JMS at 70
Remember Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States? He used to be the most powerful economist in the world. When Greenspan speaks, the capitalist world reacts immediately. The “instantaneous effect” of his speeches would either revive or plunge the stock markets.
In a different context, Joma Sison is the Alan Greenspan of Philippine politics (apologies to Joma). When Joma speaks, his word is interpreted as the official position of the communist movement. Here is how the ‘Joma Effect’ works: Joma issues a political statement which will be quoted by the local media; then Malacanang will accuse Joma of inciting violence; the military will warn of a sinister communist plot; and finally, anti-left intellectuals will ridicule Joma’s “obsolete politics.”
Every word used by Joma is cited by the military as proof of his criminal activities. Every move he makes always attracts condemnation. If he is caught laughing on TV, he is at once denounced as a false communist. When he sings and dances during parties, his critics accuse him of betraying his comrades in the Philippines.
Why do the chattering classes hate Joma Sison? The answer is because he is a communist – the most unrepentant communist in the country. He is not allowed to drink, sing, dance, laugh, and gain weight. He is a communist creature, not a human being. He doesn’t deserve to indulge in these simple pleasures.
Joma is one of the most important political icons in the country. The best proof is provided by the governments of the US, the Netherlands, and the Philippines which are aggressively and obsessively denying Joma his basic rights. If Joma is already irrelevant, then why spend so much time and energy in prosecuting him on concocted charges? Why is he a constant target of cruel demonization campaigns? The actions of these three governments reveal their true sentiments: they feel threatened by Joma’s political ideas and activities. Joma is a threat to the ruling system.
Joma has always been a threat to the establishment. Even as a student, he was a “troublemaker.” His radical activities would always get him into conflict with authorities. He was the most famous youth leader during the 1960s. He became the most wanted man during the 1970s. He was the most important political prisoner during the Martial Law years. He is still the most famous Filipino communist (or a terrorist in the eyes of the state). Joma has been a newsmaker for the past five decades.
Joma is an effective organizer. You may reject his politics but you must recognize his accomplishments as a youth leader. At 20, he started a Marxist study group at the University of the Philippines. He was only 25 when he founded the militant group Kabataang Makabayan; 28 when he published Struggle for National Democracy, the country’s first red book; 29 when he led the re-establishment of the Communist Party; and 30 when he founded the New People’s Army. These institutions continue to play a key role in contemporary Philippine politics.
I must highlight the novelty of Joma’s activities during his youth:
1. Before Joma electrified Philippine politics with his radical activities, the options for idealist young Filipinos were limited to campaigning for bourgeois political parties or participation in religious and charity missions.
2. Joma was not the first Marxist in the Philippines. There were other leftists intellectuals who were Joma’s contemporaries (Is that you Dodong?). But they lacked Joma’s writing proficiency, organizational prowess, and boldness to transform ideas into practice. Joma was not an armchair revolutionary. Joma offered concrete, practical, and radical alternative means on how to launch a revolution.
3. Joma and the activists of his generation proved that the youth could become revolutionaries by vowing to serve the masses, destroy the oppressive system, and build a new socialist society. Compare this revolution to the kind of revolution espoused today by the religious and school owners who brainwash their students into believing that change is possible by building houses for the poor. Distribute relief goods, write open letters, paint houses, and voila, we are idealists and revolutionaries already!
Some of Joma’s critics are sophisticated in hiding their anti-Left bias. There are critics who recognize Joma’s outstanding political record from his SCAUP days up to the 1986 People Power uprising. But after he was released from prison, Joma has allegedly ceased to offer any original or precise political analysis.
So there are two Jomas: the ‘Young Joma’ and the ‘Later Joma’ (a la althusser analysis ba ito?). The Young Joma was radical, revolutionary, hero, and simply brilliant. The Later Joma is dogmatic, power hungry, obsolete, and hopelessly narcissistic.
Let us accept the periodization since it is a historical fact: Joma, the rebel who was based in the Philippines (1959-1987) and Joma, the rebel who was forced into exile in Europe (1988-present). But it is not true that the Young Joma was more revolutionary than the Later Joma. There is only one Joma – the intellectual proletarian revolutionary.
Joma has proven his dedication to the revolutionary cause by being an activist of the national democratic movement for the past five decades. He could have left the movement to become a member of the reactionary governments of Marcos, Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, and Arroyo. He could have been a politico in his home province. He could have retired quietly in the academe. All those terrorist and criminal charges against him would have been dropped quickly if he only renounced his communist beliefs. But he has chosen to remain an uncompromising revolutionary.
