After courting them for the first year of his administration, President Duterte has now declared the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), terrorist organizations.
His declaration is unfortunate. Not only does it formalize the end of peace talks that could have ended a 50-year-old insurgency – the longest standing Maoist rebellion in the world – it also augurs violence. This regime is nothing but bloodthirsty and the label terrorist can trigger repression reminiscent of the butcher Jovito Palparan.
My position on the CPP is centrist. On the one hand, I view the CPP as a dictatorial organization that directly threatens our liberal democracy. On the other, I do not believe in counter-insurgency methods that violate human rights. I also believe that members of communist front organizations like Bayan Muna and Gabriela should not be the targets of military operations, while maintaining that they should be tagged as CPP fronts, the better to inform voters who elect them to the legislature.
As with any centrist position, my views court disagreement from opposing sides. The Communists don’t like being called anti-democratic, and they don’t like their fronts being exposed (they say people like me expose their fronts to the military and therefore abet violence – a stupid position since the military already knows which groups are fronts). Meanwhile, the hardline anti-Communists think I’m soft on the Reds.As a liberal, I believe in struggling to find the golden mean, and a responsible, rights-based anti-Communism is one such mean. Anti-Communism, like many other ideologies has corrupt manifestations. In America, they witnessed the witch-hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy. In the Philippines, we saw Ferdinand Marcos use the Communist bogeyman as an excuse to destroy our democracy and murder student activists. How do we condemn a violent ideology without replicating their violence?
A responsible anti-Communism must begin with clear definitions. Not all socialists and not all Marxists are capital C Communists. Small c communism is a philosophical position best summarized by Marx’s adage, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
Capital C Communism refers to the view, articulated by Lenin and his Bolshevik Party, that a socialist revolution is best led by a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries. This party would serve as the most advanced representation of worker rights and would therefore usher in Marx’s “dictatorship of the proletariat.” The belief in the supremacy of a single party explains why Communist parties in power tend to create one-party states (the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, etc.). Communism is inherently authoritarian.
Communism is also bloodthirsty. After all, it was Lenin and not Duterte, who said: “Without mercy, without sparing, we will kill our enemies in scores of hundreds. Let them be thousands; let them drown themselves in their own blood.”
Like Duterte, Lenin made good in his promise. The latest historical scholarship shows, for instance, that in 1920 alone, Lenin’s regime executed 50,000 Tsarist soldiers and allies. Lenin also established gulags – brutal forced labor camps, which under Stalin, would house more prisoners than Hitler’s concentration camps. The earliest prisoners of the gulags, according to historian Anne Applebaum, were not capitalists or monarchists, but moderate socialists who criticized Bolshevik tactics.
Partisans of the CPP often label moderate socialists “revisionists”, who have dangerously altered the spirit of socialist politics. But they forget that, prior to Lenin, socialism had had a relatively peaceful record. In 1920, shocked by the bloodlust of the Bolsheviks, the French socialist Leon Blum declared that for the “first time in the history of socialism”, systematic violence was used “not merely a final recourse, not an extreme measure of public safety to be imposed on bourgeois resistance, not as a vital necessity for revolution, but as a means of government.”
Under Joseph Stalin, the terror expanded through a series of show trials and public executions. Uncle Joe imposed quotas on the number of executions per region. In the Sverdlovsk region alone, the quota of state enemies to be shot was 75,950.
Similar atrocities happened in China. With the opening of Chinese archives we now know that Mao Zedong – the Asian Stalin and the patron saint of our domestic commies – facilitated the execution and torture of two to 3 million of his people from 1958 to 1962 alone. Not to mention the others who died because of famine induced by the Great Helmsman’s coercive collectivization of agriculture.
In its glorification of violence and disdain for liberal democracy, Communism was similar to another extreme ideology of the 20th century: Nazism. Though their political goals were different, they shared common tactics and dispositions. Hitler himself acknowledged the similarities when he wrote: “I have always made allowance for this circumstance, and given orders that former Communists are to be admitted to the party at once. The petit bourgeois Social Democrat and the trade-union boss will never make a National Socialist, but the Communist always will.” It was the ideological resonances between Nazism and Communism that allowed Stalin to justify an alliance with Hitler early in the Second World War.
Why is this history relevant in our assessment of the CPP? Because this party draws inspiration from the Communist pantheon of mass murderers. They are officially a Leninist and Maoist organization, and, regarding Stalin, they believe that his “merits within his own period of leadership are principal and his demerits are secondary”. I used to get demerits in grade school, but they were not for genocide and mass incarceration.
Communist sympathizers often tell me that the faults of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao are not those of the CPP, and that our domestic Commies may still learn from the mistakes of their forebears. But this is like saying we should go easy on Neo-Nazis because they have yet to bring about a second holocaust. The fact is: Communism-inspired great atrocities, and we should treat these as warnings.
For those who think that our Commies are immune from the kind of paranoia that led to the tortures and executions under Stalin, I suggest you read Bobby Garcia’s classic book on the CPP purges, To Suffer Thy Comrades. And there is an entire history of NPA troops targeting peasants from rival mass organizations that is waiting to be written.
It is the moral obligation of the historian in the Philippines to speak about Communism’s bloody history, especially since many idealistic students, farmers, workers, and indigenous people are willing to sacrifice their lives for this cause. But the obligation to speak out against Communism must come in tandem with a humanism that recognizes the rights and even morality of those who fight under the red banner. To dehumanize them, to treat them like terrorists that deserve extermination, makes us sink to the level of the bloody dictators they idolize.
When we say human rights are universal, this means we defend the human rights even of those whom we despise. – Rappler.com
Lisandro Claudio (@leloyclaudio on Twitter) teaches history at De La Salle University. He is the host of Rappler.com’s video series Basagan ng Trip.