilized through the twin methods of bureaucratic coercion and cooptation. When the Philippines was granted formal-nominal independence in 1946, the U.S. had set in place an Americanized privileged minority, an oligarchy of landlords, bureaucrat-capitalists, and compradors that would fulfill U.S. economic needs and global foreign policy. Consensus on elite democracy and the formal trappings of representative government was obtained through decades of violence, cooptation, moral persuasion, and a whole range of pedagogical-disciplinary methods, with the active collaboration of the religious institutions (both Catholic and Protestant). Hence the Philippines today is a nation, basically agricultural and dependent on foreign investments (lately, on remittance of Overseas Filipino Workers [OFW]), devoid of the full exercise of its sovereignty (the U.S. has veto power over its military and foreign policy). Its political system is characterized by the presence of formalistic liberal-democratic institutions administered by a tiny group of oligarchic families, reinforced by the Church, and a vast military-police apparatus chiefly dependent on U.S. aid (economic, military, political) rationalized by the U.S.-led “war on terror” (on U.S. support of “low-intensity conflict” see Agee 2003). There is no national-popular will, only a subalternized elite whose ascendancy and survival depend on direct or mediated (via World Bank-IMF) U.S. military and political patronage.
The Southern Colonial Question
Gramsci of course did not directly engage with the process of Western colonization of a “third world” country. However, even though there are considerable differences, one can consider the Philippines as analogous to the Italian “southern region” vis-à-vis the U.S. industrial metropolis. The current metaphorical use of “North” (industrialized nations; center) and “South” (underdeveloped regions; periphery) in International Relations is clearly indebted to Gramsci’s geographical-economic polarity. To be sure, Gramsci’s categorization of the North-South binary is less economic than sociopolitical and cultural, in contrast to the orthodox Marxist definition of a nation historically predicated on the existence of a market and a commodity exchange system.
Contrary to orthodox Marxism (Rosenthal and Yudin 1967, 304), which considered the capitalist national market as the basis for nationhood, the sense of a Filipino nation was born in armed struggle against Spanish theocratic rule and later against U.S. military aggression. No full-blown commodity market existed in a feudal-theocratic mercantilist order. However, the emergent national identity was cancelled outright when Filipinos were excluded in the 1898 Treaty of Paris when Spain ceded the islands to the U.S. for twenty million dollars. Laws were immediately promulgated to criminalize anticolonial dissent: the 1901 Sedition Law and 1902 Brigandage Act punished anyone advocating separation from the U.S. The 1903 Reconcentration Act relocated entire rural communities into towns to deny refuge to rebels; the Flag Law, which prohibited displays of the revolutionary flag of the Filipino Republic, was enacted in 1907, the same year when the last revolutionary Filipino general, Macario Sakay, was hanged in public. Nationalist discourse and symbols were proscribed, thus destroying the material practices sustaining the collective spirit of resistance and will to independence. This period of pacification (1898-1935) involved a variable if shrewd application of force and consent, violence and persuasion, guided over-all by a transformist, “passive revolution” strategy administered from Washington.
U.S. colonialism thus applied “transformism” by supplementing coercive tactics with a long-range strategy of ethnocentric, opportunistic extraction of consent from the new subjects (Pomeroy 1970). After Filipino guerilla resistance waned in the first decade of the 20th century, the U.S. established the Philippine Assembly as an auxiliary law-making body under the U.S.-dominated Philippine Commission appointed by the U.S. President to manage the colony. It was one way of implementing the slogan of “Benevolent Assimilation” of the natives proclaimed by President William McKinley in the midst of the violent pacification of the islands under the aegis of the white-supremacist slogan of “Manifest Destiny.” This assembly served to coopt the native elite (elected by at most three percent of the population) and defuse the popular agitation for “immediate independence,” a submerged, repressed tendency in the majority of colonial subjects.
