Response to Immanuel Ness

[This is a message I gave as reactor to Immanuel Ness’ “Global Rupture: Neoliberalism and the Political Economy of Poverty and Inequality” on Feburary 18, 2019.]

Our comrade Immanuel Ness deserves our praise for today’s talk on neoliberalism and the political economy of poverty and inequality for raising issues which should be talked about by everyone who is interested in the empowerment of the marginalized majority of workers, peasants, and oppressed peoples of the world for their liberation from exploitation and oppression.

I use the The Palgrave Encyclopaedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism (2016), of which Ness is one of the co-editors as one of main references in my Jose Rizal classes here at the university. So I’m very excited to come here and listen to Ness’ talk today. More than my personal interest, the value of Ness’ work is in its contribution to the critique of dominant forms of thinking in the academic establishment which entails uncritical acceptance of mainstream discourses on contemporary globalization as a progressive force that will help so-called developing nations like the Philippines catch-up with the industrialized powers of the west.

In our field in Philippine Studies, many scholars and academic intellectuals engaged with militant class-based nationalism borne of the revolutionary upsurge of the 1960s and 1970s. This spurred the growth of Marxist-inspired nationalist and popular histories and cultural studies in spite the Marcos dictatorship’s violent suppression of overt radicalization in academic institutional sites. However, this was also contemporaneous with the waning fortunes of Marxist theorizing in academia and its displacement by various culturalist, post-structuralist, and post-colonial discourses in the West.

Indeed, the 1980s and 1990s augured a period of questioning of the legitimacy of radical politics in intellectual circles and labeling of revolutionary violence as modes of pursuing social change relegated as “totalitarian” rather than emancipatory. As Alain Badiou (2001) recalls: “every revolutionary project stigmatized as ‘utopian’ turns, we are told, into totalitarian nightmare. Every will to inscribe an idea of justice or equality turns bad”. Such crisis was compounded by the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the general retreat of labor and national liberation movements worldwide.

It became customary for intellectuals to echo the idea of the absence of any alternative to capitalism now coyly referred by euphemisms like globalization, development, and “progress”. Globalization is peddled as a liberating force from the straitjacket of national borders and the exclusions constructed by the bourgeois nation-state. On the other hand, some who cling to nationalist discourses has settled for mere gestures that does not touch the political economic foundations of dependency – for nativist, culturalist, regionalist, and identity-based particularism which are the foundations of right-wing populist and fascist currents.

Two sides of the same coin, both eschewed of concepts and discourses of national liberation, anti-imperialism, proletarian internationalism as supposedly outmoded and archaic. And yet in doing so both currents obscure the way neoliberal globalization as the contemporary iteration of capitalist-imperialism has intensified exploitation of workers and oppressed peoples across national borders to raise capitalist profits. Such unjust and unequal relations is sustained by state terrorism and militarism as can be seen in the US interventions in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and now Venezuela and the rise of fascist regimes in the Philippines, India, Brazil, and various parts of the world.

Neoliberal globalization, as Immanuel Ness (2016) shows, has in fact been based on the pauperization of majority, allowing capitalism to survive one crisis after another only by extracting more surplus value to the detriment of oppressed peoples and nations, especially in its peripheries. The national question as framed along anti-imperialist lines, as ecologist Robert Biel (2015) contends, thereby remains relevant for people’s movements seeking a more just and equitable world in as much as it seeks to regenerate “the intimate relationship of the working people with their own land, the connection between land, culture, and language”.

The Philippines today is well-respected internationally for its vibrant revolutionary movement and legal democratic mass movement. It has not always been this way. Sixty years ago, the disastrous defeat of the Huk rebellion of the old Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) in the 1950s seemed to have foreclosed the fortunes of radical and revolutionary politics on the national scene. 

As communist party founder Jose Maria Sison (2018) points out, the revolutionary movement could be re-established “in 1968 because it was preceded by the development of a resolute and militant mass movement, which started among the workers and youth in the period of 1959 to 1962” that struck roots among the workers and peasants. Because of this, the revolutionary movement could effectively direct the defiant militant energies of the youth and toiling people, the First Quarter Storm of 1970, the Diliman Commune of 1971, and laid the ground for nationwide armed resistance to the Marcos dictatorship.

Sison’s generation of radical intellectual youth who linked arms with the peasant and labor movements also saw the necessity of engaging in ideological struggle against the dominant clerico-fascist and anti-communist thinking of that time. They assumed, following the terms of Louis Althusser (1990), combat positions within what young activists called the “university within the university”, to carve space for the flowering of anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist theory, not just within campuses but more importantly outside it, among the most marginalized and dispossessed classes of workers, peasants, indigenous peoples, urban poor semi-proletariat, etc.

For students, professors, and academic intellectuals like us here in UP, the challenge remains our assertion of relevance to the larger community and society by helping concretely address issues of social emancipation outside the four walls of our classroom and the campus. For progressives, there remains the imperatives of conducting unremitting ideological struggle against dominant pro-imperialist and bourgeois forms of thinking that continues to be dominant. Ness’ Marxist critique of the destructive nature of modern capitalist-imperialism and the necessity of militant resistance and alternatives to it is a welcome addition to our arsenal in questioning dominant narratives that favor the ruling classes and the oppressors.


Althusser, Louis. 1990. Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists and Other Essays, Trans. Gregory Elliott. London: Verso.

Badiou, Alain. 2001. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, Trans. Peter Hallward. London: Verso.

Biel, Robert. 2015. Eurocentrism and the Communist Movement: Quebec: Kersplebedeb.

Ness, Immanuel. 2016. Southern Insurgency: The Coming of the Global Working Class. London: Pluto Press.

Sison, Jose Ma. 2018. “Great achievements of the CPP in 50 years of waging revolution.” August 23, 2018.

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