The petition filed by youth activist group Anakbayan at the Commission on Elections against Akbayan! Citizen’s Action Party’s participation in the party-list elections and the series of spectacles arising therefrom has helped much to place Akbayan’s so-called progressive credentials into public scrutiny.
Anakbayan asserts that Akbayan should be disqualified from the party-list race because several of its officers and congressional nominees have been appointed in high-level positions in the Aquino regime, thus belying Akbayan’s claim of being marginalized and underrepresented[i] and making a mockery of a system established to empower the voiceless in the elite-dominated Congress.
But instead of replying squarely to this valid questions, Akbayan instead resorted to ad hominem attacks against its critics, calling them “KSP” or attention seekers and “inggit lang” or envious of Akbayan. This came to a head when an October 16 Akbayan press conference ended in the forcible manhandling by Akbayan personalities of Anakbayan members who were simply protesting Akbayan official’s recourse to malicious red-baiting against their critics rather than answering the questions about their being an administration-backed party-list.
According to Akbayan and its allies, their critics do not know its history and track record “of championing the marginalized and underrepresented within and outside the halls of congress.” Anakbayan, they further said, was giving the Left a “bad name” for engaging in “sloganeering” and “hooliganism.” But the critical-minded know all too well the real role played by Akbayan in leading the oppressed and exploited masses astray from the path of militant struggles by peddling the illusion of changing the bankrupt social system from within.
The terms leftist and rightist arose as categories in the political spectrum when the victorious French Revolution that overthrew the abusive feudal monarchy established a national assembly. Seated on the left side of this assembly were the peasants, workers and intellectuals who pushed for more radical social transformations.[ii]
Seated on the right were the royalists who opposed more changes to secure their wealth and power. Nostalgic for their lost privileges, they dreamt of restoring the old order. In short, leftists are for social transformation while rightists are for the defense of a rotten social system. Based on this elementary distinction, it becomes clear that Akbayan cannot be anywhere on the left.
Akbayan has only managed to sustain its progressive pretensions by using reformist rhetoric and by issuing customary press statements feigning opposition to some government actions while remaining utterly subservient to its Malacanang backers. Its party platform talks of fighting corruption, pushing for decent work and sustainable livelihood, agrarian reform, more market-labor regulations, education for all, housing for all, and calling for greater State responsibility over the healthcare system to ensure health as a right, among many others.
But the track record of Akbayan would show a complete absence of spine and strong opposition whenever these platforms they purport to advocate are threatened by the anti-people policies of the Aquino regime. For a so-called “leftwing” party, it is exceptional for its deafening silence on the standard issues of the day from the almost weekly demolitions of urban poor families to make way for big business establishments, the intensifying U.S. military intervention, and the rising oil prices, basic commodities, and tuition and other school fees.
This is not surprising considering Akbayan’s virtual endorsement of the Aquino regime’s neoliberal Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016, its anti-globalization rhetoric notwithstanding. Akbayan has become the government’s adjunct in implementing programs that temporarily allay the people’s suffering but without addressing the roots of their poverty. It vigorously pushed for the dole-out Conditional Cash Transfers which gives out short change to poor families using funds loaned from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Not only is the program prone to corruption and patronage, it does not affect any qualitative change in beneficiaries who remain poor and jobless.
Parroting the Aquino regime, Akbayan also promotes the so-called “sin tax” that aims to raise revenues by further burdening the masses with new taxes in the guise of going against tobacco corporations. With debt servicing getting the lion’s share of the national budget, there is no assurance that this tax measure will proceed to the improvement of health services. Its reproductive health advocacy is anchored on a population control agenda which echoes the government line of blaming population growth for its own failure to address the people’s needs. Like the watered down cheaper medicines act that Akbayan also supported, this plays to the hands of pharmaceutical companies salivating for superprofits from contraceptives.
Meanwhile, the strong posturing against former Chief Justice Renato Corona and Chinese intrusion in South China Sea was meanwhile calculated to assuage growing criticisms against “noynoying” or President Aquino’s inaction on gut issues like oil price hikes, rising hunger, and intensifying poverty.
To the pleasure of big landlords, Akbayan even pushed for the extension of the bogus Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with reforms, which in its four years of implementation which has not only completely failed to dismantle the land monopoly in the countryside but further strengthened it.
Even Hacienda Luisita, owned by the president’s own family, is still not redistributed despite a Supreme Court order and decades of militant peasant struggle. The Aquino regime, with Akbayan as its main partner in pushing for agrarian development, has the worst record in the post-Marcos era in terms of land distribution.
And when Akbayan tried to ride along the strong public opposition of the Cybercrime law, President Aquino’s defense of the inclusion of online libel in the legislation was enough to tone down their criticism to that of just “frowning” followed by a token “encouragement” of the President to change his stand.
Akbayan Representative Walden Bello continues to cry wolf, wildly claiming that the move to have Akbayan disqualified is a sequel to the alleged threat to his life stemming from a diagram (misrepresented by Akbayan as a hit-list) on the disposition of former leftists who bolted out of the revolutionary movement published in the official paper of the Communist Party of the Philippines in December 2004.
