Philippine politics

[OPINION] Why we are forming a new socialist party

Pang Delgra, Francyn Evardome, Eunice Santiago

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[OPINION] Why we are forming a new socialist party

Nico Villarete/Rappler

'Socialism remains the most promising solution — but we need to try new ways of building it'

For decades now, we have been promised that we shall all rise again — and yet we continue to sink deeper instead.

Unemployed or paid meager wages, crushed by the increasing cost of living, and cut off from social services, so many of us still struggle to make ends meet, find time for our loved ones, and cultivate our talents. Hunger and homelessness remain rampant. Women are still deprived of control over their bodies; LGBTQ+ continue to live second-class lives; people with disabilities are still denied not only amenities but also respect. Climate change is accelerating; our planet is burning. All this as tons of food rot in warehouses, thousands of houses stand empty, and billionaires wallow in luxury.

The root cause of this civilizational decay — one we have been experiencing within and beyond our country — is not merely “bad governance” or “corruption.” We are witnessing ecological collapse and we suffer from various forms of degradation in the midst of abundance because capitalism — the system which prevails in our country and across the globe — is inherently destructive and dehumanizing. Together with sexism, racism, ableism, and other forms of domination and discrimination, this system is driving us towards climate apocalypse while crippling us all and keeping us in chains.

It should be clear by now that simply reforming capitalism will not suffice to resolve this crisis. The problem is systemic so the solution must also be systemic: what we need is to build a socialist society that is founded on justice, solidarity, equality, democracy, and dignity for all.

But for us to make more progress, a deep re-evaluation is also needed. Why, despite the immense sacrifices of its adherents, has the Left become even more marginalized — while right-wing forces are gaining ground? Is it time to consider new strategies for building the new world we envision?

Changed material conditions call for a new strategy

The world we seek to transcend has changed profoundly. The proportion of wage and salary workers among employed persons in the Philippines has surged from only 33% in 1960 to over 60% today. Services now account for 60% of the country’s output, employing almost 57% of the workforce. The share of food and raw materials in the country’s total exports has also declined from 90% to just 10% while the share of manufactured goods has soared from around 5% to 80%. From a food exporter, the Philippines has become one of the world’s biggest rice importers. 

For all its much-lamented “weakness,” the state has also become stronger. Unlike tsarist Russia’s or pre-revolutionary China’s, it no longer just relies on coercion to secure people’s submission; it has also become capable of wielding concessions, disciplinary conditioning, and symbolic violence. Working with or as part of civil society, it has succeeded in narrowing people’s imagination and channeling their grievances away from revolution.

Given these developments, does it still make sense to think of our country as a “semi-feudal” or “backward capitalist” society – and, hence, to still seek to establish capitalism as our immediate “project?” Can the state still be defeated through immediate insurrection? The party we are forming does not claim to have all the answers — or to be certain that we have the better ones. But instead of doing things over and over again while expecting a different result, might it help to test out new hypotheses in the actual laboratory of struggle?

Now that capitalism has become thoroughly established in its own distinctive way in the Philippines, we start out from the premise that our immediate task now is to make capitalism at least less vicious than it is — while simultaneously creating the conditions for its abolition now rather than in some constantly postponed future.

We also begin from the view that the repressive forces of the Philippine state cannot be opposed through strategies that always subordinate other forms of struggle to the imperatives of rural or urban armed struggle. Buttressed by both coercion and hegemony, this state can only be overcome through long-term, open mass mobilizations aimed at first countering its ideological, disciplinary, or infrastructural ramparts before eventually targeting its coercive core.

In line with this, we propose a different path: what we call “revolutionary democratic socialism.”

Socialism because we seek to establish a society in which the means of production are owned collectively and managed as part of the commons. Democratic because we seek to establish not a “dictatorship of the proletariat” but a democratic leadership of the oppressed, capable of preventing the oppressors from coming back to power and upheld by the consent of the freed. And revolutionary because while we pursue non-violent forms of resistance under present conditions what we seek are not just reforms but nothing less than an entirely new civilization.

We believe this entails a multi-pronged, undogmatic, and always mutable approach. For one, it means participating in elections in a new way: by campaigning autonomously from liberal parties, by openly professing our identities as socialists, and by measuring victory not in terms of number of votes gained but in terms of number of minds freed.

Beyond elections, we will establish our own network of socialist cooperatives, social centers, community gardens, disaster relief channels, cultural and sports clubs, and so on. In short, we will build alternative institutions from within capitalism in order to supersede capitalism.

The goal is not to capture state power in the misguided belief that one can bring about socialism through an accumulation of reforms but to achieve collective self-liberation: to free the spirits of the oppressed from the prisons built by oppressors and to help create new subjectivities — ones that are willing and able to engage in the protracted struggle to build a new civilization.

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Towards a prefigurative party

To accomplish all this, we seek to found a qualitatively different party: an openly and proudly socialist party that is above-ground but still radical in its orientation.

Such an organization, to be most effective, must be grounded in the oppressed. It must be vigilantly autonomous from elites. It must uphold the autonomy of social movements. And it must build on lessons from other socialist projects, break with the self-defeating practices of the past, and dare to build nothing less than a new culture within and beyond the Left.

In line with this, we have adopted a Party Charter that introduces a number of innovations. To ensure that rank-and-file members are empowered, we shall assign leadership roles partly through sortition. We shall have not one chairperson but three “over-all facilitators” with limited terms in office and who are always subject to recall. And we shall put in place processes to ensure zero tolerance for all forms of violence and to attack cisheteropatriarchy in our own ranks. This is the prefigurative politics we seek to put into  action — a party that by its very practices already gives us a glimpse of the free society we envision.

While our “mass base” is still narrow, we shall strive to expand beyond our current middle-class core. But more than that, we seek to try new ways of building such a movement — one in which everyone becomes their own leader and one in which the very act of participating in struggle becomes an act of collective self-liberation.

We recognize that we will face obstacles encountered by those just starting out and trying to do things differently. But we also hold that to not try at all because we are still small or new is to lose without even fighting. As we go through the birth pains of building a mass movement, we will welcome criticism and strive to be a party constantly seeking to renew ourselves.

Some will argue that it would be best to create a new party under better conditions. But we can’t afford to wait. Today, the apocalypse has already become a reality for all but the most sheltered. Even for those whose heads are still above water, life has become a daily struggle for dignity. 

Fortunately, the old world is crumbling and a new one is struggling to emerge, its foundations having been built in part through the heroic accomplishments of existing socialist parties. To help make this world finally rise from the ground, we must ask questions long unasked and embark on routes previously shunned. The stakes could not be bigger. To borrow from Rosa Luxemburg and other comrades: we have a world to win and a world to defeat. –

Pang Delgra used to work for a multinational corporation before becoming a full-time climate justice activist. Francyn Evardome is a working student, currently employed at a global healthcare services company, who campaigns on issues affecting the urban poor. Eunice Santiago is a recent graduate of UP Diliman who advocates for women’s rights and gender equality. All under 30 years old and assigned female at birth, Pang, Francyn, and Eunice were designated to be the spokespersons of the newly formed Partido Sosyalista. They wrote this essay together with all other founding members of the party.

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