Before we get into the main questions, could you explain a bit about your background i.e. how you became politically active and describe your later arrest in the Philippines, detention and the subsequent case in the Netherlands.
JMS: While I was a graduate student and instructor in English language and literature at the University of the Philippines in 1959, I opposed the McCarthyite witchhunt being conducted by reactionary members of Congress. Faculty members and students were accused of violating the Anti-Subversion Law because they published supposedly pro-communist articles. These were actually critical of US imperialist domination and the ruling system of big compradors, landlords and bureaucrat capitalists in the Philippines.
I felt challenged to defy the witchhunt and thus I took the initiative of forming the Student Cultural Association of the U.P. (SCAUP). Its general line was to defend academic freedom and the separation of church and state against the combined threats of anti-communism and religious bigotry and to promote the study of and struggle for the national and social liberation of the Filipino people against the semi-colonial and semi-feudal conditions in the Philippines. At the same time, we studied Marxism-Leninism discreetly for guidance in the current struggle in the direction of socialism.
The SCAUP was historically significant for being able to organize a demonstration of 5000 students which walked into Congress and literally scuttled the anticommunist hearings of the Committee on Anti-Filipino Activities on March 15, 1961. After this event, I was among the student activists who proceeded to promote the line of anti-imperialism and democracy in national student organizations. I was able to go to Indonesia on a scholarship grant to study the Indonesian language and the mass movement led by the Communist Party of Indonesia in the first half of 1962.
After I returned to Manila in the second half of 1962, I joined the research and education staff of the Workers’ Party (Lapiang Manggagawa). I organized the seminars and edited publications for major labor federations as well as for the national peasant association MASAKA. I became the Vice Chairman for Education of the Workers’s Party from 1964 onward. I edited the Progressive Review from 1963 to 1967.
I was one of the founders and became the chairman of the Kabataang Makabayan (Patriotic Youth), a comprehensive youth organization of students, workers, peasants and professionals, from 1964 onward. I was a professorial lecturer in political science at the Lyceum of the Philippines from 1964 to early 1968. It was during this period that Duterte became one of my students.
It was in December 1962 when I was invited to join the old Communist Party of the Philippines and became in 1963 a member of the Executive Committee directly under then General Secretary Jesus Lava. The old CPP had a few active members and no branches. Thus, we built the branches among the workers, peasants and youth through ideological, political and organizational work.
Ideological and political differences arose in 1966 over the history, the circumstances and direction of the old party as well as over the Sino-Soviet ideological debate. The majority of party cadres and members joined me in the reestablishment of the Communist Party of the Philippines on December 26, 1968 and in the founding of the New People’s Army on March 29, 1969.
We adopted and carried out the general line of people’s democratic revolution under the leadership of the proletariat and with a socialist perspective and waged the people’s war in accordance with the strategic line of encircling the cities from the countryside. The people’s war grew in strength and advanced as the Marcos regime increasingly used brutal methods of suppression from 1969 onward and imposed fascist dictatorship on the people from 1972 to 1986.
I was captured by the military minions of the Marcos fascist regime on November 10, 1977. I was subjected to physical and mental torture and I was in solitary confinement for more than five years out of nine years of imprisonment. The fascist dictatorship unwittingly drove the people to wage both armed and legal forms of resistance. I was released from prison on March 5, 1986 some 10 days after the downfall of Marcos. All the charges against me for subversion and rebellion were nullified.
I went back to the University of the Philippines as visiting fellow with the rank of associate professor in Asian studies. At the end of August 1986, I left the Philippines for an international university tour that brought me to several countries in Asia, Europe and Latin America. I could not make it to the US because the McCarran Internal Security Act banned foreign communists from entering the US. Thus, I stayed on in The Netherlands until I was overtaken by the Aquino regime’s cancellation of my Philippine passport and I was compelled to apply for political asylum by the threat of military re-arrest in the Philippines.
It was in November 2001 that then Philippine president Arroyo while on a working visit to the US requested the US government to designate the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army and myself as “foreign terrorists”. It would be in August 2002 that the US would designate all the aforesaid three as “terrorists” without citing any evidence of any act of terrorism abroad by any of the three.
