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Ain’t Scalice to Forget

Scalice displays a persistent weakness in his essays: the failure to grasp dialectics and materialism and apply these in concrete conditions.

The historian Joseph Scalice continues in his mission to make Philippine postwar history, putatively his area of specialization, conform to Trotskyism, the variant of leftist theory that he embraces. His recent target is the Diliman Commune of 1971, the historic protest held by students of the University of the Philippines in its Diliman campus.

In “A Planned and Coordinated Anarchy: The Barricades of 1971 and the ‘Diliman Commune’,” a study published in the scholarly journal Philippine Studies in December 2018, he reconstructs the historical event — supposedly the way it actually unfolded, but in reality according to his Trotskyist analysis.

Meanwhile, in “What are the real political lessons of the Diliman Commune?” an essay published in Rappler.com in February 5 of this year, he elaborates on his analysis of the Diliman Commune and connects this with his bigger criticisms, drawn from Trotskyism, of the Communist Party of the Philippines or CPP, a significant and most influential segment of the Philippine Left.

Using what he calls “the overwhelming weight of historical evidence,” Scalice makes the following claims about the Diliman Commune:

First, contrary to what he calls a “myth,” the Diliman Commune was not a spontaneous action of the students, faculty and other sectors of UP Diliman, but, as his title states, “a planned and coordinated anarchy.” His strongest basis: the erection of barricades in the University Belt in Manila, the UP campus in Los Baños, Laguna, and other parts of the country at the same time as the erection of the Diliman barricades — and these barricades’ dismantling at the same time. Scalice misses an important distinction in making this analysis.

The barricades were erected in connection with the jeepney drivers’ strike against increases in the prices of oil and other petroleum products. They were meant to show students’ support for and solidarity with the said sector of society, which is at the immediate receiving end of the price hikes. In the history of transport strikes in the country, barricades have been used to call on other jeepney drivers and passengers to join and support drivers and passengers already holding strikes and protests. Their setting up, definitely, is part of a planned and coordinated protest.

While the erection of the barricades laid the condition for the emergence of the Diliman Commune, it did not yet constitute the latter. What gave birth to the Diliman Commune was the UP administration’s attempt to dismantle the barricades, the shooting of student Pastor Mesina by professor Inocente Campos at the barricades, and the deployment of the police and the military to the campus in response to the barricades and the shooting of Mesina, and the ensuing events. The barricades, from being aimed at jeepney drivers and passengers, were re-directed towards the military and the police.

Scalice approvingly quotes an essay of Raymond Palatino at a crucial juncture in his narrative, but misses the significance of the statement made by the activist leader and writer: after the first day of the barricades, “the issue was no longer the oil price hike but the interference of the military on campus.” While the first issue appealed by and large to activists and politicized students, the second issue appealed to a wider segment of students — and even other sectors of the university. This change from quantity to quality in the ranks of those protesting, triggered by an objective shift in the main issue of the protest, brought about the Diliman Commune.

While the setting up of the barricades that laid the condition for the Diliman Commune’s emergence was indeed planned and coordinated, the subsequent preservation and strengthening of those barricades by a bigger rank of students, faculty and UP sectors, which constituted the Diliman Commune proper, were not. The barricades may have been retained, but their significance has already changed. The Diliman Commune, while happening at the heels of a planned and organized protest, is in itself a spontaneous protest.

One wonders if Scalice has actually participated in mass campaigns and struggles to overlook such crucial distinctions in moments that form part of a chain of events. As the events showed, the Diliman Commune was not planned in advance, but was an instantaneous expression of outrage, a spontaneous outpouring of protest triggered by developments that were unforeseen to its participants — and even those who planned the jeepney strike and the setting up of barricades.

To be fair, Scalice offers other evidence for his claim that the Diliman Commune was a planned and coordinated action: the recorded threat of student leader Ericson Baculinao to the UP administration and the plan for mass protests created by CPP leader Jose Maria Sison. Talks of closing down universities, creating communes, and holding big protests were all, however, “blowin’ in the wind” in the world at the time. Echoes of the global 1968 were still reverberating, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was still raging, and the First Quarter Storm of 1970 happened just a year before. It was a period of mass protests and barricades, and surely, the country’s growing Left movement will also speak the language of the times.