A neocolony was born from the destruction of the insurgent nation and the systematic deepening of divisions among the people (Schirmer 1987). The principal instruments for winning consent were the school system of universal public education and the enforcement of English as the official medium of instruction, government communication, and mass media. Among progressive intellectuals, Renato Constantino (1978; see also Martin 2001) was the first to stress the crucial role of the pedagogical apparatus and the modes of the production and transmission of knowledge, specifically through the English language, in enforcing the allegiance/conformity of the majority of citizens whose national imaginary has been captured and detained. Thus, Americanization of the Filipino through education and cultural domination may be viewed as a kind of “passive revolution” aimed chiefly to defuse nationalist impulses in the peasantry and working class, and re-channel the energies of the middle strata of intellectuals-professionals to serve the interests of U.S. policy in Asia especially in a time when Japan was rising as an imperial power and revolutionary ferment in China and other countries was dangerous looming in the horizon. Future independence was promised to pacify the nationalist intellectuals while recruitment to the Hawaii plantations gave temporary relief to unmitigated misery in the countryside.
In the process of revolutionizing the political and cultural institutions “from above,” the U.S. colonial regime also cultivated its own bureaucratic intelligentsia. Politics imitated the prevailing patronage system binding landlord and tenant. Filipino ilustrados serving the defeated Republic—the educated gentry—were enticed to join the colonial administration as teachers, policemen, clerks, technical help in the bureaucracy; as judges and municipal legislators. One example of a traditional intellectual who participated in this negotiated compromise was Trinidad Pardo de Tavera. In 1901, Tavera wrote to General Arthur MacArthur, the chief administrator of the military occupation: “After peace is established, all our efforts will be directed to Americanizing ourselves, to cause a knowledge of the English language to be extended and generalized in the Philippines, in order that through its agency the American spirit may take possession of us, and that we may so adopt its principles, its political customs, and its peculiar civilization that our redemption may be complete and radical” (quoted in Constantino 1978, 67). This stratum of neocolonized intellectuals cemented the tie between the oligarchic elite and the colonial rulers, performing a necessary role in disintegrating the popular memory of past revolutionary struggle and alienating this elite from the everyday lives of the masses.
When the Philippine Commonwealth was established in 1935, the Filipino intellectuals who came from the peasantry and working class gathered around the U.S.-sponsored President Manuel Quezon and his program of “social justice.” This populist rhetoric re-channeled nationalist impulses toward legal ameliorative schemes won as concessions from Washington. The social bloc of landlords-bureaucrats-compradors funded cultural programs with a sentimental patronizing attitude toward the native or aboriginal populace. While writers in the vernacular gravitated toward more activist left-leaning circles on the fringes of the Communist Party of the Philippines (formed in August 1930), the writers using English remained “cosmopolitan,” as can be gleaned from this reflection of a progressive-minded critic, Salvador P. Lopez (written during the Japanese occupation circa 1942-44): “For culture is fluid, volatile, impossible to confine in an air-tight compartment; and nothing is truer than that real culture is universal, the exclusive property of no particular nation but of all nations that have intelligence to harness it to their own uses” (1945, 61). Cosmopolitanism Filipino-style lurked astutely behind this left-wing nationalist figure who eloquently voiced proletarian sentiments in the 1930s and 1940s against European fascism and Japanese militarism.
Uneven and Combined Development
Unlike Italy, then, the Philippines was distinguished as an undeveloped rural-agricultural economy without any heavy industry, under U.S. intellectual-moral control and “tutelage.” Utilitarian and pragmatic norms permeated the social habitus of the middle strata. This hegemony flourished due to the acquiescence of the oligarchic bloc of landlords, comprador merchants, and bureaucratic technocrats, complemented by overt and covert tactics of violence and bribery unleashed on the unruly sections of landless peasants, workers, and artisans. Challenged by numerous peasant insurrections, US hegemony continues under the façade of nominal independence.
