Leloy McCarthy

Since US President Donald Trump’s visit in early November, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has escalated his government’s attacks against the Philippine Left, whose support he tried to court in his 2016 presidential bid and the early part of his presidency. Indications show that he is unleashing the dirty tactics of his notorious “war on drugs” – a class war on the poor which has killed more than 10,000 suspected drug addicts and pushers – against the Left, the most vocal critic of his drug war and other policies.

It is in this context that academic and historian Lisandro “Leloy” E. Claudio discussed what he called “Responsible Anti-Communism” in his recent column. By “Communist,” he is rightly referring to the underground Communist Party of the Philippines which leads the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. In his column, he echoes Duterte and revives McCarthyist tactics in insisting that the label “Communist” should also refer to legal organizations being tagged as the CPP’s “legal fronts.”

The past few days saw tarpaulin banners calling the CPP, NPA and NDF “terrorist” proliferating along major thoroughfares in Metro Manila. This is part of a concerted effort to try to condition the public for more attacks against the said groups, as well as legal activist organizations. On social media, especially among the educated middle classes, Claudio’s most recent column functions as the counterpart of those tarpaulin banners.

For Claudio, “responsible anti-Communism” means being firmly against Communists but standing up for their human rights against the State’s attacks. It means harshly criticizing Communists while taking a stand against their “extermination” and the violation of their rights by the government.

He states only one reason for upholding Communists’ human rights: that “responsible anti-Communists” should not “sink to the level of the bloody dictators that [Communists] idolize.” This reason is most flimsy because he accuses “Communist dictators” in other countries of killing millions of people. Surely, “responsible” Filipino anti-Communists cannot sink that low, even if they support the killing of many Filipino Communists.

More importantly, his essay expounds on anti-Communism – on the supposed “bloody history” of Communism, which has been used to try to justify the killing and suppression of Communists and suspected Communists – more lengthily than on defending Communists’ human rights. Out of his 18 paragraphs, only three discussed upholding the human rights of Communists.

He may be on record opposing the killings and violation of Communists’ human rights, but he does more to incite the State to carry out such killings and human-rights violations. His essay is a thinly-veiled, or thinly-sugarcoated, death wish on Communists. He wants to hate on Communists, but he wants a clean conscience, too.

And Claudio is not unaware of the immediate context of his column: he cites Duterte’s cancellation of the peace talks with the NDFP and declaration that the CPP and NPA are “terrorist organizations.” He knows that the latter “augurs violence” and “can trigger repression reminiscent of the butcher Jovito Palparan.” (sic)

Despite his earnest posturing, he deserves no peace of mind. Make no mistake about it: distributed among top military officials, his essay will inspire them to kill and repress Communists, not respect the latter’s human rights.

Claudio tries to make his doctrine sound newfangled but it comes across as a poorly executed application of some US manual for Cold War propaganda. He says Communism is a “violent ideology” with a “bloody history,” that Communist leaders are “mass murderers” and “bloody dictators,” and so on and so forth. It comes as no surprise that he at some point would equate Communism with Nazism itself.

Nazism, however, aimed to elevate a group of people, the Germans, through a “reckoning” with, or elimination of, Jews and other people deemed inferior. It is, in its essential principles, violent. Communism, however, aims at the elimination of private property – from which monopoly of the means of production and therefore class division and exploitation spring. It recognizes the need for the violence of the oppressed classes in response to the violent defense of private property by the ruling classes led by the bourgeoisie and monopoly bourgeoisie. And the latter has never ceased being violent.

That means that violence for Communists is not directed at the working classes and the people. As Bertolt Brecht says in his “In Praise of Communism” [1932]: “It’s sensible / anyone can understand it / It’s easy. / You’re not an exploiter, / so you can grasp it.” When it comes to class, interest trumps ideas; the ruling classes cannot be convinced to surrender their wealth and power, their monopoly of the means of production and State power.

This does not, however, mean that violence will be used wholesale against all members of the ruling classes, either. Only people who will use violence against the revolution will be themselves targeted for violence. It is worth remembering that Pu-Yi, China’s last emperor, was later on recruited as a member of the Chinese Communist Party after the latter came into power.