A scene from the Diliman Commune of 1971. From the Doreen Fernandez collection

Second, contrary to what he again labels as the “myth” that the Diliman Commune was a “victory,” Scalice claims that the commune was an “unmitigated defeat.” He makes three claims in this respect, which, with characteristic carelessness, he again fails to untangle and differentiate from each other: (1) the commune was a defeat for the leading youth activist organizations of the time, the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) and the Samahang Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK), (2) the commune was a defeat for the students, faculty and other sectors of UP, and (3) the commune failed to stop Martial Law.

The third claim is dealt with later in this article. The first, I leave to those knowledgeable about the students’ reaction to campus activism, the student council elections of 1971-1972, and activists’ connection with the striking jeepney drivers in the aftermath of the Diliman Commune. Activist and non-activist participants of the Diliman Commune were not interviewed by Scalice, even if many are still alive and capable of sharing their experiences.

I suspect that there is much to unpack and refute in Scalice’s claims, as he one-sidedly blames the Diliman Commune for problems faced by activists in these areas. He accuses student activists, for example, of breaking up jeepney unions and preventing another wave of jeepney strikes. As any activist who has worked with unions and mass organizations knows, however, organizational divisions are sometimes necessary when there is politicization-radicalization among members and when leaders refuse to lead protests that are necessary to uphold members’ interests. There are instances when such divisions are necessary to lay the foundation for an organization’s expansion and strengthening.

As protests are assessed as victory or defeat in relation to the interest of the sectors of society that they aim to serve, it is the second claim that I focus on here. The following is Scalice’s main basis for claiming that the Diliman Commune is a failure for the students and UP sectors: “The barricades were taken down without a single demand being granted.” He quotes the list of demands published in Bandilang Pula, the official publication of the Diliman Commune, which includes a rollback in gasoline prices, a guarantee against military or police invasion of the campus, justice for Mesina, free use of the radio station DZUP and the UP Press, among others.

This is such a narrow yardstick for measuring the success or failure of the Diliman Commune — or any such huge protest action. The fact that none of these demands were granted or attained does not mean that the commune was a failure. On the contrary, the Diliman Commune was a success, for the following reasons:

(1) It drove away the police and the military from campus. The Diliman Commune was successful on the main issue that it raised: military and police presence in the UP Diliman campus. Scalice narrates that on February 3, almost two days after the barricades were erected, “Marcos called [UP president Salvador P.] Lopez and stated that he was ordering the withdrawal of all troops and that students would not be issued a deadline for the removal of the barricades.” Rather than attribute the victory to the commune, however, Scalice points to Marcos’ guile: “Marcos, it seems, astutely decided to allow the students to tire of the barricades, which lasted for five more days.” He gives more credit to the main representative of the class enemy than to the student protestors, a most un-Marxist assessment given the level of the protests. There are none so blind as those who refuse to see, and Scalice refuses to recognize this victory of the Diliman Commune even if he has no choice but to recount this important turning point in its struggle.

(2) It raised the banner of academic freedom “in a grand manner,” to quote a well-known phrase. The Diliman Commune made a strong political statement against military and police presence in campus and in favor of academic freedom. It was a loud condemnation of Marcos’ deployment of military and police forces in the campus and issued a strong warning to him not to do it again.

(3) It embodied and fomented anti-authoritarian opposition. The Diliman Commune was a clear expression of, and a contribution to, the people’s opposition to the creeping Martial Law of the period and to the Marcos regime in general. Parallel and in response to the Marcos regime’s degeneration into outright dictatorial and cronyist rule, the people were holding various forms of protests, including major ones, against the regime.