Filipino cacique, or elite democracy is built on the parasitic dependency of the local clients on U.S. military, economic and political assistance. The Philippines is a polity formally identified as “national” (since the Philippines is recognized by the United Nations as a “nation-state”) without genuine sovereignty, but only “popular” on the basis of periodic elections. This is concealed by John Gershman who, in a historical survey of the country, describes the Marcos dictatorship as a hybrid of personalistic caudillo rule, aided by technocrats and regional alliances of governors, without any mention of U.S. dependency of the whole structure validated by bilateral treaties and secret stipulations (1993, 162).
From 1899 up to 1946, the U.S. utilized the Philippines as a source of cheap raw materials and labor (the country began to supply the Hawaii plantations with contract workers), as well as a military-naval outpost. The semi-feudal system of land tenure, especially in the sugar plantations, maintained oligarchic landlord power that shared governance with the comprador merchants in the cities. Clientelism and patronage regulated class friction. More impoverished than before, the peasant masses staged regular revolts culminating in the numerous peasant uprisings in the 1920s, the Sakdal uprising of the 1930s and the Communist-led Hukbahalap rebellion of the 1940s. The Moros for the most part followed their tribal chieftains. After World War II, the neocolonial government re-located landless peasants, former Huk partisans, to the southern island of Mindanao, temporarily relieving population pressure and unemployment in the North. The question of land and the demands of the peasantry eluded the leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines because, in a one-sided manner, they gave priority to the issue of independence, thus subordinating them to elite politicians like Quezon and abandoning the peasantry to the military, church and landlord private armies. Based on the small urban industries (printing, cigar-making, etc.), Crisanto Evangelista and other trade unionists set up the Party with six thousand members, a few from the peasant sector. Impatient, they tried to skip the necessary stage of winning hegemony in civil society, opting for confrontational tactics. Within less than one year, however, the leaders were in jail and the party criminalized and practically dismantled.
James Allen, a leading Communist Party USA functionary, visited the Philippines in 1936-38 and helped amalgamate the urban-based Communist Party with the peasant-based Socialist Party led by Pedro Abad Santos. In his memoirs, Allen criticizes the limitations of the Filipino Marxists, influenced by the anarchism and syndicalism absorbed from Spanish progressive intellectuals rather than from “liberal and radical ideas emanating from the United States” (1993, 27)—for example, the Popular Front perspective. Allen describes the peasant leaders Juan Feleo, Mateo del Castillo, and Pedro Abad Santos who, in contrast to the Communist Party leaders, emphasized the need for unifying the peasant and proletarian movements. Even though they were not familiar with the debates among Western Marxists, at least they paid attention to the “southern [peasant] question.” With the merger in 1938 of the Communist and Socialists in one Communist Party, the theme of national independence was eclipsed by a “democratic front policy” to oppose the victory of fascism in Europe and Japan. The mediation of Allen as the official representative of the U.S. party displaced the “national-popular” agenda with an internationalist one, thus legitimizing the continuing authority of the U.S.-patronized cacique, Quezon, who had terrorized the party and persecuted its officials, and only grudgingly tolerated their 1938 convention. Proletarian and socialist principles were displaced by the virtues of entrepreneurial individualism and U.S.-style pluralism, ironically conveyed by a trusted “tutor”/adviser from the U.S. Communist Party.
From a Gramscian point of view, a shift of party policy from the national to the international (in Gramsci’s specific case, this was brought about by the need to confront the rise of Italian fascism in the twenties) sacrifices the interests of the party’s mass base. It subordinates the party to the oligarchy whose defense of elite/cacique democracy would downplay their subservience to U.S. authority. The outcome in the Philippines was disastrous. When the U.S. forces returned in 1945, the axiomatics of U.S. imperialism, which disappeared in the struggle against Japanese Occupation, had to be re-learned after the arrest and killing of anti-Japanese Huk (Filipino communist-led) guerillas. A similar situation occurred thirty or so years later when former leftists made a fetish of “civil society” as an entity separate from the State, following U.S. Cold War strategy against the Soviet state. The postmarxists (former members of the Communist Party of the Philippines) glamorized the “democratic space” and electoral democracy without any substantive land reform or even token social-democratic improvements during Corazon Aquino’s presidency. Meanwhile, Aquino welcomed U.S. advisers to supervise terrorist and fascist measures against the left in the nineties. This policy of systematic terror against leftists and legal democrats continues under de facto president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, with over a thousand extra-judicial killings (also designated by human rights monitors as “summary executions”) and enforced disappearances since 2001.