The equation of Communism with Nazism and their presentation as enemies of democracy are common themes in anti-Communist thought. These are also present in “Duterismo, Maoismo, Nasyonalismo,” the essay contributed by Claudio and his mentor, the academic and historian Patricio N. Abinales, to the recently-published A Duterte Reader [2017]. They even applied this schema to the country’s experience with Martial Law, depicting the CPP and Ferdinand Marcos as both enemies of the country’s “liberal democracy.”

Claudio and Abinales present themselves as historians but are ahistorical, even anti-historical, when analyzing Communism, Nazism, and so-called democracy. To use an old-fashioned vocabulary, they fixate on the synchronic (the supposed general and common characteristics of Communism and Nazism) to the detriment of the diachronic (how Communism and Nazism emerged and interacted with each other in history). They embrace the simple-minded equation between two political philosophies which are seen as justifications for dictatorial rule.

Before Communism and Nazism, however, there was so-called democracy, which actually rests on the economic bedrock of capitalism and later on imperialism. It is the exploitation, poverty, hunger, wars, deaths and destruction caused by capitalism-imperialism which gave birth to Communism and hastened the latter’s increase in strength. It is also imperialism that bred fascism and Nazism, and it used the latter to try to destroy Communism.

In War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century [2015] and other works, the intellectual Domenico Losurdo, who actually does historical research, provides many bases for this reading. He showed how the major imperialist countries of the 20th century supported the rise of fascism in Europe and Nazism in Germany, and how they hated Communism more than Nazism. How Germany’s concentration camps and other repressive measures drew inspiration not from Bolshevik Russia, but from European and American colonialism. How Nazism saw itself as an enemy of what it called “Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy” – and for good reason, because Communism was animating and supporting the struggles of what Nazis called “inferior nations.”

Anti-Communists like Claudio and Abinales love to cite the Hitler-Stalin pact, or the German-Soviet Non-aggression Pact of 1939 as proof of the supposed blood ties between Communism and Nazism. The truth is that the Soviet government led by Stalin, hated by imperialist governments friendly to the Nazi regime, had to try to split its enemies. It tried to buy time in order to prepare for Nazi Germany’s inevitable and impending attack. And its tactical gamble paid off: when Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, the latter was more prepared. It was the Soviet Union, not the US or any European country, which defeated Hitler’s army, at the cost of millions of lives.

The same schema is also true in the case of the Philippines. The crisis of the semi-colonial and semi-feudal system and its elite democracy helped the local Communist movement to grow. Marcos’ Martial Law, also a spawn of that system, was an attempt to weaken and destroy that movement – and it is that movement which sustained and led the struggle against Martial Law. It is no less than historical revisionism to depict Marcos and the CPP as engaged in some conspiracy against “liberal democracy” in the Philippines, the existence of which also needs further proof.

Instead of criticizing the fascism of the US-backed Duterte regime, Claudio chose to highlight the “bloody history” of Communists, the regime’s target. Beyond his essay’s “timing,” however, the greater problem lies in his one-sided and ahistorical understanding of killings supposedly done in the name of Communism. One-sided: he did not at least study how Communists and even some academic historians explain these deaths and instead simply parroted the US Cold War line on these. Ahistorical: he did not locate these supposed crimes and excesses in their proper historical contexts.

First, he fails to situate the struggles for Communism that he cites in the context of underdevelopment, people’s suffering and war. Second, he also fails to situate governments adhering to Communism in the context of the state of siege imposed by the US and other Western powers through wars, embargo, sabotage, and other measures. Imperialist policy on Communist governments is reflected by the order of then-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to weaken the democratically-elected socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile in the early 1970s: “Make the economy scream.”

Let us be clear: these contexts do not excuse the deaths that occurred under the name of Communism, but they provide a better understanding of these. There were deaths that were committed by Communists in error, but it would be erroneous to remove all deaths in the Communist movement and Communist-inspired governments from their historical contexts and present them as evils of Communism.