(4) It set a powerful historical precedent. The Diliman Commune is an heir to the 1961 protest against the Committee on Anti-Filipino Activities or CAFA investigations that also attacked academic freedom. It is a statement that military and police presence in campus and academic freedom are issues that are very important for students and other university sectors. It surely served as an inspiration for students and faculty who fought to have the Soto-Enrile Accord signed in 1982 and the UP-Department of National Defense Accord signed in 1989, the revocation of which after more than 30 years Scalice implies to be one of the “attacks on academic freedom.”

(5) It instigated a generation’s political awakening. The Diliman Commune served as an eye-opener and baptism of fire for a generation of activists who continued in the struggle for genuine social change, and served as the backbone of the anti-dictatorship struggle. Highlighting the regime’s repressive response to a legitimate demand of the people and showing the possibilities brought forth by united and militant struggle, it steeled the determination of those activists to persevere in the revolutionary struggle. In this and in other senses, it paved the way for the 1986 People Power uprising that toppled the US-backed Marcos dictatorship.

As Bonifacio P. Ilagan, KM-Diliman chairperson during the Diliman Commune and a member of the commune’s directorate, says in his response to Scalice [“Against historical distortions about the Diliman Commune”]: the Diliman Commune “further consolidated our commitment to do our bit in social transformation, na ka-kapitbisig ang batayang masa at sambayanang Pilipino [while linking arms with the basic masses and the Filipino people]. We may not have prevented the full-scale imposition of a fascist dictatorship as Scalice had wished, but the Diliman Commune steeled us to face up to martial law when it arrived.”

Sen. Ninoy Aquino speaks in front of UP students in a gathering at the Diliman campus in 1971.

Third in his claims about the historical event, Scalice says that the Diliman Commune benefited the elite opposition to Marcos — “in particular Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr., the Lopez brothers (Vice Pres. Fernando Lopez and businessman Eugenio Lopez), and the Liberal Party.”In relation to his claim that the commune was not spontaneous but was a planned and coordinated action, it seems that what Scalice really wants to say is that it was organized to advance the interests of the elite opposition to Marcos. In relation to his claim that the commune was a failure for the students and UP sectors, as well as for KM and SDK, it seems that what Scalice really wants to say is that only the bourgeois opposition to Marcos really benefited from the Diliman Commune.

He cites the following forms of cooperation between the Diliman Commune and the elite opposition to Marcos: (1) On the third day of the commune, senators Aquino, Salvador Laurel and Eva Estrada-Kalaw came to the campus to take the side of, and speak to, the communards, with Aquino bringing “bags of food.” (2) TV and radio giant ABS-CBN, owned by the Lopez family, helped the communards’ radio programs broadcast through DZUP to attain a nationwide reach. (3) Most important of all, DZUP became the outlet for the controversial “Dovie Beams tapes” which the ABS-CBN radio stations, claimed Scalice, could not air. As is well-known, the said tapes contained recordings of the Hollywood star’s sexual encounters with Marcos, and their release created one of the biggest scandals that rocked Marcos’ pre-Martial Law regime.

Scalice connects these forms of cooperation to the election in November 1971, for which the elite opposition “sought another explosion of protest to destabilize the president and secure sympathy for the opposition slate.” Scalice says “another” because this is how he also views the First Quarter Storm of 1970, a series of big protests.

It appears, however, that the actions stated above benefited both the KM-SDK, or the Philippine Left as a whole, on the one hand and the bourgeois opposition, on the other. It can even be argued that the activist organizations benefited more than the elite opposition. The latter united with the communards in their call against military and police presence in campus and amplified the communards’ radical radio messages to the entire country. Broadcasting the “Dovie Beams tapes” to the national public and attacking Marcos are in the interest of both the KM-SDK and the elite opposition.

Scalice, however, can and perhaps does claim that the entire Diliman Commune was carried out to serve the interests of the elite opposition — and that the actions stated above are mere indications of this “conspiracy.” The empirical evidence that he presents to support this claim, however, are woefully insufficient. His basis for this is the class line of the CPP, which the KM and SDK also adhere to, and which will be discussed below.

