History at work

By Prof. Lisa Ito

Book review of Jose Maria Sison’s “Resist Neoliberalism, Fascism, and Wars of Aggression: Selected Writings, 2019”, edited by Juliet de Lima and published by the International Network for Philippine Studies (2021)

Greetings and congratulations to Prof. Sison, Juliet de Lima, and all who worked to offer us this valuable book today. It is inspiring how you overcame the challenges of publishing during the pandemic, especially in the face of nonstop emergencies here and there. 

The book is an extensive compilation of Sison’s writings for 2019: a year that by now seems so far away with everything that has happened or changed in between but, in reality, is an extension of the same structural crisis we have always faced.

In the Philippines, for instance, 2020 started and ended with natural disasters: from a volcanic eruption last January to major typhoons since November affecting millions, the impacts of which worsened in intensity and amplified the ills of both local governance and imperialism. The sweeping effects of the pandemic lockdown here is of course complicated by the crisis of what the national democratic movement long established as a semi-colonial and semi-feudal state, now regressing into a de facto fascist dictatorship under Rodrigo Duterte. 

There is indeed much to write about during this sudden turn towards darker times. The writings in Sison’s book constellate the story of a world in the making. In wielding the pen (or the keyboard in this case) as a weapon, Sison positions the theory and practice of the Philippine revolutionary movement, with all precision and clarity, within the longer process of social transformation.

There are many reasons why readers should cherish this book by the International Network for Philippine Studies, and help share and disseminate this to all people, invested in the larger effort of dissent and emancipation. especially the youth and the most oppressed.

First, it is important to value this compilation of writings as part of a longer narrative on the subject of the Philippine revolution, one intimately connected to the larger histories of nation and internationalism. It is the sixth volume after Foundations for the Resumption of Philippine Revolution (2014), Peoples Resistance to the Reign Of Greed and Terror (2016), Combat Tyranny and Fascism (2017), and Struggle Against Terrorism and Tyranny (2018), and before another one for his writings of 2020, which is certainly a year like no other in recent history. 

Second, it may not usually be easy, but is always rewarding, to read Jose Maria Sison precisely because of the breadth and depth of his analysis in response to different situations or developments. These texts range from official and formal statements or speeches; incisive articles, letters, messages, heartfelt tributes; to candid and more free-flowing interviews and straight to the point posts on social media which serve as tit for tat responses to slanderous statements by the sitting officials of the regime. These all testify to how the audience that he addresses is diverse and wide: including congresses of mass organizations, study groups, migrants, universities, mass media, and also directly the state itself. These day to day responses comprise a body of tireless writing, emanating from social practice and articulating conditions for revolutionary and mass movements everywhere to engage with.

The book, whether in digital or physical form, is therefore an important resource in an age dominated by social media and the real time turnover of information and content. One might already have encountered some of the texts there through different occasions where they were originally published and disseminated by people’s movements and mass media or, conversely, cited by reactionary regimes. At a time when the Philippine government pours generous resources to churning out black propaganda, misinformation, fear-mongering, and demonization of activists, works such as this volume afford us a sense of the entirety and weight of a revolutionary’s response. 

Third, this book affirms how the painstaking activities of archiving and translation are political acts which are all vital to advancing social change. There are instances where the act of taking care of writing produced in the course of revolutionary work is unfortunately left behind or marginalized; this project is a counter-response to that. Archiving in this context is giving value and memorializing not only the authors themselves but also the lessons and subjects of their writings: in this case, it is the struggle waged by warm bodies and generations of revolutionaries. 

Scholars, educators, artists, historians, and cultural workers have much to glean from this interesting volume. The circulation of Marxist, Leninist, and Maoist texts, for instance, is a living tradition referenced by Sison’s annotations to the translation work on Amado Guerrero’s Philippine Society and Revolution, in French and Spanish for 2019. His remarks on new poetry collections add to the tradition of progressive and revolutionary literature the works of Benito Concio Quilloy, Rene Boy Abiva, Roger Felix Salditos, who as as Mayamor or Maya Daniel, wrote poems about the indigenous Tumanduk peoples of Panay; tomorrow, we mark the 40th day of the massacre of Tumanduk leaders. 

His solidarity messages for assemblies of new or revitalized artist organizations including Sama-Samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo and Sining Bugkos inspire and encourage efforts to organize and raise the consciousness and capacity for cultural production and creative political action across a new generation of artists for the people. His tributes to martyrs of the people’s movement and important historical dates such as Bonifacio Day emphasize the need for revolutionary continuity and the possibilities beyond ritualizing. On the other hand, it is in his exchanges and interviews with scholars, artists, and media, such as “How to Start Changing the World” with artist Paloma Polo, where we encounter fascinating anecdotes and personal stories that provide more insights and grounding into Sison’s own journey as a Filipino revolutionary. 

Fourth and last for now, the book is a precious resource that puts into historical perspective the significance of 2019 to the Philippine revolution, and offers many lessons for people’s movements everywhere in this time of the pandemic. 

This volume chronicles Sison’s important theoretical papers marking milestones in the Philippine revolutionary struggle against imperialism and fascism: including reflections and expositions on social investigation, class analysis, proletarian internationalism, national self-determination, ecological crisis and struggle, and current configurations of imperialist powers. All of these are documents arising from the 50th anniversaries of the New People’s Army and the Communist Party of the Philippines.

His historical writings remind us of the link between red-tagging and cimperialist hegemony, of activists and freedom fighters being red tagged across the shift from colonial and neocolonial rule. This draws a clear direct line of descent from the era of the Propaganda Movement and the Katipunan to the student and grassroots activism of the postwar years, resonating in today’s call to #DefendUP and #JunkTerrorLaw.

Many situations that Sison responded to in 2019 are problems wrought monstrous by now, foreshadowing the extent of state fascism that hits us daily: from the end of peace talks to then newly-signed Executive Order No. 70 which created the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict, currently one of the most despised government agencies today with a severe credibility problem.

Last year, 2020, again proved these critiques of the Duterte regime remarkably accurate and prescient: stressing, in Sison’s words, how the President, “like a broken record”, is now the “NPA’s Best Recruiter and Best Transport and Supply Officer” and chief of the “biggest Filipino crooks in Philippine history” who will go down in history as “a scourge to the Filipino people.”

It is this sense of placing the present within the broader frame of revolutionary history which situate Sison’s words far beyond the level of soundbyte and into texts that will stand the test of time. We may do well to end with a quote from Sison himself, who despite everything he has experienced quietly regards his own theoretical and practical contributions as part of a longer process. In the book, he writes:

“My mission in life is already accomplished: which is to criticize the oppressive and exploitative semicolonial and semifeudal system and try to overthrow it in my lifetime. A strong foundation is already established for the younger generations to continue the revolutionary process.”

Padayon, Prof. Sison. Now, in the face of a pandemic and tyranny, it is humbling to realize how we are again seeing history at work.