The Dutch government mechanically followed the US designation of the CPP, NPA and myself as terrorists. It withdrew its designation of me as terrorist after I asked for evidence of “my terrorist act” and it could not produce any, except a press clipping about the CPP threatening US military personnel. Still the Dutch government became the prime movant in putting my name in the EU “terrorist” list. It took me more than seven years of legal struggle to have my name removed from said list by final decision of the European Court of Justice in 2009.
In 2007 the Arroyo regime also caused my arrest and detention in The Netherlands by making false charges that I had used Dutch territory to order the murder of certain persons in the Philippines. My Dutch legal counsel easily proved that the charges were false and these were dismissed by the district court of The Hague and then by the Dutch appellate court. But it would only be in early 2009 that the Dutch National Prosecution Service ceased to do any further investigation of the false charges.
You can visit my website www.josemariasison.org to read my short biographies and my legal case files. You can also find out from this website my biography in the Biographical Dictionary of Marxism by the British author Robert A. Gorman and book length biographies of me by Dr. Rainer Werning (The Philippine Revolution: The Leader’s View) and Ninotchka Rosca (At Home in the World: Portrait of a Revolutionary).
1. The Duterte government recently designated the CPP and the NPA as terrorist organisations, claiming its hand was forced by the international community.
How do you evaluate this and why did the Duterte government make this move? Is it a sign of weakness and a bid to crush all opposition forces?
JMS: Duterte is lying by claiming that it is the international community that has forced his hand to designate the CPP and NPA as terrorist organizations. It is his own emulation of the Marcos fascist dictatorship and his own desire and scheme of imposing fascist dictatorship on the Filipino people that have motivated and driven him to designate the CPP and NPA as terrorists.
It is relevant to cite the fact that retired general Esperon is now the national security adviser and top hatchetman of Duterte in the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and was previously the chief of staff of the reactionary armed forces during the Arroyo regime that requested the US to designate the CPP and NPA as FTOs in 2001. But since then, one regime after another until Duterte’s has avoided designating the CPP and NPA as “terrorist” in order to keep the door open for peace negotiations.
There is cold-bloodedness in the decision of Duterte to terminate the peace negotiations and designate the CPP and NPA as “terrorists” in quick sequence on November 23, 2017 and December 5, 2017, respectively. It is to scapegoat the CPP and NPA and give him the license to grab absolute power and enable absolute corruption.
It is obvious that from the subjective of Duterte he was acting as a “strong man” in terminating the peace negotiations, designating the CPP and NPA as “terrorists” and publicly vowing to destroy the revolutionary movement as well as all opposition forces. US President Trump saw a kindred spirit of the same meanness in Duterte when he instructed and emboldened the puppet to terminate the peace negotiations and destroy the CPP and NPA by purely military means when they met on November 13, 2017 or thereabouts.
Because the objective of Duterte is to grab absolute power and become a fascist dictator, he uses state terrorism to attack the CPP and NPA as the same means to suppress all opposition forces. The terms of the so-called Anti-Terrorism Law can be used to red-tag, frame up, arrest, torture, seize the bank account and kill anyone that criticizes and opposes Duterte’s crimes of treason, tyranny, mass murder, plunder and prevarication.
There is one more overwhelming reason for Duterte to aim for full fascist dictatorship or at the least retain the power to rig the 2022 presidential elections in favor of a hand-picked successor. It is to preempt his arrest by authority of the International Criminal Court or even more plausibly by authority of the Philippine court system under an anti-Duterte regime or by authority of the people’s court of the people’s democratic government.
2. You recently described a perfect storm for fascist dictatorship in the Philippines. Can you explain what you meant, particularly regarding the classical Marxist definition. Does this need to be reevaluated?