But the opposite is in fact the case. With former Akbayan Rep. Etta Rosales as Commission on Human Rights Chief, the number of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations continue to rise as they join other repressive state apparatuses in maliciously labeling government critics as communist rebels to be “neutralized.” By red-baiting its critics, Akbayan has become a willing tool of the Aquino regime’s counterinsurgency campaign Oplan Bayanihan which does not make any distinctions between red fighters of the Communist Party of the Philippines-led revolutionary movement and civilian activists of the legal Left mass movement.
This propensity for distortion and its pseudo-progressive credentials makes Akbayan the most perfect accomplice in the government’s dirty war against its critics. This is not the only time that we see the deceptive disregard of Akbayan for historical facts and the truth for the sake of scoring propaganda points.
Akbayan boasts of being the first progressive group to participate in the first party-list election in 1998 while condemning the left (which it deridingly tags as extreme to paint itself as moderate) for allegedly failing to do the same because of its “clinging to its ‘boycott election’ policy.” This demagogic line is pursued to tie down together two revisionist accounts of the Philippine left’s history. Firstly, that the left missed out of the final push against the Marcos dictatorship (the 1986 EDSA popular uprising) because of its boycott policy during the mid-80s snap elections. Secondly, the dogmatism of the left alleged to have caused this error” still persists in the present.
The Philippine left already repudiated the ‘boycott error’ as a tactical blunder as early as 1987 and even fielded eight senatorial candidates under the erstwhile Partido ng Bayan in that year’s elections. Far from missing the EDSA uprising that drove the dictator Marcos out of power, the left formed a significant chunk of the critical mass in EDSA and the main force that marched to Malacanang from EDSA. The left also organized the mass actions in the cities and towns outside of Metro Manila that neutralized pro-Marcos forces in the regions.
The left may have entered the party-list arena after Akbayan did in 1998. But this is because it had to reconsolidate itself after the schemes of former leftists (who would bolt out of the left to form Akbayan) failed to wreck the movement from within by spreading the line that electoral participation is the only way for the left to remain relevant in the post-Marcos period. It is exactly this mindset of quick gains and easy spoils that denigrated the importance of solid organizing, arousing, and mobilizing of the people for social change rather than piecemeal reforms that easily end in an unprincipled collaboration with the ruling classes.
Following this logic, militant struggles are displaced by a politics of pushing for minuscule reforms in the existing system that all-too-often becomes a thinly disguised veneer for the begging for crumbs from the corrupt order – a trend proven in practice starting with the Ramos regime which they harped would industrialize the country[iii], up to the Estrada and Arroyo regimes which they only abandoned after public outrage swelled. This opportunist line led these former leftists to team up with various stripes of social democrats, NGO racketeers, and opportunists hungry for positions in government to form Akbayan.
Akbayan talks of advancing “participatory socialism and participatory democracy” and changes that are “humanist, socialist, democratic, pluralist and gender sensitive.” But whoever speaks of supporting the oppressed and exploited people in words but serves their class enemies in deeds can never be considered a genuine progressive.
Back in the 1920s, the Russian revolutionary leader V.I Lenin described the phenomenon of how union leaders and “socialist” members of parliament in the European and American capitalist powers have become a “labor aristocracy” who are bribed by their ruling classes out of the super-profits plundered from the colonies and semi-colonies. These co-opted labor leaders “who are quite philistine in their mode of life, in the size of their earnings and in their entire outlook” became “real agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement, the labour lieutenants of the capitalist class, real channels of reformism and chauvinism.”
In the same way, Akbayan’s leaders has served to function as present-day “labor aristocrats” who hunger for positions in government as well as rackets and projects from foreign NGOs on the backs of their marginalized mass base. By merely aiming to get positions in government for the purpose of instituting “reforms” without transforming the fundamental economic and political relations that underlie the rotten social order, Akbayan has become a favorite of those in power who give it favors to prettify their oppressive rule and displace critical dissenters from the mainstream.
It boasts of achieving concrete and immediate gains that have “beneficial results for consolidating the people’s strength, weakening elite rule and advancing the people’s welfare.” They blame the left for lengthening the people’s sufferings because of its alleged dogmatic fixation with an oppositional stance that could have been better spent dealing with the class enemy.
But how can Akbayan “establish building blocks of radical reforms” if it avoids confronting head on US imperial domination over the country’s politics, economy, and culture? If it is silent on the unequal agreements that continue to keep the country import-dependent, export-oriented economic, notwithstanding lip service to sustainable development? If its notion of agrarian reform is within the framework of maintaining a backward and foreign-dominated economy? If its congressmen joins in rubber stamping a budget that prioritizes foreign debt servicing and military spending over education and other social services? If it apologizes for the government’s neoliberal policies while professing to be against it?