Again, Gramsci’s lesson here is clear: replacing the need for an anti-imperialist “national-popular” bloc fighting for genuine national sovereignty, and the democratization of social property to abolish class privileges, means abandoning the entire socialist project. It is a formula for defeat.
During the Marcos dictatorship (1972-86), the revolutionary project of building socialism through a worker-peasant alliance took the form of a united front—the National Democratic Front (NDF) agenda initiated by a party established under “Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought.” Established in April 1973, the NDF sought to fight Marcos’ authoritarian-martial rule through the transitory alliance of the proletariat, peasantry, urban petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie in a national-democratic revolution—a people’s war geared to forming a democratic coalition government (on the postwar elite, see Agoncillo and Guerrero 1970, 670-71). According to the 1985 draft program, the NDF “provides a framework and channel for the unity and coordination of all groups and individuals adhering to, and advancing, the general line of fighting for national liberation and genuine democracy. It wages armed struggle—specifically a people’s war—as the principal form of struggle at this stage of the Philippine revolution; but it also recognizes the importance of other forms of struggle, and in fact combines and coordinates the armed struggle with all types of clandestine and open, non-legal and legal struggles” (1985, 5). In later elaborations of this program, one finds the “armed struggle” accentuated as the primary form of struggle nationwide, taking pride of place over all the other forms. The first item in the 12-point general program reads: “Unite the Filipino people to overthrow the tyrannical rule of US imperialism and the local reactionaries.”
Clearly, the NDF may have sidetracked, at certain conjunctures, the primacy of the armed struggle in favor of peace negotiations with the government beginning with the Hague Joint Declaration of 1992 (NDFP 2006). I see these negotiations as an astute move of the NDFP to build public consensus on the most crucial issues of land reform, social justice, and sovereignty, an opportunity denied it except in the liberated zones where the New People’s Army (NPA) exercises precarious ascendancy. However, the NPA cannot win consent in the domain of civil society (including the economic sphere) unless its program is translated into legally acceptable political-ideological actions. But the drive for winning consent (through both frontal assault and positional warfare) seems premised on a mechanical reading of the prevailing social production relations (not just the economic base, in the conventional sense). For example, there is a recurrent stress on the developing crisis as engendering the imminent collapse of the regime. Conversely, there is a belief that a spontaneous outburst of mass action may precipitate revolutionary victory, as suggested by the following statement of two closely identified with the NDF: “Insurrection can be undertaken only when the ruling system is in a rapid state of disintegration without any prompt and sufficient intervention of the U.S. and the revolutionary forces can be at the core of the spontaneously rising masses and have sufficient strength not only to seize power but also to keep it” (Sison and De Lima 1998, 152). Whereas Gramsci proposed that what is decisive is moral-intellectual leadership of the historic bloc of social forces, a leadership which does not passively anticipate crisis breakthroughs but in fact prepares the ground for such direct confrontations. In addition, the forces of the ruling bloc needs to be demoralized, disaggregated, and decapitated of its intellectual-moral leadership before proletarian hegemony can be assured.
Toward Clarifying the Problem of Transition
The problem of the national-democratic transition to socialism in the Philippines has been surrounded with the endless and often futile debate on the mode of production, in particular, whether feudalism or capitalist social relations obtain. Numerous volumes have appeared contradicting Sison and De Lima’s thesis of the Philippines as a semi-colonial and semi-feudal formation. For example, Ben Reid (2000) argues that the Philippines is now overdetermined by rent capitalism which is more vulnerable to urban insurrections, therefore a peasant-based insurgency is no longer valid or tenable as a revolutionary strategy. This kind of empiricist-positivist thinking is what Gramsci warns us to reject when he states: “[i]t is not the economic structure which directly determines the political action, but it is the interpretation of it and of the so-called laws which rule its development” (qtd. in Bobbio 1979, 33). And for Gramsci, such laws in Marxism are tendential laws that are historical, not methodological, because they always beget unpredictable countervailing forces. “Economic contradiction becomes a political contradiction” and economic law passes into political strategy (Bensaid 2002, 283).
