The timeless JMS: Appreciating Joma’s Contributions

Renato Reyes

The timeless JMS: Appreciating Joma’s Contributions to the Youth and Student Movement in the 90’s

February 19, 2009

by Renato Reyes, Jr.

Jose Maria Sison, former youth leader and founder of Kabataang Makabayan celebrated his 70th birthday last February 8. As an activist and revolutionary for 50 years, his ideas remain very relevant for the youth of today. On February 19, Joma will be launching two books, forming a part of his selected writings from 1991-2008. I have no doubt it would be a sure hit among activists.

Joma’s ideas on the youth movement, first put forward during the 60’s and 70’s, were crucial in shaping and developing the youth and student movement in the 90’s. More than just historical references, Sison’s ideas on the YS movement had an immediate practical impact on the activist movement of our time.

During the 90’s, Joma’s ideas took on special relevance as the YS movement was reeling from errors and problems after the tumultuous 80’s. As a new activist then, I had the opportunity to take part in the rebuilding, expansion and strengthening of the movement. We consider it important that we had the chance to study Joma’s writings and apply these to our particular circumstances, while taking stock of the historical lessons and experiences gained by the movement.

Basic analysis of Philippine Society

Joma’s books such as the Philippine Society and Revolution and the Struggle (PSR)for National Democracy (SND)were the basic “textbooks” for the 90’s activists. The first provided the fundamental analysis of Philippine history and society, the three basic ills and the national democratic alternative. My first copy of the book, I borrowed from my Math 17 teacher Fidel Nemenzo, who encouraged me to read it and other JMS works. My second copy I got from my Mom who said a friend gave it to her for safekeeping during Martial Law.

The book SND became valuable in defining the role and orientation of the youth movement, and in expounding on a broad range of topics from Rizal, neo-colonialism, fascism, and even the standard issues of the day. Our favorite articles then were “Student power?” and “Youth on the March”.

The “grasslands” on the side of UP’s Palma Hall (AS) would be turned into a study area as activists huddled to discuss their basic “ED’s”. The UP tambayans would have afternoon lectures on the PSR and SND. We would have similar sessions in the communities in Village A and B and even in the picket lines of Shoe Mart in North Edsa and Cubao. ( I remember losing my PSR book at the SM North Edsa picket line in 1994).

Since it was a time of an intense two-line struggle, the PSR and SND became important in clarifying the nature of Philippine society and the role of the Filipino youth in changing society. In UP, like many other places, these basic concepts were being attacked by those who had taken the reformist route.

Through the PSR, activists studied how Philippine society, through its historical development, became semi-feudal and semi-colonial. They vigorously defended this analysis in various fora and debates. Essential readings also included Joma’s Diliman Review 1984 article on semi-feudalism in the Philippines and his articles in Philippine Crisis and Revolution.

Youth activists also stressed the need to link up with the basic sectors of society as the only potent means for the youth to bringing about change. There can be no autonomous “student power” that is detached from the workers and peasants. In practice, this was translated through integration campaigns in urban poor communities, picket lines, and in the countryside. There was systematic integration and eventual deployment of activists to the basic sectors.

In 1993, the LFS solicited a message cum lecture from Joma called “On the Question of Revolutionary Violence”, which I think is an important reference material on understanding the revolutionary struggle in the Philippines. Since there was no high speed internet then, we had to rely on a video-taped lecture. When we came out with the flyer invites, some people actually thought that Joma would be delivering the lecture in person in UP. The video didn’t work though, since it was in the European PAL format (and not NTSC). We ended up having the message read by someone and copies later distributed to the audience. (That historic video would later be converted to its proper format and publicly viewed, though I don’t know if a copy still exists now).

Drawing the line

Joma’s 1993 and 1995 messages to the National Congress of the League of Filipino Students were particularly important in drawing a sharp line verses the factionalists in the ND movement. The message correctly exposed the class basis and role of the special agents and counter-revolutionaries. It helped arm student activists to expose those who were desperately trying to undermine the ND movement through ultra-Left or reformist ideas.

The critique of the ideology and politics of what Joma then described as “special agents” helped the LFS understand its own history and development during the 80’s. The lessons derived from those experiences were crucial in strengthening the organization.

Whether they were the “Left” insurrectionist types or the reformist types, Joma provided a clear critique of their class basis and role as counterfoil to the ND movement. Almost two decades have passed and these groups who viciously maligned Joma have splintered again and again for various reasons.