Third, Claudio fails to recognize how Communist movements drew lessons and learned from errors committed in the past that resulted in the death of many. Fourth, if the number of deaths caused by a political and economic system is the standard by which it should be measured, then Claudio should have examined the immensely more numerous killings committed in the name of “liberal democracy” and imperialism – which include those who were killed in many a bloody anti-Communist campaign. Alas, Claudio always prefers the caudillo over the cadre.

He cites Robert Francis Garcia’s book To Suffer Thy Comrades [2001] as proof that local Communists are also murderous. The fact that the killings discussed in the book were committed in a small fraction of the Philippine Left’s more than 50-year history shows that the context of those killings is important.

Again, Claudio does not present that context: military adventurist errors committed by the NPA, heightened government intelligence and attacks, and errors in the NPA’s handling of alleged infiltrators. The fact that the said errors have not been repeated is proof that such killings are not integral to the principles of Communism. It is also proof that local Communists can sum up their experiences, correctly derive lessons from these, and hold on to those lessons in practice.

When Claudio says “It is the moral obligation of the historian in the Philippines to speak about Communism’s bloody history,” he wants that history extracted from its wider historical context. He refuses to study and engage with the best explanations that Communism has to offer for its own history, instead contenting himself with US Cold War propaganda.

It is telling that Claudio claims that Communism’s central principle is “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” This is central, but secondary to the abolition of private property. He betrays his failure to study Communism itself – in fact, its basic text, The Communist Manifesto – and his reliance on ready-made Cold War propaganda.

It is uncanny that Claudio speaks in terms of “moral obligation” when in the same essay he joins the chorus of the government and the military in tagging legal progressive organizations as “Communist fronts.” The government and the military will not listen to his faint appeals for Communists’ human rights, but their repressive campaign – already in motion carried out by dominant forces in society – will benefit from his demonization of Communists and alleged Communist fronts. It seems that for Claudio, historians and academics also have the moral obligation to lend a hand to the government and the military’s drive to kill and suppress suspected Communists.

Claudio always speaks with the arrogance of someone who thinks that he stands for democracy while his enemies, the Communists, stand for dictatorship. He even calls the CPP a “dictatorial organization.”

The strict equation that Claudio makes between democracy and liberal democracy exposes his ignorance. Wendy Brown clarifies: “liberal democracy, Euro-Atlantic modernity’s dominant form, is only one variant of the sharing of political power connoted by the venerable Greek term. Demos + cracy = rule of the people and contrasts with aristocracy, oligarchy, tyranny, and also with a condition of being colonized or occupied… The term carries a simple and purely political claim that the people rule themselves, that the whole rather than the part or an Other is politically sovereign [“We are all democrats now…,” 2011].

More importantly, in class societies, “Democracy and dictatorship are two sides of a coin,” said Francisco Nemenzo, Jr. [“Questioning Marx, Critiquing Marxism,” 1992]. In capitalist democracies, the democracy enjoyed by big capitalists is imposed as a dictatorship on workers and the people, whose only democratic participation is voting during elections. Socialist democracy is the dictatorship of the proletariat imposed on the big bourgeoisie, and since it is enjoyed by the majority beyond regular elections, it is a democracy that is deeper and more real.

In the end, Claudio’s anti-Communism coheres with the strategy summarized by American Marxist Fredric Jameson: “The substitution of politics for economics was always a key move in the hegemonic struggle against Marxism (as in the substitution of questions of freedom for those of exploitation) [“Sartre’s Critique, Volume 2: An Introduction,” 2009].”

Instead of fighting to change the exploitative, unequal, unjust and violent ruling system, anti-Communists like Claudio fight the very Communists who are risking life and limb for such change – using Communism’s “bloody history” as bogeyman. In more arrogant moments in his essays and social media posts, Claudio celebrates US influence over the country, the Philippines’ “liberal democracy,” and the Yellow faction of the ruling classes.

It is in this precise sense – anti-Communism defending the status quo and attacking those who want genuine change – that we can say: anti-Communism can never be responsible. It is always irresponsible. So are the academics and historians that peddle it.

14 December 2017

Featured image: From ‘Agraryo Marksismo’ by Federico Boyd Dominguez