JMS: I use the meteorological term “perfect storm” to describe the calamitous convergence of extreme crisis conditions in the world capitalist system and the Philippine ruling system that can be taken advantage of by Duterte, as he is doing, in order to realize fascist dictatorship but can also serve as the exceedingly favorable conditions for the accelerated growth in strength and advance of the revolutionary movement, like the Marcos fascist dictatorship stimulated the revolutionary movement in the past from 1972 to 1986.
Having explained my metaphorical use of the phrase “perfect storm”, I can focus now on what I mean by fascist dictatorship. It is a bourgeois kind of tyranny, despotism or open rule of terror that throws out of the window the pretenses, legal niceties and procedures of bourgeois democracy. In semicolonial and semifeudal Philippines, the comprador big bourgeoisie is the chief ruling class in combination with the corporate and traditional landlords. It is the class that was behind the Marcos fascist dictatorship and it is the class that Duterte depends on to fully realize fascist dictatorship.
In industrial capitalist countries, the fascist dictatorship like that of Hitler is used by the monopoly bourgeoisie when the social democrats fail to keep the social order. The worst form of pogroms and wars were perpetrated by fascist dictatorships in the 1930s to the end of World War II. Thus, the term “fascist dictatorship” has been construed by many Marxists as a phenomenon arising in industrial capitalist countries, with the industrial monopoly bourgeoisie behind the fascist dictatorship like that of Mussolini, Hitler and Tojo even as this bourgeois kind of tyranny also played on feudal, racist, xenophobic and other reactionary prejudices and institutions to their fascist advantage.
In class terms in semifeudal societies, the accomplished fascist dictatorships of Chiang Kaishek down to Ferdinand Marcos have been anchored on the big comprador bourgeoisie with strong necessary links with the monopoly bourgeoisie of the imperialist powers like the US. They have appeared in history as bourgeois tyranny or bourgeois open rule of terror doing away with all pretenses, niceties and procedures of bourgeois democracy, especially where these had previously existed.
But let us shift back to Europe, Leninists used the term “social fascists” and “social imperialists” to refer to social democrats who had no basing in bourgeois ownership of factories but who were subservient to the big bourgeois policies despite social democratic avowals of serving the proletariat. In one more sense, the Chinese Communist Party used to call the leaders of the CPSU as social fascists and social imperialists on the basis of state monopoly capitalism, especially during the time of Khrushchov and Brezhnev.
3. The CPP has committed itself to peace talks with the Philippines government but says that Duterte needs to be removed to get the stalled negotiations back on track. Can you expand on this and the future prospects for implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER)?
JMS: It is the evaluation of the CPP that Duterte is hell-bent on fully realizing fascist dictatorship through the so-called Anti-Terrorism Law and through charter change on top of what he has already done previously like the all-out war policy, Proclamation 360 to terminate the peace negotiations in 2017, Proclamation 374 to designate the CPP and NPA as “terrorists” and Executive Order No. 70 to form the NTF-ELCAC to destroy the revolutionary movement for being “communist terrorist”.
But for the sake of argument, let us say that Duterte does away with all these obstacles to peace negotiations. Then, there would be no more reason for the CPP to say that Duterte is against peace negotiations between the GRP and NDFP. But Duterte has gone too deep into the tunnel of anti-communism, dirty war and state terrorism. It would be a miracle for him to reverse his trajectory to hell.
There are better prospects for GRP-NDFP peace negotiations to be resumed after Duterte is out of power in 2022 in accordance with the 1987 GRP Constitution and for the mutual approval and implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms. But there is no certainty for such better prospects because the usual ruling politicians in the Philippines are subject to the dictates of the US and other imperialist powers and by the big compradors and landlords.
4. What level of support does the NPA have among the people – can you give an assessment of current strength and numbers and explain the concepts of new power and people’s government?
How are the guerrilla fronts organised and why is this an important and legitimate part of the revolutionary struggle? How does the protracted people’s war relate to the armed struggle in the Philippines?
JMS: The NPA enjoys great support of the people in the millions, especially the peasant masses, because of the general line of people’s democratic revolution drawn up by the CPP. This line recognizes the peasant masses as more than 60 per cent of the population and the peasant struggle for land as the main content of the democratic revolution. The organized mass base of the CPP and NPA is conservatively estimated at 20 million people out of the Philippine population of 109 million.