Statistics proving uneven and combined development in neocolonial formations like the Philippines can be interpreted to serve either progressive or reactionary purposes; they cannot by themselves propose a revolutionary strategy. The active politician, Gramsci writes apropos of “the modern prince,” is a creator or initiator, basing himself “on effective reality” which is not something static or immobile, but rather “a relation of forces in continuous motion and shift of equilibrium.” Hence, normative ethical judgment and realistic critical analysis fuse in political action: “What ‘ought to be’ is therefore concrete; indeed it is the only realistic and historicist interpretation of reality, it alone is history in the making and philosophy in the making, it alone is politics” (1971, 171). The ascendancy of the national-popular will as the sign of accomplished hegemony does not hinge on the resolution of the feudal-or-capitalist debate but on the meticulous analysis of the balance of political forces, that is, on theorizing the alignment and conflict of social blocs on the terrain of a specific historical formation.
The Philippines is indeed a complex test case for revolutionary socialist politics. In such a highly differentiated political economy with divisions and fragmentation on every level, what is imperative is precisely an inventory of social-political forces. For there to be a revolutionary change, a national-popular movement in which masses will be “led to think coherently and in a unitary manner an existing reality” (Fontana 1993, 45). This critical and coherent practice of understanding is expansive, moving beyond sectarian, corporatist or parochial views. Gramsci’s strategy of striving for a national-popular bloc is premised on the notion of catharsis, the dialectic of the war of position and the war of maneuver, neither one nor the other but always contingent on the highly mutable balance of political forces: “The term ‘catharsis’ can be employed to indicate the passage from the purely economic (or egoistic-passional) to the ethico-political moment, that is the superior elaboration of the structure into superstructure in the minds of men. This also means the passage from ‘objective’ to ‘subjective’ and from ‘necessity’ to ‘freedom” (1971, 366). In short, proletarian class ideology becomes universalized; it becomes the nation-people’s “common sense,” pervading everyday life. All these have been prefigured in the emphasis Gramsci laid on the need for self-inventory, order gained from self-discipline, knowledge of social relations, and collective will in the essays I have cited earlier.
Failure to heed this dialectical analysis of the ever-shifting equilibrium of political forces, which is essentially a symptom of positivistic or dogmatic thinking, has led to catastrophes in the past. Most notable is the prediction by the leadership of the Huks in the Fifties that the neocolonial regime would collapse because of the sharpened crisis of international capitalism (Dalisay 1999, 116). This error stems from ignoring the form of the state being challenged and the existing balance of political forces, allowing the supposed transnationalization of production and finance to dictate the terms of the national struggle. It is the current malady afflicting anti-globalization “leftists” who consider the battle against the IMF/World Bank as more important than fighting the fascist, terrorist acts of the U.S.-Arroyo regime. The other lesson in ignoring the problematic of achieving hegemony via a national-popular bloc may be found in the CPP/NDF’s boycott of the “snap elections” of February 1986, a mistake due (to quote the official explanation) the mechanical analysis in terms of class standpoint and subjective intentions, without taking into account “the objective positioning of each of the political forces in motion and in interaction with others” (Schirmer and Shalom 1987, 384). But that self-criticism does not mention at all where and how the protagonism of the masses will intervene in the conjuncture.