Some pundits have mistakenly depicted the debate between Akbayan and Anakbayan as a conflict within a fractious Philippine left. Because of the presence of some former leftists in the Akbayan camp, the current dispute is sometimes perceived as a spin-off of the reaffirm versus rejectionist split of the 90s. However, a deeper look would show that the Philippine left has gone beyond the narrow terms of that era with both the underground and legal left successfully rectifying various errors while the other factions of the rejectionists further splitting into smaller and smaller sects or getting co-opted by the state, thus slipping into irrelevancy as real agencies for social change.
We no longer have the clash of contradicting modes of analyses of Philippine society and the corollary opposing methodologies as to how to change it; the Akbayan versus Anakbayan standoff has become part of the larger struggle between the broad national democratic movement on the left and the reactionary state on the right, with Akbayan acting as the latter’s special arm to confuse the people.
Social Democratic or Social Fascist?
Part of Karl Marx and Frederick Engel’s Manifesto of the Communist Manifesto includes a survey of the various socialist and communist literatures of their day that served to put blinders on the workers instead of illuminating them in their militant and revolutionary struggles.
The conservative socialists push for the improvement of the material conditions of existence of the working classes through reforms “that in no respect affect the relations between capital and labour, but, at the best, lessen the cost, and simplify the administrative work, of bourgeois government.” Believing that socialism no longer “express the struggle of one class against another,” the ‘true’ socialists strove to represent “not true requirements, but the requirements of Truth; not the interests of the proletariat, but the interests of Human Nature, of Man in general, who belongs to no class… who exists only in the misty realm of philosophical fantasy.”
These two pseudo-progressive strands of Marx and Engel’s own era seems to be echoed by today’s self-proclaimed “moderate leftists,” thereby upholding the cultural critic Fredric Jameson’s observation of how every move to go beyond Marxism typically regresses to pre-Marxist positions. Consumed by disgust for the “reductionism” of the class struggle, they eulogize the figure of the good citizen who goes beyond the “vulgar” material interests and advocates the inclusion of the marginalized to the political arena by appealing to the “citizen action, and community cooperation for the common good.”
But action speaks louder than words. While Akbayan’s ruling “social democratic” counterparts in Europe use the entire machinery of the state to repress the mounting mass struggles against austerity cuts and unemployment, Akbayan is satisfied with red-baiting that sets the stage for the illegal arrests, torture, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of critics of the Aquino regime.
The social democratic workers movement at the turn of the 20th century still had Marxist pretensions of following a peaceful road to socialism through participation in the parliamentary elections under the tutelage of the Second International and the ideological guidance of the likes of Bernstein and Kautksy. [iv]
Fast-forward to the post-World War period, the social democrats became contented with the management of a social welfare state. Dropping the explicit demand for the replacement of capitalism with a socialist alternative, they enjoyed the comforts of simply hiding the reactionary order behind a more human face.
In more recent years, social democratic parties in Western Europe have become the main exponents of neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatization, and deregulation including budget cuts, austerity measures, bailouts of big corporations and other anti-people measures.
The name social democratic that these bogus reformers have claimed for themselves thus becomes a misnomer in the face of a fascist streak garbed in socialist rhetoric. In this sense, the term social fascist should be a better description for Akbayan and its social democratic ilk. As the crisis of the world capitalist system and the domestic ruling order pushes the masses to militant resistance, Akbayan’s reactionary essence and social fascism will become even more difficult to conceal. [v]
[i] In a petition filed to the Commission of Elections last 2 October 2012, Anakbayan exposed the names of Akbayan officials appointed by Malacanang:
- Ronald Llamas, former Akbayan president, now presidential political affairs adviser
- Etta Rosales, former Akbayan president and representative, is now Commission on Human Rights chief
- Joel Rocamora, former Akbayan president and ideologue, now head of National Anti-Poverty Commission
- Percival Cendena, former Akbayan chairperson, is National Youth Commission commissioner-at-large
Akbayan nominees for 2013 also hold appointive positions:
- Barry Gutierrez, 2nd nominee is Malacanang’s undersecretary for political affairs
- Angelina Ludovice-Katoh, 3rd nominee is a Commissioner in the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor
[ii] Today, the political left in the Philippines is embodied by the broad national democratic movement, which has consistently stood for national liberation, social justice, and genuine democracy against all foreign domination and domestic oppression and exploitation.
[iii] The Ramos regime’s Philippines 2000 program would supposedly make a newly industrialized country by implementing foreign imposed programs of intensified privatization, deregulation, and liberalization of the economy. By the end of his term, these neoliberal “reforms” would make the country even more susceptible to the 1997 Asian Financial crisis.
[iv] These classical revisionists not only diluted the revolutionary edge of Marxism by preaching reformism, they also acted as the tails of bourgeois regimes that launched the first World War by supporting the war budgets of their own mother countries. They propped up colonialism and provided justifications for imperialism, saying this will bring about the development of the countries in the periphery of the world capitalist system.
[v] This essay was edited on October 25, 2012.