Without the support of the millions of peasant masses and the rest of the people, the NPA would have been wiped out a long time ago by the military campaigns of suppression unleashed by the big comprador-landlord state from the time of Marcos to the present. On March 29, 1969 we started with only nine automatic rifles and 26 inferior firearms, consisting of single-shot rifles and hand guns, in the second district of the province of Tarlac. And we started with an organized mass base of only 80,000.
Now, the armed strength of the NPA is in the thousands, proximate to 10,000 nationwide, although the reactionary armed forces underestimate it at being only 2000 to 4000 and in their most absurd psywar claim that they have already decimated it more than three times its underestimated size. The strength of the NPA is actually amplified by tens of thousands in the people’s militia and hundreds of thousands in the revolutionary mass organizations. In building the NPA, the CPP has integrated armed struggle with agrarian revolution and mass-base building.
The strategy and tactics of guerrilla warfare have been applied in carrying out the ongoing stage of strategic defensive in the people’s war. The NPA deploys two-thirds of its armed personnel for mass work and one-third for periods of combat within short rest periods. Currently, it launches most often platoon-sized and sometimes company-size tactical offensives. It hopes to accumulate 25,000 automatic rifles to move into the stage of strategic stalemate and launch company-size and battalion-size offensives in regular mobile warfare.
The minimum land reform program has been carried out on the widest scale, involving the reduction of land rent, control of interest rates and elimination of usury, raising of farm wages, improving the farm gate prices of farm products and raising production in agriculture and sideline occupations. The maximum land reform program of land confiscation and free land distribution to the landless peasants have been carried out wherever possible.
There are more than 100 guerrilla fronts, covering large portions of 73 provinces of the 81 provinces of the Philippines. In these guerrilla fronts are built the local branches of the CPP, the full-time fighting units and its auxiliary forces in the people’s militia and self-defense units in mass organizations, the revolutionary mass organizations of peasants, farm workers, women, youth and cultural activists, the inter-organizational and cause-oriented alliances and the local organs of political power constituting the people’s democratic government.
5. How do you view the so-called new Cold War between the US and China and what is your assessment of the Biden administration, particularly in terms of global imperialism?
JMS: Biden took an active role in supporting the Bush regime by having a major hand in the making of the USA PATRIOT ACT and in the carrying out of the so-called global war on terror. He is very much an active part of the facade, operations and deep state of US imperialism. Thus, he has been able to outclass the more aggressive-looking but dumber Trump among the kingmakers within the US monopoly bourgeoisie, the mass media, think tanks and the so-called deep state of national security hard nuts.
With regard to the so-called Cold War between the US and China, Biden will try to pursue the same line that Trump took in starting the trade war with China in 2018. In the first place, it was Obama of the Democratic Party that was ahead of Trump in taking a position against China. He had adopted the so-called strategic pivot to East Asia in 2012 and pushed the TransPacific Partnership Agreement in 2016 (which excluded China) in order to counter the growing military and economic power of China and the accelerated strategic decline of the US due to the Bush policy of endless wars and the mortgage meltdown that brought about the Great Recession from 2008 onwards.
After congratulating itself for a long time for helping China restore capitalism and integrate itself in the world capitalist system and become its main partner in carrying out the neoliberal policy of imperialist globalization, the US is now resentful about China having maintained a two-tiered economy of state and private monopoly capitalism and is regretful about having outsourced manufacturing to China in a big way and allowed it to earn large export surpluses and about having given to China all the opportunities to acquire higher technology from the US through direct investments on US plants in China and through Chinese academics gaining access to US research laboratories and R & D facilities of US companies.
The crisis of the world capitalist system will grow worse, especially after the aggravation by the Covid-19 pandemic. Even as there is a sharp fall in production, the massive losses of jobs aggravate the crisis of overproduction. The contradiction between capital and labor is sharpening rapidly. The inter-imperialist contradictions are intensifying. And the most intense of these is the one between the US and China. Biden has already indicated that he will stand for the interest of US imperialism against China. Like Trump, he has put forward the slogan, Made In America. His state secretary Antony Blinken has spoken bluntly about standing up for US interests against China in economic and national security matters.