It must be said, however, that this accusation that the Philippine Left stirs up protests to merely help the elite opposition boost its chances in elections is a most curious one. The Philippine Left led the protest movement during the darkest years of Martial Law, when the prospects of elections being held were close to nil. It actually boycotted the election that finally enabled the elite opposition to Marcos to finally take power. After 1986, the Philippine Left opposed all ruling regimes, even those that it allied with when they were still in the opposition.

Fourth and most problematic among Scalice’s claims about the Diliman Commune is his major basis for saying that it was “an unmitigated defeat for the radicalized youth and students of 1971.” Scalice asserts in his Rappler.com essay that “The fundamental task confronting workers and youth in 1971 was to prevent the imposition of dictatorship. To hail the Commune as a victory when the writ of habeas corpus was suspended within months and martial law imposed the next year is to ignore the realities of history.”

Here, Scalice again displays a persistent weakness in his essays: the failure to grasp dialectics and materialism and apply these in concrete conditions. Was the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and the declaration of martial law a result of the Diliman Commune and other protests? Was preventing the imposition of dictatorship really in the hands of the KM-SDK, the CPP, and even the entire mass movement? Were they to blame, wholly or even partly, for Marcos’ declaration of martial law?

More generally, are revolutionaries responsible for the actions of reactionaries — especially the repressive ones? If “Every rise of fascism bears witness to a failed revolution,” as the philosopher Walter Benjamin claims according to the philosopher Slavoj Zizek, are the revolutions to blame for the rise of fascist leaders and regimes?

Answering these questions in the affirmative, as Scalice seems to do, would only delight the reactionaries. He is in fact echoing the Marcos’ line about the declaration of Martial Law and other repressive measures: they are necessary because of a Left-Right, Communist-oligarch conspiracy against the Republic! The affirmative answer is also wrong. Marcos declared Martial Law even if the revolutionary movement was still too weak to seize state power. He did not impose martial rule, ultimately, because of what the Left did, but because of what his faction of the ruling classes and the US neocolonial power want in the country and Southeast Asia.

The only way that the Left could have prevented the imposition of Martial Law was making the revolution win — but that was out of the question at the time, even in its most optimistic reading of the situation. What the Left set as its objectives were more modest, but proved to be correct: opposing Marcos’ dry-runs for and build-ups to declaring Martial Law and, more importantly, strengthening itself so it can survive and persevere in the likely occurrence that Marcos imposes open dictatorial rule.

One wonders: what could be Scalice’s preferred tactics “to prevent the imposition of dictatorship” before September 1972? What tactics are these, which he uses to evaluate the Philippine Left’s tactics and through which he found the latter wanting? We know what the Marcos regime would want the Philippine Left to do in order to desist from imposing martial rule: drop dead, stop the struggle, abort the revolution.

This, presumably, is not what Scalice wants the Left to do at the time. He talks about leading “the independent fight of workers for a socialist program” and refusing to be subordinated to “the conspiratorial interests of a rival faction of the elite.” Does he think that doing these would bring the revolution to victory before the declaration of Martial Law? What are his bases?

Or is he thinking of tactics that won’t invite the ire of Marcos, the neocolonial power and the ruling elites? What would these tactics look like? Leading workers’ economic struggles without targeting the Marcos regime, merely educating them on the evils and crises of capitalism and on the need for socialism — because, as present-day advocates of this line say, “the system is the problem”? Isn’t this a curious example of what Lenin in What is to be done? of 1902 calls economism, the true “glorification of spontaneity” which refuses to raise the economic struggle to the political struggle and to attack the ruling classes and their chief representative?

“Lenin at the Winter Palace I”. Unknown Artist

A quick digression on Scalice’s way of reading is in order. His Rappler.com commentary shows why an honest and fair-minded review of the sources that he cites in his narrative of the Diliman Commune and other historical events should be done, together with a perusal of other sources, including interviews with the many participants of these events.