With the demise of the Soviet system and the proliferation of Western-funded NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) in the civil society of “third world” countries, Gramsci was discovered as a quotable sage. In the Philippines, the “new social movements” opted for U.S.-promoted electoral democracy instead of socialism or national independence. In this milieu, Gramsci’s notion of engaging the state from bases within civil society was refunctioned to resolve the crisis of left-oriented political forces. This was surely an exercise in tendentious extrapolation at the tail of the Cold War when neoliberal themes/slogans purveyed via privately funded NGOs led by managerial technocrats flourished. Gramsci’s hegemony was equated with radical democracy, all struggle being reduced to the ideological realm (Wood 1986). In fact, the call for hegemony eclipsed and erased the call for revolution, or for people’s war. This is of course a prelude to the trendy, chic sectors of the anti-globalization movement embodied in the World Social Forum and its neopragmatic pluralism.
Statism or authoritarianism, exemplified by the Stalinist Soviet system and the orthodox vanguard party, the CPP, became the obsessive target of criticism. Instead of the problematic of the national-popular, and the need for democratic intellectuals to lead the masses to a coherent integrated conception of “il presente reale” [the real present] in order to change it, the “war of position” was inordinately aggrandized as the desideratum for achieving radical democracy, a substitute for proletarian egalitarianism. The Filipina scholar Eleanor Jaluague, for example, confidently asserts that “for Gramsci, the construction of socialism is, first and foremost, a battle for the minds of the people” so that they can organize themselves to reconstruct society” (1993, 237).
Is it just a matter of winning minds, maybe supplemented with hearts? While socialism is tokenly invoked, Jaluague’s anarchist bias is betrayed by her panicked rhetoric about dogmatism, military and administrative coercion by a party, by centralized domination by the state in whatever form. What needs to be conquered, she elaborates, “is the field of struggle that has consensus or hegemony as its primary stake,” namely, civil society (and the economy?) where democracy and the socialist state will materialize. Much energy is used up to foreground the “self-organization of the masses” to end “capitalist and feudal exploitation,” but absolutely nothing is said about U.S. imperial plunder of the Philippines nor the utter subservience of its rapacious local agents to predatory raids. Thus, Gramsci is instrumentalized to deflect attention away from the lack of national sovereignty, the fragmentation and anomic decay of society, and the unprecedented impoverishment of the masses—a majority of Filipinos subsist on $2 a day—and the endemic unemployment, which explains why eight out of ten households are stricken with hunger (Lichauco 2005), and why about nine million Filipinos are exploited migrant workers in over 200 countries around the world.
Imperial Terror Contra Revolution
Immediately after September 11, 2001, the Philippines was declared the “second battlefront” after Afghanistan in the “war on terror” (Tuazon 2002). In October, Secretary of State Colin Powell classified the CPP and the New People’s Army as “terrorist” organizations, clearly revealing the normative criterion of “terrorist” as any group or individual that opposes U.S. imperial policies and its effects. President Bush dispatched thousands of U.S. Special Forces and Marines to pursue members of the Moro guerilla contingent called “Abu Sayyaf,” actually a kidnap-for-ransom gang, alleged to be followers of Osama bin Laden. The informed public in the Philippines already knows that this group was set up by government military and local bureaucrats and businessmen to split up the Moro revolutionary camp and also channel ransom money into their private bank-accounts (Vitug and Gloria 2000).
Notwithstanding this truth, the Bush regime utilized the 1899 military conquest of the islands to justify sending U.S. troops to the Philippines as an example of the U.S. spreading democracy and freedom to benighted lands at horrendous costs for both Americans and Filipinos (Katz 2004; Kolko 1976).
There is no doubt that U.S. policies of hegemony succeeded in making the Philippines one of the first genuine neocolonies on the planet. Concluding his history of Philippines in the twentieth century, Renato Constantino states that after the 1946 grant of formal independence, “the culture, the institutions, the sciences and the arts that evolved only served to confirm in the minds of orthodox Filipinos the need for some form of dependence on the United States” (1975, 393-94). Lichauco contends that “the contradiction between colonialism and nationalism remains the principal contradiction of Philippine society” (2004; see also CENPEG 2005; Bauzon 1991).