It is interesting to watch whether the US can increase its military assets in East Asia to secure the Indo-Pacific route and to reduce such assets in Central and West Asia and Africa. The US is now under a crushing public debt burden. It has to juggle its military assets and cannot simply increase them everywhere. To sabotage China’s dream of reversing the maritime trade fostered by the West since the 16th century with a predominantly land route radiating from China, the US is now in the process of reducing China’s export surpluses from trade with the US and is encouraging China’s debtors in the Belt and Road Initiative to rise up against the onerous terms of their debt obligations.
6. Currently liberation struggles are being waged in many countries across the world. How do you view for example the Palestinian and Kurdish movements in the Middle East, in particular in relation to the national question?
JMS: The crisis of the world capitalist system will generate conditions of global depression worse than that in the 1930s as well as social discontent and various forms of popular resistance against capitalism and imperialism. Contradictions between labor and capital and among imperialist powers will intensify. The contradictions between the oppressed peoples and nations on one side and the imperialist powers and their client-states on the other side will intensify even more.
In this context, the Palestinian and Kurdish national liberation movements will rise more than ever before and will gain strength as the attention of the imperialist powers backing up Israeli Zionism and the Erdogan despotic expansionism will be compelled to further overextend themselves by so many national liberation movements rising up and waging armed struggle in various continents. Even within imperialist countries, the chauvinists, racists, fascists and other ultra-reactionaries are provoking the resistance of the people of color, the immigrants and their descendants.
7. How do you see the future of the Philippine revolution?
JMS: The future of the Philippine revolution is bright. At the moment, the Filipino proletarian revolutionaries are happy that their revolutionary movement is among those in the forefront of the worldwide struggle for national liberation, democracy and socialism and hope that they will able to win greater victories self-reliantly and with the direct and indirect support from the expanding number of revolutionary movements of the proletariat and peoples in other countries.
I am confident that the rise of the anti-imperialist and democratic mass struggles on a global scale will usher in the resurgence of the world proletarian-socialist revolution. This will create a much wider area for the Philippine revolution to defend itself against imperialism and build socialism.
The revolutionary movements for national liberation, democracy and socialism will be able to help one another more than ever before.
There were those who thought in the 1990s that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and capitalist restoration in China, Russia and Eastern Europe spelled the death of the socialist cause.
But the increase of big imperialist powers upon the restoration of capitalism in Russia and China has sharpened inter-imperialist contradictions, is disturbing the balance of powers, accelerating the strategic decline of US imperialism and preparing the stage for the resurgence of the world proletarian-socialist revolution.
The US emerged as the winner of the Cold War and sole superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But since the financial meltdown of 2007-2008, it has lost the crown of sole superpower in an increasingly multipolar world. The extent of industrial development in former socialist countries remains contributory to the worsening contradictions among the imperialist powers and between the social character of the forces of production and the monopoly capitalist relations of production.
8. Finally, how can people living in imperialist countries best support liberation struggles like that in the Philippines?
JMS: People living in the imperialist countries should develop the revolutionary movement where they are even as they are ready and willing to help the struggles for national liberation. By developing their own revolutionary movement, they enable themselves to extend moral, political and material support and assistance to the peoples waging struggles for national liberation in other countries. Whatever support that they are capable of extending at any given time will go a long way in inspiring other peoples in advancing their revolutionary struggles self-reliantly.
Acts of proletarian internationalism and anti-imperialist solidarity of people include sharing of experiences, views and publications, taking up issues for the benefit of the oppressed and exploited, exchange of personnel with various types of concerns and expertise, transfer of technology that is useful for revolutionary struggle and other concrete forms of assistance. All these are beneficial not only to the revolutionary movements being supported but also to the supporting revolutionary movements. The spread and intensification of the revolutionary struggles on a global scale redound to the benefit of each and every revolutionary movement. ###