He cites a paragraph from the Rappler.com commentary on the commune written by researchers Orly Putong, Karlo Mongaya and Rochel Bernido [“Lessons from the Diliman Commune”]: “Anti-communist scholars and state propagandists have painted a picture of the Commune as a premeditated plan by conspirators to foment anarchy and destabilize the Marcos regime in favor of their liberal political allies.”

While the passage can reasonably be read even by a latter-day antagonist as a statement of fact, Scalice refuses to do so and instead overreads it. He sees this as an attempt “to present scholarly criticism of these myths as a right-wing plot,” or “as illegitimate as it is equivalent to… right-wing falsifications.” Rather than prove that his criticisms do not come from the discursive spaces being bewailed by the authors, he blasts away at their criticisms. He accuses the authors of dismissing criticisms simply because these are criticisms, but he merely shows that he, not the authors, is guilty of doing such.

Not content with this, he escalates further: the authors’ statement shows that “the glorification of spontaneity serves to cover up the historical betrayals of the leadership.” Who is glorifying spontaneity? Is saying that the Diliman Commune was a spontaneous protest already a glorification of spontaneity? Did the authors glorify the Diliman Commune for being spontaneous? Again, Scalice overlooks crucial distinctions in order to force through his interpration of texts. He also asserts betrayal, but fails to prove it.

In his essays on the Diliman Commune, Scalice is using the historical event to criticize the KM and SDK, the CPP, and the Philippine Left. In particular, he imposes his interpretation on historical facts in order to cast the Diliman Commune in a negative light. He then blames the commune’s supposed problematic aspects on the class line being upheld by the CPP and the Philippine Left. He reduces that class line — which outlines the CPP and the Philippine Left’s analysis of and approach to various classes in Philippine society and is greatly influenced by Mao Zedong’s theorizing of “New Democracy” — to an alliance with what he insists to call “national bourgeoisie.”

Scalice ends his Rappler.com essay with the call to “study the political struggles waged by Leon Trotsky and the movement he founded.” Indeed, in his analysis-assessment of the Diliman Commune, Scalice is reiterating-applying the Trotskyist criticism of the Maoist theory of New Democracy. According to Joshua Moufawad-Paul, a philosopher working in the Maoist terrain, this criticism can be summed up as “bourgeois revolution with red flags” and New Democracy is nothing but “class collaboration.”

In Philippine Society and Revolution [1970], the textbook of the Philippine Left, Amado Guerrero outlines the class line in question: “the motive forces or friends of the Philippine Revolution are the proletariat, the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie and, at certain times and to a limited extent, the national bourgeoisie. They compose the overwhelming majority of the Filipino people who are oppressed and exploited by US imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism. On the other hand, the targets or enemies of the Philippine Revolution are US imperialism and its local lackeys which are the comprador big bourgeoisie, the landlord class and the bureaucrat capitalists. They compose an extremely small minority of the population. They need to be overthrown in order to achieve national freedom and democracy.”

Despite the length of this passage, Scalice sees nothing but the attitude, generally favorable, towards the national bourgeoisie. He insists on saying “national bourgeoisie” when he is referring to top politicians in the country, whom the Philippine Left sees as belonging to the big comprador bourgeoisie and landlord classes. He also insists on saying “alliance” when referring to the Philippine Left’s relations with top politicians, with whom the Philippine Left usually makes mere tactical and electoral alliances. It is the Trotskyist dogmas in his mind, not the facts on the ground, that are speaking.

Moufawad-Paul faults Trotskyist criticisms of New Democracy for refusing to recognize the crucial difference between the comprador bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie — which is crystal clear not only in Maoist theory, but also in the realities of underdeveloped countries. He says that for adherents of New Democracy, such as the Philippine Left, the national bourgeoisie should be treated the way Trotskyists want peasants to be treated — incorrectly for Maoists of course — in the revolutionary struggle: “a useful force to draw upon at a certain stage of the revolution, but a stumbling block to revolution later on.” On the issue of the national bourgeoisie and other classes, the Maoist theory of New Democracy and the Philippine Left’s class line do not legitimize class collaboration.