Mass movement

Joma’s wealth of experience was not confined to theoretical issues. His long and intimate involvement with the youth and student movement from the founding of SCAUP and Kabataang Makabayan proved to be a well-spring of valuable ideas and lessons for a new generation of youth and student organizers. Joma’s writings provided sound tactics for organizing, building chapters, expansion and consolidation, waging mass campaigns and in contributing to the overall ND movement. Joma always thought big when it came to the mass movement. He wasn’t really a fan of the adage “Small is beautiful”, not when you’re referring to the mass movement.

Many of Joma’s solidarity messages for the anniversaries or congresses of the LFS and Anakbayan dealt with the necessity of developing a truly mass-based organization along the ND line. He would subtly criticized elitism among mass organizations, warning against raising too high the standards for membership and stressing the need for aggressive expansion. He clarified the relationship between expansion and consolidation. He gave us an idea of how expansion through chapter-building is done in colleges, departments, and even classrooms. He stressed the need for waging mass struggles along the anti-imperialist, anti-feudal and anti-fascist line, along sectoral and multi-sectoral issues and on local and national concerns.

In 1997, the LFS National Executive Committee released what is now a rare publication called “JMS to LFS”. It was a compilation Joma’s solidarity messages and keynote addresses to various LFS activities, including several national congresses from the 80’s to the 90’s. There was also a failed attempt to publish an SND part 2 containing Joma writings and messages during the 90’s.

In the publication JMS to LFS, one could read that as early as 1984, when the League of Filipino Students was at its peak, Joma already suggested the possibility of a comprehensive youth organization that would go beyond student organizing. By comprehensive, he meant youth from all walks of life, not just the students. The proposal went largely unnoticed for more than a decade.

In June 1998, in a message to the Congress of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Joma again mentioned the need for the formation of a comprehensive youth organization in the tradition of the Kabataang Makabayan. This time the call resonated and was given the careful study and urgent response that it deserved.

Anakbayan was formed in November 30, 1998. The new comprehensive youth organization spread like wildfire throughout the country. In three years, it became a formidable mass formation with thousands of members in schools, communities and workplaces.

Joma clarified that having more than one mass organization should not be a problem since there were thousands of youth and students that need to be organized. There should be some friendly competition between mass organizations, perhaps in the tradition of the KM and SDK.

Anakbayan drew on the lessons and experiences of Kabataang Makabayan, from the KM founding documents, constitution, as well as the historic First Quarter Storm of 1970. Incidentally, January 2010 will mark the 40th anniversary of the Storm.

Sharp perspective

Joma’s statements and commentaries on various issues were always eagerly awaited. For me, the memorable topics ranged from the 1996 APEC meet in the Philippines and imperialist globalization, the 1997 financial crisis, the united front against the Ramos charter change of 1997, the Visiting Forces Agreement and the future of the Estrada regime. These were important writings because they clarified many theoretical as well as practical issues.

For example, Joma gave us our first comprehensive understanding of neo-liberal globalization at a time when Manila was going to host the APEC summit. Globalization then was a fashionable catch-phrase for academics and the media and carried with it the promise of progress.

It has been more than a decade since the APEC summit in Manila and look where the world is at now, thanks to “globalization”. The neo-liberal ideology is being thoroughly discredited by the global financial meltdown and recession. Joma’s views on globalization, taken from the basic teachings of Marx, Engels and Lenin, are vindicated.

When it came to observations on political developments, Joma has a keen eye for opportunities for the mass movement. Even before anyone talked about the possible ouster of former president Joseph Estrada, Joma was already raising the possibility that Erap might go the way of ousted Ecuadorean president Abdalá Jaime Bucaram Ortiz, popularly known as “El Loco”. He said it two years before US-based think-tank Stratfor predicted an Estrada ouster. Psychic? Not really. He was just being a dialectical materialist.

Joma inspired our generation to study society, history, political economy, philosophy and to merge theory with practice. He was a patient teacher for many generations of activist youth. Sometimes I wonder if he ever gets tired of reiterating the same points that we seemed to have failed to understand in his earlier messages and writings. Reading his recent messages to the youth, it doesn’t seem that he does get tired of teaching the basics.

With advancements in internet technology, Joma is no longer just read. You can now chat with him via Facebook, or hear him speak in a forum through live streaming on the web. He now reaches a wider audience and a much younger generation of activists. ###

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