Consequently, parasitic on U.S. support, the Filipino ruling bloc has never really won hegemony over the nation-people. Like the previous administrations from day one of the Republic up to the present, the Filipino elite has never enjoyed the full and total consent of the governed, as witness the uninterrupted peasant rebellions in the first fifty years of the last century, as well as the periodic eruptions of Moro antigovernment resistance. Even after the end of Marcos’s “constitutional” dictatorship, the military and police apparatus of the neocolonial state continues to be fully deployed both against the communist guerillas and the Moro insurgents—the Moros in fact receiving worldwide recognition of its legitimacy by the Organization of Islamic Conference. Class war persists in both its positional and confrontational dimensions.
Despite their unflagging struggle against fascist violence in defense of people’s rights and welfare, the NDF, CPP and NPA are branded as terrorists by all those who succeeded Marcos. At present, the Arroyo regime has been accused of unprecedented and massive extra-judicial killings and abductions of over a thousand citizens, priests, lawyers, journalists, human-rights advocates, labor union leaders, women, and activists from “civil society.” Amnesty International, the U.N. Special Rapporteurs, World Council of Churches, Human Rights Watch, and others have all agreed that Arroyo’s government, in particular the U.S.-funded and supervised Armed Forces of the Philippines and the National Police, are all guilty or complicit with those crimes. Last March 2007 at The Hague, Netherlands, the Permanent People’s Tribunal held a trial of the U.S.-Arroyo regime and found it guilty of “crimes against humanity,” a judgment conveyed to the United Nations, the European Parliament, and the International Court of Justice (San Juan 2007b). It would be logical to conclude then that following Gramsci, the war of maneuver, frontal assault, may considered appropriate (as it was in Russia in 1917), especially if the State (military-police power) was everything and civil society “primordial and gelatinous” (1971, 238). But is that the case in the Philippines today where, behind the army and bureaucracy, the trenches and fortifications of civil society—church, media, schools, etc.— have already been taken over by the national-popular bloc, the alliance of workers and peasants? If so, then the revolution has won. If not, we need to go back to the mass organizations and reassess our frameworks, paradigms, conceptual tools, and experiences.
We may sharpen our inquiry further. While the situation may be crisis-ridden and Arroyo deprived of majority support in “civil society,” has the working class party achieved hegemony in that realm? Apart from the logistical weakness and small size of the NPA (the Moros are plagued with leadership problems), the CPP and other left-leaning or socialist-oriented groups have not yet fully attained “national-popular” stature. That is, their leaders and intellectuals have not yet achieved that “organic cohesion in which feeling-passion becomes understanding and thence knowledge,” precisely that moment when they can be said to be representative insofar as a “shared life” exists “which alone is a social force […] the ‘historical bloc’ (1971, 418). We do not yet have proletarian-oriented “common sense” operating in everyday social life. In other words, the historical bloc of national-popular forces has not been realized as yet, despite the utterly corrupt, mendacious and criminal actions of the illegitimate president. The neocolonial state survives by virtue of superior military-police organization (though rent by factional in-fighting, as attested to by several mutinies in the last decade, which persist up to now) and the inadequacy of its challengers. Above all, the neocolonial state is able to function with a semblance of normality (though everyday is replete with emergency episodes) because of unremitting U.S. support. Recently, for example, the Bush administration announced an increase of military assistance from $11 million to $30 million, with the release of an additional $2 million contingent on the Philippine government’s implementation of the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur to solve the unconscionable extra-judicial or summary killings of civilians (Balana 2007). In addition, the elite is able to survive because of the $12-14 billion annual remittance of OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers), enough to pay the growing foreign debt and fund the irredeemably corrupt bureaucracy and military-police apparatus.
Globalizing the Nation?
Viewed from the neo-gramscian perspective of international political economists such as Andreas Bieler and Adam David Morton, we need to take into account recent developments. Apart from the social relations of production within Philippine society and the forms of state power, we need to take account of the current world order, the appearance of trends such as “the new constitutionalism” and “disciplinary neo-liberalism.” Future research should take into account the “recomposition of state-civil society relations” that generate new structures of exploitation, forms of class-consciousness, modes of resistance and class struggle (Bieler and Morton 2003). This will enhance the tools provided by world-systems analysis and previous critiques offered by Samir Amin, Istvan Meszaros, and others.