J. Moufawad Paul’s “Continuity and Rupture” (Image from https://medium.com/@j.moufawadpaul)

It is clear from his writings that Scalice wants to carry out a demolition job on the Philippine Left. But what does he propose to erect in its place? What alternative is he offering that can replace the object of his criticisms? In particular, what tactics and strategy does he propose the Philippine Left uphold so it can do away with its supposedly class collaborationist ways? Trotskyist tactics and strategy, of course. But what are these in the context of the Philippines?

Moufawad-Paul, in the incendiary appendix to his important book Continuity and Rupture [2016], offers answers — and I freely and shamelessly quote him in the following. In that book, he sought to present an “adequate summary” of Trotskyism’s central principles in order to investigate it “as a competing ideological current.” While being clearly partisan to Maoism, he clarifies that his objective is not “to promote banal sectarianisms and static factionalisms, but to clarify the theoretical grounds necessary for making revolution,” no less.

In fact, Moufawad-Paul sets aside the categories usually invoked by Marxists critical of Trotsky and Trotskyists: revisionists, social fascists, wreckers. He even says that “it is necessary to recognize that Trotsky was a significant revolutionary during the Russian Revolution and that some Trotskyist theorists have even contributed to the Marxist theoretical canon. Indeed, the fact that Trotskyist intellectuals were able to wage a somewhat successful ideological struggle in the imperialist academic sphere is cause for celebration…”

Moufawad-Paul focuses on the theory of permanent revolution, which is the main theory of Trotskyism. He says Trotsky was asking the right question when the latter was formulating this theory: how is the revolutionary struggle for socialism to be waged in underdeveloped countries? The question is a matter of life and death for the Russian revolution, which won in a context where the working class is a minority compared to the peasant class, the forces of production are backward and deny immediate socialization, and the revolution is vulnerable to attacks from imperialist powers.

It seems that Lenin, Trotsky and Mao agree on one thing in this context: not to rely on the bourgeoisie; only the proletariat can lead the revolution. They diverge on the details of the answer to the next question: who can the proletariat work with in waging revolution? Lenin and especially Mao were clear about the worker-peasant alliance, but Lenin criticized Trotsky for underestimating the revolutionary potential of the peasant class and Trotsky criticized Lenin for doing the opposite. For Trotskyists, peasants are more of a petty-bourgeois, reactionary, even counter-revolutionary class, and the proletariat may need to wage a civil war against it after victory. Trotsky’s followers are even clearer in expressing their antipathy for the peasant class.

If Trotskyists downplay the role of the peasant class in revolutions in underdeveloped countries, they play up the role of the proletariat in advanced capitalist countries — yes, for revolutions in underdeveloped countries. The proletarian revolution in the centers of capitalism is in fact seen as necessary to avoid the projected civil war between the workers and peasants in underdeveloped countries after the victory of revolutions there. Scalice’s relentless, and mindless, attacks on the the Philippine Left’s supposed collaboration with what he calls the “national bourgeoisie” can be understood as an effort to try to dissociate the proletariat in the Philippines from the elites in the country so it can connect with its only genuine comrade — the proletariat in other countries.

According to Moufawad-Paul, for Trotskyists, “The industrial working class is the only class capable of being the back-bone for a revolution…” He continues, in a passage that is crucial to knowing Trotskyist tactic and strategy for countries like the Philippines: “and if this class does not exist… then there is no point in doing anything but holding the revolution in permanence and waiting for the more developed working class at the centers of capitalism to lead the world revolution.” Revolutions in countries like the Philippines would have to wait, take it slow, and perhaps not strengthen themselves to the point of provoking the wrath of dictators like Marcos.

Moufawad-Paul connects all these to Trotsky’s theory of combined and uneven development, which posits a single capitalist mode of production in the world, as well as the failure of Trotsky and Trotskyists to recognize the crucial distinction between socialism and communism formalized by Lenin in his State and Revolution of 1917 — hence their rejection and demonization of Stalin’s theory of socialism in one country.

