By F. Sionil Jose
There was a bit of talk about revolution this week. I think it all started when about a dozen or so frontline health workers staged a demonstration pleading for assistance. They are fatigued, overworked and some of them have died. We owe them our gratitude. We should anoint them as heroes. I don’t know how that tiny demonstration got labelled as revolutionary to elicit from the President a retort that, if revolution erupts, he will quash it with a counter-revolution. The virus is now on its third phase, and it will be months before a vaccine appears, and President Duterte has admitted that the government no longer has food or money to give.
Many leaders see opportunities in crisis which they exploit. The Chinese are doing this with this pandemic. Duterte has only two years left and, to stay in power, he could declare a revolutionary government. Will he do it? President Marcos used the anarchy which he himself promoted to declare Martial Law in 1972. In other words, it is not enough that the leadership has the will to grab power. A revolutionary situation should facilitate the beginning of that revolution.
Revolution! What a beautiful dream! What a cliché it had also become. Those who fear it and object to it say that, as the late Senator Jose Diokno argued, its violence cannot be controlled. But what if it is peaceful and quiet? Revolution is a glorious fusion of many dimensions. For it to begin and proceed, it needs a mass of warm bodies, better if organized and directed. This mass is bonded together and moved to action not by love but by frustration, bitterness, anger and hate.
Why some uprisings failed are evident in our recent past; we can learn from it.
Joseph Scalice, an American scholar now based in Singapore, has worked intensively on our history and politics, particularly the Philippines in the last one hundred years. He has studied the origins of the Marcos regime, the opposition to it and its eventual collapse. He now asks why all that activism particularly the University of the Philippines spawned confrontation with Marcos failed. I would enlarge the question why our revolution in 1896 and the succeeding attempts of the Huks in 1948-1949 to EDSA I, and the continuing revolutionary efforts today in all probability have also failed.
This is not to say that I have completely abandoned my own personal dream of a Filipino revolution, although I have not acted courageously enough to promote that revolution. I consider it as an organic human necessity in our continuing quest for justice in an imperfect society. This is where Marxist thinking can help us seek clearly the obstructions to that process. How really can we obtain freedom for ourselves from a social order that oppresses us? We understand that order, that hierarchy and the compulsive need to change it, and we can only do this by first recognizing the truth, the so-called objective reality.
The holders of power, whether they are kings, dictators or entrenched oligarchs, will not give up that power unless they are threatened or destroyed. Some leaders who understand this objective reality themselves become modernizers so that they can continue holding their bulwarks of privilege. This is the first truth that any modernizer must recognize: whatever kind of hierarchy or government a society holds, there will always be a segment that will have to lead it, and this is the elite of that particular society.
Many revolutions, including ours, have failed because, first and foremost, they never had the whole-hearted support of the people. The people, always the people, who they are, what they are, what unites them most of all. Find the strength that will make them not only real revolutionaries but also the very element that will bond them and make them prevail.
The idea of class, which is so precious to communist revolutionaries, is absent in Filipino society in its present state. The very poor do not identify themselves with others who are poor. Neither does religion unite Filipinos as we can see in the schisms so prevalent today.
Communist countries sooner or later fall apart because of internal contradictions when the party becomes oppressive and is resistant to change, when so many of the citizens are excluded from the process of government.
In the end, the leaders of any particular country, if they want to unite their people, must recognize that what really will unite them will be the sense of belonging to a nation. This was the major sentiment that bonded together the ilustrados who first shaped the idea of a Filipino nation. That definition of nation, however, was shattered by some of the leaders themselves who saw it fit to collaborate with the foreign rulers, and this happened because of the personal stakes that they had to protect. They did not realize that such stakes were in themselves. This idea of nationalism has been so confused.