The arrest of the Tiamzon couple, whose leadership roles were equivalent to those of the field marshal and CFO of the revolutionary underground, had led to predictable statements from the authorities. Samples: That the Revolutionary Left had been dealt a terrible blow. That the capture of the couple now creates a leadership void that would be extremely difficult to fill.
The expression of triumphalism may even stretch to this claim: that the Left is a spent force, about to be – or sooner than you think – relegated to the dustbin of history. That phrase, ironically, is a Marxist formulation.
Before the rhetoric soars, and before theorists do a Francis Fukuyama and proclaim the uncontested triumph of liberal democracy and the archiving of the Left, let us allow room for sobriety and ask this question: What is left of the Left? Was the arrest of the couple a killing blow to the movement? What are the things still going for the Left and what things are dragging it down into the scrap heap of history? Let us make an accounting.
Things that sustain the existence of a Revolutionary Underground, include:
• Massive poverty
• The lack of institutional seriousness to combat mass poverty
• The idealism at the universities
• The legacy thing
The longevity of the Left, its refusal to fade away in our part of the globe, while other parts of the globe are merrily debating over the merits of Bitcoin and other crypto currencies and establishing venture capitals for gifted young students, is a testament to how deeply ingrained – and extremely dehumanizing — poverty is in our society.
The Marxists remain right and to the point, it is the concrete conditions that shape everything. In the hopeless rural areas and the blighted slum colonies in the cities, what are the options left to drifting young men and women who do not want to be lifelong drifters? Joining the Left is the most attractive option. Your life gets some sort of meaning.
You do not go straight into drugs or crime. And one gets the chance to carry a gun and fight for something.
The Left, in these poverty-stricken areas, is a way out of a clueless, drifting, purposeless life. There is no longer any need to apply sociology into why the Left is still gaining recruits and adherents. There is no need for the application of romanticism, either. Poverty and lack of opportunities are the recruitment lifelines of the underground.
Plus the idealism at the universities. At some stage in the life of a young man or woman, the economic inequality that brutalizes the underclass and props up the rich and the powerful, is a powerful tug at the conscience. The young is predisposed to ask questions.
The refusal to accept such unjust structure leads the idealistic young to ask questions, then do something dramatic.
Yet, for all the broad pool that it can tap for fresh blood and legs, the Philippine Left ironically finds itself swimming against the surging current of a reverse form of historical determinism. Instead of leftist movements “surging to victory” here and in parts of the globe where they are still present, the march and arc of history no longer favor an ascendant revolutionary Left. The Left still anchored on an armed struggle is on the sunset of history. Even the modes and forms of toppling governments have evolved. And have made the Philippine Left look like a very dated movement.
A frenzied build-up of anti-establishment rage is the favored way of toppling governments now. It was how EDSA Uno toppled Marcos, which the Left treated as a freak show or a fluke. The disintegration of the Berlin Wall and that of the USSR took only a few days of fury, which again the Left ignored.
The Arab Spring again demonstrated that rage can quickly build up like a forest fire, with enough force and momentum to topple existing orders.
The Philippine Left, in marked contrast, still subscribes to the grand idea of encirclement, which was last seen in Mao’s Long March and was perfect as a 20th century application.
The optics of the 21st century offer no images of thriving collectives living off the idealism of Marxism and its other offsprings. Russia is led by an ex- KGB who channels not Lenin but the crude expansionism of the Tsars. China is quickly gaining the reputation of a regional bully, and has dropped all pretensions of fraternal ties with leftist organizations worldwide. North Korea, the last bastion of Stalinism, cannot feed its own people and the updated version of the Dear Leader, as unhinged and brutal as the original thing, can smile through the execution of uncles and other next of kin, including kids.
The humanity and the adventure that led Hemingway to follow the Republican Army, the exploits of Che and the courage of young Fidel and Raul are no longer appreciated narratives of the current Left.
But that is not the Left’s formidable hurdle.
The most determined of leftist guerillas, this has to be internalized by the Left, cannot muscle its way through a more determined army in Philippine society – armies of texters and selfies. The weapons called smart phones are, by purpose and motivation, the perfect antidotes to the guerillas’ guns of national liberation.
This context is understandably heartbreaking for the Left. The objective conditions – again this is a Marxist formulation – simply do not favor the explosion of another nationalist springtime. The current milieu is either a dead land or a wasteland that breeds only three pronouns: I, me and myself. The current generation of “selfies” will make sure that the Left will be there — but content to stay on the margins of history — in this generation.