And where has Trotskyism led its adherents? In the end, Moufawad-Paul tells us, “Trotskyism has been singularly incapable of even embarking on the revolutionary path.” It has not given birth to any strong movement or party, or anything approaching national victory. “This problem is generally the result of the failure of this theory’s revolutionary strategy politically and militarily,” where the theory of permanent revolution and aspiration for a world socialist revolution constitute the first, while “the Bolshevik strategy of insurrection… where a mass strike and armed insurrection will follow after a period of protracted legal struggle” constitute the second. None of the failed insurrections in history, Moufawad-Paul tells us, is Trotskyist.

He explains, “Indeed, if a socialist revolution cannot hope to succeed unless it is led by the advanced working class at the centers of capitalism, and this revolution must ultimately be a global revolution in order to be properly called ‘socialist,’ then what Trotskyists are really advocating is holding the revolution in permanence until everyone is ready to go at it all together, everywhere in the world, which of course means they have been waiting since the Fourth International and performing only a long and protracted legal struggle.”

He said Trotskyists will defend this practice or “strategy” by claiming that they “are protecting a ‘true’ Marxism and, in (with)holding the revolution in permanence, are simply preparing for the time when the working-class will realize, through decades of propaganda and entering trade unions, that this or that Trotskyist sect’s approach is correct and, like a sudden spark igniting, a proper Trotskyist revolution will erupt.” One is reminded of Lenin writing on nations’ self-determination: “Whoever expects a ‘pure’ social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.”

Thus, Moufawad-Paul concludes, Trotskyism is a “theoretical dead-end,” a “revolutionary blind alley” that, while claiming to be the strand of Marxism most faithful to Marxism, betrays the essence and spirit of Marxism: the need to wage class struggle, to make revolution, and to achieve socialism and communism. It has led its followers nowhere near revolutionary strength or victory.

Scalice is busy attacking the Philippine Left. Moufawad-Paul has an explanation: “all Trotskyism can do is critique other revolutionary movements from a position of nowhere, a stand-point based only on its understanding of the Bolshevik Revolution and its belief that everything must be precisely as it imagines the Bolshevik Revolution to have been.”

He adds that “Trotskyism has not made any mistakes because it hasn’t done anything that would allow it to fail or be successful. It’s a bit like someone who has never gone to school claiming they have never failed a test: it’s an absurd and fallacious position but most importantly it demonstrates an idealist conception of Marxism, where a pure communism is like a Platonic form, existing outside of space and time, and that all we have to do is correctly reflect on its essence in order to produce a truly perfect revolution.”

Maoism, in contrast, has inspired, in many underdeveloped countries, strong revolutionary movements and peoples wars that earned the support of the working masses and peoples. Even if Moufawad-Paul thinks that Maoism proper emerged only in the 1990s, Mao Zedong Thought has also inspired the national victories of some revolutions. Yes, some of these movements, wars and victories have regressed or failed, but Trotskyist explanations for these regressions and failures are no match to the Maoist explanations: two-line struggles, inability to overcome problems capably analyzed by Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, or inability to surmount new problems that have arisen.

In summary, Scalice’s main knowledge-claims about the Diliman Commune are not supported by facts seen through a critical lens informed by knowledge of mass campaigns and struggles. (1) While the protest from which the Diliman Commune stemmed was planned and organized, the Diliman Commune per se was not. (2) While the immediate gains of the Diliman Commune have to be subjected to further historical research, its victories are undeniable and significant at the tactical and wider-historical levels. (3) The relations between the KM and SDK and the Diliman Commune on the one hand and the elite opposition on the other hand served the interests of both camps, in criticizing and opposing their common enemy, the Marcos ruling clique. (4) It is incorrect and plainly Marcosian to blame the Diliman Commune, mass protests, and activities of the Left for the imposition of Martial Law.