It seems that these new developments have not been fully appreciated by the dominant trend in the left, particularly the one represented by Jose Maria Sison, the founding chair of the CPP. In his 2007 update to a book on Philippine economy and politics, Sison reaffirms the party line of the national democratic revolution in a semi-colonial and semi-feudal country. This proceeds
through protracted people’s war under the leadership of the proletariat. The strategic line of encircling the cities from the countryside and accumulating strength in the countryside until it becomes possible to seize the cities realizes and activates the basic class alliance of the working class and the peasantry. (2007)
Echoing Mao Tsetung’s formulas, Sison correctly grasps the vital need to address the land problem and mobilize the peasantry. But, on further examination, the dichotomy of city-countryside operates in the party discourse as an abstract empiricistic formula devoid of any real political analysis. The military aspect of the struggle becomes a numbers game, not a result of the analysis of the changing balance of political forces which have been spatially or geographically fixed, without reference to levels of political awareness, unity, etc. Even if such an analysis were attempted, the inert schemata of the scriptural Philippine Society and Revolution preponderates, ruling out the concrete analysis of historical blocs and the ideologies, values and beliefs comprising hegemonic platforms.
Gramsci’s theory of hegemony operating through the historic bloc of the national/popular conceptualizes the idea of socialist revolution as a transformation in the relation of political forces. Protracted people’s war, if it is not just a carry-over slogan from the Chinese experience, needs to be judged as a tactic, not a long-range strategy of political struggle where the land problem coexists within the question of neocolonial dependency. “People’s war” also needs to concede if not incorporate the more urgent demand for Moro self-determination within its parameters. Within the dual perspective that Gramsci applies to the revolutionary process, the military moment of a relation of forces—the moment of maneuver or frontal assault—must be located within the unity of the whole formation and the complex relation of the elements within it. Gramsci warns us that it is foolish to be fixated by a military model since politics must have priority over its military aspect: “[o]nly politics creates the possibility for maneuver and movement” (1971, 232; Sassoon).
Notwithstanding the primacy of class struggle in historical materialism, the people-nation remains the pivotal agency for a strategy against hegemonic imperialism. The people (prefigured by the revolutionary worker-peasant alliance) and the emergent nation endowed with critical universality (Lowy 1998) remains the dual thematic and narrative vectors of any socialist praxis in neocolonized formations. In the case of the Philippines, as long as the peasantry remains the base of landlord power, and therefore of bourgeois (U.S. and local comprador) control, the insurgency in the countryside will always be an integral part of the “civil society” which is the paramount terrain of the national-democratic struggle. Again, we need to be reminded that civil society includes the economic sphere lest everything be reduced to the cultural or ideological realm. The immiserated countryside continues to serve as the reservoir for the thousands of migrant contract workers who now remit billions of their earnings, enough to pay the country’s huge foreign debt to the World Bank and financial consortiums. And as long as the Philippines is a deformed or inchoate “nation-state,” without real sovereignty, the nationalist project—global decolonization as “the most significant correlate of US hegemony” (Arrighi 1993) remains pivotal and decisive in socialist transformation. Without the Filipino nation-people, there is no agency to carry out the socialist revolution in a neocolonial location. Without the national-popular, there can be no historical specificity to analyze, no particularity to authenticate the universal drive of global socialist transformation of the global capitalist system. By grasping the full implications of Gramsci’s “national-popular” as applied to the historicized formation of a neocolony like the Philippines, by exploring its heuristic and explanatory value for socialist goals, we may be able to find to explore the most fruitful way of being Gramscian in this new millennium of imperial terror and impending planetary ecological disasters.
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Dr. E. San Juan, Jr.
PHILIPPINES CULTURAL STUDIES CENTER
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