Joma, the Maoist, was in Europe while the communist bloc disintegrated in 1989-1991. Maoism was defeated in China; Marxism was discredited around the globe. Joma was among the most resolute intellectuals who clarified that it was not socialism but modern revisionism which crumbled in Eastern Europe. Joma continued to defend the superiority of socialism by writing comprehensive critiques of imperialist globalization. He asserted again and again the primacy of collective, militant and even violent actions in order to defend the proletarian cause. He rallied the Philippine revolutionary movement to confront the ideological offensives of the ruling class.
Joma’s consistency is constantly ridiculed by the apologists of Capital. But Joma’s fidelity to Marxism has taught many activists the value of standing up for one’s principles.
Meanwhile, Joma’s Maoist credentials are not enough to win over the Joma haters. There are ex-activists who support the movement but do not hide their disdain for Joma. There are also those who earn their living by attacking Joma’s politics. These individuals are unlike the reactionary politicians who persecute Joma because of his refusal to reform his Maoist mindset.
These ex-activists-Joma haters assuage their social guilt by declaring sympathies for the legal left. They can afford to be sarcastic in criticizing politicians like Gloria Arroyo but they are ruthless and unfair against Joma. Why? Because Joma has become a symbol of an individual who struggles for a communist utopia. They do not want the creation of a new breed of Jomas. As long as individuals like Joma exist, the fashionable ex-activists will always appear as pseudo-radicals and shallow revolutionaries.
To support Joma and his politics is to affirm the communist idea. Thus the ex-leftist Joma haters who have stopped believing in the proletariat cannot be persuaded to support even the campaign for the protection of Joma’s basic rights. For them, Joma doesn’t deserve human rights because he is the archetypal communist.
To discredit Joma and the local communist movement, the ruling class has to bombard the public with images that distort and obscure Joma’s radical identity. Military propagandists have been using pictures and videos from Joma’s website, especially the pictures of Joma dancing with local showbiz stars, to insinuate that Joma is scandalously enjoying himself in Europe. With help from corporate media, the military wants to portray Joma as an insincere revolutionary. Their intention is to make the public forget the image of a rebel Joma: activist, guerilla, political detainee, torture victim, asylum seeker. The enemy wants to hide its crimes against Joma (he is a human rights victim during the Marcos era) by diverting public attention towards Joma’s “disagreeable lifestyle” in Europe.
What is wrong if Joma is attending parties in Europe? He is a human being too, a social creature. During the Obama inauguration, Pres. Ramos was seen on TV dancing with US Ambassador Kristie Kenney at the US Embassy compound. Nobody complained why the president was waltzing with the imperialist.
Others have petty complaints against Joma. Some of my friends are disappointed with Joma’s writing style. They said his writings are not academic. They are not complex. My answer to them: read his poems. And remember that Joma’s writings are addressed to a particular audience. His works are read by thousands of cadres, peasants, workers, and intellectuals. His statements have to be direct, clear, and precise.
Others are wondering why Joma has not returned home in the Philippines. Well, his passport was cancelled by the Aquino government. The military has admitted that once he is back in the Philippines, hundreds of (false) criminal charges will be filed against him. Joma might be assassinated too. Joma is a revolutionary; but he is not a foolish revolutionary who will surrender easily to the enemies. If the next government is sincere in negotiating for peace with the rebels, Joma might return home. But today, it is impossible for him to land safely in the Philippines. Kung ngayon nga eh na malayo siya sa Pinas ang dami niyang kaso ng murder, ano pa kaya kung nakauwi na siya.
The black propaganda against Joma is hard to combat. Many Filipinos could easily believe the lie that Joma is having a good time in Europe because of the popular perception that life in another country is always better than in the Philippines. Only few are aware of the difficult life of a political refugee.
Many have forgotten that sometimes leaders of nationalist movements have to go into exile in order to avoid persecution at home. Filipinos today are more familiar with the OFW phenomenon. They also believe that OFWs and migrants enjoy a higher standard of living. Unfortunately for Joma, only few Filipinos are informed of his real situation in the Netherlands. This is a challenge for the movement to counteract the malicious smear campaign against Joma.
The current global economic recession provides several opportunities for the Left to advance the socialist alternative. It also validates the analysis of the Left (and Joma) about the bankruptcy of neoliberalism. If Joma seems repetitive in his critiques on capitalism, it is because this economic system has always exhibited the same exploitative features. The defenders of capitalism are now rewording their naïve and anti-poor economic thesis. It is not Joma, but his detractors, who have become irrelevant. In the West, Karl Marx’s Das Kapital is a bestseller again. Joma should re-publish his books.
At 70 years old, Joma is old. But it is only his body which is old. A revolutionary does not get old. Joma Sison, a “fighting materialist,” is theorist of the future, not of the past. His political legacy is assured in the future. This makes his ideas fresh. This makes him young.