Scalice, in sum, is forcing his interpretation of the Diliman Commune upon the facts of the event. This interpretation comes hand-in-hand with his knowledge-claims about the principles of the Philippine Left which are also not supported by its numerous documents. Drawing from the Trotskyist opposition to the alleged alliance sought by “Stalinist” Communist parties with “national bourgeoisies,” which it brands as “class collaboration,” he forces this interpretation into the principles of the Philippine Left. In Scalice’s writings about the Diliman Commune, there is both a misinterpretation of a historical event and a misunderstanding of the principles of the Philippine Left, particularly its class line.

Scalice calls on his readers to study Trotsky and Trotskyism. He makes it appear that the problems of the Diliman Commune and the Philippine Left’s class line should lead people to seek out and embrace the variant of Trotskyism that he is championing. His misinterpretation of the Diliman Commune and his misunderstanding of the Philippine Left’s class line, however, show that he was not able to carry out a thoroughgoing and facts-based reading and critique of these. He is similar to many critics of the Philippine Left before him: he erects a caricature, demolishes it, and proclaims victory — which could only be false of course.

Moufawad-Paul sheds light on the theory that Scalice is proferring for the socialist revolution in the Philippines. He shows how Trotskyism, in telling revolutionaries in underdeveloped countries — where the weak links of imperialism, the storm centers of revolution are located — to hold the revolution in permanence, is a theoretical dead-end, a blind alley, for waging class struggle and making revolution, and this is shown by the historical record of Trotskyists around the world. Scalice, in short, is assessing the Diliman Commune from the perspective of a theory that cannot have brought about the organized strength that enabled the commune, let alone the strong mass movement in 1970, and cannot have gathered the theoretical and practical lessons for properly understanding and assessing such a protest.

Still, one wonders about the seemingly automatic support that some Trotskyists — most notably those clustered around the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) — have given Scalice. Moufawad-Paul gives Trotskyists the credit for sustaining Marxist thought in Western academia. But do the Trotskyists from the WSWS who support Scalice really read his writings and the responses that these have provoked from the Philippine Left? Can’t they see that their main man in the Philippines is doing a sloppy job at understanding historical events in the country and the principles of the Philippine Left and therefore at representing their system of beliefs? Or do they take the strong condemnation coming from the Philippine Left as an unassailable sign that what their man is doing a good job?

If they can’t be convinced about the content of the disputes that have arisen over Scalice’s writings, then maybe they can consider the political alignment in which they find themselves in the Philippines. Anybody analyzing the present situation in the country must present the Duterte regime’s criminal incompetence in handling the Covid-19 pandemic, puppetry to both the US and China, anti-people economic and other policies, gross human rights violations and non-stop attacks on critics and independent voices, among others. He or she must also show that the Philippine Left, the political force most vocal and active in criticizing and fighting the regime, is being subjected to numerous attacks, from extrajudicial killings and massacres to arrests based on trumped-up charges. While nobody doubts that it will persist beyond the Duterte regime, the fact is the Philippine Left is under perhaps one of the worst attacks after the end of the Marcos dictatorship.

And where are the Trotskyists in the country? Nowhere to be found on the ground, where their presence would have, in theory, mattered. They could have added warm bodies to protest actions, and even shared in the bullets and prison space that the regime is generously giving to members of the Philippine Left and anybody it accuses of being so. They only have the noisy Scalice — not, of course, offering solidarity with the Philippine Left, but demonizing, attacking and trying to turn people against the latter. His main target in his writings, lectures and even social media posts is the Philippine Left, not even the Duterte regime or the ruling system in the country; he cannot seem to criticize the second without in almost the same breath criticizing the first. Rabid doctrinaire and sectarian Trotskyism? Neoliberal “publish or perish” academic careerism? Gloating over Duterte’s attacks on the Philippine Left? All of the above? Statement of fact: his attacks, less destructive than the regime’s of course, go hand-in-hand with those of the regime.

The Filipino people will remember these dark times, and the way Scalice is introducing Trotskyism in the country in this context.

10 March 2021

Featured image: Artwork by Karl Castro, originally for the photo and art installation exhibit on the Diliman Commune of 1971 organized by PinoyMedia Center, Inc. in 2011.